World Cup Football Match Suspended, No More Lockdowns for Vaccinated People: COVID-19 Global Weekly Highlights

These are the global coronavirus stories you need to know about this week.

In the UK, tax rises are on the way to help fund increased COVID-19 demands on the NHS and social care, and a growing backlog of elective treatment. A consultation has begun on mandatory vaccination for NHS staff in England. Ministers have denied plans are being considered for a half-term ‘fire break’ lockdown in England if cases begin to rise sharply after children returned to school. Government vaccination advisers decided against recommending COVID-19 vaccination for all 12 to 15-year-olds, saying “the margin of benefit is considered too small to support universal vaccination”. UK chief medical officers will now decide on whether to override the advice.

As of Tuesday, positive COVID-19 cases had risen 15.3% over 7 days and stood at a rate of 377.4 per 100,000 population. There were 933 deaths over 7 days, and 6730 hospital admissions. More than 80% of over-16s are now fully vaccinated, and 88.9% have received a first dose. The Royal College of Physicians has warned of a difficult winter ahead for the health service.

In France, the epidemic is slowing down. The average number of new cases has fallen by 23% in a week. However, the situation remains worrying in the French Overseas Territories. The average number of infections reported in Reunion reaches a new maximum every day. It is currently reporting more than 2300 cases per day.

In France, the start of the school year went well. “Today, we have 545 closed classes in France. We are therefore a little above 0.1%,” Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said on September 7.

So far, 88% of adults have received their first COVID-19 vaccine dose and more than 300,000 people over 65 have already made an appointment to receive a booster.

While the current climate around vaccination against COVID-19 and the health pass remains tense, some doctors and scientists, public figures in the fight against COVID-19, organised a press conference about death threats they have been recieving for months. They called on the authorities to condemn the stalkers and to provide them with protection.

In Germany, the Federal Parliament decided that the number of COVID-19 patients in clinics should be the main yardstick used to measure the virus in future. To a large extent, the federal states are able to determine locally at what point stricter daily restrictions become necessary. In addition to the number of COVID-19 patients admitted to clinics per 100,000 inhabitants in 7 days, other indicators are to be taken into account. 

Meanwhile, in Germany, for the first time in 2 months, the 7-day incidence of COVID-19 infections has fallen for 2 days in a row. On Wednesday the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported 82.7 new infections per 100,000 population in a week. It is unclear whether this  positive development is merely a snapshot or a reversal of the trend.

Nevertheless, the President of the Robert Koch Institute, Lothar Wieler, warned of a fierce fourth wave of coronavirus in the autumn. Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn has  renewed his appeal to the population to get vaccinated against COVID-19, so as not to overburden the health system in the autumn and winter.

So far, 61.4% of people in Germany are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 65.9% have now received at least one dose.

According to Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, the COVID-19 pandemic is practically over for those who have been vaccinated. Speaking to ORF television, he ruled out lockdowns for vaccinated people.

In the event that the health system is overloaded, he said, only the unvaccinated will be barred from access to restaurants and major events. On vaccine hesitancy he said that everyone who is unvaccinated will sooner or later become infected with coronavirus.

In Austria, 62.2% of the population had been vaccinated against COVID-19 at least once and 58.8% are fully vaccinated. The 7-day incidence was 130 on 06 September, an increase from 93.4 the previous week. 

In Switzerland, the Swissnoso association is considering mandatory vaccination for new nursing staff. According to its President Andreas Wissner, “personal freedom stops where it severely restricts the neighbour” and he speaks of a violation of the duty of care if patients are treated by infected nursing staff. Since the virus is particularly rampant in schools in Switzerland, more and more teachers are calling for mass tests and CO2 measuring devices.

The 7-day incidence in Switzerland is 216 per 100,000 people, and vaccination coverage is 58.1% for first vaccinations and 51.6% for second vaccinations.

In Italy, the Delta variant remains prevalent, with a further decline in Alpha and Gamma variants. A National Institute of Health survey on August 24 estimated a Delta prevalence of 99.7%. The average weekly incidence remains stable, with 74 cases per 100,000, compared to 71 in the previous week.
On the other hand, the occupancy rate for COVID-19 beds in medical wards rose to 7.3% nationally and that of intensive care units to 6%. In the meantime, 71.62% of the Italian population over 12 years has been fully vaccinated. This week the National Institute of Health has also published a strategic document for the prevention and control of SARS-CoV-2 infections, with the aim of protecting schools, and allowing in-person teaching by monitoring circulation of the virus in the classroom with the use of voluntary saliva tests. The recommendation remains to keep the one meter distance between students, to ventilate rooms, and to have all children over 6-years-old wear masks, even when seated.

In Portugal, more than 85% of the population has received at least one dose of a vaccine against COVID-19, according to the Directorate-General for Health (DGS). Authorities assess there is currently a trend towards a sustainable decrease in the number of new infections. Whether this continues depends on not introducing new variants and on the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Regarding administering a third dose to the elderly, the director of DGS, Graça Freitas, told the press that pharmaceutical company Pfizer recently submitted to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) a request for approval of the additional dose.

“We will have to wait for the regulator”, she said. “In any case, we are doing our homework on two fronts: the scientific, which keeps up with all the advances, and the logistics. We continue to acquire vaccines for a scenario in which a third dose or booster is needed.”

In Spain the Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, has detailed that a total of 22.5 million vaccination certificates have been issued, and there have been 596,000 diagnostic tests. She also highlighted how more than two million travellers at airports have been able to benefit from ‘Fast Control’, using their COVID-19 certificate in the Spanish Travel Health (SPTH) application. The health agency AEMPS has authorised a third COVID-19 dose for immunosuppressed people, following EMA approval. And the use of ozone therapy for COVID-19, approved by courts in Barcelona and previously in Castellón, has opened a legal debate in public health on the application of “remedies” without scientific evidence.

Plans for the US to roll out a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines to most adults starting on September 20 have been sidelined over the surprise resignations of two high-level vaccine reviewers at the US Food and Drug Administration.  The two, who had decades of experience at the agency, were reportedly upset with the Biden Administration’s plan to roll out extra vaccine doses ahead of evidence to support the safety and effectiveness of that strategy.  The US is modelling its booster campaign after Israel’s push to add a dose to prevent waning immunity against Delta and other variants. The push for boosters in wealthy countries is at odds with the World Health Organisation’s call to delay extra doses until more people in under-resourced countries have been able to get a first dose.  Currently, 75% of Americans have had at least one dose of a vaccine, with 53% of the US population fully vaccinated.

The director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Carissa Etienne, said that “PAHO recommends that all pregnant women, after the first trimester of gestation, as well as those who are breastfeeding, receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” and urged countries to prioritise vaccination of this group in Latin America and the Caribbean.

So far, more than 270,000 pregnant women have fallen ill with COVID-19 in the Americas, and more than 2600 have died from the virus. In countries such as Mexico and Colombia it is the leading cause of maternal death in 2021.

It also reported nearly 1.5 million cases and more than 22,000 deaths related to COVID-19 in the Americas in the last week. In the Caribbean, infections are declining but deaths increased in the islands of St. Martin, Jamaica and Puerto Rico. In South America cases are increasing in Venezuela, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Belize.

In Mexico, as of Tuesday 7 September there were a total of 3,449,295 cumulative cases and 264,541 deaths due to COVID-19. One week after the start of on-site classes, positive cases of COVID-19 have been detected in 88 schools. Despite the fact that the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine has been authorised for use in the country for children over 12 years of age since 24 June, and that cases in minors have increased, the authorities have not presented a vaccination plan that includes them, and Mexico’s undersecretary of health has mentioned that they will not be vaccinated for the time being.

Brazil, on September 7, surpassed the mark of 20.9 million people with COVID-19. The Delta variant advances. It already represents 89% of COVID-19 cases in Rio de Janeiro and more than 43% in São Paulo. Specialists draw attention to a possible increase in infections after demonstrations against, and in favour, of the President that took thousands to the streets on the 7th, commemorating 199 years of the country’s Declaration of Independence.

By September 6, about 31.84% of the population had been fully vaccinated, and 63.48% had been partially immunised.

In São Paulo, the most populous state in the country, booster vaccination began, and 99.2% of the doses applied were from CoronaVac.

On September 5, the National Health Surveillance Agency suspended a World Cup football qualifying match between Brazil and Argentina after discovering that four Argentinian players provided false information to enter the country. They omitted a recent visit to England and, according to Brazilian rules, they would have to quarantine.

Australia will receive four million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from the UK as part of an exchange deal. A similar swap deal was made earlier with Singapore. Stay-at-home orders remain in place for more than 15 million residents of Victoria, New South Wales, and the Australian Capital Territory.

New Zealand ended its strict nationwide lockdown on September 6, as overall COVID-19 cases in the country are declining. However, a hard lockdown will continue in Auckland for at least another week, as the current outbreak in the city is not yet under control. On September 4, the country reported its first death from COVID-19 in over 6 months. 

The current ‘state of emergency’ in Tokyo and other areas in Japan could be extended by up to a month beyond its planned end date of September 12.

Hong Kong has removed quarantine restrictions for fully vaccinated travellers arriving from mainland China. However, the number of visitors has been capped at 2000 per day. Additionally, fully vaccinated Hong Kong residents from India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Thailand, and South Korea will be allowed to return to the city but will have to undergo quarantine. 

Despite COVID-19 cases continuing to surge, the Philippines has decided to lift the stay-at-home order in the capital, Manila, and will instead implement ‘granular lockdowns’ in smaller high-risk areas. 

India plans to expand its medical oxygen capacity to 15,000 tons per day in preparation for a potential third wave of COVID-19. The daily consumption of oxygen during the devastating second wave in the country earlier this year was nearly 10,000 tons.

China has pledged to supply two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to other countries in 2021. 

In Africa: Egypt has reported the highest number of new infections since June. The average number of new infections reported each day in South Africa has decreased by more than 3600 during the last 3 weeks.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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