Covid-19 has infected more than 418M people and killed over 5.8M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

The world is
The world is "entering a phase where society is getting a better understanding on how to deal with the virus," Sahin said. (AFP)

Thursday, February 17, 2022

'World becoming better prepared to deal with future variants'

The world has become "better prepared" to deal with future variants of the coronavirus, the CEO and co-founder of German vaccine-maker BioNTech said, as the company works on an Omicron-specific shot. 

"We will have to get used to the fact that we will have to live with the virus for the next 10 years," said Ugur Sahin, whose company developed the first mRNA vaccine against the virus with US pharma giant Pfizer.

As the surge of cases due to the spread of the more transmissible Omicron variant of the virus seemed to be receding in Europe, Sahin said it would not be the last virus wave.

New virus variants were inevitable "because the virus will mutate further", he said, potentially leading to new flare-ups in cases.

But the world was "entering a phase where society is getting a better understanding on how to deal with the virus," Sahin said.

"We are always learning more and are becoming better prepared," the BioNTech boss said.

South Africa allows use of Merck pill but government not buying

South Africa's health products regulator has said it approved the use of Merck's Covid-19 pill for high-risk adults.

The South African Health Product Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) said in a statement it has "authorised, with conditions, the importation of molnupiravir" for an initial period of six months.

The oral treatment is taken within five days of symptom onset and has been shown in a pre-Omicron trial to reduce Covid hospitalisations and deaths by 30 percent among at-risk people.

However, the South African government is not planning to buy the pill because an evaluation score from an advisory committee indicated it will not be cost-effective, senior health official Nicholas Crisp said.

Swiss president tests positive as Covid rules lifted

President Ignazio Cassis has tested positive for Covid-19, the government said, the same day Switzerland lifted almost all remaining coronavirus restrictions despite high case numbers.

The test "came back positive and the president went into self-isolation this morning as soon as he learned of the test result," a government statement said. "Mr Cassis has no symptoms and is in good health."

Brazilian firm to make Sputnik Light vaccine for export

A Brazilian pharmaceutical firm has said a technology transfer would allow it to make the Sputnik Light Covid-19 vaccine for export to Latin American countries in a partnership touted by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Privately owned Brazilian company Uniao Quimica said it has produced millions of Sputnik V doses for sale in other countries by RDIF, since the vaccine is not approved for use in Brazil.

"We already have the Sputnik Light and we are ready to produce it commercially," Miguel Giudicissi, chief science officer at Uniao Quimica, said

Portugal drops most rules as Omicron ebbs

As an Omicron-fuelled wave of infections ebbs, Portugal has said it would drop most of its remaining coronavirus rules, including the requirement to show the Covid-19 digital pass to stay at hotels or a negative test to enter nightclubs.

The new measures will come into force in the next few days, Cabinet Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said, as they need still the final stamp of approval from the president.

Those going to restaurants, hotels or cultural venues will no longer be asked to show the Covid digital certificate — proof of vaccination, recovery from Covid or a negative test. That will still be required to enter Portugal by air, sea or land.

A negative test will also not be requested to attend large events or to enter sports stadiums, bars and nightclubs.

UK seven-day infections down nearly 27% on week before
The United Kingdom has reported 51,899 new cases of Covid-19, leaving the seven-day tally down by 26.6 percent on the previous week.
It reported 183 deaths of people who had tested positive for the disease within the previous 28 days. The seven-day total for deaths was down 25.6 percent on the week before.

Japan relaxes border restrictions for workers, students

Japan will ease its strict border rules to allow students and businesspeople into the country from March, but tourists will still be barred. 

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said a cap on daily entrants will be raised to from the current 3,500 to 5,000.

Japan's restrictions are the toughest in the G7 but have broad support from Japanese voters. It has barred tourists since the early days of the pandemic.

Hong Kong hospitals hit 90 percent capacity 

Hong Kong's hospitals have reached 90 percent capacity and quarantine facilities were at their limit, authorities said, as the city struggles to snuff out a record number of new cases.

To ease the strain on the city's healthcare system, officials said they would take a different approach to hospitalisation and isolation policies and allow some patients to be discharged sooner. 

The move comes amid reports of patients being treated on beds outside a hospital in the city’s working-class neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po.

Hong Kong reported 6,116 new infections on Thursday.

For first time, no new cases at Beijing Olympics

Beijing Olympics organisers have said that there were no new infections in the "closed-loop" bubble for the first time, hailing the success of China's strict approach.

The nearly 3,000 athletes and over 60,000 support staff, volunteers, journalists and others are cocooned inside the bubble where they must be tested every day and wear a mask at all times.

There have been 435 cases in the bubble since January 24, when official figures began to be released, among them an unknown number of athletes.

But the daily number of positive tests inside the bubble has been dwindling as the Games reaches its conclusion on Sunday, with no positive PCR tests on Wednesday.

Israel to scrap Covid-19 passport system 

Israel’s prime minister has said the country’s vaccination “green pass” system will be suspended as new daily cases continue to decline.

Naftali Bennett said after meeting with health officials that Israel’s Omicron wave “has been broken” and that additional reductions in curbs were forthcoming.

The Green Pass, Israel's digital vaccination passport, limited entry to indoor venues and large gatherings to people who had recovered from the virus or received at least three vaccine doses.

Solomon Islands outbreak triggers concerns

The Red Cross has warned that the Pacific Island nation's fragile health care system is at risk of becoming overwhelmed.

Solomon Islands capital Honiara has only one small hospital, said Clement Manuri, secretary-general of the Solomon Islands Red Cross Society.

Authorities have already turned a sports building into a field hospital and a football stadium into a vaccination centre, Manuri told The Associated Press in an interview from Honiara.

The nation of some 690,000 is spread across hundreds of islands, and many are served by only small health care clinics or have no nearby facilities at all, Manuri said.

Moderna patent application raises fears for Africa vaccine hub

Moderna Inc has applied for patents in South Africa relating to its vaccine.

The move has prompted fears the company could eventually seek to prevent a new African vaccine manufacturing hub from making its own version of the mRNA shot.

Moderna spokesperson Colleen Hussey confirmed it had filed for patents "related to both the Covid-19 vaccine and Moderna's platform technology" in South Africa and elsewhere.

Hussey said the move would not block vaccine distribution in Africa and reiterated Moderna's October 2020 pledge not to enforce its Covid-19 related patents during the pandemic.

Brazil registers nearly 1,100 Covid deaths in a day

Brazil had 147,734 new cases of the novel coronavirus reported in the past 24 hours and 1,085 deaths from Covid-19, the Health Ministry has said.

The South American country has now registered 27,806,786 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 640,774, according to ministry data.

Mexico reports over 500 Covid deaths

Mexico has recorded 520 more deaths from Covid-19, bringing the total death toll to 314,128, according to the government data. 

Hong Kong tells residents to 'remain confident'

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has called on residents to "remain confident" and support her administration's measures to contain a worsening Covid-19 outbreak, as daily infections surged by more than 40 times since the start of February.

Lam's comments, in a statement released late, came after Chinese President Xi Jinping told Hong Kong's leaders their "overriding mission" was to stabilise and control the coronavirus in the global financial hub.

In a move to free up beds for isolation, Lam said she had spoken with local hotel owners to identify up to 10,000 hotel rooms for patients. Security chief Chris Tang would oversee the operation of participating hotels, she said.

Moderna aims for August to release booster

An Omicron-specific booster could be ready by August, the CEO of US biotech firm Moderna has told Reuters news agency, but the firm is still gathering clinical data to determine whether that vaccine would offer better protection than a new dose of the existing jab.

Last month Moderna began clinical trials for a booster dose specifically designed to target Omicron but initial results from studies in monkeys show the Omicron-specific shot may not offer stronger protection than a new dose of the existing vaccine.

Moderna chief executive Stephane Bancel said in an interview the company aimed to have a booster ready by August 2022, before next autumn when he said more vulnerable people may need it.

BioNTech to ship mobile vaccine labs to Africa

Germany's BioNTech, which together with Pfizer developed the first mRNA vaccine against the coronavirus, has said it plans to ship mobile vaccine production units to Africa.

BioNTech said it aims to establish the "first manufacturing facility in the African Union" in "mid-2022" and expects to ship the modular production units to Rwanda and/or Senegal. 

Rwandan President Paul Kagame and his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall attended the Vaccine Equity for Africa meeting at BioNTech's mRNA production site in Marburg, Germany, along with Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo and World Health Organization Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies