International update: WHO 'very worried' as Covid infections race across Europe
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International update: WHO ‘very worried’ as Covid infections race across Europe

22 Nov 2021

22 November

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.1 million, with a figure of 5,150,762 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections pass 257.5 million world wide.

The Delta variant was first detected a year ago and is now dominant across the globe. Scientists are concerned that a new strain could supersede it.

Europe

The World Health Organisation said it is “very worried” about a fresh wave of European infection.

Violence erupted at demonstrations in Belgium and the Netherlands over the weekend as tougher Covid-19 restrictions to curb the resurgent pandemic led to angry protests in several European countries.

France: The French government has warned that Covid is spreading at “lighting speed”. The seven-day average of new cases in France reached 17,153 on Saturday, an increase of 81%.

Germany: German politicians are debating making Covid-19 vaccinations compulsory for citizens in light of soaring infections and low inoculation rates.

Germany’s infections continued to climb, with the seven-day incidence rate increasing to 372.7 per 100,000 people compared with 362.2 the prior day. With intensive-care units all but filled in some regions, Europe’s largest economy faces its biggest test yet of the pandemic. The country reported 42,727 new cases, compared with 63,924 the day before. Deaths rose by 75 to a total of 99,062.

Austria: Austria has clamped down on public life from Monday as its fourth national Covid-19 lockdown began, making it the first western European country to reimpose the measure in the face of surging coronavirus infections.

Switzerland: Many Swiss cantonal health services won’t be able to offer Covid booster shots to those under 65 until January, newspaper SonntagsZeitung reported, citing Gundekar Giebel, a spokesman for the cantonal health department in Bern. The federal government had previously said it hoped to make booster shots available to those under 65 beginning in December.

UK: England’s flagship test-and-trace service is still spending more than £1m a day on private consultants, official figures reveal weeks after MPs lambasted it as an “eye-watering” waste of taxpayers’ money that is failing to cut Covid infection levels.

In the UK, Covid booster jabs are likely to be offered to all adults eventually, with the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation already considering the issue, the health secretary has suggested.

There’s no need yet for the UK to implement “Plan B” to clamp down on Covid infection levels, said Health Minister Sajid Javid. Javid said expanding the UK’s vaccine booster program is the key to a successful Christmas season without new restrictions, speaking on Sky News’ “Trevor Philips on Sunday.”  Javid also confirmed a report in The Sunday Times that he has begun a review into possible racial bias in medical equipment, and how it may have slanted treatment for Covid. The move comes after research showing that oximeters, devices that measure oxygen levels in the blood, are less accurate on patients with darker skin.

The UK has added Sinovac-CoronaVac, Sinopharm Beijing and Covaxin to its list of approved vaccines for travel into the country, according to the Department for Transport and Department of Health and Social Care’s guidance.

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 47.7 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 771,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The US government’s chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci warns that time is running short to prevent a “dangerous” new surge of Covid-19 infections from overwhelming the upcoming holiday season.

The US Marine Corps has the worst vaccination record among US military branches, Reuters reports, with thousands of active-duty staff set to miss a 28 November deadline for personnel to be fully vaccinated.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said he doesn’t expect a vaccine requirement that includes airport security screeners to disrupt US holiday-season travel. Many US federal employees, including Transportation Security Administration workers, face a Monday deadline to document full vaccination or apply for an exemption, though any discipline for workers who don’t comply isn’t immediate. “The deadline tomorrow, that’s not a cliff,” Buttigieg said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “People aren’t getting immediately pulled off their posts. It’s part of a process to make sure that everyone in the federal workforce is safe.”

Asia-pacific

Some Pacific countries will have less than a quarter of adults vaccinated by the end of the year, with predictions that Papua New Guinea will take five years to vaccinate just one-third of its population, undermining economic recovery and threatening huge loss of life across the region.

Australia: Labor stepped up its criticism of prime minister Scott Morrison’s handling of anti-vaccine protests, with shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers accusing him of “dangerous, dog-whistling doublespeak” and trying to divide the country for political gain.

Victoria was “very, very close” to reaching the 90% mark for double vaccinations among residents, the premier Daniel Andrews said, an important milestone as the state recorded another 1,275 new cases of Covid-19 on Sunday.

Meanwhile, New South Wales is inching closer to the 95% double-vaccination mark. On Sunday the state’s premier, Dominic Perrottet, said he wouldn’t budge on his decision to continue to force restrictions on unvaccinated people until the mark was reached, or 15 December, despite protests in the city over the weekend.

Two remote communities in the Northern Territory were pushed into a “hard” lockdown after a spike in cases in the areas. The territory’s chief minister, Michael Gunner, instituted the harder lockdown on the two towns near Katherine because of what he described as low vaccination rates among residents.

Australia will allow fully vaccinated eligible visa holders to enter the nation from 1 December without needing to apply for a travel exemption. Eligible visa holders include skilled workers and students, refugee visa holders, temporary working holiday makers and people with provisional family visa holidays. Australia will also allow fully vaccinated citizens from Japan and Korea to enter. “The return of skilled workers and students to Australia is a major milestone in our pathway back, it’s a major milestone about what Australians have been able to achieve,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Monday.

New Zealand: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the country will shift into a new alert system to manage Covid-19 on 3 December, a step that moves away from the use of lockdowns and will allow all businesses to operate.

India: The Indian government has allowed the Serum Institute of India Ltd. to start Covid-19 vaccine exports to the Covax global sharing body, the Economic Times reported, citing people it didn’t identify. Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, will export 5 million doses, and Nepal will receive the first lot of Covishield vaccine 24 November, the newspaper said.

China: China reported 17 new confirmed Covid cases on 20 November, including four local infections, as its latest outbreak continues to wind down. Three were found in Liaoning’s Dalian and one in Yunnan.

Philippines: The Philippines on Monday started giving vaccine booster doses to senior citizens.

Vietnam: Vietnam Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh directed local officials to accelerate Covid-19 shots in order to fully vaccinate all adults age 18 and older this year, surpassing the nation’s inoculation target, the cabinet’s news portal reported. The nation will have enough vaccine doses this month to administer two shots to its entire adult population against the virus by the end of the year, according to the report, which also cited Deputy Premier Vu Duc Dam. Vietnam had targeted fully vaccinating at least half of people age 18 and older by the end of December and 70% of its entire population by the end of March, 2022. The planning ministry this month proposed increasing that target to 80% of the population during the same period.

Hong Kong: JPMorgan Chase & Co. is offering to reimburse Hong Kong employees up to $5,000 to compensate for their quarantine stay as the financial hub sticks to its zero-Covid policy.  All Hong Kong-based employees who are executive directors and below may claim the amount for a single quarantine stay. The offer covers personal trips undertaken by employees visiting immediate family members, including spouses, domestic partners, children, parents and grandparents, according to an internal memo. A Hong Kong-based spokeswoman confirmed the content. The move comes after Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon touched down in Hong Kong last week after receiving an exemption from the city’s stringent quarantine, which can be as long as 21 days in designated hotels. During his visit, he highlighted that the restrictions were making it harder for JPMorgan to retain talent.

Singapore: Singapore reported fewer total cases and community infections were below 2,000 for the fourth straight day as the country moves to relax some restrictions.

Middle-east and Africa

Israel: Israel’s Covid-19 infection reproduction rate rose to over 1, the highest since early September, indicating the virus is spreading again. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett acknowledged the rise at the start of the Cabinet meeting. “Winter is starting and we are on the verge of what is shaping up to be a wave of child illness,” the premier said. Israel starts vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 this week. It opened its doors to fully vaccinated tourists earlier this month.