"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 19th May 2021

Isolation Tips
Warning of continued isolation despite May 17 Covid rules easing
The easing of coronavirus restrictions from today has been welcomed as a "positive step to starting to rebuild our communities" - but there are still fears people will be left isolated. Jo Reeder, chief executive of BSEVC - which runs services such as community transport for those at risk of isolation - said: “The easing of lockdown is of course a positive step to starting to rebuild our communities and to encourage individuals to start to re-engage. "Many people will relish this - but we need to be mindful that there will also be people that may find this new found freedom daunting after such a long time and with this could come feelings of anxiety and uncertainty."
Hygiene Helpers
Coronavirus: Ministers to step up vaccine take-up calls amid variant fears
In the UK, ministers will step up calls for people to book a Covid vaccination as soon as they are offered one, amid increasing concern about the Indian variant. The health secretary said anyone who was unsure should look at Bolton, where most people in hospital with Covid were eligible for a jab but had not had one. Matt Hancock said 86 local councils had five or more cases of the variant that is thought to be more transmissible. It comes as lockdowns eased in England, Wales and most of Scotland on Monday.
Singapore seeks COVID-19 vaccination for all adults by August
Singapore is expecting to administer at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to its entire adult population by early August, authorities said on Tuesday, after a decision to widen the gap between doses to inoculate more people faster. Close to two million of Singapore's 5.7 million people have received at least one dose, according to official data as of Monday. About 1.4 million recipients have completed the full two-dose regimen, authorities said. "Lengthening the interval to between six to eight weeks will enable us to cover more people with the first dose of the vaccine more quickly, who will then have some protection," the health ministry said.
Martin McKee: What went wrong in the UK’s covid-19 response?
In May 2020, Sarah Wollaston, Mike Gill, and I called for a rapid inquiry into the British government’s response to the covid-19 pandemic. This would have been an opportunity to learn lessons and not to repeat them. At that time we knew that the United Kingdom’s response to the news of an emerging infection had been slow, leading to tens of thousands of avoidable deaths. We were anxious that this should not be repeated. Our call was ignored and the events of debris in March 2020 were repeated in December 2020, as the prime minister, anxious to be seen to “save Christmas,” dithered as a new variant, B.1.1.7, spread rapidly. More recently, he delayed imposing a ban on travel from India until 23 April 2021.
Community Activities
COVID-19: Thousands of British tourists head overseas - some ignore advice to avoid amber list countries
Thousands of British holidaymakers have started to fly out of the country - with some heading to amber list destinations - as the ban on overseas leisure travel is lifted in England, Wales and most of Scotland. Travel firms have reported a surge in demand for trips to Portugal, after the government put it on its green list - meaning travellers will not need to self-isolate on their return, and are only required to take one post-arrival COVID-19 test. However, some passengers catching flights at Gatwick Airport on Monday morning were travelling to amber list destinations - despite ministers warning against travel to amber and red list destinations.
Excitement and anxiety on eve of New York City reopening
Bahar Bybordi remembers hearing a “code blue” every 10 to 15 minutes or so; it was the early days of the coronavirus pandemic at The Brooklyn Hospital Center – and that intercom message meant someone was dying or needed to be resuscitated. The frequent wailing of family members of the deceased would be so loud that Bybordi, on her breaks, would lock the door to her office and turn up the music to drown out the cries.
Disparities in US COVID vaccine distribution spotlighted
Two studies today describe US COVID-19 vaccination disparities, one evaluating vaccine allocation plans aimed at reducing distribution differences, and the other revealing urban versus rural inequities. The first study, led by University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia researchers and published in Nature Medicine, involved analysis of COVID-19 vaccine allocation plans provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) 64 jurisdictions, which consist of 50 states, five large cities, eight territories, and Washington, DC. In the second study, published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC researchers examined COVID-19 vaccination disparities in rural and urban US counties from Dec 14, 2020, to Apr 10, 2021. Specifically, they assessed county-level vaccine administration information on adults who received their first dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna coronavirus vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in 49 states and Washington, DC.
Ecuador: community education during the Covid pandemic
As Covid-19 ravaged Ecuador’s largest city, Guayaquil, in the first months of the pandemic and spread through the rest of the country, smaller and more isolated communities were often the safest but forced to look to themselves to educate their children. As the photographer Johis Alarcón discovered on her visits to the indigenous village of San Clemente in the Andean highlands and the African-Ecuadorean hamlet of Playa de Oro in the coastal rainforest bordering Colombia, a renewed sense of community grew. Isolated populations were hit hardest by the closure of schools during the pandemic, which affected 4.6 million students, of whom two-thirds do not have internet access. The lack of smartphones, internet connectivity and a drop in income for their parents became a major obstacle to their continued schooling. The response was to relaunch community schools that promote their cultural identity and language, the protection of the local environment and whose teachers are also part of the community
Working Remotely
Younger workers might benefit from social perks of being in an office
As businesses decide what the future of the workplace will look like, including whether employees will need to return to the office, two prominent CEOs have voiced concerns. During The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Summit on May 4, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon said that working remotely "does not work" for young people or "those who want to hustle." And during The Journal's Future of Everything Festival last week, WeWork CEO Sandeep Mathrani said it was "pretty obvious that those who are overly engaged with the company want to go to the office two-thirds of the time at least." Dimon and Mathrani ruffled some feathers, but research suggests they might have a point. Three recent surveys found younger or early-career workers are feeling less productive at home
5 ways to bond with your boss when you're both remote
With so much remote onboarding happening, it can be hard to forge a solid relationship with a new boss. A recent PwC study found that roughly a third of employees say that onboarding and coaching new employees are worse than before the pandemic. It’s also a challenge for employees who want to build strong bonds, especially with the bosses who can be such important forces in their careers. After all, how can this person see your strengths and potential—not to mention advocate for you—if they don’t really know who you are or how you work?
Is remote working really here to stay?
Lockdown restrictions have proved to multiple industries that workers don’t have to be confined within the walls of their organisation to produce their best work. They can be trusted to deliver from afar. Some universities, for instance, have found sharing resources through online platforms has encouraged engagement, while students unable to attend lectures have been able to catch up on demand. I expect remote working and learning like this will continue to be a norm for many of us, even when the world begins to recover from the pandemic, mainly due to the benefits it has introduced. Many organisations have gained additional flexibility from introducing more tech-enabled processes. In turn, a better work-life balance and improved efficiency has been achieved
Virtual Classrooms
Researchers discuss the 'cost' of virtual learning
After about a year of virtual learning, researchers are now beginning to publish data on how learning online has impacted students; and their findings go against all expectations. From the beginning, education officials acknowledge that- in general- the benefits of in-person learning far outweigh digital schooling. But, given the unique circumstances, remote learning was a safe alternative for children to continue their education. But what officials didn’t expect was which subject saw the biggest loss: Math. So, what could be causing such a significant drop in learning? Well, one study out of Georgia State University, “Student Achievement Growth During the COVID-19 Pandemic“, is pointing the finger at pacing.
Teachers in northwestern Ontario emphasize burnout concerns, student issues with virtual learning
Providing technical support, collapsing lesson plans to fit into new timeframes, and building new, interactive activities are just a few of the challenges teachers throughout northwestern Ontario continue to face during the COVID-19 pandemic. A CBC News questionnaire, sent to educators across Canada with publicly accessible email addresses, highlighted concerns over burnout from constant change, as well as a desire for educators to be vaccinated as early as possible.
Public Policies
Singapore approves COVID-19 vaccine for use in 12 to 15-year-olds
Singapore has authorised the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for those aged 12 to 15 years old in a bid to extend protection to more groups as the country tackles a recent increase of infections, officials said on Tuesday. "The data showed that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine demonstrated high efficacy consistent with that observed in the adult population," the health ministry said in a statement, adding "its safety profile is also consistent with the known safety profile in the adult population". The government will also extend the interval between two-dose COVID-19 vaccines to six to eight weeks, from three to four weeks currently, it said.
