March 16 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, CNN

Updated 0719 GMT (1519 HKT) March 17, 2021
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11:09 a.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Asymptomatic or undiagnosed Covid-19 infections in US may have been twice the official count, study suggests

From CNN's Ryan Prior

The number of US adults who have contracted the novel coronavirus could be twice the number reflected in the official case count, according to a study published Tuesday in the medical journal JAMA.

Because many people who become infected with Covid-19 do not experience symptoms, researchers at the Clinical Reference Laboratory designed a large-scale study to test for the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in otherwise healthy US adults. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus that causes Covid-19. 

The researchers enrolled 61,910 self-reported "well" participants. They tested their blood for antibodies to fight SARS-CoV-2, and found that 4,094 – or 6.6% – of them were positive, despite never reporting that they experienced symptoms.

The scientists used that information to estimate that 15.9 million asymptomatic or undiagnosed SARS-CoV-2 infections had occurred in the US as of September 30, 2020.

By contrast, the total number of confirmed positive cases was just over 7.2 million at the end of September, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

The researchers said the results of their study validate the need for ongoing population-wide surveillance testing for Covid-19.

10:53 a.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Europe is fighting a third wave of Covid-19. Here's the latest from across the continent.

From CNN's Mitchell McCluskey

A woman walks around the empty Piazza di Spagna during the first day of lockdown in Rome, Italy, on March 15.
A woman walks around the empty Piazza di Spagna during the first day of lockdown in Rome, Italy, on March 15. Antonio Masiello/Getty Images

Europe is combatting a third wave of coronavirus infections, leading some officials to restrict travel and hospitals to reallocate their resources. 

If you're just reading in, here's what you need to know about the pandemic to start your morning:

  • AstraZeneca rollout paused in some countries: The World Health Organization is set to convene today to discuss the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine as a growing number of European countries have temporarily halted the rollout of the vaccine due to reports of a handful of cases of blood clots in people who have received the shot. The suspensions go against the advice of international medical agencies, which say there's no evidence the vaccine is linked to clotting and that rollouts should continue while the reports are investigated. 
  • Italy imposes new lockdown: Italy has entered another lockdown after a surge in coronavirus cases, caused by the emergence of several new variants. In "red zone" regions, people will be unable to leave their houses except for work or health reasons, with all non-essential shops closed. In "orange zones," people will be banned from leaving their town and their region — except for work or health reasons — and bars and restaurants will only be able to do delivery and take-away service. The new measures, which effect half of Italy's 20 regions, went into effect on Monday and are set to last until April 6.
  • Crowding in French hospitals: France is facing a rise in hospitalizations, causing around 100 Covid-19 patients to be evacuated to regions where ICUs were less crowded, French officials said. Hospitals in Paris had already canceled many operations in order to focus on Covid-19 patients. Health minister Olivier Véran said a coronavirus patient was being admitted to their intensive care units every 12 minutes in Paris.
10:39 a.m. ET, March 16, 2021

European Medicines Agency verdict on AstraZeneca vaccine expected Thursday

From CNN’s Sarah Dean in London  

AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines are stored in a fridge at a vaccination center in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France, on Tuesday, March 16.
AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines are stored in a fridge at a vaccination center in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, France, on Tuesday, March 16. Bob Edme/AP

European Medicines Agency executive director Emer Cooke says “as far as she understands” the outcome of the AstraZeneca review will come on Thursday afternoon. 

“I want to also stress that at present, there is no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions. They have not come up in the clinical trials, and they're not listed as known or expected side events with this vaccine. In clinical trials, both the vaccinated people and the people who received the placebo, have shown, small, some very small numbers of blood clot developments,” Cooke said.

The Agency also said it's worried there may be an effect on the trust of vaccines because of its current investigation into AstraZeneca, but its executive director stressed “our job is to make sure that the products we authorize are safe and we can be trusted by the European citizens.”

