March 24 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, CNN

Updated 0717 GMT (1517 HKT) March 25, 2021
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8:28 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Second French minister hospitalized as ICUs are overrun

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman and Saskya Vandoorne in Paris

France's Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot attends an event in Paris on February 11.
France's Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot attends an event in Paris on February 11. Francois Mori/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

France’s Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot was admitted to hospital after contracting Covid-19, her spokesperson told CNN Wednesday, the second government minister hospitalized with the virus this week. The 74-year-old had received her first dose of the vaccine on March 17.

Labor Minister Élisabeth Borne, 59, was hospitalized with Covid-19 on Monday and was discharged on Wednesday, according to a ministry press release. 

“I am relieved,” Borne tweeted as she left hospital. She tested positive for the virus on March 1.

Covid lockdown: France is in the throes of a third wave of the coronavirus, with new lockdown restrictions implemented in 16 areas last Friday. 

Non-essential businesses have been closed in the most impacted areas of France, where people have been forbidden to go further than 10km from their home or travel between regions without a valid reason.

The new measures are less restrictive than those imposed in March and November of last year, Prime Minister Jean Castex acknowledged when he announced them last week. 

“Very clearly, the messages haven’t got through. The confusion of the weekend has led to more distrust,” Jean-François Timsit, ICU chief at the Paris’ Bichat hospital, said on France Inter radio on Wednesday, referring to backtracking over travel permits as he criticized the complicated nature of the restrictions. 

“We should have put the brakes on earlier," he added in the interview.

Recalling that positive Covid-19 cases now could require hospitalization in the coming weeks, Timsit said: “The next month is going to be hellish.” 

“We’ve got several difficult weeks ahead of us,” French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on BFMTV Wednesday morning, adding: “Covid is once again taking a kind of expansion, it is very worrying.”

Easter restrictions: The minister said in the interview that there will be no easing of restrictions for the Easter weekend, although church services will be allowed to go ahead outside of the night-time curfew. He also encouraged the French public “not to gather together over the coming weekends.”

“We must limit them,” the minister said of Easter celebrations. “They must stay within the strict family intimacy of the home, of the apartment, and we should not receive friends, family, nor travel.”

7:16 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Bolsonaro surprises Brazilians with a sharp change in tone as country records its highest daily Covid-19 deaths

From journalist Fernanda Wenzel in Porto Alegre 

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends an event in Brasília on March 22.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends an event in Brasília on March 22. Evaristo Sa/AFP/Getty Images

In a sharp change in tone, President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday said his government will make this year "the year of vaccination for Brazilians." 

In a three-minute announcement that aired on national radio and television, Bolsonaro sympathized with the families of Covid-19 victims and said Brazil will return to normalcy "very soon." 

The President underlined that a coronavirus variant is posing a new challenge in the country and insisted that his government had always taken "important steps to fight both coronavirus and the economic chaos." 

Bolsonaro claimed he has always been in favor of Covid-19 vaccines and recalled the contracts his government signed with Oxford-AstraZeneca, Sinovac, Pfizer, and Janssen. He had consistently affirmed that Brazil would adopt any vaccine approved by the country's regulator, he insisted, "and it was done."

He went on to say that Brazil will soon be self-sufficient in domestic production of vaccines. "We do not know for how long we will have to face this disease, but national production will guarantee that we can vaccinate Brazilians every year, regardless of the variants that may arise." 

His announcement came the day Brazil recorded 3,251 new deaths due to Covid-19 -- its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began.  

Background: The speech was a shift from the approach Bolsonaro has taken since the beginning of the outbreak. The President has never encouraged precautionary measures against Covid-19, such as the use of masks.

Last year, he prohibited the country's health ministry from buying the CoronaVac vaccine, calling it the "Chinese vaccine" and "Doria's vaccine," referring to Joao Doria, the governor of Sao Paulo and his political enemy. Bolsonaro himself hasn't yet been vaccinated against coronavirus and previously said he would not take a shot. 

Bolsonaro has repeatedly opposed lockdowns and restrictive measures and has criticized governors and mayors for implementing them. He has also been seen greeting crowds of his supporters during the pandemic without wearing a mask and has advocated for drugs like hydroxychloroquine to treat the virus, which has no proven effectiveness in combatting Covid-19.

