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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 11th Jul 2022

Lockdown Exit
Wow, what a view! China’s ‘digital nomads’ seek paradise while on the clock
Known as ‘digital nomads’, many were born out of China’s strict pandemic measures – but families and friends are still trying to process this new way of life. China’s remote-working trend is in its early stages, but even local governments and businesses are taking stock and looking to capitalise on development opportunities.
Macau closing all casinos to fight Covid
Macau will shut almost all business premises including casinos for a week from Monday as a Covid-19 outbreak in the gambling hub showed few signs of abating. Essential business operations including supermarkets and pharmacies will remain open, the Macao Daily reported, quoting city officials at a briefing on Saturday. The measure, which follows multiple rounds of mass testing, returns the enclave to its toughest pandemic restrictions. Macau on Saturday announced 71 new cases, bringing the total in the latest outbreak since June 18 to 1,374.
Shanghai identifies new COVID Omicron subvariant
The city of Shanghai has discovered a COVID-19 case involving a new subvariant Omicron BA.5.2.1, an official told a briefing on Sunday, signalling the complications China faces to keep up with new mutations as it pursues its "zero-COVID" policy. The case, found in the financial district of Pudong on July 8, was linked with a case from overseas, said Zhao Dandan, vice-director of the city's health commission.
China's Shanghai asks public to share 'heart-warming' COVID lockdown stories
The government of Shanghai has called on citizens to share "heart-warming" photographs, videos and stories about a punishing two-month lockdown imposed in April by the authorities to curb China's biggest COVID-19 outbreak. The government of China's most populous city has launched the propaganda campaign to "tell epidemic stories, spread volunteer culture and inherit the traditional values of solidarity, friendship and mutual help," local newspaper Wen Hui Bao said on Saturday.
‘Stealthy’ new Covid variant can reinfect you every month
Health experts across the globe are signalling alarm as they begin reporting that Omicron BA.5, the coronavirus strain that is currently outpacing other variants in infection and has become the dominant strain in the US and abroad, has the ability to reinfect people within weeks of contracting the virus. Andrew Roberston, the chief health officer in Western Australia, told News.com.au that though previously the wisdom held that most people would retain a certain level of protection against reinfection if they were vaccinated or had retained some level of natural immunity due to a recent contraction of the virus, this hasn’t been the case with the most recent strain. “What we are seeing is an increasing number of people who have been infected with BA.2 and then becoming infected after four weeks,” the doctor explained during an interview with the Australian news outlet. “So maybe six to eight weeks they are developing a second infection, and that’s almost certainly BA.4 or BA.5.” The ability for strains BA.4 and BA.5 to reinfect individuals who would in previous waves of Covid-19 had stronger immunity has led some experts to start calling this latest strain the most transmissible yet.
African Union launches coronavirus vaccine passport
An African Union vaccine e-passport has been introduced and will enable easier travel within and outside Africa. The passport will be in digital format. A QR code will be scanned to show proof that one has been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and has a valid vaccine certificate. The passport was launched on Friday at the Africa Integration Day, Boma of Africa virtual event. African heads of state and global health leaders present at the event said the virtual document and the e-health backbone are part of Africa’s new health order. Acting head of Africa CDC, Ahmed Ogwell, says the vaccine passport will soon expand its bracket to include other vaccines such as the Yellow Fever vaccine.
Slow pace for youngest kids getting COVID vaccine doses
Nearly 300,000 children under 5 have received COVID-19 shots in the two weeks since they became available, a slower pace than for older groups. But the White House says that was expected for the eligible U.S. population of about 18 million kids. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was to publish initial data on shots for the age group later Thursday, reflecting doses administered since regulators authorized them on June 18. The first vaccinations didn't begin until several days later because the doses had to be shipped to doctors' offices and pharmacies. U.S. officials had long predicted that the pace of vaccinating the youngest kids would be slower than for older groups. They expect most shots to take place at pediatricians’ offices. Many parents may be more comfortable getting the vaccine for their kids at their regular doctors, White House COVID-19 coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha told The Associated Press last month. He predicted the pace of vaccination would be far slower than it was for older populations.
Thinking of mixing and matching COVID-19 vaccine booster shots? There doesn't seem to be much point
As of Monday, an extra 7.4 million Australians will be eligible for a fourth COVID-19 vaccine booster shot. On Thursday, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) recommended everyone over 50 have a fourth dose. And while it didn't go as far as to recommend people aged 30-49 have a fourth dose, ATAGI said they can if they want to. It also reduced the length of time between booster shots from four to three months. Let's unpack what it means for you.
WTO faces new battle over COVID tests, drugs
Less than a month after a hard-won deal was reached on a partial waiver of intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, a fresh battle may be looming at the World Trade Organization over extending the waiver to treatments and tests. The June deal includes an agreement to debate waiving certain IP rights for tests and drugs, which the pharmaceutical industry says could lead to a broader unraveling of protections for treatments for other diseases.
Exit Strategies
Covid-19 cases in Singapore likely to peak in a week or sooner: Experts
Singapore's Covid-19 cases are likely to peak in a week or even sooner, experts here said, as the nation weathers through yet another infection curve. The week-on-week infection ratio - which refers to the ratio of community cases for the past week, over the week before - is falling. This means that Covid-19 cases are increasing at a slower rate. "It does not mean that the epidemic is declining, but it does mean that the peak is approaching," said Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.
Macau Shuts Casinos as City Enters Weeklong Lockdown
The gambling enclave of Macau will enter a citywide lockdown early Monday, as authorities seek to contain a spiraling Covid-19 outbreak. Aside from essential services such as supermarkets, healthcare facilities and restaurants selling takeaway, all other businesses have been ordered to shut for a week, with residents required to stay at home. City officials urged the public not to panic-buy food, asking people to make purchases at staggered times to enable social distancing in queues. The order, issued Saturday by the territory’s chief executive, Ho Iat-seng, comes as Macau struggles to contain an outbreak that had already shuttered venues such as cinemas, salons and swimming pools. The Chinese gambling hub has recorded hundreds of cases in recent weeks, its worst-ever outbreak after keeping to China’s zero-Covid strategy for most of the pandemic.
Long Covid Is an Elusive Target for Big Pharma
Pharma companies do hold many assets worth testing. One example is Pfizer’s antiviral pill, Paxlovid. A growing body of research suggests that reservoirs of the virus remain in some people’s bodies beyond the acute phase, possibly leading to long Covid. A recent Harvard study showed that the spike protein from the virus lingered in the blood of 65% of the long Covid patients they tested for as long as 12 months after they were first diagnosed. “It’s a total game-changer. If we can measure this stuff, then we can test antiviral approaches to see if it helps,” says Steven Deeks, an HIV expert who is studying long Covid at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Deeks, like other researchers, has been calling on Pfizer to undertake a Paxlovid clinical trial for long Covid patients; yet a spokeswoman says the company is still “considering what a study may entail.”
New mask mandates all but ruled out around Australia as Covid cases surge
Medical experts have criticised federal and state governments for “inconsistent” messaging around the looming winter virus wave, with new face mask rules all but ruled out nationwide. It comes as trade unions launch a fresh appeal to the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, to reverse the decision to scrap paid leave for Covid-positive people forced to isolate, calling on the Labor government to reinstate the allowance until isolation rules change. “We have a population believing, and governments delivering, that Covid is in the rear-view mirror, that we’re over the worst of it, that it’s time to do away with any of the measures and move on with life,” said infectious disease expert Prof Brendan Crabb, the CEO of the Burnet Institute.
