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Covid-19 global virus update

Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

New York cancels high school Regents exams; South Africa registers 15,424 new cases

James Wang wears a mask as he mixes beverages for customers at his bubble tea restaurant in Washington, DC, on 21 December 2021. District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser reinstated the city’s indoor mask mandate at 6am on Tuesday and announced a vaccination mandate for government employees. (Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images)
By Bloomberg
21 Dec 2021 0

South Africa registered 15,424 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,332,008. A further 35 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 90,488. A total of 27,669,950 vaccines have been administered.

The U.S. is poised to authorise a pair of pills to treat Covid-19 as soon as this week. President Joe Biden will send 500 million free coronavirus tests to homes beginning next month and dispatch the military to shore up overwhelmed hospitals. 

In New York, where the Omicron variant is surging, the city will provide $100 payments to those who receive booster shots, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is limiting attendance and Mayor-Elect Eric Adams said he would postpone his inaugural ceremony.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ruled out stricter rules before Christmas but urged caution, saying “the situation remains finely balanced” and that officials may announce further curbs after Dec. 25.

Germany is set to limit gatherings to 10 people, and France is curbing New Year’s Eve revelry. The European Union’s drugs regulator is considering whether a higher booster dose of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine should be authorised.

Key developments: 

 Biden may lift southern Africa travel ban

President Joe Biden said he’s considering lifting travel restrictions on southern African countries where the Omicron variant of coronavirus was first identified, after it became the dominant strain in the U.S.

“I’m considering reversing, I’m going to talk with my team in the next couple days,” Biden told reporters at the White House on Tuesday. He said his health advisers had suggested he reconsider the ban.

U.S. weighs shorter isolation period

U.S. health officials are weighing whether to change isolation recommendations for some vaccinated people so that they could return to work sooner after a breakthrough case of Covid-19.  

The Omicron variant of coronavirus carries mutations that are believed to enable it to more easily evade human antibodies. That may mean more breakthrough infections among the vaccinated.

New York cancels high school Regents exams

The New York state canceled January high school Regents exams as coronavirus cases continue to surge.

“New York set a daunting record last week with more Covid-19 cases reported in one day than ever before,” state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said in a statement. “Once again, the January Regents Exams cannot be safely, equitably, and fairly administered across the state.”

The department, in lieu of the January tests, announced it will ask the state Board of Regents to approve modifications to the assessment requirements that students must meet to earn high school diplomas, credentials and endorsements.

The cancellation comes a day after Governor Kathy Hochul vowed to keep schools open, despite a record high of more than 23,000 positive cases reported on Sunday.

Portugal moves up bar closings by a week

Nightclubs and bars in Portugal will be shut from Saturday, a week earlier than previously planned, as the government tries to counter the latest surge in coronavirus infections, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.

Remote working will also become mandatory from Dec. 25, Costa said at a press conference in Lisbon on Tuesday following a cabinet meeting. The measures had been announced on Nov. 25 and were initially due to take effect on Jan. 2 and to be in place through Jan. 9.

France to curb New Year’s Eve revelry

French officials will curb outdoor revelry on New Year’s Eve in a bid to limit Covid-19 infections that risk overwhelming hospitals, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

“I’m appealing to everyone’s responsibility to find other ways to celebrate than large gatherings, and avoiding moments of conviviality,” Castex said in a televised speech on Friday, as many people in France began their winter vacations. Regional prefects will ban spontaneous parties and ask cities to hold off on fireworks and other celebrations, he said.

Metropolitan Museum of Art limits attendance

The Metropolitan Museum of Art said it would limit attendance to roughly 10,000 visitors per day because of the highly infectious Omicron variant, the New York Times reported. During a normal holiday season, the museum would expect nearly twice as many visitors.

New York City Mayor-Elect scraps inauguration ceremony

New York City Mayor-Elect Eric Adams said in a statement that his inauguration ceremony will be postponed “in order to prioritise the health of all who were planning to attend, cover, and work on this major event.”

“It is clear that our city is facing a formidable opponent in the Omicron variant of Covid-19, and that the spike in cases presents a serious risk to public health,” he said.

Novavax expects Omicron data soon

Novavax Inc.’s top executive said the company expects to have data on its Covid-19 vaccine’s efficacy against the Omicron variant within days.

Chief Executive Officer Stanley Erck said on Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg Television that Novavax is working to determine how well their shot, which is based on older technology than messenger RNA vaccines, works against the fast-spreading new strain of the coronavirus.

U.K. sees no new limits before Christmas

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ruled out stricter Covid-19 rules before Christmas, responding to speculation that Britons might have to quash festivities for a second year.

He urged caution, however, saying that “the situation remains finely balanced” and that ministers may announce further curbs after Dec. 25.

Companies test workplace shots in Belgium

Nine companies in Belgium including Arcelor, Solvay and BASF are taking part in a pilot project offering vaccination to their employees at work. Both primary shots and boosters will be available to help speed up the vaccination process and relieve the vaccination centers, according to a statement from the government. Following the pilot project that will run until at least mid-January, regional authorities will decide whether to extend it to other companies.

U.K.’s Johnson near decision on curbs

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will make an announcement within 48 hours on whether “circuit-breaker restrictions” will be imposed, The Sun reports, without saying how it obtained the information.

U.S. cases highest since September

Daily coronavirus infections in the U.S. jumped to the highest level since September, a sign the Omicron variant is spreading rapidly. Almost 254,000 cases were reported Monday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. That’s up from 73,208 on Sunday, when numbers typically dip because of the weekend. The seven-day average of cases has climbed 17% in the past week to about 140,000.

FDA set to clear Merck, Pfizer pills

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is poised to authorise a pair of pills from Pfizer Inc. and Merck & Co. to treat Covid-19 as soon as this week, according to people familiar with the matter — a milestone in the fight against the pandemic that will soon expand therapies for the ill.

An announcement may come as early as Wednesday, according to three of the people. They asked not to be identified ahead of the authorisation and cautioned that the plan could change. 

Pfizer’s pill, Paxlovid, and Merck’s molnupiravir are intended for higher-risk people who test positive for Covid. The treatments, in which patients take a series of pills at home over several days, could ease the burden on stretched hospitals with infections poised to soar through the winter in the U.S. 

New York City offers residents $100 to get booster shots 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will provide $100 payments to those who receive Covid-19 vaccination booster shots at city-run sites through Dec. 31.

The mayor announced the incentive Tuesday as an effort to slow the surge in infections over the holiday season. He said 1.7 million residents have already received their booster shots.

View original tweet.

Edinburgh scraps New Year celebrations

Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay street celebrations at New Year were cancelled again after a surge in cases of the Omicron variant in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

The government will also limit the number of fans at soccer matches to 500 from Dec. 26 for three weeks. More money will also be made available to support businesses after an increase in funding from the U.K. Treasury, albeit falling short of what Scotland would like to spend, she said.

Reed Smith tells New York lawyers to stay home

Law firm Reed Smith is instructing lawyers and staff in New York to stay out of the office for at least the next two weeks, amid a jump in Covid-19 cases and concerns over the Omicron variant.

Reed Smith closed its Manhattan office, except for “essential” business, according to four sources familiar with the situation. Firm leaders told employees to work remotely through at least the end of the year, the sources said.

The firm declined to comment. Reed Smith had been encouraging lawyers to go into the New York office, but not requiring them to do so, according to the sources.

Plasma treatment shows promise

Newly infected patients saw a 54% decrease in the need for hospitalisation after being given plasma from people who had recovered from the virus, according to a study by Johns Hopkins researchers that may offer hope for a new treatment option as variants threaten to reduce the effectiveness of other drugs.

The plasma needed to be given early and contain a high number of antibodies, the study’s authors cautioned. 

EU considers larger Moderna dose

Europe’s drugs regulator is considering whether a higher booster dose of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine should be authorised for use, after the company published data showing higher levels of antibodies created against Omicron.

Marco Cavaleri, head of the European Medicines Agency’s vaccines strategy, said talks with the company will take place over the coming weeks to assess whether “a full dose might be a better choice than the half dose that is currently approved”.

Sweden, Iceland tighten restrictions

Sweden will introduce new measures, as hospitalisations increase in the Nordic country. From Dec. 23, large events will have to require proof of vaccination for entry, restaurants may only serve seated patrons and events that take no safety measures will be capped at 20 participants.

After daily infections reached a record, Iceland cut the number of people allowed at gatherings to 20 from the current 50. If rapid tests are used, 200 people will be allowed to gather, down from the current 500. The new rules take effect at midnight.

Germany bans fireworks sale for New Year

Germany has banned the sale of fireworks over the New Year period to try to ease the burden on emergency medical staff already overstretched dealing with Covid-19 cases. The move, which follows a similar ban a year ago, was agreed at talks between former Chancellor Angela Merkel and regional leaders at the start of this month.

Swiss, German booster gap period narrows

Germany will reduce the recommended minimum gap for an mRNA booster vaccine to three months from the previous six for people over the age of 18. In Switzerland, authorities now recommend boosters for everyone aged 16 years and older as early as four months. 

France pushes for vaccine pass

France will require that people are fully vaccinated to enter bars, restaurants and cultural venues starting in early January. A negative test will no longer be an alternative to vaccination.

The government will hold a special cabinet meeting on Monday to discuss a draft bill including the vaccine pass, which would enable parliament to consider it between Christmas and the New Year. 

Israel approves travel ban on U.S. and Canada

Israel’s parliamentary law committee gave its final approval 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 to take effect at midnight Tuesday. 

Europe’s city traffic undeterred

Omicron hasn’t yet curbed road traffic in some of Europe’s biggest cities, with congestion in 15 of the continent’s capitals rising to its highest in almost three months last week, according to TomTom NV data compiled by Bloomberg. Congestion was on average 9% higher than 2019 levels, the strongest reading since early October. DM 

– With assistance from Brett Miller, Charles Penty, Vidya Root, Natalie Lung, Stephanie Phang, Iain Rogers, Soraya Permatasari, Michelle Fay Cortez, Clara Hernanz Lizarraga, Joe Easton, Deirdre Hipwell, Josh Wingrove, Irina Vilcu, Paul Tugwell, Katharina Rosskopf, Alisa Odenheimer, Ragnhildur Sigurdardottir, Patrick Donahue, James Regan, Wout Vergauwen, Alexey Anishchuk, Suzi Ring, Anna Edney, Lyubov Pronina and Keshia Clukey.

Gallery

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