February 17 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung and Sarah Faidell, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, February 18, 2021
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12:08 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

United States could be back to normal by Christmas, Biden says

Taylor Glascock for CNN
Taylor Glascock for CNN

President Joe Biden said the United States might be in a "very different circumstance" by Christmas.

Speaking at CNN's town hall Tuesday night, Biden noted that with vaccinations, the ability to continue spreading coronavirus "is going to diminish considerably" due to herd immunity.

"So if that works that way, as my mother would say with the grace of God and the goodwill of the neighbors, that by next Christmas I think we'll be in a very different circumstance God willing, than we are today," Biden said, cautioning that he did not want to "over-promise anything."

"A year from now, I think that there will be significantly fewer people having to be socially distanced, have to wear a mask, but we don't know," Biden said.

His vaccine plan: Biden promised that 600 million doses of vaccines would be available to the country by the end of July.

Not every vaccine will be administered by that time, Biden noted. “They’ll be available,” he said. “A lot will be being vaccinated in the meantime,” he said. “In other words, this is not all of a sudden 600 million doses are going to appear.”

12:00 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

New Zealand to roll back social distancing restrictions

From journalist Sol Han in Seoul

New Zealand will lift social distancing restrictions across the country from Thursday, officials have announced.

Auckland will reduce restrictions to Level Two, its second-lowest level, while the rest of the country will be reduced to Level One. 

The Wednesday announcement comes as testing uncovered three new Covid-19 cases – including two locally transmitted infections, linked to a family cluster in Auckland.

A mother, father and daughter from the same household tested positive for the virus, authorities announced Sunday.

Restrictions were increased Sunday in a snap lockdown following the discovery of a cluster of cases of the UK variant.

New Zealand has recorded a total of 1,984 confirmed cases, 49 of which are still active.

12:00 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

El Salvador to start vaccinating citizens

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias in Atlanta

El Salvador will receive its first batch of Covid-19 vaccines on Wednesday, with vaccinations to start the same day, according to President Nayib Bukele.

“Tomorrow morning, an Iberia plane will bring the first batch of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccines from India," Bukele tweeted Tuesday. "The vaccination begins tomorrow with our (medical) front-line personnel. This will take a few days, to vaccinate thousands of health workers daily."

Bukele did not specify how many doses are expected to arrive on Wednesday.

The vaccines are part of a government purchase from AstraZeneca, according to Bukele. The country approved the emergency use of the vaccine on December 30.

12:07 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

New York attorney general sues Amazon over "deficient" Covid-19 response

From CNN's Brian Fung

New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference on August 6, 2020, in New York City.
New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a news conference on August 6, 2020, in New York City. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Amazon on Tuesday, accusing the company of a “deficient” response to the pandemic in its workplace facilities. 

In a complaint filed in state court, James alleged Amazon violated labor law by failing to provide sufficient worker protections.

According to the lawsuit, the company failed to close its facilities for cleaning when it discovered worker infections; failed to notify workers who had been in contact with infected colleagues; and failed to give employees enough leeway on the job to conduct cleanings, practice social distancing and other preventive measures. 

 “Throughout the historic pandemic, Amazon has repeatedly and persistently failed to comply with its obligation to institute reasonable and adequate measures to protect its workers from the spread of the virus," the complaint said.
“Amazon’s flagrant disregard for health and safety requirements has threatened serious illness and grave harm to the thousands of workers in these facilities and poses a continued substantial and specific danger to the public health ... Amazon’s response to the pandemic continues to be deficient.”

Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Last week, the company filed a preemptive lawsuit in New York state asking a court to block James from filing a complaint under state law.

12:07 a.m. ET, February 17, 2021

Australian state of Victoria to end snap lockdown

From journalist Angus Watson in Sydney

Cafes and retail shops are closed during lockdown in Melbourne, on February 16.
Cafes and retail shops are closed during lockdown in Melbourne, on February 16. Chris Putnam/Barcroft Media/Getty Images

The Australian state of Victoria will end its five-day "circuit breaker" lockdown on Wednesday night after detecting no new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, Premier Daniel Andrews announced.

A record 39,258 coronavirus tests were conducted in Victoria on Tuesday, Andrews said. All six cases of community transmission detected during the lockdown period were clustered together and identified as the UK variant of Covid-19.

"I am very, very pleased to be able to announce that this will be a five-day short sharp circuit breaker," Andrews said. "It’s exactly what we said we needed and exactly what we said would work."

Andrews said his government was continuing discussions over spectator limits at the Australian Open, which is underway in Melbourne, the state capital.

Starting 11:59 p.m. local time Wednesday:

  • Victoria residents can leave their homes for any reason.
  • A 5 kilometer (3.1 mile) limit on travel will be lifted.
  • Non-essential businesses and schools will reopen.
  • Masks will remain mandatory at all times when physical distance is not ensured.

11:43 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

South Africa receives first shipment of single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine

From CNN's Sharif Paget and Ingrid Formanek

South Africa has received its first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, the country's health minister announced Tuesday, putting it on target to become the first in the world to administer the shot. 

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Twitter that South Africa had secured a total 9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with the first delivery containing 80,000 shots.

Vaccinations are due to begin this week, he added.

About the vaccine: Developed by Janssen, Johnson & Johnson's Belgium-based vaccine division, the single-dose vaccine has shown to be effective in preventing moderate and severe disease from South Africa's coronavirus variant.

The AstraZeneca vaccine: South Africa said it plans to share 1 million unwanted doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine with other countries in the African Union, after early data suggests it provided only “minimal protection” against mild and moderate infections from the South African variant.

11:43 p.m. ET, February 16, 2021

North Korea hacked Pfizer in bid to steal vaccine tech, South Korean lawmaker says

From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo and Gawon Bae in Seoul

North Korea successfully hacked US drug maker Pfizer in an attempt to steal technology related to coronavirus vaccines and treatments, a South Korean lawmaker said.

“There have been core technology theft attempts of coronavirus vaccines and treatment," said opposition lawmaker Ha Tae-keung in comments carried on local television following a briefing from South Korea’s National Intelligent Service. "Pfizer’s (vaccine) technology has been hacked, according to (the NIS) briefing.”

Ha’s office confirmed the remarks to CNN on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Ha’s office told CNN that North Korea tried to hack pharmaceutical companies or companies that developed Covid-19 vaccine or treatments in a number of ways, including through the South Korean local government’s administration network. 

It is not clear when the attack happened. Pfizer told CNN Tuesday it would not comment on the matter.