"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 25th Mar 2021

Isolation Tips
COVID-19: How a year in lockdown has affected young people's mental health
In January, ten months into our year of lockdowns, a Yale university study found that frequent and longer face-to-face social interactions are associated with lower loneliness rates. But physical contact has reduced by 74% compared with pre-pandemic levels, a study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found. Studies in Luxembourg and the US concluded similar drops. One way to see how our social interactions have decreased is to look at the journeys we made since that first lockdown a year ago.
Action needed to tackle post-Covid 'loneliness emergency', MPs say
Britain needs more benches, public toilets and street lighting to encourage lonely people to start mixing socially again once the lockdown ends, MPs and peers say. Action is needed to tackle a “loneliness emergency” that the Covid pandemic has exacerbated by denying people contact with family and friends, the parliamentarians say. The call comes as new polling by the British Red Cross shows that more than a third (35%) of Britons feel less connected to their community than they did before Covid-19 struck and 39% do not think their feelings of loneliness will go away once the restrictions on everyday life lift.
Hygiene Helpers
Britain to launch new health security agency to battle pandemics
Britain will launch a new health security agency next week to better prepare for and tackle pandemics by bringing together its testing, analytical and scientific capabilities, health minister Matt Hancock said on Wednesday. The new agency, called the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), will be headed up by Jenny Harries, England’s deputy chief medical officer, who has been at the forefront of the government’s efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Britain has one of the highest death tolls from the novel coronavirus but is gradually easing the latest lockdown under a four-step plan underpinned by the success of its vaccination programme.
The hidden ideological obstacles to vaccination
So far, most world governments have managed to weather the storm of COVID-19. Countless administrations that have been unable or unwilling to implement the necessary measures to protect their citizens from the deadly virus are still in office over a year into the pandemic. This, however, could soon change as countries have now entered a race to vaccinate their citizens against COVID-19, reach herd immunity and, finally, leave this unprecedented public health emergency behind. Governments around the world are aware that the fastest and least-costly way out of this pandemic is through widespread vaccination. However, rapid mass vaccination has proved elusive for many countries for multiple reasons – many of them political or even ideological rather than practical.
Community Activities
New Zealand Olympians to get early access to Covid-19 vaccine
Athletes representing New Zealand at the Tokyo Olympics later this year will be able to apply to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before they depart. Chris Hipkins, the minister responsible for New Zealand's response to the global health crisis, said people would be eligible to jump the queue for the vaccine on compassionate grounds or to compete in events of "national significance". The latter category would include Olympians, Paralympians and the national cricket team, who will be travelling to Britain to play India in the final of the ICC World Test Championship in June.
Covid community heroes honoured in art project
An art project has named eleven people and organisations as "community heroes" from around Derbyshire. First Art, as part of its Shine a Light campaign, have recognised them for their commitment and for going the extra mile during the Covid-19 pandemic. Nods could be given for all manner of selfless acts, as long as they helped others during this difficult year of their lives. Among the winners is a motorcyclist, Simon Jones, who helped deliver PPE to those need around Clay Cross by setting up Volunteer Riders UK.
Facebook, Twitter must do more to stop COVID-19 anti-vaxxers, US states say
Attorneys general for 12 U.S. states on Wednesday accused Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc of doing too little to stop people from using their platforms to spread false information that coronavirus vaccines are unsafe. In a letter to Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, the Democratic attorneys general said “anti-vaxxers” lacking medical expertise and often motivated by financial gain have used the platforms to downplay the danger of COVID-19 and exaggerate the risks of vaccination. They called on both companies to enforce their own community guidelines by removing or flagging vaccine misinformation.
Working Remotely
Majority of Australians want a combination of office and remote work
Just 10 per cent of Australians want to return to the office at the end of the COVID-19 pandemic according to a "startling" new study, says Sky News host Peta Credlin. Research from PwC shows three quarters of workers want a combination of office and remote work, while a further 16 per cent say they want to permanently work from home," Ms Credlin said.
Britain's Nationwide tells all 13,000 staff: 'work anywhere'
Britain’s Nationwide Building Society has told all its 13,000 office-based staff to work from anywhere in the country, in one of the clearest signs yet firms are making permanent the remote working arrangements put in place during the COVID-19 crisis. The lender said on Thursday it will not renew the leases on three of its offices in its hometown of Swindon in the southwest of England but will retain its headquarters there along with other regional hubs. Nationwide’s move goes even further than some British banks such as HSBC and Lloyds, which have said they will cut office space but are likely still to require staff to come in on some days.
