New York eases travel quarantine; SA deaths rise by 95 to 51,110

New York eases travel quarantine; SA deaths rise by 95 to 51,110
A Covid-19 vaccine is administered at a private vaccination centre at the Rylands Civic Centre in Cape Town on 5 March 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Ziyaad Douglas)

South Africa registered 1,474 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,525,648. A further 95 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the total to 51,110 deaths.

US President Joe Biden on Thursday signed the $1.9-trillion pandemic-relief bill into law. He addressed the nation to mark the day a year ago when the spread of coronavirus forced Americans into isolation, collapsing the economy and portending more than a half-million deaths.

New York state will no longer require domestic travellers to quarantine, though rules remain in place for international visitors. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the vaccine could be open to all adults in April. North Carolina’s legislature backed a plan to reopen schools.

AstraZeneca will deliver less than half the planned number of vaccines to the European Union in the second quarter after attempts to tap the company’s global supply chain were unsuccessful. Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine won clearance from the EU’s drugs regulator.

Key developments

Biden signs $1.9-trillion stimulus

US President Joe Biden on Thursday signed the $1.9-trillion pandemic-relief bill into law, capping his first major legislative achievement and allowing aid to flow to tens of millions of individuals, businesses and state and local governments.

He addressed a pandemic-weary nation to mark the day a year ago when the spread of coronavirus forced Americans into isolation, swiftly collapsing the economy and portending more than a half-million deaths.

Biden’s prime-time remarks acknowledged the personal and collective struggles of the past 12 months while looking ahead to a more promising future in which enough of the US population is vaccinated to minimise the risk of the virus.

Florida predicts shots for all adults

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis plans to open up Covid-19 vaccines to residents 55 and up “soon”, and they could be available to all adults at some point next month.

DeSantis had already announced he would expand eligibility by five years to everyone 60 and over starting on Monday. But speaking on Thursday in Lake City, Florida, he suggested further expansion was on the horizon. He said the state didn’t anticipate any extra Johnson & Johnson vaccine for this week or next, but probably the week starting on 21 March.

“If the supply floodgates really open up, we could be in a position sometime in April where it’s just available and people can get it,” he said.

Paris spread ‘worrying’

One year after Europe first locked down, French authorities are fighting to avoid imposing new restrictions on Paris to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“The pandemic is particularly worrying in the Paris region,” French Health Minister Olivier Veran told a weekly briefing in Paris on Thursday. The virus is spreading at a pace of 350 cases per 100,000 inhabitants weekly, he said.

Chile cracks down

Chile announced a series of new restrictions aimed at slowing a surge in coronavirus cases that has tarnished one of the world’s fastest vaccine roll-outs.

All neighbourhoods in the Santiago metropolitan region, which is home to 40% of the nation’s population, will be under strict weekend quarantines as of 13 March, according to a Health Ministry announcement on Thursday. A nationwide nightly curfew will be extended, stores will be forced to close earlier and gyms and casinos will face new operating rules.

Astra deliveries to EU cut in half

AstraZeneca will deliver fewer than half the planned number of Covid-19 vaccines to the European Union in the second quarter after attempts to tap the company’s global supply chain were unsuccessful.

The pharmaceutical giant will deliver about 76 million out of a planned 180 million doses to the bloc in the three-month period through June, according to data based on delivery projections for one member state seen by Bloomberg. The national figures were extrapolated to the EU level based on the European Commission’s methodology for distributing supplies.

Lamont seeks vaccine incentives

With the US supply ramping up, “we’ve really got to think about how we get the final 30% of the people vaccinated,” Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont said in an interview.

“They’re often people of colour, or just anti-vaxxer, vaccine hesitators,” Lamont said on Bloomberg Television’s Balance of Power on Thursday. “We may have to stimulate demand a little bit.

“A lot of younger people may say, ‘Hey, it’s over.’ That’s not good,” he said. Incentives could include restaurants saying “come on in” to people who can show proof of vaccination, Lamont said.

Puerto Rico relaxes restrictions

Puerto Rico is allowing theatres to reopen for the first time since March 2020 at 30% capacity, and allowing movie theatres and restaurants to run at 50% capacity, as the US territory continues to loosen its Covid-19 protocols. Visits to prisons and nursing homes will also be allowed for the first time in a year. 

Even so, a midnight to 5am curfew remains in effect, and masks and social distancing are mandatory. Bars and discos also remain closed, likely to put a damper on tourism over Spring Break and the Easter holidays. The new rules, announced on Thursday by Governor Pedro Pierluisi, will go into effect on Monday and run to April 11.

North Carolina to reopen schools

North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature completed passing a bill on Thursday to reopen schools, a day after reaching a deal with Democratic governor Roy Cooper on the contentious issue. Elementary schools will return to full-time in-person learning three weeks after Cooper signs the bill into law. Local districts will decide on whether middle and high schools will return to full in-person learning. 

