International update: Global Covid cases pass 85.7 million – Pfizer warn against booster delays – North Korea asks for help

5 January 2021 (Last Updated January 5th, 2021 10:58)

5 January

Global: Global coronavirus infections pass 85.7 million. Meanwhile, the global coronavirus death toll has passed 1,853,000 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

 US: Covid-19 infections have passed 20.8 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 353,621 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

New York State has found its first case of the UK variant of coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo said. A man in his 60s who lives in Saratoga County in upstate New York tested positive for the B117 variant, Cuomo said. The man had not traveled recently, which suggests it was the result of community spread, Cuomo said on a conference call.

Coronavirus hospitalizations in Texas climbed to 20% of capacity on Monday as 12,961 Texans, another record, sought medical care. Eighteen of the state’s 22 trauma-service areas reported hospital occupancy rates of more than 15%, a threshold set by Governor Greg Abbott for potentially imposing more lockdown measures. Seven of the areas are reporting fewer than 10 available intensive-care beds, with two saying they have none left. Monday saw 15,978 new virus cases, short of last week’s record of more than 26,000.

Singapore: Singapore said its police would be allowed to use contact-tracing data for criminal investigations. The technology, deployed as both a phone app and a physical device and made mandatory in some places, is being used by nearly 80% of the 5.7m population.

UK: Total Covid cases have passed 2.72 million, outstripping France.

Australia: Authorities appear to be on top of controlling virus clusters in its two-most populous states, for now. New South Wales on Tuesday recorded four new locally acquired cases from the day before, while Victoria had three. However, New South Wales authorities are concerned after an 18-year-old Sydney man tested positive after traveling to Outback areas including Broken Hill for a camping trip. Testing clinics are being set up in the remote towns he visited.

Brazil: Brazil confirmed its first two cases of the new variant. A 25-year-old woman and a 34-year-old man were confirmed as having been infected.

South Korea: South Korean President Moon Jae-in says the spread of coronavirus is being slowly contained after reaching a peak considering the reproduction rate is falling. Earlier, the country reported 715 new cases over the past 24 hours versus 1,020 the previous day, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s website. Total deaths passed the 1,000 mark, reaching 1,007.

Ireland: Ireland will start suspending non-essential hospital services, in an effort to preserve capacity to handle surging coronavirus cases. The country reported a record 6,110 new cases Monday, with six deaths. “This is a really serious situation that demands immediate action,” Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan told reporters in Dublin. People with flu-like symptoms should now assume they have Covid-19, he said, while the positivity rate is now at about 20%. The government may delay reopening schools until the end of January, state broadcaster RTE reported. Schools are due to open on 11 January.

Vaccine news

Global: BioNTech and Pfizer warned they had no evidence their vaccine would continue to work if the booster shot was given later than tested in trials. They said the “safety and efficacy of the vaccine has not been evaluated on different dosing schedules”. The European Medicines Agency said the maximum interval between doses should be respected. It said the second dose should be administered no more than 42 days after the first.

Moderna Inc. said it will make at least 600 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine in 2021, with a goal of finishing the year with as many as 1 billion doses produced. The announcement increased the bottom end of the company’s production forecast by 100 million doses. Moderna is “continuing to invest and add staff” to produce the two-shot vaccine, according to a statement by the Cambridge, Massachusetts biotech company on Monday.

EU: The European Union’s drug regulator said a decision on the safety and efficacy of Moderna Inc.’s Covid vaccine would come on Wednesday at the earliest. There had been speculation that a decision would come during a meeting Monday, but a spokesman for the European Medicines Agency said the discussion had not concluded and will continue Wednesday. Approval would give the EU a second cleared shot, after one from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE got the go-ahead in December.

US: The US Food and Drug Administration delivered a clear rebuke to health officials attempting to alter the timing and dosage of Covid-19 vaccines. The agency, in a statement late Monday, urged that vaccines be given according to how the FDA has authorized them after a key US official proposed cutting dosage levels for Moderna Inc.’s shot as a way to immunize more people. Governments and health officials have also considered extending the length of time between doses or mixing and matching vaccines.