Biden Dips Into U.S. Vaccine Supply to Send 20 Million Doses Abroad
President Biden, heeding widespread calls to step up his response to the pandemic’s surge abroad, said on Monday that his administration would send 20 million doses of federally authorized coronavirus vaccine overseas in June — the first time he has pledged to give away doses that could be used in the United States. The donation is another step toward what Mr. Biden promised would be an “entirely new effort” to increase vaccine supplies and vastly expand manufacturing capacity, most of it in the United States. He also put Jeffrey Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, in charge of developing a global strategy. “We know America will never be fully safe until the pandemic that’s raging globally is under control,” Mr. Biden said in a brief appearance at the White House. “No ocean’s wide enough, no wall’s high enough, to keep us safe.”
Tanzanian experts say COVID-19 vaccines safe, recommend joining COVAX
Experts appointed by Tanzania's new president have declared COVID-19 vaccines to be effective and recommended joining the COVAX facility that shares the inoculations, in the latest sign suggesting official scepticism about the pandemic is waning. The recommendations by a coronavirus committee formed in April by President Samia Suluhu Hassan were given by the chair of the group at a press conference at State House in Dar es Salaam on Monday.
Australian PM spurns industry pleas to reopen border before 2022
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Tuesday said it was still not safe to allow residents fully-vaccinated for COVID-19 to travel overseas, as industries hit hard by the pandemic press for a faster reopening of international borders. "I understand that everyone is keen to get back to a time that we once knew. But the reality is we are living this year in a pandemic that is worse than last year," Morrison told reporters.
New French COVID-19 cases tick up again, hospital pressure eases
The pressure on French hospitals from the coronavirus epidemic has eased further but two days before France reopens restaurants' outdoor terraces again, the slowdown in the number of new cases seen in the past two weeks came to a halt. The health ministry reported 3,350 new cases on Monday - when the case count usually drops due to the weekend - an increase of 1.74% compared to last Monday and the same week-on-week as on Sunday, when nearly 14,000 new cases were reported.
Macron hosts Africa summit on post-COVID-19 economic recovery
French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting leaders of African countries and heads of global financial institutions for a summit that will seek to provide the continent with critical financing swept away by the impact of COVID-19. Some two dozen African heads of state are attending Tuesday’s summit in Paris, one of the biggest in-person top-level meetings held during the pandemic. International financial leaders attending, included International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Kristalina Georgieva as well as World Bank managing director of operations Axel van Trotsenburg.
UAE to offer booster shot to recipients of Sinopharm vaccine
The United Arab Emirates announced Tuesday it will offer a third shot to recipients of the Chinese state-backed Sinopharm coronavirus vaccine six months after their initial two-dose regimen. The move appears to make the UAE the first country worldwide to formally introduce the booster. The brief statement comes after some residents in the UAE reported receiving a third shot amid concerns about an insufficient antibody response. China’s top disease control official acknowledged last month that the country’s locally produced vaccines offer low protection against the virus, adding to growing questions over the shot’s efficacy. The Sinopharm vaccine has become the linchpin of the UAE’s vaccination campaign, among the fastest in the world per capita.
Mexico aims to give population at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose by October
Mexico aims to ensure its population has had at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot by October before the onset of colder weather, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Tuesday. Mexico has so far distributed nearly 24 million vaccine doses to its population of 126 million, and Lopez Obrador said he was sure it would receive more shots from the United States. By July, health authorities will begin providing vaccinations to people as young as 40, he said. Over the next month and a half, the pace of vaccinations in the world's largest Spanish-speaking country should accelerate as tens of millions of new doses arrive, the government says.
Maintaining Services
All people who refused coronavirus vaccine to be offered second chance
All people who fail to turn up for their first coronavirus vaccination appointment will receive a second invitation to be vaccinated at the end of the campaign in Belgium, the Vaccination Task Force announced on Tuesday. Both doubters and those who initially refused the vaccine will get a second chance, Gudrun Briat, spokesperson for the task force said during a press conference held by health institute Sciensano and the National Crisis Centre.
