Global Virus Update: Race emerges as vaccine problem; US cases slow; SA set to receive first vaccines today

By Bloomberg 31 January 2021

On 15 February, the first Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be delivered to healthcare workers in the Western Cape. (Photo: Billie Weiss / Boston Red Sox / Getty Images)

South Africa on Sunday registered a further 4,525 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,453,761. A further 213 Covid-19 related deaths were reported. This brings the total to 44,164 deaths.

Initial data from New York City show “profound” racial disparities in who is receiving the vaccine, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. New York state reported the fewest new cases in more than a month. Across the US, infections continue to slow.

A top health adviser to President Joe Biden warned that a new variant of the coronavirus circulating in the UK will likely become the dominant strain in the US.

AstraZeneca Plc will deliver nine million additional vaccine doses to the European Union in the first quarter of 2021, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. South Africa will receive its first vaccines today, 1 February.

Key developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases approach 103 million; deaths surpass 2.2 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 94.4 million shots given worldwide
  • Pfizer or Sputnik? Race to inject prompts calls for choice
  • Virus controls put damper on China’s holidays, economic recovery
  • Faced with a vaccine emergency, the EU made an enemy of everyone
  • Covid mutations undercut optimism even as more vaccines draw near
  • How vaccine nationalism flares over scarce supplies: QuickTake

South Africa to receive first vaccines 

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Deputy President David Mabuza, who chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Vaccines, will receive South Africa’s first consignment of Covid-19 vaccine on 1 February, according to a statement from the presidency.

The first phase of the vaccine rollout programme will prioritise about 1.2 million frontline health workers, according to the statement.

Swiss face vaccine shortage

Switzerland faces a shortage of vaccines, much like many of its European neighbours. The country will be able to vaccinate only 650,000 people in February rather than the planned 1.3 million, newspaper NZZ am Sonntag reported. It also quoted Interior Minister Alain Berset as saying that the goal of vaccinating everyone above the age of 75 by the end of February would probably not be met, though the target of immunising the public by the end of June was still achievable.

The Swiss government is also in talks with Johnson & Johnson for its vaccine, newspaper Sonntagszeitung reported, citing a Federal Office of Public Health spokesperson.

Biden health adviser warns of virus variants

A top health adviser to President Joe Biden warned Sunday that a new variant of the coronavirus circulating in the UK will likely become the dominant strain in the US and may lead to future restrictions on in-person gatherings.

Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that the nation’s healthcare system had to prepare for a surge in serious cases such as the one experienced recently in England.

“What we have to do now is also anticipate this and understand that we’re going to have to change quickly,” said Osterholm, who’s a member of Biden’s Covid-19 advisory board.

EU says AstraZeneca to deliver millions more doses

AstraZeneca will deliver nine million additional vaccine doses to the European Union in the first quarter of this year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday.

The company will begin deliveries one week earlier than scheduled and expand its manufacturing capacity in Europe, Von der Leyen said on Twitter. The extra doses will bring the total to 40 million for the first quarter, she said.

AstraZeneca previously said that issues at a plant in Belgium meant deliveries this quarter would be less than half of what had been initially planned. The relatively slow start of the EU’s immunisation drive led to a messy political dispute last week over European export restrictions on vaccines.

French cases slow

France reported 19,235 new cases, slightly below the seven-day average. An additional 195 people died from virus-related illness, bringing the toll to 76,057. Starting on Sunday, the French government banned travel to and from countries outside the European Union except under extenuating circumstances.

Canada passes 20,000 fatalities

Canada’s death toll exceeded 20,000, two days after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced sweeping new restrictions on international travel.

Science supports school reopenings — Johns Hopkins doctor

Current science suggests many schools are safe to reopen if the level of virus circulating in their communities is not “overwhelming,” said Dr Tom Inglesby of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Inglesby’s comments on Fox News Sunday come as public school teachers in Chicago are pushing back on a plan to return to in-person learning as soon as Monday, and as President Joe Biden is keen for children nationwide to be back in classrooms soon.

“If schools have very strong mitigation procedures in place, if they’ve reduced the density within the school, and they’re taking all of those measures very seriously, then schools can operate safely,” Inglesby said. 

Miami, California hit by UK strain, says former FDA head

Southern Florida and southern California are the US areas most at risk from the UK strain of the virus that causes Covid-19, former Food and Drug Administration head Scott Gottlieb said.

The new variant is likely to cause “regionalised epidemics” at least through the summer, Gottlieb said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” He cited San Diego and Miami as hot spots of the UK variant that “need to be very mindful of the spread”.

Data suggest that existing vaccines offer protection against the UK variant, but less so against strains first seen in Brazil and South Africa, Gottlieb said.

NYC vaccine data show race disparity

New York City broke down its Covid-19 vaccination data by ethnicity for the first time, with the mayor underscoring a “profound problem” with racial inequality.

White residents made up nearly half of the people who have received at least one dose, despite consisting of only a third of the population. Latinos, 29% of the city, only accounted for 15% of those vaccinated. The lowest ratio was among blacks — even though they make up almost a quarter of the city’s population, they only accounted for 11% of those vaccinated.

“Clearly, we do see a profound disparity that needs to be addressed aggressively and creatively,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on a conference call on Sunday.

NY state cases lowest since December

New York state reported 10,793 new cases, the lowest number of daily infections in more than a month, as Governor Andrew Cuomo said the post-holiday surge in the outbreak had eased. He said the seven-day averages of hospitalisations and positive test rates were also the lowest since December. Another 138 people died.

Cuomo highlighted racial disparities in administering the vaccine, saying that Black New Yorkers are most hesitant to take it, partly out of distrust. Black workers make up 17% of hospital employees offered the vaccine, but they made up only 10% of recipients, he said.

“It’s the clearest demonstration of hesitancy,” he said in a conference call with reporters. “It’s something we have to overcome.”

UK vaccinates almost 600,000 in a day

The UK gave almost 600,000 people the first dose of a vaccine in a day, the highest number so far. Some 598,389 shots were administered on Saturday, bringing the total to 8.98 million. New cases continue to drop, with 21,088 reported on Sunday. Another 587 people died. Figures are often lower on weekends due to reporting delays.

Italy to ease restrictions

Italy reported 11,252 new cases and 237 deaths Sunday, as it gets ready to ease restrictions for most of the country starting Monday. The positivity rate remained even at around 5.2%. Italy’s cases have remained stable in recent weeks, and the country has so far avoided the sharp increases suffered by some neighbouring countries.

Both the Milan and Rome regions will fall in the so-called “yellow zone” starting Monday, the lower tier of restrictions which allows bars and restaurants to remain open during the day. Health minister Roberto Speranza warned that the easing of restrictions does not mean the threat is over. His comments followed reports of crowds gathering in the central areas of large cities.

Portugal ICU patients keep increasing

Portugal, which is facing one of the world’s worst outbreaks, on Sunday reported 9,498 new cases, below the record 16,432 new cases announced on Thursday. Total infections are 720,516. The government reported 303 fatalities, matching Thursday’s record figure, taking the total to 12,482 deaths.

The number of patients in intensive-care units rose by 15 to 858. The country’s national health service has a capacity of about 1,200 intensive-care beds.

Hungarians protest against lockdown measures

Hungarians protested in central Budapest on Sunday, demanding the government reopen restaurants and other venues. The demonstration by about 200 to 300 people ended after police moved in to enforce a ban on assemblies, local media reported.

Several months of restrictions have helped reduce hospitalisation numbers in the eastern European country, which is betting on vaccine deals with Russia and China for a further improvement before lockdowns can be eased.

GOP senators seek stimulus meeting with Biden

A group of 10 Republican senators wrote to President Joe Biden on Sunday offering an alternative proposal for Covid-19 economic stimulus they say would gain bipartisan support. It’s expected to be in the $500-billion to $600-billion range, versus Biden’s plan for a $1.9-trillion stimulus that GOP lawmakers have rejected, an aide said.

It offers a glimmer of hope for a quick bipartisan bill to deal with urgent needs, including the expiry of unemployment benefits, even as Democrats are free to pursue the rest of the Biden proposal using a partisan budget tool.

The senators said they plan to unveil their plan on Monday.

US reported cases slow

The US added about 144,000 Covid-19 cases on Saturday, fewer than the average of almost 158,000 over the preceding seven days. The data, compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg, are further evidence the pandemic is slowing in the US, though the numbers don’t break down cases by virus variant.

An additional 2,786 people died from Covid-related causes, raising the US death toll to more than 439,000 since the pandemic began. That compares with an average of about 3,200 deaths a day over the previous two weeks.

Dubai to distribute two billion vaccine doses globally in 2021

Some of the biggest companies in Dubai formed an alliance to move two billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines around the globe in 2021.

Emirates Airline, ports operator DP World Plc and Dubai Airports have joined forces to speed up the distribution of inoculations through the Gulf trade and tourism centre.

The move “will particularly focus on emerging markets, where populations have been hard hit by the pandemic, and pharmaceutical transport and logistics are challenging,” the government’s media office said.

International Humanitarian City, a Dubai-based global centre for humanitarian emergency response, has also joined the alliance.

Separately, the United Arab Emirates reported 2,948 new virus cases on Sunday, the lowest since 11 January.

Israel to transfer vaccines to Palestinians

Israel will transfer 5,000 vaccine doses to Palestinian medical workers, a spokeswoman for Defence Minister Benny Gantz said. Agencies including the United Nations have urged Israel to help make the shots available to Palestinians because it occupies the West Bank and controls access to Gaza.

This week the Palestinians will receive their first shipments of doses made by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Russia’s Sputnik V, said Osama al-Najjar, the director-general of medical services for the Palestinian Authority’s Health Ministry.

UK vaccine plan on track after EU spat, Truss says

The UK’s supply of vaccines is secure and the country will stick to its rollout timetable, according to International Trade Secretary Liz Truss.

Her comments came after the European Union’s executive arm announced it would require vaccine makers to obtain authorisation before sending shots manufactured in the bloc to some other countries. The spat had raised concerns over the provision of supplies of the Pfizer and BioNTech shot, manufactured in Belgium, to the UK

“We are absolutely confident we can continue to deliver our programme,” Truss told Sky News. “We have received assurances from the EU that those contracts won’t be disrupted.” DM

— With assistance by Layan Odeh, Alexander Kell, Sara Marley, Joao Lima, Gaspard Sebag, Paul Wallace, Andreo Calonzo, Lucy Meakin, Claire Jiao, Farah Elbahrawy, Ivan Levingston, Andras Gergely, Tony Czuczka, Chiara Albanese, Yueqi Yang, Ros Krasny, Sandrine Rastello, Catherine Bosley and Meghan Genovese.

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]


DM168 Investigation

The crumbling house that Ace Magashule built

By Felix Dlangamandla, Anso Thom, Christi Nortier and Jillian Green