CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

Texas bans mandates; South Africa registers 592 new cases

A Gauteng health worker administers a test for Covid-19 at the Stjwetla informal settlement in Alexandra, Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)
By Bloomberg
13 Oct 2021 0

South Africa registered 592 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,912,938. A further 83 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 88,429. A total of 19,461,202 people have been vaccinated.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson made the case for booster doses of their vaccines before a key US regulatory meeting later this week. Texas’s governor banned vaccine mandates, setting up a showdown with companies that say they’ll follow President Joe Biden’s federal requirement.

Merck’s promising Covid pill is already being snapped up by some countries, raising concern that poorer nations could be left behind in a repeat of the inequitable vaccine roll-out. Shares of CureVac  slid after the German biotech abandoned its first-generation Covid-19 shot. 

US regulators are ending temporary policies that allowed more companies to produce hand sanitiszer at the height of the pandemic, saying there’s no longer a shortage.

Key developments 

Southwest Airlines to defy Texas ban on compulsory vaccination

Southwest Airlines will follow President Joe Biden’s mandate requiring that employees be vaccinated against Covid-19, defying an order from the Texas governor blocking such actions. 

The decision set up an immediate challenge to Republican Governor Greg Abbott by one of Texas’s major corporations. Southwest, with about 54,500 staff at the end of June, is among several companies caught between Abbott’s decree and a White House measure that says federal contractors must require the shots.

American Airlines Group, also based in Texas, said it too would follow the federal mandate.

Lives could have been saved in Florida and Texas 

More than 22,000 lives could have been spared in Texas and Florida, states where governors have spoken out against mask and vaccine mandates, if they had vaccinated three-quarters of their adult populations.

If 74% of Texans and Floridians had been vaccinated by the end of August, they could have collectively had 95,000 fewer hospitalisations and 22,000 fewer deaths, a study published on October 8 in the scientific journal Lancet found. If this rate had been reached by the end of July, as in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Texas and Florida could have seen 650,000 fewer hospitalisations each. The two states had vaccinated less than 60% of their adult population by the time the study was conducted.

US ends temporary hand sanitiser rules 

US regulators are ending temporary policies that allowed more companies to produce hand sanitiser at the height of the pandemic, saying there’s no longer a shortage.

Companies making sanitisers or alcohol for use in hand sanitisers under the temporary rules have until the end of the year to stop manufacturing and until March 31 to distribute their remaining supply. After March, the Food and Drug Administration says it will resume its normal policies of regulatory enforcement as it pertains to hand sanitisers.

NBA’s Nets say Irving won’t join team 

The Brooklyn Nets of the National Basketball Association said star guard Kyrie Ivring won’t join the team until he is eligible to play under New York’s vaccination guidelines. Irving would require proof of at least one Covid-19 shot to enter Barclays Center, where the team plays.

Nets General Manager Sean Marks in a statement said the Nets respect Irving’s “individual right to choose” but that that choice “restricts his ability to be a full-time member of the team”. Marks added that the Nets wouldn’t allow any member of the team to participate on a part-time basis.

Bias challenge to New York City mandate rejected 

New York City’s programme requiring proof of Covid-19 vaccination to enter restaurants, gyms and clubs can continue, a federal judge ruled, finding no racial bias in the mandate. 

Tuesday’s ruling followed a lawsuit filed last month by a group of city residents, including business owners, seeking to block Mayor Bill de Blasio’s programme, Key to NYC. They claim it illegally discriminates on the basis of race because black and Hispanic New Yorkers have vaccination rates below the city average and are therefore disproportionately barred from indoor commercial spaces.

Moderna, Covax in deal for 176 million doses 

Moderna said that Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance has agreed to purchase an additional 176.5 million doses of its vaccine for the Covax facility, a programme backed by the World Health Organization that aims to get shots to low-income nations. All of the doses, which will be delivered in the first half of next year, will be offered at the company’s lowest-tiered price, Moderna said.

The latest agreement brings the number of Moderna doses purchased by Covax to 210 million. The facility has an option to buy an additional 233 million doses in the second half of 2022, the biotech company said in a statement.

Moderna has faced pressure to get more of its shots out to people in poor nations, as the vast majority of its supply has gone to wealthier locales such as the US and European Union.  

Moderna, J&J make case for boosters 

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson said data they’ve gathered support the need for booster shots for their Covid-19 vaccines, ahead of a key regulatory meeting later this week.

A panel of scientific experts who advise the US Food and Drug Administration on vaccines are scheduled to meet on Thursday and Friday to weigh the evidence for booster doses for the two vaccines. In documents prepared for the meeting, both companies said that supplemental doses would be advisable after six months.

CureVac abandons vaccine 

CureVac is abandoning its first-generation Covid-19 vaccine to focus on another shot it’s developing with GlaxoSmithKline.

European regulatory authorities had indicated the vaccine probably wouldn’t be approved before the second quarter of next year, the German biotech said. By then, CureVac and Glaxo expect to be conducting late-stage patient trials of a second-generation shot.  

Pandemic worsens in Romania 

Romania reported 442 deaths and more than 16,000 cases in the past 24 hours, setting another daily record in the European Union’s least-vaccinated country after Bulgaria. The government said that 1,667 critically ill Covid patients were hospitalised in intensive-care units. Hospitals are overrun across the country, and authorities are struggling to open field hospitals and add ICU beds. 

