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

Pedestrians walk past shops in Keswick in Cumbria, north west England on June 21, 2021. (OLI SCARFF / AFP)

RIO DE JANEIRO / MEXICO CITY / WARSAW / STOCKHOLM / LONDON / BERLIN / TUNIS / BUENOS AIRES / SANTIAGO / QUITO / LUSAKA / HAVANA / ATHENS / MADRID / MOSCOW / CAPE TOWN – More than 2 million people in England may have had long COVID-19, data from a British research showed Thursday.

The Imperial College London's REACT-2 (REal-time Assessment of Community Transmission) study showed that more than one third of people who had COVID-19 reported symptoms, such as tiredness and muscle aches or shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and chest pain, lasting for at least 12 weeks.

The findings are based on data from 508,707 adults who took part in the study between September 2020 and February this year.

It was noted, however, that the study was based on people reporting their own symptoms and it might over-estimate the prevalence of long COVID-19 because many of the symptoms are common and not unique to coronavirus.

Britain wants to allow people to travel abroad again for a foreign holiday but new variants of the novel coronavirus are complicating plans to relax its rules, Environment Secretary George Eustice said.

Transport minister Grant Shapps will publish an update on Thursday showing whether any other countries have been added to England's green list for safe travel, Eustice said.

Britain reported on Wednesday 16,135 new coronavirus cases , the highest since early February, bringing the cumulative caseload to 4,667,870, according to official data.

The country also recorded 19 more deaths, taking the toll to 128,027. 

The Delta variant, first identified in India, is still a major concern in Britain. And now researchers are worried that the so-called "Delta plus" variant may cause more trouble.

The latest updated report from the Public Health England indicated that 41 of the 75,953 Delta cases identified in Britain were "Delta plus", which has the K417N mutation.

ALSO READ: Swiss accelerate reopening, allow large events

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 179.6 million while the global death toll topped 3.89 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Africa

Africa is not winning its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as a third virus wave sweeps the continent and countries struggle to access enough vaccines for their populations, Africa CDC director John Nkengasong said on Thursday.

The COVAX programme co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO) for fair distribution of vaccines is planning a shake-up as it has been shunned by rich countries and failed to meet the needs of the poorest, internal documents seen by Reuters show.

Africa's third wave is spreading faster and hitting the continent harder, the WHO's Africa head Matshidiso Moeti said at a later briefing on Thursday.

"The latest surge threatens to be Africa's worst yet," she said.

Cases are outpacing vaccinations, Moeti said, and the continent desperately and urgently needed COVID-19 drugs.

US

An estimated 20 million individuals in the US were likely infected with COVID-19 by mid-July of last year, about 17 million more than previously thought, according to a new study from National Institutes of Health (NIH) scientists published in the peer-reviewed journal Science Translational Medicine. 

The data suggest that during that time period, for every one diagnosed case there were nearly five undiagnosed cases.

The delta variant that was first detected in India is spreading rapidly in the US and now accounts for a fifth of recent coronavirus cases, Rochelle Walensky, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said.

The delta variant is predicted to be the second most prevalent lineage nationally for the two weeks ending June 19, and it’s already become the predominant lineage in some regions, according to the CDC.

Despite the rise of the delta variant, virus cases broadly are at their lowest levels since March 2020, Walensky said.

Meanwhile, the US Food and Drug Administration said it planned to move quickly to add a warning about rare cases of heart inflammation in adolescents and young adults to fact sheets for the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.

About 1,200 cases of heart inflammation have been reported in people who received messenger RNA COVID-19 vaccines, according to the CDC.

After the numbers were made public, top US health officials, regulators and doctors said that the risk potentially posed by shots developed by the Pfizer-BioNTech partnership and Moderna is extremely low, and that it is much more likely that the coronavirus itself would pose a serious threat to people’s health.

In another development, the NIH said it had begun a study to evaluate the immune responses generated by COVID-19 vaccines in pregnant or postpartum women.

READ MORE: Experts look at vaccine heart risk in young

Europe

The Delta variant of COVID-19 is expected to soon account for nearly all new coronavirus infections in Europe, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said on Wednesday.

In its latest threat assessment report, the ECDC said that since the Delta variant is 40-60 percent more transmissible than the original strain, it is projected to cause 70 percent of new infections in the European Union (EU) and the European Economic Area (EEA) by early August. By late August, this figure could reach 90 percent.

The agency also warned that the daily number of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, could increase to the autumn 2020 levels should non-pharmaceutical measures (such as physical distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene, use of face masks, etc.) to minimize the rate of transmission be relaxed.

The ECDC said vaccination campaigns must be accelerated. The second COVID-19 vaccine doses should also be administered as early as possible.

"Unfortunately, preliminary data shows that (the Delta strain) can also infect individuals who have received only one dose of the currently available vaccines," ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said.

ALSO READ: Russia: Limited work options for people without shot, immunity

Mexico

Mexico will donate over 400,000 AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses on Thursday to the so-called Northern Triangle Central American nations of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, the Mexican foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

The vaccines will be shipped on military flights. Guatemala and Honduras will receive 150,000 doses each, while El Salvador will receive 100,800 shots, the foreign ministry told Reuters.

Mexico's health ministry on Wednesday reported 4,963 new cases of COVID-19 in the country and 342 more fatalities, bringing the total figures to 2,487,747 infections and 231,847 deaths.

Poland

From midnight, Poland will introduce a mandatory 10-day quarantine for travelers from outside the Schengen Area, Deputy Health Minister Waldemar Kraska said on Wednesday, in a bid to counter the spread of new COVID-19 variants.

The quarantine regulations will not apply to people who are fully vaccinated, or children under 12 traveling with vaccinated adults, he added. It will be possible to be released from quarantine if a test taken after seven days is negative, he said.

On Tuesday, Poland announced it was tightening quarantine rules for travelers from Britain due to concerns about the Delta variant, which was first identified in India.

Poland, a country of around 38 million people, has reported 2,879,192 cases of the coronavirus and 74,893 deaths.

Canada

Canada’s accelerating vaccination effort has put the country on track to reach key benchmarks for reopening the US border as early as next month.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has begun citing a 75 percent two-dose vaccination rate as the threshold to lift border restrictions. That number is about 20 percent now.

As wide as that gap is, the latest vaccine delivery schedule suggests it could close considerably within the next month, raising the prospect that Canada could move ahead with a comprehensive reopening before the end of the critical summer tourism season.

At a news conference on Tuesday, the prime minister said vaccination rates weren’t the only factor the government was considering. Officials, he said, are also factoring in the prevalence of variants and overall Covid-19 case counts in Canada and abroad. He said the situation was quickly improving.

More than 25 million Canadians, or two-thirds of the population, had received one dose as of Tuesday, according to the COVID-19 Tracker Canada website, which combines federal and provincial data. That includes 7.8 million who have received two doses, for a total of about 33 million doses administered so far.

Seychelles

Seychelles, which has inoculated a greater proportion of its population than any other country, said it remains unsure how effective the shots it has administered are and will have to determine if boosters are required.

“We don’t know yet the validity of these vaccines. So once that is clear we will look at the additional booster shots that we need to offer,” Foreign Affairs and Tourism Minister Sylvestre Radegonde told the Qatar Economic Forum on Wednesday.

A demonstrator holds a sign that reads in Portuguese; "'Vaccine now", during a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. On Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil, June 19, 2021. (MARCELO CHELLO / AP)

Brazil

Brazil registered a single-day record of 115,228 newly confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Wednesday, as its outbreak shows new signs of accelerating despite long-delayed vaccination efforts finally gaining steam.

In total, the country has reported more than 18 million confirmed cases, according to ministry data.

Another 2,392 deaths were also reported, taking the toll to 507,109, according to the data.

The country has been slow to roll out vaccines with only 12 percent of Brazilians fully immunized, according to ministry data. Efforts have accelerated recently, with certain states such as Sao Paulo predicting shots for all adults by September.

The government of President Jair Bolsonaro is under scrutiny for delays and alleged misconduct in obtaining vaccines, having failed to respond to early offers from Pfizer last year.

The government instead struck a deal for more a expensive vaccine made by India's Bharat Biotech.

A Senate committee is probing allegations related to Bharat amid a wider investigation of the government's response.

A Brazilian health ministry official told prosecutors he faced internal pressure from an aide to then-Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello to buy the Bharat shot.

In a press briefing on Wednesday, Bolsonaro's Secretary of the Presidency Onyx Lorenzoni said there had been no influence peddling in the Bharat deal and the vaccines were not overpriced.

Spain

Spain has vaccinated half of its 47 million population with at least one dose and nearly 32 percent, or over 15 million people, have been fully inoculated, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

With a record 680,540 people receiving a vaccine over the past 24 hours, Spain has already administered nearly 37.6 million doses, putting it on track to reaching the government goal of fully vaccinating 70 percent of the population by late August.

A total of 80,748 people have died of COVID-19 in Spain, which registered a cumulative 3,773,032 cases.

Russia

Russia on Thursday reported 20,182 new COVID-19 cases, the most confirmed in a single day since Jan 24

The government coronavirus taskforce also confirmed 568 coronavirus-related deaths in the last 24 hours. Both Moscow and St Petersburg recorded the most deaths in a single day since the pandemic began.

Last week, Moscow gave employers in public services a month to ensure that 60 percent of their staff had been vaccinated or else face a fine.

On Thursday, Moscow's coronavirus taskforce said such employers should suspend staff who refuse to get vaccinated as part of that directive unless they have special medical dispensation.

Outdoor cafes and verandas will be off limits from July 12 to people who do not have a QR-code, the Moscow mayor's office was cited as saying by the TASS news agency.

Russia had vaccinated at least 20 million people against COVID-19 out of a population of more than 144 million as of June 18, the head of the consumer health watchdog was cited as saying by Interfax news agency.

Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called on the European Union (EU) to coordinate rules for travelers from areas with outbreaks of COVID-19 variants as health authorities warn the delta strain could cause a new spike in infections.

“We in Germany and Europe are still walking on thin ice,” Merkel said Thursday in a speech to parliament in Berlin, adding that she will address the issue of travel rules with her EU counterparts “very critically”.

While some member states are keen to open the door to visitors to revitalize battered tourism industries, Merkel urged caution about letting in travelers from outside the bloc.

"Even if the third wave has been impressively broken, the pandemic is not over yet," Merkel said during her last government question session in the Bundestag on Wednesday. 

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,008 to 3,724,806, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Thursday. The reported death toll rose by 93 to 90,616.

Although only six percent of Germany’s new cases involved the Delta variant as of last Friday, the strain was spreading at a fast pace, warned the RKI.

Germany expects everyone willing to be vaccinated to have received a first dose of a COVID-19 shot by the end of July or early August, Merkel's chief of staff said on Thursday.

Braun said high vaccination rates and levels of immunity against the virus will be decisive against the Delta variant, which he expects will be dominant in Germany within weeks.

Germany has fully vaccinated just over a third of its population, and more than 52 percent have received at least one COVID-19 shot, Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a tweet.

Greece

Greece will end the mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors and ease other remaining restrictions imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities said on Wednesday, with infections now clearly on the wane.

Wearing face masks will remain mandatory in indoor spaces but not outdoors from Thursday except in congested places.

On Wednesday, health authorities reported 520 new coronavirus cases and 14 deaths, bringing total infections to 419,455 and the toll to 12,595.

Health authorities said fewer than 10 cases of the more infectious Delta variant of the virus had been detected in Greece.

Effective on June 28, authorities will also lift remaining late night curfews and required self-testing for workers who have been vaccinated.

At restaurants the number of people allowed to sit at the same table will be increased to 10 from six and the maximum limit on social gatherings such as weddings will rise to 300.

At organized beaches, a limit of 120 people per 1,000 square meters will be allowed as part of the relaxation of curbs.

Uganda

A second member of the Uganda Olympics delegation that arrived in Japan last week for the summer games has tested positive for the coronavirus, according to a statement from the Uganda Olympic Committee posted on Twitter. 

Both cases are asymptomatic, and the entire group from Uganda had been fully vaccinated with the AstraZeneca PLC vaccine, according to the committee.

Imperial College London study

Women are more likely to develop persistent symptoms after a coronavirus infection, a condition known as Long COVID, and their risk increases with age, according to a survey of more than 500,000 adults in England.

Nearly one fifth said they had contracted COVID-19, according to the React-2 study from Imperial College London. One third of those who experienced symptoms had at least one of them linger for 12 weeks or more. That equates to more than 2 million people nationwide, the researchers concluded.

Tunisia

Tunisia has detected six cases of the Delta COVID-19 variant, the health ministry said on Wednesday, amid a rapid spread of the virus in the North African country.

The ministry said a record 3,638 new COVID-19 cases were logged, taking the tally to 391,411.

The death toll rose by 95 to 14,318 while the total number of recoveries reached 340,834, the ministry said.

Pfizer

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is highly effective against the Delta variant of COVID-19, a Pfizer official in Israel said on Thursday.

"The data we have today, accumulating from research we are conducting at the lab and including data from those places where the Indian variant, Delta, has replaced the British variant as the common variant, point to our vaccine being very effective, around 90 percent, in preventing the coronavirus disease, COVID-19," Alon Rappaport, Pfizer's medical director in Israel, told local broadcaster Army Radio.

Afrigen

Afrigen Biologics expects a decision in mid-July on partners to produce Africa's first COVID-19 vaccine using the mRNA platform, the South African start-up's managing director said.

