In this file photo taken on Aug 3, 2021,
medical staff wear personal protective equipment (PPE) to care COVID-19 patients at Hokkaido University Hospital in Sapporo.
(YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP)
AUSTRALIA/ JAPAN/ INDIA/ IRAN/ ISRAEL/ MYANMAR/ SINGAPORE/ THAILAND/ VIETNAM – A panel of advisers to Japan’s health ministry recommended making third COVID-19 booster shots available to everyone in the country who has already received two vaccine doses, Kyodo News reported, citing a meeting held on Thursday.
The plan is for recipients to get their booster shot at least eight months after their second dose, Kyodo said. The ministry had already decided it would provide boosters to at least some groups, with health-care workers set to get their third doses as soon as December.
Japan’s vaccination drive has overtaken peers including the US, UK and Germany, although it still lags other economies such as China and France. More than 77 percent of Japan’s population have had at least one dose and 71 percent have had two. Japan is using vaccines from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca Plc.
In the US, Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine recipients aged 65 and older can receive a third shot, as can adults who are at high risk of severe COVID-19 or with frequent institutional or occupational exposure to the virus that causes the disease. All Johnson & Johnson recipients 18 and older are eligible for a booster shot at least two months after receiving their first dose.
The FDA also allowed all authorized vaccines to be used as a booster for eligible individuals following a complete initial course with a different vaccine.
Australians aged 18 and over who have received two doses at least six months ago are now eligible to have a booster shot, according to a joint statement from Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Vaccines will be available to eligible people starting on Nov 8.
Australia on Thursday eased its COVID-related travel advice for several countries including the United States, Britain and Canada as it prepares to reopen its borders next week for the first time in over 18 months.
Australia will lift its outbound travel ban for fully vaccinated residents from Nov 1 following a strong uptake of COVID-19 vaccines, as Sydney and Melbourne, its biggest cities, look to welcome overseas travelers without quarantine.
Australia has been gradually easing tough restrictions in Sydney and Melbourne, helped by higher vaccination levels after a third wave of infections fuelled by the highly infectious Delta variant spread rapidly across its southeast.
The relaxation in travel rules, however, is not uniform across Australia, as the country's states and territories have differing vaccination rates and health policies.
Indian bulk drugs manufacturer Optimus Pharma is seeking domestic regulatory approval to produce a generic version of Merck & Co's oral COVID-19 treatment molnupiravir, the company's top executive told Reuters on Thursday.
If granted emergency use approval, the company could scale up production to 80 million capsules a month and is targeting a price of 40 cents per capsule, said D. Srinivasa Reddy, managing director at the Hyderabad-based company.
A treatment course for a patient comprises some 40 capsules, which means the total cost would be around $16. In comparison, Merck has a contract with the US government to supply 1.7 million courses of the drug at a price of $700 per course.
Optimus in May received approval from the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) to conduct a late-stage trial with molnupiravir in patients with mild COVID-19.
In a statement on Thursday, the company said it has completed the trial which showed that on day five, about 78 percent of patients in the molnupiravir treatment group tested negative for the coronavirus compared to about 48 percent in the placebo group.
"We independently applied for the trial. We don't have a voluntary licensing (agreement) with Merck," said Reddy.
"There is no granted patent for molnupiravir's drug substance. There is only a composition patent filed by Merck," said Reddy, adding Optimus has developed its own composition and is also manufacturing the active pharmaceutical ingredient (API) in-house.
Once Optimus receives approval, it can produce 10 million capsules in two weeks and up to 40 million capsules in four to six weeks. It will need three months to install more machinery to get up to 80 million capsules a month, said Reddy.
To turn India into a manufacturing hub for molnupiravir, Merck has separately entered into voluntary licensing agreements for the treatment with eight domestic companies that have yet to disclose their production plans.
Reddy said the company is also doing regulatory groundwork to enable it to market the drug in nations like Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines and Lebanon.
Optimus' price of 40 cents per capsule is in line with market competition, said Reddy.
"(The) price could also come down when we do the commercial launch," Reddy said. "This is the advantage with India because all the materials are available in India, so we need not depend on outside."
Meanwhile, India's COVID-19 tally rose to 34,231,809 on Thursday, as 16,156 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours across the country, showed the health ministry's latest data.
Besides, as many as 733 deaths were recorded since Wednesday morning, taking the death toll to 455,386.
Most of the deaths, 622, were reported from the southern state of Kerala.
"More than 70 percent of deaths are due to comorbidities," said the ministry.
Currently there are 160,989 active cases in the country, with a decrease of 1,672 during the period.
"India's active caseload is lowest in 243 days," the ministry said in a statement.
