February 4 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Jo Shelley, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, February 5, 2021
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2:47 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021

COVAX announces plan to distribute more than 330 million Covid-19 vaccine doses to developing nations

From CNN's Nectar Gan

The COVAX initiative for equitable global access to Covid-19 vaccines has announced its plan to distribute more than 330 million doses to developing nations in the first half of 2021.

In an interim distribution plan published Wednesday, the COVAX vaccine-sharing facility said the doses will cover an average of 3.3% of the total population of the 145 countries participating in the initial round of distribution.

The COVAX initiative was launched in April last year to ensure the rapid and equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines to rich and poor countries alike and the vaccination of high-risk groups.

Led by the World Health Organization and numerous other international health groups, it has since been joined by 190 countries, but was shunned by the United States, partly because former President Donald Trump did not want to work with WHO.

The first round of distribution includes 336 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine -- 240 million made by the Serum Institute of India and 96 million by AstraZeneca -- as well as 1.2 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

But the plan is "non-binding and may be subject to change," with the actual allocation and distribution dependent on a series of caveats, from WHO's emergency use approval to the readiness of countries to receive and administer the vaccines, the document said.

Vaccine allocation: According to COVAX, the vaccines will be allocated to participating countries proportional to their population size. India, for example, will receive the highest amount -- 97 million doses of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India.

North Korea is also among the list, due to receive nearly 2 million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine. Pyongyang claims the country has not contracted a single case of Covid-19 -- which experts say is likely untrue.

Some wealthy, self-financing countries were also included in the initial distribution plan, such as South Korea, Canada, New Zealand and Singapore.

Read the full story:

1:25 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021

It's too soon to dump masks, even for people who have been vaccinated, doctors say 

From CNN’s Christopher Rios

A mask lies in the snow outside an apartment building on December 23, 2020 in White Plains, New York.
A mask lies in the snow outside an apartment building on December 23, 2020 in White Plains, New York. John Moore/Getty Images

Experts from the Infectious Disease Society of America are urging the public to continue wearing masks, even after they have been vaccinated. 

Clinical trial data shows that the AstraZeneca vaccine could not only reduce the risk of severe disease, but reduce overall transmission of the virus, said the company. But experts caution the public against extrapolating these findings to other vaccines or abandoning mask use altogether. 

“We think it gives us some forward transmission benefits and risk reduction, but it is not 100%,” said Dr. Joshua Barocas, an infectious diseases specialist at the Boston University School of Medicine.

There's still a lot we don't know -- such as the prevalence of Covid-19 variants, the herd immunity threshold, and speed of vaccine roll-out, said Dr. Ricardo Franco of the Center for AIDS Research at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. 

In the meantime, the experts urged the public to continue following evidence-based practices to limit the spread of the virus, like wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands, and getting vaccinated.

“This game is at halftime,” said Franco. “We got off a big deficit. We tied the game at halftime. We need to keep pushing and not give the virus a chance to play well in the second half.” 

12:54 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021

More than 8,000 people are waiting for Covid-19 facilities in Japan

From CNN's Junko Ogura and Chie Kobayashi in Tokyo

More than 8,000 people across the 10 Japanese prefectures under a state of emergency are waiting for space in either a Covid-19 hospital bed or isolation facility after testing positive for the virus, health officials said Wednesday.

Prefectures are in charge of local protocols of where and when to move people who test positive for Covid-19.

The 8,767 people reported in Wednesday’s numbers includes people with mild or no symptoms who are waiting for space in an isolation center. 

The 10 prefectures under the emergency order are Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Osaka, Kobe, Hyogo, Aichi, Gifu and Fukuoka.

The state of emergency will continue through March 7. Under these restrictions, companies must facilitate work from home where possible, and restaurants must close by 8 p.m. Sports and entertainment events in Japan are also required to limit the number of attendees.

12:31 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021

Kansas reports first known case of UK variant

From CNN’s Keith Allen

Dr. Lee Norman, head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, answers questions from reporters about the Covid-19 pandemic during a news conference on Wednesday, January 27, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas.
Dr. Lee Norman, head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, answers questions from reporters about the Covid-19 pandemic during a news conference on Wednesday, January 27, at the Statehouse in Topeka, Kansas. John Hanna/AP

The B.1.1.7 variant of Covid-19, colloquially known as the UK variant, has been detected in Kansas, according to a news release from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE).

