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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12:08 p.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Delta will keep blocking middle seats through March

From CNN's Pete Muntean

Empty seats are seen on a Delta aircraft at the Ronald Reagan National Airport on July 22 in Arlington, Virginia
Empty seats are seen on a Delta aircraft at the Ronald Reagan National Airport on July 22 in Arlington, Virginia Michael A. McCoy/Getty Images

Delta Air Lines said on Wednesday it will keep middle seats empty on its flights through next March, an extension of the social distancing policy it put in place at the start of the pandemic. 

Delta maintains it is the only US airline to keep blocking middle seats on its flights.

The move comes as other airlines are ending similar policies, gearing up for a potential onslaught of air travelers during the busy holiday rush. 

Last week, JetBlue announced it will start to phase out capping capacity on its flights — currently 70% — and fill every seat starting Jan. 8. Southwest Airlines said in September it will fill every seat after Nov. 30, following the Thanksgiving travel period. American Airlines and United Airlines have been selling every seat on their flights since the summer.

Airlines say they feel empowered by new research from Harvard University, the Department of Defense, airlines, and aircraft manufacturers that claims the transmission rates of coronavirus through the filtered air of an airliner is low, so long as all passengers wear masks. 

Last week, Delta announced that a total of 550 people have been put on Delta’s no-fly list for refusing to wear a mask.

12:23 p.m. ET, November 18, 2020

BioNTech is working on a vaccine formula that can be shipped at room temperature

From CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen, Claudia Otto and Vasco Cotovio

BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin speaks with CNN on Wednesday, November 18.
BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin speaks with CNN on Wednesday, November 18. CNN

The German biotech company BioNTech is working on a formula for its vaccine that would allow it to be shipped at room temperature, CEO Uğur Şahin told CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen in an exclusive interview on Wednesday. 

“We are working on formulation which could allow us to ship the vaccine even maybe at room temperature and this type of development is happening in parallel,” Sahin said. 

Concerns were raised that it would be difficult to distribute the vaccine BioNTech is working on with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer because it needs to be stored at about minus 75 degrees Celsius, which is about 50 degrees colder than any vaccine currently used in the United States. 

Doctors' offices, pharmacies and state labs don't have freezers that go nearly that low but Sahin is now saying that is a temporary issue. 

“Since the development was so fast, we were not able to work out better, more stable conditions,” he said. “We believe that in the second half of 2020 we will have come up with a formulation which is comparable to any other type of vaccine.”

Watch:

11:12 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Pfizer and BioNtech will file for emergency use of Covid-19 vaccine on Friday

A patient participates in Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine on May 4 in Baltimore, Maryland.
A patient participates in Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine on May 4 in Baltimore, Maryland. University of Maryland School of Medicine/AP

German pharmaceutical company BioNTech, which has been working on a Covid-19 vaccine with US Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, will file paperwork for the emergency use of its vaccine in the United States on Friday, the company CEO, Uğur Şahin told CNN in an interview on Wednesday. 

Earlier today, Pfizer announced that a final analysis of the Phase 3 trial of its coronavirus vaccine shows it was 95% effective in preventing infections, even in older adults, and caused no serious safety concerns.

CNN's Sanjay Gupta explains Pfizer's 95% effectiveness rate:

9:41 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

US stock market opens mixed following more good vaccine news

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe 

Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images
Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images

Wall Street started mixed on Wednesday, following more good news on the vaccine front. 

Pfizer announced its Covid-19 vaccine was 95% effective in preventing infection, according to a final analysis of its Phase 3 trial.

The Dow opened higher, gaining 0.2%, or 61 points. The S&P 500 was flat at the opening bell. Both indexes closed in the red in the prior session, but hit new record highs on Monday. 

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite also opened flat.

8:56 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Coronavirus immunity in some people may last more than six months, early research suggests

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

Immunity to the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 can last for at least six months, and possibly much longer, perhaps even years, when all components of the body's immune memory are taken into consideration, early research suggests.

The pre-print paper, published on Monday to the online server biorxiv.org, appears to contradict previous research that has found immunity to the novel coronavirus wanes over time based on measurements of antibodies, or protein components of the immune system. 

Yet the new study — which has not been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal — involves analyzing multiple compartments of immune memory over time: antibodies, B cells and T cells, among other features of immune memory.

About the study: The study included 185 adults, ages 19 to 81, in the United States who had recovered from Covid-19. Most of the adults had mild disease. 

The researchers – from the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, University of California, San Diego, and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai – analyzed blood samples from the adults, collected at various points following the onset of symptoms, with some collected more than six months later.

In the blood samples, the researchers examined components of immune memory. They found that antibodies "were durable" with only "modest declines" emerging at six to eight months, but noted that there was about a 200-fold range in the level of antibody responses among the adults. 

The researchers also found that memory B cells were detected in almost all Covid-19 cases, and there appeared to be an increase in memory B cells over time. "B cell memory to some other infections has been observed to be long-lived, including 60+ years after smallpox vaccination, or 90+ years after infection with influenza," the researchers wrote in their study.

The researchers identified two types of T cells and their data suggest that "T cell memory might reach a more stable plateau, or slower decay phase, later than the first 6 months post-infection," they wrote. 

Remember: The study comes with limitations, including that more research is needed to determine whether similar findings would emerge among a larger group of people across more time points.

12:57 p.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Here's the latest on the coronavirus pandemic across Europe

From CNN’s Stephanie Halasz, Katharina Krebs, Sharon Braithwaite and Antonia Mortensen

A person walks in Krakow's nearly empty main square, during the Covid-19 crisis in Poland, on November 16.
A person walks in Krakow's nearly empty main square, during the Covid-19 crisis in Poland, on November 16. Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Coronavirus is continuing to spread in Europe. While World Health Organization data today showed that Europe has recorded a 10% decline in Covid-19 cases over the past week "for the first time in over three months," deaths continued to increase.

Deaths in Europe jumped by 18% during the past week in comparison to the previous one.

Here's a look at where things stand in some countries across the continent:

  • A mink farming ban in Denmark: Mink farming has been temporarily prohibited until Dec. 31, 2021. During the same period it will also be forbidden to import or export live minks to or from Denmark and between herds in Denmark. This temporary ban is part of an agreement reached between the government and parties supporting the government. The move follows fears that coronavirus mutations can pass between minks and humans. 
  • Record deaths in Poland: Poland recorded 603 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday – a new daily record – bringing the total death toll to 11,451, according to state news agency PAP. “112 people died due to COVID-19, while 491 people died due to the coexistence of COVID-19 with other diseases,” the Health Ministry said in a tweet.
  • Protests over restrictions in Germany: An anti-corona measures demonstration is taking place in central Berlin. Several thousand demonstrators assembled near the parliamentary district, according to a Berlin police spokesman. Police are using water cannons at the demonstration, television pictures show. 
  • Christmas plans in the United Kingdom: UK medical adviser Susan Hopkins said on Wednesday that some sort of Christmas is possible this season — however it requires everyone to abide restriction and get the number of cases as low as possible. Hopkins added that the final decision rests with the government. Hopkins stressed that if mixing during the Christmas were to happen, everyone would have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again. 

CORRECTION: This post has been updated to reflect that Poland set a new record for daily Covid-19 deaths.

8:18 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

British doctors' body urges strict new measures when England's lockdown ends

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

A man walks along a street in Ashton-under-Lyne, England, amid a second nationwide lockdown on November 11.
A man walks along a street in Ashton-under-Lyne, England, amid a second nationwide lockdown on November 11. Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

The main body representing UK doctors has urged the government to impose tough new restrictions when England's national lockdown ends on December 2 to prevent a "collapse" of health care services this winter.

Lifting lockdown "without new measures in place risks deepening the crisis in our health service, and will leave hospitals and GP practices overwhelmed, unable to provide even the most critical of patient care," the British Medical Association (BMA) said Wednesday in a statement.

Among the measures the BMA wants to see imposed once England exits lockdown are:

  • replacing the "rule of six’" which allowed mixing of up to six households with a "two households" rule to reduce social mixing.
  • no travel between or across different local lockdown tiers.

The BMA warned that if new measures are not "rapidly" brought in, "the toll on patient care and lives will be severe."

Before the England-wide lockdown ends, the BMA suggests a "widescale reform to the testing and contact tracing programme."

“We must not squander the efforts of the many people who have followed the law, stayed at home, sacrificed freedoms and incurred financial loss in order to contain the virus," the chair of the BMA council, Chaand Nagpaul, said in the statement.
“When the first lockdown ended, there was no coherent plan for keeping Covid-19 at bay, no clear and simple public messaging; this was followed by spiralling infection rates, more businesses failing, new ‘local’ lockdowns, and now we have a death toll at more than 52,000."

Nagpaul said it was "unthinkable that we make the same mistakes again" as England leaves its second lockdown, and warned that the impact would be far worse this time.

"It’s reasonable to conclude, that without these measures, the NHS will not be able to cope with caring for even the most critically ill patients," he added.

8:14 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

Iran reports 480 deaths and 13,000 new Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Mourners carry the body of a person who died from Covid-19 at the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, on November 1.
Mourners carry the body of a person who died from Covid-19 at the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery on the outskirts of Tehran, Iran, on November 1. Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Iran recorded 13,421 new cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday, the country's health ministry said, bringing the total number of infections to 801,894.

The Iranian health ministry spokeswoman, Sima Sadat Lari, said there had been 480 more deaths in the last 24 hours, raising the total number of victims to 42,941.

Iran also announced that tougher measures will come into place in 150 towns and cities starting on Saturday and will last for two weeks, due to a recent surge in infections.

8:04 a.m. ET, November 18, 2020

PPE suppliers with political connections got fast-tracked contracts, UK watchdog finds

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

Suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) with political connections were 10 times as likely to be awarded a UK government contract -- with little to no documentation -- as those without, a report by an official spending watchdog has found. 

The National Audit Office report published Wednesday reaches damning conclusions about the UK government’s lack of transparency in awarding more than 8,600 PPE contracts worth £18 billion ($23.9 billion) to private companies in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than half, worth over £10 billion ($13.2 billion), were awarded to well-connected firms labelled “high-priority,” meaning they bypassed the normal procurement process that exists to ensure a level playing field for suppliers to compete for contracts.

The revelation comes after months of cronyism allegations from Labour opposition politicians and transparency activists, who accuse the Conservative government of handing out state-funded Covid-19 contracts to friends.

About one in 10 suppliers processed through the high-priority lane (47 out of 493) obtained contracts compared to fewer than one in 100 suppliers that came through the ordinary process (104 of 14,892), the report says. 

It also found that in some cases there was no paperwork to document why these suppliers had been chosen, and that some contracts had only been drawn up after the companies had already started the work.

"This has diminished public transparency, and the lack of adequate documentation means we cannot give assurance that government has adequately mitigated the increased risks arising from emergency procurement or applied appropriate commercial practices in all cases," the watchdog concluded.
"While we recognise that these were exceptional circumstances, there are standards that the public sector will always need to apply if it is to maintain public trust.'

The report covers the period up to July 31.

CNN has contacted the UK Cabinet Office for a government response.