International update: New Covid variant identified in Colombia
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International update: New Covid variant identified in Colombia

01 Sep 2021

1 September

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 4.5 million, with a figure of 4,520,473 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 217.7 million world wide.

A new coronavirus variant named Mu has been designated a variant of interest by the World Health Organisation. Mu, or B.1.621, was first identified in Colombia and cases have been recorded in South America and Europe. The WHO’s weekly bulletin on the pandemic said the variant has mutations suggesting it could be more resistant to vaccines, as was the case with Beta, but that more studies would be needed to examine this further.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 39 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 640,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Children account for the fastest rate of new Covid-19 infections in Colorado, Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, told an online news briefing Tuesday. The trend started in July before schools opened, she said, and officials are encouraging schools to require face masks, though there is no mandate.

Utah Governor Spencer Cox said Tuesday the state’s hospitals are at a “breaking point” amid the latest wave of Covid-19 cases, the Deseret News reported. Staffing shortages have reduced bed capacity, Cox said. Neighboring Idaho plans to deploy as many as 150 National Guard members to help short-staffed hospitals. “We’ve reached a point in the pandemic we have not been before,” Governor Brad Little said, according to the Idaho Statesman.

Italy: Italy reported 75 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, up from 53 the previous day, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 5,498 from 4,257, the health ministry said.

Israel: Israel has recorded its highest daily coronavirus case tally of nearly 11,000 new infections, amid a surge caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant as schools prepare to reopen.

Japan: Japan’s current wave of Covid infections has mostly affected its younger generations, reflecting both the efficacy of its vaccination program among the elderly and the pitfalls of a slow rollout that still hasn’t reached most of the youth population.

Vaccine news

Global: Moderna’s Covid vaccine generated more than double the antibodies of a similar shot made by Pfizer and BioNTech in research that compared immune responses evoked by the two inoculations. The study is one of the first to compare levels of antibodies produced by the two vaccines, which are thought to be one of the important components of the immune response. It didn’t examine whether the antibody differences led to a difference in efficacy over time between the two shots, which both were more than 90% effective in final-stage clinical trials.

US: Around 14 million people in the US received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in August, about 4 million more than in July, officials said on Tuesday as the government pushes inoculation as infections rise.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she is allocating $65 million for local communities to set up facilities to administer booster shots. The Biden administration said it wants to start rolling out boosters on 20 September, though the plan hasn’t yet been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Meanwhile, Manhattan prosecutors filed charges against two women who were allegedly selling fake vaccination cards and, in some cases, entering those fake vaccinations into a New York State database. Jasmine Clifford, who called herself “@AntiVaxMomma” on Instagram, was charged for allegedly selling about 250 fake Covid-19 vaccination cards for $200 each.

Europe: Seven in 10 (70%) of the European Union’s adult population has been fully vaccinated against Covid, hitting a target it had set at the beginning of the year. The figure masks the contrast among EU countries, with some nations being well above the 70% goal while others in the poorer eastern region of the bloc are far behind.

Australia: Australia’s Victoria state will set a 70% vaccine target for reopening and may reach that around Sept. 23, premier Daniel Andrews said in Melbourne. The target is for the first dose, he said.

Philippines: The Philippines is expecting 137 million additional doses of Covid-19 shots to arrive by year-end, driven by “steady” supply from Sinovac, vaccine czar Carlito Galvez said. Deliveries from Moderna and Pfizer will “significantly increase” next month. The nation plans to ramp up vaccinations outside the capital, with nearly 13% of its population fully vaccinated amid a rise in infections fuelled by the delta variant.

Morocco: Morocco started administering shots to 12-to-17-year-olds on Tuesday, as the kingdom speeds up one of Africa’s most advanced vaccination campaigns ahead of the start of the new school year. Some 3 million Moroccans from that age category are expected to be vaccinated, Hespress online newspaper reported.

Lockdown updates

US: The US State Department has raised its travel advisory alert for Canada to a “level 3: reconsider travel” status amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it said.

Raymond James Financial has pushed back its return-to-office date to the middle of October as the coronavirus surges in its home state of Florida. The St. Petersburg-based firm has told workers they don’t have to return to the office until Oct. 11, according to people familiar with the matter. The firm had initially wanted some workers to return to work next week, one person said, asking not to be identified discussing private information. A spokesman for the company declined to comment.

Deutsche Bank will require anyone entering its new US headquarters to be vaccinated against Covid-19, broadening its policy as other financial firms restrict access for those who don’t get shots. The rule applies to staff, vendors and clients seeking access to Deutsche Bank Center at 1 Columbus Circle in New York, according to a person familiar with the matter. That represents an expansion from guidance provided earlier in August, when the lender said it would allow only fully vaccinated employees to access US trading floors.

Google pushed back the date when its employees must return to the office until after 10 January, citing uncertainty related to the pandemic. It previously delayed a compulsory office return to 18 October.

Italy: Italy will require travellers on planes, ferries and long-distance trains and coaches to show proof of vaccination or of a recent negative Covid test. The so-called green pass, a digital certificate also given to those who have recovered from Covid, will also be required for school and university personnel. University students attending in-person lessons will also be asked to show proof of vaccination. The long-announced measures have been criticized by anti-vaccine activists, who are organizing protests to block the country’s main railway station on Wednesday. Doctors and journalists have also been targets of online intimidation and hate campaigns.

Ireland: The Irish government has announced plans to remove all Covid-19 restrictions by 31 October.

UK: The UK government will press ahead with plans to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and other crowded indoor venues in England from the end of next month, the Guardian reports. Officials also restated their intention to roll out a Covid-19 booster programme from September.

Economy updates

South East Asia: Manufacturing managers across Southeast Asia reported a heavy blow in August from one of the world’s worst Covid-19 outbreaks, while producers in North Asia continued to enjoy robust output. Manufacturing purchasing managers’ indexes for Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines and Malaysia all remained deep in negative territory in August, reflecting the disruption from lockdowns that forced factories to halt or slow production.

China: An investor in Sinovac Biotech Ltd. reported a nearly six-fold increase in first-half profit, giving a glimpse into the windfall made during the coronavirus pandemic by the Chinese vaccine developer. Sales of more than one billion doses of the Covid-19 shot, known as CoronaVac, helped Sino Biopharmaceutical Ltd., which holds a 15% stake in a subsidiary of Beijing-based Sinovac, register profit of 8.48 billion yuan ($1.3 billion) in the first six months of 2021, the Hong Kong-listed company said on Tuesday.

US: New York Governor Kathy Hochul called the state Legislature back to Albany for a rare special session to extend the state’s freeze on evictions. The state Senate and Assembly are slated to vote on Wednesday on a measure to extend the state eviction moratorium as far as 15 January. The freeze was initially put in place to help tenants during the Covid-19 pandemic and was set to expire on 31 August.