Biden to Release More Doses: Virus Update
A healthcare worker wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) cleans a door at the St. George Care Community long-term care home in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photographer: Cole Burston/Bloomberg)

Biden to Release More Doses: Virus Update

President-elect Joe Biden says he’ll distribute more of the available doses of coronavirus vaccines, as the U.S. surpassed 4,000 daily fatalities for the first time. New York City has 270,000 unused vaccine doses that it’s seeking to administer to residents over age 75, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Maine broke records for infections and deaths.

London’s mayor declared an emergency as the U.K. reported record fatalities. Germany also reported the most daily deaths since the start of the pandemic.

As the U.K. approved the Moderna Inc. vaccine for emergency use, the European Union secured an extra 300 million doses of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE shot. Iran banned U.S. and U.K. vaccinations.

Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases pass 88.3 million; deaths surpass 1.9 million
  • Covid testing is slow to bounce back from holiday lull in U.S.
  • U.S. jobs recovery falters as virus surge snaps hiring streak
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 17.5 million shots given worldwide
  • Automakers are losing production as virus disrupts chip supplies
  • Altering vaccine regimens endangers effectiveness, according to the EU regulator
  • BBC staff will wear buzzers to help enforce social distancing
  • Africa is being left behind as vaccinations begin worldwide
  • Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on coronavirus cases and deaths.
Biden to Release More Doses: Virus Update

France Cases at Highest Level Since Autumn (2:29 p.m. NY)

France reported 19,814 new cases on Friday, pushing the 7-day average to 15,337, the highest level since late November. Deaths rose by 590 to 67,431. While the government has boasted France is doing a better job of controlling a resurgence of infections than neighbors, including the U.K. and Germany, daily cases are about triple a target set by President Emmanuel Macron before the country can start to ease restrictions.

Tests Largely Accurate on Virus Variants, FDA Says (2:15 p.m. NY)

The performance of three Covid-19 tests authorized for U.S. use could be affected by the emergence of coronavirus variants, though not significantly, and the overall risk of variants -- including one that appears to be more transmissible -- affecting testing accuracy is low, the Food and Drug Administration said on Friday.

The tests in question are Mesa Biotech Inc.’s Accula test, Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.’s TaqPath Covid-19 Combo Kit and Applied DNA Sciences’ Linea Covid-19 Assay Kit, according to the FDA, though the agency noted that the latter two tests are designed to detect multiple genetic targets and so their overall sensitivity should not be affected. Those two tests could even help identify new variants early based on their detection patterns, the regulator said.

With the Mesa Biotech test, meanwhile, a genetic variant at a specific position could impact performance but “the impact does not appear to be significant,” the agency said in a letter to laboratory staff and health providers.

Applied DNA Sciences Chief Executive Officer James Hayward said in an interview the FDA communication actually suggests his company’s test is “one of the few ways, out of the hundred alternatives, to actually detect the variant.” The test, which is being used in diagnostic laboratories and surveillance efforts, has detected two instances of a coronavirus variant over the last two weeks, he said.

Mesa Biotech said in a statement that internal analysis found the test’s performance shouldn’t be affected by the genetic variant identified by the FDA.

Iranian Leader’s Tweet Blocked (1:57 p.m. NY)

Twitter hid a tweet by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that suggested the U.S. and U.K. might intentionally contaminate vaccines and decreed a ban on importing them.

The tweet on Friday, which said “French vaccines aren’t trustworthy either,” was labeled in violation of Twitter’s rules.

Ireland Breaks Record, Finds Variant Strain (1:46 p.m. NY)

Irish authorities reported the most new cases on record and confirmed three cases of the so-called South African variant of the virus had been found in the country. The nation’s health ministry reported 8,248 cases on Friday, with 20 deaths. Genome sequencing showed the South African variant in three cases “directly associated with recent travel” from that country, Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said. The government this week imposed the strictest lockdown level since March to control the virus, with hospitals in danger of being overwhelmed.

Biden Says He’ll Release More Vaccine In Gamble On Second Doses (1:09 p.m. NY)

President-elect Joe Biden says he’ll distribute more of the available doses of coronavirus vaccines, reversing the Trump administration’s practice of holding back second doses to ensure they’re available for people who’ve already had their first shot.

The move, announced by Biden’s office Friday and supported by a group of Democratic governors, is a response to the sluggish vaccine rollout. Coronavirus cases and deaths have been surging in the U.S. for months.

“He supports releasing available doses immediately, and believes the government should stop holding back vaccine supply so we can get more shots in Americans’ arms now,” Biden spokesman TJ Ducklo said in a written statement.

Three-Quarters of World Still Susceptible to Infection: WHO (12:37 p.m. NY)

As much as three-quarters of the global population is probably still susceptible to infection by Covid-19, Mike Ryan, Health Emergency Director of the World Health Organization, said at a briefing in Geneva.

The WHO is starting to organize studies to better track how much of the world population has been infected, said Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead officer on Covid-19. Previous blood-test studies estimated as many as 10% of people may have been infected by Covid-19 in various countries, but those took place about half a year ago.

“We are at the fight of our lives,” Ryan said, adding that the mutation of the virus is speeding up the rate of infection. Reported infections worldwide have exceeded 4 million per week over the past three weeks.

Spain Cases Break Record (12:34 p.m. NY)

Spain’s health ministry reported 12,327 new cases on Friday, the most since the start of the pandemic. That compares with 6,498 reported Thursday. Health Minister Salvador Illa said Friday that cases would continue to rise.

Chicago Poised to Start Reopening Schools (12:18 p.m. NY)

Chicago’s public school district, the third-largest in the U.S., is sticking with its plan to start bringing students back to classrooms on Monday, resisting pressure from a teachers’ union that is demanding more safety measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Monday will mark the first time in 10 months that some students will return to Chicago’s schools, starting with about 6,000 in pre-school and special needs programs who are expected to attend, according to Chicago Public Schools estimates.

Berlin Confirms Case of Virus Variant (12:02 p.m. NY)

The first case of the more transmissible U.K. variant of the coronavirus has been confirmed in Berlin, city health officials reported. The affected person, who had traveled to the U.K., has recovered.

NYC Has More Than Quarter Million Unused Shots, Mayor Says (11:51 a.m. NY)

New York City has 270,000 unused vaccine doses that it’s seeking to administer to residents over age 75, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The city has about 565,000 vulnerable New Yorkers in that most senior category “who need this help right now,” de Blasio said Friday, as he continued to push for state approval to expand the criteria of people eligible for vaccines.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has refused, saying all front-line health-care workers should get the vaccine before the city moves on to the next category. There are more than 1 million health-care workers in New York who have not yet been offered the vaccine, the governor said Thursday, adding that New York City has only given vaccines to roughly 14% of its health-care workforce.

De Blasio, though, said at least 30% of those workers have been slow or resistant to making appointments to get a shot, leaving 270,000 doses available.

“If we are given approval by the state we will run through those 270,000 doses very quickly,” de Blasio said Friday. “The freedom to vaccinate, this is what it’s all about.”

Italy Cases, Deaths Accelerate (11:43 a.m. NY)

Italy added 17,533 virus cases Friday, compared with the previous seven-day average of 16,117. Daily deaths rose to 620 from 414 Thursday. Patients in ICUs were unchanged at 2,587, a two-week high.

The latest available reproduction range, or R number, for the virus rose above 1 for the first time in six weeks to 1.03, the National Health Institute said in its weekly report. Italy has vaccinated 413,121 people.

London Crisis Plan Invoked as U.K. Daily Covid Deaths Hit Record (11:40 a.m. NY)

London Mayor Sadiq Khan declared a “major incident” in the U.K. capital as the country’s daily death toll reached the highest level since the start of the pandemic.

The U.K. recorded 1,325 deaths within 28 days of a positive test and 68,053 new cases on Friday, according to official data.

Khan warned the state-run National Health Service in London is at risk of being overwhelmed by a surge in the virus.

Biden to Release More Doses: Virus Update

Greece Extends Lockdown (11:46 a.m. NY)

Greece is extending until Jan. 18 all national lockdown restrictions with the exception of kindergartens and primary schools, which that will reopen Jan. 11, Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said Friday.

Maine’s Deaths and Infections Hit New Highs (10:44 a.m. NY)

Maine reported 782 new cases and 41 deaths on Friday, both records for the entire pandemic, state data show. The state also hit a record 202 hospitalizations, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

Portugal Reports Record Number of Daily Cases (9:51 a.m. NY)

Portugal reported the biggest daily increase in confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the outbreak. There were 10,176 new cases in a day, more than the previous record announced on Wednesday. The total number of deaths rose by a daily record 118 to 7,590.

The nation may have to tighten restrictions on movement next week as it tries to contain the spread of the pandemic, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Thursday.

Iceland Bucks Trend by Loosening Virus Restrictions (8:24 a.m. NY)

Iceland plans to ease Covid-19 measures from Jan. 13, with cases having dropped significantly from an October peak.

Changes include doubling the cap on public gatherings to 20, and looser restrictions for gyms, sports and cultural events. The health minister announced the moves following a meeting with the country’s top epidemiologist.

U.K. Variant Spreads to Romania (8:20 a.m. NY)

Romania confirmed its first case of a new Covid-19 variant. The patient hasn’t traveled abroad, which suggests that the variant -- first identified in the U.K. -- is already active in the country, epidemiologist Catalin Apostolescu told B1TV.

Italy Among Europe Nations Tightening Virus Curbs (7:52 a.m. NY)

Italy’s government will tighten coronavirus restrictions in Milan and its surrounding area, as well as four other regions, in bid curb the accelerating spread of the pandemic. Bars and restaurants will have to close as part of the toughened rules, which come into force on Jan. 10.

Croatia extended similar restrictions until Jan. 31. Hungary and France have also prolonged virus curbs. Cyprus tightened restrictions, including a requirement for people to send a text message when they plan to leave home.

Scotland Mulls New Measures Amid Record Deaths (7:30 a.m. NY)

Scotland is considering further coronavirus measures, as it contends with record deaths and hospitalizations.

Almost 100 people died as a result of the virus on Thursday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told reporters in Edinburgh. There are also 1,530 people in the hospital, surpassing the peak of the first wave of the outbreak in April.

“That really does underline the severity of the pressure that our hospitals are currently facing,” Sturgeon said. “We are reviewing whether any further measures are necessary even though we’re already in strict lockdown.”

EU May Approve AstraZeneca-Oxford Shot by Month End (7:25 a.m. NY)

The European Union could approve the Covid-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford by the end of January.

An application for authorization will likely be made next week, the bloc’s drug regulator said in a tweet Friday. A spokesman for AstraZeneca didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The U.K. gave the first shots of the vaccine on Jan. 4 in a race against a faster-spreading variant of the virus.

U.S. Breaks Death Record for Second Straight Day (7:20 a.m. NY)

The U.S. topped 4,000 daily fatalities for the first time on Thursday, also breaking a record for deaths for the second consecutive day, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

Another 277,475 new cases were reported nationally on Thursday, among the highest numbers for the entire pandemic, as states report of a surge of cases following the holidays. Hospitalizations also hit a record of 132,370, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

U.K. Approves Moderna Vaccination (7:13 a.m. NY)

The U.K. cleared Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, making it the third shot to get authorization.

The nation has ordered 7 million doses, which are expected to be delivered later in the year. It has previously approved vaccinations from Pfizer and AstraZeneca Plc-University of Oxford.

Moderna’s product already has EU and U.S. approval.

Sweden Passes Virus-Restrictions Law (6:23 a.m. NY)

Sweden will quickly implement a new law, enabling mandatory shutdowns previously shunned by the nation’s government.

The regulations, passed by lawmakers on Friday, should be used in “near term” Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said in an interview with public broadcaster SVT. “We see a great risk that we will be in a difficult situation for some time ahead.”

The new law lets the government shutter stores, gyms and restaurants. It marks a shift from an earlier reliance on voluntary measures.

Iran Bans U.S., U.K Covid-19 Vaccines (5:33 p.m. HK)

Iran’s Supreme Leader said he was banning the import of coronavirus vaccines made by U.S. and U.K. companies, including Pfizer, amid a feud with western nations.

“If their Pfizer manufacturer can produce a vaccine, then why do they want to give it to us?” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a televised speech Friday. “They should use it themselves so they don’t experience so many fatalities. Same with the U.K.”

The Iranian Red Crescent Society has canceled plans to deliver 150,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine with the help of U.S. philanthropists. The nation reported 6,251 new coronavirus cases overnight, bringing the total figures to 1,274,514 infections. The number of fatalities rose by 85 to 56,018 fatalities.

Europe Doubles Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Supplies (5:30 p.m. HK)

The European Union has secured an extra 300 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, doubling the total available for the bloc’s 27 member states to 600 million.

Of the new orders, 75 million will be available next quarter and the rest will arrive in the second half of the year, according to Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the EU’s executive arm. The EU has come under pressure from governments due to the slow roll-out of vaccination programs.

Germany Reports Record Daily Death Toll (2:45 p.m. HK)

Germany’s death toll from the coronavirus rose by the most since the pandemic began, topping 1,000 for a third straight day after Chancellor Angela Merkel warned the toughest months still lie ahead.

Fatalities have more than doubled since the start of December and increased by another 1,152 in the 24 hours through Friday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Total infections rose by 45,333, close to the daily record of 49,044 on Dec. 31, to 1.89 million.

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