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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9:03 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Widespread mask use can help stop virus outbreaks, study shows

From CNN's Jessica Firger

Makes for sale are displayed on a clothesline outside a residence in Los Angeles, California, on July 20, 2020.
Makes for sale are displayed on a clothesline outside a residence in Los Angeles, California, on July 20, 2020. Chris Delmas/AFP/Getty Images

Widespread use of face masks in a community can significantly help prevent large outbreaks of Covid-19, according to a study published Tuesday in The Lancet Digital Health.

The study is based on a mathematical model, and looks closely at the association between self-reported mask-wearing, social distancing and Covid-19 transmission.

Overall, the study found that a 10% increase in self-reported mask-wearing could lead to a three-fold increase in the odds of maintaining sufficient control over virus transmission in a community.

“Wearing face masks or face coverings in public spaces has been mandated by governments around the world to try and stem transmission of COVID-19. The aim is to provide a physical barrier that prevents the spread of virus-laden droplets," John Brownstein, senior author of the study, from Boston Children’s Hospital, said in a press statement.

"However, past evidence on the effectiveness of mask use against COVID-19 transmission is mixed and setting up randomized controlled trials to investigate this is challenging," he added.  

"Our findings, based on observational data, suggest a community benefit for wearing face masks for slowing the transmission of COVID-19; however, mandates alone may not be enough to increase mask use," Brownstein said. "We recommend that policy-makers consider additional strategies to evaluate and increase mask usage in order to disrupt the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic.”

The study is based on data from self-reported surveys of more than 300,000 people in the US between June 3 and July 27, 2020. Participants were asked to rate how likely they were to wear a mask while grocery shopping or visiting family and friends. The researchers used pre-pandemic data from Google Maps users to make estimates of physical distancing, and then crunched the numbers.

Self-reported mask-wearing was highest among people age 65 and older, as well as Black and Hispanic people. Mask use also varied according to a geographical location, with the highest number of self-reported mask wearers found along the West and East Coasts and southern border, as well as large urban areas.

“An important finding of this research is that mask-wearing is not a replacement for physical distancing and US states the practiced both at high levels had the best probability of controlling disease spread,” coauthor Ben Rader, of Boston Children’s Hospital and Boston University, said in a news release.

8:49 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Don't expect travel restrictions to be lifted — expect them to be tightened, incoming CDC head says

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control, speaks during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 8.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the Centers for Disease Control, speaks during a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 8. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, incoming director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday that she doesn’t expect coronavirus-related travel restrictions to be lifted. If anything, she said, they may be tightened.

“If you look at the fatalities of 400,000 that we’re likely to hit today, if you look at our cases across this country, I don’t think now is the time to encourage people to get on international flights, to encourage people to mobilize,” Walensky said on “Good Morning America.”

“I think now is the time to really buckle down, double down our efforts,” she said. “So, I don’t expect that we will be lifting travel restrictions, and if anything, I think we can expect that they might tighten, especially in the context of variants that we’re hearing about.”

On Monday, the White House released text from a new executive order by President Trump lifting coronavirus-related travel restrictions imposed on Brazil and much of Europe starting on January 26.

The incoming Biden administration countered the move, saying the order would not be implemented. Incoming press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted “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 added, “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.” 

10:01 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

New virus variant may have been circulating in the US before it was identified in UK, researchers say

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

A new variant of coronavirus first spotted in Britain has been imported to the US multiple times, and was apparently already circulating before it was even identified in the UK, researchers reported late Monday.

Biologist Michael Worobey of the University of Arizona said he's found evidence that the variant, also known as B.1.1.7, was imported at least five separate times to the US, and likely many more.

It is striking that this lineage may already have been established in the US for some 5-6 weeks before B.1.1.7 was first identified as a variant of concern in the UK in mid-December," he wrote in a post on a website dedicated to sharing genetic information about the virus.
"And it may have been circulating in the US for close to two months before it was first detected, on 29 December 2020."

Worobey also found evidence B.1.1.7 circulated in California without seeming to drive more transmission -- even though scientists widely agree the variant is more easily transmitted, and even though the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned last week it was likely to “increase the virus trajectory” in the United States.

“It is also worth noting the vast majority (more than 90%) of US B.1.1.7 cases appear to be generated in these well-established domestic outbreaks rather than via travel-related introductions from the UK or other affected countries, though such cases are surely also happening.”

The CDC says it’s had reports of more than 120 cases of the new variant in 20 US states, and says it’s almost certainly far more common than that.

8:06 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

No evidence that Pfizer/BioNTech shot increased risk of patients’ deaths, says Norwegian health authority

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in Glasgow and James Frater in London

There is no correlation between receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and increased risk of death among 23 deceased patients who received the shot in Norway, health officials said Tuesday.

The deaths occurred within six days of the inoculations, and the Norwegian Medicines Agency and the National Institute of Public Health are currently investigating the fatalities.

At present, there is no statistical analysis that indicates that a coronavirus vaccination has led to an increased risk of death in the vaccinated,” Sara Viksmoen Watle, chief physician at the Norwegian Institute for Public Health said in a statement published online.
“The fact that an incident coincides with vaccination does not necessarily mean that it is the vaccine that is the cause of the incident,” Watle said.

While it cannot be ruled out that common side effects such as headache, muscle aches, chills, joint pain and fever “may have contributed to a more serious course of events for some patients,” said Watle, the deaths must be looked at in context. 

“In order to be able to interpret this information, it is important to look at this as a whole. Nursing home residents have a very high risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from Covid-19, and have therefore been a priority group for vaccination,” Watle said.

“A large proportion of those living in nursing homes have serious underlying illnesses or are in the final stages of life. Life expectancy in nursing homes is relatively short, and we see that on average more than 300 people die in Norwegian nursing homes weekly,” she added.

The vaccine's side-effects are rare and usually mild. But they could include fever and nausea, which could be dangerous in very ill and frail patients.

Pfizer said in a statement sent to CNN on Saturday that it was aware of the reported deaths and "our immediate thoughts are with the bereaved families." Pfizer added it is working with the Norwegian authorities to gather all the relevant information.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said Monday that the deaths have to be put into context of the population that they occurred in.

Fauci said that his understanding was that the fatalities followed the booster dose of the vaccine when there are more non-specific symptoms, such as aches, fever and malaise.

"It is conceivable that when you have a very frail individual, such as many who are in nursing homes, that even that amount of stress to them could put them over the top," Fauci added.

Read more here:

8:02 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

It's 1 p.m in London and 8 a.m. in New York. Here's the latest on the pandemic in Europe

FFP2 face masks are pictured in Dortmund, Germany, on January 19. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of Germany's 16 states meet Tuesday to consider further measures to control the coronavirus outbreak.
FFP2 face masks are pictured in Dortmund, Germany, on January 19. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of Germany's 16 states meet Tuesday to consider further measures to control the coronavirus outbreak. Ina Fassbender/AFP/Getty Images

Here are some of the key coronavirus lines from Europe today:

  • Germany considers stricter measures. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime ministers of the country's 16 federal states are meeting Tuesday to discuss possible further restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19. Up for debate: Mandatory FFP2 or N-95 masks to be worn on public transport and in shops, a possible curfew, an extension to the current restrictions, as well as more working from home.
  • Doctors in Norway investigating the deaths of 23 elderly patients who recently received the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine said they had not found any evidence to suggest being inoculated was a contributing factor.
  • France officials warn against home-made mask use. Health Minister Olivier Veran repeated a caution from the French health council that fabric face coverings don't “offer all the necessary guarantees.” He also described the country's Covid-19 infection rates as “high but stable," as it ramps up its vaccine rollout to people aged 75 years or older.
  • UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock is self-isolating after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. He previously tested positive for Covid-19 last March.
  • A third of England's Covid-19 patients have been re-admitted to hospital, study finds. Many of those who end up back in the hospital have a variety of problems that indicate long-term damage to the heart, the kidneys, the liver and other organs, British researchers reported.
7:47 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

London’s ICU workers reveal the grim reality of the UK’s devastating second wave

From CNN’s Kara Fox

In a week that has seen the UK record the highest Covid-19 death rate in the world, intensive care unit nurses working in the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) say the crisis has pushed them to the brink, in a desperate effort to confront the alarming surge of cases.

Multiple ICU workers have told CNN the overwhelming numbers they are seeing in this second wave has forced them to "dilute" their level of care – by treating significantly more patients than are usually recommended at a time.

Ameera Sheikh, an ICU nurse and Unite union representative at a London hospital, told CNN that instead of one patient -- or even two -- she and her colleagues are now each looking after up to eight patients at a time.

"Nurses aren't able to deliver the care we are used to and should be giving," said Sheikh, who has worked for the NHS for 11 years. "Instead, we are increasing the risk of errors occurring that can lead to patients deteriorating, life-threatening situations and death."

The NHS has not responded to CNN's request for comment, but on Sunday its chief executive, Simon Stevens, told the BBC the nurse to patient ratio varies between hospitals from 1:1 to 1:2 to 1:3, and that staff were making "dynamic adjustments in real time."

One veteran ICU worker, who asked to remain anonymous, told CNN that with one patient, it’s easier to give excellent care but that if healthcare professionals are handling a number of patients, "things are going to potentially get missed."

Their frontline testimony comes as infection rates across the English capital -- the epicenter of the UK's current surge -- are around 1.5 times higher than in other parts of England according to the latest government data. 

