The Latest: White House to resume public COVID-19 briefings
WASHINGTON — White House press secretary Jen Psaki says the Biden administration will provide public briefings on the coronavirus pandemic starting Wednesday.
The briefings will feature public health officials. Psaki says they will occur three times a week and provide details on the government’s response to addressing the pandemic.
That’s a stark contrast to the Trump administration, which kept Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-diseases expert, and other top health officials on a short leash, with the West Wing press shop tightly controlling Fauci’s media appearances and offering few public briefings as the virus raged in recent months.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— Online error messages and jammed-up hotlines slow vaccine rollout for those over 80 in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state
— The European Union is pressuring the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to deliver more vaccines as promised
— Facing questions about its vaccines and its early COVID response, China is hitting back by encouraging fringe theories that may harm
— Mexican President López Obrador says he has mild COVID-19 symptoms as his country registers its highest infections and deaths
— For emergency medical technicians, the coronavirus is constant, riding with them in ambulances from patient to patient
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
GENEVA — The head of emergencies at the World Health Organization says success against the coronavirus is stopping its ability to kill and hospitalize people, and devastate economies and livelihoods — not eliminating it.
Dr. Mike Ryan told reporters: “If we look to eradication as the measure of success, I think we’re going to struggle.”
The U.N. health agency and supporters expressed hopes at a news conference Wednesday about efforts to adapt vaccines to fight new variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 -- even as the total confirmed case count hurtles toward the 100-million mark worldwide.
“Numbers can make us numb to what they represent,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
Dr. Bruce Aylward, a special adviser to Tedros, cautioned that “if any country bets everything on the vaccine, we’re going to lose.”
He says vaccines are the first line of defense to prevent the spread. Testing is the second to track where the virus is, while treatment is third -- through a growing arsenal including the corticosteroid dexamethasone, oxygen and other therapies that can lower death rates.
“The reality is you need all three of those lines of defense if this is going to be successful,” Aylward said.
MADRID — Spain has logged a new weekend record of 93,822 new coronavirus infections, although authorities say that the increase that followed end-of-the-year celebrations is waning despite a more contagious variant steadily making inroads in the southern European country.
The peak of the current surge was probably reached one week ago, said top coronavirus expert Fernando Simón on Monday, adding that even with a downward trend, pressure in hospitals and fatalities will keep increasing.
Confirmed deaths for the new coronavirus stood at 56,208 after adding 767 new deaths on Monday, the Health Ministry data showed. Spain has an accumulated tally of nearly 2.6 million cases since the pandemic began.
Simón said that according to virus sequencing that Spain is currently ramping up, the variant of the coronavirus first detected in the U.K. amounts approximately to 5% of all the new cases. But he said that it was likely that the variant could spread further, “up to 60% in four to five weeks.”
Several Spanish regions continued Monday stepping up restrictions on movement and social gatherings.
RENO, Nev. — The U.S. Supreme Court has refused a rural Nevada church’s request to weigh in on a legal battle over the government’s authority to limit the size of religious gatherings amid the pandemic.
The high court on Monday denied Calvary Chapel Dayton Valley’s petition seeking to review the case on its merits.
Attorneys general from 19 other states had recently joined in support of the church east of Reno. They were urging the Supreme Court to rule on the Nevada case to help bring uniformity to various standards courts across the country have used to balance the interests of public safety and freedom of religion.
The church’s latest plea for relief was in the form of a petition for a review of the case on its merits despite the recent ruling by the 9th Circuit and ongoing litigation in district court.
Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford argued the justices should let the federal court in Reno sort out the details before taking the extraordinary step of wading into the case.
NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio says New York City could administer 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses a week if it had enough supply, but instead has been forced to put off opening more mass vaccination sites as it waits for vaccine production to speed up.
The Democratic mayor said at his daily coronavirus briefing Monday that the city has “megasites like Citi Field and Yankee Stadium ready to go” as 24-hour operations, but doesn’t have the supply. City officials had set a goal of 300,000 vaccine doses last week but were only able to give 200,000 shots, de Blasio said as he urged President Joe Biden’s administration to use the Defense Production Act to spur vaccine production.
De Blasio said the city had 19,000 doses designated as first doses on hand as of Monday and expected to receive 107,000 more in the next few days. That’s not nearly enough to supply all of the city’s planned vaccination sites.
He said 628,831 doses have been administered in the city since the beginning of the vaccination effort last month.
LONDON — The U.K. has reported its lowest number of new daily coronavirus cases since mid-December, further evidence that lockdown restrictions are working in reducing transmission rates.
Government figures show that another 22,195 new cases have been recorded, the lowest since Dec. 15.
Monday’s figure represents a big decline from the previous day’s 30,004. Though cases can be volatile on a daily basis, it’s clear that the country’s 7-day average has been falling over the past couple of weeks from near the 60,000 mark.
The U.K. saw a sharp uptick in new cases towards the end of 2020 and into the new year that was largely blamed on a new variant that first emerged around London and the southeast of England. All four nations of the U.K. have imposed lockdowns in order to address that sharp spike.
The government also said another 592 people have been reported as dying after contracting the virus, taking the total to 98,531, Europe’s highest.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Moderna says its COVID-19 vaccine protects against worrisome emerging variants of the coronavirus but it’s taking the precaution of testing a possible booster dose against the strain discovered in South Africa.
In Monday’s announcement, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said the move was out of “an abundance of caution” after preliminary lab tests suggested its shot produced a weaker immune response to that variant.
