Medicine shortages could worsen as Christmas looms over busy ports

Medicine shortages are expected to worsen as ports face congestion issues in the run-up to Christmas.

Most of New Zealand’s medicines and medical devices are imported and a number of medications are out of stock, including oral contraceptives and antidepressants, as air freight movement collapses and global supply chains are disrupted.

A lot of freight arrives via passenger plane, which has been dramatically reduced because of the pandemic– adding pressure to ports.

But Pharmac, the Government’s medicine buying agency, is working to ensure medicines make their way into the country.

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There is congestion at the Ports of Auckland because of the pandemic, with issues getting freight onto railways and on the road. (File photo)


There is congestion at the Ports of Auckland because of the pandemic, with issues getting freight onto railways and on the road. (File photo)

Chief executive Sarah Fitt said in most cases alternative routes such as air freight could be used to ensure continuous supply.

“These are problems globally.”

She warned busy ports around Christmas time may worsen the situation, but people should not stockpile medicines.

“We know that Covid-19 is likely to continue to have global impacts on medicine manufacturing and supply chains for the remainder of 2020 and beyond,” she said.

“Stockpiling medicines makes it more difficult for pharmacists, doctors and Pharmac to avoid shortages for everyone.”

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt warns medicine shortages will last well beyond 2020.

Ross Giblin/Stuff

Pharmac chief executive Sarah Fitt warns medicine shortages will last well beyond 2020.

Pharmaceutical Society vice president Rhiannon Braund said workloads had doubled as many three-monthly prescriptions were now offered on a monthly basis.

“It has been quite relentless,” she said.

Harriet Shelton, a supply chain manager at the Ministry of Transport, said the Ports of Auckland had been particularly hard-hit by the surge in demand.

“This is amplified by disruption to international shipping schedules and congestion at Asian and Australian ports,” she said.

The port handles the bulk of the country’s imports but faced extra challenges including delays to its automation system.

And moving freight to rail and the road system once it arrived was also an issue due to limited capacity, she said.

But special flights for critical goods, were possible through the International Air Freight Capacity scheme.”

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Why a digital Christmas goes against our instincts

Even at the best of times, Christmas can be a season of contradictory feelings. There is a yearning to enjoy the season of goodwill with our relatives and yet their proximity often creates friction. For many families, it is the only time of year we get to spend together, yet we resent the stress that this creates.

The Covid-19 pandemic will only amplify this angst. It is hard to predict how the situation will change, but it seems unlikely that the second wave will have receded by 25 December. If the virus is still circulating widely, our celebrations will pose a danger and we will have to decide between taking that risk and celebrating alone. Boris Johnson has repeatedly asserted the government will do “everything we can to make sure that Christmas for everybody is as normal as possible”, yet his chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance echoed the warning of a senior Scottish health official that a “digital Christmas” cannot be ruled out.

Why would we be prepared to put our ourselves and our loved ones at risk for the sake of turkey and charades?

These traditions are deeply embedded in our culture, but recent developments in evolutionary psychology suggest the knotty and conflicting emotions they inspire may have deeper origins. While it cannot provide simple solutions to our dilemmas, a knowledge of our evolved instincts may help us to approach Christmas with a little more clarity of thought.

According to evolutionary theorists, most of our social connections rely on a sense of reciprocity that brings mutual benefits. In prehistory, we might have shared our food with allies during times of scarcity in the knowledge that they would do the same for us; the balance of give and take is essential for the survival of the relationship. “Implicitly or explicitly, people keep track of favours given to friends, even close friends,” says Dr Samuel Roberts at Liverpool John Moores University.

Related: Victoria Derbyshire apologises over Covid Christmas comments

For family members, however, we have an additional motivation for altruism, arising from an evolutionary process known as “kin selection”. This theory, popularised in Richard Dawkins’s book The Selfish Gene, centres on the fact that our close relatives – our siblings, nieces, nephews and grandchildren – share many of our genes. By aiding our nearest kin, we can therefore protect part of our genetic lineage. “In evolutionary terms, I can pass on my genes through my own kids or by helping out my sister and her kids,” says Roberts. This means we have evolved an instinctual urge to care more about family members than friends, even if we share little in common besides our genes – and we don’t keep such a close watch on the reciprocal give and take.

