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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3:05 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

66% of US adults age 65 and older have received at least one shot of Covid-19 vaccine, CDC data shows

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

A medical worker draws COVID-19 vaccine from its vial during a public vaccination event at Washington National Cathedral on March 16 in Washington, DC.
A medical worker draws COVID-19 vaccine from its vial during a public vaccination event at Washington National Cathedral on March 16 in Washington, DC. Alex Wong/Getty Images

About 116 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in the United States, according to data published Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC reported that 115,730,008 total doses have been administered – about 77% of the 151,108,445 doses delivered.

That’s about 2.7 million more administered doses reported since yesterday, for a seven-day average of about 2.5 million doses per day.

About 22.7% of the population – 75 million people – have received at least one dose of vaccine, and 12.3% of the population – about 41 million people – have been fully vaccinated.

Among Americans 65 and older, 66.3% have now received at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, and 38.6% are now fully vaccinated

Note: Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been given on the day reported. 

2:41 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

1 person enters intensive care every 4 minutes in France, prime minister says

From CNN's Schams Elwazer

French Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks during a press conference in Paris on March 18.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks during a press conference in Paris on March 18. Martin Bureau/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said the coronavirus pandemic is “accelerating considerably” and said it was “becoming clearer and clearer that it’s a third wave.”

The prime minister explained that at the moment, one person is entering intensive care every four minutes in France with Covid-19.

He said what is even more worrying is that – compared to previous waves – people being hospitalized with the disease are younger and healthier.

Castex said France recorded 35,000 new infections Thursday, a rise of 23.6% in the last week, and that the variant identified in the UK accounts for three quarters of cases.

1:47 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Italy and Cyprus will resume use of AstraZeneca vaccine Friday

From CNN's Antonia Mortensen and Chris Liakos

A medical worker fills a syringe from a vial of the British-Swedish AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine on March 9 at the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci in Milan, Italy.
A medical worker fills a syringe from a vial of the British-Swedish AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine on March 9 at the National Museum of Science and Technology Leonardo Da Vinci in Milan, Italy. Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Italy and Cyprus announced plans to resume use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday following a recommendation by the European Medicines Agency Thursday that the benefits of the vaccine far outweigh the risks.

Italy’s medicines regulator, AIFA, considers that “the reasons behind the precautionary ban on the use of vaccine batches, issued on March 15, 2021, no longer exist,” according to the Italian Health Ministry press office.

On Friday “as soon as the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) releases its opinion, AIFA will proceed to revoke the ban on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, thus allowing a complete resumption of the vaccination campaign starting at 15.00,” the statement added. 

In a government statement, Cyprus said, “Following today’s scientific conclusion from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), which clarifies that after a thorough investigation there is no link between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the thrombo-embolic events reported by EU countries and that the vaccine is considered safe and effective, the Ministry of Health announces that from tomorrow, March 19, 2021, vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine will resume."

1:38 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Boris Johnson says he'll receive AstraZeneca's vaccine tomorrow

From CNN's Schams Elwazer

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at Colham Manor primary school during a constituency visit on March 18 in Uxbridge, England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks at Colham Manor primary school during a constituency visit on March 18 in Uxbridge, England. Leon Neal/Getty Images

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson continued to reassure the British public about the safety of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, saying that he himself will receive the vaccine on Friday.

The UK’s medicines regulator has confirmed that “the benefits of the vaccine in preventing Covid far outweigh any risks and people should continue to get their vaccine when asked to do so,” Johnson said at Downing Street. 

“It’s also very important for our European friends that today the European Medicine’s Agency came to a clear scientific conclusion – and I quote – 'this is a safe and effective vaccine.'”

What we know: Earlier today, the European Medicines Agency concluded that the AstraZeneca vaccine "is safe and effective in preventing Covid-19 and its benefits continued to be far greater than its risks.”

Dr. Sabine Straus, chair of the EMA’s Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC), said the committee “has found no evidence of a quality of batch issue.”

“The committee also concluded that the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events, or blood clots,” EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said.  

However Cooke added that the agency “cannot rule out definitely a link” between blood clot cases and the vaccine.

1:09 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Biden administration in talks to send 2.5 million AstraZeneca vaccines to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Kylie Atwood and Betsy Klein

President Joe Biden walks toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on March 16 in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden walks toward Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on March 16 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed Thursday that the US has 7 million releasable doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, and the Biden administration is working to finalize plans to lend 2.5 million doses to Mexico and 1.5 million to Canada. 

Biden could announce the agreement upon finalization as soon as Friday. CNN reported Wednesday night that negotiations between the US, Mexico and Canada were ongoing. If the agreement comes together, it would be the first time the US has shared vaccines directly with another country. 

Several European countries have temporarily halted the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine over a small number of blood clot concerns. The European Medicines Agency said Thursday that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine “is safe and effective in preventing Covid-19 and its benefits continued to be far greater than its risks.” The committee however could not “rule out definitively” a possible link to a rare blood clotting disorder.

Biden has met virtually with both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. During both conversations, his counterparts pressed him on the need for more vaccines in their countries. The Biden administration has so far maintained the stance that they would not share vaccines until all Americans could be vaccinated. 

Mexican government officials pressed Biden officials on helping with vaccine supply during conversations between both parties regarding the surge on the southern US border. It was part of a broader discussion and not necessarily an exchange of one for the other, an official told CNN. 

