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February 14 coronavirus news

How UK Muslims and Hindus fight vaccine doubts in their communities
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What you need to know

  • The US has administered more than 50 million vaccine doses and more states are loosening Covid-19 restrictions – but experts warn the country is not yet in the clear.
  • More than 600,000 Americans will have died of the virus by June 1, according to the latest prediction by a prominent forecast model.
  • Central Europe has become the continent’s latest coronavirus hotspot, with Austria struggling to contain an outbreak of the new variant first identified in South Africa.

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Nearly 53 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered in the US, according to CDC data

A health care worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine in the Bronx, New York, on February 5.

Nearly 53 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published today by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC reported that 52,884,356 total doses have been administered – about 72% of the 70,057,800 doses distributed.

That’s about two million more administered doses reported since yesterday, for a 7-day average of about 1.6 million doses per day.

Just over 38 million people have now received at least one dose of the vaccine, and about 14 million people have been fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.

Remember: Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been given on the day reported. 

New York state extends closing times to 11 p.m. ET

Bars, restaurants, gyms, and other State Liquor Authority-licensed establishments are able to close at 11 p.m. ET across New York state beginning tonight, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office announced, citing declining coronavirus-related hospitalization and infections rates.

“On Friday, the Governor announced closing times for restaurants and bars would be extended from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. statewide, and this executive order extends that closing time for gyms or fitness centers, casinos, billiards halls, as well as any State Liquor Authority-licensed establishment,” a statement from Cuomo’s office said Sunday.

Over 102,000 first and second doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered across the state in the last 24 hours.

“As of 11AM today, New York’s health care distribution sites have received 2,192,675 first doses and already administered 89 percent or 1,957,681 first dose vaccinations and 83 percent of first and second doses. The week 10 allocation from the federal government allocation from the federal government begins mid-week,” the governor’s office added.

California sees lowest Covid-19 hospitalization numbers since start of December

The state of California saw a total of 9,636 hospitalizations Sunday, with 8,996 confirmed and 640 suspected Covid-19 patients, according to a news release from the California Department of Public Health.

This is the lowest number of confirmed and suspected Covid-19 hospitalizations the state has reported since Dec. 1, when a total of 9,365 were reported.

According to the release, 2,632 confirmed and 101 suspected Covid-19 patients are currently in the Intensive Care Unit.

8,842 new cases were reported Sunday for a total of 3,399,878 confirmed cases reported in California since the pandemic began, the release said. 

The 7-day positivity rate is 3.7% and the 14-day positivity rate is 4.6%, according to the release. 

There have been 45,703,217 tests conducted in the state, with 291,580 new tests reported Sunday.

A total of 5,981,552 vaccine doses have been administered as of Sunday, the release added. 

Czech government comes up with workaround to extend lockdown 

The Czech government announced it will impose a new state of emergency over the Covid-19 pandemic at midnight local time on Sunday – working around Parliament’s refusal to extend the existing lockdown. 

The new two-week restrictions come after the government negotiated with the heads of the country’s regions to extend the existing state of emergency to prevent the automatic expiration of some measures at midnight. Parliament last week rejected the government’s proposal over disagreements on how to handle the pandemic.

Among other objections, the opposition says the government has failed to adequately compensate people financially who are affected by the pandemic, saying that means they can’t afford to follow the rules. 

Mass vaccination sites in Washington state to prioritize second doses this week

Washington National Guard personnel prepare to administer Covid-19 vaccinations at Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee, Washington, on January 26.

The Washington Department of Health announced that many of the state’s mass vaccination sites will primarily focus on second doses being administered throughout this upcoming week.

“Starting next week, our Ridgefield, Wenatchee and Kennewick sites will prioritize second doses of the vaccine. These sites administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires a booster shot 3 weeks or 21 days after receiving a first dose,” the DOH said in a release.

“Our Spokane location, which administers Moderna, will administer both first and second doses. Moderna’s booster shot should be given 1 month or 28 days after the first dose,” the DOH added.. 

According to the department, 41,441 people have received their Covid-19 vaccine at the state’s four mass vaccination sites since they opened in January.

New York's statewide Covid-19 positivity rate remains below 4%, governor says

New York state’s Covid-19 positivity rates – both daily and seven-day average – remained below 4% on Sunday, according to a press release from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office. 

6,593 people are hospitalized with Covid-19, marking a 29% decrease since the state’s post-holiday peak, state data shows.

107 more New Yorkers have died due to Covid-19. The state’s overall pandemic death toll is 37,118, Cuomo said.

Teacher vaccinations are "essential" to reopening schools, CNN medical analyst says

Dr. Leana Wen on February 14.

Dr. Leana Wen, CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore health commissioner, said teacher vaccinations are essential when it comes to reopening schools, differing in opinion from guidance released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday.

The CDC guidance included five key strategies for opening schools: universal mask wearing, physical distancing, hand washing, cleaning facilities and improved ventilation. Vaccination was not included as one of them.

“I don’t really understand why we’re even having a debate about this. Of course teacher vaccinations are essential,” Wen told CNN’s Abby Phillip on “Inside Politics Sunday.”

“If we want students to be in school for in-person learning, the least that we can do is to protect the health and well-being of our teachers – especially as in so many parts of the country, teachers are already being made to go back to school in poorly-ventilated, cramped areas, with many students who may not always be masking and practicing physical distancing,” she added.

Wen’s comments are in direct contrast to what CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on CNN’s “State of the Union” earlier. Walensky said: “I’m a strong advocate of teachers receiving their vaccine, but we don’t believe it’s a prerequisite for schools to reopen.”

"Mask breaching" is among the reasons behind Covid-19 transmission in schools, CDC director says

Dr. Rochelle Walensky on February 14.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, emphasized the need for masking and other mitigation measures when it comes to reopening schools safely.

Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” why schools couldn’t reopen right now if they were following all the latest CDC guidance, Walensky said, “We really don’t want to bring community disease into the classroom.”

“We also know that mask breaching is among the reasons that we have transmission within schools when it happens,” Walensky said. “So, we really need to do the hard work to make sure that there’s universal masking, there’s strict six feet of distancing between, that there’s cohorting or podding, so that there’s restriction of disease if it were to be transmitted, you know, and all of the contact tracing and whatnot that needs to be done, and all of that is really hard to put together.”

Wearing masks is one of the five key mitigation strategies included in the CDC’s new guidance for reopening schools.

Precautions not vaccines are helping the current decline in case rates, former CDC director suggests

Dr. Tom Frieden on February 14.

Asked by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria about falling coronavirus case and death rates in the United States, Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said, “I don’t think, Fareed, the vaccine is having much of an impact at all on case rates. It’s what we’re doing right: staying apart, wearing masks, not traveling, not mixing with others indoors.”

“Basically, we’re getting over a huge surge around the late-year holidays, starting with Thanksgiving and on to the December holidays. This, essentially, was an accelerator for the virus. And now cases are plummeting. They’re coming down, followed by decreasing hospitalization, followed by decreasing deaths. But they’re still high. Our case numbers are still higher than they were at higher peaks,” Frieden said on “Fareed Zakaria GPS.”

Data compiled by Johns Hopkins University indicates the 7-day moving average of daily confirmed new cases in the US is now just below 100,000 – down from a peak of about 250,000 in early January. Previous peaks, in April and July, were around 30,000 and 65,000, respectively. The last time the 7-day moving average of daily confirmed new cases in the US was below 100,000 was in October.

“So we’re nowhere near out of the woods,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, said. “And really, Fareed, we’ve had three surges. Whether or not we have a fourth surge is up to us, and the stakes couldn’t be higher – not only in the number of people who could die in the fourth surge, but also in the risk that even more dangerous variants will emerge if there’s more uncontrolled spread.”

Covid-19 vaccine is better at protecting against reinfection than a previous natural infection, Fauci says

Dr. Anthony Fauci listens to US President Joe Biden, out of frame, during a visit to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on February 11.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, that while people have been reinfected with the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, it appears as though the vaccine is better at preventing reinfection than a previous natural infection.

The variant first identified in South Africa is more problematic that the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, Fauci said, “in the sense that we know less about it vis a vis whether it transmits more readily or not.”

However, it is known that it evades the protection from some monoclonal antibodies, and it somewhat diminishes that effectiveness of the vaccine, Fauci said, but there is “still some cushion left so that the vaccine does provide some protection against it.”

He said attention needs to be paid to the fact that in South Africa there were people who were infected with the original virus, recovered and then got reinfected with the variant.

“Which tells us that prior infection does not protect you against reinfection – at least with this particular variant,” Fauci said. “Somewhat good news is it looks like the vaccine is better than natural infection in preventing you from getting reinfected with the South African isolate.”

Fauci hopes new CDC school guidance will help alleviate teachers' concerns

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said teachers’ concerns about going back to school without being vaccinated are understandable, but he hopes the new guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will help alleviate them. 

“There’s a lot of layering to the mitigations, George, and I think the point to make is it’s totally understandable, you know, teachers’ concerns, I mean, we appreciate that,” Fauci told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos.

There are myriad things that can be done to lower teachers’ risk, he said, and they are laid out in the CDC’s guidance document.

“This is the first time that it’s been put down in a document based on scientific observations and data over the last several months to a year, both in the United States and elsewhere,” Fauci said.

Part of this “is to indicate and to suggest strongly” that teachers are given a preference when it comes to vaccination, he added, but it is not essential that all teachers are vaccinated before a school can reopen.

“That would be optimal if you could do that, but practically speaking, when you balance the benefit of getting the children back to school with the fact that the risks are being mitigated if you follow the recommendations and these new guidelines from the CDC, hopefully, I think that will alleviate the concerns on both sides,” Fauci said.

It is "absolutely" too early to be getting rid of mask mandates, CDC director says

A person opens a door that has signs about masks in New York on January 8.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said it it is absolutely too early to be getting rid of mask mandates.

“Absolutely,” Walensky told NBC’s Chuck Todd when he asked about states that were doing this. “We are still at about 100,000 cases a day. We are still at around 1,500 to 3,500 deaths per day. The cases are more than two-and-a-half fold times what we saw over the summer. It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place.”

“If we want to get our children back to school, and I believe we all do, it all depends on how much community spread is out there. We need to all take responsibility to decrease that community spread, including mask wearing, so that we can get our kids and our society back,” Walensky added.

High-risk teachers should have options for virtual learning, CDC director says

Dr. Rochelle Walensky on February 14.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday that while the vaccination of teachers is not a prerequisite for reopening schools, current CDC guidance does specify that those who are at higher risk should have virtual options.

The CDC on Friday released updated guidance for reopening schools.

“We have in the guidance clear language that specifies that teachers that are at higher risk – teachers and students that are higher risk, and their families – should have options for virtual activities, virtual learning, virtual teaching,” Walensky told CNN’s Jake Tapper.

Walensky added guidance from the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) puts teachers in the 1b category, which is the same as people over age 75.

“I’m a strong advocate of teachers receiving their vaccinations, but we don’t believe it’s a prerequisite for schools to reopen,” she said. 

Communities with lower transmission rates will have more "flexibility" to reopen schools, CDC director says

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that she believes school reopening “is directly related to how much disease is in the community.” 

She said its important for communities to lower the rate of Covid-19 transmission to safely reopen schools.

“We have more flexibility in opening schools as our disease rates come down,” Walensky said. 

Walensky continued: “So I would say this is everybody’s responsibility to do their part in the community to get disease rates down so we can get our schools opened.”

UK has administered 15 million first doses of Covid-19 vaccine, minister says

A health worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine in St Albans, England, on February 8.

The United Kingdom has administered 15 million first doses of Covid-19 vaccine, the minister in charge of the program, Nadhim Zahawi, tweeted Sunday.

“We will not rest till we offer the vaccine to the whole of phase 1,” Zahawi wrote, referring to priority groups set out by the government.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it a “significant milestone” and an “extraordinary feat.” 

“In England I can now tell you we have now offered jabs to everyone in the first four priority groups, the people most likely to be severely ill from Coronavirus, hitting the first target we set ourselves,” Johnson wrote.

The British government also plans to give a first dose to the remaining risk groups and adults over 50 by the end of April.

Everyone who wants a Covid-19 vaccine will be able to get one by the end of summer, CDC director says

People line up to receive Covid-19 vaccinations at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on January 30.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on “Fox News Sunday” that she anticipates every American who wants a Covid-19 vaccine will be able to get one by the end of summer.

“We anticipate by the end of the summer, we will have enough vaccine in order to vaccinate the entire US population that is eligible,” Walensky told Fox News’ Chris Wallace, adding that her primary concern remains vaccine hesitancy.

Once there is enough vaccine, Walensky said, “we very much need to make sure that everybody rolls up their sleeves when it’s their turn, when they’re eligible.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Thursday said that “open season” for vaccination could begin in April, and the majority of Americans could be vaccinated by the middle or the end of the summer.

Covid-19 cases have declined sharply. Experts say these factors will determine what happens next

A tray of syringes filled with Covid-19 vaccine is seen in Los Angeles, on February 11.

Despite declining Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, experts warn: when it comes to the pandemic, the US is not yet out of the woods.

According to the latest model from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, another 130,000 Americans are projected to die of the virus over the next three and a half months,

And while Covid-19 numbers may be trending in the right direction now, there are four key factors that will determine how the next months unfold, the IHME said in a briefing accompanying its model.

The two first factors are things that will help drive pandemic numbers down. They are increasing vaccinations and declining seasonality – referring to the pattern of lower transmission that’s likely in the US during the spring and summer months.

“Two factors, however, can slow or even reverse the declines that have begun,” the IHME team said.

The first factor is the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant, which was first identified in the UK and experts warned could become the dominant strain in the US by spring. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than 980 cases of the variant have so far been detected across 37 states.

The second factor, according to the IHME team, is “increased behaviors that favor COVID-19 transmission.”

“Transmission has been contained over the winter through mask wearing, decreased mobility, and avoidance of high-risk settings such as indoor dining,” the team said. “As daily case counts decline and vaccination increases, behaviors are likely to change towards increased risk of transmission.”

That’s why experts say now is not the time for the US to let down its guard, even as a growing list of governors loosen Covid-19 restrictions.

Read the full story here.

When we can go back to normal "depends on how we behave right now," CDC director says

As of Sunday morning, there have been more than 27.5 million confirmed Covid-19 cases in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. While the seven-day average of new cases is down significantly week over week, there is still sustained community transmission of the virus across the country.

“Do you think that, by the end of this year, you and I will be able to walk down the street without a mask?” Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky on “Fox News Sunday.”

“I think that very much depends on how we behave right now,” Walensky replied. “All of us need to do our part. If we have another surge because we are not taking the proper mitigation strategies, I think it would be foolish for me to project.”

Iran reports more than 7,300 new Covid-19 cases

Iran reported 7,390 new daily coronavirus cases on Sunday, bringing the country’s total number of Covid-19 related cases to 1,518,263.

The new Covid-19 related case infection numbers were announced by Iran’s Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadaat Lari in a news conference on state TV. 

The country also reported 62 new Covid-19 related deaths, bringing the country’s death toll to 58,945 on Sunday.

The Health Ministry said 3,709 patients remain hospitalized in ICU. 

Iran is the hardest hit Middle East country by the coronavirus pandemic in total cases and deaths. 

On Tuesday, Iran began its rollout of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine, according to a live broadcast on state television. 

Health Minister Saeed Namaki said the top priority groups for vaccination are doctors and nurses working at intensive care units of the hospitals.

The country continues to keep restrictions in place to try to avoid a larger outbreak of cases. 

Japan approves Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine 

Japan has officially approved Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine, the nation’s Health Ministry said on Sunday.

This is the first coronavirus vaccine approved in Japan.

The country received a shipment of roughly 400,000 doses of the vaccine from Belgium on Friday, the Health Ministry added.

Japan is currently witnessing its third wave of coronavirus and has recorded 415,184 confirmed cases as of Saturday.

The country is set to host the Summer Olympic Games in July. 

Dozens of UK politicians call on prime minister to end lockdown by end of April

A person rides past some closed restaurants in London on February 1.

Dozens of politicians from UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own Conservative party have called for an end to lockdown measures at the end of April, when the country’s nine top-priority groups are due to have had a first dose of coronavirus vaccine. 

Lawmaker Steve Harvey posted a letter on Twitter Saturday which he said was signed by 63 Conservative lawmakers.

“Once all nine priority groups have been protected by the end of April, there is no justification for legislative restrictions to remain,” the letter says.

The letter argues that the “national priority” of reopening UK schools to students “must be achieved by March 8.” 

Responding on Sky News Sunday, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he didn’t think “you could set an arbitrary target and not be evidence led.”

The UK has helmed one of the world’s fastest vaccination efforts, with Raab saying it “is on course to hit the first milestone” on Monday of giving a first dose to its four top priority groups. The UK has decided to focus on giving a first dose to as many people as possible, then give the second dose when supplies allow.

England and Scotland have been under lockdown since early January, with Wales and Northern Ireland under lockdown since late December.

The group, while commending the “tremendous pace of the vaccine rollout,” stressed that the government’s “roadmap must demonstrate how the vaccine rollout translates into a return to normal life.” 

The group called for the reopening of pubs, restaurants, and other hospitality venues by Easter, “in a way which enables them to be Covid secure but also to operate in a commercially viable manner.”

The vaccine should not only provide “us with immunity from Covid but it must also give us permanent immunity from Covid-related lockdowns and restrictions,” they concluded.

WHO Wuhan mission finds possible signs original 2019 Covid-19 outbreak was wider than previously thought

Peter Ben Embarek, the lead investigator for the World Health Organization team looking into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak, is seen at the Hubei Animal Disease Control and Prevention Center in Wuhan, China, on February 2.

Investigators from the World Health Organization looking into the origins of coronavirus in China have discovered signs the outbreak was much wider in Wuhan in Dec. 2019 than previously thought. They are urgently seeking access to hundreds of thousands of blood samples from the city that China has so far not let them examine.

The lead investigator for the WHO mission, Peter Ben Embarek, told CNN in a wide-ranging interview that the mission had found several signs of the more wide-ranging 2019 spread, including establishing for the first time that there were over a dozen strains of the virus in Wuhan already in December.

The team also had a chance to speak to the first patient Chinese officials said had been infected, an office worker in his 40s with no travel history of note, reported infected on Dec. 8.

The slow emergence of more detailed data gathered on the WHO’s long-awaited trip into China may add to concerns voiced by other scientists studying the origins of the disease that the virus may have been spreading in China long before its first official emergence in mid-December.

Ben Embarek, who has just returned to Switzerland from Wuhan, told CNN:

“The virus was circulating widely in Wuhan in December, which is a new finding.”

He explained that Chinese scientists presented his team with 174 cases of coronavirus in and around Wuhan in Dec. 2019. Of these, 100 had been confirmed by laboratory tests and another 74 through the clinical diagnosis of the patient’s symptoms.

Ben Embarek said it was possible this larger number – of likely severe cases that had been noticed by Chinese doctors early on – meant the disease could have hit an estimated 1,000-plus people in Wuhan that December.

Ben Embarek said the mission – which comprised 17 WHO scientists and 17 Chinese – had broadened the type of virus genetic material they examined from early coronavirus cases that first December. This allowed them to look at partial genetic samples, rather than just complete ones, he said. As a result, they were able to gather, for the first time, 13 different genetic sequences of the SARS-COV-2 virus from Dec. 2019. The sequences, if examined with wider patient data in China across 2019, could provide valuable clues about the geography and timing of the outbreak before December.

Ben Embarek said: “Some of them are from the markets… Some of them are not linked to the markets,” which includes the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, thought to have played a role in the virus’ first spread. “This is something we found as part of our mission… part of the interaction we had all together.”

