Getting Covid-19 vaccination appointments has been a challenge for many Americans because “we’re in a situation of undersupply” of vaccine, according to Andy Slavitt, the senior Biden White House adviser for Covid Response.
“We’re in a situation, and we will be for a little while, of undersupply,” Slavitt told NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly on All Things Considered on Monday.
“At one point we thought that there was a lot of manufacturing that had gone on over the last year and that would be the case. It wasn’t — and I think our job is to level with folks,” he said.
“But the good news is we are increasing production every week,” Slavitt added. “We’ve increased production that we’ve delivered to states by over 20%. We’re opening 100 community vaccination centers, including two that are open already.”
Slavitt said supply has been increasing in recent weeks, but added: “These are all small steps. None of them are silver bullets. I don’t think this is going to be the administration that’s going to overpromise or promise silver bullets, but these are all small gains.”
And he added that in their effort get more people vaccinated against Covid-19, the Biden administration is considering mobile vaccination centers that can travel within a community. “They can go to workplaces, they can go to churches, they can go to communities,” Slavitt said.
Elsewhere, a US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spokesperson told CNN the CDC will host a Covid-19 vaccination forum with national, state and local health practitioners on the safest and most effective ways to vaccinate Americans.
The event is scheduled for February 22-24 and will be led by CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, along with officials from the White House COVID-19 Response Team and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The initiative was first reported by NBC News.
Austria will introduce a mandatory negative test from Friday onwards for anyone travelling out of the state of Tyrol, chancellor Sebastian Kurz said Tuesday.
The reason for the move is the more infectious South African mutant of the coronavirus, he said, adding the test could not be older than 48 hours.
Kurz, speaking at a press conference in Vienna, noted that both the UK and the South African variant provide more of a challenge for authorities.
But he singled out the South African variant, saying it may be more difficult to fight with the AstraZeneca vaccine. Early data released this weekend suggests the vaccine offers limited protection against mild-and-moderate disease from that variant. Until the summer, the AstraZeneca vaccine represents almost 50% of Austria’s vaccine program.
Kurz said the two challenges his government had were to “stop the spread in Tyrol, and secondly, to do everything possible to stop the spread into other part of Austria, or to slow it down.”
Kurz added that the district of Schwaz in Tyrol — where cases of the South African variant have been confirmed — would be a focus point, with “massive testing” all over Tyrol. Eastern Tyrol would be exempt, Kurz said, because the region has hardly any cases.
But other areas of Austria will see a loosening of coronavirus restrictions first announced last week. As of yesterday, a curfew was moved to the night-time hours of 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. local time. Previously, there was an order to stay at home around the clock.
Schools, shops and museums are allowed to open again, but with tight measures. A FFP2/N95 mask has to be worn in all shops, and a space of 20 square metres has to be available per customer. Hairdressers are also allowed to open.
But restaurants remain closed in the country, with a review on whether to open them set for mid-February.
England is introducing stricter border rules to increase protection against new Covid-19 variants arriving from abroad, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Tuesday.
Hancock warned the government is “coming down hard” on passengers arriving in the UK lying on mandatory “locator forms,” with the threat of a potential ten-year jail prison sentence.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Hancock set out three elements of the strengthened system for international arrivals coming into force in England from Monday. He said the government is working with the devolved administrations as well as the Irish government to put in place a similar system that works across the common travel area.
The first part of the new system involves quarantining in a hotel. Here are those details:
- UK and Irish residents — who’ve been in one of the government’s 33 “red list” countries in the last 10 days — will need to quarantine in a designated hotel.
- They will only be able to arrive into a small number of ports and will have to book a quarantine package — at a cost of £1,750 (approximately US $2,411) for the hotel, transport and testing – before departing for the UK.
- Hancock said the booking system will go live on Thursday.
- There are currently 16 designated hotels.
- Hancock said there will be visible security to maintain compliance.
The second part of the system involves more testing:
- Every passenger arriving into the UK must demonstrate a negative test result 72 hours before they travel.
- From Monday, all international arrivals will also be required to take further PCR tests on day two and day eight after their arrival.
- Passengers will have to book these tests through the online portal before they travel. If a result comes back positive they must quarantine for a further 10 days.
- Positive tests will undergo genomic sequencing to test for variants, Hancock said.
The third part of the system focuses on a stronger enforcement of the rules:
- Passenger carriers will have a legal duty to make sure passengers have signed up to new arrangements and will be fined if they don’t, Hancock said.
- There will also be increased fines for people who don’t comply, including a £1,000 (approximately US $1,377) penalty for failing to take the first Covid-19 test and a £2,000 fine (about US $2,755) if they don’t take a second mandatory test — as well as an automatic extension on their quarantine period to 14 days.
- There will also be a £5,000 (approximately US $6,888), rising to £10,000 (about US $13,776) for arrivals who fail to quarantine in a designated hotel.
- Hancock said people who provide false information on the passenger locator or try to conceal that they’ve been in a country on the “Red List” in the 10 days before arrival will face a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
- Hancock said these measures will be put into law this week.
It is currently illegal to travel abroad for holidays and other leisure purposes in the UK.
New figures released by Russia’s federal statistics agency Monday indicate as many as 162,429 deaths in Russia were related to Covid-19 in 2020, a figure much higher than previously reported.
Russia officially reported 57,555 deaths from Covid-19 in 2020, according to data from the country’s coronavirus task force that is published on an easily accessed web page. But figures released by the agency, Rosstat, are less readily accessible: They are available online — but buried in monthly spreadsheets.
The data published Monday reports a cumulative total of 162,429 Covid-19 deaths between April and December 2020. The figure includes deaths directly attributed to coronavirus infection and those cases where coronavirus was a contributing factor as well as deaths from other underlying causes where Covid-19 was present.
The figures also show a year-on-year surge in the country’s overall mortality rate that suggests the numbers may have been majorly understated.
According to those new figures, a total of 2,124,479 people died in Russia in 2020, an increase of 323,802 over the previous year, or around an 18% year-on-year rise. That overall number — the highest annual mortality figure recorded in Russia in over a decade — reflects official reluctance to fully acknowledge the death toll.
Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, the top official in charge of the country’s coronavirus response, said in December that “more than 81%” of the rise in fatalities the country had seen in 2020 was due to Covid-19, without giving the exact number of fatalities from the virus. Based on Golikova’s assessment and the overall year-on-year increase in deaths reported by Rosstat, as many as 262,000 Russians could have died from coronavirus last year, by CNN’s calculation.
December was also one of the deadliest months on record for Russia: Rosstat said that 243,235 people died in December 2020, making it the deadliest month Russia has seen in years. The statistics agency said 44,435 of these deaths were people with coronavirus or suspected coronavirus, but added that in 10,820 of those cases the presence of the virus did not “contribute to the death in any way.”
Russia’s counting method, which allows ascribing deaths in coronavirus-infected patients to other causes, has been highly questioned by independent observers and critics.
Based on figures released by Rosstat Monday, Russia would rank as the country with the third-highest cumulative number of Covid-19 deaths in 2020.
Andy Slavitt, senior adviser to the White House Covid-19 response team, has said that despite progress in vaccinations, Americans should not “quit early” in the midst of the pandemic — particularly because of the emergence of variants.
“If you look at other countries, the variants tend to grow sort of invisibly, kind of like a wave under the surface,” Slavitt said in an interview on CNN’s “New Day.”
“And the visibility that we have shows that these variants can grow quite quickly. It’s going to depend in large part, as you know, on people’s behavior, but the thing about this virus that we learned is it grows exponentially. The thing about vaccine shots is they tend to grow more linearly. So if this hits and we’re not taking other protective measures like mask-wearing and social distancing, then the variants could be more powerful than our ability to get people vaccinated.”
But Slavitt also said Americans should take comfort in seeing large numbers of seniors and people in nursing homes getting vaccinated.
“Should we have a wave, our hope is that many, many more people will be protected, unlike the last waves we have had,” he said.
Slavitt also added that he’s hopeful that vaccine supply and sequencing abilities will increase over time.
Peru began distributing China’s Sinopharm vaccine on Tuesday morning, with frontline health care workers taking priority during the first phase of the rollout.
The country has taken part in the Sinopharm vaccine’s clinical trials since last year and becomes the first Latin American country to roll out the Chinese vaccine.
A group of doctors at Lima’s Arzobispo Loayza Hospital were the first to receive the vaccine on Tuesday morning, state news agency Andina reported.
President Francisco Sagasti is expected to be vaccinated later on Tuesday.
On Sunday, Peru received its first shipment of 300,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine, and expects to receive the remaining 700,000 doses on February 14. The armed forces will be in charge of the vaccine’s distribution across the country.
On Monday, Foreign Affairs Minister, Elizabeth Astete, announced her government has reached an agreement with Pfizer for the supply of 20 million doses of their vaccine, state news agency Andina reported.
Astete told a Congress Committee that 250,000 doses will arrive in March and at least 300,000 in April, Andina reported.
