U.S. drug overdose deaths rise 30% to record during pandemic

By Julie Steenhuysen and Daniel Trotta

(Reuters) – A record number of Americans died of drug overdoses last year as pandemic lockdowns made getting treatment difficult and dealers laced more drugs with a powerful synthetic opioid, according to data released on Wednesday and health officials.

U.S. deaths from drug overdoses leapt nearly 30% to more than 93,000 in 2020 – the highest ever recorded.

“During the pandemic, a lot of (drug) programs weren’t able to operate. Street-level outreach was very difficult. People were very isolated,” said Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, a health policy expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

Arman Maddela, 24, recognizes he was at risk of being among those who died. A recovering addict, he relapsed during the pandemic and was using fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 80-100 times stronger than morphine, and heroin.

“It’s so easy to pass away from using drugs nowadays, just because of the amount of fentanyl out there. A lot of people in the past were able to relapse and come back. But nowadays, that’s not the case,” he said.

He checked himself into rehab a second time in October. “I actually know quite a few people personally that have unfortunately passed away since then from overdose,” said Maddela, who lives in Encinitas, California.

While overdose deaths were already increasing in the months preceding the COVID-19 outbreak, the latest data show a stark acceleration during the pandemic.

Social distancing reduced access to programs that offer needle exchange, opioid substitution therapy or safe injection sites where observers could deploy the overdose antidote Narcan, leaving many addicts to die alone.

Moreover, during stay-at-home orders, addicts were unable to attend support group meetings in person or visit their therapists for live one-on-one sessions.

Pandemic lockdowns and distancing likely contributed to the rise in overdose deaths in less obvious ways, too.

Isolation is known as a factor in anxiety and depression, said Kate Judd, program director at Shoreline Recovery Center, the San Diego rehab facility that treated Maddela. Those feelings can lead to drug abuse.

The drugs themselves became more deadly as well. Drug suppliers more frequently mixed fentanyl with cocaine and methamphetamine to boost their effects, said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health.

“The type of drugs that are now available are much more dangerous,” Volkow said. Closing national borders did not staunch the flow of fentanyl as hoped. Instead, it accelerated.

The deadly combination of events resulted in 93,331 overdose deaths in the 12 months ended in December 2020, compared with an estimated 72,151 deaths in 2019, according to provisional data from the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The data showed opioids were involved in 74.7% of overdose deaths, rising to 69,710 in 2020 from 50,963 in 2019.

“We do know the primary driver of the increase (in deaths) involves synthetic opioids, primarily fentanyl,” Bob Anderson, chief of the Mortality Statistics Branch at the health statistics center, said.

Most U.S. states were swept by the trend, Anderson said, with the highest increases in overdose deaths seen in Vermont, up 57.6%; followed by Kentucky, up 54%; South Carolina, up 52%; West Virginia, up nearly 50%; and California, up 46%.

On a day-to-day basis, Sharfstein estimates that the United States is now seeing more overdose deaths than COVID-19 deaths.

“This is a different kind of crisis, and it’s not going to go away as quickly.”

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago and Daniel Trotta in Carlsbad, California, additional reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Caroline Humer and Cynthia Osterman)

WHO urges countries ‘not to lose gains’ by prematurely lifting COVID-19 measures

ZURICH/BENGALARU (Reuters) -World Health Organization emergencies head Michael Ryan urged countries on Wednesday to use extreme caution when lifting COVID-19 restrictions so as “not to lose the gains you’ve made”.

Ryan’s comments come as England, hosting Europe’s soccer championships, prepares to end many COVID-19 restrictions on July 19, European countries ease travel curbs and Indian states relax their lockdowns, despite accelerating infections with the Delta variant worldwide.

Ryan said that while every nation must decide for itself, individuals including the unvaccinated must take responsibility to protect themselves and others, to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed by another pandemic wave.

“The idea that everyone is protected, and it’s ‘Kumbaya’ and everything goes back to normal, I think right now is a very dangerous assumption anywhere in the world, and it’s still a dangerous assumption in the European environment,” he told reporters during a meeting from Geneva.

“We would ask governments at this moment not to lose the gains you’ve made.”

Ahead of reopening, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said the epidemiological situation may be aided by the arrival of summer and school holidays.

Ryan said he believed British scientists were “very aware of the threat represented by variants, especially the Delta variant” and would open cautiously.

The WHO also urged countries including the United States and Switzerland that are vaccinating 12- to 15-year-old children to instead donate doses to the vaccine sharing program COVAX, to improve access for healthcare workers and the elderly in low-income countries.

“It’s not the pediatric population that is suffering the most,” said WHO vaccine expert Ann Lindstrand. “It is the adults, it is the medical risk groups.”

(Reporting by John Miller in Zurich and Manas Mishra in Bengaluru, Editing by Michael Shields and Nick Tattersall)

Indonesia health minister leads push for stricter COVID curbs

By Tom Allard and Kate Lamb

JAKARTA (Reuters) -Indonesia’s health minister is leading a push for stricter controls as coronavirus cases surge to unprecedented levels, according to sources familiar with government discussions. Coronavirus infections in Indonesia have tripled in the past three weeks, overwhelming hospitals in the capital Jakarta and on the heavily populated island of Java.

On Monday, Indonesia recorded 20,694 new infections, bringing the weekly total to 131,553. Three sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that health minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin had urged government leaders to enact tougher social restriction measures but his request was overruled. He is continuing to push his case, they said. One of the sources, who declined to be named as they were not authorized to speak on the matter, said government meetings on the issue would take place this week. The health minister’s position was supported by the country’s tourism minister Sandiaga Uno, who confirmed to Reuters that a tougher lockdown was under active consideration. “I am encouraging a tougher lockdown (but) we would need to provide the basic necessities for the people,” he said. “If the number of cases is increasing, then we need to adjust very quickly. “Citing the need to safeguard Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, Indonesia has mostly rejected the lockdowns imposed by its neighbors and large developing countries like India.

Instead, Jakarta has opted for social restrictions targeting villages and neighborhoods deemed “red zones” due to high infections, a policy known as PPKM Mikro. Last week, the head of the country’s COVID-19 taskforce, coordinating economy minister Airlangga Hartarto, banned religious activities at houses of worship, closed schools and bars and required offices, restaurants, cafes and malls to operate at 25% capacity in red zones for two weeks. When Reuters enquired if the health minister wanted greater curbs on social mobility, a ministry spokesperson replied “in accordance with the current policy”. A spokesman for the president said: “Until now, we still have PPKM Mikro, empirically it is still very effective to control small areas.”

INEFFECTIVE

The Indonesian Medical Association (IDI) on Sunday called on the government to implement large-scale restrictions, especially across the island of Java, home to more than half the country’s population of 270 million people. The IDI said that 24 regencies and cities had reported isolation bed capacity at 90% full, while intensive care units in several areas were nearing 100% capacity and 30 doctors had died in June from COVID-19. “If there is no firm intervention we will be like India,” said Dr. Adib Khumaidi, head of the IDI’s mitigation team, noting the surge in cases in the South Asian nation in April and May and the “collapse” of its healthcare system. Public health experts have warned the government’s current policy for social restrictions can’t be fully implemented by poorly resourced local officials and don’t account for people moving between red zones and other areas. How villages and neighborhoods are designated red zones is opaque and undermined by low rates of testing and contact tracing that masks the true extent of Indonesia’s overall infection rate, they said. One source said that, among several options, presidential advisers were examining the lockdowns in India, where a fivefold increase in infections in little over a month was fully reversed in a similar time frame. If guidelines followed by Indian states were adopted in Indonesia, lockdowns would be introduced in 31 of its 34 provinces where positivity rates are at 10 per cent or higher. Adjusting for population size, Indonesia has about 40% of the intensive care beds in India, according to a study last year by Princeton University. On Friday, the health minister announced plans for 7,000 more hospital beds in Jakarta dedicated to COVID-19 patients. Uno said at least 15 hotels close to hospitals with up to 2,000 beds also have been identified as places where patients with milder symptoms could be treated. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s food and drug agency on Monday approved the COVID-19 vaccine made by China’s Sinovac Biotech for children aged 12-17.

(Reporting by Tom Allard in Jakarta and Kate Lamb in Sydney; Additional reporting in Jakarta by Agustinus Beo Da Costa and Stanley Widianto; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Bernadette Baum)

Factbox: Back to pubs, gyms and movies: plotting the return to normal

(Reuters) – As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout gains momentum, many countries are planning a gradual return to normal, opening borders and letting people back into restaurants, shops and sports venues after more than a year of on-off lockdowns.

Here are some of their plans, in alphabetical order:

BRITAIN

Britain expects to fully reopen pubs, restaurants, nightclubs and other hospitality venues on July 19.

Non-essential retailers in England reopened on April 12 along with pubs and restaurants operating outdoors. Indoor hospitality, cinemas, theatres and sports halls reopened on May 17 with capacity restrictions. Britain also resumed international travel, with quarantine rules still in place for most arrivals.

CANADA

Canadians and permanent residents who have received two vaccination doses will be exempt from quarantine when returning to the country from July 5.

COLOMBIA

Colombia on June 3 approved reopening most large events like concerts and sports matches with 25% capacity for cities where intensive care units occupancy rates are below 85%.

From July 15, international travelers no longer need to present a negative PCR test and in-person classes will resume for pre-school children to university students.

FRANCE

France ended a national night-time curfew on June 20, 10 days earlier than initially scheduled, while face masks will soon no longer be required outdoors.

Nightclubs can re-open from July 9.

On June 9, France fully reopened its cafes, bars, and restaurants. Sports halls, spas, swimming pools, and casinos also resumed operation.

Shops, museums, cinemas and theatres reopened on May 19.

GERMANY

Germany eased restrictions on those fully vaccinated or recovered from the virus from May 9, lifting curfews and quarantine rules as well as the obligation to provide a negative test result to visit a hairdresser, a zoo or to go shopping.

Since May 12, travelers have been able to enter the country without the need to quarantine, except those arriving from risk areas.

General travel warning for risk regions that have a seven-day coronavirus incidence of below 200 will be lifted starting July 1.

Germany is on target for outdoor concerts this summer, with social distancing and COVID-19 testing for attendees, and fans should be back at soccer matches in August.

A rule which forces companies to allow working from home will be lifted on June 30.

INDIA

On June 14, all New Delhi’s shops and malls re-opened although bars, gyms, salons, cinemas and parks remain shut.

Federally protected monuments opened to tourists on June 16.

Some businesses in Tamil Nadu were allowed to bring back 50% of employees and salons and liquor shops reopened. Bus services resumed on June 21.

In Bengaluru, the capital of Karnataka state, authorities allowed the partial reopening of businesses, though strict night and weekend curfews remained in place.

From June 7, the state of Maharashtra allowed malls, movie theatres, restaurants and offices to open regularly in districts where the positivity rate has fallen below 5%.

ISRAEL

Israel reopened borders to tourists on May 23. Under a pilot program, it gave the green light to visits by 20 groups of between five and 30 tourists from countries including the United States, Britain and Germany. It hopes to let individual tourists in from July.

From June 15, citizens may stop wearing masks indoors, except for unvaccinated patients or staff in medical facilities, people en route to quarantine, and passengers on commercial flights.

ITALY

Italian coffee bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres partially reopened in most regions on April 26. Indoor service at restaurants resumed from June 1.

Italy lifted quarantine restrictions for travelers arriving from European and Schengen countries, as well as Britain and Israel, from May 15.

A nightly curfew was scrapped from June 21 and wearing masks outdoors will not be mandatory from June 28.

JAPAN

Japan eased curbs in nine prefectures including Tokyo from June 20, ahead of the Summer Olympics due to start in late July. Bars and restaurants now can serve alcohol until 7 p.m., but restaurants are still asked to shut by 8 p.m. Certain measures such as spectator limits at major events remain in place.

NETHERLANDS

Most group size limits will be lifted from June 26, as long as people can keep at least 1.5 meters apart. People will not be required to wear face masks anywhere except for public transport and airports, where distancing is not possible.

POLAND

Poland reopened shopping centers, hotels, restaurants cinemas, theatres and concert halls in May. Indoor dining, indoor sports facilities and swimming pools reopened on May 28.

Large indoor events with up to 50 people were allowed from May 28, a number that was tripled on June 6.

From June 13, churches can be filled up to 50% of capacity. Limits for concerts and sports events will be raised from June 26 to 50% of seats, while hotels can be filled to up to 75% capacity.

People who have been vaccinated are not counted in the capacity limits.

QATAR

From May 28, Qatar allowed leisure, education centers, restaurants, gyms, pools and salons to operate at limited capacity, but bans on weddings, conferences and exhibitions remain in place.

Local and international sporting events can take place with fully vaccinated fans in open-space venues at 30% capacity.

SINGAPORE

Singapore allowed dining at restaurants to resume from June 21, though it limits diners to groups of two. Gyms and fitness studios resumed indoor exercise for groups of up to two people.

SOUTH KOREA

From June 14, South Korea allows up to 4,000 people to attend concerts and other cultural shows. Sports stadiums can operate at 30% to 50% capacity, depending on the districts.

From July 1, fully vaccinated overseas visitors can apply for exemptions from mandatory two-week quarantine if they are visiting family or travelling for the purpose of business, academic or public interest.

Masks will no longer be required outdoors from July.

SPAIN

Curfews were lifted across most of Spain on May 9. From May 24, it allowed travel from low-risk non-EU countries without a negative PCR test. From June 7, vaccinated people from anywhere in the world could enter.

The country will lift a blanket obligation to wear masks outdoors from June 26.

THAILAND

Thailand said on June 16 it aims to fully reopen to visitors within 120 days. Some tourism centers will resume earlier, starting with a pilot reopening from July 1 on its most popular island, Phuket.

TURKEY

Sunday lockdowns and weekday curfews, as well as public transport restrictions, will be lifted on July 1. Music events, including concerts, will then be allowed until midnight.

UNITED STATES

On May 3, New York City allowed drinking at an indoor bar for the first time in months, days after Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city should reopen in full on July 1.

On June 15, the state of New York lifted all state-mandated restrictions, including capacity limits of 50% for retailers and 33% for gyms. Mitigation measures are still required in public transit and healthcare settings.

New York joined California, where most remaining crowd-capacity limits and physical distancing requirements were also lifted on June 15.

New York City and Los Angeles plan to fully reopen schools from September.

Chicago and Illinois fully reopened on June 11.

The states of New Jersey and Connecticut lifted most capacity restrictions on businesses, including retail stores, food services and gyms, on May 19.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on May 3 signed an executive order to end all local emergency measures.

(Compiled by Vladimir Sadykov, Dagmarah Mackos and Federica Urso; Editing by Milla Nissi and Gareth Jones)

Airlines look past slow recovery to post-pandemic travel

By Laurence Frost

PARIS (Reuters) – Even as new setbacks cloud their path to recovery, airline bosses are focusing on the lasting impact of COVID-19 on premium travel, technology and other pillars of their business.

Aviation leaders, forced to gather virtually by the pandemic, have been gauging its longer-term fallout at the World Aviation Festival, after more than a year of lockdowns.

Drawing many top executives and thousands of participants, this week’s event comes as doubts over the northern summer vacation season renew scrutiny of airlines’ cash and their ability to withstand another washout.

The addition of France, Britain and 114 other states to the U.S. “Do Not Travel” list has also cast a pall.

“There will be a lot of carriers that will not make it through,” Air France-KLM Chief Executive Ben Smith said, citing nameless rivals that were “not viable prior to the crisis”.

