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"COVID-19 Lockdown Exit Analysis" 23rd Feb 2022

Lockdown Exit
Hong Kong to Shut Schools to Fight Omicron; Foreigners Rush to Leave
Within hours of the city’s top official saying late Tuesday that schools would be closed and turned into response centers to tackle a surge in the Covid-19 Omicron variant, a rush occurred among foreign residents to find a way out of the city. Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s decision to shift the summer holidays forward several months to start in March—repurposing schools as testing, vaccination and isolation centers—caught educators and parents off guard. Some foreign workers immediately tried to book their families on flights out of the city as soon as possible. They took to WhatsApp messaging groups and other social-media platforms to discuss how to get out, with hundreds of posts inquiring about flight options and chartering planes amid sharply reduced commercial schedules in and out of the city. Heads of international schools sent hastily composed emails to parents and staffers saying that they would meet with the city’s education department Wednesday to try to mitigate the situation. One urged parents not to act hastily.
In Hong Kong's All-Out Fight Against Covid, Singapore Is Winning
In pursuit of a tough Covid Zero strategy to fight its worst ever coronavirus outbreak, Hong Kong is ceding ground to Singapore, a rival Asian financial and transport hub that’s been easing pandemic-linked restrictions to get its economy back on track. Key data compiled by Bloomberg Economics economists Tamara Mast Henderson and Eric Zhu show that some businesses, weary of stringent quarantine rules and the inability to travel freely, have been shifting to Singapore. The analysts have cut their economic growth forecast for Hong Kong by 0.6 percentage point to 1.4% this year, and expect Singapore’s gross domestic product to grow 4.7%
Scotland's Mandatory Vaccine Passports Will Be Scrapped From Monday
Scotland’s mandatory coronavirus vaccine passport scheme is to be scrapped from Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has announced, with other legal restrictions expected to be ended in March. The Scottish First Minister said this would happen assuming there were “no significant adverse developments” in the fight against the virus. However, while the legal requirement to wear masks in some settings will be dropped from March 21, the Scottish Government will still “strongly recommend” people continue to use face coverings
Hong Kong Lockdown Gets China Support to Curb Covid Outbreak, Sources Say
Chinese officials have told Hong Kong that they think a lockdown will be needed to contain surging Covid-19 cases, according to people familiar with the discussions, with the city’s government conceding some kind of targeted stay-at-home restrictions may be necessary if the situation continues to spiral out of control. The two sides have been meeting frequently to discuss Hong Kong’s outbreak, which has seen the financial hub go from a handful of Covid cases early this year to more than 7,000 a day after the highly transmissible omicron variant infiltrated its tight border and quarantine defenses. Mainland officials say their experience shows a lockdown will be more effective at containing virus cases in a shorter period of time, said the people, asking not to be identified as the talks are confidential.
Can You Catch Omicron Twice? Danish Study Says Yes
A study from Denmark, one of the countries where omicron has spread the fastest, suggests that in rare cases people can be infected by the virus variant twice. Samples from 1.8 million positive tests showed that 47 people had both the BA.1., and the BA.2. sub-variant of omicron with a 20 to 60 day interval, Denmark’s institute for infectious diseases said in a statement on Tuesday. Those who had both variants were predominately young and unvaccinated and they only suffered mild symptoms, according to the data, which hasn’t yet been peer reviewed. Another 20 people have likely been infected with the same omicron variant twice.
Ireland drops most of its remaining COVID restrictions
Ireland said it will drop most of its remaining pandemic-linked restrictions from Feb. 28 as an Omicron-fuelled wave of infections ebbs. The country has been one of the most cautious in the European Union on the risks of COVID-19, putting in place some of the longest-running curbs on travel and hospitality. People will no longer be legally required to wear masks, physical distancing measures in schools will end, and the national testing and tracing program will be scaled back. Government advice that masks should be worn on public transport and in healthcare settings will remain.
Europe entry requirements: EU to scrap Covid tests for fully vaccinated with uniform travel rules by Easter
Covid tests for fully vaccinated arrivals are to be scrapped across the EU in time for the Easter holidays. As part of a new protocol, approved by the European Council on Tuesday 22 February, unvaccinated children aged six to 17 will also be allowed to enter any EU country with proof of a pre-departure PCR test. Unvaccinated adults who can provide proof of a recent Covid infection within the past 180 days may also enter, although they may be required to test before arrival.
Covid-19: Most restrictions to be ended by Irish government
Almost all remaining Covid-19 restrictions in the Republic of Ireland are set to end from Monday. At a cabinet meeting the three government parties backed a plan to end measures including mandatory mask wearing in most settings. It follows a recommendation from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), which will also be abolished. Physical distancing measures in schools will also end, while testing and tracing will be scaled back. Masks in schools, retail settings and on public transport will be voluntary. However, masks will still be required in health care settings.
Covid-19: Rethink end to free Covid tests, Naomi Long urges
It is "crucial" the government rethinks its decision to end free Covid-19 testing in England from April, Northern Ireland's justice minister has said. Naomi Long said it was important that people are supported financially to test and self-isolate if required.
Official Sees ‘Strong Possibility’ Covid Shots Will Be Given Every Autumn
There is a "strong possibility" that Covid jabs will be given every autumn alongside flu vaccines for those most in need, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has said. Professor Adam Finn told BBC Breakfast it was important that older people and the vulnerable came forward for their spring booster, with a wider rollout to be announced for the autumn. Asked if people could expect an annual jab, he said: "It's hard to be absolutely sure about that, but the direction of discussion at the moment is certainly a booster campaign in the autumn, directed probably at the people who... we think are most at risk.
UK unveils game plan for 'living with COVID'
Ahead of his speech, Johnson said yesterday on Twitter that the COVID-19 threat remains, but because of the country's efforts over the past 2 years, it can now transition from government regulations to personal responsibility. He hailed Britain's strong vaccine uptake, the arrival of new treatments, and the scientific understanding of what the virus can do. The United Kingdom is reporting declining cases, though the proportion of the more transmissible BA.2 Omicron subvariant viruses is increasing. About 82% of adults have received three vaccine doses, according to the Office for National Statistics. As of Feb 24, people won't legally be required to self-isolate after testing positive, but adults and children will be advised to do so. Free PCR and rapid tests will wind down on Apr 1, but a limited number will still be available for high-risk groups and nursing home staff. Contact tracing and financial support for low-income people infected with COVID-19 will also wind down. In an open letter to the country's chief medical advisor and its chief scientific adviser, who appeared with Johnson at today's briefing, a group of doctors and scientists aired concerns about the government's plans to end testing, surveillance surveys, and the legal requirement for isolation. "We do not believe there is a solid scientific basis for the policy. It is almost certain to increase the circulation of the virus and remove the visibility of emerging variants of concern," they wrote. Johnson said a community testing survey, a key part of surveillance, will continue at the Office for National Statistics, but it's not clear if will continue in its current form or be pared down, according to The Guardian.
Exit Strategies
Coronavirus booster Scotland: Scots over-75s and the most vulnerable to receive fourth Covid vaccine dose
Appointments for the spring booster dose will be offered to those aged 75 and over, as will as those living in care homes for older people, and those aged 12 and above who are immunosuppressed. The vaccinations will be given at least 24 weeks after their most recent jag, with the first appointments to take place in the second week of March
Iran returns ‘US-made’ donated COVID vaccines to Poland
Iran has returned 820,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines donated by Poland because they were manufactured in the United States. State TV on Monday quoted Mohammad Hashemi, a health ministry official, as saying that Poland donated about a million doses of the British-Swedish AstraZeneca vaccine to Iran. “But when the vaccines arrived in Iran, we found out that 820,000 doses of them which were imported from Poland were from the United States,” he said.
Parents of kids under 5 anxiously await coronavirus vaccine
In the US, parents of children younger than 5 say they feel forgotten and left behind, watching others reclaim normalcy while they stay home with kids who are too young to be vaccinated and have to quarantine when there is an exposure to the coronavirus at day care or school. Parents are now dealing with another twist in a two-year roller-coaster ride after a coronavirus vaccine for the youngest children was further delayed this month. The Food and Drug Administration said it would wait to make a decision on authorizing the vaccine until data on a third dose becomes available — opening up a host of new questions and concerns.
EU, Germany expect Novavax deliveries to begin this week
The European Commission and the German government said on Monday they expect deliveries of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine Nuvaxovid to begin over the course of this week. Novavax's recombinant protein vaccine uses a more established technology than mRNA, the novel method behind the two most commonly used COVID-19 vaccines in Germany made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
Bulgaria to ease coronavirus restrictions as cases drop
Bulgaria plans to lift the obligatory COVID-19 "green certificate" for entry to restaurants, shopping malls and other public venues from March 20 as coronavirus infections ease, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said. The health pass - a digital or paper certificate showing someone has been vaccinated, tested negative or recently recovered from the virus - was made obligatory for most indoor spaces in Bulgaria last October. Its introduction has prompted a series of protests in the European Union's least vaccinated member state, angering bar and restaurant owners and anti-vaccine activists.
