International update: Europe again a centre of Covid pandemic - WHO
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International update: Europe again a centre of Covid pandemic – WHO

05 Nov 2021

5 November

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 5 million, with a figure of 5,029,891 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections exceed 248.6 million world wide.

Europe: Europe is once again a centre of the Covid pandemic, the World Health Organization has said. Cases are at near-record levels and 500,000 more deaths are forecast by February. Uneven vaccine coverage and a relaxation of preventive measures have brought Europe to a “critical point” in the pandemic, WHO says.

Central and Eastern Europe are grappling with spiralling coronavirus cases with several countries hitting new daily records in the regions, which have lower vaccination rates than the rest of the continent. Ukraine, Croatia, Slovenia and Slovakia reported their highest ever numbers of daily cases, while other countries registered the most infections in months. Most Central and Eastern European countries have vaccinated about half of their populations or less, which is lower than the European Union average of some 75%.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 46.3 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 751,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data. US cases increased by 1.1% during the week through Tuesday compared with the preceding seven days, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Covid hospital admissions dropped 7.6% through Monday on a rolling weekly basis. Intensive-care unit utilization for Covid patients nationwide fell to 15% from 16% a week earlier, the CDC reported Thursday.

Understanding the origins of Covid-19 remains a key focus of the Biden administration and that they will continue pushing for answers, The White House said.

Arizona, Florida, and Missouri have vowed to sue the Biden administration Friday to block an emergency rule mandating workplace Covid-19 vaccination or testing, with more lawsuits expected from Republican-led states and industry groups. Attorneys general in those three states said they’ll file lawsuits early Friday, when the rule is officially published and will take effect. Ohio and Indiana’s attorneys general also have pledged to challenge the regulation in court. Alabama and Georgia are expected to join Florida’s suit.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a federal rule mandating Covid-19 vaccinations or at least weekly testing for workers at US companies with 100 or more employees. The first compliance deadline for employers – providing time off for workers to get inoculated and ensuring those who aren’t vaccinated are wearing masks – is 5 December. Workers must be fully vaccinated by 4 January or submit to testing.

China: China’s latest Covid-19 outbreak continues to grow as it shifts east through the nation’s rust belt, prompting officials to implement increasingly stringent prevention measures in an effort to control it.  The country’s health commission reported 68 local confirmed cases on Friday, plus 22 additional infections that didn’t cause any symptoms. Heilongjiang province in the northeast, which accounted for more than one-third of the total, has become the latest epicenter as a mysterious cluster that emerged in the northern border town Heihe ballooned despite a city-wide lockdown.

UK: The UK has become the first country to approval an oral antiviral pill to treat Covid. Nearly half a million doses of molnupiravir, a pill that can be taken twice daily at home, are due for delivery from mid-November and will be given as a priority to elderly Covid patients and those with particular vulnerabilities, such as weakened immune systems. The drug will initially be given to patients through a national study run by the NHS.

A study suggests UK Covid cases may have peaked for this year. The study, which estimates the number of Covid cases in the community from the information that users log on an app, found a clear decline in cases in under-18s since mid-October, with infection rates levelling off in most other age groups though still climbing in 55- to 75-year-olds.

Australia: NSW recorded 308 new locally acquired Covid cases and four deaths. Victoria recorded 1,247 new cases and nine deaths. The ACT recorded 13 new cases. Queensland recorded three new locally acquired cases in the regional town of Goondiwindi. Queensland town Moree was also be declared a restricted border zone area.

Chile: Almost two weeks before Chile’s presidential election, one of the candidates has contracted Covid-19, sending five of his opponents into quarantine and forcing campaigning to go virtual. Gabriel Boric must remain isolated for 10 days after testing positive, while rivals Sebastian Sichel, Eduardo Artes, Yasna Provoste, Marco Enriquez-Ominami and Jose Antonio Kast have to quarantine for seven days.

Vaccine news

Global: Novavax Inc. requested an emergency-use listing for its Covid-19 vaccine from the World Health Organization, saying its shot provided 100% protection against moderate and severe disease and had 90.4% efficacy overall. While Novavax has experienced production setbacks that prevented its shot from being a key player in the U.S. vaccination drive, it has been moving to gain access to more markets in other countries including Indonesia earlier this week. The vaccine could eventually be an excellent booster candidate, said Novavax Chief Executive Officer Stanley Erck.

EU: AstraZeneca is submitting a data package to the European Medicines Agency today that could support the use of its Covid-19 vaccine as a booster shot, according to Marco Cavaleri, the head of biological health threats and vaccines strategy. The EMA will discuss with the company whether the data are sufficient or more evidence is needed to conclude whether it can be approved as a booster.

US: US vaccine mandate for private sector workers to begin 4 January. President Joe Biden will begin enforcing the mandate that private-sector workers in the US be vaccinated against Covid or be tested weekly from 4 January.

South Africa: The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine helps prevent severe symptoms among those infected with the delta variant, according to research involving 1.2 million medical insurance plan members in South Africa. The Pfizer vaccine is 73% effective in protecting against hospital admission two weeks after the first dose, and 92% after the second shot. Unvaccinated members had a five times higher risk of infection and a 20 times risk of dying from complications of an infection.

Latvia: Latvia will allow businesses to fire workers who refuse to either get a Covid vaccine or transfer to remote work, from 15 November as the country battles one of the worst Covid waves in the EU. The new law allows businesses to suspend the unvaccinated without pay if they refuse to either get the Covid jab or, if possible, to get transferred to remote work. They can then fire the employees if they do not get the vaccine in three months of the suspension.

Lockdown updates

Australia: Australia’s largest state said it would open domestic and international borders for fully vaccinated arrivals once 90% of the population aged over 12 had received two shots, in a shift away from one of the world’s strictest Covid-Zero approaches. Western Australia Premier Mark McGowan on Friday said that reopening wouldn’t be likely until around late January or early February when the target is expected to be achieved, dashing hopes that border restrictions might ease before Christmas. The current double dose level for the state is 63.7%.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong expects to resume reopening with China “at scale” in February next year, Sing Tao reported, citing Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s speech in a forum.

HSBC asked all staff including vendors in Hong Kong to get vaccinated or undergo Covid-19 testing every 2 weeks, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported, citing an internal memo.

Philippines: The Philippines is easing coronavirus restrictions in the Manila capital region from Friday until 21 November to spur economic recovery as infections decline.

Singapore: Singapore’s weekly infection rate, a key indicator used by the government to ease restrictions in the financial hub, fell for a second day to its lowest since at least early September. The ratio of community cases for the past week to those a week earlier dropped to 0.93, the Ministry of Health reported Thursday.

Economy updates

US: Delta Air Lines said its international point-of-sale bookings increased 450% compared with the six weeks preceding a US announcement on reopening travel. Many international flights are expected to operate at 100% capacity on Monday, the first day of the reopening, the airline said in a statement.