" Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 9th Mar 2021

Isolation Tips
East Devon school's virtual playground boosts pupils' mental health in lockdown
An East Devon Primary School created a virtual playground during lockdown in a bid to boost pupil mental health. Broadclyst Community Primary School (BCPS) used digital technology to set up an after-lessons online socialise space, saying the wellbeing of its youngsters was ‘high on the agenda’. The school created the online space to enable children to mix with chat with their friends, classmates and support staff after lessons ended. Beth Schoter, a teacher at Broadclyst Community Primary School, was recently asked to speak at Discovery Education’s Learning for Now — an online conference to help educators use technology and digital media as support in the classroom during the coronavirus.
COVID-19: Care homes allow indoor visits from nominated friends and family
Care home visits from a nominated friend or relative will be permitted in England from today - but hugging and kissing residents is still off limits. Every care home resident will be able to nominate someone to visit them indoors, while residents with the highest care needs can receive more frequent visits from a loved one who will provide essential care and support. Visitors will have to carry out COVID-19 tests prior to the visits, wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and be asked to keep physical contact to a minimum.
Hygiene Helpers
In Japan, vending machines help ease access to COVID-19 tests
In Japan, convenience is king and getting tested for COVID-19 can be highly inconvenient. Part of solution, as it is for a range of daily necessities in Tokyo, has become the humble vending machine. Eager to conserve manpower and hospital resources, the government conducts just 40,000 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests a day, a quarter of its capacity, restricting them to people who are quite symptomatic or have had a high chance of being infected. That’s led to the public to rely heavily on private clinics or buying PCR tests by other means. Vending machines selling test kits offer consumers the option of avoiding crowded clinics or having to wait for an appointment
Fully vaccinated people can gather without masks indoors, should still avoid travel: U.S. says
People who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can meet without masks indoors in small groups with others who have been inoculated but should avoid non-essential travel and continue to wear face-coverings in public, the Biden administration said on Monday. In a long-awaited update of its guidance for behaviors to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said fully vaccinated people could also meet in small groups with unvaccinated individuals deemed at low-risk for severe COVID-19 from one other household without masks. The slight lifting of restrictions represented a still cautious approach to public health guidance despite the quickly growing number of vaccinated people. President Joe Biden has urged Americans to remain vigilant and continue to follow CDC guidelines to prevent another surge of cases.
Covid-19: School rapid test cannot be overruled, says minister
The government is sticking to the rule that a positive rapid Covid test done in secondary schools in England cannot be overruled by the gold-standard tests processed by labs. Concerns have been raised by testing experts that significant numbers could be incorrectly told they are infected. They have called for all positives from the rapid testing done in schools to be confirmed by the standard PCR test.
Community Activities
Virtual lessons on the world of farming for British Science Week
More than 200,000 primary school pupils are delving into the world of food and farming in one of the country’s biggest virtual classrooms this week, as the National Farming Union broadcasts live lessons to celebrate British Science Week.
Russian Intelligence Linked to Spread of False Info About COVID-19 Vaccines
Four websites featuring articles that cast doubt about the COVID-19 vaccines have been traced back to Russian intelligence agencies as part of their alleged campaign to diminish confidence in the drug’s efficacy and safety, the Wall Street Journal reports. An official with the U.S. Department of State’s Global Engagement Center found that these online publications, which have been identified as New Eastern Outlook, Oriental Review, News Front, and Rebel Inside, are spreading false or misleading information about the side effects of the Pfizer vaccine and the United States’ role in attempting to rush its approval by Food and Drug Administration. While the readership on these sites is quite low, there’s concern that these articles could garner more attention if they were to be picked up and circulated by international outlets.
Yellen says COVID-19 having 'extremely unfair' impact on women's income, jobs
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an “extremely unfair” impact on the income and economic opportunities of women, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Monday, calling for long-term steps to improve labor market conditions for women. Yellen, in a dialogue with International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva, said it was critical to address the risk that the pandemic would leave permanent scars, reducing the prospects for women in the workplace and the economy.
‘Disparities we had before played out during the pandemic’
Black, Asian and other minorities in the United Kingdom have been disproportionately struck by COVID-19, with some communities still experiencing a higher rate of hospitalisations and deaths as the pandemic continues. Over the past year, several reports and studies have underscored that this bleak reality is a consequence of structural racism. In an interview with Al Jazeera, British Medical Association chief Chaand Nagpaul says the government must now acknowledge the “structural inequalities that have plagued our society for decades” if it is to address healthcare disparities. He spoke about the UK’s handling of the pandemic, how lessons from a public inquiry will help save lives in the future, and why some ethnic minorities are reluctant to take the vaccine.
One in four remain unwilling to get coronavirus vaccine: poll
A new poll released by Monmouth University on Monday found that, while a majority of people reported being satisfied with the coronavirus vaccine rollout, 1 in 4 still say they do not plan on getting the shot. “The American public has become less concerned about contracting Covid-19 since vaccines have become more widely available. However, 1 in 4 remain unwilling to get the shot, even though most are satisfied with the vaccine rollout so far,” the university said in a press release. “The Monmouth University Poll also finds that public opinion of how state governors and federal health agencies have handled the pandemic remain largely positive, although not quite as positive as they were at its onset one year ago. Confidence in President Joe Biden’s ability to get the outbreak under control has dipped since he first took office, but remains largely positive.”
Covid-19: Essex boy's lockdown art project raises £100k for NHS charity
In England, a 12-year-old boy's lockdown art project has raised about £100,000 for charity, after 250 artists came forward to help him. Noah, who has hydrocephalus, epilepsy and cerebral palsy, began painting on cardboard at home in Dedham, Essex, a year ago. His father posted on Instagram, asking artists to finish the pictures. More than 200 pieces were then auctioned on eBay and raised more than £80,000, with the rest made up from book sales featuring the art and donations. Noah's father Nathan Jones said they had originally hoped to raise £500 and were "absolutely stunned" by the total.
Working Remotely
As Remote Work Becomes the Norm, Vast New Possibilities Open for People With Autism
By normalizing remote work for everybody, the pandemic has made it easier for people who don’t adapt well to office environments to thrive. The longtime resistance to supporting remote accommodations for disabled employees evaporated when neurotypical (i.e., not autistic) people had to work from home. At the same time, the growing awareness of neurodiversity—the idea that humans aren’t all wired the same way, and that differences like autism and ADHD also come with unique strengths—means there is more appreciation for what neurodivergent employees can contribute.
Working from home: Remote workers clock up 300 million overtime hours since Covid-19 pandemic began
In Ireland, some 44pc of remote workers are logging longer hours at home while 65pc feel pressure to stay connected afterward. According to a new survey released by Laya healthcare, Irish workers working from home have clocked 300 million overtime hours since the beginning of the pandemic. On average, employees are working 22 hours overtime per month. The study, which surveyed 1,000 Irish employees and 180 HR leaders, also revealed that 43pc of remote workers are experiencing frequent stress, and with at least another month of Level 5 restrictions employers should be wary of employee burnout.
These cities could become the biggest winners and losers as more Americans shift to remote work
The end – or at least a substantial easing – of the COVID-19 pandemic is in sight, but the titanic shift toward remote work that it fostered is expected to endure, at least to some extent. And a trend that allows many Americans to work anywhere is likely to cause a reshuffling of the nation’s 403 metro areas, with some losing residents no longer tethered to local offices and others gaining citizens who can work from home and enjoy a better lifestyle.
Why in-person workers may be more likely to get promoted
Remote work has a lot of benefits, but one major drawback: it may be harder to climb the career ladder when you’re at home. The problem of inequity in promotion between remote and in-person workers has existed since well before the pandemic forced many people into home-work situations. In a 2015 study conducted in China, researchers from the Stanford Graduate School of Business found that while people working from home were more productive – 13% more, to be exact – they weren’t rewarded with promotions at nearly the same rate as their in-office colleagues.
Virtual Classrooms
Could virtual learning continue post-COVID? For some students, the answer may be yes
Howard County, Maryland, schools Superintendent Michael Martirano believes the coronavirus pandemic has taught the system several lessons. The biggest one, which he’s repeated for the past 11 months, is that “there’s more to the educational process than curriculum” — something he says when emphasizing the importance of in-person learning. However, he also recognizes there are some kids in the 57,000-student school system who have fared better in a virtual environment than they did before the pandemic.
Public Policies
Brazil to get extra 5 million COVID-19 doses from Pfizer: economy minister
Brazil’s Economy Minister Paulo Guedes said on Monday that Pfizer Inc will deliver an additional 5 million COVID-19 vaccination doses, which would increase the number of shots expected from the drugmaker by the end of June to 14 million. Speaking in Brasilia, Guedes said President Jair Bolsonaro had spoken with the global head of Pfizer and was scheduled to speak with the head of Janssen, the pharmaceutical subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. The government last week said it intended to buy 100 million doses from Pfizer and 38 million from Janssen through the end of December.
EU regulator urges caution on Sputnik COVID-19 vaccine
A senior European Medicines Agency (EMA) official urged European Union members on Sunday to refrain from granting national approvals for Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V while the agency reviews its safety and effectiveness. "We need documents that we can review. We also don't at the moment have data...about vaccinated people. It is unknown. That's why I would urgently advise against giving a national emergency authorisation," EMA managing board head Christa Wirthumer-Hoche told a talk show on Austrian broadcaster ORF. "We can have Sputnik V on the market here in future when the appropriate data have been reviewed. The rolling review has begun now at EMA," she added after the agency said last week it had launched such a review.
East Timor imposes first coronavirus lockdown over outbreak fears
The tiny Southeast Asian nation of East Timor will put its capital city on a coronavirus lockdown for the first time, its government said on Monday, amid fears it could be facing its first local outbreak. A "sanitary fence and mandatory confinement" will be imposed in Dili for seven days from midnight Monday with residents asked to stay home unless necessary to leave, the country's council of ministers said in statement. It said the measure was because of a "high probability of community transmission", but did not elaborate. "It is forbidden to travel, by land, sea or air, out of this municipality, except in duly justified cases for reasons of safety, public health, humanitarian or other that are necessary for the accomplishment of the public interest," it said.
NZ will have enough Pfizer vaccine doses for entire population
New Zealand will buy additional COVID-19 vaccines, developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech, which will be enough to vaccinate the whole country, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday. The government has signed an agreement to buy an extra 8.5 million doses, enough to vaccinate more than 4 million people, Ardern said, adding the vaccines were expected to reach the country in the second half of the year. “This brings our total Pfizer order to 10 million doses or enough for 5 million people to get the two shots needed to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” Ardern said in a statement.
Canada takes steps to make 'feminist' budget addressing women's post-pandemic challenges
Canada on Monday unveiled an all-woman task force to ensure that its upcoming budget, set to include billions in post-pandemic stimulus spending, includes measures to get women working and address gender inequality. The Task Force on Women in the Economy will also advise the federal government on actions to address gender imbalances exacerbated by COVID-19. Canadian women are more likely than men to have lost jobs in the pandemic, and three times more women than men have left the labor force entirely since February 2020.
Israel starts vaccinating Palestinian workers after delays
Israel, which has faced criticism for excluding Palestinians from its vaccination campaign, started to inoculate Palestinians working in the country and in settlments in the occupied West Bank, more than two months after launching an immunisation blitz of its own population. Palestinian labourers who crossed into Israel at several occupied West Bank checkpoints received their first doses of the Moderna vaccine on Monday. Some 100,000 Palestinian labourers from the West Bank work in Israel and its settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
Maintaining Services
Covid-19: Vaccine offers for all those aged 56 or over
People aged 56 to 59 in England are being invited to book their coronavirus vaccine from this week. Letters for people in the age group, offering them the vaccine, started being delivered to homes on Saturday. It comes after eight in 10 people aged 65 to 69 have taken up the offer of a jab, NHS England said. But the Office for National Statistics (ONS ) has warned the UK is "not out of the woods yet". More than 18 million people in England have already had one dose of the vaccine - over a third of the entire adult population.
Retired medics administer vaccine to ex-colleagues
In Bristol, England, two married doctors have come out of retirement to give their former colleagues coronavirus vaccinations. Emergency physician Dr Jason Kendall, 55, retired in July after 37 years and was given a hand clap guard of honour when he left Southmead Hospital. Palliative care lead Dr Clare Kendall, 56, retired from North Bristol NHS Trust in October 2019 after 38 years. "You cannot sit around and see your colleagues struggling to cope in this pandemic," she said.
Serbia's nurses too busy to celebrate Women's Day as COVID-19 cases rise
Almost a year after they admitted Serbia’s first COVID-19 patient, women doctors and nurses at the Clinical Center hospital in the northern city of Novi Sad are still at the frontline in the fight against the disease. Instead of a traditional International Women’s Day party, a legacy from the decades of communist rule, they spent most of their working day on Monday treating severely ill people. The risk of catching the disease which has killed 150 doctors and nurses in Serbia is great and their work is physically and psychologically demanding. “Emotions are involved in treating patients, especially when they are fully conscious and scared,” nurse Maja Cvjetkovic told Reuters. “Sometimes we sing to them.”
Moderna taps Baxter to support fill and finish of 60-90 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
Moderna's two-shot vaccine is one of the three COVID-19 vaccines authorized for emergency use in the United States along with Pfizer/BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson's. Moderna, which expects to make 700 million to 1 billion doses of its vaccine this year, said in February that supply to the United States had lagged recently because of "short-term delays" in the final stages of production at its contractor Catalent Inc. The company had signed a pact with Catalent last year to help support filling and packaging vials with its vaccine.
Local pharmacists step up in COVID-19 vaccination effort
In the U.S., local pharmacy owners are filling in the gaps as federal, state and county authorities across the country struggle to ramp up vaccinations vital to crushing the COVID-19 pandemic. In some small towns across the U.S., an independent pharmacy is the only local place where residents can get a COVID-19 vaccination. President Joe Biden recently celebrated the injection of the 50 millionth dose of COVID-19 vaccine since his inauguration. But the huge undertaking has been hampered by vaccine shortages and concerns whether marginalized communities are getting access to shots. The hope is that local pharmacies will now play a key role in getting more Americans inoculated
France ramps up weekend COVID-19 vaccinations after slow start
Thousands of people across France flocked to vaccination centres on Sunday as the government stepped up inoculations against the coronavirus to ease the load on hospitals and stave off further restrictions. French authorities have come under criticism for the slow vaccination rollout, which has so far targeted the most vulnerable only. About 3.58 million people of France’s 67 million population have received a first jab compared to neighbouring Britain, which is nearing 23 million.
English children head back to school after two months of home learning
Millions of English children and teenagers headed back to school on Monday for the first time in two months, having endured their second extended stretch of home learning because of a strict national lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. The reopening of English schools to all pupils is the first step in a four-stage government plan to ease the lockdown while trying to prevent a new surge in infections after a devastating winter wave that severely strained hospitals. Since the start of the pandemic, Britain has recorded 124,500 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, the fifth highest official death toll in the world and the worst in Europe.
Japan COVID-19 inoculations off to snail pace start due to vaccine, syringe shortages
Japan’s COVID-19 inoculation campaign is moving at a glacial pace, hampered by a lack of supply and a shortage of specialty syringes that underscore the enormous challenge it faces in its aim to vaccinate every adult by the year’s end. Since the campaign began three weeks ago, just under 46,500 doses had been administered to frontline medical workers as of Friday. At the current rate, it would take 126 years to vaccinate Japan’s population of 126 million. Supplies are, however, expected to increase in the coming months. By contrast, South Korea, which began its vaccinations a week later than Japan, had administered nearly seven times more shots as of Sunday. Unlike many other countries, Japan requires clinical trials for new medicines, including vaccines, to be conducted with Japanese patients, slowing down the approval process.
Healthcare Innovations
Intellectual disability, obesity tied to COVID-19 hospitalization, death
The first study, led by researchers from Jefferson Health in Philadelphia and published late last week as a commentary in the New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst, involved analyzing the medical records of 558,672 US COVID-19 patients from January 2019 to November 2020. Patients with intellectual disabilities had higher rates of coronavirus infection than those without those limitations (3.1% vs 0.9%). In unadjusted analysis, compared with the 431,669 patients without intellectual disabilities, the 127,003 patients with intellectual disabilities were more susceptible to hospitalization (63.1% vs. 29.1%), intensive care unit (ICU) admission (14.5% vs. 6.3%), and death (8.2% vs. 3.8%).
Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine neutralizes Brazil variant in lab study
The COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE was able to neutralize a new variant of the coronavirus spreading rapidly in Brazil, according to a laboratory study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Monday. Blood taken from people who had been given the vaccine neutralized an engineered version of the virus that contained the same mutations carried on the spike portion of the highly contagious P.1 variant first identified in Brazil, the study conducted by scientists from the companies and the University of Texas Medical Branch found