February 11 coronavirus news

By Adam Renton, Brad Lendon, Cristiana Moisescu, Laura Smith-Spark and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 2:18 a.m. ET, February 12, 2021
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6:14 a.m. ET, February 11, 2021

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: Lockdown will last “not one day longer” than necessary

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the Bundestag on the government's measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic, on February 11, in Berlin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel addresses the Bundestag on the government's measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic, on February 11, in Berlin. Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended her coronavirus strategy after Wednesday's announcement that the country's lockdown will be extended until March 7 at the earliest.

Germany is “now dealing with three aggressive mutations” Merkel said Thursday, adding that the country needs to “prepare for new variants to become dominant” and that “mutations could destroy the vaccine's success.” 

Merkel said she was aware how difficult this lockdown has been for people and that she understood people's loneliness and frustration at having their freedoms curtailed. However, she reiterated that curbs were still needed due to the risk posed by new variants.

“As a democracy, it is up to us to keep these restrictions only as long as necessary -- not one day longer -- and to lift them when possible. This is exactly the objective of this government,” Merkel told lawmakers in Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag. 

On Wednesday, Merkel and the state prime ministers of Germany’s 16 federal states agreed to extend lockdown until at least March 7, although some restrictions will be lifted. Schools and kindergartens will start to reopen from February 22 and hairdressers from March 1. 

Merkel told lawmakers Thursday that while Germany handled the first coronavirus wave well, “we were too slow to curb the second wave.” She added that Germany would continue with its efforts to “try to keep the mutations to a small scale and hope that the seven-day incident rate can be pushed to below 50.” 

The German Chancellor concluded by saying: “I will fulfil this until the last day of my time in office -- at the end we will jointly manage to vanquish this pandemic and see better days.” 

6:46 a.m. ET, February 11, 2021

Stricter UK border restrictions will delay the country’s Covid-19 recovery, says CEO of UK's largest airport

From CNN's Chris Liakos

Travelers arrive at Heathrow Airport on January 30, in London, England.
Travelers arrive at Heathrow Airport on January 30, in London, England. Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Stricter measures at the UK border “will inevitably delay the country’s recovery and hurt the UK’s supply chains,” the chief executive of London Heathrow warned Thursday.

CEO John Holland-Kaye called on the UK government to publish how it plans to open the UK's borders when it sets out its "roadmap" to recovery on February 22.

"The Chancellor must use next month’s budget to deliver the minimum help that aviation needs with 100% business rates relief and an extension of the furlough scheme," he said in a news release.

London Heathrow reported a 89% fall in passenger numbers in January compared with the same time a year ago. It says the latest national lockdown, travel bans, blanket quarantine and compulsory testing have deterred people from travelling, adding that the latest border rules mean "that the UK’s borders are effectively closed."

The drop in passenger numbers has also hurt cargo traffic at the UK’s largest airport. Fewer long-haul flights led to a drop of 21% in cargo volumes.

6:24 a.m. ET, February 11, 2021

New Bristol variant could re-infect previously infected or vaccinated people, UK government science adviser says

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie

People wait outside a coronavirus surge testing center at a library in Bristol, England, on February 9, following the identification of a mutated variant in the region.
People wait outside a coronavirus surge testing center at a library in Bristol, England, on February 9, following the identification of a mutated variant in the region. Ben Birchall/PA Images/Getty Images

A new coronavirus mutation known as the Bristol variant might "infect people who were previously infected, or have been previously vaccinated," Professor John Edmunds, a member of the UK government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said Thursday.

"I don't know whether the Bristol variant is any more transmissible than the Kent variant. I suspect it isn't," Edmunds told ITV News.

"Where it has an advantage -- potentially at least -- is that it may be able to infect people who were previously infected, or have been previously vaccinated. That's the worry with that particular virus."

New variants of coronavirus have now been identified in the English cities of Bristol, Liverpool and Manchester, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a statement Wednesday.

Hancock reiterated the government's commitment to using enhanced contact tracing, surge testing and genomic sequencing to monitor community spread of the new strains.

Some context: Public Health England has said that cases found in Bristol are the new UK variant with the E484K mutation, which has already been identified in the South African and Brazilian variants of the virus. The mutation could allow Covid-19 to escape antibody protection.

