Global COVID-19 infections surpass 250m

Medical personnel provides medical assistance to a COVID-19 patient inside the intensive care unit in an hospital which treats patients with COVID-19 coronavirus in Kiev on Nov 2, 2021. (SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP)

LONDON / HAVANA / WINDHOEK – Global COVID-19 cases topped 250 million on Monday, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

The daily average number of cases has fallen by 36 percent over the past three months, according to a Reuters analysis, but the virus is still infecting 50 million people worldwide every 90 days due to the highly transmissible Delta variant.

More than half the world's population has yet to receive a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data, a figure that drops to less than 5 percent in low-income countries

By contrast, it took nearly a year to record the first 50 million COVID-19 cases.

Health experts are optimistic that many nations have put the worst of the pandemic behind them thanks to vaccines and natural exposure, although they caution that colder weather and upcoming holiday gatherings could increase cases.

"We think between now and the end of 2022, this is the point where we get control over this virus … where we can significantly reduce severe disease and death," Maria Van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist leading the World Health Organisation, told Reuters on Nov 3.

Infections are still rising in 55 out of 240 countries, with Russia, Ukraine and Greece at or near record levels of reported cases since the pandemic started two years ago, according to a Reuters analysis.

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Eastern Europe has among the lowest vaccination rates in the region. More than half of all new infections reported worldwide were from countries in Europe, with a million new infections about every four days, according to the analysis.

Several Russian regions said this week they could impose additional restrictions or extend a workplace shutdown as the country witnesses record deaths due to the disease.

Several world leaders have stressed the need to improve vaccination programs, particularly in the poorest countries.

More than half the world's population has yet to receive a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to Our World in Data, a figure that drops to less than 5 percent in low-income countries.

Improving vaccine access will be on the agenda of meetings of the powerful Asia-Pacific trade group APEC, hosted virtually by New Zealand this week.

APEC members pledged at a special meeting in June to expand sharing and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and lift trade barriers for medicines.

"Together we are continuing to keep supply chains functioning and are supporting trade in critical medical supplies – including testing kits, PPE and now vaccines," New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.

The World Health Organization and other aid groups last month appealed to leaders of the world's 20 biggest economies to fund a $23.4 billion plan to bring COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and drugs to poorer countries in the next 12 months.

In this file photo taken on Aug 24, 2021,
a clown entertains a girl after being vaccinated against COVID-19 with Cuban vaccine Soberana Plus at Juan Manuel Marquez hospital in Havana, as part of the vaccine study in children and adolescents.
(ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP)

Cuba

The Cuban government started to ease coronavirus border restrictions as the numbers of daily COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations continued to decline over the past week.

On Sunday, local authorities lifted mandatory hotel quarantine for international travelers who arrive on the island as more than 76 percent of people in Cuba have been fully jabbed with home-grown vaccines.

Also, incoming Cuban nationals can go home straight away after arrival.

Starting Nov 15, passengers with vaccination passports or certificates issued overseas will be allowed to enter the country, the government said.

 Unvaccinated foreign visitors will have to present a negative PCR test within 72 hours after arrival. Children under 12 will not be required to show COVID-19 PCR tests or vaccination passports when visiting Cuba.

Beaches, cafeterias, restaurants and sports facilities have reopened as restrictions on people's mobility have been lifted.

Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen waits to make a national statement on the second day of the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow on Nov 2, 2021.(ADRIAN DENNIS / POOL / AFP)

Denmark

Denmark, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, will probably need to re-introduce some restrictions after the number of virus infections has jumped, the prime minister said.

“We can see that the infection is spreading from those who have not been vaccinated to those who have been vaccinated, including the elderly and people at risk,” Mette Frederiksen said in a Facebook post late Sunday.

Denmark has been without restrictions since September and daily infections have more than doubled in the past two weeks. Health authorities will “very soon” provide the government with recommendations on possible new measures, the prime minister said.

France

French Budget Minister Olivier Dussopt and Health Minister Olivier Veran will present the budget to the Senate on Monday, Dussopt said in a radio interview.

If the current increase in COVID-19 cases causes a short-term hospital crisis, the government will act further, Dussopt said. “Each time it’s been necessary to respond to the crisis, we’ve released emergency funds, and if it’s necessary, we’ll do it again,” he said.

A pedestrian walks past a COVID-19 test center in Berlin on Nov 4, 2021. (TOBIAS
SCHWARZ / AFP)

Germany

The German parties currently in talks to form the next government under Social Democrat Olaf Scholz will introduce draft legislation in the lower house of parliament on Monday to address the country’s surge in new infections.

The SPD, Green party and the Free Democrats will propose a bill for an “appropriate and decisive” measure to fight the country’s fourth wave, FDP parliamentary whip Marco Buschmann tweeted on Sunday.

The incidence in Germany spiked again, rising to 191.5 cases per 100,000 people, with 23,543 new infections and 37 fatalities, according to the Robert Koch Institute.

ALSO READ: German COVID-19 cases hit record as 4th wave spreads in Europe

Italy

Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza says that that if hospitalizations remain under control, the country won’t face any additional restrictions during the Christmas holidays. Italy is working to persuade the roughly 12 percent of population that opposes the vaccine to get a shot, the minister said.

