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Children dying of COVID-19 in South Africa often also have HIV

Children play on a dusty field outside their homes in the Diepsloot Township north of Johannesburg, South Africa, Aug 26, 2021. (DENIS FARRELL / AP)

WASHINGTON / LONDON / MADRID / BRUSSELS / NAIROBI / RABAT / TRIPOLI / ROME / OTTAWA / BRASILIA / AMSTERDAM / VIENNA / ADDIS ABABA / SARAJEVO – South Africa should consider vaccinating adolescents against the coronavirus after data showed that the most common underlying cause of death among youngsters who contracted COVID-19 during the ongoing third wave was HIV infection, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said.

“Given the high prevalence of HIV among adolescents in South Africa, efforts should be considered to vaccinate,” those with underlying conditions that put them at increased risk of severe COVID-19, the Johannesburg-based NICD said in a report this week. 

Giving shots to those between 15 and 18-years-old “may need to be prioritized to close the immunity gap,” the the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said

Giving shots to those between 15 and 18-years-old “may need to be prioritized to close the immunity gap,” the NICD said.

People younger than 19-year-old accounted for about 12 percent of South Africa’s confirmed COVID-19 cases at the end of August, according to data from the institute. 

People with underlying conditions, such as an HIV infection or diabetes, are more prone to hospitalization and death when they contract the coronavirus. 

In the 18 months through Aug 28, the number of children with COVID-19 who died in hospital while also having an HIV infection was 50, according to the NICD. Diabetes afflicted 24 of the children who died and hypertension 21. 

Children with HIV and other diseases that cause their immune systems to be compromised “should be prioritized now to get these vaccines” as they are among the groups “we need to protect as much as possible,” said Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Association. 

So far, South Africa has fully vaccinated 7.7 million of its almost 40 million adults but is yet to roll out the shots to those younger than 18. Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s inoculation has, however, been approved for use by those aged 12 to 18 by the national health regulator.

Findings from the NICD data showed cases in children rose 73 percent during South Africa’s Delta variant-driven third wave, with hospital admissions jumping 43 percent. Still, no increase in deaths in this age group was shown. That compares with reports from the US that indicate a 10-fold increase in pediatric cases, admissions and deaths since the emergence of the delta variant, the NICD said.

Finland

Finland decided to start giving third COVID-19 vaccinations to severely immunocompromised people with immediate effect, and said plans were being drawn up for giving third jabs to those treating COVID-19patients, elderly people resident in care homes and their carers.

Africa

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa reached 8,119,719 as of Friday afternoon, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said.

The death toll from the pandemic stood at 205,813 while some 7,433,077 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease so far, the Africa CDC said.

Switzerland

Switzerland is toughening the rules for unvaccinated travelers after returning holidaymakers over the summer drove a rise in COVID-19 infections. 

Those who aren’t inoculated or haven’t recovered from the virus will need to present a negative COVID-19 test upon arrival as of Sept 20, the government said. They will then need to get another test after four to seven days. 

The country, which has stood out among European neighbors for its generally more laissez-faire approach to the pandemic, this week began requiring COVID-19 certificates to enter restaurants, cinemas and fitness centers. The move stoked some public ire, particularly among the political right, with protests in the capital of Bern in recent days. 

Still, the expanded use of the certificate, which attests that the holder has been jabbed, tested or has recovered from the virus, also increased demand for vaccinations. Just 61 percent of the Swiss public has had at least one shot, a rate well below the 77 percent in neighboring France and 67 percent in Germany. 

COVID-19 certificates will now also be available to people who have been inoculated outside of Switzerland with vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency, the government said on Friday. 

Its new travel rules also stipulate that everyone arriving in the country fills out a passenger locater form, permitting authorities to conduct spot checks. 

Slovenia

Slovenia’s public sector employees, except for those working in education, will have to show proof of vaccination or of a recent recovery from COVID-19 infection to enter their working spaces from Oct 1, Health Minister Janez Poklukar said on Friday.

The move is yet another government attempt to persuade people to get inoculated.

“The basic purpose of the measure is to prevent the spread of infections in the workplace and, consequently, to ensure the functioning of the state administration,” the STA news agency quoted Poklukar as telling reporters.