An Ellis County resident was discovered to have the UK variant on Wednesday afternoon, and an investigation is underway to determine if others may have been exposed, KDHE says. No additional information about the patient is available. 

“This finding does not change our public health recommendations. We continue to encourage people to take the appropriate precautions: follow isolation and quarantine recommendations, practice physical distancing, wearing masks, good hygiene, staying home if ill and getting the vaccine if you are able to, once the supply is sufficient,” said KDHE Secretary Dr. Lee Norman in a statement.

Some context: The B.1.1.7 variant has been reported in more than 30 states, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, very few samples from infected people are being tested, so there is no way to know just how common the new strains are in the country.

12:03 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021

All Australian Open players and staff will be tested for Covid-19 following hotel worker's positive diagnosis

From CNN's Angus Watson in Melbourne and Sophie Jeong in Hong Kong

A man wearing a protective face mask is seen outside the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne.
A man wearing a protective face mask is seen outside the Grand Hyatt in Melbourne. Loren Elliot/Reuters

The testing of more than 500 Australian Open players, officials and support staff who went into isolation will be completed by 5 p.m. (1 a.m. ET) Thursday, according to Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley.

The players and staff went into isolation after a hotel quarantine worker tested positive for Covid-19 in Melbourne on Wednesday. The unnamed man last worked at the Grand Hyatt on January 29, and returned a negative test at the end of his shift. He only developed Covid-19 symptoms the following week.

Of the 507 people staying at the hotel, 60 are players, Tiley said on Thursday. They will all need to return negative tests before they can be released from isolation.

Tiley added that all the players are “casual contacts” and that there is a “very low probability that any will test positive.”

All play at Melbourne Park tennis center set for Thursday has been suspended to allow for the players and staff to be tested. The fixtures for Friday will be announced later on Thursday, and the draw for the Australian Open will be postponed to Friday, Tiley added.

The Tennis Australia boss said the affected warm-up matches would be rescheduled, time permitting. “Everything remains as is, just with a day delay, until further notice,” Tiley said. 

12:01 a.m. ET, February 4, 2021

Increasing data suggests UK variant may be deadlier, says CDC director

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control, speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater on December 8, 2020.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control, speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater on December 8, 2020. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Health authorities are still learning about the new coronavirus variants, and whether current health measures are as effective against them -- but data suggests that the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the UK, may be deadlier than the original strand.

"We know that some of the variants have increased transmissibility, there's increasing data that suggests that some of the variants, the B.1.1.7 variant may actually ... lead to increased mortality, and the jury's still out with regard to how these vaccines are going to work with against these variants," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on MSNBC Wednesday.

"We'd have to ... follow the science, and we are learning more and more about whether our public health measures, our mitigation measures, our mask wearing, our distancing, will be fully effective against these variants, but we have every reason to believe that they will." 

Walensky added that as authorities examine more people infected by the variants, they are finding that those people are typically not wearing masks or social distancing. "What we know is that they'll (variants) probably be less forgiving when we don't follow that guidance," she said.

10:09 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Supermarket workers angry as Kroger plans store closures to avoid pandemic hazard payments

From CNN's Alexandra Meeks, Sarah Moon and Jessica Myers

Workers hold placards in protest at a Food 4 Less supermarket in Long Beach, California on February 3, after a decision by owner Kroger to close two stores rather than pay workers an additional $4 in "hazard pay" for their continued work during the pandemic.
Workers hold placards in protest at a Food 4 Less supermarket in Long Beach, California on February 3, after a decision by owner Kroger to close two stores rather than pay workers an additional $4 in "hazard pay" for their continued work during the pandemic. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of grocery store workers in Long Beach, California may soon be without jobs after Kroger announced it will permanently close two stores to avoid offering workers hazard pay during the pandemic.

The citywide hazard pay ordinance requires large grocers to pay their staff an extra $4 per hour for at least four months since workers face higher risk of exposure to the virus.

