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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11:23 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

New York City expected to run out of vaccines by Thursday, Mayor says

From CNN's Sheena Jones

Health workers wait for patients to administer Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines at the opening of a new vaccination site at Corsi Houses in Harlem, New York on January 15, 2021. 
Health workers wait for patients to administer Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines at the opening of a new vaccination site at Corsi Houses in Harlem, New York on January 15, 2021.  Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images

New York City is set to run out of vaccines by Thursday if the state doesn’t receive more doses, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday. 

The mayor added as the city is vaccinating people "faster and faster," the city needs more doses. 

At least 455,737 people have been vaccinated across New York City, de Blasio said. 

New York has 92,000 doses left from the "first doses" received, and officials are expecting another 53,000 doses coming in today, de Blasio said. 

"If we don’t get more vaccine quickly we will have to cancel appointments," de Blasio said. 

"Get us the vaccine," de Blasio added.

10:34 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Head of Italian Medicines Agency expresses "grave concern" over Pfizer vaccine delays

From CNN's Valentina Di Donato in Rome

A resident of the Anni Azzurri elderly care home in Rome receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as part of the coronavirus vaccination campaign by healthcare workers of Asl Roma 1 on January 8, 2021. 
A resident of the Anni Azzurri elderly care home in Rome receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as part of the coronavirus vaccination campaign by healthcare workers of Asl Roma 1 on January 8, 2021.  Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

The director general of the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) Nicola Magrini expressed "grave concern" over delays of the Pfizer vaccine.

“The Pfizer delay is of grave concern. It was all communicated at the last minute, if it's just a week's delay the consequences may not be so serious," Magrini said Tuesday on Italian radio station 'Radio Capital'.

"We can define it as a small slowdown,” Magrini added.

AIFA's President Giorgio Palù told CNN that the agency doesn’t directly purchase the vaccine as that falls in the remit of the Health Ministry and the extraordinarily-appointed Italian Covid-19 Commissioner. “AIFA doesn’t work on supply and distribution, we can only say we hope more vaccines arrive,” Palu said.

Some background: Last week, Pfizer announced shipments from its vaccine facility in Puurs, Belgium, would be temporarily reduced as it scales up to produce two billion Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021. 

The pharmaceutical company announced Friday that they will resume their original schedule to deliver the coronavirus vaccines to the European Union, starting the week of Jan. 25.

10:30 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Biden adviser says variants could turn the pandemic into a situation "unlike anything we’ve seen yet"

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Michael Osterholm, a coronavirus adviser to President-elect Joe Biden and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said on CNN’s New Day Tuesday, that he worries that in the coming weeks, the coronavirus pandemic will turn into something unlike anything seen before, and most people don’t realize that yet. 

“We’re going to suddenly see these variants come to play that based on the experience we’ve seen in Europe, in particular, South Africa, these variants can substantially increase the number of cases,” Osterholm said.

“I worry desperately in the next six to 12 weeks we’re going to see a situation with this pandemic unlike anything we’ve seen yet to date,” Osterholm said. “And that is really a challenge that I don’t think most people realize yet.”  

When asked by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota if there was anything that the Biden administration could do to prevent this, Osterholm said the first step is “to get people to understand: This will happen, we are going to see a major increase in cases, the challenge is how many.” 

Secondly, he said “we can’t make the vaccine go much faster than it is right now,” adding that while he knows the Biden administration will do everything it can to move vaccine out, other actions are needed now.

“The difference is going to be, are we going to react now or later,” Osterholm said. Like other places, he said that the US will take “dramatic steps” to deal with the variants, but “the question is how soon will we do it? Do we put the brakes on after the cars wrapped around the tree, or we try to put the brakes on before we leave the intersection?” 

“That’s the challenge,” he said. “I just don’t know if we’re really prepared to even have that discussion yet.” 

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

US should stay focused on preventing Covid-19 cases, not changing travel restrictions, Biden adviser says 

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

Travelers wait in line to check in for a flight at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) amid a COVID-19 surge in Southern California on December 22, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. 
Travelers wait in line to check in for a flight at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) amid a COVID-19 surge in Southern California on December 22, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.  Mario Tama/Getty Images

Michael Osterholm, a coronavirus adviser to President-elect Joe Biden and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said on CNN’s New Day Tuesday the focus needs to stay on preventing Covid-19 cases in the United States – and he wouldn’t change any current coronavirus-related travel restrictions.

“At this point, I wouldn’t change anything that we’re talking about in terms of restrictions, let’s take a look at them and see what’s really meaningful,” Osterholm said, following a move by President Donald Trump to lift coronavirus-related travel restrictions imposed on Brazil and parts of Europe.

Osterholm said that the focus has to stay on preventing cases linked to currently high rates of new cases and hospitalizations.

“Keep our eyes focused on the ball, which is what’s happening right here in the United States now,” he said.

Some background: On Monday, the White House released text of a new executive order by Trump that would lift coronavirus-related travel restrictions imposed on Brazil and much of Europe starting on Jan. 26. 

However, the incoming Biden administration said that the order would not be implemented, with incoming press secretary Jen Psaki tweeting, “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.”

9:22 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Nepal bans passengers from UK after variant cases emerge

From CNN's Sugam Pokharel in Kathmandu 

Covid-19 positive swab samples are pictured at the Bidh lab in Kathmandu, Nepal, on January 18.
Covid-19 positive swab samples are pictured at the Bidh lab in Kathmandu, Nepal, on January 18. Prabin Ranabhat/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Nepal has reported the first known cases of the new Covid-19 variant first identified in England in three passengers who recently arrived from the UK, the country's health ministry says. 

The swab samples of the three travelers, who arrived in Nepal earlier this month, were sent to a World Health Organization lab in Hong Kong — and the results confirmed the new variant, the ministry said in a statement. 

Following the detection, Nepal has banned all passengers originating from or transiting through the UK from entering the country until further notice, its home ministry said in a statement on Monday.

The small South Asian country has so far reported a total of 267,992 Covid-19 cases and 1,969 deaths, according to the latest government data.  

9:07 a.m. ET, January 19, 2021

Storm grows around Australian Open as tennis authority refutes claims players are infected with Covid-19

From CNN's Angus Watson in Sydney

Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley is pictured speaking to the media in January 2020, in Melbourne, Australia.
Australian Open Tournament Director Craig Tiley is pictured speaking to the media in January 2020, in Melbourne, Australia. Darrian Traynor/Getty Images

The controversy surrounding the upcoming Australian Open continues to grow as Tennis Australia’s chief executive Craig Tiley denied that any players from the tournament have tested positive for Covid-19, hours after the Victorian government said two players had confirmed cases earlier in the day.

Tiley told reporters at a press conference Tuesday that of seven confirmed cases from three chartered flights into Melbourne, one was a flight attendant and the rest were part of player entourages. Tiley said he could not comment on the statement from the government and acknowledged that several players had shown viral shedding suggesting they had been previously infected. 

Players arriving in the Australian state of Victoria have been placed into a 14-day quarantine ahead of their grand slam matches. Most have been allotted five hours each day to go out and train in strict bio-secure bubbles, but 72 players have been unable to leave their hotel rooms and cannot practice, under strict quarantine rules after passengers on their flights tested positive for Covid-19.

As a result some athletes have expressed frustration at the situation they have found themselves in and raised concerns that those who are allowed out could have an unfair advantage.

Tiley also addressed accusations from some players who have said risk of strict quarantine was not properly communicated prior to departure for Australia. He said event organizers were in touch with players’ groups frequently and the idea that they didn’t know about quarantine policies is “simply not true.” 

The tournament director believes some players may have had different experiences in the pandemic and had brushed off the reality of what quarantine would be like as they hadn’t experienced one themselves.

When asked about accommodations being made for the 72 players under hard lockdown, Tiley said Tennis Australia has “great deal of empathy to supporting them.” 

“I don’t know exactly what that means yet but we’ll definitely look at scheduling, practice courts, practice times, courts where they practice, availability of time and they will have the priority.”

Australia has allowed 1,270 foreigners to enter the country to participate in the event in the face of some of the world’s most stringent arrival policies. Last year, the Victoria state capital Melbourne -- the second-most populous city in Australia -- was plunged into a brutal lockdown for 111 days.

Aware that many are looking to the Australian Open as a preview of the potential logistical challenges for hosting large-scale international sporting events in the middle of a pandemic, Tiley said, “I don’t think any of us grasped the difficulty of managing such a mammoth task in delivering this."

“I think we’ll provide a lot of intelligence for the Olympic games,” he said of the logistics for athletes.

“If we pull this off, I’m a lot more confident in the Olympic games being able to happen too.”

Read more on the Australian Open turmoil here:

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

Covid-19 vaccines might not be as effective against variant first identified in South Africa, researchers say

From CNN Health's Elizabeth Cohen

A coronavirus variant that first appeared in South Africa and has now been spotted in more than a dozen other countries might partially evade the vaccines, researchers said during a presentation Monday.

“We do now have very compelling data both from our labs and from many other labs around the world to support the fact that these mutations are problematic,” said Penny Moore, associate professor at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa.

Researchers in South Africa and elsewhere are studying whether it can evade antibodies created by the vaccines. Study results are expected within the next week or two.

The researchers are concerned because the vaccines target the spikes on top of the virus, and this variant has mutations in two different regions of the spike.

“When we see mutations like this specifically in those two regions, it’s a strong indication that the virus has managed to evade neutralizing antibodies – neutralizing antibodies are the types of antibodies that stop a virus from being able to infect a cell," Moore said.

The coronavirus was thought to be relatively stable — but nearly 100 million people have caught the virus, and each time it spreads to another person, it gets a chance to mutate.

“It creates more opportunities for the virus to learn how to be resistant to the vaccine,” Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at the Rockefeller University told CNN last week. “It’s going to be, over time, likely chipping away at vaccine efficacy, but we’re not going to fall off a cliff tomorrow.”

Such misbehavior wasn’t expected from a coronavirus, Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute, told CNN.

“This virus really showed us it can adapt, and could be able to escape,” he said. “It just goes back to the first rule of virology: don’t underestimate your virus.”

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.”