"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 18th Dec 2020

Isolation Tips
Don’t see grandparents over Christmas if possible, Priti Patel says
Millions of people across Britain should not see their grandparents if possible over the Christmas period, a Cabinet minister said today. Home Secretary Priti Patel also urged families to “change their plans” if they were planning to travel long distances to see relatives during the festive season after surges in Covid-19 cases in parts of the country, including London. Asked on Times Radio if the Government guidance now boiled down to not meeting up with elderly relatives this Christmas where possible, Ms Patel said: “I think it does as we are seeing rising infections across the country.
Hygiene Helpers
Biden to get COVID-19 vaccine publicly next week
President-elect Joe Biden will get the coronavirus vaccine as soon as next week, transition officials said on Wednesday (16 December), as US authorities try to build public confidence in a measure that promises to stanch the deadly pandemic. Vice President Mike Pence will get the vaccine on Friday, the White House said. Both men will receive the shot publicly in an effort to boost confidence in the safety of the vaccine, which will become widely available to the public next year. “I don’t want to get ahead of the line but I want to make sure that we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take,” Biden said at an event earlier on Wednesday. Biden, 78, is in a high-risk category for the coronavirus because of his age.
Sweden's king says 'we have failed' over COVID-19, as deaths mount
Sweden’s king said his country had failed in its handling of COVID-19, in a sharp criticism of a pandemic policy partly blamed for a high death toll among the elderly. Carl XVI Gustaf, whose son and daughter-in-law tested positive last month, used an annual royal Christmas TV special to highlight the growing impact of the virus, in a rare intervention from a monarch whose duties are largely ceremonial. Sweden has stood out from most countries by shunning lockdowns and face masks, leaving schools, restaurants and businesses largely open and relying mainly on voluntary social distancing and hygiene recommendations to slow the spread. An official commission said on Tuesday systemic shortcomings in elderly care coupled with inadequate measures from the government and agencies contributed to Sweden’s particularly high death toll in nursing homes.
Community Activities
How France is confronting its big anti-vaxx problem
As it emerges from its second Covid lockdown, France is preparing to roll out one of the biggest vaccination campaigns in its history. The country has been badly battered by the pandemic, tallying 59,000 Covid deaths and 2.39 million cases so far, and the vaccine would finally offer a way out of the ordeal. Yet, Paris will now have to grapple with another alarming reality: France has become one of the most vaccine-sceptical countries in the world.
New Zealand's 'go hard and early' Covid policy reaps economic rewards
New Zealand’s economy has accelerated out of a coronavirus induced recession to grow by a record 14 per cent in the third quarter, reflecting authorities’ adept handling of the pandemic. Figures published on Thursday showed a resurgence in household spending drove the country’s recovery. The easing of some of the world’s toughest social distancing restrictions prompted 11.1 per cent growth in service industries and 26 per cent growth in the goods producing sector. New Zealand’s statistics agency also revised the decline in gross domestic product in the June quarter to 11 per cent, from previous estimates of a 12.2 per cent contraction. However, the damage wrought by a nationwide lockdown remained evident in the annual growth figure, which shows economic activity fell 2.2 per cent in the year to the end of September.
Working Remotely
Digital nomads told us what it's like to work remotely from around the world - and how you can do it yourself after the pandemic
With many people working remotely, digital nomads — people who earn a living online while they travel — are on the rise. Insider spoke to digital nomads Andrea Valeria, Wanda Duncan, and Kim Leary about the perks and challenges that come with working remotely from around the world. According to them, the digital nomad experience can be rewarding, but it can also be difficult and lonely so it's important to meet others and form a community.
Clocking in from beach: NZ companies urge employees to work even more remotely
In New Zealand,Tourism Holdings and Vodafone have jumped on board with the four-week 'work from anywhere' initiative which allows their staff to work from the beach, bach or even a tent following the festive season. Its chief financial officer Nick Judd said because people had got used to working from home over the pandemic, there was now the ability to work from anywhere in Aotearoa. "We've got so used to virtual working due to Covid this year we're saying get out and about, explore the country, help some of the regional economies and take your work with you," Judd told Nine to Noon. He said the campaign was also about improving worker welfare after a particularly stressful year.