Although the theory of kin selection may seem too cynical and simplistic to explain human behaviour, there is strong evidence it drives many of our feelings and actions. Working with Robin Dunbar and Oliver Curry at the University of Oxford,

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What’s A ‘Holiday Bubble Checklist’? Baylor College Releases COVID-19 Advice For Christmas

Doctors fear that the most wonderful time of the year may become the most dangerous amid the coronavirus pandemic. However, creating a “holiday bubble checklist” may be the answer to saving the 2020 holiday season.

Dr. James McDeavitt, the senior vice president and dean of clinical affairs at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, has created a “holiday bubble checklist” that will lower the chance of family gatherings turning into superspreader events, NBC News reports.

For families to have a safe holiday season, experts are advising them to choose a “bubble commissioner” that will responsible for making sure the family members who plan to attend the holiday gathering follow whatever guidelines are put in place.

However, the person must take the role seriously and cannot do it halfway. “There is harm in that. It gives a false sense of security,” McDeavitt explained.

The checklist recommends that each member of the family gets a flu shot as soon as possible. “This will decrease the likelihood of developing a flu-related illness around holiday time, which could disrupt your plans,” he stated.

Attendees should also self-quarantine 14 days before the holiday if possible. McDeavitt provided a solid template on what should be included in every holiday bubble checklist. He even added that travelers should wear goggles or face shields in addition to regular masks. 

He suggested that the more detailed a list is, the higher the chance families will feel comfortable “co-mingling, singing songs, laughing — all the things you like to do during the holidays.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician, recommended hosting the holiday gathering outdoors. Wen noted that logical thinking tends to go out the window when it comes to seeing loved ones as threats to another’s health. 

“We know that up to 50 percent of people who are spreading coronavirus may not have symptoms,” she said.

“There is this magical thinking that occurs with our loved ones, but we need to be aware that our family and friends are just as likely to have coronavirus as strangers.”

Christian Gaza resident Hanadi Missak adjusts the ornaments on her Christmas tree at her home in Gaza City, but she could not travel to Bethlehem this year as Israeli authorities did not grant a permit in time Christian Gaza resident Hanadi Missak adjusts the ornaments on her Christmas tree at her home in Gaza City, but she could not travel to Bethlehem this year as Israeli authorities did not grant a permit in time Photo: AFP / MAHMUD HAMS

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COVID cases may surge after Thanksgiving, Christmas gatherings


R-0 may be the most important scientific term you’ve never heard of when it comes to stopping the coronavirus pandemic.


Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña and his wife come from large families and typically split the holiday festivities, getting together with one group of relatives for Thanksgiving and another one at Christmas.

This year, they’ll reluctantly keep their distance from both.

“We’re going to have to make sacrifices,” said Cioe-Peña, an emergency room physician and director of Global Health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York. “My wife and I decided this year’s going to be nuclear family, and we’re not inviting anybody over.”

As the holidays approach and the number of coronavirus cases surge, millions of Americans face the decision whether to eschew traditional gatherings with family and friends or risk spreading the virus among loved ones.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost authority on infectious diseases, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned about the potential for a spike in infections stemming from holiday parties, even if they’re small and only among relatives.

Memorial Day get-togethers were partly blamed for an increase in COVID-19 cases the USA experienced early in the summer. Events such as a Sweet 16 party late last month in Long Island, New York – linked to 37 positive tests – and a wedding in August in Maine – which led to more than 175 infections – underscore the danger of relatively small social functions turning into superspreaders.

Last week, health officials in the Washington area said small gatherings have been a factor in the region hitting a two-month high in coronavirus cases.

“All along, there have been issues about attending weddings, funerals, religious gatherings and other events that are part of our normal life,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “They bring people together and potentially become vectors for the virus. As many public health experts mention, the virus is attending these events and can be transmitted from person to person.”

The traditional gatherings of relatives and friends during Thanksgiving and other holidays are a source of concern for public health experts, who fear they may lead to a spike in coronavirus cases. (Photo: Getty Images / skynesher)

Don’t let ‘the virus get to grandma’

The CDC, which is discouraging traditional trick-or-treating this Halloween, on Monday updated its guidance about holiday celebrations with advice on how to reduce risk of infection.

