January 29 coronavirus news

By Zahid Mahmood, Hannah Strange, Julia Hollingsworth and Adam Renton, CNN

Updated 12:14 AM ET, Sat January 30, 2021
27 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
8:30 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

Scientist says UK coronavirus variant projected to dominate in Belgium by March

From James Frater

The coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom is projected to soon become the dominant strain of coronavirus in Belgium, Emmanuel André, a leading microbiologist at Belgium’s National Reference Laboratory for Covid-19, said on Friday. 

“Based on the early indicators, we made projections which showed that…the UK variant, the B.1.1.7, is now in a trajectory which will totally or near-totally replace the other circulating strains that we still have in Belgium,” André told CNN.

“This [variant] is having a reproduction rate which is — there is still a margin of error — between 1.5 and 1.9, so there's clearly an exponential phenomenon that is starting now,” he added.

According to the National Reference Laboratory, based at KU Leuven, the UK variant could represent “about 90 percent to 95 percent” of infections in Belgium by early March. 

Pressed on whether government restrictions would be enough to stem the spread of the new variant, André noted that while current measures are “quite strict,” there is a need for them to be reinforced.

“Belgium is a small country so things can start very rapidly…we need to be very careful, or it goes up,” André warned. 

“The health system, the prevention system, the testing and tracing and so on, has continuously improved in the last year, but it's clear today that it’s not managing with this more infectious variant,” he added. 

8:15 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

Johnson & Johnson's single-shot vaccine shows 66% efficacy in trial, but 85% efficacy against severe disease

From CNN's Michael Nedelman, Elizabeth Cohen and Maggie Fox

Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for a clinical trial on December 15, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado.
Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center investigational pharmacy technician Sara Berech prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for a clinical trial on December 15, 2020 in Aurora, Colorado. Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images

Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid-19 vaccine was shown to be 66% effective in preventing moderate and severe disease in a global Phase 3 trial, but 85% effective against severe disease, the company announced Friday.

The vaccine was 72% effective against moderate and severe disease in the US, the company said.

It’s a striking difference from vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, and it may give pause to people uncertain about which vaccine to get or when they can get one. The vaccines already on the market in the US are about 95% effective overall against symptomatic Covid-19, with perhaps even higher efficacy against severe cases.

Experts say the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, developed by its vaccine arm Janssen, will still be useful against the pandemic in the United States and around the world, even if the single-dose vaccine doesn���t become the first choice for many.

For Johnson & Johnson, efficacy against moderate and severe ranged from one country to another: 72% in the US, 66% in Latin America and 57% in South Africa. This was measured from starting one month after the shot.

In South Africa, 95% of cases in the trial were due to a variant known as B.1.351, which is known to be more contagious and carries mutations that may make the virus less susceptible to the antibody immune response – including antibodies prompted by vaccination.

With that variant, “we have a lower protection against milder forms of Covid than we did in the United States, where there were more typical circulating variants,” Dr. Mathai Mammen, the company’s global head of research and development, told CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Even those who got moderate cases of Covid-19 in the trial tended to develop a milder course and fewer symptoms, he added.

But for Mammen, the key result was how effective the vaccine was at preventing severe disease – regardless of variant or age group.

“Across all geographies, across all variants, we see 85% protection” against severe disease, he said. That trend increased over time, with no severe cases in the vaccinated group after day 49, according to the company.

From one month after the shot, all hospitalizations and deaths occurred in the placebo group.

The results are based on an analysis of more than 44,000 participants in eight countries, with 468 total cases of Covid-19 split between those receiving the vaccine or placebo. The results have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but the company said it plans to do so “in the coming weeks.”

Johnson & Johnson is expected to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration next week for emergency use authorization, which Mammen said could come by late February.

8:17 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

Coronavirus restrictions intensified in UAE as cases reach record high

From Mostafa Salem in Abu Dhabi and Kareem Khadder in Jerusalem

Tourists wearing protective masks walk near the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Wednesday, January 27.
Tourists wearing protective masks walk near the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Wednesday, January 27. Christopher Pike/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The United Arab Emirates will introduce more restrictions to fight the spread of new coronavirus variants as the country continues to record their highest daily cases, UAE officials said Friday.

The new measures include tighter restrictions on entertainment venues, more testing for incoming travelers and further limiting gatherings, the director of strategic communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hend al Otaiba, said on Twitter.

According to the Ministry of Health, the UAE reached its highest number of coronavirus cases within a 24-hour period on Friday with 3,966 infections. Friday's figures also show a total of 819 deaths. 

 As other cities and countries locked down, Dubai -- which is heavily dependent on tourism -- welcomed visitors over the Christmas and New Year's holidays.

Citing the increase in Covid-19 cases, the UK on Thursday banned direct flights from the UAE, one week after deciding to shut a travel corridor between the two countries. Other countries have also imposed travel bans on the UAE, including Denmark, which temporarily suspended flights. 

The UK move came as it tightened quarantine measures in an effort to reduce Europe's worst outbreak of the virus. On Wednesday, it introduced a new hotel quarantine policy for travelers from 30 countries.

However, UK Transport Minister Grant Shapps emphasized that British, Irish and third country nationals with residence rights arriving from the United Arab Emirates would only need to isolate at home and not in a hotel.

Read more about how the UK's Covid-19 travel ban will affect the world's busiest air route here:

World's busiest air route hit by Covid ban
RELATED

World's busiest air route hit by Covid ban

Duarte Mendonca and Barry Neild, CNN

7:22 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

German officials expect EU approval on AstraZeneca vaccine without age restrictions, despite advice on over 65s

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt and Claudia Otto

Klaus Cichutek, President of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, addresses a press conference in Berlin, Germany, on January 29.
Klaus Cichutek, President of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, addresses a press conference in Berlin, Germany, on January 29. Hannibal Hanschke/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

German officials expect the EU's medicines regulator, The European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine without age restrictions, despite a previous German recommendation that the vaccine should not be given to people over the age of 65.

“The essential bases have been created for a recommendation for approval without age limit,” Klaus Cichutek, the head of Germany's vaccine regulator said during a briefing in Berlin, cautioning that data is weaker on the vaccine’s effects on older age groups. 

Cichutek’s remarks come just a day after Germany's vaccine commission said it recommended that the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford should not be given to people aged over 65 years old due to insufficient data.

According to Germany’s Interior Ministry, Germany’s own vaccine commission, STIKO, found there is insufficient data on the “effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine in people over 65 years of age.”

While the European Medicines Agency (EMA) is expected to issue its approval without restrictions, this will likely not be the case for the German vaccine commission STIKO.

“We do not expect unrestricted approval [in Germany],” Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday during the same briefing.
“There is not sufficient data for that. There is not sufficient data for the elderly,” he added.

Spahn added that the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be authorized in Germany for use in people aged over 65, but the government is still aiming to vaccinate all people over the age of 80 by the end of the first quarter of 2021.

So far, Germany has administered the coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. 

Some background:

As of Friday, according to Germany's health agency the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), 3.5 million coronavirus vaccines have been distributed across the country with 2.4 million vaccinations administered.

But as the EU experiences a vaccine shortfall, Spahn warned Germany too should expect "some weeks" of shortages.

RKI head Lothar Wieler told journalists on Friday that although Germany is “on a good path,” with infection numbers declining, more cases of new coronavirus variants are being confirmed, putting increased pressure on the country’s hospitals. 

According to RKI, 14,022 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed in Germany as of Friday, bringing the country’s total number of cases reported since the beginning of the pandemic to 2,192,850.

7:11 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

EU publishes vaccine contract with AstraZeneca amid dispute over delays

 From CNN's James Frater and Chris Liakos

An AstraZeneca office building is pictured in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, January 29.
An AstraZeneca office building is pictured in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, January 29. Francisco Seco/AP

The European Commission has published the redacted contract signed with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for the purchase of its coronavirus vaccine for European Union member states.

Amid an escalating row, the EU asked AstraZeneca to agree to publish the contract -- signed on August 27 -- following the pharmaceutical giant's announcement of delays and reductions in deliveries due to production issues. Brussels has demanded doses produced at UK manufacturing sites be used to make up for the shortfall, saying AstraZeneca is contractually obliged to do so.

The publication of the contract comes after differing claims from the two parties as to its contents. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot told the Italian newspaper la Repubblica on Tuesday that the company was not able to guarantee the timing of EU deliveries because countries such as the United Kingdom were quicker to finalize orders. He said that while the UK contract, signed earlier, stipulated the country would be supplied first, the later EU contract was on a "best effort" basis -- a contention the Commission has disputed.

The details of the vaccine delivery schedule have been redacted from the published document.

Earlier this week, Belgian authorities conducted an inspection of AstraZeneca’s Belgian site –- at the request of the European Commission –- to ensure that the delay in the delivery of the vaccines was “indeed due to a production problem at the Belgian site.”

On Friday, the European Commission is expected to announce new export restrictions on vaccines manufactured in the EU, requiring companies to obtain authorization before export.

7:37 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

In a battle over coronavirus lockdowns, some of Israel's ultra-Orthadox Jews are clashing with authorities

From CNN's Sam Kiley

As protests against coronavirus restrictions spring up around the world, in Israel, clashes between ultra-Orthodox Jews and authorities have become an almost daily occurrence.

At the heart of the tensions are the refusal to observe tough lockdown regulations that ban gatherings of more than five people inside and 10 outdoors.

Bnei Brak, a largely ultra-Orthodox city of more than 200,000, and the small Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea Shearim have seen the worst of the violence.

