Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

China locks down province as Omicron spreads; South Africa registers 671 new cases

The Shenzhen Electronics Market in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China, on 13 March 2020. (Photo: EPA-EFE / ALEX PLAVEVSKI)
By Bloomberg
14 Mar 2022 0

South Africa registered 671 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,695,175. No further Covid-19-related deaths were reported and total official deaths remain at 99,725. A total of 32,630,886 vaccines have been administered.

China locked down Shenzhen city and Jilin province, threatening technology and auto manufacturing output in the nation’s latest effort to contain a resurgent Covid pandemic led by the Omicron variant.

Residents are forbidden from leaving the northeastern province of Jilin starting immediately, the provincial government said. Earlier, Apple supplier Foxconn halted operations in the technology hub of Shenzhen after China placed 17.5 million residents of the southern city into lockdown for at least a week. Organisers postponed two conferences in the capital, Beijing.

Cases doubled nationwide in one day to nearly 3,400, prompting measures that threaten half of China’s gross domestic product. Shenzhen tightened management of cross-border shipping as neighbouring Hong Kong reported 26,908 cases and 249 deaths Monday. Shanghai suspended in-person classes and shut intercity bus services, while the northeast industrial centre of Changchun in Jilin was locked down last week.

Key developments 

Younger Indian teens to get jabs

The Indian government has expanded Covid-19 vaccination to include those between 12 and 14 years of age from March 16. The children will be administered doses of Biological E’s Corbevax while those 15 and older are receiving Covaxin or Covishield jabs. 

India has also eased the criteria for booster doses and will now allow for all citizens above the age of 60 to get a third shot. Earlier, elderly people with comorbidities could get a booster dose. The country has administered 1.8 billion vaccine doses so far and recorded almost 43 million confirmed Covid infections so far.

Germany raises alarm on record Covid surge 

Germany’s coronavirus infection rate hit a record for the third straight day on Monday, with the renewed surge prompting the country’s top health official to issue a grim warning.

Cases climbed to 1,543 per 100,000 people over seven days, continuing its steady rise since the beginning of March, according to data from the RKI public-health institute.

The outbreak shows signs of worsening and causing “many deaths,” Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Twitter. With most remaining curbs set to expire on Sunday, he urged vaccine holdouts to urgently get their Covid shots.

Chinese firm BYD faces production woes 

Chinese electric vehicle and battery cell maker BYD is facing some production impacts at its Shenzhen campus.

The company didn’t specify which production lines are affected or to what extent. BYD’s Shenzhen campus is home to EV production, corporate headquarters, and research and development.

Indonesia’s cases lowest since January 

Indonesia reported 9,629 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, the first time daily infections fell below 10,000 since late January. There were 271 deaths. 

The government has begun easing movement restrictions across the country, while considering lifting all quarantine requirements for international travellers in April or sooner.

Hong Kong reports more deaths at care homes 

Hong Kong reported 26,908 Covid cases on Monday through a combination of nucleic acid and rapid antigen tests.

The city also announced 249 deaths. More than half the fatalities came from care homes and most were unvaccinated. There are 91 people in critical condition in hospital and 102 in serious condition. 

World’s second-tallest building locked down 

Shanghai Tower was locked down on Monday, trapping workers and visitors inside as authorities race to contain a spreading Covid-19 outbreak that’s ensnared China’s financial and tech hubs.

The building, the second-tallest in the world after Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, was locked down shortly after 8am local time on Monday and people inside were barred from leaving until they are tested for the virus and no positive cases are found, a security guard at the entrance of the building said. 

Chinese province of 24 million goes into lockdown 

Jilin in northeastern China became the first whole province to be locked down to tame an explosive Omicron outbreak. It’s also the first provincial lockdown since authorities closed the entire Hubei province at the beginning of the pandemic.

Residents were barred from leaving the province with a population of 24 million bordering Russia and North Korea. Authorities also asked people not to travel within its borders.

The province said 3,868 people tested preliminarily positive for Covid as of 12pm on Monday.

Beijing suspends after-school classes after Covid case 

Beijing city suspended all after-school in-person classes after a school was shut due to a reported case, according to a report by the official Beijing Daily, which cited a city government meeting. 

Classes such as music and dancing will be affected. The report reiterated that travellers from places where Covid cases are located are banned from entering Beijing.

Hong Kong can’t impose snap lockdown, says chief executive 

Hong Kong doesn’t have the infrastructure to roll out a lockdown and compulsory testing as swiftly as mainland China, according to Chief Executive Carrie Lam, whose announcement of a now-delayed city-wide test sparked chaos and confusion in the financial hub.

Even with the recently increased testing capacity, Hong Kong can still only handle 200,000 to 300,000 samples a day, and would experience some delays, Lam said at a briefing on Monday.

“Hong Kong cannot be compared to mainland Chinese cities in many measures,” she said. “If you ask Hong Kong to learn from Shenzhen today and hold a three-round compulsory universal testing campaign within days, I’m afraid we don’t have that level of capacity.”

China’s Covid lockdowns threaten half of economy 

Widespread lockdowns in China akin to the measures just taken in the southern technology hub of Shenzhen could affect half of the country’s gross domestic product.

Some 23 of the 31 mainland provinces reported confirmed, symptomatic cases over the past week. Including asymptomatic cases, which China counts separately, there were almost 10,000 new cases. 

