International update: Covid mu variant reaches South Korea
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International update: Covid mu variant reaches South Korea

03 Sep 2021

3 September

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 4.5 million, with a figure of 4,541,482 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 219 million world wide.

Three cases of the Covid mu variant were identified in South Korea from those who visited Mexico, the US and Colombia, according to a statement from Korea Disease Control & Prevention Agency. Authorities will strengthen monitoring of the variant, the statement said.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 39.5 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 643,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Young Americans through age 17 are the only group showing an upward trend in per-capita hospitalizations for Covid-19, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Weekly average admissions during the seven days through Tuesday rose 11% to the highest level yet. By contrast, the same weekly measure fell 4.5% among the 18-29 age group. Both groups had been rising steadily since July. Covid hospitalizations for all US age groups declined 1.7% during the period. Among the 0-17 age group, a four-state region comprising Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska led the US with a rate of increase almost triple the national average. The CDC cautioned that the data may be subject to reporting delays.

US health officials will resume distribution of Eli Lilly & Co.’s combination antibody therapy for Covid-19 across the country, as the treatment appears to be active against the now-widespread delta variant.

Australia: Victoria has 208 new locally acquired cases detected overnight, and one case detected in hotel quarantine. There has been one further death, a man in his 60s, with 64 Victorians hospitalised including 60 people in intensive care and 11 requiring ventilation.

Meanwhile, Australia’s most populous state expects daily coronavirus infection numbers to peak within two weeks, after another day of record cases Friday. New South Wales, which includes Sydney, recorded 12 deaths and 1,431 new cases, Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters. The state’s outbreak has surpassed 25,000 cases since it began in mid-June, including 160 in intensive care.

New Zealand: New Zealand, which had largely eliminated the virus until a recent outbreak of the delta variant, saw daily new cases drop to 28 on Friday, from 49 on Thursday and 75 a day earlier, according to a Health Ministry statement. “These results are encouraging,” Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told a news conference.

Israel: Israel reported a record of 11,187 new cases, topping the previous record of 11,140 recorded earlier in the week, amid widespread testing of children ahead of school-year opening. The percentage of positive tests rose to 7.92%, the highest for the current wave of infections, but only about half the rate at the end of last September. About 30% of the new cases were children age 0-11 and an additional 13% were teenagers age 12-18. Serious cases declined to 666, well below levels recorded at the beginning of the year.

Thailand: Thailand reported 14,653 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the lowest daily level in more than five weeks, according to government data Friday. Total cumulative infections were at 1.25 million, while the country reported 271 new Covid-related deaths, taking the cumulative death toll to 12,374.

Philippines: The Philippine capital region may see anywhere from 16,000 to 43,000 Covid-19 cases per day by the end of September, the Health Department said in a statement. Faster isolation of infections, strict use of masks and distancing, and quicker vaccine rollout can still change the high daily case projections, the agency added. Authorities recorded 16,621 Covid-19 cases Thursday, bringing total infections in the Philippines to more than 2 million.

UK: The UK reported 38,154 new Covid cases on Thursday and 178 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to official data.

Members of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) have been sent suspicious packages and hate mail throughout the pandemic, one of the UK’s leading virologists has revealed.

Japan: Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he plans to resign so he can devote the remainder of his time in office to fighting the pandemic rather than campaigning for re-election.

Malaysia: New infections in Malaysia have soared despite containment measures, turning the country into Southeast Asia’s Covid hotspot. The nation added 20,988 cases Thursday. However, the virus’ effective reproduction rate has fallen below 1 nationwide “for the first time in a few months,” Ismail Sabri said, as the vaccination drive ramps up.

Vaccine news

US: Three doses of Covid-19 vaccine may become the standard regimen for most people, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said at a briefing Thursday. A study in Israel showed dramatic improvement in protection among recipients of three doses of the vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, normally given in two doses, Fauci said. If the gains last, “you’re going to have very likely a three-dose regimen being the routine regimen,” he said. The durability of immunity will need to be confirmed when data are presented to the Food and Drug Administration, Fauci added.

The US plans to invest $3bn (£2.2bn) in the vaccine supply chain as it continues to work to position the United States as a leading supplier of vaccines for the world, Reuters reports. A decision on extending Covid vaccinations to 12- to 15-year-olds is expected to be announced imminently, the Guardian understands.

Amtrak will require all of its employees to be vaccinated by 1 November. “The science is clear,” Bill Flynn, chief executive officer of the passenger rail line, said in an email to passengers signed up for Amtrak’s Guest Rewards program. “The Covid-19 vaccines are safe, effective and lifesaving. They are proving effective against the current surge of variants, especially at preventing severe disease, hospitalization and death.”

Asia: In some of Asia’s Covid-19 hot spots, powerful and wealthier citizens are nabbing booster shots even as most people remain unvaccinated, undermining the inoculation strategies of nations struggling with the highly infectious delta variant. The growing trend in countries like Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines is worsening inequities at a time when they’re grappling with vaccine shortages.

EU: The European Union has agreed to send millions of coronavirus vaccine doses made in South Africa back to the continent, AFP reports.

Meanwhile, The African Union’s Covid envoy has announced that vaccine doses produced by a plant in South Africa will no longer be exported to Europe.

Italy: Italy will eventually make vaccination compulsory, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said in a press conference Thursday. Italy will start administering a third vaccine shot from September, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said, adding that the campaign will start with those with a weak immune system. Speranza stressed that vaccination is already required for health workers, and that this requirement could be expanded to other groups.

UK: The UK will send Australia four million Pfizer doses in a vaccine swap deal, with the first batch of 292,000 doses to be shipped “shortly,” the UK Department of Health and Social Care said in an emailed statement. Australia will return the same overall volume of doses before year-end. It’s the third vaccine swap deal Australia has made in as many weeks – first with Poland then Singapore – as it races to inoculate its population to ease lockdown restrictions in its two biggest cities. Prime Minister Scott Morrison lauded the UK agreement, which he said would speed up Australia’s vaccine rollout.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has said the UK needs to “go faster” with the vaccination of 16- to 17-year olds, despite a “strong” uptake within the age group.

Greece: In Greece, unvaccinated healthcare workers have been offered a second chance to get jabbed after hundreds protested against the mandatory shot.

Germany: Germany is experiencing a “pandemic of the non-vaccinated,” and it’s vital to convince more people to take Covid-19 shots to prevent hospitals from being overloaded, according to Health Minister Jens Spahn. “In intensive-care units, 90% of the Covid-19 patients aren’t vaccinated, and the infection numbers among non-vaccinated are 10-12 times higher,” Spahn said in an interview with DLF radio. “That’s why the decisive question for the fall and winter is whether in these September weeks many millions – above all younger people – can be convinced to get a shot.”

Philippines: The Philippines approved the use of Moderna’s vaccine for ages 12-17, the head of the country’s Food and Drug Administration said by text message.

Lockdown updates

Bulgaria: In Bulgaria, restaurants and bars will have to close at 10pm from 7 September, while indoors sports will have to be held without spectators.

Vietnam: Vietnam’s capital will continue to apply strict stay-home orders in high-risk zones while easing rules in other areas from Monday, Vietnam News newspaper reported, citing a decision from the Standing Board of the Hanoi Party Committee. The city will introduce a three-color system, with red zones designated as very high risk and orange and green areas as less risky, according to the report. No details were provided on how exactly the city will be divided, or for how long.

South Korea: South Korea will maintain current level 4 social-distancing measures in the Greater Seoul area and level 3 rules in other areas through 3 October, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said.

Japan: Japan plans to ease Covid-19 restrictions in October or November as the vaccination drive progresses, the Yomiuri newspaper reported, citing a draft of the plans. The plan would allow eateries to serve alcohol and stay open later even in areas covered by a state of emergency and allow vaccinated persons to travel across prefectures. It also considers easing restrictions on large events and resuming initiatives designed to stimulate local tourism. The government also may use vaccination certificates and Covid test results, the paper reported.

Singapore: Singapore has issued Vaccinated Travel Passes to 735 travelers from Germany and 20 from Brunei Darussalam, according to a statement by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore. Under Singapore’s Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme, there will be no restrictions on the purpose of travel and no requirement for a controlled itinerary or sponsor, part of the city-state’s experiment in gradually reopening to the world while treating the virus as endemic. Singapore also is finalizing plans to ease Covid-19 restrictions on migrant workers’ movements, the Straits Times reported, citing an interview with Manpower Minister Tan See Leng. Dormitories for foreign laborers – the locus of Singapore’s first major outbreak last year – will undergo a major revamp, he said.