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March 25, 2022

Covid-19 update: One in five chance of more dangerous variants

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 6 million, with a figure of 6,109,725 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have continued past 475 million to a world wide figure of 477,367,470.

Chances are roughly one in five that new Covid-19 variants will arise that are more dangerous than the current versions, Moderna’s CEO said. The more likely scenario is that vulnerable people, such as the elderly and immunocompromised, will need annual boosters for protection against strains that are similar in virulence to Omicron, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said Thursday in an interview with Bloomberg. The CEO spoke on the day of a company event detailing its research and progress with messenger RNA vaccines. “I think there’s an 80% chance that the variants that we’re going to see in the future are manageable from a severity standpoint and vaccine production,” Bancel said in the interview. “But I think we should always be very cautious, because there’s a 20% chance that something happens in some of the new variants that is very virulent.”

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 79.8 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 975,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

New York City’s population dropped by more than 300,000 in one year, with Manhattan alone losing 111,000 residents, a 6.6% decline, according to data through July 2021 released by the US Census Bureau. The city was hit by high rates of Covid-19 deaths at the worst of the pandemic, and thousands of residents left amid shutdowns and activity restrictions. The coronavirus exacerbated longer-term trends of steadily falling birth rates and a drop in immigration.

Asia pacific

China: Shanghai’s Covid cases jumped more than 60% in a single day, topping 1,600 on Friday, even as authorities escalated restrictions that many feared would plunge the Chinese financial hub into a city-wide lockdown.

There were 1,609 new infections, a record in the city of about 25 million people, including 1,580 without any symptoms, the Shanghai Health Commission said.

Scores of buildings and apartment blocks remained locked down for testing amid the growing outbreak, part of a wave that’s challenging China’s zero-tolerance approach as the rest of the world is abolishing pandemic restrictions. Frustrated residents are struggling to secure fresh food as some compounds refuse to let them leave, while accessing medical care gets harder as select hospitals prioritize Covid patients and shut out-patient services.

Zhou Shengni, a nurse working at Shanghai East Hospital, died of asthma on Wednesday night, according to a statement from the hospital. The emergency department of the hospital was closed for disinfection when Zhou was sent there seeking treatment earlier.

After conquering Covid-19 for almost two years with a zero-tolerance approach, China is now in the midst of its worst wave since the initial outbreak in Wuhan. Having breached what’s arguably the world’s toughest containment regime, Omicron — the most infectious coronavirus variant — is starting to test Beijing’s Covid Zero resolve.

Despite President Xi Jinping’s call mid-March to limit the economic and social fallout of virus elimination, large-scale lockdowns and mass testing drives are back. Authorities are tweaking rules, however, to make some of the measures more flexible, targeted and nimble to avoid severe manufacturing disruptions. Still, the last Covid Zero holdout isn’t in a hurry to abandon the policy, even as the rest of the world moves to treating it as endemic.

Australia: A fourth Covid-19 shot is recommended before the southern hemisphere winter for vulnerable groups including severely immunocompromized people aged 16 and over, Indigenous people 50 years and older, and other people over 65, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation said Friday. There’s insufficient evidence of the benefits of an extra booster for other groups so far, the advisory group said. The additional booster can be given four months from the first dose or from a Covid-19 infection if the person was infected after their first booster, it said.

Economy news

Hong Kong: Nearly half of the European companies in Hong Kong plan to fully or partially relocate operations and staff out of the city, a new survey suggests, in the latest sign that the world’s toughest Covid-19 travel and quarantine restrictions are eroding the appeal of Asia’s main finance hub. Around 25% of responding companies said they planned to fully relocate out of Hong Kong in the next year, according to a survey from the European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, while another 24% said they are planning to partially move out of the city. Roughly 34% of firms said they were uncertain about their plans, while just 17% said they had no desire to relocate over the next 12 months. Meanwhile, in the midst of an exodus of residents as it grapples with its largest ever outbreak of Covid-19, held its third-place ranking among the world’s financial centers, trailing New York and London, according to a survey. In the main areas of competitiveness, Hong Kong ranked in the top four for business environment, human capital, infrastructure and general reputation, but out of the top 10 in financial sector development.

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