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Almost half U.S. population is partially vaccinated against COVID-19 — while Asia remains a virus hot spot

The U.S. COVID-19 vaccine drive is showing marked progress in reducing infections, hospitalizations and deaths, with new cases down 32% in the last two weeks, according to a New York Times tracker, and with 50% of Americans at least partially vaccinated.

A full 123 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 37.1% of the population, meaning they have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
PFE,
+0.22%

with German partner BioNTech SE
BNTX,
+2.87%

and Moderna Inc.
MRNA,
-0.59%
,
or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson
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+0.10%

single-dose vaccine. The AstraZeneca
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+1.21%

AZN,
+0.39%

vaccine has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

Among Americans 65 and older, 39.8 million are fully vaccinated, equal to 72.9% of that group. More than 46 million people in that age bracket have received at least a first jab, covering 84.8% of that population.

Don’t miss: ‘Vaccine envy is real,’ says a Cleveland Clinic pediatrician. Here’s what she’s telling parents and teens about the COVID-19 vaccine

“They say that April showers bring May flowers, and COVID statistics in the U.S. seem to follow that mantra,” said Chris Meekins, a healthcare analyst at Raymond James. “High volumes of April shots have brought extremely hopeful May statistics — average daily identified case counts are below 31.5K, the lowest we have seen since June 23, 2020 (and remember daily averages in early January of this year were above 250K).”

The positive news of the expanded emergency-use authorization for the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE to include 12- to 15-year-olds should have been the biggest news story of the past week, but it was overshadowed by the CDC’s relaxation of rules surrounding face masks, which continued to dominate headlines over the weekend.

People who are fully vaccinated don’t need to wear a mask or physically distance for most outdoor or indoor activities, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Thursday, but some exceptions remain, including the requirements for public transportation. Photo: Justin Lane/Shutterstock

Public health experts took to TV news shows to explain the sudden policy switch, which came just days after CDC head Dr. Rochelle Walensky had defended the agency’s strict mask guidance in front of a Senate committee where some Republicans described the CDC’s guidance as “unworkable,” as the Associated Press reported.

“I’m delivering the science as the science is delivered to the medical journals. And it evolved,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Sunday on Fox News. “I deliver it as soon as I can when we have that information available.”

Under the new guidelines, fully vaccinated people — those who are two weeks past their final dose of a COVID-19 vaccine — can quit wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings and give up social distancing. Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated people should continue wearing masks, the agency said. The guidance also still calls for masks in crowded indoor settings including buses, airplanes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters.

“I would imagine within a period of just a couple of weeks, you’re going to start to see significant clarification of some of the actually understandable and reasonable questions that people are asking,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Joe Biden’s chief medical officer, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Outside of the U.S., there are continued concerns about hot spots, which now include India, Brazil and Taiwan. Cases are falling in India’s capital, New Delhi, and its financial center, Mumbai, after huge surges in recent weeks. On Monday, new cases in India fell below 300,000 for the first time in weeks, according to the AP, although official numbers are deemed to be undercounted given a shortage of tests and severe stress on healthcare systems in rural areas.

See: COVID-19 pandemic was a ‘preventable disaster,’ made worse by a lack of global coordination and dithering, independent panel finds

Combating the spread in the countryside, where health infrastructure is scarce, will be the biggest challenge. “The transmission will be slower and lower, but it can still exact a big toll,” K. Srinath Reddy, president of the Public Health Foundation of India, told the AP.

See also: India evacuates thousands and suspends some COVID-19 vaccinations as nation prepares for cyclone

Taiwan, which was widely praised for its success in containing the pandemic early in the outbreak, reported record single-day new-case incidences on Sunday and Monday, CNN reported. The government imposed new restrictions for Taipei City and New Taipei City beginning Saturday. That meant shutdowns for leisure and entertainment venues: singing and dance venues, bars and clubs, hair salons, bowling alleys, gyms and fitness and recreational centers, along with internet cafes and other venues.

Taiwan counted 335 new cases on Monday, all but two of which were locally transmitted, according to the island’s Central Epidemic Command Center. The Taiwan Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 155 out of 158 cases in the capital were linked to hostess teahouses.

See now: Walt Disney World drops mask requirement for visitors who are outdoors

In other news:

• Prime Minister Boris Johnson called on the U.K. population to exercise “a heavy dose of caution” as restrictions ease further on Monday, with people allowed to be served indoors in bars and restaurants, attend movie theaters, and hug family and friends, as MarketWatch’s Pierre Briançon reported. The new step in the government’s “road map” to ease the economy out of lockdown also allows mixing indoors, lifts restrictions on outdoor meetings for groups of fewer than 30 people, and removes mandatory mask wearing in schools. A top scientific adviser to the government, however, cautioned on Monday that the restrictions could return if the spread of a highly transmissible variant detected in India leads to another wave of the pandemic.

• Disneyland Paris will reopen on June 17 with enhanced health and safety measures, the theme park said on its website Monday. Disneyland Park, Walt Disney Studios Park, Disney’s Newport Bay Club Hotel and Disney Village will all be reopened that day, and Disney’s Hotel New York: The Art of Marvel will open on June 21.

Vivek Murthy, speaking at The Future of Everything Festival, says that “we’re moving in the right direction” on key metrics of vaccination and infection rates.

• The head of United Nations agency Unicef urged rich countries to donate shots to the COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme to bridge the gap in supplies caused by India’s decision to curb vaccine exports, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle reported. Executive Director Henrietta Fore urged G-7 countries and the European Union to donate jabs to the COVAX program, which aims to ensure poorer countries get their share of vaccines. Richer countries can afford to donate more than 150 million vaccines to nations in need without hurting their own vaccines drive, she said.

Read now: Will corporate greed prolong the COVID-19 pandemic?

Opinion: For just $25 billion, the U.S. could jump-start a project to quickly vaccinate the entire world against COVID

• A proposed “travel bubble” between Singapore and Hong Kong has been deferred again amid a surge of cases of COVID-19 in Singapore, the Guardian reported. The bubble was supposed to allow travel between the two countries on May 26. It had already been suspended in November 2020 because of a surge in cases in Hong Kong at that time. The Singapore government said a recent increase in “unlinked community cases” had resulted in the city-state not being able to meet the criteria for this initiative.

• More than 80% of Japanese oppose hosting the virus-postponed Olympics this year, a new poll published Monday showed, with just under 10 weeks until the Tokyo Games, the Japan Times reported. The latest survey comes after Japan expanded a coronavirus state of emergency Friday as the nation battles a fourth wave of virus infections. The weekend survey by the daily Asahi Shimbun found 43% of respondents want the games canceled and 40% want a further postponement. Those figures are up from 35% who backed cancellation in a survey by the paper a month ago, and 34% who at that time wanted a further delay.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness climbed above 163 million on Monday, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, while the death toll rose topped 3.38 million.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in total cases with 32.9 million and deaths with 586,001. 

India is second worldwide with 24.9 million cases and third with 274,390 deaths, according to its official numbers.

Brazil is third in cases with 15.6 million and second in deaths with 435,751.

Mexico is fourth by fatalities with 220,437 and 2.4 million cases.

The U.K. has 4.5 million cases and 127,946 deaths, the fifth highest in the world and most of any country in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late in 2019, has had 102,748 confirmed cases and 4,846 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

What’s the economy saying?

The Empire State Manufacturing Index slipped to a reading of 24.3 in May from 26.3 in April, which was the highest in three-plus years, the New York Fed said Monday, MarketWatch’s Greg Robb reported.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected a reading of 24.8.

The new orders index rose 2 points to 28.9 in May, while shipments rose 4.7 points to 29.7.

Both price indexes hit records in May. The prices paid index rose 8.8 points to 83.5 while prices received rose 2.2 points to 37.1. Expectations for business in the next six months slipped 3.2 points to 36.6.

The Empire State report gets market attention because it is seen as a leading indicator of national trends. The measure has steadily increased from a reading of 3.5 in January.

In April, the Institute of Supply Management’s manufacturing index, seen as the best gauge of factory activity across the country, slipped to 60.7 from a reading of 64.7. Economists think a growing U.S. economy will keep factories humming but perhaps not at the levels seen in April.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average
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,
S&P 500
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and Nasdaq Composite
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were lower Monday as technology shares again came under pressure.

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