US to ship J&J shot to hotspots; South Africa registers 305 new cases

US to ship J&J shot to hotspots; South Africa registers 305 new cases
A citizen receives the Covid-19 vaccine at Goodwood Civic Centre vaccination site on 9 November 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard)

South Africa registered 305 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,924,622. A further 48 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 89,435. A total of 23,540,547 people have been vaccinated.

The Biden administration reached a deal to rush doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine into conflict zones and other humanitarian settings around the world through the Covax distribution programme.

The European Commission approved a contract to buy as many as 60 million doses of Valneva’s experimental vaccine, which elicited better immunity than AstraZeneca’s in a clinical trial. 

A fourth Covid-19 wave is spreading in Germany, with a record number of new cases. China is taking its extreme containment measures a step further, warning that the virus could be transmitted on parcels. The Czech Republic is debating curbs amid surging infections but Premier Andrej Babis ruled out lockdowns. 

Japan agreed to buy 1.6 million courses of Merck’s pill treatment for $1.2-billion.

Key developments 

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 251 million; deaths above 5.06 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 7.35 billion shots given
  • With Covid vaccines, do we always need masks?: Opinion Wrap
  • Pandemic blows up old business habits, opening path to boom
  • Why are cases rising across Europe? It’s complicated
  • Vaccine mandates are essential to stopping Covid-19: Editorial

Israeli panel endorses child vaccines 

A panel of experts at Israel’s Ministry of Health voted overwhelmingly to approve the vaccination of children from five to 11 years old, according to a statement from the ministry on Wednesday evening. The director-general of the health ministry will examine the team’s recommendation. US regulators cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for ages 5-11 this month.

At least 900,000 US children vaccinated 

At least 900,000 US children aged five to 11 have received one shot of Pfizer’s vaccine out of about 28 million in the age group, White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said in a briefing. The pace of immunisations in children is expected to increase over the next several days as more than 20,000 sites across the country will provide them, Zients said.

Italy lowers booster age to 40 

Italy, one of the first nations to be hit hard by the coronavirus, will offer a booster dose to all citizens in the 40-60 age group from December 1, Health Minister Roberto Speranza told lawmakers on Wednesday.

As of Wednesday, 83.7% of Italian residents had completed the vaccine cycle, he said. Booster shots are already available in Italy for vulnerable citizens, medical staff, people over age 60 and those who have previously received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Lithuania seeks Covid pass for youngsters 

Lithuania will require vaccination certificates for children as young as 12 from the end of December if they want to attend any public gatherings or visit shopping malls. People will be offered booster shots four months after their last dose. 

US to rush J&J shot to conflict zones 

The Joe Biden administration is set to announce a deal to rush doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine into conflict zones and other humanitarian settings around the world. The effort will be arranged through Covax, a White House official said on Wednesday. 

Previously, the vaccine was only available through official government programmes, adding a hurdle to distribution in conflict areas. 

Japan places $1.2bn order with Merck 

Japan agreed to buy 1.6 million courses of Merck’s Covid pill for $1.2-billion, contingent on the experimental treatment’s clearance by domestic drug regulators, where it’s now under review. 

Merck’s molnupiravir has already been approved by UK authorities, and is under review in the US, which has agreed to purchase 3.1 million doses, pending authorisation there. The Merck drug has been shown to cut hospitalisations and deaths by 50% in high-risk patients who are still early in the disease, and has been hailed along with an experimental pill from Pfizer as a potentially important tool in blunting the pandemic’s impact.

Merkel seeks meeting with regional leaders 

Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to meet as soon as possible with leaders from Germany’s 16 states to discuss how best to tackle record increases in Covid cases.

Merkel “will work with all her might until the last day of her term in office” to ensure that federal, regional and municipal governments deal effectively with the spreading fourth wave, according to her chief spokesman, Steffen Seibert. The outgoing German leader has warned that hospitals in some hotspots risk being overwhelmed, and has urged more people to get vaccinated.

EU to buy up to 60 million Valneva shots 

The European Commission approved a contract to buy as many as 60 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine Valneva SE is developing, sending shares of the French firm soaring.

The agreement would allow EU members to purchase almost 27 million doses from Valneva in 2022, and an additional 33 million in 2023, the commission said in a statement. The shot has yet to be approved by the bloc’s medicines regulator.

Czech Republic debates curbs amid surge 

The Czech Republic recorded a steep rise in new infections, which came close to a record at 14,539 new cases. The number of people hospitalised with Covid almost doubled since the end of October, according to health-care ministry data. Premier Andrej Babis called the situation “not good” and said that the government will debate curbs. He ruled out lockdowns.

Croatia reported a new high in daily infections and Ukraine continued to struggle to contain its outbreak, with lines in Kyiv for death certificates and hospital beds for Covid patients at 73% occupancy. 

South African doctors push for booster choice 

South Africa’s Medical Association, which represents doctors, said there must be a choice of booster vaccine after Johnson & Johnson won the right to run research on the half a million health workers who took the company’s shot in an initial study. The government said offering a choice would delay the process. The head of the South African Medical Research Council, which is overseeing the trial, said the intervention wasn’t based on evidence and could create a “vaccine apartheid”.

China suspects clothing deliveries spread virus

China is taking its extreme containment measures a step further, warning that the virus could be transmitted on parcels just as the country’s biggest annual online shopping festival looms.

After three workers at a children’s clothing maker in the northeastern Hebei province were found to have Covid, authorities more than 2,000km away ordered people who had received – or even just handled – parcels from the company to get tested. The health commission in Guangxi, in China’s southeast, described the situation as a “Covid-related mail chain.”

Back in Hebei, which surrounds Beijing, officials have tested 300 packages of clothing from the company, Haohui Ecommerce and halted parcel-delivery services in two cities – Xinji and Jinzhou – as well as the town of Shenze. All the tests came back negative. 

Germany leans towards homegrown shot 

Germany’s vaccine commission recommended that people under 30 and pregnant women receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for first doses or boosters rather than the Moderna shot. 

The rare heart-inflammation side effects appear more frequent with the Moderna shot in younger patients, and while there’s no comparable data for pregnant women, the group advised the Pfizer-BioNTech shot out of caution.

Malaysia, Indonesia to start travel lanes 

Malaysia and Indonesia plan to allow fully-vaccinated travellers to fly between the two nations, just days after a similar agreement was struck in one of the world’s busiest air routes.

The Southeast Asian neighbours may start vaccinated travel lanes from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to Jakarta and Bali. They aim to finalise and implement the plan early next year.

Indian cases and deaths edge higher 

India added 11,466 cases on Wednesday, pushing the overall tally to 34.4 million, while Covid-related deaths rose by 460 in a day to 461,849, latest data from the health ministry show. The country has administered 1.1 billion doses. 

As many as 96 countries, including the US, UK, Canada and Germany, have agreed to recognise India’s Covid vaccination certificates in a move that will boost international travel, the health minister said. 

Hong Kong raises Covid risk level for New Zealand  

Hong Kong raised the Covid risk level for New Zealand to medium from low with effect from November 17, according to a government statement.

“The number of confirmed cases there has been increasing,” a government spokesman said. “As the risk of the importation of cases has heightened, we have to tighten the quarantine requirements.” New Zealand’s authorities have announced they will pursue a policy of “living with the virus” rather than try to tamp it down completely.

US group urges more jabs to Vietnam 

The American Apparel & Footwear Association, which represents more than 1,000 brands, urged the Joe Biden administration to step up vaccine donations to Vietnam after the US gave the country 15 million doses, said Stephen Lamar, the group’s president and CEO.

Vaccinations are critical for Vietnam, the second-largest supplier of apparel, footwear and travel goods to the US after China, to instill confidence in workers to return to factories, he said. 

Pouyuen Vietnam, a unit of one of the world’s largest makers of athletic shoes, is struggling to meet orders after 6% of its workforce quit amid the nation’s worst virus outbreak, according to a post on the Ho Chi Minh City Communist Party Committee’s website.

The workers are off shift at the now open Pouyuen Vietnam factory, a unit of Taiwan’s Pou Chen Corp., in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. Tens of thousands of factory employees have gone back to their home villages from Vietnam’s southern industrial belt, the epicenter of the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreak. Millions more are poised to follow, as months-long mobility restrictions that confined workers to cramped housing recently eased.

Colorado activates hospital crisis plan 

Citing burnout and dwindling ranks of workers, Colorado has activated a “crisis standards of care” hospital staffing plan giving the healthcare industry broad authority to fill personnel gaps as Covid cases surge, officials said.  

The plan allows for such things as “just in time” training for employees to assume responsibilities beyond their normal role and level of certification, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

“Staff shortages due to Covid-19 illness, increased workloads due to hospitals working at capacity, and staff burnout are all making working conditions difficult and often outside the scope of conventional care,” it said. DM

With assistance from Antony Sguazzin, Will Davies, Ravil Shirodkar, Tim Loh, Lenka Ponikelska, Kateryna Choursina, Jasmina Kuzmanovic, Frank Connelly, Iain Rogers, John Lauerman, Milda Seputyte, Flavia Rotondi and Anushree Dave.


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