Monday, March 27

Spain May Relax Mask Rules; Moderna Vaccine Copied: Virus Update

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(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden said America is “back to work” and putting the Covid-19 pandemic behind it, after the labor market showed unexpected strength last month even as cases of the virus surged.

South Africa’s Afrigen Biologics & Vaccines Ltd. said it has made a vaccine that matches the one developed by Moderna Inc. after that company rebuffed a request for a partnership.

Singapore’s infections surged after the Lunar New Year holiday with the number of new local cases tripling on Friday. Hong Kong will propose tightened social distancing rules on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing, without giving details. 


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Key Developments:

Virus Tracker: Cases top 389.1 million; deaths pass 5.7 millionVaccine Tracker: More than 10.2 billion shots administeredCDC expands hunt for early warnings of Covid in sewage wasteCovid rebellion brews in Canada, sending warning across globeCovid-zero keeps Beijing Winter Olympics opening a muted affairSign up for the free Coronavirus Daily newsletter here

Biden Says U.S. ‘Back to Work’ (12:24 p.m. NY)

President Joe Biden said America is “back to work” and putting the Covid-19 pandemic behind it, after the labor market showed unexpected strength last month even as cases of the virus surged.

“America’s job machine is going stronger than ever,” Biden said at the White House on Friday. He praised “the extraordinary resilience and grit of the American people, and American capitalism.”


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Nonfarm payrolls jumped 467,000 in January, well over the median estimate in a Bloomberg survey of economists that called for 125,000, though forecasts ranged widely. 

After peaking in early January, Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations driven largely by the omicron variant are declining: New cases fell almost 38% in the week ending Feb. 2, and hospitalizations dropped 18% in that same period, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Singapore Cases Triple (11:03 a.m. NY) 

Singapore’s infections surged after the Lunar New Year holiday with the number of new local cases tripling on Friday, according to Ministry of Health’s data.

The city-state reported 13,046 new local cases, including those detected through rapid testings, from 4,087 on Thursday. Singapore celebrated the Lunar New Year on Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.


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Luxembourg to Ease Restrictions (8:54 a.m. NY)

The situation in Luxembourg is favorable enough to ease Covid-related restrictions soon, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said at a press conference on Friday, without specifying an exact time line.

An 11 p.m. curfew in restaurants and bars will be lifted, quarantine rules will be eased and the 2G+ system that’s been in place in most public spaces, such as restaurants, cinemas and fitness centers, will be replaced by a 3G system. While urging people who haven’t done so yet to get vaccinated, Bettel said an easing of the restrictions is necessary also to help with people’s psychological wellbeing.

Biden Administration Says Covid Funds Low (6:21 a.m. NY)

The Biden administration may have to ask Congress to approve additional aid to fund coronavirus testing, therapeutics and vaccines, the Washington Post reports, citing people familiar with the matter and documents it has seen.


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Greece Eases Access for EU Vaccinated (6:05 a.m. NY)

Holders of a valid European Union vaccination certificate can soon enter Greece without the need for a mandatory Covid test, Health Minister Athanasios Plevris told state-run ERT TV Friday. The change takes effect Feb. 7.

The move is another step to enhance tourist flows to the country, according to Tourism Minister Vassilis Kikilias. The Greek summer season will start earlier than ever before on March 1, he said.

Hong Kong May Get New Distancing Curbs (5:16 a.m. NY)

Hong Kong will propose tightened social distancing rules during next Tuesday’s executive council meeting, Chief Executive Carrie Lam says at a briefing on Friday. Lam didn’t give details on the measures.


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Hong Kong reported 131 cases, with 130 locally transmitted. Fifty nine of the 130 new locally-transmitted coronavirus infections reported on Friday are of unknown origin, Department of Health official Chuang Shuk-kwan says at a daily briefing. About 195 preliminary positive cases are detected.

Singapore School Vaccinations Gather Pace (5:05 a.m. NY)

Singapore says it expects to have about 70% of local primary school students fully vaccinated by the end of February, setting the stage for the city-state to ease more pandemic restrictions.

About 75% of students have signed up for the shots so far, and seven in 10 have already received at least one dose, the Ministry of Education said in a statement Friday. Based on bookings made, Singapore projects about 70% are expected to be fully vaccinated by the end of the month. Those high vaccination rates would allow for more school activities to resume with appropriate safeguards, the ministry said.


