Covid-19 has infected more than 271M people and killed over 5.3M worldwide. Here are some of the latest coronavirus-related developments:

Pfizer said the pill reduced combined hospitalisations and deaths by about 89 percent among high-risk adults when taken shortly after initial Covid-19 symptoms. (Reuters)

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Pfizer confirms positive results for anti-Covid pill

Paxlovid has said that clinical trials confirmed its anti-Covid pill reduced hospitalisations and deaths among at-risk people by almost 90 percent when it was taken in the first few days after symptoms appear.

The results are based on trials of more than 2,200 people and back up findings announced last month from preliminary trials.

Nobody in the trial who received the Pfizer treatment died, compared with 12 deaths among placebo recipients.

The Pfizer pills are taken with the older antiviral ritonavir every 12 hours for five days beginning shortly after onset of symptoms. If authorized, the treatment will be sold as Paxlovid.

The drug maker also said the treatment appears to be effective against the Omicron variant.

WHO: Africa might miss 70% vaccination goal until late 2024

The African continent might not reach the target of vaccinating 70 percent of its 1.3 billion population until the second half of 2024, a target many of the world’s richer countries have already met, the World Health Organization has said.

The warning comes as the world faces a new surge in cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant.

Health officials in South Africa, which first announced the variant, say early data indicate it causes less severe illness and shorter, less intensive hospital stays.

But some richer countries have rushed to allow booster vaccine doses in response, even as less than 8 percent of Africa’s population has received two doses.

UK calls for volunteers to battle wave of Omicron infections

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called for thousands of volunteers to staff new vaccination centres in shopping areas, stadiums and racecourses as the government accelerates its booster program to combat the Omicron variant.

The drive comes two days after Johnson set a target of giving booster shots to all adults by the end of this year to stem the tide of Omicron.

UK health authorities say the number of Omicron infections is doubling every two to three days, and the variant is now responsible for about 200,000 new cases a day.

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Dutch consider early Christmas break for schools

The Dutch government have said it is considering closing schools a week early for Christmas this year as coronavirus infections remain high and hospitals struggle with a wave of patients.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte is expected to announce an extension of restrictions that have been in place since November 28 at a news conference at 1800 GMT.

India stuck with vaccines it can’t export

India has been struggling to export its surplus of vaccines as logistical hurdles delay their use in many countries despite low levels of inoculation, vaccine producer the Serum Institute of India (SII) and a government official said.

The SII, the world’s biggest vaccine maker that produces the AstraZeneca, Novavax and Sputnik shots, has already announced plans to temporarily halve output of the AstraZeneca drug until more orders came, including possibly through boosters.

China detects second case of Omicron variant

China has detected its second case of the Omicron variant in a 67-year-old man who tested positive after more than two weeks of quarantine, official media reported.

State broadcaster CCTV said the man returned from overseas on November 27 and underwent two weeks of isolation, during which he repeatedly tested negative for the virus.

South Korea marks deadliest day of pandemic

South Korea has marked its deadliest day of the pandemic as an unrelenting, delta-driven spread stretched hospitals thin and left people dying while waiting for beds.

Health experts warn that the country’s medical system is quickly approaching its limits and that fatalities could worsen if the government continues to be slow and hesitant in tightening social distancing.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said that 94 virus patients died in the past 24 hours while a record 906 were in serious or critical condition.

World needs cheaper way to vaccinate against Covid

The former head of Britain’s vaccine task force has said that the vaccines against Covid-19 would need to become cheaper to administer, whether with patches, pills or sprays, to ensure countries do not have to spend so much.

Former chair of the UK Vaccine Taskforce Kate Bingham said the virus was ahead in the battle and that the world should ensure it gets vaccines out to everyone who was immunocompromised.

“We can’t be in a position where we have to go through this monumental logistics challenge of actually getting vaccines into arms,” Bingham told a parliamentary committee.

No Omicron deaths in J&J vaccine study in South Africa

No one has died from the Omicron coronavirus variant in a study of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine in South Africa, one of the co-lead investigators of the study said.

“Although we have had a lot of breakthrough infections there has been very little hospital admission in comparison to the Delta period. And as of today we have had no one who has died from Omicron from the J&J study, so that’s the good news. It shows again that the vaccine is effective against severe disease and death,” South African Medical Research Council president Glenda Gray told a news conference.

Germany plans to ease testing

Germany’s new health minister wants to exempt people who have had a booster vaccination from having to take a coronavirus test before entering some leisure facilities, according to a document drafted by his ministry.

The proposal, to be discussed by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and ministers from Germany’s 16 federal states, is aimed at encouraging people to get a booster shot and relieving testing capacity.

However, a negative test result would still be required to enter hospitals and care homes to help protect more vulnerable people, according to the draft.

France might tighten travel entries from Britain

France is contemplating tightening controls for travelers coming from Britain, where the new, more contagious, Omicron coronavirus variant seems to be rapidly spreading, said French government spokesman Gabriel Attal.

“Regarding Britain, the current rule is to show a negative test less than 48 hours old in order to enter France,” said Attal.

“But we are always looking at means to tighten the framework, we are currently working on that and we should, I think, come to a conclusion in the coming days,” he added.

Malaysia approves Ronapreve Covid treatment

Malaysia has given conditional approval for the use of the single-dose antibody cocktail Ronapreve, developed by Regeneron and Roche, to treat Covid-19.

It has also approved a request from Merck & Co for a clinical trial import license for its Covid-19 pill Molnupiravir, to be used as part of studies being conducted in Malaysia, according to a statement.

Moderna to provide millions of vaccines a year in Australia

US drugmaker Moderna Inc will produce millions of mRNA vaccines a year in Australia after agreeing to set up one of its largest manufacturing facilities outside the United States and Europe.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the plant in Victoria state was expected to produce up to 100 million mRNA vaccine doses every year when it begins operations in 2024.

Morrison did not specify the financial details of the agreement but Australian media reported the deal could be worth about $1.43 billion.

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ADB trims Asia’s growth over Omicron risks

The Asian Development Bank has trimmed its growth forecasts for developing Asia for this year and next to reflect risks and uncertainty brought on by the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

The Manila-based lender now sees 2021 gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 7.0 percent for developing Asia, down from 7.1 percent, and 2022 growth of 5.3 percent, down from 5.4 percent in September.

“Covid-19 has receded in developing Asia, but rising infections worldwide and the emergence of a fast-spreading variant suggest that the pandemic will take time to play out,” the ADB said in a supplement to its Asian Development Outlook report.

Most of developing Asia’s subregions are forecast to grow slower than previously thought this year, due in part to weak recovery in China.

Major Chinese manufacturing hub fights its first outbreak

Major Chinese manufacturing province Zhejiang is fighting its first Covid-19 cluster this year, with tens of thousands of citizens in quarantine and virus-hit areas suspending business operations, cutting flights, and cancelling events.

The province reported 74 locally transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms on December 12, official data showed on Monday, almost double the previous day’s 38 cases, lifting to 173 the total since the province started to report cases for the latest outbreak.

More than 50,000 people in Zhejiang have been quarantined at centralised facilities and nearly half a million people’s health conditions were monitored, a provincial health official said.

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