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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 25th Feb 2021

News Highlights

Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout on the cards in the U.S.

The U.S. is anticipating imminent rollout of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, pending approval from the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). Upon approval, the drugmaker says it is geared up to ship almost four million doses. White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients, however, has said that manufacturing was behind schedule and that the company is working to accelerate the timeline of delivering the 100 million doses it is contractually required to supply.

Pfizer gets a shot in the arm after another efficacy study shows promising results

The largest real-world study of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to date shows the vaccine to be highly effective in preventing COVID-19. Research conducted in Israel across 1.2 million people indicates the vaccine to be 95% effective in preventing symptomatic cases across all age groups and it prevents severe illness by almost the same margin. A single shot averted symptomatic infection by 57%.

New variant found in New York, researchers say

New York is home to what appears to be another new variant of COVID-19 called B.1.526. The variant shares similarities with the more tranmissable variant detected in South Africa and represents twelve percent of COVID-19 cases in New York as of mid-February. Vaccine manufacturers are working to develop booster shots in an effort to tackle these new variant, though existing vaccines do seem to retain the ability to neutralise the virus and protect against severe illness, even in infection from these new variants.

Stilted vaccine rollout in Africa

The inoculation campaign against COVID-19 in Africa has started slower than hoped for. South Africa and Zimbabwe have begun their vaccination programmes and the first shipment of vaccines secured through the COVAX scheme has arrived in Ghana. Yet the rollout is stilted, with many countries in the region expected to wait until later in the year for supplies to arrive. The inequity in global vaccine supply is a source of major controversy. 'It is deeply unjust that most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines,' said WHO Regional Director for Africa Mashidiso Moeti.

Lockdown Exit
Singapore's first Chinese COVID-19 vaccines arrive ahead of approval
Singapore received its first batch of the COVID-19 vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech on Tuesday, its health ministry said, although the shot is still awaiting approval for use in the city-state. Sinovac has started submitting initial data but the Health Sciences Authority is currently awaiting all the necessary information to carry out a thorough assessment, the ministry said in a statement late on Wednesday.
New coronavirus variant identified in New York: researchers
A new coronavirus variant that shares some similarities with a more transmissible and intractable variant discovered in South Africa is on the rise in New York City, researchers said on Wednesday. The new variant, known as B.1.526, was first identified in samples collected in New York in November, and by mid-February represented about 12% of cases, researchers at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, said on Wednesday. The variant was also described in research published online this week by the California Institute of Technology. Neither study has been reviewed by outside experts.
Madrid’s vaccination plan for teachers and over-80s mired in confusion
Healthcare centers in Madrid are facing a frenetic countdown to begin vaccinating 130,000 people aged over 80. This next phase of the ongoing Covid-19 inoculation program is due to start on Thursday, but professionals from the sector who will have to administer the injections did not get any details of the operation until yesterday. The situation was mired in confusion on Monday thanks to contradictory statements made by the regional government, which first stated that the campaign would begin next week before rectifying and setting the start date for tomorrow. Workers from the sector voiced their complaints on Tuesday about the lack of planning.
Holidaymakers rush to book summer getaways to Greece, Spain and Turkey after PM announced aim to restart international travel from May 17 - but SAGE scientist warns don't book a trip abroad before 2023
Britons are rushing to book their summer getaways ahead of the return of international travel from May 17 - despite a SAGE professor warning holidaymakers not to go on foreign trips before 2023. Some of Britain's biggest airlines and travel firms revealed a surge in holiday bookings to destinations including Greece, Spain and Turkey in the hours after Prime Minister Boris Johnson unveiled the roadmap out of lockdown yesterday.
After UK Lockdown, Brits Can Start Packing for Their Summer Holidays in Greece
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Monday announcement that international travel may restart as soon as May 17 prompted a surge in bookings at TUI AG, the world’s biggest package holiday company, and budget airline EasyJet Plc. But the government’s rules were only one obstacle keeping Brits from their favorite vacation spots. European countries are still discouraging or restricting foreign travelers. It’s far from clear when they’ll fully open their borders to holidaymakers again. Right now, Brits are betting they will be welcomed back in time for summer. TUI said U.K. bookings were up 500% after the prime minister spoke compared with a week ago. Greece, Turkey and the Balearic Islands were the most popular destinations.