 Read more of this CNN exclusive report here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated Peter Ben Embarek’s name on second and subsequent references. It’s been updated.

Iraq announces restrictions to contain Covid-19 spread

Health care workers are seen at a market in Baghdad, Iraq, during a campaign to detect coronavirus infections on January 31.

Iraq has announced a number of restrictions “in light of the increasing number of infections among citizens” to contain the spread of coronavirus.

The country will impose a curfew between Feb. 18 and March 8, according to a statement released by the Iraqi cabinet Saturday night.

Muslim worshippers are not allowed to pray inside mosques starting Feb. 18, the statement said.

Restaurants and cafes will be closed for dining but will allow pick-up services. All entertainment places will be closed for two weeks, including indoor parks, cinemas, sports halls, and swimming pools.

What the numbers show: Iraq has reported a total of 641,628 cases and 13,164 coronavirus-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Lebanon starts Covid-19 vaccine rollout

Frontline medical workers stand in line to get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during a nationwide vaccination program at the American University Medical Center in Beirut, Lebanon, on February 14.

Lebanon is starting its coronavirus vaccination campaign today, with 90 staff members at the Rafiq Hariri Hospital in Beirut set to be inoculated.

The first person to get the vaccine is Dr. Mahmoud Hasoun, the head of the Covid-19 ward, according to hospital spokesman Nisreen Husseini. 

The vaccinations will take place in 10 cubicles at the hospital complex, with ambulances parked nearby in case anyone experiences side effects.

Ferid Belhaj, World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa, has urged priority groups to get vaccinated first.

He also said authorities should avoid “Wasta” to fast-track getting the vaccine – an Arabic term referring to using one’s connections or influence. A total of two million doses will be delivered in the coming weeks, he said on Twitter on Saturday.

Lebanon’s first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine landed at the Beirut International Airport early Saturday evening and was received by Minister of Health Hamad Hassan. 

Saudi Arabia extends Covid restrictions for 20 days

Saudi Arabia is extending its Covid-19 restrictions for at least 20 days to contain the spread of coronavirus, according to the state-run Saudi Press Agency. 

The country announced initial restrictions 10 days ago. The extension will begin today, and could be further extended again, SPA reported Sunday, citing the country’s Interior Ministry. 

“The maximum for human gatherings in social events cannot be exceeded to 20 persons, to stop all entertainment activities and events, closing down cinemas, indoor entertainment centers, and independent indoor playgrounds or places in restaurants, malls, gyms, and sports centers. Suspending dining in services in restaurants, cafes and limiting it to pick up services,” SPA said in its report.  

Saudi Arabia has reported a total of 372,410 cases and 6,429 related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

They love each other but Covid has torn them apart

When Riëtte Badenhorst got home from her cancer surgery in South Africa, all her fiancé Steve Mann could do was comfort her on the phone, all the way from the UK. Riëtte wishes he had been with her.

“Friends and family help, but it’s not the same,” she tells CNN. “Video calls help, but it’s not the same…. We want to hold each other when one is sad and feel overwhelmed.”

Badenhorst and Mann began dating in 2016 and got engaged three years later. They have not seen each other in more than a year, even after Badenhorst cancer diagnosis.

They’re among many unmarried couples of differing nationalities who, separated by coronavirus travel bans, will spend this year’s Valentine’s Day apart from their loved ones.

It began last March when rising concerns over the virus prompted the United States to introduce restrictions on most travelers from Europe’s Schengen area and Brazil.

Many other countries introduced their own travel bans. Most allowed exemptions, but only for spouses – leaving unmarried partners and their families in limbo.

Read the full story:

jasper and pototski-2

They love each other but Covid has torn them apart

Lebanese caretaker PM turns down vaccine "because priority is for you, the health sector"

Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said he would not have the Covid-19 vaccination as planned in order to give priority to the health sector.

The country Sunday kicked off its Covid-19 vaccination campaign, one week shy of the anniversary of the first recorded case of coronavirus there.

Diab on Sunday addressed doctors, nurses and the health sector at Beirut’s Rafik Al-Hariri University Hospital, saying: “In compliance with the program of the National Committee for Vaccination and the schedule, I will not receive the vaccine today, because the priority is for you, the health sector, to which we must provide protection from this danger so that it can continue its mission in order to protect people.”

Change of tune: Earlier Sunday, the hospital announced that Diab was first in line to receive Lebanon’s first vaccine, but the PM told CNN’s Ben Wedeman he decided not to do so, in favor of frontline health staff. The first to receive the vaccine in Lebanon on Sunday was the head of the hospital’s intensive care unit, Dr. Mahmoud Hassoun, the hospital spokesperson told CNN.

“You are the unknown soldiers who have been carrying this great burden for a year, and you were at the level of responsibility, and you made sacrifices, and there are those who paid with their lives for this message to protect people from the threat of the deadly epidemic,” Diab said addressing the health teams.

“You are before me, and the priority is for you and for everyone to whom the committee’s program applies,” he said.

Vaccination campaign starts: Lebanon’s first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine landed at the Beirut International Airport early Saturday evening and was received by the caretaker Minister of Health Hamad Hassan.

Vaccines are also administered to staff at the American University of Beirut Medical Center and the Saint George Hospital, which was severely damaged in the August 4 port blast.

More evidence suggests the UK variant is linked to more hospitalizations and deaths

Health care workers prone a patient in the Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit (ICU) overflow area at a hospital in Mission Hills, California, on February 5.

Additional evidence suggests that the B.1.1.7 Covid-19 variant, first identified in the UK, is linked to more severe disease, researchers say.

The UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Viral Threat Advisory Group (NERVTAG) analyzed data from more than 10 existing studies, concluding in a report on Friday that the variant is linked to more hospitalizations and deaths.

The additional evidence bolsters the group’s earlier report, released in January, suggesting the variant may be linked to more severe disease.

The researchers say they now have increased confidence in their findings because the4 new analysis includes a wider range of data, and they were able to control for some outside factors.

How deadly is the variant? The B.1.1.7 variant may be associated with more severe disease – but the “absolute risk of death per infection remains low,” the researchers said.

But the variants will likely be less forgiving if people let up on masking and social distancing, since a more contagious strain alone could lead to more cases and therefore more deaths.

In January, the CDC said that it was working with UK researchers to review their mortality data related to the virus variant. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that at least 981 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant have been found in 37 states. Over a third of those are in Florida, where it’s estimated that one in 10 coronavirus cases may be due to the variant.

New Zealand announces three-day lockdown for Auckland after family tests positive

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks with media  in Wellington, New Zealand, on February 14.

New Zealand is imposing a three-day lockdown in its most populous city beginning Sunday, after three new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases were reported on Saturday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the lockdown for Auckland, home to 1.5 million people, during a news conference on Sunday. The lockdown will end at 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday.

Under the lockdown: All Auckland residents, including students, must stay home except for essential outings. Ardern also asked all businesses to switch to non-contact services, such as takeaway instead of dining in. 

The rest of New Zealand will also be raised to Level 2 social distancing measures, where mask-wearing is mandatory on public transport and there is a cap of 100 people on gatherings.

Family tests positive: The three local cases reported are a mother, father and daughter from the same South Auckland household, according to Director-General of Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield.

There is another close-contact member of the family that is also waiting for their test results. 

The high school that the daughter attends, Papatoetoe High School, will be closed Monday and Tuesday following the girl’s positive test. A pop-up testing site will be available for students at the school.

All four family members are moving to the Auckland quarantine facility Sunday, Bloomfield said. 

New Zealand has been largely successful in containing the virus, and has reported a total of 1,974 Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began.

US reports more than 82,000 new cases on Saturday

The United States reported 82,178 new Covid-19 cases and 3,313 related deaths on Saturday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

That raises the national total to at least 27,574,201 cases and 484,200 related deaths.

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

At least 69,883,625 vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 50,641,884 doses have been administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

See CNN’s live tracker here.

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Investigative team members from the World Health Organization visit Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China, on January 31.