Japan to Lift Emergency; Asia Leads Covid Ranking: Virus Update

The Asia-Pacific continues to lead Bloomberg’s measure of the best places to be in the pandemic era, with New Zealand in pole position on the Covid Resilience Ranking for a fourth straight month in February, followed by Australia and Singapore.

Japan is set to lift states of emergency in its western regions, public broadcaster NHK reported, underscoring progress against a coronavirus surge that has battered the economy and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s approval rating.

U.S. hospitalizations for the coronavirus have plunged 56% from a mid-January peak as the number of patients exiting California hospitals accelerated, data from the Department of Health and Human Services show.

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

Taiwan to Start Covid-19 Vaccination as Soon as This Quarter (11:23 a.m. HK)

The government plans to begin inoculating against Covid-19 as early as the first quarter with vaccines provided through COVAX, according to Premier Su Tseng-chang’s report to lawmakers.

The island expects to begin vaccination with 10 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine and 5.05 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine as early as the second quarter.

U.S. Hospitals Free Up as California Leads Covid Patient Exodus (10:00 a.m. HK)

U.S. hospitalizations for the coronavirus have plunged 56% from a mid-January peak as the number of patients exiting California hospitals accelerated, data from the Department of Health and Human Services show.

The U.S. was treating 58,023 people in hospitals for the coronavirus as of Thursday, according to HHS. That’s the lowest since early November. In-patient numbers nationally dipped 14% in the past eight days, extending a decline from a peak of 131,637 reached on Jan. 15.

California recorded the biggest decline, reporting an average daily reduction in Covid-19 cases of 290 over the past eight days. The state had 6,709 cases in the hospital as of Thursday, down from 22,299 in mid-January. Still, just over 1 in 10 patients in California hospitals have the pandemic virus, HHS data show.

Japan to Lift Emergency; Asia Leads Covid Ranking: Virus Update

In Los Angeles, the epicenter of the winter outbreak, patients hospitalized for Covid-19 fell below 2,000 for the first time in three months, county health officials said Thursday.

In other states, Nebraska and South Dakota recorded increases in Covid-19 hospitalizations of 6% and 7% respectively over the past eight days.

In New York, 14% of hospital patients have the coronavirus, the highest proportion of any state. They make up 13% in Georgia and 12% in Texas and Maryland, HHS data show.

Japan Set to Lift Virus Emergency in Areas Including Osaka (09:02 a.m. HK)

Japan is set to lift states of emergency in its western regions, public broadcaster NHK reported, underscoring progress against a coronavirus surge that has battered the economy and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s approval rating.

The decision is likely to be announced following a series of consultations on Friday, NHK said, without elaborating on the source of the information. The current state of emergency is in place through March 7 in 10 areas, and would be lifted at the end of the month in five prefectures, including Osaka and Aichi, it said. Measures will stay in place for the Tokyo region, the broadcaster said.

A decision on Fukuoka, on the southwestern island of Kyushu, will be left until the last minute, NHK said. The 10 areas currently under the state of emergency account for about 60% of the economy and an early lifting would free up businesses to operate at greater capacity.

South Korea Confirms 406 More Coronavirus Cases; Inoculation Begins (08:43 a.m. HK)

South Korea reported 406 new coronavirus cases over the last 24 hours, versus 396 the previous day, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s website.

The number of newly confirmed cases remained below 500 for a 7th day, while the total number of confirmed cases reached 88,922, the data showed.

South Korea on Friday began utilizing AstraZeneca vaccines to inoculate patients and workers at nursing homes and related facilities who are younger than 65. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun says the nation will extend the current social distancing rules for another 2 weeks, and will also maintain current ban of gatherings of 5 or more people.

Updates on Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia (07:30 a.m. HK)

Singapore won’t move out of the final phase of reopening from the Covid-19 pandemic “anytime soon,” even as the city-state has started vaccinations, CNA reports Thursday, citing Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary.

