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February 4, 2021

International update: US Covid death toll passes 450,000 amid warnings that it could exceed 600,000

By Paul Dennis

4 February

Global: The global Covid death toll has reached 2,269,947 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 104 million world wide.

US: Covid-19 infections have passed 26.5 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 450,000, according to Johns Hopkins University, as it approaches a staggering half a million lives lost. The Biden administration has warned that the US toll could pass 600,000 before the virus is under control.

UK: Care homes in England operated by profitable chains have been branded unsafe by inspectors, who found serious failures in efforts to control the spread of coronavirus in its latest wave.

New Zealand: A new community case of Covid-19 has been identified in New Zealand: a close contact of two recent cases, who has been self-isolating. The new case is the mother of the toddler (known as Person C) who tested positive for Covid-19 after quarantining at the Pullman Hotel in Auckland. Person B, her partner, also tested positive.

Mexico: Mexico reported 1,707 daily coronavirus deaths, bringing the country’s total to 161,240. That’s the third highest toll globally, after the US and Brazil.

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Vaccine news

US: The rush to vaccinate US residents was bogged down this week, as snow blanketed the Northeast and appointments for shots were missed or canceled. The US administered 868,000 doses Monday, 33% fewer than the seven-day rolling average of 1.3 million that day.

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a partnership with the Biden administration to open a mass vaccination site at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, home of the Oakland A’s baseball team, as the most-populous state tries to ramp up an inoculation effort that has trailed other parts of the US.

New York City’s Yankee Stadium will open as a mass vaccination site for Bronx residents on Friday, with 15,000 appointments available in the first week of operation, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

Canada: Canada is set to receive a significant haul of vaccines over the next months through a platform designed to maximise supply to poor countries, according to a new forecast, despite reserving the most doses-per-person in the world through direct deals with pharmaceutical companies. The Globe and Mail reports that Canada will be the only G7 country worldwide to accept vaccines from the scheme.

Brazil: The Brazilian government announced Wednesday it was negotiating the purchase of 30 million coronavirus vaccine doses from Russia and India, after regulators made it easier for the treatments to win emergency-use authorisations.

Chile: Chile, the Latin American country that has procured the most vaccines per capita, expanded its inoculation program Wednesday to include the elderly. People lined up at state-run health centers and private clinics to receive the first dose of the Sinovac vaccine. The government is putting into practice a program that begin with people age 90 and higher and essential workers. In coming days, the age limit will fall progressively.

Serbia: Serbia has appealed for more Chinese vaccine doses after being the first in Europe to import shots from Sinopharm last month, the office of President Aleksandar Vucic said. The initial shipment of 1 million doses put the Balkan country ahead of the rest of continental Europe in inoculation.

UK: Oxford trial to test efficacy of mix of Covid vaccines for individuals. Volunteers are being sought for a world-first trial to establish the efficacy of giving people a first dose of one vaccine and a second dose of a different vaccine. The trial, which is being run by Oxford University and is funded by the government’s vaccine taskforce, has been described by ministers as “hugely important”.

AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford are planning to have a re-engineered shot that protects against new mutations available by the fall in time for the next round of immunizations that may be required before winter. Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford trials, said switching out the genome sequence, manufacturing and completing new studies for a vaccine against variants should be fairly quick.

The UK has passed the peak of its latest wave of the pandemic, officials said, as the country reached the milestone of vaccinating 10 million people, about 15% of the population. However, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said infections remain widespread and the state-run National Health Service would be “back in trouble extraordinarily fast” if social restrictions are lifted. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is “very hopeful” that schools will open on March 8, though he cautioned against moving too soon.

Israel: One dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine gives people about 90% protection from Covid by 21 days, according to an analysis of Israel’s mass vaccination programme.

Japan: Japan could start vaccinating medical personnel as soon as 17 February, FNN reported, citing unidentified government officials. The health ministry is expected to approve the use of Pfizer vaccines scheduled to arrive in the country around 14 February.

Taiwan: Taiwan will likely start providing Covid-19 shots in June instead of an earlier estimate of March as the government is having difficulty purchasing vaccines, health minister Chen Shih-chung said in an interview with Apple Daily in Taipei.

