Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

WHO knocks rich countries; South Africa registers 7,338 new cases

A resident receives her Covid-19 vaccine at the Athlone stadium drive-through vaccination site in Athlone, Cape Town, South Africa, on Thursday, 2 September 2021. (Photo: Victoria O’Regan)
By Bloomberg
08 Sep 2021 0

South Africa registered 7,338 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,836,773. A further 253 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking the total official deaths to 84,152. A total of 13,892,301 people have been vaccinated.

The head of the World Health Organization said manufacturers and affluent countries aren’t doing enough to achieve vaccine equity and called for an extension on offering booster shots through year-end. Meanwhile, Covax, the global programme set up to immunise the world against Covid-19, cut its 2021 supply forecast by more than a quarter.

South Africa’s third wave of coronavirus infections has begun to wane, with new cases and the test positivity rate dropping. Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson is considering conducting a booster trial in the country.

Cathay Pacific Airways decided to “part company with a small number of aircrew” who chose not to receive available Covid vaccines and didn’t provide proof of a medical exemption. 

Key developments

Majority of NFL teams have 95% vaccine rate

Seventeen of the National Football League’s 32 teams have vaccinated 95% of their players, league officials said, with the Atlanta Falcons and the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers reaching 100%. Vaccinations aren’t mandated for players but are for coaches and other personnel, yielding 99% coverage.

New Jersey logs 14,813 breakthrough cases

New Jersey registered 14,813 breakthrough cases as of August 23, Governor Phil Murphy said during a media briefing. Such cases accounted for 0.28% of people who are fully vaccinated.

The state reported that 5.66 million individuals are fully vaccinated. Fifty-seven percent of residents aged 12 to 17 have received one vaccine dose, with 66% of those 16 to 17 years old getting one shot.

South Africa Sees Downward Trend in Cases

South Africa’s third wave of coronavirus infections is petering out, with the number of new cases and the positivity rate of those tested dropping, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said. 

“The current surge in Covid-19 infections seems to be showing signs of a sustained downward trend,” the institute said. Infections are declining in all nine provinces.

Ireland to offer mRNA boosters to older adults

Ireland will offer mRNA booster shots to people over 65 years old in care homes and to anyone over 80, the health ministry said. Eligibility will be restricted to those who received their initial vaccine at least six months ago. Infection rates are declining across the country, “falling significantly” for adolescents and young adults, the ministry said.

WHO head knocks rich nations over vaccines

The head of the World Health Organization complained of “too little action” toward achieving vaccine equity. Manufacturers striking deals with affluent countries had left lower-income ones “deprived of the tools to protect their people,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters. 

Less than 15% of the one billion doses promised by high-income countries had materialised, he said. “We don’t want any more promises,” he said. “We just want the vaccines.”

Tedros called for an extension of a moratorium on Covid-19 booster shots until at least year-end. A month ago, he asked for a global halt through September to prioritise vaccinating the most at-risk people globally who haven’t received their first doses.

Florida judge lets schools require masks

Florida schools can start requiring masks while Governor Ron DeSantis appeals an earlier decision that struck down his ban on such mandates, Circuit Court Judge John C Cooper ruled. The decision vacated an automatic stay of Cooper’s ruling last month in favour of parents who challenged the governor’s ban.

In NYC, 65% of eligible students have shot

In New York City, 65% of 12- to 17-year-old students have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, less than a week before the September 13 first day of school, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The largest school system in the US hasn’t mandated vaccination for eligible students. The city has required all public school staff to get at least one shot by September 27 or submit to weekly testing. The city is posting mobile vaccine sites at schools, where masks will be required. 

De Blasio is close to reaching his June goal of five million fully vaccinated New Yorkers, with more than 4.98 million residents qualifying.

Elizabeth Warren puts pressure on Amazon

US Senator Elizabeth Warren pressed Amazon.com for more action to stop the “deeply troubling” spread of misinformation about vaccines and cures, according to CNBC. In a letter to Chief Executive Officer Andy Jassy, the Massachusetts Democrat acknowledged that the company has taken steps to direct users to accurate data but said top search results often still include products that promote false information. 

The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Covax cuts 2021 supply forecast

The global programme set up to immunise the world against Covid-19 cut its 2021 supply forecast by more than a quarter. Covax expects to have about 1.4 billion doses by year-end, the organisations coordinating the initiative said. 

In June, Covax had forecast that about 1.9 billion doses would be available by the end of this year. Some manufacturers and countries have prioritised bilateral deals, while export bans and challenges in scaling up production are among other factors hindering the roll-out, they said. 

Swiss to require vaccine certificates

Switzerland will require certificates showing that the bearer has been vaccinated, recovered from or tested negative for Covid-19 for indoor dining, fitness centres, and other leisure facilities as of September 13. 

The move, vociferously opposed by the restaurant association and politicians on the right, is designed to reduce infections and take pressure off hospitals. The country is also considering toughening rules for unvaccinated travelers.

Slovakia to vaccinate children

Slovakia will open inoculation to children aged five to 11, SME newspaper reported, citing Health Minister Vladimir Lengvarsky. A selected group of people will also be eligible for a third booster shot.

Japan extends emergency measures

The Japanese government has told the ruling coalition it’s planning to extend the coronavirus State of Emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and 17 other prefectures until September 30, NHK reported without attribution. Miyagi and Okayama prefectures, currently included in the State of Emergency, will be downgraded to less strict virus measures.

Bulgaria deaths at four-month high

Bulgaria, the European Union’s least-vaccinated nation, with only about 20% of the population fully inoculated, registered 121 Covid-related deaths on Wednesday – the highest in four months. Hospitalisations are also at the highest since May.

Mistrust in institutions and doubts about the vaccines have slowed the pace of immunisations in the EU’s poorest member, prompting authorities to donate or sell doses to other countries before they expire. Lawmakers approved on Wednesday a donation of 51,480 Pfizer jabs to neighbouring North Macedonia. The shots expire on September 30.

Austria tightens curbs

Austria’s government announced a roadmap of restrictions for unvaccinated people in an effort to curb the fastest pace of new infections since April. Those not taking a coronavirus shot will have to wear more protective FFP-2 masks in all shops from mid-September, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters on Wednesday.

Further tightening, including limits on access to nightclubs and bars as well as restrictions on tests that allow entrance to restaurants and museums will depend on occupancy rates in intensive-care units. Vaccinated people won’t face restrictions.

Cathay fires unvaccinated crew

Cathay Pacific Airways said it decided to “part company with a small number of aircrew” who chose not to receive available vaccines and didn’t provide proof of any medical exemption. 

The Hong Kong-based carrier in June asked flight crew to be fully inoculated by the end of August or face having their employment reviewed, the South China Morning Post reported at the time. All of Cathay’s flights since September 1 have been with fully vaccinated crew, the airline said in a statement on Wednesday. 

Germany to boost vaccination effort

Germany is aiming to accelerate its vaccination campaign with a special “action week” involving clubs, associations and other organisations, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn.

The goal is to make access easier for people who want to get a Covid shot, and the effort will target sports facilities, churches, playgrounds and places of work, Spahn said in an interview with RTL television.

As of Tuesday, just under 62% of the German population was fully vaccinated, according to health ministry data.

Taiwan halts dine-in in New Taipei City

Dining in will be halted until September 15 in New Taipei City after health authorities found an outbreak of the Delta variant, according to the local government. Facilities including gyms, swimming pools and galleries will also be affected. 

Brussels to toughen venue access

Brussels will require proof of vaccination, of recovery or a negative test in venues such as restaurants, cafes, hospitals and nursing homes starting on October 1, according to a report in Le Soir.

Other areas of the country besides the Belgian capital do not plan to extend the mandatory use of a so-called Covid Safe Ticket beyond large-scale events where social distancing can’t be maintained. 

J&J may run South Africa booster trial

Talks are under way with Johnson & Johnson about running a booster trial in South Africa after the company’s vaccine was used in a mass test of almost half a million health workers in the country. 

The trial would include participants from that study, known as Sisonke, and could possibly start in October, according to Glenda Gray, who is co-lead of the mass trial. It would add to a booster study in the country using ImmunityBio’s shot that has already started.

Saudi Arabia lifts UAE travel ban

Saudi Arabia lifted a travel ban to the neighbouring United Arab Emirates starting on Wednesday, opening up a key market weeks ahead of the Dubai Expo 2020 trade fair. 

The lifting of restrictions, which also included resumption of travel to South Africa and Argentina, came a day after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke to the de facto UAE leader, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed. The move will come as a boost for the delayed Expo 2020 event, which Dubai has been preparing for a decade. 

Australia’s Victoria to lift regional lockdown

The Australian state of Victoria will end its lockdown of all regional areas outside Melbourne except for one council zone with high case numbers, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said at a press conference.

The lockdown will end everywhere except for Greater Shepparton. The regions will have movement restrictions eased with venues also allowed to open with numbers caps. Schools will also reopen.

Vietnam may ease some travel curbs

Vietnam’s health ministry said it is considering relaxing travel restrictions for fully vaccinated people on a trial basis in some unspecified southern locations.

Separately, Ho Chi Minh City plans green cards for vaccinated residents and will ease social distancing curbs for those partially and fully inoculated, Tuoi Tre reported, citing the city’s mayor. 

IMF approves $600m loan to Tanzania

The International Monetary Fund approved nearly $600-million in emergency lending for Tanzania’s health system and economic-recovery efforts. The resources will help with the nation’s “urgent balance of payment needs” stemming from the coronavirus, the IMF said. 

South Korea to mull shift to ‘living with virus’

The chief of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said the country will be ready by the end of next month to shift its strategy from suppressing Covid to managing it while living a normal life, Yonhap reported.

Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong told lawmakers during a Parliament session that the KDCA aims to complete the work of fully inoculating 90% of the elderly and 80% of adults by the end of October.

Indonesia allows J&J, CanSino shots

The government issued emergency-use authorisation for vaccines made by CanSino Biologics and Johnson & Johnson, Bisnis Indonesia reported, citing the food and drug regulator. Both shots will be administered to people aged 18 years and older.

Japan may approve Glaxo’s Covid drug

Japan’s health ministry is planning to hold a panel meeting later this month to decide whether to approve GlaxoSmithKline’s and Vir Biotechnology’s antibody drug Sotrovimab, broadcaster NHK reported, citing an unidentified person.

If approved, it will be the second drug that can be used to treat patients with mild symptoms in Japan.

Vietnam extends loan repayment deadlines

Vietnam’s central bank ordered commercial banks to continue to delay payments for some loans until 30 June 2022 to help businesses hurt by the pandemic.

The central bank also asked lenders to exempt or reduce interest payments on some loans until then. DM

– With assistance from Vivek Shankar, Mike Dorning, Go Onomitsu, Soraya Permatasari, Shinhye Kang, Antony Sguazzin, Samson Ellis, Argin Chang, Iain Rogers, John Martens, Shirley Zhao, Marthe Fourcade, Marton Eder, Gina Turner, Andrea Dudik, Catherine Bosley, James Paton, Henry Goldman, Joel Leon, Peter Flanagan and Skylar Woodhouse.

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