Romania prepares for restrictions as virus surges in east Europe

People are inoculated with the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine against the coronavirus at a newly opened drive-in vaccination center in Bucharest on April 29, 2021.
(DANIEL MIHAILESCU / AFP)

BRASILIA / SAN JOSE / MILAN / TUNIS / ALGIERS / BANJUL / WASHINGTON / CALGARY / BISSAU / VALLETTA / ZAGREB / TBILISI / BELGRADE / WARSAW / MOSCOW – Romania’s two largest cities are gearing up for new restrictions, including a night-time curfew, after a surge of new Covid-19 cases across eastern Europe over the past two weeks. 

With the infection rate exceeding six cases per 1,000 people in Bucharest and Cluj-Napoca and reports of hospitals filling with coronavirus patients again, authorities are also preparing to tie access to restaurants to vaccination status and ban large events. Schools may be closed on a case-by-case basis as the government tries to limit online schooling because of worsening exam results last year. 

The Delta variant is spreading quickly across Europe’s east, where countries are lagging their richer western neighbors in vaccinations. Ukraine on Wednesday said that new hospitalizations more than doubled in a day to the highest total since May. Poland reported the biggest daily increase in infections in four months.

Merck treatment 

Merck & Co’s COVID-19 antiviral drug, molnupiravir, appears to inhibit several major variants of the virus, including the highly contagious Delta strain, according to early-stage data presented by the company at an infectious disease conference early Wednesday. 

The findings came out of laboratory research pitting the experimental drug against the variants in cell culture. Further research may be needed to confirm the results in human testing.

Molnupiravir, which could be taken as a pill, is being tested in a phase 3 trial expected to conclude in November. It is being developed for use in non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients who have had symptoms for five or fewer days and are at risk for a severe infection. 

A woman wearing a face mask carries church candles walking in central Moscow on Sept 28, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP)

Russia

Russia’s president is ending his self-isolation following exposure to COVID-19 during an outbreak among his staff earlier this month, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday.

Vladimir Putin will meet in the Black Sea resort of Sochi with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan later in the day, Peskov said, his first such in-person meeting since his self-isolation was announced Sept 14. 

The 68-year-old Russian leader showed no public sign of illness in the two weeks since then, conducting his regular schedule of meetings via video links. Putin said he took his country’s Sputnik V vaccine earlier this year. 

Russia on Wednesday reported 857 new coronavirus-related deaths, the most in a single day since the pandemic began and the second day in a row it has set that record.

The government coronavirus task force also reported 22,430 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours.

ALSO READ: Brazil sees more than 43,000 new COVID-19 cases

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 232.7 million while the global death toll topped 4.7 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

CDC

People who got COVID-19 vaccine boosters after the shots were cleared for those with weakened immune systems had mostly mild to moderate reactions, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some 22,191 booster recipients registered with a federal monitoring system starting Aug 12, when the doses were first authorized on an emergency basis by US regulators, through Sept 19, the CDC said in a report on Tuesday. 

Overall, 71 percent reported pain at the injection site, while 56 percent reported fatigue and 43 percent said they experienced a headache after getting a third dose of a messenger RNA vaccine. The data were reported by recipients 0 to 7 days after a third dose. 

Regulators opted to make third doses of the shots made by Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. available last month after data suggested that transplant recipients and other people with immune-system deficiencies weren’t being given adequate protection by the conventional two-shot regimen.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration also authorized a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine for a broader group. Additional shots for recipients of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines could be cleared soon, health officials have indicated.

Among those who reported their reactions to the monitoring system, about 1.8 percent said that they sought medical care, while 13 people said they were hospitalized. Specific reasons for receiving care weren’t reported in the survey.

“The frequency and type of side effects were similar to those seen after the second vaccine doses, and were mostly mild or moderate, and short-lived,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing by the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Tuesday.

This handout photo obtained May 26, 2021 courtesy of Merck & Co Inc shows capsules of the investigational antiviral pill Molnupiravir. (HANDOUT / MERCK & CO INC / AFP)

COVID-19 antiviral pills

As Merck & Co and Pfizer Inc prepare to report clinical trial results for experimental COVID-19 antiviral pills, rivals are lining up with what they hope will prove to be more potent and convenient oral treatments of their own.

Enanta Pharmaceuticals, Pardes Biosciences, Japan’s Shionogi & Co Ltd and Novartis AG said they have designed antivirals that specifically target the coronavirus while aiming to avoid potential shortcomings such as the need for multiple pills per day or known safety issues.

Infectious disease experts stressed that preventing COVID-19 through wide use of vaccines remains the best way to control the pandemic. But they said the disease is here to stay and more convenient treatments are needed.

Pfizer and Merck, as well as partners Atea Pharmaceuticals and Roche AG have all said they could seek emergency approval for their COVID-19 antiviral pills this year.

Rivals are at least a year behind. Pardes began an early-stage trial last month, Shionogi plans to start large-scale clinical trials by year-end, Enanta aims to start human trials early next year and Novartis is still testing its pill in animals.

Algeria

Algeria will start production of COVID-19 vaccine Sinovac in partnership with China on Wednesday with the aim of meeting domestic demand and exporting the surplus, the prime minister's office said on Tuesday.

The government has said production capacity will stand at 1 million, 2 million and 3 million doses in October, November and December respectively, before reaching 5 million doses per month from January.

The Sinovac vaccine will be produced in the eastern city of Constantine in partnership with state pharmaceutical products company Saidal.

Algeria also plans to begin production of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine by the end of this year.

A health worker gives a resident a COVID-19 test on the first day of a three-day vaccination campaign for people over age 35 in the Complexo da Maré favela of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, July 29, 2021. Some recipients will be monitored to study the rate of protection the vaccines provide and the extent to which virus variants are circulating. (BRUNA PRADO / AP)

Brazil

A Brazilian hospital chain tested unproven drugs on elderly COVID-19 patients without their knowledge as part of an effort to validate President Jair Bolsonaro's preferred 'miracle cure,' a lawyer for whistleblowing doctors told senators on Tuesday.

At least nine people died of COVID-19 during the trials at the Prevent Senior hospital chain from March to April 2020, but their charts were altered to hide the cause of death, lawyer Bruna Morato told a Senate inquiry.

Prevent Senior rejected the accusations as unfounded and said it had "rigorously reported" all deaths. It added in a statement that 7 percent of the 56,000 COVID-19 patients it treated had died, a better record that other public and private hospitals.

Pedro Batista, owner and executive director of the hospital chain, acknowledged in testimony to the Senate inquiry last week that patients' charts where altered to remove any reference to COVID-19 after they had been hospitalized for two weeks, saying they were no longer a risk of contagion.

He denied testing unproven drugs on patients without their knowledge, saying doctors prescribed them when patients asked.

In another development, Brazil will provide COVID-19 vaccine booster shots to all its people over 60-years-old, Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said on Tuesday.

Queiroga said in a tweet that the decision comes in line with progress in the country's vaccination program. About 7 million Brazilians could get the booster shot under these conditions, he said.

Roughly 52 percent of the country's adult population is fully vaccinated with two doses or a single-dose vaccine.

Pfizer has asked Brazil's health regulator Anvisa to approve the application of a third dose of its Comirnaty vaccine and change the package insert to include the booster option, the agency said on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s government is considering extending COVID-19 cash handouts through April.

Canada

Premier Jason Kenney promised Albertans the "best summer ever" when he lifted most COVID-19 public health restrictions on July 1, but a surge in infections has overwhelmed the province's hospitals and left him fighting to save his political career.

The fourth wave of the coronavirus has left Alberta's healthcare system teetering on the brink of collapse, with little respite in sight.

Intensive care units in Alberta are 84 percent full, according to the latest update, even with nearly 200 "surge" beds added, close to the 90 percent level at which critical care triage protocols kick in, forcing doctors to ration patient care and prioritize those with the best chance of survival.

Neighboring Saskatchewan is also buckling under a fourth wave as intensive care beds filled up and its only children's hospital began admitting adult COVID-19 patients.

Alberta and Saskatchewan also have the country's lowest vaccination rates.

Costa Rica

Authorities in Costa Rica said on Tuesday all state workers will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19, making it one of the first countries in Latin America to impose a coronavirus vaccination mandate.

Private companies across the country will also be able to mandate vaccination for their own employees, the health ministry said in a statement. No deadline was given for when employees must comply.

Some 300,000 people work in the public sector of the Central American nation of about 5 million, whose economy depends heavily on tourism. Approximately 40 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated but big gaps remain, as almost 30 percent of Costa Ricans have not received even a single shot.

COVID-19 pill developers

As Merck & Co and Pfizer prepare to report clinical trial results for experimental COVID-19 antiviral pills, rivals are lining up with what they hope will prove to be more potent and convenient oral treatments of their own.

Enanta Pharmaceuticals, Pardes Biosciences, Japan's Shionogi & Co Ltd and Novartis AG said they have designed antivirals that specifically target the coronavirus while aiming to avoid potential shortcomings such as the need for multiple pills per day or known safety issues.

Pfizer and Merck, as well as partners Atea Pharmaceuticals and Roche AG have all said they could seek emergency approval for their COVID-19 antiviral pills this year.

Rivals are at least a year behind. Pardes began an early-stage trial last month, Shionogi plans to start large-scale clinical trials by year-end, Enanta aims to start human trials early next year and Novartis is still testing its pill in animals.

Enanta Chief Executive Jay Luly said re-purposing drugs originally developed for other viral infections is not an unreasonable approach. But it is not known how potent they will be against COVID-19 or how well they can target lung tissue, where the virus takes hold.

Croatia

COVID-19 certificates will become mandatory for all patients and employees in the health and social care system from Oct 4, the Croatian Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

The certificate verifies that a person has been fully vaccinated, has recently obtained a negative test result, or has recently recovered from the virus.

The measure is being introduced due to the current epidemiological situation in Croatia, and an insufficient vaccination rate among citizens, the ministry said.

In the last 24 hours, 1,061 new COVID-19 cases and eight deaths were recorded in the country.

To date, Croatia has reported  401,169 cases and 8,614 deaths.

Denmark

The Danish Health Authority said it expects to offer an extra vaccine to people older than 65, health workers, people with chronic diseases and anyone who initially received the shot from Johnson & Johnson. 

The rollout will be completed with vaccines from either Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna, pending regulatory approval.

Georgia

In-person studies will resume in Georgia from Oct 4 as COVID-19 daily cases are decreasing steadily, the government announced on Tuesday.

All students will be required to wear face masks in schools to prevent a surge in new infections, according to Education Minister Mikheil Chkhenkeli.

The new academic year began in Georgia on Sept 15. However, due to the severe epidemiological situation in the country, the government decided to postpone in-person studies.

Georgia on Tuesday reported 2,185 new COVID-19 cases, taking its tally to 609,340, according to the country's National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC). The death toll rose by 40 to 8,884.

As of Tuesday, the country had administered a total of 1,760,878 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to the NCDC.

Guinea-Bissau

Around 100,000 people in Guinea-Bissau, accounting for about 13 percent of the target population over the age of 18, have been vaccinated against COVID-19, authorities said on Tuesday.

Placido Cardoso, secretary of the High Commission for the fight against COVID-19, made the announcement during a regular briefing on the epidemiological situation.

Cardoso noted that the commission has not yet achieved its intended objective, urging 4 percent among the 13 percent of the target population who have not yet fully inoculated, to take their second dose, especially women.

In the week ending Sept 27, the country registered 22 new cases, bringing the national tally to 6,103, according to data released on Tuesday.

Hungary

Hungary's Parliament on Tuesday extended the COVID-19 pandemic-related state of emergency until Jan 1, 2022.

"The extension is necessary because of the still present epidemic. The delta virus mutant is spreading in Hungary, and the successful defense and the ability to act quickly must be maintained," the government said on its official website dedicated to the pandemic.

The government said the experiences in the past 18 months have proved that the previously adopted extraordinary legal frameworks have served the fight against the pandemic very well.

In the past 24 hours, eight people died from the disease, taking the death toll to 30,179 in the country, according to the government's coronavirus information website.  

ALSO READ: Pfizer submits data for virus vaccine use in younger kids

Italy

Italy's health ministry said on Tuesday it had given the go-ahead for travel to six non-European tourist spots without the need for quarantine as a COVID-19 precaution either on arrival or return.

Italians will be allowed to travel to the Maldives, Seychelles, Mauritius, Egypt (but only Sharm El Sheikh and Marsa Alam), Dominican Republic and Aruba on what the ministry called controlled tourist itineraries.

These popular destinations for Italians seeking winter sunshine mark an exception from other places outside the European Union, which require quarantine on return to Italy.

Everyone leaving for the selected countries must have a 'Green Pass' showing COVID immunity – either due to vaccination or previous infection – and must also present a negative swab at least 48 hours before departure, according to the order signed by Health Minister Roberto Speranza.

Once back in Italy, people will not be required to undergo quarantine if they have presented another negative test, conducted not more than 48 hours before boarding their plane.

These so-called COVID-free tourist corridors have been set up on an experimental basis, the health ministry said.

Latvia

Employees in Latvia's health, education and social services sectors have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before No 15 or face suspension, the Baltic country's government decided Tuesday.

According to a new regulation, starting from Oct 11, nearly all indoor services and events will only be available to people that have either been vaccinated against or recovered from COVID-19, or can present a negative COVID-19 test.

Employees working in medical institutions, including pharmacies, social care homes, as well as education institutions of all levels will be required to obtain the interoperable digital COVID-19 certificate, attesting vaccination against or recovery from the virus.

Employers have been granted the right to oblige their employees to get immunized against the coronavirus, so they can work with clients.

The government also agreed on a transition period ending on Nov 15 to give people time to undergo a full vaccination course and receive their certificates. 

Malawi

At least 27,000 doses of vaccine produced by AstraZeneca Plc will expire in Malawi on Wednesday, just four months after the southern African nation destroyed 19,000 doses of the same product due to a low uptake, Nation newspaper reported, citing Health Ministry spokesman Adrian Chikumbe. 

To date, just over 1 million vaccine doses have been administered in Malawi, enough to cover 2.7 percent of the population.

Malta

Bars and restaurants in Malta that choose to restrict entry to patrons vaccinated against COVID-19 can accept more people, reduce the distance between tables and remain open for longer, Health Minister Chris Fearne said on Tuesday.

He said the new measures will come into force from Oct 9.

Hospitality venues will be allowed to seat a maximum of eight people at a table, up from six currently, and they can space tables 1.5 meters apart instead of two meters and remain open for an extra hour until 3 am.

They will also be allowed to serve customers at the bar instead of limiting themselves to just table service as long as a Perspex protective screen is installed between the bar tender and customers. 

Operators will be required to verify that all patrons aged 12 and over are in possession of a valid vaccination certificate. Staff members must also be vaccinated.

Poland

The number of new daily coronavirus cases in Poland surpassed 1,000 for the first time since late May on Wednesday, the health minister told Radio Plus, as a fourth wave of the pandemic gathers pace amid low vaccination rates.

"We said that by the end of September we would reach this average level of about 1,000 infections (daily), so for the time being this fourth wave is developing in line with our predictions," minister Adam Niedzielski said.

"These figures do not yet represent the level of risk to public health and health system capacity that would mandate drastic decisions," he added.

The minister said the number of cases, due to be reported at 0830 GMT, was likely to surpass 1,200.

Serbia

Serbia on Tuesday reported the highest daily number of new COVID-19 infections since the pandemic began.

According to the daily briefing of the Health Ministry of Serbia, a record 8,467 new infections were confirmed in the past 24 hours. 

Meanwhile, another 6,155 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 and 45 more people died.

To date, 8,142 people have died of COVID-19 in Serbia, and a total of 926,269 infections have been confirmed.

Prime Minister Ana Brnabic told journalists that 53.4 percent of the country's adult population have already been fully vaccinated.

According to a press release, the government is mulling the introduction of so-called "COVID certificates" for entry to clubs, cafes and restaurants. The aim is to motivate younger people to get vaccinated.

The Gambia

The Gambian government declared on Tuesday that the country has been open to the tourism season after relaxing COVID-19 rules that were put in place since last year to control the spread of the pandemic.

The government added that starting from Oct 1, all visitors with proof of being fully vaccinated will be allowed to enter The Gambia without a PCR test certificate. They will not be subjected to a rapid test or be quarantined upon arrival, according to a press statement from the Ministry of Health said.

According to the statistics published on Tuesday by the ministry, 9,930 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the country, along with 9,571 recoveries, 335 deaths, and 24 active cases. 

Tunisia

The Tunisian scientific committee for the fight against the coronavirus approved on Tuesday the start of administering a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine to those aged 75 and over.

This vaccination drive will start in the coming period, Jalila Ben Khelil, the committee's spokesperson, was quoted as saying by the Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP).

"This campaign will target, after that, the category over 50," said Khelil.

A third dose of COVID-19 vaccine will also be administered to those with chronic diseases that affect their immune systems, as well as to the health professionals whose first injections were given in March 2021, Khelil added.

The Ministry of Health reported 179 new COVID-19 cases and six more deaths on Monday, raising the tally to 705,474 and the toll to 24,794.

So far, a total of 3,768,319 Tunisians have completed their COVID-19 vaccination.

UK

Another 34,526 people in Britain have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 7,736,235, according to official figures released Tuesday.

The country also recorded another 167 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 136,375. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

The latest data came as separate figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed a total of 851 deaths mentioning COVID-19 on the death certificate were registered in England and Wales in the week ending Sept 17, down slightly by 1 percent on the previous week.

Meanwhile, ONS research found more than one in 10 secondary school students and over a third of school staff who have had COVID-19 have suffered ongoing symptoms.

READ MORE: Life expectancy for UK males falls first time in 40 years

US

People who got COVID-19 vaccine boosters after the shots were cleared for people with weakened immune systems had mostly mild to moderate reactions, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“The frequency and type of side effects were similar to those seen after the second vaccine doses, and were mostly mild or moderate, and short-lived,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing by the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Tuesday.

The US Food and Drug Administration is leaning toward authorizing half-dose booster shots of the Moderna Inc. coronavirus vaccine, satisfied that it’s effective in shoring up protection, people familiar with the matter said.

The authorization would set the stage to further widen the US booster campaign after earlier authorization of the Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE shot. 

According to the CDC's update, 213,657,193 people have received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, making up 64.4 percent of the US population, while 183,888,907 people have been fully vaccinated, accounting for 55.4 percent of the total.

Overall, approximately 2.21 million people in the U.S. had received additional vaccine doses as of Sept 19, according to the CDC.

The number of COVID-19 deaths in the United States has been hovering above 2,000 daily, while the total numbers of cases and hospitalizations have trended down for days from their highs in early September, according to media reports.

The US hit a seven-day average of over 2,000 deaths for the first time since March on Sept 18. The death rate has risen by 23 percent since two weeks ago, when the country was tallying just over 1,650 deaths per day, and by 65 percent from the 1,234 deaths reported each day at this time in August, Forbes reported on Tuesday.

According to The New York Times, the seven-day average of confirmed cases of the pandemic stood at 117,966 nationwide on Monday, with its 16-day change striking a 33-percent fall. There were 2,052 COVID-19-related deaths on Monday, with the 14-day change posting a 12-percent rise.