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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11:41 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Italy to take legal action against Pfizer over vaccine delays

From CNN's Valentina Di Donato in Rome and Sharon Braithwaite in Pisa

A resident of a care home in Rome waits to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on January 8. 
A resident of a care home in Rome waits to receive a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on January 8.  Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

The Italian government has announced it will take legal action against pharmaceutical company Pfizer over Covid-19 vaccine delays.

The country’s extraordinary coronavirus commissioner, Domenico Arcuri, announced the decision on Tuesday, after a meeting with local governors and the ministers for health and regional affairs.

“It was discussed which actions should be taken to protect Italian citizens and their health in all of the civil and criminal offices where this will be possible. Unanimously it has been decided that these actions will be undertaken starting from the next few days in a unitary framework," Arcuri said in a statement.

The protection of the health of Italy’s citizens is non-negotiable."

“The vaccination campaign cannot be slowed down, let alone for the administration of the second doses to the many Italians who have already been administered the first one,” Arcuri added.

For background:

The decision comes after the head of the Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) Nicola Magrini voiced “grave concern” over delays of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, during a radio interview on Tuesday.

Pfizer said on Friday that shipments from its vaccine facility in Puurs, Belgium, would be temporarily reduced as it scales up to produce 2 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses in 2021. 

The company said that in order to increase capacity, changes were needed to the process and facility, and additional regulatory approvals would be required.

Pfizer's vaccine partner BioNTech later said that the original schedule for deliveries to the European Union would resume the week beginning January 25.

BioNTech said it hoped to “increase delivery beginning the week of February 15," which would result in delivering “the fully committed quantity of vaccine doses in the first quarter and significantly more in the second quarter."

As of Wednesday, 1,236,479 Italians have been vaccinated, according to the latest data from the Health Ministry. 6,943 people in the country have received both doses of the vaccine.

11:03 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

UK Govt "pausing" rapid daily testing in English secondary schools and colleges

From CNN's Elle Pickston in London

The UK government is “pausing” plans to roll out rapid daily Covid-19 testing on close contacts of positive cases for students and staff in English secondary schools and colleges, it announced on Wednesday.

A government spokesperson said that the change of plans was the result of updated advice from UK scientific advisers. “NHS Test and Trace and Public Health England have reviewed their advice, and concluded that in light of the higher prevalence and rates of transmission of the new variant, further evaluation work is required to make sure it is achieving its aim of breaking chains of transmission and reducing cases of the virus in the community,” the spokesperson said.

“We are therefore pausing daily contact testing in all but a small number of secondary schools and colleges, where it will continue alongside detailed evaluation.”

In a statement, Public Health England (PHE) and NHS Test and Trace cited concerns over the more transmissible variant of Covid-19 discovered in the UK as the reason for the change, commenting that the “pandemic has entered a new phase” and that the balance of risk and benefits for daily Covid-19 tests is now “unclear” and recommended to the government that the rollout of the daily contact testing be paused.

Covid strain VOC202012/01 was discovered in the UK and has been prevalent in the south east of England since November 2020.

The mass testing programme in secondary schools and colleges was due to start in January to help identify asymptomatic cases amongst students and staff and reduce the need for self-isolation by using 30 minute lateral flow tests.

It planned for daily tests for all staff and students that have been “a close contact of a confirmed case, reducing the need for self-isolation” for all secondary schools and colleges, along with weekly rapid tests for all staff in secondary schools and colleges, according to the Department for Education.

National lockdown measures across England have forced schools to remain closed since January 5, however children of key workers are still allowed to attend. PHE confirmed that schools should continue to test staff and pupils currently going in to schools.

Whilst daily Covid-19 testing in schools was hailed by UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson as a "milestone moment in our work to keep schools and colleges open for all" in December, scientists have expressed concerns that the tests may not be accurate enough, and could falsely reassure people and increase the spread of coronavirus.

10:44 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

As Biden looks to reset the US Covid-19 response, his team asks the Surgeon General to step down

From CNN Health’s Ben Tinker

In a tweet Wednesday morning, US Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams confirmed reports that the Biden team has asked him to resign.

What this means:

Asking Adams to resign represents a visible break by the Biden team with the Trump administration’s Covid response.

Last month, President-elect Joe Biden announced he would nominate Dr. Vivek Murthy to be the next Surgeon General under his administration -- a role Murthy held in the Obama administration.

It is unclear who will fill the job on an interim basis between the time Adams vacates the role and the time Murthy is confirmed by the Senate.

10:42 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

There is oxygen left "only for a few days" in Brazil's Amazonas state as Covid-19 patients increase, MSF warns

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in Pisa, Italy, and Rodrigo Pedroso in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Relatives of patients infected with Covid-19 leave after queueing for long hours to refill their oxygen tanks at the Carboxi company in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil, on Tuesday.
Relatives of patients infected with Covid-19 leave after queueing for long hours to refill their oxygen tanks at the Carboxi company in Manaus, Amazonas state, Brazil, on Tuesday. Marcio James/AFPG/Getty Images

The Brazilian state of Amazonas could run out of medicinal oxygen if the numbers of Covid-19 patients continue to increase, Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans frontières - MSF) warned on Wednesday.

"If Covid-19 patients continue to increase, there is only oxygen left for a few days," Pierre Van Heddegem, head of the MSF mission in Brazil, said in a statement.

This comes after the state faced the virtual collapse of its health services due to an acute shortage of medicinal oxygen in the past week. The largest city and capital of Amazonas state, Manaus, was the first to register the supply shortage amid a rise in Covid-19 cases earlier this month.

Despite an increase in hospital beds for Covid-19 cases in Manaus, "the number of new patients continues to grow faster and faster, showing how the entire health care system is saturated and overloaded," MSF said in the statement.

"Even more serious is the situation of oxygen stocks: the ability to produce oxygen covers less than a third of current needs. Some hospitals fail to ventilate patients and there are reports of deaths from asphyxiation," it continued.
"The ripple effect on riverside towns in the rural Amazon region is beginning to manifest and could be devastating."

With hospitals in Manaus full and overwhelmed, "there is nowhere to transfer the most seriously ill patients," MSF said. The non-profit noted it was "urgently" expanding teams on the ground, but warned that "there are already many deaths and many more could follow."

Seven Covid-19 patients hospitalized in the small city of Coari in Brazil’s Amazon died early Tuesday after the local hospital ran out of oxygen, according to a statement on Facebook from the Coari municipal government. 

It said that 40 cylinders of oxygen were due to arrive in Coari from the Amazonas state government in Manaus on Monday, but the oxygen delivery was diverted and arrived too late.

The Amazonas state health secretary said in a statement that the oxygen supplies were indeed diverted because the manufacturer delayed the delivery of those supplies, which had a domino effect. The flight that had been due to carry them was redirected to another airport, forcing the supplies to be transported on to Coari by boat.

9:27 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Biden's first executive order will require masks on federal property

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

US President-elect Joe Biden puts his mask on after an announcement on Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware.
US President-elect Joe Biden puts his mask on after an announcement on Saturday in Wilmington, Delaware. Alex Wong/Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden has said he wants to make the coronavirus pandemic his top priority as he takes office and will kick off his presidency by asking Americans to wear masks for 100 days and requiring their use on federal property.

His first executive order, the "100 Days Masking Challenge," will symbolize the administration's sharp turn from the Trump era by emphasizing recommendations by public health experts.

Why not order everyone to don masks? A president cannot tell states or cities what to do, but a federal mandate will affect federal offices and federal lands and will urge states to do the same.

"This executive action will direct the agencies to take action to require compliance with CDC guidance on mask wearing and physical distancing in federal buildings, on federal lands and by federal employees and contractors," said Biden counselor Jeff Zients, who will be the administration's Covid-19 response coordinator.

"And the president will call on governors, public health officials, mayors, business leaders and others to implement masking, physical distancing and other public measures to control COVID-19," Zients added.

"This is not a political statement. This is about the health of our families, and economic recovery of our country."

Trump pointedly refused to wear a mask in public throughout his presidency, and Trump political appointees across federal agencies often discouraged mask use among their staff. Largely mask-free events sponsored by the White House were linked to multiple Covid-19 infections, including a party surrounding the swearing-in of Supreme Court justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Trump was himself hospitalized for a coronavirus infection in October.

Read the full story here:

9:08 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Netherlands proposes curfew and bans flights from UK, South Africa, and South America

From CNN’s Mick Krever in London

Warning of a third coronavirus wave from more transmissible coronavirus variants, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Wednesday his government will try to get parliamentary approval for a nationwide curfew between 8:30pm and 4:30am.

“We need to do the utmost to stay ahead of that third wave, and keep it as small as possible,” Rutte said. “What the cabinet is presenting today will undoubtedly ask a great deal of people again, but it will also yield us a great deal.”