Working from home and flexing hours will become the norm
Ministers are preparing to make flexible working a permanent feature of British life after coronavirus, with plans to strengthen employees’ rights to work from home or ask for different hours. The government will start a public consultation later this year on how to extend flexible working, potentially ensuring that people who have transitioned to a hybrid of home and office working during the pandemic will be able to maintain that pattern. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is likely to look at ways to strengthen the existing legal right to request flexible working. Under the present rules, employees can formally ask for changes to their working pattern. The employer must deal with the request in a “reasonable manner” and make a decision within three months. In addition to extending the existing scheme, the plans could go further, with consideration being given to introducing a right to request ad hoc flexible working
Virtual Classrooms
Students of color more likely to be learning virtually during pandemic: survey
Students of color are more likely to be engaged in virtual learning this year as more schools reopen for in-person classes, according to data released Wednesday by the Department of Education. The survey, the first in the department's series of national studies on learning during the coronavirus pandemic, measured attendance and method of instruction among fourth and eighth graders nationwide as of January into early February. At the time, about 68 percent of Asian students were only learning remotely, as well as 58 percent of Black students and 56 percent of Hispanic students. Comparatively, just 27 percent of white students were receiving all-virtual instruction.
A year of online classes, exams: COVID-19 prompts shift to 'new normal' in teaching and learning
A year of learning in 'smartphone class rooms' and appearing for 'WhatsApp exams', virtual campus tours to Zoom placement drives and ultimately massive increase in 'screen time', the last academic session will go down in history as beginning of the "new normal" prompted by coronavirus-induced lockdown. While students miss going to schools or colleges, experts say the "new normal" has opened doors for blended learning which is going to stay in the future and is not just a "stop gap arrangement". The new normal also exposed the digital divide in the country where students, parents and teachers scrambled to find ways for those who did not have access to internet or digital devices.
Public Policies
Brazil Could Approve Russian Coronavirus Vaccine in Days, Says Pharmaceutical Firm
The Brazilian pharmaceutical company that plans to produce Russia's coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V said on Tuesday it expects to overcome regulatory obstacles in "two or three" days to obtain authorization to make and sell the shot in Brazil. After a 5-hour video conference with União Quimica executives and members of Moscow's Gamaleya Institute, Brazil's health regulator Anvisa said there was still information missing before it could approve the vaccine.
India: Delhi orders Covid tests at airports as cases surge
India's capital, Delhi, will begin randomised Covid tests at airports, bus stops and train stations amid what some experts say is a second wave. Mumbai, a financial hub and virus hotspot, ordered mandatory testing in busy areas earlier this week. Cases have surged in recent weeks - on Wednesday, India reported more than 47,000 new cases and 275 deaths, it's highest this year. It has reported more than 11.7 million cases and 160,000 deaths so far
After backlash, Merkel ditches stricter Easter lockdown
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday rejected demands for a vote of confidence in her government over a U-turn on a circuit-breaker lockdown over Easter that compounded discontent with her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Merkel’s decision to ditch plans for an extended Easter holiday to try to break a third wave of COVID-19 agreed two days earlier during talks with governors of Germany’s 16 states raised concerns that she has lost her grip on the crisis. “No, I will not do that,” said Merkel, when asked about calls by all three opposition parties that she submit a vote of confidence. “I asked people today to forgive me for a mistake. This was the right thing to do, I believe. I also have the support of the whole federal government and parliament.”
Belgium imposes new lockdown to fight third COVID-19 wave
Belgium will close schools, non-food stores and hairdressers for four weeks from Saturday, in a sharp renewed lockdown designed to contain a rising third wave of COVID-19 infections. A year on from the first pandemic shutdown, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo told a news conference that the variant of the virus first discovered in Britain had become dominant in the country and led to a doubling of COVID-19 patients in hospitals. More than 22,000 people have died from COVID-19 in Belgium, among the world’s highest per capita fatality rates. Infections, which were running at a daily average of about 2,000 for three months, are now more than double that level
Hong Kong, Macau suspend Pfizer vaccine amid ‘packaging issue’
Hong Kong and Macau have suspended the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines because of a defect in the packaging of one batch of doses, officials said on Wednesday. Vials with lot number 210102 were found to have defective packaging, authorities said, and an investigation was under way. “For the sake of precaution, the current vaccination must be suspended during the period of investigation,” Hong Kong’s government said in a statement, noting there had been “deviations in the vial seal”. Vaccinations using a second batch – 210104 – were also suspended, it added. It did not elaborate on whether that batch was similarly affected.
Coronavirus: EU and UK try to end row with 'win-win' on vaccines
After weeks of tensions over Covid vaccine supplies, the UK government and European Commission have said they are working together to improve their relationship over the pandemic. They said they wanted to "create a win-win situation and expand vaccine supply for all our citizens". The Commission earlier proposed tougher export controls on vaccines, amid tensions over AstraZeneca supplies. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned that "blockades" were not "sensible". The joint EU-UK statement said that "openness and global co-operation" would be key to tackling the pandemic. However, there was little harmony earlier when the Commission announced plans for all shipments of vaccines to be assessed on the destination country's rate of vaccinations and vaccine exports. The proposals, to be put before EU leaders on Thursday, are seen as focused on the UK and US in particular.
Qatar reimposes coronavirus-related restrictions
Qatar has announced a series of coronavirus-related restrictions on education, leisure and business activities including closing gyms and restricting restaurant capacity. The measures, announced in a cabinet statement on Wednesday, will come into effect on Friday as the country battles a surge in new COVID-19 infections.
Maintaining Services
‘Brazil is suffocating’: COVID surge creates severe oxygen crisis
Earlier this year, the jungle city of Manaus sent shockwaves across the globe when hospitals ran out of oxygen with lethal consequences – turning the city into the world’s COVID-19 epicentre. Two months on, Brazil’s COVID catastrophe has never been worse. Now, with new coronavirus variants and a series of grim records of deaths and infections, there are fears that a lack of oxygen supplies seen in Manaus, the Amazonas state capital, could unfold elsewhere.
Half of adults in Scotland to have first dose of Covid-19 vaccine by end of day
More half of adults in Scotland will have received a first dose of coronavirus vaccinate by the end of Wednesday, Nicola Sturgeon has announced. The First Minister also confirmed the Scottish Government is on course to have offered a first dose to all adults by the end of July, supplies permitting. As she announced three deaths of coronavirus patients and 692 new cases have been recorded in Scotland in the past 24 hours, she said the Scottish Government is also set to have offered a first vaccine jag to to all the JCVI priority groups by mid-April.
Coronavirus: NI 'a month ahead' of Ireland on vaccines
Northern Ireland is about a month ahead of the Republic of Ireland's Covid-19 vaccination programme, according to the taoiseach (Irish prime minister). Micheál Martin said it did not make much sense to talk about north-south vaccination alignment because NI was part of the UK programme while Ireland was part of the EU's. Alignment would be ideal, he said, but "we're not in that situation". An alignment on mandatory quarantines, however, would be "useful", he added.
Covid: Cornwall vaccine centres to close ahead of supply shortage
Two vaccination centres in Cornwall will temporarily close next month following delays importing the coronavirus vaccine into the UK. NHS Kernow confirmed there will be a pause to vaccine appointments at Stithians and Wadebridge. The two centres will be affected during the first half of April, although exact dates have not officially been given. The government said it is sending the available doses to areas which have "further to go" in the vaccine rollout. In a letter to local health organisations last week, the NHS warned of a "significant reduction in the weekly supply" of coronavirus vaccines in England in April.
China triples output of COVID-19 vaccines from early Feb - Xinhua
China's daily output of COVID-19 vaccines has reached about 5 million doses, more than tripling the 1.5 million-dose daily production rate on Feb. 1, official media said on Wednesday. China has supplied more than 100 million doses domestically, the Xinhua news agency said on its social media page, citing Xiao Yaqing, the minister of industry and information technology. A total of 82.85 million vaccine doses were given by Tuesday, China's National Health Commission said on Wednesday. That compares with 74.96 million administered as of the end of Saturday, indicating a significant acceleration of the vaccination drive.
Cuba will administer Covid-19 experimental vaccines to nearly all Havana residents
Cuba will administer experimental Covid-19 shots to nearly the entire population of the capital Havana by May as health authorities carry out massive interventional studies and late stage trials, officials said on Tuesday. Cuba, which has a long history of developing and exporting vaccines, this month began late phase trials of two of its five experimental shots, Soberana 2 and Abdala, which will be Latin America’s first homegrown COVID-19 vaccines if they prove successful. Authorities could seek approval for emergency use of Abdala and Soberana 2, which both target the spike protein of the novel coronavirus, in June
Covid-19: Community pharmacists on front line during pandemic
As the effects of the pandemic began to be felt, and lockdown became a reality, the 528-strong community pharmacy network in Northern Ireland found itself on its own frontline. "We were really the most accessible health professional in the community," said Anita Gribbin, a community pharmacist in Toome, County Antrim. "You nearly don't remember it now, it is like a blur. "And I hasten to add, this wasn't just me, this was every community pharmacy. "You just had to think on your feet - you made changes, we had to make changes in here with regard to social distance. "Obviously masks came in, and we actually all kitted out in scrubs at that stage."
Syria provides Lebanon oxygen supplies amid dire shortages
War-torn Syria promised oxygen supplies to neighbouring Lebanon as both countries struggle with unprecedented economic woes and a surge of coronavirus infections. “We will supply Lebanon with 75 tonnes of oxygen in instalments of 25 tonnes a day for a period of three days,” Health Minister Hasan al-Ghabbash told reporters after a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart on Wednesday.
Central Europe’s hospitals slammed, can’t treat all in need
Poland recorded its highest daily number of new coronavirus infections Wednesday as hospitals buckle under a new surge. Hungary has the highest per capita death rate in the world. And Romanian doctors are working around the clock and having to decide who does — and doesn’t — get a bed in an intensive care unit. The coronavirus pandemic is unleashing enormous suffering as infection rates rise across central Europe even as the Czech Republic and Slovakia — recently among the worst-hit areas in the world — are finally seeing some improvements following tight lockdowns.
Healthcare Innovations
BNT162b2 mRNA Covid-19 Vaccine Effectiveness among Health Care Workers
Since the introduction of Covid-19 vaccines, prioritizing vaccination of health care workers has been advocated, and data on vaccine effectiveness among health care workers in real-world settings is beginning to emerge. In our study that was conducted in an active hospital setting in a community with a high incidence of Covid-19, vaccination of health care workers with the BNT162b2 vaccine resulted in a major reduction of new cases of Covid-19 among those who received two doses of the vaccine, even when a surge of the B.1.1.7 variant was noted in up to 80% of cases.5 These findings suggest that widespread and effective vaccination among health care workers provides a safe environment, even in the presence of a high rate of SARS-CoV-2 infection in the community.
School return has been major factor in plateau of Covid-19 cases, data suggests
The reopening of schools has been a major factor in the recent plateau in Covid-19 cases, new data suggests. Daily case numbers fell rapidly throughout January and February but have remained stagnant at about 500-600 a day over the past month. The National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) and the government have repeatedly said that the staged reopening of schools, which began on February 23, is not responsible for the plateau, instead blaming an increase in people meeting up and socialising. However, data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC) shows that Covid-19 cases in children have increased by almost 20 per cent in the past month while cases among the adult population have decreased by more than 10 per cent.
Covid cases among healthcare workers declined 31% after staff get their first shot - and infection rate falls below 1% after they are fully vaccinated, two studies find
Coronavirus cases among healthcare workers declined dramatically after staff got their first vaccine dose, two new studies have found. In one study of employees at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, 2.6 percent of all workers who were unvaccinated tested positive for COVID-19 compared to 1.82 percent of those given their first shot, a drop of 31 percent. That same study also found that just 0.05 percent of those who received both doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or the Modena vaccine were later infected.
Pfizer launches first clinical trial of a pill to treat COVID-19 that prevents the virus from making copies of itself inside human cells
Pfizer Inc has launched early-stage human trials of an experimental oral drug that could be prescribed to patients at the first sign of infection with COVID-19. The drugmaker, which developed the first authorized COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. with Germany's BioNTech SE, said the antiviral candidate showed 'potent' activity against the virus in lab studies. Pfizer's candidate, which is called PF-07321332, belongs to a class of drugs known as protease inhibitors.