"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 4th Dec 2020

Isolation Tips
Astronauts’ lessons on how to cope — in lockdown and beyond
If lockdown and social distancing are not enough of a challenge, how would you like to be confined to a research lab with your colleagues for three weeks — 19 metres under the sea? Or perhaps you would prefer to be left in a cave system, isolated from the outside world with no natural light, minimal privacy and limited equipment for hygiene and comfort? Welcome to the world of astronaut training. Both Nasa and the European Space Agency run field studies in locations with similarities to working in space: a “dangerous and unfriendly” place, according to Nasa’s website. Hazards include isolation and confinement, while behavioural issues are “inevitable”
Hygiene Helpers
Biden asks Fauci to join COVID-19 team, stresses need for masks
Biden told CNN that he plans to ask the public to wear masks for 100 days to help drive down the spread of the novel coronavirus. “I’m going to ask the public for 100 days to mask,” Biden said. “Not forever, 100 days.” His office would issue a standing order for people to wear masks in federal buildings and on interstate transportation, including aeroplanes and buses, he added. Biden also said he would get the COVID-19 vaccine when Fauci says it is safe and would be happy to take it publicly. “It’s important to communicate to the American people it’s safe, safe to do this,” he said.
Coronavirus: WHO considers e-vaccination certificates to ease travel
The WHO recommended that countries do not begin issuing immunity passports A number of governments have suggested they are a route back to normality British experts warned issuing immunity passports would lead to inequality WHO: Rich nations will lose hundreds of billions if vaccine isn't issued equally
Covid: WHO looks at possible ‘e-vaccination certificates’ for travel
The World Health Organisation has warned against countries issuing "immunity passports" to people who have recovered from Covid-19 but is investigating the prospects of using electronic certificates to flag those who have been vaccinated. "We are looking very closely into the use of technology in this Covid-19 response, and one of them is how we can work with member states towards an e-vaccination certificate," a WHO medical expert told a virtual briefing in Copenhagen on Thursday. Dr Siddharta Sankar Datta, a regional adviser on diseases and immunisation, said the technology could potentially be used to open up international travel.
The covid-19 symptoms to watch out for
Symptoms of covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, can range from mild to severe. The most common include fever, a dry cough or shortness of breath, but there are other indications you could need to be tested or have a conversation with your doctor. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, and the order in which they appear can vary. Some people don’t show any symptoms — what health experts call “asymptomatic” cases — but still could spread the virus to others.
Public trust vital for Covid-19 vaccine programmes, says WHO
The WHO has urged European countries to prepare for vaccinations against Covid-19, stressing that community acceptance will be crucial to the success of the health programmes. More than 200 Covid vaccines are under development, some of which have already completed phase 3 clinical trials with an efficacy rate of more than 90%. This week the UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is also reviewing vaccines from the US company Moderna and the Oxford University/AstraZeneca team.
Community Activities
Biden says he will join former presidents in publicly getting COVID vaccine
President-elect Joe Biden said he would publicly take a vaccine when it's available to encourage the public to get vaccinated, joining three former presidents who recently pledged to do the same. Biden said he'd "be happy" to join former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in getting the vaccine in public to prove it is safe. "When Dr. Fauci says we have a vaccine that is safe, that's the moment in which I will stand before the public," Biden said during an interview on CNN Thursday night. “People have lost faith in the ability of the vaccine to work,” Biden told CNN, pointing to the high number of cases. "It matters what a president and vice president do. I think my three predecessors have set the model on what should be done."
Is this the hardest working teacher in the UK? Maths teacher from south-west London wins £33,000 global award after his free tuition website helped students around the world study during Covid lockdown
Jamie Frost, 34, given prize for going above and beyond to keep pupils learning Teacher started free online learning platform used by students around the world He was one of 10 finalists shortlisted for Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize Ranjitsinh Disale, primary school teacher from India, won the million-dollar prize
Facebook vows to remove false claims about Covid-19 vaccines
Facebook on Thursday said it would start removing false claims about Covid-19 vaccines, in a tightening of its policies on health-related misinformation. The new restrictions come a day after UK prime minister Boris Johnson vowed to fight the spread of misleading content from “anti-vaxxers”, as the UK prepares to roll out Covid-19 vaccinations from next week. Facebook said in a blog post that it would remove falsities debunked by public health experts, citing as an example claims that Covid-19 jabs contain microchips, a theory often spuriously linked to Bill Gates. Earlier this year, Facebook began removing Covid-19-related misinformation, but only if it could “contribute to imminent physical harm”, while material considered false by fact-checkers was covered with a warning label.
