People walk on their lunch break at the Raffles Place financial business district in Singapore on May 5, 2021.Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty ImagesSingapore will shut most schools from Wednesday after the city-state reported the highest number of local COVID-19 infections in months, including several that were unlinked, according to authorities on Sunday.All primary, secondary and junior colleges will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the school term on May 28.”Some of these (virus) mutations are much more virulent, and they seem to attack the younger children,” said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing.On Sunday, Singapore confirmed 38 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, the highest daily number since mid-September, of which 18 are currently unlinked.Singapore has reported more than 61,000 virus cases, with the bulk linked to outbreaks last year in foreign worker dormitories, and 31 deaths. Sunday’s new cases were the highest number of local infections outside of the dormitories in a year.”The sharp rise in the number of community cases today requires us to significantly reduce our movements and interactions in the coming days,” Chan added.The Asian trade and financial hub of 5.7 million people had until recently been reporting almost zero or single-digit daily infections locally for months.Though Singapore’s daily cases are still only a fraction of the numbers being reported among its Southeast Asian neighbors, infections have been increasing in recent weeks. From Sunday, the government implemented its strictest curbs on gatherings and public activities since a lockdown last year.Over a fifth of the country’s population has completed the two-dose vaccination regimen with vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. Authorities will invite people under 45 years of age to receive shots from the second half of May.The speed of Singapore’s inoculation program is being limited by the pace of vaccine supply arrivals. Experts are studying whether to give one dose of the vaccine and extend the interval between shots, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.The government is also working on plans to vaccinate children below 16 years once regulatory approval is granted.
A large batch of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine has been put on hold in Indonesia after a 22-year-old died a day after getting the shot. The batch will be run through additional “sterility and toxicity” tests.
The move was announced by the Indonesian Health Ministry on Sunday. The suspension follows the abrupt death of a 22-year-old man, who died a day after getting an AstraZeneca jab originating from the batch.“This is a form of caution by the government to ensure the safety of this vaccine. The Ministry of Health urges the public to be calm and not be swallowed up by circulating rumors,” the ministry’s spokesperson said in a statement.The offending batch, known under the designation ‘CTMAV547’, consists of some 448,480 doses of the vaccine. It’s part of a nearly four million shot delivery allocated to Indonesia under the COVAX program, backed by the World Health Organization (WHO).
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Previously, shots from the CTMAV547 had been distributed in the capital city of Jakarta, as well as in the ranks of the country’s military, according to the health ministry.The “sterility and toxicity” tests will be performed only on the suspicious batch, and the distribution of the rest of Indonesia’s AstraZeneca stockpile will continue uninterrupted.“The use of the AstraZeneca vaccine continues because the Covid-19 vaccination brings greater benefits,” the ministry stressed.The CTMAV547 will remain shelved for at least two weeks while the “sterility and toxicity” tests go on, the head of the vaccine monitoring committee, Hindra Irawan Satari, stated.“After it is proven that it is sterile and does not contain toxins, the use of the vaccine will be resumed. The fastest we can get the results will be in two weeks,” the official said as quoted by Reuters.
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Home to more than 270 million, Indonesia has registered some 1.74 million cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. More than 47,000 people have succumbed to the deadly disease across the country. Jakarta has launched a massive vaccination drive to battle the deadly disease, fully vaccinating nearly nine million people already.Think your friends would be interested? Share this story!
Matt Hancock has defended the government’s delay of almost three weeks before putting India on its travel red list, a move only made after the cancellation of Boris Johnson’s planned visit to Delhi.His defence came as concern mounted over increased cases of the B.1.617.2 variant first detected in India, particularly in the north-west and parts of London, which could affect the future easing of lockdown restrictions.Hancock said the decision not to red list India was “based on the evidence” when asked if it was linked to the prime minister’s desire to boost trade negotiations during his planned April visit, as cases soared in India.The country was put on the red list, which requires hotel quarantine, for entering England 17 days after Pakistan and only after Johnson’s visit was cancelled.“When we put Pakistan on the red list at the start of April that’s because the proportion of people testing positive coming in from Pakistan was three times higher than the proportion coming from India, and it was only after we put India on the red list that this variant went under investigation, and then earlier this month it became a variant of concern,” Hancock told Sky News.He said it was “quite likely this will become the dominant variant” in the UK, because of its transmissibility. The Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) was said to be “cautiously optimistic” that vaccines would work against the India variant of Covid-19.Government scientific advisers suggested that people should still avoid indoor socialising when rules are relaxed on Monday and Labour’s Yvette Cooper said the government should pause plans to allow international travel.Hancock reiterated that places with high case numbers linked to the variant, such as Bolton and Blackburn, could see local lockdowns put in place but said that was not a step the government wanted to take.“The approach we’re taking in Bolton and Blackburn is to absolutely pile in testing and vaccinations to try to get on top of this,” he said.Hancock told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that five people who had received a single jab of a Covid vaccine have been hospitalised with the variant in Bolton, and one person who had received both. He said he was not aware of any deaths among people who had been vaccinated.Major new restrictions were due to be lifted on Monday, which will allow indoor socialising and overnight stays with other households for the first time, with advice against hugging also lifted.Hancock said he would hug his own parents but stay outdoors. “Of course there are people who have been yearning to have some physical contact – you should do that carefully. If you’ve had both jabs more than two weeks ago, that’s much safer,” he said.But Hancock stressed that the government was moving towards a “mantra” of personal responsibility. “We all have a personal responsibility, we all know now the sorts of things that are riskier but we’re able because the case numbers are so low to move away from some of the more restrictive interventions,” he said.Sir Mark Walport, a member of the government’s scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) told Sky’s Sophy Ridge On Sunday said that people should be cautious.“My personal judgment is that I will do things outside as far as possible,” he said. Asked if he would avoid indoor pubs, he said: “For the moment, yes.”“My advice is that just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean you should,” he said. “As far as possible socialise outside, maintain social distancing, if you’re going to hug, hug cautiously.”Walport said it was “a perilous moment … We have a variant that shows good evidence of being more transmissible and possibly significantly more transmissible … And the other thing that we do know is that this new variant from India is actually quite widely distributed across the country.”He said there was a chance that the Indian variant of the virus could cause substantial problems among “people that haven’t been vaccinated yet, people who are only partially protected because they’ve had one vaccination, and … in a small percentage of cases the vaccination for whatever reasons doesn’t work.”He said vaccines would largely protect people against severe infection and death but said a small fraction of a very large number of infections could lead to significant numbers of deaths and hospitalisations.Fellow Sage adviser Prof John Edmunds said the government should not rule out changes to the roadmap of easing restrictions if necessary. “I think we have to monitor this very carefully, I don’t think we should rule anything out. So if things look like they’re getting worse rapidly then I do think that action needs to be taken,” he said.Asked whether the situation could have been avoided had the border to India been closed more quickly, he said: “I don’t think it would have been avoided, it could have delayed things a little bit.”However, he said the UK was in “a much, much better place now than we were when the Kent variant first hit us back in November, December.”He said hospitals were now mostly empty of Covid patients and two-thirds of the adult population have been vaccinated. “It is a new threat – but we’re not in the same position as we were back in December,” he said.Yvette Cooper, who chairs the home affairs select committee, said the government should reverse its decision to allow foreign travel from Monday.“The government needs to slow down its plans. I don’t understand why it’s lifting some of its international travel restrictions tomorrow. I think they should be being much more cautious about that,” she told the Andrew Marr show.Prof Adam Finn, a member of the JCVI said the committee could look again at the recommendation that people under 40 should be offered non-AstraZeneca jabs if it means that it could speed up the rollout.
Every time you kiss another human being intimately for 10 seconds, more than 80m bacteria are transferred from mouth to mouth. If you’re at a party and double dip your tortilla chip into the salsa three times, around 10,000 bacteria will be transferred from your lips to the dip. Say “hi” to your co-workers as you sit down at your office desk and you’ll also be greeted by over 10m bacteria on its surface.Disturbing as these figures may seem, many scientists believe that exposure to these microbes helps fine-tune our immune systems – the network of cells and molecules that protect us from diseases. In 1989, epidemiologist David Strachan first proposed the “hygiene hypothesis” – the idea that being too clean causes defects in the immune system, leading to a rise in inflammatory diseases, such as asthma and allergies. While Strachan’s theory is debated and hygiene saves countless lives, decades of data support the idea that exposure to microbes helps the immune system develop.But hang on a minute. For most of the last year, many of us haven’t been kissing strangers, double dipping at parties or sitting down to work in a crowded office. Instead we’ve been locked up at home by ourselves, sanitising our hands every time we go to the shop and holding on to distant memories of restaurants and gyms. So what’s happened to our immune systems in lockdown? What’s going to happen now that the country is opening back up?Graham Rook, a microbiologist at University College London, proposed an alternative to the hygiene hypothesis in 2003. Rook’s “old friends hypothesis” posits that as humans evolved, our immune systems learned to cope with the microbes around us in the natural world. Rook argues that we need to be exposed to these “old friend” microbes in order for our immune systems to develop properly. (Strachan’s hygiene hypothesis focused on infections, while Rook’s focuses on more harmless micro-organisms.)“Our immune system is a learning system, just like the brain,” Rook says, explaining that the system has two branches. We are born with an “innate” immune system encoded in our genes, but this is “tuned” by our “adaptive” immune system, which collects data from the microbes around us to determine which are safe and which are dangerous. Without the right data, the immune system starts attacking things it shouldn’t, causing allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases (when the immune system targets your body’s own tissues).So first, the good news. By the time you’re an adult, you’ve already encountered a whole host of microbes. Your microbiota – the trillions of microbes living on and in you – is “fairly stable and established,” says Rook. A year of isolation, then, is unlikely to severely damage your immune system’s regulatory mechanisms. But when it comes to children, Rook and other scientists have concerns about the effects of lockdown measures. “A child on the 24th floor of a tower block is simply not meeting the appropriate microbiota,” Rook says, explaining that staying indoors away from the natural world and other people limits the microbes encountered, as does having an unvaried diet (which he fears may be a problem for children going without school meals). “It is worrying.”Pet protection: children who grow up with dogs have a lower risk of developing autoimmune diseases. Illustration: Lehel Kovács/The ObserverByram W Bridle is an immunologist at the University of Guelph in Canada. Early on during global lockdowns, Bridle wasn’t too concerned for children’s immune development because, after all, kids often get stuck at home for a few weeks when they’re ill or over the summer holidays. “But the issue is now, we are over a year and counting,” Bridle says. “We’re talking about a big chunk of development of the immune system. So it’s hard to imagine that this cannot have a negative impact on our children.”Like Rook, Bridle worries about a rise in immunological disorders caused by lockdown limiting children’s exposure to the natural world – even before the pandemic, scientists documented that “those who grow up in large urban centres tend to have a much higher incidence of allergies, asthma and autoimmune diseases”. Bridle explains that while the immune system doesn’t fully mature until adolescence, birth to age six is the critical period for its development.Various studies have posited that problems can arise when infants have limited microbial exposure. It has been shown that children born by caesarean section are exposed to less of their mother’s microbiota than others – they are also statistically more likely to suffer from allergies and inflammatory diseases. One 2014 study from the University of Pennsylvania and Bloomberg School of Public Health found that children who are given repeated courses of antibiotics early in life face a greater risk of obesity (the researchers theorised that the medicine killed off the good bacteria in the children’s guts). Rook says as well as allergies and autoimmune diseases, poor immunoregulation can cause chronic inflammation which can lead to diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases. “It’s a pretty impressive list.”Let’s take a moment to press the big “don’t panic” button in our brains. While children’s microbial exposure may have been limited by lockdown, it remains to be seen just how much.As we have been in and out of lockdown in the UK, many of us haven’t actually been isolated for an entire year. Many children may also have been outside more than usual – one global analysis in the Journal of Forestry Research found that lockdown restrictions correlated with more visits to parks. There has also been a boom in puppy purchases over the past year: studies have shown that children who grow up with dogs have a lower risk of developing autoimmune diseases. Then there’s the fact that microbial exposure isn’t everything: our immune response is also determined by our genes.Sheena Cruickshank, an immunology professor at the University of Manchester, is more optimistic than Rook and Bridle. “With the best will in the world, how super-duper clean are kids?” she says. Cruickshank notes that research about our immune