"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 23rd Apr 2021

Isolation Tips
Feelings of isolation worse now than at any point during pandemic: report
A year into the pandemic, a new report by HR company Morneau Shepell says that feelings of isolation are taking their greatest toll yet on Canadians. The company released its monthly Mental Health Index report, showing a negative mental health score among Canadians for the 12th consecutive month. “The past year has been defined by relentless change and drastic declines in Canadians’ wellbeing, as individuals across the country were forced to constantly shift their way of living,” said Stephen Liptrap, president and chief executive officer. “One year into the pandemic, it’s clear that while there have been many changes to our routine, the declining state of Canadians’ wellbeing remains a constant.”
Hygiene Helpers
COVID-19: Nightclub to reopen doors in Liverpool as part of 'historic' trial
The first nightclub event in the UK for over a year is set to take place in Liverpool at the end of the month. It will be held across two nights, with nightclub Circus hosting The First Dance event, which will welcome 6,000 clubbers to the city's Bramley-Moore Dock warehouse. The event will not require any social distancing or face coverings, as it is hoped it will pave the way for more clubs to open across the country. The event is part of the national Events Research Programme (ERP), which will provide data on how events for a range of audiences could be permitted to safely reopen as part of the roadmap out of lockdown.
BRIT music awards to host 4,000-strong audience in UK pilot event
Some 4,000 people will attend the BRIT Awards next month, in what organisers of Britain's pop music honours said would be the first major indoor music event with a live audience as the country emerges from COVID-19 lockdown.
California's public universities to require COVID-19 vaccine
Two of the nation’s largest university systems say they intend to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all students, faculty and staff on University of California and California State University campuses this fall. Several U.S. colleges and universities hoping to get back to normal campus life after months of online learning also have said they plan to make the vaccination mandatory. But Thursday’s joint announcement from the 10-campus University of California and the 23-campus California State University is the largest of its kind in American higher education. The CSU system in the nation’s biggest four-year college system, with about 485,000 students and tens of thousands of staff, while the UC system has more than 280,000 students. “Together, the CSU and UC enroll and employ more than one million students and employees across 33 major university campuses, so this is the most comprehensive and consequential university plan for COVID-19 vaccines in the country,” CSU Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said in the statement.
Community Activities
Nation Faces ‘Hand-to-Hand Combat’ to Get Reluctant Americans Vaccinated
Now that President Biden has met his goal to have all adults eligible for the coronavirus vaccine, health officials around the country are hitting what appears to be a soft ceiling: More than half the nation’s adults have received at least one dose, but it is going to take hard work — and some creative changes in strategy — to convince the rest. State health officials, business leaders, policymakers and politicians are struggling to figure out how to tailor their messages, and their tactics, to persuade not only the vaccine hesitant but also the indifferent. Officials in many states are looking past mass vaccination sites and toward having patients get vaccinated by their own doctors, where people are most at ease — a shift that will require the Biden administration to ship vaccine in much smaller quantities.
#COVIDSOS: Indian Twitter becomes a platform of hope amid despair
After spending hours fruitlessly calling government helplines in a search for a hospital bed for a critically ill COVID-19 patient, Indian lawyer Jeevika Shiv posted an SOS request on Twitter. “Serious #covid19 patient in #Delhi with oxygen level 62 needs immediate hospital bed,” Shiv, part of a 350-member COVID-19 volunteer Medical Support Group, said on Twitter late last week. Help came quickly. The patient found a bed and was soon showing signs of recovery. “Finally, it was help online that worked as people responded with information,” Shiv said. People are bypassing the conventional lines of communication and turning to Twitter to crowdsource help for oxygen cylinders, hospital beds and other requirements.
Sunni the Spaniel relieving loneliness in Mackay aged care homes
Aged care residents in Mackay have received some relief from the loneliness created by the coronavirus pandemic, with the help of a four-legged therapist. Once a week, a friendly spaniel named Sunni visits residents at an aged care facility in the city, including those in the secure dementia wing. For some of the residents, it can be the only affectionate contact they have with another living creature. Aged care resident Elvie Fawcett said Sunni had a way of getting people out of their rooms. "It brings joy to their faces. It gets the older people out," Ms Fawcett said. "Especially the men." Sunni's owner Ros Ballantine, who is a psychologist and uses therapy animals in her work, said there was always a positive response to their visits.
Working Remotely
Remote work really does make us more productive
The great work-from-home experiment occasioned by the pandemic has divided opinion in the corporate suite and sparked endless debates about whether employees work as effectively from the kitchen table as they do from the office. A new study finds that, in fact, remote work does indeed make us more productive. The work-from-home boom will lift productivity in the U.S. economy by 5%, mostly because of savings in commuting time, the study says. The findings suggest the rapid adoption of new technology amid the pandemic will offer lasting economic gains, helping to boost sluggish productivity that has long weighed on global growth.
How to Boost Team Spirit When Working Remotely During Covid
Now that working from home is becoming a formality, it can be difficult for employers to build a team spirit and recreate the once strong social bonds colleagues enjoyed before lockdown. From an employers' perspective, fostering positive social interaction between colleagues can vastly improve the atmosphere of office space. Employee productivity and satisfaction are closely linked to how much they enjoy coming into work. Companies that have measured highly in employee satisfaction in this area have less staff turnover over time. A key way for employers to make staff feel appreciated is to hold regular social and team bonding events.
Working remotely or not remotely working? Australia officials seek to ban casual wear — even on video calls
In a nation where top officials can be seen pounding through the surf in skimpy Speedo swimwear, a plan to force a strict dress code on Australian civil servants has the workers fighting for the right to bare arms. An 11-page “dress and appearance” code mailed to employees of one of the country’s largest government departments in February lists Ugg boots, flip-flops and sportswear such as football jerseys among the items deemed too casual even for Casual Friday. But for people working in hotter parts of the country, a directive banning sleeveless clothing — including dresses and women’s blouses — was the one that really worked people up into a sweat. The rules at the Department of Home Affairs apply even to those working from home and taking video calls, a move labor unions say is a blow to workers who have stuck it out through the coronavirus pandemic without air conditioning in their homes.
Virtual Classrooms
What did parents find out about their kids and learning during the pandemic? A lot
Over the past year, Victor Bell and many other parents like him got a taste of what it was like to be on the front lines of their children’s education. Dining rooms became classrooms, and parents became teachers. As the school year draws to a close, parents reflected on what they have learned about the way their children learn during the COVID-19 pandemic. After a year of some combination of virtual and in-person learning, parents said they were astounded by their children’s independence, resilience and compassion. While some families were eager to return to in-seat learning, others had a good experience at home.
People with disabilities worry about losing virtual options
Eiryn Griest Schwartzman spent years fighting for academic accommodations at their Maryland college with little success, but the coronavirus pandemic changed everything: In-person classes became virtual, with closed-captioning features, making it possible for them to follow what was going on in class. "That's been a game changer for me," said Griest Schwartzman, 23, who uses they/them pronouns. "... Now I actually have the ability to understand material that I couldn't get before." However, now that the world is looking towards "the new normal"' Griest Schwartzman and other people with disabilities are worried that accommodations that became standard in 2020 will not be available. Remote classes and work have opened doors for many, and virtual activities and gatherings expanded social bubbles even as many stayed home.
Public Policies
Germany looks to buy 30 million doses of Russia's Sputnik vaccine
Germany wants to purchase 30 million doses of the Russian-made Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, said Michael Kretschmer, governor of the eastern state of Saxony, who discussed the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday. "Germany is negotiating 3 x 10 million doses for June, July, August. The prerequisite for this is the swift EMA approval of the vaccine," Kretschmer wrote on Twitter. Kretschmer posted the tweet after meeting Russian Health Minister Mikhail Murashko as part of a visit to Moscow ostensibly focusing on cultural relations with Russia. As part of the visit, he also discussed joint efforts to fight the virus in a phone call with Putin, the Kremlin said in a statement.
Why waiving patents might not boost global access to coronavirus vaccines
Global trade negotiators are deadlocked on a proposal that would have been unthinkable before the pandemic — to suspend intellectual property rights on coronavirus medical products so that less-wealthy countries can develop life-saving vaccines and other goods on their own. A months-long debate at the World Trade Organization has led to little, if any, movement. On Thursday, diplomats meet again and will likely rehash their positions, with the EU, U.K, and Switzerland in the wealthy camp opposing the proposal. That effectively leaves the idea stranded in a process that functions on consensus. But the proposal, pitched by South Africa and India at the WTO, is still gaining traction politically as the gap in vaccination rates between rich and poor countries grows by the day. Meanwhile, manufacturers have struggled to keep up with demand.
COVID-19: Ireland joins possible legal action against AstraZeneca over vaccine supplies
Ireland has joined European Commission plans for possible legal action against AstraZeneca over its "complete failure" to meet delivery and contractual agreements, its health minister has said. Speaking to the Irish parliament, Stephen Donnelly said on Thursday: "With regard to AstraZeneca, a legal case has been initiated by the Commission and earlier this week I have joined Ireland as one of the parties to that legal case, specifically around AstraZeneca's complete failure to meet its delivery and contractual agreements for April, May and June." But a European Commission spokesperson said: "The decision to take legal action has not been taken at this point in time."
