January 18 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Sharon Braithwaite and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021
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7:55 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Restrictions could be gradually eased from March in the UK, says minister

From CNN's Nina Avramova in Vienna and Lindsay Isaac in London

A stall sells coffee and food on a quiet street with closed shops in Soho, central London, on January 15.
A stall sells coffee and food on a quiet street with closed shops in Soho, central London, on January 15. Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Pandemic restrictions could be lifted from March in the United Kingdom once the most vulnerable are protected with a Covid-19 vaccine, according to a government minister.

The reopening of the country will be "gradual, it will be probably through the tiered system," and likely two to three weeks after the middle of February target for vaccinating the "top four cohorts" of vulnerable people, the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC on Monday. 

The government plans to administer the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by February 15 to about 15 million people across the UK, including care home residents, health and social care workers, and older people.

“If we take the mid-February target -- two weeks after that you get your protection pretty much for the Pfizer/BioNTech [vaccine], three weeks for the Oxford/AstraZeneca, [then] you are protected," Zahawi said.

7:41 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Iran records more than 5,800 daily Covid cases

From CNN’s Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Iran reported 5,806 new coronavirus infections on Monday, adding to the country's case count of more than 1.3 million. It also recorded 83 new fatalities, bringing the current total death toll to 56,886.

Iran is the Middle East country hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of total cases and deaths.

The new numbers were announced by Iran’s Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadaat Lari in a news conference on state TV. The health ministry said 4,348 patients are currently hospitalized in intensive care units.

7:25 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Upmarket Swiss ski resort quarantines hotels after virus variant outbreak

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

The Swiss ski resort of St. Moritz has quarantined two hotels and temporarily closed all ski schools to curb the outbreak of a coronavirus variant in the area.

The Swiss canton of Grisons ordered all people in the area to wear a mask in a statement after it registered the emergence of cases Sunday evening. The canton's health department did not specify which variant had appeared.

Around a dozen cases are currently known in two hotels. To protect the health of the population and guests, the health department has quarantined the two hotels and ordered corona tests for their employees and guests," the canton said in the statement.

It added that mass testing of the population in the upmarket ski resort would take place on Tuesday.

Many European Alpine destinations were shuttered over the recent festive season. However, Switzerland took a different approach. The government banned public events and limited private gatherings in early December but allowed each local cantonal authority to authortize if ski resorts could open provided Covid-19 measures were put in place.

See how Verbier, Switzerland, is staying open amid pandemic:

7:10 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

London to pilot 24/7 vaccine centers by end of the month

From CNN's Nina Avramova in Vienna and Lindsay Isaac in London

Britain's Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care, Nadhim Zahawi, is seen in London, on December 2, 2020
Britain's Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health and Social Care, Nadhim Zahawi, is seen in London, on December 2, 2020 Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Around the clock, seven-days-a-week Covid-19 vaccinations will be piloted in London hospitals by end of the month, the UK’s vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said Monday. 

Speaking to British broadcaster Sky News, Zahawi said he would look to expand the 24/7 scheme to other parts of the country after that.

Zahawi admitted that there could be issues with distribution of the Pfizer/BioTech shot due to its complicated composition, which could delay supply to the UK. 

“The Pfizer BioNTech vaccine is a messenger RNA chemical, [a] difficult chemical to manufacture, very, very challenging but they're doing really well, they want to do more which is why they're reconfiguring to add volume for the whole world, to get to two billion doses for the whole world,” Zahawi said.  

“Any new manufacturing process has challenges at the outset, it is lumpy, it begins to stabilize and get better and better week in, week out,” the minister said, adding that he is confident that they will meet their target in mid-February for the “top four cohorts” of more vulnerable people.

As of Saturday, the UK had administered a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to at least 3,857,266 people, according to the government's dashboard.

On Monday, England began expanding the next phase of its vaccination campaign to offer doses to people age 70 and older and those considered clinically extremely vulnerable to the virus.

6:31 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

France begins vaccination rollout for people over 75

From CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne in Paris

France is expanding its vaccination campaign Monday to allow anyone over the age of 75 to be inoculated. Previously, only residents of nursing homes and medical staff aged 50 and over were eligible to receive a vaccine. 

The new phase of the nationwide push comes as the country’s coronavirus death toll surpassed 70,000 over the weekend.

People over 75 were able to book appointments last week which caused the government’s website to crash due to high demand. Over one million appointments for the first and second dose of the vaccine were made, about half a million people, according to France’s Health Minister Olivier Veran. 

Over the weekend, French officials sought to quell concerns over vaccine delivery delays after Pfizer said on Friday it was temporarily reducing shipments from a vaccine facility in Puurs, Belgium, in order to scale up manufacturing.

The company said that in order to increase capacity and produce two billion Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021, changes were needed to the process and facility, and additional regulatory approvals will be required. France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune told France Info Sunday he did not expect the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine delivery delays to seriously impact France as they have the stockpiles they need to continue their rollout as planned. 

New restrictions

Meanwhile, the country has implemented a slew of new measures in recent days as it continues to battle the pandemic. On Monday, new travel restrictions went into effect for people moving from non-EU countries to France. Travelers now need to present a negative PCR test before arrival and self-isolate for seven days in the country.

On Saturday a nationwide curfew from 6pm-6am was imposed for at least 15 days in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus. The curfew was already in place in some of the hardest-hit regions.

France has been criticized for its slow vaccine rollout. So far 422,000 people have been vaccinated, according to the country’s health ministry. The goal is to vaccinate 1 million people and have between 500 and 600 vaccination centers by the end of January. 

