February 15 coronavirus news

By Joshua Berlinger, Brad Lendon, Kara Fox and Mary Ilyushina, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, February 16, 2021
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12:16 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Go There: CNN answers your question from London about the UK variant and new hotel quarantine policy 

The UK's mandatory hotel quarantine for travelers arriving from some countries — including South Africa, Portugal and South American nations — went into effect today

Non-UK residents from these countries will be refused entry. British citizens and permanent residents will be picked up straight from the airport and transferred to government-provided accommodation where they will begin their mandatory stay.

CNN's Go There is in London, where international correspondent Scott McLean answered CNN viewers' questions about the UK variant and new quarantine policies.

Watch:

12:00 p.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Fauci was worried about contracting Covid-19 at Trump White House

From CNN's Ben Tinker

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during an interview on February 14.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during an interview on February 14. HBO/Axios

In an interview that aired on “Axios on HBO” Sunday, Axios Managing Editor Margaret Talev asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, if he ever worried about contracting the coronavirus himself.

At age 80, Fauci is considered at high risk for serious disease and death if he were to get sick with Covid-19.

“I think you’d have to be oblivious not to consider the fact that if you get infected, that you are already in the category of someone who has a high-risk of having a serious outcome,” Fauci said. “I didn’t fixate on that, but it was in the back of my mind, because I had to be out there. I mean, particularly when I was going to the White House every day when the White House was sort of a super-spreader location. I mean, that made me a little bit nervous.”

11:14 a.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Iraq reports new cases of a “rapidly spreading” coronavirus variant

From CNN’s Aqeel Najim & Mostafa Salem

A medical worker tests blood samples for Covid-19 at a hospital in Najaf, Iraq, on February 15.
A medical worker tests blood samples for Covid-19 at a hospital in Najaf, Iraq, on February 15. Alaa al-Marjani/Reuters

Iraq has reported its first new cases of what it says is a rapidly spreading coronavirus variant, after several infections were recorded, including children, the Health Minister Hassan Al Tamimi said in a news conference on TV on Monday.

Al Tamimi did not specify which variant was detected, or how many cases had been identified, but warned of its danger amidst a “remarkable increase in infections”.

“The results of lab tests showed a remarkable increase in the number of infections with the new variant, including a number of cases in children,” he said.

On Monday, the Iraqi Ministry of Health reported at least 2,798 new confirmed coronavirus cases. It brings the total number of cases in Iraq to at last 646,650, according to the Iraqi Ministry of Health.

Iraq on Saturday had announced a series of restrictive measures "in light of the increasing number of infections among citizens," to contain the spread of coronavirus, according to a statement released by the Iraqi cabinet.

The statement said Iraq will impose a full curfew on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays of each week between Feb. 18 through March 8.

 

9:33 a.m. ET, February 15, 2021

28 states plus DC are now allowing teachers to receive Covid-19 vaccines

From CNN's Yon Pomrenze, Evan Simko-Bednarski & Elizabeth Stuart

Two more states have started allowing all or some teachers and school staff to receive the Covid-19 vaccine starting today, bringing the total to 28 states plus Washington, DC.

The additional states are Alaska, where all teachers are now eligible, and North Dakota, where some counties are now vaccinating group 1B, which includes K-12 teachers.

Though some states have announced they are prioritizing teachers, vaccine availability remains a concern across the country.

There are 22 states where teachers are still not eligible to receive the vaccine as a specific group — although some educators might fall into the current age group that state is vaccinating.

Here are the states where all or some teachers are eligible:

  1. Alabama
  2. Alaska
  3. Arizona
  4. Arkansas
  5. California
  6. Colorado
  7. Delaware
  8. Hawaii
  9. Idaho
  10. Illinois
  11. Iowa
  12. Kansas
  13. Kentucky
  14. Maryland
  15. Michigan
  16. Minnesota
  17. Nebraska
  18. Nevada
  19. New York
  20. North Dakota
  21. Ohio
  22. Oregon
  23. Pennsylvania
  24. Tennessee
  25. Utah
  26. Virginia
  27. West Virginia
  28. Wyoming
  29. Washington, DC

Here are the states where teachers are not yet eligible:

  1. Connecticut
  2. Florida
  3. Georgia
  4. Indiana
  5. Louisiana
  6. Maine
  7. Massachusetts
  8. Mississippi
  9. Missouri
  10. Montana
  11. New Hampshire
  12. New Jersey
  13. New Mexico
  14. North Carolina
  15. Oklahoma
  16. Rhode Island
  17. South Carolina
  18. South Dakota
  19. Texas
  20. Vermont
  21. Washington
  22. Wisconsin
9:02 a.m. ET, February 15, 2021

4 million people flew in the US over the weekend, despite warnings from health officials

From CNN's Pete Muntean

This weekend has been one of the busiest for pandemic air travel in more than a month. Transportation Security Administration figures show that 946,458 passed through security at airports on Sunday. That means more than four million people have flown since Thursday. More than 1.1 million people flew on Friday alone. 

Airlines have been concerned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would mandate that passengers get tested for coronavirus before their trips, something that could suppress travel numbers. On Friday, the CDC said it was not considering pre-departure testing at this time.

The White House met with airline executives on Friday following industry uproar over the possibility of testing domestic travelers for the coronavirus, sources told CNN.

The CDC has been warning people not to travel. 

"If someone must travel, they should get tested with a viral test 1-3 days before the trip," the agency said. "After travel, getting tested with a viral test 3-5 days post-travel and staying home and self-quarantining for 7 days, even if test results are negative, is a recommended public health measure to reduce risk."
9:14 a.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Millions of Americans could soon lose unemployment benefits. Here's where the US stimulus bill stands. 

From CNN's Lauren Fox and the Capitol Hill team

The exterior of the US Capitol on February 13.
The exterior of the US Capitol on February 13.  Brandon Bell/Getty Images

In less than a month, unemployment benefits will begin to lapse for millions of American, putting the pressure squarely on Congress – and Democratic leaders – to usher through a $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill in less than a month.

The next four weeks will test Democratic unity and require the party’s progressives and moderates to put aside clear philosophical differences over the scope of what is needed for the recovery right now.

It will also cement a reality for President Biden: his first major push in Congress isn’t going to be a bipartisan one. Instead, a process is fully underway that will allow Democrats to pass this bill through the Senate with just 51 votes.

Bottom line: Congress is out this week, but the quiet work of pulling together the Democrats’ opening offer at Covid relief continues this week with the House on track to pass their portion of the $1.9 trillion proposal as soon as next week. Read more about the proposal here.

In the next few days, the House Budget Committee will put together the final bill based off of the section by sections that committees passed last week. This will ensure Democrats are in a place to be able to get the caucus on board and pass the bill as soon as next week.

The immediate obstacles: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has a five-vote margin on this bill. This isn’t the spring of 2020 when the economy was cratering and the uncertainty of the virus was so paralyzing for the country that lawmakers came together in a matter of weeks to pass the largest stimulus bill in history with unity.

The scrutiny on this package – even by some Democrats – is more intense. That doesn’t mean that a few Republicans won’t cross the aisle and vote for it, giving Pelosi perhaps more room to move the legislation on the floor, but watch members comments over the next several days while they are home on recess to get a clue for how much a lift this is going to be for the House Speaker.

The Senate problem: In the last several weeks, House Democrats haven’t been working in a vacuum as they transformed Biden’s proposal into legislative text. Senate Democratic aides from Finance have been consulting with House Ways and Means. The Senate’s HELP Committee has been working closely with the House Education and Labor panel.

Aides have been in close contact and Democratic senators have made it clear – both through private nudging and public comments–what they need in the House bill to make it workable on their side. Still, House and Senate Democrats aren’t in complete unity right now. The expectation is that changes to the House bill will happen in the Senate, but not in a formal committee mark up like you saw last week in the House. Instead, the current plan for Democrats is to bring their bill – with some potential changes that have been ironed out privately– directly to the Senate floor. That could happen as the week of March 2. But, Democrats in the Senate will have two weeks to pass their bill before unemployment benefits lapse. And, if they pass a different bill than the House, the House will have to pass it again before March 14.

For those counting at home, that is 27 days – less than a month – to figure this out.

Read more about the stimulus bill here.

8:14 a.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Peru’s Foreign Minister resigns over Sinopharm vaccine scandal 

From CNN’s Claudia Rebaza and Hira Humayun

In this photo released by the Peruvian presidency, then Foreign Minister Elizabeth Astete is pictured during the inauguration ceremony of the new cabinet of President Francisco Sagasti, at the presidential palace in Lima, Peru, on November 18, 2020.
In this photo released by the Peruvian presidency, then Foreign Minister Elizabeth Astete is pictured during the inauguration ceremony of the new cabinet of President Francisco Sagasti, at the presidential palace in Lima, Peru, on November 18, 2020. Luis Iparraguire/Handout/

Peru’s Foreign Affairs Minister Elizabeth Astete resigned on Sunday evening after announcing she received a dose of the Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials and before the country began its vaccination rollout.

In a statement released on social media, Astete said that after being in contact with several officials who had tested positive for Covid-19 in December 2020 and January 2021, she had accepted an offer to receive a dose of the Sinopharm vaccine on January 22 from what she understood to be “the remaining doses of the batch held by the Cayetano Heredia University.”

Astete, 68, cited travel obligations for work and having to undergo Covid-19 testing after being in contact with people who had tested positive as factors that influenced her decision to get vaccinated in January.

In a statement, Astete said:

As a result of the recent disclosure about the vaccination of (former) President Vizcarra and his wife, as well as the understandable impact that this news had on public opinion, I am aware of the serious mistake I made, which is why I decided not to receive the second dose."
“I have submitted my resignation from the post of Foreign Affairs Minister to the President of the Republic.” 

Astete’s resignation comes after local media reported last week that former President Martin Vizcarra and his wife, Maribel Diaz Cabello, were vaccinated while in office last October and did not disclose this information to the public.

On Thursday, Vizcarra said he had volunteered as one of the 12,000 people who were part of the Sinopharm vaccine trials.

But on Saturday, Cayetano Heredia University (UCH) -- the leading university in charge of that trial -- released a statement clarifying that Vizcarra and his wife were not part of the vaccine trial, which began in September.

Peru's President Francisco Sagasti accepted Astete’s resignation on Sunday night and said on Twitter that the Health Minister had ordered an investigation into senior public officials getting doses of the vaccine.

"With the transparency and firmness that characterizes our Government, we will publish the results of the investigation and the information provided by Cayetano Heredia University's Center for Clinical Studies," Sagasti said.

Sagasti also confirmed the resignation of Vice Health Minister, Luis Suárez Ognio after local media reported that he also got vaccinated.

Speaking to local radio RPP on Sunday night, Sagasti expressed his indignation with the scandal and said that the doses that were used to vaccinate government officials were donated by Sinopharm -- and were not part of the batch used for the trials led by UCH.  

Peru became the first Latin American country to distribute China’s Sinopharm vaccine on February 9. Although other agreements have been finalized with Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/Astrazeneca, China's Sinopharm vaccine is the only Covid-19 vaccine currently being distributed in the country.

8:35 a.m. ET, February 15, 2021

UK PM Boris Johnson says the government's plan to lift lockdown will be “cautious but irreversible”

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pictured during a visit to a coronavirus vaccination center in Orpington, south-east London, on Monday, February 15.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pictured during a visit to a coronavirus vaccination center in Orpington, south-east London, on Monday, February 15. Jeremy Selwyn/Pool/AP

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that the government's plan to lift England’s Covid-19 lockdown will be “cautious but irreversible” and that on February 22 he will set out the earliest possible dates for reopening the economy.

Members of Johnson’s Conservative party called on him to end lockdown by the end of April, when the UK’s nine top-priority groups are due to have had a first dose of coronavirus vaccine. 

The letter, which was signed by dozens of Johnson’s party members over the weekend, argued once the priority groups are protected, “there is no justification” for restrictions to remain and stressed that UK’s "national priority" should be reopening schools by March 8.

When asked Monday if the government was planning to reopen primary and secondary schools in that time frame, Johnson said “no decisions have been taken on that sort of detail yet.”

"We will do everything we can to make that happen but we've got to keep looking at the data, we've got to keep looking at the rates of infections, don't forget they're still very high," he said.

In January, British teachers unions criticized the UK’s government for the "chaotic reopening" of schools that was followed by a swift announcement that the reopening would be delayed.

On Monday, Johnson said that "we've got to be very prudent and what we wanted to see is progress that is cautious but irreversible."

"I think that's what the public and people up and down the country will want to see," he said.

Johnson added that on February 22, "if we possibly can, we will be setting out dates... the dates...by which we hope we can do something at the earliest."

"If because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right, delayed for a little bit we won't hesitate to do that. I think people would much rather see a plan that was cautious but irreversible and one that proceeds sensibly in accordance with where we are with the disease." 

The UK has so far been successful with its vaccine rollout. On Sunday the UK government announced that it had met its first vaccination target by administering 15 million vaccine doses to its top four priority groups by February 15. Those groups include everyone over 70, frontline health and social care workers, those living in care homes and the clinically extremely vulnerable by February 15.

The UK has so far been successful with its vaccine rollout. On Sunday the UK government announced that it had met its first vaccination target by administering 15 million vaccine doses to its top four priority groups by February 15. Those groups include everyone over 70, frontline health and social care workers, those living in care homes and the clinically extremely vulnerable.

The British government now plans to give a first dose to remaining priority groups and adults over 50 by the end of April.

7:52 a.m. ET, February 15, 2021

Ski resorts in Tyrol, Austria will require visitors to present a negative Covid-19 test

From CNN’s Nina Avramova in London

A skier descends a slope in Seefeld, Austria, on January 30.
A skier descends a slope in Seefeld, Austria, on January 30. Barbara Gindl/APA/AFP/Getty Images

Skiers will need to provide a negative Covid-19 test to visit the slopes in Austria’s Tyrol province as of Monday, according to a statement on the local authority’s website. 

Here are the rules:

  • The Covid-19 test that must be provided can not be older than 48 hours
  • Children under the age of ten and people undertaking ski touring are exempt from the regulation.
  • People who have been ill with Covid-19 in the past six months also do not need to provide a negative Covid-19 test, but instead will have to show a doctor’s certificate.

The Austrian alpine province has seen one of Europe’s worst outbreaks of the South African coronavirus variant, with 176 confirmed cases of the mutation and an additional 294 suspected cases, government figures from Sunday show.

In order to prevent the import of coronavirus variants, Germany has implemented border controls -- including limits of transport and mandatory test and quarantine requirements for travelers -- with Tyrol. 

People hoping to ski across other parts of Europe are facing additional restrictions as well, as ski lifts remain open in many resorts in Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Bulgaria, Norway and Sweden.

The skiing season has been crushed in France, Italy, and Germany, however, where governments have decreed the risk of spreading the virus is too high.

With few tourists able to travel, many top winter sports destinations have been deserted, resulting in billions of euros in revenue losses.

Italy’s ski resorts were due to open on Monday but the government has decided to continue to bar the sites from opening until March 5 in an effort to stop the spread of the UK variant.

The Italian Health Ministry said it would begin compensating ski lift operators and restaurant owners in skiing areas as soon as possible.