The US has a limited amount of AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine in stockpile, but the vaccine has not been authorized for emergency use in the US yet. AstraZeneca has been approved for use in both Canada and Mexico. 

The Biden administration will eventually share excess vaccines — beyond the AstraZeneca doses — and does not see joint efforts alongside US allies as precluding them from unilaterally donating vaccines to other countries down the road, according to the senior administration official.

1:00 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

CDC expected to update its physical distancing guidelines for schools tomorrow

From CNN’s Elizabeth Cohen and Maggie Fox

Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal coronavirus response on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 18.
Director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the federal coronavirus response on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 18. Anna Moneymaker/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to update its physical distancing guidelines for schools from 6 feet to 3 feet on Friday, an administration official confirms to CNN.

US health officials have pointed to a study published last week that showed “no significant difference” in rates of Covid-19 at Massachusetts public schools that had implemented social distancing rules of more than 3 feet apart compared to those with rules to stay more than 6 feet apart.

“Indeed, because six feet has been such a challenge there, science has leaned in and there are now emerging studies on the question between three feet and six feet,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Sen. Susan Collins during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Thursday.

“This is an urgent issue,” Walensky said.

1:25 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

Massachusetts loosens restrictions for a range of indoor and outdoor venues

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

A general view of Gillette Stadium is seen on December 28, 2020, in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
A general view of Gillette Stadium is seen on December 28, 2020, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images

Massachusetts is loosening restrictions and announcing new operation guidelines for sports and entertainment venues, as well as replacing its travel advisory starting Monday, the governor said.

As of March 22, large capacity sports and entertainment venues – including indoor and outdoor stadiums, arenas and ball parks – will be permitted to operate at strict 12% capacity limit after submitting a plan to the Department of Public Health.

In addition, Gov. Charlie Baker said a range of previously closed business sectors will open under tight capacity restrictions:

  • Gathering limits for event venues will increase to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors.
  • Outdoor gatherings at private residences and in private yards will remain at a maximum of 25 people, with indoor gatherings remaining at 10 people.
  • Dance floors will be permitted at weddings and other events, per the governor’s office.
  • Overnight summer camps will also be allowed to operate this summer, the governor said. Exhibition and convention halls may also open pursuant to gathering limits.

The new travel advisory, according to governor, urges persons entering the state – including returning residents – to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival if they have been out of the state for 24 hours or more. It does not apply to travelers who have a negative Covid-19 result administered up to 72 hours prior, workers performing critical infrastructure functions or those who are fully vaccinated.

1:14 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

EU regulator: AstraZeneca vaccine is "safe" but blood clot link cannot be ruled out

From CNN's Nada Bashir and Schams Elwazer

Empty phials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine sit at a vaccination center at the Universite Bretagne Occidentale in Brest, France, on March 12.
Empty phials of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine sit at a vaccination center at the Universite Bretagne Occidentale in Brest, France, on March 12. Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigation has concluded that the AstraZeneca vaccine "is safe and effective in preventing Covid-19 and its benefits continued to be far greater than its risks.

Dr. Sabine Straus, chair of the EMA’s Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee (PRAC), said the committee “has found no evidence of a quality of batch issue.”

“The committee also concluded that the vaccine is not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events, or blood clots,” EMA Executive Director Emer Cooke said.  

Cooke reiterated that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.

“I want to reiterate that our scientific position is this, is that this vaccine is a safe and effective option to protect citizens against Covid-19,” Cooke said.

“It demonstrated that at least 60% efficacy in clinical trials and preventing coronavirus disease and in fact the real world evidence suggests that the effectiveness could be even higher than that,” she added.

However Cooke added that the agency “cannot rule out definitely a link” between blood clot cases and the vaccine.

The EMA’s recommendation “is to raise awareness of these possible risks, making sure that they’re included in the product information. Drawing attention to these possible rare conditions and providing information to health care professionals and vaccinated people will help to spot and mitigate any possible side effects.”

1:14 p.m. ET, March 18, 2021

New York venues and sports stadiums to reopen with restrictions on April 1

From CNN's Elizabeth Joseph

A general view of Yankee Stadium is seen on August 20, 2020, in New York City.
A general view of Yankee Stadium is seen on August 20, 2020, in New York City. Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Beginning April 1, large outdoor venues that host live concerts and shows across New York state will be permitted to reopen at 20% capacity, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in a Thursday news briefing. 

These large venues – that can hold over 2,500 people – will see capacity increase as Covid-19 numbers across continue to decline.

Sports venues with over 1,500 indoor or 2,500 outdoor capacity will be permitted to reopen – with indoor capacity capped at 10% and outdoor capacity raised to 20%.

“We’ll have testing required when we open,” Cuomo said.

“You get your vaccine – I have my card, I can go to a game as soon as it opens. You can take a rapid test, you can take a PCR test, but we’re going to have testing as a precaution. As time moves on, and as our experience grows, and we see how the games work, we then right away do what's called contact tracing where we follow up on the game to see if anybody got infected, et cetera, and I think you're going to see the capacity increase and the testing requirements decrease as we get more evidence, but we want to start safe and smart," he said.

Citi Field could see up to 8,384 fans and Yankee Stadium could see up to 10,850 fans, Cuomo said.

Starting March 29, statewide travel for sports and recreational activities will also be permitted across New York, the governor announced.

At present, travel for sports is limited to contiguous counties and regions.