Covid updates: New York lifts restrictions on fitness classes; White House to invest $10 billion in testing for schools

The coverage in this live blog has concluded.

A year after the spread of Covid-19 led to business shutdowns, inflation has replaced the pandemic as investors' biggest fear, according to a Bank of America survey. The rollout of Covid vaccines has prompted states to ease indoor capacity restrictions, and more people are comfortable leaving their homes. Signs of inflation were already showing up in February, and another round of stimulus checks could further boost prices. The Federal Reserve concluded its two-day policy meeting Wednesday and left interest rates unchanged.

Here are some of the biggest developments Wednesday:

The U.S. is recording at least 54,700 new Covid-19 cases and at least 1,200 virus-related deaths each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data.

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 121 million  
  • Global deaths: At least 2.67 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 29.59 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 537,747

U.S. health experts try to ease vaccine fears as AstraZeneca’s shot faces concerns

Medical experts in the U.S. are trying to ease fears that currently deployed Covid-19 vaccines may be unsafe following the decision by several European countries to suspend AstraZeneca's shot after reports of blood clots.

While AstraZeneca's vaccine hasn't been authorized for use in the U.S. just yet, White House Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anthony Fauci told lawmakers that there will likely be enough safety and efficacy data to grant the doses authorization in April.

When asked whether the vaccines' suspension overseas could stoke fear among Americans taking other shots, Fauci reiterated that the products undergo rigorous clinical trials and are reviewed by an independent safety monitoring board before they're widely distributed.

Other medical experts told CNBC that, while it's still unclear whether the vaccines caused the adverse reactions, it will likely take extensive efforts to rebuild trust in the vaccine if allowed back online. The European Medicines Agency, which evaluates drug safety for the EU and has supported the use of the vaccine, will meet on Thursday to review the safety concerns.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

Tanzania's president, an ardent Covid denier, has died

Tanzanian president John Magufuli, an ardent Covid denier, has died after a two-week absence from the public eye, the Associated Press reports.

Magufuli died of heart illness, according to Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who will succeed him, the AP reports.

Magufuli denounced Covid testing, vaccinations and prevention methods, according to the report. Tanzania stopped reporting coronavirus data to the World Health Organization last May, according to the agency.

Critics claim his refusal to actively combat the virus likely brought about unnecessary deaths.

—Sara Salinas

Venture capital funding to women-led companies drops during pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic had a disproportionate impact on women-led start-ups last year, CNBC's Julia Boorstin reports.

Start-ups with all-female founders saw their share of total U.S. venture capital decline to 2.4% last year from 3.4% in 2019, according to data from Crunchbase. Meanwhile, companies led by all-male founders saw their share of venture capital increase to nearly 87% in 2020 from 85% in 2019.

Crunchbase senior data journalist Gene Teare noted the divergence could be due in part because male-founded companies tend to be older and more established. Another factor at play is the fact that just 12% of decision-makers at VC firms are women.

Fred Imbert

2,000 organizations call on Biden to extend eviction ban

Demonstrators hold signs during an eviction protest in Foley Square in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Over 2,200 organizations from around the U.S. are calling on the Biden administration to extend the national eviction moratorium that's scheduled to lapse at the end of this month.

Advocates say a wave of evictions is inevitable if protection is allowed to expire.

Around 1 in 5 renters said they were not current on their rent in January, according to an analysis by the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities. Closer to 36% of Black renters said they were behind.

"Eroding eviction protections before rental assistance reaches those most at risk and just as we are approaching a turning point in the pandemic only undermines mitigation strategies and escalates the crisis, making recovery that much more untenable," said Emily Benfer, a visiting professor of law at Wake Forest University.

—Annie Nova

New York to lift restrictions on fitness classes, curfews on some businesses

New York will allow fitness classes to return at 33% capacity beginning March 22, and it will lift its 11 p.m. curfew on casinos, movie theaters, bowling alleys, billiards halls, gyms and fitness centers starting April 5, according to a statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office.

