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February 18, 2021

International update: Global Covid cases near 110 million – Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine less effective against South Africa variant

By Paul Dennis

18 February

Global: The global Covid death toll has reached 2,430,511 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 109.9 million world wide.

One in five diabetes patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 die within 28 days, research suggests. Results from an ongoing study by the University of Nantes in France also showed that one in eight diabetes patients admitted to hospital with coronavirus were still in hospital 28 days after they first arrived.

US: Covid-19 infections have passed 27.8 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 490,500 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the UN council that the US will pay the more than $200 million it owes to the World Health Organization by the end of the month.

UK: National prevalence of the virus was down by two-thirds in the first half of February compared to January, according to a survey by Imperial College London and Ipsos Mori, one of the country’s largest coronavirus studies. The number of infected people fell to 51 per 10,000 at the time of the latest survey in February, down from 157 per 10,000 in January.

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The UK is set to carry out the world’s first study to deliberately expose volunteers to the new coronavirus to speed research. The human challenge study was approved by a research ethics committee and may eventually help accelerate development of vaccines and treatments and take on variants, the partners including Open Orphan Plc said. The trial involving as many as 90 people – due to begin within a month – is aimed initially at determining the smallest amount of the virus needed to cause infection.

Germany: The fast-spreading virus variant first found in the UK now makes up more than 20% of cases in Germany, Health Minister Jens Spahn said. “We must assume that it could also dominate here soon,” Spahn said in a tweet on Wednesday, citing data from the Robert Koch Institute. The share of variants from South Africa and Brazil is also rising, but is at a much lower level, Spahn said.

South Korea: South Korea reported 621 more coronavirus cases, the second day above 600 and biggest gain in six weeks, raising worries about a fresh wave of cases. The country’s health authorities said Wednesday that it was “hard to judge” whether the latest increase is due to a temporary spike in tests after the four-day Lunar New Year holiday or marks a resurgence of its “third wave.”

Vaccine news

Global: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for a global vaccination effort, urging the G20 group of countries to coordinate it. “The world urgently needs a global vaccination plan to bring together all those with the required power, scientific expertise and production and financial capacities,” Guterres told the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 vaccine stimulated roughly two-thirds lower levels of neutralizing antibodies against the South African variant of the coronavirus in a lab study. The Pfizer results are part of tests of its vaccine against a lab-created virus that had all the mutations found in the South African variant, which is thought to spread faster than earlier versions. The study released on Wednesday showed reduced neutralization of the South Africa-like virus by blood from people who had been immunized with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The companies believe their vaccine will still work against the variant.

EU: The European Commission finalized an agreement with Pfizer and BioNTech for 200 million more doses of their vaccine and announced a major new order with Moderna for 150 million more doses, also for this year. The moves lock in a second-quarter supply boost as countries struggle to speed up their immunization drives.

Germany: After a clash last month over whether EU countries would get their fair share of AstraZeneca’s vaccine shipments, fewer than one-tenth of the doses delivered to Germany have been administered in the initial days of the rollout. Some health-care workers also say they’re concerned about side effects amid reports about unexpectedly strong reactions. Germany isn’t alone: Some French health workers are also pushing to get shots from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech instead.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong authorized a vaccine from Sinovac Biotech Ltd for emergency use, the government said in a statement. That is the second shot the city has approved, after the vaccine developed by BioNTech SE and Pfizer Inc. Hong Kong has also agreed to buy a different vaccine from AstraZeneca Plc, but that hasn’t been approved yet, and it’s seeking a fourth contract. The government said it has so far purchased enough doses to cover its 7.5 million residents. The city is expected to roll out its inoculation program in early March. Sinovac said Wednesday that it could ship 1 million doses of the vaccine to Hong Kong on Friday.

Spain: Spain will administer AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine to people aged 45 to 55 in the next phase of its national inoculation plan, as new figures showed the third wave of infection receding further.

Indonesia: Getting a Covid-19 vaccination in Indonesia will be mandatory for eligible citizens, the government said, with the country seeking ways to quicken its inoculation program to curb Southeast Asia’s largest outbreak. The government will punish citizens who refuse the vaccine, including with fines and delaying or halting the provision of social assistance and administrative services.

Iran: Iran’s health ministry has issued an emergency-use approval for Covid-19 vaccines developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford and India’s Bharat Biotech, a deputy at the country’s Food and Drug Administration said. Iran aims to buy AstraZeneca-Oxford shots through the World Health Organization-backed Covax program “or directly from South Korea and Russia-based producers of the vaccine,” Heidar Mohammadi was cited as saying by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Lockdown updates

Europe: Central European countries asked the European council president, Charles Michel, to help ease tighter controls imposed by Germany on the Czech and Austrian borders to free up the flow of goods and industrial components, the Czech prime minister, Andrej Babis, said on Wednesday.

New Zealand: People in New Zealand will have to wear a face covering on most public transport, the government announced after the end of a lockdown of Auckland ended Wednesday. There were no new positive Covid-19 cases in the community reported Thursday.

Turkey: Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday the country would enter a gradual normalisation period, province by province, in March. Weekend lockdowns, which have been in place since December, would be lifted gradually on a provincial basis subject to low infection numbers, he said.

Cyprus: Cyprus plans to reopen its airports with the help of a colour-coded health risk assessment from 1 March, applicable to travellers from its main tourism markets and the EU, authorities said on Wednesday.

UK: Signs that a national lockdown are curbing the pandemic are welcome news for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is under pressure to ease restrictions and help the UK economy rebound from its worst recession in 300 years. Johnson is due to set out a “road map” for easing the rules on 22 February.

France: France is extending the duration of quarantine to 10 days for those who test positive to Covid in the northeastern section of the nation where virus circulation and the prevalence of new variants is particularly high. The French government also said testing and tracing campaigns will intensify there, and that vaccines will be earmarked for the area. It’s too soon to reopen restaurants, bars, culture and sports venues, according to French government spokesman Gabriel Attal, as cases and deaths are on a “high plateau.”

Hong Kong: The Hong Kong government will allow venues including gyms, beauty parlors, cinemas and theme parks to reopen from Thursday while keeping public beaches and swimming pools closed.

Economy updates

Global: The pandemic has added $24tn to the global debt mountain over the last year a new study has shown, leaving it at a record $281tn and the worldwide debt-to-GDP ratio at over 355%.

Netherlands: The Netherlands set aside 8.5 billion euros in a multi-year support plan for the country’s education system, to help pupils and schools hit by the pandemic. To remove study delays caused by the outbreak, primary and secondary schools can use extra funds on targeted measures such as tutoring for pupils in small groups. About 6,600 primary schools will on average get 180,000 euros per school in the coming year, while the 650 secondary schools will receive more than 1.3 million euros on average. Tuition fees for university students will be cut in half next year.

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