March 15 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 0741 GMT (1541 HKT) March 16, 2021
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10:50 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

European countries suspend AstraZeneca vaccinations despite advice from EU medicines regulator

From CNN’s Mick Krever and Eliza Mackintosh in London

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge arrives at the Binnenhof for the weekly Council of Ministers meeting in The Hague on March 5.
Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge arrives at the Binnenhof for the weekly Council of Ministers meeting in The Hague on March 5. Koen van Weel/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

The Netherlands on Sunday became the latest European nation to suspend AstraZeneca vaccinations over blood clot concerns despite advice from the European Union's medicines regulator that the benefits of the shot outweigh any potential risks.

Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Bulgaria and Ireland have also halted the vaccinations.

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said on Monday that a “rare combination” of blood clots and lowered blood platelets in several AstraZeneca vaccine recipients in Norway and Denmark was “enough reason” to pause use of the vaccine in the Netherlands for two weeks.

While any causality remains an open question, reports about six cases in Norway and Denmark had given the Netherlands' medicine authority enough reason "to press the pause button,” de Jonge said.

“Thrombosis is of course a very common complaint. And so if you are vaccinating a large group of people, it’s not crazy that there will also be people with thrombosis after vaccination. But in this case it is a very rare combination of thrombosis in which bleeding can also occur due to a reduced number of platelets,” he added.

The Health Minister had said as recently as Thursday that blood clots were occurring “not because of vaccination,” and that there was “no cause for concern.”

In a letter to parliament sent on Sunday, de Jonge wrote that the pause would be in effect until March 29, “pending further advice from the EMA," or European Medicines Agency.

The EMA on Thursday advised that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks, and did not recommend suspending its use while investigation into thromboembolic events are ongoing. 

The EMA said it was aware that Denmark was suspending AstraZeneca vaccinations due to reports of blood clots in people who had received it, but said: “There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine.” 

The Danish Medicines Agency on Monday said the woman who died of a blood clot after receiving AstraZeneca in Denmark had an “unusual picture of illness around the death,” with a low number of platelets, blood clots in small and large vessels and bleeding.

“The clinical picture is highly unusual and is currently being thoroughly investigated by the European Medicines Agency," the agency said in a statement.

Denmark is one of six European countries to suspend AstraZeneca's use despite the EMA's recommendation.

  • Denmark: On Thursday, March 11, Denmark suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations for 14 days as a “precautionary measure” as it investigates “signs of a possible serious side effect in the form of fatal blood clots” after one Danish person died following vaccination, according to Danish health officials.
  • Norway: On Thursday, March 11, Norway chose to “pause” vaccinations following reports of the death in Denmark. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said similar cases had been reported in Norway, but “mainly in the elderly where there is often another underlying disease as well.” 
  • Iceland: On Thursday, March 11, Iceland suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. There have been no reports of patients developing blood clots in the country. 
  • Bulgaria: On Friday, March 12, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov ordered a halt to all AstraZeneca vaccinations until the EMA “rejects all doubts” about the vaccine's safety.
  • Ireland: On Sunday, March 14, Ireland decided to temporarily suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to "maintain confidence" in its vaccine program, according to the Chairman of its National Immunization Advisory Committee.
  • Netherlands: On Sunday, March 14, the Dutch government said it would pause AstraZeneca vaccinations for two weeks “as a precautionary measure and pending further investigation.”
7:43 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

China has administered nearly 65 million Covid-19 vaccine doses

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

A medical worker prepares to administer a Sinovac Biotech Covid-19 vaccine in Hangzhou, China, on March 15.
A medical worker prepares to administer a Sinovac Biotech Covid-19 vaccine in Hangzhou, China, on March 15. STR/AFP/Getty Images

China has administered 64.98 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines as of Sunday, health authorities said Monday.

The Chinese government hopes to vaccinate 40% of the country's 1.4 billion people by June, respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan said previously.

Four domestic-made vaccines have been approved for conditional public use in China, two produced by state-owned Sinopharm, one by Sinovac Biotech and another by CanSinoBio.

4:43 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Hong Kong expands priority groups for vaccine as city confronts growing cluster

From CNN's Carol Yuan in Hong Kong

Pharmacists are seen at a vaccination center run by the University of Hong Kong on March 13.
Pharmacists are seen at a vaccination center run by the University of Hong Kong on March 13. Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Hong Kong will expand its coronavirus vaccination drive to include people aged 30 to 59, authorities announced Monday, as the city faces a growing cluster of infections linked to a gym.

The expanded vaccine program, effective from Tuesday, will also include students over 16 years old studying abroad and domestic workers. It is expected to cover about 5.5 million of the city's roughly 7 million population.

The city will also open 12 more centers for the Fosun-BioNTech vaccine starting Tuesday.

Speaking at a news conference Monday, the city's officials said vaccination rates are currently “good” and that they may consider further relaxing social distancing rules if the public complies with measures such as mask-wearing.

2:55 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Papua New Guinea reports surge in Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Akanksha Sharma

Papua New Guinea reported 90 new Covid-19 cases Saturday, continuing a recent surge in infections that is raising concerns in the Pacific Island nation and in neighboring Australia.

Following a rise in cases since late February, PNG has now reported 2,173 total infections, with 21 related deaths, a government news release said Monday. 

Addressing a news conference Monday, the leader of Australia's Queensland state, Annastacia Palaszczuk, said she hoped to speak with PNG Prime Minister James Marape in the next 24 hours.

“We have major concerns about what’s happening in Papua New Guinea.” Palaszczuk said.
"We have been assisting with some [Covid-19] tests in Papua New Guinea and out of the 500 tests that our health authorities have done for Papua New Guinea, 250 have come back positive", she added.

The controller of the PNG Covid-19 national pandemic response, Police Commissioner David Manning, called on everyone in the country to follow the health measures in place to prevent further spread of the virus.

“We must do all we can to ensure this virus does not spread to the rural and remote areas of our country," Manning said in the National Health Department’s news release.

On March 9, Marape, the PNG Prime Minister, announced regulatory approval for the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, adding “we are now in the process of getting the vaccine across, hopefully by April”.

2:36 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

100 arrested as spring break crowds hit Miami Beach despite the pandemic

From CNN's Natasha Chen and Susannah Cullinane

About 100 people have been arrested and two police officers injured as spring break crowds gathered in Florida's Miami Beach over the weekend, the city says.

Miami Beach Police arrested 30 people Saturday night, following Friday night's unruly crowds that resulted in two Miami Beach police officers being sent to the hospital with injuries, the police department said in a post on Twitter.

Friday night's incident involved a large crowd which was "disorderly and surrounding officers," another tweet said. Miami Beach police tweeted that they used pepper balls to disperse the group.

CNN affiliate WPLG reported that Miami Beach police officers are working 12-hour shifts.

The weekend's approximately 100 arrests included some for the seizure of weapons and drugs, city of Miami Beach spokeswoman Veronica Payssé told CNN on Sunday.

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10:55 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Netherlands pauses use of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Mick Krever in London

Boxes of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccines in Oss, Netherlands on February 12.
Boxes of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccines in Oss, Netherlands on February 12. Remko de Waal/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

The Netherlands has joined a growing list of countries suspending use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine following reports of possible side effects post inoculation.

The Dutch government said Sunday it will pause the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for two weeks “as a precautionary measure and pending further investigation.”

The decision came just days after Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said there was “no cause for concern,” and that vaccinations could continue. In a statement Sunday, the Dutch Health Ministry said its Medicines Evaluations Board (CBG) had received “new information” over the weekend.

The statement said as yet no “causal relationship” has been established between the vaccine and the newly reported side effects from Denmark and Norway, but that it would pause use of the AstraZeneca vaccine until March 29.

“The CBG indicates that a total of six new reports of possible side effects have been received from Denmark and Norway. These are serious, rare signs of clot formation (thrombosis) and a reduced number of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia) in adults under age 50," the statement said, adding that no such cases have yet occurred in the Netherlands.
“The crucial question is whether this is about complaints after vaccination, or caused by vaccination,” De Jonge said in the statement. “There cannot be a single doubt about the vaccines.”

AstraZeneca has robustly defended its vaccine, saying in a statement Sunday there were no confirmed quality issues for any batch of the drug, and "no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or thrombocytopenia" for people who had received it.

Some context: The Netherlands is the latest European country to partially or fully suspend its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine following reports of patients developing blood clots after inoculations.

  • Austria was the first to sound the alarm on the potential dangers of the vaccine, suspending one batch of doses last Tuesday.
  • Italy banned the use of vaccines from a specific batch of AstraZeneca doses last Friday, after a man in Sicily died of cardiac arrest one day after receiving his first dose of the vaccine.
  • Denmark became the first European country to temporarily suspend the entire rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine last Thursday, followed by Iceland, Norway and Ireland.

The European Union's medicines regulator, the EMA, is currently investigating whether the shot could be linked to a number of reports of blood clots.

2:38 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Fauci says Covid guidelines "will be much more liberal" by July 4 if US cases drop

From CNN's Devan Cole

Federal Covid-19 guidelines "will be much more liberal" by the Fourth of July if US cases drop as more Americans are vaccinated, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday.

"If by the time we get to the Fourth of July, with the rollout of the vaccine, we get the level of infection so low -- I'm not going to be able to tell you exactly what the specific guidelines of the (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) are, but I can tell you for sure (guidelines) will be much more liberal than they are right now about what you can do," the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."

Asked whether people will return to a degree of normalcy without masks and distancing by the summer holiday, Fauci, President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, replied: "Yes ... there will be a greater degree of confidence" in that.

The comments from Fauci come nearly a week after the CDC released new guidance saying people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 can safely visit with other vaccinated people and small groups of unvaccinated people in some circumstances.

The agency is still urging unvaccinated Americans to socially distance from people who don't live in their home, wear masks and avoid crowds, measures that have been critical to slowing the spread of the deadly virus over the past year.

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