Covid-19 has infected more than 256M people and killed over 5.1M worldwide. Here are coronavirus-related developments for November 19:

Merck's and Pfizer's pills represent a potentially groundbreaking step in the fight against coronavirus.
Merck's and Pfizer's pills represent a potentially groundbreaking step in the fight against coronavirus. (Reuters)

Friday, November 19, 2021

Merck Covid pill backed for EU emergency use

The EU's drug watchdog has backed Merck's anti-Covid pill for emergency use ahead of its formal authorisation and started reviewing Pfizer's antiviral treatment.

The two pills by the US pharma giants represent a potentially groundbreaking step in the fight against coronavirus as studies show they cut the risk of hospitalisation and death in high-risk patients.

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that while the Merck pill was not yet approved, it had "issued advice" so that individual countries in the 27-nation EU could decide whether to use it in case of a surge in infections.

"The medicine, which is currently not authorised in the EU, can be used to treat adults with Covid-19 who do not require supplemental oxygen and who are at increased risk of developing severe Covid-19," the EMA said in a statement.

"EMA issued this advice to support national authorities who may decide on possible early use of the medicine prior to marketing authorisation, for example in emergency use settings, in light of rising rates of infection and deaths due to Covid-19 across the EU."

The Merck pill should not be used by pregnant women or women who are not using contraception and could get pregnant, the EMA said.

The pill should be given as soon as possible after symptoms start, at the latest within five days. It should then be taken for five days, the EMA said.

Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna get US approval for booster shots

US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, in addition to American firm Moderna, received approval in the US for their Covid-19 booster shots for adults.

The US Food and Drug Administration provided emergency use authorisation for a booster dose for both vaccines including individuals 18 years of age and older, the companies announced in separate statements.

The booster dose is to be administered at least six months after completion of the primary series.

While the same dosage strength will be used for Pfizer-BioNTech jabs in booster shots, Moderna’s 50-microgram booster dose has half the strength of its original vaccine given in two shots around four weeks apart.

UK records 44,242 new cases, 157 deaths

Britain has reported 44,242 new Covid-19 cases and 157 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test, official data showed. 

The figures compared with 46,807 cases on Thursday and 199 deaths recorded. 

Kosovars get vaccine after Friday prayer at mosques

Kosovo’s health authorities are trying a new technique to persuade people to get the Covid-19 vaccine – cooperating with the Muslim community at Friday prayers.

Imams around Kosovo called on the faithful to get the jab while medical teams waited in the mosques’ yards to inoculate them.

There has been a fall of interest in people wanting the vaccine, from 20,000 a day at the beginning in March to less than 2,000 a day this week.

Some 42 percent of the population of 1.8 million population have been vaccinated. 

Germany holds onto Biontech jabs as its Moderna stock risks expiry

Germany's government will limit shipments of the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine in the coming weeks to push the use of its stock of Moderna vaccines before it expires, a health official was cited as saying by RND newspaper group.

Health ministry state secretary Thomas Steffen wrote to Germany's states that 90 percent of orders curently were for the Biontech vaccine.

"But the Moderna vaccine should increasingly be used for boosters because otherwise, we face t he expiry of our Moderna vaccines in stock from the middle of the first quarter of 2022," Steffen was quoted as saying. 

Austria reimposes full lockdown, makes vaccination compulsory

Austria will become the first country in western Europe to reimpose a full Covid-19 lockdown this autumn to tackle a new wave of infections, and order its whole population to get vaccinated as of February 1.

The lockdown will last 10 days initially, and 20 days at most, conservative chancellor Alexander Schallenberg told a news conference, adding that the obligation to get vaccinated would be introduced on February 1.

Britain to add booster shots to Covid travel pass

Britain's health ministry has said that it would add booster shots to the Covid-19 pass for outbound international travel, though it added they would not be added to the domestic pass at this time.

The health ministry said that travellers who have had a booster or a third dose would be able to demonstrate their vaccine status through the National Health Service (NHS) Covid Pass from Friday, adding that a booster was not necessary to travel into England.

Russia's daily deaths reach new record high

Russia has reported 1,254 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, a record daily high that follows a surge in cases.

The government coronavirus task force also reported 37,156 nationwide infections, including 3,371 in Moscow, down from a peak of 41,335 recorded on November 6. 

Taiwan acknowledges room to improve in Covid-19 response

The task force in charge of Taiwan's Covid-19 response has acknowledged that the island could have done better in fighting the disease, after 12 families that lost relatives to the pandemic filed a claim seeking financial compensation from the government.

The families allege that the authorities were underprepared despite having more than a year during which there were few cases, resulting in unnecessary deaths and suffering.

Taiwan managed to largely keep out the coronavirus for nearly a year and a half, with 1,199 cases and 12 deaths as of May 10. 

The virus then swept through the island, powered by the contagious alpha variant, and Taiwan has now recorded 16,516 cases and 848 deaths.

Asked about the families' claim, the Central Epidemic Command Centre said the island's initial success in keeping the virus out resulted in it not having enough Covid-19 tests to detect it.

Lawyers representing the families presented a request for a national compensation case last week to both the Ministry of Health and Welfare, which oversees the Central Epidemic Control Centre, and the Executive Yuan, Taiwan's Cabinet.

A statement from the Executive Yuan on Thursday expressed compassion, but did not take a position on compensation.

Britain was unprepared for pandemic says spending watchdog

The British government was unprepared for a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic, failed to learn from simulation exercises and was distracted by its departure from the European Union, the government's spending watchdog has said.

More than 143,000 people have died from the virus in Britain, sparking criticism of Prime Minister Boris Johnson for his response, which was initially based on plans for dealing with a flu pandemic rather than the pandemic. 

The National Audit Office (NAO) also highlighted Brexit's role in soaking up resources, with Britain leaving the European Union on January 31, 2020, the same day as the country's first confirmed case.

It also shared that the Civil Contingencies Secretariat allocated 56 of its 94 full-time equivalent staff to prepare for potential disruptions from a no-deal Brexit, limiting its ability to focus on other risks and contingency-planning at the same time.

Mexico sends some minors to the US to get vaccinated

Scores of Mexican adolescents have been bused to California to get vaccinated against the virus as efforts get underway across Mexico to get shots in the arms of teens.

Mexico has resisted vaccinating minors ages 12 to 17, in part because the government focused on older adults believed to be more vulnerable. Mexico also has not had enough vaccine supply for most of its minors, who account for one-third of its population. The country this month is preparing to start vaccinating only teens ages 15-17.

To help, a group in San Diego along with San Diego County stepped in to help their neighbor.

The pilot program in San Diego aims to get shots in the arms of 450 youths ages 12 to 17 before it ends in late December. The adolescents from Tijuana were selected by Mexican social service organisations, including those who work with the children of parents deported from the United States.

Mexico's health ministry reported 3,915 new cases  and 356 additional fatalities , bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 3,854,994 and the death toll from the pandemic to 291,929.

Officials have said the ministry's figures likely represent a significant undercount of both cases and deaths.

Antonio Brown accused of obtaining fake vaccination card

Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Antonio Brown has been accused of obtaining a fake vaccination card to avoid NFL protocols, the Tampa Bay Times has reported.

The publication said that Brown's former live-in chef, Steven Ruiz, was the source of the information.

According to the report, Brown's girlfriend, Cydney Moreau, told Ruiz in a text message on July 2 that Brown was willing to pay $500 for a Johnson & Johnson vaccination card.

The Tampa Bay Times showed the text conversation between the two, in which Moreau asks Ruiz about getting the cards.

Florida bans strict vaccine mandates in schools and businesses

The US state of Florida has banned schools and businesses from requiring vaccination against the virus and set the stage for a possible withdrawal from the federal agency aimed at protecting workplace safety.

Governor Ron DeSantis, a right-wing Republican widely believed to be planning a run for the US presidency, signed the new laws in a community called Brandon, the same name used as a euphemism for a coarse epithet in a chant against Democratic President Joe Biden.

"We’re making sure that people have a right to earn a living, people have a right to have protections at their place of employment and that parents have protections to be able to direct the upbringing of their kids," said DeSantis.

In a later announcement of the bills' signing on Twitter, DeSantis referred to "the free state of Florida."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies