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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 2nd Feb 2022

Lockdown Exit
Norway Scales Back Most Covid-19 Restrictions
Norway is easing most of the measures to curb infection and aims to remove the rest in a couple of weeks as it bets a high level of vaccination will be enough to shield the health system from overloading. Limits on guests at private gatherings, a curb on the service of alcohol in bars and restaurants, and testing after arriving at the border have all been removed, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told reporters in Oslo on Tuesday. Face masks will still need to be worn in shops, shopping centers and on public transport where a distance of a meter can’t be maintained. Norway is joining countries such as neighboring Denmark, Ireland and the U.K. in scaling back restrictions, expecting the coronavirus to turn endemic. The omicron variant has pushed infection rates to records, but hospitalization rates have remained below highs, indicating that the milder variant and booster shots will enable the country to return to an everyday without controls.
Gilead COVID drug takes top spot for U.S. hospital spending -report
Gilead Sciences Inc's COVID-19 drug remdesivir last year overtook AbbVie Inc's 20-year-old arthritis drug Humira as the medicine that U.S. hospitals spent the most on, according to Vizient Inc, a purchasing group used by about half the nation's hospitals. Remdesivir, an intravenous antiviral approved early in the pandemic for hospitalized COVID patients and authorized last month for high-risk outpatients, could retain the top spot through mid-2023, according to Vizient's projections. The group purchasing organization said Gilead's drug, sold as Veklury, made up 3.42% of total member spending on pharmaceuticals during October 2020 to September 2021.
US urges Pfizer to apply for under-5 COVID shots
Pfizer on Tuesday asked the U.S. to authorize extra-low doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, potentially opening the way for the very youngest Americans to start receiving shots as early as March. In an extraordinary move, the Food and Drug Administration had urged Pfizer and its partner BioNTech to apply earlier than the companies had planned — and before it’s settled if the youngsters will need two shots or three. The nation’s 19 million children under 5 are the only group not yet eligible for vaccination against the coronavirus. Many parents have been pushing for an expansion of shots to toddlers and preschoolers, especially as the omicron variant sent record numbers of youngsters to the hospital.
Dr. Tom Frieden: Why I'm cautiously optimistic about Covid-19
Although it's possible that deadly new coronavirus variants could emerge, I'm more optimistic today than at any point since the Covid-19 pandemic began. Here's why. Despite growing pandemic fatigue and rough weeks ahead as the Omicron tsunami recedes, we're better defended against Covid than ever. Vaccines and prior infection have steadily strengthened our collective immune defenses. We have now built up a wall of immunity -- although we have lost far, far too many people along the way to get here. In 2020, failure to follow public health recommendations greatly increased the death toll in the United States and elsewhere. In 2021, failure to reach people with vaccination -- largely due to partisan opposition and entrenched resistance in the US, and lack of access in many countries -- had lethal consequences. We've already lost nearly 900,000 people to Covid in the United States alone and are closing in on the grim milestone of a million American deaths. Most could have been prevented. But now, we can have the upper hand over Covid because our defenses are multilayered and strong, starting with immunity.
Denmark ends most COVID-19 restrictions
Denmark on Tuesday became one of the first European Union countries to scrap most pandemic restrictions as the Scandinavian country no longer considers the COVID-19 outbreak “a socially critical disease.” The reason for that is that while the omicron variant is surging in Denmark, it's not placing a heavy burden on the health system and the country has a high vaccination rate, officials have said. Denmark has in recent weeks seen more than 50,000 daily cases on average while the number of people in hospital intensive care units has dropped. The most visible restriction disappearing is the wearing of face masks, which are no longer mandatory on public transportation, shops and for standing clients in restaurant indoor areas. Authorities only recommend mask use in hospitals, health care facilities and nursing homes.
Covid-19: ‘Highest risk’ patients to get faster access to NHS treatment after testing rule change
Cancer patients and others at highest risk of dying from Covid-19 will have quicker access to life-saving antibody and antiviral treatments on the NHS after the Government quietly altered the rules over PCR tests. It comes after i revealed thousands of cancer and other patients with severely compromised immune systems fear they will die from the virus because delays and bureaucratic chaos is stopping them from getting fast-acting drugs in time for them to work. Around 1.3 million people the Government has classified as most at risk from Covid should have received a rapid PCR test and eligibility letter about the targeted NHS treatment programme by January 10, but charity helplines have been flooded with people complaining they have been left out.
As Israel learns to live with COVID, hospitals struggle to cope
A global leader in vaccine rollout during early waves of the coronavirus, Israel's government has adopted "Living with COVID" as its mantra since a few months before Omicron arrived. The variant is milder than previous incarnations of the virus, but that's scant consolation to the medics and nurses staffing COVID-19 wards whose workloads have soared again in parallel with case numbers. "The staff are exhausted," said Yoram Weiss, acting director general of Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. "It's not like we're starting the first outbreak where everybody was full of energy."
COVID shines spotlight on imbalanced approach to death globally -expert panel
The way we die needs a fundamental rethink, according to a group of international experts, who say COVID-19 has shed a harsh spotlight on care for the dying. Death has been “overmedicalized” and millions around the globe are suffering unnecessarily at the end of their lives as a result, with healthcare workers in wealthy nations seeking to prolong life rather than support death, according to an expert panel convened by the Lancet medical journal. At the same time, around half of people globally die without any palliative care or pain relief, particularly in lower-income countries
Exit Strategies
Little cheer for Year of the Tiger in Hong Kong as COVID bites
On January 21, when the number of coronavirus cases hit 20 in the densely-populated high-rise public housing estate of Kwai Fong, residents were given two hours to prepare for a five-day lockdown. Santiago Fung’s family focused on the essentials. His mother and sister bought lettuce and vegetables. Fung picked up frozen seafood, herbs for his two pet tortoises, along with two packs of cigarettes and 24 cans of beer. “I think for five days, that’s enough,” he said as the lockdown began. Challenges mounted by the day. As hundreds of the building’s 2,800 residents crammed the lifts and lobby to get tested, positive cases zipped into the triple digits. Government-supplied meals were tasteless and arrived late. Mostly, he endured the challenge of being a 33-year-old locked down in a 300-square-foot apartment (27.9 square metres) with a younger sister and a mother who insisted they share Chinese herbs with the neighbours.
NHS begins vaccinating vulnerable children against COVID-19
Around 500,000 children in England are expected to be eligible for the vaccine, which covers those in a clinical at-risk group and children who are household contacts of someone who is immunosuppressed. All GP practices have been asked to identify eligible children on their lists and vaccinations will be delivred at GP-led sites and hospital hubs. Parents and guardians have been told to wait until their are contacted by the site for their child's vaccination. Eligible children will receive two 10 microgram doses of the Pfizer vaccine, eight weeks apart. The paediatric dose of the vaccine is a third of the 30 microgram dose given to those aged over 12.
NHS vaccine mandate: Nurse who faced sack over staff Covid jab rules welcomes Government U-turn
A nurse who faced losing her job because she is not vaccinated against Covid-19 has welcomed the Government’s U-turn on mandatory jabs for frontline NHS staff. Concerns about the impact that dismissing about 80,000 unvaccinated NHS employees would have on an already stretched health service contributed to Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s policy change on Monday. The Government had previously set a 1 April deadline for double vaccination, meaning anyone in a patient-facing role who had not received their first dose by 3 February would be notified of their impending dismissal.
Austria’s mandatory Covid vaccine rule comes into force
A national coronavirus vaccine mandate has come into force in Austria, with the unjabbed facing large fines if they refuse to comply. The new law, which applies to all over-18s except pregnant women and those who are medically exempt, makes Austria the first country in Europe to compel all its adult citizens to be immunised against Covid-19. Other nations including Germany could soon follow suit. People living in Austria face penalties of up to €3,600 (£3,000) if they do not receive the necessary shots. The government has acknowledged that the measure is not universally popular, as sizeable anti-vaxx protests continue. But its insists the step is needed in the interests of public health
Covid-19 news: Mandatory vaccines scrapped for NHS workers in England
Vaccinations will not be a condition of employment for NHS workers in England. NHS staff in England will not be required to have coronavirus vaccinations, health secretary Sajid Javid announced yesterday. The move will be subject to a government consultation. Regulations for mandatory vaccines were due to come into effect for NHS staff on 1 April which would have made 3 Feb the last day an unvaccinated worker could start a course of vaccinations. Javid says mandatory vaccines are now less important because omicron, which is currently the dominant variant, appears to be more transmissible and less severe than the earlier delta variant. “It’s only right that our policy on vaccination as a condition of deployment is reviewed,” Javid said.