The World Health Organization picked Afrigen for a pilot to give poor and middle-income countries the know-how and licenses to make COVID-19 vaccines, in what South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called an historic step.

Referring to the instability of mRNA vaccines, which require very cold storage, Afrigen's Petro Terblanche said Afrigen could access technology to produce a "thermo-stable" mRNA vaccine that could be kept at temperatures of between 2-8 degrees Celsius.

Afrigen's facility will be capable of producing a maximum 10,000 vials a day of COVID-19 vaccines and it has partnered with local manufacturer Biovac which can produce 30 to 50 million doses a year to distribute across Africa, she added.

Healthcare workers prepare to test patients for COVID-19 at the Lancet Laboratories in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 22, 2021. (DEBNIS FARRELL / AP)

South Africa

South Africa’s daily COVID-19 cases rose to 17,493, the highest number recorded in the country’s third resurgence of the virus.

The number of infections, announced by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases on Wednesday, is the highest since Jan 14. 

Of those tested 24.9 percent were positive for COVID-19 and 62 percent of the new infections were in the commercial hub of Gauteng, the NICD said.

The number excess deaths, thought to be a more accurate representation of mortality from COVID-19 than official statistics, in the week to June 13 was also the highest since the last week of January, according to a separate report released on Wednesday by the South African Medical Research Council. 

While 3,124 deaths more than would normally be expected occurred in that week, 884 were officially attributed to the coronavirus, the SAMRC said.

Meanwhile, South Africa's health regulator said on Wednesday it had received documentation for China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine and will evaluate the data to assess the efficacy of the shot.

Argentina

Argentina on Wednesday reported 27,319 new COVID-19 cases and 706 deaths, raising the total number of confirmed infections to 4,326,101 and the death toll to 90,986.

The Ministry of Health said the number of new cases has declined in recent weeks with a 22.5 percent drop in the positivity rate of testing in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area, which includes the capital and some 40 surrounding municipalities.

Some 290,792 cases are still active, including 7,241 in intensive care units, while the occupancy rate of intensive care unit beds stands at 72.8 percent nationwide, and 70.9 percent in the capital metropolitan area.

Some 18,870,108 vaccine doses have been administered as of Wednesday, with 3,787,691 people fully vaccinated.

Ecuador

Ecuador registered 1,931 new COVID-19 cases and 47 deaths in the past day, bringing the cumulative caseload to 449,107 cases with 15,769 fatalities, the Ministry of Public Health said Wednesday.

In its daily report, the ministry also reported another 5,598 deaths considered to be COVID-19 related but not verified.

The coastal province of Guayas led the country in the number of new cases, with 774 infections, with most of them posted in the provincial capital of Guayaquil.

France

French President Emmanuel Macron urged EU countries to be extremely vigilant about the Delta variant of the coronavirus and to be more closely coordinated on allowing tourists to come from outside the bloc.

"We must all be vigilant because the much-talked-about Delta variant is coming, which spreads much more rapidly than the other variants and affects people who are not vaccinated or who only have had one dose," Macron said ahead of an EU summit in Brussels, adding the EU needed to drive vaccinations even more.

Chile

COVID-19 cases in Chile declined 20 percent in the last week, thanks to restrictive measures and the vaccination process underway in the South American country, the health ministry said on Wednesday.

The ministry said 2,768 new cases were logged in the last 24 hours, one of the lowest figures since last March, as well as 56 more deaths, bringing the total caseload to 1,528,409 and the death toll to 31,746.

Chile has vaccinated 80 percent of its target population against COVID-19 with at least one shot, Health Minister Enrique Paris said.

Zambia

Zambia on Wednesday resumed the second phase of its COVID-19 vaccination program.

Kennedy Malama, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Health in charge of Technical Services, urged all those who are eligible to get vaccinated.

He said the second phase will initially target people who require the second dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine, before opening up to those who did not participate in the first round.

The announcement came on a day the country recorded 3,367 new cases in the last 24 hours, taking the tally to 137,026.

Another 50 newly reported deaths pushed the toll to 1,794.

Cuba

Cuba reported on Wednesday 2,055 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the highest daily figure so far, bringing the caseload to 172,909.

According to the Public Health Ministry's daily report, 13 more deaths were also registered, taking the death toll to 1,193.

Some 9,129 Cubans remained hospitalized due to COVID-19, the highest number in 15 months.

Meanwhile, the ministry expanded its vaccination campaign in the capital, hoping to inoculate the entire population of 2.2 million people by the end of July.