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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

Worldwide news




1 Germany is ending quarantine pay for unvaccinated

Germany will stop paying compensation to unvaccinated workers who are forced into quarantine by coronavirus measures as it is unfair to ask taxpayers to subsidise those who refuse to get inoculated, Health Minister Jens Spahn says. The rules, which will be implemented by the governments of Germany’s 16 federal states, will take effect by 11 October at the latest, Mr Spahn said on Wednesday.

The rules will affect people who test positive for the virus and those returning from trips to countries designated “high risk” for COVID-19, which now include Britain, Turkey and parts of France, among others. Unvaccinated travellers from such countries are required to quarantine for at least five days. Those who have been vaccinated or have recently recovered are not required to do so.

Singapore to expand booster shots

Singapore will expand its COVID-19 booster shot program early next month, the government announced on Friday, after new infections in the city-state surged to a record high this week. The authorities will also reimpose some restrictions on eateries and workplaces next week, warning that daily cases could soon exceed 3,000 if the spread continues at the current pace — double Thursday’s all-time high of 1,504.

Beginning Oct. 4, residents aged 50 to 59 will be eligible for a third vaccine dose, with the government saying people in their 50s “have a higher risk of underlying comorbidities and hence a risk of severe illness as compared to younger persons.”

Replacing unvaccinated health workers

The governor of New York, Kathy Hochul, is considering using the national guard and out-of-state medical workers to fill hospital staffing shortages, as tens of thousands of workers are unlikely to meet a Monday deadline for mandated Covid-19 vaccination.

The plan, outlined in a statement, would allow the governor to declare a state of emergency and thereby increase the supply of healthcare workers to include licensed professionals from other states and countries as well as retired nurses.

Hochul said the state was also looking at using national guard officers with medical training to keep hospitals and other medical facilities adequately staffed. Some 16% of the state’s 450,000 hospital staff, or roughly 70,000 workers, have not been fully vaccinated, the governor’s office said.


Unvaccinated Brazil President eats pizza on NY sidewalk

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been pictured eating pizza on the sidewalk in New York ahead of the UN General Assembly, likely because he doesn’t meet the city’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements for indoor dining.

The city began enforcing a vaccine mandate last week, requiring proof of at least one shot for many indoor activities, including dining, entertainment venues and gyms. The local government wrote to the president of the United National General Assembly stressing that the debate hall for this week’s high-level meeting was a convention center, meaning all delegates must be vaccinated.

The UNGA president, Abdulla Shahid, initially backed the requirement but then backtracked, ruling that entry to the UN headquarters for the debate will be run on an “honor system”, with no proof of vaccination required.

Italy backs shots for pregnant women from second trimester

Italy’s National Health Institute (ISS) recommended on Friday (Sep 24) that pregnant women should get COVID-19 vaccines after the first three months of their pregnancy. The health authority said in a statement that it was advising women to receive two mRNA-based shots in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. It said its decision was due to growing evidence on the safety of vaccines during pregnancies for both the foetus and the mother.

Women who are breastfeeding can safely get vaccinated, ISS said, adding that infants can safely absorb antibodies via milk. Numerous countries have this year recommended that pregnant women have COVID-19 vaccinations after finding them to be safe.

Ireland ends hotel quarantine for inbound travelers

Ireland on Saturday stopped its system of mandatory hotel quarantine for travelers arriving in the country, as coronavirus curbs continue to wind down in the Republic. On Saturday the Irish government said health minister Stephen Donnelly “announced the removal of all remaining states from the list of states designated for the purposes of mandatory hotel quarantine with effect from today.” In a statement the health ministry said the decision was “based on the latest advice received from the chief medical officer.” 

As well as arrivals from “designated states” with high COVID-19 rates, travelers who failed to comply with entry requirements such as negative PCR tests have also been subject to hotel quarantine since March.

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COVID-19 Around the World

Fraudulent ivermectin studies open up new battleground




Ivermectin has never been proven as an effective Covid treatment, and studies that said it was have been either poorly conducted, too small for their findings to be applied more widely or outright faked. Yet the drug’s popularity has soared.

It started from a fraudulent study

One of the first fraudulent ivermectin studies was revealed just a few months into the pandemic, before it was even being widely used or promoted to treat the virus. That study found ivermectin was leading to improved and reduced mortality in hospitalised Covid-19 patients around the world. The paper was eventually retracted by the medical journal that published it after the data was found to have been falsified and the patients nonexistent.

Other studies found ivermectin has no significant impact on Covid-19 patients’ viral load, and that further, larger studies are needed to properly assess any impact of ivermectin on Covid-19. Despite all this, the drug has taken off beyond Peru and is now being used all around the world, promoted by politicians, celebrities and even some doctors and scientists as a credible treatment for Covid-19.

Misinformation fuels conspiracy theories

When asked why researchers would make so many mistakes or worse, deliberately mislead, misrepresent and falsify data, he says: “The real question is why none of the groups promoting ivermectin as a mass treatment for Covid-19 did their basic due diligence, because much of the fraud is really not that hard to identify.”

In the case of ivermectin, recognition has come from researchers that cite the papers, pushing the papers up the academic rankings and giving the journals or websites where they are published prominence. But politicians, celebrities and journalists are also promoting the findings.

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COVID-19 Around the World

Worldwide COVID news at a glance




1 WHO says Covid misinformation is a major factor

A top World Health Organization official said Tuesday that misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines is keeping people from getting the shots, driving an increase in cases around the world.

“In the last four weeks or so, the amount of misinformation that is out there seems to be getting worse, and I think that’s really confusing for the general public,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid, said during a Q&A livestreamed on the organization’s social media channels.

Public health leaders have blamed conspiracy theories and misinformation for growing distrust of the vaccines around the world — so much so that in July U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared Covid misinformation a “serious public threat.”

2 Dubai dog squad sniffs out Covid from sweat

Dubai Reuters reported police in Dubai have built a special unit of 38 sniffer dogs that can detect Covid-19 from human sweat samples with 92 per cent accuracy, the supervisor of the training programme told Reuters.

The Dubai police trained the cohort, which includes German Shepherds, Labradors, Cocker Spaniels and Border Collies, to recognise the scent of Covid-19 using samples of sweat from people with confirmed infections, collected by holding a swab in an armpit for a few minutes.

Dubai has received requests from around the world to share knowledge about how to train dogs to sniff out Covid-19, the Dubai police’s Major Salah Khalifa al-Mazroui said.

3 Dutch to end social distancing rule

The Netherlands will say goodbye to its 1.5m social distance rule for the first time since the start of the pandemic, starting on September 25, “a symbolic move,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said during a press conference in the Hague. “This is an exciting but positive step”.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte

The Dutch government is also expanding the use of its vaccine certificate, making it a requirement for entry to cinemas, theaters and catering businesses. Nightclubs will be allowed to reopen with limited opening hours until midnight, as is the case for bars and restaurants. Outdoor events such as festivals and sport competitions can take place at full capacity. A 75% capacity limit applies to unseated indoor events. 

People with severe immune disorders will be offered a third vaccination dose in October. 

4 India may resume vaccine exports to Africa

The World Health Organization (WHO) said talks are under way with India for a resumption of Covid-19 vaccine exports to African countries following a pause during a deadly wave of infections earlier this year. 

“Be assured the conversation is ongoing, be assured that supply will restart this year,” Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official, said at a briefing on Tuesday. “We are hoping we can get assurance it can start even faster than later this year and in the coming weeks.” 

India had been supplying doses to Covax, the equitable vaccine initiative on which most African countries are reliant. The government then moved to prioritise its own population after the Delta virus variant began sweeping through major cities. 

5 Portugal the most fully vaccinated country

Portugal is reckoned to be number one or two of the most fully vaccinated nations in the world, but there are serious concerns of a possible expansion of COVID’19 if vaccinations continue to lag so far behind in Africa.

About 80% of Portugal’s total population of just over 10 million have been fully vaccinated, according to Direção-Geral da Saúde (DGS) the national health authority.

Almost all adults over 65 and half of young people aged between 12 and 17 have now been fully vaccinated.

6 World first for AI and machine learning to treat Covid patients

The research was sparked by the pandemic and set out to build an AI tool to predict how much extra oxygen a Covid-19 patient may need in the first days of hospital care, using data from across four continents.

The technique, known as federated learning, used an algorithm to analyse chest x-rays and electronic health data from hospital patients with Covid symptoms.

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