March 18 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, Brett McKeehan and Kara Fox, CNN

Updated 0748 GMT (1548 HKT) March 19, 2021
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10:01 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

WHO working on "smart digital certificate," official says

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

World Health Organization European director Hans Kluge, speaks during a joint press conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 27, 2020.
World Health Organization European director Hans Kluge, speaks during a joint press conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, on March 27, 2020. Ida Guldbaek Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images

The World Health Organization is working on "a smart digital certificate," WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said, making a point of distinguishing it from a “vaccine passport.” 

"We encourage very strongly – as with any vaccine – that there is a documentation, whether this is paper-based or preferably digital. And that's why WHO is working on a smart digital certificate,” Kluge said during a news conference Thursday. 

“But this is something different than a passport. We do not encourage at this stage that getting a vaccination is the determining whether you can travel internationally or not. It should not be a requirement," Kluge said.

Kluge cited several reasons for the distinction:

  • First, an ethical one: "There is a global shortage of vaccines. So this would increase the inequities, and if there's one thing that we learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, it is that the vulnerable people got hit disproportionally." 
  • Second, he said, there is scientific reason: "We are not sure yet how long the immunity lasts.” And, he said, people who have been vaccinated may still be able to transmit the infection.
  • Third, there is a "practical reason." Kluge said that, as WHO is working within an "international trusted framework, we have to document whether people got the vaccine." 

Kluge’s comments come a day after the European Commission unveiled its proposal for a "Digital Green Certificate," or vaccine passport, to allow for safe and free movement within the EU during the pandemic.

9:59 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Spring breakers need to think about their effects on residents during pandemic, Miami mayor says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said controlling spring break crowds is a “tremendous challenge.”

Suarez, a Republican, said that leaders and residents have worked hard for months to decrease Covid-19 spread, but that may not translate for visitors. 

“We've spent a lot of time and energy and gotten all of our major indicators down. Obviously, spring break brings a flood of tourists and they may not be thinking as conscientiously as the people who stay here and have to deal with other repercussions later,” Suarez said on CNN’s “New Day.”

“They may not be as careful. They, obviously, want to have a good time. When they're having a good time, they may not be as concerned about how their actions are impacting others. … We've been trying to work together to message it correctly and make sure that people know they need to be safe as they have fun,” he said. 

Suarez also said that while he has publicly disagreed with some of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decisions during the Covid-19 pandemic, he has to “commend him in a sense” because the economy in his city is not feeling the repercussions as much as others across the country.

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9:45 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

African countries likely to soon experience third wave of Covid-19, WHO says

From CNN's Bethlehem Feleke

Several African countries are likely headed toward a third wave of Covid-19 in the coming weeks after reporting an increase in cases, WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moet warned in a virtual news briefing Thursday.

Although new cases on the continent have dropped by 40% compared to the previous month, there has been an upward trend of confirmed cases in 12 countries, including Botswana, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya and Guinea, Moeti said. She did not list all 12.

She cited population fatigue toward health measures and the rolling back of government restrictions as part of the reason cases are on the rise in a number of countries.

More than 16 million doses of the vaccine have been delivered to 27 African countries so far.  

"I encourage countries to continue with their vaccination campaigns and not to pause as we are in a race against time," Moeti said. The WHO anticipates "all African countries will receive their first deliveries by the end of March."

In response to the death of Tanzanian President John Magufuli – one of the region’s most prominent Covid deniers – Moeti reiterated the WHO remains ready to support Tanzania to reintroduce health measures, work toward acquiring vaccinations for the population and resume reporting cases.

"We have constantly been communicating with and engaging with the Tanzanian government on the measures to be undertaken, providing our advice on prevention, the public health measures and of course emphasizing the importance of sharing information so that the WHO can share with other countries,” she said.

9:03 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

770,000 Americans filed initial claims for unemployment benefits last week

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe

In this photo illustration, a person files an application for unemployment benefits.
In this photo illustration, a person files an application for unemployment benefits. Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images

Last week, 770,000 Americans filed initial claims for unemployment benefits on a seasonally adjusted basis as the pandemic continues to hammer the economy, the Department of Labor reported Thursday.

It was an increase from the prior week and 70,000 claims more than economists had expected. It was also nearly three times as many claims as in the same week last year, just before the pandemic layoffs made benefit claims skyrocket.

On top of that, 282,394 filed for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program open to the self-employed and gig workers. Added together, more than 1 million people filed for first-time benefits last week, without seasonal adjustments.

Continued claims, which count people who have filed for benefits for at least two weeks in a row, stood at 4.1 million adjusted for seasonal swings.

In total, more than 18 million American workers received benefits under the government's various programs in the week ended Feb. 27.

A year after the pandemic shut down the US economy, America's workers are still hurting. For the past 12 months, first-time claims for jobless benefits have been higher than during the worst moments of the Great Recession.

Economists, politicians and workers alike are hoping that the continued vaccine rollout and warmer weather that allows more outdoor social activities will help the economy heal at a faster pace in the coming months.

8:28 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Pandemic air travel just hit its biggest week, according to TSA data

From CNN's Pete Muntean

Travelers are seen at Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah, on Wednesday, March 17.
Travelers are seen at Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah, on Wednesday, March 17. Rick Bowmer/AP

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has screened more than a million passengers per day over the last seven days, marking the biggest week of air travel since the pandemic began.

More than 8.7 million people have flown in the last week, the first time that TSA figures have exceed a million for seven consecutive days since the pandemic began.

Even still, new numbers are about half of what they were pre-pandemic.

The TSA screened 1.1 million people at airports on Wednesday, which exceeded 953,699 screenings on March 17, 2020 – a first during the pandemic, but at odds with health officials who continue to warn against travel. 

Now the question is whether this surge in travel will lead to a surge of the virus.

Health officials say they are looking at travel now for clues on how best to relax CDC restrictions for those who are fully vaccinated— something health officials said would be premature without more data. 

On Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said that they are "revisiting the travel question."

10:03 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

More than 500 people in UK put on 'Do Not Resuscitate' orders without consent, study says 

From CNN's Duarte Mendonça


More than 500 people in the United Kingdom were put on “do not resuscitate” orders without their consent or their carers’ consent during the coronavirus pandemic, a study released by the country’s Care Quality Commission (CQC) reported Thursday.

“From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were concerns that ‘do not attempt cardiopulmonary resuscitation’ (DNACPR) decisions were being made without involving people, or their families and/or carers if so wished, and were being applied to groups of people, rather than taking into account each person’s individual circumstances,” according to the study from the independent regulator of health and social care in England.

Out of 2,048 adult social care providers who responded to the CQC's information request, 5.2% (508 out of 9,679) of DNACPR decisions put in place since March 17, 2020 "had not been agreed in discussion with the person, their relative or carer,” the study said.

The report includes at least one case study of a man whose death may have involved an involuntary order not to resuscitate. 

“Jim, who was in his 80s, was taken to hospital at the beginning of the pandemic after becoming unwell with a chest infection. Jim, who still worked, had normally been fit, well and active and went out most weeks in his car to visit friends or go to the cinema,” the report said.
“About 12 hours after being admitted to hospital Jim called [his daughter] Melanie. He was upset and confused, and told her he had signed away his life and was going to die. He told her that a doctor had put an order in place that they wouldn’t restart his heart if it stopped. He was upset that he had agreed to it because he didn’t want to die.”
The daughter told the commission she had tried to speak to medical and nursing staff about the decision. 
“Because Jim was able to make decisions about his care, no one had discussed the decision with her,” she said, according to the report. “However, she was concerned that her dad was vulnerable because he was ill, likely to be confused as he had a bad infection, and he was all alone. She felt he would have just gone with what they told him.”
“Jim died while in hospital,” the report said.

The report is a result of a request from the Department of Health and Social Care to the CQC to conduct a “rapid review of how DNACPR decisions were used during the coronavirus pandemic, building on concerns that they were being inappropriately applied to groups of people without their knowledge.”

“It is unacceptable for any DNACPR decisions to be made without proper conversations with the individual, or an appropriate representative, taking into account their wishes and needs,” the report said. 

An interim report from the CQC in November 2020 revealed “a combination of unprecedented pressure on care providers and rapidly developing guidance may have led to decisions concerning DNACPR being incorrectly conflated with other clinical assessments around critical care,” CQC said. 

Despite positive feedback from most care providers, CQC revealed some concerns regarding the use of “blanket” DNACPR decisions proposed at a local level. 

“Across the review process, whilst inspectors did find some examples of good practice, they also found a worrying picture of poor involvement of people using services, poor record keeping, and a lack of oversight and scrutiny of the decisions being made,” the study said.