For survivors like state-backed Air France-KLM, market consolidation would be welcome, Smith said, adding: “Even if it takes longer than planned for traffic to return, with a reduction in capacity that’s a good balance for us”.

Air France-KLM expects to need more capital following a 10.4 billion euro ($12.5 billion) bailout in 2020 and 1 billion-euro share issue this week. Long-haul juggernaut Emirates may also need to raise more cash within months, the Gulf carrier’s President Tim Clark said during the event.

BUSINESS DECLINE

Despite the deep uncertainties, executives are looking beyond the pandemic to anticipate underlying shifts.

High on the list is a structural slump in business travel as many future meetings – if not airline conferences – stay online.

“A large percentage of this traffic will not come back on long-haul,” aviation consultant John Strickland predicted, as companies curb travel costs and carbon emissions.

“You can’t beat face-to-face in many business situations,” he said. “However a big amount can be cut.”

That will hit yields, or fare levels, Clark and his Virgin Atlantic counterpart Shai Weiss acknowledged, although the Emirates boss expects leisure customers to fill business cabins.

“If you drop (fares) by 15% or 20% they will come to business,” Clark said. Such customers are “not quite as good as the corporate segments were, but hey ho, you take what you can get and you fill your aircraft.”

The pandemic has sped efforts by airlines and airports to integrate digital passenger services, information and document checks, while the race is on to deploy “contactless” processes and digital health passes with COVID-19 vaccination and test certificates.

DIGITAL DRIVE

EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren said digital platform upgrades hurriedly deployed to cope with last year’s flood of flight cancellations and refund claims were now among post-crisis “silver linings”.

“Cost bases have been reset” after the low-cost carrier invested in “self-service” capabilities for its booking system, he said. Airlines that have used the crisis for digital upgrades “will come out of this in a more efficient way.”

Even with traffic around 10% of pre-crisis levels, airports have warned that COVID-19 paperwork and test results are already clogging “pinch points” in check-in and boarding, despite full staffing.

Without swift digitization of processes including test and vaccine checks, airports could be overwhelmed by a traffic uptick as soon as May, said Emiliano Sorrenti, chief information and technology officer at Aeroporti di Roma, which operates the Italian capital’s Fiumicino and Ciampino airports.

“When we reach just 50% of (pre-crisis) passengers, will we be able to cope with those numbers given the new regulations?” he said. Fully seamless services that now seem far off will rapidly become a “mandatory level of automation”, he expects.

Vaccination setbacks and concern over COVID-19 variants suggest airports may have a little longer to prepare.

Global airline body IATA this week cut its traffic forecast to reflect a weaker international travel outlook, despite domestic rebounds in U.S. and China.

But Clark, who has put off his retirement to pilot Emirates through the crisis, remained upbeat about the recovery opportunities awaiting his eventual successor.

“We are, dare I say it, on the threshold of something really good here,” he said. “Once this pandemic is over.”

(Reporting by Laurence Frost; Additional reporting by Sarah Young in London and Conor Humphries in Dublin; Editing by Alexander Smith)

J&J stands ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccine in Europe as regulators weigh risks

By Manas Mishra and Carl O’Donnell

(Reuters) -Johnson & Johnson said on Tuesday it stands ready to resume rolling out its COVID-19 vaccine in Europe, where the region’s medical regulator said the benefits of the shot outweigh the risk of very rare, potentially lethal blood clots.

Use of the company’s one-dose vaccine was temporarily halted by U.S. regulators last week after the rare brain blood clots combined with a low blood platelet count were reported in six women, prompting the company to delay its rollout in Europe.

Europe’s health regulator, the European Medicines Agency, on Tuesday recommended adding a warning about blood clots with low blood platelet count to the vaccine’s product label, but said the benefits of the one-dose shot outweigh its risks.

J&J earlier on Tuesday said it was set to resume vaccinations in Europe and was working with European countries to resume ongoing clinical trials for its shot.

“It’s an extremely rare event. We hope by making people aware as well as putting clear diagnostic and therapeutic guidance in place that we can restore the confidence in our vaccine,” said J&J’s Chief Scientific Officer Paul Stoffels.

