U.K. Set to Open Schools; U.S. Deaths Near 500,000: Virus Update

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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce that all schools in England will reopen from March 8, as he outlines how the national coronavirus lockdown will be lifted over the coming months.

The U.S. is poised to reach 500,000 Covid-19 deaths, though the pace of fatalities has slowed dramatically. The Pfizer Inc. vaccine appeared to stop the vast majority of recipients in Israel becoming infected, according to a study, providing the first real-world indication that the immunization will curb transmission of the coronavirus.

Australia started its vaccination campaign, while Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam received a shot ahead of the government’s inoculation drive this week. Anthony Fauci said U.S. vaccinations slowed by bad weather should be back on track by midweek. Tokyo reported the fewest number of new cases since November.

Key Developments:

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China Puts Focus on Traditional Medicine (2:25 p.m. HK)

China plans to raise the profile of traditional Chinese medicine by building a new research center to study the medicine’s potential to counter emerging infectious disease, state media Southern Daily reported, citing a response from the National Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine to proposals.

It plans to build three to four high-grade biosecurity labs for TCM research while working with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology to initiate studies in the next five years. In addition to standard care, hospitals in China prescribe herbal concoctions to Covid patients. While TCM doctors and state media have touted TCM’s benefits against Covid-19, these therapies have yet to be validated by large-scale, rigorous clinical trials to prove their safety and efficacy.

Tokyo Reports Fewest New Cases Since November (2:09 p.m. HK)

Tokyo reported 178 new coronavirus cases, the lowest number since Nov. 9. Japan is in the midst of an extended second state of emergency for much of its urban areas, as the country was hit by a winter surge of cases at the end of last year. Cases have been easing significantly, and the country began its vaccination drive last week.

Hong Kong’s Leader Gets Vaccine (12:28 p.m. HK)

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam received a Covid-19 vaccine on Monday, as the Asian financial hub prepares to begin its delayed rollout of inoculations. Hong Kong will start its vaccination drive on Friday.

Philippines Clears China’s Sinovac Shot (12:15 p.m. HK)

The Philippines approved Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s coronavirus vaccines for emergency use, ahead of the expected delivery of 600,000 doses.

The Chinese developer’s shots are effective to prevent Covid-19, Food and Drug Administration head Eric Domingo said. Sinovac isn’t recommended for health workers exposed to the virus due to its 50.4% efficacy for this group, he said.

Vaccines from Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and AstraZeneca Plc have already been approved for limited use, with health workers as priority.

Ardern Says Auckland Will Move to Level 1 (10:37 a.m. HK)

Auckland will step down to Alert Level 1 from midnight Monday, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told reporters. The change from Level 2 means there will be no limit on the size of gatherings at public events or hospitality outlets.

Auckland ended a three-day lockdown last week after authorities expressed confidence that a community outbreak was contained. Ardern said Monday that officials advised there is no evidence of undetected Covid clusters.

Serum CEO Says India Prioritized for Shots (10:19 a.m. HK)

The chief executive officer of the world’s largest vaccine maker said India will be prioritized ahead of other countries in receiving shots.

“Dear countries & governments, as you await Covishield supplies, I humbly request you to please be patient,” Adar Poonawalla, CEO of the Serum Institute of India Ltd., wrote in a tweet on Sunday. “Serum has been directed to prioritize the huge needs of India and along with that balance the needs of the rest of the world.”

Poonawalla had said earlier this year that Serum, which has an agreement with AstraZeneca Plc to produce the Covishield vaccine, expected to start supplying the shot to Covax, the World Health Organization-backed body that’s purchasing shots for poor nations, by early March.

South Korea Has Fewest New Cases in 8 Days (10:11 a.m. HK)

South Korea reported 332 new coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours, the smallest increase in eight days. The country on Friday is scheduled to begin using AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine to inoculate about 272,000 patients and workers at nursing homes and related facilities who are younger than 65. Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine will be used to inoculate medical workers beginning Saturday.

Los Angeles Gets Delayed Vaccines (7:55 a.m. HK)

Mayor Eric Garcetti said vaccines that were delayed due to weather conditions have been shipped to Los Angeles. The city’s six vaccination sites will resume operations on Tuesday after appointments were postponed since Friday. The county reported 1,465 new cases Sunday, bringing the total to 1.18 million — or more than one in nine people. Deaths rose by 93 to 19,885.

Wisconsin Deaths Halt for First Time in Three Months (7:47 a.m. HK)

Wisconsin reported 403 new cases on Sunday, the lowest daily number since Aug. 31, according to Department of Health Services data. The state, which was a focus of national attention as cases surged ahead of last year’s presidential election, reported no new Covid-19 deaths for the first time since Nov. 22.

U.K.’s Johnson to Say All Schools in England to Open (5:34 p.m. NY)

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will announce that all schools in England will reopen from March 8, as he outlines how the national coronavirus lockdown will be lifted over the coming months.

Alongside the reopening of schools, people will be allowed to meet one-on-one to sit down for a coffee or picnic outdoors, and after-school activities outside can restart from the same date, according to a person familiar with the plans.

In a statement to Parliament on Monday, Johnson is also expected to allow more social contact from March 29 when outdoor gatherings of either six people or two households can take place, and outdoor sports such as tennis and football can resume.

Gottlieb Says Herd Immunity May Never Come (2:57 p.m. NY)

True herd immunity against the coronavirus may never come, said Scott Gottlieb, former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Covid-19 “isn’t going to be like measles or smallpox where it just sort of goes away,” Gottlieb said on CBS.

Still, even if the virus continues to circulate at a low level, vaccination of vulnerable populations will head off most severe illness and death, said Gottlieb, a board member of Pfizer Inc.

He added that despite worries about more transmissible and possibly more lethal strains, Covid-19 variants don’t look prevalent enough to reverse the downward trends of cases in the U.S.

Germany Damps Hopes for Easing Curbs (1:18 p.m. NY)

Germany needs to further slow the spread of the coronavirus before the government can consider additional steps to loosen restrictions on Europe’s largest economy.

“Once we have firm footing, we can take another step” after reopening schools and daycares, Health Minister Jens Spahn said in an interview with ARD television.

Germany’s contagion rate rose to the highest level in more than a week on Sunday, the latest evidence that a steady decline since a peak before Christmas has ground to a halt.

Fauci Says Vaccine Delays to Be Quickly Reversed (10:13 a.m. NY)

The top U.S. infectious diseases specialist said the backlog of vaccinations from last week’s severe weather should be mopped up by midweek.

Fauci spoke as the U.S. stands on the verge of a milestone few imagined when the first coronavirus cases were diagnosed a year ago: 500,000 deaths.

“It’s something that is stunning when you look at the numbers, almost unbelievable,” Fauci said. “People will be talking about this decades and decades and decades from now.”

U.S. Nears Half a Million Covid-19 Deaths (8 a.m. NY)

While 88 days passed from the first death, on Feb. 29, 2020, to 100,000, it will take just over a month for the toll to rise from 400,000 to half a million.

But fatalities have slowed dramatically: The U.S. reported 1,904 deaths on Saturday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. The week’s daily average is almost a 40% decrease from that of the previous week.

The issue now — which will determine how soon the next 100,000 Americans die — is often cast as a race between vaccines, now being rolled out in increasing volume and efficiency, and the mutant strains that are more transmissible and, in some cases, can elude the efficacy of the vaccines.

Pfizer-BioNTech Shot Stops Covid’s Spread: Israeli Study (6:49 a.m. NY)

The vaccine, which was rolled out in a national immunization program that began Dec. 20, was 89.4% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed infections, according to a copy of a draft publication that was posted on Twitter and confirmed by a person familiar with the work.

The early results on lab-confirmed infections are important because they show the vaccine may also prevent asymptomatic carriers from spreading the virus that causes Covid-19, something that hadn’t been clear so far.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

With assistance from Bloomberg

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