Pakistan, India record steady rise in daily coronavirus infections

NIH data shows positivity ratio in Pakistan shooting up to 1.17%: India’s tally breaches 13,000-mark: Thailand to drop mask rule, foreign tourist registration: US approves Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for youngest children

By: News Desk
Published: 09:54 AM, 18 Jun, 2022
Pakistan, India record steady rise in daily coronavirus infections
Caption: Commuters wearing protective face masks walk along Pratunam pier in Bangkok, after the Thailand government imposed strict restrictions following the outbreak of Covid-19 coronavirus cases.–AFP (File photo)
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Pakistan and India have been recording steady rise in the number of everyday coronavirus cases for the last many days and the situation was not different on Saturday either.

Pakistan reported another 151 infections, highest in several weeks, and no death from Covid-19 and India has posted over 13,000 cases and 23 fatalities during the last 24 hours (Friday).

According to the data released by the National Institute of Health Pakistan on Saturday morning, the death toll in Pakistan remained unchanged at 30,383, whereas the number of total infections now stood at 1,531,830 after adding the fresh 151 cases.

During the last 24 hours (Friday), 12,906 tests were conducted throughout Pakistan whereas the positivity ratio shot up to 1.17 percent. The number of patients in critical care was recorded at 58.

During the last 24 hours (Friday), another 20 people recovered from the Covid-19 in Pakistan and the number of total recoveries now stood at 1,498,299. As of Saturday, the total count of active cases in the country was recorded at 3,148.

As many as 578,115 coronavirus cases have so far been confirmed in Sindh, 507,615 in Punjab, 219,778 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 135,799 in Islamabad, 35,510 in Balochistan, 43,359 in Azad Kashmir and 11,753 in Gilgit-Baltistan.

As many as 13,566 individuals have lost their lives to the pandemic in Punjab so far, 8,108 in Sindh, 6,324 in KP, 1,024 in Islamabad, 792 in Azad Kashmir, 378 in Balochistan and 191 in Gilgit Baltistan.

India sees rise in Covid cases

India's daily Covid-19 tally breached the 13,000-mark on Saturday as the country reported 13,216 infections in the last 24 hours (Thursday), according to the ministry of health family welfare.

The death toll saw an increase of 23 fatalities and now stands at 524,840, the ministry also informed. With latest additions, the overall Covid-19 caseload stands at 43,283,793.

After months of steady fall, India is witnessing a fresh surge in daily infections, mostly fuelled by pockets of outbreak in the country’s large urban centres.

On Friday, Maharashtra reported 4,165 new cases of Covid-19. Out of this, 2,255 were recorded in the Mumbai city alone. It was followed by Kerala, which reported 3,253 cases and seven deaths.

The national capital Delhi logged 1,797 Covid-19 infections in a single day, highest in nearly four months, along with one fatality. Tamil Nadu added 589 infections, including four returnees from domestic and overseas, as per the health department data.

Meanwhile, the country's active cases now constitute 0.16 percent of the total infections. It now stands at 68,108 after a rise of 5045 active cases, as per the ministry data. While the country's Covid-19 recovery rate was recorded at 98.63 percent, the case fatality rate was 1.21%.

US approves Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for youngest children

The US Food and Drug Administration granted emergency authorization Friday for the use of Pfizer and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines in the youngest children, the final age group awaiting immunization in most countries.

The agency, whose approval is considered the global gold standard, authorized Moderna's two-dose vaccine for children aged six months to five years, and three doses of Pfizer's shots for those between six months and four years old.

"Today is a day of huge relief for parents and families across America," President Joe Biden said in a statement, adding that vaccinating young children will help "our nation continue to move forward safely."

FDA chief Rober Califf similarly hailed the decision, saying "vaccines for younger children will provide protection from the most severe outcomes of Covid-19, such as hospitalization and death."

Pfizer said it plans to submit requests for authorization to other regulators around the world, including the European Medicines Agency in early July.

"Parents in the US now have the option to vaccinate their children under 5 years of age, and we are working to ensure that other countries worldwide will follow,” said Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of Germany's BioNTech, which developed the vaccine together with Pfizer.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) must now also recommend the vaccines before they are put into use in the United States -- a final green light that will be given after a meeting of an advisory committee of experts that is expected to be held shortly.

But the government has said that as soon as the FDA decision was made, 10 million doses could immediately be sent around the country, followed by millions more in subsequent weeks.

- Successful trials -

Both vaccines are based on messenger RNA, which delivers genetic code for the coronavirus spike protein to human cells that then grow it on their surface, training the immune system to be ready. The technology is now considered the leading Covid vaccination platform.

The vaccines were tested in trials of thousands of children. They were found to cause similar levels of mild side effects as in older age groups and triggered similar levels of antibodies.

Efficacy against infection was higher for Pfizer, with the company placing it at 80 percent, compared to Moderna's estimates of 51 percent for children aged six-months to two years old and 37 percent for those aged two to five years.

But the Pfizer figure is based on very few cases and is thus considered preliminary. It also takes three doses to achieve its protection, with the third shot given eight weeks after the second, which is given three weeks after the first.

Moderna's vaccine should provide strong protection against severe disease after two doses, given four weeks apart, and the company is studying adding a booster that would raise efficacy levels against mild disease.

However, Moderna's decision to go with a higher dose is associated with higher levels of fevers in reaction to the vaccine compared to Pfizer.

"We are thrilled that the FDA has granted Emergency Use Authorization of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine for children and adolescents, particularly for our vulnerable, youngest children," said Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel.

"Children need to live highly social lives to develop and flourish," Bancel added. "With this authorization, caregivers for young children ages 6 months through 5 years of age finally have a way to safeguard against Covid risks in classroom and daycare settings."

The United States, home to 20 million children four years and under, has recorded 480 Covid deaths in that group in the pandemic -- far higher than even a bad flu season, according to the FDA.

As of May 2022, there have been 45,000 hospitalizations in that group, nearly a quarter of which required intensive care.

Thailand to drop mask rule, foreign tourist registration

Thailand announced Friday it would drop rules requiring people to wear masks outdoors and no longer require foreign visitors to register before travel, as Covid-19 cases fall and the kingdom seeks to lure tourists back.

Facemasks have been compulsory in public in Thailand, including outdoors, since mid-2021 when the Delta variant was running rampant.

But as the pandemic has subsided, the tourism-dependent kingdom has gradually relaxed covid restrictions in a bid to boost visitor numbers.

Thailand's relaxation on facemasks comes after similar moves by regional peers including Cambodia and Singapore.

Taweesin Visanuyothin, spokesman for the Thai Covid taskforce, said wearing masks outside would become voluntary, but was still recommended in crowded areas, entertainment venues and on public transport.

He said the health ministry would announce further details of the mask relaxation, including when it would come into force.

On July 1 the government will also end the "Thailand Pass" system, under which foreign tourists had to register and show proof of vaccination and health insurance before they could fly to the kingdom.

Visitors will have to carry vaccine certificates or take Covid tests on arrival. 

The move is seen as an attempt to bolster the sputtering economy, which has seen growth hammered by the pandemic and living costs rising. 

There were more than 1.6 million foreign tourist arrivals during the first six months of 2022, with foreign tourist receipts logged at 99.7 billion baht, according to government data.

This compares with around 40 million foreign tourists visiting Thailand in 2019, the last year before the pandemic.

Daily Covid-19 cases have hovered below 3,500 in recent weeks, with the number of deaths registering below 50 a day for a month.

More than three quarters of the population has been jabbed with two vaccine doses, with more than 40 percent also getting a booster dose.

With inputs from AFP.