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COVID-19 Around the World

Singapore shows nothing is guaranteed to return normal



Having passed the 80 per cent double-vaccination mark last month, the example of Singapore suggests that achieving a milestone coveted by Australia is not a guarantee of returning to anything like pre-pandemic life.

The island state reluctantly delayed reopening measures and re-imposed some restrictions last week after seeing its highest daily COVID-19 infections in more than a year. Alex Cook, an infectious diseases modelling expert at the National University of Singapore, said life had not improved “by as much as we might have hoped”, despite Singapore being one of the world’s most vaccinated countries. The nation has relied mostly on the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, with a handful of older residents opting for China’s Sinovac. Last month, it agreed to a 500,000 Pfizer dose swap deal with Australia. Mr Cook said the community cases have actually gone up since reaching 80 per cent coverage, in part because they’re allowing more social events for those who are vaccinated and, more fatigue at the control measures.

With 50 per cent of Singaporeans now allowed to return to the office and most using public transport to get there, the city last week announced that more than 300 COVID-19 cases had been linked to eight bus depots across the island.


Achieving 80 pc ‘too low for Delta’

Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases expert from Singapore’s Rophi Clinic, said the Delta strain had moved the goalposts, in terms of what level of community vaccination was necessary. “They now need at least 90 per cent vaccination, which is technically not possible due to hardened anti-vaxxers or refusers.”

Dr Leong said 80 per cent was “not good enough because it can still burden the hospital system very significantly and there will be too many excess deaths”. Prime Minister Scott Morrison set a vaccination target as part of his four-step opening plan for Australia, with phase C triggered when double vaccination reached 80 per cent. However, Australia’s threshold is actually lower because it is based on the population aged over 16. Singapore’s threshold is based on the total population.


‘Bring mountain to Mohammed’

As for what Australia can learn from Singapore, in terms of ramping up vaccination rates towards 80 per cent and beyond, Dr Leong said the federal government needed to “bring the mountain to Mohammed”. “There are many people who would agree to being vaccinated but find it inconvenient to get to vaccination centres,” Dr Leong said. “But, they will take the vaccine if you go to them, which is what we did in Singapore, including individuals who are bed-bound or with other medical conditions.”

Dr Chow — who studied at Monash University and Deakin University in Victoria — warned locked-down Australians not to think of the 80 per cent vaccination mark as a cure-all panacea.“It doesn’t mean the end of the pandemic, as we’ve seen here in Singapore,” she said. “Eighty per cent is just a plaster onto the problem. We still don’t know what’s going to happen under plaster with the wound.”

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COVID-19 Around the World

Weekly news at a glance




(Worldwide) Covid positive kids separated from parents in Shanghai

A hospital in Shanghai is sending COVID-positive children and parents to different quarantine facilities, an online debate has revealed. Unverified images of children, three-to-a-cot, being tended to by workers in hazmat suits circulated on the WeChat social media platform.

The centre accused of housing the children, the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre in the city’s Jinshan district, took to the social media site to debunk the rumours, but in doing so confirmed the existence of the quarantine site.

It added it had organised for more paediatric workers and would strengthen communication with the children’s parents in the wake of criticism from parents whose children have been housed in the facility.


(Worldwide) U.S. drops COVID testing for air travelers

In one of the most anticipated travel developments this year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is poised to lift its requirement for travelers to test negative for Covid-19 before entering the United States, CNN learned on Friday.

The measure has been in place since January 2021. The move is likely to encourage travelers around the world to plan a summer vacation in the States and encourage more US travelers to venture abroad knowing they’re less likely to get stranded overseas with a positive test. Air travel has been far from smooth this season so far.


(Worldwide) Face of Hospitality in the Post-Covid World

Studies show that consumer spending on discretionary items like travel, eating out, entertainment etc would stay low and focus would stay on the basics like groceries, internet and mobile services etc. This indicates that there is still time for the hospitality industry to reach its glory of the pre-pandemic times. Similarly, those businesses that depend on the travel and tourism sector are likely to suffer the lul.

Hotels depend heavily on the revenue they generate from business travelers. But, given the current scenario, that too will take time to recover. With the death of many organizations that funded such business travel, it is likely that about 5-10% of it would never return. This makes it imperative that the businesses keep a close watch on the trends that determine the future of the hospitality and tourism industry and plan accordingly.


(AUS) Tutors in high demand, but doubts on program for next year

The state government’s 480 million dollar coronavirus catch-up tutoring program has been compromised by teacher shortages, due to COVID and influenza. The program aimed to benefit all government and low-fee private schools in helping students whose learning stalled during the pandemic.

According to Andrew Dalgleish, president of the Victorian Principals Association, most schools were forced to replace sick staff with the tutors to take whole classes. Victorian government awaits a final report before considering if it will recommit to the program.


(AUS) COVID-19 vaccine booster available for at-risk children aged 12 to 15

Children aged 12 to 15 years, who are severely immunocompromised and children with a disability, are eligible for a COVID-19 booster vaccine from this week. The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation has recommended extending eligibility for the Pfizer booster to about 120-thousand children.

Those eligible must have received their second dose at least three months ago, be severely immunocompromised, have a disability, or complex health conditions which increase the risk of severe COVID-19. Children who are NOT considered at-risk, who have received two vaccine doses, are still considered to be well protected against severe disease.


(AUS) Free flu vaccinations for Victoria

Free flu vaccinations are available to anyone aged 6 months and over until 30 June. Everyone aged 6 months and older is recommended to get the flu vaccine, especially people aged 65 years and over, people at higher risk of serious illness of complications from flu, pregnant women and children under 5 years.

The COVID-19 vaccine does not protect you against flu, you still need to get the flu vaccine. The best protection for families and communities this winter is to get vaccinated against both flu and COVID-19.

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COVID-19 Around the World

Covid in North Korea



Top North Korean officials discussed revising anti-epidemic restrictions on Sunday as they assessed the situation over the country’s first acknowledged COVID-19 outbreak was “improving”, state media reported.

A politburo meeting guided by leader Kim Jong Un “made a positive evaluation of the pandemic situation being controlled and improved across the country and discussed the issues of continuously stabilising and improving the overall anti-epidemic situation,” said KCNA news agency.

North Korea reported no new deaths among fever patients for a second consecutive day, and said 89,500 more people showed fever symptoms on Sunday.

That is down from nearly 400,000 about 11 days ago.

The isolated country has been fighting an unprecedented COVID wave since declaring a state of emergency and imposing a nationwide lockdown this month, fuelling concerns about lack of vaccines, medical supplies and food.

Efforts to strengthen anti-epidemic measures were being taken across North Korea, including collecting rain water, examining virus-resistant medicines and setting up quarantine places, KCNA said.

Many outside experts say North Korea is clearly understating its fatality rate to prevent any political damage to Kim at home.

They say North Korea should have suffered many more deaths because its 26 million people are largely unvaccinated against COVID-19 and it lacks the capacity to treat patients with critical conditions.

Others suspect North Korea might have exaggerated its earlier fever cases to try to strengthen its internal control of its population.

Since its May 12 admission of the Omicron outbreak, North Korea has only been announcing the number of patients with feverish symptoms daily, but not those with COVID-19, apparently because of a shortage of test kits to confirm coronavirus cases in large numbers.

But many outside health experts view most of the reported fever cases as COVID-19, saying North Korean authorities would know how to distinguish the symptoms from fevers caused by other prevalent infectious diseases.

The outbreak has forced North Korea to impose a nationwide lockdown, isolate all work and residential units from one another and ban region-to-region movements.

The country still allows key agricultural, construction and other industrial activities, but the toughened restrictions have triggered worries about its food insecurity and a fragile economy already hit hard by pandemic-caused border shutdowns.

Some observers say North Korea will likely soon declare victory over COVID-19 and credit it to Kim’s leadership.

Yang Un-chul, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, said the North’s recently elevated restrictions must be dealing a serious blow to its coal, agricultural and other labour-intensive industrial sectors.

But he said those difficulties won’t likely develop to a level that threatens Mr Kim’s grip on power, as the COVID-19 outbreak and strengthened curbs have given him a chance to boost his control of his people.

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COVID-19 Around the World

Shanghai ease Covid isolation



A partial reopening of stores and offices in Beijing on Sunday was welcomed by a weary populace and struggling shopkeepers eager for life to return to normal. Coupled with a gradual easing of restrictions in Shanghai, it signalled the worst was over in the twin outbreaks in China’s most prominent cities.

More people have been allowed out of their homes, and more businesses are permitted to reopen, although most residents remain largely confined to their housing compounds, with shops mainly limited to deliveries.

Restaurants remain closed in Beijing, except for takeout and delivery, and many people in Shanghai still can only go out with special passes and for a limited time period, even as the number of new cases has plummeted. Shanghai aims to essentially end its lockdown from Wednesday after relaxing restrictions over the past week. 

Shanghai officials urged continued vigilance, even though the vast majority of its 25 million residents live in areas that are in the lowest-risk “prevention” category.

“Wear masks in public, no gathering and keep social distance,” Shanghai Municipal Health Commission’s deputy director, Zhao Dandan, told a daily news conference.

China reports 362 new cases

On Friday, Shanghai’s suburban Fengxian district cancelled a requirement for residents to have a pass to go out.

The state-run Shanghai Securities News reported modest steps towards a return to normality for the financial sector, with the more-than-10,000 bankers and traders who have been living and working in their offices since the start of lockdown gradually returning home.

On Saturday, the country reported 362 daily COVID-19 cases, down from 444 a day earlier. In Beijing, new Friday infections fell to 24 from 29.

While Shanghai officials reported one community-level case in the Songjiang district, they expressed confidence in the steps they were taking to trace and control the infection chain.

“If these measures are implemented effectively, we can prevent a rebound of the epidemic, even if there are sporadic cases, so don’t worry,” Shanghai Centre for Disease Control and Prevention’s deputy director, Sun Xiaodong, said.

Beijing officials say outbreak ‘effectively under control’

In Beijing, new cases have trended lower for six days, with no fresh infections outside of quarantine areas reported on Friday.

The outbreak that began on April 22 is “effectively under control”, a city government spokesman told a news conference.

Starting on Sunday, shopping malls, libraries, museums, theatres and gyms will be allowed to reopen — with limits on the numbers of people allowed — in the eight of Beijing’s 16 districts that have seen no community cases for seven consecutive days.

Two of the districts will end work-from-home rules, while public transportation will largely resume in three districts, including Chaoyang, the city’s largest.

While nationwide case numbers are improving, China’s strict adherence to its “zero-COVID” strategy has devastated the world’s second-largest economy and rattled global supply chains.

The lockdowns and other restrictions under China’s “zero-COVID” strategy have increasingly frustrated residents as they see other countries ease up and re-open their borders. 

Some have resisted and staged protests at apartment complexes and university dormitories, in an authoritarian country where people think twice about speaking out publicly because of possible repercussions.

Officials tend to err on the side of caution under a system that readily punishes them for lax enforcement if outbreaks flare up or come back.

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