"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 29th Apr 2021

Isolation Tips
Online friendships helping Americans battle pandemic loneliness
Ever since the pandemic started, 67% of Americans feel more alone than ever before, says new research. A poll of 2,003 Americans found that 55% feel like they've completely lost their sense of community in the past year, too. A study conducted by OnePoll aimed to see how COVID-19 has affected Americans and discovered the sad fact that 62% felt like they had absolutely no one to talk about their loneliness or isolation with during the quarantine period. As people began feeling more and more isolated and alone in the past year, Americans turned to the internet for a source of comfort and community. Over half of those polled say online friendships take much less energy to maintain than real-life ones, with 52% saying they actually feel more comfortable opening up to people they only know online.
No, Remote Therapy Hasn't Worked For Everyone During The Pandemic
Privacy problems, tech issues and fears of being overheard by family or housemates have been just some of the hurdles people with mental health issues have faced when attending therapy remotely during the pandemic. After the March 2020 lockdown was announced, many saw their face-to-face therapy appointments swiftly moved online or conducted over the phone. A year on, while some have benefited from this way of communicating, more than a third (35%) of people surveyed by the mental health charity Mind said online or phone-based support from NHS was difficult to use, while a quarter (23%) said their mental health had actually got worse as a result.
Hygiene Helpers
Cloth face coverings can be as effective as surgical masks at protecting against COVID-19
Researchers from the Universities of Bristol and Surrey have found that well-fitting, three-layered cloth masks can be as effective at reducing the transmission of COVID-19 as surgical masks.
How Your Brain Might Trick You Into Thinking Covid Vaccines Are Riskier Than They Really Are
Dr. Joshua Liao explores how omission bias affects the way your mind naturally thinks about the risk of measures like vaccination, and how you can rationally overcome it.
COVID-19: NHS app to be used as coronavirus passport for international travel, Grant Shapps confirms
Britons will find out which countries they will be able to enjoy quarantine-free travel to this summer "in the next couple of weeks" - as the transport secretary confirmed an NHS app will be used as a COVID passport for travel abroad. Under Prime Minister Boris Johnson's roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions, international travel without one of the current exemptions - which exclude holidays - will not be allowed any earlier than 17 May.Ministers have set out plans for a "traffic light" system to be used this summer to categorise different destinations. And, speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed "in the next couple of weeks" he will be able to give details on which countries have made it on to the "green list".
Outdoor mask guidance echoes what many Americans already do
On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased its guidelines on the wearing of masks outdoors, saying fully vaccinated Americans don’t need to cover their faces anymore unless they are in a big crowd of strangers. And those who are unvaccinated can go outside without masks in some situations, too. For most of the past year, the CDC had been advising Americans to wear masks outdoors if they are within 6 feet of one another. The decision marked the U.S. government’s latest step toward normalcy, but came as much of the country already had moved on from mask rules. The CDC essentially endorsed what many Americans have already been doing.
BioNTech boss: Europe will reach herd immunity this summer
More than half of Europe’s population should have received the coronavirus vaccine in the next two months, allowing governments to consider easing lockdown rules for those who’ve been immunized, the head of German pharmaceutical company BioNTech said Wednesday. The European Union has lagged behind Britain and the United States in the race to get shots into arms, but in recent weeks the pace of vaccinations has picked up significantly. Ugur Sahin, whose company developed the first widely approved shot against COVID-19 with U.S. partner Pfizer, predicted that “50-60% of the population will have received the vaccine” by the end of June, at which point any easing of pandemic restrictions would affect a broad swath of the population.
Vaccinating adolescents could help prevent third wave of Covid in UK – study
Vaccinating older children and slowing down the relaxation of coronavirus restrictions are among measures that could help to prevent a third wave of Covid in the UK, according to a report from an organisation set up by the former prime minister Tony Blair. The government’s roadmap suggests all Covid restrictions could be lifted in England on 21 June. However, scientists have warned that even with an ongoing vaccination programme, the plan could lead to a resurgence of the virus and thousands, if not tens of thousands, of additional Covid-related deaths by summer next year. It is a scenario the prime minister, Boris Johnson, himself has acknowledged, saying on Monday another wave is a possibility we have “got to be realistic” about. However, the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI) has released a report saying a third wave is not inevitable, should three key actions be taken.
Community Activities
Pharmacists offer COVID-19 jab to the homeless in charity event
Two pharmacists have worked alongside other healthcare professionals to vaccinate the homeless and undocumented migrants against COVID-19 in central London. Sikh charity NishkamSWAT and London-based charity The Connection at St Martin’s jointly launched a vaccination initiative for the homeless, in partnership with the NHS. They ran two vaccination clinics last week and one on Monday outside the Zimbabwean Embassy in central London. Volunteering alongside a dentist, a GP and a clinical director were Gurinder Singh, a community pharmacist and lecturer at the University of Reading, and Captain Dal Singh Virdee, an army pharmacist who runs the healthcare arm of NishkamSWAT. Following the success of the first clinics, the charities are now receiving requests from other local homeless organisations in east and west London to run similar pop-up sites.
Covid-19: Indians in London unite in wake of crisis as death toll passes 200,000
As a second wave of the Covid pandemic rages in India, leaving hospitals without oxygen and bodies on the streets, the Indian Diaspora in London are coming together. Community members have launched fundraisers to buy oxygen concentrators, as well as gathering to pray for relatives and friends suffering thousands of miles away. Yogesh Patel, 64, who works with the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in London, known as the Neasden temple, told The Standard the situation in India was “dire” and there was a lot of apprehension within the London community. The temple has also launched an international emergency appeal campaign to support their relief efforts across India -which have so far included the building of a makeshift hospital in Atladara, district of Vadodara, pictured below.
3food4u launches Contain Outbreak project to help Covid-19 sufferers
A community project that has provided a lifeline for many people during the pandemic is stepping up its service in response to the emergence of new variants of coronavirus. The 3food4u charity is launching a pilot scheme from this week offering a free food and essential delivery service to anyone who has tested positive for Covid-19 and must self-isolate as required. The 3food4u Contain Outbreak project will be for two months and is being run in collaboration with Essex County Council and Essex Association for Local Councils.
Indians step up to the plate to cook for COVID patients, families
Concerned by a spike in COVID-19 infections in her gated community in Noida, a city bordering New Delhi, Plaksha Aggarwal wanted to help and started cooking for the patients and their families. After catering to a few families within her apartment complex earlier this month, she started getting calls from around the city. “I could not refuse people. They wouldn’t be calling unless they needed help. Some orders were for people who had just lost family members,” she told Al Jazeera. Within a week, Aggarwal was preparing 120 meals a day. “While in home isolation, having someone take care of your food or your kids’ meals because you cannot cook for them is just one less thing to stress about,” she says.
Working Remotely
Novartis CEO Says Remote Work Hybrid Should Mean Access to New Talent Pools
Novartis AG Chief Executive Officer Vas Narasimhan believes that the hybrid of remote and on-site office work is the future. The Swiss pharma giant’s CEO said this will open up the possibility of working with new pools of talent that were inaccessible pre-COVID pandemic. If the Novartis boss is right, parents and women could particularly form a significant part of this pool. As it stands, the pandemic has led Novartis to expend considerably on the work-from-home set-up of employees, whose nature of work allows remote working. “We’ll be looking I think to adjust our overall footprint and then invest where appropriate,” Narasimhan said.
These digital nomads have worked remotely since way before the pandemic—these are their 7 best tips
Even as many offices start to reopen, remote work isn’t going anywhere as companies like Spotify, Twitter and Salesforce have told employees they can work remotely forever, if they choose. 54% of people said they want to work from home after the pandemic ends, according to a Pew Research survey conducted at the end of 2020 , while over half of employees surveyed by PwC at the start of this year, said they want to be remote at least three times a week once Covid-19 concerns ease. These long-term trends seem likely to inspire a surge of so-called digital nomads, or those who travel while working remotely. For some millennials, this lifestyle has been their routine for years before the pandemic upended many of our work routines.
What Will the World of Work Look Like After Covid-19?
Hybrid working. Robot colleagues. Four-day weeks. Covid-19 hasn’t just changed the way we perform our jobs today — it’s also kickstarted a broader push to rethink the world of work. Lockdowns over the past 14 months have forced many employees into a giant work-from-home experiment, bringing in-person meetings and business travel more or less to a standstill. Now, as workplaces re-open around the world, businesses and their employees are asking to what degree they want to return to their pre-pandemic ways. Some firms are embracing — or at least accepting — a hybrid home-office configuration, allowing workers greater flexibility and reduced commuting time. Others have adopted a four-day working week, often successfully it would appear, with two-thirds of employers doing so reporting increased productivity.
Virtual Classrooms
Hybrid instruction means changes, challenges for students in distance learning
The Oregon Department of Education does not keep track of how many students are in distance learning. As of last week, more than 400,000 students were in-person at least some of the time, leaving at least 160,000 students in distance learning, assuming the rest of the state’s schoolchildren are still enrolled in Oregon public schools receiving instruction from home. When Gov. Kate Brown mandated that schools open classrooms to hybrid learning, state officials also required that schools continue to support distance learning for families that wanted or needed that approach. As school districts are offering multiple learning models, families made their choices. Students heading back to physical classrooms have found the experience isn’t the same as they remembered before the pandemic. And even for the students finishing the year at home, some things have changed.
Online classroom: How students can build an engaging virtual experience
The online classroom may take some getting used to, but after a successful transition, you will find that courses can be exciting, engaging and a rewarding experience overall. Studies have revealed that students who learn online perform just as well as their peers in brick and mortar classrooms, as physical location is not the only determining factor of a holistic learning environment. Given the right tools and approach, learners will be able to participate in a robust educational experience in an evolving instruction paradigm.
Public Policies
China and Russia 'winning vaccine diplomacy war against West'
The West is losing the COVID-19 vaccine diplomacy battle in key developing regions of the world to Russia and China and will suffer long-term strategic consequences, a new report has warned. China and Russia are stealthily building influence and playing the long game by sending millions and millions of coronavirus vaccines to developing states, a just-released report from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) stated. The report found "Russia and China are aiming to take advantage of a 'vaccine vacuum' (and) a perceived failure of Western states to help in the provision of vaccines."
Tunisia tightens control measures amid surging COVID-19 cases
Amid the surge of COVID-19 cases in Tunisia, Tunisian authorities on Wednesday announced a series of stricter prevention and control measures to curb the spread of the virus. "These new measures will be applicable from May 3 to May 16, depending on the evolution of the situation in the country...and all the health protocols announced on April 17 will be maintained," Hasna Ben Slimane, spokesperson of the Tunisian government, said at a press conference held at the government's headquarters. With regard to the arrivals of tourists and Tunisians living abroad, a mandatory seven-day self-quarantine will be imposed after they present a negative result of PCR test, which should be carried out within 72 hours before entry into the country. "Another PCR test should be carried out during the 5th or the 7th day of self-quarantine," Ben Slimane added.
COVID-19: Unions add to calls for date to be set for start of coronavirus public inquiry
Unions are adding their voices to the call for a start date to be set for an inquiry into COVID-19. The TUC say a public consultation should also contribute to what an inquiry will cover, as workers and the families of those who caught the virus at work will be key to what went wrong. As long ago as last July, Boris Johnson promised to set up an independent inquiry into the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, but he has so far failed to set a date, saying now is not the time.
Portugal's COVID-19 state of emergency to end Friday -president
Portugal's state of emergency, the highest level of coronavirus alert, will end on Friday, the president announced, as infections drop sharply and the country prepares to further ease a strict lockdown imposed more than three months ago. Declared in mid-January to tackle what was then the world's worst increase in infections, the state of emergency allowed the government to impose tough measures to suspend people's rights and freedoms.
Gates aids fundraising drive for global vaccine distribution
A new mass fundraising campaign aims to inspire 50 million people around the world to make small donations to Covax, the international effort to push for equitable global distribution of COVID-19 vaccinations. Called Go Give One, the campaign was launched Wednesday by the WHO Foundation and corporate, religious, and world leaders. Seed money for the effort was provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The campaign will contribute to the $3 billion in Covax funding needed to vaccinate almost 30 percent of people in 92 low-income countries sometime next year. That support will come from donors like those who contribute to the Go Give One campaign as well as cost-sharing agreements. Meanwhile, the $6.3 billion that’s so far been committed to Covax has come primarily from global governments, in addition to the World Health Organization, Unicef, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
US considering intellectual property waiver for COVID vaccines
The United States is considering options for maximising global production and supply of COVID-19 vaccines at the lowest cost, including backing a proposed waiver of intellectual property (IP) rights, but no decision has been made, according to the White House. The announcement comes as the US and other Western countries have begun providing aid and lifting export controls on medical equipment and vaccine raw materials amid pressure from countries where deaths and infections are surging, notably India. On Wednesday, India surpassed 200,000 deaths from the virus, although the actual count is expected to be much higher. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said “there are a lot of different ways” to maximise the global production of vaccines. “Right now, that’s one of the ways, but we have to assess what makes the most sense,” Psaki told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the IP rights waivers.
Syngene targets delivering 500000 vials of remdesivir in India as COVID-19 surges
India’s Syngene International Ltd (SYNN.NS) aims to supply half-a-million vials of COVID-19 drug remdesivir through its local distribution partners next month, its top executive said, as the country faces shortages of the medicine amid a second wave. "At the moment we are operating at near maximum capacity (to produce remdesivir)," Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Hunt told Reuters on Wednesday. "I'd expect the volume of drug that we are supplying into the Indian market to step up as we get into May," he added.
EU lawsuit against AstraZeneca begins in Brussels court
The European Commission’s lawsuit against AstraZeneca over the pharmaceutical giant’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines began at a Brussels court on Wednesday, with the bloc’s lawyers pressing for immediate deliveries of doses from all of the company’s factories, including those within the United Kingdom. The legal case is the latest twist in an ongoing saga between the European Union and the Anglo-Swedish company, which has seen the pair at loggerheads over the latter’s alleged shortfall of deliveries to the bloc. AstraZeneca’s vaccine was envisaged as a central part of Europe’s vaccination campaign, and a linchpin in the global strategy to get coronavirus vaccines to poorer countries because it is cheaper and easier to use than shots produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. But cuts and delays in delivery of doses to the EU have weighed on faltering mass immunisation efforts within the bloc, which trails behind former member state the UK, the United States and Israel, among other countries, on vaccination. Brussels has argued the disruption and supply issues amount to a failure by AstraZeneca to respect its contract with the EU. It has also accused the company of not having a “reliable” plan to ensure timely deliveries.
Maintaining Services
U.S. to send more than $100 mln in COVID supplies to India
The United States is sending supplies worth more than $100 million to India to help it fight a surge of COVID-19 cases, the White House said in a statement on Wednesday. The supplies, which will begin arriving on Thursday and continue into next week, include 1,000 oxygen cylinders, 15 million N95 masks and 1 million rapid diagnostic tests, the statement said. The United States also has redirected its own order of AstraZeneca (AZN.L) manufacturing supplies to India, which will allow it to make over 20 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine, according to the White House.
Wales on track to vaccinate all eligible adults by end of July with boosters planned in the autumn
The doctor in charge of the vaccine programme in Wales is confident that the target of having all eligible adults vaccinated by the end of July is on track. Dr Gill Richardson has revealed that 90% of people over the age of 60 in Wales have been vaccinated, 95% of over 80s and 70% of people aged between 40 to 49 have been vaccinated - some of the best rates in the UK. "A lot of people are just relieved to be having their vaccine, and are just really looking forward to the younger people getting theirs," she told BBC Radio Wales. "We do know that there will be that little bit of extra effort to catch everybody, but the fact that we have already had 70% of 40 to 49 age group having their first vaccine is a great commendation for Wales. "We are well on track to meet the target of getting the whole of the adult population by the end of July."
Universities order students to get coronavirus vaccine to return to classes in the fall
In the US, a growing number of state universities are following their private counterparts in requiring all students returning to classes and campuses this fall to be vaccinated against coronavirus. In a bid to return to normality after months of online learning, at least 80 universities have said that all students must get a jab before they return to class. Among those making the requirements are Ivy League schools Brown, Cornell and Stanford, California's two state university systems, as well as several universities in New York, Massachusetts, Maryland and New Jersey.
Britain to send three container-sized oxygen factories to India
Britain will send three container-sized oxygen factories to India to help hospitals cope with soaring cases of COVID-19, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Wednesday.
Lonza taps temporary workers from Nestlé in COVID shot production push: report
The Herculean push to produce enough COVID-19 vaccines for the world's population has led to some unexpected partnerships. Now, one contract manufacturer is tapping a local food giant for help. Lonza is recruiting temporary workers from Nestlé to help fill vacancies at its Swiss vaccine plant, where the CDMO is cranking out ingredients for Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine, Reuters reports, citing Swiss broadcaster RTS. Lonza, for its part, isn't commenting on the matter, a spokeswoman told Fierce Pharma via email. The move, reportedly facilitated by the Swiss government, comes shortly after Moderna blamed projected delivery cutbacks in "a number of countries" on deficits of “human and material resources” in its European supply chain. Lonza itself has struggled to recruit enough specialized personnel for its vaccine production push, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said last week at a summit on pandemic vaccine scale-up.
Healthcare Innovations
Vaccine cuts the risk of passing on coronavirus by half
Vaccinated people are nearly 50 per cent less likely to pass on the virus even if they are unlucky enough to become infected, a study has found. The findings are the most convincing demonstration so far that, on top of blocking most infections in the recipient, vaccines also have a strong effect on transmission — raising hopes that a severe summer wave can be avoided as the country opens up. “This is terrific news — we already know vaccines save lives, and this study is the most comprehensive real-world data showing they also cut transmission of this deadly virus,” Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said.
COVID-19: Single dose of coronavirus vaccine 'can cut transmission by up to half' - and most common side effects revealed
A single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can cut transmission of the virus by up to half, according to a Public Health England (PHE) study. The research looked at people who have had a single dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines - the first two authorised for use in the UK.
Why The COVID-19 Variants Spreading in India Are a Global Concern
As the numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths in India continue to mount, public health officials are carefully watching yet another looming threat: the appearance of mutations that could be making the virus circulating there more infectious or more capable of causing severe disease. Scientists believe that the variants of SARS-CoV-2 responsible for this second wave of cases in India already include at least two mutations that make them more dangerous. These mutations are already familiar to COVID-19 experts. One is found in a variant first identified in South Africa, while the other is part of a variant believed to have emerged from California. Researchers believe that these two mutations may, respectively, make it easier for the virus to infect human cells, and to evade the protection provided by immune cells like antibodies. According to the latest data from the public genome database GISAID, 38% of genetically sequenced samples from India collected in March contain the two mutations—scientists have labelled this the B.1.617 variant.
Data reveal fewer real-world COVID vaccine side effects
A new real-world study finds fewer side effects after vaccination with the Pfizer/BioNTech and the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccines than reported in phase 3 clinical trials, while another paper notes some instances of facial paralysis after receipt of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine but no increased risk. In the first study, King's College London and other UK and US researchers mined data from the 627,383 users of the ZOE COVID Symptom Study app, who self-reported systemic and local side effects within 8 days of the receipt of one or two doses of the Pfizer vaccine or one dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine from Dec 8, 2020, to Mar 10, 2021. The study was published yesterday in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. After the first Pfizer dose, 13.5% of recipients reported side effects, compared with 22.0% after the second Pfizer dose and 33.7% after the first AstraZeneca dose.