Asia Growth Hit by Delta; Hong Kong Extends Curbs: Virus Update

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French President Emmanuel Macron rebuffed accusations that he’s handling the Covid-19 crisis in an authoritarian way and renewed his call for people to get vaccinated. The president blasted opponents for exploiting the pandemic “to win political market share.”

Less than 1% of U.K. school students and staff tested positive for Covid-19 in June, significantly lower than last autumn, giving credibility to the government’s plan to put students into “bubbles” and ask those with symptoms to stay home.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis reaffirmed his decision to ban school districts from instituting mask mandates as students begin classes across the Sunshine State.

South Korea surpassed 2,000 daily infections for the first time as the delta variant runs rampant across much of Asia, setting off anti-government protests in Thailand and leading to the lockdown of another city in Australia. The region’s economies are showing the impact as consumers stay at home and travel and manufacturing take a hit.

DeSantis Doubles Down on Mask-Mandate Ban (11:20 a.m. NY)

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis doubled down on his decision to ban school districts from instituting mask mandates as students begin classes across the Sunshine State.

“Our view is of course this is a decision for the parent to make, just given the uncertainty about what it means particularity for a lot of the young kids to be in that,” he said in a press conference on Wednesday in Pinellas County, surrounded by local teachers and school leaders. “We believe the parent rather than the government should ultimately be able to make that decision.”

Late last month, DeSantis issued an executive order that threatened to withhold state funding from school districts that required students to wear masks. Some districts rebuked the governor and are insisting a face-covering mandate as virus cases continue to swell. Carlee Simon, superintendent of Alachua County Public Schools, said that her district will continue to mandate masks in order to best protect the community, she wrote in a Washington Post editorial on Monday.

DeSantis said that should the Biden administration institute a nationwide mask mandate for students “that is something we would fight back ferociously against.” On Tuesday, Biden said he doesn’t think he has the power to overrule governors on the subject but his administration is “checking on that.”

DeSantis Doubles Down on Florida Mask-Mandate Ban: Virus Update

WHO to Assess More Vaccine Candidates (10:19 a.m. NY)

While Russia’s Sputnik vaccine is still undergoing assessment by the World Health Organization, India’s Bharat shot may have a final evaluation in September, Mariangela Simao, assistant director-general for drug access, vaccines and pharmaceuticals, said Wednesday.

Five other vaccine candidates are beginning assessment in August, including the Novavax shot manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and the Sinopharm vaccine being made in Wuhan, China.

The more vaccines get the WHO’s green light, the more can be shipped via the Covax facility, which aims to distribute Covid inoculations equitably around the world. At the current trajectory, the world could pass 300 million reported cases early next year, according to Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The WHO has already approved several vaccines, including those made by Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc., AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson.

Switzerland May End Free Testing (9:40 a.m. NY)

Switzerland may stop offering free Covid tests for the public starting Oct. 1, as the government struggles to boost the vaccination rate. With just half the population fully inoculated and people returning from summer holidays, the case load has been rising.

The government decided against further loosening restrictions, such as the requirement for masks in public areas. It said it would make a final decision on the Covid tests on Aug. 25. Currently, tests are available at pharmacies and testing sites free of charge, and are required for entry to nightclubs and other large events.

Japan Mulls Wider State of Emergency: Sankei (9:25 a.m. NY)

The Japanese government is considering widening its state of emergency to additional areas and keeping it in force through September, rather than the end of this month, the Sankei newspaper reported, without attribution. It plans to decide on the expansion as soon as next week.

Macron Defends Handling of Crisis (9:16 a.m. NY)

French President Emmanuel Macron rebuffed accusations that he’s handling the Covid-19 crisis in an authoritarian way and renewed his call for people to get vaccinated.

“Never before in our history was a crisis of such magnitude fought in such a democratic way,” Macron said at the beginning of a virtual defense cabinet meeting broadcast on French TV. The president blasted opponents, without naming them, for exploiting the pandemic “to win political market share.”

Macron’s comments followed a fourth consecutive weekend of demonstrations in major French cities against new measures that make access to restaurants, museums and virtually all activities conditional on proof of vaccination or a recent negative test.

Lesotho Prime Minister Tests Positive (9 a.m. NY)

Lesotho Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro tested positive for Covid-19 before a private trip he had planned. He’s isolating at home and not showing any symptoms, spokesman Buta Moseme said in a statement Wednesday. The landlocked southern African country of 2.1 million people has reported 13,845 cases and 391 deaths.

U.K. School Safety Measures Cut Infections (8:45 a.m. NY)

Less than 1% of U.K. school students and staff tested positive for Covid-19 in June, significantly lower than last autumn, a study released by the Office for National Statistics found. Infection rates were lower in children in schools than among those in the wider population.

The findings give credibility to the government’s plan to put students into “bubbles” and ask those with symptoms to stay home. That may bolster the effort of ministers to convince parents to send children back to school when the academic year begins next month.

Iran Cases, Deaths Spike (6:22 a.m. NY)

Iran saw a record number of new coronavirus cases, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei describing the latest surge as “the country’s number one problem.”

The Health Ministry recorded 42,541 cases and 536 deaths overnight, bringing the country’s total reported figures to more than 4.2 million infections and 95,647 fatalities. The country broke its own record for deaths twice earlier this week as vaccination rates lag. Iran has fully inoculated around 4% of its population.

Macron Says Situation in Guadeloupe Urgent (5:24 p.m. HK)

The coronavirus situation is urgent in the French overseas territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique, where vaccine take-up is “very low” and hospitals are already saturated, President Emmanuel Macron said at the start of a defense cabinet meeting broadcast on TV Wednesday.

Only about 20% of those aged 12 and above are fully vaccinated in the West Indies, compared with almost 66% in mainland France, Macron said. Meanwhile, four French regions — Nouvelle-Aquitaine in the southwest being the latest — launched a special hospital plan to help manage a spike in delta cases.

World’s Biggest Cleaner Sees RTO Soon (4:16 p.m. HK)

ISS, the world’s largest cleaning company, expects its clients in the U.S. and Europe to bring almost all employees back to their offices in the fourth quarter of this year.

Only 10% of clients globally are currently allowing more than half their staff back to the office, CEO Jacob Aarup-Andersen said by phone, citing internal surveys. ISS, whose clients include Barclays Plc, Equinor ASA and Deutsche Telecom AG, expects a return to office among its biggest U.S. customers in late September.

Austria New Cases Hit 3-Month High (4:10 p.m. HK)

Austria recorded the most daily infections since May amid a cluster in its southern region. The nation of almost 9 million people registered 902 new cases on Wednesday.

Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has pledged to avoid a return to national lockdown measures, instead campaigning to boost Austria’s vaccination rate from 55%. On Tuesday, the Tirol state government banned events held in large groups in the most-affected East-Tirol district and announced testing-requirements for unvaccinated people wishing to leave two townships.

India Cases Surpass 32 Million (3:12 p.m. HK)

India added 38,353 cases Wednesday, pushing the total since the pandemic began past 32 million. While the country has administered more than 519 million vaccine doses, only 8.3% of the population is fully inoculated against the virus, according to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker. Covid-related deaths rose by 497 in a day to 429,179, data from the Indian health ministry show.

Companies from Hindustan Unilever Ltd. to Tata Motors Ltd., the owner of Jaguar Land Rover, are increasingly complaining about pricier inputs and the inability to fully pass on the surging costs to consumers reeling from the pandemic-induced economic shock.

Russia’s Sputnik Efficacy for Delta (2:31 p.m. HK)

The Sputnik V vaccine provides strong protection against the delta variant, with efficacy of 83%, Interfax reported Wednesday, citing Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko. The inoculation provides over 95% protection against serious illness with the strain, he said.

Philippines Running Low on Hospital Beds (12:31 p.m. HK)

Three in five hospital beds for Covid-19 patients in the Philippines are occupied, the Health Department said, urging those with mild and asymptomatic infections to use quarantine facilities to ensure that critical cases can be admitted.

The government also reimposed a 14-day quarantine rule for fully vaccinated people who are close contacts of infected patients, after initially shortening the period to seven days.

Another Australian City in Lockdown (10:44 a.m. HK)

The spread of delta infections from Sydney into regional areas of New South Wales has forced Dubbo, a city of about 50,000 people, into lockdown. The city, some 240 miles from Sydney, is the latest to have stay-at-home orders enforced for at least one week after two cases of the infectious variant were detected.

Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, extended its lockdown for another week. In the past week, cities including Newcastle, Byron Bay and Tamworth entered snap lockdowns after being exposed to delta, isolating them from the rest of the nation.

Japan Reaches 100 Million Vaccine Doses (9:59 a.m. HK)

Japan has administered more than 100 million doses of vaccine and surpassed the U.S. in the proportion of elderly fully vaccinated, according to government figures released Tuesday.

Most of the new infections amid a fresh wave of cases attributed to the delta variant have been among those in their 20s and 30s, showing the impact of the gap in inoculation rates between the elderly and the rest of the population. Japan and its capital of Tokyo have reported record daily infection numbers for several days this month, as the Summer Olympics were drawing to a close.

Thai Protestors Clash with Police on Covid (9:40 a.m. HK)

Protesters in Bangkok clashed with police on Tuesday night, demanding the government resign following its handling of a Covid-19 outbreak that led to nearly 7,000 deaths in the Southeast Asian nation. Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to disperse the demonstrators, who ignored a ban on large gatherings and a nighttime curfew.

The Thai government has been criticized for its slow vaccination rollout and response to the delta variant. The public health system has been overwhelmed with the surge in infections, with some 5,400 patients in critical condition. Only about 6.5% of the population are fully inoculated.

China’s Delta Outbreak (9:35 a.m. HK)

China reported 90 infections on Wednesday, including seven asymptomatic cases. The eastern Chinese city of Yangzhou reported 54 cases, bringing total infections in the city to 448, the most from a single city in China’s current delta outbreak.

In Yangzhou, a city of 4.5 million, the variant appears to have outrun curbs to disrupt its transmission. An initial cluster at an airport in nearby Nanjing spread to the city and resulted in an outbreak, especially among elderly people playing mahjong at poorly ventilated community spaces. The city is now starting its sixth round of testing in hopes of weeding out covert community spread.

South Korea’s Daily Cases Hit Record (8:49 a.m. HK)

South Korea more than 2,000 daily infections for the first time, with a spike in the delta variant and a low vaccination rate combining to undermine efforts to contain the country’s worst surge.

With Seoul as the epicenter of the initial outbreak last month, the government imposed its toughest measures, including a ban in the greater Seoul area on gatherings of more than 2 people after 6 p.m. In recent days, the number of people outside Seoul getting infected has been rising, raising prospects that the strictest measures would be expanded nationwide.

New Zealand Urged to Speed Vaccinations (6:30 a.m. HK)

New Zealand should complete its vaccine rollout before starting to re-open its border next year because of the risks posed by the more infectious delta variant, according to a group of health experts who advise the government.

The Strategic Covid-19 Public Health Advisory Group has released a report recommending a phased reopening of the border once all adults have been offered vaccination, Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall said in a statement Wednesday in Wellington. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is due to outline the government’s response to the recommendations at a forum on Thursday.

DeSantis Doubles Down on Florida Mask-Mandate Ban: Virus Update


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