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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 13th Jul 2022

Lockdown Exit
Hopes of Covid-19 Reprieve Fade as BA.5 Subvariant Takes Over
Covid-19 is circulating widely as the BA.5 Omicron subvariant elevates the risk of reinfections and rising case counts, spoiling chances for a summer reprieve from the pandemic across much of the U.S. Covid-19 levels are high in a fifth of U.S. counties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s metric based on case and hospital data, a share that has been mostly rising since mid-April. BA.5 is estimated to represent nearly two in three recent U.S. cases that are averaging just more than 100,000 a day, CDC data show. The true number of infections may be roughly six times as high, some virus experts said, in part because so many people are using at-home tests that state health departments largely don’t track.
UK Covid cases hit record 351,000 as government accused of ignoring rising infections
Covid cases have hit a new record in the UK with daily symptomatic infections soaring to 351,546, according to the ZOE Covid study app. UK infections are expected to rise even higher, to nearly 400,000 a day, next week before starting to drop down. Cases are starting to plateau in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but are still rising in England.
Italy to start administering second COVID booster to over-60s
Italy will soon start its campaign to administer a second COVID-19 booster to everyone aged over 60, the health minister said on Monday, after receiving a green light from European Union health agencies. The European recommendation came on Monday amid a new rise in infections and hospitalisations across Europe and was expected to facilitate national decisions to speed up vaccination campaigns, which have been slowing in recent months. Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the government had already given the go-ahead to Italy's 20 regional administrations to start the second booster campaign, after the approval of national medicine agency AIFA.
As New Zealand reopens, exodus worsens labour crunch
New Zealand's easing of its strict border curbs has triggered a rush of new departures among locals seeking fresh opportunities abroad, adding further pressure to the country's already tight employment market. A net 10,674 people left the country over the 12 months to May, according to government data released on Tuesday, extending a drain that ran over the past year and is expected to last until new immigrants arrive in greater numbers in 2023.
Covid-19: Ethnic minority staff felt “vulnerable” during pandemic, says senior leader
Healthcare workers from ethnic minority groups have felt “vulnerable” and uncared for during the covid pandemic, with some reporting that managers hid personal protective equipment from them and refused to carry out the required risk assessments, a senior nurse has said. Speaking at the NHS Race and Health Observatory conference at BMA House on 7 July, Felicia Kwaku, chair of the Chief Nursing Officers Black and Minority Ethnic Strategic Advisory Group, shared some findings from her discussions with thousands of ethnic minority staff since April 2020. “This is the stark reality of what some staff went through. Some died in their rooms on their own because of social distancing. Some couldn’t get to the phone because they were so hypoxic, so they died alone,” she said. “If you were a nurse or midwife who was new to the country, you didn’t have a lot of the networks, so it was very isolating.”
Chris Whitty to be honoured for steering nation through Covid pandemic
Leading medical figure Professor Sir Chris Whitty, consumer expert Martin Lewis and Olympic diver Tom Daley are among those who will be recognised with honours during an investiture ceremony. England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris, who appeared on the daily briefing broadcasts to the nation during the coronavirus pandemic, will be appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath for services to public health. He previously received the Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 2015 for services to tropical medicine in the UK and Africa, after he helped draw up the Government’s response to the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, but will receive the higher accolade from the Prince of Wales at Windsor Castle on Tuesday after guiding the nation through the Covid-19 pandemic.
Global life expectancy falls after Covid pandemic
Global life expectancy has fallen since the Covid pandemic hit, according to the United Nations. The world average was nearly two years lower in 2021 compared to 2019, its latest world population report found. In some countries, such as Bolivia and Russia, the decline was even more dramatic at more than four years. The first case of Covid was recorded in China in late 2019, before other countries started to detect infections from the start of 2020. Since then, more than 6.7 million people are estimated to have died from the virus, according to a tally by Reuters.
Covid rules as thousands told not to take tests even if they have symptoms
As Covid-19 infections continue to rise across the UK, millions of people are thought to currently be infected with the virus. New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that almost 4% of the English population had tested positive for coronavirus at the end of June, with higher figures (4.93%, 5.36%, and 5.94%) in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, respectively. The number of hospital admissions is also increasing amid new BA.4 and BA.5 covid variants. And there are no longer any restrictions around the virus in the UK, and as we learn to live with covid.
WHO Chief Warns of Rising Infections, Deaths From New Covid Wave
The World Health Organization urged governments and health care systems to take steps to curb Covid-19 transmission as a fresh wave of infections moves across Europe and the US. Sub-variants of the omicron strain are lifting case numbers and leading to further fatalities, Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing in Geneva on Tuesday. Tedros, as the head of the WHO is known, recommended the revival of protocols like mask-wearing to stop the spread. “New waves of the virus demonstrate that Covid-19 is nowhere near over,” Tedros said, adding that he is “concerned about a rising trend of deaths.
Exit Strategies
Xi Jinping's Covid-Zero Policy Meets Red Line at Vaccine Mandates
China’s first attempt at a vaccine mandate was abruptly scrapped last week within days of being announced by municipal officials in Beijing. The plan to stop people entering public venues without proof of vaccination sparked an outcry online, with Chinese social media users calling it an illegal cap on their freedoms and questioning how effective the vaccines were against immune-evasive variants. Vaccine mandates have emerged as a surprise red line for the ruling Communist Party, which up until a few years ago controlled citizens’ reproductive rights through its one child-policy and is steaming ahead with other controversial virus curbs, such as widespread tracking of individuals through their phones, mass testing and border curbs.
COVID-19: Hong Kong leader defends plans for health codes to tackle coronavirus amid privacy concerns
Hong Kong leader John Lee has defended the city's plan to introduce health codes to combat COVID, amid privacy concerns over the system used in mainland China. The proposed approach would restrict the movement of certain people, with those infected receiving a red code and those under hotel quarantine getting a yellow code. Mr Lee, who spoke at a regular news conference on Tuesday, said the plan is part of the city's objective to adopt "precise strategies to minimise the scope of restrictions".
White House to prioritize vaccine boosters, testing to combat Omicron subvariant
The White House said on Tuesday it will ensure Americans continue to have easy access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and testing to contain the fast-spreading Omicron BA.5 subvariant that now makes up a majority of U.S. cases. Health officials say there are indications the subvariant might be better at escaping immunity, including from prior infections. BA.5 is estimated to account for 65% of the coronavirus variants circulating in the United States as of last week, said Rochelle Walensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
U.S. orders 3.2 million doses of Novavax COVID vaccine
The U.S. government will get 3.2 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine developed by Novavax Inc once the shot has been authorized by the regulators, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the company said on Monday. The shot will be made available for free in the country after it gets authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency use and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) recommendation.
Unnerved Shanghai residents brave stifling heat for mass COVID tests
Shanghai residents queued up in sweltering heat for compulsory mass testing for COVID-19 on Tuesday, as persistent small outbreaks fuelled anxiety in a city that is still recovering from the painful two-month lockdown lifted a few weeks ago.
China tells local governments to drop COVID tests on some goods
China's health authority said on Tuesday that local governments no longer need to test some imported goods for the coronavirus, in a move aimed at reducing the cost of its strict COVID-19 prevention measures. China began testing the packaging of chilled and frozen food imports for the virus in June 2020, after a cluster of infections among workers at a wholesale food market in Beijing. Six months later, Beijing also advised testing on ambient products too, even as scientists said the risk of coronavirus infection through contact with contaminated surfaces was low.
US officials working on a plan to allow second Covid-19 boosters for all adults
US health officials are urgently working on a plan to allow second Covid-19 boosters for all adults, a senior White House official confirmed to CNN on Monday. The US Food and Drug Administration is making it a high priority, the official said. Second boosters have been authorized for adults 50 and older, as well as some people with weakened immune systems, since late March. But younger adults are eligible for only one booster shot, which was authorized in November.
Hong Kong to electronically tag Covid patients as it adopts China’s health code system
Hong Kong will mandate electronic tracking bracelets for people in home isolation and bring in a China-style electronic health code system as part of fresh measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The quarantine bracelets, to be introduced on Friday, will be mandatory for people who have tested positive and are quarantining at home to ensure they do not leave the building during their isolation period. “We have to make sure that home isolation is more precise while being humane,” Lo Chung-mau, the city’s new health secretary said, announcing the new requirement on Monday. Breaching a mandatory quarantine order in Hong Kong carries a fine of up to HK$25,000 ($3,200) and up to six months in jail.
Covid cases set to hit new record as experts call for return of free testing and school air filtration systems
Covid cases are about to hit a new record after daily symptomatic infections reached 348,001 – just a few hundred below the previous high in March. Cases have more than tripled in the last six weeks, largely because of the new Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which are much better at overcoming immunity built up from vaccinations and prior infections. But public and government behaviours are also playing a key role, with many acting as if the pandemic is over when that is far from the case, scientists say. This has enabled cases to soar from 114,030 on 1 June to 348,001 on Saturday 9 July – barely a thousand daily infections below the record 349,011 set on 31 March, according to the ZOE Covid study app.
H.K. May Loosen Quarantine by November, Health Chief Tells SCMP
“Is nothing required any more? I think that would be a bit tough,” Lo said in the interview. “At least PCR testing is needed. But does quarantine have to be confined to a fixed location?” He floated a scenario where arrivals could be subject to PCR testing and prohibited from attending high-risk venues like bars. The city is also planning a China-like health code system to manage social distancing. A yellow code will allow people to go to work but prohibit them from high-risk places like aged-care homes or venues where masks are removed.
Partisan Exits
Long Covid Patients Leave UK to Seek Unproven Cures, Report Says
Thousands of UK patients with long Covid are leaving the country to seek expensive unproven treatments such as “blood washing” abroad, according to a report. Many travel to private clinics in Cyprus, Germany and Switzerland for apheresis -- a blood-filtering procedure -- and anti-clotting therapy, according to the investigation published Tuesday in the BMJ medical journal. One patient reported paying more than 50,000 euros ($50,185) for apheresis, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and an intravenous vitamin drip at a center in Cyprus and returning home with no improvement. Researchers are still puzzled as to the exact cause of long Covid, which can appear with vastly different effects in various groups of patients.
When it comes to Covid, Australia must confront reality – not choose between extremes
It finally got me: double lines on a Rat, summoning 24 hours of denial and then a week of surrender to the global plague that has stopped the world in its tracks. In my Covid fug I contented myself that I was not 10 years older, or immunocompromised, or a person with a disability, at the same time praying I would not become one of the one in 20 who draw the short straw in long-Covid Lotto. As I gave myself over to the virus, the death toll in Australia jumped over the 10,000 mark, a remarkable increase of almost 8,000 since the start of the year, although a mere drop in the ocean compared with the official global death toll of 6.35 million.
Long Covid patients urged to only access treatment through regulated clinical trials
Hong Kong’s new health chief said conditional quarantine-free travel could be allowed by November in time for a global bankers’ summit to be held in the city, the South China Morning Post reported Wednesday. The city doesn’t need to follow mainland China’s tough Covid-19 policies because it enjoys some degree of freedom under the “one country, two systems” principle, Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau said in an interview with the newspaper.
Continued Lockdown
The Never-Ending Covid Emergency
Why keep extending the emergency? One reason is that in March 2020 Congress barred states from kicking ineligible people off Medicaid rolls during the emergency in return for more federal funding. Medicaid enrollment has ballooned to 95 million—30% of Americans are now enrolled—from 71 million in December 2019. The emergency expands Medicaid in GOP states that opted out of the ObamaCare expansion. It is also a boon for insurers in states that pay per Medicaid participant. Hospitals and physician groups support extending the emergency because they worry that state Medicaid payments will decline if the federal fillip goes away.
Scientific Viewpoint
What is the long-term protection against COVID-19?
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), is known to cause many clinical manifestations. The protection conferred by prior infection or vaccination against infection over the long term is poorly understood. A new paper in Immunological Reviews describes the immunologic parameters associated with protection from COVID-19.
Australia's CSIRO develops machine learning tool that spots emerging COVID-19 variants
CSIRO did not mention how they developed the AI tool called VariantSpark but it was used to analyse around 10,000 COVID-19 samples in a new study, whose findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Computational and Structural Biotechnology Journal. The researchers worked with both Intel and ACT-based cloud system provider RONIN on the said study. According to a media release, VariantSpark can provide hourly updates, enabling the quick sharing of information with public health decision-makers and helping hospitals prepare for potential increases in admissions.
Nitric oxide boosts oxygen in pregnant women with COVID-19 pneumonia
Inhaled high-dose nitric oxide (INO200) safely shortened time on supplemental oxygen and hospital stays among pregnant women diagnosed as having severe bilateral COVID-19 pneumonia, suggests a new study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers. COVID-19 pneumonia is an especially dire diagnosis for pregnant women because it can rapidly lower oxygen in the blood and body tissues, requiring hospital admission and cardiopulmonary support, first author Carlo Valsecchi, MD, said in an MGH news release. "Pregnant women are three times more likely to need intensive care unit admission, mechanical ventilation, or advanced life support, and four times more likely to die," he said. "They also face a greater risk of obstetric complications such as preeclampsia, preterm delivery, and stillbirth."
Development of a multiomics model for identification of predictive biomarkers for COVID-19 severity: a retrospective cohort study
COVID-19 is a multi-system disorder with high variability in clinical outcomes among patients who are admitted to hospital. Although some cytokines such as interleukin (IL)-6 are believed to be associated with severity, there are no early biomarkers that can reliably predict patients who are more likely to have adverse outcomes. Thus, it is crucial to discover predictive markers of serious complications.
White House urges COVID boosters to protect against spreading BA.5 subvariant
BA.5 is estimated to account for 65% of the coronavirus variants circulating in the United States as of last week, said Rochelle Walensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Officials urged people who are 50 years old or older to get a booster shot and said that would not prevent them from getting another "bivalent" booster designed to fend off Omicron more specifically later this year.
Moderna unveils positive data on new booster candidate
Just a few weeks after the FDA recommended that COVID-19 vaccine manufactures tweak their boosters to zero in on the omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, Moderna has unveiled promising new data for its prospect. On Monday, the mRNA specialist said its omicron-containing bivalent booster elicited higher neutralizing antibody responses compared with the current booster. After one month, trial participants who received the bivalent booster had BA.4 and BA.5 neutralizing antibodies that were 1.69 times higher than those who received the original booster, the company said.
Coronavirus Resurgence
Covid-19: 11548 new community cases, 19 deaths reported
There are 11,548 new community cases of Covid-19, as officials report a further 19 deaths in people with the virus over the past four days. There are 710 people in hospital, 17 of whom are in an intensive care or high dependency care unit, the Ministry of Health said on Tuesday afternoon. The seven-day rolling average of cases is 9550, up from 7246 last Tuesday, and the average of hospitalisations is 613, from 436 this time last week.
New Brunswick has 'high' COVID-19 hazard index, warns researcher
New Brunswick's COVID-19 hazard index score is "high" right now, with an estimated 1,700 people being infected with Omicron for the first time each day, according to COVID-19 Resources Canada, a research group funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. That's 213 infections per 100,000 New Brunswickers, as of July 9 — nearly 2½ times the national average of 87, says Tara Moriarty, co-founder of the group. The number of infections is likely even higher when reinfections are included, said Moriarty, an associate professor and infectious disease researcher at the University of Toronto. "You can probably add another 30 per cent," she said, or 510 infections, raising the estimated provincial daily total to 2,210.
Covid-19: Experts 'concerned' as daily cases hit three-month high
Experts say the second Omicron wave has hit, with hospitalisations expected to be higher than during the first peak. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health recorded 11,548 new community cases of Covid-19 – the highest number of daily cases since April 7, when 11,634 cases were recorded. Hospitalisations have also not been this high since April 4. Dr Emily Harvey, a researcher with Covid-19 Modelling Aotearoa, said Tuesday's daily case numbers had left her concerned.
Hospital wards and aged care homes battling COVID-19 outbreaks as Tasmania records 1,812 new cases
Tasmania has recorded 1,812 new cases of COVID-19. Acting State Health Commander Dale Webster said an outbreak management team is meeting regularly to monitor the situation. The Launceston General Hospital and the North West Regional Hospital remain at level three of their COVID-19 management plans.
Omicron subvariants threaten COVID-19 resurgence across US
Health officials are once again raising the alarm about the threat of a resurgence of COVID-19 infections across the country, as concerns grow about the new omicron subvariant, BA.5, which is now the dominant viral strain in the U.S. The BA.5 variant, first detected in South Africa earlier this year, is currently estimated to account for more than half -- 53.6% -- of all new COVID-19 cases in the states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BA.5 appears to have a growth advantage over the original omicron variant, according to the World Health Organization, and scientists are closely monitoring the increase in reported cases observed in many countries across the globe.
COVID-19 cases in Queensland hospitals likely to pass 1,000, CHO says, as isolation rules change
More than 2,300 Queensland health staff are off work due to COVID-19. Isolation rules around the COVID reinfection period cut from 12 weeks to four weeks Queensland CHO John Gerrard says COVID hospitalisations are "getting close" to exceeding 1,000 during the current third wave.
Growing concern over COVID-19 reinfections
CBS News reports on "Growing concern over COVID-19 reinfections as two super-infectious omicron strains become dominant variants in the United States",
New Lockdown
Macau starts lockdown, as HK mulls health code app
Macau casino shares yesterday plunged as the Chinese territory embarked on a week-long lockdown to curb its worst COVID-19 outbreak, while neighboring Hong Kong said it was mulling a mainland-style health code system. Share prices of six gaming conglomerates — Sands China, Galaxy Entertainment, SJM Holdings, Melco International, MGM China and Wynn Macau — fell by between 6 and nearly 9 percent in yesterday morning trade. It is the first casino lockdown in more than two years, overriding a previous deal between the industry and the Macau government that only those found with infections would need to close temporarily.
China Covid News: Anger in Shanghai on Fears of New Lockdown
Tension is spreading through Shanghai as residents watch the Covid-19 caseload tick higher, fueling fears they’re headed back into lockdown little more than five weeks after exiting a bruising two-month ordeal. The city reported 59 new infections for Monday, the fourth day in a row case numbers have held above 50. The sharp rise from single digits about a week ago follows the detection of the more contagious BA.5 sub-strain of the omicron variant, which has triggered two additional rounds of mass testing between Tuesday and Thursday this week across nine of the financial hub’s 16 districts, as well as other areas where cases have been found.