Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

Hong Kong signals policy shift; South Africa registers 566 new cases

A cleaner sweeps the arrival hall for travellers landing at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, on 21 March 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / JEROME FAVRE)
By Bloomberg
21 Mar 2022 0

South Africa registered 566 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,704,784. A further nine Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 99,890. A total of 33,023,123 vaccines have been administered.

In its most definitive shift yet, Hong Kong has scrapped some travel curbs and laid out a roadmap for easing internal pandemic restrictions, acknowledging the damage its absolutist approach to Covid-19 has had on the city’s status as a financial hub. 

The moves come as China concedes that its Covid-zero policy is damaging the world’s second-largest economy and leaving it isolated, with President Xi Jinping opening the door to modifications last week that reduce the impact on business, while still limiting deaths. 

In mainland China, Shanghai reported a record number of new cases after authorities expanded a mass testing programme. More than 200 cases are centred around the Pudong district, home to a bevy of domestic and international financial institutions and the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The tech hub of Shenzhen lifted its week-long lockdown while keeping some restrictions in place.

Key developments

  • Virus Tracker: Cases pass 470.2 million; deaths hit 6.1 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 11 billion doses administered
  • Why China is sticking with its Covid-zero strategy: QuickTake
  • How South Korea is beating Covid despite 600,000 new cases a day
  • New Covid variant cases are rising. Here’s what we know so far

Cathay shares rebound as flights resume

Cathay Pacific said it is actively working on resuming more flights from 1 April, while also ensuring that inconvenience caused by any flight-specific suspension is minimised. 

The company said it is committed to keeping all vital connections and the flow of people and goods between Hong Kong and the rest of the world moving.

Earlier, shares jumped to their highest intraday level since June 2020 as Hong Kong announced the easing of travel restrictions.

Hong Kong eases Covid measures but spread continues

Hong Kong’s moves to ease some curbs were spurred by frustration in the banking community and wider population, which has endured more than two years of effectively closed borders and increasingly extreme quarantine measures, even though the virus is now spreading widely through the city. 

While the travel easing had been foreshadowed by local media, Chief Executive Carrie Lam went a step further in laying out a plan to ease Hong Kong’s physical distancing rules in phases, starting from 21 April, as long as there is no rebound in infections. 

No new cases in Hong Kong care homes

Hong Kong reported no new virus cases in residents at care homes, health officials said at a regular briefing on Monday.

The virus had spread rapidly through the facilities in recent weeks, and most fatalities during the current wave have been elderly people. 

The city reported a total of 14,068 new infections, as well as 179 deaths. 

Antibodies show Omicron protection in mice

AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline’s Covid antibody therapies elicited some protection against the Omicron variant and its newest mutation, known as BA.2, in mice.

The treatments lost potency but they reduced the viral burden and limited lung inflammation caused by the virus, scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine reported on the bioRxiv server. The findings weren’t peer-reviewed.

Indonesia scraps quarantine measures

Indonesia is lifting all quarantine rules for fully vaccinated visitors to end two years of border closure, following its neighbours in easing entry restrictions as Southeast Asia moves past the worst of the Omicron wave.

The government will expand its quarantine-free travels to the rest of the country following a successful two-week trial of the programme in Bali, Batam and Bintan islands, where infections have remained low, Tourism Minister Sandiaga Uno said in his weekly briefing on Monday. Arriving visitors are still required to take the Covid-19 test. 

Sinovac’s low efficacy causes concern

Data indicating the Sinovac Biotech Covid-19 vaccine is less effective than an mRNA vaccine at preventing death in elderly people in Hong Kong is a red flag for mainland China, where infections are climbing and a vast swathe of the population is inoculated with the inactivated shot.

Almost 3% of people aged 80 or older, who got two doses of the inactivated CoronaVac shot, died after getting infected, compared with 1.5% of those who were given the BioNTech SE vaccine, according to a preliminary analysis conducted by the Centre for Health Protection. 

Getting just one dose of either offered less protection, with 5.8% of those given CoronaVac and 3.4% of those given the mRNA shot subsequently dying.

Shanghai – China’s latest Covid hotspot

Shanghai reported a surge in Covid-19 infections after expanding its mass testing programme, sparking concern the virus may be more widespread in the financial centre than previously thought.

The city saw a record 758 new cases on Sunday, including 734 asymptomatic patients, with the daily caseload doubling in two days, according to the National Health Commission. 

The city last week ruled out imposing a broad lockdown, but officials said Monday that some areas will remain locked down for further testing. 

Hong Kong eases travel restrictions, slashes quarantine time

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the government would lift a ban on flights from nine countries, including the US, UK and Australia, as of 1 April, and cut the time incoming travellers need to spend in hotel quarantine from 14 days to seven, provided they test negative for Covid.

Most physical distancing and other measures will remain in place to continue to curb the outbreak at least until 21 April, Lam said, after which Hong Kong would spend three months easing social restrictions in phases.

Lam also said that plans for citywide mass testing are “on hold” as case numbers are still high. The government would consider mass testing when necessary, she added.

Covid forces temporary closure of Shanghai Disney

Walt Disney’s Shanghai resort and parks will close temporarily starting on 21 March as the Chinese city reported record-high new Covid infections. 

Shanghai Disney Resort had been operating at controlled capacity since mid-March, with attractions at a reduced volume and theatre shows suspended, according to its website. Visitors were required to wear masks at all times, provide a negative Nucleic Acid Test within 24 hours and present green QR codes upon entry.

No surge in US Covid infections, says Fauci 

A likely rise in Covid cases in the US probably won’t amount to a full-scale surge or prompt a renewal of widespread restrictions, one of President Joe Biden’s top advisers said.

“The bottom line is we will likely see an uptick in cases, as we’ve seen in the European countries, particularly the UK,” Anthony Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday. “Hopefully we won’t see a surge. I don’t think we will.”

The BA.2 subvariant of Omicron is driving up cases in Europe and now accounts for about 30% of infections in the US, where indoor mask and vaccine requirements have largely been rolled back. DM/MC

– With assistance from Danny Lee.

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted