March 19 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 0644 GMT (1444 HKT) March 22, 2021
10 Posts
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7:04 a.m. ET, March 19, 2021

“Covid to Covid” double-lung transplant successfully completed

From CNN Health’s Christopher Rios

Transplant surgeons at Northwestern Medicine say they have successfully performed one of the first known double-lung transplants on a Covid-19 patient using lungs from a donor who had previously tested positive for Covid-19.  

“This is a milestone for lung transplantation,” Dr. Ankit Bharat, the transplant surgeon who performed the procedure, said in a news release.

“To date, 30 million Americans have had Covid-19 and many of them are registered organ donors. If we say ‘no’ to them just because they had Covid-19 in the past, we will drastically reduce the donor pool and there’s already a big supply and demand gap."

"We will have a massive problem on our hands if Americans can’t donate their organs after having a mild to moderate case of Covid-19," he said.

The donor recovered from the virus after experiencing only moderate symptoms but later died from a cause unrelated to Covid-19. The donor’s lungs were not damaged by the virus, making them viable for transplantation, according to the transplant team. 

The team tested the donor’s lung fluid for Covid-19 and performed a lung biopsy to check for lung damage before performing the transplant.

The patient who received the lungs, an Illinois man in his 60s, was diagnosed with Covid-19 in May 2020. The patient became so sick that he was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a machine that does the work of both the heart and lungs. The patient received the transplant at the end of February after spending one week on the transplant list.

“Currently, many transplant centers are worried about the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from donors, particularly for lung transplants, and are unnecessarily discarding these organs,” Dr. Michael Ison, an infectious disease and organ transplant specialist at Northwestern Medicine, said. “This donor clarifies the safety of the use of these donors.”

10:08 a.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Denmark and Sweden join Norway in waiting before restarting AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNN’s Antonia Mortensen and Duarte Mendonca

A syringe prepped for vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine is pictured in Copenhagen, Denmark, on February 11.
A syringe prepped for vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine is pictured in Copenhagen, Denmark, on February 11. Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP/Getty Images

Denmark and Sweden announced on Thursday they will not restart their rollouts of the AstraZeneca vaccine yet, according to statements from their respective health authorities.

The decisions come after Norway also said it wouldn’t restart the use of AstraZeneca for “some time,” while it continues to investigate six cases of severe disease that occurred in the country after vaccination, Steinar Madsen, the Medical Director at the Norwegian Medicines Agency, told CNN’s Richard Quest.

Despite the results of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) investigation on Thursday, which stated that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh the risks, the Danish Medicines Agency said in a statement “it cannot be ruled out that there may be an association between the vaccine and the rare cases of blood clots, a low level of blood platelets and bleeding."

Denmark is expected to hold a press conference on Friday to address the ongoing issue. 

Similarly, Sweden will refrain from taking a firm position on the vaccine while it gathers more information, the Public Health Agency said. 

“Until then, a continued break is recommended for the use of this vaccine in Sweden," the health authority added.

6:14 a.m. ET, March 19, 2021

UK considering "Covid certificates" for attendees of live events

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden leaves 10 Downing Street on March 17, in London, England.
Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden leaves 10 Downing Street on March 17, in London, England. Hollie Adams/Getty Images

The UK is considering the use of "Covid certificates" to allow people to attend live events such as sports fixtures, its Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said on Friday. 

Dowden told Sky News the UK government will "be testing whether we can use Covid certification to help facilitate the return of sports." 

The plan bears some resemblance to rumoured vaccine passports, a concept that has been ruled out by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but would also allow unvaccinated people to attend venues after receiving a negative test result.

According to Dowden, the certificates could be used "to prove, for example, that you've had a vaccine or that you've had a successful negative test," adding "that may be one of the things that could help ensure that we can get more people back into the stadium."

The UK will be using several high-profile sporting and cultural events as "pilot events" to test a return of crowds, including the FA Cup final on May 15.

