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CORONA VIRUS

Rwanda Demands For Scientific Clarification On UK’s Travel Ban

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The government of Rwanda has demanded for clarifications on the motivations behind the recent arbitrary decision of the UK government to ban non-UK citizens who have been in or transited through Rwanda.

The UK government announced, on January 28, that direct flights from Rwanda have been banned, together with a few other countries.

“This decision was taken due to the risk of new variants rather than any reflection on Rwanda‘s strong handling to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic,” the British High Commission in Rwanda said.

The High Commission’s statement came after the Welwyn Hatfield MP and Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, announced that the United Arab Emirates, Burundi, and Rwanda all had been added to the UK’s red list.

On Saturday evening, January 30, Rwanda issued a statement saying that it has “taken note of the UK Government announcement…”

“Considering the list of countries in the region affected and not affected by the ban, the sparse information communicated to Rwanda does not stand up to scientific scrutiny,” the Rwandan government insisted.

Rwanda’s overall response to COVID-19 including testing, surveillance, contact tracing, containment, treatment, and reporting has been consistent, transparent, and corroborated by third-party entities.

Rwanda is also one of the few countries that require a PCR COVID-19 test for all departing passengers and all those in transit.

Notably, the government said that “Rwanda did not join in the widespread bans on travellers from the UK in December 2020 over the variant discovered in parts of the UK.”

Meanwhile, the ban has attracted sharp criticism from the public particularly via social media, accusing the UK government of politicizing COVID-19 “and eroding trust in its commitment to science-based decision-making. No variants have been detected in Rwanda, in contrast to the UK itself,” said Mauro De Lorenzo in a tweet, adding that Grant Shapps’ statements were “Highly irresponsible.”

The British High Commission told Taarifa on Friday evening that the decision was based on data collected from “various sources”.

When pressed to share some of the data that was based on to come to the banning conclusion, the High Commission’s Spokesperson, Bhavik Shah, did not share any source.

Also, when asked if the data used to inform the UK’s decision had come from Rwanda Biomedical Center (RBC) and Rwanda’s Ministry of Health, could not confirm nor decline.

Context, and diplomatic reporting 

Taarifa consulted how foreign missions report on pandemics and risky areas or regions.

Apparently, classification as a risk area is the result of a joint analysis and decision-making process by the home Ministry of Health, the Foreign Office, and the Ministry of the Interior or Local Government.

The classification as a risk area is based on a two-step assessment. This might vary on a country, but subtly.

Initially, it is determined in which countries or regions there were more than 50 new
infections per 100,000 inhabitants in the last seven days. And in this case, Rwanda hasn’t reached that level. In fact, Rwanda’s total positive cases are 0.017% in the past year.

In a second step, qualitative and other criteria are used to determine whether or not
countries and regions that might nominally fall below the above threshold could nonetheless still present an increased risk of infection.

The same applies for countries or regions that might nominally fall above this threshold but do not nonetheless present an increased risk.

Since the 44th calendar week, the maps of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), broken down by region, have been taken into account for the EU Member States (for the UK, refer to BREXIT, but the format still counts).

The map contains data on the 14-day notification rate, testing rate, and test positivity.

As part of the second step, the Foreign Office and, where relevant, the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Interior or Local Government, provide qualitative reports based on reporting by the local diplomatic representations, which also covers measures taken to halt the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Key factors in this assessment are above all the numbers of infection and the type of outbreak (local or wide-spread), testing capacities and the number of tests carried out per capita as well as the measures taken to contain the spread of infection (hygiene regulations, contact tracing, etc.).

Similarly, this also takes into account individual countries where reliable information may not be readily available.

UK’s context on the ban

Rwanda is not on any other country’s red list due to its stance on COVID-19 and tough measures to contain the virus. In fact, Rwanda has been conducting genetic sequencing. The results are uploaded on gisaid.org, a transparent international platform for sharing virus data.

Rwanda named among top 10 countries that responded best to Covid-19 outbreak

Taarifa insisted that the High Commission in Kigali should explain thus, with scientific evidence for suspecting a new COVID-19 variant beyond just a statement announcing the ban.

The Spokesperson, Bhavik Shah, failed to explain. He pleaded that the decision was beyond his pay grade, but he confirmed that the High Commission was responsible for providing reports and advising the UK on Rwanda.

Indeed foreign missions produce reports, which include scientific data, assessment and their views. For most countries, these reports are public.

For example, Germany. Their report is shared publicly on the website of Robert Koch Institute

https://www.rki.de/DE/Content/InfAZ/N/Neuartiges_Coronavirus/Risikogebiete_neu.html

Meanwhile, the UK is on the list of riskiest countries in the world at the moment and currently considered as an area of a variant of concern. High incidence areas are risk areas with particularly high numbers of cases.

An electronic sign displays information as the British government imposes a stricter tiered set of restrictions amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in London. (Image: Reuters)

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CORONA VIRUS

Israel Agrees To Give Seniors 60+ third Covid Jab

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Israel’s four major health funds said they are preparing to welcome individuals over the age of 60 for a coronavirus booster shot, as Israelis were banned from traveling to four more countries and the Green Pass went back into effect.

The Health Ministry’s coronavirus vaccination committee voted by an almost unanimous majority of 56-1 to administer the third shot of the Pfizer vaccine to elderly people who were jabbed more than five months ago at a meeting that ran from 9 p.m. to midnight on Wednesday, despite a third shot still not being approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

President Isaac Herzog will receive the country’s first booster shot on Friday.

Maccabi Health Services said it would start vaccinating on Friday. The other health funds said they would begin taking appointments and offering shots on Sunday.

“Our strategy is clear: To safeguard life, and to safeguard daily routine in the State of Israel,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

He explained that the decision was based on considerable research and analysis, as well as the “rise and risk of the Delta variant wave. Israel has already vaccinated 2,000 immunosuppressed people with a third dose with no severe adverse events. Now, we are rolling out a national third-dose campaign. We will share all the information we have with the rest of the global community as we make progress.”

On Thursday morning, Prof. Nimrod Maimon, head of the Magen Avot V’Imahot program, met with representatives of the country’s assisted living facilities and said that the shots would be immediately administered at their homes.

The Israel Gerontological Society also said it was preparing to administer the tests to its residents. The society represents some 100 nursing and geriatric hospitals.

The move comes one day after Pfizer told its investors in a presentation that their research shows that a third dose of the vaccine increased antibodies by five to 11 times. The company said it hopes to apply for emergency use approval of the extra shot sometime in August.

The Delta variant has been quickly spreading across Israel.

Some 2,177 people were diagnosed on Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported on Thursday evening, with 2.36% of those who were screened tested positive. There were 151 people in serious condition, including 26 who were intubated.

A 38-year-old unvaccinated coronavirus patient being treated at Soroka Medical Center died on Thursday evening. He had no underlying medical conditions, the hospital said. On admission, his situation deteriorated rapidly until he was ultimately ventilated and placed on an ECMO machine.

“Without further action and widespread immunization by the public, the number of new and serious cases is expected to rise to such an extent that it could lead to congestion in the community health clinics and hospitals,” a report by the Coronavirus National Information and Knowledge Center said.

While the majority of new cases are younger people – among them unvaccinated children – the country is starting to see more and more elderly who were vaccinated five and six months ago get infected. Preliminary research by the Health Ministry showed that the Pfizer vaccine was only 16% effective against the Delta variant in people vaccinated so long ago.

Moreover, it is estimated that for people 60 and older, the effectiveness of the vaccine in preventing serious illness has dropped from 97% to 81%.

“Eighty-one percent is still effective, but the gap is dramatic,” tweeted Prof. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science on Thursday morning. “Because if previously the chance of a vaccinated person aged 60+ getting seriously ill was 3%, now it is 19%, which means six times more.”

To help stop the spread of infection, the Knesset approved a request by the Health Ministry on Thursday to add the United Kingdom, Turkey, Cyprus and Georgia to the list of countries to which Israelis are banned from traveling.

During a meeting of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Head of Public Health Services Prof. Sharon Alroy-Preis said the ministry intends to declare Greece, Bulgaria and the United Arab Emirates banned countries next week – some of the most popular summer tourist destinations.

The list of banned countries already included Uzbekistan, Argentina, Belarus, Brazil, South Africa, India, Mexico, Spain, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.

She also said that Italy and France would enter the list of orange countries, those countries from which all people whether vaccinated or not must enter isolation on return to Israel.

Alroy-Preis said that she does not believe the current restrictions at Ben-Gurion Airport are effective enough to stop the spread of the virus, describing a situation of “exponential growth” in imported disease.

According to her, some 800 sick people have entered through the country’s border crossings – mostly through the airport – and currently Israel is averaging 100 to 250 new cases coming in from abroad a day.

She said that some of the people test positive from their first screening at the airport and others when they test on their seventh day after arrival with the aim of leaving isolation.

Though she also said that only around 10% of people returning from abroad perform the second coronavirus test on the seventh day.

In addition, the Green Pass program was reinstated on Thursday.

The program requires an individual over the age of 12 to present a vaccination or recovery certificate or a negative coronavirus test taken within the last 72 hours to enter an event or location with more than 100 people.

The pass applies to cultural and sporting events, hotels and tourist attractions, gyms and workout studios, restaurants, bars, cafes, cafeterias, conferences and synagogues.

The government requested that the new Green Pass rules stay in effect through August 25, but the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee only approved the plan through August 7, the day before Israel is expected to roll out its rapid antigen testing system.

The committee said it wanted the government to come up with a plan for funding these rapid tests first.

To help enforce the wearing of masks on public transportation, Bennett and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli announced that some 400 inspectors would be hired for the next three months, with an option to renew their contracts as needed after that.

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CORONA VIRUS

Mixed AstraZeneca-Pfizer Shot Boosts Covid Antibody Level – Study

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A mixed vaccination of first AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and then a Pfizer (PFE.N) COVID-19 shot boosted neutralizing antibody levels by six times compared with two AstraZeneca doses, a study from South Korea showed.

The study involved 499 medical workers – 100 receiving mixed doses, 200 taking two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech (22UAy.DE) shot and the remainder getting two AstraZeneca shots.

All showed neutralizing antibodies, which prevent the virus from entering cells and replicating, and the result of the mixed schedule of vaccines showed similar amounts of neutralizing antibodies found from the group that received two Pfizer shots.

A British study last month showed similar results – an AstraZeneca shot followed by Pfizer produced the best T-cell responses, and a higher antibody response than Pfizer followed by AstraZeneca.

The data provides further support for the decision of several countries to offer alternatives to AstraZeneca as a second shot after the vaccine was linked to rare blood clots.

The South Korean study also analysed neutralizing activity against major variants of concern, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said.

None of the groups demonstrated reduced neutralising activity against the Alpha variant, first identified in Britain, but the neutralisation titre decreased by 2.5 to 6 fold against Beta, Gamma and Delta, first detected in South Africa, Brazil and India respectively.

Reuters

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CORONA VIRUS

Lockdown in Kigali Extended For 5 Days

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Rwanda’s capital Kigali will continue under a strict Lockdown for more 5 days from July 27th and ending on July 30th.

“In order to consolidate the gains in decreasing the number of Covid-19 cases and related deaths, government has extended the current preventive measures for five more days,” a statement released on July 25th reads in part.

Just like City of Kigali, districts of Nyagatare, Gicumbi, Rwamagana, Rutsiro, Rubavu,Musanze,Kamonyi and Burera will also remain under strict lockdown.

 

 

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