Vaccine manufacturers have been testing their shots against the mutated strains including two that first emerged in Britain and South Africa.
In a study conducted with the National Institutes of Health, the vaccine was effective against both variants but researchers found a six-fold drop in levels of “neutralizing antibodies” against the strain from South Africa. Moderna said while the levels still were protective, it has begun developing a booster vaccine targeted to that new strain. In addition, Moderna will test if simply giving an extra dose of the original vaccine could be helpful.
Pfizer, which makes a similar COVID-19 vaccine, has previously reported that its shot also appears effective against the strain from Britain. But other research has raised questions about the variant from South Africa.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci says scientists are already preparing to upgrade COVID-19 vaccines to address the variants of the coronavirus now circulating in the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, says those variants are not only more infectious but they do not respond as well to the monoclonal antibodies that have been used in treating patients. He said he was especially concerned about the South African variant, which he described as “different and more ominous than the one in the UK.”
”The data has not come out officially, but taking a look at the preliminary data that the UK scientists have analyzed, I’m pretty convinced that there is a degree of increase in seriousness of the actual infection, which we really have to keep an eye on,” Fauci told NBC’s “Today.”
Fauci said there is also “a very slight, modest diminution” of the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against those variants but “there’s enough cushion with the vaccines that we have that we still consider them to be effective against both the UK strain and the South Africa strain.”
Separately, at a virtual Davos Agenda meeting of the World Economic Forum on Monday, Fauci raised concerns about China’s lack of transparency and delays in opening up to international experts who are looking into the early outbreak.
BRUSSELS — The European Union is pressuring the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to deliver more vaccines to its 27 nations and stick to initial promises, especially since it has invested in enhancing production capacity.
EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen held urgent talks with AstraZeneca’s chief Monday. EU nations are also meeting with AstraZeneca to push to ramp up production and meet contractual targets.
The European Medicines Agency is scheduled to review the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine on Friday and its approval is hotly anticipated.
Leaders across the EU are under heavy pressure for the bloc’s slow rollout of its vaccination plan, especially when compared to Israel or Britain.
BERLIN — German police say hundreds of cars and pedestrians are lining up at border crossings along the Czech-German border after Germany declared the Czech Republic a high risk area in the pandemic, meaning it requires proof of a negative coronavirus test before entry.
At the crossings in Waldmuenchen and Fuerth im Wald authorities said hundreds of cars lined up on the Czech side trying to get into Germany in the early morning hours. Further backup was expected during the day Monday.
Since Sunday, people from the Czech Republic need to show negative test results no older than 48 hours every time they enter Germany.
The Czechs were boosting the capacity of their testing site at the crossings and elsewhere to meet the growing demand.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s government says it will start vaccinating people for COVID-19 this week.
Sri Lanka will receive 500,000 shots of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from India as a donation on Wednesday and the inoculation will begin on the next day. The vaccine will be first given to the frontline members of the health sector, military and police.
Sri Lanka has also ordered a stock of Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine and separatelyis supposed to receive vaccines for 20% of the population through the WHO’s COVAX program.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh has taken delivery of 5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from an Indian producer.
Bangladesh has planned to buy 30 million doses of vaccines from the Serum Institute of India in phases. Bangladeshi company Beximco Pharmaceuticals Ltd. has received the consignment of 5 million doses as distributor in the South Asian country.
On Thursday, the country received 2 million doses of the vaccine as a gift from India while Monday’s vaccines were purchased.
The vaccines, manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India, will primarily be given to frontline workers including doctors and nurses. The government says the inoculation is expected to start soon.
Since March, Bangladesh has recorded more than 8,000 deaths from coronavirus.
SYDNEY — Australia’s medical regulator has approved use of its first coronavirus vaccine, paving the way for inoculations to begin next month.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration on Monday gave provisional approval for people aged 16 and over to use the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Residents and workers at aged-care facilities, frontline healthcare workers and quarantine workers are among the groups being prioritized for the first doses.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia was among the first countries to complete a comprehensive process to formally approve a vaccine rather than just grant an emergency approval.
Australia has an agreement for 10 million doses of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine and an option to buy more if supplies allow. It also has ordered, conditional on regulatory approval, 53.8 million doses of the vaccine made by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, 50 million of which would be made in Australia in a partnership with Melbourne-based biopharmaceutical company CSL.
Australia is aiming to complete inoculations by October.
Also on Monday, Australia suspended its partial travel bubble with New Zealand after New Zealand reported its first coronavirus case outside of a quarantine facility in two months. Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said the suspension would last for three days and was being implemented out of an abundance of caution.
HONG KONG — A lockdown in part of Hong Kong’s Kowloon neighborhood was lifted Monday after thousands of residents were tested for the virus.
The lockdown that began early Saturday covered 16 buildings in the working-class Yau Tsim Mong district. During the lockdown, residents were not allowed to leave their premises until they had tested negative for the coronavirus.
The district has been at the center of a worsening coronavirus outbreak, with over 160 cases reported over the first three weeks in January. Higher concentrations of the virus were also found in sewage samples, prompting fears the virus could be transmitted via poorly installed plumbing systems in subdivided units that lack ventilation.
The government said in a statement early Monday that about 7,000 people were tested for the coronavirus during the lockdown, with 13 positive infections found. As of Sunday, Hong Kong has reported 10,086 cases of the coronavirus overall, with 169 deaths recorded.