US near 11-month low; South Africa registers 2,585 new cases

US near 11-month low; South Africa registers 2,585 new cases
A worker wearing a protective face mask moves crates of flowers in the warehouse at the Multiflora Flower Market in Johannesburg. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South Africa registered 2,585 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,613,728. A further 27 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 55,210.

Any mandates in the US to require people to be vaccinated against Covid-19 will be set at the local level by companies and institutions such as colleges, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The US’s rolling one-week average of new virus cases fell to the lowest level since June.

Singapore plans to close public schools this week and move to home-based learning, as a spike in unlinked cases poses the biggest challenge since last year in the city’s efforts to tackle the pandemic. and one of India’s largest renewable energy companies are boosting supplies of oxygen concentrators to the country in desperate need of the life-saving medical equipment as a brutal second wave sweeps through its towns and cities.

Key developments

Italy daily deaths drop

Italy recorded 93 coronavirus deaths on Sunday, the lowest count since late October. New infections were 5,753, close to the seven-month low registered last week. Italy has been accelerating its vaccination campaign to more than 500,000 shots a day, and infections have continued falling even with the loosening of restrictions on the economy and social life.

CDC shuns federal vaccine mandate

Any mandates in the US to require people to be vaccinated against Covid-19 will be set at the local level by companies and institutions such as colleges, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

“It may very well be that local businesses, local jurisdictions, will work towards vaccine mandates,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “That is going to be locally driven and not federally driven.”

Separately, on Fox News Sunday, Walensky cited colleges or universities that may enforce vaccine mandates for students, and that the cruise ship industry may also consider it for people about to embark on multi-day journeys at sea.

Walensky spoke days after the CDC announced that Americans vaccinated against Covid-19 were clear to shed their face masks in public at most times.

More than 20 million fully vaccinated in UK

More than 20 million people, or 38% of the British adult population, are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the government said on Sunday. More than 36.5 million, or 69%, have had one dose. The UK will open inoculations to everyone 35 and older this week as it combats cases of a highly transmissible variant that originated in India. The country reported another 1,926 cases and four deaths on Sunday. Both figures are up about 9% over the last seven days.

Hong Kong tightens travel rules

Hong Kong will increase restrictions on arrivals from Taiwan and Singapore, the South China Morning Post reported.

Taiwan, Singapore and Japan are to be classified as high-risk according to the city’s vaccine bubble travel arrangements. Unvaccinated travellers arriving from those places will have to quarantine at designated hotels for 21 days as well as present proof of a negative test.

Singapore shuts schools

All primary, secondary, junior college and Millennia Institute students will shift to full home-based learning from 19 May till the end of the school term on 28 May, Singapore’s Ministry of Education said on Sunday. Preschools and student care centres remain open to support parents who have to work.

New attack hits Irish health system

Ireland’s Department of Health has been hit by a cyber attack similar to the ransomware one carried out last week on the country’s Health Service Executive, RTE News said on Sunday.

Covid-19 vaccination appointments and testing are under way, but there may be some delays in getting results back, the HSE said. Contact tracing is also operating, though it may take longer than usual, it said.

Ireland hasn’t published national coronavirus infection case numbers since Thursday.

US cases now fewest since June

The US added slightly more than 30,000 cases on Saturday, sending the nation’s rolling one-week average to the lowest level since late last June, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

Even so, another 480 people died of illness related to Covid-19. That compares with peaks of more than 5,000 deaths a day in January and February.

Amazon sends more oxygen to India and Indian renewable energy company Greenko Group are boosting supplies of oxygen concentrators to the country.

The US company is working with “sellers on its marketplace to help them bring in about 9,000 oxygen concentrators for customers in India”, it wrote in a blog on Saturday. The first batch of 1,000 oxygen concentrators have landed and are available for purchase while the rest are expected in the second half of May, it said.

Hyderabad-based Greenko said on Sunday that it had airlifted the first batch of 1,000 large medical-grade concentrators.

Turkey eases curbs

Turkey will ease its virus restrictions from Monday as new cases of Covid-19 decline following a three-week lockdown, offering a glimmer of hope for the summer tourist season.

Infections plummeted to 11,472 on Saturday from a record high of 63,082 a month ago, though that’s still above the target of no more than 5,000 cases set by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he announced the national lockdown from 29 April.

Most travel restrictions will be lifted, but nighttime and weekend curfews will remain in place, and restaurants will only open for food deliveries, according to an Interior Ministry decree on Sunday.

Germany’s infection rate continues to fall

Germany’s contagion rate fell further below a key level, a trend that could trigger a loosening of some pandemic restrictions.

Infections dropped to 83.1 per 100,000 people over the past seven days, according to the RKI public health institute. The incidence rate dipped below 100 on Friday and regional governments can start to lift restrictions if it remains below that level for five consecutive working days.

“This is a hopeful sign but we still need to be careful,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a tweet.

Taiwan local cases hit record

Taiwan registered a record 206 new local cases on Sunday, after adding 180 infections the previous day. The country is racing to contain its worst outbreak of the coronavirus, while averting a full lockdown.

Italy vaccination cuts infections

Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective even after the first dose, according to a large-scale study by Italy’s national health institute. Infections, hospitalisations and deaths all declined significantly about 14 days after the first shot. After 35 days, infections were 80% lower than among those who hadn’t received any dose, while hospitalisations were 90% lower and deaths 95% lower.

More than seven million Italians who had received at least one vaccine dose between 27 December and 4 April were surveyed. Two-thirds were given the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine, while 29% received AstraZeneca’s shot.

EU travel pass may arrive soon

A health travel pass in the EU will be available from around 20 June, French junior minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune said in an interview on Sunday on Europe 1 radio. The pass will show either proof of vaccination against Covid-19, immunity due to past infection or the result of a negative PCR test.

Beaune says he’s pushing for quarantine measures to be lifted once the pass is operational. Only vaccines approved by the European Medicine Agency will be accepted as proof of vaccination. That would exclude Russian and Chinese vaccines, he said.

France will implement its own health pass from 9 June for major gatherings of more than 1,000 such as festivals and concerts, Beaune said.

Cyclone heads to India

A cyclone is set to hit the western coast of India — the country’s industrialised belt with big refineries and ports — prompting authorities already grappling with a deadly second virus wave to start preparations for evacuating citizens.

Cyclone Tauktae is expected to make landfall on Tuesday morning in the southern districts of Gujarat, with wind speeds touching 175km/h according to the India Meteorological Department. It has intensified into a “very severe cyclonic storm,” the national weather forecaster said in a tweet on Sunday.

Local authorities in Mumbai have already moved hundreds of Covid-19 patients to other facilities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi told senior government officials to ensure “maintenance of all essential services such as power, telecommunications, health and drinking water”, according to a May 15 statement from the Press Information Bureau.

India virus cases ease

India reported 311,170 new infections on Sunday, continuing the downward trajectory seen in the past few days, bolstering hopes that cases may have peaked after a deadly second wave that overwhelmed hospitals and crematoriums. The case tally has crossed 24.6 million, according to India’s health ministry. More than 182 million vaccine doses have been administered.

While the daily surge in cases is ebbing, there’s no let-up in deaths, with the Asian nation reporting 4,077 more casualties, pushing the total to 270,284. Those death toll numbers might be understated, according to local media reports of bodies floating down rivers in the northern states.

The Dainik Bhaskar, a Hindi newspaper popular across India’s crowded heartland, fanned 30 of its reporters along the banks of the river Ganga in Uttar Pradesh state. They found — and photographed — more than 2,000 corpses across some 1,140km. The state government claims only about 300 are dying daily.

Their findings make grim reading: authorities are piling silt over more than 350 bodies lying in shallow graves in Kannauj, the reporters say; they see dogs gnawing at some of the 400 corpses just a short distance from a crematorium in Kanpur; they counted 52 corpses floating down the river in Ghazipur, often crossing state borders.

Singapore to vaccinate children

Singapore plans to vaccinate under 16s after a recent rise of Covid-19 infections among students in the island state, according to Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.

The ministries of education and health are working out plans for the “vaccination of our students,” Chan wrote on his Facebook page. “Once the approval for use is granted, we will roll out vaccinations to those below 16.” DM

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Alessandro Speciale, Iain Rogers, Lizzy Burden, Harry Suhartono, Jack Wittels, Swetha Gopinath, Alexander Sazonov, Philip Heijmans, and Sara Marley.


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