February 3 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton and Jo Shelley, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021
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1:29 a.m. ET, February 3, 2021

US reports more than 110,000 new Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Joe Sutton in Atlanta

The United States reported 110,679 new Covid-19 infections and 3,389 additional related fatalities on Tuesday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

That raises the national total to at least 26,431,799 confirmed cases and 446,744 deaths.

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

Vaccines: At least 52,657,675 vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 32,780,860 shots administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

See CNN's live case tracker.

1:09 a.m. ET, February 3, 2021

New Zealand regulator approves Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Sophie Jeong in Hong Kong

Empty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are displayed at a vaccination center in Ludwigsburg, Germany on January 22.
Empty vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are displayed at a vaccination center in Ludwigsburg, Germany on January 22. Thomas Kienzle/AFP/Getty Images

New Zealand's medicines regulator has provisionally approved the country’s first Covid-19 vaccine, the government announced on Wednesday.

Medsafe provisionally authorized use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is expected to arrive in New Zealand by the end of the first quarter, according to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins.

Provisional approval means the pharmaceutical company must meet certain conditions, including supplying more data from its clinical trials around the world as they progress, the government said in a news release. This will happen at the same time as the vaccine is rolled out.

New Zealand “will start vaccinating first border workers and the people they live with," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. "People such as cleaners, the nurses who undertake health checks in MIQ (Managed isolation and quarantine), security staff, customs and border officials, airline staff and hotel workers will be among the first to get the vaccine.”

“There is more work to do, we are not out of the woods yet -- but the provisional approval of the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is a significant milestone," added Director-General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield.
1:02 a.m. ET, February 3, 2021

More than half of Delhi's population has had Covid-19, survey shows

From CNN's Manveena Suri and Esha Mirta in New Delhi

Healthcare workers collect swab samples at a Covid-19 testing and vaccination center at Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital on January 12 in New Delhi, India.
Healthcare workers collect swab samples at a Covid-19 testing and vaccination center at Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital on January 12 in New Delhi, India. Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

More than half of the population of the Indian capital region Delhi have been infected with Covid-19, according to a major survey conducted by the Delhi government.

“In the fifth serosurvey done, antibodies have been detected in 56.13% of the population. This was the largest survey in any state involving around 28,000 samples conducted from January 15 to 23," said Delhi Health Minister Satyendar Jain at a news conference on Tuesday.

"The last survey found 25-26% seroprevalence. This means Delhi is inching towards herd immunity," he added.

Daily cases and positivity rates are also declining, Jain said -- but he urged people not to let their guards down.

“I want to urge everyone to continue wearing masks for a few more months," he said. "In the past two months, the compliance has improved substantially, the result of which is there for everyone to see. Covid cases have drastically come down. If people continue to wear masks, we will be able to totally control the virus in the next few months."

The Delhi region is home to more than 19 million people, according to government data.

India's cases: The country reported 11,039 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, according to the Indian Health Ministry. 

That raises the national total to 10,777,284 confirmed cases and 154,596 related deaths.

More than 4 million people have been vaccinated nationwide since the vaccination drive began on January 16, according to the ministry.

12:46 a.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Number of vaccine doses "are going to be greatly accelerated" in the next 3 months, Fauci says

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says coronavirus vaccine doses available in the United States are expected to increase significantly over the next three months. 

"It's just a question of the production speed and capability of doing it. As we get into middle of February, into March and April, the number of doses that are going to be available are going to be greatly accelerated," Fauci told CNN on Tuesday. 

"Right now, the real compelling thing is that the supply does not meet the demand. So, we've got to get more vaccine into people, and we've got to make sure that we use every possibility of getting doses out there."

As doses become available from companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, “things are going to get progressively better," he said.

Mass vaccination needed: About 70% to 85% of the population needs to be vaccinated in order to return to some sense of normalcy by the end of summer or beginning of fall, Fauci said.

But there's the danger that more transmissible variants of the coronavirus could become dominant in the US population. 

"If the variants and the mutations come, and start becoming dominant, then that's going to obviate some of the effects of the vaccine," Fauci said. "The best way to avoid that, is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible, because viruses don't mutate if they don't replicate."
12:16 a.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Many US Marine recruits had been infected with coronavirus, study finds

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Many new recruits to the US Marines this past summer had evidence they had been infected with coronavirus -- a finding that supports the idea that healthy young people may be carrying and spreading the virus without ever knowing it, researchers reported Tuesday.

The team at the Naval Medical Research Center tested 3,249 Marine recruits who were quarantined between May and September, researchers reported in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. 

They found:

  • About 1% tested positive for coronavirus when they arrived.
  • 9% had antibodies for coronavirus, indicating they had been previously infected.
  • Nearly 18% of Hispanic recruits, and 15% of Black recruits, tested positive for antibodies

Young adults in the US have shown higher levels of Covid-19 antibodies than people of other ages -- but they are usually asymptomatic, and these cases go unnoticed, the researchers said. 

