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

Lockdown Exit
New Zealand lifts most vaccine mandates as Omicron outbreak nears peak
New Zealand's government said on Wednesday it would lift vaccine mandates for a number of sectors including teaching and police from April 4 as the current COVID-19 outbreak nears its peak.
Hong Kong Data Show Benefit to Third Shot of Sinovac in Preventing Omicron Deaths
New study of the city’s continuing Covid-19 outbreak underscores the importance of booster shots for the Chinese vaccine
How Quickly Is the Omicron BA.2 Variant Spreading in US?
CDC data show BA.2 accounts for more than a third of U.S. Covid cases and more than half in the Northeast
Italian study shows ventilation can cut school COVID cases by 82%
An Italian study published on Tuesday suggests that efficient ventilation systems can reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in schools by more than 80%. An experiment overseen by the Hume foundation think-tank compared coronavirus contagion in 10,441 classrooms in Italy's central Marche region. COVID infections were steeply lower in the 316 classrooms that had mechanical ventilation systems, with the reduction in cases more marked according to the strength of the systems. With applications guaranteeing a complete replacement of the air in a classroom 2.4 times in an hour, infections were reduced by 40%.
Covid-19 vaccine policy should be made by public health experts, not company executives
In a March 13 interview, Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, said his company intended to apply to the FDA for authorization of a fourth mRNA vaccine dose and implied that this was something all adults needed. Two days later, it did just that — but only for adults over 65. That same day, Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, took a different perspective: that a fourth dose of his company’s mRNA vaccine wasn’t required for all adults but could benefit older and immunocompromised Americans. Two days later, Moderna announced it was requesting FDA authorization of a fourth vaccine dose for everyone aged 18 or over. So over a mere four-day period, the two mRNA vaccine companies made internally inconsistent and seemingly arbitrary statements, and then took different actions. Is competition between the two companies for market share now a factor in their decisions? Are they seeing the science differently? And when company executives are, in effect, saying “our vaccines are no longer doing very well, so you need more of them,” isn’t there a risk of playing into the anti-vaccine narrative that vaccines don’t work?
Why Covax, the best hope for vaccinating the world, was doomed to fall short
Unlike many national governments, those behind Covax saw the risk presented by the coronavirus early. But the initiative has fallen well short of its aims. More than a third of the world is yet to have a vaccine dose. That has left a huge gap between rich and poor countries. Experts say the lack of vaccinations in poor countries is not only inequitable but also dangerous, exposing the world to a greater likelihood that more-virulent variants will emerge. And the challenges for Covax continue. Covax has raised $11 billion in total, well short of the $18 billion it initially said it needs. Falling short of funding targets for the spring could cost 1.25 million lives, backers say.
No funds to buy fourth Covid vaccine dose for all Americans, White House warns
White House officials say that there are no funds to buy a potential fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine for all Americans. The Washington Post reports that while the Biden administration has enough doses to provide Americans over the age of 65 with a fourth shot of the vaccine but orders cannot be placed for more to cover other age groups unless Congress passes a stalled $15bn funding package. Doses have also already been secured for children under the age of five should those shots be deemed necessary by regulators.
Could the Covid-19 vaccine become a yearly shot? Some experts think so
Some scientists think we might be rolling up our sleeves each year not just for flu shots but for Covid-19 jabs too. Public health experts aren't quite clear on what the future holds for Covid-19 vaccines -- but some say it's looking more and more like these shots could be needed on a yearly basis, similar to how flu shots are recommended each fall. "In order to keep it under control, we likely will need some form of periodic vaccination. Now, whether that's annual or every two years or every five years, we don't really know that yet. I think that that will emerge as we gather more data," Dr. Archana Chatterjee, dean of the Chicago Medical School at Rosalind Franklin University, said.
