Second year of Covid-19 pandemic may be tougher than the first: WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic might be tougher than the first, looking at how the new variant of the virus is spreading.
“We are going into a second year of this, it could be even tougher given the transmission dynamics and some of the issues we are seeing,” Dr Mike Ryan, WHO’s top emergencies official said.
In its latest epidemiological update, WHO said that five million cases were reported last week, which could be likely due to a letdown of defences during the holiday season.
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, said: “After the holidays, in some countries the situation will get a lot worse before it gets better.”
Amid growing fears of the more contagious coronavirus variant first detected in Britain but now entrenched worldwide, governments across Europe on Wednesday have announced tighter and longer coronavirus restrictions.
How effective is a single vaccine dose against COVID-19?
The United Kingdom has just announced that due to the current strain on its healthcare system, coupled with the possibility of delays or shortages of vaccine supply, the country will be delaying the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
UK citizens who receive the first dose of the vaccine will now have to wait up to 12 weeks for their second dose, as opposed to the recommended three to four weeks.
The decision, naturally, has sparked concerns regarding the effectiveness of delaying the second dose. But how effective would it be if one were to only receive one dose of the vaccine?
For the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, data published by the company in December has shown that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is roughly 52% effective after the first dose. Out of 36,523 participants in the phase three trial – the final stage of testing where people either received two full doses, 21 days apart, or a placebo – who had no evidence of existing infection, 82 people in the placebo group and 39 in the vaccine group developed COVID-19 symptoms.
However, this early protection comes with some important caveats. First, the protection doesn’t kick in until at least day 12 – until then, there was no difference between the two groups. Secondly, one dose is still significantly less protective than two. The latter is 95% effective at preventing the disease after a week.
According to a document the company submitted to the FDA, the Moderna vaccine can provide 80.2% protection after one dose, compared to 95.6% after the second (in people aged 18 to 65 – it’s 86.4% in those over 65). As with the Pfizer vaccine, all participants in the phase three trial received two doses of the vaccine or a placebo within a single set time period, so it’s not yet known whether the immunity from a single vaccine would continue, or drop off after this stage.
As such, to answer the question of whether it’s advisable to skip the second dose of the vaccine, chief executive of Pfizer Albert Bourla has said that it would be a “big mistake” to do so, as it almost doubles the amount of protection one gets.
Meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech themselves have already urged caution on the grounds that their data ends at day 21, and “there is no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days”. It’s possible that the protection people seem to have will suddenly drop off after that point.
Furthermore, the body also takes time to develop immunity against the virus, so getting the first dose doesn’t mean that one is fully protected against the virus either.
All travellers to S’pore to take PCR test on arrival from 25 January
Amidst the worsening pandemic situation around the world, Singapore will be tightening its border restrictions from 25 January onwards. All travellers, including Singapore citizens and permanent residents will be required to take a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test upon arrival in Singapore.
This comes on top of the current requirement, where all individuals arriving in Singapore will have to serve a stay-home notice (SHN), and undergo a PCR test after 14 days.
In addition, all returning Singapore citizens and PRs from Britain and South Africa will be subject to an additional seven-day self isolation at their place of residence after their 14-day SHN. This regulation will kick in from 18 January. They will be tested at the end of their SHN, and again after they have completed their seven-day self-isolation.
The Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) has also stipulated that newly arrived foreign workers from the construction, marine, and process sectors will also need to take a PCR and serology test when they come to Singapore.
To protect themselves, short-term visitors will also need to have travel insurance to cover the costs of their medical treatment in Singapore should they be suspected of having the virus.
Those applying to enter Singapore under the air travel pass and reciprocal green lane arrangements will need to have minimum coverage of $30,000 for their COVID-19-related medical treatment and hospitalisation costs in Singapore, from 1 February.
Public campsites & BBQ pits to reopen on 20 January
Good news for those who have missed camping and having BBQs, the National Parks Board (NParks) has just announced that campsites in parks (including Pulau Ubin) and BBQ pits will reopen from 20 January.
However, those who are looking to do so will have to make an application online via AXS. In addition, a five-metre distance should be observed in between tents, and there can only be a maximum of six campers per tent.
For BBQ pits, group sizes should not exceed eight people, and all BBQ activities should stop by 10.30 p.m. More information can be found on the NParks website.
Circuit Breaker led to change in pigeon behaviour
A new NParks study has found that feral pigeons spent more time foraging during the Circuit Breaker, revealing that food availability affects the reproductive cycles of the birds.
“The results suggest that by limiting food resources islandwide, it would likely result in an eventual decline in the feral pigeon population,” said Dr Soh, a senior researcher for wildlife management research at NParks.
The study came about from Dr Soh’s initial observations during his trips to the supermarket during the Circuit Breaker. “The circuit breaker provided an unprecedented opportunity to examine pest bird responses to an islandwide reduction in human traffic and food.” This opportunity was previously not available, he said, and thus this is the first such study in Singapore.
Researchers thus identified four types of locations where pigeons were known to gather, and conducted surveys at these areas islandwide.
The data, as well as information collected from surveys done before and after the circuit breaker, was then analysed using statistical tools. The results showed that pigeon numbers fell the most significantly at open food centres, where dining out was not allowed during the circuit breaker.
However, more pigeons were observed at refuse collection centres, where less frequent cleaning was done during the circuit breaker due to restrictions in place, as well as urban green spaces.