"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 10th Feb 2021

Isolation Tips
Study to examine psychological impact of lockdown
A new study looking at the psychological impact of Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns is under way at Dundalk IT. The study is being led by University College London and is being carried out in 23 countries, including Ireland, the UK, Australia, USA, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Turkey and Norway. Researchers say there is no research on how lockdown during a pandemic, involving restrictions to freedom of movement, is perceived by the general population.
Covid: Domestic abuse victims 'may be stuck' in lockdown with abusers
More support is needed to reach domestic abuse victims trapped in lockdown with their abusers, charities have warned. In August, Dyfed Powys Police received 900 reports of domestic abuse compared with 350 incidents a month in 2017. While reports have risen, there are fears many victims in rural areas are not seeking help. The West Wales Domestic Abuse Service (WWDAS) said many could not reach out for help while stuck at home. Chief Executive Michelle Pooley said that while the charity had seen more people referred for support, people living in tight-knit rural communities were less likely to seek help.
‘Covid-19 is wrecking people’s mental health’
The effects of the coronavirus pandemic is destroying our ability to connect with friends and family, disrupting our routines and consequently damaging our mental health, a professor of psychology has said. “If you had designed a disease that was specifically figured out to wreck our mental health, Covid would be it,” Prof Laurie Santos told BBC Hardtalk’s Stephen Sackur. Humans hate uncertainty, but the pandemic is seeing constantly changing lockdowns and a continued flux about when things will improve, all of which is bad for our mental health, she explained.
Hygiene Helpers
Are two masks better than one?
When it comes to protecting yourself against new coronavirus variants, two masks may be better than one. A number of politicians, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Senator Mitt Romney, have been spotted doubling up on face masks, and top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has recommended that everyday Americans do the same. As part of our #AskReuters Twitter chat series, Reuters gathered a group of health experts to answer questions about the coronavirus, including what they consider the “right” way to wear face coverings.
COVID app triggers overdue debate on privacy in Singapore
For a country that prides itself on being on the cutting edge of high-tech governance, there has been little national discussion in Singapore on the balance between data collection and individual privacy. Now, COVID-19 has forced the conversation, after it was revealed that data from the government’s contact-tracing app, contrary to initial promises, could also be used for criminal investigations. The public backlash prompted the government to not only acknowledge that it had made a mistake but also to introduce new legislation to restrict the use of the data. Under the new amendments to the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act, passed in the Singapore Parliament this month, personal data collected by digital pandemic contact-tracing programmes can only be used to contact trace, unless it is required by law enforcement for investigations into “serious offences”. Pritam Singh, the leader of the opposition, has called for an “immediate conversation” on the balance between individual privacy and the use of technology and data collection in Singapore.
COVID-19: 'Surge testing' in Manchester after mutation of Kent variant detected
Thousands of extra COVID tests are being rolled out in Manchester after a mutation of the Kent variant was found in the city. Four people from two unconnected households were found with the E484K mutation, Manchester City Council said, and 10,000 extra tests will now be distributed.
Covid-19: Travel rule breakers could face £10k fines and prison terms
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned travel rule breakers they could face fines of £10,000 and even a decade in prison. Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hancock set out the "tough" measures for people who do not comply with the new quarantine rules for UK arrivals. He said the policy, which begins on Monday, applied to England but that the devolved administrations were looking at similar measures.
COVID-19: NHS Test and Trace app has prevented 600,000 cases, study suggests
As many as 600,000 coronavirus cases have been prevented as a result of the NHS COVID-19 app, new research suggests. Scientists at The Alan Turing Institute and Oxford University found that for every 1% increase in app users, the number of infections falls by up to 2.3%. The analysis, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, is based on data gathered in between the app launching in September and the end of last year. "The impact of the app could be increased by more people using it," said Professor Christophe Fraser at the University of Oxford.
Covid-19: Travellers face £1,750 cost for England quarantine hotels
Travellers having to stay in quarantine hotels in England will be charged £1,750 for their stay, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has announced. The measures, which come into force on Monday, apply to UK and Irish residents returning from 33 red list countries. Those who fail to quarantine in a government-sanctioned hotel for 10 days face fines of up to £10,000. Meanwhile, all travellers arriving into Scotland from abroad by air will have to go into quarantine hotels.
COVID-19: All travellers arriving in UK to have to pay for £100 COVID tests while in quarantine
All travellers arriving in the UK are to face mandatory coronavirus tests - paid for by themselves - from next week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock is poised to announce to MPs. In a Commons statement, Mr Hancock will say that from next Monday, 15 February, all passengers arriving in the UK will be required to take a PCR test, which currently cost around £100 per test, on days two and eight after they arrive. The new rules, which will cause further dismay in the already-reeling airline industry, will apply to arrivals not just from 33 so-called Red Zone countries heading into hotel quarantine, but also those isolating at home.
Spain’s government pinning hopes on a vaccination passport to help kick-start ailing tourism sector
The Spanish government is pinning its hopes on 2021 being a year of recovery. That said, the administration is well aware that one of the mainstays of the country’s economy, tourism, will struggle to return to some kind of normality this year given the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. To deal with this issue, the coalition government – made up of the Socialist Party (PSOE) and junior partner Unidas Podemos – is looking for formulas to speed up the return to levels of tourism that existed pre-Covid. One of the key factors being considered is the creation of a Europe-wide vaccination card that could help bring back foreign tourists.
Community Activities
COVID-19: Over-70s can now book first coronavirus jab and don't need to wait for contact from NHS
People aged 70 and over in England who have not yet had a coronavirus vaccine are being urged to book an appointment with the NHS to get a jab. Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced the policy is changing to make sure no-one falls through the cracks as the drive to inoculate against COVID-19 continues. It comes as the race intensifies for all those in the top four priority groups to get their first jab by 15 February before attention turns to rolling the vaccine out to the other five priority groups, reaching all over-50s by May.
Navajo Nation outpaces much of US in delivering COVID vaccines
The Navajo Nation announced on Tuesday it will receive about 29,000 additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines as the tribal area continues to outpace the broader United States in delivering jabs. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said that as of Sunday, the Navajo Area Indian Health Service (NAIHS) delivered 74,048 of the 78,520 vaccine doses it had received, a 94 percent rate. Nez said the goal is to administer 100,000 doses by the end of February. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the broader US has delivered 42,417,617 of its total 59,307,800 doses, or about 71 percent, as of Monday. Dr Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer of the NAIHS, told Al Jazeera the Navajo Nation has been “very good with what we have received and we’ve been very efficient and timely in using that vaccine”. The success comes in administering the vaccine due to planning and high-level cooperation, Christensen said.
Working Remotely
Most employers will continue remote work despite COVID vaccine: Littler
Most employers who are requiring or allowing remote work are not planning to change course for months to come, even as an increasing number of people receive the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a survey released by Littler Mendelson. In a survey of 1,800 human resources professionals, in-house lawyers and executives, Littler found that 86% of respondents with remote-work arrangements are extending them at least into the summer, and a majority plan to keep pandemic-related safety precautions in place even after vaccines are readily available.
Working from home? How to get your broadband up to the job
According to a YouGov survey, 57% of British workers want to continue working from home after the coronavirus pandemic. Now then, more than ever, a reliable and fast internet connection is a must. Broadband is not up to the job? Here are some steps you can take to improve it.
Lifelike holograms may be the future of remote work
It’s a pressing question that has yet to be answered: Once the pandemic passes, what will the return to work look like for millions of Americans? Some tech companies have said people can continue to work from home indefinitely. Surveys suggest that most others are contemplating hybrid workspaces where staffers rotate between working remotely and coming into the office. The possible post-coronavirus situation has some companies envisioning a future in which people can collaborate in more interactive and engaging ways, whether they’re on-site or at home. One novel approach is to use 3-D holograms.
Working From Home Can Lead to Hidden Health Risks
As the pandemic continues, millions of Americans are working from home and adapting to the remote lifestyle. What many may not realize are the long-term effects of sitting at a computer for countless hours and having little to no physical activities in between. News4 editor and married father of two Karl Whichard has been working from home, and he said it has been a big drawback to his health. Using a standing desk or moving the laptop to a kitchen counter will improve health, according to doctors, preventing sitting for hours at a time.
Virtual Classrooms
What does mental-health support look like in Ontario's virtual classrooms?
Last June, the Ontario government announced $10 million in additional mental health support for the 2020-21 school year. Metroland contacted 14 Ontario school boards and each indicated funding has gone toward hiring mental health support staff, including social workers and child and youth-care workers, though the number of staff and their role varies from board to board. While there are opportunities for students to connect directly with these staff, oftentimes it is up to the homeroom teacher to first identify any mental-health issues. "It absolutely is a concern that mental-health issues can really fly under the radar in this virtual learning environment," Lindsay Malloy, an associate professor of Forensic Psychology at Ontario Tech University, said.
Officials concerned virtual learning stunting early development
Virtual learning is presenting challenges for many of the youngest students and a recent national study shows it could be impacting their level of success. Elementary school provides many of the most important foundations for students; crucial skills like reading, writing and math. There's continued concern the limitations of the virtual setting could be holding those students back. “Parents expressed some very legitimate concerns about students, their mental health, about their safety [and] their inability to perform online,” said Dr. Danny Webb, superintendent of the Everett Area School District. “That’s impacting all of our kids in a different way."
One district's creative approach to 'COVID slide?' Night classes for elementary students
In the face of COVID-19, Henry County Schools, a suburban county of 218,000, took a solution adults have been using for decades to further their education and applied it to elementary students: Night classes. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended learning and student life for almost a year now, and across New England, remote learning engagement continues to be one of the greatest challenges, resulting in noticeable achievement gaps. Over summer break, when it became apparent that COVID-related remote learning would play a big part in the upcoming school year, Henry County parents were the ones to request the early evening virtual classes, saying it would enable them to fully supervise their child’s remote learning from home after their own work day.
Public Policies
European Union will not block Pfizer coronavirus vaccine doses bound for Australia, ambassador says
Millions of doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine bound for Australia will be allowed to leave the European Union (EU), its ambassador has confirmed. Australia has secured 20 million doses of the vaccine, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously saying the goal was to vaccinate 80,000 people a week from the end of February. Concerns were raised about whether Australia would receive its order after the EU introduced new rules on exports of COVID-19 vaccines produced within the bloc, including Pfizer.
Ethiopia says it has secured 9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines till April
Ethiopia has secured nine million doses of COVID-19 vaccines up until April and hopes to inoculate at least a fifth of its 110 million people by the end of the year, the health minister said on Tuesday. “For now up to April we have been allocated close to nine million doses,” Lia Tadesse said. “Within this year we want to make sure we get at least 20% of the population,” she told Reuters.
Germany set to stay in lockdown for fear of virus mutations — draft document
German officials are considering lifting some measures in the coming weeks, but the shutdown will continue for now, DW learned on Tuesday. Federal and state representatives are set to announce their decision tomorrow. "Considering the virus mutations, the steps to lift the restrictions must come carefully and gradually in order to avoid risking the successful curbing of infections," Germany's top officials are expected to say, according to a draft statement obtained by DW. The document foresees the country continuing its shutdown until March. The authorities see reopening of day care centers and schools as a priority, the document states. They remain "optimistic that all citizens would be offered vaccination by the end of summer at the latest."
Spain extends border controls with Portugal until March due to COVID-19
Spain’s government announced on Tuesday it had extended controls along its 1,200-km (750-mile) border with Portugal until March 1, as both countries try to rein in a surge in coronavirus infections and deaths. “The severity of the restrictive mobility measures still in force in Spain and Portugal justifies maintaining ... controls at the internal land border ... with the same limitations applied during the initial ten days,” the Spanish interior ministry said in the government’s official bulletin. The two governments had agreed to close on Jan. 28 the border for non-essential travel with exceptions for cross-border workers, health workers and truck drivers.
WHO team: Coronavirus unlikely to have leaked from Chinese lab
The coronavirus is unlikely to have leaked from a Chinese lab and is more likely to have jumped to humans from an animal, a World Health Organization team has concluded, an expert said Tuesday as the group wrapped up a visit to explore the origins of the virus. The Wuhan Institute of Virology in central China has collected extensive virus samples, leading to allegations that it may have caused the original outbreak by leaking the virus into the surrounding community. China has strongly rejected that possibility and has promoted other theories for the virus’s origins. The WHO team that visited Wuhan, where the first cases of COVID-19 were discovered in December 2019, is considering several theories for how the disease first ended up in humans, leading to a pandemic that has now killed more than 2.3 million people worldwide.
Dutch government to extend night curfew through March 2
The Dutch government will extend a night-time curfew intended to slow the spread of coronavirus through March 2, broadcaster RTL reported on Monday, citing sources in The Hague. The curfew, the first in the Netherlands since World War Two, sparked several days of riots from anti-lockdown protesters when it was initially introduced on Jan. 23.. RTL reported that Mark Rutte’s government would announce the extension at a news conference later Monday. New coronavirus cases in the Netherlands have been declining after months of lockdown measures, but the government is warning that a wave of new infections is coming due to the growth in more contagious variants of the coronavirus.
A Q&A with WHO’s emergencies chief on Covid-19, why he’s hopeful, and when normalcy might return
This time last year, Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s health emergencies program, was strenuously urging the world to try to contain the new virus that was spreading in and from China. The world, he said, had the necessary tools: contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine. “There’s enough evidence to suggest that this virus can still be contained,” he told STAT in an interview for a story published Feb. 1, 2020. The world didn’t move swiftly enough to put SARS-CoV-2 “back in the box,” to borrow an expression sometimes used by scientists to describe viral containment. More than 100 million people around the globe have been infected with Covid-19, and more than 2.3 million people have died.
Russia, China expanding Middle East sway with COVID-19 vaccines
Russian and Chinese COVID-19 vaccines are being embraced by many countries in the Middle East – not just by those hostile to the United States, but also by its allies. Qatar, Oman, and Kuwait purchased US vaccines, claiming their efficacy rate is higher, and Iraq has ordered vaccines from the United Kingdom’s AstraZeneca and the US’s Pfizer. But the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Egypt, and Turkey have signed up for vaccines from Moscow and Beijing as well buying US vaccines, while Iran and the Palestinian Authority are relying on Russian and Chinese jabs only. Iran’s economy has struggled since the US reimposed sanctions on it under former President Donald Trump and the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a diktat against the use of US and UK vaccines. Sputnik V was approved under special emergency-use authorization and Iran began rolling it out on Tuesday.
Austria tries to contain S.African variant outbreak by voluntary means
Austria on Monday opted against placing the whole Alpine province of Tyrol under quarantine to contain an outbreak of the so-called South African variant of the coronavirus, instead urging the public not to go there unless they have to. The province, a winter sports hotspot, has so far been unable to explain how the variant arrived in the Ziller Valley, long a popular tourist area. Austrian ski lifts have been allowed to open since Dec. 24, but hotels are closed for all but business travel and restaurants can only serve takeaway meals. Tyrol's provincial government has opposed the idea of a province-wide quarantine in talks with the national government on how to contain the variant. Both governments are led by the conservative People's Party. Austria loosened a national lockdown on Monday, letting non-essential shops reopen.
Maintaining Services
Uber and Walgreens team up to offer free rides and access to the COVID-19 vaccine for underserved communities
Uber and Walgreens are teaming up to distribute the vaccine to underserved communities by offering free rides and education to the communities who haven't received their share of doses, the companies said in a joint statement on Tuesday. As COVID-19 vaccines become widely available at retail pharmacies across the country starting February 11, the two companies partnered up to help "drive equitable access" to the shots as health organizations point to a disparity in who is receiving the majority of doses. Walgreens President John Standley said the companies are each using their expertise to "take bold action to address vaccine access and hesitancy among those hit hardest by the pandemic."
India says J&J interested in making COVID-19 vaccine in country
Johnson & Johnson is interested in manufacturing its COVID-19 vaccine in India, a government official told a news conference on Tuesday. India also currently has no concern over the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine that is being used in the country’s massive inoculation campaign, Vinod Kumar Paul said.
Japan Keeps Its Covid Fight Simple With a Rule Starting at Dinnertime
Call it the Zen art of lockdowns. In the fight to suppress Covid-19, Japan has found success by stripping down its policy to one simple measure: closing restaurants and bars at 8 p.m. When the government declared a state of emergency in Tokyo and other urban areas on Jan. 7, it changed little, except to urge places that serve food and drinks to close by 8 p.m. Most complied in exchange for support that includes payments of about $600 a day. Infections since then have fallen by more than two-thirds nationwide, even though other daily activities such as shopping and commuting have continued. The government hopes to lift the state of emergency by March 7. “In consultation with experts, we carefully crafted a policy centered on reducing the hours of restaurants and bars,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said Feb. 2.
After Outbreak, Trains Start Running Again in North China City as Lockdown Loosens
Travel curbs on Shijiazhuang, the capital of North China’s Hebei province and center of a recent flare-up of Covid-19, were eased on Monday, with trains to and from the city resuming after a 34-day suspension. However, travel by highway and air remains banned. Operators of the city’s highways said business will “be resumed in an orderly manner” without giving a specific timeline, while intercity bus services will also stay suspended.
Austrian hairdressers reopen but COVID-19 rules ruffle some
Austrian hairdressers reopened for the first time in more than six weeks on Monday as a national lockdown loosened, but new rules including a coronavirus test requirement for customers ruffled some. Despite stubbornly high infection numbers, the conservative-led government let schools and non-essential shops reopen on Monday, arguing that the economic and social toll of lockdown would otherwise be too great. With the lockdown loosening came new rules aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. Shops can only have one customer for every 20 square metres of floor space at a time. For hairdressers it is half that, but customers must show a negative coronavirus test no more than 48 hours old.
Texas, California see large drop in COVID-19 cases
Texas and California, two of the states hardest hit by COVID-19 since Thanksgiving, have reached new milestones indicating that the spread of infections is slowing. The number of new daily coronavirus cases in California fell to just over 10,000 yesterday, down from 50,000 a month ago, according to KQED. Gov. Gavin Newsom also reported a 25% decline in COVID-19 patients in intensive care units. "Everything that should be up is up, and everything that should be down is down," Newsom said during remarks given yesterday at San Diego Petco Park, which will be the state's first mass vaccine "super station."
Healthcare Innovations
Eli Lilly's antibody combination receives FDA emergency use authorization for COVID-19
Eli Lilly’s combination antibody therapy to fight COVID-19 has been granted emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Lilly said on Tuesday. Lilly’s combination therapy of two antibodies, bamlanivimab and etesevimab, helped cut the risk of hospitalization and death in COVID-19 patients by 70%, data from a late-stage trial showed in January. Lilly said the therapy will be available immediately.
China's CanSino single-dose COVID-19 vaccine co-developed by Beijing's top military bio-warfare expert 'shows 65.7 per cent efficacy'
A single-dose COVID-19 vaccine developed by Chinese firm CanSino Biologics and a team led by Beijing's top military bio-warfare expert is reported to show 65.7 per cent efficacy in preventing symptomatic cases. The drug also demonstrated a 90.98 per cent success rate in stopping severe disease in an interim analysis of global trials, according to Pakistan's health minister who posted the figures on Monday. Chen Wei, a Major General of China's People's Liberation Army, headed a team of scientists from the Chinese military to work on the inoculation with CanSino Biologics (CanSinoBIO), a biotechnology company based in Tianjin and listed on Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Firm producing Novavax coronavirus vaccine outlines 'strong pipeline' of potential Covid partners
A firm chosen to manufacture millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines says it has a “strong pipeline” of companies that want to work with it in the battle against the pandemic. Teesside firm Fujifilm Diosynth Biotechnologies has recently been contracted to manufacture 60m doses of the Novavax vaccine at its Billingham site. Now it has released accounts for the year ending March 31 2020 which show that operating profit rose £900,000 to £23m even as revenues fell by 9% to £114.2m. The year saw the company invest in its facilities while it added almost 80 new employees to its headcount. In the accounts, the company said: “This result has been driven by a sustained demand for batch manufacture across the small scale, large scale and mammalian sectors and analytical services which continues to grow from strength to strength. “As the company continues to grow it has seen an increase in operational fixed costs to support this growth, however, the company continues to benefit from research and development expenditure credit which has offset this increase.”
Common asthma medicine cuts need for COVID-19 hospitalization - Oxford study
A commonly used asthma treatment appears to reduce the need for hospitalizations as well as recovery time for COVID-19 patients if given within seven days of symptoms appearing, researchers at the University of Oxford said on Tuesday. The findings were made following a mid-stage study of the steroid budesonide, sold as Pulmicort by AstraZeneca Plc and also used for treating smoker's lung. The 28-day study of 146 patients suggested that inhaled budesonide reduced the risk of urgent care or hospitalization by 90% when compared with usual care, Oxford University said. Researchers said the trial was inspired by the fact that patients with chronic respiratory disease, who are often prescribed inhaled steroids, were significantly under-represented among hospitalized COVID-19 patients during early days of the pandemic.
Covid-19: How the UK’s gene-sequencing labs could track every single case and help stop new variants
In the debate about how quickly to reopen the UK after the current lockdown, there are broadly two camps: those – including many Conservative backbenchers – who want the restrictions removed at pace in order to restart the economy, and those who lean towards a “zero Covid” strategy which would aim at the complete elimination of coronavirus from Britain. Much will depend on the progress of the vaccination roll-out, and the extent to which vaccines are shown to cut both serious illness and the transmission of the virus. And border controls – including those being set out by Matt Hancock on Tuesday – will continue to be part of the UK’s defences against Covid-19 for the rest of this year at least.
China probe says SARS-CoV-2 jump from go-between host most likely
Representatives from China and an international joint mission team led by the World Health Organization (WHO) today in Wuhan detailed the results of a 2-week probe into the zoonotic source of the outbreaks, which didn't reveal a definitive source but did shed new light on the events. At the nearly 3-hour briefing, officials laid out four main theories, some of them less likely possibilities. The 10-person joint mission team has been in China since Jan 14 and followed investigation terms that a WHO advance team fleshed out with the country over the summer.