Working Remotely
Professionals working remotely during the pandemic are watching two hours more of TV: study
Americans working from home during the coronavirus pandemic are spending more time in front of the TV, new data suggests. Professionals who have the luxury to work remotely during COVID-19 are consuming around two hours and 10 minutes more each week of TV – that’s 26 more minutes per day than they did pre-pandemic, according to a survey released Tuesday from market research firm Nielsen. And more tube time seems to be cutting into the workday. More than half of respondents, 65%, said they watched TV or streamed video content during work breaks while 50% said they watched TV while they were working, the data shows.
What Does Working From Home Mean for the Post-Pandemic Reality?
Lockdown meant increased family time, and it put a pause on commuting, which is both pricey and stressful. There was more downtime at home and far less money spent on work attire, working in my dressing gown on the sofa I’m not proud to say was a regular occurrence.
Virtual Classrooms
Leading in Crisis: What K-12 Schools Learned From Switch to Virtual Learning
Like so many professionals in 2020, K-12 educators have spent much of the year improvising. That was especially true last March, when, thanks to the coronavirus, nearly every school in the country was forced to close doors on Friday the 13th.
London maths teacher wins £33,000 global prize for 'Covid hero' award
A maths teacher from a school in south-west London has won a global Covid Hero Award for his efforts during the pandemic. Jamie Frost, who works at Tiffin School in Kingston upon Thames, received a one-off prize of £33,000 for going above and beyond in the coronavirus crisis to help keep pupils learning. Mr Frost, whose free online learning platform was used by students around the world, was one of 10 finalists shortlisted for the sixth annual Varkey Foundation Global Teacher Prize. Comedian and actor Stephen Fry announced on Thursday that Ranjitsinh Disale, a village primary school teacher from India who was praised for improving the education of girls, had won the million-dollar (£742,000) prize.
The challenges of keep families engaged through virtual learning
“At one point I told my husband we have to choose to be his teacher or his parents, we can’t do both,” said Jamie Jensen, whose son is a sophomore at Southwest High School. Jensen says he was a good student until he started virtual learning. “He went from a gifted student who went to Leonardo da Vinci and excelled, and now, he’s not excelling,” Jensen says as she shakes her head. It’s a problem some staff at Green Bay Public Schools have also noticed. “It’s been more than a challenge. A highly motivated student, during this virtual environment...not so much,” said Luis Franco, the district’s family engagement coordinator. He has worked for the district for the last 23 years, connecting families with resources to keep them engaged with their child’s education.
They know the pain of online learning. Here’s what teachers, parents and students did about it
Nearly nine months and counting — that’s how long more than 1 million L.A. County students have been out of school. It’s only a guess when campuses will reopen amid the alarming surge in coronavirus cases. But talk to educators, parents and students and they invariably know someone who has made a difference. Someone who identified a pain point with distance learning, attempted to fix it and moved schooling forward during this unprecedented disruption to education. They are brothers, worried mothers, creative teachers and college professors inventing new ways to teach familiar lessons. They are community builders who motivate students isolated behind computer screens. These are some of their stories.
Public Policies
Turkey announces vaccination plan for Chinese CoronaVac
Turkey’s health minister has announced a plan to start using an experimental Chinese COVID-19 vaccine later this month amid a surge in infections and deaths. Fahrettin Koca had previously announced an agreement with China’s Sinovac Biotech for 50 million doses of CoronaVac, which is currently in late-stage trials. Koca said in a statement late on Wednesday the first shipment of the vaccine will arrive in Turkey after December 11. The minister said early use authorisation would be granted after Turkish labs confirm the shots are safe and after assessment of initial results from the latest trials. “If developments continue positively as we expect, Turkey would be among the first countries in the world to begin vaccinations in the early phase,” Koca said.
How UK approved BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine ahead of EU
Since October, when the first data from the BioNTech/Pfizer trial became available, scientists and clinicians at the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, or MHRA, had “worked round the clock” to review more than 1,000 pages of information, according to June Raine, the agency’s chief executive. Normally each stage of a clinical trial must be completed before the next stage begins, but the BioNTech/Pfizer trial had been adapted by the companies to allow the different trial stages to “overlap”, Ms Raine said. The MHRA then undertook a rolling review of the data, she said, to allow for the assessment of the vaccine “in the shortest time possible”.
UK care home residents to miss out on first round of Covid vaccinations
In England, hundreds of thousands of care home residents will miss out on the first wave of Covid vaccinations when the rollout begins next week, the government has admitted. The fragility of the newly licensed Pfizer vaccine means it will first be delivered only to hospitals. The news came hours after the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation (JCVI), which advises ministers, said care home residents and staff should be prioritised. Boris Johnson described the distribution of the vaccine as “an immense logistical challenge” and said it would take months before all of the most vulnerable were protected.
France's PM says COVID-19 vaccines will be free for all
French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Thursday it was “a matter of weeks” before the country will start rolling out COVID-19 vaccinations and that they will be free for all. Castex also told a news conference that the vaccinations would be deployed in three phases
Covid-19 Vaccines Are ‘Liquid Gold’ to Organized Crime, Interpol Says
Criminal gangs will likely attempt to get their hands on the new Covid-19 vaccines, international police organization Interpol warned, potentially disrupting supplies of the crucial shots as they become available. The agency issued a global orange notice—which it describes as a serious and imminent threat to public safety—to its 194 members, calling the vaccines “liquid gold.” It warned that counterfeit vaccines or fake coronavirus tests could become a growing problem as international travel gradually resumes in the months to come. “As governments are preparing to roll out vaccines, criminal organizations are planning to infiltrate or disrupt supply chains,” Interpol Secretary-General Jürgen Stock said
Covid-19 contracts: government refuses to say who benefited from political connections
The government has been accused of “completely unnecessary secrecy” after refusing to say which companies have been awarded multimillion-pound Covid-19 contracts after being processed in a high-priority channel for firms with political connections. A report by the National Audit Office last month stated that a government unit, set up to procure PPE, established the high-priority lane to deal with leads that came “from government officials, ministers’ offices, MPs and members of the House of Lords, senior NHS staff and other health professionals”. The 493 companies given high priority due to these connections secured contracts to supply PPE with 10 times the success rate of nearly 15,000 companies that were not given enhanced attention.
Positive coronavirus tests fall 28 per cent as England's lockdown makes its mark
Positive Covid cases dropped more than a quarter in England last week, according to the latest Test and Trace figures, as the country begins to feel the effects of the nationwide lockdown. Figures from the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) found that just over 110,000 people in England tested positive for coronavirus in England in the week to 25 November, marking a 28 per cent slump on the previous week.
Germany Extends Lockdown Again as Infections Remain High
Germany lengthened its coronavirus restrictions for the third time in the current wave of the pandemic, saying late Wednesday that the constraints would remain in place until at least Jan. 10, after a mild lockdown first introduced in November has failed to push infections lower.
Inside China's response to COVID
Since SARS-CoV-2 was first reported in China almost a year ago, policymakers have swung the weight of the state’s resources towards developing a vaccine. Their approach, alongside similar efforts in other countries, has thrown a spotlight on immunology, epidemiology and virology, bringing increased funding, prestige and public interest. Conversations with Chinese immunologists, policymakers and funders — including some who asked not to be named so they could speak more freely — reveal a complex picture of science mixed with international politics. Scientists, drug developers and research institutions are racing to tackle the virus. But some are concerned about the cost of rapid progress, and the incentives that have been created for companies and researchers to rush their work.
Greece extends nationwide lockdown by a week, to Dec. 14
Greece has extended to Dec. 14 a nationwide lockdown imposed last month to contain a surge in new coronavirus cases, government spokesman Stelios Petsas said on Thursday. The lockdown, the country’s second since the pandemic began, was extended by a week. “There is a stabilisation or rather a decline in the (number of) cases but at a slower pace than expected,” Petsas told a televised briefing. Greece has registered a total of 109,655 COVID-19 cases and 2,186 deaths, with northern Greece hardest hit and hospitals operating at almost full capacity. The restrictions were initially expected to end on Nov. 30 but the government had already extended them to Dec. 7. Petsas said seasonal stores, selling Christmas items, would re-open next week.
Incomplete data stalls Swiss authorisation of Covid-19 vaccines
Switzerland’s medical regulator Swissmedic says it lacks the necessary information to sign off on three different coronavirus vaccines ordered by the government. The regulator said important data on safety, efficacy and quality are still missing. It has reached out to the manufacturers, who provided data from their studies. “We lack data on the effectiveness of the clinical trials and on the important subgroups that participated in these large studies,” said Claus Bolte, head of the authorisation division at Swissmedic, at a press briefing on Tuesday organised by the Federal Office of Public Health. For example, Swissmedic wants to know about the pre-existing illnesses of the people who took part in these studies. According to the regulator, acceptance of such rapidly developed vaccines requires a high degree of trust in manufacturers and approving authorities. It is therefore important to examine very closely the effects on different groups of people.
LA residents are ordered to stay in their homes: Mayor Garcetti tells 4million citizens to remain indoors, restricts travel, closes non-essential businesses and says it's 'time to cancel everything' as hospitalizations and cases surge
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti ordered the city's 4 million residents to stay at home Wednesday night. The mayor told the public to 'cancel everything' and banned all travel, including walking and bicycling. Non-essential businesses were ordered to close and officials threatened to arrest those breaking the rules. There are, however, a long list of exemptions included in the Mayor's order. People can leaves their homes if they need to engage in a number of the exempt activities such as visiting certain businesses and exercise, including at beaches and on trails. Businesses that are exempt from the order include healthcare operations, supermarkets and convenience stores, liquor stores, gas stations, banks, hardware stores, handymen services and laundromats. Retail stores that follow the county's in-person shopping health protocols are allowed to remain open. Indoor capacity, however, must be limited to 20 percent and be closed between 10pm to 5am. Personal care establishments such as hair and nail salons, tattoo parlors and tanning salons must limit indoor capacity to 20 percent. Garcetti's order mirrors a directive put in place by Los Angeles County health officials last week. During a press conference, Garcetti said Los Angeles County saw increase of 5,987 new cases on Wednesday. 40 new deaths were reported, bringing county's toll to 7,740, which could hit 11,130 by end of the year. According to Garcetti, 2,572 Angelenos were hospitalized as of Wednesday; there are only 479 beds left across county and at current rate, health officials are predicting county will run out of beds in next 2-4 weeks.
Italy bans Xmas midnight mass, movement between regions amid high COVID toll
Italians will not be able to attend midnight mass or move between regions over the Christmas period, a top health ministry official said on Wednesday, as the country battles high coronavirus infection rates and deaths. Italy has been reporting more daily COVID-19 fatalities than any other European nation in recent weeks and, while the increase in new cases and hospital admissions is slowing, the government is worried about gatherings over Christmas. Junior Health Minister Sandra Zampa said Christmas Eve mass must end by around 8:30 p.m. so that worshippers can return home before a 10 p.m. curfew, and people should not invite non-family members home for Christmas lunch or other celebrations.
Maintaining Services
U.K.’s Covid-19 Vaccine Program to Test Its National Health Service
Britain’s authorization of a Covid-19 vaccine, the first in the West, sets in motion an ambitious plan that will test the capabilities of its state-run National Health Service: Inoculate everybody in the country over 50 within months. The U.K. has been laying the groundwork for some time. The scale and urgency of the task is such that the NHS, already under enormous pressure because of the pandemic, has appealed for retired doctors and nurses to rejoin the service and for thousands of volunteers to train as vaccinators and support staff. The project will be “the biggest vaccination campaign in our history,” NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens said Wednesday.
Meals on wheels: Camper van dining beats lockdown rules in Belgium
A Belgian restaurant has found a way to keep orders rolling in during lockdown - by serving its seafood to customers in camper vans. People can rent a vehicle or bring their own, park up outside the “Matthias and Sea” restaurant and wait for masked staff to bring the food over from the kitchens. COVID-19 restrictions have banned indoor dining. But restaurants can still do takeaways and serve food outside. Owner Mattia Collu said he got the idea while delivering orders to people’s houses in and around his base in the southern village of Tarcienne.
Lebanese minister says COVID cases rising, beds won't suffice
Lebanon will not have enough hospital beds to cope with increasing COVID-19 cases, the health minister in the caretaker government warned on Thursday, saying compliance with a two-week lockdown that ended this week had been patchy. In a Tweet, Hamad Hassan said cases were on the rise and although more hospital beds had been added, these would not be enough. Intensive care units were at critical capacity when Lebanon ordered the lockdown and caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab had warned the shutdown may be extended if people did not comply.
Pfizer Slashed Its Original Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout Target After Supply-Chain Obstacles
When Pfizer Inc. said last month it expects to ship half the Covid-19 vaccines it had originally planned for this year, the decision highlighted the challenges drug makers face in rapidly building supply chains to meet the high demand. “Scaling up the raw material supply chain took longer than expected,” a company spokeswoman said. “And it’s important to highlight that the outcome of the clinical trial was somewhat later than the initial projection.”
Key test: South Koreans sit university exam amid COVID-19 surge
Nearly 500,000 high school students are sitting the test with stringent measures imposed to curb the virus. South Korea fell quiet on Thursday as hundreds of thousands of students sat for the country’s high-stakes national university entrance exam amid a surge in coronavirus cases that has prompted new measures to curb its spread, including for candidates sitting the test. Teenagers spend years preparing for the exam, which can mean a place in one of the elite colleges that are seen as key to future careers, incomes and even marriage prospects.
Staggered return planned for university students in England after Christmas
Students in England will be asked to stay at home after Christmas and continue their studies online at the start of the new year as part of a staggered return to university to minimise the risk of Covid transmission. The government wants students to stagger their journeys back to campus over a five-week period beginning on 4 January 2021, with everyone expected to be back at university by 7 February, and coronavirus tests available to all returning students. Many students have expressed frustration with their experience at university this term, with the bulk of studies online, social activities curtailed because of Covid restrictions, long periods of self-isolation and harsh penalties for breaches.
Healthcare Innovations
Repurposed Antiviral Drugs for Covid-19 — Interim WHO Solidarity Trial Results
At 405 hospitals in 30 countries, 11,330 adults underwent randomization; 2750 were assigned to receive remdesivir, 954 to hydroxychloroquine, 1411 to lopinavir (without interferon), 2063 to interferon (including 651 to interferon plus lopinavir), and 4088 to no trial drug. Adherence was 94 to 96% midway through treatment, with 2 to 6% crossover. In total, 1253 deaths were reported (median day of death, day 8; interquartile range, 4 to 14). The Kaplan–Meier 28-day mortality was 11.8% (39.0% if the patient was already receiving ventilation at randomization and 9.5% otherwise). Death occurred in 301 of 2743 patients receiving remdesivir and in 303 of 2708 receiving its control (rate ratio, 0.95; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.81 to 1.11; P=0.50), in 104 of 947 patients receiving hydroxychloroquine and in 84 of 906 receiving its control (rate ratio, 1.19; 95% CI, 0.89 to 1.59; P=0.23), in 148 of 1399 patients receiving lopinavir and in 146 of 1372 receiving its control (rate ratio, 1.00; 95% CI, 0.79 to 1.25; P=0.97), and in 243 of 2050 patients receiving interferon and in 216 of 2050 receiving its control (rate ratio, 1.16; 95% CI, 0.96 to 1.39; P=0.11). No drug definitely reduced mortality, overall or in any subgroup, or reduced initiation of ventilation or hospitalization duration.
Moderna plans to test COVID-19 vaccine on children
Moderna is planning to test the effects of its COVID-19 vaccine on children. Its study will include administering two doses of the vaccine within 28 days to 3,000 children aged 12 to 17. Earlier this week, the United Kingdom became the first country to grant emergency use to the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, raising hopes that an end to the global pandemic, which has seen almost 65 million people infected and nearly 1.5 million deaths, might be in sight. Moderna, an American firm, said this week it would apply to United States and European regulators to grant emergency use of its COVID-19 vaccine after further evidence confirmed the efficacy of its jab stood at more than 94 percent. Neither vaccines can be injected in children and pregnant women.