United Airlines said on Tuesday that about 4% of its U.S. employees, or about 3,000 workers, have tested positive for COVID-19 but vaccinated employees had neither died nor recently been hospitalized with the disease.
United’s disclosure comes amid soaring cases https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/USA-TRENDS/dgkvlgkrkpb and continuing debate about U.S. vaccine mandates https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-wants-us-agencies-mandate-covid-19-testing-unvaccinated-employees-by-feb-2022-01-11. On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-supreme-court-considers-whether-halt-biden-vaccine-mandates-2022-01-07 to challenges to President Joe Biden’s vaccine or testing mandate for companies with more than 100 employees.
COVID-19 cases and quarantines are impacting staffing and hitting flight schedules. U.S. airlines have cancelled more than 30,000 flights since late December over weather and COVID-19 staffing issues.
United Airlines Chief Executive Scott Kirby said on Tuesday the airline was “reducing our near-term schedules to make sure we have the staffing and resources to take care of customers.”
United canceled 149 flights on Tuesday, or 7% of its flights, according to FlightAware.com.
Chicago-based United was the first U.S. carrier to mandate vaccines for its employees in order to facilitate travel and flight operations.
Kirby said “the Omicron surge has put a strain on our operation … Just as an example, in one day alone at Newark, nearly one-third of our workforce called out sick.”
Kirby said in a memo on Tuesday that “since our vaccine policy went into effect, the hospitalization rate among our employees has been 100x lower than the general population in the U.S.”
Before United’s vaccination requirements were put in place, “tragically, more than one United employee on average *per week* was dying from COVID,” Kirby said. “But we’ve now gone eight straight weeks with zero COVID-related deaths among our vaccinated employees.”
He added: “While we have about 3,000 employees who are currently positive for COVID, zero of our vaccinated employees are currently hospitalized.”
United’s prior experience and nationwide COVID data suggests “there are approximately 8-10 United employees who are alive today because of our vaccine requirement,” said Kirby.
Last month, Kirby defended the airline’s vaccine mandate decision in the face of Republican criticism.
“We did this for safety,” Kirby said at a U.S. Senate hearing. “We don’t compromise on safety.
Kirby said last month about 200 employees did not comply with United’s mandate and were fired out of its 67,000 employees.
Rival American Airlines said on Friday that more than 96% of its employees have submitted proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a request for an accommodation.
Last month, Delta Air Lines asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to soften quarantine guidelines for fully vaccinated individuals who experience breakthrough COVID-19 infections, warning the long quarantines may “significantly impact our workforce and operations.” Other airlines followed Delta’s request.
The CDC last month agreed to shorten the recommended isolation time to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.
(Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington and Abhijith Ganapavaram in BengaluruEditing by Bernadette Baum and Matthew Lewis)
Canadian vaccine mandate to lead to inflation, empty shelves, trucking executives say
Canadian consumers should soon see higher prices and some empty shelves in supermarkets and other retail outlets because of disruptions stemming from a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers, top trucking executives warned this week.
The mandate, imposed by Ottawa to help curb the spread of the virus, has cost six Canadian trucking companies about 10% of their international drivers, and many are hiking wages to lure new operators during what they said is the worst labor shortage they have experienced.
Within the next two weeks, consumers will see “there’s not as many choices on the shelves,” said Dan Einwechter, chairman and chief executive officer of Challenger Motor Freight Inc in Cambridge, Ontario.
“Eventually the prices will be passed on from the sellers of those products, because we’re passing on our increases to them,” he said.
Canada’s inflation rate https://www.reuters.com/business/canadas-annual-inflation-rate-hits-48-dec-highest-since-sept-1991-2022-01-19 hit a 30-year high of 4.8% in December and economists said the vaccine mandate may contribute to keeping prices higher for longer. In the United States, inflation surged https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-consumer-prices-increase-strongly-december-2022-01-12 7% on a year-on-year basis in December, the largest rise in nearly four decades.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has championed vaccine requirements for federal employees, has resisted pressure from industry to delay or drop the mandate that was announced in November.
The vaccine requirement to enter Canada started on Jan. 15, and the one to enter the United States begins on Saturday.
Since more than two-thirds of the C$650 billion ($521 billion) in goods traded annually between Canada and the United States travels on roads, truckers were deemed essential workers until now and traveled freely even when the border was closed for 20 months.
Trudeau defended the mandate on Wednesday, saying Canada was “aligned” with the United States, its largest trading partner.
“We will continue to make sure that we are getting what we need in Canada while, as always, putting the safety and health of Canadians as our top priority,” Trudeau said.
As many as 32,000, or 20%, of the 160,000 Canadian and American cross-border truck drivers may be taken off the roads by the mandate, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates. The industry was short some 18,000 drivers even before the mandate, CTA said.
“We raised our base rate for cross-border drivers effective Jan. 1 by almost 20% … and it didn’t gain us any drivers,” said Rob Penner, president and CEO of Winnipeg, Manitoba-based Bison Transport. “There’s more freight than there is people right now.”
Canada’s transport ministry said in a statement the measure was not negatively affecting the supply of goods, while cross-border truck traffic had not varied significantly since the mandate came into effect.
The six executives who manage nearly 9,200 trucks between their companies and have a combined 173 years in the industry say strong demand for freight during a labor shortage will inevitably translate into higher prices for consumers.
“We’ve been oversold by 5% or 10%, depending on the day, for the last four or five months … The timing of all this couldn’t have been worse,” said Mark Seymour, CEO of Kriska Transportation Group in Prescott, Ontario.
Canadian firms see labor shortages intensifying and wage pressures increasing, according to a Bank of Canada survey https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/firms-see-increasing-labor-shortages-wage-pressures-bank-canada-survey-2022-01-17 released on Monday. Investors increasingly expect https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/even-omicron-slams-canada-bets-january-rate-hike-rise-2022-01-18 the central bank to raise interest rates next week for the first time since 2018.
Fresh foods are particularly sensitive to freight problems because they expire rapidly, though all imports from the United States could be affected, the trucking managers said.
“We have to move the milk, we have to move food. But the rates are going to be much higher,” said Doug Sutherland, president of Sutherland Group Enterprises in Salmo, British Columbia.
“Inflation is going to be the biggest impact of what’s going on here.”
($1 = 1.2478 Canadian dollars)
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Additional reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Paul Simao)
Natural immunity against COVID lowered risk more than vaccines against Delta variant, new study says – Euronews
Unvaccinated people who had previously contracted COVID-19 were better protected against the Delta variant than those who were only vaccinated, a new study published on Wednesday by a US health authority said.
Despite this, “vaccination remains the safest strategy” against the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said when publishing the data.
It also pointed out that contracting the disease exposes you to serious complications, while vaccines have proven to be extremely safe and effective.
The study was conducted before booster doses were widely available, and before the emergence of the Omicron variant, which now accounts for more than 99 per cent of new cases in the US. It is therefore possible that the balance has shifted towards vaccination being more effective than immunity following infection.
However, the results published on Wednesday provide key insights into the differences between vaccine-acquired and post-infection immunity.
The health authorities studied cases in the states of New York and California from late May to November 2021. Delta became the majority disease in the US at the end of June.
During the entire period under analysis, the people with the least protection by far were those who had neither been vaccinated nor fallen ill in the past.
But before Delta, vaccinated people who had never contracted COVID-19 were better protected than unvaccinated people who had already fallen ill.
After the introduction of Delta, the ratio was reversed.
Less risk to infected but not vaccinated people
The study analysed the risk of getting Delta compared to the risk of those most likely to get it, in other words, people who had neither been vaccinated nor infected in the past by the beginning of October.
Those that had been vaccinated but never infected with COVID-19 were six times less likely to get it in California, and about five times less likely in New York.
But the risk was even lower for previously infected but not vaccinated individuals: by 29 in California, and by 15 in New York.
When analysing the risk of hospitalisation, this time in California only, the researchers found a similar reversal between the two periods.
“This could be due to different immune response stimuli” caused either by encountering the real virus or a vaccine, the CDC explained.
The reversal also “coincided with the onset of vaccine-induced immunity decline in many people” before booster doses, the study authors added.
The CDC noted too that work on Delta in other countries “has also demonstrated increased protection of previously infected individuals, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, compared with vaccination alone”.
They emphasised that further studies were needed to investigate the durability of protection conferred by infection with each of the variants, including Omicron.
Europe considers new COVID-19 strategy: accepting the virus – The Globe and Mail
When the coronavirus pandemic was first declared, Spaniards were ordered to stay home for more than three months. For weeks, they were not allowed outside even for exercise. Children were banned from playgrounds, and the economy virtually stopped.
But officials credited the draconian measures with preventing a full collapse of the health system. Lives were saved, they argued.
Now, almost two years later, Spain is preparing to adopt a different COVID-19 playbook. With one of Europe’s highest vaccination rates and its most pandemic-battered economies, the government is laying the groundwork to treat the next infection surge not as an emergency but an illness that is here to stay. Similar steps are under consideration in neighbouring Portugal and in Britain.
The idea is to move from crisis mode to control mode, approaching the virus in much the same way countries deal with flu or measles. That means accepting that infections will occur and providing extra care for at-risk people and patients with complications.
Spain’s center-left prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, wants the Europe Union to consider similar changes now that the surge of the omicron variant has shown that the disease is becoming less lethal.
“What we are saying is that in the next few months and years, we are going to have to think, without hesitancy and according to what science tells us, how to manage the pandemic with different parameters,” he said Monday.
Sánchez said the changes should not happen before the omicron surge is over, but officials need to start shaping the post-pandemic world now: “We are doing our homework, anticipating scenarios.”
The World Health Organization has said that it’s too early to consider any immediate shift. The organization does not have clearly defined criteria for declaring COVID-19 an endemic disease, but its experts have previously said that it will happen when the virus is more predictable and there are no sustained outbreaks.
“It’s somewhat a subjective judgment because it’s not just about the number of cases. It’s about severity, and it’s about impact,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, the WHO’s emergencies chief.
Speaking at a World Economic Forum panel on Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious diseases doctor in the U.S., said COVID-19 could not be considered endemic until it drops to “a level that it doesn’t disrupt society.”
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has advised countries to transition to more routine handling of COVID-19 after the acute phase of the pandemic is over. The agency said in a statement that more EU states in addition to Spain will want to adopt “a more long-term, sustainable surveillance approach.”
Just over 80% of Spain’s population has received a double vaccine dose, and authorities are focused on boosting the immunity of adults with third doses.
Vaccine-acquired immunity, coupled with widespread infection, offers a chance to concentrate prevention efforts, testing and illness-tracking resources on moderate to high-risk groups, said Dr. Salvador Trenche, head of the Spanish Society of Family and Community Medicine, which has led the call for a new endemic response.
COVID-19 “must be treated like the rest of illnesses,” Trenche told The Associated Press, adding that “normalized attention” by health professionals would help reduce delays in treatment of problems not related to the coronavirus.
The public also needs to come to terms with the idea that some deaths from COVID-19 ”will be inevitable,” Tranche said.
“We can’t do on the sixth wave what we were doing on the first one: The model needs to change if we want to achieve different results,” he said.
The Spanish Health Ministry said it was too early to share any blueprints being drafted by its experts and advisers, but the agency confirmed that one proposal is to follow an existing model of “sentinel surveillance” currently used in the EU for monitoring influenza.
The strategy has been nicknamed “flu-ization” of COVID-19 by Spanish media, although officials say that the systems for influenza will need to be adapted significantly to the coronavirus.
For now, the discussion about moving to an endemic approach is limited to wealthy nations that can afford to speak about the worst of the pandemic in the past tense. Their access to vaccines and robust public health systems are the envy of the developing world.
It’s also not clear how an endemic strategy would co-exist with the “zero-Covid” approach adopted by China and other Asian countries, and how would that affect international travel.
Many countries overwhelmed by the record number of omicron cases are already giving up on massive testing and cutting quarantine times, especially for workers who show no more than cold-like symptoms. Since the beginning of the year, classes in Spanish schools stop only if major outbreaks occur, not with the first reported case as they used to.
In Portugal, with one of the world’s highest vaccination rates, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa declared in a New Year’s speech that the country had “moved into an endemic phase.” But the debate over specific measures petered out as the spread soon accelerated to record levels – almost 44,000 new cases in 24 hours reported Tuesday.
However, hospital admissions and deaths in the vaccinated world are proportionally much lower than in previous surges.
In the United Kingdom, mask-wearing in public places and COVID-19 passports will be dropped on Jan. 26, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Wednesday saying that the latest wave had “peaked nationally.”
The requirement for infected people to isolate for five full days remains in place, but Johnson said he will seek to scrap it in coming weeks if the virus data continues to improve. Official statistics put at 95% the share of the British population that has developed antibodies against COVID-19 either from infection or vaccination.
“As COVID becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance, urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others,” Johnson said.
For some other European governments, the idea of normalizing COVID-19 is at odds with their efforts to boost vaccination among reluctant groups.
In Germany, where less than 73% of the population has received two doses and infection rates are hitting new records almost daily, comparisons to Spain or any other country are being rejected.
“We still have too many unvaccinated people, particularly among our older citizens,” Health Ministry spokesman Andreas Deffner said Monday.
Italy is extending its vaccination mandate to all citizens age 50 or older and imposing fines of up to 1,500 euros for unvaccinated people who show up at work. Italians are also required to be fully vaccinated to access public transportation, planes, gyms, hotels and trade fairs.
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