During these pilot events the UK will be "looking at how we can ensure an indoor and outdoor setting, how we can get as many people back as we possibly can and get back to the things we really love as a nation," Dowden said.

The government will also analyze the impact of "one-way systems, things like masks, things like hand hygiene," with Cabinet minister Michael Gove tasked with overseeing the Covid certification work program.

“(We’re) working with many, many people to see how we can get people back safely in large numbers, because if we don’t manage to do it this summer... I’m really worried about the future of those industries that are so vital not just to our sense of national wellbeing, but to the whole national economy."

Under the UK's government roadmap out of lockdown, large scale live events are slated for return on June 21 at the earliest, with Dowden saying it is his "number one mission" for that plan to go ahead.

5:59 a.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Not enough vaccine in Europe to stop third wave, warns German Health Minister

From CNN’s Fred Pleitgen in Berlin

German Health Minister Jens Spahn, right, and German public health expert Karl Lauterbach arrive for a news conference on March 19, in Berlin.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn, right, and German public health expert Karl Lauterbach arrive for a news conference on March 19, in Berlin. Stefanie Loos/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

There is not enough Covid-19 vaccine in Europe to stop the third wave of coronavirus infections, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Friday.

Speaking at a weekly news conference, Sphan warned his country may have to reimpose some restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.

"The rising case numbers may mean that we cannot take further opening steps in the weeks to come. On the contrary, we may even have to take steps backwards," he said.

Infections in Germany are rising, as they are across much of Europe.

The country reported 17,482 new cases earlier on Friday. It has resumed its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, after pausing its use earlier in the week.

5:07 a.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Seoul City backs off of mandatory testing for foreigners

From CNN’s Gawon Bae in Seoul

Seoul City is backing off a mandate that all foreign workers get tested for Covid-19 following a request from the country’s Health Ministry.

In a news release from the city government, Seoul City says it is now only recommending foreign workers employed at high-risk businesses with dense and unventilated working environments get tested for Covid-19 by March 31. 

The city also recommends South Korean people working at the same businesses get tested, the release added.

The change in policy comes after widespread pushback from foreign diplomats and international businesses.

4:50 a.m. ET, March 19, 2021

South Korean Health Ministry requests Seoul to withdraw mandatory testing of foreigners

From CNN's Jake Kwon in Seoul

Migrant workers queue up to take coronavirus tests at a makeshift clinic in Ansan, South Korea on March 16.
Migrant workers queue up to take coronavirus tests at a makeshift clinic in Ansan, South Korea on March 16. Hong Ki-won/Yonhap/AP

The South Korean Health Ministry has officially requested Seoul City’s administration to withdraw mandatory Covid-19 testing for all foreign workers, according to a statement released on Friday. 

The statement calls for improvements to prevent discrimination or the violation of human rights of South Korean or foreign nationals in its efforts to prevent Covid-19 from spreading further. 

Prior to the ministry’s request, Seoul City had rejected accusations of discrimination against foreign workers. 

A number of foreign embassies, including the United States and United Kingdom, earlier said they had raised concerns about the measures with South Korean authorities.

10:08 a.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Germany's Covid-19 cases rise as country resumes AstraZeneca vaccinations

From CNN’s Claudia Otto in Berlin

A doctor waits at the door of a booth in a vaccination center in Nuremberg, southern Germany on March 18.
A doctor waits at the door of a booth in a vaccination center in Nuremberg, southern Germany on March 18. Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images

Germany reported 17,482 new Covid-19 cases over the past 24 hours, the country's disease control agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), said Friday.

The single-day infections are 5,000 more than what was reported one week ago. The country's total caseload now stands at 2,629,750.

On Friday, 226 virus-related fatalities were reported, bringing the total death toll to 74,358.

A study by the RKI found that over 70% of new Covid-19 cases in Germany involve coronavirus variants.

On Thursday evening, Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn announced the country would resume the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday. 

“The goal is to be able to start vaccination with AstraZeneca in many vaccination centers during the course of the day,” Spahn said. 

