South Africa

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE: J&J vaccine suspended; France halts Brazil flights; South Africa registers 847 new cases

An airline worker checks in a traveller from behind a protective plastic screen inside the departures terminal at Cape Town International Airport. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South Africa registered 847 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,559,960. A further 67 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 53,423.

The US expects to have enough coronavirus vaccine to meet US demand by May despite a planned pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s shot pending a review of rare blood clots. J&J said it’s delaying its roll-out in Europe.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet approved a law setting nationwide rules on virus restrictions after some regions failed to impose curbs despite rising cases. Italy is in talks to set up vaccine production hubs as the government seeks to build domestic capacity. Meanwhile, the UK hit a goal to offer a shot to all over-50s three days early.

Vaccination bookings jumped in Hong Kong. The government plans to only allow inoculated people to fly to Singapore and said it could ease social-distancing rules for the vaccinated. India overtook Brazil as the country with the second-most cases.

Key developments

Dutch lockdown measures extended

Lockdown measures in the Netherlands will be prolonged until at least April 28 as the number of new Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions continue to strain the country’s health system, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said at a press briefing in The Hague on Tuesday evening. 

If fewer patients are admitted, Rutte’s government announced a plan to reopen Dutch society, with first steps including reopening outdoor seating areas and ending a much-debated nighttime curfew.

France suspends flights to Brazil

France suspended all flights to and from Brazil until further notice as concern grows over the spread of the Brazilian variant of the virus.

France, which is under a national lockdown, is struggling to contain the pressure on its health system, with intensive-care unit occupancy remaining on a steady increase in the past few weeks, reaching 117.7% on Tuesday. France recorded 39,113 new infections and 345 new deaths in the 24 hours to Tuesday.

NYC rescheduling J&J appointments

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would pause all Johnson & Johnson vaccinations on Tuesday following guidance from US health officials.

The city will reschedule upcoming J&J appointments for residents, who will instead receive vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, De Blasio said in a Tuesday briefing. 

De Blasio, who received the J&J shot himself, said the city has given 234,000 doses of the vaccine and hasn’t seen any reports of blood clots. Overall, New York has delivered more than five million doses as it seeks to fully vaccinate five million residents by June.

De Blasio made an appeal to the federal government to reallocate shots from regions with over-capacity. “We have endless need, endless demand,” he said.

J&J to delay roll-out in Europe

Johnson & Johnson decided to delay the roll-out of its Covid-19 vaccine in Europe. The company is reviewing blood clot cases with European health authorities.

Earlier, US health officials recommended a pause in the use of the vaccine. Six women suffered a type of brain blood clot similar to that reported as a rare side effect to the AstraZeneca vaccine. About 6.8 million people in the US have received the J&J shot.

“This announcement will not have a significant impact on our vaccination plan – Johnson & Johnson vaccine makes up less than 5% of the recorded shots in arms in the US to date,” White House Covid-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients said. 

The US has enough Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to continue the current pace of vaccinations and meet President Joe Biden’s goal, Zients said in a written statement.

South Africa’s medicines regulator, its health minister and researchers are in talks about whether to pause the rollout of J&J vaccines following the US recommendation, Business Day reported, citing Glenda Gray, head of the South African Medical Research Council.

Deutsche Bank to offer shots to workers

Deutsche Bank said it’s partnering with Premise Health to begin offering coronavirus vaccines to its employees and eligible dependents in New York on April 20, subject to availability, according to Politico’s Morning Money.

“As far as we know, we’re the first and only Wall Street bank to be offering employees and dependents vaccine appointments from the office,” spokesman Dylan Riddle told MM.

South Sudan misses vaccine target

South Sudan vaccinated less than a fifth of the number targeted in its first week of inoculations because of a lack of transport. The East African nation has only administered shots to 947 health workers, while it planned for 5,000, Health Ministry official George Auzanio Legge said by phone. The ministry now intends to travel to them instead, he said.

Zambia to start vaccinating

Zambia will begin its vaccination programme on Wednesday using AstraZeneca shots secured through the Covax facility to inoculate about 3.7 million people, Health Minister Jonas Chanda said. The southern African nation, which has to date recorded 90,218 cases and 1,229 deaths, will begin with frontline health workers.

Scotland lifts domestic travel ban

Scotland’s semi-autonomous government lifted a ban on travel within the country earlier than planned as progress with vaccinations helps reduce new cases, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

From April 16, Scots will be able to travel freely within the country and no longer have to stay within their own local authority area, she told reporters in Edinburgh on Tuesday. The government also confirmed plans to ease restrictions on travel to and from England and Wales from April 26.

EU health chief seeks states’ Astra vaccine data

Stella Kyriakides, the European Union’s health commissioner, asked member states to provide data on potential side effects from AstraZeneca’s vaccine by Friday at the latest, in order to develop a coordinated approach to restrictions in administering the shot.

She requested the data to allow the agency to better characterise the benefit and risk of the Astra vaccine in different age groups and/or genders, as well as to identify other possible other risk factors, according to a letter seen by Bloomberg.

