US deaths fall; South Africa registers further 1,006 cases

US deaths fall; South Africa registers further 1,006 cases
Dancers of the Kosovo's Ballet perform in Pristina, Kosovo, during a rehersal amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Valdrin Xhemaj)

South Africa registered 1,006 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,529,420. A further 65 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the total to 51,326 deaths.

The weekly US Covid-19 death toll fell to a four-month low and new infections declined further. Reluctance to get vaccinated, particularly among Republican men, is one of the biggest risks to virus control efforts, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said.

AstraZeneca said a “careful” review of data from more than 17 million people vaccinated shows no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism or blood clotting. Ireland’s health minister recommended temporarily suspending use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, as a growing number of countries halt shots over safety fears.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blamed Governor Andrew Cuomo for the city’s shortage of vaccines, saying people from “the suburbs, surrounding states” are permitted to get vaccinated there. He said it was another reason the embattled governor should resign.

Key developments

Gottlieb says NYC trends ‘concerning’

There’s reason to be “concerned” about the virus trends in New York City, more so than many other parts of the country, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.

The New York variant, along with the B.1.1.7 variant first discovered in the UK, is pushing cases back up in one of the original Covid-19 epicentres in the US, Gottlieb said on CBS.

On a positive note, Europe — where infections are rising once more in several countries — is no longer a bellwether of Covid spread in the US, he said, because of the level of prior infections in the US “and the fact that we’re vaccinating aggressively”.

“We’re in a different situation than Europe because of the vaccine-induced immunity that we’re getting into the population,” he said.

AstraZeneca says vaccine is safe

AstraZeneca said a “careful” review of all available data of the more than 17 million people in the European Union and the UK it has vaccinated so far against Covid-19 shows no evidence of an increased risk of pulmonary embolism, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or thrombocytopenia.

The company says it is continually monitoring the safety of its vaccine.

Ireland PM says too early to guess about US travel

Ireland’s top official says it’s “too early to say” if the US ban on most travel from Europe will be lifted this summer. Europe has a “significant journey still to go” on its coronavirus vaccines and on tamping down the more transmissible UK variant, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said on CBS.

“As the vaccination programme rolls out, I believe opportunities will arise, but it’s just far too early to say yet,” he said.

France won’t halt Astra shots

France won’t halt AstraZeneca’s vaccines’ use, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Twitch, Amazon’s social media, saying health authorities don’t have evidence of the drug’s potential risks. Austria, Denmark, Italy and Norway suspended the use of the vaccines amid concerns of side effects while the World Health Organisation called for immunisations with it.

Dutch protest against virus restrictions

About 2,000 people protested against the Netherlands’ virus restrictions as the nation heads into general elections, the Associated Press reported. Police encircled a park in The Hague where the large demonstration gathered. One protester carried a set of stocks with Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s head inside with a sign saying: “If you love the Netherlands, vote them out.”

Protesters have gathered in recent weeks in Amsterdam as patience wears thin with the restrictions, which have shuttered bars, restaurants and other businesses since October.

Czech leader’s support erodes

Support for the Czech Republic’s billionaire prime minister plunged to a record low as his minority government struggles to contain one of the world’s worst coronavirus crises before October elections.

Andrej Babis’s ANO party would get 20.5% if the ballot was held now, finishing second behind the opposition Pirate Party with 22%, according to an opinion poll conducted by Kantar CZ for the public television and released on Sunday.

Eurowings expands Mallorca flights

German budget airlines Eurowings is planning 300 additional flights to Mallorca around the Easter holidays, according to a press release, after Germany’s Robert Koch Institute removed the island from its list of high-risk regions.

With travellers able to return home without mandatory quarantines and testing, Eurowings said it saw a “sudden onslaught of customers” and decided to make additional flights available starting on March 18 at airports across the country.

New York City mayor blames Cuomo for vaccine shortfall

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blamed Governor Andrew Cuomo for the city’s shortage of vaccines, saying people from “the suburbs, surrounding states” are permitted to get vaccinated there.

The mayor said the city and New York’s other municipalities need more local control over vaccine distribution, another reason he said Cuomo should resign. De Blasio, long an adversary of the governor, has already called for Cuomo to step down over allegations of sexual misconduct and covering up the number of people who died in nursing homes.

“He should resign right now,” the mayor said on Face the Nation.

Italy region suspends Astra batch after a death

A teacher in the Piedmont region of Italy died after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, causing the region to halt giving further doses as a precaution. The region resumed Astra inoculations after isolating the batch given to the teacher. Italy is among roughly a dozen countries that have curbed the use of the vaccine over concerns about possible side effects.

EU predicts enough vaccine supply

Europe’s vaccine production will meet targets as increased supplies from Pfizer offset any shortages in AstraZeneca shots, EU Industry Commissioner Thierry Breton said on Europe 1 radio. Details on a proposed vaccine certificate will be presented on March 17, he said.

French Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said the plan has to be “homogeneous” across the bloc and members must agree on the purpose of the document. France is preparing to move about 100 ICU patients from Paris to other less-hit regions, as authorities seek to avoid emergency units from being overrun.

Fauci says vaccine hesitancy a big risk

Reluctance among certain parts of the US population to receive a vaccine is one of the biggest risks to coronavirus control efforts, said Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser. His comments came when he was asked about polling showing many Republicans, especially men, don’t want a vaccine.