This post has been updated to more accurately reflect the results of the RKI study.

3:45 a.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Seoul denies mandatory testing for foreign workers is discriminatory, despite concerns

From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo, Jake Kwon, and David Hawley in Seoul, South Korea

The Seoul government has defended its new measure requiring all foreign workers in the city to undergo mandatory Covid-19 tests, denying criticism of discrimination.

Song Eun-cheol, an official of the South Korean capital, said in a briefing Friday that the measure was imposed to curb the surge of Covid-19 infections among foreigners. 

He said the proportion of foreign residents among confirmed Covid-19 cases in Seoul jumped from 2.2% from late last year to 6.3% currently, and that several large infection clusters in the greater Seoul area are of great concern.

The mandatory testing order was made partly because many foreign workers, especially unregistered ones, are reluctant to be tested, weakening the measures to prevent the virus, he claimed. 

“I ask people’s participation and think of this as a measure to protect individual’s safety rather than discrimination,” Song said.

He also confirmed the government has heard from multiple foreign embassies in Seoul that are concerned about the order, and will review and consider their points. When asked about the number of countries that have appealed against this decision, he would not specify. 

Responses to the measure:

  • The US Embassy in Seoul has raised concerns with the South Korean government over testing of foreigners but encouraged its citizens in country to abide by mandatory Covid testing of foreign workers. 
  • An Australian Embassy spokesperson told CNN: “We have expressed our concerns to, and are in close contact with, local and national government officials.” 
  • In a video released on Twitter Thursday, UK ambassador to South Korea, Simon Smith, said the British Embassy has made clear to the Seoul and Gyeonggi province governments that it believes the measures are not fair, proportionate or likely to be effective. Smith also said the embassy raised this issue with the Korean National Human Rights Commission as a matter of urgency. But he still advised British workers in Seoul and other areas to get tested to avoid fines while the embassy continues to argue for a review of the decision.
  • Seoul National University requested cancellation of the mandatory testing order for foreign workers, the school said in a news release Friday. The university said it deems the measure to be a "discriminatory action against foreigners" which "violates constitutional rights for equality."

Some context: In a briefing Thursday, Seoul city's top health official Park Yoo-mi said there were about 60,000 registered foreign workers in the city as of the end of 2020 according to the Justice Ministry.

3:42 a.m. ET, March 19, 2021

Sao Paulo reports first Covid-19 patient to die while waiting for an ICU bed

From CNN's Marcia Reverdosa in Sao Paulo 

A 22-year-old Brazilian man died from Covid-19 while waiting for an ICU bed in Sao Paulo, the city’s mayor Bruno Covas said during a news conference Thursday.

The man was admitted to a local hospital on the night of March 11 and died from the virus on March 13. The ICU bed became available a day after he died, according to Covas.

"He died 46 hours after entering the hospital," Covas said, adding that he "was only 22 years old. This shows how the profile of the [Covid-19] patients is changing."

Brazil has faced a surge in infections this month. On Thursday, Sao Paulo city reached an ICU occupancy rate of 88%, according to the state’s health authorities. The level is close to what the city saw at the height of its first wave of infections in June 2020.

As of Thursday, 395 people are still waiting for an ICU bed in Sao Paulo, according to Covas.

"The city, which has never stopped, needs to stop. So that we don't have more cases like this, of people who are not admitted [to the ICU] due to lack of beds," said Covas.

Lack of medical supplies: Brazil's recent surge in infections is not only causing a shortage of ICU beds throughout the country, but also leading to a lack of critical supplies and medications for patients in those units.

The National Front of Mayors (FNP) sent a letter to Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and the Health Ministry Thursday asking for "immediate measures" from the federal government, including sedation medications and oxygen for intubated patients with Covid-19 and other illnesses. 

According to FNP, mayors are asking for help to prevent "the tragic and cruel scenes recently witnessed in Manaus." The largest city in the state of Amazonas experienced major oxygen shortages in January.

The organization of mayors represents 412 cities accounting for 61% of Brazil's population.