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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12:01 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

Cuba is shutting schools as Covid-19 surges

From CNN’s Patrick Oppmann in Havana, Cuba 

Health workers prepare to administer Covid-19 tests for passengers arriving from Mexico at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, on November 15, 2020.
Health workers prepare to administer Covid-19 tests for passengers arriving from Mexico at the Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, on November 15, 2020. Ramon Espinosa/AP

Facing a surge in Covid-19 cases, Cuban officials Tuesday night said they are implementing new restrictions, including shutting schools in much of the capital Havana and other parts of the island.

Cuban health officials on Tuesday reported 487 new Covid-19 cases, topping the previous record set the day before.

Schools will be shut in 34 municipalities hard hit by the pandemic starting on Thursday, officials said.

Cuba has recorded more than 15,000 coronavirus cases, including 155 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

For much of the pandemic Cuba had managed the outbreak more effectively than many other countries in the region but since reopening borders in late 2019, the communist-run island has seen a sharp increase in infections.

Officials said Tuesday more restrictions would be put into place soon on transportation and commerce.

10:48 p.m. ET, January 12, 2021

China sees biggest daily Covid-19 case jump in more than 5 months

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

China recorded its highest daily increase in Covid-19 cases in more than five months on Tuesday, following a recent cluster of infections in the northern Hebei province.

The National Health Commission said in a statement that the country reported 115 new confirmed cases Tuesday, which is the highest daily rise since July 30.

  • Of those, 107 were local infections -- the highest daily jump in local transmissions since July 30.
  • Hebei, the province that surrounds Beijing, accounted for 90 of the cases, while northeastern Heilongjiang province reported 16 new cases. 

Hebei's vice governor Xu Jianpei announced Tuesday that a second round of mass testing programs would kick off in the cities of Shijiazhuang, Xingtai, and Langfang. The first saw 17 million people tested in the province in a program that ended on Sunday.

The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, was 38.

China has recorded a total of 87,706 confirmed cases during the pandemic and at least 4,634 people have died.

10:29 p.m. ET, January 12, 2021

Brazil data shakes confidence in China's Sinovac coronavirus vaccine

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias in Atlanta, Steve George and Nectar Gan in Hong Kong, and Yong Xiong in Seoul

A Covid-19 vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech was just 50.38% effective in late-stage trials in Brazil, significantly lower than earlier results showed, according to a statement published by the government of São Paulo Tuesday.

While the number meets the threshold required by global regulators for approval, it falls far below the 78% figure announced last week.

It's raising questions as to the veracity of the data and fueling skepticism over the apparent lack of transparency regarding Chinese vaccines.

“The Butantan Institute and the Government of São Paulo report that the coronavirus vaccine achieved a 50.38% overall efficacy rate in the clinical study conducted in Brazil, in addition to [an efficacy rate of] 78% for mild cases and 100% for moderate and severe cases of Covid-19. All rates are higher than the 50% level required by the WHO (World Health Organization),” the statement released Tuesday said.

The razor-thin results for regulatory approval are likely to lead to concern among scientists, given that last week the Brazilian Institute released partial “clinical efficacy” results celebrating 78% to 100% efficacy in preventing infections. The vaccine was studied in 12,500 volunteers, all of them health professionals, across Brazil.

Why the data changed: In a summary of the clinical study published by the government of São Paulo and the Butantan Institute, data for another group of participants who reported “very mild” cases of infection was included, therefore yielding a lower efficacy rate for the vaccine.

"Regarding the overall efficacy of the analysis, we met the requirements of the World Health Organization with 50.38%," Ricardo Palacios, medical director for clinical research at the Butantan biomedical center in Sao Paulo said Tuesday during a news conference.

Questions over efficacy: However on Tuesday, high-ranking members of the Brazilian Health Ministry told CNN affiliate CNN Brasil that "the effectiveness is borderline," and that because "it is at the limit" they would need the county’s health regulator agency, ANVISA, to evaluate.

A representative of Sinovac said the company is discussing the result but declined to give further comment. 

Last week, ANVISA told the Butantan Institute that in order to approve the emergency use of a vaccine, the global efficacy rate had to be disclosed to the public -- information the institute did not receive from Sinovac at the time, according to CNN Brasil sources.

8:19 p.m. ET, January 12, 2021

Scientists fear "escape mutant" in coronavirus variant from South Africa might decrease vaccine efficacy

From CNN's Elizabeth Cohen

Scientists have identified an "escape mutant" that may decrease the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines.

The mutation -- called E484K -- has been found in a variant of the coronavirus first spotted in South Africa two months ago. That variant has now spread to 12 other countries.

Penny Moore, associate professor at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa, called the mutation "alarming."

"We fear this mutation might have an impact, and what we don't know is the extent of the impact," she said.

E484K is called an "escape mutant" because it's been shown it might be able to escape some of the antibodies produced by the vaccine.

"I'm worried," said Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute.

Sigal, Moore, and other scientists who are studying the E484K mutation still have to complete their work in the lab to see if the vaccine is less effective against this new variant.

Based on what they've seen so far, they say they highly doubt E484K will render the coronavirus vaccines useless. Rather, they think there's a possibility the mutation -- on its own or in combination with other mutations -- could decrease the efficacy of the vaccine against the variant.

They also worry E484K might be an indication the novel coronavirus is showing its ability to change before our eyes. If this mutation happened in a matter of months, other problematic mutations could follow.

"This virus may be taking the first steps down a fairly lengthy road towards vaccine resistance," said Andrew Ward, a structural virologist at Scripps Research in La Jolla, California.
"It's the beginning of a long haul," Moore said. "That's what's really shaken me up about this. It's a sobering wake up call."

Read the full story:

7:41 p.m. ET, January 12, 2021

CDC to require all air travelers to US to show negative coronavirus test

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday it will require a negative Covid-19 test from all air passengers entering the United States -- a move it says may help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Air passengers will be required to get a viral test within three days before their flight to the US departs, and to provide written documentation of their lab results, or documentation of having recovered from Covid-19, the agency said in a statement to CNN.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield is expected to sign the order on Tuesday and it will go into effect on January 26.

"Variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus continue to emerge in countries around the world, and there is evidence of increased transmissibility of some of these variants," the CDC said in a statement. "With the US already in surge status, the testing requirement for air passengers will help slow the spread of the virus as we work to vaccinate the American public."

If a passenger does not provide documentation of a negative test or recovery, or chooses not to take a test, the airline must not allow the passenger to board, the CDC said.

Read more:

8:05 p.m. ET, January 12, 2021

More than 9 million people in the US have received the first dose of coronavirus vaccine, CDC says

From CNN’s Maggie Fox and Michael Nedelman

More than 9 million people have received the first shot of their coronavirus vaccine and more than 27 million doses have been distributed, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

The CDC’s regular report on vaccine distribution and administration shows 27,696,150 vaccine doses have gone to states and territories and 9,327,128 shots have gone into people’s arms. That means one-third of vaccines that have been delivered have been given to people.

The CDC said 951,774 residents of long-term care facilities have been vaccinated, with nearly 4.4 million doses sent out to the facilities -- which were designated to be the first sites covered under vaccine rollout.

Officials of Operation Warp Speed defended the slow rollout of vaccines on Tuesday, saying states were sticking too rigidly to guidance designating health care workers and nursing home residents to be vaccinated first. They said the rollout would speed up soon and asked states to open up vaccination to everyone 65 and older and to younger people with chronic conditions.