Holidays have been made a fair bit cheaper just in time for half-term, with PCR tests scrapped for fully vaccinated passengers arriving in England.
It’s the latest change to the UK government’s travel rules, aimed at making trips easier and more accessible.
What’s the latest?
The latest change concerns testing and ties into recent tweaks to the traffic light system.
The old traffic light system of red, amber and green countries has been replaced with just a red list and a “rest of the world category”.
People who are fully vaccinated will not need to take a pre-departure test before they arrive back in England from anywhere in the “rest of the world” category.
From 24 October, the PCR test taken on the second day after arrival is replaced with a cheaper lateral flow.
Grant Shapps said of the changes: “With half-term and winter sun around the corner, we’re making it easier for families and loved ones to reunite, by significantly cutting the number of destinations on the red list, thanks in part to the increased vaccination efforts around the globe.”
The transport secretary added that they were designed to “restore people’s confidence” and “rebuild our economy”.
Which countries are on the red list?
As of 4am on Monday, 11 October, only seven countries remain on the red list. They are:
Residents who are fully vaccinated no longer need to take a pre-departure lateral flow test before they return to England from a non-red list country.
They will still need to take a lateral flow test, purchased from one of the private providers listed on the gov.uk website, on the second day they are back.
The government has confirmed people will be able to take pictures of their negative lateral flow results and booking reference to prove they have not contracted COVID.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid previously told Sky’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday: “The cost that generates for families, particularly families just trying to go out and holiday, you know we shouldn’t be keeping anything like that in place for a second longer than is absolutely necessary.”
Those who are unvaccinated still need to take a pre-departure test before travelling back to England, and still have to purchase a PCR for their day-two test.
A 10-day home quarantine is also still mandatory for people who are unvaccinated – regardless of where they have travelled from.
They can pay for a PCR test on day five if they want to end their quarantine early as part of the government’s Test to Release scheme.
From 11 October, the government increased the number of countries whose vaccination programmes it recognises.
Fully-vaccinated arrivals from 37 new countries, including Brazil, Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, South Africa and Turkey, will be treated the same as double-jabbed Britons.
This means they will not have to quarantine or take a day five PCR test – just a test on day two.
What happens if you come back from a red list country?
Anyone returning from a red list country is still required to pay £2,285 to quarantine for 11 nights at a government-approved hotel.
What happens if a traveller tests positive when returning to the UK?
Anyone who tests positive needs to isolate and take a free confirmatory PCR test.
This would then be genomically sequenced to help identify new variants.
Will the new rules apply to the whole of the UK?
The travel changes only apply to England.
Wales has announced that it plans to make the same changes from 31 October, while Scotland and Northern Ireland have indicated that they could do so at a later date.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on 28 September that she would make the changes “with some reluctance”, but added: “We have also considered the practical consequences of not having an aligned position.
“In particular, we have to be realistic about the fact that people living in Scotland could decide to return here via airports based in England, if different rules are in place for Scottish airports.
“The result of this would be a disadvantage to our aviation and travel sector, but without any significant public health advantage.”
Are the rules the same for leaving the UK and returning from other countries?
The rules only apply to those flying back to the UK.
Towards the end of October, passengers who change flights or international trains during their journey will be able to follow the measures associated with the country they originally departed from, rather than the countries they have been through as part of their journey.
However, a date for this has not yet been confirmed.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson said the Blenheim case flew from Rotorua to Blenheim on October 21, and had sought a test upon arrival due to a sore throat.
Consequently, Flight NZ8231 Rotorua to Wellington at 7am, and Flight NZ8725 Wellington to Blenheim at 9am, and Wellington Airport on Thursday, October 21, from 8.15am to 9am, were listed as locations of interest.
The ministry said initial interviews suggested the person is likely linked to the Te Awamutu cluster and has a small number of close contacts in Waikato.
The contacts have been contacted and are isolating with Covid tests arranged.
In August 1804, a shopkeeper named Santo entered the gates of Gibraltar, unaware that a pernicious virus was coursing through his blood. He had taken a trip to neighboring Spain, where, it seems, his skin was pricked by a mosquito carrying yellow fever. Within a day of his return, Santo had fallen ill—the first documented victim in Gibraltar of a disease that would wreak havoc on the Mediterranean fortress town during the early years of the 19th century.
Over the course of just four months in 1804, yellow fever claimed the lives of more than 2,200 people in Gibraltar, an estimated quarter of the permanent residents and military personnel who lived within the fortress. This epidemic was followed by four others, fueling repeated bouts of fear and despair. Time and again, residents watched as their loved ones and neighbors succumbed to an illness that, in its severest forms, causes an alarming litany of symptoms: jaundice—a yellowing of the skin and eyes that gives the virus its name; black vomit; bleeding from the eyes, nose and mouth. Health officials tried to stamp out the disease but didn’t understand how yellow fever was transmitted. It was only at the turn of the 20th century that the Aedes aegypti mosquito was revealed to be a vector of yellow fever, silently transmitting the virus as it flits from person to person, sucking up its meals.
But authorities were quick to recognize one important truth: People who contract yellow fever and survive are not vulnerable to subsequent infections. Today, this concept is known as immunity; in the 19th century, the term “non-liability” was used. By Gibraltar’s fifth epidemic in 1828, an innovative measure had been put in place to accommodate those with protection against yellow fever. Survivors were granted “fever passes” that certified their non-liability, allowing them increased freedom of movement at a time when a substantial portion of the population was being held under strict quarantine.
This concept resonates today, as countries wade through the Covid-19 pandemic and grapple with the challenges of easing lockdown restrictions while the virus continues to mutate, infect and spread. As part of their reopening plans, some governments and businesses have mandated “vaccine passports”—documents, either digital or paper, that prove vaccination status—to ensure that only those with a high degree of protection against Covid-19 are able to cross borders and access certain public spaces, like restaurants, movie theaters and concert venues.
Documents testifying to an individual’s good health have long been deployed during times of rampant sickness. As far back as the 15th century, travelers could carry “health passes” certifying that they came from a location free of the plague. According to a recent paper published in the journal BMJ Global Health, however, the earliest evidence of passports showing that the holder is immune to a disease comes from Gibraltar 200 years ago.
