Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

FDA endorses vaccine for children as young as five years; South Africa records 331 new cases

Waldo, Franco and Antwane Siebert receive the Covid-19 vaccine at Universitas Academic Hospital on 20 October 2021 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw)
By Bloomberg
27 Oct 2021 0

South Africa registered 331 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,920,109. A further 53 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 88,987. A total of 21,721,854 people have been vaccinated.

The Pfizer-BioNTech SE shot for children as young as five won the backing of the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) vaccines advisory committee. The agency isn’t required to follow the panel’s recommendations, but it often does.

Hospital admissions are declining sharply among U.S. children with Covid-19, even more than adults, quieting concerns for now that the return to school could trigger a major uptick in viral transmission.

BioNTech plans to start building a vaccine plant in Africa, aiming for a network that will eventually supply hundreds of millions of doses to the continent. Moderna Inc. also agreed to sell as many as 110 million doses to the African Union following months of pressure.

Key developments 

Belgium extends use of pass to Flemish region 

Belgium will extend the use of a Covid pass (a proof of vaccination, recovery or negative test) to restrict access to bars, restaurants and fitness clubs in the northern Flemish region starting next week. The Brussels capital region and southern Wallonia had already decided to use the pass in those venues.

Prime Minister Alexander de Croo also announced the reinstatement of a mask requirement in indoor public spaces as of Friday, less than a month after abolishing the nationwide rule. Finally, Belgians got a “strong recommendation” to work from home again.

Belgium has reported the highest daily number of Covid-19 infections of 2021 in recent days. Cases are currently doubling every nine days.

US paediatric hospital visits plunge  

Hospital admissions are declining sharply among US children with Covid-19, even more than adults, quieting concerns for now that the return to school could trigger a major uptick in viral transmission.

Daily paediatric admissions with confirmed Covid have fallen 56% since the end of August to an average of about 0.2 per 100,000, according to Department of Health and Human Services data. Among adults, new admissions fell 54% to 2.1 per 100,000 in the same period, the data show.

Hong Kong allows young travellers with one dose 

Hong Kong will allow inbound travellers aged 12-17 who hold a recognised record for one dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to board flights to the city starting on October 29, the government said in a statement.

BioNTech to build its first vaccine plant in Africa 

BioNTech plans to start building its first start-to-finish vaccine plant in Africa in the middle of next year, aiming to build a manufacturing network that could eventually supply hundreds of millions of doses to the continent. The German company, which makes a vaccine in partnership with Pfizer , is developing the plans with the governments of Rwanda and Senegal.

Separately, Moderna agreed to sell as many as 110 million doses to the African Union following months of pressure, though most of the shipments won’t arrive until the second quarter of next year. The purchase was made possible by the US government giving up its place in the supply queue, African Union coronavirus envoy Strive Masiyiwa said at a briefing.

Danish Covid rate rises after curbs end 

Denmark, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, has registered a rise in Covid-19 cases with several key indicators showing that the virus has accelerated in the past month.

The reproductive rate of the virus, known as the R rate, is now 1.2, up from one a week ago, which means the virus is spreading, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke tweeted on Tuesday. 

Covid worries executives 

Risks related to Covid-19 and the economic havoc it wreaked across the globe are keeping corporate executives up at night.

That’s the takeaway from an Aon survey of 2,344 risk managers, chief risk officers and chief financial officers conducted in the second quarter. Cyber attacks were the No 1 most-cited hazard, and more than half of the Top 10 risks executives say they face today are tied to the pandemic, according to survey results released on Tuesday.

“One of the things Covid-19 demonstrated is that long-term risks are no longer a long way out on the horizon. They’re actually on many businesses’ doorsteps,” said Lambros Lambrou, chief executive officer for commercial risk solutions at Aon. 

Mobile hospital in Ukraine 

In Ukraine, the State Emergency Service is setting up a mobile hospital to treat Covid patients including those needing intensive care. When assembled, 35 tents will add 120 beds in the Kherson region on the Black Sea. Ukraine broke another record on Tuesday with 734 new deaths.

Swiss regulator approves boosters 

Switzerland’s drug regulator Swissmedic approved a third shot of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for people at high risk. 

“The latest study data indicate that an additional dose can increase the ability to form antibodies against the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, particularly in patients with a weakened immune system,” it said in a statement.

Seventeen cases reported in Beijing 

China’s capital city, Beijing, has reported 17 confirmed local cases as of Monday. They are all over 57 years old and some have pre-existing conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, according to the local government briefing. China hasn’t reported any death from Covid since February.

Eli Lilly raises forecast on Covid antibody demand 

Eli Lilly raised its full-year forecast as the Delta variant-fuelled surge in cases spurred demand for its Covid-19 treatment, particularly among the unvaccinated. 

Australia-Singapore travel lane 

Singapore will allow people arriving from Australia and Switzerland to enter without having to quarantine from November 8, as the Southeast Asian nation takes another step in reopening borders and reviving its economy and status as an aviation hub. 

Fully-vaccinated travellers from the two countries will be able to enter Singapore freely after taking polymerase chain reaction tests. Children under 12 who aren’t inoculated will be allowed if accompanied by someone who is eligible to use the so-called vaccinated travel lane, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said on Tuesday.

Singapore ICU beds fill up 

The number of seriously ill Covid-19 patients in Singapore has risen to such an extent that 83.6% of intensive-care unit beds in government-run hospitals have been taken up, and only 60 are currently vacant.

Of the 366 ICU beds in public hospitals, 306 have occupants, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health on Monday. Of that total, 171 patients were being treated for Covid. Singapore has said previously that it can open up more beds for Covid patients if needed. 

Bulgaria reports record deaths 

Bulgaria, the EU’s least-vaccinated country, reported a record rise in daily Covid deaths, at 243. The Balkan country last week limited most public leisure activities to those who have either been vaccinated or already had Covid. The number of new cases on Tuesday was also a record high at 5,863.

The health ministry isn’t ruling out a lockdown, Deputy Health Care Minister Alexander Zlatanov said.

Potential cost of UK’s ‘Plan B’

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was warned that a switch to stricter coronavirus Plan B rules would cause as much as £18-billion in damage to the economy, Politico reported, citing government documents it saw. 

India’s new cases drop 

India reported 12,428 new Covid cases, the lowest addition in 238 days, according to a statement from the government. India’s confirmed virus cases stood at 34.2 million while deaths totalled 455,068.

Rules for cruise ships extended 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s extending its pandemic-era rules for cruise ship operation until January 15, after which it will move to a voluntary Covid-19 mitigation programme. The rules – under the umbrella of the CDC’s so-called conditional sailing order – were set to expire on November 1. The CDC said it decided to extend the protocols with a slight variation because of the spread of the more infectious Delta variant, the rise of breakthrough cases and other factors.

China giving shots to three-year-olds 

China started giving Covid-19 vaccines to children as young as three, as the country grapples with the return of the Delta variant and more frequent virus outbreaks. Multiple places across China are rolling out vaccines to children aged between three and 11, according to reports in local media. The shots, developed by homegrown drugmakers Sinovac Biotech and state-owned Sinopharm, have already been administered to those aged 12 and above, with the country green-lighting their use in those aged over three in June. 

New Zealand mandate 

Vaccination will be required for all workers at businesses where customers need to show Covid-19 vaccination certificates, such as hospitality and close-contact businesses, Workplace Relations Minister Michael Wood said. Non-vaccinated workers in roles requiring immunisation will be given a four-week notice period to get vaccinated before employment can be terminated.

China outbreak spreads 

China’s ongoing Delta outbreak spread further with the virus found in a 12th province in eastern Shandong. The country reported 34 infections on Tuesday, slightly down from a day ago. Health authorities are expanding its booster campaign, giving out shots for practically all adults who have been fully vaccinated for six months.

Hong Kong to remove exemptions 

Hong Kong will soon end most of the quarantine exemptions for overseas and mainland travellers, with the city under pressure from officials in Beijing to tighten up what is already one of the world’s strictest Covid-19 containment regimens. The city will soon announce arrangements to remove exemptions that allow some people to skip mandatory hotel quarantine stays of as long as 21 days to improve the chance that China will allow easier cross-border travel, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Tuesday at a regular briefing.

Hong Kong’s government said it will stick to its “zero infection” strategy on Covid-19. In a statement issued to Bloomberg News in response to calls from the city’s top bank lobbying group for a change of course, a government spokesperson reiterated that the top priority remains reopening travel to the Chinese mainland, saying that other places that have adjusted their strategies to co-exist with the virus have seen increases in infections, hospitalisations and deaths.  

Grim October for China 

China’s economy is showing signs of a further slowdown with car and housing sales dropping again this month even as exports continue their strong performance. That’s the outlook from Bloomberg’s aggregate index of eight early indicators for October. Economic growth was already lower last quarter, partly due to a higher base of comparison from a year ago, but also dragged down by power shortages, repeated Covid outbreaks, and turmoil in the housing sector.

Vietnam virus concerns 

Vietnam’s Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long warned about the risks of another outbreak tied to large numbers of workers returning to rural provinces from southern virus-hit areas, according to a post on the health ministry’s website. Long instructed local officials to monitor returnees from Ho Chi Minh City and surrounding industrial provinces of Binh Duong, Dong Nai and Long An.

Queensland allows international students 

Australia’s Queensland has announced that international students will be allowed back into the state to study in 2022.

They will be required to be fully vaccinated and to quarantine at a new government facility at Wellcamp, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. The state recorded two new Covid-19 cases in the community on Tuesday.

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, posted 282 cases and its second-most populous, Victoria, had 1,510.

Indonesia braces for more cases 

Indonesia is bracing for a potential upsurge in infections with almost 20 million people estimated to travel in Java and Bali for the year-end holidays. The Southeast Asian nation is on alert as its previous Covid-19 spikes have been preceded by long holidays. New cases had spiked after millions of people travelled and gathered with families to celebrate Eid al-Fitr in May. Infections have since gone down sharply after the government expanded testing and reimposed stringent lockdown measures across the country. Indonesia added 460 cases on Monday, the lowest since 26 Ma 2020. DM

With assistance from John Martens.

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