The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Ben Westcott, Brett McKeehan and Eoin McSweeney, CNN

Updated 8:17 p.m. ET, January 31, 2021
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8:17 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

Oxford professor disputes Macron comments on vaccine effectiveness in over-65s

From Schams Elwazer in London and Barbara Wojazer in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron waits at the Élysée Palace in Paris before a working lunch on January 27.
French President Emmanuel Macron waits at the Élysée Palace in Paris before a working lunch on January 27. Chesnot/Getty Images

An Oxford professor who was part of the team that developed the Covid-19 vaccine with AstraZeneca has disputed comments by French President Emmanuel Macron appearing to question the efficacy of the jab in over-65s.

Asked on BBC Radio about Macron’s comments that the vaccine is “quasi-ineffective” in people over 65, professor John Bell said Saturday, “I’m not sure where he got that from.”

Acknowledging that the number of elderly people participating in the original study was “small” at around 12%, Bell added that “in vaccinology the way you deal with that problem is you identify the level of immunity that a vaccine generates.”

“The elderly people responded just as well as people in other age groups and there’s really persuasive evidence that this is a protective vaccine in those populations,” Bell said.

On Friday, Macron told reporters, "what I can tell you officially is that the first results are not encouraging for those over 60-65 years old," adding that "very little information” is available on the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

“I suspect this is a bit of demand management from Mr. Macron,” Bell said.

Pushed on the point by the host, Bell added that “if he didn’t have any vaccine, the best thing you could do is reduce demand.”

Macron’s comments have been widely criticized in the UK press as the bitter row between the EU, drugmakers and the UK over vaccine supply continues to dominate headlines.

The EU’s medicines regulator approved the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for all age groups on Friday. Earlier in the week, Germany’s vaccine commission said it would not recommend its use in the over-65s due to insufficient data on its effectiveness in that population.

 

8:01 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

Health agencies announce first three cases of UK variant in Arizona

From CNN's Alta Spells

A patient is taken from an ambulance to the emergency room of a hospital in the Navajo Nation town of Tuba City in Arizona on May 24, 2020 
A patient is taken from an ambulance to the emergency room of a hospital in the Navajo Nation town of Tuba City in Arizona on May 24, 2020  AFP via Getty Images

Arizona joins the list of states reporting cases of the UK Covid-19 variant, known as B.1.1.7. 

The Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), the Maricopa County Department of Public Health (MCDPH), Pinal County Public Health Services District, and Arizona State University (ASU) announced the detection of the first three cases of the UK variant in the state in a press release Friday. 

The health agencies did not offer any additional information on the cases or patients involved in the release.

The UK variant was first identified in the fall of 2020 according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The variant appears to spread more easily and has been found in at least 70 countries, according to information from the World Health Organization. 

The CDC reports at least 434 cases of the UK variant in at least 30 US states, not including the state of Arizona, in data updated Friday on its website.

The new variant has wreaked havoc in the UK, fueling a surge in cases towards the end of 2020 despite a national lockdown being in place. Data showing an uptick in cases in younger people suggests this was largely because schools had stayed open, enabling the variant to spread rapidly.

The UK is a cautionary tale of what could happen elsewhere. American public health experts are warning about a possible new surge in Covid-19 cases caused by the strain first seen in southeast England. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that the B.1.1.7 strain could become the predominant variant seen in the United States by March.

7:34 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

A fight between the EU and UK reveals the ugly truth about vaccine nationalism

Analysis by CNN's Angela Dewan

Visitors queue before receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine at a closed down Debenhams department store, in Folkestone on Wednesday
Visitors queue before receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine at a closed down Debenhams department store, in Folkestone on Wednesday Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The ugly vaccine nationalism that the World Health Organization and other public health advocates feared is here. And it's beginning in Europe, the region that usually boasts the world's greatest levels of equality by many measures.

Between the United Kingdom and the European Union, solidarity has disappeared entirely and given way to an all-out battle over who is more entitled to tens of millions of doses produced by British-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca. Meanwhile, many countries in the global south have yet to administer a single vaccine.

The spat revolves around the EU's deal with AstraZeneca, which recently informed the bloc it would not be able to supply the number of vaccines the EU had hoped for by the end of March. EU leaders are furious that the company appears to be fulfilling its deliveries for the UK market and not theirs.

And while the EU's complaints are largely directed at AstraZeneca, the dispute has triggered animosity on both sides of the Channel, the two sides having only just emerged from four years of bickering over the terms of their Brexit divorce.

On Friday, Brussels imposed controls on vaccine exports to keep track of how many doses were leaving the continent and where they were going, in what leaders called a transparency measure but what looks like a targeted export ban.

The EU also said Friday it would invoke a clause in the Brexit deal to impose controls on exports to Northern Ireland to ensure doses wouldn't funnel through the region into the rest of the UK. Hours later it then backed down from the threat after UK and Irish leaders sought urgent clarification from Brussels over the highly controversial move.

Read the full story here

7:00 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

Children unlikely to spread coronavirus in school when proper precautions are taken, researchers find

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox and Ben Tinker

A sign in a classroom reminds students to wear face masks.
A sign in a classroom reminds students to wear face masks. Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle/Getty Images

An in-depth look at two US schools supports the argument that children don’t spread coronavirus in school when proper precautions are taken.

Out of 3,500 students, just 234 coronavirus infections were documented during the fall semester, the researchers reported in a pre-print study posted online.

Just 9% of students who brought new infections to school infected others, the researchers found.

“There was no evidence of student-to-teacher or teacher-to-student transmission in either school,” they wrote.

“To our knowledge, this is the only, comprehensive and long-term study that tested all K-12 students (asymptomatic) and staff from August through December -- making it the only one where we really see disease incidence in this age group and true spread in schools,” Dr. Darria Long of the University of Tennessee Department of Emergency Medicine, who worked on the study, told CNN.

The team studied two independent K-12 schools, not named. One was described as being in the Southeast and one in the Mid-Atlantic. Each school followed the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus, including social distancing and mask use. They also implemented “aggressive” laboratory screening testing policies. 

“Seventy two percent of in-school transmission cases in School A were associated with noncompliance with school mask wearing rules. Of known off-campus sources, the major ones identified were family exposure, including siblings returning from college; off-campus activities, including parties and other gatherings,” they wrote.

“Children do contract Covid-19 and can transmit it, but rates of illness when they are in school are lower than rates of illness when they are out of school, suggesting that children and communities may be at lower risk when children are in school,” Long said.
5:57 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

UK Prime Minister "in awe" of parents who have risen to "unique challenges" during lockdown

From CNN's Eoin McSweeney and Mick Krever

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London for parliamentary questions on January 27.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves Downing Street in London for parliamentary questions on January 27. Leon Neal/Getty Images

The UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has hailed the efforts of parents during lockdown in an open letter published on Saturday.

"While the past 12 months have been tough for all of us, the demands of this pandemic have also brought out the very best in a great many people," he wrote. "And I'm particularly in awe of the way the parents, carers and guardians of children have risen to the unique challenges with which you have been faced."

Parents are doing "a great job" and by staying home are "saving lives", he added.

He attended a virtual classroom of 10 to 11-year-olds on Friday and was impressed by the work of parents during the session.

Some 876,000 laptops have been given to schools so that kids can learn online and "hundreds of millions of pounds" will be put into "nationwide catch-up programmes" when the pandemic is over, Johnson said.

For weeks leading up to the New Year, despite surging coronavirus cases and a new highly contagious variant, Johnson's government assured schools and parents that children would return to the classroom in January.

On the morning of January 4, as children streamed into schools and he toured a hospital, Johnson touted "the efforts that we're making as a government to try to keep primary schools open."

Just hours later, he executed an about-face of acrobatic proportions. In a somber prime-time address to the nation, the Prime Minister said he was ordering the closure, from the next day, of not just secondary schools -- which serve children 11 and above and are where spread is more likely -- but also primary, or elementary schools.

5:28 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

US records at least 162,000 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours

A health care worker collects a Covid-19 swab test at a United Airlines drive-thru testing site inside San Francisco International Airport on January 9.
A health care worker collects a Covid-19 swab test at a United Airlines drive-thru testing site inside San Francisco International Airport on January 9. David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images

There were 162,601 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus in the United States on Friday, with 3,483 related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally.

To date, there have been at least 25,929,282 Covid-19 cases in the US. More than 436,678 people have died in the country from the virus. 

At least 49,216,500 vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 27,884,661 shots 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 US territories, as well as repatriated cases. 

For regular updates, follow CNN’s map, which uses Johns Hopkins data to refresh every 15 minutes. 

