Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

New York says mandate working; South Africa registers 942 new cases

Students wear face masks during the first day at a government school in Cairo, Egypt, on 10 October 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / KHALED ELFIQI)
By Bloomberg
13 Oct 2021 0

South Africa registered 942 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,913,880. A further 37 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 88,466. A total of 19,668,177 people have been vaccinated.

The World Health Organization proposed a fresh team of scientists to lead an investigation into the origins of Covid-19 and other diseases after the last effort was wracked by controversy.

Mixing vaccines produces as much or more antibodies as using the same shot as a booster, according to preliminary results of a widely awaited US government-sponsored trial.

The US will relax coronavirus restrictions at land borders with Canada and Mexico for vaccinated travellers next month, allowing for the long-awaited resumption of non-essential travel ahead of the holiday season.

Australia won’t extend a production contract for AstraZeneca’s shot, according to a television report. Vietnam said it aims to vaccinate 95% of young teens this quarter. China has reported no local infections for a week after subduing a Delta flareup. New Zealand extended lockdowns in parts of its North Island. 

Key developments 

Vaccine mix bolsters antibodies, study finds 

Mixing Covid vaccines produces as many or more antibodies as using the same shot as a booster, according to preliminary results of a widely awaited US government-sponsored trial.

The trial is the first major US study to compare the effects of using different vaccines as boosters from the initial shot or shots. The complicated, nine-arm trial involved over 450 people and measured the effects from giving a booster shot of the Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech or Johnson & Johnson vaccines to those who had originally got a different vaccine. 

Overall, the results found that mixing-and-matching resulted in comparable or higher levels of neutralising antibodies compared to same-vaccine boosting, the researchers said in the preprint posted on medRxiv.org. Rates of adverse events were similar across all the different booster groups, the study found.

New York says vaccine mandate is working 

New York’s vaccine mandates for healthcare workers have led to only a small reduction in staff. Governor Kathy Hochul said at a briefing on Wednesday that the state is seeing a 3% reduction in its healthcare workforce, including staff at nursing homes and hospitals, as a result of the vaccine requirement. That includes those who have been terminated for not complying. 

The governor said that the mandate is working, with 97% of nursing home staff and 96% of hospital workers statewide having received one dose of the vaccine.

Indonesia reopening Bali to tourists 

Indonesia is ready to reopen tourist hotspot Bali to countries that comply with World Health Organization’s Level 1 and 2 Covid-19 case levels and low positivity rates, according to a statement from the coordinating ministry for investment and maritime affairs.

The countries include Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, New Zealand, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, China, Japan, India, South Korea, Liechtenstein, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Poland, Hungary and Norway.

United Airlines mandate limited by court 

A federal judge barred United Airlines Holdings from placing unvaccinated workers with a religious or medical exemption on unpaid leave, as part of its mandatory Covid-19 vaccination programme for employees.  

US District Judge Mark Pittman issued a two-page temporary restraining order on Tuesday, noting that the two sides in the dispute agreed last month that the airline would refrain for now from placing exempted workers on leave for failure to comply with the vaccine mandate. Without court action, which restrains United from carrying out the programme until October 26, Pittman said that agreement would expire before he can rule on whether an extended hold on the mandate is warranted.

India builds up vaccine stockpiles 

India is building up a stockpile of vaccine doses, with 250 million shots prepared and three more vaccines under development, a government official said, which will go some way to help the country meet its export commitments.  

Most of these doses will be given to neighbouring countries and will also meet India’s commitments to the WHO’s Covax initiative for poorer nations, said VK Paul, a member of a government think tank that advises Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

WHO names new team on Covid origin inquiry 

The World Health Organization proposed a new team to lead an investigation into the pandemic’s origins.

The 26 proposed members of the group have expertise in a range of areas from epidemiology to biosecurity, the WHO said. They include Marion Koopmans from Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands, Christian Drosten from the Institute of Virology at Charite in Berlin and Yungui Yang, the deputy director at the Beijing Institute of Genomics. 

Sputnik Light shot protects against Delta 

Russia’s Sputnik Light, a one-shot version of its homegrown vaccine, was 70% effective against the Delta variant during the first three months after vaccination, according to new data.

The protection against severe disease and hospitalisation was higher, the Russian Direct Investment Fund said, citing research from vaccine developer Gamaleya.  

The Philippines eases capital’s curbs 

The Philippines will ease movement restrictions in the capital from October 16, allowing businesses to further reopen as infections ebb.

Metro Manila, which accounts for a third of the nation’s economic output, will shift to a looser alert level, according to presidential spokesman Harry Roque. Most businesses will be allowed to operate at full capacity while casinos, spas and indoor tourist attractions can reopen at 30% capacity. 

Vietnam aims to vaccinate 95% of teens 

Vietnam aims to have 95% of its 8.1 million children and teens aged 12 to 17 fully vaccinated in the fourth quarter, according to a posting on the health ministry’s website.

The Czech Republic mulls over new measures 

Prime Minister Andrej Babis called a meeting of the government’s committee for health risk as the virus’s spread accelerated. The nation of 10.7 million had 1,511 new cases in the 24 hours through Tuesday, a third more than a week earlier. The number of people hospitalised with Covid also climbed. The health ministry should present new measures on Friday.

Australia to stop making AstraZenecca vaccine 

Australia won’t extend its production contract for AstraZeneca’s vaccine, with the current order to be finished around Christmas, 9News Sydney reported without saying where it got the information. 

Concern about the shot’s safety led to Australians to spurn the vaccine in favour of inoculations made by Pfizer and Moderna.

