Wednesday, June 29, 2022

On the new variant of covid

From Ho Ching

We are all seeing the number of covid cases rise again in Sg.

The fall in Omicron earlier variant cases had initially masked the rise of the latest BA.4 & BA.5 variants.

But these have now reared its head above the parapet, turning the week on week ratio from less than 1, to now trotting into a swing well above 1.

These 2 more infectious new variants constitute 30% of our new cases.

These 2 variants can also reinfect folks who have been infected before woth the old earlier Omicron variants or other pre-Omicron variants.

In other words, they can escape the antibody defences of prior infections and/or vaccinations.

So what should we do?

Sensibly, many Singaporeans have gone for their vaccine shots, as well as the boosters.

Yup, vaccination and boosters are a first line of defence against severe illness or death from covid, even if they may not fully protect against infection or re-infection by the latest Omicron sub-variants.

There are some 80,000 seniors in Sg age 60 and older who have not had their 1st booster.

More about this later.

Apart from vaccination and boosting, including 2nd booster esp for seniors and those who are immunocompromised, what else can we do?

2 more bits of Omicron BA.4 & BA.5 characteristics are emerging.

The temporal viral load profile may be changing.

Instead of peaking just before symptoms appear, the Omicron variants may peak after symptoms appear. This is why folks very often tested ART+ AFTER symptoms had appeared.

In addition, even for boosted and doubly boosted folks, it takes as long as 9-10 days to turn ART-.

Again, this could mean that the viral load is continuing to increase after symptoms appear, and starts declining a few days after symptoms appear.

This is unlike the earlier pre-Omicron variants where the viral load peaks on average just before symptoms appear, and quickly starts declining within a day after symptoms appear. The exceptions are for the immunocompromised folks and those illness turn serious.

Thus, for the majority, the viral load goes down to non infectious levels within 5-7 days, sometimes sooner for young kids.

This draggy persistence of high viral load detectable with ART for 8-10 days means the latest Omicron sub-variant patients stay infectious for longer.

So what can we do?

We already have vaccines and boosters to protect ourselves from severe or fatal covid infection.

We can now adjust our covid response to minimise transmission to others.

First, as soon as we have any respiratory or infection symptoms, try to self isolate or reduce mask down interactions like meals with others. This is to reduce the chance of infecting others while our viral load continues to build up.

Interestingly, apart from general infection symptoms like fever and headaches, and respiratory symptoms like runny nose, coughs and sore throat, the latest Omicron 4&5 have some distinct and unusual symptoms compared to the earlier pre-Omicron covid symptoms.

The ticklish or itchy throat is one distinctive Omicron symptom.

Interestingly, the latest Omicron variants can cause bouts of sneezing too!

Unusual symptoms include nausea, and headaches that can't be easily soothed with the usual panadol type over the counter medication.

So once we have any of these symptoms, put on a good mask before interacting with anyone, and avoid mask down interactions with others.

Second adjustment is instead of treating ourselves as recovered 7 days from testing ART+, we should extend this to 9-10 days, or wait till we are ART+.

True, the current MOH advisory is to treat ourselves as clear to go out after 7 days if we are vaccinated, or if we are under 12 years old; and self isolate for 14 days if we are not fully vaccinated teenagers and adults.

Folks asked how come we can consider ourselves recovered and free to go out of self isolation even when tested ART+ previously?

This was a practical approach, as the vast majority have been vaccinated and boosted, so that the risks to other are low, and there are only a small proportion of people who are still testing positive after 7 days.

Some of these folks could be the tiny minority of serious but young cases who chose not to go to hospital even when they are struggling to breathe, etc.

[But seriously, folks, even if we are young and healthy, we should go to hospital if our oxygen saturation reading on our oximeters drop below 93%.

This is bcos, seemingly young snd healthy folks can turn very dangerously ill very quickly esp during the 2nd week of infection.

Also, whenever oxygen saturation level goes below 99%, our vital organs will start to get damaged. Such damage could be long term. ]

Back to self isolation period after testing ART+.

Extend this another 2-3 days from the current MOH guidelines of 7 and 14 day for the boosted/fully vaccinated and not fully vaccinated folks respectively.

For teens and adults, fully vaccinated means within 5 months of the 2nd shot of mRNA or protein subunit Novavax, or the 3rd shot of the SinoPharm/SinoVac vaccines.

After 5 months from these 2nd or 3rd shots, a booster shot is required to maintain fully vaccinated status.