Employee Monitoring Vs. Workplace Trust In An Age Of Remote Working
This year, as communities came together to fight Covid-19, millions of employees packed up their desks and headed for their study, kitchen, or shed. Technology responded, supporting teams to find new ways to collaborate through digital channels. But this connected virtual workplace brought friction too. As the months rolled on, leaders started to worry that they didn’t know if staff were productive at home, and more organizations began to look at technology to monitor their employees. Are organizations now in danger of inadvertently taking technology too far and engendering a culture of conflict and mistrust? Leaders need to carefully weigh up the impact of employee monitoring software and take a collaborative approach to implementation with their staff.
Before Transitioning To A Permanent Work-From-Home Culture, Leaders Should Look Before They Leap
The pandemic has forced organizations to embrace remote work for an extended period of time, certainly well into 2021. Some organizations, such as Facebook, recently announced the creation of a new role called Director of Remote Work, along with a pledge to transition half of its nearly 50,000-person global workforce to work from home within the next five to 10 years. Other organizations, such as Twitter, Square and VMware have taken steps to allow employees to work from home indefinitely. While examples like these have ignited a new work-from-home movement, some leaders haven’t been so quick to permanently lock their office doors. Instead, they’re taking time to consider important big-picture questions
The New Battles to Come Over Working From Home
A lot of things can be expected to go back to normal once the Covid-19 pandemic is truly over. Restaurants, cruise ships and resort towns will be packed again. Spending on home improvements will subside. Since early last spring, though, many thoughtful people have been speculating that the workplace will never be the same. The success of the great experiment in working from home during the pandemic has made it much clearer than it was before that many of the things we do in offices can be done just as well or better while working remotely and communicating electronically. And because a lot of the best jobs in recent decades have been concentrated in crowded, expensive cities, this could also provide an opportunity for workers to relocate to places where life is simpler and real estate cheaper.
State needs to be ‘much more ambitious’ with remote working, Humphreys says
In Ireland, the Government needs to be much more ambitious than its programme for government commitment to have 20 per cent of public sector employees working remotely, Minister for Rural and Community Development Heather Humphreys has said. In the wake of the shift to remote working from 200,000 before the Covid-19 pandemic to more than 700,000 currently Ms Humphreys told the Dáil that this had “given us all an opportunity to reimagine the possibility for a greater regional distribution of jobs”.
Virtual Classrooms
More than schoolwork: Why distance learning is so challenging for Fresno County students
The Fresno Bee’s Education Lab interviewed nearly two dozen students, parents, and teachers about their struggles and challenges navigating school during the coronavirus pandemic. Some students said they’ve been getting better grades since distance learning but technology and broadband issues have interfered with learning for others. During an Ed Lab listening session, Joe Barron, a Fresno Unified high school teacher, said technology issues “occasionally” interfere with learning, especially when older siblings have to leave their virtual classroom to help their younger siblings with technology issues.
Public Policies
Iceland’s Herd Immunity Plan Likely Impacted by Vaccine Delay
Iceland’s plan to achieve herd immunity already by the end of March will likely be impacted by production delays at Covid-19 vaccine supplier Pfizer, the country’s chief epidemiologist warned Thursday. Earlier this month, the Health Ministry said it wanted to vaccinate 75% of Icelanders born in 2005 or earlier by the end of the first quarter. But according to Thorolfiur Gudnason, that target won’t be achieved until the end of next year. “We finally have a clear picture of the vaccine shipment from Pfizer,” Gudnason said. “Because of the producers’ shortage of raw materials, the production will be delayed, so it is clear we will get less than we anticipated,” he said during a briefing in Reykjavik.
Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine set for roll-out in Germany this month
Germany is set to begin administering the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on 27 December, according to Reuters. The Berlin city government disclosed that priority for the vaccine will first be given to elderly individuals living in care homes.
Commission closing in on deal for up to 200M doses of Novavax coronavirus vaccine
The Commission completed exploratory talks for coronavirus vaccines with Novavax, the Commission announced Thursday. The deal would secure 100 million doses of the U.S.-made vaccine, with the option of purchasing an additional 100 million doses. It would be the seventh deal struck by the Commission with drugmakers. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also announced Thursday that EU countries will begin vaccinating between December 27 and 29.
You can’t sue Pfizer or Moderna if you have severe Covid vaccine side effects. The government likely won't compensate you for damages either
Under the PREP Act, companies like Pfizer and Moderna have total immunity from liability if something unintentionally goes wrong with their vaccines. A little-known government program provides benefits to people who can prove they suffered serious injury from a vaccine. That program rarely pays, covering just 29 claims over the last decade.
Uruguay to close its borders over holidays due to COVID-19
Uruguay will temporarily close its borders next week to non-commercial traffic, and urged citizens to limit holiday gatherings due to a surge in COVID-19 cases. Borders will be closed from Dec. 21 to Jan. 10, except for cargo transportation, the government said late on Wednesday. Uruguay’s lockdown measures largely held the virus at bay during the first months of the pandemic. “The second wave to hit the world is our first wave,” President Luis Lacalle Pou said in an evening televised event. “We cannot compromise what has been achieved so far,” said Rafael Radi, coordinator of the government’s COVID-19 advisory group. He said the hardest hit areas are the capital Montevideo and surrounding areas.
Greece tightens COVID-19 curbs in west Athens boroughs
Lockdown restrictions will tighten in parts of western Athens from Friday to contain a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, authorities said. Greece has seen a rapid rise in infections since October, forcing it to impose a second nationwide lockdown. But, despite those curbs, infections have shown no sign of abating in three western boroughs of Athens, Deputy Civil Protection Minister Nikos Hardalias said in a televised briefing. In those areas, a curfew will be extended by four hours and run from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time from Friday, Hardalias said. Bookstores, hair salons and some of the few retailers that Greece allowed to re-open on Monday will also close for a week.
Northern Ireland could be heading for a six week lockdown
The Executive has agreed to go into a six week lockdown that will begin on Boxing Day. Ministers met on Thursday amid growing concern about the rise of coronavirus cases in Northern Ireland. The Health minister said the restrictions will come into effect from midnight on Christmas Day, taking effect on the 26th. Robin Swann said: "The Executive has probably taken its hardest decision, its most deep decision, in regards to how we have had to combat Covid-19 collectively. "We will be looking to a six week lock down where the message will be work from home, stay at home."
Italy Weighs Holiday Lockdown That Would Dash Hopes for Christmas Respite
Italy's government is debating a lockdown over the holiday period, something it promised Italians it would do its best to avoid. Some ministers are pushing for the closure of stores, restaurants and bars for a few days around Christmas and again over New Year, as well as tight restrictions on nonessential movement. Some in the government want to preserve freedom of movement for people who want to visit their close relatives. A decision could come as early as today. Italy has struggled to suppress its recent surge of coronavirus cases, despite imposing an array of social-distancing measures last month. Infections and deaths have peaked but are declining only slowly. Italy recorded around 17,500 new infections on Wednesday and 680 deaths.
Spain ready to implement tougher measures as 'Christmas clock' is ticking
With the virus not going away ahead of the Christmas season, the Spanish government is ready to implement tougher measures, Spain’s socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez told parliament on Wednesday, EFE reports. The epidemiologic situation in Spain was kept relatively under control for a few weeks, but the latest reports are no bearers of good news: the incidence rate of the COVID-19 pandemic has risen for the fourth day in a row. There is a “worrying increase in infections,” Sánchez said in a speech before parliament (Congreso de los Diputados), where he informed MPs about the current health situation. “We cannot relax. We cannot lower our guard… We have fought hard this year, united, and we are facing the last effort”, Sánchez stressed.
French President Macron Tests Positive for Covid-19
French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for the coronavirus, his office said Thursday, delivering a blow to a country that has been among Europe’s hardest hit by the pandemic. The 42-year-old was tested after showing symptoms of Covid-19, the Élysée Palace said, adding that he would isolate for seven days while continuing to work. Mr. Macron has a fever, a cough and is tired, a spokesman for the Elysée Palace said. Mr. Macron’s test result immediately rippled across Europe, affecting the activities of a number of leaders who have recently been in contact with him. The Élysée Palace said he received his test results on Thursday, but didn’t specify when the test was administered
New Zealand economy bounces back with record growth as pandemic contained
New Zealand's economy grew a record 14% in the third quarter, bouncing back from a COVID-19 lockdown earlier in the year that shut businesses and brought activity to a standstill, official data showed on Thursday. Annual gross domestic product (GDP) rose 0.4%, Statistics New Zealand said, with both figures beating expectations in a Reuters poll for quarterly growth of 13.5% and an annual contraction of 1.3%. The GDP numbers also topped the Reserve Bank of New Zealand's November forecast of quarterly and annual growth of 13.4% and minus 1.3% respectively.
Germany to roll out BioNTech/Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 27
Germany will roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 on Dec. 27, with priority given to the elderly in care homes, Berlin city government said on Wednesday. The announcement came as Germany registered its highest daily death toll from COVID-19 and as it entered a strict lockdown in an attempt to bring down soaring infections. As a member of the European Union Germany must wait for the European Medicines Agency (EMA) to approve the vaccine. It is expected to make an announcement on Dec. 21. A senior EU official said on Wednesday the bloc could give its final approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 23
Denmark will shut down completely during Christmas, New Year - PM
Denmark will impose a hard lockdown over Christmas and the New Year to limit the spread of COVID-19, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Wednesday. Shopping malls will close starting Thursday, and other stores, with the exception of supermarkets and food shops, will close from Dec. 25. Students still in school will be sent home as of Monday.
Maintaining Services
States report confusion as feds reduce vaccine shipments, even as Pfizer says it has ‘millions’ of unclaimed doses
The changes prompted concern in health departments across the country about whether Operation Warp Speed, the Trump administration’s vaccine accelerator, was capable of distributing doses quickly enough to meet the target of delivering first shots to 20 million people by year’s end. A senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal plans, said the revised estimates for next week were the result of states requesting an expedited timeline for locking in future shipments — from Friday to Tuesday — leaving less time for federal authorities to inspect and clear available supply.
Pfizer Says No Vaccine Shipments Have Been Delayed
Pfizer Inc. pushed back on claims it is experiencing problems producing its Covid-19 vaccine, as the company and the federal government continued to try to reach a deal that would eventually double the number of doses available for the U.S.’s vast immunization effort. Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said in an interview on Thursday that the U.S. is close to a deal for another 100 million doses of the vaccine Pfizer developed in partnership with BioNTech SE. Through the agreement, Pfizer would deliver the additional supply in the second quarter of 2021, Slaoui said.
Covid: Sir Ian McKellen praises NHS after first dose of Pfizer vaccine
Sir Ian McKellen has praised the NHS saying he wants to "give them all a big hug" after having his first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. The 81-year old also urged others to get the Covid-19 jab if they could. "I would encourage everybody to do the sensible thing, not just for themselves but for everybody else because if you're virus-free that helps everybody else, doesn't it?"
Storm may help U.S. Northeast contain coronavirus but could disrupt vaccine delivery
A winter storm piled historic amounts of snow onto parts of the U.S. Northeast on Thursday and wreaked havoc throughout the region, hobbling if not paralyzing travel as it moved up the coast and bore down on New England. The first major snowstorm of the season, which was expected to move out to sea by the end of Thursday, prompted officials to urge the region’s 50 million residents to stay home, a warning many had been routinely issuing anyway because of the pandemic. “Given the heavy (snow) and difficult travel conditions, drivers are encouraged to stay off the road if they can during the storm,” Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said on Twitter.
Covid-19: 'Nightmare six weeks' ahead for NI health service
Paramedics from the Republic of Ireland's National Ambulance Service (NAS) will be working in Northern Ireland this weekend. It comes amid severe Covid-19 related pressures on the health service in NI. Hospitals have faced severe pressures over the past few days, with ambulances queuing outside hospitals. It is not the first time NAS ambulances have helped out in NI, they assisted during the first wave of the pandemic and also in 2019. Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said ambulance crews from the Republic of Ireland will "provide support" to the Northern Ireland Ambulance service (NIAS) over the weekend "due to the pressures being experienced".
Germany facing lockdown to Easter with hospitals 'on brink of overload'
Germany’s Covid-19 death toll has risen by nearly 1,000 in a single day, leading to speculation that its lockdown could last until Easter. One of the country’s regional chief ministers has warned that for the first time the hospital system is “on the brink of overload” as the infection rate continues to rise and spare intensive care capacity dwindles. The World Health Organisation has advised Europeans to wear masks when meeting family and friends at Christmas. People should also meet outdoors whenever possible, it said. Yesterday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which compiles the German government’s coronavirus statistics, reported 952 deaths within the past 24 hours, well above the previous daily record of 590 on Friday. It said that there were 27,728 new cases.
Ardern unveils New Zealand Covid vaccine deals as economy rebounds
New Zealand has ordered 15m courses of Covid-19 vaccine from four providers as the country approaches the end of 2020 on a promising note, with a recovering economy and plans to open numerous travel corridors in the new year. On Thursday, the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, confirmed the treatment would be free for everyone, with health workers and border officials prioritised. The vaccine will be made available in the second quarter of next year. Ardern said readiness for New Zealand’s “largest-ever immunisation programme” was progressing well, and the country had now pre-ordered vaccines from four providers: 750,000 courses from Pfizer, 5m from Janssen, 3.8m from Oxford/AstraZeneca and 5.36m from Novavax. One course refers to all the doses needed for one person.
NHS hospitals running out of beds as Covid cases continue to surge
Growing numbers of hospitals in England are running short of beds and having to divert patients elsewhere and cancel operations as the NHS struggles to cope with the resurgence of coronavirus, a Guardian analysis shows. According to the NHS figures, hospitals had to tell ambulance crews to divert patients elsewhere 44 times last week – the highest number for four years. With hospitals in London, Leicester and Northampton particularly hard hit, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, warned: “It already feels like we’re in the grips of a really bad winter, and there’s a very long way to go.”
Palestinians left waiting as Israel is set to deploy vaccine
Israel will begin rolling out a major coronavirus vaccination campaign next week after the prime minister reached out personally to the head of a major drug company. Millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control will have to wait much longer. Worldwide, rich nations are snatching up scarce supplies of new vaccines as poor countries largely rely on a World Health Organization program that has yet to get off the ground. There are few places where the competition is playing out in closer proximity than in Israel and the territories it has occupied for more than half a century.
Healthcare Innovations
Early data show two doses of Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine provoked good immune response
Oxford University’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate has a better immune response when a two full-dose regime is used rather than a full-dose followed by a half-dose booster, the university said on Thursday, citing data from early trials. The developers of the vaccine candidate, which has been licensed to pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca, have already published later stage trial results showing higher efficacy when a half dose is followed by a full dose, compared to a two full-dose regime. However, more work needs to be done to affirm that result. The latest details from the Phase I and 2 clinical trials released on Thursday made no reference to the half-dose/full-dose regime, which Oxford has said had been “unplanned” but approved by regulators.
Oxford Covid-19 vaccine stimulates broad antibody and T cell functions – study
The University of Oxford’s coronavirus vaccine stimulates broad antibody and T cell responses, published trial results show. Researchers published further data from phase one/two clinical trials of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 Covid-19 vaccine, showing the evidence for the decision to move to a two-dose regimen in ongoing phase three trials. The data also shows how the vaccine, developed with AstraZeneca, induces broad antibody and T cell functions. Previous studies have shown that in order to develop any vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, two key elements of the immune system need to be activated. These are neutralising antibodies against the coronavirus spike protein which is likely to be critically important in protecting against the disease, as well as robust T cell responses.
NICE: Not enough evidence to recommend vitamin D solely to prevent Covid-19
There is not enough evidence to support taking vitamin D solely to treat or prevent Covid-19, a rapid review of clinical evidence has concluded. The review, carried out by NICE, Public Health England and the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, was ordered by health secretary Matt Hancock following reports of links between vitamin D deficiency and severe Covid-19. Anticipating the results, Mr Hancock already announced that millions of vulnerable people in England would receive free supplies of Vitamin D for the winter. But the guidance, published today, advises healthcare professionals ‘not to offer vitamin D supplements to people solely to [prevent or treat] Covid-19, except as part of a clinical trial’.
Devices Used In COVID-19 Treatment Can Give Errors For Patients With Dark Skin
The common fingertip devices that measures oxygen in the blood can sometimes give misleading readings in people with dark skin, according to a report Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. These devices, called pulse oximeters, are increasingly finding their way into people's homes, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, this is not just a concern for medical personnel using professional-grade devices. Dr. Michael Sjoding and colleagues at the University of Michigan hospital in Ann Arbor came across this issue this year when they received an influx of COVID-19 patients from Detroit's overflowing hospitals. Many of these patients are Black. Sjoding noticed something odd about results from the fingertip device used throughout hospitals.
More than HALF of schools in England had coronavirus cases in November, report finds
Infection rates were highest among secondary school pupils, the survey found They were lowest in primary school staff, with primary pupils also lower Teenagers have high rates of coronavirus but officials refuse to close schools ONS survey is the first of its kind to look at asymptomatic cases in education
COVID 5 times deadlier than flu for hospital patients, study finds
Compared with patients with seasonal flu, hospitalized COVID-19 patients face an increased need for ventilation and intensive care, longer hospital stays, more complications, and nearly five times the risk of death, according to a US study published yesterday in BMJ. The study, led by researchers from the VA Saint Louis Health Care System, mined the US Department of Veterans Affairs medical records database to compare the outcomes of 3,641 COVID-19 patients hospitalized from Feb 1 to Jun 17 with those of 12,676 hospitalized with the flu from 2017 to 2019.