Majority of COVID-19 cases at large public events were among vaccinated -U.S. CDC study

(Reuters) – A new study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that three-quarters of individuals who became infected with COVID-19 at public events in a Massachusetts county had been fully vaccinated.

The study, published on Friday, showed that three-quarters of those infected were fully vaccinated, suggesting the Delta variant of the virus is highly contagious.

A separate CDC internal document, first reported by the Washington Post on Friday, described the Delta variant as being as transmissible as chickenpox and cautioned it could cause severe disease.

The new study’s authors recommended that local health authorities consider requiring masks in indoor public settings regardless of vaccination status or the number of coronavirus cases in the community.

The study identified 469 people with COVID-19, 74% of whom were fully vaccinated, following large public events in the state’s Barnstable County. Testing identified the Delta variant in 90% of virus specimens from 133 people.

The viral load was similar in people who were fully vaccinated and those who were unvaccinated, the CDC said.

High viral loads suggest an increased risk of transmission and raised concern that, unlike with other variants, vaccinated people infected with Delta can transmit the virus, it said.

The finding of the report “is concerning and was a pivotal discovery leading to CDC’s updated mask recommendation,” CDC director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

On Tuesday, the CDC reversed course on guidance for mask wearing, calling for their use in areas where cases are surging as a precaution against the possible transmission of the virus by fully vaccinated people.

“The masking recommendation was updated to ensure the vaccinated public would not unknowingly transmit virus to others, including their unvaccinated or immunocompromised loved ones,” Walensky said in a statement.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru; Editing by Howard Goller)

Britain warns COVID-19 could infect half Myanmar in next two weeks

By Michelle Nichols

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Britain’s U.N. ambassador warned on Thursday that half of Myanmar’s 54 million people could be infected with COVID-19 in the next two weeks as Myanmar’s envoy called for U.N. monitors to ensure an effective delivery of vaccines.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias. The United States, Britain and others have imposed sanctions on the military rulers over the coup and repression of pro-democracy protests in which hundreds have been killed.

“The coup has resulted in a near total collapse of the healthcare system, and health care workers are being attacked and arrested,” British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward told an informal Security Council discussion on Myanmar.

“The virus is spreading through the population, very fast indeed. By some estimates, in the next two weeks, half of the population of Myanmar could be infected with COVID,” she said.

Myanmar state media reported on Wednesday that the military ruler is looking for greater cooperation with other countries to contain the coronavirus.

Infections in the Southeast Asian country have surged since June, with 4,980 cases and 365 deaths reported on Wednesday, according to health ministry data cited in media. Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.

“In order to have smooth and effective COVID vaccination and providing humanitarian assistance, close-monitoring by the international community is essential,” Myanmar’s U.N. Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, who speaks for the elected civilian government, told the Security Council discussion.

“As such, we would like to request the U.N. in particular the Security Council to urgently establish a U.N.-led monitoring mechanism for effective COVID vaccination and smooth delivery of humanitarian assistance,” he said.

Myanmar recently received two million more Chinese vaccines, but it was believed to have only vaccinated about 3.2% of its population, according to a Reuters tracker.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

Isolated Myanmar calls for international help as COVID cases surge

(Reuters) -Myanmar’s military ruler is looking for greater cooperation with the international community to contain the coronavirus, state media reported on Wednesday, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a surging wave of infections.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called in a speech for more cooperation on prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19, including with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and “friendly countries,” the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with regular protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias. Various countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s military rulers over the coup and the repression of pro-democracy protests in which hundreds have been killed.

The junta leader said vaccinations needed to be increased, through both donated doses and by developing domestic production, aided by Russia, the newspaper said, adding Myanmar would seek the release of funds from an ASEAN COVID-19 fund.

Myanmar recently received two million more Chinese vaccines, but it was believed to have only vaccinated about 3.2% of its population, according to a Reuters tracker. A drive to vaccinate some 40,000 inmates in densely packed prisons, which have seen major virus outbreaks recently, started on Wednesday, state-run MRTV reported.

