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India sets another COVID case record, and Brazil’s health minister makes plea for vaccines

The global tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 climbed above 150 million on Friday, and India set yet another one-day case record, as the Indian army opened its hospitals in the latest effort to address a dire humanitarian crisis.

India counted 386,452 new cases in the last 24 hours, according to its health ministry, the most for any country in a single day since the start of the pandemic in late 2019. Those numbers are understood to be understated as the nation of almost 1.4 billion people’s healthcare system is completely overwhelmed.

Crematoria and graveyards are full, forcing people to use public parks and car parks for funeral pyres. Patients are dying while waiting in ambulances to be admitted to overcrowded hospitals. And the vaccine program is stumbling, even though India is the world’s biggest vaccine maker.

The U.S. and other countries are stepping in to help as India’s new coronavirus cases continue to set daily records. The crisis there highlights how one country’s surge could have ripple effects in the global battle against the pandemic.

Don’t miss: Letter from India: ‘We live in mortal fear of COVID-19’

India has among the worst air quality in the world, behind only Egypt, according to Thomas Lee, founder of Fundstrat Global Advisors. “The respiratory risks from poor air quality, might also make India more vulnerable to airborne diseases like COVID-19,” Lee wrote in commentary.

See now: India’s COVID-19 crisis is a ‘crime against humanity,’ says prize-winning author as nation sets new case record

The country is also struggling with a “double-mutant” COVID variant, that seems far more infectious than the original virus. Called the B.1.617 strain, the new variant has two spike proteins instead of one. The World Health Organization said earlier this week that the variant has now been found in at least 17 countries.

The White House said it would restrict travel from India starting May 4 on the advice of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The policy will be implemented in light of extraordinarily high COVID-19 caseloads and multiple variants circulating in the India,” the government said in a statement.

Elsewhere, Brazil’s death toll rose above 400,000 on Friday, the second highest in the world after the U.S. Latin America is another hot spot in the pandemic, accounting for 35% of all deaths in the latest week, according to the New York Times, despite being home to just 8% of the world’s population.

Like Indian Prime Minster Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been widely criticized for his blasé approach to the crisis, and is now the subject of a Senate inquiry. Bolsonaro has long played down the severity of the crisis, has ridiculed people for wearing face masks and resisted lockdown measures.

On Friday, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus held a joint news conference with Marcelo Queiroga, Brazil’s health minister, and Dr. Carissa Etienne, a WHO regional director. Queiroga called on other countries to share vaccine supply, “so we can broaden our vaccination campaign and contain the pandemic at this critical time and avoid the proliferation of new variants.”

The U.S. vaccine program, meanwhile, continues to show good progress. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine tracker is showing that as of 6.00 a.m. ET Thursday, 305.5 million doses had been delivered to states, 237.4 million doses had been administered, and 143.8 million people had received at least one shot, equal to 43.3% of the population.

More than 100 million people are now fully vaccinated, it was reported Friday at the White House’s daily pandemic briefing, though some are in the two-week period after vaccination during which protective antibodies are believed to develop. That’s equal to 30% of the population. These Americans have received two shots of the two-dose vaccines developed by Pfizer Inc.
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+0.13%

with German partner BioNTech SE
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+4.80%

or by Moderna Inc.
MRNA,
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or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson
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single-dose vaccine. The AstraZeneca vaccine, in use in other parts of the world, has not been authorized for use in the U.S.

Among Americans 65 and older, 37.4 million people are fully vaccinated, equal to 68.4% of that group. Almost 45 million people in that age bracket have received a first jab, covering 82% of that population.

See now: What we know about COVID vaccine side effects in women

In other news:

• AstraZeneca PLC
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said Friday it generated $275 million in sales from its COVID-19 vaccine in the first quarter, after delivering 68 million doses worldwide, MarketWatch’s Callum Keown reported. Of that total, $224 million came from Europe. The continuing development and supply of its vaccine had a negative impact of 3 cents on core earnings per share. The London-listed company said it would submit to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use authorization “in the coming weeks.” In March the drug company said it would apply for approval in the first half of April.

• Pfizer and BioNTech have submitted a request that European Union drug regulators extend the authorization of the companies’ coronavirus vaccine to include children ages 12 to 15, a move that could offer younger and less at-risk populations in Europe access to the shots for the first time, the Associated Press reported. The two companies said their submission to the European Medicines Agency was based on an advanced study in more than 2,000 adolescents that showed the vaccine to be safe and effective. The children will continue to be monitored for longer-term protection and safety for another two years.