“Our cohort was primarily young adults, many of whom had never held full-time jobs and might not represent essential workers,” they added.
“Among persons 18–20 years of age, low adherence to recommendations for social distancing, wearing of masks, and other public health measures might increase their level of exposure compared with older persons.”
12:02 a.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Sinopharm's coronavirus vaccine works against South Africa variant, Chinese researchers say

From CNN's Maggie Fox

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of Sinopharm's Covid-19 vaccine in Serbia on January 25.
A healthcare worker prepares a dose of Sinopharm's Covid-19 vaccine in Serbia on January 25. Andrej Isakovic/AFP/Getty Images

China’s Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine can inactivate a worrying coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, researchers from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

Their study is published online as a pre-print, meaning it has not been peer-reviewed, and includes few details.

Sinopharm’s vaccine, which the company says has been given to 10 million people across China, is a “live” virus vaccine -- meaning it's made using a whole virus that has been inactivated so it cannot cause disease.

The study: The team said they tested 12 samples taken from people who got the Sinopharm vaccine, and 12 samples from volunteers who received an experimental vaccine, against the variant virus.

Both vaccines elicited enough antibodies to neutralize the virus and overcome its mutation, they said.

“These data indicated that (the variant) will not escape the immunity induced by vaccines targeting whole virus or RBD,” the researchers wrote.

The mutation, explained: The virus has a structure called the receptor binding domain, or RBD, which it uses to dock onto cells and infect them. The RBD is the mutated part of the new variant that makes it different from the original strand.

Many coronavirus vaccines, including those made by Pfizer and Moderna, specifically target the RBD -- but a live virus vaccine like Sinopharm's is less specific.

8:42 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

Younger adults are the biggest spreaders of coronavirus in US, study suggests

From CNN's Maggie Fox

The biggest spreaders of coronavirus in the US are adults aged 20 to 49, and efforts to control the spread -- including vaccination -- should focus on that age group, researchers reported Tuesday.

Children and older adults accounted for very little spread, the researchers said -- suggesting that reopening schools may not contribute to spread, if transmission is controlled among younger adults, they said.

How they conducted the study: The team at Imperial College London used cell phone location data covering more than 10 million people and publicly available information on the spread of the virus to calculate which age groups were most responsible for the spread of the virus.

The results: They found that adults aged 20 to 49 accounted for about 72.2% of Covid-19 infections after schools reopened in October. Less than 5% of infections came from children, and less than 10% from teenagers.

And it might be adults aged 35 to 49 who are the biggest factor in driving the pandemic -- this group accounted for 41% of new transmissions through mid-August, compared to 35% for adults 20 to 34.

Containment efforts like mass vaccination programs aimed at this age group "could bring resurgent Covid-19 epidemics under control and avert deaths,” according to the study.

 

8:41 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

Large UK study confirms Covid-19 antibodies last at least 6 months

From CNN's Zahira Rahim

A large British study looking at coronavirus infections in real life confirms what lab experiments have shown: most people keep some antibodies to the virus for at least six months after recovery.

The study -- which included 20,000 people, plus their adult children and grandchildren -- also indicates 8.8% of the UK population had been infected with coronavirus by December -- but almost twice as many Blacks, 16.3%, had evidence of previous infection.

The study from UK Biobank, a biomedical database and research group, measured levels of previous infection in various population groups across the UK from the end of May to the beginning of December. It showed 99% of the participants who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 retained antibodies for three months after being infected and 88% had them for six months.

“Although we cannot be certain how this relates to immunity, the results suggest that people may be protected against subsequent infection for at least six months following natural infection. More prolonged follow-up will allow us to determine how long such protection is likely to last,” Naomi Allen, UK Biobank chief scientist, told a news briefing Tuesday.

Antibodies were found in a greater proportion of younger people compared to older participants. The researchers said 13.5% of participants under 30 had detectable antibodies, while only 6.7% of those over 70 did. And 16.3% of Black volunteers in the study had antibodies to the virus, compared to 8.5% of White participants and 7.5% of participants of Chinese ethnicity.

Variants and antibodies: Allen said the team did not know whether the antibodies could provide protection against new variants of coronavirus. “I think it's just too early to tell about the level of protection,” she said. 

Rory Collins, head of the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, said Tuesday that people who had previously been infected should still take care and obey social distancing guidelines.

"We can't be sure that (antibodies provide) complete protection,” Collins said, adding that scientists still did not know if people who had been previously infected could still carry and transmit the virus.
8:16 p.m. ET, February 2, 2021

Coronavirus strain in UK picks up mutation that could impact vaccines, experts say

From CNN's Michael Nedelman

A mutation that could allow Covid-19 to escape antibody protection has now been found in samples of a rapidly spreading strain in the UK, according to a report Monday by Public Health England.

The mutation, called E484K, was already part of the genetic signature of variants linked to South Africa and Brazil. 

According to the PHE report, the mutation has been newly detected in at least 11 samples of the UK's B.1.1.7 strain. It also appears some of these samples may have acquired this mutation independently, instead of spreading from a single case.

This could mean a variant already known to be more transmissible also risks becoming somewhat resistant to the immune protection offered by vaccines, or more likely to cause reinfection among people who were previously infected, experts say. 

"This doesn't appear to be great news for vaccine efficacy," said Joseph Fauver, associate research scientist in epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. 

He added the new finding is also something to keep monitoring in the United States, where efforts to look for variants through genetic sequencing have lagged behind the UK. The fact that we've only seen this in the UK "may be a result of their robust genomic surveillance program," Fauver said. 

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