U.S. President Joe Biden said he wasn’t willing to reduce the $1,400 stimulus checks outlined in his Covid-19 aid package as that would mean starting his presidency with a broken promise, though he was open to tightening the eligibility criteria for recipients.
Hong Kong plans to double its in-school teaching capacity, allowing a third of students to return to class. AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford have started looking at how to re-engineer their coronavirus vaccine to defeat new mutations, saying a tweaked injection could be ready late this year.
Australia has access to 150 million doses of vaccines after securing an additional 10 million from Pfizer Inc., Prime Minister Scott Morrison said. Meanwhile, a worker in a hotel housing Australian Open tennis players was found to have Covid, prompting a tightening of rules in Melbourne and forcing athletes and tournament staff to isolate and get tested. The World Economic Forum is working to reschedule its Special Annual Meeting in Singapore.
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More Doses for Australia (10:21 a.m. HK)
Everyone in Australia will have access to Covid-19 vaccines, Health Minister Greg Hunt said, as the country secured a further 10 million doses from Pfizer. Australia now has access to 150 million doses in total, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Mexico Deaths Top 161,000 (10:03 a.m. HK)
Mexico reported 1,707 daily coronavirus deaths, bringing the country’s total to 161,240. That’s the third highest toll globally, after the U.S. and Brazil.
Saudi Arabia Halts Gatherings (9:52 a.m HK)
All gatherings including celebrations such as weddings, company meetings at private or hotel halls as well as rest centers and camps will be halted for 30 days starting Thursday evening, state-run SPA reported, citing a statement from the interior ministry.
Qualcomm Underscores Chip Shortage (9:08 a.m. HK)
Qualcomm Inc., the world’s largest smartphone chipmaker, said it is struggling to meet demand, signaling that a global semiconductor shortage is spreading.
Like most chipmakers, Qualcomm outsources production to companies such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Samsung Electronics Co., but these suppliers are having difficulties adjusting to a vigorous rebound in demand. The auto sector has also complained about the issue of shortages.
American Airlines Jobs Warning (8:15 a.m. HK)
American Airlines Group Inc. told 13,000 employees they could be laid off, many for the second time in six months, saying a much-anticipated summer travel rebound isn’t materializing.
The warning came less than a week after United Airlines Holdings Inc. notified 14,000 employees that their jobs may again be in danger. With vaccination campaigns still in the early stages, domestic airline passengers are at less than 40% of 2019 levels. Foreign travel is at only about 15%, the International Air Transport Association said Wednesday.
At the end of 2020 “we fully believed that we would be looking at a summer
schedule where we’d fly all of our airplanes and need the full strength of our
team,” American’s CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom said in an email. “Regrettably, that is no longer the case.”
U.S. House Passes Budget (7:05 a.m. HK)
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget that helps clear the path for a fast-tracking of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan. The Senate plans to pass an identical version of the budget later this week.
The House vote followed action by the Senate to consider a similar budget resolution — beginning a process that would let Democrats proceed with the stimulus without Republican votes. Still, the president told reporters before an Oval Office meeting with Democratic senators that he thought some Republicans would support his package.
Biden signaled he wasn’t willing to reduce the standard $1,400 stimulus checks, which phase out based on income totals, according to participants on his call with House Democrats. Top party members are however considering ways to reduce the number of households that qualify for the checks.
Winter Weather Hampers U.S. Vaccinations (5:35 a.m. HK)
The rush to vaccinate U.S. residents was bogged down this week, as snow blanketed the Northeast and appointments for shots were missed or canceled.
The U.S. administered 868,000 doses Monday, 33% fewer than the seven-day rolling average of 1.3 million that day. Northeast states showed steep declines in daily rates, according to the Bloomberg Vaccine Tracker. In Maryland, for instance, daily doses were 65% less than the state’s daily seven-day rolling average on Sunday and 58% less on Monday.
California Plans Mass Vaccination Sites (4:40 a.m. HK)
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced a partnership with the Biden administration to open a mass vaccination site at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, home of the Oakland A’s baseball team, as the most-populous state tries to ramp up an inoculation effort that has trailed other parts of the U.S.
Newsom said the site and one at California State University in Los Angeles should be operational on Feb. 16. California has tripled the number of daily shots it administers and expects to get 1.06 million doses this week, he said.
Australian Open Tennis Players Isolate (4:40 a.m. HK)
After 28 days without a coronavirus case in the community, Melbourne reported its first from a worker at a quarantine hotel housing Australian Open tennis players, prompting a tightening of rules in the city.
Masks are now mandatory in all public indoor spaces and the number of visitors allowed in homes halved to 15. The increase in office capacity for returning public and private sector workers that was slated for Monday has been paused as the city moves swiftly to track contacts of the case.
Australian Open players, officials and support staff staying at the Grand Hyatt during the entire period were considered casual contacts of the case and must immediately isolate and get tested. There will be no matches at Melbourne Park on Thursday. The tournament is due to start on Feb. 8 with reduced attendance limits of up to 30,000 spectators.
Yankee Stadium Opens for Vaccinations Friday (3:45 a.m. HK)
New York City’s Yankee Stadium will open as a mass vaccination site for Bronx residents on Friday, with 15,000 appointments available in the first week of operation, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
The site aims to increase vaccinations for eligible residents of the Bronx, where Covid-19 cases are the highest among the city’s five boroughs, according to a news release. Targeting locations with higher positivity rates will help to keep the infection rate down but also will “help ensure equity in our vaccine distribution process,” Cuomo said.
Houston Rodeo Disrupted for Second Year (1:29 a.m. HK)
The 2021 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was canceled amid concerns about the safety of large public gatherings.
The rodeo, originally scheduled to run for three weeks beginning in early March, was postponed until May earlier this year. On Wednesday, organizers announced the event — which typically attracts 2.5 million attendees and employs almost 4,000 — would be scrapped. Associated events including the downtown Houston rodeo parade and the World’s Championship Bar-B-Que Contest also have been canceled, organizers said.
N.J. Loosens Restaurant Restrictions (12:17 a.m. HK)
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy loosened indoor capacity restrictions for restaurants and other businesses to 35% from 25%. He also lifted the 10 p.m. curfew on indoor restaurant service. All changes are effective Friday.
World Economic Forum Moves Annual Meeting (12 a.m. HK)
The World Economic Forum proposed to reschedule the Special Annual Meeting in Singapore to mid-August due to travel restrictions and the current state of the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting had been scheduled for late May.
Africa to Start Receiving Covax Shots (11:37 p.m. HK)
Covax, the global program that strives to ensure equitable access to coronavirus vaccines, has allocated millions of doses of AstraZeneca Plc’s shots to African countries and aims for its first deliveries by the end of the month.
Nigeria, the most populous nation on the continent, stands to receive 16 million doses, while Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo are in line for 9 million and 7 million doses respectively, according to an interim distribution forecast published Wednesday. Other African countries will get a smaller number of vaccines.
NYC Health Commissioner Tests Positive (11:19 p.m. HK)
New York City’s health commissioner, Dave Chokshi, tested positive for Covid-19, he said in a statement Wednesday.
“I now have mild symptoms, but they are manageable,” Chokshi said. “I have been in touch with New York City’s Test and Trace Corps to ensure that anyone who was potentially exposed is offered services and care. This is a reminder – if we ever needed one – that Covid is still with us and we all must continue to wear masks, wash our hands, socially distance and stay home if feeling ill.”
Bristol Myers Joins Covid Antibody Race (11:10 p.m. HK)
Bristol Myers Squibb Co. clinched a deal with the Rockefeller University for rights to a Covid-19 therapy that combines two antibodies, the drugmaker said.
Rockefeller launched the experimental treatment into human trials in mid-January. The agreement grants Bristol Myers an exclusive license to develop, manufacture and commercialize the therapy globally.
Chile Expands Vaccination Program (8:44 p.m. HK)
Chile, the Latin American country that has procured the most vaccines per capita, expanded its inoculation program Wednesday to include the elderly.
People lined up at state-run health centers and private clinics to receive the first dose of the Sinovac vaccine. The government is putting into practice a program that begin with people age 90 and higher and essential workers. In coming days, the age limit will fall progressively.
Serbia Appeals for More of Chinese Vaccine (8:16 p.m. HK)
Serbia has appealed for more Chinese vaccine doses after being the first in Europe to import shots from Sinopharm last month, the office of President Aleksandar Vucic said. The initial shipment of 1 million doses put the Balkan country ahead of the rest of continental Europe in inoculation.
Hong Kong to Double In-School Capacity (7:45 p.m. HK)
Hong Kong is set to allow up to one-third of a school’s student capacity to return to classes on a half-day basis after the Lunar New Year holiday, double the current capacity. School campuses have been closed as the city battles an extended wave of the coronavirus, which has led authorities to enact some of its strictest restrictions since the start of the pandemic.
Astra, Oxford to Work on Re-Engineered Shot (7:43 p.m. HK)
AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford are planning to have a re-engineered shot that protects against new mutations available by the fall in time for the next round of immunizations that may be required before winter.
Andrew Pollard, chief investigator of the Oxford trials, said switching out the genome sequence, manufacturing and completing new studies for a vaccine against variants should be fairly quick.
Moderna Offers South Africa Vaccines in First (7:23 p.m. HK)
Moderna offered to supply its coronavirus vaccine to South Africa, in what would be its first deal to sell shots to an African nation, a person familiar with the talks said.
Discussions have started, though no deal has been concluded, the person said. Business Day newspaper earlier reported that Moderna offered to sell South Africa 20 million doses, with the first arriving in May, citing a health activist from a group called the C19 People’s Coalition.
— With assistance by Dan Reichl, and Will Davies