The US races to supply more at-home rapid Covid tests


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last month approved tests by US company Flowflex, saying the decision “should significantly increase the availability” of instant tests.

But the moves mark something of an 11th hour scramble for instant, or antigen, tests — and the US is lagging dramatically behind many countries, where rapid coronavirus tests have been cheap and plentiful for months.

In the UK, for instance, at-home testing has become part of a weekly routine for millions; a pack of several tests can be ordered for free online once a day, offering results in as little as 15 minutes and allowing Brits to check their Covid-19 status before heading to work, school, social events or large gatherings.

Other countries have embraced the technology too. Since March, every German citizen has been entitled to one free antigen test a week. Cheap rapid tests are offered to anyone in Italian pharmacies. In France, they cost only around 6 euros ($7) and are readily available to buy. And in Spain, the tests have been available for purchase since July at around the same price. Even despite those affordable rates, Madrid pharmacies say supply is outpacing demand, likely due in part to the country’s high vaccination rates.

A lateral flow test showing a negative result in the UK.

Yet more nations are just now starting to roll out the option; on Monday, rapid at-home tests finally hit the shelves of Australia’s pharmacies and supermarkets, after being approved for use in the country.

It’s been a different story in the United States though, where those wanting the peace of mind offered by a home test kit are usually met with empty pharmacy shelves or high prices.

The shortfall traces back in part to the early months of the pandemic, when the US was slow to prioritize testing for Covid-19. Last month, former US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield, who led the agency under former President Donald Trump, admitted the US “was always behind” on testing through much of 2020.

The government could have done more during that period to stimulate the private sector in developing testing, and he was “disappointed” it did not do so, Redfield told SiriusXM’s Doctor Radio.

But there has also been hesitancy over just how effective rapid tests are.

A vast, international review of studies published in March found that few antigen tests met the World Health Organization’s minimum acceptable performance standards. And in October, Covid-19 home test-maker Ellume announced a voluntary recall of some of its rapid antigen tests in the US, due to an increased chance of false positives.

A study in March by University College London found accuracy rates of around 80% in antigen tests used in the UK — higher than the international review, but below the levels provided by a PCR test.

Nonetheless, the US is hoping to join the band of nations where at-home testing is routine. If availability is ramped up, Americans could soon have another tool at their disposal when it comes to Covid-19.

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Q: What happens if I test positive while on vacation?

A: The holiday season is quickly approaching, and relaxed rules on domestic and international travel mean that many people will be planning trips in the coming weeks.

But the threat of Covid-19 has not gone away. Taking a test is still a good idea if you’re spending time with vulnerable relatives, and if you’re flying internationally, it’s possible that you’ll need to test negative to enter or leave your destination.

That can lead to a headache when holidaymakers get a positive result while on vacation — a predicament many have already found themselves in.

You’ll likely have to arrange plans to isolate, but rules vary from country to country so it’s important to check before you travel. For instance, visitors to Italy are required to pay their own quarantine fees up-front if they test positive after they arrive.

“Travel insurance with Covid-19 quarantine coverage is designed to help cover the lodging and accommodation expenses you might incur should you test positive for Covid on vacation,” Narendra Khatri, president and CEO of Insubuy, which provides international travel medical insurance from various US-based companies, told CNN.

“The benefit amount depends entirely on the policy you choose. Most plans provide a minimum of $2,000 in quarantine, lodging, and accommodation expenses, and trip interruption up to 100% of the trip’s cost.”

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

READS OF THE WEEK

Why are we still arguing about face masks?

At the start of the pandemic, much of the Western world followed a similar playbook for tackling Covid-19. But those days are behind us. Pandemic management now differs widely from country to country, with the face mask being one example of the world’s increasingly fractured approach to Covid-19, Rob Picheta writes.

Debates still rage in multiple countries over their use, and some regions have recently removed mandates that people wear them in crowded spaces. “Masks remain a symbol of a divided society — between those who feel we have restricted too much and those who feel we have not intervened enough during the pandemic,” Simon Williams, a senior lecturer on Covid-19 behaviors at Swansea University in Wales, told CNN.

With the prospect of another winter surge brewing, some countries are grappling with calls to return to mask use. But they face resistance from people fatigued by endless mixed messaging — and many experts fear that in countries where rules have been relaxed, reimposing mandates could be complicated.

The billionaire vaccine prince whose plans went awry

As Covid-19 wreaked havoc around the world last year, the 39-year-old son of an Indian billionaire was laying the groundwork for a plan he hoped would eventually end the pandemic.