Earlier this week, the government ordered that all people entering indoor spaces, with few exceptions, need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or show negative tests unless they have had the disease in the previous six months.

The anti-COVID measures, including a requirement to show such proof even when tanking vehicles at gas station, which the government suspended on Friday, prompted angry protests in the capital Ljubljana on Wednesday, when they came into effect. The protesters threw flares at the parliament building and police used teargas to disperse the crowd.

Representatives of the Republic of Austria wait for a hearing in a trial over a notorious outbreak of coronavirus at the popular Ischgl ski resort, at Vienna’s Regional Court and Civil Matters in Vienna, Austria on September 17, 2021. The case is the first of 15 lawsuits filed by plaintiffs from Austria and Germany, accusing the authorities of not responding quickly enough to COVID-19 outbreaks in Ischgl and other resorts in the province of Tyrol. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Austria

A trial opened in Vienna on Friday over an outbreak of the coronavirus at the ski resort of Ischgl in early 2020 in which Austrian authorities stand accused of responding too slowly, possibly due to pressure from the tourist sector.

The outbreak at Ischgl was Austria’s biggest and helped spread the virus across Europe.

Hundreds of Austrians were infected and thousands of foreign tourists say they were too as the virus found a breeding ground in crowded apres-ski bars at the resort, a party hotspot that branded itself the “Ibiza of the Alps”.

In the case, the first of more than a dozen civil lawsuits brought by a consumer rights group, the widow and son of a man who died after being exposed to the coronavirus in Ischgl are seeking 100,000 euros (US$117,780) in damages from the Austrian government.

The private Consumer Protection Association (VSV), which has brought the case against the government, says authorities mishandled the response to the outbreak, possibly giving in to pressure from the tourism sector not to act initially.

The authorities in the province of Tyrol say they responded appropriately given what was known at the time.

Ischgl’s first case was detected on March 7, 2020, days after Iceland said that tourists had been infected there and 11 days after Austria’s first infections were confirmed.

Austria’s public health agency has since said it believes the virus arrived in Ischgl far earlier, on Feb. 5.

An elderly man is injected with a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a third dose campaign for elderly residents in long-term care institutions, at a retreat for elderly artists in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sept 1, 2021. (BRUNA PRADO / AP)

Brazil

Brazil’s federal government wants to halt COVID-19 vaccinations for most adolescents, citing a death under investigation and adverse events after some 3.5 million teens have already been immunized, but several state governments vowed to press on.

At a news conference, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga criticized states and cities for jumping the gun by vaccinating 12- to 17-year-olds without health issues that put them at risk of severe COVID-19, which he said was only supposed to start on Wednesday.

Queiroga said healthy adolescents who have already taken one shot should not take a second – effectively seeking to halt nationwide immunizations for teenagers.

In a statement, federal health regulator Anvisa said there was “no evidence to support or demand changes” to its approval for children from 12 to 17 to be vaccinated with Pfizer shots.

Queiroga did not specify a reason for requesting a halt, but said there were 1,545 adverse events registered, with 93 percent of them in people who received COVID-19 shots other than the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – the only one approved for minors in Brazil. 

He also said there had been one death registered, in the city of São Bernardo do Campo just outside the São Paulo state capital.

Anvisa in its statement said it was looking into the death of a 16-year-old who got a first dose earlier this month.

Queiroga said evidence about the efficacy of vaccines for healthy teenagers was not yet certain, although clinical trial data has shown them to be effective in preventing illness.

Canada

Canada reported 4,665 new cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday evening, bringing the cumulative total to 1,564,088 cases, including 27,325 deaths, according to CTV.

Alberta province, which has a population of 4.4 million, reported 1,718 new COVID-19 cases and 10 deaths on Thursday.

Ontario, Canada’s most populous province with 14 million residents, confirmed 864 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Thursday, after it reported 600 new cases on Monday, 577 new cases on Tuesday and 593 new cases on Wednesday.

Thursday’s report brought the total number of lab-confirmed cases in Ontario to 577,253. The province recorded three new deaths on Thursday, bringing the total death tally in the province to 9,632.

Quebec, another populous province in the country, reported 782 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the cumulative total number to 400,625.

