Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

New York lowers vaccination age to 50; South Africa registers 599 new cases

New York lowers vaccination age to 50; South Africa registers 599 new cases
A bird flies over thousands of crosses painted on the pavement at Old Town Square in Prague, Czech Republic, 22 March 2021, the first anniversary of the first Czech Covid-19 victim. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Martin Divisek)

South Africa registered 599 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,538,451. A further 85 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 52,196.

New York state is lowering its vaccination age to 50 from 60 as the pace of inoculations across the U.S. gathers speed. New Jersey will pause further rollbacks of restrictions, citing a case surge that’s the worst in the nation.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine was 79% effective in preventing Covid-19 in a US trial, which may bolster global confidence in the shot after earlier confusion over its efficacy.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’s “reassured” that the European Union doesn’t want a vaccine blockade, following reports that the bloc is ready to start withholding shots from the UK German Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed keeping lockdown restrictions in force for another four weeks. Russian President Vladimir Putin said he plans to get vaccinated on Tuesday.

Key developments

Austria keeps lockdown in most of nation

Austria cancelled plans to further reopen the economy around Easter after surging Covid cases threatened to overwhelm hospitals, especially in Vienna and the surrounding regions in the east of the country.

Arizona expands eligibility to 16 and up

Arizona joined a growing list of U.S. states that are expanding vaccine eligibility to anyone over age 16. The change, which affects Maricopa, Pima and Yuma counties, will take place Wednesday at 8am, Governor Doug Ducey said in a statement.

New York lowers vaccination age to 50

New York will lower its vaccination age to 50 from 60 on Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced in a tweet.

De Blasio cautions Cuomo on reopening

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, citing New Jersey’s reopening pause, said the city’s health officials continue to have “real disagreement with the state” over the opening of group fitness classes and cautioned Governor Andrew Cuomo not to go beyond half-capacity for indoor dining. The mayor and the governor have been embroiled in a long-simmering feud.

CDC director warns of possible surge

Americans must recommit to wearing masks and taking other Covid-19 mitigation measures to avoid a new surge of the virus in the US, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Rochelle Walensky said cases have begun to rise slightly again, while hospital admissions remain stable and deaths continue to decline. Variants, which are in some cases more contagious or more dangerous, continue to spread, she said.

Walensky repeated a warning that states are lifting restrictions too early, and called on Americans to continue to wear masks, avoid crowds and wait to travel, even if they’ve been vaccinated.

Switzerland clears J&J vaccine

Switzerland gave Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid-19 vaccine a green light, having already approved the drugs from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna. However, the Swiss government hasn’t bought any doses of J&J’s vaccine on the grounds that it would have been delivered too late. AstraZeneca’s application is also still pending after officials requested more data from late-stage trials in North America and South America.

New York City opens high schools

New York City’s high schools opened on Monday for in-person learning, bringing the last group of kids back to their classrooms in the largest public-school system in the US.

Half of the high schools are now open five days a week. But the reopening will affect only about 20% of New York’s high-school students who signed up for in-person learning when given the choice last year. The majority of the system’s one million students remain in remote learning because they hadn’t elected to return to school buildings when offered the choice in November.

Lebanon in talks on Sputnik production

Lebanon is in talks with Russia on the possibility of manufacturing the Sputnik vaccine at one of the country’s companies.

The caretaker premier held a meeting with the Russian ambassador, the caretaker industry minister and the chairman of the Beirut-based Arwan Lebanon, which seeks to manufacture the vaccine, on Monday.

Johnson doesn’t expect EU vaccine blockade

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’s “reassured” that the European Union is not seeking a vaccine blockade, as government and opposition politicians showed a rare united front on the issue. Both sides were critical of the bloc over reports it plans to restrict exports of vaccines to its former member.

”I’m reassured by talking to EU partners over the last few months that they don’t want to see blockades,” Johnson said in a pooled interview with broadcasters Monday. “That’s very, very important.”

Earlier, opposition Labour Party leader Keir Starmer told LBC radio on Monday that banning exports would not be a good idea.

The EU is ready to start withholding shots from the U.K., risking a sharp deterioration in relations with London in a bid to turn around its lacklustre vaccination campaign, according to a senior EU official. The bloc will likely reject authorisations to export AstraZeneca’s vaccines and their ingredients to the UK until the drugmaker fulfils its delivery obligations to the 27-nation bloc, the official said.

Putin to get Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he plans to get vaccinated on Tuesday, more than three months after Russia started mass inoculations to protect the population from the pandemic.

“Vaccination is of course a free choice of each individual, a personal decision of each person,” Putin said on Monday at a televised video-conference with officials and executives on boosting inoculation production. “I intend to do it tomorrow.”

New Jersey to pause reopenings as cases rise

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the state will pause further rollbacks of pandemic restrictions as its case count surges to the highest in the nation.

Capacity at New Jersey’s restaurants, gyms, salons, and other recreational facilities increased to 50% on Friday as Murphy eased rules put in place over a year ago to stem the coronavirus outbreak. The number of people allowed at gatherings has also more than doubled to 25 indoors and 50 outdoors.

French labour minister hospitalised with virus

France’s Labour Minister, Elisabeth Borne, has been hospitalised due to Covid, the French government said in a statement on Monday. Borne, who tested positive on March 14, is being monitored and is improving, the labour ministry said.

France imposed lockdowns last week on several regions, including Paris, in a bid to contain a new coronavirus wave.

