CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

Fauci says US ‘precarious’; South Africa registers 1,089 new cases

By Bloomberg 18 April 2021

A woman walks among beds made out of recycled boxes, for patients suffering from Covid-19, set up at a field hospital inside a sports arena in Nong Chok district, on the outskirts of Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Diego Azubel)

South Africa registered 1,089 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,566,769. A further 25 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 53,736.

The US is “in somewhat of a precarious position” with a seven-day average of more than 60,000 new Covid-19 infections per day, though vaccinations will bring the number down, said Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser. He also said a decision on how to resume vaccinating Americans with the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus shot will probably come by Friday.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said the outbreak in her hard-hit state may be easing, though she worries that demand for the vaccine may also be slowing. France’s President Emmanuel Macron said US citizens will be able to travel there again in the summer with a “special pass” for those who are vaccinated.

India reported another daily record of new infections. Turkey reached record deaths amid an increase in critically ill young people. Israel lifted a regulation requiring residents to wear masks outdoors.

Key developments

Half of US adults have had at least one dose

Half of Americans 18 years or older have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Sunday. About 32% of adults have been fully vaccinated.

Another 3.5 million doses were reported on Sunday, as the seven-day average dipped slightly to 3.19 million doses, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. Most states have opened shots up to all people 16 years and older, and some are reporting a growing surplus of unused vaccine. Total doses administered are 209 million. 

New York positive tests fall

New York state’s rate of positive tests dipped to 2.35%, the lowest since 7 November, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. Hospitalisations in the state, once stubbornly high, have dropped to fewer than 4,000, and cases and deaths are trending downward. Another 35 people died, the fewest since November 22.

More than 41% of New Yorkers have had at least one dose of vaccine, and 28% are fully vaccinated, the governor said. More than 13 million vaccines have been administered.

Turkey reaches record deaths

Turkey reported 318 fatalities on Sunday, a 10% rise from the previous day and the highest figure since the start of the pandemic.

As the number of new cases continues to hover among the highest in the world, an expert warned about the surge in the number of critically ill younger people.

Sunday’s death toll raised total fatalities to 35,926, official data show. Social distancing measures announced on April 13 have “started to decrease the speed of the increase”, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said in a tweet. However, the nation ranks as the third in the number of daily cases, behind India and Brazil.

Gottlieb says logistics are key with J&J sidelined

“Better logistics” will be key to keeping the US vaccination momentum rolling while the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot remains sidelined, said Scott Gottlieb, former head of the US Food and Drug Administration.

“The challenge now is that we’re going to have to set up better logistics to try and reach communities we know are hard to reach,” Gottlieb said on CBS’s Face the Nation. The J&J shot has been seen as an important part of the national strategy because it’s one-and-done and doesn’t need special storage equipment.

Still, he agreed with Biden adviser Anthony Fauci that “the J&J vaccine will be back on the market in a reasonable period of time – hopefully this week.”

Michigan surge may be easing

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer said cases may be slowing in her state, which has been hit hard by the virus variant first detected in the UK and has the most per-capita Covid infections in the US.

While Michigan is starting to see “the beginning of what could be a slowdown”, she expressed concern about getting people vaccinated. “We are going to see, I think, a moment where supply outweighs demand,” Whitmer said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

The Democratic governor suggested she partly blames opposition by state Republicans for the surge, saying she doesn’t “have all of the exact same tools” to stem the outbreak as at the start of the pandemic. “And that’s why we’re imploring people to take this seriously, mask up, get tested.”

Hong Kong bans flights from Asia hotspots

Hong Kong will ban flights from India, Pakistan and the Philippines for 14 days starting on 20 April, the government said in a statement on Sunday.

A circuit-breaker arrangement is triggered for each of the countries as there had been five or more arrivals with the N501Y mutant coronavirus strain within seven days, the government said. Under the mechanism, the three countries will be designated as “extremely high-risk”.

Macron says France open soon to US

French President Emmanuel Macron said US citizens will be able to travel to the country again in the summer. France is working on a “special pass” to allow Americans who are vaccinated to enter the country, in addition to an ongoing EU initiative to create certificates for European citizens to travel, he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

Macron also said Russia’s Sputnik vaccine was not a “solution” to accelerate France’s vaccination campaign because it will “take time” for the European Medicine Agency to approve and produce the vaccine in Europe.

US at precarious point, Fauci says

The US is “in somewhat of a precarious position” with a seven-day average of more than 60,000 new Covid-19 infections per day, though vaccinations will bring the number down, Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on ABC’s This Week.

“That’s good news, we’ve got to keep that up,” he said. “But we also have to make sure that people don’t throw caution to the wind and declare victory prematurely.”

He also said a decision on how to resume vaccinating Americans with the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus shot will probably come by Friday. “I doubt very seriously if they just cancel” the J&J vaccine, one of three approved for use in the US, he said.

Israel eases mask rules

Israel has lifted a regulation requiring residents to wear masks outdoors, due to the low rate of coronavirus morbidity in the country, the Health Ministry said. Residents are still required to wear masks indoors, and the Health Ministry has recommended that people continue to use masks in open-air gatherings. More than half the population has been vaccinated, and the number of new coronavirus cases has dropped to about 150 a day on average for the week, from about 1,400 one month ago.

US adds some 52,000 cases

The US added about 52,000 Covid-19 cases on Saturday, the fewest in six days, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. Another 678 deaths linked to the disease were reported nationwide. The pace of US infections has picked up since mid-March, fuelled in part by cases among younger people, even as vaccinations have increased to about 3.2 million doses a day, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

At that pace, it’ll take another three months to cover 75% of the population. Covid-19 deaths, measured on a seven-day rolling average, declined this month to the lowest levels since October.

UK wary on next-stage reopenings

A UK minister said it’s too soon to say if hospitality venues in England can reopen indoors as planned next month. The comments from Environment Secretary George Eustice on Sunday signal concerns that the road map out of lockdown could be knocked off course by mutations in the virus seen in India and Brazil.

The next stage of the plan to unlock more of the economy is on 17 May, when hotels, cinema and museums are allowed to reopen, and other hospitality venues including pubs and restaurants – which were allowed to open outdoors earlier this month – can serve customers inside.

EU aims for travel policy

The European Union will try to coordinate a common policy for travellers from countries dealing with coronavirus variants such as Brazil and India, French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.

France announced late on Saturday the implementation of a 10-day quarantine for travellers from Argentina, Chile, South Africa and Brazil, with police controls and stiff fines, to try to limit the spread of variants within the country, on top of mandatory tests. The French government will discuss these new measures with its European partners early next week, Prime Minister Jean Castex said in an emailed statement.

India’s variant spreads to South Korea

South Korean authorities have identified nine cases of the so-called double-mutant variant in people arriving from India. The government said seven cases were found this month, while two cases were confirmed in March.

Pakistan cases surge

Pakistan reported 6,127 coronavirus cases, the highest in 10 months, in the latest government data. The South Asian nation is going through its third wave with government officials saying it may be the worst.

Boris Johnson’s India trip ‘Covid secure’

UK Environment Secretary George Eustice told Sky News that the prime minister’s visit will proceed in a “Covid secure” manner. Asked if India was being held off the so-called red list of banned countries to let the trip go ahead, Eustice said government scientists keep the matter under constant review. A Labour shadow minister said the trip should be scrapped, given the worsening outbreak in the subcontinent, The Independent reported.

Cases decline in Poland, Malaysia

Poland reported 12,153 new cases, a decline from 21,703 last Sunday. The death toll rose by 207, compared with 245 a week ago.

Malaysia added 2,195 cases on Sunday, bringing the total to 375,054, according to health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah on Twitter. Sunday’s cases are lower than Saturday’s 2,331 cases.

Spread during quarantine in Sydney

Three new cases among a family of returned travellers were discovered to have been transmitted in a Sydney hotel. The infections, initially recorded as contracted overseas, are now believed to have been picked up from a family of four in an adjoining room in a city quarantine hotel, New South Wales Health said in a statement on Sunday. Investigations into how the transmission occurred are under way, it said.

UK nears new travel rules

The US, Israel and Australia – with Ireland, Malta, Gibraltar, Iceland and New Zealand – will be the only countries the UK will list as safe for travel from 17 May, according to research cited in The Telegraph newspaper by Robert Boyle, former strategy chief at British Airways.

After the so-called green list, the rest of Europe will either be on the amber list, requiring home isolation for 10 days, or the red list, where arrivals have to hotel quarantine, The Telegraph reported. Several countries including France, Belgium and the Netherlands should be on the red list according to the government’s criteria, but probably won’t be for political and economic reasons, it said.

India cases hit record

India’s coronavirus epidemic worsened overnight, with the South Asian nation adding a record 261,500 new cases and 1,501 deaths.

The army has been called in to ramp up hospital capacity, with a 250-bed hospital established in New Delhi run by the military’s Medical Corps, as medical services across the country report critical shortages of beds, oxygen and essential medicine.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has been campaigning at election rallies in West Bengal over the weekend, is due to chair a meeting of top officials in the holy city of Varanasi – home to his parliamentary constituency – on Sunday. DM

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Cecilia Yap, Soraya Permatasari, Ruth Pollard, Birgit Jennen, Geraldine Amiel, Greg Ritchie, Heesu Lee, Maciej Martewicz, Alisa Odenheimer, Ania Nussbaum, and Ros Krasny.

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