The latest on the Covid-19 pandemic as Olympics approach

By Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Mike Hayes and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 0209 GMT (1009 HKT) July 21, 2021
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11:24 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

India's excess deaths could be up to ten times the official Covid-19 death toll, study finds

From CNN’s Esha Mitra

The number of excess deaths reported during India’s Covid-19 pandemic could be up to 10 times the official Covid-19 death toll, a working paper published by the US-based Center for Global Development said. 

Between 3.4 and 4.9 million estimated excess deaths were reported in India between Jan. 2020 and June 2021, while the Indian health ministry's reported death toll of approximately 400,000. 

“We have no reason to hide deaths...many people have said the Indian government is hiding the death toll, the Indian government simply compiles and publishes the figures sent to us from state governments," Mansukh Mandaviya, India’s newly-appointed health minister, said in the upper house of parliament on Tuesday, in response to questions regarding the underreporting of deaths. 

"The Indian government has never asked for deaths to be under-reported,” Mandaviya added.

The Center for Global Development study was based on three different estimates of excess deaths. The first estimate of 3.4 million is based on the excess deaths recorded by India’s civil registration system, that keeps a record of births and deaths, in seven states which account for about half of India’s total population. 

The second estimate of four million deaths relies on India’s own seroprevalence surveys which show the proportion of the country’s population that has been infected with Covid-19, applying international infection fatality rates to this data.  

The third estimate of 4.9 million excess deaths relies on the Center for the Monitoring of the Indian Economy's survey of more than 800,000 individuals across all states to capture mortality during the first wave and some of the second wave.  

The study acknowledges that each of these three estimates have their limitations and that the number of excess deaths reported in the country do not equate to Covid-specific deaths. The authors specifically note that official death numbers tend to be underreported and that the data from the Center for the Monitoring the Indian Economy has not historically tracked closely with official mortality data. 

However it finds that the first wave of the pandemic was “more lethal than is popularly believed” and their estimates show a higher number of excess deaths reported during the first wave than the second. 

“Regardless of source and estimate, actual deaths during the Covid pandemic are likely to have been an order of magnitude greater than the official count,” the study noted.

“True deaths are likely to be in the several millions not hundreds of thousands, making this arguably India’s worst human tragedy since partition and independence,” it added. 


12:19 p.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Committee denies deaf-blind US Paralympian's request for Personal Care Assistant due to Covid-19

From CNN's Kevin Dotson and Alyssa Kraus

Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

American swimmer Becca Meyers is withdrawing from the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games after she said the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee denied her request to bring her mother to serve as her Personal Care Assistant.

Meyers, who is deaf and blind, has relied on her mother as her Personal Care Assistant for all of her international meets since 2017, she said. However, the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee denied the request to bring her mother to Tokyo due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Instead, Meyers said the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee will provide one Personal Care Assistant to assist the 33 American Paralympic swimmers, nine of whom are visually impaired.

"With Covid, there are new safety measures and limits on non-essential staff in place, rightfully so, but a trusted PCA is essential for me to compete," Meyers wrote in a statement.

"So, in 2021, why as a disabled person am I still fighting for my rights? I'm speaking up for future generations of Paralympic athletes in hope that they never have to experience the pain I've been through. Enough is enough," she wrote.

10:44 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Delta variant now represents 83% of sequenced samples in US, CDC director says

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

The Delta variant of Covid-19 now makes up more than 80% of sequenced samples in the United States, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday. 

“CDC has released estimates of variants across the country and predicted the Delta variant now represents 83 percent of sequenced cases,” she said in a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing. “This is a dramatic increase, up from 50 percent for the week of July 3."

The CDC’s variant-tracking webpage has not yet updated it’s Nowcast variant estimate data for the last two weeks. 

The most recent data from Israel evaluating effectiveness of Pfizer’s mRNA Covid-19 vaccine against the Delta variant found the vaccine to be 64% protective against infection, and that the vaccine is 93% effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalizations.


