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N.J. Sees Post-Holiday Spike; U.K. Curbs Tightened: Virus Update

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 12/8/2021 Bloomberg News
Germany to Enforce 'Lockdown for Unvaccinated' With Covid Surging © Bloomberg Germany to Enforce 'Lockdown for Unvaccinated' With Covid Surging

(Bloomberg) -- The earliest studies on omicron are giving cause for cautious optimism: While vaccines may be less powerful against the new variant, protection can be fortified with boosters. 

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Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said initial lab studies show a third dose of their Covid-19 vaccine neutralizes omicron, results that will accelerate global booster drives. AstraZeneca Plc’s antibody cocktail received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 

Data out of South Africa show the omicron strain has spread quickly in a short period of time, even as symptoms seem to be far milder. South Africa approved a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine for adults on Wednesday.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tightened pandemic rules, advising people to work from home and mandating the use of so-called vaccine passports in large venues. Denmark introduced a light version of the lockdown it had last winter.

Key Developments:

Virus Tracker: Cases top 267 million; deaths pass 5.2 millionMerck’s Covid pill must first overcome anti-vax misinformationPfizer to know shot’s efficacy against omicron before year-endOmicron propels U.S. booster drive where it’s needed leastOmicron spread puts a dent in latte sales: Pret IndexWhat we know about omicron: QuickTake

U.S. Confirms More Than 40 Omicron Cases (5 p.m. NY)

More than 40 infections of the Covid-19 omicron variant have been identified in the U.S., Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Chief Rochelle Walensky told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

Over three-quarters of the people infected were vaccinated, Walensky said, and most of them only experienced mild illness. She added that data on the variant are limited and the agency is working on a deeper analysis.

Wisconsin Requests U.S. Help for Hospitals (3:45 p.m. NY)

Wisconsin health officials have asked the federal government to help alleviate personnel shortages at health facilities as Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths spike higher.

The state Department of Health Services requested up to five Federal Emergency Management Agency medical reserve teams, each with as many as 20 workers, to help staff hospitals, long-term care centers and other health facilities suffering from staffing shortages, department Secretary-designee Karen Timberlake said. The extra personnel should arrive in the state in “a matter of weeks, not months,” she said.

“We just can’t let our hospitals go into crisis mode here, folks,” Governor Tony Evers said.

Wisconsin is currently experiencing its highest levels of Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths since last December, Timberlake said. Thirty-three Wisconsinites died of the disease in the past day, and 97% of all state intensive-care unit beds are occupied, a level that increased 13% in just one week, she said.

Evers said he has no plans to order the National Guard help staff Wisconsin health facilities. In neighboring Minnesota, Governor Tim Walz on Monday deployed the first of three National Guard skilled nursing teams to support long-term care facilities afflicted with severe staffing shortages.

Jefferies Asks Staff to Work From Home (1:50 p.m. NY)

Jefferies Financial Group Inc. asked staffers to work from home and will require employees to get a booster for their vaccine by the end of January after the Wall Street firm saw a rise in Covid cases among its workforce. 

Employees who can do so should consider working remotely for the rest of the month, according to a memo by Chief Executive Officer Rich Handler. The moves come after the company has experienced nearly 40 new cases of Covid since the start of the month. 

Video: Retail Traders Are Pulling Back, Roessner Says (Bloomberg)

Jefferies, which had been operating at 60% attendance globally in recent weeks, is reimposing a mask mandate in all of its offices, Handler said in the memo.

N.J. Sees Post-Thanksgiving Spike (1:30 p.m. NY)

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the state is seeing a post-Thanksgiving spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations. With only 34% of residents having received a booster shot, the state will open new mass vaccination sites and encourage places to administer shots to walk-ins, he said at briefing. New Jersey’s seven-day positivity rate is 9.6%, with the rate of transmission currently at 1.36, meaning the virus is spreading.

Johnson Tightens U.K. Restrictions (1:21 p.m. NY)

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tightened pandemic rules to curb the spread of the omicron variant, advising people to work from home and mandating the use of so-called vaccine passports in large venues.

The activation of the so-called Plan B restrictions follows warnings that the new Covid-19 strain will overwhelm hospitals, given the U.K. has recorded aigh daily caseload for months even before omicron emerged. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already had tighter restrictions in place before Johnson’s announcement.

Denmark Closes Bars, Schools Early (1:20 p.m. NY)

Denmark introduced a light version of the lockdown it had last winter, limiting opening hours for bars and restaurants and closing schools early for the Christmas break, as the omicron variant is spreading across the Nordic country.

“The Danish economy is very strong” but “we need to do what we can to avoid comprehensive lockdowns,” Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said late Wednesday at a Copenhagen press briefing. The government will introduce compensation plans for the companies affected by the new curbs, Business Minister Simon Kollerup said at the same event. 

South Africa Excess Deaths Jump (12:50 p.m. NY)

South African excess deaths, a measure of mortality above a historical average, almost doubled in the week ending Nov. 28 from the preceding seven-day period as a new coronavirus variant spread across the country. During the period 2,076 more people died than would normally be expected, the South African Medical Research Council said in a report on Wednesday. That compares with 1,091 the week earlier.

