Travel Open to Fully Vaccinated Travellers, Opposition to the Health Pass: COVID-19 Global Weekly Highlights

These are the global coronavirus stories you need to know about this week.

In the UK, a committee of MPs published a critical report on England’s Test and Trace service saying it failed its main objectives despite receiving “eye-watering” sums of money. Separately another committee heard evidence that pandemic-related delays to cancer diagnosis and treatment are likely to see survival rates stall over the next decade. Recent rises in COVID-19 cases have leveled off in recent days but still, stand at around 40,000 per day at a rate of 485.6 per 100,000 population. Deaths and hospital admissions have continued to rise. So far, 79.3% of over-12s are fully vaccinated and 11.2% have received a booster or third vaccine dose. 

After weeks of decline, France has once again crossed the threshold of 5000 daily cases of COVID-19. According to figures published by Public Health France on Monday, October 25, 5293 new cases were identified in 24 hours. They confirm that cases are again on the rise since the October 20. The number of hospitalised patients has remained mostly stable since mid-October, with around 6500 people.

According to the Ministry of Health, 40.9 million people have been fully vaccinated. In addition, as of the October 24, 2.5 million booster shots were administrated.

In Martinique, the health pass is causing tension among nursing staff. On Monday, October 25, nearly 1300 people gathered to show their opposition to the health pass. Tensions are growing between those who are either pro-vaccines or anti-vaccines. Only 20% of the public hospital staff are vaccinated.

Note that previously France ordered 50,000 doses of molnupiravir developed by Merck, an antiviral that could halve the risk of hospitalisation for patients who have just been tested positive for COVID-19, according to the laboratory.

Although in the midst of a strong recovery, Russia in all of Europe has been most affected by the pandemic. The centre of the epidemic, Moscow has decided to quarantine the over 60s for the next four months. The measure goes into effect Monday, October 25, until at least February 25. Concern is also growing in Ukraine and Bulgaria.

Ukraine is currently among the top three countries hit hardest by the virus in the world. The current third wave of COVID-19 is the deadliest the country has seen. In recent days, Ukraine has passed the daily threshold of 24,000 new infections and 620 deaths. The situation is particularly critical in large cities. It should be noted that Ukraine has the lowest vaccination rate in Europe with less than 18% of the population (25% in Kiev) vaccinated.

Bulgaria is experiencing an average of 4000 new patients per day, which is very high considering the size of the country. Mortality also remains very high, with 177 deaths per million inhabitants. The vast majority of patients are not vaccinated.

In Belgium, a study shows that six months after COVID-19 infection, at least one in seven people still show symptoms connected to the infection, varying from excessive fatigue to memory problems. The KCE (Belgium’s Federal Knowledge Centre for Health) has recommended that “certain rehabilitation care that has not yet been reimbursed must be reimbursed” until a more efficient method is developed for financing treatment for medical conditions.

In Italy, countering the downward trend for infections, for the first time in several weeks, the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection did not go down, remaining at 29 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. The Rt factor rose from 0.84 to 0.86, also going against recent trends. On the other hand, the rate of occupancy of hospital beds and intensive care units are still decreasing. The Government is discussing how to extend the third shot campaign; after fragile patients and the elderly, health workers appear to be the next group to receive a third vaccination. Despite criticism from antivax and anti-COVID passport groups, the Government is strongly convinced that health control measures are needed to avoid a new rise in cases, especially after examining what is happening in other European countries.

In Germany, the nationwide seven-day incidence rate has risen significantly. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported the number of new infections per 100,000 inhabitants at 118.0 on Wednesday, October 27, morning (the previous day it was 113.0, the previous week 80.4). 

The health authorities in Germany reported 23,212 new COVID-19 infections to the RKI within one day, and 114 deaths were recorded within 24 hours. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the RKI has reported 4,506,415 confirmed infections with SARS-CoV-2.  

The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to hospital per 100,000 inhabitants within seven days was given by the RKI on October 26 as 2.95 (the previous day it was 2.77). The previous highest rate was 15.5 during Christmas time.  

In Germany, about 66.3% of the population are fully vaccinated for COVID-19, according to data released by the RKI on Tuesday.  

Because of the rising COVID-19 cases, politicians and experts have called for more third vaccinations against COVID-19 in the elderly and at-risk groups. 

The special legal situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic is set to end on November 25, according to plans of the possible future government partners (Social Democrats, Green Party, Liberals). A transitional period was set to last until 20 March 2022; however, a new legal basis for COVID-19 requirements is to be created instead three parliamentary groups announced on Wednesday. This should allow the Länder to continue to order “less intrusive” measures – among others on masks or access rules only for vaccinated, recovered, and tested persons.

More than 4200 new COVID-19 infections were reported in Austria on Wednesday. It’s been about 11 months since the number of cases has risen to more than 4000. In addition, 250 COVID-19 patients were admitted to intensive care, with 1257 total infected admitted to hospital. Ten deaths were recorded since the previous day. 

The seven-day incidence rose to 280.9 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on Wednesday, October 27, up from 247.9 on October 26. On Wednesday, Austria reported 35,070 confirmed active cases.

In Switzerland, the number of new SARS-CoV-2 infections has been increasing for about two weeks in all regions with varying degrees of severity.  

The 14-day incidence rate is 173 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, with large differences between the cantons. In Central and Eastern Switzerland, the incidence of infection is highest. 

On Tuesday, October 26, the Federal Office of Public Health reported 1491 additional cases compared to the previous day. According to the information provided by the federal government, 26 new patients had to be admitted to hospital. 

According to the Federal Office of Public Health in Switzerland, 62.86% of the population have so far been fully vaccinated with two doses; 65.66% have received one dose.

In Portugal, protesters criticised the University of Lisbon for organising a talk by the Brazilian Minister of Health, Marcelo Queiroga, on the fight against COVID-19 in Brazil. The event, which would was set to be on-site, will now take place online.

In Portuguese hospitals, there are now 301 inpatients, of which 62 are in intensive care units. On Tuesday, October 26, the national and continental transmission rate was 1.06, while the national incidence was 92.4 per 100,000 inhabitants, and, on the mainland, 92.8 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Complete vaccination against COVID-19 has already reached 86% of the Portuguese population. According to Agência Lusa, it is a slight advance compared to 85% of the previous week. More than 9 million people have received at least one dose, according to official data released by the Directorate-General for Health. The Algarve region is the most behind in the country for vaccination coverage, with only 80% of the population having received full vaccination.

In Spain, the pandemic continues its downward trend. According to data provided by the Ministry of Health, the incidence rate at 14 days was at 49.37 cases per 100,000 population as of Wednesday, October 26. In addition, 2532 new cases of COVID-19 and 51 deaths were reported.

Regarding vaccination, 90.2% of the target population in Spain has already received at least one dose, and 88.5 % the full vaccination. This week began the simultaneous vaccination of the COVID-19 booster and influenza vaccine in the elderly.

On Tuesday, the Public Health Commission, represented by the Ministry of Health and the regional governments, agreed to authorise the booster dose, with Pfizer or Moderna, to those that had received the Janssen vaccine as of November 15. This means that 1.97 million Spaniards who received a single dose of Janssen will receive another inoculation, with the most vulnerable groups having priority.

On Wednesday the Constitutional Court annulled the second state of alarm, which was active from October 25, 2020, to April 25, 2021.

In the American continent, the lowest numbers in more than a year were reported last week: more than 800,000 new cases of COVID-19 and 18,000 deaths.

The US is averaging about 70,000 new COVID-19 cases per day. That’s about half as many as the country was seeing during the peak of the Delta wave in September, but still too many for the nation to drop its guard, said Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Several models have predicted that the US will see another upsurge in cases this winter, and perhaps the return of the flu. In the meantime, the US is planning to allow international travelers to fly into the country as long as they are fully vaccinated and can show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 3 days of their flight. There are narrow exemptions to the rule for people with personal emergencies and those with medical contraindications to vaccination. The new rules for air travel go into effect on Nov 8. Lower dose mRNA vaccines could soon be available for children as young as age 5.