Toyota halts Changchun plant in China 

Toyota Motor halted its plant in China’s Changchun city on Monday in response to local authorities ordering the northeastern area’s nine million residents into lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak, spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto said.

The Changchun plant produces vehicles including Toyota’s popular Rav4 SUV.

Hong Kong ‘has no current plans to tighten social curbs’ 

Hong Kong will not consider tightening social distancing measures for now as the current curbs are the most stringent in years, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing.

The government will take a cautious approach in considering the need for further tightening social distancing measures, taking into account residents’ basic needs and mental health, Lam said. 

Chinese city halts bus, subway operation on Covid outbreak 

China’s Dongguan city in Guangdong province suspended the operation of buses and the subway network from Monday, according to a statement on the local government WeChat account.

The city also suspended dine-in services, entertainment facilities, and in-person classes for students.

Two Beijing conferences postponed due to Covid 

China’s Covid flare-up has prompted organisers to delay two conferences scheduled for this coming weekend in Beijing:

China locks down tech hub of Shenzhen as outbreak spreads 

China placed the 17.5 million residents of the southern city of Shenzhen into lockdown for at least a week, spurring a key Apple supplier to halt production as authorities sought to gain control of a spreading Covid-19 outbreak in the vital technology hub. 

Shenzhen’s lockdown is the largest since China effectively shut in around 40 million people in Wuhan and its surrounding province at the start of the pandemic.  

Cases are popping up throughout China, with Omicron also in Beijing and in Tianjin, a coastal city nearby. A number of cities in Jiangsu province, next to Shanghai, and in the country’s manufacturing powerhouse, Guangdong province, have also reported infections.  

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Shenzhen’s Covid cases ‘may keep rising’

China’s technology hub of Shenzhen faces high risks of widening community spread, Huang Qiang, the deputy secretary of the city government, said at a briefing.

The number of Covid cases in Shenzhen may keep climbing as the city conducts three rounds of nucleic acid tests this week amid a citywide lockdown, according to the briefing.

Thailand may ease restrictions further 

Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha will chair the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration’s meeting on Friday and may consider easing restrictions further as the nation plans to reclassify the pandemic as endemic.

The Health Ministry and related agencies will propose some adjustments in Covid measures to unlock some business activities, government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said in a statement.

China’s big banks halt in-person services in Shenzhen lockdown 

Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, Bank of China, Agricultural Bank of China and China Construction Bank will suspend operations at all branches in Shenzhen from Monday until March 20, according to notices on their official Wechat accounts. 

The banks will still provide online services via channels including mobile apps and online portals, the notices said.

Foxconn halts iPhone Shenzhen site due to lockdown 

Apple supplier Foxconn is halting operations at its Shenzhen sites, one of which produces iPhones, in response to the lockdown on the tech hub city.

The Taiwanese company, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., has its China headquarters in the area and a key manufacturing site in Guanlan. It is suspending operations at the two campuses and has reallocated production to other sites to reduce the impact from the disruption, the company said in a statement. Foxconn didn’t specify the length of the suspension.

The measures from the Chinese government call for non-essential businesses in Shenzhen to halt until March 20.

While the shutdown may affect the production of many of the devices Foxconn makes for Apple and other brands, demand for electronics typically troughs in the first quarter of every year after the holiday-season peak.

Shenzhen’s ports tighten Covid control measures 

Shenzhen will tighten its closed-loop management for cross-border shipping amid a citywide lockdown, its Transport Department said in a statement on Sunday.

Truck drivers entering Shenzhen are now required to hold negative Covid-19 test results within 24 hours, and get tested again upon arrival at the port, the statement said. Customs clearance hours at Wenjindu Port, which was designated for shipping fresh food products to Hong Kong, will be extended to 20 hours per day, from 15 hours.

The city’s ports will also set quotas on how many vehicles can enter each day, and operate based on a reservation system, according to the statement. Shenzhen also designated four areas for truck drivers from the mainland and Hong Kong to meet and exchange vehicles, the statement said

Tonga’s prime minister tests positive as cases surge 

Tonga’s prime minister Siaosi Sovaleni tested positive for Covid-19, while the number of cases in the kingdom has climbed to more than 900 since the outbreak began in February, New Zealand’s Stuff reported.

A spokesperson from the prime minister’s office said Sovaleni, who was fully vaccinated and boosted, had mild symptoms and was isolating at his home with members of his immediate family, Stuff said.

Tonga’s Covid-19 outbreak of the Omicron variant began on February 1, when two frontline workers at the wharf tested positive for the virus.

Barack Obama tests positive for Covid 

Former US president Barack Obama said on Sunday he has tested positive but is “feeling fine” apart from a “scratchy throat.” Michelle Obama tested negative, he said on Twitter.

“It’s a reminder to get vaccinated if you haven’t already, even as cases go down,” he said. 

Pfizer CEO says new booster needed ‘now’  

A second booster shot against Covid-19 is needed “right now” because of waning immunity, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said. 

The company is in the process of submitting data to US health officials on an additional booster, as well as planning further for a vaccine that would “protect against all variants” and offer protection for a year, he said on CBS’s Face the Nation.

The first booster, he said, is still “quite good for hospitalisations and deaths. It’s not that good against infections.”

Bourla also said he expects to submit data on vaccines for children under the age of five next month. In February, the US Food and Drug Administration postponed a review of Pfizer data for the youngest children, citing the need for more information on a three-dose regimen of shots. DM/MC

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