Israel Covid rate down 96% among those who received both Pfizer shots

World round-up: Argentinian minister told to resign after organising vaccine for journalist

Palestinian workers display boxes of Russian-made Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccines received from Israel, as a first shipment arrives on the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing, south of Rafah, Gaza, this week.  Photograph: Ahmad Salem/Bloomberg

Palestinian workers display boxes of Russian-made Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccines received from Israel, as a first shipment arrives on the Palestinian side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing, south of Rafah, Gaza, this week. Photograph: Ahmad Salem/Bloomberg

 

More than 110.7 million cases of coronavirus have been recorded worldwide with more than 2.4 million deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

The following is a summary of the latest developments on the virus around the world:

Israel

The rate of Covid-19 infections dropped 95.8 per cent among people who received both shots of Pfizer’s vaccine, Israel’s health ministry said on Saturday.

The vaccine was also 98 per cent effective in preventing infections that caused fever or breathing problems and 98.9 per cent effective in preventing hospitalisations and death, the ministry said.

The findings were based on national data collected on February 13th from Israelis who had received their second shot at least two weeks previously. According to the health ministry’s website, about 1.7 million people had been administered a second shot by January 30th, making them eligible to be included.

Previous reports from individual healthcare providers also showed positive results, spurring Israel to remove restrictions on the economy after weeks of lockdown. On Sunday, schools and many stores will be allowed to reopen.

The health ministry has also rolled out a “green pass” app, linked to personal medical files, which people who have been fully inoculated or deemed immune after recovering from Covid-19 can show to stay at hotels or attend cultural or sporting events.

Russia

Russia on Saturday approved a third coronavirus vaccine for domestic use, prime minister Mikhail Mishustin said on state TV, though large-scale clinical trials of the shot, labelled CoviVac and produced by the Chumakov Centre, have yet to begin.

Russia has already approved two Covid-19 vaccines, including the Sputnik V shot, developed by Moscow’s Gamaleya Institute, following a similar approach of granting approval before seeing any late-stage trial results. The preemptive approvals had raised concerns among some scientists in the West, but inoculations with those first two shots began on a mass scale in Russia only after trials were concluded and showed success. Sputnik V was approved in August and late-stage trials began in September. Mass vaccination was launched in December, after preliminary trial results showed the vaccine to be 91.4 per cent effective.

Russian prime minister Mikhail Mishustin (C) chairs a meeting of the bureau of the governmental board on vaccines against Covid-19, in Moscow on Saturday. Photograph: Dmitry Astakhov/Sputnik/AFP
Russian prime minister Mikhail Mishustin (C) chairs a meeting of the bureau of the governmental board on vaccines against Covid-19, in Moscow on Saturday. Photograph: Dmitry Astakhov/Sputnik/AFP

Since then, more than two million Russians have been vaccinated with at least the first dose of Sputnik V, health minister Mikhail Murashko said on February 10th. Rollout of a second vaccine, developed by the Vector Institute in Novosibirsk, is beginning. “Today, Russia is the only country to have already three vaccines against Covid-19.”

Russia on Saturday reported 12,953 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, including 1,623 in Moscow, taking the national tally to 4,151,984. Authorities also reported another 480 deaths, raising the official toll to 82,876.

Australia

Three members of a Victorian family, two of whom quarantined at the Melbourne airport Holiday Inn, have tested positive for coronavirus a day after the state’s five-day lockdown was lifted. Health authorities were confident the new cases, which came after two days of zero cases in Victoria, will not spark further infections as they were isolating at home during their infectious period. The health minister, Martin Foley, said the cases involved two parents and a child, two of whom were classified as primary close contacts because they had been in quarantine on the third floor of the quarantine hotel at Tullamarine. The other family member was deemed a secondary contact. Foley said the trio had multiple negative tests between February 10th and February 12th after returning from overseas in early February. A cluster linked to the Holiday Inn now stands at 22 cases. The new Victorian cases come just days before the start of the Covid-19 vaccination rollout in Australia. Mr Foley said the Pfizer vaccine would be first given to hotel quarantine and health hotel workers, airport and port workers, high-risk frontline health staff and public sector residential aged care staff and residents.

New Zealand

New Zealand started its official rollout of Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine on Saturday. A small group of medical professionals were injected on Friday in Auckland ahead of the wider rollout which was officially starting with border staff and so-called Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) workers on Saturday, officials said.

Netherlands

Dutch prime minister Mark Ruttewon parliamentary backingfor a contested nighttime curfew to contain the coronavirus, capping a roller-coaster week that tested his popularity less than a month before a general election.

The legislation passed by the Senate late Friday in The Hague means the nighttime curfew, which began on January 23rd and triggered riots in Dutch cities, can stay in place through early March.

Poland

Poland’s health minister Adam Niedzielski has not ruled out imposing restrictions at the country’s borders with Slovakia and the Czech Republic due to their rising number of Covid-19 cases. “Borders will be open for persons with negative test results, but this is as of today, as the dynamics of the situation may change,” Mr Niedzielski told Radio Zet on Saturday, adding the decisions will be taken next week. “Yes, definitely,” he said when asked whether the government was considering restrictions at the southern borders with the two countries, which have recently seen the number of new coronavirus cases spiralling. Mr Niedzielski added that he expected the peak of the third wave of the pandemic in March or April and said the government is also considering reimposing curbs on social life in regions with highest numbers of Covid-19 cases, including the northeast. Poland has loosened some restrictions, recently opening ski slopes as well as cinemas, hotels and theatres at up to 50 per cent capacity, but authorities have warned that these measures may have to be rolled back depending on the pandemic situation.

Argentina

Argentine president Alberto Fernandez told health minister Gines Gonzalez Garcia to step down after a veteran journalist revealed he received a Covid-19 vaccine ahead of schedule by personally asking the minister for help. Carla Vizzotti, currently secretary of health access, will replace Mr Gonzalez. Reporter Horacio Verbitsky told a radio station he’d received a vaccine at the health ministry following a personal request to Mr Gonzalez.

Justina Blanca Nuaez (81) is vaccinated against Covid-19 in Buenos Aires on Friday as Argentina began to deploy the vaccine for older adults after the arrival in recent days of more doses. Photograph: Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA
Justina Blanca Nuaez (81) is vaccinated against Covid-19 in Buenos Aires on Friday as Argentina began to deploy the vaccine for older adults after the arrival in recent days of more doses. Photograph: Juan Ignacio Roncoroni/EPA

“I decided to get vaccinated. I started to find out where to do it. I called my old friend Gines Gonzalez Garcia, whom I have known long before he was a minister,” Mr Verbitsky told a local radio station. “I went to the ministry and the team of vaccinators was there,” Mr Verbitsky said.

Local newspaper Clarin reported that other government allies had also received a vaccine ahead of schedule.

Mr Fernandez’s government has been harshly criticised for Argentina’s slow vaccination operation. So far, the South American country has received about 1.5 million doses, mostly Sputnik V but also AstraZeneca, insufficient to immunise a population of 40 million. Argentina has had two million people infected by the coronavirus and 50,857 deaths from Covid-19.

Mexico

Mexico expects to receive 200,000 Sinovac vaccinations on February 20th, another 800,000 on February 28th, and 3 million in March, April and May for a total of 10 million doses, said deputy health minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell.

Mexico on Friday reported a daily rise of 857 Covid-19 deaths, bringing the total to 178,965.

US

US president Joe Biden on Friday slammed Donald Trump for failing to secure enough Covid-19 shots as he toured a Michigan facility where Pfizer Inc. is manufacturing its vaccine. “My predecessor – as my mother would say, God love him – failed to order enough vaccines,” Mr Biden said, repeating criticism he’s repeatedly made of his predecessor. “Failed to mobilise the effort to administer the shots. Failed to set up vaccine centres.” In remarks delivered at the facility, Mr Biden sought to reassure the public that the shots are safe.

Pfizer Inc chief executive Albert Bourla said on Friday that the drugmaker expects to be able to double the weekly number of doses of its Covid-19 vaccine it will supply to the United States in the next few weeks

Snow and freezing temperatures have led to a backlog of 6 million Covid-19 vaccine doses in the US after a three-day delay in shipping, Andy Slavitt, a senior White House adviser on the virus, said Friday at a Covid-19 task force briefing.

There are 2,000 vaccination sites in places without power and the US is holding doses initially bound for those sites until power is restored, Mr Slavitt said. The weather has kept delivery workers home and closed roads across the US as Texas and the East Coast experienced snow and ice. Mr Slavitt said he expects the backlogged doses to be delivered next week at the latest.

Winter weather and power outages had a chilling effect on Texas’s vaccination effort, one large enough to drag down inoculation trends nationwide.

On Thursday alone, the state administered 118,417 fewer doses than on the same day a week earlier, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. The seven-day average plummeted 31 per cent in the past week to 89,324, the sharpest drop of the pandemic, the data show. At its February 2nd peak, Texas was giving an average 134,688 doses a day.

Canada

Ontario’s government has scrapped plans to allow more businesses to reopen in Toronto after city officials warned it would be a deadly mistake.

Stay-at-home orders will remain in place until at least March 8th in Canada’s largest city and financial centre, as well as two other regions of the province. Toronto had been expected to return to less-stringent measures on February 22nd, allowing for limited opening of some retail businesses that have been closed to in-person activity since November.

Indonesia

Indonesia extended movement curbs in several areas after signs that the measures helped contain the coronavirus outbreak.

The restrictions are extended until March 8th in dozens of cities and regencies across Java and Bali, said Airlangga Hartarto, co-ordinating minister for economic affairs. People can’t leave affected areas after 8pm, offices and restaurants are limited to a maximum of 50 per cent capacity and schools will continue to hold online classes.

Japan

AstraZeneca Plc plans to produce vaccines in Japan and will begin local distribution as soon as it receives government approval, national broadcaster NHK reported, citing an interview with an official at the drugmaker’s Japan unit.

The Japanese government signed a contract with the company to procure enough vaccines for 60 million people, NHK said. AstraZeneca applied to the health ministry for vaccine approval earlier this month, the Nikkei reported.

Vaccine news

Pfizer Inc and partner BioNTech SE said on Friday they have submitted new data to the US health regulator showing the stability of their Covid-19 vaccine at temperatures commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers and refrigerators. AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine is more effective when its second dose is given three months after the first, instead of six weeks, a peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet medical journal showed on Friday. The study confirmed the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker’s findings from earlier this month that showed the vaccine had 76 per cent efficacy against symptomatic coronavirus infection for three months after the first dose.

World Bank

The World Bank is working to standardize Covid-19 vaccine contracts that countries are signing with drug makers, and is pushing manufacturers to be more open about where doses are headed, as it races to get more vaccines to poor countries, the bank’s president said on Friday. World Bank president David Malpass told Reuters he expected the bank’s board to have approved $1.6 billion in vaccine funding for 12 countries, including the Philippines, Bangladesh, Tunisia and Ethiopia, by the end of March, with 30 more to follow shortly thereafter. –Agencies