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China set to loosen COVID curbs after week of protests

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(Last Updated On: December 2, 2022)

China is set to announce an easing of its COVID-19 quarantine protocols in the coming days and a reduction in mass testing, sources told Reuters, a marked shift in policy after anger over the world’s toughest curbs fuelled widespread protests, Reuters reported.

Cases nationwide remain near record highs but the changes come as some cities have been lifting their lockdowns in recent days, and a top official said the ability of the virus to cause disease was weakening.

Health authorities announcing the easing in their areas have not mentioned the protests – the biggest show of civil disobedience in China for years – which ranged from candle-lit vigils in Beijing to street clashes with police in Guangzhou, read the report.

The measures due to be unveiled include a reduction in the use of mass testing and regular nucleic acid tests as well as moves to allow positive cases and close contacts to isolate at home under certain conditions, the sources familiar with the matter said.

That is a far cry from earlier protocols that led to public frustrations as entire communities were locked down, sometimes for weeks, after even just one positive case.

The frustration boiled over last week in demonstrations of public defiance unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power in 2012. The unrest comes as the economy is set to enter a new era of much slower growth than seen in decades, Reuters reported.

On Thursday night, Shanghai train commuters reported wirelessly receiving an unsolicited document onto their phones saying that life in China would only get better if there was a full lifting of lockdown and that Xi step down – an apparently new tactic amid a heavy police presence in some cities ahead of the weekend.

Less than 24 hours after violent protests in Guangzhou on Tuesday, authorities in at least seven districts of the sprawling manufacturing hub, said they were lifting temporary lockdowns. One district said it would allow schools, restaurants and businesses including cinemas to reopen, read the report.

Cities including Chongqing and Zhengzhou also announced easings.

According to Reuters in the capital, Beijing, some communities have begun preparing for changes.

More COVID outbreaks could weigh on China’s economic activity in the near term, the International Monetary Fund said on Wednesday, adding it saw scope for a safe recalibration of policies that could allow economic growth to pick up in 2023, read the report.

China’s strict containment measures have dampened domestic economic activity this year and spilled over to other countries through supply chain interruptions.

COVID-19

Washington state Gov. Inslee tests positive for COVID-19

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(Last Updated On: February 2, 2023)

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee has tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time.

Inslee’s office said in a statement Wednesday that he had tested positive and was experiencing very mild symptoms including a cough. He is consulting with his doctor about whether to receive Paxlovid antiviral treatments, according to the statement.

He plans to continue working. Trudi Inslee, the first spouse, has tested negative.

Inslee, who throughout the pandemic pushed for mitigation measures including indoor mask-wearing and restrictions on large public gatherings, is fully vaccinated and had booster shots in October 2021 and March 2022 and September 2022, according to his office.

“Once again I am very appreciative to be vaccinated and boosted,” Inslee said in the statement. “This is a scientific gift that has given us the capacity to prevent hospitalizations or worse. I encourage folks who haven’t received their booster to talk with their doctor and avail themselves of this protective, life-saving measure.”

Only 15% of Americans have received the recommended, updated booster that has been offered since last fall.

The governor also tested positive for COVID last May.

President Joe Biden told Congress this week that he will end the national emergencies for addressing COVID-19 on May 11.

Inslee ended the state of emergency in Washington at the end of October.

More than 1.1 million people in the country have died from COVID-19 since 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including about 3,700 last week. More than 15,000 people in Washington have died from the virus.

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COVID-19

COVID-19 is a leading cause of death among children, but is still rare

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(Last Updated On: January 31, 2023)

COVID-19 was the eighth leading cause of death among children in recent months, according to a study published Monday.

In a year-long period from August 2021 to July 2022, 821 children ages 0 to 19 died from COVID-19 at a rate of 1 per 100,000. Children’s deaths of any kind are rare, researchers noted.

COVID-19 ranked fifth in non-disease-related deaths and first in infectious or respiratory illness deaths, overtaking the flu and pneumonia, NPR reported.

Before the pandemic, in 2019, the leading causes of death among children were perinatal conditions, unintentional injuries, birth defects, assault, suicide, cancerous tumors, heart disease and influenza and pneumonia.

The time period researchers analyzed coincided with the rise of Delta and Omicron COVID-19 cases. They found that studying other 12-month periods during the pandemic did not change the results.

Researchers noted their results were limited by the underreporting of COVID-19 cases, and the exclusion of deaths where COVID-19 could have been a contributing or amplifying factor in tandem with other conditions, such as influenza, NPR reported.

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WHO: COVID still an emergency but nearing ‘inflection’ point

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(Last Updated On: January 30, 2023)

The coronavirus remains a global health emergency, the World Health Organization chief said Monday, after a key advisory panel found the pandemic may be nearing an “inflexion point” where higher levels of immunity can lower virus-related deaths, AP reported.

Speaking at the opening of WHO’s annual executive board meeting, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “there is no doubt that we’re in a far better situation now” than a year ago — when the highly transmissible Omicron variant was at its peak.

But Tedros warned that in the last eight weeks, at least 170,000 people have died around the world in connection with the coronavirus. He called for at-risk groups to be fully vaccinated, an increase in testing and early use of antivirals, an expansion of lab networks, and a fight against “misinformation” about the pandemic.

“We remain hopeful that in the coming year, the world will transition to a new phase in which we reduce hospitalizations and deaths to the lowest possible level,” he said.

Tedros’ comments came moments after WHO released findings of its emergency committee on the pandemic which reported that some 13.1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered — with nearly 90% of health workers and more than four in five people over 60 years of age having completed the first series of jabs.

“The committee acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic may be approaching an inflexion point,” WHO said in a statement. Higher levels of immunity worldwide through vaccination or infection “may limit the impact” of the virus that causes COVID-19 on “morbidity and mortality,” the committee said.

“(B)ut there is little doubt that this virus will remain a permanently established pathogen in humans and animals for the foreseeable future,” it said. While Omicron versions are easily spread, “there has been a decoupling between infection and severe disease” compared to that of earlier variants.

Committee members cited “pandemic fatigue” and the increasing public perception that COVID-19 isn’t as much of a risk as it once was, leading to people to increasingly ignore or disregard health measures like mask-wearing and social distancing.

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