COVID-19

US hits 500,000 deaths as UK ‘cautious’ on lockdown roadmap

In a statement to parliament, he outlined a “gradual and cautious” approach to lifting curbs in England, starting with the return of students to schools from March 8, and non-essential retail from April 12.Some sports fans could be able to attend stadiums from May 17, while all social distancing restrictions could be removed from June 21, all subject to change and depending on scientific data.The announcement is the first big step towards restoring normal life, nearly a year after Mr Johnson imposed the first of three stay-at-home orders that have devastated the country and its economy.Mr Johnson told MPs that with a mass vaccination program across the country easing pressure on overstretched hospitals, “the end really is in sight”.“A wretched year will give way to a spring and summer that will be very different and incomparably better than the picture we see around us today,” he added.The Conservative prime minister, who was accused of acting too late and relaxing curbs too early last year, called the plan “cautious but irreversible” to ensure no more lockdowns.Britain is one of the countries hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 120,000 deaths.It was the first nation to begin a mass vaccination campaign in December, but surging case numbers forced a return to lockdown and shut schools in early January after an easing of curbs over Christmas.More than 17 million people have now received at least a first vaccine dose — one-third of the UK’s adult population.Over the weekend, the government said it would seek to offer a dose to everyone aged over 50 by mid-April, and to every other adult by the end of July, accelerating the latter timetable from September previously.Case numbers are falling again and Mr Johnson said the planned relaxations would be uniform across England, after regionalised tiers were put in place last year, but stressed that further progress would hinge on factors such as any new virus variants.That, and proof that the National Health Service is not facing any more “unsustainable pressure”, offer Mr Johnson some flexibility against pressure from Conservative backbenchers who are pressing for a cast-iron timeline to normality by the summer.Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed earlier on Monday that pupils would go back to schools en masse on March 8 rather than in a staggered return, insisting widespread testing would make it safe.“We are being deliberately careful and of course allowing teachers the notice to be able to prepare,” he told BBC radio.“It’s ambitious but it’s also careful and it’s data-driven.” However, teaching unions say all students returning on the same day is “reckless”, but the March 8 target appears to be backed by the main opposition Labour Party.Also from March 8, the government plans to allow elderly residents of care homes to receive indoor visits from one designated relative or friend, and limited social mixing by the public outdoors will be permitted.The government laid out its plans in a 68-page document, which said the five-week intervals between the four stages were designed to allow for assessment of the relaxation measures.Mr Johnson stressed the lifting of curbs would be led by data, not dates. The four tests involve study of the progress of the vaccine rollout, pressure on hospitals, infection rates and the emergence of any new coronavirus variants.The devolved governments of Scotland and Wales, which administer their own health policy, are letting some younger pupils return to school this week.In Northern Ireland, the administration is resuming younger classes on March 8 but has extended its overall lockdown to April 1.John Edmunds, an epidemiologist and government advisor from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told the BBC: “The vast majority of us are still not immune.“Easing up too quickly will increase pressure, cases will increase again. We’re not through this yet.”It comes as it has been revealed that COVID-19 vaccines have had a significant impact on the risk of serious illness in Scotland, an analysis shows.Public Health Scotland found by the fourth week after the first dose hospitalisations were reduced by 85 per cent and 94 per cent for the Pfizer and AstraZeneca jabs respectively, the BBC reports. .It is the first sign of the real world impact of the UK’s vaccination program. US COVID DEATHS PASS 500,000More than 500,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the United States since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University, by far the highest reported toll of any country.The catastrophic US figure came on Monday (local time) as some signs of hope are emerging in the world’s hardest-hit country, with millions of people now vaccinated and winter’s massive spike in infections dropping.Still, the grim threshold was reached only about a month after the US recorded 400,000 fatalities from the disease in mid-January, with cases now on the decline but deaths continuing to mount.The toll, 500,071, is more than double the number in absolute terms of reported deaths in Brazil, which has the world’s second highest toll.“It’s terrible. It is historic. We haven’t seen anything even close to this for well over a hundred years, since the 1918 pandemic of influenza,” Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to US President Joe Biden, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press.” After the first COVID-19 death was announced in the US in February 2020 it took about three months to pass the 100,000 mark, during a first wave that hit New York particularly hard.It took another four months to reach 200,000 fatalities, and just under three more months to reach 300,000.Cases surged into the winter season which brought people indoors for holiday gatherings. The total reported number of known infections was over 28 million on Monday.But deaths are still coming, and President Joe Biden last month warned that “well over” 600,000 people in the US could die from the virus.According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 61 million people have received at least one shot of vaccine in the United States, with some 18 million getting the full two doses.Mr Biden has made it a priority to get 100 million people vaccinated within the first 100 days of his administration.Mr Biden last week said the program to deliver vaccines into people’s arms is as complicated as the already intense challenges of manufacturing them in huge quantities at speed.But he said his 100-million-shot goal is on track to be easily surpassed, with a current average of 1.7 million vaccinations a day.Mr Biden said he did not want to give firm predictions of when the crisis will be curbed, but said that 600 million doses — enough to provide the two-dose regimen to most of the country — were expected to be ready by the end of July.The president is expected to speak Monday about the latest toll, and he is to be joined by Vice-President Kamala Harris at sunset for a moment of silence and a candle-lighting ceremony.Though concern has grown over variants of the virus, especially those that appear to spread more easily and render current shots less potent, officials sounded a hopeful note on curbing the virus.“For those of us in the administration, the occasion makes us more determined to turn the tide on COVID-19 so the losses can subside and the healing can begin,” White House coronavirus advisor Andy Slavitt said.“Today alone, we plan to deliver seven million (vaccine) doses,” he added on MondayNED-1909-COVID-19-World-cases-vs.-death-comparisonCOVID PATIENTS MAY ONLY NEED ONE VACCINE DOSEDr Fauci also claimed that US officials were looking into the possibility of giving only one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to people who had already been infected with the virus.The Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said data from administering a single shot to virus survivors is “really quite impressive.”“The boost that you get with that single dose is really enormous,” Dr Fauci told Meet the Press in the US.“So we’re looking very carefully about that. And that is one thing that you might want to consider, but we want to really carefully look at the data first.”A small study from the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that healthcare workers who had recovered from the virus generated dramatically higher antibody levels after a single dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines.Two weeks after their first shot, their neutralising antibody levels were about 500 times higher than people who had not been sick before, the Wall Street Journal reported.“They had a faster response and a higher response than those that had seen the virus the first time,” the study co-author Mohammad Sajadi told the paper. “If I had COVID myself, I’d be OK with the single shot.”International Vaccine Efforts‘TICKET TO FREEDOM’: AUSSIE MEDICS IN UK PRAISE COVID JABAustralian medics in the UK have revealed intensive care unit admissions have plummeted since the vaccine rollout. And cases among frontline staff who were first in line for jabs have dropped significantly, with those who have had the jab telling their friends and family back home to jump at the chance of a vaccination.The rollout of the Pfizer and Oxford vaccines in Britain has hit more than 16 million people, with plans for up to one million shots a day. Kathryn Lennon, who works in intensive care at a London hospital, said nurses had previously looked after as many as four patients at a time but it was improving.“I looked after just one patient last night and that’s the first time I’ve done that since November,” she said.“The vaccine definitely has something to do with it. I haven’t seen a new case (in ICU) in a while, where we were admitting 10 patients a night – so that meant 10 patients were dying.”Ms Lennon, 26, of Cairns, said she expected Australians would take the jab once they were offered it, despite reports this week of some concerns.“They will take it, I know they will, if 15 million people in the UK in the older ages group have taken it, when their time comes (in Australia) they will.“I was told I could get it at work and I ran down the hallway with excitement.”Ms Lennon, due to have her second shot next week, said the jabs were life saving and the only way to get back to “some kind of normality.”“It’s your ticket to freedom,” she said, adding she expected a higher take up in Victoria after its three lockdowns.Australians have been on the frontline, with 20 per cent of paramedics in London calling Australia home, while nurses, occupational therapists, and doctors from Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria filling key roles.Some involved in mass vaccination centres say they have personally seen thousands of injections, with only one side effect of dizziness that was related to dehydration. It is a remarkable change from the depths of winter in December in Britain when official cases were skyrocketing at more than 60,000 a day, but the real number was more than one million when asymptomatic cases were included.COVID-19 vaccine rolloutStaff were being forced off sick because of the new more infectious UK variant and the death toll each day was more than 1000.But now, there is light and hope, as the runaway success of Britain’s vaccination program has seen a dramatic reduction in cases.“We’ve got a lot of staff back – so many were off with COVID or because they had been in contact with someone with COVID,” occupational therapist Harriet Yeates, 27, said.“Either the staff have had it or the vaccine is doing its job, the numbers are going down.”Ambulance call outs, which were topping 9000 a day, have dropped to 5000 a day in London.And at the peak of the crisis nearly all ambulance call outs were related to COVID, while that has dropped to as little as once a shift.Ms Yeates, from Townsville, Queensland, said the virus was taking out so many staff in December, before the roll out of the vaccine, compared with the first wave.“This time it was so much more infectious,” she said. All over 70s have been offered the injection in the UK, now clinically vulnerable people are being sent letters inviting them to take part. Ms Yeates, who works at the Royal Free Hospital in London, has switched from her OT role to helping in the flow of patients through the hospital. She has been working to make sure patients that can be discharged so that beds are freed up for more patients, with almost 40,000 in hospitals with COVID at the peak of the crisis.Some elderly patients had been saying before they took the jab that they had nothing to live for because the harsh lockdowns in the UK had stopped them from seeing their loved ones.Now they had hope.Ms Yeates, who had her second dose on January 8, said Australians should get the jab.“I was one of the first in there. It’s the best thing we have got, we just have to give it a go,” she said. She understood why some people would be concerned about the speed of the approval of the vaccines, but said that the world’s scientific community had been so focused on the job it fast tracked the process, rather than cutting corners.Australians have also been at the frontline of the vaccinations program in the UK.Sabrina Galasso, 27, of Sydney, has been working in a centre that has given out more than 50,000 vaccinations.The accountant, who retrained to take part in the campaign, said she had seen only one side effect with a patient who became dizzy because they were dehydrated. The type-1 diabetic, who has had the first dose of the jab, said she had seen first hand the impact of the rollout, with elderly patients grateful for the life saving jabs. Some of those given the first jab in December had already received a second dose in January.“We’re now getting people on their second doses and I ask them what their side effects were,” she said.“Every single patient over 90 has said that they only had a sore arm for a bit, so if a 90-year-old can handle it then everyone just needs to be brave.”Ms Galasso said she respected that some people may not want the jab, and had even had cases where people changed their mind in the vaccination centre.But she added that it was the only way out of the pandemic.She now plans to train to be a nurse when she returns to Australia.

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