Live Updates

March 26 coronavirus news

Former CDC director believes virus came from lab in China
05:30

What you need to know

  • JUST IN: Former CDC head Dr. Robert Redfield says he believes the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic is a lab in China — a controversial theory without evidence.
  • The current CDC director is concerned about a new surge in Covid-19 cases, as the US surpassed 30 million infections since the start of the pandemic.
  • AstraZeneca updated its data on how well its Covid-19 vaccine works, saying the vaccine showed 76% efficacy against symptomatic disease.

Our live coverage has ended for the day. Follow the latest on the pandemic here.

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More than 100 cases of Covid-19 linked to outbreak at Nebraska child care facility

More than 100 cases of Covid-19 have been linked to an outbreak at a child care facility in Nebraska, according to a news release from the Douglas County Health Department (DCHD) on Friday.

The health department said it is strongly encouraging child care workers to get a Covid-19 vaccine to prevent similar outbreaks.

Many of the cases in the outbreak were caused by a Covid-19 variant first identified in the UK, according to the release.

“It is crucial that childcare providers get vaccinated,” Health Director Dr. Adi Pour said in the release. “Childcare providers are eligible for the vaccine and can easily make an appointment on the DCHD website.”

In a statement from Rosewood Academy Childcare and Preschool, the school confirmed there was spread of the UK variant at the school’s Northwest location.

The school has a strict requirement to send children home if they have a temperature over 99 degrees but said that children with the UK variant can be asymptomatic, the statement said.

The school is working with the Douglas County Health Department and having staff and families quarantine before they can return.

Brazil records its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began

Cemetery workers carry a coffin during a burial at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on March 25.

Brazil on Friday recorded 3,650 new deaths due to Covid-19 – its highest daily death toll since the pandemic began, according to the country’s health ministry.

This is the second time the country has posted more than 3,000 coronavirus-related deaths in a day.

Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll now stands at 307,112, with the previous record of highest daily deaths coming only Tuesday. 

Additionally, 82,245 new coronavirus infections were also reported across the country, bringing the total number of cases registered so far to at least 12,404,414. 

Poland sets daily coronavirus cases record for third day in a row

Poland has broken its record of new confirmed coronavirus infections for a third day in a row.

The Ministry of Health reported Friday at least 35,143 new cases, the highest since the pandemic began, beating the previous two days of record-setting numbers. 

The total confirmed cases in Poland now stands at 2,189,966. The ministry also reported a further 443 deaths from Covid-19, bringing the total death toll to at least 51,305. 

On Thursday Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said there will be tighter restrictions for two weeks starting Saturday. The restrictions will involve closing down shopping centers, hair and beauty salons, and nurseries, as well as stricter limits on the number of people allowed to attend church. He also recommended spending Easter only with members of the same household.

Biden declines to weigh in on Covid-19's origins, say he'll wait for scientific community

President Joe Biden speaks with members of the press at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Delaware, on March 26.

President Biden declined to weigh in on the origins of the coronavirus, telling reporters on Friday that he’ll take his cues from the scientific community.  

When asked if he had any theories about Covid’s origins, Biden told reporters on the tarmac in Delaware, “No, I don’t. I have theories, but I’m not a scientist.” 

“I’m going to wait until the scientific community makes those judgments,” the President added. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said earlier Friday that the Biden administration is waiting for a report from the World Health Organization before weighing in on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The comments come after former US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield told CNN that he thinks the novel coronavirus originated in a lab in China – despite a lack of clear evidence to support his theory.  

When asked about Redfield’s comments on Friday, Psaki referred reporters to comments from Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky. 

“Obviously, there are a number of theories,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to Biden, during a White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing on Friday. “Dr. Redfield was mentioning that he was giving an opinion as to a possibility, but again, there are other alternatives – others, that most people hold by.”

Fauci also said there are other public health officials who believe the virus could have been spreading in the community in China for several weeks, if not a month or more, before it was recognized in a lab. “If that were the case, the virus clearly could have adapted itself to a greater efficiency of transmissibility over that period of time up to an at the time, it was recognized.“

Walensky said during the Friday briefing that she doesn’t have any indication “for or against” either of the hypotheses Fauci shared.

