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U.S. Near 500,000 Deaths; Pfizer Shot Stops Spread: Virus Update

The U.S. is poised to reach 500,000 Covid-19 deaths, almost a year after the first was reported. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s top infectious disease doctor, called the number “almost unbelievable.” He said vaccinations slowed by bad weather should be back on track by midweek. New York state’s deaths continued to slow.

By Bloomberg News

Word Count: 1861
(Bloomberg) —The U.K. government will take a “cautious” approach to easing lockdown, with restrictions lifted every few weeks to judge the impact, despite a significant acceleration of its vaccination program, a senior minister said.

The Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE Covid-19 vaccine appeared to stop the vast majority of recipients in Israel becoming infected, providing the first real-world indication that the immunization will curb transmission of the coronavirus.

Key Developments:

Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on cases and deaths.

Encouraging Signs

U.K. Deaths at Two-Month Low (11:51 a.m. NY)

Daily fatalities in the U.K. were the lowest since December and less than half of the average of the previous seven days. Another 215 people died, compared to a weekly average of almost 500. Reporting delays usually result in lower figures on weekends. The U.K. reported 9,835 new cases on Sunday.

Italy May Follow U.K. Approach (4:57 p.m. HK)

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s administration is about to accelerate Italy’s Covid-19 vaccination program, taking inspiration from the U.K. campaign, La Stampa daily reported on Sunday, without citing sources.

According to the paper, in a cabinet meeting on Monday, the newly appointed Italian government will follow the example of Boris Johnson’s government and proceed with mass vaccinations using all available doses, without setting aside some for second shots.

Italy reported 13,452 new cases on Sunday, compared with 14,931 on Saturday, and 232 Covid-related deaths, with the positive test rate increasing from about 4.8% to 5.4%.

N.Y. Deaths Continue to Slow (10:43 a.m. NY)

New York state reported 75 more fatalities, the second consecutive day with fewer than 100 deaths, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. It was the lowest number of deaths since early December. The state’s hospitalizations, the highest in the nation, declined further to 5,764. The positive test rate also fell to 2.99%, the first time below 3% since Nov. 23. Another 6,610 infections were reported.

Cuomo also reported the first case in a New York state resident, on Long Island, of the coronavirus variant first found in South Africa. The strain is more transmissible and has shown some resistance to vaccines. Last week, a resident of Connecticut who was hospitalized in New York was also diagnosed with the variant, now reported in almost a dozen U.S. states.

German Minister Favors Border Control Extension (10:17 a.m. NY)

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer spoke out in favor of extending border controls with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tirol to control aggressive variants.

“You can’t impose restrictions on citizens here domestically and at the same time risk that mutations come across the borders,” Seehofer told broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk on Sunday. A decision on the extension is set to be made on Monday or Tuesday.

Fauci Says Vaccine Delays to Be Quickly Reversed (10:13 a.m. NY)

The top U.S. infectious diseases specialist said the backlog of vaccinations from last week’s severe weather should be mopped up by midweek.

Fauci spoke as the U.S. stands on the verge of a milestone few imagined when the first coronavirus cases were diagnosed a year ago: 500,000 deaths. That level will probably be reached Sunday or Monday.

“It’s something that is stunning when you look at the numbers, almost unbelievable,” Fauci said. “People will be talking about this decades and decades and decades from now.”

U.S. Nears Half a Million Covid-19 Deaths (8 a.m. NY)

While 88 days passed from the first death, on Feb. 29, 2020, to 100,000, it will take just over a month for the toll to rise from 400,000 to half a million.

But fatalities have slowed dramatically: The U.S. reported 1,904 deaths on Saturday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. The week’s daily average is almost a 40% decrease from that of the previous week.

The issue now — which will determine how soon the next 100,000 Americans die — is often cast as a race between vaccines, now being rolled out in increasing volume and efficiency, and the mutant strains that are more transmissible and, in some cases, can elude the efficacy of the vaccines.

The B.1.1.7 strain first found in the U.K. is expected to become dominant in the U.S. as early as March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects. A separate variant first found in South Africa — now reported in 10 U.S. states — led to a 16-fold increase in cases in neighboring Zambia in less than a month.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent research center at the University of Washington in Seattle, projects that the U.S. will reach 600,000 deaths by May 14 — 81 days from Monday.

Pfizer-BioNTech Shot Stops Covid’s Spread: Israeli Study (6:49 a.m. NY)

The vaccine, which was rolled out in a national immunization program that began Dec. 20, was 89.4% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed infections, according to a copy of a draft publication that was posted on Twitter and confirmed by a person familiar with the work.

The early results on lab-confirmed infections are important because they show the vaccine may also prevent asymptomatic carriers from spreading the virus that causes Covid-19, something that hadn’t been clear so far.

