U.S. Infection Rate Eases to Lowest Since October: Virus Update

The pace of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. continued to ease as the country’s week-to-week average fell to its lowest in almost four months. A top Biden administration health official warned Americans not to get complacent as the potentially more lethal variant first found in the U.K. spreads across the country.

California’s positive test rate fell to its lowest since November, and New York state’s hospitalizations, stuck among the nation’s highest, dropped by more than 1,000 over the last week. Ohio reported the fewest cases since October.

The U.K. affirmed its plan for schools to reopen early next month as the nation’s vaccine program meets its first target. The Czech government prolonged its lockdown as the country struggles to contain one of Europe’s worst outbreaks.

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U.S. Infection Rate Eases to Lowest Since October: Virus Update

Melbourne Records 1 New Case in New Lockdown (7:02 a.m. NY)

Melbourne has recorded 1 new locally acquired case of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, bringing the Australian city’s Holiday Inn cluster to 17 cases.

The lack of new cases may give optimism to Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews that the cluster of the U.K. strain of the virus is being contained, and could allow the state’s 5-day lockdown to be lifted on Thursday as planned.

Nebraska Vaccines Cut Nursing Home Cases (5:03 p.m. NY)

New infections at Nebraska’s almost 200 federally-licensed nursing homes fell by more than 80% in three weeks of vaccinations, the Omaha World-Herald reported. The newspaper reported a similar drop among nursing staff. More than 40% of the state’s 2,000 deaths have been at nursing homes, the paper said.

Kentucky Doing ‘Better and Better,’ Governor Says (4:36 p.m. NY)

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear infections have declined for five straight weeks, which he said was the longest stretch since the start of the pandemic. “We are doing better and better,” he said in a video message. “So keep it up.” The state reported 10 deaths, the lowest since December. Kentucky has administered almost 650,000 vaccinations, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker.

Ex-FDA Head Gottlieb Calls for Tailored Vaccine Solutions (3:31 p.m. NY)

The Biden administration should consider tailored solutions to get the vaccine into “underserved communities,” including mobile vans and grass-roots outreach to community groups instead of mass vaccination sites, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said.

“I’d be marshaling federal resources toward that kind of a mission and letting Walmart work off the easy demand,” Gottlieb said Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

“People who can go online, register, drive to Dodger Stadium, wait in line, take a half a day off from work to get vaccinated -- those are people who could be serviced by Walmart, CVS, Rite Aid.”

France Worries About Regional Spread of Variants (2:37 p.m. NY)

France reported 16,546 new infections on Sunday amid worries about variants of the coronavirus that are spreading in some northern and eastern parts of the country. Deaths rose by 167 to 81,814.

Ohio Reports Fewest Cases in Four Months (2:28 p.m. NY)

Ohio reported 1,809 cases, the fewest since October. Cases and hospitalizations have been on a steady decline for more than a month after Governor Mike DeWine imposed restrictions, including a recently-lifted curfew. Deaths remain at a plateau, and the state just completed logging more than 4,000 unreported fatalities. Total deaths are now 16,346.

Ohio has given 1.6 million vaccinations, just below the national average for all states, according the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.

California’s Positive Rate Falls to Three-Month Low (2:10 p.m. NY)

California’s 14-day positive test rate dropped to 4.6% yesterday, the lowest since Nov. 15, according to the health department’s website. The state also reported fewer new cases and fatalities than its 14-day rolling average. There were 8,842 new Covid-19 cases, below the average of 11,181, and 408 deaths, fewer than the 439 average. California has administered 5.98 million vaccinations to date.

Italy Extends Ban on Ski Resorts (1:56 p.m. NY)

Italy extended its ban on ski resorts, set to expire on Monday, until March 5, Ansa reported. The action was taken by Health Minister Roberto Speranza after warnings from a senior aide as well as Italy’s Scientific Committee that the spread of new coronavirus variants made the reopening of resorts too risky, despite the overall easing of outbreak in Italy and a loosening of other restrictions. Resorts were a source of infection in last year’s deadly surge in Italy.

Mexico Hopes to Work With Cuba on Vaccine Trial (12:55 p.m. NY)

Mexico is in talks with Cuba to host part of a trial on a Covid-19 vaccine in an effort to draw more supplies from international laboratories as doses run short in the country and the death tally grows.

So far, just 0.5% of Mexico’s population has received at least one vaccine against the coronavirus, compared with 11.5% in the U.S., according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker.

Czechs Extend Lockdown (12:29 p.m. NY)

The Czech government prolonged its pandemic lockdown measures, escalating its conflict with lawmakers opposed to the extension even as the country struggles to contain one of the worst outbreaks in Europe.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Andrej Babis on Sunday agreed to maintain the state of emergency for two more weeks, keeping the legal framework allowing it to shut shops and services, curb movement of people and impose a nighttime curfew. Babis’s rivals said the move violated the constitution.

U.K. Confirms Vaccine Target Reached (12:04 p.m. NY)

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed his government had met its target of immunizing everyone over the age of 70, along with people who live or work in nurse homes, health service workers and those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19.

Johnson is due to announce his “road map” to unlock the country gradually over the months ahead on Feb. 22.