Fitness classes will have to be scheduled ahead of time to allow for proper disinfection and will be subject to a local health department inspection, the statement said. The 11 p.m. curfew on bars and restaurants will also remain in effect.

The state will eliminate all remaining "cluster zones" that have been subject to more stringent rules as of March 22, the statement said. The remaining zones, which were mostly in the New York City-area, were limited to smaller gathering sizes, though businesses were still allowed to open.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

After seeing trash pile up, pandemic could spark greener alternatives

When the pandemic struck last March, many grocers reversed course. Instead of asking shoppers to bring reusable bags to the store, they requested that customers leave them at home.

Covid-19 disrupted efforts by grocers and state governments to reduce use of non-recyclable plastics, from grocery bags to plastic forks. It inspired behavior changes that fueled greater consumption of packaging as more people shopped online, bought disposable protective gear like masks and gloves and gravitated toward bagged or wrapped produce and other grocery items at the store.

Now, some sustainability advocates hope the global health crisis will accelerate companies' search for greener alternatives and open consumers' eyes to the trash piling up in their homes.

"For many of us, the pandemic has changed our relationship with single-use plastic in uncomfortable ways," said John Hocevar, oceans campaign director for Greenpeace USA, an environmental nonprofit organization. "The new types of useless plastic packaging piling up in our homes and filling our trash cans are leading many people — including policymakers and corporate executives — to think more about reuse."

—Melissa Repko and Emma Newburger

The IRS plans to push back the tax filing deadline one month

The Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department are planning to extend the tax filing season by about one month to May 17 from April 15.

The decision to move the deadline comes after growing calls for the IRS and Treasury to extend the already short filing season after the passage of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which made changes that impacted taxes during the middle of filing season and tasked the IRS with sending out another round of economic impact payments.

—Carmen Reinicke

Correction: The IRS plans to push the tax filing deadline to May 17. An earlier version of this entry misstated the date.

White House unveils $10 billion school testing plan

The Biden administration announced it's investing $10 billion from the recently passed stimulus package into Covid-19 testing for schools in an effort to hasten the return to in-person learning across the country.

The funding will be used to not only diagnose people who have symptoms, the Department of Health and Human Services said, but also to screen for contagious people who aren't symptomatic.

President Joe Biden has made safely reopening the nation's schools for in-person learning a focus of his first 100 days in office.

The Biden administration previously announced $650 million in funding for testing in K-8 schools. The president has challenged states to vaccinate all teachers and school staff in the country by the end of March. Biden's focus on testing stands in contrast to the Trump administration, which downplayed the need to ramp up availability of testing across the country.

—Will Feuer

U.S. has distributed 90 million stimulus checks valued at $242 billion, Treasury says

The U.S. has thus far issued 90 million stimulus checks worth $242 billion as part of President Joe Biden's landmark $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief legislation, according to a report released Wednesday by multiple government agencies.

The first batch of payments were mostly sent by direct deposit and began to reach Americans' bank accounts this past weekend, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced. The Treasury said it also mailed about 150,000 physical checks worth about $442 million as part of the first wave of disbursements.

The department is rolling out the stimulus checks — officially known as Economic Impact Payments — in successive "tranches." The announcement on Wednesday detailed the first such tranche.

Thomas Franck

Fauci says U.S. could start vaccinating young children in early 2022

Schoolchildren swab and test themselves for COVID-19 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the classroom at South Boston Catholic Academy in Boston, Massachusetts, January 28, 2021.
Allison Dinner | Reuters

White House Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anthony Fauci told lawmakers that the U.S. could start vaccinating high school students as soon as this fall, while younger elementary-aged kids will likely have to wait until early next year.

"For high school students, it looks like they will be available to get vaccinated in the beginning of the fall, very likely for the fall term," Fauci told lawmakers during a hearing with the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Researchers will likely have enough data on immunizations for children 12 and under for the country to begin vaccinating them in the first quarter of 2022, he said.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

House passes two-month PPP extension, sends bill to the Senate

Small businesses got good news this week.

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed an extension of the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program.

The bill, which passed 415-3, would extend the program to May 31 and give the SBA an additional 30 days to process forgivable loans for small businesses. Currently, the program is set to expire on March 31, giving borrowers and lenders only a few weeks to take advantage of recent changes to the PPP.

The bill now goes to the Senate for a vote and is expected to be approved soon. Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said that Democrats want to pass the measure as quickly as possible.

—Carmen Reinicke

Disney reopening California parks on April 30

An employee cleans the grounds behind the closed gates of Disneyland Park on the first day of the closure of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks, in Anaheim, California, on March 14, 2020.
DAVID MCNEW | AFP | Getty Images

Disney is ready to welcome back guests to its California parks after a yearlong closure due to pandemic restrictions.

CEO Bob Chapek said the company will reopen Disneyland's California facilities on April 30, CNBC's Sarah Whitten reports.

A recent update to state guidelines allows theme parks to reopen at 15% to 35% capacity beginning April 1, depending on levels of virus spread in the community.

Chris Eudaily

House to hold hearing on rise of anti-Asian American violence during the pandemic

Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Tim Kaine (D-VA) participate in a news conference following the bipartisan Senate vote on the War Powers Resolution on Iran at the U.S. Capitol on February 13, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Sarah Silbiger | Getty Images

Asian American leaders and activists on Thursday are poised to testify before a House panel about the rise in discrimination and violence against their communities amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Witnesses include Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., the first Thai-American woman in Congress, and actor Daniel Dae Kim, best known for his roles in "Lost" and "Hawaii Five-0."

Some advocates have blamed former President Donald Trump's rhetoric for stoking discrimination against Asian Americans. President Joe Biden last week decried "vicious hate crimes against Asian Americans, who have been attacked, harassed, blamed, and scapegoated" during the pandemic.

The hearing comes amid skyrocketing reports of incidents against Asian Americans. It also comes days after a shooting spree at three spas in and around Atlanta, Georgia, that killed eight people, six of whom were reportedly Asian women.

There is "legitimate concern that these killings may have been racially motivated," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Wednesday morning.

Kevin Breuninger

EU proposes vaccine certificates for travel — but citizens might not need a shot

The European Commission, the European Union's executive arm, proposed a vaccination certificate for citizens as a way to prop up tourism-related activities this summer.

The commission suggested that EU citizens should be allowed to use a "digital green certificate" to prove that they have been vaccinated against the virus; that they have received a negative Covid-19 test; or that they have recovered after contracting the virus.

The idea of including all three options for the proposed certificate is to avoid criticism that the document will discriminate against those who have not yet received a shot.

Silvia Amaro

WHO recommends AstraZeneca vaccinations continue, says benefits still outweigh risks

Pharmacist, Minhal Master (R) administers a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccination centre, staffed by pharmacists and pharmacist assistants, at the Al-Abbas Islamic Centre in Birmingham, West Midlands on February 4, 2021.
Oli Scarff | AFP | Getty Images

The World Health Organization said coronavirus vaccination rollouts using the AstraZeneca-Oxford University shot should continue while it carries out a safety review.

The latest guidance from the global public health body comes after a group of European countries announced that they would suspend use of the shot over concerns that it could be linked to reported cases of blood clots in the region.

WHO's Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety has been reviewing the available data on the vaccine. On Wednesday, the WHO issued a statement in which it said that "vaccination against COVID-19 will not reduce illness or deaths from other causes."

"Thromboembolic events are known to occur frequently. Venous thromboembolism is the third most common cardiovascular disease globally," it said.

The WHO said it will immediately communicate the findings to the public once its review is complete. "At this time, WHO considers that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine outweigh its risks and recommends that vaccinations continue," it stated.

