Global Virus Update: Fauci says US cases high; SA registers 862 new cases

Global Virus Update: Fauci says US cases high; SA registers 862 new cases
Indian women walk past graffiti depicting the Covid-19 pandemic to create awareness among people in Bangalore, India. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Jagadeesh NV)

South Africa registered 862 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,521,068. A further 31 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the total to 50,678 deaths.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said there is “no way” he would resign amid allegations of sexual harassment, in a briefing in which he sought to highlight the state’s improving virus metrics. Restaurants outside New York City will be allowed to open at 75% capacity starting on 19 March, he said.

The US recorded a full week with fewer than 70,000 daily Covid-19 cases for the first time since mid-October, though President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said the current daily caseload remains “very high”.

Decisions by two Republican governors to remove all restrictions in their states have reignited the political debate on the pandemic response, elevating it as a campaign issue this year and in 2022.

Key developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases pass 116.7 million; deaths exceed 2.5 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 299 million shots given worldwide
  • Europe’s vaccine missteps alarm stock investors around the world
  • London is lagging on vaccines and Britain can’t afford that
  • What the future of restaurants might look like
  • How the pandemic darkens the picture on women’s pay: QuickTake

Cuomo says he won’t resign

Restaurants outside of New York City will be able to increase capacity to 75% from 50% starting on 19 March, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a briefing on Sunday. But even as he outlined improving virus metrics, the briefing was overshadowed by allegations that he had sexually harassed several women.

“There is no way I resign,” the governor said, adding that Attorney-General Letitia James would investigate the allegations. “I’m not going to resign because of allegations.”

Hospitalisations, the highest in the US, fell further to 4,789. New cases were 6,789, in line with recent daily increases and far lower than the surge over the holidays. Another 59 people died, the fewest since December 5.

Austria halts some Astra shots

Austria stopped shots from one batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine after two incidents involving women who received shots from that batch. One 49-year-old woman died from a severe coagulation dysfunction, and one 35-year-old woman developed a pulmonary embolism but is now recovering.

The Austrian Federal Office for Safety in Health Care said on its website that “there is no evidence of a causal relationship” with the vaccination, and that “thrombotic events in particular are not among the known or typical side effects of the vaccine in question”.

The cases will be analysed further to rule out any connection. Meanwhile, there will be no further vaccinations with that batch, the office said.

Gottlieb says guidelines must consider public aspirations

A year into the pandemic, new CDC guidelines expected soon on what people can do after they’re vaccinated need to be grounded in reality, said the former head of the US Food and Drug Administration.

“Public health guidance needs to take into consideration what people want to do. We can’t be so far behind the aspirations of the public that the guidance itself gets ignored,” Scott Gottlieb said on CBS.

“People are sensing that overall vulnerability is declining… So people are going to want to start to do things. They’re going to want to start to go out more. And we need to take that into consideration in terms of how we’re putting out guidance.”

Gottlieb said the US is on track to reach a 70% vaccination rate for those over 75, 60% of those over 65, and that “almost 25% of adults are going to be vaccinated, probably, by the end of this week.”

Fauci says US cases still ‘very high’

US cases remain “very high” and a rush to lift virus-related restrictions risks triggering another surge, Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

“Plateauing at a level of 60,000-70,000 new cases per day is not an acceptable level,” Fauci said. “That is really very high.”

Fauci’s comments extend a series of warnings, including by Biden, that decisions by Texas and Mississippi to end mask mandates are premature, even as the pace of vaccination in the US accelerates.

“We are going in the right direction. We just need to hang in there a bit longer,” Fauci said.

Meanwhile, Fauci said that new federal guidelines for how vaccinated people can interact with the non-vaccinated would be coming out likely in the next couple of days.

Spring Break draws Covid-weary crowds

Thousands of US students, tired of a year of Covid-19 restrictions, have descended on Florida for Spring Break, despite travel warnings and fears of another viral wave.

“This spring break feels like a different order of chaos,” Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said, according to the Miami Herald. “It feels different. Part of it, clearly, is we’re the only place open.”

Local officials worry the break will become a super-spreader event, especially with the rise of more-transmissible variants. Florida is the US state with the most cases of the B.1.1.7 strain first found in the UK, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC said it did not recommend travelling for Spring Break.

Though the state has no mask mandate, Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, requires masks when social distancing is not possible and in restaurants when not eating. Some local residents have posted on social media what they say are violations of rules for crowding in bars and restaurants.

GOP reopenings sharpen political divide

Decisions by two Republican governors to remove all coronavirus restrictions in their states have reignited the political debate on the pandemic response, elevating it as a campaign issue this year and in 2022.

Republicans Greg Abbott of Texas and Tate Reeves of Mississippi announced last week they’re eliminating state mask mandates and allowing businesses to reopen at full capacity, setting expectations for other GOP-led states to follow suit.

The moves drew dire warnings from Democrats and health officials that they risk igniting another spike in cases and deaths and stood in stark contrast to Joe Biden’s cautious approach.

Americans wary of easing too fast

President Joe Biden retains broad support for his coronavirus response, though the country appears to be wary of aggressively loosening restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll.

Russian shot could be made in Europe

Tens of millions of doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine could be produced a month in Europe, Kirill Dmitriev, chief executive officer of the state-run Russian Direct Investment Fund which backed its development, told Italian Rai3 television on Sunday.

“There are many Italian regions which are enthusiastic about having Sputnik, they would also want to produce it,” said Dmitriev, who is in charge of Sputnik’s international roll-out.

“We have a partnership in Germany, we’re talking to several French companies.” Production in Italy could start in June, he added.

“We expect other countries to register Sputnik directly in the European Union because EU regulations allow countries to do this; we also continue to collaborate with EMA for approval” in the bloc, Dmitriev said in reference to the European Medicines Agency.

US cases fall to almost five-month low

The US recorded a full week with fewer than 70,000 daily cases for the first time since mid-October. The nation added 62,103 cases on Saturday, capping a week with some 60,700 new infections a day, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

Another 1,558 people died of causes related to Covid-19, bringing the total to more than 524,000, the most in the world. Saturday’s toll was lower than the week’s average of 1,760 deaths a day.

German legislator to resign

A member of Parliament from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative caucus will resign after receiving commissions for procuring masks, the second politician to quit after profiting from equipment deals.

Nikolas Loebel, a backbencher from Merkel’s CDU party, said he would resign in August and not seek re-election in September’s election after his firm received a €250,000 fee. Georg Nuesslein, a politician from the CSU, the CDU’s sister party, previously said he would withdraw from politics after his firm brokered the purchase of masks.

The departures come as frustration with Merkel’s government grows amid a persistently high infection rate in the European Union’s most populous country. While accelerating, the country’s vaccine rollout has sputtered, with around nine inoculations performed per 100 people compared to 34 in the UK and 26 in the US.

Hong Kong reports two suspected vaccine reactions 

Hong Kong’s Department of Health reported that two people had been admitted to intensive care units with “suspected serious adverse events following Covid-19 vaccination.” The patients were aged 72 and 82 and both had histories of underlying medical conditions including diabetes.

German cases accelerate 

Germany had 8,264 new Covid cases on Sunday. That’s up from 7,761 a week earlier, underscoring the challenge facing Europe’s largest economy as it prepares to ease restrictions even as cases rise. There were 99 deaths, down from 298 on Saturday and 152 a week ago.

Mauritius halts inbound flights

Mauritius has stopped inbound flights and will close schools for three days after the number of Covid-19 cases in the Indian Ocean island nation rose to eight.

“The situation is very serious,” Health Minister Kailesh Jugatpal told reporters in Port Louis, the capital on Sunday.

The vaccination campaign will be rolled out at national level from Monday. By Saturday, 30,511 people had been inoculated.

Poland cases slow

Poland had 13,574 new cases on Sunday. That compares with 14,857 on Saturday and 10,099 a week earlier. There were 126 deaths, down from 245 on Saturday and up from 114 a week ago.

China to help expats get shots

China will help overseas Chinese receive vaccines made domestically or abroad, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday during a press conference for the annual National People’s Congress. He added that his country will also introduce health certificates for international travellers while pledging to protect personal privacy.

Russian case rates decline

Russia on Sunday reported 10,595 new Covid-19 cases in the past day and an additional 368 deaths, continuing a trend of gradual decline since a daily peak of nearly 30,000 infections in late December.

US-South Korea drills limited

The US and South Korea will hold regular joint military drills from Monday as scheduled, but will limit them mainly to computer simulations because of concerns about the pandemic and fears the exercises could provoke North Korea.

The “strictly defensive” nine-day drill will be a command-post exercise, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement on Sunday. The decision was made to scale down after “comprehensive consideration” of the coronavirus situation and diplomatic efforts to achieve denuclearisation and peace on the Korean peninsula.

Hong Kong vaccinates 11,000

Hong Kong administered vaccines from Sinovac to about 11,000 people on Saturday, bringing the total number inoculated with the first dose to around 83,400 since 22 February, according to a government statement on March 6.

Japan weighs next vaccine

Japan may approve another Covid-19 vaccine in May or June after allowing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in February, Japanese Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said on Fuji TV on Sunday.

“AstraZeneca and Moderna’s vaccines have filed for approval, and these may be approved as early as May or June,” he said. “Of course, it is under careful screening at the moment, and we must see their safety and effectiveness,” the minister said.

Thailand to ease tourist quarantine

Thailand plans to relax quarantine rules for foreign visitors from next month as part of a series of steps considered to revive the tourism industry, the Bangkok Post reported.

The proposed move would allow tourists to leave their hotel rooms after three days of a mandatory two-week quarantine but would still require them to stay on hotel premises, the newspaper said.

Vegas benefits as rules ease

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak has signed an emergency order adjusting the minimum distance between performers and audience members in the tourist and convention destination of Las Vegas, the Associated Press reports.

The minimum distance between performers and audience now stands at 1.8m if performers are wearing masks and 3.65m when performers are unmasked, compared with 7.62m before, a restriction some smaller venues could not accommodate.

Metro Manila to shut cinemas again

Mayors in the Philippine capital region Metro Manila have agreed to again shut cinemas and amusement arcades as coronavirus cases surge, ABS-CBN News reported.

Hotels which were converted into quarantine facilities for coronavirus patients are 89% full and there’s a need to strictly enforce health protocols before things get out of hand, the report said, citing Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Benhur Abalos. DM/MC

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Kamlesh Bhuckory, John Follain, Robert Langreth, and Boris Groendahl.


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