March 3 coronavirus news

By Zamira Rahim, Kareem Khadder, Hannah Strange and Jessie Yeung, CNN

Updated 0717 GMT (1517 HKT) March 4, 2021
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10:24 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

CDC's ensemble forecast now projects up to 564,000 US Covid-19 deaths by March 27

From CNN's Ben Tinker

An ensemble forecast published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now projects there will be 540,000 to 564,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States by March 27.

Unlike some individual models, the CDC’s ensemble forecast only offers projections a few weeks into the future.

The previous ensemble forecast, published Feb. 24, projected up to 548,000 coronavirus deaths by March 20.

At least 516,616 people have died from Covid-19 in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

10:14 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Texas doctor says the nearly 350 straight days he's worked "go down the drain" after mask announcement

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Chief of Staff Doctor Joseph Varon looks across the Covid-19 ward at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas on December 4, 2020. 
Chief of Staff Doctor Joseph Varon looks across the Covid-19 ward at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas on December 4, 2020.  Mark Felix/AFP/Getty Images

Today marks the 349th straight day of work for Dr. Joseph Varon, chief medical officer at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas. 

But Varon “saw all those 348 days yesterday go down the drain” after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the lifting of mask mandates and opening businesses 100% capacity.

Varon said he is very concerned and has met with staff at his hospital to go through different strategies and getting more personal protective equipment.  

“If we open the state on the 10th, I'm telling you, before the end of March, we're going to have problems. And we had a precedent for that. Remember last year when we opened the state at the end of April. My worst months were June and July last year. So unfortunately, this is starting to look like deja vu,” Varon said on CNN’s “New Day.” 

Varon said Abbott’s decision makes no sense and that many Texans may stop wearing their masks. 

As of Monday, 6.57% of Texans have been fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.

“Despite being a huge state, we have less than 7% of vaccination. I don't know why he didn't wait until we have more percentage of the population vaccinated before he came with this move,” Varon said. 

Clay Jenkins, Dallas County judge, calls this “a political move on the part of the governor to take the attention off the power grid collapse” after devastating winter storms.  

“I wish he was more imaginative and had a better way to change the conversation than doing something dumb like this,” Jenkins said.

Jenkins added that stores can still refuse service to people who don't wear a mask, and “I think most stores will.” 

Watch:

8:05 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Mississippi lifting mask mandates will "sabotage" fight against Covid-19, Jackson mayor says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Jackson, Mississippi, Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said the governor’s announcement to end all county mask mandates will “sabotage our efforts” to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

“No one celebrates victory in the third quarter. And so, as we have the introduction of another vaccine and as we…ramp up opportunities to have more Americans vaccinated, it makes no sense that we're choosing to sabotage our efforts and put people and lives and businesses in jeopardy,” Lumumba said to CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. 

Lumumba said Gov. Tate Reeves is sending a contradictory message against health experts and that too many people won’t follow local mask mandates.

“He puts Jackson in an extremely dangerous position, because we're not only the capital of the state of Mississippi; we’re the capital of health care,” Lumumba said.

Lumumba said Jackson will continue its mask mandate until health officials say it is safe to lift it.

“That is an effort not only to protect lives, protect families, but to protect businesses, as well,” he said. 

Watch:

8:08 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Peru expects to receive 50,000 Pfizer/BioNTech doses today

From CNN’s Claudia Rebaza in London

Peru will receive a batch of 50,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday evening, President Francisco Sagasti has announced. 

The vaccines are expected to arrive on a flight landing around 7 p.m.. “We expect to receive similar amounts every week from now on,” he added Tuesday.

Peru’s government has secured 48 million doses to be delivered between now and the end of the year, Sagasti said. 

“There are few vaccines for the huge demand we have around the world. The [different] laboratories are negotiating directly with governments during this first stage when there is a global shortage of vaccines” Sagasti told journalists, referring to calls for local authorities and representatives of the private sector to be allowed to negotiate directly with vaccine producers. 

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the second to arrive in the country, after Peru secured 20 million doses. 

Peruvian President Francisco Sagasti receives a dose of the Chinese Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in Lima, Peru, on February 9.
Peruvian President Francisco Sagasti receives a dose of the Chinese Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in Lima, Peru, on February 9. Chine Nouvelle/SIPA/Shutterstock

Peru started its vaccination rollout at the beginning of February with one million Sinopharm doses and expects another two million doses of the same vaccine during March. 

The country also expects to receive 1,296,000 Oxford/AstraZeneca doses and 117,000 Pfizer doses through the Covax program between March and May this year. 

