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US CDC warns new COVID variant could be dominant strain by March | Coronavirus pandemic News



A new, more transmissible variant of the coronavirus first discovered in the United Kingdom has been detected in 10 US states, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said, warning that it could become the dominant circulating variant in the United States by March.

The variant, known as B.1.1.7, is believed to be twice as transmissible as the current version of the virus circulating in the US, but so far, there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness or is transmitted differently.

Its rapid spread will increase the burden on health resources at a time when infections are surging, further sapping strained healthcare resources and increasing the need for better adherence to mitigation strategies, such as social distancing and mask-wearing, the CDC said on Friday in its weekly report on death and disease.

It also increases the percentage of the population that needs to be vaccinated to achieve protective herd immunity to control the pandemic, the CDC said.

The UK variant currently is in 10 states but has been diagnosed in only 76 of the 23 million US cases reported to date.

However, it’s likely that this version of the virus is more widespread in the country than is currently reported, according to CDC scientists.

Former FDA chief to lead vaccine drive

Separately on Friday, US President-elect Joe Biden chose David Kessler, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for a senior role in the new administration’s efforts to boost the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, Biden’s transition team said.

The news came as Biden’s team predicted the US would mark some 500,000 deaths from the pandemic by next month and as the president-elect was due to outline plans to ramp up vaccinations.

Kessler, a paediatrician and lawyer who headed the FDA under Presidents George HW Bush and Bill Clinton, will be chief science officer of the administration’s COVID-19 response.

The Biden administration plans to reorganise the vaccine distribution effort that the administration of outgoing President Donald Trump called Operation Warp Speed, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Biden has called the Trump administration’s vaccine roll-out “a dismal failure”.

His own plan calls for Congress to spend $20bn on vaccine distribution.

“We haven’t fully funded the COVID response,” Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, said in a Washington Post interview on Friday.

“We’re going to see 500,000 deaths in this country sometime next month,” Klain said.

Kessler has been a co-chair of Biden’s advisory board on the pandemic. As head of the FDA, Kessler cut the time needed to approve drugs to treat AIDS and moved to try to regulate the tobacco industry.

His appointment comes at a critical point for the government’s effort to speed up the development and distribution of vaccines and treatments for the coronavirus in a country that has been particularly hard hit by the virus.

Biden has vowed to get 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses injected into Americans in his first 100 days in office.

That pace is more than double the current rate, but would still leave most of the country without the shot by the end of April.

Trump’s administration had aimed to give vaccine doses to 20 million Americans by the end of 2020 – but only 11.1 million shots had been administered as of Thursday, according to data from the CDC.

In a bid to expand vaccination efforts, the Trump administration said Tuesday that it was releasing millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses it had been holding back for second shots.

The move was a departure from an earlier strategy to stockpile enough doses to ensure that required second doses of the vaccines are available.

The vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which were approved last month, require two doses.

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Zooming ahead: Videoconferencing firm tops analysts’ expectations | Coronavirus pandemic News



Revenue more than tripled to $882.5m in the fiscal fourth quarter, the company said, surpassing analysts’ estimates.

Zoom Video Communications Inc. projected annual revenue that would top analysts’ estimates, signaling the video meeting service expects to remain a ubiquitous presence in daily life even as the pandemic recedes. Shares jumped about 10% extended trading.

Sales will be as much as $3.78 billion in fiscal year 2022, the San Jose, California-based company said Monday in a statement. While the projected annual revenue growth of 43% is far short of Zoom’s 326% increase in the fiscal year ended Jan. 31, it topped the 37% average estimate of analysts, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Profit, excluding some items, will be as much as $3.65 a share. Analysts projected $2.97.

Investors have feared the software maker couldn’t continue the dramatic growth in 2020 that came as people forced home in coronavirus lockdowns connected remotely on the service to work, school, friends and family.

While Zoom’s stock jumped almost fivefold last year as it became one of the biggest beneficiaries of the pandemic, it had gained just 11% during the first two months of 2021 before surging almost 10% Monday to close at $409.66 in New York.

Chief Executive Officer Eric Yuan has tried to diversify Zoom’s capabilities and add products such as a cloud phone system to appeal to more large enterprises and small- and mid-sized businesses.

“We believe we are well positioned for strong growth with our innovative video communications platform, on which our customers can build, run, and grow their businesses; our globally recognized brand; and a team ever focused on delivering happiness to our customers,” Yuan said in the statement.

Revenue more than tripled to $882.5 million in the fiscal fourth quarter, the company said. Analysts, on average, estimated $811 million. Profit, excluding some items, was $1.22 cents a share, compared with an average estimate of 79 cents.

“In our view, and whether you like it or not, video will continue to remain a core element of our daily lives and further be embedded in work, school, etc. Zoom will clearly benefit and report sustained levels of growth, in our view, and increasingly in the enterprise segment,” wrote Matt VanVliet, an analyst at BTIG, in a note before the results.

Zoom offers video gatherings free for 40 minutes and as many as 100 participants before users are charged for the service. Analysts have focused on the churn, the number of customers who drop monthly or annual subscriptions, particularly among corporate users.

The company said it had 467,100 customers with more than 10 employees, a jump of about 8% from the previous period and topping analysts’ average estimate of 442,570. The company also said 1,644 clients contributed $100,000 in trailing 12-month revenue. Analysts projected 1,474 such large customers.

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