Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

WHO defends AstraZeneca shots; SA registers 1,531 new cases

Members of the Tshwane Special Infectious Unit on Covid-19, wearing personal protective equipment, (pick up a suspected Covid-19 patient in Pretoria. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)
By Bloomberg
18 Mar 2021 0

South Africa registered 1,531 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,532,497. A further 74 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 51,634.

AstraZeneca’s embattled Covid-19 vaccine was defended by the World Health Organisation, which said the shot’s benefits outweigh its risks and advised resuming immunisations after more than a dozen European countries suspended them on concerns about blood clots.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen threatened to withhold vaccine exports to the UK. Almost half of all adults in the UK have had a coronavirus vaccine, as the number of first doses administered crossed 25 million.

In the US, Walt Disney plans to reopen its two California theme parks on April 30. Vaccination coverage was lower in counties with the most socially vulnerable residents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. Mexico and Canada are at the top of President Joe Biden’s list of countries to eventually receive exports of US-made coronavirus vaccines.

Key developments

New York City indoor fitness classes to resume

New York restrictions on fitness classes and curfews for casinos, movie theatres and gyms will be lifted in the coming weeks, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday.

On Monday, indoor fitness classes in New York City will be allowed at 33% capacity, with social distancing, sanitising and mask rules in place, Cuomo said during a virus briefing. The state on Monday also will be lifting restrictions in Queens, the Bronx and other zones, allowing them to once again align with the more relaxed statewide Covid restrictions.

The 11pm curfew in place for businesses including casinos, movie theatres, bowling alleys and gyms will be lifted on 5 April, Cuomo said. The curfew will remain in place for restaurants and catering halls for the time being, he said.

US studying oral, nasal vaccine delivery

Children and other patients who are afraid of needles could find protection from Covid-19 through a nasal spray or an oral version in future generations of these vaccines.

Anthony Fauci told a House panel on Wednesday that the National Institutes of Health is funding research to make it easier to administer vaccines that could eliminate the need for shots.

If successful, these inhaled or swallowed forms of Covid-19 vaccines could go a long way in protecting children. A fear of needles is common, particularly in children, and has been documented as a barrier to immunisation, according to a study led by University of Toronto professor Anna Taddio.

New Jersey to boost some indoor capacity

New Jersey will increase indoor capacity limits for restaurants, gyms and health clubs, recreational facilities and arcades and personal care businesses to 50% effective from Friday at 6am, Governor Phil Murphy said in a tweet.

Embattled New York governor gets J&J shot

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo got his Covid-19 vaccination on Wednesday in Harlem, surrounded by black leaders who heaped praise on the embattled governor. He received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Mount Neboh Baptist Church pop-up site, flanked by more than a dozen black leaders.

Cuomo, facing growing calls for his resignation by members of his own party and a legislative impeachment investigation over accusations of sexual harassment, has held briefings in recent days focused on inequity in vaccine distribution. At most of the events, which are closed to the press, he has been joined by black church leaders and lawmakers who have expressed support for the third-term Democrat.

Greece sees highest rise in cases

Greece reported the highest daily increase in Covid-19 cases since the pandemic began, with 3,465 new reported infections. Almost half the cases were found in Athens and its surrounding Attica region, where hospitals have reached their limits.

Private hospitals will contribute 550 more beds to the national health system in Attica, Greek Health Minister Vasilis Kikilias said in a Wednesday briefing. At least 200 doctors are needed to help from the private sector, he said. If doctors don’t respond within 48 hours, Kikilias said he’ll urge the prime minister to enforce an order for them to assist the healthcare system.

Almost half of UK adults have first dose

Almost half of all adults in the UK have had a coronavirus vaccine, the Department of Health said on Wednesday as the number of first doses administered crossed 25 million.

That figure is nearly halfway to the UK’s target to offer a first vaccine to all adults by the end of July. The government said in an emailed statement that it is on track to reach its goals, which also include offering a first dose to everyone 50 and older by April 15.

One of those vaccinated will soon be Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He told Parliament it “will certainly be Oxford-AstraZeneca I’ll be having”, an apparent reference to European countries who halted using the British-developed vaccine.

The Department of Health said 95% of people aged 65 and over, and one in nine clinically extremely vulnerable, have received a first jab.

Disneyland to reopen on April 30

Walt Disney plans to reopen its two California theme parks on April 30, more than a year after it shut them down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, which closed their gates on 14 March 2020, are among the last of the company’s properties to welcome back customers. While Disney’s Paris resort is still shuttered, the four theme parks in Florida have been open since July.

CDC study finds vaccine inequity in 31 states

Vaccination coverage was lower in US counties that have the highest social vulnerability, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released on Wednesday. The CDC measures social vulnerability through an index that accounts for social, economic, racial and ethnic factors.

Equity in access to vaccination hasn’t been achieved nationally, the report suggested. Vaccination disparities were observed in 31 states, according to the overall measure. The largest disparity among counties related to socioeconomic status, with a gap of 2.5 percentage points in vaccination coverage.

Five states stood out for high vaccination coverage in highly vulnerable counties across all or many measures: Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, Montana and West Virginia. The report highlighted best practices in states with high equity, including early prioritisation of minority groups, free transportation to sites and collaborations with community partners and tribal health organisations.

New York expands shot eligibility to more categories

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, in a tweet, announced an expansion of the state’s vaccine eligibility. The age cutoff remains at 60 and older.

Mexico, Canada top Biden’s list for exports

Mexico and Canada are at the top of President Joe Biden’s list of countries to eventually receive exports of US-made coronavirus vaccines, according to a US official familiar with the plans.

But Biden and administration officials have said the US will not share its vaccines until after it has enough for its own people, leaving timing for any exports unclear.

Pakistan to receive first Sputnik batch

Local partner AGP is poised to receive the first 50,000 doses of the Russian vaccine on Wednesday that will be used in the private market, according to people familiar with the matter.

Ford to let 30,000 workers stay home

Ford Motor told employees they can continue to work from home, allowing more than 30,000 to use the office only when they need to, even after the pandemic is over.

Variants threaten US progress, Fauci says

Dangerous coronavirus variants continue to threaten progress the US has made in reducing cases and immunising the population, according to the nation’s top infectious disease doctor.

“While we are cautiously optimistic about the future, we know that many challenges remain,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in prepared remarks ahead of a congressional hearing on Wednesday.

Fauci’s agency is racing to understand how emerging mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus interact with vaccines and therapies.

WHO says Astra shot’s benefits outweigh risks

The World Health Organisation said AstraZeneca’s vaccine should continue to be administered as the benefits outweigh its risks.

A WHO expert group is assessing the latest safety data and will communicate the findings once the review is completed, the agency said.

Reports of blood clots in some people who received the shots led to several EU member states pausing the use of the vaccine, risking another slowdown in the region’s inoculation campaign. The European Medicines Agency is expected to provide a definitive assessment on Thursday.

EU touts emergency powers on vaccines

Ursula von der Leyen said EU leaders should consider additional measures to secure vaccine supplies when they meet next week, including the potential use of emergency legal powers that would allow them to effectively seize control of production and distribution.

“All options are on the table. We are in the crisis of the century. I am not ruling out anything for now because we have to make sure that Europeans are vaccinated as soon as possible,” the president of the European Commission said when asked whether the EU should invoke Article 122 of the EU treaty. The clause allows the introduction of emergency measures when “severe difficulties arise in the supply of certain products”.

EU proposes vaccine passes to ease travel

The EU’s executive arm proposed the introduction of digital certificates that will offer proof their holders have been vaccinated, recovered from the illness or recently tested negative, and thus pose no significant health risks. The passes are meant to facilitate leisure trips both within the EU and from outside the bloc.

The European Commission also unveiled a plan for a coordinated lifting of lockdowns with a tier system “reflecting the epidemiological situation in each member state”.

The effort is aimed at creating a unified policy as some tourism-dependent member states threaten to unilaterally reopen to outsiders. The goal is to have the vaccine pass system in place by the middle of June, according to a draft copy of the proposal seen by Bloomberg.

Japan’s Suga seeks to lift emergency for Tokyo

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga aims to lift the state of emergency over the coronavirus in the Tokyo region as scheduled on 21 March, he told reporters, even as case numbers rise.

The final decision will come on Thursday after consultations with an expert panel, Suga said, adding his government will take measures to protect against an infection rebound. Tokyo earlier reported its highest day of coronavirus cases since 18 February. DM

— With assistance by Marthe Fourcade, Charles Daly, Eduard Gismatullin, Dong Lyu, Shinhye Kang, John Follain, Flavia Rotondi, Thomas Mulier, Stephen Treloar, Alisa Odenheimer, Piotr Skolimowski, Nikos Chrysoloras, Siddharth Vikram Philip, Isabel Reynolds, Corinne Gretler, John Tozzi, Jill R Shah, Charles Capel, Sotiris Nikas, and Keshia Clukey.

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