Brazilian officials said Thursday that a coronavirus vaccine made by a Chinese company was effective, bolstering the chances of approval for a second Chinese inoculation that could be rolled out in much of the developing world.
Officials in the state of São Paulo, where a prominent medical research institute carried out a large study of the vaccine made by the Beijing-based Sinovac, said the inoculation had an efficacy rate of 78 percent.
The vaccine prevented all participants from developing serious and mild complications from the virus, officials said, calling it a highly effective preventive tool.
In anticipation of approval, the vaccine, called CoronaVac, has already been shipped around the world as countries prepare for mass inoculation campaigns. Sinovac has sold more than 300 million doses, mostly to low- and middle-income countries, accounting for about half of the total doses that China says vaccine makers were capable of producing in 2020, based on an analysis of company statements and media reports.
China has set its sights on supplying the developing world with a Covid-19 vaccine, in a push to position itself as a leader in health diplomacy after its failures in the early days of the outbreak. It also wants to burnish its credentials in science by becoming a major player in the global vaccine business.
Even without the regulatory greenlight, China has embarked on an aggressive vaccination drive at home, with the goal of inoculating 50 million people by the middle of next month. Beijing has also developed an overseas distribution plan for exports, directing airlines to stock up on refrigerators and dry ice.
China is filling a void in poorer nations left by Western competitors. The United States is mainly focused on working through the chaos of distributing its vaccines at home. The European Union and other rich countries have bought many of the doses supplied by the American drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna.
“The Chinese have been eager to get out in front, aware of the gap and the hoarding and pre-purchase of so many billions of doses by the Western governments that is leaving so many countries high and dry,” said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the global health policy center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“It will become a tool in their diplomatic alliances, and it will give them some measure of prestige and standing with countries that choose to make use of them,” he added.
As Americans were transfixed by the spectacle of the Capitol under siege, the coronavirus continued to sweep across the United States.
Officials reported at least 3,963 new coronavirus deaths in the United States on Wednesday, a new single-day record, though delayed recording because of the holidays might have played a role. The daily death toll in New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania also set records.
Some states also reported single-day case records, while Illinois became one of five states that have now recorded their millionth case since the pandemic began.
In Arizona, which is beginning the new year with a higher rate of new cases than any other state, hospitalizations and deaths set records in the past few days. Over the past week, the state has averaged more than 8,000 cases a day, more than double the summer peak.
Yet, some Arizona health care leaders lamented, they are still not seeing the kind of public vigilance that might bring the outbreak under control.
“Most Americans don’t want to know, don’t want to acknowledge, don’t really want to recognize, and certainly — even as it’s descending upon us — do not appear to understand the dire circumstances that we are facing,” said Dr. Marjorie Bessel, the chief clinical officer at Banner Health, a major hospital network in Arizona.
The outlook is especially alarming in Southern California. In just two weeks, more than 240,000 cases have been identified in the Los Angeles metropolitan area. That is more cases than at least 19 entire states have identified over the entire pandemic.
As the unexpectedly slow vaccine drive began to pick up pace, the federal government moved to start a program to inoculate members of high-risk groups at pharmacies, among them older people and frontline workers.
Some health officials urged flexibility in distributing the vaccines.
Dr. Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, said states need not adhere too rigidly to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines about whom to vaccinate first. If fewer health care workers agree to be vaccinated, he said, states should “move quickly to other priority groups.”
But even as the work continued to get more shots in arms, health officials were racing against a fast-moving variant of the coronavirus that has the potential to change the disease-fighting landscape in the United States, as it has in Britain. And with no good system in place to identify genetic variations of the virus, experts warn, the government will be hard pressed to track the variant, leaving health officials in the dark.
State and federal officials are warning consumers about potential fraud involving the coronavirus stimulus payments that are now being distributed by check and direct deposit.
The Better Business Bureau said Wednesday that people receiving the payments should beware of calls or text messages seeking personal information that could leave their accounts vulnerable.
Callers might imply they are government employees, and text messages might direct consumers to click on a link leading to requests for personal information.
While many Americans have already received the second round of aid, many others are still waiting for their money.
The bureau said it had heard from numerous consumers complaining they had been contacted by potential fraudsters.
This is not the first time officials have warned of fraud linked to the pandemic. In April, the Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning about scammers looking to sell false coronavirus tests, cures, treatments and vaccines.
Similar alerts were issued in June, including the F.B.I.’s warning of scammers’ using advertisements for fraudulent Covid-19 antibody tests as a way to obtain information they could use for identity theft or medical insurance fraud. The Federal Trade Commission also alerted consumers about scammers pretending to be contact tracers, as did the Internal Revenue Service about frauds involving government stimulus payments.
“As we have seen throughout the pandemic, bad actors are looking for ways to exploit the crisis to steal money, government benefits and people’s identities,” Ashley Moody, attorney general of Florida, said in a statement.
Here’s how authorities advise that consumers respond when they suspect fraud:
They should not trust calls claiming to be from government agencies and should use caution when receiving other unsolicited phone calls, text messages and emails.
They should avoid responding to text messages, emails or advertisements directing them to click on links, nor should they provide any personal or financial information in response to an unsolicited message.
Consumers should be wary of requests that they pay a fee to receive their checks.
TOKYO — Japan declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures on Thursday, after days of record coronavirus counts and a rapidly rising death toll. It was Japan’s first emergency declaration because of the pandemic since April.
The announcement came five days after governors from the affected prefectures had pleaded with the central government to act. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, reluctant to hurt the economy, had hesitated to invoke the emergency measure, but he eventually bowed to the pressure.
Deaths from the virus in Japan have doubled in less than two months, passing 3,700, and Tokyo’s governor has warned that the medical system is under stress. Polls have shown widespread dissatisfaction with Mr. Suga’s four-month-old administration and its handling of the pandemic.
The emergency declaration, which will last one month, relies mostly on voluntary compliance, and health experts warned that it might not be enough to turn the tide.
The government is asking restaurants to close by 8 p.m., employers to encourage staff members to work from home, and residents to refrain from going out for all but the most essential tasks — also after 8 p.m. Schools, museums, cinemas, gyms and shops will stay open.
Japan has reported a total of 258,393 cases, far fewer than many Western countries. After it emerged in May from its previous, brief state of emergency, it held up what it called the “Japan model”: an intense focus on contact tracing and cluster busting, widespread mask wearing and as few restrictions on the economy as possible.
But as Japan has experienced several record-setting days for new infections since late last month — Tokyo reported over 2,000 cases on Thursday, and the country a record 5,953 — its coronavirus-fighting model has come under strain. Japan is not expected to start inoculating the public until at least the end of February, a process that will take months.
“We are having too many cases to trace right now, and the state of emergency is coming too late,” said Fumie Sakamoto, an infection control manager at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo. She said the hospital’s intensive care beds and general wards were full.
Firefighters across the United States, especially those who also serve as emergency medical responders, have begun receiving the Covid-19 vaccine, as states continue to extend their vaccination efforts beyond hospital workers and nursing home residents.
In Philadelphia, where the fire department’s ambulance service is among the busiest in the country, about 100 emergency medical service workers have been vaccinated so far, the city’s fire commissioner, Adam Thiel, said on Wednesday.
Mr. Thiel said the department lost one firefighter to Covid-19 over the summer, and has faced constant staffing shortages as workers have fallen ill or had to quarantine. “We’ve been pretty severely affected,” he said. “It has real world impacts on all of our members and their families.”
Some members of the Philadelphia department are classified in Group 1A, the highest priority for vaccination, and some are in 1B, the next highest. The city does not have nearly enough doses yet to vaccinate everyone in the department, Mr. Thiel said, so for now, only the E.M.S. crews are receiving shots.
At the Des Moines, Iowa, Fire Department, Capt. Brian Davis received his first dose of the vaccine on Tuesday. He said he was eager to be vaccinated because some of his colleagues had been infected with the virus. Firefighters in Des Moines have worn masks and other protective equipment on the job for the past 10 months, he said, and the vaccine is one more step toward protecting their community.
“We see several people a day,” he said. “If we’re not able to keep those precautions, we could possibly infect other people. So it gives you a good feeling that you’re doing everything you can.”
The Des Moines firefighters are all classified as Group 1A. Fire Chief John TeKippe said that roughly 70 percent of the department’s employees have opted to receive the vaccine.
“We’re excited for the additional protection for our employees, but also for the peace of mind for them and their families,” Mr. TeKippe said. “It’s been a long road, and we have a ways to go.”
JERUSALEM — Israel faces a tightened lockdown this week as officials fear that the more transmissible British variant of the virus is spreading rapidly and its vaccine supplies are running low.
Israel, which was once seen as a model coronavirus country, is outpacing the rest of the world in vaccinating its citizens. But the prospect that Israel would have the virus under control by spring, once promising, now seems uncertain. Health officials say that in the short term, at least, the vaccine campaign cannot compete with the soaring infection rates of more than 8,000 new cases a day.
And the Palestinian Authority, which runs its own health care system in the occupied West Bank, has asked Israel for vaccines, prompting a debate over Israel’s responsibility to the Palestinians at a time when Israel’s vaccine supplies are dwindling.
“We are at the height of a global pandemic that is spreading at record speed with the British mutation,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement late Tuesday, justifying the government’s decision to impose a full national lockdown that will shutter most schools and all nonessential workplaces for at least two weeks.
