February 12 coronavirus news

By Rob Picheta, Tara John, Cristiana Moisescu, Hannah Strange, Brett McKeehan and Brad Lendon, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, February 13, 2021
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7:58 a.m. ET, February 12, 2021

More European countries send medical teams to help Portugal

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio in London

A health technician stands by oxygen tanks in the Covid-19 triage area at Garcia de Orta hospital in Almada, Portugal, on February 1.
A health technician stands by oxygen tanks in the Covid-19 triage area at Garcia de Orta hospital in Almada, Portugal, on February 1. Horacio Villalobos/Corbis/Getty Images

Come next week, medical teams from France and Luxembourg will arrive in Portugal to help "support the treatment of Covid-19 patients" in the country as it continues to grapple with a new wave of infections, according to the Portuguese health ministry.

France is sending one doctor and three nurses, who will be stationed at Almada's Garcia de Orta Hospital, on the outskirts of Lisbon. Luxembourg is sending two doctors and two nurses, who will be deployed to the Espírito Santo hospital in Évora, in the southern part of the country, the statement added.

The teams will be in the country for 15 days, the ministry said. Their deployment comes after 26 medical personnel from the German armed forces arrived in Portugal last week. 

Portugal has reported 778,369 total infections and 14,885 Covid-19 related deaths since the pandemic began. The situation has escalated since the start of 2021: more than half of all its deaths occurred in the new year and the country has also seen a doubling in the number of total cases.

6:55 a.m. ET, February 12, 2021

UK’s hotel quarantine booking website crashes 

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie

The UK government’s official website for booking approved hotel quarantine rooms crashed within hours of its launch on Thursday. 

The Department of Health and Social Care removed the booking link from its website on Thursday evening and posted an error message:

“Due to a minor technical issue, the link to the booking portal in this guidance will not be available until later today. Please return to this page later if you wish to make a booking.”

The site was still down as of Friday morning.  

The UK’s mandatory hotel quarantine policy begins on Monday and is part of a series of new border measures being brought in to stop new variants from overseas entering the country. 

The policy mandates that all passengers arriving into England from a list of 33 countries which have been identified as “high-risk” will be required to quarantine in a hotel for up to 10 days.

Some context: The UK’s new policy of enforced hotel quarantine for travelers from the 33 banned countries was first announced on January 27

Since then, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other government officials have been holding discussions with Australian and New Zealand counterparts to share expertise on policies for quarantining travelers, measures which have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

Read more here:

7:19 a.m. ET, February 12, 2021

Human Rights Watch: governments are using Covid-19 to trample on free speech

From CNN's Tara John

Police in Moscow block a road during a July 2020 protest against the results of voting on constitutional amendments. Activists called for a protest against the constitutional reform that allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036.
Police in Moscow block a road during a July 2020 protest against the results of voting on constitutional amendments. Activists called for a protest against the constitutional reform that allows Russian President Vladimir Putin to stay in power until 2036. Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

At least 83 governments worldwide have used the pandemic to justify curbs on free speech and peaceful assembly, NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.

Authorities have "attacked, detained, prosecuted, and in some cases killed critics," with victims including journalists, activists, health care workers, political opponents and others who have criticized those governments' Covid-19 responses, HRW added.

Governments should counter Covid-19 by encouraging people to mask up, not shut up," Gerry Simpson, HRW's associate crisis and conflict director, said in a statement. "Beating, detaining, prosecuting, and censoring peaceful critics violates many fundamental rights, including free speech, while doing nothing to stop the pandemic."

In some countries, like China and Egypt, people remain in detention " simply for criticizing government responses to Covid-19 months earlier." It points to the plight of independent Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan, who reported from Wuhan at the height of the initial coronavirus outbreak.

She was jailed for four years in December after being found guilty of "picking quarrels and provoking trouble," according to one of her defense lawyers Zhang Keke.

Other trends include "military or police forces in at least 18 countries" physically assaulting civil society actors, "including some who criticized government responses to Covid-19 such as insufficient healthcare funding, lockdowns, and a lack of masks and gloves for medical workers." It says countries have also arbitrarily banned or broke up protests, and restricted access to public health information.

The group has called for the United Nations Human Rights Council to commission a new report looking into the "impact of restrictions on free speech and peaceful assembly," it wrote.