British Columbia announced 706 additional cases of COVID-19 and four deaths on Thursday. There have now been 177,186 confirmed cases and 1,877 deaths in the province with a population of 4.9 million.

Ethiopia

Ethiopia registered 1,669 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the nationwide tally to 328,735 as of Thursday evening, the Ministry of Health said.

The death toll rose by 24 to 5,059 while the number of recoveries increased by 1,049 to 295,604.

So far,  the East African country has so far administered a total of 2,917,433 COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to the ministry.

A doctor vaccinates a student with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine as part of the vaccination campaign called ‘#HierWirdGeimpft’, #Here We Vaccinate, during a visit of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (not in frame) at Ruth Cohn School in Berlin, Germany, Sept 13, 2021. (MARKUS SCHREIBER / AP)

European Union

The European Union’s drugs regulator could not confirm from available data if women and young adults were at a higher risk of rare blood clots with low platelets after vaccination with AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot.

Limitations in the way the data was collected meant that the European Medicines Agency (EMA) could not identify any specific risk factor that made the condition, thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS), more likely, it said on Friday.

The European Commission had requested scientific opinion from the EMA after reports of TTS associated with the vaccine, Vaxzevria, earlier this year, which led to many EU states suspending use of the shot once considered key to the region’s inoculation plans.

The EMA said it was reiterating that the second dose of the two-shot vaccine, developed along with the University of Oxford, continued to be given between four and 12 weeks after the first.

“There is no evidence that delaying the second dose has any influence on the risk of TTS,” the EMA said.

It also said that no definitive recommendations could be currently given on the use of a different vaccine for a second dose following a first with AstraZeneca’s shot.

In another development, the European Commission launched on Thursday a health crisis body that will coordinate EU spending of almost 30 billion euros (US$35.3 billion) to prepare for a future pandemic.

The new health emergency preparedness and response authority (HERA) will assess potential health threats, promote research, ensure the availability of critical production and help build stockpiles.

If a new health crisis struck, it would activate emergency funding and help coordinate monitoring, procurement and purchase of medical equipment or treatments.

The authority is partly designed to avoid a repeat of the ad hoc measures taken by individual EU countries at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of them inefficient, others coming at the expense of other EU members.

The new body will supplement other EU health agencies – the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 227.11 million while the global death toll topped 4.67 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

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In this file photo, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva speaks during a joint press conference at the end of the Summit on the Financing of African Economies in Paris on May 18, 2021. (LUDOVIC MARIN / POOL / AFP)

IMF

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva and other multilateral-organization leaders on Thursday urged countries with high COVID-19 vaccination rates to boost efforts to send doses to low- and middle-income countries.

Georgieva and the heads of the World Bank Group, World Health Organization and World Trade Organization expressed concern in a joint statement that it would not be possible to vaccinate at least 40 percent of the population in all countries by the end of 2021 without urgent action.

Wide disparities in vaccination rates in advanced economies and developing countries will be a key issue raised during a virtual global summit that the United States is organizing on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

IMF spokesman Gerry Rice told reporters on Thursday that President Joe Biden had invited Georgieva to speak at the Sept 22 event, which has not yet been formally announced by the White House. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

The leaders said countries with high vaccination rates – which have collectively pre-purchased over 2 billion doses more than needed – should urgently swap their near-term delivery schedules with global distribution programs to help address gaps in low- and middle-income countries.

They urged high-income countries to fulfill their dose donation pledges and release vaccine companies from contracts so those doses can be delivered to people in need.

The group also urged vaccine manufacturers to prioritize and fulfill their contracts to COVAX and AVAT, an African distribution program, and improve transparency by sharing details on delivery schedules for all vaccine shipments.

In this file photo dated Sept 13, 2021, a teacher (left) has her COVID-19 green pass checked by a school worker as she arrives at the “Isacco Newton” high school, in Rome. (ANDREW MEDICHINI / FILE / AP)

Italy

In a last indirect push to the ongoing vaccination campaign, Italy made the COVID-19 green pass mandatory for all people in the job market, both private and public sectors.

After a meeting on Thursday, Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s cabinet delivered the provision with a specific decree that will enter into force on Oct 15, to give companies and public offices time to adjust.

