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February 25, 2021

International update: Global Covid death toll nears 2.5 million – South African Covid variant causes re-infections

By Paul Dennis

25 February

Global: The global Covid death toll has reached 2,497,814 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 112.5 million world wide.

US: Covid-19 infections have passed 28.3 million. Meanwhile, 505,890 lives have been lost.

A new variant of the virus, containing a mutation that may help it get past the immune system, is spreading in New York, according a report in the New York Times. The B.1.526 variant was first found in samples collected in November, according to the report, which cited researchers from Caltech and Columbia University.

New York City health officials said 6% of the city’s coronavirus cases are due to the UK variant, which is believed to be more contagious. The city said the level is “higher than they liked” but that the number has remained steady in recent weeks.

New York City’s museums, sports arenas and entertainment venues are slowing coming back to life. But the sector has contracted dramatically under the pressure of the global pandemic, according to a report from the state Comptroller’s Office. Jobs in arts, entertainment and recreation fell by 66% in 2020 from a year ago, the largest decline among the city’s economic sectors, erasing a decade of gains in what was one of New York’s most vibrant industries, the report said. The business district that includes Chelsea and midtown Manhattan was the hardest-hit area of the city, accounting for 46% of all jobs in the sector.

EU: EU leaders will tomorrow debate the issue of certificates of vaccination for citizens who have been vaccinated against Covid, amid reported disagreements within the bloc – with some firmly in favour and others more reluctant.

South Africa: About 4,000 cases of reinfection with Covid-19 have been found in South Africa, Barry Schoub, the chair of the country’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, said. “This is probably to a large extent due to the variant” of the virus that was first identified in the country, he said on a webinar on Wednesday.

Denmark: A Danish study suggests that people infected with a British variant of the coronavirus codenamed B117 may have a 60% higher risk of being hospitalised, health minister Magus Heunicke said.

Vaccine news

Global: Moderna Inc. is planning to study multiple approaches to vaccine booster shots that could protect against emerging coronavirus variants, while gearing up to produce more doses of its shots this year and next. Moderna said it had completed manufacturing doses of a new version of the vaccine modified to target the South Africa strain, and shipped it to researchers for clinical study. In addition, the company is testing a third dose of its existing vaccine in a clinical study, and plans to test a booster that will combine the South Africa-specific vaccine and its existing shot.

Moderna Inc. lost $12 billion of market value in the past three days as investors brace themselves for the company’s earnings report on Thursday. It will be the first since its coronavirus vaccine received an emergency authorization in December.

US: Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid vaccine protects against is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe forms of the virus, and is safe to use, according to an analysis by US regulators ahead of a final decision on the jab.

A Colorado beef plant that was the site of a deadly coronavirus outbreak will soon distribute thousands of vaccine doses. JBS USA’s facility in Greeley will offer vaccines for members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 and non-union JBS workers on March 5-6, according to a statement Wednesday from the union. The plant will be shut on those days and workers choosing to be vaccinated will receive four hours of pay and $100, the company said in a statement.

EU: The EU is “catching up” with the UK’s coronavirus vaccination programme, the European commission president has insisted as Hungary’s government started to administer a Chinese vaccine in the face of shortages, with Belgium the latest to warn of “serious delays” to its schedule.

Israel: Israel’s parliament has passed a law allowing the government to share the identities of people not vaccinated against Covid with other authorities, raising privacy concerns for those opting out of inoculation.

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 vaccine was overwhelmingly effective against the virus in a study that followed nearly 1.2 million people in Israel, results that public-health experts said show that immunizations could end the pandemic. Two doses of the vaccine prevented 94% of Covid-19 cases in 596,618 people vaccinated between 20 December and 1 February, about one-quarter of whom were over the age of 60, a study shows.

Indonesia: Around 7.5 million doses of vaccines will be needed to support Indonesia’s private vaccination program, which has so far attracted 6,644 companies, according to the government. More broadly, the country hopes to vaccinate 70 million people by August as it seeks to reach herd immunity against Covid-19. Indonesia’s ultimate goal is to inoculate more than 180 million people across the world’s largest archipelago.

Mexico: Mexico expects to receive 106 million doses of vaccine against the coronavirus by the end of May, according to the Health Ministry. More than 41 million of these are from AstraZeneca and 24 million are of Sputnik V. Separately, Mexico posted a daily rise of 1,006 Covid-19 deaths, bringing the total to 182,815, the ministry said.

Japan: Japan said it will begin vaccinating people age 65 and over with the Pfizer/BioNTech shot starting 12 April, after the nation kicked off its inoculation drive last week. It aims to vaccinate and observe around 40,000 healthcare workers before expanding coverage. About 17,900 people had received the first dose of the vaccine as of Thursday. Supply may limit doses initially, with the country expected to receive its third shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on 1 March.

Singapore: Everyone in Singapore who has received a Covid-19 vaccination will be given a physical vaccination card noting their personal details, vaccine brand and date of vaccinations, the Ministry of Health said Wednesday.

Malaysia: Malaysia Airlines Bhd. said it will introduce a Digital Travel Health Pass to be integrated with the airline’s mobile app. Passengers will be able to make appointments with medical partners for a Covid-19 RT-PCR test or include their vaccination certificates on their phones.

Philippines: The Philippines is offering to pay more to get earlier coronavirus vaccine deliveries, hoping to avert a supply crunch this quarter as the bulk of its orders this year will only come in the second half. Only 5.1 million of the 161 million doses expected for the year will arrive in the country this quarter, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said at a televised meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte. The first shipments will be Sinovac Biotech Ltd. vaccines donated by China, as well as those from the COVAX Facility, which supplies shots to poor nations. These will be followed by 24.1 million shots in the second quarter.

Zimbabwe: China will donate a second batch of 200,000 coronavirus vaccines to Zimbabwe, Guo Shaochun, the Chinese ambassador to the southern African nation said Wednesday on Twitter following a virtual meeting with its President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Zimbabwe began its inoculation program on Feb. 18 using the donated Sinopharm vaccines, and by Tuesday had issued shots to 4,041 front-line workers. The country expects to take delivery of an additional 600,000 vaccines it bought from China early next month.

Lockdown updates

Sweden: The Swedish government has said it would reduce opening hours for all restaurants, bars and cafes as well as tighten limits on the number of people allowed in shops as it seeks to ward off a third wave.

Switzerland: Switzerland is to start easing out of its lockdown from 1 March, the government has said, confirming preliminary plans to open shops, museums and libraries and allow outdoor gatherings of up to 15 people.

Denmark: Denmark is also to ease some shopping restrictions and allow schools in parts of the country to reopen on 1 March, the government said, potentially allowing hospital admissions to triple in the coming month.

Czech Republic: The Czech Republic is preparing to impose a stricter lockdown to prevent the collapse of its medical system as existing measures fail to contain one of the fastest-spreading and deadliest outbreaks in Europe. Almost exactly a year after the first Covid-19 case appeared in the country, the crisis is worse than ever and the situation requires a tougher response, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said. The cabinet will discuss more extreme rules to limit contact among people on Wednesday evening, he said.

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