November 18 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, Adam Renton, Mike Hayes, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, November 19, 2020
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10:44 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

South Australia to shut down for 6 days following Covid-19 cluster

From CNN's Chandler Thornton

The Australian state of South Australia will shut down for six days from midnight Thursday, following a Covid-19 outbreak in Adelaide, the state's capital city.

South Australia Premier Steven Marshall announced Wednesday that the community would "pause" for six days to serve as a "circuit breaker" of the new outbreak.

"We are at a critical point, but we will get through this," Marshall said at a news briefing

The new measures: South Australians will be restricted from leaving their homes, even for outdoor exercise, unless they are an essential worker, South Australia Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said. 

A mandatory mask mandate will also be enforced, Stevens added.

All facilities such as schools, pubs, coffee shops and outdoor sports will be closed. Only essential services, like supermarkets, medical facilities and public transport will remain open. 

There are currently 22 Covid-19 cases linked to the Adelaide cluster, South Australia's Chief Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said. The cases are all considered to be linked to a worker in a medi-hotel, where international arrivals are required to quarantine for 14 days.

On Tuesday, local authorities ordered 4,000 people into quarantine in an attempt to contain the cluster.

10:44 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

South Korea records highest increase of Covid-19 cases since August

From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo in Seoul

South Korea reported 313 new coronavirus cases for Tuesday, the biggest daily jump since August 29, according to a Korea Disease Control Prevention Agency (KDCA) news release on Wednesday. 

Among the new cases, 245 were locally transmitted and 68 were imported. 

More than half of the new cases were from the greater Seoul area. The Seoul metropolitan area will tighten its social distancing measures from Thursday, limiting the size of school classes and religious gatherings.

South Korea has now recorded a total of 29,311 cases and 496 deaths, according to KDCA.

10:16 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Chinese Covid-19 vaccine seen as safe in early stage trials, study finds

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

A staff member tests samples of inactivated Covid-19 vaccine at a Sinovac Biotech lab in Beijing on March 16.
A staff member tests samples of inactivated Covid-19 vaccine at a Sinovac Biotech lab in Beijing on March 16. Zhang Yuwei/Xinhua via Getty Images

A mid-stage trial shows that a Chinese made Covid-19 vaccine seems to be safe, according to a study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases Tuesday.

Sinovac, the Chinese company that makes the Coronavac vaccine candidate, tested it in a randomized controlled trial involving 700 healthy adult volunteers between April and May. None of the volunteers had a history of a Covid-19 infection. None had traveled in areas with a high rate of the disease.

Volunteers in the Phase 2 trial were divided into three groups. One group got a low dose of the vaccine, another got a higher dose and a third received a placebo.

This particular vaccine uses a chemically inactivated whole virus based on a sample taken from a patient in China. Most of the other coronavirus vaccines in development use biotechnology approaches to produce just a fragment of the virus. Using a whole, killed virus is an older, tried and true method that makes vaccine production slower and that doctors say can produce more side-effects.

The results: The vaccine was well tolerated at all the dose levels, and there didn’t seem to be any safety concerns, according to the researchers, which include experts from the Jiangsu Provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention, China's National Institutes for Food and Drug Control, and Sinovac.

The most common complaint was pain at the injection site. One volunteer in the high dose group had a severe allergic reaction within 48 hours of the first dose, which researchers said may be related to the vaccine, but the volunteer was treated for the reaction and recovered within three days. The same volunteer did not have a similar allergic reaction to the second shot.  

Even at the lowest dose, volunteers who received the vaccine seemed to show a robust antibody response within 14 days of the second of two injections. The injections were given 14 days apart.  

What about efficacy? The levels of antibodies produced by vaccination were lower than in the volunteers who were infected by, and had recovered from, Covid-19 during the trial, but the researchers said they still expected it could provide protection. The study wasn’t designed to determine how effective it was.

There may be advantages to this vaccine, according to one researcher who worked at the company that made it. This vaccine only needs standard refrigeration. It also may remain stable for up to three years in storage.

The company is continuing its trials to determine how effective the vaccine is.

10:15 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

France becomes first country in Europe to reach 2 million coronavirus cases

From Pierre Bairin in Paris

A doctor speaks with a patient infected with Covid-19 in the infectious diseases unit of the Gonesse hospital in Gonesse, north of Paris, on October 22.
A doctor speaks with a patient infected with Covid-19 in the infectious diseases unit of the Gonesse hospital in Gonesse, north of Paris, on October 22. Christophe Archambault/AFP/Getty Images

France has become the first country in Europe to top 2 million confirmed cases of coronavirus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and the French national health agency.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, France's health agency director Jerome Salomon confirmed at least 2,036,755 total cases had been reported in the country.

