March 26 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 0735 GMT (1535 HKT) March 29, 2021
16 Posts
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11:42 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

White House says Johnson & Johnson expected meet goal of delivering 20 million Covid-19 vaccines in March

From CNN's Jen Christensen

Doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine are prepared at a clinic in Los Angeles on March 25.
Doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine are prepared at a clinic in Los Angeles on March 25. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson is expected to meet its self-imposed goal of delivering 20 million Covid-19 vaccines by the end of March, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Friday.

While the company has consistently said it was on track to meet the goal, Biden administration officials have expressed doubts.

 “We've done a lot to help J&J. We're monitoring that very closely, and we anticipate a significant increase at the end of this month, which will enable them to hit at least 20 million doses,” Jeff Zients said at the White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing on Friday. Next week, the company should be able to deliver at least 11 million additional doses, which would take them to 20 million doses.

The J&J vaccine was authorized at the end of February, but the company struggled to ramp up production of its single-dose vaccine. It only had 4 million doses ready to ship when it was authorized; about 9 million have now shipped.

Zients said that J&J is still in its “earlier stages of manufacturing” compared to the other Covid-19 vaccines, but the White House expects that there will be a more “regular weekly cadence.”

Some more background: In February, the company announced it was working to expand production of the vaccine. The Biden administration has also worked closely with the company to speed up the process, including using the Defense Production Act to help the company obtain more materials and equipment to make the vaccine.

The President also helped broker a deal for rival Merck to make more of the vaccines for J&J in the coming months.

On Tuesday, Catalent, a fill-and-finish plant helping Johnson & Johnson produce the vaccine, said it received an OK from the US Food and Drug Administration to ship the vaccine. The company had been producing the vaccine for the past couple of months, but has not disclosed how many doses were ready. 

The J&J vaccine has several advantages since it is just one dose and doesn’t require any special refrigeration, like the other two authorized vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

10:39 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

White House announces plans for 3 more mass vaccination sites

From CNN's Betsy Klein

The Biden administration on Friday announced three new federally-supported mass vaccination sites in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia, part of continued efforts to combat inequity in the pandemic.

“We’re also going to be bringing more federally-run mass vaccination centers online, including three new sites we’re announcing today in Boston, Massachusetts, Norfolk, Virginia, and Newark, New Jersey,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said during the briefing Friday.

Those three sites will deliver a combined 15,000 vaccine doses per day, Zients said.

The three new sites come after the administration announced a vaccination center in Washington state on Monday. Now, there are 25 federally-run sites, delivering more than 115,000 shots per day.

11:57 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

New Covid-19 restrictions set to take place in Paraguay as health care system faces collapse

From CNNE's Sanie López Garelli, Radina Gigova and Abel Alvarado

Health care workers place the body of a Covid-19 victim into a human remains pouch in an intensive care unit of the National Hospital in Itauguá, Paraguay, on March 17.
Health care workers place the body of a Covid-19 victim into a human remains pouch in an intensive care unit of the National Hospital in Itauguá, Paraguay, on March 17. Jorge Saenz/AP

As Paraguay's health care system is facing collapse due to a surge in coronavirus cases, additional restrictive measures will be in place for the Holy Week leading up to Easter and Palm Sunday, authorities have announced. 

The new measures will take effect on Saturday and will continue until Sunday, April 4. 

As part of the measures, only "minimal and indispensable movements" of citizens will be allowed for the transfer of sick people or for the purchase of food from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time. 

Short, medium and long-distance public transport buses will not circulate between urban centers and the interior of the country, but buses in the Asuncion metropolitan area will operate normally. Restaurants will be allowed to work only for food deliveries.

Dr. Leticia Pintos, director of the country's Health Networks and Services, said Friday that intensive care units across the country are at 100% occupancy. 

Health Minister Julio Borba said Wednesday that cases in the country have skyrocketed, partly because the Brazilian Manaus variant P.1 is already present in the country. Although just two cases were initially detected, the circulation is already community-based, he said.  

Earlier this week, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne highlighted the increase of cases in Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile.

However, Paraguay's borders will remain open for now, authorities said Friday, but 13 border control posts have been established.  

The Ministry of Sports has announced that the Paraguayan football season will not be suspended, it is already underway without audiences.

Paraguay has recorded a total of at least 202,700 coronavirus cases and 3,910 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest numbers released by the health ministry. 

9:31 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Go There: CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta answers your questions about the coronavirus pandemic

As the US surpasses 30 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, the CDC director is concerned about a new surge in Covid-19 cases.

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the latest on Covid-19 news.

Watch more:

8:51 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

WHO's comments on Covid-19's origins contradicts Redfield's claims it began in a China lab

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

In a clip released this morning on CNN, Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta he believes the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic is a lab in China — a controversial theory without evidence.

