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COVID-19: New wave of restrictions in US amid latest surge | US & Canada

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A new spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations in the hard-hit United States has prompted a spate of new restrictions across the country, with North Dakota becoming the most recent state to require face coverings in public.

The Great Plains state, which borders Canada to its north, became the 35th state in the US to impose a face-mask rule, as an uptick in hospitalisations again threatens to overwhelm the healthcare network in what is considered the third major wave of infections.

“Our situation has changed, and we must change with it,” North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum said in a statement on Friday, after the state, which has a population of just over 760,000 residents, led the country for days in new daily COVID-19 cases per capita.

The US has seen a steady climb in cases since the beginning of November, and 184,514 people tested positive for the disease on Friday, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, the daily death average rose from about 828 deaths a day for the seven-day period ending on October 30 to 1,047 deaths a day for the period ending on November 13, according to an Associated Press analysis of that data.

As of Saturday, over 10.8 million COVID-19 cases have been recorded in the US and 245,000 people have died after contracting the coronavirus – the highest in both categories of any country in the world.

North Dakota’s announcement came as the governors of Oregon and New Mexico ordered near-lockdowns in their states – the most aggressive response yet from those officials since the initial outbreak and the resulting lockdowns in the spring.

“We are in a life-or-death situation, and if we don’t act right now, we cannot preserve the lives, we can’t keep saving lives, and we will absolutely crush our current healthcare system and infrastructure,” New Mexico’s Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham said after imposing a two-week stay-at-home order.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown ordered a two-week “freeze” beginning Wednesday under which all businesses will be required to close their offices and mandate working from home “to the greatest extent possible”.

The Democratic governor warned that violators could face fines or arrest.

“For the last eight months, I have been asking Oregonians to follow to the letter and the spirit of the law, and we have not chosen to engage law enforcement,” Brown said. “At this point in time, unfortunately, we have no other option.”

Governors in other states, including New York, Maryland, Virginia and Minnesota, have imposed more incremental measures over the past few days, such as limiting the size of gatherings and making businesses close early, restrict capacity or cut off alcohol sales earlier.

Restriction fatigue

With the stricter lockdowns that began in March giving way to less severe measures, officials across the US are now grappling with citizens who may be less willing to alter their way of life.

There currently are no federally mandated coronavirus restrictions in the US.

Some state officials have said a lockdown’s impact on the economy would cause more damage than the disease itself.

In Nevada, Democratic Governor Steve Sisolak, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, has largely argued that a pandemic response should be left up to individuals.

Shoppers comply with the mask regulations in Bridgton, Maine [Robert F Bukaty/The Associated Press]

“That is the tightrope of trying to balance controlling the COVID-19 spread, protecting our hospitals from surges, and at the same time, not destroying and shutting down our economy,” he said, as reported by the Associated Press.

In Texas, which this week became the first state to surpass one million confirmed cases, Attorney General Ken Paxton has taken one of the hardest lines against new restrictions.

Paxton filed a lawsuit after the city of El Paso closed non-essential businesses after a surge in hospitalisations and deaths forced the city to bring in mobile morgues. An appeals court on Thursday temporarily stayed the El Paso shutdown.

Message from the president

President Donald Trump has been wary of statewide mandates, generally stressing the need to reopen the economy over a more cautious approach.

On Friday, Trump, who has not yet conceded after losing the presidential election to Democrat Joe Biden, said that there would be no nationwide lockdown during his administration.

Tony Gerlicz walks to a line to get a COVID-19 test at the public health department testing site in Santa Fe, New Mexico [Cedar Attanasio/AP]

Biden, for his part, has been supportive of statewide lockdowns and restrictions, and he has encouraged everyone to wear masks.

Still, it is unclear if Biden would attempt a nationwide lockdown, a prospect that would be politically fraught and risk further dividing a nation that the former vice president has vowed to unify.

Biden previously told ABC News he would “listen to the scientists” if they advised him to shut down the country, then appeared to back off on that claim during a town hall in September, saying “There’s going to be no need, in my view, to be able to shut down the whole economy”.



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COVID: How has the UK managed to master the vaccine roll-out? | Coronavirus pandemic News

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London, United Kingdom – When Ayesha Sharieff, a general practitioner in a south London surgery, administered the first COVID vaccines to her patients earlier this month, she was overjoyed.

