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May 21, 2021

International update: Brazil confirms first case of India Covid variant

By Paul Dennis

21 May

Global: The global Covid death toll is still rising with a figure of 3,430,955 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections exceed 165 million world wide.

Waiving intellectual property rights for Covid vaccines will not be enough to close the huge supply gap between rich and poor countries, the head of the World Trade Organization warned.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 33 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll is 588,539 according to Johns Hopkins University data. US health leaders’ move to relax nationwide rules on masks for fully vaccinated people has spurred “understandable confusion” that must be cleared up, said Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease doctor.

Brazil: Brazil confirmed its first cases of a variant first found in India. The infected people are six crew members of the Shandong da Zhi vessel, which came from South Africa and was chartered by Vale to deliver iron ore in Sao Luis in Maranhao state, UOL reported.

Singapore is stepping up Covid testing amid a rise in new and unlinked infections. The government will conduct tests for all residents of one housing block after positive cases were found there, and about 2,000 more students and staff from Singapore Polytechnic will undergo testing after four students were found to have the virus.

UK: Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans Friday to create a “global pandemic radar” to identify and track new coronavirus variants and other emerging diseases. The WHO will work with the UK and partners, including the Wellcome Trust, to develop an international pathogen surveillance network before the end of 2021, according to an emailed statement. The announcement was made ahead of the Global Health Summit convened by G20 President Italy and the European Union.

Meanwhile, the number of UK cases of a worrying coronavirus variant from India more than doubled for a second week as authorities also monitor a new mutation of the virus, adding fresh doubt to plans to fully unlock the economy. Health officials have now detected 3,424 cases of the B1.617.2 variant, Public Health England said Thursday in a statement, up from 1,313 last week and 520 a week earlier. They’re also investigating a mutation called VUI-21MAY-01, with 49 cases logged so far.

Africa: Critically ill Covid patients in Africa face an outsize risk of death, mainly because health systems lack key resources like hospital beds and oxygen machines, according to a study. The death rate in the month after admission to intensive care is about 48% on the continent, compared with about 32% globally, according to a report published Thursday in The Lancet.

Vaccine news

EU: With the summer tourism season at stake, European Union negotiators agreed to introduce mutually recognized vaccination certificates designed to let people travel within the EU without having to quarantine. European Parliament representatives and the 27 EU governments agreed on the plan, which requires a formal approval process before taking effect at the end of June. Proof of vaccination issued by non-European governments would be accepted. The EU will soon allow quarantine-free travel for vaccinated visitors from non-EU countries deemed safe, too.

US: Moderna Inc. has begun exporting US produced Covid vaccines to other countries, a key step as US. vaccine supply begins to be shipped abroad. Moderna and Pfizer Inc. have been the backbone of the US vaccination campaign, which is leveling off as domestic demand wanes. Their shipments of their coveted mRNA vaccines could be a turning point for nations that have sought to get any doses they can, including less effective ones.

Taiwan: US help in securing vaccines could protect Taiwan’s semiconductor industry, according to James Lee, the head of Taipei’s cultural and economic office in New York, amid concern about a shortage of chips used in everything from mobile phones to automobiles. While Taiwan’s increasing cases haven’t had an impact yet, “if it lasts too long there could be logistical problems,” he said in an interview. “We have talked to the Biden administration and we work closely together. We expect them to help.”

Turkey: BioNTech SE Chief Executive Officer Ugur Sahin said Thursday the company plans to both produce and engage in research and development of vaccines in Turkey. BioNTech plans to increase the number of vaccines to be dispatched to Turkey to 120 million, with new shipments planned from July to September, Sahin said after attending a meeting of the Turkish pandemic board.

UK: Two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine are around 85% to 90% effective against symptomatic disease, Public Health England analysis indicates.

Japan: Regulators recommended the approval of Covid vaccines developed by Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca PLC.

South Korea: South Korea has said it will conduct a clinical trial that mixes Covid vaccine doses developed by AstraZeneca Plc with those from Pfizer Inc and others.

New Zealand: New Zealand will push to remove tariffs on vaccines and medical supplies when it hosts a virtual summit of APEC trade ministers on 5 June, Dow Jones reported, citing an interview with Trade Minister Damien O’Connor. A commitment to removing barriers to trade in vaccines and related medical supplies will be the “first and core component” of the meeting, O’Connor said.

Indonesia: Indonesia will decide whether the Sputnik and Cansino vaccines will be used in the state inoculation program or in a private program, Honesti Basyir, president director of Indonesia’s state vaccine maker Bio Farma, told a parliament panel Thursday.

Lockdown updates

EU: The EU has reached a deal on Covid certificates designed to open up tourism across the bloc this summer, the centre-right European People’s Party said.

Northern Ireland: The devolved government has agreed to add Portugal, Israel and Gibraltar to its “Green list” for international travel, according to a letter to lawmakers seen by Reuters.

Canada: Canada announced it is renewing non-essential travel restrictions along the US border until 21 June.

Philippines: The Philippines is considering accepting fully vaccinated foreign travelers, with the Tourism and Foreign Affairs Departments tasked with crafting protocols, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Friday. The government will prioritize vaccinating athletes for the Tokyo Olympics and Southeast Asian games, with workers in the outsourcing sector included in the next priority group, Roque said.

Thailand: Protest leaders plan to revive demonstrations as soon as the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak starts to ease, adding to the government’s challenges as it comes under fire for a slow vaccine rollout.

Japan: Japan’s government will discuss whether to extend a state of emergency in Tokyo and other areas by as much as three weeks, broadcaster TBS reported, with daily virus cases still high two months before the Olympics.

Argentina: Argentina will impose a stricter lockdown for nine days as cases and deaths have shot up in recent weeks. President Alberto Fernandez announced that all non-essential, in-person activities – including schools, sports, churches and social gatherings – will be suspended from Saturday. People will be allowed to circulate from 6 am to 6 pm near their home, and only essential businesses may remain open. Then, from 31 May to 11 June, the government plans to lift the lockdown and return to current restrictions, which still involve an 8 pm curfew and limited social activities. Argentina has reported more than 35,000 new cases each day this week, by far its worst stretch, with about 73% of the country’s ICU beds occupied.

Brunei: Brunei temporarily suspended its reciprocal “green lane” travel arrangement with Singapore until further notice from Thursday evening, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office of Brunei.

Malaysia: Industries are calling on the government to avoid a full lockdown and instead tighten virus protocols and accelerate the vaccine roll-out, as infections hit a record for a second straight day.

Morocco: The nightly curfew, which has been in force for much of the last 13 months, will be eased on Friday after new cases declined, the government said in a statement. Cafes, bars and restaurants will be allowed to say open an extra three hours until 11 pm, according to a cabinet statement on the MAP newswire.

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