"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 31st Mar 2021

Isolation Tips
Loneliness in Mid-Life Linked to Higher Odds for Alzheimer's
Middle-aged folks who feel persistently lonely appear to have a nearly doubled risk of developing dementia or Alzheimer's disease, a new study reports. If you take steps to counter your loneliness, however, you might actually reduce your dementia risk, the researchers found. It might be that people who can recover from loneliness are more psychologically resilient and better able to respond to age-related brain changes, said senior researcher Dr. Wendy Qiu, a professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine.
Hygiene Helpers
Airlines call for rapid Covid tests to be used to allow international travel this summer 'because they work just as well as hotel quarantine'
Airlines are calling for rapid Covid tests to be used as standard for international travellers to 'reopen' the industry. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) union has published research claiming that using rapid tests could work as well as a 10-day quarantine policy. And it said the cost and time required to use proper lab-based PCR tests to test travellers would keep the holiday industry on its knees
Biden implores US to take COVID-19 seriously as cases climb
As a possible fourth COVID-19 pandemic surge looms even amid expanded access to vaccines, President Joe Biden yesterday urged states and cities to reinstate face mask mandates and bid Americans to behave responsibly, the New York Times reports. "Please, this is not politics—reinstate the mandate," Biden said. "The failure to take this virus seriously is precisely what got us into this mess in the first place." Following similar patterns in Europe, average daily US coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are up nearly 19% over the previous 2 weeks, including a foreboding spike in northeastern states, as coronavirus variants rapidly supplant less transmissible strains. COVID-19 cases are rising in 30 states, Forbes reports today.
Scientists warn new COVID mutations in a year as vaccines stall
Leading health experts from around the world warned the slow roll-out of vaccines and unequal distribution could mean the shots become ineffective as new coronavirus mutations appear within the next year. Seventy-seven scientists – from leading academic institutions from around the globe – participated in the survey with about 30 percent suggesting second-generation vaccines will be needed as soon as in nine months, unless vaccines become more widely produced and distributed around the world.
Scientists say ministers to ditch ‘rigid’ Covid rules and teach public how to reduce risk of transmission
Ministers should stop telling people to stick to “rigid” coronavirus rules and instead focus more on explaining how they can reduce the risk of catching the disease, a senior Government scientist has said. The Government loosened Covid-19 restrictions today, implementing a new Rule of Six in England, allowing six people or two households to meet outdoors, including in private gardens. Scientists believe the next step in easing the measures could lead to a rise in Covid-19 cases as people will be more likely to bend the rules after three months of a winter lockdown.
Reading and Leeds Festival: Covid vaccine passport need 'likely'
Music fans at this year's Reading and Leeds Festivals will "almost certainly" need some sort of vaccine passport, the organiser has said. Festival boss Melvin Benn said he was confident the events would go ahead after plans to ease lockdown were announced in February. But he said it was likely festival-goers would have to prove they were Covid-free or had been vaccinated. The twin-site festival is due to take place between 27 and 29 August. Under the government's plan, limits on social contact in England could be gone by 21 June, if Covid is under control.
Covid: Secret filming exposes contamination risk at test results lab
Secret filming at one of the biggest UK Covid testing labs has found evidence of potential contamination, discarded tests and pressure to hit targets. A BBC reporter working as a lab technician, filmed staff cutting corners and processing samples in a way that could cause contamination. This means some people who had taken a test via NHS Test and Trace may have received no result or a wrong result. The lab said it had followed all necessary rules and regulations. Evidence at the lab captured on film shows: Checks to ensure samples could be identified, were rushed, meaning tests were sometimes discarded unnecessarily. Some test samples "glooped" across an area where other samples had been placed, risking contamination. Swabs used by people to take Covid tests were left in their tubes when processed, presenting a further contamination risk. A quality control scientist telling the reporter that the quality of the results progressively got worse throughout the day. The findings have led experts to question the way the lab was operating.
Community Activities
Sir Lenny Henry has written an open letter urging black Britons to take the Covid-19 vaccine
Film stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton, author Malorie Blackman and radio DJ Trevor Nelson are among the signatories of an open letter written by Sir Lenny Henry urging black Britons to take the Covid-19 vaccine. In the letter, actor and comedian Sir Lenny acknowledged the "legitimate worries and concerns" that people feel, adding: "We know change needs to happen and that it's hard to trust some institutions and authorities." He said: "But we're asking you to trust the facts about the vaccine from our own professors, doctors, scientists involved in the vaccine's development, GPs, not just in the UK but across the world including the Caribbean and Africa.