Speaking at a digital press conference on Tuesday, Cooke added:

"I have to stress again that trust in the safety and efficacy in the vaccine we have authorized is paramount to us. Our job is to ensure we can maintain trust in these vaccines based on a proper scientific evaluation and this is why we have put such high priority on coming to a clear conclusion based on the evaluation of the cases coming in as we speak and whether or not there is a causal event.”

10:24 a.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Biden travels to Pennsylvania today to promote his Covid relief plan. Here's the latest on the law's roll out.

From CNN's Kevin Liptak

Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

President Biden launches a sales effort Tuesday that he says is critical to convincing Americans that government can make their lives better as the coronavirus pandemic continues to impact the country.

The "Help is Here" road show, which spans the country from coast to coast and includes travel by the first lady, vice president, second gentleman and Cabinet members, is partly designed to claim political credit for the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package that no Republicans voted for but which remains overwhelmingly popular among Americans.

At a small business outside Philadelphia, Biden today will trumpet the economic assistance offered by his administration to help shore up pandemic-addled sectors. Vice President Kamala Harris meanwhile is promoting the law today in Denver, Colorado.

The $1.9 trillion bill also sends billions to state and local governments, expands the child tax credit and delivers direct payments up to $1,400 to individuals.

But he'll also make the case more broadly that big government, when functioning properly, is a good thing.

"We have to prove to the American people that their government can deliver for them," Biden said Monday as he explained how the White House planned to roll out the massive new law. "That's our job," he said. "That's our responsibility."

More on the law's roll out: Many of the states that administration officials are visiting this week are critical electoral battlegrounds and the law's popularity among the American people is helping Biden and his surrogates promote the plan to Americans eager for relief.

A smooth rollout of the new law will be essential for maintaining its majority support among Americans. There were positive signs on that front this weekend as direct stimulus payments began hitting Americans' bank accounts.

But officials say there are still potential hiccups ahead, including administering the expanded child tax credit through the IRS and getting billions of dollars to state and local governments efficiently and without waste.

Biden on Monday named Gene Sperling, a top economic official in previous Democratic administrations, to oversee the implementation efforts.

Here's a guide of what Americans can expect from the law.

9:31 a.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Venezuela will not approve use of AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNN’s Claudia Rebaza, Abel Alvarado and Hira Humayun

A doctor prepares a syringe with a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm at a vaccination center in Catia, Venezuela, on March 8.
A doctor prepares a syringe with a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinopharm at a vaccination center in Catia, Venezuela, on March 8. Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuela will not approve the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, the country’s Vice President Delcy Rodriguez announced on Monday, citing “complications that have occurred to those who have been vaccinated” with it.

She said President Nicolas Maduro would not grant a license for the use of the vaccine in the country.

This comes as a long list of European countries have suspended use of the vaccine over blood clot concerns. However, the World Health Organization has appealed to countries to keep vaccination campaigns going and says there is no evidence the vaccines caused clotting issues.

Venezuela is expected to receive more than 1.4 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through the COVAX initiative but its shipment depends on the country’s payments to the program, Pan American Health Organization officials have said over the past few weeks.

The country announced it approved the use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine earlier in the month and received half a million doses from China.

In early February, Venezuela received 100,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

9:00 a.m. ET, March 16, 2021

More people flew in the last 5 days than in the 5 days after Christmas, TSA data shows

From CNN's Pete Muntean

Spring breakers traveling by air are helping to break pandemic air travel records. The Transportation Security Administration screened 6.4 million people at airports across the country between Thursday and Monday, the biggest five-day period of pandemic air travel.

TSA records show 5.6 million people flew in the five days following Christmas.  

The TSA says more than 1.2 million people flew on Monday, which is still only about half of the number TSA screened on the same day pre-pandemic. Air travel broke a one-day pandemic record on Friday when more than 1.3 million people flew — the highest number recorded since March 15, 2020.

A sign gives notice of mandatory requirements for wearing masks, at an airport in Seattle, Washington, on March 14.
A sign gives notice of mandatory requirements for wearing masks, at an airport in Seattle, Washington, on March 14. Wu Xiaoling/Xinhua/Getty Images

Struggling airlines hope they’re seeing the start of an air travel rebound, even though that’s at odds with warnings from health officials against travel.

