WASHINGTON — Dr. Deborah Birx says when she was coordinator of President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, she had to grapple with COVID-19 deniers in the White House and that someone gave the president “parallel” streams of data that conflicted with hers.
Defending her tenure, Birx told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that she was at times censored by the Trump administration but denied ever withholding information.
Birx said she would see Trump “presenting graphs that I never made” and that “someone out there or someone inside was creating a parallel set of data and graphics that were shown to the president.”
She added that in the White House, “There were people who definitely believed that this was a hoax.”
Birx did not identify the COVID-19 deniers and said she did not know who was presenting the parallel data to Trump, but said she realizes now that Trump coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas was providing some of it.
Birx said in December that she would retire but was willing to first help President Joe Biden’s team with its coronavirus response as needed. More than 25 million people have been infected with the coronavirus and at least 418,000 people have died in the U.S. since the pandemic began.
— A year after virus lockdown, Wuhan dissident is more isolated than ever
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey on Sunday passed 25,000 Covid-19-related deaths since the start of the outbreak in March, the health ministry said.
A daily toll of 140 fatalities saw the total figure rise to 25,073. Turkey has recorded more than 2.4 million infections since the first case was recorded on March 11 last year.
The government reintroduced restrictions at the start of December, including weekday evening curfews and weekend lockdowns, to stem a second wave of infections.
Restaurants and cafes have been restricted to take-away services, weddings and funerals are limited to 30 people and the over-65s and under-20s are banned from using public transport.
The number of daily cases has fallen to around 6,000 in recent days from a high of more than 33,000 in December.
Turkey began its vaccination program on Jan. 14, initially focusing on health workers and the elderly. More than 1.2 million people had been given the first dose of the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine as of Saturday night, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly flights as the government races to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control.
The entry of highly contagious variants of the coronavirus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world’s highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel’s highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.
Late Sunday, the Israeli Cabinet approved what Netanyahu said would be a tight closure on incoming and outgoing air traffic. The government said it would make exceptions for a small number of humanitarian cases, such as funerals and medical patients, and cargo flights.
“We are closing the skies hermetically, except for really rare exceptions, to prevent the entry of virus mutations, and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign,” Netanyahu said.
The order is to begin early Tuesday and remain in effect until Jan. 31. Netanyahu’s office said the order still required parliamentary legislation to be finalized.
LA PAZ, Bolivia — Former President Evo Morales was released from a hospital on Sunday after almost two weeks of treatment for COVID-19 at a moment the disease has rebounded in Bolivia.
Morales told a news conference that he felt “very good, I feel recovered“ as he left the private clinic in the city of Cochabamba.
Hospital director Gastón Cornejo recommended that Morales remain in repose, without visitors, for two more weeks.
The 61-year-old Morales, Bolivia’s first Indigenous president, left the country from 2006 to 2019, when he went into exile after protests over his reelection. He returned home in November after his party won presidential and legislative elections, ousting the interim government that had replaced him.
Bolivia has reported about 200,000 cases of the new coronavirus and almost 10,000 deaths.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that President Joe Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccinations in the first 100 days actually means about 67 million Americans should be protected from COVID-19 during that time.
Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, said the president’s goal refers to 100 million shots, not people. Current vaccines require two shots.
Fauci maintained that goal could be difficult to meet even though the U.S. recently has been able to administer shots to about a million people a day. He explained that it will be harder to reach people once shots are given outside hospital and nursing home settings.
Fauci also told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he supports a national commission to understand some of the problems in coordinating a COVID-19 response on the state and local level because states shouldn’t just be told, “You’re on your own.”
Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff, called the 100 million shots in 100 days “a very bold and ambitious goal.” He told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it won’t stop the administration from aiming higher if doable.
NEW YORK — The United States has surpassed 25 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began. The new milestone, reported Sunday by Johns Hopkins University, is a grim reminder of the coronavirus’ wide reach in the U.S., which has seen far more confirmed cases and deaths than any other country in the world.
The U.S. accounts for roughly one of every four cases reported worldwide and one of every five deaths. India has recorded the second most cases, with about 10.7 million.
The number of new cases in the U.S. has shown signs of slowing recently, with an average of 176,000 reported daily in the past week, down from 244,000 in early January. The country’s first case of the infection was diagnosed almost exactly a year ago.
HONOLULU — Hawaii has reported its hotel occupancy rates have declined by more than half in December compared to the same time in 2019.
Hawaii Tourism Authority data shows that 23.9% of hotel rooms in the state were full last month as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a decline of 56 percentage points compared to December 2019.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported that December occupancy was in the low to mid-20% range for every major Hawaii island, except Kauai which dropped to 13.4%.
