March 15 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 3:41 AM ET, Tue March 16, 2021
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12:52 p.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Germany halts use of AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNN's Stephanie Halsaz

Medical staff Thomas Holler gives a jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a vaccine center in Bremen, northwestern Germany, on February 26.
Medical staff Thomas Holler gives a jab of the AstraZeneca vaccine at a vaccine center in Bremen, northwestern Germany, on February 26. Hauke-Christian Dittrich/Pool/Getty Images

Germany is “precautiously” halting vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine, according to CNNs German affiliate n-tv.  

The decision today is purely a precautionary measure. It is a purely scientific and not a political decision. And that's why I'm following the recommendation of the Paul Ehrlich Institute, ” a statement by German Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

"In order to maintain confidence in the vaccine, we have to give our experts in Germany and the EU the time to review the latest incidents.We are pausing to check. The result of the check is open and that's why we are now counting on the EMA, ideally, coming to its decision and recommendation in the course of this week," he continued.

"The PEI (Paul-Ehrlich-Institute) advises that people who have been vaccinated with AstraZeneca & feel increasingly unwell more than 4 days after vaccination - e.g. with severe and persistent headaches or punctiform skin bleeding - should seek medical treatment immediately. It has happened very rarely. So far there have been 7 reported cases that may be related to such a cerebral vein thrombosis and that meanwhile over 1.6 million vaccinations in Germany."

Germany is now the seventh European country to suspend AstraZeneca's use despite advice from the European Union's medicines regulator that the benefits of the shot outweigh any potential risks.

Here's a look at the other EU countries that have suspended use:

  • Denmark: On Thursday, March 11, Denmark suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations for 14 days as a “precautionary measure” as it investigates “signs of a possible serious side effect in the form of fatal blood clots” after one Danish person died following vaccination, according to Danish health officials.
  • Norway: On Thursday, March 11, Norway chose to “pause” vaccinations following reports of the death in Denmark. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said similar cases had been reported in Norway, but “mainly in the elderly where there is often another underlying disease as well.” 
  • Iceland: On Thursday, March 11, Iceland suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. There have been no reports of patients developing blood clots in the country. 
  • Bulgaria: On Friday, March 12, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov ordered a halt to all AstraZeneca vaccinations until the EMA “rejects all doubts” about the vaccine's safety.
  • Ireland: On Sunday, March 14, Ireland decided to temporarily suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to "maintain confidence" in its vaccine program, according to the Chairman of its National Immunization Advisory Committee.
  • Netherlands: On Sunday, March 14, the Dutch government said it would pause AstraZeneca vaccinations for two weeks “as a precautionary measure and pending further investigation.”
10:32 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Covid-19 testing begins at two DC-area airports as pandemic air travel breaks records

From CNN's Pete Muntean and Liz Stark

Travelers walk through Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on February 2.
Travelers walk through Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia, on February 2. Ting Shen/Xinhua/Getty Images

More coronavirus testing facilities are opening up at airports as pandemic air travel continues to break records.

Two testing locations opened up before security at Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport on Monday morning. The new partnership is between the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and XpresCheck—the company known for its in-airport XpresSpa chain. The new locations are the tenth and eleventh at airports across the country.

Passengers can pay $200 to get a rapid molecular test for while-you-wait results or $75 to get to get an Abbot ID Now PCR with results in one to three days. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says both international and domestic travelers should get tested before and after their trip.

“Infrastructure like this in airports is going to be part of the new normal that give people comfort,” XpresCheck CEO Doug Satzman tells CNN. He says the company will also roll out a rapid PCR test in April.

Saltzman says those who test positive will be told to quarantine either at home or a hotel and their information will be referred to the CDC in hopes that passengers are prevented from boarding a plane. The CDC says it maintains a public health Do Not Board list, which is independent of the TSA-administered Do Not Fly list.

“We have a special, expedited process - because of the nature of this environment - that prevents somebody from going through security and boarding the plane,” said Saltzman.
10:00 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Fauci: Study suggests 3 feet may be enough social distance in schools

Dr. Anthony Fauci attends an event at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on February 11. 
Dr. Anthony Fauci attends an event at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on February 11.  Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Top Biden medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday gave his view on a new Massachusetts study that found "no significant difference" between six feet of physical distancing versus three feet of physical distancing in schools.

On CNN's "State of the Union," Jake Tapper pressed Fauci on the research.

Fauci said the findings do indicate to him that three feet of distancing is good enough and that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is aware of the new data.

"I can tell you and promise you, I talk to the CDC, to (Director Rochelle Walensky) every single day," he said. "She is acutely aware of the accumulation of data and the fact that her team will be acting on the data the way they always do."

