February 23 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Eoin McSweeney and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 0714 GMT (1514 HKT) February 24, 2021
13 Posts
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8:44 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

French town of Dunkirk may soon see extra coronavirus measures

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz and Saskya Vandoorne in Paris

A medical worker administers a nasal swab to a patient at a coronavirus testing center in Dunkirk, France on February 18.
A medical worker administers a nasal swab to a patient at a coronavirus testing center in Dunkirk, France on February 18. Sylvain Lefevre/Getty Images

Dunkirk may soon see extra measures implemented to curb the spread of coronavirus and the mayor of the Northern French city has asked for one last chance after a sharp rise in coronavirus incidence rates.

The local health authority, Agence Regionale de Santé Hauts-de-France, says that the incidence rate in Dunkirk has reached 901 per 100,000 inhabitants, while in the wider area, Hauts-de-France, it stands at 293 per 100,000. A spokesperson for the authority, Thomas Lhuillery, said there was no information on why the incidence rate in Dunkirk is so high.

Mayor Patrice Vergriete said Tuesday, “a very last chance” was needed for the town — to avoid all gatherings, at work, in the family, during the school holidays.

“We will not oppose lockdown if it were to take place because it is a difficult decision to take, but we must try everything before measures come into place to prevent freedom,” Vergriete told reporters, “we have offered a last reprieve to the people of Dunkirk.”

Vergriete said he was in contact with the French health minister, and that Olivier Veran, the minister, had asked for a “time of reflection.” 

The mayor and the minister will once again talk Tuesday afternoon, Vergriete said.

8:16 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses will be "backloaded," with more doses coming later, Fauci says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech holds a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine before it is administered in a clinical trial on December 15, 2020, in Aurora, Colorado.
Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech holds a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine before it is administered in a clinical trial on December 15, 2020, in Aurora, Colorado. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota Tuesday that if Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine candidate is granted emergency use authorization the number of doses will likely be relatively few at first, but will ramp up to meet contractual agreements. 

Fauci said that he believes the totality of the doses is going to meet contractual agreements of having 100 million doses by late June or early July, saying “that will happen.” 

“What we’re seeing is that instead of being front-loaded with a number of doses that are coming out, it very likely will be backloaded,” he said. 

“It’s just a matter of what happened with their production capability and how they are now going to be revving up, and then soon after that, they’re going to have a lot of doses,” he said. “But, it’s not going to be front-loaded.”

Johnson & Johnson will testify Tuesday in front of the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Committee on Energy & Commerce that it can deliver enough doses of coronavirus vaccine by the end of March to vaccinate more than 20 million Americans against Covid-19. 

The Food and Drug Administration's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee meets on Friday to discuss the request for emergency use authorization from Johnson & Johnson for its vaccine candidate.

 

8:11 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Fauci: It was "painful" when people called the pandemic a hoax while hospitals were overrun with patients

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Top US infectious disease expert Dr. Antony Fauci reflected on 500,000 Americans dying of Covid-19 and said political divisions contributed to the death toll.

You have to fight the virus “in a unifying way and not have any kind of political ideology divisiveness getting in the way of what we're trying to do. That's not the only thing that really was a problem. But that's … something that I found really to be unfortunately damaging,” he told CNN.

Fauci also described “several low points” for him over the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It does intellectually pain me when I see things like pleading for people to do the kinds of things that you know work — the mask wearing, the physical separation,” he said.

He added that it was “painful” for him to see that while hospitals in many regions were overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients, people were still calling the pandemic a hoax and fake news.

“I mean, how could you possibly say that when people in your own state, your own city, your own county are dying? To me, that just boggled me and it still does,” he said. “And here we are today looking at 500,000 Americans who have died thus far. I mean, that's the proof of what actually has been going on. You can't deny that.”

Watch the moment here:

7:50 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Risky business? Mexico is trying to balance the pandemic and its vital tourism income

From CNN's Megan Frye

Though Mexico has logged more than 180,000 Covid-19 deathsit has some of the world's loosest entry requirements for foreigners. Visitors aren't required to submit negative test results, and there is no mandatory quarantine.

The pandemic's economic effect on the tourism industry has still been devastating.

The world's seventh most popular tourist destination, Mexico's economy has grown to depend on what amounted in 2019 to about $25 billion in income from 45 million international visitors, according to estimates from the National Tourism Business Council (CNET) and a center for tourism research at Universidad Anáhuac.

Across Mexico, tourist destinations are operating on limited capacity per Covid-19 regulations. The country is struggling to adapt to its slowest high season in memory, with limited government help for many workers and businesses struggling to make ends meet.

"I guess Mexico has been doing what it can do," said birdwatching guide Alex Martínez Rodríguez, but he said he doesn't feel that the populist government is acting in the best interest of the people.

Read the full story here:

Risky business? Balancing Mexico's pandemic response with tourism
RELATED

Risky business? Balancing Mexico's pandemic response with tourism

By Megan Frye, CNN. Top photo by Rodrigo Arangua/AFP via Getty Images

7:35 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

China says their experts conducted "lots of virus tracing work," responding to CNN’s report

From CNN’s Beijing Bureau and Sophie Jeong in Hong Kong

Members of the World Health Organization investigative team visit Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China, on January 31.
Members of the World Health Organization investigative team visit Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, China, on January 31. Getty Images

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) responded to CNN’s exclusive report on how the World Health Organization (WHO) panel will recommend "deeper" study of early Covid-19 clues, saying that Chinese experts conducted "lots of virus tracing work."

“Chinese experts conducted lots of virus tracing work about the Huanan seafood market,” the MOFA said in a statement sent to CNN. "They systematically collected and tested samples of market environment, frozen food inventories, animal breeding farms in the upstream supply chain in China. Based on current information, it is not possible to determine how the virus was introduced into the Huanan seafood market." 

The World Health Organization's preliminary report into the origins of the novel coronavirus will recommend more extensive contact tracing of the first known patient with Covid-19 in Wuhan, China, as well as the supply chain of nearly a dozen traders in the Huanan seafood market, which is thought to have played a role in the early spread of Covid-19 in late 2019, according to investigators familiar with the draft report.

Independent scientists told CNN the rudimentary investigative work being recommended should have been done many months previously by Chinese scientists looking into the virus' origin. They said they found it "surprising" and "implausible" Chinese scientists had not already done that work.

In response, the MOFA statement added the supply chain was "not only from China, but also from outside China" and that the joint expert group had said, "there is no geographical limit to the next step of the study." CNN reported on Sunday that the WHO panel will recommend the immediate investigation of the supply chain of the Huanan seafood market. 

MOFA also said the WHO panel and Chinese scientists were not conducting an "investigation" but "joint research on tracing the origin of the virus" after CNN asked for comment on further recommendations by those involved in WHO mission to "investigate" the origins. 

Read CNN's exclusive report

7:11 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Pandemic paranoia is a real thing, say mental health experts

From CNN's Allison Hope

The trifecta of the pandemic, required social isolation and social unrest has driven many of us to more extreme behavior and worries, including paranoia.
The trifecta of the pandemic, required social isolation and social unrest has driven many of us to more extreme behavior and worries, including paranoia. Leah Abucayan/CNN Illustration/Getty Images

The trifecta of the pandemic, required social isolation, and social unrest has driven many of us to more extreme behavior and worries, including paranoia, experts say.

"The pandemic has brought on great uncertainty and stress," said Dr. Bandy X. Lee, a New York City-based forensic psychiatrist who is currently president of the World Mental Health Coalition.

Contributing to this is an uncertain economic environment and the active disinformation around both the pandemic and other issues perpetuated by historically trusted institutions, like the US government and the office of the President.

"The exceptionally prolonged lockdown because of ineffective management and the subsequent social disruptions and economic misery -- in many ways worse than the Great Depression, with tremendous inequities, hunger, homelessness, unemployment, and despair -- are already leading to rampant drug addiction, depression, suicides, and homicides," Lee said.

"Meanwhile, we now have a large segment of the population that has been encouraged and conditioned to avoid reality. When living in delusion, detached from reality, one naturally becomes paranoid because facts and evidence are constantly 'attacking' these false, cherished beliefs," she added.

The John Hopkins Psychiatry Guide defines paranoia as "a response to perceived threats that is heavily influenced by anxiety and fear, existing along a continuum of normal, reality-based experience to delusional beliefs."

The symptoms of paranoia can range from the very subtle to completely overwhelming and can exist with or without other mental conditions, according to Lee and major medical associations. People don't need to have diagnosable mental health disorders to have paranoid thoughts or feelings.

Read the full story here

6:37 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

First batch of Russia's Sputnik V shot is delivered to Mexico

From CNN's Matthew Chance and Zahra Ullah in Moscow

Viktor Koronelli, Russian ambassador in Mexico, and Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico's secretary of Foreign Affairs, with a container carrying the Sputnik V vaccine at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, on Monday.
Viktor Koronelli, Russian ambassador in Mexico, and Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico's secretary of Foreign Affairs, with a container carrying the Sputnik V vaccine at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, on Monday. Hector Vivas/Getty Images

Mexico, the first country in North America to approve Russia’s coronavirus shot, has received its first batch of the vaccine, Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), said Tuesday. 

Video posted on Twitter by Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard shows the delivery of the Sputnik V vaccine in a cargo area of an airplane after landing in Mexico. 

“On February 3, 2021 the Federal Commission for the Protection against Sanitary Risk of Mexico (COFEPRIS) approved Sputnik V under the emergency use authorization procedure without additional clinical trials in the country,” the RDIF said in a statement. 

"It is a significant breakthrough in Russia’s efforts to fight COVID-19 and clearly shows that saving lives is above politics," Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the RDIF, told CNN.

Sputnik V has now been approved for use in more than 30 countries and is one of the world’s most pre-ordered vaccines, with at least 50 countries, from Argentina to the Philippines, ordering nearly 2.5 billion doses so far, according to figures from the RDIF, which oversees global distribution and sales of the vaccine. 

Mexico has the third highest death toll in the world, behind the United States and Brazil, with more than 180,000 fatalities, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.

9:12 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

New cases of Covid-19 variants falling "quite sharply," says UK health secretary

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in Glasgow

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is seen during a visit to The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, on February 17.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is seen during a visit to The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, England, on February 17. Molly Darlington/WPA Pool/Getty Images

"New variant" cases of Covid-19 are falling across the UK, according to the country’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, who credits extra border measures for the drop.

British people arriving home from "high risk" countries have to undergo a 10-day hotel quarantine at their own expense in a bid to tighten border controls to try to curb one of the world's worst coronavirus outbreaks.

The UK has the highest Covid-19 death toll in Europe, with more than 120,000 fatalities, and remains under strict pandemic restrictions, partly due to a new, more transmissible variant of coronavirus first discovered in southeast England. Other variants, including those first detected in South Africa and Brazil, are also spreading globally.

“In the last week or so, there were just over a dozen new cases, which is far smaller than we were seeing even a couple of weeks ago," Hancock said on Sky News Tuesday morning.

"So the extra measures we’re taking at the border are working, and also the lower cases rate makes it much less likely that there will be new variants here because new variants tend to rise when you’ve got an area that’s got a very high case rate and the virus is trying to escape from the immunity are getting naturally," he added.

Asked how the government’s plan to ease lockdown in England, published Monday, would affect the spread of the South African and Brazilian variants, Hancock responded: "Well, the good news is that the number of new variant cases we’re finding across the whole UK has fallen quite sharply over the last month."

"Continued work" is needed to understand the effectiveness of vaccines against the South African and Brazilian variants, he said, and that will impact a government review into international travel restrictions, announced yesterday. 

After the interview, Hancock tweeted that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's roadmap out England's lockdown is "only possible because of the vaccine roll-out." 

"It's vital everybody plays their part so we can get out of this as soon as we possibly can," he added.

5:20 a.m. ET, February 23, 2021

Japan appoints Minister for Loneliness to combat rising suicide rate

From CNN's Junko Ogura in Tokyo

Japan appointed its first Minister for Loneliness this month after the country’s suicide rate increased for the first time in 11 years during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tetsushi Sakamoto took over the newly created position on February 12.

In his inaugural press conference, Sakamoto said Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga appointed him to address national matters "including the issue of the increasing women's suicide rate under the pandemic."

"Suga instructed me to examine the issue and put forward a comprehensive strategy, by coordinating with the related ministry," Sakamoto added. “I hope to carry out activities to prevent social loneliness and isolation and to protect ties between people.”

The Japanese government also created an "isolation/loneliness countermeasures office" within the cabinet on February 19 for issues such as suicide and child poverty -- which have risen during the pandemic.

Japan has so far recorded more than 426,000 Covid-19 cases and 7,577 deaths, according to data from John Hopkins University.

It has so far administered more than 5,000 vaccine doses.