January 28 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Zahid Mahmood and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021
29 Posts
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8:11 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Another lab study suggests Pfizer vaccine works against variants identified in the UK and South Africa

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

More preliminary results in the lab suggest the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine will be effective against new, more contagious coronavirus strains first identified in South Africa and the UK. 

As in previous studies, antibodies were slightly less effective against the virus with three key mutations in the variant identified in South Africa. However, Pfizer and BioNTech said, “the small differences in viral neutralization observed in these studies are unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine.”

The researchers engineered versions of the virus in the lab that carry some of the mutations found in the variants. They tested them against blood taken from 20 people who had received two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as part of a clinical trial.  

The lab study – conducted by researchers at Pfizer and the University of Texas Medical Branch – did not test all the mutations found in the variants, and researchers note that “clinical data are needed for firm conclusions about vaccine effectiveness against variant viruses.” 

The results were posted Wednesday on the preprint server bioRxiv and have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal. 

Pfizer and BioNTech said Wednesday a new vaccine against the variants does not appear to be necessary. In a news release, they said they will continue to monitor strains and will conduct studies to monitor how effective the vaccine is in the real world. Pfizer said earlier this week it was “laying the groundwork” to create a vaccine booster that could respond to coronavirus variants, if necessary.

Moderna, the maker of the other coronavirus vaccine authorized in the United States, said this week its Covid-19 vaccine created antibodies that neutralized the coronavirus variants first found in the United Kingdom and South Africa, and it planned to test a booster against the variants “out of an abundance of caution.”


10:34 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

As WHO investigators in Wuhan leave quarantine, China says it'll cooperate on virus tracing

From CNN's Beijing bureau

Members of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of Covid-19 leave The Jade hotel in Wuhan, China, after completing their two-week quarantine on January 28.
Members of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of Covid-19 leave The Jade hotel in Wuhan, China, after completing their two-week quarantine on January 28. Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

Ahead of the World Health Organization's Covid-19 origins investigation in Wuhan, China said in statement today that it will work with the WHO and "promote their scientific, objective, comprehensive, and balanced assessment and review."

After China's National Health Commission [NHC] Minister Ma Xiaowei spoke with WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom in phone call Wednesday, a NHC statement on Thursday said the country would make practical recommendations to help improve "global preparedness and its response to future public health emergencies."

Tedros Adhanom praised the long-term and effective cooperation between the two sides, thanked China for the thoughtful arrangement of the international expert group on tracing the virus, and was satisfied with the progress of the in-depth exchange between the two sides," the statement added.

"Both sides will work together to complete the scientific cooperation on virus tracing in China," it said.

A 13-member team of WHO scientists arrived in China on January 14 to start a highly awaited investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019. The expert panel left their hotel for the first time on Thursday after completing a two-week quarantine in the central Chinese city.

Read more about the WHO investigation here:

7:38 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

A rural medical center in Georgia is suspended from vaccine program after inoculating school staff

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe and Joe Sutton

A rural Georgia medical center has been suspended from the state's Covid-19 vaccination program for six months after the facility administered vaccines to staff of the local school district.

The Georgia Department of Public Health was notified Tuesday that the Medical Center of Elberton had been vaccinating Elbert County School District staff members who were outside of the Phase 1A+ category of people eligible for the vaccine.

After an investigation, the DPH confirmed the information and suspended the medical center, a release from the department said.

CNN has reached out to the Medical Center of Elberton for comment.

Elbert County School Superintendent Jon Jarvis said many of the district's more than 500 employees have been eager to receive the vaccine.

"It's hard to wear a mask when you're trying to teach students sounds," Superintendent Jarvis told CNN affiliate WXIA. 
"The vaccination for teachers, bus drivers, school nutrition workers ... they should be considered in the first group in my opinion."

Read the full story here:

7:55 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Europe is facing a "pandemic paradox," WHO director says

From Niamh Kennedy in Dublin

Military medical workers collect swab samples at a drive-thru Covid-19 testing center in Turin, Italy, on January 12.
Military medical workers collect swab samples at a drive-thru Covid-19 testing center in Turin, Italy, on January 12. Marco Bertorello/AFP/Getty Images

Thirty European countries have reported “a significant decrease in 14-day cumulative incidents” of new coronavirus cases but it still “too early” to consider easing restrictions, the World Health Organization’s Regional Director Hans Kluge said.

At least 25 European countries are currently facing partial or nationwide lockdown measures and these appear to be having an impact, Kluge said at press conference in Copenhagen Thursday.