“We were assured that Peru will have received a minimum of 5,750,000 vaccines by July 1, and the supply will increase significantly to 20 million since then,” Astete said.
Astete also told lawmakers her government has signed an agreement to receive 6.6 million doses from Pfizer and AstraZeneca via the Covax programme to vaccinate 20% of the population.
President Sagasti, who took office in November, has faced criticism for the delay in reaching a supply agreements for the vaccine.
Peru currently has 1,186,698 confirmed cases of coronavirus and has recorded 42,308 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University (JHU).
The country has been reporting more than 6,000 cases a day, an increase over the 2,000 cases a day in early January, while it is also facing a shortage of intensive care unit (ICU) beds and oxygen during this new wave of the pandemic.
Peru has the fifth highest Covid-19 case count in Latin America, after Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Mexico according to JHU data.
Athletes will be tested for Covid-19 at least every four days during their stay in Tokyo to safeguard against the spread of the virus at this summer’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, according to organizers.
On Tuesday, Games organizers published the first version of its “Playbook,” aimed at athletes and officials.
The athletes and officials will be able to book Covid-19 tests through a web system.
“The timing and frequency of testing may be adjusted, depending on your sport and competition schedule,” it says.
Athletes will also have to present a negative test 72 hours prior to departing for Tokyo, and will be tested again upon arrival, it says.
The Playbook adds that athletes will only be permitted to leave the Olympic and Paralympic Village (or other designated accommodation) to carry out the activities outlined in their “14-day activity plan.”
Gyms, tourist areas, shops, restaurants or bars cannot be visited, among others.
Face masks must be worn at all times except when training, competing, eating or sleeping, or if athletes are outside and unable to keep two meters (6.5 feet) apart from others.
Those staying at the Olympic Village must eat at the Village or Games venues and “unnecessary forms of physical contact such as hugs, high-fives and handshakes” are not advised.
The guidelines also say that supporting and celebrating fellow athletes should be done by clapping, and not by singing, shouting or chanting.
The series of “Playbooks” are designed to provide a framework of basic principles that each key stakeholder group – international federations, press, broadcasters, athletes and officials – will have to follow before they travel to Japan, when entering Japan, during their time at the Games and upon leaving the Games.
The first versions for all the aforementioned groups have now been published with an updated version expected to be delivered in April.
A Chinese health official working with the team of World Health Organization experts in Wuhan said that the Huanan seafood market may not be the first place of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“Huanan market may not be the first place that had the outbreak,” Liang Wannian, head of Expert Panel of COVID-19 Response of China’s National Health Commission (NHC) said in a joint press conference with WHO experts in Wuhan on Tuesday.
Liang noted that the onset date of the earliest Covid-19 case had been on December 8, 2019 and the earliest case associated with Huanan market was on December 12, 2019.
He said that “the case with the onset date of December 8 case had no relation with Huanan seafood market,” but did not indicate a location that the December 8 case was connected to.
Earlier, World Health Organization expert Peter Ben Embarek said that the team investigating the origins of the coronavirus in Wuhan had identified two scenarios that most likely caused the transmission of Covid-19 to humans.
“Our initial findings suggest that the introduction through an intermediary host species is the most likely pathway and one way that will require more studies and more specific targeted research,” Embarek said during a press conference on Tuesday.
He added that the possibility of transmission through the trade of frozen products was also likely.
Almost 50% of deaths in England and Wales during the last week of January involved Covid-19, a report by the UK’s Office for National Statistics said on Tuesday.
The ONS report said that in the week ending on January 29, “deaths involving Covid-19 accounted for 45.7% of all deaths in England and Wales.”
“This is the highest proportion of deaths involving Covid-19 that has been recorded during the pandemic,” it said.
A total of 18,448 deaths were registered across England and Wales for the week ending on January 29, and of them, 8,433 “mentioned” Covid-19 on the death certificate, marking the second-highest weekly number of deaths involving Covid-19 recorded by the two nations since the pandemic began, the ONS said.
However, since the end of January, the daily coronavirus death toll released by the UK government (covering the four-nations of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) has indicated a gradual decline in the number of deaths related to Covid-19.
The UK is likely past “this peak” of this wave of the pandemic, England’s Chief Medical Officer told a Downing Street press conference last Wednesday.
ONS figures include all deaths where “novel coronavirus (Covid-19)” is listed on the death certificate, whereas UK government figures count deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid-19 test.
According to the latest government data released on Monday, the UK reported 6,234 deaths from Covid-19 in the week to 8 February, down 22% from the previous week.