In boost for COVID-19 battle, Pfizer vaccine found 94% effective in real world
The first big real-world study of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be independently reviewed shows the shot is highly effective at preventing COVID-19, in a potentially landmark moment for countries desperate to end lockdowns and reopen economies. Up until now, most data on the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines has come under controlled conditions in clinical trials, leaving an element of uncertainty over how results would translate into the real world with its unpredictable variables. The research in Israel - two months into one of the world’s fastest rollouts, providing a rich source of data - showed two doses of the Pfizer shot cut symptomatic COVID-19 cases by 94% across all age groups, and severe illnesses by nearly as much. The study of about 1.2 million people also showed a single shot was 57% effective in protecting against symptomatic infections after two weeks, according to the data published and peer-reviewed in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday. The results of the study for the Clalit Research Institute were close to those in clinical trials last year which found two doses were found to be 95% effective.
New normal? 'Green Pass' opens music concert to vaccinated Israelis
It was an event that could set a precedent in a world longing for a return to normal - a music concert attended by scores of Israelis vaccinated against COVID-19. The open-air concert in Tel Aviv on Wednesday was one of the first in a programme to restart cultural events by restricting attendance to people who have been vaccinated or those with immunity after contracting the disease. Attendees were required to show a “Green Pass”, a government-validated certificate showing they had received both doses of the vaccine more than a week prior to the event or that they had recovered from COVID-19 and were presumed immune. The passes are valid for six months from the time of full vaccination.
White House to roll out Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses next week, pending authorization
The United States expects to roll out three to four million doses of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine next week, pending authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Wednesday. A Johnson & Johnson executive on Tuesday said the company expected to ship nearly 4 million doses of the vaccine once it gained authorization. The additional vaccine will help President Joe Biden’s administration in its goal of ramping up vaccination across the country as it seeks to control the pandemic that has cost more than 500,000 lives in the United States and pummeled the economy.
Moderna developing booster shot for new coronavirus variants, increases vaccine production target
Moderna Inc said on Wednesday it is working with U.S. government scientists to study an experimental booster shot that targets a concerning new variant of the coronavirus, and has raised its global COVID-19 vaccine production goal for this year by 100 million doses. The U.S. biotech company has produced raw material for a booster shot aimed at addressing the virus variant first found in South Africa that may be more resistant to existing vaccines, it said. It has shipped the vaccine to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which helped develop Moderna’s current vaccine, for additional study. Moderna is experimenting with several potential ways to combat new variants of the virus.
EU mulls vaccination passports to resurrect tourism after COVID-19
European Union leaders will agree on Thursday to work on certificates of vaccination for EU citizens who have had an anti-COVID shot, with southern EU countries that depend heavily on tourism desperate to rescue this summer’s holiday season. Lockdowns to slow the pandemic caused the deepest ever economic recession in the 27-nation bloc last year, hitting the south of the EU, where economies are often much more dependent on visitors, disproportionately hard. With the rollout of vaccines against COVID-19 now gathering pace, some governments, like those of Greece and Spain, are pushing for a quick adoption of an EU-wide certificate for those already inoculated so that people can travel again. However, other countries, such as France and Germany, appear more reluctant, as officials there say it could create de facto vaccination obligation and would be discriminatory to those who cannot or will not take a jab.
Johnson & Johnson COVID jab safe and effective, US FDA staff find
Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine appeared safe and effective in trials, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said in documents published on Wednesday, paving the way for the vaccine’s approval for emergency use later this week. The regulator’s panel of independent experts meets on Friday to decide whether to approve the shot. While it is not bound to follow the advice of its experts, the FDA usually does and has authorised vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
NHS Covid app could be used to prove status and access venues in England
People could use a revamped NHS app to prove their Covid status on entering pubs or theatres in England under plans being considered by ministers, as one major care provider said staff have two months to get jabbed or lose their jobs. Ministers are expected to give businesses in England the power to check Covid certification – whether people have been vaccinated or the result of recent tests. That will include small-scale venues like restaurants or bars. However, the equalities watchdog and trade unions have said that any move that relies solely on vaccine certification could be unlawful and that passes must not be used to relax Covid safety measures in workplaces.
