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EU Tightens Vaccine Rules; Merkel Scraps Lockdown: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) — The European Union will give itself stronger powers to stop Covid vaccine exports, setting the stage for an escalation of tensions with allies and manufacturers as it faces a third wave of infections.Poland reported record new cases, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel dropped plans for a strict Easter lockdown. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi called on allies across Europe to guarantee “strategic autonomy” by forging a vaccine production chain across the continent.BioNTech SE said it initiated an investigation following issues with the packaging material for vaccine vials that led Hong Kong and Macau to suspend immunizations with the company’s shots. Meantime, Singapore will relax measures to allow more people to return to offices and permit larger gatherings.Key Developments:Global Tracker: Cases pass 124 million; deaths exceed 2.73 millionVaccine Tracker: More than 468 million shots given worldwideBiden uses Trump’s ‘America first’ vaccine plan to corner marketUnder pressure, Bolsanaro pivots on pandemic response in BrazilHispanic vaccination rate in U.S. lags with 16 states under 10%‘Too many questions’: Decades of mistrust spur vaccine hesitancySubscribe to a daily update on the virus from Bloomberg’s Prognosis team here. Click CVID on the terminal for global data on cases and deaths.Utah Expand Eligibility to 16 and Older (12:45 p.m. NY)Utah became the latest U.S. state to open eligibility for vaccinations to those 16 and older, the Deseret News reported. The move adds about 1 million people to the list of those eligible for the vaccine, the newspaper said. Utah’s population is roughly 3 million.Duterte Warns Vaccine Line Jumpers (11:30 a.m. NY)Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned officials against jumping the vaccine queue, saying the nation risks losing donated doses from the World Health Organization-backed Covax facility if health workers aren’t prioritized.Five mayors and a local celebrity’s son may face charges for being inoculated ahead of priority groups, Duterte said in a televised briefing late Wednesday. “We accepted the donations knowing fully well that we have to honor the condition. Right now, we’re not complying,” he said.Iceland Imposes Tighter Limits (11:30 a.m. NY)Iceland, whose handling of the pandemic is regarded as one of the best in the world, is imposing tighter social measures following a surge in infections linked to the British variant. The new restrictions, which will be in effect for three weeks, include closing schools and universities.“Now is the time to react strongly and swiftly,” Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir said a news briefing. “Our conclusion is that reacting decisively now will help us get this down quickly.”Germany Eyes Travel Limits for Holiday Spots (10:45 a.m. NY)The German government is looking at alternative measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus after abandoning its plan for a five-day Easter shutdown, spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said.Cyprus Opening to Visitors (8:49 a.m. NY)Cyprus will open its borders starting April 1 to visitors from the U.S., Russia and Ukraine, the tourism ministry said Wednesday. All travelers who were tested and proven to be Covid-free and who haven’t come into close contact with a confirmed case will be guaranteed a quarantine-free stay, it said. Cyprus said Tuesday that it will reopen borders in April for those coming from Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, while visitors from the U.K. can come from May 1.Colorado Relaxes Rules (8:47 a.m. NY)Colorado has eased more Covid-19 restrictions and lifted all limits on the size of personal gatherings, the state’s Department of Public Health and Environment said. The state will also allow bars to open at limited capacity in counties with a low case count, the department said.Belgium Tightens Restrictions (8:07 a.m. NY)Belgium’s federal government and regions tightened virus restrictions for the first time since late October, closing schools one week ahead of a two-week Easter break, and ordering hairdressers and beauty salons to shut again for four weeks starting Saturday.Belgium is shying away from stricter lockdown measures enacted twice last year, however, allowing non-essential retailers to stay open on appointment and not issuing limits to domestic movements.Italy Police Find Astra Doses (8:04 a.m. NY)Police on Saturday carried out inspections at a pharmaceuticals plant near Rome where millions of doses of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine have been held. An EU official confirmed that 29 million doses were found at the site run by Catalent Inc. The origin and destination of the stock are still to be determined, the official said.Daily La Stampa reported earlier on the doses possibly being ready for export to the U.K. At least some of the doses were produced by Astra sub-contractor Halix in the Netherlands, according to the newspaper.EU Tightens Vaccine Export Rules (7:50 a.m. NY)The EU will give itself stronger powers to stop Covid vaccine exports as it seeks to accelerate a sluggish inoculation campaign.The bloc will demand that countries that receive doses from the EU allow shots to be sent back. It will also consider a nation’s vaccination rate and pandemic situation when deciding whether to green light shipments. The mechanism won’t be automatic, but will be used on a case-by-case basis.Merkel Scraps Easter Lockdown (7:38 a.m. NY)Chancellor Angela Merkel asked the German people for forgiveness after making a rare public apology for sparking massive criticism with plans for a five-day Easter shutdown.Merkel dropped the proposal, calling it a “mistake,” after a hastily-arranged video conference with the heads of Germany’s 16 states around 33 hours after announcing the move. She defended one of Germany’s toughest steps since the start of the pandemic but said there wasn’t enough time to implement it properly.Patients Remain Ill After Hospitalizations (7:18 a.m. NY)Seven out of 10 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 hadn’t fully recovered five months after they were discharged, and one in five had reached the threshold for a new disability, according to a U.K.-wide study of 1,077 patients by the National Institute for Health Research Leicester Biomedical Research Centre.The most common persistent symptoms included muscle pain, fatigue, and impaired sleep quality, and one-quarter had symptoms of anxiety and depression. Levels of a marker of inflammation, called C-reactive protein, were elevated in all but the mildest cases of persistent symptoms, according to a statement.BioNTech Probing Vaccine Batch (6:47 a.m. NY)BioNTech temporarily halted vaccinations in Hong Kong and Macau and initiated an investigation following reports of issues with the primary packaging material for vials in one batch, the company said.The probe includes the handling of the batch at the vaccination centers, throughout the supply chain and during re-packaging, as well as at the time of fill and finish of the batch. At this point, there’s no reason to believe there’s any safety risk for the population, the company said.Singapore Eases Rules (6:27 a.m. NY)Singapore will allow more people to return to offices and permit larger gatherings for various activities as the virus situation improves.The government’s stance will shift from working-from-home as a default to a more flexible approach, where up to 75% of staff can be at the workplace starting April 5, up from 50% now, the health ministry said Wednesday. The size limits for live performances, conferences and sports events will increase to 750 people starting April 24, if they implement pre-event testing.Poland Cases at Record (5:35 p.m. HK)Poland reported a record new caseload as the pandemic’s third wave pushes the government toward tougher restrictions. With a flood of cases sweeping across eastern Europe, Poland has already closed schools, shopping malls and cinemas after reopening them in February.Infections in the last 24 hours reached 29,978, beating the previous peak seen in early November, data released Wednesday showed. The death toll jumped by 575, the most since December, bringing total fatalities to 50,340.Draghi Urges Vaccine Autonomy (5:33 p.m. HK)Mario Draghi said he hopes to ease Italy’s lockdown after the Easter holidays if conditions allow, as the prime minister called on European allies to guarantee “strategic autonomy” by forging a vaccine production chain across the continent.The former head of the European Central Bank has been pressing Brussels to lean on pharmaceutical companies to respect vaccine delivery commitments while warning that Italy will continue to block exports by firms which breach contracts. The country along with the EU stopped an AstraZeneca Plc shipment bound for Australia earlier this month.German ICU Numbers a Concern (2:59 p.m. HK)Germany has significantly more Covid-19 patients in intensive care units as a third wave of the disease takes hold than when the second wave hit, said the head of the country’s intensive- and emergency-care association.“We are starting from a very high level,” Gernot Marx, president of Germany’s DIVI group, said in an interview with DLF radio. “This is a matter of great concern to us,” he said, adding that he hoped Germany’s decision to enter a hard lockdown over Easter will prevent the health system from becoming overwhelmed.Tighter Lockdown for Eastern Austria (2:49 p.m.)The populous eastern Austrian region around Vienna is headed for a tighter lockdown over the Easter holiday, the Austria Press Agency reported after a meeting of the regional governments with Health Minister Rudolf Anschober.The measures are due to be announced later, APA said. The more infectious and aggressive B.1.1.7 mutation of the virus has caused as many as 95% of the new infections in the region and is close to overwhelming intensive care units. For the whole nation, a planned lockdown easing was scrapped on Monday.Japan to Build Patient Data Bank (2:27 p.m. HK)The Japanese government plans to build a Covid-19 data bank with information and samples from about 10,000 patients and make it available to companies and universities for research, Yomiuri reported, without attribution. The data are expected to be available by this summer, it said.Pakistan Buys Chinese Vaccines (2:23 p.m.)Pakistan has bought 1 million Covid-19 vaccines from SinoPharm and 60,000 from CanSino, in its first purchase of the doses, Reuters reported, citing Asad Umar, the planning minister who is leading the nation’s coronavirus response.Bulgarian Daily Cases at Record (1:13 p.m. HK)Bulgaria reported a record high of 4,851 daily coronavirus cases, with numbers of patients hospitalized and in intensive care units also at their highest ever. The country has faced a spike in new infections, caused by the spread of the U.K. strain, as it prepares for a general election on April 4. It shut down shopping malls, big stores, schools, gyms and restaurants on Monday.EU to Tighten Export Rules (11:37 a.m. HK)European Union vaccine shipments to the rest of the world could face severe disruptions under tougher rules set to be unveiled on Wednesday.The EU’s current export regime guarantees that supplies to some 90 countries won’t be interrupted, and also offers protection to companies like Pfizer Inc.and Moderna Inc. that have met their commitments in Europe. Under stricter restrictions being drafted in Brussels, both of those exemptions could be removed, a senior EU official said.Hong Kong Halts Vaccinations (10:21 a.m. HK)The Hong Kong and Macau governments said Wednesday they received notifications about vial packaging defects from Shanghai Fosun Pharmaceutical Group Co., which has the rights to develop and market the shots across mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.BioNTech and Fosun Pharma have initiated an investigation into the issue and say there is no reason to believe product safety is at risk, according to the Macau government’s statement.China to Speed Up Vaccinations (9:30 a.m. HK)China will speed up coronavirus vaccination to offer free shots for its entire population, Xinhua reported, without providing a timeline. China had administered 80.5 million doses of coronavirus vaccines as of March 22 and daily production has risen to about 5 million doses, it said.NZ to Vaccinate for Urgent Travel (8:19 a.m. HK)The government is prepared to vaccinate people who need to urgently travel outside of New Zealand on compassionate grounds or for reasons of national significance, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in statement.Philippines Gets More Shots (8:14 a.m. HK)The Philippines received 400,000 Sinovac doses donated by China on Wednesday, bringing total donations from Beijing to 1 million. Another 1 million Sinovac shots bought by the government and 979,200 donated by AstraZeneca are also expected to arrive by the end of the month, the Health Department said in a statement.Shanghai Offers Foreigners Shots (8:11 a.m. HK)Shanghai will allow foreigners in the city to start booking for a Covid-19 vaccination from March 29, according to a statement from the municipal government. The city will also allow all residents aged between 60 and 75 to register for a shot and will offer a domestically-developed vaccine.Livson Shot Could Get China Trial (7:27 a.m. HK)The vaccine, jointly developed by Livzon Pharma’s unit and Institute of Biophysics under Chinese Academy of Sciences, could be approved for human trials in China, according to a statement to Shenzhen stock exchange.Tokyo to Keep Early Closures (6:57 a.m. HK)Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures of Chiba, Kanagawa and Saitama will continue to ask bars and restaurants to close by 9 p.m. through April 21, the Asahi newspaper reported, citing several unidentified local government officials. The governors of the prefectures will hold a joint meeting as soon as Wednesday to decide on the extension.Brazil Reports Record Deaths (6:39 a.m. HK)Brazil reported more than 3,000 Covid-19 deaths for the first time in a 24-hour period, as the pandemic spreads unchecked across the country and overruns its health system. The Health Ministry said that 3,251 people died on Tuesday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 298,676, the second most globally.A more contagious strain originating in the Amazonian city of Manaus has spread rapidly since the New Year. President Jair Bolsonaro, who has downplayed the severity of the pandemic, said the country is about to become self-sufficient in vaccine production. His address was met with louder than usual pot-banging protests in many cities.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.