"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 9th Apr 2021
New COVID variants have changed the game, and vaccines will not be enough. We need global 'maximum suppression'
- At the end of 2020, there was a strong hope that high levels of vaccination would see humanity finally gain the upper hand over SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. In an ideal scenario, the virus would then be contained at very low levels without further societal disruption or significant numbers of deaths.
- But since then, new 'Variants of Concern' have emerged and spread worldwide, putting current pandemic control efforts, including vaccination, at risk of being derailed. This means a successful global rollout of current vaccines by itself is no longer a guarantee of victory. No one is truly safe from COVID-19 until everyone is safe. We are in a race against time to get global transmission rates low enough to prevent the emergence and spread of new variants. The danger is that variants will arise that can overcome the immunity conferred by vaccinations or prior infection.
- What's more, many countries lack the capacity to track emerging variants via genomic surveillance. This means the situation may be even more serious than it appears. That is why the world needs to develop strategies of maximum suppression of the virus on a global stage.
What are variants of concern?
- These are variants that have the potential to reinfect people who have had a previous infection or vaccination, or are more transmissable or can lead to more disease.
- There are currently at least three documented variants of concern:
- B.1.351 - also known as the South African variant
- B.1.17 - also known as the UK variant
- P.1 also known as the Brazilian variant
- Similar mutations are rising in different countries at the same time, meaning not even border controls and high vaccination rates can necessarily protect countries from home-grown variants, including variants of concern, where there is substantial community transmission.
- If there are high transmission levels, and hence extensive replication of the virus, anywhere in the world, more variants of concern will inevitably arise and the more infectious variants will dominate. With international mobility, these variants will spread.
- The impact of the new variants on the effectiveness of vaccines is still not clear. Recent evidence suggests earlier COVID-19 infection offers only partial protection against South African variant and it is about 50% more transmissable than pre-existing variants - and it has already been detected in at least 48 countries. It also appears to reduce the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine against mild to moderate illness.
- For these reasons, reducing community transmission is vital. No single action is sufficient to prevent the virus's spread; we must maintain strong public health measures in tandem with vaccination programmes in every country.
Why we need maximum suppression
- Each time the virus replicates, there is an opportunity for a mutation to occur. And as we are already seeing around the world, some of the resulting variants risk eroding the effectiveness of vaccines. That's why a global strategy of maximum virus suppression is required.
- Prompt vaccine rollouts alone will not be enough to achieve maximum suppression. There'll need to be face mask wearing, physical distancing, better ventilation of public spaces - which may require adjustment to buildings and public spaces.
Fair access to vaccines
- Global equity in vaccine access is vital too. High-income countries should support multilateral mechanisms such as the COVAX facility, donate excess vaccines to low/middle income countries and support increased vaccine production.
- However, to prevent the emergence of viral variants of concern, it may be necessary to prioritise countries or regions with the highest disease prevalence and transmission levels, where the risk of such variants emerging is greatest.
- Those with control over healthcare resources should ensure support is available for health professionals to manage increased hospitalisations over shorter periods during surges without reducing care for non-COVID-19 patients.
- Health systems must be better prepared against future variants. Suppression efforts should be accompanied by...
- Genomic surveillance programmes to identify and quickly characterise emerging variants in as many countries as possible around the world
- Rapid large-scale 'second-generation' vaccine programmes and increased production capacity that can support equity in vaccine distribution
- Studies of vaccine effectiveness on existing and new variants of concern
- Adapting public health measures (such as double masking) and re-committing to health system arrangements (such as ensuring personal protective equipment for health staff)
- Behavioural, environmental, social and systems interventions, such as enabling ventilation, distancing between people, and an effective find, test, trace, isolate and support system
- COVID-19 variants of concern have changed the game. We need to recognise and act on this if we as a global society are to avoid future waves of infections, yet more lockdowns and restrictions, and avoidable illness and death.
New COVID variants have changed the game, and vaccines will not be enough. We need global 'maximum suppression'
...Since then, new “variants of concern” have emerged and spread worldwide, putting current pandemic control efforts, including vaccination, at risk of being derailed. Put simply, the game has changed, and a successful global rollout of current vaccines by itself is no longer a guarantee of victory. No one is truly safe from COVID-19 until everyone is safe. We are in a race against time to get global transmission rates low enough to prevent the emergence and spread of new variants. The danger is that variants will arise that can overcome the immunity conferred by vaccinations or prior infection.
Concerns grow over Covid-19 variants, following a sharp increase in cases
Concerns over the South African variant and a deadlier, lesser-known strain first identified in Nigeria are rising among Government scientific advisers after an uptick in cases of both in the UK over the past week, i has learned. The next stage in the roadmap for relaxing restrictions in England has been given the go-ahead for Monday, after the threat from new variants and three other measures were deemed to be under control. However, latest figures seen by i show there have now been more than 470 cases of the South African variant, B1351, compared to around 400 a week ago, and 150 at the start of February.
A year after pandemic hit, Haiti awaits vaccines amid apathy
Haiti does not have a single vaccine to offer its more than 11 million people over a year after the pandemic began, raising concerns among health experts that the well-being of Haitians is being pushed aside as violence and political instability across the country deepen. So far, Haiti is slated to receive only 756,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine through a United Nations program aimed at ensuring the neediest countries get COVID-19 shots. The free doses were scheduled to arrive in May at the latest, but delays are expected because Haiti missed a deadline and the key Indian manufacturer is now prioritizing an increase in domestic demand.
African Union drops plans to buy Covid-19 vaccines from the Serum Institute of India
The African Union (AU) has today dropped plans to secure Covid-19 vaccines from the Serum Institute of India. Instead the AU is exploring purchasing jabs from US firm Johnson & Johnson, said the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
Bhutan vaccinates 60% of population against COVID in record time
Bhutan on Wednesday said it had given about 60 percent of its entire population a first jab against COVID-19 since the Himalayan kingdom started an ambitious vaccination drive nine days ago. The tiny nation wedged between India and China told AFP news agency that 470,000 people out of 770,000 in total had been administered the first shot of a two-dose regime of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine donated by India.
Exclusive: CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky Unveils Initiative to Address Racism in Health
The reason for that skewed impact doesn’t have so much to do with biology or genetics as it does a myriad of other factors, such as where people live, how clean the air they breathe is, what they eat, whether they work and if they do, what jobs they hold, and whether they rely on public transportation to get around. Dr. Rochelle Wolensky, the new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), knows this dynamic well. As division director for infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, her research and clinical work focused on HIV, and she has served on Massachusetts governor Charlie Baker’s COVID-19 advisory board, helping to shape pandemic policy in that state. “I came from a place of taking care of patients with HIV and infectious diseases and those who work in public health have known forever that the diseases afflicting the poor, and afflicting those with access to health care, and afflicting racial and ethnic minorities are different than the diseases afflicting white Americans, or more privileged Americans,” says Walensky. “I came to the job with that reality every single day.”
New York to offer COVID aid to immigrants excluded earlier
In the largest program of its kind, New York lawmakers have created a $2.1 billion fund to aid workers who lost jobs or income during the coronavirus pandemic but were excluded from other government relief programs because of their immigration status. The fund, which passed this week as part of the state budget, will give payments of up to $15,600 to workers who were living in the country illegally and weren’t eligible for federal stimulus checks, unemployment aid, or other benefits. As many as 300,000 workers might benefit, according to some estimates. Other states have offered aid to unauthorized workers, but nothing on this scale. California’s relief fund offers cash payments of up to $500.
As Australia struggles with its coronavirus vaccine rollout, America vaccinated eight million people in two days
Just before Easter, the United States passed another milestone as it tried to vaccinate the majority of its nearly 330 million people. In just 48 hours, eight million COVID-19 vaccine shots were delivered. As Australia struggles to ramp up our vaccine rollout, the US is delivering enough shots every day that it could vaccinate our entire population in a little over a week. Here's a look at how they got there, and why US President Joe Biden is still warning of a "life or death race" against the coronavirus.
