"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 9th Dec 2020

Isolation Tips
What Has Lockdown Done to Us?
Drew Holden is a public affairs consultant in Washington, D.C., and a former Republican congressional staff member. He writes: " Research suggests that, to mitigate negative side effects, lockdowns should be well communicated and as short as possible. In many cities and states, one or both of these guidelines were ignored. When lockdowns seemed wanton and capricious, many Americans felt deceived. If new lockdowns are absolutely needed — something that the World Health Organization and some health experts believe is inadvisable — then policymakers must avoid both the reality and appearance of hypocrisy. This is particularly true because, unlike many other wealthy countries, the United States is not providing any type of ongoing direct aid to those who are struggling."
Hygiene Helpers
Could Slovakia's mass testing programme work in England?
The UK’s response to the covid-19 pandemic has, on any measure, been unimpressive. In a recent assessment of G7 countries, it came out second worst in the cumulative number of deaths in relation to population, just behind Italy. It was worst in terms of the contraction of the economy. These facts were well known. What was new, and surprising, was that it had achieved these unenviable positions despite spending far more than most of the other countries. Using a measure based on the core budget deficit, it spent 80% more than the average among these industrialized countries, beaten only by Canada. Faced with this predicament, it is understandable that ministers would look elsewhere for ideas. At first it was Sweden, with Downing Street seeking advice from its chief epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell. Sweden’s refusal to adopt the stringent measures imposed elsewhere had obvious attractions for a party committed to individual freedom, with ministers who had spent many years criticizing the “nanny state.” Unfortunately, as the evidence from Stockholm accumulated, revealing a magnitude of economic decline similar to that in its locked down neighbours, but at a much higher cost in lives, the attraction waned, finally evaporating when the second wave, which advocates for the Swedish model predicted would not happen, became apparent.
Community Activities
Masked dolls and anti-virus lab kits - toys reflect Spain and Portugal's Coronavirus Christmas
Children in Spain and Portugal could find that their Christmas presents this year reflect the coronavirus pandemic as dolls wearing face masks, kits for making personal protection items, and other toys adapted to fit the times fly off shop shelves. Millions of kids around the world were stuck in their homes during a series of lockdowns, and when they did emerge, they were often told to wear masks. So, as the holiday season approached, some toymakers gave their toys a twist. “I think it’s a way of adapting to reality,” said mum Reyes Lopez as she looked around a toy store in Madrid. “Dolls also have to represent society.”
Virtual pantomime hoping to bring Christmas joy to pupils across the North West during coronavirus lockdown
In England, an unlikely duo have come together to save the Christmas panto by offering school children across the North West the chance to watch it online instead. An unlikely duo have come together to save the Christmas panto by offering school children across the North West the chance to watch it online instead. Waterloo Primary Academy in Blackpool is just one of the schools who will get to watch the performance. Head teacher Mark Hamblett, said: "Usually at this time of year we would be taking the children to the theatre to watch the pantomime, this year we'll be taking the pantomime to the children instead."
France, Germany and Italy agreed to keep their skiing resorts shut until January, sparking a row with Austria
It took a pandemic to silence Gerhard Schmiderer. For the past quarter-century, the now 70-year-old “DJ Gerhard” has blasted trashy hits for drunken après-skiers at MooserWirt, a bar in St Anton, an Austrian ski resort. This year, however, the speakers will be silent rather than blaring out yet another rendition of The Final Countdown, a raucous anthem sung by big-haired Swedes. The usual revellers dancing on tables in ski boots will be absent. The 500m run back to the resort will no longer be strewn with those who have quaffed too much and fallen over in the snow.
A year on, markets bustling in Chinese city where COVID-19 emerged
Hundreds of shoppers pack a wet market on a December weekday morning in the Chinese city of Wuhan, jostling to buy fresh vegetables and live fish, frogs and turtles. Almost a year since the city reported the world’s first cases of COVID-19 in one of its handful of vast wet markets, and even as several other countries remain firmly in the grip of the subsequent pandemic, life in Wuhan has largely returned to normal. Wuhan has not recorded a new locally transmitted case in several months and is now indistinguishable from other Chinese cities with crowded shopping streets, traffic jams and tightly packed restaurants.
Summer holidays and ‘normal life’ on horizon as health chiefs hail ‘historic’ Covid vaccine rollout
The UK’s coronavirus vaccine tsar has said she expects families will be able to go on holiday next summer as the Covid jab started its historic rollout. Kate Bingham, chair of the coronavirus vaccine taskforce, said she expects by the summer that people will be in a “better place” to get on planes. She made the comments just hours after Margaret Keenan, 90, became the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer jab on what has been dubbed “V-Day”. Ms Bingham told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "My gut feel is that we will all be going on summer holidays.
Densely packed BAME communities in England bear brunt of Covid-19
Some of England’s most ethnically diverse areas have suffered up to four times more coronavirus infections than mostly white neighbourhoods only a few miles away, a Guardian analysis reveals, as health experts said the UK had paid the price for failing to tackle structural racism. A study of England’s 10 worst-hit council areas found huge disparities in the effect of Covid-19 on residents living alongside one another, with densely packed Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities bearing the brunt of the pandemic. In Blackburn with Darwen, which has experienced the UK’s highest coronavirus cases per capita, the contrast between neighbouring areas is stark. One in 10 people have had the virus in Bastwell, where 85.7% of residents come from a BAME background – four times higher than a neighbourhood five miles away where only 2% of people are non-white.
Working Remotely
Op-ed: 6 productivity apps to help you survive working from home
While some American workers have gone back to the office, Gallup’s recent annual Work and Education poll shows that 33% are still working remotely full-time due to the coronavirus pandemic, with an additional 25% working from home part-time. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. workers who have been working remotely during the pandemic would like to continue to do so. And many will be able to with companies increasingly extending working from home through next summer. While most workers might not have planned to go fully remote, the good news is the average company sees a 10% to 43% increase in productivity after making the switch, according to a report from the UNC Kenan–Flagler Business School.
SMEs need to acknowledge remote working lessons to prosper post-Covid
Just as the world’s first Covid-19 vaccination takes place, and companies, in particular small businesses, envisage that they may be finally at the beginning of the end of the business turbulence and see growth in a post-pandemic future, research is warning small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to heed the lessons of the pandemic and ensure there’s no return to bad habits. Attitudes have changed since the beginning of the pandemic, as 8x8 said its research had shown customers were forgiving at the beginning of lockdown earlier this year but now expect companies of all sizes to have adjusted to the “new normal”. Communication now need to be “seamless”, both with customers and between colleagues, as remote working continues.
Virtual Classrooms
Des Moines Refugee Students Struggle with Virtual Learning
Even before the pandemic hit, Boaz Nkingi spent countless hours helping refugee students in his after school program. Now, 12 hour days have become inevitable for him, in order to meet his community’s growing needs. As a Congolese refugee himself, Nkingi is familiar with the steep learning curves that come with adapting to a new country and a new education system. Add an unrelenting virus that has caused a large portion of the state’s schools to switch to 100 percent virtual learning, and it only makes the challenges greater. Des Moines Public Schools has spent almost entirely of its semester all online. A spokesperson for the district said 21 percent of its students are still learning English as their second language. Nkingi said missing the face-to-face interaction in the first year for new refugee students can be devastating.
Virtual learning takes physical toll on students at home
We know virtual learning is mentally hard on kids, but what about physically? If your child is having persistent neck or back pain, it might be related to poor posture and poor body positioning. At some point during the pandemic, most children across the country were doing some sort of computer-assisted learning. At Children's Hospital of Orange County in Southern California, pediatric physical therapist Ruchi Bagrodia covers posture and seating with kids who are of age. There are many things they should be doing.
Screen Time Due to Distance Learning Affecting Children's Eyesight
Doctors are concerned about a potential long-term impact of distance learning in children - damaged eyesight due to hours of screen time. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many schools have changed the classroom for a virtual classroom. Children are now spending their time looking at their screen for longer than usual. Optometrists say they're seeing more fatigue, discomfort, blurry vision, and increased near-sightedness, especially among kids, since distance learning started.
Why are teachers’ faces covered in stickers? To get kids engaged in remote school — and it’s working.
Diane Moon tried everything she could think of to get her students to participate in virtual learning: random name calls, breakout rooms, competitions for extra credit, movement breaks. Nothing worked. Moon, 27, a middle school math teacher in Prospect Heights, Ill., was desperate. When a colleague sent her a TikTok video of a teacher putting stickers on her face every time a new student participated, she figured it was worth a shot. Right away, she saw children couldn’t resist it. Students who typically stay muted during class suddenly were speaking up and sharing. The teaching tactic was so helpful, in fact, that Moon decided to post a short video demonstration on Twitter, hoping other teachers might find it useful.
How did rural India learn during lockdown?
In India, school closures due to the nationwide lockdown in March 2020 meant that children were disengaged with formal education for a prolonged period. The resulting talks around e-education exposed India’s digital divide, with only 24 percent of households having access to the internet. Children studying in government schools were hit particularly hard, with a recent study indicating that more than 80 percent of government school students (in Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Uttar Pradesh) hadn’t received any educational materials during the lockdown.
Covid-19: Wolverhampton aims to 'bridge digital gap' for pupils
Children with no access to computers or wi-fi are being loaned devices and 4G sim cards as part of a scheme to cut "digital poverty". The initiative by Wolverhampton City Council hopes to stop pupils falling behind if they are forced to isolate because of Covid-19. During the first lockdown in March, teaching could only be delivered online. Likewise it provided a way to stay in contact with friends. Figures released by Ofcom in August estimated between 1.14 million and 1.78 million children in the UK did not have access to a laptop or other device at the time.
Public Policies
Covid: Biden vows 100m vaccinations for US in first 100 days
US President-elect Joe Biden has set a goal of 100 million Covid vaccinations in his first 100 days in office. He said his first months in office would not end the outbreak and gave few details on rollout strategy but he said he would change the course of Covid-19. Introducing his health team for when he takes office on 20 January, he urged Americans to "mask up for 100 days". On Tuesday, a report paved the way for a Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be approved and rolled out for Americans. President Donald Trump meanwhile attended a summit at the White House of his Covid vaccination programme called Operation Warp Speed and hailed the expected approval of vaccines.
Covid-19 lockdown restrictions to be eased for majority in Scotland
Covid restrictions will ease for the majority of Scots later this week, with cafes, restaurants, shops and hairdressers allowed to reopen from Friday and Saturday. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed on Tuesday that no area of Scotland will remain in Level 4 when changes come into force. A total of 11 Scottish council areas - including Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Stirling - have been under the toughest tier of restrictions in the country since November 20. They will now all move down to Level 3.
Nicola Sturgeon announces level three lockdown for Glasgow to start on Friday
Level four lockdown will end in Glasgow on Friday. Nicola Sturgeon has just announced the city will shift to tier three, allowing all shops, restaurants and cafes to reopen. Hairdressers and gyms are also among the businesses permitted to start trading again, weeks after the Scottish Government imposed the strictest level of lockdown on 11 local authority areas in Scotland - including Glasgow City.
Germany inches towards stricter COVID-19 lockdown
Germany inched towards stricter measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus on Tuesday, as an eastern region said it would close schools and most businesses and the health minister warned a partial lockdown had not stopped the disease. Europe’s biggest economy is struggling to squash new infections in a second wave of COVID-19 that is both proving far more difficult to tame than the first one and extracting a heavier human toll as daily deaths hit record highs. The governor of the eastern state of Saxony, which has the highest seven-day incidence rate per 100,000 residents anywhere in Germany, said schools and non-essential businesses will be shut from Dec. 14 as hospitals struggle to take in patients.
Japan announces $708bn in fresh stimulus as COVID-19 cases rise
Japan will compile a fresh economic stimulus package worth 73.6 trillion yen ($708bn), Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday, signalling his resolve to pull the country out of its coronavirus crisis-induced slump. The new stimulus package will include fiscal spending worth around 40 trillion yen ($384.2bn), Suga said in a meeting with ruling party executives. The government is set to finalise the stimulus package later on Tuesday, which would follow a combined $2.2 trillion from two previous packages that focused on dealing with the immediate strain on households and business. The new economic measures would help push “new economic growth,” Suga said at the meeting. The package is likely to include subsidies and incentives to prod companies to boost green investment and spending on digitalisation, an area Suga has laid out as his key policy priorities.
No active coronavirus cases in South Australia as restrictions set to ease
South Australia has no known active coronavirus cases for the first time in more than two months, with health authorities announcing restrictions on social gatherings will again be eased from next Monday. The state today recorded no new COVID-19 cases for the 10th consecutive day. The maximum number of people allowed at home gatherings will rise, while patrons will be able to stand up while drinking at hospitality venues. From Monday, the limit on the number of people allowed at private functions at licensed venues will increase from 150 to 200.
Azerbaijan to introduce lockdown in major cities from Dec. 14
Azerbaijan will impose a strict lockdown in all of its major cities for just over a month from Dec. 14 to limit the spread of COVID-19, the government’s emergency coronavirus department said on Tuesday. Azerbaijan already has a raft of restrictions in place but cases have roughly doubled in the past three to four weeks. Restaurants, cafes, beauty salons and shops are closed at weekends, with public transport not in operation.
Germany speeds up disbursement of coronavirus aid in December
Germany is speeding up the disbursement of coronavirus aid for lockdown-affected firms this month by lifting the threshold of an initial payout which comes with less bureaucratic paperwork, government officials said on Tuesday. Chancellor Angela Merkel and state leaders have agreed to extend restrictive measures designed to stem a tide of new coronavirus infections until Jan. 10. The measures, which had been put in place since Nov. 2, have forced restaurants, bars, hotels, gyms and entertainment venues to close. But factories, shops and schools remain open.
Amid resistance, California imposes strict stay-at-home orders
Most Californians faced heavy new restrictions on Monday aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, while New York’s governor threatened to ban indoor restaurant dining in New York City as the United States feared infections would continue skyrocketing. Restaurants in Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area and the state’s agricultural San Joaquin Valley shut for all but takeout and delivery. Playgrounds closed, stores reduced capacity and hair salons and barbershops shuttered. The moves affected about three-quarters of the nearly 40 million people in America’s most-populous state. California Governor Gavin Newsom’s order allowed some schools to continue to hold classes. But the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest, closed campuses that had been partially open to offer in-person services and tutoring, affecting many special-needs students.
Biden, introducing health teams, vows 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in first 100 days
President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday laid out his plan to fight the coronavirus pandemic during his first 100 days in office, saying his administration would vaccinate 100 million Americans, push to reopen schools and strengthen mask mandates.
Maintaining Services
UK retail sales growth slows as November lockdown hits non-food sales - BRC
British retail sales growth slowed in November when non-essential stores shut as part of a four-week lockdown in England, but online sales were able to fill more of the gap than in the first lockdown in March, industry data showed on Tuesday.
Singapore 'cruise-to-nowhere' turns back after COVID-19 case aboard
A passenger aboard a Royal Caribbean ‘cruise-to-nowhere’ from Singapore has tested positive for COVID-19, forcing all guests to be quarantined in their cabins and the Quantum of the Seas ship to return to dock on Wednesday. Singapore has been piloting the trips, which are open only to residents, make no stops and sail in waters just off the city-state. There were around 2,000 passengers aboard at the time who have all been confined to their rooms. The global cruise industry has taken a major hit from the coronavirus pandemic, with some of the earliest big outbreaks found on cruise ships. In one case in February off the coast of Japan, passengers were stuck for weeks aboard the Diamond Princess with over 700 guests and crew infected.
U.K. Covid-19 Vaccine: What You Need to Know About the Immunization Campaign
The U.K. became the first Western country to start inoculating its population with a Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and Germany’s BioNTech SE . Maggie Keenan, 90 years old, received the first shot at a hospital in Coventry early Tuesday morning in a program that could provide a taste of the logistical challenges facing other countries, including the U.S., as they prepare to roll out their own large-scale vaccination plans.
Covid19 vaccinations begin in Scotland today - everything you need to know
The first of the long-awaited vaccinations against Covid-19 will be issued on Tuesday at hospitals across Scotland. It's a landmark day in the global battle against coronavirus which has raged throughout 2020. While it's a welcome breakthrough, it will take several months at least for the vaccination to be rolled out across all age groups.
GPs to prioritise elderly BAME patients for first Covid-19 vaccine batch
GPs have been instructed to prioritise patients from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds in their first over-80s Covid-19 vaccination cohorts. Details outlined in a letter sent yesterday from NHS England advise that GP practices must select and contact priority vaccination patients by tomorrow (9 December). GP sites selected to begin vaccinations next week, of which there are expected to be around 280, will each receive one batch of 975 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. If a Primary Care Network (PCN) designated site has more than 975 patients over 80 years of age, they must prioritise based on comorbidities and ethnicity. GP surgeries will be responsible for generating patient lists based on this new priority cohort definition.
GPs could deliver COVID-19 vaccine to care homes from next week
GP-led sites could deliver COVID-19 vaccinations to care home residents as soon as next week, LMCs believe, as NHS England's medical director confirmed rollout to this group would start before Christmas. Scottish health minister Jeane Freeman said last week that in Scotland, vaccination of care home residents - the group idenfied by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) as the top priority - would start from 14 December. The Westminster government has yet to confirm when vaccination of care home residents will start in England - but a senior GP involved in rolling out the COVID-19 vaccination campaign has told GPonline that GP-led vaccination sites in the first wave set to start from next week could administer some vaccines in care homes.
Californians endure another lockdown as COVID-19 patients overwhelm hospitals
Most Californians face heavy new restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19, while New York’s governor threatened to ban indoor restaurant dining in New York City as the United States feared infections would continue skyrocketing. Restaurants in Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area and the state’s agricultural San Joaquin Valley shut for all but takeout and delivery. Playgrounds closed, stores reduced capacity and hair salons and barbershops shuttered. The moves affected about three-quarters of the nearly 40 million people in America’s most-populous state. California Governor Gavin Newsom’s order allowed some schools to continue to hold classes.
Healthcare Innovations
AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine Trial Data Underscore Safety, Range of Efficacy
Peer-reviewed data from late-stage human trials of a Covid-19 vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca PLC reaffirmed the shot’s strong safety results and provided some additional evidence that halving the first of two doses of the shot boosts its effectiveness. AstraZeneca and Oxford said the data gave them confidence to ask the U.K. and other countries for emergency-use authorization of the vaccine, but said regulators will have to decide which dosing regimen to approve. Last month, AstraZeneca and Oxford said trial data showed the vaccine was between 62% and 90% effective, but that the higher results were observed in a small subset of the wider trial.
Studies suggest AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine safe, effective
New results on a possible COVID-19 vaccine from Oxford University and AstraZeneca suggest it is safe and about 70% effective, but questions remain about how well it may help protect those over 55 — a key concern for a vaccine that health officials hope to rely on around the world because of its low cost, availability and ease of use. Still, experts say the vaccine seems likely to be approved, despite some confusion in the results and lower levels of protection than what some other vaccine candidates have shown.