The United States is also reviewing a handful of potential cases of severe side effects in addition to those that led to the pause.

“The outcome of the vaccine review is important for overall global vaccination efforts, given J&J’s vaccine does not have the extreme cold storage requirements of the mRNA vaccines,” Edward Jones analyst Ashtyn Evans said, referring to vaccines from Moderna Inc and Pfizer Inc with partner BioNTech SE.

Meanwhile, J&J is working with U.S. regulators to get clearance for its Baltimore-based vaccine production plant, owned by Emergent BioSolutions Inc, and expects feedback in the coming days. Emergent shut down production at its plant earlier this month after manufacturing errors ruined millions of J&J doses in March.

“We are remediating what we need to remediate. We think that will lend itself to a positive outcome,” said J&J Chief Financial Officer Joseph Wolk during a call to discuss quarterly results. He said J&J “should know more in the next couple of days.”

Nearly 8 million people had received the J&J vaccine in the United States prior to the halt.

J&J said it would fulfill its commitments to ship 200 million doses in Europe and 100 million in the United States.

The company said it recorded $100 million in COVID-19 vaccine sales. J&J has said the vaccine will be available on a not-for-profit basis until the end of the pandemic.

An advisory committee to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to meet on Friday to address the pause after it delayed making any recommendations in a meeting last week and called for more data.

Johnson & Johnson reported first-quarter earnings that exceeded Wall Street expectations and raised its dividend payouts to shareholders.

The company said it expects a big improvement in sales from its medical device business in the second quarter of 2021 compared with a year earlier, when COVID-19 lockdowns took a toll.

J&J slightly raised its full-year adjusted profit forecast and now sees earnings of $9.42 to $9.57 per share, up from its prior view of $9.40 to $9.60 per share.

Total sales rose 7.9% to $22.32 billion, beating estimates of $21.98 billion.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra, Manojna Maddipatla in Bengaluru and Carl O’Donnell in New York; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Bill Berkrot)

Dying in line: Brazil’s crunch for COVID-19 intensive care beds

By Stephen Eisenhammer

PIRATININGA, Brazil (Reuters) – José Roberto Inácio spent much of his life ferrying the sick and injured to the hospital in this quiet Brazilian town.

On Wednesday, March 10, the retired ambulance driver took the familiar route once more – as a passenger gasping for breath.

By the weekend, the 63-year-old’s kidneys were failing. He needed dialysis. He needed intensive care.

But at the small hospital where he was being treated even basic medical supplies, like a catheter, were lacking. He joined the list for a bed in an intensive care unit (ICU), but doctors told his family there were 70 people in this part of Sao Paulo state already in line.

Bauru, the nearest major town, only has 50 intensive care beds – and all were full.

Inácio died waiting.

“All his life he worked to save people, but in the hour that he needed help, there was nothing for him,” Inácio’s son Roberto, 41, told Reuters, eyes still blank with shock. “You watch a person dying, and you can’t do anything about it.”

Inácio was one of 3,251 people in Brazil killed by COVID-19 on March 23, then the highest daily death toll since the pandemic began. Around the world, nearly one in three COVID-19 deaths were Brazilian. Inácio was one.

“He’s become a statistic,” his son said.

As much of the world appears to be emerging from the worst of the pandemic, Brazil’s health system is buckling.

Across the country there are over 6,000 people waiting for an ICU bed, according to government data. In 15 of Brazil’s 26 states, ICU capacity is at or above 90% full, as the country’s P1 variant fuels a second wave far deadlier than the first.

Even in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s wealthiest state with a sophisticated public hospital network, scores are dying in line for intensive care.

Despite the crisis, President Jair Bolsonaro continues to ridicule stay-at-home measures. He rarely wears a mask and has said he does not plan to get vaccinated. He told Brazilians to “stop whining” about the number of dead, now over 300,000 – the world’s second-highest toll behind the United States.

