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Canada says AstraZeneca vaccine is safe after Norway and Denmark suspend use

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OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada on Thursday said the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is safe after Denmark and Norway temporarily suspended its use amid reports that blood clots had formed in some who had received the shot.

“Health Canada is aware of reports of adverse events in Europe following immunization with the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, and would like to reassure Canadians that the benefits of the vaccine continue to outweigh its risks,” the health department said in a statement.

“At this time, there is no indication that the vaccine caused these events,” it said.

Canada received 500,000 AstraZeneca doses made at the Serum Institute of India last week, and expects to get 1.5 million more in by May.

“To date, no adverse events related to the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine… have been reported to Health Canada or the Public Health Agency of Canada,” the statement said.

The federal government has ordered a total of 20 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and is due to receive 1.9 million through COVAX – the international initiative set up to provide equitable access to vaccines.

Although Canada has ordered more COVID-19 vaccine doses per capita any other country, its initial roll-out has been slow in part because of temporary disruptions of deliveries from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc.

 

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Christian Schmollinger and Gerry Doyle)

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Hong Kong’s zero-COVID policy undermining financial hub status – industry group

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A financial industry group warned on Monday that Hong Kong‘s zero-COVID policy and strict quarantine requirements for international travellers threatens to undermine the city’s status as a financial hub.

The Asia Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (ASIFMA) said a survey of members, including some of the world’s largest banks and asset managers, showed 48% were contemplating moving staff or functions away from Hong Kong due to operational challenges, which included uncertainty regarding when and how travel and quarantine restrictions will be lifted.

Hong Kong has some of the most stringent travel restrictions in the world and is virtually COVID-19 free, however unlike regional rival Singapore, which is slowly re-opening its borders, the Chinese-ruled city has no public plan for opening up to international travellers.

Local leaders say their focus is removing restrictions on travel from Hong Kong to mainland China, which also has strict entry restrictions. At present travellers from Hong Kong to the mainland must still undergo quarantine.

“Hong Kong’s status as an (international financial centre) is increasingly at risk along with its long-term economic recovery and competitiveness as a premier place to do business,” Mark Austen chief executive of Asifma wrote in open letter to Hong Kong’s financial secretary Paul Chan.

The letter made a series of recommendations including publishing “a roadmap for exiting Hong Kong’s ‘zero-case’ based COVID-19 strategy beyond solely the immediate goal of opening borders with China”, as well as prioritising vaccinations.

Hong Kong has reported just over 12,300 cases since the start of the pandemic, mostly imported, and 213 deaths.

Regional rival Singapore is expanding quarantine-free travel to nearly a dozen countries, but authorities are grappling with how to do so while averting a surge of Covid-19 cases among older people and those with weak immune systems.

 

(Reporting by Alun John; Editing by Michael Perry)

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Red Cross urges action for Papua New Guinea as COVID-19 overwhelms health system

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Concerted international action is needed to support Papua New Guinea as a surge in COVID-19 cases overwhelms the Pacific country’s health system, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Monday.

Coronavirus cases in the island nation of 9 million have been surging in recent weeks, with 385 new cases recorded on Thursday, according to latest available government data.

There have been 26,731 officially confirmed cases and 329 deaths in the country 150 km (90 miles) north of Australia.

Less than 1% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data figures, although the government anticipated months ago that it would have enough shots by now for everyone who wanted to be vaccinated.

Misinformation, public apprehension, and logistical challenges with the rollout have slowed down vaccinations, the Red Cross said.

“Urgent efforts and further support are needed in healthcare to prevent a massive loss of life in the coming days and weeks,” Uvenama Rova, PNG Red Cross secretary general, said in a statement.

According to the PNG National Control Centre for COVID-19, all major hospitals have been hit with rising cases.

“We’re at the moment barely managing with the existing load,” Gary Nou, team leader for Emergency Medical Team at the National Centre, was quoted as saying last week in a statement on the centre’s website.

A medical team from Australia arrived in Port Moresby this month, and Britain was also to send a team.

While some other nations in the Pacific region, such as the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, have also had sluggish vaccine rollouts, the tiny nation of Palau had 99% of its population over 12 vaccinated by mid-October, while Fiji had 96% of eligible people with one dose, the Red Cross said this month.

 

(Reporting by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by William Mallard)

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Tennis-Unvaccinated players can compete at Australian Open after quarantine – report

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Unvaccinated athletes will be able to take part in next year’s Australian Open after undergoing 14 days of quarantine, the WTA Tour has told its players, according to an e-mail leaked to U.S. media.

The e-mail, obtained by freelance tennis journalist Ben Rothenberg, contradicts a statement made last week by Australia’s immigration minister that players would need to be double vaccinated to get a visa to compete at the Grand Slam.

Up to a third of players on the WTA and men’s ATP remain unvaccinated, according to reports, and men’s world number one Novak Djokovic has declined to disclose his vaccination status.

In the e-mail, the WTA said it wanted to “clear up false and misleading information” about the conditions players would be subjected to at the Australian Open.

The WTA said the information came from organisers Tennis Australia, who had requested players keep it confidential for “a few days” as they were still discussing the details with the government.

Tennis Australia declined to comment.

Victoria state Sports Minister Martin Pakula said no decision had been made on whether unvaccinated foreign players would be allowed into the country.

“It’s not settled,” he told radio station 3AW.

“We are still resolving with Tennis Australia and the Commonwealth whether unvaccinated foreign nationals will be allowed into Australia at all and if so, under what circumstances they will be allowed.

“We don’t expect that to be settled for another couple of weeks.”

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said last week there would be no special deals for unvaccinated players to compete in the state, where vaccination is mandatory for athletes, coaches and officials in professional sport.

Pakula said TA boss Craig Tiley had told him the vaccination rate among tennis players was nearly 80%.

He added that fully vaccinated players would not have to quarantine on arrival in Australia.

“The one thing that we have assured them all, is that the vaccinated players will be treated the same way as any other vaccinated entrant to the country,” he said.

From Nov. 1, fully vaccinated citizens, permanent residents and their overseas-based family members who arrive in Sydney and Melbourne will no longer need to quarantine.

All players who arrived from overseas for the 2021 edition of the Australian Open were forced to undergo two weeks of quarantine, although most were allowed to leave their hotels to practise.

Vaccinated players who enter Australia from Dec. 1 will not be required to quarantine or stay in a biosecure bubble, the WTA e-mail said.

The e-mail also says that qualifying, which was moved to the United Arab Emirates for the 2021 tournament, would again take place at Melbourne Park as normal.

There was no immediate response to a request for comment from the WTA.

The Australian Open is scheduled to start Jan. 17.

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne and Nick Mulvenney in Sydney; editing by Pritha Sarkar and Stephen Coates)

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