First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Global Virus Update: New Jersey may relax curbs; NYC ap...



Global Virus Update: New Jersey may relax curbs; NYC appeals for more doses; SA registers 6,041 new cases

(Image: Unsplash / United Nations Covid 19 Response)
By Bloomberg
26 Jan 2021 0

South Africa on Tuesday registered a further 6,041 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,423,578. A further 680 Covid-19 related deaths were reported. This brings the total to 41,797 deaths.

New York City said it would miss its goal of administering one million vaccine shots by the end of January, and Mayor Bill de Blasio appealed to the Biden administration for more doses.

Pfizer will be able to supply the US with 200 million Covid-19 vaccine doses two months sooner than previously forecast, according to its top executive. European Medicines Agency executive director Emer Cooke signalled Pfizer is gearing up to increase deliveries to EU countries.

The UK became the first nation in Europe with 100,000 deaths. Ireland’s strict lockdown regime is set to be extended until at least 5 March. New Zealand is likely to keep its borders closed to the world through most of 2021.

Key developments:


Bulgaria easing restrictions 

Bulgaria is gradually easing measures after it went into partial lockdown at the end of November, when it reached the EU’s highest coronavirus death rate. All schools will reopen in the next month, and movie theatres and gyms will reopen from 1 February with limited capacity, the health ministry said. Bars, restaurants and nightclubs will remain closed until 1 March. All arrivals will need to present a negative PCR test result upon entering the country.

New Jersey considers relaxing curbs 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy says he will consider easing Covid-19 restrictions if data continue to improve.

“We’re in the plateau, it would be my guess right now,” Murphy, a first-term Democrat who is seeking re-election in November, said on Tuesday during an interview on Bloomberg Television.

Murphy didn’t say what restrictions he may loosen. California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday lifted stay-at-home orders and allowed outdoor dining to resume. New York, Illinois, Michigan and Massachusetts are also easing restrictions, while scientists warn of the presence of far more contagious virus variants.

New Jersey was the second-hardest hit after New York in the initial wave of Covid-19 that struck in March 2020. The resurgence that began with colder weather is showing signs of levelling off after a holiday surge.

EMA chief sees Pfizer supply boost in April

European Medicines Agency executive director Emer Cooke signalled Pfizer is gearing up to increase deliveries to EU countries of its Covid-19 vaccine developed with BioNTech with production at more sites.

“With respect to the Pfizer vaccine, they have already submitted a protocol to include additional sites and we expect those to come through during February-March and to have an impact on supply at the start of the second quarter,” Cooke told a European Parliament committee on Tuesday.

The potential increase in supply will be welcomed by the EU amid a slower rollout of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot as a result of the renovation of a factory in Belgium. The production disruption affected vaccine deliveries to all member countries last week, an EU official said at the time.

EU to shut door to travellers from Japan

European Union governments plan to remove Japan from their list of countries whose residents should be allowed to visit the bloc during the current phase of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an EU official familiar with the matter.

An update to the EU’s recommended travel “white list” continues to exclude the US and all but seven other nations, the official said Tuesday, asking not to be identified because the deliberations were confidential.

The removal of Japan as a result of increased virus cases in the country leaves just Australia, China, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand as approved places of departure.

UK surpasses 100,000 deaths

More than 100,000 people have died from coronavirus in the UK, the first country in Europe to surpass the threshold.

Deaths in London, which is at the centre of the present outbreak, are running at 84% above the five-year average amid concerns a new strain of the virus is more fatal. There are 37,561 patients hospitalised with Covid-19 across the country.

Ireland’s lockdown set for extension

Ireland’s strict lockdown regime is set to be extended until at least 5 March, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said. Schools, bars, non-essential stores and personal services will remain closed. In addition, with some exceptions, the government is introducing mandatory quarantine, either at home or in hotels, for international arrivals. Around two-thirds of Ireland’s new cases are linked to the UK variant, the government said.

Ireland reported 928 new cases on Tuesday, marking the first time the number was below 1,000 in nearly a month. Another 90 people died, taking the overall death toll past 3,000.

EU drugs agency working with industry on delays

European Medicines Agency executive director Emer Cooke said EMA is working with manufacturers of Covid-19 vaccines to address delivery delays in the EU and expressed hope the shortfalls will be “short-lived.” Speaking to a European Parliament committee on Tuesday, Cooke also repeated EMA’s goal to give a verdict this week on Astra’s vaccine.

NYC asks Biden Administration for more doses

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he spoke to members of the Biden administration to appeal for more vaccines, but that the city would miss his goal of administering one million shots by the end of January.

The city has given out more than 650,000 doses so far and only had 7,710 doses on hand on Tuesday. New York expects 107,000 more first doses this week, far short of the city’s capacity to administer half a million doses a week. “We could be doing so much more,” De Blasio said in a Tuesday briefing. “I need hundreds of thousands of doses more, per week.”

De Blasio also said he wasn’t going to push Governor Andrew Cuomo to reopen indoor dining in the city. “We have way too many cases in the city; we have the variants that we’re watching closely,” De Blasio said. “The data and science tell us to be careful.”

New cases in New York continue to decrease, following a nationwide trend. The seven-day average of new cases in New York on Sunday dipped to 4,844, reverting to case levels seen before the holiday surge. The seven-day hospitalisation rate of 5.14 per 100,000 residents remains stable.

Zimbabwe plans to inoculate two thirds of nation

Zimbabwe plans to buy sufficient coronavirus vaccines to inoculate about two thirds of its population, amid a surge in infections and deaths.

The shots will be jointly acquired by the government and private companies, according to a proposal presented during a meeting between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and business leaders in the capital, Harare, on Tuesday. It didn’t provide details on how the purchases will be funded or which companies will contribute.

The authorities have the capacity to inoculate about 10 million people, government spokesman Nick Mangwana said by text message. “Any support goes a long way to make sure resources are not diverted from other sectors,” he said.

Portugal reports record fatalities

Portugal on Tuesday reported the highest daily number of deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the outbreak. There were 291 fatalities in a day, more than the previous record of 275 on Sunday, taking the total to 11,012 deaths.

The government reported 10,765 new confirmed coronavirus infections in a day, below the record 15,333 cases announced on Saturday, bringing the total to 653,878. The number of patients in intensive-care units fell by two to 765. The country’s national health service has a capacity of about 1,200 intensive-care beds.

Pfizer to deliver US doses faster than expected

Pfizer will be able to supply the US with 200 million Covid-19 vaccine doses two months sooner than previously expected, according to its top executive.

CEO Albert Bourla said Tuesday that the drugmaker and its partner, BioNTech, will be able to deliver more doses to the US and European Union before the end of the second quarter due to a change in the vaccine’s label that allows healthcare providers to extract an additional dose from each vial.

France will vaccinate more than 1.5 million by end of week

France will vaccinate more than 1.5 million people, about 2.2% of the population, by the end of the week, 50% above a government target, Health Minister Olivier Veran said.

Regeneron cocktail shows promise as ‘passive vaccine’

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals said its antibody cocktail reduced Covid-19 cases by half and prevented all symptoms in people at high risk of catching the coronavirus.

The treatment could be used as a “passive vaccine” to protect those living with others who are already infected, Regeneron said, citing an early analysis of 409 people participating in a phase 3 trial.

Romania delays vaccine rollout on supply delay

Romania is delaying its vaccine rollout programme amid supply hitches. The nation, which has received about 800,000 doses, is down about 120,000 injections and is planning to suspend vaccination of those not considered at risk by 10 days. The nation has scheduled 1.8 million people for vaccination by April 15.

Upbeat J&J guidance doesn’t include vaccine

Johnson & Johnson issued a stronger forecast for its 2021 financial results than Wall Street expected, though it doesn’t include any predictions for the company’s Covid-19 vaccine. CFO Joseph Wolk said in an interview that the company expects to have data on the shot’s efficacy by early next week.

Iran approves Russia’s Sputnik vaccine

Iranian health officials approved Russia’s Sputnik coronavirus vaccine, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced during a visit to Moscow on Tuesday, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

The Islamic Republic has yet to start vaccinations. Officials said on Monday the first batch of imported doses could be from AstraZeneca.

Iran recorded 79 deaths from Covid-19 over the past 24 hours. That’s down from 98 on Monday, which marked the country’s biggest jump in two weeks. The number of known infections rose by 6,420 to 1,385,706, the Health Ministry reported.

Iran plans to start its vaccination program within 20 days, the secretary of its national coronavirus taskforce said separately on Tuesday, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

Norway may refine vaccine plan after elderly deaths

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said her country may fine-tune the vaccination of its oldest, sickest citizens as it tries to make sense of a recent spate of deaths. Norway revealed this month that more than 30 people — all over 70 and all already sick — died not long after being vaccinated. Intense global interest in the news was “exaggerated,” Solberg said.

“We don’t believe there’s any problem with the safety of the vaccines,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg Live.

Drug industry’s Covid push didn’t extend to other viruses

As drugmakers mounted an unprecedented response to Covid-19 in 2020, they ignored other viruses that mostly affect poorer countries, a report found. The pipeline of potential drugs and vaccines against the new coronavirus went from zero to 63 projects through June 2020, according to the Access to Medicine Foundation.

Meanwhile, none of the companies was working on 10 of 16 other emerging infectious diseases flagged by the World Health Organisation as a risk of pandemic or serious epidemic.

WHO experts recommend 28-day Moderna shot interval

Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine should be given in two doses with an interval of 28 days, the World Health Organisation’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation said in an interim recommendation. In exceptional circumstances, the interval may be extended to 42 days, though the evidence for this isn’t strong, it said. The strategic advisory group doesn’t recommend halving the dose.

Separately, France decided not to delay second doses of the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, shunning the advice of its health authority and citing risks and uncertainties in the face of new variants. DM

— With assistance by Mark Schoifet, Patrick Sykes, Joao Lima, Henry Goldman, Jonathan Stearns, and Slav Okov.


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted