Covid-19 wrap: Britain's situation 'stable', Palau hits 99% vaccination, Bali opens to select tourists


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

FOLLOW LIVE | Covid-19 in SA: Cases rise by 942 as death toll hits 88 466

Coronavirus toll at 10:00 (GMT) Thursday

Paris – The novel coronavirus has killed at least 4 870 405 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 Thursday.

At least 239 058 470 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 Wednesday, 8 666 new deaths and 459 785 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were United States with 3 108 new deaths, followed by Russia with 986 and Mexico with 420.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 719 530 deaths from 44 683 145 cases.

 - AFP

Britain's Covid-19 situation stable - health minister

LONDON – Britain's defences against Covid-19 are working and the pandemic situation is currently stable, health minister Sajid Javid said on Thursday.

"Overall things feel quite stable at this point. The numbers are a bit up, a bit down over the last few weeks," he told Times Radio.

"Our primary defences against this virus are working."

Britain reported 42 776 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest number since mid-July, and 136 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test, official data showed.


England school return spurred Covid-19 in children, but cases fell in adults - study

LONDON – Covid-19 infections in children in England rose in September after schools returned from summer holidays, helping to keep cases high even as there was a fall among adults, a large prevalence study showed on Thursday.

The REACT-1 study, led by Imperial College London, is the latest to find that more children are getting infected with Covid-19 following the reopening of schools at the start of September.

Infection numbers in Britain are currently much higher than in other western European countries, with more than 30 000 new cases reported every day this month, but have not risen above summer levels following the return of schools in England despite the higher infection rates in children.

The study found that prevalence in 13 to 17-year-olds was 2.55% between 9-27 September, with prevalence in those aged 5 to 12 at 2.32%. Prevalence for every adult age group was estimated below 1%.

The study found that the epidemic was growing among those under 17, with an estimated reproduction "R" number of 1.18. An R number above 1 implies exponential growth, while a number below 1 implies the epidemic is shrinking.


Tiny Pacific nation beats the world with 99% Covid-19 vaccination, says Red Cross

SYDNEY – The tiny Pacific nation of Palau has the world's highest percentage of people vaccinated against Covid-19, the Red Cross said on Thursday, urging the country's laggard neighbours to follow its example and step up inoculation efforts.

Fully 99% of Palau's population over 12 has had both shots of vaccine for the new coronavirus, the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) said, citing government figures which also show that this amounts to 16 152 people.

That puts Palau, an archipelago of 500 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, in the "top spot", the IFRC said in a statement, ahead of countries like Portugal which was named one of the world's most vaccinated countries when 80% of its 10 million people were fully immunised last month.

It also presents a stark contrast with other small nations in the region that have had sluggish vaccine rollouts due to supply constraints and population hesitancy. Less than 10% of the Solomon Islands (population 650 000) and Kiribati (population 119 000) are vaccinated, the IFRC said.

In Papua New Guinea, 150km north of Australia, less than 1% of the population is fully vaccinated, it added, citing Our World in Data figures.


Ireland may not drop all Covid-19 restrictions next week, ministers say

DUBLIN – Ireland raised doubts over its plans to drop almost all Covid-19 restrictions next week due to a rise in cases, with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe saying a full return of office workers was now unlikely.

Ireland has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world with 92% of adults fully protected, but also one of the highest infection rates in Europe with around 400 cases per 100 000 people in the past 14 days.

With hospitalisations ticking up, though still far below peaks this year and last, ministers will discuss at a cabinet meeting on Tuesday whether this will push up critical care needs ahead of the busy winter period.

After one of Europe's toughest lockdowns, the government had planned to let nightclubs open for the first time in 20 months from 22 October, with other venues back at full capacity, and a requirement for vaccine certificates in bars and restaurants dropped.


Bali reopens to international flights but no tourists in sight

Bali reopened to international flights from select countries on Thursday, including China, Japan and France, as the pandemic-struck Indonesian holiday island took a step toward welcoming back tourists.

But authorities in Bali, which lost its primary source of income as tourism dried up, said there were no international flights expected on Thursday.

Foreign visitors must be vaccinated, quarantine in a hotel for five days and follow strict visa requirements under new entry rules for travellers.

"We're ready and waiting for international flights," said airport spokesperson Taufan Yudhistira. "But so far there's nothing scheduled today."

Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport was open to travellers from 19 countries including South Korea, China, Japan, France, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai and New Zealand, authorities said.

The partial reopening, however, does not include Australians – a key source of the millions of tourists who flocked to the palm-fringed island before the pandemic.

 - AFP

New Zealand reports biggest rise in Covid-19 cases in six weeks

New Zealand reported on Thursday its biggest rise in Covid-19 infections in six weeks, with all cases detected in Auckland, raising prospects of a further extension of lockdown restrictions in the country's largest city beyond next week.

Some 1.7 million people in Auckland are under strict stay-home orders until Monday as officials look to stamp out the highly infectious Delta outbreak, the first major spate of community cases in the country since early in the pandemic.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson said the surge in case numbers in Auckland was not unexpected "but they are rising more quickly", and blamed illegal home gatherings for the spike.

"Now is not the time for complacency," Robertson said during a media conference in Wellington, urging residents in Auckland to strictly follow the level-three rules, under which most people are required to stay at home unless they have urgent reasons to go out.

A total of 71 new local cases were reported in the country, all detected in Auckland, up from 55 a day earlier.


Melbourne set for Covid-19 lockdown exit despite record cases as vaccinations spike

SYDNEY – Melbourne will exit months of Covid-19 lockdown next week, helped by a faster-than-expected vaccine uptake, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said on Thursday, ahead of schedule even though daily infections hit a record the same day.

In the worst day of an outbreak of the Delta variant coronavirus that began in early August, Victoria logged 2 297 new cases on Thursday, up from 1 571 the day before and the highest for any Australian state or territory since the pandemic began. Eleven people died, bringing the total toll in the latest outbreak to 125.

But the surge comes as Victoria also nears the 70% threshold for double-dose vaccination among eligible adults – the level at which authorities have promised to end strict stay-home restrictions. That target was originally expected to be met on 26 October, and the vaccination level was 62% as of Thursday.

Most new cases were detected in Melbourne, but the city's night curfew will also be lifted, while businesses can reopen with strict social distancing rules, according to the roadmap. More curbs will be relaxed when vaccination levels reach 80% and 90%.


Moderna or Pfizer booster works better for people vaccinated with J&J - study

Washington – People who received Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine may benefit from a booster dose of Pfizer or Moderna, preliminary results of a US study published on Wednesday showed.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), was eagerly awaited in the United States because it looked at the possibility of "mixing" vaccines – using a different vaccine than the initial doses for the booster shot – which is not currently allowed in the country.

The study was conducted on 458 adults who had been vaccinated with one of three US-approved brands (Pfizer, Moderna or J&J) for at least 12 weeks.

These three groups were each divided into three new groups to receive one of the available vaccines as a booster. The nine groups consisted of about 50 people each.

Researchers then analysed antibody levels 15 days after the booster shot.

For people originally inoculated with J&J, antibody levels were four times higher after a J&J booster, 35 times higher after a Pfizer booster and 76 times higher after a Moderna booster.

And antibody levels for those who had originally received Moderna shots were higher "irrespective of the booster vaccine administered", when compared with those who had initially received Pfizer or J&J, the study said.

 - AFP

Russia's daily Covid-19 cases, deaths surge to record highs

MOSCOW – Russia on Thursday reported a record 986 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours and 31 299 new cases, its highest one-day infection tally since the pandemic began.

The Kremlin has blamed the rising death toll on Russia's slow vaccination campaign and has appealed to people to get the shot. Take-up has been slow, with many Russians citing distrust of the authorities and fear of new medical products.

Thursday's case tally marked the first time Russia has officially reported more than 30 000 cases in a single day.

Around a third of the population – 43 million – has been inoculated, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said on Tuesday.

Russia was fast to develop and launch its Sputnik vaccine when the pandemic struck last year and has since approved four vaccines for use.


Hungary's daily Covid-19 cases rise above 1 000 for first time during fourth wave of pandemic

BUDAPEST – Hungary reported 1 141 new Covid-19 infections on Thursday, with the number rising above 1 000 for the first time during the fourth wave of the pandemic, the government said.

The virus has infected 831 866 people in the country of 10 million so far and killed 30 341. Nearly 5.7 million people have been fully vaccinated in Hungary and 948 000 people have already received a third, booster shot as well.


Mexico reports 6 320 new Covid-19 cases, 420 more deaths

MEXICO CITY – Mexico's health ministry on Wednesday reported 6 320 new cases of Covid-19 in the country and 420 more deaths, bringing the overall number of infections since the pandemic began to 3 738 749 and the death toll to 283 193.

It has previously said that these numbers are likely significantly higher than those reported.


Brazil sees 7 852 new coronavirus cases, 176 deaths

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil registered 7 852 new coronavirus cases and 176 Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday.


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