The military has appeared wary of outside help in past disasters, forcing Myanmar’s people to help each other, though a previous junta did allow in aid via ASEAN after a devastating cyclone in 2008.

There have been desperate efforts by people to find oxygen in many parts of the country. The Myanmar Now news portal, citing witnesses, reported that at least eight people died in a Yangon hospital at the weekend after a piped oxygen system failed.

Reuters could not independently confirm the report and the North Okkalapa General Hospital and a health ministry spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Infections in Myanmar have surged since June, with 4,980 cases and 365 deaths reported on Wednesday, according to health ministry data cited in media. Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.

Last week, prisoners in Yangon staged a protest over what activists said was a major COVID-19 outbreak in the colonial-era Insein jail, where many pro-democracy protesters are being held.

Vaccinations began at Insein and a prison in the capital Naypyitaw on Wednesday and would be extended to inmates countrywide, MRTV reported, citing the prisons department.

Efforts to tackle the outbreak have been further hampered by some of the worst flooding in years in eastern Myanmar.

Despite Min Aung Hlaing agreeing to an ASEAN peace plan reached in April, the military has shown little sign of following through on it and has instead reiterated its own, entirely different plan to restore order and democracy.

The military justified its coup by accusing Suu Kyi’s party of manipulating votes in a November general election to secure a landslide victory. The electoral commission at the time and outside observers rejected the complaints.

But in a further sign of the junta’s tightening grip on power, the military-appointed election commission this week officially annulled the November results, saying the vote was not in line with the constitution and electoral laws, and was not “free and fair,” MRTV reported.

(Reporting by Reuters StaffWriting by Ed Davies and John Geddie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Thailand builds COVID-19 hospital in Bangkok airport amid surge in cases

By Juarawee Kittisilpa and Artorn Pookasook

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thai volunteers on Wednesday turned a cargo warehouse at Bangkok’s Don Muang Airport into a 1,800-bed field hospital for COVID-19 patients with less severe symptoms, as the country deals with its biggest outbreak to date.

The Southeast Asian nation reported a daily record of 16,533 new cases, plus 133 new deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total accumulated cases to 543,361 and 4,397 deaths.

Workers drilled walls for toilet installations and set up beds and blankets.

“This is a level 1+ field hospital where it can receive a large number of patients, who have less severe symptoms,” Rienthong Nanna, director of Mongkutwattana Hospital, told Reuters.

“But if patients’ conditions deteriorate, they will be moved to our other field hospital called Pitak Rachan (Protect the King) Field Hospital,” he added.

Rienthong, a retired major-general and an ultra-royalist leader, said the field hospital was not up and running yet as more preparations were needed.

The number of infections will continue to climb and more field hospitals will be needed, he added.

Rienthong and volunteers held a small ceremony on the occasion of King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s 69th birthday to unofficially inaugurate their third field hospital named “Tai Rom Prabaramee,” which means “under the glory of His Majesty.”

The spike in COVID-19 cases in the capital has put pressure on the city’s health system and the government has faced public criticism over a slow rollout of vaccines.

Thailand aims to inoculate 50 million people by the end of the year, but so far only 5.6% of its more than 66 million population are fully vaccinated, while 19.2% have received at least one dose.

(Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa and Artorn Pookasook; Writing by Orathai Sriring; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Britain reports highest deaths from COVID-19 since March as Johnson urges caution

By Alistair Smout and Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain reported its highest number of deaths and people in hospital with coronavirus since March on Tuesday, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson urging caution despite a week of lower reported numbers of infection.

Britain reported 131 new deaths from COVID-19, the highest daily total since March 17, though it came after just 14 deaths were reported on Monday, suggesting the weekend might have impacted when deaths were reported.

The number of COVID-19 patients in British hospitals has also steadily risen to 5,918, also the highest since March, following a spike in cases earlier this month.

The number of new infections has fallen each day for the last seven days, though Johnson stressed the pandemic was not over.

“It is very, very important that we don’t allow ourselves to run away with premature conclusions about (lower case numbers),” Johnson told broadcasters, noting it would take a while for the lifting of restrictions in England to feed through to the data.

“People have got to remain very cautious and that remains the approach of the government.”

Johnson has lifted restrictions in England and is betting he can get one of Europe’s largest economies firing again because so many people are now vaccinated, a decision which marks a new chapter in the response to the novel coronavirus.

Imperial College epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said the effective end of Britain’s pandemic could be just months away as vaccines have so dramatically reduced the risk of hospitalization and death.

“We’re not completely out of the woods but the equation has fundamentally changed,” Ferguson, whose modelling of the virus’s likely spread at the outset of the pandemic in early 2020 alarmed governments across the world, told the BBC.

“I’m positive that by late September, October time we will be looking back at most of the pandemic.”

ON THE WAY DOWN

Johnson lifted COVID-19 restrictions in England on July 19. New daily cases in the current wave peaked two days earlier at 54,674 and have since fallen dramatically, to 23,511 new cases on Tuesday.

The closure of schools for summer, the end of the Euro 2020 soccer championships and warmer weather are among factors epidemiologists say might have reduced social mixing indoors and therefore cases, even as England’s economy has fully reopened.

Case numbers have been falling for longer in Scotland, where the recent peak in new infections was on July 1, than in England, corresponding to an earlier elimination from the Euros.

“Both of them seem to coincide in some ways with the end of activity in the Euro 2020 tournament,” Rowland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, told Reuters, adding that changes in testing patterns might mean that the sharpness of the drop is overstated in daily testing figures.

“(Cases) may go up again, because we’re only just going to be starting to see the effect of the complete release of restrictions associated with July 19 in England. So there may still be rises yet to come.”

Britain has one of the highest official fatality rates from COVID-19 in the world, with 129,303 deaths, but vaccinations and lockdowns have greatly slowed the rate since March.

Scotland’s National Clinical Director Jason Leitch said a gradual return to usual social activity would help smooth the end of the current wave, but that the next few weeks would be unpredictable.

“On the way down is always bumpier than the exponential rise on the way up,” he told Reuters.

(Reporting by Sarah Young and Alistair Smout; Additional reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Janet Lawrence, Catherine Evans, William Maclean and Mike Harrison)

Factbox: Latest on the worldwide spread of the coronavirus

(Reuters) – The EU is on course to hit a target of fully vaccinating at least 70% of its adult population by the end of summer, given that same percentage of over-18s has now already received a first dose, the European Commission said.

DEATHS AND INFECTIONS

EUROPE

* Ireland became the latest European Union member state to commit to offering COVID-19 vaccines to children aged 12-15 as it opened its strongly subscribed program to 16 and 17-year old’s.

* Greece said children aged 12-15 could be vaccinated with Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna shots.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* Tokyo’s 2,848 COVID-19 infections are the highest tally that the Olympic host city has reported since the pandemic began, officials said, as media reported that authorities had asked hospitals to prepare more beds for patients, with the Delta variant driving the surge.

* India will meet its target of supplying more than half a billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to its states by the end of this month, the health ministry said, but added not all doses may be administered by then.

* Moderna has pushed back its late-July vaccine shipment schedule for South Korea to August due to supply problems that will also affect other countries awaiting its shots, South Korean health officials said.

* Australia’s Victoria state will lift a strict lockdown, while neighboring New South Wales faces an extension of restrictions after daily new cases spiked to a 16-month peak.

AMERICAS

* The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is set to announce revised mask guidance for fully vaccinated Americans in the wake of rising COVID-19 cases.

* Argentina’s government has signed a deal with U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer to acquire 20 million doses of vaccines to be delivered this year, Health Minister Carla Vizzotti told reporters.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* Saudi Arabia will impose a three-year travel ban on citizens travelling to countries on the kingdom’s ‘red list’ under efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus and its new variants, state news agency SPA said.

* Nigeria expects to take delivery of 29 million doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine in August, allowing it to ramp up its vaccination program just as a third wave of infections takes hold, the health minister said.

* Israel is considering giving a third shot of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to its elderly population even before FDA approval to help fend off the Delta variant.

MEDICAL DEVELOPMENTS

* Antibodies triggered by Sinovac Biotech’s vaccine decline below a key threshold from around six months after a second dose for most recipients, although a third shot could have a strong booster effect, according to a lab study.