Trapped in gloves, tangled in masks: Covid PPE killing animals, report finds
The masks and gloves protecting people from coronavirus are proving a deadly threat to wildlife when thrown away, a report has found. A fish trapped in the finger of a rubber glove in the Netherlands, a penguin in Brazil with a mask in its stomach and a fox in the UK entangled in a mask were among the victims. The researchers searched news sites and social media posts from litter collectors, birdwatchers, wildlife rescue centres, and veterinarians and found incidents on land and in water across the world. But they said much more information is needed and have launched a website where anyone can submit a report. The study, published in the journal Animal Biology, is the first overview of cases of entanglement, entrapping and ingestion of Covid-19 litter by animals. The PPE litter was mainly single-use latex gloves and single-use masks, consisting of rubber strings and mostly polypropylene fabric.
Working Remotely
Northern Ireland Civil Service in union talks about remote working for 23,000-strong workforce
The Northern Ireland Civil Service is in talks with trade unions about future remote working for up to 23,000 workers, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal. The Department of Finance, responsible for personnel matters in the NI Civil Service (NICS), said the remote working habit established in the pandemic was here to stay. Regional hubs are being prepared for workers in locations outside Belfast, such as Downpatrick, Craigavon and Ballykelly.
5 Ways Leaders Can Remotely Help Teams Adjust To The Future Of Work
While many organizations are preparing to return to the office this fall, if there’s anything this last year has taught us, it’s that the future is unknown. Whether you’re a remote worker, virtual learner, or a stay-at-home parent, you’re likely experiencing pandemic fatigue right now. The reality is there may be months of remote work ahead as we adjust to the future of work. Here are some ways you can beat the fatigue and ensure that you and your team are not only surviving but thriving remotely as you strategically prepare for what the new normal will be in the upcoming months for your organization and team
The hybrid office is here to stay. The shift could be more disruptive than the move to all-remote work.
The post-vaccine workplace is taking shape, and for many it’s going to be a hybrid model, allowing more remote work but with clear expectations that some days a week will be in the office. Workforce experts are bracing for a whole new set of post-pandemic upheavals, in some instances more transformative than the unplanned move to working from home last March, with some making efforts to avoid pre-pandemic remote-work mistakes. “In a lot of ways it’s going to be more disruptive than when we went all remote,” said Brian Kropp, vice president of research at Gartner. New videoconferencing technology will be added to help in-person and remote workers feel as if they’re on a level playing field. Managers will undergo extensive training to fight against the instinct to give workers in the office preferential treatment. Logistics will be coordinated to ensure those who go into the office don’t get there and find the building empty, perhaps by setting core hours or days for on-site work.
Remote Work Is Leading To More Gender And Racial Harassment, Say Tech Workers
Tech workers say they have experienced more harassment based on gender, age and race or ethnicity while working remotely during the pandemic, according to a survey from a nonprofit group that advocates for diversity in Silicon Valley. The increases were highest among women, transgender and nonbinary people, and Asian, Black, Latinx and Indigenous people. For example, more than 1 in 4 respondents said they experienced more gender-based harassment. That figure increased, when race and gender identity were accounted for, to 39% of Asian woman and nonbinary people; 38% of Latinx woman and nonbinary people; and 42% of transgender people.
Virtual Classrooms
Parents get to choose online or in-person for their children for 2021-2022 school year
School boards across the country have been planning for the next school year and many have decided to continue with online learning. Both Edmonton public and Catholic school boards announced they will continue to offer online classrooms in the new school year. Edmonton Public Schools said it offered a choice for the first half of the year and if a full return to in-person learning is not possible for the second half, families will once again select their preferred learning option.
Virtual school resulted in 'significant' academic learning loss, study finds
After a year of school closings and distance learning amid the coronavirus crisis, more than half of public school K-12 teachers said the pandemic resulted in a “significant” learning loss for students, both academically and from a social-emotional standpoint, according to a report by Horace Mann. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also suggested that virtual learning “might present more risks than in-person instruction related to child and parental mental and emotional health and some health-supporting behaviors.”
Public Policies
Novavax COVID-19 vaccine could be approved by UK in April, Evening Standard says
Britain could approve Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine next month, the chief investigator for the shot's trial told the Evening Standard newspaper. “The regulator will do a very detailed and thorough review and will decide in good time,” said Professor Paul Heath, chief investigator for the Novavax jab trial in the UK. “I would hope it would be in the spring, possibly end of April.”
Brazil’s Bolsonaro shakes up cabinet as pressure mounts over Covid
Brazil’s president Jair Bolsonaro has announced a sweeping reshuffle of his cabinet, including new foreign and defence ministers, as political pressure mounts on the rightwing leader to get a handle on the Covid-19 crisis. With Latin America’s biggest nation battling its darkest episode of the pandemic, a day of resignations and rumours ended with a new line-up for a government struggling to contain a second, more deadly wave of the disease. Ernesto Araújo, the country’s top diplomat, offered to quit on Monday, according to local media, following calls from lawmakers unhappy with Brazil’s efforts to acquire coronavirus vaccines.
Scotland to lift ‘stay at home’ orders from Friday as lockdown eases
Scotland’s ‘Stay at Home’ rule will be lifted this Friday and replaced by a ‘Stay Local’ message, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed. The First Minister also announced that hairdressers and barbers across the country can reopen from Monday as restrictions are eased.
Vienna Plans to Extend Easter Lockdown Until Following Weekend: Minister
Vienna plans to extend an Easter coronavirus lockdown by five days until the following Sunday, Austria's health minister said on Monday, while two nearby provinces introducing the same restrictions are still undecided on prolonging them. The eastern provinces of Lower Austria, which surrounds Vienna, Burgenland, which borders Hungary, and the capital itself last week announced a lockdown from Thursday, April 1 to Tuesday, April 6, closing non-essential shops and replacing a nighttime curfew with all-day restrictions on movement
Turkey tightens coronavirus measures, brings back weekend lockdowns: Erdogan
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan announced tighter measures against the coronavirus on Monday, citing the rising number of high-risk cities across the country. Erdogan said a full weekend lockdown was to be in place during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, and restaurants would only serve food for delivery and take-outs. A curfew from 9 pm until 5 am across the country will continue, Erdogan said. Turkey has recorded 32,404 new coronavirus cases in the space of 24 hours, the highest number this year, health ministry data showed on Monday.
Berlin suspends use of AstraZeneca vaccine for below-60s
The German state of Berlin is again suspending the use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine for people below 60 over reports of blood clots. Berlin’s top health official, Dilek Kalayci, said on Tuesday that the decision was taken as a precaution before a meeting of representatives from all of Germany’s 16 states after the country’s medical regulator reported 31 cases of rare blood clots in people who had recently received the vaccine. Of them, nine people died.
World leaders, WHO back treaty to prepare for future pandemics
As the world battles the biggest health crisis in recent history, leaders of 23 countries and the World Health Organization (WHO) have said an international treaty for pandemic preparedness will protect future generations. The idea of such a treaty, aimed at tightening rules on sharing information and ensuring universal and equitable access to vaccines, as well as medicines and diagnostics for pandemics, was first floated late last year by European Council President Charles Michel.
Chile imposes lockdowns to fight new Covid wave despite vaccination success
Despite mounting the world’s fastest per-capita Covid-19 vaccination campaign, Chile has been forced to announce strict new lockdowns as it plunges deeper into a severe second wave of cases which is stretching intensive care capacity. Chile trails only Israel and the UAE in vaccine doses per 100 inhabitants worldwide, but new cases have risen quickly amid mixed health messaging, travel over the southern hemisphere summer holidays and the circulation of new variants.
Maintaining Services
COVID-19: Up to 60m vaccine doses to be manufactured at Barnard Castle, Boris Johnson says
Up to 60 million doses of COVID vaccine will be manufactured at Barnard Castle in the North East, Boris Johnson has announced. The prime minister revealed that the Novavax jab - which has yet to be approved - will undergo its "fill and finish" stage at a GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) facility. Part of the vaccine is already being produced in the North East, at a Fujifilm site in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees, as it awaits approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
To broaden vaccine access, Maryland turns to doctors’ offices
After months of waiting, primary care doctors in Maryland are receiving small batches of coronavirus vaccines to administer to patients — part of the state’s latest effort to broaden vaccine access and reach minority communities struggling to navigate complex registration systems. Maryland on Friday concluded a pilot program that distributed vaccine doses to 37 primary care practices, most of which serve primarily Black or Latino patients. The pilot was a success, said Howard Haft, director of the Maryland Primary Care Program, and starting this week, the program will become a “full-fledged” part of the state’s vaccine infrastructure, with doses going out to 90 of 400 enrolled practices.
BioNTech increases Covid vaccine production target to 2.5bn doses
BioNTech and Pfizer plan to manufacture an additional 500m doses of their Covid-19 vaccine this year, bringing their production target to 2.5bn shots. The German biotechnology group said in its annual earnings report on Tuesday that increased output was possible thanks to optimised production processes and an expansion of its manufacturing and supply network. “We have increased our supply target for 2021 to 2.5bn doses,” said Ugur Sahin, chief executive. “This will require further process improvements and further expansion of our supplier and [marketing] network, but we believe we are on track to achieve this.”
GSK to help manufacture 60m doses of Novavax Covid vaccine in UK
British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline will be part of the manufacturing process for up to 60m doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by US rival Novavax in an agreement set to boost UK production of coronavirus jabs. The vaccine has yet to receive the green light from UK regulators, but is expected to be submitted for approval over the next three months after showing strong efficacy in a recent late-stage trial, including against the more transmissible B.1.1.7 variant circulating in the UK. Under an agreement in principle with Novavax and the UK government’s Vaccines Taskforce, GSK will “fill and finish” 60m doses of the vaccine, preparing the vials and packaging the finished doses for distribution, the company said.
Biggest share of Indian-made vaccines for UN drive stays in India
India itself has received more than one-third of the nearly 28 million Indian-made AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered so far by the global programme for poor countries, according to data from UNICEF and a source. The revelation that most of the doses India supplied to the COVAX programme never actually left the country could add to criticism of India and COVAX after New Delhi decided this month to delay big exports of vaccines that poor countries around the world had been counting on.
Hospitals in Ecuador's capital overwhelmed by COVID-19 infections, doctors say
Ecuador’s health system is under severe strain from a spike in coronavirus infections, doctors in the country’s capital said on Tuesday, adding that some Quito hospitals are working above capacity to treat COVID-19 patients. Ecuador’s suffered a brutal outbreak of coronavirus in early 2020, primarily in the largest city of Guayaquil. Authorities controlled the situation after several months, but in recent weeks have seen cases jump in cities around the country. “The saturation of the health system is not only in Quito but at the national level,” Dr. Victor Alvarez, president of the doctors association of the state of Pichincha, where Quito is located, told reporters. “Seeing images of patients lying on the ground, or perhaps on a military mattress, receiving oxygen in emergency units, that’s sad.”
Healthcare Innovations
No rare blood clots in first 440,000 people vaccinated for coronavirus in Wales
No cases of a blood clotting disorder have been found in the first 440,000 people vaccinated against Covid-19 in Wales. Scientists in Swansea University looked at anonymised patient data between January 1, 2019 and January 31, 2021 to determine whether there had been a rise in cases of venous sinus thromboembolism. The extremely rare condition was found in a small number of patients in Norway and Germany and was one of the reasons why several European countries decided to temporarily halt the use of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. However the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said there has been no confirmation the reports of blood clots were caused by the vaccine.
Covid: Half of UK has antibodies from vaccination or infection
Roughly half of people in the UK now have antibodies against Covid, either through infection or vaccination, tests conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show. Most of this will be through vaccination - with 30 million people having received at least one dose. Antibodies are proteins in the blood which recognise specific infections and fight them off. Among the oldest who are most at risk, levels are even higher. But there has been a small decline in detectable antibodies in that group since the peak of infections in January.
Covid jab probably does protect those around you
The Covid-19 vaccine blocks pretty much all cases of serious illness - but the government has been much more cautious about saying whether it stops people carrying the virus and infecting others. Until evidence had built up from lots of people being vaccinated, scientists could not say for sure if the jab would stop transmission - and there was concern those vaccinated might stop taking precautions, potentially leading to a rise in infections. But with some now refusing the vaccine in the belief it will not stop them passing on the virus, is this caution becoming counterproductive? A number of people have contacted the BBC, saying they believe the jab could stop them becoming severely ill only.
Many hospitalized Covid-19 patients are given antibiotics. That’s a problem
As the Covid-19 pandemic continues into its second year, public health experts are increasingly concerned that the response to this global crisis may be accelerating another one: the development and persistence of the antibiotic-resistant bacteria known as superbugs. Why? All antibiotic use hastens the emergence of resistance. And although antibiotics aren’t used to treat Covid-19, which is a viral illness, they’re often prescribed to Covid-19 patients who are at risk for bacterial infection. New research from our organization, the Pew Charitable Trusts, sheds additional light on the extent to which antibiotics are being prescribed unnecessarily in the midst of the pandemic. In a study of nearly 6,000 hospital admissions between February and July 2020 among patients with Covid-19, at least one course of antibiotics was given to more than half (52%) during their hospital stays.
T cells induced by COVID-19 infection respond to new virus variants: U.S. study
A critical component of the immune system known as T cells that respond to fight infection from the original version of the novel coronavirus appear to also protect against three of the most concerning new virus variants, according to a U.S. laboratory study released on Tuesday. Several recent studies have shown that certain variants of the novel coronavirus can undermine immune protection from antibodies and vaccines. But antibodies - which block the coronavirus from attaching to human cells - may not tell the whole story, according to the study by researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). T cells appear to play an important additionally protective role. “Our data, as well as the results from other groups, shows that the T cell response to COVID-19 in individuals infected with the initial viral variants appears to fully recognize the major new variants identified in the UK, South Africa and Brazil,” said Andrew Redd of the NIAID and Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who led the study.