Hospitals in S. Africa hub face being overrun by virus surge

Medical officers wheel in a COVID-19 patient at a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, June 23, 2021. (PHOTO / AP)

GENEVA / BERLIN / LONDON / MILAN / OTTAWA / BRASILIA / MEXICO CITY / BUENOS AIRES / KAMPALA / SANTIAGO / HARARE / QUITO / RABAT / TUNIS / MOSCOW – Hospital capacity in South Africa’s industrial hub of Gauteng is at risk of being breached by surging COVID-19 cases within days.

The densely populated province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, accounts for the bulk of the country’s infections during the ongoing third wave, and health resources are already stretched. 

Only about 100 of about 1,000 extra beds that have been specially equipped for COIVD-19 in Gauteng are able to be used, according to Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand.

“We are already close to a peak in the infection rate,” he said. “We expect the peak in hospitalizations to come in three to four weeks.”

Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Association, said she is seeing reinfections, and there isn’t enough evidence yet to show that a previous case of COVID-19 protects a patient against acute disease.

The country’s biggest private hospitals, Mediclinic International Plc, Netcare Ltd. and Life Healthcare Group Holdings Ltd., have joined calls for more vigilance and self-regulation in communities as both patient numbers and the severity of their conditions increase.

ALSO READ: Iceland to lift all COVID-19 restrictions

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 180.44 million while the global death toll topped 3.91 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Seychelles

Seychelles extended curbs imposed on movement and gatherings indefinitely as the world’s most-vaccinated nation fights a persistently high number of coronavirus infections.

The palm-fringed Indian Ocean archipelago has seen a large number of infections since early May even though 70 percent of it 98,000 people are fully vaccinated with either Sinopharm or AstraZeneca Plc vaccines. It had rushed to conduct an inoculation campaign and reopen to tourism, the lifeblood of its economy.

“In view of the persistent community transmission of COVID-19, the increasing number of deaths, the confirmation of the presence of variants circulating in the population, the Public Health Authority is reinforcing the public health and social measures in place,” the health ministry said in a statement on Friday.

Bars, casinos and shops have to close at 7 pm, events such as wedding celebrations are banned and gatherings of more than four people, unless its for work, is banned indoors and outdoors.

“These measures will remain in force and can only be relaxed when the outbreak is under greater control,” the ministry said.

US

The US drug regulator on Friday added a warning to the literature that accompanies Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID vaccine shots to indicate the rare risk of heart inflammation after its use.

For each vaccine, the fact sheets for healthcare providers have been revised to include a warning that reports of adverse events suggest increased risks of myocarditis and pericarditis, particularly after the second dose and with onset of symptoms within a few days after vaccination, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said.

READ MORE: Experts look at vaccine heart risk in young

On the same day, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) also paused the distribution of Eli Lilly's COVID-19 antibody cocktail therapy as it failed to show effectiveness against the coronavirus variants that were first identified in Brazil and South Africa.

The decision was based on laboratory analyses that showed Lilly's dual-antibody therapy – bamlanivimab and etesevimab – was not active against either variant.

The department also halted the distribution of standalone etesevimab to be paired with existing supply of bamlanivimab.

The Delta variant infection cases in the UniS have increased rapidly recently, accounting for one fifth of the newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

It said the Gamma variant, first seen in Brazil, and the Beta variant, first found in South Africa, together made up for more 11 percent of infections in the US and that the number is growing.

The HHS said Regeneron's antibody therapy, REGEN-COV, and GlaxoSmithKline and partner Vir Biotechnology's sotrovimab are likely to be effective against the variants.The FDA recommended hospitals to use Regeneron and GSK/Vir therapies instead of Eli Lilly's combo therapy until further notice.

Russia

Russia reported 21,665 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, including 8,457 in Moscow, taking the official national tally to 5,430,753.

The government coronavirus task force said 619 people had died of coronavirus-linked causes in the past 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 132,683.

COVAX

The board of the GAVI vaccine alliance has approved a further $775 million to fund the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to lower-income economies over the next two years, as it plans to accelerate the rollout, it said on Friday.

The total funds available to cover the cost of delivering the vaccines will rise to US$925 million, GAVI said in a statement issued after a two-day board meeting.

COVAX, run jointly by the GAVI vaccine alliance and the WHO, has delivered 90 million doses to 132 countries since February, but has faced major supply issues since India suspended vaccine exports.

It is scaling up and now estimates that its goal of delivering 1.8 billion doses to lower income economies would be reached in the first quarter of 2022, GAVI said.

GAVI's board also set new terms for accessing vaccines, which will disincentivize middle-income nations from participating by insisting they pay for COVAX vaccines fully in advance next year.

People sign up for vaccination using the Cuban Abdala COVID-19 shot in Havana, Cuba, June 23, 2021. (RAMON ESPINOSA / AP)

WHO

Rich countries are opening up societies and vaccinating young people who are not at great risk from COVID-19, while the poorest countries cruelly lack doses, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, condemning a global failure.

