"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 26th Jul 2021

Isolation Tips
Sparked by pandemic fallout, homeschooling surges across US
Although the pandemic disrupted family life across the U.S. since taking hold in spring 2020, some parents are grateful for one consequence: They’re now opting to homeschool their children, even as schools plan to resume in-person classes. The specific reasons vary widely. Some families who spoke with The Associated Press have children with special educational needs; others seek a faith-based curriculum or say their local schools are flawed. The common denominator: They tried homeschooling on what they thought was a temporary basis and found it beneficial to their children.
Hygiene Helpers
Why it may be a 'grave mistake' for FDA to wait much longer for full COVID-19 vaccine approval
Zeynep Tufecki, a sociologist who has written extensively on COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, is a proponent of broadening vaccine mandates in the United States, citing precedent in the health-care sector, the military, and schools. Kentucky, she notes in a piece published Saturday in The New York Times, requires anyone working in a long-term care facility to be vaccinated against the flu and pneumococcal disease unless they have a medical or religious exemption (Brown University's Dr. Ashish Jha, another prominent voice during the pandemic, also pointed to flu vaccine mandates in nursing homes as a reason to implement them for the coronavirus). But Tufecki acknowledged that the fact that the FDA has still not granted full authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines is an obstacle to imposing such requirements.
Large events such as Premier League matches could be open only to the fully-vaccinated
Large events such as Premier League games could be open only to fully vaccinated people from October under government plans. Talks are under way with the Premier League to discuss whether supporters who have not received both jabs could be barred from entry, according to the PA news agency. The rule could also be used for lower divisions and other sports, and for seated events with a capacity of more than 20,000 people.
France Mandates Vaccine Passport To Visit Eiffel Tower, Other Tourist Sites—And Restaurants Are Next
No sooner had the Eiffel Tower reopened to the public than a new hoop materialized through which tourists must jump if they want to visit the iconic Paris landmark. In a new initiative to fight what the French government calls a “stratospheric” rise in delta variant infections, individuals must download and use a digital Covid pass to enter French museums, movie theaters, sports venues, festivals, top tourist attractions and more. A government mandate to use le pass sanitaire, or “health pass,” took effect yesterday at cultural and tourist sites across France, as well as all events or places with more than 50 people. Visitors who turned up at the Eiffel Tower without proof of vaccination were offered on-the-spot Covid tests.
Italy imposes ‘green pass’ restrictions on unvaccinated people
The Italian prime minister, Mario Draghi, has urged all Italians to get Covid-19 jabs after his government approved restrictions on unvaccinated citizens as it scrambles to contain a resurgence of infections. Draghi told a press conference that the country needed to act quickly to avoid the kind of infection levels that are being seen in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, as well as to protect the economy. From 6 August, entry to stadiums, museums, theatres, cinemas, exhibition centres, swimming pools and gyms will only be allowed upon presentation of a “green pass”.
Hungary to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for healthcare workers -PM
Hungary's government has decided to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for healthcare workers as part of efforts to contain the pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban told public radio on Friday. "Already there are certain vaccines that are mandatory for people working in the healthcare sector ... we have now extended this to the coronavirus," Orban said..
New Zealand Suspends Travel Bubble With Australia As Sydney COVID-19 Cluster Grows
New Zealand on Friday suspended its quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia for at least eight weeks due to a growing COVID-19 cluster in Sydney. New Zealand recently imposed quarantine restrictions on travelers from New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia states, where lockdowns have been introduced to contain delta variant clusters.
As Americans navigate conflicting COVID-19 mask advice, 'everyone is confused'
A COVID-19 surge ignited in parts of the United States by the highly contagious Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy has led to new mask mandates and deep confusion among some people about which guidance to follow. In Los Angeles County, leaders have reinstated an indoor mask mandate, even for the fully vaccinated. Officials in Houston and New Orleans also raised coronavirus alert levels this week and told people to mask up.
Community Activities
Covid-19: Children with special educational needs 'forgotten' during pandemic
Families of children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) felt they were "forgotten" in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. That is according to a report from the National Children's Bureau (NCB) in Northern Ireland. Some families felt Covid-19 was used as "an excuse" by some agencies not to provide services or to limit services. Some parents have previously said their children had regressed due to the withdrawal of services in lockdown. Disabled people across the UK also spoke about the devastating impact the pandemic had on their lives.
‘Too risky’: Performers call for insurance to cover COVID-19 losses
Performers are calling on the state or federal governments to provide insurance coverage for losses caused by COVID-19 restrictions - a move backed by the insurance industry. Musician Katie Wighton, a member of All Our Exes Live in Texas, said the band wanted to tour but insurance policies did not cover COVID-related cancellations. “It’s just been lockdown after lockdown and with us all being in different states it makes travel really tough,” she said. “If we had some sort of insurance it would definitely help us financially.”
French protesters march against vaccine mandates and passes
Some 160,000 people, including far-right activists and members of France's yellow vest movement, protested Saturday across the country against a bill requiring everyone to have a special virus pass to enter restaurants and mandating COVID-19 vaccinations for all health care workers. Similar protests were held in neighboring Italy. Police fired water cannons and tear gas on rowdy protesters in Paris, although most gatherings were orderly.
Anti-lockdown protest turns violent in Sydney
Thousands of people gathered in downtown Sydney, Australia on Saturday (July 24) to protest coronavirus restrictions as New South Wales (NSW) recorded its biggest daily rise in new COVID-19 cases this year.
Reluctance and distrust define vaccine attitudes in Gaza
More than five months since the arrival of the first batch of COVID-19 jabs in the Gaza Strip, the vaccine rollout in the besieged coastal enclave has been met with general distrust and, in many cases, outright refusal. According to data from Gaza’s health ministry, some 98,000 people – or just less than five percent of the two million population – have so far received a shot.
COVID-19: Latitude Festival becomes first major festival to welcome back fans - with 40,000 expected
Latitude Festival is under way in Suffolk, as 40,000 people descend on what organisers have said is "close to being the safest place in England". The four-day music event, which is taking place at the Henham Park estate, is part of the government's Events Research Programme, meaning fans will have to show they have been vaccinated twice or tested negative for the virus. Social distancing rules were axed in England on Monday, but while Latitude is going ahead, some other festivals - such as Glastonbury and Womad - have been cancelled this year.
Slovak police use teargas at protest over COVID-19 restrictions
Riot police fired teargas at hundreds of demonstrators who blocked the entrance to Slovakia's parliament and pelted the building with eggs on Friday as deputies debated legislation the protesters oppose on COVID-19 restrictions. Some protesters chanted "Treason" and one carried a banner declaring "Stop corona fascism" over a draft law that would give people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 easier access to public events and spaces than those who have not.
White House blames Facebook and YouTube for spreading vaccine misinformation
The White House has YouTube, not just Facebook, on its list of social media platforms officials say are responsible for an alarming spread of misinformation about COVID vaccines and are not doing enough to stop it, sources familiar with the administration's thinking said.
Working Remotely
Bank of Canada to Bring Back Employees, Allow 50% Remote Work
The Bank of Canada will allow most of its employees to work remotely as much as 50% of the time once public health guidelines allow it to fully reopen its offices. A limited number of staff are currently working in the central bank’s offices in Ottawa. The coronavirus pandemic has eased in Canada, with vaccinations rising and cases dropping, so the bank expects to bring back many employees after the summer. But it doesn’t see a return to normal conditions until 2022, an official said. “More employees will be allowed access over the fall, in line with federal and provincial public health guidelines. Based on current conditions, we are not anticipating full on-site staffing levels until the new year,” Chief Human Resources Officer Alexis Corbett said
I struggled with office life. Now others are alive to benefits of remote working
People with invisible disabilities have long asked for flexible options such as working from home. Then came the pandemic. "For years, people with invisible disabilities – including neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – have campaigned for accommodations that would allow us to do our jobs well. Chief among these is the flexibility to work from home. For many of us, the remote work era facilitated by Covid-19 has changed our lives for the better, despite the grief and anxiety of the pandemic. Now, as the world begins to reopen and offices throw open their doors, many are afraid the era of working from home – where they feel more comfortable, productive and safe – is coming to an end."
Virtual Classrooms
COVID Gives Virtual Learning A Stronger Foothold In Michigan As Most Students Return To Classrooms
Most students are expected back in classrooms this fall, but the number of students learning via computer will likely remain well above pre-pandemic levels. Many Michigan families and educators experienced virtual learning for the first time last school year. That exposure — combined with ongoing COVID concerns — is likely to shape virtual learning in Michigan this fall and for years to come, experts say. Questions remain about online education, from inequities in access to poor academic results. Students in fully online schools are disproportionately from low-income families, and have historically struggled. Some observers worry, too, that expanding online learning will boost profits for charter school companies. Nonetheless, Michigan’s virtual learning landscape is changing rapidly.
Access to technology is changing the U.S. education system for good
Prior to COVID-19, the Pleasanton Calif. Unified School District (PUSD) was already issuing a digital device to every middle and high school student. During the pandemic, the district expanded its 1-to-1 policy to all elementary-level students, as well. “Anybody who needed a device got a device,” says Patrick Gannon, the district’s communications and community engagement coordinator. Thanks to that rapid deployment, “We were able to pivot 14,500 students from in-person to remote instruction in the course of a week.” PUSD isn’t alone: Around the nation, virtual learning needs spurred rapid adoption of 1-to-1 policies across K-12 education.
The future of virtual teaching is all about school funding
The virtual classroom was a necessity during the pandemic, and data suggest it’s here to stay for the long-term: The global virtual classroom market is expected to reach $19.6 billion by 2024 according to a report by researcher Market Data Forecast. There is a growing post-pandemic appetite for virtual instruction among school leaders. In a 2020 report titled “Remote Learning is Here to Stay,” the RAND Corporation surveyed 375 school district leaders from across the country and found that over a third of them are interested in continuing some form of virtual learning after the pandemic subsides.
Public Policies
Ministers plan for new restrictions within weeks as Covid rates in young adults hit record level
The coronavirus infection rate in young people has reached the highest for any age group since the pandemic began as the government drafts contingency plans to bring back restrictions within weeks. In the seven days before Covid restrictions were lifted, 1,154.7 infections per 100,000 people were recorded among those aged 20 to 29, according to Public Health England, with cases rising across every age group and region of the country. Weekly hospitalisations are also at their highest since early March. Officials in the Covid-19 taskforce have been drawing up proposals that could see baseline measures, such as mask-wearing, social distancing and guidance on working from home, reintroduced in England by next month.
EU regulator endorses use of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine in teens
Europe's medicines regulator on Friday recommended approving the use of Moderna's (MRNA.O) COVID-19 vaccine in 12- to 17-year olds, paving the way for it to become the second shot okayed for adolescent use in the bloc.
Australia's Lorna Jane activewear fined $4 m for misleading COVID-19 claims
Athleisure clothing chain Lorna Jane Pty Ltd was fined A$5 million ($3.7 million) by an Australian court on Friday after claiming its garments could prevent COVID-19, which a judge labelled as "exploitative, predatory and potentially dangerous"
Taiwan to ease COVID-19 restrictions as cases drop
Taiwan will ease its COVID-19 restrictions next week, the government said on Friday, as rapidly falling case numbers give authorities confidence to further lower the coronavirus alert level. Taiwan imposed restrictions on gatherings, including closing entertainment venues and limiting restaurants to take-out service, in mid-May following a spike in domestic cases after months of no or few cases apart from imported ones.
Vietnam's biggest cities tighten restrictions as COVID-19 cases surge
Vietnam will extend a lockdown in Ho Chi Minh City until Aug. 1 and impose stricter restrictions in the capital Hanoi from Saturday, as the Southeast Asian country battles its worst wave of COVID-19 infections. After successfully containing the virus for much of the pandemic, Vietnam has been facing a complicated outbreak of the virus, with southern business hub Ho Chi Minh City and surrounding provinces accounting for most new infections.
Maintaining Services
China's Sinovac evaluates vaccine plant in Chile
Chilean authorities said on Friday that China's Sinovac had begun evaluating potential sites for the construction of a vaccine plant in Chile that could begin producing doses of the Chinese shot as early as the first half of 2022. Chile, a global leader in vaccinating its citizens against the coronavirus, has leaned heavily on the Sinovac vaccine in its fast-paced mass vaccination program. The Andean nation also helped spearhead clinical trials of the shot late last year. A delegation of executives from Sinovac this week visited potential sites for the factory near the capital Santiago and in Chile's northern desert.
COVID 'the straw that broke the camel's back': Big increase in alcoholic liver disease deaths during pandemic
Deaths from alcoholic liver disease increased by an unprecedented 21% during the first year of the pandemic, compared with 2.9% between 2018 and 2019. Sky News speaks to someone who lost her sister to the disease, as well as a recovering alcoholic who had to have a liver transplant. After years of drinking, Martin Rhodes will be 11 years sober on 7 September.
Indonesia prepares more ICU units, waits to see if COVID curbs will be extended
Indonesia is preparing more intensive care units after logging several days of record-high COVID-19 deaths last week, while the country waits to see whether the government will extend or loosen tough restrictions due to expire on Sunday. Buckling under a Delta variant-driven wave of the virus, Indonesia has become Asia's COVID-19 epicentre with hospitals deluged, particularly on the densely populated island of Java.
Indonesia's Bali running out of oxygen as government ponders curbs
The Indonesian island of Bali is running out of oxygen for its COVID-19 patients as infections surge, the chief of its health agency said, as Southeast Asia's biggest country struggles with the region's worst COVID epidemic. Bali, famous for its tourist beaches and temples, along with the main island of Java and 15 other regions are under tight coronavirus restrictions, due to expire on Sunday. The government is debating whether to extend them or not.
