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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 27th Jan 2022

Lockdown Exit
Omicron Deaths in U.S. Exceed Delta’s Peak as Covid-19 Optimism Rises in Europe
More signs emerged that the Omicron wave is taking a less serious human toll in Europe than earlier phases of the pandemic, while U.S. data showed daily average deaths from the disease exceeding the peak reached during the surge driven by the previously dominant Delta variant. In the U.S., the seven-day average for newly reported Covid-19 deaths reached 2,258 a day on Tuesday, up about 1,000 from daily death counts two months ago. That is the highest since February 2021 as the country was emerging from the worst of last winter’s wave. While there is a large body of evidence suggesting that Omicron is less likely to kill the people it infects, it spreads much more quickly and therefore infects many more people than earlier variants, epidemiologists say. Case counts in the U.S. have dwarfed previous records.
Lufthansa Bans Freight From Transiting Frankfurt Due to Omicron
Deutsche Lufthansa banned cargo from moving through its Frankfurt hub due to surging Covid-19 infections and related staff shortages in the German city. The move will impact goods arriving from other parts of Germany, the rest of Europe and North America. Direct deliveries to Frankfurt -- a major transport hub for coronavirus vaccines -- are still possible, Lufthansa said.
Denmark to End Covid Curbs as Premier Deems Critical Phase Over
Denmark will end virus restrictions next week and reclassify Covid-19 as a disease that no longer poses a threat to society, even as infections in the Nordic nation are at record high. The Nordic country won’t extend the pandemic measures beyond Jan. 31, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told a news conference, confirming earlier reports by the Jyllands-Posten newspaper and Bloomberg News. Denmark’s hospitalizations are declining, indicating that omicron is less dangerous than earlier variants of the virus despite a million Danes infected in the last two months.
Where Is the Operation Warp Speed for Covid Testing?
The U.S. is awash in vaccine doses, but the availability of tests has been a problem throughout the most intense surges of the Covid-19 crisis. That’s because while there was an Operation Warp Speed to create vaccines, there hasn’t been a comparable initiative for tests. In response to the omicron wave, the administration of President Joe Biden has stepped up its investments in testing.
German lawmakers debate compulsory COVID shots as infections surge
German lawmakers agonised over whether to impose compulsory COVID-19 shots on Wednesday, as new record daily COVID-19 infections and the country's stuttering vaccination campaign forced them into an ethical and constitutional dilemma. Protesters stood in small groups around the Reichstag parliament building, surrounded by police, as politicians within presented cross-party motions. Chancellor Olaf Scholz backs compulsory vaccines for over-18s but his coalition government is divided on the issue and he has told lawmakers to vote according to conscience.
Covid-19: Vaccine passports scrapped as coronavirus rules ease
Proof of Covid-19 status to enter bars, restaurants and cinemas has been scrapped in Northern Ireland. The change took effect at 12:00 GMT following a decision by Stormont ministers last week. Nightclubs - which were forced to close on 26 December - can now also reopen, along with the return of indoor standing events. Vaccine passports will still be required to access nightclubs and large events.
COVID-19 booster drive is faltering in the US
The COVID-19 booster drive in the U.S. is losing steam, worrying health experts who have pleaded with Americans to get an extra shot to shore up their protection against the highly contagious omicron variant. Just 40% of fully vaccinated Americans have received a booster dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention And the average number of booster shots dispensed per day in the U.S. has plummeted from a peak of 1 million in early December to about 490,000 as of last week. Also, a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that Americans are more likely to see the initial vaccinations — rather than a booster — as essential.
China to mass test millions for Covid ahead of 2022 Winter Olympics
China is trying to squash any coronavirus outbreaks by repeatedly mass testing citizens before fans start arriving for the Winter Olympics next month. Beijing’s Fengtai district announced it would start testing its two million people on Tuesday, making it the third time the capital’s residents are getting tested since last weekend. The spectacle is set to start in just nine days – on February 4 – and officials are taking extremely careful measures to make sure Covid does not ruin any plans. Anyone in China who buys headache, fever or other cold medicine will be forced to get tested within 72 hours of doing so.
U.S. weighs letting diplomats leave China over tough COVID rules
The U.S. State Department is considering whether to authorize departures for American diplomats and their families in China who wish to leave due to the U.S. government's inability to prevent Chinese authorities from subjecting them to intrusive pandemic control measures. Two sources familiar with the issue said the U.S. Embassy had sent the request to Washington for formal sign off, as China ramps up COVID-19 containment protocols ahead of the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympics in less than two weeks.
Austria ends lockdown on unvaccinated as pressure on hospitals eases
Austria's lockdown for people not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus will end on Monday because the pressure on hospitals has eased, the government said. New daily coronavirus infections are rising, driven by the extremely contagious Omicron variant. They hit a new record above 30,000 on Wednesday, Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein told a news conference, adding that they would peak in the next two weeks at around 35,000 to 40,000.
UK's Sunak vows to go after COVID loan fraudsters
British finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday the government would "do everything we can" to recover COVID-19 emergency business loans stolen by fraudsters that critics have said could run into the billions of pounds. "I'm not ignoring it, and I'm definitely not 'writing it off,'" Sunak said on Twitter. A British junior government minister resigned on Monday in protest at what he said were "woeful" efforts to stop the fraudulent abuse of coronavirus support schemes.
Exit Strategies
Abbott profit, sales beat estimates on vigorous COVID test demand
Abbott Laboratories on Wednesday beat quarterly profit and sales estimates, aided by robust sales of COVID-19 test kits and strong demand for its diagnostics products, but forecast lower-than-expected COVID-19 testing sales in 2022 due to uncertainties around the future of the pandemic. The U.S. medical device maker traded down as much as 2.7% Wednesday morning following its earnings release. Abbott said it expects $2.5 billion in sales of COVID-19 test kits in the early part of this year. The company will update its test kit estimates on a quarterly basis.
U.S. Labor Dept withdrawing COVID vaccine rule for large employers
The Department of Labor said on Tuesday it will withdraw its COVID-19 vaccine-and-testing requirement for large U.S. employers after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the rule, ending a controversial bid to increase vaccination rates. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said in the federal register that while it was withdrawing the emergency temporary standard, the rule would remain as a proposal for a permanent requirement. "OSHA continues to strongly encourage the vaccination of workers against the continuing dangers posed by COVID-19 in the workplace," the notice said.
German parliament debates compulsory vaccination as COVID surges
German lawmakers agonised over whether to impose compulsory COVID-19 shots on Wednesday, as new record daily COVID-19 infections and the country's stuttering vaccination campaign forced them into an ethical and constitutional dilemma. Protesters stood in small groups around the Reichstag parliament building, surrounded by police, as politicians within presented cross-party motions. Chancellor Olaf Scholz backs compulsory vaccines for over-18s but his coalition government is divided on the issue and he has told lawmakers to vote according to conscience.
Denmark aims to scrap all domestic COVID-19 curbs by February
Denmark aims to scrap all remaining domestic COVID-19 restrictions next week, following on from similar announcements in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands in the past week despite high numbers of Omicron infections in Europe. The Nordic country already loosened restrictions two weeks ago after a month-long lockdown, allowing cinemas and music venues to reopen, but some rules remain, including limited opening hours for restaurants and mandatory face masks.
Dutch bars and restaurants can reopen after lockdown - PM Rutte
Bars, restaurants and theatres in the Netherlands can reopen on Jan. 26, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday, further relaxing the country's COVID-19 restrictions despite record infection levels. Health Minister Ernst Kuipers said experts felt the reopening was possible in part because hospitalisations from the country's Omicron wave have been lower than initially feared. "We really are taking a risk today, and we have to be clear about that," Rutte said, announcing the decision at a nationally televised news conference.
China’s Olympics COVID measures test residents’ patience
Repeated COVID-19 testing of millions of Beijing residents is starting to test the patience of some as the city clamps down on the virus ahead of the coming Winter Olympics. A third round of mass testing that started Wednesday for the the 2 million residents of Fengtai district drew complaints online and from residents bundled up against the wind to wait in line outdoors. The skies were sunny, but the daytime high hovered around the freezing point. “I think it is too frequent,” said a woman who only gave her surname, Ma. “I just did it yesterday and was asked to do it again today. I asked the question to the staff and they said, ‘Under the principle of testing everyone who should be tested, just do it since you are here.’”
Schools Struggle With Omicron-Fueled Teacher Shortages
A wave of Covid-19-related school staffing issues has led some states to take drastic steps to keep schools open, including enlisting state employees, retirees and National Guard members to fill in as substitute teachers.
