"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 7th Jan 2021

Isolation Tips
COVID risk 'extraordinarily high' if lockdown rules ignored - official
The risks for Britons without COVID-19 vaccinations were extraordinarily high if people don’t follow the current lockdown rules, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said on Tuesday, adding that the risks will not disappear in the spring. “If people don’t take the ‘stay at home’ seriously, the risk at this point in time, in the middle of winter with this new variant, is extraordinarily high,” Whitty said. “We shouldn’t kid ourselves ... this just disappears with spring.”
Working from home? You can claim £125 back from the tax man with no strings attached
In England, millions of people who have been sent home due to lockdown restrictions could be in line for a £125 rebate from HMRC. A little known 'working from home' tax rule means anyone who has been told to work from home during the pandemic can claim financial relief, up to the value of £125, to spend on bills and other home working essentials. Even better, you only need to have worked one day from home to claim the refund - meaning millions of people could be eligible. The money can be used to pay for items such as office equipment, stationary and even printer paper.
Hygiene Helpers
COVID-19: Britons must take coronavirus test before travelling to Ireland
Visitors to Ireland will have to produce a negative COVID-19 test taken within the previous 72 hours, as the country's government brings in a raft of tough new restrictions.
Community Activities
Mafia on the hunt for coronavirus vaccines, say Italian police
The mafia will be trying to get their hands on COVID-19 vaccines, Italian police have warned. Giving vaccines to millions of people is proving problematic for most governments and now law enforcement authorities are bracing for an additional challenge — criminals targeting vaccine distribution. “Their interest in vaccines is due to the high demand and the low initial supply,” the Italian police body monitoring mafia infiltration of the economy said in an internal report, extracts of which were released on Wednesday.
Retreat of the UK coronavirus lockdown skeptics
What a difference a month (and a new strain of coronavirus) makes. The last time MPs held a major vote on coronavirus measures, on December 1, it prompted the biggest rebellion of Boris Johnson’s premiership with 55 of his backbenchers voting against new restrictions. When the House of Commons is asked to vote on the new national lockdown on Wednesday, any such backlash among the lockdown-skeptic wing of Johnson’s party is likely to be much smaller, several MPs predicted, with a number of former rebels saying they would now back the government.
Life after lockdown: New Zealand creatives on navigating a post-Covid world
In a year that mostly felt devoid of hope, a light at the end of the tunnel emerged from a surprising source: the bottom of the world. Long-since illuminated for its history-making politics, 2020 saw New Zealand burn even brighter on the global stage for all but eliminating coronavirus (twice) with remarkable efficiency — announcing 95 percent probability of zero local transmissions — as other first-world nations confronted yet another surge. Perhaps it was the country’s dispersed population, borderless isolation or high governmental trust index, but once again a small island nation just North of Antarctica (and often confused with Australia) had set an undeniable precedent.
Britain's Asda urges lockdown shoppers not to stockpile
British supermarket group Asda on Wednesday urged its customers to shop considerately and not buy more than they normally would after new COVID-19 lockdowns were introduced across the United Kingdom to stem the spread of the virus. Under the new rules in England, schools are closed to most pupils, people should work from home if possible, and all hospitality and non-essential shops are closed. Semi-autonomous executives in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have imposed similar measures. With the hospitality sector shut, there is pressure on supermarkets to meet demand. December trade hit record levels.
'No law can order us': Greek Christians defy COVID ban on Epiphany services
Greek Christian churches held Epiphany services on Wednesday, openly defying government coronavirus restrictions that banned public gatherings including religious ceremonies on one of the most important days of the Orthodox calendar. Despite a plea by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis for Church authorities to set an example during a crisis that has killed more than 5,000 in Greece, worshippers attended morning services, although limits were placed on the number allowed into churches at one time. “State orders are one thing and faith is another,” said a 38-year-old worshipper who gave her name as Stavroula, after attending morning service at a church in the outskirts of Athens. “No law can order us what to do.”
Working Remotely
Remote workers face long waits for garden offices or log cabins
Remote workers in Ireland face waits of up to 10 months if they want to have a garden office or log cabin on their properties. It comes following a massive rise in the number of people working from home during the pandemic. According to the latest CSO labour force survey, the numbers reporting their home as the primary place of work had risen from less than 5% before the pandemic to almost 28% by November. Tanaiste and Enterprise Minister Leo Varadkar has said up to 10,000 co-working and incubation spaces are planned for regional locations around the country over the next three years in a move to help start-ups and employees engage in smart work measures.
Virtual Classrooms
Schools in England 'much better prepared' for home-learning than last March
Schools in England are “much better prepared than last March” to implement home-learning, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson told the Commons. He said: “We are far better placed to cope with it than we were last March. On laptops, he said: “We’ve purchased more than one million laptops and tablets and have already delivered over 560,000 of those to schools and local authorities with an extra 100,000 being distributed this week alone. By the end of next week, we will have delivered three-quarters-of-a-million devices.”
BBC to provide biggest education offering as England begins new lockdown
The BBC said it would be providing its biggest education offer in its history as England and Scotland entered new lockdowns, which will see most children out of school. On Monday, England said most students would have to learn remotely and Scotland extended provisions that keep schools closed to all children, except those of key workers, as a variant of COVID-19 leads to soaring cases. From next week, the BBC’s children brand CBBC will have a three-hour block of programming for primary school pupils and BBC Two will focus on content for secondary school students. Other educational shows and resources will also be available.
Homeschooling leaves parents with 'fatigue and anxiety' after schools close in England again
The closure of schools in England has turned the lives of millions of families upside down for the second time in less than a year. Boris Johnson's announcement means parents are now left trying to balance their jobs with childcare and homeschooling for at least another six weeks. Less than 48 hours after the prime minister's address, traffic on the search engine childcare.co.uk was up by 314% on last year and employment law specialists have seen a "massive increase" in demand for advice for parents.
Public Policies
South African medical schemes to fund COVID-19 vaccines for 30% of adults
Millions of South Africans will have their COVID-19 vaccinations subsidised by medical schemes that pool health insurance premiums through an agreement with the government, a top medical scheme administrator said. Under the arrangement, medical schemes will pay above cost for doses for their members - roughly 7 million adults over the age of 15 - subsidising procurement for another 7 million adults who are without private medical cover, Ryan Noach, chief executive of the country’s largest medical scheme administrator, Discovery Health, said. In all, vaccines for around 30% of the country’s adult population would be financed by the agreement.
COVID-19: Moderna vaccine approved by EU drugs regulator
Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for use by the EU's drug regulator. The decision by the European Medicines Agency came on the same day as the Netherland's began administering its first doses against coronavirus. EMA executive director Emer Cooke said: "This vaccine provides us with another tool to overcome the current emergency." The decision, which must be rubber stamped by the EU's executive commission, came hours after nurse Sanna Elkadiri, 39, became the first person in the Netherlands to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Merkel ‘open’ to producing Russian coronavirus vaccine in the EU
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has told Russian President Vladimir Putin that she is "open to the idea" of using European manufacturing capacities to increase the production of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine, a German government spokesperson said on Wednesday. News of a Merkel-Putin call on Tuesday to discuss cooperation on vaccine production was first made public by the Kremlin that same day. Speaking at a German government press briefing Wednesday, deputy spokesperson Ulrike Demmer said that Merkel had told Putin "that she is open to the idea of bilateral cooperation for the purpose of tapping European production capacities [for the Russian vaccine]." Demmer added that this would only happen if the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gives its approval to the Sputnik V vaccine.
COVID-19: China blocks WHO team from entering country to study coronavirus origin
The head of the World Health Organisation has said he is "very disappointed" China has denied its experts access to investigating the origins of coronavirus. A ten-strong team of international scientists and virologists had been due to set off in early January as part of a long-awaited mission to probe early cases of coronavirus, first reported over a year ago in China's Wuhan province. But Chinese officials have not yet finalised the necessary permissions for the team to enter the country, despite the WHO having been talking with Chinese officials since July.
Covid-19: Johnson warns England's lockdown won't end 'with a bang'
The end of England's lockdown will not happen with a "big bang" but will instead be a "gradual unwrapping", Boris Johnson has told MPs. The prime minister made the comments in the Commons ahead of a retrospective vote later on the lockdown measures. He said the legislation runs until 31 March to allow a "controlled" easing of restrictions back into local tiers. Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the government's decisions "have led us to the position we're now in". Health Secretary Matt Hancock said there were now 30,074 patients with coronavirus in UK hospitals. All of the UK is now under strict virus curbs, with Wales, Northern Ireland and most of Scotland also in lockdown.
Germany toughens lockdown as it struggles to control second wave
Germany is extending its lockdown until the end of January and banning non-essential travel in those areas worst-hit by the coronavirus pandemic, as it battles to control an upsurge in new infections. “We are appealing to people to reduce their contacts to an absolute minimum,” Angela Merkel told reporters after a videoconference with the leaders of Germany’s 16 federal states. The chancellor said infection rates were still too high and many hospitals were reaching the limits of their capacity. Germany also had to be “particularly careful” in view of the new viral variant spreading from the UK that was much more infectious than previous forms of the coronavirus, she said.
Ministers convene to approve full lockdown starting Friday
Netanyahu and Gantz said to agree on plan to shutter schools and most businesses; both appear to blame UK virus variant for recent steep rise in cases. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have reached an agreement on tightening the current nationwide lockdown for 10 days, shuttering schools and nonessential businesses and closing supermarkets at 7 p.m., according to Hebrew media reports Tuesday, with the aim of reversing a steep spike in infections that have passed 8,000 a day.