“Only on this basis, we will be able to ensure a coordinated European approach which does not confuse citizens, and that does not fuel vaccine hesitancy because it is based on robust scientific evaluation,” Kyriakides said in the letter.

The EU’s efforts to get member countries to take a joint position on the Astra vaccine have so far failed to have much effect. Ireland became the latest country to change guidance on the shot, limiting it to those 60 and over.

​Merkel Cabinet approves lockdown law

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet approved legislation setting out nationwide rules on restrictions. She pushed for the law, which needs approval from both houses of Parliament, after some of Germany’s 16 regions failed to impose curbs agreed with her government despite rising case numbers.

It would make tighter restrictions mandatory in virus hotspots, potentially including nighttime curfews and the closing of non-essential stores and schools.

Germany’s PEI sends ‘Dear Doctor’ on Astra

Germany’s Paul Ehrlich Institute issued a “Dear Doctor” Letter warning of a plausible connection between AstraZeneca’s shot and rare blood clots. No specific risk factors could yet be identified, the letter states, and it asked doctors to follow national recommendations on the vaccine. Germany has stopped routine use of the shot for people under the age of 60.

​India fast-tracks approval for foreign shots

India will fast-track approvals for Covid-19 vaccines approved by governments overseas in order to have a wider pool as it struggles to control a soaring second wave, effectively opening the door to shots made by Pfizer and Moderna.

Denmark to gradually reopen borders: TV2 

Denmark plans to gradually reopen its borders for some countries next month as most Danes above the age of 50 will be vaccinated by then, TV2 reported, citing a draft for a deal between the government and a majority of parties in Parliament.

Austrian health minister steps down

Health Minister Rudolf Anschober resigned with immediate effect, citing his own health problems due to an excessive workload in a briefing with journalists in Vienna.

Hong Kong’s incentives for vaccinations

Hong Kong plans to allow only those who’ve had Covid-19 shots to fly from the city to Singapore once both governments finalise a travel bubble. The move is part of a push to get more of the city’s population vaccinated.

“The basis for discussion with Singapore is that people leaving Hong Kong and entering Singapore need to be vaccinated,” chief executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing late on Monday.

Bookings for vaccinations jumped as the government also said it could ease social-distancing rules for inoculated people. Lam has said that “vaccine bubbles” might be considered and restrictions on places such as restaurants and bars loosened if more people get shots.

New study of UK variant

The Covid-19 variant that emerged in the UK and became the dominant strain in the US isn’t as deadly as earlier research indicated, although it’s confirmed to be faster-spreading than other versions, according to a study.

Among 339 patients with the coronavirus, 36% of those infected with the B.1.1.7 strain that arose in the UK became severely ill or died, according to research published on Monday in the Lancet Infectious Diseases

“We’re not saying it’s nothing, but it’s not worse in terms of outcome in our study, in our setting,” said Eleni Nastouli, a co-author of the study and an associate professor at University College London.

Covid tests at work in Germany

Germany’s ruling coalition has agreed on a regulation requiring companies to offer employees on-site Covid-19 tests, according to Labor Minister Hubertus Heil. The regulation, which will take effect next Monday, applies to both public-sector and private firms, Heil said. 

Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said companies will have to pay for the tests themselves as a contribution to the country’s battle against the pandemic.

Daily record of infections in Osaka

Osaka, the second-largest metropolitan area in Japan, reported a new daily record high of more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, according to Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura. The area has been the epicentre of a new flare-up less than a month after many areas of Japan exited a state of emergency.

Restrictions were reimposed in the Osaka area, with eateries instructed to close early, and Yoshimura said he may ask the central government for stronger measures such as a new emergency. Experts have also expressed concerns that the similar uptick trend may happen in the capital, Tokyo, which reported 510 Covid cases.

Indonesia sticks with Sinovac

Indonesia will keep using the vaccines developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech and the UK’s AstraZeneca because they met the standards set by the World Health Organization, according to the government.

Concern is mounting that China’s Covid-19 vaccines are less effective in quelling the coronavirus disease than other products, after remarks by the head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention about their lower protection rate went viral on social media.

Indonesia will wait for the Chinese government’s move on the potential for mixing different types of vaccines to boost their efficacy rates, spokesperson for the Health Ministry Siti Nadia Tarmizi said.

Moderna shots arriving in England

The first jabs of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine were delivered in England on Tuesday, the National Health Service said in an emailed statement. Moderna’s vaccine will be an alternative to AstraZeneca’s vaccine for those aged 18-29, in line with guidance from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency. DM

— With assistance by Brett Miller, Danielle Bochove, Erik Hertzberg, Zoe Ma, Arys Aditya, Tiago Ramos Alfaro, Bhuma Shrivastava, Iain Rogers, Felix Tam, Jinshan Hong, Chloe Lo, John Follain, Flavia Rotondi, Maria Tadeo, Lisa Du, Elaine Chen, Naomi Kresge, Taonga Clifford Mitimingi, Okech Francis, Shelly Banjo, Alexandre Rajbhandari, and Diederik Baazil.

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