France is gearing up for a possible easing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions from mid-April, as vaccines, to date, are proving effective at lowering infection rates. French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday that while the nation is still facing hard times, “For the first time in months, the return to more normal living conditions is in sight.” Attal said vaccinated groups (mainly the elderly) are witnessing falling infection rates, which, he said, is a sign that the country’s vaccination program is working and should be sped up. "It is neither a distant nor uncertain horizon - it is an horizon that is getting closer and closer. We hope maybe from mid-April, and we are preparing for it. "The president (Emmanuel Macron) asked us to submit proposals that could allow for a cautious re-opening of the country soon,” he said. Attal added that the goal of vaccinating the most fragile was to reduce hospitalizations and safeguard the nation’s health care system, which is key to easing restrictions. Earlier this week, Health Minister Olivier Veran said France will retain its current measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19, including a nighttime curfew, as a bare minimum for the next four to six weeks. Other measures now in force include the closure of bars, restaurants, museums, sports and music venues. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.
People in France aged over 65 with existing health problems will be allowed to be given the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, after the French Government reversed its policy. When the AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use by European Union regulators, the French Government said it should only be given to eligible people under 65 because data from trials in older age groups was limited. The AstraZeneca vaccine will now be offered to people up to the age of 74. However, the shot has been hit by a slow rollout and a lack of trust. French Health Minister Olivier Veran said Monday: "Anybody aged 50 or over who is affected by co-morbidities can get the AstraZeneca vaccine, including those between 65 and 74." The announcement has the potential to affect more than two million people. British health authorities released new data on Monday that showed the AstraZeneca vaccine reduced hospitalization from COVID-19 by more than 80%. The vaccine is widely used in the UK but has missed delivery targets in the EU. People aged 75 and over would continue to get the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines only, Veran said. Meanwhile, Germany still hasn’t cleared the AstraZeneca vaccine for over 65s. This has led to fewer people stepping up for the shot and several doses being wasted. Image courtesy of Marco Verch on Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
A single dose of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine reduces a person’s risk of infection by 72%, a new study has revealed. According to Public Health England (PHE), the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine "provides high levels of protection against infection and symptomatic disease.” PHE's Siren Study, which involved healthcare workers aged under 65, found that one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine reduced the risk of infection by 72% after three weeks. Two doses of the vaccine reduced the risk of infection by 85%. This high level of protection also includes the B.1.1.7 coronavirus variant first identified in the UK in December. For the study, health workers were tested for Covid-19 infection every two weeks using PCR tests and twice a week with lateral flow tests. As Dr. Susan Hopkins, strategic response director at PHE, explained, "there was a lot of asymptomatic testing.” "Overall we are seeing a really strong effect to reducing any infection: asymptomatic and symptomatic," Hopkins said during a press conference held by the UK's Science Media Centre on Monday. Promising early data has also shown that people who are vaccinated and subsequently catch Covid-19 are far less likely to die of, or be hospitalized with, the virus. For example, people over the age of 80 who were infected after being vaccinated were 41% less likely to be hospitalized with the virus and 57% less likely to die of it.
The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday gave two versions of the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine the green light to be used for emergency use, listing them on its Emergency Use Listing (EUL), paving the way for them to be rolled out globally through COVAX. The vaccines are produced by AstraZeneca-SKBio (Republic of Korea) and the Serum Institute of India. WHO’s EUL assesses the quality, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines and is a prerequisite for COVAX Facility vaccine supply. It also allows countries to expedite their own regulatory approval to import and administer COVID-19 vaccines. “Countries with no access to vaccines to date will finally be able to start vaccinating their health workers and populations at risk, contributing to the COVAX Facility’s goal of equitable vaccine distribution,” said Dr Mariângela Simão, WHO Assistant-Director General for Access to Medicines and Health Products. ‘But we must keep up the pressure to meet the needs of priority populations everywhere and facilitate global access. To do that, we need two things – a scale-up of manufacturing capacity, and developers’ early submission of their vaccines for WHO review.” Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine was listed for emergency use by WHO on 31 December 2020.
Europe's oldest living person has survived COVID-19 after testing positive just weeks before her 117th birthday. Sister André, a French nun who was born in 1904, tested positive in the retirement home where she lives in Toulon, southern France, on January 16, according to the home’s communications director, David Tavella. André, who was born Lucille Randon, showed no symptoms from the virus and didn’t even know she was infected until she received her positive test. Despite no visitors being allowed because of strict COVID protocols, André is preparing to celebrate her 117th birthday today, Thursday 11th February. She will reportedly receive video messages from her family and the local mayor, as well as taking part in a video Mass, Tavella said. André's birthday meal will feature her favorites: foie gras, baked Alaska and a glass of red wine, Tavella added. Remarkably, André has lived through two world wars, as well as the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic that infected around 500 million people. While Andre is the oldest living person in France today, she’s not the oldest in the world. That crown is held by Kane Tanaka, a Japanese woman who was born in 1903, according to the Gerontology Research Group (GRG). * Image credit Gérard Julien/AFP/Getty Images
Last Saturday, February 6, France reported both a fall in new COVID-19 infections and in the number of patients being treated in hospital. The country registered 20,586 new confirmed COVID-19 cases, down from 22,139 the previous day and marking the third straight daily fall. Meanwhile, hospitals across the country were treating 27,369 people for the disease, down 245 from the previous day, marking the fourth consecutive daily fall. The fall in numbers comes as France continues with its COVID-19 vaccination programme, with 1.86 million people now having received their first dose. Almost a quarter of a million people (247,260) have also received their second dose. At present, France has three vaccines approved for use: Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca, the latest to be received. The country has taken delivery of 273,600 AstraZeneca, according to the health ministry, with a second batch of 304,800 doses scheduled to be delivered this week. The initial AstraZeneca shots were prioritized for health personnel under 65, with the first injections taking place over the weekend. While the arrival of the AstraZeneca shot will help France accelerate its vaccination programme, the quantities that are expected to be delivered are likely to be less than first thought. Nevertheless, with a third approved vaccine and COVID numbers falling, pressure on the French health system is easing day by day.
Texas Governor, Greg Abbott, has said he wants to permanently expand access to telemedicine services across the state, noting that they benefit both patients and doctors. Speaking during his State of the State address on Monday, Gov. Abbott said: “We should seize the opportunity this session to permanently expand telemedicine so that every Texan in every region of the state can benefit.” Telemedicine services in Texas have surged since the start of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. But if Gov. Abbott wants to maintain telemedicine access and coverage in Texas beyond the pandemic, he will need the help of the Texas Legislature, Congress, and private insurance providers. Last March, Gov. Abbott eased regulations regarding the types of health care services that can be offered over the phone or through video calls. He also issued an emergency rule so that the Texas Dept. of Insurance (TDI) could compensate healthcare providers for telemedicine consultations at the same rate as in-person visits. However, this equalized compensation only applied to patients covered by state-regulated insurance plans, like those purchased through HealthCare.gov, which make up only 15% of plans in Texas, according to TDI. Gov. Abbott also highlighted how critical telemedicine services have been in enabling Texans to get needed health services this past year.
Against expectations, France has resisted imposing a nationwide lockdown, choosing to introduce new Covid-19 border restrictions instead. Under the new restrictions, all non-essential travel from outside the EU has been banned and testing requirements for travellers from within the EU have been tightened. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said France's night curfew would also be more tightly enforced and large shopping centres would close. It had been expected that French President Emmanuel Macron would impose a third national lockdown to contain Covid-19. However, the French premiere opted to tighten existing restrictions on travel and shopping instead. The move sees France following a different path than its two biggest neighbours Britain and Germany, at a time when the more contagious UK variant of the disease is spreading rapidly across Europe. [Related reading: Moderna says its vaccine will work against new COVID variants] "Everything suggests that a new wave could occur because of the variant, but perhaps we can avoid it thanks to the measures that we decided early and that the French people are respecting," Health Minister Olivier Veran told the Journal du Dimanche (JDD) newspaper on Sunday. Despite the news of tighter border restrictions, France Surgery’s proprietary telehealth platforms remain open and accessible to all of our international clients, one of the main benefits of remote healthcare.
Changes to a person’s tongue, hands or the soles of their feet could provide an early indication that they are infected with Covid-19, Spanish researchers say. In a study presented on Tuesday, the researchers said that among 666 patients with Covid-19 at Madrid’s IFEMA field hospital set up during the first wave of the pandemic, one in four patients said they had noticed changes to their tongue. Four out of 10 also noticed unusual signs on the palms of their hands or soles of their feet. The study was carried out in April by healthcare professionals from Madrid’s La Paz hospital and primary care services. The findings were published in the British Journal of Dermatology in the form of a “research letter” in September. Some patients said they experienced swelling of their tongues and the appearance of patches – something which has now been dubbed ‘Covid tongue’. This was also associated with a loss of taste. Another symptom was a burning sensation and redness on the palms or soles of the feet, which in some cases was also followed by the appearance of small blemishes. “Almost half of patients with mild‐to‐moderate Covid‐19 admitted in a field‐hospital during a two‐week period showed mucocutaneous findings,” the researchers said. “The oral cavity was frequently involved and deserves specific examination under appropriate circumstances to avoid contagion risk.”
With reports emerging that several different COVID variants are now circulating around the world, Moderna has released a statement saying it believes its vaccine protects against at least two of the new strains. Moderna Inc said on Monday it believes its COVID-19 vaccine protects against both new variants found in Britain and South Africa. However, the American pharmaceutical and biotechnology company also said it will test a separate booster shot aimed at the South African variant after concluding the antibody response could be diminished. The company said in a press release that it found no reduction in the antibody response against the variant found in Britain. Against the South African variant, Moderna said it found a reduced response but still believed its two-dose regimen would provide protection. The emergence of new COVID variants in Britain, South Africa and Brazil has created some concern that mutations in the virus may make vaccines less effective. Moderna’s announcement will serve to alleviate some of that concern, but the proof will be in the infection numbers going forward. Moderna shares rose nearly 10% off the back of the news during Monday trading. Moderna said it plans to publish data from its tests against the variants on the website bioRxiv.
With Covid-19 vaccines now being rolled out in many countries across the world, a number of tech giants are teaming up to help facilitate the return to "normal". A coalition known as the Vaccine Credential Initiative — which boasts healthcare and tech leaders, including Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, Cerner, Cigna's Evernorth, and the Mayo Clinic (among others) in its ranks — wants to ensure that everyone has access to a secure, digital record of their Covid-19 vaccination. This kind of digital vaccine passport, which can be stored in people's smartphones, could be used for everything from airline travel to entering concert venues. The coalition has even considered those without smartphones. Such individuals will be given a printable QR code containing their record that can be scanned wherever they go. "Just as Covid-19 does not discriminate based on socio-economic status, we must ensure that convenient access to immunization records crosses the digital divide," Brian Anderson, chief digital health physician at non-profit research organization MITRE, a member of the coalition, said in a statement. With such vaccine passports in place, a healthy and safe return to work, school, travel and life in general can be accelerated.
Despite more than 40 countries recently closing their borders to travellers from the UK, cases of the new variant Covid-19 virus have been confirmed in several European countries, including Spain, Sweden and Switzerland. All of the confirmed cases were linked to people who had arrived from the UK. The revelations take the total number of new countries impacted by the new variant to 15, with South Korea the latest nation to announce a confirmed case. According to Reuters, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCPA) found traces of the United Kingdom (UK) variant in three individuals from London who entered South Korea on December 22. Meanwhile, both Canada and Japan have also announced that they have found traces of the new Covid-19 strain in their countries. What is most alarming about Canada’s announcement is that the individual in which the new variant was discovered has no known travel history and exposure or high-risk contact. Scientists from the Independent Sage group have urged all regions of England to be placed under tier 4 restrictions, meaning that non-essential shops, hairdressers, and leisure and entertainment venues cannot operate. With evidence emerging that the new variant appears to be particularly infectious among children, teaching unions have urged for schools to remain closed. Speaking about the new variant, Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said: “If this new variant is behind the increase in this age group, then that is a big worry.”
More than 40 countries have banned individuals arriving from the United Kingdom due to concerns about a new variant of coronavirus. France shut its border with the UK for 48 hours, which meant no lorries or ferries could leave from Dover. Meanwhile, flights from the UK have either been suspended or are in the process of being suspended to countries across the world, including Belgium, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain and Switzerland. The UK’s postal service, Royal Mail, has also temporarily suspended all services to mainland Europe, due to the "current restrictions around air, road, ferry and train movements from the UK". UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron about the situation, saying that both sides wanted to resolve "these problems as fast as possible". The ban on UK arrivals came about after a new strain of coronavirus – which is reportedly 70% more transmissible – has been spreading across London and south-east England. However, health officials have said there is no evidence that this new variant is more deadly or would react differently to vaccines. French Europe Minister Clément Beaune is expected to announce today what measures were being introduced "after this phase of emergency and harsh precaution that we had to take". Any measures, he said, would come into effect from Wednesday. [Related reading: France lifts lockdown, opens borders for Covid-safe countries]
After about a month and a half of complete lockdown, France’s Covid-19 restrictions are easing. While several types of venue will remain closed, the lockdown will be replaced with a nightly curfew, designed to avoid another spike of cases. French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, said that the health situation in France has improved considerably in recent weeks. However, he warned that the second wave of the pandemic had yet to end. “We have not yet reached the end of this 2nd wave, and we will not be, on December 15,” he said, explaining why a nightly curfew would be in place, and some venues prevented from reopening. In addition to the lockdown ending, France has also opened both international travel and travel to different regions of the country for non-essential reasons. This will allow tourists and second homeowners to once again visit France, as well as enabling people to travel to see relatives and friends in other parts of the country or other countries. In his speech announcing the new measures, PM Castex said that travel on the evening of December 24 will be allowed, but not for more than six adults at a time. He also reminded French citizens to respect the hygiene and social distancing guidelines. Under the new measures, travel between France and the following countries/territories is now permitted: - European Union - Andorra - Australia - The Holy See - Iceland - Japan - Liechtenstein - Monaco - New Zealand - Norway - Rwanda - San Marino - South Korea - Singapore - Switzerland - Thailand - United Kingdom
The United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) have started national Covid-19 vaccine rollouts, as the pandemic situation in each country continues to worsen. In the United States, the first batches of Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine left a Michigan manufacturing plant on Sunday bound for 150 locations across the country. The vaccine will now be given to the most vulnerable Americans, including frontline health workers and long-term care home residents. The United States is slowly approaching the once unthinkable threshold of 300,000 Covid-related deaths. Meanwhile, the UK witnessed its first Covid vaccination last week. It was given to 90-year-old Margaret Keenan, with up to four million more expected to follow by the end of December. The UK made history earlier this month when it became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine for use. The Covid-19 vaccine rollout in the UK comes as the capital, London, witnesses a surge in cases. As a result, London and several other areas in the south-east will this week enter the toughest coronavirus restrictions (tier 3) in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus and reduce infection numbers. The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine — enough to vaccinate 20 million people — with the first 800,000 doses coming from Pfizer's facilities in Belgium to the UK this week.
The Covid-19 pandemic is having a profound impact on many areas of our lives, some more obvious than others. To highlight just how wide-ranging the effects of pandemic have been, the World Economic Forum has compiled a list of five major trends that are being accelerated by the Covid-19. Here are the trends Covid has accelerated, according to the World Economic Forum: 1. Increased screen time We’re all spending more time in front of screens (TVs, computers, smartphones). In fact, our use of screens has risen considerably, with 44% of people under the age of 18 now reporting four hours or more of screen time per day (up from 21% prior to the pandemic). 2. A big consumer shake-up Physical buying is now as “frictionless” as possible and online shopping has become as nimble as possible. Cashierless checkouts and contactless payment means are fast becoming the norm in-store, while eCommerce companies (especially Amazon) have reported a surge in sales. 3. Peak globalization Globalization has plateaued since the financial crisis and the Covid pandemic seems to be the final nail in its coffin. 4. A broadening wealth gap Billionaires are now worth more than ever and inequality is growing. Those in the top 50% wealth bracket have witnessed their fortunes growing, while those in the bottom 50 have seen stagnation. 5. The rise of the flexible workplace In 2019, more than half of companies did not have flexible working arrangements or the capabilities to allow staff to work flexibly. Fast-forward to today and 82% of business leaders say they intend to permit remote working some of the time going forward.
It is estimated that a child is born every 3 minutes with a cleft lip, cleft palate or both worldwide — about one in 500-750 births. Usually, with surgery, a child born with a cleft can have a new, beautiful smile and live a normal life. However, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has meant that affected babies are having even greater difficulty in getting their much-needed cleft treatment. Fortunately, cleft charities are continuing their work by taking advantage of telehealth solutions. One such charity is Smile Train, whose Philippine arm has continued providing ongoing comprehensive cleft care including nutrition, speech therapy and psychological support to patients, despite temporarily postponing surgeries. “This year was a different year because of the Covid pandemic. The last three or four months we saw a drop in the number of cases in many hospital nationwide. Some stopped doing operations. But Smile Train is not just about surgery. What we strive to do is to be able to provide cleft comprehensive care to those who need it whether be it counseling, guidance in terms of how do you breastfeed baby with a cleft or after surgery, what does the child still need, among others,” said Kimmy Coseteng-Flaviano, Country Director of Smile Train Philippines, during a virtual media conference. Flaviano said the charity is also providing psychosocial support to older patients via telehealth, to help boost their self-confidence. Since parents of cleft babies aren’t able to visit clinics resulting to unanswered questions, Smile Train is trying to support them through virtual consultations with their partner surgeons or doctors, or through Facebook Live discussions.