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)

Fully vaccinated people can gather unmasked with others indoors: U.S. CDC says

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Individuals fully inoculated against COVID-19 can meet in small groups with other vaccinated people without wearing masks, but should keep wearing them outside the home, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a briefing that the agency’s new guidance for fully vaccinated individuals stipulated that they can also visit with unvaccinated, low-risk people from one other household without masks.

The CDC advised fully vaccinated people that they should continue with many precautions such as avoiding medium- and large-sized in-person gatherings, wearing masks when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households or wearing masks when with people who are at risk for severe COVID-19.

“It’s important to realize … that still over 90 percent of the population is not yet vaccinated, and that is our responsibility to make sure, in the context of 60,000 new cases a day, that we protect those who remain unvaccinated and vulnerable,” Walensky said.

The public health guidelines address how vaccinated people can safely resume some more normal activities and contacts with those outside their households while the coronavirus is still widely circulating.

The recommendations come as about 30 million people, or 9.2% of the U.S. population, have been fully inoculated with COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer Inc/ BioNTech SE, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson, according to CDC data.

Nearly 18% of the U.S. population, or 58.9 million adults had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently authorized COVID-19 vaccines prevent people from becoming ill but not necessarily from being infected. Data on whether vaccinated people can still spread the virus to unprotected people is sparse.

The CDC previously recommended that people should wear masks at all times when unable to remain at least six feet (1.83 m) apart from others, or at all times indoors other than in their own homes.

The CDC last month advised that individuals who had been vaccinated within three months could skip the standard 14-day quarantine after exposure to someone with COVID-19, as long as they remain asymptomatic.

Some cities and states have begun lifting pandemic restrictions in recent weeks against the advice of public health experts, who say the measures should remain until many more people get vaccinated with case numbers still high and more contagious virus variants becoming prevalent in much of the country.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengalaru and Jeff Mason and Lisa Lambert in Washington D.C.; writing by Caroline Humer; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

Vaccinated people need not quarantine post COVID-19 exposure, CDC says

(Reuters) – People who have received the full course of COVID-19 vaccines can skip the standard 14-day quarantine after exposure to someone with the infection as long as they remain asymptomatic, U.S. public health officials advised.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday the vaccines have been shown to prevent symptomatic COVID-19, thought to play a greater role in the transmission of the virus than asymptomatic disease.

“Individual and societal benefits of avoiding unnecessary quarantine may outweigh the potential but unknown risk of transmission (among vaccinated individuals),” the CDC said.

The agency has laid down strict criteria for people who would no longer have to quarantine after the vaccinations, including having received both doses of a two-dose vaccine.

People who choose not to quarantine should do so only if they received their last dose within three months, and should only avoid 14 days quarantine after their last shot, the time it takes to develop immunity, CDC said.

Fully vaccinated persons who do not quarantine should still watch for symptoms for 14 days following an exposure.

Two-dose vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc have been authorized for emergency use in the United States. Johnson & Johnson applied for a U.S. authorization of its single-dose shot last week.

(Reporting by Manas Mishra and Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Sriraj Kalluvila)

Splendid isolation: Hungarian family out sails COVID nightmare on the sea

By Krisztina Than

BUDAPEST (Reuters) – While the world was grappling with the pandemic, a Hungarian family of four decided last summer to fulfil their dream: sailing around the globe in a 50-feet boat called “Teatime.”

They left a Croatian port in late June 2020 and have since sailed around Italy and Spain, then stopped for some time on Cape Verde before crossing the Atlantic.

After having spent Christmas on Martinique, they are now anchored in Marigot, on the Caribbean island of St. Martin, waiting to sail towards the Panama canal.

They are in no rush, though, as life on the boat — just as for many people quarantined in their homes — has slowed down.

“For me it is a fantastic experience that I can spend a lot more time with my kids, instead of getting home late from work totally exhausted,” said 48-year-old Domonkos Bosze, who set up a home office on the boat. He works in the IT business.

“Our route is fairly flexible: basically the weather defines which way we go, as the hurricane and cyclones seasons set the limits for sailing each region.”

He and his wife Anna, who have been sailing for more than a decade, had planned the adventure long before the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the pandemic presented them with the dilemma of whether this was the right time to go, in the end their determination overruled all worries and risks.

TEATIME ON SEA

So far the biggest challenge has been a six-hour storm during the Atlantic crossing which they managed well, losing only a toaster and the satellite phone which broke.

They follow the changes in coronavirus rules in each country and take a test or go into quarantine as required.

“When we arrived in Martinique … we told authorities that we just spent 16 days on the open seas and they accepted that as quarantine,” Bosze said.

Nonetheless, the boat is filled with enough foodstuff for a month. And they catch their own tuna or mahi mahi (dorado), much to the joy of their 6- and 8-year-old daughters.

The two girls do remote learning, and will be enrolled in local schools if possible to get familiar with different cultures.

Domonkos said a discussion with Jimmy Cornell, the legendary Romanian-born British yachtsman, had a great influence on their thinking when they planned the trip.

While being together all the time in a confined space posed some difficulties in the beginning, now everything goes like clockwork on “Teatime”, named after the family’s habit of sitting down for tea and chatter.

Anna said the trip has given her huge freedom even though she cooks regularly besides handling the sails if needed.

“We saw dolphins jumping at the bow of the boat and swimming with us, with the sea totally calm … so we could see them clearly under water,” she said, smiling.

Depending on COVID restrictions, they plan to sail on this year or next year towards the Pacific, and now they say their trip could last another 5-6 years, stopping for extended periods in the southern Pacific and on the Indian ocean.

(Reporting and writing by Krisztina Than; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

WHO team in Wuhan visits hospital that treated early COVID cases

By Gabriel Crossley

WUHAN, China (Reuters) – A World Health Organization-led team of experts investigating the origins of COVID-19 on Friday visited a hospital in the Chinese city of Wuhan that was one of the first to treat patients in the early days of the outbreak.

The hospital visit was the team’s first in the field after two weeks in quarantine, and a WHO spokeswoman said the group’s contacts in Wuhan will be limited to visits organized by their Chinese hosts due to health restrictions.

“The team will go out but they will be bussed to wherever, so they won’t have any contact with the community. They will only have contact with various individuals that are being organized as part of the study,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a briefing in Geneva on Friday.

After meeting with Chinese scientists earlier in the day, the team went to the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine.

Zhang Jixian, director of the hospital’s department of respiratory and critical care, has been cited by state media as the first to report the novel coronavirus, after treating an elderly couple in late 2019 whose CT scans showed differences from typical pneumonia.

“Extremely important 1st site visit. We are in the hospital that treated some of the first known cases of COVID-19, meeting with the actual clinicians & staff who did this work, having open discussion about the details of their work,” Peter Daszak, a member of the WHO-led team, wrote on Twitter.

The team plans to visit labs, markets and hospitals during its remaining two weeks in Wuhan, where the coronavirus was first identified in late 2019.

While an exact itinerary has not been announced, the WHO has said the team plans to visit the seafood market at the center of the early outbreak as well as the Wuhan Institute of Virology. One hypothesis, rejected by China, is that the outbreak was caused by a leak at the government lab.

The WHO-led probe in Wuhan has been plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between China and the United States, which accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticized the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.

The WHO has sought to manage expectations. “There are no guarantees of answers,” its emergency chief, Mike Ryan, said this month.

The investigating team had been set to arrive in Wuhan earlier in January, and China’s delay of their visit drew rare public criticism from the head of the WHO, which former U.S. President Donald Trump accused of being “China-centric”.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, said on Friday that WHO and Chinese experts were working together to trace the origin of the virus, but stressed that the mission was not a probe.

“It is part of a global research, not an investigation,” Zhao told a regular news conference in Beijing.

China has pushed the idea that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan, with state media citing the presence of the virus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers saying it had been circulating in Europe in 2019.

