The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Joshua Berlinger, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 10:08 a.m. ET, January 9, 2021
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8:41 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

"Major incident" declared in London due to Covid-19's pressure on hospitals

From CNN's Martin Goillandeau in London

Paramedics from the British Emergency Ambulance Response Service (BEARS) transport a patient to Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London on January 7.
Paramedics from the British Emergency Ambulance Response Service (BEARS) transport a patient to Guy's and St Thomas' Hospital in London on January 7. Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared a “major incident” in the English capital “due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus (...) and the increase of Covid-19 cases in hospitals, which has left the NHS at risk of being overwhelmed,” according to a statement published on the Mayor’s office website on Friday.

The decision comes “as the number of Covid-19 cases in London has exceeded 1,000 per 100,000, putting immense pressure on an already stretched NHS,” the statement said.

“Between 30 December and 6 January, the number of patients in London hospitals grew by 27 per cent (from 5,524 to 7,034) and the number on mechanical ventilation grew by 42 per cent (from 640 to 908),” the statement read, adding that “over the last three days alone the NHS has announced 477 deaths in London hospitals following a positive test for Covid-19.”

 “The situation in London is now critical with the spread of the virus out of control. The number of cases in London has increased rapidly with more than a third more patients being treated in our hospitals now compared to the peak of the pandemic last April,” Khan said.

According to his office, “the impact is also being felt right across the emergency services with hundreds of firefighters from London Fire Brigade once again assisting London Ambulance Service by volunteering to drive ambulances as the ambulance services faces one of the busiest times in its history.”

The London Ambulance Service is now taking up to 8,000 emergency calls a day now, compared to 5,500 on a typical busy day, the statement said. 

In the UK, the declaration of a major incident enables local authorities to seek further support from the national government to address the situation.

8:48 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

It is past 1.30 p.m. in London and 8.30 a.m. in New York. Here's what's happening in Europe.

From CNN's Sarah Dean

A man stands near signage promoting the UK's National Health Service message, "Stay Home, Save Lives" on a bus shelter in London on January 8.
A man stands near signage promoting the UK's National Health Service message, "Stay Home, Save Lives" on a bus shelter in London on January 8. Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

UK

London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a "'major incident' due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus across the capital and the increase of Covid-19 cases in hospitals, which has left the NHS at risk of being overwhelmed," his office wrote in a press release.

He took the decision as the number of Covid-19 cases in London exceeded "1,000 per 100,000" putting increased pressure on the National Health Service (NHS), which saw patient numbers rise by 27% between December 30 and January 6.

“We are declaring a major incident because the threat this virus poses to our city is at crisis point. If we do not take immediate action now, our NHS could be overwhelmed and more people will die," Khan said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Moderna became the third Covid-19 vaccine to be authorized by UK regulators. The government has agreed to purchase an additional 10 million doses on top of its previous order of 7 million, the UK Department of Health announced Friday.

However, it comes as the UK recorded 1,162 Covid-19 related deaths on Thursday, the highest toll since the first peak in April.

Germany

Germany's coronavirus-related daily death toll has reached an all-time high, of 1,188 deaths in the past day. The previous record was 1,129, recorded on December 30 last year.

The German Health Ministry said Friday it will receive over 60 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine via the EU. In addition, there is a secured option for another 30 million doses nationally. From Moderna, Germany will receive 50 million doses via the EU alone, with additional doses being negotiated nationally.

People are seen at a vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, on January 7.
People are seen at a vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, on January 7. Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

This means from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna alone, Germany has the potential to receive at least 140 million vaccine doses this year.

Spain

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa warned Friday that the country will have some tough weeks ahead as Covid-19 cases continues to rise.

On Thursday, the country topped two million cumulative Covid-19 cases, with numbers doubling in just the last 11 weeks, according to a running CNN tally pinned on data released by its Ministry of Health.

Sweden

Long called an outlier for not implementing a full-scale coronavirus lockdown like its European neighbors, Sweden moved in a more conventional direction on Friday, when its parliament voted in favor of an act that would allowed stricter restrictions.

This will include banning public gatherings, if necessary, and it effectively gives the government the legal right to impose a “lockdown” of whatever degree.

