Report: US CDC didn’t make most COVID-19 data public

A sign is seen by the entrance of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia on April 23, 2020. (TAMI CHAPPELL / AFP)

BERLIN / LONDON / SOFIA / JOHANNESBURG / GABORONE / MOSCOW / NEW YORK – For more than a year, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has collected data on hospitalizations for COVID-19 across the country and broken it down by age, race and vaccination status, but it has not made most of the information public, The New York Times reported.

When the US CDC published the first significant data on the effectiveness of boosters in adults younger than 65 two weeks ago, it left out the numbers for a huge portion of that population: 18- to 49-year-olds, the group least likely to benefit from extra shots, because the first two doses already left them well-protected, said the report on Sunday

When the CDC published the first significant data on the effectiveness of boosters in adults younger than 65 two weeks ago, it left out the numbers for a huge portion of that population: 18- to 49-year-olds, the group least likely to benefit from extra shots, because the first two doses already left them well-protected, said the report on Sunday.

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The agency recently debuted a dashboard of wastewater data on its website that will be updated daily and might provide early signals of an upcoming surge of COVID-19 cases. Some states and localities had been sharing wastewater information with the agency since the start of the pandemic, but the CDC had never before released those findings.

"Two full years into the pandemic, the agency leading the country's response to the public health emergency has published only a tiny fraction of the data it has collected," the newspaper quoted several people familiar with the data as saying.

"Much of the withheld information could help state and local health officials better target their efforts to bring the virus under control," said the report, noting that detailed, timely data on hospitalizations by age and race would help health officials identify and help the populations at highest risk.

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Information on hospitalizations and deaths by age and vaccination status would have helped inform whether healthy adults needed booster shots, and wastewater surveillance across the nation would spot outbreaks and emerging variants early, it added.

An elderly man receives a dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Francistown, Botswana on March 26, 2021. (MONIRUL BHUIYAN / AFP)

Botswana

Isolation period for COVID-19 positive people will reduce to a minimum of five days from Wednesday, Christopher Nyanga, Botswana's Ministry of Health and Wellness spokesperson, announced the change on Monday.

According to the country's new COVID-19 protocols, self-isolation period for those fully vaccinated and experiencing mild symptoms will be reduced to 5 days. For those who have been partially vaccinated or have not been vaccinated at all but are still asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, the self-isolation period will be 7 days. All those people who test positive for COVID-19 and has moderate to severe symptoms, whether fully vaccinated or not, will be required to isolate for at least 10 days.

The general population will no longer be subjected to contact tracing and quarantining. Health care workers may use their discretion to institute quarantine in exceptional cases, such as congregate settings (prisons, boarding schools) or vulnerable populations (hospitalized patients, old age homes), Nyanga said.

The country in southern Africa has a total of 261,913 confirmed cases, 256,438 recoveries, and 2,608 COVID-19-related deaths.

In this file photo taken on May 14, 2021, Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives an update on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic during a virtual press conference inside the new Downing Street Briefing Room in central London. (MATT DUNHAM / POOL /AFP)

Britain

Britain will remove the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive COVID-19 test from Feb 24, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said free mass COVID-19 testing would end in England from April 1 but would still be available for the most vulnerable 

"We will remove all remaining domestic restrictions in law. From this Thursday, the 24th of February, we will end the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive test," Johnson told parliament.

"Until April 1 we will still advise people who test positive to stay at home. But after that, we will encourage people with COVID-19 symptoms to exercise personal responsibility."

Meanwhile, Johnson said free mass COVID-19 testing would end in England from April 1 but would still be available for the most vulnerable and could be paid for by others who need the tests.

"From April 1, when winter is over and the virus will spread less easily, we will end free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public," Johnson told parliament.

England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty warned on Monday there will be new COVID-19 variants and said some of them could be more resistant to vaccines.

Earlier, Britain said it would end all coronavirus restrictions in England including mandatory self-isolation for people with COVID-19 and free testing, drawing scepticism from some scientists and political opponents.

"We all expect… there to be new variants. And some of those new variants will just disappear," Whitty told a press conference. "But some of them will cause significant problems."

A child receives a dose of the COVID-19 Pfizer/Biontech vaccine for children aged 5-11 in the Sofiamed hospital in Sofia on Dec 22, 2021. (NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV / AFP)

Bulgaria

Bulgaria plans to lift the obligatory COVID-19 "green certificate" for entry to restaurants, shopping malls and other public venues from March 20 as coronavirus infections ease, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said on Monday.

The health pass – a digital or paper certificate showing someone has been vaccinated, tested negative or recently recovered from the virus – was made obligatory for most indoor spaces in Bulgaria last October.

Its introduction has prompted a series of protests in the European Union's least vaccinated member state, angering bar and restaurant owners and anti-vaccine activists. A massive new protest is scheduled for Wednesday. 

The Balkan country of 7 million people has seen a double-digit drop in new coronavirus cases on a weekly basis in the past three weeks. On Monday, it reported 1,235 new daily infections, compared with more than 12,000 new cases registered on Jan 26.

This file photo taken on Nov 17, 2020 shows vials with COVID-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US biotech company Novavax. (JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

EU

The European Commission and the German government said on Monday they expect deliveries of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine Nuvaxovid to begin over the course of this week.

Novavax's recombinant protein vaccine uses a more established technology than mRNA, the novel method behind the two most commonly used COVID-19 vaccines in Germany made by Pfizer /BioNTech and Moderna.

"We assume that over the coming week … vaccinations can begin in the federal states," a spokesperson for the German health ministry told a regular government news conference.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said deliveries were expected to start this week.

The Novavax vaccine was initially planned to be available in January, but has faced regulatory delays 

EU countries have ordered 27 million doses for the first quarter of this year, of a contract for 100 million vaccines and another 100 million optional.

Public health leaders have voiced hopes Novavax's product could convince as-yet unvaccinated people who are sceptical about the novel mRNA technology to get a shot.

Morocco

Morocco has entered the "green zone" and the Omicron wave in the country is nearing its end, as the number of COVID-19 infections in the country continue to fall, Moroccan state news agency MAP reported on Monday.

"The rate of new infections has dropped by 52 percent, and viral circulation has further slowed across the country," Mouad Merabet, the coordinator of the Moroccan Center for Public Health Emergency Operations, was quoted by MAP as saying.

The declining trend was also observed in the number of admissions to intensive care and resuscitation, which reduced by 49.3 percent, and weekly deaths, which decreased by 40 percent, according to the official.

After two months of closure to contain the Omicron variant of COVID-19, the Moroccan government reopened the borders for commercial flights into and out of the country on Feb 7.

On Monday, Morocco's Health Ministry reported 190 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the caseload in the country to 1,159,157.

The number of people died of the pandemic rose to 15,916 on Monday, with 22 fatalities reported during the last 24 hours.

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at a vaccination centre in the GUM, State Department store in Moscow on Jan31, 2022. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP)

Russia

Russia has registered 152,337 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the lowest since Feb. 2, taking the national tally to 15,522,756, the official monitoring and response center said Monday.

The country's national death toll related to COVID-19 grew by 735 to 346,235, while recoveries increased by 127,494 to 12,492,732.

Moscow, Russia's worst-hit region, reported 4,997 new cases, taking its total caseload to 2,669,186.

The number of active cases in Russia rose to 2,683,789, while the COVID-19 mortality rate dropped to 2.23 percent.

Omicron variant infections have been detected in all of Russia's 85 regions.

South Korea

South Africa has changed its COVID-19 vaccination rules in an effort to encourage more people to get jabs, health authorities said on Monday.

Inoculations have slowed and the country – which has recorded more than 98,000 deaths and more than 3.6 million positive COVID-19 in total in the pandemic – has ample vaccine stocks.

The government is shortening the interval between the first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine from 42 to 21 days and will allow people who have received two doses of Pfizer to get a booster dose three months after their second shot as opposed to six months previously.

It will also offer the option of "mixing and matching" booster jabs, with adults who were given one dose of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine being offered either a J&J or Pfizer booster two months after their J&J shot. Adults who received two doses of Pfizer will be allowed J&J as well as Pfizer as a third dose.

"The decision regarding which vaccine to administer as a booster should be guided by vaccine availability," the health department said in a statement.

A woman receives a dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at Discovery vaccination site in Sandton, Johannesburg on Dec 15, 2021. (LUCA SOLA / AFP)

South Africa 

South Africa has recorded the most coronavirus infections and deaths on the African continent.

It has so far fully vaccinated 28 percent of its roughly 60 million population, or 42 percent of its 40 million adults. That is a far greater percentage than many other African countries but well short of government targets.

Its vaccination campaign, using the J&J and Pfizer vaccines, got off to a slow start due to difficulties securing early supplies but more recently it has been dogged by hesitancy.

Also on Monday, a government adviser on COVID-19 treatments shed further light on a recommendation that the state should not buy Merck & Co's pill molnupiravir for now, despite the health regulator authorizing its use. 

Jeremy Nel, head of the infectious diseases division at the University of the Witwatersrand, told Reuters that the National Essential Medicines List Committee had given molnupiravir a "conditional no" on the basis that the cost would be substantial and benefits relatively small.

"It's not a magic bullet that is going to solve COVID," Nel said of molnupiravir.

Pfizer's treatment pill Paxlovid was going to become available and had shown greater efficacy, Nel said. The committee is reviewing evidence on Paxlovid and should come up with a recommendation for government within weeks.

South Africa's decision to steer away from buying molnupiravir comes after France cancelled its order following disappointing trial data. France hopes to get Paxlovid instead.