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March 11, 2021

International update: Global Covid infections pass 118 million – variant strains becoming dominant in US

By Paul Dennis

11 March

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 2,619,000 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 118 million world wide. The highly infectious British variant of Covid-19 is between 30% and 100% more deadly than previous strains, researchers have said.

The world will likely have a better idea about the origins of Covid-19 in a few years as scientists continue to analyze the data, according to a member of the international team of experts that travelled to China to trace the pandemic’s emergence. Despite the shortage of clues to the virus’s roots and the political tensions around the search, the scientific process will eventually prevail, Peter Daszak, a New York-based zoologist assisting the mission, said at a webinar organized by UK think tank Chatham House on Wednesday.

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 29 million having reached 29,152,716. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 529,203 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

A highly infectious Covid-19 variant is probably the dominant strain in Florida, Texas and Georgia, and gaining a foothold across the US, according to new data from testing company Helix. In all three states, more than 50% of the latest samples exhibited S gene target failure, a key characteristic of the variant first identified in the United Kingdom, known as B.1.1.7. The variant has prompted warnings of a possible resurgence, even as the seven-day average of new cases fell to the lowest since 18 October in Johns Hopkins University data.

Meanwhile, New virus variants account for 51% of New York City’s Covid cases, health officials said on a virus briefing Wednesday. The variants, known as B.1.1.7, which originated in the UK, and B.1.526, which was first detected in New York, appear to be more infectious than older strains of the virus. But research doesn’t indicate that the variants cause more severe illness or reduce effectiveness of vaccines, said Jay Varma, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s senior public health adviser. Varma warned that the data is still preliminary.

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Turkey: The daily number of new coronavirus cases in Turkey rose on Wednesday to the highest level this year, standing at 14,556, health ministry data showed.

Brazil: Brazil reported record deaths from Covid-19 as slow progress of vaccinations adds to worries with the near collapse of the health system. Latin America’s largest country saw deaths rise by 2,286 in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said, pushing the total to 270,656. Confirmed cases increased by 79,876 to 11,202,305.

France: France reported 30,303 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours on Wednesday, rising above 30,000 for the first time in two weeks.

Poland: Poland has reported 17,260 new daily Covid cases, the highest number since November.

Bulgaria: Bulgaria has reported 3,502 new Covid cases, its highest daily tally in three months, as government data shows the number of deaths also increased to 132.

Vaccine news

Global: Moderna Inc. said it had dosed the first participants in a study to examine whether booster shots of its Covid-19 vaccines may help protect against emerging variants. In the study, 60 people who received two doses of Moderna’s vaccine as part of its original phase 2 study last year, will receive a third shot as part of the study. One third of the participants will receive a booster shot that contains a low dose of the existing vaccine; the second third will receive a booster shot that is customized against the variant that arose in South Africa, called B.1.351; and the final third will receive a single vaccine that contains both the existing vaccine and the one customized against B.1.351. The company says it’s pursuing booster shots out of an abundance of caution.

US: President Biden will double the U.S. order of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine – seeking another 100 million doses – bringing the country’s total vaccine supply to enough for 500 million people. Biden made the announcement during an event at the White House on Wednesday with J&J Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alex Gorsky and Merck & Co. chairman and CEO Ken Frazier. The companies last week struck a collaboration to boost production of J&J’s recently authorized Covid-19 vaccine.

Vir Biotechnology and GlaxoSmithKline plan to submit an emergency use authorization application to the US FDA and for authorizations in other countries after phase three trial found 85% reduction in hospitalization or death compared with placebo, the primary endpoint of the trial. The two had teamed up with Eli Lilly and Co. to test a combination of their Covid-19 antibody treatments to see whether they can better combat the virus and its variants together.

Europe: There is nothing to suggest so far that vaccination was responsible for the death and illness of two people who had been given AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine in Austria, the European Medicines Agency said. Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg and Latvia have along with Austria suspended using the vaccine to allow time for the EMA’s Pharmacovigilance Risk Assessment Committee to conduct an investigation.

The European commission said on Wednesday it has reached a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech for the supply of an additional 4m Covid vaccine doses to be delivered this month.

Germany: Far more people in Germany will receive a Covid vaccination from April when family doctors start giving them but the idea that 25% of the population can get a shot in just a month is unrealistic, its health minister warned on Wednesday.

Hong Kong: Fewer residents in the city are showing up to get vaccines from Chinese maker Sinovac Biotech Ltd. amid reports of side effects, even as demand was strong for shots developed by BioNTech SE-Pfizer Inc. on the day of their debut. The number of people who received their scheduled Sinovac immunizations at community vaccination centers fell to 72% on Wednesday, down from a high of more than 90% last week. More than one-third of those who signed up for the vaccine, 36%, were no-shows on Tuesday.

South Korea: South Korea will offer AstraZeneca vaccine to people aged 65 and older as efficacy is confirmed and European nations, including Germany and Italy, recommend the use, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said.

Kenya: Kenya approved the use of the Sputnik V Covid-19 shots for emergency purposes, according to the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Other African nations that have allowed their use include Angola, the Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Ghana and Guinea, the sovereign fund said in a statement. Sputnik V has a 91.6% efficacy and provides full protection against severe cases of the illness, it said.

Lockdown updates

Malta: The Maltese government has ordered non-essential shops and schools to close amid a surge in Covid-19 cases on the Mediterranean island.

Mauritius: Mauritius has started a two-week nationwide lockdown following 14 local Covid cases, with all residents and visitors asked to stay at home or in their hotels until 25 March.

Hong Kong: Some international schools in Hong Kong were closed Thursday after a Covid-19 outbreak at a gym, where at least nine staff members and clients were found to be infected with the virus. Hong Kong schools only resumed in-person teaching last month after about a year of at-home learning.

Germany: German Chancellor Angela Meriel warned citizens to prepare for several more tough months before vaccinations start to have a tangible impact on the pandemic. “We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel,” Merkel said during an online dialog with emergency telephone service operators. “There will be three or four more difficult months and then we’ll be so far along with vaccinations that we will also really see actual effects and things will clearly improve.”

Economy updates

US: Households will begin receiving the $1,400 stimulus payments included in the pandemic-relief bill approved by Congress before the end of March, according to the White House. President Biden plans to sign the $1.9 trillion stimulus legislation into law on Friday, a package that includes more than $410 billion of direct payments for most Americans. Individuals who earn as much as $75,000, or couples making $150,000, plus their children or adult dependents, qualify for the full $1,400 per person.

The Colorado state legislature unveiled a $700 million pandemic recovery fund. The spending program, which has bipartisan support, is aimed at improving infrastructure, helping small businesses and providing workforce development.

Brazil: Brazil’s lower house of congress backed a $7.5 billion Covid aid bill in a first vote, hours after Latin America’s largest economy posted a record virus death toll for a single day. Lawmakers voted early Thursday in favor of a so-called emergency bill that revives last year’s monthly stipends that kept millions of poor households afloat. To assuage investor concern, the bill also includes compensatory fiscal measures to demonstrate a commitment to austerity. As a constitutional amendment, the bill requires a second-round vote in the house, scheduled for Thursday morning.

Australia: Australia’s government will subsidize 800,000 half-price airfares as part of a A$1.2 billion ($920 million) package to prop up the nation’s ailing tourism industry. The discounted fares are designed to help tourism-dependent regions and should support airlines, hotels and hospitality venues, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a statement.

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