Global Virus Update: US cases slow at record pace; SA registers 125 further deaths, bringing the total to 50,803

Global Virus Update: US cases slow at record pace; SA registers 125 further deaths, bringing the total to 50,803
Health workers receive the Covid-19 vaccine at George Mukhari Hospital in Pretoria on 3 March 2021. (Photo by Gallo Images / Lefty Shivambu)

South Africa registered 638 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,521,706. A further 125 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the total to 50,803 deaths.

US coronavirus cases posted the slowest spread since the pandemic began almost a year ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said vaccinated people can visit indoors without masks. Chicago’s ballparks are reopening to fans.

The European Commission is “tired of being the scapegoat” for the slow rollout of vaccines, said its president, Ursula von der Leyen. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said more than one third of the population has received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine as deaths from the disease continue to fall.

India is seeing a jump in vaccinations after a sluggish start. Thailand moved a step closer to issuing vaccine certificates, and Singapore Airlines will be the first to use the International Air Transport Association’s mobile application for digital health verification.

Key developments

  • Global Tracker: Cases pass 116.9 million; deaths approach 2.6 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 304 million shots given worldwide
  • “Hassle factor” and distrust shadow wide US vaccine hesitancy
  • Celebratory “vaxications” are giving the travel industry a boost
  • Massive India vaccine programme boosted by Modi receiving shot
  • How the pandemic darkens the picture on women’s pay: QuickTake

Dutch lockdown extended

The Netherlands will extend its lockdown until the end of March, but slowly ease some restrictions, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Monday. A curfew from 9pm until 4.30am will remain in place, but shopping on appointment will be expanded and adults are allowed to take part in outside sports with up to four people.

The extension means the country, which suffered riots in January over virus curbs, will hold next week’s general election during a lockdown. Rutte also looked ahead to the summer, estimating that four more months are needed to reach a critical amount of vaccinated people to allow for a significant easing of restrictions.

WHO concerned about nations with conflicts

The World Health Organisation expressed concern about nations facing conflicts that could halt or slow the response to the pandemic, including vaccinations, officials said at a briefing on Monday.

“The response to the pandemic needs to be a public health response and we have to take out politics,” said Kate O’Brien, head of the WHO’s vaccination division. She said vaccines have a shelf life and risk being wasted if they’re not distributed on time.

Myanmar, Yemen, Syria and Libya have all faced disruption to general health services.

The WHO is having difficulty getting information on Covid and other health issues in many areas, according to Mike Ryan, head of the WHO health emergencies programme.

Wyoming lifts mask requirement

Wyoming will lift its mask requirement and permit bars, restaurants, theatres and gyms to resume normal operations on 16 March, Governor Mark Gordon said on Monday.

Wyoming “has seen significant success rolling out the vaccine,” according to a statement issued by the governor’s office.

Health officials in neighbouring Colorado last week directed counties to maintain safety protocols and Governor Jared Polis extended Colorado’s mask order for at least another 30 days. Gordon is a Republican. Polis is a Democrat.

Chicago ballparks to allow fans

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wrigley Field, home to the Chicago Cubs, and Guaranteed Rate Field, home to the Chicago White Sox, will allow up to 20% capacity, starting on each baseball team’s opening day in April. That capacity may grow as vaccination and recovery efforts continue, but any jump in Covid-19 cases could prompt closures, the city said.

Wrigley Field, the oldest ballpark in the National League, will be limited to 8,274 fans per game starting on 1 April, the city said. Normal capacity is 41,374. Guaranteed Rate Field, home to the Chicago White Sox on the South Side, will be limited to 8,122 fans. Normally, the ballpark seats just above 40,000.

The move follows the city’s steps to ease Covid-19 restrictions as numbers improve. Chicago has already increased capacity at bars and restaurants to 50%.

UK vaccinates one-third of population

More than one third of the UK population has received a first dose of the coronavirus vaccine as deaths from the disease continue to fall.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the milestone at a news conference on Monday, the same day the government took its first major step in easing lockdown restrictions by reopening schools.

“Today we’ve been able to take that crucial first step on what we hope is our cautious but irreversible roadmap to freedom,” he said. “The overwhelming feeling is one of relief.”

CDC loosens rules for vaccinated people

Vaccinated people can visit indoors without masks but must still wear them in public and avoid large gatherings when around those who aren’t immunised or are at high risk for contracting Covid-19, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday.

The agency issued its long-awaited guidance for what fully vaccinated people can safely do, as vaccinations rise but as health experts warn that the risk of the virus remains, especially with new variants.

Broadly, the CDC recommended that fully vaccinated people can meet freely in private settings with other fully vaccinated people, but that several restrictions remain, including advising against travel and recommending mask-wearing in public.

EU’s Von der Leyen rips into vaccine critics

The European Commission is “tired of being the scapegoat” for the slow roll-out of vaccines, its president, Ursula von der Leyen, said as she continues to face pressure over the EU’s uncertain response to the pandemic.

