Global Virus Update: US states get dose increase; J&J pact with Merck; South Africa reports 194 deaths

Global Virus Update: US states get dose increase; J&J pact with Merck; South Africa reports 194 deaths
A frontline health worker get her jab on 2 March 2021 during the launch of the Sisonke Vaccine Programme at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

South Africa registered 856 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,514,815. A further 194 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the total to 50,271.

US President Joe Biden will announce that Merck & Co will help make rival Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine in a “historic partnership.” States will receive a boost in vaccine shipments next week, the administration said.

Tokyo plans to ask the national government to extend the coronavirus state of emergency, according to the Nikkei, after the pace of decline in cases slowed in recent days. Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing for a broad extension of Germany’s lockdown until 28 March with a partial easing of some restrictions.

Italy may seek more stimulus spending, while the number of patients in the Czech Republic hospitalised in serious condition reached a record. In Asia, registrations for vaccinations in India jumped after the prime minister received his shot, while China set a goal to vaccinate 40% of its population by the end of June.

Key developments:

US states get boost in vaccine shipments

US states will see a boost in Covid-19 vaccine shipments next week, on top of an initial burst of the recently authorised Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

President Joe Biden’s administration will allocate 15.2 million doses next week for shipment to states, up from 14.5 million allocated this week, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on Tuesday after the administration held its regular call with governors.

The government also announced that 2.8 million J&J shots were sent to states, marking the first time they’ve shown how they’ll divide an initial tranche of the newly authorised shot. The US received a stockpile of 3.9 million J&J doses. Psaki’s statement suggests the remainder, about 1.1 million, will be sent to pharmacies and community health centres.

Ireland has fewest cases since December

Ireland reported the fewest new cases since December, in a sign that the virus there is easing. There were 359 newly confirmed cases, the health ministry said. That’s the least since 15 December. The drop is welcome, deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said, although he warned it may be attributable to a so-called “weekend effect”. The country also reported 14 more deaths.

European agency panel to rule on J&J vaccine on 11 March

The European Medicines Agency’s human medicines committee is expected to give its recommendation for the vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen on 11 March, EMA said in a tweet. The panel has an extraordinary meeting scheduled for that day, aiming to conclude the evaluation.

NYC could hit five million vaccinated by June

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is on track to hit five million fully vaccinated by June. “We can do it as long as we get that supply,” he said.

The city of about 8.4 million residents is focused on getting supply to where it’s needed most. It will open a vaccination site on Thursday at Co-Op City, a massive residential development in the Bronx with about 50,000 residents and its own zip code.

De Blasio also asked state officials for the freedom to add lifeguards, sanitation workers, district attorneys and courtroom staff, board of elections staff and more to the eligibility list.

Danish PM says plant with Israel possible

Denmark may become a joint owner of a coronavirus vaccine facility in Israel as a way to dramatically ratchet up capacity.

Joint ownership of such a plant would help Denmark to “significantly” up its game and inoculate people repeatedly over several years, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said.

NYC administers more than two million doses

New York City has administered more than two million Covid-19 vaccine doses, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a tweet.

Scotland may consider more easing

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that more school children will return to full-time education from 15 March, including all those attending primary school, and aims to have all pupils back at school after the Easter holidays.

With the number of cases falling and vaccinations now up to 1.6 million people — about 30% of Scotland’s population — Sturgeon also said her government may consider an accelerated easing of the country’s lockdown.

Tokyo to seek extension of emergency: Nikkei

Tokyo plans to ask the national government to extend the coronavirus state of emergency that is due to expire this weekend, according to the Nikkei.

The state of emergency was lifted toward the end of February in Japan’s western regions. Although numbers in Tokyo have fallen from the record levels in early January that led to the emergency being declared, the pace of decline in cases has slowed in recent days in Tokyo and some surrounding areas. The city is looking at an extension of around two weeks, the Nikkei said.

No sign Brazil variant has spread further in UK

“We have no information to suggest the variant has spread further,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons on the discovery of the Brazil variant in the UK. He said a search has narrowed to 379 households in the south of England as the government tries to find the unidentified individual who tested positive for the variant.

“We’ve identified the batch of home tests in question,” he said.

Dutch case tally climbs for third week

The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose for a third consecutive week in the Netherlands, though the tally remains below peak levels. In the week ended 2 March, 31,984 people with Covid-19 were confirmed, up from 29,977, health agency RIVM said. The number of fatalities fell.

Meanwhile, bar owners are among businesses calling for less-strict lockdown rules. Two establishments in Amsterdam and the city of Breda in the south of the country briefly reopened outdoor seating areas on Tuesday in protest, defying nationwide rules, according to local media reports.

Biden to announce Merck partnership with J&J

President Joe Biden was to announce on Tuesday that Merck & Co will help make Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot coronavirus vaccine, the White House confirmed.

Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz said via Twitter that Biden would announce the “historic partnership,” reported earlier by the Washington Post. White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain said in a tweet that Biden would announce the deal in afternoon remarks.

Switzerland may allow self-testing

Switzerland is considering allowing Covid-19 self testing, according to the Federal Office of Public Health. Director Anne Levy said it would require a change to the law and some issues related to testing effectiveness would need to be sorted out.

Switzerland has now vaccinated a quarter of people at risk, according to local authorities.

Serbia donates Astra shots to Bosnia

Serbia donated 5,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina, a rare show of solidarity in a region where ethnic tensions continue to snarl up relations three decades after the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia.

Angola to start vaccinating with Covax doses

Angola will begin administering vaccines on Tuesday, after the government took delivery of 624,000 doses of AstraZeneca inoculations under the Covax initiative. A broader rollout is planned from 6 March, Health Minister Silvia Lutucuta told reporters in the capital, Luanda.

Ukraine’s president vaccinated

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced his vaccination in a tweet on Tuesday.

Malaysia gives conditional nod to shots

Malaysia agreed to provide conditional approval for the use of Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca and Sinovac during disasters, Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a statement on Tuesday.

EU fags dangerous Covid-19-related products

About 9% of dangerous products flagged by consumer protection alerts in 2020 were Covid-related, mostly low-quality masks, the European Commission said in a press release. Other product warnings were for disinfectants with toxic chemicals, such as methanol or UV sanitisers that exposed users to strong radiation.

Antibodies found in 29% of London residents

More than 29% of people in London are estimated to have Covid-19 antibodies, the highest rate of any region in the UK, according to estimates from the Office for National Statistics. The findings cover the 28 days up to 11 February and compare with one in five people in the city who would have tested positive in January. The data highlight the rapid spread of the UK strain of the disease in February.

Italy may soon seek more stimulus

Italy’s new government may soon seek parliamentary approval for more stimulus spending as a sluggish vaccination campaign and new coronavirus strains extend the nation’s reliance on fiscal support.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s administration is planning to distribute about ¢32-billion that was approved by the parliament in January through a new decree called “sostegno” or “support,” according to people familiar with the matter.

Germany to broadly extend lockdown

Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders are poised to agree on a broad extension of Germany’s lockdown measures until 28 March while allowing a partial easing of some restrictions, according to draft proposals seen by Bloomberg. Merkel and the 16 state premiers will hold talks on Wednesday to discuss the next steps in the country’s efforts to combat the pandemic.

German joblessness unexpectedly rose for the first time in eight months, adding to strains Europe’s largest economy is facing due to protracted lockdowns. The increase of 9,000 put the total number of unemployed people at 2.75 million and the rate at 6%, according to the Federal Labour Agency. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg had expected a drop of 10,000.

Philippines nixes early shots for ‘influencers’

The Philippines has rejected a proposal to have 50 “influencers” undergo public Covid-19 vaccinations.

The plan from the Philippines’ Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases to have public officials, media and movie personalities have shots in order to boost vaccine confidence wasn’t approved, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said on Tuesday. The advisory group for the country’s inoculation programme maintained that health workers should be the priority, he said in a televised briefing.

Slovakia buys Sputnik

Slovakia will get two million doses of the Sputnik V vaccine from Russia in a move the EU member’s leader hailed as life-saving for its citizens. Prime Minister Igor Matovic said his health minister would authorise the use of the shots, skirting the regular approval process. The virus “doesn’t know geopolitics”, he said.

Israel begins vaccinating recovered patients

Israel began offering vaccinations to recovered Covid-19 patients, after a decision announced by the Health Ministry on Monday evening. A single dose will be given to people who have recovered from coronavirus at least three months ago, the ministry said. Close to 782,000 people in Israel are confirmed to have had coronavirus, including the more than 39,000 who are ill at present.

More than 51% of the population has had at least one dose, and almost 37% have had two.

South Africa to vaccinate six million by end June  — Business Day

South Africa will probably have enough vaccines to inoculate six million people, or a 10th of its population, by the end of June, leaving many vulnerable groups exposed to the pandemic during the winter, Business Day said, without saying where it got the information.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority is likely to approve shots from Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer for general use in April, the newspaper said, citing the senior manager for pharmaceutical evaluation.

Record number of Czechs in serious condition

The Czech Republic registered a record 1,568 coronavirus patients who are hospitalized in serious condition and need extracorporeal oxygenation or ventilation. The nation of 10.7 million, which is fighting Europe’s worst outbreak, had 148,924 active cases as of Monday, according to health ministry data. The government imposed its strictest lockdown measures since the start of the pandemic this week, as its medical system is on the brink of collapse.

The UK virus variant is present in 75% of infections in the Czech Republic and its share is exponentially growing, according to Diana Biotechnologies, a company spun off from the Czech Academy of Sciences. DM

— With assistance by Mark Schoifet, Lenka Ponikelska, Aoife White, Candido Mendes, Rodney Jefferson, Martin Z Braun, Katharina Rosskopf, and Peter Flanagan.

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]


"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]"

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