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COVID-19 Around the World

Weekly news at a glance

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(Worldwide) World’s weekly deaths drop 10% to lowest level

COVID-19 deaths are at the lowest level since the pandemic began more than two years ago with cases the fewest in five months though there are some hotspots, including Mainland China where the pandemic originated.

Coronavirus’ seven-day moving average of deaths was 2,301, the lowest since 1,911 on March 25, 2020, according to tracking by Worldometers.info. That includes 1,366 reported Saturday with 1,691 April 18. The record was 17,006 Jan. 20, 2021, amid the Delta variant surge.

Infections and fatalities decreased on every continent except cases up in North America and Africa, and deaths rising in Oceania.

A subvariant, BA.2.12.1, along with another version of Omicron, called BA.2.12, has led to a spike but illnesses are not as severe or even as deadly.

 

(Worldwide) Italy, Greece relax COVID-19 restrictions

For travelers heading to Europe, summer vacations just got a whole lot easier.

Italy and Greece relaxed some COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday before Europe’s peak summer tourist season, in a sign that life was increasingly returning to normal.

Greece’s civil aviation authority announced that it was lifting all COVID-19 rules for international and domestic flights except for the wearing of face masks during flights and at airports. Previously, air travelers were required to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or a recent recovery from the disease.

As of Sunday, visitors to Italy no longer have to fill out the EU passenger locator form, a complicated online ordeal required at airport check-in.

Italy also did away with the health pass that had been required to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and other venues. The green pass, which showed proof of vaccination, recovery from the virus or a recent negative test, is still required to access hospitals and nursing homes.

 

(Worldwide) Shanghai hits milestone in COVID battle

Shanghai has detected no new COVID-19 cases outside quarantine areas for Friday, hitting a key milestone in its battle to contain the virus, which has paralysed the city of 25 million and seen Beijing scramble to avert a similar crisis.

Scenes of homes and buildings in China’s most populous city being caged to prevent residents leaving have grabbed global headlines in recent weeks at a time when most other major cities in the world are learning to live with coronavirus.

Although Shanghai city officials did not discuss the milestone at their daily news conference on Saturday, it was cheered on Chinese social media, with the topic “Shanghai sees zero-COVID transmission at the community level” receiving more than 190,000 views on Saturday morning on the Weibo platform.

 

 

(AUS) Hospitals and ambulances under record pressure

New government data shows that Victorian hospitals and ambulances were under extreme levels of pressure at the start of this year, due to the COVID-19 Omicron wave. An increase in patient call-outs combined with staff shortages contributed to the impact on these health services. 

Statistics from the Victorian Health Services Performance unit show that approximately one third of urgent ambulance patients waited more than the target time, during the March quarter.

The target wait time for these urgent Code One patients is fifteen minutes. The number of call-outs also rose during the same period, which was combined with a record number of paramedics unable to work after being exposed to COVID-19.

 

(AUS) Victoria and NSW maintain ban on student exchange

Victoria and New South Wales are maintaining a ban on exchange programs for secondary school students, despite universities welcoming back international arrivals. Exchange programs allow high school students to attend another school abroad for up to a year, but were stopped in early 2020. 

The Council of Australian Student Exchange Organisations is calling on both states to end the ban. President of the council Sandeep Agarwal, said the student exchange body had submitted its COVID-safe plans to the Victorian and NSW governments in February but was still awaiting approval.

 

(AUS) Victoria gets first flu season in 3 years

Influenza is returning to Victoria, with the state recording more cases of flu in recent days than for the entirety of last year. In 2021, Victoria did not record a single community transmitted case of the flu. 

Former deputy chief health officer Professor Allen Cheng, says there have been more than fifty cases of the flu admitted to Australian hospitals this year so far, most of them in recent weeks. Health authorities continue to urge people to receive both a flu vaccination as well as getting up-to-date with their COVID-19 shots.

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14.9 million excess deaths with Covid-19

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New estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO) show that the full death toll associated directly or indirectly with the COVID-19 pandemic (described as “excess mortality”) between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2021 was approximately 14.9 million (range 13.3 million to 16.6 million).  

Excess mortality is calculated as the difference between the number of deaths that have occurred and the number that would be expected in the absence of the pandemic based on data from earlier years. 

Excess mortality includes deaths associated with COVID-19 directly (due to the disease) or indirectly (due to the pandemic’s impact on health systems and society). Deaths linked indirectly to COVID-19 are attributable to other health conditions for which people were unable to access prevention and treatment because health systems were overburdened by the pandemic. The estimated number of excess deaths can be influenced also by deaths averted during the pandemic due to lower risks of certain events, like motor-vehicle accidents or occupational injuries. 

 

Most of the excess deaths (84%) are concentrated in South-East Asia, Europe, and the Americas. Some 68% of excess deaths are concentrated in just 10 countries globally. Middle-income countries account for 81% of the 14.9 million excess deaths (53% in lower-middle-income countries and 28% in upper-middle-income countries) over the 24-month period, with high-income and low-income countries each accounting for 15% and 4%, respectively. 

 

The estimates for a 24-month period (2020 and 2021) include a breakdown of excess mortality by age and sex. They confirm that the global death toll was higher for men than for women (57% male, 43% female) and higher among older adults. The absolute count of the excess deaths is affected by the population size. The number of excess deaths per 100,000 gives a more objective picture of the pandemic than reported COVID-19 mortality data.

“Measurement of excess mortality is an essential component to understand the impact of the pandemic. Shifts in mortality trends provide decision-makers information to guide policies to reduce mortality and effectively prevent future crises. Because of limited investments in data systems in many countries, the true extent of excess mortality often remains hidden,” said Dr Samira Asma, Assistant Director-General for Data, Analytics and Delivery at WHO. “These new estimates use the best available data and have been produced using a robust methodology and a completely transparent approach.”

 

“Data is the foundation of our work every day to promote health, keep the world safe, and serve the vulnerable. We know where the data gaps are, and we must collectively intensify our support to countries, so that every country has the capability to track outbreaks in real-time, ensure delivery of essential health services, and safeguard population health,” said Dr Ibrahima Socé Fall, Assistant Director-General for Emergency Response. 

The production of these estimates is a result of a global collaboration supported by the work of the Technical Advisory Group for COVID-19 Mortality Assessment and country consultations. 

 

This methodology has been invaluable as many countries still lack capacity for reliable mortality surveillance and therefore do not collect and generate the data needed to calculate excess mortality. Using the publicly available methodology, countries can use their own data to generate or update their own estimates.

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(Worldwide) North Korea reports more COVID deaths

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un blasted officials over slow medicine deliveries and ordered his military to respond to the surging but largely undiagnosed COVID-19 crisis that has left 1.2 million people ill with fever and 50 dead in a matter of days, state media said Monday.

State media didn’t specify how many were confirmed as COVID-19, but North Korea is believed to lack sufficient testing supplies to confirm coronavirus infections in large numbers and is mostly relying on isolating people with symptoms at shelters.

Failing to slow the virus could have dire consequences for North Korea, considering its broken health care system and that its 26 million people are believed to be unvaccinated, with malnourishment and other conditions of poverty.

 

(Worldwide) U.S. licenses key Covid vaccine technology to WHO

President Joe Biden on Thursday said the U.S. has licensed a key technology used in the current Covid-19 vaccines to the World Health Organization, which would allow manufacturers around the world to work with the global health agency to develop their own shots against the virus.

The decision to share the vaccine technology comes ahead of a virtual global Covid-19 summit that the U.S. is co-hosting Thursday. The WHO, in a statement, said the license would make the crucial technology accessible to people in low- and middle-income countries and help end the pandemic.

 

(Worldwide) China’s retail sales lowest in two years 

China’s retail sales slumped to its lowest in over two years while factory output plunged, official data showed Monday, capturing the dismal economic fallout from Beijing’s zero-Covid policy.

The world’s second-largest economy has persisted with strict virus measures, choking up supply chains as dozens of Chinese cities — including key business hub Shanghai — grapple with restrictions.

Officials have vowed to support growth, lowering the mortgage rate for first-time homebuyers and announcing Shanghai’s gradual reopening last weekend but observers warn the zero-Covid strategy could mute any positive impact.

 

(AUS) Supporting Strong Multicultural Communities

The Victorian government has announced a new round of grants to help multicultural community organisations upgrade their facilities. The Multicultural Community Infrastructure Fund will provide grants of up to half a million dollars to organisations to help build or upgrade their facility needs. 

Community organisations provide safe and secure places for culturally diverse and multilingual Victorians to engage in traditional celebrations, religious events and help foster connections. This round of grants will be providing four and a half million dollars as announced in the Victorian Budget and grants will open soon. 

 

(AUS) Cold weather likely behind waning COVID immunity

Health experts say that changing weather is one of several factors behind rising COVID case numbers. University of Melbourne epidemiologist Nancy Baxter says that the relaxing of restrictions combined with the weather getting colder, is seeing more people are socialising indoors increasing the transmissibility of the virus.

Professor Baxter said waning immunity was another key factor. She noted that while there is some level of immunity after having COVID for up to three months, that immunity will wane, and those who tested positive during the Omicron wave at Christmas are now at risk again. People that got boosted had protection from transmission close to Christmas time, but the protection from transmission does wane or decrease faster than the protection from serious illness or death.

 

(AUS) Australian COVID numbers hit worldwide high

Australia has recorded the highest number of COVID cases per capita worldwide in the past week, with experts predicting another wave of Omicron.  

According to global data base, Our World in Data, this past week saw Australia rank only below Germany and the US for daily cases recorded, and came out on top as the country with the most cases per capita.

According to University of Melbourne epidemiologist Nancy Baxter, the numbers may get worse and a new variant of Omicron could already be further complicating the COVID situation. 

Omicron caused a considerable fluctuation in case numbers at the start of the year, peaking in January with tens of thousands of cases per day in Victoria alone.

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Covid pandemic disappears in Federal Election?

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As the nation gets ready to cast its vote in the federal election, the number one issue that has affected Australians over the last term of government is no longer front of mind for many of us. But as life returns to normal in Australia, the impact of the pandemic lives on for many.

From labour force shortages to the economy and health care, COVID-19 has created boons and wounds across the country — and these have shaped what people now need from their leaders. So as we move into an era of living with the virus, how has it changed what people think, feel and need from the federal government?

Vulnerable people ‘seen as collateral’

According to Vote Compass data, just 1 per cent of Australians think COVID is the most important issue this election.

But while many have already moved on, the virus is still front of mind for Adelaide woman Belle Owen. As COVID restrictions ease around Australia and masks come off, Ms Owen is doubling down every time she leaves the house. Living with a disability, she is considered vulnerable to the virus and the decision to just leave the house comes with a pressing question.

“I’m really hoping that, when the election is settled and we have a government formed, they can go away and get a group of people together who have that lived experience, and work with [the disability] community to prioritise community safety,” she said.

 

Spotlight on good economic management

While the impacts of the coronavirus were brutal for many, for others it has shown what works well. WA was the last state in the country to open its borders to the virus. The decision meant total deaths and hospitalisations from COVID-19 have remained comparatively low. And behind the state’s closed border, many businesses were riding high.

Inside Mike Bonomelli’s sheet metal business, Melbon, staff have been kept busy by a 30 per cent increase in business. With the iron ore price high and interest rates low amid a strong economy, Mr Bonomelli took on 10 new staff during the pandemic.  The government’s asset write-offs also allowed him to refit his factory with new equipment worth $3 million. Foreseeing a labour force issue, Mr Bonomelli approached the Perth Karen community and took on five new apprentices and 10 new staff in total. 

But labour is still an issue. “I really need the government to have some incentive to fast forward international people coming here on some sort of visa, and cutting the red tape to bring in the trades that we need.” Mr Bonomelli said the last two years have demonstrated the benefits a strong economy and swift decision-making can bring. And looking ahead to the federal election, he wants more of that.

 

COVID’s labour shortage hangover

Not all people in WA have reaped the rewards of WA’s hard border.

For Jen Bird and James Weeding, who operate the family-owned 4WD tourism company Kimberley Wild, it has been brutal. The business helps to showcase sights including Broome, the Bungle Bungles and Motchell Plateau. Ninety per cent of their visitors come from outside WA. 

“We’ve been very lucky in WA from a day-to-day life point of view we’ve been COVID-free,” said Ms Bird. “However, with a business that depends so much on interstate and international travel, it’s been tough.” “And as a seasonal business, we do employ a lot of backpackers, and I think that will be a big challenge this year.”

“I would like to see, personally, from the federal government with tourism, perhaps some policies and ideas that stretch beyond a three-year term,” Mr Weeding said. “And the things that affect tourism, like climate and the environment,” Ms Bird said.

 

The pandemic in the rear-view mirror

But they are also ready to move on from COVID, just like Adelaide hairdresser Ali Lucia. As restrictions ease across South Australia, the immediate impacts of COVID are becoming less of a worry for Ms Lucia.

She said she was glad to see the end of close contact rules, as they had affected not only her clients but herself too. But she considers herself one of the lucky ones, keeping her job and now taking on her first mortgage for a brand new home.

With that her focus, she said she was now ready to move past the pandemic, and it would not be a big factor in how she votes.

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