“Having this passport gave you the freedom … to be able to do something that was almost normal, and that is to move about somewhat freely,” says study co-author Larry Sawchuk, an anthropologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough whose research focuses on the population health of Gibraltar and the Maltese Islands.
Located at the southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula, Gibraltar is a small strip of land dominated by a soaring promontory—the famed Rock of Gibraltar. For hundreds of years, this slip of a territory was coveted by diverse nations for its strategic location next to the Strait of Gibraltar, the only route into the Mediterranean via the Atlantic Ocean. Gibraltar was occupied by the Moors in the eighth century C.E.; captured by Spanish forces in 1462; and taken by the British in 1704, during the War of the Spanish Succession.
When yellow fever first struck in the early 1800s, “the Rock,” as Gibraltar is known colloquially, was a closely guarded garrison town under the absolute authority of a British military governor. Residents lived within the walls of an imposing fortress that had been built, modified, damaged and repaired over centuries of tumultuous history. Police surveilled the population, and the gates of the town were constantly guarded by soldiers. Permits were required to leave and enter these gates, which opened at daybreak and closed at dusk.
“Under that sort of system, the citizen had absolutely no rights,” says study co-author Lianne Tripp, an anthropologist at the University of Northern British Columbia who studies health and disease in the Mediterranean in the 19th and 20th centuries. “They had to do whatever was needed to be done to serve the fortress.”
In spite of the restrictive nature of life on the Rock, Gibraltar was an important trade hub and a pulsing, crowded, cosmopolitan town. People from Italy, Spain, Morocco, England and other diverse locations flocked to Gibraltar, drawn in by its free port and the promise of year-round employment that couldn’t be found in the nearby south of Spain, where jobs tended to be seasonal.
The virus that would come to plague the fortress likely originated in the rainforests of Africa, making its way to the Western Hemisphere via ships carrying enslaved people in the 17th century. Yellow fever eventually spread to Europe, possibly hitching a ride on trade ships coming from the Americas. A 1730 epidemic in Cadiz, Spain, killed 2,200 people and was followed by outbreaks in French and British ports. Yellow fever may have been introduced to Gibraltar in 1804 by someone coming from Spain—Santo, perhaps, or another traveler who escaped the notice of medical authorities. When it breached the walls of the fortress, the virus found a perfect storm of conditions that allowed it to proliferate to devastating effect.
The colony was, for one, notoriously overcrowded. Its residents, many of them impoverished, packed into the fortress, living in “patios,” or multi-tenant buildings that shared an open common area. “You’d have a room with ten people in it, and they would sleep in that room, and they were separated by about two inches,” says Sawchuk. For Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which do not fly particularly long distances, these dense urban conditions served up an easy smorgasbord of human hosts. Late summer heat and humidity also provided ideal temperatures for the insects to thrive, and an ample supply of standing water offered plenty of breeding grounds; no springs or rivers run through Gibraltar, so residents relied on rainfall for drinking water, which they collected in buckets and jugs.
Most people in Gibraltar had no previous exposure to yellow fever and thus no immunity against it. The virus usually causes mild flu-like symptoms, but some patients who seem to recover enter a toxic second phase that kills up to 50 percent of patients. In Gibraltar, the dead piled up so quickly that coffins could be produced fast enough for only one out of every four bodies. Corpses were heaped onto carts that trundled through the town, a haunting reminder to the living that they were surrounded by death. But the carts couldn’t keep up. One journal from the period records a young woman “throwing her dead father out of the chamber window,” perhaps knowing that his body would likely not be collected anytime soon.
The epidemic slowed its fatal march through Gibraltar once cold weather set in and yellow fever’s bloodsucking vectors died off. Local authorities who had been blindsided by the virus established a Board of Public Health and were ready to act when a smaller series of epidemics broke out in 1810, 1813 and 1814.
One significant measure involved the creation of a quarantine encampment on the isthmus between Gibraltar and Spain, an area known as the Neutral Ground. The site was established in 1810, quickly and secretly. In the dead of night, authorities rapped on the doors of households affected by yellow fever and forcibly escorted the sick to the Neutral Ground. They stayed there, sequestered in tents and monitored by guards, until the epidemic had waned.
Later, in 1814, a cohort of civilian volunteers was enlisted to keep track of the population’s health. Every day, the volunteers went door-to-door within the fortress, making note of residents who were sick and those who remained vulnerable to the virus. These observers recorded overcrowding and uncleanliness and doused homes that were affected by yellow fever with lime and hot water.
Some of these protocols were quite innovative. Tripp notes, for example, that the practice of conducting door-to-door surveys during public health crises is typically associated with John Snow, a physician who mapped out cholera cases in London in the mid-1850s, nearly three decades after Gibraltar’s last yellow fever epidemic. Still, authorities on the Rock were basing their management strategies on two incorrect theories of yellow fever transmission: They believed the disease spread directly from person to person or that it dispersed through foul air emanating from rotting filth. It is largely coincidental that, after the first epidemic in 1804, Gibraltar managed to avoid a second severe epidemic for nearly 25 years. Factors like ample rainfall, which was used to cool feverish bodies, may have done more to temper yellow fever deaths than quarantines or sanitization efforts, according to Sawchuk.
Despite officials’ best efforts, yellow fever returned to the fortress in fall 1828 with a virulence that recalled the first epidemic, ultimately killing more than 1,600 people. As the crisis raged, health officials decided to tweak one of their key management protocols. Instead of quarantining the sick in the Neutral Ground, they ordered all those who had not been infected by the virus to immediately relocate to the encampment, along with the rest of their households.
Scholars cannot definitively say why this change in policy was made, but it required a “formidable” level of contact tracing, write Sawchuk and Tripp in their paper. Authorities relied on meticulous house-to-house surveys to identify and segregate people lacking immunity from those who had survived past epidemics. The measure was likely life-saving for reasons that officials wouldn’t have understood. Unlike the densely concentrated town, the Neutral Ground wasn’t filled with barrels of standing water where mosquitoes could breed. Windy weather on the isthmus also kept the insects away.
