Coronavirus live news: WHO monitoring new Mu variant; France rolls out booster jabs for over-65s and vulnerable

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Coronavirus live news: WHO monitoring new Mu variant; France rolls out booster jabs for over-65s and vulnerable” was written by Clea Skopeliti (now) Tom Ambrose and Helen Sullivan (earlier), for theguardian.com on Wednesday 1st September 2021 12.00 UTC

Reddit has been hit by a user rebellion over the online discussion forum’s failure to tackle misinformation related to Covid and vaccines.

More than 135 Reddit communities, or subreddits, have “gone dark”, which blocks non-members from reading or joining the page, in protest at the site’s refusal to limit discussions that propagate misleading theories about the pandemic. The protest covers many of the site’s largest subreddits, including r/Futurology and r/TIFU, which have more than 10 million subscribers each.

More than half of the world’s people have no social protections, the United Nations has warned, even after the pandemic pushed many governments to offer services to their populations.

According to the AFP news agency, a report on the state of social protection globally by the UN’s International Labour Organization found that 4.1 billion people have no social safety net.

As well as access to health care, social protection includes income security measures related to:

  • Old age.
  • Unemployment.
  • Sickness.
  • Disability.
  • Work injury.
  • Maternity.
  • The loss of a family’s main earner.
  • Support for families with children.

In 2020, only 46.9% of the global population benefited from at least one such protection, according to the report. This figure would have been even lower had it not been for the rapid expansion of protections during the pandemic, which the ILO chief, Guy Ryder, said “revealed the absolutely crucial role that social protection has played in national responses”.

Updated

Merck & Co Inc and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics have announced that they have begun enrolling patients in a late-stage trial of their experimental Covid-19 drug molnupiravir, Reuters reports.

The effect of the oral antiviral drug will be observed in more than 1,300 participants to see if it can prevent coronavirus transmission. The study is examining volunteers, who are all 18 or above and live in the same household as someone infected with symptomatic Covid-19.

Merck said in June the US government had agreed to pay about $1.2bn for 1.7 million courses of molnupiravir, if it is proven to work in a separate, ongoing large trial and authorised by US regulators.

Updated

Italy has widened the scope of its “green pass”, making it mandatory for people to show the health document when travelling on high-speed trains, planes, ferries and inter-regional coaches.

The green pass is a digital or paper certificate that shows whether someone has received at least one vaccine dose, has tested negative or has recently recovered from coronavirus.

The pass, which was introduced earlier in the summer to try and encourage vaccine take-up, was initially only required to enter cultural and leisure venues, but its purview has gradually been broadened, Reuters writes.

A green pass document is inspected
Green pass certificate becomes obligatory for trains, planes and schools.

Photograph: Ciro Fusco/EPA

The government has already said teachers will need a green pass when schools reopen in September. Last week, officials said they were considering extending the scheme to anyone working in a public office or a supermarket.

Some Italians have opposed the scheme, claiming it infringes on their freedoms, and opponents plan to block railway traffic at demonstrations later on Wednesday. Regardless, with 70.1% of all Italians over the age of 12 fully vaccinated, the vast majority of people seem to support vaccination and the use of the green pass.

Updated

France rolls out booster doses to over-65s and vulnerable people

France began administering vaccine booster shots to over-65s and people with underlying health conditions on Wednesday as the country tries to increase protection levels to fight the effects of Delta.

The AP news agency reports that a nationwide booster campaign will begin on 12 September in France’s nursing homes.

Overall, 18 million people are believed to be eligible for the booster shot, according to the health ministry. People who had their second Pfizer or Moderna jab at least six months ago can get a booster, while those who had the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine can get a booster shot of Pfizer or Moderna at least four weeks after they got vaccinated.

The extended rollout comes after France’s health authority, the HAS, said last month that “recent studies suggest a fall in the vaccine’s effectiveness, especially with the Delta variant”. Elderly people and those with underlying health conditions are most impacted by the drop over time.

The government has not yet decided whether to extend the campaign to the whole population, 65.6% of whom are fully vaccinated.

Updated

As students in Israel return to school on Wednesday, new measures, including mask-wearing and testing requirements, are being enforced in an attempt to stem the country’s rising cases.

Reuters has a bit more information on what the government’s “living with Covid” policy looks like for pupils and parents. As well as requiring face coverings and ramping up the rollout of booster shots, Israel is requiring testing for students and unvaccinated instructors. The prime minister, Naftali Bennett, said:

After a year of Zooming, a difficult year of fading and staring in front of the screens, I want to wish you, the students of Israel, this one thing: May the year of screens be done away, and a year of experiences begin.”

However, parents criticised the government – which announced the new measures just days before classes began – for allowing them little time to prepare.

Gal Altberg, 41, told the news agency that while she was excited to send her children, in Year One and Three, back to school, she was concerned there could be another lockdown. She said:

The policy is still up in the air, the government changes things around but we are hoping for (the best), and we are hoping that the vaccinations will help.

Updated

Hello, this is Clea Skopeliti picking up the blog for the next few hours. Please send over any tips or ideas for coronavirus coverage via Twitter DM, where I’m @cleaskopeliti. Thanks in advance.

Summary

Here is a brief round-up of the main Covid headlines from around the world so far today:

  • In Italy, the government has said it will crack down on anti-green pass demonstrators who have threatened to block railway tracks throughout the country. It comes as a rule requiring Covid tests or vaccines takes effect for long-distance domestic public transport.
  • North Korea has requested almost 3m doses of the Chinese-made Sinovac jab it was due through a United Nations programme be sent elsewhere.
  • Another vial of the Moderna vaccine suspected of containing a “foreign substance” has been found in Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture. Authorities said a pharmacist found “several black particles” in one vial after checking it before the vaccine’s use.
  • In Australia, the premier for Victoria has named 23 September as the date he believes 70% of eligible adults will have received their first vaccination dose and when restrictions can begin to lift.
  • Many healthcare workers protested in the Philippines today to demand an end to what they described as “government neglect” and “unpaid benefits”.
  • New Zealand has recorded 75 new cases of Covid, a bounce upward after two days of falling case numbers.

That’s all from me, Tom Ambrose, as I hand the blog over to my colleague Clea Skopeliti, who will be bringing you the latest Covid news throughout the afternoon. Goodbye.

Updated

Health experts have warned coronavirus cases could rise again as Indonesia and Thailand relax restrictions but vaccination rates remain low.

Cases in South-east Asia have risen sharply in recent months with the arrival of the highly transmissible Delta variant.

Although case numbers are still rising fast in most of the region, Indonesia and Thailand, which have its largest economies, have started to lift curbs on restaurants and shopping malls to ease the economic effects of lockdown.

Indonesia reported 10,534 new cases on Tuesday, five times fewer than its peak in mid-July, while Thailand reported 14,802 new cases on Wednesday, down 37% from its mid-August peak.

However, experts said relaxations carried dangers with a low level of vaccination and a shortage of testing, with rates of positive tests often above the 5% recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Staff members prepare to open a restaurant on the first day of coronavirus restrictions lift on retail and dining in Bangkok.
Staff members prepare to open a restaurant on the first day of coronavirus restrictions lift on retail and dining in Bangkok.
Photograph: Chalinee Thirasupa/Reuters

Abhishek Rimal, Asia Pacific emergency health coordinator at the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, told Reuters:

We are definitely concerned around the reopening without meeting all the criteria proposed by the WHO.

Now with the Delta variant, which is highly transmissible, and the low vaccination rate, we could very well see a surge of Covid-19 in days to come.

Indonesia has recently had a positive test rate of 12% and Thailand 34%.

Updated

In Italy, the government has said it will crack down on anti-green pass demonstrators who have threatened to block railway tracks throughout the country.

It comes as a rule requiring Covid tests or vaccines takes effect for long-distance domestic public transport.

Travellers in Italy must now show a “green pass”, which certifies that they have received at least one dose of the vaccine more than 15 days ago, have tested negative in the past 48 hours or have recovered from coronavirus in the past six months.

The Associated Press reports:

The rule applies to domestic flights, train travel between regions and most sea travel.

Local buses, trams and metros are exempt from the rule, which was announced by Mario Draghi’s government when daily case loads started steadily rising as the Delta variant of the virus became prevalent in Italy.

Earlier this summer, a “green pass” requirement began for those wanting to dine indoors, access gyms or attend crowded venues like concerts.

Demonstrators rally during a protest against the ‘Green Pass’ vaccine passport in the centre of Milan.
Demonstrators rally during a protest against the ‘green pass’ vaccine passport in the centre of Milan.
Photograph: Matteo Bazzi/EPA

The interior minister, Luciana Lamorgese, vowed zero tolerance against any rail track protests or other violence.

Several recent protests against the green pass requirement, including in Rome and Milan, turned violent, with police having to rescue a state TV journalist after a protester started yanking her by her hair and a newspaper reporter was punched repeatedly in the face. Ministers and doctors have received threats.

Updated

North Korea has requested almost 3m doses of the Chinese-made Sinovac jab it was due through a United Nations programme is sent elsewhere.

The immunisation programme procures and delivers shots on behalf of the Covax programme but North Korea has continued to claim that it has no coronavirus cases.

Unicef said the country’s ministry of public health has asked that the 2.97 million Sinovac shots Covax planned to deliver be sent to countries with severe Covid outbreaks.

The North Korean ministry also said it will “will continue to communicate with Covax facility to receive Covid vaccines in the coming months,” Unicef said in an email to the Associated Press.

Covax had also allocated 1.9 million AstraZeneca shots to North Korea but delivery has been delayed.

Experts say North Korea remains focused on tough quarantines and border controls to keep out the virus, and vaccines appear to be a secondary priority.

Updated

India has significantly increased Covid vaccination rates in its vast rural areas but supply issues mean it is unlikely to hit its target of vaccinating all adults by the end of the year.

Around 65% of the country’s nearly 1.4 billion people live in rural areas and while India began offering jabs for all adults in May, the campaign stalled in villages due to vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.

However, from mid-July there appeared to be a shift in attitudes and of the nearly 120 million shots administered in the past three weeks, around 70% were in India’s villages – up from around half in the initial weeks of May.

The Associated Press reports:

Although the increased vaccine acceptance in rural areas is promising, the pandemic is far from done in India: After weeks of steady decline, the 46,000 new infections reported on Saturday was its highest in almost two months.

Only about 11% of India’s vast population is fully vaccinated, while half of all adults and about 35% of the total population have received at least one shot. This has left large swathes of people still susceptible to the virus.

A health worker administers a vaccine to a villager in Nizampur.
A health worker administers a vaccine to a villager in Nizampur.
Photograph: Manish Swarup/AP

Schools in Taiwan have reopened today as the island’s largest coronavirus outbreak appeared to subside.

Schools on the island shut down in May and many switched online in the face of the island’s largest outbreak, which has since passed 15,000 cases. Taiwan is now reporting new Covid cases in the single digits.

The Associated Press reported this morning:

Students will eat lunch at their own desks, which now have plastic dividers separating students. Masks are required, and classrooms will have exhaust fans to circulate air.

Two giant balloons and music created a festive air greeting the students arriving for classes at Tienmu Elementary School on Wednesday.

Parents are relived that their kids are back in school, saying online learning wasn’t necessarily good in the long term.

Parents and kids pose at school’s garden on the first day of school amid coronavirus measures in Taipei, Taiwan.
Parents and kids pose at school’s garden on the first day of school amid coronavirus measures in Taipei, Taiwan.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Liao Cher-hao, president of the parents’ association of the school in the capital, Taipei, said:

You can see that parents are really happy today. They all want to send their kids back to school ASAP. Basically, we made a survey. The results of online classes are not super good.

Another vial of the Moderna Covid vaccine suspected of containing a “foreign substance” has been found in Japan’s Kanagawa prefecture.

Authorities said a pharmacist found “several black particles” in one vial after checking it before the vaccine’s use.

Japan suspended the use of 1.63m doses of Moderna shots last week after becoming aware of contamination in some of the supply, according to the Reuters news agency.

Moderna and Spanish pharma company Rovi, which bottles Moderna vaccines, have said the cause could be a manufacturing issue, and European safety regulators have launched an investigation. Moderna has said no safety or efficacy issues had been identified from the issue.

Medical staff prepares Moderna coronavirus vaccine to be administered at a mass vaccination centre in Tokyo, Japan.
Medical staff prepares Moderna coronavirus vaccine to be administered at a mass vaccination centre in Tokyo, Japan.
Photograph: Reuters

Kanagawa prefecture said the vaccine’s domestic distributor, Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd, had collected the vial with the suspected contaminant and that about 3,790 people had already received shots from the same lot.

Updated

More schools in India were given the go-ahead to reopen for the first time in nearly 18 months on Wednesday, despite apprehension from some parents and signs that infections are on the rise once again.

At least six more states in the country will gradually reopen schools and colleges with health measures in place throughout September.

In New Delhi, all staff must be vaccinated and class sizes will be capped at 50% with staggered seating and sanitised desks, the Associated Press reported.

Students attend a class at a government school in Hyderabad on 1 September
Students attend a class at a government school in Hyderabad on 1 September.
Photograph: Noah Seelam/AFP/Getty Images

In the capital only students in grades nine to 12 will be allowed to attend at first, though it is not compulsory.

Jacob John, a professor of community medicine at Christian Medical College, Vellore, said:

The simple answer is there is never a right time to do anything during a pandemic. There is a risk, but life has to go on – and you can’t go on without schools.

Updated

Meanwhile, in the Australian state of New South Wales, pubs, restaurants, stadiums and services such as hairdressing could open to fully vaccinated people by mid-October, while vaccinated international travellers could be welcomed for Christmas under a system of home quarantine.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said life will feel “very much more normal” by mid-October when the state is expected to achieve the 70% double-dose vaccination milestone, which would allow freedoms for vaccinated residents.

The state recorded 1,116 new Covid cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Tuesday. Four women – one in her 50s, one in her 60s, one in her 70s and one in her 80s – died. They were all in hospital at the time.

Berejiklian said on Wednesday:

Whether it is attending a public event or having a drink, if you are fully vaccinated and the state has hit its 70% double dose target, please expect to do all of those things we have been missing for too long

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian addresses media during a press conference in Sydney, New South Wales.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian addresses media during a press conference in Sydney, New South Wales.
Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/EPA

It follows Berejiklian’s earlier predication that October will be the most challenging period for the state’s hospital system.

Updated

In Australia, the premier for Victoria has named September 23 as the date he believes 70% of eligible adults will have received their first vaccination dose and when restrictions can begin to lift.

But Daniel Andrews on Wednesday warned “we are in for a difficult time” and that case number’s wont’t come down despite the state having “thrown everything at this”.

He also announced that playgrounds would reopen from midnight on Thursday, but that was the only restriction that could ease as “things have changed very rapidly” with 120 new cases announced on Wednesday.

Of the new cases, only 20 were in isolation during their entire infectious period, Andrews said. He added:

These last few days have seen a dramatic shift in the nature and the number of cases coming forward.

 

From September 23, a number of restrictions will be eased in Victoria. The 5km travel limit in greater Melbourne will be extended to 10km for shopping and exercise; outdoor exercise will increase from two to three hours per day; outdoor communal gym equipment and skate parks will reopen; outdoor personal training will be allowed with up to two people plus a trainer; child-minding for school-aged children will be permitted; real estate private inspections of unoccupied premises for a new purchase or end of a lease will be permitted.

Construction sites will also be able to increase to 50% of their capacity if 90% of their workforce have received at least one vaccine dose. Term three of school will still be at home and the 9pm-5am curfew will remain in greater Melbourne.

Updated

Many healthcare workers protested in the Philippines today to demand an end to what they described as “government neglect” and “unpaid benefits”.

It comes as pressure builds at hospitals fighting one of Asia’s longest-running coronavirus epidemics.

Protesters wearing protective medical gear gathered around the Department of Health (DOH) in Manilla and held placards demanding their risk allowances and hazard pay, and the resignation of health secretary Francisco Duque.

Healthcare workers protest outside the Department of Health in Manilla.
Healthcare workers protest outside the Department of Health in Manilla.
Photograph: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters

Medical staff have been overwhelmed during the pandemic and 103 have died from Covid, among 33,400 coronavirus deaths in the Philippines.

Robert Mendoza, the president of the Alliance of Health Workers, told Reuters from the back of a pickup truck:

It is sad that many of us have died, many of us became sick, and many have resigned or opted to retire early, yet we are still kneeling before the DOH to give us our benefits.

Updated

China is expected to deliver the first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to Taiwan on Thursday, with 932,000 shots set to arrive on the island.

The official state news agency Xinhua, in a brief report, said the vaccines were being provided by Shanghai Fosun Pharamceutical.

It has the right to sell the shots on BioNTech’s behalf in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, according to the Reuters news agency.

The arrival of the first batch of vaccines has proved a controversial issue, with ministers blaming China for blocking an order earlier this year.

However, Beijing – which claims Taiwan as its own territory – has always vehemently denied these claims.

Taiwan’s government subsequently allowed major Apple Inc supplier Foxconn – formally Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd – as well as its billionaire founder, Terry Gou, along with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd, to negotiate on its behalf for the jab.

A $350m deal for 10m shots was agreed last month, which will be donated to the government for distribution

New Zealand records 75 cases after two days of falls

New Zealand has recorded 75 new cases of Covid-19, a bounce upward after two days of seeing cases decline.

The director general of health, Dr Ashley Bloomfield, said on Tuesday the increase was “not unexpected” and noted that during New Zealand’s previous outbreak, case numbers did move up and down somewhat day-to-day, while still tracking down overall.

Bloomfield said that the government’s modelling gave 90% certainty that the reproductive rate – or average number of new people that each case infected – was still below one, “indicating that the number of cases will continue to decline, and we are successfully breaking the chains of transmission”.

The total number of cases in the current outbreak is now at 687. Of these, one was in Wellington and the remainder in Auckland. Thirty-two people are hospitalised in Auckland, eight of whom are in intensive care, and three of whom are on ventilators. Contact tracers have identified 34,832 contacts in the outbreak so far:

Updated

WHO monitoring new Mu variant

A new coronavirus variant named Mu has been designated a variant of interest by the World Health Organization (WHO), PA Media reports. Mu, or B.1.621, was first identified in Colombia and cases have been recorded in South America and Europe.

The WHO’s weekly bulletin on the pandemic said the variant has mutations suggesting it could be more resistant to vaccines, as was the case with Beta, but that more studies would be needed to examine this further.

It said: “Since its first identification in Colombia in January 2021, there have been a few sporadic reports of cases of the Mu variant and some larger outbreaks have been reported from other countries in South America and in Europe.

“Although the global prevalence of the Mu variant among sequenced cases has declined and is currently below 0.1%, the prevalence in Colombia (39%) and Ecuador (13%) has consistently increased.

“The epidemiology of the Mu variant in South America, particularly with the co-circulation of the Delta variant, will be monitored for changes.”

There are four coronavirus variants of concern, as deemed by the WHO, with the Alpha variant – first recorded in Kent – seen in 193 countries, Beta in 141, Gamma in 91 and Delta in 170 countries, while Mu is the fifth variant of interest.

Updated

Summary

Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

A new coronavirus variant named Mu has been designated a variant of interest by the World Health Organization. Mu, or B.1.621, was first identified in Colombia and cases have been recorded in South America and Europe.

The WHO’s weekly bulletin on the pandemic said the variant has mutations suggesting it could be more resistant to vaccines, as was the case with Beta, but that more studies would be needed to examine this further.

Here are the other key recent developments:

  • The UK government will press ahead with plans to introduce vaccine passports for nightclubs and other crowded indoor venues in England from the end of next month, the Guardian reports. Officials also restated their intention to roll out a Covid-19 booster programme from September.
  • About 14 million people in the US received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine in August, about 4 million more than in July, officials said on Tuesday as the government pushes inoculation as infections rise.
  • The US state department has raised its travel advisory alert for Canada to a “level 3: reconsider travel” status amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it said.
  • The Irish government has announced plans to remove all Covid-19 restrictions by 31 October.
  • Seven in 10 (70%) of the European Union’s adult population has been fully vaccinated against Covid, hitting a target it had set at the beginning of the year. The figure masks the contrast among EU countries, with some nations being well above the 70% goal while others in the poorer eastern region of the bloc are far behind.
  • Italy reported 75 coronavirus-related deaths on Tuesday, up from 53 the previous day, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 5,498 from 4,257, the health ministry said.
  • Israel has recorded its highest daily coronavirus case tally of nearly 11,000 new infections, amid a surge caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant as schools prepare to reopen.

Updated

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