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Coronavirus cases in Spain officially top two million

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The number of coronavirus cases recorded in Spain since the beginning of the pandemic officially exceeded two million on Thursday, amid warnings of difficult weeks ahead. According to the Health Ministry’s latest report, all data points clearly indicate that the pandemic continues to follow an upward trend. Thursday’s report – which also included figures from Wednesday as it was a public holiday (the Health Ministry does not release data on holidays or over the weekend) – registered 42,360 new coronavirus cases. The 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants now stands at 321, up from 296 on Tuesday. The number of Covid-19 patients in hospital and intensive care units (ICUs) rose by 1,514 and 134, respectively. Thursday’s report added 245 Covid-19-related deaths to the official toll.

But the Health Ministry does not believe the rising trend will impact the return to school, which has already happened in some regions, and will begin on Monday in others. When asked about the possibility of closing schools on Thursday, health official María José Sierra replied: “We do not recommend it.”

“It [schools] is one of the areas that have worked best, where there has been the most control. There were no outbreaks,” said Sierra, from the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), who was standing in for the center’s director, Fernando Simón. The health official highlighted the enormous social and learning impact of closing schools and said that any new measures would target sectors that are hubs for contagions.

On the question of a new home lockdown, which has been introduced in countries like the United Kingdom, Sierra replied: “There are many measures to take before a strict confinement.” The health official defended the use of partial restrictions, like perimetral lockdowns and limits on social gatherings, which “proved their effectiveness” during the second wave of the pandemic. On November 9, Spain recorded its highest incidence rate when the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants reached 529. The incidence rate began to fall after that date until rising again at the beginning of December.

It is important to note that Thursday’s report recorded a 25-point rise in Spain’s incidence rate even though the 14-day cumulative number includes three public holidays (Christmas, New Year’s Day, King’s Day), when there is typically underreporting. What’s more, fewer PCR and antigen tests have been carried out: while 140,000 tests were being done every day in the middle of December, between December 28 and January 3 – the last week with complete data – only 110,000 tests were administered in the entire week.

With fewer tests being done – most of which are carried out on patients with symptoms –, the positivity rate i.e. the percentage of tests that come back positive out of the total, has also risen. While 20 days ago this figure stood at 8%, it rose to 13.5% last week and to 15.6% on January 4. But experts warn the rise suggests that many chains of transmission are going undetected.

“It is a trend that is worrying us,” said Sierra on Thursday, who added that the weekly positivity rate exceeded 15% in five regions and 20% in three. “Among suspected cases diagnosed in primary healthcare centers, [the positivity rate] is already close to 30%,” she added.

According to Thursday’s report, Extremadura has the highest incidence rate in Spain, recording a 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants of 717. It is followed by the Balearic Islands (529) and Madrid (452). Asturias, Andalusia and the Canary Islands are the only regions where the incidence rate is below 200.

Hospital and ICU admissions – considered one of the most objective indicators of the pandemic – also rose significantly since Tuesday. A total of 14,543 Covid-19 patients are currently admitted to hospital, occupying 11.9% of all hospital beds. The occupancy rate in ICUs is 24%, with 2,307 patients in intensive care.

Sierra confirmed that Spain has detected nearly 50 cases of the new, more contagious strain of the coronavirus that was discovered in the United Kingdom, while many more cases are being studied.

 

Read from source: https://english.elpais.com/society/2021-01-08/coronavirus-cases-in-spain-officially-top-two-million.html

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Could Australia see a migration boom after the COVID-19 pandemic?

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sbs -After more than three months of lockdown, Greater Sydney reopened its economy on Monday much to the relief of business owners, but there was one virus-induced complication threatening to take the shine off the recovery.

Since Australia shut its international borders in March last year, business and industry have been grappling with a chronic shortage of workers.

That’s prompted calls from some leaders to swiftly reopen international borders and lift migration levels in a way not seen since World War II.

In the 12 months following the closure of Australia’s international borders, Australia’s population rose by just 35,700 people according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The growth rate was just 0.1 per cent, a significant fall on the previous years.

The “annual natural increase”, comprising births and deaths among Australian residents, remained steady at 131,000 people.

But that was offset by a significant fall in net overseas migration, down to a negative figure of 95,300.

That’s a decrease of 334,600 people since the previous year.

“Not since wartime in Australia’s history, have we seen anything that even comes close to the demographic change that we’ve experienced during COVID-19,” ANU demographer Dr Liz Allen told SBS News.

Labour shortage

Australian businesses were already struggling with workforce shortages before the pandemic hit and now the ongoing border closures have aggravated the issue.

“Right across the board from unskilled [migrants] through to very highly skilled medical professionals, we realise how dependent we are as a state and as a nation on immigration,” Professor Jock Collins from the UTS Business School told SBS News.

There is pent-up demand from migrants looking to settle or return to Australia, but Dr Allen said it was unlikely the intake would bounce back to pre-COVID levels – where the population grew by over one per cent each year – in the near future.

“That spells a serious disaster for Australia and in the economy,” she warned.

“The basic needs of this country won’t be met because the local workforce is insufficient to meet the needs of our industry.”

It’s a quandary front of mind for New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet, who earlier this week spoke of his eagerness to reopen international borders.

“We need to get the borders opened up. Then we need to market to those overseas countries to get some of those skilled migrants in because if we lose this opportunity, those skilled migrants will go to other countries,” he said on Monday.

It’s a change of view from before the pandemic where his predecessor Gladys Berijiklian went to the last state election in 2019 pushing to cut immigration to the state by 50 per cent, citing growing issues with infrastructure and traffic congestion.

An “ambitious” boom?

The Australian Financial Review reported that Mr Perrottet is being asked by senior bureaucrats to set his migration sights even higher, with the figure of two million migrants over five years.

They’ve urged him to lobby for an “ambitious” immigration program, in the vein of the mass influx following World War II when Australians were given a message to “populate or perish”.

In 1945, the government was concerned the country needed a larger population to sustain its defences and economic recovery, leading to the foundation of the Federal Department of Immigration and a target to increase the population by one per cent each year.

Some 1.2 million migrants entered the country over the following 15 years, primarily from war-torn Europe, delivering an economic boost.

“These new immigrants contributed to half the job growth in the economy, half the population growth,” Professor Collins explained.

“Immigrants would arrive … straight off the boat, literally into the factory, the next day.”

He said the country was facing a similar labour shortage today – which would require a strong uptick in migration to resolve.

But a World War II-style increase would pose challenges for infrastructure and housing, with public transport, roads and the healthcare system needing to be scaled up.

“Too often in the past, governments have sort of taken the benefits of immigration while delaying the necessary public infrastructure investment to create problems down the track,” Professor Collins said.

He also cautioned against the increasing reliance on temporary visa holders to fill labour shortages, at risk of increased exploitation and wage theft.

Cultural impact

The post-war migration boom also signalled a significant shift in Australia’s cultural make-up.

The decision to take in refugees from across Europe marked the end of the preferential settlement of British nationals and the beginning of Australia’s transformation from an Anglo-centric colony to a multicultural society.

It triggered a change in perspective about migration that culminated in the removal of the White Australia Policy by the Whitlam government.

“It was the post-war immigration boom, that charted a new course for Australia. We headed away from that white monoculture … we realised that we needed to move beyond the Antipodes of our migration history and instead look to the future,” Dr Allen said.

While the post-war boom drew heavily on European immigrants, Dr Allen expects China and India to continue to contribute a sizeable share of Australia’s arrivals going forward beyond COVID.

“We will require skills in people from a range of backgrounds, labourers, professionals, and so on. [And] I suspect that we will continue to see migration from more diverse places than where we’ve historically welcomed people from,” she said.

“This moment in time, this post-COVID rebuild will be a watershed in our history.”

