24 March

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 2.7 million with a figure of 2,734,668 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University . Meanwhile, infections have passed 124 million world wide. World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the recent rise in Covid-19 deaths and cases are “truly worrying trends.” Speaking at a World Trade Organization virtual event, Tedros urged nations to waive intellectual property rights for vaccines as a “mid- to long-term solution” to help developing countries manufacture their own shots.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Farrar, an infectious-disease specialist and director of Wellcome , the UK research foundation, said at a conference. “There remains in my view too much optimism that there will be a single magic bullet that solves it all.” After one year, the world remains closer to the start of the pandemic than to its conclusion, as new waves take place around the world, Farrar said.

Pfizer Inc. said it has begun human safety testing of a new pill to treat the coronavirus that could be used at the first sign of illness. If it succeeds in trials, the pill could be prescribed early on in an infection to block viral replication before patients get very sick. The drug binds to an enzyme called a protease to keep the virus from replicating. Protease-inhibiting medicines have been successful in treating other types of viruses, include HIV and Hepatitis C. The new protease inhibitor is the second such medicine Pfizer has brought into human trials to treat Covid-19. Pfizer is testing another given intravenously to hospitalized virus patients.

US: Covid -19 infections are nearing 30 million at 29,922,391. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 543,843 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Chicago is seeing an uptick in several of its Covid-19 metrics. The city’s daily cases, positivity rate and related emergency-room visits have moved up in the last few weeks. The city is seeing about 350 cases per day, up from an average of around 270 to 280 daily for the last couple of weeks.

Vaccine news

EU: The European Union will abolish a list of more than 90 countries that are currently exempt from requiring vaccine export authorizations and will apply potential restrictions even to those pharmaceutical companies that fulfill their contracts with the bloc. The European Commission will revise its vaccine export transparency and authorization mechanism. The controversial tool introduced in January aims to help EU governments screen vaccine export requests, with the option to turn them down in certain cases.

US: Anthony Fauci, the US’s top health official, said the AstraZeneca vaccine was likely to be very good, but that an independent review board assessing the jab’s efficacy “got concerned” that the data in its public statement “were somewhat outdated and might in fact be misleading a bit”, adding that the “unforced error” would only add to public doubts about vaccines.

Millions more doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine are expected to be released after US regulators cleared the way for contract manufacturer Catalent Inc. to help produce them. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a Catalent facility in Bloomington, Indiana, to make the single-dose vaccine’s active ingredient.

Texas is to become the largest US state to make Covid vaccines available for all adults, with the drastic expansion for the state’s nearly 30 million residents beginning from Monday.

Australia: General practitioners in Australia have been told the Covid-19 vaccine rollout experienced “significant” week-one delivery errors, including a failure to send some shipments of needles to accompany the vials.

India: India’s government opened one of the biggest coronavirus immunization campaigns to everyone over the age of 45 as the nation grapples with a case resurgence amid tensions over delayed vaccine supplies to other countries.

Russia: President Vladimir Putin reportedly had his first dose of a Russian-made coronavirus vaccine in private, after months of delaying his jab, in an apparent effort to boost Russia’s fledgling vaccination drive.

Portugal: Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido reaffirmed that the country will meet a goal to administer a vaccine dose to at least 80% of people over 80 by the end of March. “Naturally, if we had access to more vaccines we would have the possibility of vaccinating more people,” Temido told reporters.

Lockdown updates

Norway: Norway is introducing new national measures to contain the pandemic, including a ban on the public serving of alcohol, and would postpone the introduction of a plan to reopen society, health minister Bent Høie has said.

Poland: Poland is to announce new restrictions for the next two weeks by Thursday at the latest, prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said, as the country braces for what could be a second Easter spent under a strict lockdown.

Netherlands:The Dutch government is to extend its lockdown measures by three weeks until 20 April due to rising numbers of Covid-19 infections and hospital admissions, prime minister Mark Rutte said.

Spain: Spain will lift restrictions on 30 March, on arrivals from Britain that have been in place since December in an attempt to contain the spread of new strains of coronavirus.

Germany: German hotel owners are unhappy over an extension to measures that bizarrely bar citizens from going on vacation in their own country but allow them to travel abroad.

US: San Francisco will open offices, outdoor bars and indoor recreational facilities as it moves to California’s orange tier, the state’s second-least restrictive level. Non-essential offices can open at 25% capacity starting Wednesday under the new guidelines, while already-open indoor businesses including restaurants and stores can expand capacity to 50%. The city also plans to allow outdoor concerts, theater performances and festivals for up to 50 people as of April 1, Mayor London Breed said. Santa Clara County, home to many of Silicon Valley’s large employers, also moved to the orange tier Tuesday, along with Marin County, a wealthy area north of San Francisco. The majority of California’s counties – representing 83% of the population – are in the state’s red, or second-most restrictive, tier for economic activity.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said about 80,000 city workers will return to their offices beginning May 3, a promise he outlined in his State of the City address in January. The city has administered more than 3.4 million vaccines and is expecting a “major boost” in supply in early April, the mayor said. All New Yorkers 50 and older are eligible to get their Covid-19 shots.

Meanwhile, Citigroup Inc. Chief Executive Officer Jane Fraser has barred internal video calls on Fridays and encouraged vacations in an effort to combat workplace malaise brought on by the pandemic. Fraser, who succeeded Michael Corbat earlier this year, said the final day of the working week shall be known as “Zoom-Free Fridays” and designated 28 May as a holiday to be known as “Citi Reset Day.”

Cyprus: Cyprus will open its borders starting 1 April to visitors from Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the UK Those with a negative test result who haven’t come into close contact with a confirmed case will be guaranteed a quarantine-free stay. Vaccinated travelers from Israel won’t need to be tested, and the same will apply to Britain starting 1 May.

Kuwait: Kuwait said arrivals who have taken one of the vaccines it has approved would be exempt from hotel quarantine requirements.