In this series, we answer frequently asked questions about China’s zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19, including entry restrictions, the length of quarantine and testing requirements for travellers. Is there a question you want us to tackle? Send us an email at email@example.com.In China, detection of Covid-19 cases usually triggers mass nucleic acid testing, which could be citywide and repeated until an outbreak wanes.In the latest example of Tianjin, which is grappling with the…
Mexico’s president announced he has come down with Covid-19 a second time, as coronavirus infections spike in Mexico and virus tests become scarce.President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wrote that he tested positive, after he had sounded hoarse at a morning news briefing. He contracted Covid-19 and recovered from it the first time in early 2021.“Even though the symptoms are light, I will remain isolated and only work from the office and hold online meetings until further notice,” the president…
NSW is bracing for the immediate impact of Omicron on the state’s classrooms with fears of staff shortages prompting the government to try to entice part-time teachers to take on full-time work in schools.
There's a lot of information out there about the pandemic, COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, but also a lot of mis- and disinformation. To tell one from the other, it helps to understand how science works.
Canada’s health officials have cast doubt on Beijing’s claim that the first reported Omicron case in China could have been caused by a person interacting with a contaminated mail from Toronto, saying that is “highly improbable.” Read Full Article at RT.com
More than 1,600 volunteers have signed up after New Brunswick issued a call to the public for assistance amid a growing wave of COVID-19 that has sparked concern over the strained health-care system, the province says.
Serbia’s premier on Sunday denounced as “scandalous” Australia’s decision to deport tennis superstar Novak Djokovic over his decision not to be vaccinated against Covid-19, and the Serbian president said he would always be welcome in his homeland.A unanimous ruling by a three-judge bench rejecting Djokovic’s appeal against the cancellation of his visa dealt a final blow to his hopes of chasing a record 21st grand slam win at the Australian Open.“I think the court decision is scandalous … I find…
Politicians rarely set out to piss off their constituents, much less admit to doing so. So when French President Emmanuel Macron expressed his desire to antagonize France’s unvaccinated citizens into receiving COVID vaccinations, observers and many ofhisrivals were appalled, and some were a bit confused. Macron is up for reelection in April, and a quarter of his country remains unimmunized.
But what looked like a risky move for Macron could prove to be a more politically shrewd calculation, not because of whom it alienates, but rather because of whom it doesn’t. In France, and in other democratic countries around the world, the unvaccinated make up a relatively small segment of the population. Macron and his peers in countries such as Australia and Italy have calculated that condemning this group could be more politically effective than pandering to it. Even world-famous celebrities such as tennis star Novak Djokovic, whose unvaccinated status dashed his hopes of defending his Australian Open title, have become the targets of politicians’ ire. By taking a tougher line on the unvaccinated, Macron and other democratically elected leaders facing elections this year may be courting an energetic new voter base: the vaccinated, and ever more impatient, majority.
For all of the attention that has been paid to the growing political cleavage between the jabbed and the jabless, getting vaccinated is extremely popular in countries where vaccines are widely available. Countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Spain, and Canada have vaccination rates as high as 94 percent, 81 percent, and 79 percent, respectively, without blanket vaccine mandates. To put this popularity into perspective: More Britons have gotten vaccinated (47 million) than watched the Euro 2020 final between England and Italy (31 million). In the United States, being vaccinated is more common than drinking coffee, owning a television cable box or satellite dish, or even watching the Super Bowl.
It stands to reason, then, that politicians would seek to use this popular issue to their political advantage. This is particularly true in the French context, where it is estimated that only 5 million people over the age of 12 have yet to receive a single dose. By recently passing new rules restricting those without proof of vaccination from accessing restaurants, interregional transport, and other public venues, the French government is clearly trying to encourage the country’s remaining holdouts to get the jab. As Macron colorfully put it, his government wants to make being unvaccinated so inconvenient that it “piss[es] them off.” Until recently, unimmunized French people could still access public spaces so long as they could provide proof of a negative COVID test, which I previously described as the “carrot” approach to promoting vaccination. By shifting to a more punitive model, Macron seems to be kicking off his as-yet-undeclared presidential campaign with a pledge to stick it to the unvaccinated.
In Macron’s case, it might just work. Patience with the unimmunized is waning in France, where nearly half of the population believes that those who are unvaccinated should have to pay for their own hospital bills (health care in France, as in most of Europe, is financed by the state). Two-thirds support the new vaccine-passport requirements to access public spaces. The way many French people see it, widespread vaccination was their ticket to a semblance of normalcy over the summer. As the Omicron variant spreads, and as intensive-care units come under the strain of primarily unvaccinated patients, many people may wonder why those who got vaccinated should face the same restrictions as those who opted against. This same logic informed the Austrian government’s decision last year to impose restrictions solely on the country’s 2 million or so unvaccinated individuals, a policy that several other European countries later mimicked.
By targeting the unvaccinated, Macron is positioning himself as an ally of the vaccinated majority. He is also putting his political opponents in the uncomfortable position of having to stand up for the unvaccinated, which, as The New Statesman’s Ido Vock noted, “can have only limited electoral appeal, because the primary constituency it targets is so marginal.”
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who last week introduced a series of new restrictions barring unvaccinated people from public spaces such as restaurants, theaters, and transport, has also taken the unvaccinated to task. “Most of the problems we are facing today depend on the fact that there are unvaccinated people,” Draghi said last week. He, unlike Macron, isn’t contesting an imminent election. But even if he were, the prime minister wouldn’t have much to worry about: An overwhelming 86 percent of the eligible Italian population is already vaccinated. And like most Europeans, the majority of Italians are in favor of the country’s vaccine passports. The Italian government’s recent decision to mandate COVID vaccines for people older than 50 also enjoys broad support.
But perhaps the most high-profile example of this political strategy could be seen in Australia, which over the weekend brought an end to its 10-day legal standoff with Djokovic, who was deported from the country yesterday, on the eve of what would have been his opening match. The Serbian tennis player had arrived in Melbourne earlier this month to defend his Australian Open championship title, for which the tournament granted him a medical exemption to participate. The Australian public, which has endured some of the world’s harshest pandemic-related border restrictions, widely opposed Djokovic’s being allowed an exception simply because he’s extremely good at tennis. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, perhaps sensing an opportunity to boost his party’s dwindling popularity ahead of the country’s upcoming election, invoked his authority to cancel Djokovic’s visa on the grounds that “no one is above [the] rules.” The Australian Border Force issued a separate statement citing Djokovic’s failure to meet the country’s entry requirements.
Public sentiment hasbeen with Morrison on this issue. A recent poll found that 71 percent of Australians believed that Djokovic should not have been allowed to stay in the country and compete. But Australian courts initiallysided with the tennis star. A federal judge ruled last week that the tennis player should be released from detention and his visa reinstated. That ultimately didn’t stop Morrison’s government from canceling Djokovic’s visa for the second time on Friday on “health and order grounds,” arguing that doing so was in the public interest.
Canceling Djokovic’s visa was in the government’s political interest too. Although deporting Djokovic risked sparking a diplomatic spat with Serbia, whose government criticized Australia’s treatment of its biggest sports star, allowing him to stay would have appeared to give him special treatment, especially in light of revelations that he may have misled the Australian Border Force. Alienating Serbia is clearly undesirable, but giving Djokovic a pass would have been politically dangerous, particularly in a country such as Australia, which boasts a 92 percent vaccination rate. As much as Morrison might have been protecting public health, he wasalso protecting his own political standing.
As with all political strategies, the anti-anti-vax position isn’t foolproof. In Macron’s case, his criticisms of unvaccinated citizens could be interpreted by some voters as Jupiterian arrogance. For Morrison, the Djokovic affair has been seen by some as a distraction from the Australian government’s handling of the Omicron surge. Perhaps the biggest concern about anti-anti-vax rhetoric—one that has been repeatedly expressed by public-health experts—is that it could make the unvaccinated even less likely to get the jab. But many in the vaccinated majority, whose patience with the pandemic and compassion for their unvaccinated counterparts is growing thin, may feel a kind of relief: After almost two years of COVID-19, their leaders are telling them exactly whom to blame.
Correction: This article has been updated to specify that more people have been vaccinated in the U.S. than own a television cable box or satellite dish, and that France's new public-transit restrictions on the unvaccinated apply only to interregional transport.
The U-19 India team at the U-19 World Cup at Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) has witnessed an outbreak of Covid-19 infections. Six boys, including captain Yash Dhull and vice-captain Shaikh Rasheed, tested positive before Wednesday's match against Ireland.
These dismissals of the variant as trifling—desirable, even—represent “a very dangerous attitude,” Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale, told me. At the core of the problem sits the word mild itself, a slippery and pernicious term that “doesn’t mean what people think it means,” Neil Lewis, a behavioral scientist at Cornell, told me. Less severe forms of COVID-19 can certainly be experienced by individual people, especially if they’re vaccinated. And there are true reasons to think that Omicron, particle for particle, might be less toothy than Delta. But Omicron’s unfettered spread has sowed a situation that is not mild at all. And right now, the notion of mildness is making the pandemic worse for everyone.
Much of our Omicron problem can be traced back to a false binary: That the variant is less of a danger too often gets misconstrued as the variant is not a danger at all. Severity works in degrees, which is indeed what we’re seeing. Per capita, Omicron seems less likely than Delta to hospitalize or kill the people it infects. In South Africa, one of the first countries to be hit by the variant, cases have already crested at a record-shattering peak, but hospitalizations, admissions to intensive-care units, and deaths remain far below the heights of prior waves; infections also appear to be decoupling from severe disease in parts of continentalEurope. Even in the United States, where the pandemic is as bad as it’s ever been, earlydata are pointing to a blunting in the propensity of Omicron cases to turn severe.
It’s tempting to attribute all of this to the virus, but doing so would be overly simplistic. Disease always manifests as an interaction between pathogen and host, which means there are twomain reasons that Omicron cases can present with softer symptoms: a more resilient human, or a more docile microbe. In this current surge, we’re likely seeing both effects collide.
The second part of the equation—the inherent potency of the virus itself—unfortunately gets harderto parse when the world is more immune, Roby Bhattacharyya, a microbiologist and infectious-disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told me. Still, even unvaccinated people with Omicron seem lesslikely to end up hospitalized, in the ICU, or on ventilators. LaboratoryrodentsinfectedwithOmicron don’t seem to be getting all that sick either, perhaps because the new variant is less adept than Delta at colonizing the lungs, where the wildfire-like inflammation of serious respiratory disease often ignites. Similarly, researchers are finding that Omicron isn’t keen on infecting human tissue extracted from the lung, and may prefer to cloister itself in loftier sites like the throat, Ravindra Gupta, a virologist at the University of Cambridge, told me. What happens in a rodent or a plastic dish can’t recapitulate what happens in a human body. But Iwasaki still thinks “there is something intrinsically less virulent about Omicron.”
It’s fair, then, to say that the average Omicron case is indeed “less severe.” And there are plenty of people for whom the math will work out well. They’re hosts who are young, healthy, and up to date on their vaccines, squaring off with a pathogen that packs an oh-so-slightly weaker punch, at least compared with Delta. Keep in mind, though, that Delta is probablynastier than its already-awful ancestors, so to simply call the virus “mild” massively undersells the danger it still poses, especially when it finds its way into unvaccinated or vaccinated-but-still-vulnerable hosts. Even people who are thrice-vaccinated can’t exempt themselves from Omicron’s risk, especially not while cases are rising at such high rates, and exposures are so frequent and heavy.
COVID-19 doesn’t have to be medically severe to take a toll. Lekshmi Santhosh, a critical-care physician at UCSF, has seen Omicron exacerbate chronic health issues to the point where they turn fatal. “You could say they didn’t die of COVID,” she told me. “But if they didn’t have COVID, they wouldn’t have had this issue.” Iwasaki, of Yale, also worries about the storm of long-COVID cases, which can sprout out of infections that are initially almost symptom-free, that may soon be on the way. “Some of these people are bedridden, unable to return to work for months,” she told me. “There is nothing mild about it.”
In high-enough numbers, any Omicron infection can wreak havoc. Across the country, people are entering isolation in droves, closing schools and businesses, and hamstringing hospitals that can already ill-afford a staffing shortage. In many parts of the country, hospital capacities are already being reached and exceeded, making it difficult for people to seek care for any kind of illness. An overstretched system could also, ironically, mask the extent of Omicron’s tear: When hospitals are full, they cannot accept more patients, artificially deflating recorded rates of severe disease, even as total cases continue to rise. “Omicron may be more mild at the individual symptom level,” Duana Fullwiley, a medical anthropologist at Stanford who has studied how the term mild has affected people’s experience of sickle-cell anemia in Senegal, told me. “But we’re not talking about the severity of Omicron as it’s impacting the system.”
Omicron also still harbors dangerous unknowns. The variant may snub the lungs, but it still accumulates quickly in the throat and mouth—real estate that positions it to spill easily out of infected people. That, compounded with Omicron’s ability to dodge certain immune defenses, makes it a threat to more of us at once. Subdued symptoms, too, can come with a catch if infected people ignore them and continue to mingle. (And the variant seems to be tougher to detect early in infection with certain rapid antigen tests.) Researchers also don’t yet have a good handle on just how much immunity Omicron infections—especially the gentlest ones—may leave behind.
Stephen Goldstein, an evolutionary virologist at the University of Utah, told me that Omicron might turn out to be about as inherently virulent as the original SARS-CoV-2 variant, the version of the virus that kick-started all this misery. If that’s the case, it would be ironic. Two years ago is also when mild and COVID-19 first insidiously intertwined: Roughly 80 percent of cases could be described as such, reports noted at the time, inviting dismissive and misleading comparisons to the flu, and jeering calls to push Americans back to work and school. Mild became shorthand for piddling; that soothing framing took hold, then lingered, “diminishing the sense of urgency in prevention,” as the medical anthropologist Martha Lincoln has written, even through the billions of infections, and the many millions of hospitalizations and deaths, that followed.
Today, news reports are using mild and COVID-19 together more than ever before, Elena Semino, a linguist at Lancaster University, in the United Kingdom, told me. Medically, the term mild originated as an academic catchall for all SARS-CoV-2 infections not severe enough to get someone admitted to a hospital—everything from asymptomatic cases all the way up to people just short of going into respiratory failure. But most of that range squares poorly with mild’s colloquial connotations regarding “temperate, pleasant, generally benign” food, weather, even people, Semino said. Mild, to most of us, is whatever, something that blows almost imperceptibly by.
That’s the trap of mildness: the underlying sense of fatalism it engenders. “People say, it’s inevitable; it’s mild; I hope I can catch it and move on,” Santhosh, of UCSF, told me. Calling Omicron “mild” implies that the virus is spontaneously domesticating itself; it punts the responsibility of harm reduction to the pathogen, and away from us. But Omicron is not our deus ex microbe. As Goldstein, of the University of Utah, points out, a virus’s imperative is only to spread—not, necessarily, to treat its hosts more genially. (Omicron is not even descended from Delta, so we can’t frame their severities as a stepwise evolutionary drop.) The attitude that Omicron is hardly anything to worry about is compounding the disaster we’ve found ourselves in: The more opportunities the virus has to enter new hosts, the more variants will arise. And there’s no telling what harm the next SARS-CoV-2 iteration will bring.
It’s worth remembering, then, that severity, or lack thereof, is not up to the virus alone. We, as hosts, dictate its damage at least as much—and that’s the side of the equation we can control. SARS-CoV-2 can’t be counted on to pull its punches, but we have the vaccines to pummel it right back. If mildness is what we’re after, that future is largely up to us.
Concluding that getting the shots is still the safest way to prevent Covid-19, a new study in two states that compares coronavirus protection from prior infection and vaccination found people who were both vaccinated and had survived a prior bout had the most protection.
The EU’s medicines regulator has said that Covid-19 vaccines made using mRNA technology do not cause pregnancy complications or increase the risk that the recipient may experience adverse side effects. Read Full Article at RT.com
Beijing health authorities reported five new locally acquired Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, as the city prepares to host the Winter Olympics in just over two weeks.The new infections, identified as the Delta variant, were found in the Fangshan and Fengtai districts and bring the total cases to nine in the latest outbreak.It comes as officials in the Chinese capital have been ordered to be alert to the risk of Covid-19 spreading from inanimate objects after a controversial claim that a woman may…
Royal Navy employees who continue to decline the Covid-19 vaccine have reportedly received letters from their superiors indicating they may be subject to “ administrative discharge.” Read Full Article at RT.com
The latest recommendation on boosters feels like a natural response to the Omicron variant’s lightning-fast spread: With so many Americans getting exposed to the coronavirus, vaccination is more important than ever. Yet the risk-benefit calculus around third shots—particularly for teenage boys and young men—may be even more complicated than it was before the present surge in cases. The new variant’s knack for sneaking past immune protection, combined with its mildness relative to Delta, makes its actual value, in terms of harm averted, that much harder to assess. And whatever protection it does afford must still be weighed against the incremental (but very small) risk of heart inflammation that comes with each mRNA-vaccine injection. Simply put, Omicron has added substantial new uncertainty to what was already a difficult equation.
Inflammation of the heart muscle, called myocarditis, typically arises in children and young adults after they recover from a viral infection such as Coxsackievirus or adenovirus. It can cause chest pain, heart palpitations, and arrhythmias, and in the worst cases, fatal shock or heart failure. Patients with mild myocarditis might not get sick enough to need medical attention, but in some extremely unusual cases they may develop arrhythmias that lead to sudden death. Patrick Flynn, a pediatric cardiologist at Weill Cornell Medicine, told me that specialists haven’t figured out any risk factors for myocarditis besides sex—boys are more susceptible than girls—nor can they predict who will get very sick from the condition, or who might die from it without warning. “It’s really largely random,” he said.
Myocarditis associated with COVID-19 vaccines is rare, and tends to affect a very specific group: boys and men in their teens and early 20s who have received mRNA-based shots. It is overwhelmingly mild. As of last month, 265 reports that met the definition of myocarditis in kids ages 12 to 15 were filed to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, and 92 percent of the patients had recovered. Only a handful of fatal cases have been reported worldwide. Second shots have produced far more reports of myocarditis than first shots, at about 70 cases for every million 12-to-17-year-olds who finish their vaccine series. And early data from Israel, where teens have been eligible for boosters since last August, indicate that myocarditis rates might be lower after third doses than second doses.
All of these numbers are likely undercounts, Walid Gellad, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, told me; one study from Oregon that has not yet been peer-reviewed looked for myocarditis cases that might have been missed by the standard surveillance system, and estimated the incidence among 12-to-39-year-old boys and men to be 195 cases per million second doses administered (and higher for men ages 18 to 24). But the study was working with small margins—just a handful of cases, in the population it examined, that might have been missed—and the exact degree of underestimation is difficult to pin down, Flynn said.
Even allowing for this bias in the stats, for the overwhelming majority of people—including boys and young men—the risks of developing myocarditis after a booster shot are minimal. Flynn said that the only patients he would consider advising not to take the shot would be those who had developed myocarditis after their second dose. But not all the experts I spoke with agreed. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told me that getting boosted would not be worth the risk for the average healthy 17-year-old boy. Offit advised his own son, who is in his 20s, not to get a third dose. Even with Omicron’s ability to sidestep some of the protection vaccines provide, Offit said, he believes that his son is well protected against serious illness with two shots, so a third just isn’t necessary.
Young people are generally at much lower risk of severe COVID than older people, which is one of the reasons that boosting them was controversial to begin with. And if Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, the benefit of boosters might be smaller still. But the United States is positively drowning in coronavirus right now. “It’s not a theoretical risk,” Gigi Gronvall, an immunologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told me. “You are going to get exposed to the actual virus.” Each individual teen’s risk of bad outcomes if they do get infected might be small, but each individual teen is also now much, much more likely to get infected in the first place, thanks in large part to Omicron. (Gronvall’s 14-year-old son has a booster appointment for this week.)
All those infections don’t have to be severe to be harmful. Missing school and work has real consequences for families. And MIS-C, a dangerous post-infection syndrome that can affect the heart (among other organs), has shown up in kids who had even mild bouts of COVID. Compared with MIS-C, Flynn said, the sort of myocarditis that vaccines have tended to cause is a walk in the park. “I think every pediatric cardiologist I’ve talked to would rather be seeing cases of vaccine myocarditis than ever seeing a case of MIS-C again,” he said. The latest CDC data indicate that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine were 91 percent effective at preventing MIS-C in 12-to-18-year-olds when Delta was king; it’s too early to tell what that number is in the Omicron era, or by how much a third dose might increase that protection. Gellad said that if MIS-C turns out to be much more common with Omicron, he might be convinced that every teen boy needs a booster. But for now, he thinks the benefits vary patient by patient. A teen who lives with an organ-transplant recipient, for example, might have more to gain from a booster than one whose household is otherwise made up of vaccinated-and-boosted adults with healthy immune systems.
In the long term, boosting could end up being more effective for teenagers, shot for shot, than it is for adults. Younger people have more robust immune systems, says Sallie Permar, the chair of pediatrics and a viral-infections specialist at Weill Cornell, so they may develop stronger post-vaccine protection as a result. In other viral diseases such as hepatitis C and HPV, she told me, a vaccination or bout of infection in early childhood has been shown to confer longer-lasting immunity against more variants of the pathogen than an encounter later in life. The same could be true of SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 vaccines, Permar said: You might be better off getting three doses before you’re all grown up.
For millions of young people in the U.S., this entire discussion is irrelevant: As of last Friday, 46 percent of 12-to-17-year olds, and 41 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds, are yet to be fully vaccinated. The benefits of getting those first two doses are beyond question. For the teen boys and young men who are staring down the possibility of a booster, setting up a dichotomy—avoiding Omicron versus avoiding myocarditis—amounts to a “false choice,” Gellad said. Men 18 and older can mitigate their myocarditis risk by choosing Pfizer’s shot over Moderna’s, given that the latter has been linked to higher myocarditis rates. And boys under 18, who are eligible for only the Pfizer jab, may eventually have an option to get a smaller booster dose, which should carry a smaller risk of side effects.
Omicron adds one more important wrinkle to decision making about boosters: It’s a reminder that our current best practices could change at any moment. Until the overwhelming majority of the world is vaccinated, new variants are likely to emerge from one season to the next. “If this is the last wave, then that’s great. And a lot of the questions that we’re asking and a lot of the answers that we’re struggling with become moot,” Flynn said. But if it’s not, then a third dose could provide essential protection against the next variant—and Americans who avoid a booster now could find themselves regretting their complacency.
More than 3,000 people are now in hospital with COVID-19 in Quebec, the most since the start of the pandemic. But there are also signs of hope, health-care workers say, including in the improvements in care and the efficacy of vaccines in preventing serious illness.
As an Australian judge allows unvaccinated tennis star Novak Djokovic to be released from immigration detention amid controversy over his COVID vaccine exemption, we look at how his case has intensified international scrutiny over Australia's inhumane treatment of refugees jailed in the same rundown hotel. "No one is telling us when we get out of this indefinite detention," says Mehdi Ali, an Iranian refugee currently detained by the Australian government at the Park Hotel in Melbourne. We also speak with former Australian soccer player Craig Foster, who advocates for asylum seekers.
Hong Kong’s education authorities are likely to suspend most in-person classes in secondary schools starting Monday amid growing local outbreaks involving the Delta and Omicron variants, with health experts and principals backing the idea and an announcement expected soon.“The suspension could start on Monday, but the Form Six classes [the last year of secondary school] can be flexible,” a source told the Post.The expected development came as the government announced children as young as five…