"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 27th Jan 2021

Isolation Tips
Lockdown exercise: why getting outside can boost your wellbeing
Encouraging people to walk has long been on the agenda of public health bodies and air pollution campaigners, but it took a national lockdown for many of us to build a habit. There’s hope that it could have a long-term positive impact on both our health and London’s notoriously dirty air. While anecdotal evidence and data collected by organisations such as Breathe London appeared to show a dramatic reduction in air pollution during the first lockdown, a new international study led by University of Birmingham found that while there were significant reductions in urban air pollution levels around the world, these were smaller than expected.
Why you need to give yourself a break right now (and how to do that)
This time around, we're tired of lockdown. Just getting through each day is a victory in itself. Of course, the long, dark evenings and miserable weather don't help - alongside not knowing exactly when this is going to end - and a lack of any obvious results or reward is prompting many to break the lockdown restrictions. Such difficult circumstances call for more effective coping mechanisms. Whether you're struggling with working from home, worrying that your homeschooling isn't up to scratch, or are giving up your time to protect and support others as a key worker, chances are you're probably feeling low, unmotivated and a little helpless. Perhaps you're finding it difficult to stay positive, or are convinced that everyone's doing a better job than you are. Maybe you feel overwhelmed with how much you have to deal with, or are in despair over the constant barrage of bad news. The answer, first and foremost, according to executive coach Lisa Quinn, is to give yourself a break.
Hygiene Helpers
Four in five over-80s have had first COVID-19 jab despite weekend slump in vaccinations
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said on 25 February that 78.7% of people aged over 80 have now received a dose of COVID-19 vaccine - up from 60% around a week ago. UK-wide there are 3.3m people aged over 80 - suggesting that around 2.6m in this cohort have had at least one dose of vaccine. Of the 6.6m total first-dose COVID-19 jabs administered UK-wide to date, around 40% have gone to over-80s. NHS officials have said around three quarters of jabs in England have been administered by GP-led local vaccination sites.
Cloth Masks May Look Better, But They Don’t Work Better
Howard is the lead author and Tufekci a co-author of an influential and extremely informative “evidence review on face masks against Covid-19” that has been making the rounds since April and was published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The paper concludes that cloth masks may be similarly effective to disposable ones in reducing the chances that a mask wearer with Covid-19 will infect others, because they catch most of the virus-laden droplets that wearers expel when they cough or sneeze or talk. But when virus-laden droplets do make it out into the air, and — as is especially wont to happen in cold, dry winter weather — most of the moisture evaporates, leaving “aerosolized” particles that can float around for hours, disposable medical masks seem to do a better job than cloth ones of keeping them out. The single-biggest piece of evidence for this comes from one of the rare randomized controlled trials of cloth-mask use, which was conducted in 2011 and published in the British Medical Association journal BMJ Open in 2015.
Community Activities
National museum makes virtual learning fun for children
With Level 5 restrictions ongoing, the National Museum of Ireland (NMI) is inviting children and parents to bring the museum into their home this spring. Children are a key audience at NMI, with approximately 90,000 primary and post-primary students attending its four museum sites in Dublin and Mayo annually. In light of Covid rules, the NMI has had to rethink how students can engage with the national collections. They’ve developed different online resources/activities as part of their ‘Museum in the Classroom’ and ‘Museum at Home’ programmes (www.museum.ie/en-ie/home).
Teachers, students march in France for more virus support
Schoolteachers and university students marched together in protests or went on strike Tuesday around France to demand more government support amid the pandemic. “No virus protocol, no school!” read posters carried by schoolteachers, demanding better virus protections at their schools, which have remained open since September because of the government's concern over learning gaps. “Sick of Zoom!” chanted university students frustrated that they've been barred from campuses since October. The common concern at Tuesday's protests in Paris Marseille and other cities around France was economic.
Lebanese in impoverished north protest coronavirus lockdown
Dozens of Lebanese protesters, enraged at a nearly month-long lockdown to combat the spread of coronavirus, took to the streets of the country’s second largest city on Monday and pelted security forces with stones. The security forces responded with tear gas to break up the protesters, who gathered in central Tripoli despite a strict lockdown in place since mid-January aimed at containing a major surge in infection in the small Mediterranean country. Protesters in Tripoli were complaining that their region, the most impoverished in Lebanon, is unable to cope with the nearly month-long lockdown with little to no government assistance.
Dutch police detain more than 150 in third night of anti-lockdown violence
Dutch police detained more than 150 people in a third night of unrest in cities across the Netherlands, where roaming groups of rioters set fires, threw rocks and looted stores in violence triggered by a night curfew aimed at curbing the coronavirus. The nation’s first curfew since World War Two followed a warning by the National Institute for Health (RIVM) over a new wave of infections due to the “British variant” of the virus, and was imposed despite weeks of declines in new infections. Ten police were injured in the port city of Rotterdam, where 60 rioters were detained overnight, Dutch news agency ANP said on Tuesday.
Working Remotely
Compensation for office worker who resigned after employer would not let her work from home
In Ireland, an employer has been ordered to pay compensation to an office-based worker who resigned from her job during the first Covid-19 lockdown after her plea to work remotely from home was rejected. Employment law expert Richard Grogan described the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling as “a wake-up call’ for employers.
Remote working allows families to book extra long staycations
In the UK, remote working is allowing families to book extra long staycations, holiday experts said, with breaks of up to five weeks reported. Holiday firms have seen a boom in bookings for staycations in the past week, with enquiries doubling for breaks closer to home. However, families are using the extra flexibility offered to them by remote working to extend breaks beyond the standard week, tourist bosses said, while others are planning an extended blowout for the entire family after a year of not mixing.
Virtual Classrooms
Huge £1m gift to help Britain's poorest pupils working from home without pens and books
Today the Mirror launches a campaign to help lockdown pupils with an enormous donation of £1million from Britain’s biggest teaching union. We are aiming to raise much needed cash for kids left working from home without the most basic items such as colouring pens, books and notepads. All the money raised will go towards stationery and essential equipment for younger children still too young for online learning. Our “Help a Child to Learn” campaign aims to help every child get the education they deserve during the Covid crisis.
Public Policies
White House expected to tell governors they will get more coronavirus vaccine doses starting next week
The Biden administration said Tuesday it will seek to buy another 200 million doses of the two coronavirus vaccines that have been authorized for emergency use in the United States. The purchases would increase available supply by 50 percent, bringing the total to 600 million doses by this summer. Because both products — one developed by Pfizer and German company BioNTech and the other by Moderna — are two-dose regimens, that would be enough to fully vaccinate 300 million people. An estimated 260 million people in the United States are currently considered eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine, though Pfizer and Moderna have initiated trials for children as young as 12, the results of which could expand the pool
Davos highlights: Merkel appeals for international co-operation to overcome Covid-19
European leaders on Tuesday urged greater international co-operation as they reflected on the pandemic and signalled hopes for Joe Biden’s administration to extend its early efforts to re-engage in multilateral forums. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, said the coronavirus pandemic has been the “hour of multilateralism”, as she used her speech to plead for more international collaboration to defeat the virus. “We must choose the multilateral approach,” she said on Tuesday, adding that isolation was not the solution and urging for coronavirus vaccines to be distributed fairly to poorer countries. Ms Merkel also said the pandemic had highlighted the importance of international agreements, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Paris climate accord.
Coronavirus: Vaccine supply fears grow amid EU export threat
The EU has warned Covid vaccine producers they must deliver agreed supplies, amid fears reductions could seriously hamper its inoculation drive. AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech have both said production problems mean they cannot supply the expected numbers. The EU warned it could restrict exports of vaccines made in the bloc, with Germany's health minister demanding "fair distribution". The UK's vaccine minister warned of "the dead end of vaccine nationalism". AstraZeneca is mainly produced in the UK, while the UK's supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine come from the company's Belgian plant.
Angela Merkel admits Covid highlighted shortcomings in Germany: ‘The speed of our action leaves a lot to be desired’
German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded that the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted significant shortcomings in her country as she told the World Economic Forum on Tuesday that it has underlined the need for international cooperation on issues such as vaccines. Germany had a relatively successful first phase of the pandemic, but saw infections shoot up during the winter months and recently passed the threshold of 50,000 deaths, Europe’s fifth-highest toll. A lengthy second lockdown has slowly brought down the number of new cases in recent weeks.
Italy’s Prime Minister Conte to Resign Amid Struggle Against Covid-19 and Recession
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is set to resign on Tuesday, his office said, as Europe’s underlying problems of economic stagnation and political fragmentation start to reassert themselves amid the gruelling pandemic. The fall of Italy’s government, in office for just 17 months, is a symptom of the continuing fissures in Italian and European politics. Established and insurgent parties are struggling over Europe’s future, stable majorities are often elusive and leaders are searching for ways to overcome long-term economic underperformance—nowhere more so than in Italy. Rome’s latest political breakdown is likely to cause concern in the capitals of Europe’s stronger economies, such as Germany, which last year agreed to underwrite a massive European Union investment plan for economic recovery from the coronavirus.
Hong Kong places residents of 12 buildings under sudden Covid-19 lockdown
Metal barriers blocked streets, police addressed people through loudspeakers, and some residents in the Hong Kong area of Yau Ma Tei faced a night sealed off from the rest of the city, after an “ambush-style” Covid-19 lockdown on Tuesday. People living in blocks numbered 9-27 on Pitt Street, and Shun Fung Building on 3 Tung On Street, were taken by surprise, with the government acting at the last minute to avoid giving residents advance warning through leaks in the media. The lockdown, which began at 7pm, was expected to end at 6am on Wednesday, and those in the area had been told to stay inside until they had been tested for Covid-19. But officers also said people should be prepared to miss work, because they were unsure of whether testing would finish on time.
New Zealand's borders may stay shut for most of the year as Covid-19 rages on, PM Ardern says
New Zealand's borders will remain closed for most of this year as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on, but the country will pursue travel arrangements with neighbouring Australia and other Pacific nations, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Tuesday. Medical authorities, meanwhile, may approve a Covid-19 vaccine as early as next week, Ardern said, as pressure mounts for a start to vaccinations after the country confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus in the community in months. "Given the risks in the world around us and the uncertainty of the global rollout of the vaccine, we can expect our borders to be impacted for much of this year," Ardern said
Tanaiste Leo Varadkar confirms lockdown extension plans to March as he rules out zero Covid approach
In Ireland, Tanaiste Leo Varadkar has said that the Government plans to keep full lockdown restrictions in place until March 5. Mr Varadkar said that the harsh restrictions are set to remain in place for another six weeks should Cabinet agree on the measures which would be in line with measures in place in Northern Ireland. The Tanaiste also said that the Government was looking at a phased reopening of schools in February however he hinted that it would depend on whether cases numbers were low enough.
U.S. will have enough Covid-19 vaccines for 300 million Americans by end of summer, Biden says
President Biden plans to purchase another 200 million doses of coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, which should give the U.S. enough to fully vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of summer 2021, the administration announced in a press release Tuesday. The Biden administration will also increase the number of vaccines being shipped weekly to states from 8.6 million to 10 million. The move comes less than a week after the Biden administration released a sweeping national plan to revamp the coronavirus vaccine effort. That plan foreshadowed a number of the changes announced Tuesday, including purchasing more vaccines from vaccine manufacturers.
Coronavirus: AstraZeneca defends EU vaccine rollout plan
The head of AstraZeneca has defended its rollout of the coronavirus vaccine in the EU, amid tension with member states over delays in supply. Pascal Soriot told Italian newspaper La Repubblica that his team was working "24/7 to fix the very many issues of production of the vaccine". He said production was "basically two months behind where we wanted to be". He also said the EU's late decision to sign contracts had given limited time to sort out hiccups with supply. Mr Soriot, chief executive of the UK-Swedish multinational, said a contract with the UK had been signed three months before the one with the EU, giving more time for glitches to be ironed out.
Maintaining Services
People 75 and older can sign up for coronavirus vaccine beginning Wednesday
Massachusetts embarks on the next stage of its COVID-19 vaccination program on Wednesday, extending eligibility to people 75 and older, the population most devastated by the coronavirus, amid frustration over the pace and priority of distribution. As the Biden administration announced plans to buy 200 million more doses of the vaccine and increase weekly shipments to states, Massachusetts officials said residents 75 and over could now register for appointments at scores of immunization sites across the state. The first shots for this age cohort, approximately 450,000 people, will begin Monday. “By the end of this week, we will have 103 vaccination sites open to the public with the ability to administer about 240,000 doses each week,” Governor Charlie Baker said Tuesday in his State of the Commonwealth address. “And by mid-February, we will have 165 public sites, including seven mass vaccination sites, and all together, we will have the capacity to administer approximately 305,000 doses every week.
Covid-19: Plans to vaccinate all over-65s by end of February
The Department of Health has said it plans to vaccinate everyone aged over 65 in Northern Ireland by the end of February. Both GP practices and regional vaccination centres will be used to vaccinate members of the public from prioritised groups. People aged between 65 and 69 in NI are to be vaccinated at their local vaccination centre. Until now only health care workers have been vaccinated at these locations. As of Monday, 159,642 people in Northern Ireland had received a first coronavirus vaccine dose. On Tuesday, the Department of Health daily figures reported an additional 16 Covid-19 related deaths and 550 new cases, bringing the total number of positive tests to 101,291.
COVID-19: School closures having 'calamitous' impact on kids and parents
Keeping schools closed is having a "calamitous" impact on children, some of the UK's top paediatricians have warned as they called for teachers to be prioritised for a vaccine. The group said they were witnessing an "acute and rapid increase in mental health and safeguarding cases", with parents suffering breakdowns and other psychological stress due to home-schooling. Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi insisted it was the government's "absolute priority" to re-open schools. Experts - from Imperial College London, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Trust and the Royal Brompton Hospital - added that vaccinating school staff "offers protection to one of our most important key-worker groups" and also protects children.
Delaying the second Covid dose in the UK is controversial, but it's the right decision
A recent YouGov poll shows that the British are among the most willing in the world to take the Covid-19 vaccine. This is good news. But there are still questions about the vaccines and the way they’re being deployed, especially after the government decided to spread out the time between the two doses from three weeks to 12 weeks. The confusion is understandable, as we are in a developing situation. Clear messages about why tough decisions are made can get lost in the noise. First, it is absolutely clear that the two Covid-19 vaccines that are being deployed in the UK will save lives. Moreover, they will reduce the burden on hospitals. The Pfizer data, measured from day 14 post-vaccination, showed only one severe case of Covid-19 in 21,000 vaccinated people. The AstraZeneca data showed no hospitalisations or severe disease in 6,000 vaccinated trial participants. The caveat to this was that there were a small number of cases in the first two months after the first vaccine dose. This brings me to an important point.
California ends wide lockdown as Covid hospital strain eases
California lifted blanket "stay-at-home" orders across the US state Monday, paving the way for activities including outdoor dining to return even in worst-hit regions as the pandemic's strain on hospitals begins to ease. The western state has suffered one of the nation's worst winter Covid spikes, with hospital intensive care units overwhelmed, ambulances backed up for hours at a time, and cases more than doubling since December to over three million. The "stay-at-home" measures were ordered for some 20 million people in southern and central California since December 3, but public health director Tomas Aragon said the state was now "turning a critical corner."
The help firms will get if there is another Covid lockdown
In New Zealand, most businesses would dread going into another Covid lockdown, but the Government has planned ahead what financial support would be available if the worst happens. Finance Minister Grant Robertson set out the assistance that would be offered “next time around” before Christmas. And while wage subsidies would again do the heavy lifting when it came to propping up the economy, some of the help would be new.
Healthcare Innovations
WHO warns pregnant women should NOT get Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine because it hasn't been proven safe after issuing the same warning over Pfizer's shot - but US doctors say it ...
The World Health Organization said pregnant women should only be immunized if they are high risk such as being a frontline healthcare worker or having an underlying condition.
Pfizer develops booster shot amid fears its COVID-19 vaccine is less effective against highly-infectious variants from Brazil and South Africa
Pfizer develops booster shot amid fears its COVID-19 vaccine is less effective against highly-infectious variants from Brazil and South Africa. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Tuesday his firm will develop booster shots 'every time' a variant makes its shot less effective. Last week, lab tests suggested Pfizer's current shot worked against the spike protein mutation shared by the UK and South African variants It has not announced testing the vaccine against mutation seen in the South African and Brazilian variants that may make them vaccine-resistant Bourla said despite thinking the shot will work against variants, Pfizer is developing booster shots. Moderna said yesterday it is making a South African variant booster shot after finding immunity to the variant from its vaccine may wane faster
Made-in-Canada coronavirus vaccine starts human clinical trials
A made-in-Canada vaccine to protect against COVID-19 began human clinical trials Tuesday in Toronto, says the biotechnology company that developed the vaccine. Toronto-based Providence Therapeutics said three shots will be given to 60 adult volunteers at a clinical trial site in Toronto in the first phase of the trial on Tuesday. Fifteen of those volunteers will receive a placebo, and 45 will get the vaccine, called PTX-COVID19-B. Brad Sorenson, the company's CEO, said it's the first time a vaccine designed and manufactured in Canada has begun clinical trials. The company has purchased a site in Calgary to mass produce the vaccine.
Moderna vaccine doses can be spaced up to six weeks apart, says WHO
Moderna’s Covid vaccine can be given in two doses as much as six weeks apart, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said. The WHO's Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation, known as Sage, recommended the jab be given at an interval of 28 days but said that could be extended by a further two weeks under exceptional circumstances. "The main recommendation for the use of this vaccine is that based on the current elements we recommend it should be given in doses of 100 micrograms or 0.5 ml with an interval of 28 days," Alejandro Cravioto, panel chair, told a virtual briefing. "This interval might be moved to 42 days but the evidence we have does not go behond that time," he said, speaking from Mexico.
Studies extend hopes for antibody drugs against COVID-19
New results extend hopes for drugs that supply antibodies to fight COVID-19 suggesting they can help keep patients out of the hospital and possibly prevent illness in some uninfected people. Eli Lilly said Tuesday that a two-antibody combo reduced the risk of hospitalizations or death by 70% in newly diagnosed, non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients at high risk of serious illness because of age or other health conditions. All 10 deaths that occurred in the study were among those receiving placebo rather than the antibodies.
Russian biochemist who created novichok invents Covid-19 drug
Dr Lenoid Rink was involved in the secret Soviet development of Novichok. Novichok was used on the Skripals in Britain in 2012 and Alexei Navalny last year The new coronavirus-tackling drug is based on a Soviet medicine for leprosy Rink said the formulation has been tested on 700 elderly patients with no deaths The drug has been featured positively by Russian state-owned media outlets
Johnson & Johnson expects COVID-19 vaccine data next week
Johnson & Johnson on Tuesday said it expected to report eagerly-awaited data on its COVID-19 vaccine early next week, and that it would be able to meet the delivery target for doses to countries with which it had signed supply agreements. Public health officials are increasingly counting on single-dose options like the one being tested by J&J to simplify and boost inoculations given the complications and slower-than-hoped rollout of authorized vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc, which require second shots weeks after the first. The company forecast 2021 profit well above Wall Street estimates, and its shares rose 3.4% to $171.55. The outlook does not include any contribution from the COVID-19 vaccine, Chief Financial Officer Joseph Wolk said.
COVID-19: UK to share genomics know-how to help other countries identify new variants
The UK is to offer its genomics expertise to help other countries identify new COVID variants, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced. The launch of the New Variant Assessment Platform will see other countries offered UK laboratory capacity and advice to analyse new strains of coronavirus. It will be led by Public Health England working with NHS Test and Trace and a team from the World Health Organisation.
AstraZeneca: German reports on low efficacy on over-65s 'completely incorrect'
"Reports that the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine efficacy is as low as 8% in adults over 65 years are completely incorrect," an AstraZeneca spokesperson told DW in a written response. The company said that an influential UK vaccination committee, the JCVI, and the UK's national MHRA medicines regulator supported the use of its vaccine on that particular age group. "In November, we published data in The Lancet demonstrating that older adults showed strong immune responses to the vaccine, with 100% of older adults generating spike-specific antibodies after the second dose," AstraZeneca's spokesperson said. The firm's response followed reports in Handelsblatt and Bild, two German daily newspapers. Both cited unnamed members of Germany's government as saying that the vaccine had a poor efficacy rate among people above 65. Bild put the figure at "less than 10%," Handelsblatt at 8%. The newspapers further reported that German government officials didn't expect the vaccine to be approved for use on over-65s by the European Medicines Agency regulator as a result.
Regeneron says monoclonal antibodies prevent Covid-19 in study
Regeneron said Tuesday that its monoclonal antibody cocktail prevented Covid-19 in a clinical trial. The news, issued via a press release, mirrored similar news from Eli Lilly last week that its monoclonal antibody prevented symptomatic Covid-19 infections in nursing homes. The results represent the first 400 volunteers from the study, which is being run by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), and is continuing to enroll patients. The volunteers were at high risk of infection because they lived in the same household as a Covid-19 patient. Half the patients received a placebo, and the other half received 1.2 grams of casirivimab and imdevimab, Regeneron’s antibodies
COVID-19 lockdowns have permanently damaged children′s eyes
Nearsightedness, or myopia, has gone up dramatically during periods of lockdown — that's according to a study of more than 100,000 children in China. Though the damage is irreversible, there are things that all of us (including parents) can do to slow its progress.