"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 26th May 2021

Isolation Tips
Feeling lonely? Try cranking up the volume
With COVID-19 keeping many people isolated and alone, one way to combat the loneliness is by cranking the volume up on your favourite song, show or movie, new research suggests. Researchers at Australia’s James Cook University found that people who felt socially isolated preferred higher volumes, from music to background noise, compared to those who felt they were socially accepted. “Loud noises are not only desired following social exclusion, they are also effective at mitigating the negative psychological effects of social exclusion, such as social pain, feelings of anger, loneliness, and worsened mood,” lead author Adam Wang from James Cook University said. Wang and his colleagues think this breakthrough could help people who are struggling through continued isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hygiene Helpers
Masks, social restrictions return to Australia's 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, prompting New Zealand to pause a “travel bubble” with the state of Victoria. Amid worries the cluster, which has grown to nine cases in two days, could spark a major outbreak, Victoria imposed social restrictions and made face masks mandatory in hotels, restaurants, and other indoor venues from 6 p.m. (0800 GMT) on Tuesday until June 4.
Covid-19: Are high rates of B.1.617.2 linked to vaccine hesitancy?
Last week England’s health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, linked high rates of infection and hospital admissions of people with the B.1.617.2 variant of covid-19 first identified in India to vaccine hesitancy. Giving an update to the House of Commons on 17 May Hancock said that most of the 19 people admitted to hospital with the variant in the hotspot area of Bolton, Greater Manchester, were eligible for a covid-19 vaccine but had not had it. Hancock said, “In Bolton, 19 people are now in hospital with coronavirus, the majority of whom are eligible for a vaccine but have not yet had one. That shows that the new variant is not tending to penetrate into older vaccinated groups and underlines again the importance of getting the jab—especially, but not only, among the vulnerable age groups.” He added, “The majority of people in [the Royal Bolton hospital with coronavirus were eligible for the jab but had chosen not yet to have it and have ended up in hospital—some of them in intensive care. Vaccines save lives. They protect you, they protect your loved ones, and they will help us all get out of this pandemic.” Was Hancock right to frame the situation in this way?
Community Activities
MP Sarah Atherton celebrates Wrexham's covid community champions
Wrexham's MP Sarah Atherton has celebrated local Covid community champions. In April, Ms Atherton launched a campaign to celebrate those in the town and the surrounding area that have given back to the community during the coronavirus pandemic. Ms Atherton has now announced the winners of her search for Wrexham’s ‘Covid Champions’, saying that she had “so many amazing nominations, all of whom showed that Wrexham’s community-minded spirit had in no way subsided during the pandemic.”
Schools try pep-rally tactics to get students vaccinated
A growing number of public schools are using mascots, food trucks and prize giveaways to create a pep-rally atmosphere aimed at encouraging students to get vaccinated against the coronavirus before summer vacation. Districts from California to Michigan are offering free prom tickets and deploying mobile vaccination teams to schools to inoculate students 12 and up so everyone can return to classrooms in the fall. They are also enlisting students who have gotten shots to press their friends to do the same. Officials are concerned that once school lets out, it will be even tougher to get enough teens vaccinated in time to guarantee widespread immunity on campuses.
White House encourages COVID-19 vaccine incentives
Today Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor for COVID-19 response, said during a White House press briefing on the pandemic that he was inspired by Ohio's "Vax-A-Million" lottery, which will award $1 million to a person each week for 5 weeks, with winners drawn at random with proof of vaccination. Slavitt said since the program was announced by Gov. Mike DeWine, the state has seen a 55% increase in 20- to 49-year-olds getting vaccinated, and in several counties rates of vaccination have doubled. "In other words, this program is working," Slavitt said. Maryland, New York, and Oregon have announced similar programs, and Slavitt said the Biden administration, via the American Rescue Plan, is encouraging states to get creative in offering cash incentives, lottery winnings, or other prizes as a way to draw attention to the vaccine.
In NYC’s furthest flung neighborhood, vaccine a tough sell
If there’s one place where people could fear the coronavirus more than a vaccination needle, it’s the Far Rockaway section of Queens: Nearly 460 residents of the seaside neighborhood have died of COVID-19. That’s one out of every 146 people who live there, making for one of New York City’s highest death rates. And yet, no other place in the city has a lower percentage of vaccinated people. As of Monday, only 29% of people living Far Rockaway’s ZIP code, 11691, had received even one vaccine dose, according to data from the New York City Health Department. That compares to a rate of 49% citywide and nationally. The situation in the community of around 67,000 people illustrates the challenges facing health officials in many places as they try to overcome hesitancy fueled by mistrust, misinformation and fear.
COVID-19 vaccine acceptance rises but needs boost
UK researchers leading the first study, published yesterday in JAMA, sent online questionnaires to participants in the Understanding America Study every 14 to 28 days from Oct 14, 2020, to Mar 29, 2021. A total of 7,420 participants completed 42,154 questionnaires that asked how likely they were to receive a COVID-19 vaccine and how much they trusted "the governmental approval process to ensure the COVID-19 vaccine is safe for the public" and "the process in general (not just for COVID-19) to develop safe vaccines for the public." Estimated vaccine hesitancy dropped 10.8 percentage points, from 46% in October 2020 to 35.2% in March 2021. While substantial declines in hesitancy were seen in all demographic groups, the largest reductions were among Hispanic and Black participants (-15.8 percentage points, from 52.3% to 36.5%; -20.9 percentage points, from 63.9% to 43%)
Social media heavyweights wooed for Pfizer smear campaign
Social media influencers in France with hundreds of thousands of followers say a mysterious advertising agency offered to pay them if they agreed to smear Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine with negative fake stories
Working Remotely
Five Keys For Building Company Culture In A World Of Remote Work
Remote work isn’t going away. In fact, I’d say that this past year has proven that the traditional model of everyone coming into the physical office isn’t really necessary. We haven’t found it necessary for productivity, and it certainly isn’t necessary for culture. You can build an excellent culture with nothing but Slack and Zoom and the occasional email. I know because we’ve done it, and our team is scattered across five time zones, three departments and 20-plus employees managing 30 accounts. In the process, we’ve developed a number of keys for maintaining company culture in a world of remote work.
How more than a year working remotely has changed our bodies
It’s been a little over a year since many of us made the switch to working from home. In that time, it’s likely that your daily routine has changed significantly compared to when you would make the trip into the office every day. For starters, you’re probably not getting anywhere near as much physical activity as you used to. Even if you make a point of exercising a few times per week, you’ve likely still seen a significant dip in your non-exercise physical activity, what we call “NEPA” in the health and fitness industry. NEPA is the physical activity that happens as a natural part of going about your daily routine. It just means that we need to be a little more deliberate about our daily physical activity, both of the exercise and non-exercise varieties.
Virtual Classrooms
States and cities across the U.S. debate the future of online learning.
As the coronavirus pandemic ebbs in the United States and vaccines become available for teenagers, school systems are facing the difficult choice of whether to continue offering a remote learning option in the fall. When Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City took a stance on Monday, saying that the city will drop remote learning in its public schools, the move may have added to the pressure on other school systems to do the same. Some families remain fearful of returning their children to classrooms, and others have become accustomed to new child care and work routines built around remote schooling, and are loath to make major changes. But it is increasingly clear that school closures have exacted an academic and emotional toll on millions of American students, while preventing some parents from working outside the home.
Technology can't replace face-to-face teaching, says INTO
Teachers should not be living in fear of being replaced by technology, a union has said. The Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) has called for a standardised policy on the use of remote learning to ensure jobs are safeguarded for the future. It follows claims that some teachers are growing concerned that new technologies could potentially replace fundamental areas of their work and potentially jobs. The union’s annual Northern Conference heard how teachers coped with a multitude of problems during Covid closures, but deserve praise for the way they managed to provide continuing education for young people in Northern Ireland.
Public Policies
Covid-19: Rich countries are putting “relationships with big pharma” ahead of ending pandemic, says Oxfam
Some rich countries are “continuing to put their relationships with big pharma ahead of ending this pandemic,” Oxfam’s health policy adviser has said in response to commitments made by G20 leaders at the Global Health Summit. Anna Marriott described the action agreed at the end of the summit, which was co-hosted by the European Commission and Italy on 21 May, as the equivalent of throwing a bucket of water on a forest fire. World leaders at the summit reaffirmed their support for the Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, launched by the World Health Organization just over a year ago to accelerate the development of tests, treatments, and vaccines and to ensure their equitable distribution. However, a year on—and as the global death toll from the virus surpasses three million—there is still a funding gap of $18.5bn (£13.1bn; €15.1bn) for the accelerator. Covax, the initiative that distributes vaccines to low income countries, also has little stock.
