The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Florence Davey-Attlee, Hannah Strange and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, January 14, 2021
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4:27 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

UK health secretary considers putting Covid patients in hotels "if clinically right for them"

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau in London

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks at a coronavirus news conference at 10 Downing Street on January 11, in London, England.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks at a coronavirus news conference at 10 Downing Street on January 11, in London, England. Alastair Grant/WPA Pool/Getty Images

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday that authorities were considering putting Covid-19 patients in hotels as a “backup plan.”

It comes as the National Health Service (NHS) is facing intense pressure from a high number of Covid-19 cases.

“We are considering all the options, it isn't something that we're actively putting in place. But I would say that it would only ever happen if that was clinically right for any individual patient,” Hancock told BBC Breakfast. 
“There is a lag from the number of cases, through to the number of people turning up in hospital. So we know that those pressures on the NHS are going to continue to build over the next couple of weeks because that lag from people catching coronavirus to ending up in hospital is between a weekend or two,” he added. 

On hotels, Hancock said that, “It's obviously not what I want to do. And the NHS Nightingale hospitals are there as the backup,” referring to temporary hospitals established by NHS England as part of the response to the pandemic.

Asked which patients would be sent to hotels, the health secretary said it, “would be for step-down patients or patients who have been in hospital, who no longer need the full hospital treatment but aren't quite ready to go home.”

4:06 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

Germany's Bavaria is set to make high-protection masks mandatory for public transport and shopping

From CNN's Claudia Otto in Berlin

Two women wearing FFP2 masks board a train in Bavaria, on January 12, 2021.
Two women wearing FFP2 masks board a train in Bavaria, on January 12, 2021. Sven Hoppe/picture-alliance/Getty Images

Starting next Monday, people in the German state of Bavaria will be required to wear an “FFP2” mask on public transport and while shopping. 

The FFP2 filtering mask is standardized in Europe. It differs from surgical masks in that it usually has four layers and is meant to provide a high degree of protection. FFP2 masks are often used in construction, agriculture and by healthcare workers. An equivalent is the N95 mask.

"We want to make everyday life safer," Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder said Tuesday. The southern German state, which borders Switzerland and Austria, is especially hard-hit by the virus.

The Covid-19 situation in Germany remains serious. Last week, Germany's government announced an extension of the country's national lockdown until the end of the month and will further tighten restrictions on movement and contact in order to curb the spread of the virus.

"It is not said that the tighter lockdown by the end of January has pushed Covid-19 back so far that we can relax again," said vice chancellor and finance minister Olaf Scholz in an interview with Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper. "Anyone who promises that now is acting recklessly and destroying trust."    

South Africa variant: Meanwhile, the southwest state of Baden-Wuerttemberg announced Tuesday that it had identified its first cases of the coronavirus variant first spotted in South Africa, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

"These persons are all in surveillance, so we do not assume that beyond that, we have more infections," Stefan Brockmann, Health Ministry spokesman in Baden-Wuerttemberg, said in an interview on public broadcaster SWR.

New cases: On Wednesday, the national agency for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 19,600 Covid-19 cases, bringing the total to 1,953,426.

The death toll increased by 1,060, and now stands at 42,637. 

3:44 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

South Korean religious leader found not guilty of breaking virus law

From CNN's Yoonjung Seo in Seoul, South Korea

Lee Man-hee, leader of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, leaves a detention center in Suwon, South Korea, on November 12, 2020.
Lee Man-hee, leader of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, leaves a detention center in Suwon, South Korea, on November 12, 2020. Hong Ki-won/Yonhap/AP

The leader of a South Korean religious group has been found not guilty of violating the country's Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Law, a news release from Suwon district court said Wednesday.

Lee Man-hee, the leader of the religious group Shincheonji, was accused of intentionally submitting incomplete lists of his congregation to authorities as they were trying to track Covid-19 patients.

One member had tested positive shortly after attending one of the group’s mass gatherings and Shincheonji was believed to be at the center of the largest coronavirus outbreak in the country in February 2020.

Though Lee, 89, was found not guilty of violating the virus law, he was convicted of embezzlement charges and handed a suspended sentence, meaning he won't serve any time in prison. Lee was found guilty of embezzling 5.7 billion Korean won (US$5.2 million).

Lee was also found partially guilty of obstruction of justice over charges he told the religious group to submit false information about their gatherings. The court said that he instructed the group to indicate the event as a volunteer group gathering, not as a religious one.

The religious group's response: In a statement, Shincheonji said it welcomed the court finding the group leader not guilty of breaking the virus law, but expressed “deep regret” over the guilty ruling on the other charges.

Shincheonji said that it’ll appeal to get “a fair judgement from the court,” but added that the group will maintain its efforts to cooperate with [the authorities] for the end of Covid-19.

Lee issued a public apology in March, but denied accusations that he and his group had been hampering health authorities’ efforts to contain and prevent infections. At the time, South Korea had identified more than 4,200 cases of Covid-19, more than any country except mainland China. More than half of those cases were tied to Shincheonji.

5:26 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

How major European countries are progressing with their vaccine rollouts

From CNN's Tim Lister, Claudia Otto in Berlin, Antonia Mortensen in Milan, Saskya Vandoorne in Paris

Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine supplies arrive at the Pisa International Airport in Italy, on January 12.
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine supplies arrive at the Pisa International Airport in Italy, on January 12. Enrico Mattia Del Punta/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The European Union kicked off its coronavirus vaccination campaign at the end of last month, and the number of people receiving shots is increasing, though some countries are faring better than others.

Here's where Italy, Germany and France stand:

  • Italy has so far vaccinated 791,734 people, according to the government's vaccine administration.
  • Germany has given shots to 688,782 people, according to the national agency for disease control and vaccination, the Robert Koch Institute.
  • France has administered vaccines to 189,834 people, according to the country's Health Ministry. 
  • Spain has administered a total of 488,142 doses, according to the country's Health Ministry. Progress was interrupted by heavy snowfall across much of northern and central Spain at the weekend.
2:48 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

Earlier, stricter mitigation policies saved lives during pandemic in Europe, study finds

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

Restaurants and shops are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic on October 28, 2020, in Madrid, Spain.
Restaurants and shops are closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic on October 28, 2020, in Madrid, Spain. Oscar J. Barroso/AFP7/Getty Images

Quicker, more stringent pandemic policies likely saved tens of thousands of lives in certain European countries, researchers reported Tuesday.

And they did not necessarily need to impose all-out lockdowns.

A review led by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that when countries imposed mitigation measures earlier last spring, they had less spread of coronavirus and fewer deaths. 

“Countries that implemented stringent policies earlier might have saved several thousand lives relative to those countries that implemented similar policies, but later. Earlier implementation of mitigation policies, even by just a few weeks, might be an important strategy to reduce the number of deaths from Covid-19,” the team of researchers wrote in the CDC’s weekly report, the MMWR.

Early measures included: canceling public events, school closures, restrictions on gathering and internal travel, workplace closures, border closures, public transport closures, recommendations to stay at home, and stay-at-home orders. Mask requirements were not included, according to the report.

The CDC team reviewed policies in 37 European countries and used them to create an index. Those with a higher index -- indicating either more policies, or stricter implementation of policies -- had fewer deaths per capita.

“Earlier implementation of stringent mitigation policies, even by just a few weeks, appears to be important to prevent widespread Covid-19 transmission and reduce the number of deaths,” the team wrote.

More lives could have been saved: Britain could have averted 22,776 deaths had mitigation measures been put into place earlier, the team calculated. France could have prevented more than 13,000 deaths, and Spain could have averted 9,300 fatalities.

The team said many policies were put in place at the same time so they could not say if any particular policies worked best.

2:22 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

Indonesia's President receives country's first Covid-19 vaccine shot

Indonesian President Joko Widodo receives his first dose of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine in Jakarta, Indonesia, on January 13, 2021.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo receives his first dose of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine in Jakarta, Indonesia, on January 13, 2021. Indonesian Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

President Joko Widodo officially launched Indonesia's coronavirus vaccine drive Wednesday by becoming the first person in the country to receive the shot, state-run Antara News Agency reported.

Joko said the country would vaccinate nearly 5.8 million people in January, according to Antara.

Indonesia has received 3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac and has signed deals with AstraZeneca and Novavax to secure another 100 million doses.

The country's food and drug regulators approved emergency use of China’s Sinovac Biotech vaccine on Monday.

Case numbers: Indonesia, the world's fourth most populous nation, has reported the highest Covid-19 caseload in Southeast Asia. At least 846,765 infections and 24,645 deaths have been confirmed in the country, according to Johns Hopkins University.

1:52 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

22 people indicted for violating social distancing rules in South Korea 

From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo in Seoul, South Korea

A view of a social distancing sign in the Dongsungro district in Daegu, South Korea on December 22, 2020.
A view of a social distancing sign in the Dongsungro district in Daegu, South Korea on December 22, 2020. Seung-il Ryu/NurPhoto/Getty Images

So far, 22 people in South Korea have been indicted for violating the country’s social distancing rules since they were implemented last month, health official Son Young-rae said Wednesday.

Some 411 more people are being investigated for breaking the rules, Son added. Most of them are owners of entertainment venues, and church officials who violated social distancing rules by not closing venues and holding in-person church services, he said.

South Korea's measures: The country raised its social distancing restrictions to level 2.5 -- the second highest alert level -- for the Seoul metropolitan area, and level 2 for the rest of the nation on December 8. Later that month, South Korea issued a ban on gatherings of five or more people. 

An announcement on whether South Korea will adjust the current social distancing rules will be made on Saturday, Son said.

New cases: South Korea reported 562 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The national total of confirmed infections is now 70,212, with 1,185 deaths.

1:23 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

US reports new daily record of more than 4,300 Covid-19 deaths

From CNN's Joe Sutton in Atlanta

The United States on Tuesday reported a record-high number of 4,327 new Covid-19 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

The latest figures bring the nationwide death toll to 380,670.

Cases: Also on Tuesday, the US reported 215,805 new Covid-19 cases, according to JHU, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 22,838,110.

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

Vaccines: At least 27,696,150 vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 9,327,138 shots administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

Track the US cases:

1:12 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

Indian officials herald message that vaccines are safe to encourage uptake 

From CNN's Manveena Suri in New Delhi

A volunteer is vaccinated with Bharat Biotech's Covaxin during a human trial at the Maharaja Agrasen Super Speciality Hospital in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, on December 18, 2020.
A volunteer is vaccinated with Bharat Biotech's Covaxin during a human trial at the Maharaja Agrasen Super Speciality Hospital in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, on December 18, 2020. Vishal Bhatnagar/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Indian officials are ramping up their messaging that two Covid-19 vaccines approved for emergency use are safe, in order to encourage participation in the country's vaccine rollout.

Speaking a news conference on Tuesday, Dr. V. K. Paul, Member (Health) of government think tank NITI Aayog, said vaccines Covishield and Covaxin “have been tested on thousands of people and the side-effects are negligible.”

Let's give the message that these vaccines are safe and secure. We need to send the message. We need to take this message and defeat coronavirus," Paul said.

Paul urged the media to raise awareness, saying, “We believe it is very much in our grasp to mount the world's largest vaccination program, which is set to begin from January 16."

Rajesh Bhushan, a senior official from the country’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, added that the vaccines were granted approval through a "well prescribed regulatory process.”

India’s Health Ministry has placed a purchase order for 11 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine -- branded locally as Covishield -- and 5.5 million doses of the vaccine Covaxin, developed locally by Bharat Biotech. 

Vaccine drive: India is embarking on one of the world's most ambitious mass immunization programs ever undertaken. The country of 1.35 billion is planning to inoculate 300 million frontline workers, elderly and vulnerable people by August, and preparations have been months in the making. In its first phase, the government intends to vaccinate 10 million healthcare workers free of charge.

New cases: On Wednesday, India confirmed 15,968 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the country's total to 10,495,147, according to figures released by the Health Ministry. The number of fatalities rose by 202, bringing the death toll to 151,529.