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The Latest: US sets up $1.7B network to track virus variants

Friday, April 16, 2021 | The Associated Press


President Joe Biden speaks about Russia in the East Room of the White House, Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration says the U.S. is setting up a $1.7 billion national network to identify and track coronavirus variants and analyze disease threats.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky says the U.S. is averaging nearly 70,000 new daily coronavirus cases, up from about 53,000 just four weeks ago.

Hospitalizations have been trending higher, and deaths were up for the third day in a row. Along with relaxed restrictions on gatherings and indoor dining, the emergence of variants that spread more easily is part of the reason for the worsening trend.

White House officials unveiled a national network strategy featuring three components: a major funding boost for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health departments to ramp up gene-mapping of coronavirus samples; the creation of six “centers of excellence” partnerships with universities to conduct research and develop technologies for gene-based surveillance of pathogens; and building a data system to better share and analyze information on emerging disease threats.

The effort relies on money approved by Congress as part of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief package. Typically, the government scrambles to counter a potential threat, but funding dries up when it recedes. The new genomic surveillance initiative aims to create a permanent infrastructure.

“It’s a transformative amount of money,” says Mary Lee Watts, federal affairs director at the American Society for Microbiology.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— China’s success at controlling the coronavirus outbreak leaves its public reluctant to get vaccinated

— Shortage of intubation drugs is the latest problem the pandemic has brought in Brazil

— Louisiana is making a full-court press to get shots in arms, with creative outreach to make it easy to get vaccinated

— Tokyo Olympic organizers again say postponed games will open in just 100 days despite Japan's virus surge

— Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ROME — Italian Premier Mario Draghi announced Italy will take a “reasoned risk” in reopening restaurants with outdoor seating and school at all grade levels in some regions starting April 26.

The openings will apply to regions that have the lowest tiers of restrictions. Mask-wearing and social distancing will be “scrupulously observed.” Italy’s 10 p.m. curfew will remain in place.

It’s the first sign of a gradual re-opening since the fall virus surge. Draghi says the “reasoned risks was based on data, which is improving but not dramatically.”

He calls the first phase in the opening “is an extraordinary opportunity not just for the economy but for our social lives.”

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JOHANNESBURG — South Africa took the first step in its mass vaccination campaign on Friday by starting online registrations for the elderly to receive shots beginning next month.

People age 60 years and older will be vaccinated first as they are regarded as having the highest risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19.

South Africa’s inoculation drive is dependent upon millions of doses of the Pfizer vaccine arriving in the country within weeks. So far South Africa has vaccinated only 290,000 of its 1.2 million health care workers, using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

This week, the government announced it would pause vaccinating its health workers with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine following a report by the U.S FDA.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Drugmaker Eli Lilly says its COVID-19 antibody drug should no longer be given to patients alone because treatment combinations work better fighting some variants of the coronavirus.

The company is asking U.S. regulators to revoke their emergency authorization for the use of bamlanivimab alone. Lilly announced Friday there are no new safety concerns with the drug, but the combination with another drug etesevimab fights more of the emerging COVID-19 variants in the U.S.

Last November, bamlanivimab became the first antibody authorized for emergency use in the U.S. as a COVID-19 treatment. Antibodies are proteins that attach to a virus and block it from infecting cells.

The combination of drugs also has received an emergency use authorization from federal regulators. The government has been supplying treatments to hospitals, and last month it stopped delivering bamlanivimab alone in favor of treatment combinations.

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BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel says she has received a first dose of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

In a tweet sent by her spokesman, Merkel says she had received the vaccine Friday.

“I thank everyone involved in the vaccination campaign - and everyone who has let themselves be vaccinated.”

The long-time German leader added “vaccination is the key to overcoming the pandemic.”

Authorities in Germany recently restricted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine to people age 60 and over, due to concerns about the risk of rare blood clots detected in some people who received the shots.

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BANGKOK — Thailand announced new restrictions to slow its spread but didn’t institute any curfews or lockdowns.

Thai health officials on Friday confirmed 1,582 new cases, raising the total number of confirmed cases to 39,038 and 97 confirmed deaths.

Infections have been surging to record highs almost daily since early April. Most of the new cases involve the virus variant first found in Britain.

New nationwide protective measures take effect nationwide Sunday for at least two weeks. They include restrictions on school, no gatherings of more than 50 people and closing of bars.

Inter-provincial travel is not banned, though some provincial authorities have ordered testing of arrivals.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha suggested harsher measures could cause economic hardships.

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MADRID — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez says he is “very hopeful” the country can come up with its own COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year.

Sánchez visited Spanish pharmaceutical company HIPRA, in northeastern Spain, which is developing a coronavirus vaccine candidate in partnership with the government.

Sánchez says a new shot would still need to go through clinical trials, but he says for Spain it is “fundamental” to have its own response to the pandemic.

Spain has ordered 87 million doses of other vaccines, which are to arrive by the end of September.

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KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine received its first 117,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine through the COVAX global vaccine sharing program on Friday.

Under a contract between Kyiv and Pfizer, the country expects a shipment of 10 more million doses in May-June. Ukraine reported 17,479 new coronavirus cases on Friday.

Ukraine’s chief health doctor, Victor Liashko, says immunization with the Pfizer shot will begin on Sunday in the Kyiv region and offered across the country on Monday. Residents and staff of Ukraine’s retirement homes will be the first in line to get the shot, then it will be offered to emergency officials and border guards.

Ukraine started vaccinations in February after receiving 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca shot from India. The immunization campaign has been hampered by widespread reluctance to take the vaccine, with only 432,817 people getting at least one shot so far. Kyiv has ordered 1.9 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by the Chinese drug maker Sinovac Biotech.

Struggling to contain the soaring infections, the Ukrainian authorities introduced lockdown restrictions in many of the country’s regions. Ukraine’s Health Minister Maksym Stepanov says the measures helped stabilize the situation.

The former Soviet nation of 41 million has registered 1.9 million cases and more than 39,000 confirmed deaths.

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DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh recorded 101 new deaths, the highest in a day, raising the nation’s confirmed death toll to 10,181.

The country registered another 4,417 positive cases in the last 24 hours, raising the total cases to 711,779, according to the Ministry of Health Affairs,

The new figures came amid reports that may hospitals in the capital, Dhaka, were overwhelmed with patients despite a nationwide lockdown. Officials say the number of deaths has increased in recent weeks as new strains of the virus were spreading quickly.

They say the number of daily cases has increased seven-fold in a month while the number of deaths has doubled in recent weeks. Using the AstraZeneca vaccine from India’s Serum Institute, some 5.7 million people have been inoculated with the first dose while another 900,000 people have received the second dose.

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GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization said coronavirus cases are continuing to rise globally at “worrying” rates and noted that the number of new cases confirmed per week has nearly doubled during the past two months.

At a press briefing on Friday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the number of new cases “is approaching the highest rate of infection that we have seen so far in the pandemic.”

Tedros said some countries that had been able to avoid widespread COVID-19 outbreaks are now seeing steep increases, citing Papua New Guinea as an example.

“Until the beginning of this year, Papua New Guinea had reported less than 900 cases and nine deaths,” Tedros said. The noted. The country has now identified more than 9,000 cases and 83 deaths, half of which were reported in the last month.

“Papua New Guinea is a perfect example of why vaccine equity is so important,” Tedros said, adding that the Pacific island nation has relied on vaccine donations from Australia and the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative.

To date, COVAX has shipped about 40 million vaccines to more than 100 countries, or enough to protect about 0.25% of the world’s population.

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NEW DELHI — The chief executive of India's Serum Institute, the world’s largest maker of vaccines and a critical supplier of the U.N.-backed COVAX initiative, asked U.S. President Joe Biden to lift an embargo on exporting the raw materials needed to makeCOVID-19 vaccines.