systems is continually ongoing: “Both of them could be partially right, both of them could be partially wrong,” she says of the hygiene hypothesis and the old friends hypothesis. “It’s something that we’re very much investigating.”Bridle stresses that while his concerns are based on “sound scientific principles” they do, of course, remain speculation: “We won’t know for sure until we actually see how all this plays out.” It may yet be a few years before we know whether the children of lockdown have higher rates of immunological disorders. “It takes about five years for asthma to really kick in,” says Brett Finlay, co-author of Let Them Eat Dirt: How Microbes Can Make Your Child Healthier. “The data is not there yet, it’s too early, but we’re imploring people to look,” he says. “We’ve really changed the world we live in, and every time we change the world, we change the microbes.”Immunological disorders are one thing, but what about viral infections? Many of us – adults and children – haven’t so much as sniffled for an entire year: does this mean our immune systems will be ill-equipped to deal with viruses as the world opens up? When it comes to the common cold, Cruickshank says we don’t have too much to worry about. “We don’t really build up a long-term resistance,” she explains – and, “we’ve got an advantage coming out of lockdown now, because we’re going into the warmer seasons and that typically means people are outside more – colds do better in small, enclosed spaces.”Every time we change our world, we also change our microbesBetween October and November 2020 in Hong Kong, schools reopened after a three-month closure and a large number of common cold outbreaks were reported. Ron Eccles, founder of the Common Cold Centre at Cardiff University, says such outbreaks are to be expected when children crowd together after being apart. Thankfully, however, he says, “There’s very little to indicate that just because you’ve not had a cold for a while the next one you get is going to be more severe.” Yet when it comes to the flu, Bridle has concerns. In January 2021, data from the Royal College of General Practitioners revealed that flu rates had plummeted to a 130-year low – researchers argued that travel bans, social distancing and hand-washing helped stop the spread. While this might sound like good news, Bridle says it puts us on the back foot when it comes to our next flu season.“We deal with the flu virus on an annual basis because it mutates rapidly,” he explains. “From year to year, we’re actually dealing with fundamentally different variants.” This means flu vaccinations are also constantly changing – every year, scientists base the vaccine on the predominance of variants spreading the year before. “We will potentially be dealing with vaccines that are based on variants that were circulating two years ago instead of one.” Bridle says our immune responses will also be a year out of date.“Our immune systems and the vaccines that we’re using are going to be targeting a virus that has now been able to accumulate two times the mutations than what we would normally be facing.” Although there is a counter-argument that, with so little flu virus in circulation, it will have had less chance to mutate and therefore using last year’s formulations is an acceptable strategy.Nevertheless, Bridle says this is most concerning for “the two ends of the spectrum” – the elderly and the very young. Rook also has concerns that limited microbial exposure could affect the elderly. Although there is little evidence that having a less-diverse microbiota means you’re more susceptible to viruses, the kind of isolation induced by lockdown that affects microbial exposure could have knock-on effects in terms of bacterial infections that might otherwise have been less of a problem. One 2012 article in Nature found that the gut microbiota of people in long-term care was less diverse than those out in the community and, in turn, “loss of community-associated microbiota correlated with increased frailty”.Younger and middle-aged adults aren’t totally off the hook – while they are not at the highest risk for flu complications, there is evidence that both loneliness and stress can weaken the immune system.So, what on earth should we do? Rook says children should continue to be exposed to the natural environment and “run around in the park as often as possible”. Finlay advises to “think from a microbial exposure point of view” – go outside, hug a dog, and also eat fruit, nuts, legumes, “all the stuff your mum tells you to eat” as nutrition is crucial for a healthy immune system. Cruickshank says the immune system can also be mobilised by moderate exercise. Crucially, don’t be misled into throwing away your disinfectant – lack of hygiene does not lead to better immunological development and it’s important to continue to keep clean in order to ward off harmful pathogens.Finally, Rook also stresses that it’s imperative to keep up to date with your child’s vaccination schedule. “Not only do vaccines stop you from getting the infection that they are targeting, they also help with the training of the immune system in a nonspecific way,” he says.Many questions remain. “Our innate and adaptive immune system will develop regardless of whether we are exposed to the microbial world or not. The question is, will they develop appropriately?” Bridle says. Personally, he is concerned. “In some of our children as a result of this excessive isolation, we are likely causing irreparable harm. It’s frustrating as a scientist when you consider this in the context of children being at an extremely low risk from the Sars-CoV-2.”The data isn’t here yet – it’s too early to see the lasting effects of lockdown. Finlay hopes that scientists will use this opportunity to learn more about microbial exposure. “Here’s, I think, one of the biggest experiments we’ve ever been able to do with humanity – we’ve got the whole globe involved,” he says. “Let’s make use of this opportunity and characterise the microbes over time and follow these things. Let’s see what happens to us because it’s really an experiment that’s happening right now.”
Authorities say there is no need to hoard instant noodles or toilet paper after new COVID-19 restrictions trigger panic buying.Authorities in Taiwan have appealed to people to avoid panic buying of items such as instant noodles and toilet paper as new curbs on gatherings and movement took effect to rein in the spread of COVID-19.
Taiwan raised its coronavirus alert level in the capital Taipei and the surroundings on Saturday, imposing two weeks of restrictions that will shut many venues and limit gatherings.
While total infections since the start of the pandemic remain low at 1,475, a recent spike in community transmissions have alarmed a population that had become accustomed to life staying close to normal, with no full lockdowns of the kind seen elsewhere.
In messages late on Saturday, the president, premier and economy ministry took to Facebook to say there was no need to hoard or rush to the shops, after people scrambled to stock up on basic goods, mainly instant noodles and toilet paper.
“After more than a year of preparation, the country’s anti-pandemic materials, civilian goods and raw materials are sufficient, and the stores are also operating as usual to replenish goods,” President Tsai Ing-wen said.
The COVID-19 alert has been raised to level 3 in Taipei & New Taipei. Please carefully read the information in the link below, share it with those you know, & remember to follow these guidelines to ensure that you & those around you stay safe & healthy.
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) May 16, 2021
French supermarket chain Carrefour said it was limiting purchases of items such as masks and instant noodles in its Taiwan stores, asking people to buy only what they need.
Hello covid anxiety #taipei pic.twitter.com/I0o6hZNxPK
— Erin Hale (@erinhale) May 15, 2021
The economy ministry showed pictures of warehouses piled to the ceiling with boxes of instant noodles, saying supplies were “like a mountain” with plenty of toilet paper and canned food to go around as well.
Premier Su Tseng-chang made a similar appeal on his Facebook page. He triggered amusement early last year, during a previous rush for toilet paper, by saying people “only have one butthole” and should calm down.
While not ordering a total lockdown, the government is urging people to stay at home as much as possible.
The health ministry brought out its dog mascot, a shiba inu called Zongchai, to reinforce the message on social media.
“Study Zongchai and stay at home,” it said, showing pictures of the canine lying on the floor resting.
Teachers, pupils and parents have greeted the easing of coronavirus safety measures in schools from Monday with a mixture of relief and, in the light of concern over the Indian variant, dismay and confusion.The government has announced that students will no longer need to wear face coverings in schools. But some areas in the north of England are being advised to continue measures, following rising numbers of cases of the new variant, known as B.1.617.2.For many pupils, wearing a face mask is one of many sacrifices they have made in the fight against the pandemic, and they are pleased the rules have changed. Jessie Wright, 12, from High Wycombe, said she would be “relieved” not to have to wear one in the classroom. “The masks would get in the way of our learning. They are nice to wear when the weather is cold, but they’re uncomfortable when it’s hot.”Some teachers, she said, would let you “pull down your mask sometimes” at the end of the school day to allow yourself to “get your breath back”.“But other teachers would give you detention if you don’t wear your mask. It’s their decision,” she added.Evie Hickman, 13, from Dorking, liked wearing a mask to avoid “talking to people”. “I’m not going to wear a mask from Monday, but they were useful,” she said. “I’m quite anxious to not cough on others. I do wonder if people will get bullied if they continue to wear masks after next week, though.”The Department for Education said on Saturday that “the latest data shows infection rates continuing to decrease” and that not having to wear masks would “improve interaction between teachers and students”.However, Bury and Bolton councils have written to parents, advising schoolchildren to “retain the use of face coverings as per the current arrangements, until further notice”, while Bedford borough council has called for all residents aged 16 and over to be vaccinated due to a rise of the variant first discovered in India.Some parts of England, including Formby in Merseyside and Redditch in Worcestershire, have seen surge testing rolled out to try to curb the Indian variant. Parts of London, are also conducting surge testing: the Ruislip area of the borough of Hillingdon; the Woodlands area of the borough of Hounslow; the IG1 and IG6 postcodes in the borough of Redbridge, as well as parts of the IG5 and IG7 postcodes; and parts of E1 in Tower Hamlets and W11 in Kensington and Chelsea.Some parents are worried by the dropping of masks in school. Evie’s mother, Claire, 48, who works as a nurse in the NHS, is “not particularly happy” about it. She said: “I feel like it’s too quick a removal. The infection rates are going down, and we are doing so well, but we still have a variant about. So why stop now and risk another lockdown?”Teachers’ unions also have concerns. Kevin Courtney, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), said: “We all want to see an end for the need to wear face masks. However, given the advice from Sage and the threat from new variants, it is disappointing the government has lifted the recommendation for them to be worn in secondary classrooms.