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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 30th Dec 2021

Lockdown Exit
France reports ‘dizzying’ daily record of 208,000 COVID cases
France is seeing a “tsunami” of COVID-19 infections, with 208,000 cases reported during the past 24 hours on Wednesday, a new national and European record, Health Minister Olivier Veran has told lawmakers. France has been breaking infection records repeatedly during the past few days, with Tuesday’s 180,000 cases already the highest for a country in Europe, according to data on Covidtracker.fr. “This means that 24 hours a day, day and night, every second in our country, two French people are diagnosed positive,” Veran said. “We have never experienced such a situation,” he said, describing the increase in cases as “dizzying”. Global COVID-19 infections have hit record highs during the past seven days, data from the Reuters and AFP news agencies showed on Wednesday, as the new Omicron variant spreads rapidly, keeping many workers at home and overwhelming testing centres.
New COVID-19 cases in US soar to highest levels on record
More than a year after the vaccine was rolled out, new cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. have soared to their highest level on record at over 265,000 per day on average, a surge driven largely by the highly contagious omicron variant. New cases per day have more than doubled over the past two weeks, eclipsing the old mark of 250,000, set in mid-January, according to data kept by Johns Hopkins University. The fast-spreading mutant version of the virus has cast a pall over Christmas and New Year’s, forcing communities to scale back or call off their festivities just weeks after it seemed as if Americans were about to enjoy an almost normal holiday season. Thousands of flights have been canceled amid staffing shortages blamed on the virus.
U.S. COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations 'comparatively' low despite Omicron surge, CDC director says
COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations are "comparatively" low as the highly infectious Omicron variant of the coronavirus spreads, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said on Wednesday as cases in the United States reached a record high. "In a few short weeks Omicron has rapidly increased across the country, and we expect will continue to circulate in the coming weeks. While cases have substantially increased from last week, hospitalizations and deaths remain comparatively low right now," she said, referring to overall cases.
Fauci says Omicron likely to peak in U.S. by end-January
Top U.S. infectious disease adviser Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that the surge in the COVID-19 Omicron variant in the United States is likely to peak by the end of January. "I would imagine given the size of our country, and the diversity of vaccination versus not vaccination, that it's likely to be more than a couple of weeks, probably by the end of January," he said on CNBC.
Ireland smashes daily COVID-19 case record
Ireland became the latest country to smash its previous record number of daily COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, reporting 16,428 new infections as those requiring treatment in hospital also began to rise, the health department said. That topped the 11,182 reported on Dec. 24 with the fast- spreading Omicron accounting for almost all cases and making tests hard to come by. There are 568 coronavirus patients in hospital, sharply up on the Dec. 25 two-month low of 378.
WHO's Tedros concerned about 'tsunami of cases' from COVID-19 variants
The simultaneous circulation of the Delta and Omicron variants of the coronavirus is creating a "tsunami of cases", World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a news briefing on Wednesday. "Delta and Omicrom are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalisation and deaths," said Tedros. "I am highly concerned that Omicron, being highly transmissible and spreading at the same time as Delta, is leading to a tsunami of cases."
Bolivia reports all-time record in COVID infections
Bolivia reported late on Tuesday an all-time record of 4,934 new cases of COVID-19, as the omicron variant spreads worldwide but without any confirmed cases of the variant in the Andean nation. "(This is) the worst epidemiological storm that we have lived through since the pandemic started," said Carlos Hurtado, a top health official in Santa Cruz, the country's most populated region and the most affected by the spread of the virus. Bolivia is going through its fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Its previous record number of infections had been of 3,179 cases on May 25, during its third wave, according to Reuters data.
Many Latin American countries now have higher vaccination rates than Europe and North America
Many countries in Latin America were hit with soaring Covid-19 death rates early in the pandemic, as coronavirus raged throughout the region. The tide is turning in many Latin American nations today, where vaccination rates are outpacing countries in Europe and North America and helping drive down deaths. The vaccine rollout was slow at the start, with just getting the vaccines in hand a major issue. Just six months ago, Latin America and the Caribbean were reporting just under half of all Covid-19 related deaths worldwide. Now, the region accounts for about 10% of Covid-19 related deaths, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University. That's due to the accelerated delivery of European, American, Chinese and homegrown vaccines that a number of Latin American nations have received in the second half of this year, according to Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) data.
Exit Strategies
COVID-19: Fresh vaccine booster drive launched amid continued rise in coronavirus cases
A fresh booster jab drive has been launched by the NHS in an effort to protect more people from the rapid spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant. Another 650,000 text messages and 50,000 letters will be sent in the coming days to those people who are yet to get their third vaccine dose, asking them to have a "jabby new year". Millions were contacted earlier in the week with a similar message, encouraging people to book their boosters as soon as possible.
Australia seeks to ease COVID-19 test rules as cases hit records
Australia will seek to make urgent changes to COVID-19 testing rules to ease pressure on test sites as infections surged and the country's most populous state reported a near doubling in daily cases. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday Australia needed "a gear change" to manage overburdened laboratories and get people out of isolation. He called a snap meeting of the national cabinet on Thursday. "We just can't have everybody just being taken out of circulation because they just happen to be at a particular place at a particular time," Morrison said during a media briefing.
U.S. CDC chief hopes to make call on COVID boosters for 12-15 year-olds in days, weeks -CNN
Approval of a third COVID-19 vaccine dose for U.S. children aged 12-15 could be days or weeks away, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told CNN in an interview. Asked when children in that age group could receive a booster shot, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said: "So the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) is looking at that right now. Of course, the CDC will swiftly follow as soon as we hear from them, and I'm hoping to have that in the days to weeks ahead." It was not immediately clear, however, that Pfizer Inc and its partner, BioNTech SE -- the only manufacturer whose COVID-19 vaccine is approved for kids -- has formally sought FDA approval for a booster in children ages 12-15.
As Omicron Variant Spreads, States Aim for Balance Between Curbs and Safety
As states grapple with how to rein in the spreading Omicron variant, many governors and health officials are applying a lighter touch than during previous Covid-19 surges, as they are armed with more tools to combat the virus and increasingly mindful of the economic harm caused by sweeping restrictions. Many decision makers say they are trying to avoid strict measures enacted during previous Covid-19 surges by encouraging vaccinations, increasing capacity for rapid testing and closely watching factors such as hospital admissions and booster-shot uptake. “I’m trying to build long-term solutions,” New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, said in an interview Tuesday, adding that he expects the pandemic may be a part of life for a while. “So the answer there is not to turn things on and off as things surge or don’t surge. We have the tools to manage this.”
COVID-19: PCR and lateral flow tests could 'run out' temporarily amid surge in demand, say health officials
Coronavirus tests could be temporarily unavailable to order due to "exceptionally high demand", the UK Health Security Agency has warned. Demand is surging as the more transmissible Omicron variant pushes cases numbers to record levels. Lateral flow and PCR tests were both unavailable for home delivery across the UK via the government website on Wednesday morning.
Germany Buys Pfizer's Covid Pill Amid Surging Omicron Cases
Germany is buying 1 million packs of Pfizer Inc.’s newly approved pill to treat Covid-19, securing supplies as infections from the fast-spreading omicron variant rise rapidly. The Paxlovid drug is “extremely promising” because it can help people who risk falling seriously ill, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told German news agency DPA. The country’s health authorities reported a total of 10,443 omicron cases as of Tuesday, a 43% jump from the previous day.
Covid vaccine ‘the most expensive in history’ for poorer countries
The Covid jab is one of the “most expensive vaccines in history” for poorer countries, analysis shows, raising further the concern that those most in need will continue to struggle to access the life-saving vaccines in the coming year. Despite international promises that the vaccines would be made available at the cheapest prices to lower-income countries, these nations are paying well above the expected cost. World Health Organisation (WHO) data analysed by The Independent shows that governments of lower-income countries are paying a median price of $6.88 (£5.12) per dose for Covid vaccines. Before the pandemic, developing countries paid a median price of $0.80 a dose for non-Covid jabs, WHO figures show. “The price is high relative to the other vaccines used worldwide and in large quantities,” said Tania Cernuschi, team lead for the WHO’s global access, immunisation, vaccines and biologicals department.
Biden confirms end of Omicron travel
US President Joe Biden has formally ordered an end to travel restrictions on eight southern African countries imposed last month to slow the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, saying that the curbs are “no longer necessary to protect the public health”. Biden issued a proclamation on Tuesday repealing the restrictions on travel into the United States from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
CDC cuts isolation time for asymptomatic COVID-19 cases to 5 days
U.S. health authorities on Monday shortened the recommended isolation time for Americans with asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said the asymptomatic people after isolation should follow five days of wearing a mask when around others. It also recommended a five-day quarantine for those exposed to the virus who are unvaccinated or are over six months out from their second mRNA dose or more than two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and not yet boosted. The quarantine period should be followed by strict mask use for an additional five days.
Partisan Exits
Hard-hit by COVID, Israel's ultra-Orthodox slow to get shots
Yossi Levy has repeatedly booked and canceled his coronavirus vaccine appointment. The 45-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew recovered from the virus earlier this year, as have his eight children and wife. But a combination of lethargy and procrastination has prevented him from following through and getting inoculated. “It isn't something pressing. I'm not opposed to it. It's just laziness," he said. Levy is among the hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews who have yet to receive their COVID-19 shots. The group has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country despite being hit hard by the pandemic. Facing the new coronavirus variant omicron, officials are now scrambling to ramp up vaccination rates in a population that has so far been slow to roll up their sleeves.
Brazil's Bolsonaro says daughter, 11, will not get COVID-19 jab
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will not vaccinate his 11-year-old daughter against COVID-19, he said on Monday, maintaining the firm anti-vaccine stance that has drawn criticism from public health experts and hit his poll numbers. The right-wing leader added that the nation's health minister, Marcelo Queiroga, will divulge on Jan. 5 the manner in which Brazil will carry out its coronavirus vaccination campaign for 5 to 11-year-olds, which was approved earlier this month. "Children have not been dying in a way that justifies a vaccine for children," he told reporters in the southern state of Santa Catarina.
UK's Johnson warns of hospital risk for unvaccinated
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Wednesday that the overwhelming majority of patients ending up in intensive care with COVID-19 had not received their booster vaccine, as he urged people to get their jabs. Johnson, on a visit to a vaccine centre, said he had been told by some doctors that up to 90% of patients with COVID-19 in intensive care had not received their booster vaccines. "I'm sorry to say this, but the overwhelming majority of people who are currently ending up in intensive care in our hospitals are people who are not boosted," he said. "I've talked to doctors who say the numbers are running up to 90% of people in intensive care."
What to do about the UK’s unvaccinated? No 10’s Covid dilemma
A growing sense of frustration with people who have not been vaccinated against Covid has been creeping into the speeches of senior government figures from Sajid Javid to Boris Johnson in recent weeks. The health secretary has accused those who have chosen not to take up the offer of free vaccination of taking up hospital beds, damaging society and potentially harming their families as well as themselves. The prime minister also began rolling the pitch for a possibly tougher approach towards the unvaccinated when he spoke of the need for a “national conversation” about how the NHS would cope with the Omicron wave and further new variants. “I don’t believe we can keep going indefinitely with non-pharmaceutical interventions, restrictions on people’s way of life, just because a substantial proportion of the population still, sadly, has not got vaccinated,” he said.
Continued Lockdown
'Just want to go home': China's Xian in COVID lockdown for 7th day
A lockdown of 13 million people in the Chinese city of Xian entered its seventh day on Wednesday, with many unable to leave their residential compounds and relying on deliveries of necessities as new COVID-19 infections persisted. Xian reported 151 domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms for Tuesday, or nearly all of the 152 cases nationwide, bringing the total number of local Xian cases to nearly 1,000 during the Dec. 9-28 period. No cases of the Omicron variant have been announced in the city so far.
Scientific Viewpoint
Who Invented Covid-19 Vaccines? Drugmakers Battle Over Patents
A high-stakes legal battle is taking shape over lucrative patent rights for Covid-19 vaccines, with drug companies pitted against each other and government and academic scientists over who invented what. The U.S. government and Moderna Inc., MRNA whose collaboration led to one of the most widely used shots, have fought over who discovered a key component and owns its rights. Meantime, Pfizer Inc. PFE and BioNTech SE, makers of another leading vaccine, are in a patent battle with a smaller company, and some analysts think they could end up facing off against Moderna. At the heart of the disputes: Who can claim to have invented important elements of the Covid-19 vaccines? Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake. If anyone succeeds in establishing a role in the discovery of the vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna would have to share with others a bigger cut of the tens of billions of dollars in vaccine sales being generated. “It’s scientific credit and money. That’s what people want,” said Jacob Sherkow, a professor who specializes in biotechnology intellectual property at the University of Illinois College of Law. “This is a major biotech invention, for which tens of billions of dollars are riding on the line.”
Postal Covid vaccine patch could provide alternative to jabs by delivering protection ‘like a plaster’
Scientists developing a Covid-19 vaccine skin patch say the invention could revolutionise the coronavirus immunisation process by delivering it to people through the post and allowing them to “vaccinate” themselves by simply sticking it on their skin. Experts at Lancaster University have developed a new Covid-19 vaccine which has shown highly promising results in animal trials and they are already working on a nasal spray method of delivery. However, researchers have revealed they are now developing a patch version of the same vaccine which will have exciting implications if it proves successful in trials and is approved.
Israeli hospital launches first test of second COVID-19 booster
An Israeli hospital administered fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses to a test group of health workers on Monday, in what it called the first major study into whether a second round of boosters will help contend with the fast-spreading Omicron variant. Results of the trial, likely to be closely watched internationally, will be submitted to Israel's Health Ministry in about two weeks, said a spokesperson for Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv. Israel was the fastest country to roll out initial vaccinations a year ago, and became one of the first to launch a booster programme after observing that immunity waned over time
Israel's Oramed gets Vietnam pre-order for 10 mln COVID-19 vaccine doses
Israel's Oramed Pharmaceuticals said on Wednesday its Oravax Medical unit signed a deal with Vietnam's Tan Thanh Holdings for the pre-order of 10 million doses of its oral COVID-19 vaccine that is in clinical trials. The agreement gives Tan Thanh, a drug distributor, the right to sell Oravax’s oral vaccine in development throughout the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, Oramed said.
Omicron May Cut Delta Infections, South African Study Shows
Infection with the omicron coronavirus variant can also strengthen immunity against the earlier delta strain, reducing the risk of severe disease, according to a paper released by South African scientists. While omicron has been shown to be highly transmissible and can evade some antibodies, after two weeks of getting symptoms immunity to subsequent infections from the strain rose 14-fold, according to the authors led by Alex Sigal and Khadija Khan of the Durban, South Africa-based Africa Health Research Institute. A smaller improvement was found against delta, they said. “If we are lucky, omicron is less pathogenic, and this immunity will help push delta out,” said Sigal, who has previously found a two-dose course of Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 shot as well as a previous infection may give stronger protection against omicron.
Covid With Omicron Isn't 'Same Disease,' Oxford Scientist Says
The omicron variant that’s taking the world by storm is not “the same disease we were seeing a year ago,” a University of Oxford immunologist said, reinforcing reports about the strain’s milder nature. The strain first discovered at the end of November appears to be less severe and even patients who do end up in the hospital spend less time there, John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford, said on BBC Radio 4’s Today program. “The horrific scenes that we saw a year ago -- intensive care units being full, lots of people dying prematurely -- that is now history in my view, and I think we should be reassured that that’s likely to continue,” Bell said.
Coronavirus Resurgence
World hits record number of COVID-19 cases in a week: Tally
The world has hit a new record number of COVID-19 cases in a single week, according to one tally, with daily infections also reaching new highs in the United States, Australia and several European countries amid the rapid spread of the Omicron variant. More than 935,000 cases on average have been detected each day between December 22 and 28, according to the tally published by the AFP news agency on Wednesday. In total, 6.51 million coronavirus cases have been reported worldwide in the past week.
Japan braces for Omicron spread as New Year's travelers fan across country
Japan braced for a feared rebound in coronavirus cases as the highways and airports filled with travelers at the start of New Year's holidays on Wednesday. The governors of the metropolises of Tokyo and Osaka urged residents to keep end-of-year gatherings small, as more cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 come to light, including a suspected cluster at an Osaka nursing home. Health officials advised travelers to avail themselves of free coronavirus tests before departure, amid fears that an outpouring of city dwellers could spread infections to the countryside.
Thailand warns of spike in COVID-19 cases after "super-spreader" event
Thai health authorities warned on Wednesday that residents should brace themselves for a potential jump in coronavirus cases after classifying the country's first cluster of the Omicron variant as a super-spreader incident. The Omicron cluster identified in the northeastern province of Kalasin on Christmas eve has been linked to a couple who had travelled from Belgium and visited bars, concerts and markets. The ensuing cluster had infected hundreds, with cases spreading to 11 other provinces, said senior health official Opas Karnkawinpong, citing how one of the bars linked to the cluster had been packed and did not have good ventilation.
In under-vaccinated Congo, fourth COVID-19 wave fills hospitals
At the St Joseph COVID Treatment Centre in Kinshasa, patients lie in ramshackle rooms breathing oxygen from old tanks. The clinic has 38 beds, and all but one are occupied. In a backyard littered with medical equipment, tents are needed to cope with the overflow. Democratic Republic of Congo is the least vaccinated country against COVID-19 in the world. Now a fourth wave of the coronavirus threatens to put greater pressure on its rickety health system than at any time during the pandemic. "We have experienced the three previous waves gradually, but in the fourth wave cases have jumped overnight," said Francois Kajingulu, the head of St Joseph. "On Monday we had 5-6 cases and on Saturday we went straight from 30 to 36."
COVID-19 cases at record high around world, raising testing and quarantine fears
Global COVID-19 infections hit a record high over the past seven-day period, Reuters data showed on Wednesday, as the Omicron variant raced out of control and governments wrestled with how to contain its spread without paralysing fragile economies. Almost 900,000 cases were detected on average each day around the world between Dec. 22 and 28, with myriad countries posting new all-time highs in the previous 24 hours, including the United States, Australia, many in Europe and Bolivia.
New Zealand records first community exposures from border-related Omicron case
New Zealand said on Wednesday that a person who tested positive for the Omicron variant of COVID-19 had briefly been active in the community in Auckland. The person arrived in New Zealand from the United Kingdom on Dec 16 but only tested positive on Dec 17, the health ministry said in a statement. The ministry said the person was in Auckland city on Dec 26 and Dec 27, but that they do not believe the individual was highly infectious at the time of exposure.
New Omicron variant fills up children's hospitals
A five-fold increase in pediatric admissions in New York City this month. Close to double the numbers admitted in Washington, DC. And nationwide, on average, pediatric hospitalizations are up 48% in just the past week. The highly transmissible Omicron variant is teaming up with the busy holiday season to infect more children across the United States than ever before, and children's hospitals are bracing for it to get even worse. "I think we are going to see more numbers now than we have ever seen," Dr. Stanley Spinner, who is chief medical officer and vice president at Texas Children's Pediatrics & Urgent Care in Houston, told CNN.
U.S. Covid Cases Approach Pandemic High Amid Omicron Wave
Covid-19 cases are setting records. The daily number of new infections hit all-time highs both in the world and in the U.S. Infections have surged again in the past month as the Omicron coronavirus variant—the latest strain— spread like wildfire from country to country. Worldwide, the daily number reached 1.49 million on Monday; the new high is actually lower than the previous record of 1.5 million set in December 2020 because of reporting irregularities that now have been factored in, Bloomberg reported. In the U.S., there were 512,553 new confirmed cases on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins data. The previous daily high was 303,461, set on Jan. 8.
CDC Investigating 86 Cruise Ships With Covid-19 Cases
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating or monitoring 86 cruise ships with reported Covid-19 cases on board, according to a list posted on its website Tuesday, as the highly transmissible Omicron variant spreads around the world. The CDC investigates a ship if there are one or more reported Covid-19 cases among the crew or if cases reported account for at least 0.10% of total passengers in the past seven days. For a ship with 6,500 passengers, that would mean seven cases would trigger an investigation. As part of the investigation, the CDC works with the cruise ship to lower transmission and ensure medical resources on board aren’t overwhelmed, according to the agency. It also gathers additional information such as case exposure histories, vaccination rates and details about close contacts.
CDC Pares Omicron Estimate to a Still-Dominant 59% of U.S. Cases
The omicron variant is causing an increasing share of coronavirus infections in the U.S., though its climb to dominance has been gentler than earlier estimates indicated, according to an updated federal model. Omicron accounted for an estimated 58.6% of sequenced U.S. virus cases in the week ending Dec. 25, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Nowcast model showed Tuesday, up from an estimated 22.5% a week earlier. The once-dominant delta variant accounted for 41.1% of cases in the most recent period, according to the CDC.
Asia keeps omicron at bay, but a surge may be inevitable
Much of Asia has largely managed to keep omicron at bay even as the variant rages in other parts of the world, but the region that is home to most of the globe’s population is bracing for what may be an inevitable surge. Strict quarantine rules for arrivals and widespread mask wearing have helped slow the spread of the highly contagious variant in Asia. Countries such as Japan, South Korea and Thailand quickly reinstated entry and quarantine restrictions in recent weeks after relaxing them in the fall. But cases are mounting, and experts say the next few months will be critical. Those fears have been amplified by doubts about the effectiveness of the Chinese-made vaccines used in China and much of the developing world.
India fears new COVID wave as Omicron infections spread
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is raising fears of a third wave of the pandemic in India. The country on Wednesday reported a total of nearly 800 Omicron cases, while COVID-19 infections rose by 9,195 new daily cases – a 44 percent spike from the previous day.
More Covid-19 Vaccines Are Reaching Poorer Nations, but Slowly
Vaccine makers have delivered more Covid-19 shots to the world’s poorest nations in recent months, but wealthy countries are still receiving a disproportionate share. The unequal distribution, global health experts say, has hampered efforts to move past the pandemic and allowed new variants like Omicron to emerge. High-income nations, which include the U.S. and are home to a sixth of the world’s population, have received nearly half of all 5.9 billion doses made by the four major Western vaccine makers, according to healthcare data company Airfinity.
Portugal Posts Record Number of Daily New Covid Cases
Portugal on Tuesday reported the biggest daily increase in confirmed coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic. There were 17,172 new cases in a day, more than the previous record of 16,432 reported at the end of January, the government said in an emailed statement. There were 19 fatalities in a day. The number of patients in intensive-care units rose by two to 152. That’s a fraction of the level reached at the end of January and early February, when the country faced one of the world’s worst outbreaks and the number of patients in intensive-care units rose to as high as 904.