Target Corp said on Wednesday that robust online sales during the holiday season resulted in a 17.2% rise in comparable sales for the retailer. The company has been investing heavily in its online business during the Covid-19 pandemic. Digital sales more than doubled as customers shopped across all its major categories including home goods, electronics and apparel.
Store traffic increased 4.3% in the November-December period, Target said, adding that sales trends since January were strong.
US firm Johnson & Johnson is likely to apply for EU approval for its Covid-19 vaccine candidate in February, a top lawmaker said on Wednesday.
“EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides announced during our (EU lawmakers) group meeting this morning that the vaccine manufacturer Johnson & Johnson is likely to submit an application for approval to the EU for their vaccine in February,” said Peter Liese, who represents health matters for the EU’s centre-right group, the assembly’s largest.
Italy’s health minister warned Wednesday against “unforgivable” distractions as the country teeters on the brink of a government crisis in the middle of a deadly coronavirus pandemic.
With the ruling coalition looking close to collapse over a row with a junior partner, Roberto Speranza urged colleagues to keep focused on the health crisis has so far left killed almost 80,000 people in Italy.
“Let’s keep political infighting, real or presumed electoral tensions, far and separate from the health of Italians,” he told the lower parliamentary chamber in an update on Covid-19 regulations.
“It would really be an unforgivable mistake to get distracted or to slow down near the finish line.”
Prime Minister Guiseppe Conte’s government is on the verge of imploding following weeks of internal criticism from former premier Matteo Renzi, the leader of the small Italia Viva party.
The coronavirus mutation first found in Britain has now spread to 50 territories, according to the World Health Organization, while a similar South African-identified strain has been found in 20 regions.
The UN body also noted a third new coronavirus “variant of concern” found in Japan may impact upon immune response and needs further investigation.
“The more the Sars-CoV-2 virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change. High levels of transmission mean that we should expect more variants to emerge,” said the WHO.
China is concentrating its pandemic prevention efforts in the rural areas as officials urge people to not travel home for the Lunar New Year festival while the country combats its most serious latest outbreak of Covid-19.
Authorities said Wednesday local clinics and hospitals in villages need to strengthen their vigilance for any new Covid-19 cases, and local governments must take responsibility at every level — from county to town to village.
The government is bracing for the world’s largest annual migration in which hundreds of millions travel home for Lunar New Year break in February, many of them workers from cities going back to their home villages.
The German state of Bavaria is pushing for controversial new rules to contain the spread of Covid-19 amidst growing concerns about the mutant strain first detected in the UK.
As of the start of next week citizens in the largest and southernmost German state will be required to wear single-use filtering facepiece respirator (FFP2) masks on public transport and in supermarkets. FFP2 masks promise to filter out at least 94% of particles but are also more expensive, usually retailing at around four to six euros.
“The availability [of the masks] in trade is sufficiently guaranteed, so there is no shortage of FFP2,” state premier Markus Söder promised on Tuesday, but there are some concerns that the mask’s cost could drive people to use their masks more frequently than advised, thus lowering rather than increasing protection.
Söder, a pacesetter for German coronavirus restrictions for much of 2020, has also floated the idea of compulsory vaccinations for care workers. The leader of the Bavarian CSU party said such a move could be justified to protect vulnerable people amidst a high rate of vaccine scepticism.
According to one recent survey, only 50% of care workers in Germany were prepared to take part in the first wave of vaccinations. Health Minister Jens Spahn has been quick to reject the proposal. “I gave my promise in the Bundestag”, Spahn said. “In this pandemic there won’t be compulsory vaccinations”.
Data on the highly contagious Covid-19 variant identified in England do not suggest that vaccines will be less effective against it, while data on the South African variant should be available within weeks, a top British vaccines expert said.
“We have the most data on the UK variant. That doesn’t suggest that it will be any less well protected against by the vaccine,” Wei Shen Lim, chair of Covid-19 Immunisation on Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said in remarks reported by Reuters.
Asked specifically about the South African variant, he said that Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine trials had been conducted in South Africa which was an advantage in terms of data collection.
“We’re told that very very soon, the Oxford and AZ trials may be able to examine in quite some detail whether their vaccine will protect against the new variant. I think that is a matter of weeks.”
That’s it from me. Sarah Marsh will take over shortly.
The daily number of COVID-19 cases in the United Arab Emirates has crossed the 3,000 threshold for the first time as authorities in the Middle East’s business and tourism hub urged people to accept vaccinations.
The health ministry late on Tuesday reported 3,243 new daily infections and six deaths, Reuters said. That was the highest in the Gulf Arab region where daily cases in each of the other five states have fallen below 500.
On Tuesday Britain removed the UAE, an international travel hub, from its travel corridors list.
Most coronavirus restrictions have been lifted in the UAE, but social distancing and mask-wearing in public are still required. Visitors have flocked to Dubai during its peak winter tourism season as other countries impose new lockdowns.
The Gulf Arab state has also ramped up its immunisation campaign, ranking second behind Israel in terms of its vaccination rate. Emirati officials have said they aim to vaccinate more than 50% of its roughly 9 million population in the first quarter of this year.
“Taking the vaccine is every individual’s responsibility to protect their health, families and wider society,” UAE Vice-President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, who is also ruler of Dubai, said in a Twitter post on Tuesday.
In total, the UAE has recorded 236,225 infections and 717 deaths. The total for the six Gulf Arab states stands at more than 1.12 million coronavirus cases, with Saudi Arabia holding the highest individual count at 364,096.
US sees new record of 4,327 Covid deaths in a single day
The US recorded its highest single daily death toll of the pandemic on Tuesday, according to figures published by Johns Hopkins university.
According to the new figures, yesterday theUSrecorded 215,805 new coronavirus cases, and 4,327 further deaths. This takes the total death toll in the pandemic in the US to 380,485, and is the highest daily death figure recorded by the university since the pandemic began. The previous highest figure of 4,194 was recorded on 7 January.
The Covid Tracking Project reports that 131,326 people are currently hospitalized in the US with Covid-19. It is the 42nd day in a row that the figure has exceeded 100,000.
Christina Maxouris at CNN reports that over the past week, the US has averaged more than 3,300 deaths every day, a jump of more than 200% since November. She writes:
Arizona reported a record-high 5,082 hospitalized Covid-19 patients Tuesday and on the same day broke a second record: more than 1,180 patients with the virus in ICU beds. In Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards extended an order which keeps Covid-19 mitigation measures in place for nearly another month, saying the state was seeing a “huge spike” in cases and hospitalizations.
Yesterday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated that more than 27.6 million vaccine doses have so far been distributed in the US, and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced changes in the distribution plan to try and speed up the roll-out.
Azar said “We are telling states they should open vaccinations to all people 65 and over, and all people under age 65 with a comorbidity with some form of medical documentation.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s leading immunologists, said: “When people are ready to get vaccinated, we’re going to move right on to the next level, so that there are not vaccine doses that are sitting in a freezer or refrigerator where they could be getting into people’s arm.”
In Denmark, parliament will close some of its activities, including debates on several new bills, for a month due to the coronavirus epidemic, Reuters said that the news wire Ritzau reported on Wednesday, citing the parliament’s speaker.
Last week, Denmark announced it would only allow flights into the country where every passenger had tested negative for Covid-19 and issued guidance advising citizens against all travel abroad.
A unit of Sinovac Biotech could double annual production capacity of its CoronaVac Covid-19 vaccine to 1bn doses by February, the Chinese group’s chairman said on Wednesday.
More than 7m doses of CoronaVac vaccine, one of the three China has included in its emergency vaccination programme, have so far been supplied to regions including the city of Beijing and Guangdong province, Sinovac Biotech Chairman Yin Weidong told a news conference, according to a Reuters report.
While the first phase of Sinovac Life Sciences’ existing production line can make 500m CoronaVac doses in one year, another with annual capacity of 500m doses could become operational by February, Yin said.
Researchers in Brazil on Tuesday released new efficacy data for the vaccine, for which there have been varying rates of success from trial sites in three countries.
The data (see earlier post) showed the vaccine was just 50.4% effective at preventing symptomatic infections in the Brazilian trial, a major disappointment for Brazil. The results are barely enough for regulatory approval and stand well below the rate announced last week based on partial data.
Trials in different countries are designed differently, but the CoronaVac doses being tested came from the same batch, Yin said.
“These phase 3 clinical trial results are sufficient to prove that CoronaVac vaccine’s safety and effectiveness are good around the world,” he added.
South African police have arrested more than 7,000 people caught without face masks in public since the end of December, the government said on Wednesday.
Officials made face coverings mandatory in May last year at the same time as they gradually eased movement restrictions imposed in March to stem coronavirus infections.
A partial lockdown was reinstated last month as the virus resurged, fuelled by a more transmissible variant.
Officials at the time vowed to be more stringent in enforcing the regulations, which include an alcohol sales ban.
In a statement reported by AFP, police minister Bheki Cele on Wednesday said more than 20,000 people had been arrested or fined since December 29 for breaching the new rules, including 7,455 people detained for not wearing face masks.
More than 830 people have also been arrested for selling, dispensing and transporting alcohol.
“Law enforcement agencies do not enjoy making these arrests,” Cele said. “However, officers … are left with no choice in the interest of saving lives.”
More than 342,000 people have been arrested for contravening coronavirus measures since South Africa declared a national state of disaster in March 2020.
The country is the continent’s worst-affected by the pandemic, with more than 1.2m coronavirus cases and 34,000 deaths recorded to date.
Indonesia has reported 11,278 new coronavirus infections and 306 new deaths, official figures showed.
Earlier on Wednesday, president Joko Widodo became the first person in the country to receive a shot of a Chinese-made Covid-19 vaccine, as health officials began an immunisation campaign in one of the world’s most populous countries.
There is no need to close schools in France but new restrictive measures must be taken to slow further coronavirus infections and in particular the spread of the British variant, the government’s top scientific adviser said on Wednesday.
“We think English data on the variant are not definitive enough to lead us to recommend the closing of schools in France,” Delfraissy told franceinfo radio (see earlier post).
He said the British variant accounted for an estimated 1% of the new Covid-19 infections in France. “The immediate challenge is not to eliminate it but to slow its progression by taking a number of restrictive measures,” he continued.
Taiwan health authorities said on Wednesday they had confirmed the first case of the highly transmissible South African variant of Covid-19, in an eSwatini national being treated in hospital.
Reuters reported that the central epidemic command centre said the infection had been confirmed on Tuesday by laboratory test.
The man, in his 30s, had arrived in Taiwan to work on 24 December and began developing symptoms while in quarantine and was initially confirmed to have Covid-19 on 3 January, according to details previously released by the government.
Taiwan has reported 843 Covid-19 cases including seven deaths. Almost all the cases have been imported and about 100 people are being treated in hospital.