China’s foreign ministry has also hinted that the sudden closure of a U.S. army laboratory at Fort Detrick in Maryland in July 2019 was linked to the pandemic.

“At the early stage in China, it was a burden particularly for Wuhan people when everyone was calling it a Wuhan virus, which was humiliating,” said Yang You, a 30-year-old Wuhan resident. “If it could be traced to the source clearly, in my opinion, it could clear either China’s or Wuhan’s name.”

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley and Martin Quin Pollard; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Stepahnie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Michael Perry, Nick Macfie & Simon Cameron-Moore)

More than half of world’s airline pilots no longer flying: survey

(Reuters) – More than half of the world’s airline pilots are no longer flying for a living amid the plunge in demand during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new survey, and those that are still flying feel less valued by their employers.

A poll of nearly 2,600 pilots by UK-based GOOSE Recruitment and industry publication FlightGlobal, released on Thursday, found only 43% were doing the job they had trained for, with 30% unemployed, 17% furloughed and 10% in non-flying roles.

Many pilots that are still flying have faced deteriorating working conditions. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, for example, instituted permanent pay cuts of up to 58%, and Turkish Airways and Singapore Airlines Ltd have temporarily lowered salaries.

“We can see the effect the pandemic has had on employed pilots too,” GOOSE Recruitment chief executive officer and founder Mark Charman said in a statement. “Large numbers are feeling insecure about their jobs, an increased number are planning to look for new roles this year as well as many feeling less valued by their employers.”

For the unemployed pilots in the survey, 84% said it was due to the pandemic. Before COVID-19 hit, there had been widespread pilot shortages that had driven up demand for aviators and led to improving pay and conditions.

Now, 82% of unemployed pilots would take a pay cut for a new opportunity, the survey found.

For those that have kept their jobs, pilots in Europe reported being the most stressed by COVID-19, with respondents citing the risk of catching the virus, disjointed rules and the possibility of being placed in quarantine during a rotation as among their concerns.

Forty percent of pilots said their mental health had been affected by the pandemic, with the figure higher among younger pilots.

“The amount of stress and anxiety the pandemic has caused me has permanently scarred my outlook on life,” one surveyed pilot said.

(Reporting by Jamie Freed in Sydney. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

WHO team in Wuhan probing COVID-19 origins moves out of quarantine

By Gabriel Crossley

WUHAN, China (Reuters) – A World Health Organization-led team investigating the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic left its quarantine hotel in Wuhan on Thursday to begin field work, two weeks after arriving in the Chinese city where the virus emerged in late 2019.

The mission has been plagued by delays, concern over access and bickering between China and the United States, which has accused China of hiding the extent of the initial outbreak and criticized the terms of the visit, under which Chinese experts conducted the first phase of research.

“Thanks, Chinese Health Minister Ma Xiaowei, for a frank discussion on the #COVID19 virus origins mission,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted.

“I asked that the international scientists get the support, access & data needed, and the chance to engage fully with their Chinese counterparts.”

The WHO has not provided details of the mission’s itinerary, although team leader Peter Ben Embarek said in November that the group would likely go to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, where the first known cluster of cases was traced.

The team, made up of independent experts, is due to remain for two more weeks in China, which has used stringent measures, including drastically curtailing international arrivals, to curb the spread of the coronavirus. China has been battling a series of local outbreaks over the past month.

“During the second 14 days, the team will be able to go out under strict medical supervision, continuous testing and the restrictive measures,” Hans Kluge, the WHO’s European regional director, told a news conference from Copenhagen on Thursday.

He said the first two weeks had been productive.

“The team members have been prepared by counterparts in China in different fields, there have been, every day, many, many hours of presentations and exchange of data,” he said.

After leaving their quarantine hotel shortly after 3 p.m. (0700 GMT) without speaking to journalists, team members boarded a bus to a lakeside hotel, where a portion of the building and grounds were cordoned off.

Several team members described long work days during their quarantine, and relief at being able to leave their rooms.

“Slightly sad to say goodbye to my ‘gym’ & my ‘office’ where I’ve been holed up for last 2 wks!!,” team member Peter Daszak said on Twitter, along with photos of exercise equipment and a desk in his hotel room.

The team members’ luggage, loaded onto the bus by workers in protective suits, included yoga mats and what appeared to be a guitar case.

SCIENCE AND POLITICS

The WHO has sought to manage expectations for the investigation.

“There are no guarantees of answers,” WHO emergencies chief Mike Ryan told reporters this month. “It is a difficult task to fully establish the origins and sometimes it can take two or three or four attempts to be able to do that in different settings.”

China’s foreign ministry said the team would participate in seminars, visits and field trips.

“All these activities must be in accordance with the principle of tracking the origin scientifically and with the ultimate goal of preventing future risks and protecting the safety and health of the people,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing on Thursday.

The origin of COVID-19 has been highly politicized.

The investigating team had been set to arrive in Wuhan earlier in January, and China’s delay of their visit drew rare public criticism from the head of the WHO, which former U.S. President Donald Trump accused of being “China-centric” early in the outbreak.

China has been pushing a narrative that the virus existed abroad before it was discovered in Wuhan, with state media citing the presence of the virus on imported frozen food packaging and scientific papers saying it had been circulating in Europe in 2019.

China’s foreign ministry has also hinted on several occasions that the sudden closure of a U.S. army laboratory at Fort Detrick in Maryland in July 2019 was linked to the pandemic.

Wuhan resident Tu Zhengwang, 28, said it was not certain that the virus had originated in the city.

“It could be other places,” he said. “But if you find the origin, whether it is in Wuhan or other places, you could prevent similar incidents from happening.”

(Reporting by Gabriel Crossley in Wuhan; Additional reporting by Yew Lun Tian in Beijing and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson)

WHO issues new clinical advice on treating COVID-19 patients

GENEVA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) issued fresh clinical advice on Tuesday for treating COVID-19 patients, including those displaying persistent symptoms after recovery, and also said it advised using low-dose anti-coagulants to prevent blood clots.

“The other things in the guidance that are new are that COVID-19 patients at home should have the use of pulse oximetry, that’s measuring the oxygen levels, so you can identify whether someone at home is deteriorating and would be better off having hospital care,” WHO spokeswoman Margaret Harris told a U.N. briefing in Geneva.

The WHO advised clinicians to put patients into the awake prone position, on their front, shown to improve the oxygen flow, she said.

“Also we recommend, we suggest, the use of low-dose anti-coagulants to prevent blood clots forming in blood vessels. We suggest the use of lower doses rather than higher doses because higher doses may lead to other problems,” Harris said.

She added that a WHO-led team of independent experts, currently in the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the first human cases were detected in December 2019, is due to leave quarantine in the next two days to pursue its work with Chinese researchers on the virus origins.

She declined to comment on reports of delays in roll-out of vaccines in the European Union. She said she had no specific data and the WHO’s priority was for health workers in all countries to be vaccinated in the first 100 days of the year.

AstraZeneca, which developed its shot with Oxford University, told the EU on Friday it could not meet agreed supply targets up to the end of March.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge)

Britain tightens borders to keep out new COVID-19 strains

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is tightening border controls to prevent new strains of COVID-19 coming into the country, suspending all the ‘travel corridor’ arrangements that had meant arrivals from some countries did not need to quarantine.

The change comes into force at 0400 GMT on Monday and means all passengers must have a recent negative coronavirus test and transfer immediately into isolation upon arrival. The isolation period lasts for 10 days, unless the passenger tests negative after five days.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement during a news conference when he praised the country’s vaccination program, but he also warned: “What we don’t want to see is all that hard work undone by the arrival of a new variant that is vaccine busting.”

On Thursday, Britain banned arrivals from South America, Portugal and some other countries over fears about a strain of the virus detected in Brazil.

Britain has already felt the effects of mutations in the virus first hand. A strain first discovered in England has proved to be more transmissible and a major factor behind a spike in cases across the country.

(Reporting by Sarah Young, Writing by William James, editing by Elizabeth Piper)