Germany plans gradual reopening of economy


Passengers traveling to the UK will face tougher quarantine measures, including enforced stays in hotels, repeated tests and the threat of fines as authorities seek to get a grip on the coronavirus pandemic.

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Hong Kong’s government will hold a press conference on the Covid-19 situation later Wednesday. South Korea cleared AstraZeneca Plc’s and the University of Oxford’s vaccine for all adults, including the elderly.

BioNTech’s New Factory Starts Production (3:51 p.m. HK)

BioNTech started producing messenger RNA, the active ingredient for the Covid-19 vaccine sold with Pfizer, at its new factory in Marburg, Germany, moving closer to being able to boost production in Europe by some 750 million doses a year.

The first vaccine batch produced at the site, enough for 8 million doses, is scheduled for distribution in early April, BioNTech said. Though it takes only a few days to produce mRNA, the test batch made this week will need to be purified, concentrated, mixed with lipids and taken to another site to be put into vials.

Merkel Proposes Gradual Shop Openings (3:29 p.m. HK)

Germany’s Angela Merkel will propose a gradual reopening to the country’s 16 state premiers later on Wednesday while arguing for the current restrictions — including the closing of schools and non-essential stores — to remain in place until early March, according to a chancellery briefing document seen by Bloomberg.

According to Merkel’s plan, stores could reopen in regions with a seven-day incidence rate of less than 35 per 100,000 people and hotels in areas where the rate is less than 20. For Germany as a whole, the rate has been declining steadily since a peak of close to 200 before Christmas.

Etihad Says Traffic to Return in 2023 (2:45 p.m. HK)

A recovery from the crisis is taking longer than planned, but should take place in two years, Etihad CEO Tony Douglas said in interview with Bloomberg TV. Proof of vaccination will be a key part of future travel. Etihad is first airline to have a fully inoculated crew to operate jets.

Virus Won’t be Eradicated, Virologist Says (2:40 p.m. HK)

“We are only at the start of this epidemic, unfortunately,” said Belgian microbiologist Peter Piot. “We have to start thinking in terms of society living with Covid.” While vaccines will likely allow a return to a semblance of normalcy, there will be flare ups from time to time, the director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said in an interview with L’Echo newspaper.

“We must also continue the distancing measures for a period long enough for there to be a good suppression of the virus,” said Piot, who helped isolated the Ebola virus in 1976 and now advises European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

South Africa’s Vaccine Rollout (2:08 p.m. HK)

Approval processes for Johnson & Johnson inoculation are underway, South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said. Roll out of vaccination will proceed in form of “implementation study” in partnership with the Medical Research Council. A review of Russia’s Sputnik vaccine is also in “advanced stages,” the government said.

South Korea Approves First Vaccine (1:21 p.m. HK)

South Korea’s drug-safety agency approved AstraZeneca’s and the university of Oxford’s vaccine under the condition that the partners submit results of additional clinical trials. The vaccine will be used for people aged 18 years and over, including the elderly.

Hong Kong Meeting (11:49 a.m. HK)

Hong Kong will hold a briefing on virus measures later Wednesday after a meeting of its expert committee on Sinovac’s vaccine. Sinovac has yet to publish phase 3 clinical-trial results but submitted some data to Hong Kong’s government.

Hong Kong is expected to also announce planned changes to social-distancing measures after the Lunar New Year holiday, the South China Morning Post reported, citing an unidentified government source. Currently, restaurant dine-in services are banned after 6 p.m., public gatherings are limited to two, and venues such as gyms, beauty parlors, bars and clubs remain closed.

Japan Won’t Lift Emergency (10:51 a.m. HK)

The Japanese government is planning to keep the state of emergency in the 10 prefectures despite earlier reports that it was considering lifting it in some areas, broadcaster FNN reported. Officials see the need to keep the emergency in place to ease pressure on the medical system, it said.

Japan will start vaccinations by the middle of next week, Jiji reported.

Lilly Antibody Combo Gets Approval (8.30 a.m. HK)

Eli Lilly’s combination antibody drug was cleared for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, providing doctors with a treatment option that is expected to be better able to combat new mutations.

The FDA authorized the treatment for use in Covid-positive adults and children 12 and older who are at high risk of developing severe forms of the disease or progressing to the hospital, according to a fact sheet posted Tuesday by the agency.

Pfizer Shot Gives Two-Thirds Protection (8:20 a.m. HK)

Early findings from the U.K.’s vaccination program, due to be released within days, show that the first dose reduced the symptomatic infection risk among patients by 65% in younger adults and 64% in over-80s, a person familiar with the matter said. The data, first reported by The Sun newspaper, showed that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine saw protection rise to between 79% and 84%, depending on age. The AstraZeneca vaccine offers similar protection, according to the newspaper.