Australia: Everyone in Australia will have access to Covid-19 vaccines, Health Minister Greg Hunt said, as the country secured a further 10 million doses from Pfizer. Australia now has access to 150 million doses in total, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

Africa: Covax, the global program that strives to ensure equitable access to coronavirus vaccines, has allocated millions of doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s shots to African countries and aims for its first deliveries by the end of the month. Nigeria, the most populous nation on the continent, stands to receive 16 million doses, while Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are in line for 9 million and 7 million doses respectively, according to an interim distribution forecast published Wednesday. Other African countries will get a smaller number of vaccines.

Moderna offered to supply its coronavirus vaccine to South Africa, in what would be its first deal to sell shots to an African nation, a person familiar with the talks said. Business Day newspaper earlier reported that Moderna offered to sell South Africa 20 million doses, with the first arriving in May.

Lockdown updates

Australia: More than 500 tennis players and officials were ordered into isolation in the Australian city of Melbourne on Thursday as authorities reintroduced coronavirus restrictions after a worker at a quarantine hotel tested positive for the virus.

US: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asserted on Wednesday that US schools can safely reopen even if teachers have not received the coronavirus vaccine, while the top US infections expert supported the idea of wearing two face masks.

Chicago Public Schools again delayed a scheduled return to in-person learning after officials and the teachers’ union failed to reach an agreement on opening. President Biden is pushing to resume in-person learning in his first 100 days, but teachers’ unions and districts are at odds over how to do so safely.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy loosened indoor capacity restrictions for restaurants and other businesses to 35% from 25%. He also lifted the 10 p.m. curfew on indoor restaurant service. All changes are effective Friday.

UK: Britain’s health minister will make an announcement on further plans to order hotel quarantine for some travellers on Thursday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

South Korea: South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Thursday ordered a revamp of social distancing guidelines in a bid to win greater public support for efforts to stop local transmission of the new coronavirus.

Saudi Arabia: All gatherings including celebrations such as weddings, company meetings at private or hotel halls as well as rest centers and camps will be halted for 30 days starting Thursday evening, state-run SPA reported, citing a statement from the interior ministry.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is set to allow up to one-third of a school’s student capacity to return to classes on a half-day basis after the Lunar New Year holiday, double the current capacity. School campuses have been closed as the city battles an extended wave of the coronavirus, which has led authorities to enact some of its strictest restrictions since the start of the pandemic.

Economy updates

Global: Qualcomm Inc., the world’s largest smartphone chipmaker, said it is struggling to meet demand, signaling that a global semiconductor shortage is spreading. Like most chipmakers, Qualcomm outsources production to companies such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Samsung Electronics Co., but these suppliers are having difficulties adjusting to a vigorous rebound in demand. The auto sector has also complained about the issue of shortages.

The World Economic Forum proposed to reschedule the Special Annual Meeting in Singapore to mid-August due to travel restrictions and the current state of the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting had been scheduled for late May.

UK: UK car sales got off to the slowest start to a year since 1970 as dealerships closed because of the pandemic, with January registrations down about 40% from a year earlier, according to preliminary data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Final data will be released later Thursday. More than 10,000 jobs were cut across the auto sector last year.

Thailand: Centara Hotels & Resorts, owned by one of Thailand’s richest families, is preparing to reopen properties, betting that wider global vaccine availability and easing containment measures will revive tourism. The chain expects a resumption in regional traffic in the third quarter and some international travel in the following three months, Deputy Chief Executive Officer Markland Blaiklock said. Foreign tourist arrivals to Thailand slumped to 6.7 million last year from 40 million in 2019.

US: American Airlines Group Inc. told 13,000 employees they could be laid off, many for the second time in six months, saying a much-anticipated summer travel rebound isn’t materializing. The warning came less than a week after United Airlines Holdings Inc. notified 14,000 employees that their jobs may again be in danger. With vaccination campaigns still in the early stages, domestic airline passengers are at less than 40% of 2019 levels. Foreign travel is at only about 15%, the International Air Transport Association said Wednesday.

The US House of Representatives passed a budget that helps clear the path for a fast-tracking of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan. The Senate plans to pass an identical version of the budget later this week.


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