The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Jessie Yeung, James Griffiths, Meg Wagner and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 8:04 PM ET, Fri April 16, 2021
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12:13 p.m. ET, April 16, 2021

CDC director says she recognizes the need to move quickly on J&J vaccine

From CNN’s Jen Christensen

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during a White House Coronavirus Briefing on April 16.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during a White House Coronavirus Briefing on April 16. Pool

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said she recognizes the importance of “moving quickly” on the paused Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.

Responding to a question from CNN’s Kaitlan Collins during a White House Covid-19 briefing, Walensky said that sense of urgency is why the CDC is holding two emergency meetings of its independent vaccination advisory committee. The first meeting was held this week and the next meeting is scheduled for April 23.

When the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met this week, members said it needed more data to understand potential risks of the J&J vaccine. Use of the vaccine was paused after the identification of six cases of a rare blood clots along with a low number of blood-clotting cells known as platelets. Walensky said the CDC is currently conducting a risk-benefit analysis of the J&J vaccine.

“What I would say to the American people is that, what we found is really extremely rare cases through our vaccine safety monitoring system,” Walensky said during Friday's briefing. “We want to convey to the American public, we have two vaccines that are readily, readily available, the Pfizer and Moderna, and people should continue to roll up their sleeves to get vaccinated.”

She said the CDC has also reached out to more than 10,000 providers to ensure that they know what kind of cases to look for in case other people experience these rare clotting issues after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.  

US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy added that the pause shows that the safety system is working. More than seven million people have received the J&J vaccine and the vast majority are “just going to be fine.”

“Just remember this is your safety system working for you,” Murthy said. “If anything, I believe should increase people’s confidence that they’re being told what’s going on.”

11:49 a.m. ET, April 16, 2021

Biden administration announces federally-run mass vaccination site in Alabama

From CNN's Betsy Klein

White House Covid-19 senior adviser Andy Slavitt, front, speaks at a briefing on April 16.
White House Covid-19 senior adviser Andy Slavitt, front, speaks at a briefing on April 16. White House

The Biden administration announced it is launching another federally-run mass vaccination site in Alabama, another step toward promoting vaccine equity.

“Today we’re announcing another federally run mass vaccination site in Bessemer, Alabama, that will have the capacity to administer 7,000 shots per week,” White House Covid-19 senior adviser Andy Slavitt said at Friday’s briefing.

By the end of next week, Slavitt said, “We will have opened 37 mass vaccination sites in 26 states, with a combined capacity of administering a total of 125,000 shots per day.”

Earlier this week, the administration announced another new mass vaccine site in Central Point, Oregon, noting that the administration will pass its March 29 goal of adding a dozen new sites by Monday.

The new sites come as all American adults will be eligible for vaccinations by April 19.  

9:39 a.m. ET, April 16, 2021

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gets AstraZenca vaccine

From CNN's Fred Pleitgen

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks on April 16 in Berlin.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks on April 16 in Berlin. Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel received a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine on Friday, her spokesperson Steffen Seibert said on twitter. 

“I am happy that I received the first vaccination with AstraZeneca today. I would like to thank everyone who is involved in the vaccination campaign – and everyone who is vaccinated. Vaccination is the key to overcoming the pandemic,” Seibert said on behalf of Merkel.

The AstraZeneca vaccine has been controversial in Germany with many people initially refusing to take shot because of safety concerns.

In March, Germany announced it would only administer the vaccine to people ages 60 and older on the advice of the country’s vaccine committee. The move followed reports of rare blood clots in the brains of 31 people following a first dose.

##Vaccines

9:24 a.m. ET, April 16, 2021

Covid-19 cases in Iran top 25,000 for 3rd day in a row

From CNN’s Ramin Mostaghim

A person is tested for Covid-19 in Ahvaz, Iran, on March 14.
A person is tested for Covid-19 in Ahvaz, Iran, on March 14. Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Iran's ministry of health reported 25,261 new daily coronavirus cases on Friday. This marks the third day in a row Iran has topped 25,000 cases.

Yesterday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the country is suffering a fourth wave of coronavirus. He said the cause of this wave is the variant that was first detected in the UK, which he claimed entered Iran from Iraq. 

The new cases reported Friday bring the country's total number of Covid-19 related cases to 2,194,133 since the beginning of the pandemic.

The country reported 328 new Covid-19 related deaths, raising the country's death toll to 66,008. At least 4,652 patients remain hospitalized in intensive care units, a spokeswoman for the ministry of health, Sima Sadat Lari, said according to Iranian state media IRNA.

Iran is the country hardest hit by the Covid-19 outbreak in the Middle East. 

The health ministry said 295 cities and towns have been categorized as "Red Zones" in Iran. These zones are in semi-lockdown and non-essential businesses are closed.

8:54 a.m. ET, April 16, 2021

Covid-19 variant first detected in India now in the UK

From CNN's Katya Krebs

There are currently 77 positive cases of the new Covid-19 variant that was first detected in India in the UK, according to the latest figures from Public Health England. 

There are 73 cases in England and four in Scotland, a PHE spokesperson told CNN.

The B.1.617 variant includes a number of mutations. The Indian Health Ministry has said that such mutations increase infectivity and aids in escaping immune response. The variant has been designated a Variant Under Investigation by PHE. Enhanced contact tracing and all appropriate measures will be undertaken, it added.  

Currently, the UK variant – B.1.1.7 – is the dominant strain in the country with 209,492 confirmed cases. The percentage of people testing positive in the country however is dropping , the Office of National Statistics said on Friday.

