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Biden marks vaccine milestone; Paris locks down; South...

Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

Biden marks vaccine milestone; Paris locks down; South Africa reports 90 deaths

Healthcare workers from Prague Ambulance Service transport a Covid-19 patient to Semily Hospital after transfer from overloaded Ceska Lipa Hospital, in Semily, Czech Republic, 18 March 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Martin Divisek)
By Bloomberg
18 Mar 2021 0

South Africa registered 1,464 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,533,961. A further 90 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 51,724.

President Joe Biden announced the US on Friday will clinch his goal of administering 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots in the first 100 days of his presidency, reaching the mark six weeks ahead of time.

The Paris area faces a four-week lockdown starting on Friday to contain what it called a third wave of the coronavirus epidemic. European Union nations, including Germany, France and Italy, will all restart the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine after the EU’s drug regulator said it’s safe to use, though it warned it can’t completely rule out a link to blood clotting side effects.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said concert venues and baseball games will begin again this spring, ushering in what he called a rebirth of the state as Covid-19 rates drop and vaccinations increase.

Key developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases pass 121.5 million; deaths top 2.68 million
  • US to reach 100 million vaccinations goal five weeks early
  • Elderly face higher risk of reinfection after Covid, study shows
  • Supply of Covid swabs depends on two cousins who hate each other
  • Vaccine populism is a game Europe can’t afford: Lionel Laurent

Biden marks vaccine milestone 

President Joe Biden announced the US on Friday will clinch his goal of administering 100 million Covid-19 vaccine shots in the first 100 days of his presidency, reaching the mark six weeks ahead of time.

“I’m proud to announce that tomorrow, 58 days into our administration, we will have met my goal of administering 100 million shots to our fellow Americans. That’s weeks ahead of schedule,” Biden said, speaking on Thursday at the White House.

The US recorded 2.7 million more doses on Thursday, pushing the cumulative total to 115.7 million shots given, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As of data reported on inauguration day, the US had given about 16.5 million doses.

Ontario leader grateful for shots

Rarely at a loss for words, Ontario Premier Doug Ford was almost overcome with gratitude after learning of the Biden administration’s plan to send 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine to Canada.

“God bless America, they’re coming to our rescue, thank God!” Ford exclaimed during a news conference on Thursday after a local reporter asked about a Bloomberg report on the vaccine plan. “President Biden, thank you.”

New cases of Covid-19 have been creeping higher in Canada’s most populous province as vaccination efforts have been slowed by lack of supply.

France plans lockdown in Paris area

France is locking down the Paris area as it suffers to contain a third wave of the coronavirus epidemic, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced.

In a bid to contain the resurgence in cases, only essential businesses and schools will stay open, he said on Thursday. The measures will start from midnight on Friday and will remain in place for four weeks.

Biden to share Astra doses

President Joe Biden’s administration plans to send about four million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine to neighbouring Mexico and Canada, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

The deal emerged alongside an announcement by Mexico that it would crack down on the flow of migrants across the US border.

The vaccine export plan is under assessment, Psaki said, and would see the US send Mexico 2.5 million doses and Canada 1.5 million doses. It would represent the first known US exports of domestically produced vaccines.

EU declares Astra shot safe

The European Union’s drug regulator said AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine is safe to use, but warned it can’t completely rule out a link between the shot and blood clotting side effects.

At a briefing on Thursday, officials at the European Medicines Agency emphasised repeatedly that the vaccine is “safe and effective,” and the benefits outweigh the risks. The comments followed a review after several European countries suspended Astra shots after several cases emerged.

The EMA said there were seven cases of blood clots in multiple vessels, and 18 cases of a type of cerebral vein clotting that’s hard to treat, out of about 20 million inoculations. While describing the cases as “rare,” it’s recommending that a warning is added to the shot to make sure the public is better informed.

Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Bulgaria are among the European nations saying they would resume AstraZeneca’s vaccination, while Norway and Sweden will decide after conducting their own reviews.

Utah, Illinois, Maryland drop vaccine age

Utah said it would open eligibility for vaccines to people 16 years and older. Illinois said it would do so for all of the state except Chicago, which will make its own rules.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox said in a news briefing that expanded eligibility will start on 24 March.

Illinois Governor JB Pritzker said in an emailed statement that the change would take effect on 12 April. Chicago estimates that it will open up vaccines to adults with underlying medical conditions on 29 March and all adults on 31 May.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said that all people 16 and older with underlying medical conditions would become eligible on 30 March and all adults “no later” than 27 April.

Italy cases slow

Italy reported 24,935 cases on Thursday, down 3% from a week earlier. That marks the first decline in a month and suggests the latest resurgence in infections in the country may have peaked. The country had 423 fatalities linked to Covid-19, down from 431 on Wednesday, while the number of patients in intensive care units climbed again, to 3,333. In some regions such as Lombardy, ICU occupancy rates are above 50%.

Denmark reports 10 clotting cases

The Danish Medicines Agency said on Thursday it has 10 reports of blood clots occurring after vaccination with the AstraZeneca shot, one ending in death.

“It cannot be concluded whether there may be a connection with the vaccine, as studies have not been completed,” the agency said. More than 140,000 Danes have received the AstraZeneca vaccination.

NY concerts, baseball to reopen

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said concert venues and baseball games will resume this spring, ushering in what he called a rebirth of the state as Covid-19 rates drop and vaccinations increase across the state.

Cuomo, facing growing calls for his resignation by members of his party and a legislative impeachment investigation over sexual harassment claims and accusations of covering up Covid nursing home deaths, has held a series of briefings in recent days focused on vaccine distribution and overturning Covid restrictions.

“It’s spring. The weather changes. It’s a whole new look at life for New York,” Cuomo said during the Thursday briefing.

Mexico seizes smuggled vials

Mexican authorities have seized 1,155 vials that they claim contained Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines, inside a small plane at a Campeche airport.

The private plane was scheduled to fly to Honduras. The Mexican government said the vials were concealed inside two coolers filled with soft drinks and candies. They estimated vials contained 5,775 vaccine doses.

NYC not consulted on gym rules

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio accused Governor Andrew Cuomo of making decisions around lifting the state’s Covid-19 restrictions based on political reasons, rather than on underlying data. He said the governor rescinded a ban on group fitness this week without consulting the city or its health officials.

“Is this being done based on what the data and science is telling us, or is this being done for political reasons? Because it sure as hell looks like a lot of these decisions are being made by the governor for his political needs,” De Blasio said in a Thursday virus briefing.

Maine cases accelerate

Maine reported 246 new cases on Thursday, the most in more than a month amid an uptick of infections over the past few weeks. People in their 20s account for the most cases since early February, about 18%, state data show, followed by people in their 50s, who make up 15%. The most vulnerable, people in the 70s and 80s, account for less than 12%. The state has given more than half a million doses of vaccine, mostly to people between 60 and 80.

Pandemic shrank middle class

The global middle class shrank for the first time in decades in 2020 because of the Covid-19 pandemic, with almost two thirds of households in developing economies reporting they suffered a loss in income, according to two new estimates based on World Bank data.

In a study published on Thursday, researchers at the non-partisan Pew Research Center found that the ranks of the global middle class — those earning $10-$50 a day — fell by 90 million people to almost 2.5 billion last year. That helped swell the ranks of the poor, or those living on less than $2 a day, by 131 million, Pew estimated.

UK doses delayed

A delayed shipment of AstraZeneca’s vaccine from India and a batch requiring re-testing are behind a cut in the UK’s available supplies, the first major interruption in Britain’s vaccine roll-out.

Vaccine doses made by one of Astra’s manufacturing partners, the Serum Institute of India, have been stalled, and another 1.7 million doses have been kept back in the past week for further checks on their stability, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock told parliament in a statement Thursday.

Norway makes clotting finding

An investigation at Rikshospitalet in Oslo has found that an immune response caused the blood clots in three health workers after they received the AstraZeneca vaccine, Pal Andre Holme, the haematologist leading the probe, said on Thursday.

“The findings support our hypothesis that we launched quite early that these patients have had a powerful immune response which resulted in, among other things, the formation of antibodies, which can ignite the platelets and thus give a thrombus,” Holme told reporters.

The investigation hasn’t yet been able to conclude why only some people have this response.

Vaccines protect against Brazil strain

AstraZeneca’s and Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccines may help protect patients from the coronavirus variant that emerged in Brazil, scientists said in a study that may alleviate some concerns about their role in slowing the pandemic.

Laboratory experiments indicate that the shots are about as effective against the Brazil variant as another that surfaced in the UK, which has already been shown to be halted by existing vaccines, according to data released Thursday by the University of Oxford. Both inoculations fared a lot less well against another mutant that surfaced in South Africa.

The UK and Brazil variants rendered the vaccines about three times less effective than against earlier strains, the scientists found. Against the South Africa variant, the researchers found a nine-fold reduction in the level of neutralisation by the Astra vaccine and a 7.6-fold reduction for the Pfizer shot.

WHO warns over Europe’s spike

Europe is experiencing a third consecutive week of rising coronavirus cases and needs a bigger range of vaccines to combat the pandemic, said Hans Kluge, regional director of the World Health Organisation.

“We need to increase the portfolio of vaccines, which is why the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is eagerly awaited,” Kluge said on Thursday during an online briefing. Asked about an approval date for the Russian-developed Sputnik shot, he said the WHO is conducting a “rolling review” of that vaccine.

The WHO won’t yet endorse the issuance of Covid passports. “We do not encourage at this stage that getting a vaccination is determining if you can travel or not. As with the global shortage of vaccines, it encourages inequities,” said Kluge.

Hungary to extend lockdown

Hungary can’t ease its lockdown because of “extraordinarily bad” virus data, cabinet minister Gergely Gulyás said Thursday.

The current two-week lockdown, which forced most stores to close, expires on Monday. Hungary reported a record 207 daily deaths from Covid-19 on Thursday as the country struggles to rein in a worsening pandemic despite the second-highest vaccination rate in the European Union. DM

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Hugo Miller, Stephen Treloar, Marco Bertacche, and Anastasia Bergeron.

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