“It’s critical to get our students back into the classroom,” Cooper said in a video interview with Politico, though he noted that he retains control to modify local plans for safety reasons.

New York eases traveller quarantine

Domestic travellers will no longer be required to quarantine after entering New York from another US state or territory beginning on 1 April, Governor Andrew Cuomo said. The state still recommends quarantine after domestic travel as a precaution. Mandatory quarantine remains in effect for international travellers.

US jobless claims fall

Applications for US jobless benefits fell by more than forecast last week to the lowest since early November. Initial claims in regular state programmes fell by 42,000 to 712,000 in the week ended 6 March, Labor Department data showed on Thursday.

The initial claims figures suggest that more vaccines and fewer business restrictions are helping to slow the rate of job cuts. States including Texas, Mississippi and Wyoming have recently announced plans to relax pandemic-related rules, such as capacity limits for dining and gatherings, which may boost hiring in the coming weeks.

States with the largest decline in initial claims last week included New York, Texas and Mississippi. Meanwhile, California posted the largest increase.

EU regulator clears J&J vaccine

Johnson & Johnson’s coronavirus vaccine won clearance from the European Union’s drugs regulator, paving the way for the first single-injection shot to help bolster the region’s sluggish vaccination campaign. The European Commission must now rubber-stamp the decision before the product can be distributed.

Millions of vaccines in EU unused

More than 11.5 million Covid vaccine doses that have been delivered to European Union countries have not yet been used, official figures showed. The number of shots sent by manufacturers now totals 54.2 million, compared with 46 million a week previously. The data covers the week to March 7.

According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, 8.2% of adults have received one shot of the vaccine, an increase from 6.5% over the week, with 3.7% being fully vaccinated, up from 3.1%.

UK says Astra vaccine is safe

“The vaccine is safe and it is effective,” UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman Jamie Davies said on a call with reporters on Thursday, when asked for a response to Denmark suspending the use of the vaccine. 

The UK health regulator said reports of blood clots have not been confirmed as being caused by the Astra vaccine, adding that “people should still go and get their Covid-19 vaccine when asked to do so”.

Italy, Norway and Iceland joined Denmark and other EU countries in suspending the AstraZeneca vaccine until concerns about blood clots have been further investigated. Iceland’s chief epidemiologist said he expects that it will be cleared again in a few days.

Pfizer blocks most spread in study

Pfizer and BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine blocked 94% of asymptomatic infections in an Israeli study that further builds the case for the shot’s overwhelming effectiveness against the virus. The vaccine stopped 97% of symptomatic cases, hospitalisations and deaths, the companies and the Israeli Ministry of Health said on Thursday.

Denmark suspends Astra vaccine

Denmark joined other European countries in suspending use of a batch of Astra’s vaccine due to concerns about blood clots, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said in a tweet on Thursday. 

The suspension is a “precautionary” measure and “currently we are not able to conclude if there is a connection,” the minister said. Shares in AstraZeneca fell as much as 2.7%.

The European Medicines Agency has said it’s investigating but has found no evidence linking the vaccine to clotting. The batch number ABV5300 was delivered to 17 EU countries, including Denmark, and comprises one million doses. Austria, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Latvia have also suspended this batch as a precautionary measure, while a full investigation continues.

As of 9 March, 22 cases of thromboembolic events had been reported among the three million people vaccinated with Astra’s vaccine in Europe.

Heathrow traffic lowest since 1966

London’s Heathrow Airport monthly passenger numbers fell below 500,000 in February, the lowest since 1966, due to the ban on all but essential travel, blanket quarantine, pre-departure and post-arrival testing, according to a statement on Thursday. The airport is working with the government’s task force to facilitate the safe restart of international travel after May 17.

German cases most since January

Cases in Germany rose the most since 21 January, and the country’s seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 people climbed to the highest in more than a month. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has started lifting some lockdown restrictions, with schools partially reopening and hairdressers allowed to resume business, and has mapped out a path for a possible further easing linked to the infection rate.

India numbers jump

India reported 22,854 new infections on Thursday – the biggest one-day jump in 2021 – as the Asian nation sees a fresh spurt in states such as Maharashtra. This has triggered fears of tighter regional restrictions and threatens to thwart a nascent recovery in the Indian economy. The total tally is now 11.29 million cases, while the death toll is at 158,189, government data show. More than 25 million vaccine doses have been administered in India.

Hong Kong hit by new outbreak

A coronavirus outbreak at a Hong Kong gym has spread to international schools and other fitness centres, while positive cases also appeared in the banking community just as the city was emerging from a prolonged round of social restrictions and venue closures.

There are at least 17 confirmed cases and 30 preliminary cases connected to the gym, the government said on Thursday. The government may consider tightening curbs again, Under Secretary for Food and Health Chui Tak-yi said at a briefing. DM

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Erin McClam, Jim Wyss, and Jonathan Levin.


"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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