Uruguay suspends COVID vaccination for children under 13
Uruguay stopped administering coronavirus vaccine to children under age 13 after a judge ordered on Thursday that all inoculations in that age group halt until officials present documents relating to contracts signed with vaccine manufacturers. Judge Alejandro Recarey issued the injunction under a petition filed by a lawyer who represents a group of anti-vaccine activists. The vaccinations in children under 13 had been on a voluntary basis, and the government said it will appeal the decision. Alvaro Delgado, the secretary of the presidency, characterized the halt as a threat to public health.
Australians aged 30 and older are eligible for fourth COVID-19 booster. What do we know about it and when can you get it?
As health authorities attempt to ward off a surge in Omicron cases, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) has expanded the eligibility of a fourth COVID-19 vaccine to people over 30.
Africa CDC says it has signed MOU with Pfizer for COVID pill
Africa's top public health body said on Thursday it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Pfizer for countries on the continent to receive supplies of the Paxlovid pill to treat COVID-19. Data from a mid-to-late stage study in November last year showed the antiviral medication was nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalisations and deaths compared to a placebo, in adults at high risk of severe illness.
China COVID monitoring app cuts travel history scrutiny
China's national authorities are reducing scrutiny of citizens' travel history for COVID-19 monitoring, requiring that a mandatory mobile app shows the previous seven days of travel, down from 14, an adjustment likely to boost domestic tourism. The app, whose name translates to itinerary card, helped authorities to identify whether people visited areas with COVID infections, and to decide whether they should be tested for the virus or possibly placed in quarantine.
Millions tested in Shanghai as China grapples COVID resurgence
Millions of people in Shanghai queued for a third day of mass COVID-19 testing on Thursday as authorities in several Chinese cities scrambled to stamp out new outbreaks that have rekindled worries about growth in the world's second-largest economy. Unless local officials succeed in preventing the virus from spreading, they could be compelled to invoke prolonged, major restrictions on residents' movement, under China's "dynamic zero COVID" strategy.
Partisan Exits
Beijing mandates COVID vaccines to enter some public spaces
The Chinese capital has issued a mandate requiring people to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before they can enter some public spaces including gyms, museums and libraries, drawing concern from city residents over the sudden policy announcement and its impact on their daily lives. The health app that shows a person's latest PCR test results has been updated to make it easier to also access their vaccination status, according to Li Ang, a spokesperson for Beijing’s municipal health commission. The list of public places requiring vaccination does not include restaurants and offices. The mandate will go into effect on Monday, with exceptions available only to those who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons.
Argentina president urges unity as anti-government protests build
Parts of the government, including powerful Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, have called for more spending to alleviate the effect of COVID-19 and of the war in Ukraine, which have lit protests in countries globally such as Sri Lanka.
How will Boris Johnson's handling of the Covid crisis be remembered?
Boris Johnson had been in power for six months when Covid hit Britain and sparked the greatest peacetime crisis in a century. His departure, with the worst of the pandemic surely behind us, means his tenure will be framed by his handling of the virus. To some he got “the big decisions right”. To others he oversaw one of the UK’s worst ever public health failures. Here we look back at the prime minister’s Covid battle and assess how he fared. Clear communication is crucial in a crisis, but confusion undermined public health messaging from the start. In February 2020, days after the UK confirmed its first cases, the government urged everyone to wash their hands regularly. On 3 March, Sage’s behavioural science experts said ministers should advise people to avoid hugging and shaking hands too. If the PM got the memo, he didn’t act on it.
The pandemic has eroded Americans' trust in experts and elected leaders alike, a survey finds.
As the coronavirus pandemic entered its third year, the American public had lost much of its trust both in public health experts and in government leaders, and was less worried than before about Covid-19, according to a survey conducted in early May and released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. Confidence ratings for public health officials, like those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; for state and local elected officials; and for President Biden fell in a range from 43 percent to 54 percent in the survey — much lower than during the early stages of the pandemic.
After backlash, Beijing drops COVID vaccination mandate for crowded venues
Beijing's city government has dropped plans to allow only vaccinated people to enter crowded venues such as libraries, cinemas and gyms from Monday, following a strong online backlash to the measure announced earlier this week. The mandatory requirement would have marked a rare move in China, where the central government insists on voluntary vaccination and has quickly overruled other attempts by front-line officials to issue compulsory vaccination directives.
UK Labour's Starmer cleared of wrongdoing after lockdown investigation
British opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer was cleared by police of breaking COVID-19 lockdown laws on Friday, having said he would quit his job if he was fined. A day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced he would resign following a series of scandals, including repeated lockdown breaches at his Downing Street office, police said Starmer had not broken the regulations. "I've always said no rules were broken when I was in Durham. The police have completed their investigation and agreed: there is no case to answer," Starmer said on Twitter. "For me, this was always a matter of principle. Honesty and integrity matter.
Court: Health care workers in lawsuit must reveal identities
Nine health care workers who sued Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills over the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate have until Money to reveal their identities. The workers have so far remained anonymous, but on Thursday, a federal appeals court in Boston rejected a motion by the workers and gave them until Friday to file an amended complaint with their names, the Portland Press-Herald reported. The plaintiffs were later given an extension until Monday. Attorneys for Liberty Counsel, a law firm representing the health care workers, said in a court filing Friday that the one-day extension is needed to give lawyers time to speak with each plaintiff about whether they want to move forward with the lawsuit. The plaintiffs filed their complaint in federal court last August, before the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for health care workers at Maine care facilities went into effect on Oct. 20, 2021.
Scientific Viewpoint
Pfizer, BioNTech Get Full FDA Approval for Covid Vaccine for Teens
Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE gained full US regulatory approval for their Covid-19 vaccine for teens 12 to 15 years old, a milestone that will allow the companies to continue to market it to adolescents after the pandemic. The vaccine partners earlier got formal approval for their Covid vaccine for teens 16 and older. In a statement on Friday, the companies said the US Food and Drug Administration approved their supplemental application to extend that approval to younger adolescents. The shot first went into play when it received emergency use authorization, a temporary clearance for use during the pandemic, for the age group. For full approval, the companies submitted additional information to the FDA, including six months of follow-up data after the two-dose regimen was complete in recipients.
South Africa’s Afrigen to collaborate with US researchers on mRNA vaccines
South African biotech company Afrigen will collaborate with researchers from the US National Institutes of Health on the development of the next generation of mRNA vaccines and drugs as part of an attempt to expand global access to innovative medicines.
Covid-19: FDA authorises pharmacists to prescribe Paxlovid
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorised licensed pharmacists to prescribe Pfizer’s oral antiviral drug Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir and ritonavir) to eligible patients who have tested positive for covid-19, subject to some limitations. The FDA’s action on 6 July, a revision of the emergency use authorisation, will make the drug more widely available to people with covid-19, particularly in rural and poor areas. About 90% of the US population lives within five miles of a pharmacy, according to the American Pharmacists Association. Until now, only doctors, nurses, and physician assistants could prescribe Paxlovid. The drug is approved for treatment of mild to moderate covid-19 in adults and children aged 12 or older who weigh at least 40 kg and are at high risk for progression to severe covid-19, including hospital admission or death. Those who report a positive home test on either a rapid antigen diagnostic test or a polymerase chain reaction test are eligible for Paxlovid without further testing.
South Africa's Afrigen partners with U.S. on mRNA vaccine research
South Africa's Afrigen Biologics Limited said on Friday that it will collaborate with U.S. government researchers to develop mRNA vaccines and therapeutics. The agreement will enable the sharing of scientific expertise, technical skills and materials with the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) to help Afrigen produce mRNA vaccines against COVID-19 and other diseases, said the Cape Town-based biotech start-up.
EU drugs regulator open to COVID boosters that target older Omicron offshoots
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) is open to using next generation COVID-19 vaccines that target older offshoots of the Omicron variant this fall, an official said on Thursday, amid a rise in cases due to new Omicron subvariants. While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalisation and death, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved. The EMA expects new COVID vaccine boosters to be approved by September.
Coronavirus Resurgence
BA.4 and BA.5 power a surge of known infections in Europe, officials say.
The rapidly spreading Omicron subvariants known as BA.4 and BA.5 are driving a summertime surge of the coronavirus in Europe, health officials say, after most Covid policies were removed in spring and a more relaxed approach to the pandemic has become the norm during the warmer months. Known cases in Europe rose to 57 cases per 100,000 as of Wednesday from 33 cases per day per 100,000 just two weeks earlier, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. That is the sharpest increase — a rise of about 70 percent — of any region of the world over the same period. It comes as the summer travel season in European countries is in full swing, with warmer weather and easing coronavirus policies prompting a surge of movement in the region.
Ontario's COVID-19 test positivity climbs to 13.5% as new details of 7th wave emerge
New details are emerging about the severity of Ontario's newest wave of COVID-19, with the province reporting another 33 deaths related to the virus over the last week, as well as rising numbers of hospitalizations and ICU admissions. Test positivity has also climbed to 13.5, the highest percentage reported since May, it reported Thursday. The province says 712 people are currently in hospital with COVID-19, up from 585 at this time last week. There are 110 patients in intensive care due to the virus, up from 95 last Thursday.
Covid-19 numbers double since start of week, with 13344 new cases on Friday
A computer glitch meant the Ministry of Health has wrongly reported 4000 extra cases in Friday’s numbers. The error meant that some cases already reported on Thursday were double-counted, resulting in Friday’s case numbers being incorrectly reported as 13,344, the ministry said in a statement on Friday afternoon. The correct figure was 9318, which was around the same level as case numbers reported for the past three days. A further 275 imported cases were reported – which was also corrected from initially being published as 390 cases.
COVID-19: New wave of Omicron mutations spreading across Europe, EU Medicines Agency warns
A new wave of Covid-19 is sweeping across Europe driven by Omicron mutations, an EU Medicines Agency official has warned. Head of vaccines at the agency, Marco Cavaleri, has said "the increase in transmission among older age groups is starting to translate into severe disease". The increase in the number of people testing positive is being driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 mutations of the Omicron variant.
Covid-19: UK infections are up but does it matter?
Covid infections continue to rise across the UK, with one in 25 people in England, one in 20 in Wales and one in 17 in Scotland infected with the virus.What does the latest data say? Covid-19 infections continue to rise across the UK, driven by the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 2.7 million people in private households are estimated to have had Covid-19 last week, up 18% from 2.3 million the previous week. This is the highest estimate for total infections since late April, but is still below the record high of 4.9 million which was reached during the Omicron BA.2 wave at the end of March.
Shanghai faces 'relatively high' risk of further COVID community spread
China's commercial hub Shanghai faces a "relatively high" risk of further community transmission of COVID-19, Lei Zhenglong, an official at the National Health Commission, said on Friday. Shanghai reopened most cinemas on Friday, sticking to a plan of gradual resumption of daily activities after lifting a two-month COVID-19 lockdown in June, while also trying, like several other Chinese cities, to contain resurgent infections.
Macau uses two more casino hotels for COVID medical facilities
Macau authorities have added two hotels in popular casino resorts to be used as COVID-19 medical facilities from Friday as they try to increase capacity to handle a surge of infections in the world's biggest gambling hub. The east wing of Grand Lisboa Palace owned by SJM Holdings and the Grand Hyatt hotel owned by Melco Resorts will together provide close to 800 rooms, they said. Sands China's Sheraton hotel and Londoner resort have already been used as quarantine facilities.
Sweden sees increase in COVID-19 cases, more expected over summer
Sweden is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases and healthcare can expect an increase in pressure over the summer, the health minister said on Thursday. "Quite a few are ill even though we are in the middle of the summer. We also see a small increase in the number of COVID-19 patients who need hospital care and intensive care," Minister of Health Lena Hallengren told a news conference. "However, we don't see the type of impact we saw earlier in the pandemic, I want to stress that," she said.