Covid-19 has infected more than 231M people and killed over 4.7M. Here are virus-related developments for September 23:

A healthcare worker inoculates a woman with a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid-19 at the Albrook shopping mall in Panama City, on June 18, 2021.
A healthcare worker inoculates a woman with a dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine for Covid-19 at the Albrook shopping mall in Panama City, on June 18, 2021. (AP)

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Panama says it's approaching herd immunity

Panama is weeks away from achieving herd immunity against Covid-19 after vaccinating more than half its population of 4.2 million people, President Laurentino Cortizo said at the United Nations General Assembly.

Panama acted with "foresight" and managed to secure enough vaccines despite global supply challenges, Cortizo said at the assembly in New York.

"Thanks to this, we are only weeks away from reaching herd immunity," Cortizo said, adding that "global immunity" should be a shared goal.

Herd immunity occurs when a large enough portion of the population is immune to a pathogen, either by vaccination or prior infection, stopping spread of the virus.

Health experts have said about 70 percent to 80 percent of the population must be immunised to reach some level of herd immunity, but that figure can vary.

Panama has so far received 7.2 million doses of vaccines from Pfizer Inc and AstraZeneca Plc. It has administered 5.3 million of those shots, according to Ministry of Health data.

Africa CDC: UK travel curbs hurt vaccine drive

The African Union's health watchdog has warned that Britain's pandemic travel restrictions could make people across the continent more reluctant to get vaccinated.

Under the restrictions, Britain only recognises vaccines administered in a few countries.

For most of the world and all of Africa, Britain will not recognise locally-administered vaccines – even if the jabs came from Britain.

"If you send us vaccines and you say, 'we don't recognise those vaccines', it sends a very challenging message for us," said John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC).

That is "a message that creates confusion within our population... creating more reticence, reluctance for people to receive vaccines," he told a weekly news conference.

Under the rules that take effect on October 4, travellers arriving into the UK from so-called "red" listed countries are required to quarantine in government-approved hotels even if they are vaccinated.

Novavax applies to WHO for emergency listing of vaccine

Novavax Inc and its partner Serum Institute of India have applied to the World Health Organization for an emergency use listing of Novavax's Covid-19 vaccine, potentially clearing the way for the shot to ship to many poorer countries, the company said.

Novavax has been prioritising regulatory submissions to low- and middle-income countries after falling behind in the race for authorisation in the United States and Europe, which have already vaccinated most of their residents.

A WHO listing would allow Novavax to ship to multiple developing nations that rely on WHO guidance for their regulatory decisions.

It would also allow Novavax to begin distributing shots through the Covax facility, which aims to provide equitable access to Covid-19 vaccines for low- and middle-income countries.

Novavax has already submitted regulatory documents to countries including India, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Yemen receives third batch of vaccines

Yemen has received its third batch of Covid-19 vaccines through the Covax global vaccine-sharing scheme, the Health Ministry said.

A delivery of 356,000 shots of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Aden, the temporary capital of the internationally recognised Yemeni government, said Ali al Walidi, a spokesman for the ministry.

Health Minister Qasem Buhaibeh said the vaccines will be distributed to people who had already received one AstraZeneca dose.

The desperately poor country of about 30 million people, where health infrastructure has been devastated by six years of war, has still received fewer than 1 million vaccine shots.

Portugal to lift most remaining curbs

Portugal will lift almost all remaining Covid-19 restrictions, allowing full occupancy in restaurants and cultural venues from October 1, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said.

"As most of the restrictions imposed by law disappear, we are going to enter a phase that is based on the responsibility of everyone," Costa told a news conference.

"We must not forget that the pandemic is not over," he said.

Among the few measures that remain in place, mask-wearing is compulsory in public transport, at large events, in nursing homes, hospitals, shopping malls, and hypermarkets.

Masks ceased being compulsory outdoors last week.

Turkey reports 217 more fatalities

Turkey has reported 27,844 new coronavirus cases, while as many as 217 more people lost their fight against the disease in the last 24 hours.

Italy reports 63 Covid-19 deaths

Italy has reported 63 coronavirus-related deaths, against 67 the day before, the Health Ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 4,061 from 3,970.

Italy has registered 130,551 deaths linked to Covid-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth-highest in the world. The country has reported 4.65 million cases to date.

Britain records 182 Covid-19 deaths

Britain has reported 36,710 new cases on 182 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test, official data showed.

The figures compared to 34,460 cases and 166 deaths recorded on Wednesday.

66% of adults in India receive first dose of vaccine

India has vaccinated 66 percent of its adult population with at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, the Health Ministry said.

Rajesh Bhushan, a top ministry official, told a press briefing in New Delhi that "66 percent of the adult population of the country has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Similarly, 23 percent of 18 population have received two doses of vaccine"

Bhushan added: "It is possible because some states have done good work."

US donating 'historic' extra 500 million vaccines

US President Joe Biden has addressed a Covid-19 summit of world leaders with a promise to donate a "historic" extra 500 million vaccines to countries struggling to overcome the pandemic.

The pledge from Biden at the summit, held virtually from the White House, brings the total US commitment of donated vaccines to 1.1 billion — more than the rest of the world combined.

Russia's deaths return to record daily highs

Russia has reported 820 deaths in the last 24 hours, matching an all-time one-day high that it last reached on August 26.

The government coronavirus task force also said it had recorded 21,438 new cases in the last 24 hours, taking the national case tally to 7,354,995 since the pandemic began.

Portugal nears goal of 85 percent fully vaccinated

Portuguese authorities have closed in on their target of fully vaccinating 85 percent of the population after a nine-month rollout.

By Wednesday, 84 percent of the total population was fully jabbed — the highest globally, according to Our World in Data.

In tandem with the rising number of jabs, the Covid-19 infection rate and hospitalisations due to the virus have dropped to their lowest for almost 18 months.

Spain PM pledges to ramp up vaccine donations

Speaking from the UN General Assembly, Pedro Sanchez, President of Spain, has pledged to significantly increase the Covid-19 vaccine doses donated to Latin America, the Caribbean and Subsaharan Africa.

He announced that Spain will donate another 7.5 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines over what was originally vowed, with a total of 30 million doses.  

Aside from the 7.5 million doses assigned to Latin America and the Caribbean, Sanchez said Span would  send the same amount to countries in Subsaharan Africa and other southern neighbouring countries of the European Union.

South Korea urges more testing over fear of holiday surge

South Korean authorities have warned people returning from a holiday to get tested even for the mildest symptoms, especially before clocking in for work amid a new surge in  cases in and around the capital.

The country, which has been grappling with a fourth wave of infections since early July, will on Friday roll back the allowance gatherings during the Chuseok holiday week to two people after 6 pm (0900 GMT) in the greater Seoul area.

Seoul saw 1,400 daily confirmed cases on average last week, up 11 percent from a record high of 1,268 the prior week, Vice Health Minister Kang Do-tae said.

Taiwan says plans to contribute to global fund on fighting pandemics

Taiwan has plans to contribute to a new fund run by the World Bank fund to fight pandemics and will also share vaccines globally once it has enough domestic supply, former Taiwan Vice President Chen Chien-jen told a virtual summit.

Speaking at the summit, Chen said Taiwan supported the goal of vaccinating the world and noted its contribution of masks and other personal protective equipment to countries around the world.

Taiwan's own situation is well under control, with only a handful of new domestic cases a day, and a vaccination programme rapidly accelerating though less than one-tenth of people are fully vaccinated.

Syria sees spike in cases as fears grow of new wave

Syria has been facing a new surge in infections in both government-held areas and territory outside state control that could overwhelm the war-ravaged country's fragile health system, aid workers, officials and medical sources said. 

Government health authorities said the number of cases reported in the last twenty four hours has hit 235, the highest daily tally since the first case was reported in March last year.

NGO's, independent medics and aid workers say official data reflect a small fraction of the real toll. 

US approves booster jabs for 65 and older

The US authorised the use of boosters of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people aged over 65, as well as adults at high risk of severe disease and those in high-exposure jobs.

The announcement means a significant part of the population, amounting to tens of millions of Americans, are now eligible for a third shot six months after their second.

"Today's action demonstrates that science and the currently available data continue to guide the FDA's decision-making for Covid-19 vaccines during this pandemic," said Janet Woodcock, acting head of the Food and Drug Administration, in a statement.

The decision was expected and came after an independent expert panel convened by the regulatory agency last week voted in favour of recommending the move.

The panel, however, rejected an initial plan by the White House to fully approve Pfizer-BioNTech boosters to everyone aged 16 and over, in what amounted to a rare rebuke of President Joe Biden's administration.

Cancer patients responding well to vaccines

People with cancer have appropriate, protective immune responses to vaccines without experiencing any more side effects than the general population, five separate research teams reported at the European oncology meeting this week.

In one study involving 44,000 recipients of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, researchers found no difference in side effects experienced by the nearly 4,000 participants with past or current cancer.

In a separate trial, researchers studied 791 cancer patients who received the two-dose vaccine from Moderna. 

At 28 days after administration of the second dose, adequate levels of antibodies to the virus in the blood were found in 84 percent of patients with cancer who were receiving chemotherapy, in 89 percent of patients receiving chemotherapy plus an immunotherapy drug, and in 93 percent of patients on immunotherapy alone. 

These results compare favourably with the antibody responses seen in a separate group of individuals without cancer, according to European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Press Officer Dr.

Antonio Passaro. "The high rates of efficacy of the vaccine observed across the trial population, regardless of the type of anticancer treatment, constitute a strong and reassuring message for patients and their doctors," he said in a statement.

Japan to donate 60M vaccine doses to poorer countries

Japan plans to give poorer countries 60 million doses, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said, doubling the target from the previous pledge of 30 million doses.

"Today, I am pleased to announce that, with additional contributions, Japan will provide up to approximately 60 million doses of vaccine in total," Suga said in a pre-recorded video message at the US-hosted Global Covid-19 Summit.

Of the first 30 million, Japan has already provided about 23 million doses mostly to Asian countries including Taiwan, Vietnam and Indonesia.

Japan initially lagged behind other industrialised nations in its vaccination rollout, but now 55 percent of its population are fully vaccinated, roughly on a par with the United States.

Earlier this month, in a surprise announcement, Suga said that he was stepping down as prime minister, ending a one-year term that has seen his support crumble as cases surged.

New variants may spread more efficiently into air

The virus that causes Covid may be getting better at travelling into the air, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that patients infected with the Alpha variant of the virus, the dominant strain circulating when the study was conducted, put 43 to 100 times more virus into the air than people infected with the original version of the virus. 

Some of this was due to the fact that patients infected with Alpha had increased amounts of virus in nasal swabs and saliva. But the amount of virus being exhaled was 18-times more than could be explained by the higher viral loads, according to a report published in Clinical Infectious Diseases. 

The researchers also found that loose-fitting face coverings worn by patients with mild symptoms can reduce the amount of virus-laden particles in the surrounding air around by about 50 percent. 

"We know that the Delta variant circulating now is even more contagious than the Alpha variant," coauthor Don Milton of the University of Maryland School of Public Health said in a statement. 

"Our research indicates that the variants just keep getting better at traveling through the air, so we must provide better ventilation and wear tight-fitting masks, in addition to vaccination, to help stop spread of the virus."

Severe symptoms may trigger autoimmune conditions

Severe virus symptoms may trick the immune system into producing so-called autoantibodies that have the potential to eventually attack healthy tissue and cause inflammatory diseases, researchers warned in a paper published in Nature Communications. 

They found autoantibodies in blood samples from roughly 50 percent of 147 positive patients they studied, but in fewer than 15 percent of 41 healthy volunteers.

For 48 patients, the researchers had blood samples taken over different days, including the day of hospital admission, allowing them to track the development of the autoantibodies. "Within a week... about 20 percent of these patients had developed new antibodies to their own tissues that weren't there the day they were admitted," study leader Dr. Paul Utz of Stanford University said in a news release. He urged people to get vaccinated.

"You can't know in advance that when you get Covid-19 it will be a mild case," he said. "If you do get a bad case, you could be setting yourself up for a lifetime of trouble because the virus may trip off autoimmunity," he said. "We haven't studied any patients long enough to know whether these autoantibodies are still there a year or two later," he added, but noted that developing an autoimmune disease was a possibility.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies