"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 25th Jun 2021

Isolation Tips
Covid-19: 'Not yet appropriate' to ease care home visiting rules
Visiting at care homes cannot be eased any further yet, Northern Ireland's chief nursing officer has said. Charlotte McArdle contacted care home providers and trust officials with the news, in an email seen by BBC News NI. Public health colleagues have decided it would "not yet be appropriate" to move to the next stage of relaxing restrictions, the email read. Visiting at care homes has been restricted to try to protect residents from Covid-19. A four-stage plan for easing was launched at the beginning of May 2021.
Vaccinated Israelis may need to quarantine because of Delta variant
Israel empowered health officials on Wednesday to quarantine anyone deemed to have been exposed to an especially infectious variant of COVID-19, even if they were previously vaccinated or recovered from the disease with presumed immunity. The decision followed a warning by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday over new outbreaks caused by the Delta variant, with daily infections rising after weeks of low plateau credited to Israel's record mass-vaccination drive.
Should schoolchildren still have to self-isolate?
More than a quarter of a million children are absent from school in the UK because of coronavirus, prompting calls for a different approach to testing and quarantining of pupils that puts children's needs first. With children at extremely low risk from the virus and more than three out of every five UK adults now fully vaccinated, is it time for a change in policy?
A perfect storm: the impact of COVID-19 on the mental health of young people
Mental health services for children and young people were struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic, but data suggest they are now reaching crisis point. NHS figures, analysed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists and published in April 2021, show that 80,226 more children and young people were referred to mental health services between April 2020 and December 2020, up by 28% on 2019​. In addition, the analysis revealed that the number of children and young people needing urgent or emergency crisis care — including assessments to see if someone needs to be sectioned because they or others are at risk of harm — had increased by 18% compared with 2019.
Hygiene Helpers
NHS pushes to give 3.5m second doses of Covid-19 vaccine to over-40s in time for end of lockdown roadmap
The NHS is pushing to give another 3.5 million second doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to over-40s in order to get enough people protected for the end of England’s lockdown roadmap on 19 July. Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi announced that London – which is lagging behind the rest of the country in vaccine coverage – will be the central focus of a new uptake drive with a summit on Friday 25 June to discuss how to drive up enthusiasm for the jab in the capital. It comes as the Government’s scientific advisers weigh up whether or not to recommend vaccinating children, in order to get the UK closer to the herd immunity threshold which will push down infections in the long term.
Pfizer with a side of fries: California Health Department teams up with McDonald's to offer free COVID-19 vaccinations at 70 locations
The California Department of of Health teamed up with McDonald's this week to provide free COVID-19 vaccinations. McDonald's on Monday opened pop-up clinics at more than 70 of its locations in the Golden State. Customers who get vaccinated receive a coupon for one free menu item. The initiative appeared to be a success in its first three days as customers were seen lining up for their turn in the vaccination tent. Since spring, vaccine doses administered in the US have slowed by as much as 90 percent - particularly among young adults. In California, only 48.3 residents have fully been vaccinated with 60.1 receiving their first dose
Singapore to accelerate COVID-19 vaccination programme, increasing daily doses by 70%
Singapore will accelerate its national COVID-19 vaccination programme as it has been able to bring forward the delivery of vaccine supplies, Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung announced on Thursday (Jun 24). From Jun 26, health authorities will be able to administer up to 80,000 doses daily - a 70 per cent increase from the 47,000 daily doses currently. As it ramps up the vaccination programme, another 500,000 new first-dose appointment slots will be added over the next few days from Jun 26, said Mr Ong. “As we confirm our supply schedule, we are now confident that we can vaccinate more, and faster,” he added at a press conference by the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force.
Greece ends mandatory face mask-wearing outdoors as pandemic recedes
Greece will end the mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors and ease other remaining restrictions imposed to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities said on Wednesday, with infections now clearly on the wane. Wearing face masks will remain mandatory in indoor spaces but not outdoors from Thursday except in congested places. "The country's improved epidemiological picture is clear and pleasant," said Vana Papaevangelou, a member of the committee of infectious disease experts advising the government. "The outlook is favourable."
Australia official tests positive for COVID as new cases emerge
The government in New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populous state, warned people on Thursday to brace for more COVID-19 cases, as a state minister tested positive, the health minister went into self-isolation and new curbs came into force designed to slow the spread of the Delta variant. The state recorded at least 11 new cases overnight, bringing the total number in the current outbreak to 49.
