24 September

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed the grim milestone of 4.7 million, with a figure of 4,729,308 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections exceed 230.6 million world wide.

Tanzanian president Samia Suluhu Hassan has told the UN General Assembly: “No one is safe unless we are all safe.” As of mid-September, fewer than 4% of people in Africa have been fully immunised and most of the 5.7bn vaccine doses administered around the world have been given in just 10 rich countries. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday recommended the synthetic antibody treatment Regeneron for Covid-19, but only in patients with specific health profiles. Persons with non-severe Covid-19 who are nonetheless at high risk of hospitalisation can take the antibody combo, as should critically ill patients unable to mount an adequate immune response, according to a WHO finding published in BMJ.

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 42.6 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 684,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

As Covid-19 deaths mount in Idaho, where vaccination rates are lagging, funeral directors are running out of room to store the deceased, the Idaho Statesman reported. One mortuary converted a train car into an external refrigeration unit. It can hold up to 56 bodies.

Covid deaths in the US rose 2.9% during the week that ended Tuesday, with some counties in New York and Pennsylvania showing increases of 26% or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. States including Alabama, Georgia and West Virginia had among the most widespread increases in deaths. Deaths as a share of population are also soaring in eastern Texas and central Florida, according to a CDC national data update published Thursday. Hospitalizations for Covid declined 12.5% during the week through Monday compared with the previous seven days.

Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear said hospitals remain under unprecedented strain despite a leveling off of Covid-19 cases. “If we plateau at the level we’re at right now we cannot sustain it in our hospitals,” the Democratic governor said in a news briefing Thursday. “We have more people on ventilators now than we ever imagined were possible.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the state has acquired a small number of monoclonal antibody treatments from GlaxoSmithKline Plc, after he complained that the federal government had reduced shipments of the therapeutics. Speaking in Tampa, DeSantis said the state acquired 3,000 doses of GlaxoSmithKline’s Sotrovimab. DeSantis has opened more than 25 state-sponsored sites to administer the treatments, while also raising questions about why he hasn’t continued to promote vaccines with the same zeal.

The US Department of Education reimbursed a Florida county almost $150,000 after it was fined by the state for imposing a mask mandate in its schools. The money is the latest escalation in the fight between the Biden administration and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has been withholding money from school districts that defied his ban on mask mandates. The federal government said it would cover those costs. “We should be thanking districts for using proven strategies that will keep schools open and safe, not punishing them,” US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a press release.

UK: Coronavirus has caused male life expectancy in the UK to drop for the first time since records began. A boy born between 2018 and 2020 is expected to live until he is 79 years old – a drop from 79.2 years for 2015-2017, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

The number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in England has dropped to its lowest level since the end of June.

Covid-19 could resemble the common cold by spring next year as people’s immunity to the virus is boosted by vaccines and exposure, a leading British expert has said. Prof Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, said the UK was “over the worst”.

Russia: Covid deaths in Russia, where 820 people died from the virus in the last 24 hours, matched the all-time one-day high reached in August. Since the start of the pandemic, Russia has recorded 7,354,995 coronavirus cases.

Singapore: Singapore’s most serious Covid-19 cases – the infections now testing the government’s resolve to reopen – are almost entirely seniors age 60 or above, according to Ministry of Health data. Officials have repeatedly said the critical metric they’re watching isn’t the rising number of overall cases, but instead whether more serious infections will overwhelm the health-care system. Nearly half of Singapore’s most serious cases over the last month were people who weren’t fully vaccinated. Among those who ultimately died, some 77% hadn’t been completely inoculated.

China: China reported 30 local Covid cases as more infections were found in the northeastern city of Harbin. A larger outbreak that started earlier this month in southeast China’s Fujian province is ebbing, with 15 cases reported from Xiamen and Putian in the province.

South Korea: South Korea reported a record 2,434 new coronavirus cases in the wake of the Chuseok Thanksgiving holidays, which fell earlier this week. The total number of confirmed cases stood at 295,132, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. The death toll rose by seven to 2,434. More than 72% of the population has received at least one vaccine dose.

Vaccine news

Global: Novavax has announced that it has applied to the World Health Organization for an emergency-use listing of its Covid-19 vaccine. The listing is a prerequisite for export to several countries participating in the Covax vaccine-sharing facility.

US: The US Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized a booster dose of the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for those ages 65 and older and some high-risk Americans, paving the way for a quick rollout of the shots, Reuters reports.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expressed concern that resistance to getting vaccinated will prolong the pandemic regardless of whether booster shots are offered. “My concern is that we’re just going to keep giving booster doses to the vaccinated as different variants come onto the scene, and we’re not going to be able to move forward in truly mitigating the pandemic,” said Lynn Bahta, a member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Venezuela: Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said 70% of Venezuelans will be vaccinated against coronavirus by the end of October, without specifying whether he was referring to one or two doses. Maduro said on state television that 40% of Venezuelans are inoculated.

Lockdown updates

Portugal: Portugal will lift almost all remaining Covid-19 restrictions, allowing full occupancy in restaurants and cultural venues from 1 October, the prime minister, Antonio Costa, said on Thursday.

Thailand: Thailand is considering cutting hotel isolation requirements for vaccinated tourists in half to one week in a bid to attract foreign visitors again. It comes amid delays to plans to waive quarantine and reopen Bangkok and other tourist destinations from next month after the pandemic caused a collapse in the country’s tourism industry.

Japan: Japan plans to conduct trials of easing Covid restrictions, with 13 prefectures indicating they’d like to participate, Jiji reported, citing a briefing by Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura.

Japan plans to exempt vaccinated people from three-day hotel quarantine required for those entering from countries where variants of concern are spreading, Nikkei and other local media reported, citing plans shown at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Covid panel. Recipients of Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccines would be eligible for exemption starting next month. The category requiring hotel quarantine covers 45 countries and regions including the UK and India. Japan also plans to cut the duration of at-home quarantine on arrival to 10 days from 14 days, Nikkei reported Wednesday.

Seven & i Holdings will start offering Covid-19 test services from 29 September at convenience stores across Japan, excluding Okinawa prefecture.

Australia: A pilot program to allow some international students to return to Australia’s most populous state is likely to exclude Chinese nationals due to rules surrounding vaccination status. The phased plan was approved by the federal government and the first flight carrying some 500 fully-vaccinated international students will arrive in New South Wales by the end of the year, the state government said. Students from China who have taken their nation’s vaccine are likely to be ineligible because the shots aren’t recognized by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Guinea: Guinea’s ruling military junta is easing some emergency health measures imposed under ousted President Alpha Conde, due to a decline in coronavirus cases in the West African country. The occupancy rate in intensive care units fell to 25% and the number of deaths dropped in September, junta leader Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya said.