January 4 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Zamira Rahim and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, January 5, 2021
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1:30 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

US reports more than 210,000 Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Alta Spells in Atlanta

The United States reported 210,479 new Covid-19 cases and 1,394 deaths on Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The latest figures bring the totals in the US to 20,636,663 infections and at least 351,580 fatalities.

The totals include cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories, as well as repatriated cases. 

At least 13,071,925 vaccine doses have been distributed in the country and at least 4,225,756 shots administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But around the US, hospitals are racing to keep up with surges of Covid-19 patients at numbers they have not seen at any other time in the pandemic.

On Sunday, the country reported 125,544 current Covid-19 hospitalizations, setting a new record, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The number has exceeded 100,000 for more than a month.

Health experts worry what will happen to those numbers if infections continue to spread.

"This is about total collapse of the health care system if we have another spike," said Dr. Brad Spellberg, chief medical officer at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center.

Read more about the situation in the US:

1:20 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

North Korean state newspaper calls for tightening of Covid measures ahead of party congress

From CNN's Jake Kwon in Seoul 

Health workers spray disinfectant inside the Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 prior to opening for business in Pyongyang, North Korea on December 28, 2020.
Health workers spray disinfectant inside the Pyongyang Department Store No. 1 prior to opening for business in Pyongyang, North Korea on December 28, 2020. Kim Won Jin/AFP/Getty Images

Strengthening disease prevention measures is a top priority for North Korea in the new year, the country's state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun said in an article Monday. 

Earlier, the paper announced that North Korea's 8th ruling Workers’ Party congress will be held in early January and that delegates had started to gather in the capital Pyongyang in December.

The article said that as the country prepares for the party congress, the public must redouble their efforts in responding to the health crisis by "tightening the bootstraps further and maintaining the alert-level."

The North Korean government has maintained that there have not been any positive cases of Covid-19 detected in the country, a claim widely questioned by experts.

1:01 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Japan's PM says Covid-19 vaccinations will begin in late February

From CNN's Junko Ogura in Tokyo and Eric Cheung in Hong Kong

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on January 4.
Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on January 4. STR/JIJI Press/AFP/Getty Images

Covid-19 vaccinations will begin in Japan in late February, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference on Monday.

According to Suga, frontline medical workers and the elderly would be the first groups to receive the vaccinations.

The government has moved the timeline forward as Japan grapples with the latest Covid-19 outbreak.

Possible state of emergency: Suga said that he would consider declaring a state of emergency in Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures -- Chiba, Saitama, and Kanagawa -- after an appeal from their governors on Saturday.

Olympics to go ahead: Suga also reiterated the government's intention to hold the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in the summer on schedule. 

"As proof that human beings have overcome the coronavirus, and to bring hope and courage to the world, we are preparing for the Games while taking all possible measures against the risk of infections," he said.

The Tokyo Olympics is scheduled to begin on July 23. A government minister had said the country would introduce a tracking system for overseas travelers to stem the virus' spread. 

New cases: On Monday, Japan's Ministry of Health reported 3,150 new Covid-19 infections and 51 deaths for Sunday. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 244,559, including 3,612 fatalities.

12:52 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Australia's New South Wales reports no local cases for first time since mid-December 

From CNN’s Paul Devitt and Eric Cheung in Hong Kong 

A security guard takes the temperature of a customer at a shopping precinct in Sydney, Australia on January 3.
A security guard takes the temperature of a customer at a shopping precinct in Sydney, Australia on January 3. Mark Baker/AP

The Australian state of New South Wales reported zero locally transmitted Covid-19 cases in the 24 hours prior to 8 p.m. local time on Sunday, the Ministry of Health announced. 

This marks the first time that it has reported no local cases over a 24-hour period since December 15, the ministry said. 

However, two cases were detected on Sunday after 8 p.m. and will be included in the next day's count.

More Covid-19 cases are expected to emerge in Berala, a western suburb of Sydney, in the coming days amid a recent cluster. 

The ministry also urged anyone who visited a local liquor retailer or supermarket in Berala to undergo testing and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. 

On Saturday, police broke up a crowd of more than 600 people at a wedding reception in western Sydney, the state government said, fining the venue operator $5,000 Australian dollars ($3,850).

Current restrictions allow for 150 guests at weddings in New South Wales.

12:24 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Beijing has vaccinated more than 73,500 people since Jan. 1

From CNN's Eric Cheung in Hong Kong

Residents fill out consent forms before receiving their Covid-19 vaccinations at a temporary vaccination site in Beijing, China on January 2.
Residents fill out consent forms before receiving their Covid-19 vaccinations at a temporary vaccination site in Beijing, China on January 2. Chen Zhonghao/Xinhua/AP

China's capital Beijing has vaccinated more than 73,500 people since a targeted vaccination program began on January 1, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday.

The vaccination program covers nine specific groups of people, such as customs officers in charge of handling imported cold-chain food products and port workers responsible for loading and transporting goods, the report said.

More than 220 vaccination sites have been set up across the city, it added. All people targeted in the program are expected to receive vaccinations by mid-January, and no one has so far reported severe adverse effects.

Last Thursday, China's National Medical Products Administration approved the homegrown Sinopharm vaccine for public use.

In December, China set a goal to inoculate 50 million people with Covid-19 vaccines ahead of February's Lunar New Year Celebrations, according to Tao Lina, a vaccination expert formerly with the Shanghai Center for Disease Control and Prevention, citing the government's mass vaccination rollout plan. 

