"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 25th May 2021

Isolation Tips
England pilots new support initiatives to boost self-isolating in higher COVID areas
New support initiatives will be piloted in nine areas of England with higher COVID rates, including from variants, as part of government efforts to boost testing and self-isolation, the health ministry said on Monday. The incidence of infections in Britain is still low but clusters of the Indian variant, believed to be more transmissible than the dominant Kent variant, are growing, and could derail plans to further ease lockdown measures. A total of 12 million pounds ($17 million) will be provided by government for accommodation for those in overcrowded households, social care support and communications assistance for those who don’t have English as their first language, among other steps.
A million over-65s ‘still at risk of loneliness as UK lockdown eases’
A review by 10 leading charities has found that a million people over 65 in the UK are likely to remain at risk of chronic loneliness despite the easing of coronavirus restrictions. Loneliness, social isolation and living alone are all associated with an increased risk of early death, the Older People’s Task and Finish Group has said. The group, part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Tackling Loneliness Network, also says that so many support organisations closed for good during lockdown that millions of older people are continuing to suffer loneliness, depression and deteriorating physical health.
Hygiene Helpers
Israel to end COVID-19 restrictions after vaccine success
Israel will end local COVID-19 restrictions following a successful vaccine rollout that has nearly stamped out new infections, the country's Health Ministry said on Sunday. With the majority of the population having received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and about 92% of those 50 and older inoculated or recovered, Israel has been gradually reopening its economy after three lockdowns. The country reported just 12 new virus cases on Saturday, down from a daily peak of more than 10,000 in January.
Trained on smelly socks, bio-detection dogs sniff out COVID-19
Sniffer dogs trained using smelly socks worn by people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus could soon be used at airports or mass gathering venues to pick up the “corona odour” of COVID-19-infected people, British scientists said on Monday. Working in teams of two, the COVID-trained dogs could screen a line of several hundred people coming off a plane within half an hour, for example, and detect with up to 94.3% sensitivity those infected, the scientists said.
COVID testing’s value shrinks as vaccines beat back virus
Federal health officials’ new, more relaxed recommendations on masks have all but eclipsed another major change in guidance from the government: Fully vaccinated Americans can largely skip getting tested for the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that most people who have received the full course of shots and have no COVID-19 symptoms don’t need to be screened for the virus, even if exposed to someone infected. The change represents a new phase in the epidemic after nearly a year in which testing was the primary weapon against the virus. Vaccines are now central to the response and have driven down hospitalizations and deaths dramatically. Experts say the CDC guidance reflects a new reality in which nearly half of Americans have received at least one shot and close to 40% are fully vaccinated.
Community Activities
COVID-19: London's Vaxi Taxi scheme is driving vulnerable people to get their jabs
Throughout the pandemic, we have heard time and time again that "no one is safe until everyone is safe". That message is echoed by the London GP Dr Sharon Raymond, who is putting her words into action in the form of the Vaxi Taxi project, which helps vulnerable people access COVID-19 vaccinations. She started the initiative in February, through the COVID Crisis Rescue Foundation, which she is the director of. The foundation has partnered with NHS England and third sector organisations, like housing charities, to support people who have difficulties accessing healthcare. Black cabs pick people up and take them to pop-up vaccination centres, or they can receive their jab in the back of the taxi
Covid: Newport and Merthyr Tydfil projects showcase lockdown arts and crafts
Creative communities have turned lockdown on its head by harnessing online platforms to make art more accessible to everyone. Some people have said that although lockdown has taken a lot of creative social spaces online, it has not stopped people getting involved. A continuing study has found people have turned to arts as "a form of coping". One woman said being part of a group had encouraged her to "keep going" whilst under restrictions. One group who moved online for lockdown is made up of over-60s who are part of a project run by The Reality Theatre Company in Newport. The aim is to tackle loneliness and isolation through creative projects. They have been organising a pantomime and a summer carnival over video calls.