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Poland Wave May Have Peaked (5:54 p.m. HK)

Poland recorded 47,534 new cases, 17% fewer than a week ago. The number of confirmed infections fall on a weekly base for a second day, prompting the country’s Health Minister to suggest that the peak of the current omicron wave may be over, with remote schooling imposed last week helping to halve quarantines. The government remains reluctant to impose any further restrictions, including vaccine passes.

Moderna Shot Copied by S. African Firm (5:51 p.m. HK)

South Africa’s Afrigen Biologics & Vaccines Ltd. said it has made a vaccine that matches the one by Moderna Inc. after that company rebuffed it in its request for a partnership. 

Afrigen, part of the World Health Organization’s mRNA technology transfer hub in Cape Town, obtained the publicly available sequence of the Moderna shot from Stanford University and has now made its own version, Petro Terblanche, the managing director of Afrigen, said. 


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Spain Set to Relax Mask Rules (4:49 p.m. HK)

Spain’s government will suspend the obligation to wear face masks outdoors as soon as next week, Cadena Ser reported.

The order, which was reintroduced last December to stem the omicron variant, will take effect by next Wednesday, the radio station said, citing people in the government it didn’t identify. 

Malaysian Cases at Highest in Three Months (4:11 p.m. HK)

Malaysia’s new cases rose to the highest level in more than three months as the highly contagious omicron variant spreads in the Southeast Asian nation. There were 7,234 new infections on Friday, the most since Oct. 16, data from the health ministry show. 

The spike in cases comes a day after Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the government is focusing on the severity of the infections, rather than the number. While Malaysia is grappling with community transmission of omicron, Khairy said the nation is better protected now — nearly 52% of adults have received booster shots — and knows how to protect the most vulnerable.


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Thailand Sees Most Cases Since October (4:02 p.m. HK)

Thailand reported 9,909 new cases, the highest single-day tally since Oct. 18. Rising new cases are in line with expectations, Permanent Secretary for Health Kiatiphum Wongrajit said, adding that serious infections and virus-related deaths are showing signs of stabilizing.

Subvariant Is a Fifth of South Africa Cases (3:52 p.m. HK)

The omicron subvariant BA.2, which appears to be more transmissible than the original strain, accounted for almost a fifth of South African cases in January compared with 4% in December, a medical official said.

Germany’s Record Cases (1:53 p.m. HK)

Europe’s biggest economy reported 248,838 new cases as of Friday morning, compared with 236,120 the day before, according to the country’s public health authority RKI. 


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It’s the third straight day of record infections. The 7-day incidence rate, which has been steadily climbing since the start of the year, also rose to a record 1,349.5 per 100,000 people.

Japan to Relax Border Controls: TBS (12:36 p.m. HK)

Japan’s government will unveil relaxed border control measures as soon as next week, broadcaster TBS reported, with elaborating on how or when measures would be eased.

Daishiro Yamagiwa, minister in charge of the nation’s coronavirus response, was quoted as saying that while the government will be “flexible” about border controls that will be kept in place until the end of this month, it wants to eventually open up the country to “essential” foreigners.

China Reports 9 Olympic Cases (11:22 a.m. HK)


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China reported nine infections among Olympic athletes and officials arriving at the airport and in a “closed-loop” system Thursday.

According to a statement from the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympics, there were 12 other infections involving “stakeholders,” which include include broadcasting staffers, members of international federations and the media. There have been 308 cases among people involved with the Games since the count began Jan. 23.

S. Korea to Keep Distancing (9:02 a.m. HK)

South Korea will extend current social-distancing curbs, including limiting private gatherings to up to six people and 9 p.m. closing hours for restaurants and cafes, for another two weeks, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said.


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The steps will be effective through Feb. 20. South Korea has been reporting unprecedented numbers of new cases. Daily infections hit a new record of 27,443 on Friday.

Indonesia to Review Restrictions (8:54 a.m. HK)

President Joko Widodo has ordered ministers responsible for overseeing the pandemic response to immediately review restrictions after a spike in cases.

Indonesia added the highest number of cases in almost six months as the more transmissible omicron variant spreads throughout the country.

N.Z. Welcomes Slow Spread of Omicron (7:54 a.m. HK)

The slow spread is giving more people the opportunity to receive boosters, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said. The strategy has to ensure the health system isn’t overwhelmed, she said. 

“Taken as a whole there is a range of factors that are making a difference to New Zealand’s experience of omicron versus other countries,” she said. “That’s a sign of success.”

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.



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