The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Florence Davey-Attlee, Hannah Strange and Rob Picheta, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, January 14, 2021
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8:03 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

British ski instructors-in-training suspected of bringing UK variant to Austrian Alps

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz in London

A cluster of Covid cases in the Austrian ski resort of Tyrol has been linked to a group of mainly British skiers who had traveled there to train to be instructors.

The local government said 17 people found to be positive were now being tested to see if they had the UK variant of the virus.

“The first light symptoms regarding this were recorded in the majority of the people concerned on January 3. As a result of these and subsequent positive antigen test results, further investigations were initiated after the abnormalities in the PCR test were known. It then turned out that these were people of different origins -- mostly British citizens,” Elmar Rizzoli, head of the CORONA special unit, said.

"They were staying in Tyrol for professional purposes as part of a ski instructor training course," Rizzoli said, while stressing there were no ski lessons and therefore no contact with students.

Rizzoli said the group had been in Austria for a while, with the last individual arriving on December 18. Austria imposed a landing ban for aircraft from the UK on December 22, the Tyrol government press release notes.

While most of Europe's slopes have been largely closed to visitors this winter, the Alps were a hotspot for Covid-19 at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020 when the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl was, for a while, seen as the continent's Covid ground zero.

8:24 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

EasyJet cabin crew to become Covid-19 vaccinators as UK rollout is fast tracked

From CNN's Lauren Kent and Lindsay Isaac in London

An EasyJet plane lands at Newcastle Airport in England on October 30, 2020.
An EasyJet plane lands at Newcastle Airport in England on October 30, 2020. Robert Smith/MI News/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Cabin crew members and pilots for the British discount airline EasyJet will be trained to administer Covid-19 vaccines, the company said Wednesday. 

Easyjet said it expects hundreds of its employees to volunteer for “fast tracked” training to become vaccinators at immunization centers across the country. 

“With over 3000 crew who are first aid trained, security cleared and based up and down the UK in London, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Belfast, easyJet cabin crew are well positioned to support the NHS (National Health Service) in the nation-wide vaccination programme,” the airline said in a statement. 

EasyJet, like other airlines, has been operating on a reduced schedule since the beginning of the pandemic with many employees receiving government support.  

“As cabin crew we are in a great position to support the vaccination effort because of the first aid and safety-focused training we receive for our job, cabin crew member Katy Bryant said. 

Britain set out plans this week to “rapidly scale up” its vaccine program, as cases of the new variant surge and hospital admissions threaten to overwhelm the health service. The government pledged to have capacity to deliver at least two million vaccinations in England per week by the end of January and for every adult in the UK to be offered a vaccine by autumn.

Last year, EasyJet, Virgin Atlantic and other airlines in the UK worked with the government to recruit crew members with first-aid training to support coronavirus field hospitals and to volunteer as frontline workers. 

British Airways crews volunteered with ambulance services or took on support roles in hospitals, performing non-clinical tasks such as changing beds and helping patients call their families. According to a British Airways statement in December 2020, more than 1,500 employees gave up their time last year "to volunteer and support organisations across the UK, including volunteering at Covid-19 test centers and foodbanks" as well as at ambulance services and the British Red Cross. 

6:47 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

Germany to tighten restrictions on incoming travellers

From CNNs Claudia Otto in Berlin

Germany is introducing tighter rules for travelers returning to the country, due to the risk of new coronavirus mutations currently spreading in some parts of the world. 

According to the German health ministry, starting January 14, anyone entering the country from an area of risk must be able to prove that they are not infected with the coronavirus no later than 48 hours after entering the country.

Those arriving from the worst affected countries must also present a negative test result prior to entering Germany. These include the UK and South Africa, two places where highly transmissible variants of the virus were first detected.

German Health Minister Jens Spahn said that "traveling abroad to risk areas is not in keeping with the pandemic situation. Those who nevertheless do not want to forego this must in future be tested on their return. Virus mutations are an additional danger to our health. We must prevent a spread in Germany as much as possible."

Germany will continue its existing quarantine rules for travelers. After entering the country all travelers must stay in quarantine for ten days unless they can provide a negative test, in which case quarantine is shortened to five days. 

