Thursday, October 07, 2021

Covid cases plunge after Norway abruptly gets rid of all restrictions

The autumnal drizzle is falling on Norway and the days are getting shorter but if you were able to take a walk along the streets of Oslo, you would feel as if you’re in an alternate reality to our lives at home.

There are no masks in sight, no talk of vaccine passports, no social distancing markers on the ground and people are meeting their family and friends for a meal, a movie or concert.

The only indication that the pandemic ever happened is that there are a couple of Covid testing facility cabins at public places where staff wear face masks.

Other than that, Norwegians have reclaimed their lives after the last of their Covid restrictions were confined to the dustbin last week.

There were rowdy celebrations over the weekend with dozens of disturbances and violent clashes including mass brawls in Norway’s big cities after streets, bars, restaurants and nightclubs were filled with people celebrating the end of restrictions that lasted for more than a year.

It came after the government there abruptly announced on Friday that most of the remaining coronavirus restrictions would be scrapped beginning on Saturday and that life in the nation of 5.3 million would return to normal.

The announcement by outgoing Prime Minister Erna Solberg took many Norwegians by surprise – and is perhaps one of the reasons there were such chaotic scenes in the capital, Oslo, and elsewhere in the country.

“It has been 561 days since we introduced the toughest measures in Norway in peacetime,” Ms Solberg said on Friday at a news conference. “Now the time has come to return to a normal daily life.”

But the best news of all is that Covid cases and deaths there are dropping at a rapid rate even though the rules have been eased — following a similarly positive trend in neighbouring Nordic nations that have also scrapped all Covid rules.

And, despite their dismal weather, the Scandinavian countries that have done away with their rules are performing far better in avoiding deaths than many other developed nations.

Any fears of a rise in cases since the reopening in Norway have been slapped back by the early indications in infection numbers.

Cases have plummeted 40 per cent in the short time that Norway has reopened and new daily cases have dropped by 50 per cent over the last two weeks.

And, unlike many other nations that are reopening, Norway will not order its citizens to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result to enter nightclubs, bars and restaurants.

Sixty-seven per cent of the population are fully vaccinated and a further 10 per cent have had a first dose, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford.

Norway is one of three Nordic nations that has scrapped all Covid rules in the past few weeks – along with Sweden and Denmark.

Denmark lifted all of its restrictions two weeks prior to Norway’s announcement. The government there also no longer requires digital proof of vaccination to enter nightclubs, saying the virus is no longer “a socially critical disease”.

“This can only be done because we have come a long way with the vaccination rollout, have a strong epidemic control, and because the entire Danish population has made an enormous effort to get here,” Denmark’s Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said.

Around 75 per cent of the Danish population is fully vaccinated with at least 77 per cent having received at least one dose. The fully vaccinated include around 96 per cent of people who are over 50 years old, according to the Foundation for Economic Education.

Interestingly, cases have also dropped by 40 per cent since restrictions were lifted three weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Sweden – which had been criticised for not going hard on restrictions early on in the pandemic and has not prevented as many cases or deaths as Denmark and Norway – is performing better than most Western nations after dropping restrictions six days ago.

Sweden’s death rate from the virus of 1462 confirmed deaths per million is much higher than that of both Denmark and Norway, where deaths number 457 per million and 156 per million respectively, according to Our World in Data.

However, Sweden’s death rate is lower than several Western countries, including Spain, with 1847 deaths per million; Britain at 2005, the US at 2080, and Italy at 2167.

Daily Covid deaths are also low in all three Nordic nations that have scrapped restrictions.

According to Our World in Data, Sweden saw approximately nine confirmed deaths in the most recent seven-day rolling average, while Norway saw one death and Denmark three deaths. Adjusting for population, that’s 0.84, 0.26, and 0.47 deaths per million, respectively.

However, as jabs roll out worldwide, there is a positive trend emerging globally.

The weekly number of coronavirus deaths worldwide has fallen to levels unseen for almost a year at an average of 7606 each day, according to an AFP count based on official national figures.

By their count, coronavirus has killed at least 4,798,207 people since the outbreak emerged in China in December 2019.

The US is the worst-affected country with 701,176 deaths, followed by Brazil with 597,948, India with 448,997, Mexico 278,801 and Russia 210,801.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were Russia with 883 new deaths, followed by the US with 246 and Iran with 229.


AstraZeneca launches new drug to prevent COVID symptoms

COVID-19 vaccine maker AstraZeneca has applied for emergency approval in the US of a new coronavirus-fighting drug that could provide another therapeutic option.

The pharmaceuticals giant confirmed overnight it has lodged an application with the US Food and Drug Administration to approval its AZD7442, a “long-acting antibody” drug designed to prevent symptoms of the virus before an individual is exposed to COVID-19.

The drugmaker says the antibody cocktail, which is injected into the veins, could be used to protect people who have had a coronavirus vaccine but may not have mounted a strong immune response to the virus because they are immuno-compromised.

Early data from a phase 3 study of the product showed that the treatment reduced the risk of developing a symptomatic case of COVID-19 compared to a placebo.

If the product is approved in the US, it would be the first treatment of its kind to get the green light. The company said it was already open for talks about supply agreements around the world.

“Discussions regarding supply agreements for AZD7442 are ongoing with the US government as well as other governments around the world,” AstraZeneca said in a statement.

Australia has spent the past month upping its arsenal of COVID-19 therapeutics, including increasing its orders for GSK’s early intervention IV treatment and buying 300,000 doses of Merck Sharp & Dohme’s experimental antiviral pill Molnupiravir.

On Tuesday, the Australian regulator also granted a “provisional determination” to Pfizer for its COVID treatment, which paves the way for Pfizer to submit full data for consideration.

Pfizer launched a study of the drug in 2,660 patients last week. Its treatment is designed as a pill that is taken over five days at the first sign of infection or awareness of exposure to the virus, acting to block the activity of the enzyme the virus uses to replicate.

AstraZeneca’s vice-president of biopharmaceuticals R&D, Mene Pangalos, said products like AstraZeneca’s treatment will hopefully act as an additional option to protect against the virus, along with vaccines.

“Vulnerable populations such as the immuno-compromised often aren’t able to mount a protective response following vaccination and continue to be at risk of developing COVID-19,” Mr Pangalos said


Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine’s Effectiveness Falls Below 50 Percent After 5 Months: Study

According to a new study published in The Lancet medical journal on Oct. 4.

The study (pdf), which was funded by Pfizer, aimed to evaluate the overall variant-specific effectiveness of the companies’ vaccine against CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus infections and COVID-19-related hospital admissions over time.

Researchers analyzed electronic health records of more than 3.4 million men and women who were members of the health care organization Kaiser Permanente Southern California between Dec. 14, 2020, and Aug. 8, and assessed the vaccine effectiveness up to six months after they were inoculated.

They found that the Pfizer vaccine was 88 percent effective in the first month after full vaccination, but dropped to 47 percent effectiveness after five months.

The vaccine was also found to be highly effective against the Delta variant, providing 93 percent effectiveness in the first month after full vaccination but declining to 53 percent after four months.

By comparison, effectiveness against other non-Delta variants was 97 percent after a month and declined to 67 percent after four to five months, according to the study.

Effectiveness against Delta-related hospital admission remained high at 93 percent for up to six months, the researchers said.

Researchers said that the reduction in effectiveness was likely because of waning immunity over the period of time since the individual was given the second shot as opposed to the Delta strain.

“Our results provide support for high effectiveness of BNT162b2 against hospital admissions up until around six months after being fully vaccinated, even in the face of widespread dissemination of the Delta variant,” the researchers wrote.

“Reduction in vaccine effectiveness against SARS-CoV-2 infections over time is probably primarily due to waning immunity with time rather than the Delta variant escaping vaccine protection.”

“Our results reiterate in a real-world U.S. setting that vaccination with [the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine] remains an essential tool for preventing COVID-19, especially COVID-19-associated hospital admissions, caused by all current variants of concern,” they added.

The latest Pfizer-funded study comes one day after a separate BioRxiv study published on Oct. 4 that found that antibody levels generated by two shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine can undergo up to a 10-fold decrease seven months following the second vaccination.

The research, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, noted that the drop in antibody levels would compromise the body’s ability to defend itself against COVID-19 if an individual becomes infected.

The study focused on 56 healthy participants who had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The participants’ blood was tested once after receiving the second vaccination and once again after six months.

Researchers suggested administering a third booster shot as a measure to improve vaccine efficacy.

Both studies reiterate findings from Pfizer and BioNTech that were released in July showing that vaccine effectiveness dropped from 96 percent to 84 percent over six months.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is the most widely used in the United States. More than 226 million doses have been administered as of Sept. 30, compared with 151 million Moderna shots and 15 million of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.




1 comment:

Norse said...

Re Covid in Norway, yes, Oslo has been in quite a few lockdowns. As for smaller cities we have at least been living without masks for the entire period. I have only used a mask once because the postal service reserved the right to cancel the delivery if I did not wear one. I put on a mask like a chump and two delivery guys showed up maskless and delivered the freezer I had ordered. Oh well, now I have some masks in case I should become a surgeon.

861 corona-related deaths are not many for a population of about 5,4 million people, but I assume there has been a lot of mental and emotional stirrings in the general Norwegian population during this period. I have acquired the attitude of a writer earlier in my life so I have been fine, but as for people in general I expect there has been a mental health decline to some degree. The Coronavirus restrictions were lifted recently. Many seemed pleased to interact and get out and about again and it is not hard to imagine why since it is part of liberty to move about one's country rather freely.

Well, it is not over until it is over, and I hope it is over soon.