Key senators propose an overhaul of how the U.S. prepares for pandemics
One of the most significant policies in the plan, released in a draft on Tuesday, would create a 9/11-style bipartisan commission to formally investigate the United States’ pandemic response — a proposal that has failed to gain traction until now. Another would require Senate confirmation for the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The sweeping measure, which was in the works for nearly a year, is the product of negotiations between Senate health committee chair Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and ranking member Richard Burr (R-N.C.). The release comes shortly before lawmakers are facing down a deadline to fund the government by Feb. 18, a rare potential bipartisan vehicle for legislation. Murray and Burr said they plan to mark up the bill “in the coming weeks.”
Partisan Exits
Overworked Pharmacy Employees Are the Covid Pandemic's Invisible Victims
Jennifer Morrow says she first considered quitting her job as a pharmacist at a CVS drugstore near Binghamton, N.Y., last October after she was assigned to fill in at a store she’d rarely worked in. When she arrived, she discovered she’d be the only pharmacist on the job all day—with no technician or cashier to help, either. The pandemic was raging. The phones were ringing, and prescriptions quickly backed up as she turned her attention to giving Covid-19 vaccinations and flu shots. By 4 p.m., she was hours behind schedule. Overwhelmed, exhausted, and worried she’d make a mistake filling a prescription, she closed the pharmacy early, forcing customers to find other stores.
Paid Leave Is Falling Apart Just as Omicron Keeps Sick Americans From Working
The latest Covid surge highlighted with renewed urgency that when Americans get sick, most don't get paid time off from work. At the start of this month, 8.8 million people reported that they weren’t working because they had Covid or were caring for someone who did, according to the Household Pulse Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau — nearly triple the figure from early December. For many, particularly low-wage hourly earners, that could mean forgoing a paycheck or going into work while still recovering or contagious. The U.S., unlike most other high-income countries, guarantees workers nothing in the event of sickness or new parenthood, costing Americans an estimated $22.5 billion annually in wages, according to think tank Center for American Progress.
UK PM Johnson refuses to resign over lockdown parties
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday rejected opposition calls to resign for attending lockdown parties but accepted that a rule that ministers should lose their jobs if they had knowlingly misled parliament applied to him. Johnson, who in 2019 won the biggest Conservative majority in more than 30 years, is braced for the publication of an official investigation into claims that there were multiple boozy Downing Street parties during lockdowns. He told parliament no rules were broken
In Germany, activists rise up to counter vaccine skeptics
Stefanie Hoener was at home one night in Berlin when she heard police sirens wailing through her Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood and anti-vaccine protesters shouting angry slurs as they marched down to the Gethsemane Church — a symbol of the peaceful 1989 revolution in East Germany that ended the communist dictatorship. “That night these people really crossed a line,” Hoener said Monday as she stood with 200 others— many of them neighbors — in front of the red brick church to protect it from anti-vaccine protesters glaring from the other side of the street.
Continued Lockdown
Hong Kong risks exodus over extended COVID isolation, Euro chamber says
HK reopening seen delayed until China rolls out mRNA vaccine. High costs include exodus of international residents. Appeal as global business hub seen fading Firms may shift to mainland, Singapore or Seoul
Scientific Viewpoint
Long Covid Symptoms: Scientists Find Potential Factors Linked to Long Covid
Scientists seeking to find out which patients are most at risk of developing long Covid offered partial answers in a study. People who have circulating fragments of the coronavirus, specific antibodies directed against their own tissues or organs -- known as auto-antibodies -- and a resurgence of the Epstein-Barr virus appear more at risk, researchers said in an article in the scientific journal Cell. Scientists are racing to better understand and predict long Covid, in which patients still confront a wide range of health problems months after recovery. The team of more than 50 researchers found some markers that could be identified early and appeared to correlate with lasting symptoms, regardless of whether the initial infection was severe.
Wanted: Volunteers to catch COVID in the name of science
The world's first medical trial authorised to deliberately expose participants to the coronavirus is seeking more volunteers as it steps up efforts to help develop better vaccines. The Oxford University trial was launched last April, three months after Britain became the first country to approve what are known as challenge trials for humans involving COVID-19. Its first phase, still ongoing, has focused on finding out how much of the virus is needed to trigger an infection while the second will aim to determine the immune response needed to ward one off, the university said in a statement on Tuesday.
Coronavirus vaccines may reduce risk of long Covid, ONS study finds
The study, of more than 6,000 adults, found those who were double-vaccinated had a 41% lower likelihood of self-reporting Covid symptoms 12 weeks after first testing positive. Overall, 9.5% of the double-vaccinated group reported experiencing long Covid, defined as symptoms lasting more than four weeks, compared with 14.6% of a socio-demographically matched group who were unvaccinated. Dr David Strain, a clinical senior lecturer at the University of Exeter medical school and the British Medical Association’s lead on long Covid, said the ONS findings fitted with research published this week that showed low levels of certain antibodies were more common in those who developed long Covid than in patients who swiftly recovered.
COVID-19: Spike in Omicron cases in children could lead to another surge in adults, scientists suggest
The return to school is driving up Omicron infections in children and could lead to another surge in adults, scientists have warned. The latest results from the REACT-1 study, which is based on around 100,000 random tests across England, show that the infection rate in primary school-age children was 7.8% - and rising - during the study period of 5 to 20 January. By contrast infection rates in adults were far lower and falling, with people over 75 least likely to have COVID at 2.4%.
Two thirds of Omicron cases previously had Covid-19, study finds
Around two thirds of people who have been infected with the Omicron variant had already had Covid-19. New data underlines the ability of the now-dominant strain to evade the immune response generated by prior infection. The study also estimates that an unprecedented one in 23 people were infected with the coronavirus in January. A huge surge of infections, which saw the daily count hit a new record of more than 200,000, meant the prevalence in the general population between January 5 and 20 (4.41%) was higher than at any point since March 2020.
COVID is less severe with Omicron than Delta, U.S. study suggests
The Omicron variant appears to result in less severe COVID-19 than seen during previous periods of high coronavirus transmission including the Delta wave, with shorter hospital stays, less need for intensive care and fewer deaths, according to a new U.S. study. However, the fast-spreading Omicron variant has led to record numbers of infections and hospitalizations, straining the U.S. healthcare system.
75% of COVID ICU survivors have physical symptoms 1 year on
One year after 246 COVID-19 survivors were treated in 1 of 11 intensive care units (ICUs) in the Netherlands, nearly 75% reported lingering physical symptoms, more than 26% said they had mental symptoms, and upwards of 16% still had cognitive symptoms, according to a study yesterday in JAMA. The prospective study was conducted among 246 patients 16 years and older admitted to an ICU from Mar 1 to Jul 1, 2020, and followed up to Jun 16, 2021. Average participant age was 61.2 years, 71.5% were men, average body mass index was 28.0 kg/m2 (overweight), and average ICU stay was 18.5 days. The research team surveyed participants about physical symptoms using the Clinical Frailty Scale, fatigue using the Checklist Individual Strength, mental symptoms using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) using the Impact of Event Scale, and cognitive symptoms using the Cognitive Failures Questionnaire-14 (score of 43 and up indicating cognitive symptoms).
Why Hong Kong may become a living laboratory in search for Covid-19 answers
In the two months since it first hit the world’s Covid-19 radar, scientists have generated an astonishing amount of information on the Omicron variant. Still, key questions remain about Omicron, as well as about a new subvariant, known as BA.2. Among them: How much more transmissible is BA.2 than its wildly transmissible parent? Answering questions like these can be challenging, sometimes almost impossible, in many locations because such a large proportion of people has been vaccinated, previously infected, or both. That can make it hard to tease out whether certain outcomes are attributable to changes in the virus versus the result of built-up human immunity. But it turns out there is a place where clear answers to key questions may be within reach — if that place is really, really unlucky.
'Nocebo' effect may account for 76% of COVID-19 vaccine side effects
When placebos elicit adverse events, these are often called nocebo responses. A study finds that a third of people who received placebos during COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials reported unpleasant systemic side effects such as headache and fatigue. The authors of the study find that 76% of side effects reported by actual vaccine recipients are likely the same effects and attributable to nocebo responses.
Heterologous vaccine schedule provides extraordinary response to third dose of coronavirus vaccines
A third, booster dose of either the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (Oxford-AstraZeneca), BNT162b2 (Pfizer-BioNTech), AD26.COV2-S (Janssen) or CoronaVac (SinoVac) coronavirus vaccine induce a significant increase in antibody levels in those who have previously received two doses of CoronaVac. The strongest responses were seen with mixed schedules, including against the Delta and Omicron variants of concern. The results from a study funded by the Ministry of Health, Brazil, and conducted by researchers from Brazil and the University of Oxford have today been published as a peer-reviewed paper in the Lancet.
Coronavirus Resurgence
COVID-19 cases at highest ever in Americas -regional health agency
New cases of COVID-19 in the Americas in the past week have been the highest since the pandemic began in 2020 and the very contagious Omicron variant has clearly become the predominant strain, the Pan American Health Organization said on Wednesday. There were more than 8 million new cases, 32% higher than the previous week, while fatalities throughout the region also increased by 37%, with 18,000 new deaths caused by COVID-19. The United States continues to have the highest number of new infections, although cases decreased by nearly 1 million over the last week, the regional health agency said.
Child Covid infections are rising in England – is low vaccine rate a factor?
Covid cases in the UK have fallen sharply in the past few weeks, and hospital admissions appeared to have turned a corner. But now, it seems, the situation has stalled, with cases bobbing around 90,000 a day. The reason for the change is that while case rates are falling among adults, they are rising among children – where vaccination rates remain sluggish. According to data for England, the rate of new cases for every 100,000 people fell from 1,430.4 among 60- to 64-year-olds in the rolling seven-day period to 1 January, to 529.3 in the rolling seven-day period to 19 January. However, they rose from 941.6 to 2,384.1 for children aged five to nine during the same period, and from 1,230 to 1,909.7 for children aged 10 to 14.
COVID-19: Bangladeshi communities and Pakistani men most at risk of dying from coronavirus during third wave
Bangladeshi people and Pakistani men living in the UK were most at risk of dying during the third wave of COVID, despite the efforts of the vaccination programme, new research suggests. Data released by the Office for National Statics found people from these two groups remained at higher risk of death from COVID-19 during the third wave - even after adjusting for vaccination status. From 13 June 2021 onwards, the risk for Bangladeshi communities from the virus was 4.4 and 5.2 times greater than white British men and women.
Romania sees huge jump in COVID-19 cases, deaths climb
Romania on Wednesday recorded a huge jump in COVID-19 infections, hitting a pandemic record of nearly 35,000 daily cases, almost doubling its previous record set only a day earlier. Deaths have also begun to climb. Daily coronavirus cases in Romania have dramatically surged over the past month, from about a 1,000 cases a day in mid-December to the pandemic record of 34,255 cases on Wednesday. Its daily death toll was 94, also the highest number of virus deaths in more than a month. Three-quarters of those deaths were unvaccinated people and more than 80% of the 692 COVID-19 patients now in intensive care in Romania have also not been jabbed, official data shows.
Russia's daily COVID cases hit record high for sixth day running
Russia reported a record daily number of COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as the Omicron variant of the virus spreads, authorities said. New daily cases jumped to 74,692, up from from 67,809 a day earlier. The government coronavirus task force also reported 657 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Eastern Europe reports COVID daily infection records as Omicron spreads
Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania all hit their highest infection rates of the pandemic on Wednesday, driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, and yet were reluctant to impose sweeping curbs to limit the spread. The region has some of Europe's lowest vaccination rates, particularly in Romania and Bulgaria, and saw some of the highest COVID-related death rates towards the end of 2021.
S.Korea's daily COVID-19 cases surge as new testing scheme begins
South Korea's daily new coronavirus cases exceeded 13,000 for the first time on Wednesday, driven by the spread of the Omicron variant, as the government launched a new pilot testing scheme to meet skyrocketing demand. The record 13,012 cases for the previous 24-hour period came just a day after the tally first topped 8,000 despite the extension of tough social distancing rules.
Hungary reports jump in new COVID cases to record 20174 on Wed
Hungary's daily tally of new COVID-19 infections jumped to a record 20,174 on Wednesday, but the number of patients treated in hospital has remained at a relatively low level. In Hungary, a country of 10 million, 41,087 people have died of COVID-19. There are 3,145 coronavirus patients in hospital now, including 164 on ventilators, the government said.
English COVID study finds record prevalence in January
An English COVID-19 study reported record prevalence in January after an Omicron-fuelled spike in infections, Imperial College London said on Wednesday, adding that infections had dropped back from their peak but were now plateauing. England will on Thursday ditch mask mandates and COVID-19 vaccine passes introduced to slow the spread of Omicron. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has credited the success of Britain's booster rollout and the lower severity of the variant as he aims to live with COVID-19. Britain has so far recorded more than 150,000 deaths from COVID-19, and daily infections peaked during the Omicron wave.