* Russia has given the green light for clinical trials combining a shot from AstraZeneca and Britain’s Oxford University with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to go ahead.

* Moderna is in talks with U.S. regulators to expand the size of an ongoing trial testing its vaccines in children aged between five and 11.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* World stocks fell after investors sold Chinese internet giants for a third straight day, while real U.S. bond yields hit record lows on worries about the economic outlook ahead of a Federal Reserve meeting.

* The International Monetary Fund maintained its 6% global growth forecast for 2021, upgrading its outlook for the United States and other wealthy economies but cutting estimates for a number of developing countries struggling with surging COVID-19 infections.

(Compiled by Veronica Snoj and Ramakrishnan M.; Editing by Grant McCool, Maju Samuel, Sriraj Kalluvila and Gareth Jones)

Saudi Arabia threatens 3-year travel ban for citizens who visit “red list” states

LONDON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will impose a three-year travel ban on citizens travelling to countries on the kingdom’s ‘red list’ under efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus and its new variants, state news agency SPA said on Tuesday.

It cited an unnamed interior ministry official as saying some Saudi citizens, who in May were allowed to travel abroad without prior permission from authorities for the first time since March 2020, had violated travel regulations.

“Anyone who is proven to be involved will be subject to legal accountability and heavy penalties upon their return, and will be banned from travel for three years,” the official said.

Saudi Arabia has banned travel to or transit at a number of countries including Afghanistan, Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan, South Africa, Turkey, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates.

“The Ministry of Interior stresses that citizens are still banned from travelling directly or via another country to these states or any other that has yet to control the pandemic or where the new strains have spread,” the official said.

The kingdom, the largest Gulf state with a population of some 30 million, on Tuesday recorded 1,379 new COVID-19 infections, bringing its total to 520,774 cases and 8,189 deaths.

It saw daily infections fall from a peak above 4,000 in June 2020 to below the 100 mark in early January.

(Reporting by Marwa Rashad; additional reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

People with allergic reaction to mRNA vaccines can get 2nd dose; Delta viral load over 1,000 times higher

By Nancy Lapid

(Reuters) – The following is a roundup of some of the latest scientific studies on the novel coronavirus and efforts to find treatments and vaccines for COVID-19.

Most with allergy to first mRNA shot can get second dose

Most people with allergic reactions to the first dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine from either Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna can safely receive the second dose, a new study shows. The rates of allergic reactions to these vaccines have been reported to be as high as 2%, with anaphylaxis, the most serious kind, occurring in up to 2.5 of every 10,000 vaccine recipients, the researchers said. They reviewed data on 189 adults with first-dose reactions to one of these vaccines, such as flushing, dizziness or lightheadedness, tingling, throat tightness, hives, and wheezing or shortness of breath. Most of these adults – 84% – received the second dose of the vaccine, with about a third taking an antihistamine beforehand. All of them tolerated the second dose, including those with first-dose anaphylactic reactions. Any potentially allergic symptoms that developed after the second dose were mild and easily controlled, the researchers reported on Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. “Complete two-dose vaccination has become even more important with the Delta variant and we suspect there are many more people who did not get their second shot because of allergic symptoms,” said coauthor Dr. Matthew Krantz from Vanderbilt University. “Our data suggest that most patients with immediate and potentially allergic reactions to mRNA COVID-19 vaccines tolerate a second dose,” his team concluded.

Delta viral load 1,000 times higher than original virus

Chinese researchers tracking a recent COVID-19 outbreak in China found that people infected with the Delta variant carry 1,260 times more virus in their noses compared to those infected in the first wave of the pandemic. The higher load means the virus spreads far more easily from person to person, increasing infections and hospitalizations, they reported ahead of peer review in a paper first posted on medRxiv earlier in July and updated on Friday. The interval between when people were exposed to infected individuals and when they themselves were diagnosed decreased from an average of 6 days in 2020 to 4 days during the Delta outbreak, the researchers found. The Delta variant is “outcompeting all other viruses because it just spreads so much more efficiently,” said Shane Crotty of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in San Diego, who was not involved in the Chinese study. In the United States, Delta accounts for about 83% of new infections, with unvaccinated people representing nearly 97% of severe cases.

