January 4 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Zamira Rahim and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, January 5, 2021
27 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
6:03 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

New UK variant detected in at least 37 countries

From CNN's Elizabeth Cohen

A health care worker prepares a vial for a swab sample at a Covid-19 test site in San Marcos, California, on January 2. San Diego County officials have confirmed that a virus variant first found in the UK has been detected in a patient there.
A health care worker prepares a vial for a swab sample at a Covid-19 test site in San Marcos, California, on January 2. San Diego County officials have confirmed that a virus variant first found in the UK has been detected in a patient there. Bing Guan/Bloomberg/Getty Images

A new variant of coronavirus first discovered in the UK, also known as B.1.1.7, is present in at least 37 countries as well as Hong Kong and Taiwan, according to CNN's count.

Experts say that while the variant appears to be more transmissible than other Covid-19 strains, there is no evidence it is deadlier or causes more severe disease.

Test results are expected this week from labs that are studying whether the variant might pose a challenge to coronavirus vaccines, according to a World Health Organization official. 

The UK variant is separate from another one first identified in South Africa.

The 37 countries are: United Kingdom, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Lebanon, Malta, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal, United Arab Emirates, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, United States (including cases in Florida, California and Colorado) and Vietnam.

5:39 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

German police struggle to keep skiers away despite nationwide lockdown

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

Police officers close the access road to the ski resort in Winterberg, Germany, on January 3.
Police officers close the access road to the ski resort in Winterberg, Germany, on January 3. Henning Kaiser/picture alliance via Getty Images

German police struggled to keep day-trippers off ski slopes in several regions over the weekend, despite a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. 

Authorities in the Winterberg resort near Düsseldorf said thousands of people traveled to the winter resort despite closed ski slopes and police efforts to blockade roads.

Over the weekend German police registered 182 violations of a law requiring face masks be worn, 99 violations of social distancing rules and one breach of the ban on alcohol consumption in public places, according to a police statement.

Authorities in the Eifel region also announced the closure of slopes to avoid breaches of Covid-19 regulations. Police in the Harz region asked people via Twitter on Sunday to avoid traveling there. 

Despite the lockdown, December was Germany's deadliest month in the coronavirus pandemic -- with a nearly threefold increase in the number of deaths since November, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country's disease and control center.  

Between December 2, 2020 and January 1, 2021 16,718 people died from Covid-19, compared to November when 6,155 deaths were recorded, according to the RKI. 

Germany's health care system has come under strain and hospitals in some areas are increasingly coming close to their limits.

On Tuesday, German chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with the 16 heads of the country's federal states to discuss whether the current lockdown in place until January 10 should be extended. 

Some regional leaders, including Bavaria's state premier Markus Söder, have already come forward calling for an extended lockdown until at least the end of January. 

On Sunday, Söder warned that infection numbers are still too high.

'We’re not yet able to assess how the situation has developed over Christmas, New Year and especially through the large numbers of travelers returning home," he said.
"That’s why it would be irresponsible to relax the lockdown now. Stopping too early would be highly damaging.''
5:10 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Delivery of vaccines to Finland is "considerably slower than expected," says health minister

From CNN's Schams Elwazer

Health workers at Helsinki University Hospital receive the first dose of Pfizer/BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine in Helsinki, Finland on December 27, 2020.
Health workers at Helsinki University Hospital receive the first dose of Pfizer/BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine in Helsinki, Finland on December 27, 2020. Alessandro Rampazzo/AFP/Getty Images

Finland's health minister has said delivery of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine doses to the country has been “considerably slower than expected,” according to public broadcaster YLE. 

The first batch of vaccines which reached Finland around Christmas only contained around 10,000 of the total expected 100-300,000 thousand doses, YLE reported, with an additional batch of 40,000 arriving last Wednesday.

"It must be said that it is slow compared to what was originally thought. There was talk of hundreds of thousands, not tens of thousands. This is considerably slower than expected," YLE quoted Kirsi Varhila -- the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health – as saying.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is currently the only vaccine authorized by the European Medicines Agency for use in EU countries. The Moderna shot and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine are both expected to be authorized soon.

Finland had Europe's lowest average of infections and deaths per capita in recent months, Johns Hopkins data shows.

The country has managed to contain local outbreaks while sticking to some of the most relaxed restrictions on the continent. 

4:37 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

South African coronavirus variant "more of a problem" than UK strain, health secretary says

From CNN's Schams Elwazer

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Monday that he is “incredibly worried about the South African variant” of the novel coronavirus and described it as “even more of a problem” than the new UK strain.

“This is a very, very significant problem,” Hancock told BBC radio.

The UK has already restricted flights from South Africa and mandated anyone traveling from there to quarantine on arrival.

Vaccine questions: Meanwhile, a leading Oxford scientist has said there was a “big question mark” around the effectiveness of current vaccines on the South African variant.

“My gut feeling is the vaccine will be still effective against the Kent strain,” Sir John Bell told Times Radio, adding “I don’t know about the South African strain, there’s a big question mark about that.”

The UK variant is believed to have originated in southeast England. British scientists say the pattern of mutations makes it more easily transmitted, although it does not appear to cause more severe disease.

"The mutations associated with the South African form are really pretty substantial changes in the structure of the protein," Bell added.

4:21 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

India embarks on one of the world's most ambitious vaccine rollouts

From CNN's Vedika Sud and Nectar Gan

A health worker is seen opening a deep freezer during a nationwide dry run for Covid-19 vaccinations at the health care center at Darya Ganj in New Delhi, India on January 2.
A health worker is seen opening a deep freezer during a nationwide dry run for Covid-19 vaccinations at the health care center at Darya Ganj in New Delhi, India on January 2. Naveen Sharma/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

India is embarking on one of the world's most ambitious mass immunization programs ever undertaken, after regulators approved the country's first two Covid-19 vaccines for restricted emergency use.