6:34 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

Chinese Covid-19 vaccine far less effective than initially claimed, sparking concerns

From CNN's Nectar Gan, Tatiana Arias and Yong Xiong

João Doria, governor of São Paulo, displays a box of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech during a press conference in São Paulo, Brazil, on July 21, 2020.
João Doria, governor of São Paulo, displays a box of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech during a press conference in São Paulo, Brazil, on July 21, 2020. Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images

A leading Chinese Covid-19 vaccine developed by Sinovac Biotech was just 50.38% effective in late-stage trials in Brazil, significantly lower than earlier results showed, according to a statement published by the government of Sao Paulo Tuesday.

While the number just exceeds the threshold required for regulatory approval, it falls far below the 78% previously announced, raising questions as to the veracity of the data and fueling skepticism over the apparent lack of transparency regarding Chinese vaccines.

"The Butantan Institute and the Government of Sao Paulo report that the coronavirus vaccine achieved a 50.38% overall efficacy rate in the clinical study conducted in Brazil, in addition to (an efficacy rate of) 78% for mild cases and 100% for moderate and severe cases of Covid-19. All rates are higher than the 50% level required by the WHO (World Health Organization)," the statement released Tuesday said.

The Brazilian state body financed the phase 3 trials of the vaccine -- known as CoronaVac -- which involved 13,000 health workers across eight Brazilian states.

On Tuesday, high-ranking members of the Brazilian Health Ministry told CNN affiliate CNN Brasil that "the effectiveness is borderline," and that because it was "at the limit," they would need to wait for the evaluation by the country's health regulatory agency ANVISA.

Sinovac Biotech has confidence in its vaccine, it told CNN in a statement on Wednesday.

In response to a question about why there are so many different efficacy rates reported, the company said: "The results are from different populations, in different places with different morbidity rates, and therefore they span a relatively large range."

The final efficacy rate of the vaccine will be determined by China's drug regulator, the National Medical Production Administration, according to the representative.

Read more on this story:

7:02 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

Japan declares state of emergency for seven more districts

CNN's Junko Ogura in Tokyo

A view of signs of bars and restaurants in Shinjuku District in Tokyo, Japan on January 13, 2021.
A view of signs of bars and restaurants in Shinjuku District in Tokyo, Japan on January 13, 2021. David Mareuil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency in seven additional areas across the nation at the government Covid-19 task force meeting Wednesday.

The state of emergency will be implemented for Osaka, Hyogo Kyoto, Aichi, Gifu, Fukuoka and Tochigi prefectures until February 7.

Last week, the prime minister declared a state of emergency for the capital Tokyo and three neighboring areas due to rising infections. It brings with it a number of restrictions on daily life.

The state of emergency orders companies to encourage their staff to work from home and reduce office populations by 70%. Residents of the affected areas are also urged to avoid non-essential outings and restaurants are ordered to close by 8pm. Sports and entertainment events are also requested to limit the number of attendees.

Suga also said the country will temporarily ban the entry of all foreign nationals into the country, but did not give details as to when the ban would take effect.

This comes as Japan's Covid-19 cases have continued to increase. Japan's Health Ministry reported 4,527 new Covid-19 cases from Tuesday and 51 new deaths. The ministry data showed the number of patients in serious condition across the country rose to 881, up 17 from the previous day. 

On Tuesday the head of the Tokyo Olympics organizing committee insisted preparations would continue for the games, which are due to be held in July and August this year after being postponed from 2020. Meanwhile a poll conducted by Japanese public broadcaster NHK found that 77% of respondents believe the they should be cancelled or postponed further.

5:22 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

French government adviser says UK variant can be slowed by new measures

From CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne in Paris

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the end of the One Planet Summit held at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France on January 11, 2021.
French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a speech at the end of the One Planet Summit held at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, France on January 11, 2021. Ludovic Marin/AFP/Getty Images

The head of the scientific council that advises the French government warned Wednesday of the spread of the new variant first discovered in the UK. 

Speaking to France Info radio on Wednesday morning, Delfraissy said, "the variant is going to spread and we cannot stop it, we can slow it down by taking a number of restrictive measures.” 

However, he recommended keeping schools open with stricter rules in place such as faster testing. Delfraissy said it would be a good thing if some university students were able to physically attend classes at the end of February as depression is “a real issue”.

Delfraissy added that according to a recent study the British variant accounted for 1% of the new Covid-19 infections in France. 

