COVID-19 surges in parts of Asia; levels rise in Europe

In Asia, the Philippines reported a daily record high for COVID-19 cases, as Vietnam battled high infection levels in industrial hubs. Elsewhere, a top European health official today warned of rising illness levels, along with an increase in deaths, in several countries.

In other developments, a research team based in South Africa described a new variant of interest called C.1.2, and United States intelligence agencies on Aug 27 posted an unclassified report on their investigation into the source of SARS-CoV-2 in China.

Philippines, Vietnam, Japan battle record levels

The Philippines, which is experiencing a third surge that began early this month, on Aug 28 reported a record high of more than 19,000 cases, according to Reuters. The country's president, Rodrigo Duterte, extended restrictions in the Manila area and some hot spot provinces.

About one third of the latest cases are from the area around Manila, but high numbers were reported form nine provinces and six cities.

Meanwhile, Vietnam—which had successfully contained earlier spikes—is struggling, like many countries, to curb the more transmissible Delta (B1617.2) variant. Cases continue at near record-high numbers, with the highest in three main industrial hubs in the southern part of the country, according to VN Express, an online newspaper based in Hanoi.

In Japan, where cases in its third wave remain near record daily highs, two people died after they were vaccinated with vaccine from lots that were suspended due to contamination with particulate matter, according to Reuters. The health ministry said the people who died were men in their 30s and that investigations into the cause of their deaths is still underway.

Yesterday the health ministry said most of the foreign material in the Moderna doses in Okinawa was fragments of rubber stoppers from the vials, according to the Japan Times.

Europe sees mixed picture, vaccination stagnation

At a briefing today, Hans Henri Kluge, MD, MPH, who directs the World Health Organization (WHO) European regional office, said 33 countries reported a more than 10% rise in COVID-19 cases over the past 2 weeks. "This high transmission is deeply worrying – particularly in the light of low vaccination uptake in priority populations in a number of countries," he said.

Kluge also warned that a number of countries are seeing more hospitalizations and deaths, which increased 11% in the region last week. He added that one reliable group projects 236,000 deaths in Europe by Dec 1.

Growth in COVID activity is driven by the more transmissible Delta variant, the easing of restrictions, and more travel, he noted.

Regarding vaccination, the pace of immunization has slowed over the past 6 weeks, partly due to supply and partly due to lack of acceptance. In Europe's lower- and middle-income countries, only 6% of the population is fully vaccinated.

Researchers detail C.1.2 variant

A team of researchers from South Africa, writing in the preprint server medRxiv, recently described a new variant of interest called C.1.2, which they said has mutations seen in variants of concern that have been linked to increased transmissibility and reduced neutralization. They also noted other mutations that could impact neutralization and replication fitness.

The virus evolved from one of the lineages that dominated South Africa's first wave. So far, the variant has been found in six of nine South African provinces, as well as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritius, New Zealand, Portugal, and Switzerland.

Though the characteristics and epidemiology of the virus are still being defined, they said it's important to track the lineage, given its concerning group of mutations.

On Twitter today, Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, the World Health Organization's (WHO's) technical lead for COVID-19, said the more the virus circulates, the more opportunity it has to change. She said the WHO has been in regular touch with South African researchers who have been sequencing the virus and that they first briefed the WHO on their C.1.2 variant findings in July.

So far, about 100 C.1.2 sequences have been reported globally since May. The variant so far doesn't appear to be increasing in circulation, but more sequencing and samples are needed. "Delta appears dominant from available sequences," she added.

US intelligence source probe findings

Following a presentation to the Biden Administration last week, US intelligence agencies on Aug 27 released an unclassified summary of the report on the origin of the coronavirus, which said the origin is still uncertain, but leans toward a jump from animals to humans. President Biden in May had ordered a 90-day intelligence investigation into the source of SARS-CoV-2.

One of the agencies leaned toward the lab leak theory, but they agreed that SARS-CoV-2 wasn't developed as a bioweapon and that Chinese officials didn't know about the virus before the Wuhan outbreak began in the fall of 2019.

The group said it's impossible to be more definitive without more assistance from China.

More global headlines

  • In Afghanistan, the first air bridge flight arrived today with medical supplies, the first such shipment since the Taliban took over, according to a statement from the WHO. The flight touched down at the airport in Mazar-i-Sharif, the country's fourth largest city, which is located in the north. Pakistan provided the plane, which was loaded in Dubai.

  • Australia's main hot spot, New South Wales state, reported a record 1,290 new cases today. Meanwhile, New Zealand's cases continued climbing at a steady pace with 83 new cases, as the country investigates a myocarditis death in a person who had recently been immunized with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

  • The global total today rose to 216,506,898 cases, with at least 4,500,884 deaths, according to the New York Times tracker.

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