February 9 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Kara Fox, Christopher Johnson and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 6:29 a.m. ET, February 10, 2021
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12:48 p.m. ET, February 9, 2021

New York City will start vaccinating residents with underlying conditions next week

From CNN’s Jennifer Henderson

A healthcare worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in New York, on February 5.
A healthcare worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination site in New York, on February 5. Angus Mordant/Bloomberg/Getty Images

New York City residents with underlying conditions will be able to get vaccinated beginning Monday 15 February, Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, Commissioner of New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said during a press conference Tuesday. 

Residents will need to provide medical documentation of their underlying condition, a note from their physician or an attestation designating that the person has underlying health conditions that make them eligible.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced during the press conference that New York City now has administered 1,032,158 vaccinations.

The city is also reporting 251 patients admitted to the hospital with suspected Covid-19, with a confirmed positivity rate of 72.31% and a hospitalization rate of 5.18 per 100,000 people, de Blasio said.

There are 3,587 new cases of Covid-19 on a seven-day average and the citywide positivity rate on a seven-day rolling average is 8.09%, he added. 

11:58 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

It may take years to figure out how Covid-19 emerged, WHO doctor in Wuhan says

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Dr. Peter Daszak, a zoologist who is part of the World Health Organization's (WHO) international team in Wuhan, China, has told CNN that scientists will eventually "get a really clear picture" of how Covid-19 originated, but it may take weeks, months or even a "couple of years."  

Daszak told CNN's Becky Anderson on Tuesday there is no evidence there were earlier Covid-19 clusters in other parts of China before early December, and that it is possible the virus may have even been brought by a person from another country. 

A "patient zero" still hasn't been identified and may never be, as many of the cases are asymptomatic, he said.  

When asked to comment on the possible conflict of interest while working with Chinese medical teams and researchers, he said: "Some people want to believe that [that there is conflict of interest]" but "we did not see any evidence of malpractice or significant safety issues."

Daszak said the international team, which consisted of about 17 WHO scientists and 20 Chinese scientists, visited "many labs" and asked "really tough questions" to their directors and individual scientists, and the data and transcripts of the interviews will be published in an upcoming WHO report. He also praised "remarkable openness from China."

11:51 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

Americans’ perceived risk from the pandemic is lower than any time since October, poll finds 

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

People gather in downtown Tampa, Florida, on January 30.
People gather in downtown Tampa, Florida, on January 30. Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Americans’ perception of the risk posed by the coronavirus is the lowest it has been in months, a new poll finds.

An Axios-Ipsos poll published Tuesday said 66% reported they thought the risk of returning to pre-Covid life was a moderate or a large, the lowest figure since October. 

The groups least likely to see Covid-19 as a risk are people ages 18 to 29 (58%) and Republicans (49%). Meanwhile, 76% of those who have been vaccinated still see coronavirus as a high risk.

The poll was conducted February 5 to 8 and based on a nationally representative sample of 1,030 people age 18 and older.

The poll also suggests Americans are unsure about what types of activities are safe; the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is safest to gather virtually or only with people you live with. In the poll, 28% of respondents say they are already attending gatherings with family or friends, 22% say they will wait for their circle to be vaccinated, 24% reported they will wait for officials to say it’s safe and 24% said they don’t know. 

Only 10% of Democrats and 15% of people over 65 are already going to in-person gatherings, compared with 42% of Republicans, the poll found. People over 65 and those with a college education were more likely to wait for the vaccine -- 29% and 34%, respectively. 

The figures come at a time where there is less trust in the media and sources of information about the pandemic. Trust in cable news has dropped since April, from 50% to 38%. Online news is trusted by 36% of respondents and network news by 47%, the poll found. 

The poll said 68% of Americans trust the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to provide accurate Covid-19 information, but by only 51% of Republicans. 53% of Americans continue to trust what President Joe Biden says on the issue.

11:37 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

Why bad news for AstraZeneca's vaccine is a roadblock on the way out of the pandemic

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová

Karwai Tang/Getty Images
Karwai Tang/Getty Images

It's the news the many feared: early data shows the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine may provide only "minimal protection" against mild to moderate illness caused by the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa.

A study released on Sunday from a South African university suggested that two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine provided "substantially reduced" protection against mild to moderate Covid-19 disease from the new virus variant first identified there, known as B.1.351.

South Africa said that it is pausing its rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, following the release of the study.

But this doesn't mean governments should throw out their AstraZeneca stockpiles. Experts say it's possible -- and very likely -- that the shot is still effective in preventing severe disease and death.

The news could, however, be a major roadblock on the world's way out of the pandemic, which can't 'end' until the virus stops circulating widely.

That's because the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper and easier to transport and store than some of the other vaccines approved for use to date and as such, was going to play a key part in combating the pandemic in low and middle-income countries. If the vaccine isn't effective enough against the new variant, it could deepen the already huge vaccination gap between the world's richest and poorest countries. 

Less effective vaccines could force countries where the new variants become dominant to shift their vaccination strategy. Instead of trying to achieve herd immunity, the focus might be on preventing as many deaths as possible even while the virus continues to circulate. 

And while the data from South Africa is no doubt a setback to vaccination campaigns, scientists are already working on updates to the existing vaccines to make them more effective against new variants. 

On Saturday, AstraZeneca said that it is working with Oxford University to adapt the vaccine against the B.1.351 variant and that it would advance it through clinical development to make it "ready for autumn delivery should it be needed."

Last month, Pfizer said it was "laying the groundwork" to create a vaccine booster that could respond to coronavirus variants.

 "We see this all the time with the influenza vaccine," Dr Julian Tang, honorary associate professor and clinical virologist at the University of Leicester said. Flu vaccines are adapted each year to target the virus strains that are circulating the most. Sometimes, the vaccine picked doesn't match the strain that becomes prevalent.
"Mismatched vaccine seasons do allow more influenza infections, morbidity and mortality -- but to some extent, this is inevitable as the virus will always be mutating first -- then we will have to adjust our vaccines to match the new virus," Tang added.

The UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday the flu blueprint might work for the coronavirus in the future. 

 "The jab is updated each year according to the mutations and variations that have happened and been spotted in the preceding few months, and that is manufactured over the summer, and then delivered into the arms of those who are most vulnerable to flu in the autumn," he said. 

When it comes to Covid-19, he explained that we need to be thinking about how to protect people in a similar way.

The good news is that developing a vaccine that would work against the new variants doesn't mean starting from scratch, so updates could become available soon. 

Read more:

9:53 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

US considers mobile vaccination centers to tackle "undersupply" of shots, White House adviser says

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

Getting Covid-19 vaccination appointments has been a challenge for many Americans because "we're in a situation of undersupply" of vaccine, according to Andy Slavitt, the senior Biden White House adviser for Covid Response.

"We're in a situation, and we will be for a little while, of undersupply," Slavitt told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly on All Things Considered on Monday.

"At one point we thought that there was a lot of manufacturing that had gone on over the last year and that would be the case. It wasn't -- and I think our job is to level with folks," he said.

"But the good news is we are increasing production every week," Slavitt added. "We've increased production that we've delivered to states by over 20%. We're opening 100 community vaccination centers, including two that are open already."

Slavitt said supply has been increasing in recent weeks, but added: "These are all small steps. None of them are silver bullets. I don't think this is going to be the administration that's going to overpromise or promise silver bullets, but these are all small gains."

And he added that in their effort get more people vaccinated against Covid-19, the Biden administration is considering mobile vaccination centers that can travel within a community. "They can go to workplaces, they can go to churches, they can go to communities," Slavitt said.

Elsewhere, a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson told CNN the CDC will host a Covid-19 vaccination forum with national, state and local health practitioners on the safest and most effective ways to vaccinate Americans.

The event is scheduled for February 22-24 and will be led by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, along with officials from the White House COVID-19 Response Team and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The initiative was first reported by NBC News.

