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March 10, 2022

Covid-19 update: Cough drop sales could track Omicron spread

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 6 million, with a figure of 6,022,223 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have continued past 449 million to a world wide figure of 451,638,095.

As governments around the world start to limit testing for Covid-19, the humble throat drop may become a gauge of how quickly Omicron is spreading. Sales of medicated lozenges and gargles, cough suppressants and over-the-counter pain relief medications have soared so high the products are often in short supply around the world, according to manufacturers and sellers. The trend has emerged even in countries where official testing numbers appear to show that active cases are falling. Many countries will need to ask, “are there alternative forms of surveillance that can be used to give us a better insight into undiagnosed infections?” said Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health. “Over-the-counter sales is one way we could do that.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 79.4 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 963,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

US Democratic Party leaders jettisoned emergency pandemic response money from a $1.5 trillion government funding bill to quell a revolt within the party and clear the way for a vote on the legislation, which includes $13.6 billion for the US response to the war in Ukraine. Meanwhile, House of Representatives Appropriations Committee Chair Rosa DeLauro introduced a standalone $15.6 billion Covid-19 relief funding bill.

Europe

UK: The number of Covid-19 cases in England dropped substantially in February from January’s high when the omicron surge was at its peak, a large study found. New infections fell by a third in February although the overall prevalence of cases is still the second highest on record since the pandemic began, according to the latest round of results from the React-1 study. The analysis led by Imperial College found that the Omicron subvariant BA.2 now accounts for at least 50% of the 95,000 swabs sampled between 8 February and 1 March. The subvariant is also driving up infections and hospital admissions among older adults over 55 as the country, freed of pandemic restrictions, adjusts to living with Covid.

Sweden: The mastermind behind Sweden’s Covid strategy that triggered wide-spread criticism at home and abroad has been hired by the World Health Organization as a vaccine coordinator. Anders Tegnell will leave his position as state epidemiologist on 14 March and become “a senior expert” in a group that will coordinate the work between the WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF and vaccine organization Gavi, Sweden’s public health institute said on Wednesday. On his advice, Sweden responded to the pandemic in 2020 with a policy that shunned many of the harsh restrictions elsewhere.

Asia pacific

Japan: Japan plans to increase its cap on arrivals from overseas to 10,000 people per day from 1 April, the Yomiuri newspaper reported without attribution Thursday, as it moves to accept a “significant number” of foreign students by the end of May. The government will increase Covid-19 testing capacity at airports to accommodate the increased daily arrivals.

Separately, the government is considering removing the attendance cap on events in areas under a Covid-19 quasi-state of emergency, the Nikkei reports without attribution. Participants would be required to wear face masks and refrain from speaking loudly.

China: China reports 402 local confirmed cases and 435 local asymptomatic infections for March 9, a new daily record since Wuhan outbreak, according to a statement from the National Health Commission.

Singapore: Singapore’s current Omicron wave may have peaked, health minister Ong Ye Kung said, possibly paving the way for further easing of virus curbs. Singapore’s week-on-week infection growth rate, a measure tracking the spread of Covid-19 in the community, has declined in recent weeks. The rate fell to 0.95 as of 8 March, from a peak of about 2.3 nearly a month ago, according to data from the health ministry. Singapore saw 21,986 local cases as of 12 pm Tuesday.

The Southeast Asian financial hub last month pushed back plans to gradually ease limits as a resurgent Covid-19 outbreak tested the country’s pivot to living with the virus.

New Zealand: New Zealand revised how it reports deaths of people who have Covid-19, resulting in the official toll rising to 91, the Ministry of Health says in daily update. Officials will adopt the approach used by the UK and report all deaths of people who die within 28 days of testing positive. Previous disclosure of Covid-related deaths has been confusing, with official ministry data showing 65 while ministry media releases have reported as many as 83.

Thailand: Thailand’s government has prepared a plan to classify the Covid-19 outbreak as endemic from 1 July, according to the Health Ministry. New infections are expected to continue rising during March-April before gradually easing during May-June, according to the government’s top public health official.

Africa Middle East

South Africa: The coronavirus may have killed one in every 200 South Africans. Excess deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic, seen as a more accurate way of measuring its impact than official statistics, climbed to 301,106 in the week ended March 5, according to South African Medical Research Council data released on Wednesday. That’s triple the official fatality rate. The number of deaths per 100,000 people was 506 in the nation of 60 million, according to the council. Researchers say almost all of the excess deaths, calculated by plotting mortality against an historical average, are due to the virus.  The level of deaths in the country with the highest official Covid-19 infections and deaths in Africa compares with about 200 per 100,000 in the UK, but is well below the 680 in Peru and 760 in Russia, according to the World Mortality Dataset.

Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu, currently head of the Israeli opposition, tested positive for Covid, a spokesman said on Wednesday. The 72-year-old Likud Party leader is feeling well and following health ministry guidelines, the spokesman said.

Economy news

Malaysia: Malaysia Aviation Group, which operates the country’s national carrier Malaysia Airlines, is looking to achieve 70% of its pre-Covid capacity at year-end, as national borders reopen on 1 April, according to its Group CEO.

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