(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden said the federal government will distribute Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as fast as the company can produce it, if the shot is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That approval is expected as early as Friday.
California became the first U.S. state to surpass 50,000 deaths from Covid-19 as a winter surge in cases prompted lockdowns across the state. New York City schools have a positive Covid-19 test rate of less than 1% as middle schools reopened to students for in-person instruction.
European Union leaders inched toward establishing bloc-wide vaccine certificates to enable countries to reopen to travel as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned that unless they hurry Apple Inc. and Google will step into the vacuum. Global fatalities from Covid-19 surpassed 2.5 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Florida to Lower Vaccine Age (5:10 p.m. NY)
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that he expects the vaccine to be available to people younger than 65 starting in March because of increased supply. He cited a rise in Pfizer doses and the expected approval of the Johnson & Johnson shot this weekend.
“All of a sudden you are going to have a lot more options,” he said at a briefing in Jacksonville. He said people 60 and older, and possibly as young as 55, would be eligible. With roughly half of senior citizens inoculated, the state will open vaccinations up to law enforcement and teachers 50 and older next week, he said.
Czechs Plan Stricter Lockdown (4:52 p.m. NY)
The Czech Republic needs to “significantly limit” people’s movements for three weeks to curb the current surge in infections and avoid overrunning hospitals, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said in a televised press conference after a cabinet meeting.
Brazil Passes 250,000 Deaths (4:23 p.m. NY)
Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll rose by 1,541 to 251,498. The nation has the world’s most deaths after the U.S. Another 10,390,461 cases were reported, with 65,998 confirmed in the last 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data.
Biden Sees Fast Rollout of J&J Vaccine (4:10 p.m. NY)
President Joe Biden said the federal government will distribute Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as fast as the company can produce it, if the shot is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That approval is expected as early as Friday.
“If — if — the FDA approves the use of this new vaccine, we have a plan to roll it out as quickly as Johnson & Johnson can make it,” Biden said Thursday at an event to celebrate the injection of 50 million doses of vaccines since he took office.
The event was intended to highlight the administration’s effort to curb the pandemic, Biden’s top campaign promise, which depends largely on accelerating vaccinations. The administration has also sought to increase testing and re-open schools — all while new, more transmissible variants of the virus have begun to circulate, threatening progress.
EU Calls for Vaccine Certificates (3:16 p.m. NY)
European Union leaders inched toward establishing bloc-wide vaccine certificates to enable countries to reopen to travel as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned that unless they hurry Apple Inc. and Google will step into the vacuum.
During a five-hour video call, the EU’s 27 leaders focused on how to haul their nations back to a form of normalcy after a pandemic that’s claimed more than 500,000 lives and shut down large parts of their economies. While there was broad support for certificates of some sort, leaders didn’t agree on the type of privileges it would grant.
“We have all agreed that we need vaccine certificates,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the talks. “In the future, it will certainly be good to have such a certificate but that will not mean that only those who have such a passport will be able to travel; about that, no political decisions have been made yet.”
So how many vaccines will be delivered to the EU over the next quarters? While an estimate isn’t officially public, the European Commission president showed the following slide to EU leaders during a video summit in Brussels. The slide was obtained by Bloomberg from an official present in the call. It shows that vaccine supplies in the following quarters are projected to be sufficient to vaccinate the bulk of the EU’s population.
N.Y. Official Defends Nursing Home Admissions (2:31 p.m. NY)
New York’s top health official defended the state’s pandemic response Thursday, doubling down on his decision to allow Covid-19 patients to return to nursing homes at the height of the pandemic.
Coronavirus spread in those facilities was largely the result of staff “who brought it in inadvertently at a time when we did not know about asymptomatic spread,” State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said during a budget hearing before state lawmakers.
Hungary to Set Up Vaccine Plant (2:25 p.m. NY)
Hungary will set up a coronavirus vaccine production plant and make its own shots from the end of 2022, the country’s technology and innovations minister was cited by state newswire MTI as saying. The EU member would invest 55 billion forint ($190 million) in developing the vaccines and setting up a plant in cooperation with the University of Debrecen, located in northeast Hungary.
Hungary posted the highest number of daily new cases in more than two months, prompting the government to extend restrictions through the middle of March.
Mexico Sees 80 Million Vaccinated by July (2:11 p.m. NY)
Finance Minister Arturo Herrera said more than 80 million people in Mexico should be vaccinated by July.
The minister said the figure represents all of the targeted adult population, adding that 34 million people would have received their vaccine by April.
California Tops 50,000 Deaths (2:05 p.m. NY)
California surpassed 50,000 deaths from Covid-19, according to data from its health department, becoming the first U.S. state to reach the bleak milestone.
Almost half of the fatalities have come in the past two months, following a winter surge in cases that strained hospitals and led to lockdowns across the state. The outbreak has since eased substantially, with California averaging about 6,300 daily new cases over the past two weeks, compared with more than 40,000 last month.
While the most-populous state tops the U.S. in total deaths, on a per-capita basis it ranks toward the middle. Los Angeles County, home to about 10 million people, leads the state with almost 21,000 fatalities.
Paris Faces New Curbs (1:27 p.m. NY)
Paris is among 20 French regions potentially facing tougher restrictions from next week as cases jump, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.
The government has asked health authorities to closely monitor the situation in the capital and districts including parts of northern France as it seeks to avoid a third nationwide lockdown, Castex said on Thursday.
“A lockdown is a tool that we have to resort to when we can’t do anything else,” Castex told a weekly news conference in Paris. “We must do everything to put it off and allow the vaccines time to have an effect.”
Astra CEO Defends Vaccine Delivery (12:33 p.m. NY)
AstraZeneca Plc’s Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot sought to deflect blame for a shortfall in Covid-19 vaccine deliveries to Europe this year, while reassuring lawmakers that his company is working to meet targets for the second quarter.
Speaking remotely to a European Parliament hearing, Soriot said his company would deliver 40 million doses to the European Union in the first quarter, with the volume set to rise in the coming months. Soriot said employees are working around the clock to increase the amount of vaccines extracted in production, but that perfecting the process takes time and isn’t without setbacks.
Italy Cases Surge (12:22 p.m. NY)
Italy reported 19,886 new cases on Thursday, compared with 16,424 the day before, marking the highest number of infections since Jan. 9. A total of 353,704 tests were carried out, revised down from 443,704 earlier.
Patients in intensive care units rose for an eighth day to 2,168, still below the November peak of about 3,800 and the April 2020 peak of more than 4,000. The spread of new strains is pushing infections in areas that have been marked as medium to high risk in the north, east of Milan, and Bologna.
North Carolina Eases Restrictions (11:24 a.m. NY)
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper reminded the state that it will “ease but not lift restrictions.” His tweet Thursday came after announcing the outbreak had receded enough to allow some easing, including lifting the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. Bars will be allowed to reopen indoors at 30% capacity and more spectators will be permitted at sporting events. The state’s mask mandate remains in place, and occupancy on establishments like restaurants and retail cannot exceed 50%.
NYC School Virus Rate Less Than 1% (10:54 a.m. NY)
New York City schools have a positive Covid-19 test rate of less than 1% as middle schools reopened to students for in-person instruction.
About 60,000 students are eligible to return to classes two or three days a week in a hybrid schedule of at-home and in-school lessons. About 70% of the city’s middle school students chose all-remote instruction earlier and will continue to learn at home.
The largest public-school system in the U.S. has administered about 500,000 Covid-19 tests, and more than 30,000 teachers have received the vaccine, according to Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. “New York public schools are the safest place to be,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.
Israel Crossing 50% Vaccine Milestone (9:25 a.m. NY)
Israel is passing a major threshold as its rapid coronavirus vaccination drive leads the world in doses per capita. “As we speak we are crossing the line of 50% of the general Israeli population getting at least a first jab,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Thursday.
“We all have to understand that we still have a long way to go, right now we are cautiously opening the Israeli economy,” he said. “There’s this kind of sigh of relief that comes a little bit I would say prematurely.”
Pfizer-BioNTech Study Variant Booster (6:45 a.m. NY)
Pfizer and partner BioNTech have begun a clinical study to see if a third shot of their existing vaccine can stimulate stronger immune responses against new variants.
The clinical trial will examine safety and immune responses of a third dose of the vaccine in as many as 144 people who participated in the companies’ Phase 1 study. The dose is being given six to 12 months after the initial two-dose regimen, and researchers will test blood from the participants to see if it enhances levels of antibodies produced against new strains from South Africa and elsewhere.
Finland Plans Lockdown (4:27 p.m. HK)
Finland’s government is preparing to invoke emergency powers, including a lockdown from March 8 to 28, as infection rates rise, it said on Thursday. Among the planned measures are closing restaurants and bars except for takeout, and moving students in junior high and above to remote learning. The government is also considering whether municipal elections can be held in April as planned.
Cases Jump in Germany (2:31 p.m. HK)
Germany recorded 10,774 new cases in the 24 hours through Thursday morning, the highest one-day addition since Feb. 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Europe’s biggest economy is in the midst of a third wave of infections and should proceed carefully with reopening schools and businesses, putting a damper on discussions to loosen lockdown curbs.
Germany’s seven-day incidence rate inched up to 61.7, while the pace of vaccinations remains sluggish. Merkel has set a rate of 50 as the minimum for lifting certain restrictions, with further curbs possibly eased when the level falls below 35.