N.Y. to Start Easing Curbs; Dutch Riot Over Curfew: Virus Update
Government workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) clean the street in the Jordan area of Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg)

N.Y. to Start Easing Curbs; Dutch Riot Over Curfew: Virus Update

Vaccine coverage won’t reach a point that would stop transmission of the virus in the foreseeable future, the World Health Organization said Monday. U.S. infectious-disease chief Anthony Fauci said he’s worried about delays to second doses.

New York City is postponing vaccinations at large sites like Yankee Stadium because of a dose shortage. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is equipped to vaccinate 500,000 people a week if it gets an increase in supply and flexibility. California lifted its regional lockdowns.

Moderna plans to begin human studies of a booster shot for its vaccine to help protect against a more-transmissible South Africa virus variant. Merck & Co. is abandoning its two experimental vaccines.

According to a Bloomberg ranking, New Zealand holds onto pole position for the third month running as the best place to ride out the pandemic, while Mexico remains last of the ranked economies.

Key Developments:

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N.Y. to Start Easing Curbs; Dutch Riot Over Curfew: Virus Update

Houston Area Rethinks Vaccine System (4:05 p.m. NY)

Harris County, Texas, is abandoning first-come, first-served online vaccine sign-ups effective Tuesday in favor of a new system that will evaluate recipients according to age, medical history and other factors.

The third-largest U.S. county plans to launch a “smart wait list” that will be accessible through a web link or via phone, according to an announcement on Monday. About 27,000 people have received vaccinations from county health officials, whose territory includes Houston.

Netherlands Riots Rage for Third Night (3:40 p.m. NY)

Groups of rioters confronted police for a third consecutive evening in Dutch cities including Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Zwolle in incidents that started Saturday when a curfew began.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte earlier on Monday condemned the unrest, labeling it “criminal violence.” The curfew runs between 9 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. in coming weeks and is on top of existing lockdown measures in place until at least Feb. 9.

UN Chief Warns on Vaccine Inequity (2:53 p.m. NY)

If the rich world doesn’t act urgently to help developing countries get their populations vaccinated, more virus mutations could render the current shots ineffective, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

“If we believe it’s possible to vaccinate the Global North and forget about the Global South, if we let the virus spread like wildfire in the Global South, it will mutate,” Guterres told the Davos Agenda event on Monday. “And when it mutates, it will come back in a way that vaccines will no longer be relevant.”

Guterres said that many developed countries have bought more vaccines than they need and should put “those that will not be necessary at the disposal of developing countries.” He added that licensing should be made available for developing countries like Brazil and India, which have a “huge capacity of generics,” in order to scale up production of vaccines.

N.Y. to Ease Curbs as Holiday Spike Wanes (2:20 p.m. NY)

New York is in a better place after the post-holiday spike in Covid-19 and can begin to loosen restrictions and increase economic activity, Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

Elective surgeries can resume in Erie County, Cuomo said, and more adjustments will be made over the next couple of days.

Ireland Seeing ‘Rapid Improvement’ (2:05 p.m. NY)

Ireland is seeing “continued rapid improvement” in the incidence of the coronavirus, a top government adviser said, as the nation reported a further drop in new cases.

There were 1,372 more confirmed cases, the lowest level since Dec. 28, with seven deaths. While Ireland has been dealing with one of the worst outbreaks in the world in recent weeks, hospitalizations are now plateauing and may be starting to fall, Philip Nolan told reporters in Dublin.

Still, it may take another month for the number of people hospitalized to fall by more than half, he said.

French Finance Minister Warns of Lockdown Toll (1:42 p.m. NY)

France will miss its economic growth target this year if another nationwide lockdown is imposed to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Monday in an interview with Bloomberg Television.

“If there is a decision of lockdown in France, of course it will have a direct impact on growth forecasts and it will be very difficult to meet 6% growth,” Le Maire said.

French health authorities reported a rise Monday in the number of people hospitalized with Covid-19 by 531 to 26,924, the most since Dec. 2. The number in intensive care has also been increasing.

The government is under mounting pressure to implement tougher health restrictions as soon as this week, as doctors and researchers sound the alarm over new, more contagious variants of the virus. Prime Minster Jean Castex said earlier Monday there are “worrisome” indicators, and that decisions will have to be made this week.

WHO Sees Continued Transmission (1:30 p.m. NY)

Vaccine coverage won’t reach a point that would stop transmission in the foreseeable future, according to Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s emergencies program. Looking at eradication of the virus as the measure of success will mean the world is going to struggle, he added.

“The bar for success is reducing the capacity of this virus to kill, to put people in hospital, to destroy our economic and social lives,” he said. He said there’s not enough vaccines right now to even serve those who are most at risk.

Separately, WHO officials said the recommended intervals between the first and second shots should be respected.

California Lifts Stay-at-Home Orders (11:48 a.m. NY)

California, a recent epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, has lifted its regional stay-at-home orders as the outbreak slows across the state and hospitalizations ease.

Four-week projections for intensive-care capacity are above 15%, according to a statement Monday by the California Department of Public Health. That’s the threshold that allows regions to exit stay-at-home orders. The San Joaquin Valley, San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California had been under the restrictions.

The most-populous state will return to its four-tiered reopening system for counties, with most areas remaining in the purple tier with the tightest restrictions. Still, lifting the stay-home rules will allow businesses such as outdoor dining to resume.

Italy Has Fewest Cases Since Oct. 14 (11:45 a.m. NY)

Italy registered 8,562 new virus cases on Monday, the lowest daily increase since Oct. 14, from 11,629 the day before. The country reported 420 deaths, from 299 on Sunday; positivity rate rose to 6% from 5.3%.
Italy reported a first case of the new Brazilian virus strain in Varese, Northern Italy, on Monday, according to Ansa newswire.

The country expects a four-week delay in vaccinations of citizens over 80 due to a slowdown in Pfizer dose deliveries, according to Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri.

U.K. Has Fewest Cases Since Mid-December (11:30 a.m. NY)

The U.K. reported the lowest number of new cases since the middle of December on Monday, as the Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his government would start considering which measures could be relaxed from the beginning of next month.

The further 22,195 new cases come amid a series of positive data points for the country that’s been among the worst-hit in the world. The average number of new cases has been falling consistently since the beginning of January. Last week the ‘R value’ indicated the virus was no longer spreading exponentially, and the number of people in hospitals is slowly falling.

Those indicators hint at an impending peak in the number of deaths being reported each day, which last week hit a record of 1,820. There are still thousands of people on mechanical ventilation, and hospitals are still under significant strain.

Earlier on Monday, Johnson warned that lifting a lockdown too early could risk triggering a new surge of infections in the U.K., but his government will consider relaxing measures from Feb. 15.

Fauci Worries About Delaying Second Dose (9:30 a.m. NY)

Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is worried about delays to the second dose of Covid-19 vaccinations.

“I’d be concerned, because you don’t get full efficacy until you get that second dose,” Fauci said on a virtual World Economic Forum panel moderated by Bloomberg’s editor in chief, John Micklethwait.

France on Saturday recommended doubling the amount of time between the first and second shots, days after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the follow-up doses could be given up to six weeks later.

Moderna to Test Shot on S. Africa Strain (9:15 a.m. NY)

Moderna plans to begin human studies of a booster shot for its vaccine to help protect against a more-transmissible South Africa virus variant, after a test showed it may be less potent against that strain.

Even with the lower antibody levels, the existing vaccine should offer protect against the South Africa strain, Moderna said. But study results may indicate that immunity will wane faster, the company said.

South Africa’s Excess Deaths Soar (8:55 a.m. NY)

South Africa’s death toll from Covid-19 is likely to be far higher than the official number of 40,874 reported so far, with the country struggling to contain a new, more transmittable virus variant.

There were 112,280 more deaths from natural causes than would have been expected between May 6 and Jan. 16, the South African Medical Research Council said. Weekly excess deaths, a measure of mortality exceeding historical averages, reached a record 16,093 by Jan. 10, the highest since the epidemic struck in March

Merck Shelves Virus Vaccines (7:02 a.m. NY)

Trial results from Merck’s V590 and V591 were “disappointing, and a bit of a surprise,” said Nick Kartsonis, senior vice president of clinical research for infectious diseases and vaccine.

Both shots generated fewer neutralizing antibodies to halt infection than other Covid-19 vaccines, and produced inferior immune responses compared with people who had naturally contracted the coronavirus. Neither of Merck’s candidates were ultimately among the six primary vaccines in the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed portfolio, though its leadership watched them closely.

EU Commission Raises Astra Delays With CEO (7 a.m. NY)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke with AstraZeneca Plc Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot about announced delays in the company’s delivery of Covid-19 vaccines to EU countries.

“She made it clear that she expects AstraZeneca to deliver on the contractual arrangements foreseen,” commission spokesman Eric Mamer told reporters in Brussels. The commission, the EU’s executive arm, last year signed an advance purchase agreement with Astra on behalf of member countries for as many as 400 vaccine million doses.

Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said that the “vaccine diplomacy has turned into vaccine hijacking,” he told reporters. “Those who aren’t tied with contracts such as EU members have, are ready to pay more.”

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