France has no reason to fear new wave 

French Health Minister Olivier Veran said the country doesn’t need to fear a new wave of infections for now, even though the virus hasn’t been completely overcome yet. He said there’s been a slight increase in cases recently as the weather turned colder. 

Poland expects peak in November/December  

Poland’s Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told TVN24 that the peak of the country’s fourth wave will most likely come around the end of November and the beginning of December. Expectations for the peak of daily infections vary between 10,000 and 80,000 cases. 

Moderna eyes African nations for factory 

Moderna could choose South Africa, Rwanda or Senegal as the location for a vaccine factory, Reuters reported, citing the drugmaker’s chairman. 

The US company said last week it would spend as much as $500-million to build a factory on the continent that could produce half a billion doses of its messenger RNA vaccine a year. 

US opens land travel with neighbours  

Restrictions will be relaxed at land borders with Canada and Mexico for vaccinated people next month, allowing for the resumption of non-essential travel and providing a boost to border communities.

The changes, announced by members of New York’s congressional delegation, come after the White House announced its intention to begin allowing airline passengers from places including Canada, Mexico and Europe to enter the US with proof of vaccination and a test in early November.

J&J vaccine with mRNA booster 

National Institutes of Health data showed that people who took Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine have a stronger neutralising antibody response with an mRNA booster over a J&J one, Axios reported, citing an unidentified person who saw the findings.

China’s run of zero cases 

China reported no local cases for a week after quelling a Delta variant flare-up that started before a week-long public holiday in early October. Unnecessary travel and gatherings were discouraged to reduce transmission risks. China hasn’t shown any sign of changing its Covid Zero approach.

Thailand cases rise from three-month low 

Thailand reported 10,064 new infections, an increase from a three-month low on Tuesday, ahead of a government plan to ease restrictions.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha is set to chair a meeting on Thursday to decide on details of reopening plans as well as consider lifting curbs.

Canberra’s high vaccination rate 

The Australian Capital Territory, which has been locked down for more than two months, has hit a 98.5% first-dose vaccination rate for residents over the age of 12, its government said. More than 73% have had both doses.

The ACT is home to Australia’s capital, Canberra, and has a population of around 432,000 people. The territory, which recorded 51 new cases on Wednesday, is due to start lifting lockdown measures at the end of the week. Gyms, hairdressers, swimming pools, places of worship and hospitality venues will be allowed to operate with capacity limits.

Chavez ally-turned-enemy dies in prison 

Retired Venezuelan Defence Minister Raul Baduel, an ally-turned-enemy of late President Hugo Chavez, died of complications from Covid-19 after more than a decade in custody. 

Baduel (66) was a key member of Chavez’s cabinet, commanding the armed forces for two years. He broke allegiance after Chavez pushed for constitutional changes, ultimately emerging as an opposition leader who challenged the regime’s turn toward socialism. 

JPMorgan upgrades Cathay, Singapore Air 

Investor sentiment for airlines and airports in Asia has picked up in recent weeks as more countries pivot toward “living with Covid” amid easing infections and higher vaccination rates, JPMorgan analysts including Karen Li wrote in a research note. 

JPMorgan remains broadly positive on Chinese airlines and sees potential for positive surprises for reopening. In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific Airways is staying agile and has been improving its cash burn, hence the analysts’ upgrade to overweight. Singapore Airlines Ltd. was raised to neutral because its shares look fairly priced and there’s limited upside, they wrote. 

Australia household survey 

Australian consumers who intend to get vaccinated are far more optimistic than those who don’t intend to have a jab, Westpac Banking’s October household sentiment survey showed.

“The confidence level of those not intending to get vaccinated has also fallen quite sharply in the last month,” said Bill Evans, chief economist at Westpac. “Encouragingly, the size of this group has fallen as well, accounting for only 6% of respondents in the October survey compared to 9% in September and just under 20% at the start of the year.”

New Zealand extends lockdowns 

Parts of the Waikato region and the whole of Northland will remain in lockdown for at least another five days, New Zealand’s Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told a news conference in Wellington.

“Maintaining the status quo in Northland and parts of the Waikato is the safest course of action,” Hipkins said. The alert level will be reviewed on Monday. Auckland also remains locked down until at least October 18. 

Japan considers easing drug approvals 

The Japanese government is considering making the approval process for vaccines and treatments easier to accelerate their use in emergencies, according to a Kyodo News report, which cited an unidentified official. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is expected to instruct ministers to formulate a policy framework for virus countermeasures by the end of the month. 

IBM, American, Southwest back Biden on shots 

Three of the largest employers in Texas will follow Joe Biden’s mandate requiring employees to be vaccinated, defying an order by state Governor Greg Abbott blocking such actions. 

International Business Machines, a federal contractor, has more than 6,000 people in its Austin-area workforce, while Fort Worth-based American Airlines and Dallas-based Southwest have an even bigger footprint in the state. The two carriers have contracts with the federal government for transporting employees and goods. 

Boeing’s vaccine mandate 

Boeing told about 125,000 US-based workers they have until December 8 to be fully vaccinated or risk losing their jobs. The company cited Biden’s executive order for federal contractors, adding that workers won’t be able to cite a prior infection or antibody test to sidestep the requirement.

To comply with the new policy, workers will need to get their first Moderna dose by October 27, Pfizer by November 3 or single Johnson & Johnson dose by November 24, according to a Boeing communique viewed by Bloomberg. DM 

– With assistance from Ainslie Chandler, Greg Chang, Prim Chuwiruch, Claire Che, Kateryna Choursina, Max Zimmerman, Andreo Calonzo, Lenka Ponikelska, Sudhi Ranjan Sen, Yudith Ho and Keshia Clukey.

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