A World Health Organization team exploring origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, is expected to release a report of its findings soon, but has already said a lab-related incident is “extremely unlikely.”

The most likely causes of transmission of the Covid-19 virus to humans, the WHO team said, are introduction through an intermediary host species or transmission through the trade of frozen products. The team has also investigated direct transmission from an animal reservoir to human.

In early February, World Health Organization expert Peter Ben Embarek said that the team investigating the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan have identified two scenarios that most likely caused the transmission of Covid-19 to the human population.

"Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one way that will require more studies and more specific targeted research," Embarek said during a news conference.

He added that the possibility of transmission through the trade of frozen products was also likely.

Embarek also noted two other hypotheses the team had probed while investigating the origin of the virus.

One hypothesis was a "direct zoonotic spillover," meaning, direct transmission from an animal reservoir to a human. 

"The hypothesis of a direct spillover from an original animal source into the human population is also a possible pathway and is also generating recommendation for future studies," he said.

The fourth hypothesis was the possibility of a laboratory-related incident, but that this was the least likely of the four to be the cause of the virus' introduction to humans.

"Findings suggest that the laboratory hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population," Embarek said.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials and state media have promoted an unsubstantiated, so-called “multiple-origin” theory, suggesting the pandemic may have started in various locations around the world, even a US military lab.

8:49 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: "We still don't know" how the Covid-19 pandemic started

Dr. Sanjay Gupta on March 26.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta on March 26. CNN

Moments ago, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported that the former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, told him that he believes the coronavirus pandemic came from a lab in China.

It is a controversial, politically charged theory — one the World Health Organization calls "extremely unlikely." There has been no clear evidence to support this "lab leak" theory.

"We still don't know — a year later — exactly how this pandemic started," Gupta said.

Gupta said there's a "back and forth" happening right now when it comes to the pandemic's origins, with different officials around the world claiming different theories.

"Chinese officials have started increasingly pointing to a multiple-origin theory, saying that this pandemic may have started in multiple places, even around the world, including US military labs. That's unsubstantiated," Gupta said.

8:50 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

Exclusive: Former CDC director makes controversial claim that Covid-19 began in a China lab

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

Dr. Robert Redfield, then director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, attends a hearing in Washington, DC, in September 2020.
Dr. Robert Redfield, then director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, attends a hearing in Washington, DC, in September 2020. Andrew Harnik/Pool/Getty Images

Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta he believes the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic is a lab in China — a controversial theory without evidence.

“If I was to guess, this virus started transmitting somewhere in September, October in Wuhan,” Redfield told Gupta in a clip that aired Friday on CNN New Day. “That's my own feelings. And only opinion. I’m allowed to have opinions now.”

Redfield, a virologist who led the CDC under former President Donald Trump, said he thinks the virus originated inside a lab in China and “escaped,” not necessarily intentionally.

There is no clear evidence to support the “lab leak” theory, although it has played an ongoing role in conspiracies and speculation, including statements from Trump. The World Health Organization has called it "extremely unlikely."

"Now, I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely aetiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, escaped. The other people don't believe that. That's fine. Science will eventually figure it out. It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker," Redfield told Gupta.

Redfield’s comments appear in the documentary “COVID WAR: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out,” which airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.

Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta's interview here:

7:50 a.m. ET, March 26, 2021

6 US states still have not shared when they plan to vaccinate everyone 16 and older

From CNN’s Ashley Ahn, Jacqueline Howard, and Virginia Langmaid

Most US states have announced plans to open up coronavirus vaccination to everyone eligible under US Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization. 

Just six states still have not told CNN when they plan to start vaccinating everyone 16 and older: Alabama, Arkansas, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

Another six states — Alaska, Mississippi, West Virginia, Utah, Georgia and Arizona — have already expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older, and a CNN analysis finds that at least 28 more plan to open up to people 16 and older by the end of April.

Here's a timeline of when states have said they will open vaccination eligibility to the general public:

  • March 29: Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, North Dakota, Louisiana
  • March 30: Minnesota
  • March 31: Indiana
  • April 1: MontanaConnecticut
  • April 2: New Hampshire
  • April 5: MichiganTennesseeIdaho, Iowa, Florida, Nevada
  • April 7: North Carolina
  • April 9: Missouri
  • April 12: Illinois, Kentucky
  • April 15: California
  • April 19: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island
  • April 27: Maryland
  • April, no set date: New Mexico, Virginia, Colorado
  • May 1: Wisconsin, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington
  • May 3: South Carolina
  • May or later: Nebraska, Kansas, Hawaii, Delaware

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.