China posted a steep jump in daily COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, with new cases more than doubling from a day earlier to a two-year high as a virus outbreak expanded rapidly in the country’s northeast.
A total of 3,507 domestically transmitted cases with confirmed symptoms were reported on Monday across more than a dozen provinces and municipalities, the National Health Commission said, up from 1,337 a day earlier, Reuters reported.
China’s case load is still tiny by global standards, but health experts said the rate of increase in daily cases over the next few weeks will be a crucial factor in determining whether its tough “dynamic clearance” approach – which aims to contain each outbreak – is still effective against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant.
A COVID-19 forecasting system run by Lanzhou University in China’s northwest predicted that the current round of infections would eventually be brought under control in early April after an accumulated total of around 35,000 cases.
The university said in its latest assessment published on Monday that while the current outbreak was the most serious on the mainland since Wuhan in 2020, China could bring it under control as long as stringent curbs remained in place, Reuters reported.
In the financial hub of Shanghai, authorities battling an outbreak across the city were cordoning off individual apartment buildings and testing all residents.
China’s aviation regulator said that 106 international flights scheduled to arrive in Shanghai will be diverted to other domestic cities from March 21 to May 1 due to COVID.
Confirmed symptomatic infections in Shanghai stood at 21 on Monday, including 12 imported from overseas, with an additional 130 asymptomatic cases.
Nearly 90% of the mainland’s confirmed new symptomatic cases on Monday were found in the northeastern province of Jilin, which has banned its 24.1 million population from traveling in and out of the province and across different areas within the province without notifying local police.
German chancellor Scholz tests positive for coronavirus
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has tested positive for coronavirus and is showing mild symptoms of a cold, Reuters quoting a government spokesperson said on Monday.
Scholz is isolating in the federal chancellery. He has cancelled all his public appearances this week but will attend scheduled meetings remotely, said an emailed statement.
Germany is rolling out booster vaccinations for older and clinically vulnerable citizens going into winter, read the report.
The World Health Organisation said last week that the coronavirus remained a global emergency but the end of the pandemic could be in sight if countries tackled it properly.
Pfizer CEO tests positive for COVID for second time
Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said on Saturday he had tested positive for COVID-19 but that he was symptom free.
“I’m feeling well and symptom free,” Bourla said in a statement.
Bourla, 60, back in August had contacted COVID and had started a course of the company’s oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment, Paxlovid.
Paxlovid is an antiviral medication that is used to treat high-risk people, such as older patients.
Bourla has received four doses of the COVID vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech.
The chief executive said he has not yet taken the new bivalent booster.
Developed by Moderna and the team of Pfizer and BioNTech, the new so-called bivalent shots aim to tackle the BA.5 and BA.4 Omicron subvariants, which make up 84.8% and 1.8%, respectively, of all circulating variants in the United States, based on latest data.
“I’ve not had the new bivalent booster yet, as I was following CDC guidelines to wait three months since my previous COVID case which was back in mid-August,” Bourla added.
In August, the FDA authorized Pfizer and Moderna’s updated booster shots that target the dominant BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants.
A federal health agency said this week that over 25 million doses of the so-called bivalent shots had been sent out. That consisted of mostly the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, as production of the Moderna vaccine ramps up.
Fight to end virus pandemic takes place on UN’s sidelines
In four days of fiery speeches over war, climate change and the threat of nuclear weapons, one issue felt like an afterthought during this year’s U.N. General Assembly: the coronavirus pandemic, The Associated Press reported.
Masks were often pulled below chins — or not worn at all — and any mention of COVID-19 by world leaders typically came at the tail-end of a long list of grievances.
But on the sidelines of the annual meeting, the pandemic was still very much part of the conversation, AP reported.
On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gathered with World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell and others to discuss equitable access to COVID vaccines, tests and treatments.
And earlier that day, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield joined leaders from around the globe to mark the progress that has been made to fight COVID-19 — including the more than 620 million vaccine doses to 116 countries and economies that the United States has provided. But she emphasized there is still much work to do.
Tedros noted that the number of deaths around the globe is near its lowest since the pandemic began, and two-thirds of the world’s population is vaccinated. But the encouraging signs mask a deep disparity between wealthy and poor countries.
For instance, only 19% of people living in low-income countries are fully vaccinated compared with 75% in high-income countries. And only 35% of health care workers and 31% of older populations in lower-income countries are fully vaccinated and boosted.
Key to closing those gaps, according to Guterres, is countering misinformation about vaccines and overcoming hesitancy while also increasing testing to snuff out the potential for more variants. The world also needs early warning systems for pandemics and must ensure a well-paid and well-supplied workforce in the health care sector.
“Let’s get it done,” Guterres said. “Let’s end this pandemic once and for all.”
Thomas-Greenfield said that COVID-19 care needs to be shifted from being offered primarily in emergency facilities to integrating it in routine services.
She outlined three new initiatives: a pilot program to be launched in 10 countries to help people get screened for COVID-19 and receive antiviral medications; a $50 million commitment from the U.S to improve access to medical oxygen critical for treating patients with severe cases; and a global clearinghouse to make medical supply chains more resilient, efficient and equitable.
While few would argue that the situation has not improved — and indeed U.S. President Joe Biden recently remarked that the pandemic was over before walking back his comments — no one on Thursday was ready to call it quits.
“A marathon runner does not stop when the finish line comes into view,” Tedros said, and instead runs harder to get to the end.
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