5 February

Global: The global Covid death toll has reached 2,284,686 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections are nearing 105 million world wide.

 US: Covid-19 infections have passed 26.6 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 455,869 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The US has recorded more than 40,000 deaths from Covid in the past two weeks, with concerns growing that parties linked to this Sunday’s culmination of the football season – the Super Bowl – may lead to another spike in infections.

Until vaccines are widely available, weekly Covid-19 testing plus a two-week isolation period for positive cases may be the most cost-effective strategy to tackle the spread of the virus in the US when transmission is high, a study by The Lancet found. Even monthly testing across the US, requiring 12 million tests a day, would be more cost-effective than the current approach of testing only people with symptoms and their close contacts, the medical journal said.

Johnson & Johnson has applied in the US for emergency use authorisation for its single-dose vaccine. The drugmaker’s application to the Food and Drug Administration follows its 29 January report in which it said the vaccine had a 66% rate of preventing infections in its large global trial.

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The US Food and Drug Administration revised its Emergency Use Authorization for convalescent plasma, limiting its use to hospitalized patients early in the disease. The convalescent plasma used must contain high levels of antibodies. The EUA was updated based on data from more recent clinical trials since the original order was issued in August, the agency said in a statement. Plasma with low levels of antibodies has not been shown to be helpful in treating Covid-19 and is no longer authorized for use in treatment, the FDA said.

UK: British Ministers have been accused of being too slow to act after it was disclosed new coronavirus quarantine hotels will not come into force until mid-February. From 15 February, travellers returning to the UK from “red list” countries will have to quarantine in a government-approved facility for 10 days. Labour said it was “beyond comprehension” that it was taking so long to get the scheme up and running.

South Korea: Has passed 80,000 infections as the government weighs whether to tighten coronavirus restrictions ahead of next week’s Lunar New Year celebrations.

China: has reported the fewest new Covid cases in over a month, official data showed on Friday, suggesting that the latest wave of the disease is subsiding ahead of the key Lunar New Year holiday period set to begin next week.

Japan: The number of Covid infections in Tokyo may have jumped ninefold since last summer, coronavirus antibody tests showed. Random testing in Japan’s capital in December showed that 0.91% of people had antibodies, compared with about 0.1% in a similar study in June, the health ministry said in a report on Friday.

Vaccine news

EU: European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said she underestimated the complications that can arise in the production of coronavirus vaccines, Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported, citing an interview with the European Commission president. “We focused very much on the development of a vaccine,” she said. “In retrospect, we should have thought more about the challenges of mass production in parallel.”

US: New York’s state health commissioner denied New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s request to start using vaccine doses that have been reserved for second doses. The city currently has around 320,000 doses on hand that have been reserved for second doses. De Blasio has said these doses sit in storage for weeks and could be used for first doses.

Mexico: Is reported to be running out of vaccines, as the government vaccine registration website crashed for a third day in a row. Mexico has received only about 760,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, and has only about 89,000 of those left, many of which are earmarked for second shots. It expects to get more Pfizer doses by mid-month, and as many as 400,000 Sputnik shots by the end of February, but they won’t be enough to vaccinate even the country’s 750,000 frontline health workers and represent a drop in the bucket for Mexico’s population of 126 million.

South Korea: The drug safety ministry approved Celltrion’s Covid-19 treatment for high-risk patients with mild-to-moderate symptoms. The approval is under the condition that Celltrion submits results of its Phase 3 clinical trial.

India: is set to receive the largest number of Covid-19 vaccine doses – 97.2 million shots – in the first tranche of distribution from the World Health Organization’s Covax initiative, despite the fact that supply in the country currently appears to outstrip demand. The Covax initiative, aimed at creating equitable global access to Covid vaccines especially for developing countries, is planning to distribute 337.2 million doses at the end of this month, the first delivery of some 2 billion shots it’s ordered so far.

Pfizer has withdrawn an application for emergency-use authorization of its Covid-19 vaccine in India, Reuters reporter Krishna Das tweeted, citing an unidentified spokeswoman. Pfizer reportedly made the decision after understanding what additional information India’s regulator requires.

China: Will donate 100,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccine to Congo Republic and forgive $13 million in public debt, its ambassador to the country said. The ambassador Ma Fulin announced the measures after a meeting with Congo’s president Denis Sassou Nguesso. He did not say which Chinese-developed vaccine would be provided, but the doses are enough to vaccinate 50,000 of Congo’s 5.1 million people. Ma said the Chinese government would also forgive all public Congolese debt that came due before the end of 2020, an estimated $13 million.

AstraZeneca applied to Japan’s health ministry Friday for approval for its Covid-19 vaccine, Nikkei reported, without attribution. The company still needs to submit clinical data in March, the report said.

Brazil: Is in talks to buy 20 million more doses of the Sinovac Biotech coronavirus vaccine, Reuters reported, citing an interview with Sao Paulo governor Joao Doria. The order will be on top of 100 million vaccine doses secured by Butantan biomedical institute, Doria said.

UK: Valneva SE is looking at running a head-to-head trial with an approved Covid-19 vaccine for advanced tests of its own shot in the UK, where the rapid rollout of immunizations could make it hard to conduct a conventional study using a placebo. The French pharmaceutical company is in discussions with regulators about whether volunteers in the control arm of the trial, planned to start in April, could be given a coronavirus shot that has already been authorized, Chief Executive Officer Thomas Lingelbach said. The company is planning to enroll about 4,000 people in its late-stage trials in the UK and aims for approval in the last quarter of 2021.

Myanmar: Is set to kick off vaccination for the general public Friday, starting with townships with the highest number of infections and mortality rate, according to Khin Khin Gyi, director of emerging infectious disease at the Ministry of Health and Sports. The initial phase will prioritize those 65 and above. Myanmar’s military, which seized power in a coup earlier this week, has vowed to inoculate 38.4 million people 18 and older by the end of this year. The administration expects the first batch of 30 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine ordered from the Serum Institute of India to arrive next week and 27 million doses from the Covax facility from March.

Lockdown updates

US: A pilot project in which rapid Covid-19 tests were used in an effort to reopen some US schools has encountered administrative and logistical hurdles, according to a report Thursday.

New Zealand: Said on Friday it will start receiving refugees again this month, nearly a year after it shut its borders to stop the spread of Covid-19. A group of 35 refugees will arrive in February, with about 210 refugees expected to enter the country by 30 June, Immigration New Zealand officials said.

Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel said in an interview with RTL Media Group it’s still too soon to ease the lockdown in Europe’s largest economy, even as the pandemic shows signs of ebbing. She’ll meet regional German leaders next week to discuss whether to continue current restrictions, which include shuttered bars, restaurants and most retailers, beyond 14 February.

France: French prime minister Jean Castex said that the coronavirus situation in France remained fragile but that for the moment ruled out a new national lockdown. Castex said that the rate of infection had not significantly strengthened over the past two weeks, even if the pressure on French hospitals remained strong, and the country must stick with the current restrictions.

Philippines: The Philippines will make it mandatory to wear masks inside all vehicles, even for passengers from the same household, the Transport and Health Departments said in a statement. Only drivers traveling alone may remove masks, while violators face fines, according to the statement.

Canada: Has extended its ban on cruise ships through February 2022 because of Covid-19, effectively shutting down popular summer trips to Alaska for another year. The prohibition will allow authorities to focus on vaccine rollout and limit the spread of new variants, the government said in a statement.

UK: Will require travellers from coronavirus hot spots to quarantine starting 15 February, the government said, adding flesh to a policy first announced last month. Arrivals from countries on the UK travel ban list will be required to isolate for 10 days in government-approved accommodation, the Department for Health and Social Care said Thursday. The government is seeking bids from hotels near airports and ports to support the program.

Economy updates

UK: The Bank of England said the UK economy is heading for a rapid pickup in light of a bold vaccination effort. Despite lowering its outlook for the year, the central bank sounded an optimistic note on its hopes of a powerful rebound. Officials also kept monetary stimulus in place and agreed as a contingency that banks should prepare for the possibility of negative interest rates.

US: Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other US House of Representatives leaders will meet with President Joe Biden on Friday after the Senate backed by 99-1 a non-binding call to oppose stimulus checks going to “upper-income taxpayers” – part of the complex process of preparing Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan for passage through Congress. The amendment to the fiscal 2021 budget resolution doesn’t define the income cutoff for stimulus checks, but serves as a test vote for senators to gauge support on tightening the requirements.