Indian drug regulators on Sunday gave the go ahead for two coronavirus vaccines, one developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, and the other conceived locally by Bharat Biotech and a government-run institute. 

Both vaccines will be administered in two doses and stored at standard refrigerator temperatures of 2 to 8 degrees Celsius (36 to 46 degrees Fahrenheit).

The approval is a crucial step in India's effort to contain its coronavirus outbreak, which has infected more than 10 million people, trailing only the United States in total caseload.

The country of 1.35 billion is planning to inoculate 300 million frontline workers, elderly and vulnerable people by August, and preparations have been months in the making.

The Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine maker, is producing the AstraZeneca and Oxford vaccine locally, having taken on a huge risk to manufacture the vaccine months before approval from regulators.

But the vaccines, locally branded Covishield, won't be available to other countries until March or April, as the Indian government has restricted them for export.

Read the full story:

3:58 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

Thailand reports largest daily increase in new Covid-19 cases since start of pandemic

From CNN's Kocha Olarn in Bangkok and Ally Barnard in Hong Kong

Employees clean and disinfect a train at Hua Lamphong Central Railway Station in Bangkok on January 4.
Employees clean and disinfect a train at Hua Lamphong Central Railway Station in Bangkok on January 4. Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

Thailand reported its largest daily increase in new Covid-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic on Monday, according to figures from the Department of Disease Control. 

The country reported 745 new Covid-19 cases, bringing its total to 8,439. Most of the new cases -- 577 -- involve migrant workers.

One additional fatality was also reported, bringing the total death toll in the country to 65.

Thailand has seen enviably low numbers of Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began. The country saw a surge in cases in March and April last year but the figures then dropped down to single or low double digits for several months before starting to pick up again in mid-December. 

Restrictions imposed: To contain the spread of the virus, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has banned restaurants from offering dine-in services from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., starting Tuesday.

On Sunday, the Thai government labelled Bangkok and 27 other provinces as "red zones," meaning that schools and entertainment venues are closed and large gatherings and are banned in those areas.

3:43 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

First patient in UK receives Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Brian Pinker, 82, receives the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine from nurse Sam Foster at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, England, on Monday, January 4.
Brian Pinker, 82, receives the Oxford University/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine from nurse Sam Foster at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford, England, on Monday, January 4. Steve Parsons/Pool/AP

The first patient in the UK has received the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine. 

Brian William Pinker, 82, received the shot early Monday morning at the Churchill Hospital in Oxford.

"I am so pleased to be getting the Covid vaccine today and really proud that it is one that was invented in Oxford," he said.
“The vaccine means everything to me, to my mind it is the only way to get back to normal life. This virus is terrible, isn’t it?”

Pinker said he first knew on Saturday that he was going to get vaccinated and was told he would be the very first patient. “Took me long enough to be a star,” he said. 

The AstraZeneca vaccine rollout began today in the UK and the country’s health secretary described it as a “real pivotal moment" as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in parts of the country.

Chief Nurse Sam Foster, who administered the vaccine, said: “It was a real privilege to be able to deliver the first Oxford vaccine at the Churchill Hospital here in Oxford, just a few hundred meters from where it was developed."

Pinker is a retired maintenance manager who has been having dialysis for kidney disease at the hospital. Others should get vaccinated too because “it is a no brainer,” he said.

"The nurses, doctors and staff today have all been brilliant and I can now really look forward to celebrating my 48th wedding anniversary with my wife Shirley later this year.”

The NHS is the first health service in the world to deploy the AstraZeneca vaccine and it's the only one approved that can be stored at fridge temperatures. The first vaccinations will be delivered at a small number of hospitals for the first few days for surveillance purposes, as is standard practice, before the bulk of supplies are sent to more GP-led services later in the week, NHS England said in a statement.

3:36 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

UK's rollout of AstraZeneca vaccine is a "pivotal moment," health secretary says

From CNN's Nina Avramova

The United Kingdom is starting its rollout of the Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine today and the country’s health secretary described it as a “real pivotal moment.”

“The very positive news this morning of the Oxford vaccine starting to be rolled out -- that’s a triumph of British science that we’ve managed to get to where we are,” Matt Hancock told Sky News Monday morning. 

The vaccine comes at a crucial time in Britain and Hancock said that the number of Covid-19 cases was sharply rising in parts of the country.

"Some of the Tier 3 areas are seeing sharp rises in cases, and each week we look at all of the areas of the country to check that they are in the right position in terms of the tiers. But, it is a very difficult situation in terms of the growth of the virus," he said.

But then we also have this very good news this morning, it’s a real pivotal moment with the arrival, actually in the hospitals of the UK, of the Oxford vaccine.”
3:23 a.m. ET, January 4, 2021

South Korea aims to approve AstraZeneca vaccine in February

From CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul

A vial of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is checked as doses arrive at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, England on January 2.
A vial of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca is checked as doses arrive at the Princess Royal Hospital in Haywards Heath, England on January 2. Gareth Fuller/Pool/AP

South Korea will expedite the vaccine approval process for the Oxford University/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, according to the country’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety. 

AstraZeneca has filed for approval of its vaccine, which could take only 40 days. Normal vaccine approval takes 180 days, according to the ministry.

Separately, a quality assurance permit approval will also be expedited to be completed within 20 days -- the full approval is expected to come in February.

AstraZeneca is producing the vaccine in South Korea at local firm SK BioScience, the ministry said.

The ministry said it's preparing cold-chain storage and logistical methods to deliver the vaccines.