India cases surge; CDC's J&J talk ends without vote: Virus update

India cases surge; CDC's J&J talk ends without vote: Virus update

A healthcare worker carries oxygen cylinders at a Covid-19 hospital in Ahmedabad, India, on Wednesday. (Reuters photo)
A healthcare worker carries oxygen cylinders at a Covid-19 hospital in Ahmedabad, India, on Wednesday. (Reuters photo)

India reported more than 200,000 new infections on Thursday, its highest one-day surge since the pandemic broke out. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel ended discussion of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine without taking a vote, while J&J itself said it continues to believe in the positive benefit-risk profile of its Covid-19 shot.

A senior official in Japan’s ruling party indicated that canceling the Tokyo Olympics was an option, as the country struggles with a surge in coronavirus cases, according to a media report. Coronavirus cases in Tokyo rose to the highest in more than two months, with just 99 days to go before the city is set to host the games.

Qantas Airways Ltd. said its passenger traffic in Australia has almost completely recovered.

The European Union’s drug regulator said it expects to issue a recommendation on J&J’s vaccine next week. Russia said there have been no cases of clotting with its Sputnik vaccine.

Tokyo governor mulls possible state of emergency request

Coronavirus cases in Tokyo rose to the highest in more than two months as the city struggles to contain the latest surge, with just 99 days to go before the city is set to host the Olympic Games.

Tokyo posted 729 cases on Thursday, a 34% increase from the same day last week, and the most in a single day since Feb. 4, when the city was under a state of emergency. Governor Yuriko Koike said that if measures imposed on Monday failed to stop the spread, she would have to consider requesting another emergency declaration.

Osaka, the country’s second-largest metropolitan area, has seen infections rise to a record in recent weeks, citing a surge in virus variants. Officials have expressed concern that Tokyo might not be far behind as the variant dominant in Osaka becomes the main strain in the capital as well.

Philippines to continue J&J vaccine talks

The Philippines said Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine suspension won’t affect ongoing supply negotiations, according to Philippine vaccine czar Carlito Galvez in a mobile-phone reply to questions.

The Philippine government has signed an agreement for the supply of 10 million Sputnik V vaccine doses from Russia’s Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology, Galvez said.

Meanwhile, the nation’s Food and Drug Administration has recommended to resume the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccines on persons below 60 years old, its head Eric Domingo said. Blood clotting incidents are “very rare,” he said.

Hong Kong to open up vaccinations to under 30s

Hong Kong expanded eligibility for Covid-19 vaccines to all residents aged 16 and older, local media reported, in the government’s latest attempt to boost a low inoculation rate by making the shots widely accessible.

Residents aged 16 and above will be allowed to receive BioNTech SE vaccines, while those older than 18 will also be able to opt for shots made by China’s Sinovac Biotech, the South China Morning Post reported, citing a government source. Bookings for the expanded group could start next week, according to local broadcaster TVB.

Macau suspends AstraZeneca delivery

Macau has suspended the delivery of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine, Teledifusão de Macau reports, citing Health Bureau director Lo Iek Long. The Macau government’s request was agreed by AstraZeneca.

Malaysia’s infection rate climbs

Malaysia’s coronavirus is spreading at its fastest rate since at least March, days after the government warned the country may be on the cusp of a fourth wave at the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

The so-called “Rt” rate, the reproduction number that shows how quickly the virus multiplies, was 1.14 as of April 14, according to Health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah on Twitter. Malaysia added 1,889 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the most since March 5.

India single-day infections top 200,000

India reported more than 200,000 new infections on Thursday, its highest one-day surge since the pandemic broke out, as a deadlier new wave grips the world’s second worst-hit country.

With 200,739 new cases, the outbreak in the South Asian nation has gone past 14 million. Casualties rose to 173,123 while more than 114 millionvaccine doses have been administered, according to latest data from India’s health ministry.

Japan official signals cancelling Olympics an option

A senior official in Japan’s ruling party indicated that canceling the Tokyo Olympics was an option, according to a media report, as the country struggles with a surge in coronavirus cases less than 100 days before the Games are due to begin.

Toshihiro Nikai, the secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, said that if it was determined to be impossible to hold the Games, they would have to be canceled, according to local newswire Jiji.

Earlier on Thursday, Taro Kono, Japan’s vaccine czar and administrative reform minister, signalled the possibility of holding the Olympics without spectators, according to Kyodo.

New Zealand seeks more Janssen data

New Zealand medicines regulator Medsafe said it has requested additional information from Janssen ahead of making a decision about whether to approve the company’s Covid-19 vaccine. Medsafe expects to provide an update on the Janssen approval process in the next two to three weeks

J&J continues to believe in vaccine

Johnson & Johnson said it continues to believe in the positive benefit-risk profile of its Covid-19 vaccine.

“The safety and well-being of the people who use our products is our number one priority, and we strongly support awareness of the signs and symptoms of this extremely rare event to ensure the correct diagnosis, appropriate treatment and expedited reporting by health care professionals,” scientific director Paul Stoffels said in a statement.

The company plans to proactively delay the rollout of the vaccine in Europe and pause vaccinations in all Janssen Covid vaccine clinical trials while it updates guidance for investigators and participants.

Qantas domestic traffic bouncing back

Qantas Airways Ltd. said its passenger traffic in Australia has almost completely recovered, highlighting the potential for speedier travel rebounds than previously expected more than a year into the pandemic.

Capacity on domestic routes will top 90% of pre-Covid levels this quarter, the airline said in a statement Thursday, up from its previous forecast of reaching 80%. Low-cost unit Jetstar will have even more capacity than before the pandemic. Qantas said it has seen “extremely strong” demand for leisure trips and a return of business travel, which is back to about 65% of normal.

Argentina restricts Buenos Aires area mobility

Stores in the Buenos Aires metropolitan area cannot open earlier than 9am and must close by 7pm local time for the next two weeks beginning April 16, President Alberto Fernandez said in a televised statement.

Argentina needs to restrict social gatherings due to Covid-19 spike in Buenos Aires metropolitan area, Fernandez said

Singapore uncovers small cluster

Singapore’s latest community case of Covid-19 infection widened a new cluster in the city state to four patients, according to the health ministry.

The lone reported community case that added to this cluster is a 44-year-old male Papua New Guinea citizen, with a short-term visit pass, who arrived from Australia on March 25 for a work project, the ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. The linked spread of Covid-19 is the first after the ministry’s announcement on March 25 that there were no open clusters of infections.

Japan mulls stricter measures

The Japanese government will consider designating Tokyo’s neighboring prefectures Saitama and Kanagawa as areas needing stricter coronavirus measures if their governors seek application of a quasi-state of emergency, public broadcaster NHK reported, without attribution. The government is also considering adding Aichi prefecture, in central Japan, to the status, the report said.

CDC panel doesn’t vote on J&J pause

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention panel ended discussion about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine without taking a vote, leaving it unclear how long the distribution of the shot will remain paused in the US.

Some panel members advocated for a monthlong pause, while others were concerned about the effects of not having the J&J vaccine available, especially to the communities it was being targeted toward.

As a result, distribution of the vaccine will remain halted at least until the panel meets next, perhaps in a week to 10 days.

Vaccine hesitancy down in US

Vaccine hesitancy in the US is shrinking, though one in seven residents remain wary about getting a Covid-19 vaccine, largely because of concerns about side effects.

That segment is younger and less educated than average, according to a tracker released Wednesday by the US Census Bureau that uses Household Pulse Survey data. Residents were surveyed before US regulators on Tuesday recommended pausing Johnson & Johnson vaccines because of concerns about rare blood clots.

Astra shot safe, effective, Health Canada says

AstraZeneca’s vaccine may be linked to “very rare events of blood clots”, but the benefits of the shot outweigh its potential risk, Health Canada said in a statement following an assessment of scientific data.

The federal agency has updated warnings about the possible side effects in product information and is providing information about potential symptoms as well as when to seek prompt medical attention following vaccination.

J&J drops pregnant women from study

Johnson & Johnson will revise protocols on its Covid-19 vaccine study and exclude pregnant health workers from a trial in South Africa set to include 500,000 people. The move came after US regulators paused the shot’s rollout on concerns of a rare and severe blood-clotting side effect.

While all studies are delayed, plans to run trials on children and pregnant women in South Africa have been set aside for now, said Glenda Gray, the co-lead of the South African studies, in an interview on Wednesday.

Airline middle seats cited as risk

The risk of being exposed to the Covid-19 virus on an airline flight drop by as much as half when airlines keep middle seats open, a new study published by the US government concludes, a safety practice the carriers have abandoned.

The study is the latest to roil the waters on a controversial topic: just how risky it is to travel during the pandemic. It didn’t attempt to estimate infection risks and was based on modeling done before the pandemic, so it didn’t consider rules that now require face masks on flights.

The risk of coming in contact with the virus dropped by 23% to 57% if airlines limited passenger loads on both single-aisle and widebody jets, compared with full occupancy, according to research released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday.

US spy chiefs say virus source unknown

US spy agencies have yet to determine the source of the virus that causes Covid-19, top intelligence officials told the Senate Intelligence Committee Wednesday.

Avril Haines, the director of National Intelligence, said analysts are still examining two theories: animal-to-human transmission, and the possibility of a laboratory accident. “The intelligence community does not know exactly where, when or how Covid-19 virus was transmitted initially,” Haines said.

CIA director William Burns, echoed Haines’ assessment, adding that “the Chinese leadership has not been fully forthcoming or fully transparent” in working with the World Health Organization to pinpoint the origin of the coronavirus.

Russia says no clotting cases from Sputnik

The developers of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine said it hasn’t produced any instances of the dangerous blood-clotting that forced US officials to urge a pause in the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

Sputnik’s first dose uses the same human adenovirus as the Johnson & Johnson inoculation, but they have “significant differences in their structure” and it isn’t appropriate to extrapolate safety data from one to the other, the state-run Gamaleya Center said in a statement.

Switzerland allows theaters to open

Switzerland will allow theaters, cinemas and outdoor dining at restaurants to open starting Monday, pursuing once again a more liberal course than many of its European neighbors.

EU Sees J&J Recommendation Next Week (9:43 a.m. NY)

The European Union’s drug regulator is accelerating its review of blood-clot reports with J&J’s vaccine and said it expects to issue a recommendation next week.

EU member states should store doses as they await guidance, and the European Medicines Agency said it will decide shortly whether “regulatory action is necessary.”

Astra shot induces strong T-cell response

The Astra vaccine generated a stronger cellular immune response than the Pfizer and BioNTech shot in people over 80 years old, a study by UK researchers shows.

Responses in T cells, a type of white blood cell that helps fight viruses, were seen in 31% of participants receiving the Astra vaccine and 12% of the Pfizer-BioNTech group, according to the University of Birmingham and UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium. Elderly people receiving a single dose of either vaccine showed equivalent antibody responses after five weeks.

It’s unclear if the different levels of T cell responses observed will have any impact on clinical effectiveness, the researchers said.

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