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August 20, 2021

International update: Covid vaccine hoarding and booster shots make a mockery of vaccine equity pledges

By Paul Dennis

20 August

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 4 million, with a figure of 4,403,579 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 210 million world wide.

The hoarding of Covid jabs by rich countries which are also rolling out booster shots “makes a mockery of vaccine equity” pledges, the Africa director for the World Health Organization said. But she noted that cases across Africa are levelling off and more vaccine doses are finally arriving on the continent.

An online open-source intelligence group last year identified that a virus studied at the Wuhan Institute of Virology taken from an abandoned copper mine in Yunnan province was the closest known relative to Sars-CoV-2, the Economist reports in a piece which also considers the case for a zoonotic origin to Covid.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 37.2 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 625,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Hospitalisations of people under the age of 50 with Covid-19 are now at the highest levels seen in the US since the start of the pandemic, the latest government data shows. The largest increases in hospitalisations was among those in their 30s and the under-18s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Covid-19 stress on public services led Shawnee County, Kansas, to declare a state of emergency Thursday. Topeka is the county seat and Kansas state capital. The county is “maxed out” on resources “from hospital beds to staffing to everything else,” Dusty Nichols, Covid-19 incident commander, told local officials, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

US cases jumped the most in Michigan, Tennessee and Minnesota during the week that ended Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. While those states recorded the biggest percentage increases, their cases relative to population remain well below the prevalence in Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida, the top states in that category.

Tennessee intensive care beds are full in most metropolitan areas because of the wave of Covid-19 patients, state hospital officials said. The Tennessee Hospital Association said Covid hospitalizations rose almost eightfold between 1 July 1 and 15 August, from fewer than 300 patients to more than 2,300.

Three US senators tested positive for Covid-19 despite being vaccinated, bringing to at least six the number of members of Congress to report recent infections. GOP Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, independent Angus King of Maine and Democrat John Hickenlooper of Colorado revealed getting positive tests Thursday.

UK: In the UK, the House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, is facing calls to urge MPs to wear masks in the chamber, after cabinet ministers and many Tory backbenchers shunned the advice during a packed eight-hour debate on Afghanistan.

Brazil: Brazil has now registered 20,494,212 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 572,641, according to ministry data, in the world’s third worst outbreak outside the US and India and its second-deadliest after the US.

Japan: Japan is facing its worst outbreak since the beginning of the pandemic, as cases spiral out of control and strain the limits of the nation’s medical care system. The country recorded 25,156 new infections Thursday, the highest ever and more than 10 times the daily count a month earlier.

Thailand: Thailand reported 19,851 new cases, taking cumulative infections past 1 million as the more contagious delta strain sweeps across the entire Southeast Asian nation. Still, new cases in the past 24 hours were the lowest since 10 August, official data showed Friday. The country has added about 750,000 new cases since the end of June alone.

Vaccine news

Israel: Israel’s health minister said on Thursday that people over 40 and teachers would be eligible for a third dose of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine, expanding its booster campaign to fend off the coronavirus Delta variant.

UK: A plan to start offering Covid booster vaccinations in the UK from early September is extremely unlikely to happen, it is understood, given the concerns of the government’s vaccines watchdog about the clinical benefits and potential wider risks to vaccine confidence. Immunologist Prof Peter Openshaw also said that the results of ongoing studies to determine their effectiveness “should not be prejudged”.

US: The US recorded more than 1 million Covid-19 shots on Thursday, topping that level for the first time in almost seven weeks, a White House official said. Of the 1.02 million doses, 562,000 were given to people who were getting their first shot.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has pushed back by one week a meeting by a group of outside advisers who were set to review Covid booster shots as debate swells about the need for a third dose. The Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices, originally scheduled to meet and possibly make a recommendation about the need for boosters on 24 August, is now set to convene the following week.

President Joe Biden said he and his wife, Jill, would receive a third dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to boost their immunity, as his administration announced booster shots would be offered to Americans in September. He also announced that nursing home staff would need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 as a condition for those facilities to continue receiving federal Medicare and Medicaid funding.

US federal health officials are investigating reports that Moderna’s vaccine may be linked to higher risk of a heart condition called myocarditis in younger adults than previously thought, according to the Washington Post, citing two unidentified people familiar with the matter. It’s too early to reach a conclusion, one of the people told the Post. Moderna didn’t immediately respond to the newspaper’s request for comment.

Lockdown updates

Spain: A Spanish court has lifted a coronavirus curfew imposed on most of Catalonia, including the capital Barcelona, leaving it in place in just a fraction of the northeastern region. The high court of justice of Catalonia said the measure was “not justified” because infection rates had improved.

Australia: Sydney’s two-month long lockdown will be extended until at least the end of September as the delta variant outbreak in Australia’s most populous city worsens. From Monday, mask-wearing will be mandatory when outside, except when exercising, in all regions throughout New South Wales, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said. A curfew will be placed on areas of western Sydney hardest hit by the outbreak.

New Zealand: New Zealand extended a nationwide lockdown by four days after an outbreak of the delta strain of coronavirus spread outside the largest city, Auckland. The outbreaks are placing unprecedented pressure on the so-called Covid Zero strategy pursued by New Zealand and Australia since the start of the pandemic.

US: Apple Inc. is delaying its return to corporate offices from October until January at the earliest because of surging Covid-19 cases, according to a memo sent to employees on Thursday.

Philippines: The Philippines will relax its lockdown on the capital, enabling more businesses to reopen even as the delta variant fuels a rise in infections. The Metro Manila region, which accounts for about a third of the economy, will shift to the second-strictest movement restrictions called “modified enhanced community quarantine” from Aug. 21 to Aug. 31, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said in a statement.

South Korea: South Korea will maintain current level 4 social distancing rules in the Greater Seoul area, and level 3 rules in other areas for another two weeks, according to Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum.

Economy updates

Hong Kong: A major business group has issued an unprecedented open letter warning Hong Kong’s leader that her strict quarantine rules leave residents trapped in the city, threatening its standing as a global finance hub.  The European Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong sent the letter to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Thursday, calling the city’s newly-tightened quarantine rules this week a “significant setback” following a quickly abandoned attempt to relax some of the world’s strictest requirements for inbound travelers.

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