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International update: Global Covid death toll nears 3.5 million

By Paul Dennis

27 May

Global: The global Covid death toll is still rising towards 3.5 million with a figure of 3,498,553 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections exceed 168,417,000 world wide.

The World Health Organization has had informal consultations with member states about the next phase in efforts to find the origins of the coronavirus, and will continue to have those discussions in the coming weeks, Mike Ryan, head of the WHO health emergencies program, said in a speech to the World Health Assembly, the governing body of the Geneva-based agency. The group of international scientists that traveled to Wuhan, China, where the first Covid cases emerged at the end of 2019, said in a joint report with Chinese counterparts that the pathogen most likely spread from bats to humans via another animal. A lab accident was deemed least likely, though WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has said that the probe didn’t adequately analyze the possibility of a lab leak.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 33 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 591,947 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

UK: At least 77,000 hospital staff in England caught coronavirus during the pandemic, while there were nearly a quarter of a million absences for Covid-related reasons, Guardian research has revealed.

China: China accused the US of “spreading conspiracy theories and disinformation” after health chief Anthony Fauci said he was no longer convinced the coronavirus originated naturally – propelling the theory that it emerged from a Wuhan laboratory back into mainstream debate.

China supports “overall examinations” of all early Covid cases that were discovered around the world, according to a statement on the foreign ministry’s website. The probe must be complete, transparent and based on facts and should include “some secret bases and biological labs,” the ministry said, without elaborating.

Meanwhile, Facebook Inc. will stop taking down posts that claim Covid-19 was man-made or manufactured, according to Politico. “In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of Covid-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that Covid-19 is man-made from our apps,” a company spokesperson told Politico in an emailed statement. Twitter Inc. and YouTube, part of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, didn’t respond to the publication on whether they are amending policies on the origins of the disease.

Vaccine news

Global: Vaccine manufacturers stand to gain as much as $190 billion in sales this year if they hit production targets, with two Chinese companies accounting for at least a quarter of the revenue, according to Airfinity Ltd. estimates. Production constraints and shortfalls will likely bring the final 2021 sales numbers closer to a range that tops out at $115 billion, the research firm said.

US: The US Food and Drug Administration may refuse to grant new emergency use authorizations for vaccines for the remainder of the pandemic, particularly for developers that have not engaged with the agency during the past year, according to a guidance update. Vaccine makers that have already received early feedback from the agency are more likely to have the appropriate data and information needed for authorization, the agency said late Tuesday.

Meanwhile, GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s monoclonal antibody drug Sotrovimab won emergency use authorization from the US FDA to treat mild-to-moderate Covid-19 in people 12 and older. Sotrovimab mimics the human body’s immune response and blocks the coronavirus from attaching to and entering cells. It has been shown to help against variants first reported in the UK, South Africa, Brazil, California, New York and India. The treatment can be administered as a 500 milligram single dose intravenously by health care providers, the FDA said. Potential side effects include anaphylaxis and infusion-related reactions, rash and diarrhea. The drug isn’t approved for use in patients who are hospitalized or need oxygen because of the disease.

New York is raffling off 50 four-year full-tuition scholarships, including room and board, to any public college and university in the state to adolescents who get vaccinated. Staring Thursday through 7 July, teens 12 to 17 years old who get their first vaccine dose will be in a pool to win one of ten scholarships given weekly, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced. The drawing will be held every Wednesday.

EU: The European Commission demanded an urgent court order requiring AstraZeneca to deliver millions more vaccines to the bloc or face a hefty fine, in a case that may reflect its anger more than its need for doses.

South Africa: South Africa’s review of the Sinovac and Sputnik coronavirus vaccines is nearing completion, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority said. China’s Sinovac Biotech Co. may be able to supply South Africa with as many as 5 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, Johannesburg-based newspaper Business Day reported in March. In April, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize directed officials to buy 10 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm shots. No applications have been received yet for the Sinopharm inoculation, officials said.

China: Vaccines from China’s Sinopharm successfully contained Covid-19, according to a study published in a prestigious US medical journal, the first time detailed findings from a late-stage trial of a Chinese shot have appeared in the scientific literature. The two inactivated vaccines developed by Sinopharm’s vaccine-making unit China National Biotec Group Co. prevented symptomatic infections by 72.8% and 78.1%, largely in-line with what the state-owned drugmaker previously announced. The findings were reported in the 26 May Journal of the American Medical Association.

Vietnam: Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh approved the establishment of a fund to facilitate donations to help Vietnam acquire and produce Covid-19 vaccines. The health ministry has estimated it will cost the country about $1.1 billion to acquire 150 millions of doses for 75 million people. More than 1 million people in Vietnam, or 1% of the population, have received at least a first vaccine dose.

Slovakia: Slovakia became the second EU country to authorise the use of the Russian-made Sputnik V Covid vaccine, which has not yet been approved by the bloc’s drug regulator.

Belgium: Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot Covid vaccine is to be limited in Belgium to people aged 41 and over, authorities said following the death of a woman who received the jab.

Russia: Vets in several parts of Russia reportedly started vaccinating cats against Covid-19. Russia in March said it had registered the world’s first coronavirus vaccine for animals. Only two animals in Russia, both cats, have so far tested positive for the virus.

Lockdown updates

Switzerland: Switzerland is to re-open indoor restaurants and people will no longer be required to work from home, the government announced, saying it was lifting restrictions faster than previously planned.

France: France will impose a compulsory quarantine on travellers arriving from the UK because of growing concerns over the spread of the Indian variant of the coronavirus, the government’s spokesman has said.

Australia: Melbourne, the Australian city that’s already endured one of the world’s longest and most arduous lockdowns, is heading back into enforced isolation due to another Covid-19 outbreak. The city of 5 million people, along with all other areas of Victoria state, will go into lockdown from midnight for seven days, state Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters in Melbourne on Thursday. The number of cases within the community spread had doubled in the past day to 26, he said.

Zambia: President Edgar Lungu banned campaign rallies ahead of elections scheduled for 12 August, saying large gatherings risked spreading the Covid-19 virus.

Economics updates

Taiwan: The Taiwanese government will strengthen support measures for industries affected by Covid restrictions, increasing relief loans and speeding up help for the self-employed such as drivers. The government is being pushed to widen its fiscal support to help the economy cope with business shutdowns and possible job cuts as virus restrictions tighten across the island. Lawmakers are set to approve an almost 50% jump in government spending to NT$630 billion ($22.6 billion) on Monday, with pressure building to increase that further.

Vietnam: Authorities in Vietnam’s province of Bac Ninh, the nation’s second worst virus-hit region, ordered companies to let workers sleep in factories beginning 1 June. The order, aimed to prevent production disruptions, comes as a new outbreak is spreading in the nation’s north, threatening industrial areas.

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