Not all of the 4,000 people relocated to the encampment needed this protection. Some had survived previous epidemics but were carted off to the Neutral Ground because they lived in the same household as an individual who had never been sick. The Neutral Ground wasn’t a particularly pleasant place to be: “You’re living in a tent or a shed,” Sawchuk says. “There’s no escaping everybody looking at you, hearing exactly what you’re saying. For four months … that would drive me a little crazy.” Life in the encampment would have been terribly dull, he adds. Those quarantined at the site were kept from their jobs, their friends, the bustle of the town—until authorities began issuing passes that allowed yellow fever survivors to travel in and out of the encampment and even reside in the town.
Only two such fever passes are known to survive today. Housed in the Gibraltar National Museum, they are printed on small squares of yellowing paper, with blank spaces for a physician to fill out the patient’s name, age and religious affiliation. The documents belonged to a pair of teenagers, Juan and Anna; their last name is difficult to decipher, but they were likely siblings. Juan was 17 and Anna was 14 at the time of Gibraltar’s last yellow fever outbreak. A physician’s signature certified that each had “passed the present Epidemic Fever.”
Experts don’t know how many fever passes were issued in 1828, but the fact that the documents were standardized and printed suggests there were “a good number of them,” says Tripp. The relief that came with obtaining one of these passes, particularly considering that residents were not afforded the luxury of quarantining in their own homes, must have been palpable. “[Fever passes] gave you the freedom to escape the monotony of living in this encampment,” Sawchuk says.
Modern vaccine passports are a comparable measure intended to ease restrictions for those with protection against Covid-19. But the case study of Gibraltar does not provide easy answers to the thorny questions raised by the vaccine passport system. After all, 19th-century Gibraltar was clearly not a free state. Even prior to its spate of epidemics, citizens’ movement was controlled through permits required to enter and leave the fortress. Fever passes may very well have seemed like business as usual to residents of the garrison town.
Today, by contrast, vaccine passports have caused considerable hand-wringing among ethicists, policy makers and citizens. Proponents argue that the documents allow individuals to safely return to gathering indoors, which comes with numerous benefits, like reuniting families and reviving the global economy. But good-faith critics have voiced concerns that the passports violate civil liberties and open the door for “chilling” invasions of privacy and surveillance.
Another fear is that vaccine passports worsen existing inequalities both within countries and on a global level. Requiring such documents for international travel “restrict[s] the freedom of people in low- and middle-income countries most because they have the least vaccine access,” says Nancy S. Jecker, an expert on bioethics and humanities at the University of Washington who authored a recent paper on vaccine passports and health disparities. She adds that domestic vaccine passports are also problematic because they have “unfair and disproportionate effects” on segments of the population that do not always have equal access to Covid vaccines, like low-income groups and racial and ethnic minorities.
Jecker does not broadly oppose the idea of a health pass; for domestic travel, she supports a “flexible” system that allows people to show proof of vaccination, past Covid infection or a recent negative test. “There’s a lot of emphasis in my field [on] this notion of respect for individual autonomy,” she says. “And it’s really not the value we need right now as a standalone. We need to balance it against other values like public health.”
Officials in 19th-century Gibraltar wouldn’t have been particularly concerned about striking this balance, and both Sawchuk and Tripp acknowledge that the colony is an imperfect model for contemporary pandemic management strategies. “It was a different time,” Sawchuk says, “a different disease.” But the researchers believe it is important to reflect on Gibraltar’s historic epidemics, which show that key experiences during times of public health crises are repeated across the centuries.
“Many of the fundamental mitigation strategies that we put in place have been around for hundreds of years,” says Tripp, citing the examples of quarantines and health passports. “The idea of immunity has been around even before we understood how diseases were transmitted. So when we talk about unprecedented times, [today] really isn’t that unprecedented.”
The World Health Organization on Thursday urged countries to do more to protect health care workers, saying that they are increasingly plagued by anxiety, burnout, illness and death on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The agency estimates that 115,500 health care workers around the world died of Covid-19 between January 2020 and May 2021, the middle scenario of its broader estimate of 80,000 to 180,000 deaths during that period.
Speaking at a W.H.O. briefing on Thursday, Annette Kennedy, the president of the International Council of Nurses, said that the world had entered the pandemic with a shortage of nurses and that the problem was only being worsened by the stresses of the pandemic.
“There is another crisis coming down the tracks,” she said, “and that is a shortage of health care workers.”
To combat the problem, the W.H.O. called on governments to strengthen their collection of data on Covid infections and deaths among health care workers and to accelerate the vaccination of those workers.
On average, two in five health care workers had been fully vaccinated by September, according to W.H.O. data from 119 countries, but that included less than one in 10 of health care workers in Africa and the western Pacific region. By contrast, 80 percent of health care workers in 22 mostly high-income countries had been vaccinated.
Ms. Kennedy noted a major problem that women face when working in health care settings: personal protective equipment designed by men. “And yet,” she noted, “90 percent of nurses are women. Seventy percent of all health care workers are women.”
W.H.O. leaders also highlighted inequality in the global distribution of vaccines and called on wealthy nations to lead the charge in addressing the issue.
The agency’s director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said it had been more than 10 months since the first vaccines were approved and that the lack of vaccinations for millions of health workers was “an indictment on the countries and companies that control the global supply of vaccines.”
High- and upper-middle-income countries have administered almost half as many booster shots as the total number of doses administered in low-income countries, he said.
To meet global vaccination goals, Dr. Tedros said, “the barrier is not production. The barriers are politics and profit.”
Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister who is now the W.H.O.’s ambassador for global health financing, said the goal of vaccinating 40 percent of adults around the world by December, which was put forward last month at the Global Covid-19 Summit led by President Biden, had “no chance” of being met without action from wealthy countries.
Mr. Brown said 240 million vaccine doses were lying unused in the West, citing figures from Airfinity, a data research agency. He added that the number of unused doses was projected to reach 600 million by the end of December. A shortfall of 500 million doses in the global South could be alleviated by flying vaccine stockpiles to countries in need and by switching delivery contracts. Up to 100 million doses could pass their use-by dates and end up being destroyed, he said.
