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CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE: UK warned on surge and ‘Long Covid’; South Africa registers 15,501 new cases


Members of the SA Police Service launched their vaccination drive at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto on 5 July 2021. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

South Africa registered 15,501 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,090,909. A further 457 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total deaths to 62,628. A total of 3,631,102 people have been vaccinated.

The UK will relax self-isolation requirements for fully vaccinated people, even as health officials warn that getting back to normal could mean new cases jump to 100,000 a day and a rise in “Long Covid” cases occurring in the young.

Elsewhere in Europe, Germany is easing rules for travellers from Britain, Portugal and other nations. Meanwhile, the Delta variant was boosting case numbers worldwide, with Indonesia and Bangladesh reporting record infections and Sydney considering whether to extend its lockdown.

The Australian Grand Prix Formula One race planned for November has been cancelled, and Japan plans to hold the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics without fans, according to reports. Africa health ministers advised that 15 million vaccine doses donated by the US are ready for distribution.

Key developments

Botswana’s beer tie to virus challenged

Anheuser-Busch InBev’s division in Botswana filed a lawsuit against the government for banning alcohol sales to combat the spread of Covid-19, saying there’s no scientific basis for the move and 200,000 jobs are under threat.

Kgalagadi Breweries filed the claim in the High Court in Gaborone, according to a statement on Tuesday. The prohibition is having a devastating impact on the industry and its “extensive value chain”, spokesman Masegonyana Madisa said.

‘Long Covid’ threat for UK young

“Long Covid” is set to soar among younger people in England when remaining coronavirus restrictions are lifted, England’s chief medical officer warned.

“Since there’s a lot of Covid at the moment and the rates are going up, I regret to say I think we will get a significant amount more ‘Long Covid’ – particularly in the younger ages where the vaccination rates are currently much lower,” Chris Witty said at the Local Government Association’s virtual conference on Tuesday.

“Long Covid” occurs when a wide range of health problems keep happening weeks or months after patients seemingly recover from even a mild case.

On Monday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced plans to end social distancing and capacity limits at venues in England from July 19, with a final decision to be taken next week. Health Minister Sajid Javid, meanwhile, warned that new cases could rise to 100,000 a day over the summer.

Greece retightens bar, club limits

Greece plans to re-tighten pandemic measures on bars and clubs after 1,797 new cases were recorded on Tuesday, the highest daily increase since June 1.

The spike in cases was associated with younger adults attending large night-time entertainment venues, Deputy Citizen Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said on Tuesday. From July 8, such venues will revert to seated spaces only with capacity limitations, said Hardalias.

mRNA vaccine gains outweigh heart risk

The benefits of messenger RNA Covid-19 vaccines clearly outweigh the risks despite heart complications seen in a relatively small number of mostly young men, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Roughly 1,200 cases of myocarditis, or inflammation of the heart wall, were reported in people who received mRNA vaccines, the CDC said in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report on Tuesday. But with about 296 million doses of mRNA vaccines having been administered as of June 11, the benefit is clear in all populations, including adolescents and young adults, the researchers reported.

Vaccines made by Moderna and the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership are the only mRNA inoculations authorised for emergency use in the US. The issue was first explored in a June 23 meeting of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Netherlands cases rise

Weekly coronavirus cases in the Netherlands more than doubled from the previous week. The national health service reported 8,541 infections on Tuesday, a significant rise from the 4,208 cases reported on June 29.

At least 180 people contracted Covid-19 after visiting the Aspen Valley nightclub in Enschede on June 26, reports the Dutch news agency ANP, citing the local health service.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge has asked that people only visit a nightclub two weeks after they have been fully vaccinated, adding that this adjustment to the rules will take effect “in the short term”.

US vaccines headed to Africa

The African Union and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention have advised health ministers on the continent that they have 15 million Covid-19 vaccines donated by the US ready for distribution.

The shipment, to be distributed by the vaccine-sharing initiative Covax, consists of five million Johnson & Johnson doses, administered in a single shot, and 10 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, given in two shots. The advisory, seen by Bloomberg, came in a July 5 communication from the two groups to member states.

The allocation to each country will be communicated by the end of next week, according to the advisory.

Bangladesh sees record cases in day

Bangladesh on Tuesday reported a record 11,525 virus cases, raising the overall tally to 966,406 as the Delta variant spreads in both urban and rural areas despite a stringent lockdown.

The South Asian nation logged 163 new deaths from the disease.

The government has redeployed doctors to the Covid-19 units of hospitals in remote districts, according to Health Minister Zahid Maleque. Bangladesh extended its lockdown measures by a week to July 14.

“Urgent action” is needed to increase vaccine supplies for Bangladesh as “hospitals reach capacity and oxygen supplies run short across the country”, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said in an emailed statement.

UK to end isolation for vaccinated contacts

From August 16, “anyone who is a close contact of a positive case will no longer have to self-isolate if they have been fully vaccinated”, UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in Parliament. School-aged children under age 18 will also no longer have to automatically isolate themselves if exposed to the virus.

Javid warned on Tuesday that new cases could rise to 100,000 a day over the summer as the country prepares to relax rules on July 19.

“By the time we get to the 19th, we would expect case numbers by then to be at least double what they are now, so around 50,000 new cases a day,” Javid said on the BBC Radio Today programme. 

“As we ease and go into the summer, we expect them to rise significantly and they could go as high as 100,000 case numbers.”

What matters most is that the link with hospitalisation and death “has been severely weakened,” he said.

Factory sleepovers guard Vietnam’s workers

As Vietnam battles a resurgence of Covid-19, the nation is going to extraordinary lengths to protect its reputation as a vital cog in the global tech supply chain — with thousands of workers sleeping on factory floors to minimise disruption.

In the northern provinces of Bac Ninh and Bac Giang, a key manufacturing hub that’s home to Samsung Electronics and leading Apple suppliers, authorities say about 150,000 workers are living at industrial parks to reduce the risk of infections. In the commercial hub of Ho Chi Minh City, 22 companies with a workforce of 25,000 also set up sleepover sites for an unspecified number of employees.

Germany’s vaccination targets

Germany should aim to fully vaccinate at least 85% of people aged 12 to 59 by the end of this summer and 90% of those 60 and older to prevent a fourth wave that could fill up intensive care units again, according to a government report.

The country also needs to continue using basic hygiene measures like face masks and maintain some social distancing, the modelling report from the Robert Koch Institute public health agency said. To achieve those vaccination levels, shipments of shots must arrive on time and people can’t put off getting inoculated during vacation season, the report said.

The modelling takes into account the higher transmissibility of the Delta variant.

Indonesian deaths set record for third day

Indonesia has reported record infections and fatalities for three straight days as hospitals become overwhelmed and local oxygen supply struggles to keep up with surging demand.

There were 31,189 confirmed cases in the 24 hours through midday Tuesday, with 728 deaths.

Russia reports record deaths

Russia’s coronavirus task force reported a record of 737 Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday as the country struggles against a surge from the Delta variant. As was the case in previous months, death statistics are likely to be revised upward by Russia’s Federal Statistics Service when it releases monthly figures.

England cricket players test positive

England will select a new cricket squad for its One Day International matches against Pakistan – scheduled for Thursday in Cardiff – after three players and four staff members tested positive, the BBC reported.

Israel new cases rise to highest since March

Some 501 new cases were confirmed in Israel on Monday, the highest number for a single day since March, according to Health Ministry data. At the same time, the number of serious cases dipped to 33 from 35. About 42% of the newly diagnosed had been fully vaccinated. The efficacy of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine has declined in the past month, though it continues to shield well against severe illness, the ministry said on Monday.

Londoners will travel to shop

London’s West End shopping area is almost as busy as it was before the pandemic, while the financial districts remain only half full. That suggests more residents are comfortable traveling into crowded centres, but are in no rush to return to the office.

Last week’s transaction volume at Pret A Manger. sandwich stores in the West End was 78% of what it was before the pandemic, the highest level since lockdown measures began easing in March, according to Bloomberg’s Pret Index.

South Korea, Israel sign vaccine deal

South Korea signed a vaccine swap deal with Israel to receive about 700,000 doses of Pfizer’s shot, South Korea’s Disease Control & Prevention Agency said. As part of the deal, Israel will receive an identical number of Pfizer doses from Korea in September through November.

Germany eases travel rules for UK, Portugal

Starting on Wednesday, Germany will no longer designate nations including the UK and Portugal as virus variant areas, lifting a requirement for all inbound travellers – including those fully vaccinated – to quarantine for 14 days.

The RKI public-health institute updated its list of variant countries late on Monday, also removing Russia, India and Nepal. Still on the list are nations including Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay.

India records fewest cases since March

India recorded its lowest tally of confirmed cases in a day since March 17 when the Delta-driven second wave started gripping the nation, overwhelming hospitals and crematoriums.

The country added 34,703 cases on Tuesday, taking the total to 30.6 million. It has administered 357.6 million vaccine shots so far as it races to avert subsequent waves. Covid-related casualties rose by 553 in a day to 403,281, according to the latest data from the Indian Health Ministry.

Hong Kong eyes Singapore Covid strategy

Hong Kong will assess Singapore’s new Covid-19 strategy as the two sides try to revive a quarantine-free travel corridor that was initially planned to open last November.

“We need to understand more about that new strategy and whether it will have any impact on the arrangements that we have devised,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing when asked about the so-called travel bubble. “The situation is very stable on both sides, so this is something that we will be working very closely on.”

Singapore is set to loosen restrictions on activities such as dining out next week as its vaccination rate improves, and more opportunity for travel could open up further down the line. The country plans to have two-thirds of its population of almost six million fully vaccinated by August 9.

Philippine cities halt shots as supplies run out

Several cities in the Philippine capital region halted their first-dose vaccination programmes as supply from the national government runs out.

Makati City, home to the nation’s main financial district, said the scheduled inoculation of frontline workers receiving the vaccine for the first time won’t push through on Tuesday. It also shut several vaccination sites in malls and schools, the city government said on Facebook.

Paranaque, Caloocan and Valenzuela cities have also stopped first-dose vaccinations as they await for additional supplies, while Malabon and Muntinlupa announced they will no longer entertain walk-ins.

Australia herd immunity threshold seen rising

Australia needs to vaccinate at least 85% of the population to achieve herd immunity, a James Cook University researcher said in a statement on Monday.

“Herd immunity has become more difficult to achieve with the Delta variant, as it is both more infectious and less amenable to vaccination,” said Emma McBryde, professor of infectious diseases epidemiology and modelling.

Even without herd immunity, “vaccinated people are protected against severe disease and much less likely to be hospitalised or die,” McBryde said.

Researchers plea for science, not speculation

The strongest, most credible evidence indicates SARS-CoV-2 evolved in nature, and suggestions of a laboratory leak aren’t backed by scientific evidence, scientists wrote in a letter to the Lancet on Monday.

“Allegations and conjecture are of no help,” wrote the authors, who include Rita Colwell, Peter Daszak, Christian Drosten, Jeremy Farrar and Juan Lubroth. “It is time to turn down the heat of the rhetoric and turn up the light of scientific inquiry if we are to be better prepared to stem the next pandemic, whenever it comes and wherever it begins.”

Japan to open Olympics without fans

The Japanese government is planning to hold the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics without fans, giving up earlier plans to have spectators at the July 23 event, the Asahi newspaper reported, citing several unidentified government officials.

IOC committee members, sponsors and other officials will be allowed to attend the ceremony, but the government will attempt to further downsize the number. Venues with capacity of 10,000 people or more will be banned from having spectators as well as events scheduled to start later than 9 pm. DM

— With assistance by Jonas O Bergman, Jason Gale, Malavika Kaur Makol, Iain Rogers, Tim Loh, Arun Devnath, Loni Prinsloo, Antony Sguazzin, Paul Tugwell, and Emily Ashton.

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