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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 5th Jul 2022

Lockdown Exit
Can new Omicron subvariants evade vaccine immunity?
Many parts of Western Europe and the United States are seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases thought to be driven by new subvariants of Omicron. These rises come alongside the easing of safety measures that were previously put in place to curb the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, testing being scaled back, and COVID booster vaccine take-up at lower-than-expected levels. The latest data shows cases are on the rise in Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Greece and Denmark. Portugal, a popular holiday destination for many people each summer, is experiencing the biggest surge. Hospital admissions have risen in several countries including France and England, according to data analysed by the Financial Times.
China Imposes Fresh Restrictions as Covid-19 Cases Rise
China is imposing fresh restrictions in some eastern cities as Covid-19 cases have spiked to near their highest levels in more than a month. The country recorded 380 locally transmitted coronavirus cases on Sunday, China’s National Health Commission reported on Monday. Two thirds of Monday’s cases came from the eastern province of Anhui, the commission said. The bulk of those cases stem from a growing cluster in Si County, a busy transit hub of 760,000 residents located in Anhui, according to state-run media, citing local government officials. Coronavirus case counts in China have jumped almost 10-fold in less than a week. On June 29, China had recorded 39 such cases. By Saturday, nationwide locally transmitted cases had jumped to 385, the biggest tally since May 25.
China's New Covid Flareup Threatens Crucial Yangtze Delta Region
China is racing to quash a new virus flareup that risks spilling over into one of its most economically significant regions, raising the specter of disruptions that could roil global supply chains for solar panels, medicines and semiconductor chips. Infections have surged in Si county in the eastern province of Anhui, with officials reporting 287 cases for Sunday and nearly 1,000 since late last week. Authorities locked down Si and a neighboring county late last week to try and stop the virus from spreading to nearby Jiangsu, the second biggest contributor to China’s economic output and a globally important manufacturing hub for the solar sector.
Australia entry rules explained: The latest Covid travel advice as vaccine requirement is dropped for tourists
Strict vaccination rules will be lifted on Wednesday, taking the hassle out of Australian holidays and family reunions. However, flag carrier Qantas is set to keep its vaccine mandate
Thailand ends almost all travel restrictions — but one key rule remains
Travellers wondering what it’s like to visit Thailand now may be interested to know the country is “allowing almost everything” again. That’s according to the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), the governmental entity responsible for promoting tourism to the country. Masks are no longer required, and the country’s color-coded system — which placed limits that varied by province on dining activities, gatherings and travel — is also a thing of the past, according to TAT. It’s also far easier to get into Thailand now too.
Hard-hit Kyoto is conflicted as Japan prepares to reopen to foreign tourists after COVID lockdown
Kyoto locals say they want some foreign tourists, but not too many. Japan is restricting the number of foreign tourists allowed in to a small number. The yen is at its weakest in two decades, acting as a boon for tourists
For now, wary US treads water with transformed COVID-19
The fast-changing coronavirus has kicked off summer in the U.S. with lots of infections but relatively few deaths compared to its prior incarnations. COVID-19 is still killing hundreds of Americans each day, but is not nearly as dangerous as it was last fall and winter. “It’s going to be a good summer and we deserve this break,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. With more Americans shielded from severe illness through vaccination and infection, COVID-19 has transformed — for now at least — into an unpleasant, inconvenient nuisance for many.
With hospitalizations up, France weighs return to masks
Tourism is booming again in France — and so is COVID-19. French officials have “invited” or “recommended” people to go back to using face masks but stopped short of renewing restrictions that would scare visitors away or revive anti-government protests. From Paris commuters to tourists on the French Riviera, many people seem to welcome the government’s light touch, while some worry that required prevention measures may be needed. Virus-related hospitalizations rose quickly in France over the past two weeks, with nearly 1,000 patients with COVID-19 hospitalized per day, according to government data. Infections are also rising across Europe and the United States, but France has an exceptionally high proportion of people in the hospital, according to Our World in Data estimates.
UK Covid Cases Surge 32% as Subvariants Trigger Fresh Concerns
Britain’s Covid-19 infections are rising sharply with omicron subvariants sparking new outbreaks across the country and raising concerns that the latest wave could upend health systems and businesses. The number of people testing positive for Covid-19 is estimated at 2.3 million in the week through June 24, up 32% from the previous week, according to data published by the Office for National Statistics on Friday
Exit Strategies
Australia is heading for its third Omicron wave. Here's what to expect from BA.4 and BA.5
Australia is heading for its third Omicron wave in the coming weeks, as BA.4 and BA.5 become the dominant COVID strains. BA.4 and BA.5 are more infectious than previous COVID variants and subvariants, and are better able to evade immunity from vaccines and previous infections. So we’re likely to see a rise in case numbers. So what are BA.4 and BA.5? And what can we expect in this next phase of the pandemic?
Indonesia Pushes for Covid Boosters With Cases at Two-Month High
Indonesia will ask people to show proof of a third Covid-19 vaccine shot to access crowded areas as the government banks on inoculation to manage an increase in cases. The government seeks to encourage people to get their booster shots, said Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin in a Monday briefing. Previously, limiting entry to shopping malls and public areas to those who are fully vaccinated has helped to quicken inoculation, he added. Southeast Asia’s largest economy extended limits on businesses’ capacity and opening hours through Aug. 1 for islands outside of Java and Bali as coronavirus cases pick up. It hasn’t announced measures for Java and Bali yet. The country has been reporting more than 2,000 new infections each day, the most since early April, as neighbors Singapore and the Philippines also grapple with a resurgence.
What’s the UK’s booster policy ahead of a feared autumn Covid wave?
The current UK wave of Covid is expected to peak in the coming weeks, but another wave is anticipated in the autumn as people move inside with the colder weather. The government’s independent vaccine advisory group, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), has recommended that the NHS and care homes prepare for an autumn booster campaign, which is likely to start in September. On top of Covid, public health officials fear flu may bounce back hard and early this year, given the experience in Australia, making vaccinations for both flu and Covid a high priority in the autumn.
UK scientists warn of urgent need for action on vaccines to head off autumn Covid wave
Health authorities need to act urgently to prepare for an autumn that could see further waves of Covid-19 cases spreading across the UK. That is the clear warning from scientists and doctors after last week’s figures revealed another dramatic jump in cases. More than 2 million people across Britain were found to be infected for the week ending 24 June, a rise of more than 30% on the preceding week. And while most experts said they expected the current wave – driven by the Omicron BA4 and BA5 variants of the virus – to peak in a few weeks, they also warned that it will inevitably be followed by another wave this autumn. “Our current planning assumptions are that we will see at least one wave [of Covid] in the autumn-winter period once we have got through the current wave that we’re in right now,” said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency.
Doctors urge Ontario to open 4th doses of COVID-19 vaccine to all adults
Some doctors are calling on Ontario to allow all adults to get a second booster of a COVID-19 vaccine this summer, something that the province is currently limiting to only a portion of the population. Around 7.4 million Ontarians have received one booster, and nearly 90 per cent of those shots were administered at least five months ago, according to Public Health Ontario data. Studies have shown the COVID-19 boosters begin to lose some effectiveness four months after being administered, leading to growing calls for Ontario to widen eligibility for a second booster, equivalent to a fourth dose of vaccine.
New clinic to provide COVID-19 prevention treatment for immunocompromised patients
A COVID-19 prevention clinic will administer an injection to immunocompromised people. The national COVID-19 death toll has passed 10,000. A health expert says Australia needs a pandemic "attitude change"
Practices have until 14 July to sign up for autumn COVID-19 booster campaign
The ES, which runs from 1 September 2022 until 31 March 2023, indicates that the booster programme will operate in a similar way to previous phases of the vaccination campaign. Practices will be expected to work in a 'PCN grouping' to deliver the vaccinations at scale. GP practices do not have to be a member of a network to sign up to the ES, but they will be expected to collaborate with other practices and networks, the ES says. In a key change from previous phases of the vaccination programme, the ES specifies that practices 'must ensure that they have in place suitable arrangements to prevent the disruption of other services or obligations' under their contract'.
