January 21 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Sharon Braithwaite, Eliza Mackintosh, Ed Upright, Zamira Rahim and Caitlin Hu, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, January 22, 2021
23 Posts
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8:29 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

More briefings and Covid-19 data dashboard part of Biden's pandemic transparency push

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

The Biden White House is pledging to communicate more -- and more honestly -- about the coronavirus pandemic with the aim of restoring the trust of the American people. The first step will be a return to regular briefings.

CDC briefings have been notably absent since last March. In other disease emergencies, the CDC has provided regular briefings, often several a week, with top experts. The Trump White House stopped them after the CDC’s top respiratory specialist Dr. Nancy Messonnier warned of worsening spread and disruptions, angering then-president Trump. Her predictions came true, but CDC officials have held only a handful of briefings since then

The White House Coronavirus Task Force briefed regularly for a few months, but those briefings petered out by June and came only sporadically after that.

The federal government should be the source of truth for the public to get clear accessible, and scientifically accurate information about COVID-19. We will be honest, transparent and straightforward with the American people to rebuild that trust," White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters Wednesday. 

To that end, Zients said the new administration would be taking a number of steps to provide clarity and insight into the pandemic, including regular expert-led science-based public briefings by HHS, CDC and the Covid-19 White House response team.

On Thursday, President Biden will also issue an executive order to enhance the collection, sharing and analysis of data. As part of that, the CDC will maintain a public dashboard tracking real-time data on Covid-19 cases, testing, vaccinations and hospital admissions at a national and state-level.

There have been misunderstandings about much of the data generated about the pandemic. For instance, CNN relies more heavily on data from Johns Hopkins University about diagnoses and deaths than it does on the CDC.

8:26 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Germany must take new Covid-19 variant "very seriously," says Chancellor Merkel

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a press conference in Berlin on January 21.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel holds a press conference in Berlin on January 21. Michael Kappeler/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Germans must take the spread of the new, more contagious variant of coronavirus ''very seriously,'' Chancellor Angela Merkel said during a Thursday news conference.

“The mutation of the virus is a threat,” Merkel told journalists in Berlin, referring to the new strain first detected in England.

The mutation is much more infectious than we knew last year and this makes it more difficult to control the pandemic,” the chancellor said.
“I urge people to take this seriously. Otherwise it is difficult to prevent a third wave,” she concluded, adding that the variant would be the dominant topic at Thursday’s video call with European Union leaders.

Merkel went on to justify her decision to enforce stricter measures against the spread of Covid-19 earlier this week, explaining that while daily infections and hospital admissions are declining, the number of daily fatalities is still “shockingly high.”

“We see a fractured image,” she said, adding that there are “encouraging signs that the situation is easing.”

“[The] difficult sacrifices that people have made in the lockdown are starting to pay off,” Merkel added.

Earlier in the week Germany extended a nationwide lockdown until February 14, implementing stricter rules, including making FFP2 masks mandatory in public spaces and forcing German companies to allow employees to work from home until mid-March, where possible.

The country reported 20,398 new infections and 1,013 new deaths related to Covid-19 on Thursday, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

7:48 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Cuba aims to produce 100 million doses of its Sovereign-02 vaccine this year

From CNN's Patrick Oppmann in Havana

Cuba plans to produce 100 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine in 2021, state-run newspaper Granma reported on Wednesday.

According to Granma, the island is currently in the second phase of testing its Sovereign-02 vaccine on 900 people between the ages of 19 and 90.

The newspaper said Cuban health officials are planning to start a third phase of vaccine trials for children in February

Vicente Vérez Bencomo, the director general of Cuba’s Finlay Institute for Vaccines said Cuban officials hope to vaccinate the 11 million inhabitants of Cuba this year and will then sell the vaccine to other countries.

So far he said Vietnam, Iran, Venezuela, Pakistan and India have expressed interest in buying the vaccine when it is available for use.

8:19 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Improve vaccine distribution, expand testing and reopen schools: Biden issues pandemic plan

From CNN's Betsy Klein

A person receives the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in Tucson, Arizona, on January 15.
A person receives the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine in Tucson, Arizona, on January 15. Cheney Orr/Bloomberg/Getty Images

President Joe Biden’s first full day in office Thursday will focus on Covid-19, rolling out his national strategy for the pandemic amid the Trump administration response he inherited, with record high cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. 

There is a lot of work to do, officials said, and it’s actually “so much worse” than they thought. 

“For almost a year now, Americans could not look to the federal government for any strategy, let alone a comprehensive approach to respond to Covid. And we've seen the tragic costs of that failure. As President Biden steps into office today that, that'll change tomorrow,” White House Covid coordinator Jeff Zients said Wednesday. 

The Biden strategy, he said, will be “a fundamentally different approach from the Trump administration,” and will be “driven by science, data, and public health,” not politics. 

Here’s a preview of the actions we can expect:

  • Executive order on supplies for vaccination, testing, and PPE
  • Presidential memorandum directing FEMA to increase federal reimbursement from 75% to 100%
  • Executive order to establish Covid-19 Pandemic Testing Board to expand testing supply and increase access
  • Executive order to establish development of therapeutics
  • Executive order to enhance US collection, production, sharing and analysis of data
  • Executive order to direct Department of Education and HHS to provide guidance for safely reopening and operating of schools, child care providers, and institutions of higher education 
  • Presidential memorandum directing FEMA to offer reimbursement for eligible emergency supplies such as PPE for schools
  • Executive order calling on OSHA to release clear guidance on Covid-19, decide whether to establish emergency temporary standards, and directs OSHA to enforce worker health and safety requirements
  • Executive order to require mask wearing in airports and on certain modes of transportation, including many trains, planes, maritime vessels, and intercity buses. This order also requires international travelers to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test prior to coming to the US
  • Executive order to ensure equitable pandemic response and recovery, including the creation of the Covid-19 Health Equity Task Force
  • Presidential directive to restore America’s leadership, support the international pandemic response effort, promote resilience for future threats, and advance global health security and the Global Health Security Agenda
7:28 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

There’s enough vaccine for 100 million doses pledge, says White House coronavirus coordinator

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

Jeff Zients attends a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 8, 2020.
Jeff Zients attends a news conference in Wilmington, Delaware, on December 8, 2020. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said he thinks the vaccine supply will be adequate to meet the Biden administration's goal of 100 million shots delivered in 100 days.

“In terms of specific projections from the manufacturers, you know, we know that there is sufficient supply to do the 100 million shots in the 100 days,” Zients told reporters in a briefing ahead of the release of the new “National Strategy for the COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.”

Zients also pledged to clear up confusion about how many vaccines each state will get and when.

You know, in terms of allocations, our system will have equity as the cornerstone of how we do allocation,” Zients said.

“We will work to provide projections on supply. We hear over and over from governors and local leaders that they just don't know what supply is coming and can't plan. We will absolutely across the next few days to get our arms around what's going on, make sure that we are communicating with states and localities, so they can prepare, effectively,” Zients added.

“We clearly need strong coordination to ensure supply availability and information sharing, and that's what we will do,” he said.

Some background:

US President Joe Biden has pledged to provide 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine in his first 100 days of office. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the president’s newly-installed chief medical adviser, said on Friday that Biden's goal is quite feasible.

"You still optimistic that we can get 100 million doses in 100 days?" NBC's Craig Melvin asked Fauci during an interview on the Today Show. "I really do think so," Fauci responded.

6:53 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

Covid-19 cases in England may no longer be falling despite third lockdown, study shows

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston in London

Cases of Covid-19 in England may no longer be falling, and could even have risen at the start of the country’s third national lockdown, a long-running study by Imperial College London found.

Researchers analysed swab tests from 142,000 volunteers from January 6-15 and found that infections were up by 50% compared to early December, with 1 in 63 people in the country infected.

Some 1.58% of people tested positive for the virus during the early January round of the study, the highest prevalence recorded since May. That is more than a 50% increase from the previous round in early December 2020.

“The prevalence is very, very high compared to our last survey where we saw that uptick in December when that new variant came in,” Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme at Imperial College London told BBC’s Today Programme on Thursday.

“But we’ve found that it’s levelled off, the R value [or how many other people each person with coronavirus will infect] is around 1, so we’re at a position where the levels are high and are not falling now within the period of this current lockdown,” Elliott said.

The study warned that “until prevalence in the community is reduced substantially, health services will remain under extreme pressure and the cumulative number of lives lost during this pandemic will continue to increase rapidly.”

The findings are at odds with the latest figures from the UK government which had been showing a decline in new daily reported cases at the beginning of the week.

Elliott said on Thursday that he believes this discrepancy may be a result of the REACT study testing people randomly, rather than those showing symptoms, and of government data not yet reflecting an increase in population mobility after Christmas.

Speaking on Sky News on Thursday, UK Minister for Education Gavin Williamson said that “the evidence that we’ve been seeing is that [the lockdown] has been having an impact in terms of relieving some of that pressure on the NHS so the NHS is able to cope but of course government always looks all the evidence that is available.”

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted Thursday that, "these findings show why we must not let down our guard over the weeks to come. Infections across England are at very high levels & it is paramount that everyone plays their part to bring them down."

The UK recorded 38,905 new coronavirus cases and a 1,820 further coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday, marking the highest daily increase in deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from Public Health England.

8:08 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

The capital of China's Hebei province is conducting its third citywide virus test program this month

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

A medical worker collects a swab sample from a person at a Covid-19 testing site in the Qiaoxi District of Shijiazhuang, China, on January 20.
A medical worker collects a swab sample from a person at a Covid-19 testing site in the Qiaoxi District of Shijiazhuang, China, on January 20. Mu Yu/Xinhua/Getty Images

The Chinese city of Shijiazhuang -- the scene of the country’s largest Covid-19 outbreak in months -- is conducting its third citywide testing program in January, provincial officials said at a news conference this week.

Shijiazhuang is the capital of Hebei province and has around 11 million residents.

The tests started Wednesday and the program is expected to last three days. 

Chinese Center for Disease Control officials said in multiple press conferences in the past two days that the growth of the epidemic in Hebei province had been significantly contained and credited “the strict preventative and control measures taken earlier.”

8:07 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

"There is nothing for us to rework": Biden is inheriting a nonexistent vaccine plan from Trump administration, sources say

From CNN's MJ Lee

President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office after his inauguration on January 20.
President Joe Biden signs executive orders in the Oval Office after his inauguration on January 20. Tom Brenner/Reuters

Newly sworn in President Joe Biden and his advisers are inheriting no coronavirus vaccine distribution plan to speak of from the Trump administration, sources tell CNN, posing a significant challenge for the new White House.

The Biden administration has promised to try to turn the Covid-19 pandemic around and drastically speed up the pace of vaccinating Americans against the virus.

But in the immediate hours following Biden being sworn into office on Wednesday, sources with direct knowledge of the new administration's Covid-related work told CNN one of the biggest shocks that the Biden team had to digest during the transition period was what they saw as a complete lack of a vaccine distribution strategy under former President Donald Trump, even weeks after multiple vaccines were approved for use in the United States.

There is nothing for us to rework. We are going to have to build everything from scratch," one source said.

Another source described the moment that it became clear the Biden administration would have to essentially start from "square one" because there simply was no plan as: "Wow, just further affirmation of complete incompetence."

CNN has previously reported that the Biden team's most urgent concerns on Covid-19 include potential vaccine supply problems, coordination between federal and local governments, as well as funding, staffing and other resource needs for local governments. That is in addition to the emerging Covid variants, which the new White House -- in consultation with scientists and experts -- is watching warily.

Biden has made clear that slowing down the spread of Covid-19 and getting 100 million vaccine shots into Americans' arms in his first 100 days in office are of utmost priority.

Read the full story:

5:55 a.m. ET, January 21, 2021

How being creative in the kitchen can help cope with loss of smell, a common Covid symptom

From CNN's Terry Ward

Turmeric chunks as a pasta topping may seem like a bad idea, but they showed Sarah Yeats, 31, an emergency nurse from Florida, that she was beginning to regain her sense of taste after contracting the coronavirus in August.

Anosmia -- a condition known as "smell blindness," or loss of smell -- is a common symptom of Covid-19 (and other viruses), and can severely impact people's ability to taste, since the senses are intertwined.

Yeats, along with her husband Alex who also caught the virus, had been coaxing any sensation they could muster from foods by dousing chicken in lemon juice, throwing fistfuls of fresh herbs at soups and salads, and getting daring with food textures.

The day Sarah noticed she no longer found turmeric lumps acceptable on pasta, she said, was when she realized her sense of taste might be rebounding.

While most people regain their sense of smell or taste within days to weeks, emergency physician and CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen said, "there are still many who have not regained their sense of smell after months."

Creativity in the kitchen is how some people recovering from the virus are battling anosmia, and a way to remember how their favourite food used to taste and how flowers used to smell.

Londoner Kaya Cheshire has amped up the use of herbs and spices in her cooking since losing her sense of smell from a mild case of Covid-19.

At her doctor's suggestion, Cheshire recently began "scent training," using things like rose, lemons, cloves, garlic, eucalyptus and menthols that have a really strong smell to retrain her brain.

Read more here: