January 19 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Sharon Braithwaite and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021
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11:31 p.m. ET, January 18, 2021

China and WHO acted too slowly on Covid-19, pandemic response panel says

From CNN's Jessie Yeung and Sharif Paget

Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.
Former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. Getty Images

China and the World Health Organization (WHO) could have acted quicker and more forcefully to contain the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, an independent review panel said on Monday. 

In its second interim report, the Switzerland-based Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response determined that Beijing could have been more vigorous in applying public health measures when cases were first detected in the city of Wuhan, in Hubei province.

"What is clear to the panel is that public health measures could have been applied more forcefully by local and national health authorities in China in January (2020)," the report said.

The first cases in Wuhan occurred between December 12 and December 29, 2019 according to city authorities. The cases weren't reported to WHO until December 31. By the time Wuhan went under lockdown on January 23, 2020 the virus had already spread to Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the United States.

Several countries, most vocally the US and Australia, have accused Beijing of downplaying the outbreak's severity during its early stages, and preventing an effective response until it was too late.

WHO criticism: The independent panel, co-chaired by former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also criticized WHO for its delays in sounding the alarm, and called for reforms to the UN agency. 

Despite being alerted to the cases by the end of December, 2019 WHO did not convene its emergency committee until January 22, 2020 -- and then waited until January 30 before declaring an international emergency.

"It is not clear why the committee did not meet until the third week of January, nor is it clear why it was unable to agree on the declaration of a public health emergency of international concern when it was first convened," the report said. 

The report also highlighted that WHO did not declare the outbreak a pandemic until March 11, 2020 after some health experts and media outlets had already begun adopting the term. By that time, there were already 118,000 cases and more than 4,000 deaths worldwide.

Read more:

8:46 p.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Trump moves to lift some Covid-19-related travel restrictions, but Biden plans to block the order

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Caroline Kelly and Gregory Wallace

President Donald Trump on Monday lifted coronavirus-related travel restrictions for much of Europe, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Brazil, effective on January 26 -- a move that President-elect Joe Biden's administration has promised to block.

In an executive order issued Monday evening, Trump said he had been advised to lift restrictions on incoming travelers to the United States from the 26 European countries in the Schengen Zone, the UK, Ireland and Brazil but leave in place restrictions on travel from Iran and China.

"I agree with the Secretary that this action is the best way to continue protecting Americans from COVID-19 while enabling travel to resume safely," Trump wrote in the order, referring to Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar.

Biden administration's response: Biden is set to take over the presidency on Wednesday and his incoming press secretary, Jen Psaki, said that his administration would not lift the restrictions.

"With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel," Psaki said on Twitter. "On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26. In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19."

Reuters was first to report the order.

Tests for travelers: The expected easing of travel restrictions comes after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week it will require a negative Covid-19 test from all air passengers entering the United States -- a move it says may help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Air passengers will be required to get a test within three days before their flight to the US departs, and to provide written documentation of their lab results, or documentation of having recovered from Covid-19, the agency said in a statement to CNN.

CNN has reached out to the White House Coronavirus Task Force as to whether the panel approved the anticipated move.

Read the full story:

8:12 p.m. ET, January 18, 2021

California becomes first US state to surpass 3 million Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

California has become the first state in the US to record more than 3 million Covid-19 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project.

The number of cases in the nation's most populated state has tripled in just the past two months.

Current data shows 3,005,830 cases and 33,623 deaths resulting from the virus that has plagued the nation and debilitated the economy.

Hospitals throughout the state remain overwhelmed with patients seeking treatment. Covid-19 hospitalizations have dropped to just under 21,000 patients, but the number of available ICU beds remain incredibly low. There are just 1,113 ICU beds available statewide.

About 90% of the state remains under stay-at-home orders due in part to limited intensive care unit capacity. Regions of the state are eligible to have the order lifted once four-week projections show an ICU capacity of more than 15% available.

More than 1 million of the state's cases are in Los Angeles County, where about 1 in 10 people have been confirmed to have contracted the virus. Health officials speculate the actual number may be as high as one in three.

Read more:

11:06 p.m. ET, January 18, 2021

World is "on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure" with vaccines, says WHO chief

From CNN's From Zahid Mahmood

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organized by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the Covid-19 outbreak on July 3, 2020 in Geneva.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a press conference organized by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the Covid-19 outbreak on July 3, 2020 in Geneva. Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images

As countries across the world roll out millions of coronavirus vaccines, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) gave a frank warning about the fairness of the global situation.

"The world is on the brink of a catastrophic moral failure" in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday, adding that "the promise of equitable access is at serious risk."

"More than 39 million doses of vaccine have now been administered in at least 49 higher-income countries. Just 25 doses have been given in one lowest-income country. Not 25 million; not 25 thousand; just 25," Tedros said at the opening the WHO Executive Board meeting.
"I need to be blunt ... the price of this failure will be paid with lives and livelihoods in the world’s poorest countries," he added.

"Ultimately, these actions will only prolong the pandemic, the restrictions needed to contain it, and human and economic suffering," Tedros said.

The WHO chief added that "vaccine equity is not just a moral imperative, it is a strategic and economic imperative," and called for a fairer vaccine distribution across the world.

11:07 p.m. ET, January 18, 2021

Restrictions could be gradually eased from March in the UK, says minister

From CNN's Nina Avramova and Lindsay Isaac

Minister for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi leaves 10 Downing Street as the UK enters its third lockdown on January 5 in London.
Minister for Covid-19 Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi leaves 10 Downing Street as the UK enters its third lockdown on January 5 in London. Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Pandemic restrictions could be lifted from March in the United Kingdom once the most vulnerable are protected with a Covid-19 vaccine, according to a government minister.

The reopening of the country will be "gradual, it will be probably through the tiered system," and likely two to three weeks after the middle of February target for vaccinating the "top four cohorts" of vulnerable people, the vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told the BBC on Monday. 

The government plans to administer the first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by February 15 to about 15 million people across the UK, including care home residents, health and social care workers, and older people.

“If we take the mid-February target -- two weeks after that you get your protection pretty much for the Pfizer/BioNTech [vaccine], three weeks for the Oxford/AstraZeneca, [then] you are protected," Zahawi said.