Friday, June 10, 2022

Covid not going away

A rise in UK hospital admissions for patients with Covid-19 has prompted experts to warn that Britain could face a fresh wave of coronavirus infections.

Life has largely returned to normal since the final social restrictions were removed on 24 February, with masks, distancing and hand sanitiser largely forgotten by the majority as the national focus switched to Partygate, the war in Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

But new figures published on Tuesday show weekly admissions have increased by 4 per cent across England as of 5 June and were up by 33 per cent in the North East and Yorkshire.

Asked by The Independent if the UK was heading into another wave, John Roberts, one of the leading analysts at the Covid Actuaries group, answered: “Yes we could be but... how big that wave and how serious it will be in terms of admissions and deaths is very, very difficult to judge at this stage.”

His comments come after experts in Europe warned there will be a new wave driven by the growth of the BA.5 and BA.4 Covid variants.

The last major spike in cases came in December and January, driven by the Omicron variant, which spread rapidly around the world after being discovered in southern Africa in late November, once more threatening Christmas celebrations and sparking a run on booster vaccines.

Omicron proved to be less severe but more transmissible than its predecessor Alpha and Delta variants, with total daily case numbers in England rocketing to a pandemic high of 218,724 on 4 January, according to the UK Health Security Agency, before gradually falling away.

Since then, only the over-75s have been offered second booster jabs, meaning that immunity could be beginning to wane.

“If we are going to go into another wave, maybe that’s something that ought to be reconsidered,” Mr Roberts suggested.

What public health officials had to learn on the fly when Omicron arrived last winter was how the variant differed from the original Covid strain.

Whereas the World Health Organisation estimated that symptoms took anywhere between two days to two weeks to materialise in cases of people infected with the first coronavirus strain, Omicron proved to incubate much faster, closer to three to five days.

“Recent analysis from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant than the Delta variant,” UK health secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons on 6 December.

That explained why the strain was able to spread so swiftly and successfully, as the shortness of its incubation period gave sufferers a shorter window between suspecting they had contracted the virus and experiencing a flare-up, making it less likely a positive lateral flow test result would be recorded in time to warn others, enter isolation and prevent the contagion being passed on.

A shorter incubation period “makes a virus much, much, much harder to control”, Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, observed in The Atlantic that same month.

Another characteristic of Omicron that made it potentially harder to detect than earlier strains – and worth bearing in mind should any new variant make in-roads on these shores – is that its symptoms differed somewhat from the three primary indicators we had been conditioned to be on the lookout for in 2020: coughs, fever and the loss of one’s sense of taste or smell.

Early warning signs for the newer variant, by contrast, included a scratchy throat, lower back pain, a runny or blocked nose, a headache, muscle pains and fatigue, sneezing and night sweats.

Omicron cases analysed in Britain found that patients typically recovered within five days to a week on average, although some symptoms like coughing and fatigue were likely to linger for longer.

Shortness of breath, experienced by some sufferers, often proved to last for as long as 13 days after other symptoms had passed.

Covid patients are, typically, thought to be infectious to others from around two days before their first symptoms start to materialise and for around 10 days after.


CDC Raises Monkeypox Alert, Recommends Masks During Travel, Then Removes Advice

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday raised its alert level for monkeypox to level 2 and recommended that people wear masks when traveling, before appearing to make a U-turn on the advice.

In an update, the government agency raised the alert level to 2, encouraging people to practice enhanced precaution measures such as avoiding contact with visibly sick people, regularly washing hands, and wearing a face covering.

“Cases of monkeypox have been reported in Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia,” the CDC wrote in its alert.

“Some cases were reported among men who have sex with men. Some cases were also reported in people who live in the same household as an infected person,” it added.

The health body on Monday cautioned travelers to avoid close contact with sick people, including those with skin or genital lesions, as well as with dead or live wild animals such as small rodents and monkeys.

Travelers were also urged to avoid eating prepared meat from wild game or using products such as creams and lotions derived from wild animals from Africa, where cases of monkeypox are mainly found.

“Avoid contact with contaminated materials used by sick people (such as clothing, bedding, or materials used in health care settings) or that came into contact with infected animals,” the health body said.

Finally, the CDC urged travelers to wear masks, noting that doing so “can help protect you from many diseases, including monkeypox.”

However, the advice regarding mask-wearing is no longer present on the CDC website as of June 7, while the rest of the advice for travelers remains in place.

A CDC spokesperson told The Epoch Times on Tuesday:

“Late yesterday CDC removed the mask recommendation from the monkeypox Travel Health Notice because it caused confusion.

Travel Health Notices inform travelers and clinicians about current health issues that impact travelers’ health, like disease outbreaks, special events or gatherings, and natural disasters, in destinations around the world. In countries where there is a current monkeypox outbreak, CDC continues to recommend masking in high-risk situations including for household contacts and healthcare workers, or for other people who may be in close contact with a person who has been confirmed with monkeypox.

CDC will continue to update recommendations as more is learned about this current outbreak.”

Monkeypox is a rare virus believed to be transmitted to humans from animals and is endemic to Central and West Africa, typically places in close proximity to tropical rainforests.

It spreads from one person to another through close contact with bodily fluids, lesions, respiratory droplets, and contaminated materials.

Scientists say the virus can cause an array of symptoms including fever, body aches, swelling of the lymph nodes, fatigue, headaches, and a bumpy rash that often occurs one to three days after the fever begins before spreading to other parts of the body. The rash can last up to a month.

As of June 6, there have been 1,019 confirmed cases of monkeypox in 29 countries around the world tied to the current outbreak, of which 30 are in the United States, according to the CDC.

The first suspected case was reported on May 7 in an individual who traveled from the United Kingdom to Nigeria and subsequently returned to the United Kingdom.

Health officials have noted that a number of cases have been found among homosexual men, although the virus itself is not a sexually transmitted infection and can be caught by anyone.

Monkeypox is fatal in as many as 1 to 11 percent of people who become infected, although previous vaccination against smallpox, which is related to the monkeypox virus, may provide protection.

In May, pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Moderna announced it is testing potential vaccines against monkeypox in pre-clinical trials as part of its commitment to advancing programs by 2025 against pathogens that pose a threat to public health.


The wheat crop: Biden was talking though his anus -- as usual

By Robert Romano

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that U.S. winter wheat production will be down 8 percent in 2022, from 1.28 billion bushels in 2021 to 1.17 billion bushels expected this year amid drought in Kansas and other areas plus lower yields.

Adding to the misery, planting for spring wheat and durum is delayed the North Dakota Wheat Commission reported, via, on June 8: “this year producers continue to work on planting their wheat crops after a delayed start to planting and slow progress due to wet conditions, reports the North Dakota Wheat Commission… [S]ome fields are simply too wet to plant any crop and planting past June 10 or 15 is not an ideal option in an already short growing season.”

The lousy weather will almost certainly hurt yields, which are already down, according to the USDA’s May 12 press statement: “the U.S. yield is expected to average 47.9 bushels per acre, down 2.3 bushels from last year’s average of 50.2 bushels per acre.” That was the third consecutive year of declining yields, and they could not come at a worse time with the ongoing war in Ukraine, which combined with Russia was responsible for one-third of global wheat exports.

On May 11, President Joe Biden told the nation that U.S. farmers were “expanding production and feeding the world in need” this year, but it was all just happy talk. He vaguely offered crop insurance incentives to plant more. We didn’t.

In May, USDA had estimated that wheat planting nationwide would be up to 47 million acres planted this year, not a lot historically speaking. According to a March Department of Agriculture release on prospective plantings, 2022 will be the fifth lowest area planted since 1919: “All wheat planted area for 2022 is estimated at 47.4 million acres, up 1 percent from 2021. If realized, this represents the fifth lowest all wheat planted area since records began in 1919.”

The longer story here is that of globalization but also diversification of U.S. agriculture. The U.S. used to be the world’s breadbasket. Not so much, even with rising demand. The U.S. produces a little more than half of what it did in 1981, when it produced more than 75 million metric tons. That was down to 44.8 million in 2021.

More recently, U.S. wheat production is down 15 percent since 2019, from 1.93 billion bushels in 2019 to 1.64 billion in 2021, according to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The global shortfall is 4.5 million tons this year is real with global production already expected to drop by about 0.6 percent, according to the latest data by the Department of Agriculture: “Global production is forecast at 774.8 million tons, 4.5 million lower than in 2021/22. Reduced production in Ukraine, Australia, and Morocco is only partly offset by increases in Canada, Russia, and the United States. Production in Ukraine is forecast at 21.5 million tons in 2022/23, 11.5 million lower than 2021/22 due to the ongoing war.

And Russia won’t let the grain Ukraine produced out, with a naval blockade of Ukraine’s ports after taking over Mariupol in May, leaving 20 million tons of wheat apart from global supply chains.

On top of everything else, inflation isn’t helping. Producer prices for wheat by U.S. farmers are similarly adding to the drag, up 84 percent the last twelve months in April, according to data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Biden knew the costs of escalating the war and what he called the “price of sanctions.” On March 24, President Biden warned of global food shortages at the NATO summit in Brussels Belgium, stating: “With regard to food shortage, yes, we did talk about food shortages. And — and it’s going to be real. The price of these sanctions is not just imposed upon Russia, it’s imposed upon an awful lot of countries as well, including European countries and our country as well. And — because both Russia and Ukraine have been the breadbasket of Europe in terms of wheat…”

This raises the question, what has the U.S. done to de-escalate the war? Because despite Biden’s rosy projections of “expanding production,” we have not. This year’s winter wheat was too dry, and the spring wheat might be too wet in some areas. And we’re just not planting enough. Is the rest of the world just going to have to make do?




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