Popular antacids not linked to severe COVID-19 outcomes

Widely-used antacid medications known as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are not linked with severe COVID-19 outcomes, a new study found. Researchers with the U.S. Veterans Affairs Health Care System analyzed data on nearly 15,000 veterans with positive COVID-19 tests, about 42% of whom were using PPIs such as Procter & Gamble’s Prilosec (omeprazole), Takeda Pharmaceuticals’ Prevacid (lansoprazole), and AstraZeneca’s Nexium (esomeprazole). After taking patients’ underlying COVID-19 risk factors into account, the risk of becoming sick enough to need mechanical ventilation or to die within two months of diagnosis was no different between regular PPI users and non-users, the researchers reported on Sunday on medRxiv ahead of peer review. “With respect to COVID-19,” the researchers concluded, “patients and providers should feel safe to continue to use PPIs at the lowest effective dose for approved indications.”

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid and Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

How the Delta variant upends assumptions about the coronavirus

By Julie Steenhuysen, Alistair Smout and Ari Rabinovitch

(Reuters) – The Delta variant is the fastest, fittest and most formidable version of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 the world has encountered, and it is upending assumptions about the disease even as nations loosen restrictions and open their economies, according to virologists and epidemiologists.

Vaccine protection remains very strong against severe disease and hospitalizations caused by any version of the coronavirus, and those most at risk are still the unvaccinated, according to interviews with 10 leading COVID-19 experts.

But evidence is mounting that the Delta variant, first identified in India, is capable of infecting fully vaccinated people at a greater rate than previous versions, and concerns have been raised that they may even spread the virus, these experts said.

As a result, targeted use of masks, social distancing and other measures may again be needed even in countries with broad vaccination campaigns, several of them said.

Israel recently reinstated mask-wearing requirements indoors and requires travelers to quarantine upon arrival.

U.S. officials are considering whether to revise mask guidance for the vaccinated. Los Angeles County, the most populous in the United States, is again requiring masks even among the vaccinated in indoor public spaces.

“The biggest risk to the world at the moment is simply Delta,” said microbiologist Sharon Peacock, who runs Britain’s efforts to sequence the genomes of coronavirus variants, calling it the “fittest and fastest variant yet.”

Viruses constantly evolve through mutation, with new variants arising. Sometimes these are more dangerous than the original.

The major worry about the Delta variant is not that it makes people sicker, but that it spreads far more easily from person to person, increasing infections and hospitalizations among the unvaccinated.

Public Health England said on Friday that of a total of 3,692 people hospitalized in Britain with the Delta variant, 58.3% were unvaccinated and 22.8% were fully vaccinated.

In Singapore, where Delta is the most common variant, government officials reported on Friday that three quarters of its coronavirus cases occurred among vaccinated individuals, though none were severely ill.

Israeli health officials have said 60% of current hospitalized COVID-19 cases are in vaccinated people. Most of them are age 60 or older and often have underlying health problems.

In the United States, which has experienced more COVID-19 cases and deaths than any other country, the Delta variant represents about 83% of new infections. So far, unvaccinated people represent nearly 97% of severe cases.

Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious diseases doctor at the University of California, San Francisco, said many vaccinated people are “so disappointed” that they are not 100% protected from mild infections. But the fact that nearly all Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 right now are unvaccinated “is pretty astounding effectiveness,” she said.

‘TEACHING US A LESSON’

“There is always the illusion that there is a magic bullet that will solve all our problems. The coronavirus is teaching us a lesson,” said Nadav Davidovitch, director of Ben Gurion University’s school of public health in Israel.

The Pfizer Inc/BioNTech vaccine, one of the most effective against COVID-19 so far, appeared only 41% effective at halting symptomatic infections in Israel over the past month as the Delta variant spread, according to Israeli government data. Israeli experts said this information requires more analysis before conclusions can be drawn.

“Protection for the individual is very strong; protection for infecting others is significantly lower,” Davidovitch said.

