21 October

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 4.9 million, with a figure of 4,922,096 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University . Meanwhile, infections exceed 242 million world wide.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 45.2 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 731,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Poisonings from taking ivermectin, an antiparasitic drug that some people have used in an attempt to treat or prevent Covid-19, rose sharply in August, according to a report from the Oregon Poison Center. Among the 21 reported poisonings, six people were hospitalized, including four who required intensive care. All six hospitalizations were in people taking ivermectin to prevent the viral disease, according to the report. Symptoms included gastrointestinal distress, confusion, weakness, loss of muscle coordination, low blood pressure and seizures.

US Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh will meet with federal workers on Wednesday morning ahead of the president’s deadline for government employees to prove their vaccination status. Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja, who leads the federal government’s human resources agency, will also attend the meeting. Federal workers will have to prove they’re vaccinated by 8 November or face unpaid suspension followed by termination, her team said earlier this month. The meeting marks the latest step in the president’s push to increase vaccination rates nationwide. Roughly 2.1 million civilians work for the federal government.

UK: The British Medical Association says the “time is now” for the government to enact ‘plan B’ in England to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed by growing numbers of coronavirus cases. The doctors’ trade union believes not taking action over England’s growing Covid cases is “wilfully negligent”.

The UK health secretary says daily Covid cases could hit as high as 100,000. Sajid Javid said the government always knew that winter would bring problems and that Covid hospitalisations are already approaching 1,000 a day.

Javid will hold a press conference at 5 pm in London as pressure rises on the government to control a surge in cases. Javid is expected to encourage more elderly and vulnerable people to get booster vaccinations, and give an update on antiviral drugs. Javid will insist this is not yet the time for “Plan B” measures, which could include mandatory masks, vaccine passports and guidance to work from home, according to The Sun newspaper. It will be the first Covid press conference in five weeks.

UK Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said there won’t be a fresh lockdown of the UK economy even as cases tick upward and Prime Minister Boris Johnson warns of a difficult winter ahead. In a bullish round of interviews with UK broadcasters, Kwarteng said the government is monitoring coronavirus data by the hour, and pointed out that while case levels are high, hospitalizations and deaths are much lower than at the start of the year due to the country’s successful vaccination program. He told LBC radio “I categorically rule out” new lockdown measures.

New Zealand: New Zealand Covid daily cases passed 100 for first time since pandemic began. The nation’s director general of health says the country is following a similar trajectory to the UK, with vast majority of hospital cases being unvaccinated.

Poland: Poland is facing an explosion of coronavirus cases that may need drastic action, the health minister has said after the country recorded more than 5,000 daily new infections for the first time since May.

Austria: Austria is struggling to curb the latest wave of infections, with more than 3,700 new cases registered on Wednesday, the most since March. Vaccinations have helped cap hospitalizations, however, with coronavirus patients in intensive-care units at less than a third of peak levels seen in April and a year ago.

Romania: Romania is seeking more help from the European Union to get medicine and medical personnel to treat coronavirus patients, the country’s health ministry said. Its Covid hospitals had no available ICU beds Wednesday, with about 1,800 people occupying existing capacity. The country is suffering one of the worst outbreaks in the world because of a low vaccination rate, insufficient restrictions and a disregard for social distancing measures. Top government officials are poised to discuss introducing tougher curbs later on Wednesday.

Malaysia: Malaysia’s Covid-19 tracking application has been misused by “malicious scripts” to send unsolicited one-time passwords to random phone numbers. The team running the MySejahtera app, which also verifies Covid vaccinations, said they received complaints from several users about getting OTP messages to verify their phone numbers for check-in QR registrations. Some users received emails saying they’ve tested positive for Covid. The incident sparked concerns on social media about a likely leak of personal data involving the nation’s 32 million people.

Vaccine news

Australia: Excess AstraZeneca vaccines may go to waste in Australia. None of the current 7m surplus doses has been earmarked for foreign aid, with the volume of supply available to Pacific neighbours declining to just 26,500 last week. Former AMA president, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, condemned “a very good vaccine going to waste”, as declining public take-up causes stock held by suburban GPs to pass expiration dates.

US: The US Food and Drug Administration cleared a broad path for millions of Americans to receive Covid-19 vaccine booster shots, as the nation looks to bolster its defenses and prevent another virus surge. The agency said in a statement on Wednesday that Moderna Inc. vaccine recipients over 65 and over can receive a third shot, as can adults 18 and up at high risk of severe Covid or with frequent institutional or occupational exposure to the virus that causes the disease. Additionally, all J&J recipients 18 and older are eligible for a booster shot at least two months after receiving their first dose.

Lithuania: Lithuania’s biggest news portals said they were switching off public comments on their articles about Covid-19 vaccines in an effort aimed at curbing conspiracy theories.

Bulgaria: Hundreds of anti-vaccine protesters took to the streets of Sofia to demonstrate Bulgaria’s new Covid pass requirement.

Lockdown updates

Latvia: Latvia is the first country to reimpose lockdown in Europe’s new Covid wave. The Baltic state once seen as coronavirus success story announced a month of restrictions including curfew.

Czech Republic: The Czech government will make wearing face-masks obligatory at all indoor spaces as of next week to stem coronavirus spread that has significantly accelerated this week, Health Minister Adam Vojtech said after an extraordinary cabinet meeting. Customers at the restaurants will have to provide certificates of either vaccination or negative test results. The government also shortened the validity of Covid-19 tests and stopped providing free tests to people, with the exceptions of children, to motivate people to get vaccinated.

Serbia: Serbia is curbing access to indoor bars and restaurants, allowing in only people who have been fully vaccinated or recovered not more than seven months ago, Premier Ana Brnabic told reporters in Belgrade. Negative virus tests are valid for up to 72 hours, she said. The health crisis is worsening again, with new infections spiking to more than 7,000 a day in the nation of barely 7 million people.

Russia: President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s most sweeping restrictions since May as the numbers of new infections and deaths reached record levels. Putin approved a government proposal to declare 30 October to 7 November “non-working days” to slow the spread. The country’s worst-affected regions will be required to introduce the stay-at-home order from 23 October. “Now it is especially important to bring down the peak of a new wave of the epidemic,” said Putin, who issued an unusually impassioned plea for Russians to protect themselves by getting vaccinated.

Austria: Austria will require people who come into close contact with others at the workplace to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test. The measure, announced by the government in Vienna, takes effect next month.

Kenya: Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta lifted a dusk-to-dawn curfew as the number of new coronavirus cases fell. Place of worship can also be filled to two-thirds of their capacity, double the previous limit, Kenyatta said in a televised address on Wednesday.

Singapore: Singapore will maintain current virus restrictions for about another month as new infections threaten to overwhelm its health care system. The city-state set a record with almost 4,000 daily cases.

EU: EU countries are seeking agreement on ways to ease pandemic travel restrictions within and into the bloc as leaders work to boost vaccination levels. One option under discussion ahead of a two-day EU summit in Brussels is a plan to effectively scrap the traffic-light system of green and red areas in the bloc that has been used to govern travel rules and instead allow anyone who has been vaccinated to travel freely, according to a European Commission informal proposal seen by Bloomberg.

Economy updates

US: Employers across the US are struggling to attract and retain talent, and in some areas, vaccine mandates have made it even more challenging to hold onto workers, the Federal Reserve’s Beige Book said Wednesday. The central bank said vaccine mandates were “widely cited” as contributing to high labor turnover, along with child-care issues and Covid-related absences. However, diving into the comments of the five regional Fed banks that mentioned vaccines, the repercussions of mandates varied.

Switzerland: Roche Holding AG raised its forecast for the year slightly, saying demand for its prescription drugs and Covid-19 tests will help sales and earnings rise in the mid-single digits. The new outlook comes after revenue rose 8% in the first nine months of the year, the Basel, Switzerland-based company said. Roche’s previous forecast was for sales and earnings excluding some items to grow by a low- to mid-single-digit percentage.