Coronavirus live news: three-month gap makes Oxford jab more effective; Pfizer vaccine cuts transmission, studies find

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The European Union agreed to pay about €870m (£754m) for its supply of 300 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine, Reuters reports citing a contract published by Italy’s RAI television.

The publication of the contract, signed on 27 August unveils confidential details about the price and the timetable for deliveries agreed by AstraZeneca.

The Anglo-Swedish company revised down the timetable last month because of production issues, leading to a bitter fight with the EU over delayed supplies.

Under the confidential contract, only parts of which had previously been disclosed, the EU has agreed to pay approximately £2.9 euros (£2.51) per dose.

The document, published by a team of RAI investigative journalists, shows that AstraZeneca had committed to delivering between 80 million and 120 million doses by the end of March and the remaining 180 million shots by the end of June under an estimated delivery schedule.

AstraZeneca, which developed the vaccine with Oxford University, declined to comment.

The company last month cut its planned deliveries in the first quarter of the year to 31 million, and later lifted it to 40 million after intense pressure from the EU.

An estimated delivery schedule in the contract shows that 30 million doses were due in December and 40 million in January, with “final delivery subject to agreement of delivery schedule and regulatory approval”.

Under the timetable the company had committed to delivering 50 million doses in February and March.

In another section of the contract, the company committed to use its “best reasonable efforts” to produce and deliver after authorisation approximately 30 million to 40 million doses in 2020 and 80 million to 100 million in the first three months of this year.

The contract shows that the vaccine should be produced for the EU at four factories: one in Belgium, one in the Netherlands and at Oxford Biomedica and Cobra Biologics plants in Britain.

Police in France have urged people to avoid the temptation to meet up with friends to enjoy spring-like weather this weekend, warning that officers would be stepping up their Covid social distancing patrols.

Temperatures are forecast to flirt with 20C (70F) across much of the country after a recent cold snap, which authorities worry could draw curfew-weary crowds to parks and riverbanks.

Already on Friday, TV reports showed flocks of people enjoying maskless drinks outside restaurants in Paris, reminiscent of the huge crowds that flouted the ban on groups of more than six in warm months last year.

Paris police warned that 700 officers would fan out to issue fines of €135 euros to anyone caught outside after the nationwide curfew begins at 6pm.

It added that around 4,000 officers would be mobilised over the weekend to enforce distancing rules, including breaking up outdoor gatherings.

“This is not the time to relax our collective guard,” it said on Twitter.

In the southeastern city of Lyon, authorities issued an outright ban on outdoor drinking of alcohol in much of the city centre, a popular district with scores of cafes and restaurants.

In contrast to some neighbours like Britain, France has so far avoided a third coronavirus lockdown, while keeping in place a nighttime curfew.

Infections remain high, with over 22,500 new cases recorded on Thursday, but are relatively stable and the government appears at ease with its current strategy for the moment.

It has resisted calls to consider lifting the curfew or other restrictions, including bar, restaurant, cinema and museum closures.

The UK reported a further 533 deaths within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Friday, bringing the UK total to 119,920.

Separate figures published by the UK’s statistics agencies for deaths where Covid-19 has been mentioned on the death certificate, together with additional data on deaths that have occurred in recent days, show there have now been 139,000 deaths involving Covid-19 in the UK.

The government also said that, as of 9am on Friday, there had been a further 12,027 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK. It brings the total in the UK to 4,095,269.

Wales has become the first UK nation to administer the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination to the equivalent of a third of its adult population.

PA reports:

On Friday, Public Health Wales said 839,065 people had received their first dose of either the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech jab - equating to 33.3% of adults in the country.

The figure was 32.1% in England and 31.3% in Scotland on Friday, with Thursday’s figures for Northern Ireland at 29.4%.

First minister Mark Drakeford praised the “enormous efforts” of those involved with the country’s vaccination programme during a press conference on Friday.

He said:

We’re making really good progress with our vaccination programme thanks to the enormous efforts of all of those involved across Wales.

The very latest figures show that almost 840,000 people in Wales have already had their first dose and that’s equivalent to a full third of the adult population of Wales.

This week we started offering people appointments for the second dose and more than 25,000 people have already had theirs.

We are on track to reach the next milestone, to offer vaccination to everybody in priority groups five to nine by the end of April, provided that vaccine supplies also remain on course.

A woman receives an Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus disease vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination centre at Cwmbran Stadium in Cwmbran, South Wales, UK on 17 February, 2021.
A woman receives an Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus disease vaccine at a COVID-19 vaccination centre at Cwmbran Stadium in Cwmbran, South Wales, UK on 17 February, 2021. Photograph: Reuters

Germany and other wealthy countries may need to give some of their own stock of vaccines to developing countries in addition to money, since only vaccinating the whole world will end the coronavirus pandemic, chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday.

Speaking after a video conference of leaders of the G7 group of large developed economies, Merkel said they had not discussed specific percentages of their vaccine stocks that should be given to poorer countries.

But she told reporters: “I stressed in my intervention that the pandemic is not over until all people in the world have been vaccinated.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel takes off her mask as she arrives to hold a news conference following a virtual summit meeting with G7 leaders at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, 19 February 2021.
German chancellor Angela Merkel takes off her mask as she arrives to hold a news conference following a virtual summit meeting with G7 leaders at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, 19 February 2021. Photograph: Annegret Hilse/AP

Three-month gap between AstraZeneca jabs makes shot more effective than six-week gap, study says

A three-month gap between doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine results in higher vaccine efficacy than a six-week gap, a new study suggests.

The research indicates that with three months between the first and second dose there was an overall efficacy of 81%, compared to 55% for a six-week interval, PA reports.

The first dose offered 76% protection in the three months between doses, according to the University of Oxford research published in The Lancet.

Updated at 11.06am EST

Italy reported 15,479 new infections on Friday, and a further 348 deaths.

The country reported 13,762 new cases on Thursday, and 13,893 on Friday last week.

Thursday’s death toll was 347, and last Friday’s was 316.

Italy is still operating a traffic light regional lockdown system, with the Emilia-Romagna, Campania and Molise regions becoming the latest to turn orange, the second strictest code, La Repubblica reports.

The R value in Emilia-Romagna is at 1.05, above the threshold where a region passes from yellow to orange.

Vaccines are administered to people over the age of 80 at Pio Albergo Trivulzio in Milan
Vaccines are administered to people over the age of 80 at Pio Albergo Trivulzio in Milan. Photograph: Carlo Cozzoli/Rex/Shutterstock

Updated at 11.01am EST

Healthcare workers in Mexico, which has registered more than 2m infections and 178,000 deaths, are increasingly grappling with the fatigue, stress and frustration of their daily jobs.

Reuters reports:

“Many times I cry at night,” said medical assistant Teresa Chew, 35, who monitors the lungs of seriously ill Covid-19 patients. “People keep coming and they keep dying.”

Adding to the strain, Chew said it was crushing to see people shrug off prevention measures such as masks. At least 3,000 healthcare workers in Mexico have died from the virus, one of the worst death tolls for the medical profession worldwide.

While the pandemic has exacerbated anxiety and depression for many, medical workers have been especially hard hit, according to a recent report on suicide prevention from the Pan American Health Organization.

At funeral homes and cemeteries, employees are contending with a seemingly endless flow of lost lives. According to a study from the University of Washington, Mexico’s overall death toll from the pandemic could exceed 200,000 in June.

People wait to enter a shopping mall in Mexico City, Mexico
People wait to enter a shopping mall in Mexico City, Mexico. Photograph: José Méndez/EPA

Updated at 10.57am EST

Germany will contribute an additional €1.5bn to support global Covid-19 vaccination efforts and other programmes to fight the pandemic, increasing its overall pledge to €2.1bn, the finance minister, Olaf Scholz, said on Friday.

Reuters reports:

“We can only get out of the pandemic with vaccinations. We need to make progress on this, at home and abroad,” Scholz said, adding that the additional money was meant to support the Covax program, the Word Health Organization (WHO) and other international efforts.

“With today’s announcement we make clear: We’re standing side by side with the poorest countries,” Scholz said.

The German contribution would increase international funds for vaccines, drugs and tests by over 30%, he added. “We’ll only be safe if there is immunisation through vaccination all over the world,” Scholz said.

Joe Biden, was expected to use his first meeting as US president with leaders of the Group of Seven advanced economies on Friday to announce an immediate $2bn donation to the Covax programme co-led by the WHO. Covax aims to ensure a fair supply of coronavirus vaccines around the world.

The US will provide an additional $2bn over the next two years as other nations fulfil and make their own pledges, US officials said.

Germany’s Olaf Scholz
Germany’s Olaf Scholz. Photograph: Getty Images

Updated at 10.39am EST

UK teaching unions have rejected Boris Johnson’s plan to reopen schools in England on 8 March.

This from the Sunday Times’ Sian Griffiths:

Sian Griffiths (@SianGriffiths6)

BREAKING Unions reject expected call from PM for all schools to return on March 8. "We are increasingly concerned that the government is minded to order a full return of all pupils on 8 March... This would seem a reckless course of action." @NEUnion @NAHTnews @ASCL_UK @NASUWT

February 19, 2021

PA reports:

The prime minister should opt for a “phased return” of school and college pupils to classrooms in England or risk another spike in Covid-19 infections, a coalition of education unions has warned.

Unions representing school and college staff and headteachers are “increasingly concerned” that the government could go ahead with a full return of all pupils in England on 8 March.

A joint statement says: “This would seem a reckless course of action. It could trigger another spike in Covid infections, prolong the disruption of education and risk throwing away the hard-won progress made in suppressing the virus over the course of the latest lockdown.

“The science around the role that schools play in the overall rate of transmission is uncertain. What we do know is that the full reopening of schools will bring nearly 10 million pupils and staff into circulation in England - close to one-fifth of the population. This is not a small easing of lockdown restrictions. It is a massive step.

“These factors necessitate a cautious approach with wider school and college opening phased over a period of time.”

Updated at 10.28am EST

A longer-range Canadian forecast shows new variants of Covid-19 will increase the threat of a spring resurgence unless enhanced public health measures are maintained, health officials said on Friday.

The officials said new modeling showed the domestic death toll could be between 21,510 and 22,420 by 28 February, with total cases ranging from 841,650 to 878,850.

“We’re not going to vaccinate our way to getting Covid off the face of the earth,” warned Dr Zain Chagla, an infectious disease specialist and professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.

“The virus has been circulating in people for too long for us to eradicate it with a vaccine,” said Alyson Kelvin, a vaccinologist with VIDO-InterVac in Saskatoon, CBC reports.

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security in Washington, DC, told the outlet: “I think that we’ve been very short-sighted in how we’ve thought about vaccination as a control strategy on a national scale rather than a global one.”

Updated at 10.29am EST

South African virus variant confirmed in Poland

The South African variant of coronavirus is now present in Poland, the country’s health minister, Adam Niedzielski, said on Friday, as Poland braces for a third wave of the pandemic.

“In addition to the British variant, the South African variant has appeared,” he told a news conference.

A health ministry spokesman said earlier on Friday that there was a 20% week-to-week growth trend.

Poland on Friday reported 8,777 new coronavirus infections and 241 more deaths, bringing its total number of cases to 1,623,218 and the total official death toll to 41,823. On Thursday Poland confirmed 9,073 new infections and further 273 deaths.

Of the new cases confirmed on Friday, 1,427 were in the central region of Mazowieckie, which includes the national capital, Warsaw, Polskie Radio reports.

Updated at 10.39am EST

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