March 26 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 0735 GMT (1535 HKT) March 29, 2021
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7:33 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

EU leaders squabble over vaccine supplies, as tension grows over AstraZeneca shortfalls

From CNN's Frederik Pleitgen, Livvy Doherty and Rob Picheta

European Council President Charles Michel, top of screen, speaks with European Union leaders during a virtual summit in Brussels, Belgium, on March 25.
European Council President Charles Michel, top of screen, speaks with European Union leaders during a virtual summit in Brussels, Belgium, on March 25. Yves Herman/Pool/AP

European Union leaders met Thursday at a virtual summit designed to push AstraZeneca to speed up its deliveries of tens of millions of Covid-19 vaccines bound for the bloc, hoping to present a united front as it continues to wrangle with the drug giant over the shortfall.

But the virtual summit exposed tense divisions within the EU itself; several countries expressed concerns that doses are being distributed unfairly around the region, and part of the meeting was hijacked by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who demanded a greater share of shots for his country.

“We have worked hard to ensure that the gap within the #EU in terms of vaccination coverage for the population does not widen any further," Kurz tweeted after the meeting, adding that he expects "a fairer delivery of vaccines in the EU" in the coming months.

What the EU agreed: The EU has been engaged in a tense back-and-forth with AstraZeneca over vaccine supplies to the bloc after the firm said it would not be able to meet its full delivery targets.

That shortfall has led to internal squabbles over which countries are prioritised when sought-after vaccine deliveries arrive. EU leaders agreed Thursday to tighten rules to allow for an export ban on vaccines but has so far stopped short on actually imposing a ban.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc will create “transparency” by introducing a principle of proportionality and reciprocity on vaccine supply chains.

In a swipe targeted at Britain, she added that she had "no knowledge so far of UK exports," essentially accusing it of implementing a de facto export ban. Von der Leyen said she was "waiting for that transparency."

The UK's vaccine rollout has far outpaced Europe's, but the country, which recently left the EU, relies on exports from the bloc for some of its doses.

“The bottom line is: we invite others to match our openness,” von der Leyen said.

The background: Rising coronavirus infection rates across much of Europe have created an increasingly dire backdrop to the quarrelling. France imposed tougher restrictions on social gatherings on Thursday as it battles a third wave of Covid-19, while sharp rises in case loads have been reported this week in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.

Von der Leyen said she still expects to achieve the goal of vaccinating 70% of the EU's adult population by this summer.

“But of course we all know we could have been much faster if all pharmaceutical companies had fulfilled their contracts,” she added.

7:13 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

France clears vets and dentists to give vaccines to “speed up campaign”

From CNN’s Pierre Bairin in Paris

A pharmacist prepares a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Nantes, France, on March 25.
A pharmacist prepares a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Nantes, France, on March 25. Loic Venance/AFP/Getty Images

France will allow veterinarians and dentists to give Covid-19 vaccines in order to “speed up the campaign,” the French national health authority (HAS) said in a press release Friday.

“The arrival of additional doses of vaccines will make it possible to carry out vaccinations on a larger scale as of April and require the mobilization of more professionals in order to rapidly vaccinate all those concerned,” the agency said. 

These new categories of health workers vaccinating comes in addition to doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical students, including those who have retired. Most will be receiving a training specific to the Covid vaccines.

France is in the midst of a third wave of coronavirus infections, and its stalling vaccination campaign has done little to stem the tide.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jean Castex described the situation in Paris as "extremely worrying," and the country has banned outdoor gatherings of more than six people in an effort to reduce transmission.

5:19 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

India sees third day of record-high Covid cases since last year

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi

A health worker preserves a swab sample for a Covid-19 test at Government Kanwatiya hospital, on March 22, in Jaipur, India.
A health worker preserves a swab sample for a Covid-19 test at Government Kanwatiya hospital, on March 22, in Jaipur, India. Himanshu Vyas/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

India has reported its highest jump in new Covid-19 cases since last year for a third consecutive day.

On Friday, the country reported 59,118 new Covid-19 cases, its highest rise since October 18, according to a CNN tally of figures from the Indian Ministry of Health. 

The country has been reporting more than 35,000 new cases daily for over a week in a recent surge in infections after they fell in January and February this year.

Randeep Guleria, director at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, told CNN on Wednesday "it is the beginning of a second wave."

India has reported more than 11.8 million total cases of coronavirus including over 160,000 virus-related deaths, according to the Ministry of Health. The country has distributed more than 55 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

5:24 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

At least 10 dead in fire at Mumbai Covid-19 hospital

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi

Smoke rises from a fire that broke out at Dreams Mall Sunrise Hospital in Mumbai, India on March 26.
Smoke rises from a fire that broke out at Dreams Mall Sunrise Hospital in Mumbai, India on March 26. Divyakant Solanki/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

At least 10 people were killed in a fire Friday at a Covid-19 hospital in a Mumbai mall, senior police official Prashant Kadam said.

