New Strain Spreads in U.S.; Japan Braces for Spike: Virus Update

The new strain of Covid-19 first identified in the U.K. has been found in California, Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday. A second possible case of the highly transmissible variant is being investigated in Colorado, a day after the state reported the first-known victim in the U.S.

Covid cases in New York City are approaching a seven-day average positivity rate of 8%, the highest in more than seven months, and city hospitals are admitting more than 200 people a day for Covid-like illness. Meanwhile, California reported 432 deaths from the virus on Tuesday, marking a daily record, and a temperature snag delayed shipments of the Moderna Inc. vaccine to Texas.

Overall, the U.S. vaccination effort is falling short of its goals in its first few weeks. The country is immunizing an average of only 200,000 people a day, and many states have used just a small percentage of the shipments sent them this month.

Argentina became the second country after the U.K. to approve the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford, and the first in Latin America.

Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases pass 82 million; deaths exceed 1.8 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 5.1 million shots given
  • China’s Covid-19 success has a very real drawback
  • New virus strain puts growing pressure on U.K. hospitals
  • U.S. states rewrite vaccine rules to get Covid shots moving

Subscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on coronavirus cases and deaths.

Japan May Consider Emergency If Infections Continue (8:07 a.m. HK)

Japan could consider a state of emergency if coronavirus infections continue at the current rate, said economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura in a video message posted on Twitter Wednesday evening. He again urged residents to avoid year-end gatherings and to be cautious if they must visit older relatives.

Tokyo has been bracing for a spike in cases. The city’s daily infection tally was close to a record at 944 Wednesday and alerts on the infection rate and state of the health care system are at the highest of four levels. Earlier this week, the vice chair of the Tokyo Medical Association warned that at the current rate of infection, the medical system could collapse.

California Finds a Case of the New Strain (5:45 a.m. HK)

California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday that the new highly transmissible variant of Covid-19 has been detected in a patient in Southern California.

Newsom made the announcement during a virtual conversation with Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Health officials in Colorado are investigating a second possible case of the new strain in that state. “I’m not surprised that you have a case,” Fauci told Newsom. “We likely will be seeing reports from other states too.”

On Tuesday, California reported a record 432 Covid-19 deaths. Hospitalizations are at a record high and intensive-care capacity in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley remain at surge levels, Newsom said at a briefing Wednesday. He also announced steps toward reopening schools in coming months.

New York’s Cuomo Sees Need to Reopen (5:30 a.m. HK)

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo reported a new daily high of 13,422 cases of Covid-19 as he stressed the need to reopen the economy long before the majority of the population is vaccinated.

Of the nearly 155,000 tests conducted statewide on Tuesday, 8.66% were positive, including hot-spot areas. The state conducted fewer tests than it has in recent weeks, Cuomo said Wednesday.

About 203,000 New Yorkers have received the first dose of the vaccine. Of those, about 20% were administered in New York City, where hospitals are admitting more than 200 people a day for Covid-like illness, based on a seven-day average. About 60% are testing positive. The number of people typically admitted to city hospitals during this time of year with such symptoms is about 100.

It may take a year to reach critical mass for vaccinations, Cuomo said, adding that the state can’t keep the economy closed for that long. Officials are testing a program that would allow businesses to stay open with rapid testing.

South Africa Infections Hit Record (5:15 a.m. HK)

South Africa reported a record 17,710 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, bringing the cumulative total to 1.04 million.

The number of people who’ve died after being diagnosed with the disease rose by 465 to 28,033, the health ministry said. The test positivity stood at 33%, which was a “major concern,” it said.

Argentina Approves AstraZeneca Vaccine (2:53 a.m. HK)

Argentina became the second country in the world and the first in Latin America to approve the Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford.

The vaccine was given approval for emergency use over the course of the next year, according to a statement by Argentina’s health regulator ANMAT. The shot presents an adequate “risk-benefit” balance and will be available only with a medical prescription.

Argentina, alongside Mexico, reached an agreement in August to produce the vaccine for Latin America. The countries will make 150 million to 250 million initial doses. The U.K. approved the vaccine earlier.

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  • Spain Records Highest Number of Cases (2:32 a.m. HK)

    Spain on Wednesday said 9,860 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed over the previous day, the highest number reported since the start of the pandemic.

    Earlier this week, Spain became the fourth European country to record more than 50,000 coronavirus deaths. Spaniards started getting the vaccine on Sunday, and officials said the country will track people who refuse to take it.

    Ireland Set for Third Lockdown (2:30 a.m. HK)

    Ireland will enter lockdown for a third time, as the Covid-19 spread threatens to overwhelm hospitals.

    The government will close non-essential stores, further limit travel and delay school reopening, Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in an televised national address. Gyms, golf courses and tennis clubs will also close. The measures will last for at least one month.

    Temperature Snag Delays Vaccine Cargo (12:29 a.m. HK)

    At least three shipments of Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine arrived in Texas last week with signs the shots had strayed from their required temperature range, prompting a delay in other deliveries, according to the state hospital association. It was unclear how many doses were affected.

    Some Moderna vaccine shipments that were set for delivery last week were held back over the temperature issue, said Carrie Kroll, vice president of advocacy, quality and public health at the Texas Hospital Association. The U.S. replaced the shipments and held back other deliveries because of a potential problem with the temperature sensors, Kroll said.

    A Moderna spokesman referred questions to the federal government and McKesson Corp., which is distributing Moderna’s shots. Spokespersons for the CDC and McKesson said they were looking into the matter.

    Scotland Hits Highest Daily Case Count (11:21 p.m. HK)

    Scotland recorded the highest daily number of cases since the pandemic began, 2,045 in the past 24 hours.

    Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged people to stay at home for the traditional Hogmanay year-end celebrations. The country entered a new lockdown on Dec. 26, with non-essential stores and hospitality closing and the school vacation extended.

    EU to Bar U.K. Travelers After Brexit (9:23 p.m. HK)

    The U.K. is set to join the U.S., Canada and most other countries whose residents are unwelcome visitors to the European Union because they haven’t sufficiently contained the coronavirus outbreak.

    While EU states set their own entry requirements, the 27-member group has sought a coordinated approach to limit external access while keeping internal borders open. The U.K., which left the EU on Jan. 31, has effectively been treated as a member during the Brexit transition period.

    U.K. Hospitals Pressured by New Strain (7:44 p.m. HK)

    A surge in the number of Covid-19 patients in the U.K. risks overwhelming the country’s hospitals as a new and more transmissible strain infects the population at a record pace.

    There were 20,426 coronavirus patients being treated in England’s hospitals as of early Monday, already exceeding the peak recorded in April during the first wave of the pandemic, according to the most recent figures from the National Health Service.

    — With assistance by Dan Reichl

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