May 19 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth and Adam Renton, CNN

Updated 8:02 p.m. ET, May 19, 2021
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1:50 a.m. ET, May 19, 2021

Hong Kong gym superspreader event highlights risk for Covid-19 transmission in confined spaces, study says

From CNN Health’s Lauren Mascarenhas

A superspreader event at a Hong Kong fitness center highlights the risk of Covid-19 transmission in confined spaces with poor ventilation, according to a study published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tuesday.

Researchers with the University of Hong Kong studied how a trainer infected with Covid-19 was connected to 101 subsequent cases among gym visitors and 53 close contacts.

On March 10, a 27-year-old trainer at a fitness center in Hong Kong with no symptoms tested positive for Covid-19, according to the study. Since the trainer had been teaching in-person classes between February 28 and March 8, the gym was closed to the public and local health authorities began contact tracing.

About 300 people who visited the fitness center between February 25 through March 10 were required to be tested, and of those, seven staff members and 94 customers tested positive.

More than 80% of those cases were detected within three days of the trainer testing positive. The team also reported 53 close contacts of those cases tested positive for Covid-19, despite having no link to the fitness center.

Of the 102 cases connected to the gym, 46 showed no symptoms when they were tested -- a much higher proportion of asymptomatic cases than in the general Hong Kong population, researchers noted. The team said it wasn't clear why that was, although they noted the 102 cases were younger on average than the general population.

How it happened: The team used virus sequencing to determine the event had been caused by a "single virus introduction."

Visitors to the fitness center were not required to wear masks at the time of the outbreak and the gym had poor ventilation, which researchers said may have played a major role in the outbreak. 

After the outbreak, new recommendations were put in place to prevent similar outbreaks.

"Our finding highlights the risk for virus transmission in confined spaces with poor ventilation and limited public health interventions," the researchers wrote.
1:32 a.m. ET, May 19, 2021

Taiwan's presidential office criticizes China for blocking its access to Covid-19 vaccines

From CNN's Eric Cheung in Taipei, Taiwan

A person is administered with a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in New Taipei City, Taiwan, on May 13.
A person is administered with a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in New Taipei City, Taiwan, on May 13. I-Hwa Cheng/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Taiwan's presidential office has criticized China for blocking its access to Covid-19 vaccines as the self-ruled democratic island faces a new outbreak of the virus.

Kolas Yotaka, the office's spokesperson, said Wednesday that Taiwan's access to vaccines had been "slowed down by Chinese interference."

"If you really want to help please don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall," she tweeted from her verified Twitter account.

The comments came after China's Taiwan Affairs Office said Monday that Beijing was willing to "spare the most efforts in helping our Taiwan compatriots win the fight against the epidemic as soon as possible."

Taiwan has repeatedly accused Beijing of slowing its vaccine procurement from around the world. In February, Taiwan's Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said during a radio show that a deal with Germany's BioNTech was unsuccessful due to political pressure from China.

In response to China's statement, Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council said Monday that "the opposite shore does not need to fake good intentions."

"If mainland China does not obstruct us, we can procure more reliable vaccines from around the world even more quickly,” it said. “If the Chinese Communist Party really places livelihood first, it should stop sending military planes to disturb Taiwan, and allow Taiwan focus on fighting the epidemic."

China has been increasing its air deployments around Taiwan in recent months, sending dozens of warplanes into the island's air defense identification zone.

Vaccine research: Separately, Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen said the island is currently developing two Covid-19 vaccines, and they are expected to be made available as early as the end of July. The two vaccine candidates are currently at the end of stage 2 clinical trials, and the government will continue to offer support, she added.

Taiwan has one of the lowest Covid-19 vaccination rates in the world, with less than 1% of the 23 million population immunized, according to data collated by CNN.

12:50 a.m. ET, May 19, 2021

Covid-19 cases fall from record highs with 4.8 million infections globally this week, WHO says

From CNN Health's Ryan Prior

Reported Covid-19 cases worldwide declined for the third week in a row, although the numbers confirmed are still at some of the highest levels over the course of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Another 4.8 million new Covid-19 cases were reported around the world this week, along with nearly 86,000 new deaths, according to WHO's Covid-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update, which compiled data from national health authorities through May 16.

Declining cases: Cases fell 12% overall on the previous week. Europe reported the sharpest decline, with 26% fewer cases on the week before.

"All regions reported a decline in new cases this week apart from the Western Pacific Region, where the incidence of new cases was similar to the previous week," the report said.

Record highs: The global drop in recent weeks comes after Covid-19 cases reached an all-time peak in April. Covid-19 is continuing to spread at high rates in many countries.

The highest number of new cases was in India, with 2.3 million more people falling ill this week -- a 13% decrease from the last week. In Brazil, there were 437,000 new cases, up 3% from the previous week.

While India is in crisis, there are also worrying spikes in cases and hospitalizations in many nations including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Egypt, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing Friday.

"Covid-19 has already cost more than 3.3 million lives and we’re on track for the second year of this pandemic to be far more deadly than the first," he said.
1:08 a.m. ET, May 19, 2021

India records more than 4,500 Covid-19 deaths in a single day for the first time

From CNN's Swati Gupta in New Delhi

People mourn the death of family members who died of Covid-19 in New Delhi, India on May 18.
People mourn the death of family members who died of Covid-19 in New Delhi, India on May 18. Sajjad Hussain/AFP/Getty Images

India reported 4,529 new Covid-19 related fatalities Wednesday morning, the highest daily death toll the country has seen since the start of the pandemic.

It's the first time India has reported more than 4,500 deaths in a single day, and brings the country's total Covid-19 death toll to 283,248. 

India has reported more than 3,000 new Covid deaths every day since April 28.

The South Asian country reported 267,334 new cases of Covid-19 Wednesday, the third consecutive day it has seen fewer than 300,000 cases amid a devastating second wave of infections.

Wednesday's tally brings the country's total number of confirmed cases to 25,496,330, according to the Indian health ministry.

To date, 185.7 million vaccine doses have been administered in India, with 1,279,896 shots recorded on Tuesday, according to the health ministry.

10:44 p.m. ET, May 18, 2021

Thailand reports highest number of daily Covid deaths as virus tears through prisons

From CNN's Helen Regan and Kocha Olarn

Thailand reported its highest number of Covid-19 deaths in a single day Tuesday as officials struggle to contain a third coronavirus wave ripping through overcrowded prisons.

The Southeast Asian country's justice minister said authorities are hoping to prioritize vaccinating more than 300,000 inmates and jail staff by diverting doses from the health ministry.

On Monday, Thailand reported 9,635 new coronavirus cases -- the highest number of new infections since the pandemic began, according to its Covid-19 task force (CCSA). Of those cases, 6,853 -- more than 70% -- were found in eight prisons and detention facilities across the country.

By Tuesday morning local time, 2,473 new Covid-19 cases had been confirmed, of which 680 were from prisons. Thailand also reported 35 related deaths nationwide on Tuesday, its highest number of daily fatalities, according to CCSA.

The new figures bring the country's total number of confirmed cases to 127,184, with 649 related deaths -- relatively small numbers compared to those in other parts of the world. Thailand has managed to keep overall cases low until the most recent outbreak emerged in early April from a Bangkok entertainment district before spreading to a slum area.

Thailand's prison clusters came to light when several pro-democracy protest leaders, accused of insulting the monarchy and held in pre-trial detention following popular demonstrations last year, announced they had tested positive for Covid-19 after being released on bail. Following the news, Thai authorities began mass testing the country's prison population.

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10:47 p.m. ET, May 18, 2021

About 60% of American adults have had at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine, including more people of color

From CNN's Christina Maxouris and Holly Yan

The US has reached a "landmark day" in the Covid-19 pandemic as 60% of American adults have gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

In addition, more than 3.5 million people ages 12 to 17 have received their first dose, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said.

And more people of color are getting vaccinated -- marking "encouraging national trends," said White House Covid-19 Response Team senior adviser Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.

In the past two weeks, 51% of those vaccinated in the US were people of color. That's higher than the 40% of the general population these groups represent.

"We recognize ZIP code is a stronger predictor of health," Nunez-Smith said.

Meeting people where they are and bringing vaccines to communities seem to be working, she said.

Black, Latino and Native American communities have been hit particularly hard by Covid-19. And some in those groups were hesitant about getting vaccinated because of medical mistreatment in the past.

But efforts to protect minority communities appear to be paying off. From all the federal vaccination sites run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, about 60% of shots have been given to people of color, Nunez-Smith said.

And about 70% of shots administered through the federal government's community health centers have been given to people of color, she said.

But the need to vaccinate more Americans to help stop the virus from resurging is far from met.

"We need to continue to ensure vaccination coverage is uniform across the country," Walensky said Tuesday.
"This will require us to meet people where they are, to listen to their concerns, and to help people make informed decision about vaccination."

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