“The Department for Education guidance allows for the reintroduction of face coverings if need be, in response to local Covid outbreaks. The NEU believes it would have been more sensible to keep current mask-wearing arrangements in place, with a further review in advance of 21 June.“This would keep staff and students safe and avoid more children losing out on face-to-face education because of virus outbreaks.”Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: “No one wants to see face masks in classrooms for longer than necessary. Any changes to current guidance need to be clearly communicated in order to create confidence that they are the right thing to do, otherwise we will see an unnecessary shock to a system in recovery.”He argued that parents, pupils and staff would want to understand why removing face coverings in classrooms is “considered appropriate” but not in other enclosed spaces.He said: “We expect that school leaders will continue to work closely with their staff and communities and make decisions based on their risk assessments and local circumstances. We would back any school leaders who take a more cautious approach, because they know their own schools and communities best.”
Boris Johnson was under mounting pressure on Saturday to reconsider Monday’s relaxation of Covid rules in England because of the threat posed by the India variant. His own advisers and independent health experts raised fears that it could lead to a surge in hospital admissions, especially among young adults.From Monday people will be able to meet in groups of up to 30 outdoors, while six people or two households will be permitted to meet indoors. Pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants will be allowed to serve customers indoors. Indoor entertainment such as museums, cinemas and children’s play areas can also open along with theatres, concert halls, conference centres and sports stadiums.Overnight stays will be allowed. Weddings, receptions and other ceremonies will be able to take place among groups of up to 30. Unlimited numbers of people will be able to attend funerals.But there are fears the new India variant could trigger a third wave, just as the “big bang” relaxation approaches. Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the government’s taskforce on new and emerging viruses (Nervtag), said the relaxations would drive up the numbers infected with the India variant and that unvaccinated younger adults would be most at risk.“Indoor mixing will almost certainly increase transmission of the B.1.617.2 variant but at this stage nobody can be sure by how much,” he said.Hayward added that many people would end up in hospital if, as feared, the variant proved 40% more transmissible than previous variants, notably the Kent variant, which drove the lethal second wave over the winter. Modelling by the government’s own Sage committee of scientific advisers has already said the increase in transmissibility from the new variant could be as high as 50%.“A 20% increase in transmissibility is not a big problem; [but] a 40% increase would be a huge problem and could lead to a sizeable surge in hospitalisations. A big surge in hospitalisations would likely have knock-on consequences for routine health services and the backlog of care,” Hayward warned.Meanwhile Professor Kit Yates, a member of the Independent Sage committee of scientific experts, told the Observer that Johnson should delay Monday’s unlocking by a fortnight to allow more people to be vaccinated. By pressing ahead, Yates said the prime minister would be breaching one of the government’s four key tests – that of risk assessment not being changed by a new variant – that he had previously insisted would guide all decisions on when and whether to ease restrictions.