CORONAVIRUS

Global Virus Update: SA reports 11,381 cases; NYC still giving shots; Biden to detail Covid plan

By Bloomberg 21 January 2021

(Photo: Unsplash / Noah CK)

South Africa on Wednesday registered a further 11,381 Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,380,807. A further 647 Covid-19 related deaths were reported. This brings the total to 39,501 deaths.

Biden ramps up Covid fight with orders reversing Trump policies

New York City has not stopped giving vaccinations despite shortage warnings and pleas for resupply, but some future appointments were cancelled. Pfizer is open to selling doses of its Covid-19 vaccine directly to US states trying to boost their supplies. Covid-19 cases are declining in 46 states, reducing pressure on hospitals that have been fighting the virus for almost a year.

Germany’s coronavirus fatalities passed 50,000 while the UK suffered its worst day in the pandemic. The British prime minister’s chief scientific adviser warned that some hospitals look “like a war zone.”

Key developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases exceed 97.1 million; deaths surpass 2 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 54.3 million shots given worldwide
  • Covid cases are falling in 46 states, easing load on hospitals
  • Canada’s vaccine rollout hits snags despite huge orders
  • Palm Beach draws flood of wealthy homebuyers in Covid exodus
  • Where are our coronavirus vaccines? South Africans ask
  • Brazil’s vaccination drive is finally under way, but risks abound

Macron warns vaccine may not work long-term 

French President Emmanuel Macron told European Union leaders they shouldn’t assume that Covid-19 vaccines will necessarily prove effective in the long run, according to two people with knowledge of his comments.

During a video discussion about possibly issuing certificates to facilitate travel for those who have received their Covid shots, Macron pointed out that scientists are still cautious about how the vaccines will work over a longer horizon and suggested waiting until scientific opinion is more stable.

US cases declining in most states 

Covid-19 cases are declining in 46 states, reducing pressure on hospitals that have been fighting the virus for almost a year.

In 42 of those states, the seven-day case average has fallen more than 10% from a week earlier, while the other four had more modest drops, according to Covid Tracking Project data. Overall, the US seven-day average is down 20% from a week ago, to 192,825, because the drop is much greater in some states — down 39% in Missouri, for instance.

French cases remain elevated with new lockdown looming 

France reported more than 20,000 new Covid-19 cases for the third consecutive day as the government warned another lockdown may be unavoidable with the spread of a more contagious variant.

The country recorded 22,848 new cases on Thursday, bringing the seven-day average to 19,471, the highest since November, when the country was in full lockdown.

Health authorities said there were 346 deaths due to Covid-19 in the past 24 hours.

EU to approve AstraZeneca vaccine, Von der Leyen says

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told EU leaders that AstraZeneca’s vaccine is expected to get conditional market authorisation in the bloc at the end of next week, according to people familiar with the ongoing discussion over a video summit. The head of the EU’s executive arm said that the company plans to start deliveries of the vaccine in mid-February.

Johnson & Johnson is expected to apply for market authorisation in mid-February, and receive it around early March, meaning that first deliveries of its jab in the bloc can begin at the end of March or early April, according to the people, who asked not to be named discussing the contents of a private call.

Britons face $1,000 fines for going to house parties

People who deliberately flout UK lockdown rules and attend house parties will face new fines of as much as £800, Home Secretary Priti Patel announced.

“Such irresponsible behaviour poses a significant threat to public health,” Patel told a televised news conference in London. “We will not stand by while a small number of individuals put others at risk.”

Stricter lockdowns needed in Europe, disease control centre says

To slow down the importation and spread of the new coronavirus variants, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control recommends that non-essential travel should be avoided.

EU member states “should prepare the healthcare system for high demand due to the increased transmissibility of the new variants of concern,” ECDC said in a risk assessment report published on Thursday. National authorities should not just avoid relaxing lockdowns, but instead be ready to enforce even stricter measures, according to the ECDC report, published just before a video summit of EU leaders to discuss the pandemic.

Dutch government expands corporate support

The Dutch government announced €7.6-billion in additional state aid to help companies weather the pandemic, as the lockdown has been extended until 9 February, Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said at a press conference on Thursday. Tens of billions of euros have already been spent on aid.

The nation will also begin imposing a curfew on Saturday after a majority in the lower house of parliament backed a government proposal aimed at fighting new coronavirus variants that may spread more quickly. The curfew will begin at 9pm and end at 4.30am.

New cases in Italy rise slightly

Italy registered 14,078 new cases on Thursday from 13,571 on Wednesday. The country reported 521 deaths, from 524 the day before. The rate of positive tests rose to 5.3% from 4.9%.

On Wednesday, Italy’s parliament approved a government request for up to €32-billion in additional debt. The extra funds will contribute to supporting businesses hit by virus lockdown measures.

Airlines say US standards needed for Covid health pass to fly

Federal standards are needed to verify the validity of tests and vaccines needed for Covid-19 health passes, Airlines for America, an industry association whose members include American Airlines and Delta, says in a letter to Alejandro Mayorkas, President Biden’s designated Homeland Security secretary.

NYC continues vaccinations despite supply issues

New York City has not stopped giving vaccinations despite shortage warnings and pleas for resupply, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday. About 45,000 people were vaccinated in New York City on Wednesday but the city has had to cancel some future appointments due to lack of supply. “We’re being starved of supply,” he said.

Meanwhile, the city continues to see diverging trends among Covid-19 rates: The seven-day average of hospitalisations continues to climb, reaching 5.16/100,000 residents, up from around four at the beginning of the month. But the seven-day average of new cases are flatlining, and 8.83% of city residents tested test positive for Covid-19 on Tuesday. Hospitalisations are often a lagging indicator.

Portugal to close schools for two weeks

The Portuguese government decided to close schools for 15 days starting on Friday due to the Covid-19 variant that first emerged in the UK and is spreading widely, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Thursday. There has been “very sharp growth” in the presence of this variant, he said.

Portugal announced on Wednesday the biggest daily increase in confirmed virus cases since the start of the outbreak and earlier on Thursday reported the highest number of deaths for the fourth consecutive day. In March, the government’s confinement measures included closing schools. Costa had said he wanted to try to avoid shutting them again.

World Bank aids Lebanon in vaccine purchases

The World Bank on Thursday announced plans to allow Lebanon to reallocate $34-million from an existing health project to buy vaccines, the first operation of its kind for the Washington-based development lender. The vaccines are expected to arrive in Lebanon by early next month.

The initiative will provide access to vaccines for more than two million people in a country that has seen average daily reported cases surge in 2021 to exceed 4,000, double the level from December, with more than 2,000 total confirmed deaths since the start of the pandemic. Lebanon is also contending with the fallout from an explosion at the Beirut port in August that killed more than 200 people, caused up to $4.6-billion in damages to homes and infrastructure and deepened the nation’s political and financial crisis.

Overall, the World Bank is making available $12-billion for developing countries to finance the purchase and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines under a plan announced in October.

Germany reports 21 deaths after Covid vaccination

Germany reported 21 deaths after Covid-19 vaccinations, saying that the deaths did not significantly exceed the expected rate of mortality for the age group being inoculated.

The people who died were between the ages of 56 and 99, with death between one hour and 14 days after vaccination, according to the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which monitors drug safety. Two patients died of Covid-19, with symptoms appearing four to five days after the first vaccination — too soon for the vaccine to have taken effect, the institute said. All the patients had serious illnesses, including cancer, kidney disease and Alzheimer’s, though the institute said it’s still necessary to collect further information in some cases.

Covid forced about one in five British adults to go deeper into debt

Almost nine million people in Britain had to borrow more money by the end of 2020 to help them through the coronavirus crisis, according to new figures that show widening gaps between the rich and the poor.

That’s about a fifth of the UK’s adult population of 47 million people. The findings feed a debate about how Boris Johnson’s administration can best protect segments of the population such as the young and lowest paid, who have taken the hardest economic hit during the crisis.

Pfizer says it’s willing to sell vaccine to US states

Pfizer is open to selling doses of its Covid-19 vaccine directly to US states trying to boost their supplies, pending approval from the federal government, a company spokesman said on Thursday.

The drugmaker is willing to collaborate with the federal government “on a distribution model that gives as many Americans as possible access to our vaccine as quickly as possible”, Pfizer spokesman Eamonn Nolan said in an email to Bloomberg News.

UK exceeds five million Covid-19 vaccine doses

The UK has now administered more than five million coronavirus vaccine jabs across the country, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a tweet on Thursday. The government intends to vaccinate about 15 million of the people who are most vulnerable to the disease and carers by mid-February.

Portugal reports fourth day of record fatalities

Portugal reported the highest daily number of deaths from the coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak. There were 221 fatalities in a day, taking the total to 9,686. The government reported 13,544 new infections, below the record 14,647 announced on Wednesday, taking the total to 595,149. The number of patients in intensive-care units rose by 21 to 702. The country’s health service has a capacity of about 1,200 intensive-care beds.

Merkel promises broad vaccine availability

German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised widespread availability of coronavirus vaccines by late September, shortly before voters elect her successor. Amid efforts to boost vaccine supply, Merkel said all Germans who want a shot will get one by the end of the summer on 21 September. National elections take place on 26 September.

WHO says African Fatality ratio similar to others

The recent jump in Africa’s case fatality rate is likely being driven by outbreaks in a handful of countries including South Africa and the Central African Republic and doesn’t reflect a continent-wide issue, Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation’s regional director for Africa, told a briefing on Thursday. Africa’s case fatality rate has increased to 2.5%, from about 2% a few months ago.

“On average, we do not believe the case fatality rate in Africa is so much worse than in other regions,” she said. “We always need to continue to look at the quality of essential care being provided, address the many clinical manifestations of this illness, make sure that there is sufficient oxygen, and make sure people know how to and can access treatment in time.”

Serbia in talks on making Russian vaccine

Russian pharmaceutical company Generium, which manufactures the Sputnik V vaccine developed by Gamaleya Institute, is willing to help in technology transfer and training for possible production in Serbia, Minister for Innovation Nenad Popovic said.

Lilly’s antibody helps prevent Covid-19 in nursing home study

Eli Lilly & Co’s antibody therapy reduced nursing home residents’ risk of symptomatic Covid-19 by as much as 80% when used preventively in a study. The infused treatment, cleared for use in high-risk Covid patients with mild to moderate disease who haven’t been hospitalised, also significantly reduced the risk of symptomatic disease in nursing home workers, according to a statement on Thursday.

Nigeria now expects first vaccine in February

Nigeria expects to take delivery of its first coronavirus vaccine doses in February, with health workers, top government officials and vulnerable people to be given priority. The vaccines, which could be as many as 100,000 vials, will be procured through the Covax initiative backed by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organisation and Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, Faisal Shuaib, head of the West African country’s National Primary Health Care Development Agency, said in an interview.

France says UK variant could force stricter lockdown

France is tracking a more contagious variant of Covid-19 that emerged in the UK on a daily basis to guide its measures, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in a senate hearing. Should the prevalence of the variant rise significantly “and we would follow the UK trajectory, a lockdown would probably become an absolute necessity,” he said.

Merkel calls for European solidarity against Covid

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged European leaders to find common ground to check the spread of the coronavirus and guard against faster-spreading strains. “The EU is one area” in the fight against the disease, the chancellor said Thursday in Berlin. “There is still some time to prevent virus mutations from spreading.”

Ireland to keep lockdown in place next month

Ireland will extend its present lockdown regime, one of the strictest in Western Europe, “well” into February, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said. The limits are in place until 30 January, but it will be “well into the next month” before the “vast majority” of rules are reviewed, he told Virgin Media Television.

Biden ramps up Covid fight with orders

US President Joe Biden plans to issue a sweeping set of executive orders on his first full day in office, aimed at tackling the raging Covid-19 pandemic. Together, they will rapidly reverse or refashion many of his predecessor’s most heavily criticised policies. Biden is set to invoke orders to overhaul and unify the US approach to virus testing, use federal powers to stabilise the supply chain for critical medical supplies, and boost the government’s ability to provide rapid and equitable vaccine distribution, according to an administration briefing.

Fauci says US to join Covax

Anthony Fauci pledged his country’s commitment to the World Health Organisation, marking the first effort by the Biden administration to mend ties with an agency crucial to fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci said the US will join Covax, the 92-nation collaboration seeking to deploy Covid-19 vaccines around the world. While the Trump administration had given about $18-billion to vaccine and drug development through Operation Warp Speed, it declined to participate in Covax.

“I am honoured to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organisation,” Fauci told the Geneva-based WHO via a video link on Thursday. “The United States also intends to fulfil its financial obligations to the WHO.”

Hungary first in EU to approve Russia vaccine

Hungary became the first European Union nation to approve Russia’s Covid-19 vaccine as Prime Minister Viktor Orban takes a pre-election risk to accelerate the country’s exit from the coronavirus crisis. Hungary’s drug regulator granted emergency approval for Russia’s Sputnik V, the agency’s director, Matyas Szentivanyi, told state television late Wednesday. The decision followed pressure by Orban to fast-track it and skirt the EU, which has yet to authorise the vaccine. DM

With assistance by Ian Fisher, Sheldon Reback, Nick Rigillo, Marthe Fourcade, Corinne Gretler, Thomas Mulier, Rachel Chang, Alisa Odenheimer, Jasmina Kuzmanovic, Jan Bratanic, Dana Khraiche, Yasna Haghdoost, Rudy Ruitenberg, Angelica LaVito, Riley Griffin, Andrew Atkinson, Naomi Kresge, Joao Lima, Eric Martin, Stuart Wallace, Henry Goldman, Caitlin Webber, Flavia Rotondi, Ellen Proper, Nikos Chrysoloras, Kitty Donaldson, Joost Akkermans, William Horobin, Jonathan Levin, and Viktoria Dendrinou.

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