Adar Poonawalla — the CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker — pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into his Indian manufacturing facility and committed to making millions of doses of a then-unproven coronavirus vaccine.

That vaccine, created by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, was still in clinical trials at the time. Nobody was sure how long a vaccine would take to develop, let alone whether it would even work. “It was a calculated risk,” Poonawalla told CNN Business. The AstraZeneca vaccine received approval from UK regulators in December 2020, and Poonawalla became a household name in India.

But soon it became evident how badly Poonawalla had miscalculated the challenges that come with distributing millions of vaccines in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic.

His company’s ability to inoculate even his own countrymen was thrown into doubt earlier this year as a devastating wave of coronavirus hit India. He’s also failed to keep up with his commitment to deliver shots to other nations — the consequences of which have dented his reputation and shed light on the perils of such heavy reliance on one manufacturer.

China is becoming increasingly isolated as Asia starts to live with Covid

From Australia to South Korea and across Asia Pacific, the final bastions of “zero-Covid” are easing restrictions and opening borders as the region prepares to live with the virus — except for one major holdout.

China, the country where Covid-19 was first detected nearly two years ago, remains determined to eliminate the virus inside its borders, with officials there showing no signs of backing down, Ben Westcott writes.

Despite fully vaccinating more than 75% of its population, China is sticking to its stringent zero-Covid strategy, including closed borders, lengthy quarantine measures for all international arrivals and local lockdowns when an outbreak occurs. On Tuesday, the northwestern city of Lanzhou, with a population of more than 4 million people, went into lockdown after just six new daily Covid-19 cases were reported there. To date, Lanzhou has recorded 68 cases linked to the newest outbreak.

In China’s Asia Pacific neighbors, however, things couldn’t be more different: curfews are being lifted in South Korea and Japan, Thailand has started welcoming more international travellers, and Australia is re-opening its borders to fully vaccinated citizens who have been unable to return home for nearly two years.

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The case for booster shots just got stronger

A new study from Israel has strengthened the case for Covid-19 booster jabs, which are currently being rolled out for older and at-risk groups in the US and several other countries.

Researchers looked at data for more than 1.4 million people in Israel, splitting them into two camps — those who had received a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, and those who hadn’t.

The results were clear: Compared to those who did not receive a third shot, the booster decreased the rate of hospitalization, severe disease and death from Covid-19 by about 80% to over 90%, no matter the person’s gender, number of other underlying medical conditions, or age if over 40 years.



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Southwest disruptions mirror global supply chain issues


Over the long weekend, Southwest Airlines cancelled over 2,000 flights, causing major disruptions to travel plans for thousands of passengers.

Arthur Wheaton, an expert in airline industries at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, says while the problems at Southwest Airlines mirror the supply chain issues facing the globe, they have not handled the situation very well, reducing consumer trust.


Art Wheaton

Arthur Wheaton

Director of Western NY Labor and Environmental Programs for the Worker Institute

“The problems at Southwest Airlines mirror the many supply chain issues facing the globe today. The push for lean production and just in time delivery is not working in a global pandemic and border issues. The drive to reduce costs without redundant backup systems has caused issues with cars, computer chips, toilet paper, gasoline and many other common goods and services.

“Southwest has not handled the situation very well and using excuses to blame inadequate management safeguards reduces consumer trust.

“Hopefully Southwest will work with their unions and employees to the benefit of the customer and profitability. There are customer choices in purchasing plane tickets and the primary concern is getting to and returning from your trip. Once that is repeatedly threatened, customers can select a different airline to reduce anxiety and frustration. That hurts the company and its employees. Quality and service are important in hospitality and travel.”

Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.



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Looking for a rental car? Travel experts offer tips amid skyrocketing prices, low supply


Car rental AVIS parking lot is full since there are no customers during COVID-19 pandemic at JFK airport. (Photo by Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Travel experts say the country is seeing a major car rental shortage as more vaccinated Americans hit the road and rental car companies have trouble keeping up with the demand.

But experts said all isn’t lost for those who haven’t looked or are still searching for a vehicle.

“So the number one piece of advice if you need a rental car this summer is to book early as in book right now,” AutoSlash founder Jonathan Weinberg told FOX Television Stations Tuesday. “Even if you’re not sure what your plans are, basically think about when you might want to go and book something.”

RELATED: Rental car prices on the rise as more people begin to travel again

Weinberg also suggested travelers sign up for rental car companies’ loyalty programs to avoid long lines at the airports. 

AAA Senior Vice President of Travel Paula Twidale said travelers can find cars and avoid high prices by being flexible and booking cars during the non-holiday period and in the middle of the week. She also said travelers should extend car rental reservations to take advantage of cheaper prices.

“Sometimes booking for a week as opposed to a weekend or shorter days… it’s not as expensive,” she told FOX Television Stations Tuesday.

Twidale also said it’s a good idea to look for rental car companies away from the airport that offer cheaper prices.

Both Twidale and Weinberg said rental car companies are still reeling from COVID-19 lockdowns and travel restrictions that went into place last year.

“We’re seeing rates that are anywhere from three to 10 times what they normally are,” Weinberg said. “We’re seeing average rates of over $100 a day in many markets.”

RELATED: Rental car prices surge to record-high prices

According to AutoSlash, prices are already averaging about $100 per day for Memorial Day Weekend in Florida and could rise in the coming weeks. In other areas, prices are already over $100 per day for that weekend, including in Charleston, Denver, New Orleans and Salt Lake City. Weinberg said it’s a sign of what’s to come for the rest of the country as the weather warms up.

Industry experts blame the current shortage on rental car companies selling off much of their inventory last year.

“Because of the pandemic, the car rental companies had nowhere to put all the cars. So what they had to do is they had to get rid of them. They had to sell them,” said Jerry Agrusa, a professor in the School of Travel Industry Management at the University of Hawaii.

According to FOX Business, Hertz listed cars for sale just days before its bankruptcy announcement last year. Hertz filed for bankruptcy protection on May 22, with nearly $19 billion in debt and approximately 700,000 idled vehicles because of the pandemic lockdowns.

To get out of bankruptcy, the company said it may sell a controlling stake in the company to two investment firms for $4.2 billion.

RELATED: European officials finalizing plans to allow US tourists back this summer

Still, Twidale said it’s not easy for rental companies to replenish their inventory because the COVID-19 pandemic also slowed down vehicle and parts production.

Twidale pointed to the lack of semiconductor chips used in newer computerized vehicles. She said the shortage has created a domino effect, making it hard for auto companies to manufacture vehicles and rental car companies to obtain them.

“Therefore the fleets that the rental car companies have are also, sort of, a little bit stalled,” Twidale said.

Meanwhile, some travelers have resorted to unusual means to find transportation during their vacation. 

Some people are turning to car-sharing apps, like Turo, where owners can lend their vehicles to users for a certain amount of time.

RELATED: State Dept. to issue ‘do not travel’ advisories to 80% of countries amid ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

According to FOX 19, many visitors to Hawaii are renting U-Haul trucks. The moving company’s Marketing President Kaleo Alau told the media outlet U-Haul’s facilities are the busiest they’ve been in years.

“The uptick from tourism, the uptick from companies opening back up, from the economy restarting — everybody seems to need a vehicle,” Alau said.

Travel experts believe rental car companies will begin to stabilize in late 2021 or 2022.

“I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Weinberg said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.
 



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Dwindling AstraZeneca supply sends B.C. women on vaccine road trip


Amid dwindling stocks of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and high demand, some British Columbians are going far afield to try and get “the jab.”

“For me it was an enormous weight lifted, I was quite emotional,” Janelle David told Global News.

She and coworker and fellow Masters weightlifter Cat Hambly found themselves on an unexpected spur of the moment road trip to Whistler, Saturday — after striking out on a shot at the shot in Vancouver.

Read more:
‘A massive sigh of relief’: Prince Rupert closer to post-COVID life after mass immunizations

On Friday, news of a walk-in vaccine clinic at Vancouver Community College spread rapidly through word of mouth, attracting large crowds, hundreds of whom were turned away when supply ran out.

Hambly and David returned to the site early Saturday morning hoping to get in early.

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“(We) lined up with hundreds of people, it went around the block twice. And once the clinic opened at 9:30, about an hour later we were notified they were out of doses,” David said.


Click to play video: 'NACI recommends AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for Canadians 30+'







NACI recommends AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for Canadians 30+


NACI recommends AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine for Canadians 30+

Both Hambly and David registered to be vaccinated as soon as eligibility opened for their age group, and both were on multiple waitlists for the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The pair are both competing virtually in upcoming world championships next month and were hoping to get their shot as soon as possible so it didn’t interfere with training.

After being turned away Saturday, they decided to start looking farther afield.

Read more:
West Vancouver mayor quits country club over reported ‘exclusive pop-up’ vaccine clinic

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A friend in Squamish told them there were still bookings available — a tip that turned out to be correct but conflicted with their work schedule. But further up Highway 99, they got lucky with an open slot in Whistler.

That’s where a Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist told them he had bookings available and assured them they were permitted to travel to the community for a shot.

“We assumed it was the same health region, but verified it with him,” David said.

“Like the IKEA ad I said ‘Start the car,’ and we jumped in the car and raced to Whistler in two hours.”


Click to play video: 'Demand for AstraZeneca vaccine spikes in B.C.'







Demand for AstraZeneca vaccine spikes in B.C.


Demand for AstraZeneca vaccine spikes in B.C.

B.C. opened eligibility for the AstraZeneca vaccine to people over the age of 40 on Monday, with people responsible for finding and booking their own shot through a community pharmacy.

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Those bookings filled up fast, with most pharmacies now running long waitlists.

On Thursday, provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province had not received any shipments of the vaccine since the week before and wasn’t sure when it would get more.

“We have very little of it left in the province right now,” she said.

Many have since turned to social media, where accounts like @VaxHuntersCan have been sharing locations that still have supply available.

Hambly chalked the massive demand among the Gen-Xers to the fact that the demographic remains on the front lines of the pandemic.

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“We’re the workers still, right? We’re out there with the public.”

David said working closely with clients every day during the pandemic left her constantly anxious.

“It’s weighed heavily that I could become ill, they could become ill, we could be passing it along,” she said.

Read more:
COVID-19: AstraZeneca vaccine supply dries up in B.C. Interior

With much of B.C.’s remaining supply of the AstraZeneca vaccine now being redirected to clinics in 13 high-transmission communities, the search for available shots is likely to only get tougher.

But the pair say those looking to be vaccinated shouldn’t give up.

“Just be persistent,” Hambly said.

“Just be hungry for it,” David added. “This is a time when we have to take our health into our own hands and do what we need to do.”





© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.





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Australia news live updates: Scott Morrison blames ‘supply problem’ for slow Covid vaccine rollout | Australia news









Australia Post’s submission to the same Senate inquiry clearly indicates it doesn’t resile from the position she stood aside.

It said:


On 22 October 2020, Ms Holgate agreed to stand aside from the role of group chief executive officer & managing director of Australia Post pending the outcome of an investigation by the shareholder departments and any further actions taken by Australia Post. On 2 November 2020, Ms Holgate resigned with immediate effect and advised that she was not seeking any financial compensation from Australia Post.

The submission also quotes the Maddocks review of the incident, which it said contradicts Holgate by finding that:

  • The “former Chair’s position is that he did not” approve the provision of the watches to the watch recipients
  • There was “contradictory evidence as to whether the former Group CEO & Managing Director informed the former Chair that it was her intention to purchase the Cartier watches”.

Australia Post said it considers current chair, Lucio Di Bartolomeo’s, evidence to the Senate “to be accurate” but that is after “incorporating the subsequent clarification provided on 21 December 2020”.

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Former Australia Post chief executive, Christine Holgate, has lodged an explosive submission to the Senate inquiry into her sacking for the decision to award executives Cartier watches as bonuses.

“It is almost five months since the events of October 22nd, 2020, when, for no justified reason, I was humiliated in Parliament and then unlawfully stood down by the Australia Post Chair from a role I was passionately committed to,” the submission begins.

In the submission, Holgate doubles down on her claim she never voluntarily stood down and accuses Australia Post chairman, Lucio Di Bartolomeo, of unlawfully standing her down and alleged “he lied repeatedly to the Australian people and to their parliament about his actions”.

”Time after time he has made statements that I had agreed to stand down when I had done no such thing.”

Holgate said she offered to resign, but alleged Australia Post then leaked the letter to the media, before sending a counter-offer which is “itself confirmation that no agreement had been reached”.

Holgate said the gift of Cartier watches was “legal, within Australia Post’s policies, within my own signing authority limits, approved by the previous chairman, expensed appropriately, signed off by auditors and the CFO, [and] widely celebrated within the organisation”.

Holgate accused Di Bartolomeo of “seriously misleading” evidence to the Senate on 9 November, including about his knowledge of a BCG report into the incident.

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Travel agents and hotel operators have welcomed details of the two way travel bubble with New Zealand, but have warned “there will be very little real benefit” for the sector in the short term.

This is because most of the initial travellers from 19 April are expected to be low-spending tourists visiting family and friends, as Tourism and Transport Forum chief executive, Margy Osmond, told the Guardian.

Accommodation Association of Australia has backed that prediction up, with its chief executive Dean Long reigniting calls for post-jobkeeper wage support for CBD hotels in Melbourne and Sydney that are still reeling from a drop off in international tourism and business travel.

The Association said Sydney is currently the worst performing city market in Australia with revenue declines of 67% and forward booking rates of less than 10% for the next 90 days and that Melbourne is similarly decimated.

