January 29 coronavirus news

By Zahid Mahmood, Hannah Strange, Julia Hollingsworth and Adam Renton, CNN

Updated 0514 GMT (1314 HKT) January 30, 2021
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1:38 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

US reports more than 164,000 new Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Alta Spells in Atlanta

The US reported 164,665 new Covid-19 cases and 3,872 virus-related deaths on Thursday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

That raises the national total to at least 25,762,726 confirmed infections and 433,067  fatalities.

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

Vaccine distribution: At least 48,386,275  vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 26,193,682 shots administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CNN is tracking US cases here.

1:14 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

South Korea detects more than 300 Covid-19 cases linked to religious schools

From CNN's Jake Kwon in Seoul

South Korean health authorities have completed the testing of all 40 branches of unauthorized religious schools linked to the latest coronavirus cluster in the country, Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho said in a briefing.

Authorities started investigating various branches of the educational institution run by the International Education Mission (IEM) School earlier in the week, when nearly 300 new Covid-19 infections were reported last Tuesday from one of the schools in Daejeon city.

After testing all members of the school, a total of 344 cases were detected in the 40 facilities, Yoon said on Friday. Yoon added that the contact tracing of the patients is ongoing and authorities will test other churches linked to the religious group.

Yoon said further nationwide plans in social distancing measures will be announced on Sunday. The current restrictions expire on Sunday.

South Korea reported 445 local and 24 imported cases for Thursday. Another 13 Covid-19 deaths were also reported. The nationwide totals now stand at 77,395 infections and 1,399 fatalities.

12:53 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

WHO team meets Chinese scientists in Wuhan

From CNN’s Sophie Jeong in Hong Kong

A team of World Health Organization (WHO) investigators examining the origins of the coronavirus pandemic began meeting with Chinese scientists on Friday.

“First face to face meeting with our colleagues. Correction: facemask to facemask given the medical restrictions. Discussing our visiting program,” Marion Koopmans, head of the Erasmus University Medical Center department of viroscience in the Netherlands, tweeted on Friday.
“China teamleader prof Wannian joking about some technical glitches. Nice to see our colleagues after lengthy zoom meetings,” she said.

The team plans to visit hospitals, laboratories and markets, WHO said earlier in a tweet.

The investigators left their hotel in Wuhan on Thursday afternoon, after completing a two-week quarantine. 

12:32 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

New variants could add up to 85,000 Covid-19 deaths to US toll by May, influential model forecasts

From CNN Health's Maggie Fox

New coronavirus variants are likely to worsen the spread of the virus across the United States and add to the death toll, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington forecast Thursday.

The model now forecasts 594,624 deaths by May 1 as its most likely projection -- 25,000 more fatalities than in the last projection from IHME, which forecast 569,000 Americans would die from Covid-19 by May 1.

Rapid variant spread would take that number up to 620,000 by May 1, IHME said. And in a worst-case scenario, nearly 654,000 Americans could be dead by May 1, IHME says. That’s 85,000 more than IHME forecast as its most likely May 1 scenario just last Sunday. 

New variants: The model includes, for the first time, the potential effects of more contagious variants of the virus that were first seen in Britain and South Africa and which have now been found in the US. The B.1.1.7 variant first seen in Britain has been found in test results from 28 states, while South Carolina on Thursday reported the first two US cases of the B.1.135 variant first seen in South Africa.

But it doesn’t take a new variant to make the forecast numbers of deaths grow, IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray said. 

“We have not been seeing governments taking action to apply cautionary measures as quickly as expected, and have incorporated that information into the modeling,” said Murray. “Without measures to control the spread of the disease, mobility remains higher and transmission is more likely.” 

What can be done: Deaths would stay lower if Americans simply wore masks and stayed home more. If most people followed social distancing and masking guidelines, 30,000 fewer people would die by May 1, the IHME said. 

Herd immunity is unlikely to be a factor in slowing transmission in the coming months, the IHME said. Too many people are hesitant about being vaccinated, IME said. “IHME’s forecasts predict only 38% of people in the US will be immune by May 1,” it said.

12:01 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

Fauci says Biden's push to reopen schools in 100 days "may not happen"

From CNN's Andrea Diaz and Paul LeBlanc

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, cautioned Thursday that President Joe Biden's push to reopen most schools within 100 days "may not happen" as the US continues to grapple with high Covid-19 transmission.

"The President is taking very seriously the issue ... both from the student standpoint and from the teacher standpoint," Fauci said during a virtual event sponsored by the National Education Association.
"He really wants to and believes that the schools need to reopen in the next 100 days, essentially all the K to 8 schools, within 100 days. That's the goal. That may not happen because there may be mitigating circumstances, but what he really wants to do is everything within his power to help get to that."

Biden is pushing Congress to approve another $170 billion for K-12 schools, colleges and universities to help them operate safely in person or facilitate remote learning. Congress approved $82 billion in aid for schools in December, which Biden has said he views as a "down payment."

The new funding would be part of a broad $1.9 trillion relief package that would also include expanding unemployment benefits and direct stimulus checks.

