U.S. Tests More for Variants; NYC to Ease Dining: Virus Update
The European Union risks sparking a global vaccine battle after unveiling a drastic plan to restrict exports of Covid-19 shots. Meanwhile, the EU cleared an AstraZeneca vaccine for all adults, though French President Emmanuel Macron questioned its effectiveness for the elderly. Johnson & Johnson said its one-shot dose generated strong protection against Covid-19 in a large, late-stage trial.
- Global Tracker: Cases exceed 101.8 million; deaths near 2.2 million
- Vaccine Tracker: More than 87.1 million shots given worldwide
- Latest Covid surge appears to flame out even in worst hot spots
- Flubbed EU vaccine rollout risks yet another crisis
- Biden Covid team derides Trump plan while borrowing playbook
- World’s most vaccinated nation struggles with new variants
- How vaccine nationalism flares over scarce supplies: QuickTake
Colorado to Vaccinate Teachers (3:55 p.m. NY)
Colorado Governor Jared Polis said Friday the state plans to vaccinate all private and public school teachers against Covid-19 over the next two to three weeks. Polis also announced the state will lower the minimum vaccine age to 65 from 70 on Feb. 8 and permit vaccinations for people ages 16-64 with two or more serious, underlying medical conditions. At a news conference in Denver, Polis said the Biden administration held a conference call with the nation’s governors Friday and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was discussed.
Cuomo Defends Handling of Nursing Homes (3:28 p.m. NY)
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo defended his administration’s handling of nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic, saying “everyone did the best they could” with the facts they had at the time.
Cuomo disputed a report from state Attorney General Letitia James, which found that the state Health Department may have undercounted Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes by as much as 50%, and may have obscured data available to assess the risk to patients.
France to Tighten Borders to Prevent Lockdown (3:06 p.m. NY)
France will tighten border controls and close large shopping centers as part of new measures to prevent the spread of more dangerous variants of the Covid-19 virus and avoid a third lockdown.
The country is doing everything to avoid a lockdown, Prime Minister Jean Castex said in a television address on Friday. He also urged people to work as much as possible from home and imposed coronavirus testing for people entering the country.
The spread of virus variants “is raising the risk that the pandemic will worsen,” he said. The measures come as the number of coronavirus cases increases.
Latest Covid Surge Appears to Flame Out (2:15 p.m. NY)
In another sign of relief for the U.S. health-care system, recent hot spots including Webb County, Texas and Maricopa County, Arizona have seen cases trend downward in the past week, according to USAFacts, a nonprofit statistics aggregator used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among the top-five hot spots with populations of at least 250,000, only Pinal County, Arizona, saw cases increase.
The U.S. has been administering an average of 1.26 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine per day in the past week, but just about 1.4% of the population has received the required two doses, according to the Bloomberg Virus Tracker.
Macron Casts Doubt on Astra Vaccine for Elderly (1:56 p.m. NY)
French President Emmanuel Macron raised doubts about the efficacy of the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford for older patients, calling it “quasi-ineffective” for people over the age of 65. The French leader said preliminary information on the vaccine isn’t encouraging for people between the ages of 60 and 65.
Italy Restrictions to Ease (12:58 p.m. NY)
Italy registered 13,574 new virus cases on Friday from 14,372 the day before. The country reported 477 deaths, down from 492 on Thursday. The government is about to ease restrictions for most of the regions in the country, including Rome and Milan areas, as of Jan. 31.
Vaccines May Need Adjusting to New Strains, Scientists Say (12:49 p.m. NY)
Covid-19 vaccines will have to be adjusted to improve their protective power against mutations such as the one that’s now prevalent in South Africa, researchers said.
A study into a vaccine from Novavax Inc. published Thursday showed that vaccines may be somewhat less effective against new variants. Johnson & Johnson released similar results on Friday from its trial.
U.S. Steps Up Screening for Variants (12:45 p.m. NY)
The Biden administration has increased monitoring for new variants of the coronavirus that spread more easily, including one that could become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March.
The U.S. is asking each state to send at least 750 samples a week to be sequenced to determine what mutations are spreading, CDC Director Rochelle Walenksy said in a briefing with reporters Friday.
Canada Tightens Travel Restrictions (12:27 p.m. NY)
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled measures to tighten travel restrictions on international travel. The country’s largest airlines have agreed to suspend flights to the Caribbean and Mexico for three months, Trudeau said at a press conference in Ottawa.
Passengers will be tested on arrival for Covid-19 and will have to quarantine in an approved hotel for three days at their own expense until they receive test results. People with a negative test can finish quarantine at home.
WHO Calls EU’s Vaccine Export Ban ‘Worrying’ (12:17 p.m. NY)
World Health Organization officials called the European Union’s plan to restrict the export of vaccines a “very worrying trend,” saying it reflects the curbs on essential medicines and PPE at the beginning of the outbreak. They said it’s essential that trade barriers don’t get in the way of trying to beat Covid-19 on a global scale.
“The people at the top of the queue are fighting over where they are in the queue -- that’s what it looks like, fighting over the cake,” Mike Ryan, head of the WHO’s emergencies program, said at a media briefing.
Germany Excludes Seniors From Astra Approval (12:10 p.m. NY)
Germany excluded the elderly from its AstraZeneca Plc Covid-19 vaccine plans, saying more evidence is needed of the shot’s effectiveness in people over 65 and contradicting the recommendation of European regulators.
The country’s immunization commission STIKO maintained that the Astra shot should only be given to adults between the ages of 18 and 64, it said Friday afternoon. Its decision may hamper efforts to accelerate the rollout of vaccines across Europe’s largest economy.
Half of Colorado Inmates May Have Caught Covid (12:08 p.m. NY)
Data suggest more than half of Colorado’s prison inmates have been infected by the coronavirus, The Colorado Sun reports. The data, compiled by the Colorado Health Institute, estimate 557 of every 1,000 inmates tested positive, the news site says.
Cuomo Says NYC Indoor Dining Can Reopen at 25% Capacity (11:58 a.m. NY)
New York City indoor dining can reopen at 25% capacity on Feb. 14, or Valentine’s Day, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.
The city’s positivity went from 7.1% on Jan. 5 to 4.9% on Jan. 28. All predictive models suggest improvement will continue, Cuomo said Friday at a virus press briefing.
Of 270,518 tests conducted statewide on Thursday, 4.65% were positive, the lowest since Dec. 11, Cuomo said. There were 151 virus-related fatalities. Hospitalizations declined by 163 to 8,357.
De Blasio Vows Return of NYC Workers, Schools (11:46 a.m. NY)
Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined a recovery plan for New York City that focuses on getting workers back into office buildings, students in classrooms and 5 million people vaccinated by the end of June.
During his final State of the City address, de Blasio said the city’s employees would return in person in May. He also pledged to fully reopen public school buildings in September, allowing all grades to go back to school to make it easier for parents to return to work.
Sweden Proposes Negative Test for Entry (11:30 a.m. NY)
Sweden’s Public Health Agency has asked the government to require a negative Covid-19 test for entry into the country, according to a statement. The goal is designed to lower the risk of transmission of new virus variants. Under the proposal, non-Swedish citizens who want to enter the country would have to show a negative test that is no more than 48 hours, while Swedish citizens would be tested on the day of arrival.
EU Approves Astra Vaccine for Adults (10:31 a.m. NY)
The European Union’s drug regulator cleared a Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford for all adults as a shortfall in expected deliveries raises tensions between the company and the bloc.
The go-ahead Friday clears the way for the European Commission to issue a conditional marketing authorization. The decision to include older adults in the approval comes after Germany’s immunization commission issued a preliminary recommendation Thursday that the inoculation be authorized only for people between the ages of 18 and 64 due to a lack of trial data in older groups.
EU Sets Vaccine Export Controls (9:57 a.m. NY)
The European Commission will oblige drug companies such as Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca to obtain prior authorization before sending shots manufactured in the bloc to other countries.
The new rules, which will run until the end of March, will allow EU states to block exports if a set of pre-defined criteria haven’t been met, although officials were eager to point out that the move stopped short of blanket bans. The main condition will be that companies have already delivered a sufficient number of dosages to EU members, as set out in existing purchase agreements.
Still, the step represents a dramatic escalation in the global battle for vaccines, with thousands dying every day and the European economy struggling under lockdown measures that have lasted almost a year.
Johnson & Johnson’s One-Shot Dose Is a Strong Shield (8:03 a.m. NY)
In a more than 44,000-person study, J&J’s vaccine prevented 66% of moderate to severe cases of Covid-19, according to a company statement. It was particularly effective at stopping severe disease, preventing 85% of severe infections and 100% of hospitalizations and deaths.
Based on the result, J&J plans to file for an emergency-use authorization in the U.S. in early February. The company didn’t specify how much of the vaccine would be available immediately, though it reaffirmed that the U.S. would receive 100 million doses by the end of June.
New U.K. Virus Strain Stabilizes in Most Regions (7:28 a.m. NY)
The spread of a new U.K. strain of Covid-19 stabilized or fell in most British regions with the country under a severe lockdown, even as overall case loads remained high.
The East Midlands was the only place where the percentage of cases linked to the new variant rose in the week to Jan. 23, the Office for National Statistics said Friday, suggesting the U.K.’s restriction have helped arrest transmission of a strain officials have warned is more deadly and easier to spread.
Hungary Approves China’s Vaccine (7:20 a.m. NY)
Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban said the country would buy Sinopharm vaccines to speed up inoculations amid the slow rollout of western shots.
The decision followed a government decree that allows the automatic approval of vaccines already used on at least 1 million people abroad, Chief Medical Officer Cecilia Muller said at a briefing on Friday. Hungary is ready to place a major order with Sinopharm in days, Orban told state radio earlier in the day.
Novartis to Help Produce Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine (7:07 a.m. NY)
Production is due to begin in the second quarter, with estimated delivery in the third quarter, according to a statement from Novartis. The pharma giant will rely on manufacturing facilities at a site in Stein, Switzerland.
Chief Executive Officer Vas Narasimhan told Bloomberg on Thursday that Novartis was in conversations with a range of companies to help produce coronavirus vaccines or treatments as the industry mobilizes to boost supply amid fights over access.
WHO Says Wet Market, Virology Institute Areas of Interest (6:30 a.m. NY)
The team of international scientists investigating the origins of the coronavirus is currently in the second of a two-part quarantine, in which it has no contact with the community, but is meeting individuals being organized as part of the study, according to Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the World Health Organization.
“We expect them to continue their work,” she said at a briefing, adding the Wuhan wet market and the Institute of Virology are areas of interest. She didn’t say when those places might be visited, or how long the team plans to stay in China.
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