COVID-19

NZ approves Pfizer jab for kids aged 12

The country’s medical regulator, Medsafe, has granted “provisional approval” of the jab for those aged 12 to 15. This means Pfizer must continue to provide data from its clinical trials.NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Medsafe had given the green light after a “very carefully considered and robust process”. Local media reports the Ardern Government is likely to give the final sign-off later this month.“There are around 265,000 children in the 12-15 age bracket and our existing Pfizer purchase order contains more than enough doses to cover two shots for this entire group,” Ms Ardern said.“We don’t need to buy any more to cover them, and no one will miss out as a result of this decision.”Ms Ardern said that while Covid-19 had not typically affected children as severely as adults, there were international cases of them falling ill to the virus.“In addition, children have been shown to transmit the virus, so being able to vaccinate them helps protect the wider community,” she said.“Put simply – when our children are vaccinated, their teachers, friends, siblings, parents and grandparents are more protected from the virus too. So it’s in all of our interests for this group to get the vaccine.”However, it is unlikely that 12 to 15 year olds will start receiving the vaccine until October.“The next step is for the government to review advice from the Ministry of Health about the ‘decision to use’, and we expect to make a decision later this month. Until that decision is made, youth aged 12-15 won’t be given the vaccine,” she said.Medsafe had already approved the vaccine for those aged 16 years and older.INDO COVID CRISIS DEEPENSIndonesia has passed two million coronavirus cases as infection rates soar and hospitals are flooded with new patients, prompting warnings that the Southeast Asian nation’s health crisis could spiral out of control.The unwanted milestone comes after daily case rates more than doubled in recent weeks and authorities identified the presence of highly infectious Covid-19 variants.On Monday, official figures showed that Indonesia had recorded a daily record high of 14,536 cases, taking the total to just over two million with nearly 55,000 deaths, among a population of nearly 270 million.But those figures are widely thought to be a severe undercount, due to low testing and contact tracing — some experts have said that official cases may only be about 10 per cent of the real number.“It’s starting to bubble up to the surface, like a time bomb,” said Windhu Purnomo, an epidemiologist at Indonesia’s Airlangga University.“This is just the beginning. Depending on how things are handled, we could end up with a major explosion like in India.” Case numbers are spiking as Indonesia grapples with new virus strains, including the highly infectious Delta variant first identified in India.The rise has also been blamed on millions travelling across the Muslim-majority nation at the end of Ramadan, despite an official ban on the annual migration.Hospital occupancy rates have soared to over 75 per cent in Jakarta and other hard-hit areas, while funerals for Covid-19 victims have also reportedly jumped.“It’s worrying,” Jakarta resident Rahmani told reporters at a cemetery where he attended the funeral of a relative who died of the virus.“As good citizens we have to follow government orders to obey health protocols.”The Indonesian Medical Association said the variants appeared to be sickening younger people.“Previously, Covid-19 patients were elderly or those with [pre-existing conditions],” the association’s Covid-19 spokeswoman Erlina Burhan said earlier.“But since the virus variants were detected, a lot of patients were younger” and did not have pre-existing conditions, she added.COVID-19 World NumbersBIDEN FALLS SHORT ON VACCINE PROMISEMeanwhile, the Biden administration has announced its plan for the next tranche of 55 million Covid vaccine doses it plans to send to countries in need.The donation will complete Washington’s initial pledge of 80 million doses from its own vaccine supply, made ahead of a vow to buy 500 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine for low- and middle-income nations.Forty-one million of the 55 million doses (75 per cent) are being distributed through the Covax program, with the remaining 14 million (25 per cent) shared with recipients the US deems priorities.The vaccines being shared with Covax include 14 million for Latin America and the Caribbean, approximately 16 million to Asia, and 10 million for Africa in co-ordination with the African Union.The first tranche included the Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines, but it was not immediately clear what the second tranche would comprise.A vaccine created by AstraZeneca has yet to earn US authorisation but is in use elsewhere.While wealthy countries are ramping up vaccinations and returning to normal, Covid cases are surging elsewhere, including in South America and Africa. Less than one per cent of Covid vaccine doses globally have been administered to people in low-income countries.