Australia’s top medical experts are to consider a national proposal to test returned travellers two days after exiting their fortnight of hotel quarantine as the federal government reveals its plan for proof-of-vaccination certificates.
Measures to further tighten Australia’s firm containment dominated political discussion on Sunday, while Australia recorded its third consecutive day of no new locally acquired cases of Covid-19.
At the weekend New South Wales Health began day 16 testing, with Victorian health authorities keen to implement the additional post-quarantine test and ask the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to nationalise the scheme.
South Australia will also consider adopting the extra test, with the state’s premier, Steven Marshall, saying his government will look at the measure “very carefully”.
Almost all the close and casual contacts of a coronavirus case that sparked a five-day lockdown for parts of Western Australia have tested negative for the virus, Australian Associated Press reported.
Authorities have identified 528 people linked in some way to the case of a security guard at a quarantine hotel. So far 522 have tested negative with just six waiting on test results.
They were among 5,264 people checked for Covid-19 on Saturday, with no new cases reported. Health Minister Roger Cook said officials were continuing to hunt for more contacts, but believed WA was “in a good place”.
“Obviously when you had someone in the community for a number of days who was Covid-positive with the UK strain, we were looking at a very dangerous situation,” he said.
Lockdown will be lifted on Friday, but a range of restrictions will remain for Perth and Peel until 12.01am on 14 February.
All residents, including teachers and high school students, must continue to wear masks while outside their homes except for during vigorous outdoor exercise. A 20-person limit will be imposed on all private indoor gatherings, while a four square metre rule and a cap of 150 attendees will apply to hospitality and retail venues and weddings.
Restaurants, pubs and bars can only have seated service and only essential travel is permitted in and out of the combined restricted zone. Western Australia will also keep its border restrictions in place for both NSW and Victoria.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 8,616 to 2,284,010, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Sunday. The reported death toll rose by 231 to 61,517.
Australian Open grand slam begins tomorrow
Australia reported no new local coronavirus cases for a third day on Sunday, as tennis players geared up for the first grand slam of the year in Melbourne on Monday, Reuters reported.
The Australian Open will have a reduced attendance of 30,000 fans a day, about 50% lower than usual because of Covid-19 protocols. The public health protocols which have been credited with making Australia one of the most successful nations in battling the virus forced players into a two-week hotel quarantine when they arrived in Melbourne in January.
On Sunday players were finishing warm-up tournaments with Danii Medvedev firing Russia to an ATP Cup win and world No 1 Ash Barty beating Spain’s Garbine Muguruza to win the Yarra Valley Classic.
More than 500 staff and players tested negative on Friday in retesting required after a worker at their quarantine hotel caught the virus.
Nearly 1,200 close contacts of the infected worker have tested negative to the virus, health officials said.
There were also no new local coronavirus cases reported in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, where there had been infections in past weeks.
Regular rapid-result coronavirus testing is to be made available more widely to people who are continuing to travel to work during the lockdown in England.
PA Media reported that officials hope to “normalise” testing in the workplace and ensure the safety of those who cannot work from home by identifying asymptomatic carriers of Covid-19.
Ministers will offer access to lateral flow tests – which can produce results in less than 30 minutes – to businesses with more than 50 employees. Only firms employing 250-plus staff previously qualified.
A first shipment of 88 litres of active ingredients to make AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine in Brazil arrived from China on Saturday, essential input to speed the country’s troubled vaccination program, Reuters has reported.
With those supplies flown into Rio de Janeiro on a cargo plane, the Fiocruz biomedical centre can begin filling and finishing 2.8m doses. The federally funded centre expects to receive more ingredients this month to make a total of 15m shots of the vaccine developed with Oxford University.
The Fiocruz production line, originally scheduled to start producing in December, has sat idle due to delays getting the first shipment of supplies from China.
President Jair Bolsonaro, who says he will not take any Covid-19 vaccine, is under pressure after a slow and patchy vaccine rollout in Brazil, which is facing a second wave of infections.
