"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 7th Apr 2021

Isolation Tips
Call for more social prescribing to tackle pandemic loneliness
Access to social prescribing services must be expanded to help tackle the mental health consequences of loneliness and isolation caused by Covid-19, according to a report published by two medical royal colleges. The report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of Occupational Therapists shows that many people who would benefit from social prescribing stand to miss out as services are not evenly available across the country, largely due to variability in priority and spending between local areas.
Mental health must be an essential part of the Government’s levelling up plan
As the impact of Covid on physical health thankfully starts to ease, the long-term implications of the pandemic on the mental health of the population is something that we can’t ignore. While many of us have been keeping in touch with others virtually, the absence of real human interaction can lead to increased stress levels and feelings of isolation. Older and vulnerable people may have felt this isolation hardest, with many having to shield for the best part of a year. But loneliness – and the mental health issues that stem from it – are not just a problem for older generations. The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness found that loneliness can affect anyone, regardless of age or background but it particularly impacts carers, refugees and disabled people. Backed by £500 million of funding, the Government recently launched its Mental Health Recovery Action Plan. It is welcome news but to be effective, it’s absolutely vital that funding is focused and targeted at the most deprived communities
Hygiene Helpers
UK minister defends possible domestic use of ‘vaccine passports’
Boris Johnson was on Tuesday forced on to the back foot over so-called Covid passports, as businesses responded coolly to the idea and a senior Tory MP warned they could create “the miserable dystopia of Checkpoint Britain”. The prime minister is facing a major Tory rebellion after the government said on Monday that it wanted to provide some form of certification to help people prove their Covid-19 status, both for overseas travel and for domestic use. But many businesses, including nightclubs, have expressed reservations about their use, while more than 40 Tory MPs have threatened to vote against domestic Covid certificates.
NHS Covid-19 contact tracing app to share QR code venue check-ins
England and Wales' contact tracing app will soon ask users to share details of venues they have checked in to, if they test positive for the coronavirus. The update to the NHS Covid-19 app will be deployed ahead of shops reopening in both nations on 12 April,
Covid-19 prevention: Why a Google Doodle is telling you to wear a mask to save lives today
Today’s Google Doodle is reminding people of the importance of wearing a face covering, to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. The doodle shows each of the letters putting on a mask, and then spreading out so they are socially distanced. It links to resources explaining how best to protect yourself and others, with less than two per cent of the world’s population having been fully vaccinated.
Twice weekly rapid COVID-19 testing to be available to everyone in England
Access to twice weekly, free, regular, rapid coronavirus (COVID-19) testing from 9 April for everyone in England, the Government has announced. Everyone in England, including those without symptoms, will be able to take a free rapid coronavirus (COVID-19) test twice a week. Alongside vaccine rollout, regular testing is at the heart of plans to reopen society and the economy, helping to suppress and control the spread of variants. Updates will be made to the NHS COVID-19 app in England to coincide with the universal testing offer. Everyone in England will be able to access free, regular, rapid coronavirus testing from 9 April, the Government has announced.
White House rules out federal Covid-19 vaccine passports
The White House has insisted it will not introduce mandatory federal Covid-19 vaccine passports, as Republican resistance builds to any sort of vaccine certification system. “The government is not now, nor will we be supporting a system that requires Americans to carry a credential,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, said on Tuesday. “There will be no federal vaccinations database, no federal mandate requiring everyone to obtain a single vaccination credential.” However, officials are willing to work with private companies to help set standards for how such certificates could be used fairly, she added.
Warning about coronavirus vaccine and clots is a sign that the system is working
The efficacy of a vaccine programme is not just a percentage figure. It is not just about antibodies and T-cells. It is also about something far more elusive and far more fragile: faith. After the clinical trials had finished, we were never going to find a high number of serious side effects. By definition, anything that did appear once mass vaccination started had to be rare enough that it had not been spotted in trials of tens of thousands of people.
Meet the foggers, the latest innovation in the war against Covid-19
This new sanitiser gun, then, may seem a late addition to the arsenal, but it’s great to use on larger parcels – and when lockdown is over and we can invite non-bubble people back into our homes, it will be even more useful for disinfecting surfaces quickly and effectively. The Portibac is what’s known in the antiviral business as a fogger. “Fogging” sprays micro-droplets of disinfectant onto surfaces and into cracks and crevices. They’ve taken off in China and are available for a lot less than Portibac’s £125 on websites such as Alibaba. However, Handigroup, the Cheshire PPE company behind Portibac, say it took care to source and improve the best of the bunch. And it’s a quality product, with a satisfying motorised burr when you press the trigger, a variable mist and a useful blue headlight to see where you’re aiming. Many cheaper foggers say their headlight is ultraviolet, but Portibac makes no such claim.
Community Activities
U.K. Community Leaders Step In to Aid Vaccination in Ethnically Diverse Areas
Minority communities in Britain have long felt estranged from the government and medical establishment, but their sense of alienation is suddenly proving more costly than ever amid a coronavirus vaccination campaign that depends heavily on trust. With Britons enjoying one of the fastest vaccination rollouts in the world, skepticism about jabs remains high in many of the very communities where Covid-19 has taken the heaviest toll. “The government’s response to the Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities has been rather limited,” said Dr. Raja Amjid Riaz, 52, a surgeon who is also a leader at the Central Mosque of Brent, an ethnically diverse borough of North London. “Those people have not been catered for.”
Working Remotely
Jump in remote working job adverts
The proportion of UK jobs advertised as “remote working” roles has more than quadrupled in the past year as the pandemic pushes employers to embrace working from home. As of February, 3.6 per cent of roles were advertised as being remote, up from 0.8 per cent a year earlier — before the government told Britons to work from home where possible. The number of remote working roles advertised more than trebled to 78,000, according to analysis by the New Street Consulting Group. It said that the roles generally involved remote working on a permanent basis and did not just reflect temporary arrangements while employers complied with government guidance for social distancing.
Remote working: Is Big Tech going off work from home?
On Wednesday last week, Google's Fiona Cicconi wrote to company employees. She announced that Google was bringing forward its timetable of moving people back into the office. As of 1 September, she said, employees wishing to work from home for more than 14 days would have to apply to do so. Employees were also expected to "live within commuting distance" of offices. The intention was very clear. Sure, you can do more flexible working than you did before - but most people will still have to come into the office. That thinking seemed to fly in the face of much of what we heard from Silicon Valley executives last year, when they championed the virtues of remote working.
Rise & grind: Employers splurge on keeping teams caffeinated while working remotely
Employers kept staff fed and caffeinated while working from home during the pandemic, making up for the loss of coffee and sweets available at the office by expensing Starbucks and Deliveroo orders. Keeping teams fed and caffeinated while working remotely made up nearly 36 per cent of all expenses claimed during January to November 2020, new research found. The research, which looked at sectors in the UK and the Europe, found the healthcare industry claimed the most expenses, taking up 13 per cent of all claims made via the platform.
Virtual Classrooms
Online learning is here to stay in the post-pandemic education system
Paul W. Bennett is the director of the Schoolhouse Institute in Halifax and the author of The State of The System: A Reality Check on Canada’s Schools. He writes: "News that Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce is considering legislation to make remote learning a permanent part of the K-12 public school system has reignited a subterranean education debate over the intrusion of e-learning." "COVID-19′s emergency measures have let the genie out of the bottle, and it will not likely ever be contained as a supplement to regular programs again. After all, in the case of Ontario, about 400,000 of the province’s two million students (20 per cent) have already experienced online learning during the 2020-21 school year. While regular in-person learning is far superior for most students, there’s a good argument to be made for expanding course offerings online."
CDC survey highlights concerns with virtual learning
A recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports what many parents already felt about doing school online from home over the course of several months – concerns that "virtual learning" takes a toll on a child’s mental and emotional health. A recent CDC survey looked at more than 1,200 parents with children between ages 5 and 12. Researchers found those involved with full-time virtual learning or even a hybrid model were more likely to struggle with mental, emotional and physical health. The survey found parents also dealt with emotional distress, job stability issues and child-care worries.
Public Policies
Zimbabwe to Buy One Million Covid-19 Vaccines Each Month
“Our target is that every month, end of April, end of May, end of June, a million doses will be arriving and these will be fully paid for,” Ncube said in an interview with the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp. The southern African nation bought 1.2 million Sinovac vaccines in March for $12 million, according to the Health Ministry. Zimbabwe has given emergency authorization to four vaccines -- SinoPharm, Sinovac, Covaxin and Sputnik-V -- and plans to spend $100 million to inoculate at least two-thirds of its adult population.
