Coronavirus live news: US approves Johnson & Johnson vaccine; first AstraZeneca jabs arrive in Sydney

1 month ago

Toby Helm

In the UK, people who have been furloughed before being made redundant, or out of work for six months, would be guaranteed training, education or work placements geared to the needs of the post-pandemic economy, under ambitious plans unveiled on Sunday by Labour.

The pledge to youngsters, whose progress in the jobs market has been blighted by Covid-19, comes as party analysis of House of Commons library figures suggests that more than one million people will become “long-term unemployed” (out of work for more than a year) during 2021 and 2022. The data also suggests that 660,000 16- to 24-year-olds will reach a point where they have spent six months out of work, education or training during the same period, at what they hoped would be the start of their working lives:

More on the reduced risk of inflation in Europe, from AFP:

The European Commission’s recovery programme is worth €750bn (US$920 bn), with several EU members also having their own national programmes.

“We have a European recovery programme... considerably less strong, and a loss of growth that is much greater, so there aren’t the same risks of overheating as in the United States,” said Fabien Tripier, an economist at CEPII, a Paris-based research centre on the world economy.

The US economy shrank 3.5% last year while the drop for the eurozone was nearly double that.

There is “no risk of overheating or a sustained rise in inflation” in the eurozone, the head of the Banque de France, Francois Villeroy de Galhau, insisted this past week.

The French Economic Observatory’s Ragot also does not believe that if the Fed is pushed by the markets into raising rates that the European Central Bank would be forced to follow suit.

“It doesn’t work like that in macroeconomics,” he said, noting that the monetary policy of the Fed and ECB had diverged considerably at the start of the last decade.

“With loose financial conditions still necessary to support the economy, the ECB is unlikely to react to the coming inflation overshoot,” said Capital Economics economist Jack Allen-Reynolds.

Francois Villeroy de Galhau, who as head of the Banque de France also sits on the ECB’s Governing Council, said the central bank wants to “maintain favourable financing conditions”.

For Fabien Tripier, the ECB needs to send “a strong signal” to the markets against the idea that “just because inflation hits 1.5% or 2.2%, speculation it will hike rates should begin.”

The ECB issued a reassuring message on Friday as executive board member Isabel Schnabel said it could broaden its support for the economy in case of a sharp rise in interest rates.

On the pandemic providing a chance to reverse the brain drain from Greece, by AFP:

The pandemic was a wakeup call that reminded Christophoros Xenos of what he misses most in London - the Greek sun and pleasant Mediterranean way of life.

The 36-year old risk manager left Greece in his early 20s for Britain, aiming to complete his studies, gain professional experience abroad and come back.

This never happened, as the decade-long Greek crisis that followed killed thousands of jobs.

But during the first coronavirus wave, Xenos took advantage of remote work to return to Greece for three months - and homesickness hit him hard.

“I worked for three months from Athens and the Greek islands and really enjoyed the weather, the quality of life, the return to the homeland,” he told AFP.

With thousands of employees like Xenos capable of working remotely, Greece sees an opportunity to bring back some of the minds the country lost during the past decade.

“We want you back,” Alex Patelis, chief economic adviser to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, said at a recent Delphi Forum online event.

“Open offices, set up new companies or move part of your businesses to Greece. We have the sun, the technology, and we are by your side,” he said.

Some 500,000 people moved abroad during the Greek crisis. The economy shrank by a quarter and unemployment skyrocketed to 28 percent. Since then, job figures have improved, but unemployment remains more than double the European Union and eurozone average.

The exodus of half a million people cost the Greek economy more than 15 billion euros ($18 billion), according to a report by the Hellenic Authority for Quality in Higher Education (ADIP).

Around 90 percent of those who left were college graduates and 64 percent held a postgraduate degree, according to a survey by consulting firm ICAP.

Western Australia vaccinations reach 4,000 people

About 4,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered in Western Australia with officials hailing the first week of the program a “great result”.

Australian Associated Press: Health Minister Roger Cook said more than 2800 frontline workers had so far received the Pfizer jab with the federal government also vaccinating more than 1000 people across the aged care network.

Mr Cook said there had been no reports of any vaccine doses being wasted.

“It’s gone extremely well. We haven’t had any hitches,” he told reporters on Sunday.

The minister said another 5000 doses were expected to arrive in WA in the coming days with the government planning to extend the program to Bunbury, south of Perth, on Tuesday.

With the arrival of the first 300,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Australia, Mr Cook said the state government was still waiting to hear from the commonwealth on the distribution process in March.

He said that was expected to include a large shipment to bolster the government’s program, but also the provision of the vaccine directly to the GP network.

His comments came after a survey of Australian Medical Association members in WA expressed concern over the state’s ability to cope with a major outbreak of COVID-19.

AMA president Andrew Miller said, the virus aside, the government needed to open more hospital beds, including an extra 100 in emergency wards.

But Mr Cook said the AMA survey came before the state’s recent COVID-19 lockdown, which showed how well its testing and contact tracing systems could operate and how hospitals were ready to act.

