WHO Team Set for China Trip; N.J. Honor System: Virus Update

Track the latest developments in the global Covid-19 pandemic, here.

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE raised their Covid-19 vaccine production target for this year to 2 billion shots. The previous production target was 1.3 billion doses. A World Health Organization team of scientists is beginning a long-delayed trip to China to study the origins of the virus.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reaffirmed his goal of doling out 1 million doses by the end of January. Los Angeles, the epicenter of the latest U.S. wave, will turn Dodger Stadium into a mass vaccination center to inoculate as many as 12,000 people a day.

Ireland’s hospitals are under mounting pressure as it grapples with a daily infection rate that’s now among the highest in the world, with ambulances forming a backlog outside one facility over the weekend.

Key Developments:

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WHO Team Set for China Trip; N.J. Honor System: Virus Update

California Says Hospitalizations Are Easing (5 p.m. NY)

California’s virus hospitalizations are rising at a slower pace, offering a very cautious sign of optimism for the state’s deeply strained health-care system, Governor Gavin Newsom said Monday. The 6% rise in hospitalizations over 14 days is “among the smallest increases we’ve seen over a two-week period in some time,” he said at a briefing.

The slowdown may be the effect of stay-at-home orders or an early signal that holiday gatherings weren’t as bad as feared, Health Secretary Mark Ghaly said. Still, he warned that cases from Christmas and New Year’s are still being reported.

“I don’t want anyone to think we are out of the woods by any measure,” Ghaly said.

Intensive-care units are at surge capacity in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley and availability has fallen to 0.7% in the San Francisco Bay Area, which probably will lead to stay-at-home orders being extended in that region, Newsom said.

South Africa Tightens Up, to Buy More Shots (2:55 p.m. NY)

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa extended a prohibition on alcohol sales, restricted cross-border travel and announced plans to buy millions of additional vaccines as hospitals struggle to cope with a surge in coronavirus cases.

The country will remain on virus alert level 3, and the alcohol ban that was introduced on Dec. 28 and was due to end on Jan. 15 will remain in place, Ramaphosa said in a nationally televised address. All land-border posts will be closed to most travelers until Feb. 15, public gatherings other than funerals won’t be allowed, and a nationwide curfew will be enforced from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., he said.

U.S. Lawmaker Gets Covid, Blames Colleagues (2 p.m. NY)

U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat and lung-cancer survivor, has tested positive for Covid-19.

Watson Coleman, 75, of Ewing, believes she was exposed after sheltering with several maskless colleagues during last week’s storming of the U.S. Capitol, according to a statement from her office.

She said she received a positive rapid test Monday and is awaiting the results of PCR testing. She previously received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine when it was made available to all Congress members.

WHO Says Origin Studies to Begin in Wuhan (1:16 p.m. NY)

A World Health Organization team of scientists is commencing a long-delayed trip to China to engage in and review scientific research with Chinese counterparts on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. China said the team would arrive this week.

“The studies will begin in Wuhan to identify the potential source of infection of the early cases,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing. Scientific evidence will be the basis for further long-term studies.

Last week, Tedros complained about China’s delay in granting visas to the team.

Separately, a WHO team is in China working with producers of the Sinovac and Sinopharm vaccines to assess compliance with international quality-manufacturing practices ahead of a potential emergency-use listing. WHO officials also said they’re confident the rollout in lower-income countries can begin in February, though added a lot depends on country readiness and companies supplying doses.

N.J. Using Honor System for Vaccines (1 p.m. NY)

New Jersey is relying on an honor system for residents getting vaccines, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said.

“We are trusting the integrity of all of you to do the right thing in this regard and not ‘jump the line,”’ Persichilli said at a virus briefing.

Demand for the vaccine is greater than supply, she said. The state is vaccinating health-care workers in the 1A tier, police and fire personnel in 1B and residents and staff of the state’s high-risk congregant settings. New Jersey has administered 214,433 doses as of Jan. 11.

Poland Extends Lockdown Measures (11:42 a.m. NY)

Poland will extend coronavirus lockdown measures by nearly two weeks until the end of January to get a better grip on the pandemic as the country’s vaccination process begins in earnest.

Hotels, ski resorts, shopping malls, restaurants and bars will remain closed, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told a news conference on Monday. Elementary and high schools will continue to teach online after winter break ends on Jan. 18, except for grades 1-3, which are set to return to classrooms.

J&J to Submit South African Trial Data (11:30 a.m. NY)

Johnson & Johnson’s preliminary data from the South African arm of a phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial will be ready for submission to U.S. regulators by Jan. 21, according to the head of the country’s Medical Research Council.

The timing ties in with the U.S. drug giant’s statement that interim data from the late-stage trial it is conducting in a number of countries is expected by the end of this month. If the data show the one-dose vaccine to be safe and effective, J&J will approach U.S. regulators for an emergency use authorization in February, and “other health regulatory applications around the world will be made in parallel,” according to the company.

NYC Eyes 1 Million Doses by Month-End (11:06 a.m. NY)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio reaffirmed his goal of doling out 1 million Covid-19 doses by the end of January. He said New York reached its goal of vaccinating 100,000 people last week and plans to administer 175,000 doses by the end of the week. He said 55,000 appointments have already been scheduled.

He also praised the state’s decision to expand the eligibility of people to get the vaccine, but said the hard work is just beginning -- and that as the city ramps up vaccine delivery, the question then becomes whether the federal government and manufacturers are able to keep up.

A number of city officials criticized what they said was the confusing nature of vaccine appointments, particularly for older patients who struggle to use online scheduling systems. De Blasio said the city was opening up a telephone hot line for people to make appointments starting on Monday. He said New York currently has 160 sites and will be expanding sites and availability. If people show up without an appointment, he said people will be on hand to help them make a later appointment.

Portugal Reports Record Fatalities (9:47 a.m. NY)

Portugal on Monday reported the biggest daily increase in deaths from the coronavirus since the start of the outbreak. There were 122 new fatalities in a day, more than the previous record of 118 on Friday, taking the total to 7,925 deaths, according to government data.
The number of new coronavirus infections rose by 5,604 in a day compared with a record 10,176 new cases in a day reported on Friday.

Portugal may have to tighten restrictions on movement this week as it tries to contain the spread of the pandemic, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Thursday.

NYC Vaccine Sign-Up Process ‘Bewildering’ (9:20 a.m. NY)

New York City residents looking to get vaccines are confronting a “bewildering sign-up process” that is hindering plans to speed up inoculations, Comptroller Scott Stringer said on Twitter.

The city opened mass vaccination sites Sunday in Brooklyn and the Bronx, extended shots on Monday to people 75 and over, and encouraged everyone eligible to schedule an appointment. One of the sign-up websites has a multistep process to set up an account, another to make an appointment, and numerous questions or fields to be answered or filled in, Stringer said on Twitter.

Stringer is among a field of Democratic candidates competing to succeed Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Israel’s Shots Are Working (9 a.m. NY)

Israel’s vaccination campaign, which has already covered about 20% of its population, is producing early signs that vaccines are slowing the virus. Sheba Medical Center’s Gili Regev, director of the infection prevention and control unit, says that her study of around 500 health-care workers vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot is already turning the tide.

By the second week after the initial shot, more than 50% produced antibodies to protect against Covid-19. Those who were infected more than 10 days since getting the first jab typically had a milder disease and some of those infected were not infectious, she said, cautioning they are preliminary findings.

Russia backs Study of Sputnik Light Vaccine (8:43 a.m. NY)

Russia approved a 150-person study of the so-called Sputnik Light vaccine developed by the makers of the country’s first registered inoculation, according to the Health Ministry.

Russian President Vladimir Putin first suggested a single-dose “light version” of a coronavirus vaccination that would be less effective and offer protection for a shorter period last month in order to get more people inoculated faster. The Sputnik V vaccine consists of two shots taken three weeks apart. Producers have faced some issues ramping up production of the second dose.

