Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

New York lowers vaccine age to 30; South Africa registers 548 new cases

New York lowers vaccine age to 30; South Africa registers 548 new cases
Doctors wait in line to receive the Covid-19 vaccine at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

South Africa registered 548 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,545,979. A further 47 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the total to 52,710 deaths.

The head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned of “impending doom” as cases and deaths begin to rise again. Hospitalisations related to Covid-19 are already climbing in half of the US, the latest sign that the nation’s fourth upswing in infections is under way.

The US is on pace to soon administer three million doses of Covid-19 vaccines a day as the supply increases and states widen eligibility. New York City administered a record 478,000 doses last week. A CDC study found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and the Moderna shot effectively prevented coronavirus infections, not just illness.

The coronavirus probably spread from bats to humans via another animal, a long-awaited World Health Organization-China study found. The possibility it leaked from a lab in China is “extremely unlikely,” according to a draft of the report.

Key developments

J&J to supply 400 million doses to Africa

Johnson & Johnson agreed to supply as many as 400 million Covid-19 vaccines to the African Union (AU) through the end of next year, a boost for a continent trailing most of the world in the race to inoculate against the disease.

The US drugmaker can make available as many as 220 million doses of its single-shot candidate to the AU’s 55 member states starting in the third quarter of 2021, according to a statement on Monday. A further 180 million could then be delivered the following year.

US heads for three million doses a day

The US is on pace to soon administer three million doses a day of Covid-19 vaccine, as the supply increases and states widen eligibility.

After stalling at about 2.5 million doses a day, the rate of shots administered in the US has started to again climb. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the US reported a total of more than 10 million shots in arms — a record three-day stretch that helped push up the average rate, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

On Monday, the US reported 2.4 million doses administered. Mondays are typically slower days for vaccine reporting in the US, with the previous record on a Monday about two million doses.

Biden to say 90% of adults eligible in April

President Joe Biden plans to announce that 90% of US adults will be eligible to get a Covid-19 vaccine in three weeks and that his administration will more than double the number of pharmacies where shots are available, officials familiar with the matter said.

Biden will make the announcement Monday afternoon at the White House, marking April 19 as a new milestone in the vaccination effort. He’ll also say that nearly all US adults will be able to get a shot within 8km of their homes, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

New Jersey raises outdoor gathering limit

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said he is increasing the outdoor gathering limit, in hopes of encouraging people to convene outside.

New York lowers vaccine age to 30

New York state will make coronavirus vaccine eligibility universal by 6 April, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday. It became one of the last US states to take that step.

Vaccine eligibility will expand to those aged 30 years and older starting on Tuesday, and then will then increase to those age 16 and older the following week, Cuomo said. The news comes ahead of the federal 1 May deadline aimed to increase eligibility for all those age 16 and older.

Hospitalisations up in half of US

The seven-day average of hospital admissions with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 increased in 25 US states plus the nation’s capital and Puerto Rico last week, compared with the same period a week earlier, according to US Department of Health and Human Services data through Saturday.

Additionally, about two in three patients with laboratory-confirmed Covid-19 nationally are now younger than 65, according to data updated on Friday from Covid-Net, a surveillance network covering 14 states.

CDC chief warns of ‘impending doom’

The head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pleaded with Americans to wear masks and stick with Covid-19 mitigation measures, warning of “impending doom” as cases, hospitalisations and deaths begin to rise again.

Rochelle Walensky, speaking at a press briefing on Monday, fought back tears as she outlined a series of warning signals and said she was frightened about a looming fourth wave of Covid cases.

She said the US trajectory looks “similar” to that in the EU a few weeks ago, before spikes in cases took hold.

Pfizer, Moderna shots prevent infection

Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna effectively prevented coronavirus infections, not just illness, with substantial protection evident two weeks after the first dose, government researchers said.

Two doses of the vaccines provide as much as 90% protection against infection, according to data from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published on Monday. Earlier clinical trials had established that the shots also prevent illness, hospitalisations, and deaths.

The study adds to evidence that new vaccines made with messenger RNA technology actually reduce the spread of the virus in real-world conditions. An earlier study in Israel found a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine reduced infections by as much as 85%.

NYC administers record 478,000 doses in a week

New York City administered a record 478,000 vaccine doses last week and expects more this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. He expects to reach a total of four million doses this week.

The city and District Council 37, the largest union for city workers, held a vaccination day at Citi Field over the weekend, and the mayor said 130,000 municipal workers have been vaccinated ahead of a May 3 return to offices. New York is intensifying vaccine efforts in Asian neighbourhoods, opening a site at a Korean community centre in northeast Queens.

At the same time, the most populous US city is reporting more than 2,500 new confirmed Covid-19 cases a day, based on a seven-day average; and it had an average of 3.99 new virus-related hospital admissions per 100,000 as of March 27, the highest level in weeks.

“This crisis isn’t over yet,” De Blasio said.

Pfizer demands South Africa ministers sign pact

Pfizer is demanding that South Africa’s health and finance ministers personally sign a Covid-19 vaccine-supply agreement so that it is indemnified from any claims made against it in the country regarding the shot. 

The demand is contained in a March 24 letter from South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize to his finance counterpart, Tito Mboweni, seen by Bloomberg and confirmed by the National Treasury. Pfizer wasn’t satisfied by assurances that the signature of the country’s health director-general was sufficient to guarantee the indemnity, Mkhize said. Pfizer didn’t immediately respond to emailed queries.

Origin study finds lab leak unlikely

The coronavirus probably spread from bats to humans via another animal, according to the long-awaited results of a joint World Health Organization-China study into the origins of Covid-19.

The authors suggest that the most productive research would be to find such an animal link, saying the hypothesis of lab leaks was extremely unlikely, according to a draft of the report, which was obtained by Bloomberg News before it’s due to be published Tuesday. The scientists suggested future studies take a wider geographical approach, including Southeast Asia, and investigate susceptible animal species more closely.

Top Biden administration officials on Sunday expressed concern about the way the report was crafted, including the possibility that the Chinese government had a hand in writing it.

US cases rise for two straight weeks

Covid-19 infections rose for two straight weeks in the US, the first such increase since January, as states ease restrictions. For the seven days ending on Sunday, cases rose 17% from the prior week to about 444,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky has said she is “deeply concerned” about the changing trajectory.

American Air to resume flying most planes

American Airlines Group expects to put most of its fleet back in service in the second quarter, following “recent strength in domestic and short-haul international bookings”.

The seven-day average of net bookings as of 26 March was about 90% of the 2019 level and domestic flights are 80% full, the company said.

Abu Dhabi looks to become pharma hub

Abu Dhabi is looking to transform itself into a pharmaceutical hub, with a goal to help distribute billions of vaccine doses, Abu Dhabi Ports Chairman Falah Mohammed Al Ahbabi said at a virtual event on Monday.

The comments come after the United Arab Emirates, of which Abu Dhabi is the capital, became the first nation in the US-allied Gulf to set up a coronavirus vaccine production facility.

Hungary reopening plan ‘incomprehensible’

Doctors in Hungary, which has the world’s highest Covid-19 death rate, have rebuked the government over a plan to ease virus-related curbs as early as next week.

Hungary has had an average of 175.3 virus deaths per million people in the past seven days and coronavirus-related fatalities recorded since the start of the pandemic exceeded 20,000, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Germany not mulling full foreign travel ban

Germany’s tourism commissioner said the government is not considering a complete ban on foreign trips. A negative test requirement for travellers returning by air, which takes effect on Tuesday, will help ensure that “vacationers come back healthy,” Thomas Bareiss, who is also a deputy economy minister, said in an interview with RTL television.

Meanwhile, the leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party said Germany must urgently improve its pandemic management and foster better cooperation between federal and regional authorities to help check a new “third wave” of infections.

Iran infections jump to three-month high

Coronavirus cases in Iran spiked for a second day in the aftermath of a week-long new year’s holiday. The country recorded 9,310 new infections overnight, the highest figure since 11 December.

New Polish Covid cases grow 16% on previous week

Poland reported 16,965 new coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, a 16% increase from a week ago, as well as another record in hospitalisations from the pandemic, according to Health Ministry data.

Poland introduced new measures over the weekend to try to stem the pandemic’s third wave, which has hit East Europe particularly hard.

Thailand awaits wave of Chinese tourists

Thailand expects about two million foreign tourists, mostly Chinese and Europeans, to visit Phuket this year after the nation’s most popular resort island reopens to vaccinated visitors from1 July.

The holidaymakers may generate about 105 billion baht ($3.4-billion) in revenue in the second half, according to Vichit Prakobgosol, vice-president of the Tourism Council of Thailand.

Hong Kong to ease restrictions

Hong Kong will allow swimming pools and public beaches to reopen from Thursday and relax some other Covid-19 related social distancing rules, after the city brought a recent outbreak involving the business and expatriate community largely under control.

Mandatory hotel quarantine will be shortened to 14 days from 21 for people coming from low-risk areas including Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.  DM

— With assistance by Natasha Doff, Henry Goldman, and Keshia Clukey.

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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