US launches plan to tackle health crisis of long COVID-19

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on April 5, 2022.
(MANDEL NGAN / AFP)

PARIS / WASHINGTON / MEXICO CITY – US President Joe Biden on Tuesday tasked the US health department with developing a national action plan to tackle the looming health crisis of long COVID-19, a complex, multi-symptom condition that leaves many of its sufferers unable to work.

The plan will expand research, care and disability services for people suffering from the condition, the White House said

Long COVID-19, which arises months after a COVID-19 infection, affects nearly 7 percent of all US adults and 2.3 percent of the overall population and has cost an estimated $386 billion in lost wages, savings and medical bills, according to an analysis by the Solve Long COVID-19 Initiative, a non-profit research and advocacy group.

More than 200 symptoms – many lasting for months – have been associated with the condition, including pain, fatigue, brain fog, breathing difficulty and exhaustion after minimal amounts of physical activity.

The plan will expand research, care and disability services for people suffering from the condition, the White House said. Becerra will release the jointly developed National Research Action Plan within 120 days, Biden said in a presidential memorandum.

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It addresses some concerns raised by patient advocacy groups, which have criticized the slow speed of the National Institutes of Health's $1.15 billion RECOVER research program, and aims to accelerate the enrollment of 40,000 people with and without long COVID-19.

Under the new plan, the Department of Health and Human Services will invest $20 million next year to investigate how healthcare systems can best help those with long COVID-19, mentor primary care practices, and develop multi-specialty clinics across the country.

The plan calls for allocating an additional $25 million to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from Biden's 2023 budget – in addition to the agency's $50 million investment – to better understand and find solutions to characteristics, risk factors, underlying mechanisms, and health impacts of long COVID-19.

Other provisions include adding more long COVID-19 programs to the 18 Department of Veterans Affairs facilities that already offer them.

HHS also will launch a new project, Health+, aimed at gaining insights into the experiences of those living with the often debilitating condition to help inform high-quality care and contribute to standardized best practices at long COVID-19 clinics.

The plan also aims to translate its findings into actionable disability policies with the Social Security Administration, and work with the Department of Labor on helping affected workers who are deciding if they are able to return to their jobs.

Protesters hold French flags as they gather to demonstrate against the health pass and COVID-19 vaccines, on Trocadero plaza in Paris on Jan 15 2022. (GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

France

France reported on Tuesday 203,021 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, as the country prepares for the presidential elections on Sunday.

According to the French public health agency, 23,010 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, with 1,552 in intensive care. The agency also reported on Tuesday 140 additional COVID-19-related deaths in hospitals.

According to the French public health agency, 23,010 COVID-19 patients are currently hospitalized, with 1,552 in intensive care. The agency also reported on Tuesday 140 additional COVID-19-related deaths in hospitals

The application CovidTracker reported an increase in infections of 18.2 percent in one week, with an average of 139,967 new daily cases reported between March 25 and 31.

The application also reported an 8 percent increase in the number of hospitalizations between March 25 and 31, with an increase of 3.6 percent in intensive care admissions. Meanwhile, the number of daily deaths increased by 5.8 percent.

According to the public health agency, 80.9 percent of the French population has received at least one vaccine dose, and 79.5 percent has been fully vaccinated.

France has lifted all COVID-19 restrictions. However, Morgane Bomsel, research director of the French National Center for Scientific Research, told French daily news BFMTV that "the pandemic is not over."

In the run-up to the presidential elections, the French Interior Ministry last week laid out health protocol for polling stations.

The vaccine pass or a negative COVID-19 test result will not be required to enter. However, while the wearing of masks and social distancing will not be mandatory, masks are recommended for the elderly, vulnerable, and those who have tested positive for COVID-19.

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Canada

An official Canadian panel has provided initial recommendations on the use of a second COVID-19 vaccine booster dose for some Canadians as infections rise in many parts of the country, Health Canada said on Tuesday.

The National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended Canadian jurisdictions to prepare for the deployment of a second vaccine booster dose program over the coming weeks prioritizing people 80 years old and over and residents of long-term care.

The jurisdictions may also consider offering a second booster dose to people aged 70-79 years living in the community, NACI said.

A young man receives the Nuvaxovid vaccine against COVID-19 coronavirus, at the CIZ Tegel vaccination center in Berlin, on Feb 28, 2022. (TOBIAS SCHWARZ / AFP)

Germany

Germany will not end mandatory quarantine for most people who catch COVID-19 after all, the health minister said on Wednesday, reversing course after concerns were raised that lifting quarantine restrictions would drive even higher infections.

"Coronavirus is not a cold. That is why there must continue to be isolation after an infection," Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said on Twitter, adding he had made a mistake by suggesting an end to mandatory quarantine.

Under the existing rules, people with COVID-19 must quarantine for at least seven days. Lauterbach suggested last week a shift to a voluntary five days of self-isolation with the recommendation of a COVID-19 test at the end of that period.

The idea of ending quarantine, except for medical staff, had emerged after COVID-19 cases soared in recent weeks, hitting staffing in hospitals and many other workplaces.

Daily infections have fallen in the last week or so, with 214,985 new infections reported on Wednesday, about 20 percent fewer than a week ago. That took total cases since the pandemic began beyond 22 million, with 130,708 deaths.

Germany has been discussing making vaccinations mandatory although support for the idea has waned as the Omicron variant has led to fewer cases of severe illness, with only those over 60 likely to be compelled to get a shot from October.

A pedestrian wearing a face mask to protect against coronavirus walks in front of a mural, at a metro station in Athens, Greece on Nov 15, 2021. (THANASSIS STAVRAKIS / FILE / AP)

Greece

Greece will offer a second COVID-19 booster dose for people aged 60 and above, at least four months after the previous shot, Greek health officials said on Tuesday.

"The relative platform will open on April 7th ," Marios Themistocleous, Greek health ministry's secretary general in charge of vaccinations told a televised briefing.

Another health ministry official said that the decision to offer a fourth round of mRNA shot came as infections in the country were still high and the booster dose has shown it was effective in preventing COVID-related deaths.Health authorities reported 18,988 COVID-19 cases and 70 related deaths on Tuesday, bringing the country's total number of infections to 3.11 million. Some 27,816 have so far died from the COVID-19 disease.

Out of a general population of 11 million, some 72 percent are fully vaccinated.

Mexico

Mexico has seen 10 weeks of continuous decline in COVID-19 cases as the fourth wave of the pandemic subsides, Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion Hugo Lopez-Gatell said Tuesday.

It is clear "the trend is holding," he said, adding it is expected to "continue and eventually lead to the lowest (viral) activity level since the beginning of the pandemic."

Currently only 0.1 percent of cases are considered to be active, with the mortality rate 98 percent lower than when cases peaked during the second wave of the pandemic at the beginning of 2021, said the official.

Hospital bed occupancy is also 98 percent lower than at the peak, according to official data.

According to Lopez-Gatell, the third and fourth waves of the pandemic were smaller compared to the first two, thanks to the country's vaccination campaign, which has immunized 85.6 million people.

The country registered 5,666,921 COVID-19 cases and 323,235 deaths from the disease as of Monday.