Bolsonaro referred to the virus as a “little flu” but his government faces mounting criticism over its handling of the world’s second-deadliest coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 231,000 Brazilians.
Doctors in England paid extra to vaccinate vulnerable patients at home
Doctors in England will be paid an additional £10 every time they vaccinate a vulnerable who cannot leave their home, PA Media has reported.
Ministers are striving to meet their target of inoculating all those aged 70 and over, along with frontline health workers, by 15 February.
Health secretary Matt Hancock said the extra cash would allow GPs to reach the “most vulnerable people who might not be able to leave their homes”, such as the elderly and those who are shielding.
The government aims to have offered a first dose jab to all over-50s and the most clinically vulnerable by early May, but the Telegraph reported that Whitehall sources believed the pace of vaccinations meant the target could be achieved by April.
A second round of accommodation vouchers designed to help the tourism sector during the Covid-19 pandemic has provided a $19m boost to the South Australian economy, AAP reports.
Premier Steven Marshall said the vouchers generated 36,000 bookings, bringing cash to the state’s regions and the Adelaide CBD.
“Across round one and two of the vouchers, we’ve created more than 60,000 bookings, worth more than $31m, getting people booking up the CBD and regions, and spending in our restaurants, cafes, bars and experiences around them,” he said on Sunday.
“We will now take away any lessons we have learned from the second round of the Great State Vouchers, talk to the industry and gear up for round three.”
South Australian Tourism Commission chief executive Rodney Harrex said the voucher scheme had resulted in some regional venues breaking occupancy records.
He said there had been a particularly strong interest in vouchers for CBD accommodation in the second round.
More than 39 million Americans receive Covid vaccine
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had distributed 59,304,600 doses of Covid vaccines in the US and that 39,037,964 doses had been administered as of Saturday morning.
The tallies are for both Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines as at 6am, it said. According to its tally posted on Friday, the agency had administered 36,819,212 doses of the vaccines and distributed 58,380,300 doses.
The agency said 30,250,964 people had received one or more doses, while 8,317,180 people had got the second dose as of Saturday. A total of 4,628,962 doses of vaccine have been administered in long-term care facilities, the agency said.
Australia to introduce Covid vaccination certificates
Here is a bit more detail on the news that the Australian government plans to introduce vaccination certificates for Covid-19.
Government services minister Stuart Robert said an immunisation history statement, available through the government’s MyGov or Medicare sites and apps, would display proof of Covid-19 immunisation status. Hard copies will also be available.
Last week prime minister Scott Morrison said that although Covid vaccines are largely voluntary, some people may be required to get one. The exact circumstances are yet to be announced.
Employer groups including the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia have asked for clarity about whether they can require employees to get a vaccine, after several employment law experts argued they could.
Australia’s Covid vaccination policy states:
While the Australian government strongly supports immunisation and will run a strong campaign to encourage vaccination, it is not mandatory and individuals may choose not to vaccinate. There may however, be circumstances where the Australian government and other governments may introduce border entry or re-entry requirements that are conditional on proof of vaccination.
Australia’s vaccination campaign is expected to begin in weeks.
South Australia to consider boosting quarantine testing
South Australia will consider adding an extra Covid-19 test for Australians returning from overseas to bolster the security of the hotel quarantine system, Australian Associated Press has reported.
At the moment, anyone forced into quarantine in SA is tested on days one, five and 12. But New South Wales has introduced a test on day 16 which while not mandatory is highly recommended.
It’s designed to pick up cases that might have developed at the tail end of the 14-day period. Premier Steven Marshall said South Australia would continue to follow the best medical advice.
“We’re learning more and more about this disease every single day that goes past,” he said on Sunday. “We’re getting more information in from other states; we’re getting information in from overseas.
“We’ll look at that very carefully. If we need to do that in South Australia, that’s what we’ll do.”
Mainland China reported 11 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, down from 12 cases a day earlier and the lowest daily increase since mid-December, the national health authority said on Sunday.
