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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 17th Mar 2021

Overnight News Roundup

Why are COVID cases rising in Europe despite vaccination efforts?

Across the European Union, COVID-19 cases have begun to rise steadily, from 200 per million in mid-February to 270 per million last weekend. The level is still a long way off from the EU 'record' of 490 per million last November, but still represents a worrying trend.

More infectious strains, sluggish rollouts - Some countries are in trouble, but others like Portugal and Spain, the figures are not nearly so high. There's been a big incease in testing everywhere, so the more you look for COVOD-19 the more you are going to find. But...then there's the question of new strains, particularly the UK variant, reportedly 70% more infectious which has boosted cases too.

As of last week, according to Bloomberg's Coronavirus Vaccine Tracker, the EU had administered eight first doses per 100 people, compared with 33 for the UK and 25 for the USA. The slow vaccination campaign rollout - has been attributed to seemingly chronic delays in supplies dating back to January, when reduced shipments of the Pfizer vaccine sparked rows with Italy. Since then there have been issues in France and Italy with the Moderna vaccine, a reduction by two-thirds of AstraZeneca's promised total of 90 million doses by the end of March, and last week reports that supplies of the recently EMA-approved single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine being delayed also.

Now we have the round of suspensions of the AstraZeneca vaccines in multiple countries in the wake of reports that a tiny number of people have developed blood clots after receiving the jab. So it is now easy to see why Europe's vaccination drive has been so hamstrung and how it is affecting the rise in cases.

Conflict between economic concerns and lockdown measures - There has been three different ways of reacting to the virus: a 'laissez faire' strategy such as in the USA and Brazil. At the other end of the scale in Asia, a strict 'Zero COVID policy' that tries to stamp out COVIS altogether with strict collective measures. The third path dominates in Europe and it is more more reactive than proactive and is heavily influence by business sector demands. Rather than trying to wipe out the virus altogether, in Europe its been about 'toughening up restrictions when contagion numbers where high, lowering them again as soon as they got better.' It is a permanent game that won't end until there's mass vaccinations and that will take months if not the entire year to happen.

Given the vaccine production delays, the tension between business needs and lockdown measures and the newer, more infectious COVID-19 virus strains Europe is facing an uphill struggle. Add to that a lack of respect for physical distancing measures by younger adults who still feel they're invulnerable to the virus - it could easily reverse any positive steps made as the vaccines are rolled out.

Why are COVID cases rising in Europe despite vaccination efforts?
Why are COVID cases rising in Europe despite vaccination efforts?
Across the European Union, COVID-19 cases have begun to rise steadily, from 200 per million in mid-February to 270 per million last weekend. That level is still a long way off from the EU record of 490 per million in November, but a worrying trend nonetheless. “We are weary of it all, but we’re determined, too,” a doctor at an Italian hospital told Al Jazeera, speaking on condition of anonymity. Most regions in Italy, including Rome and Milan, are now classified as high-risk and there will be a three-day national lockdown over Easter. “We were in a period of relative stability around December and January, but now the figures are worsening again very quickly,” said the doctor.
Germany's AstraZeneca move could stymie recovery, economists say
Germany’s decision to suspend AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine could delay progress in reaching herd immunity and postpone a much-hoped for easing of lockdown measures needed for a robust recovery in the second quarter, economists said on Tuesday. Health Minister Jens Spahn described Monday’s move on the AstraZeneca shot as a precaution, making Germany the latest of several European countries to hit pause following reports of blood coagulation disorders in some recipients. The government’s decision was based on a recommendation from the politically independent Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), Germany’s authority in charge of vaccines, following newly registered cases of a very rare cerebral vein thrombosis, including three deaths.
German COVID-19 cases are growing exponentially again: RKI
Coronavirus infections are rising exponentially in Germany, an expert at the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said on Tuesday, putting at risk plans to lift the lockdown and revive the economy. The number of cases per 100,000 reported on Tuesday was 83.7, up from 68 a week ago, and the RKI has said that metric could reach 200 by the middle of next month. Germany is in a third wave of the pandemic, driven by an easing of restrictions in recent weeks just as a more transmissible variant has spread, Dirk Brockmann, an epidemiologist at the RKI, told Germany’s ARD television.
More vaccine approvals
Singapore to begin using Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from 17 March
Singapore will begin using the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at four new vaccination centres that are set to begin operations on Wednesday (17 March). "As more supplies of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine arrive, more vaccination centres will offer the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine," said MOH. These new locations will join the 24 existing centres, along with the 20 polyclinics and Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs), in offering vaccinations for members of the public. MOH said it expects a total of 40 vaccination centres to be in operation islandwide by mid-April.
China approves another COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use
China has approved a new COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, one that was developed by the head of its Center for Disease Control, adding a fifth shot to its arsenal. Gao Fu, the head of China's CDC, led the development of a protein subunit vaccine that was approved by regulators last week for emergency use, the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Microbiology said. It is the fifth coronavirus vaccine approved in China and the fourth to be given emergency use approval. The latest vaccine was developed jointly by Anhui Zhifei Longcom Biopharmaceutical Co. Ltd. and the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Iran starts trial of new homegrown vaccine as campaign lags
Iran’s campaign to inoculate its population against the coronavirus and promote itself as an emerging vaccine manufacturer inched on as health authorities announced Tuesday that the country’s third homegrown vaccine has reached the phase of clinical trials. Details about its production, however, remained slim. Although Iran, with a population of more than 80 million, has so far imported foreign vaccines from Russia, China, India and Cuba to cover over 1.2 million people, concerns over its lagging pace of vaccinations have animated Iran’s drive to develop locally produced vaccines as wealthier nations snap up the lion’s share of vaccine doses worldwide.
Canada recommends AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for seniors
Canada has recommended the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine for people aged above 65 in a pivot from its original guidelines. The government’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization had previously recommended that people above 65 should not receive the vaccine “due to limited information on its efficacy”. However, that recommendation was based on early clinical data, and the NACI said on Tuesday that it made the change after reviewing “real-world effectiveness studies”. The recommendation still said Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna should be “prioritised” for older age groups.
AstraZeneca vaccine controversy
Belgium will continue using AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine, task force says
AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, of which other countries have temporarily halted the use due to health risks, will still be administered in Belgium, the Vaccination Task Force confirmed. Earlier in the afternoon, the Superior Health Council had made this decision, based on scientific advice from European and Belgian experts, with which the interministerial conference on public health later agreed. “It would be irresponsible to suspend vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine right now,” said Minister of Public Health, Frank Vandenbroucke.
Venezuela won’t authorise AstraZeneca vaccine due to safety fears
Venezuela has announced that it will not authorise AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine after several European countries suspended their rollouts of the jab due to possible side effects. “Venezuela will not authorise the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the process of immunising our population due to complications” in vaccinated patients, Vice President Delcy Rodriguez said on public television on Monday. Venezuela – which began its coronavirus vaccination campaign in February with Russia’s Sputnik V and China’s Sinopharm jabs – had reserved between 1.4 and 2.4 million AstraZeneca doses through the COVAX plan
Chaos in Germany and Italy after suspension of Oxford vaccine
There has been chaos and confusion in Germany and Italy after their decisions to suspend use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine, with vaccination centres closing their doors and appointments being abruptly cancelled. The countries are two of the biggest on a growing list of European nations that have in recent days ordered a pause in the distribution of the AstraZeneca vaccine. The move came after seven reported cases in Germany of blood clots including deep vein thrombosis in people who had recently received the jab, three of which were fatal. In Italy eight people have died and four more have suffered “serious adverse events”, according to Nicola Magrini, head of the Italian medicines agency Aifa.
Health experts pore over AstraZeneca safety data as Europe reels from vaccine suspensions
Global health experts came under increasing pressure on Tuesday to clear up questions over the safety of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot, as Sweden and Latvia joined countries suspending their use in a further blow to Europe’s vaccination rollout. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it was investigating reports of 30 cases of unusual blood disorders out of 5 million recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine. In total, 45 million COVID shots have been delivered across the region. The EU regulator will release its findings on Thursday but its head, Emer Cooke, said she saw no reason to change its recommendation of AstraZeneca - one of four vaccines that it has approved for use.
Thai PM gets AstraZeneca jab, 1 Asian country suspends
Thailand’s prime minister received a shot of the COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca on Tuesday, as much of Asia shrugged off concerns about reports of blood clots in some recipients in Europe, saying that so far there is no evidence to link the two. Many countries using the vaccine also said the benefits from inoculation far outweighed possible risks, even as parts of Europe suspended it pending investigation of potential side effects. AstraZeneca has developed a manufacturing base in Asia, and the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has been contracted by the company to produce a billion doses of the vaccine for developing nations. Hundreds of millions more are to be manufactured this year in Australia, Japan, Thailand and South Korea.
Health experts pore over AstraZeneca safety data as Europe reels from vaccine suspensions
Global health experts came under increasing pressure on Tuesday to clear up questions over the safety of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot, as Sweden and Latvia joined countries suspending their use in a further blow to Europe’s vaccination rollout. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it was investigating reports of 30 cases of unusual blood disorders out of 5 million recipients of the AstraZeneca vaccine. In total, 45 million COVID shots have been delivered across the region. The EU regulator will release its findings on Thursday but its head, Emer Cooke, said she saw no reason to change its recommendation of AstraZeneca - one of four vaccines that it has approved for use. “The benefits continue to outweigh the risks, but this is a serious concern and it does need serious and detailed scientific evaluation,” Cooke told a news conference.
AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine’s Benefits Outweigh Risks, Says EU
The European Union’s top drug regulator said it is still firmly convinced that the benefits of AstraZeneca PLC’s Covid-19 vaccine outweigh the risks, after a string of nations in the bloc temporarily halted use of the shot over blood-clot concerns. The European Medicines Agency so far sees no indication that the vaccine caused a small number of blood-clotting incidents reported across the region, Executive Director Emer Cooke said in a briefing Tuesday. The regulator is currently reviewing those incidents to determine whether they represent a broader risk. Ms. Cooke said the results of the review would be presented Thursday.
EU regulator ‘convinced’ AstraZeneca benefit outweighs risk
The European Union’s drug regulator insisted Tuesday that there is “no indication” the AstraZeneca vaccine causes blood clots as governments around the world faced the grimmest of dilemmas: push on with a vaccine known to save lives or suspend its use over reports of clotting in some recipients. The European Medicines Agency urged governments not to halt use of the vaccine at a time when the pandemic is still taking thousands of lives each day. And already there are concerns that even brief suspensions could have disastrous effects on confidence in inoculation campaigns the world over, many of which are already struggling to overcome logistical hurdles and widespread hesitancy about vaccines. “We are still firmly convinced that the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine in preventing COVID-19 with its associated risk of hospitalization and death outweigh the risk of the side effects,” said Emer Cooke, the head of the agency.
COVID-19: There's no proof that AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine causes blood clots
Risk and benefit. Every medicine has it. And it's been brought into sharp focus by the rumble over AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine. Several countries have reported people developing blood clots soon after having the jab and have suspended the rollout as a precaution while medical regulators investigate.
WHO meets to discuss AstraZeneca vaccine as more EU countries halt rollout
Europe's medicines regulator has said there's "no indication" that the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine has caused blood clots, as the list of countries temporarily halting the vaccine's rollout over safety concerns continues to grow. On Tuesday, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Latvia and Sweden became the latest European nations to suspend its use, despite advice from the European Medical Authority (EMA) and other international medical agencies that the benefits of getting shots into arms outweigh any potential risks. The head of the EMA, which authorized the use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for the 27-nation bloc, said Tuesday that regulators remained "firmly convinced" of that assessment.
Variants - the latest
A concerning variant is about to become dominant in the US, experts say, and how Americans act could help fuel or curb a surge
Experts are worried some Americans are letting up too early -- at a critical time when looming dangers are threatening to wipe out the progress the US has made in its battle against Covid-19. At least a dozen state leaders have eased Covid-19 restrictions this month, often citing improving Covid-19 trends and growing vaccination numbers. At the same time, air travel is hitting pandemic-era records and the first spring break crowds have begun descending on Florida and other sunny regions while cases of a dangerous variant are on the rise.
FDA orders COVID antibody makers Regeneron, Eli Lilly to track virus variants
Emerging coronavirus variants could pose threats to existing monoclonal antibodies and vaccines, and the FDA’s taken note, revising its emergency use authorizations to Eli Lilly’s and Regeneron’s drugs. In edited letters of authorization re-issued in late February and early March, the FDA’s asking the two companies to monitor new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus behind COVID-19 and potentially conduct additional tests of their authorized antibody drugs against variants. The update came as evidence points to increased resistance of emerging coronavirus variants, especially the B.1.351 version first identified in South Africa, to antibody therapies. The letters, first reported by Endpoints, were for existing EUAs for Lilly’s bamlanivimab (PDF) and its combo (PDF) with etesevimab, and Regeneron’s cocktail (PDF) of casirivimab and imdevimab, in mild-to-moderate COVID-19 patients with high risk of disease progression in the outpatient setting.
AstraZeneca vaccine doesn't prevent B1351 COVID in early trial
Two doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine were ineffective against mild-to-moderate infections with the B1351 variant first identified in South Africa, according to a phase 1b-2 clinical trial published today in the New England Journal of Medicine. The double-blind multicenter study, led by scientists at the South African Medical Research Council Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit, studied the safety and the efficacy of the AstraZeneca ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine in HIV-negative adults aged 18 to 64 who received either two standard doses of the vaccine or a placebo in a 1:1 ratio 21 to 35 days apart from Jun 24 to Nov 9, 2020. Median follow-up after the second dose was 121 days.
Two Cases Of Philippines Covid Variant Found In England
Two cases of a new coronavirus strain first reported in the Philippines have been found in England. Public Health England (PHE) said the variant contains a number of notable mutations, including the E484K spike protein found in the Manaus variant. Concerns have been raised that vaccines may not be as effective against this protein. The new strain has been designated as a variant under investigation (VUI) rather than a variant of concern, such as the Manaus strain. Public Health England said one of the cases was linked to international travel and the other is still being investigated, but did not confirm where either had been found
Russia identifies two cases of South African COVID variant
Russia has identified two cases of the new variant of the coronavirus first detected in South Africa, its health regulator said in a statement on Tuesday. The variant was first identified in South Africa in December, where it now predominates. It has also been detected now in more than 40 countries, according to the World Health Organization. South African scientists say there is no clear evidence that the variant is associated with more severe disease or worse outcomes. However, it does appear to spread faster than previous iterations. Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor said it had conducted 8,159 tests for mutations of the coronavirus so far. It is collecting and testing samples from a range of different people, the regulator said, including those who have recently travelled abroad, as well as people who are suspected to have been infected with coronavirus for a second time.
Vaccine hesitancy or complacency
Boris Johnson faces explosive claims of Covid-19 complacency which led to 'more deaths'
The Prime Minister reportedly suggested the best way to deal with Coronavirus would be to "ignore it" - and there was allegedly talk of encouraging "chicken pox parties" in order to let the virus burn through healthy Brits, creating "herd immunity"
Aston Villa's Neil Taylor encourages BAME community to get coronavirus vaccine
Neil Taylor is urging BAME communities to ignore misinformation about the Covid vaccination program. Speaking in support of a campaign run by the British Red Cross to combat mistrust, the Aston Villa full back, who is of mixed Welsh and Indian descent, said he understood concerns but that the skepticism does not make sense. “We are the ones most at risk, ethnic minorities are more likely to die from this virus than anyone else so for us to be skeptical does not add up. We were all thinking; how on earth have they come up with a vaccine so quickly but it has become clear now it is working. It’s the right thing to do.”
NHS staff who refuse Covid vaccine could be redeployed away from ‘exposure-prone’ settings
NHS hospitals in England could redeploy staff who refuse to get a coronavirus vaccine away from “exposure prone” settings, a new document suggests. The document published by NHS England on Friday, first reported by the Health Service Journal (HSJ), sets out how employers can ensure staff who have declined vaccination are safe at work. It explains that where staff have refused vaccination, effort should be taken to ensure they have the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) and that they have had a mask fitting.
Britain's Prince Charles takes swipe at anti-vaxxers
LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Prince Charles on Wednesday criticised those lobbying against coronavirus ... article for the Future Healthcare Journal in which he called for an integrated approach to healthcare, the heir to the throne also took a swipe ...
COVID-19: Facebook to label all posts about vaccines with WHO information
Facebook will add labels to all posts about COVID-19 vaccines to show additional information from the World Health Organisation. The move comes amid concerns that misinformation about the COVID-19 vaccines may be driving hesitancy in people receiving the jab, potentially putting themselves at risk and prolonging the coronavirus pandemic. In an announcement on Monday, the social media giant said it was working closely with the NHS and global health authorities "to deliver important public health messages quickly, helping people access credible information and get vaccinated."
US prison guards refusing vaccine despite COVID-19 outbreaks
A Florida correctional officer polled his colleagues earlier this year in a private Facebook group: “Will you take the COVID-19 vaccine if offered?” The answer from more than half: “Hell no.” Only 40 of the 475 respondents said yes. In Massachusetts, more than half the people employed by the Department of Correction declined to be immunized. A statewide survey in California showed that half of all correction employees will wait to be vaccinated. In Rhode Island, 30% of prison staff have refused the vaccine, a higher rate than the incarcerated, according to the state’s Department of Corrections. And in Iowa, early polling among employees showed a little more than half the staff said they’d get vaccinated.
‘Ambush’: Families split in Hong Kong’s snap lockdown of expat towers
Hong Kong authorities have trapped hundreds of residents in a sudden lockdown, triggering concerns about the separation of families as the city attempts to stop a new wave of COVID-19. The response came after a coronavirus outbreak at a gym popular among foreigners swelled to more than 100 cases at four residential towers. Hong Kong health teams set up testing stations around the apartments last week before locking residents inside their homes or removing COVID-positive residents, including children, to government quarantine centres.
Moderna Starts Covid-19 Vaccine Trial In Kids Younger Than 12 Years Old
Moderna Starts Covid-19 Vaccine Trial In Kids Younger Than 12 Years Old
Biotech company Moderna announced today that it has given the first doses of its mRNA Covid-19 vaccine to young children as part of a new study to test how effective the vaccine is in kids.