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Walmart temporarily shut nearly 60 U.S. stores for COVID cleaning in December

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Walmart temporarily shut almost 60 U.S. stores in COVID-19 hotspots in December to sanitize them against the virus, in a sign the new Omicron variant is disrupting the retail industry.

The Walmart stores – in locations including Texas and New Jersey – were closed for two days for cleaning “to present a safe and clean in-store environment for our associates and customers,” a company spokesperson told Reuters in a statement. Walmart has more than 4,700 U.S. locations in total.

The company made no comment on the potential impact of the closures.

It adopted a policy two years ago at the start of the coronavirus pandemic of closing stores for fewer than two days to “get ahead” of potential outbreaks.

“We’ve been closely monitoring our stores across the country, making the decision to temporarily close locations on a store-by-store basis through a collection of market-related data,” the Walmart spokesperson said, declining to confirm that there were staff COVID-19 cases at the closed locations.

The world’s biggest retailer also did not comment on whether it was seeing an increase in workers testing positive for COVID-19.

The United States has seen a spike in cases of the Omicron variant, leading retailers and restaurant chains to temporarily shutter stores and limit access to customers.

One Laurel, Maryland, Walmart facility was closed last week because that community was experiencing coronavirus cases, according to a memo shown to Reuters by two Walmart workers. They said several people at the store had contracted COVID-19, which Walmart declined to confirm. If COVID-related store closures disrupt Walmart’s operations into late January, they could begin to worry some investors, said John Augustine, chief investment officer at Huntington Private Bank, which invests in Walmart, Target and several other retailers. Walmart rival Target told Reuters it had not closed any Target stores for sanitization or other COVID-related reasons since the start of December. CVS said it had temporarily closed “fewer than 10 locations” for “enhanced cleaning” in that period.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that retailers “close off areas used by the person who is sick and do not use those areas until after cleaning and disinfecting”. The CDC does not strictly recommend shutting stores. Rising COVID-19 cases led Apple Inc to limit service at some New York-area stores, including its iconic Fifth Avenue flagship. The iPhone maker reduced operational hours from Monday to Thursday and limited the number of customers allowed into the store, according to its website. The site also showed that some Apple stores were temporarily closed in Georgia, Tennessee and California.

It was not immediately clear why the stores were shut and Apple did not respond to a request for comment. Apple gets about 5% of its total sales from its retail locations, according to Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives. With 516 stores around the world, that amounts to about $35 million in sales per store, according to Reuters calculations. Some restaurant owners said their businesses have been affected, too. In mid-December, when COVID-19 cases began to skyrocket in New York City, pizzeria Bravo Pizza was forced to close for an entire day because six employees were out sick, Bravo’s owner said. Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said “dozens” of the city’s restaurants had temporarily closed.

Dan Jacobs, co-owner of DanDan and two other Milwaukee restaurants, said his locations lost $80,000 of business between Christmas and New Year’s Day as staff caught COVID-19 or called out because they were afraid of getting sick.

 

(Reporting by Richa Naidu and Danielle Kaye; Additional reporting by Siddharth Cavale and Hilary Russ; Editing by Vanessa O’Connell, Anna Driver and Stephen Coates)

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UK’s Johnson plans to scrap COVID-19 self-isolation law – The Telegraph

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The United Kingdom is drawing up plans under which people will not be legally bound to self-isolate after catching COVID-19, The Telegraph reported on Sunday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to permanently revoke emergency coronavirus laws as Britain’s COVID-19 cases continue to fall, the report said, adding official guidance would remain but would not result in fines or legal punishment if ignored.

The plans will be worked up over the coming weeks, with an announcement expected as early as the spring, the report said.

Last week, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said COVID-19 self-isolation in England will be cut to five days from seven if someone tests negative twice.

Johnson is also set to lift Plan B COVID-19 restrictions, introduced last month to slow the spread of the Omicron variant, according to an earlier Telegraph report.

 

(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

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'Choose increased antibodies over brand': Moderna appointments still being cancelled in London, Ont. area – CTV News London

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Doctors and pharmacists continue to advocate for people to get the first available mRNA vaccine for their COVID-19 booster dose.

“We have had some feedback that appointments are being canceled because people are holding out for Pfizer,” says Dr. Joyce Lock, the medical officer of health for Southwestern Public Health (SWPH).

“I strongly strongly urge everyone, particularly those over the age of 50, to choose increased antibodies over brand,” she added.

Lock made those statements during her weekly briefing on Jan 12.

“Our immunity following our original two doses is decreasing over time,” says Lock. “Our bodies don’t care what brand they receive. They follow the science, not the manufacturer. Studies show that immunity shoots back up after the booster and it doesn’t matter which brand.”

This week, First Ave. Pharmacy in St. Thomas, Ont. took to Facebook saying it had openings due to people refusing Moderna as a booster dose.“We send out a mass email saying that there’s a shortage of Pfizer and we might have to offer them Moderna and some people would cancel their appointment online or they would call us and cancel their appointments,” says Minh Nguyen, pharmacist at First Ave. Pharmacy. “Both Moderna and Pfizer are mRNA vaccines and equally effective at preventing severe illness from COVID. So I would say get whatever mRNA vaccine you can.”

Sunday, the Metrolinx Go-VAXX bus returned to London, Ont. It was stationed in the parking lot at the new East Lions Community Centre on Brydges St.

They had some appointments booked, but we were even taking walk-ins with Pfizer being administered.

“I’ve had Pfizer for my first two shots and that’s what I preferred,” says Michael Sean MacVoy, a truck driver getting his booster. “At this point, I didn’t care.”

Diane Crozman was in the same scenario, getting Pfizer a third time. “It doesn’t really make a difference to me,” she said. “They said the Moderna is going to work the same, but Pfizer that’s good because I’ve already got the other two Pfizer.”

Justin Seaward showed up for a walk-in booster, minutes after his wife went home from her booked appointment.

“I’ve had Pfizer, Moderna, then Pfizer now,” says Seaward. “It didn’t really make a difference much to me. I just wanted to be Vaxxed so I can feel safer for my family.”The Middlesex-London Paramedic Service (MLPS) had administered 2,194 doses of vaccine over the past six days since starting pop-up clinics in Middlesex County.

The percentage of people upset that Moderna was being administered is very low.

“It has happened a few times at the front door, but very rare,” says Miranda Bothwell, acting superintendent for special operations with MLPS.

They will be back on the road, continuing their pop-up clinic tour Monday in Lucan, Ont. 

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COVID-19: Experts worried about the next Omicron as more get infected – CTV News

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Omicron’s spread has been so extensive that there are few families that haven’t been touched by it at all — and for some families, that means worrying about their children.

In the Toronto area, Sarah Bankuti watched as her newborn baby Aviv spent Saturday in hospital suffering with COVID-19.

“Very scary because my daughter, she’s 10 weeks old,” she told CTV News. “So she had a fever and she, all yesterday, was just non-stop throwing up.”

Although the baby is home now, she’s still quite ill.

The Bankuti family has taken every precaution during the pandemic as their three-year-old daughter Alice has a brain tumour and is undergoing chemotherapy.

Even though the parents are both vaccinated, COVID-19 crept into the family anyways, infecting everyone in the process.

“That’s why COVID is so scary,” Bankuti said. “You don’t know how it’s going to affect people at all, but especially for our children, we just don’t know. For the past 48 hours, we’ve been so worried.”

She added that they family hasn’t been able to sleep while worrying about their children.

“We don’t know what the full side effects are of this,” she said. “It’s new still.”

Doctors do know just how transmissible Omicron is, with its whirlwind advance around the globe and scientists worry Omicron won’t be the last version of the virus.

“More and more people are getting infected,” Leonardo Martinez, an assistant professor at Boston University School of Public Health, told CTV News. “The more people that get infected, the more chances there are for new mutations to occur, and that’s how new variants come.”

The World Health Organization reported a record 15 million new COVID-19 cases for the week of Jan. 3-9, a 55-per-cent increase from the previous week.

“Those mutations, one change, two changes, doesn’t really matter, doesn’t take hold, sometimes it does, and that’s where we go from a variant of interest to a variant of concern,” said Cynthia Carr, founder and epidemiologist with EPI research incorporated in Winnipeg.

Small changes may bring the pandemic to an endemic phase, according to Dr. Gerald Evans, an infectious disease physician with the Kingston Health Sciences Centre.

“The thing that we’re afraid of is the big changes that would produce a new variant with a new Greek letter,” he said.

A new variant may evade immunity better than Omicron, however, and scientists stress the importance of vaccines to reduce hospitalization, death and emerging new variants.

“Mutations are more common in severe and long-lasting COVID infections,” Martinez said. “Therefore, because vaccines prevent severe infections they can also prevent proliferation of new variants.”

All while hopefully creating a circle of protection around those too young to be vaccinated.

“Those would actually protect the people who were unvaccinated because the virus can’t get at them because they’re surrounded by a whole group of people, in which, infection, and or transmission after being infected is remarkably reduced by the vaccine,” Evans said.

Vaccination rates are fairly high in Canada, but the World Health Organization continues to stress the importance of global vaccine coverage.

Although wealthy countries have been able to acquire an abundance of vaccines, it’s a different story for many other regions. Ninety countries did not reach the target of vaccinating 40 per cent of their populations by the end of last year, and 36 of those countries have not yet vaccinated 10 per cent of their populations. 

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Alexandra Mae Jones

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