Covid-19 wrap: WHO awaits antiviral pill data, Africa eyes innovative mRNA jab, Sydney cases ease

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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 in SA: Cases rise by 201 as death toll hits 88 346

Coronavirus toll at 10:00 (GMT) Tuesday

Paris – The novel coronavirus has killed at least 4 853 570 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 Tuesday.

At least 238 150 550 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 Monday, 4 938 new deaths and 363 887 new cases were recorded worldwide. Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were Russia with 973 new deaths, followed by United States with 722 and Ukraine with 352.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 714 060 deaths from 44 456 144 cases. After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 601 213 deaths from 21 582 738 cases, India with 450 963 deaths from 33 985 920 cases, Mexico with 282 227 deaths from 3 725 242 cases, and Russia with 218 345 deaths from 7 832 64 cases.

 - AFP

WHO says it awaits full data from Merck on antiviral pill

GENEVA – The World Health Organisation is awaiting full clinical data on the antiviral pill made by Merck & Co to treat mild-to-moderate Covid-19 patients, a WHO spokesperson said on Tuesday, a day after the company said it had applied for US emergency use authorisation.

WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier, asked at a UN briefing in Geneva about the drug, said: "Indeed, this is an interesting development. We would have to see the full data about it. If it holds true, then it is another weapon in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic."

The treatment, molnupiravir, cut the rate of hospitalisation and death by 50% in a trial of mild-to-moderately ill patients who had at least one risk factor for the disease, according to data released this month.


Africa sets sights on innovative mRNA jab to help meet vaccine gap

Cape Town – A South African biotech consortium is working on a messenger RNA jab based on the Moderna formula in a groundbreaking drive to end Africa's life-threatening lack of Covid-19 vaccines.

Cape Town-based Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines is leading a pilot project, backed by the UN's World Health Organisation (WHO) and the COVAX initiative, which seeks to tweak Moderna's revolutionary drug.

The goal is an mRNA vaccine that suits poorer countries in hot climates.

It would be a tough, resilient vaccine that would not need to be stored all the time at ultra-cold temperatures – a hefty requirement in places where power cuts are a problem.

Africa is the least vaccinated continent in the world.

More than 10 months after the world's first Covid-19 shot was administered and nearly two years into the pandemic itself, barely 5% of eligible Africans have been fully immunised.

The problem has exposed Africa's huge dependence on imported vaccines and its tech weakness compared with Europe, China and the United States.

 - AFP

India recommends locally made Covid-19 vaccine for kids aged 2 and above

BENGALURU – India on Tuesday recommended emergency use of Bharat Biotech's Covid-19 shot in children below 12 years of age, making the vaccine maker the first in the country to get such an approval after a review of its trial data for the 2-18 age-group.

The decision comes as India shifts its focus to vaccinating children against the coronavirus, having already rolled out more than 950 million doses to adults among its population of nearly 1.4 billion.

Bharat Biotech's Covaxin, which uses an inactivated coronavirus with an immunity booster, is among the three shots that are being used in India as part of the vaccination drive for adults.

More than 110 million doses of Covaxin have been administered and the company is in the process of securing an emergency use listing from the World Health Organisation, a decision that is expected later this month.

To be sure, without the WHO nod, the two-dose shot is unlikely to be accepted as a valid vaccine around the world.


Japan working on starting Covid-19 booster shots by year-end

TOKYO – The Japanese government is working on starting Covid-19 booster shots by year-end, deputy chief cabinet secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Isozaki added that details such as who would get booster shots first and how they would be administered are currently under discussion by experts.

"We would like to ensure that the rollout of the booster shots is done seamlessly, based on the advice of experts," he said.

The statement comes amid increased interest in booster shots as more of Japan's population gets vaccinated.

New prime minister Fumio Kishida told parliament earlier on Tuesday that he plans to have the booster shots publicly funded.

The health ministry also announced on Friday that Pfizer will supply Japan with another 120 million Covid-19 vaccine doses from January 2022.

As of Tuesday, some 74% of Japan's population had received their first shot, and about 65% are fully vaccinated, according to broadcaster NHK.


New Zealand seeks to ramp up Covid-19 vaccinations amid persistent cases

New Zealand expects to administer a record 100 000 Covid-19 vaccine doses in a single day during a mass immunisation drive on 16 October, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, as she seeks to accelerate inoculations before easing curbs in Auckland.

Ardern on Tuesday urged the country's population over 12 years of age "to roll up sleeves for New Zealand and help make us (one of) the most vaccinated and therefore protected countries in the world". Some 2.44 million, or 58% of the population over 12, have been fully vaccinated so far.

"There is nothing stopping us other than people (not) showing up," Ardern said during a media briefing in Wellington.

New Zealand, which had stayed largely virus-free for most of the pandemic until a Delta outbreak in mid-August, has recorded 4 345 confirmed cases overall and 28 deaths.

It reported 43 new locally acquired cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, with a bulk of those in its largest city of Auckland, up from 35 a day earlier.


Sydney Covid-19 cases ease further as focus shifts to reviving economy

Sydney's Covid-19 cases fell to the lowest in two months on Tuesday as authorities rolled out support measures for businesses, shifting their focus to rejuvenating the economy after the city exited a nearly four-month lockdown a day earlier.

Pubs, cafes and retail stores reopened in New South Wales (NSW), home to Sydney, on Monday after vaccination levels in the state's adult population crossed 70%.

New daily infections in the state fell to 360 on Tuesday, the majority in Sydney, marking a steady downward trend.

"It is going to be boom time in New South Wales for every single business and worker across our state," Premier Dominic Perrottet said during a media briefing on Tuesday as he unveiled a support package for firms to help them prepare for a "bright summer".

Perrottet said businesses will be compensated for any Covid-19 lockdowns in December and January, encouraging them to stock up ahead of the busy summer holiday period. Under the plan, small firms can access grants of up to A$20 000 if they are forced to close then.

Sydney, along with Melbourne and Australia's capital Canberra, are in the grip of a third wave of infections fuelled by the highly infectious Delta variant, with all cities looking to begin easing curbs in stages when full vaccination rates reach 70%, 80% and 90%.


Russia reports record daily Covid-19 death toll of 973

MOSCOW – Russia reported 973 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, its highest single-day death toll since the start of the pandemic.

It also recorded 28 190 new infections in the space of 24 hours, the government coronavirus task force said.


Brazil sees 6 918 new coronavirus cases, 202 deaths

RIO DE JANEIRO – Brazil registered 6 918 new cases of coronavirus and 202 additional Covid-19 deaths in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Monday.


Mexico reports 2 007 new Covid-19 cases, 141 more deaths

MEXICO CITY – Mexico's health ministry on Monday reported 2 007 new cases of Covid-19 in the country and 141 more deaths, bringing the overall number of infections since the pandemic began to 3 725 242 and the death toll to 282 227.

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


China reports 12 new coronavirus cases for 11 October vs 25 a day earlier

BEIJING – China reported 12 new coronavirus cases for 11 October, compared with 25 a day earlier, the health authority said on Tuesday.

All of the new infections were imported cases, according to a statement by the National Health Commission. There were no new deaths.

China reported 14 new asymptomatic patients, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, up from eight a day earlier.

As of Monday, mainland China had 96 435 confirmed coronavirus cases, the health authority said. The death toll remained at 4 636.


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