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February 3, 2021

International update:

By Paul Dennis

3 February

Global: The global Covid death toll has reached 2,253,565 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections are nearing 104 million world wide.

World Health Organization inspectors visited a laboratory in China’s Wuhan city on Wednesday that American officials suggested could have been the source of the coronavirus. The inspection of the Wuhan virology institute, which conducts research on the world’s most dangerous diseases, will be one of the most-watched stops on the team’s probe into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The vast majority of people who contract coronavirus develop antibodies that may help protect them against reinfection for at least six months, researchers say. Blood samples collected from more than 20,000 UK residents between June and November 2020 revealed that 99% of those who tested positive had antibodies for at least three months, with 88% having them for the full six months studied.

US: Covid-19 infections have passed 26.4 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 446,807 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

The US Centers for Disease Control may recommend wearing two masks — one over the other — to keep at bay the more contagious variants of the coronavirus, according to Anthony Fauci. The agency doesn’t yet have the data to make any formal recommendation, he said Tuesday during a Washington Post event. Still, “it makes common sense” to increase protection, said Fauci, the government’s top infectious-disease expert.

France: The number of patients in hospital with coronavirus in France is at its highest since November. The health ministry reported 28,029 people were in hospital with the virus and 3,270 in intensive care. Both numbers set new 2021 highs.

Ireland: Ireland recorded 101 virus related deaths on Tuesday, the highest since the pandemic began, health authorities said. The nation had battled one of the world’s worst outbreaks last month, which is now showing signs of easing. Daily infections dropped to 879, the lowest in over a month.

Vaccine news

Global: Covid-19 vaccine nationalism is harmful for all, the World Health Organization director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. He said weak cooperation between nations is a major barrier to achieving worldwide vaccination at the scale needed to end the pandemic.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and World Bank President David Malpass on Tuesday stressed the need to coordinate in responding the global pandemic, improving vaccine access for the poorest countries, and combating climate change.

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine provided strong protection against Covid-19 in an interim analysis of an advanced clinical trial, while its backers said it appears to work against new strains. The vaccine was well-tolerated and also worked among the elderly, according to the peer-reviewed findings, which were published Tuesday in the medical journal The Lancet. Sputnik V showed efficacy of 91.6%, validating claims by the developers last year.

EU: The EU predicted a surge in the domestic supply of Covid-19 vaccines during the second quarter and said the bloc had authorized exports of the shots to the UK and Canada. “We expect that in the second quarter we should be receiving 300 million doses and, of course, more if other vaccines come on stream,” European Commission spokesman Eric Mamer told reporters on Tuesday in Brussels. Meanwhile, Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said he had a video-conference meeting with AstraZeneca Plc CEO Pascal Soriot, who reiterated a commitment to boost production in Europe to meet the EU’s delivery schedule for vaccines.

US: President Joe Biden’s administration will begin Tuesday to test a program to provide coronavirus vaccines directly to pharmacies, as they try to ratchet up the pace of US. inoculations. Biden’s team will announce Tuesday that they’ll ship roughly 1 million doses per week directly to pharmacies as a trial run, according to two people familiar with the plans. The people asked not to be identified ahead of the announcement. The program will expand as vaccine supply allows, the people said. It’s distinct from a planned 5% increase in shipments that the Biden administration revealed to states in a call with governors Tuesday morning, one person said.

UK: AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid vaccine showed 82.4% effectiveness with a three-month gap between two shots, according to a new study that bolsters the UK.’s controversial decision to adopt the extended dosing interval. The vaccine also may significantly reduce transmission of the virus, according to analysis of trial data by the University of Oxford, which developed the vaccine with the UK drugmaker. Swabs taken from volunteers in the U.K. arm of the trial showed a 67% reduction in transmission after the first dose, the report showed.

New Zealand: The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine has been provisionally approved for use in New Zealand, where the government will begin vaccinating frontline healthcare and border workers in the coming months. Jacinda Ardern, the prime minister, said the approval was a positive step in the country’s fight against Covid-19, of which there have been fewer than 2,000 cases nationally.

France: French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that all of his countrymen who want a vaccine will be offered one “by the end of the summer”. He told the TF1 channel that 80% of care-home residents – some 500,000 people – would be vaccinated by early March.

Germany: Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel has said “all vaccines” approved by the EU’s medicines regulator are welcome, including Russian and Chinese shots, Reuters reports. In a TV interview, she said Germany welcomed the strong data from trials of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine.

