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-Top News COVID-19

Expert alarms presence of new Omicron sub-variant in India

The sub-variant is worth “keeping a close eye” on, Thomas Peacock, a scientist at Imperial College London, said on Twitter…reports Asian Lite News

About 10 states in India have detected a new sub-variant of Omicron BA.2.75, which may be “alarming” in nature, according to an Israeli expert on Sunday.

However, the Indian Health Ministry is yet to officially confirm the detection of the sub-variant in the country.

In a series of Tweets, Dr. Shay Fleishon, with the Central Virology Laboratory at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, said that 85 sequences from eight countries have been uploaded so far on Nextstrain, an open-source platform of genomic data.

This included 69 from India: Delhi (1), Haryana (6), Himachal Pradesh (3), Jammu (1), Karnataka (10), Madhya Pradesh (5), Maharashtra (27), Telangana (2), Uttar Pradesh (1), and West Bengal (13).

Besides India, the strain has also been reported by seven other countries: Japan (1), Germany (2), the UK (6), Canada (2), the US (2), Australia (1), and New Zealand (2), according to the Nextstrain data.

“No transmission could be tracked based on sequences outside India yet,” Fleishon wrote on Twitter.

While he said it is “too soon to tell” whether BA.2.75 will be the next dominant variant, he noted that the sub-variant may be “alarming because it may imply a trend to come”.

Fleishon explained that in recent months, there has been a trend of second generation variants based on Omicron sub-lineages, namely BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, and BA.5.

This was based on Omicron lineages with mutations in the S1 section of the spike protein and specifically in the part of the spike protein which the virus uses to connect to and gain entry into cells.

However, the rise seen in these sub-variants has been “at a level not seen in second-generation variants from other variants of concerns”.

Further, until now these second-generation variants have only been found in a few cases within one region. This is the first time a second-generation variant from Omicron has spread to multiple regions.

“The fact that such a divergent 2nd gen variant can succeed inter-host is alarming. It means that if BA.2.75 will not succeed, and even if it will, other 2nd gen might grow better over time,” Fleishon said.

The sub-variant is worth “keeping a close eye” on, Thomas Peacock, a scientist at Imperial College London, said on Twitter.

The BA.2.75 was also flagged by Bloom Lab at the Fred Hutch research institute in the US.

In a tweet, posted this week, the institute said the sub-variant “is worth tracking, as it has appreciable antigenic change relative to its parent BA.2”.

The lab pointed to two mutations as key: G446S and R493Q.

“G446S is at one of most potent sites of escape from antibodies elicited by current vaccines that still neutralises BA.2. So for immunity from vaccines or early infections, adding G446S to BA.2 will decrease neutralisation,” the lab said.

“However, G446S will have less effect on antibodies of people with prior BA.1 breakthrough infection. Therefore, BA.2.75’s antigenic advantage relative to BA.2 will be most pronounced in people who have not had BA.1 exposure,” it said.

This means that “BA.2.75 will have antibody escape that is similar to that for BA.4/5 with respect to the current vaccine”.

The R493Q mutation, on the other hand, seems to increase the virus’s ability to attach to ACE2 — the protein which the Covid virus uses to enter cells.

ALSO READ-Omicron variants: US FDA backs Covid boosters

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Africa News COVID-19

Africa’s Covid-19 cases pass 11.77 mn

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Africa reached 11,770,537 as of Sunday evening, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said…reports Asian Lite News

The Africa CDC, the specialised healthcare agency of the African Union, said the death toll from the pandemic across the continent stands at 253,994, Xinhua news agency reported.

Some 11,207,766 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease so far, according to the Africa CDC data.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt are among the countries with the most cases in the continent, according to the agency.

ALSO READ:Africa’s Covid-19 cases surpass 11.74 mn: Africa CDC

South Africa has recorded the most Covid-19 cases in Africa with 3,991,944, while the northern African country Morocco reported 1,202,461 cases as of Sunday evening, it was noted.

In terms of the caseload, southern Africa is the most affected region, followed by the northern and eastern parts of the continent, while central Africa is the least affected region in the continent, according to the Africa CDC.

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-Top News COVID-19

Fresh concern over 2 Omicron variants, surge in UK Covid cases

The country dropped nearly all of its Covid restrictions months ago. Apart from the Omicron variant – that took hold of the UK towards the end of 2021…reports Asian Lite News

Scientists in Britain have warned of another fresh Covid wave as the United Kingdom logged over 15,800 new cases on Tuesday. Last week, British health officials also expressed concerns that there were “early signs the country could be at the start of a new wave of infections driven by Omicron variants,” news agency AP reported Tuesday. The new BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the Omicron variant are said to be closer to the earlier, ‘more dangerous’ Alpha and Delta variants as against the highly transmissible but milder Omicron, The Independent, a UK media outlet, reported, citing experts.

Although hospitalisation rates have so far remained “very low,” UK’s fresh infections have been hovering above the 10,000-mark since June 12. In the week ending June 19, the UK recorded a 43 per cent increase in its fresh cases, AP reported. In a period of ten days (from June 12 to 21) the UK has recorded over 1.24 lakh new infections. This as the number of fresh cases globally went down by 3 per cent as per World Health Organisation. “There were 3.3 million new Covid-19 infections last week, marking a 4 per cent decrease, with more than 7,500 deaths. But cases jumped by about 6 per cent in Europe,” the global health body was quoted as saying.

The country dropped nearly all of its Covid restrictions months ago. Apart from the Omicron variant – that took hold of the UK towards the end of 2021, the experts are also attributing the spike to street parties, concerts and other festivities celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s platinum jubilee earlier this month.

Elsewhere in Europe, France is already facing a new wave of Covid-19 infections fuelled by new variants of the disease, French vaccination chief Alain Fischer said as per Reuters, as daily new cases reached an almost two-month peak at more than 95,000 infections on Tuesday.

ALSO READ-US facing double whammy: Omicron variants & fuel price

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Africa News COVID-19

Africa’s Covid-19 cases surpass 11.74 mn: Africa CDC

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Africa reached 11,742,933 as of Tuesday evening, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said…reports Asian Lite News

The Africa CDC, the specialised healthcare agency of the African Union, said the toll from the pandemic across the continent stands at 253,833, Xinhua news agency reported.

Nearly 11,116,774 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease so far, according to the Africa CDC data.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt are among the countries with the most cases in the continent, according to the agency.

ALSO READ:Africa’s Covid-19 cases surpass 11.73 mn

South Africa has recorded the most Covid-19 cases in Africa with 3,986,892 cases, while the northern African country Morocco reported 1,189,656 cases as of Tuesday evening, it said.

In terms of the caseload, southern Africa is the most affected region, followed by the northern and eastern parts of the continent, while central Africa is the least affected region in the continent, according to the Africa CDC.

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Africa News COVID-19

Africa’s Covid-19 cases surpass 11.73 mn

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Africa reached 11,731,495 as of Monday evening, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said…reports Asian Lite News

The Africa CDC, the specialised healthcare agency of the African Union, added the toll from the pandemic across the continent stands at 253,772, Xinhua news agency reported.

Nearly 11,108,885 patients across the continent have recovered from the disease so far, according to the Africa CDC data.

South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt are among the countries with the most cases in the continent, according to the agency.

ALSO READ:South African minister welcomes Covid vax patent waiver

South Africa has recorded the most Covid-19 cases in Africa with 3,984,646 cases, while the northern African country Morocco reported 1,185,990 cases as of Monday evening, it said.

In terms of the caseload, southern Africa is the most affected region, followed by the northern and eastern parts of the continent, while central Africa is the least affected region in the continent, according to the Africa CDC.

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Africa News COVID-19

South African minister welcomes Covid vax patent waiver

South African Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel welcomed the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) agreement to waive Covid-19 vaccine patents…reports Asian Lite News

South African Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition Ebrahim Patel welcomed the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) agreement to waive Covid-19 vaccine patents, 20 months after the country proposed a broad waiver to combat the pandemic.

The WTO’s 12th Ministerial Conference at the organization’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, with members agreeing on key issues such as pandemic response and TRIPS (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights) waiver related to Covid-19, reports Xinhua news agency.

The recent agreement allows governments to authorize local manufacturers to produce vaccines or their ingredients, substances or elements and utilise processes which are covered by patents without the permission of the patent holders for five years.

South Africa and India first proposed the waiver to the WTO in October 2020, with support of other developing countries during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

ALSO READ:African countries acquire 818mn Covid-19 vaccine doses

South Africa “fought” for the agreement until it was concluded in the early hours on Friday morning, Patel told a media briefing.

For a number of months after South Africa tabled the proposal, developed countries blocked any attempt to get that discussion to move into text-based negotiation, he added.

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-Top News COVID-19 USA

US okays Covid vaccines for children as young as 6 months

For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the FDA amended the EUA to include use of the jab in individuals 6 months through 4 years of age, reports Asian Lite News

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized emergency use of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines for children as young as 6 months, the first for kids in this age group.

For the Moderna vaccine, the FDA on Friday amended the emergency use authorization (EUA) to include use of the jab in individuals 6 months through 17 years of age, reports Xinhua news agency.

The vaccine was previously authorised for people above the age of 18.

For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the FDA amended the EUA to include use of the jab in individuals 6 months through 4 years of age.

The vaccine had been previously authorized for use in individuals 5 years and older.

The FDA said its evaluation and analysis of the safety, effectiveness and manufacturing data of these vaccines was rigorous and comprehensive, supporting the EUAs.

The agency determined that the known and potential benefits of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines outweigh the known and potential risks in the pediatric populations authorized for use for each vaccine.

The Moderna vaccine is administered as a primary series of two doses, one month apart.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered as a primary series of three doses in which the initial two doses are administered three weeks apart followed by a third dose administered at least eight weeks after the second dose.

The FDA’s decision came after a meeting of its advisors earlier this week, which voted to recommend the two vaccines.

The advisory committee meeting was part of a transparent process to help the public have a clear understanding of the safety and effectiveness data supporting the authorization of these two vaccines for paediatric populations, Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said on Friday.

“Those trusted with the care of children can have confidence in the safety and effectiveness of these Covid-19 vaccines and can be assured that the agency was thorough in its evaluation of the data,” said FDA Commissioner Robert Califf in a statement.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is scheduled to convene an advisors’ meeting on Saturday to vote on guidelines for pharmacies and doctor’s offices to give the shots.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky then has to sign off on those guidelines before kids can start receiving the shots.

The White House expects vaccinations to begin as soon as June 21.

Appointments might be limited initially but every parent who wants to get their child vaccinated should be able to do so within weeks, according to Ashish Jha, who oversees the Biden administration’s Covid-19 response.

ALSO READ: COVID FUELS CHILD LABOUR

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Africa News COVID-19

COVID FUELS CHILD LABOUR

African countries are struggling to stem child labour as situation worsened by COVID-19 pandemic

As the world commemorated the World Day Against Child Labor, Uganda said it is making effort to eliminate the vice, which has been exacerbated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Uganda National Household Survey 2019/2020 shows that child labor increased to 36 percent up from 21 percent. When government reopened schools in January this year after about two years of closure because of the pandemic, one in 10 school children did not report back to school, according to figures by the United Nations Children’s Fund. Many are believed to have slipped into child labor.

Children aged between 5-17 years engage activities including household chores, selling commodities on streets, working on plantations, in stone quarries, among others. According to Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 45 percent of children from households living below the poverty line are forced out of school to work and supplement their parents’ incomes.

A Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development statement issued here on Sunday said government developed the National Child Labor Policy and Employment Act, which acts as the principal legal framework to curb child labor.

Government has stepped up labor inspection and enforcement of labor standards to ensure compliance with laws against child labor, according to the statement.

Government rolled out Universal Primary Education, which provides for free primary education for all school going age children. Children whose guardians could not afford tuition fees had an opportunity to go to school. Primary school enrolment was at 8.8 million in 2017 and literacy rate is at 76 percent.

According to the ministry, government has rolled out several wealth creation programs aimed at increasing household incomes, which will economically empower families and stop children from involving in child labor.

Bernard Amuriat, the assistant commissioner for labor inspection at the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, argued that government alone cannot eradicate child labor without everyone’s involvement including parents, development partners and leaders.

