March 31 coronavirus news

By Joshua Berlinger, Christopher Johnson and Angela Dewan, CNN

Updated 0629 GMT (1429 HKT) April 1, 2021
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8:02 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Peru will enter total lockdown Thursday to curb spread of Covid-19

From Stefano Pozzebon

Peru will enter a total lockdown starting Thursday through Easter Sunday to try curb the spread of the pandemic, the Peruvian government announced Wednesday.

The total lockdown includes a 24-hour curfew, ban on the use of private vehicles, and only one person per household is allowed to leave home for essential shopping, according to a statement from the Peruvian Council of Ministers.

Domestic flights and inter-city public transport will also stop, the statement read.

The announcement comes as Peru is experiencing a resurgence in Covid-19 cases just days ahead of the first round of presidential elections, scheduled for April 11. 

Peru has reported at least 1,533,121 Covid-19 cases and at least 51,635 Covid-related deaths, according to data collected by John Hopkins University.

7:12 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Massachusetts to receive more than 100,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

Massachusetts will be receiving more than 100,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine when nationwide shipments resume next week, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday.

“I can't tell you how important that is,” Baker said. “And as I’ve said before, thank God Pfizer and Moderna were there when they were there, but the difference between two doses and one dose is not just convenience, it’s also capacity.”

“I think for many of us, this is a big sign, a big statement, and we have heard many times that it's coming, but it's coming. This is a big sign that things are actually starting to get here,” the governor added.

Baker said it would be up to the state to absorb the growing federal supply and make sure doses get into people’s arms.

7:02 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

"Quality" issue at Baltimore vaccine plant delays some of Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Jen Christensen

Employees work in a lab at Emergent Biosolutions, which is manufacturing vaccines for AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson on February 8,  in Baltimore, Maryland.
Employees work in a lab at Emergent Biosolutions, which is manufacturing vaccines for AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson on February 8, in Baltimore, Maryland. Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post/Getty Images/FILE

Drugmaker Johnson & Johnson said Wednesday it had found a quality problem at a Baltimore plant helping manufacture its coronavirus vaccine under contract.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that workers at Emergent, the Baltimore plant that has been making Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, accidentally mixed up some of the ingredients, ruining as many as 15 million potential doses of vaccine and delaying US Food and Drug Administration authorization of the plant. 

Johnson & Johnson said in a statement to CNN Wednesday that the quality control process at the plant identified “one batch” of drug substance that did not meet quality standards. The batch in question was a part of test run and quality check. The site is not yet authorized by the FDA to make the drug substance used in the vaccine.

“This batch was never advanced to the filling and finishing stages of our manufacturing process,” the emailed statement from the company said.

None of the lost doses impact the company's goal of delivering 20 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in March. For that, the company said Wednesday, it is on track.

“This is an example of the rigorous quality control applied to each batch of drug substance. The issue was identified and addressed with Emergent and shared with the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA),” the statement said.

“Quality and safety continue to be our top priority. Therefore, as we continue to work with FDA and Emergent toward the Emergency Use Authorization of the Emergent Bayview Facility, Johnson & Johnson is providing additional experts in manufacturing, technical operations and quality to be on-site at Emergent to supervise, direct and support all manufacturing of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. In coordination with the US Department of Health & Human Services, these steps will enable us to safely deliver an additional 24 million single-shot vaccine doses through April," the statement added.

The FDA told CNN it is “aware of the situation, but we are unable to comment further” and referred CNN back to Johnson & Johnson. The manufacturer, Emergent, also referred CNN back to Johnson & Johnson.  

Last week: The Biden administration expressed some doubts the company could meet its self-imposed deadline, but by Friday, the administration seemed more confident that Johnson & Johnson would meet its goal, as White House coronavirus coordinator Jeffrey Zients said, "they appear on track to meet that goal with at least 11 million doses delivered next week."

The FDA authorized Johnson & Johnson's single-dose Covid-19 vaccine in late February, but the company had struggled to ramp up production and failed to meet earlier production timelines that had been laid out in its contract with the federal government.

The Biden administration has worked with all three authorized vaccine manufacturers to ramp up the supply of the Covid-19 vaccines. President Biden used the Defense Production Act to acquire new materials and equipment and brokered a rare partnership between Johnson & Johnson and pharmaceutical rival Merck & Co., to make more vaccines. That vaccine supply won't be available until later in the year.

In February, Johnson & Johnson also said it had been working to expand its own manufacturing capacity and was expanding the number of third-party vaccine manufacturers with which it was working.

6:38 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Covid-19 led to a global increase in stillbirths, maternal mortality, new study says

From CNN's Jen Christensen

The Covid-19 pandemic had a significant and negative impact on pregnant women and their infants, according to a global review of studies that examined the collateral impact of the pandemic on pregnancy outcomes.

The study published Wednesday in the journal the Lancet, found that stillbirths and maternal deaths increased by nearly a third, according to pooled data from 40 studies that covered 17 countries. 

The number of women who needed surgery for an ectopic pregnancy - when the fertilized egg grows outside a woman’s uterus that, left untreated, can cause life-threating bleeding - increased almost six-fold between January of 2020 and January 2021.

The researchers from St. George’s University of London determined that many of these problems may stem from the lack of access women had to medical care during the pandemic. Hospitals were overburdened with Covid-19 patients and some women may have been reluctant to go to the doctor, concerned about exposure to Covid-19. 

The number of women who reported symptoms of depression also increased, according to six of the 10 studies the researchers evaluated. Rates of maternal anxiety were also higher. 

More context: Globally, the one rate that didn’t change much is the number of pre-term births. Pooled data from higher-income countries, though, showed a 10% reduction in preterm births. It’s unclear why. The rate stayed the same in low- and middle-income countries.

“It is clear from our study and others that the disruption caused by the pandemic has led to the avoidable deaths of both mothers and babies, especially in low- and middle-income countries,” said lead author Dr. Asma Khalil, a professor of obstetrics at St. George’s University of London. “We urge policymakers and health care leaders to prioritize safe, accessible, and equitable maternity care within the strategic response to the pandemic and aftermath, to reduce adverse pregnancy outcomes worldwide.”

Dr. Denise Jamieson called the results of this study “concerning.” Jamieson did not work on the study but is the James Robert McCord Chair in Gynecology and Obstetrics at Emory University and a member of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ Covid OB Expert Work Group.

“Overall, this provides compelling evidence that the effects of the pandemic go well beyond the effects of Covid infection,” Jamieson said. “It shows that there are far-reaching adverse effects on maternal and infant health that may last long beyond the pandemic.”

Jamieson said scientists saw a similar pattern of problems in countries that were impacted by the Ebola epidemic that started in 2013. 

“This is a pattern we’ve seen before,” Jamieson said. “When you have an infectious disease that consumes a lot of healthcare resources and affects large segments of the population, maternal and infant health suffer.”

5:27 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Italy makes coronavirus vaccines mandatory for health care workers 

From CNN's Livia Borghese

The Italian government has made the coronavirus vaccine mandatory for all health care and pharmacy workers, according to a new decree passed on Wednesday. 

In a statement, the government said the measure was introduced to protect medical staff, patients and vulnerable people who are at a risk of infection.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said there was “great satisfaction” on the decree’s passing, adding that winning the “health battle is a prerequisite for a real restart of the country.” 

Health care workers who refuse the vaccine will be reassigned where possible to not be in contact with patients. However, sanctions can include not being paid, according to Labour Minister Andrea Orlando who provided details at the end of a cabinet meeting on Wednesday night.

The decree also protects those who administer the vaccine by excluding them of criminal liability as long as the inoculation has been carried out in accordance with instructions set by the health ministry. 

The Italian government has also extended coronavirus restrictions until the end of April. The only exception will be for students up to 14 years old who will have to return to school even if they are in a “red zone,” the strictest three-tier system Italy has adopted to curb the spread of the virus.

According to the latest data from the Italian health ministry there has been an increase of at least 23,904 coronavirus cases on Wednesday and at least 467 deaths over a 24-hour period. 

This brings the total number of cases to at least 3,584,899 since the start of the pandemic. 

5:30 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

CDC warned the UK variant would become dominant by March, and there's evidence it has

From CNN’s Michael Nedelman and Christopher Rio

Mounting evidence suggests the more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the UK, which experts believe is partly driving an uptick of cases in places like Michigan, may already be dominant across the US.

“I think we are there,” said William Lee, vice president of science at Helix, a company whose tests have identified a large share of variant cases across the country. “But at the end of the day, it's hard to say for sure,” given gaps and delays in the data.

Lee is one of the authors of a study published Tuesday in the journal Cell estimating that the variant, known as B.1.1.7, would cause the majority of Covid-19 cases in the US by March 19. 

According to that study, B.1.1.7 cases are expected to double every week and a half as a percentage of the country’s total coronavirus cases. The study also concluded the variant was introduced several different times to the US, as early as late November. The study’s conclusions were based on testing data through February.

Lee said that there’s strong evidence the variant is already responsible for a majority of cases in states like Florida, Michigan and Georgia — with a number of others close on their heels, like Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Texas and Southern California. However, Helix’s data does not include robust samples from a number of other states, particularly in the Northeast and Midwest regions.

While officials with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention won’t yet say whether the variant is dominant, its scientists previously predicted this would be the case by now. 

In January, a CDC study predicted that the variant would exhibit “rapid growth in early 2021, becoming the predominant variant in March.” At the time, the variant was assumed to account for less than 0.5% of cases. 

“B.1.1.7, we know from our most recent data, is about 26% of circulating virus right now,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing Wednesday. This appears to be based on preliminary data of samples collected in the two weeks leading up to March 13, according to CDC’s website. “It is starting to become the predominant variant in many US regions," she added.

A CDC spokesperson told CNN Wednesday that “national prevalence estimates are inherently delayed by a few weeks.” While the present-day picture of the variant is “unclear,” they said the agency expects to share its projections “in the near future,” based on mathematical modeling that’s currently underway.

Nearly 12,000 cases of the variant have been identified in 49 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC, per the CDC. The agency said this does not represent the total number of such cases circulating in the US, but rather just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples.

Florida and Michigan lead the country in these raw numbers. 

4:50 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Kentucky will open vaccine eligibility to people 16 and older next week

 From CNN’s Rebekah Riess

Kentucky Governor's office
Kentucky Governor's office

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced the state will be moving up opening Covid-19 vaccine eligibility to Kentuckians 16 and older from April 12 to April 5.

Beshear said the state decided to move up its vaccination schedule because a number of other states are seeing increasing Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, and because Kentucky is seeing open vaccine appointments across the state that it wants to fill

“So, starting on Monday, if you’re 16 and up, you qualify to get this vaccine, no other limitations out there. So, make sure you make your plan to get your shot of hope,” the governor said Wednesday.

Beshear also announced that Kentucky’s Department of Corrections is now scheduled to receive extra Johnson & Johnson vaccines on either April 2 or April 5, which will cover all interested inmates as soon as next week. He noted that the Kentucky State Penitentiary and Western Kentucky Correctional Complex will hold off on vaccines for the moment, as they are currently recovering from an outbreak.

4:19 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Nursing homes see a 96% decline in Covid-19 cases since vaccines rolled out in late December

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Nursing homes have seen a 96% decline in new Covid-19 cases since vaccines started rolling out in late December, according to a new analysis from the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living (AHCA/NCAL).

By March 7, the country saw the lowest number of weekly cases and deaths since Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has been tracking them, according to the report published Tuesday. With 547 deaths the week of March 7, deaths were down 91% since December.

Since December, nursing home cases have been declining at a much faster rate than community cases, the group’s analysis showed.

“We are not out of the woods yet, but these numbers are incredibly encouraging and a major morale booster for frontline caregivers who have been working tirelessly for more than a year to protect our residents,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, said in a statement. “This trend shows that when long term care is prioritized, as with the national vaccine rollout, we can protect our vulnerable elderly population.”

AHCA/NCAL represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and long-term care facilities around the country. The facilities provide care for about five million people a year. 

4:18 p.m. ET, March 31, 2021

Trial of Moderna’s variant-specific Covid-19 vaccine has begun, US health institute says

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

The clinical trial for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine designed to protect against the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa, has begun, the US National Institutes of Health said Wednesday.

First shots have been administered as part of Phase 1 of the trial that is taking place in the Atlanta, Cincinnati, Nashville, and Seattle areas.

The trial aims to enroll around 210 participants.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, current available vaccines should be “adequate” against the variant, but NIAID is continuing its work with Moderna on this trial “out of an abundance of caution.”

The variant-specific vaccine is also an mRNA vaccine that targets spike proteins, like Moderna’s original vaccine, but the targeting takes into account the mutations that distinguish the B.1.351 variant. 

The trial will be enrolling people who have already received Moderna’s initial vaccine as well as people who are so far unvaccinated. Participants will be split into eight different vaccine cohorts that will test different dosages and combinations. Some participants will receive only the variant-specific vaccine or the general vaccine, while some will be testing a combination regimen of the two.