US outbreak shifts to Midwest; South Africa registers 585 new cases

US outbreak shifts to Midwest; South Africa registers 585 new cases
The Moderna Inc Covid-19 vaccine at the Pacheco vaccination centre in Brussels, Belgium, on 9 February 2021. (Photo: Geert Vanden Wijngaert / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

South Africa registered 585 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,927,499. A further 40 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 89,555. A total of 24,471,210 people have been vaccinated.

The US outbreak, on the rise again, is shifting to the Midwest, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Germany will restrict access to restaurants, bars and public events for unvaccinated people in regions that exceed a threshold of hospital admissions, while stopping short of a nationwide lockdown. The Portuguese island of Madeira will impose new restrictions on unvaccinated residents and visitors. 

The American Medical Association and more than 60 other US health organisations endorsed the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for companies with 100 or more employees. 

A more infectious new version of the Delta variant is spreading fast in the UK, but it seems less likely to cause symptomatic illness.

Key developments 

  • Virus Tracker: Cases exceed 255.4 million; deaths pass 5.12 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 7.61 billion shots given
  • Long Covid’s Catch-22: Too sick to work, yet not quite disabled
  • US hospitals’ day of reckoning nears as aid dwindles
  • Holiday-gathering warnings return as cases climb again
  • Europe returns to work-from-home to stem soaring cases

Apple slightly pushes back return to office

Apple has chosen February 1 as the deadline for corporate employees to start their return to offices, a slight delay from its previous goal of January, marking a key step toward getting its operations back to normal after the pandemic. 

Starting at the beginning of February, the company will adopt a phased return, Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook told staff via email on Thursday. For the first month, some teams will be required to come into the office one or two days a week. After that “transitional period,” staff will be required to come in at least three days per week, including Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Almost everyone vaccinated in Australia’s capital 

Almost all eligible citizens in Australia’s “Bush Capital” have had at least one dose of Covid-19 vaccine and it is expected to reach full inoculation next month, a milestone that shows just how fast the nation has overcome a slow start to its vaccination roll-out.

Canberra, one of a number of highly vaccinated cities in the Asia-Pacific region, achieved the feat by relying on education and access to get its citizens to embrace the roll-out, according to Andrew Barr, the chief minister of the Australian Capital Territory which oversees the city. 

Data show the city’s vaccination rate is at 96.8% for eligible people aged 12 and over.

Madeira island imposes curbs on unvaccinated 

The Portuguese island of Madeira will impose new restrictions on unvaccinated residents and visitors amid a surge in cases across Europe. 

People who have not been vaccinated will be banned from attending public events such as concerts from Saturday, Miguel Albuquerque, the president of Madeira’s regional government, said on Thursday. Unvaccinated people are allowed to attend mass or go to the supermarket as long as they show a negative Covid-19 test.

Cases jump in the US Midwest 

The US outbreak, on the rise again, is shifting to the Midwest, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Indiana recorded the largest increase of infections in the week ending November 16, with Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin among the states with the biggest weekly jumps, the data show. Parts of the Northeast, the most vaccinated region of the country, are also recording a spike, with infections in New York state up 27%. 

The seven-day average of new hospital admissions with confirmed Covid-19 cases is rising in 28 states and the nation’s capital from a week earlier, with visible clusters in the Northeast and upper Midwest.

Germany cracks down on unvaccinated 

Germany will restrict access to restaurants, bars and public events for unvaccinated people in regions that exceed a threshold of Covid-19 hospital admissions, while stopping short of a nationwide lockdown, Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Merkel and German regional leaders agreed on a catalogue of measures, with restrictions increasing by region as hospitals fill up with patients, in response to what she called the fourth wave of the pandemic to strike Germany.

Only people who are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 infections will have access to leisure, cultural and sports events, gastronomy, hospitality and services such as gyms, according to the agreement presented on Thursday. The measures kick in above a certain level of hospitalisations as a share of a region’s population. 

US health groups endorse work mandate 

The American Medical Association and more than 60 other US health organisations endorsed the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for companies with 100 or more employees. They said the requirement is “reasonable and essential to protect workers”.

“When employers require workers to get vaccinated, vaccination rates increase to over 90%,” a public letter read. “Courts have repeatedly supported the legality of employer mandates.”

More than 30 lawsuits have been filed against the requirement, which also allows for regular testing. The deadline is January 4. 

Astra cocktail data show long protection 

AstraZeneca’s antibody cocktail was more than 80% successful at both preventing symptomatic disease for six months and stopping the illness from worsening, demonstrating its ability to provide strong and long-lasting protection.

The medicine reduced the risk of developing symptomatic Covid by 83% in one of the trials after a six-month follow-up, the company said Thursday. The other, which was from outpatient participants with mild to moderate illness, found the cocktail reduced the risk of severe disease or death by 88% if given within three days.

Hungary expands mask mandate 

Hungary will expand a mask mandate to indoor spaces from Saturday, Cabinet Minister Gergely Gulyas said, as the country fights one of the fastest-rising rates of Covid-19 infections and deaths globally.

Vaccination certificates will also be required to attend events with more than 500 participants. Currently masks are only required on public transportation.

Poland has half a million in quarantine 

Polish sanitary services quarantined 503,400 people, the most since October last year, as Covid-19 rips through the European Union’s fifth most populous state in a growing headache for the ruling nationalists.

The surge in cases comes as little over half of the population of 38 million is fully vaccinated and the government is reluctant to tighten its light-touch restrictions. Daily infections exceeded 24,000 in the last two days, while the death toll since the start of the pandemic has risen to almost 80,000. The country already allows the vaccinated to carry on with their lives as normal even when household members tested positive for Covid.

Czechs impose curbs for unvaccinated 

The Czech government approved restrictions for people who aren’t vaccinated against Covid-19, limiting their access to events and services.

As of Monday, only citizens who are fully vaccinated or have had Covid-19 in the past six months will be allowed into cultural and sporting events, enter restaurants and use services. Outgoing Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Thursday he expects the new measures to be in place for three months.

Merkel to usher in tighter rules 

Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks with Germany’s regional leaders on Thursday to agree on tougher restrictions to tackle record gains in Covid-19 infections.

The outgoing German leader made another urgent call for action on Wednesday as a fourth virus wave engulfs the country with “full force,” and said the latest video call with the 16 state premiers is overdue. The country logged more than 65,000 infections in a single day for the first time on Thursday, with hospitals facing stretched intensive-care units sounding the alarm.

Austrian regions intensify curbs 

Just days after restricting the movements of unvaccinated people, Austria is moving closer to a general lockdown.

The provinces of Salzburg and Upper Austria, where infection rates have soared to some 1,600 per 100,000 people, will impose regional lockdowns from Monday. The federal government could announce new nationwide measures on Friday after a meeting with provincial leaders.

Greece orders more doctors 

Greece ordered private-sector doctors to work for the national health system, government spokesman Ioannis Oikonomou told reporters in Athens on Thursday. With hospitalisations on the rise, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis was expected to address the nation later in the day.

Delta sub-variant spreads in UK 

A more infectious new version of Covid-19’s Delta variant is spreading fast in the UK, accounting for about 12% of the samples gathered in the most recent government survey. 

That represents a 2.8% daily growth rate for sub-variant AY.4.2 over the course of the React survey, from October 19 to November 5, the researchers said. Still, the new sub-variant seemed less likely to cause symptomatic Covid. 

Masks cut Covid risk in half 

As Covid-19 makes a comeback in Europe, one study offers a reminder that simple measures like mask-wearing and hand-washing help to ward off the disease. 

Donning a face mask more than halves the risk of getting Covid, according to a review of eight studies published in the British Medical Journal. So does hand-washing. Physical distancing, meantime, cuts the risk by a quarter. 

Excess deaths rise in South Africa 

Excess deaths in South Africa, seen as a more accurate assessment of Covid-19 deaths than mortality officially attributed to the disease, have begun to climb.

In the week ended November 7, there were 1,531 excess fatalities, the number of deaths over an historical average, of which 157 were officially attributed to the coronavirus, the South African Medical Research Council said in a Wednesday report.

Pandemic tested regulators’ limits

The pace of approvals for Covid-19 diagnostic tests has been limited by the scale of the applicants compared to a limited number of staff qualified to review them, according to Roche Pharmaceuticals Chief Executive Officer Bill Anderson.

“I think the pandemic has tested the limits of the regulatory bodies who approve things because of just the number of things that have been coming at them,” Anderson said at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore when asked why it was so difficult to get rapid Covid-19 diagnostic tests in the US as compared to Europe.

Gates sees deaths falling below flu levels 

Covid deaths and infection rates may dip below seasonal flu levels by the middle of next year assuming new dangerous variants don’t emerge in the meantime, Bill Gates said.

Between natural and vaccine immunity and emerging oral treatments, “the death rate and the disease rate ought to be coming down pretty dramatically,” the billionaire founder of Microsoft said on Thursday at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum in Singapore. DM

– With assistance from Iain Rogers, Zoltan Simon and Jonathan Levin.

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