CDC says ‘war has changed’ as Delta variant dangers emerge

Coronavirus pandemic has killed over 4.2 million people and infected over 197 million globally. Here are the coronavirus-related developments for July 30:

Healthcare personnel work in Covid-19 intensive care unit where they are dealing with a surge in cases of the Delta variant at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, US. (Reuters)

Friday, July 30:

Delta variant ‘as contagious as chickenpox’

New evidence showing the delta variant is as contagious as chickenpox and may be more dangerous than other versions has prompted US health officials to consider changing advice on how the nation fights the coronavirus, internal documents show.

Recommending masks for everyone and requiring vaccines for doctors and other health workers are among measures the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering, according to internal documents obtained by the Washington Post.

The documents appear to be talking points for CDC staff to use in explaining the dangers of the delta variant and “breakthrough” infections that can occur after vaccination. Noted under communications: “Acknowledge the war has changed.”

In recommending that vaccinated people resuming wearing masks indoors in virus hot spots, the CDC this week said that new evidence shows that breakthrough infections may be as transmissible as those in unvaccinated people.

They cited a large recent outbreak among vaccinated individuals in the Cape Cod town of Provincetown, Massachusetts, among others, for the change.

Asia-Pacific nations impose stricter restrictions due to Delta outbreaks

Asian countries from Australia to Japan and the Philippines announced tighter virus restrictions, as they battle worsening coronavirus outbreaks driven by the more contagious Delta variant.

The region’s low vaccination rates have left hundreds of millions of people exposed to the highly transmissible variant.

Already under a lockdown, Sydney is now facing its toughest measures yet, including mandatory testing in the worst affected suburbs, while the Philippines announced a plan to put the Manila capital region, home to more than 13 million people, in lockdown for two weeks.

Vietnam, which has fully vaccinated less than 1 percent of its 96 million people, is mobilising private hospitals to take patients amid record daily increases in infections since late April.

In Japan, the government proposed states of emergency through the end of August in three prefectures near Olympic host Tokyo, as well as in the western prefecture of Osaka, as cases spike to record highs.

Daily cases in Japan came in at record-high 10,743, public broadcaster NHK said, after the Tokyo metropolitan government reported 3,300 new infection cases in the capital.

Israel launches booster shot campaign for over 60s

Israel has launched a campaign to give the elderly Covid-19 booster shots.

Kicking off the campaign, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, 60, received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a hospital in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv.

Israel was quick to roll out its vaccination campaign and had dropped many restrictions on public gatherings in June, but infections soared, and masks are once again mandatory in enclosed public places.

Pfizer, which produces the vaccine used in Israel, has said research shows that a third dose has neutralising effects against the Delta variant of Covid.

But the US Food and Drug Administration, whose recommendations Israel generally follows, has yet to give the green light to administering a third dose to the elderly.

Moscow cancels glove-wearing requirement as infections rate improves in capital

Moscow has abolished a widely-flouted requirement for people to wear gloves in public places and shops as daily coronavirus cases in the Russian capital stayed below 4,000, down from over 7,000 earlier this month.

Nationwide cases however, remained close to levels recorded at the start of the month, at 23,564.

Russia, which has blamed a peak of infections in the second half of June on the contagious Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy, recorded 794 deaths in the last 24 hours.

Germany to require tests for all unvaccinated travellers

Anyone entering Germany from abroad will have to take a Covid-19 test from Sunday unless they are fully vaccinated or have recovered from the disease, Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

“All unvaccinated people entering Germany will have to be tested in future – regardless of whether they come by plane, car or train,” Spahn said in a statement.

The new rules, to be signed off by the cabinet, will apply to all travellers over 12 years old with the exception of cross-border commuters and those passing through in transit, according to a draft seen by AFP.

They will apply to travellers “regardless of where they have come from and the means of transport they use,” Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the Funke media group.

Kenya suspends all in-person meetings

Kenya’s health minister said on the government had suspended all in-person meetings countrywide to contain coronavirus, whose spread in the country he now attributes to the Delta variant.

Mutahi Kagwe said in a televised address that the government had asked public and private sector employers to allow their workers to work from home, unless they were classified as essential services.

Thailand to order additional 10M doses of Pfizer vaccine

Thailand will order an additional 10 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, its health ministry said, as the Southeast Asian country battles its biggest outbreak to date.

Since April, Thailand has been tackling a surge in infections driven by the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, pushing hospitals in the capital Bangkok to the brink.

Thailand will take delivery of 20 million doses of the vaccine later this year, but also has plans to order an additional 10 million shots from the company, health ministry official Kiatiphum Wongrajit told reporters.

China battles largest outbreak in months in Delta-fuelled surge

A cluster of infections in Nanjing city linked to airport workers who cleaned a plane from Russia earlier this month, has reached the capital Beijing and five provinces.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been locked down in Jiangsu province, of which Nanjing is the capital, while 41,000 came under stay-at-home orders in Beijing’s Changping district.

At least 206 infections across China have been linked to the cluster. The outbreak, geographically the largest in several months, is thought to be the latest fuelled by the highly-contagious Delta variant.

Biden orders tough new vaccination rules for federal workers

US President Joe Biden has announced sweeping new pandemic requirements for millions of federal workers as he denounced an “American tragedy” of rising-yet-preventable deaths among unvaccinated US employees and others.

Federal workers will be required to attest they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or else face mandatory masking, weekly testing, distancing and other new rules.

The newly strict guidelines are aimed at boosting sluggish vaccination rates among the four million of Americans who draw federal paychecks and to set an example for private employers around the country.

“Right now, too many people are dying or watching someone they love die and say if ‘I’d just got the vaccine,’” Biden said in a somber address from the East Room of the White House. “This is an American tragedy. People are dying who don’t have to die.”

The administration encouraged businesses to follow its lead on incentivizing vaccinations by imposing burdens on the unvaccinated. Rather than mandating that federal workers receive vaccines, the plan will make life more difficult for those who are unvaccinated to encourage them to comply.

Biden also directed the Defense Department to look into adding the Covid-19 shot to its list of required vaccinations for members of the military.

And he has directed his team to take steps to apply similar requirements to all federal contractors.

Biden also urged state and local governments to use funds provided by the coronavirus relief package to incentivize vaccinations by offering $100 to individuals who get the shots. And he announced that small- and medium-sized businesses will receive reimbursements if they offer employees time off to get family members vaccinated.

Saudi Arabia to open for tourist visa holders starting Aug 1

Saudi Arabia’s Tourism Ministry will re-allow entry for tourist visa holders starting August 1, it said in a statement.

“Vaccinated tourists will be allowed to enter without having to be institutionally quarantined upon providing a negative Covid-19 PCR test and a vaccination certificate,” the ministry said.

Accepted vaccines will be Pfizer, Astrazeneca , Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, the statement added.

Brazil reports 42,283 new cases, 1,318 deaths

Brazil has recorded 42,283 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 1,318 deaths from Covid-19, the Health Ministry said.

Brazil has registered more than 19.8 million cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 554,497, according to ministry data.

Mexico posts 19,223 more cases, 381 deaths

Mexico’s Health Ministry has recorded 19,223 new confirmed coronavirus cases and 381 fatalities, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 2,810,097 and the reported death toll to 239,997.

Japan proposes adding four regions to Covid-19 emergency

Japan’s government has proposed states of emergency in three prefectures near Olympic host city Tokyo and the western prefecture of Osaka, a cabinet minister said, as Covid-19 cases spike to records around the country.

An existing state of emergency for Tokyo should be extended to August 31, Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told a panel of experts, who are expected to sign off on the proposal.

The Japanese capital announced a record 3,865 daily infections on Thursday, up from 3,177 a day earlier. Daily cases nationwide topped 10,000 for the first time, domestic media reported.

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