21 July

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 4 million, with a figure of 4,119,454 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, Covid infections exceed 191.5 million world wide while more than 3.9 billion vaccine doses have been administered.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 34.1 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 609,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The delta variant now makes up 83% of all sequenced Covid-19 cases in the US, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said in a Senate hearing. The new figure is up from 50% from the week of July 3. She said areas of the country with limited vaccination coverage are allowing spread of the highly transmissible variant, which was first identified in India. “Each death is tragic and even more heartbreaking when we know that the majority of these deaths can be prevented with a simple, safe, available vaccine,” Walensky said.

New York City’s vaccine administration rate has plunged to less than 15,000 a day, from more than 100,000 a day in mid-April, as cases increase. The city has fully vaccinated 4.5 million residents, data show, falling short of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s goal to have 5 million New Yorkers fully vaccinated by June.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases chief Anthony Fauci’s faced serious controversy in a senate hearing today, in which senator Rand Paul accused him of lying about the role the National Institutes of Health (NIH) played in funding risky research in Wuhan, China. Fauci vociferously denied aspects of the claims but appeared to accept that a sub-award from the EcoHealth Alliance funded some of the research – but none that could have created Sars-CoV-2.

Fox News host Sean Hannity had a message for viewers of his primetime show last night: “Please take Covid seriously.” The influential host, a close ally of Donald Trump, also said: “I believe in science, I believe in the science of vaccination.” Nearly 609,000 people have died in the coronavirus pandemic in the US but vaccination rates have slowed amid resistance among conservative sections of the population, stoked by rightwing politicians and media.

A senior spokesperson for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a White House official have tested positive for Covid-19. Both had been fully vaccinated and are among several staffers in Congress and at the White House who’ve been recently infected. The Pelosi staff member had no contact with the speaker since being exposed, Drew Hammill, a Pelosi spokesperson, said in a statement. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that contract tracing had determined that the infected staff there had no close contact with senior people or President Joe Biden.

Myanmar: A democracy campaigner and confidant of the deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi died after contracting Covid-19 in prison, authorities said. Nyan Win, a veteran senior member and former spokesperson of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party – led by Suu Kyi – was 78. He had been arrested after the 1 February coup removed the NLD from power and was held in Yangon’s notorious Insein prison on charges of sedition.

Japan: Japan’s top Covid-19 adviser, Shigeru Omi, said in a TV program on Tuesday that Tokyo’s daily coronavirus cases could hit a new record in the first week of August, potentially reaching a figure close to 3,000. This would overlap with the Tokyo Olympics, which run through 8 August. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is set to visit Tokyo to discuss Covid measures for the games with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, according to Kyodo. The meeting is scheduled to take place between Thursday and Saturday.

UK: The UK today reported its worst daily death toll since March.

An Oxford University paper dubbed by the Daily Mail an “anti-lockdown” plan has emerged as the likely inspiration behind the UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s messages declaring “get Covid and live longer”. It comes after reports that Johnson said he was not prepared to lock down the country to save people in their 80s. The UK today reported its worst daily death toll since March.

France: New infections in France are increasing at an unprecedented rate due to the Delta variant, after 18,000 cases were reported for the previous 24 hours, according to the health minister Olivier Véran. The level of infections is the highest since mid-May, when the country was emerging from a third nationwide lockdown.

Italy: Scientists from a Milan cancer research centre reported that retesting of a small number of pre-pandemic blood samples has indicated the presence of antibodies normally found after Covid infection. “The results of this retesting suggest that what we previously reported in asymptomatic patients is a plausible signal of early circulation of the virus in Italy,” Giovanni Apolone, one of the researchers, told the Financial Times.

Thailand: Thailand reported 13,002 new cases on Wednesday, the highest single-day increase since the pandemic began. The new infections take the nation’s cumulative cases to 439,477, according to the Center for Covid-19 Situation Administration. The country reported 108 fatalities and 8,248 recoveries.

South Korea: South Korea reported a record 1,784 new cases in the past 24 hours, up from 1,278 the previous day, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s website. There were 1,726 local infections, with 599 new cases in Seoul and 450 in Gyeonggi province. About 32% of the population, or 16.4 million people, have received at least one vaccine dose, while 13% are completely vaccinated.

Vaccine news

Global: World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a global failure to share vaccines, tests and treatments is fuelling a two-track pandemic. “The haves are opening up, while the have-nots are locking down,” he said in a speech at the International Olympic Committee Session. Governments worldwide can end the pandemic if they vaccinate 70% of every country’s population by mid-2022, he said.

US: A study found Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine is much less effective against the delta and lambda variants than against the original virus, the New York Times reported. The lab-based findings, which haven’t been peer reviewed or published in a scientific journal, suggest the need for a second dose for the 13 million people who have received the inoculation. The authors of the study recommended an mRNA vaccine made by Pfizer Inc.-Biontech SE or Moderna Inc. as the second shot. The results contrast those from smaller studies published by J&J earlier this month that suggested a single dose of its vaccine is effective against delta even eight months after inoculation, the Times said. Seema Kumar, a J&J spokeswoman, told the newspaper that the new data “do not speak to the full nature of immune protection.” The new study is credible because the authors don’t have ties to any vaccine makers, John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, told the Times. He cited several studies in monkeys and people that show that two doses of the J&J vaccine are more effective than just one.

Lockdown updates

Japan: The chief of the Tokyo 2020 organising committee did not rule out cancelling the Olympics if Covid-19 cases rise sharply, as more athletes tested positive for the virus and sponsors ditched plans to attend Friday’s opening ceremony. Asked at a news conference if the global sporting showpiece might still be cancelled, Toshiro Muto said he would keep an eye on infection numbers and liaise with other organisers if necessary.

Australia: A man in Perth, Australia, escaped mandatory quarantine in a hotel by scaling down a rope made of tied-together bedsheets from a fourth-floor window, police have said. After arriving in the west coast city on a flight from Brisbane, the man had his application for entry refused under the state’s Covid-19 border rules.

Meanwhile, New cases continued to climb in Australia’s two largest cities on Wednesday as strict stay-at-home orders impacting half the nation failed to halt the spread of the delta variant. New South Wales state, home to Sydney, reported 110 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases. The source of 56 infections is currently unknown. Victoria state, which is home to Melbourne, recorded 22 new local cases.

China: Nanjing, the capital of eastern Jiangsu province, now requires Covid tests for people leaving the city after Nanjing airport found nine positive samples from workers on Tuesday. The airport has canceled flights, put relevant staff under centralized quarantine and started contact tracing.

UK: The UK Premier League is in talks with clubs over the introduction of compulsory Covid passports for fans from the start of the soccer season, The Times newspaper reported, without saying how it obtained the information. The league is seeking to pre-empt any cuts in crowd capacity at sporting events, the newspaper said.

Meanwhile, London office workers want an average pay rise of £5,100 ($6,950), equivalent to the cost of some annual railway season tickets, to return to their desks full-time after the pandemic, according to a survey. With Covid-19 restrictions leaving many offices empty, white-collar staff have spent 16 months mostly working from home. Just 17% now say they actively want a full-time return to the office, research for workplace analytics firm Locatee shows.

Hong Kong: The Hong Kong government will maintain most of the social distancing measures for the next two weeks until Aug. 4, according to an official statement.

Indonesia: Indonesia may start to gradually ease nationwide emergency curbs if cases and levels of hospital occupancy decline. The government may relax the restrictions starting 26 July if cases continue to fall, according to President Joko Widodo. This will include allowing some eateries and shops to stay open for longer, Jokowi, as the president is known, said in a televised address on Tuesday.