CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

Whirlpool offers staff $1,000 bonus to get vaccinated; South Africa registers 2,640 new cases

By Bloomberg 13 September 2021

Citizens receive their Covid-19 vaccination at Meadowlands vaccination site on 13 September 2021 in Soweto, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

South Africa registered 2,640 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,860,835. A further 125 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 85,002. A total of 14,922,954 people have been vaccinated.

The UK’s chief medical officers recommended rolling out Covid-19 vaccines for children as young as 12, bringing the country’s policy for minors into line with the US and most of the European Union. 

An all-star panel of scientists from around the world cautioned that most people won’t need a booster shot because vaccines are performing well. That view was backed up by the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 envoy, who warned that low vaccination rates outside rich countries make vaccine-evading variants increasingly likely.

Pfizer and BioNTech are donating hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 vaccine doses to Jordan and Lebanon as a part of a broader push to aid refugees during the pandemic.

Key developments 

France cites J&J breakthrough infections 

France has experienced what its health regulator ANSM called an “important number” of breakthrough cases among those who received Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. France, which has administered about one million doses of J&J’s Janssen vaccine so far, has seen 32 breakthroughs, 29 of which were severe cases, according to a report from ANSM on Monday. Four people died of Covid-19 after getting the vaccine, the regulator said. ANSM is conducting further investigations.

Whirlpool offers staff $1,000 bonus to get the jab 

Whirlpool is offering employees $1,000 cash bonuses to get vaccinated, increasing its existing incentive as Covid-19 cases continue to climb nationwide.

The Benton Harbor, Michigan-based appliance maker previously offered its 27,000 US workers $200 cash bonuses in May to get the shot. The fivefold increase was announced as vaccination rates lag in Michigan, with only 51% of the population fully inoculated. 

MSF wants nations to stop blocking waiver 

Médecins Sans Frontières called on a group of World Trade Organization members, including the European Union, to stop blocking a proposal that would waive patents and other intellectual property on Covid treatments such as vaccines.

Countries will reconvene on Tuesday to discuss the so-called Trips waiver, which was proposed by India and South Africa last year and has since gained the support of more than 100 nations. However, it has been stymied by opposition from several WTO members, including the EU, UK and Switzerland.

Candice Sehoma, access campaign advocacy coordinator for MSF, which is also known as Doctors Without Borders, said access to Covid treatments remained “scant in too many low- and middle-income countries” despite commitments from several nations promising solidarity and equity.

“People in these countries, facing life or death in this pandemic, can no longer rely merely on charitable or voluntary measures dictated by only a small number of high-income countries and the pharmaceutical industry they host,” she said. 

Philippines plans perks for vaccinated 

The Philippines will provide perks for the vaccinated, while imposing smaller and targeted lockdowns amid a fragile economic recovery and elevated infections.

Metro Manila, which accounts for a third of economic output, will pilot test the Southeast Asian nation’s new virus response strategy starting on September 16. Cities will be categorised using a five-level alert system, the virus task force said in a statement released late on Monday.

Italy to start giving third doses next week 

Italy will start administering third doses of Covid-19 vaccines to its most vulnerable citizens starting on September 20, the country’s virus emergency czar said in a statement on Monday. 

Pfizer donates vaccines to aid refugees 

Pfizer and BioNTech are donating hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 vaccine doses to Jordan and Lebanon as a part of a broader push to aid refugees during the pandemic.

On Monday, 100,000 doses of the companies’ coronavirus vaccine arrived at the coastal Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport. There, the donated doses are being loaded into UPS trucks and delivered to nearby warehouses at the Rafic Hariri Hospital, the largest Lebanese public 

Indonesia eases curbs as infections slow 

Indonesia eased virus restrictions further as it reports the fewest new cases since May, which was before the spread of the Delta variant led to its worst Covid-19 outbreak.

Restrictions will be relaxed in more areas across the country, including in Bali, with cinemas allowed to reopen with 50% maximum capacity for some cities. There were 2,577 new cases confirmed on Monday, the least since May 15. Deaths have also eased, with 276 fatalities reported on Monday, compared with the three-month low of 188 on Sunday. 

UK medical chiefs back shots for young 

The UK’s chief medical officers recommended offering vaccination with a first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 to 15, according to a statement on Monday.

The UK has been an outlier over its decision not to vaccinate healthy older children, instead only offering the shots to those under age 16 who have underlying health conditions or live with vulnerable adults. In the US, children aged 12 and over have been getting the vaccines since May, while most of the European Union opted to vaccinate young people ahead of the school year.

Scientists cautious on vaccine boosters 

Covid-19 vaccines work so well that most people don’t yet need a booster, an all-star panel of scientists from around the world said in a review that’s likely to fuel the debate over whether to use them. 

Governments would be better served to focus on immunising the unvaccinated and to wait for more data on which boosters, and at what doses, would be most effective, the authors, who included two prominent US Food and Drug Administration experts, argued in the medical journal The Lancet

Putin may need quarantine ‘soon’  

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday so many people in his circle have come down with Covid-19 recently that he may be forced to self-quarantine, in a candid admission of the growing threat of a new wave of the epidemic.