The National Health Commission said only one of the new cases was locally transmitted and it was identified in China’s north-eastern Jilin province.
The number of new asymptomatic cases, which China does not classify as confirmed cases, stood at 13, including 11 imported cases.
The total number of confirmed cases in mainland China stands at 89,692, and the death toll remains unchanged at 4,636.
Mexico’s health ministry reported 1,496 new confirmed deaths from Covid-19 on Saturday, bringing the country’s total to 165,786.
The Carnival is over
In a normal year, Rio de Janeiro’s Sambadrome would preparing for its great moment of the year: the world’s most famous Carnival parade. But a week before what should be the start of Carnival, the pandemic has replaced pageantry, Associated Press reports.
The Rio mayor’s office opened a drive-through immunisation station Saturday at the Sambadrome, where a line of cars queued on a broad avenue built for floats.
“This is usually a place of pleasure. Today it is too, because we are exercising an act of citizenship and we are opening the Sambadrome to vaccinate,” said Paulo Roberto Machado, a 68-year-old nurse who teaches at the Veiga de Almeida University.
Machado has taken part in 40 years of Carnival parades here, but on Saturday he was coordinating 20 volunteer nursing and medical students vaccinating people over 90.
“The vaccine represents the hope of better days, of returning to normality, to what we did before,” Machado said.
Rio’s city government officially suspended Carnival and warns it will have no tolerance for those who try to celebrate with open street parades or clandestine parties, saying it is monitoring social media to detect any.
Rio’s hotel occupancy rate normally reaches about 80% in the hot summer months and 100% during Carnival. It’s now at roughly 50-60%, according to Alfredo Lopes, the president of Rio’s Hospitality Workers Union.
The pandemic has hit hard in Rio, where the authorities have counted more than 17,600 deaths from Covid, the most of any city in Brazil, topping even Sao Paulo, which has nearly twice its population.
Oxford Covid jab less effective against South African variant, study finds
Here is a bit more detail on the study that suggests AstraZeneca does not offer protection against mild disease caused by the South African variant of Covid-19.
The so-called British, South African and Brazilian variants, which appear to spread more swiftly than others, are among the strains causing most concern to public health experts.
The Financial Times has reported the findings of a study from South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand and Oxford University. “In this small phase I/II trial, early data has shown limited efficacy against mild disease primarily due to the B.1.351 South African variant,” AstraZeneca told the newspaper.
None of the more than 2,000 trial participants had been hospitalised or died, according to the report: “However, we have not been able to properly ascertain its effect against severe disease and hospitalisation given that subjects were predominantly young healthy adults.”
The company said it believed its vaccine could protect against severe disease, given that the neutralising antibody activity was equivalent to that of other Covid vaccines that have demonstrated protection against severe disease.
While thousands of individual changes have arisen as the virus mutates, only a tiny minority are likely to be important or change the virus in an appreciable way, according to the British Medical Journal.
On Friday Oxford said the vaccine had similar efficacy against the British coronavirus variant as it does to the previously circulating variants.
Hello, Rebecca Ratcliffe here in Bangkok bringing you the latest global Covid-19 developments.
A quick update:
- AstraZeneca has reportedly said its vaccine developed with the University of Oxford appeared to offer only limited protection against mild disease caused by the South African Covid variant, based on early data from a trial. The study was relatively small, with 2,000 participants and the results have not been peer reviewed.
- The Australian state of Victoria has recorded another day without locally acquired cases, after nearly 15,000 tests were conducted.
- The UK government said a further 828 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Saturday, bringing the UK total to 112,092.
A total of 10,302,620 vaccinations have taken place in England, as of 5 February.
- The Netherlands surpassed a million confirmed Covid infections since the start of the pandemic.
- Hospitals in France treated 27,369 people for the disease on Saturday, down 245 from the previous day, marking the fourth consecutive daily fall in Covid-19 hospital numbers.
- The number of Covid patients requiring intensive care in Portugal’s struggling hospitals also dipped on Saturday from the previous day’s record high, as the country reported fewer daily deaths and new infections.