Brazil, a major global economy once lauded for its public health victories, has also been slow to secure vaccines for its 210 million inhabitants. Less than 10% of adults have received a first dose and only 3% are fully vaccinated.

Epidemiologists fear the worst is yet to come.

“This is going to be devastating,” said Albert Ko, a professor at Yale School of Public Health with decades of experience in Brazil. “Unless there’s a change in federal and state government policies, towards implementing effective lockdowns, we’re looking at a real humanitarian crisis.”

SILENT BURIAL

A giant billboard of Bolsonaro greets visitors to Bauru, a town of 400,000 about a four-hour drive from Sao Paulo.

The mayor, Suéllen Rosim, has railed against lockdown measures and aligned herself with the far-right leader. Last month, she defied a state government order to close nonessential businesses, allowing many to remain open despite surging COVID-19 cases.

A court ruling finally forced her to comply, but she continues to argue lockdowns are ineffective despite overwhelming evidence they have worked across the globe.

“There’s no science that shows that if I lock everyone up at home, everything will get better,” she told Reuters. “Bars and restaurants have been shut for weeks and the numbers haven’t stopped going up.”

She blamed the state for a lack of ICU capacity.

In response, the Sao Paulo government said it was working to increase the number of hospital beds in Bauru and across the region. The state criticized the municipality, which it said did not fund a single intensive care bed.

“The town is also responsible for the increase of intensive care and should do its part,” the state said in a note to Reuters.

On Bauru’s front line, doctors are exhausted; understaffed and under-resourced against the relentless tide of infections.

“People have been talking for months about the risk of the public health system collapsing,” said Fred Nicácio, a doctor treating COVID-19 patients in Bauru. “Sadly, that moment has come.”

Ambulances dart across town carrying patients connected to green oxygen canisters, their belongings in black trash bags by their feet.

One patient in his 40’s, between concentrated breaths, said he now understood the virus was no joke, as medics wheeled him into the hospital.

Beds are so scarce in Bauru that desperate relatives are turning to the courts, hiring lawyers to secure injunctions that would force hospitals – public or private – to take in patients.

But lawyers cannot create ICU beds where there are none. Even private hospitals are struggling, sometimes begging the public sector to take patients needing intensive care off their waitlists.

Inácio’s son is haunted by the belief that his father’s death could have been avoided. If a vaccine had reached him in time, if his hospital had an extra catheter, if an ICU bed had become available.

Last Wednesday, one week after entering the hospital he knew so well, Inácio was buried.

Four men in white hazmat suits drove his body in a minivan the two blocks to the cemetery. They carted the wooden coffin between the rows of dead to a break in the red dirt.

No words were spoken. The only sound was the scratching of mortar and brick as the tomb was sealed.

From a distance, his son watched.

(Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Additional reporting by Leonardo Benassatto; Editing by Brad Haynes and Jonathan Oatis)

More under-30 Americans report anxiety, depression during pandemic – CDC

By Vishwadha Chander

(Reuters) – More young adults in the United States reported feeling anxious or depressed during the past six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, and fewer people reported getting the help they needed, according to a U.S. government study released on Friday.

The percentage of adults under age 30 with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder rose significantly about five months after the U.S. imposed COVID-19 related lockdowns, and reported rising deaths from the fast-spreading virus.

Between August 2020 and February 2021, this number went up to 41.5% from 36.4%, as did the percentage of such people reporting that they needed, but did not receive, mental health counseling.

The study suggests that the rise in anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms reported correspond with the weekly number of reported COVID-19 cases.

The findings are based on a Household Pulse Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Census Bureau to monitor changes in mental health status and access to care during the pandemic.

“Trends in mental health can be used to evaluate the impact of strategies addressing adult mental health status and care during the pandemic,” the authors of the study wrote in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report released on Friday.

The study also found those with less than a high school education were more at risk, though it did not provide an explanation for it.

Even with more vaccines gaining authorization beginning late 2020, the effects of the pandemic on mental health continued into 2021.

