"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 30th Apr 2021

Isolation Tips
Calgary senior overcomes loneliness by spreading simple gestures of love
Helen Jusic, 84, has called Calgary’s community of Bridgeland home for almost 35 years. But once the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she felt lonely and isolated in her home. As a people person, she craved connection. She went out to find happiness and discovered she had something extraordinary to give. Her daily routine includes one hour to spread joy to her neighbourhood. Every day, she stands at an intersection near her home giving countless strangers good wishes. She blows them kisses, sends them air hugs and tells them, “I love you.” She said her simple gestures of love have taken away her anxiety and endeared an entire community.
Social networks as an antidote to loneliness
The coronavirus pandemic is having a significant impact on young people’s mental health. Youth care researcher Levi van Dam suggest with international colleagues that mentors chosen by young people themselves from their own social environment could be used to help them. Van Dam and his colleagues set out the tried and tested benefits of this form of support in the leading scientific journal ‘JAMA Psychiatry’. Various studies alarmingly report the major impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the mental health of young people and increased loneliness, depression and anxiety. It’s not only youth care and mental health care professionals that can help in this regard, say Van Dam and his colleagues, young people’s social networks can also be used as a buffer to help them.
Hygiene Helpers
Cuba could be closing in on COVID vaccine sovereignty
With two domestically produced COVID-19 vaccines in stage-three clinical trials, Cuba is racing towards potentially becoming the first country in Latin America to develop its own shot against the coronavirus. The island of 11 million people, which has been under a strict US trade embargo for decades, is in process of developing five experimental shots, including Soberana 02 and Abdala, which reached final-stage trials last month. The names of the vaccines reveal much about how Cuba sees the national effort. Soberana translates as “sovereign”, while the Abdala shot was named after a patriotic poem by the Cuban revolutionary hero Jose Marti. Around 44,000 people will receive the Soberana 02 vaccine, and some 48,000 volunteers have been recruited for the Abdala trial. According to local reports, an additional 150,000 frontline workers will also receive the Soberana 02 shot.
COVID-19: Why a domestic catastrophe for India could also become a global vaccine crisis
Of all the developing nations, India should have been able to summon a defence against COVID's second wave. Overcrowding, poverty and patchy public health systems across a vast and disparate country were all factors in the virus' favour, but India is also home to the world's biggest vaccine manufacturing capacity. The Serum Institute of India (SII) is at the centre of plans for Covax - a global coronavirus vaccine-sharing project seen as the key to ensuring billions of people beyond the economically secure West receive protection.
Covid-19: Workplace testing to be expanded in Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, Covid-19 testing for people in the workplace is to be expanded. The workforce asymptomatic testing programme is now open to all organisations with 10 or more employees or volunteers, who cannot work from home. Previously this was open to organisations with more than 50 employees. Health Minister Robin Swann welcomed the announcement in a statement. "This is a significant move in the testing programme as up to one third of people who have coronavirus are asymptomatic," he said.
Policies to eliminate Covid instead of mitigating it through lockdowns were better for the economy and saved more lives, study claims
Experts argue deaths, economic impact and loss of freedom lower in elimination. They said damage of locking down hard and early would 'pay off in the long run.' Only five countries out of 37 of the world's most developed chose elimination. All of Europe except Iceland went for mitigation – controlling the virus
BioNTech chief confident Covid jab will work on variant found in India
BioNTech’s chief executive has said he is confident the Covid-19 vaccine his company pioneered with Pfizer will work against a new variant circulating in India, where health officials are recording hundreds of thousands of new coronavirus cases a day. Ugur Sahin, who founded the German biotech with his wife Ozlem Tureci, said BioNTech had developed the vaccine with variants in mind. “[It] will hold, I’m confident of that,” he said, adding that BioNTech’s early experience developing cancer therapies meant that the company had been prepared for the virus to mutate. “We come out of cancer medicine and [there] the tumour is constantly changing and mutating . . . So we have experience with these escape mechanisms,” he said at an online meeting with reporters.
EU Parliament: COVID-19 pass should guarantee free movement
European lawmakers said Thursday that COVID-19 certificates aimed at facilitating travel across the European Union should be enough to move freely this summer, a position likely to clash with member states’ prerogatives in their upcoming negotiations. EU legislators said Thursday in their negotiating position on the European Commission’s proposal that EU governments shouldn’t impose quarantines, tests or self-isolation measures on certificate holders. The EU’s executive arm proposed last month that the certificates would be delivered to EU residents who can prove they have been vaccinated, and also to those who tested negative for the virus or have proof they recovered from it. The European Commission’s goal is to boost travel from one member state to another during the pandemic.
Free rides and beer: Incentives are added to vaccine drive
Free beer, pot and doughnuts. Savings bonds. A chance to win an all-terrain vehicle. Places around the U.S. are offering incentives to try to energize the nation’s slowing vaccination drive and get Americans to roll up their sleeves. These relatively small, mostly corporate, promotion efforts have been accompanied by more serious and far-reaching attempts by officials in cities such as Chicago, which is sending specially equipped buses into neighborhoods to deliver vaccines. Detroit is offering $50 to people who give others a ride to vaccination sites, and starting Monday will send workers to knock on every door in the city to help residents sign up for shots. Public health officials say the efforts are crucial to reach people who haven’t been immunized yet, whether because they are hesitant or because they have had trouble making an appointment or getting to a vaccination site.
World to spend $157 billion on COVID-19 vaccines through 2025 -report
Total global spending on COVID-19 vaccines is projected to reach $157 billion by 2025, driven by mass vaccination programs underway and "booster shots" expected every two years, according to a report by U.S. health data company IQVIA Holdings. IQVIA said it expects the first wave of COVID-19 vaccinations to reach about 70% of the world's population by the end of 2022. Booster shots are likely to follow initial vaccinations every two years, the report said, based on current data on the duration of effect of the vaccines. The United States is preparing for the possibility that a booster shot will be needed between nine to 12 months after people receive their first full inoculations against COVID-19, a White House official said earlier this month.
Community Activities
Japan business leaders suggest ways for govt to speed up vaccination rate
Japanese business leaders and a Nobel-prizewinning biologist called upon the government to reform its vaccination programme, including allowing drive-through inoculations, as the nation struggles to contain a resurgence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Japan has secured the largest quantity of COVID-19 vaccines in Asia, as it gears up for the summer Olympics. But it has inoculated only 1.6% of its population so far, the slowest among wealthy countries. Government data on Wednesday showed that Japan has only used about a fifth of the coronavirus vaccine doses it has imported so far, underscoring logistical hurdles such as a shortage of medical staff
Covid-19 community art project in Kirkby Lonsdale brings wellbeing benefits
In Cumbria, a Kirkby Lonsdale art project, about the emotional impact of Covid-19, is uniting the community and raising funds to help young people struggling with mental ill health. In total the Lunesdale Learning Trust fundraiser, for Brathay, has raised £2790.43 to help young people in Cumbria affected by poor mental health.
Medway hospital staff video urges BAME community to take up Covid vaccine after figures show uptake 25% lower
In Kent, hospital staff from a wide range of cultural backgrounds have produced a special video urging members of ethnic minority communities to step forward for their vaccine. The employees at Medway NHS Foundation Trust from a wider variety of cultural backgrounds came together to produce the film. It comes in response to data showing up to a quarter of members of the BAME community are less likely to take up a Covid-19 vaccine. The video features messages from trust staff in 12 different languages – English, Marathi, Punjabi, Mandarin, Cantonese, Thai, Bajan dialect, Yoruba, Malayalam, Egyptian Arabic, Urdu and Bengali.
Sold his SUV to buy oxygen for people: India’s good Samaritans
On Sunday, Maria Mehra, a 56-year-old COVID-19 patient, was gasping for breath at her home in Mumbai. Her oxygen level had dropped to 76 and she needed immediate hospitalisation. But there were no beds available, given the record number of infections across the metropolis over the past several weeks. Her desperate family tried frantically to arrange a hospital bed or an oxygen cylinder for her but couldn’t find one until Maria’s brother-in-law Jackson Quadras, 47, reached out to Shahnawaz Shahalam Sheikh. Sheikh provided them with an oxygen cylinder around midnight. Hours later, Quadras secured a hospital bed in Malad, a suburb in north Mumbai, for Maria but remains thankful to Sheikh whose timely intervention helped her. “Shahnawaz bhai (brother) is everything for us. He saved the life of my sister-in-law,” Jackson told Al Jazeera.
Working Remotely
Next Big Disruption in US Society Is Hybrid Work
Hybrid schedules could be the next monumental shift in the American workplace after last year's sudden move to remote work. More than 70% of workers want to hold onto flexible remote work options, according to a Microsoft study, but almost as many — about 65% — still want more in-person time with their coworkers. A hybrid schedule — where people are in the office some of the time while working at home for the rest — could meet both of those needs. Companies increasingly seem to be getting onboard with hybrid scheduling now that the pandemic has demonstrated that working from home can be productive. The study found that remote job postings on the professional networking site LinkedIn increased drastically — more than five times — during the pandemic.
Work From Home Is The New Normal For Workers Around The World
In recent talks with some C-level execs, most seem to see some form of a hybrid approach becoming the norm. To keep workers they are willing to develop more flexible work schedules where employees can work at home some of the time and come to the office on an as-needed basis. That as-need basis seems to focus on times when collaborating with co-workers is best done in person than over a Zoom call. Apple CEO Tim Cook stated in Apple's earnings call this week, "the hybrid approach to work that likely will exist when the pandemic is over will include working from home and will remain very critical." One flipside of people working from home has been the savings to companies on promotion, travel, entertainment. In a Bloomberg post, after digesting Alphabet's earnings this week, they found that the company has saved over $1 billion in 2020 from promotional, travel and entertainment expenses alone.
Virtual Classrooms
Covid Scotland: Schools to have blended learning 'after lockdown', says Glasgow education boss
The use of blended and digital learning will have a permanent role to play in schools after lockdown, Glasgow Council’s education director has signalled. Maureen McKenna said platforms such as the West Online School - which features hundreds of recorded lessons - offered a potential means of teaching pupils who may struggle in a conventional classroom.
U.S. will launch $3.2 billion temporary broadband subsidy May 12
The Federal Communications Commission said it will launch on May 12 a temporary $3.2 billion program to provide lower-income Americans with discounts on monthly internet service and on purchasing laptops or tablet computers. The discounts, which were funded by Congress in December, are worth up to $50 a month for internet service, and up to $75 on federally recognized Tribal Lands. "In less than two weeks, we will have a new way for disconnected Americans to access the internet to carry out their day-to-day life, so they can reach the virtual classroom, take advantage of telehealth, and seek new employment opportunities," said Acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement.
Blog competition: students’ experiences of lockdown learning
If coronavirus has been painful for families, employers and governments alike, some of the heaviest — and often hidden — burdens have weighed on children pushed out of classrooms around the world. So the FT free schools access programme, in partnership with the World Bank, asked students worldwide for their experiences, and for their advice to policymakers on how to improve learning. More than 420 students from 62 countries replied, describing difficulties ranging from parents losing their jobs to accessing food and taking care of younger siblings. They expressed mixed views on technology as a substitute for in-person teaching. Some highlighted variations in access to digital devices, the internet and electricity; others the need for a different pace when learning online, given the absence of social interaction and the stimulation of their peers.
Rethinking remote labs to deliver during Covid and beyond
Remote science and engineering labs can never replace the in-person lab experience in which direct interaction and hands-on experience nurture student learning; this has been widely agreed. However, being forced into delivering remote learning by the pandemic spurred our faculty to devise truly innovative methods. “The process of teaching remotely forced the team to be much more thoughtful and purposeful about how we present the material and specifically what goals we have for the students at different stages of the course,” Dr Gerbode reflected. “Currently, we’re talking as a department about creating a hybrid version of the lab in the autumn.”
Public Policies
India's COVID-19 emergency is wake-up call to Africa -AU health chief
The raging state of the COVID-19 pandemic is India is a wake-up call for Africa that its governments and citizens must not let their guards down, the African Union’s disease control agency warned on Thursday. African nations generally do not have sufficient numbers of health care workers, hospital beds, oxygen supplies, and the continent of 1.3 billion would be even more overwhelmed than India if cases surged in a similar way, said John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. "We are watching with total disbelief...What is happening in India cannot be ignored by our continent," he told reporters.
France's Macron charts path out of third COVID lockdown
France will start relaxing a nightly curfew and allow cafes, bars and restaurants to offer outside service from May 19, as President Emmanuel Macron charts a way out of a third COVID-19 lockdown. Macron, who is under pressure from business groups and a COVID-weary public to open up the economy again, announced in an interview with the regional papers a four-phase plan for unwinding France's month-long stay-at-home order. The easing will come despite the numbers of new daily cases and COVID-19 patients being treated in intensive care being far higher than when the two previous lockdowns were rolled back. Macron said the vaccine rollout made this possible.
Britain says to host 2022 vaccine summit to prepare for future pandemics
Britain said on Friday it would host a summit in 2022 to raise money for vaccine research and development to support an international coalition seeking to speed up the production of shots for future diseases. Britain is using its presidency of the Group of Seven (G7) rich nations to highlight the need to prepare for future pandemics in light of the devastating consequences of the coronavirus crisis. Britain said the summit with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) next year would support the body's goal of cutting the development time for new vaccines to 100 days in future pandemics.
With dropping COVID-19 cases, NYC plans July 1 opening
As COVID-19 cases continue to drop in many parts of the US, officials in New York City, which accounted for the brunt of the nation’s cases and deaths during the first wave of the pandemic, have announced that the city plans to be fully open by Jul 1. Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNBC that New Yorkers' vaccine uptake is making this possible. "We are ready for stores to open, for businesses to open, offices, theaters, full strength," de Blasio said. Approximately 36% of the city’s adult population is fully vaccinated. de Blasio shared that Broadway is on track to fully open by September, and by July, bars, restaurants, gyms, and smaller theaters can expect to operate at 100% capacity. Since last March, New York City has tracked almost 1 million cases, 925,347, with 32,513 deaths.
Costa Rica tightens restrictions as COVID-19 cases surge
A record surge in COVID-19 infections in Costa Rica forced the government to announce new restrictions Thursday that will dial back the country’s economic reopening. Health Minister Daniel Salas said that in the prior 24-hour period, Costa Rica had tallied 2,781 new infections, the highest daily total since the country’s first case was confirmed in March 2020. Fifteen people died of COVID-19 during the same period. “Non-essential” businesses in central Costa Rica, including the capital, were told to close and stronger sanctions were announced for businesses violating reduced capacity rules for their venues. The rapid increase in infections has stressed the country’s public health system. The intensive care units of public hospitals had reached 94% of their capacity.
Germany says new EU COVID vaccine contracts have clear rules on delivery shortfalls
The European Union’s contracts for COVID-19 vaccines to be delivered in 2022/23 contain clear rules what would happen if the vaccine makers do not deliver, Germany’s Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Thursday, signalling the bloc had learned its lesson after troubles with AstraZeneca. The European Commission has launched legal proceedings against the Anglo-Swedish drugmaker for not respecting its contract for the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, and for not having a "reliable" plan to ensure timely deliveries.
Nepal imposes 15-day lockdown amid surge in coronavirus cases
Offices were closed, markets were shuttered and vehicles were forced off the streets in Nepal’s capital as authorities imposed a 15-day lockdown because of spiking cases of Covid-19. The lockdown was imposed in most of the Himalayan nation’s major cities and towns. In Kathmandu and surrounding districts, police set up checkpoints and were stopping drivers and pedestrians. Several vehicles were impounded for defying the lockdown. Residents rushed to neighbourhood grocery stores for supplies in the morning when authorities allowed them to open for a few hours.
WHO sends COVID-19 aid as India nears 400,000 daily cases
India's COVID-19 surge continues unabated, with 386,829 new cases and 3,501 deaths, according to World O Meter. The daily case number is the highest any country has ever recorded, and it marks the ninth day in a row the country has reported more than 300,000. The crisis has galvanized organizations and government bodies into action: The World Health Organization (WHO) alone is sending 1.2 million reagents used for diagnostic testing, mobile field hospitals with up to 50 beds, 4,000 oxygen concentrators, and technical staff support, according to a news release yesterday. Also yesterday, the White House said in a statement that it will deliver $100 million worth of supplies, including oxygen cylinders and concentrators, large-scale oxygen generation units (with trained personnel) that can support up to 20 patients each, 15 million N95 respirators, rapid diagnostic tests, and up to 20,000 treatment courses of the antiviral drug remdesivir. The US government also confirmed it will send manufacturing supplies for the AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine. Because of the outbreak, the US State Department issued a level 4 travel advisory and told Americans not to travel to India or to leave as soon as safely possible, according to Bloomberg.
UK orders 60m more doses of Pfizer Covid vaccine for booster jabs
The UK has ordered a further 60m doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid vaccine in an effort to ensure that booster jabs can be given from this autumn, the government has announced. The health secretary, Matt Hancock, made the announcement at a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday and said the extra doses would be used alongside other approved vaccines in “protecting the progress that we have made”. Hancock said: “We have a clear route out of this crisis but this is no time for complacency, it’s a time for caution – so we can keep the virus under control while we take steps back to normal life.” England’s deputy chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam, said that cases had dropped to very low levels, on a par with the situation in September.
Maintaining Services
Moderna plans to produce up to 3bn COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2022
Moderna said it would produce as many as 3 billion doses of its Covid-19 vaccine next year as it makes new investments to bolster output at several factories in the US and Europe. The biotech company said it would increase supply by 50 per cent at its Norwood, Massachusetts, plant, which makes much of the vaccine substance used in shots for the US market. The investments would also enable partner Lonza Group, which is making supply for foreign markets, to double its output at a factory in Switzerland that makes vaccine substance. Vaccine output at third factory in Spain operated by another partner, Laboratorios Farmaceuticos Rovi, would also more than double under the plan. The increased production from the company-owned and partner factories is expected to ramp up in late 2021 and early 2022, Moderna said.
Egypt en route to coronavirus vaccine production
Officially, Egypt will locally produce China’s Sinovac and Russian Sputnik V vaccines and is planning to secure millions of doses annually as part of the state’s industry localization plan. Egypt already got over 1.5 million coronavirus vaccine doses and has contracted to get millions others from China and through the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX). However, the preventive health officials in the country know that these vaccines, especially the Chinese, is likely a short-term vaccine, and therefore citizens may have to take the vaccine several times over the life course.
Covid-19: US will send 60 million AstraZeneca doses abroad as domestic demand falls
The Biden administration has announced that the US will send as many as 60 million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to countries in need—effectively conceding that the vaccine, developed at Oxford University, UK, will never be offered to the US public. “We do not need to use AstraZeneca in our fight against covid,” the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, told reporters. The administration has been under international pressure to do more for poor countries, but it is bound by an election promise to not make any US vaccination wait because of aid given abroad. The AstraZeneca vaccine became an obvious candidate for foreign donations as it became clear that offering it to the US population would lead to higher rates of vaccine refusal.
British workers move off furlough as economy reopens
British employees returned to work and shoppers stepped up spending on clothes and furniture after lockdown restrictions eased across most of the country earlier this month, official figures showed on Thursday. The proportion of employees on furlough between April 5 and April 18 dropped to 13%, down from 17% in the previous two-week period, according to a survey of businesses conducted by the Office for National Statistics. Shops selling 'non-essential' goods reopened in England and Wales on April 12, and English pubs and restaurants were able to serve customers outdoors. COVID restrictions are also easing this month in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Why is India facing a deadly crunch of oxygen amid COVID surge?
A devastating surge in coronavirus infections has exposed India’s dilapidated health infrastructure and a chronic shortage of oxygen – a key treatment for seriously ill COVID-19 patients. Dire oxygen shortages as India battles a ferocious new wave means boom times for profit gougers, although some young volunteers are doing their best to help people on social media. Oxygen therapy is crucial for severe COVID-19 patients with hypoxaemia – when oxygen levels in the blood are too low. “Some clinical studies show that up to a quarter of hospitalised (COVID-19) patients require oxygen therapy and upwards to two-thirds of those in intensive care units,” community health specialist Rajib Dasgupta told the AFP news agency. “This is why it is imperative to fix oxygen-supply systems in hospital settings as this is a disease that affects lungs primarily.”
Healthcare Innovations
Covid-19: One dose of vaccine cuts risk of passing on infection by as much as 50%, research shows
Adults infected with covid-19 three weeks after receiving one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine were 38-49% less likely to pass the virus on to their household contacts than people who were unvaccinated, a preprint released by Public Health England has shown.The research looked at the proportion of household contacts who tested positive 2-14 days after vaccinated index cases, comparing this with households where the index case was unvaccinated. The team said that protection was seen from around 14 days after vaccination, and similar levels were observed regardless of the age of cases or contacts. Public Health England said that this protection was on top of the reduced risk of a vaccinated person developing symptomatic infection in the first place, which was around 60-65% four weeks after one dose of either vaccine. “This is very promising,” said Deborah Dunn-Walters, the British Society for Immunology’s covid-19 taskforce chair and professor of immunology at the University of Surrey. “While this study brings welcome news, we must not be complacent . . . It is still very important for us all to get two doses of the covid-19 vaccine to ensure we receive the optimal and longest lasting protection, both for ourselves and our communities.”
BioNTech expects vaccine trial results for babies by September
BioNTech expects results by September from trials testing the COVID vaccine it developed with Pfizer on babies as young as six months old, German magazine Spiegel cited the company’s CEO as saying. “In July, the first results could be available for the five-to-12-year-olds, in September for the younger children,” BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin told Spiegel. He added it takes about four to six weeks to evaluate the data. “If all goes well, as soon as the data is evaluated, we will be able to submit the application for approval of the vaccine for all children in the respective age group in different countries,” he said. BioNTech and Pfizer asked US regulators this month to approve the emergency use of their vaccine for adolescents aged 12 to 15. Sahin was quoted by Spiegel as saying the company was “in the final stages before submission” to European regulators for children aged 12 and older. A trial published at the end of March found the companies’ COVID-19 vaccine was safe, effective and produces robust antibody responses in adolescents.
Obesity studies highlight severe COVID outcomes, even in young adults
Two new, large studies from England and Mexico provide new details on obesity as a risk factor for poor COVID-19–related outcomes, including death, with the UK study noting the highest hospitalization rate in young adults. In the first study, published yesterday in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, University of Oxford researchers extracted data from the QResearch database for nearly 7 million English patients 20 years and older with available body mass index (BMI) values registered at an eligible general practice from Jan 24 to Apr 30, 2020. It is the largest study to date assessing body weight and COVID outcomes.