January 20 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Sharon Braithwaite and Hannah Strange, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021
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12:24 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Studies suggest vaccinated people protected from new Covid-19 variants

From CNN Health's Maggie Fox

New research published late Tuesday provides reassuring evidence that people vaccinated against coronavirus will be protected against emerging new variants of the virus.

Two teams tested two of the new variants against blood taken from people who had received the full two-course dose of either the Moderna or the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

While the mutations in the new variants of the virus – one first seen in Britain, and another first identified in South Africa – did allow them to evade some of the immunity induced by vaccination, it was far from a complete escape, the two teams reported separately.

A team led by Dr. Michel Nussenzweig of the Rockefeller University tested plasma taken from 20 people who got two doses of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine as part of clinical trials. They found the vaccines produced strong antibody responses, as well as cells that keep producing new antibodies for months or years. “We measured their antibody responses to the wild type virus. Then we took their plasmas and measured them against the variants,” Nussenzweig told CNN.

Different mutations in the viruses did allow some escape from some types of antibodies, but the bodies of the volunteers threw an army of different types of antibodies at the viruses, the team reported in a pre-print -- not peer reviewed -- report published online. “When you start putting all these mixtures of antibodies together, what it means is that together they can take care of the variants,” Nussenzweig said. Even though they had a reduced effect, overall the response was so overwhelming that it should not matter, he said.

“What we really want to do with these vaccines is keep people out of the hospital. They are extremely likely to do that, irrespective,” Nussenzweig added.

Eventually, the vaccines should be updated – but the new mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna can be changed very quickly. “Should the vaccines be tweaked?” he asked. “Probably – but that doesn’t mean that they won’t be effective.”

Separately, Ugur Sahin, who helped invent the BioNTech vaccine being made and distributed by Pfizer, tested his vaccine against the B.1.1.7 variant first seen in the UK. The team found “no biologically significant difference in neutralization activity,” they said in a pre-print report. But they said it would be “prudent” to start tweaking the vaccine, just in case.

Read more about what we know of the coronavirus variants here:


11:58 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

US records at least 24,265,424 Covid-19 cases and 402,269 deaths -- Johns Hopkins University

From CNN's Amanda Watts

According to Johns Hopkins University's tally of cases in the United States, there have been at least 24,265,424 cases of coronavirus in the U.S. and at least 402,269 people have died in the U.S. from Covid-19.  

At least 31,161,075 vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 15,707,588 total doses of the vaccine have been administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

11:45 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

UK records deadliest day since the start of the pandemic, with 1,820 new deaths

From CNN's Nada Bashir in London

The United Kingdom has recorded 1,820 further coronavirus-related deaths over the past 24 hours, marking the highest daily increase in deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, data from Public Health England on Wednesday showed. 

The total number of people in the UK who have died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test now stands at 93,290. 

A total of 38,905 new cases of coronavirus have also been confirmed on Wednesday – up from Tuesday’s daily increase of 33,355 cases. The total number of cases recorded in the UK since the pandemic began is now 3,505,754. 

According to government data -- reported up to Tuesday January 19 -- 4,609,740 people in the UK have now received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, while 460,625 have now received a second dose. 

12:00 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Lack of vaccine supply impacting appointments in New York, mayor says

From CNN's Sheena Jones, New York

At least 23,000 New Yorkers had appointments for first vaccine doses rescheduled because of lack of supplies, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday. 

This comes after the mayor said the city will not have enough first doses to vaccinate people following delays to deliveries of the Moderna vaccine.

The mayor reiterated the call for vaccines he says are held in the federal reserve to be released now. 

Commissioner of Health of the City of New York, Dave Chokshi further explained the city does have some doses but they are marked second doses and not first, so people with second dose appointments are not being affected. 

Chokshi said that the city believes this is purely a shipment issue, adding they don’t have details but are hoping to get the doses between Wednesday and Thursday. 

De Blasio added that he is hoping to reschedule the first dose appointments that were canceled within one week. 

How are things looking in New York City?  

New York City reports that 284 people have been admitted to New York hospitals with suspected Covid-19 cases, de Blasio said.

The hospital admissions per 100k on a 7-day average is 5.08%, he said. 

The city reports 4,692 additional cases of Covid-19 and the city has a 7-day-test-positivity rate of 8.53%, the mayor said. 

“All too high but a chance to turn that around now that we have a new administration,” de Blasio said.  

11:44 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Portugal sees another record day for Covid-19 deaths and cases

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

Portugal has, yet again, reported a record high number of daily coronavirus-related deaths Wednesday, as well as a new record for the country’s daily increase in confirmed cases. 

According to the latest data from the country's health ministry, 219 further deaths have been reported over the last 24 hours -- making it the deadliest day for Portugal since the beginning of the pandemic. 

A total of 14,647 new cases have also been confirmed -- up by more than 4,000 from Tuesday’s daily increase of 10,455 cases.

Putting the numbers into context

The latest figures mark a continuous surge in both coronavirus deaths and cases for Portugal over the last week, with government officials urging citizens to stay at home and adhere to government guidance.

The government has also seen three of its cabinet ministers test positive for the virus this week. Minister of the Economy Pedro Siza Vieira tested positive for the vírus Tuesday. The country's labor minister, Ana Mendes, was diagnosed last Thursday followed by Finance Minister João Leão over the weekend.

Medical staff across the country have taken to social media to express concerns over the rising numbers and the impact on their working conditions, with many working overtime and under-resourced.

11:41 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Italy to take legal action against Pfizer over vaccine delays

From CNN's Valentina Di Donato in Rome and Sharon Braithwaite in Pisa

A resident of a care home in Rome waits to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on January 8. 
A resident of a care home in Rome waits to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on January 8.  Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

The Italian government has announced it will take legal action against pharmaceutical company Pfizer over Covid-19 vaccine delays.

The country’s extraordinary coronavirus commissioner, Domenico Arcuri, announced the decision on Tuesday, after a meeting with local governors and the ministers for health and regional affairs.

“It was discussed which actions should be taken to protect Italian citizens and their health in all of the civil and criminal offices where this will be possible. Unanimously it has been decided that these actions will be undertaken starting from the next few days in a unitary framework," Arcuri said in a statement.

The protection of the health of Italy’s citizens is non-negotiable."

“The vaccination campaign cannot be slowed down, let alone for the administration of the second doses to the many Italians who have already been administered the first one,” Arcuri added.

For background:

The decision comes after the head of the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) Nicola Magrini voiced “grave concern” over delays of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, during a radio interview on Tuesday.

Pfizer said on Friday that shipments from its vaccine facility in Puurs, Belgium, would be temporarily reduced as it scales up to produce 2 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021. 

The company said that in order to increase capacity, changes were needed to the process and facility, and additional regulatory approvals would be required.

Pfizer's vaccine partner BioNTech later said that the original schedule for deliveries to the European Union would resume the week beginning January 25.

BioNTech said it hoped to “increase delivery beginning the week of February 15," which would result in delivering “the fully committed quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter and significantly more in the second quarter."

As of Wednesday, 1,236,479 Italians have been vaccinated, according to the latest data from the Health Ministry. 6,943 people in the country have received both doses of the vaccine.

11:03 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

UK Govt "pausing" rapid daily testing in English secondary schools and colleges

From CNN's Elle Pickston in London

The UK government is “pausing” plans to roll out rapid daily Covid-19 testing on close contacts of positive cases for students and staff in English secondary schools and colleges, it announced on Wednesday.

A government spokesperson said that the change of plans was the result of updated advice from UK scientific advisers. “NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England have reviewed their advice, and concluded that in light of the higher prevalence and rates of transmission of the new variant, further evaluation work is required to make sure it is achieving its aim of breaking chains of transmission and reducing cases of the virus in the community,” the spokesperson said.

“We are therefore pausing daily contact testing in all but a small number of secondary schools and colleges, where it will continue alongside detailed evaluation.”

In a statement, Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace cited concerns over the more transmissible variant of Covid-19 discovered in the UK as the reason for the change, commenting that the “pandemic has entered a new phase” and that the balance of risk and benefits for daily Covid-19 tests is now “unclear” and recommended to the government that the rollout of the daily contact testing be paused.

Covid strain VOC202012/01 was discovered in the UK and has been prevalent in the south east of England since November 2020.

The mass testing programme in secondary schools and colleges was due to start in January to help identify asymptomatic cases amongst students and staff and reduce the need for self-isolation by using 30 minute lateral flow tests.

It planned for daily tests for all staff and students that have been “a close contact of a confirmed case, reducing the need for self-isolation” for all secondary schools and colleges, along with weekly rapid tests for all staff in secondary schools and colleges, according to the Department for Education.

National lockdown measures across England have forced schools to remain closed since January 5, however children of key workers are still allowed to attend. PHE confirmed that schools should continue to test staff and pupils currently going in to schools.

Whilst daily Covid-19 testing in schools was hailed by UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson as a "milestone moment in our work to keep schools and colleges open for all" in December, scientists have expressed concerns that the tests may not be accurate enough, and could falsely reassure people and increase the spread of coronavirus.

10:44 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

As Biden looks to reset the US Covid-19 response, his team asks the Surgeon General to step down

From CNN Health’s Ben Tinker

In a tweet Wednesday morning, US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams confirmed reports that the Biden team has asked him to resign.

What this means:

Asking Adams to resign represents a visible break by the Biden team with the Trump administration’s Covid response.

Last month, President-elect Joe Biden announced he would nominate Dr. Vivek Murthy to be the next Surgeon General under his administration -- a role Murthy held in the Obama administration.

It is unclear who will fill the job on an interim basis between the time Adams vacates the role and the time Murthy is confirmed by the Senate.

10:42 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

There is oxygen left "only for a few days" in Brazil's Amazonas state as Covid-19 patients increase, MSF warns

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in Pisa, Italy, and Rodrigo Pedroso in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Relatives of patients infected with Covid-19 leave after queueing for long hours to refill their oxygen tanks at the Carboxi company in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil, on Tuesday.
Relatives of patients infected with Covid-19 leave after queueing for long hours to refill their oxygen tanks at the Carboxi company in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil, on Tuesday. Marcio James/AFPG/Getty Images

The Brazilian state of Amazonas could run out of medicinal oxygen if the numbers of Covid-19 patients continue to increase, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans frontières - MSF) warned on Wednesday.

"If Covid-19 patients continue to increase, there is only oxygen left for a few days," Pierre Van Heddegem, head of the MSF mission in Brazil, said in a statement.

This comes after the state faced the virtual collapse of its health services due to an acute shortage of medicinal oxygen in the past week. The largest city and capital of Amazonas state, Manaus, was the first to register the supply shortage amid a rise in Covid-19 cases earlier this month.

Despite an increase in hospital beds for Covid-19 cases in Manaus, "the number of new patients continues to grow faster and faster, showing how the entire health care system is saturated and overloaded," MSF said in the statement.

"Even more serious is the situation of oxygen stocks: the ability to produce oxygen covers less than a third of current needs. Some hospitals fail to ventilate patients and there are reports of deaths from asphyxiation," it continued.
"The ripple effect on riverside towns in the rural Amazon region is beginning to manifest and could be devastating."

With hospitals in Manaus full and overwhelmed, "there is nowhere to transfer the most seriously ill patients," MSF said. The non-profit noted it was "urgently" expanding teams on the ground, but warned that "there are already many deaths and many more could follow."

Seven Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the small city of Coari in Brazil’s Amazon died early Tuesday after the local hospital ran out of oxygen, according to a statement on Facebook from the Coari municipal government. 

It said that 40 cylinders of oxygen were due to arrive in Coari from the Amazonas state government in Manaus on Monday, but the oxygen delivery was diverted and arrived too late.

The Amazonas state health secretary said in a statement that the oxygen supplies were indeed diverted because the manufacturer delayed the delivery of those supplies, which had a domino effect. The flight that had been due to carry them was redirected to another airport, forcing the supplies to be transported on to Coari by boat.