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U.S. Passes 20 Million Cases as New Year Begins: Virus Update


JANUARY 2, 2021

India will make vaccines free nationwide, Thailand’s capital will close entertainment venues and Hong Kong plans to roll out inoculations in February as authorities in Asia try to suppress recent outbreaks.

Sydney has mandated masks in many indoor settings as the pandemic shows no signs of slowing down in 2021. Tokyo’s governor is urging Japan to declare a state of emergency while Turkey, China and Brazil became the latest nations to report infections of the new, highly transmissible virus strain.

The U.S. surpassed 20 million Covid-19 cases, a year after a mysterious pathogen first revealed itself in Wuhan, China. Vaccines remained the best hope for 2021 with the World Health Organization issuing an emergency-use designation for Pfizer Inc.’s shot.

Key Developments:

Global Tracker: Cases pass 83.9 million; deaths exceed 1.8 million

Vaccine Tracker: More than 10.3 million shots given worldwide

Covid-19 rocked the globe. Covid joins war, cancer as historic blight on Americans’ livesWhy the U.K.’s mutated coronavirus is fanning worrie:

China’s Xi lauds Covid-19 recovery in New Year’s Eve speech. Faster-spreading strain affects young the most, study says.

India to Make Vaccines Free Nationwide, Health Minister Says (4:16 p.m. HK)

India plans to make vaccines available for free across the country with 30 million front-line workers to be included in the first phase, Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said in a tweet.

The first batch will include 10 million health-care workers. The government is also finalizing plans to inoculate 270 million people who are considered priority, including the elderly, by July, Vardhan said at a press conference.

Although daily reported cases have eased from a September peak, India is still battling the world’s second-biggest outbreak of Covid-19 and faces its first full-year economic contraction since 1980.

Germany Adds 21,580 New Cases as Fatalities Jump (4:06 p.m. HK)

Germany is still struggling to contain the spread of Covid-19 with 21,580 new infections in the 48 hours through Saturday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The number of fatalities jumped by 915.

The data suggests that restrictions designed to contain the virus in Europe’s biggest economy will continue beyond Jan. 10, when most curbs are currently set to expire.

Hong Kong Expects to Start Virus Vaccinations in February (3:11 p.m. HK)

Hong Kong estimates it will start vaccinations in February, Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip said in a Facebook post.

Hong Kong has already reached agreements with Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE, AstraZeneca Plc and China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd. to acquire 22.5 million potential doses of vaccines, and is seeking a further 7.5 million. The government has said residents will be able to choose which type they receive, though the details are yet to be announced.

Nip’s announcement comes as the Hong Kong Economic Times reported that the city will complete an e-booking system for Covid-19 inoculations this month and is in talks with other countries to allow the records to be used for travel.

The electronic-registration system will record when and which type of vaccine has been received and will remind the user when to get a second shot, Secretary for Innovation and Technology Alfred Sit was cited as saying in a radio interview.

South Korea Extends Distancing Rules by Two Weeks (10:38 a.m. HK)

South Korea extended its current social-distancing rules by two weeks as authorities continue to restrict private gatherings before nationwide vaccination is expected next month.

The government will maintain level 2.5 social distancing rules in the Seoul metropolitan area and level 2 in other parts of the country until Jan. 17, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said Saturday in a televised briefing. Level 3 is the closest scenario to a lockdown in South Korea’s alert system.

Private gatherings for more than four people will continue to be banned although cram schools with less than 10 students for each class will be allowed to open, given the demand for childcare for working parents. Ski resorts will also open with less than a third of visitors of maximum capacity.

Tokyo Will Urge Japan Govt to Declare State of Emergency: Nikkei (10:30 a.m. HK)

Tokyo’s metropolitan government is set to urge the central government to declare a state of emergency, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike will make that request directly to virus czar and economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura on Saturday afternoon, the paper said, citing multiple people with knowledge of the matter.

Japan’s capital reported a record 1,337 new coronavirus cases on New Year’s Eve, as infections fueled by the onset of cold weather showed no signs of abating even after the city stepped up its containment efforts.

Bangkok Closes Amusement Parks, Gyms After New Cases Reported (10:22 a.m. HK)

Bangkok will temporarily close entertainment venues such as water and amusement parks as well as gyms after new Covid-19 cases in Thailand’s capital were linked to such spots.

The move will also include playgrounds, flea markets, massage parlors and internet cafes from Saturday and follows an order to keep all schools in Bangkok closed until Jan. 17. The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration will decide later on Saturday if it should ban dining in at city restaurants after some cases were traced to them, it said on Twitter.

Brazil Adds 24,605 Cases, Concludes Analysis of AstraZeneca Data (8:22 a.m. HK)

Brazil reported 24,605 new virus infections as the country’s total cases rose to more than 7.7 million, according to the Health Ministry website.

Separately, the country’s health authority Anvisa said it concluded the analysis of the phase III trial data of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, according to information posted on its website.

Sydney Makes Masks Compulsory for Most Indoor Settings (8:07 a.m. HK)

People in Sydney and certain other areas of New South Wales will have to wear masks in shopping malls and on public transport as Australia’s most populous state tries to control a recent outbreak.

The new rules will also enforce masks in cinemas, salons and places of worship with violations incurring a fine of A$200 ($154), Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Saturday. New South Wales has recorded 7 new locally acquired cases in the past 24 hours, with a cluster originally confined to the Northern Beaches region of Sydney spreading to other areas and infecting more than 150 people.

AsiaPac Australians Celebrate New Year’s Eve 202. A worker in front of a restaurant in Melbourne on Dec. 31. – Photographer: Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

Neighboring Victoria state said it detected 10 new cases acquired through local transmission, the majority linked to an outbreak in the state capital Melbourne. That city last year endured one of the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns, and had previously been the only place in Australia where mask-wearing had been mandatory.

U.S. Covid Hospitalizations at High (4:55 p.m. NY)

U.S. hospitalizations climbed to a new high, with 125,379 people admitted, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project. That compares with the two previous waves of the virus — in April and in July — that peaked at about 60,000.

North America Hospital Workers Cope With Coronavirus Surge On New Year’s Day of 2021. A medical staff exits the Covid-19 ICU at the United Memorial Medical Center in Texas on Jan.1. – Photographer: Go Nakamura/Getty Images

The data show the Midwest as the only region where hospitalizations are declining, with the most in the South, at just under 50,000. The Northeast, hit hardest by the pandemic’s first wave, has recorded the fewest hospitalizations in the recent surge.

Oxford-AstraZeneca Expects More Vaccine Production, Times Reports (4:47 p.m. NY)

A member of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine team expects 2 million doses will be ready each week from about the middle of January, the Times of London reported.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said earlier this week that only 530,000 doses of the vaccine would be ready on Monday. The Oxford team is frustrated that the poor state of the country’s manufacturing capacity has affected the pace of production, the newspaper said.

California Deaths Rise to Record (2:41 p.m. NY)

California added a record 585 new deaths, bringing the total to 25,971. The state reported 47,189 new cases, with the total count reaching close to 2.3 million.

California To Extend Stay-At-Home Orders As Hospitals Hit Breaking Point. A San Francisco Fire Department paramedic push a patient to Saint Francis Memorial Hospital in San Francisco, California, on Dec. 29.- Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

The Golden State has been emerging as the epicenter for the latest outbreak as hospitals, particularly in Southern California, run out of intensive-care unit beds. The 12.2% test positivity rate is at one of the highest levels since the start of the pandemic.

Ireland Sees Post-Christmas Surge (2:24 p.m. NY)

Ireland expects to record over 9,000 cases in coming days, as a Christmas lag in reporting and testing tapers off. Over 1,700 cases were reported Friday, close to a record high. Medical authorities warned of a surge in hospitalizations, with as many as 70 patients a day being admitted, adding to the 500-plus already being treated in the hospital.

Ireland has entered a third national lockdown as it awaits widespread vaccination.

N.Y. Cases Remain Near Record High (12:54 p.m. NY)

New York state reported 16,497 new cases, just below the record set on Wednesday for the entire pandemic. Total hospitalizations dropped slightly, to 7,886, as did the overall rate for positive tests, at 7.52%, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in statement. Another 166 people died, the most in two weeks of fatalities above 100.

The city’s rate of positive tests continues to rise rapidly, hitting 9.41% based on a seven-day average, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a tweet on Friday. That number was below 2% in November. Hospitalizations also continued to rise, with another 219 admissions, he said.

U.K. New Cases Remain High (11:09 a.m. NY)

The U.K. reported 53,285 new cases and 613 deaths on Friday. The latest R number was estimated at 1.1 to 1.3., which means the virus continues to spread exponentially.

Manchester Hit With Tougher Virus Lockdown, Despite Vaccines. A Stay At Home sign on King Street in Manchester, U.K., on Dec. 31. – Photographer: Anthony Devlin/Bloomberg

Germany’s Merz Calls for Schools to Reopen (4:42 p.m. HK)

Friedrich Merz, one of the contenders to succeed Angela Merkel as German chancellor, said schools in the country should reopen as soon as possible. “What I find most troubling isn’t the economic damage of the lockdown, but rather the massive damage to the education of our children,” Funke Mediengruppe cited him as saying in an interview. Merz said he wants the heads of Germany’s state governments take a uniform approach when they meet in coming days to discuss extending the country’s lockdown, according to Funke.

BioNTech Boosts Vaccine Capacity (4:29 p.m. HK)

BioNTech will increase production capacity of the vaccine it developed with Pfizer, CEO Ugur Sahin tells Der Spiegel. Germany has a gap in supply because some other shots haven’t been approved yet, he said. BioNTech’s plant in Marburg, Germany may be operational in February and produce as many as 250 million doses in the first half, the magazine cited Sahin as saying.

WHO Approves Pfizer/BioNtech Vaccine (4:38 p.m. NY)

The World Health Organization issued its first emergency-use designation for a Covid-19 vaccine, making the Pfizer/BioNtech the first immunization to receive a green light from the Geneva-based body. The move could allow more countries to import and distribute the vaccine, which has already been cleared for use in the U.S., U.K. and Europe.

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine Program as New Virus Deaths Surpass 1,000

Courtesy/Source: Bloomberg