CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

Google requires that workers be vaccinated; South Africa registers 17,351 new cases

By Bloomberg 29 July 2021

Momentum Metropolitan's Covid-19 vaccination centre on 26 July 2021 in Centurion, Pretoria, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

South Africa registered 17,351 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,408,525. A further 520 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 70,908. A total of 7,065,432 people have been vaccinated.

Apple plans to restore a mask requirement at most of its US retail stores for both customers and staff, even those who are vaccinated. Google said it would require employees who return to the office to be vaccinated.

US and European Union travellers who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus will no longer need to spend 10 days in quarantine after they arrive in England. New York state is working with unions to mandate employees be vaccinated or get tested.

Pfizer now expects its vaccine to bring in $33.5-billion in revenue this year, putting it on course to become one of the best-selling medicines of all time.

Norway leads a pack of European nations that have leaped ahead of the US in Bloomberg’s latest Covid Resilience Ranking. The US’s reign at the top of the list was short-lived as vaccinations slowed and the Delta variant fuelled cases.

Key developments

Apple to restore mask mandate at stores

Apple plans to restore a mask requirement at most of its US retail stores on Thursday for both customers and staff, even those who are vaccinated, in a response to a resurgence in Covid cases.

The company informed retail staff of the move on Wednesday in a memo obtained by Bloomberg News. Apple already started requiring masks for employees at select stores earlier this month, and it pushed back a return-to-office deadline for corporate employees. It also began requiring masks for customers in a few counties based on local guidelines.

Dyadic joins race to produce vaccines in Africa

Dyadic International, a US biotechnology company, has joined the race to produce Covid-19 vaccines in Africa, the least-vaccinated continent. The Jupiter, Florida-based company on Tuesday announced a technology transfer and licensing deal with South Africa’s Rubic Consortium, a newly formed group that includes Mathews Phosa, a former treasurer-general of the African National Congress.

In October or November Dyadic may begin an early-stage trial for the company’s coronavirus vaccine candidate after applying to the local health regulator for approval, said Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist at the University of the Witwatersrand, which is partnering Rubic. Dyadic’s technology may later be used to develop other vaccines and treatments, he said.

Google to require employee vaccines

Alphabet’s Google postponed its date for bringing employees back to its offices by a month, and will require returning workers to be vaccinated, Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai wrote on Wednesday.

The internet search giant will now ask most of its staff to return to campuses starting on October 18. Previously, the company had set September for the return. Employees who come back will be required to show proof of vaccination, Pichai wrote in a note to employees that was posted on a Google website.

Apple also extended its return to office to October earlier this month.

Kenya to get 817,000 doses from UK

The UK will donate 817,000 vaccine doses to Kenya to support its vaccination programme, the British High Commission in Nairobi said in an emailed statement.

Half of the Oxford-AstraZeneca doses are through a bilateral donation and the other half via the Covax sharing facility. The consignment will be shipped to Kenya “in the coming days”.

Serbia to give third shot to vulnerable groups

People with immunodeficiency or transplanted organs, dialysis patients and others with major health issues will be offered a third dose of an anti-Covid vaccine, the Serbian government said on its website. The Balkan country, using four different vaccines, has inoculated 50% of its population, now facing a steady increase in Covid-19 cases.

Uruguay to give Pfizer booster

Uruguay approved a Pfizer booster shot for people who were vaccinated with the Chinese-made CoronaVac. The booster will be administered no sooner than 90 days after the second CoronaVac shot. Uruguay has vaccinated more than 61% of its population with two doses of CoronaVac, Pfizer or AstraZeneca.

New Jersey forgoes indoor mask mandate

Governor Phil Murphy urged New Jerseyans to mask indoors when Covid-19 transmission risk is increased, but stopped short of issuing a mask mandate.

The decision comes after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed its indoor mask policy on Tuesday for vaccinated people in a bid to stem a surge of cases linked to the contagious Delta variant.

New York eyes vaccine mandate for employees

New York state is working with unions to mandate employees be vaccinated or get tested, Governor Andrew Cuomo said. Officials aim to have that done by Labour Day, he said, and urged local governments do the same.

All patient-facing healthcare workers in New York state hospitals must get vaccinated, and there will be no testing option, he said.

In response to revised Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance on indoor masking, Cuomo said he is reviewing the issue and speaking with federal and international experts. He urged local governments to consider following the federal agency. The governor urged the Food and Drug Administration to expedite approval of Covid-19 vaccines, which are being administered under emergency-use authorisation. Full approval would give New York more authority with vaccine requirements, he said.

The state reported 2,203 new cases, compared with 275 on June 28. Most of the hotspots are in New York City, Cuomo said, with some high positivity areas in Long Island.

New York City to offer $100 for residents to get shots

New York City will give out $100 to any resident who gets their first Covid-19 vaccine in an effort to boost lagging vaccination rates. The cash incentive will start on July 30 at city-run vaccination sites, Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a briefing.

France declares emergency in St Barts

France declared a State of Emergency in the overseas territories of Guadeloupe, Saint-Martin and Saint-Barthelemy as Covid-19 cases rise there and there aren’t as many vaccinated people as in metropolitan France. 

Local authorities will be able to impose lockdowns or curfews if virus circulation is too high, government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters on Wednesday. He also said that France’s health pass – which displays immunisation or testing status – could enter into force on August 9, after approval by the top constitutional court.

England drops quarantine for US visitors

American and European Union travellers who have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus will no longer need to spend 10 days in quarantine after they arrive in England.

Under plans backed by British ministers on Wednesday, international leisure cruises will also resume after being put on hold for more than a year.

The reforms to travel rules will allow visitors from the US and most EU countries to enter the UK on the same basis as Britons who have received two Covid shots. UK residents are no longer required to self-isolate when returning from most medium-risk countries.

The rule change initially applies to England, but other nations in the UK have generally followed the same regimes for international travel.

Romania to relax virus restrictions next week

Romania’s government approved the easing of some pandemic restrictions from August 1. The number of people allowed at concerts or sport events has increased and the opening hours have been extended at bars and clubs, where only vaccinated people are admitted. Wearing a face mask remains mandatory in all closed public spaces.

Zimbabwe clears J&J shot for use as cases climb

Zimbabwe cleared Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine for emergency use after previously blocking it as the southern African nation struggles to contain a surge in cases.

The approval is valid for 12 months or whenever the public health emergency ends, Richard Rukwata, acting director for the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe, said in a statement.

In nearby Tanzania, President Samia Suluhu Hassan received the J&J shot on Wednesday, kicking off a national vaccination campaign.

Lithuania to donate more vaccine doses

The Lithuanian government decided to increase the number of vaccines it plans to donate to Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia and Georgia. The Baltic nation will send a combined 200,000 dozes of the AstraZeneca shot to those countries.

Pfizer raises vaccine revenue forecast

Pfizer said the vaccine it developed with Germany’s BioNTech is bringing in more sales than expected, prompting the company to raise its revenue estimate for the year to about $33.5-billion. The drugmaker previously expected the vaccine to garner about $26-billion in sales this year.

The Covid shot is poised to set a record for sales of a drug in a single year. In the second quarter, the vaccine drew $7.8-billion, more than the $7.05-billion analysts expected.

Malaysia may drop daily cases as bellwether

Malaysia is studying a proposal to replace the daily Covid cases with death rates, or severity of cases, as a metric for easing virus restrictions that have dented economic growth, according to Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz.

The number of new cases isn’t a suitable measure if it’s made up of patients with light symptoms, he said on Wednesday.

EU contracts with Glaxo for antibody supply

The European Commission signed a contract with GlaxoSmithKline to gain access to the monoclonal antibody sotrovimab, which hasn’t yet received regulatory approval in the bloc. The medicine can be used for patients who have mild symptoms but are at high risk of developing severe Covid. Sixteen member states are taking part in the procurement to buy 220,000 doses.

Norway leads Covid resilience ranking

Norway now leads a group of European nations that have leaped ahead of the US in Bloomberg’s July Covid Resilience Ranking.

The US’s reign as the No 1 on the ranking was short-lived. Its vaccination drive has plateaued and cases, fuelled by the Delta variant, surged anew in July, triggering renewed restrictions in some parts of the country. Still, deaths remain a fraction of what they were during previous waves.

The UK is also facing uncertainty, dropping 16 rungs to 25th as cases at one point jumped the most in the world. Though deaths have so far stayed low thanks to high vaccine penetration, the resurgence has undermined confidence. DM

–With assistance from Rachel Chang, Ravil Shirodkar, Lily Nonomiya, Andreo Calonzo, Anisah Shukry, Riley Griffin, Milda Seputyte, Andra Timu, David Malingha, Ania Nussbaum and David Herbling.

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