COVID Passes, International Travel: COVID-19 Global Weekly Highlights

Medscape, Univadis, & MediQuality Staff

October 14, 2021

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

MPs published a critical report on the UK Government's initial pandemic response. It found that "decisions on lockdowns and social distancing during the early weeks of the pandemic—and the advice that led to them—rank as one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced". However, there was praise for the COVID-19 vaccination programme. Wales now requires a COVID pass for entry to nightclubs and large events. A COVID pass is only part of a possible 'Plan B' in England that would be implemented if the NHS comes under unsustainable pressure. UK positive COVID-19 tests have risen 13.5% over 7 days at a rate of 363.3 per 100,000 population. COVID-19 deaths rose 2.3% and hospital admissions by 5.5%. So far, 78.7% of the population aged 12 and over are fully vaccinated, and 85.6% have received a first dose.

With 5880 new cases on Tuesday, October 12, the number of new infections in France remains low but is up slightly compared with last week (5558). The national incidence rate stands at 43.5 cases per 100,000 population. The Scientific Council advocates "cautious optimism" about the country's coronavirus situation but is worried about potential epidemics of RSV and influenza on top of SARS-CoV-2.

From Friday, COVID-19 screening tests will be chargeable for unvaccinated people unless they have a prescription. However, they will remain free for all vaccinated people.

In terms of vaccination, on October 11, 85.4% of people over 12 years eligible for vaccination had received a complete vaccination schedule. Two large French studies have confirmed the real-life effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines against severe forms of the disease. Asked by FranceInfo about the vaccination of healthcare professionals, the Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, said that around 15,000 of them were not vaccinated, which means 0.6% could be suspended. He added that 0.1% had resigned following the vaccination requirement.

In Germany's intensive care units, it is mainly the unvaccinated who are struggling with severe COVID-19 disease. The proportion of vaccinated people in intensive care units was only 10% in the period from August to September.

The Robert Koch Institute emphasised: "That more vaccination breakthroughs will be recorded over time is to be expected, as generally more and more people are vaccinated and SARS-CoV-2 is currently spreading more again. This increases the likelihood of coming into contact with the virus as a fully vaccinated person."

Meanwhile, Curevac, a company based in Tübingen, Germany, is withdrawing its first COVID-19 vaccine from the approval process. The CVnCoV vaccine was significantly less effective than some other vaccines in clinical trials, with an efficacy of just 48%.

The 7-day incidence is 65.4 new infections per 100,000 population. A week ago, the figure was 62.3. There were 11,903 new COVID-19 infections reported on one day. A week ago, there were 11,547 infections.

According to the Federal Office of Public Health, 69% of people over 12 in Switzerland are fully vaccinated. Despite this low vaccination rate, the Federal Council's proposal to increase the low rate through a 50 franc financial incentive was rejected. What continues to be sought, on the other hand, is easier access to vaccination, for example through mobile vaccination centres.

Researchers at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne and the University Hospital Lausanne have discovered an antibody that neutralises all known variants. It could have a preventive effect on immunocompromised people who do not respond well to vaccination, and it could also protect people who are already infected from a severe course of the disease. Clinical trials are due to start at the end of 2022.

In Austria, 64.8% of the population had been vaccinated against COVID-19 at least once as of 12 October, and 61.4% had received a second dose. The 7-day incidence was 143.6 on 11 October - a significant drop from 163.1 on 15 September, at the time of the introduction of mandatory FFP2 masks. 

On Saturday, Portugal became the first country to reach the goal of having 85% of its population with a complete vaccination schedule against COVID-19, according to the Directorate-General of Health (DGS). In a statement, the Ministry of Health estimated that about 83% of young people from 12 to 17-years-old also had complete vaccination.

The third dose for seniors over 65 starts this week. Priority is given to people aged 80 and over and patients from nursing homes and the long-term care network. The administration of the booster dose to health professionals is under evaluation, but the group is not considered a priority. As for the immunosuppressed, to date, between 12,000 and 13,000 people have received an additional dose of vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.

Since October 1, all prevention measures adopted against COVID-19 were suspended. No certificate or negative test is required to enter bars or clubs, and the mandatory use of masks is now restricted to places such as nursing homes, hospitals, and large shops.

The latest DGS monitoring report indicates a national incidence of 82.9 cases per 100,000 population. On the continent, the incidence is 82.7 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

In Italy, incidence is stable under the threshold of 50 cases per 100,000 population. 80% of the population over 12 is fully vaccinated, while almost 85% have received at least one dose. More than 300,000 candidates for a booster dose (immunocompromised patients and over 80s) have already received it.

The fourth report of the National Health Institute, published last week, is optimistic: in Italy, 7 months after the vaccination campaign began, there is no reduction in the effectiveness (89%) of COVID-19 mRNA vaccines among the general population, although a slight decrease in the protection from infection may be detected in the elderly and especially in patients with comorbidities.