Around 300,000 health workers have been vaccinated so far with the doses provided by Sinopharm. Peru was the first country to roll out China’s Sinopharm after participating in the clinical trials. 

A total of 1,338,297 Covid-19 cases were reported by Peru’s Health Ministry on Tuesday evening with 5,358 new cases.

The country has been reporting an average of more than 6,000 new daily cases since the beginning of February and has faced a shortage of oxygen, hospital beds and ICU units during this second wave of the pandemic. 

8:21 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Fake Covid-19 vaccine network dismantled in South Africa and China, Interpol says

From CNN's James Frater in London and Niamh Kennedy in Dublin, Ireland

South African authorities seized fake COVID-19 vaccines after INTERPOL issued a global alert.
South African authorities seized fake COVID-19 vaccines after INTERPOL issued a global alert. INTERPOL

A global fake Covid-19 distribution network has been dismantled in South Africa and China and “hundreds of illicit vaccines seized with arrests made across two continents,” says Interpol, which represents 194 international police forces.

In a statement published Wednesday, Interpol said that in South Africa, “some 400 ampoules -- equivalent to around 2,400 doses -- containing the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, Gauteng."

 “Officers also recovered a large quantity of fake 3M masks and arrested three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national,” the statement added.

Doses of the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, South Africa.
Doses of the fake vaccine were found at a warehouse in Germiston, South Africa. INTERPOL

In China, “police successfully identified a network selling counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines, raided the manufacturing premises, resulting in the arrest of some 80 suspects, and seized more than 3,000 fake vaccines on the scene," the agency said.

"Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Covid-19 vaccine related crime,” said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Public Security remarked that "the Chinese government attaches great importance to vaccine security" and will continue to "further strengthen the constructive cooperation with Interpol" to crack down on illegal vaccine crimes, according to the Interpol statement. 

Interpol said it was also dealing with “additional reports of fake vaccine distribution and scam attempts targeting health bodies, such as nursing homes.”

The agency has warned the public “that no approved vaccines are currently available for sale online. Any vaccine being advertised on websites or the dark web, will not be legitimate, will not have been tested and may be dangerous.”

Anyone who purchases these fake vaccines is “putting themselves at risk and giving their money to organized criminals,” the statement concluded.

7:25 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Israel partially re-opens borders for citizens

From CNN's Hadas Gold and Amir Tal in Jerusalem

A cleaner works in a deserted Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 1, ahead of the partial re-opening of borders.
A cleaner works in a deserted Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, on March 1, ahead of the partial re-opening of borders. Jack Guez//AFP/Getty Images

Israel will partially re-open its skies for citizens to leave and enter after an unprecedented closure which has lasted nearly six weeks.This will allow a greater number of Israelis to return to the country in time to vote in the general election on March 23. 

Transport Minister Miri Regev announced that starting Sunday, March 7, up to 1,000 passengers will be allowed to enter Israel’s main Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv each day. One week later the number will increase to 3,000 passengers allowed to enter per day from all entry points.

All passengers will still be required to undergo tests before and after arriving. Those who cannot prove they have been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 will be required to either enter home quarantine wearing a new electronic tracking bracelet, or stay in state-run quarantine hotels. 

Vaccinated Israelis will be allowed to leave the country to certain specific destinations, while unvaccinated Israelis will still have to apply for special permission to leave. Foreign nationals still need to apply for special permission to enter or leave the country. 

Thousands of Israelis said they were stranded abroad or stuck in Israel after the government imposed a near total ban on entries and exits.

An exceptions committee, which was convened to hand out limited special permissions to enter or exit the country, has come under harsh scrutiny and accusations of mismanagement.

The government has also faced lawsuits, which claim the border closures would impede on Israeli citizens’ right to vote.

7:18 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Rwanda receives first batch of vaccines through the COVAX initiative, health ministry says

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in Pisa, Italy

Staff transport a load of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines into a refrigerated vehicle during the arrival of the first batch of doses at the Kigali International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 3.
Staff transport a load of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines into a refrigerated vehicle during the arrival of the first batch of doses at the Kigali International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda, on March 3. AFP/Getty Images

Rwanda has received its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines through the COVAX initiative, the country's Health Ministry tweeted Wednesday.

"The first batch of 240,000 doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine arrived in Kigali on Wednesday morning. A second shipment of 102,960 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, also from the COVAX facility, is expected to arrive on Wednesday afternoon," the ministry said in a statement.

Administration of the doses will begin on Friday, it added.

Both vaccines will be used to vaccinate a total of 171,480 people identified as priority risk groups, including health personnel, those aged over-65 year olds or with underlying health conditions, and other frontline workers, the statement said.

