Swiss urge caution as COVID cases again top 9,000

ZURICH/GENEVA (Reuters) – Coronavirus infections rose by 9,207 and hospitalisations by 279, data here from Swiss health authorities showed on Friday, as the country’s health care and contract tracing systems struggled to manage a second wave of COVID-19 cases.

FILE PHOTO: A poster reading “How we protect ourselves. Stop Corona. Meet less people as possible” is pictured in front of the Bundeshaus, the Swiss Parliament building, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Bern, Switzerland October 28, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

Switzerland has one of the highest infection rates in Europe, prompting Berne to introduce new nation-wide measures aimed at slowing transmission. But critics say measures do not go far enough, and have called for a lockdown, with infectious disease expert Jacques Fellay on Thursday urging Swiss citizens to cut their contacts in half.

Officials on Friday said the number of new cases was likely an underestimate given the high positivity rate and signs that the testing system is stretched.

The head of Switzerland’s scientific task force for COVID-19, Martin Ackermann, warned that hospital capacity would be exceeded before the effects of the new measures could be fully felt, given the incubation period of the virus.

“We should expect the capacity of our hospitals to be exceeded,” he told journalists, calling the risk “very considerable”. icumonitoring.ch

Under Switzerland’s federal system, some cantons have introduced measures more strict than national ones, such as limiting private gatherings to five.

The western canton of Jura also called in army support to relieve hospitals, after sending its first patient to a neighbouring canton for lack of intensive care facilities.

However, Ackermann warned that even mobilising the army on a national level–as occurred in the first wave–would have limited effect.

“You have seen the curve and if it continues, any increase in capacity will be exhausted within a few hours,” he said.

Officials urged discipline, asking families to refrain from trick-or-treating over Halloween.

“The numbers need to come down. It’s our only chance,” said Linda Nartey, cantonal doctor in Berne.

The total confirmed cases in Switzerland and tiny neighbouring principality Liechtenstein increased to 154,251, as the death toll rose by 52 to 2,037.

Reporting by Emma Farge, Thomas Seythal and Michael Shields; editing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi

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Activists urge ‘Big Pharma’ to be transparent on COVID-19 vaccine costs

By Stephanie Nebehay



FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a "Vaccine COVID-19" sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration


© Reuters/Dado Ruvic
FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a small bottle labeled with a “Vaccine COVID-19” sticker and a medical syringe in this illustration

GENEVA (Reuters) – Activists called on pharmaceutical companies on Thursday to be transparent about the costs and terms of providing COVID-19 vaccines, saying they must be available and affordable for all.

French drugmaker Sanofi and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline said on Wednesday they would supply 200 million doses of their COVID-19 candidate vaccine to the global COVAX vaccine facility backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the GAVI vaccine alliance.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) demanded the two companies provide details around price, supply and distribution of any vaccine proven safe and effective.

“Pharmaceutical corporations Sanofi and GSK must sell their vaccines at-cost and open their books to show the public exactly how much it costs to make the vaccine,” said Kate Elder, senior vaccines policy adviser at MSF’s Access Campaign.

“There is no room for secrets during a pandemic and past experience tells us that we can’t take pharma at their word without data to back up their claims,” she said in a statement.

Sanofi and GSK could not immediately be reached for comment.

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No company has shared information on research and development, clinical trials or manufacturing costs of potential COVID-19 vaccines, MSF said, adding this was vital for the public to assess prices set.

More than half of the expected volume of doses of leading candidate vaccines has been bought up by 13% of the world, mainly high-income countries, the medical charity said.

Human Rights Watch, in a separate report, said governments funding vaccines with public money should be transparent about terms and conditions attached.

The New York-based group urged states to back a proposal by India and South Africa to wave some aspects of intellectual property (IP) rules on patents to enable large-scale manufacturing and affordability.

A temporary IP waiver was debated this month in the World Trade Organization (WTO), but was opposed by the United States, European Union, Britain, Switzerland and others.

“Since the beginning of the pandemic our priority has been to ensure that all people enjoy the fruits of science … In these difficult times the best health technologies and discoveries cannot be reserved only for a few, they must be available to all,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a UNESCO event on “Open Science” on Tuesday.

“Sharing data and information that is often kept secret or protected by intellectual property could significantly advance the speed at which technologies are developed,” Tedros added.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Potter)

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Doctors urge flu shots in light of COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know.

Health experts have urged Americans to get their flu shots this year to help ward off a “twindemic.”

“There’s considerable concern as we enter the fall and the winter months and into the flu season that we’ll have that dreaded overlap” of COVID-19 and the flu, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said earlier this month. 

The U.S. is battling a fresh surge of new coronavirus cases as winter approaches, and hospitals in some western and Midwestern states are filling up with COVID patients. The new rise follows an outbreak of COVID-19 cases that hit the Northeast hard earlier this year, followed by a rise in cases in the South over the summer. 

“We far surpassed what we’re used to with the flu with COVID this spring,” said Dr. Stephanie Sterling, chief of infectious disease at NYU Langone Hospital–Brooklyn, in New York. “And to consider COVID plus flu together, this kind of pandemic would be devastating for communities and for healthcare systems.” 

She said we need to do everything we can to prevent the flu. 

“We don’t want a bad influenza season coinciding with a second wave of COVID,” Sterling said. “Flu shots are safe. They do help prevent illness.”

Why is getting a flu shot so important this year? 

“One is to prevent flu illnesses and it’s complications, but the benefit in this current season are resources that would otherwise be needed to care for patients with the flu that would become scarce, could be directed toward the pandemic,” said Dr. Ram Koppaka, a medical officer for the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

The CDC estimates that last flu season, there were 38 million flu illnesses, 400,000 flu hospitalizations and 22,000 flu deaths. Koppaka said there were also 188 pediatric deaths from influenza. 

An estimated 48% of U.S. adults and 64% of children received a flu vaccine during the same season. Koppaka said the number of flu vaccinations had been increasing prior to COVID-19, but there was still a need for improvement. 

Sterling said that despite communities having a good amount of flu vaccinations, emergency rooms and hospital beds are often overwhelmed during a normal flu season.

This could be a great concern for hospitals in rural areas. Many rural hospitals have limited beds and ventilators, and rural Americans may be at higher risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19 due to a range of factors, according to the CDC.

Additionally, the body does not do well fighting two infections at the same time, according to Dr. Jacqueline P. Cooke, a hospitalist at Jefferson Health in New Jersey. 

“The danger with COVID-19 is that the viral infection leads to overwhelming pneumonia and that type of viral pneumonia is what is causing the vast majority of people to need respiratory assistance and ventilation,” she said. 

Who should get a flu shot?

The CDC encourages people six months of age and older to get an annual flu shot. There are different types of vaccines that

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Idaho’s coronavirus cases spike again, doctors urge action

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho is seeing its largest coronavirus spike since the pandemic began, with new cases increasing by 46.5% percent over the past two weeks. That trend has some health care experts urging Gov. Brad Little to take additional action to slow the spread.

“As a health system, we’re all very concerned,” said Dr. Bart Hill, the vice president and chief quality officer of St. Luke’s Health System, the largest health system in the state. “It’s indicative of anticipating we’re going to see more hospitalizations affecting an older population in the next two, three, four weeks.”

Idaho is currently sixth in the nation for new cases per capita, with a positivity rate of just over 15% — one of the highest in the nation. Still, Little has declined to take additional statewide steps like requiring masks to slow the virus.

“Idaho is an expansive state, and communities and their needs vary greatly across the state,” Little’s spokeswoman, Marissa Morrison, wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Governor Little remains committed to working closely with public health districts and mayors, and he supports the decisions of local officials in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in communities experiencing high virus activity.”

Little has repeatedly said that the responsibility to slow the coronavirus falls on individuals, urging people to wear masks, practice social distancing and practice good hygiene.


“Our personal actions work better to slow the spread of coronavirus than anything else,” Little said Thursday when he announced Idaho would remain in Stage 4 of his reopening plan for the 18th week in a row. “This is about personal responsibility, something Idaho is all about.”

A significant portion of Idaho residents, however, don’t seem to be taking Little’s message to heart. Photos of a volleyball game in the southern Idaho town of Twin Falls area posted to social media on Monday showed mask-less people sitting hip-to-hip in a packed school gym. St. Luke’s hospitals in the region, meanwhile, are now postponing elective surgeries to ensure there is room for an expected influx of COVID-19 patients in the coming days.

Hill said health care providers knew that the pandemic would ebb and flow over time, and the temporary statewide shutdown that Little ordered back in March gave medical facilities time to prepare for spikes like the one Idaho is currently experiencing. St. Luke’s Health System still has adequate capacity for now, he said.

“I know (St. Luke’s) leadership is having conversations with the governor today and tomorrow expressing our concerns that doing the same of what we have been doing is not likely to change our trajectory,” he said. “The direction we’re heading is one that it looks real problematic.”

Hill said he’s not advocating steps that would hurt the economy, but rather targeted interventions like information campaigns aimed at teens and young adults who are more likely to spread the virus to older and more at-risk Idahoans. Hill also said the state needs to improve testing capacity so

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Idaho’s Coronavirus Cases Spike Again, Doctors Urge Action | Idaho News

By REBECCA BOONE, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho is seeing its largest coronavirus spike since the pandemic began, with new cases increasing by 46.5% percent over the past two weeks. That trend has some health care experts urging Gov. Brad Little to take additional action to slow the spread.

“As a health system, we’re all very concerned,” said Dr. Bart Hill, the vice president and chief quality officer of St. Luke’s Health System, the largest health system in the state. “It’s indicative of anticipating we’re going to see more hospitalizations affecting an older population in the next two, three, four weeks.”

Idaho is currently sixth in the nation for new cases per capita, with a positivity rate of just over 15% — one of the highest in the nation. Still, Little has declined to take additional statewide steps like requiring masks to slow the virus.

“Idaho is an expansive state, and communities and their needs vary greatly across the state,” Little’s spokeswoman, Marissa Morrison, wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday. “Governor Little remains committed to working closely with public health districts and mayors, and he supports the decisions of local officials in slowing the spread of COVID-19 in communities experiencing high virus activity.”

Little has repeatedly said that the responsibility to slow the coronavirus falls on individuals, urging people to wear masks, practice social distancing and practice good hygiene.

“Our personal actions work better to slow the spread of coronavirus than anything else,” Little said Thursday when he announced Idaho would remain in Stage 4 of his reopening plan for the 18th week in a row. “This is about personal responsibility, something Idaho is all about.”

A significant portion of Idaho residents, however, don’t seem to be taking Little’s message to heart. Photos of a volleyball game in the southern Idaho town of Twin Falls area posted to social media on Monday showed mask-less people sitting hip-to-hip in a packed school gym. St. Luke’s hospitals in the region, meanwhile, are now postponing elective surgeries to ensure there is room for an expected influx of COVID-19 patients in the coming days.

Hill said health care providers knew that the pandemic would ebb and flow over time, and the temporary statewide shutdown that Little ordered back in March gave medical facilities time to prepare for spikes like the one Idaho is currently experiencing. St. Luke’s Health System still has adequate capacity for now, he said.

“I know (St. Luke’s) leadership is having conversations with the governor today and tomorrow expressing our concerns that doing the same of what we have been doing is not likely to change our trajectory,” he said. “The direction we’re heading is one that it looks real problematic.”

Hill said he’s not advocating steps that would hurt the economy, but rather targeted interventions like information campaigns aimed at teens and young adults who are more likely to spread the virus to older and more at-risk Idahoans. Hill also said the state needs

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Senators urge Pentagon to suspend implementation of Army’s new fitness test

“We have considerable concerns regarding the negative impact [the test] may already be having on so many careers,” they said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. “It is imperative that we pause implementation until all questions and concerns are answered. Soldiers’ careers depend on it and the continued lethality of our force requires it.”

The senators asked the committee leaders to ensure a measure that would suspend rollout of the test until an independent study can be conducted is included in the final version of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, an annual defense bill. The provision appeared in the Senate-passed version of the bill, but not in the House version.

Lawmakers are expected to convene to reconcile the two versions of the bill after the Nov. 3 presidential election.

The test has become a charged issue within the Army as it pits the service’s effort to establish gender-blind standards and improve soldier readiness against fears it could pose an additional challenge to retaining skilled troops and compound obstacles faced by underrepresented populations within the force. Critics say it could have a disproportionate impact on women, who make up 15 percent of the Army but occupy few leadership positions.

Army data shows that, 18 months after small cohorts of soldiers started taking the test on a provisional basis, women continue to fail at dramatically higher rates than men. In the second quarter of 2020, 54 percent of women failed the test, compared to 7 percent of men.

The stark gender gap comes as Pentagon leaders express an urgent desire to rectify the military’s legacy of racial and gender inequity, issues that have long dogged the force but were given new prominence when race-related unrest gripped the nation this summer.

The test consists of six events, including a dead lift, weighted ball throw and, most problematically for women who have taken it to date, a “leg tuck,” which requires soldiers to lift themselves up from a pullup bar using their arm, core and leg muscles.

The test has different requirements for different career fields, but critics say that even the least demanding standards could remain out of reach for some. They also say consistently lower scores for female soldiers, who are typically lighter than men and thus must lift weights that are heavier relative to their body weight, could hold women back.

While Army leaders have said the test won’t impact evaluations until as early as 2022, it is expected to eventually affect enlisted personnel’s promotion potential and officers’ careers.

Army officials say the test is a product of years of research and is designed to better prepare troops for conditions they would encounter in combat. It places a higher emphasis on muscular strength than the previous Army fitness test, which was adjusted for age and gender and included pushups, pullups and a two-mile run.

Officials have also said troops can do an alternate to the leg tuck, a two-minute plank, while the test

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