Revealed: Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy highest among among 25- to 34-year-olds as nearly one in 10 say they will refuse jab
Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy is highest among Ireland’s 25- to 34-year-olds, despite a growing majority of the population saying they will take the jab. A tracker poll on vaccine take-up shows nearly 9pc – almost one in ten – of 25- to 34-year-olds say they will not get the vaccine. And 12pc in this age group are unsure about accepting the jab, the latest poll from the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA), representing the big drug companies, shows today. Last month, 10pc of this age group said they would refuse a vaccine and 8pc were unsure. If this group turn down the offer of a vaccine, it would mean a substantial number of people will remain susceptible to the virus and be at risk of passing it on to others.
Officials ‘hounded’ over PPE contract approval, High Court told
Senior officials in the UK were “hounding” colleagues over the approval of a PPE supply contract worth a quarter-of-a-billion pounds to a hedge fund with “close ties” to the Government the High Court has heard. The Good Law Project and EveryDoctor are bringing legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), claiming that contracts awarded to PestFix, Clandeboye and Ayanda Capital were given unlawfully at the height of the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic in April and May 2020. The two groups allege DHSC has failed to provide proper reasons for why the contracts were awarded and say the Government violated principles of equal treatment and transparency when making the deals worth more than £700 million.
Working Remotely
Biden to offer flexible working long-term to more federal employees: WaPo
The White House is considering making flexible working the norm for more federal employees after the pandemic, according to a report by The Washington Post. The Biden administration is likely to change flexible working rules permanently so that more people can mix working from home with some time in the office, per the report. President Donald Trump rolled back some remote-working policies introduced by Barack Obama.
How remote work brought my creative spark back
You might have heard the buzzwords remote-first, hybrid-only, and digital by design. These terms were borne out of the fact that the open-office experiment—with all its distractions—has failed. And companies are rushing for the exit as fast as they can. But it turns out that this began to unfold pre-pandemic; COVID-19 just accelerated the trend. Remote work is now here, broadly accessible, and will be a part of most office workers’ lives for the foreseeable future. Deciding just how remote, however, is already causing some controversy. This last year was a gift to creatives. We finally got a taste of quiet, solitary, disciplined work. And we’re not giving it back.
Finding right balance with remote work can reduce burnout, experts say
Recruitment agencies and workers say remote-working norms in a pandemic age were created pretty much overnight, and employers need to ensure they stamp out any unhealthy work practices as the pandemic drags on. Experts say it’s especially critical for retention: promoting a healthy work environment means fewer workers leave for another company or change careers altogether. A survey by Robert Half, another large recruitment agency in Canada, found that feelings of burnout were coupled with feelings of career stagnation, with 62 per cent of respondents saying the pandemic had made them feel stuck on career advancement and salary growth.
Virtual Classrooms
New York City to send all students back to school this fall, following U.S. trend
New York City's school system will require all 1.1 million of its students to attend classes in person this fall after more than a year of pandemic-induced disruption, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday, joining a nationwide back-to-school trend. The city's plans to abandon virtual learning come as states and cities across the United States ease restrictions designed to slow new coronavirus infections
Virtual classes proving très difficile for French immersion teachers
Trying to get French immersion students to speak French in school was often challenging before the COVID-19 pandemic, but some teachers are concerned that with everyone now online, the problem has only gotten worse. "I'm not hearing that the kids are always speaking French," said Kim Doucet, who's currently teaching Grade 2 French immersion with the Ottawa-Carleton Virtual School. Doucet, a French immersion teacher for the better part of 25 years, said with the proliferation of Google Translate, virtual meetings and online breakout rooms, it's becoming more and more difficult for educators to enforce language rules during class time.
Microsoft reveals changes it’s made to enable its employees to work both at home and in the office
After sending its employees home last year to reduce the spread of coronavirus, Microsoft has decided how it will operate with some employees on-site while others continue to contribute remotely. It’s part of the company’s new hybrid approach to work after it began to welcome some employees back to its U.S. headquarters in late March. The company recently shared some of the practices it has put in place for its hybrid plan. Governments and companies have been eager for advice on how to approach returning to the office because missteps could cause problems. Simply ditching the tools that workers used at the height of the pandemic might lead to higher costs than necessary, and employees who don’t feel supported in the new way of work might want to take other jobs. So, Microsoft is providing guidance. In doing so, it’s emphasizing how its products can be critical even after the worst of the pandemic is over.