“Whether in cities or in rural areas, all regions, all metropolitan departments, are affected,” Salomon said. 
“This second wave, which we are all facing, is massive, deadly and is straining all of our caregivers and our health system as a whole.”

While France has now registered the highest cumulative number of Covid-19 cases in Europe overall, Salomon noted that the current coronavirus reproduction rate in the country is now below one, while the daily number of new cases has declined in the past week.

“In recent days, the number of new cases has declined, redoubling efforts to regain control of the epidemic,” Salomon said, adding that public adherence to national coronavirus restrictions is now “beginning to bear fruit” in France.
“All collective efforts, respect for curfews and national confinement measures serve to explain this positive trend. It is by maintaining a very high level of vigilance and mobilization that we will be able to spend the end-of-year celebrations and the winter months in the safest conditions,” he added.

According to the latest data from the national health agency, a total of 33,139 coronavirus patients are currently in hospital -- down by 327 since Monday -- with 4,838 of those in intensive care.

A further 1,219 coronavirus patients have died since Monday, the national health agency added, bringing the total death toll in France to 46,273.

8:03 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

FDA sets meeting for vaccine advisory committee

From CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen

The US Food and Drug Administration has called for a meeting of its vaccine advisory committee in three weeks to consider whether the agency should authorize two Covid-19 vaccines, according to a source familiar with the process. 

The FDA reached out last week to members of its Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, a group of outside experts, asking them to hold Dec. 8, 9 and 10 for meetings, according to the source. 

The agency could make a decision at the end of the meeting on Dec. 10 about whether to issue emergency use authorizations for the vaccines, the source said. 

Two companies, Pfizer and Moderna, say they will soon apply to the FDA for authorization for their Covid-19 vaccines, both of which have shown in initial data to be more than 90% effective against Covid-19. 

“It will make sense that in all likelihood the FDA will consider both applications together,” the source said, considering that both vaccines use the same technology and appear to have very similar safety and efficacy results from their large-scale Phase 3 clinical trials. 

If the FDA authorizes the vaccines, they can then be immediately distributed to states, according to a presentation made last month at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, no one can be vaccinated until a CDC advisory committee reviews the data, recommends the vaccine, and says which groups will receive it first. 

If the FDA authorizes the vaccines, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), an independent panel of experts, will meet within 24 to 48 hours, according to a CDC spokesperson. 

At that meeting, the committee will determine if everyone should get the vaccine, or if some people should be excluded. It will also decide which groups should get the vaccine first. 

“We have all been alerted on ACIP we should be very flexible with our calendars because it’s likely there won’t be a lot of advanced notice given for this meeting. It will be done very, very quickly,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a committee member. 

Once ACIP issues its recommendations, vaccinations can be given. 

Next steps: The nation’s top infectious disease physician, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN earlier this week the first vaccinations in the US could take place “towards the latter part of December.” 

States are currently working out the details of running vaccination clinics. The Pfizer vaccine is particularly complicated, since it must be stored at minus 75 degrees Celsius, and doctors’ offices and pharmacies typically do not have freezers that go that low. 

The first groups expected to receive the vaccine are health care workers, the elderly, essential workers such as police officers, and those with underlying medical conditions. 

10:45 p.m. ET, November 17, 2020

Pfizer prepares to file for emergency use authorization after vaccine reaches safety milestone, CEO says

From CNN's Lauren Mascarenhas

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla attends 2019 Forbes Healthcare Summit at the Jazz at Lincoln Center on December 5, 2019 in New York City.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla attends 2019 Forbes Healthcare Summit at the Jazz at Lincoln Center on December 5, 2019 in New York City. Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

The Pfizer vaccine trial has reached its safety milestone and the company is preparing to file for emergency use authorization, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Tuesday.

Pfizer announced on Nov. 9 that its coronavirus vaccine appears to be more than 90% effective, based on early data.

But the company did not yet have enough data to seek emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration, which said it also wanted at least two months of safety data on at least half of a vaccine trial’s volunteers starting from when they got their second immunization.

“I think the questions about the safety at large also have been answered,” Bourla said in an interview hosted by The New York Times. “Our safety milestone has been achieved already, and we are preparing now for submissions.”

Bourla said they are not yet sure how durable the protection from their vaccine will be. The Pfizer vaccine uses a messenger RNA, or mRNA, platform to produce an immune response.

“With the mRNA technology, you can boost as soon as you want,” said Bourla. People can be given an additional dose of a vaccine once immunity wears off, referred to as a boost.

Bourla said that a boost, if needed, would likely require only one dose.