“Every hour we delay, the quicker the virus is spreading, and it will exact a very heavy price,” he added.
The lockdown decision came after Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, presented the government with the dire projection that without such action, Israel’s infection rate could rise to 46,000 new cases per day by February, a staggering number in a country with a population of about 9 million.
Government officials cited the variant discovered in Britain as one of the main reasons for imposing the tighter restrictions. Mr. Netanyahu said the variant was “leaping forward,” though not at the same pace as it has spread in Britain. At least 30 cases of the variant have been identified in Israel by special sampling.
The Thai police issued arrest warrants on Thursday for a husband and wife who helped smuggle and harbor 19 illegal immigrants from Myanmar, including seven who tested positive for the coronavirus.
The 19 immigrants, all Rohingya Muslims, were arrested on Monday at a crowded house near Don Mueang International Airport, which serves Bangkok, where they had been staying. All of them had traveled without work permits and some without passports, the authorities said. Three more illegal workers were arrested in the same area on Wednesday.
The police said that the wife, who is Thai, and the husband, who is Burmese, were wanted for smuggling the workers into the country in three groups. They face up to five years in prison.
Hostility toward people from Myanmar has been soaring in Thailand after a surge in coronavirus cases that apparently started with an outbreak among migrant workers from Myanmar at a seafood market in Samut Sakhon Province, near Bangkok.
Parts of the country, including the Thai capital, are now under severe restrictions. Schools, entertainment venues and sports centers are closed and residents have been advised to work from home, if possible. Officials have stopped short of calling it a lockdown, however, and malls, restaurants and cinemas remain open, with restrictions.
Thailand, which had one of the best records in containing the virus, saw a daily spike of 745 new cases on Monday, the most since the pandemic began. Daily case numbers have declined since then, with 305 new infections reported on Thursday.
Health officials have reported 9,636 cases in total and 67 deaths. More than 1,500 of Thailand’s cases have been detected in quarantine, which is mandatory for travelers arriving from abroad.
In other developments across the world:
South Africa said it had agreed to purchase 1.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India to cover its health workers. A million of the doses are expected to arrive this month and the other half a million in February. The news comes as South Africa experiences a severe second surge of coronavirus infections and deaths, fueled by a new variant that appears to be more easily transmitted. The South African government, which had come under fierce criticism in recent days for failing to secure vaccine doses, had previously announced that it had reserved enough shots for 10 percent of its population of about 60 million through a global mechanism known as Covax. But those doses are not expected to begin arriving until the second quarter of the year.
China said it was imposing a strict lockdown on Shijiazhuang, a city of 11 million in the northern province of Hebei, part of a “wartime” campaign aimed at stamping out a recent rise in coronavirus cases. The decision was made after a small flare-up prompted city officials to begin a mass testing drive that uncovered nearly 130 new cases in two days. Officials said all 11 million residents in the city would be tested, while flights, trains and vehicles have been barred from leaving or entering the city.
The Chinese authorities are also continuing to take a draconian approach to the spread of information about the virus. On Wednesday, the police in Baoding, a city to the northeast of Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province, detained a man for posting a message in a social media chat group saying that more than 200 people had died from the virus in Shijiazhuang. According to a police statement, the man was given six days in detention and a fine of about $15 for spreading rumors.
Blood plasma from recovered Covid-19 patients can help older adults avoid getting seriously sick with the coronavirus — if the therapy is administered within days of the onset of the illness, a small but rigorous clinical trial in Argentina found.
The results, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, are some of the first to conclusively point toward the oft-discussed treatment’s beneficial effects. They arrive nearly five months after the Food and Drug Administration, under pressure from President Trump, gave the therapy an emergency green light for use in people hospitalized with Covid-19.
Thousands of patients have received infusions of plasma in the months since, while researchers waited for the data. The new study is one of the first well-designed clinical trials to show that the therapy has some benefit. “That’s kind of what we have been looking for, in terms of really having evidence,” said Dr. Boghuma Kabisen Titanji, an infectious disease physician at Emory University who was not involved in the research.
Convalescent plasma, the pale yellow liquid left over after blood is stripped of its red and white cells, teems with disease-fighting molecules called antibodies.
The new study, led by Dr. Fernando Polack, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and the scientific director of the INFANT Foundation in Argentina, appears to clarify the circumstances under which plasma performs best.
In 80 people, an infusion of plasma decreased the risk of developing a severe case of Covid by 48 percent, compared with another group of 80 who received a saline solution instead, the study found.
The study’s parameters were strict: Everyone enrolled in the trial was at least 65 years old — a group known to be at higher risk of falling seriously ill. About half of the participants also had health conditions that made them more vulnerable to the virus. And the plasma therapy, which was screened to ensure it contained high levels of antibodies, was always given within three days of the patients’ first symptoms.