6:53 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Germany records more than 75,000 Covid-related deaths, as Easter lockdown looms

From CNNs Fred Pleitgen in Berlin

Germany has passed the grim milestone of 75,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, data from the country's public health agency published Wednesday shows.

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) coronavirus dashboard, 248 people died in a span of 24 hours, bringing the total number of deaths to 75,212. 

Germany is struggling with a surge of new coronavirus cases, RKI data shows 15,813 new infections for Wednesday, 2,378 more than a week earlier.

Easter lockdown: The German government has imposed tough new anti-pandemic restrictions, including a hard lockdown over the Easter holidays. Germany has also extended general lockdown measures until April 18.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will discuss the situation with state premiers in a video conference on Wednesday, a government spokesperson said..

This comes after harsh criticism of the Easter lockdown and frustrations over the slow vaccine rollout in the country.

6:15 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

A six-week decline in global Covid-19 deaths has stalled, according to the WHO

From CNN Health’s Lauren Mascarenhas

A six-week decline in global Covid-19 deaths has stalled, while cases have continued to rise for the fourth consecutive week, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported Tuesday, citing figures received Sunday. 

WHO data showed nearly 3.3 million new coronavirus cases globally and 60,000 additional deaths in the week leading up to March 21. 

Where the cases are: Brazil, the United States, India, France, and Italy had the highest numbers of new cases, according to the report. Regions in Europe and the Americas account for nearly 80% of all cases and deaths. 

Covid variants: WHO has also reported a continued increase in Covid-19 variants of concern around the world.

The report said the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the UK, the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa, and the P.1 variant first identified in Brazil demonstrated increased transmissibility “and a veracity to rapidly replace other circulating strains.” 

The B.1.1.7 variant has now been identified in 125 countries, the B.1.351 variant has been identified in 75 and the P.1 variant has been identified in 41, according to the report. 

Limitations: WHO noted that there are limitations in the virus surveillance and sequencing capacity of some countries, and there may be differences in which virus samples are prioritized for sequencing. 

“WHO continues to advocate for strengthening surveillance and sequencing capacity,” the report stated. 

The report also highlighted the importance of reducing transmission in preventing increasing virus mutation. 

5:46 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

CDC investigates cases of people who get Covid-19 after having been vaccinated

From CNN Health’s Keri Enriquez

A nurse loads a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the Blood Bank of Alaska in Anchorage, on March 19.
A nurse loads a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the Blood Bank of Alaska in Anchorage, on March 19. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Cases of people who developed Covid-19 after vaccination are "expected" and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking that data as more people get vaccinated, a CDC official told CNN on Tuesday.

The official said it’s important to study and genetically sequence “breakthrough” infections amid concerns that new variants might evade the immune protection offered by vaccines. 

“We are tracking and looking at sequencing those vaccine breakthrough cases to see what are the similarities of the cases,” the CDC official told CNN.

The checks are “timely” because more people are getting vaccinated. 

Current CDC guidance says that vaccination status shouldn’t affect treatment for Covid-19, but that health care providers and local health departments are encouraged to request the specimen be held and to report the case to their state health department.

CDC will work with the state health department to collect information about the case.

It also asks patients to report post-vaccination infections to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, or VAERS.

The Department of Health and Human Services has previously established an interagency effort to research emerging variants and monitor how they could affect vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

The CDC official told CNN that the agencies are working together to analyze any variants that might be disproportionately causing infection among vaccinated people and will eventually issue guidance as data is gathered.

The official underscored that vaccine trials have been designed to show protection against symptomatic disease but not necessarily asymptomatic infection and transmission. 

The CDC lists a number of “variants of concern” it is monitoring for their potential to spread more easily or evade antibodies. However, none rise to the agency’s highest level, a “variant of high consequence”; this would signify that our methods to combat the variant have “significantly reduced effectiveness.”

5:29 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Brazil records its highest daily Covid-19 deaths, posts more than 3,000 fatalities for first time

From journalist Fernanda Wenzel in Porto Alegre and Natalie Gallon in Sao Paulo

Cemetery workers carry the coffin of a victim of Covid-19 at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 23.
Cemetery workers carry the coffin of a victim of Covid-19 at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 23. Mighel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images

Brazil on Tuesday recorded 3,251 new deaths due to Covid-19 -- its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began and the first time it has posted more than 3,000 coronavirus-related deaths in a day, according to the country’s health ministry.  

Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll now stands at 298,676, with the previous record for daily deaths coming only last week. Brazil has the second-highest total Covid-19 death toll in the world.

Additionally, 82,493 new coronavirus cases were also reported across the country, bringing the total cases reported in Brazil to 12,130,019.  

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.

2:43 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Hong Kong and Macao suspend BioNTech vaccine rollout due to packaging defect

From CNN's Joshua Berlinger in Hong Kong

Authorities in Hong Kong and Macao have suspended the rollout of BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine citing a packaging defect found in their first batch of doses.

Both governments said in statements Wednesday they had received a letter from BioNTech and its Chinese partner, Fosun Pharma, indicating an issue with the seal on individual vials in batch number 21012. 

According to government figures, as of Tuesday, 150,200 people in Hong Kong had received their first dose of the BioNTech vaccine, which outside of China is partnered with US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

Although both Fosun and BioNTech "have not found any reason to believe that product safety is at risk," the Hong Kong government said it was suspending vaccinations involving batch 21012, and halting plans to administer a second batch pending an investigation.

"These are preventive measures to continuously ensure the safety of the vaccination program," the statement read.

Prior to halting the BioNTech rollout, Hong Kong offered residents a choice of two vaccines, BioNTech, and Chinese-produced Sinovac. Now those who wish to get vaccinated must either wait until the issue with the BioNTech doses is resolved or go with Sinovac.

Hong Kong is expected to receive doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a later date. 

Vaccine hesitancy: The BioNTech suspension will likely blunt Hong Kong's mass vaccination drive, which is already moving at a slower-than-expected pace. 

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday that 6% of the population had taken their first shot, which she sad described as "not bad," though admitted the city could "do better." 

Though an estimated 252,800 people have so far received their first dose of Sinovac, hesitancy has been an issue, with many citing a lack of public data regarding clinical trials.

Read more:

2:40 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

Thailand detention center Covid-19 cluster grows to nearly 400 cases

From CNN's Kocha Olarn in Bangkok

An immigration detention center in Thailand's capital, Bangkok, has reported nearly 400 Covid-19 cases in the past two weeks.

Bang Khen immigration detention center, which receives illegal immigrants from across the country, started testing on March 11 when nine positive Covid-19 cases were reported, according to Thailand's Health Ministry.

Since then, a total of 395 cases have been reported from the outbreak, the ministry added. All of the positive cases are foreign detainees and officers from the center. 

Thailand has reported a total of 28,277 Covid-19 cases, according to the ministry. According to Johns Hopkins University, it has reported 92 virus-related deaths.

2:37 a.m. ET, March 24, 2021

India reports highest single-day Covid-19 death toll this year as country marks anniversary of first lockdown 

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi

India reported 275 deaths due to coronavirus on Wednesday, the highest number of fatalities in a single day since December 31, according to a CNN tally of figures from the Indian Ministry of Health.

The country also reported 47,262 new Covid-19 infections Wednesday, the highest single-day rise since November 12, bringing the total to 11,734,058 cases, including 160,441 deaths.

This comes as India marks one year since the first nationwide Covid-19 lockdown was imposed in the country, forcing its 1.3 billion people indoors. 

New rules: In light of the "fresh surge in cases in some parts of the country," the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) on Tuesday announced new Covid-19 control guidelines that will be in place until the end of April.

India has reported more than 35,000 new cases daily for seven consecutive days, according to CNN's tally of figures from the Ministry of Health. This rise follows a "sustained decline in the number of active cases, continuously for about 5 months," as per the MHA order.

Some of the measures outlined in the Tuesday order included quickly isolating positive cases and tracing contacts of Covid-positive patients within 72 hours.

According to the Ministry of Health on Tuesday, Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu accounted for 81% of new cases reported over the previous 24 hours. Parts of many of these states have imposed complete or partial lockdowns and night curfews in order to contain the spread of the virus.  

India has distributed more than 50 million vaccine doses since January 16 when it began vaccinating healthcare and frontline workers, as well as those over age 60 or above 45 with comorbidities. Everyone 45 or older will be included in the rollout from April 1, according to the Ministry of Health.