“Lab-in-a-backpack” Covid-19 test could help vaccine-poor communities
Researchers in London have developed a Covid-19 testing lab that fits into a backpack, which they say could offer poorer nations and remote communities a cheap and accessible way of detecting the virus. In a new study in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, scientists from Queen Mary University of London show that their lab-in-a-backpack approach is as effective as PCR tests at detecting Covid infections. The cost price of each test is just $3.50 (£2.60), said Stoyan Smoukov, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Queen Mary University of London. If scaled up, the backpack kits could not only slash the price of commercial testing for travel but could also help poor communities where vaccine rates are low and testing is inaccessible or too expensive.
New Zealand Open scrapped over COVID travel restrictions
The New Zealand Open golf championship has been cancelled for the second year running, due to ongoing travel restrictions to protect the country from the pandemic, the organisers said on Tuesday. New Zealand's borders have been shut to foreigners since March 2020. The government pushed back plans for a phased reopening from mid-January to the end of February out of concern about a potential Omicron outbreak, as in neighbouring Australia. "We have done everything within our power to make this event happen," tournament chairman John Hart said on the event's website.
South Africa scraps isolation for COVID positive people with no symptoms
South Africa no longer requires those who test positive for COVID-19 without symptoms to isolate and has also reduced the isolation period for those with symptoms by three days, as the country exits its fourth wave of the coronavirus, a government statement said on Monday. Following a special Cabinet meeting held earlier to decide on the amendments, the country made the changes based on the trajectory of the pandemic and levels of vaccination in the country, according to a press release issued by Mondli Gungubele, a minister in the presidency. South Africa is currently at the lowest of its five-stage COVID alert levels.
All-out effort to keep Biden COVID-free; no ‘normal’ yet
When President Joe Biden met with U.S. governors at the White House on Monday, he was the only one given a glass of water — lest anyone else remove their mask to take a drink. The president was seated more than 10 feet from everyone, including Vice President Kamala Harris and members of his Cabinet. A White House staffer who was wearing a surgical mask when Biden entered the room was quickly handed an N95 version. These are just some of the extraordinary efforts on the part of the White House to keep the president from getting COVID-19, even though he’s gotten both of his regular vaccinations and his booster. It’s no surprise that unusual steps are taken to protect any president. But the strict precautions could also threaten to undercut the Biden administration’s own efforts to tell Americans — especially those who are vaccinated and boosted — that they can get on with something closer to their normal lives in the face of the omicron wave.
Partisan Exits
Truckers and protesters against Covid-19 mandates block a border crossing. Others tried to take meals away from the homeless in Ottawa, shelter says
What started as a convoy of truckers protesting Covid-19 mandates has snowballed into a blockade in the Canadian capital and the obstruction of a US-Canadian border crossing. Some protesters pressured staff at a homeless shelter to give them food, the facility said. And criminal investigations are underway after the alleged "desecration" of monuments during weekend protests that spilled into Monday. The protests stemmed from the "Freedom Convoy" of truckers that traveled across Canada for several days before arriving in the capital city of Ottawa on Saturday. The drivers oppose a recent vaccine mandate requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated or face testing and quarantine requirements. Downtown Ottawa remained packed with rigs and cars Monday morning as protesters rallied against Covid-19 mandates and some legislators were set to return to Parliament Hill.
Politicizing COVID-19 vaccination efforts has fuelled vaccine hesitancy
The current political landscape has become increasingly intertwined with vaccine policy. Platforms from political parties have included vaccine mandates, third-dose policies and mandatory vaccination proposals aimed at children. Québec has even proposed taxing people who remain unvaccinated. This is concerning, particularly given that vaccination efforts are driven by the combined efforts of health-care providers, public health agencies and community leaders.
COVID-19: Nearly £9bn spent on PPE during coronavirus pandemic written off, Govt accounts show
Nearly £9bn spent by the government on personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic has been written off, annual accounts have shown. Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) figures show huge amounts were wasted on useless equipment, while millions of pounds has been spent getting out of contracts or storing PPE at ports. Some £673m worth of equipment was found to be totally unusable, according the 2020/21 accounts, while £750m was spent on items that expired before being used.
Canada's Trudeau 'not intimidated' by truckers' COVID protest
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday said Canadians were disgusted by the behavior of some people protesting against COVID-19 vaccine mandates in Ottawa and said he would not be intimidated. Dozens of trucks and other vehicles have jammed up the city center since Friday. Thousands descended upon Parliament Hill to complain about Trudeau, COVID-19 vaccine mandates and masking requirements but by mid-Monday afternoon, many had left. Police said most demonstrators have been peaceful but local residents complained about blaring truck horns and some demonstrators using the streets as a toilet. Some also harassed a homeless shelter and demanded staff give them food - the shelter said on Twitter - while others flew Nazi flags.
Italy chief chaplain condemns call for COVID disobedience by police
Italy's national Catholic military chaplain has hit back at a renegade, vaccine-denying archbishop, accusing him of inciting insubordination among the armed forces and police over their role in enforcing COVID-19 laws. The national chaplain, Archbishop Santo Marciano, issued a statement to all military and law enforcement personnel on Monday night, hours after Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano made a statement urging them to disobey orders and not be "automatons". Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador in Washington, has been in hiding for more than three years since issuing a broadside against Pope Francis, demanding his resignation.
Scientific Viewpoint
Fast-Spreading Omicron Variant Less Likely to Stop Reinfection
New studies are emerging that suggest the latest version of the highly-infectious omicron variant is transmitting even faster than the original, and mild cases of the first may not offer much protection against future infections. The findings cast doubt on hopes that the wave of omicron that’s sweeping the world may help hasten the end of the pandemic. Calls for governments to treat Covid-19 as endemic like influenza are rising globally as people grow tired of pandemic restrictions, vaccines become more accessible and deaths remain relatively low. The production of neutralizing antibodies during an omicron infection appears related to the severity of the illness, according to one report from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, that was published online before being peer-reviewed. The milder form of most omicron cases in vaccinated people may leave those who recover from them still vulnerable to existing virus and future variants that emerge, the researchers said.
Omicron subvariant BA.2 likely to have same severity as 'original' -WHO
The emerging BA.2 form of the Omicron coronavirus variant does not seem to be any more severe than the original BA.1 form, an official of the World Health Organization said on Tuesday. Vaccines also continue to provide similar protection against the different forms of Omicron, Dr. Boris Pavlin of the WHO's COVID-19 Response Team told an online briefing. The comments come as the BA.2 subvariant begins to replace Omicron's more common "original" BA.1 subvariant in countries such as Denmark.
Novavax seeks FDA emergency use authorization of its coronavirus vaccine
Novavax announced Monday that it has formally submitted a request for the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize its coronavirus vaccine for emergency use in the United States. The request is based on data that includes the results of two large clinical trials that demonstrated an overall efficacy of about 90% and a "reassuring safety profile," according to the company. "We believe our vaccine offers a differentiated option built on a well-understood protein-based vaccine platform that can be an alternative to the portfolio of available vaccines to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic," Stanley Erck, Novavax's president and chief executive officer, said in the announcement Monday.
Study suggests BA.2 COVID-19 subvariant more contagious
A study on how Omicron subvariants transmit in Danish households found that the BA.2 subvariant is substantially more transmissible than the original variant, researchers reported yesterday in preprint findings. BA.2 is now dominant in Denmark, with levels rising in other countries, raising questions about how fast current surges will decline. In South Africa, which first reported the original Omicron variant, BA.2 levels are increasing, but against the backdrop of decreasing infections, Tulio de Oliveira, PhD, who directs South Africa's Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation, said yesterday.
Spanish regulator authorises phase III trials of Hipra's COVID vaccine
The Spanish medicines agency said on Tuesday it had authorised pharmaceutical firm Hipra to carry out phase III trials of the COVID-19 vaccine it is developing Phase III is the last round of testing prior to seeking authorisation to market a drug. Hipra began phase II trials in November that involved testing the vaccine on 1,000 volunteers across ten hospitals in Spain. Hipra has said on its website that it anticipates being able to produce 600 million doses in 2022 and double that figure the following year.
China's most used COVID shots effective against Delta variant-study
China's two most widely used COVID-19 vaccines, developed by Sinovac and Sinopharm, were shown to be effective against the Delta variant of the coronavirus, a study based on real-world data in the country showed on Tuesday. The two vaccines were 52% effective against Delta infection and 60% for symptomatic disease, researchers wrote in a peer-reviewed paper. The study did not generate sufficient data to deliver effectiveness readings for the two vaccines separately or by age groups, researchers from a local disease control authority and two Chinese universities said in a paper published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Huge volumes of COVID hospital waste threaten health - WHO
Discarded syringes, used test kits and old vaccine bottles from the COVID-19 pandemic have piled up to create tens of thousands of tonnes of medical waste, threatening human health and the environment, a World Health Organization report said on Tuesday. The material potentially exposes health workers to burns, needle-stick injuries and disease-causing germs, the report said. "We found that COVID-19 has increased healthcare waste loads in facilities to up to 10 times," Maggie Montgomery, a WHO technical officer, told Geneva-based journalists. She said the biggest risk for affected communities was air pollution caused by burning waste at insufficiently high temperatures leading to the release of carcinogens.
US urges Pfizer to apply for under-5 COVID shots
U.S. regulators are urging drugmaker Pfizer to apply for emergency authorization for a two-dose regimen of its COVID-19 vaccine for children 6 months to 5 years old while awaiting data on a three-dose course, aiming to clear the way for the shots as soon as late February, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. The company’s application is expected to be submitted as soon as Tuesday. Early Pfizer data has shown the vaccine — which is administered to younger kids at one-tenth the strength of the adult shot — is safe and produces an immune response. But last year Pfizer announced the two-dose shot proved to be less effective at preventing COVID-19 in kids ages 2-5, and regulators encouraged the company to add a third dose to the study on the belief that another dose would boost the vaccine’s effectiveness much like booster doses do in adults.
Omicron amps up concerns about long COVID and its causes
More than a year after a bout with COVID-19, Rebekah Hogan still suffers from severe brain fog, pain and fatigue that leave her unable to do her nursing job or handle household activities. Long COVID has her questioning her worth as a wife and mother. “Is this permanent? Is this the new norm?” said the 41-year-old Latham, New York, woman, whose three children and husband also have signs of the condition. “I want my life back.’’ More than a third of COVID-19 survivors by some estimates will develop such lingering problems. Now, with omicron sweeping across the globe, scientists are racing to pinpoint the cause of the bedeviling condition and find treatments before a potential explosion in long COVID cases.
US gives full approval to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine
U.S. health regulators on Monday granted full approval to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, a shot that’s already been given to tens of millions of Americans since its emergency authorization over a year ago. The action by the Food and Drug Administration means the agency has completed the same rigorous, time-consuming review of Moderna’s shot as dozens of other long-established vaccines. The decision was bolstered by real-world evidence from the more than 200 million doses administered in the U.S. since the FDA cleared the shot in December 2020. The FDA granted full approval of Pfizer’s vaccine last August. Public health advocates initially hoped the regulatory distinction would boost public confidence in the shots. But there was no discernable bump in vaccinations after the Pfizer approval, which was heavily promoted by President Joe Biden and other federal officials. Still, regulators said Monday they hoped the extra endorsement would encourage more people to get vaccinated.
Coronavirus Resurgence
Virus infections for Olympic athletes, coaches rising faster
Athletes and team officials are testing positive for COVID-19 at much higher rates than other people arriving in China for the Beijing Olympics, organizers said Tuesday. Figures released by local organizers showed 11 positive tests for COVID-19 among 379 athletes and officials arriving Monday. They have been taken into isolation hotels to limit the spread of the infection and could miss their events. The positive test rate of 2.9% for athletes and officials compared to 0.66% for Olympic “stakeholders,” a group which includes workers and media, in the same period. There were 1,059 people in that category. Over a three-day period from Saturday through Monday, the positivity rate for athletes and officials was 40% higher than other Olympic arrivals. The rates were confirmed in PCR and other follow-up tests for tens of thousands of people at the Beijing Olympics who will live, work and train in closed-off communities separated from the general public. The Chinese government is pursuing a zero-tolerance public health strategy.
COVID-19: UK records another 112,458 cases and 219 more coronavirus-related deaths, daily figures show
The UK has recorded another 112,458 coronavirus cases in the latest 24-hour period, according to official data. That compares to 92,368 cases on Monday - a sharp rise on Sunday's figure because reinfections in England and Northern Ireland were included for the first time. Data for Scotland and Wales will be added in the "days ahead", the government website said. A further 219 coronavirus-related deaths have been recorded in the UK - compared to 51 announced on Monday.
Romania daily COVID-19 cases at new record high
The number of new coronavirus infections in Romania reached a record high of 40,018 in the past 24 hours, government data showed on Tuesday, with hospitalisations on the rise as the country's vaccine uptake lags. Romania is the European Union's second-least vaccinated country after Bulgaria, with roughly 41% of the population fully inoculated, reflecting mistrust in state institutions and poor vaccine education. On Monday there were 903 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units across the country, of which 84% are not vaccinated, official data showed.
Russia reports new record of daily COVID cases
Russia reported a record daily number of COVID-19 cases on Tuesday as the Omicron variant of coronavirus spread across the country, authorities said. New daily cases jumped to 125,836, up from 124,070 a day earlier. The government coronavirus task force also reported 663 deaths in the last 24 hours.
Tokyo COVID hospitalisations mount, cross closely watched 50% threshold
More than half of Tokyo's hospital beds set aside for COVID-19 patients were occupied on Tuesday, a level that officials have previously flagged as a criterion for requesting a state of emergency. The capital and most of Japan are now under curbs to contain record coronavirus cases driven by the contagious Omicron variant. Tokyo has set aside almost 7,000 hospital beds for COVID patients, and admissions have risen sharply this month, reaching 50.7% on Tuesday. New infections numbered 14,445.
COVID cases within 'controllable range', says Games organiser
The COVID-19 situation at the Beijing Winter Olympics is within the "expected controllable range" despite increasing positive cases being detected, a senior official at China's Olympics Pandemic Prevention and Control Office said on Tuesday. The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Organising Committee has reported 200 COVID cases since Jan. 23 among airport arrivals and those in the Games "closed loop" bubble that separates all event personnel, including athletes, from the public. "As more people are entering China the imported COVID-19 cases are increasing," Huang Chun, deputy director general of the committee's Pandemic Prevention and Control Office, told a news briefing.
Britain adds possible reinfections to COVID case numbers
Suspected reinfections account for around 10% of England's COVID-19 cases so far this year, a Reuters analysis suggests, after the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) changed how it calculates coronavirus data. With increased numbers of people catching the disease again since the Omicron variant began to predominate at the end of 2021, Britain on Monday started incorporating possible COVID-19 reinfections into its daily data. "Reinfection remained at very low levels until the start of the Omicron wave. It is right that our daily reporting processes reflect how the virus has changed," said Steven Riley, UKHSA’s Director General of Data and Analytics.
Mississippi reports 11th pediatric COVID-19 death
An 11th pediatric coronavirus death in Mississippi was confirmed Tuesday by state health officials. The Mississippi State Department of Health said none of the patients who died had been vaccinated. Since the first COVID-19 case was diagnosed in Mississippi in March 2020, the department has reported: — one death in an infant – under one year of age — three deaths in the 1-5 year age range — one death in the 6-10 year age range — six deaths in the 11-17 year age range State epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers encouraged parents to discuss childhood vaccination with their health care provider. “Vaccination is the best protection for our children who are eligible to receive it. For those under 5 years of age, it is critically important that everyone around the infant or child are vaccinated,” Byers said.