Biden doubles vaccination target; South Africa registers 1,554 new cases

Biden doubles vaccination target; South Africa registers 1,554 new cases
(Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

South Africa registered 1,554 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,541,563. A further 163 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 52,535.

President Joe Biden set a goal of administering 200 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of April, doubling his target for his first 100 days in office. Pfizer said that dosing has begun in a paediatric study of its Covid-19 vaccine.

California became the latest state to make vaccinations available to all adults, starting with people 50 and over starting on April 1, and those 16 and older two weeks later. Florida and North California also announced dates for vaccinating all adults before Biden’s May 1 deadline.

Covid cases in the US are rising again, reversing course after months of decline and threatening another setback in the return to normality. New York City is taking steps so that Broadway can reopen in September.

Key developments

  • Global Tracker: Cases pass 125.1 million; deaths exceed 2.7 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 486 million shots given worldwide
  • Chicago became cautionary tale of how a vaccine roll-out can go awry
  • Uncertain science behind Covid passports requires a leap of faith
  • The countries with the highest Covid mortality are all in eastern Europe
  • Ken Griffin’s pandemic had planes, Palm Beach and philanthropy

Romania to expand curfew

Romania will extend its existing curfew in areas and cities most affected by the recent spike in coronavirus cases on weekends, Deputy Interior Minister Raed Arafat said on Thursday.

Travel inside cities and towns with a high Covid-19 infection rate will be banned from 8pm on weekends instead of 10pm. Shopping hours will also be limited until 6pm in the most affected areas.

France widens lockdown

France extended a lockdown to three additional regions as the government wrestles with a surge in coronavirus cases that are increasingly affecting younger people.

For four weeks starting this weekend, the Nievre, Rhone and Aube areas will follow Paris and several other regions with tougher restrictions on movement, Health Minister Olivier Veran told a news conference on Thursday. A 7pm curfew also remains in place.

California to lower vaccine age to 50

California will make coronavirus vaccinations available to all people aged 50 and over starting on April 1 as the supply of doses flowing to the state finally ramps up, Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday.

People who are 16 and older will be able to make vaccination appointments starting on April 15, he said.

California, with a population of nearly 40 million people, has been receiving about 1.8 million vaccine doses per week. But the state expects that number to grow to 2.5 million doses per week for the first half of April and three million per week for the month’s second half.

North Carolina to open shots to all adults

North Carolina will open up vaccinations to all adults starting on April 7, Governor Roy Cooper said, calling it the “biggest change” to the timeline for the shots.

On March 31, the state will also open up these inoculations to essential workers in industries such as hospitality and retail, chemical and pharmaceutical, and construction, he said.

Biden doubles vaccine goal

President Joe Biden set a goal of administering 200 million Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of April, doubling his target for his first 100 days in office.

The US is on pace to meet the new goal, Biden said in opening remarks at his first formal news conference on Thursday.

“I know it’s ambitious,” Biden said at the White House. “I believe we can do it.”

Chile imposes lockdown on capital

Chile’s government will impose a full lockdown in the city of Santiago and neighbouring districts as it tries to slow down the spread of a new wave of Covid-19 in the country.

The lockdown will begin on Saturday and includes 14 districts that had not been shut down yet, the Health Ministry said in a televised press conference. The government also reported that 7,023 new cases were detected on Wednesday, the second highest number since the beginning of the pandemic.

EU reveals huge vaccine exports

The European Union has exported more Covid vaccines to the rest of the world than it’s administered at home, piling more pressure on governments seeking to justify prolonged lockdowns to their increasingly exasperated voters.

The numbers were revealed to EU leaders as they discussed how to turn around their vaccination campaign and deal with a new flare-up in infections. They showed the EU has exported 77 million shots since December 1, versus 62 million doses dispensed. Out of those, 21 million were shipped to the UK, an EU official said.

UK approves plan to lift lockdown

Prime Minister Boris Johnson won the support of Parliament for his plan to bring England slowly out of lockdown, even as some members of his own Conservative Party protested continued curbs to civil liberties and frustration at the ongoing damage to the economy.

Members of Parliament voted 484 to 76 to extend the government’s coronavirus emergency powers, with Johnson’s “roadmap” for easing lockdown also entering law. Key dates include the outdoor mixing of households on March 29, the reopening of non-essential shops from April 12 at the earliest, and the potential for all social-distancing rules to be lifted on June 21.

US Covid cases are rising again

Covid cases in the US are rising again, reversing course after months of decline and threatening another setback in the return to normality.

The seven-day average of new cases jumped to 57,695 on Wednesday, 9.5% above the prior week, marking the biggest increase since January 12, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

While that’s a fraction of the mid-January peak, the change in direction is worrisome as states fling open their economies, variant cases multiply and the country races to vaccinate as many people as possible to stave off another wave.

