Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

New Jersey reports post-Thanksgiving spike; South Africa registers 19,842 new cases

New Jersey reports post-Thanksgiving spike; South Africa registers 19,842 new cases
(Photo: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius)

South Africa registered 19,842 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,071,064. A further 36 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 90,038. A total of 26,781,642 vaccines have been administered.

The earliest studies on Omicron are giving cause for cautious optimism: While vaccines may be less powerful against the new variant, protection can be fortified with boosters. 

Pfizer and BioNTech said initial lab studies show a third dose of their Covid-19 vaccine neutralises Omicron, results that will accelerate global booster drives. AstraZeneca’s antibody cocktail received emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration. 

Data out of South Africa show the Omicron strain has spread quickly in a short period of time, even as symptoms seem to be far milder. South Africa on Wednesday approved a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine for adults.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tightened pandemic rules, advising people to work from home and mandating the use of so-called vaccine passports in large venues. Denmark introduced a light version of the lockdown it had last winter.

Key developments 

Jefferies Financial asks staff to work from home 

Jefferies Financial Group asked staffers to work from home and will require employees to get a booster for their vaccine by the end of January after the Wall Street firm saw a rise in Covid cases among its workforce. 

Employees who can do so should consider working remotely for the rest of the month, according to a memo by Chief Executive Officer Rich Handler. The moves come after the company has experienced nearly 40 new cases of Covid since the start of the month. 

Jefferies, which had been operating at 60% attendance globally in recent weeks, is reimposing a mask mandate in all of its offices, Handler said in the memo.

New Jersey reports post-Thanksgiving spike 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said the state is seeing a post-Thanksgiving spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalisations. With only 34% of residents having received a booster shot, the state will open new mass vaccination sites and encourage places to administer shots to walk-ins, he said at a briefing. New Jersey’s seven-day positivity rate is 9.6%, with the rate of transmission currently at 1.36, meaning the virus is spreading.

Johnson tightens UK restrictions 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tightened pandemic rules to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, advising people to work from home and mandating the use of so-called vaccine passports in large venues.

The activation of the so-called Plan B restrictions follows warnings that the new Covid-19 strain will overwhelm hospitals, given the UK had recorded a high daily caseload for months even before Omicron emerged. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already had tighter restrictions in place before Johnson’s announcement.

Denmark closes bars, schools early 

Denmark introduced a light version of the lockdown it had last winter, limiting opening hours for bars and restaurants and closing schools early for the Christmas break, as the Omicron variant is spreading across the Nordic country.

“The Danish economy is very strong”, but “we need to do what we can to avoid comprehensive lockdowns”, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Wednesday at a Copenhagen press briefing. The government will introduce compensation plans for the companies affected by the new curbs, Business Minister Simon Kollerup said at the same event. 

South African excess deaths almost double 

South African excess deaths, a measure of mortality above a historical average, almost doubled in the week ending November 28 from the preceding seven-day period as a new coronavirus variant spread across the country. During the period 2,076 more people died than would normally be expected, the South African Medical Research Council said in a report on Wednesday. That compares with 1,091 the week earlier.

The rise, while reflecting only a week of data, contrasts with hospitalisation data which show that most admissions have mild forms of the coronavirus, spurring hope that the Omicron variant is more benign than earlier strains.

FDA clears AstraZeneca’s antibody shots  

AstraZeneca’s antibody cocktail received emergency use authorisation from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), providing another possible weapon in the fight against the pandemic. 

Evusheld, as the treatment is known, was authorised for emergency use as “pre-exposure prophylaxis for prevention of Covid-19 in some adults and pediatric individuals,” the FDA said in a statement

Results from two trials show the cocktail is highly effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in at-risk people and also halved the risk of developing severe illness or death from mild or moderate Covid-19.

The UK pharma giant has already agreed a deal to supply at least 700,000 doses to the US. 

Antibody treatments can be used to supplement vaccines for people who haven’t mounted a strong response to the shots or to protect those who couldn’t be immunised, such as cancer patients. Although some antibody treatments require complex intravenous delivery, Astra’s one can be given using two injections.

Data on Pfizer vaccine effectiveness against Omicron encouraging 

The new data from Pfizer on vaccine effectiveness against Omicron is encouraging. This reinforces what my medical advisers have been emphasising: that boosters give you the highest protection yet. 

Switzerland records record number of new cases 

Switzerland recorded more than 12,000 new infections, the most in a single day. Additional measures to fight the pandemic took effect earlier this week. They include an expanded use of masks and the Covid certificate, which indicates if someone is vaccinated against, has recovered from or tested negative for the virus.

A proposal to make working from home mandatory for all, or at least the unvaccinated, failed to win support. Instead, the government is urging people to work from home. The Delta variant makes up more than 96% of cases in the country, with Omicron contributing less than 4%, estimates from the federal office of public health show.

On Tuesday, the Swiss government decided to call upon the armed forces to assist hospitals with patient care, transport and vaccinations.

South Africa approves adult Pfizer boosters 

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority has approved a third dose of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine in individuals 18 years and older, to be administered at least six months after the second dose.

It has also approved a third dose of the vaccine in individuals 12 years and older who are severely immunocompromised, to be administered at least 28 days after the second dose.

Earlier today Pfizer and BioNTech said initial lab studies show a third dose of their vaccine neutralises Omicron, results that will accelerate global booster shot drives. 

Nigeria to destroy one million expired vaccine doses 

Nigeria plans to destroy about a million coronavirus vaccine doses that arrived in the country only six weeks before their expiration date and could not be administered in time, according to a health official.

The West African nation has used most of the more than 10 million donated doses that have mainly been provided by European countries, and is asking donors to ship them well before the expiration date. 

Austria eases lockdown, mainly for vaccinated 

The government in Vienna is ending a three-week lockdown on Sunday for most people after a decline in confirmed infections, even as the number of patients being treated at hospitals remains high. The move contrasts with a flurry of new measures being enacted elsewhere in Europe in response to concern over Omicron. 

Pfizer says third dose neutralises Omicron 

A booster using the current version of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine increased antibodies 25-fold, providing a similar level of immunity observed after two doses against the original virus and previous variants, the companies said on Wednesday.

Blood plasma from people immunised with two doses of the vaccine contains neutralising antibody levels more than 25-fold less versus Omicron than against the original strain of the virus, the companies said.

Omicron symptoms mild, says South African hospital CEO 

Netcare, which operates the largest private healthcare network in South Africa, is seeing milder Covid-19 cases even as Omicron is driving up the number of people testing positive for the virus. 

The symptoms displayed by patients in the company’s hospitals in Gauteng, the epicentre of the country’s fourth wave, “are far milder than anything we experienced during the first three waves”, Chief Executive Officer Richard Friedland said on Wednesday. About 90% of Covid-19 patients currently in Netcare hospitals need no oxygen therapy and are considered incidental cases, he said.

Ireland to offer Covid shots for kids  

Ireland will offer vaccines to children aged five to 11 to control the spread of the coronavirus in that age group. Children will receive about a one-third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine given to adults, the health ministry said. Government advisers strongly recommend children with an underlying condition or other issues get vaccinated while healthy children are also recommended to receive the jab. About 90% of people aged 12 or older are fully vaccinated in Ireland.

Zimbabwe daily cases highest since start of pandemic  

Daily coronavirus cases in Zimbabwe surged to the highest since the start of the pandemic, after the emergence of the Omicron variant and as the government increases testing. The southern African nation recorded 4,031 new infections on Tuesday, surpassing the previous record of 3,110 reached during a third wave of infections in July, according to Health Ministry data. All infections for December 7 were domestic cases, signalling a rise in community transmission, it said.

Denmark advised to close schools early 

Denmark’s government has been advised by its epidemic commission to close schools early before the Christmas break and to impose a number of other restrictions, broadcaster TV2 reported, without saying how it obtained the information.

Over the past month, the number of daily Covid-19 infections has doubled and the Nordic country has already registered about 400 cases of the Omicron variant.  

Poland Covid death rate highest since April 

Poland recorded 592 Covid-19 deaths in the past 24 hours, the most since April. New infections are also on the rise. The government announced tighter restrictions on Tuesday to prevent any further straining of the country’s healthcare system. 

Measures include reducing the number of people allowed in public spaces such as restaurants and hotels, and moving to remote schooling. The government also proposed mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers, uniformed services and teachers as of March 1.

Omicron spread surges in South Africa 

The reproductive number, an indicator of how fast the coronavirus spreads, almost doubled in South Africa last month as an outbreak of the Omicron variant took hold.

The measure rose to 2.55 on November 27 from 1.37 on November 17, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a report on Wednesday. The number means each infected person on average transmitted the disease to another 2.55 people. The data are the latest indicator of how quickly the virus has spread in South Africa since the onset of Omicron, which was first detected last month. 

Romania eases curbs as new cases stay low 

The new government ended an overnight curfew, extended the opening hours of shops and restaurants until 10pm and allowed New Year’s Eve parties to take place, Health Minister Alexandru Rafila said on Wednesday. Romania has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the European Union.

Omicron causes immune protection loss: study  

Studies from South Africa and Sweden are showing that Omicron does, as feared, cause a loss of immune protection – but not a complete one. In a study of blood plasma from people given two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, there was a 41-fold drop in levels of virus-blocking antibodies compared with the strain circulating at the start of the pandemic.  

Scientists find harder-to-detect strain 

Australia’s Queensland state has found a new Omicron lineage in a traveller who arrived from South Africa, health authorities said on Wednesday. 

The new lineage has about half the gene variations of the original and can’t be detected with typical screening, the state’s acting chief health officer, Peter Aitken, told reporters. It was found in a traveller who had arrived from South Africa and tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday, he said. DM

With assistance from Anthony Osae-Brown, Matthew Burgess, Dong Lyu, Janice Kew, Claudia Maedler, Renee Bonorchis, Deirdre Hipwell and Skylar Woodhouse.

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"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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