The situation in Africa, where new infections and deaths jumped by nearly 40 percent last week compared to the previous week, is "so dangerous" as the Delta variant spreads globally, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

He warned that the Delta variant is “the most transmissible of the variants identified so far” and has spread in at least 85 countries, the Associated Press reported.

"Our world is failing, as the global community we are failing," he said at a news conference.

Tedros, who is Ethiopian, chastised unnamed countries for reluctance to share doses with low-income countries. He compared it to the HIV/AIDS crisis, when some argued that African nations were unable to use complicated treatments.

"We have through COVAX this month zero doses of AstraZeneca vaccines, zero doses of SII vaccines (Serum Institute of India), zero doses of J&J (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine," said Bruce Aylward, WHO senior adviser.

"The situation right now is dire."

EU

Europe’s drugs regulator approved a new manufacturing site for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that may go some way to helping the company with its supply woes.

The drug manufacturer Catalent Inc. will use its site in Anagni, Italy, to do “finished product manufacturing,” according to a statement from the European Medicines Agency Friday. The plant has also been involved in the production of the AstraZeneca Plc vaccine.

The decision doesn’t require approval from the European Commission and will be operational immediately, the EMA said.

UK

The UK on Friday reported 15,810 new coronavirus cases and another 18 deaths, bringing the tally to 4,699,868 and the toll to 128,066, according to official data.

A UK research program testing the impact of holding live events during the pandemic has recorded “no substantial outbreaks,” with just 28 cases of COVID-19 identified among 58,000 participants.

Some of the large-scale pilot events in April and May logged zero cases, including the BRIT music awards which had an audience of 3,300 people, a report from the Department of Culture said Friday.

READ MORE: Study: Over 2m people in England may have had long virus

Denmark

Denmark won’t reinstate vaccines from Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca in its national inoculation program after reviewing an initial decision to suspend the two, the Danish Health Authority says in a statement. Denmark suspended the vaccines from its general program over blood clot concerns

Germany

Germany declared Portugal and Russia to be "virus-variant zones", a measure that will trigger severe restrictions on travel to and from both countries, the country's public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), announced on Friday evening.

In another development, Germany's Bundesrat, the upper house of parliament, has approved a COVID-19 catch-up program for children and teenagers, the Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) announced on Friday.

The program, worth 2 billion euros (US$2.4 billion), aims to support children and young people to catch up on learning deficits caused by school closures and the cancelation of in-class teaching during the COVID-19 crisis, according to the BMBF.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 592 to 3,726,172, data from RKI showed on Saturday. The reported death toll rose by 68 to 90,746, the tally showed. 

Italy

The Delta coronavirus variant and the Kappa variant have surged in Italy in the past month, accounting for nearly 17 percent of total COVID-19 cases, the national health institute ISS said on Friday.

The Delta variant was becoming dominant, it said.

Both Delta, also known by the designation B.1.617.2 , and Kappa, or B.1.617.1, are sublineages of a variant that was originally detected in India. Delta is considered a "variant of concern" by the WHO.

"Cases of the Kappa and Delta variants…rose from 4.2 percent in May to 16.8 percent in June", based on data extracted on June 21, the institute said.

"Our epidemiological monitoring shows a rapidly evolving picture that confirms that also in our country, as in the rest of Europe, the Delta variant of the virus is becoming dominant," Anna Teresa Palamara, director of ISS Infectious Diseases Department, said in a statement.

The Alpha coronavirus variant, originally detected in the UK in 2020, remains the most widespread in Italy, representing 74.9 percent of cases, the institute said.

Canada

Canada projects COVID-19 infections will decline rapidly over the next two months, but the more contagious Delta variant risks causing a greater-than-expected resurgence of cases later this year, public health officials said on Friday.

Canadian provinces are opening up businesses again as vaccinations advance rapidly. More than 76 percent of eligible Canadians have had at least a first dose, and more than 26 percent have had a second, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Friday.

"Because people got vaccinated, because people stayed at home and followed public health rules, the current situation is rather encouraging," Trudeau told reporters, commenting on the projections.

But Theresa Tam, the country's chief health officer, said there needed to be a controlled and gradual reopening because a resurgence is possible if reopening businesses increases contact rates by 50 percent or more.

By the middle of next week, Canada will have received enough vaccines to fully immunize 75 percent of its population of 38 million, said Brigadier General Kris Broider, head of logistics for the vaccination rollout.

Brazil

Brazil recorded 79,277 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 2,001 deaths from COVID-19, the Health Ministry said on Friday.

Brazil has registered 18,322,760 cases and 511,142 fatalities in total, according to ministry data.

A pick up in vaccine deliveries should allow Brazil to immunize all adults in the next three months, said Walter Schalka, who’s part of a group of executives making a push to boost vaccinations in one of the world’s worst-hit countries.

The group, known as “United for Vaccines,” estimates 160 million shots will arrive between July and September. That should be enough to cover all Brazilians over 18 with one dose.

Argentina

A single dose of Russia's Sputnik V or the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine reduces mortality from COVID-19 by between 70 percent and 80 percent in people aged 60-plus, real-world data from Argentina's national inoculation program show.

