January 19 coronavirus news

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

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021
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4:13 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Germany's Angela Merkel will meet state leaders today to discuss further pandemic restrictions

From CNN's Fred Pleitgen, Claudia Otto and Inke Kappeler

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends debates at the Bundestag on Germany's recent rollout of coronavirus vaccinations on January 13, in Berlin, Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends debates at the Bundestag on Germany's recent rollout of coronavirus vaccinations on January 13, in Berlin, Germany. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

German chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime ministers of the country's 16 federal states will meet Tuesday to discuss possible further restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19.

On the table are mandatory FFP2 or N-95 masks to be worn on public transport and in shops, a possible curfew, an extension to the current restrictions, and more working from home.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn warned Monday that the new variants of the virus, which appear to spread more easily, are a reason for concern.

Latest numbers: The Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country's disease control agency, reported an increase of 989 coronavirus-related fatalities for Tuesday, bringing the total death toll to 47,622.

So far, 2,052,028 people have been infected with the virus, an increase of 11,369 in the past 24 hours, according to the RKI.

Some 1,139,297 Covid-19 vaccinations have been administered so far, the RKI said.

3:16 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

A nurse for 50 years refused to retire when the pandemic began. She later died from Covid-19

From CNN's Scottie Andrew

After more than 50 years as an emergency room nurse, Betty Grier Gallaher had more than earned the right to retire. But according to those who knew and loved her, she just couldn't. She cared that much.

Gallaher worked the night shift at Alabama's Coosa Valley Medical Center -- her preference, her son said, so she could mentor younger nurses. Known around the hospital as "Miss Betty," she loved to be their sounding board, personal therapist and "work mom."

She'd make sure everyone she worked with was fed every night. She cared for her patients the same way she cared for her family and her coworkers, who became family themselves. She was, according to her loved ones, everyone's favorite nurse.

So when the Covid-19 pandemic began in March, Gallaher's concerned coworkers asked her, for her safety, to stay home.

But sitting back wasn't like her. She knew her colleagues and community needed her, so she continued to work until Covid-19 sidelined her in December.

Gallaher died from Covid-19 on January 10, one day before her 79th birthday, in the same hospital where she worked for much of her career.

"She didn't do it to stand out," said her son Carson Grier Jr. "She did it because this is who she was -- this is her calling."

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2:29 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Two more tennis players test positive ahead of Australian Open

From journalist Angus Watson in Sydney

Australian Open signage is seen at Melbourne Park on January 18 in Melbourne, Australia.
Australian Open signage is seen at Melbourne Park on January 18 in Melbourne, Australia. Mike Owen/Getty Images

Two tennis players tested positive for Covid-19 in Melbourne, Australia on Monday, according to the state government of Victoria.

A third non-playing person associated with the Australian Open tennis tournament also tested positive. A total of seven Covid-19 cases have been detected among the over-1,000 strong Australian Open cohort, including three players.

“The new cases are one female in their 20s and two males in their 30s,” a statement from Victoria’s Department of Human Health and Services (DHHS) said Tuesday.

All cases are currently in government-managed hotel quarantine, which is mandatory for 14 days for all international travelers to Australia.

A previous two cases connected to the tournament have been reclassified “due to evidence of previous infection,” DHHS stated. 

“This does not change broader assessment of the player group in hotel quarantine. As yet, none of the three affected flights have been cleared as a result of the two reclassified cases,” the statement said.

Stuck in quarantine: The positive cases detected in Melbourne among the Australian Open cohort have forced 72 members of the playing group into a hard quarantine arrangement, where they are not allowed to leave their rooms to practice. The grand slam event is scheduled to start on February 8.

No new community cases were detected in Australia on Monday, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said at a news conference Tuesday.

2:14 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

US reports more than 137,000 new Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Joe Sutton in Atlanta

The United States reported 137,885 new coronavirus infections on Monday, bringing the total to at least 24,074,657 since the epidemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

There were 1,381 virus-related deaths also reported Monday. The total number of US Covid-19 fatalities now stands at 398,981.

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

Vaccine numbers: At least 31,161,075 vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 12,279,180 shots administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Track US cases: 

2:09 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Analysis: China is hitting back at criticism of its vaccines with a dangerous disinformation campaign

Analysis from CNN's James Griffiths in Hong Kong

A health worker displays empty vials of the Sinovac vaccine at Meuraxa Hospital in Banda Aceh, Indonesia on January 15.
A health worker displays empty vials of the Sinovac vaccine at Meuraxa Hospital in Banda Aceh, Indonesia on January 15. Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

Speaking at the World Health Assembly last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for "solidarity and cooperation" in developing coronavirus vaccines, "our most powerful weapon" for tackling the pandemic.

But with Chinese medical company Sinovac facing questions over the efficacy of its coronavirus shot, the country's propaganda apparatus has apparently forgotten Xi's comments. Instead, it is choosing to attack other vaccines -- a dangerous gambit that could risk undermining overall confidence in mass vaccinations just as the world desperately needs people to get inoculated.

"If you look at the websites of major media in the US and the West, almost all the news you read about the Chinese-made vaccine is negative," Hu Xijin, the influential editor of the state-run tabloid Global Times, wrote on Saturday. "The press is out to destroy the reputation of the Chinese vaccine, hoping that the world will wait for Pfizer and other American and Western companies to produce surplus vaccines and finally get vaccinated."

Hu's paper has led the way in defending Chinese-produced vaccines, not by establishing their effectiveness, but by seeking to tear down the reputation of other candidates -- particularly those produced by US company Pfizer.

Norway deaths: In an editorial last week, the Global Times accused English-language media of "downplaying" deaths in Norway it appeared to claim were linked to vaccines, "as if they had already reached a consensus." The report added that "those major Western media will immediately hype any unfavorable information about Chinese vaccines and try to amplify their impact on public psychology."

While the deaths in question did occur after vaccination -- and were reported on by CNN, among numerous other US media outlets -- the Norwegian health authorities said that given the age and frailty of those inoculated, "it is expected that deaths close to the time (of) vaccination may occur."

However, on Twitter, Liu Xin, an anchor with state broadcaster CGTN, has repeatedly -- and baselessly -- accused Western media of ignoring deaths and downplaying concerns about the Pfizer vaccine.

Read the full analysis:

12:59 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Singapore Airlines hopes to be world's first fully-vaccinated airline

From CNN's Lilit Marcus

Three men wait to board a plan at the Changi Airport in Singapore on January 13.
Three men wait to board a plan at the Changi Airport in Singapore on January 13. Wallace Woon/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Singapore's national carrier is hoping to become the world's first airline to get all of its crew members vaccinated against Covid-19.

Singapore Airlines (SIA) confirmed to CNN Travel that all of their crew members -- including pilots, gate agents, flight attendants and anyone whose job requires contact with the public -- have been offered free coronavirus vaccines by the Singaporean government.

The country has purchased the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two shots.

"We are grateful to the Singapore government for making the aviation sector a priority in the country's vaccination exercise," the airline's CEO, Choon Phong, said in a statement that was emailed out to the whole company on January 18.
"This reflects the sector's importance, and the crucial role we play in both Singapore's economic recovery and the fight against the pandemic."

According to the airline, 5,200 SIA employees have already signed up to get their shots. Inoculations will begin in a few days.

Read more:

12:02 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Los Angeles County residents over 65 can receive Covid-19 vaccine starting Thursday

From CNN's Sarah Moon

Healthcare workers line up in cars as a Covid-19 mass-vaccination takes place at Dodger Stadium on January 15 in Los Angeles.
Healthcare workers line up in cars as a Covid-19 mass-vaccination takes place at Dodger Stadium on January 15 in Los Angeles. Irfan Khan/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

All Los Angeles County residents 65 years of age and older will be eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine starting Thursday, under a new executive order signed Monday by Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis.

The move expedites the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine amid outcry over the slow pace of inoculations in California as the state battles an unrelenting surge of the virus that has claimed the lives of more than 33,000 people. 

“The Covid-19 vaccine rollout has been an enormous undertaking, especially during an unprecedented surge where cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to skyrocket,” Solis said in a statement. “If we are to ever get out of this dark winter, it is critical that we make headway vaccinating people 65 years of age and older as soon as possible – in line with Governor Gavin Newsom’s recommendations.”

While Gov. Newsom announced last week that seniors 65 and older will be able to receive the Covid-19 vaccine statewide, eligibility varied by county.

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said during a news conference last week that the county did not have enough vaccines to handle the need and seniors would not be able to receive the vaccine until all health care workers are vaccinated first. 

About half a million LA County health care workers have yet to receive shots, Ferrer said at the time.

Newsom praised the expansion of vaccine eligibility in a tweet Monday evening. 

“Speed, equity, and safety have to be our top priorities,” Newsom said. “Great to see Los Angeles County joining 30+ counties across our state that are expanding access and vaccinating residents 65 and older.”

According to a news release from Solis’ office, seniors will be able to make an appointment for the vaccine starting Thursday, allowing public health officials to “adequately prepare for the rollout of the vaccine to this population.”

11:31 p.m. ET, January 18, 2021

China and WHO acted too slowly on Covid-19, pandemic response panel says

From CNN's Jessie Yeung and Sharif Paget

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. Getty Images

China and the World Health Organization (WHO) could have acted quicker and more forcefully to contain the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, an independent review panel said on Monday. 

In its second interim report, the Switzerland-based Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response determined that Beijing could have been more vigorous in applying public health measures when cases were first detected in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei province.

"What is clear to the panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January (2020)," the report said.

The first cases in Wuhan occurred between December 12 and December 29, 2019 according to city authorities. The cases weren't reported to WHO until December 31. By the time Wuhan went under lockdown on January 23, 2020 the virus had already spread to Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the United States.

Several countries, most vocally the US and Australia, have accused Beijing of downplaying the outbreak's severity during its early stages, and preventing an effective response until it was too late.

WHO criticism: The independent panel, co-chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also criticized WHO for its delays in sounding the alarm, and called for reforms to the UN agency. 

Despite being alerted to the cases by the end of December, 2019 WHO did not convene its emergency committee until January 22, 2020 -- and then waited until January 30 before declaring an international emergency.

"It is not clear why the committee did not meet until the third week of January, nor is it clear why it was unable to agree on the declaration of a public health emergency of international concern when it was first convened," the report said. 

The report also highlighted that WHO did not declare the outbreak a pandemic until March 11, 2020 after some health experts and media outlets had already begun adopting the term. By that time, there were already 118,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths worldwide.

Read more:

8:46 p.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Trump moves to lift some Covid-19-related travel restrictions, but Biden plans to block the order

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Caroline Kelly and Gregory Wallace

President Donald Trump on Monday lifted coronavirus-related travel restrictions for much of Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil, effective on January 26 -- a move that President-elect Joe Biden's administration has promised to block.

In an executive order issued Monday evening, Trump said he had been advised to lift restrictions on incoming travelers to the United States from the 26 European countries in the Schengen Zone, the UK, Ireland and Brazil but leave in place restrictions on travel from Iran and China.

"I agree with the Secretary that this action is the best way to continue protecting Americans from COVID-19 while enabling travel to resume safely," Trump wrote in the order, referring to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

Biden administration's response: Biden is set to take over the presidency on Wednesday and his incoming press secretary, Jen Psaki, said that his administration would not lift the restrictions.

"With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," Psaki said on Twitter. "On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

Reuters was first to report the order.

Tests for travelers: The expected easing of travel restrictions comes after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week 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 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.

CNN has reached out to the White House Coronavirus Task Force as to whether the panel approved the anticipated move.

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