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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 16th Feb 2021

News Highlights

Warning about the potential dangers of the so-called 'Kent Variant'

B.1.1.7 - the variant first identified in Kent, could be between thirty and seventy percent more lethal than previous strains, according to a report from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Group. Concern over its potency is increased because the Variant is highly transmissable. Now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the UK, B.1.1.7 has spread to many other countries with 83 nations detecting cases according to the World Health Organization.

New head of the WTO issues warning over vaccine nationalism

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the incoming head of the World Trade Organization, has criticized vaccine nationalism. Significant differences in access to vaccines, which act to the detriment of lower-income countries, will delay progress in combatting the pandemic, she said, adding ' a very top priority for me would be...that we find solutions as to how the WTO can make vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics accessible in an equitable and affordable fashion to all countries, particularly to poor countries.'

Major testing gaps in testing access in the U.S. according to new poll

Almost one in four Americans surveyed by STAT and The Harris Poll could not get hold of a COVID-19 test when they wanted one. Of the 2,043 people polled, 24% said they could not access a test due to issues such as location, long waiting time and lack of clarity. Some 31% said they could access tests but the remainder said they did not want a test.

EU in talks with drugmakers to shore up vaccine supplies

The European Union is in talks with Moderna to almost double its volume of vaccine from the drugmaker. It is also still talking to AstraZeneca, which dramatically cut the number of doses forecast to be delivered to the EU in the first quarter of 2021. To accelerate delivery of vaccines, AstraZeneca has suggested providing doses manufactured outside the EU. The bloc aims to inoculate seventy percent of its population by the summer's end, but has been hit by these supply issues.

Lockdown Exit
Kent variant may be 70 percent more deadly: UK study
The highly infectious variant of the novel coronavirus that is predominant in the United Kingdom may be up to 70 percent more deadly than previous strains, according to a report by the government’s scientific advisers. The findings from the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), published on Friday on the government’s website, underscored concerns about how mutations may change the characteristics of SARS-CoV2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – and alter the course of the pandemic. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the negative test results since the first three were found was an encouraging start, but cautioned a fuller picture of the outbreak wouldn’t emerge until Tuesday, when the results from an expanded testing regimen would be known.
'It's been scary’: getting vaccinated akin to lottery for US teachers
Keeping teachers safe is not easy – or consistent. Across the US the availability of vaccines to teachers and other workers in American schools has become something of a lottery, with it being available in some areas, and not in many others even as public schools are being reopened. For many American teachers, access to the vaccine seems to depend less on what you do as a frontline educator and more on where you do it. As more schools around the US have started to reopen to in-person learning, teachers and staff are pushing back on doing so without vaccinations for employees. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is expected to issue new guidance on school reopenings during the pandemic.
Pfizer coronavirus vaccine doses arrives in Australia, ahead of first jabs next week
The first doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine have touched down in Australia as preparations continue for the first stage of the national rollout, Health Minister Greg Hunt says. People will begin receiving the vaccine from Monday, February 22, with more than 142,000 doses arriving in Sydney from Europe just after midday on Monday. "They will now be subject to security, quality assurance, in particular to ensure that temperature maintenance has been preserved throughout the course of the flight, to ensure the integrity of the doses, and to ensure there has been no damage," Mr Hunt said. Mr Hunt said the doses would be split up among the states based on their populations, and more information would be released later this week.
Imperial College expert warns new coronavirus wave could kill tens of thousands of Britons by late summer if lockdown is completely lifted too early
Professor Azra Ghani revealed how a model forecasts significant wave of deaths by summer 2021 if restrictions are eased in July - even despite a vaccine rollout. The government has vowed to release its plan to exit lockdown on February 22. Government is seemingly taking a cautious approach to returning to normality
Incoming WTO head warns 'vaccine nationalism' could slow pandemic recovery
The World Trade Organization’s incoming chief on Monday warned against “vaccine nationalism’ that would slow progress in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and could erode economic growth for all countries - rich and poor. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told Reuters her top priority was to ensure the WTO does more to address the pandemic, saying members should accelerate efforts to lift export restrictions slowing trade in needed medicines and supplies. The former Nigerian finance minister and senior World Bank executive was appointed on Monday in a consensus process and starts her new job on March 1. “The WTO can contribute so much more to helping stop the pandemic,” Okonjo-Iweala said in an interview at her home in a suburb of Washington.
Australia medical regulator approves AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine
Australia's medical regulator said on Tuesday it had granted provisional approval for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca, making it the second vaccine to get regulatory approval in Australia.
South Korea reaches deals to buy more COVID-19 vaccines for 23 million people
South Korea has arranged to buy coronavirus vaccines for 23 million more people, its prime minister said on Tuesday, a day after authorities decided to scale back initial vaccination plans, citing delays and efficacy concerns. The deals include vaccines from Novavax Inc for 20 million people and Pfizer products for 3 million, bringing the total number of people to be covered to 79 million, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said. “The government has been working to bring in sufficient early supplies, but there is growing uncertainty over our plan for the first half due to production issues with global drugmakers and international competition to adopt more vaccines,” he told a televised meeting.
Syringe shortage hampers Japan's COVID-19 vaccination roll out
Japan is scrambling to secure special syringes to maximise the number of COVID-19 vaccine shots used from each vial, but manufacturers are struggling to ramp up production quickly, raising fears that millions of doses could go waste. Japan, with a population of 126 million, last month signed a contract with Pfizer Inc to procure 144 million doses of its vaccine, or enough for 72 million people, with the vaccination campaign set to start on Wednesday. One vial is meant for six shots, Pfizer says, but it takes special syringes that retain a low volume of solution after an injection to extract six doses, while only five shots can be taken with standard syringes that the government has stored up in preparation for the inoculation drive.
Mexico begins vaccinating elderly against COVID-19
Mexico began vaccinating senior citizens in more than 300 municipalities across the country on Monday, after receiving approximately 870,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. The effort was largely concentrated in remote rural communities, but hundreds of people over the age of 60 also lined up before dawn in a few far-flung corners of the sprawling capital, Mexico City, for the chance to get vaccinated. Officials encouraged people to not come all at once, but with shots distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, the demand was immediate. The government has designated 1,000 vaccination sites, including schools and health centres, mostly in the country’s poorest communities.
Zimbabwe receives first batch of Sinopharm vaccines
Zimbabwe has received its first 200,000 coronavirus vaccines, a donation by the Chinese government. Vice President and Health Minister Constantino Chiwenga was at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in the capital, Harare, in the early hours of Monday for the arrival of the doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from China.
Exit Strategies
Vaccine passport for shops could happen, says Dominic Raab
Shops and restaurants could require customers to show vaccine passports under plans being considered by the government, the foreign secretary has suggested. Dominic Raab said that the government was considering using vaccine passports at the “domestic or local level”. His comments appear to put him at odds with No 10, which has repeatedly ruled out using them within the UK. The government is working on plans for the use of vaccine passports to enable international travel. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, denied that there were plans to introduce them within the UK.
Sturgeon 'satisfied' Scotland will meet coronavirus vaccine target ahead of slowdown
Nicola Sturgeon is “satisfied” Scotland has hit its target to vaccinate all over-70s and the clinically vulnerable but warned progress will slow in the coming days as some centres reduce their hours following a dip in supplies. The first minister said everyone in the cohort should have been offered an appointment by close of business on Monday and vowed “nobody is going to be left behind” as she encouraged anyone still to be reached to contact their GP. Monday is the final day for the Scottish Government to ensure everyone aged 70 and older or in the clinically vulnerable group is given a slot, and the SNP leader said she is “satisfied we have met that target”.
Phoenix is paying its employees to get COVID-19 vaccine. Other cities and employers offer incentives, too
Phoenix is paying its employees $75 if they get vaccinated for COVID-19. Other cities in the Phoenix area are rewarding their employees for receiving the vaccine, as well, either by giving them a discount on their health insurance or giving them wellness points that could add up to a discount on their insurance. The city programs come as many large private-sector employers announce they are doing the same. Dollar General, Kroger, McDonald’s and Olive Garden are paying their employees either a flat rate or a certain number hours of pay to get the vaccine.
Widespread vaccinations in the US won't come until the summer. Here's what's been driving down Covid-19 cases so far
Kudos to all the Americans who've been responsible about mask wearing and social distancing. Health experts say your efforts are paying off. After an abysmal start to winter, some Covid-19 numbers have been falling for weeks. But it's not just due to vaccines. More than 14 million Americans have been fully vaccinated with both doses of their Covid-19 vaccines, but that's only about 4% of the US population. And it takes weeks for vaccines to fully kick in. So why are we seeing improvement? "It's what we're doing right: staying apart, wearing masks, not traveling, not mixing with others indoors," said Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the US CDC
EU seeks new COVID-19 vaccine deal with Moderna, AstraZeneca flags doses made outside EU - sources
The EU is holding talks with Moderna on buying more COVID-19 vaccine and AstraZeneca, with which talks have stalled, has suggested delivering doses of its own vaccine made outside Europe to make up for supply cuts, two EU sources said. The European Union has set a target of vaccinating 70% of its adult population by the end of the summer, but has struggled to secure the doses promised by pharmaceutical companies. It is now trying to expand its reserve of vaccines, which already amount to nearly 2.3 billion doses from six drugmakers for its population of about 450 million. The EU is negotiating a new supply deal with Moderna that could nearly double the volume of vaccine doses from the U.S. biotech firm, two senior EU officials involved in the talks told Reuters.
Covid-19: Millions of asthmatics 'must wait for vaccine'
In England, people whose asthma is under control will not be prioritised for the Covid vaccine, the government has confirmed. Sufferers of the condition will not be on the list ahead of their peers unless they are formally shielding, regularly take steroid tablets or have ever had an emergency hospital admission. This appears to be a rowing back from previous guidance indicating steroid-inhaler users would be eligible. It has since been judged this group is not at increased risk of death. The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said it was following independent advice that the immediate priority should be to "prevent deaths and protect health and care staff, with old age deemed the single biggest factor determining mortality".
South Korea cuts first-quarter COVID-19 vaccination plan, restricts use of AstraZeneca shot
South Korea said on Monday it will not use AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine on people aged 65 and older, reversing an earlier decision, and scaled back initial vaccination targets due to delayed shipments from global vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX. South Korea had said it would complete vaccinations on 1.3 million people by the first quarter of this year with AstraZeneca shots, but it slashed the target sharply to 750,000. The decision is largely due to adjustments in the supply timetable of the 2.6 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine from COVAX, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said
Covid-19: Special school teachers 'forgotten' in vaccine rollout
In Northern Ireland, it is an "insult" that the Stormont executive did not vote to vaccinate all special school staff, according to the National Association of Headteachers. A special school teacher has also told BBC News NI she felt "outrage, disappointment, fear and frustration" at the decision. Special schools in Northern Ireland have been open for all pupils since the start of January. Only a limited number of staff are to be given priority for vaccination. That will include some of those working in the direct care of clinically vulnerable children. Education Minister Peter Weir claimed the NI Executive had been "reluctant" to hold a vote on a plan to vaccinate all special school staff.
COVID-19: Vaccine programme moves to phase two after 15 million receive first coronavirus jab
Letters are being sent to those aged over 65 and the clinically vulnerable to invite them to receive the first dose of their COVID-19 vaccine. It comes a day after the UK reached the target of giving at least one dose of the vaccine to 15 million people - the majority of them most at risk from the disease. This means that the first four priority groups - those aged over 70 and the clinically extremely vulnerable - have all been invited to receive the first dose of the vaccine.
Covid-19: First travellers arrive in UK for hotel quarantine stay
The first travellers required to stay at quarantine hotels have begun arriving in the UK. All British and Irish citizens and UK residents who arrive in England after being in a high-risk Covid country now have to self-isolate in hotels. The "red list" of 33 countries includes Portugal, Brazil and South Africa. The new regulations, which aim to stop Covid variants entering the country, apply to arrivals who have been in one of those places in the past 10 days. In Scotland, the rule to stay in a hotel applies to travellers from all countries - rather than just those from the list of 33 countries.
UK risks ‘substantial wave’ of Covid infections if lockdown lifts too soon - what scientists are saying
A scientist advising the Government has said that the UK could face another wave of Covid-19 as big as the current one if lockdown restrictions are lifted too early. Professor Steven Riley, a member of the Spi-M modelling group, said that while the rollout of the vaccine programme has been “incredibly successful”, it does not mean that safety measures and restrictions can simply be dropped. The professor explained that if we were to “choose to just pretend” Covid-19 wasn’t present any more, and drop our safety measures, then “there is potential to go back to a wave that is a similar size to the one that we are in now”.
Zimbabwe receives 200,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines in donation from China
Zimbabwe has received its first batch of Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccines from China as it ramps up efforts to begin vaccinating two thirds of its population. Receiving the vaccines at Robert Mugabe International Airport, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga said: "it has not been lost on us that in times of need, China's response has been swift." Chiwenga said the donation was "timely" and "yet another demonstration of the long bond of friendship and solidarity." Zimbabwe is the first country in southern African to receive the Sinopharm jabs, whose efficacy against a new variant that emerged in neighbouring South Africa, is still unclear.
PoliticsNow: Health Minister Greg Hunt says 4 million vaccine jabs to be done by early April
Health Minister Greg Hunt says 4 million vaccinations will be administered by early April. It comes amid news that the first shipment of Pfizer vaccines have landed in Australia, while Scott Morrison told parliament that the first vials of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been filled in a Melbourne facility today. Premier Daniel Andrews says he ‘can’t say’ when the statewide lockdown will end as Victoria recorded just one new local case of COVID-19 today.
When will lockdown end? How restrictions will be lifted in three stages, with pubs possibly open by Easter
In England, the Government has developed a plan for leaving lockdown that could see pubs and restaurants open by Easter. A senior official told i that Boris Johnson’s road map out of lockdown will begin with the reopening of schools, already scheduled for 8 March. Non-essential retail will follow, and finally hospitality. When these reopen will depend on how the return of pupils affects the virus’ reproduction rate, known as the R number. On Friday that figure fell below one for the first time since July.
England's quarantine hotels open in bid to keep COVID variants out
Passengers arriving in England from Monday from any of 33 “red list” countries will have to spend 10 days quarantined in a hotel room under new border restrictions designed to stop new variants of the coronavirus. The launch of the system, which had already been set out earlier this month, marks the government’s latest effort to prevent another relapse into crisis after a second wave of a more contagious COVID-19 variant forced the country into a prolonged lockdown at the start of the year. New cases, deaths and hospitalisations are falling sharply and the rollout of vaccines has reached more than 15 million people, but ministers are still wary that new mutations from overseas might unravel that progress.