“Excessive and sometimes violent crackdowns on critical speech by governments signify a perilous willingness to sideline a fundamental freedom in the name of countering Covid-19,” Simpson added. “The obligation of governments to protect the public from this deadly pandemic is not a carte blanche for placing a chokehold on information and suppressing dissent.”

7:07 a.m. ET, February 12, 2021

Germany border controls "unavoidable" to prevent import of variants, says health minister

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt and Claudia Otto

German Health Minister Jens Spahn speaks at a press conference on February 12 in Berlin.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn speaks at a press conference on February 12 in Berlin. Christian Marquardt/Pool/Getty Images

Border controls -- including limits on public transport and mandatory test and quarantine requirements for travelers -- are unavoidable in the effort to prevent the import of other more contagious coronavirus variants, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday.

"This means there will be a ban on transportation -- and without exceptions tests must be made before entering Germany -- and there is an obligation to quarantine,''  Spahn told journalists at a health press briefing.

Spahn went on to say that -- despite the new variants -- overall infections rates in Germany were falling.

''To protect the population from virus mutations -- this is why the federal government decided yesterday to declare the Czech Republic, Tyrol and Slovakia as coronavirus variant areas," the minister said.

Some context: On Thursday, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that Germany was temporarily imposing border checks and limiting travel from the Czech Republic and the Austrian province of Tyrol due to a spike in infections of the new, more contagious coronavirus variants. The restrictions come into force Sunday. 

On Friday, Germany recorded 9,860 new coronavirus infections -- a drop of 3,048 cases compared to the same day last week. Germany coronavirus deaths stood at 556 within the last 24 hours - a drop of 299 compared to Friday last week. 

The latest data from the country's public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), indicate that the number of new infections per 100,000 residents could fall below 60 this weekend, Spahn said. 

As of Friday, 5.7 million coronavirus vaccines have been distributed across Germany's 16 federal states, with some 3.6 million vaccinations carried out so far. 2,490,423 -- 3% of Germany's population have received the first shot, while 1,178,725 have received the second shot, according to RKI data. Spahn said that Germany will distribute 8 million coronavirus vaccines by the end of next week. 

Germany is currently administering the coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca. 

6:08 a.m. ET, February 12, 2021

This state allows a companion for seniors to get the vaccine too. It has spurred online scams, governor says

From CNN's Mallika Kallingal and Melissa Alonso

A pharmacist prepares a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site at Boston's Fenway Park on January 29.
A pharmacist prepares a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a mass vaccination site at Boston's Fenway Park on January 29. Adam Glanzman/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Caregiver vaccine scams are popping up in Massachusetts after the state announced that companions who bring people over the age of 75 to an appointment can get vaccinated themselves.

We have heard some pretty disturbing reports of some people trying to take advantage of this program already," Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said Thursday. "Some people [are] posting it online, trying to get a senior to bring them to a vaccination site or, in some cases, asking to be paid to drive somebody to one."

Several online posts on Craigslist are offering free vaccine rides to those over 75. Some are upfront about it, stating clearly that they're doing it so they can get vaccinated themselves. Others are offering seniors money along with a free ride to pose as their companion.

The governor said residents should report any solicitations of this nature to the authorities.

If you're 75 years or older and you need assistance going through the vaccination process, you should only reach out to somebody that you know, or trust to bring you as your companion. Don't take calls or offers from people you don't know well or trust and never share your personal information with anyone," Baker said.

Under the policy, a caregiver will be allowed to receive a Covid-19 vaccine if accompanying a person 75 or older to a mass vaccination site. The policy includes a family member or friend in an effort to encourage the elderly to get vaccinated. The change went into effect Thursday and doesn't apply to appointments that were already scheduled. The announcement came after some older residents said they were hesitant about going to a mass vaccination site alone, or had difficulties doing so.

"We want to make sure that we make it as easy as we possibly can for folks who fall into that over-75 category to get vaccinated, and to get vaccinated early in this process," Baker said.

Read the full story:

6:00 a.m. ET, February 12, 2021

New York governor's top aide apologizes and says administration 'froze' after inquiries on Covid-19 deaths at long-term care facilities

From CNN's Lauren del Valle

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's top aide apologized to Democratic lawmakers Wednesday for putting them in a tough spot over long-awaited data which revealed thousands more confirmed and presumed Covid-19 deaths of long-term care facility residents than previously disclosed, according to a source who participated in the call.

The apology follows the release of a report in late January from state Attorney General Letitia James, noting the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) undercounted Covid-19 deaths among residents of nursing homes by approximately 50%.

Secretary to Gov. Cuomo Melissa DeRosa told the lawmakers in a private virtual meeting that the state had been concerned about a Department of Justice preliminary inquiry into Covid-19 deaths in New York nursing homes, as well as attention from former President Donald Trump, who was tweeting about Cuomo and other Democratic governors' handling of the nursing homes, the source who participated in the call told CNN.

Outstanding inquiries from state lawmakers were also addressed on the call, the source said, after an August 3 joint committee hearing on Covid-19 residential health care facilities. Lawmakers had demanded a full transparency on the Covid-19 death toll in nursing homes.

Read the full story:

4:59 a.m. ET, February 12, 2021

From sermons to WhatsApp messages, these Britons are trying to dispel Covid-19 myths in minority communities

From CNN's Christopher Johnson in London

Right Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin believes better representation is one of the best ways to encourage vaccine uptake
Right Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin believes better representation is one of the best ways to encourage vaccine uptake

Christine Lloyd-Jones was at work when the first call came: One of her friends, Annette, 62, had died of coronavirus. The following day, as she ate breakfast, her phone flashed again. This time it was news of another friend, Lloyd, dead at 58. The next day, another call. Her friend Haydon, 51, was in the hospital. He died the following day. In the space of just five days, Lloyd-Jones lost three loved ones to Covid-19.

One month on, the social care manager, who lives in London, has become a one-woman publicity machine for members of the Black community, encouraging everyone she knows to get vaccinated, so she won't have to say goodbye to another friend or family member.

I have been agonizing about writing this message but have decided that this is what I have to do as a 59-year-old Black woman," read the message she sent to everyone in her WhatsApp contact book. "I now believe we must do something to halt the devastation and loss.

"I have decided to have the Covid-19 vaccine," she wrote. "This was one of the hardest decisions I have made in my life."

Lloyd-Jones's uncle died from coronavirus four days after the UK locked down last March, and the twin sister of her friend Annette, called Paulette, also lost her life in 2020. The twins are buried together. Yet Lloyd-Jones is far from being the only member of Britain's Black community or other ethnic minorities to feel unsure about taking a Covid-19 shot.

A report released by the UK Household Longitudinal Study earlier this year found that 72% of Black British respondents said they were unlikely or very unlikely to get a coronavirus vaccine.

According to the same survey, those from Britain's Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities were also hesitant, with 42% saying they were unlikely or very unlikely to get vaccinated.
The data the report was based on was carried out in November, prior to any vaccines being approved, and those numbers are likely to have dipped in recent weeks, as the shots are rolled out with few, if any, reports of serious side effects.

But Black people and those from minority groups are still thought to be less willing to get vaccinated than their White counterparts -- a factor which concerns health authorities and community leaders alike.

Read the full story:

4:50 a.m. ET, February 12, 2021

UK economy contracted by a record 9.9% in 2020 due to the pandemic

From CNN Business' Robert North

A pedestrian passes closed shops on Carnaby Street in London on Tuesday, January 5.
A pedestrian passes closed shops on Carnaby Street in London on Tuesday, January 5. Hollie Adams/Bloomberg/Ge

The economy of the United Kingdom contracted 9.9% in 2020, wiping out the past seven years of growth in the country and returning the economy to the same level it was in 2013.

It is the largest annual drop in Gross Domestic Product on record. 

The UK economy did see some signs of improvement in the final months of the year. GDP grew 1% in the fourth quarter. It follows on from a record third quarter when GDP grew 16.1%.

There was growth in services, construction and manufacturing, although all of these industries remain below pre-pandemic levels.

4:51 a.m. ET, February 12, 2021

More than 475,000 people have died in the US from coronavirus

From CNN's Alta Spells

The United States reported 103,306 new cases of Covid-19 and 3,724 additional virus-related deaths on Thursday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

That raises the national total to at least 27,390,465 infections and 475,291 fatalities since the pandemic began.

The totals include cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories, as well as repatriated cases.   

Vaccines: At least 68,285,575 vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 46,390,270 shots administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CNN is tracking US cases.