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What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

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Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

‘Freedom Day’: Australia learns to live with COVID-19

Sydney’s cafes, gyms and restaurants welcomed back fully vaccinated customers on Monday after nearly four months of lockdown, as Australia aims to begin living with the coronavirus and gradually reopen the country.

New South Wales (NSW) state Premier, Dominic Perrottet warned that infections would rise after reopening, and virus-free states such as Western Australia and Queensland are watching what living with COVID-19 is going to look like amid concerns that health systems could be overwhelmed.

Singapore expands quarantine-free travel

Singapore is opening its borders to more countries for quarantine-free travel as the city-state seeks to rebuild its status as an international aviation hub and prepares to reach a “new normal” to live with Covid-19.

From Oct. 19, fully vaccinated people from eight countries, including Britain, France, Spain and the United States, will be able to enter the island without quarantining if they pass their COVID-19 tests, the government said on Saturday. The announcement marks a major step in Singapore’s strategy to resume international links.

Secondary immune response stronger after infection than vaccination

In COVID-19 survivors, important components of the body’s immune response called memory B cells continue to evolve and get stronger for at least several months, producing highly potent antibodies that can neutralize new variants of the virus, a new study has found. By comparison, vaccine-induced memory B cells are less robust, evolving for only a few weeks and never “learning” to protect against variants, researchers reported in a paper published on Thursday in Nature.

The researchers caution that the benefits of stronger memory B cells after infection do not outweigh the risks that come with COVID-19.

U.S. will accept WHO-approved vaccines for international visitors

The United States will accept the use by international visitors of COVID-19 vaccines authorized by U.S. regulators or the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said late on Friday.

The CDC must still finalise and publish new contract tracing rules for international visitors, which it sent to the White House for review on Sept. 15. The CDC must also detail rules for exceptions, which include children not yet eligible for shots, as well as for visitors from countries where vaccines are not widely available.

In hospital with COVID-19, conservative Texan running for governor condemns vaccine mandates

Conservative firebrand and Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Allen West was receiving care for COVID-19 in a hospital on Sunday, he said on Twitter, noting that his experience with the illness had strengthened his opposition to vaccine mandates.

West said he was receiving monoclonal antibody treatment and his condition was improving, although there were still “concerns of COVID-related pneumonia.”

(Compiled by Karishma Singh; Editing by Amy Caren Daniel)

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Canada scraps COVID-19 travel advisory; Ontario to end mask, vaccine rules by March

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Canada has scrapped an official advisory urging its citizens to shun  non-essential foreign travel, given its successful campaign to inoculate people against COVID-19, the country’s top medical officer said on Friday.

Hours later, Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, issued a timeline to lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions, with the aim of removing all proof of vaccination and mask requirements by March 2022.

Canada’s travel warning was issued in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted.

Ottawa removed the advice to avoid unnecessary travel late on Thursday, however it is still telling people to avoid cruise ship travel outside of the country.

“The beginnings of the transition away from the more blanket approach really recognizes vaccines are very effective at preventing severe outcome,” Chief Medical Officer Theresa Tam told a briefing.

According to official data, just under 82% of eligible Canadians had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct 8.

Tam said the latest surveillance data showed “a continued decline in disease activity nationally and in most jurisdictions.”

“Now is not the time to just freely go wherever,” she added, citing high cases of coronavirus in some nations.

Ontario laid out a six-month timeline to lift all COVID-19 restrictions, starting with removing capacity limits in the “vast majority” of public venues on Oct. 25, and culminating in an end to all mask and proof of vaccination requirements by March.

The timeline will be dependent on “the absence of concerning (pandemic) trends,” it said in a statement.

“This plan is built for the long term,” Premier Doug Ford said. “It will guide us safely through the winter and out of this pandemic, while avoiding lockdowns and ensuring we don’t lose the hard-fought gains we have made.”

Ontario spent much of the past 18 months in some form of  lockdown due to high infection rates and hospital bed occupancy of COVID-19 patients.

(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa and Moira Warburton in Vancouver; Editing by Paul Simao and Bill Berkrot)

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COVID-19 vaccines not linked to pregnancy loss; mixing vaccines may confer greater protection

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The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that have yet to be certified by peer review.

COVID-19 vaccines not linked with pregnancy loss

Two studies in major medical journals add to evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe before and during pregnancy. One study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, tracked nearly 18,500 pregnant women in Norway, including about 4,500 who had miscarriages. Researchers found no link between COVID-19 vaccines and risk of first-trimester miscarriage, regardless of whether the vaccines were from Moderna, Pfizer and BioNTech, or AstraZeneca. Overall, the women with miscarriages were 9% less likely to have been vaccinated, according to the researchers’ calculations. In a separate study published on Thursday in The Lancet, researchers tracked 107 women who became pregnant while participating in trials of AstraZeneca’s vaccine in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. Seventy-two of the women had received the vaccine while the others got a placebo. AstraZeneca’s vaccine had no effect on the odds of safely carrying the pregnancy to term, the researchers reported. “It is important that pregnant women are vaccinated since they have a higher risk of hospitalizations and COVID-19-complications, and their infants are at higher risk of being born too early,” the authors of the Norwegian study wrote. “Also, vaccination during pregnancy is likely to provide protection to the newborn infant against COVID-19 infection in the first months after birth.”

Vaccine combinations with different technologies may be best

Healthcare workers in France who got a first shot of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and then the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for their second shot showed stronger immune responses than those who had received two shots of the Pfizer vaccine, in a recent study. Combining different technologies is known to boost immune responses to other viruses, and the current study suggests it may be true for the coronavirus as well. Both vaccines in the study deliver instructions that teach cells in the body to make a piece of protein that resembles the spike on the coronavirus and that triggers an immune response. But they do it in very different ways. Both protocols provided “safe and efficient” protection, said Vincent Legros of Universite de Lyon in France, coauthor of a report published on Thursday in Nature. But combining the AstraZeneca shot with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine “conferred even better protection” than two doses of Pfizer’s shot, including against the Delta variant, Legros said. The two technologies combined induced an antibody response of better quality, with more neutralizing antibodies that could block the virus, and more cells that have been “trained” by the vaccine to have increased defense potential, he said. Combination vaccination “is safe and may provide interesting options… for clinicians to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection,” Legros concluded.

Cognitive problems seen in middle-aged COVID-19 survivors

A “substantial proportion” of middle-aged COVID-19 survivors with no previous dementia had cognitive problems more than half a year after diagnosis, researchers have found. They looked at 740 people who ranged in age from 38 to 59. About half were white, and 63% were female. On tests of thinking skills, 20% had trouble converting short-term memories to long-term memories, 18% had trouble processing information rapidly, and 16% had trouble with skills needed for planning, focusing attention, remembering instructions, and juggling multiple tasks. The average time from diagnosis was 7.6 months. About one-in-four patients had been hospitalized, but most of them were not critically ill. “We can’t exactly say that the cognitive issues were lasting because we can’t determine when they began,” said Dr. Jacqueline Becker of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, who co-led the study published on Friday in JAMA Network Open. “But we can say that our cohort had higher than anticipated frequency of cognitive impairment” given that they were relatively young and healthy, Becker said.

Data support use of Pfizer vaccine in children and teens

The Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine showed 90.7% efficacy against the coronavirus in a trial of children ages 5 to 11, the U.S. drugmaker said on Friday in briefing documents submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration but not formally published. The children were given two shots of a 10-microgram dose of the vaccine – a third of the strength given to people 12 and older. The study was not primarily designed to measure efficacy against the virus. Instead, it compared the amount of neutralizing antibodies induced by the vaccine in the children to the response of recipients in their adult trial. Pfizer and BioNTech said the vaccine induced a robust immune response in the children. Outside advisers to the FDA are scheduled to meet on Tuesday to vote on whether to recommend authorization of the vaccine for that age group. A separate study from Israel conducted while the Delta variant was prevalent and published on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, compared nearly 95,000 12- to -18-year-olds who had received Pfizer’s vaccine with an equal number of adolescents who had not been vaccinated. The results show the vaccine “was highly effective in the first few weeks after vaccination against both documented infection and symptomatic COVID-19 with the Delta variant” in this age group, the research team reported.

Click for a Reuters graphic https://tmsnrt.rs/3c7R3Bl on vaccines in development.

 

(Reporting by Nancy Lapid; Additional reporting by Michael Erman; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

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B.C. doctors group calls on province to focus on COVID-19 aerosol transmission – CTV News Vancouver

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VANCOUVER –

A group of doctors in British Columbia is calling on the province to re-evaluate its approach to combating COVID-19.

The group, called Protect our Province B.C., is made up of a range of doctors and medical researchers, and held a panel discussion Wednesday highlighting how the virus is spread through aerosol transmission.

Dr. Victor Leung, an infectious disease physician and medical microbiologist, says the province and public health have been too slow to amend mandates to limit the spread of the virus.

He says the province should focus on improving air flow in buildings and continue strong mask mandates.

Health Minister Adrian Dix says the province has made an “enormous” amount of information on the virus available to the public, while he defended provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s approach to the pandemic.

He says Henry is a world leader in pandemic management and she has always been committed to learning and adapting the province’s COVID-19 response.

“I encourage people to get involved in the debate, ours is a science-led strategy,” Dix said. “We continue to adapt, listen and learn and do better.”

B.C. reported 696 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the number of active cases to 4,888.

Six more people have died, lifting the death toll to 2,092.

Leung says many of the guidelines from the province are focused on battling a virus that is spread by droplets and touch, but those mandates don’t address the main mode of transmission for COVID-19: aerosols.

“This is an overly dispersed virus,” he says. “Not everyone will affect 10 people, one person might infect 80 people, while another may not infect anyone.”

He said learning about how the virus is spread and transmitted will also help in future pandemics.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 20, 2021.

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