Covid-19

CORONAVIRUS GLOBAL UPDATE

GSK vaccine, antibody injection both show promise; South Africa registers 13,143 new cases

Residents of Pela, Atlantis, receive their vaccine at the launch of Vaxi Taxi mobile vaccinations on 7 December 2021 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Misha Jordaan)
By Bloomberg
07 Dec 2021 0

South Africa registered 13,143 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,051,222. A further 27 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 90,002. A total of 26,639,293 vaccines have been administered.

A Covid-19 vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline and Canada’s Medicago demonstrated 71% efficacy against multiple variants of the disease. The result is positive for the pandemic latecomers, even though the latest Omicron variant wasn’t in circulation at the time of the trial. 

In a separate study, Glaxo said its Covid-19 antibody treatment was effective against Omicron and would stand up to all mutations in the spike protein.

Denmark has found Omicron in sewage water for the first time and has given up its initial strategy to contain the variant. Slovakia, with one of the lowest inoculation rates in Europe, plans to give bonuses to vaccinated seniors.

Health officials worldwide will learn more about the Omicron variant as soon as next week, when test results on immune evasion or protection are available, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said. 

Key developments 

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 266.5 million; deaths pass 5.2 million
  • Covid-killing steel can inactivate 99.8% of the virus
  • UK vaccine booster programme stuck as millions wait for shots
  • Omicron propels US booster drive where it’s needed least
  • Omicron spread puts a dent in latte sales: Pret Index
  • What we know about Omicron: QuickTake

GSK antibodies effective against Omicron 

GlaxoSmithKline said research shows its Covid-19 antibody treatment is effective against the full combination of mutations in the new Omicron variant.

Tests show sotrovimab, Glaxo’s antibody treatment, stands up to all mutations in the spike protein of the Omicron variant and not just the key mutations, the drugmaker said in a statement on Tuesday. The tests included all 37 mutations identified to-date in the spike protein.

Norway urges guest limits, distancing 

Norway is tightening restrictions again to try to regain control of the spread of the Omicron variant and prevent an overloading of a hospital system already struggling with other types of illness as winter sets in.

Social distancing and limiting the number of guests in private homes to 10 is recommended again, while bars and restaurants must stop selling alcohol at midnight. Face masks are now mandatory where a metre’s distance can’t be maintained, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said.

Omicron data possible next week, says Fauci 

Health officials worldwide will learn more about the Omicron variant as soon as next week, when test results on immune evasion or protection are available, Anthony Fauci said at a White House press briefing. 

Overall, it will take at least a couple of weeks until health experts have a good handle on Omicron’s profile, said Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser on the pandemic.

Early signs show it’s probably more transmissible, while anecdotal data show “we are not seeing a very severe profile of disease”, and it might be less severe. However, he warned those data could be because the early cases are among young people.

Biden mandate for federal contractors blocked 

The Biden administration’s mandate for federal contractors’ employees to be vaccinated will be halted nationwide, amid a slew of challenges from states that say the president overstepped his authority in requiring the Covid-19 shots.

The mandate, which was set to take effect on January 4, applies to roughly a quarter of the US workforce and affects companies that do business with the federal government, including Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Alphabet’s Google and General Motors.

A federal judge in Georgia blocked the mandate on Tuesday. The latest order follows a Kentucky federal judge’s grant last week of a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit involving Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio.

Slovakia to give bonus to vaccinated seniors 

Slovakia’s ruling parties agreed on a lower-than-planned payment worth €300 to people aged 60 and over for getting fully inoculated against Covid-19 to increase one of the European Union’s lowest vaccination rates.

The government is expected to give final approval on Wednesday, but that should be a formality given the cabinet’s makeup, daily newspaper Sme reported.

The coalition also agreed to relax some coronavirus measures for the vaccinated, such as access to all shops, from Friday. Children attending sixth grade and higher will switch to online learning from Monday.

The nation of 5.5 million is now in a full lockdown, with one of the world’s worst rates of new infections per capita. 

Portugal opens vaccines to children 

Portugal’s Directorate-General for Health said it recommends vaccination for children aged five to 11, with the priority given to those with illnesses considered to be of risk for severe Covid-19. Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine will be used, the directorate-general said in an emailed statement.

Europe to report more serious cases, warns health agency 

Deaths and hospitalisations from Covid-19 will continue to rise in Europe in the coming weeks as vaccination rates remain insufficient to counter the trends, a key European health agency warned on Tuesday.

European countries have taken a varying set of measures to combat the spread of the virus, including lockdowns for the unvaccinated and early closing for restaurants and bars. But Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said the toll is still growing.

“In the coming weeks, there will be increasing parameters of cases, deaths, hospitalisation and ICU admissions,” she told a meeting of EU health ministers in Brussels. “The Omicron variant, that makes the whole situation even more worrying.” 

Denmark drops elimination strategy 

Denmark has found Omicron in sewage water for the first time and has given up its initial strategy to contain the SARS-CoV-2 variant, health authorities said.

Denmark has registered 398 Omicron cases as of Tuesday, up by 137 cases from a day earlier, SSI, the country’s institute for infectious disease, said in a statement. 

It’s no longer “proportional” to use extra resources to eliminate the Omicron version of the virus, Soren Brostrom, the head of the Danish Health Authority, said at a press conference in Copenhagen. 

The variant is now causing infections broadly in Danish society and can no longer be connected to a specific contamination chain, authorities said. Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has said she plans to hold a press briefing on Wednesday where she may introduce new restrictions.

Scotland braces for rapid surge 

Scotland is likely to face a continued and “potentially rapid” rise in coronavirus cases in the coming days amid a surge in the Omicron variant in large parts of the country, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said.

The doubling time for cases may be as short as two to three days, while the so-called R number that gauges how quickly the virus is transmitted may be more than two, she told lawmakers in Edinburgh on Tuesday. Anything over one suggests infections are running out of control.

UK finds new Omicron cases 

The UK found 101 new confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, up from 90 the day before, according to a tweet from the Health Security Agency. The number of Omicron cases in the UK now totals 437. 

De Blasio defends New York City mandate 

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his new, private-sector vaccine mandate and encouraged other cities and states to follow suit. 

De Blasio, who is slated to leave office at the end of the year and is considering a run for New York governor, told CNN on Tuesday that “every governor, every mayor in America” should put a similar mandate in place.

Facing criticism from business groups that the announcement came as a surprise, De Blasio reiterated that the move is a “preemptive strike” to head off a potential upsurge in cases and that businesses wouldn’t want further restrictions.

De Blasio also emphasised his decision not to impose a vaccine mandate on school-going children, saying that schooling is essential.

South African chain has fewer severe cases  

Mediclinic International, one of South Africa’s three biggest hospital groups, said it is seeing an increased influx of Covid-19 patients, but only a few require admission for further care.

The variant “appears to be highly transmissible,” Mediclinic said in a statement on Tuesday. Still, “so far, a lower percentage of admitted Covid-19 patients require intensive care and ventilation”.

EU approves shot combinations 

European Union regulators endorsed mixing two different Covid-19 shots for initial vaccine schedules and boosters, saying hybrid approaches can increase governments’ flexibility in responding to the new Omicron variant. 

Combining viral vector vaccines like AstraZeneca with mRNA jabs such as Pfizer generates a good level of antibodies against Covid-19 and a higher T-cell response, another part of a person’s immune defense, compared to giving doses of the same shot, according to data analysed by the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. That’s true for first and second doses, as well as boosters, the agency said. 

Denmark’s health minister tests positive 

Denmark’s Health Minister Magnus Heunicke has tested positive for Covid-19 and is self-isolating at a hotel in Brussels, where he is currently attending a meeting with his European peers.

Heunicke (46) arrived in Brussels on Monday evening and tested positive on Tuesday morning, ahead of the council meeting, his ministry said in a statement. He has only mild symptoms, including a sore throat.

Glaxo-Medicago vaccine effective 

A vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline and Canada’s Medicago demonstrated 71% efficacy against multiple variants. 

The companies also found the plant-based vaccine showed 75% efficacy against the highly-infectious Delta variant and nearly 89% efficacy against the Gamma variant first identified in Brazil, according to the advanced-stage trial results published on Tuesday. No vaccinated participants developed severe disease and no serious side effects were reported in the study of about 24,000 people.

UK vaccine booster programme stuck 

The operation to roll out booster shots to all adults in the UK is struggling to pick up speed even as the Omicron variant spreads rapidly across the country.

Fewer UK adults received a third shot of vaccine on Saturday than they did seven days earlier, the day when Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for an increase in the pace of the roll-out. Regulators authorised booster shots for those aged 18-39 two days later, on November 29. However, people under 40 still can’t book a third shot of vaccine using the government’s website. 

Austria to end lockdown 

Austria will end a nationwide lockdown this weekend for people who’ve been inoculated against Covid-19 or have recovered from the virus, while continuing to limit participation in public life for those who refuse to be vaccinated.

The government will meet regional leaders on Wednesday to assess the measures needed to keep the pandemic contained and turn a “tendency of falling cases into a trend”, Chancellor Karl Nehammer told reporters in Vienna.

South African business lobby to seek mandates court ruling 

One of South Africa’s main business lobby groups plans to seek a declaratory order from the nation’s top court on whether mandatory vaccines are constitutional.

The National Economic Development and Labor Council, a negotiating forum for the government, business and labour unions, supports the plan by Business Unity South Africa to seek the Constitutional Court order, Labor Minister Thulas Nxesi said in a speech on Tuesday. 

Less than one death a day in Japan 

Less than one person a day is dying from Covid-19 in Japan.

The six confirmed deaths over the past week is the lowest it’s been in the country since July 2020, before the second wave of pandemic fatalities. Compared to other developed nations, such as Germany or the US, it’s an even more remarkable result – no G7 nation has had so few deaths since the pandemic started in earnest. DM

With assistance from Josh Wingrove.

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