"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 28th Sep 2021

Isolation Tips
New Zealand to begin letting people isolate at home as it looks to ease border curbs
New Zealand is to begin allowing small numbers of vaccinated travellers to isolate at home instead of in state-run quarantine facilities as part of a phased approach to re-opening its borders, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday. The pilot project starting next month will be open to 150 people, who must be New Zealand citizens or residents and are fully vaccinated, Ardern said at a news conference. "While this is a pilot, it gives you a sense of where we intend to go on our borders," Ardern said, adding that the government was working on a wide range of options for allowing people back in safely.
Sydney's COVID-19 lockdown to end sooner for the vaccinated
Australian authorities announced plans on Monday to gradually reopen locked-down Sydney, unveiling a two-tiered system that will give citizens inoculated for COVID-19 more freedoms than their unvaccinated neighbours for several weeks. Movement restrictions across New South Wales, the country's most populous state and home to Sydney, will be lifted gradually between Oct. 11 and Dec. 1 as vaccination rates push through 70%, 80% and 90%. However, people who are not fully inoculated will be barred from joining the vaccinated to resume community sports, dining out, shopping and other activities until the final date.
Hygiene Helpers
Want to help prevent more variants down the road? Get vaccinated, CDC director says
Adequate rates of vaccination can help prevent the rise of new mutations that could force people to get booster after booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine, the head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday. The CDC and the US Food and Drug Administration recommended booster shots for many Americans last week to help preserve their immunity. But that doesn't necessarily mean people will need to keep getting boosters. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CBS's "Face the Nation."
Chile Begins Vaccinating Young Children With Sinovac Vaccine
The Chilean government began vaccinating children ages 6 to 11 as it moves forward with one of the most advanced Covid-19 prevention campaigns in Latin America. Children will get shots made by Sinovac Biotech Ltd following Chile’s approval for emergency use earlier this month. The government will begin giving shots in schools, and Health Undersecretary Paula Daza attended a ceremony in Santiago to mark the beginning of the vaccination campaign.
Why Does Biden's Vaccine Mandate Have a Testing Loophole?
President Joe Biden’s new vaccine mandate for large businesses is a strange one, in that it does not actually make vaccines mandatory for the roughly 80 million Americans it’s aimed at. Tucked plainly into the rule is a singular and obvious opt-out: Unlike federal employees and contractors, those in the private sector can test for the coronavirus on an at-least-weekly basis, a no-jab alternative that makes the White House’s decision quite a bit gentler than it could have been. “It’s a stick, but it’s sort of a soft stick,” Julia Raifman, a health-policy researcher at Boston University, told me.
COVID-19 vaccine rollout for people living with disability 'seriously deficient', royal commission report finds
ustralian states and territories should not ease COVID restrictions until all people with disability have been given the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, according to the disability royal commission. In its draft report, released on Monday, the inquiry described the vaccine rollout as "seriously deficient" and recommended the federal government use its best endeavours to "ensure people with disability and support workers are fully vaccinated before any easing of restrictions".
Recovered COVID patients will require vaccine dose to receive Green Pass
The Health Ministry announced on Sunday that, from October 3, when a number of new restrictions will be introduced, recovered COVID-19 patients will be required to get a single coronavirus vaccine dose in order to be eligible to receive a Green Pass. Under the current Green Pass rules, entry to certain businesses and events is limited to those with proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19, or a negative test result. The new rules mean that some 1.2 million Israelis who have been diagnosed with the virus since the start of the pandemic, along with those who have a positive serological test showing high antibodies, will need at least one vaccine shot to qualify for the Green Pass.
Community Activities
Crowdsourced Covid Antiviral Project Gets $11 Million in Funding
A crowdsourced effort to design a Covid-19 pill won 8 million pounds ($11 million) in funding from the Wellcome Trust, a significant boost for a project that aims to make a low-cost antiviral broadly available. The project, called Covid Moonshot, started with locked-down scientists around the world sharing data and ideas online in March 2020. Some 250 people eventually submitted more than 4,500 potential molecular designs intended to block the virus’s main protease -- the key protein that helps it replicate. The Wellcome funding will help pay for the expensive last step of research needed to bring the project into human clinical trials.
Thailand to reopen to more vaccinated visitors from November
Thailand will waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and nine regions from Nov. 1 to vaccinated arrivals, authorities said on Monday, as the country tries to boost its immunisation rate and revive its battered tourism sector. The regions include popular tourist areas Chiang Mai, Phangnga, Krabi, Hua Hin, Pattaya, and Cha-am, and follow the successful reopening of Phuket and Samui islands to vaccinated people in pilot schemes since July. The regions include popular tourist areas Chiang Mai, Phangnga, Krabi, Hua Hin, Pattaya, and Cha-am, and follow the successful reopening of Phuket and Samui islands to vaccinated people in pilot schemes since July.
Covid-19: England sees biggest fall in life expectancy since records began in wake of pandemic
The covid-19 pandemic led to the biggest year-on-year drop in life expectancy in England since statistics were first collected in 1981, Public Health England has said. In 2020, the agency said that “the very high level” of excess deaths because of the pandemic caused life expectancy in England to fall 1.3 years for men to 78.7 and 0.9 years for women to 82.7. This was the lowest life expectancy in England for both sexes since 2011. Not all countries have reported life expectancy data for 2020 yet. But of those that have, PHE noted that Italy, Poland, and Spain experienced similar decreases in life expectancy to England in 2020, while France had a smaller decrease. Germany had little or no relative excess mortality in men or women. The US and Poland had the highest relative excess mortality in 2020, in both men and women.
Rowdy celebrations erupt in Norway as COVID restrictions end
Police in Norway on Sunday reported dozens of disturbances and violent clashes including mass brawls in the Nordic country’s big cities after streets, bars, restaurants and nightclubs were filled with people celebrating the end of COVID-19 restrictions that lasted for more than a year. The Norwegian government abruptly announced Friday that most of the remaining coronavirus restrictions would be scrapped beginning Saturday and that life in the nation of 5.3 million would return to normal. The unexpected announcement by outgoing Prime Minister Erna Solberg to drop coronavirus restrictions the next day took many Norwegians by surprise and led to chaotic scenes in the capital, Oslo, and elsewhere in the country.
Working Remotely
Video chat BlueJeans aims to bring virtual watercooler talk to remote workers
Companies are struggling to recreate the serendipity of office interactions as many teams continue to work remotely due to the pandemic, but they could soon have a new option to try close the gap. Verizon's video chat app BlueJeans announced that it will begin testing a feature called Spaces, or virtual rooms where people as 3D cartoonish avatars can hang out, overhear conversations and join them. Rivals, including Zoom and Microsoft also have been developing features to foster spontaneous conversation in their chat tools.
Four leading employers form remote working alliance
Four of Ireland’s leading employers have formed a “remote working alliance” to embed remote working within their organisations on a long-term basis. Vodafone, ESB, eBay and Liberty Insurance announced details of the Remote Alliance on Monday. Established by social enterprise Grow Remote, the initiative is designed to “lead the way for other Irish employers to commit to long-term remote working”. The purpose of the alliance is to build an Ireland where employment is accessible no matter where people live, it says.
‘It’s awkward’: how UK workers hired remotely feel returning to the office
Lockdown policies introduced to mitigate the pandemic had profound effects on the labour market. When the UK fell into recession in August 2020, employment fell by the largest amount since the 2009 financial crisis. But for those determined to find new jobs, opportunities existed: in the first three months of 2021, the British Chambers of Commerce found that 40% of businesses were looking to recruit, compared with the pre-pandemic 2019 average of 55%. But what is the return to office life like for those hired remotely during lockdown, who have never visited their new workplace, seen their colleagues face-to-face or met the boss who hired them?
Employees are accepting pay cuts to keep working from home. They shouldn’t
Aside from the fact that remote work simply makes workers’ lives easier, it seems like it’s just a more sensible alternative for most employers. Companies save serious money in overhead like office space and other administrative costs. And aside from being able to physically monitor their workers during work hours, is there any real reason why bosses have to hover over their employees day in and day out? Thankfully, many workers are seeing this bigger picture, and choosing to do what’s best for them. According to the GoodHire study, 45% of Americans would either quit their job or immediately start a remote-work job-search if they were forced to return to their office full-time. And it’s already happening.
Virtual Classrooms
Surge in remote learning overwhelms L.A. public schools
A surge of parents seeking remote learning for their children has overwhelmed public school programs in Los Angeles, causing teacher shortages, administrative snafus and enrollment delays that in some cases have kept students out of school for weeks. The L.A. Unified School District program, called City of Angels, was an already existing independent study program that was adapted this school year to serve parents unable or unwilling to return their children to in-person classes due to ongoing pandemic-related safety concerns. The program has been sought out by many parents who have children with special needs as well as health issues.
Huge New Demand for Remote Learning, Rethinking Bans on Virtual Options
During the spring, COVID-19 cases were on the decline, vaccines were being distributed and most states made bold commitments to fully reopen schools in the fall. In a bipartisan rush to incentivize in-person learning, some states restricted virtual options. However, this fall, districts across the country are pivoting to create remote options for families facing complicated health decisions and those not yet comfortable sending their unvaccinated children back to school. Still, these options are not available to all students. And many districts are setting enrollment caps on online classes.
Why lockdown and distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic are likely to increase the social class achievement gap
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced teachers and parents to quickly adapt to a new educational context: distance learning. Teachers developed online academic material while parents taught the exercises and lessons provided by teachers to their children at home. Considering that the use of digital tools in education has dramatically increased during this crisis, and it is set to continue, there is a pressing need to understand the impact of distance learning. Taking a multidisciplinary view, we argue that by making the learning process rely more than ever on families, rather than on teachers, and by getting students to work predominantly via digital resources, school closures exacerbate social class academic disparities. To address this burning issue, we propose an agenda for future research and outline recommendations to help parents, teachers and policymakers to limit the impact of the lockdown on social-class-based academic inequality.
