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October 14, 2021

International update: WHO proposes new 26 strong team to investigate Covid pandemic origins

By Paul Dennis

14 October

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 4.8 million, with a figure of 4,874,334 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections exceed 239 million world wide.

The World Health Organization proposed a new team to lead an investigation into the pandemic’s origins. The 26 proposed members of the group have expertise in a range of areas from epidemiology to biosecurity, the WHO said. They include Marion Koopmans from Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, Christian Drosten from the Institute of Virology at Charite in Berlin and Yungui Yang, the deputy director at the Beijing Institute of Genomics.Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies director, said it may be the “last chance to understand the origins of this virus” in a collegiate manner.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 44.6 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 719,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

UK: Malfunctioning NHS app for Covid vaccine status causes travel delays. Travellers have been blocked from boarding flights and ferries for trips abroad after a four-hour outage of England’s NHS app left people unable to access a Covid pass to prove their vaccine status.

Meanwhile the UK recorded 136 deaths and 42,776 new Covid-19 cases. Coronavirus infections among school-aged children in England are “high and rising,” according to a major study that is likely to exacerbate concerns about the pace of the vaccine rollout. Rates of Covid-19 is growing in those aged 17 and younger, the React-1 study led by Imperial College London found. The reproduction rate in that age group was 1.18, meaning that on average every 10 young people infected are passing it on to about 12 others. That’s driven up the national rate, even though prevalence is falling in the 18-54 age group.

Russia: Russia has set a record for the number of Covid deaths in a 24-hour period for the second day running. Wednesday’s official toll of 984 is slightly higher than yesterday’s then-record 973 deaths.

New Zealand: Once the envy of the world for its handling of the pandemic, New Zealand is now preparing its health system for an influx of Covid-19 patients as it pivots away from its elimination strategy. Health Ministry modelling forecasts more than 5,000 cases per week in the Auckland and Northland regions next year, even assuming 90% of the eligible population is vaccinated, Health Minister Andrew Little said on Thursday. The figure does not include the rest of the country, where modelling is still being conducted.

New Zealand’s government gave the green light for 300,000 rapid antigen tests to be imported, Auckland Airport CEO Adrian Littlewood said in an emailed statement on behalf of a coalition of businesses. The tests are expected to start arriving in New Zealand from Oct. 21. More than 25 companies sought emergency approval from the government last week to allow rapid surveillance testing to get underway.

Australia: Victoria – Australia’s second most-populous state – recorded 2,297 new local Covid cases on Thursday, the highest daily total in any of the country’s states since the pandemic began. The surge comes even though Melbourne, where most of Victoria’s population lives, has been among the world’s most locked-down cities over the past 18 months. By contrast, New South Wales saw its seven-day average of daily cases drop to the lowest in eight weeks, as it began easing restrictions now that 70% of people aged 16 years and older have been fully inoculated. Australian employment, meanwhile, tumbled for a second consecutive month and the jobless rate advanced as a surge in the delta variant kept businesses shuttered in Sydney and Melbourne, the country’s two biggest cities.

Thailand: Thailand reported 11,276 new Covid-19 cases, the highest daily total since 2 October, the government said. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha will chair the main Covid-19 panel in Bangkok on Thursday and may release on details on the reopening plan.

China: China’s autonomous region of Inner Mongolia reported one local Covid-19 case Thursday morning, after the country found no local infections for a week. Erenhot, a city with a population of around 70,000, said one logistics worker tested positive for the virus. Local authorities will start citywide mass testing at noon Thursday, and will aim to finish the first round by the end of the day.

Vaccine news

Global: The World Health Organization has authorized AstraZeneca Plc’s vaccine manufactured in Thailand under its Emergency Use Listing procedure, with immediate effect, according to a statement from the Anglo-Swedish company. The authorization for doses manufactured by Siam Bioscience, the company’s production partner in Thailand, follows other EULS including those granted in February to Astra vaccine-making peers in India and South Korea. 

US: Mixing Covid vaccines produces as much or more antibodies as using the same shot as a booster, according to preliminary results of a widely awaited US government-sponsored trial. The trial is the first major US study to compare the effects of using different vaccines as boosters from the initial shot or shots. The complicated, 9-arm trial involved more than 450 people and measured the effects from giving a booster shot of the Moderna Inc., Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE or Johnson & Johnson vaccines to those who had originally gotten a different vaccine.

India: India is building up a stockpile of vaccine doses, with 250 million shots prepared and three more vaccines under development, a government official said. Most of these doses will be given to neighbouring countries and will also meet India’s commitments to the WHO’s Covax initiative for poorer nations, said V. K. Paul, a member of a government think-tank that advises Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Vietnam: Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam instructed the health ministry to promptly issue guidance on Covid-19 vaccinations for people under 18, as well as booster shots, according to a post on the government website. No other details were given on the booster shots.

Japan: Japan’s health ministry is planning to recommend Pfizer’s vaccine over Moderna Inc.’s for men in their teens and 20s because of concerns over side effects, including Myocarditis, the Nikkei newspaper reported, without attribution. The ministry plans to also recommend switching the second dose of vaccination to Pfizer’s for those who already received Moderna’s as the first one. The recommendations will be discussed at a panel meeting Friday. The ministry will offer drug companies 3.8 billion yen ($34 million) to support their coronavirus drug development, Asahi reported, without attribution.

Australia: Pfizer will make an expedited application to Australia’s medical regulator for its Covid-19 vaccine to be considered for use in children aged five to 11, Health Minister Greg Hunt said. The company is expected to submit data on its vaccine to the Therapeutic Goods Administration within weeks, Hunt said at a press conference on Thursday. If the TGA approves the vaccine, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization then needs to green light the shot before it can be provided, he said. The country’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Sonya Bennett said it was a welcome step which would help protect children and their families, as well as helping keep schools open.

Westpac Banking Corp. moved to mandate vaccines for all staff working at its offices and branches, becoming the first of the big banks to require the jab for its employees across Australia. The country’s second-largest bank said Thursday that it expects all employees entering a workplace in the eastern states of New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory to be fully vaccinated by 1 December, while staff in other parts of the nation have until 22 February.

Lockdown updates

US: After a 19-month travel ban, the US has announced it will reopen its land borders with Canada and Mexico for nonessential travel.

Indonesia: hotels and hospitality businesses in Indonesia’s main tourism hotspot of Bali are slowly coming back to life after being shuttered for 17 months. On Thursday, Bali is due to reopen to travellers from several countries including China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, and the United Arab Emirates. Visitors will be required to follow certain regulations – they need to be fully vaccinated and take two PCR tests, both before their flight and on arrival. They will also need to quarantine for five days.

Economy updates

Thailand: Thai Airways International has adjusted flight schedules to support the government’s plan to allow quarantine-free travel for international visitors from 1 November, according to Nond Kalinta, the airline’s chief commercial officer. The carrier’s winter flight schedules are aimed at reviving the country’s economy and travel and tourism industry, Nond said in a statement on Thursday. Scheduled flights via Bangkok and Phuket include destinations such as Copenhagen, Frankfurt, London, Paris and Stockholm.

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