Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

Spain, Belgium tighten precautions; South Africa registers 566 new cases

A citizen at Gold Reef City Pop-Up Vaccination Site on 13 November 2021 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)
By Bloomberg
17 Nov 2021 0

South Africa registered 566 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,926,914. A further 11 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 89,515. A total of 24,346,917 people have been vaccinated.

Belgium reimposed a work-from-home requirement and mandated new masking requirements as daily case rates rose, while Spain approved boosters for vulnerable populations.

Meanwhile, the Biden administration said it would offer drugmakers funding to expand annual domestic production capacity of mRNA vaccines.

An adviser to China’s government said he hoped the country would gradually loosen its strict approach to battling the coronavirus after Beijing hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Key developments

  • Virus Tracker: Cases exceed 254.6 million; deaths pass 5.12 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 7.52 billion shots given
  • As states defy US on boosters, health experts raise concerns
  • Holiday-gathering warnings return as cases climb again
  • Europe goes after the unvaccinated to fight winter surge
  • What a weekend in P-town can tell us about our future with Covid

Belgium mandates working from home 

Belgium reinstated a requirement for people to work from home four days a week into mid-December, despite opposition from business groups. The country also extended mandatory mask wearing to 10-year-olds and will mandate indoor mask wearing even in venues where access is regulated by a Covid pass. 

With an average number of daily cases above 10,000, Belgium has one of the highest per-capita case rates in Western Europe.

The government and regions resisted calls from experts to shut down nightlife. Belgium’s high vaccination rate, 75% of the population, is the main reason the government was able to avoid imposing a new lockdown, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said.

Spain approves boosters as case rate rises 

Spain said it would roll out booster shots to health workers and people older than 60 and will discuss the initiative with authorities in autonomous regions.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the country’s vaccination rate of about 80% had shielded the former hotspot from the worst of the latest wave of the pandemic. Spain’s 14-day average infection rate climbed 67% in two weeks to 82 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, but remained well below that of countries including Germany and Austria, where less than 70% of the population is vaccinated. 

Swiss voters set to support passes 

The majority of Swiss favour Covid-19 certificates for access to indoor spaces and events as Europe battles a winter surge in infections.

Some 61% of voters back a law that would permit the mandatory use of the certificates, according to a poll for broadcaster SRG. About 38% were against it, while 1% remained undecided. The vote on the referendum, which also covers financial pandemic relief, takes place November 28.

White House seeks to speed up future vaccines 

A White House offer to help drugmakers increase domestic production could go toward addressing another pandemic, officials said.

“This programme would also help us produce doses within six to nine months of identification of a future pathogen and ensure enough vaccines for all Americans,” Jeff Zients, President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 response coordinator, said at a briefing.

The administration is seeking to gauge interest from pharmaceutical companies, and no deal has been completed.

New York City to double size of mobile testing fleet 

New York City will roughly double the size of its mobile testing fleet to 70 vans, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. “We want to emphasise testing is very, very important to this next phase as we try to put the Covid era behind us,” he said in a briefing.

Cases are rising in the city as the weather cools and the holidays approach. Early in the week, the mayor opened up booster shots to all adults. About 42,000 New Yorkers received boosters on Monday and Tuesday, according to the city.

Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi advised New Yorkers, including those who are vaccinated, to get tested before attending gatherings and travelling.

Hungary’s doctors warn of deadly Christmas 

Doctors in Hungary called on Prime Minister Viktor Orban to introduce tough curbs to stop a fourth wave that is overwhelming hospitals and leading to alarming death rates. 

The country registered more than 10,000 new daily infections, according to data published on Wednesday, the highest level since a record reached on March 26. Daily coronavirus-related deaths surged to almost a seven-month high.

Authorities need to expand a mask mandate to cover all indoor spaces, ban large events, support work-from-home arrangements and make entry to non-essential places such as restaurants and theatres hinge on carrying vaccination certificates, the Hungarian Chamber of Doctors said. Masks currently are required only on public transportation.

“Let’s work together to slow the rise in the number of patients that’s overwhelming hospitals, otherwise a lot of families will have a very sad Christmas,” the chamber said.

US to fund vaccine output boost 

The White House will offer drug manufacturers, including Pfizer and Moderna, funding to expand annual domestic production capacity of mRNA vaccines by one billion doses by the second half of next year.

The plan, described by officials familiar with the matter ahead of an announcement on Wednesday, is aimed at increasing availability of Covid-19 vaccines and building capacity to address any future pandemic. The move could see the US consolidate more production of vaccines on its home soil. 

EU regulator starts evaluating Novavax shot 

The European Medicines Agency has started evaluating Novavax’s application for conditional marketing authorisation for its Covid-19 vaccine. The assessment will proceed under an accelerated timeline, and an opinion on the authorisation could be issued within weeks.

French official cites fifth wave 

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters after a cabinet meeting that France “has entered a fifth wave of the epidemic with a rising number of infections,” and said the country was “on alert.” He added that France is in a better situation than neighboring countries thanks to the so-called health pass, which makes vaccination effectively necessary to resume a normal life. 

Croatia weighs sanctions over Covid 

Croatia is considering sanctions for people in violation of the government’s rules to fight the pandemic, including for those who incite civil disobedience over the measures, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic told the Cabinet. The European Union member in recent weeks has been one of the hardest-hit nations, along with Slovenia and Estonia.

Malaysia approves boosters 

Malaysia granted conditional approval for the use of Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines as Covid booster doses to individuals aged 40 years and above, Health Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah said in a tweet. Previously, only the Pfizer-BioNTech shot had received conditional approval for use as a booster.

Summer flu in South Africa blamed on Covid 

An unusual outbreak of influenza in South Africa’s summer months is probably due to the relaxation of pandemic restrictions and a drop in immunity following a two-year hiatus in flu cases because of such curbs, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said. The number of influenza cases detected more than tripled in the week ended November 7 from 10 weeks earlier, the agency said on Wednesday.

Beijing tightens curbs 

Beijing is tightening restrictions further, even after China’s outbreak receded to fewer than 10 new daily infections. Authorities in the capital have asked residents living in districts that have reported infections to avoid leaving the city unless necessary. Local entertainment venues will deny entry to people from anywhere in the country with a Covid case in the past two weeks, in addition to operating at 75% of capacity.

Germany delays some Covax donations 

Germany has delayed donations to Covax, the World Health Organization-backed programme to distribute vaccines around the world, to ensure sufficient supply for its booster campaign, Health Minister Jens Spahn said. Some Covax donations planned for December are now being pushed to January and February, Spahn said. 

Glaxo to supply US with Covid treatment 

GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology will supply $1-billion worth of doses of their antibody treatment to the US in the next month. The companies announced a contract on Wednesday that brings the number of doses ordered to 750,000 worldwide. The medicine, sotrovimab, can prevent Covid patients from becoming severely ill.

Malaysia cases climb before polls 

New cases in Malaysia rose above the 6,000 mark for the first time in five days and the reproduction factor of the virus edged above the key threshold of one, raising concerns about a worsening outbreak heading into state elections in Malacca and Sarawak.

German cases surge 

Germany reported another record increase in cases, and the seven-day incidence rate climbed to a new high. There were 52,826 new cases in the 24 hours through early Wednesday, the incidence rate rose to 319.5, and a further 294 people died from Covid-19, the most in more than six months.

With the country’s fourth wave spreading, and the inoculation campaign in stasis, the head of Germany’s vaccination committee, Thomas Mertens, signalled that it might update its advice on who should get Covid booster shots. The recommendation could be extended to people aged 18 or older, instead of the current one which focuses on elderly people or those most at risk, he said late on Tuesday.

Record infections in Czech Republic 

The Czech Republic had a record number of new cases on Tuesday. The country of 10.7 million people reported 22,479 new infections, almost double from a week ago. The outgoing government of Prime Minister Andrej Babis is meeting Thursday to debate how to stem the spread. 

Philippines clears Novavax shot 

The Philippine Food and Drug Administration allowed the emergency use of Novavax’s vaccine, according to the regulator’s head, Eric Domingo. The shot, under the brand name Covovax, will be manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. 

The country also has allowed colleges and universities in the capital and other areas under the three lowest alert levels to hold in-person classes. Only fully vaccinated teachers and students can attend, and classrooms will be at half capacity.

Air travel in the Philippines is seeing signs of recovery as local restrictions on movement are relaxed, even as the country remains shut off to foreign tourists.

Japan considers Pfizer shots for children 

Japan plans to start administering Pfizer’s vaccine to those under 12 years old in February if experts approve, broadcaster NHK reported, without saying where it got the information. The ministry has told local governments to be prepared for the roll-out.

Hong Kong Disneyland closed 

Hong Kong Disneyland was closed on Wednesday to ensure that staff can complete testing sooner, the park said on its website after it was put on the government’s mandatory test list. Visitors and staff members who were at the park between 11am and 6pm on November 14 are required to be tested by Thursday after the park had been visited by preliminary positive imported cases.

China’s infections fall 

China reported eight infections on Wednesday, all in one province, as the country’s new cases dropped to single digits for the first time in its latest delta outbreak. All of the locally transmitted cases were found in northeastern Liaoning province, according to the National Health Commission. The number of new infections has fallen for three consecutive days, after peaking at more than 100 daily during the broadest outbreak it’s experienced since Covid first emerged two years ago.

China adviser urges teamwork 

Henry Wang Huiyao, an adviser to China’s State Council and founder of an influential Chinese think-tank, said a closer collaboration between Washington, Beijing and the World Health Organization could help open up the country. China has largely isolated itself as it follows a “Covid Zero” approach to suppressing the virus.

“There’s a lack of leadership on the global fighting of the pandemic,” said Wang, president of the Center for China & Globalization. “There’s a need for having that so we can facilitate travel, the movement of people, and even for Chinese government officials to visit other countries.” DM

– With assistance from Zoltan Simon and Elaine Chen.

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