Public Policies
Pfizer says it will supply Covid vaccine only to central govt, not states
After Moderna, another Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer, Pfizer, has refused to send direct vaccination to Punjab, citing its policy to only deal with the Central government, state Nodal Officer (Vaccination) Vikas Garg said on Monday. He said the company, in a communication to the state, said: "Pfizer is working with federal governments across the world to supply its Covid-19 vaccine for use in national immunisation programmes."
Thailand to tighten border controls after detecting South African COVID-19 variant
Thai border controls will tighten after the discovery of three local cases of the South African COVID-19 variant stemming from illegal border crossings, authorities said on Sunday, as the country grapples to contain its worst coronavirus outbreak yet. The first local case of the South African variant, known as B.1.351, was detected on May 4 in a 32-year-old Thai man after he was visited by family who entered Thailand from Malaysia through an informal border crossing, the director-general of the disease control department said.
Australia reinstates COVID-19 curbs in Melbourne after fresh outbreak
Australia's second largest city Melbourne reinstated COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday as authorities scrambled to find the missing link in a fresh outbreak that has grown to five cases. Home gatherings will be limited to five guests, only 30 people allowed at public meetings, and face masks will be mandatory indoors from 6 p.m. local time (0800 GMT) on Tuesday until June 4. "This is a responsible step that we need to take to get on top of this outbreak," James Merlino, Victoria state's acting premier, told reporters in Melbourne.
Maintaining Services
Vaccine deliveries poised to slow this week with Canada expecting 600K Pfizer doses
Canada is set for a relatively quiet few days on the COVID-19 vaccine front with only about 600,000 Pfizer-BioNTech doses set to arrive this week. The two pharmaceutical firms were originally scheduled to deliver two million shots in the next seven days, but shipped 1.4 million of those doses last week instead in anticipation of the May long weekend. Pfizer and BioNTech have been consistently delivering doses even as other vaccine makers have struggled to keep their shipments flowing. They're set to increase their weekly deliveries to 2.4 million doses starting in June.
Singapore airport tightens measures after COVID-19 outbreak
Singapore's airport said on Monday it was stepping up measures to keep out the coronavirus, including further segregating arrivals and about 14,000 workers into different risk zones, after it became the country's largest active COVID-19 cluster. The Changi airport cluster, which involves over 100 cases, may have initially spread through a worker who helped an infected family arriving in the country, according to authorities. Some of the cases included the B.1.617 variant first detected in India.
COVID-19: Boris Johnson's review of social distancing rules set to be delayed by Indian variant
The public will likely have to wait longer for details of the government's review of social distancing rules and its proposals for COVID certification due to the growth in cases of the Indian variant. Downing Street signalled Boris Johnson would wait longer to unveil the plans, despite the prime minister having previously promised to provide details by the end of this month. Mr Johnson's official spokesman on Monday said the review of social distancing rules would be published "as soon as possible based on the latest data, which will help inform us what measures we can take around certification".
Covid-19: Scientists urge final push for NI reopening
One final push is required by the public to ensure Northern Ireland's reopening is a success, a group of scientists has said. The Independent Scientific Advocacy Group (ISAG) is a multidisciplinary group of scientists, academics and researchers based across the UK. It said people's actions could determine the future, especially for the hospitality sector which has "borne the brunt" of the economic damage. Dr Andrew Kunzmann, an epidemiologist at Queen's University Belfast, told BBC News NI that the simplest of steps could make a big difference in the recovery roadmap, including continuing to meet up outdoors to socialise when possible.
Canada to deploy healthcare resources to help Manitoba combat COVID-19
The government of Canada said it was preparing to deploy a number of healthcare resources for the province of Manitoba that is reeling under a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. This comes after Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister last week said he had asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to supply critical care nurses, respiratory therapists and contact tracers to battle the raging health crisis in the province.
