Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

US opens travel from Europe; South Africa registers 116 new cases

A sign advising how to deal with the current Corona rules hangs in the window of a retail shop in Leipzig on 8 November 2021 in Leipzig, Germany.(Photo: Jens Schlueter / Getty Images)
By Bloomberg
08 Nov 2021 0

South Africa registered 116 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,924,072. A further 20 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 89,352. A total of 23,264,992 people have been vaccinated.

The US lifted entry restrictions for more than 30 countries, allowing fully vaccinated travellers to fly from places including Europe, China and India. The move comes as nations across Europe are considering strategies to confront a new wave of cases. 

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals unveiled some promising data for its antibody cocktail. Global cases of people infected with the virus surpassed 250 million, according to Johns Hopkins University research.

Almost 6% of hospital beds in US hospitals were occupied by Covid-19 patients on November 7, the least since July 28, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

In the UK, a return to lockdown measures is still under consideration, The Guardian reported. Germany’s infection rate soared to the highest since the start of the pandemic. Japan reported zero Covid deaths for the first time in 15 months. Singapore is rolling back some curbs as its outbreak eases.

Key developments 

UK adds to approved shot list for visitors 

The UK government said that beginning on November 22, travellers coming to England who received Covid vaccines on the World Health Organization’s Emergency Use Listing will be treated as fully vaccinated. Sinovac, Sinopharm Beijing and Covaxin will be added to the list of approved vaccines for inbound travel, according to the UK government website.

New York City boosts sick leave for kids’ vaccines 

New York City is extending additional paid sick leave to city workers and contractors so they can get their children vaccinated, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a briefing. He said workers would get four extra hours per child for each shot their children receive. 

Greece reports another daily case record 

Greece reported a new high of daily cases with 7,335 infections. It’s the sixth record in the past nine days, while the government took extra measures last week to contain the spread of the virus by reaching out to unvaccinated people. Bookings for the first dose of the vaccine have been rising since then.

US hospitalisations at lowest since July 

Almost 6% of hospital beds in US hospitals were occupied by Covid-19 patients on November 7, the least since July 28, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services. The hospitalisation rate fell to 5.9% from 6.0% the day before, and hospital beds occupied by Covid-19 patients totalled 45,121. Idaho has the greatest percentage of beds occupied by Covid-19 patients at 13.0% followed by Montana at 12.1% 

Covid cocktail gets positive review 

Regeneron’s antibody cocktail cut the risk of contracting Covid-19 by 82% for up to eight months, according to a company-sponsored study that could pave the way for its broader use. 

The company has asked the US Food and Drug Administration to expand the authorisation so the drug can be used to prevent infections, even when it’s given before a person has been exposed.

Biden administration makes push to vaccinate kids 

The Biden administration is starting a new push across the country to mobilise school superintendents and principals to boost vaccinations in kids aged 5-11, White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz said on Twitter. 

First Lady Jill Biden visited vaccination sites for children on Monday to help in this effort.

Singapore partly rolls back curbs 

Singapore is easing some tough restrictions put in place more than a month ago, with five people from the same residence allowed to dine at restaurants starting from Wednesday. 

The changes mark some relaxation of restrictive curbs that were reimposed on one of the most vaccinated countries in the world amid a jump in infections that have tested its healthcare system. 

Singapore, Malaysia vaccinated travel lane 

Singapore and Malaysia will launch a vaccinated travel lane between Singapore’s Changi Airport and Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport starting on November 29, the countries said in a joint statement.

Under the plan, travellers between the countries would complete Covid-19 tests instead of serving quarantine or a stay-home notice. Talks are ongoing for what would be a similar plan to link the countries’ land borders at Singapore’s Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints, which connect with the Johor state in Malaysia.

Indonesia in talks to order Pfizer pill 

Indonesia is in talks to procure Pfizer’s Covid-19 pill along with Merck’s drug as soon as possible, said Luhut Panjaitan, coordinating minister for maritime and investment affairs, who is overseeing the pandemic response. The country wants the drugmakers to eventually invest in a local production facility or partner with an Indonesian company to make the pills onshore. 

The government is also mulling whether to extend quarantine requirements to seven days from three as it braces for a potential virus resurgence after the year-end holidays. For now, infections continue to ease to just 244 new confirmed cases on Monday, the fewest since May last year.

Israel to let in tourist groups without boosters 

Israel will allow groups of tourists to enter the country even if they haven’t had booster jabs, the country’s health and tourism ministers said on Monday. Permits will be limited to tourists from “green” or “yellow” countries who have been vaccinated, even if more than six months have gone by since the last shot. Testing will be required. 

Each group will remain in a “capsule” and be kept away from crowded areas. The decision is notable since Israeli residents must have booster shots or have been vaccinated in the past six months in order to enter places such as restaurants, gyms, cinemas and sporting events.

European nations mull strategies for new wave  

Countries across Europe are considering measures as the region again becomes an epicentre for the coronavirus. In the UK, a return to lockdown measures is still under consideration, The Guardian reported.

Denmark, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, will probably need to reintroduce some restrictions after the number of infections jumped, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in a Facebook post late on Sunday.

France is to consider spending an extra €2-billion to bolster the hospital system, while Italy plans to vaccinate children in December.

German parties currently in talks to form the next government under Social Democrat Olaf Scholz will introduce draft legislation in the lower House of Parliament on Monday to address the country’s surge in infections. The SPD, Green party and the Free Democrats will propose a bill for an “appropriate and decisive” measure, FDP parliamentary whip Marco Buschmann tweeted on Sunday. 

German incidence rate surges to record 

Germany’s infection rate climbed to the highest since the start of the pandemic, breaching 200 for the first time as hospitals in some hot spots come under increasing pressure.

In the two worst-affected regions of Saxony and Thuringia – which also have Germany’s lowest rates of vaccination – the seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 people is at 491.3 and 427.5 respectively, according to the latest data from the RKI public-health institute.

Bavaria Premier Markus Soeder said on DLF radio that some 90% of Covid-19 patients in intensive care are not vaccinated against the disease, and called for a meeting of regional and federal officials to agree on nationwide measures to tackle the spread.

China broadens ‘close contact’ definition 

The definition of a close contact is getting broader in China. People who happen to be in the same general area at about the same time as a person who is found to be infected may need to be tested or even quarantined, according to notices issued by local health authorities. 

The “spatial-temporal overlap” means people don’t actually have to be in direct contact with a Covid case to be impacted. China has committed to fighting the virus at every step, and is taking more aggressive measures in its effort to regain a Covid Zero status. 

There were 99 new locally-transmitted infections reported on Monday, including 34 that were asymptomatic. Twenty of China’s 31 provinces have seen cases during the latest flare-up, making it the broadest since the virus was first detected in the city of Wuhan in 2019. 

Auckland on track to exit lockdown 

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern further eased Covid-19 restrictions in Auckland and said the country’s largest city is on track to exit lockdown by the end of the month.

Auckland retailers and malls can reopen on November 10, Ardern said. The government expects Auckland to reach the milestone of being 90% fully vaccinated within weeks, allowing it to move out of most remaining lockdown restrictions, though residents may still not be allowed to leave the city, she said.

Hong Kong Covid expert says city should reopen 

Hong Kong should reopen its borders to the rest of the world if six months of being Covid-free isn’t enough to enable authorities’ sought-after travel bubble with China, a top epidemiologist in the city said.

“We’ve got to look to reopen the border with the mainland as soon as possible,” Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong, told Bloomberg Television on Monday. “If there’s maybe not an easy way to do that, then I think maybe it’s time to start looking in the other direction.” 

Beijing and Hong Kong said last week they are making progress in talks over reopening the border between the city and China’s mainland. China may only allow a daily maximum of 1,000 travellers from Hong Kong without quarantine during the trial period, due to a resurgence of cases on the mainland, HK01 reported, citing unidentified people. That’s compared with the 5,000-6,000 daily quota that the Hong Kong government had requested.

Pfizer pill sparks jump in travel stocks 

Makers of vaccines and treatments slumped in Asia, while global travel and tourism shares rose, after Pfizer announced its pill reduced Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths substantially.

Investors are betting that the drug, the second promising pill for treating Covid-19 patients, will help tame the pandemic and speed up the comeback of travel. The news lifted shares of airlines and cruise companies, while casino and hotel operators also rose along with luggage makers and tour operators.

At the same time, Pfizer’s pill “may create uncertainties for earnings outlook and valuations of Chinese vaccine makers,” said Daniel So, a strategist at CMB International Securities. Cansino Biologics slumped as much as 20% in Hong Kong.

Japan registers zero Covid deaths 

Japan reported zero Covid-19 deaths for the first time in 15 months on Sunday, a day before the country eases border control measures. The country reported 157 new infections on Sunday, down from a peak of about 25,000 during the summer. 

With Japan’s outbreak easing and a vaccination campaign that’s inoculated more than 70% of the population, the government is seeking to reopen the economy. Effective from Monday, Japan will shorten quarantine for short-term business travellers and Japanese nationals or foreign residents returning from abroad if they have received an approved vaccine.

Japan will also decide whether to change the way it categorises the severity of the Covid situation based on the burden on its healthcare system in five different stages, the NHK reported. DM 

– With assistance from Chester Yung, Kanoko Matsuyama and Sotiris Nikas.

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