The tips for in-person gatherings include commonly known mitigation measures such as holding events outdoors, limiting their size, having participants wear masks and maintaining social distance. The CDC also encourages hosts to request that guests avoid contact with people from outside their household for two weeks before the activity.

Safe inside: Fauci warns against Thanksgiving celebrations: How to stay safe indoors from the coronavirus during cold seasons?

The impracticality of some of the safety measures – it’s hard to fit everybody at a table

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UK to carry out a million COVID tests a day by Christmas, scientists predict

A member of staff collects a completed test kit from a visitor at a Covid-19 testing centre in Southwark, south London, after a range of new restrictions to combat the rise in coronavirus cases came into place in England. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
A member of staff collects a completed test kit in Southwark, south London (Picture: Getty)

The UK will carry out a million COVID-19 tests a day by Christmas with results being given in as little as 15 minutes, scientists have predicted. 

The government has already set a target of 500,000 tests a day by the end of October but this could be doubled by the end of the year, according to a report in the Times. 

The newspaper quoted an unnamed senior scientist who claimed it seemed “perfectly possible” the country could reach a million tests by the festive period.

The source said: “It’s going pretty well.  They have really scaled up their capabilities.

“By Christmas we’ll be at a million a day, I think. That seems perfectly possible.”

Watch: PM hopes to resist national lockdown

Boris Johnson announced on Friday the UK is developing the capacity to manufacture millions of fast turnaround tests for coronavirus which could deliver results in just 15 minutes.

The prime minister told a No 10 press conference the new tests were “faster, simpler and cheaper” and that work was being done to ensure they could be manufactured and distributed in the UK.

He said: “We’ve already bought millions of these tests, some of which are very simple, meaning you simply need to wipe the swab inside your mouth and can give a result as quickly as in 15 minutes.”

“We’ve started building the infrastructure for domestic manufacture of these tests, ensuring that Britain has the ability to produce millions of fast tests here.

“Over the next few weeks we will start distributing and trialling these tests across the country.”

Andrew Ilesley gets his QR code scanned using a smart phone to demonstrate how to use the new walk-through Covid testing centre in Dundee. The test centre uses a system of connected trailers cleaned using dry ice, the first site in Scotland to have this capability. (Photo by Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images)
A COVID-19 testing centre in Dundee (Picture: Getty)

Downing Street has also announced further pilots of new testing technologies will begin from next week, across some of the UK’s worst-affected regions.

The government said that hospitals in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Basingstoke and Southampton will test asymptomatic NHS staff, and use the data to assist with Track and Trace.

These pilots will see individuals tested weekly as a minimum.

In addition, trials of new “lateral flow tests” – swab tests that do not require lab processing and can be returned within an hour – would be sent to adult social care settings, schools and universities in the hardest-hit areas.

Johnson said that Liverpool, Lancashire, and any other areas which enter the “very high” alert level would be “immediately prioritised” for fast turnaround tests.

The government will also make tests available to local public health directors to help control localised outbreaks.

Johnson added: “In time we want to use tests to keep open more parts of the economy that have sadly been closed but it is crucial that we make sure such systems work safely,

“I must level with you that it will take time to get this right before many organisations can buy and operate these tests themselves.”

Watch: Can you catch the coronavirus twice?

Coronavirus: what happened today

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How to be safe indoors during Thanksgiving, Christmas, winter


R-0 may be the most important scientific term you’ve never heard of when it comes to stopping the coronavirus pandemic.


Officials have been able to control COVID-19 transmission rates by implementing policies that encourage residents to eat and drink, exercise and spend time with friends and loved ones at a safe distance outside. 

But health experts are concerned cases could spike again as cooler temperatures in the fall and winter force people back indoors. 

The nation’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci also is concerned upcoming holiday celebrations could increase transmission rates and advised Americans to skip any big Thanksgiving plans. 

Speaking to “CBS Evening News” Wednesday, Fauci cautioned against “gathering together in an indoor setting” with large groups of out-of-town guests. “It is unfortunate because that’s such a sacred part of American tradition – the family gathering around Thanksgiving,” he said. “But that is a risk.” 

