January 27 coronavirus news

By Zahid Mahmood, Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton and Hannah Strange, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021
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12:36 a.m. ET, January 27, 2021

FDA places all alcohol-based hand sanitizers from Mexico on "import alert"

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

The US Food and Drug Administration has placed all alcohol-based hand sanitizers coming from Mexico on a nationwide "import alert" until the agency is able to review the products’ safety.

"Over the course of the ongoing pandemic, the agency has seen a sharp increase in hand sanitizer products from Mexico that were labeled to contain ethanol (also known as ethyl alcohol) but tested positive for methanol contamination," the FDA said in a news release on Tuesday.

According to the FDA, methanol, or wood alcohol, is a substance that can be toxic when absorbed through the skin and can be life-threatening if ingested. This substance is not an acceptable ingredient in hand sanitizer or other any drugs in the United States. 

"Consumer use of hand sanitizers has increased significantly during the coronavirus pandemic, especially when soap and water are not accessible, and the availability of poor-quality products with dangerous and unacceptable ingredients will not be tolerated," said Judy McMeekin, FDA Associate Commissioner for Regulatory Affairs.

From April through December 2020, the FDA found that 84% of the samples that were analyzed were not in compliance with the FDA’s regulations.

More than half of the samples were found to contain toxic ingredients, including methanol and/or 1-propanol, at dangerous levels.

This is the first time the FDA has implemented a countrywide import alert for any drug product. Under this import alert, alcohol-based hand sanitizers from Mexico will be subject to heightened scrutiny, and the FDA may detain the shipments.

12:08 a.m. ET, January 27, 2021

Japan's Prime Minister Suga apologizes for strained health care system

From CNN’s Junko Ogura in Tokyo and Sophie Jeong in Hong Kong

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga answers a question at the Lower House's budget committee session in Tokyo on January 26.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga answers a question at the Lower House's budget committee session in Tokyo on January 26. Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO/Shutterstock

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga apologized on Tuesday for the government’s failure to provide sufficient medical care under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.

"As the person in charge, I feel terribly sorry,” Suga said at a parliament committee session. “We have not been able to provide the necessary care, and I recognize that because the Japanese people are feeling anxious.”

Eleven prefectures in Japan are now under a state of emergency. As of Sunday, at least 18,111 people are either waiting for a hospital bed or a spot at an isolation facility after testing positive for coronavirus.

Police have also reported an increased rate of people who have died at home from Covid-19 in January and December, according to public broadcaster NHK. Since March 2020, there have been 197 deaths recorded at home, NHK reported, citing the National Police Agency.

Covid figures: Japan reported 3,851 new coronavirus cases and 94 additional deaths on Tuesday. The national totals now stand at 372,498 cases and 5,297 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

10:44 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

AstraZeneca CEO defends plans to supply vaccine to UK ahead of EU, amid frustration over delays

From CNN’s Nada Bashir in London and Saskya Vandoorne in Paris

Director of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, visits the laboratory of the AstraZeneca factory on January 20.
Director of AstraZeneca, Pascal Soriot, visits the laboratory of the AstraZeneca factory on January 20. Raphael Lafargue/SIPA/Shutterstock

AstraZeneca’s chief executive Pascal Soriot has defended the pharmaceutical giant’s decision to prioritize vaccine deliveries to the United Kingdom, after the European Union voiced growing frustration over delivery delays.

“The UK agreement was reached in June, three months before the European one. As you could imagine, the UK government said the supply coming out of the UK supply chain would go to the UK first,” Soriot told Italian newspaper la Repubblica on Tuesday.
“The contract with the UK was signed first and the UK, of course, said ‘you supply us first,’ and this is fair enough. This vaccine was developed with the UK government, Oxford and with us as well,” he added. 

Earlier on Monday, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides expressed dissatisfaction on talks with AstraZeneca, saying that the drugmaker "intends to supply considerably fewer doses in the coming weeks than agreed and announced" due to production problems.  

Speaking to la Repubblica, Soriot conceded that the company had to reduce supply to the EU as a result of reduced yields early in the manufacturing process at one site in Europe.

“It's complicated, especially in the early phase where you have to really kind of sort out all sorts of issues. We believe we've sorted out those issues, but we are basically two months behind where we wanted to be,” Soriot said. 

He added that they also faced "teething issues" with the UK supply chain -- but they had a "head start" since they signed the contract earlier, and had more time to "fix all the glitches."

European delays: So far, the EU has ordered 300 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine -- which could be approved for use by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as soon as this week -- with an option to purchase an additional 100 million doses. 

With production issues centered around AstraZeneca’s European plants, Soriot said the company could soon be able to begin using its UK site to help Europe once the UK has “reached a sufficient number of vaccinations.” 

“We're moving very quickly, the supply in the UK is very rapid. The government is vaccinating 2.5 million people a week, about 500,000 a day, our vaccine supply is growing quickly,” he told the Italian newspaper. “As soon as we can, we'll help the EU,” he added.

10:02 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

WHO team in Wuhan to begin long-delayed coronavirus investigation after clearing quarantine

From CNN's James Griffiths, Sandi Sidhu and Nectar Gan

team of World Health Organization (WHO) investigators is preparing to leave quarantine in the Chinese city of Wuhan and begin a long-awaited investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Members of the 13-person international team will finish their two-week quarantine in the next 24 hours, stepping out into a city that was once the center of the global outbreak but is now, a year on, largely returned to normal. Scrutiny of the team's work will be immense, as they navigate what is likely to be a political minefield in uncovering how the virus that brought much of the world to a halt first emerged.

"The eyes of the world are focused on this, the opinions of the world are focused on this," Dutch virologist and team member Marion Koopmans told CNN Wednesday morning, as she prepared for a final round of meetings before leaving her quarantine hotel.
"We are aware of it, there is no way around that. That's why we really try to keep focused, we are scientists, we are not politicians, we are trying to really look at this from the scientific perspective."

Part of that involves abandoning all preconceived notions about how the virus evolved and spread, to look at what the evidence says, and go from there, Koopmans said. The team has spent the past two weeks in video calls with each other and Chinese scientists, "discussing what we know, what we don't know."

Demand for answers will be great, especially after the investigation itself was delayed several times, but Koopmans cautioned patience.

"I think we really have to manage expectations, if you look at some of the earlier quests for the origins of outbreaks, they have taken years to complete," she said. "The early and relatively easy studies have been done, have already been published."

An earlier report by a WHO team in China, published in February 2020, found that "key knowledge gaps remain" about the virus, though it endorsed previous findings that the virus appeared to have originated in animals, with the likely first outbreak at a seafood market in Wuhan.

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11:13 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

US consumers may be about to get the first standards for face masks

From CNN's Keri Enriquez and Sandee LaMotte

N95 masks are regulated for fit, filtration efficiency, flammability and other qualities.
N95 masks are regulated for fit, filtration efficiency, flammability and other qualities. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A draft of the first national mask evaluation standard for consumer masks obtained by CNN shows proposed guidance would call for two tiers of certification.

  • A level one mask would require the product to filter 20% of particles -- something that would make the mask easy to breathe through, but that would provide minimal protection.
  • A level two mask would require "high performance" filtration of at least 50% of particles, but would provide less breathability.

The standards are currently in development with ASTM International and the National Personal Protective Technology Laboratory, which is an arm of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The current standards: Currently, only medical-grade masks and respirators must meet standards. These include N95 masks, which are regulated for fit, filtration efficiency, flammability and other qualities.

The new standards: The proposed standards will outline specific fit, design, performance and testing requirements for face masks and coverings, according to a draft of the standards provided to CNN by ASTM International. 

The draft evaluates both single use and reusable masks, and outlines specific requirements. For instance, the standards would prohibit the use of vents, valves or any feature that allows air flow to bypass filtration -- though there are exceptions to this that reflect current CDC guidance.

The review process is ongoing, and these guidelines are subject to further review and change. The drafted guidelines will be further reviewed next week.

International standards: The ASTM draft standard currently is far different from standards required for masks in several European countries. Germany, Austria and France are now requiring people wear masks with a minimum filtration efficacy of 80-90% while on public transport, shopping or in public areas. 

7:42 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Covid-19 has killed 100,000 people in the UK. Experts say the government is still getting it wrong

From CNN's Angela Dewan

In March last year, the UK government said it was hopeful the country could cap its coronavirus deaths at 20,000. It was a bleak target to set, but one the nation came to begrudgingly accept.

Ten months on, Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivered a somber public briefing Tuesday, in which he announced the country could now count more than 100,000 people as its Covid-19 dead, in what he called a "grim statistic."

Of the worst-affected nations, the UK has earned the dishonor of having the highest number of confirmed deaths in the world, proportionate to population.

A surge in case numbers that began in December has pushed hospitals to the brink. ICU workers say they have been forced to "dilute" their care and describe mental health struggles under unprecedented pressure. 

Schools are shut and have moved online, disrupting the lives of students and working parents alike. All but essential shops are closed. In England, socializing, even outdoors, is banned, except in pairs for exercise. 

There are few differences from the spring, when Britons suffered a devastating first wave and were put under a draconian lockdown. They are now asking themselves how they got here. Yet again.

When asked that very thing, Johnson has repeatedly pointed to a new and more contagious variant of the virus, now infamously known around the world as the "UK variant." Health Secretary Matt Hancock too has claimed the country's response was working until the new variant hit.

But it's not that simple. Like in the first wave, the government has been slow to respond to rising case and death numbers with restrictions. It has failed to get an adequate contact-tracing and isolation system running. And it has, again, been slow on border controls, only closing "travel corridors" with more than 60 countries or territories in mid-January amid record-breaking daily death tolls.

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2:38 a.m. ET, January 27, 2021

Johnson & Johnson says it’s "optimistic" about vaccine trial results, which may be available early next week

From CNN's Jen Christensen

Johnson & Johnson told investors it expects to share further details on its Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine study results by early next week.

“Stay tuned,” said Alex Gorsky, chief executive officer and chair of Johnson & Johnson’s board of directors, during the company’s earnings call Tuesday.

Gorsky said that the company is “hopeful” that the efficacy and safety data from the earlier trials is a “good precursor” to the kind of data in the larger population in its Phase 3 trial. 

“We won’t know for certain, but we remain optimistic,” Gorsky said.

Results from J&J's Phase 1/2a trials showed that a single dose of the vaccine induced a strong immune response in nearly all the people who got the shot. The immune response was similar across the age groups, according to the company.

If J&J’s trial shows its vaccine is effective, it could help speed up the slow US vaccine rollout. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is one dose, while the authorized vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses three to four weeks apart. Johnson & Johnson is also testing a dual dose in a separate trial and said it should have data on that toward the end of the year. 

The company also said it’s watching closely how its vaccine protects against variants.

Joseph Wolk, J&J’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said that the company is currently “on track” to meet its manufacturing commitments to the US, EU and to developing countries. 

“There’s still some fluidity with respect to timelines,” Wolk said. 

Earlier, J&J committed to producing and deploying at least a billion doses of vaccine during the calendar year, including at least 100 million doses to the US.

Because the company doesn’t have the results yet, it said it was “premature to speculate” on the financial impact from the potential distribution of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate.

“I'm proud of the progress of our Covid-19 vaccine candidate. And the fact that we move so quickly while maintaining the highest level of science and safety standards,” said Gorsky. “Johnson & Johnson was built for times like these.” 
7:37 p.m. ET, January 26, 2021

Global tally of confirmed coronavirus cases surpasses 100 million

From CNN's Laura Smith-Spark

The world has now surpassed 100 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus. It's a figure that seemed almost unimaginable 12 months ago, when the first case had only just been confirmed on US soil.

A year later, the pandemic shows little sign of loosening its stranglehold on billions of people's everyday lives. Cases continue to rise sharply in some parts of the world, and every day the losses mount, as more people lose loved ones to Covid-19, lose a business or lose their livelihood.

On January 15, the official global death toll from the coronavirus pandemic surpassed 2 million, according to Johns Hopkins University.

While the 2 million figure is horrifying, experts say the real death toll is likely much higher. Only confirmed Covid-19 deaths are included in the tally, which means that people who die without a firm diagnosis may not be included.

Similarly, many people will have been infected with the coronavirus without having a positive test to confirm it. In the early stages of the pandemic fewer tests were available, and testing remains inadequate in many countries now.

Nonetheless, with a world population of some 7.67 billion, according to the latest World Bank figures, the global case tally suggests that about one in every 76 people has now had the virus.

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