WHO Rules Out Lab Theory on Virus (8:15 a.m. HK)

A World Health Organization-led investigation in China found that the coronavirus most likely jumped to humans through an animal host or frozen wildlife products, concluding that it’s “extremely unlikely” it came from a laboratory leak. No further research is needed to look into the theory about a leak, Peter Ben Embarek, a WHO food-safety scientist, told reporters Tuesday at a joint briefing with China in Wuhan, the city where Covid-19 first mushroomed at the end of 2019. That speculation about a lab escape has been promulgated by former U.S. President Donald Trump, among others.

The virus could have been introduced to the Huanan wet market in Wuhan, which many of the first Covid patients were linked to, by a person who was infected or by a product that was sold there, Ben Embarek said.

Australian Quarantine Hotel Closed (8:11 a.m. HK)

A hotel in Melbourne being used to quarantine overseas arrivals has been closed after new coronavirus cases were linked to it. The Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport will close until further notice, Victoria state quarantine authorities said. About 135 staff and 48 residents who were in the hotel between Jan. 7 and Feb. 9 will need to enter a 14-day quarantine, while two schools located in the suburb that’s recorded seven new exposure sites have closed as a precaution.

Jakarta’s Coronavirus Cemeteries (7:01 a.m. HK)

Indonesia’s capital is racing to open more cemeteries to cope with the coronavirus death toll that has doubled in less than three months despite vaccination efforts.

Jakarta’s government bought more than three hectares (7.4 acres) of land to use as dedicated cemeteries for those who have died from Covid-19, said Suzi Marsitawati, who heads the province’s park and forest service. The new sites will accommodate at least 8,000 burial plots, after the existing two cemeteries hit capacity.

Astra Vaccine Urged for South Africa (4:30 p.m. NY)

The lead researcher of the South African trial of AstraZeneca’s and Oxford’s coronavirus vaccine urged authorities in the country to continue using the shot to cut death and hospitalization rates and the chance of further virus mutations.

Early data of a small phase trial showed that AstraZeneca’s vaccine has limited efficacy against mild disease caused by the B.1.351 variant that’s now dominant in South Africa, prompting the government to suspend plans to give it to health workers. The study didn’t determine whether it protects against severe Covid-19 cases and deaths because most participants were “young healthy adults,” according to the company.

Pfizer Plant in Belgium Resumes Production (2 p.m. NY)

Pfizer said it has resumed manufacturing the Covid-19 vaccine it developed with BioNTech at its plant in Belgium after temporarily reducing production to upgrade the facility’s production lines, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The changes in Puurs, Belgium, have finished, and during the week of Jan. 25 the company resumed its original delivery schedule of doses to the European Union, the Journal said, citing a Pfizer spokeswoman. Pfizer also plans to increase deliveries next week to meet its contractual obligations for the first quarter, she told the paper.

U.K. Advisers Raise New Variant Concerns (1:40 p.m. NY)

A U.K. government advisory panel raised concerns over a further mutation of the so-called Kent variant, while reassuring the public that vaccines should still provide protection.

The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group said the additional E484K mutation of the British strain called B.1.1.7 has been designated a “variant of concern,” according to a government statement. The mutation was first identified in Bristol, England. The same mutation has been seen in a number of variants, including those from South Africa and Brazil.

Greece Imposes Stricter Lockdown (1:05 p.m. NY)

The Greek government has reintroduced a stricter lockdown in Athens and the surrounding Attica region in a bid to curb a recent spike in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. The area accounts for around half of Greece’s population of almost 11 million.

Astra CEO Defends Vaccine for Severe Covid (12 p.m. NY)

AstraZeneca’s vaccine should protect people against severe disease from the South Africa strain of the virus, according to the company’s chief executive officer.

Speaking at a World Health Organization meeting Tuesday, CEO Pascal Soriot said that while a recent study showing the vaccine developed with Oxford University may not prevent mild disease was concerning, that didn’t mean more serious illness wouldn’t be stopped.

Soriot also said the company had capacity to deliver 100 million vaccine doses in February globally. That should increase to 200 million doses a month from April, he said.

NYC Surpasses 1 Million Doses (10:55 a.m. NY)

New York City has surpassed 1 million vaccine doses, a major milestone but missing a goal that Mayor Bill de Blasio had hoped to reach by the end of January.

“The challenge for us constantly is the lack of supply,” he said in a briefing on Tuesday. “This is a really good sign of what we could do in this city, but we could be doing a lot more.”

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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