Covid-19 has infected more than 233M people and killed at least 4.7M globally. Here are the virus-related developments for September 29:

A lab technician holds a vial of Chinese Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine during the inauguration of a production lab designated to manufacture the vaccine, in Constantine, Algeria on September 29, 2021.
A lab technician holds a vial of Chinese Sinovac's CoronaVac vaccine during the inauguration of a production lab designated to manufacture the vaccine, in Constantine, Algeria on September 29, 2021. (Reuters)

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Algeria begins Sinovac vaccine production

Algeria has started producing the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Chinese firm Sinovac, with production expected to be eight million doses a month.

Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane, who attended the launch of the production process at a factory in the eastern city of Constantine, called it a "big achievement".

Production could be doubled in the North African nation if needed, officials said.

Arrests urged in South Africa's $10M virus fund fraud

South African investigators have called for a former health minister to be punished and a senior official to face criminal charges over a $10 million virus fund scandal.

The damning report from the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) said former health minister Zweli Mkhize oversaw contracts through Digital Vibes, a front company run by his former spokeswoman and personal assistant.

Using money meant to educate the public about how to stay safe during the pandemic, his son Dedani Mkhize bought a Land Cruiser and withdrew "signficant amounts of cash", the report said.

More than 109.15M vaccine jabs administered in Turkey to date

Turkey has administered over 109.15 million vaccine jabs since the country launched an immunisation drive in January, according to official figures released. 

Some 53.76 million people have been given a first dose of a vaccine, while over 44.3 million are fully vaccinated, the Health Ministry said. 

The ministry recorded 29,386 new cases, 227 fatalities, and 31,018 recoveries over the past day. 

US CDC calls for more vaccinations among pregnant women

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a health advisory to increase vaccinations among women who are pregnant, recently pregnant or trying to become pregnant, to prevent serious illness and death.

The CDC said its data showed only 31 percent of pregnant people have been vaccinated. Although more pregnant women are now vaccinated, the CDC said uptake of vaccines for pregnant women has been lower compared to the general population.

The health agency said in August pregnant women should be vaccinated, based on a new analysis that did not show increased risk for miscarriage.

The CDC said in addition to risks of severe illness and death for pregnant people, there is an increased risk of preterm birth in infected individuals.

PAHO says in advanced talks to buy more vaccines

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has said it is in advanced talks with vaccine makers to buy additional shots for its member states to complement bilateral deals, donations, and doses they are receiving via the COVAX mechanism.

PAHO has reached an agreement with Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac, and is expecting to sign new accords soon to buy vaccines with emergency use listing approval from other suppliers for 2021 and 2022, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said.

The agreement with Sinovac is to buy 8.5 million vaccine doses for 2021 and some 80 million doses next year, said Jarbas Barbosa, assistant director of PAHO, the regional branch of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Merck says research shows its pill works against variants

Laboratory studies have shown that Merck & Co's experimental oral  antiviral drug, molnupiravir, is likely to be effective against known variants of the coronavirus, including the dominant, highly transmissible Delta, the company said.

Since molnupiravir does not target the spike protein of the virus — the target of all current vaccines — which defines the differences between the variants, the drug should be equally effective as the virus continues to evolve, said Jay Grobler, head of infectious disease and vaccines at Merck.

YouTube cracks down on anti-vaccine misinformation

YouTube has announced it would remove videos and some high-profile users that falsely claim approved vaccines are dangerous, as social networks seek to crack down on health misinformation around Covid-19 and other diseases.

Video-sharing giant YouTube has already banned posts that spread falsehoods around coronavirus treatments, including ones that share inaccurate claims about vaccines shown to be safe.

Italy reports over 3,200 new cases

Italy has reported 63 deaths against 65 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 3,212 from 2,985.

Italy has registered 130,870 deaths since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth-highest in the world. The country has reported 4.67 million cases to date.

Britain records over 36,700 new cases

Britain has reported 36,722 new cases and 150 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test, official data showed.

The figures compared to 34,526 cases and 167 deaths recorded a day earlier.

Singapore reports highest single-day rise in cases

Singapore's Health Ministry has reported 2,268 new cases, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic.

The country also reported eight new deaths.

France plans to extend state of emergency until next summer

France has plans to extend the state of emergency until next year's summer to deal with the continuing epidemic, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.

This would mean that the government would keep the power to extend or reinstate restrictive measures such as lockdowns, limits on crowd movements and the health pass that currently is required until November.

Sweden lifts all restrictions

Sweden has lifted all restrictions in the country, announcing that the pandemic has been brought under full control.

The country announced limited restrictions that began on June 1 and ended on September 29, The Public Health Directorate said in a statement

Slovenia suspends J&J vaccine after 20-year-old's death

Slovenia has suspended use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine  while it investigates the death of a 20-year-old woman, as thousands protested against vaccination and anti-virus measures in the small European Union nation.

The suspension will be in place until experts determine whether there was a link between the woman's death from a stroke this week and the vaccine shot she received two weeks earlier, Health Minister Janez Poklukar said.

However, the vaccine’s “benefits continue to outweigh the risks” at this point, Poklukar said.

Vietnam's virus crisis spark shortages among global brands

From shoes and sweaters to car parts and coffee, Vietnam's strict and lengthy coronavirus lockdown has sparked product shortages among worldwide brands such as Nike and Gap which have grown increasingly dependent on the Southeast Asian nation's manufacturers.

While lockdowns are gradually loosening across the country as infections steadily decline, millions of Vietnamese have been under stay-at-home orders for months.

And a complex web of checkpoints and confusing travel permit regulations have made life impossible for truck drivers and businesses trying to move goods across, as well and in and out of, the country.

The delays and restrictions are a major headache for foreign businesses, many of which have pivoted to Southeast Asia from China in recent years  —  a trend accelerated by the bruising trade war between Washington and Beijing.

The pandemic has not only hit the country's textile industry but is also threatening global coffee supplies, with Vietnam the world's largest producer of robusta beans  — the variety used in instant coffee. Prices for the commodity are now sitting at a four-year high.

Car companies have not escaped either — Toyota slashed production for September and October owing partly to virus issues, telling AFP "the impact has been big in Vietnam", as well as Malaysia.

Even buyers of Apple's new iPhone 13 face longer-than-expected delivery times as components for the device's new camera module are assembled in Vietnam, Nikkei Asia said.

Russia logs record daily deaths for second day running

Russia has reported 857 new coronavirus-related deaths, the most in a single day since the pandemic began and the second day in a row it has set that record.

The government coronavirus task force also reported 22,430 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours.

Unvaccinated NBA players to face extensive restrictions

NBA players who are not vaccinated against Covid-19 will have to comply with a long list of restrictions to take part in the upcoming season, ESPN reported.

ESPN said that, as per the NBA's tentative health and safety protocols released to teams, vaccinated players will only be tested if they show symptoms or are a close contact of a positive case.

Unvaccinated players will have to undergo daily testing prior to entering a team facility, participating in team-organised activities, or interacting with other players and coaches.

Among the other restrictions, unvaccinated players will not be allowed to dine in the same room as other players, and must be given a locker as distant as possible from other players.

United Airlines to dismiss 593 workers who refused vaccines

United Airlines will dismiss nearly 600 employees who refused to comply with a requirement to be vaccinated for Covid-19, company officials said.

Besides the 593 workers who refused to get vaccinated, another 2,000 employees have also requested a medical or religious exemption to the vaccine requirement, company officials said. That is about three percent of United's 67,000-person workforce.

Poland's new cases surpass 1000 for the first time since May

The number of new daily coronavirus cases in Poland has surpassed 1,000 for the first time since late May, the health minister told Radio Plus, as a fourth wave of the pandemic gathers pace amid low vaccination rates.

"We said that by the end of September we would reach this average level of about 1,000 infections (daily), so for the time being this fourth wave is developing in line with our predictions," minister Adam Niedzielski said.

"These figures do not yet represent the level of risk to public health and health system capacity that would mandate drastic decisions," he added.

China completes inoculating 1.05B people with full vaccine doses

China has completed giving 1.05 billion people the full Covid-19 vaccine doses as of September 28, Mi Feng, a spokesperson at China's National Health Commission (NHC), said.

A total of 2.206 billion doses have been given as of September 28, the NHC data showed.

Floundering private sales of vaccine in India deal blow to Russia's Sputnik V

Some of India's private hospitals have cancelled orders for Russia's Sputnik V vaccine as they struggle to sell Covid-19 shots amid surging supplies of free doses of other vaccines offered by the government.

Some industry officials said low demand and the extremely cold storage temperatures required have spurred at least three big hospitals to cancel orders for Sputnik V, sold only on the private market in the world's biggest producer of vaccines.

Cambodia dogs train to sniff out virus

Cambodian anti-landmine authorities are training dogs to sniff out Covid-19, hoping the sharp-nosed canines normally used to detect underground explosives can keep the virus on a tight leash.

Joining the fight will be 12 Belgian Malinois dogs the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) has trained to nose out unsuspecting patients who might be carrying the virus.

In the longer term, the centre hopes to use the dogs at major events, including sports matches, director general Heng Ratana said.

"Dogs are more efficient than other tools," he said.

The University of Health Sciences provided samples of volatile organic compounds – organic chemicals that emit odours – from Covid-19 patients to the demining agency's facility in Kampong Chhnang province.

Brazil hospital chain hid virus deaths, whistleblowers' lawyer tells Senate

A Brazilian hospital chain tested unproven drugs on elderly Covid-19 patients without their knowledge as part of an effort to validate President Jair Bolsonaro's preferred "miracle cure," a lawyer for whistleblowing doctors has told senators.

At least nine people died of Covid-19 during the trials at the Prevent Senior hospital chain from March to April 2020, but their charts were altered to hide the cause of death, lawyer Bruna Morato told a Senate inquiry.

Prevent Senior rejected the accusations as unfounded and said it had "rigorously reported" all deaths. It added in a statement that 7 percent of the 56,000 Covid-19 patients it treated had died, a better record than other public and private hospitals.

Pedro Batista, owner and executive director of the hospital chain, acknowledged in testimony to the Senate inquiry last week that patients' charts where altered to remove any reference to Covid-19 after they had been hospitalised for two weeks, saying they were no longer a risk of contagion.

He denied testing unproven drugs on patients without their knowledge, saying doctors prescribed them when patients asked.

"It's the doctor who prescribes any medicine and, at the time, everyone recalls comments from (President Bolsonaro) and other influential people, so there were a lot of patients demanding prescriptions," Batista told the senators.

On Tuesday, Morato, representing 12 doctors employed at Prevent Senior, said the company threatened and fired doctors who disagreed with a predetermined "Covid kit" that included hydroxychloroquine, erythromycin and ivermectin. There is no scientific evidence that those drugs are beneficial in the treatment of Covid-19.

"Very vulnerable elderly patients were told there was a good treatment, but they did not know they were being used as guinea pigs," Morato, the whistleblowers' attorney, told senators investigating Brazil's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

She said doctors were told not to explain the treatment to the patients or their relatives.

"The purpose was to show that there was an effective treatment against Covid-19," Morato said.

She said the hospital had an agreement to help the Bolsonaro government, which was touting the unproven drugs as an effective treatment against the virus that would protect Brazilians from contagion if they went back to work.

Prevent Senior denied it had ever dismissed doctors who disagreed with the treatment and questioned why the lawyer did not name the anonymous accusers.

The Health Ministry did not reply to a request for comment. It is unclear how much the government knew about the alleged trials.

Australia to end emergency support as vaccinations rise

Australia will wind down emergency financial payments aimed at helping people and businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic as Covid-19 vaccinations rise, with payments in some states likely to end in weeks.

The federal government has spent over A$9 billion ($6.5 billion) since June to support around 2 million people, but will phase out the payments as vaccination levels near targetted levels at 70 percent-80 percent, Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.

"We are expecting when restrictions ease, people will get back to work, businesses will reopen and people will go about their daily lives," Frydenberg told a media briefing.

Australia is grappling with a third wave of infections fuelled by the Delta variant that has plunged its largest cities of Sydney and Melbourne and the capital Canberra into a weeks-long lockdown, putting its A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy on the brink of a second recession in as many years.

New Zealand reports a jump in new cases

New Zealand has reported 45 new cases of Covid-19, all in the biggest city Auckland, taking the total number of cases in the current outbreak to 1,230.

The new cases were much higher than just eight reported on Tuesday.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies