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How did the pandemic start?

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Two years ago today, as New Year’s Eve fireworks lit up skies across the world, news reached the World Health Organization (WHO) about an outbreak of “pneumonia” in Wuhan, China, the cause of which was unknown.

In the two years that followed, more than 5 million people worldwide have lost their lives to the virus; “lockdown” has become part of the world’s common vocabulary and governments and their citizens are still waiting for a “new normal” to emerge.

The virus has also exposed inequalities within countries in terms of the impact on lower-paid, public-facing employees, as well as exacerbating global inequities as vaccine rollouts take place at vastly different rates.

This global retrospective shows, in graphics, the varying impact of Covid worldwide.

 

Europe and Americas have had the highest caseloads

More than one in 10 people in Europe and America have tested positive for Covid at this stage in the pandemic, according to figures from Our World in Data that run to 20 December. And even this is likely an underestimate, given that case figures do not capture cases that have gone under the testing radar.

Recorded cases rely on the number of Covid-19 tests carried out in a country. Still, we can get a sense of how the pandemic has spread – and how case rates have expanded and retracted – over the last two years by looking at case rates on continents.

The highly infectious Omicron variant has caused cases to surge in Europe in December, meaning the continent currently counts for 60% of all new cases being recorded worldwide.

This wasn’t always the case, however. As the west reaped vaccine dividends to coincide with the northern summer, South America’s case rates soared for several months, starting in April 2021. This was partly driven by consistently high case rates in Brazil, which have had an effect on the continent’s numbers throughout the pandemic.

North America had the highest case rates at the end of 2020 as Trump’s presidency came to a turbulent end. The country recently reported it had surpassed 800,000 deaths, the highest absolute figure reported anywhere worldwide.

 

 

While Africa’s recorded cases seem low, the continent has still been hit hard throughout the pandemic, most recently with the Omicron variant which was first reported in South Africa. Case rates are influenced by how much testing a country does, which in turn is influenced by the funding a country has available to combat Covid-19.

 

The vaccine rollout cause for optimism

As 2020 drew to a close the world’s hopes were pinned on the vaccine rollout. As of 20 December, close to 8.8bn coronavirus vaccine doses had been administered to 4.5 billion people worldwide, of whom 3.7 billion were fully vaccinated. It provided real-life proof that vaccines reduce the risk of a Covid-19 infection leading to hospitalisation or death.

After signing a deal with Pfizer, Israel was the first major country to achieve strong vaccination coverage. The US and the UK also enjoyed early success in their rollouts, unlike the EU which took longer to pass regulations followed by supply delays.

Many countries have since outpaced the early leaders, among them Portugal, Chile, Cuba, Spain, China, Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, although another frontrunner, the United Arab Emirates, has managed to fully vaccinate more than 90% of its population.

But the vaccine rollout has been inequitable

While the rollout of over 8bn vaccine dose worldwide is a success, the distribution of these vaccines is unequal.

The latest figures to 20 December show that more than three-quarters of people in high-income countries have received two doses of the vaccine, compared with just 8% of those living in low-income countries.

Data from October revealed how more people have received a Covid booster vaccination in the UK per head of population than are reported to have had their first shot in Africa. Rollout remains stubbornly low in some with dozens of countries – the vast majority in Africa – reporting double vaccination rates of less than 10%.

This doesn’t only affect those countries in which vaccination rates are low: as Omicron has shown, uneven vaccination affords the virus opportunities to adapt and spread through new variants.

 

 

Vaccine inequity moved the death burden to poor nations

As vaccination campaigns started to cover the most vulnerable in wealthy nations, the impact was quick to see. Data from late April revealed a record shift in the burden of global Covid-19 deaths to poor and lower-middle income countries.

However, in the months that followed a combination of a relaxation of restrictions, the emergence of the Delta variant, the northern hemisphere winter and vaccine hesitancy in some wealthier nations (most notably the US) has meant that high-income nations are once again recording high levels of deaths.

As 2021 comes to an end, close to half (47%) of all global deaths are being recorded in high-income countries. This is lower than the 57% recorded last winter, but far higher than the 8% recorded in July 2021 when some in richer nations thought that they had vaccinated themselves out of the pandemic.

While large countries such as the US, Brazil and India have recorded the highest overall number of Covid-19 deaths, Peru, Bulgaria and Bosnia and Herzegovina are the countries that have the highest death tolls when population is taken into account. Peru has recorded 6,062 deaths per million people over the course of the pandemic.

 

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Pfizer and Moderna safe and effective for under 5

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Food and Drug Administration staff said Sunday the coronavirus vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, for children younger than 5 is effective in producing a virus-blocking response and did not raise safety concerns, a prelude to a crucial review this week by the agency’s independent advisers.

The three-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for kids ages 6 months through 4 years will likely benefit this age group, the FDA said, noting higher hospitalization and death rates among the youngest children in the U.S. compared with those 5 and older.

The analysis by FDA scientists was released ahead of a meeting Wednesday of the agency’s independent experts, who will consider a request for emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in the youngest children. It will also review a request from Moderna to use its vaccine in children younger than 6. FDA staff Friday said Moderna’s shot for infants and young children was safe and effective.