“At this point the precautionary principle should kick in,” Yates said. “The more people we can vaccinate, the safer we become. Even a couple of weeks at this point could make a huge difference in the face of this seemingly more transmissible variant. A pause would also buy us time to understand more about the properties of the variant, which would put us in a better position to plan what comes next.”He added: “The rapid rises in B.1.617.2 and the waves of hospitalisations that are predicted by the Sage modelling means that the risk has fundamentally changed and that the fourth test is not being met. The data suggesting a reassessment of the roadmap is there.”Downing Street insisted that the relaxations would go ahead as planned. But Professor Martin McKee, another member of Independent Sage, described easing the lockdown as a real risk: “The prime minister will make his own decision,” he said. “The scientific advice he is receiving is clear. Opening on Mondayis taking a large risk and we know that we have not met the fourth of his tests for proceeding with the scheduled roadmap,” he said.Stressing the dangers for younger adults, McKee added: “While the individual risk to a young person of severe illness is low, if very large numbers are infected the absolute numbers becoming seriously ill could be high.” A third wave of infection would also leave more people suffering the debilitating effects of long Covid, which around 1.1 million Britons already have, McKee added.Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth blamed Boris Johnson for failing to impose earlier border controls. Photograph: MI News/NurPhoto/REX/ShutterstockLabour on Saturday intensified attacks on the government for failing to respond fast enough to calls for surge vaccinations in new Covid “hotspots” including Bolton and Blackburn.Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “With health officials on the ground in Bolton and Blackburn pleading to deploy surge vaccination it beggars belief ministers are rebuffing those calls, especially when the Sage minutes appear to support wider vaccination. It’s urgent that the spread of this variant is contained. We know from the Kent mutation how widespread a variant can become without action.”He also blamed the government for failing act earlier to impose border controls. “The tragedy is if Boris Johnson had put in place robust border controls we could have avoided this. Instead our borders have been like a sieve threatening to set us back when we have come so far.”But a government spokesman said: “We have some of the toughest border measures in the world. We took precautionary action to ban travel from India on 23 April, six days before this variant was put under investigation and two weeks before it was labelled as of concern. We have since sped up our vaccination programme and put in enhanced local support to curb transmission. Prior to India being placed on the red list in April, anyone coming to the UK had to test negative and quarantine for 10 days.”Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious diseases expert at the University of East Anglia, said: “I do think it will lead to a surge in infections and that we are now entering the third wave.”While the evidence to postpone Monday’s relaxation is not yet there, “we may look back in three weeks’ time and think that step 3 was ill-advised, though we may not”.
Rural areas, where over 65 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people live, had been spared in the first wave of the pandemic but are now facing devastating numbers of infections.
Taiwan, a covid success story, is now battling a surge of covid cases
The new rules will not mean offices, schools or restaurants have to close, but will cause the shutdown of cinemas and other entertainment spots, while limiting family get-togethers to five people indoors and 10 outdoors.
For the first time, masks will have to be worn outdoors.Taipei’s government has already ordered bars, nightclubs and similar venues to shut.
Health Minister Chen Shih-chung said a “level of risk” in certain hot spots, such as Taipei’s gritty Wanhua district, had spurred the decision to raise the alert level.
“Only by doing this can infections be dealt with and controlled,” he told reporters.
People should avoid travel between Taipei and the rest of the island to prevent spreading the infection, Chen added.
President Tsai Ing-wen’s spokesman said she would reduce the number of “unnecessary meetings” or public events. The presidential office is close to Wanhua.
The rising community infections unnerved the stock market this week, but at the same news conference, Premier Su Tseng-chang reiterated that the island’s economic fundamentals remain good.
Taiwan has millions of vaccine doses on order from Moderna Inc and AstraZeneca Plc, though only a small number have arrived from the latter due to global shortages and vaccination rates remain low.
More vaccines will start arriving next month, Tsai has said.
Since the pandemic began, Taiwan has reported fewer than 1,500 cases among a population of about 24 million, most of them imported from abroad, but a recent rise in community transmissions has spooked residents.
The island has never gone into a full lockdown and its people are used to life carrying on near normal, despite the pandemic ranging in many other parts of the world.
Late on Friday, several universities, including the elite National Taiwan University, said they would immediately switch to remote learning, telling students to stay away from campuses.
Museums in Taipei, and the zoo, said they would shut too.