8:48 a.m. ET, April 16, 2021

Australia blood clot death linked to AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNN's Angus Watson

A nurse holds an AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine vial on March 23 in Sydney.
A nurse holds an AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine vial on March 23 in Sydney. Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Australia’s drug regulator linked the recent death of a 48-year-old woman to the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

The woman, who suffered from a low platelet count, died of thrombosis four days after receiving the vaccine on April 8, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) said in a statement Friday.

The woman is the third Australian to have suffered an extensive thromboembolic event and thrombocytopenia (TTS) after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The other two patients are recovering in hospital, according to the TGA statement.

As of Friday, Australia has administered at least 885,000 doses of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and stressed that the risk of these types of blood clots "are small."

"There have been at least 885,000 doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine administered in Australia to date, so while numbers are small, 3 (three) cases of TTS equates to a frequency of 1 in 295,000. The UK regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has concluded from its review of cases reported in the UK that the overall risk of these rare blood clots was approximately 1 in 250,000 who receive the vaccine," the statement said.
"The TGA is carefully reviewing all Australian reports of blood clots following the AstraZeneca vaccine, and are requesting further information from reporters where needed, to identify any further possible cases of TTS."

Last week Australia announced that people under 50 would not receive the AstraZeneca vaccine except in cases “where benefit clearly outweighs the risk for that individual's circumstances.”

7:52 a.m. ET, April 16, 2021

5 Colombian cities reimpose lockdowns and quarantines after drastic surge in cases

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias in Atlanta and Kiarinna Parisi in Miami

A near empty Plaza de Bolivar is seen during a reinstated lockdown in downtown Bogota, Colombia, on April 10.
A near empty Plaza de Bolivar is seen during a reinstated lockdown in downtown Bogota, Colombia, on April 10. Guillermo Legaria/Getty Images

Five of Colombia’s major cities have reimposed restrictions to fight a recent surge of Covid-19 cases. 

The capital, Bogota, as well as Cali, Medellin, Barranquilla and Santa Marta are implementing city-wide quarantines for several days.

Cali's ICU occupancy is up to 91.5%, said the Public Health Secretariat on Thursday, as the mayor announced a city-wide lockdown.

Bogota declared a red alert on Wednesday, after the city’s ICU occupancy rate reached 77%. Bogota’s Mayor Claudia Lopez announced a weekend-long city-wide quarantine. saying the city is now facing a third wave of cases.

“We are facing the third wave, the most aggressive since the Covid-19 pandemic began,” Lopez wrote on her official Twitter account.

Medellin reported an ICU occupancy rate of 97% on Thursday. According to a government statement earlier this week, Medellin has the most intensive care units in the country. 

The country's cases have been steadily increasing since March, with a total of more than 2.6 million cases and 67,000 related deaths since the pandemic began.

2:55 a.m. ET, April 16, 2021

India records highest single-day new cases so far, as it struggles with mass Hindu pilgrimage

A health official takes a swab sample from a man to test for Covid-19 at a testing centre in Allahabad, India, on April 12.
A health official takes a swab sample from a man to test for Covid-19 at a testing centre in Allahabad, India, on April 12. Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images

India reported 217,353 new cases of Covid-19 on Friday, marking the country's highest single-day case count for the third consecutive day, according to data from the Indian Ministry of Health.

The ministry also reported 1,185 additional deaths. That raises the country's total to more than 14.2 million cases and 174,000 related deaths.

Kumbh Mela: This comes as millions of Hindus from around the country flock to the city of Haridwar in Uttarakhand state for the Kumbh Mela religious festival, the world's largest pilgrimage.

During the festival, which lasts throughout April, huge crowds gather to hold prayers together, attend ceremonies and take holy dips in the Ganges River. At least four million people bathed in the Ganges on April 12 and April 14 combined, two auspicious dates of the festival.

Cases have spiked in Haridwar, proving experts' worst fears that the festival poses a huge Covid risk. Since the festival began on April 1, Haridwar has reported 4,349 cases -- that's about 500 to 600 cases a day, according to the state health department. 

New restrictions: In response to the rising cases, the Uttarakhand government imposed new restrictions on Thursday, including a statewide curfew and cap on public gatherings.

The Kumbh Mela is exempted from these latest restrictions -- but guidelines remain in place, including the requirement that all devotees register their health details online and provide negative Covid tests.

At least one religious group attending the festival, the Niranjani Akhada, has asked those from out of state to pull back amid the rise in cases. 

“We have told all the people who have come from Gujarat, Maharashtra, etc., to return home because the situation in Haridwar is not in control," said Ravindra Puri, secretary of the Niranjani Akhada, on Thursday. 
2:51 a.m. ET, April 16, 2021

Countries across Southeast Asia see surging cases and new restrictions

From CNN’s Yong Xiong and Taylor Barnes

A number of countries across Southeast Asia are battling a rise in Covid-19 cases, prompting new lockdown measures and extended travel restrictions.

Cambodia reported 344 new cases on Friday, mostly around the capital Phnom Penh, according to the official Agence Kampuchea Presse. Residents in the capital and a satellite district are under lockdown for 14 days, banned from leaving home except to go to work, to buy food or for medical treatment.

The Philippines reported 11,429 new cases and 148 new deaths on Thursday, according to the official Philippines News Agency (PNA). The country's cases began rising in late February, leading the government to reintroduce curfews in Manila and surrounding provinces.

The country has made some progress in securing international vaccines; this week, it announced it would sign a supply agreement with Russia for 20 million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine, according to PNA.

Malaysia reported 2,148 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, the country’s highest daily total since early March, according to state news agency Bernama. The health ministry has proposed retaining a ban on interstate travel through the Ramadan period.

Indonesia’s death toll topped 43,000 on Thursday, and its total case count is nearing 1.6 million. More than 5.7 million Indonesians have been fully vaccinated and 10.5 million have received at least one dose, according to the Antara news agency.