Coronavac less effective than previously thought; US coronavirus testing requirements expanded to most international air travellers; Tunisia announces four-day coronavirus lockdown

12.33am GMT

Anyone flying to the US will soon need to show proof of a negative test for Covid-19, health officials announced Tuesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requirement expands on a similar one announced late last month for passengers coming from the United Kingdom. The new order takes effect in two weeks, AP reports.

Covid is already widespread in the US, with more than 22 million cases reported to date, including more than 375,000 deaths. The new measures are designed to try to prevent travelers from bringing in newer forms of the virus that scientists say can spread more easily.

The CDC order applies to US citizens as well as foreign travellers. The agency said it delayed the effective date until 26 January to give airlines and travellers time to comply.

International travel to the US has already been decimated by pandemic restrictions put in place last March that banned most foreigners from Europe and other areas. Travel by foreigners to the US and by Americans to international destinations in December was down 76% compared to a year earlier, according to trade group Airlines for America.

The new restrictions require air passengers to get a Covid-19 test within three days of their flight to the US, and to provide written proof of the test result to the airline.

Travellers can also provide documentation that they had the infection in the past and recovered.

Airlines are ordered to stop passengers from boarding if they don’t have proof of a negative test.

“Testing does not eliminate all risk,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement. “But when combined with a period of staying at home and everyday precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations.”

The CDC order is “a reasonable approach” to reducing the risk of new variants from abroad entering the US, said Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University’s school of public health.

12.09am GMT

A coronavirus vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac Biotech was just 50.4% effective at preventing symptomatic infections in a Brazilian trial, researchers said on Tuesday, barely enough for regulatory approval and well below the rate announced last week.

Reuters: The latest results are a major disappointment for Brazil, as the Chinese vaccine is one of two that the federal government has lined up to begin immunisation during the second wave of the world’s second-deadliest Covid-19 outbreak.

Several scientists and observers blasted the Butantan biomedical center for releasing partial data just days ago that generated unrealistic expectations. The confusion may add to skepticism in Brazil about the Chinese vaccine, which President Jair Bolsonaro has criticized, questioning its “origins.”

“We have a good vaccine. Not the best vaccine in the world. Not the ideal vaccine,” said microbiologist Natalia Pasternak, criticizing Butantan’s triumphant tone.

Last week, the Brazilian researchers had celebrated results showing 78% efficacy against “mild-to-severe” Covid-19 cases, a rate they later described as “clinical efficacy.”

They said nothing at the time about another group of “very mild” infections among those who received the vaccine that did not require clinical assistance.

Ricardo Palacios, medical director for clinical research at Butantan, said on Tuesday that the new lower efficacy finding included data on those “very mild” cases.

Piecemeal disclosures about Chinese vaccine trials globally have raised concerns that they are not subject to the same public scrutiny as U.S. and European alternatives.

Palacios and officials in the Sao Paulo state government, which funds Butantan, emphasised the good news that none of the volunteers inoculated with CoronaVac had to be hospitalised with Covid-19 symptoms.

Public health experts said that alone will be a relief for Brazilian hospitals that are buckling under the strain of surging case loads. However, it will take longer to curb the pandemic with a vaccine that allows so many mild cases.

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