For children from 5-11 years old, just 2 shots of the Pfizer 1/3 dose will suffice to be consider fully vaccinated.

For immunocompromised teens and adults, 3 shots of the mRNA (or the now available Novovax protein subunit vaccine) would be required to provide the same level of protection on average, as 2 shots for the healthy immunity folks.

Finally, some elderly folks asked if they should get their 2nd booster shot, when they have had Covid in Feb during the peak Omicron wave. They think of their covid infection as an infection booster dose.

The answer actually depends on themselves and on the covid outbreak situation.

If the the Omicron wave had continued its trend down without the new BA.4 and BA.5 coming onto the scene, and they are generally healthy, then they could consider delaying their 2nd booster shot till later.

But we now know that the Omicron BA.4&5 are already breaking out, and we are likely to see another Omicron wave in July and August period, albeit of the latest sub variants.

We know that prior Omicron infections don't prevent reinfection by the latest subvariants.

We know that an infection is like a vaccine but with unknown dose. So we don't know how much of the adaptive immune system had been stimulated.

With the 2nd booster, we know the dose and we know that the vast majority would have deepen and broaden the 2nd layer adaptive immune system.

It is this deeper layer that helps protect against the infection from turning serious or deadly.

And we know that the 1st booster helps reduce the risk further for everyone.

But old folks start of with much higher risk of serious or fatal infection, and so even with the 1st booster, their risks have come down but remain much higher than for their younger folks.

By having the 2nd booster, it helps bring their risks down by 2/3 less than after their 1st booster.

We can think of vaccination and boosting for old folks as a way to make them younger in terms of risk of serious of fatal covid infection.

Covid risk of death doubles every 5-8 years older.

With 2 shots of mRNA, the risk for 80+ year olds, drop to about the same level as their unvaccinated 60+ children.

With the 1st booster, their risks drop further down to be similar to their unvaccinated 40+/50+year old grandchildren/children, or their vaccinated younger siblings in their 60s or early 70s.

With 1st booster, the risk of death is about 1 in 200 for the 80+ year olds. This is reduced by 2/3 or down to about 1 in 600 with a 2nd booster.

With a 2nd booster, the 80+ year olds would reduce their risk of covid death to be similar to a fully vaccinated but not boosted 60 year old, and an unvaccinated 40 year old.

These are based on data from 1st May last year till 1st May this year in Sg, covering the Delta wave last year and the Omicron wave earlier this year, plus data from elsewhere with 2nd booster policy like Israel.

With the latest BA.4 & BA.5 starting the next wave by July/August, vaccinate, boost, for those who have not yet done so, and for seniors go for 2nd boost within 5 months of 1st booster or an infection.

Also, ideally self isolate as soon as we have infection or respiratory symptoms, and test the next day or two to ensure ART-. Even if tested ART-, bit with symptoms, avoid mask off interactions like meals with others, in case our viral load is still in the building up phase.

If tested ART+, extend self isolation to 9-10 days instead of 7 days, for vaccinated folks, or self isolate till tested ARt-.

For ART+ and unvaccinated folks, self isolate for 18-20 days, or till tested ART-, instead of the current MOH advisory of 14 days.

Other covid precautions still hold like checking oximeter readings, watching out for breathlessness symptoms, etc, during a covid infection.

Hope this helps.

Keep well, folks.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2022

More than 1,000 monkeypox cases reported to WHO | The Straits Times

More than 1,000 monkeypox cases reported to WHO | The Straits Times

More than 1,000 monkeypox cases reported to WHO

A monkeypox vaccination clinic in Canada, which has reported cases of the virus. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - There have been more than 1,000 monkeypox cases reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the current outbreak outside the countries in Africa where it more commonly spreads.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the risk of monkeypox becoming established in these non-endemic countries was real, but preventable at this point.

Twenty-nine countries have reported cases in the current outbreak, which began in May. None have reported deaths.

At a media briefing in Geneva, Dr Tedros also said there had been more than 1,400 suspected cases of monkeypox this year in Africa and 66 deaths.

"It's an unfortunate reflection of the world we live in that the international community is only now paying attention to monkeypox because it has appeared in high-income countries," he added.

He said the outbreak was showing signs of community transmission in some countries. WHO recommends people with monkeypox isolate at home.

Cases are still predominantly among men who have sex with men, WHO said, although cases in women have been reported.

The United Nations agency is working with organisations including UNAids and community groups to raise awareness and stop transmission.

