March 23 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Lauren Said-Moorhouse, CNN

Updated 1511 GMT (2311 HKT) March 24, 2021
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7:53 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

Regeneron says its treatment for Covid-19 reduces hospitalizations by 70%

From CNN Health’s Jen Christensen

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc headquarters in Tarrytown, New York.
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc headquarters in Tarrytown, New York. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc said Tuesday its dual antibody treatment for Covid-19 reduced symptomatic illness by four days at any level of dose tried in its clinical trial. 

The treatment also seemed to reduce hospitalizations and death by about 70% compared to placebo, the company said.

At any dose given, the treatment significantly reduced the patient’s viral load.

Monoclonal antibodies are lab-made immune system proteins that are infused to boost a patient’s immune response to fight disease. The Covid-19 treatments seem to work best early in the course of an infection. The treatments are also being tested to see if they can prevent infection.

Regeneron's treatment has already been authorized for use at a higher dose by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) treatment. It was used to treat former President Donald Trump when he developed Covid-19 last year.

The pharmaceutical company said it would now seek FDA emergency use authorization for its antibody cocktail at a lower dose in light of the latest trial data. The move could essentially double manufacturing capacity.

“We will rapidly discuss the new data with regulatory authorities and request that the 1,200 mg dose be added to the US emergency use authorization, in order for the anticipated REGEN-COV supply to be available to treat even more patients,” said Dr. George Yancopoulos, Regeneron’s President and Chief Scientific Officer.

This late-stage trial involved nearly 5,000 non-hospitalized patients. Each had at least one underlying condition that would make them more vulnerable to severe Covid-19. The trial also had a diverse patient population. About 35% of the patients were Latino/Hispanic, and 5% were Black.

The results are not published in a journal, nor are they peer-reviewed, but the company said it plans to submit the results for peer review as soon as possible.

On Thursday, the FDA said that Regeneron’s antibody treatment seemed to work to protect people against all of the coronavirus variants most worrying to scientists.

Regeneron isn't the only company working on an antibody treatment. Drugmaker Eli Lilly has two authorized treatments, but they may not work as well against some of the variants.

The FDA had reviewed research done on the mutations that characterize several of the new variants. None of the experiments involved live, infected patients, but the FDA said the finding were serious enough to warrant a change to the emergency use authorizations that were granted to the products. 

7:00 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

Putin is getting vaccinated today but we won't see it

From CNN’s Anna Chernova and Zahra Ullah in Moscow 

The Kremlin on Tuesday said the Russian President Vladimir Putin’s coronavirus vaccination process won’t be filmed.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on a conference call that Putin has not yet been vaccinated but they expect he will be by the end of the day. 

Peskov continued Putin “doesn’t like” being vaccinated on camera, adding “you will have to take our word for it.”

The Kremlin spokesman added it’s not known yet whether Putin will go to an appointment or if a doctor will visit him but it will be done in such a way to minimize the President’s working schedule.  

When asked why the Russian leader is not planning to show his vaccination process for publicity, Peskov said Putin does a lot to promote getting vaccinated: 

“The President devotes a fairly significant part of his working time to events, talks, meetings related to vaccination, vaccine production, and so on and so forth. Therefore, the President does a lot to promote the vaccine. As for vaccination under the cameras, he has never been a supporter [of it], he doesn't like it," Peskov explained.

The Kremlin spokesman also said it will not be disclosed which vaccine will be used, but it will be one of the three Russian vaccines that have been approved: Sputnik V, EpiVacCorona or CoviVac. 

“We deliberately do not say what kind of vaccine the president will take, all the while noting that all three Russian vaccines are absolutely reliable and effective,” said Peskov.

Putin revealed he intended to get inoculated Tuesday during a live televised video conference. “Vaccination is voluntary. This is a personal decision of each person. By the way, I intend to do it myself tomorrow,” he said.

6:50 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

Fake vaccine cards are being sold on the dark web

From Samantha Kelly, CNN Business

Counterfeit vaccine cards and what are being billed as Covid-19 vaccines are now for sale on the dark web, a new report says.

Security researchers at cybersecurity firm Check Point Software found listings for Covid-19 vaccines brands, including AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, for up to $1,000 a dose, as well as at least 20 vaccine certificates for $200 each.