Ahead of the Group of 20 summit that starts in Rome on Oct. 30, Western leaders should make a plan to transfer vaccines, Mr. Brown said, and other G20 nations could follow suit.
The decision follows an agency endorsement last month of booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and opens the door for many Americans to seek out a booster shot as early as Friday.
The coronavirus vaccines “are all highly effective in reducing the risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death, even in the midst of the widely circulating Delta variant,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the C.D.C. said in a statement on Thursday night.
Her approval brings the country closer to fulfilling President Biden’s promise in August to offer boosters to all adults. The pandemic is now retreating in most parts of the country, but there are still about 75,000 new cases every day, and about 1,500 Covid deaths.
That pledge angered many experts, including some advising the Food and Drug Administration and the C.D.C., who said that scientists had not yet had a chance to determine whether boosters were actually necessary.
Studies showed that the vaccines remained very effective against severe disease and death, although their effectiveness might have waned against milder infections, particularly as the Delta variant spread across the nation this summer.
The purpose of the vaccines is to prevent illness severe enough to require medical attention, not to prevent infection, Dr. Wilbur Chen, an infectious disease physician at the University of Maryland and a member of the C.D.C. panel, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, said during the deliberations on Thursday.
“It might be too much to ask for a vaccine, either a primary series or the booster, to prevent all forms of infections,” Dr. Chen said.
The C.D.C.’s advisers last month tried to narrow the number of Americans who should receive a booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, saying that research did not support boosters for people whose jobs exposed them to the coronavirus, as the F.D.A. had indicated.
But in a highly unusual move, Dr. Walensky overturned their decision, aligning the agency’s advice with the criteria laid out by the F.D.A.
On Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration authorized booster shots for millions of people who received the Moderna and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines, just as it did for recipients of Pfizer-BioNTech shots last month. The F.D.A. also gave the green light for people eligible for booster shots to get a dose of a different brand.
But in practice, who will get the shots and when depends greatly on the C.D.C.’s final guidance. Though the agency’s recommendations do not bind state and local officials, they hold great sway in the medical community.
On Thursday, members of the C.D.C.’s panel endorsed the so-called mix-and-match strategy, saying people fully immunized with one company’s vaccine should be allowed to receive a different vaccine for their booster shot.
Limited evidence strongly suggests that booster doses of one of the two mRNA vaccines — Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech — more effectively raise antibody levels than a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The committee advised that recipients of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine should receive a booster shot at least two months after their first dose.
Among Americans initially immunized with an mRNA vaccine, adults over 65, adults who are 50 to 65 with certain medical conditions, and those who reside in long-term care settings should receive a single booster dose six months or longer after their second dose, the committee decided.
For adults ages 18 to 49 with certain medical conditions and adults whose jobs regularly expose them to the virus, the panel opted for softer language, saying they may choose to get a booster after considering their individual risk.
The experts emphasized that people who have received two mRNA vaccine doses or a single Johnson & Johnson dose should still consider themselves fully vaccinated. Federal health officials said they would continue to study whether those who had weak immune systems and had already received a third dose of a vaccine should go on to get a fourth dose.
Some advisers were concerned that young and healthy Americans who don’t need a booster might choose to get one anyway. Side effects are uncommon, but in younger Americans they may outweigh the potential benefits of booster doses, the scientists said.
“Those that are not at high risk should really be thoughtful about getting that dose,” said Dr. Helen Talbot, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University.
The company said that out of more than 5,000 Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine recipients enrolled in its study who received a booster shot, only five later developed symptomatic disease, compared with 109 people among a similar group that received a placebo instead of a booster dose.
The company claimed the findings came from the first randomized efficacy trial of booster shots. But the results, announced in a news release, have not been peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal.
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for people 65 and over, people who are at high risk of severe Covid-19, and those who are at elevated risk of exposure because of where they work or live. That decision was based on limited effectiveness data.
The new findings appear to bolster proof that booster shots are highly effective, though the trial participants were only followed for a median period of two and a half months after receiving the booster.
“These important data add to the body of evidence suggesting that a booster dose of our vaccine can help protect a broad population of people from this virus and its variants,” said Dr. Ugur Sahin, founder and chief executive of BioNTech.
The results will be shared with the F.D.A. and its European equivalent, the European Medicines Agency, as well as other international regulatory agencies, according to Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive.
The randomized controlled trial of the booster included more than 10,000 participants aged 16 and older, half of whom received a booster that contains the same amount of vaccine as each of the two primary doses, and half of whom received a placebo.
The booster was given an average of 11 months after the initial regimen, and participants were monitored for symptoms of Covid that developed between a week and 2.5 months after the booster, on average.
Stratified analyses showed the relative efficacy rate of 95.6 percent for the boosters was consistent regardless of age, sex, race, ethnicity or chronic medical conditions.
Slightly more than half of the participants were between 16 and 55 years old, and just under one quarter were 65 or older. The companies said that they had not identified any new side effects or safety concerns during the trial.
An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discussed on Thursday whether Americans would be allowed to switch vaccines when choosing a Covid-19 booster shot.
The panel endorsed the so-called mix-and-match strategy — whether people fully immunized with one company’s vaccine should be allowed to switch to a different one for their booster. Limited evidence strongly suggests that booster doses of one of the two mRNA vaccines — Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech — more effectively raise antibody levels than a booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the committee noted.
Below is a rundown of the science behind mixing and matching, and what the future of the strategy may hold.
Immunizations typically consist of two or more doses of the same vaccine.
The Moderna vaccine, for example, is administered in two identical shots of mRNA, separated by four weeks.
A double dose can create much more protection against a disease than a single shot. The first dose causes the immune system’s B cells to make antibodies against a pathogen. Other immune cells, called T cells, develop the ability to recognize and kill infected cells.
The second shot amplifies that response. The B cells and T cells dedicated to fighting the virus multiply into much bigger numbers. They also develop more potent attackers against the enemy.
In recent years, some vaccine researchers have experimented with a switch from one vaccine to another for the second dose.
This mixed strategy is technically known as a heterologous prime boost. One of the first authorized vaccines of this kind for any disease is the Sputnik V vaccine, developed last year by Russian researchers to prevent Covid-19. It uses two different adenoviruses to deliver coronavirus proteins, which the immune system then attacks. The first dose contains an adenovirus called Ad5, and the second contains another, called Ad26.
Different types of vaccines stimulate the immune system in different ways, and switching between two vaccines might give people the best of both worlds.
Experiments on animals have suggested that two different vaccines can build a stronger defense by strengthening different parts of the immune system. In a study published Thursday, French researchers looked at what happened when people switched from a first dose of AstraZeneca to a second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech. The mixed vaccines were more effective at protecting against Covid-19 than two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech.
The mix-and-match option could also offer lifesaving flexibility in a world where Covid-19 vaccines remain in desperately short supply. If supplies were to run out before people got a second dose, they could switch to another vaccine and still get a strong immunity to the coronavirus.
The Food and Drug Administration has authorized the use of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, which are both delivered in two doses, began showing some loss of effectiveness against infection over the summer, although they both remained strong against hospitalization. (A study published last month found that the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 71 percent effective against hospitalization, compared with 88 percent for Pfizer-BioNTech and 93 percent for Moderna.)
In June, the National Institutes of Health started a study looking at what happens when fully vaccinated people switch to a new vaccine for a booster.
Dr. Kirsten Lyke of the University of Maryland School of Medicine presented the first results of the trial at a F.D.A. meeting last week. The researchers recruited people who had gotten one of the three vaccines authorized in the United States, and then gave them one of the three vaccines as a booster.
Dr. Lyke and her colleagues found that switching boosters raised the level of coronavirus antibodies, no matter which combination people got. And switching to a new booster did not produce any notable side effects.
The results for people who initially received a Johnson & Johnson vaccination were particularly striking.
Those receiving a Johnson & Johnson booster saw antibodies go up just fourfold. Switching to a Pfizer-BioNTech booster raised antibody levels by a factor of 35. A Moderna booster raised them 76-fold.
Dr. Lyke cautioned against drawing hasty conclusions from the results so far.
The researchers hope that by next month they’ll know how well the different boosters increase T cells, not just antibodies. It’s possible that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine will shine in those results. “We’ll get a more rounded picture,” she said.
Over 100 Covid-19 vaccines are now in clinical trials, with even more being tested in animals.
Adam Wheatley, an immunologist at the University of Melbourne in Australia, predicted that some of those new vaccines could prove to be superior boosters. Unlike vaccines made from mRNA or adenoviruses, those from companies like Sanofi-Pasteur and Novavax contain large amounts of viral proteins.
Nicolas Kressmann, a spokesman for Sanofi, said the company was far along in trials of its protein-based vaccine as a booster for people who have already received other vaccines. “Our intention is also to develop our vaccine as a universal booster, able to boost immunity regardless of the vaccination first received,” he said.
MOSCOW — Schools, shops and restaurants in the city of Moscow will close next week, municipal officials said, in one of the tightest lockdowns in the Russian capital since the pandemic began, a measure made necessary by low vaccination rates.
Russia’s coronavirus response, like that of many other countries, has seesawed between strict controls and lax enforcement of mask-wearing and vaccination rules. Russia pivoted again this week toward tighter lockdowns as reports of new cases and Covid-19 deaths climbed.
Reported cases are up 33 percent over the last two weeks, reaching more than 32,400, according to a New York Times database. And on average over the past week, 983 people a day died from the coronavirus; on some days that number exceeded 1,000. Only Russian-made coronavirus vaccines are available in the country, and many people are hesitant to get them. Russia’s vaccination rate of 33 percent of the population is lower than the global average of 37 percent and far behind the rates in most of Europe.
To combat the surge in cases and deaths, President Vladimir V. Putin on Wednesday declared a countrywide “nonworking” week from Oct. 30 to Nov. 7, extending a regular fall holiday by several days. The restrictions the city of Moscow announced on Thursday were even stricter.
Mayor Sergey Sobyanin ordered schools and nonessential businesses to close two days sooner, starting on Oct. 28. He said in a statement posted online that the spread of the virus had gone “by the worst scenario” and that Moscow would soon be setting daily records for new cases.
Early in the pandemic, Moscow locked down more strictly than many Western countries did. Residents were prohibited from leaving their apartments other than to shop at grocery stores or pharmacies, attend medical appointments or walk their dogs.
The city also lifted many restrictions this year before other European countries did on a wide scale, a move that became a point of pride. Mr. Putin contrasted Moscow’s bustling restaurants with the continuing lockdowns abroad.
Over the summer, Moscow imposed, but then dropped, a requirement that patrons be vaccinated to eat in some restaurants or to visit bars. Enforcement of mask-wearing rules in Russia is generally lax.
Canada is rolling out a national standard for vaccination credentials that will be required for domestic and international travel, unifying the country’s patchwork of proof-of-immunization programs, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Thursday.
The national proof of vaccination standard features a QR code and official logos from the federal government and the recipient’s province or territory. It will be available digitally and in hard copy.
Some of the country’s 10 provinces and its three territories, which are responsible for delivering health care, now offer digital vaccine cards with scannable QR codes and paper copies; others offer paper cards that can be digitized or displayed in phone photos. Regulations about what residents may be asked to present when they enter places like restaurants and movie theaters vary from province to province.
So far, five provinces — Saskatchewan; Ontario; Quebec; Nova Scotia; and Newfoundland and Labrador — as well as the Yukon, Nunavut and Northwest Territories have implemented what will now be the national standard, Mr. Trudeau said, adding that the remaining five provinces were expected to catch up soon.
“We will be picking up the tab for it at the federal level, to ensure that all provinces are able to do it,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters outside the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa.
On Oct. 30, Canada is scheduled to begin enforcing requirements that anyone aged 12 or over who travels domestically by air, rail or cruise ship must be fully vaccinated. For a month, proof of a recent negative Covid-19 test will also be accepted, but immigration authorities warn the unvaccinated that “they risk not qualifying for travel as of Nov. 30.”
No vaccine is yet authorized in Canada for children under 12, but Mr. Trudeau said on Thursday that Pfizer was seeking regulatory approval to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to children aged 5 to 11.
“This is great news,” he said. “I can assure you that Health Canada is going to be examining attentively that submission.”
When the authorization is granted, the Canadian government would be scheduled to receive 2.9 million pediatric doses of the vaccine, Anita Anand, the minister of public services and procurement, said in an emailed statement.
Also Thursday, the government announced it was no longer advising against non-essential travel for fully vaccinated people.
India on Thursday celebrated having administered a billion doses of Covid vaccine, drawing on local manufacturing after devastating early stumbles in its pandemic response.
Still, the country has some way to go in fully vaccinating its population: Just 30 percent of the 900 million people eligible for vaccination in India have received two doses.
The billion-dose milestone represented a turnaround in a vaccination drive that got off to a slow start, as India’s governing party prioritized elections and took up a lax attitude in tackling the virus, continuing to hold crowded political rallies and allowing religious festivals to take place even as cases surged.
“Gratitude to our doctors, nurses and all those who worked to achieve this feat,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter. More than 70 percent of adults have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to government figures. India is administering second doses 12 to 16 weeks after the first.
More than 450,000 people have died from Covid in India, according to government data that many experts say greatly downplays the true toll. India’s second wave earlier this year led to a shortage of medical care, oxygen, and hospital beds.
But the worst of the pandemic seems to be over, with India reporting about 15,000 new cases daily, down from a recorded peak of more than 400,000.
The demand for vaccines in India after the devastating second wave was such that the Serum Institute fell short on its commitments to supply vaccines to poorer nations. But as India’s situation stabilizes, vaccine exports from India — seen as crucial to global efforts — have slowly resumed.
The toll of the pandemic on India’s already slowing economy, however, will take years to reverse.
In other news from around the world:
Melbourne, Australia, came out of its 78-day lockdown late on Thursday night, after the state of Victoria passed the milestone of having 70 percent of the eligible population fully inoculated against Covid, though the state’s cases are still spiking. Melbourne has spent more time under heavy virus restrictions than any other in the world, with 262 days in lockdown since March 2020.
Bulgaria, which is struggling with record coronavirus cases and rising deaths and has the lowest vaccination rate of any E.U. nation, began requiring residents to show proof of vaccination to eat at restaurants, attend movie theaters and enter shopping malls starting Thursday.“The situation is critical,” the interim health minister, Dr. Stoycho Katsarov, said in a television interview on Wednesday. “The nation is facing tremendous hardship and most people cannot even reckon the scale of the calamity.”
Several Caribbean countries are reporting significant surges in known coronavirus cases, World Health Organization officials warned on Wednesday. Many Caribbean countries have had difficulty with vaccination efforts, because of both difficulty obtaining doses and widespread public hesitancy. Reports of new cases are up 40 percent over the last week in the Dominican Republic and Barbados, and cases are also rising in Trinidad and Tobago, St. Martin, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and the Cayman Islands.
Sweden has extended its pause of Moderna’s Covid vaccine for people aged 30 and younger beyond Dec. 1, out of concern over rare heart-related side effects, the country’s public health agency said on Thursday, according to Reuters. The agency also said it would remove the recommendation for testing for those who are fully vaccinated, even if they are displaying symptoms, because the vaccine was so effective at preventing severe disease and the spread of infection.
Singapore extended social curbs for around a month on Wednesday to contain the spread of the coronavirus, Reuters reported, aiming to ease pressure on the health care system amid a spike in infections that thwarted the country’s nascent reopening. The health ministry recorded 18 new Covid deaths on Wednesday, the highest since the beginning of the pandemic.
As New York City struggles to revive its economy after the devastation wrought by the pandemic on restaurants, hotels, theaters, tours, souvenir shops and the people who keep them running, one crucial element is still missing: big-spending foreign tourists.
Before the virus, the city was flooded with record numbers of visitors from Europe, Asia and South America. In 2019, they filled hotels, restaurants, Broadway theaters and museums, spending billions and fueling a surge in jobs. While American tourists have returned, the city can’t wait until Nov. 8, when the federal government is opening the country’s borders to vaccinated visitors. New York is preparing its most aggressive campaign in an effort to lure those visitors back in time to salvage, if it can, the end-of-year holiday season.
The city’s tourism agency, NYC & Company, plans to spend $6 million in eight countries on an advertising campaign themed “It’s Time for New York City,” with billboards trumpeting the message: “New York City Is Ready for You.”
Fred Dixon, the chief executive of the agency, said it would take years to regain all the lost tourism, but that the campaign could help. “There is an enormous amount of pent-up demand, and people are anxious to travel again,” he said.
Before the pandemic, tourists spent $47 billion annually and supported more than 280,000 jobs in the city, according to official estimates. About half of that came from international visitors, even though they accounted for just 20 percent of all tourists.
This year, the city’s tourism agency forecasts visitor spending of about $24 billion, half of the 2019 total.
Many New York businesses and workers say their survival depends on the robust return of international tourists.
“We’re hoping the city tries to bring back these international tourists because they’re our lifeline,” said Mohammed Rufai, an immigrant from Ghana who sells tickets in Times Square for a double-decker bus tour of Manhattan. “We need them.”
Mr. Rufai, 45, said he could earn $200 a day before the pandemic, more than 70 percent of it from other parts of the world. He now struggles to make half that.
“You cannot ask people to ride if there are no people here to ask,” he said.
While fully vaccinated Americans can fly to hundreds of cities and towns across the country and 27 European capitals, border rules across Asia remain far stricter than in any other region in the world.
Governments in Asia have promised to reopen their borders because of the improved Covid situation and progress on vaccinations. But they are falling behind the rest of the world. Air travel in August across the region was still 10 percent of what it was two years ago, lagging the rebound in the United States. Travelers must navigate an inconsistent patchwork of border restrictions, visa rules and travel corridors — one likely to continue for months.
Vaccinated travelers from a handful of countries, including Britain and Spain, won’t have to quarantine to visit Singapore. But Ireland and Portugal, which have comparable vaccination rates, didn’t make the list. And visitors from only four places in Asia — Hong Kong, Macau, China and Taiwan — may enter by applying for a special pass.
The list of eligible countries from which tourists can visit Indonesia is longer, with travelers from 19 countries cleared to visit Bali and the Riau Islands. People from India, which has vaccinated about a quarter of its population, are good to travel. But those from Malaysia, which has vaccinated 72 percent, or Singapore, 82 percent, aren’t yet welcome.
And the regulations in the Philippines have led to some confusion. Two tourists were sent back to Singapore after they arrived without the proper visas. They were not aware that the Philippines had only opened travel for business or humanitarian reasons.
Thailand is taking a different approach, requiring visitors not to make any stopovers. Tourists can go to the island of Phuket without quarantining if they arrive on a direct flight, and they can tour other parts of the country after seven days. Quarantine-free arrivals to the rest of Thailand will be open to vaccinated tourists from at least 10 countries starting Nov. 1, the authorities said last week.
South Korea has taken yet another path: Instead of allowing tourists to arrive from particular locations, it has allowed people of certain nationalities to visit without a visa. Tourists of one of 49 nationalities may apply for permission to visit.
But a separate list, based on where travelers arrive from, governs who has to undergo two weeks of quarantine on arrival in South Korea; the authorities are adding five countries to the list of those from which fully vaccinated travelers will not have to quarantine starting next month.
Fully vaccinated people flying in from Malawi, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Zambia and Chile will not be required to isolate for two weeks starting in November. Visitors from 16 nations will still need to quarantine, down from 20 in October.
South Korea also relaxed some social distancing regulations on Monday, after several months in which they have been at the highest level in the capital.
Most other countries in the region, including China and Japan, still require visas for vaccinated foreign travelers. Tourists have yet to get approval to enter.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Israeli health officials announced a plan on Thursday to allow vaccinated tourists to enter the country starting Nov. 1, the first time the country will open its borders to tourism since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Since May, Israel has allowed entry only to immediate relatives of Israelis who are vaccinated or have recently recovered from a coronavirus infection, provided they obtain approval from the government. The new plan, which still requires official government approval, comes at a time when infection rates in Israel are steadily declining after a fourth wave.
The country, which had one of the world’s fastest vaccination drives but has now been surpassed by more than 30 countries, is currently leading in booster shot distribution, with some 3.8 million of its 8.8 million people having received a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Israelis lifted domestic restrictions and largely returned to normal in May.
According to the office of the prime minister, tourists who have been fully vaccinated with most internationally recognized vaccines, as well as those who have recovered from Covid-19 within the last six months, will be allowed to enter the country, unless they are from “red” countries with severe outbreaks.
Tourists qualified to enter the country can receive a digital Green Pass, allowing them to enter restaurants, cafes, bars and other indoor places in Israel.
The plan will not allow those vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, which is not approved by the World Health Organization, to enter the country yet. Mr. Bennett is mulling postponing their entry until Dec. 1.
The plan came a day before Mr. Bennett was scheduled to meet with President Vladimir Putin of Russia in the Black Sea resort town of Sochi.
The National Institutes of Health said on Wednesday that a nonprofit group under fire from some congressional Republicans for its research collaborations in China had failed to promptly report findings from studies on how well bat coronaviruses grow in mice.
In a letter to Representative James Comer, Republican of Kentucky, the N.I.H. said that the group, EcoHealth Alliance, had five days to submit all unpublished data from work conducted under a multiyear grant it was given in 2014 for the research. The organization’s grant was canceled in 2020 under President Trump’s administration during his feud with China over the origins of the coronavirus.
In recent months, N.I.H. officials have rejected claims — sometimes in heated exchanges with congressional Republicans — that coronaviruses studied with federal funding might have unleashed the pandemic. Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the N.I.H., released a statement Wednesday night reiterating that rebuttal.
“Naturally occurring bat coronaviruses studied under the N.I.H. grant are genetically far distant from SARS-CoV-2 and could not possibly have caused the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said in the statement. “Any claims to the contrary are demonstrably false.”
EcoHealth Alliance has come under scrutiny because of its collaboration on coronavirus research with researchers at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is situated in the city where the pandemic began.
Robert Kessler, a spokesman for the group, said on Thursday that EcoHealth Alliance was trying to resolve what it described as a “misconception” about its findings with the N.I.H. He said that the group had reported data from its studies “as soon as we were made aware” in April 2018, and that the agency had reviewed the data and never indicated that further reviews were needed.
Some scientists have argued that it’s possible SARS-CoV-2 was the result of genetic engineering experiments or simply escaped from a lab in an accident. But direct evidence for those theories has yet to emerge. Others have deemed those scenarios unlikely, pointing instead to many lines of evidence suggesting that people acquired the coronavirus in a natural spillover from bats or an intermediate mammal host.
The controversy has drawn scrutiny to the experiments that EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology carried out with funding from the N.I.H.
OTTAWA (Reuters) – Canada’s federal government and the 10 provinces have agreed on a standard COVID-19 electronic vaccination passport allowing domestic and foreign travel, government officials told reporters on Thursday.
The deal prevents possible confusion that could be caused if each of the provinces – which have primary responsibility for health care – issued their own unique certificates. The officials spoke on the condition they not be identified.
The document will have a federal Canadian identifying mark and meets major international smart health card standards.
“Many (countries) have said they want to see a digital … verifiable proof of vaccination, which is what we’re delivering,” said one official.
In addition, federal officials are talking to nations that are popular with Canadian travelers to brief them about the document.
Political Cartoons on World Leaders
The Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced earlier this month that from Oct 30, people wishing to travel domestically by plane, train or ship would have to show proof of full vaccination.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Alistair Bell)
The Australian government has started producing COVID-19 vaccination certificates for safe overseas travel.
