April 17 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Rob Picheta and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 10:40 p.m. ET, April 17, 2020
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9:05 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Foreign government hackers targeting US coronavirus research, FBI says

From CNN's David Shortell

Foreign governments have attempted to hack into US healthcare institutions researching coronavirus and vaccines for it, a senior FBI official said Thursday.

“We have certainly seen reconnaissance activity and some intrusions into some of those institutions — especially those that have publicly identified themselves as working on Covid-related research,” Tonya Ugoretz, the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI’s Cyber Division, said at an event hosted by the Aspen Institute. 

The attempted cyberattacks are in line with efforts by nation state-backed hackers to steal corporate secrets and other research even outside times of crisis, but the activity has been heightened during the pandemic, Ugoretz said.

“There are certainly good reasons for those institutions to tout the work that they’re doing and educate the public on the work that they’re doing. The sad flip side is that it kind of makes them a mark for other nation states that are interested in learning details about what exactly they are doing and maybe even stealing proprietary information that those institutions have,” she said.

Law enforcement has recorded significant increases in the number of other reported cybercrime as many Americans have shifted their lifestyle online amid nationwide stay-at-home orders, and the FBI has warned that government-issued stimulus checks will prove a fruitful mark for online thieves. 

The Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, the FBI’s online tip line for cyber crime, has seen a surge in reported incidents — marking 3,000 to 4,000 complaints per day in recent months, up from typical levels of 1,000 per day, Ugoretz said. 

 

9:03 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Biotech company awarded $483 million to develop coronavirus vaccine

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

Moderna Therapeutics headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2019.
Moderna Therapeutics headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2019. Kristoffer Tripplaar/Sipa USA/AP

The Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, known as BARDA — a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services — awarded up to $483 million to accelerate development of the biotechnology firm Moderna’s experimental vaccine against the novel coronavirus, the company announced in a press release on Thursday.

“Vaccines are a critical tool for saving lives and stopping the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” BARDA Director Rick Bright said in the press release.

“Delivering a safe and effective vaccine for a rapidly spreading virus requires accelerated action," Bright said in part. "BARDA’s goal is to have vaccine available as quickly as possible."

Bright added that preparing now for "advanced stage clinical trials" and "production scale-up" while the vaccine candidate is currently in a phase 1 study could help accelerate the development of vaccines.

Some context: In late February, Moderna had shipped an experimental coronavirus vaccine to US government researchers six weeks after it started working on the immunization. Now a phase 1 study of the vaccine is being conducted by the National Institutes of Health. The study began on March 16. 

“We are thankful for BARDA’s support to fund the accelerated development of mRNA-1273, our vaccine candidate against SARS-CoV-2,” Stéphane Bancel, Moderna's CEO, said in the press release. “Time is of the essence to provide a vaccine against this pandemic virus. By investing now in our manufacturing process scale-up to enable large scale production for pandemic response, we believe that we would be able to supply millions of doses per month in 2020 and with further investments, tens of millions per month in 2021, if the vaccine candidate is successful in the clinic.” 

Moderna is among several companies that are currently testing vaccines, but it will take months — or more likely at least a year — to complete those trials.

9:03 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

There have been nearly 5,000 coronavirus-related deaths in Iran

From CNN's Sara Mazloumsaki

A medical worker prepares a monitoring machine at a hospital set up for coronavirus patients in the Iran Mall, in Tehran, Iran, on April 13.
A medical worker prepares a monitoring machine at a hospital set up for coronavirus patients in the Iran Mall, in Tehran, Iran, on April 13. Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Iran reported 89 more coronavirus-related deaths on Friday, bringing the nationwide total to 4,958, Iranian Health Ministry Spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour announced on state television.

Over the last 24 hours, 1,499 new cases have been identified in the country, which brings the total number of infected people in Iran to 79,494, Jahanpour said.

The spokesman said at least 3,563 people are in critical condition as of Friday.

Some context: The situation in Iran is particularly intense because the country is already plagued by a weak economy, in part because of US sanctions, and a shortage of medical resources. Iran urged the International Monetary Fund to grant a $5 billion loan to help in the country's fight against coronavirus.

