New York mayor signals end to proof of vaccination; South Africa registers 3,118 new cases

New York mayor signals end to proof of vaccination; South Africa registers 3,118 new cases
Covid-19 guidance on a Tube train in London. People in London will no longer be required to wear face coverings on public transport, starting on Thursday, 24 February, the same day all coronavirus-related laws will be lifted in England. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Neil Hall)

South Africa registered 3,118 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,665,149. A further 110 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 98,978. A total of 31,218,528 vaccines have been administered.

New York City’s mayor wants to move towards ending the requirement that patrons of bars and restaurants show proof of vaccination. Meanwhile, Hong Kong will expand mask-wearing to all public places, while Londoners will no longer be required to wear face coverings even on public transport.

Italy’s leader said the country’s Covid-related State of Emergency won’t be extended when it expires at the end of next month. Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, which stumbled in the race to develop a Covid-19 shot, found their vaccine protects against severe disease and hospitalisation and will submit data to regulators for clearance.

In a sign of how the pandemic is reshaping business travel, HSBC Holdings employees on average racked up just 307km on work-related trips last year, down from 4,228km two years before. The bank plans to keep a tight leash on travel even as rules ease.

Key developments 

CDC alters guidance on dose intervals 

Younger males and other healthy people under the age of 65 should consider waiting as long as eight weeks between their first and second doses of a messenger RNA Covid-19 vaccine, according to revised recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The new guidelines, posted to the agency’s website on Tuesday, were spurred by increasing evidence that a longer interval between doses in the so-called primary series could heighten the shots’ effectiveness and reduce the potential for rare heart-related side effects seen most frequently in adolescent boys and younger men.

Italy won’t extend Covid emergency 

Italy’s government plans not to extend the Covid state of emergency after 31 March, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Wednesday in Florence. At the end of next month Italy’s three-tier system, which defines restrictions for each region, will no longer exist, all schools will stay open and other restrictions will be gradually phased out, Draghi said. The emergency was introduced at the end of January 2020.

New York City mayor signals end to vaccine rules 

New York City Mayor Eric Adams said that he wants the city to move in coming weeks towards phasing out rules that require people to show proof of vaccination at restaurants, bars and other indoor spaces. Adams said he doesn’t want to act prematurely, but is also eager to move the city back toward normality.

“I can’t wait to get it done,” he said when asked about phasing out the requirement. The policy, under which residents must show proof of at least one Covid shot for most indoor activities, was put in place last autumn.

WHO expands vaccine programme 

The World Health Organization (WHO) is expanding its messenger RNA vaccine hub programme that bypasses major pharmaceutical producers. The WHO will open a new facility in South Korea to provide training to workers from low and middle-income countries to produce vaccines, treatments and other medicines.

The WHO will also transfer technology from its South African mRNA vaccine hub to five more countries — Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Serbia and Vietnam — to give them a jump start on manufacturing the life-saving vaccines.

Iceland scraps remaining curbs 

All remaining Covid-related restrictions in Iceland, both domestically and at the borders, will be abolished on Friday, the government’s health minister told reporters.

The last rules include a ban on gatherings of more than 200 people and an obligation to wear a mask when a 1m distance can’t be ensured. Travellers into Iceland will no longer have to show a certificate of vaccination or prior infection and residents will no longer be obliged to take a PCR test upon arriving.

Hong Kong toughens mask mandates 

Hong Kong is expanding its mask-wearing mandate to all public places, including country parks and for people exercising outdoors, and will limit restaurant patrons to two per table, according to a statement late on Wednesday. The measures will take effect on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the wife of Hong Kong Secretary for Security Chris Tang tested positive, the government said. He and other family members will undergo 14 days of home quarantine. Tang, who tested negative on Wednesday morning, will work from home.

London scraps transit mask mandate 

People in London will no longer be required to wear face coverings on public transport starting on Thursday, the same day all coronavirus-related laws will be lifted in England.

The move comes amid declining case rates in the capital, although Transport for London will strongly recommend people still wear a mask on its services. While the rules were already frequently ignored, the transport authority acted after Boris Johnson’s government said this week it would lift national Covid mandates.

Sanofi, Glaxo seek shot clearance 

Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, the pharma giants that stumbled in the race to develop a Covid-19 shot, found their vaccine protects against severe disease and hospitalisation and will submit data to regulators for clearance.

The duo said data from a trial shows that two doses of the Sanofi-GSK vaccine have 100% efficacy against severe disease and hospitalisations and 58% efficacy against symptomatic illness. The safety of the vaccine was favourable too, they said.

“The Sanofi-GSK vaccine demonstrates a universal ability to boost all platforms and across all ages,” said Thomas Triomphe, head of Sanofi’s vaccines division. “These efficacy data are similar to the recent clinical data from authorised vaccines.”

HSBC bankers grounded by pandemic 

HSBC Holdings’ average worker racked up 307km of business travel last year, not quite enough for one round trip between HSBC’s UK offices in London and Birmingham. That’s down from 4,228km two years ago.

Even as nations relax their Covid-19 travel curbs, HSBC has continued to drastically scale back plane trips, mostly on long-haul routes. Back in 2019, HSBC’s travel and entertainment budget was about $400-million. By last year, it was less than $60-million, according to Chief Financial Officer Ewen Stevenson.

“As part of our cost plan, we don’t want to see that returning above $200-million, ie, we are planning on at least a 50% reduction in travel pre-Covid to post-Covid,” Stevenson said in a phone interview.

Hong Kong reports 8,674 cases 

Hong Kong reported 8,674 new Covid cases and 24 deaths from the virus on Wednesday as the city’s leaders plan new measures designed to contain its largest outbreak yet.

Existing curbs on restaurants, gyms and other venues, and bans on flights from high-risk countries, have failed to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, with more than 61,000 infections diagnosed since the latest wave began. The city’s health leaders are doubling down on efforts to quash the contagion, building isolation facilities to house thousands of infected people and rolling out citywide testing with help from mainland China.

Poland to scrap most curbs 

Poland will scrap most of the pandemic restrictions that affect economic activity from the beginning of next month, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said. Poles will still be expected to wear masks in closed spaces and self-isolate in the event of infection, and a quarantine for arrivals from some countries will be maintained for now.

HSBC to close Hong Kong branches on Saturdays 

HSBC Holdings, Citigroup and Bank of China (Hong Kong) said they will close all of their retail branches in Hong Kong temporarily on Saturdays starting on 5 March as the city struggles to contain its worst outbreak.

HSBC, the city’s largest lender, will also shut 11 more outlets starting from Wednesday after several staff tested positive. The bank, which operates about 100 outlets in Hong Kong, last week closed some branches, including the one in its main office building in the Central district.

Thailand eases travel rules 

Thailand has eased entry rules for tourists, scrapping the need for a second PCR test and reducing the travel insurance requirement to $20,000 from $50,000, effective 1 March. The country is relying on a rebound in tourism to kickstart economic growth. Thailand welcomed 230,497 tourists in December, the highest monthly figure since March 2020. Still, the total of 427,869 visitors in 2021 was a fraction of the 40 million in 2019, when tourism generated more than $60-billion in revenue.

Pakistan eases rules on air travel 

Vaccinated airline passengers travelling to Pakistan won’t need a PCR test before boarding, the country’s National Command Operation Centre said in a statement. Unvaccinated passengers are required to have the test 12 hours before travel.

Hong Kong’s Budget support 

Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan outlined fresh support measures in his Budget, including giving HK$10,000 ($1,280) in spending vouchers to eligible residents. The government has also earmarked HK$20 billion for “other potential anti-epidemic needs,” he said.

The city’s economic growth will slow to 2%-3.5% this year from 6.4% in 2021, according to Chan.

Omicron hits Ho Chi Minh City 

Omicron is now the dominant Covid-19 variant in Ho Chi Minh City, news website VietnamPlus reported, citing the city’s centre for disease control.

The commercial hub recorded 1,356 new infections and 334 hospitalisations on Tuesday. The number of infected children tripled during the February 14-22 period from the previous seven days.

Hong Kong to limit restaurant capacity 

Hong Kong will limit patrons to two per table at restaurants, local media including TVB and Cable TV reported. Hair salons will remain shut, according to Cable TV.

Separately, the government said it has purchased “appropriate quantities” of oral Covid drugs Molnupiravir and Paxlovid.

China races to defuse Omicron flare-ups in Wuhan 

China is racing to defuse Omicron flare-ups in Wuhan, where a business meeting last week led to the spread of the variant among participants and their families. Local media reported that the meeting was a training session organised by Nu Skin Enterprises, a US skincare and health supplement direct-selling company.

Wuhan has reported 14 infections this week, with 13 of the infected people having attended the training and the other person being of their family members. Beijing reported 10 cases on Wednesday among people that local media reports suggest returned from the Nu Skin meeting in Wuhan. The east coastal city of Qingdao also reported an infection linked to the Wuhan cases. DM/MC


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