Despite these positive indicators, Kluge warned it is still “too early to ease up” restrictions with Europe’s “high transmission rates” still impacting health systems. Countries “opening up rapidly is a poor strategy” he added.

Deaths in the region have also continued to “plateau at record levels” with 38,000 deaths reported last week.

Kluge added that Europe is facing a “pandemic paradox,” with the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine offering “new hope” as the continent continues to grapple with the threat of “newly emerging variants of concern.”

This paradox, where communities sense an end is in sight with the vaccine, but at the same time are called to adhere to restrictive measures in the face of a new threat is causing tension angst, fatigue and confusion,” Kluge said.

“Continued high rates of transmission and emerging Covid-19 variants of concern" have "raised the urgency of the task to vaccinate priority groups," he added.

According to Kluge, 33 European countries have reported cases of the UK variant whereas 16 European countries have found cases of the South African variant.

As the pandemic has expanded to over a year, Kluge remarked the European region is also dealing with a “parallel pandemic” of poor mental health.

According to the International Labor Organization, the pandemic has meant that half of young people aged 18-29 are now suffering from anxiety and depression.

Healthcare workers have not been left unscathed either, with 20% of healthcare workers suffering from anxiety and depression. 

Kluge said European countries need to “stay patient” cautioning it “will take time to vaccinate against Covid-19.”

“The introduction and gradual lifting of measures based on epidemiological criteria remains our best option to allow economies to survive and minimize collateral effects” he concluded.

Read more on the WHO reaction here:

7:15 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Covid vaccinations will not be a prerequisite at the Tokyo Olympics says CEO, as swimming qualifier is postponed

From CNN’s Blake Essig, Chandler Thornton and Aleks Klosok

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto speaks to the media in the Japanese capital on January 28.
Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto speaks to the media in the Japanese capital on January 28. Takashi Aoyama/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Having had a coronavirus vaccine will not be a stipulation to compete in the Tokyo Olympic games this summer, officials said Thursday.

Olympic officials expect vaccination programs to have progressed and hope as many people as possible will be vaccinated when the Olympics, which were postponed last year, are scheduled to start in July.

But Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said they "will not consider the vaccine as a prerequisite."

Of course it’s desirable that as many people as possible would be vaccinated, and that would bring about positive benefit, but even if vaccination is not done, we will be able to hold the games," Muto told reporters in a news briefing following a call with International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach.

Muto added that vaccinations would be administered for athletes but would not be an obligation.

Earlier on Thursday, the final Tokyo 2020 Olympics artistic swimming qualification event, due to be held in March, was postponed until May as a result of Covid-19 travel restrictions in Japan.

The event was also set to double up as an Olympic test event with Covid-19 countermeasures in place. But this has now been moved from March 4-7 to May 1-4, at the same venue, according to International Swimming Federation.

Some background: Whilst Bach vowed that the event would go ahead on Wednesday, questions remain on how Japan can pull off such a complex sporting event in the middle of a global pandemic that has infected 100 million people worldwide and killed more than 2 million.

Is Tokyo able to pull off the biggest sporting event of the year? Read more here:

6:50 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

US infections are decreasing, but 80,000 more Americans could die in the next three weeks

From CNN's Christina Maxouris

A nurse practitioner administers a Covid-19 swab test in Shirley, New York, on December 18, 2020.
A nurse practitioner administers a Covid-19 swab test in Shirley, New York, on December 18, 2020. John Paraskevas/Newsday/Getty Images

Covid-19 cases in the United States may be trending in the right direction but, with new variants circulating in the country, experts say there is still reason to worry.

New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows a variant first spotted in the UK has been detected in at least 28 states. Minnesota officials also recently announced the first US case of another variant, detected in a traveler from Brazil.

They're more transmissible, which can lead to increased number of cases, and increased stress on our already overtaxed system," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday.

With more than 80,000 deaths to coronavirus in January, the pandemic has hit the US the hardest this month. But a CDC ensemble forecast projects there could be another 84,000 virus-related fatalities by February 20.

As the country still grapples with vaccine allocation and distribution problems, federal data shows only about half of the vaccine supply that has been distributed in the US has been administered. According to one official, it could be "months" until every American who wants to get the vaccine can.

Read the full story here:

6:19 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

England’s latest lockdown may finally be working, but some regions are seeing a rise in cases, major study shows

From CNN’s Meera Senthilingam

Cases of coronavirus are starting to decline slightly across England, but this is likely to be driven by significant regional variation, a major survey finds.

