Latest coronavirus news as of 12pm on 4 October
Vaccine rollout will allow New Zealand to scrap strict lockdowns, says prime minister
New Zealand will shift away from its “zero-covid” strategy to one in which virus transmission is controlled using vaccines, prime minister Jacinda Ardern has announced.
Since the start of the pandemic, the country has sought to eliminate the virus by imposing strict lockdown measures in response to any outbreak. The approach was largely successful until August this year, when the arrival of the more infectious delta variant made it more difficult to stamp out transmission. Over 1300 cases have been recorded in the latest outbreak, which began in August.
“With this outbreak and delta, the return to zero is incredibly difficult,” Ardern told a news conference today. “This is a change in approach we were always going to make over time. Our delta outbreak has accelerated this transition. Vaccines will support it,” she said.
Restrictions will start to be lifted on Wednesday in Auckland, the nation’s largest city, which has been in lockdown for almost 50 days. People will be able to leave their homes and meet outdoors in groups of up to 10.
About 2 million people have been fully vaccinated so far, or 48 per cent of the eligible population, which is everyone aged 12 and over. Strict lockdowns will end once 90 per cent of eligible people have been vaccinated, Ardern said.
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An antiviral pill developed by Merck cuts the risk of hospitalisation or death in covid-19 patients by about half, according to interim trial results. The trial involved 775 adults with mild to moderate covid-19 who were considered high-risk for severe disease. Half of the group were given a five-day course of molnupiravir, taken twice a day. The results were so encouraging that independent experts monitoring the trial recommended that it be stopped early. The company will seek emergency authorisation from US regulators in the next two weeks. If approved, the drug would be the first oral antiviral medication for covid-19.
New rules making it easier to travel to the UK have come into force today. The traffic light system involving green, amber and red lists has been scrapped, with locations categorised as either on the red list or not. Fully vaccinated residents – and unvaccinated under 18s – from more than 50 countries and territories can now enter the UK without needing to complete a pre-departure lateral flow test, take a day-eight post-arrival PCR test, or self-isolate at home, with just a single day-two post-arrival test needed. People arriving from a red tier destination will still be required to spend 11 nights at a quarantine hotel costing £2,285 for solo travellers.
Dashboard: Use our covid-19 dashboard to stay up to date with deaths, cases, and vaccination rates around the world.
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What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus
New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.
The Jump is a BBC radio 4 series exploring how viruses can cross from animals into humans to cause pandemics. The first episode examines the origins of the covid-19 pandemic.
Why Is Covid Killing People of Colour? is a BBC documentary, which investigates what the high covid-19 death rates in ethnic minority patients reveal about health inequality in the UK.
Panorama: The Race for a Vaccine is a BBC documentary about the inside story of the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against covid-19.
Race Against the Virus: Hunt for a Vaccine is a Channel 4 documentary which tells the story of the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of the scientists on the frontline.
The New York Times is assessing the progress in development of potential drug treatments for covid-19, and ranking them for effectiveness and safety.
Humans of COVID-19 is a project highlighting the experiences of key workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, through social media.
Belly Mujinga: Searching for the Truth is a BBC Panorama investigation of the death of transport worker Belly Mujinga from covid-19, following reports she had been coughed and spat on by a customer at London’s Victoria Station.
Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.
COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened, and How to Stop the Next One by Debora Mackenzie is about how the pandemic happened and why it will happen again if we don’t do things differently in future.
The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.
Vaccines for flu and covid-19 can safely be given at same appointment
It is safe for people to get coronavirus and flu vaccines at the same time, a clinical trial has found. The reported side effects were mainly mild to moderate and there were no negative impacts on the immune response to either vaccine when both were given on the same day, in different arms.
Researchers say the results reinforce current coronavirus booster vaccine guidance in the UK, which is for both jabs to be given together where it is practically possible.
The study, involving 679 volunteers in England and Wales, looked at two covid-19 and three flu vaccines, in six different combinations. Study participants were over the age of 18 and had already received one dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, and were awaiting their second dose.