The number of COVID-19 cases and deaths is declining throughout the Americas, with some exceptions: in Belize, the number of deaths due to COVID-19 increased and in Paraguay, the number of cases doubled.

In the larger Caribbean islands, the number of cases has decreased. But the situation is different in the smaller islands: St. Kitts and NevisBarbadosAnguilla, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are reporting their highest number of new cases of COVID-19 and related deaths since the pandemic began.

Nearly 44% of the population in Latin America and the Caribbean is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, currently, twice as many people in the region are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 compared to August of this year.

In GuatemalaSt. Vincent and the GrenadinesJamaicaNicaragua, and Haiti, less than 20% of the population is fully vaccinated.

On Tuesday, October 26, the final report of the parliamentary inquiry commission that investigates actions and omissions of the federal government of Brazil in managing the pandemic was approved. The document calls for the punishment of the president and other 79 people for various violations and crimes that added up to the country reaching more than 605,884 people killed by COVID-19. The names cited include parliamentarians, politicians, ministers, medical doctors, businessmen, lobbyists, and the president’s three sons. The report will be sent to the competent instances to investigate, indict, judge, and punish the names mentioned. The text will also be sent to the Chamber of Deputies, the body responsible for the possible opening of an impeachment process against the president.

On Thursday, October 21, in his weekly live talk on social media, the president made an absurd association between immunisation against COVID-19 and AIDS, attributing the (false) information to official reports from the UK. The national scientific community and international organizations, such as UNAIDS, immediately refuted the false information. YouTube and Facebook decided to remove the video from their platforms and the president’s YouTube channel was suspended for a week.

Until October 26, 111,041,827 people were fully immunized against COVID-19 in the country and completed the vaccination schedule by taking the second dose or single dose of immunizing agents (52.05%). Another 153,329,416 received the first dose of vaccine (71.88%). The booster dose was applied to 6,631,723 people.

Africa is reporting one million new infections about every 66 days and has reported more than 8,551,000 since the beginning of the pandemic. Cameroon has reported a rise in cases. Egypt is reporting the highest number of infections since June. 

Regarding vaccination, 7.95% of the population has received at least one dose, and 5.23% the complete schedule, according to the data provided by the Africa CDC. Some countries such as Morocco (60.79%) or South Africa (20.14%, where the vaccination campaign has been extended to adolescents aged 12- 17) have higher rates, while others like Tanzania (3.13%), Niger (2.85%), Burkina Faso (2.82%) or Cameroon (3.99%) continue to struggle to vaccinate their population.

New Zealand has announced an expansion of its vaccine mandate to include 40% of workers, including those employed in restaurants, gyms, and hair salons. On October 25, 109 new locally acquired COVID-19 infections were reported in the country, the second-highest daily count since the beginning of the pandemic.

Australia announced that vaccinated citizens will soon be able to travel abroad. The ban on foreign travel was instated nearly 18 months ago.

The Eastern province of Zhejiang in China plans to vaccinate all children aged 3-11 years against COVID-19 by the end of the year. As of now, the country has fully vaccinated 76% of its population. Lanzhou city, which is home to 4 million people, was placed under lockdown on October 26 after a cluster of a few dozed COVID-19 cases were discovered. 

On October 26, South Korea granted emergency use approval for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, which is produced locally by Samsung Biologics. The country has fully vaccinated 70% of its 52 million population. 

Cambodia has announced plans for the phased reopening of the country to fully vaccinated tourists coming from abroad beginning the end of November. Vaccinated visitors can skip quarantine but will have to reside within certain designated areas for at least 5 days upon their arrival.

Vietnam will start a campaign to vaccinate children next month to facilitate the reopening of schools. Around 1500 children aged 16-17 years will be among the first to be vaccinated in Ho Chi Minh City.

Starting November 1, Thailand will welcome air travelers arriving from 46 countries with low COVID-19 caseloads.

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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