Covid-19: 'More than 60% admitted to hospital not vaccinated'
More than 60% of people admitted to hospital in Belfast in recent weeks due to Covid-19 have not been vaccinated, according to the medical director of the Belfast Trust. Chris Hagan explained that there were also "rising numbers of young patients" in the 20-39 age group.
Three states are seeing about 40% of the country's new Covid-19 cases
"This week, just three states Florida, Texas and Missouri, three states with lower vaccination rates accounted for 40 percent of all cases nationwide," Zients said at a White House news conference. "For the second week in a row, one in five of all cases occurring in Florida alone. And within communities, these cases are primarily among unvaccinated people." But Florida is one of five states with the highest case rates that had a higher rate of people getting vaccinated compared to the national average, he said.
Vaccinated people make up 75% of recent COVID-19 cases in Singapore, but few fall ill
Vaccinated individuals accounted for three-quarters of Singapore's COVID-19 infections in the last four weeks, but they were not falling seriously ill, government data showed, as a rapid ramp-up in inoculations leaves fewer people unvaccinated. While the data shows that vaccines are highly effective in preventing severe cases, it also underscores the risk that even those inoculated could be contagious, so that inoculation alone may not suffice to halt transmission.
Healthcare Innovations
COVID breakthrough infections: What we know about vaccinated people getting coronavirus
As coronavirus variants spread, breakthrough cases will go up. But experts say that's not a reason to question vaccines. Here's what we know right now.
Israel: Pfizer vaccine allows infection but prevents severe illness
A new study released this week from Israel’s Health Ministry found that while the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is highly effective at preventing severe COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant, it was much less effective than the health agency previously thought at protecting people from infection. The study, conducted from June 20 to July 17, found that the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech inoculation was roughly 88 percent effective at preventing hospitalization due to the delta variant and about 91 percent effective at protecting against severe cases. However, the Israeli health agency said that for symptomatic COVID-19 cases, the vaccine was found to offer just about 41 percent protection against the delta variant, with an overall effectiveness of 39 percent for preventing delta variant infections.
Eight-week gap between first and second Pfizer vaccine doses ‘a sweet spot’
An eight-week gap between the first and second doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine is a “sweet spot” when it comes to generating a strong immune response while protecting the UK population against the Delta variant of coronavirus, scientists have said. In a new study, funded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), researchers have found that when compared to a four-week gap, a 10-week interval between the doses produces higher antibody levels, as well as a higher proportion of a group of infection-fighting cells in the body known as “helper” T cells. However, when all the "pros and cons" are taken into consideration - such as soaring cases of the Delta variant and society opening up - eight weeks is the optimum interval.
PHE upgrade Delta variant’s risk level due to reinfection risk
Public Health England has upgraded its risk assessment of the Delta variant after national testing data revealed it is more likely to cause reinfections than the Alpha variant, which was first identified in Kent. The health agency’s analysis found the risk of reinfection with Delta may be 46% greater than with the Alpha variant, with the highest risk seen six months after a first infection – when second cases caused by Delta were 2.37 times more common than with Alpha.
J&J’s COVID-19 shot scores safety backing from CDC experts but booster need left for FDA
Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine presents greater benefits than it does safety risks, especially amid the quickly spreading Delta variant, a key CDC expert panel decided. However, the panel said that a ruling over the need for a booster added to all COVID shots will have to start with the FDA. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) decision came after an hours-long discussion over a handful of Guillain-Barré syndrome cases reported after J&J’s jab. The independent group of experts were also tasked with reviewing the need for booster shots, specifically for people with compromised immune systems.
Longer Gap Between Pfizer Doses Boosts Antibodies, Study Finds
An interval of eight to 10 weeks between doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE boosts the effectiveness of the two-shot regimen compared with a shorter interval, a U.K. study found. “Eight weeks is probably the sweet spot,” in terms of the trade-off between getting as many people fully vaccinated as quickly as possible and allowing the population to produce higher antibody levels, professor Susanna Dunachie, the study lead from the University of Oxford, said at a briefing Thursday.
COVID-19: Daily tests could be as effective in controlling transmission as isolation, study says
Daily testing of pupils who have been exposed to COVID-19 could be just as effective as isolating groups, according to a study. Research by the University of Oxford found that testing as an alternative to the 10-day isolation policy currently used can reduce COVID-related school absences by 39%. Around 200 secondary schools and colleges in England took part in the trial, with one group isolating for 10 days and the other taking rapid lateral flow tests for seven days.