Starting from October 15, a Green Pass will be mandatory for all public and private sector workers. Unvaccinated staff will need to have repeated nose swabs (every 2 days) to prove their COVID status and will have to pay for the tests. Protests against the plan were held at the headquarters of the main trade union in Rome and the emergency department of one of the main hospitals in the capital.

Spain has lifted most of its restrictions due to the favourable evolution of the pandemic. According to the last report from the Ministry of Health on Monday 11 October, only 5.5% of ICU beds were occupied by patients with COVID-19 and hospitalisations were below 2000. The COVID-19 passport is only needed for travel. 

On Wednesday 13 the Ministry of Health and the regional governments discussed the next steps to take in the vaccination campaign after the approval of a booster dose in people over 70. Meanwhile, 77.8% of the Spanish population has already received two vaccine doses. The 12 to 19-year-old group is also very advanced in vaccination and already close to 80% (79.7) have been fully vaccinated. 

In the last week, the Americas reported more than 1.1 million new cases and just over 24,000 deaths related to COVID-19.

The Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), Carissa Etienne, said that Latin America and the Caribbean are on track to reach the WHO target of vaccinating 40% of their population by the end of the year. However, six countries have yet to vaccinate 20%: Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Haiti in the Caribbean, and Guatemala and Nicaragua in Central America. PAHO is working to accelerate vaccine delivery on the continent, including doses purchased by COVAX and donated ones.

When it comes to initiatives to extend vaccination against COVID-19 to children under 12 years of age, PAHO declared coverage should not be extended before completing the schedules for the most vulnerable.

In Mexico, a federal court has ordered health authorities to vaccinate all young people aged 12 to 17 years, regardless of their health status. This ruling can still be challenged by the Federal Government.

The US government has announced that, after almost 19 months, in November it will open its border with Mexico to non-essential travel. Travellers will only need to present proof of vaccination with one of the vaccines authorised by the WHO or the United States.

Mexico's Ministry of Health offers a COVID-19 Certificate of Vaccination as official proof that individuals have received the vaccine. Mexico has no restrictions on the entry of people from other countries.

The Chilean government granted a Mobility Pass to all fully vaccinated people over 12 years of age. From November, this pass may be used on public transport between regions.

In Uruguay, people entering the country must make a sworn statement declaring the absence of symptoms or contact with cases of COVID-19.

In Argentina, it is necessary to present a COVID-19 Certificate of Circulation to be able to use public transport in alert regions.

In Brazil, more than 46.72% of the population are completely vaccinated and on Monday more than 70.17% of the population has been partially vaccinated according to data from the consortium of press outlets that monitors pandemic numbers in the country.

On Monday (October 11), the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (Fiocruz) started enrolling volunteers to participate in phase 3 tests in Brazil of the antiviral molnupiravir, which could be another weapon against COVID-19. The drug works by preventing replication of the new coronavirus in the body. The results are due to be released in 6 months.

According to a survey carried out at the end of September by the National Confederation of Municipalities (CNM), fewer than 5% of the country's cities are enforcing proof of vaccination as a condition to access bars, restaurants, concerts, and events in closed places. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the two largest cities in the country, require proof by the use of a document issued by the Ministry of Health. However, since there is no national law, the imposition of the rule is at the discretion of each municipality, and many decisions are being challenged in court by owners of commercial and leisure businesses.

COVID-19 restrictions were lifted for vaccinated residents of New South Wales, Australia on October 11, a week earlier than planned, as the state is expected to achieve an 80% vaccination target soon. Unvaccinated individuals will remain under lockdown until December 1. The Australian Medical Association in a statement on October 7 warned that the rapid reopening of Sydney could be detrimental.

South Korea plans to donate 1.1 million doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam and 470,000 doses to Thailand. 

Starting on November 1, Thailand will remove quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated travellers arriving from at least 10 low-risk countries, including the UK, Singapore, Germany, China, and the US.

Malaysia has removed interstate and international travel restrictions for its fully vaccinated residents, after achieving its target of 90% vaccination among eligible adults. The country also approved booster doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on October 8. Adults who’ve completed at least 6 months since their second dose will be eligible for the booster. 

Singapore is considering allowing quarantine-free entry to vaccinated travellers from the US before the end of the year. The country has already successfully run pilots of 'Vaccinated Travel' lanes with Germany and Brunei, allowing fully vaccinated people from those countries to visit Singapore for business and leisure. 

On October 12, India's COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin was granted emergency use approval for 2 to 18-year-olds

Africa has reported at least 8,473,000 documented infections and 214,000 documented deaths due to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. Africa Centres for Disease and Prevention (Africa CDC) and the African Union (AU) have expressed their concern that the EU Digital COVID Passport does not recognise some of the vaccine doses that were donated to numerous African countries through the COVAX initiative.

South Africa launched on Friday 9 October the South African COVID-19 Vaccine Certificate System and started issuing the certificate to fully vaccinated adults. The Minister of Health said it could be used for travel and tourism, sport and recreation events, music festivals, and shops that are providing discounts and prizes for people who are vaccinated.

On October 1st the Ministry of Health announced that Morocco will soon start giving a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine. 

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

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