Africa Variant Found in Maryland; U.S. Cases Slow: Virus Update
A drive-thru Covid-19 vaccination site at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, California, U.S. (Photographer: Bing Guan/Bloomberg)

Africa Variant Found in Maryland; U.S. Cases Slow: Virus Update

Maryland reported a case of the coronavirus variant first found in South Africa, the third documented in the U.S. California surpassed 40,000 fatalities, the most after New York. Deaths in North Carolina exceeded 100 for a fourth consecutive day.

Starting Tuesday, travelers will be required to wear masks, including on airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride-shares, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced. Coronavirus infections in the U.S. continued a downward trend, with 162,390 new cases added on Friday.

The European dispute over the supply of vaccines is threatening to unleash a wider political and economic conflict that could stymie global collaboration needed to end the pandemic. Virus mutations that likely offer some resistance to vaccine and antibody treatments are now prevalent in South Africa and Brazil.

Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases exceed 102.4 million; deaths pass 2.2 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 90.8 million shots given worldwide
  • Faced with a vaccine emergency, the EU made an enemy of everyone
  • Covid mutations undercut optimism even as more vaccines get near
  • Computer-shy elderly are shouldered aside in vaccination race
  • Latest Covid surge appears to flame out even in worst hot spots
  • How vaccine nationalism flares over scarce supplies: QuickTake

Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on cases and deaths.

Africa Variant Found in Maryland; U.S. Cases Slow: Virus Update

Cuba to Force Travelers to Quarantine (4:50 p.m. NY)

Cuba will make travelers quarantine under a new set of restrictions announced Saturday after coronavirus cases surged this month in the Caribbean’s largest island.

Tourists, businesspeople and foreign diplomats are among those who will be forced to isolate at their own expense in government-approved hotels upon arriving, according to a statement on the health ministry’s website. It did not specify how long foreigners will be kept in quarantine.

Billionaire Slim Home From Hospital (4:29 p.m. NY)

Billionaire Carlos Slim returned to his home in Mexico City after being hospitalized for Covid-19, a family member said.

Slim is recovering and recuperating well, his son-in-law and spokesman Arturo Elias Ayub said in a message Saturday. Latin America’s richest man, who turned 81 this week, was hospitalized in Mexico City’s Instituto Nacional de Nutricion, where he was experiencing mild symptoms, Elias Ayub said previously.

France Cases Rise Slightly (2:38 p.m. NY)

France reported 24,392 new cases, a slight increase from the previous day, and an additional 242 deaths from virus-related illness. Total fatalities are 75,862. This comes a day after the French government said it was giving itself a “chance” of avoiding a third lockdown by instead sealing its borders from travelers outside the European Union and closing large shopping centers.

On Saturday, Emmanuel Macron insisted on a shared responsibility to steer away from tougher measures. “I have faith in us,” the French President said in a tweet. “Let’s do everything to halt the epidemic together.”

California Deaths Top 40,000 (2:13 p.m. NY)

California breached the 40,000 mark for Covid-19 fatalities, with the addition of 638 deaths yesterday, according to the health department’s website. The state recorded more than 14,000 deaths in January alone. Yesterday saw 18,427 new cases of Covid-19 added to the rolls, below the 14-day rolling average of 23,152. The state’s 14-day positivity rate dropped to 7.8%, down from 12.2% a month ago. California has administered some 42 million tests in total.

Maryland Finds Case of South African Variant (1:24 p.m. NY)

Maryland has found a case of the coronavirus variant first discovered in South Africa, Governor Larry Hogan said in a statement. He said the case involves a resident living in the Baltimore area with no history of international travel.

The first two U.S. cases of the South African variant were found in South Carolina on Jan. 28. Hogan’s statement said the variant is “believed to be more transmissible” but hasn’t been shown to cause more serious illness or risk of death compared with other variants. 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.

Meantime, South Carolina reported its first case of the variant first found in the U.K. and now spread across states in more than half the U.S. The state released few details but said the adult patient had travelled internationally.

North Carolina Reports More Than 100 Deaths Again (12:56 p.m. NY)

North Carolina reported 130 new deaths, the fourth consecutive day of more than 100 fatalities at the end of the state’s deadliest month. Total deaths are 9,287, according to state data. Fatalities in the state have remained high even as cases and hospitalizations have eased over the last few weeks.

U.K. Students May Get Home Tests Before Return (12:26 p.m. NY)

Students in U.K. secondary schools may be sent Covid-19 testing kits at home prior to a planned return to classrooms in March, the Telegraph reported, citing a person familiar with the plan. The government may abandon plans to conduct lateral flow testing at schools in favor of the home testing. The kits are already being used by primary school teachers and may eventually be rolled out for younger children, according to the report.

Masks Mandated on Transport, CDC Announces (12 p.m. NY)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a public health order requiring the wearing of masks by all travelers into, within or out of the U.S. It will take effect Feb. 2.

The order applies to airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis, and ride-shares, as well as transportation hubs such as airports and seaports; train, bus and subway stations; and any other areas that provide transportation.

