Mucormycosis, Relaxation of Lockdown, Vaccination Rates: COVID-19 Global Weekly Highlights

Medscape, Univadis, & MediQuality Staff

May 14, 2021

These are the global coronavirus stories you need to know about this week.

Doctors in India are reporting a sharp increase in cases of mucormycosis in patients recovering and recovered from COVID-19, particularly among those with diabetes. It is believed that suppressed immunity resulting from use of steroids for treating moderate and severe COVID-19 may trigger this rare but deadly fungal infection. 

In the UK, the alert level was reduced from 4 to 3 by the four UK CMOs. This means a COVID-19 epidemic is still in general circulation. In a statement they cautioned: "COVID is still circulating with people catching and spreading the virus every day so we all need to continue to be vigilant. This remains a major pandemic globally." Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the next stages of easing lockdown in England from 17 May will allow indoor socialising and people will be able to make their own choices on hugging friends and relatives. More than a third of UK adults are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. However, there are growing concerns over the spread of the Indian variant in the UK.

On Tuesday, Portugal had a single death from COVID-19. According to the General Directorate of Health 158 new cases of infection were registered in the last 24 hours, which represented an increase in hospital admissions and a decrease in the ICU bed occupancy. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the country has had 839,740 confirmed cases and 16,993 deaths from COVID-19. Figures released for mainland Portugal show the R number decreased from 0.92 to 0.91, with a reduction from 55.4 to 51.4 in relation to the average value of new cases of infection per 100,000 inhabitants in the last 14 days. On Thursday, the country extended its 'state of calamity' until at least May 30.

This week, Belgium introduced a 'broad summer plan' to relax restrictions . Four out of 10 adults have received their first vaccine dose, and the campaign is accelerating. With 'several thousand' unused slots this week, Brussels called on over-45s to book an appointment.

In Germany, the nationwide 7-day incidence is approaching 100 with a steady decline in the number of cases. Priorities for the COVID vaccines from AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson have been lifted. The federal and state governments want to prepare vaccinations for children over 12 during the summer holiday.

The situation in Italy continues to improve, with fewer cases and fewer hospitalised patients. Nonetheless there is a slight increase in the R number which rose to 0.89 before  taking into account the latest relaxation of restrictions. Many experts agreed on the fact that R is not a suitable marker of the pandemic in the new framework. All of Italy is now classified as a yellow zone, with the exception of Sicily, which remains orange, and Val d'Aosta and Sardinia, which became red. The occupation of intensive care units also dropped by more than 400, with 2192 beds throughout Italy dedicated to COVID-19 patients. The vaccination campaign is trying to deliver 500,000 doses per day. Nearly 24 million vaccinations have been carried out since the beginning of the campaign, with more than 7.3 million people having both doses.

The state of emegrency ended in Spain on Sunday. The incidence at 14 days continues to decline, slightly under 200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants this week. The Spanish Government maintains its forecast to immunise 70% of the population. President Pedro Sánchez said: "We are only 100 days away from achieving group immunity." To date, almost 30% of the population has received at least one dose of  vaccine and slightly more than 13% the two doses.

In France, the number of patients in intensive care continues to decline but on the ground the situation remains tense as cited by Professor Guillaume Thiéry. From May 19, museums, cinemas, and meeting places will gradually reopen their doors. The National Assembly finally adopted the bill ending the state of health emergency, including a 'health pass'. Since the start of the vaccination campaign in France, 18,505,785 people have received at least one injection (27.6% of the total population and 35.2% of the adult population) and 8,243,215 people have received two injections (12.3% of the total population and 15.7% of the adult population). A case of the Indian variant detected in Hauts-de-France on May 2 was confirmed by sequencing. This is a man of Indian nationality returning from a stay in India. The authorities have given the green light to a Parisian test concert in Bercy, which could take place on May 29.

The 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases in the US has fallen to 38,000 a day. About 46% of Americans have had at least one dose of a vaccine, and 35% are fully vaccinated. The pace of vaccination has slowed in the US, prompting governments and businesses to offer incentives to convince people who may be on the fence. On Monday 10, the FDA authorised the use of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine in younger teens. Children aged 12 and over will be eligible to get vaccinated after an independent advisory committee to the CDC agreed its use in this age group on Wednesday. People who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 are no longer required to wear masks or physically distance, regardless of location or size of the gathering, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Thursday.

This week, Mexico has received shipments of COVID-19 vaccines: a million doses from Sinovac, 5.7 million  doses from AstraZeneca's Argentine plant, and 585,000 doses from Pfizer's US plant. As of May 9, a total of 21.8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered and  9.4 million people had been fully vaccinated. On May 11, it was announced that the National Vaccination Program will also include pregnant women. As of May 12, there had been 29,323 deaths due to COVID-19. The Ministry of Health announced that the risk level was medium or low in 29 of the country's 32 states. Emergency use of the Sputnik Light vaccine and use of the Pfizer vaccine in 12 to 15-year-olds is being considered.

Argentina is in its second wave of the pandemic, and according to official information, intensive care units are at 68% capacity. The first cases of variants B.1.617 and B.1.351 have also been confirmed in travellers returning from Europe.

In Colombia, an increase in COVID-19 cases is expected due to protests during the last 2 weeks. Intensive care units report they are at 95% capacity.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced that the Sputnik Light vaccine would soon arrive in the country and that they expect to vaccinate 70% of the population by August. Meanwhile, the National Academy of Medicine asked the US Ambassador to donate vaccine doses.

Costa Rican hospitals are at maximum capacity due to an increase of cases in the last few days. For the moment the government refuses to impose new restrictions.

Up until May 11, Brazil registered 423,436 deaths from COVID-19. The country is still facing a shortage of vaccines. The last stock of CoronaVac produced locally by the Butantan Institute, with 2.1 million doses, will be delivered on Friday (May 14). The delay  is attributed to diplomatic problems with China. Until Tuesday (May 11), 16.96% of the Brazilian population had taken the first dose of a vaccine and 8.54% had been fully vaccinated.

The National Health Surveillance Agency (Anvisa) recommended stopping the vaccination of pregnant women with the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab. Seven of the 27 federative units have so far followed the guidance. The suspension was made following the death of a pregnant woman after taking the vaccine in Rio de Janeiro. The death is being investigated by health authorities. Experts advise that pregnant women who have been vaccinated have medical monitoring and receive the second dose, because the risk of COVID-19 is greater than the possible side effects of the vaccine.

India's overall tally of COVID-19 cases has passed 23 million, while the death toll has surged past 250,000. A record 4205 deaths were reported on May 12. India's overall vaccination tally stands at 174 million doses. Pfizer is reportedly in discussions with India to make its vaccine available in the country. 

Apart from India, several South Asian countries are experiencing a surge of COVID-19 infections. On May 11, Nepal reported a record 9483 new cases and 225 deaths in 24 hours. The tiny island nation of Maldives reported a single day spike of more than 1500 cases on May 11. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka has imposed several restrictions to curb the COVID-19 surge, including a ban on inter-provincial travel and movement of traffic at night. Pakistan has imposed a 9-day shutdown to prevent a spike in COVID-19 infections following Eid celebrations.

The WHO has granted emergency authorisation to the COVID-19 vaccine from China's state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm. The move allows the COVAX programme to buy vaccine doses for several poor countries requiring assistance with vaccination.

Around 120,000 people in New Zealand have now been fully vaccinated. By May 9, the Government had achieved 107% of its vaccination target across the country. 

See more global coronavirus updates in Medscape’s Coronavirus Resource Centre.

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