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August 31, 2021

International update: South Africa detects new Covid variant

By Paul Dennis

31 August

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 4.5 million, with a figure of 4,510,405 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have passed 217 million world wide.

South African scientists have detected a new coronavirus variant that may have increased transmissibility. Scientists are yet to establish whether it is more contagious or able to overcome the immunity provided by vaccines or prior infection.

Senior WHO officials fear there could be 236,000 more Covid deaths in Europe between now and 1 December on account of stagnating vaccination rates and low uptake in poorer countries.

The number of solid organ transplants fell dramatically around the world between 2019 and 2020, a study published in the Lancet Public Health journal has found, highlighting the widespread impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on health services and patients.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 39 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 638,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data. The number of US Covid-19 fatalities in August is already the highest since March, underscoring the deadly nature of the delta variant. The nation recorded 24,274 deaths this month as of Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. Confirmed cases of 3.8 million are the highest since January, at the peak of the winter surge.

The Education Department opened civil rights investigations in five Republican-led states asking whether bans on school mask mandates discriminate against students with disabilities at severe risk from contracting Covid-19. The agency’s Office for Civil Rights sent letters to state education leaders in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah Monday notifying them of the reviews.

A conservative talk radio host in Florida who said he wouldn’t get vaccinated has died from Covid-19, making him the third on-air personality who voiced skepticism about the shots to die in August, the New York Post reported. Marc Bernier, 65, who had characterized himself as “Mr. Anti-Vax” on his weekday WNDB radio show from Daytona Beach, died after a three-week fight against the virus, station officials announced. Bernier died about a week after Tennessee conservative talk radio host Phil Valentine, 61, died from a protracted battle against the virus. Newsmax anchor and radio host Dick Farrel died from the virus on 4 August.

UK: The UK has reported 26,476 new cases of Covid-19 between 24 August and 30 August, bringing reported cases up by 1.8% compared with the previous seven days.

New Zealand: New cases of Covid-19 have continued to drop in New Zealand, in a promising early indication that the country’s strict lockdown is working and its latest outbreak may be coming under control. The country reported 49 new cases on Tuesday, down from 53 a day earlier.

Australia: Australia’s months-long outbreak of delta variant cases is worsening, despite half the nation’s population being in lockdown. New South Wales state, the nation’s largest, recorded its fourth straight day of over 1,000 cases. More than 21,200 people have been infected since mid-June after authorities failed to contain a surge seeded from an unvaccinated chauffeur who was transporting flight crew in Sydney.

Meanwhile, Australia has reported a huge increase in illegal importations of ivermectin, which is typically used to deworm livestock, prompting health authorities to warn people against using it as a treatment for Covid-19.

Thailand: Thailand’s 14,666 new cases on Tuesday are the lowest since July 27, and the fourth straight day of declines. From tomorrow, the country’s strictest restrictions in 29 provinces, including Bangkok, will be relaxed. Restaurants will be allowed to offer dine-in services, more businesses in shopping malls will reopen and domestic flights will resume.

Vaccine news

Global: A third-dose booster shot of the Covid-19 vaccine is a way to keep the most vulnerable safe and “not a luxury”, the WHO has said. It urged European countries with excess vaccines to share them with other countries, particularly those in eastern Europe and Africa.

Brazil: Brazil became the latest major country to pass the US in the percentage of its citizens who have had at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine, as the government’s inoculation campaign picks up speed and resistance to the shots fades away. About 63% of Brazilians have now received at least one dose, versus 62% of people in the US, according to Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker. Countries including Germany, France and the UK have vaccinated at least 65% of the population with one shot, the data show.

Czech Republic: The Czech government will offer a booster Covid-19 vaccine to any previously vaccinated person. The jabs will be available from 20 September.

Japan: Japan’s health minister says it is highly likely that foreign matter found in Moderna Inc Covid-19 vaccines in the southern prefecture of Okinawa came about when needles where stuck incorrectly into vials.

France: France will provide 10m doses of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines for Africa over the next three months, President Emmanuel Macron’s office has announced.

Singapore: Singapore, which has fully vaccinated more than 80% of its population, is sending 500,000 Pfizer shots to Australia this week in return for receiving the same number back in December, when “they will have more potential use for us as booster shots,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post.

Lockdown updates

Europe: European Union countries voted to reimpose restrictions on non-essential travel from the US amid a surge in new cases, dealing a fresh blow to the tourism industry. A qualified majority of ambassadors voted to reintroduce the curbs, which had been lifted in June, according to an EU statement.

Schools across Europe must stay open and be made safer for staff and children, the WHO and Unicef have demanded, as a new term gets under way with the highly transmissible Delta variant still dominant in the region.

US: The US State Department told residents to reconsider travel to Germany and Canada amid a “high level” of Covid-19 in the two countries. It raised their travel advisories, separately, by one notch to Level 3.

Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico is once again tightening restrictions amid a surge in cases. Starting 2 September, most public-facing businesses – including restaurants, shopping centers and nightclubs – must close from midnight to 5 a.m., and alcohol sales are prohibited during those hours. While masks are already required in enclosed areas, they will also now be required outdoors in spaces where there are more than 50 people.

Economy updates

South Korea: South Korea’s budget increase will push the country’s debt load to a record level of more than half the size of the economy, fueling concern over the sustainability of its pandemic spending. The Finance Ministry proposed an 8.3% increase in fiscal expenditure, to 604.4 trillion won ($518 billion). That’s only slightly smaller than total spending in 2021, which included two extra budgets.

US: Landlords may evict some 750,000 US households by the end of the year, as lapsing eviction bans and high demand for rental housing push property owners to remove tenants, analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. wrote. As many as 3.5 million households are behind on rent, with landlords owed as much as $17 billion, the analysts estimated. Delinquent renters have been able to remain in their homes during the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Supreme Court lifted a federal ban on evictions last week, and remaining state and local moratoriums are slated to expire later this year.

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