Covid-19 wrap | Global cases surpass 27.7 million, WHO raises $700 million for vaccines initiative

Health workers in PPE attend to a patient.
Health workers in PPE attend to a patient.
Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Worldwide coronavirus cases cross 27.97 million, death toll at 903 920

More than 27.97 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 903 920 have died, according to a Reuters tally. Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019

- Reuters

Singapore Airlines to shed 4 300 jobs due to virus

Singapore Airlines said Thursday it was cutting about 4 300 jobs - about 20 percent of the workforce - due to the devastating impact of the coronavirus, and warned any recovery would be "long and fraught with uncertainty".

SIA is the latest airline to announce massive layoffs as the global aviation industry faces its greatest-ever crisis due to travel restrictions to fight the spread of coronavirus.

The city-state's flag carrier said about 1 900 positions had already been eliminated in recent months due to a recruitment freeze, natural attrition and voluntary departures, reducing further expected job cuts to around 2 400.

Positions are being cut across full-service Singapore Airlines, regional carrier SilkAir and budget airline Scoot in Singapore and overseas.

"The future remains extremely challenging," said Singapore Airlines chief executive Goh Choon Phong.

"Given the expectation that the road to recovery will be long and fraught with uncertainty, it has come to the point where we have to make the painfully difficult decision to implement involuntary staff reduction measures."

He said Singapore Airlines was more vulnerable than other major carriers around the world, as it did not have a domestic market and is wholly dependent on international routes.

The carrier, which reported a net loss of more than US$800 million in the first quarter, is only operating at eight percent of pre-pandemic capacity.

The cuts come despite the airline group raising a total Sg$11 billion in fresh funds to help it weather the crisis -- including Sg$8.8 billion from a rights issue backed by its majority shareholder, state investment fund Temasek,

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that airlines operating in the Asia-Pacific region stand to lose a combined $27.8 billion this year.

IATA forecast in July that global air traffic is unlikely to return to pre-coronavirus levels until at least 2024 - a year later than previously projected.

- Reuters

Coronavirus: latest global developments

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis:

Vaccine possible 'this year' 

Drugs giant AstraZeneca says a Covid-19 vaccine could still be available by "the end of this year, early next year" despite a randomised clinical trial in the UK being paused.

The company's chief executive Pascal Soriot says it depends on how fast regulators move.

Trump 'played down' virus 

Asked about his response to the threat of Covid-19, US President Donald Trump admits he tried and still tries to "play it down", in audio recordings from interviews with veteran US journalist Bob Woodward.

With just eight weeks to go to the presidential election, Democratic challenger Joe Biden says from the campaign trail that Trump's handling of the crisis was "a life and death betrayal of the American people".

Jakarta to re-impose lockdown

Indonesia's capital Jakarta plans to re-impose a partial lockdown as early as Monday following a surge in cases after an earlier lockdown was lifted three months ago.

The city of some 30 million will see many office buildings and large mosques closed along with restaurants and other entertainment venues, while public transport hours will also be restricted, its governor says.

Middle East: two million cases 

Cases in the wider Middle East from Morocco to Pakistan have topped two million, the World Health Organization says, with the caseload for the 21 countries having more than doubled since 1 July.

The hardest-hit countries are Iran with more than 393 000 cases, Saudi Arabia with more than 320 000, Pakistan with just under 300 000 and Iraq with nearly 274 000.

Insurance claims up to 5 billion: Lloyds 

Lloyd's of London insurance market says it expects to pay out up to 5 billion in coronavirus-linked claims, increasing its previous estimate.

The new figure, equivalent to $6.5 billion or 5.5 billion euros, compares with an estimate of up to $4.3 billion given in May.


Norway may have to tighten Covid-19 restrictions, PM says

Norway is going to stop easing coronavirus curbs for the moment and could be forced to bring back tougher measures following a recent rise in the number of cases, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Thursday.

Norway went into lockdown in mid-March and quickly saw a sharp fall in new cases, then began a gradual easing of restrictions in May.

"The government is considering tighter measures," Solberg told a news conference.

"We can't open up any more at this time ... In case of a rise in the number of infections without a known source, or local outbreaks that are not contained, we will consider tighter restrictions locally, regionally or nationally," she said.

The number of people allowed at public gatherings could be cut to 50 from the current 200, and the maximum permitted at private events to 5-10 people from 20 currently, Solberg said.

Universities, which reopened with in-person classes in August, could be told to return to all-online teaching, she added.

Earlier plans to allow adults outside of the professional leagues to take part in contact sports such as football, remain on hold for the time being, she added.

Norway, with a population of 5.4 million, reported 738 coronavirus cases last week, the highest number of any single week since early April, according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (FHI). Overall, it has had 11 746 cases, with 265 deaths.


 WHO says $700 million raised so far for Covid-19 vaccines initiative for poor

International donors have raised $700 million - less than half the target - to purchase future Covid-19 vaccines for poor countries in a global initiative to ensure eventual vaccines do not go only to rich countries, a World Health Organisation official said on Thursday.

The COVAX Advanced Market Commitment has an initial target of $2 billion to buy the vaccines.

"Up to today, what has been mobilised so far is $700 million ... So there is a great deal of work to be done to diversify the possible sources of funding," Matshidiso Moeti, Africa regional director for the WHO, told an online press briefing.

COVAX is co-led by the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, the WHO and the CEPI Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. Its aim is to deliver 2 billion doses of effective, approved Covid-19 vaccines by the end of 2021.

At least eight African countries, including South Africa, Gabon, Namibia and Equatorial Guinea had agreed to self-finance access to the vaccine, Moeti said.

The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said last month the continent had started to slowly "bend the curve" of Covid-19 infections as measures like mask-wearing and social distancing slow the spread of the pandemic.

- Reuters

UN calls for 'quantum leap' in funding for virus fight

The United Nations on Thursday called for an immediate "quantum leap" in funding for global programmes to combat the coronavirus and restore prosperity.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries to find $15 billion over the next three months to fund the ACT-Accelerator programme, a global collaboration to hunt for a vaccine and treatments led by the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO).

"Either we stand together or we will be doomed," Guterres told a virtual meeting of the ACT-Accelerator, calling the virus the "number one global security threat".

"We need a quantum leap in funding to increase the chances of a global solution to get the world moving, working and prospering again," he said.

He said the near $3 billion contributed so far had been critical for the initial phase since the accelerator's launch four months ago, but $35 billion more was needed to shift from start-up to scale-up - beginning with $15 billion in the next three months.

Without it "we will lose the window of opportunity", Guterres said.

He said typical aid budgets would not cover the costs, urging donors to "go deep" into money set aside for combating coronavirus.

'Start saving lives' 

The virus has killed more than 900 000 people and infected at least 27.9 million since the outbreak emerged in China last December.

According to the WHO's latest overview, 35 candidate vaccines for the virus are being tested on humans, of which nine have reached Phase III trials where they are tested on tens of thousands of people.

A further 145 candidate vaccines are in earlier testing phases.

Typically only about 10 percent of candidate vaccines succeed.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus hailed the speed at which vaccines, diagnostics and treatments for Covid-19 were being developed was "astonishing" but said more needed to be done.

"We need to rapidly scale up our clinical trials, manufacturing, licensing and regulation capacity so that these products can get to people and start saving lives," he said.

South Africa and Norway are co-chairing the ACT-Accelerator facilitation council.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chairs the African Union, told the meeting that the continent should "not be left behind" once a viable vaccine is produced.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame called the ACT-Accelerator "one of the most important international initiatives under way in the world today, and perhaps ever".


 Dutch coronavirus testing capacity strained as cases rise

Municipal health authorities in the Netherlands warned on Thursday that people seeking Covid-19 tests may have to wait as demand is outpacing supply following a surge in cases.

Although the national government has promised that anyone in the country who wants to be tested can be, the umbrella group of regional and municipal authorities (GGD) tasked with conducting tests said laboratories were operating at maximum capacity.

"At this moment demand is outstripping supply," it said in a statement. "Therefore people with health complaints must sometimes request a test multiple times, which leads to understandable frustration and taxes our phone lines and website."

The National Institute for Health (RIVM) reported on Tuesday that new cases had risen by 50% to 5 427 in the previous week, their highest level since late April.

Axel Dees, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, said the government was trying to procure more laboratory supplies despite their global scarcity and looking at ways to use current supplies more efficiently to resolve the bottleneck.

"But that will take some time and it's going to remain very busy for a number of weeks, and for some people, they'll have to wait longer," Dees said. "It's frustrating, but that's the way it is."

The RIVM said on Tuesday the rise in case numbers was not tied to the reopening of primary schools in the country over the past three weeks. Dutch national policy does not mandate the use of protective face masks except on public transportation.

Newspaper Trouw reported on Thursday that a number of Dutch elementary schools had begun buying commercial Covid-19 test kits to prevent having to close because of possible cases that cannot be quickly tested.

Dees said the government discouraged the use of private tests, citing their unreliability.

- Reuters

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