Pfizer seeks emergency pill approval; South Africa registers 273 new cases

Pfizer seeks emergency pill approval; South Africa registers 273 new cases
N1 City Covid-19 vaccination site during the Vooma Vaccination Weekend campaign on 13 November 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Misha Jordaan / Gallo Images)

South Africa registered 273 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,926,348. A further 15 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 89,504. A total of 24,216,614 people have been vaccinated.

Pfizer sought emergency approval of its Covid-19 pill for high-risk patients in the US as the Biden administration laid plans to buy 10 million courses of the treatment. The company separately agreed to let generic-drug makers produce inexpensive versions of the therapy for lower-income nations.

New York City opened the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square to vaccinated revellers, having limited access to frontline workers last year. Washington, DC, said it would lift its blanket indoor-mask mandate.

As authorities across Europe tried to control a new surge, Ireland and Germany headed toward new restrictions on movement, Spain’s Basque Country reimposed some curbs on large gatherings, and Ireland expanded booster eligibility.

Key developments 

Pfizer seeks pill approval for high-risk patients

Pfizer asked US regulators for emergency-use authorisation for high-risk patients of its Covid-19 pill. The drug, Paxlovid, blocks a crucial enzyme that’s key to coronavirus replication and would be the first of its kind if cleared, Pfizer said. It could be prescribed for home use, unlike most other treatments.

The company said it would invest as much as $1-billion to support manufacturing and distribution. It has launched rolling submissions in other countries, including the UK, Australia, New Zealand and South Korea.

Ireland imposes new restrictions 

Bars and restaurants must close by midnight, cinemas and theatres must require proof of vaccination and people should work from home where possible, under measures announced by Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin to contend with surging infections and rising hospitalisations.

“If the number of Covid infections and hospitalisations continues to grow at the rate we are currently seeing, no health system anywhere in the world would be able to cope,” Martin said in a national address.

Household contacts of anyone infected will have to restrict their movement for five days and complete an antigen test, under the new initiative. The government also extended a booster programme to all people aged 50 and over and to anyone with an underlying health condition.

US to buy 10 million Pfizer treatments 

The Biden administration plans to buy 10 million treatments of Pfizer’s Covid-19 pill. The company plans to submit data for the pill, administered twice a day for five days, to US regulators by Thanksgiving.

Texas, Louisiana sue over health worker rule 

Louisiana and Texas filed separate suits seeking to block a federal vaccine mandate for employees at hospitals, hospices, skilled nursing facilities and home health agencies.

The mandate is a “one-size-fits-all sledgehammer” that will force workers to choose between their jobs and “the jabs,” according to the Louisiana complaint, which was joined by Montana, Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah and West Virginia.

The requirement, issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, will worsen staffing concerns, especially in nursing homes and rural communities, Texas said. 

Washington, DC, to scrap mask mandate 

Washington, DC, will lift its indoor mask mandate on November 22, nearly four months after the order was imposed because of a spike in cases.

“Instead of following a blanket mandate, residents, visitors and workers will be advised to follow risk-based guidance from DC Health that accounts for current health metrics and a person’s vaccination status,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said.

Masks still will be required in some locations, such as schools, public transportation, nursing homes and district government facilities where there is direct interaction between employees and the public.

Mexico expands teenager vaccinations 

Mexico will make vaccinations available to children aged 15 to 17 without underlying health conditions. Pre-registration will begin on Friday.

“Between 10 and 14 years mortality is very low, after 15 years there is an increase in mortality, although it is still low,” virus czar Hugo Lopez Gatell said. The country has sought to reverse judicial rulings that open vaccination to children between 12 and 17.

New Zealand issues vaccine passes 

Vaccine passes were made available for the more than 3.4 million New Zealanders who are fully vaccinated, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said.

The pass can be downloaded to a phone or printed out. It can be used to attend hospitality settings, retail establishments, community and sporting events, religious gatherings and other functions. Vaccination status isn’t required at supermarkets, pharmacies, health services and other essential establishments.

New York City opens Times Square for New Year’s Eve 

New York City will open Times Square on New Year’s Eve to fully vaccinated revellers, after limiting the celebration last year to frontline workers. 

This year, those too young to get a shot must be accompanied by a vaccinated adult, said Tom Harris, president of the Times Square Alliance. Visitors who aren’t able to get vaccinated because of a disability will need to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test and wear a mask if able.

“New York City is back,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “We want to show the world we’re back.” 

Ireland allows boosters for people over 50 

Ireland will offer boosters to people over 50, the Health Ministry said. Individuals age 16 and older with underlying conditions, as well as residents of long-term health facilities also will be eligible. Recipients must have had their vaccine shot at least five months ago.

Spain’s Basque region to limit large crowds 

Basque Country reimposed some restrictions on large gatherings as infection rates rise, the first Spanish region to do so since curbs were eased earlier in the year.

In municipalities where the infection rate is above 150 per 100,000 inhabitants, the government will limit large public sports or other events where people can eat or drink, regional health chief Gotzone Sagardui said. The region will request permission from the Basque Supreme Court to implement a Covid passport requirement for access to restaurants and nightclubs, she said. 

“We have to reinforce the measures so that we do not have to take a step back,” Sagardui said. “We have to be vigilant.” The region’s infection rate rose this week to the highest in two months.

Pfizer allows generic versions of pill 

Pfizer reached a licensing agreement that will allow generic-drug manufacturers to produce inexpensive versions of its Covid-19 pill for 95 low- and middle-income countries, following a similar move by Merck.