Health Minister Daniel Ngamije said the government's target is to vaccinate 30% of the population by the end of 2021 and 60% by the end of 2022.

Kenya and Nigeria received Covid-19 vaccines on Tuesday as part of the global COVAX program. 

The vaccine scheme's mission is to buy coronavirus vaccines in bulk and send them to poorer nations that can't compete with wealthy countries in securing contracts with the major drug companies.

6:41 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Biden urges patience on Covid as Republican governors go rogue on US state reopenings

From CNN's Stephen Collinson

US President Joe Biden is barreling into his first science-vs.-politics showdown with powerful Southern Republican governors, one that could define the outcome of the race to vaccinate enough Americans before variants take hold.

Biden on Tuesday warned the country to dig in for a while longer as he flexed sweeping wartime powers under the Defense Production Act in another big leap forward in the inoculation drive, announcing there would be enough doses for all US adults by the end of May. He unveiled a pioneering plan for pharmaceutical giant Merck to make a vaccine developed by its rival Johnson & Johnson.

"There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we cannot let our guard down now to ensure victory is inevitable; we can't assume that. We must remain vigilant, act fast and aggressively and look out for one another," the President said.

But the governors of Texas and Mississippi defied federal government warnings to not relax restrictions and open their economies too fast, going it alone as new infections plateau at high levels and fears grow over a huge spike in the coming weeks. On Monday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had warned that with variants spreading, "we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained."

Read more:

8:02 a.m. ET, March 3, 2021

Pope's visit to Iraq must go on as "act of love" despite Covid concerns, Vatican says

From CNN’s Delia Gallagher in Rome and Ben Wedeman in Baghdad, Iraq 

An Iraqi civil defence worker sprays disinfectant in front of a mural depicting Pope Francis at the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, Iraq, on March 2.
An Iraqi civil defence worker sprays disinfectant in front of a mural depicting Pope Francis at the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, Iraq, on March 2. Ameer Al Mohammedaw/dpa/picture alliance/Getty Images

Ahead of Pope Francis’ historic trip to Iraq Friday, the Vatican says the visit will go ahead despite rising Covid-19 infections there.

“All the precautions have been taken from a health point of view,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told journalists at a briefing on Tuesday. 

“The best way to interpret the journey is as an act of love; it’s a gesture of love from the Pope to the people of this land who need to receive it,” he said.

When questioned by journalists about the potential risks to Iraqis of a spread of coronavirus, Bruni said that the Pope “will not encounter crowds.”

“He will travel in a closed car and it will be difficult to see him from the street. But even to see him on TV will be worth it,” he said.

On Wednesday, the Pope urged Catholics to pray for a successful trip. “I ask you to accompany with prayer this apostolic trip, so that it might take place in the best of ways and bring home the desired results.
"The Iraqi people are waiting for us. They had waited for Pope John II, who was prohibited from going. We cannot disappoint a country (a people) for the second time. Let’s pray so that this trip can be done well.” 

Pope Francis and his entourage have all been vaccinated against Covid-19, the Vatican said -- despite the announcement by its embassy in Iraq on Sunday that its ambassador, Mitra Leskovar, has tested positive for Covid-19.

The Pope will be staying at the Vatican embassy throughout his trip, the Vatican said on Tuesday. Ambassador Leskovar has been transferred to another residence.

The Pope will visit Najaf, a site sacred to Shia Muslims, where Mohammed’s son-in-law, Imam Ali, is buried. 

Najaf is home to one of the most important teaching centers in the Islamic world, and there Pope Francis will meet privately with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most influential Shia Muslim leaders.

“The significance of the meeting goes beyond just the meeting itself,” Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said on Tuesday.

Pope Francis has made dialogue with Muslims a cornerstone of his papacy. In 2019, he famously signed a joint document with Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the head of the top Sunni Muslim authority and university of Al-Azhar, in Abu Dhabi, encouraging peace among people of different faiths.
“The Pope goes to Iraq looking for his brothers and comes as a brother,” Bruni said.

In Qaraqosh, Francis will meet Christians at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception which was almost wholly destroyed by ISIS 2016-17; the church’s courtyard was used during the ISIS occupation as a firing range. 

The declining Christian population in Iraq is one of the major reasons for the Pope’s trip, according to the Vatican.

“I am a pastor of people who are suffering,” the Pope said in an interview last month with Catholic News Service, discussing his upcoming trip.

In Ur, Francis will also meet with some representatives of Iraq’s minority Yazidi community, which suffered killings and enslavement by ISIS in 2014.