Africa Variant in U.S.; Biden Reopens Obamacare: Virus Update
(Bloomberg) -- The coronavirus variant identified in South Africa has reached the U.S. with two cases diagnosed in South Carolina, the state reported. A new vaccine from Novavax Inc. was effective in big trials in both the U.K. and South Africa, but the effectiveness appeared to be reduced in South Africa where the mutation is prevalent.
President Joe Biden moved to make it easier for Americans to buy health insurance during the pandemic, reopening the federal Obamacare marketplace. Meanwhile, New York may have had twice as many coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes than the official count of more than 8,700 reflects, state Attorney General Letitia James said.
- Global Tracker: Cases exceed 101.2 million; deaths pass 2.1 million
- Vaccine Tracker: More than 82.5 million shots given worldwide
- Covid-19 rebounds in Alabama after Crimson Tide street party
- Pandemic added $19.5 trillion to global debt
- EU poised to tighten rules on the export of Covid-19 vaccines
- Biden’s new CDC director takes over institution in crisis
- How vaccine nationalism flares over scarce supplies: QuickTake
Novavax Shot More Effective in U.K. Than in South Africa (4:09 p.m. NY)
A new Covid-19 vaccine from Novavax Inc. was effective in big trials in both the U.K. and South Africa, but the effectiveness appeared to be reduced in South Africa where a worrisome mutation is prevalent.
The results indicated that a another highly potent vaccine could soon be available to help ameliorate the pandemic, in addition to existing vaccines from Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc., and AstraZeneca Plc that are authorized in various countries. But the South Africa results also suggested that the virus is starting to mutate in ways that could make vaccines less effective over time.
Florida Deaths Above 200 Again (4:04 p.m. NY)
Florida fatalities exceeded 200 for the third time in a week, while new cases and hospitalizations continued to fall. Fatalities are considered a lagging indicator that often remain high as fewer people become sick from Covid-19, a dynamic mirrored now in many states and the U.S. as a whole.
AstraZeneca Test Results on S. Africa Variant Due Next Week (3:47 p.m. NY)
Results of tests into the efficacy of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine against the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa should be known next week.
“Studies are being done in South African labs and next week we will have the data on AstraZeneca efficacy with the new variant,” said Helen Rees, chairwoman of the World Health Organization’s African Region Immunization Technical Advisory Group, on a Webinar on Thursday.
California Records Second-Deadliest Day (3:33 p.m. NY)
California reported 737 daily coronavirus deaths, its second-highest tally, in a bleak reflection of the surge in cases over recent months that’s now starting to ebb. The most-populous state’s fatalities now stand at 38,961, behind only New York in the U.S.
Still, California’s outbreak has shown marked improvement, leading Governor Gavin Newsom to lift regional lockdowns earlier this week. There were 16,696 new cases reported Thursday, below the 14-day average of about 26,400, according to state health-department data. Hospitalizations fell 3.3% from the previous day and are down 25% from a peak three weeks ago.
France Cases Steady as Lockdown Threatened (2:57 p.m. NY)
France confirmed 23,770 new cases and recorded 348 deaths due to the virus in the last 24 hours. The French government is considering another lockdown as new variants of the virus are becoming more common.
Still, the number of deaths and new cases on Thursday is similar to the increases recorded Wednesday. The seven-day rolling average of new cases rose slightly on Thursday to 20,381 from 20,249.
Czechs Tighten Social Distancing Rules (2:55 p.m. NY)
The Czech government further tightened social-distancing measures as the country struggles to stem one of the worst outbreaks in Europe.
Prime Minister Andrej Babis’s cabinet imposed stricter rules for hotels, allowing them to accept only business travelers without family members, and also completely banned operations of ski lifts as mountain regions are registering the fastest increases in infections, Interior Minister Jan Hamacektold reporters. He urged people to limit family visits.
Variant Fueled Record Infections in Africa, WHO Says (2:50 p.m. NY)
A variant of the coronavirus first identified in South Africa is driving record numbers of infections and deaths as it spreads across the region, the World Health Organization said.
The variant has been found in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and the French territory of Mayotte, and is probably circulating in other countries on the continent, said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa. Another fast-spreading mutant that surfaced in the U.K. has been detected in Nigeria and the Gambia.
Ohio Moves Back Curfew (2:45 p.m NY)
Ohio’s statewide curfew was moved to 11 p.m. from 10 p.m., in a relaxing of restrictions because fewer than 3,500 people were hospitalized for Covid-19 for seven consecutive days. “We will look at these numbers again in 2 weeks to potentially move to a midnight curfew or eliminate the curfew completely,” Governor Mike DeWine tweeted. States around the nation have begun rolling back restrictions as new infections and hospitalizations have fallen in the last few weeks.
Biden Reopens Obamacare (2:07 p.m. NY)
President Joe Biden moved to make it easier for Americans to buy health insurance during the pandemic, reopening the federal Obamacare marketplace with an order Thursday that’s a step toward reinvigorating a program his predecessor tried to eliminate.
The Obamacare executive order creates a special enrollment period for plans sold in the federal Healthcare.gov market from Feb. 15 to May 15, offering a path to health care for people who’ve found themselves without insurance coverage after losing their jobs.
“As we continue to battle Covid-19, it is even more critical that Americans have meaningful access to affordable care,” the White House.
Pandemic Adds $19.5 Trillion to Global Debt (2:05 p.m. NY)
In the battle against Covid-19, governments around the globe are on the cusp of becoming more indebted than at any point in modern history, surpassing even World War II, as fiscal authorities have spent vast sums protecting their people and defending their economies from the colossal toll of the pandemic.
The borrowing binge has come with a hefty price tag -- $19.5 trillion last year alone, according to Institute of International Finance estimates. Still, compared to the alternative -- a deep and lasting depression -- that looks cheap.
Irish Officials Say U.K. Variant Isn’t More Deadly (2 p.m. NY)
Irish officials are not convinced the so-called U.K. variant of the virus is more deadly than other strains, with no sign that it is more threatening so far.
While the variant is more transmissible, there is “no signal in the Irish data that the increasing prevalence of the U.K. variant, the B.1.1.7 variant, was associated with any increase in mortality,” health ministry adviser Philip Nolan told reporters in Dublin.
Ireland reported 1,466 new coronavirus cases Thursday, with 47 deaths. The so-called reproduction number is now between 0.4 and 0.7, Nolan said.
Warren Slams $5.2 Million Bonus After Nursing-Home Covid Deaths (1:06 p.m. NY)
Sen. Elizabeth Warren is fuming over the “inexplicable and unseemly decision” to pay a $5.2 million “retention bonus” to a nursing home industry CEO after more than 2,800 residents died from Covid-19 in the company’s facilities.
In a letter to Genesis HealthCare Inc. released Thursday, the Massachusetts Democrat said the company approved “exorbitant” bonuses to former CEO George V. Hager Jr. and other top executives after receiving more than $300 million in state and federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to help keep the struggling company afloat.
EU Ramps Up Vaccine Battle (1 p.m. NY)
The European Union is poised to tighten rules on the export of Covid-19 vaccines, risking a major escalation in the global battle to secure access to the life-saving shots.
With EU governments under fire over the shortfall in deliveries from drugmakers including AstraZeneca Plc, the EU’s executive arm will on Friday require companies seeking to ship the inoculations outside the bloc to obtain prior authorization.
European Council President Charles Michel has also raised the prospect of effectively seizing control of vaccine production if those measures fail to get the program back on track, a European official said.
Denmark Extends Lockdown (12:38 p.m. NY)
Denmark is extending restrictions after registering an increase in more contagious strains of the coronavirus. The country’s lockdown will stretch until Feb. 28, three weeks longer than previously planned, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Thursday.
“The mutations have changed the rules of the game,” she said.
Portugal Reports Record Cases (12:09 p.m. NY)
Portugal said it will introduce limits for citizens wanting to travel abroad as it tries to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The government will limit departures by air and land, with some exceptions, during the next 15 days, Home Affairs Minister Eduardo Cabrita said in parliament.
The country is currently facing one of the world’s worst outbreaks and on Thursday reported the highest number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in a day since the start of the pandemic.
South Africa Variant Identified in U.S. (12:08 p.m. NY)
South Carolina reported two cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa -- the first cases found in the U.S., the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control reported.
The department said the infected people had no known history of travel, and there was no connection between the two cases.
“The arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 variant in our state is an important reminder to all South Carolinians that the fight against this deadly virus is far from over,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Public Health Director. “While more COVID-19 vaccines are on the way, supplies are still limited. Every one of us must recommit to the fight by recognizing that we are all on the front lines now. We are all in this together.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Infection said it has no evidence that the variant causes more severe disease. It said, however, that preliminary data suggests the variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants.
Italy Cases Slow (11:35 a.m. NY)
Italy reported 14,372 cases Thursday, down from 15,204 a day earlier, when the country reached 2.5 million total cases. The test positivity rate was unchanged at 5.2% while Covid-19-related deaths rose to 492 from 467 a day earlier. Hospitalized patients fell by 447 to 23,066, the lowest since Nov. 2.
Separately, a study by Bambino Gesu hospital on vaccinated health workers there showed that 99% of vaccinated staff developed antibodies 21 days after the first shot, according to a press release.
N.Y. May Have Undercounted Nursing-Home Deaths (10:55 a.m. NY)
New York state may have had twice as many coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes than the official count of more than 8,700 reflects, state Attorney General Letitia James said.
The Attorney General’s Office released a report Thursday saying the state Health Department erred in counting Covid-19 fatalities and detailed a lack of compliance with infection-control policies at many nursing homes.
The report comes as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration faces intense scrutiny for not releasing complete nursing-home death data months after the initial wave of the pandemic.
NYC Vaccine Shortage Easing, De Blasio Says (10:40 a.m. NY)
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is starting to see the logjam on vaccines ease up slightly. New York state freed up an additional 18,000 vaccine doses that were being reserved for administration at nursing homes. Governor Andrew Cuomo said only 44% of nursing home staff have been vaccinated, as some employees have refused the vaccine. About three-quarters of nursing home residents statewide have been vaccinated.
New York City, which has administered nearly 700,000 doses since it began its inoculation drive in December, says it will now re-open 15 vaccination hubs it closed due to vaccine shortages.
Cases and hospitalizations in the city are also declining from their all-time highs in January, following the winter holidays. The seven-day average of new cases dropped to 4,561 on Tuesday, dipping below 5,000 for the first time since Jan. 3.
Germany Recommends Astra Covid Shot Only for People Under 65 (7:54 a.m. NY)
Germany’s immunization commission recommended that AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine be authorized only for people between the ages of 18 and 64, saying there was insufficient information on the shot’s effectiveness for people over 65 years old, according to a draft assessment released Thursday by the country’s health ministry.
The recommendation comes a day before the European Union’s drug regulator is expected to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, which would be the third shot cleared for use in the bloc. The EU has struggled to scale up its vaccine program with the U.K. administering three times as many doses per capita as the most advanced country on the continent, Denmark.
While the panel’s recommendations aren’t legally binding, they’re the basis for Germany’s state and federal vaccination guidelines. AstraZeneca shares traded 2.2% lower at 1:10 p.m. in London.
Studies Show Pfizer Vaccine Effective Against Variants (7:55 a.m. HK)
Pfizer and BioNTech said results of studies indicate their vaccine is effective against both the U.K. and South Africa variants.
Research found that neutralization against the virus with key mutations present in the South African variant was slightly lower compared to neutralization of virus containing other mutations. But the companies believe the small difference is unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine.
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