“Our system has demonstrated that it is battled-hardened and it is match fit and it would deal with any crisis that befell our community,” the minister said.

WA reported no new coronavirus infections on Sunday.

Europe less at risk of inflation and rate fears: analysts

Investors are watching inflation carefully, worried that a boiling over of prices will ruin the expected strong pandemic recovery although analysts believe Europe faces much less of a risk than the United States, AFP reports.

Fears that US President Biden’s $1.9tn stimulus plan - which was passed by the House of Representatives on Saturday - will stoke up the economy too much have unnerved investors in recent weeks.

A rise in yields on 10-year US Treasury bonds - a key indicator of expectations - shows the markets believe prices are set to rise much more sharply than last year’s gain of 1.4%, which could force the US Federal Reserve to hike interest rates earlier than it says it plans to do.

Bond yields have risen elsewhere too, with 10-year French government bonds turning positive on Thursday for the first time in months while the benchmark 10-year German Bund has also risen although it remains negative.

European inflation data for January showed a jump in prices of 0.9 percent compared to a minus 0.3% reading in December, as increased costs of raw materials fed through into services and industrial goods.

After having slowed considerably in 2020, inflation is expected to rise this year in Europe as the economy picks up following the relaxation of measures to slow the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But it is not so much a spike in inflation that worries investors but that the Fed would raise interest rates faster than it has communicated.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell pledged Tuesday that the US central bank will keep benchmark lending rates low until the economy is at full employment and inflation has risen consistently above its 2.0 percent target.

But bond yields continued to rise, indicating investor concern about a rise in interest rates that would make borrowing and investment more expensive and slow the economy.

However, many analysts are sceptical that Biden’s stimulus programme will spark considerable inflation.

“It isn’t clear that Biden’s recovery plan will create lots of inflation,” said Xavier Ragot, head of the French Economic Observatory think tank.

For the European Union, there is no likelihood that its pandemic recovery programme would, he believes.

“The amounts of the European recovery plans pose absolutely no inflationary risk,” he said.

A musical interlude from AFP:

With an orchestra spread out across the entire parterre, audiences limited to the balconies, and no breaks but plenty of disinfectant, the Bulgaria’s Sofia Opera is one of the few music venues still hosting live performances in Europe.

Across the continent, a third wave of Covid-19 infections is keeping opera houses and other cultural venues closed - loud singing poses a particular risk as the virus spreads through droplets - but in Bulgaria, classical music plays on, from “Tosca” to “La Traviata”.

“I am hungry for music. And the risk, why think about it? It’s not riskier here than in the supermarket or the subway,” says 81-year-old Petya Petkova, who attended Verdi’s “La Traviata” with her daughter last week.

An opera employee wearing a protective face mask arranges flowers on the audience seats prior to the opera La Traviata by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, at the Sofia Opera, in Sofia, on 18 February 2021.
An opera employee wearing a protective face mask arranges flowers on the audience seats prior to the opera La Traviata by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, at the Sofia Opera, in Sofia, on 18 February 2021. Photograph: Nikolay Doychinov/AFP/Getty Images

Despite the disinfectant, social-distancing and staff taking people’s temperature, a festive spirit reigns at the historic opera house in the Bulgarian capital, a stark contrast to its silenced counterparts in Paris, Vienna or Milan.

Bulgaria first eased pandemic restrictions in June and allowed operas, concert halls and cinemas to reopen at 30 percent capacity, leading the Sofia Opera to arrange plastic and fabric flower bouquets as placeholders on the majority of the crimson plush seats.

“We perform in front of 250 spectators, but it’s better than not playing or performing,” Sofia Opera director Plamen Kartaloff says.

Even as Europe struggles with a third wave of infections, in part due to a number of mutations that spread more easily, Kartaloff expects the opera to remain open.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 7,890 to 2,442,336, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Sunday.

The reported death toll rose by 157 to 70,045, the tally showed.

In the year since the first coronavirus case was identified in Mexico, the disease has killed at least 185,257 people and sickened almost 2.1 million.
Mexico registered its first case on 26 February, 2020, in a man who had travelled to Italy.
The Associated Press: The Health Department reported just over 8,000 more confirmed infections and 783 more confirmed deaths Saturday, but because Mexico does so little testing the real number is certainly much higher.

A senior citizen sits under an orange tent as he waits to be inoculated with a dose of the Russian Covid vaccine Sputnik V, at the Sports Center in the Xochimilco borough of Mexico City, Wednesday, 24 February, 2021.
A senior citizen sits under an orange tent as he waits to be inoculated with a dose of the Russian Covid vaccine Sputnik V, at the Sports Center in the Xochimilco borough of Mexico City, Wednesday, 24 February, 2021. Photograph: Marco Ugarte/AP

Excess death statistics, which have not been updated since the end of 2020, suggest the real death toll is probably well over 220,000 even before the surge of cases in January.

Mexico has administered a total of almost 2.4 million doses of various vaccines, but still has not received enough shots to vaccinate even 1 percent of the country’s 126 million people because most require two shots.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said late on Saturday it has approved the use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose Covid vaccine for use by pilots and air traffic controllers, Reuters reports.