WHO finished report on origins of Covid-19 and expects to release it to the public within next few days

The World Health Organization has finalized its report on the origins of the novel coronavirus, Peter Ben Embarek, the head of the organization’s Covid-19 origin investigation, said at a WHO media briefing Friday.

Embarek said WHO’s draft of the report is now finalized, and it is undergoing final checks with experts familiar with the content.

He called it a “painful process” to edit and translate the 400-page report, but that the content of the report is now complete. Embarek said he expects the report to be released to the public within the next few days.

More on the investigation: Investigators from WHO have been looking into the origins of the virus in China and discovered signs the outbreak was much wider in Wuhan in December 2019 than previously thought.

Embarek told CNN in a wide-ranging interview in February that the mission had found several signs of the more wide-ranging 2019 spread, including establishing for the first time there were over a dozen strains of the virus in Wuhan already in December. 

Investigators also visited a lab in Wuhan that has been the focus of conspiracies and speculation about the origin of the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany lists France as "high risk" Covid-19 area

People sit along the Seine river bank in Paris on March 24.

Germany declared the whole of France, including the overseas territories, as a “high risk” area of infection with Covid-19 on Friday, according to the country’s health institute Robert Koch.

The new designation means travelers from France will be required to observe a quarantine period on arrival to Germany and to have a negative test of less than 48 hours, according to the institute’s website.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that Germany was about to list France as a “high risk” zone.

Incidence rates, which measure the number of infections per 100,000 inhabitants over the past seven days, are above the 200 threshold in many French departments, according to government data. The national average in Germany on Friday was about 119, per data published on the Robert Koch Institute’s website.

France’s border area of Moselle was already on Robert Koch Institute’s list of “virus variant areas” (the highest level of alert) since March 2 because of the rapid spread of the South African virus variant there.

South Carolina will open vaccine eligibility to everyone 16 and up next week

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster speaks during a news conference on January 27 in Columbia, South Carolina.

All South Carolina residents ages 16 and older will be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine starting March 31, according to a news release from Gov. Henry McMaster.

In the release, McMaster said:

“Our priority with the vaccine has been to save the lives of those at the greatest risk of dying. By staying the course and resisting distractions, we’ve expanded South Carolinians’ access and eligibility for vaccinations faster than originally anticipated.”

South Carolina previously announced it had planned to start vaccinating the general public on May 3.

On March 8, the state moved to Phase 1B of the vaccination plan, allowing those 55 and older, everyone with increased risk for severe Covid-19 disease and all frontline works to get the vaccine.

Since then, the state reports that providers have administered just over 23,000 doses a day with 419,816 doses since March 8. 

Over 1.8 million doses have been administered in the state, with 1.1 million South Carolinians having received at least one does, and 617,787 being fulling vaccinated.

South Carolina said that approximately 15% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated.

Note: These numbers were released by the state’s public health agency, and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services.

France imposes new coronavirus measures in schools amid rise in Covid-19 cases

France’s Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer leaves the Elysee Presidential Palace on February 3 in Paris.

New coronavirus measures in French schools will be imposed amid a new surge in Covid-19 infections, France’s Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer announced on Friday.

In the 19 French regions currently under lockdown, classes will be closed as soon as a single coronavirus case is declared in the class, Blanquer told reporters.

The rule so far had been that a class had to close whenever three cases were declared in primary, middle and high schools. In kindergartens, the one-case rule was already in force.

Blanquer said the measure would mean “even more classes closures in the coming day.”

At least 3,256 classes and 148 schools have thus far closed throughout the country, the Minister said.

According to numbers released by the education ministry earlier on Friday, there were 21,183 confirmed coronavirus cases among students over the past week, with an increase of 4,025 in the past 24 hours.

The ministry also reported 2,515 cases among educational staff over the past week, with an increase of 443 in the past 24 hours.

Blanquer emphasized the importance of keeping schools open despite the deteriorating health situation.

“Everyone understands that schools are fundamental for our country and for our children. The question, therefore, is not whether they should be open but how can we ensure the sanitary conditions that will allow them to stay open,” he said.

Only 2 US states have not shared when they plan to vaccinate everyone 16 and older

Anya Harris prepares a Moderna coronavirus vaccine at Red Hook Neighborhood Senior Center on February 22 in New York City.

Most US states have announced plans to open up coronavirus vaccinations to everyone eligible under US Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization.

According to an official Twitter post from the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team, four states have not yet announced plans to start vaccinating everyone 16 and older by May 1:

  • Arkansas
  • New York
  • Wyoming
  • South Carolina

But a spokesperson for the Wyoming Department of Health told CNN on Friday that “we expect to open to the general population in early to mid April.” And South Carolina announced today that residents ages 16 and up will be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine starting March 31.

Based on CNN’s analysis, only two states remain that have not yet shared when they plan to vaccinate everyone 16 and older:

  • Arkansas
  • New York

In Arkansas, no announcement of plans has been made yet, but Meg Mirivel, a spokesperson for the Arkansas Department of Health, told CNN in an email on Friday that “we do anticipate meeting the May 1 benchmark.”

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a briefing on Wednesday that he’s waiting to confirm how many doses of vaccine will be allocated before setting a date to expand eligibility.

“I’d rather get the specific allocation number and then tell the people of the state so we don’t have to change advice, and we don’t create pandemonium for the scheduling operation,” Cuomo said.

Six states have expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older, and a CNN analysis finds that at least 30 more plan to open up to people 16 and older by the end of April.

Alaska opened up vaccinations to anyone 16 and older on March 9, Mississippi on March 16, West Virginia expanded on March 22, Utah on March 24, Georgia on March 25, and Arizona opened vaccination to anyone over 16 who can get to state-run sites in three counties as of March 24. Oklahomans 16 and older can get vaccinated through the Chickasaw Nation’s vaccination program, but not yet through the state’s program.

As of Friday morning, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Florida and North Carolina were the latest states to announce plans to expand coronavirus vaccine eligibility to the general public, with Florida expanding to anyone 16 and older in April and North Carolina expanding to all adults 18 and older in April. New Hampshire announced incremental expansion, with everyone 16 and older eligible as of April 2, and Minnesota said Gov. Tim Walz would announce eligibility on Friday for those 16 and older starting March 30.

Below is the timeline for when those and other states have said they will open vaccination eligibility to the general public:

  • March 29: Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, North Dakota, Louisiana
  • March 30: Minnesota
  • March 31: Indiana, South Carolina
  • April 1: Montana, Connecticut
  • April 2: New Hampshire
  • April 5: Michigan, Tennessee, Idaho, Iowa, Florida, Nevada
  • April 7: North Carolina
  • April 9: Missouri
  • April 12: Illinois, Kentucky
  • April 15: California
  • April 19: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island
  • April 27: Maryland
  • April, no set date: New Mexico, Virginia, Colorado, Wyoming
  • May 1: Wisconsin, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, Nebraska, New Jersey, Kansas, Hawaii, Delaware, Alabama, Pennsylvania

For all states currently vaccinating anyone 16 and older, people ages 16 or 17 can only receive a Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as it is the only option authorized for use in that population so far. The vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are authorized for use in adults 18 and older.

Update: This post has been updated with South Carolina’s announcement that residents ages 16 and older will be eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine starting March 31.

Correction: A previous version of this post misstated when New Jersey will open vaccination eligibility to the general public. It is May 1.

Number of Covid-19 vaccine doses reported administered in US sets new daily record

The number of Covid-19 vaccine doses administered jumped by a record 3.38 million Friday, according to White House Covid-19 Data Director Dr. Cyrus Shahpar.

This is the fourth time the number of doses administered has jumped more than 3 million on consecutive days. 

The previous one-day record was just over 3.2 million doses, on March 13.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet updated its tracker with the total doses administered; that is expected this afternoon.

Note: Data published by the CDC may be delayed, and doses may not have been given on the day reported.

Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated the number of times the total doses administered has jumped more than 3 million. This is the fourth time that has happened.

Biden administration is waiting for WHO report on origin of Covid-19 before weighing in, White House says 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki holds a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on March 26 in Washington, DC. 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Biden administration is waiting for a report from the World Health Organization before weighing in on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. 

President Biden, she said, will be briefed by his health and medical advisers after they review that report. She added that the White House is “encouraged” by a delay of WHO’s report, suggesting it means there will be more transparency. 

Psaki’s comments come after former US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield shared his opinion in a CNN documentary clip released Friday that he believes the novel coronavirus began transmitting in fall 2019 and that the virus may have originated in a lab in China. This is earlier than the understood timeline of the pandemic and shows his belief in what’s considered a politically charged and unproven theory about how the coronavirus first emerged.

Pressed by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins on how the administration will respond to WHO’s report, Psaki noted the Biden administration has also “called for an international investigation and look into what’s happened, the origin, and lack of transparency,” saying they will be looking at underlying data in the report and making a determination on how to proceed “through an interagency process.” 

Psaki also referred reporters to comments from Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky earlier in the day regarding Redfield’s remarks on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. 

 “Obviously, there are a number of theories,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, during a White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing on Friday. “Dr. Redfield was mentioning that he was giving an opinion as to a possibility, but again, there are other alternatives – others, that most people hold by.”

Fauci said Friday there are other public health officials who believe the virus could have been spreading in the community in China for several weeks, if not a month or more, before it was recognized in a lab. “If that were the case, the virus clearly could have adapted itself to a greater efficiency of transmissibility over that period of time up to an at the time, it was recognized.“

Walensky, said during the Friday briefing that she doesn’t have any indication “for or against” either of the hypotheses Fauci shared.

Vaccine eligibility will open to New Jersey residents 55 and up among other groups on April 5

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy speaks during a press conference in Union, New Jersey, on March 26.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced during a press conference Friday new groups of residents who will qualify for Covid-19 vaccines starting April 5. 

Those people include residents ages 55 and above, residents ages 16 and above with intellectual disabilities, members of the press and utility and construction workers, among others.

The eligibility expansion comes as a new FEMA-run pilot community vaccination site opens at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark on Monday. 

The site will be able to administer up to 42,000 doses per week, Murphy said, adding that the doses administered there will be “above and beyond” the state’s own allocation of vaccine doses. 

Next week, New Jersey is expected to receive nearly 500,000 total vaccine doses, marking a nearly 20% increase, Murphy said. 

“And I think it only goes up from there,” he added.  

While almost 1.4 million New Jersey residents are fully vaccinated, the governor stressed that “equity remains our principal and main focus” and noted that the state is on pace to open vaccine eligibility to all adults on May 1, just as President Joe Biden promised earlier this month. 

Fauci says ex-CDC director Redfield's belief that Covid-19 came from China lab was just "an opinion"

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, attends a briefing at the White House on January 21.

Dr. Anthony Fauci labeled the theory that former US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield shared with CNN that the novel coronavirus spread earlier and “escaped” from a lab in China as just “an opinion.”

“Obviously, there are a number of theories,” said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, during a White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing on Friday. “Dr. Redfield was mentioning that he was giving an opinion as to a possibility, but again, there are other alternatives – others, that most people hold by.” 

Redfield expressed his opinion in a CNN documentary clip released Friday that he believes the novel coronavirus began transmitting in fall 2019 and that the virus may have originated in a lab in China.

This is earlier than the understood timeline of the pandemic and shows his belief in what’s considered a politically charged and unproven theory about how the coronavirus first emerged.

“If I was to guess, this virus started transmitting somewhere in September, October in Wuhan,” Redfield told Gupta in a clip that aired Friday on CNN New Day. “That’s my own feelings. And only opinion. I’m allowed to have opinions now.”

Redfield, a virologist who led the CDC under former President Donald Trump, said he thinks the virus originated inside a lab in China and “escaped,” not necessarily intentionally.

Fauci said Friday there are other public health officials who believe the virus could have been spreading in the community in China for several weeks, if not a month or more, before it was recognized in a lab. “If that were the case, the virus clearly could have adapted itself to a greater efficiency of transmissibility over that period of time up to an at the time, it was recognized.“

The current CDC director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said during the Friday briefing that she doesn’t have any indication “for or against” either of the hypotheses Fauci shared. 

Here's a state-by-state look at when everyone 16 and older can get vaccinated in the US

A health care worker prepares a dose of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine in Charleston, West Virginia, on March 18.

Most US states have announced plans to open up coronavirus vaccinations to everyone eligible under US Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization.

