COVID19 🦠 Newsbites
Nepal Runs Out of Hospital Beds as India's Outbreak Spills Over
The coronavirus outbreak in India has spilled across the border into Nepal, where health officials have warned that hospital beds are unavailable, vaccines are running short and the number of new infections is rising faster than overwhelmed clinics can record them.

The situation is so dire in Nepal that the Health Ministry in the Himalayan nation issued a statement on Friday in which, in effect, it threw up its hands.

“Since coronavirus cases have spiked beyond the capacity of the health system and hospitals have run out of beds, the situation is unmanageable,” the ministry said after the government recorded 5,657 new infections on Friday, the highest daily total since October.


And with more than one-third of tests returning a positive result, officials worry that the actual number of cases is much higher. Nepalis who are infected but have only minor symptoms have been told to stay home to keep hospitalizations down.

Experts believe the outbreak is being fueled by Nepali migrant workers who returned home in recent weeks from India as lockdowns were imposed there. The 1,100-mile border between the countries is porous, and hardly any of the returnees were tested for the coronavirus or placed into quarantine.

Within weeks, many of them began falling ill.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/01/world/nepal-india-covid.html

Indonesian Lab Workers Accused of Reusing Virus Test Nasal Swabs
The idea was simple: Why throw away used rapid antigen test kits for the coronavirus when they could be used again and again?

All it took was washing the cotton swabs used to take nasal samples, repackaging them as if they were new and reusing them on other people.

The fraud unraveled this week when five laboratory workers were arrested in the Indonesian city of Medan and accused of reusing nasal swabs in administering as many as 20,000 tests. They face up to six years in prison for violating consumer protection, medical waste and contagious disease laws.


The authorities said they were investigating whether any people were infected with the coronavirus as a result of the contaminated tests given at an airport testing site operated by Kimia Farma, a giant state-owned company.

They were also investigating how many people received tainted test results as they prepared to board flights at Kualanamu International Airport, one of the nation’s busiest. A negative test result is required in Indonesia before a passenger can board a flight.

The police announced that they would conduct random checks of labs around the country to ensure that others were not conducting similar frauds.

Erick Thohir, the minister who oversees state-owned enterprises, said on Friday that such practices by “unscrupulous” company employees would not be tolerated.

“Such action must be subject to very strict punishment,” he tweeted.

The five workers were believed to have pocketed about $2,000 a day since mid-December by charging people for the tainted tests. The lab employees administered legitimate tests using sterile cotton swabs to about 100 people a day and reused swabs for tests on about 150 others, which would amount to thousands of tests over the period.

... The police raided the laboratory on Tuesday, arrested the five employees and confiscated hundreds of recycled cotton swabs. They also seized more than $10,000 in cash and a laptop used to produce the documents given to people to certify their test results.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/01/world/indonesia-covid-swabs-reused.html

India Vaccination Drive Stifled by Supply Shortages

As vaccine eligibility opened to people 18 and older on Saturday, several states reported shortages. India has faced global records for daily coronavirus cases, limited oxygen supplies and a series of deadly hospital accidents.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/video/world/asia/100000007741362/india-coronavirus-vaccination-drive.html

Oregon Places 15 Counties Under Its Strictest Lockdown Restrictions

Kate Brown, governor of Oregon, announced on Friday that 15 counties would move into the state’s most severe level of restrictions to combat a new wave of coronavirus cases.

Cases are widespread, driven by new, more contagious variants. Oregon leads the nation for our rate of increase in cases over the last two weeks. In fact, this is the fifth straight week Oregon has recorded case increases of 20 percent or more. Our hospitalizations have nearly doubled what they were a week ago. While fewer seniors are being hospitalized, thanks to vaccinations, Covid-19 is now knocking more younger people off their feet. The portion of hospitalized cases of people 18 to 34 has increased by almost 50 percent. I was presented with data showing two paths Oregon could take. One, in which we took no additional action and stood by while more people died from this disease. Or another, that required a temporary tightening of restrictions for certain counties but could save hundreds of lives and prevent as many as 450 hospitalizations over the next three weeks. As your governor, I chose to save lives. And I recognize that this puts many Oregon businesses and working families in a difficult place. So I’ve worked with the legislature to secure $20 million in urgent relief for Oregon businesses impacted by extreme risk. We can get this aid quickly in the hands of our businesses. And I encourage all impacted businesses to apply for assistance. Economic relief is something I can do as your governor to help Oregonians impacted by this fourth surge. What I can’t do is bring back someone’s life lost to this virus.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000007741477/oregon-coronavirus-surge-restrictions.html

The virus is surging in Alaska’s interior, straining a Fairbanks hospital.
Experts are unsure what is driving the surge, though a low vaccination rate certainly plays a role. Thirty-six percent of Alaskans are fully vaccinated, and in some boroughs that number is over 50 percent, but in the Fairbanks area just 29 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

“There is no big outbreak or two big outbreaks that are really driving this,” said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist for Alaska. “We have cases and clusters being associated with a wide range of different settings.”


With two-thirds of the older population in Fairbanks having received at least one dose of a vaccine, those who have recently been hospitalized in Fairbanks are younger than the Covid patients during the winter, when there was a peak in case numbers. Dr. Creighton said people who were hospitalized in April tended to be in their 40s and 50s and were unvaccinated because they were waiting to see what side effects might come from receiving a Covid-19 vaccine.

“We are seeing them stay longer because they are not dying,” Dr. Creighton said. “We are giving them noninvasive ventilation and they are staying for two, three weeks and turning around, which I’ve never been more proud of.”

But while those older patients during the winter peak were largely grateful to be receiving care, those hospitalized now feel differently.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/02/world/alaska-fairbanks-virus-hospital.html

Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe
Early in the pandemic, when vaccines for the coronavirus were still just a glimmer on the horizon, the term “herd immunity” came to signify the endgame: the point when enough Americans would be protected from the virus so we could be rid of the pathogen and reclaim our lives.

Now, more than half of adults in the United States have been inoculated with at least one dose of a vaccine. But daily vaccination rates are slipping, and there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever. Instead, they are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.

How much smaller is uncertain and depends in part on how much of the nation, and the world, becomes vaccinated and how the coronavirus evolves. It is already clear, however, that the virus is changing too quickly, new variants are spreading too easily and vaccination is proceeding too slowly for herd immunity to be within reach anytime soon.

Continued immunizations, especially for people at highest risk because of age, exposure or health status, will be crucial to limiting the severity of outbreaks, if not their frequency, experts believe.

“The virus is unlikely to go away,” said Rustom Antia, an evolutionary biologist at Emory University in Atlanta. “But we want to do all we can to check that it’s likely to become a mild infection.”


The shift in outlook presents a new challenge for public health authorities. The drive for herd immunity — by the summer, some experts once thought possible — captured the imagination of large segments of the public. To say the goal will not be attained adds another “why bother” to the list of reasons that vaccine skeptics use to avoid being inoculated.

Yet vaccinations remain the key to transforming the virus into a controllable threat, experts said.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the Biden administration’s top adviser on Covid-19, acknowledged the shift in experts’ thinking.

“People were getting confused and thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is,” he said.

“That’s why we stopped using herd immunity in the classic sense,” he added. “I’m saying: Forget that for a second. You vaccinate enough people, the infections are going to go down.”

... Though resistance to the vaccines is a main reason the United States is unlikely to reach herd immunity, it is not the only one.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/03/health/covid-heard-immunity-vaccine.html

Australia Bars Its Citizens in India From Coming Home Amid Covid Crisis
Much of the world has decided to cut off travel to and from India as it grapples with an uncontrolled outbreak that is killing thousands of people every day. But Australia, a continent with a strong preference for hard borders, has pushed isolation to a new extreme. No other democratic nation has issued a similar ban on all arrivals. Britain, Germany and the United States, for example, have restricted travel from India, but have exempted citizens and permanent residents, many of whom are rushing home.

Australia’s decision — announced quietly late Friday night by officials who said it was necessary to keep the country safe — has built into a medical and moral crisis.

Indian-Australians are outraged. Human rights groups have condemned the move as unnecessarily harsh and a violation of citizenship principles. Other critics have suggested that the policy was motivated by racism or, at the very least, a cultural double standard.


“It’s criminalizing the situation when intense empathy is required. It’s a very tough situation,” said Sheba Nandkeolyar, a marketing executive and national chair of Women in Business for Australia India Business Council.

Australia’s latest move fits a pattern. The island has maintained some of the strictest border measures in the world since the pandemic began. No one can leave the country without official government permission. Coming home, even from a country with declining infection rates, often seems to require government connections, celebrity status or luck, along with $30,000 for a one-way plane ticket.

There are about 35,000 Australians overseas who have been unable to make the journey either because they have been unable to obtain seats on repatriation flights or because they have been unable to afford the tickets.

In the case of India, Australia’s already opaque, unequal and selective policy — based in part on how many people can be moved through for 14-day hotel quarantine — has become absolute. It means keeping thousands of Australians in a place where coronavirus case numbers have skyrocketed; where hospitals have run out of beds, ventilators and medical oxygen; and where crematories are burning day and night amid a deluge of bodies.

Australian officials said the new restrictions — with penalties of up to five years in prison and nearly 60,000 Australian dollars ($46,300) in fines under Australia’s Biosecurity Act — would keep its hotel quarantine system from being overwhelmed.

“Fifty-seven percent of the positive cases in quarantine had been arrivals from India,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Sunday. “It was placing a very, very significant burden on health and medical services in states and territories.”

But for Australians in India, the policy amounts to a stunning lack of concern.

... In Australia, a country of 25 million that has fewer than 300 active Covid cases and where daily life has been nearly normal for months, most people support the strict border policy. In a recent poll by the Lowy Institute, which surveyed Australians before the Indian outbreak intensified, an overwhelming majority reported that they were happy with how Australia has tackled the pandemic. Only one in three surveyed said the government should do more to help Australians return home during the pandemic.
Read the full article: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/03/world/australia/covid-india-travel-ban.html

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a contagious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The first case was identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. It has since spread worldwide, leading to an ongoing pandemic.

Symptoms of COVID-19 are variable, but often include fever, cough, fatigue, breathing difficulties, and loss of smell and taste. Symptoms begin one to fourteen days after exposure to the virus. Most people (81%) develop mild to moderate symptoms (up to mild pneumonia), while 14% develop severe symptoms (dyspnea, hypoxia, or more than 50% lung involvement on imaging) and 5% of patients suffer critical symptoms (respiratory failure, shock, or multiorgan dysfunction). At least a third of the people who are infected with the virus remain asymptomatic and do not develop noticeable symptoms at any point in time, but can spread the disease. Some patients continue to experience a range of effects—known as long COVID—for months after recovery and damage to organs has been observed. Multi-year studies are underway to further investigate the long term effects of the disease.

Source: Coronavirus disease 2019 - Wikipedia