Surging virus leads to new field hospital in N.C.


A temporary field hospital in North Carolina is easing the burden on medical facilities overwhelmed by coronavirus patients. The international Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse erected the tents in a Caldwell Memorial Hospital parking lot. (Jan. 25)

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Covid: Vaccinated people may spread virus, says Van-Tam


Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam stressed that scientists “do not yet know the impact of the vaccine on transmission”.

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UK COVID-19 strain found in three Australian Open cases; Virus traces found in Sydney sewage”


The global rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has failed to ignite CSL shares despite boosting offshore pharmaceutical firms, with analysts warning that vaccine making won’t be a key revenue driver for the homegrown biotech giant

CSL scientists at the company’s Broadmeadows production facility in Melbourne with the AstraZeneca vaccine ‘freezers’. The biotech giant confirmed last week that the first batches of bulk product for the vaccine had been completed.

CSL shares have dropped 3.6 per cent to $274.60 in the first three weeks of 2021, with the price dipping earlier this month after concerns over Australia’s reliance on the AstraZeneca vaccine which CSL is producing in Melbourne.

Meanwhile, global vaccine stocks are booming, with the Nasdaq healthcare index up 9.3 per cent so far this year compared with the local health index’s drop of 1.7 per cent.

Companies at the forefront of the vaccine rollout have continued to build momentum. German firm BioNTech is up 26.5 per cent year-to-date to $US108.44, Moderna has gained 17.2 per cent year-to-date to $US131.02, while Novavax is up 12.4 per cent to $US126.98.

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UK COVID-19 strain found in three Australian Open cases; Virus traces found in Sydney sewage”


“Christmas Island is far too remote to be used … in our opinion. It actually means that you are putting at risk the lives of the people who you are quarantining,” said Dr Khorshid.

“But mainland facilities, not too far from appropriate levels of healthcare, are definitely worth considering in the longer term,” he said, while adding that by the time new facilities were completed, they may no longer be needed.

Support for alternative models of quarantine has been growing, buoyed by the threat of a more infectious UK strain of coronavirus, and continued leaks from city hotels across the country.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has plans to quarantine returned travellers at regional mining camps, with a number of options on the table, including in Gladstone and Toowoomba.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews also backed a potential collaboration with the Commonwealth this week, saying there was an argument to have a series of large facilities for thousands of people, similar to Howard Springs.

He said the facilities could also be used for bushfires and other future emergencies.

“We couldn’t build a facility that say housed a couple of thousand people safely with all protocols without the federal government’s help. But there’s an argument I think, to maybe do that.“

The issue of quarantining people in regional Australia was briefly raised at Friday’s National Cabinet, according to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said he was keeping an open mind on the Queensland government’s proposal.

Camp-style quarantine facilities offer a number of benefits, including access to fresh air and better separation of returned travellers. They are also challenging to set up and run.

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Olympics: Japan to ban entry of foreign athletes during virus emergency



FILE PHOTO: Olympic rings, which were temporarily taken down in August for maintenance amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, are towed by a boat for reinstallation at the waterfront area at Odaiba Marine Park in Tokyo, Japan December 1, 2020. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

January 15, 2021

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan will temporarily suspend exemptions allowing foreign athletes to train in the country ahead of the Summer Olympics, Kyodo News reported, as it closes its borders to contain a surge in COVID-19 cases just six months before the Games.

The suspension will last until Feb. 7, the scheduled end of the coronavirus state of emergency in the capital, Tokyo, and other major cities, Kyodo said, citing an unidentified source with knowledge of the matter.

Japan is grappling with record surges in coronavirus infections, prompting the government to tighten border controls and expand its state of emergency to cover more than half of the country’s population.

The pause of athlete exemptions would follow the government’s suspension this week of exemptions for business travellers.

The temporary ban will include non-resident foreign athletes and coaches with Japanese sports leagues including J-League soccer, which begins its season next month, and Nippon Professional Baseball, which opens spring training Feb. 1, Kyodo said.

Japanese athletes will be allowed to re-enter the country but must self-quarantine for 14 days, during which they cannot practice or compete, the report said.

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher. Editing by Gerry Doyle)



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Northern Brazilian state declares curfew over virus


Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

Amazonas state in northern Brazil on Thursday announced a curfew to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus, as cases soar and hospitals run out of beds and oxygen supplies.

Authorities warned of a dire situation across the vast state. In its capital Manaus, the health system has been pushed to breaking point.

The city has “run out of oxygen and some health centers have become a type of suffocation chamber,” Jessem Orellana, from the Fiocruz-Amazonia scientific investigation institute, told AFP.

Amazonas governor Wilson Lima said the state was “in the most critical moment of the pandemic.”

The 7:00 pm to 6:00 am curfew will begin Friday.

According to official figures, Manaus recorded 198 deaths on Wednesday, the fourth day straight it had set a new record.

Oxygen is needed to treat COVID-19 patients suffering from respiratory complications.

Amazonas produces “significant quantities of oxygen, but now our people need oxygen and solidarity,” said Lima, who added some patients would be transferred to other states.

Military personnel delivered 400 oxygen cylinders to Amazonas over the last five days.

Brazil has recorded more than 205,000 deaths from COVID-19, second only to the United States.

The national average of deaths is 98 per 100,000 inhabitants but in Amazonas, the figure is 142, surpassed only by Rio de Janeiro (158) and Brasilia (145).

An expert studying coronavirus mutations in Amazonas told AFP a new strain detected in the state is “very probably” more contagious than the original virus, just like new strains found in Britain and South Africa.

Felipe Naveca said the variant, which the World Health Organization described as “worrying”, may have spread throughout Brazil and could already be the dominant strain in Amazonas.

The worsening situation in Manaus was not due only to one variant, he added, noting that authorities were expecting a rise in virus cases due to end-of-year parties.

“We need urgent support from the population to reduce the transmission and slow down the virus’s evolution,” Naveca said.

Experts worry new mutations could eventually show resistence to the vaccines developed to combat the original strain.

However, “right now there’s no evidence that this line prejudices the vaccine’s response,” Naveca said.

There is concern, though, the new variant could already have spread throughout Brazil and it has been detected as far afield as Japan.

Britain on Thursday said it was suspending all arrivals from South America due to the new coronavirus variant.


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Japan’s Top League delayed due to virus


Michael Hooper’s debut for Toyota Verblitz in the Top League will have to wait with the Japan Rugby Football Union postponing the start of the competition because of COVID-19 outbreaks.

The competition was due to start this weekend but with 10 positive tests at Kobe Steelers on Thursday taking the total to 67 league-wide, organisers said they were now aiming for a mid-February start.

Last year’s season was cancelled entirely because of the pandemic.

“Japan Rugby Football Union and Top League have had discussions and we want to do everything we can to have this year’s Top League season,” said JRFU Chairman Kensuke Iwabuchi.

Organisers said they were yet to finalise a new start date and whether the format needed to be changed because of time restrictions and safety precautions.

Top League chief Osamu Ota hoped the season would finish by the scheduled end date of May 23 so that it would not interfere with the national team’s plans.

“We are aiming to start in mid-February,” said Ota.

“Regarding the COVID-19 situation, it changes on a day-to-day basis.”

Kobe are the sixth team to report positive COVID-19 results along with NEC Green Rockets, Toyota Verblitz, Suntory Sungoliath, Canon Eagles and Toshiba Brave Lupus.

They said in a statement on their website that all team members, including those who had tested negative, had been told to stay home since Tuesday, when the positive test results were confirmed.

Matches involving Toyota, Suntory and Canon scheduled for this weekend had already been cancelled but the entire slate of first round games have now been wiped.

Wallabies skipper Hooper apart, All Blacks Beauden Barrett and Kieran Read are among a host of top international players playing in this season’s Top League, the final campaign before it is overhauled next year.





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AstraZeneca Efficacy Defended By Australia’s CMO Amid Concerns

AstraZeneca

Paul Kelly, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer has raised concern over the debate of the AstraZeneca vaccine could likely undermine public trust regarding the country’s vaccination plan.

This comment was a nod to concerns from an Australian medical expert who suggested that that AstraZeneca vaccine might not be effective enough to realize the immunity of the Australian population.

According to The Australia and New Zealand Society for Immunology, with basis on current evidence, controlling the virus in Australia should not completely bank on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Despite the claims, there are no questions about the safety of the vaccine.

Mr Kelly said concerns about the capability of the drug to ensure herd immunity were not warranted at this stage of the process, and Australians should be guided by medical research findings from the TGA.

On a statement with the media, Mr Kelly said “Once controversy is opened up and people make comments based on interim results from trial that was published a month ago … of course people will be wondering whether it’s the right decision. Long-standing advice that stood us in good stead on vaccines. They are the ones that advised us all along.”

The third phase of clinical trials revealed that the AstraZeneca is just around 62 per cent effective rate for preventing COVID-19.

Thus, Mr Kelly urged people not to fixate on the singular finding and emphasized that some groups involved in the AstraZeneca trail recorded up to 90 per cent effectiveness.

He defended saying, “We’ll have much more information than a five or six-page article published in The Lancet once the TGA makes a decision. Once they made that decision we’ll be guided by it. Minimum, it is an effective vaccine; it definitely exceeds the World Health Organization’s goal of over 50 per cent effectiveness.”

On the other hand, Associate Professor Michelle Ananda-Rajah – also an infectious diseases and general physician at Alfred Health – told media just this morning that some experts are raising concerns on AstraZeneca vaccine being not the most efficient option.

She ruled out the main issue with the AstraZeneca vaccine is that the country is relying profoundly on the said drug in immunizing the vast majority of the Australian population.

Thus, for the professor, herd immunity should be carefully thought of as it stops the virus from circulating and helps the country return to a normal life. She also pointed out the target number should be at least around 70 or 80 per cent.

As per the Professor, the most effective vaccine should be the aim of the country, given that there is still room for more opportunity to making sure of the directives.

Otherwise, the country will just succumb to a cycle of epidemics and outbreaks.

As of now, the Pfizer vaccine, which is currently being rolled out in the United States and the UK, is considered more than 90 per cent effective and thus more likely to achieve a herd immunity result. While AstraZeneca trial are expected towards the end of this month or early February.

(Image source: ABC News)

Defiance of virus dining bans grows as restaurants flounder


BORING, Ore. — A line formed out the door during the lunch rush at the Carver Hangar, a family-owned restaurant and sports bar, and waitresses zipped in and out of the kitchen trying to keep up with orders as customers backed up in the lobby.

Indoor dining has been banned in much of Oregon for nearly two months, but the eatery 20 miles southeast of Portland was doing a booming business — and an illegal one. The restaurant’s owners, Bryan and Liz Mitchell, fully reopened Jan. 1 in defiance of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown’s COVID-19 indoor dining ban in their county despite the risk of heavy fines and surging coronavirus cases.

“We’re not going to back down because our employees still need to eat, they still need that income,” said Bryan Mitchell, as customers ate at tables spaced 6 feet apart. “The statement that we’re making is, ‘Every life is essential. You have the right to survive. Nobody should tell you what you can and cannot do to provide for your family.’”

Health officials in Oregon and other states with bans say they are necessary because people can’t wear masks when they eat, are in close proximity in smaller and often poorly ventilated spaces, and are prone to talk more loudly in a crowded dining room — all known contributors to viral spread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists indoor dining as a “particularly high-risk” activity.

But even as coronavirus deaths soar, a growing number of restaurants in states across the country are reopening in defiance of strict COVID-19 rules that have shut them down for indoor dining for weeks, or even months. Restaurants can serve people outside or offer carry-out, but winter weather has crippled revenues from patio dining.

In Oregon, an organized effort to get businesses to reopen for indoor service starting Jan. 1 has been championed by several mayors, who formed a group to raise legal defense funds in anticipation of a court fight. Similar revolts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, California and Washington state have also gained traction, with the rule-breakers saying their industry has been unfairly singled out while other businesses, like big box stores and airlines, continue operating.

The states with the strictest dining rules are led by Democratic governors and the protests have consequently attracted the support of right-wing groups that, in some cases, have stationed armed individuals at business entrances and organized protests on behalf of owners.

In Oregon, protesters targeted the house of an inspector and the department’s top administrator after the state fined á local gym chain, Capitol Racquet Sports Inc., $90,000. On Tuesday, it added another $126,749 in fines because four locations were still open.

Brown, who currently prohibits indoor dining in 26 of Oregon’s 36 counties, called the move to reopen irresponsible and said it could lead to a spike in infections and deaths. She accused local leaders backing the movement of willfully misleading their communities for political reasons.

“We can’t waver in our response to the virus now, when the end is finally in sight and resources are on the way. We are better than this,” said Brown, who banned indoor dining last spring and then reinstated it with limits over the summer before the latest shutdown.

In addition to fines, Brown has threatened to pull liquor licenses and ban slot machines at restaurants that won’t stay closed. State inspectors have assembled a priority list of establishments to visit with the goal of stopping the “vocal minority” of owners before the defiance broadens, said Aaron Corvin, spokesman for the Oregon Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

It’s impossible to know how many Oregon restaurants have heeded the call to reopen because many are keeping quiet about it. Stan Pulliam, the mayor of Sandy, Oregon, said he attended meetings all over the state where establishments were encouraged to reopen and said the so-called Open Oregon coalition includes at least 300 small businesses, not all of them restaurants.

Even before the organized effort, restaurants were reopening because they couldn’t survive and Pulliam said his goal was to provide a uniform framework to make it safer. He has urged businesses in his town and county to reopen at 25% capacity with a face mask requirement for staff and social distancing.

“These are individuals that are to the end of their rope. Their decision is not to thumb their nose at the governor. It’s really a decision to open up or lose everything they’ve worked for their entire lives,” he said. “We’re saying, ‘Hey, if you’re going to open, let’s do this right.’”

Restaurant owners who are complying with state closures have watched the movement to reopen with frustration.

“I have a bunch of businesses and bunch of staff who all want to work and I want them to work, but they want to be safe and I want them to be safe — and I want my customers to be safe,” said Ezra Caraeff, who owns four bars with food service in Portland and has laid off dozens of employees.

“I have bills to pay, but there’s a morality aspect to this.”

Some non-compliant businesses have already racked up thousands of dollars in fines from health and safety inspectors. In Washington state, one restaurant has been fined nearly $145,000 and is challenging a restraining order in court. In Michigan — where a ban on indoor dining expires Friday but could be extended — a restaurant industry group sued over the ban and a major Detroit-area restauranteur rallied hundreds of colleagues to reopen last month in violation of state rules before backing down.

In Pennsylvania, the state closed 36 restaurants over violations during a ban on indoor dining that expired Jan. 4 and sued 21 establishments.

Quality Shoppe, a breakfast-and-lunch spot in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, that’s been around for over 50 years, was among the restaurants sued. The state is pursuing legal action even though it lifted its ban on indoor dining last week.

“I don’t like breaking rules. That’s not normally what I want to do,” said owner Crystal Nolt, adding she couldn’t afford to close again after an initial three-month shutdown last spring. “I don’t want people to die. But at some point people also have to live their life.”

At the Mitchells’ Oregon restaurant, employees are required to wear masks and the ventilation has been updated with high-quality HEPA filters. Those precautions are enough for customers who’ve flocked to the small town of Boring — population 7,762 — since the Carver Hangar reopened.

So far, the restaurant has not been fined. A handwritten sign taped to the restaurant’s door tells inspectors to return with a warrant.

————

Associated Press writer Michael Rubinkam in Allentown, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.

————

Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus



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Mark Wright tells ‘Covid deniers’ the virus is terrifying after family illness


Mark Wright has hit out at those who have denied that coronavirus is a real illness after his dad and uncle were struck down by the virus.

The 33-year-old former TOWIE star has passionately hit out at ‘Covid deniers’ after revealing that the virus has had an effect close to home and said that it was far worse that ‘just a cold’.

Writing in The Sun, the reality star described the symptoms his dad experienced before detailing the “horrendous” after effect of the virus, after a negative test had been provided.

Mark said that after seeing how his family members have struggled with the virus, he said that conspiracy theorists “frustrate the life out of me” and that “death counts are not accurate when they say stuff like ‘died with’ not ‘died of'”.



Mark Wright with his father, who has suffered the effects of Covid

Speaking about his dad contracting coronavirus, Mark said that he had “weird symptoms” which started with what “felt like he had a bit of grit in his eye”.

He said that his father then felt “bloated, as if he had acid in his stomach.”

Eventually, his dad was admitted to hospital after his “oxygen levels were too low”.

Mark wrote that while some people experience Covid like it is a cold, he said that the death counts are “terrifying”.



Mark Wright has spoken out against conspiracy theorists
Mark Wright has spoken out against conspiracy theorists

Pictures of empty corridors in hospitals are misleading according to Mark and that you would be “off your head” if you didn’t believe Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s assertions that the NHS could be overrun.

Mark also indicated that his brother Josh, who is a professional footballer, has “suffered terribly” with the after effects of the virus.

He said that his sibling still “can’t smell or taste” and warned his fans that “this virus is horrendous.”

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