The green pass certificate shows proof that a person has received at least one dose of the vaccine, or is fully immunized, or has recovered from the infection, or has tested negative in the last 48 hours.

Italy is the first country in the European Union (EU) to adopt such a stringent regulation. The step was intended as a further incentive to those millions of Italians who have not yet agreed to, or are openly against the vaccine, which remains strongly recommended but not mandatory here.

The non-vaccinated population would include at least 3.6 million people over 50 years old, according to recent data provided by the coronavirus emergency commissioner Francesco Paolo Figliuolo in early September.

In a joint press conference with public administration and labor ministers, Health Minister Roberto Speranza explained the measure had two simple but crucial goals.

“Firstly, to make all work places in the country safer and, secondly, to strengthen the vaccination campaign, on which we have very comforting,” he said.

So far, health care workers and school staff in Italy were required to have the green pass. However, out of the job market, the certificate was already required since mid summer to access public transports, including trains, planes, and ferries for long-distance travels, to sit in restaurants and bars indoor, and to access public places such as libraries or leisure facilities.

Critics to the latest provision said it was the same as forcing vaccination surreptitiously. The measure, however, has been backed by most of the political parties, and main industrial and union associations.

Libya

The Libyan government on Thursday announced that it will reopen its border with neighboring Tunisia starting from Friday, after more than two months of closure.

“The decision (to reopen border) is a result of the meeting between the Prime Minister Abdul-Hamid Dbeibah and the Tunisian President Kais Saied in Tunisia a few days ago,” said a statement issued by the Libyan government’s information office.

“The meeting also resulted in the formation of a joint ministerial committee to evaluate the security and health situations, which eventually came up with the decision to reopen the border,” the statement said.

Tunisia’s President Kais Saied on Thursday also ordered the border with Libya, which had been closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, to reopen on Friday after meetings between health teams from the two countries, his office said on Twitter.

The two sides agreed to implement necessary security and health measures to facilitate movement of people and goods between the two countries, the statement added.

Earlier in June, the Libyan authorities closed the border with Tunisia due to increased numbers of COVID-19 infections.

Morocco

Morocco announced on Thursday 2,432 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally of infections in the North African country to 913,423.

The death toll rose to 13,775 with 46 new fatalities, while 1,595 people are in intensive care units.

More than 10,000 people including organizers and fans of music festivals joined a protest against the government’s COVID-19 restrictions on large-scale outdoor events in Amsterdam, the Netherlands on Sept 11, 2021. (PETER DEJONG / AP)

Netherlands

The Netherlands will require proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test for entry to bars, restaurants, museums, theatres and other cultural events from Sept 25, as almost all social distancing measures are dropped.

A narrow majority of Dutch parliament late on Thursday rejected a motion calling on the government to change its mind about the ‘corona’ pass, as Prime Minister Mark Rutte said it was needed to prevent a new wave of infections.

“We are still in a dangerous situation. Not doing this would bring great risks”, Rutte said during a heated debate in parliament.

Opponents from across the political spectrum questioned the need for the corona pass, which many said was a ploy to stimulate vaccinations, despite repeated promises by the government that injections would never be mandatory.

“This measure is senseless, unnecessary and false. This is vaccination by force and it divides society”, far-right opposition leader Geert Wilders said.

Around 72 percent of the 17.5 million Dutch have had at least one COVID-19 vaccination, according to official data.

Although polls have shown that a majority of the Dutch support the measure, a coronavirus pass is highly opposed by those who refuse to be vaccinated.

Proposals for the pass have also been met with outrage from the hospitality sector, and many bars and restaurants have said they are not planning to cooperate.

Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema on Wednesday said police in the Dutch capitol would not have the capacity to enforce the new policy, which requires venues to check their own customers.

New infections have fallen to around 2,000 per day in the Netherlands, while roughly 600 COVID-19 patients are receiving treatment in hospital.

A health worker prepares Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccines during a national immunization campaign in Pamplona, northern Spain, Sept 2, 2021. (ALVARO BARRIENTOS / AP)

Spain

Spain will give a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine to nursing home residents and other vulnerable groups, the Health Ministry said on Thursday, and released data that showed the infection rate fell to its lowest level since June.

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy and people with health conditions that require immunosuppressive treatment would also be eligible for a booster dose, the ministry said.