Some experts suspect indoor transmission is what facilitated the summer surge of COVID-19 cases in southern states as residents retreated to public places with air conditioning to escape the heat. The three most populous states – California, Texas and Florida – each tallied more than 500,000 infections at the height of the surge in August, according to Johns Hopkins data.

“Indoors in public spaces is one of the places where the largest amounts of risk and transmission are likely to be happening,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology and a faculty member in the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamic at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

What makes congregating indoors so dangerous and how can you stay safe?

CDC updates guidelines (again): Notes risk of airborne transmission, says coronavirus can infect people more than 6 feet away


New York City reached a recovery milestone on Wednesday as indoor restaurant dining was permitted for the first time since March. (April 30)

AP Domestic

‘A minority of infections leads to the majority of transmission’

Dr. Lewis Nelson, professor and chair of emergency medicine at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said one of the main reasons there’s a higher risk of transmission indoors than outdoors is lack of ventilation.

Natural air currents outside disperse virus particles more quickly and effectively than inside. There’s minimal to no air circulation indoors, allowing virus particles to linger in the air or fall on high-touch surfaces.

“If I were to smoke a cigarette (inside), you would see the smoke particles linger,” he said. “Whereas outdoors the smoke kind of leaves.”

Additionally, indoor public places have more surfaces. As respiratory droplets or aerosol particles fall, they land on table tops, chairs, door handles and other objects people frequently touch.

“Outdoors have less surfaces,” Nelson said. “Nobody is touching the ground and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.”

People also tend to be closer indoors because they’re confined by walls. Hanage said bars are a major source of transmission in communities because people tend to gather there for long periods of time as judgement

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There’s a slim chance a COVID-19 vaccine may be ready by Christmas, says chair of U.K. Vaccine Taskforce

With so much on the line in the race to find a COVID-19 vaccine, it was bound to get ugly.

When Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took aim at the MHRA, Britain’s version of the FDA, saying it’s “not on par with ours,” the chair of the U.K.’s Vaccine Taskforce had to call her out.

“With great respect to Nancy Pelosi, I just don’t think she’s correct,” said Kate Bingham. “I think the MHRA standards for safety and efficacy and our track record of robust evaluation as a regulator is world class. So I just don’t think she is right to say that the FDA standards are held to a higher standard than those of the MHRA.”

Pelosi’s comments may be a preemptive in case President Trump plans on invoking emergency powers to greenlight a vaccine, saying “if Boris Johnson decides he’s going to approve a drug and this president embraces that, that’s the concern I have.”

But it underlines the tensions even between traditional allies as several vaccine candidates get closer to reality.

Bingham said there is a slim chance there may be a vaccine by Christmas. 

“There is a slim chance,” she said. “I think it’s more likely that it’ll be in early next year.”

That optimism comes with caveats. Bingham said it’s not a one-size-fits-all, or a one-and-done. “So I think we’re going to have to find vaccines that will provide as much protection as possible, and then we’re likely to have to give booster vaccines, much like, again, a flu shot.”  

She said initial recipients will be those who need it most: the elderly, the vulnerable and health care workers.

A vaccine being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca continues to be among the frontrunners in the U.K., but it has fallen behind in the United States, where clinical trials remain on pause under FDA orders.

Pfizer has been the most aggressive in its timeline, but the company has said it has no intention of applying for emergency authorization before the end of November, taking itself out of the running in President Trump’s promise a vaccine will be ready before Election Day.

The final stretch of this race may ultimately come down to the regulators.

“As soon as they’ve got the data, they can file with the regulatory authorities around the world. And then there will be a race between the regulatory authorities as to who approves. Who will be quicker? I have no idea,” said Bingham. “What I do know is that I think it’s unlikely that the MHRA will be subject to political pressure and certainly as reported in the press, that may not be always the case in the States.” 

But she added: “I don’t think any amount of political pressure will affect what the FDA actually does and what the vaccine companies do, because there is a very clear commitment to safety and efficacy. And it’s not in anybody’s interest to approve a vaccine that isn’t safe and efficacious and that

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