Pfizer said it had signed an agreement with the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool to license the experimental pill, once it is authorised by regulators, to generic companies that can supply it to countries that account for roughly 53% of the world population. 

Russia expects Sputnik approval by year-end 

Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine is on track to be approved by the World Health Organization by year-end, according to the head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund. 

“We are just going through some bureaucratic procedures,” RDIF Chief Executive Officer Kirill Dmitriev said on Bloomberg TV. 

Japan to shorten quarantine for J&J recipients 

Japan is planning to make recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine eligible for relaxed quarantine rules that already apply to international business travellers inoculated with the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna shots, Nikkei reported, without specifying how it obtained the information. 

Beijing cuts flights from high-risk capitals 

China cut Beijing flights to one a day from provincial capitals in regions actively fighting outbreaks, according to a briefing held by the Beijing city government. 

Hong Kong Sevens postponed 

Rugby fans will have to wait even longer for the Hong Kong Sevens to return as the city tightened existing virus rules in an effort to reopen borders with Mainland China. 

The three-day event, which offers the sport’s biggest prize purse, was moved from the traditional April dates to November 4-6. The event was cancelled last year, for the first time since its 1976 debut. 

Japan leads G7 in shots 

Japan – which started doling out immunisations months after the US – now has the highest inoculation rate among the Group of Seven nations, and it did it without mandates of any kind. 

The country fully inoculated 75.5% of its population of 126 million people as of November 14, according to Our World in Data, an online scientific publication that uses population statistics from the United Nations. The achievement pushed Japan ahead of Canada.

Japan reported 79 new cases, the lowest since June 23, 2020, and one death on Monday.

France on alert as infections rise 

France is on alert as infections rise, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said in an interview on France Inter radio. The situation is better than in neighbouring countries, however, and the government doesn’t plan fresh lockdown measures, he said. 

“We are in a state of alert,” he said. “The number of infections rose very strongly again last week, up almost 50%.” 

France’s high vaccination rate and the early implementation of its health pass will help the country manage the crisis during the winter, Attal said. 

Italy requires Covid passes for fast trains 

As of Tuesday, passengers on high-speed trains in Italy will be required to present green pass certification before boarding, meaning they are either vaccinated or have a negative coronavirus test. Trains will stop in case travellers show symptoms of infection.

Under new travel rules approved by the Health Ministry on Monday, taxi travel will be limited to two passengers, except for people in the same household.

German virus deaths spike 

Germany reported another increase in its nationwide seven-day incidence, with the number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants climbing to a record 312.4, according to the Robert Koch Institute. The number of deaths rose by 265, the highest one-day increase since May 27. New cases stood at 32,048, up from 21,832 a week ago. 

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholz – the Social Democrat set to succeed her next month – will hold a video conference with German regional leaders on Thursday to discuss steps to contain the latest wave.

Australia to face bill for side effects 

Australia’s government may face a more than A$50-million ($37-million) bill related to its Covid-19 vaccination programme, as thousands of people register for compensation for health issues related to their inoculations, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

More than 10,000 people have registered for a government programme to be compensated for lost income after being hospitalised for rare but significant side effects from the jab, the paper reported, citing official data. Compensation starts from A$5,000, meaning the programme would cost at least A$50-million should each claim be approved.

Moderna nears deal to supply Covax

Moderna is nearing an agreement to supply millions of doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to low- and middle-income countries next year, Politico reported, citing two unidentified people with knowledge of the matter.

Moderna would sell its vaccine at around $7 per dose and a formal announcement could be made in the coming weeks, it said.

China infections drop for second day 

China’s daily infections dropped sharply for a second day. Only 13 were reported on Tuesday, including two asymptomatic ones, compared with close to 100 daily last week.

Authorities worked on extinguishing flare-ups in the northern border town of Heihe and an outbreak in the northeast port city of Dalian, where tens of thousands of university students were put under lockdown.

Hong Kong defends Dimon’s quarantine-free visit 

JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon was allowed to skip Hong Kong’s 21-day hotel quarantine on a visit because of the importance of the bank’s operations to the Asian financial hub, said Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive.

The risk is “totally manageable,” she said.

Dimon skipped stringent quarantine requirements during his first visit to Asia in two and a half years, saying the restrictions were making it harder for the Wall Street bank to retain talent. He arrived in Hong Kong on Monday for a 32-hour stay. 

Hong Kong to consider stricter measures on aircrew 

Hong Kong will implement stricter restrictions on aircrew if necessary, Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters.

Current cases linked to crew won’t affect Hong Kong’s talks about quarantine-free travel with China for now, she said. The government is in contact with airlines and asked crew to reduce their activities after arrival in the city.

Sing Tao reported earlier that the government is planning to require all returning aircrew to quarantine at home for 14 days after returning to the city.

Cathay Pacific also tightened crew restrictions, including limiting them to two hours of essential activities outside their homes in the first three days after return, the newspaper reported, citing an internal memo. DM

– With assistance from Peter Laca, Simone Silvan, Jinshan Hong, Dong Lyu, Alfred Liu, Felix Tam, Andreo Calonzo, Heejin Kim, Anirban Nag, Eduard Gismatullin, Matthew Burgess, Kanoko Matsuyama, Stefan Nicola, Flavia Rotondi, Peter Flanagan and Se Young Lee.

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