“Phase 3 is a new normal which will last until such time when there is evidence on vaccine effectiveness in preventing future outbreaks, a substantial proportion of the population is vaccinated, and the rest of the world also has the virus under control,” the minister said in parliament.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha will be the first person to receive the nation’s Covid-19 vaccines on Feb. 28, kicking off the inoculation program, which will begin on March 1 for the public, according to Sophon Mekthon, chairman of the government’s Covid-19 vaccine management committee. Prayuth is expected to receive a vaccine from AstraZeneca Plc, and Anutin to receive one from Sinovac Biotech Ltd.

Vietnam expects to receive 9.5 million doses of covid-19 vaccine in the second quarter after 1.3 million in the first three months of this year, according to a posting on the government website, citing Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long. The country will receive 77 million vaccine doses in the second half of the year.

Malaysia recorded 1,924 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the lowest count since Jan. 4, according to data from the Health Ministry. There were 12 deaths while recoveries totaled 3,752.

Florida to Lower Vaccine Age (5:10 p.m. NY)

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that he expects the vaccine to be available to people younger than 65 starting in March because of increased supply. He cited a rise in Pfizer doses and the expected approval of the Johnson & Johnson shot this weekend.

“All of a sudden you are going to have a lot more options,” he said at a briefing in Jacksonville. He said people 60 and older, and possibly as young as 55, would be eligible. With roughly half of senior citizens inoculated, the state will open vaccinations up to law enforcement and teachers 50 and older next week, he said.

Czechs Plan Stricter Lockdown (4:52 p.m. NY)

The Czech Republic needs to “significantly limit” people’s movements for three weeks to curb the current surge in infections and avoid overrunning hospitals, Prime Minister Andrej Babis said in a televised press conference after a cabinet meeting.

Japan to Lift Emergency; Asia Leads Covid Ranking: Virus Update

Brazil Passes 250,000 Deaths (4:23 p.m. NY)

Brazil’s Covid-19 death toll rose by 1,541 to 251,498. The nation has the world’s most deaths after the U.S. Another 10,390,461 cases were reported, with 65,998 confirmed in the last 24 hours, according to Health Ministry data.

Japan to Lift Emergency; Asia Leads Covid Ranking: Virus Update

Biden Sees Fast Rollout of J&J Vaccine (4:10 p.m. NY)

President Joe Biden said the federal government will distribute Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as fast as the company can produce it, if the shot is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That approval is expected as early as Friday.

“If — if — the FDA approves the use of this new vaccine, we have a plan to roll it out as quickly as Johnson & Johnson can make it,” Biden said Thursday at an event to celebrate the injection of 50 million doses of vaccines since he took office.

The event was intended to highlight the administration’s effort to curb the pandemic, Biden’s top campaign promise, which depends largely on accelerating vaccinations. The administration has also sought to increase testing and re-open schools — all while new, more transmissible variants of the virus have begun to circulate, threatening progress.

EU Calls for Vaccine Certificates (3:16 p.m. NY)

European Union leaders inched toward establishing bloc-wide vaccine certificates to enable countries to reopen to travel as Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned that unless they hurry Apple Inc. and Google will step into the vacuum.

During a five-hour video call, the EU’s 27 leaders focused on how to haul their nations back to a form of normalcy after a pandemic that’s claimed more than 500,000 lives and shut down large parts of their economies. While there was broad support for certificates of some sort, leaders didn’t agree on the type of privileges it would grant.

“We have all agreed that we need vaccine certificates,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters after the talks. “In the future, it will certainly be good to have such a certificate but that will not mean that only those who have such a passport will be able to travel; about that, no political decisions have been made yet.”

So how many vaccines will be delivered to the EU over the next quarters? While an estimate isn’t officially public, the European Commission president showed the following slide to EU leaders during a video summit in Brussels. The slide was obtained by Bloomberg from an official present in the call. It shows that vaccine supplies in the following quarters are projected to be sufficient to vaccinate the bulk of the EU’s population.

Japan to Lift Emergency; Asia Leads Covid Ranking: Virus Update

Mexico Sees 80 Million Vaccinated by July (2:11 p.m. NY)

Finance Minister Arturo Herrera said more than 80 million people in Mexico should be vaccinated by July.

The minister said the figure represents all of the targeted adult population, adding that 34 million people would have received their vaccine by April.

