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British variant of COVID-19 not as severe as feared – The Lancet
13 April 2021, 5:02 AM

A highly contagious variant of COVID-19 first identified in Britain does not cause more severe disease in hospitalised patients, according to a new study published in the medical journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases on Monday.

The strain, known as B.1.1.7, was identified in Britain late last year and has become the most common strain in the United States, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study analysed a group of 496 COVID-19 patients who were admitted to British hospitals in November and December last year, comparing outcomes in patients infected with B.1.1.7 or other variants.

The researchers found no difference in risks of severe disease, death, or other clinical outcomes in patients with B.1.1.7 and other variants.

“Our data, within the context and limitations of areal-world study, provide initial reassurance that severity in hospitalised patients with B.1.1.7 is not markedly different from severity in those without,” the researchers said in the study.

A separate study published in The Lancet Public Health medical journal found that vaccines were likely to be effective against the British variant since there was no apparent increase in reinfection rate when compared to non-UK variants.

According to British scientists, the British variant was about 40%-70% more transmissible than previously dominant variants.

The studies also confirmed the previous findings that B.1.1.7 was more transmissible.



World Bank, Gavi urge countries with excess COVID-19 vaccines to release them
13 April 2021, 4:59 AM

World Bank President David Malpass and Jose Manuel Barroso, chair of the Gavi vaccine alliance, on Monday discussed the importance of countries with excess COVID-19 vaccine supplies releasing them as soon as possible, the World Bank said.

Malpass expressed his desire to work closely with Gavi on a 2022 strategy, including helping expand vaccine production capacity for developing countries, the bank said in a statement.

The two officials also discussed the need for more transparency by countries, suppliers and development partners on vaccine contracts, and regarding national export and supply commitments and requirements, the bank said.

“During their meeting, President Malpass and Mr. Barroso discussed challenges facing acquisition and deployment of COVID-19 vaccines by developing countries and the importance of countries with excess vaccine supplies releasing them as soon as possible,” it said.

Malpass has been outspoken about the need to accelerate vaccinations to contain the pandemic and limit further economic damage.

Last week, he warned the slow rollout of vaccines in Europe could weigh on the region’s economic growth.

On Monday, the bank said it had committed $1.7 billion of $12 billion that it has made available for vaccine development, distribution and production in low- and middle-income countries, with around $4 billion expected to be approved by mid-year.

Malpass said those funds could be used to make co-payments to the COVAX vaccine distribution initiative, and to buy additional doses beyond the basic 20% population coverage.

With new variants of the virus emerging, public health officials have warned the world could lose the race between the coronavirus and the vaccines meant to stop it due to the slow pace of vaccinations in developing nations.

The World Health Organisation is urging more political will to boost production of COVID-19 vaccines and share supplies,including through stalled intellectual property waivers on vaccines through the World Trade Organisation.

UK economy to return to pre-COVID-19 level around mid-2022: Poll
13 April 2021, 3:01 AM

Britain’s economy will be back to its pre-COVID-19 level around the middle of next year, according to economists in a Reuters poll who said unemployment would peak at 6.2% as 2021 draws to a close and the pandemic job support scheme ends.

The UK has suffered the highest coronavirus-related death toll in Europe. But a swift vaccine rollout and plummeting infections has allowed the government to begin easing restrictions and on Monday non-essential retail and outside hospitality reopened.

Last year the economy shrank by the most in more than three centuries, but the April 7-12 poll of around 70 economists said it would expand 5.0% this year and 5.5% in 2022.

In a March poll those forecasts were 4.6% and 5.7%, respectively.

With much of the country’s dominant service industry closed, and citizens encouraged to stay at home, the poll suggested the economy contracted 2.3% last quarter.

Now that lockdowns are being loosened, it was expected to grow 3.5% this quarter and 3.0% next.

“There are mounting signs that the effects on the economy from the third COVID-19 lockdown have started to thaw,” said Paul Dales at Capital Economics.

“We are sticking to our relatively optimistic view that the reopening of the economy and the vaccine programme will allow GDP to regain its pre-pandemic level early next year.”

But asked when the British economy would be back to its pre-pandemic size the majority of respondents to an additional question thought it would take a bit longer, with 10 expecting it to be a quarter or two later.

Finance Minister Rishi Sunak said last month he expected the economy would return to its pre-pandemic size in mid-2022.

Six respondents in the poll said it would take longer and five said it would be sooner.

Britain’s job market has been protected by a huge government furlough scheme which is due to run until end-September, keeping unemployment levels relatively low.

It was 5.0% in the three months to January.

The median response to a question asking where it would peak was 6.2%, most likely towards the end of this year when the furlough scheme finishes.

“Some rise in unemployment is probable once furlough ends. But the evidence from around the world is that labour market scan recover quickly and if scarring is contained, jobs growth can recover through 2022,” said Brian Martin at ANZ.

Like many of its global counterparts, during the height of the pandemic the Bank of England slashed borrowing costs to a record low and restarted its asset purchase programme to try and support the economy.

None of the 60 economists polled expected Bank Rate to move from 0.1% when the Monetary Policy Committee meets on May 6 and medians in the survey suggest it won’t increase until 2023.

The earliest anyone had a hike pencilled in was for Q3 next year.

Inflation has held well below the Bank’s 2.0% target, allowing it to remain accommodative with policy.

The poll showed inflation would not reach that goal until towards the end of this year although an overwhelming majority of respondents to an additional question, 15 of 17, said the risks to their forecasts were skewed more to the upside.

“Higher inflationary pressures are still evident with shipping costs, input costs indices and commodity prices still up,” said James Pomeroy at HSBC.


Biden calls for probe into Minnesota police shooting, need to ensure accountability
13 April 2021, 2:30 AM

US President Joe Biden on Monday called for protests over the fatal police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in Minnesota to be “peaceful” and said accountability needed to be assured through an investigation into the incident.

A video Biden described as “fairly graphic” showed the man, Daunte Wright, being shot on Sunday in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, just miles away from where the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former white Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd, is taking place.

“It is really a tragic thing that happened, but I think we’ve got to wait and see what the investigation shows,” Biden told reporters at the White House.

“In the meantime, I want to make it clear again: There is absolutely no justification – none – for looting, no justification for violence. Peaceful protests – understandable.”

Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said on Monday that the shooting appeared to be an “accidental discharge” by an officer who drew her gun instead of her Taser during a struggle following a traffic stop.

Biden said an investigation would be needed to establish that fact.

He told reporters he had not spoken with Wright’s family but extended his prayers to them and said he understood anger, pain and trauma in the Black community over repeated incidents of police killings.

Later in the day, Biden said he was thinking about Wright and his family and the pain, anger, and trauma that Black Americans experience every day.

“While we await a full investigation, we know what we need to do to move forward: rebuild trust and ensure accountability so no one is above the law,” Biden wrote on Twitter.

Federal resources are in the area to help maintain peace and calm, Biden added.

The incident came as the Biden administration backed away from a campaign pledge to swiftly create a US police oversight commission after a senior aide said they concluded that legislation would better address officers using excessive force.



US COVID cases continue to rise, hospitalisations up for second week in a row
13 April 2021, 1:31 AM

The United States reported an 8% rise in new cases of COVID-19 to 490 000 last week, the fourth week in a row that infections have increased, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county data.

In the week ended April 11, Michigan reported the highest number of new cases per capita of all 50 states and also led the country in hospitalisations per capita.

Around 39% of new cases in Michigan were of the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant of the virus first identified in the United Kingdom, the highest percentage in the United States, according to CDC data collected over a four-week period that ended on March 13.

At the same time that cases were starting to rise in early March, Michigan relaxed COVID restrictions.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Michigan should “shut down” to combat the surge in cases, hospitalisations and deaths.

“The answer to that is to really close things down, to go back to our basics, to go back to where we were last spring, last summer, and to shut things down,” Walensky said at a news briefing on Monday.

Deaths from COVID-19, which tend to lag infections by several weeks, fell 7% to 5 325 last week, excluding a backlog of deaths reported by Oklahoma, according to the Reuters analysis.

Last week, Oklahoma reported 1 716 new deaths that occurred between August and February that had gone unreported due to an error by a laboratory. Including that backlog, deaths rose 21%.

The average number of COVID-19 patients in hospitals rose 6% to more than 39 000, increasing for a second week in a row.

For a seventh week, vaccinations set a record, with an average of 3.1 million shots given per day last week.

As of Sunday, 36% of the US population has received at least one dose and 22% was fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

New Hampshire became the first state to give a least one dose to more than half its residents.



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