Tokyo to Extend Emergency; NYC Gets J&J Shots: Virus Update

New York City has received its first delivery of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Governor Phil Murphy said he’s expecting a “much more normal summer” at the New Jersey shore. Connecticut announced an easing of many restrictions but will continue to require masks. Alabama will let its mask mandate expire in April.

The Japanese government recommended to extend by two weeks its virus state of emergency for the Tokyo region set to expire Sunday as it looks to host the Olympics in about four months.

The factory that Pfizer Inc. plans to use to boost production of its vaccine was cited by federal inspectors last year for repeated quality-control violations. Italy blocked a shipment of 250,000 doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine that were destined for Australia.

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Tokyo to Extend Emergency (5:20 p.m. NY)

The Japanese government recommended to extend by two weeks its virus state of emergency for the Tokyo region set to expire Sunday, trying to maintain a declining trend in infections as it looks to host the Olympics in about four months.

The move was announced early Friday by the government’s point man for virus management, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura. It came after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga strongly indicated Wednesday that he was looking to extend the nearly two-month measure, saying it was “an extremely important time for preventing infections.”

Connecticut to Relax Restrictions (5:05 p.m. NY)

Connecticut will end capacity limits for restaurants, offices, places of worship and businesses from gyms to stores on March 19, though bars must remain closed, Governor Ned Lamont said. He cited a decline in Covid-19 cases and vaccination rates “among the highest in the nation.”

Lamont contrasted his approach with two U.S. states that have reopened more aggressively, and he pleaded with residents to keep wearing face coverings in public.

“This is not Texas. This is not Mississippi,” he told a news briefing on Thursday. Still, he said, “It feels good that we’re able to do this.”

Capacity limits for private and public gatherings will be revised, allowing as many as 25 people at private events indoors, and “all sports will be allowed to practice and compete,” Lamont said in a statement.

Pfizer Plant Cited for Quality Issues (4:59 p.m. NY)

The factory that Pfizer Inc. plans to use to boost production of its Covid-19 vaccine for the massive U.S. inoculation effort was cited by federal inspectors last year for repeated quality-control violations.

Food and Drug Administration inspectors visited the McPherson, Kansas, plant at the end of 2019 into January 2020, according to an inspection report obtained by Bloomberg via a Freedom of Information request. They found the drug giant released medications for sale after failing to thoroughly review quality issues that arose in routine testing, the report shows.

N.Y. Hospitalizations Still the Highest (3:25 p.m. NY)

The burden from Covid-19 is weighing more heavily on hospitals in New York than anywhere else in the U.S., even as Governor Andrew Cuomo takes steps toward rolling back pandemic protections.

New York’s total hospitalizations for Covid-19 have dropped by more than a third in a month. Still, its current rate of hospitalizations for the virus per 100,000 residents is 27, the highest in the U.S., according to Covid Tracking Project data.

College Agrees to End Tuition Suit (2:50 p.m. NY)

Southern New Hampshire University has agreed to pay $1.25 million to resolve a class action in federal court by students demanding refunds after the school canceled in-person classes last spring because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The deal appears to be among the first to be reached in a sea of hundreds of lawsuits filed by students against colleges and universities in federal court after Covid-19 disrupted in-person curricula last year.

Canada Sees Faster Shot Timeline (2:45 p.m. NY)

The Canadian minister in charge of vaccines said it’s “highly likely” the government will be able to move up its target date of September for inoculating every citizen who wants a Covid-19 shot.

Procurement Minister Anita Anand said Thursday in an interview that more people could get their jabs at a faster pace as the delivery of doses ramps up.

Canada had administered 5.5 doses of vaccine per 100 people as of Wednesday, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, putting it last among all Group of Seven nations except Japan. The U.K. and U.S. have given 32.3 and 24.3 doses per 100 of their citizens, respectively.

N.J. Sees ‘More Normal’ Summer (2:05 p.m. NY)

Governor Phil Murphy said he’s expecting a “much more normal summer” at the New Jersey shore than last year, when many restrictions were in place to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.

As long as the vaccine rollout continues and the variants don’t overwhelm, the state will continue to slowly reopen, Murphy said Thursday during an interview on CNBC. The governor said he’s “highly confident” that most adults who want the vaccine will be able to get it by the Memorial Day holiday weekend, the traditional start of the summer tourist season.

France Tightens Restrictions (1:20 p.m. NY)

France plans to tighten restrictions and accelerate vaccinations in parts of the country as the government continues to shy away from a third nationwide lockdown on hopes that improvement is just weeks away.

The Pas-de-Calais department on the northern coast of France will be put under a weekend lockdown as of Saturday, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said at a weekly news conference. “A lockdown, even limited to the weekend, is a heavy measure,” he said.

Ireland Reports Stillbirths (1:18 p.m. NY)

Irish authorities have identified four cases of stillbirth caused by Covid placentitis, a virus-related condition that leads to inflammation of the placenta, deputy chief medical officer Ronan Glynn said. While the findings are preliminary, the nation’s health service has been informed and is monitoring the situation, he said. Ireland reported 462 more cases on Thursday, with 39 deaths.

Kuwait Imposes Curfew (12:53 p.m. NY)

Kuwait has imposed a partial curfew as daily cases jumped to the highest on record. The curfew comes into force from March 7 between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. for a month, the Council of Ministers said in a statement. The Gulf nation reported 1,716 new cases on Thursday, taking the total to 196,497 with 1,105 deaths.

Alabama to Lift Mask Rule in April (12:46 p.m. NY)

Governor Kay Ivey said she’ll let Alabama’s mask mandate expire on April 9, as she announced immediate easing of other restrictions.

“Folks, we’re not there yet, but we’re getting close,” she tweeted. She said the mask mandate has been “in place for more than a generous amount of time because it has helped.” She said businesses that wish to continue requiring masks will have until then to devise policies.

This week, Texas and neighboring Mississippi said they were ending their mask mandates.

NYC Gets First J&J Shots (11:05 a.m. NY)

New York City has received 16,300 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses, its first delivery of the one-shot vaccine, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. The city will use the J&J shots to begin vaccinating home-bound seniors, the mayor said in a Thursday briefing.

De Blasio said when he becomes eligible to get the vaccine, he hopes to get the J&J shot. The city surpassed 2 million vaccinations this week and the city’s health commissioner has said vaccines may be available to all residents by late April.

Zimbabwe Approves Indian Vaccine (11:02 a.m. NY)

Zimbabwe has become the first African country to authorize the use of India’s only homegrown coronavirus vaccine, which the developers this week said showed strong efficacy.

The first batch of Covaxin, which was co-developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech International Ltd. and the Indian Council of Medical Research, is due to arrive shortly, the Indian Embassy in the southern African nation said on its Twitter account.

Italy Blocks Export of Astra Vaccine (10:47 a.m. NY)

Italy has blocked a shipment of the AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine to Australia, using a recently introduced European Union regulation, in a move that risks triggering a global backlash.

The move comes after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called during an EU summit last week for a tougher approach against companies that don’t respect their delivery commitments. Officials in Brussels and in Rome confirmed the news of the export ban of 250,000 doses of the shots, which was first reported by the Financial Times.

Vaccine Maker Warns of Delays (10:43 a.m. NY)

The head of the world’s biggest vaccine maker and the World Health Organization’s chief scientist said manufacturers of coronavirus shots face a global shortage of the raw materials needed to churn out the inoculations.

Adar Poonawalla, the chief executive officer of the Serum Institute of India Ltd. — which is licensed to produce hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca Plc and Novavax Inc. — told a World Bank panel on Thursday that a U.S. law blocking the export of certain key items, including bags and filters, will likely cause serious bottlenecks.

Soumya Swaminathan from the WHO added that there were shortfalls of vials, glass, plastic and stoppers required by those companies.

Covid Probe Controversy Heats Up (10:23 a.m. NY)

The controversy over the investigation by the WHO and China into the origins of Covid-19 heated up as a group of scientists called for an independent probe to consider all hypotheses and nail down whether the virus came from an animal.

A group of more than 20 signatories said in an open letter published by the Wall Street Journal that the existing mission isn’t independent enough and demanded a new probe to consider all possibilities over the origin. Half of the joint team are Chinese citizens whose scientific independence may be limited, they said.

The criticism comes as the mission considers delaying an interim report, which was expected soon. The investigators may instead publish that summary statement on the same day as the full report, a WHO spokesman said.

Germany, Sweden Clear Astra Shot for Elderly (7:44 a.m. NY)

Germany has joined countries widening guidelines for AstraZeneca’s vaccine, based on incoming data that support giving the shot to the elderly.

Germany’s immunization commission is recommending the vaccine for people age 65 and older, Health Minister Jens Spahn said in an emailed statement. That expands on a ruling that initially limited it to adults between the ages of 18 and 64.

Sweden has lifted its recommendation against using AstraZeneca’s vaccine for people older than 65, Public Health Agency Official Sara Byfors told reporters.

Novartis Signs Vaccine Pact With CureVac (7 a.m. NY)

Novartis AG agreed to produce CureVac NV’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate in a deal that will boost the potential supply of the shot by as much as 250 million doses over the course of this year and next.

The Swiss pharmaceutical giant could make as many as 50 million doses this year and 200 million doses in 2022, the partners said in a statement. Once the final agreement is signed, Novartis plans to start production in the second quarter and ship the first deliveries to CureVac this summer.

Milan Tightens Curbs on Surging Cases (6:42 a.m. NY)

Almost one year after Milan became the first European region to enter into a hard lockdown, the Italian financial capital is again facing major restrictions.

All schools will be closed until March 14 and no person will be able to leave town if not for business and health reasons. Milan citizens won’t be allowed to reach their holiday houses, with bars and restaurants remaining closed while shops can stay open.

Tokyo to Extend Emergency; NYC Gets J&J Shots: Virus Update

Deaths Surge Where Obesity Is High (5:55 p.m. HK)

Countries where more than half of adults are overweight have recorded Covid-19 mortality rates in excess of 10 times those in other nations, according to a report by the World Obesity Federation.

Of the 2.5 million pandemic deaths reported by the end of February, 2.2 million were in countries above the 50% threshold, the study showed, suggesting obese people should be included in priority groups for testing and vaccinations.

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