Fauci says Russian shot looks ‘quite effective’

Anthony Fauci, the top US expert on infectious diseases, said the data on the Sputnik V vaccine developed in Russia looks good and leads him to believe that it’s “quite effective”.

“I’ve taken a look at some of the reports. It looks pretty good,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Monday during the Hugh Hewitt radio show.

In August 2020, Fauci said he was sceptical of the vaccine after the Russian government approved it after only two months of trials.

Merkel seeks longer, tighter lockdown

Chancellor Angela Merkel proposed extending and tightening Germany’s lockdown after Covid-19 contagion rates nearly doubled in a month, highlighting Europe’s struggles to contain the pandemic.

The plan would prolong current curbs through April 18 and calls for new measures in hard-hit areas, according to a chancellery draft seen by Bloomberg. Merkel and regional leaders will discuss the proposals on Monday as infections reach levels that would trigger more stringent measures on Europe’s biggest economy.

Germany’s rate of infections climbed to the highest level in almost two months, with the national seven-day rate of cases per 100,000 people rising to 107.3, the most since January 26, the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s health agency, said on its website.

Niger begins vaccinations with Sinopharm

Niger will begin its vaccination programme this week after receiving a donation of 400,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm vaccine. The country aims to vaccinate 60% of its population of 23 million, President Mahamadou Issoufou said when the first batch of shots was received.

Just like its West African neighbours, Niger has been largely spared from a deadly second wave of the virus, reporting 4,918 cases and 185 coronavirus-related deaths as of March 21. Niger reported its first case of Covid-19 on March 19 last year.

India to increase gap between two Astra shots

Vaccine panels in India recommended extending the gap between first and second shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine from 4-6 weeks to 6-8 weeks, after examining scientific evidence and concluding that “it appears protection is enhanced” if the second dose is administered later, according to a government statement.

IAG slips on concerns over summer travel

British Airways parent IAG led a decline in European aviation stocks on concern that another wave of infections in Europe could stymie prospects for overseas travel this summer.

IAG fell as much as 16%, the most since March 16, 2020, when lockdowns went into effect across the world, and was down 5.3% at 11:52 a.m. in London. Ryanair Holdings dropped as much as 7.4%, while EasyJet slid as much as 10%.

Pakistan plans to increase curbs

Weekly coronavirus cases in Pakistan surged the most in more than eight months, prompting the government to plan for an increase in curbs and stricter enforcement. Prime Minister Imran Khan tested positive in the past week, and Pakistan has already suspended its biggest T-20 cricket tournament.

Separately, Pakistan received its first shipment of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine last week, while CanSino Biologics’ first batch is expected this week, for use in the private market.

Russia signs Indian deal to make Sputnik V

Russia announced a deal with Virchow Biotech of India to produce of up to 200 million doses per year of its Sputnik V vaccine, with commercial production beginning later in 2021. The agreement is the third to be confirmed during March.

The deal brings total production commitments from India to more than 650 million a year once production ramps up. Though Sputnik V hasn’t yet been approved for use in India, Russia aims to use the country as a major base for exports of the vaccine as it seeks to inoculate nearly one in 10 people in the world this year.

Austria mulls pause in plan to reopen economy

Rising infection rates and hospitalisations in many regions are forcing Austria to reconsider plans to reopen sections of the economy later this week. The country’s seven-day incidence of 236 cases per 100,000 people is twice the rate of Germany’s. Only the far-western province of Vorarlberg has reduced rates below 100.

Public health officials are warning that a continued surge in transmission will quickly overwhelm intensive care facilities. Austria’s government is meeting with health officials and opposition parties on Monday in Vienna, with an announcement expected in the afternoon.

Astra-Oxford vaccine prevents 79% of cases

The vaccine from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford was 79% effective in preventing the disease in a US trial, paving the way for the shot’s potential approval.

The UK drugmaker published the first data from a study of more than 30,000 volunteers on Monday. The results are good news for older adults, who made up about a quarter of the tests, after trials last year failed to provide conclusive data for that age group due to a lack of participants over the age of 65. The vaccine was also shown to be 100% effective at preventing severe disease, death and hospitalisation.

The findings should go some way to bolstering confidence in the shot globally after confusion over the true efficacy of the vaccine and the best dosing regimen has impacted take-up, particularly in Europe.

Mass vaccination is only way out: Le Maire

Mass vaccination is the only way out of the pandemic, which forced the French government to lock down the Paris area and other regions again this month, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said. Exceptions to the lockdown restrictions, for example keeping hair salons and chocolate shops open, “help keep up the morale of the French”, Le Maire said in an interview with RTL radio. “I am not saying this is perfect.”

Greece issues order for doctors

Greece issued an order for private-sector doctors and specialists to work for the country’s national health service in the capital Athens and its surrounding Attica region given current emergency conditions related to the third wave of the pandemic, Health Minister Vasilis Kikilas said. Only a small number of doctors had responded to a government appeal for strengthening medical personnel, he said.

Philippines becomes Southeast Asia hotspot

A surge of new coronavirus cases in the Philippines has pushed the nation’s seven-day moving average for infections to the highest in Southeast Asia, surpassing Indonesia for the first time since September. Although Indonesia still has the most cases in the region, it has seen a steady decline in the pace of new infections since early February, while the Philippines has experienced a marked increase. As a result, Manila and nearby areas have been placed under tighter movement curbs for two weeks, reversing the reopening of businesses that had begun after last year’s record economic slump. DM

— With assistance by Adam Blenford, Dana Khraiche and Catherine Bosley.

Gallery

"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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