Covid-19 wrap: England prevalence rises, Italy imposes mandatory health pass, France ends free testing

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Keeping you up to date on the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19) news from around the world.

FOLLOW LIVE | Covid-19: Govt to begin vaccinating ages 12-17 from 20 October, one dose of Pfizer to be used

Coronavirus toll at 10:00 (GMT) Friday

Paris – The novel coronavirus has killed at least 4 878 719 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 10:00 (GMT) on Friday.

At least 239 514 720 cases of coronavirus have been registered. The vast majority have recovered, though some have continued to experience symptoms weeks or even months later.

The figures are based on daily reports provided by health authorities in each country.

They exclude revisions made by other statistical organisations, which show that the number of deaths is much higher.

The World Health Organisation estimates that the pandemic's overall toll could be two to three times higher than official records, due to the excess mortality that is directly and indirectly linked to Covid-19.

A large number of the less severe or asymptomatic cases also remain undetected, despite intensified testing in many countries.

On Thursday, 7 273 new deaths and 440 702 new cases were recorded worldwide. Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were United States with 1 659 new deaths, followed by Russia with 998 and Brazil with 525.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 721 567 deaths from 44 768 043 cases.

 - AFP

England's Covid prevalence rises to highest level since January, ONS says

LONDON – The prevalence of Covid-19 infections in England increased to around 1 in 60 people in the week ending 9 October, Britain's Office for National Statistics said on Friday, reaching its highest level since January.

The ONS said that prevalence of infections had risen for its third straight week, having been at 1 in 70 people in the previous week.


Italy imposes mandatory Covid health pass for work amid protests

TRIESTE – Italy made Covid-19 health passes mandatory for all workers from Friday in a test case for Europe, with the measure being applied mostly peacefully across the country despite scattered protests.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi's cabinet approved the rule – one of the world's strictest anti-Covid measures – in September, making it obligatory from 15 October for all workers either to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection.

Under the rule, effective until year-end, workers without the so-called Green Pass will be suspended without pay and face a fine of up to €1 500 if they try to work on regardless.

The largest demonstrations were at the major northeastern port of Trieste, where labour groups had threatened to block operations and around 6 000 protesters, some chanting and carrying flares, gathered outside the gates.


France ends free Covid testing for all

Paris – France on Friday stopped offering Covid-19 tests free of charge for everyone, in the government's latest effort to incite holdouts to get vaccinated against the virus.

A recent negative test, proof of recovery or full vaccination is needed to get a health pass which is required for access to cafés, restaurants, sports facilities and entertainment venues such as cinemas.

The tests were free of charge while France's vaccination drive got into full swing, but the government said it did not view them as an alternative to vaccinations once everybody who wanted a jab could easily get one.

The nearly seven million adults in France who are not, or only partly, vaccinated will now have to pay between €22 and €44 per test.

Tests will remain free for people with a medical prescription, who have had recent contact with an infected person, who have tested positive recently or who are certified as vaccine-intolerant.

 - AFP

South Africa to vaccinate teenagers with single dose of Pfizer - health minister

CAPE TOWN – South Africa will start vaccinating children between the ages of 12 and 17 next week using the Pfizer vaccine, the health minister said on Friday, as the country looks to ratchet up inoculations ahead of final year examinations.

In August, hundreds of South Africans formed long lines to get their Covid-19 shots when the government made vaccinations available to all adults to try to meet a target of inoculating 70% of the adult population by December.

"This service will start on the 20th of October to allow the necessary preparations on the EVDS (electronic vaccination data system) registration system and also other logistical preparations," Health Minister Joe Phaahla said.

Last month, South Africa's health regulator approved the Pfizer vaccine for use in children aged 12 and older.


US donates 3.6 million doses of Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines to Nigeria

ABUJA – The United States has donated 3.6 million doses of the Pfizer Inc/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to Nigeria, two months after it shipped Moderna vaccines to Africa's most-populous nation, a local television station reported on Thursday.

Faisal Shuaib, who heads Nigeria's National Primary Health Care Development Agency, said on 5 October the country had confirmation that it would receive 3.57 million doses of Pfizer vaccines within the next two weeks.

The shipment arrived on Thursday at the airport in the capital, Abuja, AIT Television reported. Nigerian and US health authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

In August, Nigeria received 4 million doses of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccines donated by the US government.


Latvia's president contracts Covid-19 despite being vaccinated

Riga – Latvian President Egils Levits has contracted Covid-19 despite being fully vaccinated, his chief of staff said on Thursday, as the Baltic country reported a new record for daily coronavirus cases.

After returning from a visit to Denmark and Sweden, the president took a PCR test which came back positive.

"The symptoms are minimal and the president is feeling well, but the procedure requires the president to work remotely," Andris Teikmanis, chief of staff at chancery of the president, said in a statement.

The news forced Finland's President Sauli Niinisto to isolate as well, as the pair had lunch together on Wednesday.

 - AFP

UK lab suspended after false negative Covid-19 tests

LONDON – A Covid-19 testing laboratory in central England has been suspended over concern that it has been incorrectly giving negative PCR test results to people who are infected, the UK Health Security Agency (UKSHA) said on Friday.

NHS Test and Trace launched an investigation into a lab in Wolverhampton after reports of people getting negative PCR test results after testing positive on rapid lateral flow devices (LFDs).

Government advice says PCR tests are more accurate than LFDs, and people can stop self-isolating if a positive LFD result is followed by a negative PCR test result.

UKSHA said that an estimated 43 000 people may have been given incorrect negative PCR test results, mainly in South West England, possibly underestimating the number of people with coronavirus between 8 September and 12 October.


Sydney to open to travellers without quarantine, but citizens first

Sydney will allow in fully vaccinated travellers from overseas from 1 November without the need for quarantine, the country's most populous state said on Friday, although the easing of strict entry controls will initially benefit only citizens.

The move comes as New South Wales state is expected to reach an 80% first dose vaccination rate on Saturday, well ahead of the rest of Australia, and brings forward the expected return of overseas travel by several weeks.

"We need to rejoin the world. We can't live here in hermit kingdom. We've got to open up," New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet said.

Australia closed its borders in March 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing entry almost exclusively to only citizens and permanent residents who are currently required to undergo two weeks of hotel quarantine at their own expense.


New Zealand reports 65 new locally acquired cases of Covid-19

New Zealand reported 65 new locally acquired cases of Covid-19, with all in locked-down Auckland, as the country readies for a mass immunisation drive on Saturday when it hopes to administer a record 100 000 vaccine doses.

Auckland, the country's largest city, entered into a lockdown in mid-August to stamp out an outbreak of the Delta variant, with officials looking to end the strict restrictions when full vaccination rates reach 90%.

About 2.6 million New Zealanders have so far been fully vaccinated, or about 62% of the eligible population.

New Zealand, which had stayed largely virus-free for most of the pandemic until a Delta outbreak in mid-August, is now looking to live with Covid-19 through higher inoculations. It reported 71 cases on Thursday, the biggest rise in six weeks.


Russia's daily Covid-19 deaths, new cases hit record highs

MOSCOW – Russia on Friday reported a record 999 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours as well as 32 196 new infections, its highest single-day case tally since the start of the pandemic.

The Kremlin has blamed the rising death toll on Russia's slow vaccination campaign.


Mexico posts 381 more Covid-19 fatalities; death toll reaches 283 574

MEXICO CITY – Mexico's health ministry on Thursday reported 381 more deaths due to Covid-19, bringing the country's overall death toll to 283 574.


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