U.S. Passes 20 Million Cases as New Year Begins: Virus Update
A pedestrian wears a protective mask and novelty “2021” glasses near the Times Square area of New York, U.S. (Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg)

U.S. Passes 20 Million Cases as New Year Begins: Virus Update

U.K. hospitals are struggling with rising numbers, India granted emergency approval for the Astra-Oxford vaccine and Greece extended its national lockdown.

Germany reported more than 21,000 new infections in 48 hours, suggesting lockdown restrictions in Europe’s biggest economy will continue beyond their expiry on Jan. 10.

The number of serious cases in Tokyo surged to the most since early May, putting further pressure on the capital’s hospitals. Tokyo’s governor urged Japan to declare a state of emergency.

The U.S. surpassed 20 million Covid-19 cases, a year after a mysterious pathogen first revealed itself in Wuhan, China.

Key Developments:

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U.S. Passes 20 Million Cases as New Year Begins: Virus Update

Zimbabwe ‘Overwhelmed and Overrun’ by Virus (6 p.m. HK)

Zimbabwe is “overwhelmed and overrun” by coronavirus, the government said after recording almost 500 new cases in two days. The southern African nation, grappling with decades of economic crisis, has registered almost 14,100 infections since the outbreak began, much lower than neighbors such as South Africa but a significant strain on the country’s health system. “We can easily run out of beds,” government spokesman Nick Mangwana said on Twitter.

Greece Extends Lockdown to Jan. 11 (5:06 p.m. HK)

Greece extended its national lockdown to Jan. 11 from Jan. 7 amid continuing pressure on its health service despite a decline in new virus cases, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said. Sectors of the economy that reopened for the holiday period, such as hairdressers and click-and-collect services, will close again for a week. The nighttime curfew is moved forward to 9pm. The aim is to reopen schools from Jan. 11, Petsas said.

France Fails to Close Huge Illegal Rave (5 p.m. HK)

France’s security forces failed to shut down an illegal rave that attracted more than 2,500 revelers from Thursday until the early hours of Saturday.

The Interior Ministry convened an emergency meeting and forces were deployed around the site, but eventually the crowd left voluntarily at dawn, most being slapped with a 135 euro ($165) fines for breaking curfew rules.

The Health Ministry has identified 100 local departments at high risk of worsening cases of coronavirus and brought forward curfews to 6pm from 8pm in many regions. A total of 64,765 people have died in France since the start of the pandemic. The daily death toll has averaged around 300 in recent weeks.

India Approves Astra-Oxford Vaccine (4:52 p.m. HK)

India followed the U.K. in granting emergency approval for the virus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford, the first step in its plan to inoculate citizens in a country that’s home to the world’s second-largest Covid-19 outbreak.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Prakash Javdekar said Saturday the AstraZeneca shot being produced locally by the Serum Institute of India Ltd. was approved Friday. The Drugs Controller General of India has yet to formally announce the approval. It came as the nation tested its vaccine delivery system with a countrywide dry run on Saturday.

Russia Covid-19 Deaths Top 58,000 (4:42 p.m. HK)

Russia reported 26,301 daily cases, bringing the total to 3.21 million, government data show. A further 447 people died, bringing the toll to 58,002. The number of new cases in Moscow fell to 5,452 from 5,907 a day earlier.

Tokyo’s Serious Cases Rise to Most Since May (4:33 p.m. HK)

The number of serious cases of coronavirus in Tokyo increased to 94 on Saturday, newspaper Asahi Shimbun reported, citing the metropolitan government. That’s the most since May 3. The Asahi also reported 814 new cases of the virus in the capital on Saturday.

U.K. Hospitals Under Strain; Nightingales Stand By (4:30 p.m.)

Hospitals across Britain are struggling with rising numbers of severely ill patients, the Guardian reported, citing staff from various medical centers. With cases spreading rapidly, a London Nightingale hospital -- an emergency facility set up this year to handle overflow -- is expected to take Covid patients next week for the first time since the spring, the newspaper said.

The government has also been forced into a U-turn on schools, deciding to keep all London primaries closed until at least Jan. 18.

New U.K. coronavirus cases topped 50,000 for the fourth day in a row, with almost 24,000 people in hospital and 613 deaths recorded.

India to Make Vaccines Free Nationwide, Health Minister Says (4:16 p.m. HK)

India plans to make vaccines available for free across the country with 30 million front-line workers to be included in the first phase, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in a tweet.

The first batch will include 10 million health-care workers. The government is also finalizing plans to inoculate 270 million people who are considered priority, including the elderly, by July, Vardhan said at a press conference.

Although daily reported cases have eased from a September peak, India is still battling the world’s second-biggest outbreak of Covid-19 and faces its first full-year economic contraction since 1980.

Germany Adds 21,580 New Cases as Fatalities Jump (4:06 p.m. HK)

Germany is still struggling to contain the spread of Covid-19 with 21,580 new infections in the 48 hours through Saturday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The number of fatalities jumped by 915.

The data suggests that restrictions designed to contain the virus in Europe’s biggest economy will continue beyond Jan. 10, when most curbs are currently set to expire.

Hong Kong Expects to Start Virus Vaccinations in February (3:11 p.m. HK)

Hong Kong estimates it will start vaccinations in February, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip said in a Facebook post.

Hong Kong has already reached agreements with Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE, AstraZeneca Plc and China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. to acquire 22.5 million potential doses of vaccines, and is seeking a further 7.5 million. The government has said residents will be able to choose which type they receive, though the details are yet to be announced.

Nip’s announcement comes as the Hong Kong Economic Times reported that the city will complete an e-booking system for Covid-19 inoculations this month and is in talks with other countries to allow the records to be used for travel.

The electronic-registration system will record when and which type of vaccine has been received and will remind the user when to get a second shot, Secretary for Innovation and Technology Alfred Sit was cited as saying in a radio interview.

South Korea Extends Distancing Rules by Two Weeks (10:38 a.m. HK)

South Korea extended its current social-distancing rules by two weeks as authorities continue to restrict private gatherings before nationwide vaccination is expected next month.

The government will maintain level 2.5 social distancing rules in the Seoul metropolitan area and level 2 in other parts of the country until Jan. 17, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Saturday in a televised briefing. Level 3 is the closest scenario to a lockdown in South Korea’s alert system.

Private gatherings for more than four people will continue to be banned although cram schools with less than 10 students for each class will be allowed to open, given the demand for childcare for working parents. Ski resorts will also open with less than a third of visitors of maximum capacity.

Tokyo Will Urge Japan Govt to Declare State of Emergency: Nikkei (10:30 a.m. HK)

Tokyo’s metropolitan government is set to urge the central government to declare a state of emergency, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike will make that request directly to virus czar and economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Saturday afternoon, the paper said, citing multiple people with knowledge of the matter.

Japan’s capital reported a record 1,337 new coronavirus cases on New Year’s Eve, as infections fueled by the onset of cold weather showed no signs of abating even after the city stepped up its containment efforts.

Bangkok Closes Amusement Parks, Gyms After New Cases Reported (10:22 a.m. HK)

Bangkok will temporarily close entertainment venues such as water and amusement parks as well as gyms after new Covid-19 cases in Thailand’s capital were linked to such spots.

The move will also include playgrounds, flea markets, massage parlors and internet cafes from Saturday and follows an order to keep all schools in Bangkok closed until Jan. 17. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration will decide later on Saturday if it should ban dining in at city restaurants after some cases were traced to them, it said on Twitter.

Brazil Adds 24,605 Cases, Concludes Analysis of AstraZeneca Data (8:22 a.m. HK)

Brazil reported 24,605 new virus infections as the country’s total cases rose to more than 7.7 million, according to the Health Ministry website.

Separately, the country’s health authority Anvisa said it concluded the analysis of the phase III trial data of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, according to information posted on its website.

Sydney Makes Masks Compulsory for Most Indoor Settings (8:07 a.m. HK)

People in Sydney and certain other areas of New South Wales will have to wear masks in shopping malls and on public transport as Australia’s most populous state tries to control a recent outbreak.

The new rules will also enforce masks in cinemas, salons and places of worship with violations incurring a fine of A$200 ($154), Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Saturday. New South Wales has recorded 7 new locally acquired cases in the past 24 hours, with a cluster originally confined to the Northern Beaches region of Sydney spreading to other areas and infecting more than 150 people.

U.S. Passes 20 Million Cases as New Year Begins: Virus Update

Neighboring Victoria state said it detected 10 new cases acquired through local transmission, the majority linked to an outbreak in the state capital Melbourne. That city last year endured one of the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns, and had previously been the only place in Australia where mask-wearing had been mandatory.

California Deaths, L.A. Infections Rise to Records (7:56 a.m. HK)

California added a record 585 new deaths for a total of 25,971, as Los Angeles County’s daily cases rose to a new high of 20,414. The county’s total infections are now 790,582.

The Golden State has emerged as the epicenter for the nation’s latest Covid-19 surge as hospitals, particularly in Southern California, have run out of intensive-care unit beds. The 12.2% test positivity rate is at one of the highest levels since the start of the pandemic.

In Los Angeles County, deaths eased to 207 from a daily record on Thursday, bringing the fatality count to 10,552. The rate of positive tests is 21.5%.

In Southern California, the governor’s office is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to evaluate and upgrade oxygen delivery systems at six hospitals starting Saturday as older facilities are “overtaxed” to treat Covid-19 patients.

Romney Assails U.S. Failure to Plan for Covid Vaccine Roll-Out (5:15 p.m. NY)

Senator Mitt Romney criticized the slow roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S., blaming the federal government for failing to help states get the shot into more people’s arms.

“That comprehensive vaccination plans have not been developed at the federal level and sent to the states as models is as incomprehensible as it is inexcusable,” the Utah Republican said in a statement Friday.

The U.S. vaccination program -- Operation Warp Speed -- has distributed millions of doses to states but is failing to meet projections for how quickly people will be inoculated. About 3.2 million doses have been given, according to the Bloomberg News vaccine tracker, far short of the Trump administration’s goal of administering 20 million vaccinations by the end of 2020.

U.S. Covid Hospitalizations at High (4:55 p.m. NY)

U.S. hospitalizations climbed to a new high, with 125,379 people admitted, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project. That compares with the two previous waves of the virus -- in April and in July -- that peaked at about 60,000.

U.S. Passes 20 Million Cases as New Year Begins: Virus Update

The data show the Midwest as the only region where hospitalizations are declining, with the most in the South, at just under 50,000. The Northeast, hit hardest by the pandemic’s first wave, has recorded the fewest hospitalizations in the recent surge.

Oxford-AstraZeneca Expects More Vaccine Production, Times Reports (4:47 p.m. NY)

A member of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine team expects 2 million doses will be ready each week from about the middle of January, the Times of London reported.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said earlier this week that only 530,000 doses of the vaccine would be ready on Monday. The Oxford team is frustrated that the poor state of the country’s manufacturing capacity has affected the pace of production, the newspaper said.

California Deaths Rise to Record (2:41 p.m. NY)

California added a record 585 new deaths, bringing the total to 25,971. The state reported 47,189 new cases, with the total count reaching close to 2.3 million.

U.S. Passes 20 Million Cases as New Year Begins: Virus Update

The Golden State has been emerging as the epicenter for the latest outbreak as hospitals, particularly in Southern California, run out of intensive-care unit beds. The 12.2% test positivity rate is at one of the highest levels since the start of the pandemic.

Ireland Sees Post-Christmas Surge (2:24 p.m. NY)

Ireland expects to record over 9,000 cases in coming days, as a Christmas lag in reporting and testing tapers off. Over 1,700 cases were reported Friday, close to a record high. Medical authorities warned of a surge in hospitalizations, with as many as 70 patients a day being admitted, adding to the 500-plus already being treated in the hospital.

U.S. Passes 20 Million Cases as New Year Begins: Virus Update

Ireland has entered a third national lockdown as it awaits widespread vaccination.

N.Y. Cases Remain Near Record High (12:54 p.m. NY)

New York state reported 16,497 new cases, just below the record set on Wednesday for the entire pandemic. Total hospitalizations dropped slightly, to 7,886, as did the overall rate for positive tests, at 7.52%, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in statement. Another 166 people died, the most in two weeks of fatalities above 100.

The city’s rate of positive tests continues to rise rapidly, hitting 9.41% based on a seven-day average, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a tweet on Friday. That number was below 2% in November. Hospitalizations also continued to rise, with another 219 admissions, he said.

U.K. New Cases Remain High (11:09 a.m. NY)

The U.K. reported 53,285 new cases and 613 deaths on Friday. The latest R number was estimated at 1.1 to 1.3., which means the virus continues to spread exponentially.

U.S. Passes 20 Million Cases as New Year Begins: Virus Update

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