UN: Pandemic could lead to HIV surge in West, Central Africa

In this file photo taken on Aug 25, 2021, a man looks on as he receives a jab of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine from a healthcare worker inside the Transvaco COVID-19 vaccine train stationed at the Springs Train Station outside of Johannesburg.

LOS ANGELES / THE HAGUE / ATHENS / DUBLIN / ROME / DAKAR / LONDON / KYIV – West and Central Africa could see a rise in HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths in a few years due to disruptions in health services because of the coronavirus pandemic, Executive Director of the UN AIDS agency Winnie Byanyima said.

Although HIV infection rates, and AIDS-related deaths have been on a steady decline over the past decade, the region accounted for 22 percent of AIDS-related deaths in 2020.

Around 200,000 people in West & Central Africa became newly infected with HIV last year out of a global total of 1.5 million, the United Nations AIDS agency's data shows

Around 200,000 people in West & Central Africa became newly infected with HIV last year out of a global total of 1.5 million, the United Nations AIDS agency's data shows.

New infections in the region were growing fast among vulnerable groups that include young girls and women, gay men, sex workers, drug users and prisoners, who don't always have ready access to preventive measures and treatment.

Byanyima said the jury was still out on the extent of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on HIV, but the agency is seeing examples of disruptions.

"We are quite worried that when all the data comes in for this year (2021), that we might see a spike in new infections, and over a few years we might see more deaths," Byanyima told Reuters on the sidelines of a health summit late on Tuesday.

Health systems in the region have been stretched by the outbreak, forcing governments to divert scarce resources to tackle the pandemic, while measures to stop the spread, such as lockdowns, curbed access to HIV prevention and treatment.

UNAIDS warned in July last year that the global fight against AIDS had been faltering even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and the pandemic was threatening to put hard-won progress against HIV back by 10 years or more.

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In this file photo taken on Aug 24, 2021,
a nurse prepares Roxana Montano, 3, to receive her dose of Soberana Plus, a Cuban vaccine against COVID-19, at Juan Manuel Marquez hospital in Havana, as part of the vaccine study in children and adolescents. (ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP)

Cuba

The number of international flights to Cuba could increase from the current 63 a week to about 400 in mid-November as the island relaxes pandemic restrictions, Transportation Minister Eduardo Rodriguez said Tuesday.

The number of flights from the United States to Havana's Jose Marti International Airport is expected to increase from four to nearly 80 over the next few weeks, according to the Transportation Ministry.

Starting Nov 7, international passengers will no longer be required to quarantine at a designated hotel, and as of Nov 15, passengers will be able to enter with vaccination passports or certificates issued overseas.

However, unvaccinated foreign visitors will have to present a negative PCR test taken less than 72 hours prior to their arrival. Children under 12 will not be required to show COVID-19 PCR tests or vaccination passports when visiting Cuba.

Relaxing the restrictions coincides with the start of the tourism high season in Cuba, which runs from November to April.

In this file photo taken on April 28, 2021, customers sit at a restaurant's terrace alongside a canal in Amsterdam. (FRANCOIS WALSCHAERTS / AFP)

Dutch

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a press conference here that face mask use will now apply to all publicly accessible indoor spaces, including libraries, town halls, supermarkets, shops, train stations and parts of hospitals and universities.

The requirement of a "corona pass" that has been mandatory for access to restaurants, cafes, theaters and stadiums, will be extended to museums, zoos, amusement parks, gyms, swimming pools, terraces and sports events outside and indoors.

The "corona pass" can be a negative COVID-19 test result, a proof of vaccination or a proof of recovery.

The new measures will come into effect on Saturday.

Speaking at the press conference, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge once again made an appeal to people who have not been vaccinated.

De Jonge also announced the start of booster vaccination in December for all people aged 80 and older. A booster shot will also be offered to all adult residents over the age of 18 who live in a care institution with their own medical service.

An man receives the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at a mobile COVID-19 vaccination team sets up by Health Ministry in the northern city of Thessaloniki, Greece on Oct 26, 2021.

Greece

Unvaccinated Greeks will need to show a negative COVID-19 test to access state services, banks, restaurants and retail shops as cases hit a new daily record on Tuesday, health authorities said.

Greece reported 6,700 new coronavirus infections in the preceding 24 hours on Tuesday, breaking a previous single-day record of 5,449 that was recorded on Monday.

This took the total infections to 754,451 since the pandemic broke out last year. Some 16,050 people have died of the COVID-19 disease so far in Greece.

With the pandemic worsening and temperature falling, more measures are necessary to protect unvaccinated people, Health Minister Thanos Plevris said in a televised statement.

All unvaccinated workers should also test negative twice a week, Plevris said, adding that the new measures will take effect on Nov 6. Most unvaccinated in Greece are now required to present a negative test once a week to get to their workplace.

Ireland

Ireland's daily COVID-19 cases on Tuesday surpassed the 3,000 mark for the first time since mid-January of this year, official data showed.

The Irish Department of Health said that a total of 3,726 new confirmed cases were reported on Tuesday, up by nearly 31 percent from Monday's 2,855 cases.

The country saw a spike in COVID-19 cases with the daily count averaging over 2,700 in the last six days, the fastest pace since the middle of this January.