According to an official Twitter post from the White House’s Covid-19 Response Team, three states have not yet announced whether they plan to start vaccinating everyone 16 and older by May 1:

  • Arkansas
  • New York
  • Wyoming

South Carolina previously has announced it won’t reach that date, but plans to start on May 3.

Six states — Alaska, Mississippi, West Virginia, Utah, Georgia and Arizona — have already expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older, and a CNN analysis finds that at least 28 more plan to open up to people 16 and older by the end of April. Oklahomans 16 and older can get vaccinated through the Chickasaw Nation’s vaccination program, but not yet through the state’s program.

Here is the timeline for when those and other states have said they will open vaccination eligibility to the general public:

  • March 29: Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, North Dakota, Louisiana
  • March 30: Minnesota
  • March 31: Indiana
  • April 1: Montana, Connecticut
  • April 2: New Hampshire
  • April 5: Michigan, Tennessee, Idaho, Iowa, Florida, Nevada
  • April 7: North Carolina
  • April 9: Missouri
  • April 12: Illinois, Kentucky
  • April 15: California
  • April 19: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island
  • April 27: Maryland
  • April, no set date: New Mexico, Virginia, Colorado
  • May 1: Wisconsin, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington, Nebraska, Kansas, Hawaii, Delaware, Alabama, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
  • May 3: South Carolina

For all states currently vaccinating anyone 16 and older, people ages 16 or 17 can only receive a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, as it is the only option authorized for use in that population so far. The vaccines made by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are authorized for use in adults 18 and older.

White House says Johnson & Johnson expected meet goal of delivering 20 million Covid-19 vaccines in March

Doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine are prepared at a clinic in Los Angeles on March 25.

Johnson & Johnson is expected to meet its self-imposed goal of delivering 20 million Covid-19 vaccines by the end of March, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Friday.

While the company has consistently said it was on track to meet the goal, Biden administration officials have expressed doubts.

 “We’ve done a lot to help J&J. We’re monitoring that very closely, and we anticipate a significant increase at the end of this month, which will enable them to hit at least 20 million doses,” Jeff Zients said at the White House Covid-19 Response Team briefing on Friday. Next week, the company should be able to deliver at least 11 million additional doses, which would take them to 20 million doses.

The J&J vaccine was authorized at the end of February, but the company struggled to ramp up production of its single-dose vaccine. It only had 4 million doses ready to ship when it was authorized; about 9 million have now shipped.

Zients said that J&J is still in its “earlier stages of manufacturing” compared to the other Covid-19 vaccines, but the White House expects that there will be a more “regular weekly cadence.”

Some more background: In February, the company announced it was working to expand production of the vaccine. The Biden administration has also worked closely with the company to speed up the process, including using the Defense Production Act to help the company obtain more materials and equipment to make the vaccine.

The President also helped broker a deal for rival Merck to make more of the vaccines for J&J in the coming months.

On Tuesday, Catalent, a fill-and-finish plant helping Johnson & Johnson produce the vaccine, said it received an OK from the US Food and Drug Administration to ship the vaccine. The company had been producing the vaccine for the past couple of months, but has not disclosed how many doses were ready. 

The J&J vaccine has several advantages since it is just one dose and doesn’t require any special refrigeration, like the other two authorized vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.

White House announces plans for 3 more mass vaccination sites

The Biden administration on Friday announced three new federally-supported mass vaccination sites in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Virginia, part of continued efforts to combat inequity in the pandemic.

“We’re also going to be bringing more federally-run mass vaccination centers online, including three new sites we’re announcing today in Boston, Massachusetts, Norfolk, Virginia, and Newark, New Jersey,” White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said during the briefing Friday.

Those three sites will deliver a combined 15,000 vaccine doses per day, Zients said.

The three new sites come after the administration announced a vaccination center in Washington state on Monday. Now, there are 25 federally-run sites, delivering more than 115,000 shots per day.

New Covid-19 restrictions set to take place in Paraguay as health care system faces collapse

Health care workers place the body of a Covid-19 victim into a human remains pouch in an intensive care unit of the National Hospital in Itauguá, Paraguay, on March 17.

As Paraguay’s health care system is facing collapse due to a surge in coronavirus cases, additional restrictive measures will be in place for the Holy Week leading up to Easter and Palm Sunday, authorities have announced. 

