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Coronavirus

COVID is still a pandemic, U.S. faces many challenges -White House coordinator

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Dr. Ashish Jha, Coordinator of the COVID-19 Response, speaks to reporters during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 26, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is still in a pandemic state and continues to reckon with an ever-evolving coronavirus despite making strides over the past two years, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said on Thursday.

“We have over 80,000 infections happening a day, hundreds of people are still dying every day. We still have a whole host of challenges,” Jha said when asked if the government should extend the public health emergency.

Health officials are planning for a scenario in which Congress fails to approve President Joe Biden’s request for additional COVID funds by going through old contracts to see if there is any money they could “claw back,” Jha told Reuters in an interview.

Coronavirus

Shanghai reopens some public transport, still on high COVID alert

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© Reuters. A staff member in a protective suit stands on a platform of a subway station, on the first day of parts of city’s subway services resumed, following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Shanghai, China May 22, 2022. REUTERS/Brenda Goh

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By Brenda Goh and Martin Quin Pollard

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – Shanghai reopened a small part of the world’s longest subway system on Sunday after some lines had been closed for almost two months, as the city paves the way for a more complete lifting of its painful COVID-19 lockdown next week.

With most residents not allowed to leave their homes and restrictions tightening in parts of China’s most populous city, commuters early on Sunday needed strong reasons to travel.

Shanghai’s lockdown and curbs in other cities have battered consumption, industrial output and other sectors of the Chinese economy in recent months, prompting pledges of support from policymakers.

Many who ventured out in the commercial hub wore blue protective gowns and face shields. Inside the carriages, passengers were seen keeping some empty seats between themselves. Crowds were small.

Xu Jihua, a migrant construction worker, arrived at a subway stop before it opened at 7 a.m., hoping to get to a rail station, then home to the eastern province of Anhui.

“Work stopped on March 16,” said Xu, adding he had not been able to earn his monthly 7,000-8,000 yuan ($1,000-$1,100) salary since then and would only return to Shanghai once he was sure he could find work.

“Is the lockdown really lifting or not? It’s not very clear.”

A woman who asked only to be identified by her surname Li said she needed to visit her father in a hospital 8 km (5 miles) from her final stop.

“I’m going to the heart hospital, but I don’t know whether there will be any cars or transport once I get to the railway station,” Li said. “I might have to walk there.”

Four of the 20 lines reopened, and 273 bus routes. Some had closed in late March, others later, although sporadic service continued with a limited number of stops.

The city of 25 million expects to lift its city-wide lockdown and return to more normal life from June 1. Most restrictions on movement will remain in place this month.

Shanghai’s 800-km metro system averaged 7.7 million rides a day in 2020, according to the latest data, with an annual passenger throughput of 2.8 billion.

Trains will run 20 minutes apart for limited hours. Commuters must scan their body temperature at the entrance and show negative results of PCR tests taken within 48 hours.

UNEXPLAINED CURBS

Shanghai has gradually reopened convenience stores and wholesale markets and allowed more people to walk out of their homes, with community transmissions largely eliminated.

Still, parts of the city have recently tightened curbs, underlying the difficulty of resuming normal life under China’s zero-COVID policy, which is increasingly at odds with the rest of the world.

Jingan, a key commercial district, said on Saturday it will require all shops to shut and residents to stay home until at least Tuesday, as it carries out mass testing.

The use of exit permits, previously given to residents that allowed them to leave their homes for short walks will be suspended, authorities said without giving a reason.

Similar actions were announced on Friday in the Hongkou district as well as on Saturday by Qingpu district’s Zhaoxiang town, which said they wanted to “consolidate” the results of their epidemic prevention efforts so far.

Shanghai reported fewer than 700 daily cases on Sunday. Significantly, none was outside quarantined areas, as they have been the case for much of the past week. The capital Beijing reported 61 cases, down from 70.

Beijing has been gradually tightening restrictions since April 22, with many shops closed, public transport curtailed and residents asked to work from home. But it still struggles to eliminate an outbreak of dozens of new infections a day.

Tianjin, a key northeastern port, found 36 new cases on Saturday, CCTV reported.

Regulators said on Friday they will streamline the process of equity and bond issuance by companies hit by the pandemic, and urged brokerages and fund managers to channel more money into virus-hit sectors.

($1 = 6.6921 Chinese yuan renminbi)

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Coronavirus

WHO expects more cases of monkeypox to emerge globally

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey, that had been infected with monkeypox virus, is seen at 50X magnification on day four of rash development in 1968. CDC/Handout via REUTERS

By Jennifer Rigby

LONDON (Reuters) -The World Health Organization said it expects to identify more cases of monkeypox as it expands surveillance in countries where the disease is not typically found.

