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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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“The DSMB expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data.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.