China Vaccines for Africa; Singapore Reopen Flops: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) — China pledged another 1 billion vaccine doses for Africa while Hong Kong joined places across the world in expanding travel restrictions as the omicron variant spreads. Singapore’s long-awaited reopening has drawn few travelers.

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U.S. President Joe Biden cautioned Americans against panicking and urged them to instead get vaccinated or get an extra shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded its recommendation for boosters to all adults. 

The South African doctor who raised the alert on the possibility of a new variant has observed mild illness in people infected with omicron. But the World Health Organization warned omicron could fuel a fresh surge in infections with severe consequences.

Key Developments:

Virus Tracker: Cases top 261.9 million; deaths pass 5.2 millionVaccine Tracker: More than 7.96 billion doses givenOmicron undetected in U.S. so far, testing Biden sequencing planKey takeaways from South Africa’s briefing on omicronChina’s Xi pledges a billion more vaccines for AfricaOmicron needs three evolutionary surprises to wreak havoc: Faye FlamVariant reaches nations from U.K. to Australia in widening spreadWhat we know about the omicron variant so far

China Vaccines for Africa; Singapore Reopen Flops: Virus Update
© Bloomberg Where The Omicron Variant Has Been Detected

Cases Spike in Germany (11:05 a.m. HK)

Germany recorded a total of 45,753 new cases, compared to 29,364 the day before, according to the country’s public health authority RKI. New deaths associated with the virus rose by 388, bringing the total to 101,344.

German authorities are under pressure to introduce new curbs as case numbers climb and the new omicron variant has been discovered in the country. 

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her incoming successor, Olaf Scholz, will hold talks with Germany’s 16 state premiers on Tuesday to discuss the next steps in the fight against Covid-19.

Asia Mulls Omicron Vaccines (10:02 a.m. HK)

Vaccine makers in Asia are considering developing new vaccines to fight omicron. 

Sinovac Biotech Ltd. said it is collecting information and samples through its global partner network and evaluating the efficacy of its existing vaccine. It has previously looked into developing vaccines against the gamma and delta variants and can mass-produce a new vaccine quickly, the company said.

CanSino Biologics Inc. has started research for a vaccine targeting omicron, the Global Times reported on Monday, adding the company can come up with a new vaccine “in the shortest time” if needed. Shionogi & Co., which has an experimental vaccine, has also obtained information on the variant and is considering making a vaccine against it, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

More Critical Patients in Korea (9:01 a.m. HK)

South Korea reported a record 661 coronavirus patients in critical condition, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency’s website. There were 44 deaths. Amid the increase in critically-ill patients and concerns about the new variant, the country plans to roll out booster shots more quickly. Some 79.9% of the population is already fully vaccinated.

China Touts Homegrown Vaccines (8:41 a.m. HK)

Chinese Covid vaccines will remain effective in preventing severe cases and death from the omicron variant, state TV reported, citing Xu Wenbo, head of the National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Xu said scientists should watch for omicron’s ability to spread compared with delta and its immune escape capability. 

The country added 21 local confirmed cases to its covid tally on Monday and said all these local cases were in Inner Mongolia.

Australia to Trial mRNA Vaccine (8:02 a.m. HK)

Australia is to trial its first ever mRNA covid vaccine in the new year, the government of Victoria announced Tuesday. Scientists and manufacturers from the state have spent five months developing the drug product, and 150 people will now take part in Phase 1 clinical trials. Results are expected later in 2022.

Separately, the government has delayed the planned reopening of its borders to students and foreign workers as officials weigh the threat posed from the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Singapore’s Brush With Omicron (7:50 a.m. HK)

Singapore started contact tracing for airport staff who may have come into contact with two travelers infected with the omicron variant of Covid-19 who transited through Changi Airport on their way to Australia from South Africa, the health ministry said.

While most of the travelers for the Singapore Airlines flight from Johannesburg had remained in the transit area until their departure for Sydney, seven disembarked, the ministry said in a statement Monday. Six of them are in isolation at a dedicated facility and one, a close contact of an infected individual on the flight, has been quarantined.

Rapid Tests May Detect Omicron (7:35 a.m. HK)

Covid-19 rapid tests such as Abbott’s BinaxNOW should be able to pick up the omicron variant, potentially lending a critical tool to curbing the spread of the new strain.

Anthony S. Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser for Covid-19, said Monday that his South African colleagues told him “at least some of the rapid antigen tests” could detect the variant first discovered by South African scientists last week.

Manila to Keep Curbs Loose (7:20 a.m. HK)

The Philippines will keep loose movement restrictions in the capital amid concerns over the omicron coronavirus variant.

Metro Manila, which accounts for a third of economic output, will remain under Alert Level 2 from Dec. 1 to 15, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a statement, citing an approved recommendation from the virus task force. Indoor restaurants, gyms, cinemas can operate at half capacity, while outdoor businesses can open at 70% capacity.

Pfizer to Seek Booster Approval for Teens (6:45 a.m. HK)

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE are poised to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize a booster shot of their Covid-19 vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds, the Washington Post reported, citing two people familiar with the situation. 

Regulators are expected to sign off on the request quickly, the people told the newspaper.

CDC Expands Booster Recommendation (6 a.m. HK)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending booster shots for all vaccinated people 18 and older as scientists race to study the emerging omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The guidance, which previously said adults “may” get boosters, now says they “should” get a third dose of the Moderna Inc. or Pfizer Inc. shot six months after their second dose. The same recommendation applies to those who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine but after only two months.

N.Y. Doesn’t Plan Mask Mandate (4 p.m. NY)

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said there were no reported cases of the omicron variant in the state but she was monitoring infections found nearby in Ontario, Canada. At a briefing Monday, she said she was focused on getting more of the state vaccinated and planned to tap its National Guard to help administer booster shots at nursing homes.

Hochul said she has no plans for a statewide mask mandate, preferring a targeted approach to restrictions that are guided by local officials. She also called out the stark divide in cases between Upstate regions — which account for most of New York’s recent Covid hospitalizations — and the rest of the state. 

Hospital Workers Rejected at Supreme Court (3:35 p.m. NY)

A U.S. Supreme Court justice turned away a request from eight Mass General Brigham Inc. workers for a religious exemption from the Massachusetts hospital system’s requirement that they be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Justice Stephen Breyer rejected the request without requesting a response from the hospital or referring the matter to the full, nine-member court. Breyer, who is assigned to handle emergency matters from Massachusetts, gave no explanation.

Pfizer Sees 2-3 Weeks to Study Omicron (2:30 p.m. NY)

Pfizer Inc.’s top executive said the company will know within two to three weeks how well its Covid-19 vaccine holds up against the new omicron variant, and even in a worst-case scenario he expects the existing formula will retain some efficacy against the heavily mutated strain.

The company is currently conducting lab tests to see how antibodies generated by the existing vaccine work against the new variant, Chief Executive Albert Bourla said on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power with David Westin.”

N.J. Hospitalizations at Highest in 7 Weeks (1:32 p.m. NY)

New Jersey hospitalizations for Covid-19 reached 950, the highest in seven weeks, Governor Phil Murphy said. The number has surged 35% since Nov. 1. Even so, the total is about a third of the 2,908 hospitalizations a year ago, when vaccinations weren’t available.

More than 78% of New Jersey’s population has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, higher than the U.S. total of 69.7%. The unvaccinated continue to make up most of the hospitalizations, Murphy said.

Biden Cautions Against ‘Panic’ (12:55 p.m. NY)

President Joe Biden cautioned Americans against panicking over a new variant of the coronavirus recently identified in South Africa, and urged them to instead get vaccinated or obtain booster shots.

“This variant is a cause for concern. Not a cause for panic,” Biden said in remarks at the White House after a private briefing from his health advisers.

He said the administration doesn’t yet believe new formulations of coronavirus vaccines will be necessary but that it is already working with Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. on contingency plans. He said he’ll issue a new strategy to combat a winter surge of coronavirus on Thursday, adding that the U.S. will not have to practice further lockdowns or shutdowns.

NYC ‘Strongly Recommending’ Indoor Masks (10:45 a.m. NY)

New York City issued a new mask advisory on Monday, “strongly recommending” residents wear masks in all indoor locations regardless of vaccination.

The health advisory stops short of a mandate but signifies officials’ trepidation of a new Covid-19 wave as the omicron variant spreads around the world and New York sees an increase in post-Thanksgiving Covid cases.

U.K. Urges Boosters for All Adults (10:30 a.m. NY)

The U.K. is poised to offer Covid booster shots to all adults and second shots to more children amid worries that the new omicron variant could spread even more easily and fuel another surge in cases.

A committee that advises the U.K. government said all adults should be eligible for a third dose, with availability expanded to those under 40. Children ages 12 to 15 should get second shots, the group said. 

An expansion of the booster program comes with tougher pandemic rules set to take effect this week in the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is seeking to buy scientists time to determine the risks posed by the new strain. 

Merkel, Scholz to Meet With State Leaders (9:55 a.m. NY)

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her incoming successor, Olaf Scholz, will hold talks with Germany’s 16 state premiers on Tuesday to discuss the next steps in the fight against Covid-19.

The discussions will follow a decision by the Constitutional Court due in the morning, according to an official familiar with their plans. Germany’s top court is expected to lay out parameters for what restrictions are admissible to tackle the nation’s worst outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. 

German authorities are under pressure to introduce new curbs as case numbers climb and the new omicron variant has been discovered in the country. 

Norway to Increase Isolation Times (7:18 a.m. NY)

Norway is extending isolation times for those testing positive to the coronavirus and where there’s reason to believe the infection is the omicron variant, the Health and Care Services Ministry said in a statement.

Other household members will be required to quarantine for 10 days and close contacts to those infected must undergo testing under the new measures, which will apply regardless of vaccination status.

Italy to Consider Infant Vaccination Units (7:14 a.m. NY)

Italy may start Covid vaccinations on children in the 5-11 age group as soon as December 23, should the Italian Medicines Agency, Aifa, give the proposal the green light this week, Franco Locatelli, head of the National Health Institute, said in an interview on SkyTg24.

Italy’s medical authorities are considering setting up dedicated children units within the vaccination hubs, Locatelli said.

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