Coronavirus: Pfizer confirms fake versions of vaccine in Poland and Mexico
US pharmaceutical company Pfizer says it has identified counterfeit versions of its coronavirus vaccine in Mexico and Poland. The doses were seized by authorities in the two countries and confirmed by tests to be fake. In Mexico, they had false labels, while the substance in Poland was believed to be anti-wrinkle treatment, Pfizer said. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that fake vaccines "pose a serious risk to global public health". It has called for them to be identified and removed from circulation.
Sweden not ready to lift COVID restrictions, but PM says end in sight
Sweden, which has shunned lockdowns throughout the pandemic, will postpone a tentative plan to ease some COVID-19 restrictions, due to the ongoing high levels of new infections, the government said on Thursday. Sweden is experiencing a third wave of the virus and the number of patients being treated in intensive care is at the highest level since the spring of last year. "When the strain on healthcare eases and the spread of infection drops, only then will the government be ready to start lifting restrictions," Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told a news conference. "But we are not there yet."
WHO and EMA to inspect Sputnik V manufacturing in May - WHO
Technical experts from the World Health Organization are due to start the next round of their review of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 jointly with the European Medicines Agency on May 10, the WHO said on Thursday.
EU says Valneva has not met conditions for vaccine supply deal
French vaccine maker Valneva (VLS.PA) has not met the conditions to conclude talks on a deal with the European Union to supply the bloc with its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, a spokesman for the European Commission said on Thursday.
MSF urges rich countries to back COVID vaccine patent waiver
International medical charity Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) has urged rich countries to stop blocking a patent waiver plan that could boost the global production of coronavirus vaccines. Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) will meet virtually for informal talks on Thursday to discuss a proposal to waive intellectual property rights for producing COVID-19 vaccines and other coronavirus-related medical tools for the duration of the pandemic. Sponsors of the waiver argue that the temporary suspension would allow more factories worldwide to produce jabs without breaking international rules under the WTO agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). But the proposal, originally submitted in October by India and South Africa, has met staunch opposition from several high-income members, many of which are home to major drug-makers – such as the United States and members of the European Union.
Maintaining Services
Greece to start J&J coronavirus vaccinations on May 5
Greece plans to start the rollout of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine on May 5 after Europe's drug regulator backed its use, health authorities said on Wednesday. "We expect decisions by the CDC and FDA on Friday and then by our national committee on vaccinations in the following days. Vaccinations will begin on May 5," said Marios Themistocleous, secretary general in charge of vaccinations. Greece had been expected to start J&J (JNJ.N) vaccinations on Monday before questions emerged over reports of very rare blood clotting disorders associated with the vaccine. "Vaccines are the solution to this huge health crisis, that is the way to get our lives back," said Health Minister Vassilis Kikilias.
People as young as 18 will soon be getting their coronavirus vaccines in Swansea
People as young as 18 could soon be called for their coronavirus vaccine, Swansea Bay University Health Board has announced. The health board has re-opened its vaccination reserve list for those aged 18 to 29, and for those in older age groups, as part of its "leave no-one behind" campaign. The healthcare provider said it is particularly focusing on those aged 18-29 as new safety guidance states under 30s should be offered an alternative to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. "In our case we want to target any appointment slots which come up at short notice for Pfizer vaccine initially at this age group," a statement read.
Gaza gravediggers and medics stretched as COVID spikes during Ramadan
The sick and dying are rapidly pushing Gaza's hospitals close to capacity amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the impoverished Palestinian territory, health officials said.
Slovakia to open restaurant terraces, gyms in further lockdown easing
Slovakia will allow restaurant terraces and gyms to open from next Monday in a further step of easing coronavirus restrictions, the government said on Wednesday. The country of 5.5 million has slowed the spread of COVID-19 infections in recent weeks amid tough restrictions after the latest wave of the pandemic hit it and central European neighbours hard in the past months. The latest easing adds to the re-opening of shops, hotels, hair salons, churches, libraries, pools and zoos that already happened this week. But capacity limits will remain, and customers or visitors have to show a negative COVID-19 test in most cases.
Norway to lend unused AstraZeneca vaccine doses to Sweden, Iceland
Norway will lend 216,000 doses of the AstraZeneca (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine it has in stock to Sweden and Iceland, the country’s health ministry said on Thursday, enabling the two Nordic neighbours to speed up their inoculation campaigns. Norway on March 11 suspended the rollout of the vaccine after a small number of younger people were hospitalised for a combination of blood clots, bleeding and a low count of platelets, some of whom later died. Sweden and Iceland will be able to receive the doses from Norway for as long as the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout is suspended.
New Delhi Hospital Rushes to Court to Get Critical Oxygen Supply
New Delhi’s largest hospital chain operator had to knock on the door of the city state’s high court Wednesday night after 1,400 Covid-19 patients across the Indian capital were put at risk due to “dangerously low” levels of oxygen supply. Two back-to-back emergency hearings ended late Wednesday night after an oxygen tanker finally left for one branch of the Max Hospital, which had over 250 Covid-19 patients in a critical state and the lowest level of crucial oxygen. The Delhi High Court’s two-judge panel headed by Justice Vipin Sanghi expressed “shock and dismay” over the government’s neglect and directed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration to “beg, borrow, steal” but ensure adequate oxygen supply for hospitals.
Healthcare Innovations
Oxford, Prenetics to take their COVID-19 rapid testing tech to other infectious diseases
While most of the world can’t wait to leave the COVID-19 pandemic and its many disastrous accouterments behind, researchers are hoping at least one aspect of the outbreak sticks around: the prevalence of rapid molecular testing. To that end, the University of Oxford, its Oxford Suzhou Centre for Advanced Research (OSCAR) in China and Prenetics, a Hong Kong-based test maker, have partnered to further develop the technology behind Oxford’s rapid COVID test so that it can be used to diagnose other infectious diseases around the world. The OxLAMP COVID-19 test has shown promising results: It can detect the presence of the virus with 96% sensitivity in just 20 minutes and can be processed outside of a traditional lab setting.
Government launches Antivirals Taskforce to identify at-home COVID-19 treatments
A new Antivirals Taskforce has been launched by the government to identify treatments for UK patients who have been exposed to COVID-19 to stop the infection spreading and speed up recovery time. The taskforce will search for the most promising novel antiviral medicines that can be taken at home and support their development through clinical trials to ensure they can be rapidly rolled out to patients as early as the autumn. The aim is to have at least 2 effective treatments this year, either in a tablet or capsule form, that the public can take at home following a positive COVID-19 test or exposure to someone with the virus. The taskforce will also look at opportunities to onshore the manufacture of antiviral treatments.
Effectiveness of rapid Covid-19 tests to be tested in 200 schools
Scientists have begun trialling rapid lateral flow tests across 200 schools in England in an effort to prove the accuracy and effectiveness of the controversial technology. Students and staff will be offered weekly tests using lateral flow devices (LFDs). Half the participating schools will then offer daily tests to students who have come into close contact with known Covid-19 sufferers, to enable them to avoid quarantine, while the rest — the control group — will make such students quarantine for 10 days. Researchers involved in the study hope the research will prove that the tests can effectively pick up cases of infectious disease, providing evidence to counter the pervasive scepticism surrounding the value of LFDs, which have been rolled out in large numbers since late last year.
COVID-19 vaccines: building and maintaining confidence
As COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out globally, the AstraZeneca vaccine (Vaxzevria) continues to be marred in controversy, from its slow and still awaited approval by the US Food and Drug Administration amid concerns about paucity of large-scale trial data from the USA, to safety alerts around the development of rare blood clotting events coupled with thrombocytopenia, particularly cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) and splanchnic vein thrombosis (SVT). As of April 4, 2021, 169 cases of CVST and 53 cases of SVT have been reported in the European Economic Area and the UK after the administration of 34 million vaccines.
Yes, vaccines block most transmission of COVID-19
COVID-19 vaccines have provided an opportunity to slow the spread of the virus and end the pandemic. Now scientists are trying to learn just how much the vaccines can prevent transmission from occurring at all. New data from the CDC shows that COVID-19 infections do occur in vaccinated people, but they appear exceptionally rare. More than 10 million people in the United Kingdom have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In the United States, that figure is 85 million people. As of April 14, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention had received reports that 5,814 fully vaccinated people had developed COVID-19 infections in the U.S. Nearly half of these infections (45 percent) were in people at least 60 years old. Seven percent of people with breakthrough infections—infections that occur after complete vaccination—were hospitalised and one percent died.
How long does protection from COVID-19 vaccines last?
How long does protection from COVID-19 vaccines last? Experts don’t know yet because they’re still studying vaccinated people to see when protection might wear off. How well the vaccines work against emerging variants will also determine if, when and how often additional shots might be needed. So far, Pfizer’s ongoing trial indicates the company’s two-dose vaccine remains highly effective for at least six months, and likely longer. People who got Moderna’s vaccine also still had notable levels of virus-fighting antibodies six months after the second required shot.
Double masking amid COVID-19 not backed by research, experts say
A study concluding that wearing a disposable medical procedure mask under a reusable cloth face covering protects the wearer against COVID-19 infection better than a mask alone has some scientists worried that it could inadvertently lead to a false sense of security, risky behaviors, and infections. The study, one of a series on pandemic face coverings funded partially by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was published on Apr 16 in JAMA Internal Medicine. The CDC used the studies as a basis for its Apr 6 updated face covering guidelines, which call for the use of a multilayered cloth mask or a disposable mask under a cloth mask to press the edges of the disposable mask against the face.