 

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China to test thousands of Wuhan blood samples in Covid-19 probe

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CNNChina is preparing to test tens of thousands of blood bank samples from the city of Wuhan as part of a probe into the origins of Covid-19, according to a Chinese official. The move comes amid increasing calls for transparency over the emergence of the virus.

The store of up to 200,000 samples, including those from the closing months of 2019 were pinpointed in February this year by the World Health Organization’s panel of investigators as a possible source of key information that could help determine when and where the virus first crossed into humans.
The samples are kept in the Wuhan Blood Center, and are thought to span 2019, providing real-time tissue samples from a wide swathe of the population in the Chinese city where SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have first infected humans.
The blood bank samples have been retained for two years, Chinese officials have said, in case they are needed as evidence in any lawsuits related to the blood donations they are from.
That two-year waiting period will soon expire for the key months of October and November 2019, when most experts think the virus could first have infected humans. An official from China’s National Health Commission, told CNN preparation for testing is currently underway, and confirmed testing would happen once the two-year limit was reached.
“This provides the closest in the world we’ve seen of real time samples to help us understand the timing of the outbreak event,” said Yanzhong Huang, senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations.
They “absolutely will contain vital clues,” said Maureen Miller, associate professor of epidemiology at Columbia University. She urged China to permit foreign experts to observe the process. “No one will believe any results that China reports unless there are qualified observers at the very least,” she said.
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The head of the Chinese team working on the WHO investigation, Liang Wannian, first said in a July news conference that China would test the samples, adding once the Chinese experts “have the results, they will deliver them to both the Chinese and foreign expert teams.”
Liang said the samples came from the opening tube of a donor blood pouch, sealed shut and then stored, and Chinese experts had “made several assessments and evaluations on the testing methods and action plan, which will be implemented after the expiry” of the two-year limit.
The samples, if stored correctly, could contain crucial signs of the first antibodies made by humans against the disease, experts said.
Liang said in July that while the first reported case was in Wuhan on December 8, “our research and the previous related research papers of Chinese scientists fully suggest … December 8 is probably not the primary case. There might be other cases that occurred before.”
Dr. William Schaffner, from the Vanderbilt University Department of Medicine’s infectious disease division, said the samples presented a “fascinating opportunity. You would like to go back to find out exactly during which months this this virus started to leave fingerprints in the human population in China.”
The samples might even indicate who was first infected, where, and their age and occupation, Miller added.
“It is common practice to de-identify the samples,” she said. “So you could strip it down to basic demographics, age, gender neighborhood where they lived. All of those data will be available.”
Schaffner suggested the samples could be brought to Geneva, or another neutral destination, to permit WHO experts to take part in the testing.
He said two possible issues with the samples could be “the integrity of the blood samples — ensuring they had not been recently created,” but also how representative of the population as a whole the blood donors were. Miller said many samples would most likely have been taken from healthy individuals “so they’ll represent asymptomatic cases. And as we’ve learned over the course of the pandemic, asymptomatic cases fuel the pandemic.”
Huang said it was unclear to “what extent the outside world would trust the findings as credible or convincing,” and the testing marked an opportunity for China to “tell the world that they are serious about depoliticizing the origins probe.”
How China pushes conspiracy theory on Covid-19 origin 04:04
The Biden administration conducted a 90-day review of the intelligence over how the virus originated, yet an unclassified report had officials still considering both natural transmission from animal to humans and a lab leak as plausible theories, yet unable to determine which was the more likely.
President Joe Biden, on receiving a classified version of the report, said: “Critical information about the origins of this pandemic exists in the People’s Republic of China, yet from the beginning, government officials in China have worked to prevent international investigators and members of the global public health community from accessing it.”
China has insisted it has been transparent and helpful to the WHO probe, and in its most recent statement about the theory the virus leaked from a laboratory, pointed toward unproven claims about Fort Detrick, US laboratory in Maryland, and the need to examine its recent past

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Spain details new system of coronavirus restrictions to be applied until 70% of population is vaccinated

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The Spanish Health Ministry and regional authorities on Wednesday approved a traffic light system to determine coronavirus restrictions based on an area’s epidemiological situation. This set of common criteria is to be applied until 70% of the population and all over-50s are vaccinated against Covid-19.