The new measures will take effect on Saturday and will continue until Sunday, April 4. 

As part of the measures, only “minimal and indispensable movements” of citizens will be allowed for the transfer of sick people or for the purchase of food from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time. 

Short, medium and long-distance public transport buses will not circulate between urban centers and the interior of the country, but buses in the Asuncion metropolitan area will operate normally. Restaurants will be allowed to work only for food deliveries.

Dr. Leticia Pintos, director of the country’s Health Networks and Services, said Friday that intensive care units across the country are at 100% occupancy. 

Health Minister Julio Borba said Wednesday that cases in the country have skyrocketed, partly because the Brazilian Manaus variant P.1 is already present in the country. Although just two cases were initially detected, the circulation is already community-based, he said.  

Earlier this week, Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) Director Carissa Etienne highlighted the increase of cases in Paraguay, Uruguay and Chile.

However, Paraguay’s borders will remain open for now, authorities said Friday, but 13 border control posts have been established.  

The Ministry of Sports has announced that the Paraguayan football season will not be suspended, it is already underway without audiences.

Paraguay has recorded a total of at least 202,700 coronavirus cases and 3,910 deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to the latest numbers released by the health ministry. 

Go There: CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta answers your questions about the coronavirus pandemic

As the US surpasses 30 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic, the CDC director is concerned about a new surge in Covid-19 cases.

CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta has the latest on Covid-19 news.

Watch more:

12:21

WHO's comments on Covid-19's origins contradicts Redfield's claims it began in a China lab

In a clip released this morning on CNN, Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta he believes the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic is a lab in China — a controversial theory without evidence.

A World Health Organization team exploring origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China, is expected to release a report of its findings soon, but has already said a lab-related incident is “extremely unlikely.”

The most likely causes of transmission of the Covid-19 virus to humans, the WHO team said, are introduction through an intermediary host species or transmission through the trade of frozen products. The team has also investigated direct transmission from an animal reservoir to human.

In early February, World Health Organization expert Peter Ben Embarek said that the team investigating the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan have identified two scenarios that most likely caused the transmission of Covid-19 to the human population.

“Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one way that will require more studies and more specific targeted research,” Embarek said during a news conference.

He added that the possibility of transmission through the trade of frozen products was also likely.

Embarek also noted two other hypotheses the team had probed while investigating the origin of the virus.

One hypothesis was a “direct zoonotic spillover,” meaning, direct transmission from an animal reservoir to a human. 

“The hypothesis of a direct spillover from an original animal source into the human population is also a possible pathway and is also generating recommendation for future studies,” he said.

The fourth hypothesis was the possibility of a laboratory-related incident, but that this was the least likely of the four to be the cause of the virus’ introduction to humans.

“Findings suggest that the laboratory hypothesis is extremely unlikely to explain the introduction of the virus to the human population,” Embarek said.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials and state media have promoted an unsubstantiated, so-called “multiple-origin” theory, suggesting the pandemic may have started in various locations around the world, even a US military lab.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta: "We still don't know" how the Covid-19 pandemic started

Dr. Sanjay Gupta on March 26.

Moments ago, CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta reported that the former head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Robert Redfield, told him that he believes the coronavirus pandemic came from a lab in China.

It is a controversial, politically charged theory — one the World Health Organization calls “extremely unlikely.” There has been no clear evidence to support this “lab leak” theory.

Gupta said there’s a “back and forth” happening right now when it comes to the pandemic’s origins, with different officials around the world claiming different theories.

“Chinese officials have started increasingly pointing to a multiple-origin theory, saying that this pandemic may have started in multiple places, even around the world, including US military labs. That’s unsubstantiated,” Gupta said.

Exclusive: Former CDC director makes controversial claim that Covid-19 began in a China lab

Dr. Robert Redfield, then director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, attends a hearing in Washington, DC, in September 2020.

Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta he believes the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic is a lab in China — a controversial theory without evidence.

“If I was to guess, this virus started transmitting somewhere in September, October in Wuhan,” Redfield told Gupta in a clip that aired Friday on CNN New Day. “That’s my own feelings. And only opinion. I’m allowed to have opinions now.”

Redfield, a virologist who led the CDC under former President Donald Trump, said he thinks the virus originated inside a lab in China and “escaped,” not necessarily intentionally.

There is no clear evidence to support the “lab leak” theory, although it has played an ongoing role in conspiracies and speculation, including statements from Trump. The World Health Organization has called it “extremely unlikely.”

“Now, I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely aetiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, escaped. The other people don’t believe that. That’s fine. Science will eventually figure it out. It’s not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker,” Redfield told Gupta.

Redfield’s comments appear in the documentary “COVID WAR: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out,” which airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.

Watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s interview here:

02:23

6 US states still have not shared when they plan to vaccinate everyone 16 and older

Most US states have announced plans to open up coronavirus vaccination to everyone eligible under US Food and Drug Administration emergency use authorization. 

Just six states still have not told CNN when they plan to start vaccinating everyone 16 and older: Alabama, Arkansas, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

Another six states — Alaska, Mississippi, West Virginia, Utah, Georgia and Arizona — have already expanded coronavirus vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 and older, and a CNN analysis finds that at least 28 more plan to open up to people 16 and older by the end of April.

Here’s a timeline of when states have said they will open vaccination eligibility to the general public:

  • March 29: Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio, North Dakota, Louisiana
  • March 30: Minnesota
  • March 31: Indiana
  • April 1: MontanaConnecticut
  • April 2: New Hampshire
  • April 5: MichiganTennesseeIdaho, Iowa, Florida, Nevada
  • April 7: North Carolina
  • April 9: Missouri
  • April 12: Illinois, Kentucky
  • April 15: California
  • April 19: Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island
  • April 27: Maryland
  • April, no set date: New Mexico, Virginia, Colorado
  • May 1: Wisconsin, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington
  • May 3: South Carolina
  • May or later: Nebraska, Kansas, Hawaii, Delaware
Registered Nurse Morgan James loads a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the Blood Bank of Alaska in Anchorage on March 19, 2021. - Alaska became the first state in the country last week to open vaccination access to everyone over the age of 16 and has fully vaccinated 16 percent of the state's population, the highest rate in the country. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

As some states open Covid-19 vaccines to all, many are still weeks away

EU leaders squabble over vaccine supplies, as tension grows over AstraZeneca shortfalls

European Council President Charles Michel, top of screen, speaks with European Union leaders during a virtual summit in Brussels, Belgium, on March 25.

European Union leaders met Thursday at a virtual summit designed to push AstraZeneca to speed up its deliveries of tens of millions of Covid-19 vaccines bound for the bloc, hoping to present a united front as it continues to wrangle with the drug giant over the shortfall.

But the virtual summit exposed tense divisions within the EU itself; several countries expressed concerns that doses are being distributed unfairly around the region, and part of the meeting was hijacked by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who demanded a greater share of shots for his country.

“We have worked hard to ensure that the gap within the #EU in terms of vaccination coverage for the population does not widen any further,” Kurz tweeted after the meeting, adding that he expects “a fairer delivery of vaccines in the EU” in the coming months.

What the EU agreed: The EU has been engaged in a tense back-and-forth with AstraZeneca over vaccine supplies to the bloc after the firm said it would not be able to meet its full delivery targets.

That shortfall has led to internal squabbles over which countries are prioritised when sought-after vaccine deliveries arrive. EU leaders agreed Thursday to tighten rules to allow for an export ban on vaccines but has so far stopped short on actually imposing a ban.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc will create “transparency” by introducing a principle of proportionality and reciprocity on vaccine supply chains.

In a swipe targeted at Britain, she added that she had “no knowledge so far of UK exports,” essentially accusing it of implementing a de facto export ban. Von der Leyen said she was “waiting for that transparency.”

The UK’s vaccine rollout has far outpaced Europe’s, but the country, which recently left the EU, relies on exports from the bloc for some of its doses.

“The bottom line is: we invite others to match our openness,” von der Leyen said.

The background: Rising coronavirus infection rates across much of Europe have created an increasingly dire backdrop to the quarrelling. France imposed tougher restrictions on social gatherings on Thursday as it battles a third wave of Covid-19, while sharp rises in case loads have been reported this week in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.

Von der Leyen said she still expects to achieve the goal of vaccinating 70% of the EU’s adult population by this summer.

