"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 3rd Feb 2021

Isolation Tips
Latest lockdown is leading to more of us looking for help
More couples are seeking relationship counselling as extended Covid lockdowns take their toll on household harmony, with one psychologist reporting a 30pc increase in calls for help. The stresses of homeschooling, working from home, job losses, financial worries and possible addictions and mental health deterioration can be devastating to even the healthiest of relationships. “When Covid caused the first lockdown last March there was a feeling that the country was all in it together and put their shoulders to the wheel, that it would be over soon. But now nearly a year later people are tired and exhausted,” said Mary Johnston, specialist in counselling with Accord CLG.
Hygiene Helpers
If You've Been Working from Home, Please Wait for Your Vaccine
Steven W. Thrasher, Ph.D., is a professor at Northwestern University in the Medill School of Journalism and the Institute of Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing. He writes about access to the new coronavirus vaccine: "Hopefully the Biden administration will ramp up production as promised, and patents will not be used as an excuse not to be manufacturing vaccines en masse around the world for all earthlings. In the meantime, those of us who have been working from home and are not especially vulnerable need not be passive about people who really need them. As the Washington Post reported, only one of the world’s poorest 29 countries has gotten any COVID vaccine; meanwhile, young Americans working from home are trying to get vaccines to go to conferences and Burning Man!"
Community Activities
Mapping coronavirus anti-lockdown protests around the world
Since the start of 2021, a growing number of countries have seen street demonstrations, some of which have turned violent, against government measures implemented to fight COVID-19. Over the same period, nearly 100 countries have imposed nationwide lockdowns or stay-at-home orders, nearly one year since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
As 13 million in US get COVID vaccine, minority uptake uncertain
About 13 million Americans—about 5% of the population 16 years and older—received at least the first of their two COVID-19 vaccine doses in the first month of availability, but limited data paint a foggy picture of how many doses reached key demographics like blacks, according to a report yesterday in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Another MMWR study homes in on skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), finding that more than three quarters of residents and almost 40% of staff members have received at least one vaccine dose during the first month. Both studies were led by scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Europol warns travellers over fake Covid-19 vaccine certificates
The EU's police agency on Monday warned travellers to watch for organised crime gangs selling fake Covid-negative certificates at airports, sometimes for as much as 300 euros each. The warning from Europol comes after police busted several suspects selling forged certificates declaring people Covid-19 negative at airports in Britain and France, online and through mobile messaging chat groups in Spain and the Netherlands. Many EU countries and others now require proof that passengers are not infected by the disease, which has killed more than 2.2 million people around the world. Many EU countries and others now require proof that passengers are not infected by the disease, which has killed more than 2.2 million people around the world. "As long as travel restrictions remain in place due to the pandemic, it is very likely that criminals will seize the opportunity of producing and selling fake Covid-19 test certificates," Europol said
Working Remotely
'New normal' or back to normal? Why the remote working revolution isn't here yet
The Covid-19 pandemic isn’t yet over, but already there’s a rush to analyse the impacts and results on our working lives. Some say the office is dead. Others believe contracts have replaced permanent employment, as organisations hedge their bets or workers decide more time with their families or hobbies isn’t such a bad thing. Some say remote working has given people more autonomy, with groups of colleagues choosing to problem-solve for themselves rather than rely on the boss. But in New Zealand, the truth might be much less dramatic. In our experience, reports of a huge shift in ways of working aren’t borne out by the evidence. As creatures of habit, we haven’t so much embraced a “new” normal as gone back to normal, with a dash of flexibility thrown in.
Remote Working’s Longer Hours Are New Normal for Many
The lengthening of the work day observed as many began working from home last year has become the new normal in many countries. The number of hours people are logged on has fallen back toward pre-pandemic levels in only Belgium, Denmark, France and Spain. The U.K., Austria, Canada and U.S. have seen a sustained 2.5 hour increase to the average day.
Five charts that reveal how remote working could change the UK
City centres lying empty because so many people are working from home have received considerable media attention since the pandemic took hold. As the picture of a post-COVID world slowly comes into focus, it seems we are unlikely to return to the office in the same numbers as before. This has important implications for where economic activity takes place. Not only will it affect city centres, it also means that many residential neighbourhoods are likely to change permanently.
Don't Give Up on Remote Work, Even If You Hate It
A new year is well underway, but many of us are exactly where we were last March: working from home. Most people enjoy that, the data show, finding that it reduces stress and increases productivity. But what about the vocal minority who are truly miserable? Some form of location flexibility is probably here to stay. So it’s worth the effort to find a way to work from home that you don’t hate. That starts with figuring out what exactly you hate about it. First, consider whether it’s working from home that bothers you, or actually your job. If it’s not, then your particular role might be making remote work especially hard.
The pandemic devastated women’s careers, but remote work could revitalize them
The coronavirus may have taken the lives of more men, but the resulting school closures and economic devastation have disproportionately destroyed the careers of women. Arbitrary lockdowns have neutered the service and retail industries staffed primarily by women, and the burden of aiding the sham of "distance learning" has fallen to mothers, as childcare demands almost always do. But in the very, very long run, there could be one revolutionary silver lining of the tragedy of the pandemic. That is, the normalization of remote work.
Virtual Classrooms
Hertingfordbury parents send messages of thanks to school
The staff from a school in Hertingfordbury have been delighted to receive many messages of thanks from parents as remote learning returns in lockdown at the start of 2021. Parents of pupils at St Joseph’s In The Park have sent messages of thanks to teachers for a good start to remote learning as the new year begins in lockdown. The school introduced a custom-tailored distance learning strategy in response to the first lockdown and including using Google Classrooms as a learning platform for Years 1 to 6 to ensure continuity of education and to deliver innovative and engaging lessons. Each week a child from each class is nominated by their teacher to receive the Headmaster’s Award for outstanding work or for their positive attitude to online learning.
Public Policies
Biden administration to provide COVID-19 vaccines to pharmacies
The Biden administration announced on Tuesday that it will begin providing COVID-19 vaccines to US pharmacies, part of its plan to ramp up vaccinations as new and potentially more serious virus strains are starting to appear. Coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said starting from next week some 6,500 pharmacies around the country will receive one million doses of vaccine. The number of participating pharmacies, and the allocation of vaccines, are expected to accelerate as drugmakers increase production. “This is a key component of president Biden’s national strategy: offering vaccination in America’s pharmacies,” Zients said during a White House virtual briefing.
PM unveils deal with Novavax to produce its COVID-19 vaccine in Canada
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a deal has been struck with Novavax to produce its COVID-19 vaccine in Canada, but the pharmaceutical company isn’t expected to be ready to roll out doses domestically until the fall at the earliest. The federal government has signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Novavax to pursue options to produce its COVID-19 vaccine at a new Montreal facility that is under construction. While the prime minister is calling this a “major step forward,” it could be months before this potential first made-in-Canada vaccine candidate is approved, let alone shipped to delivery sites nationwide.
Uganda orders 18 mln doses of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine
Uganda has ordered 18 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and up to 40% of the shipments are expected to arrive in the country by the end of March, the government said on Tuesday. Uganda has so far reported 39,651 COVID-19 cases and 325 deaths - a much lower toll than in most countries due to what experts attribute to years of experience battling other viral outbreaks such as HIV AIDS and Ebola. Its economy, however, is reeling from the impact of the measures put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus. The vaccine shots will be procured from the Serum Institute of India, the government said in a statement detailing cabinet deliberations at a sitting held on Monday.
Eye on Africa - South Africa eases some Covid-19 restrictions as vaccines arrive
In tonight's edition: South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa says the country has "passed the peak" of its second wave of Covid-19, allowing for the easing of restrictions ahead of the first vaccinations this month.
Scotland toughens quarantine rules, hopes for lockdown easing in March
Scotland will toughen its coronavirus controls on international travellers but it also hopes to start relaxing its lockdown restrictions in early March, the head of the country’s devolved government, Nicola Sturgeon, said on Tuesday. Everyone arriving directly in Scotland from overseas will be required to quarantine, regardless of where they have come from, Sturgeon said. “I can confirm today that we intend to introduce a managed quarantine requirement for anyone who arrives directly into Scotland, regardless of which country they have come from,” she told the Scottish parliament. Scotland will ask Britain’s government to adopt a similar approach to minimise the risk of people with COVID-19 entering Scotland over the border with England and other parts of the United Kingdom.
Ramaphosa announces eased level 3 lockdown for South Africa – including changes for alcohol sales and curfew
President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that South Africa’s adjusted level 3 lockdown regulations will be relaxed following a decline in Covid-19 transmissions. In a national address on Monday (1 February), the president said that the country has recorded its lowest daily increase in infections since December, and that the country has now passed the peaked of the second wave. The average number of daily infections has almost halved, while the number of hospital admissions has also dropped, the president said. While the indicators are pointing in the right direction, Ramaphosa said that that the number of transmissions in the country is still relatively high.
Malaysia extends coronavirus lockdown by 2 weeks
Malaysia’s government on Tuesday extended a lockdown and broad movement restrictions by two weeks, as the Southeast Asian nation grapples with a surge in coronavirus infections that has pushed the cumulative total past 200,000 cases. The lockdown, which covered all but one state and was to end on Feb. 4, will now continue until Feb. 18, Defense Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said. “The health ministry has confirmed that daily cases in all states are still showing a rising trend... the sporadic spread in the community is also high,” Ismail Sabri said in a televised address. The lockdown will allow some leeway for businesses to continue operating, especially micro-enterprises and small-time traders, but continue to bar inter-state travel and social activities, the minister said.
Palestinians begin COVID vaccinations in occupied West Bank
The Palestinian Authority (PA) has started COVID vaccination in the occupied West Bank after receiving 2,000 doses from Israel, Palestinian officials said. The Moderna vaccines are the first batch of the promised 5,000 shots to be delivered by Israel to inoculate medical workers. In recent weeks, Israel has faced mounting global pressure, including from the United Nations, to help Palestinians living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip to gain access to vaccines. “We started today,” Palestinian Health Minister Mai al-Kaila said on Tuesday, adding that a supply of doses would be sent to Gaza, an Israeli-blockaded territory controlled by the Palestinian group Hamas, so that inoculation of front-line workers could begin in the enclave. “We have given highest priority to health personnel … and those working in intensive care units,” she said in a video distributed by Palestinian television.
Maintaining Services
Hundreds queue in rain as Covid doorstep tests for 'worrying' South Africa strain start
Hundreds of people have queued for coronavirus tests in the rain in areas of England where officials fear the South African variant is spreading. The Government has ordered urgent testing in eight postcode areas where the mutation has been detected. Even people with no symptoms are being urged to get tested. Around 80,000 residents in parts of London, Kent, Surrey, Hertfordshire, West Midlands, and Merseyside are caught up in the 'surge' testing blitz. Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the door-to-door testing plan in a Downing Street press conference on Monday night. Officials are in a bid to track down "every single case" of the mutant South African strain to prevent it spreading further.
Farmers sue state over COVID-19 rules for migrant workers
Two farm groups are suing the state of Washington for failing to revise emergency regulations that seek to protect migrant farmworkers from the COVID-19 virus. The groups filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Yakima County Superior Court. It seeks to invalidate the recently renewed rules as arbitrary, capricious and not feasible. “We’re disappointed we had to take this step, but our farms are on the line and we had no other choice,” said John Stuhlmiller, chief executive officer of the Washington Farm Bureau. The state Department of Health renewed the emergency rules, first adopted last spring, for the third time on Jan. 8. In addition, Gov. Jay Inslee last month rejected the two groups’ request to repeal and revise the rules.
Emergency UK funding failing to reach Covid-hit companies
Small businesses are missing out on millions of pounds of emergency grants promised by the UK government as long ago as November, sparking warnings that many will not survive unless access to this cash is unlocked. Councils have been struggling to distribute the money, including a share of £12bn worth of support first offered last year according to the Local Government Association, due to the volume of paperwork and changes to lockdown regulations. There have been 10 different tranches of funding to sustain small businesses without the cash reserves or covenants of larger companies through local tier restrictions established in October and the one month lockdown for England that ran from November 5. The schemes also cover support for different regional restrictions in December and the current lockdown in England, which is expected to run until at least February 22.
Spain’s bars and restaurants confront their darkest hour
Spain’s hospitality sector, which is taking the brunt of the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, now faces its toughest months since the country emerged from its first state of alarm in June. Between the start of the summer and the third wave of the pandemic, there were certain restrictions in place, but the vast majority of establishments were still able to stay open. Now, with the post-Christmas surge in Covid-19 cases filling hospitals’ intensive care units, the authorities have once again been obliged to crack down. “The sector is in ruins, we are closed in half of Spain,” notes José Luis Yzuel, president of the hospitality business association Hostelería de España.
Moderna Could Boost Vaccine Supply by Adding Doses to Vials
U.S. regulators could decide within a few weeks whether to allow Moderna, the developer of one of the two federally authorized Covid-19 vaccines, to increase the number of doses in its vials — which could accelerate the nation’s vaccination rate. Moderna is hoping to raise the number of doses in its vials to as many as 15 from the current 10 doses. The proposal reflects the fact that the company has been ramping up production of its vaccine to the point where the final manufacturing stage, when it is bottled, capped and labeled, has emerged as a roadblock to expanding its distribution. If the change does go through, it could be hugely welcome news in the campaign to curb a pandemic that has killed more than 440,000 people in the United States alone. In a statement late Monday, Ray Jordan, a Moderna spokesman, said the constraint on dosage per vial was limiting Moderna’s output.
WHO team visits animal disease center in Wuhan, China
Further details of the visit were not announced in what has been a tightly controlled trip, with the media only able to glimpse the team coming and going from its hotel and site visits. The team members wore full protective gear during Tuesday’s visit. It’s not clear if they wore similar full-body suits at the research institutes, hospitals and markets they visited on previous days. Outside their hotel and en route to and from visits, the experts have worn masks and professional or business casual attire. Intense negotiations preceded the WHO visit to Wuhan, where the first COVID-19 cases were detected in late 2019. China has maintained strict controls on access to information about the virus, possibly to avoid blame for alleged missteps in its early response to the outbreak. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the Chinese government had provided significant support and assistance to the WHO team, responding to criticism that China has not revealed much about what the researchers are being allowed to do.
Austria to loosen lockdown, allowing shops and schools to reopen
Austria will loosen its coronavirus lockdown next week, switching to a nighttime curfew from all-day restrictions on movement and letting non-essential shops and schools reopen. The conservative-led government announced the move despite coronavirus infections staying higher than it would like, citing the social toll of continuing the country’s third lockdown, which began on Dec. 26. “Epidemiologically the issue is clear. The safest course would be to remain in lockdown,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a news conference after discussions with scientific experts, influential provincial governors and opposition parties.
Germany looking to accelerate sluggish distribution of vaccines
Chancellor Angela Merkel and German state governors were planning to talk with representatives of the pharmaceutical industry on ways to beef up the country's sluggish vaccination campaign. Monday's videoconference, which also will involve the European Union's Executive Commission, comes as finger-pointing in the bloc's most populous country mounts over who is to blame for the slow vaccine rollout. By Friday, 1.85 million people had received a first vaccine dose in Germany, a country of 83 million, and more than 461,000 had a second dose.
Healthcare Innovations
COVID: Poland decides against giving elderly AstraZeneca vaccine
Amid mounting questions over the efficacy of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine on people over 65, Poland has said it will only use the shot on people aged 18-60, the Polish prime minister’s top aide said, following a recommendation from the country’s medical council. “Yesterday evening, the medical council submitted recommendations regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine, on the basis of which it was decided that it will be used in Poland for people between the ages of 18 and 60,” Michal Dworczyk, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s top aide who is in charge of Poland’s vaccination programme, told a news conference. Also on Tuesday, Sweden’s health agency said it would not recommend the AstraZeneca vaccine for people over 65. Poland’s decision follows recommendations by medical experts in Germany and Austria that the vaccine should be given only to people aged between 18 and 64. Spain’s health ministry, meanwhile, will decide this week whether or not to give AstraZeneca’s vaccine to elderly people. For its part, AstraZeneca has dismissed concerns over efficacy but acknowledges that the company has less data than other drugmakers on the elderly because it started vaccinating older people later.
Recovered COVID patients likely protected for at least six months, study finds
Almost all people previously infected with COVID-19 have high levels of antibodies for at least six months that are likely to protect them from reinfection with the disease, results of a major UK study showed on Wednesday. Scientists said the study, which measured levels of previous COVID-19 infection in populations across Britain, as well as how long antibodies persisted in those infected, should provide some reassurance that swift cases of reinfection will be rare. “The vast majority of people retain detectable antibodies for at least six months after infection with the coronavirus,” said Naomi Allen, a professor and chief scientist at the UK Biobank, where the study was carried out.
Single dose of Pfizer-Biontech vaccine may not protect elderly from Covid-19 infection
A significant proportion of people over 80 may have only a “poor” immune response after a single dose of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine, researchers have said.Three weeks later, one jab did not always
UK finds more coronavirus cases with 'concerning' mutations
Public Health England is investigating cases of coronavirus with 'worrying' new genetic changes that have been found in some regions of the UK. Tests show they have a mutation, called E484K, that is already seen in the South Africa variant. Although this change may reduce vaccine effectiveness, the current ones in use should still work, say experts. There have been 11 cases in Bristol and a cluster of 32 cases in Liverpool. Urgent testing for the South Africa variant is already starting in parts of England and could be rolled out to other areas seeing different variants with the same E484K mutation. Scientists working with Public Health England found a small number of cases of the UK 'Kent' variant with the E484K mutation - it was seen in 11 out of 214,159 samples that they tested, and predominantly from the South West of England.
Coronavirus vaccines ‘can be created in weeks’ to fight new strains
Vaccines to combat new strains of coronavirus could be created for laboratory testing in just three weeks, according to a top scientist. Professor Robin Shattock, who is leading Covid-19 vaccine research at Imperial College London, said scientists are working on vaccines which could counter new variants like the one that emerged in South Africa. After being redesigned for lab testing, it could take two to three months to get the vaccines to the manufacturing stage, he added. Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programmer Prof Shattock said: “Vaccine researchers around the world to looking at these new variants and making new vaccine candidates against them so we can study in the laboratory. “And that’s quite a fast process – we can go from seeing these changes to making a new vaccine in the laboratory in a period of about three weeks.
COVID-19 survivors may only need one vaccine dose because they already have high levels of antibodies, study suggests
People previously infected with coronavirus may only need one dose of the vaccine, a new study suggests. Researchers found that participants who had contracted COVID-19 in the past and received one shot had antibody levels similar to - and even higher than - those who had never been infected and were given two doses. Additionally, virus survivors were more likely to report side effects after being immunized such as pain at the injection site, fever and fatigue. The team, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, says giving previously infected individuals only one dose would 'spare them from unnecessary pain and free up many urgently needed vaccine doses.'
COVID-19: Why are Asian and Black patients at greater risk?
Even after accounting for other known risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure, a study found that Black and Asian patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were more likely to need mechanical ventilation and more likely to die than white patients.
COVID-19: Mutation of Kent variant detected in samples could help virus evade immune system
Delaying the second dose of the Pfizer jab – the current government strategy - may leave some elderly patients at risk of infection by the South African variant, new research suggests. Lab tests by scientists at Cambridge University showed that one dose of the vaccine may not stimulate the immune system to produce enough antibodies to kill the virus. Only after a second dose would antibody levels be protective, according to preliminary data in the study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed. Meanwhile, the South African variant has a mutation called E484K that helps it evade the immune system.
Russia's COVID-19 Vaccine Reported To Be 92% Effective : Coronavirus Updates
Russia's Sputnik V vaccine is 92% effective in protecting people from developing COVID-19 symptoms, according to a study published in The Lancet on Tuesday. The study follows a Phase 3 trial in Moscow hospitals and clinics that included nearly 22,000 participants age 18 and older. The vaccine, known as Gam-COVID-Vac, "was well tolerated in a large cohort," the researchers said. It was administered in two doses, 21 days apart. The study was financed by government entities such as the Moscow City Health Department and the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The findings stand to add legitimacy to the Sputnik vaccine, which met with skepticism last August when the Russian government touted its move to formally register the world's first vaccine, despite not having completed clinical trials. The Phase 3 clinical trials in the Lancet study did not begin until Sept. 7.
New variant COVID findings fuel more worries about vaccine resistance
Scientists in the United Kingdom yesterday reported that a small number of B117 variants have developed the E484K mutation thought to help SARS-CoV-2 partly evade immunity, and today another UK group said their lab experiments suggest the mutation added to B117 may dampen the impact of vaccination after one dose. In its weekly update on pandemic activity, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today that the three variants of concern have been reported in more countries, with 80 now reporting the B117 variant.
Amid supply snafu, new data show AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shot is more effective with doses 12 weeks apart
While supply constraints have hung over the rollout of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Europe, last week, CEO Pascal Soriot offered one way officials could make the most of available doses. And now AZ has more data to support the idea. Soriot pointed out that the label allows the second dose to be administered between 4 and 12 weeks after the first. Officials could use all available doses to vaccinate as many people as possible now, he suggested, without reserving booster doses. Before 12 weeks passed, more supply would arrive to cover the boosters and start a new round of vaccinations. In fact, waiting could be even better. New data show the vaccine was 54.9% effective in trial participants who received their second standard dose within 6 weeks of the first. For those who got a second standard dose 12 weeks or more after the first, efficacy was a much higher 82.4%.
Comparing the Covid-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson
In an ideal world, a pandemic vaccine could be delivered in a single shot, so supplies could be stretched to cover a lot of people. It would trigger no side effect more significant than a sore arm. And it would be easy to ship and store. Soon, it seems, this ideal of a Covid-19 vaccine will be within reach. Last Friday, Johnson & Johnson announced that a one-dose vaccine being developed by its vaccines division, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, had been shown to be 66% protective against moderate to severe Covid infection in a multicountry study. But, importantly, it was 85% effective in protecting against severe disease. And there were no hospitalizations or deaths among people in the vaccine arm of a large clinical trial.