Displaying items by tag: coronavirus
About a million children in England (one in every eight pupils) were off school last Thursday, as Covid-related absences rose. The official figures also show staffing problems worsening, with over a quarter of school’s teachers and leaders absent. The education secretary said as we transition from pandemic to endemic, he is determined to fight for children to be in school every day that they possibly can. The head teachers’ association reported pupil Covid absence figures are the worst they have been this academic year. The Association of School and College Leaders general secretary said, ‘The general message is the pandemic is over, but on the ground in schools, that isn't the case. The unexpected announcement last week that face coverings are no longer recommended in classrooms and communal areas reduced the defences available to schools to control the spread of Covid-19.’
Sainsburys, John Lewis and Waitrose will continue to ask customers in England to wear masks in their shops even though Plan B rules have now ended. Rail operators also said passengers would still be expected to wear masks. Those keeping the policy in place said they would encourage, not force, customers to comply. Plan B rules have been lifted because infections have peaked nationally. But the government is still advising people to wear masks in enclosed or crowded spaces and when meeting strangers. Retailers continue to implement many other existing safety measures such as hand sanitiser and perspex screens. The main purpose of wearing masks is to protect others, though there is some evidence they offer protection to wearers.
Airlines reported nearly 6,000 incidents involving unruly passengers last year and 151 in the first two weeks of this year. Most incidents involved passengers refusing to wear masks. The latest incident, on 20 January, involved an American Airlines passenger who refused to wear a mask on a flight to Heathrow from Miami, which forced the Boeing 777 carrying 129 passengers to return to Florida. The American Airlines statement said the diversion was ‘due to a disruptive customer refusing to comply with the federal mask requirement’. See also
Hundreds of care homes are refusing new admissions for 14 to 28 days because of Omicron, increasing pressure on hospitals unable to discharge patients into the community, and adding another pressure to an already challenging situation. 70% of MHA homes, a not-for-profit care provider, are refusing new residents because of Covid outbreaks and staff shortages. Four Seasons Healthcare has two or more cases in 40% of its homes: government guidance is not to accept new arrivals. The chief executive of NHS Providers said, ‘Patients deteriorate if they are fit to discharge but can’t leave their hospital beds’. He said it was also difficult to find room for serious cases coming via accident and emergency departments. Temporary settings may be installed to allow hospital patients to be released, and some health trusts have set up temporary care facilities in hotels with live-in staff from abroad.
WHO chief scientist Dr Swaminathan said reinfections with the Omicron variant 90 days after the virus first strikes are three times more common. While data on the virulence and transmissibility will take time, scientists know that Omicron is a dominant strain in South Africa. They have said there was no surge of re-infection during either the Beta or Delta waves, despite laboratory studies suggesting those variants had the potential to evade some immunity. But they are now detecting a spike in re-infections and the timing suggests the Omicron variant is the driving force. Prof Juliet Pulliam, from Stellenbosch University, said, ‘These findings suggest that Omicron's selection advantage is at least partially driven by an increased ability to infect previously infected individuals.’ However, it is still only one piece of the puzzle. See
Over a thousand festival-goers caught coronavirus after attending a 20,000-person event in Utrecht, leading the city's mayor to apologise, saying it was ‘an error of judgment’. Health authorities say the disease spread over both days of the outdoor music festival, leading to the highest count of infections that could be traced back to a single event. It was a ‘test-for-entry event’, meaning visitors were allowed if they presented a vaccination card, held a negative coronavirus test, or had had Covid-19 recently. Authorities now believe that the time frame (40 hours) for negative tests was too long. Dutch caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte apologised for his government's quick relaxation of safeguards, admitting what they thought was possible was wrong after all. Cases jumped fivefold in one week.
Coronavirus restrictions are easing, and Germany’s economy is picking up as traders and service providers benefit, but industry suffers delivery problems. Global lockdowns have lowered production levels and interrupted supply chains. Essential raw materials, chemicals and component parts are in short supply and prices are skyrocketing. There are disruptions in container shipping, traffic congestion in ports and a shortage of containers, where three consortia control over 80% of the world market and dictate prices. For various reasons, the highest inflation since 2008 is on the horizon. In addition to the CO2 tax, world market prices for grain, which have risen 30%, are already raising the cost of living. Germany is an exporting country, dependent on international value-added trade-chains. There is now changed thinking concerning regional supply chains within the EU: now, instead of ‘just in time delivery’, storing becomes important.
Over 1,200 girls in Rajasthan started a movement against child marriages, which saw a spike during the Covid pandemic. Nearly 30% of South Asian women aged 20 to 24 were married before they turned 18. While the Indian government has not maintained comprehensive data, international organisations say child marriages could be a major fallout of the pandemic. By June 2020, only three months into lockdown, 92,203 interventions had been made by ChildLine. 35% of those interventions were about child marriages. Saira Bano, 17, wants to be a teacher and help other girls become independent. She heard of a group of girls from marginalised communities who were starting a campaign to create awareness around child marriage. ‘That got my hopes up,’ said Saira. ‘I attended their meeting and learned that the state government has a scholarship scheme in place to ensure girls like me don’t drop out of school.’
Deaths in the UK have fallen below the five-year average for the first time since the summer. Experts say it means the winter wave of Covid deaths has ended, and lockdown and the vaccine rollout have saved lives. Prof Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London said, ‘The new data on deaths are encouraging in suggesting the second devastating wave of the pandemic is behind us. But calling epidemics 'waves' can be misleading in implying a phenomenon which has reached a natural end - that is not the case here. The rapid decline in deaths we have thankfully seen is entirely because of the lockdown and the rapid rollout of vaccines. So, while I'm optimistic that this means we will be able to return to something more like normal in the next few months, we need to remain vigilant and cautious - particularly given the threat still posed by new variants of the virus.’
A battle between the EU and UK reveals the ugly truth about vaccine nationalism that is appearing across the globe. The UN General Assembly showed unity as global deaths approached a million last year. They said, ‘When a vaccine is developed, the world's most vulnerable should be first in line.’ The vaccines are here and solidarity between the nations has disappeared entirely. The EU has secured enough doses to cover its population three times. Canada has purchased enough to cover a population four times its size. The UK has agreements with vaccine suppliers, and did not expect the EU to disrupt the fulfillment of these contracts. However, the EU almost invoked a Brexit deal clause to prevent the UK from receiving vaccines from Europe. While stocks are limited governments will put their own populations first. Pray for pharmaceutical companies to share their ‘know how’ with poor countries to enable them to produce their own vaccinations.