The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Jessie Yeung, Kara Fox, Kareem Khadder, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT) March 2, 2021
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11:07 a.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Johnson & Johnson working on booster for coronavirus variants, CEO says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Johnson & Johnson is currently working on a booster to help its Covid-19 vaccine deal with coronavirus variants, CEO Alex Gorsky told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Monday.

“While we’re encouraged and we’re confident in the current vaccine that we have, you’ve always got to be preparing for the future, and frankly for the unknown," Gorsky said. "So, we’re doing that as we speak.”
11:03 a.m. ET, March 1, 2021

The US has approved 3 Covid-19 vaccines. Here's what they all have in common.

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Johnson & Johnson's single-dose coronavirus vaccine has become the third Covid-19 shot approved for use in the US. Previously, Pfizer and Moderna's two-dose vaccines had been approved.

None of the three vaccines contains additives that can sometimes cause strong reactions, such as antibiotics, preservatives or adjuvants, which are compounds used to boost the immune response that can add to the kick of any vaccine.

That means a very low risk of allergic reaction, especially life-threatening anaphylaxis. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports only a few cases of anaphylaxis in people who have been given the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, and all were easily treated.

Only one case of anaphylaxis has been reported in the 44,000 people who have tested the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Plus, all three target a specific part of the spike protein called the receptor binding domain. As the name implies, it's the part the virus uses to grapple cells. Mutations to this particular region could weaken the efficacy of all three vaccines.

Luckily, all three appear to stimulate an overwhelming immune response — one much stronger than people get after a natural infection. So far, it appears to be enough to continue at least partially protecting people from the most concerning variants.

9:50 a.m. ET, March 1, 2021

EU begins laying groundwork to pave the way for Covid-19 vaccine passports this summer

From CNN’s James Frater

European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer speaks during a conference in Brussels, Belgium, on March 5, 2020.
European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer speaks during a conference in Brussels, Belgium, on March 5, 2020. Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The European Commission has started laying the groundwork for a vaccine passport that could let European Union citizens travel this summer, it announced.

The Commission intends to publish a legislative proposal for vaccine certification by the end of March, Commission chief spokesperson Eric Mamer said.

In January, the European Union and its 27 member states agreed a set of guidelines that would form the basis of the passports, “but the exact information still needs to be determined,” he said.

To avoid discrimination and citizens being turned away at a border, the Commission’s intention is that the passports “would not only state whether or not a person had been vaccinated, but also whether this person has had recent PCR test, or can be deemed Covid immune, for health reasons i.e., antibodies,” Mamer added.

Asked whether the scope of the legal proposal would extend to international travelers traveling into the EU, Mamer said: “We will have to come back to you once the proposal is made, we cannot give details for the moment.” 

Expanding on the details of technical work currently underway to prepare the passports Johannes Bahrke, the EU’s Digital Economy spokesperson said, “It's a question of: how a certificate can be checked, because it's important that they are safe; and how the data is safe; what's the technical standard.”

Bahrke said, “all these kind of details now need to be agreed among member states based on the guidelines that are in place.” 

Speaking following a meeting of European Leaders last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it would be “at least three months” before the passports could be rolled out.

“Member states will need to move fast with the implementation if we want such a green certificate to be in place by summer,” von der Leyen said. “They will have to ensure a quick and complete rollout in the National Health System, and in the border systems."

 

9:36 a.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Decline in UK's Covid-19 cases is due to lockdown and vaccine rollout, UK foreign secretary says

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

A paramedic draws up the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Darlington, England, on March 1.
A paramedic draws up the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Darlington, England, on March 1. Ian Forsyth/Getty Images

With a strict, government-imposed lockdown in place, the United Kingdom has seen a continued decline in its Covid-19 cases over the last few weeks.

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab attributes it to the lockdown and the “swift rollout of the vaccines.”

“Over 20 million people now have had their first dose, and that clearly is protecting people, having an impact on transmission. So, of course, there's a long way to go, but the signs, the progress is all positive, and we've got light at the end of the tunnel here,” he told CNN.

Although the country is set to reopen its schools on March 8, it will being back non-essential retail, such as hairdressers, gyms, museums, zoos and theme parks on April 12.

Raab said it’s important to stick to the roadmap, which he called optimistic but cautious.

“We don't want to undo and unpick the progress that we've made, or subject people to the risk of, let's face it, dying, when it can be preserved and protected,” he said Monday. “It's an evidence-based approach, and we've got a series of steps we'll take.”

He added: "We want to know that when we come out of this lock down, we stay out of it.”

8:56 a.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Johnson & Johnson will deliver 20 million vaccine doses in March and 100 million by June, official says

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

In this file photo, Johnson & Johnson vials of the Janssen Covid-19 vaccine are seen in the United States, on December 2, 2020.
In this file photo, Johnson & Johnson vials of the Janssen Covid-19 vaccine are seen in the United States, on December 2, 2020. Johnson & Johnson via AP

Now that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine in the US, the company will deliver 20 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in March and 100 million doses by June, said Dr. Paul Stoffels, the company’s chief scientific officer.

“This is a single-shot vaccine so 100 million US citizens will be able to get vaccinated before the summer with our vaccine,” he told CNN, adding that the company is producing as much as it can.

“You can't accelerate it by yelling at it,” he said Monday. “You have to have the cells growing and the viruses extracted and put into vials, and that's what it is.”

Stoffels also confirmed that Johnson & Johnson is “evaluating when we need to have, eventually, a boost on the single dose, which might be six month, 12 months … to keep immunity up.”

 “A booster dose will be needed at a certain point. And so we started to study, with an interim of two months, to get to maximum protection and durability,” he said.

Watch the interview here:

8:15 a.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Nordic nations tighten restrictions as cases surge

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite and James Frater

Just three months ago, Finland had Europe's lowest average of Covid-19 infections and deaths per capita, and had managed to contain local outbreaks while sticking to some of the most relaxed restrictions on the continent.

But now it’s facing a new surge -- and the government has changed tack.

On Monday, Finland’s government declared a state of emergency due to a sharp rise in cases that they have attributed partially to the spread of new variants.

The country will go into a three-week lockdown on March 8, according to Prime Minister Sanna Marin.

In a statement, the government said:

"The number and incidence of Covid-19 cases in Finland have risen very rapidly since the beginning of February 2021. The number of infections caused by new virus variants has clearly increased, which may further accelerate the epidemic and place significant strain on hospital and intensive care capacity if we are unable to bring the number of infections down.”

The strictest restrictions were already introduced in seven hospital districts last Thursday, including in the capital, Helsinki.

Across the border in Norway, officials are also tightening restrictions due to a surge of cases in the capital that Oslo City Council called "a consequence of the import of mutated variants of the coronavirus."

The new virus variants spread faster than previous variants," Oslo City Councilor Raymond Johansen said in a Sunday statement.

"This means that we now have to tighten up infection control measures in line with the recommendations of national health authorities.

From Tuesday until March 15, the new measures in Oslo include: the closing of all restaurants, except for take-away services; and shuttering all stores, except pharmacies and grocery/liquor stores.

From Monday, Oslo students attending upper secondary schools will stay at home and on Wednesday, all schools will be run with a combination of traditional and virtual learning.

The council added that is introducing the mass testing of students with saliva samples from March 8, and the increased testing of all teachers.

7:43 a.m. ET, March 1, 2021

One European nation is locking down while the rest of the world is starting to open up

From CNN's Ivana Kottasová in London

A medical worker wearing protective equipment takes a sample at a drive-in Covid-19 testing station in Prague, Czech Republic, on February 23.
A medical worker wearing protective equipment takes a sample at a drive-in Covid-19 testing station in Prague, Czech Republic, on February 23. Michael Cizek/AFP/Getty Images

While much of the world is starting to think about lifting their coronavirus restrictions, the Czech Republic has today entered a strict new lockdown. The Central European nation of 10 million has been experiencing near record levels of new infections and its death toll has just topped 20,000. 

There is no reason for the country to be among the worst hit. As a relatively wealthy nation and a member of the European Union, the Czech Republic has access to vaccines, medical equipment and track-and-trace tech solutions. It has a democratically elected government. Its health care system is well respected, its economy fairly strong.

Instead, the current Czech catastrophe is akin to death by a thousand cuts, a result of dozens of tiny missteps, late decisions and botched public health messages, experts tell CNN.

Read more here about what went wrong in a country that sailed through the pandemic’s first wave nearly unscathed.

6:28 a.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Authorities are still hunting for 1 of the 6 cases of the Brazilian Covid variant identified in the UK

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

UK vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi in Westminster, London, in December 2020.
UK vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi in Westminster, London, in December 2020. Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images

Health officials in England are still trying to track down one of the UK's six recorded cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in Brazil. 

On Sunday, Public Health England said that six cases of the variant first identified in Manaus, Brazil (known as P.1) have been detected in the UK -- with three of those cases identified in England.

But while two of the cases identified in England were traced to “one household in South Gloucestershire with a history of travel to Brazil,” there is still currently a third, unlinked case, it said.

Speaking on Sky News on Monday, UK vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi said that the individual who hadn’t yet been traced hadn’t filled in their test card details, and that they "would probably (have) got a home kit or a test kit from the local authority,” Zahawi said.

 What we're asking today is anyone who had a test on the 12th or 13th of February to contact NHS 119, so we make sure we identify that individual." 

The other two cases of the P.1 variant were identified in South Gloucestershire "who have been self-isolating correctly" and there is "minimal reason to believe that there may be further spread," the minister added.

The three other cases of the variant were identified in Scotland and are not linked to the cases in England, the British government said in a statement on Sunday.

Zahawi stressed that the Brazilian variant is a “variant of concern,” adding that “it’s very similar in terms of its mutations to the South African variant. So, it is concerning.”

The variant first seen in South Africa, called B.1.351 or 501Y.V2, has a different pattern of mutations that causes more physical alterations in the structure of the spike protein than the UK variant (B.1.1.7) does.

One important mutation, called E484K, appears to affect the receptor binding domain -- the part of the spike protein most important for attaching to cells, which could help the virus partly escape the effects of vaccines.

The Brazilian variant, P.1, also carries the E484K mutation.

Read more about the variants here:

6:07 a.m. ET, March 1, 2021

Germany's Covid death toll tops 70,000, as Bavaria PM warns that mutations are "starting to dominate"

From CNN’s Claudia Otto in Berlin and Stephanie Halasz in London

A crematorium employee affixes a "Corona" marker to a coffin in Dachsenhausen, Germany on January 22.
A crematorium employee affixes a "Corona" marker to a coffin in Dachsenhausen, Germany on January 22. Thomas Frey/picture alliance/Getty Images

More than 70,000 people have died from Covid-19 in Germany, according to official figures.

The country's agency for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), on Monday recorded 4,732 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 2,447,068.

The RKI also reported 60 additional deaths, bringing the total death toll to 70,105. Recorded numbers are always low at weekends because not so many people get tested. 

Meanwhile, Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Soeder also warned that new variants of the coronavirus are taking over. 

The mutations are starting to dominate,” he said at a news conference Monday morning.

Soeder also warned there are coronavirus hotspots on the German border with the Czech Republic.

“Corona[virus] will keep us busy in the next few months, make no mistake,” Soeder said. 

The Bavarian leader said more vaccinations and more tests were needed. Soeder also called for general practitioners, as well as company and factory doctors to start giving vaccinations. 

The RKI said Germany's seven-day incidence rate has risen to 65.8 -- representing the number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants. It is aiming to reach an incidence rate of 35 before lifting restrictions.

Soeder was speaking ahead of Wednesday’s meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime ministers of the country's federal states, when the next steps of the pandemic restrictions will be discussed.