The preliminary study data, released on Friday by the country's health ministry, involved some 450,000 people aged 60 years of age and above who received one or two doses of either vaccine, which are the most widely used in Argentina.

"The first dose generates almost 80 percent immunity, the second, in general, increases that response and makes it more durable over time," Health Minister Carla Vizzotti said in a statement, adding with a second dose mortality decreased around 90 percent.

Vizzotti said that the data supported the country's immunization strategy of having a 12-week gap between the first and second shot, saying this was done in order to cover as much of the population at risk as possible with a single dose.

Argentina reported on Friday 24,023 new cases and 542 more deaths, bringing the total caseload to 4,374,587 and the toll to 91,979, the Ministry of Health said.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Friday reported 5,270 newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the country and 278 more fatalities, bringing the total figures to 2,498,357 infections and 232,346 deaths.

Mexico has completed vaccination against COVID-19 among the population over 18 years old in the state of Baja California, the first of the country's 32 states, the government said Friday.

Security minister Rosa Icela Rodriguez said that in eight days, authorities administered 1,247,998 doses of the J&J vaccine.

Tanzanian President Samia Suluhu Hassan addresses the national assembly at the Parliament in Dodoma, Tanzania, on April 22, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

Tanzania

Tanzanian President Samia Hassan publicly admitted for the first time the presence of the COVID-19 pandemic in the East African country, in a departure from the denialism of her predecessor.

“We have already detected patients in the country during this third wave,” she told clerics in the commercial hub of Dar es Salaam, without disclosing numbers.

Discussing or disclosing information on the disease was taboo under her predecessor, John Magufuli, who died in March. During a visit to a Dar es Salaam hospital earlier in June, the head doctor showed Hassan a closed ward that he said was for patients with “breathing difficulties,” she said.

“It’s only after I ordered him to open when he admitted that they were COVID patients,” Hassan said. “This problem still exists. We should not ignore it.”

Hassan appealed to the religious leaders to help the government educate people on the need to take precautions, including wearing face masks, washing hands with running water and avoiding crowds.

Tanzania has not published any COVID-19 data for about a year and the International Monetary Fund has said it will only discuss the nation’s request for $571 million funding when the government resumes disclosing numbers on the pandemic.

Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's largest public hospital and COVID-19 medical center said Friday it had witnessed an increasing number of patients needing admission, as the country faces a third wave of the pandemic.

A source at the Parirenyatwa Hospital said the facility was already discharging patients who were deemed to be in less danger.

As of Friday, Zimbabwe has recorded 45,217 cases and 1,721 deaths.  

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) of Zimbabwe closed five more courthouses in Gweru city following some COVID-19 cases.

Ecuador

Ecuador reported 2,751 new COVID-19 infections and 49 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total caseload to 452,234 and the death toll to 15,827, the Ministry of Public Health said Friday.

In its daily report, the ministry also reported another 5,606 deaths considered to be COVID-19 related but not verified.

The province of Pichincha led in new infections with 1,568 cases, 1,509 of which were registered in the capital Quito, the epicenter of the pandemic in the South American country.

Uganda

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced plans to start refilling 25,000 oxygen cylinders daily to meet the rising demand from COVID-19 patients.

Museveni made the announcement Friday at the country's national prayers against the COVID-19 pandemic held at State House Entebbe, 40 km south of the capital Kampala.

Uganda on Friday registered 1,025 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the national tally of infections to 76,562 in the east African country, according to official data.

The country will import over 882,600 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine through COVAX next month to address the nationwide stockout, Health Minister Ruth Aceng said.

At least 300,000 doses of China's Sinovac vaccine are expected to arrive in the east African country next month, according to the health ministry.

Chile

Chile reported 5,628 new COVID-19 cases and 215 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking the tally to 1,537,471 and the toll to 32,012, the health ministry said on Friday.

The number of COVID-19 patients has declined by 26 percent in the last seven days, said Health Minister Enrique Paris in a press release.

Despite a decline in COVID-19 cases in recent days, hospital occupancy stayed at 95 percent and the situation remained critical after the detection of the Delta variant, according to health workers. 

Chile is in talks with Moderna and Sputnik for a potential third dose of vaccines, Rodrigo Yanez, trade vice-minister, told Radio Pauta.

Sinovac, Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Cansino are the vaccines that are currently being used in Chile. The country has contracts to receive as many as 40 million vaccine doses by the end of the year and that number could increase with a third dose, Yanez said.

The country has administered more than 22 million vaccine doses, and more than 66 percent of the target population has been fully vaccinated, the health ministry said.

Morocco

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 528,731 on Friday as 468 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The death toll went by three to 9,268 while 207 people remained in intensive care units, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health.

The total number of recoveries increased by 507 to 515,537, according to the statement.

So far, 9,810,963 people have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 8,794,393 have been fully vaccinated.

Tunisia

Tunisia's Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi has been infected with the coronavirus, the government said on Friday.

Mechichi received a COVID-19 vaccine last month.

The prime minister will cancel his meetings and continue to work remotely, according to a government statement.

Tunisia has so far recorded 395,000 coronavirus cases and about 14,406 deaths.