White House Covid-19 adviser says drop in US cases could be "misleading" in face of variants
From CNN’s Naomi Thomas
Andy Slavitt, White House Covid-19 senior adviser, said on MSNBC Monday the drop in Covid-19 cases could be “misleading,” and the virus could have “a lot of surprises in store for us.”
Among those surprises are the variants, he said, noting that the variant first identified in the UK – or B.1.1.7 – is more virulent.
“I think we should be assuming that the next wave of case growth, to the extent that we have it, is going to be with B.1.1.7, and that’s something that I think everybody has to be even more cautious about,” he said. “It’s nice to see the numbers of cases drop, but it could be misleading.”
Increases in cases aren’t inevitable if people protect themselves, he said, urging people to continue to wear masks and follow guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Ultimately, science will win here, ultimately, we will beat this,” Slavitt said. “But I don’t think we’re anywhere close to out of the woods.”
9:48 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021
Connecticut identifies first case of Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa
From CNN’s Alec Snyder
The Connecticut Department of Public Health has detected its first positive case of the B.1.351 variant of Covid-19, according to a Monday DPH release.
The strain, first identified in South Africa, was detected “in a Connecticut patient who is currently hospitalized out of state with the virus,” the release said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo confirmed in a Monday press conference that a New York hospital was treating a Connecticut-based patient who had contracted the variant.
The patient is between 60 and 70 years old and has not traveled recently, according to the DPH release, but it did not identify the patient’s sex or whether that individual has any underlying health conditions.
Connecticut DPH and local health officials are “coordinating with officials in New York” and all contact tracing efforts have been completed, the release said.
The state has already confirmed 42 cases of the B.1.1.7 variant, the release stated, which is believed to have originated in the United Kingdom.
9:20 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021
Chile has vaccinated more than 2 million people
From CNN's Florencia Trucco and Mitchell McCluskey
Chile has vaccinated more than 2 million people, the ministry of health announced on Monday.
A total of 2,092,453 people received at least the first dose, the ministry said.
Chile's mass vaccination campaign began on Feb. 4, with the country distributing the Pfizer/BioNTech and Sinovac vaccines to healthcare workers, the elderly and educational personnel.
The first vaccine doses arrived in the country in December and were given to medical workers beginning Dec. 24.
"We will not lower our arms until we vaccinate them all. Together we will make 2021 the year of hope and the recovery of our dreams and life projects," President Sebastián Piñera said on Twitter.
Chile has recorded 779,541 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 19,624 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
11:05 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021
US needs to conduct more sequencing to track homegrown variants, virologist says
From CNN's Adrienne Vogt
Researchers said they have identified a batch of similar mutations in coronavirus samples circulating in the United States. Virologist Jeremy Kamil, an author on the study, said “there’s really no excuse” why the US hasn’t done more sequencing to glean additional data on the virus.
The genetic stretch that is mutated, or changed, is called 677. The researchers identified seven similar mutations at 677 — each one appearing to have arisen independently, they wrote in a pre-print report.
“Our study identified seven [mutations], but there's a giant family tree of the coronavirus in humans as it spilled into us. And our country has really not done enough to keep up to date or keep up tabs on what the virus is doing,” Kamil, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Louisiana State University Health Shreveport, told CNN’s John Berman.
“I think the bigger message is that we need to be doing a better job — and a more even job — sequencing the virus so we can know whether there are changes to be concerned about or not,” he said.
Kamil also stressed that there is no evidence yet that these variants are making the virus more transmissible or dangerous, and they should not have an effect on vaccines.
8:34 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021
Dutch government appeals court decision after judge orders lifting of Covid-19 curfew
From CNN’s Mick Krever
The Dutch government has filed an “urgent appeal” after a court ruling ordered officials to “immediately” lift a curfew intended to reduce coronavirus infections.
The restriction has been in effect nightly from 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. since January 23.
“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 the Tuesday ruling.
Later the court said the government had appealed the decision.
