"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 28th Jan 2021

Isolation Tips
Lockdown cabin fever? 56 tried, tested and terrific ways to beat the boredom
Shaun Ryder keeps chickens, while Mel Giedroyc organises chutney tastings. These small, affordable suggestions won’t end lockdown misery – but they might help: 56 ideas for stuff to do in lockdown
Hygiene Helpers
How much does one coronavirus vaccine dose protect you and others?
About 70 million doses of vaccines against covid-19 have now been administered worldwide, including in excess of 20 million in the US. In the UK, where more than 7 million people have received a first dose, most people will be required to wait for about three months before they receive the second dose. This has left many wondering how protected they are, and what measures they still need to take for their safety and that of others. Here’s what you need to know. …
Those Covid-19 variants? ‘Don’t worry yet,’ vaccine expert says
In Tuesday, Paul Offit, the vaccine developer and a professor of pediatrics at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, dropped by, virtually, for a conversation with STAT+ subscribers. During the discussion, he addressed a question on everyone’s mind: How worried should we be about new variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19? Offit — who, overall, believes “we’re going to turn the corner,” with the help of vaccines — had plenty of worries. A rare side effect of the vaccines could emerge and scare people away from them, even when the benefits far outweigh its risks. It could take a long time to fix vaccine distribution and manufacturing problems. But he said his biggest concern is that a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus will learn to evade the vaccines. He also explained, at length, why he doesn’t think it’s time for you to worry yet. The transcript of that explanation follows; it has been edited for clarity and length.
All countries should pursue a Covid-19 elimination strategy: here are 16 reasons why
The past year of Covid-19 has taught us that it is the behaviour of governments, more than the behaviour of the virus or individuals, that shapes countries’ experience of the crisis. Talking about pandemic waves has given the virus far too much agency: until quite recently the apparent waves of infection were driven by government action and inaction. It is only now with the emergence of more infectious variants that it might be appropriate to talk about a true second wave. As governments draw up their battle plans for year two, we might expect them to base their strategies on the wealth of data about what works best. And the evidence to date suggests that countries pursuing elimination of Covid-19 are performing much better than those trying to suppress the virus. Aiming for zero-Covid is producing more positive results than trying to “live with the virus”.
Willingly or pressured, Slovaks take COVID tests to avoid tough lockdown
Slovak physiotherapist Katarina Caklosova was ready to close shop for two weeks rather than heed government requirements to undergo a coronavirus test - until she found that new rules would also ban her from her favourite nature walks. That tipped the balance and Caklosova, 50, will join almost 3 million Slovaks who have taken a test to avoid stricter lockdown measures kicking in on Wednesday and aimed at curbing the number of new COVID-19 cases. Under the new rules to be applied until Feb. 7, people who cannot show a certificate proving they tested negative in the previous week or had the infection in the past, are barred from moving around even for work and exercise.
Community Activities
Free vaccines and India's humanitarian diplomacy
Large parts of the world are still reeling from the spread of the coronavirus, with renewed lockdowns in effect in many places. With every stricken country focused on tackling its COVID-19 crisis, there is little international generosity in donating large quantities of medicines or vaccines when demand for them is sky-high. So, when India in recent days delivered millions of COVID-19 vaccines as gifts to countries in the Indian Ocean region, it attracted international attention. More than 5 million Indian-made vaccines were airlifted last week to countries extending from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Mauritius and the Seychelles. And millions of more free vaccines are on their way this week.
Lucky break or gold standard? How NSW got Covid under control
After weeks of no reported community cases of the virus, a man from south-west Sydney tested positive on 16 December. By the end of that day, two further cases were announced, affecting Sydney’s northern beaches. By mid-January, the summer outbreaks had reached a total of 217 cases. But not long after, on 26 January, NSW marked nine days in a row without any new cases of the virus in the community. NSW’s containment was achieved without the premier, Gladys Berejikian, resorting to the drastic statewide lockdowns or business closures that many called for. Instead, the NSW approach was to focus lockdowns on the most affected suburbs and to reintroduce limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings without banning them altogether. It is not the first time NSW has contained an outbreak with potential to spiral beyond control.