Kenya rushes to vaccinate elderly

Kenya decided to immediately start vaccinating people who are 58 years and older against Covid-19 as a third wave of infections stretched hospitals in the East African nation.

The announcement by the Health Ministry expands the first phase of inoculation that started on March 5, targeting 1.25 million frontline workers, including health and security personnel and teachers. The surge over the past couple of weeks, with a positivity rate peaking at 22.1%, necessitated the need to start vaccinating the elderly, according to the government.

Rutgers to require student vaccines

Rutgers University is requiring proof of the Covid-19 vaccine for students to enroll in the fall semester, with limited exemptions. Students taking fully remote programmes won’t be required to be vaccinated, the New Brunswick, New Jersey-based school said in a statement on Thursday.

Pfizer begins trial for children

Pfizer said that dosing has begun in a paediatric study of its Covid-19 vaccine, a trial that will ultimately involve more than 4,500 children under age 12.

The two-part trial will first study three dose levels in 144 children from age six months to 11 years, the company said in a statement on Thursday. Once an appropriate dose is established for each of three age groups, 4,500 more kids in the US and Europe will be enrolled in the second part of the trial, which will look at safety tolerability and immunogenicity of the vaccine, the company said.

AstraZeneca eyes Poland for production

AstraZeneca is in early discussions with Polish authorities and companies about the possibility of producing its vaccine in the country, PAP newswire reported, citing the drugmaker’s representative, Piotr Najbuk. The talks are at an early stage, he said.

Swiss expect 8.1 million doses

Switzerland expects to have received 8.1 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine for its population of 8.6 million between April and the end of July. The lion’s share of the country’s inoculations are Moderna and Pfizer/BioNtech products. Officials in Bern said on Thursday they had been assured by drugmakers that the deliveries will take place as scheduled.

New York City moving to reopen Broadway

New York City is taking steps so that Broadway can reopen in September, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The city is developing plans to manage crowds before and after shows. Over the next month, it will set up a vaccination site dedicated for theatre workers, and is planning pop-up testing sites near the venues, De Blasio said on Thursday during a press briefing.

“The show must go on,” De Blasio said.

Oxford to start nasal spray trial

Oxford has started looking for participants to take part in an early-stage trial for a nasal spray version of the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with AstraZeneca, the Financial Times reported, citing documents it has seen. The trials could begin as early as next week and the initial study will last around four months.

Vaccines track with education level

Adults with a bachelor’s degree or higher are more likely to have received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, according to a new study from Georgetown University.

Prioritised healthcare workers are more likely to have a bachelor’s degree.

Black and Latino workers are overrepresented in many essential frontline jobs but are underrepresented in the healthcare professional occupations in which workers qualified earliest for vaccine eligibility, according to the study by the school’s Center on Education and the Workforce.

Florida lowers vaccine age to 40

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said all Floridians age 40 and over can sign up to get a Covid-19 vaccine starting on Monday. All Floridians age 18 and up will be eligible starting the following Monday, April 5, the governor wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

Sweden eases Astra suspension

Sweden restarted vaccinations with AstraZeneca’s vaccine, but only to people 65 and older. The nation will keep the suspension for people younger than 65 years to further review safety data on safety.

Finland braces for lockdown

Finns are now being told to stay at home, for the first time this pandemic, as the government seeks to stem the spread of coronavirus mutations and prevent excess strain on healthcare.

Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s government on Thursday proposed a lockdown that would allow people to leave their homes for necessities, such as food and doctor’s appointments, or to exercise outdoors with up to two people not members of their household.

AstraZeneca halt extended in Denmark

Denmark is extending its suspension of AstraZeneca’s vaccine for another three weeks, amid concerns it might be linked to blood clots.

The decision was revealed to lawmakers at a closed-door meeting in Copenhagen on Thursday, according to a person close to the talks.

Sputnik V data challenged

A research group is preparing to publish a paper criticising the trial data from Sputnik V, Russia’s most widely available Covid-19 vaccine, Swedish business daily Dagens Industri reported.

The criticism centers on a Sputnik publication in The Lancet last month and is authored by 10 signatories from around the world including Russia, the newspaper said.

“They come up with very strange results,” Professor Enrico Bucci from Temple University in the US told the newspaper.

Astra reports lower efficacy

AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine was 76% effective in a US study – a slightly downgraded estimate based on the latest data collected from a contentious clinical trial, and a twist that creates another layer of uncertainty for the shots.

The company issued the new analysis after an independent monitoring board expressed concern that the initial efficacy of 79% relied on outdated information. The earlier reading was based on data gathered through February 17. The data glitch may delay the vaccine’s ability to win US regulatory clearance, though it’ll probably still play a crucial role in halting the pandemic. DM

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Jonathan Levin, Janet Lorin, Deana Kjuka, Corinne Gretler, Catherine Bosley, Piotr Skolimowski, Irina Vilcu, Dara Doyle, Luke McGrath, James Regan, and David R Baker.


"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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