"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 14th Jun 2021

Isolation Tips
Office connections a lifeline for workers
For all the complaints and comedies about office politics and getting along with co-workers, it seems most Australians missed going into a workplace during COVID lockdowns. New research has found 70 per cent of Australians say they find their most meaningful and regular social connections at work - outranking even their homes and community. And when it comes to which location they prefer to do jobs from, the data is clear: most do not want to work from home all the time. The desire to return to a group workplace is strongest among Gen-Z workers (aged 18 to 26), who also report the most impact on their mental health of coronavirus-related isolation.
Suicide Attempts Among Teen Girls Spiked During the Pandemic, CDC Finds
Suicide attempts among adolescent girls spiked as the coronavirus pandemic raged, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in a study released Friday. May 2020 marked the beginning of a rise in emergency room visits for suspected suicide attempts in teenagers ages 12-17 generally, but especially among girls. From Feb. 21 to March 20 2021, suicide attempts were up 50 percent from the same period in 2019 among girls 12 to 17 and 3.7 percent among boys of the same age.
Hygiene Helpers
Scientists in Yorkshire say mask wearing could be here to stay long past coronavirus pandemic
Scientists at Yorkshire universities have told The Yorkshire Post that the act of wearing a face covering in busy public places may even be something the public adopts as a new way of life looking past the pandemic, likening it to a protective measure similar to wearing a car seat belt. Dr Stephen Griffin, an associate professor of virology at the University of Leeds, also said better ventilation of public indoor spaces was a measure that public health authorities should look to adopt long term.
Goldman Sachs staff in US must disclose Covid vaccination status
Goldman Sachs has told its staff in the US that they must disclose their Covid-19 vaccination status before a planned return to office working next week. The investment bank, whose 6,000 UK workers have separately been told they have the option of filling out their status anonymously to give the business an idea of vaccination levels, had previously told US staff that disclosing their inoculation status would be optional. “Registering your vaccination status allows us to plan for a safer return to the office for all of our people as we continue to abide by local public health measures,” states the internal staff memo. “As a result, it is mandatory that you submit your vaccination status. While we strongly encourage you to receive a Covid-19 vaccine, we understand that the choice to get vaccinated is a personal one.”
Community Activities
Saudi to allow 60,000 vaccinated residents to perform hajj
Saudi Arabia announced Saturday it will allow 60,000 vaccinated residents of the kingdom to perform the annual hajj, state media reported. The hajj ministry said this year's pilgrimage would be "open for nationals and residents of the kingdom, limited to 60,000 pilgrims", according to the official Saudi Press Agency. The pilgrimage, scheduled to be held at the end of July, would be limited to those who have been vaccinated and are below 65 years of age with no chronic illnesses, it said.
Queen's Birthday Honours: Covid-19 community supporters honoured
People who helped their communities in Devon during the Covid-19 pandemic are among those recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honours list. David Cox, 58, from Teignmouth, set up services which delivered 200 meals a day during the Covid-19 crisis. Claire Twitchin, 50, raised money for NHS scrubs and Elaine Cawthraw, 70, co-ordinated local support for villagers. Nicholas Hindmarsh, 60, from Harberton, led a charity helping the vulnerable during the pandemic.
Black and Latino communities are left behind in Covid-19 vaccination efforts
When vaccines became increasingly available throughout America, US health officials moved quickly to try to convince large numbers of Americans to get vaccinated. But amid the mass vaccination rollout, Black and Latino communities, who are disproportionately affected by the pandemic, have been left behind in vaccination efforts, creating racial disparities about who was more likely to get a Covid-19 shot. Amid federal and local efforts to address vaccine disparity, vaccination rates for Black Americans and Latinos lag behind the general population, leaving many communities of color still unprotected against the Covid-19 pandemic.
Community spirit in the age of Covid
Anecdotal evidence tells us that communities have been coming together in the last 18 months, with neighbours helping each other out, or shopping for those who are shielding. My research with my colleague James Laurence, though, suggests that people’s perceptions of neighbourliness have declined during Covid. We used data from one of the world’s largest panel surveys to compare people’s lives before and during the early months of the pandemic, and found that the proportion of people who felt they could trust others in their neighbourhood fell from nearly 70% in 2014/15 to 56% in June 2020 – although by November 2020 it increased to 61%. The lockdown also seems to have made people feel more isolated, with a decline in whether people feel they are similar to others in their neighbourhood. In June 2020, only 45% of people felt similar to others living around them, 16% down on 2014/15. However, this also increased (to 50%) by November.
UK Covid memorial wall should be made permanent, MPs say
It started as an almost guerrilla act of memorialisation. In March, grieving relatives began inscribing red hearts beside a Thameside walkway – one for every person in the UK who died from coronavirus. Now stretching 500 metres, the Covid memorial wall should be made a permanent national landmark, say more than 200 MPs, peers and mayors. Boris Johnson is facing calls to “make this wall of hearts a, if not the, permanent memorial to the victims of the pandemic” from a cross-party alliance including the mayors of London and Greater Manchester, Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham.
Working Remotely
Why Japan refuses to work from home—even in a deadly pandemic
In Japan, as a virus mitigation effort, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga is urging people to work from home. His government’s goal is to cut the number of people heading to offices and job sites by 70% amid a fourth wave of COVID and less than two months before the Tokyo Olympics. But even with the government’s urging, a growing COVID outbreak, and a slow vaccination campaign, Japan’s workers continue to trudge into the office. The latest figures from Tokyo-based non-profit Japan Productivity Center (JPC) show that remote work has ticked up to 20% across Japan since the start of the pandemic, just ten percentage points higher than "normal." By comparison, 44% of Americans worked from home during the pandemic, up from 17%.
Facebook’s remote work move means ‘floodgates have opened’
Facebook’s decision to allow employees at its Irish office to work from abroad will have major repercussions for Ireland Inc as many other companies follow suit, a leading employment law solicitor has warned. The move comes as the tech giant clarified that the remote working option will not be available to all staff at Facebook Ireland, and that plans for its Ballsbridge campus in Dublin had not changed. Employment law solicitor Richard Grogan told The Irish Times the “floodgates have opened” as a result of Facebook’s announcement. Other multinationals are likely to facilitate employees working remotely from other jurisdictions, he said, even though doing so is a “nightmare” from an employment law point of view.
Virtual Classrooms
How an exodus of young Nigerians spurred a rethink on schools
In Edo State, in southern Nigeria, the extent of human trafficking and irregular migration that peaked in 2016-17 was our call to action. With thousands of young boys and girls undertaking perilous trips across the Sahara desert in the hope of reaching Europe, we were forced to focus on the root causes propelling them to migrate at any cost. One factor was the difficult economic and social circumstances of parents in some rural communities. The breakdown of the education system — particularly at the basic level — also resulted in a significant learning deficit among young people, which made them unemployable and desperate to find a future elsewhere.
'It Feels like I'm Talking into a Void': How Do We Improve the Virtual Classroom?
The COVID pandemic precipitated a major shift to virtual learning—an unplanned test of whether these technologies can scale effectively. But did they? Researchers in the UC San Diego Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) wanted to look beyond the anecdotal evidence to better understand where remote education fell short and how we might improve it. In a study presented at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI), the team examined faculty and student attitudes towards virtual classrooms and proposed several technological refinements that could improve their experience, such as flexible distribution of student video feeds and enhanced chat functions. “We wanted to understand instructor and student perspectives and see how we can marry them,” said CSE Associate Professor Nadir Weibel, senior author on the paper. “How can we improve students’ experience and give better tools to instructors?”
Public Policies
G-7 Commits to 1 Billion Extra Covid Shots in Final Communique
Group of Seven leaders promised to deliver at least 1 billion extra doses of vaccines over the next year in the most dramatic element of the bloc’s effort to help bring an end to the global Covid-19 pandemic. In the final communique, obtained first by Bloomberg News, the G-7 worked to revitalize cooperation between some of the world’s most powerful economies, after a period during Donald Trump’s administration in the U.S. when such documents were often done away with.
Moscow orders 'non-working week' to stop the spread of Covid-19
Moscow's mayor Sergei Sobyanin has ordered a week-long Covid-19 lock down. He has urged the old and vulnerable people to remain at home for a week. Figures have shown only 12 per cent people in Russia have been vaccinated
Vietnam approves Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use
Vietnam has approved the COVID-19 vaccine jointly made by Pfizer and BioNTech for domestic emergency use, the government said on Saturday. It is the fourth vaccine to be endorsed in the Southeast Asian country that is tackling a new outbreak. Vietnam, which has previously approved the AstraZeneca vaccine, Russia's Sputnik V and China's Sinopharm vaccine, said it is seeking to procure 31 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech version for delivery in the next quarter.
India cuts taxes on medicines and equipment to treat COVID-19
India on Saturday cut taxes on medical equipment such as oxygen concentrators and drugs used to treat COVID-19 infections, after widespread criticism over healthcare costs during a devastating second wave of the virus in April and May. The government cut taxes on medical grade oxygen, ventilators, the remdesivir antiviral drug, diagnostic kits, pulse oximeters and hand sanitizers to 5% from 12-18% with immediate effect. The new levies will be in place until the end of September, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, adding it would include taxes on electric furnaces in crematoriums and ambulances.
Saudi Arabia bars foreign travellers from Haj over COVID-19
Saudi Arabia has restricted the annual Haj pilgrimage to its own citizens and residents for the second year running in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the state Saudi Press Agency (SPA)reported on Saturday. Only people aged between 18 and 65 who have been vaccinated or immunised against the virus, and are free of chronic diseases, will be able to take part, the ministry that manages the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca said in a statement carried by SPA.
Malaysia extends COVID-19 lockdown for 2 more weeks
Malaysia on Friday extended a national lockdown imposed to curb a surge in coronavirus infections for two more weeks, with the latest restrictions to end on June 28, security minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said. The lockdown, originally set to end on June 14, was announced as the Southeast Asian nation began reporting record levels of COVID-19 infections and deaths last month.
Chile shuts capital Santiago once more as vaccines fail to quell rampant cases
Chilean health authorities announced a blanket lockdown across the capital Santiago on Thursday following some of the worst COVID-19 case numbers since the pandemic began, despite having fully vaccinated more than half its population. The development, which will alarm authorities elsewhere who are debating how fast to reopen as vaccination campaigns gather steam, comes as Chile's confirmed daily caseload surged 17% in the past two weeks nationwide and 25% in the Metropolitan region that includes Santiago and is home to half the country's population.
Top CDC official warns US not ready for next pandemic | TheHill
The No. 2 official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is warning that without consistent, long-term funding for public health, the U.S. won't be any better prepared for the next pandemic. In an interview with The Hill on Wednesday, Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s principal deputy director, said the U.S. was not prepared for COVID-19 due to years of inadequate investment in public health infrastructure. Emergency funding has helped public health agencies fight back against the coronavirus, Schuchat said, but unless that level of spending can be sustained, the country is in danger of repeating the same mistakes.
US FDA Denies Emergency Use Approval to Bharat Biotech's Covaxin
A vaccine that has been administered in India to the tune of 29 million doses has been denied emergency-use approval in the US. Covaxin is the name of a whole-virus inactivated vaccine manufactured by Bharat Biotech, Hyderabad. It received accelerated approval in India on January 3, 2021, after which it became one of the two major vaccines in India’s COVID-19 inoculation drive. However, because India’s drug regulator okayed Covaxin without any data from its phase 3 clinical trial, it was met with considerably vaccine hesitancy that the government itself was forced to acknowledge. Virologist and former INSACOG executive committee chief Shahid Jameel had told The Wire Science in Janaury 3 that Covaxin is in all likelihood safe and meaningfully efficacious, but that the opacity surrounding its approval in India would undermine public confidence. Bharat Biotech had also applied for approvals with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the WHO.
Trouble for some US COVID-19 vaccines
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today said 60 million doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine cannot be used because of possible contamination, according to the New York Times. The vaccines are part of the 170 million vaccines produced at the troubled Emergent BioSolutions plant in Baltimore. Ten million Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the plant will still be useable, the FDA said. While losing 60 million doses does not impact America's vaccination campaign, the decision could have global repercussions as the Biden administration looks to share more doses of COVID-19 vaccines to countries currently in need of supply.
Maintaining Services
Moscow residents to have paid leave to curb COVID-19 surge
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin announced on Saturday that workers in the Russian capital will have paid leave next week in a bid to contain the rapid spread of COVID-19. Sobyanin said in his blog that he has signed a decree designating June 15-19 as non-working days with salaries staying intact, after the city saw a sharp increase in new COVID-19 infections. The mayor said the paid leave applies to enterprises and organizations of all forms of ownership, except for critically important industries. As Saturday to Monday are Russia Day holidays, the "long weekend" in Moscow will last a total of nine days from June 12 to 20, during which catering and entertainment facilities are ordered to be closed from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.
EMA Approves New Manufacturing Site for Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) announced on June 11, 2021 that its committee for human medicines (CHMP) has approved Recipharm’s Monts, France facility for the production of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine finished product. Several other sites were given a positive opinion by CHMP for batch control/testing. The new site follows two other sites approved by CHMP in June for the manufacture of API and finished product intermediates in the United States. “Together, these changes are expected to allow the production of an additional one to two million vials of ready-to-use vaccine for the European Union market every month. This will increase the supply of the vaccine in the European Union,” the agency stated in a press release.
The FDA is forcing Johnson & Johnson to throw out millions of doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine produced at a troubled plant in Baltimore
The Food and Drug and Administration (FDA) is forcing Johnson & Johnson to throw out millions of doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine produced at a troubled plant in Baltimore due to contamination concerns. According to The New York Times, 60 million doses were unusable. Another 10 million doses from the plant will be allowed to be distributed but with a warning that the FDA cannot guarantee they were produced using good manufacturing practices, according to the Times. In a statement, the FDA confirmed that it has now authorized two batches of the vaccine. Federal officials "determined several other batches are not suitable for use, but additional batches are still under review and the agency will keep the public informed as those reviews are completed," the agency said.
Southern states have a ‘real vulnerability’ to Delta Covid variant this summer, warns Dr. Peter Hotez
Dr. Peter Hotez warned that Southern U.S. states could feel the impact of the highly transmissible Delta Covid variant as early as this summer, due in part to low vaccination rates. “Here in the South, particularly in Louisiana, Mississippi, we’re seeing really low vaccination rates. And less than 10% of adolescents are vaccinated in many of these southern states, so we have a real vulnerability here,” Hotez said. Just around 30% of the population in many Southeastern states is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If you have long Covid, as I did, don’t give up hope. Recovery is possible
I learned that my Covid-19 infection had probably induced a physiological stress response that put my brain in a state of high activation and had an immediate effect on my hormone, heart, gastrointestinal and immune systems. When I got sick, the brain shut me down with fatigue, as it should do, until I recovered. My nervous system scanned for alarm signals, described by the Oslo-based physician Vegard Wyller as “false fatigue alarms”, and after a time, classical conditioning (learned by association) caused the “kickback” symptoms in response to these signals. Finding an explanation, understanding it and accepting it helped me. I am not saying that it will definitely help others suffering from the post-Covid-19 syndrome, but it might
Virtually all hospitalized Covid patients have one thing in common: They're unvaccinated
There are only three Covid-19 patients at Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital at North Shore University Hospital, on Long Island, New York — a far cry from when the hospital, which is part of Northwell Health, had as many as 600 patients during the peak of the pandemic. All three patients, who are in the intensive care unit, have one thing in common, said Dr. Hugh Cassiere, director of the hospital's critical care services: They're unvaccinated.
Healthcare Innovations
Covid jabs can be tweaked within weeks to combat future variants thanks to UK ‘vaccine library’
The UK will be able to tweak current Covid jabs within weeks to combat any further highly transmissible variants and prevent further lockdowns, according to scientists at the country’s new “vaccine library”. Dr Lucy Foley, director of biologics and Covid response at the Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) in Darlington, told i her team have been working closely with the Vaccines Taskforce on developing mRNA vaccines – the same technology used by Pfizer and Moderna in their Covid vaccines – to be ideally placed to combat any future threats. She said: “We’re working with the Government now to bank a library of different DNA and RNA clinical vaccines, which means if we do see something like the Delta variant, which becomes a variant of concern (VOC), the UK has the stock in the fridge if you like to go straight to a clinical trial to enable us to reduce the 300 days it took us to create a successful coronavirus vaccine to a much faster time.”
Covid 'alarm' that can SMELL if someone has infection: Device can detect if someone has virus
Device can detect chemical changes in skin and breath of Covid-infected people. Experts say Covid detection in large room could take between 15 and 30 minutes Although in early stages, study suggests devices is up to 100 per cent accurate Further trials will take place and company is also developing hand-held device
Strong immune response protects young children from Covid-19, suggests study
Young children have relative protection from coronavirus because their bodies produce a strong immune response to it, according to a new study. The University of Bristol and Bristol Royal Hospital for Children conducted research which found that infants produce relatively high levels of antibodies and immune cells which protect against the virus, compared to adults. Researchers say the findings could help explain why younger children appear to be protected from the severe effects of Covid-19 at a time of their development when they could be more vulnerable. The study was led by academics and paediatricians from the university and hospital and is published in Cell Reports Medicine.
Russia tests COVID-19 vaccine as nasal spray for children - agencies
Russia has tested a nasal spray form of its COVID-19 vaccine that is suitable for children aged 8-12, and plans to launch the new product in September, the scientist who led the development of the Sputnik V vaccine said on Saturday. Alexander Gintsburg, who heads the Gamaleya Institute that developed Sputnik V, said the spray for children used the same vaccine "only instead of a needle, a nozzle is put on", the TASS news agency reported. The children's shot is expected to be ready for distribution by Sept. 15, Gintsburg was quoted as saying during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.
Proposed mRNA Covid-19 vaccine trial stalls over indemnity risk
Top vaccine researchers have asked the government to step in and take on the indemnity risk for an international clinical trial that aims to determine the efficacy of Moderna’s mRNA coronavirus vaccine against strains circulating in Africa, as well as in people living with HIV. A $130m (R1.77bn) trial funded by the US National Institutes of Health is ready to launch in eight African countries, including SA, but has stalled because the two companies that manufacture mRNA vaccines, Moderna and Pfizer, are unwilling to provide their shots, according to a report published in Science Magazine at the weekend...
Chinese researchers say new batch of coronaviruses found in bats
Researchers in China say they have uncovered a new batch of coronaviruses in bats that resembles the COVID-19 virus that has swept the globe. The researchers said they collected samples from small bats that lived in forests in the Yunnan province between May 2019 and November 2020. The samples consisted of urine, feces and mouth swabs. "In total, we assembled 24 novel coronavirus genomes from different bat species, including four SARS-CoV-2 like coronaviruses," the researchers wrote in the journal Cell.
Delta variant causes more than 90% of new Covid cases in UK
More than 90% of Covid cases in the UK are now down to the coronavirus Delta variant first discovered in India, data has revealed, as the total number of confirmed cases passed 42,000. Also known as B.1.617.2, the Delta variant has been linked to a rise in Covid cases in the UK in the past weeks. It is believed to spread more easily than the Alpha variant, B.1.1.7, that was first detected in Kent, and is somewhat more resistant to Covid vaccines, particularly after just one dose. It may be also associated with a greater risk of hospitalisation. Now, Public Health England (PHE) has said that more than 90% of new Covid cases in the UK involve the Delta variant. Indeed the most recent data suggests the figure could be as high as 96% of new cases in England.
COVID-19: Delta variant about 60% more transmissible than Alpha and more resistant to vaccines, PHE reports
The Delta (Indian) variant is 64% more transmissible than the Alpha (Kent) variant indoors and vaccines are less effective against it, Public Health England has said. More than 90% of new COVID-19 cases in the UK are now the Delta variant. The variant, first identified in India, has taken over from the Alpha variant as the most dominant in the UK.
Anticoagulation tied to fewer deaths in hospital COVID patients
Anticoagulation therapy given to prevent or treat venous thromboembolism (VTE) was linked to lower death rates in hospitalized adult COVID-19 patients, but the association remained at 60 days only for the prophylactic (preventive) strategy, according to a multicenter study today in JAMA Network Open. The study, led by University of Utah and University of Michigan researchers, involved a pseudorandom sample of 1,351 COVID-19 patients 18 years and older admitted to 30 Michigan hospitals from Mar 7 to Jun 17, 2020. VTE, or blood clots that cause a blockage in the veins, is a leading complication of COVID-19, the authors noted.
Novavax Vaccine Effective Against COVID-19 Variants Found In UK & South Africa: Study
As newer COVID-19 variants emerge across the world, US vaccine manufacturer Novavax on Friday, stated that its vaccine was effective against both the Alpha (B.1.1.7) and Beta (B.1.351) variant strains found originally in UK and South Africa. Issuing a press release, Novavax stated that preclinical and clinical data from its tests demonstrated strong immunogenicity and protection against both variants. The company has submitted a paper titled 'Immunogenicity and In vivo protection of a variant nanoparticle vaccine that confers broad protection against emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants' for peer review.
The COVID-19 virus can cause diabetes, new studies find
There is troubling news for those infected with the COVID-19 virus. New studies have found that the virus may cause diabetes in addition to pneumonia and other health problems. Most people will recover from COVID without longer-term problems, but doctors have noticed that some patients go on to develop diabetes. Now, new research is finding that the virus may infect and destroy certain cells that are crucial for keeping diabetes at bay. Armed with this new knowledge, scientists are now racing to understand how to best prevent this from happening in patients with COVID-19.
AstraZeneca covid-19 vaccine may hinder blood clotting in rare cases
The Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine may be associated with a slightly increased risk of some bleeding disorders, according to new data, but such cases are very rare and the vaccine’s benefits continue to outweigh the risks, say researchers. An analysis of people who received a first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine revealed a small increased risk of an autoimmune bleeding condition known as immune thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP) associated with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, separate to the blood clotting syndrome that was linked to the vaccine previously. In ITP, the immune system destroys platelets, the blood cells that help the blood to clot. The condition can cause minor bruising in some people and excessive bleeding and long-term illness in others, but the symptoms are usually mild and death from ITP is very rare.