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Coronavirus latest: California to issue stay-at-home orders if ICU capacity runs low

Gary Jones in Hong Kong

The World Health Organization announced on Thursday a new initiative to combat the “infodemic” of online misinformation about Covid-19 and other health emergencies in Africa.

The Africa Infodemic Response Alliance links 13 international and regional organisations with fact-checking groups with expertise in data and behavioural science, epidemiology, digital health and communications.

“In health emergencies, misinformation can kill and ensure diseases continue to spread,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa. “People need proven, science-based facts to make informed decisions about their health and wellbeing, and a glut of information — an infodemic — with misinformation in the mix makes it hard to know what is right and real.”

According to UN Global Pulse, the UN secretary-general’s initiative on big data, between February and November of this year in the 47 countries of the WHO African region, information about the virus had been shared and viewed more than 270bn times online, and mentioned nearly 40m times on Twitter and web-based news sites.

Gary Jones in Hong Kong

The long-term impact of the pandemic could push a further 207m people into extreme poverty by 2030, a study from the UN Development Programme has found, bringing the total number globally to more than a billion.

The study, released on Thursday, warns that a “high damage” scenario would see a protracted recovery from Covid-19 with 80 per cent of the pandemic-induced economic crisis continuing for a decade.

The report says that a “baseline” scenario, based on current mortality rates and the most recent growth projections by the International Monetary Fund, would result in 44m more people living in extreme poverty by 2030 compared to the development trajectory the world was on before the pandemic.

The UN body also stressed, however, that a focus on its “sustainable development goals” could slow the rise of extreme poverty, and protect 146m people from its grip.

“As this new poverty research highlights, the Covid-19 pandemic is a tipping point, and the choices leaders take now could take the world in very different directions,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP administrator.

“We have an opportunity to invest in a decade of action that not only helps people recover from Covid-19, but that resets the development path of people and planet towards a fairer, resilient and green future.”

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific equities were mixed on Friday after Wall Street optimism over a US Covid-19 relief package was tempered by vaccine supply fears.

Japan’s Topix edged down 0.1 per cent, the Kospi in Seoul rose 0.7 per cent and the S&P/ASX 200 added 0.2 per cent in Australia. Hang Seng futures were flat in Hong Kong.

Mitch McConnel, Senate majority leader, said that there was “movement in the right direction” on a bipartisan Covid relief bill.

On Wall Street on Thursday, the S&P 500 ended down 0.1 per cent following a report that suggested Pfizer had halved expected Covid-19 vaccine shipments for this year. Pfizer said it had previously given a 50m dose target.

Peter Wells in New York

Texas on Thursday reported its biggest daily jump in deaths in more than four months.

A further 244 deaths were attributed to coronavirus, up from 207 on Wednesday, according to data from the health department, and compared with 206 on Thursday last week.

It was the biggest one-day jump since the 265 fatalities reported on August 27, and takes the overall death toll to 22,000, a tally second only to New York's nearly 27,000.

Texas has averaged about 120 deaths a day over the past week. That is down from an average of 152 on November 25, which was its highest level since early September, and also compares to a peak average of 279 a day in early August.

A further 13,857 cases were reported to the health department, down from 14,758 new cases on Wednesday and compared with 12,423 on Thursday last week, which was Thanksgiving.

Authorities revealed an additional 582 older cases to the statewide total, although these historical infections were not added to the daily figures.

The number of people in Texas hospitals with coronavirus rose to 9,151, a net increase of 42 patients over a 24-hour period. That remains the highest level of hospitalisations since late July.

Gary Jones

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday announced the creation of the Pandemic Response Institute dedicated to preparing the city for future health emergencies and epidemics.

The $20m initiative aims to position New York as a global leader in medical research, innovation and pandemic response.

“The Pandemic Response Institute will establish New York City as a global leader in public health training, research and management,” Mr de Blasio said. “No city in the county has sacrificed more, or worked harder to keep Covid-19 at bay.

“It’s time to put those lessons to work — and move forward with bold ideas to keep New Yorkers healthy and jump-start our economic recovery.”

The city has identified a space in the Alexandria Center for Life Science, an 870,000-square-foot facility dedicated to commercial bioscience on Manhattan's East Side, to house the PRI with the goal of opening by the end of 2021.

Hannah Kuchler in New York

Moderna expects to have between 100m and 150m doses of its Covid-19 vaccine ready in the first quarter of next year, with most of the supply going to the US.

The Boston-based start-up said 85 to 100m of the doses it is set to produce in the first quarter will be distributed in the US. Each participant will need two doses.

Moderna reaffirmed its forecasts for 20m in 2020, which could only be distributed if and when it receives regulatory approval, expected to be mid to late December. In 2021, it will have between 500m and 1bn doses.

Separately, a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed an early indication that immune responses to the vaccine endure. Participants in the early phase 1 trial still had “high levels of neutralising antibodies” three months after the second dose, it said.

Hannah Kuchler in New York

Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has pulled back from his criticism of the UK regulator, which became the first to approve a Covid-19 vaccine this week.

Speaking to the BBC, Dr Fauci apologised for what he said was a “misunderstanding”. He told the BBC that he did not mean to imply any “sloppiness” on behalf of the regulator, saying he had “great faith” in the scientific and regulatory community in the UK.

Earlier on Thursday, he accused the UK of rushing its approval of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, suggesting it had not scrutinised the data as carefully as the US regulator would.

Peter Wells in New York

California will introduce stay-at-home orders for regions where intensive care unit capacity at hospitals falls below a 15 per cent threshold as the state faces a record surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations.

The order, revealed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday afternoon, will restrict operations at all but the most essential businesses and services for a three-week period in regions of the state where ICU capacity falls below that 15 per cent limit.

Mr Newsom said ICU capacity is expected to fall below 15 per cent by "early December" in the regions of greater Sacramento, northern California, the San Joaquin valley and southern California. The Bay Area, around San Francisco, is expected to reach that threshold by "mid-late December", he added.

The governor's announcement came after figures from the state health department showed the number of patients in California hospitals with Covid-19 hit a record 9,702 and the number of available ICU beds across the state fell below 1,800 for the first time.

The state reported 18,591 people tested positive for coronavirus, down from Wednesday's single-day record of 20,759. A further 113 deaths were attributed to coronavirus, the same as Wednesday, which was the biggest daily jump in fatalities since late October.

Earlier this week, Mr Newsom said officials would add hospitalisation demand and capacity levels to the metrics used to govern the state's colour-coded system that sets out restrictions for California's 58 counties. More than 95 per cent of California's nearly 40m residents are currently in the most restrictive "purple" tier.

On Wednesday night, Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti announced a stay-at-home order for the county's 10m residents.

California was the first state to introduce a stay-at-home order in the spring, which closed all non-essential businesses. The new order, if triggered in affected regions, will result in some businesses halting operations, but retailers may remain open with capacity limits and schools can stay open with a waiver.

The S&P 500 suffered a late-afternoon sell-off on Thursday, after reports emerged that Pfizer had cut in half the number of Covid-19 vaccines it expects to ship this year due to supply chain issues.

Southwest Airlines warned more than 6,800 employees that they could be furloughed next spring — potentially the first job losses in the airline’s history.

New films from AT&T’s Warner Bros will debut both online and in cinemas next year, as Hollywood braces for the likelihood that in-person attendance will remain limited because of the pandemic.

Greece will keep lockdown measures in place for an extra week following a slower than predicted decline in Covid-19 cases in the northern city of Thessaloniki and its surrounding regions. The four-week lockdown, which was due to be lifted on Monday, will be extended until December 14.

Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, predicts the early vaccines will have “significant impact”, even if it takes many months of inoculation to achieve herd immunity. Mr Bourla said that by prioritising more vulnerable populations, the vaccine could make a dent in hospitalisations from the start.

France will vaccinate 1m particularly vulnerable people against coronavirus in January, especially those in old people’s homes, with a further 14m being vaccinated in February and the rest of the population in the spring, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

North Carolina and Indiana on Thursday reported their biggest one-day jumps in cases since the start of the pandemic, while Arizona had its second-biggest day on record. The three states represent a relatively broad geographical cross-section of the country and reflect the overall trend across the US.

Senior executives and City dealmakers entering the UK will be exempt from having to quarantine under new proposals. The exemption would mean that executives from large companies would not need to self-isolate or take a test if they are involved in high-value deals which deliver a "significant economic return to the UK".

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell declared that compromise was “in reach” on a bipartisan Covid-19 relief package, boosting hopes that Washington may finally pass some follow-up stimulus package in the final weeks of the Trump administration.

Dharampal Gulati, India’s "spice king", has died of a cardiac arrest three weeks after testing positive for coronavirus. The owner of Mahashian Di Hatti was in a hospital in Delhi and died on Thursday, aged 97.

The Premier League has wrapped up negotiations to provide a £250m rescue package for English Football League clubs struggling to survive without fans at matches for most of the year. Shareholders in football’s most lucrative domestic league agreed to provide £50m in grants for League One and Two clubs.

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