The dark web is a part of the internet not detected by search engines where cybercriminals often sell and buy illicit materials, from credit card numbers and drugs to cyberweapons and now, apparently, coronavirus-related products.

A Check Point spokesperson told CNN Business it's uncertain if the vaccines are real but said "they appear to be legitimate" from pictures of packaging and medical certificates. Advertisements for vaccines on the dark web are up 300% in the past three months, according to the report.

Meanwhile, vaccine certificates — or proof of vaccination cards — are created and printed to order; the buyer provides the name and dates they want on the certificate and the vendor replies with what Check Point said resembles an authentic card.

Read the full story here:

6:21 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

From next week, overseas travel from England will be banned unless you have a good reason

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

Anyone trying to travel abroad from England next week will need a "reasonable excuse" or face being hit with a hefty fine, according to new legislation drafted by the British government.

Rule breakers face a penalty of nearly $7,000 (£5,000). 

The new Covid-19 travel rules are part of a set of restrictions the UK government published on Monday, as it sets its roadmap for leaving the current lockdown. Lawmakers are due to vote on the drafted legislation on Thursday, with the measures coming into force from Monday. 

The law says, "no person may, without a reasonable excuse- leave England to travel to a destination outside the United Kingdom, or travel to, or be present at, an embarkation point for the purpose of traveling from there to a destination outside the United Kingdom."

The restrictions do not apply to travel within the common area, which includes the rest of the UK, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and the Republic of Ireland. Exceptions to the ban apply when it is "reasonably necessary" for a person to work, study, provide charitable services, fulfill a legal obligation, sell or rent a property, and for some childcare, medical or family reasons.  

3:18 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

Independent US board "concerned" by AstraZeneca's vaccine data announcements

From CNN Health’s Michael Nedelman

A nurse handles an AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine vial in Sydney, on March 23.
A nurse handles an AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine vial in Sydney, on March 23. Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

An independent board that reviews data from multiple Covid-19 vaccine candidates in the US has expressed concern over AstraZeneca’s announcements on its latest findings, according to a statement posted Tuesday by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"Late Monday, the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) notified NIAID, BARDA, and AstraZeneca that it was concerned by information released by AstraZeneca on initial data from its COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial,” the statement says.
“The DSMB expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data. 
“We urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the efficacy data and ensure the most accurate, up-to-date efficacy data be made public as quickly as possible.”

Early Monday, AstraZeneca issued a news release saying its Covid-19 vaccine showed 79% efficacy against symptomatic disease and 100% efficacy against severe disease and hospitalization, citing long-awaited US trial data. The latter figure was based on five total cases of severe disease or hospitalization in people who received the placebo, and zero similar cases among those who received the vaccine, NIAID director Dr. Anthony Fauci said during a coronavirus briefing Monday.

The DSMB is an independent expert group which sees trial data before the pharmaceutical companies, the doctors running the trials, or even the US Food and Drug Administration. It has the power to advise a company of positive interim findings, or to halt a trial over safety concerns. That's what happened to the AstraZeneca trial in September after a study participant developed neurological symptoms, for example.

Last year, the US's medical research agency, the National Institutes of Health, appointed a common DSMB to monitor Covid-19 vaccine clinical trials funded by the federal government -- including AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

This DSMB has 10 to 15 members with specialties including vaccine development, statistics and ethics.

3:12 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

South Korean President receives AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul

President Moon Jae-in receives a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Seoul, South Korea, on March 23.
President Moon Jae-in receives a dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Seoul, South Korea, on March 23. South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and the first lady, Kim Jung-sook, received AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday, the Blue House announced.

Moon’s vaccination is in preparation for his visit to the United Kingdom for the G7 summit in June, his office said. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has invited South Korea, India and Australia to attend the summit as guests.

Another nine members of Moon's delegation were also vaccinated Tuesday in the same public clinic in Seoul.

The bigger picture: Starting Tuesday, adults age 65 and over will receive AstraZeneca vaccines across the country, the Blue House added.

In February, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said senior citizens would be excluded from AstraZeneca vaccines amid efficacy concerns.

However, last week the KDCA announced the government had decided to expand the use of AstraZeneca vaccines based on research from the United Kingdom.

According to the KDCA, more than 680,000 people in the country have been vaccinated so far.

South Korea's Covid cases: On Monday, South Korea reported 331 local and 15 imported cases of the coronavirus, the KDCA’s news release said. The Greater Seoul Area accounted for 229 of the cases found.

Overall, the country has recorded 99,421 Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began. The national coronavirus death toll stands at 1,704.

2:17 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

Germany to impose even stricter five-day lockdown over Easter holiday

From Maija Ehlinger

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at a news conference in Berlin, on March 22.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at a news conference in Berlin, on March 22. Filip Singer/Pool/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday she will extend the country's lockdown to April 18 due to its rise of Covid-19 cases. 

Merkel announced an even stricter five-day lockdown over the Easter holiday between April 1 to April 5.

Almost all shops will be closed over the five-day period, and she requested all religious services be moved online over Easter.

No more than five adults from two households can gather. Only grocers will be allowed to open on Saturday, April 3. 

Germany has reported more than 2.6 million cases and more than 74,000 related deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

2:17 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

Fully vaccinated people can visit unvaccinated family and friends, but one household at a time, US CDC official says

From CNN's Christopher Rios

Fully vaccinated people should feel free to visit their unvaccinated family and friends without restrictions -- but visits should be limited to one unvaccinated household at a time, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said Monday. 

And sorry, but even fully vaccinated grandparents should not be bringing their grandkids to church or otherwise exposing them to crowds, the officials said during a web briefing.

The CDC will update its guidance once it becomes clear how well vaccination prevents spread of the virus. But for the time being, there are still limits on what fully vaccinated people should do, they said.

"In the setting that the unvaccinated people are from a single household, and all the unvaccinated people are at low risk of severe Covid-19 illness, no prevention measures are needed, so these visits could happen indoors with no mask or physical distancing," said Tami Skoff, CDC epidemiologist on the Clinical Guidelines Team of the Vaccine Task Force.
"And the example we like to give here is fully vaccinated grandparents can visit with their unvaccinated daughter and her unvaccinated children, assuming none of them are at high risk of severe disease. These visits can be done indoors with no masks or physical distancing."

These recommendations only apply to people who are fully vaccinated, Skoff said, which means it has been two weeks since the second dose of a two-dose vaccine series or two weeks since receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

"There is a growing body of evidence that suggests that fully vaccinated people are less likely to have asymptomatic infection, and therefore potentially less likely to transmit SARS-CoV-2 to others," Skoff said. 
"We know that Covid vaccines are very effective at preventing people from getting symptomatic disease (and) even more effective at preventing people from getting severe Covid-19 disease. Additionally, as I just discussed, you know there's a lot of accumulating evidence that the currently available vaccines really helped to reduce or stop spread of this virus from fully vaccinated people to others."

Read more here.

2:17 a.m. ET, March 23, 2021

Brazil has now reported more than 12 million cases of Covid-19

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias in Atlanta and Rodrigo Pedroso in Sao Paulo

A health worker treats a Covid-19 patient in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on March 19.
A health worker treats a Covid-19 patient in Porto Alegre, Brazil, on March 19. Jefferson Bernardes/AP

Brazil has now reported more than 12 million cases of coronavirus in the country, according to data from its health ministry.

On Monday, Brazil reported 49,293 new cases of Covid-19 -- taking its total to 12,047,526, official data shows.

Another 1,383 related deaths were reported Monday, taking the country's death toll to 295,425.

As of late Monday, Brazil’s intensive care unit occupancy rate in 25 of its 26 states plus the Federal District was at 80% or higher, according to data from the states’ health secretaries.

'Psychopathic leader': The governor of Sao Paulo state has called Jair Bolsonaro a "psychopathic leader," in a sharp rebuke over the Brazilian President's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"We are in one of those tragic moments in history when millions of people pay a high price for having an unprepared and psychopathic leader in charge of a nation," Joao Doria said in an interview with CNN on Monday.

Doria said many of Brazil's virus deaths could have been avoided if Bolsonaro had "acted with the responsibility that the position gives him."

He added that Bolsonaro made "unbelievable mistakes, the biggest one was having a political dispute with the governors who are trying to protect the population."

Bolsonaro has repeatedly opposed lockdowns and restrictive measures, and criticized governors and mayors for implementing them.

Doria said he was facing the biggest challenge of his life as governor of Brazil's largest state, and he had to restructure the health care system in "record time" and look for ways to mitigate the economic crisis that hit the country during the pandemic.

Read more here.