Adar Poonawalla wrote to Biden on Twitter: “If we are to truly unite in beating this virus, on behalf of the vaccine industry outside the U.S., I humbly request you to lift the embargo of raw material exports out of the U.S. so that vaccine production can ramp up.”

Poonawalla told the The Associated Press earlier that the unavailability of certain raw materials, such as the specific medium needed to grow microorganisms, was going to affect the Serum Institute’s production of a vaccine developed by American pharmaceutical company Novavax. The Serum Institute and Novavax have inked a deal to supply 1.1 billion doses of vaccine to COVAX.

India on Friday confirmed over 200,000 new virus cases in 24 hours. Amid a surge that has overwhelmed hospitals and left unprepared authorities scrambling, the country has been trying to vaccinate enough people to slow the spread of the virus.

To do so, India has paused vaccine exports to other nations.

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MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte said it’s uncertain when the Philippines can get adequate COVID-19 vaccines while warning more people will die and “the worst of times” is yet to come.

Duterte said his administration has done its best despite criticism and he could use emergency power, for example, to take over hotels if hospital room shortages worsen. But he said wealthy nations control the vaccine supply and other countries could hardly do anything but wait.

“When will we have that stocks sufficient to vaccinate the people? I really do not know. Nobody knows,” Duterte said in a televised meeting Thursday night with key Cabinet members. “I think before it gets better, we’ll have to go to the worst of times.”

“There’s no sufficient supply to inoculate the world. This will take a long time. I’m telling you many more will die here.”

The Philippines has received more than 3 million doses of Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines, most of it donated by China and through the COVAX arrangement by the World Health Organization. At least 1.2 million people have been given initial doses. The government aims to purchase at least 148 million doses to inoculate about 70 million adult Filipinos but the plan has faced supply problems and delays.

The vaccination delays have coincided with an alarming surge in coronavirus infections that the government has been scrambling to ease in the hard-hit capital and four outlying provinces.

The Philippines has long been a coronavirus hotspot in Southeast Asia with more than 904,000 infections and 15,594 deaths.

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COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark is opening up faster than planned and allowing restaurants to serve patrons indoors starting Wednesday, providing they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus or can show negative test results.

The limit on outdoor public gatherings will be raised to 50 from 10 on April 21. Soccer fans will be allowed to return to stadiums.

A majority of Danish lawmakers agreed Friday on the reopening plan for next week. Health Minister Magnus Heunicke say, “It will shape our daily lives in a positive direction.”

Denmark's coronavirus outbreak is largely under control. Hair salons and smaller shopping malls already have reopened. On Wednesday, people can go to larger shopping malls and department stores.

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Gov. Gavin Newsom says nearly half of Californians eligible for vaccination have received at least one shot against the coronavirus.

He is urging more residents to sign up for appointments and not let apprehension get in the way of getting protected against the illness.

The nation’s most populous state on Thursday began vaccinating anyone age 16 and over regardless of occupation or health condition.

The move comes as California and other states have seen vaccine supplies rise in recent weeks. But officials are working to address hesitancy, particularly in some of the communities hit hardest by the pandemic.

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NEW YORK — New U.S. government data show the country had approximately 600,000 more deaths than usual during a 13-month span. The coronavirus was blamed for most of those deaths.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the estimate Thursday. It covers Jan. 26, 2020, to Feb. 27. The coronavirus was first detected in the U.S. in late January of last year.

CDC researchers say the biggest spikes in the deaths occurred in early April, late July, and the very end of December. At least 75% of the deaths were directly tied to COVID-19, but the estimate includes deaths from all causes.

This week, the CDC released provisional data through the end of September 2020 that suggested drug overdose deaths for the year were far exceeding tallies seen in any previous year. The CDC says more than 87,000 deaths were reported over a 12-month period.

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Companies Mentioned in This Article

CompanyMarketRank™Current PricePrice ChangeDividend YieldP/E RatioConsensus RatingConsensus Price Target
Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)2.3$170.39+0.1%2.37%26.79Buy$185.70
Eli Lilly and (LLY)1.9$195.53-0.3%1.74%31.95Buy$200.75
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