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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6:58 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

EU purchasing 300 million more vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in Reykjavík, Iceland

European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen gives a presser on vaccine strategy, on January 8 in Brussels.
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen gives a presser on vaccine strategy, on January 8 in Brussels. François Walschaerts/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The European Union has extended its contract with Pfizer/BioNTech for “up to an additional 300 million vaccines” in 2021 -- doubling the amount of doses from that vaccine, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced at a press conference on Friday.

Speaking from Brussels, she said it was imperative to vaccinate the maximum number of Europeans "as quickly as possible," adding that she was "particularly pleased that 75 million of this order will already be available as of quarter two [of this year] onwards. The rest will then be delivered in the third and in the fourth quarter.”

Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine became the second coronavirus vaccine to be approved for use in the EU on Wednesday.

With these two authorized vaccines, we have already secured an amount of doses that we need to vaccinate 380 million Europeans," von der Leyen added. "This is more than 80% of the European population. And other vaccines will follow in the coming weeks and months."

When asked to address the lag in the vaccination campaign in some European countries, Von der Leyen said it was down to production capacity not being able to keep pace with demand. “We’ve seen new production sites are being opened up or licensed, and that makes it possible to work on a basis of confidence with Pfizer/BioNTech to double the contract,” she added.

She added that the contract means the EU's vaccine portfolio "covers 2.3 billion doses... more than enough to vaccinate the whole European population.” That includes vaccines yet to be approved for use in the bloc.

According to the European Commission website on Friday, the Commission had concluded contracts with AstraZeneca (400 million doses), Sanofi-GSK (300 million doses), Johnson and Johnson (400 million doses ), Pfizer/BioNTech (300 million doses), CureVac (405 million doses) and Moderna (160 million doses).

These numbers do not take into account the extended contract with Pfizer/BioNTech announced Friday.

6:28 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Two rheumatoid arthritis drugs can help the sickest Covid-19 patients

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

Tocilizumab injections for arthritis are pictured in Leeds, England, in January 2019.
Tocilizumab injections for arthritis are pictured in Leeds, England, in January 2019. Shutterstock

Two drugs typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis were found to separately improve survival and speed up recovery among critically ill Covid-19 patients, according to early research by an international team.

Data from the REMAP-CAP trial showed that giving either tocilizumab or sarilumab infusions to critically ill Covid-19 patients was associated with an 8.5% improvement in surviving the disease and with being able to be discharged from a hospital's intensive care unit about a week to 10 days faster.

"That's a big change in survival," Anthony Gordon, a senior investigator in the REMAP-CAP trial and a professor at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom, said in a briefing. "We also saw the patients recovered more quickly. They were getting better and able to be discharged from the ICU quicker -- and that was on average and every patient is slightly different."

The findings -- which were posted in a pre-print paper on but have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal -- included data on more than 800 critically ill Covid-19 patients hospitalized across six countries. The researchers emphasized that the findings were only among critically ill patients.

The new findings are a pivot from some separate studies that previously have found tocilizumab to fall short as a treatment for hospitalized Covid-19 patients.

6:43 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Brazil says second Chinese vaccine has 78% efficacy 

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in Lisbon

A shipment of the CoronaVac vaccine is unloaded from a cargo plane that arrived from China, at Guarulhos International Airport in Guarulhos, Brazil, on December 18.
A shipment of the CoronaVac vaccine is unloaded from a cargo plane that arrived from China, at Guarulhos International Airport in Guarulhos, Brazil, on December 18. Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

CoronaVac, the Covid-19 vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinovac, has been shown to have an efficacy of 78% during phase 3 trials in Brazil, its local partner, the Butantan Institute, announced on Thursday. 

"Today is a very important day for Brazil, for Brazilians, for life and health,” Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria said during a press conference, alongside state health officials and executives from the Butantan Institute.  

“This result means that the vaccine developed by the Butantan Institute has a high level of efficiency and efficacy protecting the lives of Brazilians against Covid-19,” Doria also said. 

The phase 3 trials involved 13,000 health workers across eight Brazilian states. According to Reuters, Butantan Director Dimas Covas said that the full CoronaVac data would be released in an unspecified scientific publication but did not provide a timeline.

Doria also said his government, along with the Butantan Institute, had begun the process of applying for an emergency use authorization from ANVISA, Brazil’s national medicine agency, “with the objective of starting the vaccination in São Paulo" from January 25.

Even though the efficacy falls shorts of the success rates of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine candidates, CoronaVac is easier to transport and can be stored at normal refrigerator temperatures, Reuters reports.

5:46 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls for ban on Western Covid-19 vaccines

From Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, on Friday, January 8.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei addresses the nation in a televised speech in Tehran, Iran, on Friday, January 8. Handout/Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader/AP

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday that he does not trust coronavirus vaccines produced by the Western countries and called on officials to prohibit those vaccines from entering the country.   

“We must not import (Covid-19) vaccines from the US, the UK or even France. I do not trust them,” Khamenei said in a speech to the nation televised on state media. 

This comes as Iranian officials complain about US President Donald Trump's "maximum pressure" sanctions hampering their Covid-19 fight.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has previously accused the US of preventing Iran from making a payment to COVAX, an initiative led by the World Health Organization (WHO), which aims to provide worldwide access to effective Covid-19 vaccines.

