No masks for vaccinated Amazon staff; South Africa registers 3,522 new cases

No masks for vaccinated Amazon staff; South Africa registers 3,522 new cases
Vaccine drives in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal have had to be paused amid widespread looting and violence being committed by protestors across both provinces. (Photo: Alisha Jucevic / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South Africa registered 3,522 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 1,621,362. A further 167 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 55,507.

France loosened a months-long lockdown on Wednesday, allowing restaurants to serve customers on terraces and cinemas and museums to reopen to the public. New York state, the original US epicentre of the pandemic, reported its lowest infection rate since September.

In India, daily deaths reached a record, even as reported new infections declined from the highs of early May. Taiwan extended a soft lockdown island-wide, while the virus continued to rampage through Thailand’s prisons.

New cases in Malaysia rose to the highest since the pandemic began, even after the government imposed nationwide restrictions on movement to curb the spread. Serbia received a delivery of 440,000 vaccine doses from China to immunise its military.

Key developments

Amazon ends mask rule for vaccinated workers says that next week, fully vaccinated staffers in frontline jobs in the US won’t have to wear masks, unless mandated by state or local regulations.

Beginning on Monday, workers who are fully vaccinated and have a copy of their vaccine card won’t have to wear face coverings in the company’s warehouses and other logistics depots, Amazon said in a message to employees on Wednesday.

Amazon, which employs about 1.3 million people, is the second-largest private sector employer in the US behind Walmart. The online retailer instituted its mask requirement in April 2020.

Pennsylvania voters curb governor’s power

Pennsylvania voters approved two ballot measures to curtail a governor’s authority during disaster declarations, a rebuke of Democratic Governor Tom Wolf’s pandemic restrictions.

The proposed constitutional amendments, placed on the ballot by the Republican-controlled legislature, would let the state’s General Assembly end a disaster declaration without the governor’s approval, and shorten such declarations to 21 days from 90 days.

Both measures drew about 54% of the vote, according to incomplete and unofficial returns posted on Wednesday on the Pennsylvania Secretary of State’s website.

New York positivity rate falls to 1%

The seven-day average Covid-19 positivity rate in New York state dropped to 1.06%, the lowest since September 27, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a statement on Wednesday. It was the 44th straight day of decline. Hospitalisations fell to 1,521, the fewest since November 8.

“New York is making tremendous strides in beating back Covid – our positivity rates are the lowest we’ve seen in months and more than 10 million New Yorkers have received at least one dose of the vaccine,” Cuomo said.

The governor also announced that child-care facilities and summer camps must collect vaccination status for all staff and children, and implement daily health screenings. Children and staff over age two who aren’t fully vaccinated must wear face coverings except when eating, drinking, showering, or sleeping.

Separately, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city would keep the mask mandate in place in municipal offices because there are vaccinated and unvaccinated people working together. He said the three measures tracked closely by the city – cases, deaths and hospitalisations – have all dropped below the city’s threshold. The closely watched hospitalisation rate that has dropped below one per 100,000 residents.

Over 70% of UK adults have received one dose

More than 70% of UK adults have received at least one dose of Covid vaccine, the Department of Health and Social Care said, and about 40% of people in the country are fully vaccinated. 

The country’s health services have administered 57.8 million vaccines as of May 18, an effort that began in December, according to a statement. The UK remains on track to offer a first dose to all adults by the end of July, the agency said.

Emergent ‘failed to address problems’, probe finds

A probe by the US Congress into Emergent BioSolutions found that the contract manufacturer failed to address deficiencies in vaccine production at its facilities despite warnings following a series of inspections in 2020.

Emergent, which was tasked with manufacturing the underlying drug substance used in the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines, has faced production setbacks after conflating the active ingredient used in the two vaccines. 

The error at its Baltimore plant in late February led it to discard 15 million doses worth of an ingredient used in the J&J shot, and has delayed the vaccine-maker’s ability to supply the US and world.

Swiss earmark funds for vaccines

Switzerland has earmarked an additional 50 million francs ($55-million) for Covid-19 treatments and vaccines. The government has already decided to order vaccines for 2022, and intends to extend business with developers Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership beyond that date to guard against emerging variants of the virus.

Switzerland also wants to work with businesses and institutions of higher education to ensure that in the event of another pandemic, the country is well placed to develop and manufacture vaccines.

Pakistan relaxes restrictions

Pakistan will reopen the tourism sector and outdoor restaurants to full capacity starting on May 24, according to a statement. Educational institutions in districts with less than 5% Covid-19 positivity rates, as well as outdoor marriage ceremonies with a maximum of 150 people, will reopen on June 1.

Dogs sniff out Covid from sweat

Dogs are able to detect Covid-19 in humans, a new study showed, paving the way for the broader use of sniffing canines in a global effort to contain the pandemic.

The dogs’ detection reached 97% sensitivity in the French study, meaning that’s how well the canines could identify positive samples. The sensitivity rating beats that of many 15-minute antigen tests, which tend to be better at ruling out infection than at finding it.

China delivers vaccines to Serbia

Some 440,000 vaccines made by China’s Sinopharm were flown to Serbia, of which 240,000 were paid for and 200,000 were donated by China’s national defence ministry for inoculation of Serbia’s military.

Serbia’s defence minister welcomed the delivery at the airport. The Balkan country, a candidate for European Union membership, has imported more than 3.5 million Sinopharm shots, as well as jabs from western and Russian drugmakers.

France hopes to turn corner

France hopes to “turn the Covid-19 page” in November or December, when a big enough part of the population is vaccinated, and if there are no new virus variants, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in an interview with the LCI TV channel.

While he’s optimistic, “we will remain vigilant and the French people should remain vigilant” to avoid a fourth wave of the pandemic, he said. The health crisis isn’t over yet, but the French “shouldn’t live in fear” until then, Veran added.

Malaysia reports record new cases

Malaysia reported 6,075 new cases, the biggest single-day increase since the pandemic began, even after the government imposed nationwide restrictions on movement to curb the spread of the virus.

Daily cases this month topped 4,000 for the first time since February amid the detection of new variants. The Southeast Asian nation is also struggling with the slow pace of inoculation, with less than 3% of the population fully vaccinated.

French cafes, cinemas open

French cafe and restaurant terraces, as well as museums and cinemas, opened on Wednesday after a months-long lockdown. An accelerating vaccination campaign and a third round of curbs on public life have begun to slow the virus’s spread, with a noticeable drop in intensive-care unit occupancy.

Should the situation worsen again, the easing of restrictions would be called into question, President Emmanuel Macron told journalists as he and Prime Minister Jean Castex sat at a cafe to mark the day.

Mauritius detects variants

Mauritius confirmed nine cases of the variant first detected in South Africa and two initially found in the UK, according to Health Minister Kailesh Jagutpal.

The Indian Ocean island nation, whose economy is reliant on tourism, said 122 of 135 local samples showed the B.1.1.318, “a variant of interest detected on majority of cases” during its second wave of infections, Jagutpal told lawmakers.

Taiwan extends soft lockdown

Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control raised the island-wide alert level, extending containment measures to all of Taiwan, Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said at a briefing.

The restrictions limit the number of people who can gather and the government is urging companies to adopt social-distancing measures. Curbs were already in place for Taipei and New Taipei City.

The new limits follow a growing number of cases outside the Taipei area. Taiwan added 267 local cases on Wednesday, including 129 in New Taipei City, 70 in Taipei City and 28 in Changhua County.

UAE, Bahrain plan Sinopharm boosters

The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain will offer a third Sinopharm shot to people who’ve already had two doses, amid concerns over the efficacy of the vaccine.

Bahrain will prioritise frontline workers, residents older than 50 and those with underlying conditions for the booster shots. The Gulf nations, which approved the Sinopharm vaccine late last year, are among the first in the world to unveil plans for booster shots.

India’s record deaths

India’s daily deaths rose by a record 4,529 to reach 283,248, government data showed.

New cases totalled 267,334. That’s way down from the daily highs of more than 400,000 infections that were recorded earlier this month.

Asia’s virus surge has traders seeking data

Equity investors in Asia are screening hospitalisation rates and watching predictions on virus peaks as countries in the region struggle with a fresh jump in cases.

The pandemic’s resurgence has already worsened Asian stocks’ performance against global peers this year. With efforts by countries to reopen their economies taking a hit, the severity of restrictions, the pace of increase in caseloads, the preparedness of governments and progress in vaccination roll-outs have become key yardsticks for stock traders.

Okinawa to seek emergency declaration

Okinawa in southern Japan will ask the central government to expand a coronavirus state of emergency to include the prefecture, Jiji reported in a one-line dispatch.

Bankers among Singapore’s new cases

Employees at DBS, HSBC and Mizuho Bank were among 27 new coronavirus cases identified in the local community by Singapore authorities on Tuesday as the number of unlinked infections in the country persists.

Eleven of the 27 confirmed cases in the community have not been traceable. There are now 19 active virus clusters in the country, up from 11 a week earlier, according to health ministry data. The government is lengthening the time between vaccination doses in an effort to administer first shots to more adults as it races to stem transmissions.

Thailand’s prison case flare-up

Infections spread further among inmates and workers in Thai prisons, accounting for almost half the 3,394 new cases reported on Wednesday. In all, more than 10,000 new Covid-19 cases have been reported in about a dozen densely-packed Thai prisons.

Thailand to borrow $22bn for relief 

Thailand plans to borrow an additional 700 billion baht ($22.3-billion) to fund measures to counter the worst wave of Covid-19 to hit Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy.

A meeting of the Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha on Tuesday approved the new borrowing plan from the finance ministry.

Quebec to end curfew, reopen restaurants

Quebec, the Canadian epicentre of the crisis early on in the pandemic, has announced a reopening plan as the local government estimates 75% of adults will be at least partially vaccinated by June 15.

A curfew in place since January will be lifted on May 28. Three days later, restaurants will be able to open in most regions of Quebec, followed by bar patios on June 11. The government is also set to allow visits inside private homes from June 14.

Serum Institute sees shot export delays until year-end

India’s Serum Institute will prioritise making vaccines for its home country, delaying deliveries to other nations and the World Health Organization-backed Covax initiative until the end of the year. The firm, the largest vaccine manufacturer, is licensed to churn out at least one billion doses of AstraZeneca’s shot. DM

— With assistance by Angus Whitley, Shelly Banjo, Keshia Clukey, Tiffany Stecker, and Matt Day.


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