The rise, while reflecting only a week of data, contrasts with hospitalization data that shows that most admissions have mild forms of the coronavirus, spurring hope that the omicron variant is more benign than earlier strains.

Astra Antibody Shots Cleared for Use by FDA (12:01 p.m. NY)

AstraZeneca Plc’s antibody cocktail received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, providing another possible weapon in the fight against the pandemic. 

Evusheld, as the treatment is known, was authorized for emergency use as “pre-exposure prophylaxis for prevention of Covid-19 in some adults and pediatric individuals,” the FDA said in a statement

Results from two trials show the cocktail is highly effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in at-risk people and also halved the risk of developing severe illness or death from mild or moderate Covid-19.

The U.K. pharma giant has already agreed a deal to supply at least 700,000 doses to the U.S. 

Antibody treatments can be used to supplement vaccines for people who haven’t mounted a strong response to the shots or to protect those who couldn’t be immunized, such as cancer patients. Although some antibody treatments require complex intravenuous delivery, Astra’s one can be given using two injections.

Biden: Omicron Data ‘Encouraging’ (10:40 a.m. NY)

Switzerland Posts Record New Cases (10:25 a.m. NY)

Switzerland recorded more than 12,000 new infections, the most in a single day. Additional measures to fight the pandemic took effect earlier this week. They include an expanded use of masks and the Covid certificate, which indicates if someone is vaccinated against, has recovered from or tested negative for the virus.

A proposal to make working from home mandatory for all, or at least the unvaccinated, failed to win support. Instead, the government is urging people to work from home. The delta variant makes up more then 96% of cases in the country, with omicron contributing less than 4%, estimates from the federal office of public health show.

On Tuesday, the Swiss government decided to call upon the armed forces to assist hospitals with patient care, transport and vaccinations.

South Africa Approves Adult Pfizer Boosters (10:20 a.m. NY)

The South African Health Products Authority has approved a third dose of Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine in individuals 18 years and older, to be administered at least six months after the second dose.

It has also approved a third dose of the vaccine in individuals 12 years and older who are severely immuno-compromised, to be administered at least 28 days after the second dose.

Earlier today Pfizer and BioNTech SE said initial lab studies show a third dose of their vaccine neutralizes omicron, results that will accelerate global booster shot drives. 

Nigeria Destroys 1 Million Expired Vaccines (9:24 a.m. NY)

Nigeria plans to destroy about a million coronavirus vaccines that arrived in the country only six weeks before their expiration date and could not be administered in time, according to a health official.

The West African nation has used most of the more than 10 million donated doses that have mainly been provided by European countries, and is asking donors to ship them well before the expiration date. 

Austria Eases Lockdown Mainly for Vaccinated (9:02 a.m. NY)

The government in Vienna is ending a three-week lockdown on Sunday for most people after a decline in confirmed infections, even as the number of patients being treated at hospitals remains high. The move contrasts with a flurry of new measures being enacted elsewhere in Europe in response to concern over omicron.

U.K. Mulls New Restrictions as Omicron Bites (8:47 a.m. NY)

The Financial Times reported that the government will require vaccine passports inside large venues and an order to work from home as soon as Wednesday night. The state is responding to the spread of the omicron variant after Prime Minister Boris Johnson apologized for an alleged Downing Street Christmas party a year ago in possible breach of Covid-19 rules.

Pfizer Says Third Dose Neutralizes Omicron (7:13 a.m. NY)

A booster using the current version of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine increased antibodies 25-fold, providing a similar level of immunity observed after two doses against the original virus and previous variants, the companies said Wednesday.

Blood plasma from people immunized with two doses of the vaccine contains neutralizing antibody levels more than 25-fold less versus omicron than against the original strain of the virus, the companies said.

Omicron Symptoms Mild: S. Africa Hospital CEO (6:52 a.m. NY)

Netcare Ltd., which operates the largest private health-care network in South Africa, is seeing milder Covid-19 cases even as as omicron is driving up the number of people testing positive for the virus. The symptoms displayed by patients in the company’s hospitals in the province of Gauteng, the epicenter of the country’s fourth wave, “are far milder than anything we experienced during the first three waves,” Chief Executive Officer Richard Friedland said Wednesday. About 90% of Covid-19 patients currently in Netcare hospitals need no oxygen therapy and are considered incidental cases, he said.

Ireland to Offer Covid Shots for Kids (6:39 a.m. NY)

Ireland will offer vaccines to children aged five to 11 to control the spread of the coronavirus in that age group. Children will receive about a one third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine given to adults, the health ministry said. Government advisers strongly recommend kids with an underlying condition or other issues get vaccinated while healthy children are also recommended to receive the jab. About 90% of people aged 12 or older are fully vaccinated in Ireland.

Zimbabwe Daily Cases Highest of Pandemic (6:20 a.m. NY)

Daily coronavirus cases in Zimbabwe surged to the highest since the start of the pandemic, after the emergence of the omicron variant and as the government increases testing. The southern African nation recorded 4,031 new infections on Tuesday, surpassing the previous record of 3,110 reached during a third wave of infections in July, according to Health Ministry data. All infections for Dec. 7 were domestic cases, signaling a rise in community transmission, it said.

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