COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study

COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study
The Indian coronavirus variant is less resistant to vaccines than the South African variant, a study showed. (AFP)
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Updated 17 May 2021

COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study

COVID-19 vaccines work against Indian variant: Study
  • It is less resistant to existing jabs than South African variant: Oxford team
  • Scientist warns slow European vaccine rollout could open door to new variants

LONDON: Approved COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the Indian variant (B.1.617.2), a study by scientists at Oxford University has found.

“It looks like the Indian variant will be susceptible to the vaccine in the way that other (variants) are,” Prof. Sir John Bell, emeritus professor of medicine at Oxford, told Times Radio in the UK.

“The data looks rather promising. I think the vaccinated population are going to be fine. And we just need to pump our way through this.”

The study, led by Oxford’s Prof. Gavin Screaton, looked at two vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca — and found that both create sufficient antibodies to neutralize the Indian variant in enough incidences to drastically reduce hospitalizations and fatalities.

It also found that B.1.617.2 is less resistant to vaccines than the South African variant, and is more similar to the Kent and Brazilian variants.

“If you do the lab experiment, which is you take plasma serum from someone who’s received the vaccine and you look to see its ability to neutralize the virus, that’s a highly effective way of telling whether you’re going to be protected or not,” Sir John said.

“It looks OK. It’s not perfect but it’s not catastrophically bad. There’s a slight reduction in the ability to neutralize the virus, but it’s not very great and certainly not as great as you see with the South African variant. It’s rather close to the Brazilian version where the vaccine serum seems to be very effective in neutralizing the virus,” he added.

“The antibodies you’ve made after you’ve had the vaccine, which are floating around in your blood, are good enough to neutralize the virus if you get it.”

But Sir John warned that the lack of vaccinations across Europe and elsewhere means the continent is more susceptible to variants, and the possibility remains that more could emerge due to a lack of immunization and increased transmission.

“There are very broad swathes of Europe that are largely unvaccinated. So they’re pretty vulnerable to new variants — be it Indian or otherwise — sweeping across the continent and leaving very, very high levels of disease,” he added.


Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas

Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas
Updated 26 sec ago

Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas

Duterte pledges ‘better days’ as Filipinos prepare to celebrate Christmas
  • Nikkei Asia’s COVID-19 Recovery Index showed that the Philippines jumped 46 spots to 57th in November from 103rd in October this year
  • Makati Medical Center, which has been dealing with hundreds of COVID-19 infections for nearly two years, reported zero in-patient cases on Monday

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte said that better days are ahead for the country during a televised Cabinet meeting on Monday night as the downward trend in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases continues.

The Philippines on Tuesday reported only 356 new COVID-19 infections, the lowest single-day figure since July 2020. The new figure pushed the country’s total tally to 2,835,345,  of which 97.8 percent or 2,772,728 have recovered.

Nikkei Asia’s COVID-19 Recovery Index also showed that the Philippines jumped 46 spots to 57th in November from 103rd in October this year.

During his address, Duterte expressed optimism that the Philippines has a good chance of overcoming the pandemic with the government’s aggressive immunization campaign, saying that “better days” lay ahead.

He noted that since Dec. 1, the daily average case number has remained between 500 and 600, while the “number of active cases continues to go down.”

“Very impressive,” Duterte said, as he also pointed out that the positivity rate is “now only less than 2 percent,” which means that for every 100 persons tested for COVID-19, only a maximum of two turned out to be positive.

“It’s Christmas. I hope that everything will be for the good of everybody, and I am very happy that it is really going down. It’s on a nosedive,” he added.

Duterte further said this development is a “miracle,” noting how “other countries are still reeling from the pandemic,” especially with the emergence of the omicron variant.

“We are not hoping for the best, but we pray to God that it will not come to our shores. But if (it) ever arrives, we can cope with it just as we did (in the past),” Duterte said.

Independent group OCTA Research fellow Rev. Nicanor Austriaco, a Catholic priest and molecular biologist, said the Philippines has attained substantial population immunity from natural infections and vaccinations in the urban areas based on current data.