The CDC announcement follows an executive order signed by President Joe Biden on Jan. 21.

Italy Cases Slow (11:30 a.m. NY)

Italy registered a decline in new virus cases on Saturday to 12,715 from 13,574 the previous day as the country prepares to ease virus restrictions from Monday for some regions, including the Rome and Milan areas. Daily deaths were also lower, at 421 compared with 477 a day earlier.

The country’s Aifa medicines agency has approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, though it is recommending its use on people 18-55 years old, according to the Ansa newswire.

U.K. Cases Moderate (11:23 a.m. NY)

The U.K. reported 23,275 new cases on Saturday, more than 3,500 fewer than the average of the previous seven days and 30% lower than a week ago. Another 1,200 people died within 28 days of a positive test, in line with the weekly average. More than 8.37 million people have received their first vaccination.

Pakistan to Begin Receiving Vaccine (11:21 a.m. NY)

Pakistan will receive as much as 17 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine under the Covax arrangement by the end of second quarter this year, the nation’s planning minister Asad Umar said.

The South Asian nation got a letter from Covax indicating that the initail delivery of about 6 million doses would start this month, he said in a Twitter message. The nation, with a population of 220 million, plans to start vaccinating its frontline health workers first.

N.Y. Cases Steady (10:50 a.m. NY)

New York state added 12,804 cases, in line with the recent trend of new infections well below the record of almost 20,000 on Jan. 14. Hospitalizations fell to 8,176, and the positive test rate rose slightly to 4.75%, though that number has been falling steadily in the last few weeks. Another 140 people died, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a tweet.

Portugal Keeps Adding ICU Patients (9:35 a.m. NY)

Portugal, which is facing one of the world’s worst outbreaks, on Thursday reported 12,435 new confirmed coronavirus cases in a day, below the record 16,432 new cases announced on Thursday and taking the total to 711,018. The government reported 293 fatalities, less than a record 303 on Thursday, taking the total to 12,179 deaths.
The number of patients in intensive-care units rose by 37 to 843. The country’s national health service has a capacity of about 1,200 intensive-care beds.

German Minister Expresses Optimism (9:34 a.m. NY)

One year after the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Germany’s health minister is cautiously optimism about the future course of the crisis. “There will not be a second anniversary in this form,” Jens Spahn told newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in an interview. “Over the course of the year, we will get the pandemic largely under control - through the vaccinations and through the possibility of adapting the vaccine to mutations.”

U.S. Cases Continue to Slow (8 a.m. NY)

The U.S. added 162,390 cases on Friday, as new infections continue a downward trend, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. This week’s average number of cases is 15% less than the previous one.

Deaths were roughly steady, with 3,582 new fatalities registered. That brings this week’s average slightly above last week’s. The U.S. has recorded 25,924,374 total cases and 436,634 deaths to date.

Norway Extends National Lockdown, Oslo to Ease (4:49 p.m. HK)

Norway extended national measures until mid-February and for Oslo to Feb. 10, Health Minister Bent Hoie said. It plans to ease curbs for schools and pre-schools in the Oslo area. Restaurants and individual stores will be allowed to reopen in Oslo. Stricter measures were introduced Jan. 23 to contain more contagious variants of the virus.

Merkel Urges Germans to Remain Cautious (4:26 a.m. HK)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged citizens to remain cautious so as to make a future easing of lockdown measures possible. “There is the very real danger from highly contagious viral mutations,” she said in her weekly podcast. “That’s why we have to be careful and cautious as we move through the next few weeks.”

Germany isn’t ready yet to reopen daycare centers and schools, she added.

Astra-EU Struggle Opens Fresh Rift in Bid to End Pandemic (1:06 p.m. HK)

A European dispute over supply of Covid-19 vaccines is threatening to unleash a wider political and economic conflict that could stymie global collaboration needed to end the pandemic.

After accusing U.K. vaccine maker AstraZeneca of favoring deliveries to its home country, the EU announced a drastic plan to control exports of Covid shots. The retaliatory move may encourage more governments to use economic might -- or other means -- to protect their interests. The bloc is under pressure to speed up an immunization campaign that’s trailing those in Britain and the U.S.

Virus Mutations Undercut Optimism (8:12 a.m. HK)

Emerging virus variants are forcing drugmakers to develop booster shots for a disease that could remain active for years.

Vaccines made by Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. are already in use. Meanwhile, studies show those from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax Inc. pack a punch against early forms of the virus, potentially paving the way for quick authorizations in the U.S. for J&J’s vaccine and in the U.K. for Novavax’s shot.

Now the bad news: Mutations that likely confer partial resistance to vaccines and antibody treatments are now prevalent in both South Africa and Brazil, and threatening to spread worldwide. The J&J shot was found in a late-stage trial to be 72% effective in the U.S., but that fell to 57% in studies done in South Africa. Novavax’s shot, 89% effective in the U.K., was only 49% effective in South Africa.

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