Tanzania's new president prioritises COVID-19
Tanzania’s new president Samia Suluhu Hassan on Tuesday drew a line under her predecessor’s controversial stances on COVID-19 and the media, indicating an apparent change in course for the nation after the death of John Magufuli last month. Hassan announced she was forming a committee to research whether Tanzania should follow the course taken by the rest of the world against the pandemic. “We cannot segregate ourselves like an island, but also we cannot blindly accept what is being brought forward to us (on COVID-19) without carrying out our own investigations and inputs,” she told officials at State House in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam. “Let us have a stance.”
Colombia's capital Bogota to enter three-day quarantine from Saturday
Colombia’s capital Bogota will introduce new restrictions this week, including a three-day lockdown starting on Saturday, Mayor Claudia Lopez said, in a bid to curb a third wave of coronavirus infections. The decision to place additional restrictions in Bogota this week follows high growth in coronavirus positive test rates and increasing demand for intensive care units (ICUs), the mayor said late on Monday. “We’re all going to stay at home Saturday, Sunday, and Monday,” Lopez said in a video message, adding that essential workers would still be allowed out. The percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive has doubled to around 20%, Lopez said, while total occupancy of ICUs has hit 70%, according to local health authorities.
AP Interview: India could resume vaccine exports by June
The world’s largest vaccine maker, based in India, will be able to restart exports of AstraZeneca doses by June if new coronavirus infections subside in the country, its chief executive said Tuesday. But a continued surge could result in more delays because the Serum Institute of India would have to meet domestic needs, Adar Poonawalla warned in an interview with The Associated Press. The company is a key supplier for the U.N.-backed COVAX program that aims to distribute vaccines equitably in the world. On March 25, COVAX announced a major setback in its vaccine rollout because a surge in infections in India caused the Serum Institute of India to cater to domestic demand, resulting in a delay in global shipments of up to 90 million doses.
Iran receives first AstraZeneca doses through COVAX
Some 700,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine have been delivered to Iran as part of its purchase of millions of doses through the World Health Organization’s COVAX initiative. As confirmed by an Iranian official and the United Nations’ UNICEF, which handled delivery, the first shipment landed in Tehran’s Imam Khomeini Airport Monday night and included 700,800 doses of the vaccine.
Maintaining Services
COVID-19: Vaccine rollout to be 'considerably slower' until end of July, government advisers say
England's vaccine rollout will be "considerably slower" until the end of July and could drop to 2.5 million doses a week, the government's scientific advisers have said. Previous modelling for SAGE said the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses was predicted to reach up to 3.9 million doses a week. But in the latest paper, published on Monday, scientists expect to deliver 2.7 million doses per week in England until the end of July and 2 million after that date.
Moderna Covid-19 Vaccine Production to Double at Contract Manufacturer Catalent
Contract drug manufacturer Catalent Inc. is expanding its U.S. production of the Covid-19 vaccine from Moderna Inc., a development that could ensure the U.S. has ample supply as it ramps up vaccinations. Catalent has reached an agreement with Moderna that will increase the speed of vaccine output at the contract manufacturer’s Bloomington, Ind., plant this month to about 400 vials a minute, according to people familiar with the matter. Catalent will shift manufacturing of the shot to one faster production line from two slower ones. New doses will be ready for shipping starting next month, the people said, and the upgraded plant will be able fill an additional 80 million vials a year.
Greece looks to ease pressure with cautious shops reopening
Greece allowed shops to reopen under controlled conditions on Monday, despite heavy pressure on its health services, as the government responded to growing public fatigue after months of coronavirus lockdown. Last week the government announced the easing of some restrictions, allowing small retail shops selling non-essential goods to reopen, under so-called click-away and click-in-shopping modes. Under the rules, consumers must make appointments and comply with a three-hour limit for shopping, and retailers cannot allow in more than one customer per 25 square metres.
Moderna vaccine begins UK rollout in Wales
The Moderna vaccine will be rolled out for the first time in the UK to residents in west Wales from Wednesday, Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has announced. The UK government has ordered 17m doses of the Moderna vaccine, which will be the third to be administered in the UK, since the rollout began in December last year. The vaccine was first approved by the medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, in January. The announcement follows growing concern surrounding the possible link between the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and rare blood clots. “I’m delighted we can start the UK rollout of the Moderna vaccine in west Wales today,” Hancock said. “The UK government has secured vaccines on behalf of the entire nation and the vaccination programme has shown our country working together at its best.”
As states expand vaccines, prisoners still lack access
This week, Florida expanded eligibility for COVID-19 vaccines to all residents 16 and older. But across the state, more than 70,000 people still don’t have access to the vaccine. Those men and women are Florida state prisoners. More than half the country has opened up vaccine eligibility, vastly expanding the ability for most Americans to get the shots, whatever their age or medical conditions. But inside prisons, it’s a different story: Prisoners, not free to seek out vaccines, still lack access on the whole. Nationwide, less than 20% of state and federal prisoners have been vaccinated, according to data collected by The Marshall Project and The Associated Press. In some states, prisoners and advocates have resorted to lawsuits to get access. And even when they are eligible, they aren’t receiving important education about the vaccine.
Healthcare Innovations
COVID-19: Oxford-AstraZeneca jab benefits outweigh 'rare incidents of risk', says vaccines minister - as regulator reviews clot cases
The benefits of taking the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab "far outweigh" any "rare incidents of risk", the vaccines minister has said, as the UK's drugs regulator investigates reports of blood clots. Speaking to Sky News, Nadhim Zahawi reinforced the government's message for people to get a COVID jab as experts at the UK's independent drugs regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), continue to investigate reports of a very rare and specific blood clot in the brain after taking the Oxford jab. They are also considering other very rare blood clotting cases alongside low platelet levels.
Oxford pauses AstraZeneca vaccine study on children
Oxford university has called a pause to a small clinical trial in children of the Covid-19 vaccine developed with AstraZeneca, ahead of new risk assessments this week by regulators investigating possible links between the jab and rare but potentially fatal blood disorders in adults. The suspension of the trial, which was running tests in 300 volunteers aged 6 to 17, is the latest setback for a product seen as a mainstay of vaccination programmes in the UK and around the world. The university said it had decided to suspend the trial ahead of the release of “additional information” from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, the UK regulator, following its review of cases of thrombosis (blood clotting) and thrombocytopenia (low platelet count) in some adults. It said there were “no safety concerns in the paediatric study”
In Serbia, COVID vaccine supply outweighs demand amid mistrust
With the third-highest rate of inoculations in Europe, Serbia is viewed as something of a Balkan success. But the country has been struggling to find people to vaccinate. Under Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Serbia has procured enough vaccines to inoculate its population of seven million, but supply is outpacing demand amid vaccine hesitancy. Vucic announced in early March that Serbia had nearly 15 million vaccines, but by March 25, Serbian authorities told reporters that just 1.3 million people had been vaccinated. Last weekend, thousands of foreigners from the region crossed borders to get free jabs in Serbia. In three days more than 22,000 foreigners were inoculated. It was a pragmatic move.
Brain disorders affect 1 in 3 Covid survivors, large UK study shows
One in three people who have suffered from Covid-19 was diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric condition within six months of infection, according to scientists who have carried out the largest study of the mental health effects of coronavirus. They found that Covid-19 was 44 per cent more likely to cause neurological and mental problems than a case of influenza of comparable severity. “Although the individual risks for most disorders are small, the effect across the whole population may be substantial for health and social care systems due to the scale of the pandemic and the fact that many of these conditions are chronic,” said Paul Harrison, professor of psychiatry at Oxford university and project leader.
Official: EU agency to confirm AstraZeneca blood clot link
A top official at the European Medicines Agency says there is a causal link between AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine and rare blood clots, but that it’s unclear what the connection is and the benefits of taking the shot still outweigh the risks of getting COVID-19. Marco Cavaleri, head of health threats and vaccine strategy at the Amsterdam-based agency, told Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper on Tuesday that the European Union’s medicines regulator is preparing to make a more definitive statement on the topic this week. Asked about Cavaleri’s comments, the EMA press office said its evaluation “has not yet reached a conclusion and the review is currently ongoing.” It said it planned a press conference as soon as the review is finalized, possibly Wednesday or Thursday.