European Union

The European Union continues its drive to secure vaccines for its member states. On Friday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the EU will extend its contract with Pfizer/BioNTech for “up to an additional 300 million vaccines” in 2021 -- doubling the amount of doses from that vaccine.

Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) expects AstraZeneca to submit a “conditional marketing application” for its Covid-19 vaccine “next week,” the regulatory body said in a statement on Twitter on Friday.

8:40 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

EU expecting AstraZeneca to submit application for Covid-19 vaccine authorization 'next week'

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in Reykjavík, Iceland

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) expects AstraZeneca to submit a “conditional marketing application” for its Covid-19 vaccine “next week,” the agency said in a statement on Twitter on Friday.

It added it could issue a “possible conclusion” at the end of January, “depending on data and evaluation progress.”

Should the EMA greenlight the use of that vaccine as it did with Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, the European Commission would then need to grant a decision on the conditional marketing authorization for the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, allowing vaccination programmes to be rolled out across the EU.

The agency is in charge of the evaluation and supervision of medicinal products in the European Union.

8:25 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine makers 'encouraged' by study that shows vaccine appears to work against variants

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

A healthcare worker administers a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the John Knox Village Continuing Care Retirement Community in Pompano Beach, Florida, on January 6.
A healthcare worker administers a Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the John Knox Village Continuing Care Retirement Community in Pompano Beach, Florida, on January 6. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Vaccine makers Pfizer and BioNTech said on Friday they were "encouraged" by a new study offering early evidence that their Covid-19 vaccine might be effective against the two new coronavirus variants first identified in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

The study was conducted by researchers at Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB).

"Pfizer, BioNTech, and UTMB are encouraged by these early, in vitro study findings," according to a news release from BioNTech on Friday. 

Further data are needed to monitor the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine’s effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 caused by new virus variants. If the virus mutates such that an update to the vaccine is required to continue to confer protection against COVID-19, we believe that the flexibility of BioNTech’s proprietary mRNA vaccine platform is well suited to enable an adjustment to the vaccine."

Read more about the study here.

12:57 p.m. ET, January 8, 2021

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson details vaccination program

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in Reykjavik, Iceland

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference at No.10 Downing Street in London, on January 7.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference at No.10 Downing Street in London, on January 7. Tolga Akmen/WPA Pool/Getty Images

There is “enough supply” to vaccinate priority groups in the UK by the deadline of February 15, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a press conference on Thursday.

Detailing the vaccination campaign program, Johnson said: “The limits will not be on our distributional power but on the supply of vaccines.” However, he added he had “no doubt” that the UK has enough supply to vaccinate the four priority groups by the February deadline.

Priority groups: He said these four groups include older care home residents and staff, everyone 70 or older, all frontline NHS workers and all “clinically extremely vulnerable.”

Johnson said in England there will be over 1,000 sites led by family doctors (known as general practitioners in the UK) providing vaccines, 223 hospital sites, seven giant vaccination centers and a first wave of 200 community pharmacies “by the end of next week.”

He said that these sites should be together be able to deliver hundreds of thousands of vaccines per day by January 15, adding that the plan was for everyone to have a vaccination available within a radius of ten miles.

The country was “throwing everything at it, around the clock,” Johnson insisted. 

“Let this be clear: this is a national challenge on a scale like nothing we’ve seen before and it will require an unprecedented national effort,” he warned.

7:42 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Moderna Covid-19 vaccine authorized by UK medicines regulator

From CNN’s Lauren Kent and Sarah Dean in London

A close-up shows a vial of the Moderna vaccine.
A close-up shows a vial of the Moderna vaccine. Gerard Bottino/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine has been authorized by the UK medicines regulator “following months of rigorous clinical trials involving tens of thousands of people and an extensive analysis of the vaccine’s safety, quality and effectiveness,” the country's Department of Health said in a press release on Friday.  

The UK government has agreed to purchase an additional 10 million doses of the Moderna vaccine on top of its previous order of 7 million, taking the total to 17 million, the release said. Supplies will begin to be delivered to the UK from this spring once Moderna expands its production capability, it added.

“This is further great news and another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

We have already vaccinated nearly 1.5 million people across the UK and Moderna’s vaccine will allow us to accelerate our vaccination programme even further once doses become available from the spring."