One group received their second dose of the covid-19 vaccine and the flu vaccine at their first study visit, then a placebo at their second visit. A second group received their second dose of the covid-19 vaccine and a placebo at their first visit and then the flu vaccine at their second visit.
The immune responses to both the flu and covid-19 vaccine were preserved when given together, the results showed, and 97 per cent of participants said they would be willing to have two vaccines at the same appointment in the future.
The most common side effects were pain around the injection site and fatigue. Some covid-19 and flu vaccine combinations saw an increase in the number of people who reported at least one side effect, but the reactions were mostly mild or moderate, the research found.
“This is a really positive step which could mean fewer appointments for those who require both vaccines, reducing the burden on those who have underlying health conditions and would usually be offered the influenza vaccine,” said study author Rajeka Lazarus at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust. The results have been published as a preprint in The Lancet.
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Scotland’s newly launched vaccine passport app has been hit by technical problems. From today, people attending large events and nightclubs will need to show proof they have had two doses of vaccine using the app before they are allowed in. The NHS Scotland Covid Status app was made available to download on Apple and Android devices on Thursday afternoon. But just hours after the app’s launch, comments circulating on social media suggested many users have been unable to register on it. The Scottish government said the large volume of people accessing the app at once could be a reason for the glitch.
Australia will relax its rules on international travel for citizens and permanent residents in November, having had severe restrictions in place since March 2020. People will be allowed to leave the country once their state’s vaccination rate reaches 80 per cent, prime minister Scott Morrison has said. On returning to Australia, vaccinated residents will be allowed to quarantine at home for seven days instead of having to stay in a hotel for 14 days. No timetable has been announced for opening the border to foreign travellers.
Only 15 out of 54 African countries have met the goal of vaccinating 10 per cent of their population by the end of September, the World Health Organization has said. Just 2 per cent of the more than 6 billion vaccines given globally have been administered on the continent.
Analysis supports vaccinating children aged 12 to 17
The benefits of offering two doses of covid-19 vaccine to all children aged 12 to 17 in England clearly outweigh the risks given the current high case rates, according to a new analysis. Children aged 12 to 15 are currently being offered only one dose of covid-19 vaccine unless they are considered high risk.
Researchers estimated the covid-19 hospital admissions and deaths, plus cases of long covid, that would be prevented over four months by fully vaccinating all children in this age group. On 15 September, the case rate among 10 to 19-year-olds in England stood at 680 cases per 100,000. If the rate rises to 1000 per 100,000, vaccination could avert 4420 hospital admissions and 36 deaths over a 16-week period, the study estimated. At a lower case rate of 50 per 100,000, vaccination could avert 70 admissions and two deaths over the same period.
Vaccination would avert between 8000 and 56,000 cases of long covid, the study suggests, assuming that between 2 and 14 per cent of teenagers with covid-19 go on to experience long covid. The study will be published today in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.
“This analysis shows that, on clinical risks alone, vaccination is warranted for 12 to 17-year-olds in England,” said Deepti Gurdasani of Queen Mary University of London, lead author of the study. “While we wait to understand the long-term effects of covid-19 on children, the precautionary principle advocates for protecting all children from exposure to this virus and vaccination is a crucial part of that protection.”
The rate of coronavirus transmission in the UK is currently thought to be highest among secondary school age children, with 2.8 per cent in this group testing positive in the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics on 18 September.
The UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) previously decided that, while the benefits of vaccination of children aged 12 to 15 do outweigh the risks, those benefits aren’t big enough to justify a vaccination programme for this age group. However, it wasn’t in the JCVI’s remit to consider how vaccination of 12-to-15-year-olds would prevent school absences or curb the spread of the virus in communities. Taking factors like these into account, the UK’s Chief Medical Officers recommended that 12-to-15-year-olds be offered a single dose of the vaccine.
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The UK government’s furlough scheme, which has helped pay the wages of 11.6 million workers since the start of the pandemic, is ending today. Nearly one million workers were expected to be still on the scheme at the end of September, according to the Office for National Statistics. Economists have predicted that the end of the scheme will lead to a rise in the rate of unemployment, which stood at 4.6 per cent last month.
YouTube says it will remove videos that contain misinformation about all vaccines, expanding its policies around health misinformation which had been strengthened during the coronavirus pandemic. The Google-owned video platform said its ban on covid-19 vaccine misinformation, which was introduced last year, has seen 130,000 videos removed so far as a result, but more scope is needed to clamp down on broader false claims about other vaccines appearing online. Under the new rules, any content which falsely alleges that any approved vaccine is dangerous and causes chronic health problems will be removed, as will videos that include misinformation about the content of vaccines.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
Booster vaccines: The evidence on coronavirus booster shots isn’t definitive yet, but it suggests you really should get an extra vaccine dose if you are offered one.
Vaccination strategy: Prioritising people of colour for the covid-19 vaccines when they were in short supply would have prevented more deaths than rolling out the vaccine purely by age groups, a US modelling study suggests.
Over a third of people recovering from covid-19 have at least one long covid symptom between 3 and 6 months after infection, a study has found. The finding is based on health records from over 270,000 people in the US. The most common reported symptoms were anxiety or depression, in 15 per cent of participants who’d had covid-19, followed by abnormal breathing and abdominal symptoms, both seen in 8 per cent, and fatigue, in 6 per cent.
These symptoms are not necessarily related to covid-19, but the study compared their prevalence in people recovering from covid-19 and in people who’d had influenza, and found that, together, a set of 9 symptoms were 1.5 times more common after covid-19 than after the flu. Long covid symptoms were slightly more common in women than in men, and more common in those who had been hospitalised.
Attempts to estimate the prevalence of long covid have produced widely varying results, depending on how the condition is defined and measured. Recent figures from the UK Office for National Statistics suggested that 11.7 per cent of people who tested positive for covid-19 described themselves as experiencing long covid 12 weeks after infection, but only 3 per cent experienced symptoms continuously for at least 12 weeks.
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People receiving a third dose of coronavirus vaccine experience similar rates of side effects to those receiving their second dose, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Out of 12,500 people who completed a survey, 79 per cent reported local reactions such as itching or pain at the injection site, while 74 per cent reported systemic reactions, which were mainly fatigue, muscle aches and headaches.
Pfizer and BioNTech have submitted trial data for their covid-19 vaccine in 5-to-11-year-olds to the US medicines regulator, and say they will make a formal request for emergency authorisation in coming weeks.
The Scottish government will delay the enforcement of vaccine passports by two weeks, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has said, giving businesses until 18 October to comply with the new law. People over 18 will have to show proof of vaccination to attend a nightclub or large event under the policy.
Survey of children in England finds younger ages more hesitant about vaccination
Younger children appear to be less willing to have a covid-19 vaccination than older teenagers, according to a survey of more than 27,000 students aged between nine and 18 in England. Overall, half the respondents said they were willing to have a coronavirus vaccination, 37 per cent said they were undecided and 13 per cent said they wanted to opt out. However, just over a third of nine-year-olds said they are willing to have a covid-19 jab, compared with 51 per cent of 13-year-olds and 78 per cent of 17-year-olds.
The survey was carried out in schools across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Merseyside between May and July this year by researchers at the University of Oxford, University College London (UCL) and the University of Cambridge. The findings come after 12-to-15-year-olds in England and Scotland last week started to get vaccinated.
Young people who believe they have had covid-19 already were more likely to say they will opt out of having a vaccine, the survey found. Students who were more hesitant about getting the jab were also more likely to attend schools in deprived areas, report spending longer on social media, and say they feel as though they did not identify with their school community.
Researchers are calling for more resources and information to be provided to communities and students to ensure young people know the covid-19 vaccine is safe. They say health messaging about vaccine safety and its effects on children should be shared by trusted sources on social media.
The survey found that the majority of youngsters who said they were hesitant about getting the vaccine were still undecided. “That is a huge opportunity for us, but it also suggests that there is risk,” said Russell Viner, a study author from UCL. “Young people are potentially vulnerable to those pushing views that are very strongly opposed to vaccination.”
Some headteachers have reportedly been targeted by hoax letters with misinformation about the vaccine programme, which include a fake NHS logo and a “consent checklist” to share with students. A school in Ampthill, Bedfordshire, has apologised for passing the letter on to parents in error.
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Smokers are 80 per cent more likely to be admitted to hospital and significantly more likely to die from covid-19 than non-smokers, new research shows. The study, published in the journal Thorax, is the first of its kind to look at both observational and genetic data on smoking and coronavirus. It included 421,469 participants in the UK Biobank study, with outcome data up to 18 August 2020. The results showed that, compared with never-smokers, current smokers were twice as likely to die with covid-19 if they smoked one to nine cigarettes a day, while those smoking 10 to 19 cigarettes a day were almost six times more likely to die. People who smoked more than 20 a day were over six times more likely to die compared to people who had never smoked.
Vaccine passports would be required for those attending nightclubs, music venues, festivals and sports grounds in England under the government’s autumn and winter contingency Plan B. The proposed plan, published today, will only be introduced if the country faces a difficult winter with rising covid-19 cases in the colder months, the government said. The government is asking for views from businesses, event organisers, and venue operators on its proposals by 12 October.
Neutralising antibodies in breast milk may protect infants from covid-19 infection
Breastfeeding women who have had covid-19 secrete neutralising antibodies against the virus into their breast milk for up to 10 months after infection, according to research presented at a conference. Rebecca Powell at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York and her colleagues analysed breast milk samples from 75 women who had recovered from a covid-19 infection. They found that 88 per cent of the samples contained antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and in most cases they were capable of neutralising the virus.
The findings, presented at the Global Breastfeeding and Lactation Symposium on 21 September, suggest that breastfeeding could help to protect babies from getting infected with covid-19. This is known to be the case for other respiratory diseases such as influenza and pertussis. While young children are at lower risk from severe covid-19 than adults, around one in 10 infants below the age of one require hospital care if they are infected. Antibodies extracted from breast milk could also be used as a therapy for adults with covid-19, Powell told The Guardian.
The study also found that the majority of women who had the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines also had coronavirus-specific antibodies in their breast milk, but lower levels of antibodies were seen in milk from women who had the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. This supports previous research suggesting that vaccinations for breastfeeding mothers can help to protect their babies from covid-19 infection, although this has not yet been demonstrated conclusively.
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The covid-19 pandemic has led to the biggest fall in life expectancy in western Europe since the second world war, researchers have found. The study, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, included data from 29 countries, 22 of which saw a drop in life expectancy that was greater than half a year in 2020. The effects were larger for men than women in most countries. Men in the US saw the biggest fall, with 2.2 years taken off their life expectancy in 2020 compared with 2019.
Australian authorities have announced plans to lift restrictions gradually in Sydney, which has been in lockdown since June. Restaurants, retail stores and gyms can begin to reopen on 11 October, but only people who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to resume shopping, eating out, and some other activities. Around 60 per cent of people aged 16 and over are currently fully vaccinated in the state of New South Wales.
Deaths from covid-19 lead to drop in life expectancy for boys born in UK
Life expectancy for men in the UK has fallen for the first time in four decades, due to the impact of the covid-19 pandemic. New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggest that a boy born between 2018 and 2020 is expected to live for 79 years, compared with 79.2 years for births between 2015 and 2017. For women, life expectancy remains unchanged at 82.9 years. The estimates are calculated based on current mortality rates, which were unusually high in 2020, especially for men.
The figures do not mean a baby born in 2018-2020 will live a shorter life, says Pamela Cobb from the ONS Centre for Ageing and Demography. “To get a better estimate of this we need to consider how mortality and therefore life expectancy will improve into the future. It will be several years before we understand the impact, if any, of coronavirus on this,” she says.
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Covid-19 vaccines have prevented 123,100 deaths in England, according to new estimates. The figures, which have been calculated by Public Health England and the University of Cambridge, cover the period up to 17 September. Previous estimates had put the number at 112,300 deaths. Around 23.9 million infections have also been prevented by the vaccine rollout, along with 230,800 hospital admissions among people aged 45 and over. More than 89 per cent of all people aged 16 and over in England have now received at least one dose of vaccine, while nearly 82 per cent are fully vaccinated.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has endorsed booster vaccines for people aged 65 and over and those with underlying health conditions, following the authorisation from the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday. The CDC’s panel of advisers declined to support booster vaccines for people in jobs with a high risk of exposure to the virus, such as healthcare workers, but CDC director Rochelle Walensky decided to include this category in the agency’s recommendation. The advice applies to people who have already had two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech covid-19 vaccine at least six months ago.
US regulator authorises boosters for older people, but rejects broader rollout
The US medicines regulator has authorised coronavirus booster vaccines for people aged 65 and over, people at high risk of severe disease and those who are regularly exposed to the virus, such as healthcare workers. The decision means that these groups can start to receive a third dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine 6 months after their second dose. Those who have had other vaccines will have to wait for further approvals.
Pfizer had asked the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to allow extra doses for all people aged 16 and over, but the FDA panel concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support boosters for the wider population beyond high-risk groups. A separate advisory committee for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which determines US vaccine policy, is expected to issue guidance today which may include recommendations on which groups should qualify as high risk. The US has already given extra vaccines to over 2 million people with compromised immune systems.
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The US will donate 500 million more covid-19 vaccines to other countries, president Joe Biden has announced at a virtual summit on the pandemic, bringing the country’s total donations to over 1 billion doses. Delivery of the new tranche will begin in January. At a United Nations General Assembly meeting yesterday, leaders from developing nations including the Philippines, Peru and Ghana condemned wealthier nations for failing to share vaccines equitably.
New travel rules for England that require travellers from some countries to quarantine even if they are fully vaccinated have sparked outrage and bewilderment, The Guardian reports. Under the rules, travellers to England who have been fully vaccinated with Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna or Janssen vaccines in the US, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea or a European Union country are exempt from quarantine, but people who received the same vaccines in other countries must quarantine for 10 days after arrival. Doctors and politicians from India, Brazil and Nigeria are among those who have expressed anger about the rules.
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Winter forecast: A government scientific advisory committee has said that the number of people in England admitted to hospital with the coronavirus could rise to between 2000 and 7000 a day over the next few months. Here’s why the predictions for winter are so bleak, despite high vaccination rates.
More than one in a hundred school children in England have covid-19, but absences are lower than in July because whole classes no longer isolate
About 1.2 per cent of school children in England were absent due to confirmed or suspected covid-19 on 16 September, according to new figures from the UK’s Department for Education. This compares with 1.0 per cent in July before schools closed for the summer holidays. Most schools reopened in September having removed some social distancing restrictions, including mask-wearing and keeping children within “bubbles” – small groups usually consisting of one or a few classes. Under this system the whole bubble would bel sent home to isolate if one member tested positive. Now, under-18s do not have to stay at home and isolate if they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive – only if they themselves develop symptoms or have a positive test result.
The new rules mean that while there is currently a higher rate of covid-19 infections among under-18s, fewer children have to miss school because of isolation rules. The total rate of covid-19-related absences was 1.5 per cent on 16 September, compared with 14.3 per cent in July. “These national figures mask some significant issues arising at a local level, and we already know of schools that are struggling to keep classes open due to outbreaks occurring,” Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers told The Guardian.
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Australia will reopen its borders for international travel by Christmas at the latest, the country’s Tourism Minister Dan Tehan said today. Meanwhile in the state of Victoria, teachers and childcare workers have been told that they must be fully vaccinated against covid-19 before they return to work next month.
The Johnson & Johnson “single-dose” covid-19 vaccine is more effective after two doses, the firm said yesterday. A second dose of the jab given eight weeks after the first led to people being 94 per cent less likely to get a symptomatic infection compared with those who were unvaccinated, in a US trial. Just one dose was 66 per cent effective in the first month after vaccination. Giving the second dose six months after the first led to an even higher rise in antibodies.
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