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Misinformation that Omicron is ‘the last COVID-19 variant’ fuelling uptick worldwide

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A combination of factors, including misinformation that the pandemic is over, the lifting of mask mandates, ending physical distancing – and a more transmissible Omicron BA.2 variant – are causing an increase of COVID-19 cases globally, the World Health Organization warned on Wednesday.

“After several weeks of declines, reported cases of COVID-19 are once again increasing globally, especially in parts of Asia”, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus told journalists in Geneva.

 In the past week, the agency has seen an 8 per cent increase in detection of COVID-19 cases, with more than 11 million positive test results.

“These increases are occurring despite reductions in testing in some countries, which means the cases we are seeing are just the tip of the iceberg”, Tedros explained, warning that when cases tick up, so do deaths.

He added that continued local outbreaks and surges are to be expected, particularly in areas where measures to prevent transmission have been lifted, but that there are ‘unacceptably high’ levels of mortality in many countries, especially where vaccination levels are low among susceptible populations.

“Each country is facing a different situation with different challenges, but the pandemic is not over”, he reiterated.

A combination of factors

WHO’s Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove explained that a combination of factors is fuelling the increase of cases worldwide, beginning with a more transmissible variant.

“We still have Omicron which is transmitting at a very intense level around the world. We have sub-lineages of Omicron BA.1 and BA.2. BA.2 is more transmissible, and this is the most transmissible variant we have seen of the SARS-COV2 virus to date”, she warned.

The COVID-19 Technical Lead informed that in the last 30 days of more than 400,000 sequences sampled, 99.9% are Omicron, and 75% correspond to the BA.2 variant.

“We do not see an increase in severity with BA.2. However, with huge numbers of cases you will see increase hospitalisations and we have seen this in country after country”, Dr. Van Kerkhove highlighted.

 Another factor influencing the increase of numbers is the lifting of public health and social measures.

“Lifting of the use of masks, lifting of physical distancing, lifting of restrictions limiting people’s movement, this provides the virus an opportunity to spread”, Dr. Van Kerkhove cautioned.

The expert also pointed out that there are ‘huge amounts of misinformation’ causing a lot of confusion among people.

 “The misinformation that Omicron is mild, misinformation that the pandemic is over, misinformation that this is the last variant that we will have to deal with”, she explained.

The virus has ‘not settled down’

Meanwhile, Dr Mike Ryan, WHO’s Executive Director of the Health Emergencies Programme clarified that the virus has not ‘settled down’ into a purely seasonal or predictable pattern yet.

“So, the idea that ‘we are through with it’ in the northern hemisphere and now we have to wait until next winter, I think (for example) when we look at increasing rates in the UK, we need to be very vigilant and cautious with this”, he said.

The expert added that the virus is still ‘very fit’ and it’s moving around easily and in the context of waning immunity and vaccines not acting perfectly against infection, the virus will likely continue to echo around the world.

“It will be high in some parts sometimes and then move and be higher again, it will move to another area where immunity is waning. The virus will pick up pockets of susceptibility, and we will survive on those pockets for months until another pocket opens.

“This is how viruses work.  They establish themselves in a community and they will move quickly to the next community that’s unprotected”, he further explained saying that experts have seen similar patterns with the polio virus.

“We completely understand that the world needs to move on and wants to move on from COVID-19 but this virus spreads very efficiently between people and if we don’t have the right interventions in place the virus will take opportunities to continue to spread, and the more the virus spreads the more opportunities it has to change”, Dr. Van Kerkhove added.

Vaccination and vigilance

Both doctors and WHO chief Tedros also spoke about the importance of vaccination pointing out that the majority of deaths remain amongst the unvaccinated, and older individuals and people with underlying conditions who have not received the full course of effective vaccines.

“We need to reinstate the importance of vaccination in every country. This is not just a North-South issue. Every country needs to look again at vaccination levels on the most vulnerable whether using booster policies or not and ensure that at the very minimum every individual who is vulnerable has two doses of effective vaccines”, Dr. Ryan urged.

Dr. Van Kerkhove explained that the data shows that COVID-19 vaccines remain ‘incredibly’ effective to prevent severe disease and death, including against Omicron.

She added that the world also needs a very strong surveillance system for COVID-19 to be aware of how the virus is evolving.

“Despite all of the challenges that we are facing, we still need to maintain testing, we still need to maintain robust sequencing and making sure that we have geographic representation of the sequences that are shared”, she underscored.

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Health & Wellness

6 Ways to Effectively Treat Trauma and Take Charge of Your Life

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Experiencing trauma can cause significant harm to an individual’s wellness. It is crucial to find strategies for addressing and handling the emotions and symptoms of events such as severe accidents, physical assault, natural disasters, and mental and emotional traumas. Trauma recovery is a journey that looks different for every individual. However, some strategies can prove helpful in managing symptoms and moving toward healing. Here are six ways to treat trauma:

1.      Engage in Sensory Activities

Sensory activities can help to ground an individual in the present moment and ease symptoms of anxiety or panic associated with trauma. These activities involve engaging the senses through sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch exercises. For example, you can practice deep breathing while focusing on a calming image like a beach scene, listen to soothing music, or incorporate aromatherapy with a calming essential oil like lavender.

Additionally, tactile exercises can promote relaxation. For instance, squeezing a stress ball or kneading playdough can be excellent grounding techniques. Listening to music and engaging in activities involving sound drumming and playing an instrument can also help individuals connect with their bodies and emotions.

2.      Practice Self Compassion

To overcome trauma, be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Treating oneself with kindness, acknowledging and validating one’s emotions, and being as caring towards oneself as towards loved ones fosters self-acceptance and non-judgmental thoughts. Eventually, this helps build resilience and makes it easier to manage symptoms.

3.      Seek Professional Support

An experienced professional can help to identify, process, and manage the emotions associated with trauma. Your clinician might suggest different treatment approaches, like EMDR therapy, CBT, Hypnotherapy, or DBT. These techniques focus on relieving trauma symptoms and helping you cope with trauma aftermath. Additionally, therapy can provide a safe place for an individual to talk about their traumatic experiences and express difficult emotions without judgment.

4.      Join Support Groups

Joining a support group of others who have experienced trauma can be a beneficial tool for treatment. The members provide emotional support and help you process the experience. Such groups can also normalize feelings and help participants reframe their experiences more positively.

Online support communities are available for those who cannot attend in-person support groups. Online forums offer the same benefits as an in-person group but without having to leave one’s home. Support groups are a great way to build resilience and manage trauma symptoms. In a support group setting, you openly express your feelings and experiences to others going through similar struggles without fearing judgment.

5.      Medication

Your doctor may also recommend medications to help manage trauma symptoms. Depending on your condition, medications such as antidepressants, anxiety medicines, or sleeping pills may be prescribed. Medication can be especially helpful if you are having difficulty managing your emotions and daily life after trauma. However, it is important to note that medications should never replace therapy or coping strategies but rather act as a supplement.

6.      Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms

To better manage trauma symptoms, it is important to cultivate healthy coping mechanisms. Avoid harmful coping mechanisms like substance abuse, unhealthy eating habits, and self-harm behavior. Instead, prioritize healthy habits like regular exercise, establishing healthy sleep patterns, surrounding yourself with supportive people, and setting goals.

In summary, there is no single solution for treating trauma. The most critical aspect of trauma recovery is finding coping techniques customized to your case and strengthening your resilience. Although it may seem challenging, always hold onto hope and don’t give up. Investing in treatment, practicing patience with oneself, and seeking support from loved ones will undoubtedly lead you toward healing and transformation.

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Health & Wellness

African Union and Vaccine Alliance Gavi sign MoU to increase access to vaccines across Africa

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(file photo) World Bank/Vincent Tremeau

The African Union Commission (AUC) and the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), in an effort to increase access and accelerate the uptake of life-saving vaccines across African Union member states towards supporting immunisation, providing technical and learning assistance and health systems strengthening, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) mid-May 2023.

“Children of today are the leaders of tomorrow. Knowing they are prone to preventable life-threatening diseases, we – current leaders – must do all it takes to protect and secure their future.‎‎ I am well-pleased with the growth of the partnership between the AUC and Gavi, which I am certain will accelerate reducing the number of zero-dose children worldwide by 2030,” said H.E. Amb. Minata Samate Cessouma, Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development.

“In September 2022, the African Union Commission and Africa CDC launched the New Public Health Order, which offers insights and a roadmap towards health security on the continent. The collaboration of the AUC and Gavi will further relate to Africa CDC-led initiatives for vaccine uptake in AU member states, as well as support investments in the goal to locally manufacture 60% of the vaccine doses required on the continent by 2040” underscored the Director General, Africa CDC, Dr. Jean Kaseya.

“As an Alliance of governments, partners, civil society, industry and others, Gavi has a longstanding commitment to support access to life-saving vaccines through sustainable immunization programmes, and to collaborate with countries to strengthen health systems across Africa. This MoU is the strengthening of our shared determination to protect more children against vaccine-preventable diseases and to help realise the AU’s vision for sustainable vaccine manufacturing and the New Public Health Order on the continent,” stated the  CEO of Gavi, Dr. Seth Berkley.

Through this MoU, AUC and Gavi Alliance commit to work together to:

1. Scale up and strengthen routine immunization, focusing on reaching “zero dose” children – children that have not received a single dose of a routine vaccine;

2. Build sustainable regional vaccine manufacturing in Africa;

3. Undertake joint advocacy to boost vaccine demand for routine vaccines;

4. Strengthen primary health care systems and bolster diagnostic and surveillance capacity for diseases such as yellow fever, cholera, and typhoid;

5. Communicate jointly on routine immunization, pandemic prevention, preparedness and response (PPR), vaccine access and delivery;

The AUC and Africa CDC, in April 2021, established the Partnerships for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) to steer a bold goal that will enable the African vaccine manufacturing industry to develop, produce, and sustainably increase supply, from less than 1 percent, currently. This goal can be reached through achieving sustainable and reliable economies of scale by launching mechanisms that create demand certainty for manufacturers while facilitating country procurement. 

The AU Bureau of Heads of State and Government further requested Gavi Alliance and other partners to procure a percentage of all vaccines produced by the continent. In December 2022, the Gavi Alliance Board approved a plan to support the development of a regionally diversified vaccine manufacturing ecosystem, based on three pillars: support for strategic antigen selection by manufacturers/countries, market shaping and demand creation.

The initiative, supported by the African Union, Africa CDC, G7 and other stakeholders also envisages the possibility of a fourth pillar, the design of a new financial instrument in the form of an Advance Market Commitment (AMC) for African vaccine manufacturing.

The global COVID-19 pandemic and climate change impact have jeopardised the health, security, and livelihoods of people across Africa and impeded the progress made over the years in reaching over 400 million children with vaccines and averting more than 9.9 million future deaths on the continent. 

The major focus of this new agreement is forging new and strengthened partnerships to reach the millions of “zero-dose” children, particularly in marginalised settings that still lack access to vaccines and other essential services in addition to providing a concrete framework for the AUC and Gavi Alliance to jointly address these challenges, identify gaps and monitor progress to achieve universal access to immunization and drive positive impacts on the continent.

According to reports, the MoU was signed on behalf of the African Union Commission Chairperson by the AU Commissioner for Health, Humanitarian Affairs & Social Development (HHS), H.E. Amb. Minata Samate Cessouma and Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) Director General, Dr. Jean Kaseya and Gavi Chief Executive Officer Dr. Seth Berkley. 

The partnership builds on the historic Addis Declaration on Immunization (ADI), which aims to ensure that everyone in Africa – regardless of who they are or where they live – receives the full benefits of immunization. It includes 10 commitments to increase political, financial and technical investments in immunization programs. The evolving direction of this partnership is bound to accelerate the attainment of health security as premised in the AU Agenda 2063 and the New Public Health Order (NPHO).

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Health & Wellness

Once unthinkable, the prospect of society driven by wellbeing gains traction

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As Europe embraces clean energy to fight climate change, a leading ecological economist argues for going beyond “green growth”.  


Almost 16 years ago, the EU held a conference devoted to an idea that was novel – even for many policy wonks – and far-reaching.

The notion was to redefine society’s goals by going beyond the standard measure of progress over the past 80 years: growth in gross domestic product, or GDP.

Now, the European Parliament is set to host another big conference devoted to the idea, which is gaining momentum. In its most ambitious form, the concept would fundamentally change how businesses operate, people work and governments regulate.

Among the speakers at the 15-17 May event is Giorgos Kallis, one of the world’s leading researchers into ecological economics. Kallis goes as far as advocating a “degrowth” model to replace the one based on GDP, saying economies can – indeed must – prosper in a way that reduces inequality and improves wellbeing.

A Greek native and professor in Spain at the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Kallis is also co-heading a new EU-funded research project called “A Post-Growth Deal”, or REAL. The six-year initiative aims to bring post-growth pathways closer to reality through new research, data and models.

Horizon Magazine spoke to Kallis about his work on growth and the evolution of societies.​

How and why did you become interested in the notion of “degrowth”?

Studying different environmental problems, from water scarcity in the Mediterranean and California to global climate change or forest fires in Europe, I came to realise that there is a common cause to all these problems: the unquenchable thirst of the economy to grow – bigger and bigger, without limit.

After working for 20 years on sustainable development, I realised that squaring unlimited growth with sustainability is impossible and we have to face it sooner rather than later. Degrowth was a word that resonated well with this realisation.

What explains the REAL project’s timing and what will it tackle mainly?

Europe is at a crossroads. Inflation is coupled with stagnation and, at the same time, the clock for the climate bomb is ticking and is past midnight.

In our project we are asking uncomfortable questions about how Europe could – and should – manage without growth and we are eager to see where these questions lead us.

For example, we want to see what combinations of social and economic policies can help Europe prosper without growth. And we want to understand how we can reorganise provisioning systems – that is, systems of energy, food or housing provision – to satisfy human needs with a fraction of the resources they currently require.

Can “green growth” deliver enough or is more ambitious degrowth needed?

Most likely, no, green growth can’t. But we don’t want to spill more blood in a heated debate over whether green growth, or what has been called in academic jargon “absolute decoupling” of GDP and environmental impact, is possible or not.

No matter where one stands on the question of green growth versus degrowth, I want to think that we all agree that there is a lot of uncertainty and that there is a chance – high in our view, low in the view of others – that degrowth is both necessary and in a way inevitable.

But are policymakers ready to ditch the pursuit of economic growth?

No, they aren’t ready. Few of us are ready to do the changes we need to do to move beyond the current model.

But the current model is breaking down on its own. Within these conditions of instability, new challenges will emerge and new social movements will rise up to press for change. We want to think that the science and models we will be establishing will provide good frameworks for asking the right questions and finding useful answers.

In a degrowth society, how would business activity and employment change?

That’s the type of question we want to ask in projects like ours. We have only some provisional answers regarding employment, with policy proposals like work-sharing or a job guarantee, and some initial thinking and dialogues with businesses.

We need much more research in starting to model the changes in skills or employment patterns or organisational models that would emerge and be stable in post-growth paths.

What would the impact of degrowth be on social justice?

The impacts of recessions are always regressive, as the wealthy find ways to exert their power during crises at the expense of the poor.

What we call degrowth is by definition – our definition – a transition that is socially just. It involves massive redistribution, direct through wealth and income taxes or social ownership of means of production and indirect by social programmes like universal basic income or services, a job guarantee and working-hour reductions.

What nations lead on degrowth and how can vested interests be overcome?

It’s safe to say there is no nation leading the way and there are only a few political parties making very shy and careful moves in the directions we are researching.

We want to explore what sort of social movements and mobilisations are strengthening these tendencies and what obstacles they are facing by vested interests. I am sorry I don’t already have good answers, but if I did there would be no need for our research. I prefer to give answers based on science and not conviction – and on the question of post-growth politics there is very little science.

What are the global implications of degrowth and what if Europe went it alone?

There is virtually no research right now on the geopolitics of post-growth and this is something we want to change.

Of course, it is very difficult to study something that does not exist – post-growth politics or desire to move in this way in any European country – and one risks here being very speculative.

We hope that, together with strong political scientists and international relations scholars, we can start developing convincing answers on, say, whether a big power like Europe can go it alone and under what conditions.

My hunch is that, yes, it can. But my understanding of geopolitics is very naïve and I want to think that, through six years of research and friction with people who know more, we will come up with more informed hypotheses.

How should research and innovation for decarbonsation be funded?

Innovation can be funded like everything else: by the government paying for it and supporting the social infrastructures necessary for our survival.

Research and knowledge are vital for any society and they will be even more so in a degrowth society where, as a species, we will no longer be able to buy our way out cheaply courtesy of fossil fuels. Instead, we will have to be inventive and find new, resource-light ways to enjoy ourselves and live well with one another.

Research and innovation not only in hard science but also in arts and humanities would be vital for building such a convivial society.

            BEYOND GDP

The European Parliament is hosting a 15-17 May conference entitled “Beyond Growth” and the EU is funding a new research project on the matter.

Both initiatives are propelled by growing environmental threats such as global warming, greater awareness of limits to natural resources and louder warnings about social inequality.

The conference in Brussels will feature top economic, environmental and social-affairs officials and experts from Europe and elsewhere, challenging participants to think in very different ways about the progress and wealth of nations. It follows a November 2007 EU conference called “Beyond GDP” that helped put the subject in the spotlight.

The new European research project is called “A Post-Growth Deal”, or REAL, and is the biggest so far to be financed by the EU in the field. The European Research Council is providing €9.9 million over six years to the initiative, which will be coordinated from Spain by the Autonomous University of Barcelona.

This article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine. 

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