Pfizer, Unicef Strike Covid-19 Pill Deal
Pfizer plans to sell to the United Nations Children’s Fund up to four million treatment courses of its Covid-19 pill Paxlovid, which will go to 95 low- and middle-income countries, as part of the company’s effort to expand access to the pill beyond wealthy countries. Pfizer said that Afghanistan, Pakistan and Zimbabwe are among the countries where Unicef will distribute the easy-to-use pill. A Pfizer spokeswoman said the company is charging Unicef a “not-for-profit price,” but declined to disclose it.
Pfizer inks deal with UNICEF to supply Covid pill to poor countries, but advocates say it isn’t enough
As part of an effort to widen access to its Covid-19 pill, Pfizer has reached a deal with UNICEF to supply up to 4 million treatment courses to 95 low- and middle-income countries representing 53% of the global population. But consumer advocates have quickly argued the move falls short.
Exit Strategies
France sees biggest jump in COVID cases since early February
France saw the biggest jump in new COVID-19 cases since February, health ministry data showed on Tuesday, with 180,777 new infections over 24 hours, and hospital numbers also rose for the third consecutive day. The new cases brought the cumulative number of registered infections to 24.3 million as the resumption of classes following two weeks of school holidays marked a sharp resurgence of the epidemic. The seven-day moving average of new cases rose further to just under 99,000, where it had been from end-December till mid-February, driven by the contagious Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.
Fauci does not expect major surge in COVID cases in U.S.
Top U.S. infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Tuesday he would not be surprised to see an increase in COVID-19 cases in the United States, but he does not expect a major surge. "I would not be surprised at all, if we do see somewhat of an uptick," Fauci told a Washington Post event. "I don't really see, unless something changes dramatically, that there would be a major surge." Fauci said the expected rise in coronavirus cases would be due to the increasing dominance of the highly transmissible BA.2 Omicron sub-variant, the relaxation of mask-wearing requirements and waning immunity in the population.
U.S. travel industry urges White House to lift COVID restrictions, mask mandate
The U.S. Travel Association on Tuesday urged the White House to lift COVID-19 travel restrictions and repeal a mandate requiring masks on airplanes and in other transit modes by April 18, according to a letter seen by Reuters. In a letter to Dr. Ashish Jha, the incoming White House COVID response coordinator, the group called for an immediate end to the pre-departure testing requirement for all fully vaccinated inbound international persons and ending the mask mandate by April 18 "or announcing a plan and timeline to repeal the federal mask mandate within the subsequent 90 days."
Biden Administration to Stop Reimbursing Hospitals for Covid-19 Care for Uninsured
Some people without health insurance will begin getting bills for Covid-19 treatments and testing after the Biden administration on Tuesday starts winding down a federal program that reimburses providers for virus-related care for the uninsured and that officials say is running out of funds. The White House says it will end the reimbursement program, which started under the Trump administration and also pays hospitals and other healthcare providers for things such as administering Covid-19 vaccines to uninsured people, by the end of April because it is running out of money. The administration and hospitals are urging lawmakers to approve more funding for the program.
Covid-19: Fourth vaccine dose potentially on the cards for health workers, at-risk people
Officials are looking into the possibility of rolling out a fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine for vulnerable and high risk groups. Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield announced he would this week receive advice on a fourth shot specifically for those at highest risk of Covid-19 illness: older people, and those with pre-existing conditions. He said he also asked whether the offer should be extended to other groups, such as the health workforce, who were among the first to receive boosters
With Covid cases surging across Australia, will a fourth vaccine dose be required?
Health experts are weighing up whether a second booster rollout will soon be needed as Covid-19 cases again surge across Australia and winter approaches. A number of nations, including the UK, are rapidly expanding eligibility for a fourth dose, but some experts have questioned its effectiveness.
Coronavirus: Cabinet discusses fourth dose amid surge in cases
In Cyprus, the Cabinet approved the administration of a Covid booster jab to children aged 12 and over and the rollout of a fourth vaccine dose to those aged 70 and over and the immunocompromised. Following the administration of an mRNA booster jab to severely immunosuppressed children aged 12 and over at the end of February, the council of ministers approved its administration to all teenagers as long as six months have elapsed since the latest dose.
How to book the 4th Covid jab: Who can get the spring booster vaccine and when other groups could be eligible
In England, a second Covid-19 booster vaccine is being rolled out this week, with those in vulnerable groups able to come forward to receive a fourth jab. It comes as cases rise sharply again across the country, thanks to restrictions ending and the emergence of a highly infectious BA.2 offshoot of the Omicron variant. More than 552,000 people have reported testing positive in the last seven days – a 38.1 per cent increase on the week prior.
Hong Kong Covid Shift Won't Move China, Xi's Virus Czar Says
China should stick to its strict Covid Zero strategy, according to the country’s top virus expert, whose comments come alongside signals that the approach is being tweaked to ease economic pain even as infections climb. “There should not be an iota of relaxation as we need to cherish the hard-earned achievement,” said Liang Wannian, a seasoned epidemiologist who has overseen China’s Covid response since the beginning of the pandemic and was recently sent to Hong Kong to guide efforts to contain its worst ever outbreak. Measures could be fine-tuned to be more targeted and deployed quicker in order to keep up with the easily transmissible omicron variant, he said.
Partisan Exits
Research dispels myth that COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility, but misinformation persists
Some sources of misinformation claim that the COVID-19 vaccines cause male sterility. For this to be true, the vaccines would have to damage sperm quality, drastically reduce sperm count or interfere with the mechanisms inherent in male ejaculation. Quality clinical evidence has demonstrated that none of these parameters are affected by the vaccine, so men are not being made sterile. A study in Florida recruited around 45 men and compared their sperm measures before and after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Interestingly, the study found that men who received the vaccine had more sperm, greater semen volume, and sperm more able to move around and fertilize an egg. Pregnancy can be an exciting time but can also provoke worry about the the safety of anything that enters the body, including vaccines. Fortunately, the COVID-19 vaccines are safe during pregnancy.
'Refuse quarantine!': frustrations mount as China replays COVID controls
Article reports that in footage shared on social media last week, a crowd of people in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang bang against the windows of a clothing market as they shout in frustration at the announcement of yet another round of COVID-19 tests. Though the local government quickly urged people not to "spread rumours" about the incident, the response from netizens was immediate. "Refuse quarantine!" said one. "Many people have awoken to the truth," said another. "It's actually over," said a netizen posting on WeChat under the username "Jasmine Tea". "The common cold is more serious than this… The testing agencies want this to go on. The vaccine companies want to inoculate forever."
UK Covid case numbers ‘no particular cause for concern’, says Javid
There is “no particular cause for concern” about the UK’s rapidly rising number of Covid cases, Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has said, saying that England was demonstrating to the world a successful model for living with the virus. Despite survey data showing almost 5% of the population in England had Covid earlier this month, and record infection levels among the over-70s, Javid said the “wall of defence” from vaccines was keeping the situation stable. From Monday, 5 million people across England at higher risk from Covid – the over-75s, care home residents and those who are immunocompromised – will be able to book a second booster jab in the coming weeks. Javid confirmed that a wider booster programme, most likely aimed at the over-50s, was expected in the autumn.
Scientific Viewpoint
New research proves benefit of vaccination after recovery from COVID-19
When our immune system comes into contact with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, it fights back and produces antibodies. A similar immune response is triggered by Corona vaccines. However, there is still little data available on the strength and durability of immune protection. A team led by Prof. Carsten Watzl from the Leibniz Research Centre for Working Environment and Human Factors Institute for Occupational Research (IfADo), in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology (MPI) and the Klinikum Dortmund, has now been able to detect high levels of neutralizing antibodies in test persons even 300 days after a coronavirus infection with the original variant of the coronavirus.