Pending parliamentary approval, people in the Netherlands will not be allowed to be outside between 8:30pm and 4:30am. The curfew would be in effect, like the lockdown, until February 9. The curfew would also mean that all life-sustaining stores, like supermarkets, would have to close at 8:30pm. (There would be a number of exemptions that would require the person to carry a signed letter, written by themselves, explaining their reason for being outside.)

“What we want to achieve is fewer groups, less road usage, and especially fewer home visits – fewer contacts in order to prevent infections,” Rutte said.

Other new measures:

  • The Netherlands will also ban flights, starting Saturday, from high-risk areas, which Rutte identified as the United Kingdom, South Africa, and all countries in South America. But it's worth noting there are exceptions for freight, medical travelers, repatriation, journalists, and elite athletes.
  • A double coronavirus test for those traveling to the Netherlands will now be required. That means travelers will need to have a negative PCR test 72 hours before departure, and a “quick test” right before departure. (Previously only a PCR test was required.)

For background:

The Netherlands has been in lockdown since December 16. Rutte announced last week that it would be extended until at least February 9. It is more stringent than anything implemented during the first wave, in spring 2020, when non-essential shops were allowed to remain open. (They are now closed.)

The number of reported coronavirus infections in the Netherlands are falling but still significant. There were 38,776 positive reported cases in the seven-day period from January 12 to 19, according to the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. That was a decrease from the 49,398 reported between January 5 to 12.

9:08 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Vatican starts vaccinating Rome's homeless

From CNN's Hada Messia in Rome

Vatican City started inoculating Rome's homeless community against Covid-19 on Wednesday.

A first group of around 25 individuals gathered in the atrium of the Paul VI Hall to receive their first doses in photos released by Vatican Media.

The group are people permanently housed in the care and residence facilities of the Office of Papal Charities. Further groups are expected to follow in the coming days.

The Vatican commenced its vaccine program a week ago. Pope Francis and former Pope Benedict were confirmed to have received their first doses on Thursday.

Francis has repeatedly discussed vaccination, previously saying people have an "ethical duty" to take the vaccine.

"I believe that ethically everyone should take the vaccine. It is not an option, it is an ethical choice because you are gambling with your health, with your life, but you are also gambling with the lives of others," the pontiff said in a recent interview with Italy's Canale 5 channel broadcast.


8:27 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Biden hopes to restore US to world stage in fight against pandemic

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

On his first day in office, President-elect Joe Biden plans to try to get the US back into the world arena in fighting the coronavirus pandemic, aides told reporters.

How will Biden reset the US position? An immediate reversal of President Trump’s decision to leave the World Health Organization, according to Biden’s counselor and Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients.

“America's withdrawal from the international arena has impeded progress on the global response and left us more vulnerable to future pandemics,” Zients told reporters in a telephone briefing Tuesday afternoon.

“He will take action to cease the previous administration's process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization, and the Biden-Harris administration will participate in the WHO executive board meeting this week.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases was the most prominent medical professional speaking about the coronavirus pandemic under the Trump Administration, will speak to the WHO executive board in an official capacity Thursday.

“In addition, tomorrow, the President will fulfill his campaign promise of immediately restoring the National Security Council's Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense.” That office, established in 2015 under the Obama administration, was disbanded in 2018, although the Trump Administration denied that meant it had abandoned all pandemic preparedness.

“Moving forward, we will focus on immediate and emerging domestic and global biological threats, and play a critical role in stopping this pandemic and preventing future biological catastrophes,” Zients said.

It won’t be a Day One executive order, but Zients also said, in response to questions, that the administration would reverse the so-called Mexico City policy – a policy denying US federal funding to any organizations globally that support abortion rights. The policy is regularly reversed by Democratic administrations and restored in various forms by Republican presidents.

7:53 a.m. ET, January 20, 2021

Japan to buy enough Pfizer doses to half of population by July

From CNN's Carly Walsh

Japan has signed a contract to buy enough of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to cover over half of its population this year, according to public broadcaster NHK.

The agreement for 144 million doses would cover roughly 72 million of the country’s 125 million residents. 

According to the broadcaster, 120 million doses of the vaccine are to be delivered by the end of June. 

Health Minister Tamura Norihisa told reporters Wednesday that the government signed the contract on the premise that the vaccine will be approved in Japan, NHK said.