In Australia, health authorities in the state of Victoria have ramped up contact tracing and prepared for more mass testing of residents in Melbourne, after a new Covid-19 cluster linked to a quarantine hotel grew to eight cases on Thursday.
Residents are being urged to get tested amid fears of community transmission from a worker at the Holiday Inn in the city.
Melbourne was home to the world’s longest lockdown in 2020 (more than 100 days), when thousands of cases and more than 800 deaths followed an escape from the virus from hotel quarantine.
It’s believed the latest outbreak in the city, which is currently hosting the Australian Open tennis tournament, was likely sparked by a medical device known as a nebuliser being used by a Covid-positive guest at the hotel.
The remaining guests were transferred to another hotel to serve out their quarantine and more than 100 hotel workers were placed in isolation.
You can read our full story below and keep up to date with all the news from Australia on our live blog there:
at 9.07pm EST
WHO recommends AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine for all adults
The efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine has come under the spotlight in recent days – both for how it works against the South African variant and for its effectiveness in over 65s.
Now the WHO has recommended for use in all adults. The Guardian’s health editor, Sarah Boseley, reports:
The WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (Sage) said the vaccine should be given in two doses, eight to 12 weeks apart, bolstering the stand the UK government has taken in its mass vaccination programme.
“The efficacy of the vaccine is higher when the second dose is administered later,” said Dr Joachim Hombach, executive secretary of WHO’s Sage.
“You can expect to see a higher efficacy if you administer the vaccine in our recommended schedule which is 8-12 weeks between doses.”
The WHO decision means the UN-backed Covax scheme can start shipping doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine around the world to lower income countries. It only needs to be stored at 2 to 8C, so represents the best hope for many countries of vaccinating their health workers and most vulnerable citizens.
You can read Sarah’s full story below:
at 8.35pm EST
Asthma drug could prevent serious illness
Some good news for asthma sufferers, and indeed in general, that a cheap and widely available asthma drug appears to significantly reduce the risk of people getting seriously ill with Covid-19, if it is taken within the first week of developing symptoms.
At the beginning of the pandemic there was considerable angst amongst asthma sufferers that their condition may make them more vulnerable to Covid. However, if the results of this research are confirmed by other ongoing studies, it could be that inhaled budesonide – which both stops people from getting worse and shortens the length of their illness – becomes the first treatment in the early stages of coronavirus infection.
As the Guardian’s Linda Geddes reports:
The Stoic study was launched following observations that people with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were surprisingly underrepresented among hospital patients admitted with Covid-19, when other respiratory illnesses such as flu, tend to make their symptoms worse. One possibility was that the steroid inhalers they use to manage their asthma and COPD symptoms were protecting some of them from severe Covid-19.
You can read Linda’s full report below:
at 8.02pm EST
Italy is reopening its ski resorts in Lombardy, the region worst hit by the coronavirus. Lifts will resume operating from 15 February, which will mark the return of skiing for the first time this year.
Lift tickets will be limited and no more than 30% of hourly capacity of cable cars and ski-lifts will be allowed.
Skiing could resume next week in other regions, as long as they remain in the lower virus-risk “yellow” areas. The health ministry can change regions’ risk colours based on data from a weekly monitoring report issued on Fridays.
All of the country is currently “yellow,” except for South Tyrol in the north, Umbria in the centre, and Puglia and Sicily in the south.
Several experts cautioning against re-opening, however.
Over the last 24 hours, nearly 13,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and 336 people died from Covid-19. The latest figures brought total infection numbers to almost 2.67 million, and the overall death toll to 92,338.
at 7.55pm EST
Double masking ‘substantially reduces’ exposure
A study by the US CDC has shown wearing two masks can “substantially reduce” exposure to Covid-19.
The report summary said:
CDC conducted experiments to assess two ways of improving the fit of medical procedure masks: fitting a cloth mask over a medical procedure mask, and knotting the ear loops of a medical procedure mask and then tucking in and flattening the extra material close to the face. Each modification substantially improved source control and reduced wearer exposure.
The main thrust of the report seems to be that the better fitting the mask, the better the protection. The CDC – the peak US body for disease control – said the experiments “highlight the importance of good fit to maximise mask performance”.
You may recall Joe Biden often wore a cloth mask over a surgical mask when he was on the election campaign trail.
You can read about the study here from the CDC and our story on it is below.
at 7.31pm EST
Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic, with me, Alison Rourke.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has found close-fitting surgical masks worn underneath cloth masks – known as double masking – can significantly enhance protection against Covid-19.
It’s the first CDC-backed research to recommend “double-masking”, although top US infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has recommended the public consider the measure in past briefings.
In other news:
- Italy will open its ski resorts in Lombardy from mid February – the first time skiing will be allowed this winter.
- A new study has found that a cheap asthma drug has appeared to significantly reduce the risk of people getting severely ill with Covid-19, if taken within the first week of developing symptoms.
- The WHO says that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine can be given to adults of all ages, after some countries decided not to give the dose to those aged over 65 over doubts about its effectiveness.
- The UK will be “more or less” free of Covid by the end of the year, according to Prof John Edmunds, a member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.
- Germany is now expected to extend its lockdown until 7 March, but hairdressers may be allowed to open before the date.
- Brazil registered 59,602 new cases of coronavirus and 1,330 new deaths in the past 24 hours on Wednesday.
at 7.05pm EST