January 21 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Sharon Braithwaite, Eliza Mackintosh, Ed Upright, Zamira Rahim and Caitlin Hu, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, January 22, 2021
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10:37 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Blaze at facility of world's biggest vaccine maker kills 5 people

From CNN's Manveena Suri in New Delhi

Workers are seen after a fire broke out at India's Serum Institute in Pune on January 21.
Workers are seen after a fire broke out at India's Serum Institute in Pune on January 21. AFP/Getty Images

A fire broke out at facility for the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, in the city of Pune on Thursday.

Murlidhar Mohol, mayor of the western Indian city, told reporters that five bodies, believed to be those of construction workers, were retrieved from the six-floor building, while four people were rescued.

The blaze, which is now under control, will not impact production of the Covid vaccine, the company says.

SII is in partnership with Oxford University and AstraZeneca to produce the Covishield vaccine.

I would like to reassure all governments & the public that there would be no loss of #COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies at @SerumInstIndia," the company’s CEO Adar Poonawalla tweeted.

In a separate post, Poonawalla tweeted, “We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed.”

The cause of the fire is yet to be determined though, according to Mohol, preliminary investigations suggest that “during the building’s construction, some welding work could have led to the fire.”

10:00 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

China to give half a million vaccine doses to Pakistan for free

From CNN's Adeel Raja and Sophia Saifi in Islamabad

China will gift Pakistan 500,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine, according to Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi.

The minister told media Thursday in Islamabad that the Chinese-made Covid-19 shot would be provided by January 31.

In December, Pakistan announced that it will be receiving 1.2 million doses of the Sinopharm vaccine to administer to the country’s first responders. 

Qureshi added that the 500,000 doses of the vaccine will arrive in Pakistan from February.

11:24 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

One-year coronavirus checkup: What the US got right and wrong

From CNN's Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta

A medical worker cares for and comforts a patient who is suffering from Covid-19 at UMASS Memorial DCU Center Field Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, on January 13.
A medical worker cares for and comforts a patient who is suffering from Covid-19 at UMASS Memorial DCU Center Field Hospital in Worcester, Massachusetts, on January 13. Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images

Today marks one year since the announcement of the first patient with Covid-19 in the United States.

Over the course of the last year, one patient has grown exponentially into 24 million confirmed in the US alone -- a number that is surely only the tip of the iceberg, the cases we know about.

Anniversaries are a time to reflect, to look back on this experience and assess what we got right versus what we got wrong. 

We got a few big things right: We made remarkable progress in scientific and medical arenas, like developing protocols and therapeutics -- both repurposed and new -- for people who got sick. Most notable of all, we managed to develop several vaccine candidates and even authorized two with astonishing speed.

But we also got too many things wrong: Most consequentially and tragically the public health basics, the things that are far easier to do but not as flashy: wearing a mask and staying physically distanced from those not in our household. We eschewed the inexpensive mask that slips on easily, yet embraced the billion-dollar breakthrough vaccine that takes a Herculean effort to develop and distribute.

The truth is, especially for many of us in the developed world, we want science to rescue us -- but it can't rescue us from ourselves; our own human nature. And our human nature is not good at dealing with what it can't see.

Looking forward, I am optimistic, medically-speaking. I think once most of us are vaccinated, SARS-CoV-2 will become like the other circulating coronaviruses, an annual nuisance but not an existential threat.

The image of the United States as a public health leader, however, has been tarnished by the events of the last year and its inability to control the pandemic at home. It's a fact, and we can't spin the statistics to our advantage: We have 4% of the world's population but 25% of known Covid infections and 20% of deaths. Can the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the country's premier public health agency, regain some of its lost prestige domestically and abroad? I believe with hard work and time, it can.

But beyond that, the country will be scarred psychologically and emotionally for a long time, especially the people who have lost family members to Covid-19, the health care workers who fought tirelessly -- sometimes in the face of disbelief or worse -- to care for the sick, the children of all ages who lost a year of school and struggled to catch up, the families who lost income from layoffs or suffered other economic catastrophes, the owners who had to shutter their businesses. The list goes on. 

Read more here:

10:41 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Hungary becomes first EU country to approve Russia's Sputnik V vaccine

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London and Zahra Ullah in Moscow

A medical worker in Khimki, Russia, prepares the Gam-COVID-Vac coronavirus vaccine, also called Sputnik V, on January 21.
A medical worker in Khimki, Russia, prepares the Gam-COVID-Vac coronavirus vaccine, also called Sputnik V, on January 21. Sergei Bobylev/TASS/Getty Images

The Hungarian pharmaceutical authority has approved both the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccines, a spokesperson for the Hungarian government told CNN on Thursday.

Hungary becomes the first European Union country to approve both vaccines, but as far as the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine goes, it says it has to wait for a decision by the European Medicines Agency before it can distribute the shot.

Speaking about Sputnik, the spokesperson said talks with Moscow to buy the vaccine were “ongoing.”

“We hope that vaccines will be available in Hungary from as many places and in as large quantities as possible,” the spokesperson added.

In a statement, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund (RDIF) said the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition of Hungary approved the vaccine under the emergency use authorization procedure. 

“The approval is based on the results of the clinical trials of Sputnik V in Russia and a comprehensive assessment of the vaccine by experts in Hungary,” the RDIF statement said. 

Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the RDIF, said that Hungary is "the first EU country to realize all the advantages of Sputnik V vaccine and authorize its use. This decision is very important as it demonstrates that the vaccine's safety and efficacy of over 90% are highly regarded by our partners in Hungary.”

Some background:

Russia's announcement of Sputnik V as the "world's first" approved Covid-19 shot was met with international skepticism last year, after the country registered the vaccine in August ahead of key large-scale Phase 3 trials necessary to establish its efficacy and safety. While those trials are currently ongoing, the country is already moving towards mass vaccination.

On November 24, Russia announced that its interim data suggested the shot is at least 91.4% effective and could be more than 95% effective. 

9:21 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

South African government minister dies from coronavirus

From CNN's Jennifer Hauser and Brent Swails

Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu speaks in Pretoria, South Africa, on September 30, 2020.
Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu speaks in Pretoria, South Africa, on September 30, 2020. Sydney Seshibedi/Gallo Images/Getty Images

Jackson Mthembu, a South African minister, has died from Covid-19, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced Thursday.

Mthembu was one of the government’s key leaders in its response to the global pandemic and its public face during many news briefings.

It is with deep sorrow and shock that we announce that Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu passed away earlier today from COVID-related complications. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time of loss," President Ramaphosa tweeted.

"Minister Mthembu was an exemplary leader, an activist and life-long champion of freedom and democracy. He was a much-loved and greatly respected colleague and comrade, whose passing leaves our nation at a loss," Ramaphosa added.

Mthembu tweeted that he had contracted Covid-19 on January 11. 

"Today I visited the Military hospital in Tshwane to get medical attention for an abdominal pain," he said at the time. "After undergoing some tests, I tested positive for Covid-19... I want to thank the many South Africans who have wished me a speedy recovery. As a people we must overcome Covid-19," Mthembu added.

As of Wednesday South Africa's Department of Health reported 1,369,426 cases of Covid-19 and 38,854 deaths.

8:50 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Lebanon extends strict pandemic lockdown

From CNN’s Ghazi Balkiz in Beirut

Lebanon has extended its strict general lockdown, which includes a 24-hour curfew, until Monday February 8, according to a statement tweeted by the Prime Minister's office on Thursday.

The curfew -- which started on January 14 and which was meant to end on January 25 -- was imposed because of an unprecedented surge in Covid-19 cases in the country.

The spike comes after the holiday season, when the government loosened restrictions and allowed shopping malls, restaurants, bars and nightclubs to open.

On Wednesday, Lebanon’s Ministry of Public Health reported 64 Covid-19 related deaths, the third daily death record in a row. The total number of deaths in Lebanon since the pandemic began is 2,084. 

On Friday, Lebanon reported 6,154 new cases, the highest daily total so far. The total number of cases in the country is 264,647.

The current lockdown measures, the strictest in the country so far, include a reduction of the number of travelers coming to Lebanon and quarantine measures for all arrivals.


8:49 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Glastonbury music festival canceled for second year running

From CNN's Rob Picheta

People cheer as singer Kylie prepares to perform at the Glastonbury Festival in Pilton, England, on June 30, 2019.
People cheer as singer Kylie prepares to perform at the Glastonbury Festival in Pilton, England, on June 30, 2019. Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

The organizers of Glastonbury have announced that Britain's famous music festival will be canceled for a second consecutive year amid the coronavirus pandemic -- an ominous move for live music promoters and artists ahead of an uncertain summer.

"In spite of our efforts to move Heaven & Earth, it has become clear that we simply will not be able to make the Festival happen this year," organizers Michael and Emily Eavis said in a joint statement on Thursday. "We are so sorry to let you all down."

Paul McCartney was set to headline one of the three premier slots at the iconic weekend-long festival in June 2020. The former Beatle told the BBC last month that he did not expect the event to go ahead this year.

Organizers said on Thursday that tickets already purchased will roll over to 2022 -- when Glastonbury intends to hold just its second event in five years, following a year off in 2018 and two consecutive canceled events.

Read more here:

8:29 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

More briefings and Covid-19 data dashboard part of Biden's pandemic transparency push

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

The Biden White House is pledging to communicate more -- and more honestly -- about the coronavirus pandemic with the aim of restoring the trust of the American people. The first step will be a return to regular briefings.

CDC briefings have been notably absent since last March. In other disease emergencies, the CDC has provided regular briefings, often several a week, with top experts. The Trump White House stopped them after the CDC’s top respiratory specialist Dr. Nancy Messonnier warned of worsening spread and disruptions, angering then-president Trump. Her predictions came true, but CDC officials have held only a handful of briefings since then

The White House Coronavirus Task Force briefed regularly for a few months, but those briefings petered out by June and came only sporadically after that.

The federal government should be the source of truth for the public to get clear accessible, and scientifically accurate information about COVID-19. We will be honest, transparent and straightforward with the American people to rebuild that trust," White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters Wednesday. 

To that end, Zients said the new administration would be taking a number of steps to provide clarity and insight into the pandemic, including regular expert-led science-based public briefings by HHS, CDC and the Covid-19 White House response team.

On Thursday, President Biden will also issue an executive order to enhance the collection, sharing and analysis of data. As part of that, the CDC will maintain a public dashboard tracking real-time data on Covid-19 cases, testing, vaccinations and hospital admissions at a national and state-level.

There have been misunderstandings about much of the data generated about the pandemic. For instance, CNN relies more heavily on data from Johns Hopkins University about diagnoses and deaths than it does on the CDC.

8:26 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Germany must take new Covid-19 variant "very seriously," says Chancellor Merkel

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a press conference in Berlin on January 21.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a press conference in Berlin on January 21. Michael Kappeler/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Germans must take the spread of the new, more contagious variant of coronavirus ''very seriously,'' Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a Thursday news conference.

“The mutation of the virus is a threat,” Merkel told journalists in Berlin, referring to the new strain first detected in England.

The mutation is much more infectious than we knew last year and this makes it more difficult to control the pandemic,” the chancellor said.
“I urge people to take this seriously. Otherwise it is difficult to prevent a third wave,” she concluded, adding that the variant would be the dominant topic at Thursday’s video call with European Union leaders.

Merkel went on to justify her decision to enforce stricter measures against the spread of Covid-19 earlier this week, explaining that while daily infections and hospital admissions are declining, the number of daily fatalities is still “shockingly high.”

“We see a fractured image,” she said, adding that there are “encouraging signs that the situation is easing.”

“[The] difficult sacrifices that people have made in the lockdown are starting to pay off,” Merkel added.

Earlier in the week Germany extended a nationwide lockdown until February 14, implementing stricter rules, including making FFP2 masks mandatory in public spaces and forcing German companies to allow employees to work from home until mid-March, where possible.

The country reported 20,398 new infections and 1,013 new deaths related to Covid-19 on Thursday, according to the Robert Koch Institute.