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Covid-19 patients infected with flu twice as likely to die, study shows



People who are simultaneously infected with Covid-19 and influenza face double the risk of death, according to a new study, highlighting the challenge being posed to health systems as flu re-emerges.

The research, led by scientists and medics at academic institutions across Europe as part of the disease response network Isaric, found that unvaccinated patients infected with the two viruses were 2.3 times more likely to die and 4.1 times more likely to require a ventilator, compared with people only infected with coronavirus.

Geert Groeneveld, one of the study authors and an infectious disease physician at the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said the harm from a co-infection of Covid and flu probably stemmed from how they both “destroy the respiratory tract” in severely ill patients.

Most countries have been spared large flu surges over the past two years as public health restrictions implemented to counteract the spread of Covid-19 have also suppressed the peak of influenza seasons. However, some health experts have warned that a rare spring or summer flu surge in the northern hemisphere is possible.

Researchers said the findings highlighted the importance of ensuring high uptake for both Covid-19 and flu vaccines, and the need for enhanced testing of Covid-19 patients for flu.

The research, published on Friday evening, did not however find an elevated risk of severe illness for Covid-19 patients co-infected with RSV and adenovirus, other common respiratory viruses.

Nearly 7,000 Covid patients in the UK were tested for co-infections as part of the study between February 2020 and December 2021, of which 227 people were found to have both flu and Covid at the same time. But researchers noted they were “unable to determine” the impact of vaccination on patient outcomes because most patients were admitted before jabs were widely available and they could not access flu vaccination status on patients’ records.

Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at Liverpool University, who contributed to the research, said co-infections could affect thousands of people during future flu surges.

“We’re coming out of Covid restrictions, flu will come back and although we’ve vaccinated against Covid we may not have so much vaccination [against] flu,” he said. Semple stressed that not all patients would die “but a lot of them are going to have a very torrid time in hospital”.

He stressed that “it is now very important that people get fully vaccinated and boosted against both viruses, and not leave it until it is too late”.

Kenneth Baillie, professor of experimental medicine at the University of Edinburgh who co-authored the study, said the risk was “a very real one for people, as flu returns in the next winter and maybe before”.

Some southern hemisphere nations, including Brazil and South Africa, have recently been hit by flu surges at unusual times of year, possibly foreshadowing a return of the virus in the northern hemisphere earlier than winter.

“We found that the combination of Covid-19 and flu viruses is particularly dangerous. This will be important as many countries decrease the use of social distancing and containment measures,” added Baillie.

“We expect that Covid-19 will circulate with flu, increasing the chance of co-infections. That is why we should change our testing strategy for Covid-19 patients in hospital and test for flu much more widely.”

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Virgin Atlantic ceases Hong Kong operations, cites Russian airspace closure



Virgin Atlantic has not operated any passenger flights to Hong Kong since December 2021, after the city-state suspended all flights from the U.K. due to a resurgence in Covid-19 cases.

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British airline Virgin Atlantic announced Wednesday it was permanently ceasing operations in Hong Kong due to issues related to the closure of Russian airspace.

The decision marks the end of the carrier’s London Heathrow to Hong Kong flight route and the closure of its Hong Kong office. It also ends the airline’s 30-year presence in the Asian financial hub.

Virgin Atlantic said in a statement that the closure of Russian airspace following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine in late February was one of several “complexities” contributing to the decision.

It said that on the basis of the airspace remaining closed, Heathrow to London flight times would be around one hour longer than in 2019, while Hong Kong to Heathrow flights would be 1 hour 50 minutes longer.

It added that the 2019 termination of Virgin Australia’s Hong Kong to Melbourne and Hong Kong to Sydney services had already reduced the airline’s presence in the city-state.

“After careful consideration we’ve taken the difficult decision to suspend our London Heathrow – Hong Kong services and close our Hong Kong office, after almost 30 years of proudly serving this Asian hub city,” a spokesperson for the airline said.

“Significant operational complexities due to the ongoing Russian airspace closure have contributed to the commercial decision not to resume flights in March 2023 as planned, which have already been paused since December 2021,” it added.

Virgin Atlantic has not operated any passenger flights to Hong Kong since December 2021, after the city-state suspended all flights from the U.K. due to a resurgence of Covid-19 cases.

The airline was previously due to resume Hong Kong services from March 2023. However, with Wednesday’s announcement, it said it would be able to increase services in other key markets from next summer.

Around 46 Virgin Atlantic jobs, including those of office staff and cabin crew, are set to be impacted by the decision, according to Bloomberg.

The airline said it would offer refunds or vouchers for alternate Virgin Atlantic services to the “limited number” of customers due to travel from March next year.

Virgin’s exit from Hong Kong is the first by a major airline since American Airlines left the city in late 2021.

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German minister criticizes U.S. over ‘astronomical’ natural gas prices



A photo of a natural gas flare burning near an oil pump jack at the New Harmony Oil Field in the U.S. on June 19, 2022.

Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Germany’s economy minister accused the U.S. and other “friendly” gas supplier states of astronomical prices for their supplies, suggesting they were profiting from the fallout of the war in Ukraine.

“Some countries, including friendly ones, sometimes achieve astronomical prices [for their gas]. Of course, that brings with it problems that we have to talk about,” Economy Minister Robert Habeck told regional German paper NOZ in an interview published Wednesday which was translated by NBC News. He called for more solidarity from the U.S. when it comes to assisting its energy-pressed allies in Europe.

“The United States contacted us when oil prices shot up, and the national oil reserves in Europe were tapped as a result. I think such solidarity would also be good for curbing gas prices,” he said.

CNBC contacted the White House for a response to the comments and is awaiting a reply.

Habeck, the co-leader of Germany’s Green Party, which is a part of Berlin’s coalition government led by center-left Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said the EU should also do more to address the region’s gas crisis, with countries scrambling for alternative supplies which has pressured prices even more, that was brought about by the war in Ukraine and deteriorating relations with Russia.

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Moscow’s state-owned gas giant Gazprom has cut supplies to the bloc drastically over the last few months, largely due to international sanctions and a desire to punish Europe — the EU used to import around 45% of its gas supplies from Russia but is seeking to halt all imports — for supporting Kyiv.

Habeck said the EU “should pool its market power and orchestrate smart and synchronized purchasing behavior by the EU states so that individual EU countries do not outbid each other and drive up world market prices.” 

European market power is “enormous,” it just has to be used, he noted, according to the German news outlet.

Europe is facing a hard winter with gas shortages predicted across the region. Countries like Germany have been largely dependent on Russian gas supplies for decades with massive energy infrastructure, such as the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines, designed to bring gas from Russia to Germany via the Baltic Sea.

While the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline was never even launched, with Germany refusing to certify the pipeline following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, Nord Stream 1 has become a pawn in souring relations between Moscow and Brussels.

Over the summer, gas supplies via the pipeline stopped and started seemingly at Moscow’s whim, although it invariably cited the need for maintenance and sanctions as a reason for halting supplies. But then supplies came to a halt in September.

More recently, Russia and Europe’s energy ties have literally been damaged with the Nord Stream pipelines suffering leaks last month in suspicious circumstances.

Russia denied it had sabotaged the pipelines, with reported underwater explosions damaging the pipes in several places, sending natural gas spewing from the Baltic Sea. The damage prompted an international outcry with the EU vowing a “robust” response to attacks on its energy infrastructure.

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