A study in China found that people infected with the Delta variant carry 1,000 times more virus in their noses compared with the original version first identified in Wuhan in 2019.

“You may actually excrete more virus and that’s why it’s more transmissible. That’s still being investigated,” Peacock said.

Virologist Shane Crotty of the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in San Diego noted that Delta is 50% more infectious than the Alpha variant first detected in the UK.

“It’s outcompeting all other viruses because it just spreads so much more efficiently,” Crotty said.

Genomics expert Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California, noted that Delta infections have a shorter incubation period and a far higher amount of viral particles.

“That’s why the vaccines are going to be challenged. The people who are vaccinated have got to be especially careful. This is a tough one,” Topol said.

In the United States, the Delta variant has taken hold just as many Americans – vaccinated and not – have stopped wearing masks indoors.

“It’s a double whammy,” Topol said. “The last thing you want is to loosen restrictions when you’re confronting the most formidable version of the virus yet.”

The development of highly effective vaccines may have led many people to believe that once vaccinated, COVID-19 posed little threat to them.

“When the vaccines were first developed, nobody was thinking that they were going to prevent infection,” said Carlos del Rio, a professor of medicine and infectious disease epidemiology at Emory University in Atlanta. The aim was always to prevent severe disease and death, del Rio added.

The vaccines were so effective, however, that there were signs they also prevented transmission against prior coronavirus variants.

“We got spoiled,” he said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago, Alistair Smout in London, Ari Rabinovitch and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Will Dunham and Bill Berkrot)

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Sydney’s outbreak throws spotlight on vaccine rollout

Australia’s New South Wales state on Friday reported its biggest daily rise in new COVID-19 cases this year, prompting a tighter lockdown in Sydney and a request for additional vaccine doses that was rebuffed by other state leaders.

Australia reported another record day for vaccination with almost 200,000 doses delivered in one day. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who on Thursday apologized for the slow pace of inoculation, said the latest data signaled the country’s vaccination rollout had turned a corner.

New Zealand will pause its quarantine-free travel arrangement with Australia for at least eight weeks starting Friday night, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

Philippines to bar travel from Malaysia, Thailand

The Philippines will suspend travel from Malaysia and Thailand, as well as tighten restrictions in the Manila area, in a bid to prevent the spread of the contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, the presidential spokesperson said on Friday.

The travel restriction will take effect from Sunday and run to the end of July.

Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City extends lockdown

Vietnam will extend a strict lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City until Aug. 1, state media reported on Friday.

After successfully containing the virus for much of the pandemic, Vietnam has been facing a complicated outbreak of the virus, with southern business hub Ho Chi Minh City and surrounding provinces accounting for most new infections.

Banking and securities services in the city will be reduced to minimal levels, while unnecessary construction projects will be suspended.

Taiwan to ease restrictions as cases drop

Taiwan will ease its COVID-19 restrictions next week, the government said on Friday, as rapidly falling case numbers give authorities confidence to further lower the alert level.

Taiwan imposed restrictions on gatherings, including closing entertainment venues and limiting restaurants to take-out service, in mid-May following a spike in domestic cases after months of no or few cases apart from imported ones.

While some of those curbs were eased this month, the so-called level 3 alert has been in force and is due to end on July 26.

Pfizer says U.S. govt buying 200 mln more doses

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech said on Friday the U.S. government had purchased 200 million additional doses of their COVID-19 vaccine and had the option to buy an updated version of the vaccine targeting new variants of the virus.

The announcement brings the total number of the doses to be supplied to the United States to 500 million, out of which roughly 208 million doses have already been delivered.

A longer gap between doses of Pfizer’s vaccine leads to higher overall antibody levels than a shorter gap, a British study found on Friday, but there is a sharp drop in antibody levels after the first dose.

Sinopharm’s shot offers weaker protection among elderly

Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine was less effective in offering protection against the disease among the elderly, according to the results of a Hungarian study.

The study of 450 participants who had received two doses of the vaccine showed measurable antibody levels were present in about 90% of people under the age of 50, but the protection reduced as age increased.

(Compiled by Linda Noakes; Editing by Joe Bavier)