February 16 coronavirus news

By Joshua Berlinger, Brad Lendon, Zamira Rahim, Mary Ilyushina and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 10:49 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021
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10:49 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Japan begins vaccine rollout on Wednesday

From CNN's Selina Wang in Tokyo

Japan's minister in charge of Covid-19 vaccinations, Taro Kono, speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on February 16, 2021.
Japan's minister in charge of Covid-19 vaccinations, Taro Kono, speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on February 16, 2021. Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images

 

Japan will begin vaccinating its healthcare workers Wednesday with 40,000 doctors and nurses from 100 hospitals across the country receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, according to the head of Japan's vaccine rollout Taro Kono.

Of those 40,000, we have asked 20,000 doctors and nurses to keep a diary of their health conditions, temperature, headaches and whatever happens to them," Kono said. “We will monitor them for 21 days then they will get a second shot starting from March 10.”

After the first round of doctors and nurses, the rollout will continue for 3.7 million doctors, pharmacists, nurses, ambulance drivers and other frontline workers, Kano added.

Inoculations for senior citizens will begin in April and the country aims to complete vaccination of the public within the year.

Olympics at stake: The rollout comes as Japan is scheduled to host the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo in July, despite increasing public opposition and rising costs.

A poll last month by national broadcaster NHK found that 77% of people in Japan think the Games should be canceled or further postponed, largely due to the logistical hurdles that stand in the way of hosting such a massive event in the middle of a public health crisis. 

The country's medical system has been overwhelmed, even though it has the most hospital beds per capita in the developed world. Cases have more than doubled in the past two months to more than 406,000, stretching Japan's medical system to the brink.

Japan was among the last major economies to approve the use of a coronavirus vaccine and begin the rollout, raising further questions about the country’s ambitious plan to reach necessary immunity levels in time for the competition. 

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said last month his government is “determined” to “realize a safe and secure Olympics.”

Kono, the head of the vaccination efforts, said in Tuesday's news conference that "the Olympic Games is not on my schedule... we need to think about the concrete number of supply and then we'll come up with a possible target," when asked about when Japan is expected to reach the herd immunity benchmark.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post misspelled the surname of Japan's vaccine rollout head Taro Kono.

 

7:33 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Mass testing is underway in a German city after case of UK Covid variant detected

From CNN's Claudia Otto in Berlin

A police officer wearing a protective suit escorts a woman to a house in Hamm, Germany on Tuesday.
A police officer wearing a protective suit escorts a woman to a house in Hamm, Germany on Tuesday. Bernd Thissen/picture alliance via Getty Images

Several apartment blocks in the German city of Hamm were put under quarantine Monday evening, after a man there tested positive for the more transmissible variant of Covid-19 first detected in the UK.

The man of Bulgarian descent had shown coronavirus symptoms and looked for medical help, according to a press release from the city. 

Authorities then cordoned off the four apartment blocks near where he worked, and rolled out mass testing, the release adds.

The testing was necessary as the man is a builder at the site, according to the release, and so is likely to have had contact with colleagues across the apartment blocks.

Meanwhile, the German agency for disease control and prevention reported 3,856 new coronavirus cases, bringing the country's total reported case count to 2,342,843.

Germany's death toll stands at 65,604, including 528 new fatalities.

The country's national agency for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute, said that 4,284,554 vaccinations have been administered so far in the country.

7:23 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021

More than 500,000 doses of China's Sinopharm shot are delivered to Hungary

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gives a speech in the country's parliament on February 15, 2021.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban gives a speech in the country's parliament on February 15, 2021. Koszticksak Szilard/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Hungary received the first 550,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine on Tuesday, a spokesperson for the country's government told CNN. 

The country became the first European Union (EU) nation to approve the shot in late January. It also signed a deal with the Chinese manufacturer for the supply of 5 million doses of the vaccine. 

The move comes just weeks after the Hungarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban approved and purchased Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, also the first EU nation to do so. 

Orban has repeatedly criticized the EU’s vaccination strategy, accusing Brussels of prioritizing obtaining vaccines at a low cost. With potentially tight elections in the coming year, the Hungarian Prime Minister has made vaccination, with the aim of re-opening the country, a key priority.

7:08 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Hong Kong to ease social distancing measures from Thursday 

People wearing masks visit Causeway Bay on the third day of the Chinese New Year, on February 14, 2021, in Hong Kong.
People wearing masks visit Causeway Bay on the third day of the Chinese New Year, on February 14, 2021, in Hong Kong. Zhang Wei/China News Service via Getty Images

Hong Kong is relaxing social distancing restrictions beginning Thursday after reporting its lowest daily number of new Covid-19 cases since late November.

Food and Health Secretary Sophia Chan announced in a press conference Tuesday that people will be able to dine in at restaurants until 10 p.m. with up to four people per table.

Restaurants in the city were previously open until 6 p.m. with only two people allowed per table.

Gyms, beauty salons, massage parlors, theme parks, cinemas and indoor and outdoor sports venues will also reopen from Thursday. 

Hong Kong reported eight new cases from Monday, of which six are locally transmitted. 

This is the lowest number of cases Hong Kong has reported since November 18, according to official government statistics. The city has reported a total of 10,788 cases and 193 deaths since the pandemic began according to Johns Hopkins University.

6:48 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Heavy snow stops vaccinations in Greek capital

From CNN's Chris Liakos

A woman walks past the Parthenon temple during heavy snowfall in Athens, Greece, on February 16, 2021.
A woman walks past the Parthenon temple during heavy snowfall in Athens, Greece, on February 16, 2021. Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Images

Heavy snowfall in the Greek capital of Athens caused Covid-19 vaccination centers to halt their work on Tuesday.

“Due to the severe weather conditions, all vaccinations planned for today will be postponed across all vaccination centers in Athens," the Greek Health Ministry said. "Citizens who have their vaccination scheduled for today will be notified of their appointment rescheduling.”

Residence on the Attic peninsula, which encompasses Athens and its countryside, have been warned against any against non-essential travel in the area due to "intensifying" weather conditions. 

6:43 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021

UK will facilitate other countries' Covid passports but not produce its own, minister says

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

UK vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi arrives at 10 Downing Street, London, on January 5, 2021.
UK vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi arrives at 10 Downing Street, London, on January 5, 2021. Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

The UK will facilitate other countries' Covid-19 vaccine passports plans, although it is not planning to introduce them domestically, UK vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC on Tuesday.

“Internationally, if other countries will require a vaccine certificate, then I think it's right that we facilitate it,” Zahawi said, “that's what we are working on.”
“We're not looking at the domestic use of vaccine passports, that's not in our planning. As the prime minister described, it'll be the national vaccination programme combined with rapid testing that I think is the way forward,” Zahawi added.

Zahawi added that the UK government plans to make immunization and vaccination records available to citizens via a National Health Service (NHS) app if they need to travel internationally.

When asked about the supply of vaccines, Zahawi said that he was expecting “much greater volume in March and April, tens of millions of doses coming through,” adding that he's confident the UK will meet the target to give the first vaccine dose to 32 million people in top nine priority groups by the end of April.

The UK has been hard-hit by the pandemic and has the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe.

The introduction of Covid-19 passports -- documents proving that the traveler has been vaccinated -- remains a contentious concept. 

Calls from several European countries to create an internationally recognized vaccination certificate prompted the European Union to debate the measure in January. 

While some states argue that reopening borders and frozen sectors of the economy with the help of Covid-19 passports would be crucial in 2021, fears remain over what protection various vaccines actually afford, how the certifications might be abused and what it means for those still awaiting shots.

In discussions last month, some EU members expressed concern that vaccine certifications may result in the unvaccinated being treated as second-class citizens who are refused certain services. 

6:16 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021

LA elementary schools are allowed to reopen as virus rates fall

From CNN's Sarah Moon and Christina Maxouris

Elementary schools in California's Los Angeles County have been cleared to reopen for in-person learning starting Tuesday, after county health officials announced they expect to reach the state's Covid-19 case threshold for reopening those campuses.

"The state permits elementary schools to reopen as soon as we reach an adjusted case rate of 25 per 100,000," the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health said in a news release on Monday.
"We are informing Los Angeles County schools tonight via an emailed letter that we expect to announce we have reached this threshold effective Tuesday, February 16."

County health officials say that while Covid-19 numbers are declining, "the virus is still very much present and circulating widely" across the county and they urged residents to remain cautious.

Read the full story here:

6:01 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Court rules that Dutch Covid curfew must be lifted "immediately"

From CNN’s Mick Krever

A snowy canal scene during a night curfew on February 7, 2021, in Leiden, Netherlands.
A snowy canal scene during a night curfew on February 7, 2021, in Leiden, Netherlands. Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images

The government in the Netherlands must “immediately” lift a nightly curfew designed to reduce coronavirus infections, a court in the country has ruled.

A judge in The Hague upheld a claim from the foundation viruswaarheid.nl, which means “virus truth."

The curfew has has been in effect nightly from 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. since January 23. The Dutch government earlier this month extended the curfew to remain in place until at least March 3, claiming that the restrictions have been successful in reducing social interaction.

The judge said Tuesday that the implementation of the curfew did not meet the requirements of “special urgency” required to bypass the normal legislative process. The judge also ruled that the government's use of the “extraordinary powers of civil authority" act was “not legitimate."

“The curfew is a far-reaching violation of the right of freedom of movement and privacy and limits [indirectly] among other things the rights to freedom of assembly and demonstration. This makes a very diligent decision-making process necessary," the judge said.

In response, the Dutch Ministry of Justice said it was "studying” the ruling.

“We cannot say more about it yet,” spokesperson Anna Sophia Posthumus told CNN in a statement Tuesday.

The Netherlands has reported more than 1 million total Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began and almost 15,000 deaths according to Johns Hopkins University.

5:45 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021

Israel to ease lockdown and ask residents for proof of vaccination or recovery for some activities

From CNN's Andrew Carey and Amir Tal in Jerusalem

People enjoy themselves on a reopened beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, on February 13, 2021.
People enjoy themselves on a reopened beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, on February 13, 2021. Xinhua/Muammar Awad via Getty Images

The Israeli Cabinet has approved a further loosening of the restrictions on economic activity as coronavirus infection rates continue its gradual downward trend.

From Sunday, shopping malls, markets, museums, and libraries will re-open to everyone. But Israelis will need to show proof they have been vaccinated, or have recovered from the disease, to gain access to gyms, sports, cultural venues and hotels, all of which have also received permission to re-open.

Schools will also be allowed to welcome back more students.

The number of new cases of Covid-19 stood at 5,138 on Monday -- by comparison, the figure two weeks ago stood at 8,909.

Israel has been making rapid progress in its vaccination program and is on track to be the first country in the world to inoculate its entire population, of about 9 million people.

Health Ministry data suggests more than 4 million people in Israel will have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by the end of Tuesday, with more than 2.6 million people having received a second dose as well.