He continued to warn against becoming complacent in the US even as cases and hospitalisations drop sharply and the pace of vaccinations accelerates

Duke University locks down

Duke University put its undergraduates on a one-week lockdown early on Sunday after the worst outbreak “by far” since the start of the pandemic. It said that 180 students at the university in Durham, North Carolina, had tested positive and another 200 were in quarantine.

The university said the spread was driven largely by “recruitment parties” by fraternities and sororities. All classes for the school’s more than 6,000 undergraduates will be remote. Students living on campus will not be allowed to leave their residences except for essential activities, and off-campus students will largely be barred from university grounds.

US deaths reach four-month low

New US Covid-19 cases declined by almost 100,000 last week to the fewest since early October, while an average of 1,326 people died of the disease each day, data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg show. The week’s death toll of 9,284 was the lowest since mid-November.

US vaccination has expanded amid a growing supply of vaccines and a drive by President Joe Biden’s administration to help roll them out. The US vaccination rate over the past week was about 2.5 million doses per day, enough to cover 75% of the population with a two-dose shot in an estimated five months, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

Hong Kong quarantine

Hong Kong sent hundreds of people, including a playgroup of infants, into quarantine and ordered compulsory testing at about 150 locations as it tried to contain an outbreak that began in a gym in the city centre.

The city reported 24 new cases on Sunday, 10 of which are linked to the outbreak at Ursus Fitness in Sai Ying Pun, which is popular with expatriates. The number of confirmed cases linked to that has spiked to 109 since the first infection was reported on March 10 at the gym.

Poland’s deputy PM contracts virus

Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Gowin said on Sunday he had contracted the virus. The country registered 38,308 new cases over the weekend, with the death toll rising by 453 to 47,178. The nation this week expanded restrictions to two more regions, including the capital. The curbs, starting on March 15, include limiting operations of shopping malls, hotels and cinemas.

Indian cases jump most this year

Indian Covid-19 infections jumped the most this year, with confirmed cases rising by 25,154 on Saturday. The increase is concentrated in seven states, including Maharashtra, where Mumbai is located. The seven states accounted for about 88% of new cases in the past 24 hours, the government said. The country has disbursed almost 30 million vaccination doses.

Dubai breath test trial

Dubai is conducting a clinical trial on 2,500 patients to assess the accuracy of a breath test to detect the virus within one minute. The test is developed by the National University of Singapore’s Breathonix, which previously conducted a Singapore-based pilot study that involved 180 patients and achieved a sensitivity of 93% and specificity of 95% with a machine learning algorithm.

The United Arab Emirates reported 1,992 new cases on Sunday, the lowest daily figure since January 5.

Russian cases accelerate

Russia reported 10,083 new cases on Sunday, up from 9,908 a day earlier, with deaths increasing by 395. That’s the first time infections have exceeded 10,000 since March 8. The country’s total cases have reached 4.39 million, preliminary data show.

Irish authorities recommend Astra halt

Irish authorities recommended use of the AstraZeneca vaccine be halted temporarily, amid reports of “serious blood clotting events” from the Norwegian Medicines Agency, though there’s no conclusion of a link between the vaccine and the cases. The suspension has not been formally implemented yet, but the government has always followed its advisers’ recommendations up to now.

Germany infections remain high

Germany reported 10,568 new virus cases, down from about 12,700 a day earlier. State health ministers spoke out against delivery shortages of the AstraZeneca vaccine over the weekend amid concerns that it will further delay the country’s vaccination campaign.

Croatia in talks over vaccines

Croatia is in talks to buy Chinese or Russian vaccines after delays in getting expected quantities from EU-approved manufacturers, Jutarnji List reported. Potential suppliers are CanSinoBio, Sinopharm and Sinovac, as well as Russian makers of Sputnik V shots, the newspaper said. Croatia has joined some other EU states in asking for fair distribution of vaccines among the bloc’s members.

EU to roll out J&J shot in April

Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine will begin to be distributed in Europe from late April, with 200 million doses reaching the EU by the end of summer, Scientific Director Paul Stoffels told Le Journal du Dimanche. The company is teaming with other laboratories to produce its vaccine, including Sanofi Pasteur in France, he said.

Some 5.1 million people have received at least one vaccine dose so far in France, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Saturday, and the government targets 10 million by mid-April. Covid-19 deaths reached 90,315 as of Saturday, up by 174 from the previous day.

Hungary ICU patients exceed 1,000

The number of Covid-19 patients in intensive care reached a record high of 1,005 people, data released on Sunday show. It’s impossible to say when Hungary will be able to ease lockdown measures and may need another pandemic plan if a new virus strain appears, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in an interview on state radio station Kossuth.

Tokyo Olympics may be held at half spectator capacity

Tokyo Olympics organisers will consider allowing as much as 50% of spectator capacity at game venues this summer, Sankei reported. The limit for large sites would initially be set at 20,000, but could be raised to as much as half capacity if the Covid-19 situation improves, the report said.

The committee plans to set the limits by the end of April, it said. The ruling will depend on whether the government ends a state of emergency for the Tokyo area by the planned date of 21 March, a decision reportedly in the works, according to a separate Sankei report. DM

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Sophie Jackman, Oudaa Marouf, Marco Bertacche, Henry Goldman, Carolynn Look, Ros Krasny, Helene Fouquet, and Sebastian Tong.


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