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Virus soars in Asia; South Africa records 17,489 new ca...

Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

Virus soars in Asia; South Africa records 17,489 new cases

Teachers getting vaccinated at Swartland Hospital vaccination site on 5 July 2021 in Malmesbury, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)
By Bloomberg
15 Jul 2021 0

South Africa registered 17,489 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,236,805. A further 453 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 65,595. A total of 4,688,779 people have been vaccinated.

Indonesia’s daily cases surpassed India’s, marking a new virus epicentre for the region. Cases in Malaysia and South Korea reached record highs. Tokyo saw the most cases since January and Singapore reported its most daily infections since April 2020 as the city-state probes a cluster in karaoke lounges.

US drug overdose deaths soared almost 30% to a record 93,331 in 2020, or an average of 256 a day, in yet another health concern tied to a pandemic that’s killed more than 600,000 Americans.

In Europe, health officials say data supporting the use of vaccine boosters remains thin, and they urged countries in the region to speed up inoculation programmes amid the rise of the Delta variant. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said those younger than 35 need to get shots, noting in a statement that this age group accounts for 70% of new infections in the country. Meanwhile, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson faces a backlash from businesses and officials over his decision to make masks optional next week.

Key developments

ImmunityBio booster trial in South Africa

ImmunityBio’s hAd5 T-cell Covid-19 vaccine won approval from South Africa’s health products regulator for a trial as a booster shot in a study of 480,000 health workers in the country who have received Johnson & Johnson’s inoculation.

South African excess deaths climb

Excess deaths, seen as a more precise way of measuring total fatalities from the coronavirus, rose for a fourth week in South Africa and hit pandemic-era records in two provinces as a third wave of infections continues to take hold in the country. 

In the week ended July 4, the country recorded 7,374 deaths compared with 2,631 official deaths from the virus, the South African Medical Research Council said in a report on Wednesday. The number of deaths, which is measured against a historical average, exceeded the peak of a first wave of infections in July last year but was about half of that of the peak of the second in January

Citigroup monitoring Delta rise

Citigroup is monitoring the rise of cases tied to the Delta variant closely as the Wall Street giant prepares to invite more of its staff back to US offices in the coming months.

The firm will alter those plans if local health data suggests it’s unsafe to return to the office, Chief Financial Officer Mark Mason said on a conference call with journalists. While Citigroup is planning to allow most staff to work from home, the firm has said it expects almost all employees back at least part of the time starting in September.

Moderna value hits $100bn

Moderna briefly soared above a $100-billion valuation on Wednesday as vaccinations continue to ramp up across the globe.

Shares of the drug developer rose amid a broader rally in the stock market. The messenger RNA vaccine maker has surged more than 220% over the past 12 months as drugmakers raced to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus. The company’s first shots received emergency use authorisation in the US in December, just a week behind the first approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

The breakthrough has helped vault the biotech firm to a household name as Americans identify the jab they received by the company name, “Pfizer” or “Moderna.”

Ireland cases on the rise

Ireland reported the most new coronavirus cases since February 1, as the Delta variant takes hold in the country. There were 783 newly diagnosed cases on Wednesday, the Irish health ministry said.

Hospitalisations are now at their highest in more than a month, though still far below the peak of January. While modelling of the virus’s spread gives “cause for considerable concern” it’s not yet clear what impact the variant will have on hospitalisations, health ministry adviser Philip Nolan told reporters in Dublin.

Overdoses soar in pandemic

US drug overdose deaths soared almost 30% to a record 93,331 in 2020, a year that saw hundreds of thousands of Americans killed by Covid-19.

The rise, reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, illustrates how the pandemic has worsened other medical problems, from mental health issues triggered by isolation, to conditions that went untreated because patients delayed visiting their doctors. There’s also been an increase in suicide attempts.

Serbia mulls over vaccine lottery

Serbia is looking to allocate budget money for a lottery that would reward people who take vaccines, President Aleksandar Vucic said on Wednesday as he outlined efforts to speed up the Balkan country’s inoculation campaign.

About half of Serbia’s population is vaccinated, reducing the number of new daily cases to double-digits in past weeks. But the campaign has now slowed to just a few thousand a day, with infections on the rise in the Balkan country of seven million.

Austria urges youth vaccination

Austria Chancellor Sebastian Kurz urged people younger than 35 to get vaccinated, noting in a statement that this age group accounts for 70% of all new infections.

The case rate has grown to 15.1 per 100,000 people over the past seven days in Austria, almost triple the level seen earlier this month. On Wednesday, authorities reported 65 new cases related to Austrian and German students participating in a Croatian graduation trip.

Data slim for booster, Europe agencies say

There’s not enough data from vaccination campaigns and studies to confirm if and when booster shots will be needed, according to a statement by the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

The European Medicines Agency is engaged with vaccine developers to coordinate data submission in order to ensure regulatory steps can be undertaken swiftly if boosters are needed, the group said in a statement.

The ECDC estimated that by the end of August, the Delta variant will represent 90% of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in Europe. The group urged countries to speed up their vaccination programmes.

Mask row isolates Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is increasingly isolated over his decision to scrap rules requiring masks to be worn in shops and on public transport.

From Monday, Johnson will lift Covid restrictions in England to make mask wearing optional in all settings. But authorities in Scotland, Wales and London are planning their own rules in which face coverings will remain compulsory.

The standoff threatens to complicate Johnson’s efforts to reopen the economy, undermining his credibility at a sensitive time.

Indonesia surpasses India’s cases

Indonesia surpassed India’s daily case numbers, marking a new Asian virus epicentre as the spread of the Delta variant drives up infections in Southeast Asia’s largest economy.

The country has seen its daily case count cross 40,000 for three straight days – including a record high of 54,517 on Wednesday – up from less than 10,000 a month ago. Officials are concerned that the more transmissible variant is spreading outside of the country’s main island, Java, and could exhaust hospital workers and supplies of oxygen and medication.

Indonesia’s numbers are still far from India’s peak of 400,000 daily cases in May, and its total outbreak of 2.7 million is barely a 10th of the Asian giant’s 30.9 million. India, with a population roughly five times the size of Indonesia’s, saw daily infections drop below 39,000 on Wednesday.

Singapore cases highest since April 2020

Singapore’s daily infections reached 56, the highest since April 2020, as the city-state steps up an investigation of new cases in karaoke lounges.

Singapore is seeking to control an emerging cluster linked to the social hostesses who frequent the establishments. The premises will be closed for two weeks to allow for deep cleaning, and testing will be conducted for all staff, the Ministry of Health said in a statement late on Tuesday. Free testing will also be extended to members of the public who frequented these places, or who interacted with the hostesses in any setting over the last two weeks.

Vaccine booster plans benefit Pfizer, Moderna

A proposed shift towards mixing vaccines and using booster shots to fight variants is benefiting some drug companies more than others.

When faced with variants, laboratory-made mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna promote the best antibody responses to avoid initial infection, research analysed by Bloomberg Intelligence suggests.

AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, based on adenovirus vector technology, are able to train T-Cells to prevent severe disease. Analysts have raised vaccine revenue forecasts for Pfizer and Moderna, while cutting them for AstraZeneca and J&J.

Tokyo has most new infections since January

Tokyo confirmed 1,149 new infections on Wednesday, the most since January, as the city prepares for the delayed Olympics that are set to start in less than two weeks. The Japanese capital entered its fourth State of Emergency on Monday.

Japan has faced bottlenecks in vaccine distribution as its inoculation campaign sped up in recent weeks. In total, Japan has given 62 million doses, enough to cover about 25% of the population, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker.

Olympics boss Thomas Bach has promised not to bring new virus risks to Japan as it hosts the “most-followed” games ever, trying to get more backing for an event met with tepid public support and tarnished by a recent series of gaffes.

Malaysia cases top 11,000 for second day

Malaysia posted 11,618 new cases on Wednesday, a second straight daily record, even as the country ramps up vaccination and screenings. The latest figures take the total infections in the Southeast Asian country to 867,567, health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah said. Selangor, the country’s most industrialised state, continues to account for the bulk of the tally.

Malaysia has been struggling to contain the recent outbreak driven by the emergence of more contagious variants despite much of the country being under a lockdown since June 1. The situation is dire in the Klang Valley – an area comprising Selangor and Kuala Lumpur – where hospitals are short on intensive-care beds and staff.

Record Covid-linked school absence in England

One in nine state-school students in England were out of school last week due to the coronavirus – the most since classrooms reopened in March following the pandemic lockdown.

More than 821,000 children did not attend school for Covid-related reasons on July 8, the vast majority because they were self-isolating due to a possible contact with a positive case, the Department for Education said on Tuesday.

Current rules mean children have to quarantine for 10 days if another pupil in their “bubble” – a class or even a whole year group – tests positive for the coronavirus. That has hurt businesses and the public sector workforce because parents have to stay home to look after them.

Sydney extends lockdown

Sydney extended its lockdown for a further two weeks as Australia’s most-populous city battles an outbreak of the Delta strain of the coronavirus that’s already kept it isolated from the rest of the nation for three weeks. Now authorities are increasingly concerned after infections spread to Melbourne.

Stay-at-home orders will remain until at least July 30, New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Wednesday. The city recorded 97 new cases on Tuesday, including at least 24 who were infectious in the community despite being told to stay at home.

Sydney’s outbreak has now crossed to Melbourne, the nation’s second-largest city, which shuttered for two weeks in late May to halt a spread of the Delta strain and last year endured one of the world’s longest and strict lockdowns. Eight new infections were detected in Victoria state in the past 24 hours, up from two on Tuesday.

London mayor on masks

Masks will remain compulsory on the London Underground and buses – despite the government lifting the legal requirement at a national level.

The city’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said passengers will need to keep wearing face coverings in stations and during their journeys, unless they’re medically exempt.

Trained “enforcement officers” will patrol the network and could ask people to leave if they fail to comply, the mayor’s office said in an emailed statement. DM

— With assistance by James Poole, Marton Eder, Misha Savic, Angela Cullen, Alexandre Tanzi, Peter Flanagan, Jennifer Surane, Cristin Flanagan, and Antony Sguazzin.

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