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U.K. Denies Herd Claims; CDC on Variant Watch: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) — The U.K. government has pushed back on claims from the former chief aide of Prime Minister Boris Johnson that officials pursued a herd immunity strategy in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that under-vaccinated areas in the U.S. could become hot spots for a mutation of the coronavirus first detected in India and are upping surveillance of the highly transmissible variant. Meanwhile, vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc have been shown to work against this strain, according to a study by Public Health England.Singapore preliminarily confirmed 22 new cases of locally transmitted Covid-19 infection as of 12 p.m. on Sunday, three of which are untraceable, according to a statement from the health ministry. The country will close two malls after new cases were linked to the properties as the health minister said more targeted testing and surveillance operations will be conducted to curb outbreaks.Key Developments:Global Tracker: Cases pass 166.4 million; deaths exceed 3.4 millionVaccine Tracker: More than 1.63 billion doses have been givenWhat’s the Best Covid Vaccine? Why It’s Not So Simple: QuickTakeGlaxoSmithKline will make sure it’s on the front lines of the next pandemicVaccine tourists urged to read fine print on trips overseasU.K. Denies Cummings Claims (7:05 a.m. NY)The U.K. government pushed back on claims from the former chief aide of Prime Minister Boris Johnson that officials pursued a herd immunity strategy in the early days of the pandemic. Dominic Cummings unleashed a series of tweets on Saturday criticizing the U.K.’s response.He said that letting enough citizens become infected in order to reach natural herd immunity was the “official plan in all docs/graphs/meetings” until early March 2020, when it became clear that such a policy would lead to catastrophe.When asked about the allegations in an interview on the BBC on Sunday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said that was “not at all” the plan. Jenny Harries, chief executive of the U.K. Health Security Agency also said it wasn’t the nation’s strategy.Germany Eyes Restrictions Easing (5:51 p.m. HK)Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn has promised a wide-ranging easing of pandemic restrictions during the summer if the country’s 7-day incidence rate falls below 20. “Last summer the rate was below 20. We should aim for that again,” Spahn told the Sunday edition of the tabloid Bild. According to the Robert Koch Institute, Germany has a 7-day incidence rate of 64.5. That means that there are 64.5 new infections per 100,000 individuals over a period of 7 days.CDC on Variant Watch (5:01 p.m. HK)Federal Health officials are ramping up their surveillance of the highly transmissible Covid-19 variant first identified in India as experts warn that under-vaccinated areas in the U.S. could become hot spots for the mutation.While U.S. cases attributed to the B.1.617 variant currently sit below 1%, the growth rate remains unclear due to the small sample size. One science group said the strain could be as much as 50% more transmissible than B.1.1.7, the variant that emerged from the U.K. That mutation was first seen in the U.S. in late December, and is now dominant nationally.Philippines Probes Online Vaccine Sales (4:14 p.m. HK)Authorities in the Philippines are investigating the alleged online sale of slots for Covid-19 vaccines in the cities of Mandaluyong and San Juan, the Philippine Star reported Sunday, citing a top police official. The country’s government is offering shots for free under its vaccine drive. Philippine National Police chief Guillermo Eleazar has directed the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group to identify and arrest those taking advantage of the pandemic to con victims.India New Cases Lowest in More Than a Month (2:38 p.m. HK)India’s new coronavirus cases continued to slow with a daily total of 240,842 on Sunday, the lowest in more than a month. Meanwhile, India’s capital extended its lockdown until May 31 as it halted vaccinations of people age 18 to 44 due to a shortage of jabs. India and scores of other World Trade Organization members made a fresh appeal for a three-year patent waiver on products and technology used in the treatment of Covid-19, the Economic Times reported.Thailand Detects Cases of South Africa Variant (2:31 p.m. HK)Thailand discovered its first case of the variant first reported in South Africa, two days after the country detected another variant originally seen in India. The latest variant was detected in three infections from a cluster of 83 cases in southern Thailand, Opas Karnkawinpong, director-general of the Department of Disease Control, said on Sunday, adding that authorities have restricted access to the district.The country reported 3,382 new cases and 17 fatalities for the day, taking the country’s total case count to 129,5000 with 776 deaths.Enough Pfizer Doses for All Australians by End-2021 (11:15 a.m. HK)Australia’s government is promising enough Pfizer Inc. vaccines to have all Australians vaccinated by the end of 2021, the Sun-Herald newspaper reported. Two million Pfizer doses are expected to be available in Australia each week from the beginning of October, which would mean all who are keen can get their two shots by the end of the year, the paper said, citing the Australian Medical Association.Health Minister Greg Hunt told the paper that 4.5 million Pfizer doses will arrive by the end of June, and there will be 7 million doses expected in both the third and fourth quarters.Samsung Biologics, Moderna Sign Deal: Yonhap (10:30 a.m. HK)South Korea’s Samsung Biologics signed a deal with Moderna on vaccine production, Yonhap News Agency reported. Under the agreement, Samsung Biologics will provide contract-manufacturing organization services to Moderna for its mRNA vaccine and some of the doses will be produced in South Korea.Samsung and Moderna will together supply “hundreds of millions” of doses intended for markets across the globe, starting in the third quarter of this year, Second Vice Health Minister Kang Dotae said in a briefing Sunday.Malaysia to Impose Curfew, Add Guidelines (9:30 a.m. HK)Malaysia will restrict business operations to 8 a.m until 8 p.m. beginning May 25 to stem a recent surge in Covid-19 cases, according to Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob. About 80% of government officials and 40% of private sector employees will work from home, with the move affecting 7 million to 8 million workers.Places deemed high risk will shut immediately and usage of public transportation will be limited to 50% capacity, Ismail said. The nation logged 6,320 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, a fourth straight day that infections have topped 6,000.Japan Sets July 4 Target for Vaccines: Yomiuri (9 a.m. HK)The Japanese government expects to finish delivering coronavirus vaccines for senior citizens to all municipalities by July 4, the Yomiuri newspaper reported.About 93% out of the nation’s 1,741 municipalities will be able to meet the government’s target to vaccinate people ages 65 and over by the end of July, the Yomiuri said.Singapore to Shut Two Malls (7:45 a.m. HK)Singapore will close two shopping malls on the western part of the island for two weeks starting Sunday after 10 recent cases were linked to the properties.“Our epidemiological investigations have found that there is likely ongoing transmission among individuals who visited these malls,” the health ministry said in a statement. “To break any potential chain of transmission and enable deep cleaning of the premises, JEM and Westgate shopping malls will be closed to all members of the public.”The ministry will also offer free Covid-19 tests to those who visited the malls from May 10 to May 14.Argentina to Get 1 Million Astra Doses (7:33 a.m. HK)Argentina will receive more than 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will arrive in the country between Sunday and Monday, according to an emailed statement from President Alberto Fernandez’s press office.Of the doses, 204,000 are set to arrive Sunday morning via purchases through Covax, while 843,000 will arrive Monday from the U.S.Glaxo Gets Ready for Next Pandemic (7:25 a.m. HK)GlaxoSmithKline fell behind in the Covid-19 vaccine race, but now the drugmaker is working to make sure it’s on the front lines of the next pandemic.The British pharma giant is talking with the U.K. and other governments about building facilities to bring vaccine development and production onshore before the next crisis, said Roger Connor, its vaccines chief. The labs would offer a range of vaccine technologies to tackle deadly viruses of the future, he said in an interview.CDC Probes Cases of Youth Heart Inflammation (7:17 a.m. HK)The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating “relatively few” reports of a heart problem in adolescents and young adults after a Covid-19 vaccination.A report from a meeting of the agency’s safety group on May 17 said that most discovered cases of myocarditis “appear to be mild” and could be unrelated to vaccinations. Myocarditis is an inflammation of the heart muscle often found after an infection.The cases were mostly in adolescents and young adults and more often in males than females. The report added that the cases occurred more often after a second dose than the first and were typically found within four days after infection.Brazil Passes 16 Million Cases (6:37 a.m. HK)Brazil passed 16 million cases Saturday, at the end of week in which infections and deaths were rising, according to Health Ministry data.Cases rose for the fourth consecutive week, adding another 76,490 on Saturday, though the weekly caseload of 460,905 remains about 80,000 below a peak in March.Weekly deaths increased to 13,495, after falling for five straight weeks from a peak of 21,141. Brazil has a total 448,208 recorded deaths, the most after the U.S.Vaccines Reported Effective on Variant From India (5:48 p.m. NY)Coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer Inc. and AstraZeneca Plc have been shown to work against a variant first identified in India, according to a study by Public Health England.Two doses of the Covid-19 vaccines were “highly effective” against the B.1.617.2 strain first detected in India, the agency said in a statement. There was minimal difference with how the inoculations work on a variant detected in Kent, it said.The results are likely to boost the U.K. government’s plan to end its lockdown on June 21 even as cases of the variant have been rising rapidly.More stories like this are available on bloomberg.comSubscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.©2021 Bloomberg L.P.