“The Biden administration’s plan for sharing more Covid-19 vaccine doses globally will help end the pandemic faster and save lives,” said Tom Hart, acting CEO of The One campaign to eradicate poverty and preventable disease.But there was some good news for Mr Biden: US deaths from Covid-19 have dipped below 300 a day for the first time since March 2020.Data from federal sources also shows the drive to put shots in arms at home approaching an encouraging milestone: 150 million Americans fully vaccinated.The US death toll from Covid-19 stands at more than 601,000. The worldwide count is close to 3.9m. The real figures in both cases are believed to be markedly higher.About 45 per cent of the US population has been fully vaccinated, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 53 per cent of Americans have received at least one dose, the CDC also said on Monday local time.New cases are at about 11,400 a day, down from more than 250,000 in early January. Deaths per day are down to 293, according to Johns Hopkins University, after topping out at more than 3,400 in mid-January.HOW OLYMPICS HOPES TO BEAT COVIDUp to 10,000 fans will be allowed at Tokyo Olympic events – but organisers warn competition could move behind closed doors if infections surge.The decision, just weeks before the opening ceremony, ends months of speculation about whether domestic spectators would be able to attend the pandemic-postponed Games. Overseas fans were banned in March.A lottery will determine which existing ticketholders can attend a Games that will be unlike any other, with cheering banned, masks mandatory, and fans told to go straight home after the competition.“In light of the government’s restrictions on public events, the spectator limit for the Olympic Games will be set at 50 per cent of venue capacity, up to a maximum of 10,000 people in all venues,” organisers said in a statement.A decision on spectators at the Paralympics will be delayed until July 16, a week before the Olympics open.And officials left open the possibility of a reversal if the virus rebounds. Tokyo was under a coronavirus state of emergency until Sunday.“If there should be major dramatic change in the infection situation, we may need to revisit this matter among ourselves and we may need to consider the option of having no spectators in the venues,” Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike said.Senior medical experts, including top advisers to the government, have said holding the Games behind closed doors would be “ideal” from a health perspective.They fear crowds of fans could fuel a new surge in infections in a country still racing to vaccinate its residents. Organisers said it was unlikely that negative virus tests would be required to attend.International Olympic Committee chief Thomas Bach, speaking before the announcement, said he was “absolutely sure that it will be a decision to best protect the Japanese people and all participants”.There will be some wiggle room on the cap, with organisers allowing sponsors and others dubbed “stakeholders” to attend above the 10,000 limit.They said those spectators would travel separately from the public and pose less of a virus risk, but declined to specify how many people would come under that group.Schoolchildren invited as part of a special program also won’t count towards the cap.“People still talk about what they saw at the first Tokyo Olympics. That’s how memorable this event is. We want to offer the same experience to children,” Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto said.RESIDENTS FEAR VIRUS SURGEJapan residents fear the country will be hit with a rebound in Covid-19 cases if the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics are allowed to go ahead.The Kyodo News poll of about 2000 people found 86 per cent of respondents feared the Games would spark a surge in cases.About 40 per cent believed events should be help without spectators, and almost 31 per cent said they should be cancelled altogether.It comes after member of the Uganda Olympic team tested positive for coronavirus on arrival in Japan on Saturday, officials said.The nine-strong party, including boxers, coaches and officials, are just the second team to arrive in Japan after the Australian women’s softball squad on June 1.It was the first positive Covid test among Olympic arrivals from overseas, according to Japanese media.“I heard the person has been isolated based on regulations,” Hidemasa Nakamura, the Tokyo 2020 Games delivery officer, told reporters, renewing a pledge to take strict measures against infections.EU LIFTS TRAVEL BAN US travellers will finally be allowed to visit Europe again this summer in the Northern Hemisphere, along with Australians and citizens from a dozen other countries.The European Union’s governing body has recommended that the bloc lift restrictions on non-essential travel from 14 countries, including the US, a move that would allow visitors from these destinations to vacation in Europe far more easily.In a statement, the European Council said member states should “gradually lift the travel restrictions at the external borders” for residents of the following countries: Albania, Australia, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, New Zealand, Republic of North Macedonia, Rwanda, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, USA and China, subject to confirmation of reciprocity.The UK was noticeably absent from the list, which is to be reviewed every two weeks.In the US, Covid restrictions have been dropped across the country, with New York City and the state of California lifting nearly all curbs.The easing of curbs came as the national Covid-19 death toll surged past 600,000 — the largest on record in the world by far, ahead of hard-hit Brazil and India.INDIANS THRONG IN MALLS, MARKETS AS DELTA-PLUS VARIANT SPREADSA few weeks ago, New Delhi’s crematoriums were operating around the clock dealing with Covid-19 victims. Now the Indian capital’s shopping malls and markets are buzzing again.But doctors are worried that India is letting its guard down again, just like in January and February before a devastating coronavirus surge that led to a near-collapse of the healthcare system.Clutching a bag of clothes as she shopped with her new husband at Delhi’s busy Select City Walk mall, Surili Gupta said she was “fed up being cooped up inside”.“I needed this break, for how long you can remain locked up?” the 26-year-old sales executive said as she waited for a table at the mall’s packed food hall.“The coronavirus is not going any time soon, so one has to learn to live with it. I am sure with the vaccinations and all, we will be fine.” Behind her, a big weekend crowd chatted and laughed over Indian dosas and Chinese noodles, paying scant regard to public announcements reminding them about social distancing and wearing masks.Delhi, a megacity of 20 million people, saw horrendous scenes in April and May when coronavirus cases went through the roof, as they did across the country.Crematoriums ran out of space, burning bodies day and night, as gasping patients died outside hospitals, unable to get beds, oxygen and drugs.India’s death toll more than doubled to more than 330,000, according to official figures. Many experts suspect the true toll is over a million.The surge was blamed on new virus variants but also on the government having allowed massive religious festivals, state elections and crowds at cricket matches.Sandeep Budhiraja, medical director at Max Healthcare in the capital, said he was surprised at people’s short memories.“People are just behaving as if nothing happened just about two, three weeks back. And this is … amazing,” Budhiraja told AFP.But while this will likely lead to a sharp rise in cases, for a new “explosion” a new virus variant would have to take hold, he said.A new variant, “Delta-plus”, has been identified, which appears more transmissible and more resistant to treatment, he added.The new Delta plus variant (B. 1.617.2.1 or AY. 1) – also known as the Nepal variant – has been formed due to a mutation in the Delta, or B. 1.617.2, variant. Delta plus has a K417N mutation, alongside the earlier Delta mutation in N501Y. One reason for hope, however, is that unlike in January and February, the authorities are preparing the healthcare system for another wave, Budhiraja said.But vaccinations remain slow. Barely five per cent of Indians have had two shots. “Until the country is vaccinated, with over a billion people getting vaccinated, there is no way we can ever think of the pandemic coming to an end,” Budhiraja said.CHINA TOPS ONE BILLION VACCINATIONSChina has announced it has administered its one-billionth shot in the world’s biggest Covid vaccination drive, as Brazil’s death toll from the pandemic passes 500,000.The global death toll from Covid-19 is now more than 3.8 million, with many nations still battling outbreaks.China’s vaccine milestone comes after the number of shots administered globally passed 2.5 billion on Friday, according to a count from official sources.But the Asian giant’s vaccination efforts initially got off to a slow start after a successful fight against the virus left little sense of urgency to get jabbed.A lack of transparency and previous vaccine scandals have also led to resistance among many residents.Authorities have set an ambitious target of fully vaccinating 40 per cent of China’s nearly 1.4 billion people by the end of June.Some provinces are offering vaccines for free to encourage people to roll up their sleeves. Residents in central Anhui province have been given free eggs, while some living in Beijing have received shopping coupons.China’s success against the virus stands in stark contrast to Brazil, which on Saturday became the second nation after the United States to surpass half a million Covid-19 deaths.Vaccination efforts have been slow with only 11 per cent of the Brazilian population inoculated, as a third wave of infections spreads through the nation.Far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, who previously hit out at vaccines, has promised to immunise the entire population by the end of the year – something specialists consider unlikely.He has been criticised for downplaying the illness from the outset, opposing lockdown measures and plugging unproven medical treatments.On Saturday, thousands of Brazilians again took to the streets to protest against his handling of the pandemic.“His position on Covid and his denialism are absurd. He has abandoned reality and common sense,” said Robert Almeida, a 50-year-old photographer marching in Rio.“There is no explaining this, it is surreal.”.

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