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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 16th May 2022

Lockdown Exit
South Africa in new surge of COVID from versions of omicron
South Africa is experiencing a surge of new COVID-19 cases driven by two omicron sub-variants, according to health experts. For about three weeks the country has seen increasing numbers of new cases and somewhat higher hospitalizations, but not increases in severe cases and deaths, said Professor Marta Nunes, a researcher at Vaccine and Infectious Diseases Analytics at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. “We’re still very early in this increase period, so I don’t want to really call it a wave,” Nunes said. “We are seeing a slight, a small increase in hospitalizations and really very few deaths.”
North Korea reports more deaths, says taking 'swift measures' against COVID outbreak
North Korea said on Sunday a total of 42 people had died as the country began its fourth day under a nationwide lockdown aimed at stopping the impoverished country's first confirmed COVID-19 outbreak.
China's Covid-Zero Policy Is Producing a Deluge of Waste
China’s lockdowns and restrictions to battle the nation’s biggest Covid outbreak since the early days of the pandemic are causing a massive increase in garbage in its biggest cities. Waste related to Covid prevention, including those from hospitals, fever clinics and isolation facilities, has increased 4.5 times to 1,400 tons a day in Shanghai from 308 tons before the current outbreak began in March. The city of 25 million residents has been in lockdown for five weeks, and daily household waste related to Covid reached 3,300 tons this month, compared with only 73 tons a day in February, according to People’s Daily.
North Korea's Kim says COVID 'great turmoil', 21 new deaths reported
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said on Saturday the spread of COVID-19 had thrust his country into "great turmoil" and called for an all-out battle to overcome the outbreak, as 21 daily deaths were reported among people with fever. North Korea this week acknowledged for the first time a COVID outbreak, imposing a nationwide lockdown. But there was no sign of a rigorous testing or treatment campaign in the isolated country's rudimentary healthcare system. "The spread of the malignant epidemic is a great turmoil to fall on our country since the founding," Kim told an emergency meeting of the ruling Workers' Party, according to state news agency KCNA.
S.Korea's Yoon pledges $300 million to global COVID response initiative
South Korea's new President Yoon Suk-yeol pledged on Thursday to provide an additional $300 million won to a global initiative to fund COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines for poorer countries. Yoon made the announcement in his speech to a second global COVID-19 summit, held virtually, aimed at facilitating efforts to end the pandemic and prepare for future health threats. His funding pledge would bring South Korea's total donations to the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A), sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other aid groups, to $510 million.
Biden marks one million U.S. COVID deaths after losing political battles
President Joe Biden on Thursday commemorated the COVID-19 deaths of 1 million people in the United States, marking what he called "a tragic milestone" and urging Americans to "remain vigilant" during the ongoing pandemic. In a statement, Biden acknowledged the impact of the deaths on families left behind and urged the country not to "grow numb to such sorrow." The United States on Wednesday reached more than 1 million COVID-19 deaths, according to a Reuters tally, crossing a once-unthinkable milestone about two years after the first cases upended everyday life.
'Not free from COVID': Thousands pray at Portuguese shrine despite fears of new wave
Last year, only 7,500 were allowed inside the sanctuary and people had to stand in circles to maintain social distancing. For many, it was a special moment to see the sanctuary finally opening doors to a big crowd after the vast majority of COVID-19 rules were lifted last month. But, as daily infections rise again, Teresa Maria decided to keep her mask on. "I always try to take precautions," she said as she waited for the farewell procession, one of the highlights of the event, to begin. "We are not free from it because cases are going up."
Shanghai Lays Out Covid-19 Reopening Plan as China Cancels 2023 Soccer Tournament
Shanghai officials outlined plans for a phased reopening of shopping malls, supermarkets and other businesses, even as many residents in China’s financial hub remained confined to their locked-down homes. Chen Tong, Shanghai’s deputy mayor, said Sunday that the city would begin allowing businesses to open on a limited basis starting Monday as daily Covid-19 infection cases continue to decline nearly two months into a hard lockdown of the city of 25 million people. Mr. Chen characterized the city’s approach to the pandemic as entering a new transition phase, “from emergency response to normalized prevention and control.” On Sunday, Shanghai health authorities reported roughly 1,200 new Covid cases for the previous day, from a high of more than 20,000 last month. Daily infection counts have been below 5,000 for nearly two weeks.