10:37 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Indonesia extends Covid-19 restrictions to July 25

From CNN’s Jake Kwon and Masrur Jamaluddin

Indonesia will extend its restrictions to curb Covid-19 to July 25, President Joko Widodo said in a speech streamed live on Tuesday.

Indonesia implemented restrictions in the beginning of July in all provinces on two of the country’s main islands, Java and Bali, then expanded them to 15 districts and cities outside of those two islands as the situation worsened.  

The measures closed mosques and churches and allowed restaurants and shopping malls to open only until 5 p.m. local time and 75% of non-essential workers must work from home and school education has to be done online. The restriction was to expire on Tuesday.

“Since the Emergency Restrictions were implemented, the new cases and the bed occupancy in hospital has decreased,” President Widodo said. “If the trend of cases continues to decline, on July 26, 2021, the government will gradually open the restrictions."

On Tuesday, the country reported at least 38,325 new cases and 1,280 deaths, bringing total number of cases to 2,950,058 and total deaths to 76,200. Only 6% of its population are fully vaccinated, according to the ministry. 

On Monday, Indonesia reported 1,338 Covid-19 deaths, the highest daily number since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the ministry.

10:12 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

US will send 3 million additional Covid-19 vaccines to Honduras and El Salvador

From CNN's Priscilla Alvarez

Sergio Flores/Getty Images
Sergio Flores/Getty Images

The United States will begin shipping more than three million additional Covid-19 vaccines to certain Central American countries on Tuesday, a White House official told CNN.  

The US plans to send ship 1.5 million doses of the Moderna vaccine to Honduras and 1.5 million Moderna doses to El Salvador through the global vaccination program called Covid-19 Vaccines Global Access, or COVAX, adding to prior shipments provided to both countries this year.

The US will also provide 500,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Panama in a bilateral donation, the official said. White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced Monday that the US was also sending 3 million vaccines to Guatemala, after shipping 1.5 million Moderna doses there earlier this month. 

"Scientific teams and legal and regulatory authorities from both countries have worked together to ensure the prompt delivery of safe and effective vaccine lots to the three countries," an official said.

The shipments are part of an ongoing effort by the Biden administration to provide Covid-19 vaccines to other countries and reassert US leadership on the world stage. Sending the vaccines to Latin America will also serve to counter efforts by Russia and China to use their own state-funded vaccines to expand their influence in the region and across the globe.

The White House has said it has been monitoring and is concerned by efforts by Russia and China to use vaccines to make geopolitical gains. Many countries – including in Latin America, which has traditionally been an area of US influence – have been buying up large numbers of Russian and Chinese vaccines to fill the gaps in their own vaccine rollouts.

Over recent weeks, the US has announced a series of vaccine shipments. Psaki also said Monday that more than one million Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines were set to go to Gambia, Senegal, Zambia and Niger. 

"The United States continues its tremendous effort to donate Covid-19 vaccines from the US global supply," Psaki said, adding: "The shipments demonstrate the United States is fulfilling our promise to be an arsenal of vaccines for the world, and we're proud to be donating these doses to save lives and help those in need."
9:42 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Surge in Covid-19 cases delays Hong Kong – Singapore air travel bubble review

From CNN’s Jake Kwon

The review for the much anticipated Hong Kong – Singapore travel bubble has been delayed to late August, Hong Kong government said in a news release on Tuesday.

“Given the recent surge of confirmed cases in Singapore, the condition for launching the (air travel bubble) could not be met for the time being,” the statement said. 

Plans for a travel bubble between the two Asian cities were already postponed for a second time in May because of a Covid-19 outbreaks in Singapore. 

The bubble aimed to allow quarantine-free travel, provided travelers showed proof of a negative Covid-19 test.

The two sides agreed that the review will now be conducted in late August, "taking into account the effectiveness of the enhanced infection control measures implemented by Singapore,” the statement said.

The government had been discussing air travel bubble, which would allow travelers of each cities to enter without quarantine, provided that they test negative for Covid-19. Originally planned for May, the measure had been delayed pending joint epidemiological review.

