Travel Curbs Easing: FDA Panel Backs J&J Booster: Virus Update

The U.S. plans to open its borders to vaccinated international travelers on Nov. 8, the biggest travel policy shift since the virus’s early days.

And in Asia-Pacific, some of the world’s longest and toughest Covid-induced border curbs are finally being eased, with countries taking their firmest steps yet toward reopening to international travel in recent days. 

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine booster gained a key recommendation from advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that brings it a step closer to clearance. Authorization of Moderna Inc.’s shot for adolescents is being delayed by the FDA to review myocarditis risks, Dow Jones reported.

Brazil reported 15,239 confirmed virus cases and 570 deaths in the last 24 hours. Thailand had 10,648 infections and 82 fatalities, while China reported 14 new cases. South Korea said 63.9% of its population had been fully vaccinated, and New Zealand counted 41 new cases of Covid-19 in the community.

NYC Subways Reach Pandemic Record (5:03 p.m. NY)

New York City subway ridership topped 3.2 million for the first time since the start of the pandemic, an “encouraging” signal that the city is recovering, Governor Kathy Hochul said. 

There were more than 3.2 million subway customers and more than 7,000 Staten Island Railway customers on Thursday, which had seen steep declines during the coronavirus health crisis. 

The average weekday subway ridership totals fell to about 300,000 daily trips in April 2020 during the height of the pandemic, a 95% drop from over 5.5 million trips pre-Covid-19, Hochul said in a news release.

Minnesota Activates National Guard (3:37 p.m. NY)

Governor Tim Walz put Minnesota’s National Guard on alert Friday to help free up space in hospitals increasingly overcrowded by Covid-19 patients. The guard members will help staff long-term facilities that could be used for more than 400 current hospital patients, he said. 

“Rising Covid-19 cases have left our hospitals too crowded, and we need action now,” the Democratic governor said in a statement. Guard members will also help expand testing, in state where cases have almost doubled since the start of September, as the delta outbreak moved to the north and west of the U.S. 

Los Alamos Staff Must Take Shot To Keep Job (2:07 p.m. NY) 

In New Mexico, a state judge denied a request Friday to block a vaccination order by the primary contractor at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported, The decision clears the way for workers to be dismissed if they don’t get vaccinated, the newspaper reported. “No one is sticking a needle in anyone’s arm,” State District Judge Jason Lidyard said. “All that is being said is, if you don’t get vaccinated, you must find work somewhere else.” The laboratory was founded during World War Two for designing nuclear weapons for the Manhattan Project.

Colorado Hospitalizations at High for Year (1:49 p.m. NY)

The number of Covid-19 hospital patients in Colorado is at the highest of the year at 982 and intensive care units are 89.9% full with virus and non-virus cases, the state Department of Public Health and Environment reported Friday.

The delta variant accounts for 100% of all Covid-19 cases in the state, said Rachel Herlihy, state epidemiologist, during an online news briefing, with the highest infection rate among children 6-11 years followed by 12-17 years.

J&J Booster Backed by FDA Panel (1:37 p.m. NY)

Johnson & Johnson’s Covid vaccine booster gained a key recommendation from advisers to U.S. regulators that brings the additional shot a step closer to clearance. 

The Food and Drug Administration’s vaccine advisory group voted unanimously Friday in favor of recommending the booster for people 18 and older who received their initial immunization at least two months earlier. 

FDA’s Vaccine and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee voted to back Moderna Inc.’s booster Thursday, and Pfizer Inc.’s additional shot was authorized after the panel’s recommendation. While President Joe Biden had foreseen offering boosters to all vaccinated Americans eight months after their first dose, the panel has so far recommended them for people at least 65 years old and younger adults who risk severe illness or viral exposure at work. 

FDA Delays Moderna for Adolescents, DJ Says (12:26 p.m. NY)

The Food and Drug Administration is delaying a decision on authorizing Moderna Inc.’s vaccine for adolescents to review its myocarditis risk, Dow Jones reported, citing people familiar with the matter.

At issue is whether the Moderna shot may lead to a heightened risk of the inflammatory heart condition among younger men, compared with those who received the vaccine by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, according to the report. Moderna shares fell.

Covid Cuts Life Expectancy in Parts of U.S. (11:15 a.m. NY)

Covid-19 has cut more than two years from life expectancy in 16 U.S. states in the past year, with the Sun Belt and Great Plains hardest hit.

In Texas, Covid-19 caused an implied reduction in life expectancy at birth of 2.6 years to 76.4 in the twelve months ending in September, according to an analysis of death statistics from University of California at Los Angeles sociology professor Patrick Heuveline, an update of data originally published in the BMJ Open journal. 

In Arizona, the reduction was 2.6 years to 77.2 and in South Dakota, 2.5 years to 76.8. 

Saudi Arabia Eases Mask Rules (8:50 a.m. NY)

Saudi Arabia is allowing people to be mask-free in some outdoor areas effective Oct. 17. It also removed capacity limits and social distancing measures for indoor gatherings including restaurants, public transportation on condition that the attendees are fully vaccinated.

Ireland Call to Work from Home (8:41 a.m. NY)

Ireland’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Ronan Glynn urged people to work from home, as Covid-19 cases in the country surge, according to a video on Twitter. The number of cases have jumped in the past week, with hospitalizations now at their highest since March. Work places reopened on a phased basis last month, with offices set to open fully on Oct. 22. Still, Glynn’s comments don’t signal an official change of policy, a government spokesman said. The government will decide whether to drop most remaining restrictions next week.

U.S. to Open to Vaccinated Travel (8:36 a.m. NY)

The U.S. will open its borders to vaccinated foreign travelers on Nov. 8, a move that will expand travel options for those who’ve gotten their shots and clamp down on those who haven’t. 

The measures are the biggest changes to U.S. travel policy since the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, and replace a system that flatly barred most foreign nationals coming directly from certain places, including Europe, India, Brazil and China.

Separately, coronavirus cases in the U.S. increased 0.2% as compared to the same time yesterday to 44.8 million, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg News.

Britons May Have Had False Results (5:18 p.m. HK)

Around 43,000 people in the U.K. may have wrongly been told their coronavirus test was negative due to errors at a laboratory, the government said.

Officials suspended testing at Immensa Health Clinic Ltd.’s laboratory in Wolverhampton, central England, following a probe into reports of people getting negative PCR test results after previously testing positive via lateral flow tests, the U.K. Health Security Agency said on Friday.

Meanwhile, new rules allowing fully vaccinated travelers returning to England to take lateral-flow coronavirus tests instead of more expensive PCR tests will come into force on Oct. 24.

South Africa to Start Vaccinating Children (3:27 p.m. HK)

South Africa will begin vaccinating children ages 12 to 17 next week, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said. One dose of the Pfizer Inc. shot will be administered to the age group from Oct. 20, while an assessment is conducted on a small number of cases elsewhere in the world in which children experienced “short-lived cases of transient myocarditis” after they received a second dose of the vaccine, Phaahla said at a media briefing on Friday.

Burundi Gets First Vaccines in China Donation (2:55 p.m. HK)

Burundi received 500,000 doses of Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines on Thursday, in a Chinese donation valued at $3 million, according to Health Minister Thaddée Ndikumana. “We have received these doses from the Chinese government as a grant,” he said. More vaccines from Belgium, France, and the U.S. are expected, Ndikumana said, without giving more details.

Italian Workers Must Prove Vaccination Status (1:59 p.m. HK)

All of Italy’s public and private sector workers will be required to show proof of vaccination as of Friday.

Employees will have to present a digital “Green Pass” upon entering the workplace or face a fine. The pass can be obtained after vaccination or after testing negative for the virus, and employers will be responsible for checking certificates.

Italy has one of the world’s highest inoculation rates, with around 80% of the population fully vaccinated. Still, the decision by Prime Minister Mario Draghi has stoked tensions and protests that turned violent in Rome last weekend.

Congo’s Vaccination Rate Is Less Than 0.1% (1:55 p.m. HK)

Of more than 200 countries and regions tracked by Bloomberg, Congo has vaccinated the lowest proportion of its population. Just 140,000 shots had been administered as of Oct. 8. 

The World Health Organization attributed the low rate to hesitancy fueled by the government’s initial rejection of the AstraZeneca Plc inoculation in July, and little vaccine advocacy from politicians.

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