January 28 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Zahid Mahmood and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021
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5:23 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Expect "at least another 10 weeks" of vaccine shortages, says German Health Minister

From Nadine Schmidt

German Health Minister Jens Spahn looks on during parliament session in Berlin on January 28.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn looks on during parliament session in Berlin on January 28. Clemens Bilan/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The German government expects the country to face shortages in its supply of coronavirus shots for at least another 10 weeks, Health Minister Jens Spahn said Thursday amid a backlash over the pace of the country’s vaccine rollout program.

We will experience at least another 10 weeks of coronavirus vaccine shortage,” Spahn tweeted, adding that “confidence in this crisis can only be achieved if the federal and state governments pull together.”

Spahn’s remarks come amid an ongoing dispute between the European Union and drugmaker AstraZeneca over vaccine delays which threaten the bloc’s fragile recovery from the pandemic.  

The German Health Minister has proposed that a vaccination summit be held with all regional German states and federal governments to discuss “the way forward” and to ensure that “Europe gets its fair share” of vaccine doses.

Spahn also proposed inviting members of the pharmaceutical industry and vaccine manufacturers in Germany to show “how complex the production process is.”

“Vaccine production cannot be set up in four weeks,” Spahn said.

“If it can be done in a few months, that's very fast. Simply because the quality has to be very good to protect the citizens,” he added.

Some background:

  • Germany marked one year since the virus arrived on Wednesday, with the country showing no signs of reduced infections.
  • According to the latest data from Germany's national agency for disease control and prevention, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), there had been an increase of 17,553 infections on Thursday over a 24-hour period, with 941 deaths.
  • As of Thursday, RKI data shows Germany has vaccinated nearly 2 million people -- around 2% of the country's population.
4:37 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

China calls for WHO investigation into Covid-19 origin not be politicized

From CNN's Beijing bureau 

Members of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic leave The Jade Hotel on a bus after completing their quarantine in Wuhan, China on January 28.
Members of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic leave The Jade Hotel on a bus after completing their quarantine in Wuhan, China on January 28. Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

The World Health Organization's investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic must not be politicized, a Chinese official said Thursday, after the team of WHO experts were released from quarantine in Wuhan.

"Any actions out of prejudice, presuppositions, negative speculations, or even attempts to politicize the interpretations (of virus tracing) are inappropriate and will bring unnecessary interference to the WHO international expert group's scientific cooperation in China," China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said in a briefing.
"Tracing the origin of the virus is a complex scientific problem and should be studied by scientists with international scientific research and cooperation on a global scale," Zhao added.

The spokesman emphasized the purpose of the investigation "is to promote the understanding of the virus, its animal hosts and transmission routes, so that we can better prevent possible risks and respond to similar public health crises in the future."

Zhao called on the United States to work with China "in a responsible manner" so the WHO team "can conduct tracing and scientific research without interference from political factors."

What happens next? Speaking in the briefing Thursday, Zhao vaguely described the WHO team's next steps following their release from quarantine, saying "the expert group will continue carrying out exchange and cooperation in China about tracing the origin of the virus."

"(Their activities) include discussions, visits, inspections, and so on, all of which must be in line with the principle of scientific tracing of the origin of the virus and the highest purpose of preventing future risks and protecting people’s life and health," Zhao added.

The WHO investigation will continue "under the premise that they would comply with the relevant epidemic prevention regulations in China," the spokesman reiterated.

The 13 WHO team members boarded a bus Thursday, wearing face masks, their luggage having been loaded on board earlier by staff in hazmat suits.

Zhao said the specifics and detailed itinerary of the team would have to come from relevant authorities.

Read more about the WHO team's investigation:

4:30 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

India eases restrictions on public activities as Covid-19 cases show declining trend

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi

Punjab Police personnel stand in a queue as they wait register for Covid-19 tests at the Community Health Centre on the outskirts of Amritsar, India on January 25.
Punjab Police personnel stand in a queue as they wait register for Covid-19 tests at the Community Health Centre on the outskirts of Amritsar, India on January 25. Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images

India will allow swimming pools, cinemas, and large group gatherings of any size in areas outside of designated “containment zones,” the country’s Ministry of Home Affairs said in a new set of guidelines issued Wednesday.

The new rules are set to take effect from February 1 after a period of declining cases of Covid-19 in the country.

The ministry is expected to define operating procedures for these venues but cinemas will no longer be capped at 50% capacity and swimming pools will open to the general public instead of being reserved for athletes. States may decide to place additional restrictions if they deem it necessary to control the spread. 

The limit on gatherings of 200 people indoors and caps based on the size of the outdoor space have been lifted.

The ministry added that a decision on changes to air travel will be taken in consultation with the Ministry of Civil Aviation, which has thus far been operating flights under bubble arrangements with countries and for repatriation missions.

While restrictions will be eased outside containment zones, the ministry has directed state governments to demarcate containment zones at the micro level and take all measures to encourage Covid-19 appropriate behavior.

"The number of active cases has been steadily declining over the last four months. However with a view to consolidate the substantial gains that have been achieved against Covid-19, and to fully overcome the pandemic, there is a need to maintain caution," the ministry said in its order.

Cases and vaccinations: On Thursday, India reported 11,666 new coronavirus infections, bringing its total to 10,701,193 with 153,847 deaths. India has vaccinated 2,328,779 healthcare workers as of Wednesday, according to the Ministry of Health.

3:30 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

South Korea lays out vaccination plan set to begin in late February 

From CNN's Jake Kwon in Seoul

South Korea's Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced in a briefing Thursday the country's vaccine rollout plan that's set to begin next month.

AstraZeneca and Covax vaccinations will begin for around 1.3 million people, frontline healthcare workers and those working and staying in nursing facilities in late February, KDCA said. 

In May, 9 million people, including those who are over 65 years old or are staying in facilities for seniors or disabled persons, will receive vaccines. In July, the general public will receive vaccines, KDCA said. 

Those under 18 years of age or pregnant will be exempted from vaccination, KDCA said in a press release.

Those who must travel abroad on emergency business or governmental capacity will be able to receive shots ahead of schedule, KDCA said.

The logistics: To facilitate the vaccination, the government will establish 250 vaccination centers in large halls and gymnasiums and designate 10,000 medical facilities for vaccination throughout the country, KDCA said. A traveling vaccination team will also visit nursing facilities and homes of disabled people. 

Private enterprises, government workers, and military officials will help distribute the vaccines, coordinated by a newly created Vaccine Logistical Support Headquarters. Chief of the headquarters, Lt. General Park Ju-kyeong said, "all available military resource will be mobilized" for safe and quick distribution of shots and the military will ensure delivery of vaccines to remote areas.

Deputy Police Commissioner Song Min-heon said police will participate in safeguarding of vaccines and protecting medical workers at the vaccination centers. Song vowed to strictly punish activity that disrupts vaccination, including assaulting of medical workers or spreading fake news regarding vaccines.

Vaccine certificates and travel: KDCA Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong said while there is no agreement with foreign countries or the World Health Organization on presenting vaccination certification to cross borders, those vaccinated can request certificates in both Korean and English. Jeong added that the authority plans to ease customs rules so that those entering South Korea with a vaccine certificate could be exempted from either quarantine or testing.

Jeong said until herd immunity is attained, mask wearing, and distancing must be thoroughly followed.

3:13 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Head of Africa CDC "surprised" by UK's Covid-19 travel ban list 

From CNN's Brent Swails

The inclusion of several African countries on the UK's travel ban list came as a surprise, the director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told CNN Thursday.

“The United Kingdom has the right to do what they have to do, but we have to understand that if we do not use a coordinated and measured approach it will be extremely difficult to come out of this pandemic,” Dr. John Nkengasong said.

The UK Department for Transport list includes more than a dozen African countries where the South African variant of coronavirus are believed to be spreading, while some notable countries are excluded.

The United States, France, and Israel are not on the banned the list, although the South African or Brazilian variants of coronavirus have been detected there. Portugal is the only European country on the UK's list and was included because of its strong travel links to Brazil, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said earlier this month.

Yet the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and World Health Organization have warned about variants reported in other European countries. 

“From a public health standpoint, what we should be doing is requiring that people travel with a negative Covid-19 test. It’s not about the variant, it’s about whether you are infected or not infected," Nkengasong said.
"If an African is traveling to the UK and shows a negative Covid test, that person doesn’t cause a risk to you. So the geographic origin of an individual doesn’t really matter, what matters is, are you coming in with a valid negative Covid test?”
2:55 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

A city in Brazil's Amazon is collapsing again. Is a new coronavirus variant to blame?

