S. Africa Expects Fourth Wave; New Zealand Curbs: Virus Update

New Zealand will enter a lockdown after reporting its first community transmission since February. South Africa expects a fourth wave of infections to start in early December and assumes a new variant will have emerged by then.

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Hong Kong announced it will hike quarantine for medium-risk places to 14 days. Business groups in the city are already opposing measures announced on Monday that curbed travel.

Meanwhile Singapore, which has been mulling opening its borders, said it’s considering a plan to allow groups of vaccinated travelers to enter the country on carefully controlled itineraries. The U.S. government is poised to offer booster shots as soon as next month.

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S. Africa Expects Fourth Wave, New Variant (4:11 p.m. HK)
South Africa expects a fourth wave of infections to start on Dec. 2 and to last about 75 days, said Salim Abdool Karim, former chairman of the government’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19.

The government assumes that the wave will follow a similar pattern to the current one and that there will be a new variant by then, he said at a Government Technical Advisory Centre conference. Data suggest the current wave will end around Aug. 26.

Poland to Let Employers Check Vaccinations (3:43 p.m. HK)
The Polish government expects parliament to approve regulations allowing employers to check whether workers are vaccinated, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski said in an interview with Wirtualna Polska. The rules, which may be voted on by parliament next month, would enable companies to move unvaccinated people away from jobs focused on direct contact with clients.

New Zealand Goes Into Lockdown (2:30 p.m. HK)
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put the nation into a three-day lockdown after reporting the first community case of Covid since February. The country will be placed in lockdown at midnight tonight after discovery of a single case in Auckland, Ardern said at a news conference in Wellington. Auckland and the nearby Coromandel region will be in lockdown for seven days.

“Going hard and early has worked for us before,” she told reporters. She said officials assume the case is the delta variant, adding that strain “has been called a game changer, and it is.”

S. Africa May Lower Age Limit (2:17 p.m. HK)
South Africa may open registrations to allow people aged between 18 and 34 to get vaccinated as early as this week, Eyewitness News reported, citing Health Minister Joe Phaahla. If the decision is made it would bring forward an earlier plan to allow that age group to begin registering on Sept. 1. The matter has been raised with the nation’s cabinet, he said, according to the Johannesburg-based news service.

India’s Record Vaccination (1:05 p.m. HK)
India administered a record 8.8 million shots in a day, according to a government statement. India has given 554.7 million doses so far, but only 8.9% of the country’s population is fully inoculated, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. India added 25,166 cases, while deaths rose by 437 to 432,079.

Delayed Wuhan Report (12:02 p.m. HK)
The origin story of Covid-19 remains a mystery mired in contentious geopolitical debate. But a research paper that languished in publishing limbo for a year and a half contains meticulously collected data and photographic evidence supporting scientists’ initial hypothesis—that the outbreak stemmed from infected wild animals—which prevailed until speculation that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from a nearby lab gained traction.

To read the full story, click here.

Booster Shots in the U.S. (11:50 a.m. HK)
The U.S. government is poised to offer booster shots as soon as next month, with the country facing a renewed wave of infections fueled by delta.

Biden administration officials are finalizing a plan expected to recommend booster shots eight months after people received their second dose, according to two people familiar with the deliberations who asked not to be identified. The plan is not yet finalized but an announcement could come as soon as this week, they said.

Singapore Pilot Programs (11:45 a.m. HK)
Singapore plans to set up pilot programs next month to allow vaccinated business travelers from some countries to enter on carefully controlled itineraries as it takes steps to reopen its borders.

Singapore is in talks with Germany, Australia, Canada and South Korea to be the first batch of countries for such arrangements, though it is also looking at the possibility of leisure travel, trade minister Gan Kim Yong told Bloomberg News in an interview Tuesday. He said factors like infections, vaccination rates and the ability to control outbreaks will be considered in these discussions.

Tsai Books Local Vaccine (11:40 a.m, HK)
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will be among the first people to get the first domestically developed Covid-19 vaccine next week. Tsai signed up to get the Medigen shot on Aug. 23, the first day it’s available to the public, according to a Presidential Office spokesman. Around 42,000 Taiwanese have registered for Medigen vaccines via the government website since Monday, local media reported.

Promoting self-produced vaccines has been a crucial step in the government’s strategy as Taiwan faced difficulties in acquiring enough foreign doses. As of now, over 39% of Taiwan’s total population has received at least one injection.

Hong Kong’s New Quarantine Rules (10:41 a.m. HK)
Hong Kong will end a short-lived rule that allowed travelers from most parts of the world to spend just one week quarantined in a hotel, provided they had an antibody test proving they were vaccinated.

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Hong Kong will no longer recognize the test results as a basis to shorten quarantines, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a briefing Tuesday. That effectively will leave New Zealand as the only country outside of China that qualifies for a seven-day quarantine for vaccinated travelers.

Business groups in the city reacted with dismay after travel curbs were tightened Monday for residents returning from more than a dozen countries — including the U.S., France and Spain.

Philippines Wants More Vaccines (10:20 a.m. HK)
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte asked for more vaccine doses from the U.S. In a taped briefing televised Monday night, he said the government is ready to pay for more supply. In the same briefing, the official leading the vaccine procurement, Carlito Galvez, said they expect 6 million shots to arrive this week after receiving 8.7 million shots in the previous two weeks. The government has so far administered 7.33 million shots this month, compared with a target for 15 million.

Delta Spreads Across Australia (10:15 a.m. HK)
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Australia’s delta outbreak continues to spread despite more than half the nation’s 26 million people being placed into lockdown. New South Wales state recorded 452 new cases on Tuesday, down from the record of 478 set the previous day, with the vast bulk of those infections detected in Sydney. Melbourne and national capital Canberra are also enforcing stay-at-home orders, and on Tuesday recorded 24 and 17 new cases respectively.

Authorities are increasingly concerned that the outbreak’s spreading into the continent’s interior is threatening vulnerable Indigenous populations. On Monday, the tropical city of Darwin was placed into a snap lockdown, while on Tuesday it was confirmed the virus had reached the Outback town of Broken Hill.

UBS Cuts China GDP Forecast (9:54 a.m. HK)
UBS Group AG lowered its projection for China’s full year GDP forecasts for 2021 and 2022 as well as for 3Q 2021 on the impact of the latest virus outbreak and slow infrastructure investment. Third-quarter GDP forecast was cut to 5.8% y/y from 6.3% y/y, while 2022 forecast was lowered to 5.8% from 6.2%. Tighter mobility restrictions and cautious consumer sentiment will likely linger even after the latest virus outbreak is contained, UBS economists led by Wang Tao wrote in a report late Monday.

China Cases Dwindle (9:51 a.m. HK)
Cases in China are dwindling amid an intense slew of curbs authorities have put in place. Only six symptomatic infections were reported on Tuesday, down from 90 a week ago.

In an interview with state-owned news agency Xinhua, Health Minister Ma Xiaowei vowed to keep the virus’s spread under control by the end of August to ensure life returns to normal as soon as possible.

Ma also reiterated containment effort as China’s priority and a “strong guarantee” for economic development and a sound investment environment. Ma told Xinhua the country’s health authorities will double down on measures to detect the virus’s breach from abroad early. He also vowed to strengthen curbs in hospitals treating Covid patients to avoid infections spreading into the community.

Meanwhile, Beijing Communist Party chief Cai Qi told the city’s officials to take detailed and customized measures to prevent spread of coronavirus at 2022 Winter Olympics venues, Beijing Daily reported.

Japan Set to Expand Emergency (9:29 a.m. HK)
Japan plans to expand its current virus emergency now in place for Tokyo and other areas to seven more prefectures as well as extend it to Sept. 12, trying to stem a delta variant-fueled surge that has sent infections to records.

Indonesia’s New Cases Lowest Since June (8:08 a.m. HK)
The country reported 17,384 confirmed infections on Monday, the fewest since June 23. One in five people tested were found to have the virus, a sign of insufficient testing. Indonesia continues to top the world’s tally of daily deaths, with 1,245 fatalities reported on Monday.

More cities on Java and Bali islands will be allowed to reopen shopping malls for people who are vaccinated with capacity limits, as the government extends curbs until Aug. 23.

Indonesia will also allow some export-oriented companies to operate with 100% workforce on site using two shifts and strict protocols, in a bid to find a way to reopen the economy.

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