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February 23, 2021

International update: Grim milestone for US as Covid deaths pass half a million

By Paul Dennis

23 February

Global: The global Covid death toll has reached 2,475,283 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 111.7 million world wide.

US: Covid-19 infections have passed 28.1 million. Meanwhile, more than half a million people have died of Covid-19 in the US, according to Johns Hopkins University. The country had recorded that more than 500,300 lives have been lost as of Monday afternoon.

US president Joe Biden marked the latest tragic milestone of Covid deaths in the US on Monday night, with a candlelit commemoration and moment of silence for the 500,000 who have lost their lives. “That’s more Americans who’ve died in one year in this pandemic than in World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War combined,” Biden said in a televised address before the ceremony. “That’s more lives lost to this virus than any other nation on Earth.”

Italy: Italy allegedly misled the World Health Organization (WHO) on its readiness to face a pandemic less than three weeks before the country’s first locally transmitted coronavirus case was confirmed.

France: France reported a further 333 deaths from Covid-19, as well as 4,646 new infections, an increase from last Monday’s daily case tally of 4,376.

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New Zealand: New Zealand reported the ninth case linked to an outbreak in Auckland. The new community case is a contact of a previously identified case, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Vaccine news

Argentina: Argentina’s government released the names of dozens of officials and allies who secretly got vaccinated against Covid-19 in an apparent violation of the country’s guidelines, attempting to contain a growing political scandal. The list of about 70 people disclosed on Monday by the government includes leaders from the ruling Peronist party, mid-level government officials and family members who received the shots. The release comes after President Alberto Fernandez fired his health minister, Gines Gonzalez Garcia, on Friday, when the preferential access to the vaccine was made public.

US: Moderna Inc. has received positive feedback from U.S. regulators on a proposal to expand the number of doses of its Covid-19 vaccine in each vial, the company said, a move that could help expand supplies. In prepared testimony for a Congressional hearing on Tuesday, Moderna said the US Food and Drug Administration could allow it to put as many as 15 doses of its Covid-19 shot into each vial. Currently, its vials hold ten doses.

Drugmakers won’t have to perform giant efficacy trials for new vaccines or booster shots developed to combat new variants of the coronavirus, the US Food and Drug Administration said. In documents released by the agency Monday, it said a determination of effectiveness for new vaccines against variants should be based on so-called immunogenicity studies, in which researchers give vaccines to people and then conduct lab tests to measure the immune response the vaccine produces in their blood. These tests, similar to what is done for annual flu shots, are far simpler to conduct than the massive efficacy studies needed for clearance of the initial vaccines.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo touted the state’s largest community-based coronavirus vaccination site at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, which will serve one of the areas hardest hit by the pandemic. The site will open on Wednesday, and appointments during the first week of operations will be reserved for those living in areas with low vaccination rates, Cuomo said. It’s part of an effort to fight vaccine hesitancy and bring the shots to communities underserved by traditional health-care institutions. The site will administer 3,000 vaccines a day, for a total of 21,000 a week, he said.

Thailand: Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration has approved Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s Covid-19 vaccine for local emergency use ahead of the launch of a national inoculation program. The country, which aims to inoculate 50% of its population by the end of this year, has already approved AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine for emergency use.

UK: Real-world evidence from the Covid vaccination programmes in England and Scotland show that one dose of vaccine gives high protection against severe disease and admission to hospital – and protects against even mild disease with no symptoms in younger people.

India: India began its vaccination drive last month, but with only 11 million people inoculated so far, is lagging behind a target to inject 300 million people by August.

Hong Kong: The Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine procured by the Hong Kong government will arrive in the city as soon as Thursday, HK01 reported, citing unidentified sources.

Lockdown updates

UK: Prime minister Boris Johnson has set out a four-stage plan for England to come out of lockdown that could pave the way for nightclubs to reopen, sports fans to fill stadiums once again and staycations to return.

Japan: Japan is planning to lift the state of emergency outside the Tokyo area earlier than planned, with falling numbers of coronavirus cases easing the strain on hospitals, local media reported Tuesday. The government is considering lifting the emergency in six prefectures including Osaka and Kyoto at the end of the month, a week earlier than the planned end date of March 7, according to reports. The decision could come as soon as Friday.

India: The chief minister of the Indian state of Maharashtra, which includes the financial capital of Mumbai, warned that new regional localized lockdowns could be imposed after the number of daily Covid cases rose to almost 7,000 on Sunday, accounting for about half the entire country’s reported infections. Uddhav Thackeray said that he will monitor the situation in the state over the next two weeks and would impose movement restrictions if mask wearing rules weren’t being followed. So far India has avoided a large-scale second wave since a September peak of nearly 100,000 cases a day.

US: Movie theaters in New York City will be allowed to open starting on March 15, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday. Theaters can open at 25% capacity, with no more than 50 people per screening, he said during a virus briefing. Masks must be worn, and assigned seating will be required, Cuomo said. The theaters must be properly ventilated as outlined in state health regulations, he said. Cinemas have been allowed to operate at limited capacity in other parts of the state.

Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi signed an executive order Monday allowing schools that meet certain criteria to resume in-person classes starting 1 March. In a press conference, Pierluisi said schools would have to be certified by the Health Department, guarantee social distancing and operate at no more than 50% capacity in order to reopen. The Education Secretary will announce which of the island’s schools are eligible to reopen Thursday.

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