Vietnam expands lockdown measures as infections hit record
Vietnam widened lockdown measures in its industrialised north on Tuesday to combat its biggest COVID-19 outbreak so far, as authorities reported a daily record in new cases that was more than double the previous high. The health ministry announced 457 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, the biggest jump since the 190 cases seen on May 16, driven by clusters in factory zones in two northern provinces. Bac Ninh, home to production facilities of Samsung Electronics, started a curfew and other travel restrictions from Tuesday, state media reported. That followed the temporary closure of four industrial parks, including three with Foxconn facilities, by authorities in neighbouring Bac Giang province.
Spain to receive 94 mln Pfizer vaccine doses from December under EU deal
Spain will receive nearly 94 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech between December 2021 and June 2023 as part of a European Union purchase, the government spokeswoman said on Tuesday. Maria Jesus Montero said the total was equivalent to twice the target population in Spain, where around 8.1 million people have already received a full course of vaccines.
WHA to hold pandemic treaty talks in November
Country delegates at the World Health Assembly (WHA) today came to a consensus on holding a special session in November to consider an international treaty on pandemic preparedness, with the goal of shoring up political commitment in the battle against infectious disease outbreaks. In other global developments, US officials issued new warnings that recommend against travel to Japan as it grapples with a COVID-19 surge ahead of the Olympics, and India's daily case total dropped to its lowest level in 6 weeks.
UK accused of reintroducing virus restrictions on the sly
The British government faced accusations Tuesday that it was reintroducing local lockdowns on the sly after it published new guidelines for eight areas of England that it says are hot spots for the coronavirus variant first identified in India. Lawmakers and local public health officials expressed shock that they hadn’t been made aware of the changes to the guidelines to travel and social interaction that the Conservative government published online last Friday. They also said the guidelines weren’t mandatory and that the mixed messaging could undermine efforts to keep a lid on the virus by creating unnecessary confusion. In last week’s updated guidance, the government recommended that people within eight localities, including Hounslow in west London, the city of Leicester and the northwest towns of Blackburn and Bolton, shouldn’t meet up indoors or travel outside their areas unless it is for an essential matter, such as going to work.
Maintaining Services
Quebec to move up appointments for second COVID-19 vaccine doses
Quebecers will soon be able to change their appointments online for their second COVID-19 dose to an earlier date as the province’s vaccination rollout has exceeded the government’s own expectations, the Montreal Gazette has learned. Quebec is poised to vaccinate at least 80 per cent of the adult population with one dose by June 24, which would mean going beyond the initial goal by more than five per cent. And with nearly 48,000 Pfizer-BioNTech doses expected early this week, the provincial government has decided to modify the Clic Santé online portal to permit Quebecers to move up appointments for a second dose, a high-ranking source confirmed.
More than 77,000 NHS staff in England have caught Covid, shows research
At least 77,000 hospital staff in England caught coronavirus during the pandemic, while there were nearly a quarter of a million absences for Covid-related reasons, Guardian research has revealed. However, the true totals are likely to be much higher, because out of the 142 acute and specialist trusts in England sent freedom of information requests, only 55% (78) provided figures on staff who were infected, while 60% (85) gave data on time off for sick leave related to the virus. The responses, which cover the year following 1 March 2020, offer the first official data on Covid’s impact on frontline workers who risked their own health while caring for the more than 400,000 patients who have ended up seriously ill in hospital.
Coronavirus: India, world’s largest jab maker, has to ask overseas for vaccines
India’s race to vaccinate its population has slowed to a standstill as the world’s largest manufacturer of jabs is forced to ask overseas suppliers for doses. The number of people jabbed each day has decreased by almost two thirds while states have been told to arrange their own supplies by Delhi. Local officials says vaccines are running out and second doses of jabs cannot be arrange. Despite warnings that India needs to vaccinate 10 million people a day to tackle surging cases and deaths, the numbers inoculated have decreased from about three million a day a few weeks ago to a million on Monday. About 10 per cent of Indians have had a single jab.
Hong Kong could soon throw away millions of unused vaccine doses
Hong Kong may soon have to throw away millions of coronavirus vaccine doses because they are approaching their expiry date and not enough people have signed up for the jabs, an official has warned. Hong Kong is one of the few places in the world fortunate enough to have secured more than enough doses to inoculate its entire population of 7.5 million people. But swirling distrust of the government as it stamps out dissent – combined with online misinformation and a lack of urgency in the comparatively virus-free city – has led to entrenched vaccine hesitancy and a dismal inoculation drive.
