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Virus cases worsen in Latin America with no end in sight

Novel coronavirus has infected more than 182 million people and killed over 3.9 million. Here are the latest Covid-related developments for June 30:

Brazil’s Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga (L) gives a dose of AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine during the first day of a mass vaccination campaign in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on June 20, 2021. (AFP)

Wednesday, June 30

Cases worsen in Latin America, says health agency

Cases of Covid-19 are declining in North America, but in most of Latin America and the Caribbean the end to the coronavirus pandemic “remains a distant future”, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) director Carissa Etienne has said.

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While infections in the United States, Canada and Mexico are falling, in Latin America and the Caribbean just one in ten people have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, “an unacceptable situation,” she said in a briefing.

Etienne warned that the hurricane season in the Caribbean is arriving at a time when outbreaks are worsening and she urged countries to outfit hospitals and expand shelters to reduce the potential for transmission.

UK records 26,068 new cases, highest since Jan 29

The United Kingdom has recorded a further 26,068 cases of Covid-19, the highest daily figure since January 29 and sending the seven day-tally up 70 percent on the week before, official data showed.

Despite the surge in new infections, Britain’s daily fatality figures have remained in low double digits. Fourteen deaths were reported on Wednesday, down from 23 the day before.

That compares with the more than 1,000 fatalities that were repeatedly reported per day at the height of Britain’s worst wave in the pandemic, in January this year.

Scientists have said the trend suggests the rapid vaccine rollout has weakened the link between infections and deaths. The seven-day tally for people being admitted to hospital was up 6 percent, to a daily figure of 263.

The data showed that 84.9 percent of adults have had a first vaccine while 62.4 percent have had both.

Italy reports 24 deaths, 776 new cases

Italy has reported 24 coronavirus-related deaths against 42 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 776 from 679.

Italy has registered 127,566 deaths linked to Covid-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the eight-highest in the world. The country has reported 4.26 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with Covid-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 1,593 on Wednesday, down from 1,676 a day earlier.

There were 4 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 9 on Tuesday. The total number of intensive care patients fell to 247 from a previous 270.

Some 185,016 tests for Covid-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 190,635, the health ministry said.

Putin rejects mandatory Covid jabs

President Vladimir Putin has said he was opposed to mandatory coronavirus vaccinations for Russians but urged the jab-sceptic population to get inoculated as his country battles a deadly third wave.

Putin was addressing Russians during his annual televised phone-in session, answering questions posed live on air and in recorded videos, with more than two million questions sent in.

The topics touched on everything from rising food prices to relations with foreign powers, but the beginning was dedicated to Russia’s most immediate concern: a surging outbreak.

“Preventing the further spread of the epidemic is possible only with the help of vaccination,” Putin said.

New claims of vaccine graft in Brazil

A senior official in Brazil’s health ministry has resigned after a newspaper published fresh allegations of corruption in the country’s vaccine program, adding to pressure on President Jair Bolsonaro.

The Folha de S. Paulo daily reported claims on Tuesday that Roberto Dias, the ministry’s logistics director, had sought a bribe from a company said to be negotiating the sale of 400 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to Brazil.

The representative, Luiz Paulo Dominguetti of Davati Medical Supply, said he had met Dias in a restaurant in a shopping center in Brasilia in February, where the request was made for payment of a dollar per dose purchased.

It was rejected by the company.

Late Tuesday, after the revelations were published, the health ministry announced Dias would resign.

AstraZeneca, for its part, said in a statement it does not use intermediaries to sell vaccines to governments.

The latest claims of malfeasance add to a long list of alleged missteps by Bolsonaro’s government in handling the coronavirus epidemic that has claimed more than half a million lives in Brazil amid critical vaccine shortages.

Uzbekistan receives 2M more jabs from China

Uzbekistan has received 2 million more Covid-19 vaccine doses from China, the country’s Health Ministry said.

Some 2 million doses of Zifivax (ZF2001) vaccine, developed by Anhui Zhifei Longcom in collaboration with the Institute of Microbiology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences have arrived in the capital Tashkent, the ministry said.

The total number of shots that have arrived in the country so far has reached 7.4 million as Uzbekistan has received a total of 4.5 million doses of China’s ZF2001, 660,000 shots of Vaxzevria – the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University – and 240,000 Sputnik V doses in the past four months, it added.

The Central Asian country has so far administered over 3.54 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines.

Uzbekistan reported 487 more infections over the past 24 hours, raising the total number of cases to 110,667.

Three more fatalities moved the death toll to 736, while recoveries rose by 647 to reach 1 07,063.

Cases rising among children as Indonesia crisis grows

The number of Indonesian children contracting the coronavirus has almost tripled since May, with infant deaths from Covid-19 rising sharply as the country suffers its most severe wave of infections so far, a senior paediatrician has said.

Indonesia has been hit by a surge in cases this month, with new records on six days since June 21 including a daily high of over 21,807 on Wednesday, putting pressure on the government to impose tighter measures.

Dr Aman Pulungan, head of Indonesia’s paediatric society, said weekly child deaths from Covid-19 rose to 24 last week from 13 in the previous week, many under five years old.

That was a larger rate of increase than the overall rise in Covid-19 deaths from 1,783 to 2,476 fatalities nationwide over the same period.

Aman said infections among minors were rising fast.

The percentage of overall cases that were under 18 years of age has risen to 12.6 percent in June compared to 5 percent in July last year, according to official data, although Aman noted children were now being tested more.

Top North Korean officials sacked after ‘crucial’ incident

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un replaced several senior officials after a “crucial” virus incident, state media reported, potentially signalling a breach in the country’s epidemic defences.

Pyongyang closed its borders in January last year to try to protect itself against the virus that first emerged in neighbouring China.

It has not publicly confirmed any cases of the disease at any point, either in state media or in the test statistics it has disclosed to the World Health Organization.

Lockdown measures extended in Australia

Australian officials extended lockdown and social distancing measures to more of the country, with four major cities already under a hard lockdown in a race to contain an outbreak of the highly contagious Delta virus variant.

Around one in two Australians are under stay-at-home orders, with millions of others subjected to movement curbs and mandatory mask-wearing amid the virus flare-ups in several locations.

With more than five million residents of greater Sydney under a two-week lockdown until July 9, New South Wales state reported 22 new locally transmitted cases, all linked to prior infections.

Health Canada recommends people with rare blood condition not get AstraZeneca vaccine

Health Canada said late it has recommended that people with a history of capillary leak syndrome not be inoculated with drugmaker AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

“Health Canada is updating the product monograph – or label – for the AstraZeneca and COVISHIELD Covid-19/ vaccines to add capillary leak syndrome as a potential side effect, with a warning for patients with a history of capillary leak syndrome to not get the AstraZeneca or COVISHIELD Covid-19 vaccine”, it said in a statement.

India’s Bharat Biotech says regulatory steps taken for Brazil vaccine contract

India’s Bharat Biotech said it followed a “step-by-step” approach for the regulatory approval and supply contract of its vaccine in Brazil, and that it has not received advance payments from the Brazilian health ministry.

Brazil’s health minister earlier said on Tuesday the country will suspend its $324 million contract for 20 million doses of Bharat Biotech’s vaccine after whistleblowers went public with alleged irregularities in the deal.

India reported 45,951 new infections over the past 24 hours, data from the health ministry showed.

India’s virus-related deaths rose by 817 overnight.

France likely to have fourth wave – government adviser

France is likely to have a fourth wave of the virus, due to a resurgence of cases caused by the Delta variant first found in India, said the French government’s leading scientific adviser Professor Jean-François Delfraissy.

Nevertheless, Delfraissy added that the rollout of vaccines would help mitigate the effect of this new wave o f the virus, which many medical experts think could hit France by September or October.

Germany’s confirmed cases rise by 808 – RKI

The number of confirmed virus cases in Germany has increased by 808 to 3,728,141, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed. The reported death toll rose by 56 to 90,875, the tally showed.

Russia’s deaths hit new pandemic high

Russia has reported 669 virus-related deaths nationwide, the most confirmed in a single day since the pandemic began, amid a surge in cases that authorities blame on the Delta variant.

The government coronavirus taskforce also confirmed 21,042 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, including 5,823 in Moscow. That pushed the national case total to 5,514,599 since the start of the outbreak.

Thailand bets on ‘Phuket sandbox’ program to save tourism

Somsak Betlao has covered the outboard motor on his traditional wooden long tail boat with a tarp, wrapping up another day on Phuket’s Patong beach where not a single tourist needed his services shuttling them to nearby islands.

Since Thailand’s pandemic restrictions on travel were imposed in early 2020, tourism has fallen off a cliff, and nowhere has it been felt more than the resort island off the country’s southern coast, where nearly 95 percent of the economy is related to the industry.

So, despite spiking virus numbers elsewhere in the country, the government is forging ahead with a program known as the “Phuket sandbox” to reopen the island to fully vaccinated visitors.

Delta variant wreaks havoc around the world

The highly infectious Delta strain is causing mayhem around the world.

Fears are growing over major sporting events like Euro 2020 and the Olympic Games, even as tallies show the world passed the milestone of over 3 billion vaccines administered.

At least 3.9 million people have died from the virus and the pattern of vaccinations globally is highly uneven.

High-income countries as defined by the World Bank have administered an average of 79 doses per 100 inhabitants.

But in low-income nations, the figure is just one shot per 100 people.

“The world is failing,” warned WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We are facing a two-track pandemic, fuelled by inequity,” the World Health Organization chief said.

The WHO said it was supporting the five remaining countries yet to start their immunisation campaigns: Burundi, Eritrea, Haiti, North Korea and Tanzania.

More cases of Delta variant reported in Australia

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales, reported 22 locally acquired cases on Wednesday, taking the total infections in the latest outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant to more than 170.

Eleven cases were in isolation when infectious, while five were in isolation for part of their infectious period.

Six cases were infectious in the community.

Thailand reports new daily record of 53 virus deaths

Thailand reported on Wednesday 53 new deaths from the virus, bringing the total number of fatalities to 2,023 since the pandemic started last year.

The country’s task force also reported 4,786 new cases, taking the total number of infections to 259,301.

Almost 6,000 more daily cases in Mexico

Mexico’s health ministry reported 5,711 new confirmed cases in the country and 195 more fatalities, bringing the total figures to 2,513,164 infections and 232,803 deaths.

The government has said the real number of cases is likely significantly higher, and separate data published this year suggested the actual death toll is at least 60% above the confirmed figure.

Moderna’s vaccine shows promise against Delta variant in lab study

Moderna Inc.’s vaccine showed promise against the Delta variant first identified in India in a lab study, with a modest decrease in response compared to the original strain, the drugmaker said.

The study was conducted on blood serum from eight participants obtained one week after they received the second dose of the vaccine, mRNA-1273.

The vaccine provoked an antibody response against all the variants tested, according to Moderna, but one that remained inferior in all cases to the vaccine’s neutralising activity against the original strain first found in China.

The vaccine was far more effective in producing antibodies against the Delta variant than it was against the Beta variant first identified in South Africa, the data showed.

Against three versions of the Beta variant, the vaccine-elicited neutralising antibodies reduced six-to-eight fold compared to those produced against original strain, while modest 3.2 to 2.1 fold reductions were seen for lineages of the variant first identified in India including Delta and Kappa.

Brazil to suspend Indian vaccine deal as graft allegations probed

Brazil will suspend a $324 million Indian vaccine contract that has mired President Jair Bolsonaro in accusations of irregularities, the health minister said, following the guidance of the federal comptroller, the CGU.

The deal to buy 20 million doses of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin shot has become a headache for Bolsonaro after whistleblowers went public with concerns over irregularities. One Health Ministry official said he personally alerted the president about his concerns.

Brazil’s Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said at a news conference his team would probe the allegations while the suspension was ongoing.

“According to the preliminary analysis of the CGU, there are no irregularities in the contract but, for compliance, the Health Ministry chose to suspend the contract for a more in-depth analysis,” the ministry said in a statement.

Earlier, Reuters cited a CNN Brasil report that the ministry had decided to cancel the contract.

Brazilian federal prosecutors have opened an investigation into the deal, citing comparatively high prices, quick talks and pending regulatory approvals as red flags for the contract signed in February.

The contract is also being probed by a Senate panel investigating the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Cuba begins vaccine trials on children

Cuba has begun testing its Soberana 2 candidate vaccine on children ages three to 18 years, the government said this week.

State-run television broadcast video of children receiving their first of three doses this week after adolescents were vaccinated last week.

Soberana 2 is awaiting final stage trial results after its producer the Finlay Institute reported a 62 percent efficacy rate after two of three shots, the final one a booster called Soberana Plus.

“We began with adolescents which went well and this led to today with the younger ones because the older ones demonstrated the safety,” Meiby Rodriguez, director of clinical research at the Finlay Institute said during the broadcast, adding a total of 350 minors were involved.

The country has a second home-grown vaccine called Abdala, reporting a final efficacy of 92 percent and currently being deployed across the country as it awaits local regulators’ final emergency approval.

Cuba is battling a prolonged surge in cases driven by the Beta and now Delta variants with a record of more than 3,000 cases, though mortality remains low.

There have been 188,023 cases since the pandemic began and 1,270 deaths, the vast majority this year.

Cases among minors are running in the hundreds per day, but no deaths have been reported.

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