20 October

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 4.9 million, with a figure of 4,915,486 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University . Meanwhile, infections exceed 241.6 million world wide.

Just months after the Delta variant wrecked havoc across the world, a newly detected offshoot has been identified and is reportedly on the rise across England. Identified as as AY.4.2, the strain is “on an increasing trajectory,” according to a briefing from the UK Health Security Agency. With two mutations in its spike protein, the virus is more easily able to enter cells.

Without a Covid-19 vaccination, reinfection could occur every 16 months as immunity erodes over time, studies suggest. In England, people are increasingly reporting catching Sars-CoV-2 for a second or even third time.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 45.1 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 728,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The US Homeland Security secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas, who is vaccinated, tested positive for Covid on Tuesday morning, the Department of Homeland Security said. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden aren’t considered close-contact exposures to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who tested positive three days after attending an outdoor event with them. Biden, who received his booster shot three weeks ago, isn’t considered at risk because his most recent encounter was more than 48 hours before the positive test and occurred outdoors, the White House said. Mayorkas tested positive Tuesday morning as part of routine check before a planned trip, according to his department. Mayorkas is experiencing mild congestion and will isolate and work from home.

UK: Ministers in the UK are being urged to implement sweeping “plan B” winter measures to curb the sharp rise in Covid infections or the efforts to tackle a backlog of 5 million patients could be derailed.

The head of the NHS Confederation gave the warning as the UK recorded 223 Covid deaths, its highest since March alongside one of the highest weekly rates of new reported cases in the world. Infections have been rising sharply since the start of October, but the government is resisting introducing the extra restrictions set out in its winter plan such as masks, vaccine passports and advice to work from home.

Bath and North East Somerset has the highest Covid case rate in the UK and 86% of local authority areas have seen a week-on-week rise, according to a new analysis.

Brazil: The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, should face murder charges for his role in the country’s “stratospheric” coronavirus death toll, a draft report from a senate inquiry into Brazil’s Covid crisis has recommended.

Vaccine news

Global: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said millions of courses of Merck & Co.’s promising pill for Covid-19 could begin to reach lower-income nations early next year as the charity kicks in as much as $120 million to widen global access to the therapy. The funds will assist generic-drug manufacturers, some of which have indicated they could produce as many as 10 million treatments a month, according to Trevor Mundel, president of the global health division at the Gates Foundation. The drug’s progress has been accompanied by concerns that lower-income nations struggling to obtain Covid vaccines could be left behind once again when it comes to therapies. The foundation is calling on other donors to devote resources to accelerating the rollout of Merck’s experimental molnupiravir to poorer nations if it’s approved.

Pregnant and breast-feeding women appear to respond relatively weakly to their first vaccine dose, according to a study that indicates the importance of them receiving both doses of standard regimens. Immune responses to a single dose of vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer and BioNTech SE were weaker than in a group of nonpregnant women, according to the study released Tuesday by Science Translational Medicine.

UK: Covid vaccine appointments for children will be bookable from next week in England. The rollout of jabs has been extended for 12- to 15-year-olds, Downing Street confirmed.

South Africa: The South African drug regulator has rejected the Russian-made coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V, citing some safety concerns the manufacturer wasn’t able to answer.

US: The Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine is 93% effective in preventing hospitalisation among 12-18-year-olds, according to new research by the US government. The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention study was conducted between June and September when Delta was the most dominant variant.

General Electric Co. will require its roughly 56,000 employees in the U.S. to be fully vaccinated by 8 December, or receive a medical or religious exemption by that date, the company said in a statement. GE is a federal contractor and said it will comply with Biden’s order mandating vaccines for workers at those companies.

Southwest Airlines Co. said employees will continue working, while following mask and distancing guidelines applicable to their job, if their request for an accommodation to not receive the vaccine hasn’t been reviewed or approved by the 8 December federal deadline.

New Zealand: New Zealand faces obstacles in vaccinating Māori population.

Thailand: Thailand’s capital has administered at least two doses of vaccine to 71% of its adult population, paving the way for the city to welcome back inoculated visitors without a mandatory quarantine from 1 November. The inoculation rate is projected to reach 80% by the end of this month, according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration .

Lockdown updates

Bulgaria: Bulgaria is to make Covid passes mandatory for entry to indoor restaurants, cinemas, gyms and shopping malls amid rising coronavirus infections.

New Zealand: Chris Hipkins, Covid-19 Response Minister, said the changing nature of the pandemic in New Zealand may lead to changes to the country’s border controls, with the possibility of shorter stays in government-managed isolation facilities and increased use of self-isolation for people coming into the country.

Economy updates

Vietnam: The southeast Asian nation is seeking to revive manufacturing and exports after a crippling coronavirus outbreak, the prime minister said. “The country faced increasing difficulties with the outbreak of the delta variant,” which challenged the resiliency of its economy, Chinh said in an address to the National Assembly. The ravages of the Covid-19 delta variant sent GDP plunging 6.17% in the third quarter, the worst performance since the government started tracking the figure.