The U.S. is on pace to have about 200 million at-home COVID-19 rapid tests available per month beginning in December, about four times more than earlier this year.
The White House says the supply boost is the result of a new $1 billion US federal investment, on top of the $2 billion committed to increasing the availability of the convenient diagnostic tests in September. It’s also due to the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of a new test from ACON Labs this week.
More than 18 months into the pandemic, the U.S. trails other nations in supplies of at-home tests, which are widely used overseas as part of regular testing programs to catch asymptomatic infections. While less accurate than PCR tests, at-home kits are cheaper and faster, allowing for serial screening of schoolchildren, long-term care residents and office workers.
The White House says it is also working to double the number of local pharmacies offering free coronavirus testing to 20,000 in the coming weeks to improve access to testing.
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Meantime, COVID-19 test-kit maker Ellume is recalling some at-home tests after learning that they were reporting a higher-than-expected rate of false positive results, indicating someone has the virus when they do not.
The Australian company has said the tests were shipped to U.S. retailers and other distributors from April through August. It published a list on its website of the lot numbers on test packages affected by the recall.
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What’s happening around the world
As of Wednesday evening, more than 236.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus-tracking tool. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.8 million.
The World Health Organization says the number of newly reported coronavirus cases fell in the last week, continuing a declining global trend that first began in August.
In its latest assessment of the pandemic, the UN health agency reported Tuesday that there were 3.1 million new COVID-19 cases — a nine per cent drop — and about 54,000 deaths in the last week, roughly similar to the week before. WHO said there were declines in case numbers in all world regions except for Europe, where the number was about the same as the previous week.
In the U.S., surging demand for COVID-19 tests from employers has exacerbated a nationwide shortage of rapid tests in recent weeks and is driving up costs for state and local testing programs, according to industry executives and state officials.
In Europe, Russia’s daily coronavirus death toll surpassed 900 on Wednesday for the first time in the pandemic, a record that comes amid the country’s low vaccination rate and the government’s reluctance to impose tough restrictions to control new cases.
Romania hit a record of 328 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, a day after reaching more than 15,000 confirmed cases. Romania is the second-least vaccinated country in the EU with just 35 per cent of adults fully vaccinated. Government data indicates that more than 90 per cent of the 328 who died were unvaccinated against COVID-19.
Scandinavian authorities on Wednesday suspended or discouraged the use of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in young people because of an increased risk of heart inflammation, a very rare side effect associated with the shot.
Sweden suspended the use of Moderna for those recipients under 30, Denmark said those under 18 won’t be offered the Swiss-made vaccine, and Norway urged those under 30 to get the Pfizer vaccine instead.
In Asia, Singapore’s health ministry reported 3,486 new cases, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic.
In Africa, Libyan health authorities have started vaccinating migrants in the country, in co-operation with the UN migration agency. The vaccination campaign kicked off in Tripoli, with migrants receiving the first shot of the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine at the National Center for Disease Control.
Zimbabwe is allowing bars to reopen for the first time in more than a year, but only fully vaccinated people will be allowed to take a swig from inside the premises.
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