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February 1, 2022

Covid-19 update: Vaccine inequality helps Covid variants to develop

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.6 million, with a figure of 5,674,219 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections surged past 370 million to a world wide figure of 378,363,084.

New research has suggested that the world would have been better protected against new Covid variants if rich nations had donated half of their vaccine doses to poorer countries where Delta and Omicron first emerged.

Meanwhile, A study in Denmark has suggested that the BA.2 subvariant of the Omicron coronavirus variant is more transmissible than the more common BA.1 and more able to infect vaccinated people.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 74 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 886,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine might be available for children under five by the end of February under a two-shot regimen, the Washington Post reported, citing people briefed on the situation it didn’t identify. Pfizer may submit a request for emergency use authorization to the Food and Drug Administration as early as Tuesday.

Novavax Inc. said it had filed with US regulators requesting emergency authorization for its Covid vaccine in the US for adults 18 and over. Authorization of the vaccine could bring a third type of Covid-19 vaccine to the market in the United States, in addition to the messenger RNA and adenovirus vaccines that have been the mainstay of the vaccine rollout so far. By contrast, Novavax uses more tried-and-true technology to create a vaccine made up of genetically engineered spike proteins. The vaccine uses protein technology that doesn’t require it to be frozen, making it particularly useful for far flung locations without the cold-chain infrastructure needed for messenger RNA vaccines. The company is also testing a third booster shot.

Moderna Inc.’s vaccine for Covid-19 received full approval from the US Food and Drug Administration for people 18 and older, an important milestone that bolsters the shot’s use as a major weapon against the virus. The vaccine, which goes by the brand name Spikevax, had previously been available to adults in the US under an emergency use authorization from the FDA. But the full clearance lets Moderna market the vaccine to adults with the full imprimatur of the FDA. Moderna shares climbed 2.8% to $163.93. The company began its rolling submission for the approval last June. Pfizer Inc. has the only other fully authorized vaccine in the US, cleared by the FDA in August.

New York’s requirement that masks be worn in schools and businesses that don’t screen for vaccination will remain in place while a state court considers a challenge to it. The New York State Supreme Court ruling comes after a brief whipsaw last week that saw the mask mandate upended by a Long Island judge before being temporarily reinstated the next day.

Elsewhere, Denver will lift its mask requirement for businesses Feb. 4. Scientific modeling suggests “omicron has run out of fuel in our community,” said Bob McDonald, director of the city’s department of public health and environment.

Canada: Justin Trudeau has said that Canadians were disgusted by the behaviour of anti-vaccine protesters, and said he would not be intimidated by those who hurled abuse. His comments came shortly after he tweeted that he had tested positive for the virus.

Europe

The Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 led to the second-largest infection-related mortality disaster in Switzerland, Sweden and Spain since the beginning of the 20th century, a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found. In 2020, those countries recorded monthly peaks of excess all-cause mortality that were greater than most monthly excess mortality since the 1918 influenza outbreak, the best-documented and best-researched pandemic. That period included approximately 2.6 million excess deaths in Europe. To assess the historical dimensions of the ongoing Covid pandemic, researchers from the University of Zurich, University of Bern and Oslo Metropolitan University estimated age-specific, monthly excess deaths from all causes for Switzerland, Sweden, and Spain for 2020 to 2021 and other pandemic periods since the end of the 19th century in chronological order. The three countries weren’t involved in combat during either world war, making them particularly well suited for longer-term contextualization of pandemic-related excess mortality based on available continuous data from 100 or more years, the authors said.

Spain: Amnesty International has accused Spanish prosecutors of failing to properly investigate dozens of Covid-related deaths of residents of nursing homes. Amnesty’s Spain director, Esteban Beltrán, said that in some cases authorities closed the investigations without contacting staff or victims’ families.

Germany: Germany reported 162,613 new Covid-19 cases, compared with 78,318 the day before, according to the country’s public health authority RKI. Reported new deaths associated with the virus rose by 188, bringing the total to 117,974 while the seven-day incidence rate rose to a record 1,206.2 per 100,000 people.

UK: UK ministers have announced plans to scrap an order forcing all NHS staff in England to get vaccinated against Covid. Health secretary Sajid Javid said the U-turn would prevent the exodus of thousands of health workers.

Another 92,000 Covid cases were reported for England on Monday, a steep rise on the day before, after reinfections were included in the statistics for the first time.

Romania: Romania will change the quarantine rules and lower the isolation period to 5 days from 10 days for unvaccinated people who were in direct contact with a confirmed case. It will also introduce the mandatory green certificate for everyone entering the country, regardless of the area from where they came. People without the certificate will be sent into quarantine.

Asia pacific

China: Local transmissions in Beijing slowed as neighboring Tianjin reported seven new local infections on Monday and Hangzhou, home of e-commerce giant Alibaba, posted 13 new cases, all in areas currently under isolation. Beijing reported two locally transmitted cases. There were 16 newly confirmed cases among Olympic athletes and team officials arriving at a “closed-loop” system via the airport, little changed compared with the previous two days.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong pulled three hotels that are currently being used to quarantine newly arrived airline travelers and converted them into quarantine centers for people who have been in close contact with a Covid-19 patient as the city struggles to contain a fifth wave of the virus. The move adds another 1,000 rooms to the 5,200 currently available. Guests staying at the Dorsett Mongkok, Grand City Hotel and Dorsett Tsuen Wan will be moved to other hotels, the government announced. Those facilities will no longer accept reservations for inbound travelers, reducing the number of rooms available for residents returning to the city. The government also halved the number of mandatory tests travelers arriving from mainland China and Macau must take, to three, from 5 February.

Japan: Japan’s daily new cases fell for a second day to 60,838 Monday after peaking at 84,967 Saturday, according to data compiled by national broadcaster NHK. Separately, Tokyo plans to set new guidelines for seeking a Covid-19 state of emergency, TV Asahi reported Tuesday, without saying where it got the information. Tokyo will take into account the number of mild and seriously ill patients, in addition to daily new cases and hospital-bed occupancy rates, the broadcaster said. Tokyo’s hospital-bed occupancy ratio was 49.2% on Monday, approaching the 50% level that Governor Yuriko Koike earlier gave as a rate at which Tokyo might consider seeking a state of emergency.

India: The Election Commission of India has extended a ban on roadshows and processions till 11 February in five poll-bound states. As many as 1,000 people will be permitted physical public meetings in open spaces. Voting in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous and politically crucial state, along with four other states, will start from Feb. 10. India has witnessed a decline in daily cases in the past few days. It recorded about 209,000 new infections in a single day on Monday.

Middle-east and Africa

South Africa: South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first identified, has cut the isolation period for those infected with symptomatic Covid-19 to seven days from 10 and dropped the need for asymptomatic cases and contacts of those infected to isolate. The government also said in a statement on Monday that schoolchildren can all now return to their educational facilities full time. Some government schools had been operating learning by rotation to ensure social distancing. The government said the changes were due to the falling number of cases and the high natural immunity in the South African population with between 60% and 80% of people likely to have been infected with the virus.

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