U.S. Cases Slow to October Level; EU-Moderna Talks: Virus UpdateFebruary 15, 2021
(Bloomberg) — The U.S. recorded the lowest daily number of new coronavirus infections since Oct. 25, before a holiday season surge sent case numbers soaring. The New York City subway system, meanwhile, is getting closer to resuming its 24-hour service on Feb. 22.
Elsewhere, the massive storm that triggered blackouts across the central U.S. on Monday caused Harris County, Texas, where Houston in located, to rush to administer more than 8,000 doses of the Moderna Inc. vaccine after the facility where the shots were being stored lost power and the back-up generator failed.
In Europe, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hoping to draw up plans to lift national pandemic restrictions on socializing, shopping and traveling to work, including possible target dates for when the curbs will be eased. Germany, though, tightened its borders to halt more infectious variants spreading, prompting Austria’s government to warn against “excessive” steps.
Texas Blackout Spurs Rush to Distribute Vaccine (4:12 p.m. NY)
Harris County in Texas is rushing to distribute thousands of Covid-19 vaccine doses after the county’s public health facility lost power Monday and the back-up generator failed, Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for the county said in an email.
Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, was hit by a winter storm that’s causing power outages across the central U.S. and into Mexico.
County officials planned to allocate more than 8,000 doses of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine to places where large groups of people are already present, including medical personnel who could administer the shots. They identified three hospitals, the county jail and Rice University, Lemaitre said.
Governors Seek Changes in U.S. Vaccine Reporting (4 p.m. NY)
The U.S. government needs to better coordinate its federally run vaccine programs with state officials, and differentiate how many doses are being deployed by the programs when it reports on the results, the National Governors Association urged Monday.
In an open letter to President Joe Biden, the governors said the federal government administers three separate programs that the states have no control over and little visibility on. Meanwhile, some states are allocating vaccine doses to the same pharmacies as well as the Federally Qualified Health Centers, the letter said.
That can be confusing to the general public and, potentially, cause redundancy and inefficiency, the letter said. “As usual, some pharmacies and FQHCs are better suited for the task than others,” the governors wrote in the letter. “Following the performance data on these entities is essential.”
NYC Subway Hours Extended (2:50 p.m. NY)
The New York City subway system is getting closer to resuming its famous 24-hour service on Feb. 22.
The first step will be a shorter overnight shutdown, from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. instead of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., said Patrick Foye, chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state agency that runs the subways. The MTA’s stepped-up cleaning practices will continue, officials said.
NYC Patient Has South Africa Variant (2:30 p.m. NY)
A patient in a New York City hospital is infected with the South African variant of the coronavirus, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Monday. The patient was transferred to a city hospital from Connecticut for a medical procedure, the governor said.
“There is no evidence of any spread in New York state,” Cuomo said in a briefing.
Health officials are concerned about the South Africa variant because it has shown itself capable of partially evading defenses raised by several vaccines.
WHO Clears Astra Vaccine for Emergency Use (1:30 p.m. NY)
The World Health Organization cleared AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, adding its official approval to a shot that’s expected to speed up inoculations in developing countries.
The WHO validated two versions of the vaccine, produced with SK Bioscience Co. of South Korea and the Serum Institute of India.
The formal approval follows a recommendation by the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization to allow the vaccine to be administered to all adults over 18. That guidance differs from the approach taken by some European Union countries that have restricted its use in the elderly, citing insufficient trial data.
No Deaths in Ireland; First Time Since Dec. 21 (1:10 p.m. NY)
Ireland reported its first day without Covid-19 deaths in nearly two months, amid what officials called “very considerable progress” suppressing the virus. There were 821 new cases Monday, with no deaths, the first day without fatalities since Dec. 21.
The virus is “going in the right direction, but we’re not there yet,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn told reporters in Dublin.
Johnson Aims to Ease U.K. Lockdown (12:50 p.m. NY)
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hoping to draw up plans to lift national pandemic restrictions on socializing, shopping and traveling to work, including possible target dates for when the curbs will be eased.
“We want this lockdown to be the last,” he said at a news conference from 10 Downing Street on Monday. “We want progress to be cautious but irreversible.”
Johnson has confirmed his priority will be to try to reopen schools from March 8, but no decision has yet been made on whether all age groups will return to classrooms at the same time. He said he will unveil the earliest potential dates for removing restrictions from other sectors, “if we possibly can.”
EU in Talks for More Moderna Doses (12:20 p.m. NY)
The European Union may secure an extra 150 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by Moderna Inc. as the bloc seeks to accelerate inoculations, according to an EU official familiar with the matter.
The deal being arranged by the European Commission would bring to 310 million the total number of vaccine doses from Moderna for EU countries. The deliveries of the additional 150 million doses would be for the third quarter, according to the official, who added that negotiations are quite advanced.
U.S. Reports Fewest Cases Since October (12:10 p.m. NY)
The U.S. recorded 65,336 new infections on Sunday, the lowest daily number since Oct. 25, before a holiday surge sent case numbers soaring, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.
U.K. Cases Drop (11:10 a.m. NY)
The U.K. reported 9,765 new cases of coronavirus, compared to a 7-day average of 13,200, the government said. The last time the U.K. reported fewer than 10,000 new cases was Oct. 2.
Austria Extends Hospitality Shutdown (10:50 a.m.)
Austria won’t reopen restaurants, bars, and cafes before the Easter holiday as new mutations from the U.K.. and South Africa render the situation “volatile,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.
Decisions about easing will be made in two weeks at the earliest, he said.
Portuguese Premier Gets Jab (10:30 a.m. NY)
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa was given his first vaccine dose in Lisbon on Monday, the premier’s office said. Some leaders in Western Europe have shied away from getting inoculated, for fear of being accused of jumping the queue. Portugal aims to have 70% of its adult population vaccinated by the end of the summer.
U.K.’s Reopening Agenda (7:25 a.m. NY)
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will lay out plans to lift curbs, including where possible target dates for when the restrictions will be eased. The premier will detail his “road map” for ending lockdown in a statement on Feb. 22.
“What we want to see is progress that is cautious and irreversible,” Johnson said in a pooled interview with broadcasters. Johnson said his priority remained to reopen schools from March 8.
German Border Worries (5:55 p.m. HK)
Travel restrictions at Germany’s border with the Czech Republic risk severing automotive supply lines that could spark a wave of production stoppages, according to Germany’s VDA automaker association. BMW AG and Volkswagen AG operate plants in Bavaria and Saxony that depend on car parts particularly from Czech Republic. Traffic lines appeared at some border crossings, according to local media reports.
From Sunday, only German citizens and residents in the country are allowed to enter Germany from the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol region, two zones where more infectious variants of coronavirus are widespread. Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg cautioned Germany against “excessive” steps.
On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman left open the possibility of further border closures with neighboring countries as a last resort to combat the pandemic.
Danish Vaccinations Accelerate (5:30 p.m. HK)
All adult Danes can be vaccinated by June 27, a week earlier than previous estimates, because Pfizer can deliver more doses than expected, the nation’s Health Authority said. So far, about 4% of the population has received a first jab and just under 3% have received both shots.
Malaysia Makes Progress (5:15 p.m. HK)
Malaysia added 2,176 new coronavirus cases on Monday, the smallest number since Jan. 5. The country also expects the first batch of vaccines this week, Federal Territories Minister Annuar Musa said.
EU to Fast-Track Approval for Adapted Vaccine (3:32 p.m. HK)
European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides announced fast-track approval procedures for coronavirus vaccines that need to be adapted to protect against Covid-19 mutations, Germany’s Augsburger Allgemeinenewspaper reported Sunday, citing an interview.
“We have now decided that a vaccine that has been reworked by the manufacturer on the basis of the previous vaccine to combat new mutations no longer has to go through the entire approval process,” the paper quoted Kyriakides as saying.
Italy Health Adviser Calls for New Lockdown (3:04 p.m. HK)
Italian health ministry adviser Walter Ricciardi over the weekend called for a new lockdown, citing the rise in virus cases linked to new strains. The government of incoming Prime Minister Mario Draghi was forced to make a last-minute U-turn on the planned opening of ski lifts on Monday throughout the country, ruling that they will remain closed until at least March 5. Politicians in the mountainous north ripped the decision, calling for an immediate shakeup of the country’s health-management team.
Thailand to Get First Vaccines by End of Month (2:58 p.m. HK)
Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha said the nation’s first batch of Covid-19 vaccines will arrive in the last week of the month. The 200,000 shots from Sinovac Biotech Ltd. should be approved by the nation’s Food and Drug Administration in time for the first vaccinations, which are expected to begin about three days after receiving the doses.
Thailand on Monday reported 143 new cases, which took the nation’s total infections to 24,714. It also had two new fatalities, resulting in 82 total deaths.
S. Africa to Start Vaccine Rollout Feb. 17: BD (1:27 p.m. HK)
South African health-care workers will receive the first doses after regulators approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Johannesburg-based Business Day reported, citing Glenda Gray, president of the country’s Medical Research Council.
About 80,000 doses of J&J’s vaccine, which come from stock made for clinical trials, are expected to arrive from Belgium on Tuesday, according to Business Day. The rollout was hamstrung when the government failed to quickly secure doses, and was then delayed further because some vaccines showed muted efficacy against a locally found variant.
Australia, New Zealand Get Vaccines (11:50 a.m. HK)
Australia’s first vaccines arrived in Sydney, with more than 142,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at Sydney airport, Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters in Canberra. The nation is on track for the most vulnerable Australians to start receiving the vaccine from Feb. 22.
In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the first batch of shots arrived, with about 60,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine delivered in Auckland. The inoculation of border workers will begin Feb. 20, while a wider rollout to the general population won’t take place until the second half.
Japan to Begin Vaccinations Wednesday (8:48 a.m. HK)
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Japan will begin vaccinations from Wednesday on medical personnel after the shot from Pfizer Inc. was approved over the weekend. The government has agreed to buy enough Pfizer doses for 72 million people this year, and the first batch arrived on Friday.
Suga told a parliamentary committee Japan needed to ensure that infections were falling before canceling a state of emergency currently in effect for 10 regions including Tokyo and Osaka.
NZ Gets Reality Check as Auckland Locks Down (7:27 a.m. HK)
New Zealand’s summer of unrestricted movement and social interaction has been brought to an abrupt halt by three new community cases of Covid-19.
After an emergency cabinet meeting on Sunday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardernplaced largest city Auckland into a snap, three-day lockdown and reimposed social distancing requirements for the rest of the country while authorities race to find the source of the new infections. Genomic sequencing shows them to be the more virulent U.K. strain of the virus, the Ministry of Health said on Monday.