S. Africa hits new record with 26,000 daily COVID-19 cases

Senior nurse Dilhani Somaweera, right, administers an injection of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Kay Gallwey Chand, 84, at the Royal Free hospital in London on Dec 8, 2020 at the start of the UK's biggest ever vaccination programme. (PHOTO / AFP)

SANTIAGO – South Africa hit a record of 26,000 fresh COVID-19 cases on Saturday, its second record-breaking tally in as many days, as a rampant third wave of infections coursed through a largely unvaccinated population.

The rampant rise in infections in Africa's most industrialised nation has stretched health services to breaking point, with hospitals out of beds and medics to man them, and forced the government to impose partial lockdown restrictions.

South Africa has recorded over 2 million cases and 61,500 deaths so far during the pandemic, the data from the Department of Health showed, while 3.3 million people have been vaccinated — about 5% of the population.

The low vaccination rate has resulted from a mixture of bad luck and bureaucratic failures. The government had to destroy 2 million contaminated Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses earlier this year, while efforts to replace them have run up against global supply bottlenecks.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has criticised what he called global "vaccine apartheid," with rich countries with plentiful vaccine supplies hoarding them while poorer countries wait.

Portugal 

Portugal will accelerate the immunization campaign against COVID-19 to curb the rapid spread of the Delta variant, vice-admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo, Portuguese vaccination coordinator, said Saturday.

The goal is to vaccinate "about 850,000 people a week" using the "maximum stocks of vaccine" available, Gouveia e Melo told the Portuguese news agency Lusa. "We are in a war against the virus, and we are going to give as much as we can to advance the vaccination process, taking it to the limit."

"We are at a rate of 100,000 (vaccinations) a day, but we are still going to increase that rate, and we are going to deplete all our vaccine stocks, eventually reducing some security in terms of reserves, but to advance the vaccination process," he said.

"There will be days when we can reach or exceed the capacity of 140,000 per day, we will extend our schedules and strengthen our teams," he said.

Chile 

The test positivity rate of COVID-19 in Chile has fallen to 5.2 percent, the lowest rate of the year, the Ministry of Health announced on Saturday.

The ministry said that in the last 24 hours, the results of 71,902 tests were reported nationwide, and 3,880 new cases of the disease were registered, bringing the country to 1,566,461 total infections.

As for deaths, the total number of deaths in the country rose to 32,973 after 164 deaths were registered.

Cases have shown a downward trend in recent days in Chile, which has caused the progressive end of confinement at the national level, in addition to the opening of local commercial and educational establishments.

UK

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has signed off on a raft of measures on how the country will live with coronavirus, including the removal of compulsory wearing of masks, the Sunday Telegraph reported.

The government is getting ready to replace legal restrictions from July 19, with a call for “common sense,” the newspaper said. Part of the plan will involve scrapping rules for the over one-meter distancing rule in pubs and restaurants as well dropping the legal requirement for customers to sign in venues using QR codes or sharing contact details.

Johnson is due to announce the changes this week and will make the point that the roll-out of vaccinations breaks the link between virus cases and hospitalizations, the Telegraph said.

The UK is set to scrap quarantine measures for fully vaccinated people who’ve been in contact with someone infected with COVID-19, the Times reported, without saying where it got the information.

Instead of following the UK’s current rules of self-isolating for 10 days, anyone fully vaccinated who’s come into contact with a positive case would instead be advised to take daily tests, the Times said. Government officials will meet Monday to sign off on the proposals and look to introduce them next month, according to the paper.

Official estimates indicate the UK’s infection rate will surge as much as 26 percent under the measures, but the government is expected to accept the risk to prevent further disruptions to daily life, the Times reported. A UK government representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment by Bloomberg.

Britain has reported another 24,885 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 4,879,616, according to official figures released Saturday.

The country also recorded another 18 coronavirus-related death. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 128,207. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.