Germany's Scholz sees no COVID-related school closures, lockdowns
Germany will not shut schools and non-essential businesses again if the COVID-19 infection rate rises again later this year but protective masks would play a bigger role, Chancellor Olaf Scholz told broadcaster ARD on Sunday. The infection rate in Germany has been on the rise for the past month, reaching close to 700 new cases per 100,000 residents this week, after falling below 200 in late May, but Scholz said that vaccinations should help limit what measures will be needed to curb the spread of the virus.
Macron appoints COVID minister to be new face of government policy
President Emmanuel Macron on Monday urged his ministers to "hang in there", be ambitious and show a willingness to compromise after he carried out a limited reshuffle that saw no opponents join his camp as he seeks a workable majority in parliament. Key roles such as the prime minister and finance minister remained unchanged in the reshuffle that signalled no policy changes and was criticised by the opposition as being tone-deaf.
German health minister in move to boost use of COVID treatment Paxlovid
Germany's health minister said on Sunday he will push for more prescriptions of Pfizer's oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid by family doctors to reduce severe cases of the disease. "A system involving family doctors will be prepared to administer this far too rarely-used COVID life saver more routinely," he wrote on Twitter on Sunday, adding that sufficient stockpiles were available.
Partisan Exits
COVID-19 misinformation bolsters anti-vaccine movement
More parents are questioning the necessity of routine vaccinations for young children. Adults are skipping shots as well, even for vaccines with a long safety record. The trend comes amid a wave of misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 and the vaccines that helped to stem pandemic deaths. Politicization of the COVID-19 shots has bolstered the anti-vaccine movement, contributing to the decline in routine immunizations for measles, polio and other dangerous diseases. "They ask if these are truly necessary, or if we can give them at later times," said Jason Terk, a Texas pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Matt Hancock’s blase attitude to the rise in Covid cases is alarming
“There are some saying that the pandemic is not yet over,” says Hancock. Indeed, the World Health Organization and most credible scientists agree that it is not over. By suggesting that calls for restrictions are scaremongering, Hancock misses the point. Yes, public health policy shouldn’t need to be alarming, but it should include measures to protect the public and help reduce transmission, such as free Covid testing, better sick pay, better ventilation in schools and workplaces, and the reintroduction of masks in medical settings.
Scientific Viewpoint
Long COVID: 'Viral reservoir' of spike protein may explain long-term symptoms
Researchers investigated the antigens of SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—present in blood plasma samples collected from individuals with long COVID and typical COVID-19 infection. They found that one particular SARS-CoV-2 antigen—the spike protein—was present in the blood of a majority of long COVID patients, up to a year after they were first diagnosed with COVID-19. In patients with typical COVID-19 infection, however, the spike protein was not detected. This finding provides evidence for the hypothesis that SARS-CoV-2 can persist in the body through viral reservoirs, where it continues to release spike protein and trigger inflammation.
Hong Kong's Lee Sees No Immediate Need for Mass Covid Testing
Hong Kong’s new Chief Executive John Lee said there is no immediate need for a universal compulsory Covid testing campaign in the city but stressed that there needs to be a reduction in the number of daily infections, which are at the highest level since April. Lee, appearing on a program broadcast by TVB on Sunday, shed more light on his Covid agenda for the first time since being sworn in as chief executive on Friday by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was also in the city to celebrate the 25th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule. Hong Kong should carry out more laboratory nucleic acid testing for Covid because it’s a reliable way to detect infections, but this would not expand into a universal compulsory testing campaign for now,
Covid Shots Are Coming. Will They Be Too Late?
Roseann Renouf, 77, has grown tired of the current generation of coronavirus shots. Having “never been one for a lot of vaccination,” she decided to forgo the latest round of boosters after watching vaccinated friends contract Covid-19, even though the doses offer a critical extra layer of protection. “It’s just taking another same booster,” Ms. Renouf, a retired nurse anesthetist from Fort Worth, said. “They haven’t done anything different with them to cover new variants.” But her gripe about the Covid vaccines may soon be settled. American regulators committed last week to updating the 2020 vaccine recipes for this fall’s booster campaign with new formulas meant to defend against the ultra-contagious Omicron subvariants, offering Ms. Renouf and other holdouts a fresh reason to change their minds.
Oxford Biomedica, AstraZeneca enter new deal for Covid-19 vaccine
Oxford Biomedica has entered a new three-year Master Services & Development Agreement to potentially manufacture AstraZeneca UK’s Covid-19 vaccines in the future. The latest deal is an extension of an original Master Supply and Development Agreement signed by the parties in September 2020. Under the initial deal, the production of Covid-19 vaccines at the Oxbox facility of Oxford Biomedica is anticipated to conclude in the last quarter of this year. As per this agreement, AstraZeneca had agreed to make an upfront payment of $18.1m (£15m) to Oxford Biomedica as a capacity reservation fee.
Paxlovid remains effective in those vaccinated against COVID-19
Israeli researchers have found that paxlovid use in those at risk of COVID-19 progression remains effective even in fully vaccinated patients. The effectiveness of the anti-viral drug paxlovid in preventing the progression of COVID-19 remains even in those who have been adequately vaccinated against the virus according to the results of a real-world study by Israeli researchers. Paxlovid consists of nirmatrelivir, a protease inhibitor against COVID-19 and ritonavir, which reduces the in vivo metabolism of nirmatrelivir. The published data for the drug (the EPIC-HR trial) suggested that treatment of symptomatic COVID-19 in patients at risk of progression to severe disease, results in an 89% lower risk compared to placebo. Nevertheless, the study was undertaken before omicron became the main circulating variant and therefore the generalisability of the study’s findings are potentially limited.
Omicron-specific COVID shots could increase protection as boosters, European Medicines Agency says
Coronavirus vaccines tweaked to include the Omicron variant strain can improve protection when used as a booster, the European Medicines Agency and other global health regulators said on Friday. Following a meeting on Thursday, the EMA said global regulators had agreed on key principles for updating COVID-19 shots to respond to emerging variants. While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalisation and death, the group said, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.
'Two doses are no longer enough': Canadians required to get COVID shot every nine months
Canadians will be required to get a booster shot every nine months for the foreseeable future, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters. So if you thought you were fully vaccinated, think again. Duclos said that the previous definitions of “fully vaccinated” makes no sense, explaining that it’s more important that shots are “up to date” and whether or not a person has “received a vaccination in the last nine months.” He added, “We will never be fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” according to Blacklock’s Reporter. Duclos was asked if he was preparing Canadians for the return of vaccine mandates in the fall, he reportedly replied, “We must continue to fight against COVID.”
COVID vaccines prevented poor outcomes in people of all sizes
COVID-19 vaccination protected people of all body sizes from hospitalization and death—although vaccinated people with a low or high body mass index (BMI) were at greater risk, according to a study of adults in England published yesterday in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. University of Oxford researchers led the study, which involved 9,171,524 adult primary care patients in England with available body mass index (BMI) data from Dec 8, 2020 (when the COVID-19 vaccine first became available in the United Kingdom), to Nov 17, 2021. Average patient age was 52 years, and average BMI was 26.7 kilograms per meter squared (kg/m2) (overweight).
Oxford Biomedica signs up for 3 more years of making AstraZeneca COVID shots⁠—on an 'as needed basis'
There was a time—not so long ago—when COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers couldn’t produce doses fast enough. But that was then, and this is now: Friday, when Oxford Biomedica revealed an extension of its contract with AstraZeneca through 2025, the deal was to make shots on an “as needed basis,” the company said. This comes just nine months after Oxford announced a 50 million pound sterling ($68 million) investment from the over-strapped Serum Institute of India to increase its ability to manufacture COVID vaccines for AZ at its Oxbox facility.
Coronavirus Resurgence
Chennai makes masks mandatory in public places as Covid-19 cases rise
Chennai has made masks mandatory again in public places after Covid-19 cases rose again in the southern state Tamil Nadu. As per the data provided by the state health department, Tamil Nadu had recorded 2,672 fresh infections on Sunday, while 2,385 cases on Saturday. The death toll, however, stands at zero. On the other hand, in the past 24 hours, the state had seen 1,487 recoveries; the active toll rose to 14,504, official data suggested.
Covid-19 Omicron outbreak: BA.5 expected to become dominant sub-variant in fortnight as case numbers increase
A new Covid-19 variant is expected to become the dominant strain in the community within weeks as cases surge and an expert warns we could be "losing the arms race with the virus". University of Otago epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker has again urged Kiwis to brace for the second Omicron wave as the community case average increased by almost 50 per cent in nine days. Baker described the 49 per cent increase of the seven-day rolling average of cases on June 25 (4737) to today (7046) as an "abrupt rise" and indicative that New Zealand could be at the beginning of another infection wave. Earlier today, health officials reported 6498 community cases, a further eight deaths, and 487 hospitalisations. The weekly rolling average of hospitalisations has increased from 335 this time last week to 420 today.
Active Covid-19 infections in Italy surpass 1 million after surge in cases
The number of active cases of coronavirus surpassed 1 million in Italy on Sunday, the result of a swift increase in cases over the last two weeks. As recently as June 17, Italy had fewer than 5,75,000 active cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. On Sunday, that number totalled 1.01 million, an increase of more than 75 per cent in a span of 16 days. The Ministry of Health has said the increases in the infection rate are mostly due to the Omicron-5 sub-variant of the virus. Italy became the fourth country in the world to have more than 1 million active cases, following the United States, with 3.5 million, Germany, with 1.5 million, and France, with 1.4 million, according to data from the World Health Organization.
New Omicron sub-variants cause COVID-19 cases to rise in the UK
COVID-19 cases are rising across the UK, with the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showing the number of people infected has more than doubled since the start of June. The surge in cases is due to two new fast-spreading sub-variants of Omicron, BA.4 and BA.5. Research in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that BA.4 and BA.5 can ‘substantially escape’ the protection from either vaccination or infection. In the week ending 24 June, the ONS estimated COVID-19 rates were one in 30 in England and Wales, one in 25 in Northern Ireland, and one in 18 in Scotland. In its analysis of England’s figures, the ONS found infections were going up in all regions and in all age groups. The two new variants were added to the World Health Organization's (WHO) monitoring list in March and have also been designated as variants of concern in Europe.
Several eastern Chinese areas in mass COVID testing to curb new waves of infections
Parts of eastern China are running fresh rounds of mass COVID-19 testing, as the country faces new waves of infections while recovering from impact of the spring outbreaks that hit Beijing and Shanghai. China continues to demand local authorities detect and contain new infections as soon as possible in its "dynamic COVID zero" strategy, although it has warned against expanding strict curbs unnecessarily as it struggles to revive the economy. Daily numbers of locally transmitted infections in mainland China increased to more than 300 over the weekend compared with a few dozens in late June. While tiny by global standards, local officials have still closed some businesses and locked down more than a million people.
Macau steps up COVID testing as infections surge
Macau kicked off a new round of COVID-19 testing for its more than 600,000 residents on Monday, as officials in the world's biggest gambling hub raced to limit spiralling infections in the city's worst outbreak since the pandemic began. All residents face three rounds of tests this week, in addition to rapid antigen tests, as Monday's 68 new infections took the tally in the former Portuguese colony to 852 since the middle of June. About 12,000 people are in quarantine.
Eastern China cities tighten COVID curbs as new clusters emerge
Cities in eastern China tightened COVID-19 curbs on Sunday as coronavirus clusters emerge, posing a new threat to China's economic recovery under the government's strict zero-COVID policy. Wuxi, a manufacturing hub in the Yangtze Delta on the central coast, halted operations at many public venues located underground, including shops and supermarkets. Dine-in services in restaurants were suspended, and the government advised people to work from home.
New York City Ends Its Coronavirus Alert System as Cases Rise
New York City health officials have ended its Covid-19 alert system that informed residents about periods of higher transmission of the virus. The change took place this week and visitors to the city’s website are now met with a message that reads: “We are evaluating the city’s COVID Alert system. Before the color-coded alert categorization was dropped, the city was last at a ‘medium risk level’ on Tuesday with New Yorkers being encouraged to continue wearing a mask in public indoor setting