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S.Africa repeals COVID rules on mask-wearing, gatherings, entry

In this July 6, 2021, file photo, a patient receives a Johnson & Johnson vaccine against COVID-19 in Hammanskraal, South Africa. (ALET PRETORIUS / AP)

QUITO / ROME / WASHINGTON / JOHANNESBURG – South Africa has repealed COVID-19 restrictions on mask-wearing in indoor public spaces, limits on the size of gatherings and entry requirements at its borders, a notice in the government gazette showed.

South Africa experienced four severe COVID-19 waves, but a resurgence in infections in April and May turned out to be not as bad as feared, with hospital admissions and deaths not rising dramatically unlike previous surges

In the brief notice, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said he had repealed regulations promulgated in May under the National Health Act to control the spread of COVID-19.

The regulations he referred to made face masks mandatory in indoor public spaces and on public transport. They also placed limits on the size of indoor and outdoor public gatherings and meant international travellers entering South Africa had to show a vaccination certificate or negative COVID-19 test.

Travelers who did not present a vaccination certificate or negative test had to take an antigen test and if they tested positive and showed symptoms self-isolate for 10 days.

Phaahla and another minister are due to address reporters at a briefing at 0900 GMT where more details are expected to be announced.

ALSO READ: COVID jab scheme for world's poorest pushes for slow delivery

South Africa experienced four severe COVID-19 waves, but a resurgence in infections in April and May turned out to be not as bad as feared, with hospital admissions and deaths not rising dramatically unlike previous surges. 

In April, President Cyril Ramaphosa lifted most restrictions and announced the end of the national state of disaster, a mechanism that allowed the government to enforce measures to manage the pandemic. 

The country has recorded the most coronavirus cases and deaths on the African continent, with over 3.9 million confirmed cases and more than 101,000 deaths. It initially struggled to secure vaccines due to limited supplies and protracted negotiations, but it is now well-supplied with doses.

Guillermo Lasso, President of Ecuador, speaks during a plenary session of the 9th Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, June 10, 2022. (PATRICK T. FALLON / AFP)


Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso has tested positive for COVID-19, the General Secretariat of Communication of the Presidency said on Wednesday.

Lasso has no symptoms thanks to being vaccinated and he is "working for the country and for peace," it said.

According to the Ecuadorian Health Ministry, since Ecuador's national vaccination plan was initiated in January 2021, around 14 million people in the country have completed their two-dose vaccination.

So far, the Latin American country has registered nearly 900,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases with over 35,000 deaths.

A medical worker at work at a COVID-19 unit of the Sant'Orsola-Malpighi Hospital in Bologna, Italy, on Nov 12, 2020. (GIANNI SCHICCHI / XINHUA)


COVID-19 cases are again surging in Italy, the Health Ministry said on Wednesday, fueling fears of a fresh wave of the pandemic during the summer tourist season.

The government reported on Wednesday nearly 54,000 new infections over the previous 24 hours. A day earlier, there were 62,704 new infections. Accordingly, the past two days produced the highest back-to-back figures in the country since late April.

Italy's seven-day case count is set to increase for the third consecutive week after eight weeks of decline. The daily infection figures are still far below the peaks of more than 200,000 cases registered in January.

The country recorded 50 new deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, down from 62 on Tuesday.

This file photo taken on June 4, 2021 shows a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a pharmacy in Paris, France. (STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP)


Moderna Inc said on Wednesday that an updated version of its COVID-19 vaccine designed to target the Omicron variant also generated a strong immune response against the fast-spreading Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which have gained a foothold in the US in recent weeks.

The updated vaccine, which Moderna is hoping will be approved for use as a booster shot for the fall, is a bivalent vaccine, meaning it contains vaccine designed to target two different coronavirus variants – the original variant from 2020 and the Omicron variant that was circulating widely last winter.

Moderna said that while the shot elicited a weaker response versus BA.4 and BA.5 than it does against the BA.1 subvariant it was specifically designed to combat, the data suggests the new shot could produce "lasting protection against the whole family of Omicron variants."

In this file photo taken on Oct 12, 2021, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla delivers a speech during the inauguration ceremony of the company's new center for Digital Innovation and Business Operations and Services in Thessaloniki. (SAKIS MITROLIDIS / AFP)


COVID-19 vaccines that specifically target the Omicron and other variants are under development, Pfizer Inc's chief executive said on Wednesday, adding that the company will be able to quickly adapt shots as the novel coronavirus mutates.

While the ultimate approval decisions rest with US regulatos, "we are ready for that," the drugmaker's CEO Albert Bourla told MSNBC in an interview, noting that the Food and Drug Administration is convening a meeting later this month.


Tunisia risked a new wave of COVID-19 infections as the positivity rate has risen to 21.75 percent over the past week from about 7 percent at the beginning of June, the Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) reported on Wednesday.

"The rebound of infections is mainly due to waning vaccine protection after four months of people's injections as well as their reluctance to receive the third and fourth boosters," TAP quoted Riadh Daghfous, a member of the Tunisian scientific committee for the fight against the coronavirus, as saying.

From June 13 to 19, Tunisian Health Ministry reported 2,277 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total tally of infections in the North African country to 1,046,703.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the virus rose by 14 to 28,670 in the country.

Since the start of the national vaccination campaign on March 13, 2021, a total of 6,376,006 Tunisians have been fully vaccinated against the virus.

A testing center worker (center) collects information from people waiting in line at a walk-up coronavirus testing location in Los Angeles, California, Aug 10, 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (ROBYN BECK / AFP)


People in socially and economically disadvantaged regions are only about half as likely to receive an oral antiviral COVID-19 pill than residents in wealthier region, said a study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on Tuesday.

Researchers analyzed data from Dec 23, 2021 to May 21, 2022 when more than 1 million oral antiviral prescriptions were dispensed in the United States, and found the gap between the poor and the rich, reported Reuters, citing the study.

The findings underscore an ongoing need to identify and eliminate barriers to oral antiviral access, the report said.