HSBC says Hong Kong COVID clampdown may hurt ability to hire, keep staff
HSBC said Hong Kong's strict curbs on travel and social interaction are hurting the economy and may impact the ability to hire and keep staff in the Asian financial hub, in one of the strongest comments yet by a global lender on the city's tough measures to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. "The evolving Covid-19 restrictions in Hong Kong, including travel, public gathering and social distancing restrictions, are impacting the Hong Kong economy, and may affect the ability to attract and retain staff," the lender said
Dubai airport CEO sees more countries dropping COVID travel testing rules soon
The head of Dubai International Airport, one of the world's busiest, expects more countries to soon start ending rules for vaccinated passengers to be tested for COVID-19. The United Kingdom does not require vaccinated passengers to take a COVID test, while Gulf state Bahrain this month said those arriving would no longer needed to be tested. "I do expect across the world, the testing regime for travel will start to disappear pretty quickly and we're hopeful that there will be an announcement over the next few weeks from many different places," Chief Executive Paul Griffiths said.
CDC taps Palantir to support COVID-19 drug supply in U.S.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded Palantir Technologies a $5.3 million contract to manage distribution of COVID-19 drugs in the United States. The contract for supporting distribution of therapeutics is for a duration of six months, Palantir said. The new partnership is an extension of an existing use of Palantir's Tiberius platform for vaccine distribution, for which the company was selected in 2020.
Britain to offer further COVID-19 boosters to elderly and immunosuppressed
Britain said it would offer further COVID-19 booster shots to the elderly, care home residents and immunosuppressed people as part of a plan to learn to live with the disease without legal restrictions. Britain's health minister Sajid Javid said he would accept the recommendation of the country's vaccine advisers, and said that all four nations of the United Kingdom would offer the extra shots.
Hong Kong to enforce mass testing amid predicted surge in COVID infections
Hong Kong will roll out compulsory testing for COVID-19 starting in mid-March for its 7.4 million residents, leader Carrie Lam said on Tuesday, as university researchers predicted new infections could peak at a staggering 180,000 a day next month. Stringent coronavirus rules would be in place until mid-April with schools breaking early for summer and resuming the new year in August, she said, as authorities battle an "exponential" rise in infections which have overwhelmed the healthcare system.
State legislatures renew the push to roll back Covid-related public health measures
State legislators are mobilizing anew to roll back public health measures meant to contain the spread of Covid-19. They are introducing bills in both liberal and conservative states that target measures like vaccine and mask requirements, which have become political lightning rods throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. Several state lawmakers are also pushing legislation that would prevent hospitals and nursing homes from restricting visitors during outbreaks. The legislative blitz comes on the heels of a similar push last year, when over half of U.S. states took some action to roll back public health powers
Partisan Exits
New Zealand Targets Protesters Camped Outside Parliament With Lawn Sprinklers, Blaring Barry Manilow
For two weeks, antigovernment protesters camped outside this South Pacific country’s Parliament have held group hugs, planted vegetable gardens and renamed a footpath “No Booster Lane” as authorities tried everything to disperse them without violence. A top official turned on lawn sprinklers, soaking the around 1,000 people protesting issues including vaccine mandates. Music, including Barry Manilow songs, was blasted, and regular loudspeaker announcements urged protesters to end the occupation. When none of that worked, authorities adopted another approach: installing concrete barriers to limit a blockade of vehicles and making some arrests. The confrontation illustrates the dilemma for countries that are facing anger and frustration among some groups at government public-health orders as they adjust to treating Covid-19 as endemic. In Canada, the government decided to invoke emergency powers to end a three-week protest in Ottawa and secure border crossings, where traffic was thwarted at times. Protesters have also staged large rallies recently in Australia’s capital, Canberra, where police have made some arrests.
Convoy Leader Denied Bail as Canadian Officials Warn of Unrest
Canadian banks froze about C$7.8 million ($6.1 million) in just over 200 accounts under emergency powers meant to end protests in Ottawa and at key border crossings, a government official said Tuesday. The new tally was revealed in testimony to lawmakers examining Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s decision to invoke the country’s Emergencies Act to end a three-week occupation of the nation’s capital. Trudeau and his ministers have said the measures announced last week are meant to cut off funding to protest leaders and to pressure trucking companies to prevent their semis from being used again in blockades. Ottawa’s downtown core was cleared out over the weekend, but dozens of trucks remain gathered at encampments outside the city.
U.S. Supreme Court rejects challenge to Maine COVID-19 vaccine mandate
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday turned away a challenge to Maine's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, rebuffing for the second time a group of plaintiffs who sought a religious exemption. The justices rejected a request made on behalf of unnamed plaintiffs identifying themselves as Maine healthcare workers who objected to the vaccinations on religious grounds. The court in November rejected an emergency request by the same plaintiffs seeking to prevent Maine from enforcing the mandate against them. They are represented by a Christian legal advocacy group.
Protester drives at New Zealand police as cordon tightens
One protester drove a car toward a New Zealand police line, narrowly avoiding officers, while other protesters sprayed officers with a stinging substance, police said Tuesday, as they tightened a cordon around a convoy that has been camped outside Parliament for two weeks. The clashes in the capital of Wellington came a day after police reported that some of the protesters had thrown human feces at them.
Canada's parliament approves Trudeau's emergency powers
Canada's parliament on Monday backed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's decision to invoke rarely-used emergency powers to end pandemic-related protests that have blocked streets in the capital Ottawa for more than three weeks. The Emergencies Act was approved in parliament by 185 to 151, with the minority Liberal government getting support from left-leaning New Democrats. The special measures, announced by Trudeau a week ago, have been deemed unnecessary and an abuse of power by some opposition politicians.
Ugandans would face fines, jail for refusing COVID jab under new law
Uganda plans to impose fines on people who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who fail to pay could be sent to prison under a new public health law which lawmakers are scrutinising, parliament said on Tuesday. Although the East African country started administering COVID-19 jabs nearly a year ago, only about 16 million jabs have been administered in a population of 45 million, with officials blaming widespread reluctance for the low coverage. Parliament's house health committee has begun scrutinising Public Health (Amendment) Bill 2021 which seeks to make coronavirus vaccinations mandatory.
Scientific Viewpoint
Moscow, Baku working on Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing in Azerbaijan
Moscow and Baku are working on the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing in Azerbaijan, Trend reports with reference to Russian media. This is stated in the documents prepared for the talks between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of the Republic of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. 'In 2021, 220,000 doses of the Russian Sputnik V vaccine were delivered at the request of the Azerbaijani side. It is scheduled to deliver extra 80,000 doses. No new applications have been received. The organization of vaccine production in the country is being worked out,' said the document.
DCGI grants EUA to Biological E.’s Covid-19 vaccine for use in adolescents
The Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) has granted emergency use authorization (EUA) to Biological E.’s (BE) Covid-19 vaccine, CORBEVAX, for people aged 12 to 18 years. CORBEVAX is the country’s first domestically developed receptor-binding domain (RBD) protein sub-unit vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus and is adjuvanted with alum and CpG 1018 of Dynavax. The indicated dosage is a two-dose regimen of the vaccine given intramuscularly at a gap of 28 days. In December last year, the drug regulator granted approval to the vaccine for restricted use in adults during emergencies. The latest approval for usage in adolescents is based on interim data from the ongoing Phase II/III clinical trial of the vaccine.
Covid cost-cutting will put blinkers on our best Covid research
After a bruising two years in which the UK failed to prove its resilience to a pandemic, the government hopes to re-cast the nation as a scientific superpower: a country that has built on the lessons of the crisis to deliver better research, more precision healthcare, and a more streamlined pathway to new drugs and vaccines. But the government’s decision to substantially cut back on free Covid testing, as part of Boris Johnson’s “living with Covid” strategy, already threatens to undermine pioneering trials and coronavirus surveillance that are the envy of other nations. Together, they are crucial for understanding how drugs keep patients out of hospital, how immunity is holding up in vulnerable care homes and hospitals and how the epidemic is unfolding around us.
COVID vaccine for kids: Approval granted to COVID vaccine Corbevax for children between 12-18 years; here
India's first indigenously developed protein sub-unit COVID-19 Vaccine Corbevax is India’s first indigenously developed protein sub-unit COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccine has been developed by Biological E. Limited in collaboration with Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development (Texas Children’s CVD) and Baylor College of Medicine (Baylor) in Houston, Texas. "CORBEVAX is a “recombinant protein sub-unit” vaccine, developed from a component of the spike protein on the virus’s surface, which helps the body build the immune response against the virus. The vaccine has the Receptor Binding Domain (RBD) protein as an antigen, and also an optimum adjuvant consisting of Dynavax (DVAX) CpG 1018 and alum," Biological E Limited has said.
