U.S. Warned on Variant Even as Cases Slow Sharply: Virus Update

The U.S. added 106,570 Covid-19 cases, almost 8,000 fewer than the week’s previous low, suggesting that the declining trend in infections is continuing. A new study warns of “further surges” in the U.S. as the coronavirus variant first found in the U.K. likely becomes the dominant strain.

Vaccine developers said they are working on a new shot to combat the South African strain after early data suggested AstraZeneca Plc’s product has limited efficacy against mild disease caused by the variant. South Africa plans to fast-track the rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine after it showed more efficacy against the variant that makes up more than 90% of new cases.

Germany reported a drop in the pace of new virus cases, though the Bavarian state premier said the national lockdown will have to be extended. Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, will go into lockdown after the South African variant was detected.

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U.S. Warned on Variant Even as Cases Slow Sharply: Virus Update

Fauci Warns Not to Postpone Second Doses (4:07 p.m. NY)

Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Americans not to delay their second does of the coronavirus vaccine, after other health experts suggested recently there may be a benefit to pushing more people to get a first shot and possible delaying the followups a bit.

“We must go with the scientific data that we’ve accumulated, and it’s really very solid,” Fauci, the top U.S. Infectious diseases specialist, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “You can get as many people in their first dose at the same time as adhering, within reason, to the timetable of the second dose.”

Fauci said U.S. vaccine supply should improve in February and March as the “capability of manufacturing” escalates. Some delays have been inevitable, he said, adding that the U.S. “could have contracted contracted a little bit more aggressively with the companies to get more doses.”

Ohio Declares It’s on ‘the Road Back’ (3:14 p.m. NY)

Ohio reported 2,138 new cases, the first time since early November that daily infections fell to less than 3,000 in a state hit hard by latest surge. Ohio regularly reported more than 10,000 daily cases at the peak of the surge in December and early January.

The state reported 7 new deaths, compared with a 21-day average of 69. Hospitalizations are also declining, and the state on Saturday reported that more than 1 million people had received their first vaccine dose, in a population of almost 12 million.

The news prompted Gov. Mike DeWine to post a video on “the road back.” But, he tweeted: “Until we’re all protected, please continue following safety protocols to keep yourself, your family, and your neighbors safe.”

Chicago Schools Reach ‘Tentative Agreement’ (3 p.m. NY)

Chicago Public Schools reached a “tentative agreement” with its teachers to resume in-person learning later this week, but union members still need to review its framework to make a deal final.

Progress toward the resumption of in-person classes after more than 10 months of remote learning in the third-largest U.S. district comes as tensions escalate coast to coast between unions fearing the spread of Covid-19, and local officials under pressure to get teachers back into the classroom.

Germany to Extend Lockdown, State Leader Says (2:29 p.m. NY)

Germany will have to extend its lockdown when state and federal leaders meet on Wednesday to discuss Covid-19 strategy, Bavarian state premier Markus Soeder said.

Soeder, whose CSU party is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governing bloc, told broadcaster ARD “it makes no sense to just call it off now” and risk a resurgence of the virus by easing restrictions prematurely.

Chancellery officials in Berlin have concluded it’s too early to ease restrictions even though infections are declining, and the lockdown is likely to be extended for two weeks, people familiar with the discussions said last week.

California Deaths Decline (2:10 p.m. NY)

California reported 295 new fatalities, the lowest this month and below the rolling 14-day average of 510, the health department said on its website. New cases numbered 15,064, compared with the 14-day average of 16,198. The total number of Covid-19 cases now tops 3.3 million, with 43,942 deaths.

The state’s 14-day positive test rate continued its descent, dropping to 6.1%, the lowest since Nov. 28. The state has administered about 44 million coronavirus tests in total.

South Africa to Speed Up Use of J&J Shot (2:15 p.m. NY)

South Africa plans to fast-track the rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine after it showed more efficacy against a new variant that’s prevalent in more than 90% of new cases in the country, according to Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council.

The move comes after trial data released Sunday showed that a shot developed by AstraZeneca Plc has limited efficacy against the mutation that was identified late last year. Even though South Africa received its first vaccines this month with the arrival AstraZeneca’s product, its use should temporarily be suspended, Barry Schoub, chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, said Sunday in an online briefing.

France Aims to Vaccinate 4 Million by March (2:08 p.m. NY)

France aims to vaccinate up to 4 million by the end of this month, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said in an interview on CNews, without clarifying if this target included the shots from both Pfizer and Moderna. The number of deaths due to the virus fell for a sixth day in a row to 171, according to Sante Publique France. New virus cases are still hovering around 20,000 a day. “We’re seeing a stabilization of new cases but the situation remains fragile,” Attal said.

U.K. Minister Says Over-50s Will Be Vaccinated by May (12:49 p.m. NY)

The U.K. is on track to vaccinate all over-50s by May, with almost 1,000 people a minute receiving shots during the busiest period, Health Minister Nadhim Zahawi said.

