US cases hit eight-month low; South Africa registers 1,129 new cases

US cases hit eight-month low; South Africa registers 1,129 new cases
A dancer of Kosovo Ballet wears a protective mask during a rehearsal in Pristina, Kosovo. (Photo: EPA-EFE / VALDRIN XHEMAJ)

South Africa registered 1,129 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,597,724. A further 90 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 54,825.

The number of new cases in the US rose last week at the slowest pace since the pandemic began, as more Americans are vaccinated and the nation recovers from a winter spike fuelled by holiday travel. The total number of new infections was the lowest since September.

In New York, free subway and train rides are being offered to those who get shots at city mass-transit terminals.

In Europe, the UK lowered its alert level and confirmed plans to allow indoor mixing from May 17, while the Czech Republic opened all shops, museums and galleries. BioNTech raised its Covid-19 vaccine sales estimate for 2021 to €12.4-billion as countries ramp up their inoculation campaigns. Earlier, the company selected Singapore as its Southeast Asia headquarters.

India’s capital of New Delhi extended its lockdown for another week as it battled a wave of infections and warned about a potentially deadly fungal infection in Covid-19 patients. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization sees the highly contagious variant spreading in India as a global concern.

Key developments

New York offers free mass transit rides for shots

New York is setting up vaccination sites at Grand Central, Penn Station and other mass transit stops, and will offer free Metropolitan Transportation Authority rides for everyone who gets a shot.

“We want to see more and more customers return to the system,” MTA chairman Patrick Foye said at a press briefing with Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Riders will be given the one-dose Johnson & Johnson shot. On Friday, the subway and the Long Island Rail Road both had the most riders since the pandemic began.

WHO says India variant is a global concern

The World Health Organization considers a highly contagious Covid variant spreading in India as a “variant of concern” at the global level, according to Maria van Kerkhove, the group’s technical lead for Covid-19.

Van Kerkhove called for more targeted sequencing to be done to track the variant.

“There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility,” said Van Kerkhove. She said a paper that hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed studied a limited number of patients and found a suggestion of some reduced neutralisation as well.

Illinois to open clinics in office buildings

Illinois will begin offering vaccine clinics at major commercial office buildings, Governor JB Pritzker said. The clinics will reach workers in Chicago sites such as the Merchandise Mart and Wrigley Building as well as several suburban office buildings, with slots available during shift changes, Pritzker said during a press conference.

“More vaccinations will mean more of a return to normal for everyone,” said Pritzker, who last week announced that his state is on track to reopen as soon as June 11.

Chicago’s reopening, which is planned for July 4, also partly depends on vaccination rates, and the city is working to increase uptake in young black residents as well as in communities including the South Side, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during the event.

New York City offers free tickets to get vaccinated

New York City will give away free tickets to Lincoln Center, Brooklyn Cyclones baseball, botanical gardens and other venues as incentives to get a Covid-19 vaccine in a bid to increase protection in the most populous US city.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city has administered more than seven million shots but that the rate has dropped precipitously since April, when it doled out as many as 115,000 vaccinations in a single day. On Friday, fewer than 60,000 shots were distributed, and fewer than 16,000 were given to residents on Sunday, which was the Mother’s Day holiday.

Most vaccinated nation sees cases surge

Seychelles, which has vaccinated the largest proportion of its population of any country against Covid-19, said active cases of the disease more than doubled in the week to May 7. 

The health ministry of the archipelago off Africa’s east coast said in a statement on Monday that 2,486 people currently have Covid-19 and of those, 37% have received two doses of vaccine. The number of active cases rose from 1,068 a week earlier. Of those in the country who have taken two doses, 57% were inoculated with Sinopharm shots and the rest with Covishield, a vaccine made in India under licence from AstraZeneca.

US new cases continue to slow

The number of new coronavirus cases in the US rose last week at the slowest pace since the pandemic began, as more Americans are vaccinated and the nation recovers from a winter spike fuelled by holiday travel.

There were 286,107 new infections in the week ended Sunday, a 0.9% increase from the prior week and the lowest total since the seven days ended September 20, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. The total on Sunday of 21,767 new cases was the lowest single-day tally since June 14, also a Sunday.

Deaths, which typically lag behind new cases by several weeks, also rose at the slowest rate of the pandemic, 0.82%. The 4,709 new fatalities were the least since the week ended July 5.

Spain hopes for immunity in 100 days

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said during a visit to Greece that Spain was about 100 days from reaching herd immunity with 70% of the population vaccinated.

That’s in line with a previous government prediction that immunity would be achieved at the end of August. Spain has so far administered about 19 million vaccine doses, with nearly six million people receiving two doses.

Lockdown easing in Austria given green light

Austria will reopen restaurants, hotels and allow sport and music events from May 19 as part of a planned easing of lockdown restrictions. Schools will also return to regular teaching next week after the nation registered 820 new coronavirus cases on Monday, the least since October.

Attending social events will require a negative virus test, or proof of vaccination or immunity, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters on Monday. Family gatherings will still be limited to four adults and their children indoors, and 10 adults outdoors, until a further decline in infections.

Gabon gets 300,000 Sinopharm doses

The Central African nation got its second batch of Sinopharm shots on May 9 following a first shipment of 100,000 doses in March, the health ministry said. Gabon has relied largely on the Chinese-manufactured shot for its inoculation programme. A total of 8,035 people were vaccinated by April 30, according to the health ministry.

China ‘quarantine rope’ for Everest summit

China pledged to deploy a “quarantine rope” on the summit of Mount Everest to prevent the close contact of climbers on the world’s highest peak. The rope is a bid to prevent climbers who reach the summit from the Nepal and China approaches from spreading infection, according to Nyima Tsering, the head of the Tibet Sports Bureau.

Bali eyes tourism after vaccinations

The Indonesian island of Bali expects to have vaccinated 70% of its population against Covid-19, by July, potentially enough to achieve “herd immunity” and allow it to begin reopening to foreigners, said Governor Wayan Koster in a statement. The local government has secured enough doses to do so, with more than 1.3 million having received at least their first shots.

Malaysia tightens curbs as cases rise

Malaysia has tightened restrictions on movements across the country to contain a rise in infections, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said.

The restrictions, in place from May 12 to June 7, mean that schools are to close, social gatherings are banned and no social visits are allowed during the coming Eid festival. Travel between districts and states will also be banned.

UK lowers Covid alert level

Chief medical officers from around the UK agreed to lower the Covid-19 alert status from Level 4 to Level 3, citing falling case numbers and deaths after months of restrictions and a fast-paced vaccination effort.

The move comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that indoor mixing and overnight stays with friends or family would be allowed from May 17.

Vaccine demand boosts BioNTech forecast

BioNTech raised its Covid-19 vaccine sales estimate to €12.4-billion for this year, issuing a new target for the shot it sells with Pfizer. BioNTech had previously predicted €9.8-billion in 2021 revenue from the shot, its first marketed product.

Deadly fungus infection found in India

India’s health authorities warned about a fungal infection seen in some Covid-19 patients which can disfigure facial features and even kill.

Mucormycosis, also called the “black fungus” infection, can damage the sinuses or lungs when the spores are inhaled, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) said in a health advisory issued on Sunday.

Patients who have been on medication for some time or had prolonged stays in the intensive-care unit are particularly susceptible, the ICMR said. The rare but deadly infection can kill and maim patients, with some Covid sufferers losing their upper jaws and eyes after contracting it, according to local media reports.

Denmark, Poland update vaccine policies

Denmark, which dropped AstraZeneca from its national vaccination programme last month, is close to setting up a voluntary system through which people can apply to get the company’s shot, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke says.

Separately, Poland will shorten the gap between doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines, the country’s leading vaccination official said.

UAE suspends flights from four Asian nations

The United Arab Emirates barred the entry of travellers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka. Cargo flights will continue to operate. The Gulf nation, home to Dubai-based Emirates and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways, last week extended the suspension of flights from India.

Norway won’t use Astra, J&J vaccines

A Norwegian expert committee recommended that AstraZeneca’s and Johnson & Johnson’s vaccines shouldn’t be included in the country’s inoculation programme, but were open to making them available on a voluntary basis.

The government last month ordered the committee to examine the consequences of not including the vaccines after the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said Astra’s shot shouldn’t be used due to its connection to “rare and serious incidents of low platelets, blood clots and bleeding”.

The NIPH on Monday advised against adding the J&J vaccine to the programme as the situation stands now. That will delay the first dose by up to two weeks in the 18 to 44 age group, it said. DM

— With assistance by Adam Blenford, Eric Mbog Batassi, Yudith Ho, Y-Sing Liau, Bhuma Shrivastava, Chris Reiter, Christian Wienberg, Lenka Ponikelska, Charles Penty, Shruti Singh, and Stacie Sherman.


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