US vaccine supply should increase enough by April to allow anyone who wants a shot to begin getting one, said Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor. Even as vaccines are distributed to the oldest Americans, their share of Covid-19 deaths in the US hasn’t abated. Demand is high as the US begins rolling out vaccines at pharmacies.
The World Health Organisation warned that a decline in overall virus cases conceals increasing numbers of outbreaks and community spread involving variants, with the strain first identified in South Africa late in 2020 now identified in 19 countries.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said coronavirus mutations will likely become dominant across the country, threatening to derail progress made in containing the pandemic. The country plans to impose restrictions on travel from Austria and the Czech Republic over concerns about aggressive mutations.
France outbreak at plateau, minister says
The epidemic in France is currently at a plateau and may be declining slightly, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said at a weekly press conference. He noted that a survey of some 17,000 tests over the past four days showed that between 4% and 5% of cases are linked to the South African and Brazilian variants of the coronavirus while between 20% and 25% are from the UK variant. The country reported 21,063 new infections on Thursday and 360 new deaths, bringing the total to 80,803 fatalities.
Elderly still bear brunt of death toll
Even as vaccines are distributed to the oldest Americans, their share of Covid deaths in the US hasn’t abated.
US deaths among those 85 and older have dropped from a peak around the end of last year in tandem with other age groups, but they’ve accounted for between roughly a quarter and a third of all Covid deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of deaths have occurred in patients over 75.
Although the elderly bear the brunt of the death toll, new research suggests younger people, age 20 to 49, are primarily responsible for Covid-19 transmission.
New York hotels seek relief from tax penalty
Struggling New York City hotels want Mayor Bill de Blasio to forgive the 18% interest they must pay when they are late on their property-tax bills.
A trade group that represents brands such as Marriott, Hilton and Sheraton as well as smaller boutique hotels is asking the city to forgive or reduce interest charges, much as it has done with other commercial properties. They say the added payments burden an industry pummeled by the pandemic, and if the city wants hotels alive when tourists return, it should offer relief.
Italy cases accelerate
Italy cases rose to 15,146 Thursday from 12,956 a day earlier. That was the highest in more than two weeks. Patients in intensive care units are coming down at a slow pace, falling by two to 2,126.
As most of the country is considered a low-risk area, there’s concern that the recent relaxation of measures and the possible reopening of ski resorts next week could boost cases.
Fauci predicts vaccines open to everyone by April
Dr Anthony Fauci predicted an increasing supply of vaccines will allow for “much more of a mass vaccination approach” in the US by April, allowing anyone who wants a shot to get one.
“I would imagine by the time we get to April that will be what I would call for better wording, open season,” the nation’s top infectious disease doctor said on NBC’s Today Show. “Namely virtually everybody and anybody in any category could start to get vaccinated.”
He cautioned, however, that it would take several more months logistically to meet demand.
He also said that the spread of coronavirus variants is “sobering”, but said the “uplifting news” is that the current vaccines appear effective on the rapidly spreading variant first found in the UK.
Demand high as pharmacies offer vaccine
Nearly 20,000 Covid-19 vaccine appointments at CVS Health stores in New Jersey were booked within an hour Thursday as a national pharmacy expansion rolled out.
About one million shots are available at nearly two dozen pharmacy chains across the country through a federal programme that started on Thursday. CVS, Walgreens Boots Alliance, and Rite Aid. are among participating companies. The initiative will boost the number of doses that are available to the general public.
CVS will receive about 250,000 doses divided across 11 states, the company said. In New Jersey, that means 19,900 are available at CVS stores throughout the state. Each participating Rite Aid store will initially receive 100 doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, the company said. Rite Aid will administer shots in five states and two cities.
Illinois expands eligibility but Chicago will not follow
Illinois plans to expand eligibility within Phase 1B to people who have comorbid and underlying conditions and will prioritise individuals with disabilities starting on February 25.
The state’s most populous city and county, however, will not follow in its footsteps for now. Such an expansion of eligibility in Chicago and Cook County would add more than a million people and may result in seniors, frontline essential workers and the most heavily burdened communities facing “an even harder time getting a vaccine,” according to a joint statement on Wednesday from Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
Sweden to ignore WHO guidance on AstraZeneca
Sweden will stick to its recommendation to not give AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to people older than 65, ignoring guidance from the World Health Organization, state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said.
“If you only have that vaccine in a country, you should of course use it for people over 65,” Tegnell told reporters on Thursday. “In Sweden, we have the luxury that we have several vaccines, therefore we think it is reasonable right now that we do as we thought we would have to do: direct the vaccine to different groups.”
Slovenia reopens schools, most shops and services
The government said it will allow shops and services to reopen on Monday after a drop in the number of new infections and hospitalisations. A regional travel ban will also end and schools, universities and gyms will also reopen next week.
Germany to restrict travel with neighbours
Germany plans to impose restrictions on travel from Austria and the Czech Republic over concerns about aggressive mutations of the coronavirus, potentially disrupting cross-country commuters and commerce. The German states of Bavaria and Saxony have asked the federal government to establish border controls with the neighbouring countries, Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder said on Thursday.
New York restaurants rush toward reopening
On Friday, New York City will pull back indoor dining restrictions. Not every restaurant plans to open its doors.
Major chains like McDonald’s and Chipotle Mexican Grill are opting to keep their tables cordoned off due to health and staffing concerns. Other restaurants say opening at New York’s limit of 25% capacity won’t yield enough sales to warrant the additional staffing, cleaning and operational costs.
CDC to roll out school plan
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will present a plan on Friday to help US schools open despite the coronavirus, White House adviser for Covid-19 Andy Slavitt told MSNBC. “There are schools that have done it safely and there are schools that have done it not as safely,” Slavitt said. “We should be open as much as possible.”
English hospitals admit one third of Covid patients in a month
Hospitals in England treated almost 102,000 people battling the virus last month, representing a third of all patients who have needed such care since the pandemic began, NHS England said. Hospitals are still treating about 1,000 more patients with Covid-19 than they were at the peak of the first wave.
Variant spread in Europe increasing, WHO says
The decline in overall cases conceals increasing numbers of outbreaks and community spread involving variants of concern, according to Hans Kluge, the World Health Organisation’s regional director for Europe.
The strain first identified in South Africa late last year has now been identified in 19 countries, and most of those are linked to travel. While community transmission in Europe is not yet widespread, the variant has been increasingly linked to outbreaks in communities, Kluge said.
Ireland to keep Covid restrictions until April
Ireland’s government is likely to maintain most of the current virus restrictions until early April at least, in an effort to prevent the spread of variants, Prime Minister Micheal Martin told RTE Radio. While the government will prioritise reopening schools and construction, the bulk of the lockdown that has been in place since Christmas will be retained, he said. Travellers arriving from more countries may be required to quarantine on arriving in Ireland, Martin said.
Merkel warns mutations could wreck progress
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that aggressive coronavirus mutations will gain the upper hand in Germany, threatening to destroy progress made in containing the pandemic. Europe’s largest economy needs to maintain tight controls even as contagion rates steadily decline and immunisations slowly ramp up, Merkel said on Thursday in a speech to Parliament in Berlin.
Merkel and Germany’s 16 state premiers agreed late on Wednesday to extend most virus restrictions until March 7, while opening a pathway to a gradual return to some semblance of normality after months of stringent curbs.
Heathrow seeks UK plan for opening borders
London’s Heathrow airport urged the British government to set out a strategy for resuming flights following a tightening of travel curbs that it says has essentially shut down travel.
Requiring two Covid-19 tests for all arrivals, along with 10 days of quarantine that some must spend in a hotel, means the UK border is “effectively closed,” Heathrow authorities said in a statement on Thursday.
UK retailers see £22bn cost of lockdowns
Britain’s three pandemic lockdowns have cost retailers that have been ordered to close about £22-billion in lost sales, according to a trade group.
In a sign of the mounting toll Covid-19 is taking on one of the country’s biggest employment sectors, the British Retail Consortium says 2020 was the worst year on record, with in-store non-food sales declining by 24%.
Trump’s policies increased US deaths: Lancet
Former president Donald Trump’s disdain for science and cuts to global health programmes and public health agencies impeded the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, according to a scathing report in the British medical journal The Lancet.
The 33 scientists who co-authored the article found that 40% of US deaths during 2020 from Covid-19 would have been avoided if the country’s death rate had been closer to that of its G7 peers, and blamed Trump for eschewing the advice of public health agencies and politicising responses to the pandemic such as mask-wearing. DM
— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Reinie Booysen, Peter Flanagan, Jan Bratanic, Paul Tugwell, Jasmina Kuzmanovic, Corinne Gretler, Yasna Haghdoost, Shruti Singh, Angelica LaVito, Marco Bertacche, and Alan Katz.
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