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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12:55 p.m. ET, March 30, 2021

US and 13 other nations express "shared concerns" about WHO study on Covid-19 origins

From CNN's Jennifer Hansler

The governments of the United States, Australia, Canada, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Israel, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, the Republic of Korea, Slovenia, and the United Kingdom jointly expressed concern about the World Health Organization (WHO) study into the origins of Covid-19 in China and called for independent and fully transparent evaluations with access to all relevant data in the future.

“We join in expressing shared concerns regarding the recent WHO-convened study in China, while at the same time reinforcing the importance of working together toward the development and use of a swift, effective, transparent, science-based, and independent process for international evaluations of such outbreaks of unknown origin in the future,” Tuesday’s joint statement said.

“The mission of the WHO is critical to advancing global health and health security, and we fully support its experts and staff and recognize their tireless work to bring an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, including understanding how the pandemic started and spread. With such an important mandate, it is equally essential that we voice our shared concerns that the international expert study on the source of the SARS-CoV-2 virus was significantly delayed and lacked access to complete, original data and samples,” the statement continued.

“We note the findings and recommendations, including the need for further studies of animals to find the means of introduction into humans, and urge momentum for expert-driven phase 2 studies,” the statement said.

“Going forward, there must now be a renewed commitment by WHO and all Member States to access, transparency, and timeliness.”

The statement noted that in a "serious outbreak of an unknown pathogen with pandemic potential, a rapid, independent, expert-led, and unimpeded evaluation of the origins is critical to better prepare." 

The statement from the governments underscored “the need for a robust, comprehensive, and expert-led mechanism for expeditiously investigating outbreaks of unknown origin that is conducted with full and open collaboration among all stakeholders and in accordance with the principles of transparency, respect for privacy, and scientific and research integrity.”

12:03 p.m. ET, March 30, 2021

"We were never pressured to remove critical elements in our report," WHO scientist says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Peter Ben Embarek attends a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China's Hubei province on February 9, 2021.
Peter Ben Embarek attends a press conference to wrap up a visit by an international team of experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) in the city of Wuhan, in China's Hubei province on February 9, 2021. Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

World Health Organization scientist Peter Ben Embarek said his colleagues and he are proud of the new WHO report on the possible origins of the novel coronavirus – and that they stand by their report.

"Of course, there was a lot of attention from our host country to follow and making sure that we were able to work, and interested of course in our discussions, in our work. We were never pressured to remove critical elements in our report," Embarek said during a briefing on Tuesday.

"The report is something that all the scientists on the team can stand behind and have supported," he added.

11:20 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

Initial WHO mission was to examine animal origin of virus — not lab leak, agency's scientist says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

The original mission of World Health Organization scientists was to study the animal origin of the novel coronavirus, which is why the new report does not provide the same depth of detail examining a lab leak theory, Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO scientist and lead investigator of the mission, said during a briefing on Tuesday. 

"The team was put together to do studies into the zoonotic origin of this virus," Embarek said, adding that this is the first time the scientists have been able to openly discuss the lab leak possibility.

"Now we have a process to discuss it — we have put it in our report," Embarek said.

"Since this was not the key or main focus of the studies, it did not receive the same depth of attention and work as the other hypotheses. But also because that was the assessment —that it was not where we could see strong indication that that was something we should look into. And therefore, it was ranked as the least likely, so to speak, of the four possible pathways. Not saying that it was impossible, but not the one that we would start initially going deeper into and focusing our attention on."

The report notes that a laboratory incident was considered to be "an extremely unlikely pathway" for the virus to enter the human population.

"Of course, if there is a need to further explore this and potentially other hypotheses, of course we will continue to look into these hypotheses. We have also long said that as soon as there is new data, new evidence, new information, for any of these hypotheses we will put that into the assessment and reevaluate any of these hypotheses," Embarek said. 

11:35 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

Brazil's Sao Paulo state reports highest single-day increase in Covid-19 deaths since onset of pandemic

From Rodrigo Pedroso

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

Brazil’s Sao Paulo state has recorded 1,209 additional deaths from Covid-19, according to the latest report from the state health secretary released on Tuesday. 

This is the highest single-day increase in Covid-19 deaths since the onset of the pandemic.

The previous peak in daily deaths was 1,193, registered last Friday.

The number of Covid-19 cases in Brazil's most populous state recorded up to Tuesday is at least 2,446,680, with 21,360 being registered in the past day; 73,492 people have died from the novel coronavirus in Sao Paulo state since the beginning of the pandemic.

Intensive care unit bed occupancy rate in the state´s hospitals is at 92.3%, with 12,946 Covid-19 patients in ICU beds on Tuesday.

The number is double what was registered on Feb. 22, a record on that day, and more than four times the number of hospitalized patients at the end of Aug. 2020.

10:57 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

Covid-19 may have been spreading globally before December but originated around Wuhan, WHO scientist says

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

It's possible that the novel coronavirus causing Covid-19 was spreading around the world well before December — but origin still points to Wuhan, Peter Ben Embarek, the lead investigator for the WHO mission, said during a briefing on Tuesday. 

"It is perfectly possible that you would have earlier cases, sporadic cases, circulating in and around Wuhan before December — let's say November and potentially also October 2019 — and potentially some of them were also traveling abroad and seeding and transmitting the disease abroad," Embarek said. 

"So that could be possible," Embarek said. "Until we have more data, more firm information or result pointing it to that direction, the current thinking is still that we are looking at the start in and around Wuhan and moving backwards trying to find out how it came there."

11:26 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

WHO chief calls for further investigation into coronavirus lab leak theory 

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and Nick Paton Walsh in London

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at a Covid-19 press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2020.
World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks at a Covid-19 press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, in 2020. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has called for further investigation into a laboratory leak theory, in a briefing with member states about the publication of the report into the origins of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday.

 “The team also visited several laboratories in Wuhan and considered the possibility that the virus entered the human population as a result of a laboratory incident,” Tedros told member states, according a copy of his remarks.

“However, I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough. Further data and studies will be needed to reach more robust conclusions," he added.

“Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy.”

The report, released on Tuesday, lists four possible sources for the virus, but all but dismisses two of them, and concludes introduction to humans through an intermediary animal is the most likely.

There is no evidence to support the lab leak theory.

Page 119 of the final report says:

“The three laboratories in Wuhan working with either CoVs diagnostics and/or CoVs isolation and vaccine development all had high quality biosafety level (BSL3 or 4) facilities that were well-managed, with a staff health monitoring programme with no reporting of COVID-19 compatible respiratory illness during the weeks/months prior to December 2019, and no serological evidence of infection in workers through SARS-CoV-2-specific serology-screening. The Wuhan CDC lab which moved on 2nd December 2019 reported no disruptions or incidents caused by the move. They also reported no storage nor laboratory activities on CoVs or other bat viruses preceding the outbreak.”

In his remarks, Tedros also noted his team’s concerns about access to raw data. “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,” he said.

“I welcome the recommendations for further studies to understand the earliest human cases and clusters, to trace the animals sold at markets in and around Wuhan, and to better understand the range of potential animal hosts and intermediaries. The role of animal markets is still unclear.”

11:20 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

WHO scientist says more research is needed into origins of Covid-19

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Peter Ben Embarek speaks during a World Health Organization briefing on Tuesday, March 30.
Peter Ben Embarek speaks during a World Health Organization briefing on Tuesday, March 30. WHO

World Health Organization investigators studied more than 76,000 cases of respiratory conditions that were identified before December in Wuhan, China, for the WHO report, Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO scientist, said during a briefing on Tuesday. 

But Embarek added that more data is needed to study.

"We looked, among other things, into data coming out of different surveillance systems," Embarek said, adding that some 76,253 cases of respiratory conditions in October and November were examined. 

He said that the researchers also looked at data around 174 confirmed Covid-19 cases with symptoms that were identified in December.

Embarek said that this is just a first group of studies and "among other things, our recommendation is to look back in more detail into many of these datasets."

10:42 a.m. ET, March 30, 2021

New York City on the cusp of 4 million vaccinations, mayor says

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

A health worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine at a shelter in New York, on March 25.
A health worker administers a Covid-19 vaccine at a shelter in New York, on March 25. Angus Mordant/Bloomberg/Getty Images

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said as of Tuesday more than 3,200 homebound New Yorker’s had been vaccinated, with the team carrying out the initiative in contact with more than 14,000 residents.

He thanked the people helping to vaccinate homebound seniors as part of the city’s endeavor.

He also said the city is on the cusp of surpassing 4 million vaccination doses administered.

Google and Hudson Guild have partnered to prop up a new vaccination site next week prioritizing New York City Housing Authority public housing, including Fulton Houses and Chelsea Elliot Houses.

Google is committing $1 million to help advertise vaccination sites. 

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.