Brazil Cases Pass India’s; U.S. Shots Gather Pace: Virus Update

The U.S. passed the milestone of administering more than 100 million Covid-19 shots. California said 13 counties can ease restrictions, including opening restaurants and movie theaters to 25% capacity. Michigan will begin vaccinating all people 16 years and older starting April 5.

President Joe Biden’s administration is holding onto its stockpile of AstraZeneca PLC vaccines, rebuffing pressure from Europe and the company to consider sharing doses of the shot. At the same time, Europe’s problems with the AstraZeneca vaccine are deepening, with at least 10 countries suspending use of the shot over safety concerns.

Brazil surpassed India in infections, retaking the post of second hardest-hit country in the world.

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U.S. Sends First Stimulus Payments (7:09 a.m. HK)

The U.S. government is sending the first $1,400 stimulus payments under President Joe Biden’s pandemic-relief package out on Friday, with some people receiving them as soon as this weekend — a stream of income that economists anticipate will juice the country’s recovery in coming months.

“The first batch of payments will be sent by direct deposit, which some recipients will start receiving as early as this weekend, and with more receiving this coming week,” the Internal Revenue Service said in a statement Friday.

Maryland Begins Lifting Curbs (5:07 p.m. NY)

Maryland began easing restrictions Friday, lifting capacity limits on businesses from retail outlets to bars, but maintaining the state’s mask mandate and other social distancing measures. Large venues, both indoors and outdoors, may operate at 50% capacity. Oriole Park in Baltimore will begin the season at 25% capacity.

Brazil Passes India in Infections (4:18 p.m. NY)

Brazil surpassed India in coronavirus infections, retaking the post of second hardest-hit country in the world, as it rushes to contain the spread of the virus that’s wreaking havoc across the vast Latin American nation.

The country reported 85,663 new cases on Friday, pushing the total to 11,363,380. The number of deaths rose by 2,216, bringing the tally to 275,105. Now, Brazil trails only the U.S. in deaths and infections globally.

While a mix of aggressive social distancing restrictions and mass vaccinations have caused infections to decline across much of the world in recent weeks, Brazil is currently going through its worst phase of the pandemic.

California Eases Curbs (4:13 p.m. NY)

California said that 13 counties will be able to move on Sunday from the state’s purple, or most restrictive tier, to the red tier following a decline in coronarivus cases. The counties entering the lower tier, the second-most restrictive, include highly-populated Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino. The shift means restaurants, museums and movie theaters will be allowed to open for indoor guests, subject to 25% capacity limitations. Los Angeles County separately announced it would allow that starting Monday.

“What that means, practically, is that California is making good strides on its commitment to delivering doses to the hardest-hit communities in our state,” said Mark Ghaly, California’s health and human services secretary.

U.S. Restricts Lilly Antibody Orders (4:01 p.m. NY)

U.S. health officials have restricted orders of Eli Lilly and Co.’s single-antibody therapy in three states on concerns about efficacy against a new coronavirus variant identified in California earlier this year.

The limit on Lilly’s bamlanivimab affects California, Arizona and Nevada, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response said Thursday in a statement. Government officials are continuing to study whether to recommend the drug in areas where the variant, called CAL.20C, is prevalent.

Amazon to Close Canadian Facility (3:49 p.m. NY) Inc. has been ordered to close a facility outside Toronto for two weeks as public health officials worry about rising Covid-19 cases inside the complex.

While the rate of Covid-19 infection has been falling in the Peel region in the past few weeks, the rate inside the Brampton, Ontario, fulfillment center “has been increasing significantly,” the local health authority said Friday in a statement. Every employee at the site may have experienced “high-risk exposure,” the agency said.

U.S. Hits 100-Million Dose Mark (3:28 p.m. NY)

The U.S. has achieved a milestone of administering more than 100 million Covid-19 shots, with 66 million people getting at least a first dose of the vaccine.

About 2.3 million doses a day are being given in the U.S., a figure that is likely to rise significantly in coming weeks with the rollout of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine. President Joe Biden has pledged there will be enough vaccine doses for any American adult who wants one by the end of May, an estimate that matches a Bloomberg analysis of drugmakers’ delivery timetables.

IOC Defends Buying Chinese Vaccines (3:26 p.m. NY)

The International Olympic Committee defended its offer to buy Covid-19 vaccines from China after the announcement drew criticism by human rights activists.

“The only question there which counts is: is it effective and does it not have any side effects?” IOC President Thomas Bach said at a news conference Friday. The IOC is taking human rights in China “very seriously” and addressing the matter “within our remit,” including monitoring supply chains and labor rights issues within host-city contracts, he said.

