"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 29th Jan 2021

Isolation Tips
Why Couch to 5k has kept us on the run for 25 years and especially in lockdown
If you started in January you might be on week three, or you may be just about to begin. Perhaps you’ve completed the whole thing and feel like Mo Farah, or you’ve come to an impasse and are going back to the start. Of course, you may have no intention of doing Couch to 5k, but you’re likely to know somebody who has, as a million people downloaded the running app in 2020. The premise is simple: download the free, NHS-endorsed app and, over nine weeks, it guides you through a programme of three runs a week, starting in week one with a few minutes of walking alternated with a few minutes of running, for half an hour, and ending in week nine with a solid 30 minutes of running
Blue-chip UK employers try to soothe parental lockdown pain amid fears of burnout
From unlimited paid time off to laptops for children, some of Britain’s blue-chip employers are trying to persuade parent employees juggling jobs and childcare during the pandemic that they have their backs. A third British lockdown from Jan. 5, that shut schools to most children and confined many workers to their homes, has exacerbated a childcare crisis that unions warn could herald a drain of talent that disproportionately impacts women. On Wednesday, the government said schools will remain largely closed for at least another six weeks. Some banks, professional services firms, law firms and insurers are offering staff flexible working arrangements, reduced hours and increased emergency leave alongside benefits such as free counselling and parent buddy schemes.
Hygiene Helpers
Covid-19: Vaccines 'needed across world to reduce chance of new variants'
Coronavirus vaccines must be made available around the world in an effort to keep cases down and prevent new mutations which could escape the effects of the jabs, an expert has warned. Sir Jeremy Farrar, a member of the British government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said the amount of virus circulating in the world will determine the chances of a new variant emerging. He said new strains are "a warning of what is coming, which we must take incredibly seriously" and suggested countries with access to vaccines could donate a percentage of their doses through the international Covax drive which aims to ensure equitable access.
Covid-19: How to break the cycle of lockdowns
The dominance of new, more transmissible variants means that a policy of trying to “live with” the virus will fail, certainly in the UK where the new B.1.1.7 variant is now the most common. I know of no country that is successfully living with the virus while avoiding lockdown and restriction cycles, a high death toll, or—as in the UK—both. We need to set our sights instead on where we want to be and then work out how to get there. The role models we have are Vietnam (35 deaths, 98 million population), Thailand (73 deaths, 70 million population), South Korea (1371 deaths, 51 million population), and New Zealand (25 deaths, 5 million population) where people have been living much more normal lives for months. Following their example, the way out is for the UK to pursue a national suppression strategy—zero tolerance for any community transmission—which comes with the added benefit of protecting ourselves from homegrown vaccine resistant variants.
Global Covid-19 vaccine passports 'probably' way to go, says Jason Leitch
Scotland's national clinical director has voiced guarded "support" for calls to introduce a global Covid-19 vaccine passport to suppress future spread of the virus. But Professor Jason Leitch warned more data would be needed on the impact of vaccines before pressing ahead with the move, which is being proposed by former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The ex-Labour leader says the UK could lead the the way in the creation of a global ID that shows Covid-19 vaccine and disease status. Mr Blair claimed this would aid the recovery of the economy, including the vital tourism sector.
Community Activities
Family Literacy Day emphasizes virtual learning
In Canada, online learning is taking centre stage this year for Family Literacy Day across the country. It's the first time ABC Literacy Canada's event has gone virtual in its 22-year history, but its executive director said it's a crucial component. "What we're saying is that your family can be your social learning environment, your family can be your inspiration," said Mark Rogers. "And in truth, your family is the group that has the most influence on your learning." As different community initiatives go online, Rogers stressed the importance of digital literacy. In particular, as society moves online, he said it can just as crucial to pick up those skills.
Africa secures another 400 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
Another 400 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been secured for the African continent through the Serum Institute of India, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. With the new doses, on top of the 270 million doses announced earlier this month from Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, “I think we’re beginning to make very good progress," Africa CDC director John Nkengasong told reporters. An Africa CDC spokesman said the 400 million doses are of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. As with many vaccine deals, there were no immediate details on cost or how much people might pay per dose.
COVID-19 lockdowns could result in 300,000 fewer US babies this year, and long-lasting economic impact | TheHill
The birth rate in the United States has been declining for years, falling to a record low in 2020. Hopes of a second “baby boom” mirroring that of the mid-1900s have been dashed by the coronavirus pandemic. A new report by NBCLX found that birthrates are dropping at a faster rate than in previous years.
Covid: Social workers 'braced for tsunami of needs' after lockdown
Social workers say they are braced for a "tsunami of needs" as the UK recovers from the pandemic. The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) expects workloads to increase as restrictions are lifted. One worker described a "big surge" in referrals after the first lockdown and the fears of missing something wrong. Officials in all four nations praised the efforts of social workers and highlighted schemes to help vulnerable children set up in the pandemic.
Young People Spreading Covid a Concern in Rapidly Aging Japan
The world’s most rapidly aging society has long struggled to talk to its youth. That’s a disconnect that’s turning deadly in the pandemic. The difficulty in persuading young adults to upend their lifestyles to prevent Covid-19’s spread has challenged countries across the globe. Yet nowhere are the stakes higher than in Japan, where nearly a third of residents are over the age of 65, and the virus response depends on voluntary cooperation. The nation has so far relied on people changing their behavior in its largely successful fight against the virus, as authorities lack the legal ability to enforce lockdowns. But while calling for cooperation worked in the early days of fighting an unknown pathogen, like their global peers younger Japanese are increasingly hit with virus fatigue. That’s left officials struggling to persuade a demographic that’s least likely to be struck by a harsh bout of Covid, but most likely to pass the virus on.
Chinese New Year: Clamping down on going home for the holidays
Today marks the start of the world's largest human migration - an event which sees millions of people travel thousands of miles across China to reach home in time for the Lunar New Year. For some, it is the only time they will see their families all year and is an event not to be missed. But there are fears the Spring Festival travel season, or Chunyun in Chinese, could become a superspreader event. After all, last year's Chunyun is believed to have played a significant role in the spread of Covid-19. So the Chinese authorities have been left with a problem: how do you encourage people to stay local, without actually cancelling the country's biggest annual celebration?
Security forces clash with protesters in locked-down Lebanon
Lebanese security forces clashed for the third night with protesters in Tripoli angry about a coronavirus lockdown, with witnesses and local media reporting that riot police fired live bullets as protesters tried to storm the city’s government building. Security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who threw stones, hurled Molotov cocktails and lit a car on fire, a witness and police said. Dozens were wounded. The police did not immediately comment on whether live rounds had been fired. Reuters footage showed sparks hitting the ground, apparently from ricocheting bullets, and the sound of gunfire. It marked the third night of violence in a row in one of Lebanon’s poorest cities, where protesters railed against a strict lockdown that they say has left them with no means to survive the country’s economic collapse.
Working Remotely
Could hiring a campervan as a home office be the future of remote working?
As someone with ADHD, who works from home and has a seven-year-old child, Business Coach Sara Tasker struggles with distraction. However, she’s recently discovered an ideal solution to help her keep focussed during the working day – a campervan. While the thought of hiring one as a workspace might seem a bit extreme to some, Sara admits it came from ‘absolute desperation’. Making a space for focused tasks (whether that’s in a campervan or a corner at home) is important, perhaps especially so for women. Extra housework and caring duties have put increased pressure on women in particular, who continue to do a disproportionate share during the pandemic.
Welsh Government asking for suggestions for co-working hubs locations
People in Wales will soon be able to suggest places in their community they’d like to work. This is part of the Welsh Government’s long-term ambition to see around 30% of the workforce working from home or working remotely. Lee Waters, Deputy Minister for Economy and Transport, said the initiative is “an opportunity for people to shape the future of the Welsh workplace”. An interactive map will ask people if they would like to work remotely, and will allow people to drop a pin in a spot on the map where they would like to see a co-working hub
Virtual Classrooms
COVID schools crisis: Will virtual classrooms catch on?
On Wednesday, Boris Johnson expressed hope that it will be safe to reopen schools in England from 8 March at the earliest. But it's not that straightforward. The full return of face-to-face learning is heavily dependent on the success of the vaccine rollout and a decline in COVID-19 cases. Teachers, parents and pupils have had to re-adjust to remote learning during this lockdown but could online lessons have a permanent place in the education structure in future? On this edition of the Sky News Daily podcast, teacher Mathury Jeganathan shares her experience of swapping the traditional school building for a virtual classroom.
Public Policies
Covid-19: Schools in NI set to remain shut until 8 March
Most pupils in Northern Ireland will not return to school until Monday 8 March at the earliest, the Stormont Executive has agreed. First Minister Arlene Foster said the ongoing public health situation meant remote learning must continue. It may also be the case that only some year groups go back to school on 8 March, if a return then is possible. Mrs Foster said she recognised it would come as a "disappointment" for many parents and pupils. "The kitchen table is no substitute for the school desk," she said, giving details of the decision at a news conference in Dungannon. "It is also important though that we give people a clear view of what is happening so we thought it was important to indicate today that we would not be back before 5 March in schools."
EU warns it could block vaccine exports, wields legal threat at drugmakers
Europe's fight to secure COVID-19 vaccine supplies intensified on Thursday when the European Union warned drug companies such as AstraZeneca that it would use all legal means or even block exports unless they agreed to deliver shots as promised. The EU, whose member states are far behind Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States in rolling out vaccines, is scrambling to get supplies just as the West's biggest drugmakers slow deliveries to the bloc due to production problems. As vaccination centres in Germany, France and Spain cancelled or delayed appointments, the EU publicly rebuked Anglo-Swedish drugmaker AstraZeneca for failing to deliver and even asked if it could divert supplies from Britain.
After Government Falls, Italy Must Navigate Pandemic on ‘Cruise Control’
The Italian prime minister resigned on Tuesday and triggered the collapse of the government. This sort of thing happens all the time in Italy. But the return to a familiar state of political instability has never happened in the midst of a pandemic that has seared the country so deeply. After offering a terrible preview to the West of the misery wrought by the coronavirus, Italy is again an unfortunate vanguard. It is testing whether a country, even one well accustomed to governments that perennially dissolve and reform, can manage vaccine rollouts, national curfews, business restrictions and enormous economic bailouts during a full-blown political crisis.
France Inches Toward Tighter Curbs as Virus Variants Gain Ground
More dangerous variants of the coronavirus are becoming increasingly common in France, putting pressure on the hospital system and raising the likelihood the government will soon impose tighter curbs. Health authorities are finding more than 2,000 cases a day of new forms of the virus, up from “several hundred” at the start of January, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Thursday, during a weekly update of the health situation. President Emmanuel Macron has been trying to give a national curfew, which runs from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., a chance to slow the virus’s spread but he’s coming under mounting pressure to impose another lockdown, the third since the crisis began about a year ago. “The tension on the hospitals is real,” Veran said. “The curfew doesn’t allow us to sufficiently stop the variant from developing, and if we follow the development curve of these variants, we could enter an English, Portuguese or Spanish scenario, and you’ve seen the damages that can cause.”
India will make more home-grown coronavirus vaccines available, Modi tells World Economic Forum
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the country would release more locally made Covid-19 vaccines as New Delhi continues to save the lives of people in other countries by exporting medicines and vaccines. “So far only two made-in-India vaccines have been introduced, but in the future many more vaccines will be made available,” Modi said at a virtual meeting of the World Economic Forum, adding India had fulfilled its global responsibilities by setting up infrastructure related to vaccination. Modi also said India will issue health identity cards to 1.3 billion citizens. The South Asian nation, one of the world’s biggest makers of medicines, is producing two vaccines – Covishield, licensed from Oxford University and AstraZeneca, and Covaxin, developed at home by Bharat Biotech in partnership with Indian Council of Medical Research.
Study ranks New Zealand Covid-19 response best, Brazil worst, US in bottom five
Brazil's handling of the coronavirus pandemic has been ranked the world's worst, while New Zealand topped the class, according to research published by a leading Australian think tank on Thursday. Sydney's Lowy Institute assessed almost 100 countries on six criteria, including confirmed cases, Covid-19 deaths and testing metrics. "Collectively, these indicators point to how well or poorly countries have managed the pandemic," according to the report by the independent body. Aside from New Zealand – which has largely kept the virus at bay with border closures and "go early, go hard" lockdowns and testing regimes – Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand, Cyprus, Rwanda, Iceland, Australia, Latvia and Sri Lanka made the top 10 for their responses. In bottom place was Brazil, closely followed by Mexico, Colombia, Iran and the United States.
Third lockdown is working as Covid R rate falls to 0.9
The number of coronavirus infections is falling across the country and the R rate could be as low as 0.9, a new study shows. The findings from the eighth round of Imperial College London’s React study indicates a drop in numbers last week, suggesting lockdown is starting to have an effect. But the research, which tested more than 167,600 volunteers in England between January 6 and 22, also shows Covid-19 cases remained high over this period, with one in 64 people infected. Scientists warned this number is still at the highest level recorded since May.
Germany will mobilize up to 50 billion eur more state aid for firms
Germany has the fiscal strength to mobilize further state aid of up to 50 billion euros ($60.5 billion) for companies affected by the second coronavirus lockdown, Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said on Thursday in a speech in parliament. This comes on top of grants already paid out of roughly 80 billion euros, an additional 23 billion euros as part of the Kurzarbeit job protection scheme, and a multi-year stimulus programme worth 130 billion euros, Altmaier told lawmakers.
EMA tightens rules for second vaccinations with the PfizerBiontech vaccine
The European Medicines Agency strongly recommends that you inject the second dose within three weeks. With a longer period between vaccinations, the effectiveness of the vaccine is uncertain as there is a lack of data available. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has tightened the guidelines for the use of the corona vaccine from the manufacturers Pfizer and Biontech. After that, the second dose must be injected within three weeks, according to the decision published on Thursday in Amsterdam. The experts had previously recommended that there should be "at least 21 days" between the first and second vaccination dose. The term three weeks is now clearly being used and it is not advisable to extend the period. Various countries, including the Netherlands, had decided not to inject the second dose of Pfizer until after about six weeks due to the lack of vaccines. The rationale was that it should allow more people to be vaccinated. But remember, full protection against corona infection is only achieved after vaccination with both doses. The EMA now emphatically points out that the effectiveness is not certain in the event of a longer break: "There are currently no clinical data on the effectiveness of the vaccine if it is not administered in the interval of the clinical trials." The EMA has now noted that more than 93 percent of subjects in the clinical trials received the second dose of the vaccine within 19 to 23 days after the first. Only on this basis was the effectiveness of the vaccine deemed to be around 95 percent.
Maintaining Services
UK travellers to be questioned at border on reasons for going abroad
UK travellers will be interrogated at the border on their reasons for going abroad, Boris Johnson has said, as he confirmed that British citizens returning from high-risk countries must quarantine in hotels at their own expense. The government is facing criticism from the Scottish and Welsh governments, as well as scientists, for rejecting a more comprehensive hotel quarantine system. They are warning that it could allow as yet unknown new variants to slip through the gaps. Speaking in the Commons, Johnson said no one should be travelling except for a narrow range of reasons. “I want to make clear that under the stay-at-home regulations it is illegal to leave home to travel abroad for leisure purposes and we will enforce this at ports and airports by asking people why they are leaving and instructing them to return home if they do not have a valid reason to travel,” he said.
Behind AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 Vaccine Stumble
The setbacks, which come on the eve of a decision from regulators whether to recommend the shot for use in Europe, suggest AstraZeneca is falling behind in the vaccine arms race. The company has relatively little experience in vaccines, a tricky, typically low-margin niche in the global pharmaceuticals industry. The manufacturing process the company uses, piggybacking on a chimpanzee cold virus, can be more difficult to quickly scale up than the one employed by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc., both of which use a new genetic technology. The company has also proved maladroit politically. After learning of the glitches early this month, AstraZeneca deployed engineers to troubleshoot but didn’t warn European officials, hoping the company could fix the problems to minimize the dent in production, according to a person familiar with the matter. Lower output of raw vaccine substance had first been spotted in December, but worsened in January, with the clock ticking. When production didn’t improve, AstraZeneca’s bad news hit like a bombshell. Now it is grappling with a political backlash just when the pandemic seems to be entering a more dangerous phase.
Health workers, stuck in the snow, administer coronavirus vaccine to stranded drivers
Unlike many who have to drive miles to get a Covid-19 vaccine, some travelers in southwestern Oregon had the vaccine come to them Tuesday under treacherous weather conditions. Josephine County Public Health workers were returning from a mass vaccination clinic at Illinois Valley High School in Cave Junction when about 20 members of the group got stranded in a snowstorm at Hayes Hill, the agency said. They had with them six leftover doses of the vaccine. To keep those doses from going unused before expiring, the workers went from car to car to offer people the chance to get a shot, the health department said. An ambulance was waiting nearby in case any recipients had an adverse reaction
Matt Hancock names Bristol one of the best areas in UK for Covid-19 vaccine rollout
Bristol and its surrounding areas have been named as one of the best performing parts of the UK for rolling out the Covid-19 vaccinations, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock. The "fantastic efforts" of the vaccination teams were praised in a letter to a North Somerset MP Liam Fox. More than 80% of care home residents in the area covered by the Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire NHS clinical commissioning group (CCG) had received the vaccine, making it one of the “highest performing” parts of the country. In the letter, Matt Hancock said the success in Bristol and its surrounding areas was down to the “tireless” efforts of everyone involved in rolling out the vaccine. He praised the “incredible” community spirit that has contributed to the success.
Scramble for specialty syringes as Pfizer, feds look to extract 6th vaccine doses
Syringe makers are scrambling to meet demand for so-called low dead space syringes as Pfizer and the U.S. look to squeeze out extra vaccine doses. The specialty needles are needed to eke out a sixth shot in Pfizer and BioNTech's Comirnaty prepared five-dose glass vials. Physicians and pharmacists discovered the potential extra dose after they began vaccinating patients. But initial enthusiasm has been dampened by the requirement of the now-scarce specialty needles to extract the last bit from each vial. Syringe maker Becton Dickinson contracted with the U.S. government to supply needles for COVID vaccinations without knowing about the niche need. The manufacturer confirmed to Fierce Pharma that its U.S. government contract includes a limited supply of the specialty needles. A spokesman told Reuters that Becton Dickinson is on target to provide 286 million syringes for use with COVID-19 vaccines, a figure that only includes about 40 million low dead space syringes.
Healthcare Innovations
New Covid-19 test proves effective in detecting virus in asymptomatic patients
A new Covid-19 test has been shown to be effective in detecting the virus in people without symptoms, the Government has said. The tests use swab samples in the same way as a traditional PCR test - but were also found to be effective in saliva samples. Pilots found tests in patients with symptoms were 100% effective, while swab and saliva samples were more than 99% effective for asymptomatic patients. The tests were also able to pick up other winter viruses such as flu. Results from a large-scale analysis of LamPORE tests on asymptomatic patients revealed an overall sensitivity of 99.57% and specificity of 99.4%, meaning the test is highly effective for testing people without symptoms in the community. The tests use swab samples in the same way as a traditional PCR test - but were also found to be effective in saliva samples. Pilots found tests in patients with symptoms were 100% effective, while swab and saliva samples were more than 99% effective for asymptomatic patients. The tests were also able to pick up other winter viruses such as flu.
The Covid-19 Vaccine-Development Multiverse
We are writing in response to the editorial by Heaton (Nov. 12 issue)1 on Covid-19 vaccines. Currently, Blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanic or Latino persons are disproportionately affected by Covid-19,2 and testing to detect SARS-CoV-2 is lagging in low-income and minority neighborhoods.3 New approaches will be needed to safely and equitably distribute Covid-19 vaccines. Drive-through SARS-CoV-2 testing sites in Los Angeles County are widely used by persons from racial and ethnic groups that are representative of that county (Table 1). A pilot influenza vaccination program was conducted at one SARS-CoV-2 drive-through testing site in an underserved neighborhood. Vaccines were refrigerated before administration, and trained health care professionals administered them. During the period from October 6 through November 5, 2020, vaccinations were offered on 9 days, and 661 persons were vaccinated (Table 1). The highest daily number of vaccinations was 148. SARS-CoV-2 testing was completed by 599 of the 661 persons who were vaccinated (90.6%).
How Covid-19 mutations are changing the pandemic
Early in its existence, Covid-19 gained an ability that would prove decisive in its relationship with human beings. The virus picked up a seemingly small change in its genetic code. It was likely an unfortunate accident – a fragment of genetic information from another virus got muddled up with that of the coronavirus while they were both infecting a bat. Included within this tiny piece of genome, however, were the instructions that altered a key part of the virus – its spike protein. This important protein studs the outside of the coronavirus and is the part that attaches to the outside of cells, helping the rest of the virus to sneak inside where it can replicate. This change to Covid-19's spike protein meant it could hijack an enzyme found in the human body called furin. This enzyme acts like a pair of molecular scissors, normally cutting open hormones and growth factors to activate them. But when furin snips part of the Covid-19 spike protein, which is normally folded in a series of loops on the outside of the virus, it opens like a hinge.
England lockdown starts to suppress Covid-19, study suggests
There are tentative signs that the lockdown in England is beginning to curb coronavirus transmission, according to a closely watched study, although stubbornly high infection rates will continue to strain the overstretched healthcare system. The React-1 study, led by Imperial College London, concluded that prevalence of the virus had started to flatten last week, with initial indications of a small decline. Researchers estimated that the reproduction number R, which measures the average number of people one individual infects, was between 0.92 and 1.04, with a central estimate of 0.98 — suggesting that the rate of infection is close to stable or falling slightly.
South African COVID variant detected in South Carolina
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today confirmed the first US cases of B1.351, a variant of COVID-19 first discovered in South Africa, in South Carolina. In other US news, CDC experts discuss a rare COVID-related syndrome in children, a Johns Hopkins expert highlights hospital oxygen shortages, and Novavax reports good results for its vaccine. According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), the variant was detected in two people with no known travel history and no contact with one another. "The arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 variant in our state is an important reminder to all South Carolinians that the fight against this deadly virus is far from over," said Brannon Traxler, MD, DHEC Interim Public Health Director. "While more COVID-19 vaccines are on the way, supplies are still limited."
Lingering lung, physical, mental symptoms 4 months after COVID-19
Four months after their release from the hospital, more than half of 238 adult COVID-19 patients in northern Italy still had impaired lung function or mobility issues, and about one-fifth had symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a prospective cohort study published yesterday in JAMA Network Open found. The findings add to growing evidence and discussion of so-called COVID-19 "long-haulers," or patients with function-impairing symptoms persisting for months after their initial recovery. Researchers from two universities in Novara, Italy, assessed the patients, who had been hospitalized from Mar 1 to Jun 29, 2020. Of the 219 patients who completed both lung function tests and carbon monoxide (CO) measurements, 113 (51.6%) had a diffusing lung capacity for CO of less than 80% of the expected level, indicating compromised lung function, and 34 patients (15.5%) had more severe impairment, with a value less than 60% of normal.
Novavax says its Covid-19 vaccine is 90% effective, but far less so against one variant
Covid-19 vaccine from Novavax proved nearly 90% effective in preliminary results from a key clinical trial in the United Kingdom, the company said, but in a separate trial appeared far less effective against a new variant of the coronavirus that was first identified in South Africa. In its 15,000-volunteer U.K. trial, Novavax said, the vaccine prevented nine in 10 cases, including against a new strain of the virus that is circulating there. But in a 4,400-volunteer study in South Africa, the vaccine proved only 49% effective. In the 94% of the study population that did not have HIV, the efficacy was 60%. In the U.K. trial, Novavax observed 62 cases of symptomatic Covid-19, with 56 in the placebo group and six among volunteers who got the vaccine. One patient on placebo developed severe Covid-19, compared with zero in the vaccine group. The company provided few details on the vaccine’s safety, saying only that the serious side effects were rare and balanced between the studies’ vaccine and placebo groups.