Public Policies
Party of Covid vaccine sceptics wins seats in Austria’s regional parliament
A newly created party of Covid-19 vaccine sceptics has been elected to one of Austria’s largest regional parliaments after a shock election result in which it swept up protest votes from across the political spectrum. Pollsters had expected Menschen-Freiheit-Grundrechte [People, Freedom, Rights] to fall short of the 4 per cent threshold needed to enter the Upper Austrian state parliament. But on Sunday the party overtook the liberals, scooping up 6.4 per cent of the vote to win three seats in the Landtag.
How France Overcame Covid-19 Vaccine Hesitancy
The French have long been wary of vaccines, but a mixture of mandates and inducements encouraged millions to get the shot as the Delta variant spread.
EU Commission proposes extending vaccine export-control scheme
The European Commission has proposed extending the period of its scheme for monitoring and potentially limiting exports of COVID-19 vaccines from the bloc, a European Commission spokesperson told Reuters on Monday. If not prolonged, the scheme would expire this week. It is unclear whether the 27 EU states will support the proposal, which requires a qualified majority to be adopted. "Discussions are ongoing with member states, so we cannot comment further," the spokesperson said. If extended, the scheme would remain in place until the end of the year.
New York may tap National Guard to replace unvaccinated healthcare workers
New York Governor Kathy Hochul is considering employing the National Guard and out-of-state medical workers to fill hospital staffing shortages with tens of thousands of workers possibly losing their jobs for not meeting a Monday deadline for mandated COVID-19 vaccination. The plan, outlined in a statement from Hochul on Saturday, would allow her to declare a state of emergency to increase the supply of healthcare workers to include licensed professionals from other states and countries as well as retired nurses.
Tanzania to receive 2 million doses of coronavirus vaccine from China
The government yesterday said two million doses of Sinopharm vaccine from China is expected to arrive in the country as the number of vaccinated Tanzanians reached 400,000 off from the million doses initially received. The government spokserson, Mr Gerson Msigwa said yesterday that unlike the Johnson & Johnson doses that are injected once a year, Tanzanians will have to be inoculated twice a year with the Sinopharm doses.
Japan approves GSK's Sotrovimab COVID-19 antibody treatment
Japan has approved GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology's Sotrovimab as an antibody treatment for coronavirus, Health Minister Norihisa Tamura said on Monday. The antibody treatment is for mild to moderate COVID-19 cases which do not require oxygen supplementation, GSK said when it applied for fast-track approval this month.
WHO backs Regeneron drug for COVID-19, urges action on price
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has added the Regeneron antibody drug cocktail – casirivimab and imdevimab – to its list of treatments for people with COVID-19, urging the manufacturer to reduce the price and ensure equitable distribution. Clinical studies showed the drug combination was effective in patients who were not severely ill but at high risk of being admitted to hospital with COVID-19, or those with severe cases of the disease and no existing antibodies, the WHO said in a statement on Friday.
Maintaining Services
Global vaccines project to revamp rules after Britain got more than Botswana
In March, as wealthy Britain led the world in vaccination rates and almost half its people had received a shot, the organisation meant to ensure fair global access to COVID-19 vaccines allotted the country over half a million doses from its supplies.
New U.S. travel rules close door on those fully vaccinated with Russia's Sputnik V
The United States announced last week that it would soon open its doors to foreign travelers vaccinated against the coronavirus, loosening restrictions for broad swaths of global visitors for the first time since the pandemic began. But the new rules, set to take effect in November, appear to also shut out many people who consider themselves to be fully immunized — including millions who have received two doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Hundreds of thousands of Russians could be directly affected. Despite frosty diplomatic relations and limited demand for international travel, roughly 300,000 Russians visited the United States in 2019, the last year for which figures are available, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Healthcare Innovations
Pfizer begins study of oral drug for prevention of COVID-19
Pfizer Inc said on Monday it has started a large study testing its investigational oral antiviral drug for the prevention of COVID-19 infection among those who have been exposed to the virus. The drugmaker and its rivals, including U.S.-based Merck & Co Inc and Swiss pharmaceutical Roche Holding AG, have been racing to develop an easy-to-administer antiviral pill for COVID-19.
Covid: New Delta mutation found in Italy can be beaten by vaccines, study suggests
An outbreak of a new strain of coronavirus among card-playing pensioners in northern Italy suggests it may not threaten vaccines as much as scientists fear. Public health chiefs are monitoring the strain – a combination of the highly infectious Delta variant and the E484K mutation associated with vaccine evasion – which has been identified in 19 people in the UK and a further 99 around the world. The strain is not yet a variant of concern due to the small numbers, but scientists are concerned it could take off as more people are vaccinated, which creates conditions for strains that can dodge vaccines.
COVID-19: Llama nanobodies may offer new treatment
Although vaccines are highly effective in preventing COVID-19, scientists still need to identify better treatments for the disease. Some scientists are investigating whether llama-derived antibodies might be a useful treatment approach. A recent study has shown that so-called nanobodies that scientists harvested from a llama reduced SARS-CoV-2 viral load in Syrian hamsters.