“Even among my entourage there are problems with this Covid,” Putin said at a meeting with Paralympic athletes and officials, few of whom wore masks, in a video published by Life News. “I probably will have to quarantine myself soon. We have a lot of people who are sick.”

Schools in Moscow reopened at the beginning of the month and vaccination rates remained relatively low, raising fears of another Covid wave in the city.

UK cities see strong signs of life 

Employees entering offices in major UK cities rose last week to 90% of pre-Covid levels from 58% a week earlier, according to data from Metrikus, which installs sensors in office buildings to measure occupancy rates.

The figures add to evidence that British cities are returning to a pre-pandemic normal. Traffic levels and public transportation usage in London climbed, with the city’s Underground transport network on September 6 marking its busiest morning since the pandemic began. 

WHO envoy warns of risk of variants  

Variants that can eventually evade Covid vaccines are increasingly likely with vast parts of the world unprotected, and rich countries should hold back on booster doses until others catch up, according to a special envoy to the World Health Organization.

“Variants that can beat the protection offered by vaccines are bound to emerge all over the world in the coming months and years,” David Nabarro, the WHO envoy, said in an interview on Monday with Bloomberg Television. “This is an ongoing battle, and we need to work together.” 

Indonesia case numbers lowest since May 

Indonesia reported its fewest new coronavirus cases since May, before the spread of the Delta variant led to its worst Covid-19 outbreak.

There were 2,577 new cases confirmed on Monday, the least since May 15. Deaths have also eased, with 276 fatalities reported on Monday, compared with the three-month low of 188 on Sunday. 

Asian air travel to recover slowly 

International air travel beyond Asia is expected to recover sooner than between countries within the region, given the different Covid-19 vaccination rates and continued strict border measures imposed by governments, according to the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines. 

“Inter-regional travel can take place because many places in the West are already opening travel from the Asia-Pacific region for the vaccinated,” said Subhas Menon, director general of the 14-member AAPA. 

Germany starts vaccine ‘action week’ 

Germany on Monday kicked off a vaccination “action week” to try to convince more people to get inoculated against Covid-19 while out shopping, at their sports clubs or at work.

“With the Delta variant and the latest wave of infections there is a need to persuade more people so that we’re better prepared for the fall and winter,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said in an interview with WDR radio. As of Sunday, 62.2% of the population was fully vaccinated and 66.5% had received at least one shot.

Japan vaccination milestone 

The Japanese government reports 50.9% of the population has received two doses of coronavirus vaccine as of Monday. Some 63% have had at least one shot and the country has administered a total of 144.3 million doses.

Hospital stress in Australia 

Hospitals in Australia’s most populous state risk being overwhelmed by Covid cases by the end of the year if the government’s reopening plan is executed, according to modeling from public health body OzSAGE, released on Monday.

A second peak of infections will hit New South Wales state if restrictions are eased next month, when 70% of the adult population is inoculated, said Raina MacIntyre, a professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales who conducted the modelling.

A further easing when 80% of adults are fully vaccinated will cause a so-called “code black” situation where hospitals are overwhelmed over December and into January, she said.

Valneva plunges after UK cancels vaccine deal 

Valneva shares plunged after the French drugmaker said the UK government is cancelling a supply contract for Covid-19 vaccines, a blow to the company’s attempt to develop an alternative to existing shots.

The company contests allegations by the UK government that it’s in breach of its obligations under the agreement. Valneva’s shot targets the whole virus rather than just the spike protein and some scientists expect it could potentially stand up better to variants.

The stock fell as much as 45% to €11 in early Paris trading. Valneva’s stock had almost quadrupled in the past year on optimism its shot would complement existing vaccines with a different approach. 

Taiwan loosens border control 

Taiwan will ease border controls by allowing entry of citizens’ foreign spouses and children, according to a statement from Taiwan Centers for Disease Control. Separately, Premier Su Tseng-chang suggested a moderate easing Covid controls given local pandemic development has stabilised, Cabinet spokesperson Lo Ping-cheng said in a text message statement. 

Auckland lockdown extended 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern extended a strict lockdown in the largest city, Auckland, as an outbreak of the Delta variant of coronavirus proves difficult to vanquish.

Auckland will remain at Alert Level 4, the strictest setting, for at least another week while the rest of the country, which exited lockdown last week, will remain at Level 2, Ardern said. 

She is persisting with an elimination strategy that has served New Zealand well to date, but numbers have picked up in recent days, with 33 new cases reported earlier on Monday. DM 

– With assistance from Matthew Brockett, Mai Ngoc Chau, Jessica Sui, Matthew Burgess, Dong Lyu, Colin Keatinge, Thomas Mulier, Cindy Wang, Gareth Allan, Jake Rudnitsky, Eko Listiyorini, Kyunghee Park, Iain Rogers, Joel Leon and Alexandre Rajbhandari.

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