Restrictions Ease in U.S.; No Lockdown for France: Virus Update
Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines in Paris, France. (Photographer: Nathan Laine/Bloomberg)

Restrictions Ease in U.S.; No Lockdown for France: Virus Update

Dozens of U.S. states are releasing vaccines left over from a federal initiative for nursing homes, increasing supply for other eligible people like essential workers and seniors. New York City hospitalizations surged after the snowstorm, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Around the U.S. restrictions are lifting as the outbreak eases.

Wisconsin’s governor issued a new face mask order immediately after the legislature repealed his earlier one. Texas set a daily record for vaccinations.

The Bank of England forecasts that the U.K. economy is heading for a powerful rebound as a consequence of the government’s aggressive push to vaccinate its citizens. France said a new lockdown is not justified at the moment.

Key Developments:

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Restrictions Ease in U.S.; No Lockdown for France: Virus Update

Texas Breaks Daily Vaccination Record (4:10 p.m. NY)

Texas administered more than 150,000 vaccinations on Thursday, the highest 24-hour total since the rollout, Governor Greg Abbott said in a tweet.

The aggregate figure for shots in the second-largest US state will exceed 3 million “in a few days,” Abbott said. Meanwhile, statewide virus hospitalizations have dropped to the lowest since late December, health department figures showed.

Restrictions Ease in U.S.; No Lockdown for France: Virus Update

Wisconsin Governor Issues New Mask Order in Political Fight (3:58 p.m. NY)

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers immediately issued a new face mask order after the state legislature repealed his earlier one.

“Our fight against this virus isn’t over,” Evers, a Democrat, said in a video on Twitter after the Republican-controlled body voted. “It’s not going away, especially as we see mutations of this virus in our state and others. Wearing a mask is the most basic thing we can do to keep each other safe.”

He accused the legislature of putting politics over science. Legislators have argued the issue is not masks themselves but who has the ultimate authority to declare heath emergencies.

School Testing Experiment Hits Snarls (3:35 p.m. NY)

A pilot project in which rapid Covid-19 tests were used in an effort to safely reopen some U.S. schools has encountered administrative and logistical hurdles, according to a report released Thursday.

Through a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Rockefeller Foundation, the project received about 140,000 quick-turnaround Covid tests from Abbott Laboratories.

Even with access to testing from the outset, however, schools needed additional resources like staffing to perform the tests. While they found support in their communities for testing, they also encountered resistance from parents and students.

U.S. Restrictions Easing (2:58 p.m. NY)

Around the U.S., restrictions are relaxing as the outbreak eases:

  • Massachusetts will increase the capacity on business like restaurants and gyms to 40% from 25%
  • Rhode Island is allowing weddings to have as many as 50 guests, and indoor dining now can include two households
  • Arkansas said it would not extend a directive requiring bars and restaurants selling alcohol to close at 11 p.m.
  • Michigan will allow high school sports leagues to restart practices and competitions. Masks will be required
  • Puerto Rico will shorten its nighttime curfew by an hour -- the new schedule is midnight to 5 a.m. -- and allow many businesses to operate at 50% capacity
  • Denver began accepting applications for a program that encourages businesses to add Covid-19 safety measures “beyond what is already required by public health orders,” the city government announced. “In doing so, businesses will be able to expand operational capacity, which will help Denver’s economy recover”

Merkel Cautions of Easing Lockdown (2:04 p.m. N.Y.)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it’s still too soon to ease the lockdown in Europe’s largest economy even as the pandemic shows signs of easing.

“We must stand on solid ground so we can open without having to close again soon,” the 66-year-old leader said in an interview with RTL Media Group, her second television appearance this week. “We need to be very careful in this last stretch so that not so many people die.”

Restrictions Ease in U.S.; No Lockdown for France: Virus Update

Ireland Surpasses 200,000 Cases (1:39 p.m. NY)

Ireland’s total Covid-19 cases passed 200,000, even as the virus’s spread continues to slow. While case numbers may increase in the days ahead as authorities widen testing of close contacts, the so-called reproduction number is between 0.5 and 0.8, the nation’s health ministry said. Ireland reported 1,318 new cases on Thursday, with 75 deaths.