Citizens and Australian visa holders with valid passports and who have COVID-19 vaccination records on the Australian Immunisation Register can obtain this international proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
The certificate can be downloaded digitally or printed and is compatible with COVID-19 travel apps, such as the International Air Transport Association Travel Pass.
The proof of vaccination features a QR code that border authorities can scan to prove a user’s COVID-19 vaccination. According to a government media release, it is “as secure as an Australian passport and authenticated in the same way”. It also meets the global standard specified by the International Civil Aviation Organization and conforms with the guidance set by the World Health Organization.
The federal government said it will share the visible digital seal technology incorporated in the international certificate, along with a curated library of technical documents, to interested countries to help them develop their own vaccination certificates.
WHY IT MATTERS
Launching the vaccination certificate is a “key step towards safely reopening international borders and supporting Australia’s COVID-19 economic recovery,” the federal government said in a multi-agency release on Monday.
THE LARGER CONTEXT
Australians can now provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination through three ways: a digital certificate; immunisation history statement; and the latest international COVID-19 vaccination certificate for overseas travel.
They can get their vaccination certificate either through their Medicare account on myGov or via the Medicare Express app.
In other news, New South Wales tried out a vaccination passport app earlier this month, seeking to simplify the check-in process at hospitality venues so users do not have to move through separate apps for QR codes and vaccination certificates.
“Secretary Mayorkas tested positive this morning for the COVID-19 virus after taking a test as part of routine pre-travel protocols,” Espinosa said in a statement. “Secretary Mayorkas is experiencing only mild congestion; he is fully vaccinated and will isolate and work at home per CDC protocols and medical advice. Contact tracing is underway.”
Mayorkas had been scheduled to travel to Colombia this week along with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, but he is now working from home. While in Bogotá, Blinken was scheduled to co-lead a meeting among government officials to address migration issues with regional partners.
This is at least the second time Covid-19 has interrupted Mayorkas’ work schedule since taking office. In July, Mayorkas worked virtually after coming in close contact with a DHS employee who later tested positive for Covid-19. At the time, he had no symptoms and tested negative twice.
The secretary traveled to Mexico earlier this month and has participated in several in-person events in recent weeks. He attended an outdoor cybersecurity event last week and on Saturday, appeared at a Peace Officers Memorial Service where he stood outside alongside President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden and FBI Director Christopher Wray.
A White House official told CNN that “no White House principal has been determined to be a close contact of Secretary Mayorkas, given that the most recent contact was at the outdoors FOP event outside of the 48-hour close contact window.”
The news of Mayorkas’ positive test comes weeks after Biden imposed stringent new vaccine rules on federal workers, large employers and health care staff in an attempt to contain the latest surge of Covid-19.
The President also signed an executive order requiring all government employees be vaccinated against Covid-19, with no option of being regularly tested to opt out, as well as an accompanying order directing the same standard be applied to employees of contractors who do business with the federal government.
DHS is working to comply with Biden’s executive order by November 22, a DHS spokesperson previously told CNN.
The department developed an online tool for personnel to report their vaccination status, a system that is available to all DHS employees other than the US Secret Service and US Coast Guard, which have their own reporting systems.
Although, DHS declined to release department-wide interim vaccinate rate data, some of the agencies within the department have shared progress on workforce vaccinations.
As of Tuesday, 89.1% of the Coast Guard’s active duty workforce has been fully vaccinated, and 92.9% of the active duty workforce has been vaccinated with at least one dose, according to US Coast Guard media relations deputy LCDR Brittany Panetta.
Mayorkas and the department have also been heavily involved in the management of border travel needs and restrictions amid the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the administration announced plans to ease restrictions on cross-border travel for fully vaccinated visitors starting in early November, relaxing bans that have been in place for more than 18 months.
The new rules, which are similar to those announced for international air passengers, will be rolled out in a phased approach. The first phase, kicking off in early November, will allow fully vaccinated visitors traveling for non-essential reasons, like visiting friends or for tourism, to cross US land borders. The second phase, starting in early January 2022, will apply the vaccination requirement to all inbound foreign travelers, whether traveling for essential or non-essential reasons.
“These new vaccination requirements deploy the best tool we have in our arsenal to keep people safe and prevent the spread of Covid-19 and will create a consistent, stringent protocol for all foreign nationals traveling into the United States whether by land or air,” a senior administration official previously told reporters.
This story has been updated with additional reporting Tuesday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued updated COVID-19 guidance for the upcoming holiday season, urging Americans to continue to get vaccinated and encouraging mask wearing in public spaces.
“Because many generations tend to gather to celebrate holidays, the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk and keep your family and friends safer is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible,” the agency states on its website. “Protect those not yet eligible for vaccination such as young children by getting yourself and other eligible people around them vaccinated.”
“Wear well-fitting masks over your nose and mouth if you are in public indoor settings if you are not fully vaccinated,” the CDC also encourages. “Even those who are fully vaccinated should wear a mask in public indoor settings in communities with substantial to high transmission,” it adds, noting that outdoor areas are safer than indoor spaces.
The CDC’s general advice for the holidays also includes avoiding crowded, poorly ventilated spaces; not hosting or attending a gathering if you are sick or have COVID-19 symptoms and getting tested if you have symptoms or have come in close contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus.
As for holiday travel, the CDC continues to recommend delaying any plans until you are fully vaccinated. “People who are fully vaccinated with an FDA-authorized vaccine or a vaccine authorized for emergency use by the World Health Organization can travel safely within the United States,” the agency says. However, individuals are still required to wear a face covering on planes, buses, trains and other forms of public transportation traveling into, within or out of the country and while indoors at U.S. transportation hubs like airports and stations.
Unvaccinated travelers are encouraged to take a viral test one to three days before their trip and again three to five days after they return home. The CDC also advises that unvaccinated individuals quarantine for at least seven days after travel.
When it comes to international travel for the holidays, the agency states that “fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread COVID-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some COVID-19 variants.” Regardless of vaccination status, travelers returning to the U.S. after traveling abroad will require a negative COVID-19 test result secured no more than three days before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past three months in order to board their return flight.
Click here to view the latest CDC guidance ahead of the holidays.