Covid-19 has infected more than 242.9M people and killed over 4.9M globally. Here are the virus-related developments for October 21:

FILE PHOTO: A health worker administers a vaccine during the launch of the South African leg of a global Phase III trial of Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccination of children and adolescents, in Pretoria, South Africa, September 10, 2021.
FILE PHOTO: A health worker administers a vaccine during the launch of the South African leg of a global Phase III trial of Sinovac's Covid-19 vaccination of children and adolescents, in Pretoria, South Africa, September 10, 2021. (Reuters Archive)

Thursday, October 21, 2021

WHO urges G20 to step up vaccine donations to the south

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on the world's 20 richest nations, holding a summit next week, to step up donations of Covid-19 doses to the global south where vaccinations lag.

"The @g20org countries must fulfil their dose-sharing commitments immediately," WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news briefing.

Gordon Brown, WHO ambassador for global health financing, said that if the world's richest countries cannot mobilise for a vaccine airlift to developing countries, an epidemiological and economic "dereliction of duty will shame us all".

There is still a shortfall of 500 million vaccines to reach WHO's 40 percent vaccination target in all countries in mid-2022, while 240 million doses are lying unused in the West, Brown said.

Pfizer, BioNTech say booster shot's efficacy nearly 96%

A booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was found to be 95.6 percent effective against Covid-19.

The result is from a large Phase 3 trial “with more than 10,000 participants 16 years of age and older” that was conducted “during a period when Delta was the prevalent strain.”

“In the trial, a booster dose administer ed to individuals who previously received the Pfizer-BioNTech primary two-dose series restored vaccine protection against Covid-19 to the high levels achieved after the second dose, showing a relative vaccine efficacy of 95.6 percent when compared to those who did not receive a booster,” read a joint statement.

Some 55.5 percent of the participants were between 16 and 55 years, while 23.3 percent were 65 years and older.

They randomly received a 30-microgram vaccine dose or a placebo, with the median time between a person’s second dose and the booster or placebo being approximately 11 months.

The efficacy was consistent irrespective of age, sex, race, ethnicity, or comorbid conditions, it added.

Pandemic fallout wreaks havoc with EU governments' deficits, debts

Last year, when fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic hit economic activity all around the world, government deficits in EU countries rose significantly.

The government-deficit-to-gross-domestic-product (GDP) ratio in the 27-member European Union rose from 0.5 percen to 6.9 percent in 2020, according to official figures released Thursday by Eurostat.

Meanwhile, the government-debt-to-GDP ratio in 2020 climbed from 77.2 percent in 2019 to 90.1 percent in 2020.

Russia reports cases of more contagious Delta subvariant

Russia has reported "isolated cases" of Covid-19 with a subvariant of the Delta variant that is believed to be even more contagious, the state consumer watchdog's senior researcher said on Thursday.

The researcher, Kamil Khafizov, said the AY.4.2 subvariant may be around 10 percent more infectious than the original Delta - which has driven new cases and deaths to a series of record daily highs in Russia - and could ultimately replace it.

However, he said this was likely to be a slow process.

The AY.4.2 subvariant is also on an increasing trajectory in England and had already accounted for about 6 percent of all sequences generated on the week beginning September 27, a UK Health Security Agency report released on October 15 said.

British Health Minister Sajid Javid on Wednesday said there was no reason to believe the subvariant posed a greater threat than Delta.

Russian immunologist Nikolay Kryuchkov said Delta and its subvariants would remain dominant and might in the future adapt in some ways to vaccines, especially where vaccination rates are below or just above 50 percent.

The Russian health ministry had no immediate comment.

Israel to readmit Covid-vaccinated foreign tourists next month

Individual tourists who are vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to enter Israel from month, the government said on Thursday, further easing curbs on foreign arrivals that were imposed when the pandemic broke out.

A joint plan between the tourism and health ministries and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will allow the admission of foreigners who received vaccines within the last six months from Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sinovac and Sinopharm as of Nov.

Under the plan, those who have recovered from Covid-19 may also enter Israel, subject to receiving one vaccine dose approved by the World Health Organization.

The plan is subject to cabinet approval and "will be updated in accordance with developments and the discovery of new variants", the joint statement said.

On Sunday, Bennett told cabinet ministers "as we are managing the gradual exit from the Delta wave, we are preparing the infrastructure for the 'Omega' scenario'," the code name for a new variant .

Israel's borders have largely been closed to foreigners since March 2020. It has in recent months allowed in small groups of vaccinated tourists and first-degree relatives of Israelis.

WHO calls for action to protect health and care workers from impact of Covid-19

The World Health Organization has called for urgent action to better protect health and care workers while increasing Covid-19 vaccinations for them.

In a statement, the WHO said they are concerned that large numbers of health and care workers have died from Covid-19, and that an increasing proportion of the workforce is suffering from burnout, stress, anxiety, and fatigue.

At the same time, the WHO Europe made its announcement that a billion doses of Covid-19 vaccine have been administered in its region that includes 53 countries and extends from Greenland in the northwest to the Russian Far East.

“This is a big number and a major achievement credited to all the healthcare workers relentlessly saving lives on the frontlines of this crisis, but we can’t allow hubris to take hold,” said Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.

“Dig deeper, and you discover that these one billion doses are unequally shared, leaving many in our region behind,” Kluge said.

In a separate statement, WHO and some of its partners called on governments of member states and stakeholders to strengthen the monitoring and reporting of Covid-19 infections, ill-health, and deaths among health and care workers.

Moscow to shut shops, schools as deaths soar 

Authorities in Moscow have announced plans to shut restaurants, cinemas and non-food stores and introduce other restrictions later this month, as Russia registered the highest daily numbers of new coronavirus infections and deaths since the start of the pandemic.

The government coronavirus task force reported 36,339 new confirmed infections and 1,036 deaths in the past 24 hours. That brought Russia’s death toll to 227,389, by far the highest in Europe. President Vladimir Putin has voiced consternation about vaccine hesitancy and sought to urge more to come forward for jabs.

Only about 45 million Russians — roughly a third of its nearly 146 million people — are fully vaccinated.

Putin on Wednesday responded by ordering Russians to stay off work from October 30 to November 7, and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin followed up on Thursday by ordering all non-food stores, gyms, cinemas and other entertainment venues in the capital to be shut from Octover 28 to November 7.

Restaurants and cafes will only be allowed to deliver takeaway orders, and schools and kindergartens will also be closed during that period.

Most state organisations and private businesses except for those operating key infrastructure and a few others will halt work in the 11-day period, the mayor added.

“The situation in Moscow is developing according to the worst-case scenario,” Sobyanin wrote on his blog, adding that the number of infections in the capital is nearing all-time highs.

Pfizer says Covid booster shot has 95.6% efficacy

A booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech showed 95.6 percent efficacy against symptomatic infection, according to trial data published by the makers.

The clinical phase three trial with "10,000 participants 16 years of age and older" showed "a relative vaccine efficacy of 95.6 percent against disease during a period when Delta was the prevalent strain", the companies said in a statement.

The study presented the "first results" of a booster trial, with a third shot of the vaccine demonstrating a "favourable safety profile".

"These results provide further evidence of the benefits of boosters as we aim to keep people well-protected against this disease," said Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla.

In the United States, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a third dose in September for everyone aged 65 and up, as well as people at high risk of developing severe Covid.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) approved a booster for over-18s at the beginning of October, allowing national regulators to decide which groups should be eligible first.

India gives 1B vaccine doses, aspires to speed 2nd jabs

India celebrated giving its billionth Covid-19 vaccine dose, a hopeful milestone for the South Asian country where the Delta variant fueled a crushing surge earlier this year and missteps initially held back its inoculation campaign.

About half of India's nearly 1.4 billion people have received at least one dose while around 20 percent are fully immunized, according to Our World in Data. 

The success of the campaign has been credited with driving down coronavirus cases since the devastating months at the start of the year when India was recording hundreds of thousands of infections a day, hospitals buckled under the pressure, and crematoriums and graveyards became overwhelmed. 

But experts warn that India must speed up the delivery of second shots in order to ensure the outbreak doesn't flare again.

The country widened the gap between shots from 12 to 16 weeks to administer more first doses at a time when supply was limited and infections were surging – a tactic countries like the United Kingdom have used in times of crisis

In the last 24 hours, India confirmed more than 18,400 new cases and 160 deaths – dramatically below the worst days in May when daily fatalities exceeded 4,000. 

New China Covid-19 outbreak

Parts of northern China are bracing for more curbs as a wave of cases raises concerns of a broader outbreak, with three areas enforcing lockdowns and some schools halting classes.

Authorities cancelled hundreds of flights, closed schools and ramped up mass testing to try and stamp out a new outbreak across several provinces linked to a group of tourists.

Alxa Left Banner, a small administrative division in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, said late on Wednesday it had imposed a lockdown and would test its population of 180,000, after the city of Erenhot and a division called Ejina Banner barred people from leaving amid local outbreaks.

Ukraine reaches all-time death record amid vaccine scepticism

Coronavirus infections and deaths in Ukraine surged to all-time highs amid a slow pace of vaccination, which is one of the lowest in Europe.

Ukrainian authorities reported 22,415 new confirmed infections and 546 deaths in the past 24 hours, the highest numbers since the start of the pandemic.

Authorities have blamed a spike in infections on a slow pace of vaccination in the 41-million nation. 

Ukrainians can choose between Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Sinovac vaccines, but only about 15 percent of Ukrainians are fully vaccinated, Europe’s lowest level after Armenia.

Overall, the country has registered over 2.7 million infections and 62,389 deaths.

Latvia announces four-week lockdown as infections rise

Latvia plunges back into lockdown with non-essential shops closed and cinemas, theatres and hairdressers shutting down for a month in a bid to break the world's worst infection rate.

Following an emergency government meeting late Monday, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said that the lockdown from October 21 until November 15 and accompanying drastic measures are needed as the pandemic continues to spread quickly, causing hospital wards to fill up with Covid-19 patients amid scarce healthcare resources.

Only slightly over half of Latvians are now fully vaccinated, and Karins admitted that his government had failed to lure citizens to get jabs.

The country became the first EU country to shut down again since the bloc began reopening this year as vaccines became widely available.

Melbourne readies to exit world's longest Covid-19 lockdown

Millions in Melbourne are readying to come out of the world's longest Covid-19 lockdown after Victoria state hit a key vaccination target, with pubs, restaurants, and cafes racing to reopen their doors to fully vaccinated customers.

Melbourne's residents have been enduring their sixth pandemic lockdown since early August to quell an outbreak fuelled by the Delta strain. 

Authorities ramped up the state's immunisation drive before easing curbs, even as daily cases continue to hover near record levels.

By Friday, the city of five million would have spent a cumulative 262 days, or nearly nine months, under stay-home orders since March 2020 – the world's longest, exceeding a 234-day lockdown in Buenos Aires, according to Australian media.

US clears Moderna, J&J boosters, backs use of different vaccine for booster

The US Food and Drug Administration has authorised booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccines from Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson, and said Americans can choose a different shot from their original inoculation as a booster.

That means all three vaccines authorised in the United States can also be given as boosters to some groups.

"The availability of these boosters is important for continued protection against Covid-19 disease," acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement. She noted that data suggests vaccine effectiveness may wane over time in some fully vaccinated people.

The decision paves the way for millions in the United States to get additional protection as the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus causes breakthrough infections among some who are fully vaccinated.

The agency previously authorized boosters of the Pfizer Inc vaccine developed with German partner BioNTech SE at least six months after the first round of shots to increase protection for people aged 65 and older, those at risk of severe disease, and those who are exposed to the virus through their work.

Argentina drops masks for first time since pandemic

For the first time since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, citizens of Buenos Aires have enjoyed the lifting of the mandatory use of face masks in open places.

Masks will also not be compulsory during open-air activities in schools, although children will be required to wear them inside classrooms and on public transport.

The government of President Alberto Fernandez had allowed people to stop wearing the mask in open spaces nationwide from October 1, but it was up to individual cities to implement the measure.

Capital city authorities waited until 70 percent of its population was fully vaccinated to roll back the use of masks.

Music fans spend more time listening to tunes during pandemic – study

Music fans globally are spending more time listening to tunes, about 18.4 hours a week on average, and have turned to their favourite artists for comfort during the pandemic, according to a survey.

IFPI, the recorded music industry's representative body, said the figure, which equates to listening to 368 three-minute songs, is up from 18 hours in 2019, with listeners mostly turning to subscription audio streaming, video streaming, the radio and short-form video apps like TikTok.

The "Engaging with Music 2021" study, described by IFPI as the largest of its kind, is based on the views of 43,000 music fans in 21 countries.

"The research finds that not only are fans listening to more music, but that they are also seizing opportunities to engage with new, dynamic, and immersive music experiences," IFPI Chief Executive Frances Moore said in the report.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies