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CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

US revises Japan travel risk level; South Africa registers 136 new cases

Residents wait in line for their Covid-19 vaccine inside the Discovery Ltd mass vaccination site at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in Cape Town, South Africa, on Tuesday, 7 September 2021. (Photo: Dwayne Senior / Bloomberg via Getty Images)
By Bloomberg
15 Nov 2021 0

South Africa registered 136 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,926,075. A further five Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 89,489. A total of 24,082,686 people have been vaccinated.

The US revised its travel advisory for Japan to Level 1, the agency’s lowest risk assessment.

The antidepressant Prozac appeared to reduce the risk of death in patients with severe Covid-19 who were admitted to the hospital, according to a small, observational study.

New York City asked healthcare providers to give a booster to anyone who requests one, as new cases pick up steam. “There should be no barriers to accessing a booster shot,” said Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi.

A new wave of infections across Europe showed no sign of slowing. Austria began a lockdown for people who haven’t been vaccinated, while Ireland got set to recommend people start working from home again. The UK expanded its booster programme, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he wouldn’t rule out another wave of lockdowns this winter if infection rates jump. 

Key developments 

CDC puts Japan travel notice at lowest level 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised its travel advisory on Japan to Level 1, the agency’s lowest risk assessment. Travellers should be fully vaccinated, wear masks and maintain social distancing, the CDC said.

Amazon, California reach worker safety deal 

Amazon.com will step up efforts to inform warehouse workers in California about safety protocols and outbreaks under a deal reached with the state’s Attorney General.

The accord requires that the retailer notify workers within a day and local health agencies within 48 hours about new cases in the workplace. The state filed suit against Amazon in state court, along with a request that a judge approve the settlement.

Boris Johnson leaves lockdowns on the table 

Asked if there could be another lockdown this Christmas, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned: “Clearly, we cannot rule anything out.” While saying that current data show no need for more restrictions, “History shows we cannot afford to be complacent,” he said. Last month Johnson said there would be no curbs over the holidays.

England Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said large parts of the National Health Service are under “very significant pressure” and are likely to remain so over the winter.

Prozac may reduce death risk, study says 

The antidepressant popularly known as Prozac appeared to reduce the risk of death in patients admitted to the hospital with severe Covid-19, according to a study published in the Jama Network Open journal. Of the 470 patients taking fluoxetine, Prozac’s chemical name, 9.8% died. That compared with more than 13% of patients with similar characteristics not receiving any antidepressant.

A reviewer of the study cautioned that it was observational and too small to establish cause and effect. Also, previous health conditions weren’t available for all patients, another limitation, the reviewer said.

Singapore new cases rise to 2,069 

Singapore recorded 2,069 new cases, up from 1,723 on Sunday. The Health Ministry reported that 1,533 patients were hospitalised, 255 of whom required oxygen supplementation. Eight people died from Covid-19 complications on November 15.

Italy’s police probe anti-vaccine extremists 

The Italian police identified 17 anti-vaccine and anti-green pass extremists affiliated with the “Enough of the Dictatorship” Telegram chat. The protesters are under investigation for incitement to commit crimes against doctors, journalists, scientists and government officials in the country, including Prime Minister Mario Draghi, authorities said.

New York City urges adults to get booster shot 

New York City encouraged health care providers to allow all adults to get the booster shot as the city grapples with a rise in virus cases.

People aged 18 and over who received a Moderna or Pfizer dose at least six months ago or the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at least two months ago are eligible for the booster, city Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said.

More than 630,000 New Yorkers have already received a booster shot. The percentage of positive cases on a seven-day-average rose to 1.66% on Saturday, up from 1.36% on October 31, according to city data.

Cyprus backs boosters for all adults 

Cyprus approved a booster for everyone above the age of 18, the country’s Health Ministry said. Some 67% of the population has been fully vaccinated and the extra shot will be administered six months after the second one.

Singapore reopens travel for fully vaccinated people 

Singapore said it would allow quarantine-free travel for fully vaccinated people from countries including India, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia. The city-state is looking to reclaim its position as an international aviation hub and move past the pandemic that has kept its 5.7 million residents home for more than a year. 

Inoculated visitors from Indonesia and India will be able to enter from November 29, while those from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar will be welcome from December 6 without having to quarantine, the Health Ministry said. Unvaccinated children 12 and under can accompany eligible adults.

Italy cases, deaths creep up  

Italy reported 15,223 more new Covid-19 cases and 105 more deaths last week than the week before, according to data released by the government. The country’s figure of 51,318 new infections was the highest since May. 

Compared with the same week one year ago, Italy reported 190,763 fewer new infections, though tests conducted increased by almost two million. The 390 recorded Covid deaths were less than 11% of the total recorded in the same week of 2020.

EU expands vaccine pass recognition 

The European Commission recognises the Covid-19 certificates issued by Georgia, Moldova, New Zealand and Serbia. At the same time, the four countries agreed to accept the EU’s digital certificate for travel.

UK offers boosters to people in their forties 

The UK is expanding its Covid-19 booster programme to younger people as the country seeks to head off another wave of infections this winter. 

A third vaccine dose will be available to people aged 40 to 49 starting six months after their second shot, the government said on Monday. Previously, only those over 50 and other vulnerable groups were eligible. So far, more than 12 million people have received a booster. 

The government is also recommending a second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for 16 and 17-year-olds. That inoculation will be given at least 12 weeks after the initial dose or a Covid infection, whichever is later. 

Indonesia cases fall to 18-month low 

Indonesia reported 221 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, the fewest since April last year, with 11 deaths. 

While the country has identified so-called Delta sub-variants among its active cases, Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in a press briefing that the government is confident there is now sufficient immunity, with about 40% of the targeted population fully vaccinated.

More than 130 million Indonesians have received at least their first dose, nearly half of the total. The country is still monitoring the virus situation in other countries before reopening borders further, said Coordinating Minister of Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto.

Austria slaps restrictions on unvaccinated 

Austrian police were ordered to stop individuals on the streets to enforce a lockdown on people who have refused a Covid-19 shot, with Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg condemning the country’s “shamefully low vaccination rate”. 

Starting on Monday, people who can’t show proof of vaccination and are caught going into cinemas, gyms or retail stores face fines starting at €500. Business owners could be tapped for €3,600, the Interior Ministry announced on Sunday.  

German parties mull over curbs for unvaccinated 

The three German parties negotiating a government coalition – the Social Democrats, Free Democrats and Greens – are planning to tighten restrictions on unvaccinated people, according to Oliver Krischer, the deputy head of the Greens caucus in the German Parliament.

People who have refused a Covid shot will have to expect curbs on contact, he said Monday on ZDF television. Current extraordinary measures to combat the spread of the virus will expire on November 25, and the coalition parties are planning to present new legislation later this week.

Germany reported a record seven-day incidence rate of 303 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Robert Koch-Institut.

Ireland may encourage people to stay home 

Ireland’s government is set to recommend people go back to working from home where possible, the Irish Times reported.

The country has seen the most new cases since January in recent days. Still, the government is unlikely to push through more severe restrictions for now, with hospitalisations about a third of what they were at the start of the year.

Pfizer shot generates most antibodies: study 

A study testing immune responses to four Covid vaccines found that Pfizer’s shot yielded the strongest result. 

“Relatively low” antibody concentrations were stimulated by the Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines, intermediate levels for the AstraZeneca vaccine, and the highest values for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a study in the journal Cell Host and Microbe showed. 

New York-based Pfizer’s vaccine is expected to generate $36-billion in revenue this year. Read more here about how the company’s chief executive officer, Albert Bourla, has been the most outspoken among fellow CEOs in resisting calls to make the technology behind inoculations more widely available.

Some Cathay air crew face 21-day quarantine 

Cathay Pacific Airway said any crew members who stayed in Frankfurt this month will need to quarantine for 21 days in a government facility after three pilots on cargo flights from the German financial hub were confirmed Covid cases. The airline will suspend layovers in the German city for cargo crew and is requiring crew members to take daily Covid tests.

Hong Kong, the world’s busiest airport for international air cargo, is stepping up measures to try to contain the spread of the virus as part of its Covid Zero push to reopen its border with mainland China, which is also pursuing an elimination strategy. The stricter measures are upsetting some staff, however, with several taking to social media to document their experience.

India reopens to foreign tourists after 20 months 

India is allowing quarantine-free entry to fully inoculated travellers from 99 reciprocating countries after halting tourist visas in March last year. The government only requires such tourists to monitor their health for 14 days after arrival.

The country’s immunisation campaign has also gathered pace, with more than a billion vaccine doses administered, and antibody surveys suggest that most Indians have already been exposed to Covid. While national infection levels have in recent weeks touched lows last seen earlier in the year, there are concerns that the easing of curbs risks a complacency similar to when India experienced an ebb between its two major waves. 

China’s Dalian starts citywide testing 

The northeastern Chinese city of Dalian on Sunday started a citywide round of Covid testing, Xinhua reported, as it battles the biggest flareup in the country’s current outbreak.

Tens of thousands of university students are under lockdown after the city became the latest hotspot of infections. The momentum of the current flare-up is slowing and the epidemic is generally “under control”, the city government said on Sunday.

Japan plans faster booster roll-out  

Japan is preparing to make vaccine booster shots available six months after a second inoculation, NHK reports, citing unidentified sources. Under current plans, fully vaccinated people would be eligible for boosters after eight months.

The move follows reports from other countries that vaccine efficacy starts to decline after six months, according to NHK. Japan is due to start its booster roll-out next month, following the example of countries including the US, UK, China and Singapore.

Cambodia allows quarantine-free travel 

Cambodia is removing quarantine requirements for all vaccinated travellers from Monday. New arrivals will be required to take a rapid antigen test, and must bring proof of inoculation and a negative Covid test within 72 hours of boarding a flight.

In October, neighbouring Thailand announced a similar reopening for vaccinated visitors from more than 60 countries. However, very few places have reciprocated, so many international travellers will still face quarantine on return from either of the Southeast Asian nations. For more on the destinations that are open to visitors, explore the Bloomberg Covid Travel Tracker.

Lawsuit fails to block US military shot mandate  

The Biden administration’s push for vaccine mandates, under fire in courts around the nation, has survived a legal challenge headed by former Trump campaign lawyer Sidney Powell over vaccines in the military.

Powell, who tried to flip the result of the 2020 presidential election with a series of failed lawsuits based on conspiracy theories, lost a request to temporarily block the Pentagon’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of disgruntled service members.

The suit didn’t come close to meeting the high bar for winning a preliminary injunction, US District Judge Allen Winsor ruled on Friday in Pensacola, Florida. DM

With assistance from Max Zimmerman, Arys Aditya, Peter Flanagan and Flavia Rotondi.

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