On Wednesday, the European Commission also authorized the use of the Moderna coronavirus vaccine across the European Union’s 27 member nations, hours after the European Medicines Agency recommended it do so.

7:31 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Swedish parliament votes to allow tougher coronavirus control measures

From Niamh Kennedy in Dublin and Henrik Pettersson in London

The Swedish Parliament is pictured in April 2020, in Stockholm.
The Swedish Parliament is pictured in April 2020, in Stockholm. Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images

Sweden’s parliament has voted in favor of a temporary act that will allow further disease control measures to counteract the spread of Covid-19, according to a statement on the parliament (Riksdag) website on Friday.

Sweden has long been an outlier when it comes to coronavirus measures, declining to impose the full-scale lockdowns favored by its European counterparts. The country has seen a higher death rate per capita than its Scandinavian neighbors, with a total of 9,262 deaths recorded in Sweden according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The Covid-19 Act will apply from January 10 until the end of September and provides the government with the framework to "introduce special restrictions for both certain activities and places." 

The statement said the restrictions may apply to places where the public congregate including shopping centers and malls, public transport and domestic air travel and places where private gatherings are held.

"If necessary, it will be possible to prohibit public gatherings of a certain size at places to which the public have access and close premises that serve food and drink," the statement added. 

The parliament called on the government to provide "much more substantial" clarity as to which businesses may apply for compensation, saying that businesses affected by the new Covid-19 Act "should as a ruler receive compensation." They also asked the government to keep the relevant parliamentary committees informed when drawing up new regulations based on the Act.

7:24 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Spain will face some 'tough weeks' warns the health minister

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Lisbon

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa addresses a press conference in Madrid, Spain, on Friday, January 8, after a meeting of the COVID-19 Follow-up Committee.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa addresses a press conference in Madrid, Spain, on Friday, January 8, after a meeting of the COVID-19 Follow-up Committee. J J Guillen/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa has warned that the country will face some tough weeks as the number of Covid-19 cases continues to rise. 

“We are going to have some tough weeks ahead again, with an increase in the number of cases and hospitalizations,” Illa said during a press conference on Friday. “It is very important that we reduce mobility and reduce contacts to the maximum and strictly follow the measures that regional health authorities dictate.”

“If we do this, we’ll be able to stabilize the increase in cases,” Illa also said. 

Turning to the vaccination campaign, the health minister revealed that 140,000 people had already been vaccinated in Spain, but said he wanted to improve and speed up vaccinations across the country. 

"Our objective is to have more people vaccinated than infected in Spain, as soon as possible, and to reach a high threshold of 70% of Spaniards vaccinated by the summer,” Illa said. 

Spain has seen 2,024,904 Covid-19 infections and 51,675 related deaths since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

7:10 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Detainees file lawsuit against South Korean government after Covid-19 outbreak at Seoul prison

From CNN's Yoonjung Seo in Seoul

A person wearing protective gear is pictured at Seoul's Dongbu Detention Center in Seoul, South Korea, on December 31, 2020.
A person wearing protective gear is pictured at Seoul's Dongbu Detention Center in Seoul, South Korea, on December 31, 2020. Ko Bum-jun/Newsis/AP

Four inmates from Seoul's Dongbu Detention Center filed a compensation lawsuit after a Covid-19 outbreak infected more than 1,100 people at the prison.

A lawyer at South Korean law firm Chung told CNN in a statement that they filed a formal complaint at the Seoul Central District Court on Wednesday demanding 10 million Korean won (about US $9,155) per person.

The firm’s lawyer, Kwak Joon-ho, said in a statement that the purpose of the lawsuit is “to heal the wounds” of the inmates and their family members. Kwak said the government was responsible [for the Covid-19 cluster] for various reasons, including insufficient supply of face masks, lack of separation between confirmed cases and others, and density of the facility.

At least 1,177 cases have been linked to the Dongbu Detention facility as of Friday, according to a press release by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency.

Earlier in the week, South Korea announced that it will test every inmate at all of the country's 52 detention facilities for Covid-19. A total of 1,207 have been tested positive as of Friday. 

There has been international concern about Covid-19 outbreaks within prisons and jails. A study published in September found that Covid-19 infection and mortality rates in US state and federal prisons was twice as high as in the general population, though the severity differed widely among states.