In a blistering counter-attack against criticism over the European Union’s sluggish Covid-19 vaccination programme, Von der Leyen refocused blame on manufacturers, notably AstraZeneca, which she said hadn’t stockpiled doses as it started producing in Europe.

Philippines expects 20 million doses

The Philippines expects to receive 20 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by June or July.

About 1.1 million vaccine doses have arrived as of Monday, Carlito Galvez, who heads the nation’s vaccine-procurement efforts, said in a live-streamed briefing on Monday evening. The government has administered about 44,000 doses, including in places outside the capital region, he said.

Draghi vows to jump-start Italy vaccinations

Prime Minister Mario Draghi pledged strong action to turn around Italy’s slow vaccination campaign, saying an exit path from the coronavirus pandemic isn’t far away if the country can move faster on vaccinations.

Speaking via video, the newly appointed premier told a Rome conference that his priorities include fuelling a recovery for Italy’s economy, which contracted by 8.9% last year.

NYC mayor praises J&J shot

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city has begun deploying the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and praised the shot as a way to reach home-bound seniors and other people who weren’t able to get the vaccine before. The city has initiated a programme to bring shots directly into senior homes.

“Finally we have the vaccine we need,” de Blasio said at a Monday virus briefing. “People want the J&J vaccine because it’s one dose and you’re done.”

In other news, the city will reopen high schools for in-person learning on 22 March, bringing students in the US’s largest public-school system back into classrooms a year after the pandemic closed it down.

South African strain found in Colorado prison

Colorado has identified its first three cases of the South African virus variant at a state prison, officials said. One of the patients is an inmate and the other two are prison staff members at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex in rural Chaffee County.

“These samples were chosen at random for sequencing as part of ongoing variant surveillance analysis,” according to a statement issued by the Colorado Department of Corrections.

To date, 81 cases of the variant have been identified in the US, according to CDC data.

Hungarian lockdown belies vaccination success

Hungary’s coronavirus mortality rate has risen to one of the world’s worst, forcing Prime Minister Viktor Orban to severely tighten a lockdown even as the country is among the European Union leaders in Covid-19 vaccinations.

Schools and almost all retail outlets closed on Monday, denting optimism over the nation having jumped to second place in vaccinations per capita in the EU, behind tiny Malta. With more than one million jabs, Hungary has administered 13.2 doses per 100 people, compared with the trading bloc’s average of 9.1. The gains were propelled by hundreds of thousands of Chinese and Russian shots, which haven’t been approved by EU authorities.

Nestle’s Osem tells staff to be vaccinated or tested

Nestle’s Israel subsidiary will bar employees who haven’t been vaccinated or recovered from Covid-19 from the workplace unless they submit a negative virus test every three days.

The new rules at the Nestle unit, Osem Investments, take effect next week and are “intended to protect the health of employees and continuity of work in the factories,” according to a statement on Monday. Osem, which makes food such as salty snacks and instant falafel mix, said almost 90% of its 4,000 workers in Israel have either been inoculated or have recovered from the disease.

North Macedonia gets first batch of Sputnik V

North Macedonia received its first supply of 3,000 Russian Sputnik-V vaccines on Sunday, the government said. It has ordered some 200,000 Sputnik shots.

With unclear deadlines for supplies from the EU and still unfulfilled promises from its neighbours, the Balkan country of two million has so far reported just 1,510 total shots administered.

Serbia to vaccinate prison inmates

Serbia expanded vaccinations to prison inmates on Monday after receiving its latest shipment of 28,080 Pfizer-BioNTech shots. The Balkan country of almost seven million people has imported 2.64 million doses from four drugmakers and has used more than 1.6 million so far.

Italy approves giving AstraZeneca shot to seniors

Italy’s health ministry gave the green light to use AstraZeneca’s vaccine for those over the age of 65, except for extremely fragile people. Romania also lifted the age restriction for the shot.

Antibodies against one variant may neutralise others

New research shows that antibodies from those infected with the South African variant also neutralise the version first found in Brazil as well as the original virus, Sam Fazeli, Bloomberg Intelligence’s senior pharma analyst, wrote in a note on Monday, citing a study that hasn’t yet been peer reviewed.

The results suggest new vaccines have the potential to protect against all current known viruses, Fazeli said. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna expect data by early summer on a variant vaccine.

British mutation slips through in Iceland

A person was diagnosed with the mutation found in Britain over the weekend in Iceland, making it the first case of a domestically infected individual who wasn’t already in quarantine since 1 February. It’s also the first case of the British variant diagnosed outside of arriving passengers. Iceland eased domestic disease prevention measures on 24 February after domestic infections fell to zero. DM

— With assistance by Lars Klemming, James Regan, Daniel Schaefer, Andra Timu, Niluksi Koswanage, Vincent Del Giudice, Slav Okov, Misha Savic, Marco Bertacche, Ragnhildur Sigurdardottir, Jeff Sutherland, Henry Goldman, Elizabeth Campbell, Corinne Gretler, and Fergal O’Brien.


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