The study by scientists at Imperial College London found that Covid-19 cases are declining in the southeast and southwest of the country, including London, but are rising in other regions, notably the East Midlands. And overall, the prevalence of infections remains high.

We still remain very worried that high levels of community prevalence are going to continue to cause high levels of pressure on the NHS (National Health Service),” said Paul Elliot, Chair in Epidemiology and Public Health Medicine at Imperial College London.
“There is this suggestion of a downtick now, but by no means as fast as we saw in lockdown one.”

The study, called REACT-1, randomly sampled 167,642 people across England between January 6 and 22. Of them 2,282 or 1.57% tested positive. The results show the national prevalence remained stable up until January 15, then started to show a slight decline in the last week of the survey.

However, the researchers believe this is due to declines in the south bringing the national average down -- with the southwest seeing the greatest fall in infections. Other regions either had minimal no decline, or in the case of the East Midlands, saw an increase.

Despite the decline, London continued to have the highest burden of Covid cases, with 2.83% of people sampled testing positive. In terms of age groups, the highest prevalence was seen in people aged 18 to 34 or close to 2% of that population. Close to 1% of people over 65 nationally were infected and 2% of people over 65 in London.

Unlike government data, which has results for people who come forward for testing, REACT-1 selects people at random and so includes people with and without symptoms and who may not suspect they’re infected. The study also monitors people’s movements using mobility data from Facebook apps.
Through this they could see that people while there was a decrease in activity towards the end of December, this was followed by a rise in January.

Elliot said more people are active now than they were in the first lockdown, with more people going to work and more children in schools. This is all adding to the reduced impact of the national lockdown.

“It’s going in the right direction, probably, but it's not going in the right direction fast enough,” said Elliot. “Without a rapid decline there will continue be pressure on health services.”

5:56 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Could post-vaccine life mean we return to normal? Not just yet

From CNN's Kara Fox

NHS staff and key workers queue to receive the coronavirus vaccine at the Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland on January 23.
NHS staff and key workers queue to receive the coronavirus vaccine at the Louisa Jordan Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland on January 23. Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

Mass Covid-19 vaccination programs are underway in many countries around the world, offering the first glimmer of hope that life as we knew it could be back within our reach.

The UK was the first country to begin vaccinating its citizens with a fully vetted and authorized Covid-19 vaccine, and is currently among the countries with the highest number of vaccines deployed per capita.

But just how quickly can the UK -- and perhaps the rest of the world -- expect to return to some form of normality? The truth is, not very soon.

Public health experts largely agree that it's unrealistic to bet on the vaccine being a magic bullet to end the pandemic; they say coronavirus safeguards, such as masks and social distancing, are likely to remain in place for several months at least.

Dr. Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia told CNN that many factors must be considered before the UK's lockdown is relaxed -- starting with a big drop in severe cases and deaths.

"The issue comes down to numbers really," Hunter said.

Read the full story:

5:23 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Expect "at least another 10 weeks" of vaccine shortages, says German Health Minister

From Nadine Schmidt

German Health Minister Jens Spahn looks on during parliament session in Berlin on January 28.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn looks on during parliament session in Berlin on January 28. Clemens Bilan/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The German government expects the country to face shortages in its supply of coronavirus shots for at least another 10 weeks, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Thursday amid a backlash over the pace of the country’s vaccine rollout program.

We will experience at least another 10 weeks of coronavirus vaccine shortage,” Spahn tweeted, adding that “confidence in this crisis can only be achieved if the federal and state governments pull together.”

Spahn’s remarks come amid an ongoing dispute between the European Union and drugmaker AstraZeneca over vaccine delays which threaten the bloc’s fragile recovery from the pandemic.  

The German Health Minister has proposed that a vaccination summit be held with all regional German states and federal governments to discuss “the way forward” and to ensure that “Europe gets its fair share” of vaccine doses.

Spahn also proposed inviting members of the pharmaceutical industry and vaccine manufacturers in Germany to show “how complex the production process is.”

“Vaccine production cannot be set up in four weeks,” Spahn said.

“If it can be done in a few months, that's very fast. Simply because the quality has to be very good to protect the citizens,” he added.

Some background:

  • Germany marked one year since the virus arrived on Wednesday, with the country showing no signs of reduced infections.
  • According to the latest data from Germany's national agency for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), there had been an increase of 17,553 infections on Thursday over a 24-hour period, with 941 deaths.
  • As of Thursday, RKI data shows Germany has vaccinated nearly 2 million people -- around 2% of the country's population.