8:17 p.m. ET, January 31, 2021

Film festival invites emergency nurse to spend a week watching movies on an isolated Swedish lighthouse island

From CNN's Eoin McSweeney

Sweden's Göteborg Film Festival has gone digital this year and chosen one lucky film enthusiast to experience its Isolated Cinema on a remote lighthouse island.

Emergency nurse Lisa Enroth will spend seven days in the cabin of Pater Noster Lighthouse on Hamneskär island, with only movies and the sea for company.

The festival reviewed more than 12,000 applicants from 45 countries before settling on the nurse who spent the last year on the front lines fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Through my work in healthcare I seem to have spent ages listening, testing and consoling. I feel like I’m drained of energy," said Enroth in a statement. "The wind, the sea, the possibility of being part of a totally different kind of reality for a week – all this is really attractive."

Enroth, from Skövde, Sweden, won't be allowed a cellphone, a laptop, a book, or any other distractions from January 30 to February 6. She will create a daily video diary that will allow the world to watch her experience.

Like many recent film festivals, Göteborg will be virtual in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, but organizers decided to offer one festival-goer a totally different experience.

"And in these troubled times it feels particularly right to be able to give this unique experience to one of the many heroes of the healthcare system who are all working so hard against COVID-19,” said the chief executive of the festival, Mirja Wester.

The lighthouse was deactivated in recent years, and the lighthouse cabin was recently renovated by design agency Stylt, so Enroth will be able to relax in comfort and style.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misstated the name of nurse Lisa Enroth.

3:53 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

30,000 spectators will be allowed per day in first week of Australia Open

From CNN’s Paul Devitt in Hong Kong and Ben Westcott

Workers at the Australian Open walk past posters of 2020 champions Novak Djokovic and Sofia Kenin in Melbourne on January 30.
Workers at the Australian Open walk past posters of 2020 champions Novak Djokovic and Sofia Kenin in Melbourne on January 30. David Gray/AFP/Getty Images

Crowds of up to 30,000 people per day will be allowed for the opening week of the Australia Open, announced the minister for sport in Australia’s state of Victoria, Martin Pakula, and Tennis Australia CEO, Craig Tiley.

During a press conference on Saturday morning, Pakula said Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has signed off on the spectator numbers.

"We're really looking forward to welcoming fans to Melbourne Park for the @AustralianOpen @ATPCup and Melbourne Summer Series starting tomorrow," said Tiley in a tweet.

Thousands of cheering fans packed the stands on Friday to watch some of tennis' biggest stars warm up for the Australian Open -- with hardly a face mask to be seen.

In an unusual scene for the coronavirus pandemic, the 4,000-strong crowd sat cheek by jowl as big hitters including Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka emerged from their 14-day quarantine to play exhibition matches ahead of the first grand slam of the year in Melbourne next month.

Australia's tough approach to the coronavirus has been controversial ahead of the Open, with some players arriving from overseas frustrated to find themselves in quarantine.

Some took to social media to complain while others issued lists of demands to Australian authorities. But speaking to CNN from quarantine earlier this week, Nadal said his fellow stars should have a "wider perspective."

The Australian Open will begin on February 8 in Melbourne and run for two weeks. Friday's exhibition matches were the official curtain raiser for the international tennis competition and saw Williams and Novak Djokovic win hard-fought matches.

2:57 a.m. ET, January 30, 2021

WHO team in Wuhan visits second hospital during field investigation into origins of Covid-19

From Pauline Lockwood in Hong Kong

Security personnel guard an entrance to the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital in China's Hubei province, where a team from the World Health Organization visited on January 30.
Security personnel guard an entrance to the Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital in China's Hubei province, where a team from the World Health Organization visited on January 30. Ng Han Guan/AP

The World Health Organization team of international scientists investigating the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan spent Saturday visiting a hospital that treated some of the Chinese city's most severe coronavirus cases last year.

The team started its investigation Friday with a visit to the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine, which treated some of the first known coronavirus patients.

On Saturday, the group went to Jinyintan Hospital. One of the scientists, British-Americam Peter Daszak, tweeted: 

“2nd day on-the-ground in Wuhan meeting w/ leaders & staff at the famous Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital that treated large numbers of severe COVID cases early in the outbreak. Important opportunity to talk directly w/ medics who were on the ground at that critical time fighting COVID!”