CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

New Jersey offers free beer for shots; South Africa registers 897 new cases, 35 deaths

By Bloomberg 3 May 2021

A man in Mumbai, India, walks past a wall with a graffito honouring frontline workers in the fight against the spread of Covid-19. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Divyakant Solanki)

South Africa registered 897 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,584,961. A further 35 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 54,452.

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the US rose at the slowest pace since the pandemic began in the week ended on Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. Florida banned the use of so-called vaccine passports.

The European Commission proposed easing restrictions on business and leisure travel for those who have been fully inoculated against Covid-19, adding to signs of a gradual return to normality as vaccinations gather pace. Separately, Germany plans to exempt fully vaccinated people from pandemic restrictions by next week. Bavaria’s Oktoberfest celebration was cancelled for a second year.

Daily deaths in India hit a record 3,689 on Sunday, while the number of cases slowed slightly after the country became the first to cross the mark of 400,000 cases in a day. Prime Minister Narendra Modi lost a crucial election as the crisis deepens. He had been widely criticised for continuing to hold mass rallies in the state as infections rose.

Key developments

  • Global Tracker: Cases approach 153 million; deaths exceed 3.2 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 1.16 billion doses have been given
  • India’s Covid nightmare is a warning to the world
  • Modi resists pressure to lock down India as virus deaths rise
  • New York City is roaring back to life, one year after its nadir
  • What are vaccine passports and how would they work?: QuickTake

White House backs Pfizer move on exports

The Biden administration will support Pfizer’s move to begin exporting US-made doses of its coronavirus vaccine, as the White House starts to unleash US production for shot-starved nations abroad.

The governments of Mexico and Canada said last week that they expected to begin receiving doses of Pfizer’s vaccine from the US, the first time the company’s US-made shots are known to have been delivered to any buyer other than the American government itself.

FDA set to authorise Pfizer vaccine for 12-15 year-olds — New York Times

The US Food and Drug Administration is preparing to authorise the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in adolescents 12 to 15 years old by early next week, The New York Times reported, quoting federal officials familiar with the agency’s plans. This would open up the nation’s vaccination campaign to millions more Americans.

Pfizer announced results weeks ago from its trial in adolescents, showing the vaccine is at least as effective in that age group as it is in adults, the newspaper reported.

The authorisation could come as early as late this week, according to the federal officials who did not give their names because they weren’t authorised to speak publicly. If it is granted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine advisory panel will likely meet the following day to review the clinical trial data and make recommendations for the vaccine’s use in adolescents, the newspaper said.

New York City subways returning to 24-hour service

Most capacity restrictions will be lifted across the tri-state region on 19 May, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

New York City will again have 24-hour subways, boosting transportation options for workers as the most populous US city inches toward normality.

In the state, the outdoor food and beverage curfew will be lifted on 17 May and the indoor curfew will be lifted on 31 May, Cuomo said on Monday. The outdoor large stadium capacity will go to 33% in New York state on 19 May, Cuomo said. However, New York will maintain the 1.8m physical-distancing policy recommended by the federal government, the governor said.

BioNTech soars to record

BioNTech, the vaccine maker partnered with Pfizer on its Covid-19 shot, rose as much as 10% on Monday as the stock rallied past $200 a share at the open, breaking yet another record after closing at new highs four out of five days last week.

The German company was among the top gainers as the biotech sector regained lost footing and optimism about economies reopening bolstered stocks. Shots from Pfizer and BioNTech as well as Moderna have helped the US reach more than 245 million doses administered while side-stepping some of the safety concerns that have arisen for shots from AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson.

WHO urges countries to accept IP waivers

Vaccine production capacity needs to increase to have a significant inoculation rate that will bring herd immunity, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing, adding that’s why a waiver on intellectual property is very important. There are more countries joining South Africa and India in favour of an IP waiver, and he said he hoped other nations would be convinced as well, to make that a reality.

“There’s no reason, to be honest, not to decide on an IP waiver,” Tedros said. “The provision of waiving IP was meant for emergency conditions, and the level of emergency we’re in now is unprecedented. If we can’t use it now, when can we use it?”

NYC employees return to office

More than 80,000 New York City public workers returned to the office on Monday, as the city asked all employees who had been working from home to return to city buildings. Mayor Bill de Blasio pushed back on concerns by the city’s largest municipal worker union, which said not enough of its workers had been vaccinated yet. Only 34% of its workforce has been vaccinated, according to DC37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. De Blasio also said 180,000 of the 300,000 city workforce had received at least one shot.

US cases rise at slowest pace of pandemic

Confirmed coronavirus cases in the US rose at the slowest pace since the pandemic began in the week ended Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. The 1.07% gain was below the previous record of 1.25% set in the seven days ended 14 March.

The total number of new infections increased by 344,448 last week, the lowest since the period ended 11 October, before the start of a surge intensified by the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday seasons. The slowdown comes even as some states, such as Oregon, are experiencing outbreaks driven by variants of the virus.

Germany’s Oktoberfest cancelled again

Authorities in Bavaria cancelled Oktoberfest again this year. Oktoberfest is “the most global party,” and waiting longer to cancel it would only have caused more economic damage, Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder said on Monday. The beer festival drew 6.3 million people to Munich in 2019.

Florida prohibits vaccine ‘passports’

Florida businesses and government agencies will be prohibited from requiring people to show proof of a Covid-19 vaccination, starting 1 July, under a measure Governor Ron DeSantis signed Monday. In the meantime, all local emergency orders related to the pandemic will be suspended under an executive order signed by the Republican governor.

Businesses, government agencies or schools face $5,000 for each violation of the ban.

Similar legislation is pending in Iowa. Wisconsin’s governor vetoed a ban on employer vaccine mandates, but Montana’s governor is expected to sign a bill barring private and public employers from requiring workers to be vaccinated.

Walgreens same-day appointments, walk-ins

Walgreens Boots Alliance has administered more than 15 million Covid-19 vaccine doses, the company said on Monday. Walgreens will start offering same-day appointments at its US pharmacies on Wednesday and start accommodating walk-ins at some of its stores. With shots more plentiful and everyone 16 and over eligible in the US, Walgreens plans to work with employers to vaccinate their workers and to immunise people in the community using mobile units.

Hanoi schools to close as cases rise

Vietnam’s capital instructed its two million school-age pupils to stay home and study online starting 4 May as local authorities from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City imposed stiff crackdowns on public gathering sites to quickly contain a rise in local cases.

Germany to ease curbs for fully vaccinated

Germany is pushing ahead with legislation to exempt people fully vaccinated against Covid-19 from restrictions and expects it to be approved by next week at the latest, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn.

“Although it’s never going to be zero, as soon as it’s clear that fully vaccinated people have a much lower infection risk, it becomes possible to ease restrictions,” Spahn told reporters after Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet signed off on the measures, which need approval from both houses of parliament.

The government will also present draft legislation this week that would remove the requirement for fully inoculated travellers to present a negative test and go into quarantine when coming to Germany unless they arrive from an area with fast-spreading mutations, Spahn said.

Novavax starts paediatric trial for its vaccine

Novavax has initiated a paediatric expansion of its Phase 3 clinical trial for its recombinant protein vaccine candidate. The additional arm of the ongoing Prevent-19 pivotal trial will evaluate the efficacy, safety and immunogenicity of the candidate in up to 3,000 adolescents age 12-17 across up to 75 sites in the US

Morocco detects Indian variant

Morocco recorded its first cases of the so-called Indian variant, le360.ma reported, citing a member of the kingdom’s Covid-19 scientific committee. The two cases involve one Indian national and a Moroccan citizen.

South Africa vaccine delivery delayed

South Africa said a delivery of 1.1 million Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccines has been delayed pending further safety checks, the latest blow to the country’s stop-start inoculation programme.

Guinea tightens checks on India flights

Guinea has reinforced health controls on travellers from India to prevent the spread of the Indian Covid-19 variant into the West African country. All passengers arriving from India will be subjected to a rapid antigen testing upon arrival and will be required to strictly observe a 14-day quarantine period, authorities said Monday.

Singapore defers non-urgent surgery

Singapore’s Ministry of Health asked hospitals to defer non-urgent surgeries and admissions until further notice, in a bid to increase potential capacity for handling Covid-19 patients.

The measures, which also include limiting emergency room visits only for life-threatening or other emergency conditions, and encouraging teleconsultations instead of in-person medical visits where possible, come amid a flareup of cases in a country that’s been one of the world’s most successful in containing the virus.

EU pushes to ease travel restrictions

The European Commission’s new travel proposals require approval from member states. A commission official said he was hopeful they would be adopted by the end of this month.

The new parameters would replace a current blanket ban for non-essential travel to the EU for residents of all but a handful of countries that has been in place for more than a year. The bloc is working on the introduction of a vaccine passport system.

Moderna provides doses for Covax programme

Moderna agreed to provide as many as 500 million doses of its shot to the programme known as Covax in a boost for the global vaccination effort, but only a small fraction of the shipments are due to arrive in 2021. Covax has faced funding challenges, delivery delays and other hurdles in a high-stakes campaign to get vaccines to lower-income nations.

India’s vaccine orders fall short

The Narendra Modi-led federal government hasn’t placed an order larger than 110 million doses from the biggest local maker since sales started in December, according to a person familiar with the matter. That’s enough for just 4% of its population of 1.4 billion people.

The lack of a larger central stockpile, coupled with a devastating wave in the country, is now making local state governments scramble and compete with one another in placing orders with manufacturers after the federal government turned over the responsibility of procuring vaccines to them last month.

Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, said it will deliver 220 million doses in the country over the next few months, which can cover 8% of the country’s population.

Cases in Russia increase

Russia reported 8,489 fresh coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours. The new additions took the total to 4.832 million, according to data from the Russian government’s virus response centre. In the past day, 336 people died of the disease.

Madagascar begins inoculations

Madagascar, one of the last countries in the world to begin its vaccination programme, will receive the first batch of inoculations this week, Health Minister Jean-Louis Rakotovao said.

The Indian Ocean island nation will get doses of Covishield on 7 May under the Covax initiative, and plans to begin vaccinating health workers and military staff, Rakotovao said Monday in the capital, Antananarivo. Madagascar initially declined to sign up for the Covax initiative and instead recommended residents use a plant-based tonic to treat Covid-19.

Singapore’s first fatality in nearly two months

Singapore saw its first fatality from Covid-19 in almost two months over the weekend, amid a flareup of cases. An 88-year-old woman with a history of cancer and cardiac failure died on Saturday after she was treated in a hospital where a cluster of 27 cases has been identified since last week.

The cluster is Singapore’s first in a hospital and raises concern that the city’s hard-won success in fighting the virus is slipping, potentially threatening efforts to open up a long-awaited travel bubble with Hong Kong and host major events including the World Economic Forum and Shangri-la Dialogue.

Singapore also confirmed 10 new cases of locally transmitted Covid-19 linked to earlier clusters as of 12 p.m. on May 3.

Oman to shut businesses, cancel Eid prayers

Oman plans to impose one of the strictest restrictions in the Gulf during the Eid religious holidays next week. It will ban most commercial activities for a week from 8 May and cancel Eid prayers and gatherings. Food sale outlets, petrol stations, home delivery services, healthcare providers and pharmacies will be exempt.

Taiwan infections to spread beyond families

Covid infections in Taiwan are on the brink of spreading beyond the families of 24 confirmed cases, which includes pilots of China Airlines and employees of the Novotel at Taoyuan International Airport, Apple Daily reports, citing health minister Chen Shih-chung. The country reported two local cases on Monday.

It’s unlikely authorities will be able to track down the source of the first infection in the cluster, Chen said, with one possible scenario being flight crew infecting hotel workers. Taiwan last reported a flareup in January and February, when infections at the Taoyuan General Hospital rose to 21 cases. Taiwan has 1,137 confirmed cases as of Sunday, including 997 imported cases, 92 local cases, and nine pending investigation.

Thailand reports highest death count

Thailand reported 31 Covid-19 fatalities, the highest single-day count so far, to total 276 as an outbreak that began in April continues to spread.

It also reported 2,041 new infections, taking the total caseload to 70,425. Bangkok added 675 cases on Monday and remains the epicentre. Most cases in recent weeks came from households with infections spreading among family members or work colleagues, said Apisamai Srirangsan, spokesperson at the Center of Covid-19 Situation Administration.

India virus case count slows for second day

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in India slowed for a second day to a total of 19.93 million. New infections of 368,147 reported on Monday were the lowest in five days. Casualties stood at 3,417 compared with 3,689 on Sunday.

Vietnam’s clubs, karaoke parlours to shut

Vietnam, which has among the lowest number of infections in Southeast Asia, has ordered non-essential venues such as clubs, gaming sites and karaoke parlours to shut to prevent the coronavirus from spreading after new local cases last week for the first time in a month.

The government also ordered the suspension of events that will attract crowds, the health ministry said, but didn’t disclose details on the timing of the curbs.

Hong Kong testing hits daily record

Covid tests in Hong Kong hit a daily record on Saturday after the government made it compulsory for all foreign domestic workers in the city to be tested after finding the first locally acquired case of a Covid-19 variant.

The move has prompted a warning from the Philippines’ consul general in Hong Kong not to force foreign domestic workers to be vaccinated because such a move was discriminatory.

The government tested more than 113,000 people on Saturday, 52,000 of whom were foreign domestic workers, it said. No tests came back preliminarily positive by Sunday evening.

IOC sees 60% of Olympic athletes vaccinated

The International Olympic Committee estimates that about 60% of 10,000 athletes going to Japan for the Tokyo Olympic Games will be vaccinated, the Nikkei newspaper reported, citing people involved in the games.

The IOC recommends that athletes get the vaccine, but it isn’t obligatory. The committee reported its estimates at a five-party meeting on 28 April which included the Tokyo government, the Nikkei said.

US in talks on vaccine tech waivers

Talks starting this week between the US and World Trade Organization over expanding access to vaccines will focus on how to get them “widely distributed, more widely licensed, more widely shared,” according to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. “We’re going to have more to say about that in the days to come.”

Trade Representative Katherine Tai is leading the US side, Klein said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “Intellectual property rights is part of the problem, but really, manufacturing is the biggest problem,” he added.

India, South Africa and other countries are seeking a WTO waiver to ease intellectual property protections for Covid-19 vaccines. The US administration is reluctant to let countries force drugmakers to turn over proprietary know-how. DM

— With assistance by Jan Dahinten, Rachel Gamarski, Vildana Hajric, Andrew Davis, Virginia Van Natta, Susan Decker, Linus Chua, Felix Tam, Cindy Wang, Prim Chuwiruch, Shaji Mathew, Philip Heijmans, Aina Rahagalala, Anna Andrianova, Melissa Cheok, Ougna Camara, Souhail Karam, John Bowker, Iain Rogers, Angelica LaVito, Naomi Kresge, Katherine Rizzo, Henry Goldman, and Luke McGrath.

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