ALSO READ:China hits back at WHO report on Covid origins

Amuriat said central and local governments are coming up with ordinances to supplement the national laws. Lower local governments are enacting by-laws to protect children. Those who are found working during school time are rounded up.

Many of the child laborers especially in the capital Kampala are from the semi-arid northeastern Uganda, which sometimes faces food insecurity. Amuriat said there are efforts to come up with a declaration. At the village level in the region, there are committees which create awareness and intercept children who are being smuggled to Kampala. Intelligence has also been beefed up to arrest smugglers.

Crisis in Zanzibar

Tanzania’s Zanzibar authorities vowed to end child labor as they marked the World Day Against Child Labor.

Mudrik Ramadhan Soraga, the Minister of State in the President’s Office responsible for Labor, Economy and Investment, said since 2005 authorities have been taking measures aimed at curbing child labor.

“The government has enacted laws that provide for protection of children against child labor,” Soraga told a news conference.

He said there are about 25,803 children aged between five and 17 that are experiencing child labor in the Zanzibar archipelago.

About 2,256 children, including 840 girls, have been rescued from child labor in different parts of Zanzibar’s twin islands of Unguja and Pemba, said Soraga.

The International Labour Organization started observing World Day Against Child Labor in 2002 to highlight the plight of children who are the victims of child labour.

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Africa News COVID-19

Kenyans rush for vaccines as Covid-19 cases surge

The number of Kenyans getting Covid-19 vaccinations has increased significantly following a spike in new infections, the Health Ministry said…reports Asian Lite News

At least 20,000 Kenyans are being vaccinated daily across the east African nation, an increase from an average of 3,000 in the last three months when infections had plummeted.

The Ministry said on Thursday that it vaccinated 24,798 people on Wednesday, and on Tuesday, 23,514 took the jabs, Xinhua news agency reported.

The country has vaccinated 18.3 million citizens, among whom 16.5 million are adults, the Ministry added.

Since March, vaccination had slowed down, but a rise in new cases to stand at 202 from a sample size of 2,787 on Thursday has jolted citizens.

On Wednesday, the country recorded 218 positive cases, the highest in recent times, from a sample size of 3,317, said Mutahi Kagwe, the Cabinet Health Secretary.

Kenya’s total confirmed cases now stand at 326,217.

ALSO READ:Africa’s Covid-19 cases pass 11.66 mn

The government has asked citizens to wear masks in public places and get vaccinated following the sharp rise in Covid-19 cases.

“We are urging Kenyans to have their masks on. We are worried that the Covid-19 numbers are going up,” Francis Kuria, the Director of Public Health at the Health Ministry, said recently.

When lifting some Covid-19 mandates in March, Kenya was recording less than five positive cases daily.

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Africa News COVID-19

African countries acquire 818mn Covid-19 vaccine doses

African countries have acquired 818 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines so far, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said in the latest weekly briefing…reports Asian Lite News

The Africa CDC, the specialised healthcare agency of the African Union, added on Thursday that nearly 17.3 per cent of Africa’s population have been fully vaccinated, Xinhua news agency reported.

Nearly 579 million of the total 818 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered, which corresponds to 70.7 per cent of the total supply available in Africa, the Africa CDC said.

Countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, Morocco, and Botswana have vaccinated the largest share of their population against Covid-19, respectively, according to the agency.

Ten African countries have vaccinated more than 35 per cent of their total population, it added.

Ahmed Ogwell, the Acting Director of the Africa CDC, told reporters during his weekly briefing on Thursday that around 37 African countries are offering booster doses for different age groups while Tunisia and South Africa have begun offering the second booster doses for those citizens who are aged 50 years or older.

ALSO READ:Africa’s Covid-19 cases pass 11.66 mn

“We are encouraging our member states to offer booster doses of Covid-19 vaccines to citizens who have already received the full vaccination coverage to ensure that their immunity remains high and avoid serious illness,” Ogwell said.

The number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Africa has reached 11,675,825 cases as of Wednesday evening, as the toll from the pandemic reached 253,518 while nearly 11,042,211 people have recovered from the disease, according to Africa CDC.