Mexico: Mexico on Tuesday approved Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for emergency use in the country, one of the worst hit by the pandemic, following the release of positive trial results. The move is a boost to the Latin American nation’s efforts to keep its immunisation program on track in the face of limited supplies from other manufacturers.

Myanmar: Myanmar’s vaccine roll-out is set to continue uninterrupted even though a section of medical workers and doctors are halting work to protest the coup, according to Khin Khin Gyi, director of emerging infectious disease at the Ministry of Health and Sports. The country inoculated more than 80,000 health workers, volunteers and officials in the first week of the vaccination drive and is set to receive 2 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India on Feb. 11 and another batch of 4.2 million shots from the global Covax facility by the end of the month.

Africa: Doctors Without Borders said Southern Africa is in dire need of vaccine doses, and called for more-equitable distribution of shots with health workers and people at highest risk given priority. “Health workers in Mozambique, Eswatini, and Malawi are currently struggling to treat escalating numbers of patients with little prospect of receiving a vaccine to protect themselves or others from the virus,” the group said in a statement.

Lockdown updates

South Africa: Australian cricket’s governing body said it had no choice but to delay the tour of South Africa due to the coronavirus pandemic, amid a second wave and new variant of the virus. Cricket Australia Interim CEO Nick Hockley said the decision was not “made lightly” and that there are plans to complete the tour at a later date. South Africa remains on virus alert level 3, although it has begun easing restrictions and a ban on alcohol sales as the positivity rate declines to less than 20% from a peak of 36% last month.

Singapore: Singapore is adding foreign-worker testing measures, according to a government statement. Some newly arrived workers from the construction, marine and process sectors who have recent travel history to higher-risk countries will have to stay at a designated facility to go through an additional seven-day testing regime after completing their mandatory 14-day quarantine period. Foreign domestic workers and confinement nannies who have recent travel history to higher-risk countries will also have to take an on-arrival serology test in addition to the existing polymerase chain reaction test.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is considering whether 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 holidays, the South China Morning Post reported, citing unidentified people. Currently no more than a sixth of student capacity is allowed.

Taiwan: Opening day for Taiwanese schools will be delayed to 22 February from 18 February, Minister of Education Pan Wen-chung said in a briefing in Taipei. Extension of the winter break will allow schools to complete disinfection and virus containment preparations.

Thailand: A Thai resort island popular for its beaches is drawing up plans to fully reopen to vaccinated visitors by October to revive its wrecked tourism industry. More than a dozen business groups are planning to pool funds to vaccinate 70% of the island’s population above 18 without waiting for a government rollout. They are betting that it’ll be safe to open the region to foreign tourists once the local population achieves herd immunity. The plan, which will need government approval, also seeks to waive a mandatory 14-day quarantine requirement, a major hurdle for many potential travelers.

Netherlands: The lockdown in the Netherlands will be extended until March 2, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced on Tuesday. Despite decreasing infections since Christmas, Rutte warned of “an inevitable third wave” because the British mutation accounts for about two-thirds of all new infections. A relaxation of measures would have been possible if it weren’t for the British variant, he said.

Scotland: Scotland will tighten rules for anyone coming into the country in an effort to further suppress coronavirus infections as the government in Edinburgh set out an initial road map out of lockdown. “We intend to introduce a managed quarantine requirement for anyone who arrives directly in Scotland, regardless of which country they’ve come from,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament.

Variant news

In the Netherlands, health agency RIVM estimates that about two-thirds of newly infected people last week had the UK variant.

Sweden’s Public Health Agency, meanwhile, said random checks suggest it’s also seeing an increased spread of the British variant. It was found in almost 11% of 2,220 samples analyzed. In the Paris region, an analysis of positive tests found the strain accounted for 15% to 20% of cases last week, up from around 6% in the first week of January.

Economy updates

Australia: Australia’s economy is expected to recover to its pre-pandemic size by the middle of this year – six to 12 months early – the Reserve Bank governor has revealed. On Wednesday, Philip Lowe released the bank’s revised projections showing a faster than expected recovery during the Covid-19 recession is expected to translate to growth of 3.5% this year and next, with unemployment set to fall to 6% in 2021.

US: US President Joe Biden will order a government-wide review of critical supply chains in an effort to reduce US reliance on countries such as China for essential medical supplies and minerals, according to people familiar with the matter. The administration’s goal is to protect government and private sector supply chains to prevent future shortages and limit other countries’ ability to exert leverage over the US, according to an administration official.

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