As of Saturday, 92 confirmed cases and 28 suspected cases of monkeypox have been reported from 12 member states that are not endemic for the virus, the U.N. agency said, adding it will provide further guidance and recommendations in coming days for countries on how to mitigate the spread of monkeypox.

“Available information suggests that human-to-human transmission is occurring among people in close physical contact with cases who are symptomatic”, the agency added.

Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is usually mild, and is endemic in parts of west and central Africa. It is spread by close contact, so it can be relatively easily contained through such measures as self-isolation and hygiene. See EXPLAINER:

“What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread as are sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified its transmission around the world,” WHO official David Heymann, an infectious disease specialist, told Reuters.

Heymann said an international committee of experts met via video conference to look at what needed to be studied about the outbreak and communicated to the public, including whether there is any asymptomatic spread, who are at most risk, and the various routes of transmission.

He said the meeting was convened “because of the urgency of the situation”. The committee is not the group that would suggest declaring a public health emergency of international concern, WHO’s highest form of alert, which applies to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said close contact was the key transmission route, as lesions typical of the disease are very infectious. For example, parents caring for sick children are at risk, as are health workers, which is why some countries have started inoculating teams treating monkeypox patients using vaccines for smallpox, a related virus.

Many of the current cases have been identified at sexual health clinics.

Early genomic sequencing of a handful of the cases in Europe has suggested a similarity with that spread in a limited fashion in Britain, Israel and Singapore in 2018.

Heymann said it was “biologically plausible” the virus had been circulating outside of the countries where it is endemic, but had not led to major outbreaks as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions.

He stressed that the monkeypox outbreak did not resemble the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic because it does not transmit as easily. Those who suspect they may have been exposed or who show symptoms including bumpy rash and fever, should avoid close contact with others, he said.

“There are vaccines available, but the most important message is, you can protect yourself,” he added.

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WHO working on more monkeypox guidance as cases rise – senior adviser

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A section of skin tissue, harvested from a lesion on the skin of a monkey, that had been infected with monkeypox virus, is seen at 50X magnification on day four of rash development in 1968. CDC/Handout via REUTERS

By Jennifer Rigby

LONDON (Reuters) – The World Health Organization is working on further guidance for countries on how to mitigate the spread of monkeypox, amid concerns cases could spike further in the summer months, a senior adviser for the U.N. agency told Reuters.

The WHO’s working theory based on the cases identified so far is that the outbreak is being driven by sexual contact, said David Heymann, chair of the WHO’s Strategic and Technical Advisory Group on Infectious Hazards with Pandemic and Epidemic Potential. He led a meeting on the outbreak on Friday.

Monkeypox is an infectious disease that is usually mild, and is endemic in parts of west and central Africa. It is spread by close contact, which means it can be relatively easily contained through such measures as self-isolation and hygiene once a new case is identified. See EXPLAINER:

The outbreak in 11 countries where it is not endemic is highly unusual, according to scientists. More than 100 confirmed or suspected cases have been reported, most of them in Europe.

Heymann, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said experts were likely to give more guidance to countries in the coming days. Health officials in several countries have warned that cases could rise further at major summer gatherings and festivals.

“What seems to be happening now is that it has got into the population as a sexual form, as a genital form, and is being spread as are sexually transmitted infections, which has amplified its transmission around the world,” Heymann said.

He said the WHO’s meeting was convened “because of the urgency of the situation”. The committee is not the group that would suggest declaring a public health emergency of international concern, WHO’s highest form of alert, which currently applies to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead Heymann said the international committee of experts, which met via video conference, looked at what needed to be studied about the outbreak and communicated to the public, including whether there is any asymptomatic spread, who are at most risk, and what the various routes of transmission are.

He said close contact was the key transmission route for the virus as the lesions that are typical of the disease are very infectious. For example, parents caring for sick children are at risk, as well as health workers, which is why some countries have started inoculating the teams treating monkeypox patients using vaccines for smallpox, a related virus.

Many of the current cases have been identified at sexual health clinics.

Early genomic sequencing of a handful of the cases in Europe has suggested a similarity with that spread in a limited fashion in Britain, Israel and Singapore in 2018.

Heymann said it was “biologically plausible” that the virus had since been circulating outside of the countries where it is endemic, but had not led to major outbreaks as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions.

He stressed that the monkeypox outbreak did not resemble the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic because it does not transmit as easily. Those who suspect they may have been exposed or who are showing symptoms, including the typical bumpy rash and fever, should avoid close contact with others, he said.

“There are vaccines available, but the most important message is, you can protect yourself,” he added.

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