“This is not a time to travel just because,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on AC360Monday night. “Think twice before traveling if you don’t have to.”
8:16 a.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Slovenia temporarily suspends AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

A photo illustration shows a vial containing the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Kranj, Slovenia, on February 15.
A photo illustration shows a vial containing the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Kranj, Slovenia, on February 15. Luka Dakskobler/SOPA Images/Sipa USA

The Slovenian Health Ministry advises it is temporarily suspending vaccinations with the AstraZeneca drug. 

“Slovenia is suspending administration of the AstraZeneca vaccine pending Tuesday’s decision of the European Medicines Agency (EMA)," Minister of Health Janez Poklukar said.

"The decision is based on precautionary reasons. The vaccination of persons scheduled to receive this vaccine will be rescheduled to a later date,” the Health Ministry said in a statement on its website.

The nation now joins a growing list of countries temporarily halting its rollout over blood clot concerns.

8:13 a.m. ET, March 16, 2021

WHO meets to discuss AstraZeneca vaccine as more EU countries halt rollout

From CNN's Eliza Mackintosh

The World Health Organization's vaccine safety experts were due to meet Tuesday to discuss the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, as the list of countries temporarily halting its rollout over blood clot concerns continued to grow.

On Tuesday, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Latvia and Sweden became the latest European nations to suspend its use, despite advice from international medical agencies that the benefits of getting shots into arms outweigh any potential risks.

WHO on Monday appealed to countries to keep vaccination campaigns going, saying there was no evidence the vaccine caused clotting issues.

"As of today, there is no evidence that the incidents are caused by the vaccine and it is important that vaccination campaigns continue so that we can save lives and stem severe disease from the virus," WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier said.

WHO is assessing the latest reports of thromboembolic events, but said it was "unlikely" to change its recommendations.

Europe's medicines regulator, the European Medical Authority (EMA), which authorized the use of the shot for the 27-nation bloc, is convening a special meeting Thursday to review information gathered into whether the AstraZeneca vaccine influenced clotting in vaccinated people. The EMA has also advised against halting vaccination campaigns while investigations are ongoing.

But much of Europe has gone against that advice in recent days, temporarily halting AstraZeneca shots even as the continent confronts a third wave of the pandemic, spurred by variants of the virus, and faces criticism over sluggish vaccination campaigns.

Read the full story:

 

8:13 a.m. ET, March 16, 2021

Sweden and Luxembourg pause use of AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNNs James Frater and Stephanie Halasz in London

A vial of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is seen in Dippoldiswalde, Germany, on March 15.
A vial of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine is seen in Dippoldiswalde, Germany, on March 15. Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

Sweden and Luxembourg have joined a growing list of countries suspending the use of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine over concerns about possible side effects.

The Swedish Health Ministry has decided to pause AstraZeneca vaccinations while the drug is being investigated by the European Medicines Agency and its Swedish equivalent, a press officer at the ministry confirmed.

On Tuesday, Luxembourg also announced that it has decided to "temporarily suspend" vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“This is a precautionary measure, pending the outcome of tests by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) into a number of blood problems that have occurred in people vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine," the Luxembourg government said in a statement. 
"Vaccinations with AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine will be suspended in Luxembourg until the assessment of the EMA's safety committee (PRAC) is completed. Today's decision concerns both initial and follow-up vaccinations. The EMA's assessment is expected later this week," the statement said.

Previous guidance from the EMA has said the benefits of the shot outweigh any potential risks and the number of people developing blood clots after vaccination does not seem to be higher than in the general population.

Here are the European countries that have suspended the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precautionary measure:

  • Denmark
  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Bulgaria
  • Ireland
  • Netherlands
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • France
  • Spain
  • Portugal
  • Sweden
  • Luxembourg
  • Cyprus
  • Latvia