A growing number of U.S. colleges will require students to get Covid-19 vaccinations before returning to campus. The policies are igniting a debate over whether businesses and institutions like schools can make vaccines a condition of attendance. Photo: Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

• Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday morning that New York City will set a goal to “fully reopen” on July 1, citing the city’s strong pace of vaccinations and declining COVID-19 case numbers. “This is all about a recovery for all of us,” de Blasio said. “Bringing back jobs, bringing back businesses, making New York City as vibrant as we were before the pandemic and then going even farther. Even more jobs, a stronger economy, a better life, more equality.” Plans for July include the full reopening of restaurants and bars; stores, shops and small businesses; hair salons and barber shops; gyms and fitness classes; arenas and stadiums; and theaters, music halls and museums — although Broadway shows aren’t expected to resume until the fall.

See: Will New York’s summer fashion include bare faces?

• Spain will extend the gap between the first and second doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in under 60-year-olds to 16 weeks from 12, the health ministry has confirmed, the Guardian reported. The move is expected to boost the country’s flagging vaccine program and give authorities more breathing space to determine how best to handle shifting safety guidelines for the drug, the ministry said. Spain has so far vaccinated just 9.4% of its population, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

• The pandemic has been very profitable for Amazon.com Inc., MarketWatch’s Jeremy Owens reported. Amazon 
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reported first-quarter earnings of $8.11 billion Thursday afternoon, trouncing expectations yet again as it continues to provide services greatly needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely e-commerce and cloud computing. In the 12 months ending March 31, comprising most of the pandemic’s effects in the U.S. and areas other than China, Amazon collected net income of about $26.9 billion. That is more than Amazon’s profits from the previous three full years, 2017 through 2019, which totaled roughly $24.7 billion.

Latest tallies

The global tally for the coronavirus-borne illness rose above 150.6 million on Friday, as the death toll climbed above 3.16 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University. Almost 88 million people have recovered from COVID-19, the data show.

The U.S. continues to lead the world in cases and deaths by wide margins, with 32.3 million cases, or more than a fifth of the global total, and 575,270 deaths, or almost a fifth of the worldwide toll.

India is second by case numbers at 18.8 million and fourth by deaths at 208,330.

Brazil is third after India with 14.6 million cases and second by fatalities at 401.186.

Mexico has the third highest death toll at 216,447 and 2.3 million cases, or 15th highest tally.

The U.K. has 4.4 million cases and 127,759 deaths, the fifth highest in the world and highest in Europe.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 102,478 confirmed cases and 4,845 deaths, according to its official numbers, which are widely held to be massively underreported.

What’s the economy saying?

 Consumers splurged on new cars, recreational goods and takeout food in March after most Americans received $1,400 government stimulus checks, giving a big shot in the arm to an economy still recovering from the coronavirus pandemic, MarketWatch’s Jeffry Bartash reported.

Consumer spending soared 4.2% last month, the government said Friday. Economists polled by Dow Jones and the Wall Street Journal has forecast a 4% increase. Incomes jumped a whopping 21.1% in March mostly because of the federal stimulus.

The surge in income and spending last month played a key role in boosting gross domestic product in the first-quarter. The economy grew at a robust 6.4% annual pace against the backdrop of falling coronavirus cases, relaxed government restrictions and the creation of 1.5 million new jobs.

Economist predict even faster growth in the spring as vaccinated Americans get out and about and businesses ratchet up production to meet rising demand.

Separately, the personal consumption expenditure price index rose 0.5% in March, the Commerce Department said Friday. Excluding volatile food and energy prices, the core rate rose 0.4%, MarketWatch’s Greg Robb reported.

Economists polled by the Wall Street Journal expected a 0.3% gain in the core rate.

The strong March gains combined with “base effects” pushed heading inflation up 2.3% over the past year from 1.5% in the prior month.

The core rate rose to a 1.8% annual rate from a 1.4% rate in February.

The Chicago business barometer, also known as the PMI, climbed to 72.1 this month from 66.3 in March, according to MNI. Readings above 50 indicate an expanding economy and anything above 60 is considered exceptional. Readings over 70 are extremely rare. The level in April was the highest since December 1983.

Economists surveyed by the Wall Street Journal expected a slight drop to 65 in April.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average
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and S&P 500
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were lower Friday.

See now: Dow falls as hectic week of earnings comes to a close

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