Here are five ways the government could have avoided 100,000 Covid deaths
Yesterday Britain passed a grim milestone. A further 1,631 deaths from Covid-19 were recorded, taking the official tally above 100,000, though data from the Office for National Statistics suggests the total number will now be nearer 120,000. In a briefing, Boris Johnson has said his government did everything it could to minimise the loss of life, but these deaths were far from inevitable. While the number of UK deaths has entered the hundreds of thousands, New Zealand has recorded only 25 deaths from Covid-19 so far. Taiwan has recorded seven, Australia 909, Finland 655, Norway 550 and Singapore 29. These countries have largely returned to normal daily life.
Pushed by pandemic, Germany seeks to boost technology use
The German government on Wednesday agreed on a strategy to boost the use of data for commercial purposes and signed a deal with state education authorities to fund laptops for teachers who have to work from home because of the virus lockdown. The measures are part of a drive to boost digitalization in a country that has fallen behind many of its peers due in part to concerns about privacy and data protection. Chancellor Angela Merkel acknowledged the country’s digital shortcomings this week, telling participants in a virtual meeting of the annual World Economic Forum that Germany “didn’t look good” when it came to linking up the country’s over 400 regional health agencies, or in the use of IT for distance learning. “We need to get better and faster here,” she said
YouTube has removed more than half a million videos spreading Covid-19 misinformation
YouTube has removed more than half a million videos spreading misinformation about Covid-19, it has said. Technology platforms from YouTube to Facebook have struggled with keeping public health misinformation in check as the pandemic has spread across the world. False information posted on the site includes information suggesting the virus is not real to discouraging vaccines that can prevent disease. YouTube boss Susan Wojcicki that such videos have been posted in vast numbers the site, even as it looks to stop their spread.
One year after lockdown, Wuhan clubbers hit the dancefloor
Glow-in-the-dark rabbit ears, pulsating beats, and a flexible attitude to masks: nightlife in China's Wuhan is back with a vengeance almost a year after a lockdown brought life to a standstill in the city of 11 million. As the rest of the world continues to grapple with lockdowns and soaring infections, young people in the city, once the epicentre of the novel coronavirus, are enjoying their hard-earned freedom. The hedonistic vibes and champagne on ice are far from the austerity preached by authorities in Beijing. But Chen Qiang, a man in his 20s, praised the Communist Party for having practically eliminated the epidemic, despite a recent surge in cases in other parts of the country in the past few days.
Hospital incursions by Covid deniers putting lives at risk, say health leaders
Lives are being put at risk and the care of patients disrupted by a spate of hospital incursions from Covid-19 deniers whose online activity is channelling hatred against NHS staff, say healthcare and police chiefs. In the latest example of a growing trend, a group of people were ejected by security from a Covid-19 ward last week as one of them filmed staff, claimed that the virus was a hoax and demanded that a seriously ill patient be sent home “He will die if he is taken from from here,” a consultant tells the man on footage, which was later shared on social media. Following contact by the Guardian, Facebook took down footage and other shocking posts in which conspiracy theorists described NHS staff as “ventilator killers”.
India Has Plenty of Coronavirus Vaccines But Few Takers
Most of the world is struggling to secure enough vaccines to inoculate their populations. India has the opposite problem: Plenty of shots, but a shortage of people willing to take them. As India rolls out one of the world’s biggest inoculation programs, some health-care and other frontline workers are hesitating because of safety concerns over a vaccine that has yet to complete phase III trials. As of Monday, only about 56% of people eligible to get the shot have stepped forward in a nation with the world’s second-worst Covid-19 outbreak. Unless the inoculation rate significantly increases, India will fall far short of its target of inoculating 300 million people -- or about a quarter of the population -- by July. That will setback global efforts to contain the virus and snuff out optimism that a recovery is taking root in an economy set for its biggest annual contraction in records going back to 1952.
Working Remotely
The 7 Work From Home Mistakes We're All Making
“I’ve worked from home for most of my 20+ year career and never ever had so many calls and meetings,” writes journalist and podcast host Amy Westervelt. “I’ve kept it to myself for a full year but I cannot anymore: y’all are doing this wrong.” And so began a Twitter thread of the work from home mistakes many of us have been guilty of this past year – from overdoing it on Zoom calls (and not getting any work done), to having meetings for issues that could’ve been sorted out on email. We’ve all been there. Here are some of the lessons we’ve learned from the pros
'Remote, home working can tackle Ireland's female brain drain'
In Ireland, the Remote Working Strategy, which makes remote working a permanent option, will help alleviate the female 'brain drain' from the workplace, an employment expert has said. Launched by the Government last week, the strategy sets out to provide the infrastructure to work remotely, including legislation to allow employees the right to request remote working and a code of practice on the right to disconnect from work (covering phonecalls, emails, and switch-off time). The Government plans to lead by example, by mandating that home and remote working be the norm for 20% of public-sector employees.
Demand for remote working in NI as searches for work from home roles doubles
People searching for work from home jobs in Northern Ireland has more than doubled in the last year, a new report has revealed. Online recruitment platform NIJobs.com, has released new data which they believe shows a significant shift regarding the traditional office space following the coronavirus crisis. Sam McIlveen, General Manger at NIJobs.com, said: "The introduction of vaccinations has brought hope for the local economy, but social distancing and other measures are likely to remain in place for a considerable period of time. The office environment is unlikely to return as we know it with some now viewing it as redundant."
Virtual Classrooms
Where the top US school districts stand with virtual vs. in-person learning
In the effort to balance health, jobs and quality education, the U.S.'s biggest school districts are divided on how to teach students this semester. Of the 20 largest school districts: -- 9 are teaching entirely online. -- 8 offer fully in-person learning and a choice of fully online learning. (Several of these districts are in Florida, where the governor ordered schools to offer classroom learning.) -- 2 have a hybrid plan, with some virtual and some classroom instruction. -- 1 has a combination of plans, depending on the infection rates
Virtual teaching during COVID-19 has been fraught with challenges. But it's also led to innovation and growth
Ten months into the global pandemic, physically closing schools and shifting to a virtual learning format has proven laboriously difficult for students, teachers and parents alike. Logistical problems persist, many students are falling behind – especially those who are economically disadvantaged – and it’s nearly impossible to account for the pandemic’s impact on students’ mental health and well-being. But for all the frustrations and hardships – and safety concerns as 52% of elementary students return to in-person classes next week – it’s also been a year of innovation, of resourceful teachers adapting, improving and finding new ways to connect with students, and helping them grow in the process.
Public Policies
German lockdown beginning to take effect, new CDU leader says
Germany’s coronavirus lockdown is starting to take effect, the new leader of the ruling Christian Democrats said on Wednesday, noting that the seven-day infection rate had fallen to 97.2 per 100,000 in his state of North Rhine Westphalia. “The current development is encouraging,” Armin Laschet, also state premier, told the regional parliament, adding that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office and regional leaders were working on a “sequence of steps for possible openings” after the current lockdown is due to end on Feb. 14. But he said there should be no hasty decisions. The number of confirmed cases in Germany increased by 13,202 to 2,161,279, data showed on Wednesday, down from a rise of 15,974 a week ago, although the reported death toll rose by 982 to 53,972.
Spanish PM appoints new health minister amid worsening pandemic
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez appointed Regional Policy Minister Carolina Darias as the new health minister on Tuesday after her predecessor resigned to run in an election in a move criticised by the opposition amid rising COVID-19 infections. In her previous job, the 55-year-old lawyer-turned- politician from the Canary Islands helped coordinate Spain's response to the pandemic, overseeing weekly meetings of regional health chiefs. Spain's cumulative infections now total 2,629,817, while the death toll is at 56,799. Despite the two-week number of infections tripling over the past month to a record 893 cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday, Spain, unlike many European countries, has chosen not to impose a new nationwide lockdown after the first one ended in May.
France Holds Off On New Lockdown, Worries About Unrest Risk
The French government is delaying an agonizing decision to lock down the country once more, mulling options to slow new variants of Covid-19 as the current curfew is considered insufficient. President Emmanuel Macron “has asked for additional analysis” on the spread of the virus before deciding on any new restrictions. Macron is under pressure to shut down the economy for the third time in less than a year, as doctors and researchers raise the alarm about mutations of the coronavirus spreading through the country. Yet with a presidential race coming up next year, the French leader also has to navigate criticism of his handling of the crisis, including a slow start to the vaccination campaign. And while surging U.K. cases and deaths demonstrate the perils of the new virus variants, riots in the Netherlands against a government curfew show the risks of tighter measures.
Cyprus eases second virus lockdown
Cyprus announced Wednesday a cautious easing from February 1 of its national lockdown following a decline in the spread of Covid-19 infections that peaked after Christmas. The Mediterranean island went into lockdown on January 10 for the second time since last March after daily cases hit a record 907 on December 29. Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou said the government has been relying on testing, restrictions and vaccinations to keep the pandemic in check.
Boris Johnson extends England's coronavirus lockdown into March
England's coronavirus lockdown is set to be extended for at least three more weeks, with schools not reopening until the second week of March at the earliest, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said. Johnson told the House of Commons there was "not enough data" currently available to announce the end of restrictions in the country, but said the government would publish a review of restrictions on February 22, before potentially reopening schools from the week of March 8. He said it would "not be possible" to reopen schools as early as the February half-term, due to the continuing high levels of infections in the country.
Covid-19: Dutch justice minister vows prosecution of lockdown rioters
People arrested during three nights of rioting sparked by the Netherlands' new coronavirus curfew will face swift prosecution, the Dutch justice minister says, as the nation faces its worst civil unrest in years. Minister Ferd Grapperhaus said rioters would be quickly brought before the courts by public prosecutors and will face possible prison terms if convicted.
New Zealand borders to stay closed until citizens are 'vaccinated and protected'
Jacinda Ardern has said New Zealand and “the world” need to return to some semblance of normality before she opens the country’s borders to foreign nationals. The prime minister shut the border in mid-March and said on Tuesday she would not open it again until New Zealanders were “vaccinated and protected” – a process that will not start for the general population until the middle of this year. Ardern also cast doubt on the prospects for a travel bubble with Australia in the near future, and said she was “disappointed” with the Australian government’s decision to suspend quarantine-free access for New Zealanders for three days in the light of the case of community transition in Northland.
Ireland plans to exit lockdown 'very slowly' after March 5 - deputy PM
Ireland is set to extend a shutdown of the economy until March 5 and will ease restrictions very gradually similar to its exit from an initial lockdown last year if it can suppress COVID-19 again, Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Monday. COVID-19 cases have begun to fall sharply in Ireland after exploding at the fastest rate in Europe at the turn of the year, fuelled by a four-week relaxation of restrictions and increasing prevalence of a new, more transmissible variant first detected in England. But with 766 COVID-19 infections per 100,000 people still recorded in the past 14 days, Varadkar and senior ministers will advise the Cabinet on Tuesday to keep most shops, building sites and all hospitality closed until March 5.
UK plans tough new border measures to combat coronavirus
Prime Minister Boris Johnson indicated on Wednesday the COVID-19 lockdown in England would last until March 8 when schools could start to reopen as the government announced new measures to clamp down on travel to and from Britain. A highly contagious new variant of the virus, which emerged in southeast England at the end of last year, has led to a soaring number of infections across Britain with cases and deaths reaching record levels. On Tuesday, Britain’s COVID-19 death toll surpassed 100,000, the first European state to reach that figure, leading to questions about Johnson’s handling of a crisis that has also battered the economy.
Cyprus to ease lockdown measures gradually after fall in COVID cases
Cyprus announced on Wednesday a staggered easing of lockdown measures following a fall in the number of COVID-19 infections, including the reopening of primary schools and shopping malls on Feb. 8. The island has been in a strict lockdown since Jan. 10 after a spike in COVID-19 cases and the detection of a more contagious variant of the virus first identified in Britain. Bans on large gatherings and the closure of shopping centres and restaurants had already been announced in December.
Maintaining Services
Philadelphia let ‘college kids’ distribute vaccines. The result was a ‘disaster,’ volunteers say.
Philadelphia is home to some of the most venerated medical institutions in the country. Yet when it came time to set up the city’s first and largest coronavirus mass vaccination site, officials turned to the start-up Philly Fighting COVID, a self-described “group of college kids” with minimal health-care experience. Chaos ensued. Seniors were left in tears after finding that appointments they’d made through a bungled sign-up form wouldn’t be honored. The group switched to a for-profit model without publicizing the change and added a privacy policy that would allow it to sell users’ personal data. One volunteer alleged that the 22-year-old CEO had pocketed vaccine doses. Another described a “free-for-all” where unsupervised 18- and 19-year-olds vaccinated one another and posed for photos.
Madrid region to halt new vaccinations as supplies run out
Supplies of coronavirus vaccines have become so scarce that the Madrid region of Spain will stop all new jabs for at least 10 days, a top official said on Wednesday, as Catalonia complained its supply was also running out. Madrid’s move appears to be the first such pause in the EU, highlighting the bloc’s mounting problems with distributing the vaccine. Ignacio Aguado, the deputy head of Madrid’s regional government, said shortages of both the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — the only ones so far approved by the EU — meant it was impossible at “the current pace” to meet national and European targets of vaccinating 70 per cent of the population by the end of June. Instead, “we would take until 2023 to arrive at this level”, he added.
South Korea willing to share COVID-19 vaccines with North, PM says
South Korea is willing to share excess COVID-19 vaccines with North Korea as part of an overall effort to resume relations with its nuclear-armed neighbor, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Wednesday.
Malta tightens restaurant closing times to curb COVID-19 infections
Malta on Wednesday cancelled carnival events and imposed an 11 p.m. closing time on restaurants to contain the spread of COVID-19, although Prime Minister Robert Abela said there would be no lockdown or curfew. Abela said a surge of cases in January had been the result of gatherings over Christmas and the New Year. “February is a particular time with many enjoying carnival and mid-term holidays. We are asking people to be responsible and businesses to make some sacrifices,” Abela said. Police and other law enforcement officers will have a stronger presence in the streets and crack down on large gatherings in rented premises.
Healthcare Innovations
French firm agrees to manufacture vaccine developed by German rival
Sanofi pledges to manufacture 125 million doses of Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine. European Union is currently struggling with vaccine supply issues amid a row over shortages. Also, a stark warning from South Africa about future danger posed by new Coronavirus variants,
People with schizophrenia are THREE TIMES more likely to die from Covid-19 than those without mental health issues – with old age the only higher risk factor
Researchers studied records of more than 7,000 hospitalised Covid-19 patients. Age was the biggest risk factor, with over 75s at 35 times increased risk of death But schizophrenia is second biggest risk factor, increasing risk by 2.67 times.
Scottish company launches Covid-19 antibody test for use by medical professionals
Medical diagnostics company Omega has launched its rapid antibody test for Covid-19. The Alva-headquartered company is launching its Mologic ELISA test through its in-house laboratory service in Littleport, Cambridgeshire. A capillary blood sample collection pack is sent to healthcare professionals, who then send the patient's sample back to the company's laboratory where the test is run. Test results then go back to each healthcare professional, who informs the patient of their result and provides advice as necessary. The company expects to offer this testing service to selected commercial occupational health partners, clinics and health care professionals in the UK. Omega chief executive Colin King said: “We are pleased that we have delivered on our committed timeline for the launch of the lab testing service.
COVID-19: Breakthrough treatment claims to stop 100% of symptomatic infections
The makers of an experimental drug, now being trialled by the NHS, say it is 100 per cent effective in protecting against symptomatic cases of the virus. US-based Regeneron Pharmaceuticals says its two-antibody cocktail called REGEN-COV also reduces overall coronavirus infection rates by about 50 per cent. The claims are based on interim results and the "confirmatory stage" of the trial will not be complete until the second quarter of this year, but the company has said it is hopeful it may "break the chain" of rising infections.