ZURICH (Reuters) – Switzerland should tighten restrictions to curb the coronavirus again following a recent spike in cases, in order to prevent the need for much harsher lockdown measures in future, the new head of the country’s coronavirus taskforce said.
Switzerland has seen the number of new cases of COVID-19 surge to more than 200 a day recently after an average of 35 per day in June.
Martin Ackermann, who heads the body that provides scientific advice to the Swiss government, said the country was on the brink of a big increase in infections and had little room to manoeuvre.
“We should intervene early to prevent exponential growth,” Ackermann told newspaper SonntagsZeitung. “Otherwise there’s a risk of drastic and expensive restrictions. This must be prevented under all circumstances.”
Switzerland has lifted a partial lockdown that was imposed in March, when shops, bars and restaurants were ordered to close to prevent the spread of the virus which has infected 35,000 people and killed 1,707 in the country of 8.6 million people.
Ackermann, who took over as head of the taskforce on Saturday, said he supported making it mandatory to wear face masks indoors. Face masks are currently only compulsory on public transport and at political demonstrations.
The government has relaxed restrictions on gatherings, although it still bans events of more than 1,000 people.
The size of public gatherings should be limited again, said Ackermann, who is an expert in microbiology.
“I also believe that the size of public events should now be reduced to 100 participants, as there is a risk of an exponential increase in the number of cases,” Ackermann told the newspaper.
He said it was difficult to say whether large scale events were fuelling the epidemic.
“Initial data …shows that where large numbers of people gather, there are also many infections,” he said.
“Exact data on who is infected and where (they) are infected is absolutely vital. Without this data we are flying blind.”
(This story has been refiled to fix typo)
(Reporting by John Revill; Editing by Susan Fenton)
The Canadian Press – Oct 26, 2020 / 6:56 am | Story: 314482
Photo: The Canadian Press
With a bit of rejiggering, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump played host Sunday to hundreds of superheroes, unicorns, skeletons and even a miniature version of themselves as part of a Halloween celebration at the White House.
In years past, the president and first lady personally handed out candy to the costume-clad kids. This year, the treats were provided separately as participants walked along a path on the South Lawn.
The kids still briefly met the president and first lady, who waved and offered words of encouragement from a safe distance about how much they liked the costumes. Trump and the first lady have both recently recovered from COVID-19.
Trump was particularly pleased with a young boy with a distinctly Trump head of hair and a partner who did her best Mrs. Trump impersonation. The president motioned for them to turn and pose for the cameras, and they happily agreed.
Another tot, a true princess it appeared, was so smitten with the cameras that she kept waving at them as she walked along, never noticing the VIPs behind her.
The spooky celebration was changed up a bit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Guests older than 2 were required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing. The same went for all White House personnel working the event, while any staff giving out candy also wore gloves.
The South Portico of the White House was decorated with bright-colored leaves in various shades of autumn, chrysanthemums and pumpkins, while a military band set the mood by playing songs such as Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
The Covid-19 vaccine being developed by the University of Oxford produces a similar immune response in both older and younger adults, and adverse responses were lower among the elderly, British drugmaker AstraZeneca Plc said on Monday.
A vaccine that works is seen as a game-changer in the battle against the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 1.15 million people, hammered the global economy and shuttered normal life across the world.
“It is encouraging to see immunogenicity responses were similar between older and younger adults and that reactogenicity was lower in older adults, where the Covid-19 disease severity is higher,” an AstraZeneca spokesman told Reuters.
“The results further build the body of evidence for the safety and immunogenicity of AZD1222,” the spokesman said, referring to the technical name of the vaccine.
The news that older people get an immune response from the vaccine is positive because the immune system weakens with age and older people are those most at risk of dying from the virus.
The Financial Times reported earlier that the vaccine, being developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca, triggers protective antibodies and T-cells in older age groups – among those most at risk from the virus. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is expected to be one of the first from big pharma to secure regulatory approval, along with Pfizer and BioNTech’s candidate.
If it works, a vaccine would allow the world to return to some measure of normality after the tumult of the pandemic. Immunogenicity blood tests carried out on a subset of older participants echo data released in July which showed the vaccine generated “robust immune responses” in a group of healthy adults aged between 18 and 55, the Financial Times reported.
Thousands of free meals will be provided to children in England by businesses, local authorities and community groups on the first day of half-term as the government faces a damaging revolt on the issue.
Dozens of people from a range of organisations have stepped in to help, with health secretary Matt Hancock hailing them as “absolutely wonderful” while insisting that millions has already been provided to councils to help their communities.
A petition from the Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, who has been spearheading demands for free meals to be extended in England over the school holidays, has passed 800,000 signatures, piling further pressure on the government to act.
Hancock said he agrees “very strongly” with “the purpose” of Rashford’s campaign, telling Sky News: “I think we’re all inspired by the way that he’s led that campaign. And the purpose is that no child should go hungry, and that’s right.”
He said Universal Credit had been increased by £20 a week while £63m has already been provided by central government to local authorities so that they can support people.
UK health secretary says tier 4 restrictions can’t be ruled out
The UK’s health secretary, Matt Hancock, said the government would “rule nothing out” on the prospect of a new fourth tier of measures, a fortnight after it brought in a three-tiered coronavirus restrictions system.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We’ve always said all along that we take nothing off the table. Having said that, we have seen the rise in the number of cases has slowed a bit.
“The problem is it’s still going up, and while it’s still going up we’ve got to act to get it under control. We rule nothing out but at the moment the three-tier system is what we’re working to and it’s effective in slowing the growth of this virus but it hasn’t brought this curve to a halt.”
The UK pharmacy chain Boots is set to unveil a new asymptomatic coronavirus testing service it says can return results from swab tests in just 12 minutes.
Boots said the LumiraDx devices, which are able to quickly process swab tests to give customers same-day results, will be rolled out in selected stores over the next few weeks.
It has also launched a 48-hour testing service which is available in 10 stores across London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow, with plans to extend the programme to more than 50 outlets across the nation.
The service is available as a private pre-flight test for customers who require one before travelling abroad, or as a solution for those who would prefer peace of mind before seeing friends and family. The in-store service will cost £120 per test.
Seb James, managing director of Boots UK and ROI, said the programme was being implemented as a way to help ease the pressure on the nation’s health services.
“Boots has supported the government’s Covid-19 testing programme from the very start and offering this new in-store service is the next step in our efforts to fight against the pandemic,” he said.
“We hope that by offering this testing option in local community stores, Boots can help ease pressure on the NHS and the government by providing additional access to testing and crucial reassurances for people across the UK.
Customers who are not displaying any Covid-19 symptoms can book an in-store test through the company’s website.
France may be experiencing 100,000 new Covid cases a day
France may be experiencing 100,000 new coronavirus cases per day – two times more than the latest figures – Prof Jean-François Delfraissy, who heads the scientific council that advises the government on the pandemic, told RTL radio on Monday.
“There is probably more than 50,000 cases per day. We estimate, on the scientific committee, that we are more in the region of 100,000 cases per day,” said Delfraissy.
France registered a record 52,010 new confirmed coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said in a statement on Sunday, as a second wave of cases surges through Europe.
The new cases took the French total to 1,138,507, with France ahead of Argentina and Spain to register the world’s fifth highest number of cases after the US, India, Brazil and Russia.
The Covid-19 vaccine being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca produces a robust immune response in elderly people, the group at highest risk, the Financial Times has reported.
The vaccine triggers protective antibodies and T-cells in older age groups, the FT said said, citing two people familiar with the finding, encouraging researchers as they seek evidence that it will spare those in later life from serious illness or death from the virus.
Details of the finding are expected to be published shortly in a clinical journal, the FT said, without naming the publication.
The findings echo data released in July that showed the vaccine generated “robust immune responses” in a group of healthy adults aged between 18 and 55, the newspaper reported, citing people aware of the results from so-called immunogenicity blood tests.
But it cautioned that positive immunogenicity tests do not guarantee that the vaccine will ultimately prove safe and effective in older people.
AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine with Oxford University researchers, is seen as a frontrunner in the race to produce a vaccine to protect against Covid-19.
Oxford and AstraZeneca did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comments.
One of the world’s leading coronavirus vaccine candidates, called AZD1222 or ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, was developed by Oxford University scientists and licensed to AstraZeneca in April, which took on the task of scaling trials and production.
In the UK, the main opposition Labour party has hit out at the government’s decision to allow the temporary suspension of VAT on personal protective equipment (PPE) to expire, calling the move “unbelievable”.
The Treasury cut VAT on PPE to 0% in May, with the cut applying to items such as face masks and aprons purchased by care homes, businesses, charities and individuals to protect against the virus.
It was initially due to return to 20% in August, but was extended until 31 October at the estimated cost of around £255m for the six-month period.
Labour says the Treasury has confirmed the suspension will not be extended, with shadow financial secretary to the Treasury James Murray calling the decision “the last thing” families need.
It’s unbelievable that the government wants to introduce a mask tax in the middle of a pandemic.
“With Covid cases on the rise across the country, the government should be doing all it can to help people follow its own guidance to wear a mask, not ramping up the cost of buying one.
“Families across the country are already struggling financially as a result of the crisis. The last thing they need is to be penalised for doing the right thing.”
With the US election just over a week away, millions of Americans have been heading to the polls this fall with healthcare and drug prices as their top voting issue.
The United States’ massive, largely private and very expensive health industry has ranked as a top voter concern for years, and helped drive Democrats to victory in the midterm elections of 2018, when the party took control of the House of Representatives.
While over the last six months of the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 220,000 Americans, Covid-19 eclipsed healthcare as the top issue of the election, many health voters argue the two are inseparable:
The United States saw 83,718 new cases reported nationally on Saturday, nearly matching the record 83,757 infections reported on Friday, as US Vice President Mike Pence announced that he will continue campaigning on Sunday, despite his chief of staff and four other top aides having tested positive for coronavirus.
Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, declared a new nationwide state of emergency on Sunday – including a curfew – in the hope of stemming a resurgence in coronavirus infections. The Socialist leader told the nation in a televised address that the extraordinary measure will go into effect on Sunday from 11pm to 6am.
Australia’s coronavirus hot spot of Victoria on Monday reported zero cases of coronavirus for the first time since June, and the premier, Daniel Andrews, announced that restrictions would be easyed – among these are that hospitality and beauty businesses could reopen.
Five aides to US Vice President Mike Pence tested positive. The coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the White House itself, with the chief of staff to Mike Pence and four othersin the vice-president’s inner circle having tested positive. Despite Pence being exposed to the disease, he planned to continue an aggressive campaign schedule in the final nine days of the race. The vice-president was scheduled to hold a rally on Sunday afternoon in Kinston, North Carolina.
India’s total coronavirus infections stood at 7.91 million on Monday, having risen by 45,148 cases in the last 24 hours, health ministry data showed. India recorded its lowest death toll in about four months on Monday with 480 deaths reported in the last 24 hours, taking total fatalities to 119,014.
Mexican health authorities acknowledged Sunday that the country’s true death toll from the coronavirus pandemic is far higher than thought, saying there were 193,170 “excess” deaths in the year up to 26 September, with 139,153 of those judged to be attributable to Covid-19. That is about 50,000 more deaths than Mexico’s official, test-confirmed death toll of about 89,000, and about 56% higher than the previous estimate of 103,882 pandemic deaths.
Malaysia’s king on Sunday rejected a proposal by embattled Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to declare a state of emergency to fight a new outbreak of the coronavirus. The plan by Muhyiddin, which involves suspending Parliament, has sparked national outrage, with critics slamming the move as an undemocratic means for him to hang on to power amid challenges to his leadership.
Israel will begin its first clinical trials of a novel coronavirus vaccine next month, authorities said Sunday, as the country grapples with a second wave of infections.
The World Health Organization’s coronavirus dashboard showed a third consecutive daily record high in the number of new confirmed cases. Nearly half of Saturday’s new cases were registered in the WHO’s Europe region, which logged a one-day record high of 221,898 cases.
The WHO chief warned against “vaccine nationalism”, calling for global solidarity in the rollout of any future coronavirus vaccine, as the number of cases soared across the world. In a video address at the opening of the three-day World Health Summit in Berlin, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus urged leaders to choose to, “vaccinate some people in all countries rather than all people in some countries.”
Australia’s coronavirus hot spot of Victoria on Monday reported zero cases of coronavirus for the first time since June,a day after the state delayed the easing of restrictions because of a fresh outbreak in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.
France registered 52,010 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, following a record 45,422 on Saturday, the health ministry said in a statement on Sunday. It also said that 116 people had died from coronavirus infection over the past 24 hours, compared to from 137 on Saturday, taking the total confirmed death toll to 34,761.
An official from China’s Xinjiang health commission said that 137 new asymptomatic cases have been detected in the region. All of the new cases were linked to a garment factory.
The prime minister of Italy Giuseppe Conte announced a raft of new restrictions and warned that the country’s escalating coronavirus infection rate was already having a worrying impact on hospitals. Italy reported a new daily record of 21,273 coronavirus cases with 128 deaths, health ministry figures showed on Sunday, up from the 19,644 new infections reported on Saturday.
Australia’s lockdown prevented about 400 deaths from other illnesses – research paper
Social distancing and lockdowns in Australia not only slowed the spread of Cpvid-19, they saved the lives of about 400 people who would have been expected to die in June from respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia, a research paper published on Monday showed.
Reuters: Examining Australia’s most recent official fatality data, the Actuaries Institute said there was a shortfall between verified deaths and the number expected during the mid-winter month, which it concluded was due to a decline in respiratory illnesses.
“It is clear that lockdowns and other Covid-19 control measures have created great hardship for many in Australia,” said Jennifer Lang, Convenor of the Actuaries Institute’s Covid-19 Working Group.
“These measures have not only saved very many Australians from Covid-19 disease and death, they have also reduced deaths from a number of other causes.”
South Korea urged citizens to get vaccinated against influenza and reduce the chances of an outbreak that coincides with the battle against the coronavirus, as it kicked off free inoculations for the last eligible group, Reuters reports.
Public anxiety over the safety of flu vaccines has surged after at least 48 people died this month following vaccinations.
Authorities have said they found no direct link between the deaths and the flu shots and have sought to reassure South Koreans about the safety of the vaccines against flu, a disease that kills at least 3,000 each year.
However, last month, about 5 million doses had to be disposed of after not being stored at recommended temperatures.
Singapore has temporarily halted the use of two influenza vaccines as a precaution after these deaths, becoming among the first countries to publicly announce a halt of the vaccines’ usage. Singapore has reported no deaths linked to flu vaccinations.
I was making toast in my tiny apartment kitchen four weeks ahead of election day. Not that I really had track of the days. They had melded into one ever-extending runway as Auckland went through its second Covid-19 lockdown and New Zealand’s election date was pushed back a month.
We were a few months into an insurgent campaign for an electorate seat at the centre of the country’s largest city. We’d built a team of hundreds of people – particularly young people, some so young they couldn’t even vote yet – who, despite their claims to the contrary, were all doing a lot more than the least they could do. They were about to make history.
In Aotearoa New Zealand, a “minor” party hasn’t won a general electorate seat in well over 20 years without the tacit or explicit endorsement of one of the two “major” parties. So, it confounded more than a few commentators when at around 11.50pm on Saturday 17 October, with 100% of the preliminary votes counted, it was confirmed that a Green party candidate had won Auckland Central. Especially because we ran a campaign on an unapologetically progressive platform of urgent climate action, guaranteed minimum income, and wealth tax to pay for it. We flew in the face of two major opinion polls, the “red tide” of the Labour party’s majority win, and conventional wisdom.
There are still half a million or so special votes (that is, overseas and on-the-day enrolments) to be counted, so the results cannot be taken for granted.
But what can be granted is that so-called convention in our politics is disappearing.
Convention is the echo of repetition to the point of predictability. Mainstream approaches to electoral politics have lost the right of convention. Mechanisms of conventional, incremental political change – literally the least we can, and know how to, do – have failed to rise to the challenges that the deeply entrenched and inextricable crises of climate change and social and economic inequality present.
Citizens are smart enough to recognise the need for an alternative. It’s in this alternative where we can continually redraw the boundaries of the possible, because possibility in politics is only ever defined by the willingness of those in power.
In these “unprecedented” times, the centre-left Labour party won a historic single-party majority, growing its nationwide vote to previously unimaginable heights under New Zealand’s proportional representation voting system. But so too has our Green party grown our own vote, shaking off the convention of give-and-take amongst the parties of the left bloc.
In Auckland, we flipped a seat Green, which had been held by centre-right National party politicians for 12 years.
We did it by bursting our own bubble.
In our bubble, we can’t fathom that working-class people would vote against their own self-interest for a strong-man built on strawman logic. It’s wild to reckon with how policies to fairly tax millionaires are warped through talkback radio to scare tradies and hospo workers into thinking their jobs are on the chopping block. In our bubble, it’s slanderous to question the orthodoxy of our university educations and how the vernacular they normalise may alienate the very people we say we want to help.
Chloe Swarbrick holds street corner meetings in Ponsonby. Photograph: Emma McInnes
But we’ve graduated from the once-derided online “slacktivism” to regularly showing up at protests in solidarity, to shutting up when it’s obvious our lived experience isn’t the one requiring a platform, and to organising our way into mass-scale conversations with people we’d never share a Facebook feed algorithm with. We’ve still got a way to go in self-reflection, but more urgently, we’ve got to create a place in our movement where people – so many of whom already have the inkling that the status quo is not working – can belong.
Right until the end of the Auckland Central campaign, we kept expanding our community. That mess of human reality and social evolution, changing and challenging ideas cannot be delivered through a Twitter feed, but meets you at the doorstep. At the polls, we heard they were running out of on-the-day enrolment forms for people who had not planned to vote but decided to turn up.
You don’t grow a movement with perfection. You don’t spread an idea when only one person can articulate it. You don’t empower communities when they don’t have a place to belong.
Our local campaign was one small proof-of-concept microcosm of work that Indigenous organisers, climate activists, and justice advocates have been doing for decades. It’s based on a radical notion in increasingly individualised societies: grassroots organising, human connection and conversation changes our world.
What if we all did the least we could do? And what if we did it together?