4:57 a.m. ET, February 11, 2021

UK is doing all it can to make summer holidays possible, health secretary says

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

A person waits at the Heathrow Airport international arrival hall in London, on January 29.
A person waits at the Heathrow Airport international arrival hall in London, on January 29. May James/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

The British government is doing all it can to make summer holidays possible this year, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News on Thursday.

"I do understand the yearning for certainty, but certainty is hard in a pandemic. We are doing everything we can to make sure people can have that holiday in the summer," Hancock said.

The minister told the BBC that he himself had “months ago” booked a summer holiday in Cornwall in southwest England.

Hancock also said the government wants to "bring an end to that uncertainty," adding that "it's the vaccine program that is our route out of this, and is the way through and thankfully that has been going really incredibly well."

As of Tuesday, 13,058,298 people in the United Kingdom have received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to the government's dashboard.

Some context: Booking any kind of summer travel escape became an even bigger gamble for millions of British people on Wednesday as the the government warned that even staycations could be under threat until vaccinations are completed.

After officials previously signaled that a foreign trip may not be possible during 2021, UK transport minister Grant Shapps said that even a break on home soil could be out of the question amid the pandemic.

4:53 a.m. ET, February 11, 2021

UK variant is "going to sweep the world" says head of genetic surveillance program

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie

The UK's National Heath Service track and trace staff carry out coronavirus testing at a church in Manchester, England, on February 9, after a mutation of the Kent variant was detected there.
The UK's National Heath Service track and trace staff carry out coronavirus testing at a church in Manchester, England, on February 9, after a mutation of the Kent variant was detected there. Peter Byrne/PA Images/Getty Images

The UK coronavirus variant that has “swept the country” is “going to sweep the world in all probability” Sharon Peacock, director of the Covid-19 Genomics UK consortium, told the BBC on Wednesday. 

The highly transmissible UK strain of coronavirus was first identified in September 2020, in the English county of Kent. It has already been detected in at least 86 countries and was the catalyst for the UK’s current lockdown. 

Peacock predicted that her sequencing work, which tracks mutations of the coronavirus, will likely be required for another decade as the virus continues to circulate throughout the world. 

“We’re building up a list, a kind of leader board of mutations that we worry about that we can look out for ... I think, looking in the future, we’re going to be doing this for years. We’re still going to be doing this 10 years down the line, in my view,” She told the BBC’s Newscast podcast.  

Where did it come from? Speaking on the origins of the UK variant, known as B.1.1.7, Peacock said there was growing scientific literature suggesting it had evolved in an immunosuppressed patient. 

“This virus is so different to everything else that was circulating that there are only two possible explanations, one is that it was introduced, the second explanation is very plausible, and that is that it was in a patient who had a simmering infection for many months and that virus had the opportunity to adapt and change over time. I think there is some growing literature evidence that this is the case” Peacock said. 

"Jury out" on whether variant is more deadly: Addressing a Downing Street news conference in late January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson had warned that the new UK variant could be 30% more lethal than previous strains. 

Peacock told the BBC on Wednesday that no concrete evidence had emerged to support that theory.  “The jury is still out on that, I don't think the evidence is really firm … I think it’s still under investigation,” she said.

3:41 a.m. ET, February 11, 2021

Trump's policies worsened decades of US health neglect, Lancet report says

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

Former US President Donald Trump listens to a question during a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on August 5, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Former US President Donald Trump listens to a question during a news conference in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on August 5, 2020 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump’s four years in office worsened a decades-long decline in US health and set up the country for its disastrous handing of the coronavirus pandemic, a team of experts concluded in a new report released Thursday.

“During his time in office President Trump politicized and repudiated science, leaving the USA unprepared and exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Lancet Commission on Public Policy and Health in the Trump Era said. His administration also “undermined health coverage, weakened food assistance programs (and) curtailed reproductive rights,” it added.

The group of 33 experts from the United States, Britain and Canada made a scathing assessment of Trump policies, but said much of the damage dated back to former President Ronald Reagan’s policies in the 1980s.

“Trump’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic— compounded by his efforts to dismantle the USA’s already weakened public health infrastructure and the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) coverage expansions—has caused tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths,” the report, published by the Lancet, reads.

“His elimination of the National Security Council’s global health security team, and a 2017 hiring freeze that left almost 700 positions at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) unfilled, compromised preparedness.”

Funding cuts for public health agencies dating back to 2008 led to the loss of 50,000 frontline staff, the report noted. “The fragmented and profit-oriented health-care system was ill-prepared to prioritize and coordinate pandemic response,” it said.

Changes at the Environmental Protection Agency may be especially harmful, the report predicted. “Many of President Trump’s policies have yet to extract their full toll of ill-health. Some of the damage, as in the case of climate change, will last generations,” it said.

3:07 a.m. ET, February 11, 2021

Mexico grants emergency use approval for 2 China-made Covid-19 vaccines

From CNN's Eric Cheung

A health worker shows the Sinovac vaccine at a community health centre in Lambaro, Indonesia on January 18.
A health worker shows the Sinovac vaccine at a community health centre in Lambaro, Indonesia on January 18. Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

Mexico has issued emergency use approval for China's CanSino and Sinovac coronavirus vaccines, the country's deputy health minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell announced Wednesday.

He said the approval was granted by Mexico's Federal Committee for Protection from Sanitary Risks (Cofepris) after it reviewed the vaccines' quality, safety and efficacy, according to a statement posted on the Health Ministry's website.

The first bulk shipment of the CanSino vaccine will arrive in Mexico from China on Thursday, where it will be packed at a plant in the central city of Queretaro, the statement said.

Mexico has also issued an emergency use authorization for Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and ordered millions of doses.

At least 1,957,889 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 169,760 deaths have been reported in Mexico, according to Johns Hopkins University.

2:43 a.m. ET, February 11, 2021

More state leaders are loosening Covid-19 restrictions. Experts have warned it may be too soon

From CNN's Christina Maxouris

A sign requiring masks is seen outside a store in downtown Billings, Montana on November 11, 2020.
A sign requiring masks is seen outside a store in downtown Billings, Montana on November 11, 2020. Lynn Donaldson/Bloomberg/Getty Images

More state leaders have announced they're loosening Covid-19 restrictions, even as experts warn the US is still not in the clear -- especially as variants spread across the country.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a bill on Wednesday shielding businesses and houses of worship from legal liability for Covid-19 transmission as long as they take measures to follow public health guidelines, and announced he would not extend the statewide mask mandate.

"The mask mandate will expire on Friday," the governor said, adding, "Since we're not out of the woods yet, I will continue to wear a mask, and I will encourage all Montanans to do the same."

Chicago officials said Wednesday indoor service at bars, restaurants and events can expand to the lesser of 25% capacity or 50 people per room or floor. The measure, which will be effective Thursday, comes as part of a broader plan to slowly ease Covid-19 restrictions in the city.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced major stadiums and arenas can reopen starting February 23, with approval from the state's health department. The venues will also have to follow health guidelines including capacity limits, social distancing and face-covering requirements and both staff and attendees will need to receive a negative Covid-19 PCR test within 72 hours of any event.

"While we continue to fight COVID on multiple fronts, we must also get this economy re-opened intelligently and in a balanced way," Cuomo said in a statement.

In New Mexico, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said the state will drop its mandatory-quarantine rule for people coming from "high-risk" states, attributing the policy change to a "cautiously brighter pandemic outlook after several months of unsustainable strain on the state's health care system."

Variants pose risk: But health experts have warned Covid-19 variants complicate the country's outlook. Easing restrictions now is "incredibly risky," Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned earlier this week.

"It is absolutely essential that we continue to do steps beyond vaccination to keep this under control," Besser said. "The more this virus is allowed to spread in our communities, the more we're going to see these variants spreading."

Read the full story:

1:13 a.m. ET, February 11, 2021

US reports more than 93,000 new Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Joe Sutton in Atlanta

The United States reported 93,166 new cases of Covid-19 and 3,219 additional virus-related deaths on Wednesday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

That raises the national total to at least 27,285,621 infections and 471,422 fatalities since the pandemic began.

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

Vaccines: At least 65,972,575  vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 44,769,970 shots administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CNN is tracking US cases.