Spain’s Health Ministry said nursing-home residents should receive an extra dose because they are more frail, suffer from multiple pathologies and live in an enclosed environment.

The national infection rate as measured over the past 14 days fell to 96 cases per 100,000 people on Thursday, dropping below the 100-case threshold for the first time since June 25.

The ministry reported 4,075 new cases since Wednesday, bringing the total to 4.9 million, while the death toll climbed by 101 to 85,739.

Just over three quarters of the Spanish population has been fully vaccinated, data showed on Thursday.

ALSO READ: Study: Painless organ damage seen in COVID-19 ‘long hauler’

People queue to receive a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a mobile vaccination center set up in a bus parked outside Premier League club Newcastle United’s St James’s Park football stadium in Newcastle, north east England on Aug 15, 2021. (LINDSEY PARNABY / AFP)

UK

The British government will on Friday consider easing England’s COVID-19 rules for international travel, a late-season boost for airlines, holiday and tourism companies which say they will not survive another winter of onerous rules and red tape.

Airports, airlines and travel companies have warned the government of more job losses if it does not scrap the private testing and so-called traffic light system which ranks destinations as green, amber and red.

“There are hundreds of businesses out there who will not survive this winter unless changes are made,” TUI UK managing director Andrew Flintham told Sky News on Friday.

According to reports, the government will remove the requirement for fully vaccinated travellers to take a lateral flow test before departing their destination and a costly PCR test on their return into Britain, which can add hundreds of pounds per person to a trip.

Ministers will also simplify the destination categories into either low or high risk, scrapping amber, reported the Times newspaper, with many countries, including popular destination Turkey, expected to be removed from the high risk red list.

Separately, England launched its COVID-19 booster vaccination campaign on Thursday, the National Health Service (NHS) said, after officials and the government gave the go-ahead for the program earlier in the week.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday outlined how the booster program for over-50s and other priority groups will form a key plank of his plan to navigate the winter without further coronavirus lockdowns.

Booster vaccinations will be given at least six months after people received their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, meaning the rollout will roughly follow the original priority list, and start with the oldest, most vulnerable and health workers.

Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) recommended that Pfizer/BioNTech’s shot be used in the booster campaign, or alternatively a half-dose of Moderna’s vaccine.

United States

The US Food and Drug Administration said on Thursday it has revised its emergency use authorization for Eli Lilly’s COVID-19 antibody cocktail to include for use in patients who have been exposed to the virus and are at high risk for progression to severe disease.

The cocktail, bamlanivimab and etesevimab, was authorized in February for use in people 12 years and above with mild-to-moderate infection and are at high risk for progression to severe COVID-19.

However, the FDA said on Thursday the cocktail is not a substitute for vaccination against COVID-19.

The FDA said that bamlanivimab and etesevimab, which are administered together, could be also used as post-exposure prevention for patients who are not fully vaccinated or who are not expected to mount an adequate immune response to complete vaccination or have been exposed to an individual infected with the virus.

A health worker administers a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19 during a mass vaccination campaign, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on July 28, 2021. (STRINGER / AFP)

WHO

The goal of vaccinating 40 percent of Africa’s population against coronavirus by December appears elusive as the continent grapples with cutbacks on doses supplied through multilateral platforms, a World Health Organization Official (WHO) said on Thursday.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said the continent faces a nearly 500 million vaccine shortfall, as the COVAX facility slashes 150 million doses that were slated for delivery this year.

According to Moeti, COVAX facility will only deliver 470 million doses to Africa this year, enough to vaccinate 17 percent of the population, hence derailing the quest to expand coverage of the fully immunized population.

ALSO READ: WHO calls for global governance against COVID-19 pandemic

She noted that export bans and vaccine hoarding is slowing down vaccine deliveries to Africa where a partly 50 million people or 3.6 percent of the population is fully immunized against the virus.

Moeti said that COVAX and other multilateral platforms have been lobbying rich nations to clarify on the timelines for donation of vaccines to Africa even as manufacturers are encouraged to hasten the delivery process.

The regional director also warned that sluggish vaccination in Africa where more than 8 million COVID-19 cases and 204,821 related deaths were reported as of Thursday, could lead to emergence of highly contagious variants

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