Colorado Lowers Vaccine Age to 50 (2:49 p.m. NY)

Colorado will lower the minimum age for Covid-19 vaccines to 50 on March 19, Governor Jared Polis said at a Friday news conference in Denver. The state government estimates all residents will be eligible in mid-April, Polis said. Colorado has suffered 6,024 deaths since the pandemic started a year ago, the governor said, with 303 people currently hospitalized statewide.

U.S. Won’t Share Astra Stockpile (2:13 p.m. NY)

President Joe Biden’s administration is holding on to its stockpile of AstraZeneca PLC vaccines, even though the shot isn’t authorized for U.S. use, top aides said Friday — rebuffing pressure from Europe and the company to consider sharing doses of the shot.

“We have a small inventory of AstraZeneca so that, if approved, we can get that inventory out to the American people as quickly as possible,” Jeff Zients, Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said at a press briefing Friday. “We’re rightly focused on getting Americans vaccinated as soon as possible.”

‘Quad’ Promises More Vaccines (1:20 p.m. NY)

The leaders of the U.S., India, Japan and Australia wrapped up their first virtual summit vowing to promote security in the Indo-Pacific, expand efforts to produce Covid-19 vaccines and coordinate efforts on issues including climate change and disaster relief.

A joint statement Friday from the so-called Quad pledged to support efforts to ramp up vaccine manufacturing in the region. Specifically, that includes an effort to bolster vaccine output in India by as many as a billion doses by 2022.

Italy Faces New Lockdown (1:14 p.m. NY)

Prime Minister Mario Draghi promised to triple the pace of vaccinations as most of Italy prepares to go into a new lockdown, a year after the country shut down to contain the spread of Covid-19 for the first time.

The prospect of stringent new restrictions to daily life is an unwelcome case of deja vu for Italians still reeling from last spring’s lockdown and angered by the sluggish pace of the vaccine roll-out so far.

Draghi, with a reputation for technocratic efficiency, came to power last month with the expectation that he’d end the emergency and help kickstart the economy.

WHO Backs Continued Astra Use (12:55 p.m. NY)

The World Health Organization said immunizations with the AstraZeneca vaccine should continue even after at least 10 nations suspended its use over possible blood clotting.

An expert group is assessing the reports of clots in some people who received doses of the inoculation from two batches. Unless a clear link is established, there’s no reason to stop injections, the group said, echoing the comments of Europe’s drug regulator.

“There will be people who’ve been immunized who will die of other causes, and so far the preliminary data we’ve seen doesn’t lead to a causal relationship,” said Mariangela Simao, assistant director-general for drug access, vaccines and pharmaceuticals.

Ireland Outbreak at ‘Delicate Point’ (12:54 p.m. NY)

Ireland reported the most new cases since March 1, with a top health ministry adviser warning the the virus situation in the country is at a “delicate point.” There were 646 new cases reported Friday, with 10 deaths. While the country has made “extraordinary progress,” there are the same number of people in the hospital now as at the peak of the previous wave in October, Philip Nolan told RTE Radio. “We are making progress but in a very precarious position,” he added.

Michigan to Open Shots to All Adults (12:26 p.m. NY)

Michigan said it would begin vaccinating all people 16 years and older starting April 5. The accelerated timetable was released as Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced that a mass-vaccination site, capable of administering 6,000 doses a day, would open March 24 at Ford Field in Detroit. The site was chosen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and will be run in cooperation with local authorities.

On Thursday, Biden announced the goal of making all adults eligible for vaccines by May 1. Earlier this week, Alaska became the first state to open vaccine eligibility to all adults, effective immediately.

Greece Extends Lockdown (11:50 a.m. NY)

Greece extended the lockdown in high risk areas by one week to March 22. The areas include the capital Athens and the second-largest city of Thessaloniki. While schools in these areas are already closed, those in lower risk areas will also close for two weeks, Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said Friday. The nation’s positive test rate is 4.5%, the highest in 2021, Health Ministry officials said. Occupancy in intensive care units for virus patients in the capital’s Attica region is 92%, they said.

WHO Lists J&J for Emergency Use (11:09 a.m. NY)

Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is now listed for emergency use in all countries, and is the first the World Health Organization has cleared as a single-dose regimen. The WHO will convene an expert group next week to formulate recommendation on the use of the inoculation. Covax, a facility that aims for the equitable distribution of vaccines, has ordered 500 million doses of the shot.

Death After Astra Shot Probed (6:21 a.m. NY)

Norwegian health authorities plan to conduct an investigation after a reported death following vaccination with the AstraZeneca vaccine. The Norwegian Medicines Agency said it hasn’t been concluded that there is any link between the vaccine and the death, and there’s no suspicion that the person died from a blood clot.

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