Spain’s regions tighten restrictions as Covid-19 cases surge
Valencian authorities are confining 26 municipalities, Extremadura is closing bars and restaurants in its main cities, and La Rioja will limit all social gatherings to four people. After partially loosening restrictions during the Christmas holidays, Spanish regional governments are tightening their coronavirus measures again as cases continue to soar amid what experts are already describing as a third wave of the pandemic. The decisions come as Health Ministry data on Tuesday showed a 25% rise in reported cases over the last seven days. Nine Spanish territories now have an incidence rate categorized as “extreme risk” by health authorities.
Balkans feel abandoned as vaccinations kick off in Europe
When thousands of people across the European Union began rolling up their sleeves last month to get a coronavirus vaccination shot, one corner of the continent was left behind, feeling isolated and abandoned: the Balkans. Balkan nations have struggled to get access to COVID-19 vaccines from multiple companies and programs, but most of the nations on Europe’s southeastern periphery are still waiting for their first vaccines to arrive, with no firm timeline for the start of their national inoculation drives. What is already clear is that Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia — home to some 20 million people — will lag far behind the EU’s 27 nations and Britain in efforts to reach herd immunity by quickly vaccinating a large number of their people.
China hits city of 11 million with tight restrictions as more than 100 COVID cases discovered
Travel has been restricted to a northern Chinese city of 11 million people and schools closed as authorities moved on Wednesday to snuff out a cluster of COVID-19 cases after more than 100 infections were confirmed. Ten major highways leading into the city of Shijiazhuang, around 200 miles south of Beijing, have been closed and a bus terminus was closed in an attempt to prevent the virus spreading beyond the city in Hebei province. China's state-run Global Times newspaper said all train ticket sales from neighboring Hebei province into the capital were halted and Shijiazhuang's long-distance bus station closed as officials declared Hebei in "wartime mode" against the virus.
Covid-19: New details revealed in government's vaccine distribution plan
New details have emerged in the government’s hunt for a Covid-19 vaccine distributor – including the requirement to be able to move doses through roadblocks during another lockdown. The exacting requirements for prospective distributors have emerged in a Ministry of Health procurement document obtained by Stuff. They include the ability to distribute dangerously large quantities of dry ice and transport items at ultra-cold temperatures, down to minus 70 Celsius. Interested companies are also asked about contingency plans for delivering a vaccine in another Covid-19 lockdown scenario, including whether they could handle disruptions to their networks such as roadblocks.
Swiss plan to extend COVID-19 restrictions to end of February
Switzerland plans to extend its lockdown restrictions by five weeks to the end of February, including closing all restaurants, cultural and recreational sites, the government said on Wednesday. A formal decision is due next week after consultations with cantons. Exemptions for regions less severely hit by the coronavirus have been scrapped, the government said, with a country-wide approach now entering force. The extension of the so-called lockdown-light is needed because “it is already foreseeable that the number of cases will not decrease significantly and sustainably in the coming weeks,” the government said.
Indonesia to impose more targeted restrictions to fight COVID-19
Indonesia will impose two weeks of increased coronavirus restrictions in parts of its most populous island of Java from Jan. 11 and in the resort island of Bali, to support hospitals and reduce fatality rates, a minister said on Wednesday. The chief economic minister, Airlangga Hartarto, said some of the measures include changes to opening hours for malls and limited capacity at restaurants and places of worship.
Maintaining Services
Around 50,000 receive first dose of Covid-19 vaccine in Northern Ireland
Around 50,000 people have received a first dose of coronavirus vaccine in Northern Ireland, Health Minister Robin Swann said. Nine in 10 care home residents have been inoculated. By January 18, more supplies are expected to be received from manufacturer AstraZeneca. Mr Swann urged the public to stay at home while the programme gathers steam. "This is a time to hunker down and weather the crisis," he said.
As cases spike, Europe mulls delaying 2nd coronavirus vaccine shot
Faced with surging coronavirus cases, some European countries are considering whether to change tack and join the U.K. in vaccinating as many people as possible with just one dose rather than the two administered during clinical trials so far. This issue has been live since December 30, when the U.K. announced its decision to delay second doses by up to 12 weeks when it approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency use. The switch also applied to the BioNTech/Pfizer jab. Just this week, Denmark announced its decision to delay the second dose of both the Pfizer and forthcoming Moderna jabs by up to six weeks. The German health ministry has also confirmed looking into widening vaccination coverage by similar delays between doses.
Record-high COVID-19 hospitalizations strain southwestern Ontario health-care system
A southwestern Ontario hospital grappling with record-high COVID-19 admissions was cancelling surgeries and transferring patients to other facilities this week while another scrapped procedures to free up staff who could care for the gravely ill. The capacity crunch due to rising cases of the novel coronavirus had the head of a group representing Ontario’s hospitals warning that the acute-care system is more stretched than ever and the situation could get worse. The Windsor Regional Hospital cancelled all non-urgent, elective surgeries indefinitely and is preparing to send patients to hospitals near and far, hospital CEO David Musyj said Wednesday. Some acute-care patients are being transferred to the hospital in nearby Chatham-Kent, Ont., he said, while those with higher needs are being transferred to London, Ont.
U.S. sets COVID-19 hospitalization record as states work to ramp up vaccination efforts
More Americans were hospitalized with COVID-19 on Wednesday than at any time since the pandemic began, as total coronavirus infections crossed the 21 million mark, deaths soared across much of the United States and a historic vaccination effort lagged. U.S. COVID-19 hospitalizations reached a record 130,834 late on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally of public health data, while 3,684 reported fatalities was the second-highest single-day death toll of the pandemic. That appalling toll meant that on Tuesday someone died from COVID-19 every 24 seconds in the United States. With total deaths surpassing 357,000, one in every 914 U.S. residents has died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to a Reuters analysis.
Swamped Hospitals Expose Depth of Britain’s Unfolding Crisis
If the British government’s goal throughout the coronavirus pandemic has been to protect the health service, the next few weeks will be the biggest challenge yet. After overtaking Italy again as the country with Europe’s highest death toll, the U.K. is at the epicenter of the continent’s struggle to contain Covid-19. Daily infections are at a record—one in 50 people in England now have the disease—while Prime Minister Boris Johnson this week shut schools and ordered the population to stay at home. Medical staff say they may be forced to turn people away from hospitals if the latest lockdown fails to curb quickly enough a new strain of the virus that emerged in southeast England last month.
Covid Vaccine Rollouts in Europe Are Off to a Shaky Start
With a more contagious variant of the coronavirus forcing England to impose a strict new national lockdown and European nations extending restrictions in the face of rising cases, political leaders have promised that mass vaccinations will bring an end to the suffering. But in the race to beat the virus, the virus is still way out in front. There are shortages of needles in Italy, Greece and other countries. Spain has not trained enough nurses. France has only managed to vaccinate around 7,000 people. Poland’s program was rocked by scandal after it was revealed that celebrities were given preferential treatment. There are calls in Germany to take control over vaccine purchases from European Union authorities. Nearly every country in Europe has complained about burdensome paperwork.
Covid-19 pre-departure tests and more lockdowns: Additional measures rolled out to battle new variant
Since the new Covid-19 variant began spreading rapidly around the world, new measures have been rolled out to slow it down. The B.1.1.7 strain, which was first identified in the UK on September 20, is more transmissible than other coronavirus variants. According to Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield, it is roughly one-and-a-half times more infectious than earlier versions of the virus. The new variant has since been found in more than 30 countries, including New Zealand.
Healthcare Innovations
Welsh researchers developing 'revolutionary' skin patch vaccine for coronavirus
Welsh researchers developing a 'revolutionary' skin patch vaccine for coronavirus say they hope to have a prototype ready as early as March. The body-worn patches - similar to those used by people aiming to give up smoking - are designed to break the skin barrier and deliver medicines in a less invasive way. Swansea University scientists say the world-first 'smart patches' will also be able to tell how effective the vaccine is for each recipient by measuring their body's response. Researchers say the patches could prove a cheaper and easier way of administering vaccines, and would be welcomed by those who dislike traditional hypodermic needles.
Early convalescent plasma may lower risk of severe COVID in seniors
Plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients with high levels of antibodies appeared to delay or stop progression of illness in mildly ill older adults infected with the novel coronavirus, a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded. Researchers at Fundacion INFANT in Buenos Aires, Argentina, led the small randomized, controlled, double-blind trial of the effects of infusing convalescent plasma in 160 older adults within 72 hours of symptom onset from Jun 4 to Oct 25, 2020, half of whom received the treatment. The patients were either 75 years and older (88 [55%]), with or without underlying illnesses, or 65 to 74 years with at least one underlying condition (72 [45%]).
CDC reports more allergic reactions to Covid-19 vaccines, but cases remain few
Twenty-nine people in the United States have developed anaphylaxis after being vaccinated against Covid-19 since the vaccine rollout began, health officials reported Wednesday, with cases occurring after vaccination using both the Pfizer-BioNTech and the Moderna vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at present it looks like anaphylaxis cases are occurring at a rate of about 5.5 per 1 million vaccine doses given, though the agency cautioned that figure may change as the vaccination effort continues. The allergic reactions do not change CDC’s recommendations on who can be vaccinated against Covid-19, with senior officials stressing that the risk of severe illness and death from the disease still outweighs the risk of developing anaphylaxis after vaccination.