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October 1, 2021

International update: Delta may have made Covid one of most transmissible respiratory viruses ever seen

By Paul Dennis

1 October

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 4.7 million, with a figure of 4,784,202 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections exceed 233.7 million world wide.

The Delta variant may have turned SARS-CoV-2 into “one of the most transmissible respiratory viruses we’ve ever seen, far more transmissible than influenza A,” according to Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College epidemiologist whose modeling is used by the UK government. The reproduction rate of the virus may be between 6 and 9 if one takes literally the idea that Delta is at least 50% more transmissible than the alpha variant, which was itself about 50% more contagious than the original strain.

Roche Holding AG and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc.’s antibody cocktail reduced the viral load in hospitalized Covid-19 patients in a clinical study, supporting the prospects of a drug that could possibly relieve pressure on health-care systems. Roche said the results of the study support data from a larger clinical trial in the UK called Recovery that shows a benefit to hospital patients who receive Ronapreve plus the standard-of-care treatment.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 43.4 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 697,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data. New US cases slowed by a third this month, from a seven-day average of more than 161,000 on Sept. 1 to about 107,000 on Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Daily deaths, which peaked at more than 2,000 in mid-September, have declined 12% since then by the same measure. The number of patients hospitalized with confirmed Covid-19 fell to about 73,000 from a peak in early September, a 22% decline, according to data on the CDC’s website.

While all US states except California are still listed as “high transmission” areas in a CDC update published Thursday, a majority showed a week-on-week decline in new cases. Alaska, Maine and North Dakota led the nation in the percentage increase in infections.

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Idaho doctors see an alarming trend – maternal deaths, stillbirths and sicker babies – in a state where hospitalizations keep setting records, health care is rationed and vaccination rates are low, the Idaho Statesman newspaper reported.

Escalating threats to teachers and school board members over campus mask mandates and quarantines are raising alarm among national K-12 groups. “It’s not something we signed up for,” said Teresa Hill, a principal of Walden Grove High School in Tucson, Arizona. “We had no idea that becoming an administrator meant you were going to have to deal with angry people like this.” School leaders, teachers, and staff, carrying out guidance to reduce the spread of Covid 19 as students returned to classrooms, are encountering harassment and threats of violence online and in person. The frayed tempers and threats follow more than a year of lockdowns that forced many parents to supervise their children’s learning online from home, while other campuses remained open with Covid mitigation policies.

United Airlines has reduced the number of employees who face losing their job for defying the company’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate. The carrier said 320 US-based staff rather than an earlier figure of 600 are now not in compliance with its Covid-19 vaccination policy.

EU: European countries with lower vaccination rates could see a surge in Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths over the next two months, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. The EU agency, in its latest Rapid Risk Assessment, said the virus’s high level of circulation within the population puts poorly inoculated countries in the EU and European Economic Area at risk between now and the end of November. The group also cited the concern that even vaccinated people can experience severe outcomes from infection.

UK: The number of daily new Covid infections in the UK has risen in the past month after the removal of most pandemic restrictions and as schools and offices reopened, fuelled by the Delta variant.

The UK government has announced additional funding for adult social care infection control which it says will help prevent infections and support testing in adult social care throughout the winter.

Malaysia: Malaysia recorded 9,671 deaths due to Covid-19 in September, the deadliest month since the pandemic began, government data showed on Friday, though authorities have said the increase was mostly due to the delayed inclusion of fatalities from previous months. The spike has pushed Malaysia’s death toll to among the highest per capita in Asia, even as new infections have slowed in recent weeks amid a ramped-up vaccination programme.

Syria: A 20-day-old baby and a pregnant teen have died from Covid-19 in Syria, during a serious spike in cases over the past month, the charity Save the Children said. The charity said there were 1,151 deaths in north west Syria over the past month and cases rose 144%.

Singapore: Singapore recorded its highest-ever number of cases, with a rise of more than 200 to 2,478 in a week when it has tightened restrictions on social interactions.

Romania: Romania reported a record number of cases, as more than 12,000 people tested positive in the past 24 hours and 176 died. Romania is one of the nations worst hit in Europe by a fourth wave of the pandemic and ranks second-last in vaccination in the EU.

Vaccine news

Global: Medical charity MSF called for French pharmaceutical Sanofi to transfer knowledge and technology for its mRNA vaccine candidate to the WHO’s vaccine development hub in South Africa. Sanofi announced that it would be shelving the vaccine, despite promising results from early trials.

US: New York state must temporarily allow exemptions from a mandate on Covid-19 vaccinations for health-care workers with religious objections, a judge ruled.  A federal appeals court in Manhattan granted a temporary restraining order while the matter is being argued in court. The judge will hear arguments on the vaccine mandate on 14 October.

Meanwhile, New York City public school employees are asking the US Supreme Court to halt the city’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate, which will be enforced on 1 October. “Absent intervention from this Court, in less than two days, thousands of public-school employees will be forced out of work,” the workers said in their emergency request to the justices Thursday.

Bulgaria: The EU’s least vaccinated country is starting a lottery game to boost jabs. The Health Ministry in Bulgaria, where institutional distrust and doubts about the vaccines has slowed down inoculation, will give out 102 smartwatches to people who get vaccinated in the next month. About 20% of the population in the Balkan country has been vaccinated so far – and its Covid death rate over the last 14 days is 8 times as high as the EU average.

UK: It’s safe for people to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and the flu at the same time, which could help reduce the burden on health systems during the colder months, according to a UK study. Results showed that side effects were mild to moderate, with no negative impact on the immune response produced by either vaccine. The study involved 679 adult volunteers at 12 National Health Service sites in England and Wales who were due for their second dose of either the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE or AstraZeneca Inc. Covid vaccines. They were divided at random into two groups to blindly receive different combinations of shots or a placebo in opposite arms over two visits between April and June.

Africa: Only 15 countries in Africa have been able to meet the goal of vaccinating 10% of their populations – a target set earlier this year by the World Health Assembly for all countries to meet as a minimum by the end of this month.

Lockdown updates

South Africa: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa relaxed coronavirus restrictions after infections abated and inoculations increased, scrapping almost all curbs on alcohol sales and easing limits on the size of public gatherings.

Greece: Greece imposed a night time curfew on Thessaloniki, the country’s second largest city, as the number of cases rose in the past few days the city and area around it. The curfew will start at 1am to 6am and will apply from Friday, 1 October. Bars, restaurants and cafes won’t play music. Authorities also ban any event, in the whole country, with more than 20 people.

Economy updates

EU: The European Commission wants to phase out state support next year that’s seen governments pledge or give companies about $3.5 trillion to keep them going during the pandemic.  The EU’s executive branch is asking governments to back a phasing out of crisis support which will end many support programs by 30 June. Governments can comment on the proposals and demand tweaks before they become final.

Philippines: The Philippines will need a decade for its economy to recover from the pandemic, a senior economy official announced, saying the damage from lockdowns will be felt by two generations.

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