CategoryNew Zealand

Australia posts zero virus cases, state chief calls for ‘Pacific bubble’

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Australia recorded a fourth day of zero coronavirus cases on Thursday, prompting the chief of the country’s most populous state to call for a special travel “bubble” with Pacific island nations.

New South Wales has reined in an outbreak in mid-December that prompted a strict lockdown in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, while broader social distancing rules and mandatory mask wearing were imposed for the rest of the city.

Signalling those restrictions were set to be eased next week, Premier Gladys Berejiklien told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper the federal government should consider establishing a travel arrangement with the Pacific.

“There is no reason why we shouldns’t aim to travel to New Zealand or some of the Pacific Islands well within the next 12 months,” Berejiklian said.

The comments come after Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly cautioned about restarting international travel, given the country was in an “envious position” compared to most of the world.

Unlike other countries, Australia has closed its international borders, only allowing its stranded citizens back home.

https://www.reuters.com/article/reutersComService_2_MOLT/idUSKBN29Q06D

Pfizer vaccine appears to neutralize a key mutation of Covid variants found in UK, South Africa

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A coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech appears to be effective against a key mutation in the more infectious variants of the virus discovered in the U.K. and South Africa, according to a study conducted by the U.S. pharmaceutical giant.

It comes as countries scramble to contain the variants that are significantly more transmissible, with public health experts anxious about the potential impact on inoculation efforts.

The research, published Thursday on preprint server bioRxiv and not yet peer-reviewed, suggested the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine worked to neutralize the so-called N501Y mutation.

The N501Y mutation has been reported in the more infectious variants. It is altering an amino acid within six key residues in the receptor-binding domain — a key part of the spike protein that the virus uses to gain entry into cells within the body.

“These findings are good news for the likely effectiveness of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against these new variants of SARS-CoV-2,” said Dr. Michael Baker, an epidemiologist at the University of Otago in Wellington, New Zealand.

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/01/08/pfizer-biontech-vaccine-appears-effective-against-mutation-in-new-strains.html

New Zealand says its strict Covid lockdown is paying off as economy rebounds

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New Zealand’s government said the fiscal and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be less severe than first feared as its decision to impose one of the world’s strictest lockdowns pays off.

Economic growth will recover more rapidly while budget deficits and net debt will be much lower than expected just three months ago, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said Wednesday in Wellington when presenting the half-year fiscal and economic update. Unemployment will now peak at 6.9% at the end of next year rather than the 7.8% predicted in September.

“The government’s decision to act quickly in response to the global Covid-19 pandemic has contributed to a better than expected economic recovery,” Robertson said. “While New Zealand’s economy contracted in 2020, it is forecast to rebound strongly in 2021, outperforming regions we compare ourselves to like the euro zone, the United Kingdom and Japan.”

New Zealand’s strategy to eliminate Covid-19 from the community saw it impose a harsh nationwide lockdown that tipped the economy into recession, but its success allowed a relatively quick resumption of normal life. Today, as many countries face new lockdowns, New Zealanders head into the Christmas vacation free of any restrictions.

While gross domestic product plunged a record 12.2% in the second quarter, economists predict it surged by 12.9% in the third, according to a Bloomberg survey. That data is due tomorrow.

https://theprint.in/world/new-zealand-says-its-strict-covid-lockdown-is-paying-off-as-economy-rebounds/567584/HELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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How Covid-19 is changing the flu

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The presence of flu-free societies raises an important question: could the rest of the world ever be rid of this virus? As it happens, the world is making some tantalising first steps towards this goal.

Back in January 2020, at the end of the Australian summer, the country had 6,962 cases of the flu confirmed via a laboratory test. At this time, Covid-19 was still known only as “the novel coronavirus” and mostly confined to China. Ordinarily, you would have expected to see more and more cases of the flu as the days became shorter and winter descended.

Instead, something unexpected happened. By April there were just 229 cases of the flu – down from 18,705 at the same time the previous year. Covid-19 had already ripped across the world, collectively infecting more than a million people, including the British prime minister, and spreading to every continent except Antarctica. Lockdowns had been imposed, hand-washing had been popularised and mask-wearing had become commonplace – though the latter was still much more widely practiced in Asia than elsewhere.

By August, it was clear that Australia’s flu season had been the mildest on record. In all, there were fewer than a 10th of the infections seen in 2019 – and the vast majority of these occurred before the pandemic hit. This is all against a backdrop of more testing than had ever been conducted before.

The same pattern also occurred elsewhere. The co-head of South Africa’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) recently told CBS News that the country “just didn’t have a flu season this year”, while in New Zealand, doctors didn’t detect a single flu case during their annual screening drive, though last year 57% of the swabs they took were positive.  

Now winter is over in the Southern Hemisphere and beginning in the North. And though it’s still early in the season, already things look radically different to how they ordinarily would.

As of September, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported the missing flu cases were a global phenomenon, with significantly lower levels than would be expected, from tropical Africa to the Caribbean. For the week beginning 7 September, the flu tracker FluMart recorded just 12 lab-confirmed cases of the flu on the entire planet.  

“What we’re seeing in Australia, New Zealand, South America, Hong Kong, are really, really attenuated seasons of not just the flu, but also respiratory syncytial virus (RSV),” says Sarah Cobey, an epidemiologist at the University of Chicago. 

Peter Palese, a microbiologist and expert in RNA viruses at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York Palese is keen to stress the importance of getting vaccinated against the flu. “Even if it is not completely protective, it is certainly resulting in a more mellow disease – and it’s a very safe vaccine,” he says.

https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20201009-could-social-distancing-make-the-flu-extinctHELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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New Zealand signs deal with Pfizer, BioNTech for COVID-19 vaccine

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The New Zealand government signed a deal on Monday to buy 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer Inc PFE.N and Germany’s BioNTech 22UAy.F, with delivery potentially as early as the first quarter of 2021.

The government did not disclose financial terms of the deal, its first vaccine purchase, which will provide enough doses to vaccinate 750,000 people.

Officials said talks were continuing with other drug companies to secure more vaccine supplies for the country of 5 million people and further announcements were expected next month.

“The additional agreements will ensure that once the portfolio is completed, we will have sufficient COVID-19 vaccines for the whole population,” Research Minister Megan Woods said in a statement.

https://www.reuters.com/article/health-coronavirus-newzealand/new-zealand-signs-deal-with-pfizer-biontech-for-covid-19-vaccine-idUSL4N2H30QGHELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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New Zealand – Zero new cases today; No-one in hospital with virus

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There are no new cases of Covid-19 to report in New Zealand today.

New Zealand has recorded 1,515 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began.

The country’s total number of active cases remains at 45 – and all of them are imported cases.

There are no active Covid cases in the community.

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/covid-19-coronavirus-zero-new-cases-today-no-one-in-hospital-with-virus/3WYSFYC76SCMZIWUZNEKOMPL6I/HELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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‘Near extinction’ of influenza in New Zealand as numbers drop due to lockdown

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As we move into the spring/summer period where flu is always uncommon in New Zealand, Professor Michael Baker offers his analysis on the flu season numbers and why masks continue to be so important.

He said there has been “near extinction of influenza in New Zealand following our very effective Covid-19 response”, as numbers vanished from the two standard systems for surveillance – resulting in a 99.8 percent reduction in flu cases.

According to Baker, there were usually 1600 more deaths in winter, compared to other seasons, and around a third of those were caused by influenza, mostly in older people with long-term health conditions.

“What the Covid-19 response has done has largely eliminated those excess winter deaths and mortality as a whole is down around 5 percent,” he said. “So that means an extra 1500 people will survive this year who wouldn’t have.”

Baker said these measures had led to “a revolutionary change in thinking about how to deal with respiratory pathogens” and could be brought back in the event of a serious flu pandemic.

“These are not measures you would roll out routinely of course, but if we had a particularly severe respiratory disease like a severe flu pandemic … and it had the same infection fatality risk as we’ve seen with Covid, that is half a percent or one percent of people dying, then we could think about using these measures again.”

However, despite flu numbers being down, lockdown measures had not managed to stop ordinary colds and respiratory illnesses, such as rhinoviruses – which had dropped slightly during lockdown but bounced back soon after.

“A lot does come down to their reservoirs and some are so well-adapted for humans and they’re so widespread in the population that they are not affected a great deal by the lockdown.”

https://www.rnz.co.nz/national/programmes/sunday/audio/2018767843/near-extinction-of-influenza-in-nz-as-numbers-drop-due-to-lockdownHELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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New Zealand – All community cases recovered, virus ‘squashed’ says Health Minister

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All community cases in New Zealand’s second Covid-19 outbreak have recovered, with the health minister saying the virus has been “squashed”.

The news comes as the Ministry of Health announced there were three new cases of the virus detected in managed isolation on Wednesday.

The ministry said all patients from the recent Auckland outbreak have recovered and there are no active community cases remaining.

“The Auckland August cluster will officially close when there have been no new cases for two incubation periods from when all cases complete isolation,” the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/coronavirus/123009637/covid19-all-auckland-community-cluster-cases-recovered-virus-squashedHELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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Mask wearing and social distancing for COVID-19 may be slowing influenza spread

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Evidence continues to mount that the measures taken to defeat COVID-19 might be cutting cases of influenza across the world.

Researchers recently told Scientific American that the coronavirus measures — continued hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing — are slowing the spread of the flu.

“The belief is this was the result of wearing masks, more frequent hand-washing, physical distancing and less large gatherings,” Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association told Salon. “Influenza and the common cold are diseases spread person to person in much the same way as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. So, efforts to reduce COVID-19 have the dual benefit of reducing colds and flu.”

Of course, this doesn’t mean we’re killing off the flu. Experts still recommend flu shots because the flu and COVID-19 remain major threats.

Countries across the Southern Hemisphere — like Australia, New Zealand, as well as countries in South America — reported lower cases of influenza because of the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Never in my 40-year career have we ever seen rates … so low,” Greg Poland, an influenza expert at the Mayo Clinic, told Scientific American.

This has offered “a glimmer of hope as winter approaches in the Northern Hemisphere,” according to The Guardian.

https://www.deseret.com/u-s-world/2020/10/5/21497255/coronavirus-face-masks-social-distancing-covid-19-flu-seasonHELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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New Zealand’s Ardern lifts coronavirus restrictions in Auckland

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Coronavirus restrictions in New Zealand’s largest city will be lifted this week, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday as she expressed confidence a second wave of COVID-19 infections in Auckland has been almost eliminated.

The city will move to alert level 1 from 11.59 p.m. on Wednesday, joining the rest of the country, after reporting no new cases in the Auckland cluster for 10 consecutive days.

“There is now a 95% probability of the cluster being eliminated,” Ardern said at a news conference. “COVID-19 will be with us for many months to come. But we should still mark these milestones.”

New Zealand, a nation of five million, appeared to have stamped out community transmission of COVID-19 earlier this year following a tough nationwide lockdown that was subsequently lifted.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-newzealand/new-zealands-ardern-lifts-coronavirus-restrictions-in-auckland-idUSKBN26Q021?il=0HELP US SPREAD GOOD NEWS!

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