Covid-19: Mexico City gave ivermectin kits to people with covid in “unethical” experiment
The government of Mexico City handed out nearly 200 000 “ivermectin based kits” last year to people who had tested positive for covid-19, without telling them they were subjects in an experiment on the drug’s effectiveness. The results of that experiment were then written up by public officials in an article placed on popular US preprint server SocArXiv.1 It became one of site’s most viewed articles, claiming that ivermectin had reduced hospital admissions by 52-76%. But those officials have been under fire at home since SocArXiv withdrew the paper earlier this month, calling it “either very poor quality or else deliberately false and misleading.” Opposition deputies in Mexico City’s Congress demanded hearings and said they would bring legal action against the paper’s lead author, José Merino, head of the city’s Digital Agency for Public Innovation. Explaining the decision to withdraw the article—the first to be taken down by SocArXiv—the site’s steering committee wrote that it had responded “to a community groundswell beseeching us to act” in order “to prevent the paper from causing additional harm.”2
Reinfections with Omicron subvariants are rare, Danish study finds
Getting infected twice with two different Omicron coronavirus subvariants is possible, but rarely happens, a Danish study has found. In Denmark, a more infectious sublineage of the Omicron coronavirus variant known as BA.2 has quickly dethroned the "original" BA.1 variant, which is the most common worldwide, but it has remained unclear whether a person could get infected by both variants. A new study, led by researchers at Denmark's top infectious disease authority, Statens Serum Institut (SSI), shows that people infected with BA.1 can get infected with BA.2 shortly afterwards, but that it is a rare occurrence.
South Korea says Omicron COVID variant 75% less likely to kill than Delta strain
People infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant are nearly 75% less likely to develop serious illness or die than those who contract the Delta variant, real world data released on Monday by South Korea's health authorities showed. A study by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) of some 67,200 infections confirmed since December showed the Omicron variant's severity and death rates averaged 0.38% and 0.18%, respectively, compared with 1.4% and 0.7% for the Delta cases. The KDCA classed severe cases as people who were hospitalised in intensive care units.
Top English medic warns new COVID variants could be more resistant to vaccines
England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned on Monday there will be new COVID-19 variants and said some of them could be more resistant to vaccines. Earlier, Britain said it would end all coronavirus restrictions in England including mandatory self-isolation for people with COVID-19 and free testing, drawing scepticism from some scientists and political opponents. "We all expect... there to be new variants. And some of those new variants will just disappear," Whitty told a press conference. "But some of them will cause significant problems."
Antibody triggered by Sinopharm COVID booster wanes after six months - study
Antibodies triggered by a third dose of Sinopharm's COVID-19 shot given to those who completed its primary two-dose regimen dropped sharply after six months, and a fourth shot did not significantly boost them against Omicron, a Chinese study showed. The study, published on Monday before peer-preview, said repeated immunisation using inactivated vaccines such as the Sinopharm shot as a fourth booster may not be ideal to further increase antibody response against Omicron.
The WHO’s chief scientist on Covid-19 vaccines, patent battles, and speeding up access in Africa
In response to growing concerns over vaccine inequity, the World Health Organization last June announced plans to create a technology transfer and manufacturing hub for vaccines using mRNA technology, starting with Covid-19 shots. The move reflected the difficulty in convincing vaccine makers to share their know-how, an issue that has deadlocked talks at the World Trade Organization over whether to waive intellectual property rights. Now, one of the companies involved in the hub, which is based in South Africa, is moving forward with its own vaccine candidate and the WHO has begun announcing other countries where “spokes” will be located for additional production.
Coronavirus Resurgence
Hong Kong confirms over 7,500 Covid-19 cases, vaccine pass to launch in days
Hong Kong is expected to tighten Covid-19 social-distancing rules further as it prepares to launch a so-called vaccine pass on Thursday limiting entry to venues based on inoculation status. As infection numbers continued to climb on Monday, reaching a new record of more than 7,500 cases, an 11-month-old baby became the city’s youngest coronavirus-related fatality, the third such death of young children in the past fortnight. On the social-distancing front, all restaurants would be limited to just two diners per table, unlike currently where some venues could have up to four people seated together, the Post learned.
China reports 138 new COVID cases for Feb 21 vs 144 a day earlier
China reported 138 new COVID-19 cases in the mainland for Monday, down from 144 cases a day earlier, the health authority said. Of the new infections, 59 were locally transmitted, according to a statement on Tuesday by the National Health Commission (NHC), down from 71 a day earlier. The other new cases were imported. The new locally transmitted cases were in Inner Mongolia, Jiangsu, Liaoning, Sichuan, Yunnan, Hubei and Guangdong, the NHC said.