Biden Raises Lab Leak Theory; G-7 Falls Short: Virus Update

Medical workers in protective clothing move the body of a deceased patient in New York. (Photographer: Angus Mordant/Bloomberg)

Biden Raises Lab Leak Theory; G-7 Falls Short: Virus Update

The Group of Seven fell short on a pledge Sunday to donate 1 billion additional vaccine doses to developing nations. President Joe Biden said the U.S. may be able to provide 1 billion more doses to the world by 2023, and again raised the possibility that the virus may have escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

Apple Inc. plans to drop its mask requirement for vaccinated customers at many U.S. stores beginning next week. A federal judge has tossed out a lawsuit brought by employees of a Houston hospital contesting a requirement that staff be vaccinated.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’s now less hopeful about lifting England’s restrictions as planned on June 21. The U.S. death toll is approaching 600,000.

Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases exceed 175.7 million; deaths pass 3.7 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 2.35 billion doses administered
  • U.K.’s ‘horror movie’ reopening has pound bulls buying
  • Rome’s recovery sparks fight between cafes and cars
  • What the world wants China to disclose in Wuhan probe
  • Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here.
Biden Raises Lab Leak Theory; G-7 Falls Short: Virus Update

Judge Dismisses Hospital Workers’ Vaccine Suit (3:14 p.m. NY)

A federal judge has tossed out a lawsuit brought by employees of a Houston hospital contesting a requirement that staff be vaccinated against Covid-19.

U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes of Houston dismissed the suit Saturday in a scathing ruling: He said the claim from 117 employees of the Houston Methodist Hospital that the requirement amounted to Nazi-era human experimentation was both irrelevant and offensive.

“Equating the injection requirement to medical experimentation in concentration camps is reprehensible,” Hughes wrote.

Apple to Ease Mask Requirement (2:10 p.m. NY)

Apple Inc. plans to drop its mask requirement for vaccinated customers at many U.S. stores beginning next week, a move that will mark yet another major retailer moving away from the Covid-19 safety protocol as states ease restrictions.

The technology giant has begun informing retail employees of the impending change in impacted markets, according to people with knowledge of the matter. The change will go into effect as early as Tuesday, and employees have been told that they won’t be required to ask customers for verification of vaccination.

Biden Raises Lab Leak Theory; G-7 Falls Short: Virus Update

S. Africa to Dispose of J&J Doses (12:15 p.m. NY)

South Africa will dispose of 2 million Johnson & Johnson vaccines following a U.S. ruling that ingredients for the country’s doses may have been contaminated during production in a plant in Baltimore, according to President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The news marks a major setback in the country’s vaccine rollout just as a third wave of infections is gathering pace. However, Aspen Pharmacare Holdings, Africa largest drugmaker, is set to begin the production of new J&J vaccines by mid-week, Ramaphosa told reporters Sunday.

U.K. Infections Remain High (12:01 p.m. NY)

The U.K. reported more than 7,000 new cases on Sunday for a fifth day as a surge in infections linked to the delta virus variant is complicating Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision on whether to go ahead with his plan to lift England’s remaining lockdown restrictions on June 21. There were 7.490 new cases reported on Sunday, more than twice the daily rate a month earlier.

Johnson is due to announce his decision Monday and said on Saturday the jump in cases is leaving him “less hopeful” about dropping the remaining lockdown rules. One of the world’s best vaccine rollouts has helped limit the impact of the case surge, with just eight new deaths reported on Sunday.

Gottlieb Questions Link to Heart Risk (11:57 a.m. NY)

As U.S. public health advisers prepare to meet on Friday to discuss a potential link between Covid-19 shots that use messenger RNA technology and heart inflammation, a former Food and Drug Administration chief cast doubt on the connection. “It’s not clear that it’s the vaccine or a change in behavior,” former FDA Director Scott Gottlieb, who sits on Pfizer Inc.’s board of directors, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will gather on June 18 to discuss an increase in reported cases of myocarditis and pericarditis, particularly among adolescents and young adults. However, Gottlieb said that young people who’ve recently received the vaccine “are going out more” and becoming infected with other respiratory viruses. He said those cases must be distinguished.

Gottlieb added that Pfizer will be watching the safety data closely and must inform the public about any associated risk.

Biden Raises Lab Leak Theory (11:12 a.m. NY)

President Joe Biden said Sunday the U.S. may be able to provide 1 billion more doses of coronavirus vaccine to the world by 2023, and again raised the possibility that the virus may have escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

“I haven’t reached a conclusion, because our intelligence community is not certain yet whether or not this was a consequence of, from the marketplace, a bat interfacing with animals in the environment that caused this Covid-19, or whether it was an experiment gone awry,” he said Sunday at a news conference in Cornwall, England, following the completion of the Group of Seven summit. “It’s important to know the answer to that.”

Americans Embrace Reopening (10:58 p.m. NY)

Americans are becoming increasingly comfortable gathering with friends, going to workplaces, getting on planes, and attending large events, according to a CBS News survey conducted by YouGov.

In early June, 45% of respondents said they would be comfortable going to a large event, compared to only 27% who said the same in March. The majority of of those now expressing such comfort, however, aren’t actually vaccinated. Of those who now say they would be comfortable venturing to a large event, about 6 in 10 said they “won’t get vaccinated,” the poll shows. Political partisanship remains a driving factor in that resistance, according to CBS.

G-7 Comes Up Short (9:45 a.m. NY)

The Group of Seven fell short on fulfilling a pledge to donate 1 billion additional vaccine doses to developing nations, revealing gaps in the bloc between vaccine haves and have-nots.

The world leaders made the 1-billion-shot pledge Sunday -- and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the G-7 collectively would distribute 2.3 billion vaccine doses to developing countries by next year. But Merkel’s larger figure includes a much wider array of contributions already offered, as well as future exports, according to a European official.

The countries also called for “a timely, transparent, expert-led, and science-based WHO-convened” study into the origins of Covid-19 that would include investigating in China.

Abu Dhabi Downgrades U.K. Visitors (9 a.m. NY)

The U.K. has been removed from Abu Dhabi’s “Green List,” meaning travelers from the country will now need to quarantine on arrival in the Middle Eastern city.

The oil-rich capital of the United Arab Emirates updated the list Sunday to remove Britain and Tajikistan and add Malta, The National newspaper reported. Passengers traveling to the U.K. from the UAE have been required to self-isolate since the start of the year. The move comes as coronavirus cases rise in the U.K.

U.S. Adds Almost 20,000 Cases (8:15 a.m. NY)

The U.S. added 19,675 new cases on Saturday, the most since June 2, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. While the number represents an almost 6% increase in the rolling seven-day average of U.S. cases, it’s too early to determine a sustained trend.

Another 484 deaths linked to Covid-19 were recorded on Saturday, pushing the U.S. death toll in the pandemic to within a few hundred of 600,000.

Moscow Plans Raffle for Shots (7:12 a.m. NY)

The Moscow government is trying to motivate people to get vaccinated by holding a car raffle. From June 14 to July 11, residents getting their first Covid-19 shot will be entered in the lottery.

The offer comes after Mayor Sergei Sobyanin ordered the return of sweeping restrictions in an attempt to curb a spike in infections and said authorities are making thousands of hospital beds available. Nationwide, there were 14,723 new cases of infection confirmed, with 357 deaths.

Separately, the Moscow regional government will hold a lottery to win an apartment for anyone getting vaccinated in the next two weeks, Interfax reported. The three-room flat is in Serpukhov, south of the capital.

Germany Deaths Slow (6:40 a.m. NY)

Germany reported 20 deaths connected to Covid-19, the lowest number since May 31. The number of reported daily virus cases was 1,484, showing the third decline in a row. Given the waning coronavirus pandemic, Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht called on the federal states to review the continuation of the mandatory mask requirement.

India Cases Slow to April Low (2:22 p.m. HK)

New infections in India fell to 80,834, the lowest level since the start of April.

Daily recoveries from Covid-19 have outnumbered new infections for 31 consecutive days, the health ministry said in an update.

U.S. Death Toll Nears 600,000 (8:18 a.m. HK)

The U.S. is approaching 600,000 deaths from Covid, even as new fatalities, infections and hospitalizations continue to plummet nationwide. The vaccination drive has slowed significantly but the results are clear: Masks are disappearing, the country is largely reopening. And daily deaths have fallen from a peak of more than 5,000 in February to an average of about 300 over the last week.

It took just over one month for fatalities to hit the half a million mark on Feb. 22 from 400,000, as the coronavirus inflicted its worst. Now, almost four months have passed, the slowest pace of death in the pandemic.

The U.S. has administered over 308 million vaccines, with almost 87% of people 65 and older receiving at least one dose and 76% fully vaccinated. The ratio of death among the elderly compared with people aged 18-49 has dropped 66%, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths among the vaccinated are exceedingly rare. A total of 603 among the 139 million fully inoculated in the U.S. died in the past six months, compared with a similar number on a single day this month.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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