Read more:

10:03 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

WHO says its team in Wuhan will visit labs, markets and hospitals

From CNN’s Sandi Sidhu in Hong Kong

A team of World Health Organization (WHO) investigators examining the origins of the coronavirus pandemic will meet Chinese scientists on Friday, according to WHO.

“The team plans to visit hospitals, laboratories and markets. Field visits will include the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Huanan market, Wuhan CDC laboratory,” WHO said in a tweet.

The team will also speak with early responders and some of the first Covid-19 patients in Wuhan, it said. 

“All hypotheses are on the table as the team follows the science in their work,” it said, adding “they should receive the support, access and the data they need.”

The team left their hotel in Wuhan on Thursday afternoon, after completing a two-week quarantine. 

Read more about the WHO's team's investigation:

8:28 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Novavax says UK Phase 3 trial shows its coronavirus vaccine has 89% efficacy 

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

A Phase 3 trial of biotechnology company Novavax’s Covid-19 vaccine shows it has an efficacy of 89.3%, the company announced on Thursday. 

The company also highlighted the vaccine’s apparent efficacy against new variants of the virus that have alarmed both politicians and scientists.

The trial, conducted in the United Kingdom, included efficacy estimates by strain based on PCR tests performed on strains from 56 Covid-19 cases in the trial. The vaccine was found to have 95.6% efficacy against the original novel coronavirus and 85.6% against the variant first identified in the UK, known as B.1.1.7. 

The company also announced that a Phase 2b study conducted in South Africa, where another variant was first identified, showed 60% efficacy. 

"With today’s results from our UK Phase 3 and South Africa Phase 2b clinical trials, we have now reported data on our Covid-19 vaccine from Phase 1, 2 and 3 trials involving over 20,000 participants," Stanley Erck, Novavax president and CEO, said in the announcement. 

The company's vaccine, known as NVX-CoV2373, “is the first vaccine to demonstrate not only high clinical efficacy against Covid-19 but also significant clinical efficacy against both the rapidly emerging UK and South Africa variants,” Erck said. 
“NVX-CoV2373 has the potential to play an important role in solving this global public health crisis."

Shabir Maddi, principal investigator in the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine trial in South Africa, said the South Africa data underscored the "value of this vaccine to prevent illness from the highly worrisome variant currently circulating in South Africa, and which is spreading globally."

"This is the first Covid-19 vaccine for which we now have objective evidence that it protects against the variant dominating in South Africa,” Maddi said.
7:34 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

South Carolina detects first US cases of coronavirus strain first seen in South Africa

From CNN's Michael Nedelman

South Carolina officials have announced the United States' first two confirmed cases of a more contagious coronavirus strain first spotted in South Africa.

There is no known travel history or connection between the cases, both adults, according to a release Thursday from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Both cases were originally tested in early January, according to Dr. Brannon Traxler, the health department's interim public health director.

Traxler told reporters that both cases were tested by PCR "very early in the month," are no longer contagious, and are doing well. 
"It does take a while for sequencing to be done," Traxler added.

One case was confirmed to the department late yesterday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the other was identified by the state's public health laboratory while testing samples over the past several days.

A spokeswoman for the state health department told CNN that no other cases have been linked to either one at this point.

Read more:

8:02 p.m. ET, January 28, 2021

German officials say AstraZeneca vaccine shouldn't be given to over-65s, citing lack of data

From CNN's Claudia Otto, Laura Smith-Spark and Nadine Schmidt

Germany's vaccine commission said the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine should not be given to people older than 65 years, amid a bitter dispute between the European Union and the drugmaker over delayed supplies.

The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) at Germany's Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country's main public health authority, found there is insufficient data on the effectiveness of the vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, for this age group, according to a statement from the interior ministry on Thursday.

"Due to the small number of study participants in the age group ≥65 years, no conclusion can be made regarding efficacy and safety in the elderly. This vaccine is therefore currently recommended by STIKO only for persons aged 18-64 years," the panel said in its recommendation.

Responding to the announcement, an AstraZeneca spokesperson said "latest analyses of clinical trial data for the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine support efficacy in the over 65 years age group." The drugmaker is awaiting a regulatory decision by the European Union medicines regulator, the spokesperson added.

EU dispute: Thursday's announcement by the German Interior Ministry came amid an ongoing dispute between the European Union and AstraZeneca over delays to the delivery of its coronavirus vaccine to the bloc.

AstraZeneca has said it can't deliver as many doses as the EU expected, citing production challenges. But the European Commission, which ordered the vaccine on behalf of EU member states, says this is unacceptable, and the drugmaker must find a way to increase supply.

Vaccine shortages: The dispute comes as EU countries, including Germany, run low on vaccines, In Spain, the regional government of Madrid has paused administering first doses of the vaccine, to ensure there is enough to provide second doses for those who already got their first shots.

Concerns over expected shortages of the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines means some French regions, including Paris, will push back or cancel appointments for first injections, the French Health Ministry said in a press statement on Thursday.

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