More Singaporeans support living with Covid 

Nearly a third of Singapore’s residents now support living with Covid-19, a poll showed, after a push by its leader to treat the pathogen as endemic.

Some 29% of respondents support such a strategy, according to an online poll conducted by Milieu Insight, up from 23% in a survey conducted earlier this month after the government tightened some anti-virus measures. About 15% of the 1,201 people queried prefer a strict Covid Zero policy, down from 22%. 

Hong Kong to waive mask rule at gyms 

Hong Kong will allow people to remove masks at gyms during workouts if all staff and users are fully vaccinated, relaxing a long-standing rule as frustration grows over the city’s zero-tolerance virus approach. 

The government will also allow exercise classes to include a maximum of 12 people as long as the instructors are fully vaccinated and the participants wear masks, according to a statement on Tuesday.

India’s infection rate drops 

India on Tuesday said it registered 14, 313 Covid-19 cases, the lowest number of daily infections since March 2, according to data released by the country’s health ministry.

The continuing case rate decline comes as India’s vaccination campaign picks up speed. A number of recent antibody surveys also suggest that many of its roughly 1.4 billion citizens have already been exposed to the virus after two huge waves hit the South Asia nation since the start of the pandemic. So far India has disbursed 959 million shots, fully inoculating 20% of its total population, according to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker.

Apeiron starts trial with inhaled APN01 

Apeiron Biologics has started a Phase 1 trial for inhalation of APN01 to directly target the Covid virus in the respiratory tract, the lung and tissue itself, according to a statement.

Thailand may waive quarantine for some 

Thai authorities are considering quarantine-free entry for vaccinated travellers from 14 countries from November 1, according to the Tourism Council of Thailand.

The US, UK., Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, France, Russia, Australia, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, China and Hong Kong are in a list of countries to be considered for the quarantine waiver.

Thailand on Monday unveiled a roadmap to revive its tourism-reliant economy by gradually scrapping a mandatory quarantine for vaccinated visitors, joining a growing list of nations in making cross-border travel easier ahead of the year-end holiday season. 

Thailand reported 9,445 new Covid-19 cases, the lowest daily tally since July 15. 

Intel, Samsung eye Ho Chi Minh operations 

Units of Intel and Samsung Electronics are targeting to resume full operations of their Ho Chi Minh City plants by the end of November, a move that could provide relief to global supply chains.

Saigon Hi-Tech Park is helping its tenants, many of which are currently running at about 70% capacity, to operate fully next month, the park’s deputy manager said in a phone interview. Many companies operating in the tech park lost about 20% of their export orders in July and August, she was quoted as saying by Saigon Giai Phong newspaper.

Merck’s pill is already being snapped up 

Moves by a small group of countries to acquire supplies of Merck’s promising Covid pill before it’s even approved are raising concerns that some poorer nations could be left behind in a repeat of the slow and inequitable roll-out of vaccines.

A global initiative to deploy Covid therapies like Merck’s molnupiravir is at risk of running into the same problems the Covax effort faced and has no clear mechanism to negotiate contracts and supply countries, according to an independent report commissioned by the World Health Organization.

Nations, including Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, have followed the US and already secured molnupiravir or started talks to obtain it. 

Australian Parliament to keep precautionary measures 

The precautionary measures introduced before the last sitting of Parliament in August and September will remain in place for the next sitting fortnight from October 18 to ensure it can continue while reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission, according to a statement.

The building will continue to be closed to the public and only those staff necessary to maintain essential building functions will be present.

China calls for targeted measures in winter 

Vice-Premier Sun Chunlan called for “improved and targeted” measures to curb the spread of coronavirus in the autumn-winter season, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

Officials should improve the accuracy of epidemiological investigations and screening of people suspected of having Covid-19, Sun said when inspecting the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Sporadic cases and clusters of cases should be efficiently handled to minimise the impact on people’s life and work, Sun said.

UK’s PM slammed for ‘fatalistic approach’ 

Boris Johnson’s UK government made serious mistakes in its early handling of the coronavirus pandemic and should have imposed a full lockdown more quickly, a move that would have saved many lives, a parliamentary inquiry found.

In a sharply critical joint report released on Tuesday, the health and social care committee and science and technology committee said the UK had adopted a “fatalistic approach” to Covid-19 in early 2020, failing to learn from East Asian countries that halted the spread of the virus using swift lockdowns and mass testing.

Instead, the UK effectively accepted “that herd immunity by infection was the inevitable outcome,” the committee said. That decision meant the virus was allowed to spread through the population before lockdown eventually began on March 23, 2020, the report said. The government denies that herd immunity has ever been part of its pandemic strategy.

Texas governor bans vaccine mandates 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott outlawed vaccine mandates in the second-largest US state, setting the stage for a showdown with the federal government in Washington.

In an executive order signed on Monday, the Republican said “no entity in Texas can compel receipt of a Covid-19 vaccination by any individual, including an employee or consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from Covid-19,” according to a statement from Abbott’s office.

Abbott also plans to add the mandates ban to the agenda of an ongoing special session of the state House and Senate, a procedural move that would enable the Republican-controlled legislature to enshrine his executive order into law. DM

 – With assistance from Spencer Soper, Joe Carroll, Chris Kay and Robert Langreth.

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