The FAA announcement, which came shortly after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the vaccine’s use, will require recipients to wait 48 hours after receiving the vaccine before conducting safety duties like flying or controlling air traffic.

The FAA previously allowed FDA-approved Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for aviation use, subject to the same 48-hour waiting period.

Updated at 10.38pm EST

Here is the full story on the next stage of Australia’s vaccine rollout:

Thailand starts Covid vaccination campaign

Thailand kicked off its Covid inoculation campaign on Sunday, with cabinet ministers, health officials and medical professionals among the first in the queue to receive vaccinations, Reuters reports.

The first doses of vaccine, developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech, were given to Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul, who is also the health minister, among others at an infectious diseases institute on the outskirts of Bangkok.

“I hope that the vaccination will result in people being safe from the spread of Covid and it allows Thailand to return to normalcy as soon as possible,” Anutin told reporters afterwards.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, 66, attended the event, although his age falls outside the range of 18 to 59 suitable to receive SinoVac’s CoronaVac vaccine, so he did not get it.

200,000 doses of the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
200,000 doses of the Sinovac coronavirus vaccine arrive at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Thailand received its first 200,000 doses of the Sinovac vaccine from China and 117,00 imported doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine this week.

CoronaVac has been distributed to 13 high-risk provinces, which will start injecting front-line health professionals and volunteers on Sunday, the health ministry has said.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine will be ready for use by the second week of March, after going through quality control tests, the company said in a statement.
Thailand is expected to take delivery of a further 1.8 million doses of CoronaVac in March and April.

A mass campaign to administer 10 million doses a month is set to begin in June, with 61 million shots of AstraZeneca vaccines produced by local firm Siam Bioscience.

With a tally of just over 25,000 infections, Thailand has escaped the kind of fallout suffered by some other countries since the pandemic began last year.

In Australia, New South Wales state premier Gladys Berejiklian has again implored the federal government to keep states better informed of their vaccine rollout plans, AAP reports.

Phase 1a of the nation-wide vaccination program began last week, with healthcare and border workers the first to be jabbed.

But Ms Berejiklian told reporters state leaders are still unsure of how and when the general population will get access to a vaccine.

“I’ve made no secret of the fact... that we would appreciate as much information in a timely way, but we also appreciate that’s not always possible,” she said on Sunday.

“Our NSW health officials were able to turn around the Pfizer vaccine supply we’ve got very quickly - within days - because we’ve been planning for it.”
Of key concern is information about the supply NSW will receive, and at what time, she said.

“I’m not going to hide the fact that our information is key for the states to be able to do our work as best we can.”

“The more notice we have the better.”

Her comments come as NSW notched up a 42nd day without a single case of the coronavirus transmitted locally.

First AstraZeneca shipment arrives in Sydney

Michael McGowan

The first shipment of 300,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses has landed in Sydney on Sunday, paving the way for the first major expansion of Australia’s rollout of the jab.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced the arrival in a statement on Sunday, saying it was “the next step as we ramp up the vaccine rollout”.

“The University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine will undergo the same rigorous TGA [Therapeutic Goods Administration] process to batch-check the vaccine that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine underwent. We will now be able to scale up the vaccination rollout to our priority groups, including our most vulnerable Australians and to our frontline border and health workers.

“Most Australians will receive the University of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, with the rollout of these due to commence from 8 March 2021 – provided they clear the TGA’s rigorous batch testing process.”

It is the second vaccine to arrive in Australia, with the first week of the Pfizer vaccinations already completed for frontline workers and aged care residents.

The first batches are being imported, while later batches will be developed locally.

The first Australian shipment of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines is seen after landing at Sydney international airport on Sunday.
The first Australian shipment of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines is seen after landing at Sydney international airport on Sunday. Photograph: Edwina Pickles/AAP

Updated at 9.39pm EST

All English households with school children offered twice weekly tests

All households in England with school or college aged children will be offered two rapid Covid tests per person per week to support the government’s priority to get young people back in the classroom, the health ministry said on Sunday, Reuters reports.

Last week British Prime Minister Boris Johnson set out a phased plan to end England’s latest Covid lockdown, offering a “cautious” approach to try to prevent a return to wholesale restrictions that have hobbled the economy.

He said the first stage would prioritise schools returning on 8 March when only minimal socialising outdoors would be allowed.

The health ministry said rapid test kits would be made available to collect from Monday at more than 500 locations, or through workplace testing and local community testing services.

Secondary school and college students will be tested twice a week, receiving initial tests at school or college before moving to home testing.

Primary school children without symptoms will not be tested at school but parents will be encouraged to test their children at home.

“We know that one in three people with Covid don’t have any symptoms, so targeted, regular testing will mean more positive cases are kept out of schools and colleges,” said health minister Matt Hancock.

The prevalence of Covid infections in England is falling, with 1 in 145 people infected in the week ending 19 February, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday.

Article Source