9:57 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Biden will announce key official today that will oversee implementation of Covid-19 relief law

From CNN's  Phil Mattingly, Jeremy Diamond and Elizabeth Cohen

Gene Sperling speaks during a conference in Kalgoorlie, Australia, in 2015.
Gene Sperling speaks during a conference in Kalgoorlie, Australia, in 2015. Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg/Getty Images 

President Biden will announce today that Gene Sperling, a former top economic official in the last two Democratic presidential administrations, will serve as the point person in overseeing the implementation of the newly signed $1.9 trillion Covid relief law, according to two people briefed on the plan and a senior administration official.

Biden will announce Sperling's appointment at the White House today at 1:45 p.m. ET during remarks about implementation of the law, according to the senior administration official.

Sperling's mandate will be to get money out the door quickly and maximize its impact, the people said, while also serving as the lead official in partnership with state and local officials on the receiving end of billions of dollars from the law.

He will serve as the lead in advising and ensuring local officials get what they need, while also holding them accountable for any mismanagement of funds, the individuals briefed on the plan said.

Sperling has spent more than a decade at the highest levels of government, twice serving as the director of the National Economic Council, and will be tasked with ensuring all aspects of the sweeping relief law are put into place as designed.

In the next few weeks, the Biden administration will also launch a national vaccine promotional campaign aimed at encouraging hesitant Americans to get immunized, a marketing executive close to the project told CNN.

The advertisements are part of a $250 million Covid-19 education campaign run by the US Department of Health and Human Services, which will include a podcast hosted by "a well-known person" outside of government, the executive said.

8:55 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Angela Merkel's party takes a beating in regional elections over coronavirus response

From CNN’s Stephanie Halasz and Eliza Mackintosh in London, and Claudia Otto in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a press conference on March 9, in Berlin, Germany.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a press conference on March 9, in Berlin, Germany. Christian Marquardt/Pool/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats took a beating in two state elections on Sunday amid growing public anger over the country's sluggish vaccination rollout and a corruption scandal involving face mask production.

The historic losses come two months after the CDU elected a new party leader, Armin Laschet, and six months before a national vote that will see Merkel leave office after nearly two decades in power.

Merkel's successor has not yet been chosen and Laschet will face serious questions over whether he is the right candidate to take her place on the ticket in September.

Commenting on the results in Rhineland-Palatinate and Baden-Wuerttemberg, states once considered party strongholds, Laschet said the CDU would have to do better work managing the coronavirus crisis.

The dual defeats are being seen, in part, as a reaction to the pace of Germany's Covid-19 vaccination program, which has been dogged by supply shortages and bureaucracy. So far, the country of over 83 million people has administered less than nine million vaccinations -- making it one of the slowest rollouts in Europe.

Frustration over the government's handling of Covid-19 has been exacerbated by a recent face mask procurement scandal. Several lawmakers in Merkel's conservative-led coalition have stepped down in recent days after accusations that they had received payments for securing face mask deals.

And after months of varying coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns, Germany is facing yet another surge in infections.

8:03 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Third coronavirus wave threatens Europe, triggering fresh restrictions

From CNN’s Eliza Mackintosh in London and Saskya Vandoorne in Paris

A member of the medical staff tends to a patient in the Covid-19 unit of the Bolognini hospital in Bergamo, Italy, on March 12.
A member of the medical staff tends to a patient in the Covid-19 unit of the Bolognini hospital in Bergamo, Italy, on March 12. Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

A third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic is threatening parts of Europe, forcing governments to reinstate restrictions first issued one year ago.

New variants of the coronavirus have been blamed for a spike in cases in France, Italy, Germany and Poland. The infection rate in the European Union is surging -- now at the highest level in weeks.

Much of Italy was put in lockdown on Monday, with people only permitted out of their homes for essential errands. The restrictions will last through Easter weekend, when the entire country will become a red zone.

“More than a year after the start of the health emergency, we are unfortunately facing a new wave of infections,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Friday, after announcing the new measures, news agency Agence France Presse reported.

“The memory of what happened last spring is vivid, and we will do everything to prevent it from happening again,” he added.

In France, authorities are under pressure from doctors to issue more restrictions as the country grapples with a surge in cases that has pushed intensive care units in the Paris region to the brink.

French President Emmanuel Macron has issued restrictions and curfews for several regions, but has stopped short of a nationwide lockdown. But on Sunday, Prime Minister Jean Castex said that if a lockdown was necessary he would “do it," while urging the French to get vaccinated, Twitch website reported.  

On Monday, French newspapers marked the one-year anniversary of the country's first lockdown. “One year of Covid, 90,000 dead, a great loss,” read the cover of left-wing newspaper Liberation. In the background were the names and ages of the deceased. 

10:50 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

European countries suspend AstraZeneca vaccinations despite advice from EU medicines regulator

From CNN’s Mick Krever and Eliza Mackintosh in London

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge arrives at the Binnenhof for the weekly Council of Ministers meeting in The Hague on March 5.
Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge arrives at the Binnenhof for the weekly Council of Ministers meeting in The Hague on March 5. Koen van Weel/ANP/AFP/Getty Images

The Netherlands on Sunday became the latest European nation to suspend AstraZeneca vaccinations over blood clot concerns despite advice from the European Union's medicines regulator that the benefits of the shot outweigh any potential risks.

Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Bulgaria and Ireland have also halted the vaccinations.

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said on Monday that a “rare combination” of blood clots and lowered blood platelets in several AstraZeneca vaccine recipients in Norway and Denmark was “enough reason” to pause use of the vaccine in the Netherlands for two weeks.

While any causality remains an open question, reports about six cases in Norway and Denmark had given the Netherlands' medicine authority enough reason "to press the pause button,” de Jonge said.

“Thrombosis is of course a very common complaint. And so if you are vaccinating a large group of people, it’s not crazy that there will also be people with thrombosis after vaccination. But in this case it is a very rare combination of thrombosis in which bleeding can also occur due to a reduced number of platelets,” he added.

The Health Minister had said as recently as Thursday that blood clots were occurring “not because of vaccination,” and that there was “no cause for concern.”

In a letter to parliament sent on Sunday, de Jonge wrote that the pause would be in effect until March 29, “pending further advice from the EMA," or European Medicines Agency.

The EMA on Thursday advised that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh the risks, and did not recommend suspending its use while investigation into thromboembolic events are ongoing. 

The EMA said it was aware that Denmark was suspending AstraZeneca vaccinations due to reports of blood clots in people who had received it, but said: “There is currently no indication that vaccination has caused these conditions, which are not listed as side effects with this vaccine.” 

The Danish Medicines Agency on Monday said the woman who died of a blood clot after receiving AstraZeneca in Denmark had an “unusual picture of illness around the death,” with a low number of platelets, blood clots in small and large vessels and bleeding.

“The clinical picture is highly unusual and is currently being thoroughly investigated by the European Medicines Agency," the agency said in a statement.

Denmark is one of six European countries to suspend AstraZeneca's use despite the EMA's recommendation.

  • Denmark: On Thursday, March 11, Denmark suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations for 14 days as a “precautionary measure” as it investigates “signs of a possible serious side effect in the form of fatal blood clots” after one Danish person died following vaccination, according to Danish health officials.
  • Norway: On Thursday, March 11, Norway chose to “pause” vaccinations following reports of the death in Denmark. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health said similar cases had been reported in Norway, but “mainly in the elderly where there is often another underlying disease as well.” 
  • Iceland: On Thursday, March 11, Iceland suspended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine. There have been no reports of patients developing blood clots in the country. 
  • Bulgaria: On Friday, March 12, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov ordered a halt to all AstraZeneca vaccinations until the EMA “rejects all doubts” about the vaccine's safety.
  • Ireland: On Sunday, March 14, Ireland decided to temporarily suspend the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to "maintain confidence" in its vaccine program, according to the Chairman of its National Immunization Advisory Committee.
  • Netherlands: On Sunday, March 14, the Dutch government said it would pause AstraZeneca vaccinations for two weeks “as a precautionary measure and pending further investigation.”
7:43 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

China has administered nearly 65 million Covid-19 vaccine doses

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

A medical worker prepares to administer a Sinovac Biotech Covid-19 vaccine in Hangzhou, China, on March 15.
A medical worker prepares to administer a Sinovac Biotech Covid-19 vaccine in Hangzhou, China, on March 15. STR/AFP/Getty Images

China has administered 64.98 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines as of Sunday, health authorities said Monday.

The Chinese government hopes to vaccinate 40% of the country's 1.4 billion people by June, respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan said previously.

Four domestic-made vaccines have been approved for conditional public use in China, two produced by state-owned Sinopharm, one by Sinovac Biotech and another by CanSinoBio.

4:43 a.m. ET, March 15, 2021

Hong Kong expands priority groups for vaccine as city confronts growing cluster

From CNN's Carol Yuan in Hong Kong

Pharmacists are seen at a vaccination center run by the University of Hong Kong on March 13.
Pharmacists are seen at a vaccination center run by the University of Hong Kong on March 13. Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Hong Kong will expand its coronavirus vaccination drive to include people aged 30 to 59, authorities announced Monday, as the city faces a growing cluster of infections linked to a gym.

The expanded vaccine program, effective from Tuesday, will also include students over 16 years old studying abroad and domestic workers. It is expected to cover about 5.5 million of the city's roughly 7 million population.

The city will also open 12 more centers for the Fosun-BioNTech vaccine starting Tuesday.

Speaking at a news conference Monday, the city's officials said vaccination rates are currently “good” and that they may consider further relaxing social distancing rules if the public complies with measures such as mask-wearing.