January 20 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Sharon Braithwaite and Hannah Strange, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021
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9:55 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

The number of North Korean defectors entering South Korea plummeted in 2020. It's probably due to the pandemic

From CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul and Joshua Berlinger

Only 229 North Korean defectors entered South Korea in 2020, a drop of nearly 78% compared to the previous year, according to South Korea’s Unification Ministry.

The number of people fleeing North Korea’s repressive regime, which bars most of its citizens from traveling abroad, has been on the decline in recent years as the government has tightened its border controls.

But last year’s steep drop is likely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. North Korea severed the last of its scant ties with the outside world in 2020 to prevent an influx of coronavirus cases, even cutting off almost all trade with China -- an economic lifeline the impoverished country needs to keep its people from going hungry.

9:12 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

White House press secretary outlines Covid parameters for Biden administration

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Jason Hoffman 

The White House will require daily testing for coronavirus and N95 masks for staffers in a bid to model good pandemic behavior, according to press secretary Jen Psaki.

She said the new rules also include stringent requirements on social distancing.

Psaki said President Joe Biden "has asked us also to be models to the American people" -- a contrast to the previous administration, which largely ignored government mask and social distancing recommendations.

Psaki also said the administration will resume regular briefings with public health officials in addition to the daily White House press briefings. 

“We'll have more to share with you in the next few days, hopefully before the weekend, but what we plan to do is not just return these daily briefings … but also to return briefings with our health officials and public health officials,” Psaki said at her first White House briefing.
“We want to do those regularly, in a dependable way with data shared with all of you and with the public, so that they can also track progress we're making on getting the pandemic under control.” 

Psaki said that the White House will combat misinformation by giving accurate information to the American people “even when it is hard to hear.”

The Trump administration had briefings with health officials regularly last spring when the coronavirus pandemic initially took hold, however those briefings were often not entirely focused on the pandemic as then-President Donald Trump led them awry.

Those regular briefings ended in April after Trump suggested injecting disinfectant could be a cure for coronavirus.  

8:39 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Infectious Diseases Society of America endorses President Biden's federal building mask order

From CNN Health's Andrea Diaz

Infectious diseases specialists endorsed President Joe Biden’s first executive order requiring face masks on federal property and other areas of federal authority, saying masks are “crucial” to controlling the coronavirus pandemic.

"The president’s order comes at a critical point, when vaccines, as well as a plan to accelerate their rollout, offer new hope, but also when more easily transmitted variants of the virus present new challenges," the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) said Wednesday.
"We urge governors, mayors, policymakers and residents of communities across the nation to unite behind this action and to require, support and practice mask wearing to control the spread of the virus."

Biden’s team is hoping state and local leaders will follow suit,

"While those who are vaccinated can be protected from severe illness, they may still transmit the virus to others who are not, underscoring the importance of mask use even among those who are vaccinated," the IDSA said.

"Significant numbers of Americans remain unvaccinated and the duration of vaccine protection remains unclear."

8:16 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Coronavirus prevalence in England at "highest level" since peak of first wave — UK Study

From CNN's Nada Bashir in London

A coronavirus study commissioned by the UK Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has warned that the prevalence of coronavirus is at its highest since the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, adding that infections in England increased by 50% from early December, with one in 63 people infected.

"Prevalence of infection at the beginning of 2021 is at the highest levels since the peak of the first wave in March and April 2020,” the study, carried out by the Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and Ipsos MORI, noted. 

While the prevalence of coronavirus increased nationally in all adult age groups, the study found it was highest in 18- to 24-year-olds at 2.51%. Among people aged 65 and over, the prevalence has more than doubled -- from 0.41% to 0.94%. 

“Our data are showing worrying suggestions of a recent uptick in infections which we will continue to monitor closely. To prevent our already stretched health system from becoming overwhelmed, infections must be brought down,” Paul Elliott, director of the program at Imperial, said.

Speaking in response to the findings, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that the country “must not let down our guard” over the coming weeks.

“It is absolutely paramount that everyone plays their part to bring down infections. This means staying at home and only going out where absolutely necessary, reducing contact with others and maintaining social distancing,” he added. 

The new findings come just after the UK reported its highest daily increase in coronavirus-related deaths, with 1,820 deaths recorded on Wednesday.

7:47 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

CDC reports more than 140 US cases of variant first identified in the UK

From CNN Health’s Michael Nedelman

At least 144 cases of a variant first identified in the UK have been identified in 20 US states, according to data posted Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This includes at least 46 cases in Florida, 40 in California, 17 in New York, six in Colorado, five in Georgia, five in Minnesota, four in Indiana, three in Maryland, three in Texas, two each in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Mexico and Pennsylvania, and one case each in Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, Oregon, Utah, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

CDC says this does not represent the total number of cases circulating in the US, but rather just those that have been found by analyzing positive samples. The agency cautions that its numbers may not immediately match those of state and local health departments.

While the variant, known as B.1.1.7, appears to spread more easily, there's no evidence that it's any more deadly or causes more severe disease, according to CDC. It has also been found in at least 60 countries worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

Related Coverage: Coronavirus variant discoveries in UK and South Africa began with a bet of a bottle of wine

7:48 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Chile authorizes emergency use of Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Christoper Ulloa in Santiago, Chile

A panel of experts from Chile’s Institute of Public Health voted to authorize the emergency use of Covid-19 vaccine made by Chinese company Sinovac on Wednesday, for people between the ages of 18 and 59. The vote was 10 in favor, 2 against, and one abstention.

Heriberto Garcia, the director of the Institute, said the vaccine was "safe and effective. It prevents hospitalizations” and fights the “severity of the disease.” He also noted the vaccine has already been authorized in China, Indonesia, Turkey, and Brazil.

Late-stage trials of the Sinovac vaccine in Brazil showed just 50.38% efficacy, significantly lower than earlier results had shown -- raising questions as to the reliability of the data.

Sinovac is expected to send safety reports and conduct quality control checks on batches of vaccines, the Chilean health panel said.

Chile is already using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. It has been administered to 10,000 health officials and the elderly.

On Wednesday, Chile reported 3,583 new cases of coronavirus and 21 deaths. The country now has 680,740 total Covid-19 cases and 17,594 deaths.

7:48 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Local health officials will continue regular Covid-19 meetings with Biden administration

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) plans to continue meeting regularly with the Biden administration to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

In early December, NACCHO began meeting on a weekly basis with Nik Blosser of the Biden transition team, along with the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the National Indian Health Board, said Lori Tremmel Freeman, NACCHO's chief executive officer.

"We'd meet for an hour," Freeman told CNN on Wednesday. "We would come together and make recommendations on topics to discuss -- timely and urgent matters leading into the transition -- and what they needed to be aware of from the broader public health system standpoint, in terms of things like Covid, the response, testing, tracing and vaccines."

Freeman added that the last meeting with the Biden transition team was on Tuesday, but there are plans to continue regular meetings now with Eduardo Cisneros, director of Covid-19 intergovernmental affairs under the Biden administration.

"Obviously, vaccines are high on the priority list," Freeman said. "At the same time, we don't want to diminish that we still have a lot of spread and a lot of burden from that spread on our health care systems and a lot of death from the disease. We still have a lot of work to do."

7:48 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

WHO could list several Covid-19 vaccines for emergency use within weeks

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

The World Health Organization is evaluating 15 vaccines and says it could list several of them for emergency use within weeks, according to a new guidance document published by WHO on Wednesday.

The organization is part of a global initiative called COVAX to ensure rapid and equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines around the world.

The only vaccine in the document it already has listed for emergency use is the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, which is also authorized in the United States.

The WHO document says that a decision around emergency use for AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine is anticipated by the end of January, at the earliest. The same vaccine, produced in South Korea by SK Bioscience, could be listed for emergency use by the second half of February at the earliest.  

By mid-February, the AstraZeneca vaccine manufactured by Serum Institute of India could also be listed for emergency use, according to WHO documents. 

The document also estimates that Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine, which already has been authorized in the United States, could get an emergency use listing by the end of February.

By March at the earliest, China’s Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine and Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine could be listed for emergency use. The Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, which is administered as a one-dose shot, could be listed for emergency use by May at the earliest, notes the WHO document.

5:57 p.m. ET, January 20, 2021

UK Home Secretary says she called for border closures in March, during first Covid-19 wave

From CNN’s Sarah Dean in London 

UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has been recorded saying the nation should have closed its borders back in March due to the pandemic.  

 “‘On [the question of] 'should we have closed our borders earlier?’ the answer is yes, I was an advocate of closing them last March,” Patel is heard saying in an audio recording obtained by the Guido Fawkes politics website.

The recording was reportedly made during a Zoom call on Tuesday night with the Conservative Friends of India group.

Asked to comment on the audio recording, a Home Office spokesperson did not deny its authenticity and told CNN on Wednesday: "We have strong measures at the border in place which are vital as we roll out the vaccine."

The government has faced criticism over relaxed measures at the border, which were changed earlier this week. Initially, several countries had travel corridors with the UK, meaning visitors could enter the country without having to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival.

Patel's reported comments come after the UK closed all the ‘travel corridors’ -- effectively shutting the nation's borders -- on Monday for the first time during the pandemic. The decision was made in response to increasing concern over the new variants evolving internationally.

The UK’s Covid-19 death toll – the highest in Europe -- currently stands at more than 93,000, according to the government’s dashboard. 

Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer readout Patel's words from the audio recording in Parliament on Wednesday and asked why Prime Minister Boris Johnson had overruled the Home Secretary on border closures.

Johnson did not dispute what Patel said in the recording.

"I think it was the right honourable gentleman who last March said we didn't need to close borders but as usual Captain Hindsight has changed his tune to events," Johnson said.

"We are... in the middle of a national pandemic and this country is facing a very, very grave death toll and we are doing everything we can to protect the British public."

Johnson joked: "I'm delighted [Starmer] now praises the Home Secretary, a change of tune."

Starmer repeated the question, asking again why Johnson had overruled the Home Secretary.

Johnson responded: "We've instituted one of the toughest border regimes in the world and it was only last March that he and along with many members of his party were continuing to support an open borders approach.”  

In an on camera interview on Wednesday, Patel’s comments were again put to Johnson. Asked whether Britain should have closed its borders last March, he said: “There’s plenty of chance to look back at what decisions were taken when and what approach was taken back in March last year… but what I can say today is that the UK has amongst the toughest border regimes in the world.” 

CNN has contacted the Conservative Friends of India for comment.