ALSO READ: World Bank to boost COVID-19 vaccine funding to US$20b

Cuba

Cuba once again set a record for the number of daily cases of COVID-19, with 3,475 infections and 15 deaths in the last 24 hours, the Ministry of Public Health reported on Saturday.

The ministry's director of hygiene and epidemiology, Francisco Duran, said in his daily television report that the number of cases had reached 200,728 and the number of deaths had risen to 1,337.

The western province of Matanzas has become the new epicenter of the disease on the island, with an incidence rate of 922.4 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

The government adopted new preventive health measures this week due to the increase in the number of cases, which include the strengthening of epidemiological surveillance and the implementation of more rigorous international sanitary controls.

US

The fast-spreading delta variant is clouding Americans’ hopes for a carefree summer — and casting a shadow of doubt over plans to get back to business as usual in the fall.

California’s test positivity rate jumped to 1.5 percent, the highest in about 2 1/2 months, as the state warned of a rise in cases with the spread of the delta variant.

Hospitalizations rose 2.9 perecnt to 1,405. The state added 1,792 new cases, bringing the total to 3.7 million, while deaths climbed 45 to 63,141. Almost 42 million vaccination doses have been administered.

“We know the delta variant is contagious — and is on the rise,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a tweet, urging more people to get vaccinated. “We know our hospitalizations are creeping up — and most of the patients are unvaccinated.”

Brazil

Brazil’s Supreme Court Justice Rosa Weber authorized the start of an investigation into President Jair Bolsonaro for possible negligence in the handling of corruption allegations related to the purchase of vaccines from India.

Negotiations to buy the Covaxin shot produced by Bharat Biotech International Ltd. turned into a scandal when a government ally said he had personally warned Bolsonaro that a contract signed by the Health Ministry to acquire 20 million doses of the vaccine for 1.6 billion reais ($317 million) was plagued with irregularities.

Belgium

Belgium reported its first increase in cases in months, with an average of 378 new infections per day, up 5 percent on a weekly average from June 23-29. Testing increased by 23 percent on a weekly basis, as summer vacations get under way. Average deaths per day stood at four and hospitalizations at 16 — both a decline from the week before. Health officials reported a 1 percent positivity rate out of all people tested. More than 60 percent of the total population has received at least one vaccination dose.

Argentina

Argentina is changing local vaccine regulations to speed access to a wider range of vaccines including those made by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson, as the Biden administration steps up donations.

The government on Saturday will publish a presidential decree aimed at smoothing over certain legal and technical terminology, to find a middle ground between labs’ needs and government interests, according to a Friday evening announcement. The decree will allow the purchase of pediatric vaccines and pave the way for the country to receive donations.

Africa 

As the more contagious delta variant starts to spread across the least-vaccinated continent, cases are rising, hospitals are being overrun and deaths are mounting. With little prospect of a significant proportion of Africans being vaccinated in coming months as rich nations continue to hoard shots, epidemiologists expect another wave of disease will follow before the end of the year. That carries the risk of more vaccine-resistant variants developing, endangering not just Africans but also the rest of the world.

Africa remains woefully under-vaccinated, with only 1.1 percent of the continent’s 1.2 billion people having gotten a jab compared with about 50 percent of the populations of the US and the UK that are fully inoculated. Only 50 million of the more than 3 billion doses of vaccines that have been administered globally have been in Africa, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and the effects of that are becoming apparent.

READ MORE: UK finds greater vaccine hesitancy in young people

Tunisia

Tunisian Health Ministry on Saturday reported 6,184 new COVID-19 cases, raising the tally in the North African country to 438,945.

The death toll from the virus rose by 82 to 15,261 in Tunisia, while the total number of recoveries reached 360,645, the ministry said in a statement.

The number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Tunisia reached 3,401, including 605 in intensive care units and 139 others mechanically ventilated, it said.

A total of 1,773,643 lab tests have been carried out in Tunisia so far, according to the ministry.

Since the start of the nationwide vaccination campaign against the coronavirus on March 13, a total of 1,912,160 people have received the vaccines, with 569,992 taking both doses, according to the latest figures published by the ministry.