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Covid-19: As Ukrainians contend with Russia’s unprovoked invasion, the virus is complicating the picture

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is causing a devastating humanitarian crisis in the country, with at least two million people fleeing into neighboring countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) warning that the deteriorating conditions will make it easier for Covid-19 to spread.

“Anytime you disrupt society like this and put literally millions of people on the move, then infectious diseases will exploit that,” Dr. Mike Ryan, director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Program, said last week. “People are packed together, they’re stressed, and they’re not eating, they’re not sleeping properly. They’re highly susceptible to the impacts… And it’s much more likely that disease will spread.”

Amid the fighting, WHO officials have noted the “remarkable” continuance of reporting of Covid-19 cases and deaths, but “are also seeing severe strain being placed on those systems,” Dr. Catherine Smallwood, WHO’s senior emergency officer, said at a Tuesday press conference. Ukraine reported 40,265 new cases and 758 deaths last week, a sharp drop from the figures the week before of 111,224 cases and 1,363 deaths, according to WHO data. The country has one of the lowest inoculation rates in the region, with 34 out of 100 people having received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine, the WHO data shows.

Russian strikes are increasingly targeting urban areas and Covid-19, understandably, is not a priority as civilians try to keep themselves and their families safe. “People are not seeking care because they’re afraid of the security situation; health care workers are not able to reach their places of work, because they’re concerned about their own security and (are) taking incredible risks,” Smallwood added.

Attacks on health care services, including hospitals and other facilities, have been intensifying since the start of the invasion, with 16 confirmed reports and more currently being verified, Hans Kluge, WHO’S regional director for Europe, said Tuesday. The country is also suffering from a critical oxygen shortage, exacerbated by the closure of at least three major oxygen plants. WHO has sent 500 oxygen concentrators to Ukraine, but Kluge warned that Covid-related deaths “will increase as oxygen shortages continue,” with older people “disproportionately affected as their access to health care is disrupted.”

As refugees move into neighboring countries, public health officials are imploring those nations to serve the complex health needs of fleeing Ukrainians, which range from mental health services to protection from infectious diseases like Covid-19. The health ministries of those neighboring countries “reassured me there is no shortage of Covid-19 vaccines,” Kluge said.

Overall, Kluge said, Covid-19 cases are declining in Europe, but the war is changing the picture. “It is my deepest sorrow to see my region emerging from two terrible pandemic years being now confronted with the devastating impact of military hostilities on dozens of millions of its people in Ukraine and beyond,” he added.

Q: Several screenshots on social media are claiming that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau posted on Facebook encouraging people not to interact with the unvaccinated. Is it true?

A: No. The Facebook post in the screenshot is phony. Trudeau did not post any message encouraging anyone to make life difficult for the unvaccinated, Tara Subramaniam and Clara Grudberg report.

“It’s still a good idea to mask, especially if you are in crowded, poorly ventilated locations. This is particularly important if you are immunocompromised or otherwise have chronic medical conditions that could make you more likely to have severe outcomes if you became infected with Covid-19,” Wen added. “Others should decide based on how much they want to avoid contracting Covid-19 and the importance of being unmasked.”

Send your questions here. Are you a health care worker fighting Covid-19? Message us on WhatsApp about the challenges you’re facing: +1 347-322-0415.

But after widespread outrage, Laura and Nick were reunited with Ava four days later, leaving government quarantine as a family a week after their ordeal began on Monday. Despite the happy reunion, the US Department of State updated its travel advisory for Hong Kong on Wednesday, asking citizens to reconsider travel to the city “due to arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”

An average of more than 60% of women in G7 countries whose lives were changed by the Covid-19 pandemic say their governments did not provide them with much support to deal with those changes, according to a far-reaching new poll by CNN. 

These findings come against the backdrop of numerous studies showing that women have been worse affected by the coronavirus pandemic than men, and pledges to build back better touted by leaders around the world, Ariel Edwards-Levy, Pallabi Munsi and Claire Manibog report. 

CNN’s survey finds that although both men and women in G7 countries who experienced disruption to their lives from the pandemic felt they were largely unsupported by their governments, the sentiment is more pronounced among women. 

In none of these seven countries did a majority of women say they received a good amount or more of the support that they needed. 

Of the children who lost their parents, three out of four lost their fathers. Preteens and teens were the most likely to be orphaned, with two out of three children who lost a parent being adolescents. While beyond the scope of the study, real-time data using the same model suggests the number of kids who lost a parent or caregiver is around 6.7 million as of January – outpacing the current total number of Covid-19 deaths of more than 5.9 million. 

Hong Kong – once lauded as a zero-Covid success story – is now battling a deadly outbreak reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic, despite having had more than two years to prepare. 

As cases rose this year, with locally transmitted cases surging past 312,000 in the past two weeks, the government reimposed its strictest rules, limiting public gatherings to two, closing restaurants and bars after 6 p.m., and roping off public playgrounds. 

But it hasn’t been enough. With few other levers to pull, the government plans to launch a mandatory mass-testing drive, in an attempt to purge the city of Covid. 

Meanwhile Austria, which passed Europe’s toughest vaccine rules in February, is suspending the vaccine mandate six days before fines were due to be enforced, Reuters reports. “Why? Because there are many convincing arguments at the moment that this infringement of fundamental rights is not justified,” Constitutional Affairs Minister Karoline Edtstadler told a news conference Wednesday. 

Experts also worry that social determinants of health are starting to play a larger role in who becomes seriously ill and dies from the virus. Extremely high transmission rates mean the virus is reaching everyone, said Dr. Faisal Masud, director of the critical care center at Houston Methodist hospital. But it’s hitting those from disadvantaged neighborhoods especially hard. These are the people who are more likely to be uninsured and who may delay care, leaving chronic conditions such as diabetes and hypertension untreated. 

People who have even a mild case of Covid-19 may have accelerated aging of the brain and other changes to it, according to a new study. 

It found that the brains of those who had been infected with Covid-19 had a greater loss of gray matter and abnormalities in the brain tissue compared with those who hadn’t. Many of those changes were in the area of the brain related to the sense of smell, Nadia Kounang reports. 

It is normal for people to lose 0.2% to 0.3% of gray matter every year in the memory-related areas of the brain as they age, but the study showed that people who had been infected with the coronavirus lost an additional 0.2% to 2% of tissue compared with those who hadn’t. 

Most importantly, Mina said, access to testing is “absolutely crucial to get treatment fast.” Read more here. 

The rollout of the US government’s Covid-19 test-to-treat program is underway, with in-pharmacy clinics ordering shipments of Covid-19 antiviral medications and some locations expecting to offer the service within days.

The Covid-19 antiviral pills Paxlovid and molnupiravir are already available free of charge in the United States, but quick access can be challenging for some people. 

Here’s what you need to know about getting the Covid-19 medicines that you can take at home through the test-to-treat program. 

Love isn’t just romantic dinners and moonlit walks; it’s also a survival mechanism just like hunger and thirst. On this week’s podcast, CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explores the science behind falling in love and shares one expert’s tips on keeping love alive during the pandemic. Listen Now.