French President Emmanuel Macron will chair a Defence Council meeting Wednesday to decide on new restrictions. 

This comes as the government in neighboring Italy has extended its state of emergency until the end of April. The health minister there told members of parliament that the current tiered lockdown system will be kept in place and that Italians need to “learn to live with the virus for a while because it is still circulating with growing strength.”

5:17 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

Armenian president hospitalized with severe Covid-19

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz in London

President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian attends a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on October 21, 2020.
President of Armenia Armen Sarkissian attends a press conference in Brussels, Belgium on October 21, 2020. NATO/Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The president of Armenia is in the hospital with a severe case of Covid-19, his assistant has told CNN.

Hasmik Petrosyan says that President Armen Sarkissian, who was in London over the New Year to visit his grandchildren, was hospitalized on Monday in the British capital. 

Sarkissian is “very weak" and also suffering from pneumonia, Petroysan said.

"The President has the symptoms characteristic to this condition, including high fever.”

London has been experiencing some of the highest infection rates in the United Kingdom and was placed under the country's top level of restrictions before Christmas.

4:27 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

UK health secretary considers putting Covid patients in hotels "if clinically right for them"

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau in London

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks at a coronavirus news conference at 10 Downing Street on January 11, in London, England.
British Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks at a coronavirus news conference at 10 Downing Street on January 11, in London, England. Alastair Grant/WPA Pool/Getty Images

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday that authorities were considering putting Covid-19 patients in hotels as a “backup plan.”

It comes as the National Health Service (NHS) is facing intense pressure from a high number of Covid-19 cases.

“We are considering all the options, it isn't something that we're actively putting in place. But I would say that it would only ever happen if that was clinically right for any individual patient,” Hancock told BBC Breakfast. 
“There is a lag from the number of cases, through to the number of people turning up in hospital. So we know that those pressures on the NHS are going to continue to build over the next couple of weeks because that lag from people catching coronavirus to ending up in hospital is between a weekend or two,” he added. 

On hotels, Hancock said that, “It's obviously not what I want to do. And the NHS Nightingale hospitals are there as the backup,” referring to temporary hospitals established by NHS England as part of the response to the pandemic.

Asked which patients would be sent to hotels, the health secretary said it, “would be for step-down patients or patients who have been in hospital, who no longer need the full hospital treatment but aren't quite ready to go home.”

4:06 a.m. ET, January 13, 2021

Germany's Bavaria is set to make high-protection masks mandatory for public transport and shopping

From CNN's Claudia Otto in Berlin

Two women wearing FFP2 masks board a train in Bavaria, on January 12, 2021.
Two women wearing FFP2 masks board a train in Bavaria, on January 12, 2021. Sven Hoppe/picture-alliance/Getty Images

Starting next Monday, people in the German state of Bavaria will be required to wear an “FFP2” mask on public transport and while shopping. 

The FFP2 filtering mask is standardized in Europe. It differs from surgical masks in that it usually has four layers and is meant to provide a high degree of protection. FFP2 masks are often used in construction, agriculture and by healthcare workers. An equivalent is the N95 mask.

"We want to make everyday life safer," Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder said Tuesday. The southern German state, which borders Switzerland and Austria, is especially hard-hit by the virus.

The Covid-19 situation in Germany remains serious. Last week, Germany's government announced an extension of the country's national lockdown until the end of the month and will further tighten restrictions on movement and contact in order to curb the spread of the virus.

"It is not said that the tighter lockdown by the end of January has pushed Covid-19 back so far that we can relax again," said vice chancellor and finance minister Olaf Scholz in an interview with Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung newspaper. "Anyone who promises that now is acting recklessly and destroying trust."    

South Africa variant: Meanwhile, the southwest state of Baden-Wuerttemberg announced Tuesday that it had identified its first cases of the coronavirus variant first spotted in South Africa, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs.

"These persons are all in surveillance, so we do not assume that beyond that, we have more infections," Stefan Brockmann, Health Ministry spokesman in Baden-Wuerttemberg, said in an interview on public broadcaster SWR.

New cases: On Wednesday, the national agency for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute, reported 19,600 Covid-19 cases, bringing the total to 1,953,426.

The death toll increased by 1,060, and now stands at 42,637.