The atmosphere has become so febrile that some Haredim, as the ultra-Orthodox are collectively known, have pinned yellow Star of David badges on their jackets and labeled recent police crackdowns in Bnei Brak as "Kristallnacht," referencing the 1938 attack on Jews in Nazi Germany.

Some background:

  • The rate of Covid-related deaths in people over 65 among the ultra-Orthodox was estimated last December to be about 3.6% higher than the Israeli norm, according to the country's health ministry.
  • Health ministry data shows Haredi communities to be suffering infection rates of well over 20% of those tested, and ultra-Orthodox patient admissions are among the highest in the country.
  • As global coronavirus cases have surpassed 100 million, and countries around the world struggle with new coronavirus variants and vaccine shortfalls, protests against lockdown restrictions are becoming increasingly common.

Read more on Israel's ultra-Orthadox Jews clashing with authorities here:

6:26 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

Coronavirus variants can be defeated with the right tools, says senior White House adviser

From CNN's Madeline Holcombe

A senior White House adviser offered hope in the face of worrying new Covid-19 variants on Thursday, saying they can be defeated with the right approach.

South Carolina has confirmed two cases of the variant first identified in South Africa, a strain more contagious than those previously seen.

"Nothing about this news says we can't defeat this thing," the White House Senior Advisor for Covid Response Andy Slavitt told CNN's Wolf Blitzer. "It just means we need more tools, and we need to be more united in doing it."

If the variants spread rapidly, they could add 85,000 American deaths to the projected death toll by May, bringing the US total to up to 620,000 deaths, according to a forecast Thursday from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

"We're going to have to stay one step ahead of these mutations," said Slavitt. "We're going to need processes to keep developing tests, therapies and vaccines to make sure that as and if the virus mutates a little bit, like the flu does, we're able to stay ahead of it."

Experts say they believe current vaccines will still be effective against the variants, but officials are still working to close the gap between the available doses and the number administered to Americans.

Read more about how the US can defeat new Covid-19 variants with the "right tools" here:

6:06 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

Novavax says Covid-19 vaccine is 89% effective in UK trial, but less so in South Africa

By CNN's Jacqueline Howard, Isa Soares and Lauren Said-Moorhouse

A vial of the Phase 3 Novavax coronavirus vaccine is seen ready for use during a trial at St. George's University hospital in London in October Oct. 7, 2020. Novavax Inc. said Thursday Jan. 28, 2021 that its COVID-19 vaccine appears 89% effective based on early findings from a British study and that it also seems to work — though not as well — against new mutated strains of the virus circulating in that country and South Africa. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)
A vial of the Phase 3 Novavax coronavirus vaccine is seen ready for use during a trial at St. George's University hospital in London in October Oct. 7, 2020. Novavax Inc. said Thursday Jan. 28, 2021 that its COVID-19 vaccine appears 89% effective based on early findings from a British study and that it also seems to work — though not as well — against new mutated strains of the virus circulating in that country and South Africa. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant) Alastair Grant/AP

A new Covid-19 vaccine from Novavax was 89% effective and appeared to offer protection against some variants of the coronavirus in a clinical trial conducted in the UK, the American biotech firm has announced.

Based on based on results from a Phase 3 trial conducted in the UK, the vaccine was found to be 95.6% effective against the original coronavirus and 85.6% effective against the variant first detected in the UK.

However, the vaccine appeared to be less effective against against a variant first identified in South Africa. The shot showed 60% efficacy among those without HIV in a separate Phase 2b study conducted in that country, the company said.

The company's vaccine, known as NVX-CoV2373, "is the first vaccine to demonstrate not only high clinical efficacy against COVID-19 but also significant clinical efficacy against both the rapidly emerging UK and South Africa variants," Stanley Erck, Novavax president and CEO, said in the announcement.
"NVX-CoV2373 has the potential to play an important role in solving this global public health crisis," he said.

Novavax is also currently conducting a Phase 3 clinical study in the United States and Mexico and a Phase 1/2 continuation in the US and Australia, data from which are expected as soon as early first quarter 2021.

Read more on the efficacy of the Novax vaccine against new coronavirus variants here

5:48 a.m. ET, January 29, 2021

South Korean Christian groups apologize for role in spreading Covid-19

CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul

Several prominent South Korean Christian groups have apologized for their role in spreading Covid-19 on Friday after acknowledging worsening infections in the country induced by Church groups not practicing social distancing.

In a joint press conference, The National Council of Churches in Korea, alongside the Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Associations (YMCA and YWCA), said some of the country's Christians had prioritized religious freedoms over public health.

"We and the Korean church are not free from their sins", said Vice Chairwoman of Korean YWCA Lee Eun-yeong.

The groups urged Christians across South Korea to cooperate with public health orders.

The South Korean health ministry announced Friday that 344 recent community cases are linked to a group of Christian schools across the country.

According to the latest data from John Hopkins University, since the beginning of the pandemic, South Korea has suffered 77,395 Covid-19 cases with 1,399 deaths.