“But of course we all know we could have been much faster if all pharmaceutical companies had fulfilled their contracts,” she added.

France clears vets and dentists to give vaccines to “speed up campaign”

A pharmacist prepares a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in Nantes, France, on March 25.

France will allow veterinarians and dentists to give Covid-19 vaccines in order to “speed up the campaign,” the French national health authority (HAS) said in a press release Friday.

“The arrival of additional doses of vaccines will make it possible to carry out vaccinations on a larger scale as of April and require the mobilization of more professionals in order to rapidly vaccinate all those concerned,” the agency said. 

These new categories of health workers vaccinating comes in addition to doctors, nurses, pharmacists and medical students, including those who have retired. Most will be receiving a training specific to the Covid vaccines.

France is in the midst of a third wave of coronavirus infections, and its stalling vaccination campaign has done little to stem the tide.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Jean Castex described the situation in Paris as “extremely worrying,” and the country has banned outdoor gatherings of more than six people in an effort to reduce transmission.

India sees third day of record-high Covid cases since last year

A health worker preserves a swab sample for a Covid-19 test at Government Kanwatiya hospital, on March 22, in Jaipur, India.

India has reported its highest jump in new Covid-19 cases since last year for a third consecutive day.

On Friday, the country reported 59,118 new Covid-19 cases, its highest rise since October 18, according to a CNN tally of figures from the Indian Ministry of Health. 

The country has been reporting more than 35,000 new cases daily for over a week in a recent surge in infections after they fell in January and February this year.

Randeep Guleria, director at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, told CNN on Wednesday “it is the beginning of a second wave.”

India has reported more than 11.8 million total cases of coronavirus including over 160,000 virus-related deaths, according to the Ministry of Health. The country has distributed more than 55 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

At least 10 dead in fire at Mumbai Covid-19 hospital

Smoke rises from a fire that broke out at Dreams Mall Sunrise Hospital in Mumbai, India on March 26.

At least 10 people were killed in a fire Friday at a Covid-19 hospital in a Mumbai mall, senior police official Prashant Kadam said.

“At around 12:30 a.m. at night, a fire broke out on the first floor at Dream Mall, next to it there was Sunrise Covid care center where about 76 Covid patients were admitted,” Kadam told reporters early Friday.

Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar said Friday patients had been evacuated to another facility and the cause of the fire was being investigated.

Sunrise Hospital has described itself as the first hospital in Asia to be located in a mall.  

New cases: Mumbai reported 5,504 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 380,115 in the city. According to the Indian Ministry of Health, Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, contributed more than 50% of the new cases reported in the country on Thursday.

Mumbai is the district with the third-highest active cases across the country, the Ministry of Health said Wednesday.  

Philippines reports record daily Covid-19 cases for the fourth time in 2 weeks

A city employee disinfects a street in Manila on March 16.

The Philippines recorded its highest number of new Covid-19 cases in a day on Thursday, according to CNN affiliate CNN Philippines. This the fourth time in two weeks the country has reported a record number of new cases.

The Philippines Department of Health reported 8,773 new Covid-19 cases Thursday, its highest jump since the pandemic began.

The country has reported a total of 693,048 confirmed Covid-19 cases and 13,095 deaths from the virus.

Argentina suspends flights from Brazil, Chile and Mexico

Argentina is suspending all incoming flights from Brazil, Chile and Mexico starting Saturday, “due to increasing cases of coronavirus in those countries,” Argentina’s state-news agency Telam reported Thursday.

The new measures will strengthen protocols for returning Argentinian nationals, while maintaining the ban on foreign tourists entering the country, according to Telam.

All travelers will have to be tested for Covid-19 before boarding the plane to Argentina. They’ll then need to be tested again on arrival and again seven days after entering the country, according to Argentinian authorities.

In the case of a positive test result, the patient will have to be isolated at a place designated by the Argentinian government. All Covid-19 testing and stay costs are the responsibility of the traveler, says the statement.

“For those who return from abroad, it will be compulsory to isolate for 10 days, counting from the day of the first [Covid] test in the country of origin, and it will be [closely watched] that those who returned from a trip are complying with isolating at home.”

Argentina had already suspended incoming flights from the United Kingdom, according to the statement.