Johnson wants 'cautious but irreversible' path out of COVID-19 lockdown
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday he would plot a cautious but irreversible path out of the COVID-19 lockdown this week after the vaccination of 15 million vulnerable people. With nearly a quarter of Britain’s population now inoculated with a first dose of a COVID vaccine in a little over two months, Johnson is under pressure from some lawmakers and businesses to reopen the economy. Speaking later from Downing Street, Johnson said there was not yet enough data about how vaccines were affecting the spread of COVID-19, though data from Israel, currently the world leader on vaccination, was promising.
COVID-19 vaccine in high demand across US, but supply limited
Across the U.S., states are expanding vaccination criteria and opening mass COVID-19 vaccination sites to an eager population. But, as the New York Times reports, few states claim they have enough vaccine supply to meet demand. The CDC COVID Data Tracker shows that 70,057,800 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been delivered in the United States, and 52,884,356 have been administered. That translates to roughly 12% of the US population having had at least the first dose in a two-dose series of either the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine.
STAT-Harris Poll: 1 in 4 Americans were unable to get a Covid-19 test when they wanted one
As the U.S. struggles to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, nearly a quarter of Americans say they wanted to get tested for the coronavirus but were unable to do so, according to the latest survey from STAT and The Harris Poll. Specifically, 24% reported that they could not get tested for various reasons – a testing site was not nearby, the wait for a test was too long, transportation to a test site was unavailable, or it was unclear where to go for a test. Some people cited more than one of these hurdles. The issue cited most often — 10% complained of the wait. At the same time, 31% said they were able to get tested when they sought to do so, according to the online survey, which queried 2,043 people between Feb. 5 and Feb. 7. The rest said they have never wanted to be tested.
Partisan Exits
Coronavirus in the UK: New BBC Panorama research reveals rise in anti-vaccine propaganda accounts on social media
An investigation for the BBC’s Panorama has revealed an alarming increase in the followers of anti-vaccine accounts on social media – and the impact of the content being shared. Research for the programme, which airs on BBC One on February 15th, analysed anti-vaccine content available on the major social media platforms. It found that anti-vaccine accounts on Instagram increased nearly five-fold in 2020, reaching over four million followers. “Naturally we didn’t have the time maybe to do the sort of preliminary work that we do when we’re introducing vaccines,” said Mary Ramsay, Head of Immunisation at Public Health England. “I think it's fair to say that we didn’t have time to do all those things as well as we would normally do but we’re very much playing catch up now.” It comes at a time when more people are seeking health information online.
The superspreaders behind top COVID-19 conspiracy theories
As the coronavirus spread across the globe, so too did speculation about its origins. Perhaps the virus escaped from a lab. Maybe it was engineered as a bioweapon. Legitimate questions about the virus created perfect conditions for conspiracy theories. In the absence of knowledge, guesswork and propaganda flourished. College professors with no evidence or training in virology were touted as experts. Anonymous social media users posed as high-level intelligence officials. And from China to Iran to Russia to the United States, governments amplified claims for their own motives. The Associated Press collaborated with the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab on a nine-month investigation to identify the people and organizations behind some of the most viral misinformation about the origins of the coronavirus. Their claims were explosive. Their evidence was weak. These are the superspreaders.
Three arrested at anti-lockdown rally in Melbourne
A group of anti-lockdown protesters have rallied in Melbourne today, with three men arrested. Dozens of people came together at Eaton Mall in Oakleigh to defy the state's stage four lockdown in place until midnight on Wednesday. The largely maskless group clashed with police and became vocal towards them, swearing and shouting.
Victorian builders baffled by decision to stop construction in lockdown
Victorian builders say the state's latest five-day lockdown rules are excessive, especially for regional Victoria where work has ground to a halt just when it was getting back to normal. Victoria's Premier Daniel Andrews says the statewide blanket lockdown is a "circuit breaker" to a growing cluster in Melbourne's north. But for Tanya McNamara, whose construction firm has been rebuilding homes in East Gippsland, all the lockdown has done is disrupt the flow of rebuilding after last summer's bushfires.
Australian Proud Boys sought combat-trained supporters to 'arrest' police at Covid lockdown protests
The far-right Proud Boys in Australia sought people trained in combat to help confront police during anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne last year. Amid repeated warnings from security agencies in Australia and overseas about the way far-right groups have used the Covid-19 pandemic to recruit, Guardian Australia can reveal that senior members of the neo-fascist Proud Boys group were involved in protests during Melbourne’s second-wave lockdown last year. A series of messages posted to anti-lockdown social media groups in the past year reveal the increasingly blurred line between the loose coalition of conspiracy groups that orchestrated those protests and far right groups such as the Proud Boys.
Wetherspoon's Tim Martin urges govt to reopen pubs, warns of economic mayhem
Wetherspoon founder and Chairman Tim Martin on Monday called on the government to open pubs at the same time as non-essential shops reopen, saying the pub industry was on its knees under the latest lockdown and warned of economic mayhem. Britain’s hospitality sector has been hit hard by the third coronavirus-led lockdown which forced Wetherspoon into a second cash call last month. The British Beer & Pub Association also urged the government last week to give a clear timeline and date for when pubs could reopen. Pubs reopened on July 4 last year after the first lockdown was lifted, followed by a second lockdown later that year.