Exit Strategies
COVID claims 1 million U.S. lives, leaving trail of loss
The United States has now recorded more than 1 million COVID-19 deaths, according to a Reuters tally, crossing a once-unthinkable milestone about two years after the first cases upended everyday life and quickly transformed it. The 1 million mark is a stark reminder of the staggering grief and loss caused by the pandemic even as the threat posed by the virus wanes in the minds of many people. It represents about one death for every 327 Americans, or more than the entire population of San Francisco or Seattle.
Taiwan to roll out fourth COVID-19 vaccine doses next week: CECC
People aged 65 and above, or those over 60 who are immunocompromised will be able to receive a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine beginning next week at the earliest, the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) said Friday. Chuang Jen-hsiang (莊人祥), deputy head of Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control and CECC spokesman, said individuals must wait at least five months after receiving their third dose before getting a fourth. The vaccination schedule for eligible individuals will be announced soon, Chuang said at a press briefing. According to the CECC, the decision to roll out a fourth COVID-19 jab was made during an Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) meeting at the end of April.
Russia would consider North Korea request for COVID vaccine supply
Russia will promptly consider any request from North Korea for COVID-19 vaccine supplies, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Friday. "North Korean comrades are well aware of our various inoculations, they are aware of our extensive experience with COVID," Peskov said. "If there are appeals from Pyongyang, they will be dealt with promptly." At least one person confirmed to have COVID-19 has died in North Korea and hundreds of thousands have shown fever symptoms, state media said on Friday, offering hints at the potentially dire scale of the country's first confirmed outbreak of the pandemic
Biden may need to 'claw back' funding for COVID, Jha says
The White House is preparing for a scenario in which Congress fails to approve President Joe Biden's request for additional COVID funds by reviewing old contracts to see if there is any money it can "claw back," the president's top COVID adviser said on Thursday. The United States is still in a pandemic and continues to face an evolving coronavirus despite making strides over the past two years, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha told Reuters in an interview.
Mass Covid Testing, Already a Familiar Ritual, Becomes China’s New Normal
China is doubling down on mass testing as a key weapon against Covid-19 even as costs mount and the highly infectious Omicron variant exposes challenges with the strategy. Mass testing has become a part of daily life across the country. Similar to how many people in the West have had to show a vaccine pass to dine out, enter the office or get on a plane, in China, the thing not to leave home without is a negative Covid test. In many cities, a test taken within the past 48 or 72 hours is required for any facet of public life, such as grocery shopping or taking public transportation. The government is setting up thousands of stationary PCR-testing stations across the country as part of an official campaign to institutionalize testing. In some cities, the goal is to have one within a 15-minute walking distance of any resident.
North Korea reports 15 deaths and nearly 300,000 new ‘fever’ cases as Covid outbreak spreads
North Korea said on Sunday a total of 42 people had died as the country began its fourth day under a nationwide lockdown aimed at stopping the impoverished country’s first confirmed Covid-19 outbreak. At least 296,180 more people came down with fever symptoms, and 15 more had died as of Sunday, the outlet said. North Korea’s admission on Thursday that it is battling an “explosive” Covid-19 outbreak has raised concerns that the virus could devastate a country with an under-resourced health system, limited testing capabilities and no vaccine programme.
North Korea reports 15 more suspected COVID-19 deaths
North Korea has confirmed 15 more deaths and hundreds of thousands of additional patients with fevers as it mobilizes more than a million health and other workers to try to suppress the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak, state media reported Sunday. After maintaining a widely disputed claim that it’s been coronavirus-free for more than two years, North Korea announced Thursday that it had found its first COVID-19 patients since the pandemic began. It said a fever has spread across the country “explosively” since late April but hasn’t disclosed exactly how many COVID-19 cases were found. Some experts say North Korea lacks the diagnostic kits needed to test a large number of suspected COVID-19 patients.
Partisan Exits
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tests positive for COVID
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern tested positive for COVID-19 with moderate symptoms, her office said in a statement on Saturday. She will not be in parliament for the government's emissions reduction plan on Monday and the budget on Thursday, but "travel arrangements for her trade mission to the United States are unaffected at this stage," the statement said. Ardern had been symptomatic since Friday evening, returning a weak positive at night and a clear positive on Saturday morning on a rapid antigen test, it said.
Meatpackers convinced Trump to keep plants running during COVID crisis - report
Article reports that top U.S. meatpacking companies drafted the executive order issued by President Donald Trump in 2020 to keep meat plants running and convinced his administration to encourage workers to stay on the job at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report released on Thursday by a U.S. House panel. The report by the House of Representatives Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis details the meat industry’s influence on Trump's White House as it tried to keep production rolling even as employees fell ill.