"It’s a slap in the face when they don’t want to pay us what we deserve, putting our lives on the front line,” said Clara Vega, general manager at one of the closing stores, a Food 4 Less supermarket. “We work so hard, we work so much overtime, it’s ridiculous.”

Local officials and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), which represents 1.3 million workers, condemned Kroger's move to close the stores instead of increasing employees' pay.

"Since the pandemic began, Kroger has made billions in profits because of the sacrifices of grocery workers who have been putting their own health and safety on the line every day," UFCW International president Marc Perrone said in a statement.
"Rather than provide the hazard pay these grocery workers have earned and deserve, Kroger decided to threaten these workers and the community’s access to food in the middle of a public health crisis."

Profit during the pandemic: The two stores slated for closure experienced sales increases of up to 31% since the start of the pandemic, according to Ron Herrera, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor.

Herrera said Kroger has recently seen a 90% profit increase and spent $1.4 billion in stock buybacks. CNN has reached out to Kroger for comment on its earnings. 

Robert Gonzalez, a frozen food clerk at the Food 4 Less, said he was devastated to learn his store will be closing after working for Kroger for 26 years. 

"After all the hard work I've done to feed the needy families and risk my life and my family's lives at home, they don't want to pay $4 extra an hour for four little months," Gonzalez said. "We also give donations every week to the homeless and needy families and they want to take that away. That is so wrong and evil."

More possible closures: Earlier this week, the cities of Los Angeles, West Hollywood, San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, and Oakland passed similar hazard pay ordinances. Grocery store employees in Seattle who work for a company with more than 500 employees also saw a $4 an hour hazard pay increase starting Wednesday. Kroger told CNN it was also considering additional closures in several US cities.

11:26 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

US surpasses 450,000 total deaths from Covid-19

From CNN’s Haley Brink

There have been at least 450,680 reported deaths from Covid-19 in the United States since the pandemic began, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

At least 26,554,216 total coronavirus cases have been reported in the US, university data showed.

Johns Hopkins recorded the first death from Covid-19 on Feb. 29 in Washington state. Later in the spring, two earlier deaths in California were posthumously confirmed to be from Covid-19.

There are four other countries in the world that have reported over 100,000 total Covid-19 deaths, according to the university. Brazil has more than 200,000 total deaths while Mexico, India, and the United Kingdom have over 100,000.

11:24 p.m. ET, February 3, 2021

Here's the latest on the race to distribute Covid-19 vaccines across the world

From CNN's Diego Mendoza

RAF personnel load a batch of the Covid-19 vaccine onto a Voyager aircraft bound for the Falkland Islands at RAF Brize Norton on February 01, 2021 in Brize Norton, England.
RAF personnel load a batch of the Covid-19 vaccine onto a Voyager aircraft bound for the Falkland Islands at RAF Brize Norton on February 01, 2021 in Brize Norton, England. Leon Neal/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic continues to rage across the world, and in the United States, January marked the deadliest month of the pandemic so far. At the same time, the worldwide race to distribute vaccines is on.

If you're just catching up now, here's a look at the latest vaccine news:

  • North Korea vaccines: COVAX says it will distribute nearly 2 million AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine doses to North Korea. The allocation is part of the initiative's first interim distribution forecast, in which it plans to send more than 330 million vaccine doses to countries most in need. 
  • Vaccines direct to your local pharmacy in the US: The Biden administration announced Tuesday that vaccine manufacturers can now ship vials directly to pharmacies starting Feb. 11, including CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid. The White House said that 1 million doses will be distributed to 6,500 stores. The plan to expand vaccine availability in pharmacies has long been in the works and was a key component in the former Trump administration's distribution plan as well.
  • Canada's vaccine challenges: Facing massive shortages, a Montreal facility will tentatively begin producing the Novavax vaccine candidate by the end of 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau revealed at a news conference. Approval is not expected for several more weeks. Trudeau said it was important for Canada to be “self-sufficient” in their vaccine rollout.
  • Switzerland delays approval for one vaccine: The Oxford-developed candidate can significantly reduce the transmission of Covid, according to UK researchers. This is promising news for AstraZeneca, which has submitted its formula to the FDA for the final Phase 3 trials. However, Switzerland declined to authorize the AstraZeneca vaccine, saying "additional data from new studies are needed."