Exit Strategies
Thailand receives its first coronavirus vaccines
Thailand received on Wednesday its first 200,000 doses of Sinovac Biotech’s CoronaVac, the country’s first batch of coronavirus vaccines, with inoculations set to begin in a few days. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is expected to be among the first to receive the vaccine this weekend. Most doses have been reserved for frontline medical workers.
Ghana becomes first nation in world to receive Covax coronavirus vaccines
Ghana has received the world’s first delivery of coronavirus vaccines from the United Nations-backed Covax initiative. It marked the long-awaited start for a programme that has so far fallen short of hopes that it would ensure shots were given quickly to the world’s most vulnerable people. The arrival of 600,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the West African country marks the beginning of the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation in history, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Unicef.
Israel to use excess Covid vaccines for international diplomacy
Israel will wield some of its excess supply of coronavirus vaccines as international humanitarian aid, using its glut of jabs to pursue diplomatic goals while Palestinians wait for aid shipments for their own supplies. The first three countries to receive thousands of doses will be Honduras, the Czech Republic and Guatemala, all of whom recently agreed to strengthen their diplomatic presence in Jerusalem, bolstering Israel’s claim to the contested city.
More than half a million have received coronavirus vaccine in NI
More than half a million people have received a Covid-19 vaccine in Northern Ireland. Those aged over 65 and the clinically vulnerable are among those being booked in for jabs. Health minister Robin Swann said it was a landmark moment. Mr Swann announced on Tuesday the first confirmed cases of the South African variant of Covid-19 in the region. He said three cases of the variant had been confirmed.
All adults in Wales will get a coronavirus vaccine by July 31, says nation's health minister
Every adults in Wales eligible for coronavirus vaccine will receive a jab by July 31, health minister Vaughan Gething has announced. He said that Wales would be able to offer a vaccine to all eligible adults by July 31, provided that the supply promised by the UK government was fulfilled. Mr Gething said: "Our incredible vaccine programme is the other beacon of hope that will help guide us out of lockdown. I can today confirm that we will offer the vaccine to all eligible adults in Wales by 31 July, as long as the supply matches our ambition."
Ukraine: Health workers welcome COVID-19 vaccination drive
Ukraine launched a COVID-19 vaccination campaign Wednesday in hopes of halting the spread of the coronavirus that has put a significant strain on the country's teetering health care system. Medical workers and military personnel in different regions of the country were the first to get their shots of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, 500,000 doses of which arrived in the Ukrainian capital from India on Tuesday. It is better to prevent infections "than to treat the complications of the disease later,” said Yevgeny Gorenko, an intensive care specialist who was the first person to receive a shot on Wednesday.
Covid-19: Africa vaccine rollout off to a slow start
Africa has now recorded over 100,000 Covid-19 deaths and there is growing concern over delays in rolling out vaccination programmes. Some countries such as South Africa and Zimbabwe have begun vaccination programmes, but many others will have to wait until later in the year for stocks to arrive. The first vaccines distributed under the Covax programme have now arrived in Ghana.
COVID-19 'vaccine diplomacy': China, Russia and India cherry-picking the countries they help
China, Russia and India have been accused of engaging in "vaccine diplomacy" as they cherry-pick nations to give their COVID-19 vaccines to in order to bolster their influence. Sky News analysis has found 47 countries, plus the African Union which represents 55 nations, have made or been offered vaccine deals with India, China and Russia. In 21 countries, their sole vaccine supplies up until 19 February were from Russia, China and India.
150,000 more people with learning disabilities prioritised for COVID-19 vaccine
Everyone on GP practice learning disability registers - around 300,000 people in England - will now be added to JCVI cohort 6 - the group GP-led vaccination sites are currently focusing on. Cohort 6 covers patients aged 16-64 with underlying health conditions - including patients with 'a severe and profound learning disability' or severe mental illness. Around half of patients on GP learning disability registers fall outside the original definition of cohort 6 - but these patients will now also be offered vaccination as part of this group.
Malaysia rolls out Covid-19 vaccinations under state of emergency
Malaysia is set to roll out its Covid-19 vaccination programme on Wednesday as its prime minister faces accusations of exploiting the pandemic to seek a state of emergency and cling on to power. Malaysia’s king last month declared the nationwide state of emergency, the country’s first since deadly race riots in 1969, at the behest of the government of Muhyiddin Yassin, the prime minister. The monarch said the order, which will run until August, was necessary to fight the pandemic, but it followed the loss of Muhyiddin’s thin parliamentary majority after two members of his coalition defected.
Three experts have their say on Boris Johnson's England Covid lockdown exit plan
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the steps his government will take to end England’s lockdown over the coming months. Lifting restrictions will be split into four stages, with a minimum of five weeks between each to observe the effects of easing restrictions. Criteria – concerning vaccine rollout and effectiveness, infection rates and mutations – will need to be met each time the country is due to move onto the next stage. Easing restrictions will begin with the reopening of schools on March 8. Here, three academics give their view on the government’s plans.
Coronavirus: Home tests will give Germany 'more freedom'
Speaking to Germany's Bundestag parliament on Wednesday, Health Minister Jens Spahn pointed to the approval of home coronavirus tests, known as antigen tests, as an important step on the return to normalcy. Though Spahn spoke of freedoms regained, he warned citizens not to let their guard down and called for patience about the availability of tests. Three such self-administered rapid antigen tests have been given special approval for use by Germany's Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices. Although he expressed confidence that more and more tests would be available in the days and weeks following approval, Spahn warned they would be in short supply initially.
Germany’s Spahn under fire over rapid coronavirus tests
German Health Minister Jens Spahn came under fire Wednesday on another front besides the country's sluggish coronavirus vaccine campaign: His failed promise to roll out rapid antigen tests. Spahn, who pledged that rapid tests and self tests would become a key part of Germany's coronavirus strategy starting in March, got a testy reception on Wednesday as he spoke to lawmakers. Spahn pitched the tests so that visiting public places like concerts and care homes was safer, initially promising to roll out mass testing on March 1. He then had to go back on his word when Chancellor Angela Merkel decided on Monday to address the issue on March 3, at her next conference with Germany's state premiers.
Merkel Warns of Third Virus Wave as Germany Weighs Ending Lockdown
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that Germany is in the midst of a third wave of coronavirus infections and should proceed carefully with reopening schools and businesses, putting a damper on discussions to loosen lockdown curbs. The note of caution comes as Germany struggles on numerous fronts to control the pandemic. Infection rates haven’t come down for days, while the pace of vaccinations remains sluggish. A delayed test strategy represents the latest foul-up.
India turns to private sector to boost sluggish Covid-19 vaccine drive
I first arrived in India in the mid-1990s at the tail-end of its socialist-style “Licence Raj”. New Delhi was relaxing control over the country’s economic life, but basic amenities — long the monopoly of the state providers — were still in short supply.
Hungary starts using China’s Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine in EU first
Hungary cannot yet ease its partial coronavirus lockdown as a third wave of infections has boosted new cases and only a small section of the population has received a vaccine so far, the prime minister said. Hungary became the first European Union country on Wednesday to start inoculating people with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, following a similar move with Russia’s Sputnik V shot, which have not been granted regulatory approval in the EU.
Denmark to take 'calculated risk' by easing COVID curbs in March
Denmark plans to allow shops and some schools to reopen in March in a much awaited move that could however send hospital coronavirus admissions soaring in coming months. In what the prime minister has called a “calculated risk”, the government will allow stores under 5,000 square metres to reopen, while outdoor leisure activities can resume with an upper limit of 25 people. Schools in parts of the country will also be allowed to reopen, but will require students to test themselves twice a week.
US to ramp up vaccination efforts amid decline in COVID-19 cases
The White House coronavirus task force announced on Wednesday that it would increase the rate of vaccination across the United States, amid a decrease in COVID cases, hospitalisations and deaths. Jeffrey Zients, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said the weekly supply of vaccines to states is now 14.5 million, up from 8.6 million five weeks ago – a 70 percent increase. “We’ve nearly doubled weekly of doses in just five weeks,” Zients said during a coronavirus task force news conference on Wednesday.
Partisan Exits
Doctors and nurses face endless covid misinformation battle
Nakhasi is one of countless health-care workers who have found themselves combating the coronavirus on two fronts during a global pandemic that is now stretching into its 12th month. Beyond spending their working hours in hospitals and clinics, many doctors and nurses have also voluntarily entrenched themselves in “the information war,” as Nakhasi calls it. It’s a fight Nakhasi and other medical professionals say feels overwhelming. Baseless claims often spread faster than facts, and purveyors of misinformation are quick to retaliate with vitriol and threats. And yet, health-care workers, many of whom are already experiencing burnout and the emotional toll of witnessing covid ravage their patients, haven’t backed down. “It’s never-ending,” Nakhasi said. “There’s not a moment where I don’t feel some level of duty or responsibility” to take action.
EU President would take the AstraZeneca vaccine Germans are rejecting
The European Union’s chief said she would happily receive AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine as officials rushed to find ways of ensuring doses refused by skittish Germans did not go to waste. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen volunteered for the jab amid growing concerns that unfavourable comments by top European officials including French President Emmanuel Macron had slowed take-up of one of only three vaccines currently approved EU-wide. Earlier this month, Macron said Britain had taken a risk in authorising AstraZeneca so rapidly. A German official study also found evidence that, though effective, the vaccine has more severe side effects than its two main rivals.
India warns states of worsening COVID situation if rules ignored
India has warned that a breach of guidelines on testing and other measures to contain the coronavirus could worsen a recent spurt in infections in many states, particularly after it detected several variants. “Any laxity in implementing stringent measures to curb the spread, especially in view of new strain of virus…could compound the situation,” the health ministry on Wednesday said in a statement that singled out nine states and a federal territory.
Condemnation as coughing Tanzanian minister gives news conference
Days after President John Mafuguli finally admitted Tanzania has a coronavirus problem, after months of apparent denial and increasing warnings of a resurgence in infections, the sight of the country’s finance minister coughing and gasping during a news conference to defend the state of his health has left many in shock. Finance Minister Philip Mpango, who did not reveal what he was suffering from, spoke to about 10 reporters on Tuesday at a hospital in the capital, Dodoma, after rumours that he had died of COVID-19. A recent spate of deaths attributed to “pneumonia” and “respiratory challenges” has struck both government officials and members of the public.
Continued Lockdown
Italy's health minister rules out loosening of COVID-19 curbs
Italy's government will extend coronavirus restrictions already in place until after Easter, the health minister said on Wednesday, as Rome plans to speed up vaccination efforts to try to beat the pandemic. Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19, has seen its daily cases fall from a high of around 40,000 in November to under 15,000 at present, but officials fear loosening restrictions may lead to a surge in infections driven by new, highly contagious variants. "The epidemiological conditions do not allow us to relax the curbs," Health Minister Roberto Speranza told parliament, adding that strains first discovered in Britain, South Africa and Brazil are increasingly being detected in Italy.
Italian mafia tightens grip on small businesses during lockdown
The provision of Mafia “welfare” to Italy’s struggling small businesses sharply increased during the first months of the Covid-19 lockdown according to the first comprehensive report by the country’s interior ministry on organised crime since the pandemic began. The report by the anti-mafia investigation directorate (DIA) said there was a significant threat that organised criminals would take advantage of the country’s economic crisis to take over small businesses after initially providing them with assistance.
Greece to continue Athens lockdown as COVID cases rise
Greece will not be able to lift lockdown restrictions in the wider Athens area on March 1 as previously planned, following a sharp increase in coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said on Wednesday. Athens metropolitan area, where half of Greece’s population lives, has been under strict lockdown restrictions that were set to expire on Feb. 28. On Tuesday, authorities reported 2,147 new cases, around half of them in the Attica region around Athens, and 22 deaths
Britain's lockdown is one of the toughest in the world, study claims
Britons are living under the sixth strictest lockdown in the world – and the second harshest in Europe – according to an analysis by the University of Oxford. Researchers have ranked the pandemic responses of 180 countries on a 'stringency map' by looking at how Covid restrictions have affected schools, offices, social gatherings, international travel and freedom to leave home. Each country was scored on a scale of one to 100, with a higher figure indicating the most severe virus-controlling curbs. The numbers represented an average since the start of the pandemic.
Scientific Viewpoint
COVID-19 variant spreading in New York City has mutation that may weaken effect of vaccines
B.1.526 variant first appeared in samples collected in New York City in November It now accounts for about 27 percent of viral sequences in databases used by scientists. Scientists have identified two versions of the B.1.526 variant, which are lumped together for now. One of the B.1.526 variants has the E484K mutation which scientists believe help the virus partially avoid the vaccine effects. The other has the S477N mutation which may optimize the binding process with human cells to possibly increase infection rates
FDA says Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot protects against COVID-19
Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine offers strong protection against severe COVID-19, according to an analysis by U.S. regulators Wednesday that sets the stage for a final decision on a new and easier-to-use shot to help tame the pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration’s scientists confirmed that overall the vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19, and about 85% effective against the most serious illness. The agency also said J&J’s shot — one that could help speed vaccinations by requiring just one dose instead of two — is safe to use.
Covid-19 can survive on clothing for up to THREE DAYS - with polyester garments sustaining the virus the longest, scientists warn
Coronaviruses similar to Covid-19 can survive on clothing for up to three days, according to new research. Research carried out by De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester looked at how a coronavirus behaves on three fabrics commonly used in the healthcare industry. Polyester enables the virus to survive at infectious levels for up to 72 hours, whereas it dies within 24 hours on 100 per cent cotton.
Sanofi and GSK start new study of COVID-19 vaccine
Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) have announced the initiation of a new Phase II study with 720 volunteers aged 18 and over to select the most appropriate antigen dosage for Phase III evaluation of their adjuvanted recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate. If results of the study are positive, the Phase III study will start this year in Q2, with the vaccine expected to be available later in the year in Q4. In parallel to the new Phase II study and recognising the global emergence of new SARS-CoV-2 variants and their potential impact on vaccine efficacy, Sanofi has commenced development work against new variants which will be used to inform the next stages of the Sanofi/GSK development programme.
Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine ‘protects against Covid-19’
Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine protects against Covid, according to an analysis by US regulators. The vaccine is about 66 per cent effective overall at preventing moderate to severe Covid-19, a report on Wednesday by the Food and Drug Administration confirmed. It will now go forward to a panel of FDA experts who will debate if the evidence is strong enough to recommend the vaccine. The FDA is expected to make a final decision within days.
Covid-19: First doses of vaccines in Scotland led to a substantial fall in hospital admissions
Rollout of the Pfizer BioNTech and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines has led to a substantial fall in severe covid-19 cases requiring hospital admission in Scotland, suggest the results of the first study to report on the impact of the UK’s vaccination strategy.1 - The results, available as a preprint, showed that four weeks after the first doses of the Pfizer BioNTech and Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines were administered the risk of hospitalisation from covid-19 fell by up to 85% (95% confidence interval 76 to 91) and 94% (95% CI 73 to 99), respectively.
China's bid to stop Wuhan COVID-19 spread cut deaths from other causes: study
The number of deaths in China - excluding the coronavirus epicentre of Wuhan - fell slightly during the first three months of 2020, suggesting efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 reduced fatalities from other causes, a new study showed. Researchers from the University of Oxford and the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analysed official death registry data from Jan. 1 to March 31 last year for changes in overall and cause-specific deaths. The death rate in Wuhan, the central Chinese city where the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus was first identified, stood at 1,147 per 100,000 over the period, 56% higher than expected, they found in the study published on Wednesday by BMJ, the journal of the British Medical Association.
Real-world trial of Pfizer COVID vaccine finds high 2-dose, good 1-dose protection
A large observational, real-world study from Israel estimates that the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is 46% effective at preventing infection 14 to 20 days after the first dose and 92% 7 days after the second dose, backing the results of an earlier randomized, controlled trial, according to a study today in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). A single dose, however, was 74% effective against COVID-related hospitalization and 72% effective at preventing death.
US ready to distribute J&J COVID vaccine, White House says
Today leaders of the White House COVID-19 response team said they are ready to distribute Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine when and if the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues an emergency use authorization (EUA)—which could come as early as this weekend. "We are doing the work so if the EUA is granted we will waste no time in getting life-saving vaccines into the arms of Americans," said Jeff Zients, the Biden administration's COVID-19 czar during today’s press conference on response efforts.
Moderna sends COVID-19 booster shot for NIH testing as it hikes production targets past 2B doses
Moderna on Wednesday said it's now on track to produce 700 million vaccine doses this year, and it's still aiming for 1 billion at the high end. Last year, the company had said 500 million would be its minimum output this year, and it ratcheted up that minimum to 600 million in January. And for 2022, the biotech is planning for 1.4 billion doses—or perhaps even 2 billion, depending on the dose required for booster shots targeting new variants. The company has shipped a booster candidate to the National Institutes of Health for testing, according to Wednesday's statement; it's targeted specifically at the South Africa variant now worrying public health experts.
Mission Possible: Pfizer and BioNTech star in their own vaccine discovery movie
The movie-length product placement is a behind-the-scenes look at Comirnaty, the now-authorized coronavirus shot Pfizer developed and produced in concert with its partner BioNTech. Pfizer provided the National Geographic's scientific storytellers “unprecedented access” to the vaccine's development, said Sally Susman, Pfizer executive VP and chief of corporate affairs, said. “This film is riveting and suspenseful,” Susman said in a media backgrounder from Disney Advertising Sales, the Disney group that oversees National Geographic’s CreativeWorks branded content studio, which created the film. “It is a testament to all of our employees and partners across the biopharmaceutical industry who have put in the long hours of tireless dedication and sacrifice, often working away from their families."
Moderna ready to test version of Covid-19 vaccine aimed at worrisome variant
Moderna is pressing forward with a modified version of its Covid-19 vaccine meant to protect against an emerging strain of the virus, the company said Wednesday, planning to start a clinical trial as soon as regulators give the green light. Laboratory tests have suggested that Moderna’s authorized vaccine confers less protection against the variant, known as B.1.351, than it does against other strains. Pfizer has reported similar findings with its vaccine, and human trials conducted by Johnson & Johnson and Novavax suggest vaccines designed for the original strain of SARS-CoV-2 are less effective against B.1.351 as well. Moderna said it is seeking to test the novel vaccine on its own and as a combined shot with its current vaccine. It also plans to test whether giving a booster of the current vaccine on its own will give enhanced protection against new variants of the virus that causes Covid-19.
Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine performs as well in the real world as in clinical trials, new study concludes
Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine performed as well in the real world as it did in the clinical trial that led to its use, a large study conducted in Israel concluded. The study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, is the largest to date assessing the effectiveness of the vaccine, comparing all illness, severe illness, and hospitalizations as well as deaths between 600,000 pairs of vaccinated and unvaccinated people. That a vaccine will perform as well in the real world as it does in the highly controlled setting of a clinical trial is not a given, noted senior author Ran Balicer, director of the Clalit Research Institute of Israel.
FDA scientists endorse J&J’s Covid vaccine, as new data shed light on efficacy
Scientists at the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday that the single-shot Covid-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson is effective and prevents hospitalizations from the disease. Johnson & Johnson also revealed new, encouraging data showing the vaccine may do a better-than-expected job at protecting patients against new variants of the virus that causes disease. At the same time, FDA experts said the company’s study, results of which were originally made public in a Jan. 29 press release, includes insufficient information to draw conclusions on efficacy in people older than 75.
Moderna to begin clinical trials of a booster shot to protect against the South African variant
Moderna says it has shipped boosters shots of its COVID-19 vaccine, designed to protect against the South African variant, to the NIH for clinical trials. A study found Moderna's two-dose regimen had a six-fold decrease in antibody response against the variant that other common versions of the virus. Several studies suggest have suggested the variant, known as B.1.351, is more resistant to existing vaccines than other variants of the coronavirus. In the U.S., there are 46 confirmed cases of the variant across 14 states. It comes as Moderna announced it is raising its expected global vaccine production for 2021 from 600 million to 700 million
Brits could get their Covid vaccine in a PILL in future, Oxford University says
Professor Sarah Gilbert said team were exploring new ways to deliver vaccine Also looking at whether it could be given via a nasal spray, like flu sometimes is It could help alleviate supply issues that have hindered rollouts internationally
Coronavirus Resurgence
Czech Leader Warns of 'Hellish Days' and Tighter Lockdown Coming
The Czech Republic is preparing to impose a stricter lockdown to prevent the collapse of its medical system as existing measures fail to contain one of the fastest-spreading and deadliest virus outbreaks in Europe. Almost exactly a year after the first Covid-19 case appeared in the European Union member, the crisis is worse than ever and the situation requires a tougher response, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said. The cabinet will discuss more extreme rules to limit contact among people on Wednesday evening, he said. “It’s necessary, otherwise there would be a total catastrophe in hospitals,” Babis told reporters. “Hellish days are ahead.”
France considers new local lockdowns to stem ‘worsening’ Covid-19 situation
France may need to impose new local restrictions to deal with a worsening Covid-19 situation as it scrambles to avoid a new national lockdown, a government spokesman said Wednesday. Infections have reached worrying levels in several parts of the country, spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters after a weekly cabinet meeting. The warning comes only days after the French Riviera was ordered into lockdown for the coming two weekends to contain Covid-19 which has been spreading faster in the tourist hotspot than elsewhere in France, and border controls were tightened.
France Contemplates ‘Targeted Measures,’ Seeks To Avoid Lockdown
France is reviewing local coronavirus hot spots on a case-by-case basis, and has decided to implement “targeted measures” to prevent the spread of new and more virulent variants.
Auckland high school closes again after third student tests positive for Covid
One of New Zealand’s largest high schools has closed again after another student and two siblings tested positive for Covid-19. Papatoetoe high school in south Auckland was closed last week after two students and two parents tested positive. It reopened this week but closed again on Wednesday after a third student tested positive on Tuesday. Two siblings of the students also tested positive later on Tuesday. Health authorities have been trying to test and contact-trace all 1,500 students, but were unable to find and test a small number of pupils and their families.
NSW, Victoria and Queensland restrict COVID-19 travel from New Zealand in face of Auckland outbreak
Australia's eastern states have imposed fresh restrictions on New Zealand travellers in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak in Auckland. Tasmania, NSW, Victoria and Queensland have limited quarantine-free travel now that at least eight cases have been linked to an Auckland high school. New Zealand authorities say they are confident the outbreak, which prompted a lockdown in New Zealand's biggest city, is under control. NSW Health said it was contacting travellers who arrived from New Zealand since Saturday, and, as a precaution, those people should get tested and isolate until they get a negative result.
COVID-19 situation 'worrying' in 10 French departments, government says
France’s government on Wednesday ordered a weekend lockdown in the Dunkirk area to arrest an “alarming” rise in COVID-19 cases, signalling extra curbs might also be needed elsewhere as daily cases nationwide hit their highest since November. Unlike some of its neighbours, France has resisted a new national lockdown to control more contagious coronavirus variants, hoping a curfew in place since Dec. 15 can contain the pandemic. But it reported 31,519 new infections on Wednesday, up from 25,018 a week ago and the most since mid-November. Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the national situation was deteriorating, and “a source of worry in about 10 regional departments”. Some required “rapid and strong” containment measures.
French COVID-19 intensive care patients at a 12-week high
France’s number of patients treated in intensive care units for COVID-19 has gone up again on Tuesday, reaching a 12-week peak of 3,435 as regional officials urge for a ban on public gatherings and consider a partial weekend lockdown. Unlike some of its neighbours, France has resisted a new national lockdown to control more contagious variants, hoping a curfew in place since Dec. 15 can contain the pandemic. France ended its second national lockdown, which ran from Oct. 30 to Dec. 15. But one of the conditions for switch from lockdown to a national curfew was that the ICU figures remained between 2,500 and 3,000.
Merkel says Germany in third wave of pandemic: sources
Germany is in a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers in her conservative party, two sources at the meeting told Reuters on Tuesday. “We are now in the third wave,” they quoted her as saying and said she warned that any easing of lockdown measures introduced late last year and extended until March 7 would have to be done carefully and gradually. The closure of all non-essential businesses and border controls with Austria and the Czech Republic, where there have been outbreaks linked to a more infectious variant of the virus, have helped Germany bring down new daily COVID-19 infections. But a slow vaccination roll-out and the risk of major outbreaks of fast-spreading variants already identified in Germany could make any easing of restrictions more difficult.
New Lockdown
Dunkirk area in northern France to impose weekend lockdown -minister
The region around the northern French port of Dunkirk will start enforcing a weekend lockdown from this weekend to halt a spike in COVID-19 infections, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Wednesday. Veran said the situation in the Dunkirk area was “alarming” and that France would also increase vaccine supplies for the area.