"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 15th Dec 2020

Isolation Tips
Kids and COVID isolation & stress: What parents need to know
Experts voice concern over how children are relating to the world outside their homes during the pandemic, as well as the stress they are feeling from their parent’s COVID-related financial struggles.
Hygiene Helpers
New Zealand agrees on 'travel bubble' with Australia in early 2021
New Zealand agreed on Monday to allow quarantine-free travel with Australia in the first quarter of 2021, nearly a year after it locked down its borders to protect its population from the novel coronavirus. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the cabinet had agreed in principle on a trans-Tasman, quarantine-free travel bubble pending confirmation by Australia’s cabinet and no significant change in circumstances in either country. “It is our intention to name a date ... in the New Year once remaining details are locked down,” Ardern said at a news conference in the capital, Wellington. New Zealand’s has virtually eliminated the novel coronavirus by enforcing a tough lockdown and keeping its borders shut to all foreigners for most of the year.
Why many countries failed at COVID contact-tracing — but some got it right
Across the Western world, countries have floundered with this most basic public-health procedure. In England, tracers fail to get in touch with one in eight people who test positive for COVID-19; 18% of those who are reached provide no details for close contacts. In some regions of the United States, more than half of people who test positive provide no details of contacts when asked. These statistics come not from the first wave of COVID-19, but from November, long after initial lockdowns gave countries time to develop better contact-tracing systems. The reasons for the failures are complex and systemic. Antiquated technology and underfunded health-care systems have proved ill-equipped to respond. Wealthy nations have struggled to hire enough contact-tracers, marshal them efficiently or make sure that people do self-isolate when infected or that they quarantine when a close contact has the disease. And overstretched contact-tracers have been met with distrust by people wary both of health authorities and of the technologies being deployed to fight the pandemic. Meanwhile, researchers who are keen to draw lessons from contact-tracing operations are stymied by a dearth of data.
France launches mass Covid-19 screening campaigns before lifting lockdown
The French cities of Le Havre, on the Normandy coast, and Charleville-Mézières, near the Belgian border, are conducting mass Covid-19 testing campaigns on Monday in the country's latest effort to stem the spread of the disease before the holidays and the end of France's second lockdown on Tuesday. While the French will be allowed to circulate freely throughout the country without having to document their comings-and-goings with administrative permits, the number of new daily coronavirus infections remains high above the government's objective for mid-December.
Community Activities
Queues form outside Milan food banks as crisis bites ahead of Christmas
Long queues have been forming outside food banks and help centres in Italy’s financial capital Milan as the economic devastation caused by the coronavirus has deepened before Christmas. s case numbers surged after the summer, Italy - the first European country to be struck by the pandemic and among the worst hit - has seen its stagnant economy dealt a blow by lockdowns to try to halt the spread of COVID-19. “During this period of the pandemic, the numbers have gone up,” said Luigi Rossi, vice-president of local aid group Pane Quotidiano, as a queue stretched down the block outside the centre in the south of Milan.
Covid: How different ethnic groups have been affected by the pandemic
Most people in the UK have said they experienced a worsening of their mental health between 2019 and April 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The ONS has analysed data from different ethnic groups in the UK just before the Covid-19 pandemic and in April this year, when the UK was in a full national lockdown. Data from the ONS reveals most ethnic groups have suffered in society in the past year - whether that is financially or mentally - through stress or lack of sleep and loneliness.
Working Remotely
Work-From-Home Scores Big Praise, But Proactive Firms Can Make It Better
Work-from-home is a crowd pleaser. That may sound like an obvious finding, but – given the dire circumstances under which the world entered the virtual workforce this year – it’s a significant one. This past fall, researchers at Thomson Reuters polled 1,000 corporate professionals (500 in the United States, 250 in the United Kingdom, and 250 in Canada), and found that only one-in-10 respondents said they preferred their previous working practices. What’s more, 69 percent of respondents said they want to maintain at least some aspects of their changed working practices once “stay-at-home” orders expire. Still, even as the honeymoon period stretches on, the feedback from professionals raises some clear pain points that need to be addressed before the ideal of work-from-anywhere freedom can truly be realized.
Some Say Working From Home Is Grinding Them Down
As the pandemic has forced many to work from home, some are starting to feel as if they are living at work, putting in more hours and being stressed more than they want to be.
Rather work from home? A lot of employers want you to
COVID-19 forced millions of employees to do their jobs from home instead of the office. For those who want to continue working remotely — or those who’d like to give it a shot — there’s never been a better time to try. Working remotely, or telework, grew by 73% in the six years preceding the pandemic, and 25% of U.S. workers work from home either full time or part time, said Anne Nowak, program director for the East Baton Rouge Parish Library Career Center. Pandemics don’t last forever, she said, but this trend looks like it will.
The shift to working from home can outlast COVID-19
For the past eight months, office life has been transformed as – in the interest of social distancing – millions were told to work from home. The shift to remote working is surprisingly widespread. The percentage of people who work from home has of course climbed in tech-savvy sectors such as IT and finance. But it has risen significantly in some old economy sectors too. In construction, for instance, the share of work-from-home workers jumped from 15 per cent pre-COVID to 34 per cent in September, according to Fair Work Australia. Yet from Monday, the NSW Public Health Order requiring employers to allow all workers to work remotely lapsed. Bosses will now have the option of ordering staff back to the office. Yet the return to the pre-COVID status quo also poses problems because some Australian employers are more enthusiastic about returning to the old work arrangements than their workers, who have enjoyed the flexibility and the time saved from the daily commute.
Virtual Classrooms
Teachers Reveal Their Funniest Virtual-School Bloopers — and They're So Good
Teachers are making it happen. They’re sharpening their No. 2 pencils and creating lesson plans for in-person students, remote learners or a combo of the two. For many educators, this has doubled their workload and their stress levels, but it hasn’t dampened their senses of humor. Video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Classroom are a staple for remote learners this year, and teachers are celebrating their virtual classrooms by pausing to enjoy the funnier moments students bring to this wacky medium.
How To Survive Virtual Learning Guide For Teachers
This fall, we’ve been following Chicago-area educators as they navigate teaching remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. For most of them, the transition to virtual learning came with completely new challenges — and required creative solutions. As winter break approaches, we asked them to reflect on what they’ve learned. Here’s advice for teachers, written by teachers, on everything from working with parents to managing burnout.
4 ways hybrid learning gives the traditional classroom a run for its money
Earlier this year the United States, just like most countries across the globe, witnessed the life-altering impact of COVID-19 first-hand. In particular, students and educators saw their usual routine completely turned upside down as they were unprepared for the vast impact the virus would have on how students learn and how education settings operate. Unfortunately, with the majority of children still not back in the classroom and a second wave upon us, it is vital that schools, students, and educators are ready for the further impacts this will have. As part of this, they need to be aware of the options and solutions available to them to ensure teaching and learning can continue as seamlessly as possible, whatever the future holds.
Pandemic collides with concerns about LGBTQ students' mental health
Thousands of LGBTQ students are navigating their gender identities while their critical supports like friends, teachers and school groups have been thrown onto the Zoom-sphere due to the pandemic. Some of them are grappling with having to reel back their gender identity and exploration while at home because they’re not out to their parents. Others are dealing with being misgendered or being called by the wrong name in virtual classrooms because the technology doesn’t allow them to change their legal name. Students are also unable to linger after class to develop relationships with teachers who often become some of their greatest advocates.
‘It’s been tumultuous’: Covid-19 stress takes toll on teachers in England
Teachers in England have described a nightmarish term in schools in which Covid has triggered soaring anxiety levels, exhaustion and fear, driving many to consider quitting and even self-harm. There was also support for union calls for schools in England to follow Wales’s lead and move learning online for the last week of term to stem rising infection rates and avoid staff and pupils having to self-isolate from family over Christmas.
Public Policies
Health Minister Vaughan Gething refuses to rule out lockdown in Wales before Christmas
The health minister has refused to rule out introducing tougher restrictions before Christmas in the wake of rising coronavirus cases across Wales. Vaughan Gething said in his press conference on Monday afternoon that "every option was still available" to the Welsh Government and that discussions had taken place with partners to set out the best course of action. The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus passed the 100,000 mark over the weekend in Wales, and there are now more than 2,000 people with confirmed or suspected cases of the virus in our hospitals. When asked about whether there was still a chance restrictions could be tightened further before Christmas, Mr Gething said: "Every option is still available to us. I have had a meeting with local stakeholders across Wales about a range of challenges in different regions. Ministers in Cabinet will also meet today in our new virtual form.
London set to move to Tier 3 of lockdown restrictions
London is being moved into the highest level of coronavirus restrictions, after a surge in cases across the city.
Nicola Sturgeon 'must rethink' Christmas lockdown rules
An SNP politician has urged Nicola Sturgeon to rethink the planned relaxation of lockdown rules over Christmas. Scots will be able to form a festive "bubble" with a maximum of three households over a five day period from December 23, meaning they can meet up indoors if social distancing rules are followed. But rising infection rates in other parts of the UK - with London on the brink of tighter lockdown - has led to some questioning whether now is the time to relax lockdown restrictions. The First Minister today insisted the Christmas guidance published earlier this month remains in place but urged Scots to be cautious if they do plan to meet with others.
Italy considers new COVID-19 restrictions for the holidays
Italy is considering more stringent nationwide coronavirus restrictions during the Christmas holidays, the health minister said on Monday, after scenes of big gatherings in many cities over the weekend raised worries of a new spike in infections. Italy, the first Western country hit by the pandemic, on Saturday passed Britain as the European nation with the worst official death toll, with more than 65,000 dying since the start of the outbreak in February. With pressure on hospitals easing and daily cases falling, the government relaxed some restrictions put in place last month. But scenes of crowded shopping districts in cities such as Milan and Rome have caused concern. Police were forced to close off popular sites such as Rome’s Trevi fountain due to large crowds.
South Korea orders schools to shut as COVID-19 cases spike
South Korea ordered schools to close from Tuesday in the capital Seoul and surrounding areas as it battles its worst outbreak of novel coronavirus since the pandemic began, surpassing the previous peak in February. Schools in the capital region would move classes online until the end of the month, in the latest ratcheting up of social distancing measures which so far have failed to reverse the spike in infections. The school closure is a step towards the imposition of Phase 3 social distancing rules, a move that would essentially lock down Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
Germany to close shops and schools in Covid Christmas lockdown
Germany will close most shops from Wednesday until 10 January and ban the sale of fireworks for New Year’s Eve, after Angela Merkel and state leaders agreed to impose a national lockdown in order to regain control of rising coronavirus infection rates before a “very difficult Christmas”. Non-essential shops, excluding food retailers, pharmacies and banks but including hairdressing salons and beauty parlours, will have to close their doors from 16 December. Schools and nurseries will also be required to offer only emergency care for essential workers for the last three days before the start of the scheduled Christmas holidays, with parents asked to look after their children at home “whenever possible”.
Japan, South Korea fret as surging coronavirus undermines leaders' support
Japan and South Korea grappled with surging coronavirus cases and growing public frustration on Monday, with Japan suspending a contentious travel subsidy programme and South Korea closing some schools and considering its toughest curbs yet. Japan reported more than 3,000 new cases on Saturday, yet another record as winter set in, with infections worsening in Tokyo, the northern island of Hokkaido and the city of Osaka. But Japan, with a focus on the economic costs, has steered clear of tough lockdowns. It tackled its first wave of infections in the spring by asking people to refrain from going out and for businesses to close or curtail operating hours.
Lithuania orders tougher lockdown, to last until January 3
Lithuania told citizens to stay at home for three weeks from Wednesday as it seeks to rein in a raging coronavirus spread that has seen the country jump from 18th to third worst-hit in the European Union in just six weeks. Leaving home will be permitted only for work, essential shopping, caring for the sick, funerals and for people to take walks in single household groups, Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte announced. All non-essential shops will be closed and meetings between households banned. As of Sunday, Lithuania reported 1,178 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people over the past two weeks, three times more than the 340 cases per 100,000 when a lighter lockdown was announced on Nov. 4.
Tough Christmas lockdown looming in Netherlands
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte held emergency meetings on Monday about the soaring rate of COVID-19 infections and was expected to announce tougher lockdown measures during a television address in the evening. Key members of the Dutch government were weighing stricter social curbs and Rutte took the unusual step of inviting the heads of all political parties in parliament for talks, the national news agency ANP reported. He was set to address the country from his office in a rare broadcast at 1900 local time
US officials plan to split $908bn COVID-19 package in two: Report
A $908bn bipartisan COVID-19 relief plan set to be introduced in the United States Congress as early as Monday will be split into two packages in a bid to win approval, a person briefed on the matter told the Reuters news agency. The plan’s highlights were made public on December 1, but the authors now plan to divide them into two proposals that could be voted on separately, the source said.
Maintaining Services
Nurse gets New York's first COVID-19 vaccine as U.S. rollout begins
A New York City intensive care unit nurse on Monday became the first person in the United States to receive a coronavirus vaccine, calling it a sign that “healing is coming,” as the nation’s COVID-19 death toll crossed a staggering 300,000 lives lost. Sandra Lindsay, who has treated some of the sickest COVID-19 patients for months, was inoculated at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in the New York City borough of Queens, an early epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, receiving applause on a livestream with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. “It didn’t feel any different from taking any other vaccine,” Lindsay said. “I feel hopeful today, relieved. I feel like healing is coming. I hope this marks the beginning of the end of a very painful time in our history. “I want to instill public confidence that the vaccine is safe,” she added.
US set for first COVID-19 shots as shipments begin arriving
Hospital workers begin unloading precious frozen vials of COVID-19 vaccine Monday, with the first vaccinations against a scourge that has killed nearly 300,000 Americans expected later in the day. “It feels like the cavalry is arriving,” Robert C. Garrett, CEO of Hackensack Meridian Health, said as New Jersey’s largest health network awaited delivery. Shots made by Pfizer Inc. and its German partner BioNTech are the first authorized for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration -- beginning what will become the largest vaccination campaign in U.S. history. Several other countries also have OK'd the vaccine, including the U.K. which started vaccinating last week.
Canada's first COVID-19 vaccinations set to start as soon as Monday
Canada kicked off its inoculation campaign against COVID-19 on Monday by injecting frontline healthcare workers and elderly nursing home residents, becoming just the third nation in the world to administer the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. The first dose broadcast on live TV went to Anita Quidangen. The personal support worker at the Rekai Centre, a non-profit nursing home for the elderly in Toronto, Canada’s largest city, said she was “excited” to have been first in line. Healthcare workers in masks and white coats applauded after she was injected. “Today really we turn a corner,” said Dr. Kevin Smith, president and chief executive of the University Health Network’s Michener Institute, where the shot was administered.
Covid-19: London mayor calls for schools to close early
London's mayor has urged the government to ask all secondary schools and colleges in the capital to shut early ahead of Christmas. In a letter to ministers, Sadiq Khan said he also wanted schools to reopen later in January amid "significant" Covid outbreaks in 10 to 19-year-olds. It comes as the BBC was told London was likely to move into tier three. Greenwich and Islington councils are the first in England to urge schools to switch this week to online learning. Council officials in Greenwich have advised schools to shut from the end of Monday, although some academies will remain open, while Islington schools have been asked to move online from the end of Tuesday.
Germany calls on all to forgo Xmas shopping before lockdown
The German government called on citizens Monday to forgo Christmas shopping, two days before the country heads into a hard lockdown that will shut most stores tighten social distancing rules and close schools across the country. “I wish and I hope that people will only buy what they really need, like groceries,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said late Sunday. “The faster we get these infections under control, the better it is for everyone.” Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed Sunday to step up the country’s lockdown measures beginning Wednesday and running to Jan. 10 to stop the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases.
UK pubs fear for future as £650m Covid losses forecast for December
Pubs expect December sales to be as much as 90% lower than last year, costing the industry £650m and fuelling concern that vast parts of the sector will disappear for good. December is typically the most lucrative month of the year for the UK’s ailing pub sector, accounting for as much as a quarter of annual profit, thanks to Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve festivities. However, the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) said its forecasts showed pubs would sell 270m fewer pints than usual over the period, with only one in five of the UK’s 47,200 pubs expected to be open. “I’d be stunned if sales across the industry were any better than 10% or 20% as good as last year,” said Chris Jowsey, the chief executive of Admiral Taverns, which has 1,000 pubs across the UK. “It’s not unusual for lots of pubs to make anywhere up to 25% of their profit in December. For a lot of smaller pubs it’s really important because it carries you through the lean months of January and February, so it’s a bit of a disaster.”
Australia's Shops See Year-End Spending Boom as Optimism Returns
Australia’s retailers are preparing for a late-December spending splurge that could fuel the kind of recovery on the year-end wishlist of Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe. Consumer confidence rose for a fourth straight month in December, climbing to a 10-year high. Lowe said just two months ago that greater confidence was the catalyst needed to prompt households to part with the extra savings they squirreled away during the lockdown.
Healthcare Innovations
CureVac starts late-phase clinical trial of COVID-19 vaccine
CureVac has begun a phase 2b/3 clinical trial of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate CVnCoV. The study will enroll 36,500 participants in Europe and Latin America with a view to generating data to support approval of the mRNA vaccine next year. BioNTech, working with Pfizer, and Moderna have validated the concept of using mRNA to provide protection against SARS-CoV-2, rapidly delivering stellar efficacy results that set a high bar for the rest of the field. CureVac has taken a slightly different approach to mRNA vaccines, choosing to use the potency of untranslated regions to optimize the RNA rather than make chemical modifications. The approach has created a candidate that triggers immune responses at a 12-µg dose, compared to the 100 µg used by Moderna. That will enable CureVac to make more doses of the vaccine. CureVac is also aiming to trigger balanced immune responses.
Scientists pinpoint genes common among people with severe coronavirus infections
Certain gene variants are linked to severe coronavirus infections, according to a team of scientists in Europe who studied the genomes of 2,200 critically ill covid-19 patients. Their results provide robust support that genetic makeup plays a role in the potentially fatal illness experienced by some people infected by the coronavirus. Diving into people’s DNA is an approach that could help answer one of the pandemic’s biggest mysteries: Why do some people have mild coronavirus cases, or no symptoms at all, while others rapidly fall ill and die? Evidence is clear that older age and underlying conditions are risk factors for increased covid-19 severity. But genetic predispositions to runaway inflammation or other harmful immune responses could also contribute to worse disease.
New strain of Covid-19 may be cause of rise in cases, Hancock tells MPs
A new Covid-19 variant has been identified in the UK, the health secretary has revealed, suggesting it could be linked to the rapid spread of the virus in south-east England as millions more people in London are being moved into the toughest restrictions. Cases of the strain have been found in almost 60 areas, Matt Hancock disclosed, although he stressed that clinical advice suggested it was “highly unlikely” the mutation would fail to respond to a vaccine. It came as he confirmed that the capital, as well as the majority of Essex and parts of Hertfordshire, would be placed into tier 3 from Wednesday after an “exponential” rise in cases.
CSL 'optimistic' on vaccine delivery as AstraZeneca provides data to regulators
CSL's chief scientific officer Andrew Nash says Australia has a range of options in place when it comes to COVID vaccines even if the Oxford/AstraZeneca project were to hit regulatory hurdles. The axing of the local University of Queensland vaccine candidate last Friday puts the ASX-listed biotech's focus squarely on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, for which it has committed to make 50 million doses. While CSL has started the production process it must wait for AstraZeneca to secure regulatory approval of the product before it can be deployed.
Almost 50 Brits to be given experimental nasal spray Covid-19 vaccine next month
New York company Codagenix said human studies to begin first week of January Codagenix says its computer-edited virus is 1,000 times slower than real thing Given via a nasal spray, in the same way the influenza jab is given to children
Moderna will ship nearly 6 million doses of its coronavirus vaccine as soon as it gets FDA approval
Moderna Inc's first shipment of its coronavirus vaccine to the U.S. will include nearly six million doses. The jabs will be sent to 3,285 locations across the country via FedEx and UPS. In a briefing on Monday, Gen Gustave Perna said a reserve has been set aside, but he didn't disclose the exact amount, The FDA's advisory committee will meet on Thursday to discuss whether or not recommend approving Moderna's vaccine. If approved this week, the first Americans will likely not get immunized before December 21