Community Activities
Community Covid Bus launches in Sheffield
Sheffield’s new Community Covid Bus launches this week as a one-stop place for all things Covid-related, including lateral flow tests for those without symptoms with results in 30 minutes. The minibus will be travelling all over Sheffield to parks, schools, community events, vaccine clinics and will provide information and advice about Covid 19, lateral flow tests for those without symptoms, free boxes of home testing lateral flow device kits, vaccinations advice and support to book an appointment. Advice and support on self-isolation will also be available, including help to access financial support.
Carl Frampton backs initiative helping older people cope with isolation and loneliness
When a 75-year-old east Belfast man answered his phone recently, he got the surprise of his life when former boxing world champion Carl Frampton was on the other end of the line. Frampton made the call as part of an Age NI initiative aimed at helping older people cope with isolation and loneliness, particularly amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Launched last year, the 'Check In and Chat' service provides a weekly phone conversation with a friendly volunteer with more than 20,000 calls made so far.
Nearly all COVID deaths in US are now among unvaccinated
Nearly all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now are in people who weren’t vaccinated, a staggering demonstration of how effective the shots have been and an indication that deaths per day — now down to under 300 — could be practically zero if everyone eligible got the vaccine. An Associated Press analysis of available government data from May shows that “breakthrough” infections in fully vaccinated people accounted for fewer than 1,200 of more than 853,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations. That’s about 0.1%. And only about 150 of the more than 18,000 COVID-19 deaths in May were in fully vaccinated people. That translates to about 0.8%, or five deaths per day on average. The AP analyzed figures provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC itself has not estimated what percentage of hospitalizations and deaths are in fully vaccinated people, citing limitations in the data.
Portugal’s Lisbon rolls out new COVID curbs as cases surge
Authorities in Portugal’s Lisbon region are reintroducing coronavirus restrictions due to a surge driven by the delta variant, which now accounts for more than seven in 10 new infections in the capital. Two months after Portugal began to ease a prolonged lockdown, the country reported 1,556 new infections on Thursday – the highest number since February 20. More than 1,000 of them were in the Lisbon region, where some 2.8 million people live, with officials warning that hospital admissions are increasing at a “worrying” level.
Working Remotely
Working remotely could be lonely. What comes next may feel the same.
Working remotely has become an opportunity that many white-collar professionals don’t want to lose. Maybe we’re having a revolution. So says venture-capital bigwig and self-proclaimed technology optimist Marc Andreessen, who sees ahead of us “a permanent civilizational shift.” Or maybe this is merely a reprieve from the regular, a transition to a future with a smidgen more flexibility than what came before. The answer depends on whom you ask, because our society is cleaved between the returners and the stayers. Everyone has their reasons for wanting to return, or never to return — and much of that can be explained by our mutual, miserable experience of the past year’s pandemic.
How PepsiCo is rethinking the office: More remote work. No assigned desks
When it comes to the future of work, PepsiCo is re-imagining the role of the office and giving employees more flexibility to choose where they work. It's all part of PepsiCo's new "Work that Works" plan. The office will no longer be the primary location for where work gets done, and corporate employees around the globe will decide with their managers which days they'll be in the office and when they'll be remote. "There are no limitations. There is no number of days you need to be in the office or a number of days you can be remote," said Sergio Ezama, PepsiCo's chief talent officer and chief human resources officer, Global Functions and Groups
Good things happen when governments work from home
Even before the pandemic, some governments had been extracting civil servants from overheated capitals. The UK had begun sending people out of London to a set of “regional hubs”. South Korea moved two-thirds of its government agencies out of Seoul. Norway put its peace-corps agency in Forde, a small town in the middle of nowhere, even by Norwegian standards. Portugal had set a target to foster teleworking for 25 per cent of its central-government employees by 2023; when the pandemic struck, it almost immediately hit 90 per cent. Bureaucracy is generally well suited to being administered from home. Once Portuguese civil servants entered their new digital co-working spaces, for example, organisational frontiers blurred and they began collaborating more.
Many people don't want to work unless it's from home
If you’re one of the approximately 50 percent of Americans who worked remotely during the pandemic, you’re probably wondering if remote work is in the cards after the pandemic is over. The vast majority of people say they’d like to work remotely at least part of the time, but that desire is running up against the reality of there being fewer remote jobs than there are people who say they want them. Only about 10 percent of jobs on popular hiring platforms include remote work. That’s a boon for jobs offering remote work.
Virtual Classrooms
How edtech is facilitating jobs and learning
Edtech’s growth trajectory has been simply unparalleled throughout the pandemic. While e-commerce took several years to gain traction, edtech rose to prominence almost overnight. The last 12 months could well be described as a tipping point for edtech, as the ecosystem has expanded leaps and bounds. The sector has attracted investments worth more than US$2.2 billion and continues to dominate headlines. Compared to 2019, the edtech user base in 2020 had doubled from 45m to 90m across k12 and post-k12 sectors. Average time spent using such services or devices is up 50%, from 60 to 90 minutes.
This honors student considered giving up when he had to learn on his phone. He is far from alone, experts fear
Schools in Camden, one of the poorer areas of New Jersey, were closed for more than a year while in other parts of the country classes got back sooner. And that could impact students. "What we anticipate is the longer students have been out, the longer they've been faced with virtual instruction, the more severe the impact is likely to be," said Sandy Addis, Chairman of the National Dropout Prevention Center. "The long-term impact of this pandemic shutdown is going to be much more than one year. Students across all grade levels have experienced learning loss. And it's not just the learning loss for this current year. Many of them have lost ground developmentally, particularly younger kids," he warned.
Public Policies
The Struggles of India’s Vaccine Giant
When the coronavirus hit, the Serum Institute of India seemed uniquely positioned to help. It is world’s largest vaccine maker, producing 1.5 billion doses a year for diseases from polio to tetanus. Striking a deal with AstraZeneca, its leaders promised to make and deliver a billion doses of vaccine to low- and middle-income nations. Earlier this year, however, a second wave of the coronavirus hit India hard and Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided to ban all exports of vaccines. What has this ban meant for the nations that were promised millions of doses, and for the Serum Institute itself?
UN urges Belgium to double coronavirus vaccine production
Belgium should double its production of coronavirus vaccines to ensure an equitable distribution of doses in the world, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said during a visit to Brussels on Thursday. Guterres, who met with Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and several other ministers before speaking at the European Parliament, emphasised the disparity between the number of administered vaccines in Europe compared to in Africa.
Federal government projects little need for AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after October
AstraZeneca is likely to be phased out of Australia's coronavirus vaccine rollout later in the year as more Pfizer and Moderna doses join the immunisation program. The federal government has released the vaccine distribution projections it supplied to state and territory health authorities. COVID-19 task force commander Lieutenant General John Frewen says the information would allow states to better plan their immunisation programs
States race to vaccine Gen Z against Covid-19
With more than 84% of all eligible people in Vermont having had at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, no one would blame health officials if they wanted to take it easy, but the easy path is not a part of Dr. Michael Levine's pandemic plans. The Vermont health commissioner says he's proud of the Green Mountain state ranks first in the US for Covid-19 vaccinations, but with the variant threat, Levine wants even more people protected. To do that, he's going to have to figure out how to reach the one demographic that's holding out, not just on him, but on public health leaders throughout the country -- Gen Z. "They're a tough nut to crack," Levine said.
White House Plan for COVID-19 Antiviral Pills
The Biden administration has committed $3 billion toward the development of antiviral medications. The hope is the pills will effectively treat COVID-19 symptoms as well as be ready for use in future pandemics. Experts say the goal of the program is a good one, but they’re uncertain if it can be accomplished.
‘Real and present danger’: Sydney imposes new COVID curbs
People in Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, have been ordered not to leave the metropolitan area, as authorities scramble to contain a number of new coronavirus cases of the Delta variant – a development that has prompted neighbouring New Zealand to raise its alert level following possible exposure from a tourist from Australia. New South Wales (NSW) State Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced the stricter curbs – affecting about five million people who live and work in the city – on Wednesday. The new rules took effect at 4pm Sydney time (06:00 GMT) and will remain in force for a week.
Africa battles new COVID-19 wave hitting faster and harder
Africa is facing a devastating resurgence of COVID-19 infections whose peak will surpass that of earlier waves as the continent’s countries struggle to vaccinate even a small percentage of the population, top health officials said Thursday. “The third wave is picking up speed, spreading faster, hitting harder,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said Thursday “With rapidly rising case numbers and increasing reports of serious illness, the latest surge threatens to be Africa’s worst yet,” she said
Maintaining Services
UN-backed program trims forecast to supply COVID-19 vaccine
A public health group that manages the U.N.-backed program to ship COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries is paring back its supply forecast for this year by more than 100 million doses, largely because a key Indian manufacturer has focused on needs at home. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, says it now projects that the COVAX program can supply just under 1.9 billion doses this year -- including about 1.2 billion provided for free to 92 poor countries -- down from original targets of more than 2 billion doses. The shortfall comes because the Serum Institute of India -- a pivotal producer of vaccines for COVAX -- has reverted supplies to needy people in India, as its government scrambled to fight a spike in infections. So far, COVAX has only distributed about 90 million doses, far short of its original plans.
Russia's new COVID-19 cases surge to highest since January
Russia's holiday resort region on the Black Sea told tourists on Thursday it would not let them visit later this summer without a COVID-19 vaccination, part of a government campaign to speed up the inoculation drive amid a wave of infections. The number of confirmed nationwide cases surged to 20,182 on Thursday, the most confirmed in a single day since Jan. 24. Both Moscow and St Petersburg recorded their most coronavirus-related deaths in a single day since the pandemic began
Covid-19: School proms hit by continuing lockdown restrictions
Fiona Drake, who runs Cinderella Ball Gowns and Beauty in nearby Histon, has had a similar experience. "We had hundreds of dresses sitting in our store - with no events to go to," she says. Remembering the pre-prom excitement of early 2020 - before the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK with its full force - her shop was full of girls ordering dresses for their summer leaving parties, she says. "We put the dresses on order, paid for them, and then no-one wanted them. "It was a bit of a nightmare for us, really." This year, however, she says she was excited to hear proms were starting up again, before the delay to lifting lockdown was announced. While most proms have been rescheduled, she says, some have been cancelled.
Britain wants to allow travel again but is wary -minister
PM says double vaccine shot process can open up travel. Transport minister to set out green list countries. Anger rises over travel restrictions. Germany's Merkel: Europe should quarantine Britons.
Hong Kong bans passenger flights from Indonesia over COVID-19 fears
Hong Kong will ban passenger flights from Indonesia from Friday, deeming the country's arrivals "extremely high risk" for the coronavirus. The Hong Kong government said late on Wednesday it was suspending flights after the number of imported COVID-19 cases from Indonesia crossed thresholds set by the global financial hub. Hong Kong has already banned arrivals from India, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines, using a flight suspension rule triggered when there are five or more passengers who test positive for one of the variant COVID-19 cases on arrival, or 10 or more passengers found to have any strain of the disease while in quarantine
Another NHS Trust issues black alert
Another hospital in England has been forced to declare a “black alert” after more than 300 patients descended on its Emergency Department (ED), allegedly causing wait times of up to seven hours. An email sent to staff at Derriford Hospital, in Plymouth, this morning warned that Tuesday had been a “busy evening, with 305 attendances and 109 ambulances in ED yesterday”. The internal message, seen by The Independent, said the hospital was operating above its capacity – at “101.5 per cent occupancy in medicine, and 96 per cent overall” – meaning there were not enough beds on wards to admit some A&E patients to.
Healthcare Innovations
Afrigen gears up to deliver Africa's first COVID-19 mRNA vaccine
Afrigen Biologics expects a decision in mid-July on partners to produce Africa's first COVID-19 vaccine using the mRNA platform, the South African start-up's managing director said. The World Health Organization picked Afrigen for a pilot to give poor and middle-income countries the know-how and licenses to make COVID-19 vaccines, in what South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called an historic step.
Scientist's hunt for COVID-19's origin finds early virus sequences Chinese team deleted from NIH database
In a world starved for any fresh data to help clarify the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study claiming to have unearthed early sequences of SARS-CoV-2 that were deliberately hidden was bound to ignite a sizzling debate. The unreviewed paper, by evolutionary biologist Jesse Bloom of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, asserts that a team of Chinese researchers sampled viruses from some of the earliest COVID-19 patients in Wuhan, China, posted the viral sequences to a widely used U.S. database, and then a few months later had the genetic information removed to “obscure their existence.” To some scientists, the claims reinforce suspicions that China has something to hide about the origins of the pandemic. But critics of the preprint, posted yesterday on bioRxiv, say Bloom’s detective work is much ado about nothing, because the Chinese scientists later published the viral information in a different form, and the recovered sequences add little to what’s known about SARS-CoV-2’s origins.
Next steps for wastewater testing to help end this pandemic — and prevent the next one
During the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, cities began tapping their wastewater to look for evidence of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. Now, more than a year into the pandemic, it’s clear that sewage surveillance carries several advantages over traditional surveillance. Unlike individual testing, wastewater testing captures virus shed by symptomatic and asymptomatic people alike, and can test en masse the 80% of U.S. households connected to a sewer system. Such testing can detect exactly when dangerous viral variants enter a community and provide an early warning to public officials. It can even predict new outbreaks with a lead time of one to two weeks.
FDA to add warning about rare heart inflammation to Pfizer, Moderna vaccines
The US Food and Drug Administration will add a warning to the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines after the CDC said there is a 'likely link' between them and rare cases of heart inflammation in teenagers and young adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the announcement Wednesday during a presentation. The COVID-19 Vaccine Safety Technical (VaST) Work Group discussed nearly 500 reports of the heart inflammation, known as myocarditis, in vaccinated adults under age 30. The group of doctors said the risk of myocarditis or pericarditis following vaccination with the mRNA-based shots in adolescents and young adults is notably higher after the second dose and in males