March 30 coronavirus news

By Joshua Berlinger, Angela Dewan, Christopher Johnson, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Mike Hayes and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 0700 GMT (1500 HKT) March 31, 2021
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10:58 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

Animal "likely to very likely" source of novel coronavirus, WHO says in final copy of agency's report

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Peter Ben Embarek, a member of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of Covid-19, visits the Hubei Center for animal disease control and prevention in Wuhan, China, on February 2.
Peter Ben Embarek, a member of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of Covid-19, visits the Hubei Center for animal disease control and prevention in Wuhan, China, on February 2. Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

The novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 probably spread to people through an animal, and probably started spreading among humans no more than a month or two before it was noticed in December of 2019, according a new 120-page report from the World Health Organization.

But the search for the origin of the virus is ongoing. The report summarizes WHO's investigation into the origins of coronavirus but there is nothing conclusive. The report recommends more study.

"As far as WHO is concerned, all hypotheses remain on the table. This report is a very important beginning, but it is not the end. We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement Tuesday "Finding the origin of a virus takes time and we owe it to the world to find the source so we can collectively take steps to reduce the risk of this happening again. No single research trip can provide all the answers."

The report, released on Tuesday, gives four possible sources for the virus: direct transmission from an animal source, described as "spillover"; an intermediate animal host that was infected by a bat, followed by spillover; spread through frozen or chilled food or an accidental leak from a laboratory. 

The report notes that the direct spillover is considered to be a "possible-to-likely pathway," while the introduction through an intermediate host is considered to be a "likely to very likely pathway."

The report says introduction through cold food products is considered a "possible pathway" and introduction through a laboratory incident was considered to be "an extremely unlikely pathway."

WHO's director has called for further study.

"The team reports that the first detected case had symptom onset on the 8th of December 2019. But to understand the earliest cases, scientists would benefit from full access to data including biological samples from at least September 2019," Tedros said in prepared remarks on Tuesday.

"In my discussions with the team, they expressed the difficulties they encountered in accessing raw data. I expect future collaborative studies to include more timely and comprehensive data sharing," Tedros added.

The report was written by a joint international team made up of 17 Chinese experts plus 17 experts from other countries, WHO, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) participated as an observer.

10:48 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

NOW: WHO holds briefing on the origins of Covid-19

The World Health Organization is holding a virtual news briefing on the release of its report on the origins of Covid-19 in Wuhan, China. 

A copy of the draft report was obtained by CNN ahead of its official release. WHO investigators gave four possible sources for the virus: the most likely scenario is an intermediate animal host, while the “lab leak” theory is presented as the least likely.

More on the report: The report was written by a joint international team made up of 17 Chinese experts plus 17 experts from other countries, WHO, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) participated as an observer.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports:

11:18 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

German medical regulator reports 31 cases of blood clots after AstraZeneca vaccinations

From CNN's John Bonifield

Germany's medical regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, says it has received reports of 31 people vaccinated with AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine suffering rare blood clots in the brain. Nine of those people died, the agency announced Tuesday.

In 19 cases, the people also had low blood platelets.

With the exception of two cases, all reports involved women aged 20 to 63 years. The other two cases involved men aged 36 and 57.

In the regulator's announcement, it did not say whether the blood clots were related to the vaccine, and it did not immediately respond to an inquiry from CNN.

The city state of Berlin as well as the city of Munich announced Tuesday they were halting AstraZeneca vaccinations with all under 60 year olds.

9:36 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

Scotland’s "stay at home" rule to end on Friday

From CNN’s Chloé Adams

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed on Tuesday the nation’s "stay at home" rule will be lifted on April 2, as the country begins to ease coronavirus restrictions.

People will be asked to "stay local" which means not traveling outside their local authority area. It comes after England lifted its stay at home order on Monday.

“What we will see at the end of this week and into the beginning of next week is some good news, but I can't stress enough that it is really important still to be careful and cautious,” Sturgeon said.

Garden centers and hairdressers will reopen on April 5. Shops, gyms and some hospitality are scheduled to reopen on April 26 with the possible easing of some of the rules on outdoor gatherings.

Sturgeon was speaking at her first Covid-19 update since parliament entered the pre-election period, ahead of the Scottish elections on May 6.

The Scottish government will announce further updates on the roadmap out of lockdown next Tuesday, and again on April 20.

 

8:54 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

US governors "know better" than to relax Covid-19 restrictions, White House adviser says

From CNN's Betsy Klein

White House senior Covid-19 adviser Andy Slavitt suggested Tuesday that American governors “know better” than to relax Covid-19 restrictions as fears of a fourth surge in the US rise.

“I think the governors know better. I think the governors know that they’re not helping the cause, that they’re actually weighing down the cause. They may think it’s a popular thing to do. I don’t think that’s the case. I think people want to be told what the truth of the matter is. To me, a mask feels like a very small price to pay to protect people’s lives,” Slavitt said on CNN’s “New Day.”

His comments come as a number of states have moved forward with the lifting of some restrictions, with Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey saying she will remove the mask mandate in her state.

CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky suggested she would make the case to governors to slow down the relaxing of restrictions during the weekly White House call Tuesday, and Slavitt said Walensky “is going to press this point very clearly.”

“Her job is to speak the truth, even if people don’t like it,” he said of Walensky.

Slavitt also presented stemming the potential surge of the virus as a matter of free will and personal choice.

Despite signs of hope and optimism, he said, “this virus is still spreading… we take our guard down, this is what’s going to happen.”

He framed it as a question: “Are we going to just wait for science to rescue us, or are we going to participate in our own rescue?”

Americans, he said, “have the opportunity in our own hands to fight this outcome.”

 “We are lulled into this false sense that this thing can’t get to us,” pointing to rising cases in states like Michigan that show it isn’t true.

Slavitt declined to weigh in on comments from Dr. Deborah Birx on the potential mitigation of deaths, saying, “I don’t think we really have the time for the infighting and the finger pointing. I think the public would be disappointed in us if they felt that we were looking at this in anything other than a very competent, business-minded-like way, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”

And ahead of the World Health Organization’s report on the origins of the virus, Slavitt posed questions about the methodology. Until then, he said, the report should be viewed with “healthy skepticism.”

“I think we have to understand the methodology of that report better. Were the investigators who wrote the report giving complete access to everything? Were they, in any way, influenced by the government of China when they wrote this report? Until we have the answers to those questions, I think it's best that we view the report with some healthy skepticism, not necessarily cynicism, but just important to make sure that these reports are done right,” he said.
8:46 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

CDC director explains her emotional warning of "impending doom" about Covid-19's spread in US 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing on March 18, in Washington, DC.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director for Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing on March 18, in Washington, DC. Anna Moneymaker/Pool/Getty Images

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Monday night that increasing Covid-19 case numbers and variants led to her emotional warning of “impending doom” around Covid-19 during a White House Covid-19 briefing earlier in the day.  

“I’m watching the cases tick up, I’m watching us have increased numbers of hyper-transmissible variants, I’m watching our travel numbers tick up, and the sense is, I’ve seen what it looks like to anticipate the oncoming surge,” Walensky told Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. “And what I would really hate to have happen is to have another oncoming surge, just as we’re reaching towards getting so many more people vaccinated, you know, we’re still losing people at 1,000 deaths a day.” 

“I just can’t face another surge when there’s so much optimism right at our fingertips,” she said.

Covid-19 variants are a key cause for concern, in particular B.1.1.7, the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, she said.

While it’s possible that variants could evolve in such a way that they develop vaccine resistance and there is enough of them circulating that the US can’t get ahead of it, Walensky said that she doesn’t think the US is there right now. 

“We do know that this hyper transmissible variant that we’re most worried about, the B.1.1.7 that originated in the UK, is now about 26% of all circulating virus around the United States right now,” she said, adding that it is dominating in some regions.

“That is concerning,” she said. “What we do know is that so far, it appears that the B.1.1.7 is neutralized by our current vaccines, but that is among our concerns, that if you have enough virus circulating, those variants can mutate even more and lead to sort of more troublesome variants in the future, which is why we just really want to stop the circulation of virus.” 

8:14 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

How one UK doctor is helping homeless people get vaccinated against Covid-19

By CNN's Ivana Kottasová in London

When the British government released its guidance on who should be first in line for the Covid-19 vaccine last year, Dr. Zahid Chauhan was surprised to see that one particularly vulnerable group of his patients had been left off the priority list: The homeless.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on the homeless community in the UK and around the world, because many services normally available to them have been shut.

"They are an extremely vulnerable group, they die at the age of 43, 44 -- their life expectancy is that low," said Chauhan, a GP in the northern English town of Oldham. "It was very clear that that group has been missed."

Studies conducted in Paris, Boston, Chicago and Ontario, Canada, among others, have all shown that homeless people and those who have recently experienced homelessness are more likely to become infected, more likely to require intensive care treatment and more likely to die of the virus, compared to the general population.

In the UK alone, 976 people died homeless in 2020 — an increase of 37% compared to 2019, according to the Dying Homeless Project.

Read the full story here:

8:17 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

Biden asks leaders to keep mask mandates as CDC chief warns of "impending doom"

From CNN's Eric Levenson, Christina Maxouris and Theresa Waldrop

President Joe Biden holds up a face mask as he delivers remarks at the White House on March 29, in Washington, DC. 
President Joe Biden holds up a face mask as he delivers remarks at the White House on March 29, in Washington, DC.  Drew Angerer/Getty Images

US President Biden implored state and local officials to reinstate mask mandates, after Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shared her feelings of "impending doom" at a White House Covid-19 briefing.

The plea comes as some states have lifted requirements for face coverings, as well as guidance on restaurant capacity and other measures, and cases have again begun to rise. Last week, the Biden administration called on states to slow the relaxation of Covid-19 guidelines.

“I need the American people do their part as well. Mask up, mask up. It's a patriotic duty. It's the only way we ever get back to normal,” he said.

Biden also suggested businesses should also require the use of masks. “The failure to take this virus seriously precisely what got us to this mess in the first place, risk more cases, more deaths."

Walensky said she would be conveying Biden’s message to governors.

“With regard to the surging, we are working closely with the states. I will be speaking with the governors tomorrow to try and reinforce the need for current restrictions to not open up,” Walensky said earlier Monday.

“I think what we’ll do on masking will really depend on where we are 30 days from now.”

Experts have warned another case surge is likely on its way in the coming weeks, one that will this time be fueled by coronavirus variants. Health officials are preparing for a possible third wave that will be driven by a rapidly spreading variant that was first identified in the UK.

Data from the CDC shows 2,102 cases of the variant have been detected across the US -- but scientists have warned that number likely doesn't represent the total of cases in the country.

7:52 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

Berlin hospital pauses AZ vaccinations of female staff under 55 out of precaution

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz in London

Charité hospital in Berlin, Germany.
Charité hospital in Berlin, Germany. Maja Hitij/Getty Images

A hospital in Berlin has temporarily stopped administering the AstraZeneca vaccine to female staff members below the age of 55 as a precaution, following reports of cerebral venous sinus thromboses -- blot clots in the vessels that drain blood from the brain -- after vaccination.

"As of today, no further [AstraZeneca] vaccinations will be carried out at Charité – University Medicine Berlin for younger female employees under the age of 55 for the time being,” the hospital said in a statement Tuesday.

“From the Charité's point of view, this step is necessary because in the meantime further cerebral venous sinus thromboses have become known in women in Germany. Although no complications have occurred at the Charité after vaccinations with AstraZeneca, the Charité wants to take precautionary action here and await final assessments."

The Charité is not a vaccination center, so the change only concerns vaccinations for their staff members.

Germany joined other EU Member countries, including Spain, France and Italy, in temporarily halting the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine over a small number of blood clot concerns in the beginning of March, going against the advice of international medical agencies.

The European Medicines Agency conducted a preliminary review earlier this month and concluded the shot was not associated with a higher overall risk of blood clots. It did find it could possibly be linked to very rare cases of clotting associated with thrombocytopenia, or low levels of blood platelets. It concluded the benefits of the vaccine still outweighed the risk in combating Covid-19, and said it would continue to investigate any possible links.