12:11 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

UK coronavirus variant identified in more than three dozen countries

From CNN's Maggie Fox

According to CNN’s count, a new variant of coronavirus first discovered in the UK -- also known as B.1.1.7 -- has been confirmed in people in at least 37 countries, as well as in Hong Kong and Taiwan

Experts say that while the variant appears to be more transmissible than other strains, there is no evidence that it's deadlier or causes more severe disease.

The countries are as follows:

  1. United Kingdom 
  2. Australia
  3. Belgium
  4. Brazil 
  5. Canada
  6. Chile
  7. China
  8. Denmark
  9. Finland
  10. France
  11. Germany
  12. Iceland
  13. India
  14. Ireland
  15. Israel
  16. Italy
  17. Jamaica
  18. Japan
  19. Jordan
  20. Lebanon
  21. Malta
  22. Luxembourg
  23. Netherlands
  24. New Zealand
  25. Norway
  26. Pakistan
  27. Portugal
  28. United Arab Emirates
  29. Singapore
  30. South Korea
  31. Spain
  32. Sweden
  33. Switzerland
  34. Thailand
  35. Turkey
  36. United States -- including cases in Florida, California and Colorado
  37. Vietnam
12:01 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

India restricts exports of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNN's Vedika Sud in New Delhi 

Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla.
Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla. CNN

India has restricted the export of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine produced by the country's largest vaccine manufacturer, Serum Institute of India (SII), until at least March, the head of the company said Sunday.

"We were given a restricted license only to give it and provide it to the government of India because they want to prioritize for the most vulnerable and needy segments first," SII CEO Adar Poonawalla told CNN.

Indian regulators granted the AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured in India by SII, emergency authorization on Sunday on the condition that the Indian government would be the sole buyer.

"The only condition is that we can only supply to the government of India, we can't sell it in the private market, and we can't export it," Poonawalla said.

He added that he hoped the restriction on exporting the vaccine would be eased in March or April. 

SII is ramping up vaccine production and Poonawalla said that the manufacturer aims to provide 50 million doses by the end of January.

The restrictions could mean lower income countries would wait longer for a vaccine.

In September, SII pledged to manufacture and deliver 200 million doses for COVAX -- a WHO vaccine alliance set up to ensure fair access to Covid-19 vaccines. 

The export of vaccines for the initiative to "low-and middle-income countries" will not begin until the restrictions ease. 

Doses of the vaccine will be sold to the Indian government for $2.74 per shot, at $13.70 to the private market, and $3 to $5 per dose to the export market.

Some context: India has reported the second most coronavirus cases in the world, trailing only the United States.

The first phase of its vaccination plan covers 300 million people -- almost as many as the entire US population. India conducted a nationwide Covid-19 vaccine drill on Saturday ahead of plans for mass vaccinations, India's state-run broadcaster Doordarshan reported.

11:08 p.m. ET, January 3, 2021

"It's going to be a difficult year," WHO official predicts

From CNN Health’s Elizabeth Cohen

Even though coronavirus vaccines are being rolled out, 2021 is still going to be tough, a top WHO official said Sunday.

“I think it’s going to be a difficult year ahead and we’re going to have to have patience and stay the course,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for coronavirus response, told CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

The first part of the year will be difficult because in many countries, people did not heed advice to stay home over the holidays.

“We’re in for a bit of a rough start to 2021,” Van Kerkhove said, noting that “movement and the behavior of people” over Christmas and New Year’s “are going to make the first three months of 2021 quite difficult in terms of increased transmission, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

She added that the vaccines won’t be a quick fix.

“I think it’s going to be frustrating and slow to roll out -- slower than anyone would like,” she said. “The first six months of the year are going to be painful for people because they just want it to be done and we really need people to have the patience to get through it.”

Van Kerkhove noted that people will still need to wear masks, practice social distancing, and avoid crowds well into the year.

Return to normalcy: The United States and other countries seeing Covid-19 surges could get back to normal -- or something resembling normal -- in the summer or fall, Van Kerkhove said.

She noted that while some countries in the Americas and Europe are seeing surges, Australia, New Zealand, and some other nations in Asia and Africa have had more success at controlling the spread of the virus.

“We’ve seen countries bring this virus to its knees, without vaccination,” she said. “In many countries they have that semblance of being back to normal.”

She said those countries have been more successful at testing for the virus, isolating sick people, contact tracing, quarantining people who’ve been exposed, and persuading people to work and shop from home.

11:08 p.m. ET, January 3, 2021

US considering cutting Moderna vaccine doses in half to speed up roll out

From CNN's Michael Nedelman and Dr. Sanjay Gupta

A nurse unpacks a box of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccines at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts on December 24, 2020.
A nurse unpacks a box of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccines at the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center in Boston, Massachusetts on December 24, 2020. Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

The US Food and Drug Administration will meet this week to consider giving half-doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine to people aged 18 to 55.

The move could make the vaccine available to twice as many people in this age group, according to Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser of Operation Warp Speed, the US government's vaccine program.

Slaoui told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta that the decision to cut the current 100-microgram dose in half, with another half-dose 28 days later, ultimately rests in the hands of the FDA.

Earlier data showed that binding and neutralizing antibody responses were similar among participants under 55 who received either 100-microgram or 50-microgram doses, Slaoui said. While an FDA briefing document last month also references these “comparable” immune responses from Moderna’s phase 2 study, the full data have not yet been published.

Slaoui said he’s “not sure it holds for Pfizer,” whose dose contains 30 micrograms. But that’s a conversation that has yet to happen, he added.

CNN has reached out to Moderna and Pfizer for comment. The US government previously secured 200 million doses each of Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines.