These are the global coronavirus stories you need to know about this week.
On Monday, the UK recorded zero COVID-19 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, although numbers could have been affected by reporting over a bank holiday. However, rising new virus variant cases, and a vaccination programme still to be completed, have raised concerns about plans to remove lockdown restrictions in England from 21 June. The head of the British Medical Association, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said: ʺA premature ending of all legal restrictions which then resulted in a surge of infections would undermine our health service’s efforts to tackle the biggest level of backlog of care it has ever faced.ʺ More than three-quarters of UK adults have now had a first COVID-19 vaccine dose, and around half a second dose.
The number of hospitalisations because of COVID-19 is continuing to drop steadily in Belgium. Last week, there was an average of 84 new hospital admissions per day due to coronavirus, a 27% decrease compared to the previous reference period. Belgium is ‘technically ready’ to start issuing EU COVID travel certificates. On Monday, the European Commission gave the official green light to administer Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine to children aged 12 and over. This should start in September in Belgium.
In Portugal 19% of people (almost two million) are fully vaccinated, and 37% have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Coverage is highest among elderly people, with 96% of over-80s vaccinated with a first dose, and 91% with both doses. In 65 to 79-year-olds, 93% had one dose of a vaccine (1.5 million) and 42% (674,000) are fully immunised with both doses. As for the population between 50 and 64-years-old, 52% have had a first dose and 18% have had both doses. The next age group to be called up will be those in their 40s. Vaccination for people over 20 starts in August.
The European Commission wants people vaccinated with two doses or recovered from COVID to be exempt from testing and quarantine when travelling in Europe, according to the newspaper Público.
The national incidence in the last 14 days is 63.3 cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection per 100 thousand inhabitants. In the last 24 hours, there were zero deaths from COVID-19 and 445 new cases but an increase in hospitalisations.
In France, indicators continue to show a decline in the epidemic. The average number of new cases over the past week now stands at 9732 cases per day. At the same time, vaccination coverage continues to increase. As of June 1, 39.1% of the population had received one dose and 16.7% a second dose.
On May 29, 5000 masked participants aged 18 to 45 went to Bercy for a test event with the band Indochine, while 2500 control subjects stayed at home. Before the concert, all participants were tested negative and they were asked to take another test 7 days later. The number of positive cases will be compared in the two groups. The results of the study are expected at the end of June. Also, the results of the Salicov AP-PH study brings France closer to the use of sniffer dogs to screen for SARS-CoV-2 infection. The Ministry of Health wants this to be deployed as quickly as possible.
Approximately 6 months after the COVID-19 risk in Germany was officially classified as ‘very high’, the Robert-Koch-Institute has lowered the danger level to ‘high’. This downgrade, however, does not have a direct impact on lockdown measures.
Meanwhile, about half of all adults have had a first vaccination against COVID-19 and around 17 % have had both doses. In addition, children aged 12 years and older can be vaccinated from 7 June. Due to suspicions of a massive billing fraud in test centres, health ministers have agreed to impose stricter monitoring requirements.
In Spain more than 18 million people have already received one dose of vaccine (38% of the population) and 9.2 million both (19.4%). Coverage in the most vulnerable groups (over 60) remains at 95% with one dose and 60.1% fully vaccinated. The Public Health Commission has approved Janssen’s COVID-19 vaccine for people aged 40-49.
Almost 2 million people, mostly essential workers under 60, who have already had a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine have to decide whether to receive the second dose from AstraZeneca or Pfizer. The Ministry of Health has recommended Pfizer, based on the preliminary results of the Combivacs study. However, between 80% and 90% are choosing to complete their AstraZeneca vaccination. A new publication in The Lancet on the final results from the CombiVacs study supports the safety and efficacy of the combination of both vaccines, and suggests that it could also boost cellular immunity.
The number of new cases and deaths seems to be stabilising. At the weekend the Ministry of Health reported 48 deaths due to COVID-19, the lowest number since August 2020. The incidence at 14 days is slightly below 120 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The Spanish Association of Paediatrics has warned of a rise in mental health consultations in children due to the pandemic.
In Italy over the past week the number of people hospitalised for COVID-19 has dropped significantly: there are now fewer than 6600 people in hospital, and less than one thousand in intensive care. The vaccination campaign is accelerating with about 40% of the adult population having received one dose and almost 20% two doses. While older adults are now mostly protected, only one in three 70-year-olds is fully vaccinated, with more than 80% having received at least one dose. The rate drops significantly between 60 and 50-year olds, two age groups still at risk of serious complications. Nonetheless, mass vaccination without age limits, starting from the age of 12, began June 2.
US daily COVID cases are down nearly 90% from their January peak, thanks to vaccination. Currently, more than 50% of all Americans and 60% of those who are over the age of 12 have had at least one dose of a vaccine, according to the CDC. However, the pace of vaccination has slowed, and states have been offering an array of incentives to encourage people to roll up their sleeves. Last week, Ohio held its first vax-a-million lottery, giving away million-dollar payouts to weekly winners. The campaign has boosted vaccinations there by 28%. President Biden has set a goal to have 70% of American adults vaccinated with at least one dose of a COVID vaccine by July 4.
In Mexico, this is the 20th consecutive week of declining cases, and this trend is expected to continue for the next 2 weeks. Vaccination for people aged 40 to 49 years has begun. The government plans to increase vaccination capacity to up to one million vaccines per day to vaccinate the entire adult population by October. Vaccination of teachers has been completed, and a 90% vaccination rate has been achieved in this sector in preparation for a return to school. Despite this, many health care workers remain unvaccinated.
During the second week of May, Medscape en Español conducted a survey to assess the progress of COVID-19 vaccination in healthcare workers, as well as the possible barriers they have faced. Of the survey participants, 88% have received at least one dose and 69% are fully vaccinated.
On May 28, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) reported that 200,000 pregnant women have fallen ill with COVID-19 in the Americas since the beginning of the pandemic and at least 1000 have died from complications of the virus.
Colombia has gradually opened its border with Venezuela. It had been closed for 14 months as a measure to stop COVID-19. This is even though according to PAHO, Colombia is the South American country with the highest infection rate.
The new government of Ecuador has announced a new vaccination program: 9 million people vaccinated in 100 days.
PAHO called “on partners and organisations working in Haiti to urgently reinforce the response to COVID-19″ as a measure to try to stop the dramatic increase of cases in this region.
In Brazil, preliminary results of a pioneering study in the city of Serrana, with 45,600 inhabitants, show that mass vaccination can control the pandemic. Between February and April, 95.7% of the population over 18 years of age received two doses of the CoronaVac vaccine (Sinovac/Butantan). The data released on Monday indicate that there was an 86% reduction in hospitalisations and an 80% reduction in the number of new cases. The researchers are still analysing the data, but said there was a 95% reduction in mortality in the period over 14 days after vaccination with two doses.
Estimates made with data from the Ministry of Health by the media indicate that in May the rate of vaccination was 16.5% lower than in April. To date, the country has vaccinated 21.58% of its population with one dose and 10.48% with two doses of an anti-COVID-19 vaccine.
On June 1, the World Health Organisation (WHO) validated the CoronaVac vaccine for emergency use stating that it meets international safety, efficacy and manufacturing standards, and that ʺit’s easy storage requirements make it very manageable and particularly suitable for low-resource scenarios”. With this endorsement, the vaccine can be distributed through the COVAX Facility initiative. Brazilians are concerned about a third wave and plans for the country to host the Copa America in 2 weeks, an idea that has the sympathy of the federal government although Governors in several states are refusing to host the games.
Health authorities in Vietnam have detected a new hybrid SARS-CoV-2 variant which appears to be a combination of the B.1.1.7 (alpha) and B.1.617.2 (delta) variants. Laboratory cultures suggest the new variant has a faster replication rate and is likely to be more transmissible.
China’s Guangdong province has tightened COVID-19 measures after a series of locally confirmed cases were reported. The provincial capital Guangzhou has reported 41 cases of local transmission between May 21 and June 1. Authorities believe the B.1.617.2 (delta) variant may be involved in the recent surge of infections in Guangzhou.
Malaysia has announced a nationwide “total lockdown” from June 1 to 14, as COVID-19 infections continue to surge in the country. Only essential services and economic sectors remain operational during the lockdown. On June 1, Malaysia reported 7105 daily COVID-19 cases and 71 deaths.
India reported 127,510 new cases on June 1, the lowest daily caseload in the last 54 days. Government sources say India will be in a position to administer 10 million vaccine doses every day by July or August, as opposed to just under three million now.
The state of Victoria, Australia reported six new cases of local transmission on June 2, taking the cluster of COVID-19 infections to 60. Lockdown in the state which began on May 27 will be extended by another week to control the growing outbreak.
See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.
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