Following is a summary of current health news briefs.

Britain widens access to Pfizer’s COVID antiviral drug through trial

Britain will expand access to Pfizer’s oral antiviral COVID-19 treatment to thousands more people by adding it to a trial to assess how best to use the drug in its highly vaccinated population, the health ministry said on Tuesday. Paxlovid, a combination of Pfizer’s new pill with older antiviral ritonavir, was made available to thousands of people with compromised immune systems in Britain in February.

Philadelphia to reimpose indoor mask mandate in public spaces

Philadelphia will again require masks in indoor public settings such as restaurants,, and businesses starting next week, the city said on Monday, responding to what appears to be a fresh wave of coronavirus transmissions. The new rule, which is set to take effect on April 18, will make Philadelphia the first major city in the United States to reimpose such a mandate.

White House faces April 18 deadline on transit mask mandate

The Biden administration faces an April 18 deadline on whether to extend or end a mandate requiring travelers to wear masks on airplanes, trains and in transit hubs. Industry groups and Republican lawmakers want the White House to end the 14-month-old mask mandate. But it comes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases – including numerous US officials who attended a recent white-tie dinner in Washington.

FDA lifts partial clinical hold on Gilead’s blood cancer drug trials

Gilead Sciences Inc said on Monday the US Food and Drug Administration had lifted the partial clinical hold placed on its trials testing a blood cancer drug combination. The FDA removed the hold after a review of the safety data from each trial, the company said.

Shanghai lets some residents leave home, cautiously eases COVID curbs

Some residents of Shanghai stepped out of their homes for the first time in more than two weeks on Tuesday, as the city took tentative steps towards easing a COVID-19 lockdown amid mounting worries over the economic impact of the strict curbs. Shanghai said on Monday that more than 7,000 residential units had been classified as lower-risk areas after reporting no new infections for 14 days, and its districts have since been announcing which specific compounds can be opened up.

Canada’s Ontario in sixth COVID wave, hospitalizations likely to rise -official

Ontario is in the sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic driven by the highly transmissible BA.2 sub-variant of the Omicron coronavirus and hospitalizations are likely to rise over the coming weeks, the most populous Canadian province’s top doctor said on Monday. “In the last few weeks, we have seen an increase in the percent positivity and upward trend in wastewater surveillance and a rise in hospitalizations. These trends are likely to continue for the next several weeks,” Ontario’s chief medical officer Kieran Moore said at a briefing.

Walgreens flooded Florida with addictive opioids, lawyer tells jury

Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc supplied billions of opioid pills to drug addicts and criminals, contributing to an addiction epidemic in Florida, a lawyer for the state said on Monday in a civil trial against the pharmacy chain. Walgreens filled one in four opioid prescriptions in Florida between 1999 and 2020 and failed to investigate red flags that could have prevented drugs from being diverted for illegal use, the state’s lawyer Jim Webster said as jurors heard opening statements in the trial held in New Port Richey .

WHO says it is analyzing two new Omicron COVID sub-variants

The World Health Organization said on Monday it is tracking a few dozen cases of two new sub-variants of the highly transmissible Omicron strain of the coronavirus to assess whether they are more infectious or dangerous. It has added BA.4 and BA.5, sister variants of the original BA.1 Omicron variant, to its list for monitoring. It is already tracking BA.1 and BA.2 – now globally dominant – as well as BA.1.1 and BA.3.

Explainer-I’m eligible for a second COVID booster. Should I get one?

US officials now say that people 50 and older can get a second COVID-19 booster shot to fortify their immune defenses against COVID-19. But for individuals in that group, the decision is complicated. Here are considerations health experts say people should weigh.

Taiwan sees 1,000 daily local COVID cases by end of month

Taiwan expects daily domestic COVID-19 infections to top 1,000 a day by the end of the month, Health Minister Chen Shih-Chung said on Tuesday, calling on people not to panic about a wave that is causing a few serious cases. Taiwan has been a model for how to control the pandemic. It moved early and effectively with such measures as largely closing its borders and implementing highly efficient contact tracing.

(With inputs from agencies.)

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