Massachusetts to pay $56 mln over deadly COVID outbreak at veterans' home
The state of Massachusetts on Thursday agreed to pay $56 million to resolve a lawsuit by families of veterans who contracted COVID-19 during an outbreak at a veterans' care center that killed 84 people early in the pandemic. The proposed settlement would resolve a pending federal class action lawsuit by families of veterans who died as a result of the 2020 outbreak at Holyoke Soldiers' Home, one of the deadliest to have occurred at a U.S. nursing facility.
Scientific Viewpoint
How Omicron Infection Turbo-Charges Vaccinated People's Immunity
People who are vaccinated and then get infected with omicron may be primed to overcome a broad range of coronavirus variants, early research suggests. A pair of studies showed that infection produced even better immune responses than a booster shot in vaccinated patients. Teams from Covid-19 vaccine maker BioNTech SE and the University of Washington posted the results on preprint server bioRxiv in recent weeks. The findings offer a reassuring sign that the millions of vaccinated people who’ve caught omicron probably won’t become seriously ill from another variant soon -- even though the research needs to be confirmed, especially by real-world evidence.
mRNA booster vaccines may be a good investment in developing countries
Vaccines based on inactivated SARS-CoV-2 virus are commonly used in developing countries due to their low cost. New research from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden shows that a booster shot of mRNA vaccine to individuals who have received two doses of inactivated vaccine offers the same level of protection against COVID-19 as three doses of mRNA vaccine. The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications. “Our results indicate that one booster shot of an mRNA vaccine, as a complement to the cheaper but less effective inactivated vaccines, is sufficient to achieve the ‘gold-standard’ immune response measured after three doses of mRNA vaccine,” says Qiang Pan Hammarström, professor at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet, who led the study. “That would likely be a good investment even in resource-poor countries to protect against severe COVID-19.”
Study shows how MS patients treated with Rituximab react to COVID-19 vaccination
MS patients treated with Rituximab have better responses to the COVID-19 vaccine if they have higher B cell counts. This is the finding of a study from Uppsala University published in the journal JAMA Network Open. In patients with B cell counts of 40/µL (microlitres) or more, 9 of 10 patients developed protective levels of antibodies, while significantly fewer with lower counts had similar responses. In Sweden, Rituximab is the most common medicine for multiple sclerosis (MS), but it is also used for many other diseases. The medicine is given as a drip, normally once or twice a year, and has a documented good effect on slowing the progression of MS. The treatment knocks out the body's B cells, which are an important part of our immune system though they also contribute to the MS disease process. As a result, the treatment increases the risk of patients suffering from serious infections, such as COVID-19. Having low levels of B cells also makes it more difficult for the body to form protective antibodies against viruses and bacteria, which is the primary purpose of vaccinations. In this case, this concerns the S protein in the SARS-CoV-19 virus.
Covid-19 patent lawsuits: Will vaccine producers have to pay the bill?
In a new chapter with emerging legal dimensions for the Covid-19 vaccine success story, last week Moderna submitted a filing to take down a patent infringement lawsuit over its Covid-19 vaccine. In a claim filed on 28 February, Arbutus Biopharma and Genevant Sciences stated that Moderna infringed on their patented lipid nanoparticle (LNP) technology, and as such, were due damages from Moderna. Later in March, Pfizer’s Canada-based LNP partner Acuitas Therapeutics filed a complaint against Arbutus and Genevant in the US district court for the southern district of New York, asking for a judgement on the non-infringement and invalidity of such patents.
How China’s drive to develop its own state-of-the-art Covid vaccine is going
China has yet to approve any mRNA vaccines, which have the highest efficacy rates, despite the recent surge in cases in Shanghai. The authorities have not explained the delay, even though Fosun Pharmaceuticals has a commercial deal to distribute 100 million doses of BioNTech’s vaccine. Many analysts believe the authorities are waiting for a home-grown mRNA vaccine to be developed. Here is what we know so far about that quest.
The Next Big COVID-Vaccine Gamble
Up here in the Northern Hemisphere, the spring weather’s just barely warming, but regulators in the United States are already wringing their hands over a tricksy fall brew: the contents of the COVID shot that vaccine makers are prepping for autumn, when all eligible Americans may be asked to dose up yet again (if, that is, Congress coughs up the money to actually buy the vaccines). In a recent advisory meeting convened by the FDA, Peter Marks, the director of the agency’s Center of Biologics Evaluation and Research, acknowledged the “very compressed time frame” in which experts will need to finalize the inoculation’s ingredients—probably, he said, by the end of June. Which is, for the record, right around the corner. A big choice is looming. And whatever version of the virus that scientists select for America’s next jab is “probably going to be the wrong one,” says Allie Greaney, who studies the push and pull between viruses and the immune system at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.
Novavax confident Covid vaccine will receive FDA authorization in June after delays
Novavax executives said this week that they’re confident the Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee will recommend the shot for use in the adult population. If the FDA committee endorses the shot in June, the drug regulator is almost certain to rapidly authorize it for use in the U.S. CCO John Trizzino said Novavax also aims to have an updated shot that targets omicron ready for October should the U.S. decide to redesign the vaccines for a fall vaccination campaign.
How air pollution can affect covid-19 risks
Research has shown that being unvaccinated raises a person’s risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus, while being older, overweight or immunocompromised can increase the severity of the disease. Now scientists think there is another risk factor that may increase the likelihood of contracting the coronavirus and the possibility that it will lead to a poor outcome: exposure to air pollution. A growing body of evidence suggests links between breathing polluted air and the chances of being infected by the coronavirus, developing a severe illness or dying of covid-19. While many of these studies focused on long-term exposure to air pollution, experts say there is also building evidence that even short-term exposures may have negative effects.
COVID-19: Around 60,000 NHS workers living with PTS after battling the pandemic
An estimated 60,000 NHS workers are believed to be living with post-traumatic stress as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new research. NHS Charities Together also found nine in 10 workers (90%) say it will take them years to recover. Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters (73%) have expressed concerns about their colleagues leaving the workforce due to poor mental health. Neal Ashurst, an operating department practitioner, was redeployed during the pandemic, switching from anaesthetics to a critical care unit.
Generic drugmakers to sell Pfizer's Paxlovid for $25 or less in low-income countries
Several generic drugmakers that will produce versions of Pfizer's (PFE.N) COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid have agreed to sell the medicine in low- and middle-income countries for $25 a course or less, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) said on Thursday. CHAI said it could not disclose the names of the manufacturers who have agreed to the price ceiling, because they are still in the early stage of product development and have not received regulatory approval.
Symptoms linger two years for some; inflammatory protein patterns may provide long COVID clues
Half of the COVID-19 patients discharged from a Chinese hospital in early 2020 still have at least one symptom two years later, a new study shows. Overall, regardless of initial disease severity, the 2,469 COVID-19 survivors in the study had improvements in physical and mental health over time. Nearly 90% of those who were employed returned to their jobs within two years. But the survivors had a "remarkably" lower health status than the general population at two years, and their burden of symptoms from after-effects "remained fairly high," the researchers reported on Wednesday in The Lancet Respiratory Diseases. At two years, 55% still had at least one COVID-19 after-effect, according to the report.
Switzerland authorizes Moderna's COVID vaccine for 6-11 year olds
Moderna Inc said Swiss drugs regulator Swissmedic had authorized the use of its COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 6 to 11 years. The approval is for the vaccine's two-dose series of 50 micro gram per dose, Moderna added.
Coronavirus Resurgence
1000 people could be in hospital with Covid-19 daily during winter peak – Govt
Thousands of people could be hospitalised with respiratory illnesses daily over winter, including more than 1000 at a time with Covid-19 at what could potentially be a “quite high” peak, the Government is warning. On Friday, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield outlined modelling around planning for winter. It was expected Aotearoa would see a resurgence of Covid-19, alongside influenza and RSV outbreaks. New data showed while the Southern region was seeing the highest number of cases per 1000 people (particularly in Canterbury and Dunedin) and the seven-day rolling average remains steady overall, case numbers were “creeping up again” in Auckland.
North Korea reports first Covid-19 death due to Omicron variant
North Korea said on Friday that six people have died and 350,000 have been treated since April for an “obscure febrile disease”, a day after the isolated country confirmed the presence of coronavirus within its borders for the first time. State news agency KCNA reported that 18,000 people had been identified on Thursday as having “a fever whose cause couldn’t be identified” and 187,800 were in quarantine. Authorities said one of the dead was infected with Covid-19, adding that the person had contracted the highly transmissible BA.2 Omicron coronavirus sub-variant.
China reports 2532 new COVID cases on May 12 vs 1917 a day earlier
Mainland China reported 2,532 new coronavirus cases on May 12, of which 331 were symptomatic and 2,201 were asymptomatic, the National Health Commission said on Friday. That compares with 1,917 new cases a day earlier, consisting of 237 symptomatic and 1,680 asymptomatic infections, which China counts separately. There were two new deaths, bringing the death toll to 5,205. As of May 12, mainland China had confirmed 221,289 coronavirus cases.
England's COVID prevalence falls again - ONS survey
The prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England fell to 1 in 45 people in the week ending May 7, the Office for National Statistics' Infection Survey said, down from an estimated 1 in 35 people who had the infection the previous week.
North Korea reports first COVID-19 death as fever spreads 'explosively'
At least one person confirmed to have COVID-19 has died in North Korea and hundreds of thousands have shown fever symptoms, state media said on Friday, offering hints at the potentially dire scale of country's first confirmed outbreak of the pandemic.
Shanghai reports 1869 new local asymptomatic COVID-19 cases for May 12
The Chinese financial hub of Shanghai reported 1,869 new local asymptomatic coronavirus cases for May 12, up from 1,305 a day earlier, the city's health authority said on Friday.
South Africa's COVID-19 spike intensifies
At a briefing, WHO officials said Africa's cases have risen for a third straight week, with 87% of the cases from Southern Africa. Also, neighboring Eswatini and Namibia have reported case rises of 50% over the past 2 weeks, compared to the previous 2 weeks. In South Africa, the hot spot, cases have quadrupled over the past 3 weeks. Hospitalizations are still low, but in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, hospitalizations and deaths have jumped 90% to 100% in the past 2 weeks. Abdou Salam Gueye, MD, MPH, the regional office's emergency preparedness director, said, "This uptick in cases is an early warning sign which we are closely monitoring. Now is the time for countries to step up preparedness and ensure that they can mount an effective response in the event of a fresh pandemic wave." Officials warned that Africa's last four waves occurred around the middle and end of the year, coinciding with winter seasons and high population movements over the holidays. Gueye said major pushes are needed to ensure that everyone completes their primary vaccine series and that people in high-risk groups get their booster doses.
Latest BC COVID-19 data appears to show a rise in ICU patients
Another 59 people died in B.C. last week after testing positive for COVID-19, while the number of patients in intensive care with the disease appears to have surged, according to the province's latest reports on the pandemic. As of Thursday, 596 people are in hospital with the novel coronavirus, including 54 in intensive care, according to the B.C. COVID-19 dashboard. That would represent an increase of eight per cent in overall hospitalizations from the numbers last Thursday, when the province reported 550 people in hospital. The number of patients in ICU is up 38 per cent from 39 a week ago. But all of the figures released by the province are preliminary, and making comparisons from week to week has become difficult.
New Lockdown
China denies suspending passports, invalidating foreign residency cards
China's immigration authority is still providing services for necessary trips outside the country, it said on Friday, denying rumours that passport issuances were halted and that residency cards for living in foreign countries were being invalidated. Officials have promptly processed certificates for people who need to travel abroad for necessary and urgent matters such as study, scientific research, trade and businesses and medical issues, the National Immigration Administration (NIA) said in a statement. The NIA was responding to what it said were "foreign media reports" that falsely said the agency had suspended passport issuances and had invalidated residency cards issued by foreign countries to Chinese citizens eligible to live overseas by cutting off the corners. The NIA statement did not include examples of the reports. The statement followed the NIA's announcement on Thursday that it would "strictly limit" unnecessary overseas travels by Chinese citizens to minimize the risks of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases caused by infections among international travellers
Shanghai aims to defeat COVID over next week as Beijing hunkers down
Locked-down Shanghai aims to ringfence its COVID outbreak over the next week, officials said on Friday, while residents in China's capital Beijing largely heeded the advice of authorities to work from home to stem the virus' spread. Easing weeks of punishing restrictions in the commercial hub would bring relief to China's battered economy, although there is growing concern that Beijing may yet take a similar course of action if it fails to get a nascent outbreak under control. Shanghai's deputy mayor, Wu Qing, said the city of 25 million aims to eliminate COVID outside of quarantined zones within the next week or so. After that, the city's lockdown will be "lifted in batches", with shops opened and traffic restictions eased, he said in the announcement which confirmed a Reuters story from Sunday