From CNN's Matt Rivers

Gravediggers are seen during a funeral of a Covid-19 victim at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil, on January 22.
Gravediggers are seen during a funeral of a Covid-19 victim at the Nossa Senhora Aparecida cemetery in Manaus, Brazil, on January 22. Marcio James/AFP/Getty Images

The tense quiet outside the small hospital in Iranduba, Brazil, shattered when the ambulance rolled up.

Inside, medics give a woman CPR in an ultimately futile attempt to save her life. A hospital source told CNN she died soon after being brought inside.

In the four hours that CNN spent outside Hospital Hilda Freire on Tuesday morning, three Covid-19 patients died.

The chaos has become the norm here this month. What's happening in this underequipped hospital, surrounded by the Amazon rainforest, is a small example of a new, massive Covid-19 outbreak engulfing northwest Brazil.

How is this happening again? Not far from Iranduba is the epicenter of this new outbreak, Manaus. The capital city of Amazonas state often referred to as the gateway to the Amazon, its main connections to the rest of the world by plane or boat.

If the city's name sounds familiar, it could be because it was the scene of one of the world's worst Covid-19 outbreaks in April and May. The healthcare system collapsed and images of thousands of newly dug graves became emblematic of Brazil's coronavirus crisis, its death toll now second only to that of the United States.

The current situation is worse than ever. January has proven to be the deadliest month of the pandemic in Manaus by far.

In May, 348 people were buried here, the worst month until now. Through just the first three weeks of January, that number stood at 1,333.

While genomic testing is not widespread in Manaus, scientists tell CNN that evidence suggests a new virus variant mixed with government inaction to create a tragic perfect storm.

Read the full story:

2:31 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

WHO team investigating Covid-19 origins leaves quarantine hotel in Wuhan

From CNN's James Griffiths in Hong Kong

Members of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic leave The Jade Hotel on a bus after completing their quarantine in Wuhan, China on January 28.
Members of the World Health Organization team investigating the origins of the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic leave The Jade Hotel on a bus after completing their quarantine in Wuhan, China on January 28. Hector Retamal/AFP/Getty Images

A team of World Health Organization scientists investigating the origins of the coronavirus pandemic left their hotel in Wuhan Thursday after completing a two-week quarantine in the central Chinese city.

The 13 team members could be seen on a live television feed walking out of the hotel wearing face masks and boarding a bus, onto which their luggage had been loaded earlier by workers in hazmat suits. The team was waved on its way by hotel staff and Chinese officials.

They will now begin a highly awaited investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan in late 2019. Speaking to CNN Wednesday, Dutch virologist and team member Marion Koopmans said the “eyes of the world are focused on this, the opinions of the world are focused on this.”

“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,” she said.

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.”

2:14 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Thailand arrests 89 foreigners for violating Covid-19 rules

From CNN's Kocha Olarn in Bangkok

Thai police arrested 89 foreigners on suspicion of breaching coronavirus restrictions after raiding a party at a bar on a popular resort island in southern Thailand, police told CNN on Thursday. 

Police said 22 Thais were also detained in the raid Tuesday night at 360 Bar on Koh Phangan.

Attendants and organizers of the party are facing charges of violating an emergency decree which was put in place last March to combat the coronavirus. Most of them have been released on bail, and only 28 are still being detained, said Police Col. Panya Nirattimanon, chief of Koh Phangan provincial police station.

Among the foreigners arrested were 20 French, 10 Americans and six Britons. All of the arrested were swabbed by local health authorities and found negative for Covid-19, Nirattimanon said. 

“They are stranded tourists who can't leave Thailand due to Covid,” Nirattimanon said. “They may think it is OK to gather in large groups and I think they may want to relax and have some fun.”

The maximum penalty for violating the emergency decrease is two years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of up to 40,000 baht ($1,330). The organizers are facing an additional charge of serving alcohol as this area in Thailand is banned from serving alcohol inside restaurants under the emergency law.

2:01 a.m. ET, January 28, 2021

Colombia suspends flights with Brazil over new strain of Covid-19

From CNN’s Stefano Pozzebon in Bogota, Colombia

Colombia will suspend passenger flights to and from Brazil starting on Friday, Colombia’s Health Minister Fernando Ruiz announced Wednesday. 

“We are going to keep this measure in place for a preliminary period of 30 days,” Ruiz said, adding the suspension was an effort to contain the spread of a new strain of Covid-19 first spotted in Brazil. 

While Colombia has reported more cases in January than in any other month since the start of the pandemic, it has not officially reported any cases caused by new variants of the virus.