Singapore tightened its measures against Covid-19 on Monday as it reported its highest number of new infections since August last year. 

9:18 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Tokyo 2020 chief not ruling out an 11th-hour cancellation of the games as Covid-19 cases rise

From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto attends a press conference on July 9, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto attends a press conference on July 9, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. Behrouz Mehri/Pool/Getty Images

Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto is not ruling out an 11th-hour cancellation of the Olympics Games amid rising Covid-19 cases.

"We cannot predict what the epidemic will look like in the future. So as for what to do should there be any surge of positive cases, we’ll discuss accordingly if that happens," Muto said during a news conference held in Tokyo on Tuesday.

"During the last five-party talk, it was clearly stated we’ll continue to monitor the coronavirus situation, and a five-party talk will be held if necessary," Muto added.

"At this stage, the coronavirus situation might get worse or better, so we will think about what to do when the situation actually arises," Muto said.

8:39 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

Belgium keeps compulsory mask mandate and tightens travel rules

From CNN’s James Frater

Belgium will maintain its compulsory mask mandate and tighten its travel rules following a review of its coronavirus measures, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced Monday.

Speaking at a news conference in Brussels Monday evening, De Croo noted that “the vaccination campaign is progressing very well, we now have more than 8 in 10 adults who have received a first dose, that puts us at the top in Europe.”

“Of the people who are vulnerable – because they have an underlying condition – today 3 in 4 of those people are fully vaccinated. And, if we look at the over sixty-fives, today it is more than 9 in 10 who are fully vaccinated,” he added

But the prime minister warned, “we have to relax the measures step by step. We have to remain vigilant. People can still get sick.”

Wearing a face covering will remain mandatory indoors in places such as: shops, public transport, cafes, bars, places of worship, or in places where social distancing can't be maintained, with the exception of children under the age of 12.

There will be a stricter procedure for countries from the European Union or Schengen area where dangerous virus variants circulate. When returning from such a European high-risk zone, people who have not yet been fully vaccinated must also take a PCR test on day 7 in addition to a PCR test on day 1.

The measures will be in place till at least Sept. 1 and will be reviewed in one month, a news release said.

In the latest figures from Sciensano, the Belgian Health Authority, the number of infections and admissions to hospital have begun to rise. 

From July 13 to 19, on average, 26 people were admitted to hospital each day, a 48% increase on the week before. 

The latest consolidated data on coronavirus cases shows that between July 10 to 16, an average of 1,330 cases were reported each day, a 42% increase on the week before. 

In total Belgium has recorded 1,107,208 cases and 25,213 coronavirus related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

9:37 a.m. ET, July 20, 2021

US renews "public health emergency" due to Covid-19

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on June 10, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra testifies during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on June 10, 2021 in Washington, DC. Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra on Monday signed a renewal of the determination that the United States remains under a "public health emergency" due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The determination was last renewed in April and was set to expire – as it is up for renewal every 90 days. This latest renewal is effective starting Tuesday and will continue for another 90 days.

What this means: A public health emergency declaration, which can last for the duration of the emergency or 90 days, allows for the emergency use authorization of vaccines, the access of certain funds to address the emergency, and the deployment of military trauma care providers, among other factors.

The White House had signaled for weeks that it planned to extend the public health emergency determination.

In June, local health officials told CNN that the White House was expected to extend its declaration of a national public health emergency due to the pandemic.

"They are committed to ensuring that the emergency order remains in place through the end of the year – even as they recognize that the current order is about to expire in July," Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of City and County Health Officials, told CNN last month.

"There are a lot of things tied to that public health emergency order, including it helps states and local jurisdictions with the pandemic response, but it can be impactful to other forms of assistance like Medicaid eligibility coverage provisions that were changed under the declaration of a public health emergency order," Freeman said. "If an emergency order is lifted, some people could no longer be eligible for some of the health-related coverages that they had gotten under the emergency."

The nation's public health emergency has been in place since late January 2020.