“In England, I can tell you we have now offered jabs to everyone in the first four priority groups, the people most likely to be seriously ill from coronavirus, hitting the first target we set ourselves,” he said in a video posted to his Twitter account.

Earlier Sunday, British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab signaled that schools in England will be allowed to reopen from early next month.

The U.K. reported another 10,972 cases on Sunday, the fewest since Oct. 2. Daily infections have been below 20,000 for 10 days in a row after peaking over 68,000 in early January. Fatalities are also the lowest this year, though reporting often lags on weekends. Another 258 people died within 28 days of a positive test.

Rite Aid Chief Sees Vaccine Role for Private Sector (11:59 a.m. NY)

State and local governments struggling to get people swiftly registered for vaccinations could find help from the private sector, said Rite Aid Corp. Chief Executive Heyward Donigan.

“The governors are doing a wonderful job, as best they can,” including by putting their own call centers together, Donigan said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “But demand is so high that I do think the private sector can play a role here.”

State and county officials nationwide have reported long wait times amid a crush of eligible residents seeking to schedule appointments for Covid-19 vaccinations.

The drugstore chain is set to distribute 100 doses of Covid-19 vaccines per week at participating stores in California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

N.Y. Hospitalizations Continue to Drop (11:50 a.m. NY)

New York state hospitalizations fell by more than 1,000 to 6,593 over the last week, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. That compares with more than 9,000 almost a month ago at the peak of the state’s post-holiday virus surge.

Cuomo reported 8,316 new cases, a daily decline in line with the lower pace of infection that has prompted him to ease some restrictions, including allowing limited indoor dining in New York City. The positive test rate was steady at 3.54%. Another 107 people died of Covid-19.

Sanofi Says Both Shots Could Be Ready This Year (10:47 a.m. NY)

Sanofi’s two Covid-19 vaccines are entering new phases of trials in coming weeks and both could be available by the end of the year, said Thomas Triomphe, head of Sanofi Pasteur.

Sanofi’s more advanced vaccine candidate, being jointly developed with GlaxoSmithKline Plc, will enter another Phase II trial later this month, and there have been no problems with getting the right formulations, Triomphe said in a phone interview. His comments came in response to an earlier report in French weekly Journal du Dimanche, questioning whether they would be ready.

Don’t Let Down Guard on Virus, CDC Head Warns (9:50 a.m. NY)

Americans should not get complacent about rapidly falling coronavirus cases as a potentially more lethal variant spreads in the U.S., according to Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. has seen more than 1,000 cases of the strain first identified in the U.K., with infections across at least 39 states, Walensky said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” one of three scheduled interviews on Sunday. It is around 40% to 50% more transmissible and early data “have suggested there might in fact be increased morbidity and mortality.”

Even with more than 52 million vaccines administered in the U.S., the country continues to see close to 100,000 cases per day -- although infections, hospitalizations and deaths have declined steadily from January peaks.

U.S. Infection Rate Lowest Since October (8 a.m. NY)

New U.S. cases of Covid-19 declined to about 84,000 on Saturday, compared with an average 97,240 for the seven days ended Friday — the country’s lowest week-to-week average since late October, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

While testing has declined slightly nationwide, the positive-test rate has fallen from more than 13% early this year to less than 6%, according to JHU data.

U.S. Infection Rate Eases to Lowest Since October: Virus Update

Even so, the U.S. added 3,433 deaths on Saturday, compared with an average 3,058 over the preceding seven days. The latest death toll is likely to have been inflated by revised numbers in Ohio following an earlier undercount.

Denmark Readies for Regular Testing, Long-Term Border Controls (6:45 a.m. NY)

Denmark must prepare to deal with Covid-19 for a long period of time, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in an interview with the newspaper Berlingske.

Frederiksen suggested a “massive testing strategy” to keep society open. This model would require Danes to get used to getting tested several times a week.

She also referred to longer-term border controls to prevent new mutations from spreading.

Swiss Business Group Calls for Virus Reopening (6:45 p.m. HK)

Influential Swiss business lobby group Economiesuisse called for the easing of some coronavirus restrictions beginning in March, putting pressure on Switzerland’s government.

Economiesuisse and the association of Swiss employers said the Swiss federal government should reopen non-essential shops, allow outdoor gatherings of more than five people and permit restaurants to have outdoor dining, beginning next month. The easing of restrictions would reduce harm to Switzerland’s economy, the groups said in a statement Sunday.

Health Minister Alain Berset is expected to announce the government’s plan to potentially reduce restrictions on Feb. 24. The Swiss government has closed restaurants, banned outdoor gatherings of more than five people, urged people who can to work from home and closed non-essential shops to stop the spread of the virus.

Serbia Delivers Vaccines to North Macedonia (5 p.m. HK)

A shortage of shots prompted one ex-Yugoslav republic to donate 4,680 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to another member of the former federation, in an atypical instance of Balkan solidarity.

Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic delivered the vaccines to North Macedonia’s Premier Zoran Zaev at the mutual border on Sunday, the first part of 8,000 vaccines for the southern neighbor. Both states aspire to join the European Union though haven’t received any vaccines from the bloc.

Serbia has managed to buy more than 1.8 million shots directly from drug makers, and has shared some with neighboring Bosnia-Herzegovina and North Macedonia.

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