New York state governor Andrew Cuomo called on the state’s public and private hospitals to administer coronavirus vaccines more quickly, warning of fines of as much as $100,000 for those who don’t comply. The 194 hospitals in the state have received about 46% of the state’s total vaccine allocation, he said at a briefing Monday. “I need those public officials to step in and manage those systems. You have the allocation; we want it in people’s arms as soon as possible.”

New York City aims to materially speed up the pace of Covid-19 vaccinations, expanding the groups of people it gives the shots to beyond health-care workers to include educators and first responders in the next few weeks, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a briefing Monday. De Blasio said he expects the city to administer 400,000 vaccinations a week at 250 sites by the end of January. The city has only administered around 100,000 doses since it began vaccinating residents about three weeks ago.

Germany: The German health ministry considered delaying second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to make scarce supplies go further. According to a document seen by Reuters, the ministry was seeking the view of an independent vaccination commission on whether to delay a second shot beyond the current 42-day maximum.

Israel: Israel plans to vaccinate 70% to 80% of its population by April or May, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Monday. The inoculation drive, which leads efforts around the world on a per capita basis, has already administered first doses of the Pfizer Inc. shot to about 1.2 million residents, or more than 12% of the population.

South Africa: Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE offered to supply South Africa with their Covid-19 vaccine at a discounted $10 a dose, yet the president’s office still described the cost as prohibitive. The discount reflects South Africa’s status as a middle-income country and the site of a vaccine trial being conducted by the companies, the person said. The price is about half the cost of a shot in the US.

UK: The UK became the first country to administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. NHS England tweeted that Brian Pinker, an 82-year-old dialysis patient, had become the first person to be given the jab.

North Korea: North Korea asked for virus vaccines from the main global alliance helping lower-income countries fight the pandemic, the Wall Street Journal said, citing a person familiar with the matter. Gavi, the international vaccine alliance, declined to comment on North Korea’s application, the WSJ said. North Korea has reached out to several European embassies, asking how the country might get vaccines, the newspaper said.

Philippines: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he will not allow members of his security team to face a congressional probe for their use of an unauthorized vaccine, warning legislators of a “crisis” if they push through with an investigation. Health Secretary Francisco Duque earlier in the day said his agency will investigate how unauthorized Covid-19 vaccines were given to Duterte’s security team and reportedly to thousands of Chinese workers. Duque was reacting to a media report that around 100,000 Chinese nationals working in the Philippines have been vaccinated as early as November even as regulators have yet to approve any vaccines for use in the Philippines.

Lockdown updates

Germany: German media reported that country’s lockdown would be extended until 31 January. Bild reported that national and federal authorities had agreed to continue the existing restrictions, which include the closures of schools, most shops, restaurants and bars.

UK: Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposed a third coronavirus lockdown across England, shutting schools and ordering the public to stay at home, amid dire warnings that the National Health Service is being pushed to breaking point. The full emergency lockdown will start immediately and last until at least 15 February, potentially devastating retail and hospitality businesses and threatening to push the economy into a double-dip recession, as medics try to get a grip on the pandemic. The UK reported an increase of 58,784 new coronavirus cases on 4 January, the most on record. It also reported 407 deaths, compared with a seven-day average of 604.

Scotland will implement another lockdown from midnight, including keeping schools closed and ordering people to largely remain at home. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there was no choice but to take more drastic action as hospital admissions reached levels not seen since the previous peak of the pandemic in April. School closures will be reviewed in the middle of January.

Thailand: Thailand’s prime minister urged the public to stay home. Authorities confirmed 745 new infections; the country’s worst daily total and the government declared 28 provinces – including Bangkok – high-risk zones.

Australia: Qantas Airways has started taking bookings for international flights from 1 July. Ticket sales for Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore, which had been set to start in March, have been pushed back to July, while other destinations like London have been brought forward from October, Australia’s national carrier said. New Zealand is the only overseas destination to which Qantas is currently flying.

US: Minnesota Governor Tim Walz will announce a loosening of virus restrictions on indoor dining and other settings Wednesday, according to a report from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that cited the governor’s spokesman. The statement cited an improvement in case numbers “following the pause on activities around the holidays.”