Pfizer, BioNTech Boost Covid Vaccine Target (7:33 a.m. NY)

Pfizer and BioNTech raised their Covid-19 vaccine production target for this year to 2 billion shots.

The partners have already committed more than half that capacity, BioNTech said in a presentation filed on Monday. A new production site in Marburg, Germany, expected to become operational by the end of February will be able to make as many as 750 million doses per year.

Malaysia Imposes Lockdowns Amid Virus Wave (7 a.m. NY)

Malaysia will place most of the country under some form of lockdown for two weeks starting Jan. 13. While five essential sectors including manufacturing, construction and agriculture, will remain open, interstate travel will be banned throughout the country.

Separately, the country will buy an additional 12.2 million of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. The latest order ramps up availability to 25 million doses, enough to inoculate 39% of the population.

One in Five in England May Have Virus (6:30 a.m. NY)

As many have 20% of people in England have had the virus, according to data firm Edge Health, which works with the U.K.’s public health service. About half of the population of the east London borough of Barking & Dagenham have had Covid-19, according to the analysis.

South Africa Oxygen Demand Surges (6:10 a.m. NY)

Oxygen usage is surging in South Africa amid a new wave of coronavirus infections, leaving suppliers struggling to keep pace with demand. As infection rates and deaths reach records, Air Liquide SA, Afrox Healthcare Ltd. and Air Products are boosting deliveries to hospitals, with some now taking place daily rather than weekly.

“Consumption from our hospital customers has increased by three to four times,” Air Liquide said in a response to queries. “Some regions have experienced a more than six-fold increase, while some specific hospitals have experienced an as much as 10-fold increase in consumption.”

London Transit Workers Die (5:31 p.m. HK)

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers is seeking stronger safety measures to protect Transport for London staff from the pandemic after three transit workers died in recent days. The union demanded the Mayor of London and London Underground provide guarantees on worker safety, including allowing vulnerable employees to stay home if needed. N95-style masks should be available when requested, the union wrote.

China Reports a New Cluster (5:15 pm HK)

A new cluster erupted in Suihua city of northeastern Chinese province Heilongjiang. The city of over 5 million people reported 20 asymptomatic infections after authorities tested more than 2,800 people. Health authorities are waiting for results for the rest of some 8,700 people who underwent testing after a woman tested positive at a county hospital on Saturday, Chinese News Services reported.

The detection of the new cluster came as the outbreaks in Shijiazhuang city near the Chinese capital escalated with more than 450 cases in less than 10 days and sporadic flareups in the country’s northeastern provinces.

China reported 85 local confirmed coronavirus infections Jan. 10, including 82 in the northern province of Hebei, 2 in Liaoning and 1 in Beijing.

Irish Hospitals Under Increased Pressure (5:05 p.m.)

Ireland’s hospital system appeared close to being overwhelmed, as coronavirus case numbers continue to explode. Doctors treated patients in ambulances outside one facility in the northwest of the country over the weekend as patients suspected of having the virus filled the hospital, while intensive care beds availability has dropped to 38.

Ireland’s 7 day incidence rate per 100,000 people is now the highest in the world, according to a Bloomberg analysis.

WHO Team Set for China Trip; N.J. Honor System: Virus Update

New Strains Are Spreading in Europe (4:30 p.m. HK)

Finland reported a total of 49 cases of the U.K. and South African variants of the coronavirus on Monday, with the bulk of those infections detected in travelers and their close contacts in recent weeks. In Latvia, one case of the U.K. variant was discovered, related to a recent trip to the country.

L.A.’s Dodger Stadium Is a Vaccination Hub (3:45 p.m. HK)

Los Angeles, the epicenter of the latest wave, will turn Dodger Stadium from the country’s biggest Covid-19 testing site into a mass vaccination center to inoculate as many as 12,000 people a day.

The stadium will cease being a testing site Monday, with the transition taking place by the end of the week.

The Greater L.A. area, where one in 11 have been infected, has tested 5 million people, or about half of its population. With a surge in cases, Southern California and other parts of the state have run out of ICU capacity.

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