The CQC called for government action to address a "worrying variation" in people's experiences of DNACPR decisions and “to take responsibility for delivering improvements in this vital and sensitive area.”

The CQC’s goal with the plea to ministers is to have a bigger focus on “information, training and support,” as well as a “consistent national approach to advance care planning” and “improved oversight and assurance,” it said.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the date the CQC interim report was released.

6:23 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Tanzania's President, who told citizens to 'pray coronavirus away,' is dead

From CNN's Bethlehem Feleke, Linus Kaikai and Amy Woodyatt

Tanzanian President John Magafuli, whose Covid-19 policies were widely criticized by health authorities across the globe, has died.

Magafuli died at a hospital in Dar es Salaam, the country's vice president announced in a televised address on Wednesday. He was 61.

"President John Magufuli died of a heart ailment that he has battled for over 10 years," Samia Suluhu Hassan said.

She added that the president had been receiving treatment at Mzena hospital since Sunday, and announced 14 days of national mourning.

Magufuli, who usually made weekly public appearances at Sunday church services, had not been seen since February 27, fueling speculation that he was ill and was being treated abroad.

The late leader of the East African nation was a polarizing figure.

Early on in the pandemic, Magufuli downplayed the coronavirus and urged his citizens to "pray coronavirus away," believing the "satanic virus can't live in the body of Jesus Christ," and blaming the growing number of positive cases on faulty test kits.

In June, he claimed his country had eradicated coronavirus "by the grace of God," questioned the safety of foreign Covid-19 vaccines and made no plan to procure any shots for his country, instead pushing for the use of herbal medicine and steam treatments.

Tanzania hasn't reported Covid-19 figures since April 2020, prompting the World Health Organization to call for Tanzania to publish data on the coronavirus and ramp up public health measures.

Last month, the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam warned that Covid-19 cases had been surging since January.

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6:41 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Korean Air to begin trialing travel pass with flights to LA in April

From CNN's Gawon Bae in Seoul

A Korean Air plane arrives at Los Angeles International Airport in California on September 15, 2020.
A Korean Air plane arrives at Los Angeles International Airport in California on September 15, 2020. AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

Korean Air announced that its customers will be among the first in the world to gain access to International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s travel pass, an app that proves a passenger’s Covid-19 testing result as well as its vaccination status, according to the airline’s communication team.

Billing itself as "a global and standardized solution to validate and authenticate all country regulations regarding Covid-19 passenger travel requirements," the IATA Travel Pass  works in four ways.

  • There's a global registry of health requirements, so passengers can check what's needed in order to enter the destinations they hope to visit.
  • Then, travelers can check out the global registry of testing and vaccination centers so they can set up appointments before their departure.
  • Authorized labs and test centers can then securely share test and vaccination certificates with passengers through the app.
  • Finally, travelers can manage their digital identity for contactless travel: creating a digital version of their passport on their phone, receiving and sharing Covid-19 testing or vaccination certificates, and managing other travel documentation, too.

Korean Air said that it is testing the IATA Travel Pass in preparations for a safe and convenient air travel in the post-Covid era. 

The airline will conduct an internal test in April and do a trial for the Incheon-Los Angeles KE011 flight scheduled in May. 

The passengers will be able to take Covid-19 antigen test at the Incheon Airport’s testing center and receive the result on the Travel Pass within an hour, according to Korean Air.

4:20 a.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Turkey records its highest daily coronavirus caseload this year

From CNN's Isil Sariyuce in Istanbul  

Health care workers help Covid-19 patients in the intensive treatment unit of Health Sciences University Kanuni Training and Research Hospital in Trabzon, Turkey, on March 15.
Health care workers help Covid-19 patients in the intensive treatment unit of Health Sciences University Kanuni Training and Research Hospital in Trabzon, Turkey, on March 15. Hakan Burak Altunoz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Turkey on Wednesday reported 18,912 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours -- the country's highest daily caseload this year, according to its health ministry.

Turkey has so far reported more than 2.9 million cases and a total of 29,696 related deaths, with 73 new fatalities announced on Wednesday, the ministry said.  

Turkey's highest single-day increase in infections since the pandemic began was in early December, when it recorded more than 33,000 daily infections. 

The country is facing a resurge in infections following the easing of its Covid-19 restrictions earlier this month, including reopening restaurants and partially reopening schools.  

About 12 million doses of the Chinese-made Sinovac coronavirus vaccine have so far been administered in Turkey, with frontline health workers and people over 65 years old prioritized.