The traffic light system categorizes risk as extreme, high, medium, low and new normality based on data points such as the seven-day and 14-day incidence rate, and the percentage of hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) beds occupied by Covid-19 patients. The system, which applies to areas with more than 10,000 inhabitants, then recommends different restrictions based on the level of risk. Up until now, this has been used just as a guide. But on Wednesday, the Inter-Territorial Council of the National Health System (CISNS), which brings together health chiefs from the central and regional governments, voted to make it legally binding.

The risk levels in Spain

The document “Coordinated response actions to control the transmission of Covid-19” establishes risk levels for territories of more than 10,000 inhabitants.

This means that the regions – which are in charge of controlling the pandemic as well as the Covid-19 vaccination drive – must follow the rules set out by the system. For example, even in a low-risk scenario, nighttime venues must close at 3am and only a maximum of 10 people are allowed to a table in sidewalk cafés. Catalonia, Madrid, Andalusia, Galicia, Murcia and the Basque Country have opposed the mandatory condition of the measures, which will come into force soon, once they are published in the Official State Gazette (BOE). These regions are home to 29.5 million people – more than half Spain’s population of 47.5 million. Castilla y León and the North African exclave city of Melilla also abstained from the vote.

According to the latest figures from the Health Ministry, 18,426,204 people in Spain have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine – 38.8% of the population. Meanwhile, 9,679,187 people have got the full protection offered by the immunization – 20.4%. The government has set the target of vaccinating 70% of the population by the end of the summer, a target that is on track assuming there are no setbacks such as interruptions to supply. The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported 4,984 new coronavirus infections and added 66 fatalities to the overall death toll. The 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants, meanwhile, fell a further two points to 118.

The new rules agreed on Wednesday, and which will be approved via a Declaration of Coordinated Action (DAC), may lead to legal conflicts between the Health Ministry and some regional governments. Madrid has already announced that it will follow its own measures – not those outlined by the traffic light system. In a message posted on Twitter, Madrid premier Isabel Díaz Ayuso said: “Hospitality establishments are safe spaces and our allies to overcoming this crisis. They cannot pay for the inefficiency of the Sánchez government,” in reference to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez who leads a coalition government made up of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos.

Madrid has been at loggerheads with the central government over the reach of coronavirus restrictions since the health crisis began. When the CISNS agreed last October that areas at certain risk levels should be placed under perimetral lockdown – a decision that affected 10 municipalities in Madrid – the Ayuso government applied the restrictions, but challenged them in court. When a judge ruled in the region’s favor, the central government was forced to declare a state of alarm in the region to ensure the coronavirus restrictions were followed. Madrid also opposed the coronavirus restrictions approved by CISNS for the Christmas vacations and Easter break, such as limits on travel and social gatherings, but did eventually adhere to them.

At the end of the CISNS meeting on Wednesday, Health Minister Carolina Darias reiterated that it was mandatory for the regions to follow the measures approved by the council. “It is very important to be at a low [risk] level, not only so that we are safer and the virus is spread less, but also so that we can start entering the new normality,” she said. “We have to learn from the lessons learned. We know what happened last summer [when increased social activity led to a second wave of the virus]. What’s important is finishing off what we are achieving and reaching incidence rates below 50 [cases per 100,000 inhabitants, the threshold for low risk].”

The measures approved will affect Spain’s 17 regions differently, depending on what restrictions are already in place in each territory and their contagion rates. While some regions will be able to ease restrictions, others will have to toughen them. In Madrid, for example, the 14-day cumulative number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 inhabitants is 165, a data point, among others, that places it in the high-risk category. Despite this, the restrictions in the region correspond to those in the “new normality” category, i.e. regions where the incidence rate is 25 cases.

Andalusia allowed nighttime venues to reopen until 2am after the state of alarm came to an end on May 9. But these venues will have to close once the new rules are published in the BOE, given that the 14-day cumulative number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants in the region now stands at 177 and is continuing to rise. On the other hand, Valencia, which is in a low-risk scenario, could already allow nighttime venues to open until 3am. Hospitality establishments, however, will still need to shut by 10pm until next week.

One of the mandatory rules that must be applied regardless of the risk level is the ban on smoking when a two-meter distance from other people cannot be respected. This ban also applies to water pipes, hookahs and other ways of inhaling tobacco.

Here is an overview of the main coronavirus restrictions set down by the traffic-light system.

Nightlife

Low risk and new normality. Indoors, the maximum capacity is 50%. Outdoor areas will be allowed to operate at full capacity, provided that the seats between different tables are 1.5 meters apart. The consumption of food and drinks, both inside and outside, will have to take place while seated at tables, with the same safe distance. The tables will have a limit of six people inside and 10 outside. Closing time will be 3am at the latest, and registers will be introduced to ensure that patrons can be traced should a coronavirus case be detected.

Medium risk. If the progress of the health crisis is favorable, closing time will be at 2am and the same measures for the lower risk scenario will be adopted, apart from a limit of a third of capacity inside.

Bars and restaurants

New normality. The permitted capacity will be 50% inside with the option of an extra 10% if risk-control measures are introduced that guarantee high levels of ventilation and air-quality control. Tables in outdoor areas can be fully occupied provided that the distance between chairs at different tables is at least 1.5 meters. Service and consumption at the bar are allowed, provided the aforementioned distance is respected. Six people can share a table inside, and 10 outside. Closing time will be 1am and service will cease one hour previously.

Low risk. The same measures as in the new normality, but with a distance of two meters between tables.

Medium risk. Inside, the same measures as low risk, but with a limit of a third of capacity. Outside, a maximum of 75% and six people per table.

High risk. Indoor areas will be closed and the same measures will be applied outside as for medium risk.

Very high risk. Outdoor capacity limited to 50% and limits on opening times, with groups of patrons separated and a maximum of four people per table. If the trend is rising and exceeds 500 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days, establishments must close, only offering takeaway or delivery for consumption at home.

Open-air events

New normality. A maximum of 10,000 people. Independent sectors of no more than 1,000 people must be established, with safety measures being observed at all times. Transit areas between these sectors will be at least two meters wide. Smoking will not be permitted, nor the use of electronic cigarettes, in areas dedicated to the public. Maximum capacity of 50%, guaranteeing a useable area of 1.5 square meters per person, and eating and drinking will not be allowed in the public areas.

Low risk. The same measures as previously described, but with a maximum of 5,000 people and space of 2.25 square meters.

High risk. A maximum of 2,500 people. If possible, independent sectors of no more than 500 people will be established. Capacity will be limited to 30% and the area per person will be three square meters. Consumption of food and drink will be prohibited.

Very high risk. No events with large crowds will be allowed.

Education centers

Primary and secondary school, vocational training. These centers will remain open during the entire school year, “ensuring there are canteen services as well as out-of-hours study support for minors with special needs or who belong to socially vulnerable people,” according to the document, to which EL PAÍS had access on Tuesday. If there are outbreaks or the transmission of the virus runs out of control, “mixed in-person and remote education will be considered” before the center is closed, or “changes to the timetable that will allow for greater limits on contacts.”

Universities. The agreement only stipulates “distance learning as far as possible” for university teaching under alert level 4, and for the rest of the levels the same recommendations will be in place as for 2020 to 2021 – i.e. the use of masks, a Covid coordinator, contact tracing, quarantines for those with symptoms and ventilation of closed spaces, among other measures.

For all centers. All of the prevention measures set out by the ministry will be applied in all schools and universities. These include limiting contacts, maintaining social distancing, creating bubbles, handwashing and mask use, regular ventilation of indoor areas and students with symptoms staying at home.

 

Read from source: https://english.elpais.com/society/2021-06-03/spain-details-new-system-of-coronavirus-restrictions-to-be-applied-until-70-of-population-is-vaccinated.html

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