Zahawi, who is responsible for the vaccine rollout, said the rate of 979 doses a minute was reached between 11 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Saturday.

Quebec Reaches 10,000 Covid Deaths (12:42 p.m. NY)

Quebec, Canada’s second-largest province by population, has become the first region in the country to record more than 10,000 Covid-19 deaths, reporting 32 fatalities on Sunday. The milestone was passed as hospitalizations have started to decline in the last two weeks, Health Minister Christian Dube said on Twitter.

New Vaccine in Works to Fight South Africa Variant (11:59 a.m. NY)

Vaccine developers said they are working on a new shot to combat the South African strain of coronavirus after early data suggested AstraZeneca Plc’s product has limited efficacy against mild disease caused by the variant.

There isn’t yet enough information from research to show whether the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is effective at preventing severe Covid-19 cases, hospitalization and deaths, the company said in a statement.

Sarah Gilbert, leading the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine program, said work was already under way to adapt the vaccine to deal specifically with the South African variant. The new shot is “very likely” to be available by autumn, she said.

Study Predicts U.S. Spread of U.K. Variant (11:37 a.m. NY)

A new study warns of “further surges” in the U.S. as the coronavirus variant first found in the U.K. likely becomes the dominant strain.

The B.1.1.7 variant is 35-40% more transmissible, the study says, and “will likely become the dominant variant in many U.S. states by March, 2021, leading to further surges of Covid-19 in the country, unless urgent mitigation efforts are immediately implemented.”

The study was carried out by a team of virologists in the U.S. in association with the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif. It echoed the same warning last month by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the variant’s rapid spread. The variant has been found in at least 30 U.S. states.

U.K. New Cases Lowest in Two Months (11:34 a.m. NY)

The U.K. reported 15,845 new cases on Sunday, the lowest daily total since Dec. 8. Another 373 people died within 28 days of a positive test, a six-week low. Reporting delays often result in lower figures on weekends. More than 12 million people have received the first dose of a vaccine after almost 550,000 shots were administered on Saturday.

Italy Cases Slow As Restrictions Ease (11:33 a.m. NY)

Italy reported 11,641 new cases, slightly lower than the previous day as the nation continues its vaccination drive. The positive test rate was stable around 5.6%. Another 270 people died. It was the first weekend with bars and restaurants open across most of the country, and the boost for the sector was about 200 million euros, Ansa reported.

Yellen Sees Full Employment With Biden’s Stimulus (10:59 a.m. NY)

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the U.S. can return to full employment in 2022 if it enacts a robust enough coronavirus stimulus package, but otherwise risks a slower rebound in jobs and the economy.

“I’m afraid that the job market is stalling,” she said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” in one of two Sunday-morning interviews.

N.Y.’s Surge Shows Signs Of Easing (9:20 a.m. NY)

New York state’s recent virus surge continued to show signs of slowing. Hospitalizations declined again, to 7,649, the lowest since Christmas Day, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. The positive test rate dropped to 4%, the lowest since November and half the rate of early last month. The state reported 10,025 new cases, a decline from the previous day and roughly half the record of Jan. 14. Another 143 people died.

U.S. Cases Slow Sharply (9:05 a.m. NY)

The U.S. added 106,570 Covid-19 cases on Saturday, almost 8,000 fewer than the week’s previous low, suggesting that the declining trend in infections is continuing. While testing has slowed over the past month, according to the Covid Tracking Project, the latest number compares with an average of some 177,000 daily new cases in the U.S. over the preceding four weeks. The numbers are based on nationwide data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

Another 2,778 people of Covid-related illness, bringing the U.S. toll to more than 462,000.

Norway’s Bergen to Go Into Lockdown (7:15 a.m. NY)

Norway’s second-largest city, Bergen, will go into lockdown after transmission of the South African virus variant was detected at construction sites. Shops, cafes, restaurants, gyms and museums will close, and all events will be banned in the city and two nearby municipalities for one week from 6 p.m. on Sunday.

Germany New Cases Lowest in Four Days (6:40 a.m. NY)

Germany added 8,632 new Covid-19 cases, the lowest number in four days. The number of deaths rose by 65 to 61,389, which on weekends can be distorted as official reporting is slower than on weekdays. The R number held below the key level of 1 for a fifth day, with the seven-day incidence declining for a sixth day to 75.6.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier dampened hopes for a quick end to social restrictions in Europe’s largest economy, indicating in an interview with Bild that it could take another 6 to 8 weeks until shops and restaurants will again be allowed to open.

U.K. Considering Vaccinating Some at Work (5:45 p.m. HK)

U.K. ministers are considering proposals to vaccinate millions of people in front line roles -- including teachers and emergency services -- under the age of 50 at work from the spring, the Telegraph reported, citing unidentified government sources.

Under the plan, delivery drivers, supermarket and food processing factory workers, would jump to the front on the queue for jobs, according to the newspaper. Prison staff, police officers and even jurors may also be prioritized.

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