N.Y. Arenas to Reopen; Merkel Eases Restrictions: Virus Update
A technician holds a beaker in a quality control laboratory at a China Grand Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Holdings Ltd. facility in Wuhan, China. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

N.Y. Arenas to Reopen; Merkel Eases Restrictions: Virus Update

The daily number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. was under 100,000 for a third consecutive day on Tuesday, the first time that’s happened since the week of Nov. 2. New York’s large venues and stadiums can start reopening Feb. 23 with testing requirements and capacity limits.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel lost a skirmish in a battle with state leaders over how quickly Europe’s biggest economy reopens.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began recommending that Americans wear a cloth mask over a medical mask to slow the spread of Covid-19. A World Health Organization panel recommended AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine for all adults over 18, paving the way to speed up inoculations in developing countries.

Key Developments:

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N.Y. Arenas to Reopen; Merkel Eases Restrictions: Virus Update

Merkel Gives Way in Fight Over Reopening (5 p.m. NY)

German schools and kindergartens may reopen as soon as next week, a win for state leaders over Chancellor Angela Merkel in a wider battle over how quickly Europe’s biggest economy reopens.

Authorities on Wednesday set guidelines for relaxing curbs, should the country’s coronavirus outbreak continue to recede, starting with granting states the power to open schools and daycare centers. Merkel had argued for maintaining consistent rules across the country and keeping children at home until the end of the month.

Tensions ran high in Berlin amid mounting pressure to relax lockdown rules. There were some concessions, with hair salons allowed open at the beginning of next month. Other measures -- which were slated to expire on Feb. 14 -- were extended until March 7.

California Touts Gains as Deaths Near High (4:50 p.m. NY)

Governor Gavin Newsom said California is making progress in delivering coronavirus vaccines and trends are improving, even as the state is poised to surpass New York for the most Covid-19 fatalities.

The governor said more than 5 million vaccinations have been administered in California while other data, including new cases and hospitalizations, are moving in the right direction. The state had 45,052 Covid-19 fatalities as of Wednesday, compared with 45,306 in the early virus epicenter of New York.

Chicago to Expand Indoor Dining (3:25 p.m. NY)

Chicago plans to further ease some restrictions starting Thursday as the spread of Covid-19 slows. Indoor service at bars, restaurants and events can expand to the lesser of 25% capacity or 50 people per room or floor on Feb. 11, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. Restaurant reopening rules include a maximum of six patrons per table, closing at midnight and ending alcohol sales at 11 p.m.

Merkel Sets Course for Looser Curbs in Germany (2 p.m. NY)

Chancellor Angela Merkel plans to gradually reopen Germany’s shuttered hairdressers, schools and stores, prodded into a faster easing despite her concerns over a renewed spike in coronavirus infections.

As the country’s coronavirus outbreak steadily recedes, authorities on Wednesday set guidelines for opening up the economy if the trend continues. The plan will start with states able to open schools and daycares.

Hair salons can open at the beginning of next month, while other measures -- which were slated to expire on Feb. 14 -- were extended until March 7, even though the German leader urged a more cautious approach.

N.J. Governor in Quarantine (1:30 p.m. NY)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy canceled in-person events and placed himself in quarantine after a family member tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to his communications director, Mahen Gunaratna.

N.Y. Arenas Can Reopen With Limits (12:45 p.m. NY)

New York’s large venues and stadiums can start reopening Feb. 23 with testing requirements and capacity limits, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

The announcement follows “unparalleled success” with a pilot program for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills, when 7,000 fans were allowed to attend games after testing negative for Covid-19.

Barclays Center will be one of the first to reopen on Feb. 23 for the Brooklyn Nets basketball game versus the Sacramento Kings, Cuomo said Wednesday at a virus briefing.

Venues with over 10,000-person total capacity must adhere to a 10% capacity limit. All attendees must show proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of the event. Face coverings, social distancing and temperature checks are required, along with assigned and socially distanced seating.

In related news, Cuomo said the federal government will cooperate with New York to deliver vaccines to socially vulnerable communities. Two mass-vaccination sites in Queens and central Brooklyn will open the week of Feb. 24, each capable of administering 3,000 doses a day.

Teva in Talks to Make Vaccines, CEO Says (12:45 p.m. NY)

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. is in talks with Covid-19 vaccine makers about helping to produce and distribute shots as demand rises for immunizations.

The generic drug giant is offering to dedicate its manufacturing capacity in the U.S., Europe and beyond to aid with mass-immunization efforts geared at combating the pandemic, Chief Executive Officer Kare Schultz said Wednesday.

Astra Shot Backed by WHO for All Adults (11:20 a.m. NY)

A World Health Organization panel recommended AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine for all adults over 18, paving the way to speed up inoculations in developing countries.

The recommendation may encourage more countries to use the vaccine broadly, after some European Union members advised against giving it to the elderly, citing insufficient trial data. The shot’s effect in older people is expected to be the same as for younger recipients, said Alejandro Cravioto, chairman of the WHO expert panel, in a briefing.

The move is good news for developing countries, many of which are waiting to administer their first shots as wealthier countries have already inoculated millions of residents. AstraZeneca, which developed the vaccine with the University of Oxford, has pledged significant supplies to Covax, a facility that aims to distribute vaccines equitably around the world.

CDC Study Shows Benefit of Two Masks (11:05 a.m. NY)

Wearing a cloth mask over a medical mask can boost protection from aerosolized particles and slow the spread of Covid-19, a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

The finding, part of the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, also examined the efficacy of modifications made to improve the fit of a medical mask.

The study is likely to provide the basis for new mask guidance from the CDC. The agency hasn’t yet recommended double-masking because it was waiting to gather evidence on the practice, government officials have said.

U.S. Cases Slow to November Level (10:45 a.m. NY)

The daily number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. was under 100,000 for a third consecutive day on Tuesday, the first time that’s happened since the week of Nov. 2, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. On Jan. 5, the U.S. posted a record 405,982 new infections after a holiday season.

EU Approves 23 More Vaccine Export Requests (10 a.m. NY)

The European Union said it has approved a further 23 requests to ship Covid-19 vaccines to other parts of the world under the bloc’s new export-licensing regime, bringing the total to 27.

The disclosure on Wednesday by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, follows its announcement last week that it had endorsed four vaccine shipments from the bloc -- two to Canada and one each to Japan and the U.K.

AstraZeneca Explores Options to Speed Output (9:40 a.m. NY)

AstraZeneca and IDT Biologika signed a letter of intent to raise European vaccine manufacturing and secure long-term supply capacity. The companies said they are “exploring options to accelerate output” of the finished AstraZeneca vaccine in the second quarter of 2021.

Asthma Drug Cuts Hospitalizations (9:08 a.m. NY)

AstraZeneca’s asthma treatment Pulmicort reduced the need for urgent care and hospitalization of Covid-19 patients in a small study, joining a handful of potentially promising treatments for the disease.

Early treatment with the inhaled drug, also known as budesonide, reduced the relative risk of such interventions by 90% over the 28-day study period, according to research from the University of Oxford, Astra’s partner in developing a Covid-19 vaccine.

Lithuania Takes ‘Big Risk’ With Reopening (9 a.m. NY)

Lithuania will relax lockdown rules and allow small shops and beauty salons to reopen from Feb. 15. Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte said the government is “taking a big risk” and rules could be reversed if the situation deteriorates. The Baltic nation will keep restrictions on movement between municipalities, while schools, bars and restaurants will stay closed.

Don’t Book Summer Breaks, U.K. Says (6:45 a.m. NY)

U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said it’s “too soon” for people to start booking summer holidays. His comments reflect a shift in tone in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government since evidence emerged suggesting virus variants may make vaccines less effective.

“People shouldn’t be booking holidays right now -- not domestically or internationally,” Shapps told BBC Radio. “We don’t know where we’ll be up to in terms of the decline in cases, deaths, vaccination. And not just the vaccination program here, but the vaccination program internationally, because people will be going outside of our borders.”

Biden’s Schools Push Faces Union Rebuff (6:03 a.m. NY)

President Joe Biden’s push to reopen U.S. schools is running headlong into his pledge to support teachers, who are demanding more coronavirus testing, vaccinations and other safety measures before returning to classrooms.

The president has pledged to follow the science as he nudges schools toward welcoming more students back to class, while also enjoying broad support from teachers and their unions. First Lady Jill Biden, a teacher herself, welcomed the heads of the two top teachers unions to the White House on the administration’s first full day in office.

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