U.K. to ‘Cautiously’ Ease Lockdown (6:39 a.m. NY)

U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock urged people to keep following the rules even when vaccinated, after the government announced that all adults will be offered a shot by the end of July and everyone over 50 by mid-April.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will hold a meeting with his senior ministers on Sunday to sign off on plans for how to ease England’s lockdown, ahead of a statement to Parliament on Monday. He’s said reopening schools will be the priority — from March 8, depending on infection data — and he wants any relaxation to be “irreversible.”

AstraZeneca to Compensate for Dose Cuts (6:18 a.m. NY)

The chairman and CEO of AstraZeneca Italy Lorenzo Wittum said in an interview with Messaggero daily on Sunday that yesterday’s cut in dose deliveries will be compensated, and that target of distributing 4.2 million doses to Italy by the end of current quarter will be met.

He also says the yesterday’s cut in deliveries to the country’s regions was about 7%, not 15% as initially reported.

Tanzania President Wants Citizens to Mask Up (5:52 p.m. HK)

President John Magufuli is asking Tanzanians to put on face masks as a precautionary measure against the coronavirus after months of discouraging their use.

Citizens should only to wear masks manufactured in the East African nation, Magufuli said in an emailed statement.

Iran Positive Cases Rise (5:40 p.m. HK)

Iran recorded an uptick in its daily coronavirus tally with 74 more deaths and 7,931 new cases over the last 24 hours, bringing its total Covid-19 death toll to 59,483 with over 1.5 million known infections, the Health Ministry reported.

Germany Turns Away Thousands at Its Borders (4:55 p.m. HK)

German border police have refused entry to 15,877 people at the country’s borders to the Austrian province of Tirol and the Czech Republic since Feb. 14, according to the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

The travelers either lacked a negative test or didn’t meet other criteria put in place to contain aggressive Covid-19 variants.

On Monday, Germany will consider raising the risk level of France’s Moselle region, according to the Funke media network. Tobias Hans, premier of the state of Saarland, which borders France, told the media group that travel controls would be the last resort.

German Contagion Rate Rises to Highest in More Than a Week (4:14 p.m. HK)

Germany’s seven-day Covid-19 incidence rate per 100,000 people inched up on Sunday to the highest level in over a week — the latest evidence that a steady decline since a peak before Christmas has ground to a halt.

The rate rose to 60.2, the highest since Feb. 12, according to data from the RKI public-health institute. The increase comes as pressure grows on the government to lay out a reopening plan, even amid concerns about fast-spreading variants. The government has said a rate of 50 or below is manageable and may allow a cautious easing of lockdown restrictions including shuttered schools and non-essential stores.

Russia Reports Lowest New Cases Since Oct. 9 (4:12 p.m. HK)

Russia reported 12,742 new cases of Covid-19, the lowest since Oct. 9, according to the government’s virus response center. Total cases have reached 4.16 million.

The data show 417 people died in the past day, pushing the death toll to 83,293 since the start of the pandemic. Federal statistics show the number of deaths linked to Covid-19 last year was nearly three times higher than the government response center reported.

Serbia Adds Fourth Vaccine With AstraZeneca Delivery (3:48 p.m.)

Serbia received its first delivery of AstraZeneca shots on Sunday, adding a fourth vaccine to its program after already importing nearly 2 million doses from Pfizer-BioNTech, China’s Sinopharm as well as the Russian Sputnik V.

Around 756,000 people in the Balkan nation of 7 million have been vaccinated, including almost 500,000 with two doses, President Aleksandar Vucic told reporters at Belgrade airport where the shipment was delivered.

Iran Says Barakat Vaccine 90% Effective Against Coronavirus (3:20 p.m. HK)

Iran’s homemade COVIran Barakat vaccine for Covid-19 is 90% effective against the virus, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

The vaccine is currently in its second stage of human trials and officials plan to have over 20,000 people inoculated by the vaccine by May 20, according to the semi-official Young Journalists Club.

Switzerland May Resell AstraZeneca Doses, NZZ Says (2:47 p.m. HK)

Switzerland may resell its 5.3 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine amid questions over its efficacy, Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported Sunday.

There are considerations about passing the material on, said Nora Kronig, the deputy director of the Federal Office of Public Health. The country’s regulator, Swissmedic, has not yet approved the shot and is requesting more data from a trial underway in North and South America.

Global Vaccines Reach 202 Million (9:46 a.m. HK)

More than 202 million vaccine doses have been administered around the world, according to data compiled by the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker, just over two months after the first shots went into arms.

Vaccinations are underway in at least 88 countries, including nations in Africa, Asia, Europe and North and South America. While the doses given so far are only a fraction of what will be needed to cover the globe, about 6.35 million doses a day are being administered.

–With assistance from Flavia Rotondi, Yaacov Benmeleh, Chikako Mogi, Patrick Gillespie, Liau Y-Sing, Bryce Baschuk, Ditas Lopez, Arsalan Shahla, Misha Savic, Chris Reiter and Sara Marley.

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