CORONAVIRUS

Global Virus Update: Biden blames Trump; US weather strands vaccine; SA registers 113 deaths, bringing total to 49,053

By Bloomberg 21 February 2021

A medical professional administers a Covid-19 vaccine at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town on 21 February 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

South Africa registered a further 1,429 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, bringing the cumulative total to 1,503,796. A further 113 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the total to 49,053 deaths.

President Joe Biden on Friday slammed Donald Trump for failing to secure enough Covid-19 shots as he toured a Michigan facility where Pfizer is manufacturing its vaccine. The company said it could double its output.

Snow and freezing temperatures have led to a backlog of six million Covid-19 vaccine doses in the US after a three-day delay in shipping, the White House said. New York City was permitted to boost indoor dining capacity to 35%.

Group of Seven nations are giving a major boost to Covax, the global initiative to fund vaccinations in lower-income countries, indicating that momentum is building toward a coordinated effort to address the pandemic. The US plans to contribute as much as $4-billion to the initiative.

Key developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases exceed 110.5 million; deaths pass 2.4 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 193 million shots given worldwide
  • US Spotlight: Texas blackouts lead to a record vaccination drop
  • Cuomo’s grip on NY starts to crack in furore over Covid deaths
  • A US vaccine surge is coming, with millions of doses promised
  • Can I be required to be vaccinated? QuickTake

Biden blames Trump over vaccines

President Joe Biden on Friday slammed Donald Trump for failing to secure enough Covid-19 shots as he toured a Michigan facility where Pfizer is manufacturing its vaccine.

“My predecessor — as my mother would say, God love him — failed to order enough vaccines,” Biden said on Friday, repeating criticism he’s repeatedly made of his predecessor. “Failed to mobilise the effort to administer the shots. Failed to set up vaccine centres.”

In remarks delivered at the facility, Biden sought to reassure the public that the shots are safe and described efforts by his administration to increase supplies and vaccination sites.

Dutch curfew backed by legislators

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte won parliamentary backing for a contested night-time curfew to contain the coronavirus, capping a roller-coaster week that tested his popularity less than a month before a general election.

The legislation passed by the Senate late Friday in The Hague means the nighttime curfew, which began on 23 January and triggered riots in Dutch cities, can stay in place until early March. The vote blunts a court order to lift the curfew after a judge said the situation didn’t constitute an extreme emergency, such as a break in the country’s dike system.

Pfizer head says it will double output

Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said on Friday that the company will expand manufacturing and work with new suppliers to ramp up production of the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with BioNTech.

Appearing at a Pfizer plant in Michigan with President Joe Biden, Bourla said the company will employ additional capacity at its Kalamazoo site to produce the shot’s formulation as well as a component of the vaccine, known as lipids, which help deliver the genetic material into the body. The drug giant also will increase lipid production capabilities at its plant in Groton, Connecticut, and add so-called fill-finish capacity at its site in McPherson, Kansas.

He said he expects the number of doses, which average five million a week, “to more than double”.

Texas blackouts lead to a record vaccination drop

Winter weather and power outages had a chilling effect on Texas’s vaccination effort, one large enough to drag down inoculation trends nationwide.

On Thursday alone, the state administered 118,417 fewer doses than on the same day a week earlier, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. The seven-day average plummeted 31% in the past week to 89,324, the sharpest drop of the pandemic, the data show. At its 12 February peak, Texas was giving an average 134,688 doses a day.

South Africa passes 1.5 million cases

Infections in South Africa surpassed 1.5 million on Friday, with almost 50,000 dead, the health ministry said. The country began issuing its first vaccines this week — single-shot doses from Johnson & Johnson — with 6,524 people inoculated in the first three days of the rollout.

California targets vaccines for school reopening

California will set aside 10% of vaccination first doses for teachers and child-care workers in an effort to speed up the reopening of schools, Governor Gavin Newsom said.

The decision means that starting 1 March, at least 75,000 doses per week will be reserved for educators, whose unions have largely opposed in-person classes until their members are vaccinated. Newsom, who faces the threat of a recall election over his handling of the pandemic, is pushing to reopen schools soon, with the youngest grades starting first.

California continues to deal with inadequate vaccine supplies. While this week’s devastating cold snap elsewhere in the country did not hit California, it did disrupt the flow of vaccination doses into the state. Newsom said about 702,000 doses had been delayed.

Toronto lockdown extended 

Ontario’s government has scrapped plans to allow more businesses to reopen in Toronto after city officials warned it would be a deadly mistake.

Stay-at-home orders will remain in place until at least 8 March in Canada’s largest city and financial centre, as well as two other regions of the province. Toronto had been expected to return to less-stringent measures on 22 February, allowing for limited opening of some retail businesses that have been closed to in-person activity since November.

“These are difficult, but necessary decisions, in order to protect against Covid-19 variants and maintain the progress we have all made together,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said in a statement.

G-7 leaders to help fund vaccine access

Leaders from the USA, Germany, the European Commission, Japan, and Canada have committed $4.3 billion in new investments to fund the development and equitable rollout of coronavirus tests, treatments and vaccines needed to end the acute phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a WHO statement.

Cuomo steps up defence as AOC joins list seeking probe

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he should have been more aggressive in calling out what he said was his critics’ lies and misinformation about the nursing-home residents who died of Covid-19.

Cuomo said he made a mistake in being “complacent” and not responding earlier to critiques of his administration’s handling of information about nursing-home fatalities. “I saw them and dismissed them as false agendas and partisan politics,” the governor said Friday during a virus briefing.

The governor faces growing scrutiny. The FBI and US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York have launched an investigation. Some state lawmakers are seeking an early end to emergency powers they awarded Cuomo at the start of the pandemic. Members of Congress, including Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Republican Senator Charles Grassley, have called for federal investigations into the nursing-home deaths.

Biden agencies pitch covid testing hubs

The Biden administration envisions a nationwide network of Covid-19 testing hubs to boost capacity and enable K-8 schools to reopen, a public notice released on Thursday shows.

The effort by the army and the Department of Health and Human Services would create four centres to organise laboratory networks and prioritise schoolchildren. Each hub location could report as many as 25 million test results per month.

Moderna, Pfizer deals will cover all Americans

The Biden administration has ordered enough Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to vaccinate the entire public, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a press conference today.

Idaho reports case of South African variant

Idaho health authorities confirmed the state’s first known infection with the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 discovered in South Africa. The patient, an adult male who resides in the southwest part of the state, travelled abroad and “is thought to have been exposed before returning to Idaho,” according to the state’s Department of Health and Welfare.

Including the Idaho case, the variant has now been found in at least 11 US states and in 22 people, according to data from the CDC. The strain is considered more transmissible and existing vaccines have shown a reduced efficacy against them.

Cuomo boosts NYC’s indoor dining capacity

New York City can boost indoor dining capacity to 35%, to make restaurant rules consistent with neighbouring New Jersey, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Restaurants in the most populous US city are presently limited to 25% capacity. Covid-19 data continue to improve, allowing New York to continue on a path toward reopening, Cuomo said Friday at a press briefing. Cuomo also urged local governments to vaccinate teachers, saying students deserve in-class teaching.

Covid hospitalisations statewide are at 6,155, down from more than 9,000 in January. Of 249,248 tests reported Thursday, 8,710 or 3.49% were positive.

Winter storms lead to US backlog of six million vaccine doses

Snow and freezing temperatures have led to a backlog of 6 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in the US after a three-day delay in shipping, Andy Slavitt, a senior White House adviser on the virus, said Friday at a Covid-19 task force briefing.

There are 2,000 vaccination sites in places without power and the US is holding doses initially bound for those sites until power is restored, Slavitt said. The weather has kept delivery workers home and closed roads across the US as Texas and the East Coast experienced snow and ice. Slavitt said he expected the backlogged doses to be delivered next week at the latest.

Despite the backlog, the pace of US vaccinations is recovering, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker. On Thursday, 1.7 million doses were administered, the tracker shows. That compares with three days of fewer than 1.5 million doses, including 820,000 given on 15 February, the tracker shows.

Germany joins push to give vaccines to poorer countries

Germany pledged to donate €1.5-billion to global efforts to combat the pandemic, with most of that money for increasing supplies of Covid-19 vaccines in developing countries.

Funds will also go toward increasing access to Covid diagnostics and therapies around the world, Germany’s foreign office said on Friday. The country previously pledged €600-million to the “Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator”, a global partnership forged in April connected with the World Health Organisation.

Germany is following similar moves this week by France and the UK to shore up vaccine supplies in the developing world.

Italy reports most cases in a month

Italy reported 15,479 cases, up from 13,762 a day earlier and the most in a month. Patients in intensive care units reached 2,059, rising for a second day after they had reached a three-month low.

The situation is stable, with an initial worsening in the speed of the contagion, Giovanni Rezza, head of virus prevention at Italy’s Health Ministry, said at a press conference.

CDC says vaccines are safe

A month of safety monitoring indicated “reassuring safety profiles” for the two coronavirus vaccines cleared in the US, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report. The analysis follows 13.8 million doses administered up until 13 January. One CDC monitoring system recorded fewer than 7,000 reports of adverse events, and of those, 90% were not serious, with known side effects such as headache, fatigue and dizziness among the most common.

The severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis occurred in 4.5 cases for every million doses administered, similar to levels associated with other widely used vaccines. The CDC received reports of 113 deaths up to 13 January, largely among the one million long-term care residents vaccinated in that period. The causes and rates of deaths were consistent with the overall level of mortality, and “did not indicate any unexpected pattern that might suggest a causal relationship with vaccination,” the CDC said.

TSA looks to hire more officers

The US Transportation Security Administration is looking to hire more than 6,000 transportation security officers nationwide by this summer, citing an expected boost in seasonal travel and Covid-19 vaccination progress as potential catalysts.

Astra-Oxford 12-week vaccine gap optimal

A three-month interval between doses of the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford provides the best protection, a peer-reviewed study confirms.

The data, first published earlier in February and largely confirmed by the review, found efficacy rose to 81% with a 12-week gap between shots, compared with 55% when the interval was less than six weeks. The results support the UK dosing approach, which allows for up to three months between doses.

CVS, Lyft to offer free rides to vaccine appointments

CVS Health will partner with Lyft to offer free rides to vaccine appointments, the company announced Friday. The drugstore chain plans to give shots at mobile vaccination vans and community clinics beginning in spring. Lyft will provide free or discounted rides to people who need transportation to these sites, CVS said in a statement. Walgreens Boots Alliance announced a similar partnership with Uber earlier in February.

Pfizer asks FDA to approve easier storage

Pfizer and BioNTech asked the US Food and Drug Administration to allow their vaccine to be stored for two weeks at temperatures found in normal pharmaceutical freezers, a change that could simplify distribution for the shot.

The partners submitted new data showing stability when the vaccine is stored at minus -25°C to -15°C, they said in a statement on Friday. The present protocol is for storage for up to six months in an ultra-cold freezer at temperatures of -80ºC to -60ºC and shipping in a special thermal container.

Greece issues vaccine certificate

Greece has begun to issue an online certificate of vaccination against Covid-19, according to the country’s Health and Digital ministries. The certificate will be a medical document that will serve as a certificate of medical practice and will be issued to those who have received both doses of the vaccine.

To avoid forgery, it will have a digital stamp, a verification code and a QR code. DM

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Nikos Chrysoloras, Tim Loh, Slav Okov, Antony Sguazzin, Sotiris Nikas, Angelica LaVito, Suzi Ring, John Tozzi, Marco Bertacche, Vincent Del Giudice, David R Baker, Michael Cohen, and Drew Armstrong.

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 we should know about, please email [email protected]

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