“It was the best afternoon I’ve spent for a long time,” said Sharieff, who has been a doctor for 20 years. “After all these tough times we’ve been through recently, it was such a pleasure. I wanted to jump on top of my car and honk the horn.”

Each day, Sharieff and her team vaccinate up to 300 patients, currently focusing on elderly people from the area’s diverse urban population as a priority, as part of the United Kingdom’s rapid vaccine roll-out.

“I recently vaccinated a Caribbean nurse working in infectious diseases who must have been 88,” said Sharieff. “It just felt like such an honour to be doing that for her. I had tears in my eyes.”

The UK has earned cautious early praise for its vaccine roll-out, which has seen it produce double the number of vaccinations per person per day of any other European country.

This marks a significant turnaround because with the highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe, the UK government faces high levels of criticism for failing to contain the virus.

The UK became the first Western country to license a COVID-19 vaccine on December 2 when the medicines regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech jab [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]

More than six million people in the UK have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine to date, as part of the largest vaccination programme in British history. The National Health Service (NHS) has vaccinated more than half of those aged 80 and over and more than half of elderly care home residents, both considered priorities, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Once those priorities have been treated, the UK will offer the vaccine to everyone over 50 and then everyone aged over 18.

‘Flexible, scalable system’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has said it plans to offer a first dose of vaccine to every adult in Britain, who make up 51 million of its total 67.5 million population, by September.

It will soon begin a trial of 24-hour injections as it continues to add more vaccination sites to increase the pace of delivery.

Good logistics planning and significant financial investment have underpinned the early positive vaccination numbers, according to Sarah Schiffling, a supply chains expert at Liverpool John Moores University.

“We can’t underestimate the fact the UK is devoting nearly £12 billion to the purchase, manufacture and roll-out of the vaccine,” she told Al Jazeera. “But the UK is seeing the benefit of having a coordinated approach. It’s started out really well and gotten up to quite a volume of patients vaccinated very quickly and that is very promising.”

Schiffling believes the centralised nature of the NHS as well the UK’s “far-reaching delivery network” – which spans from local GPs to mass vaccination centres – has also played a key role. “It’s a flexible, scalable system and that’s been working really well so far,” she explained.

The NHS, unlike some countries that have a federal approach, has departments already in place for bulk purchasing, says Schiffling, and the UK invested quickly into materials such as syringes that are now in high demand.

“One system can work along the supply chain, and that’s worked to the UK’s advantage here,” she said.

UK adopts first dose strategy

The UK became the first Western country to license a COVID-19 vaccine on December 2 when the medicines regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech jab. Since then, it has also approved vaccines produced by Oxford-AstraZeneca and Moderna, but doses of the latter are not expected for months.

But unlike other nations, the UK has decided to increase the time between vaccine doses given to people from 21 days to up to 12 weeks, a decision that is thought to mean more people will get their first dose more quickly.

“The UK has prioritised getting people the first doses,” said Mark Jit, a professor of vaccine epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. “This has enabled more people to be vaccinated quickly. From what we know about vaccines, the first dose gives quite good protection, especially with the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. It’s not that the second dose will be dropped entirely.”

Professor Jit says the UK’s history of previous successful campaigns has also helped the rapid roll-out.

“The UK has an advantage because it has a long history of successful vaccine introductions,” he said, pointing to the introduction of the Shingles vaccine to adults in 2013, the HPV vaccine for adolescents in 2008 and national flu campaigns. “Part of it is also good communication, so there is good public confidence in vaccines.”

Johnson poses for a photograph with a vial of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca COVID-19 candidate vaccine in Wrexham, Wales, on November 30, 2020 [File: Paul Ellis/Pool via Reuters]

But Jit added that while success in the UK’s vaccine roll-out is good news, the issue will persist while all countries still need vaccine supplies.

“This is a global issue and the pandemic won’t be solved until we address those worldwide concerns,” he said.

With England in a third national lockdown since January 2 after a highly transmissible variant helped push the number of people hospitalised with COVID-19 to record highs, for some, vaccination can’t come any sooner.

The UK is now rapidly approaching 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths, marking the worst death toll in Europe and the fifth-highest number worldwide, and some 50,000 health workers are off work due to COVID-19 infections and exposure quarantines.

“This vaccine roll-out has been one of the most uplifting things in my career,” said Sharieff, the GP. “But as it continues we will have to vaccinate larger, more diverse patient groups. We need to make sure everyone is protected equally.”



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