Only Washington, D.C. had a lower hotel occupancy rate than Hawaii in the United States.
Jan Freitag, senior vice president for lodging insights at Tennessee-based STR, Inc., said Hawaii’s tight COVID-19 travel restrictions served as a deterrent for some, but were also an attraction for others.
He said the sooner that people feel comfortable back on airplanes, the sooner the industry will recover.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden’s nominee to be health secretary is expressing his own frustration about long lines for vaccinations, canceled appointments as local health authorities run out of vaccine and the difficulty many Americans are having in figuring out where they stand in line to get the inoculation.
“That’s not America,” Xavier Becerra told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. “That’s not the way we treat those we consider vulnerable in need of the vaccine the most. That’s not America at its best.”
Biden has pledged to distribute 100 million vaccines in 100 days. Becerra said he can’t offer a timeline for when all Americans who want the vaccine will be able to get one.
“Once we’re in, in the house, taking care of business, we’ll be able to give more precision,” Becerra said. But you got to give us a chance to figure out what’s going on in the cockpit, that’s causing this plane to nosedive so severely.”
PARIS —— France’s government may impose a third lockdown in the coming days if an existing 12-hour-a-day curfew doesn’t significantly slow virus infections.
Exactly a year after France announced Europe’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in an interview published Sunday in the Le Parisien newspaper that if infections don’t drop, and “if the variants start to spread everywhere, we will take extra measures. And that’s called confinement. … We will close down.”
An official in French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said Sunday that “everything is on the table” but no firm decisions will be made until the effect of the nationwide 6 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew is clear in the coming week.
In addition to the curfew, French restaurants, tourist sites and many other public places have been closed since October. But virus infections, hospitalizations and deaths have started rising again this month. France, which has lost at least 72,877 lives to the pandemic, has vaccinated more than 1 million people amid bureaucratic and logistical delays.
France on Sunday started requiring a negative COVID-19 test from travelers arriving by air or boat from other European Union countries. Such tests are already required for non-EU visitors, who also must go into 7-day quarantine upon arrival.
LANSING, Mich. — If Michigan could administer 50,000 coronavirus vaccine doses a day, it could hit its goal of inoculating 70% of people age 16 and older by August.
At the current rate, about 29,000 per day, it would not finish until a year from now.
The issue is limited supplies — something Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and health officials hope can be addressed as new President Joe Biden takes the helm amid the largest vaccination effort in U.S. history and as more contagious virus variants spread.
“That’s our universal frustration,” the Democratic governor said. “We have the capacity and the plan to do a lot more vaccinations quicker. But the federal government … it’s been hard. They have not gotten us what we need.”
In the first six weeks of the monumental undertaking to inoculate 5.6 million residents, Michigan has gotten 182,000 doses a week on average — 52% of what is needed to inject 50,000 shots in arms per day. Both vaccines are designed to be given in two doses, three or four weeks apart.
HARARE, Zimbabwe — Four Zimbabwean Cabinet ministers have died of COVID-19, three within the past two weeks, highlighting a resurgence of the disease that is sweeping through this southern African country.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa said the coronavirus is reaping a “grim harvest” in the country.
“The pandemic has been indiscriminate. There are no spectators, adjudicators, no holier than thou. No supermen or superwomen. We are all exposed,” Mnangagwa said on a nationally televised address.
Mnangagwa presided at the burial of one Cabinet minister last week, shortly after the death of the foreign minister was announced. Then came the death of the transport minister. Several other high-profile politicians and prominent Zimbabweans have also died recently.
The opposition accuses the government of using COVID-19 as a weapon by detaining its members of parliament, officials and other critics in overcrowded jails where the disease is easily transmitted. Critics also accuse the government of neglecting the public hospitals, where many ill with COVID-19 cannot get oxygen needed to survive. Many of the country’s elites are treated at expensive private facilities or fly out of the country for health care.
PARIS — The president of the European Council vowed Sunday to make drug companies fulfill their vaccine contracts with EU countries, but acknowledged it will be hard for the bloc to meet its goal of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by late summer.
Amid criticism in EU countries of disruption of vaccine deliveries from Pfizer, Charles Michel said on France’s Europe-1 radio: “We plan to make the pharmaceutical industry respect signed contracts.” He said EU officials “pounded our fist on the table” with Pfizer last week to ensure the delays end by this coming week.
However, given logistical challenges and the slow rollout of vaccines in the EU so far, he said “it will be difficult” to meet the aim of the EU’s executive Commission of vaccinating 70% of the adult population by the end of the summer.
The EU has sealed six vaccine contracts for more than 2 billion doses, but only the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been approved for use so far. The European Medicines Agency is scheduled to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Friday.