US officials believe the money would not actually go towards the country's public health crisis but will finance terrorist groups. The International Monetary Fund is still assessing Iran’s request of the loan.

9:23 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Vehicles crammed Michigan roadways in protest against the state's stay-at-home order

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

Vehicles sit in gridlock during a protest in Lansing, Michigan, on April 15.
Vehicles sit in gridlock during a protest in Lansing, Michigan, on April 15. Paul Sancya/AP

Drivers jammed into Michigan's capital and surrounded the state Capitol in a protest against Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order that featured neither face masks nor social distancing, but rather the honking of horns that could be heard inside.

The collision between a public health battle and a political one, which played out for more than five hours on Wednesday, underscores the boiling tensions of a restless nation struggling with the wisdom of reopening the economy before the deadly pandemic subsides.

Whitmer could hardly ignore the scene, considering the honking horns, raucous jeers and blaring music became background noise for her video conference call with health care workers.

"Right outside my office right now, people have come to town who are not wearing masks, they are not observing the six-foot distance," Whitmer said. "Give me some advice. How can I magnify what you're seeing and what you're experiencing?"

CNN's Jeff Zeleny reported on the gathering in Michigan, which he called a "protest-by-parade."

"The protest was large, but the thing that struck me the most is that it went on and on, with honking horns, blaring music and raucous jeers for more than five hours. It was protest-by-parade — definitely not organic, considering it was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, but the anger was absolutely real. It had the feel of a Trump rally from 2016 and a Tea Party rally from 2010 — back at a time when rallies were the norm," Zeleny said. "What was striking was dozens upon dozens of people who stood on steps of the Capitol and the surrounding sidewalk, defying not only the strict stay-at-home orders, but also blatantly ignoring basic medical common sense."

Zeleny acknowledged the economic pain Michigan is feeling with one-quarter of the state's eligible workforce seeking some type of unemployment help. Yet in the end, the protest "seemed oddly discordant on a day that the state's death toll hovered around 2,000 people," he said.

Michigan currently has 29,263 coronavirus cases and 2,093 deaths, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University.

Watch:

8:49 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

US Surgeon General calls wearing face coverings "sign of respect" during pandemic

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Customers wait in line at a grocery store in Wheaton, Maryland, on April 16.
Customers wait in line at a grocery store in Wheaton, Maryland, on April 16. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams said wearing a covering over your nose and mouth in public could be viewed as a "sign of respect" in an effort to not spread the coronavirus. 

"I've really been in the thick of this whole mask discussion, and we know that wearing a cloth facial covering prevents you from spreading to other people," Adams told "Fox & Friends" this morning.

"And I do think it's a sign of respect, of appreciation for the fact that you could be asymptomatically spreading to someone else," Adams said. "That's something that governors are going to consider as they look at how do we safely reopen." 

In early March, Adams told the general public to "stop buying masks." He said at the time that wearing a mask improperly could increase your risk of contracting the coronavirus due to touching your face often when wearing the mask.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week announced an executive order requiring everyone in the state to wear a face covering in public when not social distancing. 

Adams said on "Fox & Friends" on Friday that "in New York especially, I know that there are challenges -- because it's a densely populated area -- with keeping people inside and if you're going to go out, you wear your mask to protect me. I wear mine my facial covering to protect you."

8:34 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

What it's like to travel on a plane during the coronavirus pandemic

From CNN's Jeff Zeleny

Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on March 29.
Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on March 29. Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

CNN's Jeff Zeleny recently flew from Reagan National in Washington, DC, to the Detroit Metro Airport and recounted his experience.

Zeleny said both airports were "virtually empty."

"The biggest inconvenience: No coffee for my 6 a.m. flight on Wednesday, since all restaurants were closed. And only bottled water, with a side of Biscotti and Purell wipes served in a plastic bag, on the plane. But I'm certainly not complaining, given the janitorial staff and airline workers still on duty as before," Zeleny said.

The hotel was empty, too: "I travel often — or I did before the pandemic — but I don't believe I've ever stayed in an entirely empty hotel. The front desk manager told me only one other room was occupied, which was for my colleague Jake Carpenter, a CNN photojournalist. I limited my trip to one night and ordered pizza and salad from a nearby restaurant in East Lansing."

8:31 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Coronavirus survivor says taking a breath "felt like I’d been underwater too long"

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

CNN
CNN

Jason Hartelius, who is recovering from coronavirus, shared a video on social media of him unable to take a full breath and breaking into coughing fits. 

“It felt like I had been underwater too long and I came up gasping for air. And just when I thought I was catching my breath again, I got pulled underwater,” he said in an interview with CNN. “The night before I went to the hospital, I was basically like that all night. Never slept because I couldn't fall asleep. And I was afraid if I did fall asleep, I was worried I might stop breathing."

On day two in the hospital, Hartelius said he thought about the reality of him dying. He was put on oxygen and given a drug to treat pneumonia. It’s been one month since Hartelius started experiencing symptoms of coronavirus.

Thirty days later, he is still experiencing fatigue and got a little winded when he walked around his block for the first time. His advice for others at this point is to exercise caution.

“You may say you're fine. You may say you're low risk. You know what? You might get it, not know it, go back to work thinking you're fine, never have any symptoms. You could give it to people you work with who could get very sick or die. That's what I want people to understand. That's why I put the video out there,” he said.

Watch the video:

8:15 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

It is "highly likely" that the coronavirus is "not man-made," European official says

From CNN's Nick Paton Walsh in London

This scanning electron microscope image shows 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19.
This scanning electron microscope image shows 2019-nCoV, the virus that causes COVID-19. NIAID-RML

A European intelligence official told CNN that it "is highly likely that it did occur naturally and was not man-made," when asked about the origins of the novel coronavirus.

The official was responding to reports on whether the disease was genetically engineered by the Chinese.   

Some context: US intelligence and national security officials say the United States government is looking into the possibility that the novel coronavirus spread from a Chinese laboratory rather than a market, according to multiple sources familiar with the matter who also caution it is premature to draw any conclusions.

8:08 a.m. ET, April 17, 2020

Yemen can’t survive war on two fronts, UN envoy says, as coronavirus outbreak looms

From CNN's Radina Gigova in Atlanta

A local administration worker fumigates a neighbourhood in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on March 23.
A local administration worker fumigates a neighbourhood in Yemen's capital, Sanaa, on March 23. Mohammed Huwais/AFP/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic threatens to bring "deeper and more widespread suffering" in Yemen, UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths said, calling for an end to the country's conflict. 

“Yemen cannot face two fronts at the same time: a war and a pandemic," Griffiths told the UN Security Council on Thursday. 

"The new battle that Yemen faces in confronting the virus will be all-consuming," he said. "We can do no less than stop this war and turn all our attention to this new threat." 

Yemeni government forces, together with allies and rebels known as Houthis, have been fighting over control of the impoverished nation for more than five years, creating the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, the UN said. Roughly 80% of the population relies on aid relief.

“The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic to Yemen threatens to bring deeper and more widespread suffering to the people,” Griffith said. “There cannot be a more timely moment for the two parties to commit to silencing the guns and ending the conflict through a peaceful, political solution.”

Griffiths has been “in constant negotiations” with the two sides on proposals for a nationwide ceasefire and on key measures, such as prisoner release, paying civil servant salaries, and opening roads for humanitarian access, the UN said in a statement. 

Nonetheless, hostilities have continued and civilian casualties have been rising every month since January, according to the UN. More than 500 people were killed or injured during this period, a third of them children.

Five years of fighting have degraded the country's health infrastructure, exhausted people’s immune systems and increased acute vulnerabilities, said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock. 

“As a result, epidemiologists warn that Covid-19 in Yemen could spread faster, more widely and with deadlier consequences than in many other countries,” he said. 

Precautions to reduce the risk from Covid-19 are being hampered by "bureaucratic roadblocks, insecurity and restrictions on staff and cargo movements," the UN said. Funding is another impediment, as 31 of the UN’s 41 major aid programs in Yemen will shut down in the coming weeks, if they are not supported.

Lowcock said he is worried about the loss of health teams that have been essential in containing past disease outbreaks. “We need these teams more than ever – not just to keep on top of Covid-19, but to contain a growing risk that cholera will rebound as the rainy season starts,” he said.