March 16 coronavirus news

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Why some countries are halting use of AstraZeneca vaccine
02:00 - Source: CNN

What you need to know

  • Cyprus, Luxembourg, Latvia and Sweden are the latest countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine following reports of possible side effects. The suspensions go against the advice of international medical agencies, which say there’s no evidence the vaccine is linked to clotting.
  • In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has appointed the country’s fourth health minister since the pandemic began.
  • In the US, the White House is racing to prevent and prepare for a potential fourth coronavirus surge, as more transmissible variants spread across the country.

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Officials investigating whether a new Covid-19 variant is linked to a Kentucky nursing home

Gov. Andy Beshear

Kentucky is investigating whether cases impacting a nursing home facility are linked to a new variant that has not been previously identified, Gov. Andy Beshear said, adding that people should get vaccinated as soon as possible.

“What we do know, is that it is not one of the common variants, the ones we associate with the United Kingdom [B.1.1.7] or South Africa [B.1.351] or Brazil [P.1], but it is a cluster, and it looks like it’s the same infection in a group of these individuals,” Kentucky Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said. “And so, what we’ll do is genetically sequence all of these, map it out, and compare it against the larger database that the sequencing labs report to, and then see if we can find any patterns or any lessons we need to learn here.”

The state is presently aware of 41 people who have tested positive for Covid-19 at the nursing home facility, the health commissioner said. It appears that an unvaccinated person brought Covid-19 into the nursing facility, where 85% of residents and 48% of health care staff were vaccinated, Stack said.

Of the 41 persons infected, 27 are residents and 14 are health care workers. Notably, of the 41 infected persons, 30% of the vaccinated individuals have been symptomatic, while 83% of the unvaccinated people have been symptomatic, Stack added.

Five of the infected residents have been admitted to the hospital, four of whom are unvaccinated, according to the health commissioner.

“The more people who get infected, the more opportunity it has to mutate, and then eventually find combinations that help it to be more dangerous. So, the good news is that the vaccines appear to be doing their job in protecting people,” Stack added.

Half of Brazilian states implement curfews and other restrictions to curb Covid surge

Governors of the hardest hit regions of Brazil are adopting curfews at night and more restrictive measures to try to curb the spread of Covid-19 infections – without the backing of the federal government. The country has been reporting a record-high number of virus deaths.

Fourteen of the 26 Brazilian states plus the Federal District are under curfew. Generally they are in effect from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. The majority of them were enforced in the last week. 

In addition, 18 state governments announced more restrictive measures over the last five days. The restrictions were aimed at what is considered non-essential activities – gyms, parks, shops, shopping malls, churches and schools. 

Sao Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro, the three wealthiest states of Brazil, all adopted measures to decrease the movement of the population. On Tuesday, Minas Gerais Gov. Romeu Zema said the state health system is overcrowded and doesn’t support new patients.

Mato Grosso do Sul, Mato Grosso and Federal District in the Center-West region of the country, the epicenter of Brazil’s agribusiness industry, and Rio Grande do Sul, in the South, are facing a collapse of their health systems since last week and had to announce curfews and restrictive measures. The same has happened at Rondonia, in the Amazon, and Parana, in the South, where health systems there are also bordering on collapse. 

With the absence of federal coordination, the Brazilian national association of governors sent a letter to the country’s health ministry on Sunday requesting the adoption of lockdown measures nationwide. The governors called, among other measures, for the implementation of restrictions on the operation of airports, ports, highways, and railways in the country.

The latest numbers: Brazil had a record high number of deaths on Tuesday with at least 2,841 deaths, according to the health ministry. Sao Paulo and Rio Grande do Sul states presented the highest number of deaths on their territory since the beginning of the pandemic.