"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 30th Dec 2020

Hope everyone had a good Christmas break

Just a reminder that the next edition will be Monday 4th January, 2021.

Happy New Year - Bonne Annee - Ein Gluckliches Neues Jahr - Buon Anno - Feliz Ano Nuevo - Voorspoedige Nuwe Jaar

Isolation Tips
How to fight loneliness in lockdown
After months of lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders, some experts worry about a rise in the number of people feeling alone, especially young people and older adults. But resilience is also widespread, and studying loneliness can reveal a variety of ways to combat it. “In light of the pandemic, there are ways that we can increase that sense of connection or reduce feelings of loneliness in ways that we may be able to do safely at a distance,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University. “One of the things that research has shown is that social support is incredibly helpful in times of stress.”
Hygiene Helpers
Harris receives COVID-19 shot in bid to boost U.S. vaccine confidence
U.S. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris received a COVID-19 vaccination live on television on Tuesday, as the incoming Biden administration seeks to boost confidence in the inoculation even while warning it will be months before it is available to all. Senator Harris, who is Black and Asian-American, will become the second high-profile person from an ethnic minority background to receive the vaccine after Surgeon General Jerome Adams on Dec. 18. Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has said he will make the fight against the coronavirus, which has infected more than 19 million Americans and killed over 334,000, his top priority.
China meat association calls for exporters to disinfect shipments to prevent COVID-19
Chinese meat importers and processors have called on exporters in countries with COVID-19 outbreaks to step up checks on shipments before they are sent to the world’s biggest market, China’s top industry group said. “China has been importing a large quantity of meats this year, and has detected virus on the packaging of cold chain products many times, even as lots of disinfection has been done domestically,” Gao Guan, spokesman for the China Meat Association, said on Tuesday. It would be better to handle virus control at the point of origins and carry out disinfection at production plants as the cost would be lower and efficiency higher, Gao said. China has ramped up disinfection and virus testing on frozen food after it found coronavirus on imported products and packaging.
Consortium working with medical authorities on approval for Covid-19 rapid test
A consortium that includes medical diagnostics company Omega is working with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to enable approval for its Covid-19 lateral flow antibody test. The Alva-based company is part of the consortium led by AIM-listed Abingdon Health developing the AbC-19 Rapid Test. Abingdon, which is York-based, said that while the UK's Department of Health and Social Care has first refusal of supplies of the test through a contract that runs to 14 February, it is also working on potential international distribution. The UK Rapid Test Consortium liaising with customers and regulatory authorities across a total of 27 international territories, to allow future use of the product outside of the UK.
Covid: Military back-up for pupil testing as heads urge delay to start of term
Members of the armed forces are to give remote support to secondary schools and colleges in England setting up mass Covid testing as the new term begins. Military personnel will hold webinars and give phone support to school staff. But head teachers say they need support on the ground and more time to make the plan workable. They are calling for a delay to the start of term. The government wants pupils to go back in the first two weeks of January, but is keeping the situation under review.
Community Activities
French Retailers Seek Aid as Sales Fail to Recover From Lockdown
French retailers called for government support after sales failed to rebound fully from a second lockdown, suggesting measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic are changing consumer patterns. Despite a good pick-up in spending thanks to Black Friday discounts and year-end purchases, many clothing, shoe, jewelry, beauty-product and perfume retailers face a drop in revenue of more than 20% in 2020, the French Council of Commerce, a group of about 30 business federations, said in a statement on Monday. “Many shopkeepers could decide to put up the shutters for good to avoid racking up further losses and dragging out an insurmountable economic situation,” said William Koeberle, chairman of the trade group.
China Covid-19: How state media and censorship took on coronavirus
At the start of the year the Chinese government faced two major challenges; an unknown disease which threatened to tear through its population and a wave of voices online telling the world what was happening. By the end of 2020, a glance at Chinese state-controlled media shows that both appear to be under control. The BBC's Kerry Allen and Zhaoyin Feng take a look back at the country's online government censors who worked harder than ever to supress negative information, the citizens that managed to break through the Great Firewall, and how the propaganda machine re-wrote the narrative.
