A health worker fills a syringe with a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine in Hammanskraal, South Africa, July 6, 2021. (ALET PRETORIUS / AP)
SANTIAGO / COPENHAGEN / ADDIS ABABA / RABAT / LONDON / BERLIN / DAR ES SALAAM / LJUBLJANA / LISBON / BRASILIA / ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE / STOCKHOLM / MOSCOW / PARIS / ROME / MEXICO CITY / CALGARY / TRIPOLI / UNITED NATIONS / KYIV - Africa remains in the throes of a third wave of coronavirus infections, despite a recent decline in new cases, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention.
John Nkengasong, the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention director, estimated that 70 percent of the population may need to be inoculated to curb the spread of the disease
New infections and deaths fell 14 percent in the four weeks through Sept 12, John Nkengasong, the center’s director said in an online briefing on Thursday. He estimated that 70 percent of the population may need to be inoculated to curb the spread of the disease
It’s unlikely that Africa has had “a significantly higher number of deaths than has been reported,” Nkengasong said. “What we know for sure is that we have an excess number of infections. There are people that have been infected and we didn’t count them.”
The Africa CDC also said that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 8,096,504 as of Thursday afternoon.
The Africa CDC, the specialized healthcare agency of the African Union, said that the death toll from the pandemic across the continent stands at 204,821, while some 7,409,626 patients have recovered from the disease so far.
Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded while the global death toll topped, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
As more adults get their COVID-19 vaccines, children who are not yet eligible for vaccination in most countries are representing a larger percentage of hospitalizations and even deaths, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) warned on Wednesday.
Nine months in to this year, infections among children and adolescents in the Americas have surpassed 1.9 million cases, and they face significant health risks, the regional branch of the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
Experts say the pandemic has triggered the worst educational crisis ever seen in the Americas due to the absence of in-person schooling.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted sexual and reproductive health services across more than half of the region's countries, helping to fuel one of the largest jumps in teenage pregnancy seen in a decade, PAHO said.
Lockdowns and economic disruptions have increased the risk of domestic violence and for many kids, their homes may not be a safe place, said PAHO Director Carissa Etienne in a briefing.
"Our kids have missed more school days than children in any other region. Each day that children go without in-person schooling, the higher the likelihood they drop out and never return to school," she said.
PAHO praised Chile, Uruguay and Colombia for successful programs to limit the pandemic's impact on young people.
Children wait to get tested for COVID-19 in North Miami, Florida, Aug 31, 2021. (MARTA LAVANDIER / AP)
Africa remains in the throes of a third wave of coronavirus infections, despite a recent decline in new cases, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (Africa CDC).
New infections and deaths fell 14 percent in the four weeks through Sept 12, John Nkengasong, Africa CDC’s director, said in an online briefing on Thursday. He estimates that 70 percent of the population may need to be inoculated to curb the spread of the disease.
It’s unlikely that Africa has had “a significantly higher number of deaths than has been reported,” Nkengasong said. “What we know for sure is that we have an excess number of infections. There are people that have been infected and we didn’t count them.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa stood at 8,079,618, the Africa CDC said.
The death toll reached 204,874 while a total of 7,383,007 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease, the Africa CDC said.
Brazil registered 14,780 new coronavirus cases and 800 COVID-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.
The Canadian province of Alberta introduced a vaccine passport system on Wednesday to combat a fourth wave of COVID-19 that is close to overwhelming the healthcare system, as Premier Jason Kenney apologized for mishandling the pandemic.
Alberta will impose measures including capacity restrictions for businesses and a ban on indoor dining in restaurants unless patrons can show government-issued proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours.
"Based on our analysis of other jurisdictions around the world with similar rates of vaccination we believed we could prudently move away from addressing COVID as a pandemic, and towards an endemic. It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize," Kenney said.
There are record numbers of COVID-19 patients in intensive care and the province risks running out of those beds in 10 days, Kenney said. Alberta is asking other Canadian provinces if they can provide intensive care beds and front-line staff to help deal with critical staffing shortages.
Chile will allow foreigners who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter the country starting Oct 1 as the country's pandemic eases, the government said Wednesday.
Non-resident foreigners who wish to enter the South American country must present proof of full vaccination, a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 72 hours before arrival and a vaccine passport, and comply with strict quarantine measures upon arrival, according to the government.
Foreigners will only be able to fly into the international airports in Iquique, Antofagasta and Santiago, or enter via land border crossings.
Only Chileans and foreign residents with a government-issued mobility pass can leave the country, the government said.
A Danish government-commissioned expert group released a report on Wednesday, advocating a contingency strategy for COVID-19 situation if the pandemic develops in a worrying direction.
Denmark has reclassified COVID-19 from "socially critical disease" to "generally dangerous disease," and almost all the restrictions were lifted on Sept 10.
The expert group recommended that the long-term strategy against COVID-19 should balance between epidemic control, economy, well-being and public health "to avoid as many national shutdowns as possible".
There were reasons to worry "new variants can arise, most likely outside Denmark, therefore we must be prepared for both a forth and fifth wave," said group member Astrid Iversen, professor of virology at the University of Oxford.
In the past 24 hours, the Statens Serum Institute (SSI) registered 370 new COVID-19 infections and three deaths, bringing the totals to 353,431 cases and 2,617 deaths.
The SSI reported that 75.7 percent of the Danish population, or 4,437,113 people, have started their vaccination progress and 73.6 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated.
Ethiopia registered 1,687 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 327,066 as of Wednesday evening, the Ministry of Health said.
The ministry also reported another 34 COVID-19 –related deaths and 1,463 new recoveries during the same period, bringing the death toll to 5,035 and total recoveries to 294,555.
There were 27,474 active COVID-19 cases, including 778 severe health conditions, according to the ministry.
The East African country has so far administered a total of 2,879,482 COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to the ministry.
Around 3,000 health workers who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 have been suspended in France, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Thursday, a day after the country made vaccination mandatory for all healthcare and care home workers.
President Emmanuel Macron's government imposed the rule to boost vaccination uptake and help prevent a new wave of infections in the autumn that might jeopardize France's economic recovery.
"Most of the suspensions are only temporary ... many of them have decided to get vaccinated as they see that the vaccination mandate is a reality," Veran told French RTL radio.
According to local daily Nice Matin, nearly 450 health workers have been suspended in a hospital in the city of Nice, in southern France.
The number of French patients in intensive care units (ICU) with COVID-19 has fallen below 2,000 for the first time since Aug 17, health ministry data showed on Wednesday.
The number of patients in ICU units with the disease reached 1,959 on Wednesday, down 41 from Tuesday.
The German government announced on Wednesday that the number of people requiring hospital treatment for COVID-19 is now the key indicator used to assess the pandemic situation in the country.
With 628 newly admitted patients on Wednesday, the seven-day hospitalization incidence rose slightly from 1.86 on the previous day to 1.88, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).
The hospitalization incidence is measured as the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized per 100,000 people in the past seven days.
Additional indicators which are used to assess the infection situation include the seven-day incidence of new infections differentiated by age, the intensive care treatment capacity available, and the number of people vaccinated against COVID-19.
Meanwhile, the seven-day COVID-19 incidence rate in Germany fell to 77.9 per 100,000 people on Wednesday, compared to 81.1 the day before and 82.7 a week ago, according to the RKI.
As of Wednesday, more than 51.9 million people in Germany have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, bringing the country's vaccination rate to 62.4 percent, according to the RKI.
Italy is set to make its COVID-19 "Green Pass" mandatory for all workers from next month, a minister said on Wednesday, becoming the first European country to do so as it tries to accelerate vaccinations and stamp out infections.
Regional Affairs Minister Mariastella Gelmini said the cabinet was ready to go still further when it met on Thursday.
"We are heading towards a mandatory Green Pass not only for public sector workers but also private sector ones," she told RAI radio. "The vaccine is the only weapon we have against COVID and we can only contain infection by vaccinating a great majority of the population."
Failure to have a Green Pass could result in workers being suspended and losing their pay. It wasn't immediately clear if it could be used as grounds for dismissal.
Around 73 percent of its 60-million-strong population have had at least one COVID-19 shot and 65 percent are fully vaccinated, figures broadly in line with most other European Union countries.
Jamaica is expected to receive doses of the Chinese-made Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine before the end of the year, according to the island's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jacquiline Bisasor-McKenzie.
Speaking during an online event on the pandemic hosted by the Health and Wellness Ministry late last week, Bisasor-McKenzie said the Sinopharm vaccines should be among the approximately 1 million doses of vaccines expected by November.
"Our supply chain, therefore, is pretty good for the rest of the year," Bisasor-McKenzie was quoted by local website Loop News as saying.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday that Libya received a batch of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine from Italy.
"Today, the Government of Italy provided Libya with a shipment of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines shipped to Mitiga Airport in Tripoli in cooperation with the COVAX Facility," the WHO tweeted.
According to Libya's National Center for Disease Control (NCDC), the batch contained 117,600 doses of vaccine.
Libya has registered 327,803 COVID-19 cases with 242,267 recoveries and 4,469 deaths, the NCDC said in a statement on Thursday.
A total of 1,253,087 people have been vaccinated in Libya so far, the center added.
Mexico's Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 13,217 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 897 deaths, bringing the total number of official infections since the pandemic began to 3,542,189 and the death toll to 269,912.
Needles preloaded with the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines sit in baskets awaiting patients at a vaccine clinic at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, US, on Aug 24, 2021. (JOSEPH PREZIOSO / AFP)
Moderna, Pfizer tout boosters
New data from Moderna's large COVID-19 vaccine trial showed that the protection it offers wanes over time, supporting the case for booster doses, while Pfizer said a booster dose was safe and effective at warding off the virus and new variants.
Pfizer said that data from the US and Israel suggest that the efficacy of its COVID-19 vaccine wanes over time, and that a booster dose was safe and effective at warding off the virus and new variants.
The company detailed the data in a presentation it will deliver to a meeting of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration on Friday. The panel is expected to make recommendations for whether more Americans should receive booster shots.
The decrease in effectiveness is “primarily due to waning of vaccine immune responses over time,” rather than the Delta variant, Pfizer researchers said in a presentation.
Early unpublished data from an Israeli health maintenance organization suggest that a third booster dose is highly effective in areas where the Delta variant is dominant, according to the Pfizer document. Giving a third dose to people more than 60 years old was associated with 86 percent effectiveness against testing positive for COVID-19 starting at least a week after the booster, Pfizer said.
Pfizer also detailed immune response results from a final-stage trial of booster shots in over 300 people, showing that a third dose bolstered blood antibody levels. One month after the third dose, levels of the protective antibodies were more than triple what they had been a month after the second shot.
No new unexpected side effects were identified from safety data associated with boosters in the final-stage study, according to the Pfizer report. Consideration of a booster dose six months after a second dose of its shot is warranted, based on similarities between the outbreaks in Israel and the US, Pfizer said.
Meanwhile, Moderna said that a new analysis of the late-stage clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine found a higher rate of breakthrough cases in people who got shots early in the study.
The company said it found that people who received the vaccine earlier had more than a 50 percent higher rate of symptomatic breakthrough infections in July and August, compared with those who were inoculated later.
“The increased risk of breakthrough in this analysis quantifies the impact of waning immunity” in the study, Moderna said in its statement. “This adds to evidence of potential benefit of a booster dose.”
The total number of people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in Morocco reached 17,057,066, the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Morocco's tally has risen to 910,991 as 2,642 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours, the ministry said.
The death toll rose by 46 to 13,729 while the total recoveries increased by 3,240 to 869,304, it said.
Panama approved a plan on Wednesday to vaccinate visitors in a bid to boost a tourism industry badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, becoming the first Central American nation to offer vaccine doses to tourists.
Tourists will receive AstraZeneca vaccines, with the recommended interval between the two doses set at eight to 12 weeks, the government said in a statement.
It was not clear when the initiative would take effect, though visitors who wish to be inoculated will be expected to stay at least two nights at hotels registered with the Panama Tourism Authority (ATP).
"Panama seeks to attract tourists from Central America, the Caribbean and South America," a government source, who sought anonymity because he was not authorized to talk on the issue, told Reuters.
Pope Francis said on Wednesday he was puzzled why so many people, including some cardinals in Roman Catholic Church hierarchy, have refused to get inoculated against COVID-19.
"It is a bit strange because humanity has a history of friendship with vaccines," he said aboard the plane returning from Slovakia, responding to a question from a reporter about the reasons for vaccine hesitancy.
"As children (we were vaccinated) for measles, polio. All the children were vaccinated and no one said anything," he said.
The Pople, who has been vaccinated against COVID-19, has often urged others to get inoculated for the common good.
Last month, he issued an appeal on behalf of the nonprofit US group the Ad Council and the public health coalition COVID Collaborative, saying the vaccine should be taken by everyone.
Portugal has fully inoculated 80 percent of its population against the coronavirus, official data showed, becoming one of the world's most vaccinated nations as authorities gradually drop most COVID-19 restrictions.
The southern European nation, which at the start of this year battled what was then the world's worst coronavirus surge, has vaccinated around 8.2 million people out of its population of just over 10 million, health authority DGS said late on Tuesday.
Almost all adults over 65 and half of young people aged 12-17 have now been fully vaccinated, DGS said. Everyone above the age of 12 is eligible to receive the vaccine in Portugal.
To date, Portugal has reported 17,872 COVID-19 deaths and 1,057,100 cases.
An outbreak of COVID-19 primarily among staffers has sickened dozens of people working close to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president said Thursday, highlighting the scale of the spread in one of the country’s most carefully guarded areas.
“It’s not one or two people but tens of people,” Putin said during a televised video link with other leaders in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. “I will have to observe self-isolation for several days.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said later Putin will remain in self-isolation for “at least a week” and is likely to use online voting to participate in this weekend’s parliamentary election. Putin is working on his typical schedule, Peskov said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) via video conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Sept 16, 2021. (ALEXEI DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / KREMLIN POOL PHOTO VIA AP)
Putin, 68, said Tuesday he’d been in close contact for a full day with an aide who was later diagnosed with COVID-19, and thus was going into self-isolation. Peskov said Thursday that the outbreak around the president took place this month and mainly affected a range of staffers including security workers. He said he wasn’t aware of any severe cases, noting that the vast majority of staff were vaccinated.
Putin received the Russian Sputnik V vaccine earlier this year. He said the aide who was infected also had been inoculated but got sick a few days after getting a booster shot.
Russia's RDIF sovereign wealth fund said on Wednesday Sputnik V vaccine has demonstrated 97.2 percent efficacy against COVID-19 during the vaccination campaign in Belarus.
In a drive to increase COVID-19 immunization coverage, the government of Slovenia on Wednesday introduced new restrictions for those who are not vaccinated.
According to the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ), only 944,443 inhabitants, or 44.8 percent of the population, have been fully immunized by Sept 15, placing the country among EU states with the lowest vaccination rates.
From Wednesday, only people who have been vaccinated, tested negative in the past few days or have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months will be able to attend public events or visit public places like restaurants, bars, shopping centers, hairdressers or petrol stations. The few exceptions include children under the age of 12, visits to food shops or pharmacists and urgent visits to the doctor.
Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s South African partner plans to have a vaccine-making facility operational as early as the end of the year after the two companies started a COVID-19 inoculation trial in infants, children and adolescents.
Numolux Group expects the so-called fill-and-finish factory to produce 100 million doses a year once it’s operating at full capacity, Chief Operating Officer Anton Arendse said in an interview on Wednesday, without saying how long it may take to reach this output. The plant would eventually produce vaccines other than for COVID-19, he said.
“The long-term plan is the manufacture and distribution of vaccines on the continent of Africa,” Arendse said.
The plans add to those of Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd., which is making vaccines on behalf of Johnson & Johnson in South Africa, and Cape Town’s Biovac Institute, which plans to producing the shot designed by Pfizer Inc. and BionNTech SE.
While the immediate production plans of the Pretoria-based company are for bottling and labeling, Numolux hopes to expand that to building a factory that supplies the active pharmaceutical ingredients. The cost for this may be as much as US$250 million, Arendse said.
Sweden will ramp up efforts to get more people vaccinated against COVID-19 in the face of a flagging inoculation drive, with authorities warning on Wednesday that the unvaccinated might have to live with restrictions longer.
More than 80 percent of Swedes aged 16 and above - the group eligible for the vaccines - have had one shot and almost 75 percent are fully vaccinated. However, some neighborhoods, primarily low-income areas and ones with higher foreign-born population, lag the rest of the country.
Sweden's vaccine uptake is on par with much of western Europe but substantially lower than that of stand-outs such as neighboring Denmark.
Health and Social Affairs Minister Lena Hallengren said 40 million Swedish crowns (US$4.67 million) would be used to produce more information on vaccines and measures such as buses offering drop-in vaccination slots in areas with low uptake.
"Not getting vaccinated means that you cannot return to the every-day life we had before 2020. The Swedish Public Health Agency will shortly return with special advice and instructions for the unvaccinated," Health Agency Head Johan Carlson said.
Tanzanian health authorities on Wednesday launched a program aimed at fast-tracking vaccination against COVID-19.
Abel Makubi, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children, said the program scheduled to start on Septr 20 will involve using mobile vaccination vehicles to reach communities in marginalized areas of the country.
"The newly launched program will also involve increasing the number of COVID-19 vaccination centers from the current 550 centers to 6,784 centers," Makubi said at a news conference in the capital Dodoma.
He said that the program was aimed at vaccinating 600,000 people within two weeks from Sept 20.
Another 30,597 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 7,312,683, according to official figures released Wednesday.
The country also recorded another 201 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 134,647. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.
University modelling provided to Spi-M-O showed that the hospital admissions in the next few months could skyrocket to more than 7,000 per day.
The total number of people in hospital with coronavirus in the country currently stands at 8,340. The figure has been over 8,000 for eight of the past nine days.
Meanwhile, more than 89 percent of people aged 16 and above have received their first dose of vaccine and more than 81 percent have received both doses, according to the latest data.
The number of daily coronavirus related deaths in Ukraine exceeded 100 over the past 24 hours for the first time since early June, when the country reported 118 deaths, the health ministry data showed on Thursday.
Ukraine reported 101 deaths on Sept 16 while the number of new infections rose to 5,744 from 4,640 a day earlier.
The number of new COVID-19 cases has been growing over the past few weeks and the government has already announced that it will tighten lockdown restrictions in the near future.
To date, Ukraine, with a population of 41 million, has reported 2.33 million COVID-19 cases and 54,651 deaths as of Sept 16.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed on Wednesday that he cannot ask world leaders to show they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, after New York City officials said proof should be required for anyone entering the UN General Assembly Hall.
Dozens of heads of state and government and foreign ministers - accompanied by countless diplomats - are due to be in New York next week for an annual high-level gathering at the United Nations. Some leaders are staying away and sending a video statement instead because of the coronavirus pandemic.
New York City officials told the UN that under its rules people "entering the UN premises for the purpose of entering the General Assembly Hall would be required to show proof of vaccination in order to gain entry to the Hall."
But Secretary-General Guterres told Reuters in an interview: "We, as the Secretariat, cannot tell a head of state if he is not vaccinated that he cannot enter the United Nations."
Guterres said the discussions around how many traveling diplomats might have been immunized illustrated "how dramatic the inequality is today in relation to vaccination." He added that the "overwhelming majority" of delegations traveling to New York would be vaccinated.
The United Nations children's agency UNICEF has urged education authorities to reopen schools as soon as possible in countries where millions of students are still not allowed to return to classrooms 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schools in around 17 countries remain fully closed, while those in 39 countries remain partially closed, according to a report released by UNICEF on Thursday.
Among those "almost completely closed" are schools usually attended by nearly 77 million students in the Philippines, Bangladesh, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Panama and Kuwait.
Pupils from the six countries represent more than half of the 131 million students worldwide that have missed more than three-quarters of their in-person learning, UNICEF said.
Teachers should be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccines, after health workers and those most at risk, to protect them from community transmission, UNICEF said.
Students may be safer at home, but the availability of computers, mobile phones and internet, and the uneven quality of education, are among challenges they continue to face.
UNICEF and its partners will shut down their digital channels for 18 hours on Thursday to draw attention to the crisis and the "18 months of lost learning".
US Food and Drug Administration scientists said on Wednesday that booster doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine may not be needed, even though the third shot generates a higher immune response in recipients.
The FDA staff members said in a document prepared for outside advisors that it is still unproven that the efficacy of Comirnaty - the COVID-19 vaccine Pfizer developed with Germany's BioNTech SE - is declining.
"Some observational studies have suggested declining efficacy of Comirnaty over time against symptomatic infection or against the Delta variant, while others have not," they said in the document.
"However, overall, data indicate that currently U.S.-licensed or authorized COVID-19 vaccines still afford protection against severe COVID-19 disease and death in the United States."
The agency released the document on Wednesday for consideration by a committee of outside experts who will meet on Friday to decided whether to recommend if USregulators should approve the extra round of shots.
The number of people getting a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine is declining again in the US after a fleeting uptick in August.
The drop is being led by the South and Central regions of the US. It’s a reversal of what just a month ago seemed like a hopeful trend for public health officials, when those places — hit hard by a wave of delta variant-driven cases — briefly led the nation in the number of people starting vaccinations.
The fall-off in new vaccinations means that those counties and states remain well behind the rest of the country’s vaccination levels. They also reveal the scale of the challenge President Joe Biden’s administration’s faces in getting more Americans to get a shot.
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