28 September

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 4.7 million, with a figure of 4,758,001 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections exceed 232 million world wide.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 43 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 690,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Pfizer advanced testing of an experimental oral antiviral drug. The medicine, PF-07321332, is intended to be given at the first sign of exposure or infection, without requiring patients to be hospitalized first. Pfizer’s new trial is enrolling as many as 2,660 adults who live in the same household as someone with a confirmed infection. Participants will get either a placebo or a combination of the experimental drug plus ritonavir twice daily for five or 10 days, the company said.

India: India reported 179 Covid deaths on Tuesday, the smallest daily toll since the middle of March, taking the total to 447,373. Infections rose by 18,795, the smallest increase since early March, lifting the total to about 33.7 million, health ministry data showed.

UK: Covid infection control measures in UK hospitals should be relaxed to help the NHS tackle a record backlog of patients waiting for treatment, the UK’s public health agency has advised.

The British prime minister Boris Johnson has finally agreed to meet the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group at Downing Street, well over a year after first promising to do so.

Australia: Australia will introduce at-home testing for Covid-19 from Nov. 1, as cases in Victoria surged past those in New South Wales, the country’s most populous state, for the first time since July. Regulatory agency Therapeutic Goods Administration recommended the at-home testing, Health Minister Greg Hunt said Tuesday. Some 76.7% of Australians have now received their first dose of a Covid vaccine, he added.

Vaccine news

US: President Joe Biden has had a coronavirus booster jab, the White House confirmed. It comes days after his administration gave the go-ahead for a third shot of Pfizer’s vaccine in certain populations.In the US, health authorities have said they are confident there will be enough vaccine shots for both qualified older Americans seeking booster jabs, as well as young children.

United Airlines Holdings Inc. said 98.5% of its US-based employees have been vaccinated and expects the figure to exceed 99% in its final tally of compliance with its mandate. The carrier had set a Monday deadline for all US-based workers to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or an initial dose of a two-shot vaccine. Failure to comply could result in termination.

UK: The UK has fully vaccinated more than two-thirds of its population against Covid – one of a small number of countries to reach the milestone.

A crowdsourced effort to design a Covid-19 pill won £8 million ($11 million) in funding from the Wellcome Trust. About 250 people submitted to the Covid Moonshot effort more than 4,500 potential molecular designs intended to block a key protein that helps the virus replicate. “It is a way of working that none of us realized was possible,” said University of Oxford Professor Frank von Delft, a leader of the project. It has been “an express train on tracks we have had to lay down as we go.”  The Wellcome funding will help pay for the expensive last step of research needed to bring the project into human clinical trials but is unlikely to beat big pharmaceutical companies. Pfizer is in late-stage trials on an oral antiviral.

The younger a child is, the less likely they are to want the coronavirus vaccine, according to a new survey of students aged nine-to-18 published in the Lancet’s EClinicalMedicine. The OxWell School Survey 2021 found that only 36% of nine-year-olds were willing to take the vaccine compared to 51% of 13-year-olds and 78% of 17-year-olds. Researchers found that those less willing to take the vaccine came from the most socioeconomically-deprived backgrounds, felt less belonging to their school communities and thought they had the virus already. “Younger children more often defer to their parents, or primary caregivers, for decisions about health care and vaccination, but our data shows how important it is for good quality, accessible information to be provided to better enable our younger populations to understand more about the Covid-19 vaccine and its effects,” said Mina Fazel, an associate professor at the University of Oxford.

Lockdown updates

Japan: Japan will lift a coronavirus state of emergency in all regions on Thursday as the number of new cases falls and the strain on the medical system eases, economy minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said. The plan, approved by a government advisory panel, takes Japan as a whole out of an emergency state for the first time in nearly six months.

Australia: Australian authorities have announced plans to reopen locked-down Sydney using a two-tiered system that will give people who are vaccinated against Covid more more freedoms than their unvaccinated neighbours for several weeks.

South Korea: South Korea is considerating  easing social distancing rules for fully vaccinated people from the end of October or early November, when 80% of adults and 90% of the elderly complete their vaccinations, according to Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol.

US: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised its travel advisories for Hong Kong and Singapore by one notch each. Hong Kong has a moderate level of Covid-19, the agency said, while Singapore’s is high. Unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Singapore, where all travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading variants, the CDC said.

Economy updates

UK: In Northern Ireland, shoppers have been urged not to “rush at once” to apply for a high street voucher scheme. All adults are eligible for a £100 pre-paid card to spend on the high street as the government looked to boost local businesses devastated by the pandemic.

Hong Kong: Hong Kong is stuck between China’s zero-tolerance approach to the coronavirus and the west’s reopening, and it has no clear idea how to satisfy Beijing’s demands so cross-border travel can resume, a top adviser to the city’s leader says. Officials in the Asian financial hub can’t loosen some of the world’s strictest Covid-19 rules, despite their chilling effect on international business and travel, because the city is prioritizing reopening the border with China, says Bernard Chan, a financier who is also the convenor of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s advisory Executive Council.