"At around 12:30 a.m. at night, a fire broke out on the first floor at Dream Mall, next to it there was Sunrise Covid care center where about 76 Covid patients were admitted," Kadam told reporters early Friday.

Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar said Friday patients had been evacuated to another facility and the cause of the fire was being investigated.

Sunrise Hospital has described itself as the first hospital in Asia to be located in a mall.  

New cases: Mumbai reported 5,504 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 380,115 in the city. According to the Indian Ministry of Health, Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, contributed more than 50% of the new cases reported in the country on Thursday.

Mumbai is the district with the third-highest active cases across the country, the Ministry of Health said Wednesday.  

4:01 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Philippines reports record daily Covid-19 cases for the fourth time in 2 weeks

From CNN's Chandler Thornton

A city employee disinfects a street in Manila on March 16.
A city employee disinfects a street in Manila on March 16. Ted Aljibe/AFP/Getty Images

The Philippines recorded its highest number of new Covid-19 cases in a day on Thursday, according to CNN affiliate CNN Philippines. This the fourth time in two weeks the country has reported a record number of new cases.

The Philippines Department of Health reported 8,773 new Covid-19 cases Thursday, its highest jump since the pandemic began.

The country has reported a total of 693,048 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 13,095 deaths from the virus.

2:30 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Argentina suspends flights from Brazil, Chile and Mexico

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias

Argentina is suspending all incoming flights from Brazil, Chile and Mexico starting Saturday, “due to increasing cases of coronavirus in those countries,” Argentina’s state-news agency Telam reported Thursday.

The new measures will strengthen protocols for returning Argentinian nationals, while maintaining the ban on foreign tourists entering the country, according to Telam.

All travelers will have to be tested for Covid-19 before boarding the plane to Argentina. They'll then need to be tested again on arrival and again seven days after entering the country, according to Argentinian authorities.

In the case of a positive test result, the patient will have to be isolated at a place designated by the Argentinian government. All Covid-19 testing and stay costs are the responsibility of the traveler, says the statement.

“For those who return from abroad, it will be compulsory to isolate for 10 days, counting from the day of the first [Covid] test in the country of origin, and it will be [closely watched] that those who returned from a trip are complying with isolating at home.”

Argentina had already suspended incoming flights from the United Kingdom, according to the statement.

2:28 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Colombia authorizes emergency use of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias

Colombia authorized emergency use of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine on Thursday, according to a statement from the country’s health regulatory agency, INVIMA.

The statement said the vaccine had undergone clinical trials in Colombia, and more than 5,800 volunteers in different institutions across the country had participated.

According to INVIMA, this is the third Covid-19 vaccine to receive authorization for emergency use in the country.

As of Thursday, Colombia had reported 2,359,942 cases of Covid-19, including 62,519 virus-related deaths.

2:25 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Coronavirus infects the mouth and may spread in saliva, study finds

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

Researchers said Thursday they have found evidence that coronavirus infects the mouth, including inside the cheeks, in the gums and in salivary glands.

Their findings, detailed in the journal Nature Medicine, may explain why so many people infected with coronavirus lose their sense of taste. They also suggest the mouth is an important source of spread of the virus.

“When infected saliva is swallowed or tiny particles of it are inhaled, we think it can potentially transmit SARS-CoV-2 further into our throats, our lungs, or even our guts,” said Dr. Kevin Byrd of the American Dental Association Science and Research Institute, who worked on the study.

It’s known that saliva testing is a good way to detect coronavirus infection, but researchers hadn’t looked to see why. The mouth, nose, sinuses, throat and lungs are all connected, and the virus can spread across all those regions in mucus that drains or is coughed up.

“We suspected at least some of the virus in saliva could be coming from infected tissues in the mouth itself,” said Dr. Blake Warner of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, one of the National Institutes of Health, who helped lead the study. 

The researchers tested oral tissue and found cells inside the mouth carry the receptors -- or cellular doorways -- that coronavirus uses to infect them, including the ACE2 receptor. They checked samples of mouth tissue from people who died of Covid-19 and found the virus in about half of the salivary glands they tested.

They tested people with mild or asymptomatic Covid-19, and found cells shed from the mouth into saliva carried active RNA -- an indication the virus was replicating in the cells. And they exposed cells in a lab dish to saliva from eight people with asymptomatic Covid-19 and managed to infect the cells -- a finding that suggests saliva can indeed be infectious.

They collected saliva from 35 volunteers working at NIH who had mild or asymptomatic Covid-19. “In symptomatic individuals, the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in saliva was positively associated with patient self-reported ‘loss of taste and smell,’” the researchers wrote.

The researchers also found evidence that people who test negative after a nasal swab sometimes continue to test positive on a saliva test. “These data highlight the possibility that the virus is cleared from the nasopharynx but can persist in saliva, suggesting sustained shedding of virus from SARS-CoV-2 infected oral sites,” they wrote.