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Omicron Wave Of COVID-19 Has Peaked In UK: Study

Omicron Wave Of COVID-19 Has Peaked In UK: Study

Authored by Alexander Zhang via The Epoch Times,

The Omicron wave of COVID-19 has peaked in the UK and cases are starting to decrease in all age groups and in almost all regions in the…

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Omicron Wave Of COVID-19 Has Peaked In UK: Study

Authored by Alexander Zhang via The Epoch Times,

The Omicron wave of COVID-19 has peaked in the UK and cases are starting to decrease in all age groups and in almost all regions in the country, a British scientist said on Jan. 13.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and the lead scientist on the ZOE COVID Study app, said data suggests the Omicron wave has peaked, with hospitalisation, deaths, and early data on the severity of the Omicron variant all “looking positive.”

He said COVID-19 symptoms are now “for the first time this winter more common than colds and flu and are indistinguishable.”

According to data from the ZOE COVID Study, 52.5 percent of people experiencing new cold-like symptoms are likely to have symptomatic COVID-19, an increase from last week’s 51.3 percent.

According to ZOE data, there are currently 183,364 new daily symptomatic cases of COVID-19 in the UK on average, a clear decrease of 12 percent from 208,471 reported last week.

Among people who have received at least two vaccine doses, there are currently 83,699 new daily symptomatic cases, a decrease of 11 percent from 93,540 new daily cases reported last week.

The study found that cases are dropping in all regions apart from the northeast, but even there the increase is already slowing and should start dropping soon.

New daily symptomatic cases are also going down in all age groups, with cases among the over-75s plateauing at low levels.

Spector said this is a “reassuring sign” that the more vulnerable group has been spared from the worst of the Omicron wave.

He said he does not expect these rates to go down to zero, but he thinks Omicron “will probably continue to circulate at manageable levels in the population until late spring.”

Some scientists are already predicting COVID-19 will soon become endemic.

Professor David Heymann, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said on Jan. 11 that the UK has a high level of population immunity and is probably “the closest to any country of being out of the pandemic if it isn’t already out of the pandemic and having the disease as endemic.”

Clive Dix, former chairman of Britain’s vaccine taskforce, said over the weekend that mass vaccination against COVID-19 should come to an end and the UK should focus on managing it as an endemic disease like flu.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, also said on Dec. 28 that COVID-19 will become “just another cause of the common cold.”

Tyler Durden Fri, 01/14/2022 - 05:00

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When Will Royal Caribbean Bring Back an Adult Favorite Activity?

The cruise line has not brought back a popular very adult event, but there are signs that may change.

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The cruise line has not brought back a popular very adult event, but there are signs that may change.

Cruising has largely returned to what it was before the pandemic -- at least once you board the ship. Before you cruise, Royal Caribbean International (RCL) - Get Royal Caribbean Group Report, Carnival Cruise Lines (CCL) - Get Carnival Corporation Report, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCLH) - Get Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. Report, and the other lines sailing from U.S. ports still require would-be passengers to check some boxes.

First, all passengers 12 and over must be fully vaccinated at least two weeks before the ship sails. Boosters are not required, but passengers do have to show their original vaccine cards. In addition, anyone sailing must show a negative covid test taken no more than two days before their sailing.

Proving you have met those requirements makes boarding a bit more of a chore, especially because some passengers do not have their documents in order. After you pass the boarding hurdles, however, being on a cruise feels almost entirely like what it did before the pandemic.

Masks are optional for passengers and capacities have inched back toward normal. Crew members remain masked and social-distancing signs are still up, but nobody is social distancing anymore. 

And nearly all activities have returned -- but a few guest favorites have not.

Dukas/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

What Is Royal Caribbean's 'The Quest?'

Before the pandemic, Royal Caribbean offered an adults-only game show called "The Quest." It's a well-loved risque event that's sort of shrouded in secrecy. You're not supposed to take pictures or video, but lots of videos are on the internet.

A number of members of the message-boards section of the Royal Caribbean Blog attempted to explain the event:

"It's basically this giant scavenger hunt within your team. On Oasis it was in Studio B. There are 6ish couples who are team leads, and the cruise director shouts out tasks --things to find in the audience, or things to accomplish. For example, 6 ladies bras, or 3 shoelaces tied together. The team leads have a card with their number on it, and as soon as the task is done/found, they run up to the cruise director with the object and the card, wave it in his face. The fastest teams get more points," wrote hmills96.

It can get a bit raunchy, according to Jerel.

"It's a adult oriented game show where people willingly makes fools of themselves," he wrote. "...It doesn't take long before they are asking for girls who are wearing red thongs and to prove it on stage, or even ask a captain to produce 4 bras, many women will quickly rip them off btw. Also it's pretty much guaranteed to see men dirty dancing with each other and/or hairy men dressed up in women's clothing."

The post also noted that some people may have regrets the next day.

"It tends to be on the last night, I assume because you may not want to be seen in public the next day," he added.

Will Royal Caribbean Bring 'The Quest' Back?

"The Quest" involves a lot of people in a fairly small space, with touching a body a key part of the game. That's not a great look for the cruise line, even if social distancing has largely gone away on cruise ships.

Cruise-line personnel have told passengers that "The Quest" would return, but no timetable has been given. 

Multiple crew members noted that Studio B, where "The Quest" takes place on most ships, has been used for show rehearsals. Various productions have struggled to get to their full complement of cast or have had to integrate understudies due to positive covid tests.

The company has not made any official statement on "The Quest," but numerous crew members/activity personnel have said that it would come back.

For now, "The Quest," and balloon drops on the Royal Promenade along with certain parties in that same central corridor remain casualties of the pandemic. 

Balloon drops have been tested on some ships but have not formally returned while "The Quest" remains in the cruise line's plans, but it does not yet have a return date.

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Monkeypox may not mutate as fast as coronaviruses, but that doesn’t mean it can’t adapt to its new hosts

Monkeypox may not churn out variants at the rate of SARS-CoV-2, but that doesn’t mean we can rest easy.

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The recent outbreak of monkeypox virus has called into question the capabilities of these kinds large DNA viruses to evolve, adapt and change their biology.

Compared with small RNA viruses such as coronavirus, monkeypox virus and other large DNA viruses are thought to evolve slowly. Yet there’s clear evidence that this really isn’t a hindrance to these viruses. In fact, they can adapt to new environments like us.

Although most infections remain mild, monkeypox can be a serious life-threatening disease, resulting in sepsis, encephalitis (brain inflammation) and blindness. The most common symptoms are rash and skin lesions, alongside flu-like symptoms and swollen lymph nodes.

Cumulative monkeypox cases in current outbreak

Our World in Data, CC BY

Monkeypox virus naturally infects wild rodents, such as squirrels and rats, in west and central Africa – but it can jump species into humans and other animals. However, once it has jumped to humans, it cannot keep transmission going and eventually outbreaks die out. This is probably because monkeypox has not adapted itself to its new environment of humans, as spillback into wild rodents from infected humans is unlikely.

Monkeypox is closely related to the viruses that caused smallpox (variola viruses) and the virus that we use to vaccinate and eradicate smallpox (vaccinia virus). This group of viruses, referred to as poxviruses, are a kind of large DNA virus, meaning that their genome is composed of a chemical known as DNA, like our genome. (Coronavirus and related viruses use a cousin molecule called RNA.)

Other DNA viruses are the large DNA viruses adenoviruses and herpesviruses, but also small ones like papillomaviruses and parvoviruses. The viral genomes composed of either DNA or RNA essentially are the instructions to make new viruses, infect us and cause disease. Changes to the instructions can change virus biology.

As we have seen with SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, viruses can change how they behave with regards to spreading, disease severity and vaccine sensitivity. This is because of changes accumulating in the virus genome. Virus replication generates diversity in its genome, which can be acted on by evolutionary forces such as natural selection, to increase in frequency and maybe even out-compete older versions.

Evolutionary changes can occur when the virus encounters a new environment that it is not fully adapted to. Although all viruses can evolve rapidly due to their vast population sizes and rapid generation times, RNA viruses are thought to be masters of evolution because they have high mutation rates due to their small size, and many often lack error-correcting ability meaning more mutations occur every time they replicate.

Poxviruses have some characteristics that make them more generalist, including stable infectious particles, giving them more chances to infect. They use very common molecules on your cells to gain entry and infect, unlike SARS-CoV-2 which needs the specific ACE2 protein to gain entry to our cells.

Large DNA viruses such as monkeypox also contain lots of genes that target and manipulate different parts of the immune system.

Room for improvement

However, there’s clear evidence that improvements can be made, because, in humans, monkeypox transmission is relatively inefficient, with long incubation periods.

In general, large DNA viruses such as monkeypox are no different from other viruses, and their mutability is the basis for our ability to track and trace monkeypox outbreaks. They make mistakes and errors accumulate, which can be used as fuel for evolution and biological changes. There’s even evidence from the recent monkeypox outbreak that the host cell is directly mutating the virus genome.

Studies focusing on related poxviruses like the vaccinia virus have even uncovered new tricks they can use, which include rapidly amplifying the number of genes they use to attack our immune system. They could even borrow some of our own genes to help them infect us.

We can’t predict the trajectory that monkeypox evolution will take, so we must take the threat of this virus adapting to its new hosts (humans) seriously. And we need to use all the public health tools at our disposal to halt the current outbreak in all countries – including those where it is endemic.

Connor Bamford receives funding from UKRI, Wellcome Trust, British Medical Association Foundation, SFI.

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Analysis: The next COVID booster shots will likely be updated for Omicron

COVID-19 vaccines this fall are likely to be based on the Omicron variant of the coronavirus rather than the original strain, although some experts suggest…

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Analysis: The next COVID booster shots will likely be updated for Omicron

By Michael Erman

NEW YORK, June 24 (Reuters) – COVID-19 vaccines this fall are likely to be based on the Omicron variant of the coronavirus rather than the original strain, although some experts suggest they may only offer significant benefits for older and immunocompromised people.

Moderna (MRNA.O), Pfizer (PFE.N) and Novavax (NVAX.O) have been testing vaccines based on the first BA.1 Omicron variant that became dominant last winter, driving a massive surge in infections.

On Wednesday, Moderna said its updated vaccine worked well against more recent Omicron subvariants, and that it was moving forward with plans to ask regulators for approval. read more

Test tubes are seen in front of displayed Pfizer and Biontech logos in this illustration taken, May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

Vaccines that can bridge the gap between the original version of coronavirus and the Omicron variant would likely be “far, far better” for the fall, according to Trevor Bedford, a biologist at the University of Washington who has closely tracked mutations of the SARS-coV-2 virus.

Bedford said it would take too long to meet regulatory requirements for a switch to tailor the next vaccine to versions of Omicron spreading quickly now.

“Catching up to any of the Omicrons is really important,” he said, noting the enormous jump in the number of mutations from the original strain that emerged in China to Omicron on the spike protein part of the virus the vaccines target.

The World Health Organization (WHO) plans to assess the effectiveness of vaccines built for Omicron, as do national health regulators like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

A group of WHO advisers said last week an Omicron-based vaccine may broaden immunity after the Omicron variant evaded much of the protection against infection generated by the vaccines designed for the original virus, a view other experts share. FDA scientific advisers will meet on June 28 to make a recommendation on the issue.

Important questions remain, including whether vaccines designed for variants circulating last winter will work well against significantly different subvariants that may emerge. Experts also want to know if the new shots will increase protection against severe disease and death for younger, healthier people or merely offer a few months additional safeguard against mild infection.

Scientists who have questioned the value of booster shots for young and healthy people say a broad campaign is not needed with an updated shot either.

BILLIONS OF DOLLARS AT STAKE

Unlike annual adjustments for influenza vaccines that manufacturers are allowed to try to align with circulating strains, regulators have asked companies to run clinical trials to prove their new COVID vaccines work better.

But nearly three years into the pandemic, vaccine makers are pushing for a flu-like model that would allow them to nimbly retool their shots to combat new variants.

At stake are billions of dollars in contracts with countries around the world. Moderna is already manufacturing the shots, with deals signed in some countries.

Moderna is asking regulators to greenlight a version of their COVID-19 shot targeting both the BA.1 Omicron variant and the original version of the virus, armed with fresh evidence it may be effective against more recently circulating subvariants.

“The challenge we have is the virus continues to evolve really quickly,” Moderna President Stephen Hoge said in an interview, noting that millions of doses of the updated vaccine could be ready in August.

If the drugmaker needs to tweak the vaccine further and restart manufacturing, new shots may not be available until the middle of the fourth quarter, he said.

Pfizer and partner BioNTech (22UAy.DE) are testing variant-adapted COVID-19 vaccines but have yet to release any data. Novavax, whose vaccine is not yet authorized for U.S. use, launched a trial of its own Omicron-based vaccines in late May.

Dr. Jesse Goodman, a professor at Georgetown School of Medicine and a former top FDA scientist, said unlike for flu, regulators do not have enough experience with COVID vaccines to match them to circulating strains without clinical trials.

Dr. Luciana Borio, former acting chief scientist of the FDA, said the science generally supports the idea that it would be better to have vaccines that more closely match the currently circulating virus.

“We see that with people that have hybrid immunity from vaccination plus infection,” Borio said. “The immune response that is generated is very rich.”

Still, Borio and others are not convinced everyone should be vaccinated again.

“There’s no evidence that a healthy 27-year-old person needs to be revaccinated,” Borio said.

Reporting by Michael Erman Editing by Caroline Humer and Bill Berkrot

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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