Moderna taps Samsung for fill-finish duties on 'hundreds of millions' of COVID-19 vaccine doses
As Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine rolls out across the globe, the mRNA specialist has continued to bolster its production network. With a deal unveiled over the weekend, it's now bringing a Korean manufacturing heavyweight into the fold. Moderna has tapped Samsung Biologics for large-scale, commercial fill-finish duties on its mRNA-based vaccine, the companies said Saturday. Once the deal closes, tech transfer will kick off "immediately" at Samsung's facilities in Incheon, South Korea, where the CDMO plans to leverage a finishing, labeling and packaging line to crank out "hundreds of millions" of vaccine doses for countries other than the United States.
Healthcare Innovations
Coronavirus: so many variants, but vaccines are still effective
Viruses are constantly changing. This is because errors sometimes occur when they copy their genetic material. Some errors have no effect at all. Some might make the virus less viable. Some make it more benign, which means it can survive but doesn’t cause disease. The errors to watch for are those that might make the virus more infectious, or better able to avoid the immune system that is trying to counter them, either driven by natural infection or stimulated by a vaccine. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is no different. Each time it divides, it rolls the dice, which could give rise to a more malign virus. This can happen anywhere, anytime. So it’s important to track variants and to see if they are spreading more easily from person to person, causing more mild or more severe disease, might avoid detection with current tests, or might respond less well to current treatments. Perhaps the biggest concern is breakthrough infections, where a fully vaccinated person still gets COVID.
COVID-19 may increase the risk of other health conditions
A recent study concludes that people with COVID-19 have an increased risk of developing a new health problem after the initial phase of the underlying infection. The study reviewed data from more than 200,000 people who had diagnosed COVID-19. While older people are more likely to have poor COVID-19 outcomes, the study suggests that younger people have a higher risk of developing new health conditions.
Singapore provisionally approves 60-second COVID-19 breathalyser test
Singapore authorities have provisionally approved a COVID-19 breathalyser test that aims to show whether someone is infected with the coronavirus in under a minute, according to the local startup that developed the product. Breathonix, a spin-off company from the National University of Singapore (NUS), said it is now working with the health ministry to run a deployment trial of the technology at one of the city-state's border points with Malaysia. The breath analysis will be carried out alongside the current compulsory COVID-19 antigen rapid test.
India: Dirty oxygen cylinders, ventilators behind ‘black fungus’?
A rapid rise in cases of mucormycosis, also known as “black fungus”, has added to the challenges faced by India’s healthcare system as it deals with a massive second wave of COVID-19 infections. Mucormycosis is a fungal infection that causes blackening or discolouration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood. Mucormycosis is caused by exposure to mucor mould, which is commonly found in soil, air and even in the nose and mucus of humans. It spreads through the respiratory tract and erodes facial structures. Sometimes, doctors will have to surgically remove an infected eye to stop the infection from reaching the brain
World Health Assembly kicks off with pandemic issues at fore
The World Health Assembly (WHA) annual meeting began today, virtually for the second year in a row, with ending the pandemic and preparing for the next one as the main themes. In an address to the group today, World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, warned the group that the world remains in a very dangerous situation and as of today, more COVID-19 deaths have been reported in 2021 than in all of 2020. "Since our Health Assembly started this morning, almost 1000 people have lost their lives to COVID-19. And in the time it takes me to make these remarks, a further 400 will die," he said. Though global cases have dropped for the past 3 weeks, the world remains in a fragile situation, Tedros said.
Low oxygen levels, shallow breathing tied to COVID death
A blood oxygen level below 92% and fast, shallow breathing were associated with significantly elevated death rates in a study of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, suggesting that people who test positive for the virus should watch for these signs at home, according to a study led by University of Washington at Seattle researchers. The study, published today in Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses, involved a chart review of 1,095 adult coronavirus patients hospitalized at University of Washington hospitals or Rush University Medical Center in Chicago from Mar 1 to Jun 8, 2020. Almost all patients with low oxygen levels (99%) and rapid breathing (98%) were given supplemental oxygen and glucocorticoids to quell inflammation.