Austriaco, who virtually joined the Cabinet meeting, made a presentation where he noted that the country had the highest mobility levels in the past 20 months and experienced the lowest levels of cases and hospitalizations during the same period, even with the presence of the COVID-19 delta variant.

“It suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity from natural infections and vaccinations in the urban areas of the Philippines because the pandemic has raged and spread primarily in our cities and in our first-class municipalities,” he said, adding: “The fact that the virus is struggling to find new Filipinos to infect, suggests that we have attained substantial population immunity.”

Austriaco compared the Philippines with its neighbors in Southeast Asia, Thailand and Malaysia, which he said still have not seen a dip in cases despite having much earlier surges. The two nations are still experiencing 5,000 cases per day.

Vietnam, he said, also had a delta peak and is still experiencing significant numbers of COVID-19 infections at 15,000 or so every day.

“The difference is that the Philippines, unlike these three other countries, had substantial waves of previous variants, especially the alpha and beta, which struck the country in March and April of this year,” Austriaco said.

“Combining the vaccinations and the natural immunity, what you are seeing here is that many of our cities where the pandemic tends to focus are now stable enough to prevent transmission,” he added.

The expert also advised Filipinos not to panic amid the threat posed by the omicron variant and instead move with caution and prepare for Christmas.

“Let us celebrate Christmas. This is the best time in 20 months for the entire country,” Austriaco said, adding: “This is not the time to panic. It is time to be careful. We have to prepare.”

Austriaco suggested that the country prepare its hospital infrastructure and increase healthcare workers’ staffing capacity, considering during the alpha and delta surges, the country had nursing shortages, especially in Metro Manila. He also recommended that the government continue vaccinating and boosting the immunity of its population, especially senior citizens.

“It must also strengthen population immunity around international gateways,” he said, predicting that the omicron variant will likely enter the country through an airport. “We have to build a wall of vaccinated Filipinos around these airports.”

On Monday, the Makati Medical Center, which has been dealing with hundreds of COVID-19 infections for nearly two years, reported zero in-patient cases as confirmed by its Medical Director Dr. Saturnino Javier. The medical center is located in the financial district of Metro Manila, which had become the epicenter of COVID-19 infections during the past months.

Last Friday, the Philippine General Hospital, the country’s biggest COVID-19 referral facility, also reported it had zero COVID-19 patient admission for two consecutive days.


Norway tightens measures as Covid cases surge

Norway tightens measures as Covid cases surge
Updated 29 min 2 sec ago

Norway tightens measures as Covid cases surge

Norway tightens measures as Covid cases surge
  • From four weeks starting at midnight on Thursday, authorities will limit the number of guests in a home to 10
  • The number may be raised to 20 over the Christmas period

OSLO: Norway will tighten health measures to combat a surge in Covid-19 cases, including a limit on the number of people at parties, the government said on Tuesday.
From four weeks starting at midnight on Thursday, authorities will limit the number of guests in a home to 10 — in addition to the people in the household.
Last week, a suspected outbreak of the newly discovered omicron variant among dozens of partygoers who had all been vaccinated led the government to introduce new restrictions to deal with Covid in and around the capital Oslo.
“The situation is now so serious that we have to take new measures to keep the pandemic under control,” Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told a press conference.
However, the number may be raised to 20 over the Christmas period, so long as at least a meter (three feet) is kept between guests, it said.
Masks will also be compulsory — but again, only if social distancing cannot be maintained at one meter, while table-only service will be mandatory at restaurants and bars.
“The risk of overloading health services and the spread of the more contagious omicron variant now requires new strict measures in our country,” Store said.
Norway has recorded 29 omicron cases so far.


Putin demands security guarantees from Biden to curb NATO expansion

During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders. (Reuters/File Photos)
During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders. (Reuters/File Photos)
Updated 07 December 2021

Putin demands security guarantees from Biden to curb NATO expansion

During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders. (Reuters/File Photos)
  • The talks were held as the West voiced concerns that Russia will invade Ukraine

MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin presented US President Joe Biden with a demand for legally binding security guarantees that would rule out the expansion of NATO, the Kremlin said on Tuesday after virtual talks between the two leaders.

During two hours of talks with Biden on a video call, Putin said NATO was bolstering its military potential near Russia’s borders and “making dangerous attempts to conquer Ukrainian territory,” the Kremlin said in a statement.

“Therefore, Russia is seriously interested in obtaining reliable, legally fixed guarantees that rule out NATO expansion eastward and the deployment of offensive strike weapons systems in states adjacent to Russia,” the Kremlin said.

Russian authorities have said that NATO's growing ties with Ukraine and the possibility of the alliance deploying missiles targeted against Russia there was a “red line” it would not allow to be crossed.

Putin also told his US counterpart he wanted guarantees that offensive strike systems would not be deployed in countries close to Russia, the Kremlin said.

The talks were held as the West voiced concerns that Russia will invade Ukraine and warned of “strong economic and other measures” as punishment should Moscow start a military conflict.

The Kremlin, which said before Tuesday's meeting that it did not expect any breakthroughs, has denied harbouring any intention to attack Ukraine and said that its troop posture is defensive. 


HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
Updated 07 December 2021

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO

HIV infections drop, but Covid hampers fight: WHO
  • “We must tackle Covid-19 and HIV in parallel," WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said
  • Covid has also slowed HIV screening rates because of restrictions of movements

JOHANNESBURG: HIV infection rates in Africa have decreased markedly, but the continent is still behind set targets, with efforts slowed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
“Africa has made significant progress against HIV over the past decade, reducing new infections by 43 percent and nearly halving AIDS-related deaths,” the WHO Africa office said in a statement.
But it warned that Africa was not likely to meet a target to end AIDS as a public health threat by the turn of the decade as Covid has undermined the fight in many countries.
“Covid-19 has made the fight against HIV all the more challenging, but one virus must not win out over another. We must tackle Covid-19 and HIV in parallel,” WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti said.
Covid has also slowed HIV screening rates because of restrictions of movements.
UNAIDS last week warned that HIV infection rates were not decreasing fast enough to reach the goal of eradicating AIDS by 2030.
According to data released at the annual International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (ICASA) currently being held in South Africa’s port city of Durban, only nine African countries are on track to meet the target in the next four years.
The countries are Botswana, Cape Verde, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Zimbabwe.
“This scorecard is a wake-up call for African governments to stay focused on ending AIDS,” Moeti said.
South Africa, the country with the world’s highest HIV prevalence at 20.4 percent, is hosting the week-long annual meeting bringing together scientists, politicians and activists.

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Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
Updated 07 December 2021

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated

Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
  • A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown
  • Details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces

VIENNA: Unvaccinated individuals will continue to stay in lockdown even after Austria lifts its wider coronavirus measure for the general public on Sunday, Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed on Tuesday, a day after he took office.
Austria’s two-week-old lockdown aimed to counter a surge in daily COVID-19 infections to record levels, with restaurants, bars, theaters, museums and non-essential shops shut to all but take-away business. Hotels are closed to tourists.
A week before that general lockdown, people not fully vaccinated against coronavirus had been placed under lockdown, barring them from roughly the same places that are now shut, and allowed to leave home only for the same few reasons as the public now, such as going to work.
“The lockdown for the unvaccinated is staying,” Nehammer told a news conference, while confirming that the wider curbs would be lifted on Sunday as planned.
However, details still need to be ironed out at a meeting on Wednesday between the government and the influential governors of Austria’s nine provinces.
“For all the unvaccinated who are suffering from the fact they are staying in lockdown, there is a clear offer: you can come out of it if you seize the chance to get vaccinated,” Nehammer said, adding that his aim was to encourage as many as possible to get their first dose of vaccine.
Asked if restaurants and hotels would re-open at the weekend, Nehammer said that had already been agreed with provincial governors and the aim was to re-open businesses as broadly as possible.
The question that remained was what safety measures and curbs needed to be adopted, he added.