New York City raises COVID-19 alert level to medium

A person receives a COVID-19 test out of a mobile testing van on Jan 5, 2022, in New York City. (ANGELA WEISS / AFP)

JOHANNESBURG / ZAGREB / NEW YORK / STOCKHOLM – New York City on Monday adjusted up its COVID-19 alert level from low to medium, indicating the presence of medium community spread of COVID-19.

The accumulated new cases per 100,000 people in the city in the last seven days moved up to 209.02, which surpasses the threshold of 200 to enter the medium level, according to the official data.

The seven-day average new cases have increased to nearly 2,500 by April 29 from over 600 in early March.

With the medium risk alert level, New Yorkers must exercise even greater caution than they have the last few weeks, said Dr. Ashwin Vasan, health commissioner of NYC in a statement.

New Yorkers are advised to upgrade to higher-quality masks while wearing a face mask in public indoor settings, according to the color-coded alert system introduced in early March.

Led by Northeast, Midwest and Northwest regions, COVID-19 cases in the United States are on a meaningful rebound in the last few weeks.

According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, the national count of COVID-19 cases in the United States has exceeded 81 million, with 993,733 related deaths so far.

A member of the Western Cape Metro EMS prepares vaccines from an ambulance which has been converted to facilitate vaccinations at a COVID-19 vaccination event in Manenberg, which is part of the Vaxi-Taxi mobile vaccination drive, on Dec 08, 2021 in Cape Town. (RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

Africa

Africa's first COVID-19 vaccination plant, touted last year as a trailblazer for an under-vaccinated continent frustrated by sluggish Western handouts, risks shutting down after receiving not a single order, a company executive said on Saturday.

South Africa, which has vaccinated 30 percent of its population, also looks set to experience a fifth wave of infections

South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare negotiated a licensing deal in November to package and sell Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine and distribute it across Africa. 

The World Health Organization called the deal a "transformative moment" in the drive towards levelling stark inequalities in access to COVID-19 vaccines.

ALSO READ: South Africa says it may be entering fifth COVID-19 wave

With only a sixth of adults in Africa fully vaccinated, according to the latest WHO figures from the end of March, Aspen's agreement to sell an Aspen-branded COVID-19 vaccine, Aspenovax, throughout Africa seemed like a sure bet.

South Africa, which has vaccinated 30 percent of its population, also looks set to experience a fifth wave of infections.

Yet, "There've been no orders received for Aspenovax," Aspen senior director Stavros Nicolaou told Reuters over the phone.

"If we don't get any kind of vaccine orders, then clearly there'll be very little rationale for retaining the lines that we're currently using for production," he said of the COVID-19 vaccine plant in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape.

African countries have struggled with logistical issues, lack of skilled staff, cold chains and other problems surrounding the distribution of vaccines. Another issue is that, after initially leaving Africa out in the cold, donor countries have since paid up and the continent is now well supplied.

Nicolaou said that in the long run the aim was to shift to producing other vaccines but that the firm had banked on these initial volumes to buy it time to establish the operation.

ALSO READ: Study: Over half of Americans have had COVID-19 infections

"If you don't breach this short term gap with orders, you can't sustain these capacities on the continent," he said, at a time when health officials want to vaccinate three-quarters of the continent's population.

The African Union's goal is to produce 60 percent of all vaccines administered in Africa locally by 2040, up from the current 1 percent, and several such plants are being set up.

"If Aspen doesn't get production, what chance is there for any of the other initiatives?" Nicolaou said.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica will offer a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to the immunocompromised and to those over 50, the country’s Health Ministry said on Monday.

The fourth dose will be optional and can be applied three months after the third shot, said Dr. Roberto Arroba, secretary of the National Commission for Vaccination and Epidemiology at the Ministry of Health.

More than 85 percent of the Central American country’s population has received at least one shot, while 79 percenthave had two doses, and 41percent have received a third vaccine, according to official data.

Croatia

Croatia's Interior Ministry announced on Monday to lift the remaining COVID-19 entry measures, which means that travelers from all over the world can now enter the country without showing any certificate or giving any explanation regarding COVID-19.

The measure is expected to facilitate the border traffic as well as the upcoming tourist season, the ministry said.

The Croatian government announced on April 9 to abolish almost all restrictions imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, as only the protective mask mandate remained in place in medical and nursing institutions.

Moreover, all restrictive measures concerning travelers from the European Union countries were also lifted on April 9, while those from other countries outside the EU were obliged to show a negative PCR test, proof of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19.

Nonetheless, the government has warned that the pandemic is not over yet and recommended the use of masks in crowded places.

Sweden

Just one month after Sweden announced COVID-19 was no longer considered dangerous, scrapping health measures to fight the disease, the country's public health agency on Monday said it is prepared to introduce new restrictive measures should yet another wave hit the country.

In one of three hypothetical scenarios, the agency described a situation where a potential new strain of the virus could evade the immune system and cause severe illness.

"We would then be in a situation where the vaccination effort is not enough, and we would need to introduce measures such as limiting social contact and restricting public gatherings, and recommend working from home," Sara Byfors, a unit manager at the agency, told Swedish Television.

The agency also presented two other possible, but not as worrying, scenarios. Even though the worst-case scenario is not deemed as the most likely, there are signs that the spread of infection is once again accelerating.

By the end of April, an average of 25 people were being hospitalized with COVID-19 in Sweden every day. This figure is likely to double by mid-May, the agency said.

US Vice-President Kamala Harris speaks about the recently signed infrastructure law will benefit Ohioans after touring the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local 189, Nov 19, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. (JAY LAPRETE / AP)

US

US Vice-President Kamala Harris will return to in-person work after testing negative for COVID-19 on Monday, according to her spokesperson.

Harris, who wields a tie-breaking vote in the Senate, plans to work in person starting on Tuesday.

Doug Emhoff, Harris' husband, told reporters that the vice president is feeling fine.