The relaxation of Covid-19 mitigation measures has to be done gradually, and there will be a need to wear masks for several more months, the US’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Friday on Good Morning America.
“You want to do it gradually and safely as opposed to just turning it on and off right away,” Fauci, who heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said when asked by ABC’s George Stephanopoulos about whether it was safe for states to relax mask mandates and allow indoor dining again.
There’s still going to be the important need to wear masks, I think we still need to do that,” he added. “You want to avoid congregate settings, but you can gradually get to the situation where you might open up restaurants with limited seating and things like that. But it’s got to be done prudently and gradually.”
When asked by Stephanopoulos how long the need for masks would be, Fauci said that he didn’t think it was measured in years, but the level of virus in the community needs to be lower.
“I think we’re going to be wearing masks for several, several months into the future,” he said.
His projection is that by the time 70 to 85% of people are vaccinated, “the level of virus in the community could be so low that you could start pulling back a bit on what are stringent public health measures” — but it shouldn’t be done all at once.
Reopening of schools
In regards to the re-opening of all K-8 (elementary-middle) schools, he said it is doable in US President Joe Biden’s first 100 days, but added it must be done safely.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to release guidelines Friday about reopening schools.
When asked what parents should know about whether it’s safe to open schools and give them confidence that it’s ok, Fauci told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he thinks it’s going to be a combination of things, and that he didn’t want to get ahead of the guidelines coming from the CDC.
What you want to do is make sure it’s safe for the students and safe for the teachers and other personnel associated with the educational system,” Fauci said. He added that ways to make it safe include masking and good ventilation, and by getting vaccinations to teachers as quickly as possible.
Come next week, medical teams from France and Luxembourg will arrive in Portugal to help “support the treatment of Covid-19 patients” in the country as it continues to grapple with a new wave of infections, according to the Portuguese health ministry.
France is sending one doctor and three nurses, who will be stationed at Almada’s Garcia de Orta Hospital, on the outskirts of Lisbon. Luxembourg is sending two doctors and two nurses, who will be deployed to the Espírito Santo hospital in Évora, in the southern part of the country, the statement added.
The teams will be in the country for 15 days, the ministry said. Their deployment comes after 26 medical personnel from the German armed forces arrived in Portugal last week.
Portugal has reported 778,369 total infections and 14,885 Covid-19 related deaths since the pandemic began. The situation has escalated since the start of 2021: more than half of all its deaths occurred in the new year and the country has also seen a doubling in the number of total cases.
The UK government’s official website for booking approved hotel quarantine rooms crashed within hours of its launch on Thursday.
The Department of Health and Social Care removed the booking link from its website on Thursday evening and posted an error message:
“Due to a minor technical issue, the link to the booking portal in this guidance will not be available until later today. Please return to this page later if you wish to make a booking.”
The site was still down as of Friday morning.
The UK’s mandatory hotel quarantine policy begins on Monday and is part of a series of new border measures being brought in to stop new variants from overseas entering the country.
The policy mandates that all passengers arriving into England from a list of 33 countries which have been identified as “high-risk” will be required to quarantine in a hotel for up to 10 days.
Some context: The UK’s new policy of enforced hotel quarantine for travelers from the 33 banned countries was first announced on January 27.
Since then, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other government officials have been holding discussions with Australian and New Zealand counterparts to share expertise on policies for quarantining travelers, measures which have been in place since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.
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At least 83 governments worldwide have used the pandemic to justify curbs on free speech and peaceful assembly, NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Thursday.
Authorities have “attacked, detained, prosecuted, and in some cases killed critics,” with victims including journalists, activists, health care workers, political opponents and others who have criticized those governments’ Covid-19 responses, HRW added.
Governments should counter Covid-19 by encouraging people to mask up, not shut up,” Gerry Simpson, HRW’s associate crisis and conflict director, said in a statement. “Beating, detaining, prosecuting, and censoring peaceful critics violates many fundamental rights, including free speech, while doing nothing to stop the pandemic.”
In some countries, like China and Egypt, people remain in detention ” simply for criticizing government responses to Covid-19 months earlier.” It points to the plight of independent Chinese journalist Zhang Zhan, who reported from Wuhan at the height of the initial coronavirus outbreak.
She was jailed for four years in December after being found guilty of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” according to one of her defense lawyers Zhang Keke.
Other trends include “military or police forces in at least 18 countries” physically assaulting civil society actors, “including some who criticized government responses to Covid-19 such as insufficient healthcare funding, lockdowns, and a lack of masks and gloves for medical workers.” It says countries have also arbitrarily banned or broke up protests, and restricted access to public health information.
The group has called for the United Nations Human Rights Council to commission a new report looking into the “impact of restrictions on free speech and peaceful assembly,” it wrote.
“Excessive and sometimes violent crackdowns on critical speech by governments signify a perilous willingness to sideline a fundamental freedom in the name of countering Covid-19,” Simpson added. “The obligation of governments to protect the public from this deadly pandemic is not a carte blanche for placing a chokehold on information and suppressing dissent.”
Border controls — including limits on public transport and mandatory test and quarantine requirements for travelers — are unavoidable in the effort to prevent the import of other more contagious coronavirus variants, German Health Minister Jens Spahn said Friday.
“This means there will be a ban on transportation — and without exceptions tests must be made before entering Germany — and there is an obligation to quarantine,” Spahn told journalists at a health press briefing.
Spahn went on to say that — despite the new variants — overall infections rates in Germany were falling.
”To protect the population from virus mutations — this is why the federal government decided yesterday to declare the Czech Republic, Tyrol and Slovakia as coronavirus variant areas,” the minister said.
Some context: On Thursday, German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said that Germany was temporarily imposing border checks and limiting travel from the Czech Republic and the Austrian province of Tyrol due to a spike in infections of the new, more contagious coronavirus variants. The restrictions come into force Sunday.
On Friday, Germany recorded 9,860 new coronavirus infections — a drop of 3,048 cases compared to the same day last week. Germany coronavirus deaths stood at 556 within the last 24 hours – a drop of 299 compared to Friday last week.
The latest data from the country’s public health authority, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), indicate that the number of new infections per 100,000 residents could fall below 60 this weekend, Spahn said.
As of Friday, 5.7 million coronavirus vaccines have been distributed across Germany’s 16 federal states, with some 3.6 million vaccinations carried out so far. 2,490,423 — 3% of Germany’s population have received the first shot, while 1,178,725 have received the second shot, according to RKI data. Spahn said that Germany will distribute 8 million coronavirus vaccines by the end of next week.
Germany is currently administering the coronavirus vaccines developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca.
Caregiver vaccine scams are popping up in Massachusetts after the state announced that companions who bring people over the age of 75 to an appointment can get vaccinated themselves.
We have heard some pretty disturbing reports of some people trying to take advantage of this program already,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said Thursday. “Some people [are] posting it online, trying to get a senior to bring them to a vaccination site or, in some cases, asking to be paid to drive somebody to one.”
Several online posts on Craigslist are offering free vaccine rides to those over 75. Some are upfront about it, stating clearly that they’re doing it so they can get vaccinated themselves. Others are offering seniors money along with a free ride to pose as their companion.
The governor said residents should report any solicitations of this nature to the authorities.
If you’re 75 years or older and you need assistance going through the vaccination process, you should only reach out to somebody that you know, or trust to bring you as your companion. Don’t take calls or offers from people you don’t know well or trust and never share your personal information with anyone,” Baker said.
Under the policy, a caregiver will be allowed to receive a Covid-19 vaccine if accompanying a person 75 or older to a mass vaccination site. The policy includes a family member or friend in an effort to encourage the elderly to get vaccinated. The change went into effect Thursday and doesn’t apply to appointments that were already scheduled. The announcement came after some older residents said they were hesitant about going to a mass vaccination site alone, or had difficulties doing so.
“We want to make sure that we make it as easy as we possibly can for folks who fall into that over-75 category to get vaccinated, and to get vaccinated early in this process,” Baker said.
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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top aide apologized to Democratic lawmakers Wednesday for putting them in a tough spot over long-awaited data which revealed thousands more confirmed and presumed Covid-19 deaths of long-term care facility residents than previously disclosed, according to a source who participated in the call.
The apology follows the release of a report in late January from state Attorney General Letitia James, noting the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) undercounted Covid-19 deaths among residents of nursing homes by approximately 50%.
Secretary to Gov. Cuomo Melissa DeRosa told the lawmakers in a private virtual meeting that the state had been concerned about a Department of Justice preliminary inquiry into Covid-19 deaths in New York nursing homes, as well as attention from former President Donald Trump, who was tweeting about Cuomo and other Democratic governors’ handling of the nursing homes, the source who participated in the call told CNN.
Outstanding inquiries from state lawmakers were also addressed on the call, the source said, after an August 3 joint committee hearing on Covid-19 residential health care facilities. Lawmakers had demanded a full transparency on the Covid-19 death toll in nursing homes.
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Christine Lloyd-Jones was at work when the first call came: One of her friends, Annette, 62, had died of coronavirus. The following day, as she ate breakfast, her phone flashed again. This time it was news of another friend, Lloyd, dead at 58. The next day, another call. Her friend Haydon, 51, was in the hospital. He died the following day. In the space of just five days, Lloyd-Jones lost three loved ones to Covid-19.
One month on, the social care manager, who lives in London, has become a one-woman publicity machine for members of the Black community, encouraging everyone she knows to get vaccinated, so she won’t have to say goodbye to another friend or family member.
I have been agonizing about writing this message but have decided that this is what I have to do as a 59-year-old Black woman,” read the message she sent to everyone in her WhatsApp contact book. “I now believe we must do something to halt the devastation and loss.
“I have decided to have the Covid-19 vaccine,” she wrote. “This was one of the hardest decisions I have made in my life.”
Lloyd-Jones’s uncle died from coronavirus four days after the UK locked down last March, and the twin sister of her friend Annette, called Paulette, also lost her life in 2020. The twins are buried together. Yet Lloyd-Jones is far from being the only member of Britain’s Black community or other ethnic minorities to feel unsure about taking a Covid-19 shot.
A report released by the UK Household Longitudinal Study earlier this year found that 72% of Black British respondents said they were unlikely or very unlikely to get a coronavirus vaccine.
According to the same survey, those from Britain’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities were also hesitant, with 42% saying they were unlikely or very unlikely to get vaccinated.
The data the report was based on was carried out in November, prior to any vaccines being approved, and those numbers are likely to have dipped in recent weeks, as the shots are rolled out with few, if any, reports of serious side effects.
But Black people and those from minority groups are still thought to be less willing to get vaccinated than their White counterparts — a factor which concerns health authorities and community leaders alike.
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The economy of the United Kingdom contracted 9.9% in 2020, wiping out the past seven years of growth in the country and returning the economy to the same level it was in 2013.
It is the largest annual drop in Gross Domestic Product on record.
The UK economy did see some signs of improvement in the final months of the year. GDP grew 1% in the fourth quarter. It follows on from a record third quarter when GDP grew 16.1%.
There was growth in services, construction and manufacturing, although all of these industries remain below pre-pandemic levels.