Clinic helps long-haul patients in London's "COVID triangle"
When the coronavirus tore through their London neighborhoods in early 2020, they all got sick. More than a year later, they are still struggling. “It’s like a rollercoaster,” said Miller, a previously fit, gym-loving 57-year-old who is coping with leg and joint pain, headaches and breathlessness. “There are times that I see light at the end of the tunnel. I feel like I’m taking one step forward, and then all of a sudden — bang — I’m ill again and I take two steps back.” Even as London looks to life after lockdown, thousands of people are still grappling with long-term physical and mental effects of the virus. Help is coming through “long COVID” clinics, where medics, patients — and Britain’s overstretched health system — are confronting the virus’s enduring effects.
Brazil to receive ingredients from China for more COVID vaccines
Brazil has announced it will receive enough coronavirus vaccine ingredients from China to produce as many as 25 million doses of the AstraZeneca and Sinovac jabs, as the South American nation continues to struggle to vaccinate its population. Rodrigo Cruz, executive secretary of the Brazilian Health Ministry, said the Fiocruz medical research institute would receive two lots of AstraZeneca jab ingredients on Saturday.
Healthcare Innovations
New vaccine technology could prevent future coronavirus outbreaks
Researchers are working on a vaccine that could protect against multiple coronaviruses. A new study found the shot to be highly protective against current coronavirus variants in monkeys. The technology could help avoid a future of seasonal booster shots.
Major new UK study shows overwhelming effectiveness of AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines
A major new study of people who have received a coronavirus vaccine in the UK has found that a single dose of the AstraZeneca can lower the risk of death with coronavirus by 80%. The new report for Public Health England also shows protection against death from the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine rises from approximately 80% after one dose to 97% after two doses.
COVID-19: Regulator increases time Pfizer jab can be stored in a fridge to one month
The length of time the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine can be kept unopened in a fridge has been increased from five days to one month. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) previously advised that vials needed to be kept at an ultra-low temperature, between minus 70C and minus 80C, until a few days before use when it can be transferred to a standard medical fridge. But the EMA said in a statement it had extended the approved storage period for an unopened thawed vial when kept in a fridge between 2C and 8C from five days to one month.
Covid-19: What should we do about B.1.617.2? A classic case of decision making under uncertainty
The new variant of concern has fundamentally changed the risk we face and therefore the government’s criteria for moving ahead with the road map have not been met, argue Stephen Reicher and colleagues. There are many things we know and many things we don’t know about the B.1.617.2 variant. We know that it is spreading fast (roughly doubling each week in the UK and nearly tripling last week from 520 to 1313 cases), that it is becoming established in a number of areas across the country, and that it is already the dominant variant in places such as Bedford, Bolton, and Blackburn.Compared to the dominant B.1.1.7 variant, we know that B.1.617.2 is very likely to be more transmissible and that it might be better able to transmit between people who are fully vaccinated
Long Covid symptoms ease after vaccination, survey finds
Covid-19 vaccines tend to alleviate the symptoms of long Covid, according to a large survey of more than 800 people that suggests mRNA vaccines, in particular, are beneficial. Though Covid-19 was initially understood to be a largely respiratory illness from which most would recover within a few weeks, as the pandemic wore on increasing numbers of people reported experiencing symptoms for months on end. There is no consensus definition of the condition of these people who have symptoms ranging from chronic fatigue to organ damage, let alone a standardised treatment plan. As vaccines hit the mainstream, concerns arose that vaccination could precipitate relapses or a worsening of symptoms. But conversely, anecdotal reports suggested that vaccines helped some people with long Covid.
Rare COVID-19 response in children explained
One of the enduring mysteries of the COVID-19 pandemic is why most children tend to experience fewer symptoms than adults after infection with the coronavirus. The immune system response that occurs in the rare cases in which children experience life-threatening reactions after infection may offer an important insight, a Yale-led study published in the journal Immunity suggests.