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March 1, 2022

Covid-19 update: Vaccine less effective in preventing infection in children

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.9 million, with a figure of 5,956,652 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have continued past 437 million to a world wide figure of 437,017,561.

The vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE is much less effective in preventing infection in children ages 5 to 11 years than in older adolescents or adults, according to a large new set of data collected by health officials in New York state, the New York times reported. The Pfizer vaccine still prevents severe illness in the children but offers virtually no protection against infection, even within a month after full immunization, the data, which were collected during the Omicron surge, suggest, according to the newspaper. The sharp drop in the vaccine’s performance in young children may stem from the fact that they receive one-third the dose given to older children and adults, researchers and federal officials who have reviewed the data said, according to the Times.

Roche Holding AG’s diagnostics chief said it’s too early to call an end to the pandemic even as Omicron’s spread ebbs, because a seasonal resurgence is possible later this year. “It’s important that we get prepared as we go into the next winter period and don’t get surprised,” said Thomas Schinecker, who heads the Covid test maker’s diagnostics unit. In an interview, the Roche executive called on governments, the largest purchasers of rapid antigen tests, to be more proactive as they plan for bulk purchases ahead of a likely next wave of infections.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 79 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 950,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Americans are less worried about catching and spreading Covid-19 compared with six months ago, according to a new poll by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, the New York Times reported. Support is also decreasing for mask mandates, which are easing across much of the US, the poll found, according to the NYT.

California, Oregon and Washington will no longer require masks in classrooms after the end of next week, as plunging Covid case rates across the West Coast accelerate efforts to return to something like normal life. The three states will shift to recommending masks in schools and child-care facilities, rather than mandating them, after March 11, according to a statement Monday. Oregon and Washington will lift mask rules for most other indoor settings at that time as well. California had let its mask requirement for indoor public spaces expire earlier this month.

Amazon.com Inc. said face coverings will be optional at its US operations, regardless of vaccination status, starting on Tuesday. The Seattle-based e-commerce giant in a memo to employees recommended that unvaccinated workers wear masks and noted that federal, state and local laws may still require face coverings in some cases. The Information earlier reported the policy change. Amazon rescinded its masking guidance for vaccinated employees earlier this month and required employees to be fully vaccinated in order to receive paid time off if they became sick with Covid-19.

Asia pacific

Singapore: Singapore’s case count has fallen for six straight days, increasing the focus on a report Tuesday that could signal whether Omicron infections in the city-state have peaked. Tuesdays tend to be Singapore’s biggest caseload each week, owing in part to weekend catch-ups and people testing at the start of the week. The past two weeks have seen cases drop before a Tuesday spike, delaying a potential reopening. Singapore plans to substantially ease restrictions once the current wave of infections peaks.

China: One of China’s top health experts raised the possibility that China could follow western nations and attempt to live with Covid-19, a rarely voiced view in the country as it persists with its Covid-Zero strategy. “Western countries have taken the lead in practicing the coexistence with the virus, which is very risky and courageous. We shall observe and learn from the experience and lessons of western countries with a calm and humble attitude for our own use.” Zeng Guang, former chief epidemiologist of Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on his social media account. “At an appropriate timing in the near future, China will surely present its version of the roadmap for co-existing with the virus,” Zeng said.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is weighing whether to halt public transport during a lockdown or allow residents who test negative with rapid screening kits to leave their homes, the South China Morning Post reported, citing unidentified people. The government is considering a number of options about the lockdown, including whether it should be citywide or done on a rolling basis, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong is planning to enforce a lockdown of the city to ensure a mandatory Covid-19 testing drive planned for this month is effective, Sing Tao Daily reported. Testing of the financial hub’s 7.4 million people will start after March 17, the newspaper reported, citing people it didn’t identify. Officials are aiming to test the whole city three times over nine days, with a stay-at-home order in place to maximize the impact, the report said.

Hong Kong’s health and beauty products chain Mannings said it will temporarily close 53 stores across the city from Tuesday until further notice, citing the pandemic. Some 38 shops will temporarily suspend pick-up service for online purchases. The retailer, controlled by Jardine Matheson, still has more than 250 shops operating in Hong Kong.

Thailand: Vaccinated foreign visitors to Thailand will no longer be required to take a second RT-PCR test after arrival from Tuesday as the nation woos tourists. The insurance requirement for Thai visas has also been lowered to $20,000 from $50,000. From Tuesday, authorities will start distributing free rapid antigen test kits through 2,000 centers nationwide amid a health ministry warning that daily cases could spike to 100,000 by mid-April. New infections fell to 20,420 on Tuesday.

Malaysia: Malaysia will relax coronavirus testing requirements for some travellers starting Thursday, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said in a statement. The exemption applies to those arriving in Malaysia via the vaccinated travel lane with Singapore, the Langkawi travel bubble, and short-term business travel via one-stop centers, he said.

Economy news

Global: About 75% of the increase in telework over the course of the Covid-19 crisis will likely stick, according to researchers at Arizona State University, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Dallas Federal Reserve. Twice as many workers will be 100% remote as before the pandemic, and one in every five workdays will be from home, the economists predict. And while work-from-home rose for every major demographic group and industry, it did so especially among highly educated workers, the data found.

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