U.K. Steps Up Vaccinations; Japan Eyes Approvals: Virus Update

The U.K. is expanding its vaccination program in a signal that it’s on track to meet its targets in fighting the pandemic. About 1.7 million people aged 56 to 59 are being invited to book an inoculation, the National Health Service said on Sunday. More than 80% of people between 65 and 69 took up the offer. Those aged 50 to 55 are set to be invited shortly.

In the U.S., Covid-19 cases increased by about 65,000 Friday, in a week in which new infections declined by 12%. Many states are pressing ahead with reopening — and Senate passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill sets the stage for added support to the economy.

But cases and hospitalizations remain high, falling just recently to the levels of the surge last summer. Deaths remain well above that level. Hospitalizations in New York, the state with the highest levels in the U.S., fell to less than 5,000 for the first time since early December.

The European Union will ask the U.S. to authorize the export of millions of doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine to the bloc, the Financial Times reported Saturday.

Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on cases and deaths.

Hong Kong Innoculates 11,000 With Sinovac Vaccine (1 p.m. HK)

Hong Kong administered vaccines from Sinovac to about 11,000 people Saturday, bringing the total number of people inoculated with the first dose to around 83,400 since February 22, according to a government statement on March 6.

Japan May Allow Further Covid-19 Vaccine by June, Minister Says (12:30 p.m. HK)

Japan may approve another Covid-19 vaccine in May or June after allowing the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE vaccine in February, Japanese health minister Norihisa Tamura said on Fuji TV on Sunday.

“AstraZeneca and Moderna’s vaccines have filed for approval, and these may be approved as early as May, or June,” he said. “Of course, it is under careful screening at the moment, and we must see their safety and effectiveness,” the minister said.

Thailand Plans to Ease Quarantine Rules for Tourists, Post Says (11:12 a.m. HK)

Thailand plans to relax quarantine rules for foreign visitors from next month as part of a series of steps considered to revive the tourism industry, the Bangkok Post reported.

The proposed move would allow tourists to leave their hotel rooms after three days of a mandatory two-week quarantine but would still require them to say on hotel premises, the newspaper said.

Vegas Benefits as Nevada Eases Some Virus Rules (11:11 a.m. HK)

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak has signed an emergency order adjusting the minimum distance between performers and audience members in the tourist and convention destination of Las Vegas, the Associated Press reports.

The minimum distance between performers and audience now stands at 6 feet (1.8 meters) if performers are wearing masks and 12 feet when performers are unmasked, compared to 25 feet before, a restriction some smaller venues could not accommodate.

Metro Manila Mayors to Shut Cinemas Again as Cases Spike: ABS-CBN (9:27 a.m. HK)

Mayors in the Philippine capital region Metro Manila have agreed to again shut cinemas and amusement arcades as coronavirus cases surge, ABS-CBN News reported. Hotels which were converted into quarantine facilities for coronavirus patients are 89% full and there’s a need to strictly enforce health protocols before things get out of hand, the report said, citing Metropolitan Manila Development Authority Chairman Benhur Abalos.

Brazil’s Weekly Cases, Deaths Hit Records (7:22 a.m. HK)

Brazil’s weekly cases and deaths surged to records, the Health Ministry reported, as it battles a variant fueling a potent new wave of the virus.

It announced 69,609 new cases on Saturday, ending a week with 421,604 new infections. The previous record of 379,061 weekly cases was reported the second week of January. Total cases are now 10.9 million, the most after the U.S. and India.

Another 10,104 fatalities were reported, breaking a record set the previous week. Total deaths are 264,325, second after the U.S., where cases and deaths are declining.

Dalai Lama Gets Vaccinated (5:36 p.m. NY)

The Dalai Lama got his first shot of vaccine and encouraged others to “have courage” also to take it “to prevent some serious problem.”

“This injection is very, very helpful, very good,” he said in a video message. The Tibetan spiritual leader, 85, received a shot from AstraZeneca in Dharamshala, India.

EU Seeks Astra Shots Made in U.S. (5:10 p.m. NY)

The European Union will ask the U.S. to authorize the export of millions of doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine to the bloc, the Financial Times reported on Saturday.

The European Commission plans to raise the matter in upcoming talks focused on increasing cooperation in the fight against Covid-19, the newspaper cited EU officials as saying. It will also ask the U.S. to ensure the free flow of shipments of key vaccine ingredients needed for European production, including those for mRNA inoculations.

Idaho Protesters Burn Masks (4:50 p.m. NY)

Protesters, including children, gathered at the Idaho state capitol to burn face masks on Saturday, at the end of a week in which Texas, Mississippi and South Carolina repealed their masking rules. Idaho does not have a statewide mask mandate, though localities including the capital Boise do and Governor Brad Little encourages their use.

“We’re standing here today to rein back government,” one of the organizers, Darr Moon, husband of Idaho State Representative Dorothy Moon, said in a video posted on Twitter. “We need well-defined government and certain boundaries, and that’s not what we have today.”

Governors are relaxing virus restrictions as vaccines roll out and cases and deaths decline, though many states continue to mandate mask wearing.

U.S. Risk Level Revised Downward by Germany (4:30 p.m. NY)

Germany has lowered its Covid-19 risk assessment for the U.S. by one notch, effective Sunday.

While a decline in infections means the U.S. is no longer classified as a “high-incidence” country, it’s still a “risk area” because the one-week average of new cases exceeds the threshold of 50 per 100,000 residents, the Foreign Ministry in Berlin said on its website.

Germany also lifted a travel warning for several parts of Croatia, including Istria, a popular tourist destination. By contrast, a travel warning for parts of Greece was expanded to the whole country, which the Foreign Ministry said is “strongly affected” by the coronavirus.

Swedes Protest Against Restrictions (3:37 p.m. NY)

Sweden’s first major demonstration against coronavirus restrictions was broken up by Stockholm police on Saturday, the Associated Press reported. Swedish media showed a crowd, estimated at several hundred, gathering without masks near the capital’s Old Town.

Aftonbladet said the protest was organized by a group called Freedom Sweden.

Sweden pulled back from its largely hands-off early approach to the pandemic after many more people died than in its more restrictive Nordic neighbors.

Paraguay Government Upended After Protests (3:20 p.m. NY)

Paraguay’s President Mario Abdo Benitez said Saturday he will name new cabinet ministers amid unrest over his government’s handling of the pandemic that has left at least one person dead.

Abdo Benitez said he would name a new cabinet chief as well as new health and education ministers in the coming hours “for the sake of peace.” More changes will be evaluated next week, he said, adding that the new health minister will have the mandate to “make all possible efforts to guarantee the timely supply of medicine and medical supplies.”

California Positive Test Rate Drops (2:26 p.m. NY)

California’s test positivity rate dropped to 2.3%, the lowest based on the state’s data that go back to the start of April.

Hospitalizations also slumped to the lowest since Thanksgiving, before travel amid the year-end holidays led to a jump in cases in the state. The 14-day rolling average for new cases dropped to the lowest since the start of November.

More than 10 million doses of vaccines have been administered in the state. “The light at the end of the tunnel keeps getting brighter and brighter,” Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted Friday in announcing the milestone.

Venezuela Gets More Sputnik-V Vaccine (1:47 p.m. NY)

Venezuela received its second batch of 100,000 doses of Sputnik-V vaccines, Health Minister Carlos Alvarado said on state television.

He said Venezuela has a total of 700,000 doses of vaccines, 500,000 from China and 200,000 from Russia. Over 80,000 health and priority personnel have been vaccinated, Alvarado said. President Nicolas Maduro and his wife Cilia Flores said they received the first dose of the Sputnik V vaccine, in an interview on Telesur on Saturday.

The government will start vaccinating 250,000 people on Monday with shots received from China, beginning with 100,000 school teachers, Alvarado said.

U.S. Economy Brightens With Stimulus (1:21 p.m. NY)

With Democrats on the verge of passing an almost $2 trillion stimulus bill and Covid-19 vaccinations moving ahead, the U.S. economic outlook is much sunnier than it looked in early January.

The latest Bloomberg monthly survey of economists shows the annualized pace of growth in the first quarter will be 4.8%, twice as fast as respondents expected just two months ago. For the full year, gross domestic product is projected to rise 5.5%, which would be the fastest since 1984 and is up from January’s estimate of 4.1%.

Philippines to Receive Moderna Shot (12:52 p.m. NY)

Moderna announced an agreement to supply the Philippines with 13 million doses of its vaccine. The company said deliveries of the vaccine, not yet approved in the Philippines, would begin in mid-2021.

Senate Passes Relief Package (12:35 p.m. NY)

President Joe Biden’s signature $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill passed the Senate 50-49 on Saturday, following a more than 25-hour marathon of amendment votes that was completed only after a lengthy interruption while Democrats settled an intra-party dispute over unemployment aid.

The measure, the American Rescue Plan Act, now heads back to the House, with Democrats aiming to have it signed into law next week. Enactment would hand Biden his first legislative victory and set the stage for work this spring on a massive infrastructure and manufacturing recovery bill that he wants.

But because of changes made in the Senate to satisfy moderate Democrats, it’s not clear if more negotiations with progressives might be necessary to win final passage in the House.

U.K. Conducts Record Tests (11:20 a.m. NY)

The U.K. conducted a record 992,812 tests on March 4 as the country prepares to open schools on Monday. That brings total tests given to more than 90 million. The figure includes both PCR tests in laboratories and lateral flow devices that give results in less than an hour.

Students in England will be tested three times during the first two weeks of school and will be given two tests a week to use at home after that, the BBC said.

Cases and deaths continued to decline on Saturday with 6,040 new infections and 158 fatalities, both below the previous seven-day averages.

N.Y. Hospitalizations Dip Below 5,000 (10:47 a.m. NY)

New York state hospitalizations, the highest in the U.S., fell below 5,000 for the first time since early December, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement. The number of people hospitalized dropped by 491 over the past week to 4,954, he said.

The state reported 7,647 new cases, little changed from recent increases. The statewide positive test rate dropped 2.8%, the lowest since Nov. 21, the governor said. Another 78 people died.

U.S. Outbreak Continues to Decline (8:20 a.m. NY)

The U.S. added 65,237 cases Friday, as new infections continued to decline, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

While the latest daily increase exceeds the weekly average of almost 61,000, new cases have fallen 12% this week compared with the previous one.

Another 2,535 new deaths were reported, the most in more than a week and higher than the weekly average of about 1,750. Average deaths fell this week by 17% compared to the previous seven days.

States have moved rapidly to relax restrictions as vaccines roll out, with 85 million doses given in the U.S., according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. But cases and hospitalizations remain high, falling just recently to the levels of the surge last summer. Deaths remain well above that level.

Finland Postpones Local Elections (7:15 a.m. NY)

Finland is postponing its countrywide local elections by two months as the coronavirus pandemic takes a turn for the worse.

Eight of nine parliamentary parties support moving the municipal vote to June 13 from April 18, Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson said in a message posted on Twitter on Saturday.

Iran Reports 82 Deaths (7:00 a.m. NY)

Iran reported 8,212 new cases of the coronavirus and 82 deaths overnight, the health ministry said on Saturday. The country, which has the Middle East’s worst outbreak of the disease, has registered 1,681,682 Covid-19 infections so far and 60,593 deaths.

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