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Quebec closes schools, bars and gyms; South Africa regi...

Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

Quebec closes schools, bars and gyms; South Africa registers 8,515 new cases

People wait to receive a Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination station at the Iran Mall shopping centre in Tehran, Iran, on 15 August 2021. (Photo: EPA-EFE / ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH)
By Bloomberg
20 Dec 2021 0

South Africa registered 8,515 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,316,585. A further 105 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 90,453. A total of 27,599,038 vaccines have been administered.

The World Economic Forum postponed its annual meeting in Davos, which had been slated for January, amid fresh waves of coronavirus across Switzerland and the globe. 

Moderna Inc. said a third dose of its Covid-19 vaccine increased antibody levels against the Omicron variant, even as the company works on a version tailored to the new strain. Novavax Inc.’s vaccine was cleared by European regulators and is set to become the first Covid-19 shot of its kind in the region.

Europe’s biggest nations, including Germany, are weighing more curbs to fight a surge in infections. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is locked in a debate over imposing fresh coronavirus restrictions as Christmas approaches amid opposition from his own Cabinet. London hospitalisations are 34% higher than a week ago.

Key developments: 

Quebec closes schools, gyms and bars

Quebec is closing schools, gyms and bars and making work-from-home arrangements mandatory to stem a wave of coronavirus infections that has reached record levels. 

The province recorded 4,571 new infections in 24 hours, far above the levels of last winter, when the provincial government imposed a curfew and closed all restaurants. Nearly 400 people are in the hospital with Covid-19, an increase of 76% in two weeks.

Bank of America tells NYC staff they can work from home

Bank of America Corp. told New York-based employees scheduled to be at its offices that they can work from home over the holiday weeks if they prefer, as Wall Street navigates a fresh wave of virus outbreaks.

The bank is also providing free Covid-19 tests to staff and continuing to encourage employees to take precautions that will keep them safe, according to a person familiar with the matter. 

Hospital use eases in Eswatini

Eswatini is having to hospitalise a fewer proportion of Covid-19 cases even as the Omicron variant spurs a new wave of infections.

One out of every 100 cases currently seeks hospital care in Africa’s last absolute monarchy, which neighbours South Africa. That’s compared with one in 25 during the peak of the last wave in August.

“This is an indication that much fewer people are getting severe disease that requires admission,” the government said in a statement posted on Twitter Monday. “More than 80% of those admitted are not vaccinated.”

NYC defends move to shut testing sites

New York City officials defended a move to shut down Covid-19 testing sites right before the Omicron surge because of a lack of demand, pledging to ramp up testing again over the coming week.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city had seen demand drop at some sites and moved to a focus on mobile testing vans, but the spread of the Omicron variant caught the city by surprise. That, coupled with a surge in people seeking tests ahead of the holidays, have led to hours-long lines across the city. 

“We did not expect Omicron to move quite this quickly,” de Blasio said during a Monday briefing. “That’s on us to quickly rebound, make the adjustments and get the personnel where they need to be.”

South Africa infections slowing

South Africa’s daily coronavirus cases almost halved amid a fourth wave of infections fuelled by the Omicron variant. The country recorded 8,515 new infections in the past 24 hours, data from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases showed Monday. That’s a 44% drop from a day earlier and the lowest number of daily infections since Dec. 6.

The cases were recorded with 29.9% of Covid-19 tests analysed coming back positive, down from 30.7% a day earlier, the institute said. 

Covid-19 hospital admissions rose to 8,515 from 7,915 a day earlier, the NICD said in a separate report. The number of patients in need of intensive care remained unchanged at 6.7%. 

U.S. capital reinstates mask mandate

Washington, D.C., is reinstituting its indoor mask mandate on Tuesday following a surge in cases, Mayor Muriel Bowser said. The mandate, to last until 6 a.m. on Jan. 31, will apply regardless of vaccination status. The city is also boosting residents’ access to tests and shutting public schools on Jan. 3 and Jan. 4.

Idaho ends hospital care rationing

Rationing of hospital care is ending in Idaho after conditions improved in the northern part of the state, where anti-vaccination sentiment has been widespread.

“While the number of Covid-19 patients remains high and continues to stress healthcare systems, the surge is currently no longer exceeding the healthcare resources available,” according to a statement Monday by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.

So-called crisis standards of care were withdrawn in the rest of Idaho last month. “We’re still watching the Omicron variant very closely because this is a precarious time,” said Dave Jeppesen, director of the state health department.

London hospitalisations rise by a third

London now has 1,819 people hospitalised with coronavirus, 33.8% higher than the 1,360 a week ago, according to the latest data. London is the centre of the U.K.’s outbreak of Omicron.

In the U.K. a further 91,743 new cases were reported, compared with a record of 93,045 on Dec. 17. A further 44 deaths within 28 days were reported, although deaths are usually lower on the days following a weekend.

Novavax shot cleared in Europe after delays

Novavax Inc.’s vaccine was cleared by European regulators and is set to become the first Covid-19 shot of its kind in the region, giving countries another tool as they race to protect their populations in the face of the Omicron variant.

The protein-based shot, known as Nuvaxovid, was recommended by the European Medicines Agency, according to a statement Monday, and a European Commission decision authorising the vaccine is expected imminently.

French police ID 182,000 fake health passes

French authorities have identified 182,000 fake health passes through 400 ongoing investigations, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said in a tweet on Monday.

This comes after the minister last week called on police to step up security checks for the passes, which are required for entry into public spaces including restaurants and cultural venues, according to Agence France-Presse.

As of last week, around a hundred people had been arrested for using or selling fake passes, AFP reported. They can face up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($66,300).

Maryland governor tests positive

Governor Larry Hogan has tweeted: “This morning, as part of my regular testing routine, I received a positive rapid test for Covid-19. I have been vaccinated and boosted, and I am feeling fine at the moment.”

View original tweet.

Puerto Rico adds testing requirements 

Puerto Rico will begin requiring attendees of indoor and outdoor events — including at theaters, stadiums, coliseums and convention centers — to present proof of vaccination and a negative test that’s no more than 48 hours old. Religious organisations are exempt from the measures.

U.K. won’t impose more Covid rules

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is unlikely to impose further coronavirus rules before Christmas, The Times of London reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

Johnson and his Cabinet don’t believe the latest information is enough to justify a “circuit breaker,” the newspaper said.

France, Belgium back vaccines for children aged five to 11

France’s Haute Autorite de Sante approved the expansion of Covid-19 vaccinations for children aged five to 11. 

The governmental body said children can be vaccinated on a voluntary basis once the pediatric version of Pfizer’s Comirnaty vaccine is available.

Separately, Belgium’s public health authorities said children aged 5-11 years can be vaccinated with Pfizer’s shots, with the first invitation letters to be sent this month.

The vaccine will be administered with two doses, 21 days apart, according to an emailed statement from Corona Government Commission.

Davos gathering postponed

The World Economic Forum postponed its annual meeting in Davos next month, thwarted for a second year by the waves of coronavirus sweeping across Switzerland and the globe. 

The forum said in a statement that it was forced to rethink plans for the meeting, which had been slated for Jan. 17-21, and will now host it in early summer.

“Current pandemic conditions make it extremely difficult to deliver a global in-person meeting,” it said.

As recently as last week, WEF officials were expressing confidence that they could host the conference given Switzerland was open to international travel and that regular testing would be provided.

Moderna touts booster efficacy

Moderna said a third dose of its Covid-19 vaccine increased antibody levels against the Omicron variant.

A 50 microgram booster dose – the authorised amount – saw a 37-fold increase in neutralising antibodies, the company said in a statement Monday. The company also tested a 100 microgram dose, which increased antibody levels 83-fold compared with the primary two-dose course.

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said earlier this month initial lab studies showed a third dose of their Covid-19 vaccine may be needed to fight the Omicron variant after a 25-fold reduction in neutralising antibodies against the variant was observed in people who got just two shots.

Hong Kong bans Cathay flights from New York

Hong Kong is banning Cathay Pacific’s passenger flights from New York between Dec. 20 to Jan. 2 after three passengers on a flight on the same route were confirmed to have Covid-19, according to a government statement.

Hong Kong reported five imported Omicron cases on Monday, bringing the tally to 19 so far.

Europe braces for stricter measures

After a new lockdown in the Netherlands and travel restrictions targeted by several countries at the U.K., Germany is bracing for stricter measures, while France is considering requiring vaccine passes in the workplace.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will host talks with regional officials Tuesday to discuss stricter curbs that go beyond those already in place in Europe’s biggest economy, as well as how to further accelerate Germany’s vaccination campaign.

Measures will likely include reducing the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings and closing nightclubs to limit social interaction over the vacation period, according to Economy Minister Robert Habeck.

South African president back at work

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa returned to duty after recovering from Covid-19.

The president ended his period of self-isolation and will chair the final Cabinet meeting of the year on Dec. 22, the presidency said in a statement Monday.

Israel expands travel-ban list

The Israeli Cabinet approved recommendations by health officials to add the U.S., Canada and eight other countries to a list of banned travel destinations due to the spread of the Omicron variant.

The decision is slated to take effect at midnight Tuesday, subject to approval by a Knesset committee.

Other countries on the list include Italy, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey.

Outbreak at U.S. military camp in Japan

An outbreak at a U.S. military base in Japan is fuelling concern about the Omicron variant, months after the nation saw a record delta wave of infections ebb.  

More than 180 people are part of the cluster at the U.S. military Camp Hansen on the island prefecture of Okinawa, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsunotold reporters on Monday. While it’s unclear if any of these have Omicron, concern is growing that the new variant is spreading as two people connected to the base have been confirmed to have it. 

New Zealand says death may be linked to vaccine

New Zealand health authorities said they believe a man’s death may be linked to the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.

The 26-year-old man died within two weeks of his first dose of Pfizer and preliminary post-mortem information suggests the probable cause was myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle wall that is a rare side effect of some Covid-19 vaccines, New Zealand’s Covid-19 Vaccine Independent Safety Monitoring Board said in an emailed statement on Monday.

China reports 39 cases as Xi’an cluster grows 

China reported 39 Covid infections on Monday amid a cluster in the city of Xi’an. The country also reported four imported cases of Omicron. DM

– With assistance from Sara Marley, Alan Katz, Nathan Crooks, Alisa Odenheimer, Chiara Albanese, Jenny Che, Charles Capel, Vincent Del Giudice and Norah Mulinda.

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