Pfizer/BioNTech jab gives 94% protection, Israeli study suggests
An Israeli study of more than half a million fully vaccinated people indicated the Pfizer/BioNTech jab offered 94% protection against Covid-19, according to the country’s largest healthcare provider.
Clalit Health Services said that its researchers tested 600,000 patients who had received the recommended two doses of the US-German Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and the same number of people who had not been inoculated.
“There was a 94% reduction in the rate of symptomatic infection and a 92 percent decrease in the rate of serious illness compared to 600,000 similar (subjects) who were not vaccinated,” Clalit said in a Hebrew-language statement reported by Reuters.
“Vaccine efficacy is maintained in all age groups, including those aged 70+,” it added.
Israel’s vaccine drive has seen 3.8 million people receive a first dose, while 2.4 million have also received a second shot.
US daily Covid cases drop below 100,000
Average daily new coronavirus cases in the US have dipped below 100,000 for the first time in months, but experts cautioned on Sunday that infections remain high and precautions to slow the pandemic must remain in place, the Associated press reports.
The seven-day rolling average of new infections was well above 200,000 for much of December and went to roughly 250,000 in January, according to Johns Hopkins University. That average dropped below 100,000 on Friday for the first time since 4 November. It stayed below 100,000 on Saturday.
“We are still at about 100,000 cases a day,” Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told NBC’s Meet the Press. “We are still at around 1,500 to 3,500 deaths per day. The cases are more than two-and-a-half-fold times what we saw over the summer.
“It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place.”
She added that new variants, including one first detected in the UK that appears to be more transmissible and has already been recorded in more than 30 states, will likely lead to more cases and more deaths:
Australia suspends quarantine-free travel with New Zealand
Australia has suspended quarantine-free travel with New Zealand after it locked down Auckland following the detection of three new community cases.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, convened an urgent meeting late on Sunday and it was decided that all flights originating in New Zealand would be classified as “Red Zone” flights for an initial period of 72 hours from Monday, Reuters reports.
“As a result of this, all people arriving on such flights originating within this three-day period will need to go into 14 days of supervised hotel quarantine,” Australia’s Department of Health said on its website.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday that genomic sequencing showed the new cases were the highly transmissible UK variant.
“We were absolutely right to make the decision to be extra cautious because we assumed it was going to be one of the more transmissible variants,” Ardern said in a Facebook Live post.
UK variant hits New Zealand
Aucklanders are waking up on Monday to a new lockdown, hoping the short and sharp three-day restrictions ordered by Jacinda Ardern arrest the spread of Covid-19, AAP reports.
The prime minister said genomic testing had shown that the three community cases were the UK variant of Covid-19, the first to be detected in the country, according to Yahoo News.
Those cases – from one Auckland family – mean 1.6 million Kiwis face bans on non-essential movement until midnight on Wednesday as part of alert level three restrictions.
The lockdown is the second time Auckland has undergone the emergency measures since last year’s more stringent 51-day nationwide lockdown which helped New Zealand eliminate the virus.
The rest of New Zealand has been placed at alert level two, which mandates social distancing, caps on gathering and increases mask wearing.
It is not yet clear whether the lockdown will extend beyond midnight on Wednesday.
That’s because health authorities are yet to gain a full picture of the virus’s spread.
On Monday morning, Ardern said genomic sequencing showed the virus was one of the slightly more infectious strains.
“We were right to take a cautious approach and focus on safety because we’ve confirmed it is the UK variant,” she told Radio NZ.
“Based on that sequencing we haven’t been able to link it to any of our managed isolation facilities … it wasn’t someone who went from an airline into our managed isolation.”
She said health officials were still trying to identify the source of infection, working on two main leads.
As one of the new community cases worked at a business servicing airlines at Auckland airport, officials are looking at whether the virus may have slipped out through a transit passenger, or via laundry of air crew:
CDC says ‘absolutely’ too soon to lift US mask mandate
The head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday it is “absolutely” too soon to lift mask mandates, citing daily coronavirus case numbers that despite recent declines remain more than double the levels seen last summer, Reuters reports.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky’s warning that face-covering requirements are still critical came just days after governors in Iowa and Montana lifted long-standing mask mandates in their states.
Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Walensky said preventing further surges of infection is key to safely reopening schools and regaining some level of social normalcy until collective immunity can be achieved through mass vaccinations.
Whether Americans can look forward to walking down the street without wearing a mask by the end of the year “very much depends on how we behave right now,” she said.
Asked if it was still too early for states to eliminate rules requiring the use of face masks in public, Walensky replied, “Absolutely.”
While Covid-19 infection rates and hospitalisations appear to be waning, the United States has a long way to go before it can safely return to a mask-less normal, she said.
“The cases are more than two-and-a-half-fold times what we saw over the summer,”
said Walensky, who was sworn in as CDC director last month after President Joe Biden took office. “It’s encouraging to see these trends coming down but they’re coming down from an extraordinarily high place.”
Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic with me, Helen Sullivan.
I’ll be bringing you the latest developments for the next few hours – you can get in touch with questions and comments on Twitter @helenrsullivan.
Aucklanders are waking up on Monday to a new lockdown, hoping the short and sharp three-day restrictions ordered by Jacinda Ardern arrest the spread of Covid-19.
The prime minister said genomic testing had shown that the three community cases were the UK variant of Covid-19, the first to be detected in the country, according to Yahoo.
Meanwhile in the US, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday it is “absolutely” too soon to lift mask mandates, citing daily Covid case numbers that despite recent declines remain more than double the levels seen last summer.
Here are the other key recent developments:
- Australia has suspended quarantine-free travel with New Zealand after it locked down Auckland following the detection of three new community cases.
- Around 1,000 people have been caught flouting restrictions in a Belgrade nightclub, Serbia’s interior ministry said on Sunday. The country’s coronavirus restrictions allow gatherings of up to five.
- Lebanon has started vaccinating high-risk groups, including healthcare workers and elderly people.
- Brazil has confirmed two cases of the UK variant in the state of Goiás after sequencing test samples taken on 31 December, Reuters reports, citing the state’s health department. It did not say if these are the first cases of the variant detected in Brazil.
- Rwanda has started vaccinating healthcare workers and other high-risk groups, its health ministry has said, making it the first country in east Africa to start its rollout.
- The UK has reported a further 10,972 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases, according to government data – a fall from last Sunday’s figure at 15,845. A total of 4,038,078 people have tested positive.
- A total of 15,062,189 people in the UK have now had a first dose of Covid-19 vaccine, according to the latest government figures.
- An Israeli study of more than half a million fully vaccinated people indicated the Pfizer/BioNTech jab offered 94% protection against Covid-19, according to the country’s largest healthcare provider.
- There is growing controversy over a World Health Organization investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic after one of its members said China had refused to hand over key data, and the US national security adviser said he had “deep concerns” about the initial findings.