America’s largest school systems announce full-time return to in-person learning this fall
The two largest school systems in the United States will fully reopen for in-person learning this fall, officials announced Monday, a major step in the country’s pandemic recovery. The public school districts in New York City and Los Angeles — which together educate more than 1.6 million students — became the latest to announce their planned transitions away from virtual learning, which will also allow parents who have been supervising their children’s online classes to go back to work. New York City will eliminate its remote-learning option and all students and adults will have to wear masks, unless guidance from federal health officials changes. In Los Angeles, school district leaders said they expect most students, teachers and staff to be present every day, but an online option will be available.
UAE opens regional COVID-19 vaccination site for Chinese nationals
The United Arab Emirates will offer China's Sinopharm (1099.HK) vaccine to Chinese nationals visiting the regional tourism and business hub, the first non-residents to be eligible for the country's vaccination campaign against COVID-19. Chinese nationals over the age of 16 holding a short-term visa can receive two doses of Sinopharm in Dubai, the state news agency WAM said earlier this week, under an agreement between the UAE and China to launch a regional vaccination site. The UAE led Phase III clinical trials of the vaccine produced by China's state-owned drugmaker Sinopharm and has started manufacturing it under a joint venture between Sinopharm and Abu Dhabi-based technology company Group 42.
Covid-19 hospital admissions 'triple' in Indian variant hotspot
Covid-19 hospitalisations have reportedly tripled in an Indian variant hotspot within the last three weeks. Hospital admissions have TRIPLED in Bolton within 21 days. 43 Covid patients have been hospitalised and are in the town’s NHS trust. On May 10, that figure was 12. Yesterday, business owners in the town blamed families failing to self isolate on returning from India for the rise. Mohammed Khan, owner of a travel agency in the Greater Manchester town, told MailOnline : "It’s very selfish. "People just think about themselves and their own pleasure.
Healthcare Innovations
Pfizer-funded vaccine research centre launches in Bristol
A centre of excellence for studying vaccine-preventable diseases has been launched in Bristol. The centre is funded by coronavirus vaccine manufacturer Pfizer and is the second of a global network of sites to launch, and the first outside the US. The Pfizer Centre of Excellence for Epidemiology of Vaccine-preventable Diseases, based at the University of Bristol, will undertake research to support the design, development and use of next-generation vaccines. The pharmaceutical company said it had invested an initial £4.6m into the centre to conduct surveillance studies in hospitals and the community to “identify and measure the burden of specific vaccine-preventable infectious diseases affecting adults, including the elderly, as well as children”. The centre will be led by Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the university as well as director of the Bristol Vaccine Centre and lead at Bristol UNCOVER (Bristol Covid Emergency Research Group). UK Government Health Secretary Matt Hancock visited the centre’s research laboratories on Tuesday to meet virologists Dr Andrew Davidson and Dr David Matthews.
Pfizer begins testing use of pneumococcal vaccine along with COVID-19 booster shot
Pfizer Inc said on Monday it began testing fully vaccinated adults over 65 in a new study that uses the company's 20-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (20vPnC) candidate with a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot. The aim of the study is to understand if the combination of the vaccines is safe, and the immune response after adding the pneumonia vaccine to the existing COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer said.
Moderna says its Covid-19 vaccine is safe and appears effective in adolescents
Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine is safe and appears to be effective in adolescents, the company said Tuesday. In a Phase 2/3 trial of 3,732 children ages 12 to 17 in the United States, blood tests showed that the vaccine produced an immune response that was equivalent to earlier findings in adults. The trial wasn't designed to look specifically at efficacy. However, initial observations found that none of the children who received the vaccine got sick with Covid-19 starting 14 days after their second dose. Four of the children who received the placebo tested positive for Covid-19, which Moderna says is "consistent with a vaccine efficacy of 100%."
Explainer: What is 'black fungus' that is hitting India's COVID-19 patients?
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 discoloration over the nose, blurred or double vision, chest pain, breathing difficulties and coughing blood. The disease has a close link to diabetes, and conditions which compromise the immune system. Experts have said that an overuse during the COVID-19 pandemic of certain drugs which suppress the immune system could be causing the surge.