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September 27, 2021

International update: WHO revives investigation into Covid origin

By Paul Dennis

27 September

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 4.7 million, with a figure of 4,748,539 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections exceed 231.8 million world wide.

The World Health Organization is reviving its investigation into the origins of the Covid-19 virus by building a new team of about 20 scientists, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday. The previous team, which had been disbanded after a visit to Wuhan, had said data provided by Chinese scientists was insufficient to reach a conclusion.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 42.9 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 688,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

American men lost 2.2 years of life expectancy last year because of Covid-19, the biggest decline among 29 nations in a study of the pandemic’s impact on longevity. Deaths among working-age men contributed the most to declining lifespans in the US, according to research led by demographers at the UK’s University of Oxford. Only Denmark and Norway, who have excelled at controlling their outbreaks, avoided drops in life expectancy across both sexes, the study published Sunday in the International Journal of Epidemiology found.

Parts of the US health system “are in dire straits,” as the spread of the Covid-19 delta variant forces some states to prepare for rationed medical care, said Rochelle Walensky, head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Connecticut colleges and universities have reported few infections since imposing vaccine mandates for the start of this school year, the Hartford Courant reported. The University of Connecticut has reported only 18 cases at its main campus this year, compared with hundreds last year that led to quarantines of entire dormitories, according to the newspaper. Western Connecticut State has reported only one case.

New York City’s school system, the largest in the US, has been temporarily blocked from imposing a mandate forcing teachers and other staff to get vaccinated against Covid-19, according to a ruling from a federal judge. That mandate was scheduled to go into effect on Monday at midnight. Late Friday, a judge from the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit referred the case to a three-judge panel “on an expedited basis.” The hearing will take place on Wednesday, Reuters reported.

Pedro Guimaraes, a member of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro’s delegation to the United Nations, has tested positive for Covid, the CEO of state lender Caixa Economica Federal said on his one of his social media accounts on Sunday. Guimaraes, who said he was fully vaccinated, is the fourth member of the delegation that was with Bolsonaro in New York for his address to the United Nations to test positive.

Scotland: In Scotland, the army could drive ambulances for longer than the two months originally planned, according to the Scottish secretary, Alister Jack.

Also in Scotland, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has urged the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) to investigate plans for vaccine passports.

Australia: In Australia, Victoria state reported 779 new Covid infections and two more deaths.The daily increase was still the state’s second-highest, after the 847 cases recorded on Saturday, as officials battle to contain a Delta variant outbreak.

China: China reported 16 infections on Monday, as the spread of delta variant appears to be tailing off. The cluster in southeastern province Fujian dwindled to two cases, all in Xiamen, a city of 5.2 million and a manufacturing hub for electric components that was placed under lockdown following detection of cases in early September.

South Korea: South Korea reported 2,383 new cases after hitting a record of 3,272 on Saturday. Health authorities expect infections to rise sharply from the middle of this week in the aftermath of the Chuseok holiday.

Singapore: Singapore added 1,939 new cases, almost doubling from a week earlier, the latest in a string of daily records in the past week ahead of new curbs kicking in on Monday. Two more deaths were reported, both elderly with underlying conditions who were not vaccinated, bringing the death toll to 78. A total of 30 people are in the ICU.

Indonesia: Indonesia said its daily infection numbers dropped to the lowest level in more than a year. The country reported 1,760 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the least since August 2020, according to the Health Ministry.

Vaccine news

US: Pfizer Inc. will submit data to the US Food and Drug Administration on vaccines for children ages 5 to 11 within “days, not weeks,” Albert Bourla, the company’s CEO, said on ABC’s “This Week.”  “If they approve it, we will be ready with our manufacturing to provide this new formulation of the vaccine,” he said. He said the dosage for young children is one-third that of the vaccine for adults. Last week Pfizer and BioNTech said that formulation produced strong antibody responses in children in a large-scale trial. The companies also plan to share the data with regulators in Europe.

In the US, health authorities have said they are confident there will be enough vaccine shots for both qualified older Americans seeking booster jabs, as well as young children.

France: French President Emmanuel Macron said France will double the number of vaccine doses it donates to poorer countries to 120 million. “The injustice is that in other continents vaccination is far behind because of us, collectively,” Macron said in a message broadcast during the Global Citizen fundraising concert in Paris.

Indonesia: A shortage of health-care workers and logistical flaws are hampering Indonesia’s efforts to inoculate its people against Covid-19, leaving the world’s largest archipelago trailing its neighbors despite being among the first in Southeast Asia to start the program.

South Korea: South Korea will start offering booster shots to “high-risk groups,” including people over 60 and medical workers, Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said during a Covid-19 response meeting, adding that the country also plans to expand vaccine eligibility to teenagers and pregnant women.

Lockdown updates

Norway: Violent clashes and mass brawls have broken out in Norway’s biggest cities after streets, bars, restaurants and nightclubs were filled with people celebrating the end of Covid restrictions.

Taiwan: Taiwan will ease controls on certain industries because the pandemic has stabilized locally, Cabinet spokesperson Lo Ping-cheng said in a text message, citing Premier Su Tseng-chang.

New Zealand: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said a small pilot program will begin soon to trial self-isolation for returning international travelers. Those arriving in New Zealand are allowed to isolate at home for 14 days as an alternative for managed isolation. The program will be capped at 150 people and focus on those required to travel for work. Participants must be New Zealand citizens and residents and fully vaccinated.

Australia: New South Wales will roll back more restrictions for fully-vaccinated adults and raise caps on international arrivals once 80% of the adult population has received two shots at the end of October, as it unveils the next stages of its path out of Covid lockdown. State Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the next phase of the re-opening will include increased access to hospitality venues, the ability to travel freely throughout the state and eased limits on the number of guests able to visit homes once the 80% threshold is reached, which she expects will come at the end of next month.

Japan: The Japanese government is making final arrangements to lift all coronavirus states of emergency in the nation as scheduled at the end of this month, the Asahi newspaper reported Monday, citing several unidentified officials. Daily coronavirus cases have been steadily coming down in Japan since its peak in mid-August when it saw more than 25,000 cases, according to data compiled by public broadcaster NHK. The cases dropped to 2,134 Sunday.

Economy updates

UK: The biggest state intervention in the UK’s labour market in peacetime comes to an end this week when the government finally winds up its furlough support. The wage subsidy that has been in place for 18 months and has cost £70bn will no longer be open to struggling firms.

US: Hollywood studios are planning a £250m-plus UK marketing blitz to promote the return of blockbusters to the big screen over the next 18 months, as the much-delayed premiere of James Bond: No Time to Die gives the industry the confidence to plot a post-pandemic boom in new releases.

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