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India’s COVID surge is ‘beyond heartbreaking,’ says WHO director-general, as first relief supplies arrive

The number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 edged above148 million on Tuesday, as India’s surge continued to overwhelm its healthcare system amid a global effort to send much-needed relief to the nation of 1.4 billion.

India recorded more than 320,000 new cases and 2,771 deaths on Tuesday, according to the Indian Health Ministry, breaching 300,000 cases for a sixth straight day. Hospitals are running out of oxygen, along with ICU beds, tests, treatments and personal protective equipment, prompting Western countries to commit to supply shipments.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been slammed for allowing political rallies to be held bringing crowds together without face masks and for allowing a Hindu festival to become a superspreader event. But India is also struggling with a “double mutant” strain that is understood to be more transmissible than the original virus. Called the B.1.617 strain, the new variant has two spike proteins instead of one.

The U.S. and other countries are stepping in to help as India’s new coronavirus cases continue to set daily records. The crisis highlights how one country’s surge could have ripple effects in the global battle against the pandemic.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Monday that the situation in India was “beyond heartbreaking” and again urged world leaders to ensure vaccine equity for all countries. In a speech made to mark the start of World Immunization Week, Tedros argued for the need for a renewed global commitment to vaccine access, and not just for COVID-19.

“Vaccines will help us end the COVID-19 pandemic but only if we ensure fair access for all countries, and build strong systems to deliver them,” he said. “And if we’re to avoid multiple outbreaks of life-threatening diseases like measles, yellow fever and diphtheria, we must ensure routine vaccination services are protected in every country in the world.” 

Drug giant Merck
MRK,
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said Tuesday that it has entered into licensing agreements with five Indian generic-drug manufacturers to expand access to its COVID-19 therapy. And the U.S. will begin sharing its entire pipeline of COVID-19 vaccine from AstraZeneca PLC
AZN,

AZN,
+0.41%

once the vaccine clears federal safety reviews, the White House told the Associated Press on Monday, with as many as 60 million doses expected to be available for export in the coming months.

India is expected to receive some of those.

See now: People of color face multiple barriers to vaccine access — including ‘skepticism of a system that has treated them poorly’

Also: Medical students in India treated as ‘cannon fodder’ as cases of COVID-19 rise faster than the rest of the world

The White House is increasingly comfortable with the supply of the three vaccines now being administered in the U.S., particularly following the restart of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot over the weekend.

“Given the strong portfolio of vaccines that the U.S. already has and that have been authorized by the FDA, and given that the AstraZeneca vaccine is not authorized for use in the U.S., we do not need to use the AstraZeneca vaccine here during the next several months,” said White House COVID-19 coordinator Jeff Zients. “Therefore the U.S. is looking at options to share the AstraZeneca doses with other countries as they become available.”

President Joe Biden, who marks his 100th day in office later this week, will offer an update on the coronavirus pandemic later Tuesday and is expected to include an update on face-mask wearing drawn from expected guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Read now: More action, less talk, distinguish Biden’s 100-day sprint

The CDC said people who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask at small outdoor gatherings with both vaccinated and unvaccinated people or when dining outdoors with people from multiple households.

“Generally, for vaccinated people, outdoor activities without a mask are safe,” CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during a media briefing on Tuesday.

However, the public-health agency also said that even if someone is fully vaccinated, they should still wear a mask at crowded outdoor events or for any indoor activities, like going to hair salons, malls, museums, worship services, or indoor restaurants. 

Don’t miss: Do you still need to wear a mask if you’re fully vaccinated? The CDC has new advice

The U.S. vaccine program, meanwhile, continues to show progress. The CDC’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6 a.m. Eastern time on Monday, 290.7 million doses had been delivered to states, 230.8 million doses had been administered, and 141 million people had received at least one shot, equal to 42.5% of the population.

A full 95.9 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 28.9% of the population, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
PFE,
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with German partner BioNTech SE
BNTX,
-1.04%

and Moderna Inc.
MRNA,
+3.27%
,
or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson
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one-shot vaccine.

Among Americans 65 and older, 37 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 67.7% of that group. Almost 45 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 81.7% of that population.

Experts say the challenge now is persuading the rest of the population to make an appointment and get vaccinated. That, they say, will require a persuasive public education program.

Although overall vaccine hesitancy has been falling over time, new data suggest that people who have had to work outside their home during the pandemic in nonhealthcare settings show less inclination than other groups to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as MarketWatch’s Meera Jagannathan reported.

Nonhealthcare essential workers (48%) are less likely than other nonhealthcare workers who work from home (69%) and people who aren’t currently working (67%) to say they’ve received at least one coronavirus vaccine dose or will get vaccinated as soon as possible, according to a recently published KFF survey conducted March 15 to March 22.

Twenty-one percent of these essential workers — whose work settings include offices, factories and warehouses, delivery and transportation, and retail — say they will “definitely not” get the vaccine, and 11% say they’ll get it only if required. In contrast, just 7% of those who work from home say they definitely won’t get vaccinated, and 3% say they’ll do so only if required. 

Among both groups, close to one in five respondents said they wanted to first “wait and see” how the vaccines work for other people.

In other news:

• A San Francisco Bay Area man in his 30s is recuperating after developing a rare blood clot in his leg within two weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, UC San Francisco officials said, the Associated Press reported. As of Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported the condition in 15 people, all women, after 8 million doses were administered nationally. It involves unusual clots that occur together with low levels of blood-clotting platelets. “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first male patient with VITT syndrome in the U.S. following the U.S. emergency authorization of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Feb. 27, 2021,” UCSF said in a statement.

• The Irish government has agreed to allow the use of the Johnson & Johnson and AtraZeneca vaccines for people aged 50 and older, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Tuesday, the Irish Times reported. The news is expected to boost Ireland’s lagging vaccine rollout, which has been hampered by a lack of supply. Ireland has so far vaccinated just 8.2% of its population of 4.9 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

Dispatches from a Pandemic: Ireland surpassed China in confirmed COVID-19 deaths — how on Earth did that happen?

As more U.S. adults get vaccinated, a variety of side effects are emerging. Daniela Hernandez speaks with an infectious disease specialist on what is common, what isn’t and when to seek medical attention.

• The WHO said it is still in talks about the Russia vaccine dubbed Sputnik V and has not yet set a date to evaluate its data for possible emergency-use authorization, Reuters reported. “On Sputnik, we are still waiting, we are still in the back-and-forth stage. So we don’t have a review meeting scheduled yet,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris said at a briefing in Geneva. On Monday, the Brazilian health regulator Anvisa rejected a request from state governors battling a deadly second wave to import the Russian vaccine, with staff highlighting “inherent risks” and serious defects, citing a lack of information guaranteeing its safety and effectiveness.

• West Virginia will offer young people a $100 savings bond if they get vaccinated, BBC reported. State officials said they hope the payment for those aged 16 to 35 will “motivate” them to get the jab. “Our kids today probably don’t really realize just how important they are in shutting this thing down,” State Gov. Jim Justice said on Monday. West Virginia had been among the top U.S. states judged by vaccination rates, but progress has slowed in recent weeks.

Read now: With OK from experts, some states resume use of J&J vaccine

• Shares of United Parcel Service Inc.
UPS,
+10.42%

headed toward record territory Tuesday, after the package-delivery giant reported first-quarter profit and revenue that were well above expectations, boosted by e-commerce demand during the pandemic. Net income was $4.79 billion, as earnings per share climbed 393% from the year-ago period to $547, MarketWatch’s Tomi Kilgore reported. Adjusted EPS came to $2.77, beating the FactSet consensus of $1.72. Total revenue grew 27% to $22.91 billion, above the FactSet consensus of $20.57 billion. U.S. domestic revenue rose 22% to $14.01 billion, above the FactSet consensus of $12.93 billion; international revenue grew 23% to $4.61 billion, beating expectations of $4.13 billion; and supply-chain and freight revenue increased 34% to $4.29 billion, topping the forecast $3.9 billion.

Don’t miss: What we know about COVID vaccine side effects in women

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose to 148.1 million on Tuesday, as the death toll increased to 3.12 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. Almost 86 million people have recovered from COVID, the data show.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in cases and deaths by wide margins, with 32.1 million cases, or more than a fifth of the global total, and 572,8234 deaths, or almost a fifth of the worldwide toll.

India is second with a case tally of 17.6 million and has the fourth highest death toll of 197,894, although those numbers are believed to be undercounts.

Brazil is third after India with 14.4 million cases and second in fatalities at 391,936.

Mexico has the third highest death toll at 215,113 and 2.3 million cases, the 15th highest case tally.

The U.K. has had 4.4 million cases and 127,705 deaths, the fifth highest in the world and the highest death toll in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 102,399 confirmed cases and 4,845 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

What’s the economy saying?

Consumer confidence leaped again in April to a 14-month high as rising vaccinations, falling coronavirus cases and a resurgent U.S. economy eased pandemic-related anxieties, a new survey showed, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

The index of consumer confidence climbed to 121.7 this month from revised 109 in March, the Conference Board said Tuesday. That’s the highest level since February 2020.

Economists polled by Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal had forecast a 113 reading for April.

Confidence still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, however. The index stood close to a 20-year high of 132.6 shortly before crisis began.

Separately, the cost to purchase a home rose by a record amount, according to two major barometers of house prices in the U.S., MarketWatch’s Jacob Passy reported.

The index of home prices across 20 large cities increased at yearly pace of 11.9% in February, according to the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller home price index. On a monthly basis, home prices were up 1.2%.

That’s the biggest gain since February 2006.

The separate national index, which measures home prices across the country, displayed a similar 12% gain over the past year.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average
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and S&P 500
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were lower Tuesday.

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