“The United States even prevents us from using our own money in different countries to pay COVAX for the vaccine,” Zarif said, adding, “we’ve been trying, our Ministry of Health has been trying, our Central Bank has been trying to transfer money we have in billions in other countries to WHO for COVAX and we haven’t had much success.”  

Last month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his government plans to produce its own Covid-19 vaccine “with the help of Iranian scientists”, and to buy vaccines from abroad, according to state news agency IRNA.

6:05 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Delhi announces mandatory quarantine for all UK arrivals

From CNN's Swati Gupta in New Delhi

The Delhi government announced a mandatory seven-day quarantine at an isolation facility for passengers arriving from the United Kingdom, even if they test negative for Covid-19 at the airport.

Passengers will then be required to spend a further seven days at a "home quarantine," a press release issued by the city’s Disaster Management Authority said Friday.

Those who test positive will be isolated in a separate facility.  

The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation announced earlier this month that it was ending its temporary suspension of all flights to and from the UK on January 8.

“To protect Delhiites from exposure to virus from the UK... All those arriving from UK, who test positive will be isolated in an isolation facility. Negative ones will be taken to a quarantine facility for 7 days followed by 7 days home quarantine,” tweeted Arvind Kejriwal, Delhi chief minister.

This comes as India is about to embark on one of the most ambitious mass vaccination programs ever undertaken.

5:13 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Los Angeles County Covid-19 deaths in a day equals city's homicide deaths in a year, mayor says

From CNN's Sarah Moon and Christina Maxouris

The number of people dying of Covid-19 in Los Angeles County in a day is now equivalent to the number of homicide deaths the city saw in an entire year, Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a Thursday news conference.

Yesterday we had 259 deaths, that's one more than all the homicides in 2019 in L.A. city combined," he said. "In a single day, equal to a year of homicides."

The city of Los Angeles has a population of nearly 4 million people, while the county's population is about 10 million.

We are not, nor will we ever, become accustomed to these numbers as normal. Nor will I ever accept them as something we should just live with," the mayor added. "Because every single one of those means everything to somebody out there today."

"All of us need to continue to do more," he said.

The region has for weeks battled a brutal surge of Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations that have translated into climbing numbers of deaths. Los Angeles County officials now say one person dies of Covid-19 every eight minutes.

"People who were otherwise leading healthy, productive lives are now passing away because of a chance encounter with the Covid-19 virus," health officials said earlier this week. "This only ends when we each make the right decisions to protect each other."

More than 8,000 people are hospitalized with the virus across Los Angeles County, 20% of whom are in intensive care units.

Read the full story here:

4:21 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Here's what it's like in Tokyo under the state of emergency

From CNN's Selina Wang in Tokyo

The greater Tokyo region has been among the worst hit areas of Japan during the pandemic, surpassing 2,000 daily cases on Thursday for the first time with a record 2,447 new infections, according to updated figures from the Tokyo metropolitan government.

The total number of cases confirmed in the capital now stands at nearly 69,000.

The central government declared on Thursday that Tokyo and three neighboring prefectures -- Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa -- would go into a state of emergency from Friday.

It's Japan's second state of emergency since the pandemic began.

CNN's Selina Wang has more:

4:01 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Chinese commuters asked to provide Beijing residency proof and negative Covid-19 test

From CNN's Beijing bureau

Commuters traveling between China's capital city and the neighboring northern Hebei province must provide evidence they are Beijing residents and a negative Covid-19 test, according to local officials working to contain the country's worst coronavirus flare-up in months.

China has locked down Hebei's provincial capital, Shijiazhuang, in an effort to contain the spread of the virus following the emergence of a cluster that has so far produced more than 300 cases.

"Those who commute regularly between Hebei and Beijing need to present proof that they are living in Beijing or that they are living in the four cities and 15 counties outside Beijing," An Zhongqi, executive deputy director of Hebei Provincial Public Security Department, said at a news conference Friday.
"Apart from the residential proof, they also need to present proof of a job in Beijing and a negative Covid test result from within 72 hours."

An also said that unless necessary, Shijiazhuang and Xingtai residents should not leave their cities and people in other parts of Hebei should not travel to Beijing.

3:37 a.m. ET, January 8, 2021

Australia to require international arrivals to present negative Covid-19 test results

From CNN's Angus Watson and Sophie Jeong

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on January 8.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a news conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, on January 8. Kukas Coch/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Australia will require all travelers to the country to test negative for Covid-19 before their departure to Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Friday.

Morrison also announced that Australia will be reducing the caps on international arrivals in New South Wales, Western Australia and in Queensland by 50% until February 15. This means that roughly 2,500 fewer Australian citizens and permanent residents can enter the country each week. Visitors from New Zealand have been allowed quarantine-free travel to certain Australian destinations.

Morrison said the government decided to implement these measures to "reduce and de-bulk the risk in terms of exposure" to the new Covid-19 variant.

Earlier, the state of Queensland announced that Greater Brisbane will enter a three-day lockdown after a cleaner from a quarantine hotel tested positive for the UK Covid-19 variant.