CDC cuts quarantine time for all Americans with COVID-19 to 5 days

(Reuters) -U.S. health authorities on Monday shortened the recommended time for isolation for asymptomatic Americans with COVID-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said the people who test positive after quarantining should follow five days of wearing a mask when around others.

Omicron accounts for 73% of U.S. coronavirus infections, the federal CDC had said last week.

Breakthrough infections are rising among the fully vaccinated population, including those who have had a third booster shot. However, Omicron appears to be causing milder symptoms in those people, some of whom have no symptoms at all.

Reducing the CDC’s 10-day quarantine recommendation would help asymptomatic people return to work or school, with proper precautions, White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci had told CNN last week.

The CDC on Monday also gave guidance for people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose or more than two months after the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and not yet boosted. It recommended quarantine for them for five days followed by strict mask use for an additional six days.

Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure should wear a mask for 10 days, the CDC said.

(Reporting by Dania Nadeem in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel)

UK to remove all countries from COVID travel red list on Wednesday

LONDON (Reuters) -The British government will remove all 11 countries from its COVID-19 travel red list from Wednesday because there is now community transmission of Omicron in Britain, Health Secretary Sajid Javid told parliament.

The new Omicron variant was first detected in southern Africa and Hong Kong. The British government added 11 African countries to its red list from late November, meaning that only UK citizens or residents arriving from those nations were allowed in and then had to quarantine in a hotel.

“Now that there is community transmission of Omicron in the UK and Omicron has spread so widely across the world, the travel red list is now less effective in slowing the incursion of Omicron from abroad,” Javid said.

“We will be removing all 11 countries from the travel red list effective from 4 a.m. tomorrow morning.”

The 11 countries which will be removed are Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

CANCELLATIONS

Travel companies had urged the government to reduce restrictions as soon as possible. London’s Heathrow Airport said last week it was seeing high levels of business travelers cancelling due to concerns over restrictions.

Britain will still require all inbound travelers to take either a PCR or a rapid lateral flow test a maximum of 48 hours before departure, a measure Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said would be reviewed in the first week of January.

Mark Tanzer, Chief Executive of travel association ABTA, welcomed the removal of the red list but said testing should also have been scrapped.

“With the testing measures now extending over the Christmas and New Year period, and the industry quickly approaching peak-booking season for summer 2022, travel businesses are facing a very serious situation,” he said in a statement.

“Consumer confidence in travel has suffered a significant setback, which will outlast these restrictions.”

Arrivals from the red list countries have had to pay thousands of pounds to quarantine in government-approved hotels. Many have complained on social media about the costs and conditions of their stay.

A lack of available rooms also left some people trapped abroad waiting for space to become available in the hotels.

(Reporting by Kylie MacLellan and Elizabeth Piper; editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Paul Sandle and Gareth Jones)

 

What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

(Reuters) – Here’s what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

Lawsuit consolidation set to give Biden administration a chance to revive COVID vaccine mandate

Lawsuits filed around the United States challenging the Biden administration’s workplace COVID-19 vaccine rule are expected to be consolidated in a single federal appeals court on Tuesday, giving the government a chance to revive a rule that was blocked last week.

More than a dozen lawsuits have been filed challenging the rule, which requires employers with at least 100 workers to mandate COVID-19 vaccination or weekly testing combined with wearing a face covering at work.

Pfizer to allow generic versions of its COVID-19 pill in 95 countries

Pfizer Inc said on Tuesday it will allow generic manufacturers to supply its experimental antiviral COVID-19 pill to 95 low- and middle-income countries through a licensing agreement with international public health group Medicines Patent Pool (MPP).

The voluntary licensing agreement between Pfizer and the MPPwill allow the United Nations-backed group to grant sub-licenses to qualified generic drug manufacturers to make their own versions of PF-07321332.

Pfizer will sell the pills it manufactures under the brand name Paxlovid.

Delta dominates, scientists watch for worrisome offspring

The Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus now accounts for nearly all coronavirus infections globally and virus experts are closely watching its evolution, looking for signs of mutation.

According to the WHO, Delta makes up 99.5% of all genomic sequences reported to public databases and has “outcompeted” other variants in most countries.

A key exception is South America, where Delta has spread more gradually, and other variants previously seen as possible global threats – notably Gamma, Lambda and Mu – still contribute to a significant proportion of reported cases.

Japan plans to ease quarantine rules – report

Japan intends to ease quarantine rules by the end of November for people inoculated with Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine, the Nikkei daily reported on Tuesday.

Last week the country took a first step in its planned phased re-opening of borders, which centers on business travelers.

Germany could make COVID test or vaccine mandatory for public transport

Want to take the bus or train in Germany? You may soon have to provide a negative COVID-19 test, or proof of vaccination or recent recovery, as the country becomes the latest in Europe to consider drastic steps to tackle a new surge in cases in the region.

The center-left Social Democrats, Greens and pro-business FDP said on Monday they would add harsher measures to their draft law under parliamentary consideration to deal with the outbreak.

India’s Dr. Reddy’s open to making Pfizer pill

Dr. Reddy’s Laboratories, one of a handful of Indian drug companies licensed to make a new COVID-19 pill developed by Merck, said on Monday it was open to making a similar pill from Pfizer thought to be even more effective.

The new drugs, which unlike vaccines can be used to treat patients once they contract coronavirus infections, are expected to have a huge market.

Merck has licensed manufacturers in developing countries to ensure swift global supply, and companies are hopeful that Pfizer will do the same.

(Compiled by Karishma Singh and Ed Osmond; Editing by Jan Harvey)

COVID-19 outbreak at Oregon’s Bootleg blaze sidelines 9 firefighters

By Barbara Goldberg

(Reuters) – The first COVID-19 outbreak among firefighters battling the enormous Bootleg fire in Oregon has put nine of them in quarantine as weather forecasters on Friday warned that relentlessly dry weather will persist over the weekend.

With the 400,389-acre blaze 40% contained, nine firefighters out of a 2,389-person force tested positive for coronavirus and were placed in quarantine with mild symptoms, said Stefan Myers, fire information spokesman for the Bootleg fire.

“We expect them all to make a full recovery,” Myers told Reuters.

Safety measures to stop virus spread, including social distancing at all four fire camps, appeared to be working for the most part.

“We are really heartened by the fact that there weren’t more firefighters exposed. They have to perform on a daily basis and that does lead to the possibility for exposure,” Myers said.

Citing privacy laws, he declined to comment on the age, gender and vaccination status of the nine people who are “quarantining away from the main body of the fire camp as to make sure they are isolated but also recovering.”

The so-called Bootleg fire, which was first reported July 6 in the Fremont-Winema National Forest some 250 miles south of Portland, was ignited by lightning but smoldered for days before it was detected.

Air quality amid the smoky blaze on Friday appeared to improve over all but two of 11 fire stations, authorities said. However, dry weather was expected to persist through the weekend, ramping up risk.

“There is really no relief in sight,” said Bob Oravec, lead forecaster with the National Weather Service in College Park, Maryland. “The fire weather will continue.”

On Friday, the fire remained most active on the northern and eastern portions, authorities said.

“The fire continues to throw challenges at us, and we are going to continue to stay vigilant, work hard and adapt,” Joe Hessel, incident commander for the Oregon Department of Forestry Incident Management Team said in a statement.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Mark Potter)

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)

COVID-19 far more widespread in Indonesia than official data show – studies

By Tom Allard

JAKARTA (Reuters) – COVID-19 is many times more prevalent in Indonesia than shown by official figures in the world’s fourth most populous country, authors of two new studies told Reuters.

The country of 270 million has recorded 1.83 million positive cases, but epidemiologists have long believed the true scale of the spread has been obscured by a lack of testing and contact tracing.

The results of Indonesia’s first major seroprevalence studies – which test for antibodies – were revealed exclusively to Reuters.

One nationwide study between December and January suggested 15% of Indonesians had already contracted COVID-19 – when official figures at the end of January had recorded infections among only around 0.4% of people.

Even now, Indonesia’s total positive infections are only around 0.7% of the population.

The results of the survey were not unexpected given under reporting, said Pandu Riono, a University of Indonesia epidemiologist who worked on the study carried out with help from the World Health Organization.

Siti Nadia Tarmizi, a senior health ministry official, said it was possible the study was preliminary, but there might be more cases than officially reported because many cases were asymptomatic.

She said Indonesia had low contact tracing and a lack of laboratories to process tests.

Based on blood tests, seroprevalence studies detect antibodies which show up people who likely already contracted the disease. The official figures are largely based on swab tests, which detect the virus itself and only reveal those who have it at the time.

Antibodies develop one to three weeks after someone contracts the virus and stay in the body for months.

WEAK TESTING

Seroprevalence studies in other countries – including India – have also revealed more widespread infections.

“Our official surveillance system cannot detect COVID-19 cases. It is weak,” said the principal investigator for the University of Indonesia study, Tri Yunis Miko Wahyono, who commented on it but was not authorized to confirm the figures.

“Contact tracing and testing in Indonesia is very poor and explains why so few cases are detected.”

Fellow study author Pandu said that although the study showed the wider spread of the virus, Indonesia still appeared to be far from achieving herd immunity – making it a priority to speed up vaccination.

Just 6% of Indonesia’s targeted population of 181 million have been fully vaccinated with two doses so far, while 9.4% have had one shot, according to government data.

Preliminary results of a separate seroprevalence study in Bali, done by the University of Udayana, found 17 per cent of those tested in September and November appeared to have been infected, principal investigator Anak Agung Sagung Sawitri told Reuters.

That was 53 times higher than rate of infection based on the cases officially recorded at the time on the tourist island, which is planning to reopen to international visitors next month.

The reopening is opposed by some public health experts, including academic and doctor Ady Wirawan.

“Testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine is very, very weak in Bali,” he said.

(Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Kim Coghill)

First foreign tourists in more than a year land in Israel

By Steven Scheer

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The first group of foreign tourists in more than a year touched down in Israel on Thursday after the government began opening its borders following a steep drop in COVID-19 infections.

Small groups of vaccinated foreign tourists – up to 30 people – have been allowed to enter as of last Sunday and the Tourism Ministry expects 20 such groups to come from countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, under a pilot program until June 15.

The ministry then hopes to expand the number of groups and, in July, allow individual tourists.

Shortly after 4 pm (1300 GMT), United Airlines flight 90 from Newark, New Jersey landed with 12 Christian pilgrims, men and women of varying ages, studying theology at the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. They were welcomed by Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hakohen, who said: “You are the first of what I am sure will be many tourists returning to the Holy Land.”

Led by Pastor Tom Zelt of the Prince of Peace Church, the group plans to visit Jerusalem, Nazareth, national parks and Christian sites, the Tourism Ministry said.

“Israel is … healthy and vaccinated. Everything is now safely open,” Farkash-Hakohen told the group.

The country had closed its borders to foreigners at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020. A rapid vaccine roll-out that has vaccinated most adults has brought the number of active COVID cases to just 428 nationwide.

This has paved the way for Israel to allow vaccinated foreigners to enter the country and revive its tourism sector, although officials remain cautious over potential new variants.

Tourists are required to show negative PCR tests before flying and to take another test at Ben Gurion Airport after landing in Tel Aviv.

Groups will also need to take serological tests at their hotel to prove they have COVID-19 antibodies. They will need to quarantine until results come back, usually in a few hours.

Tourism in 2019 hit a record high of 4.55 million visitors, contributing 23 billion shekels ($7.1 billion) to Israel’s economy, mainly via small and mid-sized businesses.

(Reporting by Steven Scheer. Editing by Jane Merriman)

New York City Marathon returns after 2020 COVID-19 cancellation

By Amy Tennery

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A limited field of 33,000 runners will return to the starting line for the 50th running of the New York City Marathon in November after it was cancelled last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The annual event that draws thousands of cheering fans to the Big Apple will take place on Nov. 7.

“The New York City Marathon is a reminder of everything New Yorkers can accomplish with persistence, hard work, and community support,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement.

“As we build a recovery for all of us, there‚Äôs no better time to safely reconnect with the iconic events that make our city great.”

The 26.2-mile (42.2 km) race, typically the final of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors run each year, is hugely popular with amateur runners and professionals alike and saw a record 53,627 finishers in 2019, the last time it was contested.

New York Road Runners, which puts on the event each year, said runners will be required to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test or a vaccine and must adhere to government guidelines around travel and quarantine.

Organizers plan to use “a controllable and scalable time-trial start format” to reduce congestion at the start and finish.

“While cancelling the race was the right choice in 2020, we are excited to welcome runners back to our beautiful city,” said governor Andrew Cuomo.

“New Yorkers worked hard to flatten the curve after the COVID-19 outbreak and it is that work that allows us to be able to take this step in bringing normalcy back to our state.”

(Reporting by Amy Tennery, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

Poland tightens quarantine rules after cases of Indian COVID-19 variant

WARSAW (Reuters) – People travelling to Poland from Brazil, India and South Africa will have to quarantine, the Polish health minister said on Tuesday, as he announced cases of a COVID-19 variant first detected in India in the Warsaw and Katowice areas.

The outbreaks poses a fresh risk to Poland just as it starts to emerge from a highly damaging third wave of the pandemic.

“In the case of Brazil, India and South Africa, people travelling from these locations will automatically have to quarantine without the possibility of getting an exception due to a test,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told a news conference.

The number of infections involving the Indian variant in Poland has now reached 16, including two cases in the family of a Polish diplomat who had returned from India, Niedzielski said.

Poland has so far reported 2,808,052 cases of COVID-19 and 68,133 deaths.

Poland reopened shopping centers on Tuesday, the beginning of a gradual unfreezing of the economy that will see restaurants, hotels and schools reopening at different points in May.

(Reporting by Alan Charlish and Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Gareth Jones)

German tourist industry warns of job losses from tighter pandemic lockdowns

(Reuters) – The German tourist industry has warned of layoffs and bankruptcies if authorities further tighten lockdowns meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus including by enforcing quarantine for those returning from holidays abroad.

National and regional leaders meeting on Monday evening to decide the next round of measures to tackle the coronavirus pandemic are mulling requiring quarantine for all returning travelers, not just those who were in high-risk areas.

“From the point of view of the tourism industry, it is unacceptable and absolutely disproportionate to quarantine, irrespective of the incidence rate at the destination,” said Michael Frenzel, president of the BTW tourism association, adding that travelers already have to test for the virus.

Two other tourism industry associations, DRV and BDL, said that further restricting international travel could cost jobs for the sector’s 2,300 tour operators and 10,000 travel agencies.

State aid has so far only compensated for a fraction of the costs the industry has suffered as a result of the pandemic, they said.

Earlier in March, Germany removed regions in Spain, including the tourist island of Mallorca, and Portugal from its list of coronavirus risk areas. The decision pushed tens of thousands of Germans to plan last-minute Easter getaways to Spain’s Balearic islands.

Germany is set to extend a lockdown into its fifth month through April 18, according to a draft proposal, as infection rates exceeded the level at which authorities say hospitals will be overstretched.

(Reporting by Klaus Lauer; writing by Bartosz Dabrowski in Gdansk; Editing by Bernadette Baum)