New York Assembly speaker infected; South Africa registers 510 new cases

New York Assembly speaker infected; South Africa registers 510 new cases
A teacher gives a lesson at a class on the first day of re-opening schools in Ruwa, Zimbabwe, 22 March 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Aaron Ufumeli) Bloomberg-Global-Update-23/3

South Africa registered 510 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,538,961. A further 55 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 52,251.

Pfizer said it has begun human safety testing of a new pill to treat the coronavirus that could be used at the first sign of illness. Millions more doses of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine are expected to be released after US regulators cleared the way for a contract manufacturer to help produce them.

AstraZeneca said it will release up-to-date results from the final stage trial of its vaccine within 48 hours, responding to criticism from a US science agency. The European Union and Britain edged toward breaking their deadlock over the drugmaker’s shots, while Germany will impose a hard lockdown over Easter to try to reverse a wave of infections.

The head of the World Health Organisation called recent increases in deaths and cases “truly worrying trends”.

Key developments

New York Assembly Speaker Heastie has Covid-19

New York state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie tested positive on Tuesday for the coronavirus, according to a statement from his office. The Democrat said he was feeling under the weather and experiencing “extremely mild symptoms”.

His positive test result comes in the middle of negotiations on the state’s about $193-billion spending plan for fiscal 2022, which begins on 1 April. Heastie said he plans to stay in Albany and work from his residence.

On Tuesday, the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee held its first meeting to discuss its impeachment investigation into Governor Andrew Cuomo. Heastie isn’t on that committee, but directed it to begin the probe.

Dutch lockdown extended

The lockdown in the Netherlands, including a nighttime curfew, will be extended until 20 April, Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters in The Hague. The move comes after infections rose 16% last week compared with the week before, according to health agency RIVM.

The Dutch government did, however, decide to postpone the starting time of the curfew by an hour, looking to retain backing from the Dutch public for the long-lasting, stringent measures. An advisory to not travel abroad was extended until May 15.

J&J partner Catalent approved to make vaccine

Millions more doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine are expected to be released after US regulators cleared the way for contract manufacturer Catalent to help produce them.

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a Catalent facility in Bloomington, Indiana, to make the single-dose vaccine’s active ingredient, according to people familiar with the matter. The approval is likely to be announced as soon as Tuesday.

Norway bans alcohol ahead of Easter

Norway is tightening national restrictions ahead of the Easter holiday period in an attempt to halt a third wave of contagion brought on by more infectious variants. The new measures include a ban on serving alcohol in restaurants and bars across the country and a recommendation that people keep a distance of at least 2m from one another.

Greece reports record new cases

Greece recorded 3,586 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, the highest daily increase since the start of the pandemic. The country on Monday issued an order for private-sector doctors and specialists to work for the national health service in the capital Athens and its surrounding Attica region given current emergency conditions related to the third wave of the pandemic.

On Monday, the country eased certain lockdown measures and allowed hair salons and nail parlours to reopen.

EU to scrap exemptions from export curbs

The European Union will abolish a list of more than 90 countries that are currently exempt from requiring vaccine export authorisations and will apply potential restrictions even to those pharmaceutical companies that fulfil their contracts with the bloc, a senior official said.

The European Commission will on Wednesday revise its vaccine export transparency and authorisation mechanism. The controversial tool introduced in January aims to help EU governments screen vaccine export requests, with the option to turn them down in certain cases.

Texas opening vaccines to all adults

Texas joined a growing list of US states opening vaccinations to all adults.

Pfizer begins human trials of Covid pill

Pfizer said it has begun human safety testing of a new pill to treat the coronavirus that could be used at the first sign of illness.

If it succeeds in trials, the pill could be prescribed early on in an infection to block viral replication before patients get very sick. The drug binds to an enzyme called a protease to keep the virus from replicating. Protease-inhibiting medicines have been successful in treating other types of viruses, including HIV and Hepatitis C.

The new protease inhibitor is the second such medicine Pfizer has brought into human trials to treat Covid-19. Pfizer is testing another given intravenously to hospitalised virus patients.

New York City municipal workers will return on 3 May

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said about 80,000 city workers will return to their offices beginning 3 May, a promise he outlined in his State of the City address in January.

“We’re going to have strict safety measures in place,” De Blasio said on Tuesday during a virus briefing. “It’s another step toward the full recovery of New York City.”

The city has administered more than 3.4 million vaccines and is expecting a “major boost” in supply in early April, the mayor said. All New Yorkers 50 and older are eligible to get their Covid-19 shots.

Portugal reaffirms vaccine goal

Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido reaffirmed that the country will meet a goal to administer a vaccine dose to at least 80% of people over 80 by the end of March.

“Naturally, if we had access to more vaccines we would have the possibility of vaccinating more people,” Temido told reporters.

WHO’s Tedros sees ‘truly worrying trends’

World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the recent rise in Covid-19 deaths and cases are “truly worrying trends”.

Speaking at a World Trade Organisation virtual event, Tedros urged nations to waive intellectual property rights for vaccines as a “mid- to long-term solution” to help developing countries manufacture their own shots.

Fauci: Astra probably has a very good vaccine

“The fact is this is very likely a very good vaccine,” Anthony Fauci, the top US expert on infectious diseases, said of the Astra shot in a Good Morning America interview.

Astra earlier said it will release up-to-date results from the final stage trial of the shot within 48 hours, responding to criticism from a US science agency that the drugmaker’s analysis included old information.

India speeds vaccine push amid second wave 

India’s government opened one of the biggest coronavirus immunisation campaigns to everyone over the age of 45 as the nation grapples with a case resurgence amid tensions over delayed vaccine supplies to other countries.

World is too optimistic about Covid, says expert

“This pandemic is nowhere near its end,” Jeremy Farrar, an infectious disease specialist and director of Wellcome, the UK research foundation, said at a conference of the ACT Accelerator, a programme to distribute vaccines and diagnostics to low-income countries.

“There remains, in my view, too much optimism that there will be a single magic bullet that solves it all.”

After one year, the world remains closer to the start of the pandemic than to its conclusion, as new waves take place around the world, Farrar said.

“The end to this pandemic is through science and through the equitable access to that science,” he said. “Without diagnostics, we are blind to what is happening. We do not know how the epidemic is developing and where there are pockets that remain.”

In a separate presentation, Fauci sounded a more positive tone. He said people should remain cautiously optimistic about the outlook, even as US cases plateau following recent declines.

“I don’t think that that should cause us to despair,” Fauci said in an online talk while being welcomed as an honorary fellow by the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland. “As we continue to vaccinate more and more people, which will ultimately give us control of the outbreak, we’ve got to remember we can’t just completely turn off all public health measures.”

Countries loosen visitor rules

Cyprus will open its borders starting on 1 April to visitors from Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the UK, the country’s tourism ministry said. Those with a negative test result who haven’t come into close contact with a confirmed case will be guaranteed a quarantine-free stay. Vaccinated travellers from Israel won’t need to be tested, and the same will apply to Britain starting on 1 May.

Kuwait said arrivals who have taken one of the vaccines it has approved would be exempt from hotel quarantine requirements.

Insurer lures vaccine sceptics with gift cards

In the effort to encourage sceptics to get vaccinated, one insurer hopes gift cards and cheaper hotel stays may help tip the balance.

Manulife Financial is adding the vaccination as a way to win points in its Vitality health-tracking programme, which rewards health- and life-insurance policyholders for things such as exercising, getting health screenings or taking nutrition classes online. Those points can be redeemed for rewards including gift cards, lodging discounts and less-expensive gym memberships.

Citi CEO bans Zoom on Friday, urges vacations

Citigroup CEO Jane Fraser has barred internal video calls on Fridays and encouraged vacations in an effort to combat workplace malaise brought on by the pandemic.

Fraser, who replaced Michael Corbat earlier this year, said the final day of the working week shall be known as “Zoom-Free Fridays” and designated 28 May as a holiday to be known as “Citi Reset Day”.

Kremlin hopes Putin vaccination speeds roll-out

Russian authorities hope that President Vladimir Putin’s long-awaited decision to get his first dose of a Russian Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday will help speed up the country’s inoculation rate, which has fallen short of initial targets.

“We’re counting on the pace of vaccination accelerating,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call, noting that production is expected to pick up in the coming weeks. DM

— With assistance by Tom Redmond, Marthe Fourcade, Kateryna Choursina, Thomas Mulier, Bryce Baschuk, Paul Tugwell, Stephen Treloar, Diederik Baazil, and Keshia Clukey.


"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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