South Africa may be entering a fifth COVID wave earlier than expected after a sustained rise in infections over the past 14 days that seems to be driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants, health officials and scientists said on Friday. The country that has recorded the most coronavirus cases and deaths on the African continent only exited a fourth wave around January and had predicted a fifth wave could start in May or June, early in the southern hemisphere winter.
Meanwhile, several Latin American nations, South Korea and Ecuador have eased restrictions amid a decline in cases.
The Standing Technical Sub-Committee of the NTAGI has recommended inclusion of the Serum Institute’s Covovax in the national COVID-19 vaccination programme for children aged 12 to 17 years, sources said on Friday. India’s drug regulator had approved Covovax for restricted use in emergency situations in adults on December 28 last year and in the 12-17 age group, subject to certain conditions, on March 9. “The COVID-19 working group of the NTAGI (National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation) had earlier reviewed data related to Covovax and okayed it. The NTAGI’s Standing Technical Sub-Committee which met on Friday has recommended that the vaccine can be used for 12-17 years age group,” an official source said.
The coronavirus pandemic is not over and it is unlikely that the United States will ever eliminate COVID-19 but should strive to control the virus, top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said on Friday. Health officials are instead hoping to get out of what he called the “acute pandemic phase” and reach a point where the virus can be controlled, Fauci said at a virtual event hosted by the National Press Club in Washington. “When I said we are no longer in that fulminant acute phase, that does not mean that the pandemic is over. By no means is it over. We still are experiencing a global pandemic,” he said.
🔴 China Thursday reported 15,688 new cases, marking an increase from the previous day’s 11,367. Of the new cases, 5,659 were symptomatic, the National Health Commission said, while 10,029 were asymptomatic. On Wednesday, the country had reported 1,503 symptomatic cases. The rise in cases along with strict lockdown and testing rules have disturbed normal life in China’s biggest cities, Shanghai and Beijing.
🔴 Authorities in the southern Chinese megacity of Guangzhou scrambled on Friday to quash a COVID-19 outbreak, imposing testing requirements on public transport, closing off some areas, and advising citizens against leaving the region. In a press conference on Friday, Guangzhou city health authorities said the outbreak had been traced to a worker at the city’s Baiyun International Airport, and that they were tracing close contacts to stop the highly transmissible Omicron variant from spreading. They said 20 COVID cases had been detected through mass tests the day before, and that several areas of Baiyun and Huadu districts would be partially closed off.
🔴 China has suspended cross-border freight train services with North Korea following consultations after COVID-19 infections in its border city of Dandong, the foreign ministry said on Friday. The suspension came within four months after North Korea eased border lockdowns enforced early in 2020 against the coronavirus, measures global aid groups have blamed for its worsening economic woes and risks to food supplies for millions.
🔴 In Beijing, which has already conducted three rounds of mass testing to prevent the spread of coronavirus, schools were ordered to shut down on Thursday. According to news agency AP, students make up 30 per cent of the new cases reported in the Chinese capital. No information has been provided yet on when the schools can reopen and whether they’d be allowed to conduct online classes. Moreover, the city also closed down several gyms, malls, cinema halls and apartments.
🔴 Hong Kong will shorten mandatory hotel quarantine for passenger flight crews to three days from seven, while cargo crews will be exempt, modest steps at unwinding coronavirus curbs that have turned the city into one of the world’s most isolated places. Hong Kong said it was also lifting an outbound travel alert on overseas countries from May, more than two years after it was first implemented in March 2020.
🔴 The Shanghai government Friday said that half of its residents, amounting to 12.38 million people, can now leave their homes as they are in “lower-risk areas”, after a month-long strict lockdown. Several foreign expats have left the city to escape the restrictions, while more are looking to leave, Reuters reported.
🔴 In the United States, top medical adviser Anthony Fauci said that while the country was out of the “pandemic phase”, meaning that the US has transitioned to a more controlled stage, it does not mean that the pandemic is over.
🔴 South Africa has been hit by a spate of infections, driven by a new sub-variant of Omicron, which scientists are calling BA.4. However, health experts have noted that it’s too early to say if the new sub-variant will be a “full-fledged wave”, as there has only been a slight increase in hospitalisations and no spike in deaths. The country is currently recording around 6,000 cases a day, while the count was in the hundreds till last week.
🔴 Taiwan is witnessing its worst outbreak since the onset of the pandemic, with 11,353 new cases and two deaths on Thursday. However, 99.7 per cent of its cases have mild to no symptoms. Taiwan in April had stepped away from the zero-Covid policy which China is implementing, and has asked those who test positive with mild symptoms to quarantine at home.
🔴 With declining cases, several Latin American nations have eased restrictions. From May 1, Colombians will no longer need to wear masks in public places like shopping malls and theatres. Brazil, Mexico, and El Salvador have also removed masks mandates, with the recent carnival parades in Rio de Janeiro, which see over 60,000 spectators, allowing entry without masks to vaccinated individuals.
🔴 South Korea, too, will be removing the mask mandate from next week as it continues to see over 50,000 daily cases, down from the mid-March peak of over 6.2 lakh cases. However, masks would still be required at events with over 50 attendees.
🔴 On Thursday, Ecuador lifted the mask mandates for both indoor and outdoor spaces, having achieved vaccination of 87 per cent of the 3 years and older population.
(With inputs from agencies)