“The State has asked the court to suspend the decision of the preliminary relief judge pending the final decision on appeal,” the court said in a statement. “That is to say that the State wants the curfew to remain in effect until the Hague court makes a definitive ruling on the question of whether the curfew should be annulled.”
The request to suspend the decision will be heard in person at 4 p.m. local time on Tuesday (10am ET).
The court will only hear arguments on whether or not to keep the curfew in effect while the appeal is being heard; it will not rule today on the appeal itself.
A lifting of the curfew would have “serious consequences” for fighting the pandemic, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a hastily schedule news conference on Tuesday.
If the government is forced to remove it because it was not put into place under the “correct legal basis,” Rutte said, “that does not mean that this measure is not necessary.”
The curfew is a means. The curfew is not a goal,” he said. “And that goal is to keep that virus, the coronavirus, as much as possible under control, so that we can get all our freedoms back soon, but in a safe way.”
Whether or not a court allows the curfew to stay in place pending appeal, Rutte urged people in the Netherlands to stay at home during the 9 p.m. to 4:30 a.m. curfew hours.
“I ask everyone to abide by the curfew, at least until later this week when there is more clarity in that case,” he said.
8:14 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021
Plans for smartphone-enabled, at-home Covid-19 test to be sold online and at US pharmacies
From CNN’s Jamie Gumbrecht
The company Kroger Health said Tuesday that it plans to sell a smartphone-enabled, at-home Covid-19 test kit online and at pharmacies in the US.
The test, developed by Gauss and Cellex, has not yet received emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration, and cannot be sold until then. The company said it will share a price once the test is authorized.
Kroger said the rapid Covid-19 test can be performed using a smartphone and without involving a lab, telemedicine visit or specialized electronics. The company plans to sell the antigen test online and over the counter in pharmacies.
Gauss produced 1.5 million of the tests last month, Kroger said, and it has the capability to produce up to 30 million tests per month.
To take the test, users will follow video instructions, provided in an app, to collect a nasal swab and complete the test on their own.
After 15 minutes, patients will be prompted to scan their rapid test to get their results. To fulfill legal reporting requirements, the app shares results with public health agencies, Kroger said.
7:59 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021
Russia extends UK flight ban until mid-March, state media says
From CNN's Zahra Ullah
Russia has extended a ban on flights to and from the United Kingdom until March 16, state media reported on Tuesday, citing the country’s coronavirus task force.
“The operational headquarters for preventing the import and spread of novel coronavirus infection in Russia has decided to extend the suspension of air traffic with the UK,” RIA-Novosti reported. “To ensure the protection of public health, the restrictions were extended to [23:59] on March 16, 2021,” the task force added.
Russia imposed the flight ban on December 22 in light of the new and more contagious variant circulating across the UK. The variant was linked to a surge in cases there in late 2020.
7:57 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021
Iran's Covid-19 cases appear to be rising
From CNN’s Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran
On Tuesday, Iran reported 8,011 new daily coronavirus cases, bringing the country's total number of cases to 1,534,034.
Infections appear to be on the rise once again across Iran. It recorded 7,760 cases on Monday and 7,390 on Sunday.
The country also reported 89 new related Covid-19 deaths bringing the country's death toll to 59,117 on Tuesday.
The Health Ministry said 3,696 patients remain hospitalized in ICUs across the country.
Iran has the highest Covid-19 case and fatality rates in the Middle East region. The country has kept pandemic restrictions in place to try and avoid a larger outbreak of infection.
The government also began its rollout of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine earlier this month. Officials said doctors and nurses would be among the first to receive the shot.
10:49 p.m. ET, February 17, 2021
Japan begins vaccine rollout on Wednesday
From CNN's Selina Wang in Tokyo
Japan will begin vaccinating its healthcare workers Wednesday with 40,000 doctors and nurses from 100 hospitals across the country receiving the Pfizer-BioNTechcoronavirus 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.