In this file photo taken on Dec 23, 2020, travelers remonstrate with police officers as they ask for COVID-19 tests to be brought to them, outside the blocked entrance to the Port of Dover, in Kent, south east England.

UK

Another 30,305 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 9,301,909, according to official figures released Sunday.

The country also reported a further 62 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 141,805. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

There are currently 9,160 patients in hospital with COVID-19.

The latest data came as almost 10 million people in the UK have received their booster vaccines, with three million extra invites being sent next week, according to Britain's Department of Health and Social Care.

Nambia

Namibia on Monday officially launched the African Union and Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Trusted Travel System for the verification of COVID-19 test results and vaccination certificates.

The Trusted Travel System offers an online digital platform for the verification and authentication of COVID-19 test results from a network of participating COVID-19 testing laboratories, port health authorities and transport industries, Namibian Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula said at the launch.

"It is recognized that paper-based systems for the verification of COVID-19 results have proven to be cumbersome and slow," he said. "The paper-based verification processes have proven to be ineffective in ascertaining and determining the legitimacy and authenticity of test result certificates, hence the need for a system that ensures robustness, speedy execution and improved analytics across the verification continuum."

According to Shangula, the Trusted Travel System allows for the detection of counterfeit test results and also enhances cross-border collaboration and confidence in COVID-19 results originating from participating jurisdictions.

Regeneron

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc’s antibody cocktail cut the risk of contracting COVID-19 by 82 percent for up to eight months, according to a company-sponsored study that could pave the way for its broader use.

The monoclonal antibody cocktail, known as REGEN-COV, is available under an emergency use authorization in the US to treat outpatients at risk of developing severe symptoms. It’s also allowed as a preventive therapy for certain people who aren’t fully vaccinated or who are immunocompromised, and have known or likely exposure to the virus.

The company has asked the US Food and Drug Administration to expand the authorization so the drug can be used to prevent infections, even when it’s given before a person has been exposed. The shares gained 3.7 percent as of 7:21 am New York time in pre-market trading.

“These data add to the increasing body of evidence supporting use of REGEN-COV to prevent Covid-19 in uninfected individuals, which may be especially useful for the many immunocompromised people who do not respond adequately to vaccines and remain ‘prisoners of the pandemic,’” George Yancopoulos, president and chief scientific officer at Regeneron, said in a statement.

The field for COVID-19 treatments is growing more crowded, with Merck & Co and Pfizer Inc developing pills that have shown promising results in patients early in the course of disease. While monoclonal antibodies like Regeneron’s were developed earlier in the pandemic and may be used before the virus takes hold, the pills — if authorized — would be more convenient to transport and administer.

Analysts earlier in the year questioned the long-term prospects of COVID-19 treatments as vaccination rates increased and the number of new infections slowed. Regeneron, along with other drugmakers that produce monoclonal antibodies that jump start the immune system’s fight against the virus, have pitched the preventive use of their drugs.

Russia

Most Russians went back to work on Monday for the first time in more than a week as a nationwide workplace shutdown was lifted across most regions, even though the numbers of new COVID-19 cases and deaths are hovering near record daily highs.

President Vladimir Putin announced last month that Oct 30 to Nov 7 would be paid "non-working days" – an attempt to slow the surge in cases by imposing the strictest nationwide restrictions since the early months of the pandemic last year.

But officials on Monday reported 1,190 nationwide coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours, higher than in the days before the enforced work break and just five short of the record reported last Thursday.

There were 39,400 new COVID-19 cases, down from a peak of 41,335 on Saturday.

The Kremlin said it was early to judge the impact of the shutdown yet, but it cited Moscow's mayor, a close Putin ally, as saying the epidemic in the capital was stabilising.

Despite developing one of the first vaccines against COVID-19 infection last year, Russia has failed to persuade swathes of the population to accept it. Only around 40 percent of the population is immunised.

The Kremlin has said it is up to regional authorities to tailor their lockdowns to match the severity of the outbreaks they face.

Many regions that have lifted the workplace shutdown will now require visitors to present a QR code on their mobile phones when visiting cafes, restaurants or shopping centres to prove they have been vaccinated or previously had the virus.

The situation in the region surrounding Moscow remained "tense", but the number of people being rushed to hospital has stabilised over the last week, a senior local health official was quoted by TASS news agency as saying.

The recent surge in COVID-19 inpatients has put oxygen supplies under strain, and the Russian navy's Baltic Fleet said it had handed over five tonnes of liquefied oxygen to help treat hospital patients, the Interfax news agency reported.

ALSO READ: Europe is COVID-19 epicenter again as cases surge, WHO says

A child receives a dose of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine at an event launching school vaccinations in Los Angeles, California on Nov 5, 2021. (FREDERIC J. BROWN / AFP)

US

The US is lifting entry restrictions for more than 30 countries and regions, allowing fully vaccinated travelers to fly from places including Europe, China and India.

Flights for fully-vaccinated travelers from Europe to US begin Monday, though the lucrative market will be very different from the one before the pandemic.

Demand compared with before the pandemic will be lower. The corporate road warriors who were once the North Atlantic’s lifeblood are still largely grounded as firms avoid unnecessary travel, putting the onus on attracting leisure passengers.

And the US is letting in Europeans just as virus infections surge again across the continent. On Friday, German cases rose by a record for a second day as a fourth wave of the pandemic hits the region.