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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 18th May 2022

Lockdown Exit
Covid support schemes left ‘open goal’ to fraudsters, says watchdog
The business department’s handling of Covid support schemes left an “open goal” to fraudsters and embezzlers that has added “billions to taxpayer woes”, parliament’s spending watchdog has found. In its review of the annual report of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it recognised that the government offered crucial support to businesses at the height of the pandemic. However, it said efforts to identify fraud and error had come too late, given that by the time they are confirmed the money will have been spent and “trails will have long ago gone cold”. “BEIS says it saw this risk coming but it’s really not clear where government was looking when it set up its initial Covid response,” said the PAC’s chair, the Labour MP Dame Meg Hillier.
N.Y.C. urges people to wear masks indoors, but stops short of requiring it.
Citing high community transmission and rising hospitalizations from a fifth wave of coronavirus cases, New York City health officials on Monday strongly recommended that all individuals wear medical-grade masks in offices, grocery stores and other public indoor settings citywide. The new recommendations, issued in a health advisory by the city health commissioner, came as the city approached the orange, or “high” alert level for Covid-19, a benchmark it expects to hit in the coming days. The new advisory also called on those who are at increased risk for severe illness, including unvaccinated children under 5 and people over 65, to avoid nonessential indoor gatherings and crowded settings.
US-China Fight May Spoil Global Deal for a Covid Vaccine-Patent Waiver
A brewing trade fight between the US and China may unravel a nearly two-year effort to ease intellectual-property rules for producing Covid-19 vaccines and cast further doubt on the World Trade Organization’s reputation as a negotiating forum. US President Joe Biden’s top trade official in Geneva said any WTO agreement related to Covid-19 vaccines must explicitly exclude China from being able to benefit from the deal.
African leaders urge global vaccine body to buy locally made Covid jabs
African leaders have called on the organisation in charge of procurement for the Covax vaccine sharing scheme to commit to buying at least 30 per cent of all Covid-19 jabs produced on the continent, as the future of Africa’s biggest manufacturing facility hangs in the balance. Covid-19 vaccine production at the Aspen Pharmacare facility in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, ground to a halt in late March because of a drop-off in demand, putting its future in doubt and threatening to undermine African Union plans to increase local jab production.
Austria lifts COVID-19 entry requirements – EURACTIV.com
Entering Austria no longer requires proof of vaccination, recovery passes, or testing after all COVID-19-related entry requirements were dropped from Monday. Provided there is no extension or change, these measures, presented by the health ministry Friday evening (13 May), should remain lifted until the end of September. According to the ministry, the current epidemiological situation justified lifting the entry regulations.
Japan to allow limited tour groups from May as step to full re-opening
Japan said on Tuesday it would start conducting "test tourism" in the form of limited package tours in May as a way of gathering information prior to a full re-opening of the country to tourism. Though tourism was a major pillar of Japan's economy, tourists have not been permitted to enter since it adopted strict border controls in 2020 at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Indonesia to drop outdoor mask mandate as COVID infections drop
Indonesia will drop requirements for people to mask up outdoors and for vaccinated travellers to show negative pre-departure tests, officials said on Tuesday, as COVID-19 infections decline in the Southeast Asian country. Masks are no longer required outdoors as "the pandemic is getting more and more controlled", President Joko Widodo said in a statement streamed online. But masks must still be worn indoors and on public transportation, he said
Omitting long Covid from pandemic messaging is harmful for public health
Public health messaging about Covid-19 has focused almost exclusively on hospitalizations and deaths. The omission of long Covid, which may affect between 8 million and 23 million Americans, deprives the public of the knowledge necessary to understand the risks of various activities, make informed decisions about risk-taking, and understand what is happening to them if they feel sick for an extended period. Local and national public health entities continue to characterize infections not resulting in hospitalization as “mild,” and most media have followed their lead. Authorities have been shaping a narrative in which the primary risks from Covid are acute illness, death, and impacts on health care systems. Yet evidence is rapidly mounting that post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC, or long Covid) can cause symptoms — often debilitating symptoms — that persist for months or even years after infection.
Beijing's retail, industry upended by COVID restrictions
The economy of China's capital Beijing took a hit in April as authorities wrestled with a new COVID outbreak, telling residents to avoid going out or work from home and halting many businesses. Retail sales in the city of nearly 22 million people, a key gauge of consumption, shrank 16.05% in April from a year earlier, according to Reuters calculations based on January-April data released by the city's statistics bureau on Tuesday, outpacing the nation's 11.1% contraction.
Exit Strategies
China’s Economic Distress Deepens as Lockdowns Drag On
China’s economy descended deeper into a Covid-19-induced doldrums last month, raising questions about whether Beijing’s planned stimulus measures can prevent a prolonged downturn. Consumer spending and factory output tumbled in April, while growth in infrastructure investment—which Beijing has been counting on to prop up growth this year—slowed sharply, China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported Monday.
China's COVID controls will impact foreign investment for years - US lobby
China's strict COVID-19 controls will hamper foreign investment into the country for years to come as limits on travel block the pipeline for projects, the President of the American Chamber of Commerce warned on Tuesday. There are few signs that American companies are leaving the China market, but the years-long process of research and due diligence for projects has been delayed, Michael Hart said at an event launching the chamber's annual report.
Hong Kong to push on with third stage of vaccine pass scheme, 328 cases logged
Hong Kong will press ahead with a policy requiring residents to receive the third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine to enter most premises by the end of the month, the city’s leader has confirmed, although a million people have yet to receive such a shot. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday said the third phase of the vaccine pass scheme would be implemented on May 31 as planned, even as the administration faces mounting pressure to review its effectiveness.
Shanghai’s Covid-19 Case Count Drops as City Prepares to Reopen
Shanghai marked a third straight day with no community transmissions of Covid-19, a key milestone toward ending an outbreak that has brought China’s financial capital to a grinding halt. Shanghai on Tuesday reported 777 new locally transmitted cases from a day earlier, compared with more than 25,000 daily infections at the height of the outbreak in mid-April. All the infections were found among 910,000 people in isolation facilities or confined at home—a sign that, for now, the virus’s ability to spread more widely in the city of 25 million people has been curtailed.
Covid-19: Hong Kong leader confirms next phase of Vaccine Pass to go ahead as health experts urge relaxation
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has confirmed that the next phase of Hong Kong’s Covid-19 Vaccine Pass will go ahead as scheduled on May 31, despite experts urging the government to relax the requirement for those under 60. Lam’s confirmation came on Tuesday after two University of Hong Kong (HKU) medics wrote an opinion piece in Ming Pao arguing that the scheme, which will require Hongkongers to have received three doses of a Covid-19 to enter certain types of premises from May 31, was “coercive.”
What happens when the government stops buying Covid-19 vaccines?
The federal government has distributed Covid-19 vaccines and treatments for free so far, but most likely, the handouts won’t last forever. At some point, Covid-19 vaccines and treatments will be bought and sold just like other drugs and medical products. But big questions loom about how and when the transition will happen, about how bumpy it will be. The issue has gained urgency in recent weeks as Congress has been reluctant to provide the Biden administration with any additional funds to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. That means the government is out of money to purchase more vaccines, oral antivirals, and therapeutics, not to mention next-generation vaccines and therapies tailored to particular variants.
FDA to soon authorize Pfizer's COVID booster shot for younger kids - NYT
U.S. health regulators are expected to authorize a booster shot of Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11 as soon as Tuesday, the New York Times reported on Monday, citing people familiar with the matter. The companies submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the authorization last month. They have cited data from a mid- to late-stage study showing a third dose of their shot increased protection against the original coronavirus version and the Omicron variant among children in the age group
Biden offering additional 8 free COVID-19 tests to public
The government website for people to request free COVID-19 at-home tests from the U.S. government is now accepting a third round of orders. The White House announced Tuesday that U.S. households can request an additional eight free at-home tests to be shipped by the U.S. Postal Service. The announcement comes as coronavirus cases are rising again in some areas of the country.
JD.com beats revenue estimates but CEO cautious over COVID outbreaks
E-commerce group JD.com Inc, beat estimates for quarterly revenue as more people shopped on its platform following COVID lockdowns in China, but its CEO was cautious on the outlook due to logistical disruptions and sluggish consumption. The resurgence of COVID-19 in the world's second-largest economy in March and the strict lockdowns it has taken since to curb its spread, including in its most populous city Shanghai, have heavily disrupted normal life and business activity.
Partisan Exits
Factbox: COVID-hit Chinese cities seek exit from painful lockdown
Plans by COVID-hit Chinese cities to exit or avoid lockdown are more fraught and uncertain than ever as the pursuit of zero cases grows more prolonged, taxing and complex, with the highly infectious Omicron variant demanding quicker and tougher steps. The lockdowns have led the World Health Organization chief to describe China's zero-COVID goal as unsustainable, but China says its approach will protect the lives of its people and economy in the longer run.
N.Korean leader Kim slams officials' 'immature' response amid COVID outbreak
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un slammed his country's response to its first officially confirmed COVID-19 outbreak as "immature," accusing government officials of inadequacies and inertia as fever cases swept the country, state media reported on Wednesday. North Korea reported 232,880 more people with fever symptoms, and six more deaths after the country's first admission of the COVID outbreak last week. It did not say how many people had tested positive for COVID-19.
China's Covid Exit Hinges on Seniors Who Don't Want Vaccines
As its Covid Zero lockdowns have become harsher and more economically disruptive, China has repeatedly invoked the specter of millions of vulnerable elderly people dying as justification for its strict virus approach. What remains unaddressed is why, with an abundant supply of homegrown vaccines and vast enforcement power, so many of China’s over-60s remain unvaccinated more than a year after shots became available. China is now paying a price for this vulnerability, with its economy struggling under the weight of chaotic lockdowns and increasingly unpredictable measures aimed at snuffing out all cases and shielding the community.
Students protest, discontent grows over China’s COVID policy
Administrators at an elite Beijing university have backed down from plans to further tighten pandemic restrictions on students as part of China’s “zero-COVID” strategy after a weekend protest at the school, according to students Tuesday. Graduate students at Peking University staged the rare, but peaceful protest Sunday over the school’s decision to erect a sheet-metal wall to keep them further sequestered on campus, while allowing faculty to come and go freely. Discontent had already been simmering over regulations prohibiting them from ordering in food or having visitors, and daily COVID-19 testing.
Continued Lockdown
Shanghai residents leverage Excel skills, management savvy to navigate lockdown
China's worst COVID-19 outbreak has frayed nerves and stirred resentment among many residents of Shanghai but some have thrived in the face of adversity, stepping up with bright ideas and commitment to help their communities through the crisis. Not surprisingly, many such people have used the skills they developed in their jobs to help others navigate the frightening new world of forced quarantine and lockdowns that no one dreamed of before COVID.
Shanghai hits prized 'zero COVID' status but lockdown lingers
Shanghai achieved its long-awaited milestone of three consecutive days with no new COVID-19 cases outside quarantine zones on Tuesday but most residents will have to put up with confinement for a while longer before resuming more normal life. For other cities in China that have been under lockdown, three days with no new cases in the community usually means "zero COVID" status and the beginning of the lifting of restrictions.
Scientific Viewpoint
Pfizer COVID antiviral use up 315%, U.S. health department says
Rising COVID-19 cases are driving up the use of therapeutics, with Pfizer Inc's oral antiviral treatment Paxlovid seeing a 315% jump over the past four weeks, U.S. health officials said on Tuesday. The increase in U.S. cases and hospitalizations is starting to affect recommendations on behavior, with New York City, the nation's most populous city, advising stricter mask usage but stopping short of new mandates. Apple has scrapped return to office plans.
U.S. FDA authorizes Pfizer's COVID booster shot for young children
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized the use of a booster shot of Pfizer (PFE.N) and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, making everyone in the country over the age of 5 eligible for a third shot. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still needs to sign off on the shots before they can be administered. Children below the age of five are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.
COVID-19 vaccine study focuses on young and immunosuppressed
The team at Imperial College London will now expand the MELODY study to include immunosuppressed young people who have had an organ transplant, to assess the levels of protection the vaccines offer to immunosuppressed people across age groups. Dr Michelle Willicombe, the study lead at Imperial College London, commented: “Information on how young, immunosuppressed people have responded to vaccination and the protection it affords them from infection is currently lacking, so we are delighted for the additional support so we can include children in MELODY to provide ongoing evidence. “If we can understand more about how this group of people respond to vaccines, then this will inform future vaccination strategies and also identify those young people who are most at risk of catching COVID-19.”
COVID vaccines may cut hospital Omicron cases in youth
In the first study, researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from 74,208 drive-thru polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test results from children aged 5 to 11 years, and 47,744 tests from aged 12 to 15 from Dec 26, 2021, to Feb 21, 2022. The tests were conducted by a single pharmacy chain at 6,897 sites in 49 states; Washington, DC; and Puerto Rico. The researchers compared the effectiveness of two Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses at least 2 weeks before testing with no vaccination in children, and two or three doses 2 or more weeks earlier in adolescents. Overall, the study involved 30,888 positive tests and 43,209 negative tests from children aged 5 to 11 and 22,273 positive tests and 25,471 negative tests from 12- to 15-year-olds. Median age was 10 years, 50.2% were girls, 70.1% were White, and 25.7% were Hispanic or Latino.
Pfizer, BioNTech COVID vaccine deliveries delayed in Europe
As the EU gears up for a COVID-19 booster campaign this fall, the bloc has delayed vaccine deliveries from Pfizer and BioNTech. The change creates time for officials to secure potential variant-adapted shots that could score authorization in the months to come. Pfizer and BioNTech—which last year pledged to supply Europe with up to 1.8 billion doses of their mRNA vaccine Comirnaty through 2023—are pushing back deliveries scheduled for June through August by three months. The unspecified number of doses is now pegged to arrive in the EU starting in September through the fourth quarter of 2022, Pfizer and BioNTech said Monday. The delivery update shouldn’t crimp Pfizer and BioNTech’s 2022 revenue guidance or full-year delivery commitments to Europe, the companies said.
Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine prevented almost 700,000 hospitalizations -study
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine prevented almost 700,000 hospitalizations in the US and saved more than $70 billion in costs over one year, a new study has found. Published on Sunday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Economics, the study concluded that the vaccine prevented 8.7 million symptomatic cases of the virus in America as well as 690,000 hospitalizations and over 110,000 deaths. Additionally, it saved over $30 billion in healthcare costs and over $40 billion in lost productivity, the study found. The study's authors, who all received some form of funding from Pfizer, used a model with real-world and trial data to determine the number of symptomatic COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths that would have occurred without the Pfizer vaccine, as well as the cost on the healthcare system and the economy.
Flu vaccine could cut COVID risk
Influenza vaccines have a surprising health benefit: they might also prevent COVID-19, particularly in its most severe forms. A study of more than 30,000 health-care workers in Qatar found that those who got a flu jab were nearly 90% less likely to develop severe COVID-19 over the next few months, compared with those who hadn’t been recently vaccinated against flu. The study, which was conducted in late 2020, before the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, is in line with previous work suggesting that ramping up the immune system using influenza vaccines and other jabs could help the body to fend off the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
Sniffer dogs detect coronavirus as effectively as PCR tests
Airport sniffer dogs are highly adept at detecting the coronavirus, according to the first published results from a trial in Finland. Researchers said that in future pandemics dogs could be used “as the sole testing method when other approaches are not yet available”. A team of dogs at an airport in Helsinki were able to match the results of PCR tests 98 per cent of the time. The team behind the study, published in the online journal BMJ Global Health, said it showed sniffer dogs could “provide a valuable tool to contain the pandemic”.
Study: Readmission rate for COVID-19 is 11%
Eleven percent of Canadian patients who were discharged after hospitalization for COVID-19 were readmitted to the hospital or died within 30 days of discharge, according to a study today in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). The retrospective cohort study was based on the medical records of all adults hospitalized in Alberta and Ontario for SARS-CoV-2 from Jan 1, 2020, to Sep 30, 2021. A total of 46,412 (5.5%) adults had a positive COVID-19 test 14 days prior or during their hospital admission. Of these, 8,496 died in hospital and 34,846 were discharged alive. Of those discharged, 30,336 had a typical hospital stay — 30 days or less. A total of 4,510 had a stay greater than 30 days, and 14% required intensive care unit admission. The median length of hospital stay was 8 days.
COVID-19 vaccine uptake in pregnant women rising but stark inequality remains
Data for January 2022 from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show that almost six in 10 (59.6%) pregnant women had received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. This is a significant rise in uptake from the 48.7% recorded in November 2021 and saw the total number of pregnant women who had received their first dose rise to 125,365 this January. Over half (50.6%) had received two doses of vaccine by January, another significant rise from the 38.4% recorded three months earlier. The total number of pregnant women double vaccinated by January was 88,736.
Coronavirus Resurgence
How big is the latest U.S. coronavirus wave? No one really knows.
Eileen Wassermann struggles to calculate her daily risks at this stage of the coronavirus pandemic — with infections drastically undercounted and mask mandates gone. The immunocompromised 69-year-old ensconces herself in her SUV for the half-hour ferry ride across the Puget Sound from her home on Bainbridge Island to Seattle, where she undergoes treatment for the rare inflammatory condition sarcoidosis. A retired scientist and lawyer who worked with drug companies, Wassermann is comfortable analyzing coronavirus data. But she said current numbers, which don’t account for most at-home test results, are unreliable. “My mode, which sounds ridiculous maybe at this point, is to be as cautious as I was at the beginning of 2020,” said Wassermann, who has received two booster doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
CDC: Africa tourism favorite now at 'high' risk for Covid-19
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has placed a popular African destination in its "high" Covid-19 risk category for travelers.South Africa -- renowned for its stunning vistas, wildlife, wineries and culture -- is now at Level 3. In total, the CDC moved up four destinations to the "high" risk column on Monday:
Covid-19 deaths fall as bank holiday affects registrations
The number of deaths involving coronavirus registered in England and Wales has fallen for the first time in nine weeks – though the figure is likely to been affected by the May bank holiday. A total of 735 deaths registered in the seven days to May 6 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is down 35% week-on-week and is the lowest number since mid-March. It is also the first percentage drop since the beginning of March.
North Korea on brink of Covid-19 catastrophe, say experts
North Korea stands on the brink of a Covid-19 catastrophe unless swift action is taken to provide vaccines and drug treatments, experts have said, as the number of people reported to have fallen ill rose to almost 1.5 million. The isolated country reported another big rise in new cases of what it continues to refer to as “fever” on Tuesday, days after it admitted it had identified Covid-19 infections for the first time since the start of the global pandemic. It recorded 269,510 additional cases and six more deaths, bringing the total number killed to 56 since late last month. About 1.48 million people have become ill with the virus since the first case was reported last Thursday and at least 663,910 people were in quarantine, according to official figures. The outbreak is almost certainly greater than the official tally, given a lack of tests and resources to monitor and treat the sick.
North Korean planes pick up medical supplies in China, media report
North Korea has sent aircraft to China to pick up medical supplies days after it confirmed its first COVID-19 outbreak, media reported on Tuesday. In some of its first international flights since the coronavirus pandemic began more than two years ago, three Air Koryo planes from North Korea flew to the Chinese city of Shenyang on Monday, and flew back with medical supplies later in the day, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said, citing unidentified sources.
Shanghai reports 77 symptomatic, 746 asymptomatic COVID cases for May 16
The Chinese financial hub of Shanghai reported 746 new local asymptomatic coronavirus cases for May 16, down from 869 a day earlier, data released on Tuesday showed. Confirmed symptomatic cases rose to 77 from 69 the previous day. There were zero cases found outside quarantined areas, same as reported a day earlier. The city reported one new COVID-19 related death, compared with four a day earlier.
North Korea COVID outbreak could have 'devastating' impact on human rights, U.N. says
Measures taken in North Korea to fight the first reported COVID-19 outbreak could have "devastating" consequences for human rights in the country, a spokesperson for the U.N. human rights office said on Tuesday. New restrictions could have dire consequences for people to meet their basic needs, including getting enough food, Liz Throssell told a briefing, adding that any measures taken against the pandemic should be proportionate and necessary. The isolated country confirmed its first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak last week, fuelling concerns over a major crisis due to lack of vaccines and medical infrastructure
North Korea reports another fever surge amid COVID-19 crisis
North Korea on Tuesday reported another large jump in illnesses believed to be COVID-19 and encouraged good health habits, as a mass outbreak spreads through its unvaccinated population and military officers were deployed to distribute medicine. State media said the anti-virus headquarters reported another 269,510 people were found with fevers and six had died. That raises North Korea’s deaths to 56 after more than 1.48 million people became ill with fever since late April. North Korea lacks test kits to confirm coronavirus infections in large numbers, and the report didn’t say how many of the fever cases were COVID-19. The outbreak is almost certainly greater than the fever tally, considering the lack of tests and resources to monitor and treat the sick. North Korea’s virus response comes down to isolating people with symptoms at shelters, and as of Tuesday, at least 663,910 people were in quarantine.