Healthcare workers also spoke of the "extreme pressure" hospitals and staff are facing, the impact of misinformation that the pandemic is a hoax and the brutal mental and physical toll combating coronavirus has had.

Read the full report here:

7:32 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

French health minister warns against use of fabric face masks

From CNN’s Saskya Vandoorne in Paris 

French Health Minister Olivier Veran, center, speaks during a visit to the University Hospital 'CHU Grenoble Alpes' in Grenoble, France, on January 18.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran, center, speaks during a visit to the University Hospital 'CHU Grenoble Alpes' in Grenoble, France, on January 18. Allili Mourad/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

France’s Health Minister Olivier Veran has cautioned the public against using home-made fabric face masks as they don’t "offer all the necessary guarantees."

Veran was reiterating a warning previously issued by France's health council.

"All masks which have a filtering power greater than 90% are valid, that includes almost all surgical masks for the general public," he said.

"Artisan masks that you make at home, with the best intentions in the world, respecting the official advice, do not necessarily offer all the necessary guarantees."

Veran's remarks came in an interview with France Inter radio on Tuesday, in which he described the country's Covid-19 infection rates as "high but stable" with roughly 20,000 new cases a day over the past several weeks.

Veran told the broadcaster that the 6 p.m. curfew currently in place was having an effect, but that he was still very concerned by the spread of the more transmissible Covid-19 variant first identified in the UK. France has registered 200 to 300 new cases of the variant a day. 

The minister was also asked about France's vaccination rollout for people over 75 – which kicked off on Monday -- amid complaints that many have been unable to make appointments.

He said the booking process is being streamlined, and added that: "As more doses become available, so too will appointments."

There are over 900 vaccination centers in France, and more than two million appointments have been made for the first and second dose of the vaccine, according to Veran.

7:04 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Portuguese soccer giant Benfica confirm mass outbreak

From CNN’s Aleks Klosok in London and Duarte Mendonça in Portugal

The Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal, prior to a match between SL Benfica and Lech Poznan in December 2020.
The Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal, prior to a match between SL Benfica and Lech Poznan in December 2020. Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Portugal's most decorated soccer club, Benfica, announced 17 new positive Covid-19 cases among their playing squad, coaching staff and general staff on Tuesday.

The Lisbon-based club said it had asked the country's department of health to recommend whether or not it should fulfil its fixtures within the next 14 days, given both public safety and the health of its players.

Benfica are scheduled to face Braga in the Portuguese League Cup semifinal on Wednesday.

On Monday, Portugal set a new record for Covid-19 related deaths, according to the country’s Health Ministry.

The latest figures show 167 Covid-19 related deaths – making it the deadliest day since the start of the pandemic – and bringing the total death toll to 9,028, according to the new data.

Portugal recorded 6,702 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, bringing the country's total to 556,503, according to Johns Hopkins University.

6:30 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Israel hits new record in virus cases, as government mulls closure extension

From CNN's Andrew Carey and Amir Tal in Jerusalem

Medics care for a COVID-19 patient at the Sheba Medical Center's isolation ward, in Ramat Gan, Israel, on January 18.
Medics care for a COVID-19 patient at the Sheba Medical Center's isolation ward, in Ramat Gan, Israel, on January 18. Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images

Israel has recorded its highest figure of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, with 10,021 people added to the list of Covid-19 sufferers on Monday.

The new Ministry of Health figures were “worrying,” the country’s corona czar, Dr. Nahman Ash, admitted on Israeli radio Tuesday morning, highlighting a positivity rate in tests of 10.2%.

Of particular concern are positivity rates in ultra-Orthodox areas, which are more than double the national figure, currently between 20-22%, Ash added.

The total number of cases since the pandemic began now stands at 562,167, with the number of fatalities in Israel now recorded at 4,049, according to the latest figures.

The climb in numbers comes just days before Israel is due to emerge from what was labeled its third lockdown. Ash told radio listeners he hoped a Tuesday afternoon meeting of the Cabinet would approve a further extension of two weeks.

Health Ministry figures show that vaccination continues apace, with 2,185,113 people having now received their first dose, out of a population of about 9 million; 420,015 have received their second dose.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces the electorate in a fourth election in two years in March, has made Israel’s world-leading vaccination program the central message of his re-election campaign.

In a new video posted to his Facebook page, the Prime Minister is seen standing in his office describing a display case inside which are mounted a replica of a Roman arrow and a miniature of Israel’s Arrow missile. He then moves on to another display case inside which is mounted the syringe with which he received his first coronavirus vaccine injection last month.

“Another arrow,” he says.

Underneath the case is engraved the phrase the Prime Minister offered the nation on the evening he received his first dose, live on television, “A small injection for man, a giant leap for the health of us all.”