Holly Ellyatt

More European countries halt the rollout of the Astrazeneca vaccine

More European countries halt the rollout of the Astrazeneca Covid-19 vaccine
More European countries halt the rollout of the Astrazeneca Covid-19 vaccine

Ed Silverman, Pharmalot Columnist and Senior Writer for STAT News, joined CNBC's "Worldwide Exchange" to discuss the long-term impact of European countries pausing the rollout of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

Germany's Covid cases are rising exponentially, leading health expert warns

It's no secret that Germany has been seeing a sharp rise in coronavirus cases in recent weeks but one leading health expert in the country is now warning of "exponential growth" in the number of infections.

This comes at a time when the country has suspended the use of the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford coronavirus vaccine.

Epidemiologist Dirk Brockmann, an expert at the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases, said that a recent loosening of Covid restrictions has allowed a more virulent variant of the virus — first discovered in the U.K. late last year — to spread rapidly.

"We are exactly on the flank of the third wave. That can no longer be disputed. And, at this point, we have eased the restrictions and that is speeding up the exponential growth," Brockmann told German broadcaster ARD on Tuesday.

Holly Ellyatt

Vaccines could provide protection for two to three years, professor says

Covid vaccines could provide protection for two to three years, says professor
Covid vaccines could provide protection for two to three years, says professor

Professor Benjamin Cowling from the University of Hong Kong weighs in on how long protection from coronavirus vaccines can last and whether booster shots will be needed.

Trump assures his supporters that vaccines are safe

Fmr. President Trump says he would recommend supporters get the Covid vaccine
Fmr. President Trump says he would recommend supporters get the Covid vaccine

Former President Donald Trump on Tuesday urged people to get inoculated against Covid-19, the Associated Press reported.

In an interview on Fox News, the former president said he would recommend getting vaccinated to "a lot of people that don't want to get it, and a lot of those people voted for me," according to AP.

Trump did say that Americans were free to decide for themselves whether to be vaccinated or not.

"We have our freedoms and we have to live by that and I agree with that also. But it is a great vaccine. It is a safe vaccine and it is something that works," AP reported.

Terri Cullen

Italy and France ready to restart AstraZeneca vaccination if regulators greenlight it again

A person rides a bike in front of the Colosseum as Rome becomes a 'red zone', going into lockdown, as the country struggles to reduce the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Rome, Italy, March 15, 2021.
Yara Nardi | Reuters

France and Italy say they are ready to quickly restart inoculation programs with the AstraZeneca vaccine if regulators confirm it's still safe to use.

The preliminary statement from the European Medicines Agency on Tuesday was "encouraging," the office of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Tuesday in a statement following a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron. It added that in the event of a positive conclusion by the EMA, France and Italy were ready "to promptly restart" inoculations with the vaccine.

The two countries are among more than a dozen that have suspended the AstraZeneca-Oxford University shot after reports of blood clots in a few of the citizens vaccinated.

European health authorities are investigating these reports and will issue a new opinion on Thursday. In the meantime, they are still of the opinion that the shot is good to use in the fight against Covid-19. The EMA said Tuesday that there is "no indication" so far that the reports of blood clots were directly caused by the vaccine.

Silvia Amaro

Adequate supply of vaccines is still a ‘major issue,’ UN official says

Adequate supply of vaccines is still a 'major issue,' UN official says
Adequate supply of vaccines is still a 'major issue,' UN official says

Achieving herd immunity in Asia is likely to be "quite a challenge" due to the lack of access to adequate vaccine supply, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific told CNBC.

White House Covid task force member predicts at least 89% of U.S. seniors will take Covid vaccine

Federal government will launch website to help people get vaccinated
Federal government will launch website to help people get vaccinated

Andy Slavitt, White House senior advisor for the Covid response team, is optimistic a growing number of Americans will continue to take the Covid vaccine

"In Israel where they're a little bit ahead of us, 89% of seniors have chosen to take the vaccine," Slavitt told CNBC's "The News with Shepard Smith" Tuesday evening. "We think we can get up to those kinds of numbers, if we just continue to reliably answer people's questions, because these are very good, safe, effective vaccines."

Nearly 37% of people in the U.S. over the age of 65 have been fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Emily DeCiccio

Read CNBC’s previous live coverage here: