(Bloomberg) — The European Union and the U.S. are set to back a renewed push into investigating the origins of Covid-19 after conflicting assessments about where the outbreak started, according to a document seen by Bloomberg News.
The U.S. is easing travel advisories for dozens of nations, including Olympics host nation Japan. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser on Covid-19, issued a warning about the delta variant that was first identified in India. The World Health Organization said the strain is markedly easier to transmit and more virulent than previous mutations.
Hong Kong Extends Social Distancing (8:51 a.m. HK)
Hong Kong will extend social distancing measures until June 23, according to a government statement. “A number of local cases with the N501Y mutant strain have been recorded in Hong Kong recently, and the source of infection has yet to be identified,” a government spokesman said. Under pressure from Beijing, Hong Kong’s government has taken increasingly extreme measures to prevent another wave taking hold in the city. Residents returning to the city are currently subject to a two-to-three week quarantine stay in a hotel on a select list, unless they are coming from mainland China.
Korea Seeks Travel Bubble (8:35 a.m. HK)
South Korea will allow group trips overseas as soon as July for people who are vaccinated, according to Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum. Travel will be to places that have Covid-19 under control and returning tourists who test negative at the airport won’t have to quarantine. The country is reportedly considering travel bubbles with locations including Singapore, New Zealand, Taiwan, Guam and Saipan.
Delta Strain More Virulent, Says WHO (7:55 a.m. HK)
The delta variant of coronavirus that first arose in India appears markedly easier to transmit and more virulent than previous mutations, including the alpha strain that emerged last year in the U.K., according to the World Health Organization’s weekly update.
People infected with the delta variant were 2.6 times more likely to land in the hospital. They were also more likely to spread the virus to others, the WHO said. Two studies suggest Covid vaccines may be less effective against the delta strain, which is now found in 74 countries, up by about a dozen from a week ago.
Singapore Cases Down as Curbs Eyed (7:47 a.m. HK)
Singaporean authorities found four locally transmitted coronavirus infections on Tuesday, extending a streak of low daily virus counts since the start of the week. The decline in cases comes ahead of a possible easing of restrictions after June 13.
Still, Covid-19 sequencing has revealed the emergence of the delta variant as the country’s major local virus strain. And only one of the four cases Tuesday was linked to earlier infections, government data showed, underscoring the difficulty of completely eradicating a recent outbreak.
U.S. to Set Up Groups to Advise on Global Travel (6 a.m. HK)
The Biden administration is forming expert working groups with Canada, Mexico, the European Union and the U.K. to determine how best to safely restart global travel, Reuters reported, citing a White House official. The groups will be led by the White House Covid Response Team and the National Security Council. They will also include the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as other agencies
Maldives Extends Curfew (5:05 p.m. NY)
Maldives extended a 16-hour curfew and other restrictions to a third week even as active cases fell to the lowest since April 29. The island nation expects to receive next month 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine made in Singapore. It has administered about 485,000 doses, enough to cover 65.2% of its population, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker.
Pharmacist Gets 3 Years for Vaccine Tampering (3:15 p.m. NY)
A Wisconsin man was sentenced Tuesday to three years in prison for tampering with vaccine doses at the hospital where he worked, the U.S. Justice Department said in a statement.
Steven R. Brandenburg, 46, of Grafton, pleaded guilty on Feb. 9, to two counts of attempting to tamper with consumer products with reckless disregard for the risk that another person would be placed in danger of death or bodily injury. According to court documents, Brandenburg purposefully removed a box of Covid-19 vaccine vials manufactured by Moderna Inc. — which must be stored at specific cold temperatures to remain viable — from a hospital refrigeration unit during two successive overnight shifts in late December 2020.
According to his plea agreement, Brandenburg stated that he was skeptical of vaccines in general, and the Moderna vaccine specifically, and had communicated his beliefs about vaccines to his co-workers.
Germany Said Near Digital Vaccine Certificate (2:15 p.m. NY)
Germany’s launch of a digital vaccine certificate could be imminent, with Handelsblatt reporting that IBM will probably activate the technical infrastructure on Wednesday. The German newspaper cited a letter from the head of digital at the Federal Ministry of Health. Digital certificates will be available for citizens at “many” regular pharmacies starting June 14, according to a separate release by the ABDA Federal Union of German Associations of Pharmacists on Tuesday.
U.S. Eases Dozens of Travel Warnings (1:50 p.m. NY)
The U.S. State Department is easing travel advisories for dozens of nations including many in Europe, such as France and Germany.
The department changed its travel warnings Tuesday for many nations from level 4, or “do not travel,” to level 3, “reconsider travel,” according to the department’s website.
The State Department’s travel advisories aren’t binding but can help guide airlines on their own restrictions. Other countries often reciprocate for American citizens based on the department’s advisories.
Fauci Warns on Delta Variant (1:40 p.m. NY)
U.S. health officials said Tuesday that the more harmful Covid-19 variant known as delta has surged in the U.K., a country with high vaccination levels, in a warning to states as inoculation fades across the U.S.
Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden on the pandemic, said at a news briefing that the delta variant that was first reported in India now accounts for more than 6% of cases being sequenced in the U.S. while in the U.K. it has overtaken the alpha variant that originated there.
Alrosa Donates Sputnik Shots to Zimbabwe (12:02 p.m. NY)
Zimbabwe will take delivery on Wednesday of 50,000 Sputnik vaccines that were donated by Alrosa PJSC, Russia’s largest diamond mining company, to help bolster the southern African nation’s inoculation program, the state-owned Zimpapers Television Network reported on Tuesday. Alrosa, which has operations in Zimbabwe and Angola, first announced its plans to provide the shots — which have been shipped to more than 30 countries — to the two nations in February. Zimbabwe is set to receive another 500,000 vaccines on June 15, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa told reporters on Tuesday. She didn’t provide the suppliers’ details.
Possible CureVac Vaccine Approval Delay (9:46 a.m. NY)
CureVac NV’s stock slumped after Reuters reported that the European Medicines Agency doesn’t expect to make a decision on the approval of its vaccine before August.
Pfizer Trials Shots in Under 12s (8:56 a.m. NY)
Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 vaccine will be tested in children under the age of 12 in a late-stage study of as many as 4,500 participants.
The vaccine partners announced plans on Tuesday to kick-start the trial of the shot within weeks. It will be conducted at more than 90 sites, spanning the U.S., Finland, Poland and Spain.
Germany Waives Quarantine for Euro Soccer (8:33 a.m. NY)
Germany will approve changes to travel rules this week that mean people accredited for the European soccer championship won’t have to quarantine even if they arrive from areas affected by mutations.
“The European football championship is a major sporting event that the whole world is watching and Germany will do its part to make it a success,” Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said in an emailed statement, adding that strict hygiene rules will still apply. The tournament starts on Friday.
Mastercard Foundation Donates to Africa (8:18 a.m. NY)
The Mastercard Foundation will provide $1.3 billion to support the vaccination program in Africa.
Funding under the so-called Saving Lives and Livelihoods initiative will be deployed in partnership with the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention to urgently procure shots for more than 50 million people. The foundation will also support the African Union’s push to manufacture locally.
More than 80% of the Mastercard Foundation funding will go toward purchasing vaccines from Johnson & Johnson, according to the organization’s president and chief executive officer, Reeta Roy.
Aspirin Doesn’t Help (8 a.m. NY)
Aspirin doesn’t improve chances of survival for patients hospitalized with Covid-19, according to a large study. The 120-year-old drug, widely used to thin the blood of heart-disease patients, made no difference in mortality after about a month in a clinical trial that involved almost 15,000 volunteers.
Survivors did spend one less day in the hospital compared with those who didn’t get a daily dose of aspirin, the researchers found.
Singapore Sequencing of Delta Strain (7:41 a.m. NY)
Sequencing in Singapore has revealed the emergence of the delta variant as the country’s major local strain, underscoring the highly infectious nature of the mutation that was first detected in India.
Of these cases to date, 449 have been found to be caused by variants of concern, among which 428 were infections of the delta strain, said the country’s health ministry. The next largest group was nine cases linked to the beta mutation that first emerged in South Africa.