UK infections drop about 60% amid vaccinations, lockdown
The U.K.’s COVID-19 vaccination program is beginning to break the link between infection and serious illness or death, according to the latest results from an ongoing study of the pandemic in England. Researchers at Imperial College London found that COVID-19 infections dropped about 60% in March as national lockdown measures slowed the spread of the virus. People 65 and older were the least likely to be infected as they benefited most from the vaccination program, which initially focused on older people. The study also found that the relationship between infections and deaths is diverging, “suggesting that infections may have resulted in fewer hospitalizations and deaths since the start of widespread vaccination.”
Britain will achieve Covid ‘herd immunity’ on Monday, according to a UCL model
The UK is expected to pass the threshold for herd immunity by Monday, according to experts at University College London. Dynamic modelling suggests that the number of people who are protected against Covid-19, either because they are naturally immune or have received a vaccine, will hit 73.4 per cent on April 12. Figures published by the Office for National Statistics last week - based on antibody testing - show that around 54 per cent had antibodies by March 14. Since then, a further 7.1 million people have received a first jab, while nearly 100,000 more people have tested positive for Covid-19.
Victoria says it's 'on track' to deliver 300000 vaccines by mid-May. Here's how that will work
The Victorian government has set a goal of administering 300,000 vaccines by May 16, and so far, it says things are on track. The state government has even offered to expand its vaccination program and help administer jabs to people the federal government is currently responsible for vaccinating. So how does Victoria aim to meet this goal, and what else is it offering to do?
COVID: Qatar tightens restrictions as cases continue to rise
Qatar has announced tighter COVID-19-related restrictions amidst a rising number of cases in the last few weeks. The measures, announced in a cabinet statement on Wednesday, will come into effect on Friday as the country battles a surge in new COVID-19 infections. On Wednesday, the country reported 940 new cases, taking the total number of positive cases to more than 186,000 since the start of the pandemic. The circulation of coronavirus variants first identified in the UK and South Africa has contributed to the spread of COVID-19, according to Abdullatif Al Khal, the deputy chief medical officer of Hamad Medical Corporation. In addition to keeping gyms, swimming pools, water parks and spas shut, the new guidelines have now ordered the closure of museums, cinemas, libraries and nurseries.
Turkey reports highest daily COVID-19 cases since pandemic began
Turkey recorded 54,740 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed late on Wednesday, the highest daily cases since the start of the pandemic. The latest daily death toll was 276, also the highest since the start of the outbreak, bringing the cumulative toll to 32,943. Turkey has carried out nearly 17.97 million vaccine inoculations, with some 10.55 million people receiving a first dose, since it began the nationwide rollout of COVID-19 shots on January 14, health ministry data showed. In late March, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced a tightening of coronavirus restrictions, including the return of full nationwide weekend lockdowns during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts on April 13. Out of the country’s 81 provinces, 58 are marked as “red” or “very high-risk” zones, including the cultural and economic hub of Istanbul and the national capital, Ankara.
South Korea reports surge in coronavirus cases, more restrictions expected
South Korea reported 700 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, its highest daily tally since early January, and the prime minister reiterated warnings that new social distancing rules would likely be needed. The new figure compares with an average of 477 cases a day last week, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency and will fuel fears the country may be facing a fourth wave of infections. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting a new wave could disrupt South Korea’s vaccination programme, which has been suffering delays as the international vaccine-sharing scheme COVAX struggles to provide promised doses on time.
India reels from a new wave of Covid-19
India is paying for its imprudence, reeling from an alarming second wave of Covid-19 that threatens to overwhelm a healthcare system yet to recover from a gruelling year. From around 11,000 new infections daily in February, the country recorded more than 126,265 new cases on Wednesday. The virus is spreading at ferocious speed: it took just six weeks for daily new infections to surge by a magnitude that took three months last year. “The trajectory is very scary right now,” virologist Shahid Jameel, of Ashoka University, told me. “This kind of surge is going to be catastrophic.” Until this week, India had few restrictions on commercial, social or public activity, and many Indians saw little cause for worry. But doctors on the front lines are now sounding the alarm.
France reports 5,729 people in intensive care with COVID-19
The French health ministry reported on Wednesday that the number of people in intensive care units (ICU) with COVID-19 increased by 103 to a new 2021 record of 5,729 people. Week-on-week, the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care rose by 13.4%, the biggest week-on-week increase since Nov. 13. The number of COVID-19 patients in ICU beds - a measure for how well a hospital system can deal with the pandemic - is already above the peak of nearly 5,000 set in mid-November during the second lockdown, but still below the record of 7,148 set on April 8, 2020 during the first lockdown.
Doctors in Hungary question reopening amid spike in deaths
Doctors in Hungary are questioning the government’s decision to lift some lockdown restrictions amid peaking COVID-19 infections and deaths, saying that could lead to an even more dire situation in the Central European nation. Shops and services were allowed to reopen Wednesday after 2.5 million people received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, a benchmark the government set for when a gradual reopening could take place. Hungarian officials say the number of administered vaccines, rather than trends in infections and deaths, will determine the country’s strategy for lifting its lockdown.
New Zealand suspends travel from India after jump in Covid-19 cases
India is battling a deadly second wave of Covid-19 with daily infections this week passing the peak of the first wave seen last September. The suspension will start on 11 April and will be in place until 28 April.
Biden officials rebuff appeals to surge Covid-19 vaccine to Michigan amid growing crisis
Amid Michigan’s worst-in-the-nation coronavirus surge, scientists and public health officials are urging the Biden administration to flood the state with additional vaccine doses. So far, though, their plea has fallen on deaf ears. Instead, the federal government is sticking to a vaccine-allocation strategy that largely awards doses to states and territories based on their population. As a result, most jurisdictions are still receiving similar per-capita vaccine supplies, regardless of how many people there are getting sick — or how many excess vaccine doses they have. Experts have cast a surge in Michigan’s vaccine supply as a critical tool in combating the state’s most recent Covid-19 crisis. The state is currently recording nearly 7,000 new cases per day, just shy of its all-time peak in December. Hospitalizations and deaths, which tend to lag a few weeks behind increasing case counts, are also on the rise.
Bolsonaro again refuses lockdown as Brazil COVID crisis drags on
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has reiterated that he has no plans to order a national lockdown, a day after the nation saw its highest number of coronavirus deaths in 24 hours. Brazil’s Health Ministry registered 3,829 deaths on Wednesday, slightly lower than 4,195 fatalities from the previous day, a grim national record. “We’re not going to accept this politics of stay home and shut everything down,” said Bolsonaro during a speech in the city of Chapeco, resisting mounting pressure on his government to account for its handling of the surging pandemic. “There will be no national lockdown,” he said. Bolsonaro, a COVID-19 sceptic who has downplayed the threat of the virus, has remained defiant in the face of public health experts who have increasingly voiced the need to implement strict coronavirus curbs to address the crisis.
Argentina curtails leisure, public transport use after hitting new COVID-19 record
Argentina tightened movement restrictions on Wednesday including curtailing the leisure industry and blocking nonessential workers from using public transport after the country hit a record number of COVID-19 infections as it struggles with a second wave of the virus. President Alberto Fernandez announced a curfew between midnight and 6 a.m., the closure of bars and restaurants at 11 p.m. and the suspension of operations for casinos, bingo halls and nightclubs in areas of the country with the highest infection rates. Sports in enclosed spaces with the participation of more than 10 people were also banned and in the Buenos Aires area, where cases have increased 53% in seven days, all but essential workers along with teachers and those with special authorisation are prohibited from using public transport.
Grim view of global future offered in intelligence report
U.S. intelligence officials are painting a dark picture of the world’s future, writing in a report released Thursday that the coronavirus pandemic has deepened economic inequality, strained government resources and fanned nationalist sentiments. Those assessments are included in a Global Trends report by the government’s National Intelligence Council. The reports, produced every four years, are designed to help policymakers and citizens anticipate the economic, environmental, technological and demographic forces likely to shape the world through the next 20 years. This year’s report focuses heavily on the impact of the pandemic, calling it the “most significant, singular global disruption since World War II, with health, economic, political, and security implications that will ripple for years to come.”
Achieving human rights to water and sanitation amid COVID-19
Amid a pandemic, huge sections of the global population are still being left behind in their access to water, sanitation and hygiene. Before the pandemic hit, 40 percent of the world’s population already lacked access to basic hand-washing facilities at home, and children at almost half of the world’s schools did not have water and soap. While many governments have increased the provision of public hand-washing stations during the pandemic, the economic fallout of COVID-19 has only exacerbated what was already an urgent need in homes, schools, and healthcare facilities all over the world. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic may contribute to the first increase in global poverty in more than 20 years, and by 2021, an additional 150 million people could be pushed into extreme poverty.
Governments give varying advice on AstraZeneca vaccine
In Spain, residents now have to be over 60 to get an AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine. In Belgium, over 55. In the United Kingdom, authorities recommend the shot not be given to adults under 30 where possible, and Australia’s government announced similar limits Thursday to AstraZeneca shots for those under 50. A patchwork of advice was emerging from governments across Europe and farther afield, a day after the European Union’s drug regulator said there was a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca vaccine and a rare clotting disorder while reiterating the vaccine is safe and effective.
Portugal will only use AstraZenca shots for over-60s
Portugal will from now on recommend the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine only for people aged over 60, the health authority DGS said on Thursday, amid concerns over possible links between the shot and very rare cases of blood clots. The coordinator of the vaccination taskforce, Henrique Melo, said the decision would only have a “small” impact on the vaccination rollout. “I want to highlight the goal of the vaccination campaign in Portugal is to save lives and prevent serious illness,” health authority head Graca Freitas told a news conference. “This can be achieved with any vaccine approved in Portugal.”
AstraZeneca woes grow as Australia, Philippines, African Union curb COVID-19 shots
Australia and the Philippines limited use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, while the African Union dropped plans to buy the shot amid global shortages, dealing further blows to the company’s hopes to deliver a vaccine for the world. The vaccine - developed with Oxford University and considered a frontrunner in the global vaccine race - has been plagued by safety concerns and supply problems since Phase III trial results were published in December, with Indonesia the latest country forced to seek doses from other drugmakers. The Philippines suspended the use of AstraZeneca shots for people under age 60 after Europe’s regulator said on Wednesday it found rare cases of blood clots among some adult recipients, although it still believes that the vaccine’s benefits outweighed its risks.
Britain reassures on AstraZeneca after advising under-30s take other vaccines
British officials and ministers sought to shore up confidence in AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, saying advice that most people under 30 should be offered alternative shots was not unusual and would not impact the pace of rollout. A pharmacist whose brother died from a brain blood clot linked to the AstraZeneca shot was among those calling for people to keep getting it, saying the doses would save lives. Officials said the suggestion that under-30s should be offered an alternative did not reflect any serious safety concerns, just a “vanishingly” rare possible side effect.
Younger and younger COVID-19 patients scaring frontline hospital staff: nurses' union president
The person who died in northwestern New Brunswick is one of the youngest people to die from COVID-19 in the Maritimes and the age of those becoming critically ill is a growing concern. CTV has confirmed the man who died of COVID-19 in the Edmundston region is 38-year-old Luc Belanger. His wife, Julie, posted about the loss on Facebook – writing: "I tell myself that you fought until the end. I already miss you enormously. I love you with all my heart. I loved all the moments we spent together and shared, I love you always and forever!"
Health workers report 'long COVID' after just mild illness
Fifteen percent of healthcare workers at a Swedish hospital who recovered from mild COVID-19 at least 8 months before report at least one moderate to severe symptom disrupting their work, home, or social life, according to a research letter published yesterday in JAMA. A team led by scientists at Danderyd Hospital, part of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, conducted the study from April 2020 to January 2021. The research involved obtaining blood samples and administering questionnaires to healthcare workers participating in the ongoing COVID-19 Biomarker and Immunity (COMMUNITY) study.
In the Covid-19 vaccine push, no one is speaking Gen Z’s language
Useful Covid-19 information isn’t reaching the Instagram generation. There’s almost no messaging specifically tailored to them from federal or state public health officials. There’s hardly anything official on Tik Tok. And even the limited efforts to reach them where they are — like Instagram’s links to its “Covid-19 information center”— aren’t working. Just ask Kymon Palau, a 21-year-old from Albuquerque, N.M., who has over 18,000 followers on the site.