Japan to Lift Emergency; Asia Leads Covid Ranking: Virus Update

Paris Faces New Curbs (1:27 p.m. NY)

Paris is among 20 French regions potentially facing tougher restrictions from next week as cases jump, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

The government has asked health authorities to closely monitor the situation in the capital and districts including parts of northern France as it seeks to avoid a third nationwide lockdown, Castex said on Thursday.

“A lockdown is a tool that we have to resort to when we can’t do anything else,” Castex told a weekly news conference in Paris. “We must do everything to put it off and allow the vaccines time to have an effect.”

Astra CEO Defends Vaccine Delivery (12:33 p.m. NY)

AstraZeneca Plc’s Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot sought to deflect blame for a shortfall in Covid-19 vaccine deliveries to Europe this year, while reassuring lawmakers that his company is working to meet targets for the second quarter.

Japan to Lift Emergency; Asia Leads Covid Ranking: Virus Update

Speaking remotely to a European Parliament hearing, Soriot said his company would deliver 40 million doses to the European Union in the first quarter, with the volume set to rise in the coming months. Soriot said employees are working around the clock to increase the amount of vaccines extracted in production, but that perfecting the process takes time and isn’t without setbacks.

Italy Cases Surge (12:22 p.m. NY)

Italy reported 19,886 new cases on Thursday, compared with 16,424 the day before, marking the highest number of infections since Jan. 9. A total of 353,704 tests were carried out, revised down from 443,704 earlier.

Japan to Lift Emergency; Asia Leads Covid Ranking: Virus Update

Patients in intensive care units rose for an eighth day to 2,168, still below the November peak of about 3,800 and the April 2020 peak of more than 4,000. The spread of new strains is pushing infections in areas that have been marked as medium to high risk in the north, east of Milan, and Bologna.

NYC School Virus Rate Less Than 1% (10:54 a.m. NY)

New York City schools have a positive Covid-19 test rate of less than 1% as middle schools reopened to students for in-person instruction.

About 60,000 students are eligible to return to classes two or three days a week in a hybrid schedule of at-home and in-school lessons. About 70% of the city’s middle school students chose all-remote instruction earlier and will continue to learn at home.

The largest public-school system in the U.S. has administered about 500,000 Covid-19 tests, and more than 30,000 teachers have received the vaccine, according to Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza. “New York public schools are the safest place to be,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday.

Israel Crossing 50% Vaccine Milestone (9:25 a.m. NY)

Israel is passing a major threshold as its rapid coronavirus vaccination drive leads the world in doses per capita. “As we speak we are crossing the line of 50% of the general Israeli population getting at least a first jab,” Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said in a Bloomberg Television interview on Thursday.

“We all have to understand that we still have a long way to go, right now we are cautiously opening the Israeli economy,” he said. “There’s this kind of sigh of relief that comes a little bit I would say prematurely.”

Pfizer-BioNTech Study Variant Booster (6:45 a.m. NY)

Pfizer and partner BioNTech have begun a clinical study to see if a third shot of their existing vaccine can stimulate stronger immune responses against new variants.

The clinical trial will examine safety and immune responses of a third dose of the vaccine in as many as 144 people who participated in the companies’ Phase 1 study. The dose is being given six to 12 months after the initial two-dose regimen, and researchers will test blood from the participants to see if it enhances levels of antibodies produced against new strains from South Africa and elsewhere.

Finland Plans Lockdown (4:27 p.m. HK)

Finland’s government is preparing to invoke emergency powers, including a lockdown from March 8 to 28, as infection rates rise, it said on Thursday. Among the planned measures are closing restaurants and bars except for takeout, and moving students in junior high and above to remote learning. The government is also considering whether municipal elections can be held in April as planned.

Cases Jump in Germany (2:31 p.m. HK)

Germany recorded 10,774 new cases in the 24 hours through Thursday morning, the highest one-day addition since Feb. 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Chancellor Angela Merkel has warned that Europe’s biggest economy is in the midst of a third wave of infections and should proceed carefully with reopening schools and businesses, putting a damper on discussions to loosen lockdown curbs.

Germany’s seven-day incidence rate inched up to 61.7, while the pace of vaccinations remains sluggish. Merkel has set a rate of 50 as the minimum for lifting certain restrictions, with further curbs possibly eased when the level falls below 35.

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