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March 10, 2021

International update: Brazil reports record deaths – UK parliament watchdog finds test-and-trace failed to deliver

By Paul Dennis

10 March

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 2,612,000 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 117.6 million world wide.

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 29 million having reached 29,096,052. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 527,699 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

UK: The UK’s coronavirus test-and-trace program has failed to demonstrate it has contributed to a fall in infection rates, despite its “unimaginable” 22 billion-pound ($30.6 billion) cost so far, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee said in a report. Parliament’s spending watchdog said the program had failed to deliver on its “central promise” to prevent a second national lockdown in England – or a third. “British taxpayers cannot be treated by government like an ATM machine,” committee Chair Meg Hillier said in a statement. “Despite the unimaginable resources thrown at this project, test-and-trace cannot point to a measurable difference to the progress of the pandemic.” UK Covid infections have passed 4.2 million according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Brazil: Brazil reported a record number of deaths from coronavirus as the country rushes to seal new vaccine deals. The Health Ministry said 1,972 died from Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, pushing the total to 268,370. Confirmed cases increased by 70,764, to 11,122,429. Brazil trails only the US in number of deaths globally, and ranks third in infections. Hospitals across the country are reaching capacity, as a combination of year-end and carnival gatherings and a new, more contagious variant contribute to a spike of infections even as the virus recedes in most of the world. At the same time, a short supply of vaccines is slowing a mass immunization campaign in the country of 212 million.

China: China reported five new infections, but all were imported. The last time the country had a local transmission was 6 February, underscoring the success of a stringent strategy that includes border curbs, mass testing and hard lockdowns on anywhere with Covid-19 cases. Those tough measures included the likes of January’s full lockdown of Tonghua, a city of 2 million people in Jilin province, in which residents were banned from leaving their homes.

Mexico: Mexico had a further 866 Covid-19 deaths, bringing the total to 191,789, according to the Health Ministry. Some 26% of general hospital beds are occupied, and 30% of beds with ventilators are occupied, it said.

Vaccine news

Global: The World Trade Organization director-general called for urgent action on boosting Covid-19 vaccine production in developing countries, saying manufacturing sites could be prepared in six to seven months or less than half the time previously thought.

BioNTech could have capacity to make 3 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine with US partner Pfizer next year, the German company’s chief executive officer said, making their pioneering shot far more widely available around the world.

EU: Johnson & Johnson told the EU it was facing supply issues that may complicate plans to deliver 55 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to the bloc in the second quarter of the year, an EU official told Reuters.

The developers of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine have questioned the neutrality of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) after an EMA official urged EU members to hold off approving the vaccine.

The UK’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab has written to the European Council president after he claimed the UK imposed an “outright ban” on coronavirus vaccine exports. Raab said he is seeking to “set the record straight”.

Bosnia’s foreign minister said she and her compatriots were “justifiably unhappy” after failing to yet to receive any of the promised vaccines from the EU-backed Covax scheme.

Mexico: Mexico has administered 3,100,868 vaccine doses. with 605,801 people having received a second dose. Separately, El Financiero reported that Health Ministry official Ruy Lopez Ridaura confirmed that eight Mexican states received Sinovac’s vaccine at between 11 and 12 degrees Celsius, when it should be kept between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius. Lopez Ridaura said the vaccine can be kept up to 25 degrees for more than a week without losing its potency, and at that temperature it wouldn’t begin to lose effectiveness until day 14, the report said.

US: Alaska will allow everyone living and working in the state aged 16 and older to get a vaccine, the state’s health department said, making it the first state in the US where the immunization is so widely available. Alaska leads the US in vaccination rates, with more than a quarter of the population having had at least one Covid-19 shot and 16% being fully inoculated. It also has the third-smallest population, with fewer than 750,000 people.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccine shipments to U.S. states, tribes and territories will rise next week to 15.8 million doses, from 15.2 million a week earlier, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said. Shipments to pharmacies will rise to 2.7 million from 2.4 million a week earlier.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said he would lower the age for vaccine eligibility to age 60 starting Wednesday as the state ramps up its vaccine campaign. The governor said the state will also open up vaccine eligibility to public employees and non-profit emergency workers as of 17 March. Public-facing building workers will also be eligible, he said in a Tuesday virus briefing.

Germany: Germany’s leading industry associations have resolved a spat with Chancellor Angela Merkel over Covid-19 tests and issued an appeal to companies to help expand rapid- and self-testing of employees. “Until a vaccination offer can be made to all citizens, we want to support the testing strategy of the federal and state governments with all our energy,” four of the biggest industry lobbies, which represent more than 90% of Germany’s workers, said in a joint statement coordinated with Merkel’s administration. Merkel last week canceled a video call with business leaders because she wanted more substantial proposals on testing workers than those initially on the table.

Lockdown updates

EU: The European Union will propose a certificate that may ease travel for those who have taken EU-approved vaccines or others, like the Chinese and Russian shots, that have had emergency national authorizations. The “EU Covid Card/digital green certificate” will show if holders have had a vaccine and which one; the results of any test; and details on whether they have recovered from an infection, a person familiar with the draft regulation said.

China: China has announced a digital vaccine passport. A health certificate showing a person’s vaccination status links to a program on China’s most widely-used messaging app WeChat. Outbound travelers can use the certificate, which is only issued to Chinese nationals who have had nucleic-acid tests and Covid vaccines, to prove their health status. It’s unclear if any countries have yet recognized the certification.

US: US airlines, joined by travel groups and labor, separately wrote to the Biden administration saying the U.S. “must be a leader” in global efforts to introduce health credentials that can be used for travel.

The Los Angeles Unified school district and United Teachers Los Angeles reached a tentative deal on how to reopen schools for in-person instruction over the next few weeks. They plan a hybrid model combining online and in-person instruction, with a progressive reopening. All students and staff will be tested for Covid-19 before returning, and other rules include requiring masks and social distancing for students, staff and visitors.

Japan: The Japanese government decided to exclude overseas spectators from attending the Tokyo Olympics, Kyodo reported, citing officials with knowledge of the matter. The government concluded that fans from abroad aren’t possible given concerns about the virus and different variants detected in other countries.

Estonia: Estonia’s government has banned groups larger than two people, closed non-essential shops and told restaurants to switch to take-aways as part of a drive to contain a surge in Covid-19 infections.

Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins on Tuesday offered to take in some of neighboring Estonia’s Covid patients after its prime minister announced a lockdown and tighter restrictions to control the spread of the British strain and rising cases.

Denmark: Denmark’s health minister Magnus Heunicke said there were grounds to ease restrictions further since the epidemic was not worsening in the Nordic country.

Greece: People who are vaccinated against Covid-19, have antibodies or test negative can travel to Greece this summer, tourism minister Harry Theocharis has said, after the country led calls for an EU-wide vaccination certificate.

Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister, announced some limited relaxations to outdoor mixing in Scotland, in particular for teenagers.

Economy updates

Honk Kong: Underscoring the continued economic damage from travel lockdowns, Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. had a net loss of HK$21.65 billion ($2.8 billion) for 2020, a period the carrier called the “most challenging 12 months” of its more than 70-year history. With the pandemic continuing to hit travel, the Hong Kong airline is maintaining executive pay cuts and other cash-preservation measures.

UK: The British government will launch a consultation to reform the levy for internal UK flights, the Department for Transport said. This could mean a “return leg exemption” so passengers only pay for their outward flight, or a new lower domestic rate. The proposal is part of a review aimed at exploring how transport can better connect all parts of the UK, after the collapse of Flybe at the start of the pandemic.

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