South Africa

CORONAVIRUS: Global Virus Update: New York eases gathering limits; CDC urges Texas on masks; SA records 95 deaths — total now 50,366

(Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

South Africa registered 1,447 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,516,262. A further 95 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, bringing the total to 50,366 deaths.

AstraZeneca and Pfizer’s vaccines protected the elderly against Covid-19 after a single dose in a new study that validates giving both shots to older people and spacing out injections.

An experimental vaccine developed by India’s Bharat Biotech International showed 81% efficacy in an interim clinical trial. UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak extended emergency tax cuts to help the British economy recover, but warned he would ask profitable businesses to shoulder some of the bill for the country’s pandemic support.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed a relaxation of restrictions despite a stubbornly high infection rate.

President Joe Biden said that the US may have enough vaccine for every adult American by the end of May. He said he hopes the nation can return to normal a year from now.

Key developments:

New York eases more restrictions

New York state said that starting on 22 March the outdoor limit on residential gatherings will increase to 25 from 10. Limits for social events will rise from 50 to 100 people indoors and to 200 outdoors. Venues that hold fewer than 10,000 people can open at 33% capacity from April 2, with up to 100 people indoors and 200 people outdoors. Social distancing and face coverings are still required for attendance.

Governor Andrew Cuomo also said domestic travellers would no longer be required to quarantine or test-out within 90 days of full vaccination.

Montenegro turns to army on masks

Montenegro, with one of the highest infection rates in Europe, is relying on police and the army to enforce virus restrictions, including mandatory face masks and social distancing, according to a government statement on Wednesday.

The Adriatic state of 650,000 is also curbing intercity travel and suspending non-essential services as a last-ditch attempt to avoid a complete lockdown, Finance Minister Milojko Spajic said in a briefing in the capital city of Podgorica.

“The pandemic is also a financial problem, but we cannot choose between health and the economy,” Spajic said.

CDC urges Texans to keep wearing masks

Federal health officials called on Texas and Mississippi residents to keep wearing masks as governors there lift Covid-19 restrictions, saying it’s premature to abandon mitigation efforts and that the virus can still erupt again.

Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that though cases have halted their decline from January highs, it’s not yet time to lift restrictions.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott said on Tuesday that the state would lift its mask mandate and reopen businesses next week while banning counties from fining or jailing people who disregard local measures, in so doing defying previous warnings from Walensky and others.

Greece tightens restrictions

Greece announced more measures to further restrict movement after recording 2,702 new Covid-19 cases, the highest daily increase since November 19. The number of patients in intensive-care units also rose. Citizens will only be allowed to carry out essential shopping in the municipalities where they live while the use of cars to travel for personal exercise is prohibited, Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said. Measures go into effect on Thursday, 4 March at 6am. The current lockdown in high-risk areas is extended by one week until 16 March.

Fake vaccines seized in South Africa

South African authorities said they’d seized about 2,400 doses of fake coronavirus vaccines after following up on a global alert issued by Interpol warning that criminal networks were trying to cash in on the inoculation rollout. The bogus shots were found at a warehouse in Germiston, near Johannesburg, and three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national were arrested, the police said in a statement.

Frontline workers get their jabs during the launch of the Sisonke Vaccine Programme at Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg on 2 March 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

Rwanda receives Pfizer vaccines

Rwanda received 102,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses on Wednesday, according to Unicef. It’s the first African nation to receive mRNA vaccines through Covax, the global alliance working to ensure equitable access to vaccines. Rwanda also received 240,000 AstraZeneca/Oxford doses.

Lithuania eases restrictions

Lithuania eased some of its lockdown restrictions to allow contacts between two households outdoors, as well as sports or cultural sessions of up to five people outdoors. The government is also introducing a requirement to hold a negative Covid-19 test taken within the previous three days to be eligible for entry to the country.

Vaccines working against variants: Citi

A not yet peer-reviewed abstract suggests that messenger-RNA based vaccines may cut severe incidences of the disease against the four most-concerning variants, a Citi analyst said, and that may wipe out the need for future followup shots.

“High rates of vaccination could preclude additional waves of Covid-19, potentially without requiring additional booster or novel vaccines to address variants of concern,” Andrew Baum wrote in a research note. The data suggest that T cell responses in recovering patients or mRNA vaccines aren’t substantially affected by mutations, he said.

UK’s Sunak to hike business tax

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, extended emergency tax cuts to help the country mired in a third national lockdown, making clear that safeguarding jobs is his priority in the short term. He said he’s adding another £65-billion of pandemic support to help the country recover this year and next.

But Sunak sketched out a plan to start plugging the deficit, with an increase in corporation tax to 25% from the current 19%, taking effect in 2023.

Bharat Biotech’s shot shows 81% efficacy

Bharat’s Covaxin demonstrated 81% interim efficacy after two doses in Phase Three clinical trials involving 25,800 patients. The study is still ongoing and the company will release a final analysis after there are 130 confirmed coronavirus cases.

One Astra, Pfizer dose shields the elderly

A single shot from AstraZeneca’s or Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines protected people aged 80 and over from being hospitalised based on data collected in the UK, supporting the rationale for spacing out injections to protect more people.

Pfizer helped fund the research.

Japan may extend Tokyo area emergency

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the virus emergency in the Tokyo region now set to expire on March 7 may need to be extended by two weeks to further rein in the pace of infections.

Suga told reporters a final decision would be made after consulting experts and local leaders. The announcement comes as Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike and the leaders of the three most-populous prefectures adjacent to the capital were pressing for the extension to stem infections that have fallen, but not as fast as some officials had hoped. DM/MC

— With assistance by Mark Schoifet, Charles Daly, Flavia Rotondi, Iain Rogers, Suzi Ring, Jasmina Kuzmanovic, Antony Sguazzin, Isabel Reynolds, Lily Nonomiya, Cristin Flanagan, Milda Seputyte, Paul Vecchiatto, Paul Tugwell, and Keshia Clukey.

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