Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

New York City Marathon returns to full capacity; South Africa registers 2,411 new cases

Students wait to receive a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine in Karachi, Pakistan, on 3 February 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / REHAN KHAN)
By Bloomberg
24 Feb 2022 0

South Africa registered 2,411 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,667,560. A further 40 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 99,018. A total of 31,309,353 vaccines have been administered.

The pace of Covid-19 shots in the US has plummeted to the lowest level since the start of the vaccination campaign, the latest sign that the nation may be nearing maximum uptake.

The New York City Marathon will return to its full capacity this year, with 50,000 runners, the New York Road Runners announced on Thursday. 

Hong Kong may see thousands of restaurants shut down as the city ramps up its eradication campaign with some of the world’s toughest Covid curbs. Cases continue to rise in China and Singapore delayed its easing.

The United Arab Emirates, Ireland and Saudi Arabia topped Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking in February, as the three nations are leading examples of a shift taking place in much of the world toward living with the virus.

Key developments 

Most Californians back mask, vaccine rules 

Most California voters support mandated Covid-19 vaccinations and masking for students and teachers at K-12 schools, according to a new survey by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies.

About two-thirds of the roughly 9,000 respondents said they wanted the precautions to contain the virus, according to the poll, which was co-sponsored and published by the Los Angeles Times on Thursday. The views diverged according to political affiliation: While about 85% of Democrats backed vaccine mandates for schools about 70% of Republicans opposed them. 

Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom last week unveiled a plan to move the most prosperous US state into the next phase of managing the pandemic as cases sharply fall. 

Baltimore eases mask mandate 

Baltimore will lift its indoor mask mandate, excluding in schools, starting on March 1, the Baltimore Sun reported. The announcement came as the state of Maryland hit what it considers a key threshold in the recovery from the Omicron outbreak: Hospitalisations dropped below 500, Governor Larry Hogan announced. Hospitalisations peaked in late January at almost 3,500. 

Maryland’s Covid-19 hospitalisations have now dropped below 500 – another major milestone for the state’s declining health metrics, which are among the lowest in the country.  

New York resumes elective surgeries 

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said all hospitals in the state are now able to do elective surgeries and procedures.

Covid-19 hospitalisations in the state have fallen sharply, down to 2,274 from an Omicron peak of 12,671 in January.

Hochul also said there hasn’t been an increase in cases since the state dropped its mask mandate for businesses two weeks ago. New York reported 2,704 cases and a positivity rate of 2.1% on Thursday, a steep drop from the single-day record of over 90,000 cases reported in early January, when the percentage of tests coming back positive were hovering around 20%.

US vaccinations plunge 

The pace of Covid-19 shots in the US has plummeted to the lowest level since the start of the vaccination campaign, the latest sign that the nation may be nearing maximum uptake.

The seven-day average of shots administered fell to 337,874 on February 18, the lowest since December 2020, when vaccine distribution had just begun and the shots were only available to the most vulnerable. At the peak of the US campaign, in April 2021, about 3.5 million shots a day were being given.

A January 11-23 survey for KFF Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor shows that most adults who want the shots have already been inoculated, and demand for kids’ shots is proving much less robust.

New York City Marathon returns to full capacity 

The New York City Marathon will return to its full capacity this year, with 50,000 runners, the New York Road Runners announced on Thursday. The November race, the largest marathon in the US, was cancelled in 2020 and held with half the runners last year. 

All runners are required to be fully vaccinated. 

UAE tops, Hong Kong trails Covid Resilience Ranking 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) remained No 1 in Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking in February, followed by Ireland and Saudi Arabia as the top three. The three nations are leading examples of a shift taking place in much of the world toward living with the virus.

As the Omicron threat fades, the UK moved up to ninth and the US edged up to No 20 in our monthly snapshot that measures where the virus is being handled the most effectively with the least social and economic upheaval.

The bottom of the ranking saw a shakeup. Hong Kong – facing a record outbreak that’s challenging its zero-tolerance approach to the virus like never before – dropped to second-last. 

Pakistan dropped to last among the 53 economies ranked due to low levels of inoculation, tight restrictions on unvaccinated people as well as weak healthcare infrastructure.

Hong Kong schools lobby to continue remote teaching 

International schools in Hong Kong are lobbying to continue remote teaching in March and April after the government announced plans to bring forward summer holidays as it battles a fast-spreading Covid outbreak. 

The heads of dozens of international schools expressed concern about rescheduling the summer break, which will add yet more disruption to schooling already thrown into turmoil by more than two years of the pandemic and, prior to that, anti-government protests in the city. 

Hong Kong reports 8,798 confirmed cases 

Hong Kong reported 8,798 confirmed cases on Wednesday, a Department of Health official said. The city recorded 50 Covid deaths, and 33 patients were in critical condition.

Singapore delays easing virus rules 

Singapore’s plans to ease some virus rules in phases, originally due to start on February 25 and March 4, will be delayed. The change, amid a surge in daily cases, is due in part to the extensive adjustments needed across different settings, the Ministry of Health said. Authorities will announce a new timeline shortly.

Restrictions take their toll on Hong Kong’s restaurants and bars  

Thousands of bars and restaurants in Hong Kong will shut as some of the world’s toughest Covid restrictions, aimed at taming a record outbreak, deal a heavy blow to the once-vibrant city’s economy.

About 5,000 restaurants – almost one-third of Hong Kong’s eateries – may shut down for months to cut costs, said Simon Wong, president of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades. More than 1,200 have already suspended business and 300 have permanently closed, he said.  

Physical-distancing rules, which have shut hair salons, gyms and other venues while limiting restaurants to two patrons per table, will last until at least April 20. 

Taiwan to ease quarantine period 

Taiwan plans to shorten its quarantine period to 10 days from 14 days starting on March 7, and business travellers will be able to apply for special entry permits. It also plans to ease some Covid controls starting on March 1, such as allowing people to exercise outdoors without a mask.  

Australia’s Aboriginal community in lockdown 

Western Australia’s biggest remote Aboriginal community has been put into lockdown after it recorded 17 cases since Wednesday, the Australian Broadcasting Corp reported. The community of about 650 people has a double-vaccination rate of about 90%.

Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said hundreds of people from across the region attended a basketball tournament in town last week. The lockdown comes as the state prepares to fully open its borders to vaccinated travellers for the first time in about two years.

There were 610 community cases reported statewide on Thursday, slightly lower than the record set the day prior.

Fourth Sinopharm shot disappoints 

A fourth dose of an inactivated Covid-19 vaccine, such as the one from Sinopharm, doesn’t offer additional protection against the Omicron variant, according to a study from researchers at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhau that was published in the South China Morning Post

The potency of the vaccine declines six months after a third injection, and giving a fourth doesn’t help, the study found. 

The researchers said different types of immunisations, such as a mRNA shot targeted at the variants of concern, would be a good option for a fourth shot, according to the report. 

China’s growing outbreak 

More than 200 people have been infected with the Delta variant in the northern province of Inner Mongolia, while an Omicron outbreak sparked by conference-goers in Wuhan has spread to Beijing and the eastern coastal city of Qingdao.

Another 100 people are part of an Omicron cluster in the eastern biotech hub of Suzhou, where 11 foreign companies reported production disruptions because of newly detected infections among employees, authorities said.

Overall a slew of flare-ups around the country, from megacities to obscure border towns, has spawned more than 2,000 infections in the past two weeks as people returned to work after spending the Chinese New Year holiday in their hometowns. On Thursday China reported a total 109 domestic Covid-19 infections. 

Thailand reports record cases  

Thailand reported a record 23,557 new Covid-19 cases, surpassing the previous August peak. The government also reported 38 deaths in the past 24 hours. 

LA to drop some indoor masking rules 

Los Angeles County will ease its mask mandate for some indoor settings starting on Friday.

The mask requirement can be dropped for businesses if customers and workers are fully vaccinated, or if they test negative for Covid-19, the county’s health department said.

Canada repeals emergency powers 

Canada is lifting the emergency powers it enacted more than a week ago to contain street protests against pandemic restrictions, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying the unprecedented authority is no longer needed.

His government invoked the never-before-used Emergencies Act after hundreds of semi trucks and other heavy vehicles blockaded the downtown of Canada’s capital city for three weeks. The demonstration in Ottawa sparked offshoots that shut down key US border crossings, including the Ambassador Bridge to Detroit. 

US positioned to ease curbs, Fauci says 

Covid-19 vaccines, drugs and tests are putting the US in an improved position to pull back on restrictions such as masking that were enacted to limit the spread of the virus, White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci said.

Many states have already dropped rules for mask-wearing, and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are poised to update federal masking guidelines as cases driven by the Omicron variant plummet across the country.

Covid drugs like Pfizer’s Paxlovid that keep high-risk patients from hospitalisation and death are becoming plentiful as production ramps up, Fauci said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s The Close. DM/MC

With assistance from Jinshan Hong.

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