Long said:


The opening of the trans-Tasman corridor is a very welcome step in the right direction but the reality is while it’s good news for the travel sector, given most travellers will be catching up with friends and families there’s very little immediate benefit for our tourism sector or our hotels and motels. With the end of jobkeeper and given the massive holes in the market especially in Australia’s international hubs of Sydney and Melbourne, the flow on benefits for our hotels and motels, and the many small businesses who supply them is negligible. There’s no doubt it will be a big kick along for consumer confidence but it doesn’t erase the need for tailored support for our accommodation sector. The reality is it’s great news for our travel sector but not so good for tourism.

Australian Federation of Travel Agents chair Tom Manwaring said many of his members were already seeing “increased interest in booking NZ albeit primarily to visit friends and family”.

Manwaring said:


It’s not a massive increase in business and our sector still desperately needs support but it is a much needed step in the right direction.” However, we urge both the Australian and the New Zealand governments to do all they can to ensure now the corridor is open that it stays open. This is important both in terms of consumer confidence in booking travel and from a workload perspective for travel agents who are still working hard on repatriating the outstanding $4bn still owed to Australians by airlines, hotels and tour operators on Covid-impacted travel and managing re-bookings and cancellations as a result of state restrictions.

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PNG man dies of Covid in Queensland hospital

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Unvaccinated sailors risk deepening global supply chain crisis


The international shipping industry is warning that unvaccinated seafarers threaten to tip the global supply chain into deeper crisis as countries introduce vaccine requirements at their borders.

Of the world’s 1.7m seafarers, 900,000 are from developing nations, where vaccines might not be available for all until 2024, according to the International Chamber of Shipping, a trade association.

Guy Platten, secretary-general of ICS, said it had received reports that three ports in China had prevented sailors from disembarking because they had not received a specific Covid-19 vaccine, foreshadowing a potential repeat of last year’s welfare crisis for seafarers and the challenges to rebooting international travel.

“If our workers can’t pass through international borders, this will undoubtedly cause delays and disruptions in the supply chain,” he said. “We’re really scared seafarers will become collateral damage again.”

Last June, 400,000 sailors, who have kept global trade flowing throughout the pandemic, were stranded on ships beyond their contract because of coronavirus-induced restrictions that prevented them from disembarking. Some have been stuck at sea for as long two years as a result of the pandemic.

The situation had improved but with the emergence of new virus variants at the end of 2020, Platten said it “has undoubtedly got worse” and the number stands at about half of the peak.

Although the risk of sailors catching coronavirus is relatively low, industry executives fear that a patchwork of border requirements for Covid-19 vaccinations will reignite chaos.

The World Health Organization has given emergency approval to some coronavirus vaccines but there are no universally accepted jabs. China, for example, loosened border restrictions this week but only for those that have received a Chinese vaccine, while the UAE has required some seafarers to receive a vaccine not on the WHO’s emergency use list to continue working.

Shipping groups lambasted China for causing difficulties, including banning crew changes. “China is a real issue,” said Stamatis Bourboulis, general manager of Euronav Ship Management, part of a Belgian oil tanker group, adding that it refused entry to a sailor needing medical treatment.

The dilemma for shipping liners is they do not want to risk being denied entry to ports because of unvaccinated crew members yet they have no route to secure shots. Employment contracts often require seafarers to get any known vaccination necessary to enter countries the vessel may enter, according to a legal liability document seen by the Financial Times that will be sent to shipowners on Tuesday.

The potential for further supply chain disruption comes as shipping is stretched to its limit by a virus-driven surge in demand for goods amid limited availability of containers.

Seafarers from developed countries may receive coronavirus jabs in national rollouts but supply chains rely on sailors from the Philippines, Indonesia and India, where vaccination will proceed slowly. The industry is lobbying for seafarers to be prioritised but success is not guaranteed.

Bud Darr, head of government policy at the Mediterranean Shipping Company, said the second-largest container shipping group in the world, had ruled out buying jabs privately but was exploring government partnerships, under which some vaccine supply it pays for is destined for the general public.

Executives believe an industry-led solution is needed. They hope the International Maritime Organisation, a UN body responsible for shipping, will secure jabs through Covax, the World Health Organization-backed facility for low- and middle-income countries. Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine is preferable, as logistics would be easier.

But Vassilios Demetriades, shipping deputy minister of Cyprus, a large flag state that has helped repatriate seafarers during the crisis, pinpoints concerns. “My fear is that toward the second half of the year we will still be in the position of discussing who is responsible for vaccinating seafarers.”



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