Earlier, the government confirmed that its plan to vaccinate over 70s will take longer than planned, after the Irish medicine regulator ruled the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be given to the elderly until there is more information of the vaccine’s efficacy on that age group.

Mozambique Imposes Restrictions (1:34 p.m. NY)

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi announced new restrictions Thursday to last for 30 days, as the rate of infection in the southern African country rises. He imposed a curfew on the capital, Maputo, and surrounding areas, from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Churches and religious services are now banned. Schools have been closed. And no events are allowed except for weddings. January was the deadliest month since the pandemic hit, accounting for half of a total 427 deaths.

France Finds 4 Cases of Brazilian Variant (12:53 p.m. NY)

French health authorities has found four patients infected with the Brazilian coronavirus variant as of Wednesday, including in mainland France as well as on the island of Reunion, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in a weekly press briefing. Covid variants make up about 14% of French cases, mainly the strain that emerged in the U.K., Veran said.

Restrictions Ease in U.S.; No Lockdown for France: Virus Update

“It’s the South African and Brazilian variants that worry us the most,” the minister said. “Our goal is clear, we want to limit as much as possible the spread of these variants, to gain time to vaccinate.”

Also, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday that while it isn’t possible to ease restrictions, a new lockdown isn’t justified at the moment.

U.S. Capitol Police to Get Vaccine (12:27 p.m. NY)

All members of the U.S. Capitol Police -- which suffered an outbreak following the Jan. 6 riot -- will be given access to vaccines, the department announced.

“Thanks to the efforts of the Congressional leadership, especially House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the administration, enough doses of the Covid-19 vaccines have been secured to vaccinate all USCP personnel,” Acting Chief Yogananda Pittman said in a statement. The police union had reported 38 cases on the force in the two weeks following the riot.

NYC Is Denied Shifting First Vaccine Doses for Second (11:44 a.m. NY)

New York’s state health commissioner denied New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s request to start using vaccine doses that have been reserved for second doses.

The city currently has around 320,000 doses on hand that have been reserved for second doses. De Blasio has said these doses are sitting in storage for weeks and could be used for first doses.

Restrictions Ease in U.S.; No Lockdown for France: Virus Update

Commissioner Howard Zucker on Thursday, responding to a Feb. 3 letter from the mayor, said the Biden administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are not currently recommending the use of second doses as first doses. The state will continue to follow that guidance, unless the CDC says otherwise, he said. “If the CDC does in fact recommend usage of the second dose as a first dose, I can assure you New York will set the national model.”

De Blasio responded by saying the decision “makes no sense to me.”

“We would not be having this conversation if we had ample supply,” he said. “We’re in a wartime dynamic. People are suffering, people are scared and they are vulnerable. The reality is we need to protect people and free up those second doses.”

U.K. Deaths Slow (11:23 p.m. NY)

The U.K. reported 915 new virus deaths, the lowest number on a weekday since Jan. 5, government data show.

The nation reported 20,634 new cases, compared to a 7-day average of 22,396, and that 10.5 million people have now had their first vaccine dose.

Restrictions Ease in U.S.; No Lockdown for France: Virus Update

NYC Hospitalizations Jump Post Storm (11:03 a.m. NY)

New York City vaccine sites are up and running again after a snowstorm shut them down for a number of days, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

“All appointments have been rescheduled,” de Blasio said during a Thursday briefing.

The mayor said the city also saw a surge of patients admitted into New York City hospitals, which jumped to 300 on Tuesday, compared to the previous days which saw the numbers dip below 200.

“It’s very high,” de Blasio said. “We think a number of people didn’t go into the hospital because of the storm but we’re going to watch that number carefully.”

The city’s seven-day average of new Covid cases showed signs of improvement: They dropped below 4,000 on Feb. 2 for the first time since December.

Vaccines From Nursing Homes Boost Supply in States (10:48 a.m. NY)

Dozens of U.S. states are releasing thousands of Covid-19 vaccines left over from a federal initiative for nursing homes, increasing supply for other eligible people like essential workers and seniors.

Illinois will use about 97,000 doses earmarked for nursing homes to vaccinate people 65 and older, teachers and other members eligible under phase 1B. Thirty-two states and cities are transferring extra doses from the federal program, Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an email Thursday.

Israel’s Vaccination Drive Cuts Cases Among Older Citizens (9:51 a.m. NY)

Israel’s vaccination drive has reduced confirmed Covid-19 cases among older Israelis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.

Netanyahu cited a 45% drop in confirmed cases and a 26% decline in hospitalizations of seriously ill patients among people aged 60 and older in the past 16 days. Israel’s vaccination drive, which began in late December, started with this age group, and more than 80% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine.

The prime minister spoke at a cabinet meeting to discuss whether to extend a six-week lockdown, which is due to end Friday morning. Netanyahu and health officials want to extend the lockdown through the weekend, as the rate of infection and the number of severe cases among the broader public remain high.

BOE Sees Rapid U.K. Rebound Following Vaccine Push (7:41 a.m. NY)

The Bank of England said the U.K. economy is heading for a rapid pickup in light of a bold vaccination effort, a sign that the stifling grip of the coronavirus crisis may finally start to ease.

Despite lowering its outlook for the year, the central bank sounded an optimistic note on its hopes of a powerful rebound. Officials also kept monetary stimulus in place and agreed as a contingency that banks should prepare for the possibility of negative interest rates.

Restrictions Ease in U.S.; No Lockdown for France: Virus Update

The pound rose and gilts fell after the release of the BOE’s decision and forecasts, which showed growth in 2021 of 5%, following a slump of twice that magnitude last year.

Portugal’s Surge Eases After Nearing Breaking Point (6:05 a.m. NY)

Portugal’s government said confinement measures are starting to take effect on the spread of the coronavirus, slowing infections after a dramatic surge in cases pushed hospital capacity to near breaking point.

Having been less affected than Spain and Italy during the first wave of the outbreak, it saw the situation deteriorate rapidly this year as the Covid-19 variant that emerged in the U.K. spread rapidly through the country. While the tally of daily infections has dropped since reaching a record last week, Portugal still has the world’s highest number of new cases and deaths per million over seven days.

Austria’s Tyrol Province Sees Surge of Mutation (4:36 p.m. HK)

Austria’s Tyrol province, host to the Ischgl ski resort that became a superspreader venue in the pandemic’s early months, is seeing a surge in infections attributable to the variant that was first identified in South Africa.

Restrictions Ease in U.S.; No Lockdown for France: Virus Update

The chief virologist at the Medical University of Innsbruck found that about a fifth of new infections were probably caused by the variant and are calling for the region’s borders to be closed. The Health Ministry is reviewing the situation.

Denmark to Use Astra Shots for People Under 65 (4:18 p.m. HK)

Denmark will predominantly use AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for people under the age of 65, the Danish Health Authority says in a statement. The doses are expected to arrive as early as next week, with the country preparing to vaccinate all eligible and willing residents by July 4.

Sweden to Introduce Vaccine Passports (3:47 p.m. HK)

Sweden plans to roll out a “digital vaccination certificate” and has asked three government agencies to develop the infrastructure to handle the relevant personal data.

The new certificate should be ready for use “before the summer,” Health Minister Lena Hallengren and Minister of Digitalization Anders Ygeman said at a press conference on Thursday.

U.K. Passes Peak, Vaccinates 10 Million (1:02 p.m. HK)

The U.K. has passed the peak of its latest wave of the pandemic, officials said, as the country reached the milestone of vaccinating 10 million people, about 15% of the population.

Still, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said infections remain widespread and the state-run National Health Service would be “back in trouble extraordinarily fast” if social restrictions are lifted. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is “very hopeful” that schools will open on March 8, though he cautioned against moving too soon.

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