"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 11th May 2021

Isolation Tips
Covid’s cruellest blow? Keeping the dying from their loved ones
No other disease in our lifetimes has required hospitals to be almost completely purged of visitors, even at the end of life. In place of the deathbed vigil – families clustered round the one they love, watching, waiting, clasping, holding – Covid has torn parent from child, sister from brother, husband from wife, grandparent from grandchild. We have been forced to exile the one group of people who matter more than anyone else when death draws near. This particular cruelty of Covid disrupts a fiercely primal need. Across cultures, eras and institutional settings, what we crave in extremis is the same. Someone to cling to, preferably someone we love, their presence an antidote to fear and pain.
Hygiene Helpers
Coronavirus vaccine passports under consideration in Australia amid international travel hopes
Vaccine passports enabling Australians to travel overseas are not a matter of 'if' but 'when', leading industry experts say. As the country's coronavirus vaccine rollout ramps up to more than two million doses, the door to international travel edges a little closer to reopening. With countries and continents like Europe, UK and Canada flagging their intention to introduce a digital vaccine passport system, experts say Australia is not far from doing the same.
CVS, Walgreens Are America's Epicenters For COVID-19 Vaccine Waste
NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with reporter Joshua Eaton about the two pharmacy chains accounting for the majority of wasted COVID-19 vaccines, according to reporting from Kaiser Health News. The findings are based on CDC data and show that those two companies are responsible for more wasted vaccines than federal, state and local government agencies combined.
Community Activities
COVID-19 has only made loneliness worse among seniors. Here's how Anthem is tackling this issue
COVID-19 has only worsened social isolation, but Anthem is addressing senior's loneliness through a "wrap-around" program that encourages them to reach out. Through Member Connect, seniors are assigned a social care partner, who assists with connecting them to community services to address their social needs. They also have a phone pal, a volunteer Anthem associate who reaches out to them weekly.
Singing group provides 'lifeline' for members throughout lockdown as virtual rehearsals keep people connected
A singing group which moved online during lockdown has been a ‘lifeline’ for members by providing social opportunities and support. Fine Voice Academy, which has just moved into Portsmouth Guildhall, is a school of music and singing which has continued to meet virtually throughout the pandemic. Singers from age 10 up to 80 have been singing together over Zoom twice a week, and the group now hopes to boost numbers to make a larger, grander chorus for events on the Guildhall stage. Singing member Maureen Levesque, aged 70, said: ‘Being able to sing twice a week has been a lifeline during lockdown.'
COVID-19 Lays Bare the Price of Populism
As populism has experienced a resurgence in recent years, many have focused on the hazards the ideology poses to democratic systems. But today’s complex and highly technical global threats—pandemics, climate change, cyberattacks, financial crises—that demand technocratic solutions have driven home a grim reality: Populism can place us all at risk. In 2018, a burst of anger over government corruption propelled a populist politician named Jair Bolsonaro to Brazil’s presidency. Brazil, which is currently suffering from one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks, is a prime example of how populist governance in one country can threaten the whole world. If the way out of the pandemic is through science, in the form of mass vaccination and other containment measures, the corollary is also true: The way we remain mired in it is, in large part, through the kind of anti-science worldview that populists frequently champion.
Working Remotely
Trouble on the home front: remote working puts a strain on graduate recruiters
Increasingly, international companies are telling employees that they want them to return to the office. Last week Jamie Dimon, chief executive of JP Morgan, an American investment bank, predicted that its offices would “look just like” they did before the pandemic. Google, which had originally embraced remote working, has told staff to prepare to return to the office, or at least live within commuting distance of it. A recent survey by Sigmar Recruitment found that 52 per cent of employers expect either an office-based or hybrid model — where staff are given a choice about whether they work in the office or at home, or a mixture of both.
The time to negotiate an annual month of remote work may be now
In addition to on-site yoga classes and ergonomic desks, companies may have a new wellness initiative up their sleeves — granting workers an annual period of remote work. Remote work has proved popular with many workers, with 54% of employees saying they want to keep working from home after the pandemic ends, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. But that’s not likely to happen. Many more companies are expected to transition to hybrid work arrangements this year for the best of both working worlds — flexibility with the focus of an office environment, less loneliness yet less of a commute.
Should You Go Back to the Office?
After months of experimenting with remote work, your company is calling you back to the office. Should you go? The calculus is complicated, even if you’re comfortable with your employer’s plans for Covid safety. Some companies will, at least ostensibly, give workers a choice; others will ratchet up the pressure or dole out ultimatums. How much do you push back? How do you decode corporate statements to tell you what you really want to know: Will it kill my career if I stay home? The other variables to analyze feel infinite, the stuff of life
Remote working: Why some people are less productive at home than others
Has working at home during lockdown made people more productive or not? This has been the subject of some lively debate recently. Many companies do not routinely measure productivity. A large number will have traditionally assumed that they get the highest output when staff work longer hours or under close supervision, but remote working is clearly causing some to re-evaluate this.Major firms, for instance professional services group PwC, have been sufficiently impressed to make remote working a permanent option for their staff. On the other hand, some business leaders insist that remote working is compromising productivity and is therefore not workable in the long term. Goldman Sachs CEO David Solomon, for example, has dismissed it as an “aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible”. So who is right?
These beautiful Italian towns will pay you to work remotely
Remote working has become a possibility for many during the pandemic, meaning the office can now be anywhere from a kitchen table to a sandy beach on the other side of the world. And while relocating to a picturesque Italian town might also factor on many people's lists, that prospect just got even better with two destinations offering to pay workers who make the move. In an attempt to lure newcomers, Santa Fiora in Tuscany and Rieti in Lazio will pay up to 50% of the rent of anyone who decides to move and telecommute on a long-term basis. Rents are already relatively low, so the deal is potentially very attractive, but make no mistake, this is no paid vacation. Applicants must have an "active" job, even if they can do it in front of a laptop on a panoramic terrace overlooking olive groves while sipping a glass of red wine.
Virtual Classrooms
Virtual schooling has been a challenge. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn anything from it.
As of now, we’ve spent more than a year in quarantine. That’s more than 180 days of harrowing recalibration for teachers, students and families trying to navigate virtual learning. Now, on what we hope is the tail end of a year of remote instruction, there is an undeniable temptation to close the book on a system that has led to increased learning gaps, put more pressure on parents working full time, and led to a host of technology-related health concerns. This has been a year of silver linings and of reckoning. We’ve been forced to ask ourselves where we need to make changes and how. So before we shut the book on virtual learning, we should ask ourselves: What have we learned from it?
Should California allow distance learning in fall? Lawmakers, educators battle over how education should work
Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, have been emphatic that public schools in California must reopen for full-time, in-person learning this fall. But that push has inspired a new debate in Sacramento: Should they create an exception for students who prefer to stay remote or who learn better outside the classroom?
Public Policies
Norway advised to drop Oxford/AstraZeneca and J&J from vaccine program
Norway's expert committee on vaccination advised the government on Monday to use neither the Oxford/AstraZeneca nor the Johnson & Johnson jab for its immunization drive. The decision is based on the reports of rare blood clots with low platelets but also takes into consideration the stable and low case count in Norway, which makes the supply situation less urgent, wrote the committee in its report. Separately, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health cited similar evidence Monday in its recommendation that also called for the J&J jab to not be administered. The institute previously recommended against including the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Germany to make J&J's COVID-19 vaccine available to all adults
Germany is to make Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine available to all adults, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Monday, adding that they will be able to receive the shot on the advice of a doctor. Europe's drug regulator backed J&J's vaccine last month after examining cases of a rare blood clotting issue in U.S. adults who received a dose. But it left it up to the European Union's member states to decide how to use it. Germany's move to offer the J&J single-dose vaccine widely follows the lifting of restrictions last week on the AstraZeneca vaccine.
WHO names B1617 fourth COVID-19 variant of concern
Top World Health Organization (WHO) officials today said the agency now classifies the B1617 SARS-CoV-2 variant first detected in India as a variant of concern, following a detailed analysis of early findings by its genetics working group, which said the variant is more transmissible. In other key global developments, during a Global Citizen's Vax Live concert over the weekend, countries, corporations, and charities raised more than $60 million for the COVAX program to ensure more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccine, while India's massive surge remained at record high levels.
Europe dares to reopen as 200 millionth vaccine dose delivered
As its vaccination drive reaches a third of adults and COVID-19 infections ease, Europe is starting to reopen cities and beaches, raising hopes that this summer’s holiday season can be saved before it is too late. Exhilarated Spaniards chanting “freedom” danced in the streets as a COVID-19 curfew ended in most of the country at the weekend, while Greece reopened public beaches - with deckchairs safely spaced. With 200 million vaccine doses delivered, the European Union is on track to achieve its goal of inoculating 70% of its adult population by summer, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on Sunday.
UK lowers COVID alert level to 3
The United Kingdom's chief medical officers on Monday agreed to lower the COVID alert level to 3, which means the epidemic is in general circulation, from 4, which means transmission is high or rising exponentially. "Thanks to the efforts of the UK public in social distancing and the impact we are starting to see from the vaccination programme, case numbers, deaths and COVID hospital pressures have fallen consistently," the UK's four chief medical officers said in a joint statement. "However COVID is still circulating with people catching and spreading the virus every day so we all need to continue to be vigilant. This remains a major pandemic globally."
Cautious cuddling? England to OK hugs as lockdown eases
In less than a week, people in England will be able to give friends and family a hug for the first time since restrictions were put in place in March last year at the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed Monday that he has given the go-ahead for that much-missed human contact from May 17 as part of the next round of lockdown easing following a sharp fall in new coronavirus infections. Other easing measures included the reopening of pubs and restaurants indoors as well as cinemas and hotels, and allowing two households to meet up inside a home. However, he stressed that people should exercise common sense given that social contact is the main way the virus is transmitted. He also said people should remain vigilant to unexpected changes in the coronavirus data and the spread of new variants that could bypass some of the immunity provided by Britain’s successful vaccination campaign.
Malaysia declares nationwide lockdown as COVID-19 cases spike
Malaysia on Monday imposed a new nationwide lockdown, as the country grapples with a surge in coronavirus cases and highly infectious variants that the government said are testing its health system. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said all inter-state and inter-district travel will be banned, along with social gatherings. Educational institutions will be shut but economic sectors will be allowed to continue, Muhyiddin said, without elaborating.
EU: Pandemic measures to total about $5.85 trillion
The European Union’s top economy official said Monday that the recovery measures the EU and its 27 member states have in the works to emerge from the pandemic total around $5.85 trillion. EU Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni told a European Parliament committee said that if comparisons are made with U.S. President Joe Biden’s pandemic stimulus relief package, the EU can confidently stand next to to Washington when all efforts are counted together. “Measures taken until now from member states and the EU reach so far 4.8 trillion” euros, the Italian commissioner told legislators, sweeping aside criticism that authorities weren’t doing enough compared with Washington.
What’s behind the disagreement over COVID-19 vaccine waiver?
Almost everyone agrees one way to beat the pandemic is to increase global vaccine production. But world leaders differ on how to give more access to poor nations that lack doses. The United States has supported suspending intellectual property rights on vaccines. That could allow developing nations to acquire the knowledge needed to produce jabs locally.
‘Mumbai model’: Indian city thwarting COVID, slowly but steadily
Till the end of last month, 27-year-old Ashish Avhad had to field non-stop telephone calls from COVID patients seeking beds, ambulances and guidance on home isolation. Avhad works as a telephone operator in one of the 24 COVID response “war rooms” in India’s financial capital Mumbai, home to more than 12.5 million people, in the western state of Maharashtra.
Rise in COVID cases drives Singapore back to stricter measures
Singapore, the Asian city-state that has been among the world’s best at containing the Covid-19 pandemic, is back on the defensive, reimposing local restrictions and tightening its borders amid a pop in cases. With infections in the community sometimes reaching double digits among a population of 5.7 million, the government last week started limiting social gatherings, curbed entry for most foreign workers and ordered mass testing across industries and areas where new cases have arisen.
Maintaining Services
In about a dozen countries, not even health care workers can get COVID-19 vaccines
There are nearly a dozen countries that have yet to receive a single COVID-19 vaccine dose, including Chad, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Eritrea, and Tanzania. "Delays and shortages of vaccine supplies are driving African countries to slip further behind the rest of the world in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and the continent now accounts for only 1 percent of the vaccines administered worldwide," the World Health Organization said last week.
Health board offers last minute coronavirus vaccine appointments for people as young as 18
A Welsh health board is offering last minute appointments for the coronavirus vaccine to people as young as 18. Cardiff and Vale University Health Board shared an update at 5.30pm on Sunday offering first dose appointments for adults of all ages on Sunday and Monday. It wrote on Twitter: "We still have available slots for adults aged 18+ to receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination today (Sunday) and tomorrow (Monday). " The update was the second time in the day that the health board offered a last minute appointments for the coronavirus vaccine after sharing a similar appeal earlier in the afternoon.
Egypt's Eva Pharma to export COVID-19 drug remdesivir to India
Egypt's Eva Pharma on Monday signed an agreement to provide India with 300,000 doses of remdesivir, used in the treatment of COVID-19, the company said in a statement. The agreement, which was signed at the Indian embassy in Cairo, is aimed at helping India combat a surge in infections which has overwhelmed the health system and held close to record daily highs on Monday. Eva Pharma, a generic drugmaker established in 1997, said in June 2020 it had received a licence from Gilead Sciences Inc to make remdesivir in Egypt and distribute it in 127 countries. The drug targets moderate to severe cases of COVID-19 in intensive care who require oxygen.
BioNTech committed to deliver 1.8 bln doses of COVID-19 vaccine this year
BioNTech SE said on Monday that its order backlog for delivery of COVID-19 vaccines this year together with partner Pfizer Inc had grown to 1.8 billion doses, underscoring its role as a major global supplier of immunization shots. That was up from 1.4 billion doses announced in March. Based on these delivery contracts, the company said it expects about 12.4 billion euros ($15.1 billion) in revenue from the vaccine this year, including sales, milestone payments from partners and a share of gross profit in the partners’ territories, up from a previous forecast of 9.8 billion euros.
Australia's New South Wales reports zero COVID-19 cases, fears remain over missing link
Australia's New South Wales (NSW) state reported zero COVID-19 cases for a fourth straight day on Monday, but concerns about new infections remained as the missing link in a case that has reinstated restrictions continued to elude officials. Australia's most populous state on Sunday extended social distancing curbs in Sydney by a week after authorities could not find a transmission path between an infected overseas traveller and a resident in his 50s who tested positive last week
Eli Lilly signs deals to boost supply of COVID-19 treatment in India
Eli Lilly and Co said on Monday it had signed licensing agreements with three Indian generic drugmakers to expand the availability of its arthritis drug baricitinib in the country for treating COVID-19 patients. The agreements will bolster India's arsenal of drugs to battle its catastrophic second wave of the pandemic, which has led to an acute shortage of coronavirus medicines including remdesivir and tocilizumab.
India turns to ex-army medics as COVID surge sparks calls for lockdown
India will recruit hundreds of former army medics to support its overwhelmed healthcare system, the defence ministry said on Sunday, as the country grapples with record COVID-19 infections and deaths amid calls for a complete nationwide lockdown. Some 400 medical officers are expected to serve on contract for a maximum of 11 months, the ministry said in a press release, adding that other defence doctors had also been contacted for online consultations.
Healthcare Innovations
U.S. authorizes Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine for children 12 to 15
U.S. regulators on Monday authorized Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for use in children as young as 12, widening the country's inoculation program as vaccination rates have slowed significantly.
Novavax combined influenza/COVID-19 vaccine shows promise in animal study
Novavax Inc said on Monday its combined flu and COVID-19 vaccine produced functional antibodies against influenza and the coronavirus in a preclinical study. The company said the NanoFlu/NVX-CoV2373 vaccine elicited robust responses to both influenza A and B and protected against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. “Seasonal influenza and COVID-19 combination vaccines will likely be critical to combating emerging COVID-19 variants,” said Russell Wilson, the executive vice president and NanoFlu general manager of Novavax. Hamsters that received the combined vaccine had heightened levels of COVID-19 antibodies two weeks after the first immunization, which increased significantly after a second dose, compared to animals that received the COVID-19 vaccine, NVX-CoV2373, alone, the company said.
BioNTech: Covid-19 Vaccine Does Not Need Any Changes To Protect Against Variants
BioNTech, which co-developed its Covid-19 vaccine with Pfizer, said on Monday that its shots do not require any new adaptations to protect against new emerging variants of the coronavirus, echoing two recently concluded studies showing that the mRNA shot offered robust protection against the more infectious variants that first emerged in the U.K. and Brazil.
How COVID-19 vaccines developed in China, Russia and elsewhere could impact the pandemic
Countries such as China, Russia, India and Cuba are developing and distributing their own COVID-19 vaccines, marking a biotechnology milestone for many of them. Here's a closer look at how they're doing it and what that means for the world, including Western countries such as Canada. The highest-profile members of this group include Russia and China. The Sputnik V viral-vector vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute in Russia, and the inactivated vaccines from China's Sinovac and Sinopharm have already been ordered, donated or used in dozens of countries around the world. On May 7, the World Health Organization approved one of Sinopharm's vaccines for emergency use, paving the way for distribution through UN programmes.
The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 has mutated more than 6600 times
The Sars-CoV-2 virus that sparked the Covid-19 pandemic has undergone more than 6,600 unique spike protein mutations, said Dr Sebastian Maurer-Stroh, executive director of the Bioinformatics Institute at the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star). Viruses mutate whenever there is a "mistake" in the replication process. This could result from an addition, a deletion or a change to its genetic code. If that mistake increases its survival prospects, more copies of that "wrong" replication will survive, and sometimes overwhelm the original version. For example, the D614G mutation which started to rise sharply in February last year is now found in all samples of the virus, no matter which variant they are. Because this variant became so pervasive, it was given a clade name - or family group - of its own, and is designated as G clade. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that while the G clade has increased infectivity and transmission, the illness it causes is not more severe, nor does it affect diagnostics, treatment or vaccines.
Ibuprofen, other NSAIDs not tied to worse COVID illness, death
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen don't worsen illness or cause death in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, a new study involving more than 72,000 people in the United Kingdom suggests. In the observational study, published late last week in The Lancet Rheumatology, a team led by researchers from the University of Edinburgh enrolled 72,179 COVID-19 patients from 255 UK healthcare centers who had death data available from Jan 17 to Aug 10, 2020. Of those patients, 4,211 (5.8%) had a record of taking NSAIDs in the 14 days before hospitalization. The authors called it the largest ongoing prospective study of its kind and did not consider aspirin an NSAID for their analysis.
Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine scores FDA nod in adolescents, enabling a wider rollout
In a first for the U.S., the FDA has authorized the use of Pfizer's BioNTech-partnered COVID-19 vaccine for use in adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15—months ahead of the upcoming school year in the fall. The FDA will amend the existing emergency authorization for the vaccine, which was first issued in December, the agency said. Pfizer’s vaccine is currently the only shot allowed in the U.S. for Americans as young as the age 16. The vaccine's two-dose regimen will be the same for adolescents as it is for adults, the agency said. “Parents and guardians can rest assured that the agency undertook a rigorous and thorough review of all available data, as we have with all of our COVID-19 vaccine emergency use authorizations,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D., said in a statement.
BioNTech, Fosun Pharma eye 1B doses of COVID-19 vaccine capacity with new China JV
As BioNTech makes inroads with its COVID-19 vaccine in Western countries under a partnership with Pfizer, the German biotech is bringing its work in China to the next level as the shot nears a local approval. BioNTech and Fosun Pharma is setting up a 50-50 joint venture to make and sell the COVID mRNA shot in China, with manufacturing capacity to produce up to 1 billion doses a year, Fosun said in a filing (PDF) to the Hong Kong Exchange on Sunday. The news came as the pair expects a Chinese approval for the vaccine, known as BNT162b2 or Comirnaty, by July the latest, according to BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin’s comment a few days ago and as reported by Reuters.
Non-hospitalised COVID patients have low risk of serious long-term effects -study
Non-hospitalised COVID-19 patients have a low risk of serious long-term effects, but they report more visits to general practitioners following infection, according to a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.