U.S. Cases Ease; Johnson Optimistic on Reopening: Virus Update
A healthcare worker standing inside a container collects a sample from a visitor at a temporary Covid-19 testing station in Seoul. (Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg)

U.S. Cases Ease; Johnson Optimistic on Reopening: Virus Update

The coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. continued to ease as the average daily increase dropped about 20% from the week before. The White House issued its strongest criticism yet of the World Health Organization’s handling of the investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 virus and China’s involvement in the probe’s findings.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is optimistic the government will be able to start announcing the relaxing of restrictions later this month.

France has the fastest pace of immunization against the Covid-19 virus among the four most populous European Union countries, according to the latest snapshot by Bloomberg’s vaccination data tracker.

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U.S. Cases Ease; Johnson Optimistic on Reopening: Virus Update

France Leads Vaccine Race Among EU’s Big Four (5:15 p.m. NY)

France has the fastest pace of immunization against the Covid-19 virus among the four most populous European Union countries, according to the latest snapshot by Bloomberg’s vaccination data tracker.

France stepped up its vaccination pace this week, putting it on track to cover 75% of the population with a two-dose vaccine in an estimated two-and-a-half years. Germany is estimated to reach the goal in 2.8 years, Spain in three years and Italy in three-and-a-half years, according to the calculations.

The U.K.’s rolling daily average of shots rose to 438,000 on Friday from 431,000 on Monday, which would allow Britain to reach 75% coverage in an estimated six months. For the U.S. — now administering an average of 1.7 million shots daily — the estimate is eight months.

U.K. Variant ‘Likely’ More Deadly, Scientists Say (5:02 p.m. NY)

The coronavirus variant first discovered in the U.K. is likely “associated with an increased risk of hospitalization and death,” British government scientists concluded.

In January, as the variant known as B.1.1.7 raised increasing alarms, the same group of scientists said the variant appeared to cause more severe disease and that “more data will accrue in the coming weeks.” The follow-up paper raised cautions about the limitations of further studies from around the U.K. But the scientists concluded “it is likely” the variant increases the chances of hospitalization and death, even if “the absolute risk of death per infection remains low.”

The variant has been found in more than 30 U.S. states, and goverment public health researchers predicted it could become the dominant strain by March.

Venezuela Receives 100,000 Sputnik-V Vaccines (3:39 p.m. NY)

Venezuela received the first 100,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine on Saturday, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said on state television.

Rodriguez said U.S. sanctions on Venezuela have prevented the purchase of more vaccines. This first batch will be used on “the most vulnerable sectors, the health workers,” Rodriguez said. The Sputnik shipment is a symbol of friendship and cooperation between Russia and Venezuela, said Russian ambassador Sergey Melik-Bagdasarov.

New California Cases, Deaths Drop Below Average (2:20 p.m. NY)

California reported fewer new cases and fatalities than its 14-day rolling average, according to the health department’s website. The state said there were 9,421 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, below the average of 11,904, and 433 deaths, fewer than the 442 average. The state’s 14-day positive test rate dropped to 4.9%, the lowest since Nov. 17. California has administered 45.4 million tests in total.

Missouri Vaccine Site Swamped by Out-of-Towners (2:01 p.m. NY)

Vaccine tourists descended on a mass vaccination site in Missouri, with some 80% of people turned away because they didn’t qualify, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. A health official in St. Clair County said most people turned away from the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds on Friday were from out out of state, including from Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana.

France Cases Steady (1:48 p.m. NY)

France added 21,231 new cases, as the country remains on the flat-to-slightly-declining plateau described by Health Minister Olivier Veran this week. Deaths rose by 199 to 81,647. Vaccinations, the pace of which regularly slows over weekends in France, totaled 49,953 on Saturday, according to Health Ministry figures.

White House Voices Skepticism on China’s Role in Covid-19 Probe (12:07 p.m. NY)

The White House issued its strongest criticism yet of the World Health Organization’s handling of the investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 virus and China’s involvement in the probe’s findings.

“We have deep concerns about the way in which the early findings of the Covid-19 investigation were communicated and questions about the process used to reach them,” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement Saturday. “It is imperative that this report be independent, with expert findings free from intervention or alteration by the Chinese government.”

Calling for transparency, Sullivan said “China must make available its data from the earliest days of the outbreak.”

U.K. Nears First Vaccine Target (12:03 p.m. NY)

The U.K. is getting closer to its goal of offering vaccines to the most vulnerable people by Feb. 15. More than 14.5 million people had received their first shot as of yesterday, the government said. Cases and deaths continue to decline, with 13,308 new infections and 621 fatalities reported Saturday. Both figures are about 10% lower than the average of the previous seven days.

N.Y. Hospitalizations Continue to Fall (11:59 p.m. NY)

New York’s virus hospitalizations continued to fall, to 6,888, the lowest since Dec. 25, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. While the state’s hospitalizations are among the nation’s highest, Cuomo said that number has dropped by more than 900 in the last week.

The state reported 8,763 new cases, in line with the far slower pace of infection compared to a month ago. The positive test rate, measured over seven days, fell to 4.63%, also the lowest since Christmas, Cuomo said. Another 125 people died.

U.K. Prime Minister Optimistic on Easing Restrictions, Sky Reports (9:07 a.m. NY)

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is optimistic he will be able to start announcing the easing of restrictions when he outlines the road map out of lockdown in England on Feb. 22, Sky News reported.

The first priority is opening schools on March 8, Johnson said, speaking at a plant in north England where the Novavax vaccine will be manufactured. Non-essential retail and the hospitality sector will probably follow.

U.S. Outbreak Continues to Ease (7:43 a.m. NY)

The U.S. added 99,575 new cases Friday, a daily decrease amid a continuing trend of rapidly falling infections, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. That brings to 101,980 the average daily increase from the previous seven days, a 22% drop from the seven days before. Daily increases regularly neared 300,000 around the New Year.

Another 5,476 deaths were reported, though that number is skewed because Ohio has been adding some 4,000 newly discovered fatalities. Ohio alone added 2,559 deaths on Friday. Still, the national drop in deaths is accelerating, with average daily fatalities from the previous seven days falling 14% compared with the week before.

UAE Vaccinations Surpass 5 Million (7:03 a.m. NY)

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have administered 103,469 doses in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of inoculations to 5,005,264. This compares with 109,587 doses on Friday and 107,550 on Thursday.

The country reported 2,631 new cases and 15 fatalities in the last 24 hours. Cases in the UAE had quadrupled to almost 4,000 per day by the end of January.

Polish Case and Death Numbers Increase (5:34 p.m. HK)

Poland reported 6,586 cases on Saturday, compared with 6,379 on Friday and 5,965 a week earlier. The number of deaths rose by 284, up from 247 yesterday and 283 week last week.

Total cases increased to 1,583,621, while the death toll rose to 40,709. The country of 38 million administered more than 2 million vaccine doses so far, including 624,907 second doses.

University of Oxford Starts Vaccine Trials on Children (5 p.m. HK)

The University of Oxford will begin testing the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with AstraZeneca Plc on children, a potentially key step in ending the global pandemic.

The Oxford trial plans to enroll 300 children aged 6 to 17, the university said in a statement Saturday. The first vaccinations will take place this month, with as many as 240 kids receiving the coronavirus vaccine and the remainder a meningitis shot, which should produce similar side effects. A larger trial involving thousands of children is expected to be conducted by Astra in the U.S. later.

Swiss Doctors Fear Summer Vaccination Goal Won’t be Met, TA Reports (4:41 p.m. HK)

The Swiss government’s goal to distribute vaccines to everyone who wants one by summer is unlikely to be met, the head of Switzerland’s Association of Cantonal Doctor’s said, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported.

“It could actually be autumn,” said Rudolf Hauri, Zug cantonal doctor and president of the Association of Cantonal Doctors, on Friday evening in an interview with a Swiss Public Radio program, Tages Anzeiger reported.

Hauri cited delivery bottlenecks and slow vaccine approvals for the delay, the newspaper said.

Russia’s Cases Drop to Lowest in Three Days (4:09 p.m. HK)

Russia reported the smallest number of new Covid-19 cases in three days on Saturday, while daily deaths at 502 was the lowest since Feb. 8.

In the past day new cases rose by 14,861, taking the total to 4.06 million. Russia’s overall death toll now stands at 79,696.

Germany’s Cases Steady (4:02 p.m. HK)

Germany’s confirmed virus cases rose by 9,197 to 2,330,422, an increase that is similar to the previous two days.

The so-called R-Value for both the 4-day and 7-day interval remained below 1, while the number of patients in intensive care declined by 123, according to the latest situational report from the country’s health body.

Switzerland Delays Virus Restriction Decision, Blick Reports (3:55 p.m. HK)

Switzerland’s government will postpone a decision on easing virus restrictions to February 24, newspaper Blick reported, citing an interview with health minister Alain Berset.

The Swiss government had originally said it would announce on Feb. 17 a decision on whether to ease restrictions in March on store and restaurant closings as well as work from home recommendations.

Berset told French speaking newspaper La Liberte that discussions on the restrictions will now take place next week followed by consultations with Swiss cantonal governments, Blick reported.

Kenya Says It Will Get First Vaccines This Month (2:11 p.m. HK)

Kenya expects to get its first Covid-19 vaccines by the end of this month and inoculate 16 million of its roughly 53 million people by June of next year.

The country will procure vaccines made by AstraZeneca Plc, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, and any others in the Covax facility, Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said Friday in a statement.

Mexico Covid-19 Deaths Rise 1,323 to Total 172,557 (9:11 a.m. HK)

Mexico reported a daily rise of 1,323 Covid-19 deaths, bringing the total to 172,557, according to data released by the Health Ministry Friday night.

In Mexico City, which has moved down from the highest alert level, 75% of general hospital beds are occupied while 66% of beds with ventilators are being used. That is above the national rate of 45% and 42% respectively.

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