During Jan. 20, 2021 through Feb. 1, 2021, about two in five adults aged over 18 years experienced recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder, the survey found.

Demand for mental health and meditation apps, and investments in tech startups building these apps have also risen during this period.

(Reporting by Vishwadha Chander in Bengaluru; Editing by Caroline Humer and Shailesh Kuber)

Turkey’s reopening relieves restaurants but worries doctors

By Canan Sevgili and Daren Butler

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish restaurants reopened and many children returned to school on Tuesday after the government announced steps to ease COVID-19 restrictions even as cases edged higher, raising concerns among the top medical association.

On Monday evening, President Tayyip Erdogan lifted weekend lockdowns in low- and medium-risk cities and limited lockdowns to Sundays in those deemed higher risk under what he called a “controlled normalization.”

Café and restaurant owners, limited to takeaway service for much of last year, have long urged a reopening of in-house dining after sector revenues dropped 65%. They also want relief from growing debt, and from social security and tax payments.

“We were serving 4,000-5,000 people a week. Now with takeaway services we are serving only 500 people,” Istanbul-based Pideban restaurant owner Yusuf Kaptanoglu said before the easing measures were announced.

“I did not benefit from any support including loan support,” he said.

Across Turkey, pre- and primary schools as well as grades 8-12 resumed partial in-person education.

Yet the moves come as new daily coronavirus cases rose to 11,837 on Tuesday, the highest since Jan. 7 and up from 9,891 a day earlier, according to official data. Cases were around 6,000 in late January.

“The number of mutant virus cases is increasingly rising. We do not see conditions to return to an old ‘normal’,” the Turkish Medical Association said on Twitter, calling for higher rates of testing and inoculation.

“Political and economic interests must not take precedence over human life and science,” it added.

Turkey, with a population of 83 million, has administered 9.18 million vaccines in a campaign that began in mid-January. More than 7.18 million people have received a first shot and 2 million have received a second.

(Reporting by Daren Butler, Canan Sevgili and Ceyda Caglayan; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Aurora Ellis and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

UK plans tough new border measures to combat coronavirus

By William James and Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain will announce new tougher border measures on Wednesday to stop new variants of COVID-19 getting into the country, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said as he promised to deliver a roadmap out of lockdowns that have shuttered much of the economy.

The government is expected to bring in quarantine hotels for those coming to Britain from high-risk countries where new strains of the coronavirus have emerged – so-called red list nations – such as South Africa and those in South America.

The move comes as Britain’s death toll from COVID-19 surpassed 100,000, the first European state to reach that figure, leading to further questions about Johnson’s handling of the crisis.

“The Home Secretary (interior minister) will be setting out later today…even tougher measures for those red list countries where we are particularly concerned about new variants,” Johnson told parliament when asked about plans to strengthen Britain’s borders.

Britain saw infections soar at the end of last year after a highly-contagious new variant that emerged in southeast England surged through the population, taking cases and later deaths to record levels.

Since the start of January, all the United Kingdom has faced lockdowns which have closed schools, pubs and restaurants to all bar takeaways with the public told they must stay home as much as possible.

Johnson and his ministers have faced repeated questions, including from many in his own party, on when measures would be eased especially with regard to school closures. He told lawmakers he would address that issue later on Wednesday when he is due to host a media conference.

“Then in the course of the next few weeks, assuming the vaccine rollout continues well, assuming we don’t find new variants of concern…I will be setting out a broader roadmap for the way forward for the whole country,” he said.

With 100,162 recorded deaths, Britain has the world’s fifth highest toll from COVID-19 and the highest deaths per 100,000 people in the world.

Johnson said he felt deep sorrow about the loss of life when the figures were announced on Tuesday, but said the government had done everything it could.

Asked repeatedly by the leader of the Labor opposition Keir Starmer why Britain had fared so badly, he said there would be a time to learn the lessons of what happened but “I don’t think that moment is now” when 37,000 people were still in hospital suffering from the virus.

“There are no easy answers, perpetual lockdown is no answer,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Angus MacSwan)