After the advisers make their recommendations, the FDA will decide whether to follow the panel’s advice, which it often does. If the agency clears the vaccines, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention signs off, the shots could be available beginning next week.

The FDA said the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine met the main requirement for effectiveness — it generated an immune response at least as strong as the protection afforded to young adults from the vaccine.

Overall, the agency said, preliminary data indicated the vaccine was 80.4 percent effective in preventing symptomatic covid-19. The rate was 75.6 percent for babies and toddlers six to 23 months old, and 82.4 percent for children 2-to-4-years-old.

But the FDA said it was too soon to reach “definitive conclusions” on the vaccine’s effectiveness.

Side effects were minimal and included irritability and drowsiness for children 6-to-23-months-old, and pain at the injection site and fatigue for children 2 to 4, the FDA said.

Babies and children younger than 5 — a group numbering 19 million — remain the only age group in the United States not yet eligible for a coronavirus vaccine.

Some parents have been eagerly awaiting vaccines for their young children, anxious to provide them the same protection that older children, teenagers and adults have had for some time. But surveys show most parents intend to wait before getting their children vaccinated, or are not interested in the pediatric vaccines.

The FDA made clear Sunday it believes vaccines for the youngest group are critical. Given the uncertainty of the pandemic and likely continued virus transmission in coming months, “deployment of the vaccine for use among children 6 months through 4 years of age will likely have a beneficial effect on COVID-19 associated morbidity and mortality in this age group,” the agency said.

Vaccines for young children have followed a twisting — and often confusing — path, marked by disappointing results, delays and changes in regulatory strategies.

Pfizer and BioNTech initially tested a two-shot vaccine regimen but announced last December that the approach failed to meet the immune-response goal for the 2-to-4-year-old group. The vaccine makers added a third shot to their trial, delaying vaccine availability by months.

But in late January, federal officials made the surprising suggestion that there might be a path forward for the two-dose regimen, despite the disappointing results. They said that even if the vaccine missed the immune response target, which is measured in the laboratory, the vaccine still might protect children from infections.

But that data turned out to be disappointing, too, with only 28.3 percent effectiveness, according to the most recent figures, reflecting the emergence of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. The FDA dropped the plan to accelerate the vaccine and decided to await results from a third dose.

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Surviving Covid at age 105

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A NSW aged care resident who recently battled Covid, has just celebrated her 105th birthday.

May Harrison, who is thought to be Australia’s oldest Covid survivor, hit the milestone birthday, surrounded by family and friends.

“I was very sick and when I came out of it, I was very weak, but I got over it,” she told the ABC. “We were to have had a bigger [party] on the Sydney Harbour but they didn’t think I was strong enough.

“But I love my parties.”

Ms Harrison is one of nearly 46,000 aged care residents in Australia who have so far had Covid. That is despite regulations put in place to protect this vulnerable cohort.

And as the country returns to ‘normal’ as we “learn to live with Covid”, the numbers of those instead dying with Covid have been steadily rising this year.

May is one of the nearly 46,000 Australian aged care residents who have contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

And although the daily press conferences are long gone — and, for many people, life has returned to something much closer to normal — COVID-19 cases in Australia remain at around 45,000 per day.

Experts are warning that COVID-19 still “has tricks up its sleeve” with reinfections rising and new strains emerging.    

 

Aged care under COVID strain 

Last week, there were more 780 active outbreaks in aged care facilities and the sector is under pressure.

Whiddon Aged Care runs 20 centres across NSW and Queensland, including the facility where May lives in south-west Sydney.

Its chief executive, Chris Mamarelis, said the company had strict health and safety practices on site, but the high community transmission across the country meant the impact of COVID-19 was still a threat.

“All of our homes are being impacted by COVID,” he said.

But high vaccinations and strong infection management have helped keep things relatively under control, he added.

Mr Mamarelis said the high case numbers were taking a devastating toll on the aged care workforce — and he was worried about reinfection. 

“We’re seeing a lot of staff that are having to isolate who are contracting COVID,” he said.

“We’re not finding the backup — they’re just not there. So there’s immense pressure [particularly] in those regional locations where team members are working 12-hour shifts.”

Outside of aged care, large numbers of people continue to contract the virus in the wider community.

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5 steps in writing an effective e-mail

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  1. Keep your e-mails short

Less is more. The shorter you can keep your e-mail while still relaying your message or question the better. At most we suggest no more than three paragraphs of text.

 

  1. Make the subject line clear and easy to read

The subject of the e-mail should contain enough information to let the recipient know the contents of an e-mail.

 

  1. Make the e-mail personal

Always include the name or alias of the e-mail recipient. If you want the e-mail to be even more personal include your real name in the e-mail as well.

 

  1. Watch your spelling and grammar

E-mail with spelling and other grammatical errors tells the reader it’s not that important. Always spell check, keep the below suggestions in mind, and proofread the e-mail before sending it out.

– Always use proper punctuation and capitalization.

– Never use shorthand or acronyms people don’t understand.

– Do not WRITE IN ALL CAPS; it gives the impression you’re YELLING.

 

  1. Use a clean signature

Signatures is an effective method of displaying your contact information at the bottom of e-mails. However, follow e-mail signature etiquette when creating a signature.

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