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March 14, 2022

Covid-19 update: WHO discuss process to end public health emergency

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 6 million, with a figure of 6,041,077 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have continued past 455 million to a world wide figure of 456,908,767.

Public health experts at the World Health Organization have begun discussing how and when to call an end to the global Covid-19 crisis, exploring what would be an important milestone more than two years after the emergence of the virus. The WHO said it isn’t currently considering such a declaration. While cases have fallen in many places, fatalities have spiked in Hong Kong, and this week China reported more than 1,000 new daily cases for the first time in two years. Instead, the discussions at the Geneva-based agency are focusing on what conditions would eventually signal that the public health emergency declared on 30 January, 2020, is over. Such a declaration would be not just a meaningful symbolic step, it would add momentum to the rollback of many pandemic-era public health policies.

News by region

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have now passed 79.5 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has increased to more than 967,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data. Coronavirus cases in the US were little changed from the previous day at about 79.5 million, as of 2:40 a.m. Hong Kong time on Saturday, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News. The national increase in cases matched the average daily gain of less than 0.1% over the past week.

A second booster shot against Covid-19 is needed “right now” because of waning immunity, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said. The company is in the process of submitting data to US health officials on an additional booster, as well as planning further for a vaccine that would “protect against all variants” and offer protection for a year, he said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” The first booster, he said, is still “quite good for hospitalizations and deaths. It’s not that good against infections.” Bourla also said he expects to submit data on vaccines for children under age 5 next month. In February, the US Food and Drug Administration postponed a review of Pfizer data for the youngest children, citing the need for more information on a three-dose regimen of shots.

Brazil: Instituto Butantan, the distributor of the Sinovac shot, has asked Brazil to use the Sinovac vaccine on 3 to 5 year olds. Brazil’s health regulatory agency will have seven days starting Monday to review the request, according to a statement from the agency known as Anvisa. Sinovac’s CoronaVac Covid vaccine has been in use in Brazil since June 2021, and was extended to children as young as six this year.

Meanwhile, China halted beef shipments from a JBS plant at Mozarlandia in Brazil’s Goias state for a week, after the cargoes tested positive for Covid-19, Valor Economico reports, citing the Chinese customs administration. Shipments from another plant owned by Frialto in Mato Grosso do Sul state were also suspended for a week, according to the newspaper.

Europe

Germany: Germany reported 237,086 new daily coronavirus infections and 249 deaths, and its highest weekly incidence of 1,496 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to figures published by the Robert Koch Institute. The country plans to lift almost all virus restrictions on March 20, but some regional authorities, including Hamburg, are planning to resist, NDR local radio reported, citing the city-state’s social services department. The president of Germany’s Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, Gernot Marx, has warned against ending mandatory mask use in public indoor areas, Funke Mediengruppe reported.

Asia pacific

China: China approved five rapid Covid antigen tests developed by domestic companies BGI Genomics Co, Nanjing Vazyme Biotech Co., Beijing Jinwofu Bioengineering Technology Co., Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech Co. and Beijing Savant Biotechnology Co., state broadcaster CCTV reported Saturday, citing Chinese drug regulator National Medical Products Administration. The approvals was announced a day after the National Health Commission published a plan on Friday to allow use of the rapid test kits for clinics and resident as domestic infections swelled to more than 1,000 a day, a level only seen at the worst of China’s initial outbreak centered around Wuhan in early 2020.

China’s Covid flare-up has prompted organizers to delay two conferences scheduled for this coming weekend in Beijing: The China Development Forum, scheduled from March 19-21 at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, has also been postponed. The China Photovoltaic Industry Forum, scheduled from March 19-20, has also been postponed.

Some 23 of the 31 mainland provinces reported confirmed, symptomatic cases over the past week. Including asymptomatic cases, which China counts separately, there were almost 10,000 new cases.

China’s Dongguan city in Guangdong province suspended the operation of buses and the subway network from 14 March, according to a statement on the local government WeChat account. The city also suspended dine-in services, entertainment facilities, and in-person classes for students.

Shenzhen will tighten its closed-loop management for cross-border shipping amid a citywide lockdown, its Transport Department said in a statement Sunday.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong reported more than 32,000 new Covid cases and 190 deaths, health official Dr. Albert Au said at a briefing. Persistent daily case counts of at least 30,000 a day show coronavirus clusters still exist in the city, Au said. New cases include 13,335 confirmed by nucleic acid tests and 19,095 by rapid antigen tests. The city recorded 190 new Covid deaths, aged 39 to 105 years old, and 101 patients are in intensive care units, Hospital Authority Chief Manager Dr Sara Ho said. There were also 74 “backlogged” fatalities.

About 300,000 people in Hong Kong are currently in isolation or under home quarantine, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a press conference on Sunday. The city plans to mobilize all sectors to fight Covid and help quell the fifth wave of the pandemic.

Hong Kong will not consider tightening social distancing measures for now as the current curbs are the most stringent in years, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing. The government will take a cautious approach in considering the need for further tightening social distancing measures, taking into account residents’ basic needs and mental health, Lam said.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong expects 75 medical staff from China and the first batch of Pfizer’s Covid pill Paxlovid to arrive Monday, Lam also said at the briefing. The second team of 300 medical workers from China will arrive this week. Molnupiravir Covid pills have arrived earlier in the city, administration started at clinics designated for Covid patients. The government aims to expand use of Covid pills to reduce deaths, given there are sufficient supplies.

South Korea: South Korea on Saturday reported a record 383,665 new Covid cases and 269 deaths. There were 1,066 coronavirus hospital patients in critical care, authorities said.

Thailand: Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha will chair the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration’s meeting on Friday and may consider easing restrictions further as the nation plans to reclassify the pandemic as endemic. The Health Ministry and related agencies will propose some adjustments in Covid measures to unlock some business activities, government spokesman Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana said in a statement.

Tonga: Tonga’s prime minister Siaosi Sovaleni tested positive for Covid-19, while the number of cases in the kingdom has climbed to more than 900 since the outbreak began in February, New Zealand’s Stuff reported. A spokesman from the prime minister’s office said Sovaleni, who was fully vaccinated and boosted, had mild symptoms and was isolating at his home with members of his immediate family, Stuff said. Tonga’s Covid-19 outbreak of the Omicron variant began on 1 February, when two frontline workers at the wharf tested positive for the virus.

Economy news

China: Widespread lockdowns in China akin to the measures just taken in the southern technology hub of Shenzhen could affect half of the country’s gross domestic product.

Apple Inc. supplier Foxconn is halting operations at its Shenzhen sites, one of which produces iPhones, in response to the lockdown on the tech hub city.

The Taiwanese company, also known as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., has its China headquarters in the area and a key manufacturing site in Guanlan. It is suspending operations at the two campuses and has reallocated production to other sites to reduce the impact from the disruption, the company said in a statement. Foxconn didn’t specify the length of the suspension. The measures from the Chinese government call for non-essential businesses in Shenzhen to halt until March 20. While the shutdown may affect production of many of the devices Foxconn makes for Apple and other brands, demand for electronics typically troughs in the first quarter of every year after the holiday-season peak.

Industrial & Commercial Bank of China Ltd., Bank of China Ltd., Agricultural Bank of China Ltd. and China Construction Bank Corp. will suspend operations at all branches in Shenzhen from Monday until March 20, according to notices on their official Wechat accounts.  The banks will still provide online services via channels including mobile apps and online portals, the notices said. Toyota Motor Corp. halted its plant in China’s Changchun city on Monday in response to local authorities ordering the northeastern area’s 9 million residents into lockdown due to a coronavirus outbreak, spokeswoman Shiori Hashimoto said. The Changchun plant produces vehicles including Toyota’s popular Rav4 SUV.

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