Oxford-Astra COVID-19 vaccine shows average 70.4% efficacy in pooled study
AstraZeneca and Oxford University have more work to do to confirm whether their COVID-19 vaccine can be 90% effective, peer-reviewed data published in The Lancet showed on Tuesday, potentially slowing its eventual rollout in the fight against the pandemic. Once seen as the frontrunner in the development of a vaccine against the coronavirus crisis, the British team was overtaken by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer, whose shots - with a success rate of around 95% - were administered to UK pensioners on Tuesday in a world-first hailed as V-Day. Detailed results from the AstraZeneca/Oxford trials have been eagerly awaited after some scientists criticised a lack of information in their initial announcement last month.
Phase 3 trials show AstraZeneca COVID vaccine has up to 90% efficacy
The first full peer-reviewed results of phase 3 trials of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University show that it is safe and up to 90% effective in preventing infection, supporting regulatory submissions for emergency use. The interim analysis, published today in The Lancet, identified no severe coronavirus disease or hospitalizations in pooled results from the 11,636 adults vaccinated in the United Kingdom and Brazil. Of the 11,636 adults, 131 (1.1%) had symptomatic COVID-19 more than 14 days after the second vaccine dose, including 30 of 5,807 (0.5%) in the COVID-19 vaccine group and 101 of 5,829 (1.7%) in the control group, indicating a vaccine efficacy of 70%
FDA documents show Pfizer COVID vaccine protects after 1 dose
Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documents posted in advance of advisory group consideration of emergency use authorization (EUA) for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine revealed promising new findings, including strong protection after the first dose and protection in groups at risk for disease complications. The good news comes on the same day immunization with the vaccine began with much fanfare in the United Kingdom, where a 90-year-old woman who lives in Coventry was the first to receive it outside of a vaccine trial.
Inovio sets new timeline for its experimental Covid-19 vaccine
Plymouth Meeting's Inovio Pharmaceuticals provides an updated timeline for its experimental Covid-19 vaccine and says it expects to play an important role in the battle against the coronavirus. On Monday, Inovio began phase-II testing of its DNA-based Covid-19 vaccine candidate, INO-4800.
Sinovac vaccine shows up to 97 per cent efficacy in early trials, Bio Farma says
Indonesia's state-owned pharmaceutical company Bio Farma said on Tuesday that interim data on trials it was conducting on vaccines produced by the Chinese company Sinovac showed up to 97 per cent efficacy. "Our clinical trial team found, within one month, that the interim data shows up to 97 per cent for its efficacy," said Iwan Setiawan, a spokesman for Bio Farma, at a news conference.
Sinovac snags $515M investment to double COVID-19 vaccine capacity as phase 3 readout nears
As the various COVID-19 vaccines move closer to the finish line, their developers have been raising money from investors or through advance government purchases to ramp up manufacturing. Now, a Chinese company has done the same for its candidate. Sinovac Biotech netted $515 million in investment from local firm Sino Biopharmaceutical, which in exchange gets a 15.03% stake in Sinovac Life Sciences, a subsidiary of the Nasdaq-listed vaccine specialist. The money will help fund development, manufacturing and new production capacity for Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate, CoronaVac, as well as other activities, Sinovac said Monday. Currently, Sinovac can make 300 million doses of CoronaVac a year. But the company hopes to finish building another production facility by the end of 2020 to boost annual capacity to 600 million doses, with the potential to expand output even further in the future. CoronaVac, an inactivated shot, is one of the front-running COVID-19 vaccines. It's actually been used in China in a secretive emergency use program. Meanwhile, it's undergoing phase 3 trials in Brazil, Chile, Turkey and Indonesia, with supply deals in place with these countries.
Turkey’s domestic COVID-19 vaccine set for next stage of human trials
Officials say the Phase 1 human trials of ERUCOV-VAC developed at Erciyes University in central Turkey will conclude on Dec. 14. and that Phase 2 may begin two days later. If the vaccine is proven to be effective, it will be added to Turkey's growing arsenal of vaccines to put an end to the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Turkey announced it had received a shipment of the Chinese vaccine earlier. Ahmet Inal, deputy director of the university's research center where trials are being conducted, says they had 44 volunteers for the first phase, and they were planning to inoculate some 200 volunteers in the second phase. He noted that they have already received more than 100 volunteer applications.