Second UK lockdown? PM says second wave inevitable, new restrictions possible

By Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton and Andy Bruce

LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he did not want another national lockdown but that new restrictions may be needed because the country was facing an “inevitable” second wave of COVID-19.

Ministers were on Friday reported to be considering a second national lockdown, after new COVID-19 cases almost doubled to 6,000 per day, hospital admissions rose and infection rates soared across parts of northern England and London.

That rise in cases was part of a second wave that was now unstoppable, the prime minister said.

“We are now seeing a second wave coming in…It is absolutely, I’m afraid, inevitable, that we will see it in this country,” Johnson told UK media.

Asked about whether the whole of the country should brace for a new lockdown, rather than just local restrictions, he said: “I don’t want to get into a second national lockdown at all.”

But he did not rule out further national restrictions being brought in.

“When you look at what is happening, you’ve got to wonder whether we need to go further than the rule of six that we brought in on Monday,” he said, referring to the ban on gatherings of more than six people.

The United Kingdom has reported the fifth largest number of deaths from COVID-19 in the world, after the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University of Medicine.

The UK’s official number of new positive cases shot up by nearly a thousand on Friday to 4,322, the highest since May 8, after a separate ONS model pointed to about 6,000 new cases a day in England in the week to Sept. 10.

That was up from modelling of 3,200 cases per day in the previous week, with the North West and London seen as hotspots.

Health Minister Matt Hancock called a second national lockdown a last resort earlier on Friday and when he was asked about it said: “I can’t give you that answer now.”

SPREADING WIDELY ACROSS ALL AGES

The UK said its reproduction “R” number of infections has risen to a range of 1.1-1.4 from last week’s 1.0-1.2.

“We’re seeing clear signs this virus is now spreading widely across all age groups and I am particularly worried by the increase in rates of admission to hospital and intensive care among older people,” said Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at Public Health England.

“This could be a warning of far worse things to come.”

Britain imposed new COVID regulations on the North West, Midlands and West Yorkshire from Tuesday. More than 10 million people in the United Kingdom are already in local lockdown, and restrictions for millions more could be on the way.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said later on Friday that it was “increasingly likely” that additional measures would soon be required in Britain’s biggest city. He said he had seen evidence about the spread of the virus in London which was “extremely” concerning.

COVID-19 cases started to rise again in Britain in September, with between 3,000 and 4,000 positive tests recorded daily in the last week. This is still some way behind France, which is seeing more than 10,000 new cases a day.

“COVID-19 infection rates have increased in most regions, particularly the North West and London,” the ONS said.

The ONS said there had been clear evidence of an increase in the number of people testing positive aged 2 to 11 years, 17 to 24 years and 25 to 34 years.

Johnson was criticized by opposition politicians for his initial response to the outbreak and the government has struggled to ensure sufficient testing in recent weeks.

Asked by LBC radio why the testing system was such a “shambles”, Hancock said Dido Harding, who is in charge of the system, had done an “an extraordinary job.”

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge, Kate Holton and Sarah Young; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Mike Collett-White, Philippa Fletcher, William Maclean)

Fed officials tussle over practical meaning of new inflation policy

By Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal Reserve policymakers on Friday began fleshing out what their new tolerance for inflation will mean in practice, an issue critical to how investors and households reshape their own outlooks even if it may not be relevant to any immediate decisions by the U.S. central bank.

The new policy, laid out in a strategic document last month and incorporated into a policy statement issued on Wednesday, pledges to keep interest rates near zero until inflation has hit the Fed’s 2% target and is on track “to moderately exceed” it “for some time.”

As it stands, with the coronavirus pandemic sapping demand, leaving millions of Americans unemployed, and threatening the survival of entire industries, inflation is not seen as the core risk. Economic projections released by the Fed this week show inflation only reaching 2% by the end of 2023, with any shift towards tighter monetary policy likely years down the road.

But how the Fed’s new language is interpreted by the central bank’s five current Washington-based governors and 12 regional bank presidents will be central to whether bond markets, stock investors and even consumers see the new approach as likely to be effective, and start behaving in a way that actually helps push inflation higher.

After years of weak inflation, that is the Fed’s hope. It is based on fears of a Japanese-style low inflation rut that can have its own damaging effects over time, and Fed officials on Friday started to outline their views of how to proceed.

Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said, for example, that he’d be paying closer attention to how fast inflation rises rather than to its quarter-to-quarter level in implementing the new approach.

In an interview on Bloomberg Television, Bostic said if inflation went up to 2.3% but appeared stable “that would be fine … By contrast if we were at 2.2 and the next quarter at 2.4 and then at 2.6, that trajectory would give me concern” and perhaps require efforts to cool the economy.

‘GHOST STORIES’

Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari, in contrast, laid out a more open-ended view in written comments describing why he dissented against the rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee’s policy statement on Wednesday.

The Fed, he felt, was setting itself up to make the same mistake it has in the past of reacting too quickly to inflation “ghost stories” and risked nipping off job growth too soon.

He said the Fed instead should switch its focus to core inflation, a slower moving variable that excludes volatile commodity prices, and ensure that it reached 2% on a “sustained basis.”

“I would have preferred the Committee make a stronger commitment to not raising rates until we were certain to have achieved our dual mandate objectives,” of maximum employment consistent with stable prices, Kashkari said in an essay.

A second dissent from Dallas Fed President Robert Kaplan argued the central bank should keep its options open to raise rates sooner if needed – a sign of the broad debate now taking place over just what the new framework will mean in practice.

Critics say they feel the Fed’s new approach rings hollow without strong measures to back it up and produce the higher inflation they seek, such as more aggressive bond-buying.

But St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said inflation may move higher on its own if, as he suspects, the economic recovery gains traction at a time when global supply chains are being reorganized, monetary policy is loose, and governments are issuing record levels of debt to finance pandemic-related spending.

“A lot of people on Wall Street are saying ‘you could not hit 2%, how are you going to have inflation above 2%?,'” Bullard said in webcast remarks to a Washington University in St. Louis forum.

“I think we are at a moment where you may see some inflation … You have got more relaxed central banks … You have got huge fiscal deficits which historically have been a catalyst for inflation. And you have possibly bottleneck-type pressures.”

(Reporting by Howard Schneider and Ann Saphir; Editing by Paul Simao)

T cell shortage linked to severe COVID-19 in elderly; antiseptic spray may limit virus spread

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus.

Shortage of ‘naive’ T cells raises COVID-19 risk in elderly

A lower supply of a certain type of immune cell in older people that is critical to fighting foreign invaders may help explain their vulnerability to severe COVID-19, scientists say. When germs enter the body, the initial “innate” immune response generates inflammation not specifically targeted at the bacteria or virus.

Within days, the more precise “adaptive” immune response starts generating antibodies against the invader along with T cells that either assist in antibody production or seek out and attack infected cells.

In a small study published on Wednesday in Cell, COVID-19 patients with milder disease had better adaptive immune responses, and in particular, stronger T-cell responses to the coronavirus.

People over age 65 were much more likely to have poor T cell responses, and a poorly coordinated immune response in general, coauthor Shane Crotty of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology said in a news release.

As we age, our supply of “naive” T cells shrinks, he explained. Put another way, we have fewer “inexperienced” T cells available to be activated to respond to a new invader. “Ageing and scarcity of naive T cells may be linked risk factors for failure to generate a coordinated adaptive immune response, resulting in increased susceptibility to severe COVID-19,” the researchers said.

Antiseptic nasal spray may help limit coronavirus spread

An antiseptic nasal spray containing povidone-iodine may help curb transmission of the new coronavirus, preliminary research suggests.

In test tube experiments, a team of ear, nose and throat doctors found that a povidone-iodine nasal spray inactivated the virus in as little as 15 seconds. The nasal spray they tested is typically used to disinfect the inside of the nose before surgery. Formulations designed for use on skin are not safe in the nose, the researchers note.

They reported on Thursday in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery that they now have their patients use the spray before intranasal procedures, to reduce the risk of virus transmission through the air via droplets and aerosol spread.

They also suggest instructing patients to perform nasal decontamination before coming to appointments, to “further decrease intranasal viral load and … prevent spread in waiting areas and other common areas.” They caution, however, that routine use of povidone-iodine would not be safe for some people, including pregnant women and patients with thyroid conditions. Larger clinical trials have not yet proved that viral transmission is curbed by intranasal povidone-iodine solutions, but “these studies are already underway,” the researchers said.

Not all COVID-19 antibody tests are equal

Some COVID-19 antibody tests are much more reliable than others. But even with the best ones, reliability varies among patient subgroups, a new study suggests. Some tests look for IgM or IgA antibodies, the first antibodies produced by the immune system in response to an invader, which do not remain long in the body.

Other tests – the most common kind – look for IgG antibodies, which generally develop within seven to 10 days after symptoms begin and remain in the blood for some time after the patient recovers.

In a study posted on medRxiv on Wednesday in advance of peer review, researchers analyzed data from 11,809 individuals whose COVID-19 had been diagnosed with highly rated tests to see how well the various antibody assays would “recall” that the patient had been infected.

The most commonly used assays, which look for IgG, had a 91.2% recall rate. But the IgA and IgM assays had estimated recall rates of 20.6% and 27.3%, respectively, coauthor Natalie Sheils of UnitedHealth Group told Reuters. “Recall varies significantly across sub-populations and according to timing of the tests, with performance becoming relatively stable after day 14,” she said. “The tests performed better for men versus women, for non-whites versus whites and for individuals above age 45.” More research is needed to understand why these variations occur, Sheils added.

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Taiwan scrambles jets as 18 Chinese planes buzz during U.S. visit

By Ben Blanchard and Yew Lun Tian

TAIPEI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Taiwan scrambled fighter jets on Friday as 18 Chinese aircraft buzzed the island, crossing the sensitive mid-line of the Taiwan Strait, in response to a senior U.S. official holding talks in Taipei.

China had earlier announced combat drills and denounced what it called collusion between the island, which it claims as part of its territory, and the United States.

U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach arrived in Taipei on Thursday for a three-day visit, the most senior State Department official to come to Taiwan in four decades – to which China had promised a “necessary response.”

The U.S. State Department has said Krach, who arrived in Taipei on Thursday afternoon, is in Taiwan for a memorial service on Saturday for former President Lee Teng-hui, who was revered by many on the island and internationally as the father of Taiwan’s democracy.

But Beijing has watched with growing alarm the ever-closer relationship between Taipei and Washington, and has stepped up military exercises near the island, including two days of large-scale air and sea drills last week.

With a U.S. presidential election looming in November, Sino-U.S. relations are already under huge strain from a trade war, U.S. digital security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.

Taiwan said 18 Chinese aircraft were involved on Friday, far more than in previous such encounters and entered its southwest air defense identification zone (ADIZ).

“Sep. 18, two H-6 bombers, eight J-16 fighters, four J-10 fighters and four J-11 fighters crossed the mid-line of the TaiwanStrait and entered Taiwan’s southwest ADIZ,” the defense ministry said in an English-language tweet.

Combat aircraft from both sides normally avoid passing through the Taiwan Strait mid-line.

“ROCAF scrambled fighters, and deployed air defense missile system to monitor the activities.” The ROCAF, Taiwan’s air force, has scrambled frequently in recent months in response to Chinese intrusions.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has led the Trump administration’s rhetorical offensive against China, accused Beijing of bluster when asked about the Chinese activity.

“We sent the delegation to a funeral, and the Chinese have apparently responded by military blustering. I’ll leave it at that,” he told a news conference on a visit to Guyana.

In a statement, the Pentagon said it was another example of China using its military as a tool of coercion.

“The PLA’s aggressive and destabilizing reactions reflect a continued attempt to alter the status quo and rewrite history,” a Pentagon spokesman said, using an acronym for China’s People’s Liberation Army.

The ministry showed a map of the flight paths of Chinese jets crossing the mid-line.

Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper said Taiwanese jets had scrambled 17 times over four hours, warning China’s air force to stay away. It also showed a picture of missiles being loaded onto an F-16 fighter at the Hualien air base on Taiwan’s east coast.

‘REASONABLE, NECESSARY ACTION’

In Beijing, Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Friday’s maneuvers, about which he gave no details, involved the People’s Liberation Army’s eastern theater command.

“They are a reasonable, necessary action aimed at the current situation in the Taiwan Strait and protecting national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ren said.

He said Taiwan was a purely internal Chinese affair and accused its ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) of stepping up “collusion” with the United States.

Trying to “use Taiwan to control China” or “rely on foreigners to build oneself up” was wishful thinking and futile. “Those who play with fire will get burnt,” Ren said.

Taiwan’s presidential office urged China to exercise restraint, and urged the Taiwanese not to be alarmed, saying the military had a grasp on the situation.

Government officials in Taiwan, including President Tsai Ing-wen, have expressed concern in recent weeks that an accidental military encounter could spark a wider conflict.

Hu Xijin, editor of China’s widely read state-backed Global Times tabloid, wrote on his Weibo microblog that the drills were preparation for an attack on Taiwan should the need arise, and that they enabled intelligence-gathering about Taiwan’s defense systems.

“If the U.S. secretary of state or defense secretary visits Taiwan, People’s Liberation Army fighters should fly over Taiwan island, and directly exercise in the skies above it,” he added.

Chinese fighter jets briefly crossed the mid-line last month while U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar was in Taipei, and last week China carried out two days of large-scale drills off Taiwan’s southwestern coast.

The United States, like most countries, has official ties only with China, not Taiwan, though Washington is the island’s main arms supplier and most important international backer.

This week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations had lunch with Taiwan’s top envoy in New York. China’s U.N. mission said it had lodged “stern representations” over the meeting.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Additional reportnmg by David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

In Wisconsin, Trump announces $13 billion in farm aid

By Steve Holland and P.J. Huffstutter

MOSINEE, Wis. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump announced a new round of pandemic assistance to farmers of about $13 billion at a campaign rally in Wisconsin on Thursday night, delivering aid to an important sector in a crucial battleground state.

“Starting next week my administration is committing an additional … $13 billion in relief to help farmers recover from the China virus, including Wisconsin’s incredible dairy, cranberry and ginseng farmers who got hurt badly,” Trump said, referring to the novel coronavirus virus.

Wisconsin is known for its milk and cheese industries, which have been hard hit by both the White House’s trade policies and the COVID-19 pandemic – but the amount of assistance to farmers weeks before the vote was unexpected.

Trump spoke in Mosinee, a rural town in the central part of Wisconsin, as state officials reported 2,034 new coronavirus cases, a record one-day increase.

The new aid program – which the agriculture department is expected to release details about on Friday – is tapping into the $14 billion in additional Commodity Credit Corporation funds that Congress agreed to prepay as part of the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, according to four sources familiar with the matter.

Farmers are expected to be allowed to start applying for the new program on Monday, the sources said.

How much certain crops will receive is not known, but the program is set to make direct payments to producers of meat, dairy, grain, vegetables and other products, the sources said.

The payments will be designed similarly to an earlier aid package: calculated based on yields of crops and the impact the coronavirus pandemic had on the price of the commodities.

Trump in April announced a $19 billion relief program to help U.S. farmers cope with the impact of the virus, including $16 billion in direct payments to producers and mass purchases of meat, dairy, vegetables and other products.

That came on the heels of $28 billion in trade aid given to the farm sector over 2018 and 2019. A government watchdog agency said on Monday the 2019 aid favored farmers from the U.S. Southeast, primarily those growing crops like cotton or sorghum, over those in other parts of the country.

China’s demand for U.S. corn and soybeans has been strong in recent weeks, boosting prices, and it is also importing more meat amid a potential food supply gap.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and P.J. Huffstutter; Writing by Andy Sullivan and Eric Beech; Editing by Tom Brown and Aurora Ellis)

U.S. House Speaker Pelosi to meet with top U.S. airline CEOs

By David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski

WASHINGTON/CHICAGO (Reuters) – House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi will speak on Friday afternoon with the chief executives of top U.S. airlines, who are urging Congress to approve another $25 billion in assistance to keep tens of thousands of U.S. workers on the payroll past Sept. 30, sources said.

Pelosi and House Transportation Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio are expected to hold a 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT) call with the chief executives of United Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Hawaiian Airlines, Alaska Airlines and others, a Democratic aide told Reuters.

In an interview with NBC’s “Today Show” on Friday, American Chief Executive Doug Parker urged lawmakers to “come together and get it done. … We just need people to do what’s right. I know we’re better than this, and our people deserve better.”

At the end of this month, the $25 billion in federal payroll assistance airlines received when the coronavirus first began spreading around the world is set to expire.

Airlines and unions are now pleading for a six-month extension as part of a bipartisan proposal for another $1.5 trillion in coronavirus relief, while simultaneously negotiating with employees to minimize thousands of job cuts that are expected without another round of aid.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows met with major airline chief executives on Thursday. He said President Donald Trump is also open to a stand-alone measure to aid airlines, though congressional aides say that is unlikely to win support given aid requests from so many other struggling industries.

American has said it plans to end service to 15 small communities without additional government assistance and furlough about 19,000 workers.

Air travel has plummeted over the last six months as the coronavirus pandemic has claimed nearly 196,000 American lives and prompted many to avoid airports and planes, seriously depressing airline revenues.