6:00 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Shanghai Disneyland rejects allegations it is barring Uyghur visitors under pandemic pretext

From CNN's Beijing bureau 

People visit the Disneyland amusement park in Shanghai, China, on May 11, 2020.
People visit the Disneyland amusement park in Shanghai, China, on May 11, 2020. Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Disney’s popular Shanghai resort has dismissed allegations that the theme park is denying Uyghur guests entry in the name of Covid prevention, amid growing international criticisms on China’s alleged human rights abuses against its Muslim minorities.

Shanghai Disney Resort said in a statement Monday that reports about its discriminatory admission policy were “completely false,” after screenshots taken from a third-party tour package vendor’s online platform were widely shared on social media.

The posts purportedly showed a “special reminder” from Shanghai Disneyland that it had temporarily halted admitting Uyghur guests -- along with other overseas visitors without a mainland Chinese ID -- due to “epidemic control and prevention needs."

This is not an official channel of Shanghai Disney Resort, and the information about Shanghai Disney Resort on it is completely false," the company said in its statement.

"Shanghai Disney Resort is operating normally with enhanced health and safety measures in place. We welcome all guests who have purchased a valid park ticket or pass, hold a Shanghai Disneyland Reservation QR Code and a green Health QR Code, and pass the temperature screening located at the resort entrances.”

The company added that it had launched an investigation into the unofficial platform.

5:34 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

South Korea's president says he believes it will have complete "herd immunity" by November

From CNN's Gawon Bae and Jake Kwon in Seoul

President Moon Jae-in speaks during a news conference at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, on January 18.
President Moon Jae-in speaks during a news conference at the Presidential Blue House in Seoul, South Korea, on January 18. Jeon Heon-Kyun/Pool/Getty Images

President Moon Jae-in said he believes that South Korea will have "herd immunity" from Covid-19 by November, thanks to upcoming vaccination plans.

Moon said the global COVAX initiative vaccine will likely be the first coronavirus shot in South Korea and that it may arrive in the country earlier than planned.

Korea's Disease Control Agency Director Jeong Eun-kyeong said the plan is to begin the vaccine rollout for patients in critical condition before moving to regular citizens in the third quarter. The vaccine will be administered for free for both Korean citizens and foreigners residing in the country.

President Moon said by November, the second round of vaccinations will form complete herd immunity.

Vaccination plans will be announced at the end of the month, Jeong added.

South Korea has reported 72,729 Covid-19 cases and 1,264 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally.

5:00 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Vaccination rates highlight stark differences between Israelis and Palestinians -- amid row over responsibility

From CNN's Sam Kiley in Kafr 'Aqab

An Israeli senior citizen receives her second Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the Maccabi Health Services drive-in vaccination center, in the northern coastal city of Haifa on January 11.
An Israeli senior citizen receives her second Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the Maccabi Health Services drive-in vaccination center, in the northern coastal city of Haifa on January 11. Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Two young men work side-by-side in a butcher's shop. They live in the same teeming and densely packed town. One is fortunate -- he's eligible to get an Israeli Covid-19 vaccination. The other isn't.

Both are Palestinian residents of Kafr 'Aqab, a finger of territory that under Israeli law is part of greater Jerusalem, but under international law is considered illegally annexed territory, following its capture from Jordan in 1967.

It's also walled off from Jerusalem by Israel's gigantic concrete security wall. Jewish Israelis rarely come here, except in uniform to conduct military raids.

Mahmoud Oudeh, like thousands of other residents of the town, has a Palestinian identity document. His friend Anan abu Aishe has an Israeli ID, which defines him as a permanent resident of east Jerusalem. This entitles him to join Israel's world-leading vaccination campaign, which is on course to meet the government's target of inoculating the entire country by the end of March.

But at least 4.5 million Palestinians living on the West Bank and in Gaza are being left behind. So far none have had the injections, and most are unlikely to get them any time soon -- because there is no Covid-19 vaccination campaign in the Palestinian territories.

So, if Anan gets the vaccine and continues alongside his friend, slicing and selling meat from the goat and cow carcasses swinging from hooks in the shop, he says he'd feel guilty.

"Half of the people here cannot take it so I'm also not going to take it, why would I take it when they cannot? I won't," he told CNN.
"It's racist," Mahmoud added.

According to United Nations experts, a policy of immunization that differentiates between those with Israeli IDs, and those without, is "unacceptable."

The UN expert report says that Israel is the occupying power in and over Gaza and the West Bank, and has been since 1967, and is thereby ultimately responsible for the healthcare of those living under occupation.

According to the experts' report, published by the UN's Office High Commissioner for Human Rights, Israel should extend its vaccination campaign to all Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Read the full story:

4:31 a.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Australia's border restrictions likely to remain for most of 2021, health secretary says

From CNN's Angus Watson in Sydney

Health Department Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy speaks at a news conference in Sydney, on November 5, 2020
Health Department Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy speaks at a news conference in Sydney, on November 5, 2020 Brook Mitchell/Getty Images

Australia's Health Department Secretary Professor Brendan Murphy said it is likely tight border restrictions will be in place for most of this year.

Speaking to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation Monday, Murphy said, "I think that we'll go most of this year with still substantial border restrictions -- even if we have a lot of the population vaccinated, we don't know whether that will prevent transmission of the virus. And it's likely that quarantine will continue for some time."
"I don't want to predict more than two or three months ahead. The world is changing," Murphy added. "So I think at the moment, we've got this light at the end of the tunnel -- the vaccine. So we're going to go as safely and as fast as we can to get our population vaccinated and then we'll look at what happens."

Australia has been widely successful at containing the Covid-19 outbreak and has implemented some of the toughest border restrictions since the outbreak began. 

The country, with a population of 25 million people, has reported more than 28,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19, including 909 deaths.