NYC and New Jersey restaurants allowed 50% capacity; Biden to double J&J order; South Africa records 109 deaths — total infections now 1,524,174

NYC and New Jersey restaurants allowed 50% capacity; Biden to double J&J order; South Africa records 109 deaths — total infections now 1,524,174
A Kenyan healthcare worker prepares to administer an Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine dose to her colleagues at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi in March 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Daniel Irungu)

South Africa registered 1,477 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,524,174. A further 109 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the total to 51,015 deaths.

President Joe Biden will double the US order of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, bringing the country’s supply to enough for 500 million people, according to officials familiar with the plan. New York City and New Jersey allowed restaurants to expand indoor dining to 50% capacity.

The UK accused European Union politicians of damaging its vaccination programme by making misleading statements that cast doubt on AstraZeneca’s shot, in an escalation of tensions between the two sides.

The first European company to reach a deal to produce Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine said it could start manufacturing in the third quarter. Romania extended its curfew by an hour.

Key developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases pass 117.6 million; deaths top 2.6 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 319 million shots given worldwide
  • US Spotlight: Death forecast drops as pandemic indicators improve
  • Biden duo’s nudge eased Merck-J&J logjam to speed vaccine output
  • Desperate for Europe, travellers say book now then figure it out
  • What’s the best Covid vaccine? Why it’s not so simple: QuickTake

NYC, New Jersey restaurants expand capacity to 50% 

New York City and New Jersey restaurants can increase indoor dining capacity to 50% from 35% beginning 19 March, Governors Andrew Cuomo and Phil Murphy said. Cuomo also said restaurants outside New York City can expand to 75% capacity.

In New Jersey, hospitalisations have declined by 1,000 since the state last changed its restaurant capacity limit on 5 February, Murphy said. Before that, the limit had been 25% for months.

“If we keep the infections down and vaccinations up, we will continue to stay ahead in the footrace against this invisible enemy,” Cuomo said in a statement.

NYC schools not super-spreaders, study finds

In-person learning in New York City’s public schools wasn’t associated with increased Covid-19 infections compared with the general community, according to a peer-reviewed study released on Wednesday.

The study, led by senior health adviser Jay Varma and published in the Pediatrics medical journal, provides data to back up claims by city officials that school buildings are among the safest places in New York.

Virus origin ‘could be found in a few years’ 

The world will likely have a better idea about the origins of Covid-19 in a few years as scientists continue to analyse the data, according to a member of the international team of experts that travelled to China to trace the pandemic’s emergence.

Despite the shortage of clues to the roots of the virus and the political tensions around the search, the scientific process will eventually prevail, Peter Daszak, a New York-based zoologist assisting the mission, said at a webinar organised by UK think tank Chatham House on Wednesday.

No indication of Astra vaccine clotting 

There is no indication that the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine caused the blood clotting that led Austrian authorities to suspend using a batch of the vaccines, the European Medicines Agency said. The agency’s safety committee is investigating cases reported with the batch post vaccination, as well as other conditions related to clotting.

Montenegro goes into lockdown

Montenegro is closing schools, shopping malls, gyms, kindergartens and much of its vital hospitality industry to try to halt a surge in virus infections, the government said on Wednesday. Lockdown and restricted movement are ordered in 11 cities and municipalities across the tourism-dependent Adriatic state, which had one of the biggest economic contractions in Europe in 2020.

Variants account for most new cases in NYC

New virus variants account for 51% of New York City’s Covid cases, health officials said on a virus briefing on Wednesday. The variants, known as B.1.1.7, which originated in the UK, and B.1.526, which was first detected in New York, appear to be more infectious than older strains of the virus. But research doesn’t indicate that the variants cause more severe illness or reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, said Jay Varma, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior public health adviser. Varma warned that the data is still preliminary.

Kenya approves Russia’s Sputnik vaccine

Kenya approved the use of the Sputnik V Covid-19 shot for emergency purposes, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund.

Other African nations that have allowed its use include Angola, the Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ghana and Guinea, the sovereign fund said. Sputnik V has a 91.6% efficacy and provides full protection against severe cases of the illness, it said.

Germany’s Merkel sees tough months ahead

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned citizens to prepare for several more tough months before vaccinations begin to have a tangible impact on the pandemic.

“We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” Merkel said during an online dialogue with emergency telephone service operators. “There will be three or four more difficult months and then we’ll be so far along with vaccinations that we will also really see actual effects and things will clearly improve.”

Biden to order more J&J doses

President Joe Biden will announce a doubling of the US order of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine during an event with the chief executives of J&J and Merck, who struck a collaboration to boost production of the shot, officials familiar with the plan say.

Ireland plans ‘modest’ curb easing

Ireland will allow a limited easing of curbs in April as cases drop, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said in an interview with state broadcaster RTE. Still, with vaccines delayed, restrictions such as the closure of non-essential stores would remain in place, he said.

Ireland has one of the strictest lockdowns in western Europe, after enduring one of the world’s worst outbreaks after Christmas.

Finland, Portugal back Astra shot for all

Portugal endorsed the AstraZeneca vaccine for all age groups, even the elderly, in an updated recommendation. The prior advice was that the shot be “preferably” used for people of 65 and younger. Finland did the same, ruling that the product can be given to people older than 70. The decisions follow similar endorsements from France and Germany last week as real-life data show the vaccine protects older patients as well.

Romania extends restrictions and curfew

Romania extended restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus and increased the length of a night-time curfew by an hour. It also limited the occupation capacity for hotels in ski resorts to 70%. Prime Minister Florin Citu ruled out a full lockdown for the time being.

UK accuses EU of harming vaccination effort

The UK accused senior European Union politicians of damaging its vaccination programme by making “misleading” statements that cast doubt on the AstraZeneca shot, in an escalation of post-Brexit tensions between the two sides.

Cabinet minister Grant Shapps said fewer British people had taken up the offer of shots in the UK after EU figures questioned the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine, a clear reference to remarks from French President Emmanuel Macron, among others.

Lilly antibody combo gets good results

Eli Lilly’s combination antibody therapy reduced the risk of hospitalisation or death by 87% in high-risk patients with newly diagnosed Covid-19, the company said.

The combination received emergency-use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration in February, and the results may give more confidence to doctors with qualms about insufficient evidence.

The study followed 769 high-risk patients of 12 and above. Four of 511 patients on the therapy were hospitalised, with no deaths, compared with 15 hospitalisations, including four deaths, among 258 patients on placebo, the company said. The results suggest that the therapy maintained its effects even as variants have emerged, said Lilly Chief Scientific Officer Daniel Skovronsky. DM

— With assistance by Marthe Fourcade, Milda Seputyte, Helene Fouquet, Mariajose Vera, Flavia Krause-Jackson, Paul Richardson, Kamlesh Bhuckory, Joao Lima, Andra Timu, Leo Laikola, Dara Doyle, Emma Court, Iain Rogers, Josh Wingrove, Monique Vanek, Henry Goldman, and Misha Savic.


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