Congress also set aside another $25 billion in government loans for airlines, but many have opted not to tap that funding source.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Tracy Rucinski; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. Gulf Coast tourism, already stung by pandemic, slammed by Hurricane Sally

By Devika Krishna Kumar

PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – Hurricane Sally made a direct hit on the U.S. Gulf Coast this week, dealing a blow to a popular tourist destination already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. In the storm’s aftermath, many bar and restaurant owners were breathing a sigh of relief the damage was not worse.

Sally bulled its way through this stretch of beach towns and condos in Alabama and Florida, making landfall on Wednesday as a powerful Category 2 hurricane and bringing extensive floods that destroyed numerous piers and caused two riverboat casinos under construction to break free of their moorings.

Max Murphy, general manager of Crabs, a seafood and steak restaurant in Pensacola Beach, Florida, said the hurricane’s late eastward turn left residents unprepared.

“Everyone in the community expected it to keep going straight west to New Orleans or Gulfport (Miss.), but it took that turn so we weren’t really prepared,” Murphy said. “I didn’t even get the plywood up on my windows, because I wasn’t expecting it to come here.”

The damage from Hurricane Sally could range from $8 billion to $10 billion, well above earlier estimates of $2 billion to $3 billion, said Chuck Watson of Enki Research, which tracks tropical storms and models the costs of their damage. The hit to tourism revenues may not be fully known for months.

The U.S. leisure and hospitality industry has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans. The Gulf region is a popular driving destination for the entire Southeast and Texas, peppered with restaurants, casinos and amusement parks.

Baldwin County, Alabama, where the hurricane made landfall, was the state’s most-visited county in 2019, according to the state tourism bureau, bringing in $1.7 billion in travel-related revenue.

In the Pensacola region, approximately 22,900 people were employed in that industry in August, a 13% drop from March, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Mike Bose, a manager at the Flora-Bama beach bar in Perdido Key, Florida, which hugs the Alabama state line, said the damage was still being assessed. More than 24 hours after the storm made landfall, parts of the restaurant were still flooded.

“We got quite a bit of water damage throughout, which we’re working on today,” Bose said. “There’s no telling at this point what the cost is to get back on track.”

Some tourists and visitors say the hurricane has scared them away from a return visit. Toni Galloway from Kansas City, Missouri, was visiting the Gulf area when Sally struck.

“This was my first hurricane. I wouldn’t want to weather another one. It’s frightening. I will have to think long and hard about returning to the Gulf Coast,” she said.

Murphy, the Crabs general manager, said the damage from this hurricane was less extensive than others like Hurricane Ivan, which hit 16 years ago at Category 5 strength. “That’s enough damage for the season. We don’t want anymore. We got lucky, we really did.”

John Perkins, 71, got to Gulf Shores, Alabama, on Sunday night from Tennessee to attend a wedding. Instead, he found himself hunkering down with his wife as the winds blew for hours.

“I told my wife – we can mark this off our bucket list. We rode out a hurricane,” he said.

(Reporting By Devika Krishna Kumar in Pensacola, Florida; additional reporting by Jennifer Hiller in Houston; Writing by David Gaffen; Editing by Timothy Gardner)

Michigan court rules that late arriving ballots must be counted

By Michael Martina

DETROIT (Reuters) – A Michigan judge ruled on Friday that mailed ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 must be counted in the state as long as they are received within two weeks after the Nov. 3 election, the latest move by a U.S. court to protect voting rights in the pandemic.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Diane Stephens made the ruling in a case brought by the Michigan Alliance for Retired Americans, and argued for by Marc Elias, an elections lawyer working with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s campaign.

The ruling said the ballots must be received “by the clerk’s office no later than 14 days after the election has occurred,” and would apply to this year’s election as a special provision due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Late arriving ballots “are eligible to be counted in the same manner as all provisional ballots” up until the time when the election is certified, Stephens said.

Elias, in a tweet, called the ruling a “major victory for voting rights” in the state, though it is likely to be appealed.

“This helps rectify issues with delays from the USPS, while relieving pressure on voters to make sure their ballot is received in time to be counted,” said Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes. “This is a victory for every voter in Michigan.”

Democrats and Republicans have clashed over the rules for voting by mail ahead of the November election, when there is expected to be a surge in mail voting because of the virus.

That has led to controversy over whether the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) will be able to handle the mail rush in time to ensure that voters who mailed their ballots would not be disenfranchised.

The Michigan ruling also cleared the way for anyone to help deliver a person’s ballot to clerks “between 5:01 p.m. on the Friday before the election and the close of polls on Election Day,” a practice normally banned under law unless the delivery is done by a family member, an election official or mail carrier.

The ruling came a day after Pennsylvania’s top court ruled that state officials can accept mail ballots up to three days after the election, as long as they were mailed by Election Day.

But not all courts have moved to expand voting rights.

A federal appeals court last week rejected Texas Democrats’ bid to allow all state residents to vote by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic, ruling that the state’s law extending that right only to those over 65 was not unconstitutional age discrimination.

Another federal appeals court last week said Florida could require felons to pay all fines, restitution and legal fees they face before they can regain their right to vote.

(Reporting by Michael Martina and Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone, Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis)

Explainer: When will COVID-19 vaccines be generally available in the U.S.?

By Carl O’Donnell and Michael Erman

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this week disagreed about when a COVID-19 vaccine would become widely available. Trump has said one could initially be available by the Nov. 3 election, while the CDC director said vaccines were likely to reach the general public around mid-2021, an assessment more in line with most experts.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR A VACCINE TO BE GENERALLY AVAILABLE?

General availability is when every American who wants the vaccine can get it. There are currently no COVID-19 vaccines approved by U.S. regulators, although a handful are in late-stage trials to prove they are safe and effective.

Experts estimate that at least 70% of roughly 330 million Americans would need to be immune through a vaccine or prior infection to achieve what is known as herd immunity, which occurs when enough people are immune to prevent the spread of the virus to those unable to get a vaccine.

HOW LONG BEFORE VACCINE PRODUCTION IS FULLY RAMPED UP?

Most vaccines in development will require two doses per person.

The CDC anticipates that 35 million to 45 million doses of vaccines from the first two companies to receive authorization will be available in the United States by the end of this year. The current front runners are Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc.

Drugmakers have been more ambitious with their calculations. AstraZeneca Plc has said it could deliver as many as 300 million doses of its experimental vaccine in the United States by as early as October. Pfizer and German partner BioNTech SE have said they expect to have 100 million doses available worldwide by the end of 2020, but did not specify how much of that was earmarked for the United States. Moderna on Friday said it is on track to make around 20 million doses by the end of the year and between 500 million and 1 billion doses a year beginning in 2021.

Obtaining enough doses to inoculate everyone in the United States will likely take until later in 2021. CDC Director Robert Redfield told a congressional hearing on Wednesday that vaccines may not be widely available to everyone in the United States until the second or third quarter of next year.

WHO WOULD GET AN APPROVED VACCINE FIRST?

The CDC decision will likely broadly follow recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. The CDC has said the earliest inoculations may go to healthcare workers, people at increased risk for severe COVID-19, and essential workers.

It is unclear when a vaccine will be available for children as major drugmakers have yet to include them in late-stage trials. Pfizer and BioNTech have filed with regulators seeking to start recruiting volunteers as young as 16 for vaccine studies.

WHICH COMPANIES WILL LIKELY ROLL OUT A VACCINE QUICKLY?

Pfizer has said it could have compelling evidence that its vaccine works by the end of October. Moderna says it could have similar evidence in November. The vaccines would first need to be approved or authorized for emergency use by U.S. regulators.

Drugmakers have already started manufacturing supplies of their vaccine candidates to be ready as soon as they get the go ahead. The U.S. Department of Defense and the CDC plan to start distribution of vaccines within 24 hours of regulatory authorization.

Several drugmakers including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax Inc have all said they expect to produce at least 1 billion doses of their vaccines next year if they get regulatory authorization.

Sanofi SA and GlaxoSmithKline Plc are also working on developing a vaccine they say could be authorized next year.

(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell and Michael Erman in New York; additional reporting by Caroline Humer; editing by Peter Henderson and Bill Berkrot)

White House to announce $11.6 billion aid for Puerto Rico: Fox News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House plans to announce an $11.6 billion aid package for Puerto Rico, focused on the territory’s energy and education systems, to help the island recover from the devastation brought by 2017’s Hurricane Maria, Fox News reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources.

Puerto Rico was already struggling financially before the deadly hurricane struck three years ago, and filed a form of municipal bankruptcy for the commonwealth in 2017 to restructure about $120 billion of debt and obligations.

Since then, the U.S. commonwealth has been hit by more hurricanes, earthquakes, the coronavirus pandemic and political upheaval, and has been the target of increased federal scrutiny into its use of U.S. aid. A large portion of its financial distress was linked to the territory’s power utility.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; editing by Susan Heavey and Jonathan Oatis)