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COVID-19

Beijing life on hold for lockdowns, COVID testing

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(Last Updated On: November 25, 2022)

As cases of COVID-19 hit record daily highs, China is reimposing a range of strict measures under its “zero-COVID” policy, including lockdowns, mass testing and quarantines for anyone suspected of having come into contact with the virus, AP reported.

The restrictions cover cities and towns from the southern manufacturing center of Guangzhou to Beijing in the north. While measures imposed in the Chinese capital have been less draconian than in other areas, normal life in the city has been severely disrupted, with no word yet on when restrictions will be lifted.

Along with the closure of hundreds of shops, restaurants, malls and office buildings, residential compounds have been sealed off to different degrees of severity. In some cases, all outside visitors and delivery people are banned, leaving residents to collect items at the gate. Authorities have issued notices asking residents not to leave home unless absolutely necessary or to buy groceries and seek medical help.

In some cases, fences or other barriers have been erected to control access. Entrances are guarded, sometimes by people in hazmat suits, to ensure only those with authorization can pass and that everyone scans the all-important health code to show they have a recent negative test result.

Those are obtained at one of the scores of testing stations set up outdoors across the city, where residents join often lengthy lines to undergo a nucleic acid test that entails having their IDs recorded and a swab taken from inside the mouth.

With so many people staying home, either voluntarily or under orders, the city’s streets are eerily quiet. Frustration with the harsh measures is growing across China, although Beijing has yet to see the sort of confrontations between residents, workers and the authorities that have recently occurred in other cities.

As the seat of the national government and ruling Communist Party, Beijing is being treated more delicately to ensure basic functioning and prevent the sort of rare protests seen in cities such as Shanghai, which underwent a harsh two-month lockdown in the spring.

Still, the city is tense and the stress is wearing on many of the 21 million residents, young and old, Chinese and foreign, who are all asking the same question: How much longer will these measures be in place?

 

COVID-19

US proposes once-a-year COVID shots for most Americans

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(Last Updated On: January 24, 2023)

U.S. health officials want to make COVID-19 vaccinations more like the annual flu shot.

The Food and Drug Administration on Monday proposed a simplified approach for future vaccination efforts, allowing most adults and children to get a once-a-year shot to protect against the mutating virus, AP reported.

This means Americans would no longer have to keep track of how many shots they’ve received or how many months it’s been since their last booster.

The proposal comes as boosters have become a hard sell. While more than 80% of the U.S. population has had at least one vaccine dose, only 16% of those eligible have received the latest boosters authorized in August.

The FDA will ask its panel of outside vaccine experts to weigh in at a meeting Thursday. The agency is expected to take their advice into consideration while deciding future vaccine requirements for manufacturers.

In documents posted online, FDA scientists say many Americans now have “sufficient preexisting immunity” against the coronavirus because of vaccination, infection or a combination of the two. That baseline of protection should be enough to move to an annual booster against the latest strains in circulation and make COVID-19 vaccinations more like the yearly flu shot, according to the agency.

For adults with weakened immune systems and very small children, a two-dose combination may be needed for protection. FDA scientists and vaccine companies would study vaccination, infection rates and other data to decide who should receive a single shot versus a two-dose series.

FDA will also ask its panel to vote on whether all vaccines should target the same strains. That step would be needed to make the shots interchangeable, doing away with the current complicated system of primary vaccinations and boosters.

The original two-dose COVID shots have offered strong protection against severe disease and death no matter the variant, but protection against mild infection wanes. Experts continue to debate whether the latest round of boosters significantly enhanced protection, particularly for younger, healthy Americans.

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Chinese pray for health in Lunar New Year as COVID death toll rises

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(Last Updated On: January 22, 2023)

China rang in the Lunar New Year on Sunday with its people praying for health after three years of stress and financial hardship under the pandemic, as officials reported almost 13,000 new deaths caused by the virus between January 13 and 19.

Queues stretched for about one kilometre outside the iconic Lama temple in Beijing, which had been repeatedly shut before COVID-19 restrictions ended in early December, with thousands of people waiting for their turn to pray for their loved ones.

One Beijing resident said she wished the year of the rabbit will bring “health to everyone”.

“I think this wave of the pandemic is gone,” said the 57-year-old, who only gave her last name, Fang. “I didn’t get the virus, but my husband and everyone in my family did. I still think it’s important to protect ourselves.”

Earlier, officials reported almost 13,000 deaths related to COVID in hospitals between January 13 and 19, adding to the nearly 60,000 in the month or so before that. Chinese health experts say the wave of infections across the country has already peaked, Reuters reported.
The death toll update, from China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, comes amid doubts over Beijing’s data transparency and remains extremely low by global standards.

Hospitals and funeral homes were overwhelmed after China abandoned the world’s strictest regime of COVID controls and mass testing on Dec. 7 in an abrupt policy U-turn, which followed historic protests against the curbs.

The death count reported by Chinese authorities excludes those who died at home, and some doctors have said they are discouraged from putting COVID on death certificates.

China on Jan. 14 reported nearly 60,000 COVID-related deaths in hospitals between Dec. 8 and Jan. 12, a huge increase from the 5,000-plus deaths reported previously over the entire pandemic period.

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COVID-19

China says COVID outbreak has infected 80% of population

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(Last Updated On: January 22, 2023)

The possibility of a big COVID-19 rebound in China over the next two or three months is remote as 80% of people have been infected, a prominent government scientist said on Saturday.

The mass movement of people during the ongoing Lunar New Year holiday period may spread the pandemic, boosting infections in some areas, but a second COVID wave is unlikely in the near term, Wu Zunyou, chief epidemiologist at the China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said on the Weibo social media platform, Reuters reported.

Hundreds of millions of Chinese are traveling across the country for holiday reunions that had been suspended under recently eased COVID curbs, raising fears of fresh outbreaks in rural areas less equipped to manage large outbreaks.

China has passed the peak of COVID patients in fever clinics, emergency rooms and with critical conditions, a National Health Commission official said on Thursday.

Nearly 60,000 people with COVID had died in hospital as of Jan. 12, roughly a month after China abruptly dismantled its zero-COVID policy, according to government data.

But some experts said that figure probably vastly undercounts the full impact, as it excludes those who die at home, and because many doctors have said they are discouraged from citing COVID as a cause of death.

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