Coronavirus latest: US records deadliest month of the pandemic

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Updated at 2/1/2021, 3:13:32 PM BST

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

Dubai has approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine for use, receiving its first batch of supplies from manufacturing facilities in India on Tuesday.

The vaccine will be available at Dubai Health Authority facilities, where BioNTech/Pfizer shots have been available since December.

Abu Dhabi and federal healthcare authorities have also been administering the Chinese Sinopharm jab across the United Arab Emirates, including in Dubai.

The Gulf state has delivered more than 3.4m vaccines, or around 35 doses per 100 people, second only to Israel at around 58 doses per 100.

Peter Wise in Lisbon

Portugal’s economy contracted 7.6 per cent in 2020, the biggest fall since the country returned to democracy in 1974, as the pandemic caused a record drop in tourism earnings and a sharp fall in private consumption.

The sharp annual decline was in spite of 0.4 per cent growth the country eked out in the fourth quarter compared with the previous three months, according to the flash estimate from from Statistics Portugal (INE).

Exports and imports both fell significantly compared with the previous year, when Portugal recorded gross domestic product growth of 2.2 per cent, although the contraction in 2020 was less severe than the government had forecast.

Tourism – an important driver of the economy – was particularly hard hit, suffering an “unprecedented reduction”, INE said. For the first time in more than 40 years, domestic holidaymakers accounted for more nights in tourist accommodation than overseas visitors, it said.

The decline in GDP was less steep than the 8.5 per cent slump the government had forecast in October.

Officials are predicting a recovery in the months ahead. In December, the Bank of Portugal forecast GDP growth of 3.9 per cent this year, rising to 4.5 per cent in 2022.

Portugal was hit hard by the second wave of the pandemic in late 2020, and now has the highest seven-day rolling average of new coronavirus cases and deaths per 100,000 inhabitants in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Michael Peel in Brussels

The European Commission chief has defended the EU’s refusal to make the “compromise” on coronavirus vaccine health and efficacy requirements that allowed the UK to give fast-track approvals and speed its immunisation drive.

Ursula von der Leyen said the European bloc was right to take weeks longer to review data because of the “gigantic responsibility” of the mass Covid-19 inoculation programme.

“The Commission and the member states agreed not to compromise with the safety and efficacy requirements linked to the authorisation of a vaccine,” she told a group of European media organisations. “I remind you that a vaccine is the injection of a biological active substance into a healthy body. We are talking about mass vaccination here, it is a gigantic responsibility.”

The frontrunning BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine was signed off in the UK on December 2 but not until December 21 in the EU. Britain approved AstraZeneca’s jab on December 30, compared with January 29 in the European bloc.

London shortened the process by giving emergency authorisations, in which the government takes the risk of product liability away from the manufacturer. The use of such authorisations could mean using smaller safety databases and efficacy clinical data analyses, according to the European Medicines Agency.

The UK has previously defended its approach and denied that safety has been sacrificed for speed in its approval process.

Bethan Staton

Students and educators have said a £50m government support scheme for university students in England falls far short of what is needed, as calls grow for more radical measures to help those whose university education has been disrupted by the pandemic.

The Department for Education on Tuesday announced it would release £50m of funding to be distributed to universities to support students facing additional costs for alternative accommodation, lost employment, or extra costs to access teaching online.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan said the grant would “provide real, tangible help” for students struggling financially. But Paul Blomfield, the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for students, said the funding amounted to just £25 a student. “It falls well short of the support made available in Wales and Scotland,” he said.

The National Union of Students said the funding will “not be enough to tackle the scale of the issue” as students fall behind on rent and bills for housing they are not able to live in, and in some cases turned to food banks.

“Many students will still be paying rent for housing they can’t access or can’t afford — to deliver true economic justice, the Treasury must underwrite this,” NUS president Larissa Kennedy said.

Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, also said more money was needed. Alistair Jarvis, chief executive, said: “The government should provide support that recognises that students are missing out on the wider student experience that they would benefit from in a normal year.”

Clive Cookson

The more infectious B.1.1.7 variant that has come to dominate coronavirus infection in the UK is evolving further mutations, which scientists say will make existing vaccines less effective at preventing infection.

Public Health England said in a technical paper that researchers have detected 11 UK cases of B.1.1.7 acquiring a mutation called E484K, which is present in the variants fueling Covid-19 surges in South Africa and Brazil.

The news is worrying scientists, said Julian Tang, clinical virologist at the University of Leicester: “This E484K mutation is already present in the South African 501Y.V2 and Brazilian P1 variants – and is now thought to be the main mutation impacting on vaccine efficacy.”

The E484K mutation is still rare in the UK. The PHE paper said the 11 detections were among a total of 214,159 coronavirus genomes analysed. “Preliminary information suggests more than one acquisition event,” the scientists said – meaning that the mutation has occurred independently on several occasions.

But scientists are concerned that the mutated form of B.1.1.7 could spread rapidly if it has a selective advantage, because it can overcome human immune defences acquired by vaccination or prior infection with an older form of the virus.

Coincidentally, 11 cases of the 501Y.V2 variant from South Africa have been detected in England in people with no travel history. Tens of thousands of people will be tested in door-to-door “surge testing”, as public health officials try to halt its spread.

Harry Dempsey

The impact of coronavirus on other medical services was laid out as Fresenius Medical Care said that demand for kidney dialysis was falling.

The Frankfurt-listed group said that excess deaths among patients with severe kidney diseases had accelerated from November both in the US and in the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, leading to about 10,000 more deaths than a usual year for that group of people.

Fresenius has also been hit by higher costs, both to provide personal protective equipment and to pay higher wages to staff in isolation wards who protect patients with kidney diseases. The patients are considered at high risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

“The accelerating effects of excess mortality due to the Covid-19 pandemic are continuing into 2021,” the group said, adding that it expected net income before restructuring measures to fall by up to 25 per cent in the current financial year.

The update pushed shares in the company down 13 per cent on Monday, hitting their lowest level since March when coronavirus struck Europe.

Frenesius, which owns about a third of Fresenius Medical Care and holds three other independent businesses, said that the dialysis business’s troubles caused net income to drop to the lower end of a range between 4 per cent contraction and 1 per cent growth in the 2020 financial year.

Despite the challenges in the dialysis business, the group is targeting at least broadly stable net income this year and plans to extend its run of 27 consecutive annual dividend increases.

Valentina Romei

Alcohol-related deaths in England and Wales rose to their highest level in the first three quarters of 2020 since consistent data began in 2001, fuelling concerns over the wider impact of the pandemic.

Provisional data for England and Wales show there were 5,460 deaths related to alcohol-specific causes registered between January and September, a 16.4 per cent increase compared with the same nine-month period in 2019, data from the Office for National Statistics showed on Tuesday.

The rise pushed the alcohol-specific death rate to 12.8 deaths per 100,000 people, the highest since data began to be collected in 2001. The rate rose in the second and third quarter to well above the rate in the same periods in the previous year.

Like in the previous year, rates of alcohol-specific deaths among men were double of that among women. However, in the second quarter, it significantly increased for those in their 30s.

Ben Humberstone, deputy director of Health Analysis and Life Events at the ONS, said that reasons for the increase “are complex and it will take time before the impact the pandemic has had on alcohol-specific deaths is fully understood.”

The pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented fall in output with many jobs at risk of survival once the government’s support scheme ends, while reducing opportunities to be close to friends and families.

Martin Arnold

The eurozone economy shrank 0.7 per cent in the final quarter of last year, less than most economists had expected, suggesting that consumers and businesses have become more resilient to the impact of the latest coronavirus restrictions.

The decline in the final three months of 2020 reversed some of the strong growth in the previous quarter and left the bloc’s gross domestic product down 6.8 per cent for the full year, Eurostat said on Tuesday.

The stuttering pace of the eurozone’s recovery from the economic impact of the pandemic – combined with a slow pace of vaccinations – has prompted some economists to warn that it still risks sliding into a double-dip recession this winter.

The latest European decline compares with GDP growth of 1 per cent in the US and 6.5 per cent in China in the fourth quarter, underlining how the region has been hit harder by the spread of the virus and is expected to recover slower than the world’s other big economies.

Still, the eurozone did better than the 1.2 per cent fourth-quarter contraction expected by economists polled by Reuters, and was also ahead of the European Central Bank’s forecast for a decline of 2.2 per cent.

The contraction in the last quarter was also much milder than the 11.7 per cent decline the bloc suffered in the second quarter of last year when the initial coronavirus lockdowns were imposed.

Recent data have shown that China grew 2.3 per cent over the course of last year, while the US economy is expected to recover to pre-pandemic levels by the middle of this year after shrinking 3.5 per cent last year.

In comparison, Europe has suffered a deeper recession and is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels until the middle of next year.

GDP fell 5 per cent in Germany last year, 8.3 per cent in France, 8.8 in Italy and 11 per cent in Spain — all postwar records. The IMF recently estimated the UK economy shrank 10 per cent last year.

Harry Dempsey

The head of Imperial College’s project to develop booster jabs for coronavirus vaccines to target new variants said they would require up to four months from discovering the modifications to producing something for use in clinical trials.

“We can make these vaccines in the lab in a three week process, but then to actually get them manufactured would take two to three months to get to the manufacturing stage and into the clinic,” said Professor Robin Shattock, the project leader, on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Last week, the university announced that it had changed its focus from developing a coronavirus vaccine to using its RNA technology to provide boosters for existing vaccines. Prof Shattock said they would most likely be given out as annual boosters, as opposed to the second dose of primary immunisation.

The university uses a similar technology to the mRNA vaccines from Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer but he cautioned that developing boosters to target new strains could take longer for other vaccine technologies.

Prof Shattock said that there is “some evidence that some of the vaccines are slightly less effective against the new variant” but was quick to add that it “doesn’t mean that they are not effective” and would still reduce hospitalisations and fatalities caused by coronavirus.

Alistair Gray

The owner of Covent Garden has taken a £400m hit on the value of the London shopping and entertainment site, after a sharp drop in rent receipts.

Capital & Counties Properties disclosed on Tuesday that Covent Garden’s independent property valuation had fallen to £1.8bn as of the end of 2020, down 13 per cent from £2.2bn at the end of June.

The decline reflected dampened prospects for retail, leisure and food and beverage tenants, as consumers have been unwilling or unable to go shopping or visit restaurants during the pandemic.

In a trading update, Capital & Counties said it had so far collected 42 per cent of rent due for the first quarter of 2021.

Despite the challenges, Ian Hawksworth, chief executive, said in a statement that the London-listed property company was in a strong financial position. Capco said it had “substantial headroom” against Covent Garden’s debt covenants, which allowed for “property values to fall by a further 68 per cent”.

“Whilst there are significant near-term challenges to trading and an uncertain economic outlook due to the impact of the pandemic, we are encouraged by the enduring appeal of Covent Garden for customers,” Mr Hawksworth said, noting that footfall had recovered after Covid-19 restrictions were loosened in the second half of last year.

Shares in the company slipped 2.6 per cent in early trading.

Valentina Romei

The Italian economy contracted again in the final three months of last year as tightened restrictions limited consumption and activity in large parts of its services sector.

Output fell 2 per cent in the fourth quarter compared with the previous one, figures from the country’s office for national statistics showed on Tuesday.

The decline was marginally less severe than the 2.2 per cent fall forecast by economists polled by Reuters, but it partially reverses strong growth in the third quarter.

Italy introduced tougher tiered regional restrictions over the autumn and stricter mobility rules over the Christmas festive period to limit the spread of the virus, although most factories and building sites remained open.

Compared with the same quarter last year – before the start of the pandemic – Italy’s gross domestic output, or the price-adjusted value of goods and services produced by the economy, declined 6.6 per cent.

For 2020 as a whole, Italy’s output fell 8.8 per cent – the largest contraction since the second world war. The annual slump was similar to the 8.3 per cent contraction in France, and worse than the 5 per cent decline in Germany, although it was milder than the 11 per cent fall in Spain.

Italian authorities have gradually eased restrictions in the new year, but a slow roll-out of the vaccines and an ongoing political crisis threaten to undermine the recovery. Giuseppe Conte, prime minister, resigned last month.

Anjli Raval

BP reported a 96 per cent drop in fourth-quarter profits as the pandemic’s hit to energy demand endured and the company suffered from weaker trading results.

Underlying profit on a replacement cost basis — a measure of income tracked most closely by oil analysts — was $115m in the three months to December 31. This fell short of analysts’ expectations for a profit of $370m, according to a company-compiled estimate.

This quarterly profit compares to $2.6bn in the same period the year before.

The fourth quarter capped a brutal year for the industry with government-imposed lockdowns and travel bans to contain the pandemic dramatically hitting earnings.

For the full year BP slumped to a loss of $5.7bn, its first in a decade. That was driven by the collapse in energy prices, a writedown in the value of oil and gas assets by billions of dollars, weaker refining margins and depressed demand.

Shares in BP dipped 3.3 per cent to 258.35p in early London trading.

Valentina Romei

UK house prices have contracted for the first time since the introduction of the stamp duty holiday, according to data that suggests a mini-boom in the property market might be over as the end of the tax discount approaches next month.

The Nationwide Building Society’s house price index fell 0.3 per cent in January compared with the previous month, the first fall since July and down from a 0.8 per cent expansion in December. The dip defied forecasts from economists polled by Reuters, who had forecast a 0.3 per cent rise.

On a year-on-year basis, house prices were still up 6.4 per cent, although this was slower than the 7.3 per cent annual growth recorded in December.

“To a large extent, the slowdown probably reflects a tapering of demand ahead of the end of the stamp duty holiday, which prompted many people considering a house move to bring forward their purchase,” said Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist.

House price growth has accelerated since the introduction of the government’s stamp duty relief in July, despite a deep economic downturn in the UK.

After an initial drop at the start of the year, house prices were also pushed up by people looking for bigger properties as the pandemic forced the population to spend more time indoors.

Robin Harding in Tokyo

Japan is preparing to extend its Covid-19 state of emergency for another month until March 7 as it struggles to get cases of coronavirus under control.

Prime minister Yoshihide Suga is expected to hold a press conference today to announce the extension for ten prefectures covering Japan’s biggest cities: Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, Kanagawa, Gifu, Aichi, Kyoto, Osaka, Hyogo and Fukuoka.

Tochigi prefecture, north of Tokyo, is expected to exit the state of emergency, under which restaurants have been asked to close at 8pm, and company employees to work from home wherever possible.

The number of new Covid-19 cases has fallen from around 6,000 a day in January, when the state of emergency was first declared, to around 3,000 a day at the moment. But with Japan’s vaccination campaign yet to begin, the government believes they are still too high to allow a return to normal.

“Thanks to the cooperation of the public, the experts say our measures have had an effect,” said economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura at the start of an advisory meeting on the virus response. “However, the medical burden continues, and the system of medical provision is still under pressure.”

The success in bringing down cases without a strict lockdown is partial vindication for the government’s approach. Japan is pressing ahead with preparations for the Tokyo Olympics to take place this summer, despite questions about their viability given severe border restrictions.

Simeon Kerr in Dubai

Dubai has tightened restrictions to combat a surge in coronavirus cases since the new year.

From Tuesday, malls, hotels and swimming pools must operate at 70 per cent capacity and indoor seated venues, such as cinemas, have to reduce capacity to 50 per cent. Pubs and bars have been ordered to close while restaurants and cafes must shut at 1am.

The authorities said they would intensify the monitoring of regulations, including physical distancing and mask wearing, and pledged tougher penalties on transgressors.

The Gulf’s tourism hub, which opened its outward-facing economy after a tough lockdown last April, received a huge number of visitors over the holiday period. The ensuing spike in infections has put hospitals under pressure, according to medics.

The United Arab Emirates’ official data showed new daily Covid-19 cases peaking at almost 4,000 last week, although new cases have eased to less than 3,000 a day this week.

The UK, one of the most important sources of visitors for Dubai, last week placed the United Arab Emirates on its red list of countries from which travel and direct flights are banned. The move was prompted by evidence that some cases of the variant first detected in South Africa had arrived in the UK from the UAE.

Christian Shepherd in Beijing

China’s police have pledged to “strike hard” against fake Covid-19 vaccines as Beijing aims to ensure an orderly inoculation programme for high-risk groups before the busy lunar new year holiday.

The nationwide law enforcement campaign will target coronavirus vaccine-related counterfeits, illegal sales, smuggling, fraud and unlicensed medical practice, to ensure an orderly rollout of the jabs, the People’s Daily, the official Communist party newspaper, reported on Tuesday.

A joint operation by China’s public security ministry spanning the provinces of Jiangsu, Beijing and Shandong had already seized 3000 doses of fake Covid-19 vaccines after busting a ring of more than 80 people who were selling the imitation jabs, the paper said.

China’s vaccine industry has in recent years been dogged by quality and corruption scandals, leading to sweeping regulatory oversight reforms aimed at restoring public trust in the sector.

Small-scale clusters of locally transmitted Covid-19 cases discovered in northeast China in recent weeks have added urgency to Beijing’s drive to immunise 50m before Lunar New Year, which falls on February 12.

The country by Sunday had administered 24m doses of its home-developed vaccines.

Joe Miller in Frankfurt

The head of DHL has accused governments of failing to prepare adequately for the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines, blaming distribution delays on a lack of local storage and delivery solutions.

“Overall, we have not seen enough foresight for how the ‘last mile’ will work,” Frank Appel, Deutsche Post DHL chief executive, told the Financial Times. “That is the key bottleneck — how do you get it to the patient?”

The company, which operates more than 260 aircraft, is among those contracted to deliver the BioNTech/Pfizer jab. It has revamped its forwarding facilities across Germany to handle dry ice and keep the product stable at about minus 70C during transport.

While Mr Appel conceded that managing dry ice was “a challenge for local doctors”, the former neurobiologist insisted infrastructure could easily be built in large car parks to facilitate local distribution, saying: “It’s not rocket science.”

Read more here

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Health authorities in China reported the lowest number of local Covid-19 cases in more than four weeks following efforts to contain outbreaks in the north of the country.

China rushed to stem the spread of a number of outbreaks in January that were the country’s largest since early last year. Those efforts, which included travel restrictions to prevent the virus being carried back to the countryside by migrant workers returning home for the lunar new year, appear to have paid off.

The country reported 12 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, the lowest tally since January 2. Heilongjiang province, which borders Russia, reported eight new cases while neighbouring Jilin province reported four.

Hebei, which locked down tens of millions of people in its cities to curb outbreaks, reported no new cases for the first time this year.

A further seven people tested positive for the virus but showed no symptoms. China does not include asymptomatic cases in its official tally.

Sarah Provan

S&P Global has sent a note of caution to Asian investors even as expectations of economic recovery, vaccines and government stimulus have boosted markets, and has warned on potential defaults and other risks this year.

The ratings agency expects Asia-Pacific growth of 6 per cent this year, led by China, while corporate profits rebound but its mood is one of caution rather than exuberance.

“We expect a solid recovery in Asia-Pacific,” the agency said in a note to investors, which follows a recent webinar that explored the “tail risks that could strike amid the cushion of extraordinary Covid stimulus”. Most industries will not return to pre-pandemic credit metrics until at least next year, S&P’s research note dated Tuesday added.

S&P’s release comes days after the IMF predicted that by next year recoveries in the US and China will leave their economies 1.5 per cent smaller than pre-pandemic projections while other advanced economies will be 2.5 per cent shy.

Emerging economies other than China will be hit even more as they are projected to be 8 per cent smaller than expected a year ago.

Fixed-income investors at the agency’s virtual event agreed that Covid-19 stimulus from governments “has more likely delayed than prevented defaults” while risks will climb for state-owned Chinese businesses in part because many local authorities have been under pressure from the coronavirus crisis.

“This weakened their ability to provide extraordinary support in the event of distress,” S&P said. “This year will likely bring more challenges.”

China has been more efficient in its restrictive measures to curb the spread of Covid-19. The US on the other hand has struggled to contain the virus. Its government, however, has spent more on economic stimulus than almost any other country.

President Joe Biden is keen to push through a $1.9bn economic rescue plan that includes new direct payments to Americans, aid for state and local governments and more funding for the pandemic response. If successful, the package will deliver more fiscal stimulus to the US recovery after a $900bn package was agreed in December and $3tn in relief was passed as the pandemic struck.

Anna Gross in London

An Orthodox Jewish community in London has one of the world’s highest rates of Covid-19 past infection, according to a study that points to crowded housing and socio-economic deprivation as possible reasons for the increased prevalence.

The rate of past infection, known as seroprevalence, in one Orthodox Jewish community of roughly 15,000 people was found to be 64 per cent, according to researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

By contrast, seroprevalence is believed to be 7 per cent across the UK and 11 per cent in London, the Office for National Statistics has estimated.

“The take home is how extreme the disparity in infections is. This is not a virus that is hitting people equally,” said Rosalind Eggo, an infectious disease modeller at the school and one of the report’s lead authors.

Read more here

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Four “ambush”-style lockdowns in Hong Kong on Monday night yielded no new coronavirus cases after the government announced tougher measures to reach zero daily infections.

More than 1,700 people were tested after authorities prevented residents and workers from leaving their homes and businesses in four parts of the city.

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong chief executive, said on Tuesday that the government’s public health efforts was designed to be preventative and that finding zero new cases was “also a good sign”.

“We want to achieve zero cases for the whole community,” Ms Lam said. “So we will continue to do this type of compulsory testing”.

Ms Lam said she had reduced the lockdown measures from the first 48-hour operation to 12 hours to minimise the impact and allow residents to go to work.

The city’s first vaccinations against Covid-19 will begin “almost immediately” on the arrival of the BioNTech/Pfizer jab later this month, Ms Lam added.

Matthew Cheung, the city’s chief secretary, said on Monday that the government would make an “all-out effort” ahead of the lunar new year next week to bring down coronavirus infections.

Responding to criticism that previous lockdowns had found few or no new cases, Mr Cheung defended the government’s actions.

“No matter how many cases we can establish there, I think that’s not the most important point. We want to ensure that the place is clean. Zero infection,” he said.

Compulsory testing programmes will be launched on the discovery of one unlinked coronavirus infection in a building, down from two previously, the government said.

Mr Cheung said the government expects to launch one lockdown operation per day.

James Politi in Washington

Joe Biden began horse-trading with Republicans over his $1.9tn stimulus package on Monday in his first big negotiating session with political rivals since becoming US president, as he ramped up efforts to build momentum behind his Covid relief bill.

Mr Biden met a group of 10 mostly moderate Republican lawmakers, led by Susan Collins, the senator from Maine, for two hours after they proposed their own version of an economic relief package worth $618bn.

The Republican offer is far below what the Biden administration and many Democrats believe is needed to prop up the US economic recovery this year as the country continues to suffer fallout from the pandemic.

But Mr Biden, who vowed to seek support from Republicans for his agenda despite a toxic political climate, is entertaining the proposal to test the willingness of opposition members to engage on his economic policies.

Read more here

Peter Wells in New York

The US on Monday reported its smallest daily increase in coronavirus deaths in a fortnight, as figures showed January was the deadliest month of the pandemic.

Authorities attributed 1,562 fatalities to coronavirus, according to Covid Tracking Project, down from 2,059 on Sunday. That was the smallest daily increase in deaths since January 18, which was a public holiday.

The most recent Covid Tracking Project data released on Monday evening represent state figures for January 31 and reveal that 94,357 coronavirus deaths across the US were recorded during January. This is the highest monthly death toll of the pandemic.

Twenty states reported their highest monthly death tolls during January, on par with the 20 states for which December was the deadliest month, according to a Financial Times analysis of Covid Tracking Project data.

California, Texas, Arizona, Tennessee and North Carolina all had tallies of at least 2,500 fatalities that eclipsed the single-month records they had set in December. Florida and Georgia were among states that topped record months from earlier on during the pandemic.

Deaths tend to lag cases and hospitalisations, and downward trends, nationally, in the latter two may mean fatalities may plateau and soon follow suit.

The number of people in the US currently being treated for coronavirus eased to 93,536 from the 95,013 reported on Sunday. That is the lowest level since late November, and down almost 30 per cent from a peak of 132,474 in early January.

An additional 119,747 infections were reported, up from 118,780 on Sunday.

That took the total number of confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic to 25.9m, a number that was on Monday eclipsed by the number of people in the US — 26m, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — who have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Alice Woodhouse in Hong Kong

Asia-Pacific stocks rose on Tuesday following gains on Wall Street as tech shares climbed and investors eyed talks over the US stimulus package.

In Japan, the Topix was up 0.3 per cent, the Kospi in South Korea added 0.8 per cent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 also gained 0.8 per cent.

On Wall Street on Monday, the S&P 500 closed 1.6 per cent higher and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite climbed 2.6 per cent, as investors turned their attention to the US Covid-19 vaccine rollout and the prospects for an economic relief package.

Reddit’s day traders shifted their attention to silver.

S&P 500 futures added 0.1 per cent.

Matthew Rocco

Vaccinations in the US have eclipsed the number of Americans who have contracted coronavirus since the pandemic began, a new milestone in the rollout of the Covid-19 shot.

More than 26m people have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday.

Out of that group, 5.9m people have received two doses to complete the vaccination process. The latest figures from the Covid Tracking Project show that the US has had 25.8m confirmed cases of coronavirus.

The US tallied 118,780 new cases on Sunday, the lowest since November 9. Hospitalisations have also fallen, hitting a level last seen in late November and reflecting declining trends following a resurgence of the virus that impacted most of the country.

The CDC said 49.9m doses of Moderna and BioNTech/Pfizer coronavirus vaccines have been distributed to US states and territories.

Among all 50 states, North Dakota, South Dakota, Alaska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Vermont and Connecticut have administered doses at the quickest rates when adjusted for population, CDC data showed.

Jamie Smyth in Sydney

The US government has awarded a $231.8m contract to an Australian diagnostics company to enable it to ramp up production of the first Covid-19 home test kits that can be sold over-the-counter without a prescription.

Ellume, a Brisbane-based company, said the deal would enable it to establish its first US-manufacturing plant and deliver 8.5m test kits to the US government to help tackle the pandemic.

The test consists of a nasal swab analyser that connects to an application on users’ smartphones, providing rapid results without sending samples to a laboratory.

It is the first non-prescription self-administered, home test kit granted emergency approval by the US Food and Drug administration, which hopes the technology can help to control the spread of Covid-19. US authorities say the tests can provide results within 15 minutes, with an accuracy rate of about 95 per cent.

“They can be used if you feel symptoms of COVID-19 and also for screening of people without symptoms so they can safely go to work, to school and to events,” White House coronavirus adviser Andy Slavitt told a press conference.

The US government provided a $30m grant to help develop the single-use antigen tests, which are expected to retail at $30 per kit.

Ellume said it would deliver 100,000 tests per month from its Australian manufacturing facility until the new US manufacturing plant is built.

At its full capacity the US facility will be able to produce up to 19m tests per month, said the Australian company in a statement.

“We are prioritizing our partnership with the US government to mobilise tests quickly and in the most impactful way,” said Dr Sean Parsons, founder of Ellume. “We will fulfill the order for these tests at the same time as we ramp up the output across our production facilities, creating more possibilities for retail and private institution use in the future.”

Vaccinations in the US have eclipsed the number of Americans who have contracted coronavirus since the pandemic began, a new milestone in the rollout of the Covid-19 shot. More than 26m people have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Angela Merkel has reiterated that every German should receive a Covid-19 vaccination by the end of the summer, despite the current shortage in supply of shots and uncertainty about future deliveries.

EU member states are in the “big league” of countries vaccinating against Covid-19, Brussels top health official has said in the face of criticism that the bloc’s vaccine rollout has lagged behind other rich countries.

Door-to-door testing of residents in parts of Surrey in the UK will begin after two people with no travel links were found to be infected with the 501Y.V2 variant discovered in South Africa.

About half of new coronavirus cases in the Netherlands are due to the highly contagious variant of the virus first detected in the UK, the country’s health minister has said.

More than 400,000 people worldwide were reported to have died because of Covid-19 during January, the highest monthly death toll of the pandemic.

African-Americans in the US are being vaccinated far more slowly than white people, according to new data from the US public health body, even though they account for disproportionately high levels of Covid-19 disease and death.

Growth in the US manufacturing sector decelerated at the start of the year, even as employment strengthened as a resurgence of coronavirus abated.

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