Post-exposure vaccination, including for health workers or close contacts, including sexual partners - ideally within four days of exposure - may be considered for some countries, WHO added.

The vaccines being used are designed against smallpox, a related, more dangerous virus that the world eradicated in 1980, but also work to protect against monkeypox, studies have shown.

WHO senior official Sylvie Briand said the agency is assessing the potency of vaccines stockpiled against smallpox and contacting manufacturers and countries that have previously pledged vaccines.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

No Tests, No Homework! Here's How Finland Has Emerged As A Global Example Of Quality, Inclusive Education

No Tests, No Homework! Here's How Finland Has Emerged As A Global Example Of Quality, Inclusive Education

No Tests, No Homework! Here's How Finland Has Emerged As A Global Example Of Quality, Inclusive Education

Student-oriented approach to education in Finland has been recognised as the most well-developed educational system in the world and ranks third in education worldwide.

No Tests, No Homework! Heres How Finland Has Emerged As A Global Example Of Quality, Inclusive Education

Image Credit- Wikipedia, Pixabay (Representational)

"A quality education grants us the ability to fight the war on ignorance and poverty," - Charles Rangel

The uniqueness of the Finnish education model is encapsulated in its values of neither giving homework to students every day nor conducting regular tests and exams. Instead, it is listening to what the kids want and treating them as independent thinkers of society.

In Finland, the aim is to let students be happy and respect themselves and others.

Goodbye Standardised Exams

There is absolutely no program of nationwide standard testing, such as in India or the U.S, where those exams are the decisive points of one's admission to higher education like Board Examinations or Common Entrance Tests.

In an event organised by Shiksha Sanskriti Utthan Nyas, RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat remarked, "It is because they teach their children to face life struggles and not score in an examination," reported The Print.

Students in Finland are graded based on individual performance and evaluation criteria decided by their teachers themselves. Overall progress is tracked by their government's Ministry of Education, where they sample groups of students across schools in Finland.

Value-Based Education

They are primarily focused on making school a safe and equal space as children learn from the environment.

All Finland schools have offered since the 1980s free school meals, access to healthcare, a focus on mental health through psychological counselling for everyone and guidance sessions for each student to understand their wants and needs.

Education in Finland is not about marks or ranks but about creating an atmosphere of social equality, harmony and happiness for the students to ease learning experiences.

Most of the students spend half an hour at home after school to work on their studies. They mostly get everything done in the duration of the school timings as they only have a few classes every day. They are given several 15 -20 minutes breaks to eat, do recreational activities, relax, and do other work. There is no regiment in school or a rigid timetable, thus, causing less stress as given in the World Economic Forum.

Everyone Is Equal - Cooperate, Not Compete

The schools do not put pressure on ranking students, schools, or competitions, and they believe that a real winner doesn't compete; they help others come up to their level to make everyone on par.

Even though individualism is promoted during evaluation based on every student's needs, collectivity and fostering cooperation among students and teachers are deemed crucial.

While most schools worldwide believe in Charles Darwin's survival of the fittest, Finland follows the opposite but still comes out at the top.

Student-Oriented Model

The school teachers believe in a simple thumb rule; students are children who need to be happy when they attend school to learn and give their best. Focus is put upon teaching students to be critical thinkers of what they know, engage in society, and decide for themselves what they want.

In various schools, playgrounds are created by children's input as the architect talks to the children about what they want or what they feel like playing before setting up the playground.

Compared To The Indian Education Model

Firstly, Finnish children enrol in schools at the age of six rather than in India, where the school age is usually three or four years old. Their childhood is free from constricting education or forced work, and they are given free rein over how they socialise and participate in society.

Secondly, all schools in Finland are free of tuition fees as there are no private schools. Thus, education is not treated as a business. Even tuition outside schools is not allowed or needed, leaving no scope for commodifying education, unlike in India, where multiple coaching centres and private schools require exorbitant fees.

Thirdly, the school hours in Finland do not start early morning at 6 am, or 7 am as done in India. Finland schools begin from 9.30 am as research in World Economic Forum has indicated that schools starting at an early age is detrimental to their health and maturation. The school ends by mostly 2 pm.

Lastly, there is no homework or surprise test given to students in Finland. Teachers believe that the time wasted on assignments can be used to perform hobbies, art, sports, or cooking. This can teach life lessons and have a therapeutic stress-relieving effect on children. Indian schools tend to give a lot of homework to prove their commitment to studying and constantly revise what they learn in school.

Delhi Govt's Focus On Education

The Delhi model of education transformed under the Aam Aadmi Party's (AAP) tenure in the capital. In line with the Finnish model, Delhi government schools have adopted 'Happiness Classes' to ensure students' mental wellness through courses on mindfulness, problem-solving, social and emotional relationships, etc., from 1st to 8th classes.

Delhi government also introduced 'Entrepreneurial Mindset Classes' in 2019 to instil business and critical thinking skills among students of 9th to 12th classes. The practical approach in this class is indicated in the 'Business Blasters', a competition started by the Delhi government to encourage students to come up with start-up ideas and students were provided with ₹1000. Approximately 51,000 students participated in the first edition of the competition, according to Citizen Matters.

Through these endeavours, India is steadily investing in creating human resources that can get employment and generate employment for themselves.

India is at its demographic dividend stage; more than half of its population is within the working-age group of 14 to 60 years. Education is an essential factor in utilising this considerable advantage to grow economically and socially. Finland's education model is how India can strive closer to its goal and progress as a nation.

Also Read: Connaissance! Delhi Board of School Education Pens MoU To Add French In Government Schools

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Sunday, May 15, 2022

Singapore detects first three local cases of new Omicron sub-variants | The Straits Times

Singapore detects first three local cases of new Omicron sub-variants | The Straits Times

Singapore detects first three local cases of new Omicron sub-variants

All three were either asymptomatic or had mild symptoms, and did not require hospitalisation. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - Singapore has detected its first local cases of the new Omicron sub-variants that are driving a fresh increase in Covid-19 numbers all over the world.

On Sunday (May 15) night, the Health Ministry (MOH) said it has found two cases of the BA.4 variant and one case of the BA.5 variant through active surveillance.

The cases were first detected via polymerase chain reaction tests and confirmed through whole genome sequencing.

All three were either asymptomatic or had mild symptoms, and did not require hospitalisation. They were fully vaccinated and had gotten their booster doses.

They self-isolated upon testing positive for Covid-19 and had not been exposed to vulnerable settings, MOH said in a statement.

"We will step up local surveillance efforts and continue monitoring the spread of BA.4 and BA.5 in Singapore," it added.

"While our society is now more resilient against the virus, everyone should to continue to play their part and remain vigilant to mitigate the spread of Covid-19."

It urged people to ensure they are up to date with recommended booster jabs and exercise caution in areas with many people, especially for those who are more likely to develop complications if infected.

BA.4 and BA.5 were first detected in South Africa early this year and are now the dominant variants there. This means they have overtaken the BA.1 and BA.2 strains, which drove the original Omicron outbreak - including in Singapore.

The new variants have mutations in the spike protein which make them more effective at evading the immune system and more transmissible, MOH said. They are considered variants of concern by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

"However, emerging real-world evidence from other countries supports that BA.4 and BA.5 infections will likely give rise to similar clinical outcomes, compared to previous Omicron lineages."

As at last Wednesday, at least 1,000 cases of BA.4 and BA.5 had been reported in at least 16 countries, according to the World Health Organisation.

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Friday, May 13, 2022

Hottest temperature since 1983 recorded in S'pore during recent weeks of warm weather

Hottest temperature since 1983 recorded in S'pore during recent weeks of warm weather

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Mercury in S'pore hits 36.8 deg C in April, second-highest temperature on record | The Straits Times

Mercury in S'pore hits 36.8 deg C in April, second-highest temperature on record | The Straits Times

Mercury in S'pore hits 36.8 deg C in April, second-highest temperature on record

Weather experts say Singapore is not in the grips of a heatwave, and that the temperatures seen are not outside the norm. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Weeks of sweltering heat in Singapore saw the mercury race past 34 deg C several times in the past six weeks, and hit the second-highest temperature on record last month.

On April 1, it peaked at 36.8 deg C in Admiralty, just 0.2 deg C shy of the all-time high recorded in Tengah on April 17, 1983.

Weather experts say the Republic is not in the grips of a heatwave, adding that the temperatures seen are also not outside the norm.

But it will get hotter for Singapore and the rest of the world, with climate change making its presence felt.

Typically, the months of April and May are warmer for the country owing to inter-monsoon conditions, which are characterised by strong heating from the sun and light variable winds, National Environment Agency's Meteorological Service Singapore (MSS) told The Straits Times.

This week, the mercury hit 35.6 deg C at Paya Lebar and Marina Barrage between 2pm and 3pm on Tuesday, it said.

Temperatures have stayed high in recent weeks even with a natural climate phenomenon called La Nina, which has been bringing cooler and wetter weather to South-east Asia since late 2020.

Despite warmer weather due to the current inter-monsoon period, the threshold for declaring a heatwave has not been breached, MSS noted.

A heatwave in Singapore occurs when the daily maximum temperature is at least 35 deg C on three consecutive days, and the daily mean temperature throughout the period is at least 29 deg C, said MSS.

Based on past records, the nation experiences one to two heatwaves per decade, it added. The last heatwave occurred in April 2016.

But there was some relief in April with higher-than-usual rainfall.

Despite maximum temperatures soaring past 34 deg C for nearly half of April, thundery showers during the month helped to moderate the overall temperature, making it the third-coolest April in the last 10 years, said MSS.

About half of the island was drenched by above-normal rainfall for that month.

Weather and climate scientist Koh Tieh Yong from the Singapore University of Social Sciences said the conditions in April are within normal climatic variations.

He added that the temperatures currently experienced is not linked to the severe heatwave in India.

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Friday, May 6, 2022

Fwd: Is S’pore facing a recession risk? | The US, divided within, needs to reinvent itself: Harvard's Graham Allison

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From: ST Editor's Picks <>
Date: 6 May 2022 at 3:33:12 PM SGT
Subject: Is S'pore facing a recession risk? | The US, divided within, needs to reinvent itself: Harvard's Graham Allison

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FRIDAY, MAY 06 2022

Warren Fernandez

Dear ST reader,

In his May Day Rally speech on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong warned of economic challenges ahead for Singaporeans this year. These include slower growth and a possible recession as Russia's war in Ukraine and China's Covid-19 lockdowns roil global supply chains and push up prices.

Senior correspondent Ovais Subhani speaks to experts on the issue. Also, look back on our tips on how to save costs during this time.

Meanwhile, parents with questions about their child's PSLE preparation can get them answered at an upcoming ST forum. It is free for those who are ST subscribers. If you are not one yet and wish to sign up for the forum, do subscribe. You can do both here.

I wish you a good weekend. Thank you for reading The Straits Times.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Bentley driver forces his way through Red Swastika School gate, pushes security guard backwards with car - Mothership.SG - News from Singapore, Asia and around the world

Bentley driver forces his way through Red Swastika School gate, pushes security guard backwards with car - Mothership.SG - News from Singapore, Asia and around the world

Bentley driver forces his way through Red Swastika School gate, pushes security guard backwards with car

Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing has addressed the matter.

Follow us on Telegram for the latest updates:

[Update on Jan. 11, 4:35pm: The Union of Security Employees (USE) has updated its Facebook post to indicate that the driver had a valid label to enter the school, but cut the queue of waiting cars. It previously stated that the driver did not have a valid car label.]

A Bentley driver has found himself a national topic after attempting to force his way into a school, even driving his vehicle into a security guard in the process.

A video of the incident was circulated on social media on the morning of Jan. 11.

Driver drives into security guard

Video via Mothership reader.

The incident took place at Red Swastika School.

In the 20-second clip, a woman was seen arguing with a male school staff, before entering the passenger seat of the car.

Meanwhile, the school security guard blocks the vehicle's way by standing flush against the front bumper of the car.

However, the driver starts moving forward, pushing the security guard backwards—even while the woman was getting into the car.

The security guard leans his knees onto the car's bumper as he is forced to walk backwards, but the driver was undeterred and speeds up slightly.

The security guard almost falls, putting his weight against the car hood to regain balance, with the other hand on his thigh.

The guard then waves for other pedestrians to cross the road.

Invalid car plate

According to online reports, the car is a white Bentley driven by a man aged between 50 and 60.

The man apparently insisted on entering the school with an invalid car plate, and threatened to run down the security guard.

The driver held up traffic for 15 minutes, and the staff supposedly gave up arguing with the man and let him onto the premises.

His car plate number, seen in other screen captures of the incident, is not found on the OneMotoring website.

Screenshot via OneMotoring LTA.

Looking into the matter

Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing put up a Facebook post saying that the ministry is looking into the case and "will not hesitate to make a police report if warranted".

When Mothership went down to Red Swastika School at around 12:30pm, the situation was calm, and a different security guard who was on duty declined to comment further.

Mothership has reached out to the school for a comment.

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