10:22 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

Austria to introduce mandatory negative test for anyone travelling out of state of Tyrol

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks at a press conference in Vienna on February 1.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks at a press conference in Vienna on February 1. Helmut Fohringer/APA/AFP/Getty Images

Austria will introduce a mandatory negative test from Friday onwards for anyone travelling out of the state of Tyrol, chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Tuesday.

The reason for the move is the more infectious South African mutant of the coronavirus, he said, adding the test could not be older than 48 hours.

Kurz, speaking at a press conference in Vienna, noted that both the UK and the South African variant provide more of a challenge for authorities.

But he singled out the South African variant, saying it may be more difficult to fight with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Early data released this weekend suggests the vaccine offers limited protection against mild-and-moderate disease from that variant. Until the summer, the AstraZeneca vaccine represents almost 50% of Austria's vaccine program.

Kurz said the two challenges his government had were to “stop the spread in Tyrol, and secondly, to do everything possible to stop the spread into other part of Austria, or to slow it down.”

Kurz added that the district of Schwaz in Tyrol -- where cases of the South African variant have been confirmed -- would be a focus point, with “massive testing” all over Tyrol. Eastern Tyrol would be exempt, Kurz said, because the region has hardly any cases.

But other areas of Austria will see a loosening of coronavirus restrictions first announced last week. As of yesterday, a curfew was moved to the night-time hours of 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. local time. Previously, there was an order to stay at home around the clock.

Schools, shops and museums are allowed to open again, but with tight measures. A FFP2/N95 mask has to be worn in all shops, and a space of 20 square metres has to be available per customer. Hairdressers are also allowed to open.

But restaurants remain closed in the country, with a review on whether to open them set for mid-February.

9:12 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

People who lie on passenger locator forms will face up to 10 years imprisonment under new border rules, says UK Health Secretary

From CNN’s Sarah Dean in London and Sharon Braithwaite

Police check to see if drivers have valid covid certificates at a ferry border in Dover, England, on January 1. 
Police check to see if drivers have valid covid certificates at a ferry border in Dover, England, on January 1.  Guy Bell/Shutterstock

England is introducing stricter border rules to increase protection against new Covid-19 variants arriving from abroad, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Tuesday.

Hancock warned the government is “coming down hard” on passengers arriving in the UK lying on mandatory "locator forms," with the threat of a potential ten-year jail prison sentence. 

Speaking in the House of Commons, Hancock set out three elements of the strengthened system for international arrivals coming into force in England from Monday. He said the government is working with the devolved administrations as well as the Irish government to put in place a similar system that works across the common travel area.

The first part of the new system involves quarantining in a hotel. Here are those details:

  • UK and Irish residents -- who've been in one of the government’s 33 "red list" countries in the last 10 days -- will need to quarantine in a designated hotel.
  • They will only be able to arrive into a small number of ports and will have to book a quarantine package -- at a cost of £1,750 (approximately US $2,411) for the hotel, transport and testing – before departing for the UK.
  • Hancock said the booking system will go live on Thursday.
  • There are currently 16 designated hotels.
  • Hancock said there will be visible security to maintain compliance.

The second part of the system involves more testing:

  • Every passenger arriving into the UK must demonstrate a negative test result 72 hours before they travel.
  • From Monday, all international arrivals will also be required to take further PCR tests on day two and day eight after their arrival.
  • Passengers will have to book these tests through the online portal before they travel. If a result comes back positive they must quarantine for a further 10 days.
  • Positive tests will undergo genomic sequencing to test for variants, Hancock said.

The third part of the system focuses on a stronger enforcement of the rules:

  • Passenger carriers will have a legal duty to make sure passengers have signed up to new arrangements and will be fined if they don’t, Hancock said.
  • There will also be increased fines for people who don’t comply, including a £1,000 (approximately US $1,377) penalty for failing to take the first Covid-19 test and a £2,000 fine (about US $2,755) if they don’t take a second mandatory test -- as well as an automatic extension on their quarantine period to 14 days.
  • There will also be a £5,000 (approximately US $6,888), rising to £10,000 (about US $13,776) for arrivals who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel.
  • Hancock said people who provide false information on the passenger locator or try to conceal that they've been in a country on the "Red List" in the 10 days before arrival will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
  • Hancock said these measures will be put into law this week.

It is currently illegal to travel abroad for holidays and other leisure purposes in the UK.

8:34 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

New data suggest Russia’s Covid-19 death toll in 2020 among highest in the world

From CNN’s Mary Ilyushina in Moscow

Cemetery workers disinfect a grave as they bury a COVID-19 victim in the Butovskoye cemetery outside Moscow, Russia on May 15, 2020.
Cemetery workers disinfect a grave as they bury a COVID-19 victim in the Butovskoye cemetery outside Moscow, Russia on May 15, 2020. Kirill Zykov/Moscow News Agency/AP

New figures released by Russia’s federal statistics agency Monday indicate as many as 162,429 deaths in Russia were related to Covid-19 in 2020, a figure much higher than previously reported.

Russia officially reported 57,555 deaths from Covid-19 in 2020, according to data from the country’s coronavirus task force that is published on an easily accessed web page. But figures released by the agency, Rosstat, are less readily accessible: They are available online -- but buried in monthly spreadsheets.

The data published Monday reports a cumulative total of 162,429 Covid-19 deaths between April and December 2020. The figure includes deaths directly attributed to coronavirus infection and those cases where coronavirus was a contributing factor as well as deaths from other underlying causes where Covid-19 was present. 

The figures also show a year-on-year surge in the country's overall mortality rate that suggests the numbers may have been majorly understated. 
According to those new figures, a total of 2,124,479 people died in Russia in 2020, an increase of 323,802 over the previous year, or around an 18% year-on-year rise. That overall number -- the highest annual mortality figure recorded in Russia in over a decade -- reflects official reluctance to fully acknowledge the death toll. 

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, the top official in charge of the country's coronavirus response, said in December that "more than 81%” of the rise in fatalities the country had seen in 2020 was due to Covid-19, without giving the exact number of fatalities from the virus. Based on Golikova's assessment and the overall year-on-year increase in deaths reported by Rosstat, as many as 262,000 Russians could have died from coronavirus last year, by CNN's calculation.  

December was also one of the deadliest months on record for Russia: Rosstat said that 243,235 people died in December 2020, making it the deadliest month Russia has seen in years. The statistics agency said 44,435 of these deaths were people with coronavirus or suspected coronavirus, but added that in 10,820 of those cases the presence of the virus did not “contribute to the death in any way.”

Russia’s counting method, which allows ascribing deaths in coronavirus-infected patients to other causes, has been highly questioned by independent observers and critics.

Based on figures released by Rosstat Monday, Russia would rank as the country with the third-highest cumulative number of Covid-19 deaths in 2020.

9:23 a.m. ET, February 9, 2021

Americans cannot drop their guard on coronavirus yet, White House Covid-19 adviser says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House Covid-19 response team, has said that despite progress in vaccinations, Americans should not “quit early” in the midst of the pandemic — particularly because of the emergence of variants.  

“If you look at other countries, the variants tend to grow sort of invisibly, kind of like a wave under the surface,” Slavitt said in an interview on CNN’s “New Day.”
“And the visibility that we have shows that these variants can grow quite quickly. It's going to depend in large part, as you know, on people's behavior, but the thing about this virus that we learned is it grows exponentially. The thing about vaccine shots is they tend to grow more linearly. So if this hits and we're not taking other protective measures like mask-wearing and social distancing, then the variants could be more powerful than our ability to get people vaccinated.” 

But Slavitt also said Americans should take comfort in seeing large numbers of seniors and people in nursing homes getting vaccinated. 

“Should we have a wave, our hope is that many, many more people will be protected, unlike the last waves we have had,” he said. 

Slavitt also added that he’s hopeful that vaccine supply and sequencing abilities will increase over time.