In this file photo taken on Oct 13, 2021,
Italian Professor Roberto Mezzanotte and a nurse nurse view the lung x-rays of a COVID-19 patient at the Casalpalocco hospital, south of Rome. (ALBERTO PIZZOLI / AFP)

Iatly

The coronavirus infection rate in Italy is on the rise again. While data on hospitalizations and deaths from the virus remain low, indications are that the government will extend the national state of emergency and green pass rules well into next year.

According to Nino Cartabellotta of the Gimbe Foundation, a health sector observatory, a 42-percent increase in the country's weekly infection rate was proof that "the virus has started to circulate again."

Data from Tuesday showed over 2,800 new infections – the first time in a week the daily figure has been below 4,000. But last Friday, the infection number was 5,334, the highest one-day figure since early September. And starting early last week, the trend line for total active cases in Italy began to climb again after steadily falling since the first days of September.

The total of nearly 85,000 active cases remains far below this year's peak of nearly 550,000 in March and the all-time peak of over 800,000 in November 2020. But media reports show the government is taking the rising trend seriously.

Major media including the financial daily Il Sole/24 Ore, the Turin-based daily newspaper La Stampa, and Rome's Il Tempo all reported Tuesday that the state of emergency set to expire on Dec 31 will be extended into next year, most likely until March 2022. Use of the green pass, which shows a resident's coronavirus health status, will be extended to June of next year.

 A state of emergency gives government officials temporary power to act quickly to tamp down new coronavirus outbreaks and allocate funding, all through the use of emergency decrees. It also includes the power to instate new travel restrictions, and requirements for social distancing and mask-wearing.

ALSO READ: UN chief calls for vaccine equity as COVID-19 deaths exceed 5m

United Kingdom

Christmas may be difficult as the COVID-19 pandemic is not over, England's deputy chief medical officer warned on Wednesday, urging people to behave with caution and come forward for booster shots.

Britain reported 293 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, the highest daily figure since March, and there have been an average of around 40,000 new cases each day in recent weeks.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted restrictions in England in July, and has said he plans to cope with COVID-19 over the winter by relying on vaccinations rather than mandating masks or lockdowns.

"Too many people believe that this pandemic is now over. I personally feel there are some hard months to come in the winter and it is not over," Jonathan Van-Tam said, adding that behavior and the uptake of booster shots would determine how tough winter would be.

"Christmas and indeed all of the darker winter months are potentially going to be problematic."

Johnson has cited Britain's success in the initial vaccination rollout as he lifted restrictions, but a slower rollout of boosters means that for many vulnerable people, immunity could be waning.

Slovenia

Slovenia registered a record high 3,456 COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, or 44.7 percent of the number of people tested, the state health institute said, as medical experts suggest tighter restrictions to rein in the pandemic.

Currently, there are 29,354 active COVID-19 cases in the small Alpine state of some two million people. There are 1.12 million fully vaccinated people, or 53 percent of the overall population.

Medical experts this week proposed tightening curbs on gatherings, including shorter opening hours for bars and restaurants and work from home for public sector employees, national television reported.

The government is expected to discuss the pandemic on Thursday.

A ten year old child high fives Pharmacist Colleen Teevan after he received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine for kids at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut on Nov 2, 2021. (JOSEPH PREZIOSO / AFP)

United States

The US CDC has officially approved Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children from the ages of 5 to 11. 

In the announcement on Tuesday, the CDC encouraged health providers to begin vaccinating the approximately 28 million children in the age group as soon as possible. The FDA already approved the vaccine last week, but the CDC recommends who should receive it.

Distribution of Pfizer's children's vaccine, which contains a third of the dosage given to teenagers and adults, will begin this week and is expected to "scale up to full capacity" by next week. According to the Los Angeles Times, the shot will have to undergo another review by the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup, but it is expected to be approved within another day or so.

US President Joe Biden also offered his support of the vaccine for the age group, saying in a statement: "A vaccine for children age 5 to 11 will allow us to build on the extraordinary progress we've made over the last nine months. Already, more than 78 percent of Americans age 12 and older have gotten at least one shot, including millions of teenagers – and the vaccines have proven to be incredibly safe and effective."

Wearing a face mask will be mandatory again in public indoor places in the Netherlands as the government announced several new measures to fight COVID-19 amid rising infections over the past few weeks.

Anti-vaxxers protestors hold placards reading "Say 'No' to COVID-19 genocide!", "Say 'No' to mandatory vaccinations!" and "Say 'No' to experiments on children!" during their mass rally against the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions, outside the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev on Nov 3, 2021.

Ukraine

Several hundred people blocked traffic in the center of the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Wednesday in a protest against coronavirus restrictions and mandatory vaccinations, which the government introduced to curb new infections.

Ukraine has registered record high rates of new cases and deaths from the coronavirus in recent weeks, and its total number of infections almost reaching 3 million with 69,447 deaths.

Vaccines have become mandatory for some state workers, and in "red" zone areas including Kyiv, only vaccinated people or those with negative COVID-19 test results are allowed into restaurants, gyms and on public transport.

Protesters, many of them young people, held up posters with messages such as "Say no to COVID-19 passports", "Protect our children" and "Say no to COVID-19 genocide".

Ukraine lagged behind other European countries in obtaining coronavirus vaccines this year and is now struggling to persuade a sceptical public to take them.

"Such rallies of people that we see today, with calls not to get vaccinated, in my opinion, make a mockery of our doctors and families, who, unfortunately, have lost their relatives due to the coronavirus," Ukrainian health minister Viktor Lyashko told a televised news conference.