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March 15, 2021

International update:

By Paul Dennis

15 March

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 2.6 million with a figure of 2,653,652 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The global death toll continues to decline. Fatalities for the week ended Sunday – about 60,000 – were the lowest since early November. Meanwhile, infections have passed 119.8 million world wide. New coronavirus cases rose worldwide for a third straight week, even as the death toll continues to slow and the US is seeing fewer infections.

Brazil over the weekend passed India to retake the post of the second worst-hit country in the world. Countries that had appeared to bring cases under control are seeing a resurgence, with India and Italy in recent days reporting the most daily infections of the year. At the same time, smaller hotspots are emerging in places like Papua New Guinea that had seemingly escaped the pandemic last year. The increases come amid growing fears about fast-spreading variants and as some governments continue to ease social-distancing restrictions.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 29.4 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 534,888 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

US President Joe Biden has selected Gene Sperling, a former White House economic adviser to both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, to oversee implementation of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package signed into law last week.

California’s seven-day positive test rate fell to a record low 2%, according to the health department’s website. The state reported 2,772 new cases yesterday, along with 140 more deaths. California has administered more than 11.8 million vaccines in total. The data came a day before the county, which was the epicenter of the post-holiday surge, eases its restrictions on indoor dining and allows restaurants, gyms, museums and movie theaters to reopen. California theme parks such as Disneyland, as well as stadiums, will also be allowed to reopen in April with capacity limits.

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There’s reason to be “concerned” about the virus trends in New York City, more so than many other parts of the country, former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb said. The New York variant, along with the B.1.1.7 variant first discovered in the UK is pushing cases back up in one of the original Covid-19 epicenters in the US, Gottlieb said on CBS.

UK: The head of the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said he has “no doubt” that there will be a further wave of coronavirus infections in the autumn.

Meanwhile, there have been a further 4,618 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK, according to government data – compared with 5,177 cases last Sunday.

France: The government has said today it plans to evacuate around 100 Covid-19 patients from intensive care units in the Paris region this week as hospitals struggle to keep up with a surge in cases.

Brazil: Brazil’s health minister, Eduardo Pazuello, is set to be replaced by the Bolsonaro administration, according to Brazilian media reports.

Vaccine news

Global: Arcturus Therapeutics, which is jointly developing a vaccine with Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, is preparing to test its single low-dose shot in phase 3 trials in the second quarter, the Straits Times reported. The trial will involve about 15,000 people across multiple countries, he said. The Arcturus vaccine leverages the same mRNA technology that Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Inc. use for their vaccines, which have already been approved for use in the Southeast Asian country.

AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine remains shrouded in controversy as more countries limit its use even as regulators and scientists attest to its benefits. Astra has defended the vaccine, saying in a Sunday statement that more than 17 million doses have been administered in Europe and UK with no evidence that the shot increased the risk of blood clots.

US: Reluctance among certain parts of the US population to receiving a vaccine is one of the biggest risks to coronavirus control efforts, said Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser. His comments came when he was asked about polling showing many Republicans, especially men, don’t want a vaccine. He continued to warn against becoming complacent in the US even as cases and hospitalizations drop sharply and the pace of vaccinations accelerates. A quarter of US House lawmakers aren’t confirmed as vaccinated even though Congress has its own supply, Axios reported. The members have either refused, have not reported getting the shot elsewhere or won’t because of medical conditions, Axios said.

Europe: The European Union will be able to stick to its vaccination targets this quarter despite AstraZeneca delivery delays as Pfizer is producing faster than planned, according to the EU industry commissioner Thierry Breton.

Philippines: The Philippines is on track with its Covid-19 inoculation drive, the head of the government’s vaccine strategy said on Sunday, addressing criticisms the rollout has been slow as worries grow about a surge in new cases.

Ireland: Irish health authorities have recommended that the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine should be temporarily “deferred” in Ireland in the wake of a report by Norwegian regulators.

UK: Northern Ireland’s department of health has asked the UK’s medicines regulator for an update on the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout in light of the Republic of Ireland’s suspension of the jab, the department has said in a statement, confirming that it will continue.

Italy: Italy’s northern region of Piedmont has said it would temporarily suspend AstraZeneca coronavirus shots after a teacher from the town of Biella died following his vaccination on Saturday.

Lockdown updates

Bahrain: Bahrain eased some of its coronavirus restrictions on Sunday, including allowing eating inside restaurants and re-opening educational institutions to students, as case numbers fall.

Netherlands: Dutch police have been using water cannon to disperse anti-lockdown protesters in The Hague.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong sent hundreds of people, including a playgroup of infants, into quarantine and locked down more residential areas as it tried to contain a coronavirus outbreak that began in a gym near the city center last week. The number of confirmed cases linked to the outbreak has spiked to 109 since the first infection was reported on 10 March. About 750 close contacts of people infected have been quarantined, the Health Department said at a press conference on Sunday.

Singapore: Singapore is “very keen” to work with Australia on a proof-of-vaccination certificate, Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan said in a statement after talks with his Singapore counterpart. Singapore’s foreign ministry said in a statement over the weekend that any travel bubble would allow residents of Singapore and Australia to travel between both countries without the need for quarantine.

US: Duke University put its undergraduates on a one-week lockdown early Sunday after the worst outbreak “by far” since the start of the pandemic. It said that 180 students at the university in Durham, North Carolina, tested positive and another 200 were in quarantine. The university said the spread was driven largely by “recruitment parties” by fraternities and sororities.

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