A total of 33,614,434 people have recovered and been discharged from hospitals so far, with 17,095 new recoveries.
The Iranian health ministry reported on Wednesday 10,644 new COVID-19 cases, taking the country's total infections to 5,888,100.
According to an official briefing published on the ministry's official website, the pandemic has claimed 125,716 lives in the country so far, after 197 new deaths were registered in the past 24 hours.
A total of 5,455,329 people have recovered from the disease or been discharged from hospitals across the country, while 4,127 remain in intensive care units, the ministry said on its official website.
By Wednesday, 51,738,578 Iranians have received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and 31,718,775 of them have taken two jabs.
The official report added that 35,079,339 tests have so far been carried out across the country.
On Wednesday morning, a member of the Iranian government's scientific committee said that COVID-19 infection and mortality rates are still decreasing in Iran as a whole.
Israel must do more to break down vaccine resistance and implement tougher safeguards as foreign tourists start returning next month, or risk a fifth Covid-19 wave, public health experts are warning.
The increasingly urgent calls will be closely monitored worldwide as Israel has often been ahead of the curve in handling the coronavirus, from sweeping restrictions and vaccine programs to renewed outbreaks as its economy reopened. It’s in the vanguard again with the world’s first widespread booster program, which dramatically brought down a surge in cases generated by the delta variant, but it’s being warned of another critical juncture ahead.
Israel proved during its fourth wave that vaccine resisters could be coaxed to inoculate, reducing their number by almost half. Driving that in part was the contagiousness of the Delta variant, which arrived in Israel in the summer. In mid-June, new daily cases were down to single digits, but by early September they peaked above 11,000.
Myanmar announced its lifting a stay-at-home order imposed on 44 townships in eight provinces, including Yangon and Mandalay, according to the Ministry of Health.
The order is effective from 4 am on Thursday. The ministry cited a lower rate of new coronavirus cases in the past two weeks.
New Zealand will begin scaling back one of its key COVID-19 defenses by easing border restrictions for fully vaccinated people arriving from overseas.
The amount of time travelers will have to spend in government-run hotel quarantine facilities will be halved to 7 from 14 days from Nov. 14, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in a news conference in Wellington on Thursday. Home isolation will be introduced in the first quarter of 2022, he said.
Still, the border will remain closed to all but New Zealand citizens and residents, with some exceptions, meaning tourists remain shut out.
The managed isolation and quarantine system (MIQ) has been the key plank of New Zealand’s approach to keeping the virus out of the country since it was introduced April 2020. But the arrival of the delta variant in August this year and the government’s move away from trying to eliminate community spread has undermined the approach.
“When MIQ was introduced we didn’t have the vaccine so every arrival posed a high level of risk,” Hipkins said. “With most people returning now fully vaccinated the risk profile of international arrivals has changed so it is time to start changing our MIQ settings.”
The growing number of cases in the community has forced the government to allow infected people to isolate at home, but fully vaccinated travelers who have tested negative are still required to quarantine.
Adding to the pressure on the government has been a vocal group comprised of thousands of New Zealanders living overseas who have been unable to secure the elusive spots in MIQ facilities and return home.
Singapore is looking into an "unusual surge" of 5,324 new infections of COVID-19, the city-state's health ministry said, its highest such figure since the beginning of the pandemic, as beds in intensive care units fill up.
About 72 ICU beds were vacant by Wednesday, at an overall ICU use rate of 79.8 percent, with 142 coronavirus sufferers accounting for about half of occupied beds.
The ministry said it was adding more ICU beds. The Asian city-state, which has set aside 200 ICU beds to be used by COVID-19 patients, can add 100 more at short notice.
Last week, it extended some social curbs for about a month, to rein in the spread of COVID-19 and ease pressure on healthcare facilities.
Thailand’s economy is set to expand this year at a slower pace than previously forecast as it reels from the impact of its deadliest Covid-19 outbreak, the Finance Ministry said.
The ministry lowered its gross domestic product forecast to 1 percent on Thursday, from 1.3 percent predicted in July. It’s the ministry’s fourth revision this year after a resurgence in cases from April triggered growth-crippling restrictions on businesses and travel. The economy may expand 4 percent next year, also lower than the 5 percent pace seen earlier.
Fully-vaccinated international travelers won’t be quarantined if they test negative for COVID-19 on arrival in Vietnam for packaged tours to some tourist cities from next month, Tuoi Tre newspaper reported, citing guidance from ministry of culture, sports and tourism.
Areas that will be allowed to recieve tourists include Phu Quoc, Khanh Hoa, Quang Nam, Danang, Quang Ninh.