Africa Variant in U.S.; NYC Vaccine Shortage Eases: Virus Update

The coronavirus variant identified in South Africa has reached the U.S. with two cases diagnosed in South Carolina, the statereported. The cases were not related, and neither person had a known history of travel.

New York City is starting to see the logjam on vaccines ease up slightly, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. New York may have hadtwice as many coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes than the official count of more than 8,700 reflects, state Attorney General Letitia James said.

Germanycast doubt on the effectiveness of AstraZeneca Plc’s shot for the elderly in a move that could perpetuate the European Union’s vaccine supply shortages. The U.K. signaled itmay provide assistance to the bloc.

Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases exceed 101 million; deaths pass 2.1 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 82.5 million shots given worldwide
  • Biden’s new CDC director takes over institution incrisis
  • Why vaccines might not be able to eliminate Covid-19:QuickTake
  • U.S. Hot Spots: Cases drop most in West but relief may be brief
  • Why the Tokyo 2020 Olympics still aren’t a sure thing:QuickTake

Subscribe to adaily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis teamhere. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on cases and deaths.

Morocco’s King Gets Nation’s First Vaccine (12:15 p.m. NY)

Morocco’s King Mohammed VI took the nation’s first coronavirus vaccine, officially launching a nationwide campaign to inoculate 30 million people. The launch followed the arrival last week of 2 million doses of vaccines from AstraZeneca’s labs in India and on Wednesday of 500,000 doses from China’s Sinopharm. The campaign will target 80% of the country’s population, state news agency MAP said.

Portugal Reports Record Cases (12:09 p.m. NY)

Portugal said it will introduce limits for citizens wanting to travel abroad as it tries to contain the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. The government will limit departures by air and land, with some exceptions, during the next 15 days, Home Affairs Minister Eduardo Cabrita said in parliament.

The country is currently facing one of the world’s worst outbreaks and on Thursday reported the highest number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in a day since the start of the pandemic.

South Africa Variant Identified in U.S. (12:08 p.m. NY)

South Carolina reported two cases of the coronavirus variant first detected in South Africa — the first cases found in the U.S., the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Controlreported on Friday.

The department said the infected people had no known history of travel, and there was no connection between the two cases.

“The arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 variant in our state is an important reminder to all South Carolinians that the fight against this deadly virus is far from over,” said Dr. Brannon Traxler, DHEC Interim Public Health Director. “While more COVID-19 vaccines are on the way, supplies are still limited. Every one of us must recommit to the fight by recognizing that we are all on the front lines now. We are all in this together.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Infection said it has no evidence that the variant causes more severe disease. It said, however, that preliminary data suggests the variant may spread more easily and quickly than other variants.

Italy Cases Slow (11:35 a.m. NY)

Italy reported 14,372 cases Thursday, down from 15,204 a day earlier, when the country reached 2.5 million total cases. The test positivity rate was unchanged at 5.2% while Covid-19-related deaths rose to 492 from 467 a day earlier. Hospitalized patients fell by 447 to 23,066, the lowest since Nov. 2.

Separately, a study by Bambino Gesu hospital on vaccinated health workers there showed that 99% of vaccinated staff developed antibodies 21 days after the first shot, according to a press release.

Biden to Re-Open Obamacare (10:58 a.m. NY)

President Joe Biden will make it easier for Americans to buy health insurance during the pandemic,reopening the federal Obamacare marketplace with an order Thursday that’s a step toward reinvigorating a program his predecessor tried to eliminate.

N.Y. May Have Undercounted Nursing-Home Deaths (10:55 a.m. NY)

New York state may have hadtwice as many coronavirus-related deaths in nursing homes than the official count of more than 8,700 reflects, state Attorney General Letitia James said.

The Attorney General’s Office released a report Thursday saying the state Health Department erred in counting Covid-19 fatalities and detailed a lack of compliance with infection-control policies at many nursing homes.

The report comes as Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration faces intense scrutiny for not releasing complete nursing-home death data months after the initial wave of the pandemic.

NYC Vaccine Shortage Easing, De Blasio Says (10:40 a.m. NY)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is starting to see the logjam on vaccines ease up slightly. New York state freed up an additional 18,000 vaccine doses that were being reserved for administration at nursing homes. Governor Andrew Cuomo said only 44% of nursing home staff have been vaccinated, as some employees have refused the vaccine. About three-quarters of nursing home residents statewide have been vaccinated.

New York City, which has administered nearly 700,000 doses since it began its inoculation drive in December, says it will now re-open 15 vaccination hubs it closed due to vaccine shortages.

Cases and hospitalizations in the city are also declining from their all-time highs in January, following the winter holidays. The seven-day average of new cases dropped to 4,561 on Tuesday, dipping below 5,000 for the first time since Jan. 3.

U.K.’s Johnson Unconcerned Over German Vaccine Age Limit (10:28 a.m. NY)

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he isn’t concerned that Germany isn’t authorizing the Astra vaccine for over-65s.

The assessment of U.K. authorities is that the vaccine “provides a good immune response across all age groups,” he said in a pooled broadcast interview during a visit to Scotland.

Democrats Urge Review of Pulse Oximeters (10:24 a.m. NY)

Democratic senators, including Elizabeth Warren, are urging the FDA to conduct a review of the accuracy of pulse oximeters across racially diverse patients as usage of the devices have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic.

A study has found that pulse oximeters “are less accurate in Black patients with undetected low levels of oxygen in their blood when compared to white patients,” say the senators in a letter sent to Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock.

In addition to the review request the senators are seeking answers to several questions regarding pulse oximeters and FDA regulation. They request a response no late than February 8.

Almost 20% of U.K. Workforce Furloughed (9:04 a.m. NY)

Almost one in five of the U.K. workforcewas on furlough leave as a third national lockdown to combat the spread of the coronavirus got under way, according to figures published Thursday.

The report will raise concerns that removing government lifelines for jobs could wreak havoc on the economy following the worst slump in three centuries last year. Pulling the plug would threaten to decimate consumer spending, the engine of growth.

The figures come a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson put England on notice that the national lockdown will continue for at least another six weeks.

Germany Recommends Astra Covid Shot Only for People Under 65 (7:54 a.m. NY)

Germany’s immunization commissionrecommended that AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine be authorized only for people between the ages of 18 and 64, saying there was insufficient information on the shot’s effectiveness for people over 65 years old, according to a draft assessment released Thursday by the country’s health ministry.

The recommendation comes a day before the European Union’s drug regulator is expected to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, which would be the third shot cleared for use in the bloc. The EU has struggled to scale up its vaccine program with the U.K. administering three times as many doses per capita as the most advanced country on the continent, Denmark.

While the panel’s recommendations aren’t legally binding, they’re the basis for Germany’s state and federal vaccination guidelines. AstraZeneca shares traded 2.2% lower at 1:10 p.m. in London.

Swedish Official Ignores Own Face Mask Advice (7:09 a.m. NY)

The man in charge of Sweden’s Covid-19 response has been caughtbreaking his own advice on face masks on at least two occasions, according to state broadcaster SVT.

The Director-General of the country’s Public Health Agency, Johan Carlsson, was seen at Stockholm central station during rush hour without a face mask and also traveled on a bus without facial protection after 4 p.m. “It’s of course embarrassing,” he said, adding that he wasn’t aware of the time.

Africa Vaccine Program to Cost as Much as $15 Billion (6:53 p.m. HK)

Thecost of vaccinating 60% of the African population will be between $10 billion and $15 billion, a senior science adviser for the Africa Centres for Disease Control said.

The continent will need about 1.5 billion doses if a double shot regime is used. It has secured 36% of its needs to meet that goal with 25% of the total required to come from the Covax initiative and 11% from a separate African Union program.

Hungary Eases Vaccine Approval (6:46 p.m. HK)

Hungarysimplified the process to get vaccines approved as the government seeks speedier alternatives to the European Union’s joint procurement program.

Any vaccine that’s been used on more than 1 million people can get emergency approval according to a decree, Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyas said at a briefing on Thursday. The government considers it “very important” to quickly rubberstamp the Sinopharm vaccine from China, he said.

U.K. Offers Help to EU (6:23 p.m. HK)

The U.K signaled it may provide assistance to the European Union as the bloc weighs options to safeguard Covid-19 vaccine supplies amid asevere disruption from AstraZeneca.

“We will want to talk to and with our friends in Europe to see how we can help,” U.K. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said Thursday on ITV. “But the really important thing is to make sure our own vaccination program proceeds precisely as planned,” he added.

The potential U.K. offer comes after the EU failed to convince the drugmaker at a meeting Wednesday to divert doses from Britain to make up for a production glitch in the continent.

Novartis Seeks to Make Covid Vaccines or Drugs (6:16 p.m. HK)

Novartis AG is in talks tohelp produce other companies’ Covid-19 vaccines or treatments, potentially adding another pharma giant’s resources to boost supply as fights over access intensify.

The company is “in conversations with a range of different players,” Chief Executive Officer Vas Narasimhan said on Bloomberg TV, with an agreement possible in the coming days or weeks.

German Incidence Rate Falls to Three-Month Low (4:45 p.m. HK)

Germany’s seven-day incidence rate fell below 100 for the first time since Oct. 29 on Thursday, suggesting lockdown restrictions in place since early November are working. The rate dropped to 98 but it remains almost double the level the government has deemed to be manageable.

The number of Covid-infected patients in intensive care units has been falling since the turn of the year and is currently at a six-week low.

China Says WHO Members to Start Site Visits (4:06 p.m. HK)

WHO’s team investigating the roots of the coronavirus pandemic ended quarantine Thursday and will begin site visits, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijiansaid at a regular briefing in Beijing. The experts will conduct joint studies, field visits and seminars, Zhao said.

South Africa Deaths May Have Peaked (3:20 p.m. HK)

The number of people dying from Covid-19 during a resurgence of the diseasemay have peaked, according to a report on excess deaths published by the South African Medical Research Council. The number of excess deaths fell to 13,374 in the week ending Jan. 23 from a crest of 15,486 the week earlier.

Earlier, South Africa announced that thefirst vaccines will arrive on Feb. 1, signaling the start of an inoculation program that has been criticized for its tardiness. The first million of 1.5 million doses of the shot developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford and produced by the Serum Institute of India will be ready for distribution 10 to 14 days later.

Studies Show Pfizer Vaccine Effective Against Variants (7:55 a.m. HK)

Pfizer and BioNTech said results ofstudies indicate their vaccine is effective against both the U.K. and South Africa variants.

Research found that neutralization against the virus with key mutations present in the South African variant was slightly lower compared to neutralization of virus containing other mutations. But the companies believe the small difference is unlikely to lead to a significant reduction in the effectiveness of the vaccine.

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Antony Sguazzin, Francois De Beaupuy, Andrew Blackman, Rudy Ruitenberg, Rachel Chang, Hugo Miller, Charles Daly, Piotr Bujnicki, Teaganne Finn, Alex Morales, Henry Goldman, Marco Bertacche, Joao Lima, and Souhail Karam

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