New York City Pitches Vaccines as Tourism Benefit: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) — New York City is in talks to offer free vaccines to visitors as a way to spur tourism, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE can make as many as 3 billion doses of their vaccine this year, more than double what the partners predicted six months ago.

Los Angeles eased limits on theme parks, bars and gyms as it moves to the state’s least restrictive tier. Minnesota’s governor said he envisions “a summer where just the simple pleasures will be back.”

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India reported 412,262 new virus cases and 3,980 deaths, both daily records. German Chancellor Angela Merkel opposed a U.S.-backed proposal to waive intellectual-property protections for Covid-19 vaccines, casting doubt on international support for the idea.

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New York tax authorities have started auditing 2020 income tax returns filed by nonresidents with jobs tied to the state that they did from elsewhere during the pandemic.

Legal challenges could follow as taxpayers wait to see whether the U.S. Supreme Court will weigh in on the issue as requested by New Hampshire, which is challenging Massachusetts’ taxation of residents working remotely.

Minnesota will lift nearly all virus restrictions by Memorial Day, and a statewide mask mandate will be eliminated by July 1, Governor Tim Walz said.

“We’re going to have a summer where just the simple pleasures will be back,” the Democratic governor said at a news conference.

Restrictions will be lifted in phases, starting Friday, and end entirely by July 1 or when 70% of Minnesotans are vaccinated, whichever happens first. “We’re going to ramp up, step up and put our foot down on the gas on the vaccinations,” Walz said.

Schools in Puerto Rico, which reopened in March before a surge in cases shut them again in mid-April, can resume in-class sessions starting Monday, Governor Pedro Pierluisi said. They’ll have to pass inspections and enforce social distancing in order to remain open.

A nightly curfew will be pushed back an hour to midnight starting Monday, though capacity in restaurants and shops remains limited to 30%. Mask wearing on the island of 3.3 million is mandatory.

“I want to underscore that we have not beat the pandemic yet, so we cannot let our guard down,” Pierluisi said in a statement. “If we keep complying with safety measures and can get everyone vaccinated, we can reach collective immunity soon.”

Illinois is on track to reopen without capacity limits as soon as June 11, Governor J.B. Pritzker said. The state will move to the bridge phase of the reopening on May 14, he said. The plans could change if the metrics worsen.

“For restaurants, and bars and retail and weddings and public gatherings, this means higher capacity limits and a very hopeful move toward full reopening,” Pritzker said regarding the bridge phase. “Barring any significant reversals in key Covid-19 statewide indicators, Illinois will move to phase 5, normal business operations, free of pandemic-related mitigations, as soon as Friday, June 11.”

Illinois is expanding its Covid-19 vaccination rollout to include private doctors’ offices and small medical providers. About 60% of adult Illinois residents have received one dose, including 85% of residents ages 65 and older, according to the state.

The Indian variant of the virus was found across England, the Guardian reported, citing leaked emails on the latest case count.

The variant was uncovered in care homes, the paper said, raising concerns that it’s spreading quickly across communities. Public Health England is set to escalate one of the variants to one “of concern,” the newspaper said.

Los Angeles County is easing restrictions on capacity limits from theme parks to restaurants starting Thursday after meeting the threshold to move to the least restrictive yellow tier. The county’s test positivity rate on Wednesday was 0.7%.

Theme parks will now be able to boost their capacity to 35% and open their doors for fully-vaccinated out-of-state visitors. Bars will be able to operate indoors at a 25% cap, with that limit rising to 50% for breweries and wineries. The capacity limit for restaurants, gyms and movies theaters will also increase to 50%.

Indoor live events and performances can have as many as 1,500 guests, with the capacity limit set at half for those tested or fully vaccinated, while outdoor venues can fill two-thirds of the capacity.

Texas plans to dispatch mobile vaccination teams to offices, homes and civic organizations on request beginning Friday.

Companies and civic groups with at least 10 employees or members, as well as individual residents, will be able to call a hotline to arrange a visit, Governor Greg Abbott said in a statement on Thursday.

Until now, the state’s mobile vaccination efforts were focused on large-group settings such as nursing homes and meatpacking plants, which were among the hardest hit venues earlier in the pandemic. The hotline will go live at 8 a.m. Central time.

Deaths related to alcohol in England and Wales last year reached the highest level in two decades, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. The number rose by almost 20%, with deaths from alcoholic liver disease and poisoning accelerating after March, when virus lockdowns began.

Colorado’s highest Covid-19 transmission rate is among junior high school and high school students ages 11-17, state epidemiologist Rachael Herlihy said Thursday.

Colorado has recorded five cases of a B.1617.2 virus variant from India, all in Mesa County in the western part of the state, Herlihy said during an online briefing.

Hospitalizations statewide are among the highest since December at 666, she said. Governor Jared Polis said more than 2 million of Colorado’s 4.7 million eligible residents are fully vaccinated.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel weighed in against a U.S. proposal to waive intellectual-property protections for Covid-19 vaccines, casting doubt on whether the idea has enough international support to become a reality.

“The limiting factor in the manufacture of vaccines is production capacity and the high quality standards, not the patents,” a government spokeswoman in Berlin said by email. “Protecting intellectual property is the wellspring of innovation and it must remain so.”

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is working with state officials to offer free vaccines to visitors as a way to encourage them to visit and spur tourism.

Mobile vans will bring Johnson & Johnson one-dose shots to Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge Park and other popular locations, de Blasio said Thursday during a briefing.

“We think this is a positive message to send to tourists,” the mayor said. “Come here and we’re going to take care of you.”

The city plans a $30 million marketing blitz to recharge its tourism industry. Capacity restrictions on restaurants, stores and shows will be lifted on May 19 as Covid-19 cases decrease and vaccinations increase, Governor Andrew Cuomo said this week. Broadway tickets for September shows went on sale today.

Pfizer and BioNTech have capacity to make as many as 3 billion doses of their Covid-19 vaccine this year, more than double the amount the partners had predicted less than six months ago.

The partners will further increase their capacity for 2022 to more than 3 billion doses, BioNTech said in an e-mailed statement.

The increase is the latest in a series of production target boosts and comes amid increased demand for messenger RNA Covid vaccines around the world.

The coronavirus strain circulating in India has been detected in three African countries, according to the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Authorities in Kenya, Uganda and Morocco have reported the presence of the variant known as B.1.617 that is overwhelming the health system in India, Africa CDC’s director, John Nkengasong, said in an online briefing Thursday. Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are among countries that have temporarily banned flights from India.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame said his country is in talks to establish the first mRNA vaccine plant in Africa as the continent battles the coronavirus pandemic. He did not give details.

Africa has few manufacturing facilities of any kind and most that do exist can only package and distribute the inoculations — so called fill-finish facilities — rather than make the ingredients needed for the shots.

Tokyo Olympic athletes and delegations will be able to receive Covid-19 vaccine doses donated by Pfizer and BioNTech as organizers push ahead with preparations for the delayed games.

The International Olympic Committee signed an agreement with the companies to donate the doses, with the first delivery expected to begin at the end of this month, according to a statement from the drugmakers on Thursday. The statement did not specify the number of doses.

Russia approved a single-dose version of the Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine after it showed almost 80% efficacy, according to the state-run fund that backed its development.

The 79.4% efficacy rate of the vaccine, called Sputnik Light, is based on an analysis of real-world data rather than a standard clinical trial, and interim results from final-stage study are expected later this month, according to a statement from the Russian Direct Investment Fund. Early and mid-stage studies showed no serious adverse events, RDIF said.

The U.S.’s sudden support for a waiver of patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines headed to the World Trade Organization, setting the stage for potentially thorny negotiations over sharing the proprietary know-how needed to boost global supplies of the life-saving shots.

“In terms of how soon the WTO can deliver — that literally depends on the WTO members, collectively, being able to deliver,” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in an interview Wednesday. “I am the first one to admit that what we are leaning into is a process that is not going to be easy.”

With the European Union and China signaling a willingness to take part in the debate after the Biden administration’s shock announcement, stock prices tumbled worldwide.

Moderna Inc. said studies of its Covid vaccine in teenagers showed that it was 96% effective. The company raised its product sales projections for the year as it reported its first-ever profitable quarter.

(An earlier version of this story corrected the name of the virus)

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