How protected are we against Covid-19? Scientists search for a test to measure immunity
In 2010, doctors told Ben Sobieck, now 37, that his kidneys were inexplicably failing. Shortly after, he had a kidney transplant and started on the lifelong medications that weaken his immune system to keep his body from rejecting the donor organ. They never figured out what caused Sobieck's kidney failure. But a decade later, he confronted another threat to his health: the Covid-19 pandemic. "I am on immunosuppressants that make me more vulnerable for serious Covid complications," said Sobieck, 37, who lives in Minnesota. "If you're immunocompromised, you may not have a very good response to the [Covid-19] vaccine." Seeking evidence that his immune system was working the way it should, Sobieck made an unusual request: He asked his nephrologist to do a blood test that gives a rough measure of antibodies, a type of protein the body creates in response to an infection or vaccine. Antibody titers reveal the concentration of a specific antibody found in someone's blood.
Covid-19 news: Infection linked to higher risk of developing diabetes
Covid-19 linked to a 46 per cent increased risk of type 2 diabetes. People who have had covid-19 within the past year may be more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes for the first time or being prescribed medication to manage their blood sugar levels. Ziyad Al-Aly at the VA Saint Louis Health Care System in the US and his colleagues reviewed the medical records of 181,280 individuals who tested positive for covid-19 between March 2020 and September 2021, using data from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The team compared the number of new diabetes cases among these veterans with that of more than 8 million people who had no evidence of a covid-19 infection. None of the participants had diabetes at the start of the study. Covid-19 was linked to a 46 per cent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes or requiring blood-sugar-lowering medication, even among people with a mild or asymptomatic covid-19 infection. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body cannot make enough insulin or the hormone that is produced does not work properly. SARS-CoV-2 virus may inflame insulin-producing cells, decreasing their efficiency, Al-Aly told The Washington Post.
AstraZeneca COVID drug neutralises Omicron sub-variants in lab study
Data from the latest study by Washington University in the United States showed the therapy reduced the amount of virus detected in samples - viral load - of all tested Omicron sub-variants in mice lungs, AstraZeneca said. The study has yet to be peer reviewed. Evusheld was tested against the BA.1, BA.1.1, and BA.2 sub-variants of Omicron and it was also shown in the study to limit inflammation in the lungs - a critical symptom in severe COVID-19 infections. "The findings further support Evusheld as a potential important option to help protect vulnerable patients such as the immunocompromised who could face poor outcomes if they were to become infected with COVID-19," John Perez, head of Late Development, Vaccines & Immune Therapies at AstraZeneca, said.
Former Takeda vaccine chief to lead new COVID antiviral venture Aerium
Aerium Therapeutics, a venture-backed startup, on Tuesday announced industry veteran Rajeev Venkayya will lead the company and released data that showed its two experimental monoclonal antibodies neutralized coronavirus variants, including Omicron and its fast-spreading subvariant BA.2, in lab studies.
Most unvaccinated children lack antibodies after COVID; SK Bioscience vaccine shows promise vs Omicron
The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that has yet to be certified by peer review. Antibodies in kids after COVID last 6 months or more Most children and adolescents with COVID-19 antibodies after SARS-CoV-2 infection usually still have the antibodies in their blood more than half a year later, new data shows. Starting in October 2020, researchers in Texas recruited 218 subjects between the ages of 5 and 19
Coronavirus may double severe complications in pregnancy
Article reports that the study was published in JAMA Internal Medicine on March 21. An analysis of records for 43,886 pregnant individuals during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic found that the 1,332 who had a coronavirus infection during pregnancy had more than double the risk of negative outcomes compared with individuals without the virus. “These findings add to the growing evidence that having COVID-19 during pregnancy raises risks of serious complications,” explained lead author Assiamira Ferrara, MD, PhD, a senior research scientist and associate director of the women’s and children health section in the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. “Coupled with the evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe during pregnancy, these findings should aid patients in understanding the risks of perinatal complications and the need for vaccination,” said Dr. Ferrara. “This study supports the recommendation for vaccination of pregnant individuals and those planning conception.”
Experts warn there may be more than one type of Deltacron Covid hybrid
In many countries, as restrictions lift and freedoms are restored, there’s a general feeling that the pandemic is over. There is, however, still the significant concern that a dangerous new variant could emerge. This happened when omicron arrived, but we got lucky with that one. Omicron turned out to be more transmissible, but mercifully it hasn’t caused an increase in severe disease in most countries where it is dominant. But this wasn’t guaranteed. Variants crop up randomly, and new ones have the potential to be more dangerous than previous ones. Another has just arrived, and is currently going by the name deltacron. It is – as you can probably guess – a hybrid of delta and omicron, the two variants dominant most recently. Deltacron’s story begins in mid-February, when scientists at the Institut Pasteur in Paris uploaded a genetic sequence of the coronavirus that looked very different from previous sequences. The virus sample had come from an elderly man in northern France and looked odd. Most of its genetic sequence was the same as delta’s, which was dominant worldwide up until late last year, but the part of the sequence that encodes the virus’s spike protein – a key part of its external structure, which it uses to get inside cells in the body – came from omicron.
Clues to Covid-19’s Next Moves Come From Sewers
At a sewage treatment plant on a sliver of land in Boston Harbor, trickles of wastewater are pumped into a plastic jug every 15 minutes. Samples from the jugs, analyzed at a lab in nearby Cambridge, Mass., are part of the growing effort to monitor the Covid-19 virus in wastewater across the U.S. On Deer Island in Boston, readings from the system covering 2.4 million people have recently shown virus readings leveling off after a steep decline from this winter’s Omicron-driven rise. In some areas, levels of the virus may be edging higher.
Hong Kong study says reopening international travel to have little impact on COVID transmission
The full reopening of international travel in Hong Kong will have "little marginal impact" on the spread of COVID-19, an academic study said on Tuesday, as the financial hub begins to unwind strict coronavirus measures. The study, titled "Forward planning, after HK's fifth wave of Omicron BA.2", expects a sixth wave to begin in June as measures to control the spread of the disease are relaxed in the months ahead and the city increases vaccination rates. As long as arrivals are fully vaccinated and test negative upon boarding a flight to the Chinese-ruled territory, they would have a negligible impact, according to experts from the University of Hong Kong, the World Health Organization and the Laboratory of Data Discovery for Health.
Coronavirus Resurgence
SA Premier says COVID-19 case numbers to jump in a 'significant way' with elective surgeries already cancelled
South Australian health officials quietly reintroduced a pause on some elective surgeries just one day before last Saturday's election, new Premier Peter Malinauskas has revealed. The ban was introduced but not announced amid a rise in the state's COVID numbers, with Mr Malinauskas warning new government modelling showed cases were set to "escalate in a rather significant way". He said the elective surgery ban impacted all non-urgent overnight elective surgery in public hospitals. "Needless to say, I was rather disappointed and somewhat shocked to learn that an elective surgery ban has now been reinstated in some instances here in South Australia," he said.
South Korea's COVID-19 deaths strain crematories, hospitals
Health officials in South Korea have instructed crematories to burn more bodies per day and funeral homes to add more refrigerators to store the dead as families struggle with funeral arrangements amid a rise in COVID-19 deaths. The country has been dealing with a massive coronavirus outbreak driven by the fast-moving omicron variant, which has compromised a once robust pandemic response and is driving up hospitalizations and fatalities. Officials have already allowed the 60 crematories across country to burn for longer hours starting last week, which raised their combined capacity from around 1,000 to 1,400 cremations per day. But that hasn’t been enough to meaningfully ease the backlog of bodies waiting to be cremated in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, which is home to half of South Korea’s 52 million people and the center of its COVID-19 outbreak.
Covid school absences triple in two weeks as 202,000 pupils off sick or isolating in England
The number of pupils missing school in England because of Covid-19 has more than tripled in two weeks. Figures from the Department for Education show that last Thursday, 202,000 state school pupils were not in class because of reasons related to Covid, up from 58,000 pupils on 3 March. Among these students, there were 16,000 pupils with a suspected Covid case and 159,000 with a confirmed case.
Covid-19 update: 'Risky to assume that the pandemic is over' - McKee
Europe faces a revival of a revival of virus risks as cases spread rapidly, accelerated by the emergence of the more-transmissible BA.2 Omicron strain. Germany is now setting fresh records for infection rates almost daily, while Austria has also reached new highs and cases in the Netherlands have doubled since lifting curbs on Feb. 25. “The messaging from politicians is encouraging many people who were taking precautions to mix with others,” says Martin McKee, professor of public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “It does seem very courageous, and indeed risky, to assume that the pandemic is over.”
COVID-19: Number in Scottish hospitals with virus hits new record alongside 2022 peak in southern England
The number of people in hospital with COVID in Scotland has hit the highest level seen during the pandemic, as the same figure in two regions in England is also surging. The latest figures reveal 2,128 hospital patients in Scotland recently tested positive for the virus, compared to a previous peak of 2,053 in last January. The figures come as most of the remaining legal COVID restrictions in Scotland have come to an end.
Omicron sub-variant BA.2 makes up about 35% of COVID variants in U.S. - CDC
About one-in-three COVID-19 cases in the United States are now caused by the BA.2 Omicron sub-variant of the coronavirus, according to government data on Tuesday that also showed overall infections still declining from January's record highs. Despite the rise of the extremely contagious sub-variant also seen in other countries, U.S. health experts say a major wave of new infections here appears unlikely. U.S. COVID-19 infections have receded sharply since January, although a resurgence in parts of Asia and Europe have raised concerns that one will follow in the United States given previous patterns during the two years of the pandemic.
France's COVID-19 infections spike week-on-week following easing of restrictions
Article reports that France reported an average of close to 90,000 new coronavirus infections over the last seven days, marking a 36% rise from one week ago when most COVID-19 health protocol measures were lifted by the government just ahead of the country's elections. New cases over the previous 24 hours published on Sunday stood at 81,283, pushing a 7-day moving average to 89,002, compared with just over 60,000 average new cases one week earlier. The number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants also reached their highest value level since Feb. 18. The government of French President Emmanuel Macron, who will stand for re-election in less than three weeks time followed by legislative elections later this year, decided to lift most COVID-19 restrictions on March 14, citing a positive trend.
Covid’s Fifth Wave Shows Us How to Live With the Virus
Covid cases are on the rise in several European countries. Upticks are visible again in France, Italy and the U.K. Infection rates in both Austria and Germany eclipse previous waves of the virus (based on cases per million). China is grappling with new highs in terms of case counts. The U.S. may soon follow. This fifth wave of the virus is likely to be mercifully short-lived in many areas, but the picture varies around the world. This divergence gives us something of a report card on the efficacy of the Covid policies in place.
Hong Kong reports 14,152 new daily coronavirus infections
Hong Kong reported 14,152 new coronavirus infections and 245 deaths on Tuesday, slightly higher than the 14,068 infections a day earlier, as authorities said infections are likely to fall after hitting a peak earlier in March.
Shanghai's local COVID cases hit daily record as Jilin outbreak persists
China's financial hub Shanghai on Tuesday reported a fifth consecutive daily record for locally transmitted COVID-19 asymptomatic cases as the highly infectious Omicron variant complicates efforts to stop the virus spreading. Although small compared with the number of infections in many outbreaks overseas, the rise is significant as Shanghai redoubles its efforts to implement China's "dynamic clearance" policy designed to curb each flare-up. The city is pressing ahead with a block by block testing scheme after already completing more than 30 million tests.