Germany defends border controls as business demands lockdown exit plan
Germany said on Monday its decision to impose border controls with the Czech Republic and Austria is a temporary measure of last resort and it defended a lockdown extension against business demands for a roadmap to reopening. The new restrictions along the normally open borders were prompted by alarm over outbreaks in the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol region of strains of the coronavirus that spread faster and cause more illness. Germany installed frontier checks on Sunday, drawing protest from Austria and concerns about supply-chain disruptions that could damage the country’s export-oriented manufacturing sector.
"The biggest mistake was failing to control the growth of infection in the autumn." - Professor Neil Ferguson
Imperial College Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson said the biggest mistake made by the government during the pandemic was failing to control the rise in infections in the autumn which led to a devastating second wave in the winter. Mr Ferguson, whose research led to the first UK lockdown, said the UK responded too late back in March but thought the government had 'learned that lesson' by the autumn. He said the failure to act with strict measures in the autumn was understandable but it set the country up for very high case numbers through the winter. He said: "It's unfortunate politicians need to see people in hospitals before they react."
After hitting vaccine milestone, UK eyes way out of lockdown
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the path out of lockdown must be sensible to avoid being forced into a reversal of the relaxation of measures. Johnson’s comments on Monday came after the government reached its target to vaccinate 15 million people by the middle of this month, a milestone which has fuelled calls for the stringent restrictions to be loosened. Speaking to people waiting for a COVID-19 vaccine shot, Johnson said the key question was working out to what extent a drop in infections was being caused by the vaccination programme. “That’s the data we’re having to look at and really work out what is going on,” Johnson said. Asked about lifting lockdown, Johnson said: “The crucial thing is to make sure we just do sensible steps that are in proportion to where we are.” “What people don’t want to see is you know just being forced into reverse – we don’t want to do you know a reverse ferret – let’s take it at the right pace,” he said.
Continued Lockdown
Landlords evicting hundreds during lockdown with government’s new ‘eviction ban’ loopholes
Hundreds of renters have been thrown out of their homes in the middle of lockdown after the government caved in to landlord lobbying and introduced loopholes to its eviction ban. New figures show eviction attempts by landlords doubled during the winter coronavirus lockdown, while more than 500 households were forced out by county court bailiffs. The government promised in March that nobody would be made homeless because they had lost their income due to coronavirus, and put a blanket ban on evictions.
Despite tough facade, North Korea's battle with COVID-19 continues
North Korea started off the year on a strong note by holding a large military parade as well as reaffirming the country’s commitment to self-reliance. But behind the tough façade, the country is still trying to contain the spread of COVID-19 within its borders. The pandemic has not gone away for the rest of the world, and North Korea is no exception. North Korea was one of the first countries in the world to take the pandemic very seriously; closing off its borders back in January of 2020. Given that the virus had originated just across its borders in China, the North Korean government wasted no time in implementing drastic security measures. Although this prevented an uncontrollable spread of the virus within the country, the negative economic impact has been immense, and—contrary to official statements—North Korean citizens do seem to have been infected with the virus throughout the course of the pandemi
Too soon to say when Victoria will end snap Covid lockdown, Daniel Andrews says
Daniel Andrews says it is too early to say whether Victoria will emerge from its “circuit breaker” lockdown as planned on Wednesday, despite recording only one new locally acquired case of Covid-19 on Monday. At the midpoint of the state’s five-day lockdown, and with health officials confident that close contacts of 17 coronavirus cases linked to the Holiday Inn hotel quarantine outbreak have been identified, the premier said a decision on easing restrictions had not been made. Victoria recorded one new locally acquired case in the past 24 hours, a woman who attended a private function of 30 people in Coburg on 6 February that has been linked to other infections.
Australian officials say too early to make call on ending Victoria lockdown
The leader of Australia’s Victoria state said on Monday it was too early to say if a snap five-day coronavirus lockdown would end as planned on Wednesday evening, as authorities confirmed a national vaccine rollout was on track to begin next week. Victoria, the second most populous state in the country, reported just one new COVID-19 infection on Monday, taking the total cases in a recent cluster linked to a quarantine hotel to 17 people. The most recent case is the mother of a three-year-old child who tested positive a day earlier.
Fed-up Britons returning to shops despite lockdown and 'Beast from the East'
The number of people heading out to shops across Britain increased by 1.5% last week from the previous week, a fourth straight week of rises, indicating that Britons are increasingly tiring of lockdown, industry data showed on Monday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered England into a new national lockdown on Jan. 4 to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases that threatened to overwhelm parts of the health system. Under the rules in England, schools are closed to most pupils, people should work from home if possible, and all hospitality and non-essential shops are closed. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have imposed similar measures.
Locked down and lonely, London Zoo faces fight to survive
London Zoo should be teeming with children released from school by half-term holidays. But instead, the monkeys’ pranks are unobserved, King Cobra is coiled friendless in the reptile house and the future of the world’s oldest scientific zoo is in peril. As the menagerie in Regent’s Park, central London, nurses a multi-million-pound hole in its budget and lockdown keeps visitors away, even during school holidays, the keepers are sad and anxious. “Lockdown here has been really surreal - like with no visitors here, it’s been a really sad time for the zoo,” Kate Sanders, big cats team leader at the zoo, told Reuters.
Despair Deepens for Young People as Pandemic Drags On
Life seemed promising last year to Philaé Lachaux, a 22-year-old business student in France who dreamed of striking out on her own in the live music industry. But the onset of the pandemic, leading to the loss of her part-time job as a waitress, sent her back to live at her family home. Now, struggling to envision a future after months of restrictions, Ms. Lachaux says that loneliness and despair seep in at night. “I look at the ceiling, I feel a lump in my throat,” she said. “I’ve never had so many suicidal thoughts.” “The pandemic feels like a big stop in our lives,” she added. “One that puts us so low that I wonder, ‘What’s the point?’”
Germany says pandemic border checks are only temporary
Intensified checks at Germany’s borders meant to slow the spread of the pandemic are only temporary and a last resort, a German government spokesman said on Monday. “A return to normal is in the interest of everyone involved,” Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told a regular news conference.
Scientific Viewpoint
Next coronavirus vaccines may be drops, pills or printed on demand
The race to develop vaccines against covid-19 got off to a flyer, but with dangerous new virus variants, stark inequalities in access to vaccines and few vaccination options for children, the world still needs all hands on deck. Last week, a virtual meeting run by the New York Academy of Sciences called The Quest for a COVID-19 Vaccine showcased the most promising new candidates. So far, all approved covid-19 vaccines have been injectable. Another option is a nose drop, says Robert Coleman, CEO of biotech company Codagenix, in Farmingdale, New York.
Countries already using Pfizer coronavirus vaccine include UK, US, Canada and Singapore
As Australia takes delivery of its first shipment of coronavirus vaccines, at least 44 countries have already begun inoculating their citizens using the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, World Health Organization data shows. Dozens of other countries have also begun mass inoculations, but they have started early without WHO approval. The Pfizer shot is the only vaccine with WHO emergency approval so far. The countries using the vaccine are mostly located in Europe, with Canada, the United States, Chile, Singapore and some Middle Eastern countries also securing doses.
Pan-European consortium seeks big pharma partner for COVID-19 shot
A pan-European consortium developing a COVID-19 vaccine is in talks with big pharma to support the late-stage development of its shot and ramp up manufacturing, the head of German biotech firm Leukocare told Reuters. Leukocare is working with Italy’s ReiThera and Belgium’s Univercells on a vaccine based on a so-called non-replicating adenoviral vector, the same technology that AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson have used. Chief Executive Michael Scholl said the companies were talking to potential big pharma partners about whether they could provide additional manufacturing capacity, as well as help to advance their candidate through Phase III clinical trials.
Wearing a face mask can reduce your risk of severe Covid-19: Humidity inside coverings limits the spread of the virus to the lungs leading to milder infection, study shows
NIH researchers assessed humidity of a space before and after wearing a mask. Masks increase humidity by between 38 and 90 per cent compared to maskless. This leads to hydrated air being inhaled by the person wearing the mask. This helps the respiratory tract to clear out the virus in the mucus and prevent it reaching the lungs
COVID-19 shots might be tweaked if variants get worse
The makers of COVID-19 vaccines are figuring out how to tweak their recipes against worrisome virus mutations — and regulators are looking to flu as a blueprint if and when the shots need an update. “It’s not really something you can sort of flip a switch, do overnight,” cautioned Richard Webby, who directs a World Health Organization flu center from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Viruses mutate constantly and it takes just the right combination of particular mutations to escape vaccination. But studies are raising concern that first-generation COVID-19 vaccines don’t work as well against a mutant that first emerged in South Africa as they do against other versions circulating around the world.
Covid-19: Vaccine as good in 'real world' as in trial in Israel
More data from Israel's vaccination programme is suggesting the Pfizer jab prevents 94% of symptomatic infections. This indicates the vaccine is performing just as well in a larger population as it did in the clinical trials. It is proving highly effective at preventing illness and severe disease among all age groups, according to public health doctor Prof Hagai Levine. "High vaccination coverage of the most susceptible groups" was key, he said. Israel's largest health fund Clalit looked at positive tests in 600,000 vaccinated people and the same number of unvaccinated people, matched by age and health status. It found 94% fewer infections among the vaccinated group. This was based on test results in people's medical records, usually taken if they had symptoms or were a close contact of someone who had tested positive. And the vaccine prevented almost all cases of serious illness. This pattern was the same in all age groups - including the over-70s, who may have been under-represented in clinical trials.
The search for new Covid drugs — and a researcher’s reason for optimism
David Fajgenbaum is a physician and scientist at the University of Pennsylvania. He is best known for his personal battle against Castleman Disease, which nearly killed him before he discovered a treatment that saved his life. Now, however, Fajgenbaum’s research lab at Penn is now working to catalog and analyze drugs that might prove effective against Covid-19. He recently joined STAT’s podcast, “The Readout LOUD,” to discuss that work and more. Excerpts of the conversation are below, lightly edited for clarity.
WHO approves AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use
The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday listed AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, widening access to the relatively inexpensive shot in the developing world. “We now have all the pieces in place for the rapid distribution of vaccines. But we still need to scale up production,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, told a news briefing. “We continue to call for COVID19 vaccine developers to submit their dossiers to WHO for review at the same time as they submit them to regulators in high-income countries,” he said. A WHO statement said it had approved the vaccine as produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio (Republic of Korea) and the Serum Institute of India.
How effective is a single vaccine dose against Covid-19?
The cases are already beginning to emerge. When 85-year-old Colin Horseman was admitted to Doncaster Royal Infirmary in late December, it was for a suspected kidney infection. But not long afterwards he caught Covid-19 – at the time, roughly one in four people in hospital with the virus had acquired it there. He developed severe symptoms and was eventually put on a ventilator. A few days later, he died. At first glance, Horseman's situation may seem fairly typical, though no less tragic for it. After all, at least 84,767 people have now succumbed to the disease in the UK alone at the time of writing. But, as his son recently explained in a local newspaper, less than three weeks earlier he had been among the first people in the world to receive the initial dose of a Covid-19 vaccine – the Pfizer-BioNTech version. He was due to receive the second dose two days prior to his death.
Is it safe for pregnant women to have a COVID-19 vaccine?
Last week, my sister who is an NHS dentist, told me she was going to get her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. While we spoke on the phone, she said she was a little apprehensive about getting it. When I asked her why she said two of the dental nurses at her surgery were not getting theirs as they both saw messages on WhatsApp that said the vaccine would make them infertile. I told my sister it was complete nonsense and that there was no evidence to suggest this was true; she subsequently went to get vaccinated, but the nurses did not. Sadly, I am hearing from many young people who are hesitant to take the COVID vaccine due to misinformation they have come across around fertility – so let me address this issue head-on.
COVID-19: Oxford vaccine creator calls for donations to help people in poorer countries receive a jab
The co-creator of the Oxford vaccine has called on people to give money to support coronavirus vaccination in poorer countries. Professor Sarah Gilbert is backing a new campaign launching today, which asks people in the UK to give money to the World Health Organisation COVID-19 relief fund when they receive the date for their coronavirus vaccination. "We produced and developed the Oxford vaccine as a vaccine for the world," Professor Gilbert said about the campaign, which is called Arm in Arm. "We are happy to support a new initiative to get COVID vaccines to as many people as possible."
WHO green-lights AstraZeneca COVID vaccine for urgent use
The World Health Organization (WHO) today announced that the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine made in two different countries is listed for emergency use, clearing the final hurdle for doses to be distributed by the COVAX program. In other developments, WHO officials said multiple factors are probably responsible for a drop in global cases, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in its latest risk assessment that countries are seeing an increase in the number and proportion of SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Coronavirus China: WHO scientist says virus was 'widespread' in December
Peter Embarek, lead WHO researcher in Wuhan, has revealed virus was circulating 'widely' in December 2019. He also revealed 13 variants were found among early cases, suggesting disease was in humans for some time. Embarek stopped short of saying disease was circulating before December, but called for further research Comes less than a week after Embarek told a press conference in China that there is no evidence the virus was circulating 'in Wuhan or elsewhere' before December
Coronavirus Resurgence
COVID-19: Another 230 coronavirus deaths in UK - as 15.3 million have first vaccine dose
The latest figures have been announced as the prime minister said there will be a "cautious" approach to easing lockdown rules. The UK has recorded another 230 coronavirus deaths - compared to the 333 fatalities confirmed on this day last week. The latest figure is also a drop from the 258 deaths announced on Sunday, government data shows. Since the pandemic began, a total of 117,396 people have died within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test.
Portugal's daily COVID-19 deaths below 100 for first time in six weeks
The number of new daily COVID-19 deaths in Portugal fell to its lowest level in around six weeks on Monday, with infections also declining, adding to evidence that an alarming post-Christmas surge in the coronavirus pandemic is slowing. The good news came hours after grim data showing the once-booming tourism sector suffered its worst results since the mid-1980s last year as the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns worldwide grounded flights and kept visitors away.
Death toll reaches 2,000 as 477 people battle COVID-19 in our hospitals
The latest statistics reveal that another four people died in the last 24 hours. Meanwhile there have been another 234 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours. This jumps to 2,095 people in the last seven days. There are now 477 people with confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our hospitals - and 59 of those battling in ICU. There are now 79 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in NI Care Homes.
Maharashtra to Face Another Lockdown? Rise in COVID-19 Cases Alarming, May Take Harsh Steps, Warns Deputy CM
Describing the rise in fresh COVID-19 cases in some districts of Maharashtra as “alarming”, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar on Monday warned of taking some “harsh decisions” and asked people to be prepared. Some districts in Vidarbha region in east Maharashtra, especially Amravati and Nagpur, and Nashik in north Maharashtra have seen the number of new cases rising over the last few days.
Vietnamese province reimposes stay at home order in coronavirus battle
Vietnam on Monday reintroduced stay at home measures in the northern province of Hai Duong after it reported dozens of COVID-19 cases there every day since a new outbreak last month. Having stayed clear of the virus for nearly two months, Vietnam was back on high alert after the government confirmed its first community infections in Hai Duong on Jan. 28. The province, where 499 COVID-19 infections have been detected, will be under lockdown from midnight on Tuesday until further notice, the government said.
Hungary's PM seeks renewal of special powers to fight COVID-19
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban asked parliament on Monday to extend the government’s special powers to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, saying only vaccinations would enable the government to ease lockdown measures introduced last autumn. Hungary became the first European Union member state last week to start administering Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine after its regulator approved the shot for emergency use rather than wait for a green light from the EU’s European Medicines Agency. The Hungarian drug regulator has also granted approval to Chinese Sinopharm’s vaccine, also a first in the EU.
Health ministry advisor Ricciardi calls for new lockdown
Walter Ricciardi, a top Italian physician and advisor to Health Minister Roberto Speranza, has suggested Italy have another full-blown nationwide lockdown amid concern about the spread of new variants of COVID-19 in Italy. Ricciardi suggested a short but tough lockdown, in which non-essential activities would be stopped and schools closed. The proposal stirred angry reactions from many quarters, with League leader Matteo Salvini blasting "experts who sow fear". Ricciardi reacted to calls for him to quit by saying he would be prepared to do so if that were deemed "useful".
A new study identifies seven U.S. virus variants with the same worrying mutation.
As Americans anxiously watch the spread of coronavirus variants that were first identified in Britain and South Africa, scientists are finding a number of new variants that seem to have originated in the United States — and many of them may pose the same kind of extra-contagious threat. In a study posted on Sunday, a team of researchers reported seven growing lineages of the coronavirus, spotted in states across the country. All have gained a mutation at the exact same spot in their genes.
New Lockdown
Iraq detects new UK-based strain, reimposes partial lockdown
Iraq will re-impose partial lockdown measures until early March after detecting a new strain of the coronavirus, including among children, its health minister announced on Monday. "Unfortunately, government labs showed genetic mutations in the Covid-19 strain, detecting the new fast-spreading strain in Iraq," Hassan al-Tamimi told reporters. He referred to the strain as the one "which spread in the UK," and said it had been detected in some Iraqi children, but did not give a total number of people who had been diagnosed with the new variant.
No new community cases found in New Zealand since lockdown
As people in Auckland adjusted to a new lockdown on Monday, health officials said they'd found no evidence the coronavirus had spread further in the community, raising hopes the restrictions might be short-lived. New Zealand's largest city was hurriedly placed into a three-day lockdown Sunday after three unexplained virus cases were found. It's the country's first lockdown in six months and represents a setback in its largely successful efforts to control the virus. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the negative test results since the first three were found was an encouraging start, but cautioned a fuller picture of the outbreak wouldn't emerge until Tuesday, when the results from an expanded testing regimen would be known.
New Zealand Orders 1st COVID-19 Lockdown in 6 Months
As people in Auckland adjusted to a new lockdown on Monday, health officials said they’d found no evidence the coronavirus had spread further in the community, raising hopes the restrictions might be short-lived. New Zealand’s largest city was hurriedly placed into a three-day lockdown Sunday after three unexplained virus cases were found. It’s the country’s first lockdown in six months and represents a setback in its largely successful efforts to control the virus.
Covid 19 coronavirus: How much the lockdown could cost New Zealand
The re-emergence of lockdown measures could sap over $90 million out of the economy - and an Auckland business leader says firms need to know the Government will look after them. Based on cost estimates developed by ASB during the previous lockdown, having Auckland at alert level 3 and the rest of the country at alert level 2 costs the economy about $440 million per week - or 0.15 per cent of GDP. ASB has today released an updated estimated, suggesting that impact would be about half what was designated in August. "This time around we think the GDP impact could be slightly less than half that given how NZ adapted in the last lockdown," ASB said in a note today.
Australia suspends travel bubble with New Zealand after Auckland lockdown
Australia has suspended its quarantine-free travel arrangement with New Zealand following the detection of COVID-19 in a couple and their daughter in Auckland at the weekend. After initially saying there would be no change to the travel bubble, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly convened an urgent meeting late on Sunday with the chief health officers from NSW, Queensland and Victoria. “It was decided at this meeting today that all flights originating in New Zealand will be classified as Red Zone flights for an initial period of 72 hours from 12.01am on 15 February”, a statement from the Department of Health reads.