Australia could deport hundreds of Brits after ‘super-spreader’ party
Hundreds of backpackers risk being stripped of their visas and deported from Australia after a huge party was thrown on a beach on Christmas Day. Shocking footage from Sydney shows around 300 people, many believed to be British travellers, chanting next to Bronte Beach wearing Santa hats and what appear to be England football shirts. Australian immigration minister Alex Hawke said he was ‘shocked’ and would be ‘very happy’ to deport those caught disobeying public health orders in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. ‘Absolutely, under the migration act, if someone is threatening public safety or health, their visa can be cancelled and revoked,’ Mr Hawke said on 2GB this morning.
Lockdown library: Meet the woman closing the literacy gap from her garden
A woman in Manchester is helping to close the literacy gap by starting a library at the bottom of her garden. Helen Beesley from Burnage began the project with just one box of books, stashed in an old cupboard in the bottom of her garden. Anyone was welcome to help themselves and read for free. The idea came from the Little Free Library movement - which started in the USA but has now spread across the globe. The aim is to improve literacy and share a love of reading.
Working Remotely
WFH works, but offices will reopen cautiously
The concept of work-from-home (WFH), which served India Inc meaningfully during the lockdown, is expected to morph into a more robust hybrid model in the new year. This would particularly be the case as the availability of Covid-19 vaccines becomes prevalent and a credible shield starts building up against the dreaded virus. Most organisations believe that a hybrid work model, which is a mix of physical and remote working, will be the flavour of 2021.
Broadband usage more than doubled in 2020 as people worked and socialised from home
Broadband usage has more than doubled in the UK this year as 2020 became the year of home working, Zoom calls and live streaming. Figures from broadband network Openreach revealed data consumption rose from 22,000 Petabytes (PB) last year to 50,000 PB in 2020. On 15 occasions during the year, the daily record for broadband use was broken as people worked from home, socialised online, attended video conferences, streamed videos and live sport and downloaded video games for consoles.
Post-Pandemic, Office Life May Never Be the Same, CIOs Say
After working remotely for the better part of a year, employees have proven they can do it, and do it despite the difficulties being at home may have presented. Going forward, that means that where people work may have changed permanently, according to chief information officers. “We do not see a return to the traditional five-day-a-week in the office likely happening again,” said Brad Peterson, chief technology and information officer at Nasdaq Inc. Like many CIOs, Mr. Peterson says a hybrid of home and office work will likely become the preferred option for most employees. Mr. Peterson was one of 45 IT executives who responded to CIO Journal’s annual end-of-year questionnaire on the future of the office and other topics.
Companies Are Starting To Pay People The Same If They Live In New York City, San Francisco Or Buford, Wyoming
Mostly everything during the pandemic was pretty awful. On the bright side, there’s been some positive, progressive trends which could greatly benefit workers. Location-based salaries and compensation are now being questioned and re-evaluated in light of the success of the massive work-from-home or anywhere-remotely trend. There is a potential downside to the good news of no salary adjustments when workers relocate or work in cities outside the radius of the home office. Job seekers may be forced to contend with more competition, especially with unemployment at all-time high levels.
Making Cents: How to save money while working from home
If you are one of the tens of thousands who made the move to working from home this year, now is the time to figure out if you can make a claim with Revenue for tax relief on the cost of utilities during the period you were at home rather than in the office. There are two ways workers can be financially supported while working remotely. An employer can make a voluntary payment to an employee of €3.20 per workday without deducting any PAYE, PRSI or USC. This payment is intended to cover expenses such as heating and electricity costs. But there is no obligation on the employer to make this payment and, according to a recent survey from Taxback.com, just 5% of employers of Ireland’s remote workforce are paying it.
Virtual Classrooms
How 2020 Shaped Education, And What It Means For 2021
In 2020, several new educational practices saw the light of day, outlining a possible blueprint for tomorrow's education. Multimedia content and gamification became teaching tools and could well become the norm in 2021. Teaching methods are set to evolve in 2021, with increased use of online platforms and audio, image and video technologies. In France, a recent survey conducted by the Observatoire de la vie étudiante, published in September 2020, showed that 69% of student respondents had taken part in classes or meetings in video conferences, but only 39% of them were satisfied by the educational resources put in place.
Remote learning report card - is virtual learning here to stay?
In Ontario, as thousands of students who enrolled in remote learning classes this fall enjoy their first break since mid-September, discussion of whether the virtual format has been successful are already underway. Education directors across the province have also been talking to one another about whether remote learning will have a future in a post-pandemic world. "I’ve had discussion with other directors across the province about, potentially, is it a possibility of running some sort of virtual school in the future, and rolling that into our existing staffing processes and protocols. Because, if it’s done well and intentionally, with the right teachers, for some students it’s working very well," says Mark Fisher, director of education at the Thames Valley District School Board.
Public Policies
22 million vulnerable people to get Covid vaccine by spring
All vulnerable Brits, including everyone over the age of 50, could receive a coronavirus vaccine by the spring, the chief executive of the NHS has said. Sir Simon Stevens said 22 million people being vaccinated so soon was a ‘fresh chink of hope’, after a grim end to the year saw hospitalisations in England surpassing April’s peak. Roughly 200,000 people are being vaccinated every week at the moment, but this is set to rise to one million by mid-January, the Daily Telegraph reports. But a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine warns this must be doubled to two million if the UK is to avoid a third wave.
Ireland is in ‘dark place’ on Covid-19 and full Level 5 lockdown may be imminent, Harris says
A Government Minister has said an exponential rise in hospital admissions with Covid-19, the presence of a new coronavirus variant in Ireland, and a tripling in the number of referrals for Covid-testing strongly suggest a return to a full Level 5 lockdown is imminent. Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris said that the State – like many other countries – found itself in a “dark and worrying place” in relation to Covid-19 right now. He was speaking shortly after Ministers were notified a Cabinet meeting has been hastily arranged for Wednesday afternoon, to discuss the deteriorating situation as regards the Covid-19 pandemic.
E.U. Starts Effort to Vaccinate 450 Million
From nursing homes in France to hospitals in Poland, older Europeans and the workers who care for them rolled up their sleeves on Sunday to receive coronavirus vaccine shots in a campaign to inoculate more than 450 million people across the European Union. The inoculations offered a rare respite as the continent struggles with one of its most precarious moments since the pandemic began. Despite national lockdowns, restrictions on movement, shuttering of restaurants and cancellations of Christmas gatherings, the virus has stalked Europe into the dark winter months. The spread of a more contagious variant of the virus in Britain has raised such alarm that much of continental Europe rushed to close its borders to travelers coming from the country, effectively plunging the nation as a whole into quarantine.
Spain to Create a Register of People Who Refuse Covid-19 Vaccine
European governments are planning to track the number of people getting Covid-19 vaccines to help chart a path out of the crisis. France will have a registry of people who get vaccinated, and Spain will track people who refuse to get inoculated against the disease, which has caused more than 400,000 deaths in Europe. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is considering legislation to ensure unvaccinated people are treated fairly as the economy begins to open up. More than 21,000 people in the country have already received the shot developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE.
France considers third national lockdown as Covid-19 cases rise
President Emmanuel Macron meets with France’s health council on Tuesday to consider whether to reimpose lockdown restrictions for a third time amid concern over a rise in Covid-19 cases. France eased restrictions imposed during a second lockdown on December 15 but the average number of daily coronavirus cases has not fallen below a key 5,000 threshold set by the government. Although the number of new infections appeared to have fallen over the Christmas holidays – only 2,960 new coronavirus infections were reported on Monday, down from 8,822 on Sunday and 3,093 on Saturday – officials fear the figures are misleading. Many of the country’s testing facilities closed over the holidays and the drop could simply be due to fewer people getting tested.
U.K. Virus Surge Surpasses Spring Peak as Lockdown Choices Loom
Facing record case and hospital numbers and a threatening variant strain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under pressure to shut schools and reimpose national restrictions, measures he once decried.
Belarus first country after Russia to start Sputnik-V vaccination
Belarus has become the first country after Russia to begin vaccination of people with Sputnik-V against Covid-19, Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said on Tuesday. "Belarus becomes the first country in the world after Russia to start vaccination of its people against COVID-19 with #SputnikV vaccine," a tweet from the official handle of Sputnik-V stated. The Sputnik-V vaccine has been developed and produced by the Gamaleya National Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology of the Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation.
South Africa Imposes New Virus Measures As Vaccines Roll Out
South Africa banned alcohol sales and made masks mandatory in public from Tuesday, tightening restrictions after a surge in coronavirus cases as more countries joined in mass vaccination campaigns to beat the pandemic.
Punjab govt imposes smart lockdown in Lahore's coronavirus hotspot areas
The Punjab government has imposed a smart lockdown in district Lahore, controlling the entry and exit of people in certain areas of the city identified as "coronavirus hotspots" on Tuesday. "There has been a constant increase in positivity percentage and prevalence of COVID-19 in the Province of Punjab during last two weeks which poses a serious and imminent threat to public health," read a notification from the Primary and Secondary Health Department issued today.
Denmark to extend lockdown measures until Jan. 17 - TV2
Denmark's government will extend a hard lockdown for two weeks until Jan. 17 to limit the spread of COVID-19, broadcaster TV2 reported on Tuesday citing unnamed sources. The extension will keep schools,
China's capital locks down part of district in coronavirus fight
Beijing has reported 16 infections and three asymptomatic cases since Dec. 18, when the first cases were found. Most of the cases were in Shunyi, which has banned couriers from entering residential compounds. Six villages, three buildings and one industrial zone were among the areas locked down, a Beijing municipal official told a news conference. While Beijing’s new cases are modest in number compared with June and July, municipal authorities have beefed up steps to rein in the coronavirus, which has surfaced in three districts, where hundreds of thousands of residents have been tested.
Britain to place more parts of country in tier 4 of COVID curbs
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has approved placing more parts of the country into tier 4 restrictions, as the country battles a new variant of COVID-19 which scientists say can spread more rapidly, The Times reported. Ministers were considering imposing the toughest measures on parts of southwest England and Cumbria, where the variant appears to be gaining ground even though cases remain relatively low, said the report.
Maintaining Services
Care homes still waiting weeks for Covid vaccines - despite 'tsunami' of cases
Care homes are still waiting for coronavirus jabs, weeks after the Tories ­promised them. One boss warned they face a Covid “tsunami” as they battle the new virus variant. Raj Sehgal said: “We’ve had no vaccines at all.” And staff fear the growing crisis could leave them on their knees as they battle a worrying shortage of workers struck down by the virus. It comes as officials last night said approval of the Oxford vaccine was “imminent”, which would be a game-changer for care homes. Mr Sehgal, who runs homes in Norfolk, including Summerville House in Heacham, said he was still desperately waiting for jabs, despite those in care being identified as the most urgently in need of them.
Covid vaccine uptake high despite concerns over hesitancy
Uptake of the Covid-19 vaccine has been high among those offered it, doctors say, despite fears that vaccine hesitancy could undermine efforts to control the pandemic. Experts have feared mass uptake of the jab could be jeopardised by widespread misinformation, concerns among the public about the speed at which the vaccine has been developed and approved, and lack of trust in vaccines and the pharmaceutical companies and governments calling for it. But for now, at least, it seems few are shying away from vaccination. “We’ve had reports from our members that despite inevitable teething problems – to be expected when delivering a completely new and complicated vaccine at scale and speed – the programme seems to be running well overall with very positive take-up rates, so far,” said Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs and a practising GP in east London.
Covid-19: Health workers 'back in eye of storm', says NHS chief
Health workers are "back in the eye of the storm" as coronavirus cases continue to rise, NHS England's chief executive Simon Stevens has said. It has been the "toughest year" for the NHS, which has treated 200,000 severely ill Covid-19 patients, he added. Hospitals in England are currently treating more Covid patients than at the peak of the first wave in April. A government scientific adviser has warned national restrictions are needed to prevent a "catastrophe". On Monday, a record 41,385 new Covid cases were reported in the UK, though it is thought the infection rate was higher during spring when testing was much more limited.
Covid patient numbers exceed April peak as Nightingale hospitals stand empty
There are now more coronavirus patients in England’s hospitals than there were during the peak of the first wave of the pandemic, new figures show. As of 8am on Monday, there were 20,426 patients in the country’s NHS hospitals compared to the 18,974 patients recorded on April 12, NHS England revealed. The sobering update comes after the UK recorded its highest daily number of Covid-19 cases to date, with 41,385 infections confirmed as of 9am on Monday, according to the Department of Health. Meanwhile, London’s Nightingale hospital has been stripped of its beds as medics warn there are not enough staff to run the facility, the Telegraph reported.
Staggered school return to go ahead as planned in January despite new Covid strain fears - Michael Gove
The staggered reopening of schools in January is expected to go ahead as planned, Michael Gove said on Monday. The Cabinet Office minister confirmed that secondary school pupils in Years 11 and 13, as well as children of key workers, will return on January 4. All primary school children will also resume classes while other pupils will return a week later. Mr Gove told Sky News: "We always keep things under review but teachers and head teachers have been working incredibly hard over the Christmas period since schools broke up in order to prepare for a new testing regime — community testing — in order to make sure that children and all of us are safer.
Moscow extends school holiday amid rise in coronavirus infections in Russia
Moscow will extend the school holiday by one week until Jan. 17 in hopes of stabilising the situation regarding new coronavirus infections and avoid new COVID-19-related restrictions, the Russian capital’s mayor said on Tuesday. Russia, which launched a voluntary vaccination programme with the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine earlier this month, has resisted imposing a strict lockdown as it did early this year, relying on targeted measures instead.
Healthcare Innovations
Exclusive: Chile could greenlight AstraZeneca vaccine 'within days of US/UK approval, government says
AstraZeneca has filed data with Chilean regulators for the emergency roll-out of its COVID-19 vaccine in the country and could get a green light “weeks or even days” after approval by European or American regulators, the government’s point person for vaccine procurement told Reuters. The UK-based company has been conducting late-stage trials of its vaccine, developed with Oxford University, in Chile as well as in Brazil, the UK, the United States and South Africa. Chile has signed a deal to buy 14.4 million doses of the drug, an amount that would vaccinate half that number of people, or nearly 40% of the country’s population. Chile is already among the best-placed in the region for vaccine deals, with an agreement for 10 million doses from Pfizer BioNtech, 60 million doses over three years from China’s Sinovac and 7.6 million vaccine doses through the global vaccine distribution scheme COVAX.
New coronavirus variant does not cause illness more severe than others -Public Health England study
A new variant of the novel coronavirus does not appear to cause more severe illness than other variants, according to a matched study bit.ly/2X7cLgp by Public Health England. Scientists say the new variant can spread more rapidly. It was found in England in mid December and led to other countries imposing travel restrictions to the United Kingdom. Several other countries have reported variants. Under the study, researchers compared 1,769 people infected with the new variant with 1,769 who had what they described as “wild-type” virus. The two groups were matched 1:1 on the basis of age, sex, area of residence and time of testing.
COVID-19 vaccine: India may get most of Serum Institute's initial Covishield stockpile
Poonawalla says Covishield shows efficacy level of 95 per cent provided two shots are taken after a gap of 2-3 months; AstraZeneca will make that public with documentation soon, he adds
German Town Finds a Blueprint for Lowering Covid-19 Deaths
At the peak of the first wave in April, the town had 70 Covid-19 patients in its biggest hospital—out of 89,000 inhabitants—including 33 in intensive care, forcing doctors to cancel elective surgery. Now, at the height of the far more devastating current surge, patients number just 35, many transferred from other regions. Fifteen of them are in intensive care, of whom fewer than half are Tübingen residents. The hospital hasn’t canceled non-urgent surgery. Local authorities say such numbers are no accident. The town, they point out, started earlier than most German municipalities in carrying out frequent Covid-19 tests on care-home staff, residents and visitors. It subsidizes taxi rides for those over age 65 so they don’t have to use public transit. Younger residents are discouraged from shopping between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. so as to avoid seniors having to mingle with people who are more likely to carry the virus without symptoms.
Regeneron's COVID-19 antibody therapy shows promise in hospitalized patients
Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc said on Tuesday initial data from an ongoing study of its experimental antibody cocktail for use in hospitalized COVID-19 patients requiring low-flow oxygen show the therapy was sufficiently effective to warrant continuing the trial. The drugmaker said in September the cocktail, a combination of two antibodies casirivimab and imdevimab, reduced viral levels and improved symptoms in non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
Study: COVID antibodies may fend off reinfection for 6 months
Few healthcare workers in the UK who recovered from COVID-19 and had immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies against the virus were reinfected over the next 6 months, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The prospective, longitudinal cohort study involved measuring levels of IgG antibodies against the coronavirus's spike protein and nucleocapsid in symptomatic and asymptomatic healthcare workers at Oxford University Hospitals undergoing COVID-19 testing. Testing began Mar 27, and follow-up ended on Nov 30.
Variant virus gains bigger foothold in UK as cases surge
Developments with variant SARS-CoV-2 continued to dominate global COVID-19 news today, with the United Kingdom reporting more record-high case numbers and new reports revealing more about the prevalence and risk. Meanwhile, a new risk assessment from European health officials said the UK variant may have emerged in September and is expected to push hospitalizations and deaths higher, and more countries reported the detection of the South African variant virus.