"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 30th Sep 2021

Isolation Tips
Women followed lockdown rules more closely than men, study shows
The first Covid lockdown showed that women followed rules more closely than men, according to a new study which branded the restrictions a ‘live social experiment’. Researchers looking at 15% of the Austrian population’s behaviour said that everyone tended to make significantly longer phone calls during the crisis. Men were found to be less likely to accept having their movements restricted by lockdown measures and tended to return to normal more quickly, along with younger people. Scientists looked at anonymised mobile phone data from 1.2 million Austrians between February and June 2020, to study the impact of the first lockdown on behaviour in the central European country.
Sri Lanka to lift quarantine curfew on Oct. 1 as COVID-19 cases decline
Sri Lanka's President Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Wednesday instructed related authorities to lift the existing nationwide quarantine curfew over COVID-19 on Oct. 1 as the South Asian country has seen a decline in coronavirus infections.
Hygiene Helpers
YouTube to remove misinformation videos about all vaccines
YouTube is to remove videos that spread misinformation about all vaccines, as it steps up a crackdown on harmful content posted during the coronavirus pandemic. From Wednesday, the video streaming site, which has already banned Covid jab falsehoods, will take down content that contains misinformation such as claiming any approved vaccine is dangerous, causes chronic health defects or does not reduce spread of disease. Under previous guidelines, the platform demoted – effectively hiding from view – videos that spread misinformation about non-Covid vaccines or promoted vaccine hesitancy. Last year, YouTube implemented a ban on Covid vaccine misinformation videos, which has led to 130,000 pieces of content being taken down since then. YouTube, which is owned by Google, has removed a total of 1m videos for spreading general Covid falsehoods since the pandemic broke out.
Covid-19 in South America: Vaccine Rollout Led to Big Drop in Cases
South America, exceptionally hard-hit by Covid-19, is seeing a sudden drop in cases and deaths, apparently from rapid and thorough vaccines on the heels of a horrific wave that provided antibodies to those it didn’t kill. Over a seven-day period, the continent now makes up 6% of cases and 9% of deaths, the lowest since the start of the pandemic. At its peak in June, it represented 38% of global infections and 44% of fatalities. One peculiarity of the continent is that the delta variant upending plans from Asia to the U.S. hasn’t found traction there. It had similarly contagious mutations, known as gamma and lambda, and their presence may be keeping delta at bay and extending immunity. This is distinct from Mexico, Central America and Cuba, where delta has taken hold and the other two hadn’t.
Tanzania: Samia Calls for Mass Education on Coronavirus Vaccine
President Samia Suluhu Hassan urged religious leaders to help educate their members about coronavirus and vaccine currently administered freely and voluntarily across the country. Addressing clerics and bishops of the Anglican Church of Tanzania at the church's 50th anniversary held in Dodoma, President Samia it is important for the citizen to be well informed about the vaccine. "Vaccine helps reduce complications as well as mortality," she said. "We have to use all means necessary and vaccine is one of them." Apparently some church members had managed to develop a locally made-vaccine claimed to battle coronavirus. President Samia hailed the initiative insisting that her administration would help verify the efficacy of the vaccine with health authorities before mass production. "Let me congratulate the youth from this church who are trying to get a vaccine... We will help send some samples to international institutions for testing and if approved it can be allowed so that more people will get vaccinated," she noted.
Vatican orders all staff to be vaccinated or undergo regular Covid-19 testing
The Vatican made the announcement on Tuesday to staff, according to reports. Even the most senior members of the Catholic Church will not be exempt. The Pope has made the Catholic Church's stance on vaccinations clear. Francis himself was vaccinated in January and has called it a 'moral duty.' On Monday, Pope Francis emphasised the need for attention to be given to other diseases after Covid-19 has taken up most resources for almost two years
Americans Are Getting Covid-19 Boosters—No Questions Asked
The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have authorized a third shot of the vaccine made by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE for a wide swath of the U.S. population. Anyone over age 65 is eligible for a booster shot, as is anyone over 18 with a pre-existing condition predisposing the person toward a severe case of Covid-19. Also eligible are those with a job or living situation that poses a higher risk of contracting Covid-19. Boosters for all patients must be given at least six months after an initial Pfizer vaccine course. Patients who received initial doses of the vaccines made by Moderna Inc. and Johnson & Johnson aren’t eligible yet. Approval of a booster regimen for those patients is expected in the coming months. The FDA did amend its emergency-use authorization in August, however, to allow a third Moderna dose for immunocompromised people.
Employer vaccine mandates convert some workers, but not all
Businesses that have announced vaccine mandates say some workers who had been on the fence have since gotten inoculated against COVID-19. But many holdouts remain — a likely sign of what is to come once a federal mandate goes into effect. Even before President Joe Biden’s Sept. 9 announcement that companies with more than 100 workers would have to require vaccinations, dozens of companies, including Amtrak, Microsoft, United Airlines and Disney issued ultimatums to most workers. And smaller companies in New York, San Francisco and New Orleans have been required to implement mandates for customers and workers. Some mandates seem to have converted hesitant workers, but employers are still dealing with holdouts. United said late Tuesday it will begin terminating 593 employees over the next few days for refusing to get vaccinated. Other companies are offering alternatives, including weekly testing or working remotely or away from other staff.
AT&T mandates COVID-19 vaccination for union-represented employees
AT&T Inc said on Wednesday it would require its union-represented employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before entering their work location, following a similar mandate for its management employees last month. The U.S wireless carrier, one the largest employers of union-represented workers, said the Communications Workers of America linked employees must be fully vaccinated by Feb. 1, 2022. CWA represents more than 150,000 employees at AT&T. Other major companies including Facebook Inc, Google and Microsoft Corp have also mandated vaccinations for employees as the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus drives up infections in the United States.
United says nearly 600 staff face termination for vaccine refusal
United Airlines has said that nearly 600 US-based employees faced termination after failing to comply with the carrier’s vaccination policy. In early August, the company became the first US carrier to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all domestic employees, requiring proof of vaccination by Monday. The carrier said it would start on Tuesday the process of firing 593 employees who decided not to get vaccinated. “This was an incredibly difficult decision but keeping our team safe has always been our first priority,” Chief Executive Scott Kirby and President Brett Hart told employees in a memo. The workers can save their jobs if they get vaccinated before their formal termination meetings, the company officials said.
Community Activities
UK’s Johnson says COVID bereaved will have role in inquiry
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Tuesday he will appoint a chair this year to the planned public inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic and that bereaved families will have a role in the proceedings. Following a “very emotional” meeting with the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, Johnson said the experiences of those who have suffered a loss during the pandemic would form a major part of the public inquiry. “And obviously, there’s very little I could say to mitigate their own suffering,” he said. “But what I did say was that we were determined to make sure that the experience of the bereaved was something we took account of.” The event, which took place more than a year after the prime minister promised to meet the bereaved, lasted just over an hour and took place outside at the request of the families. Five members of the group, which included co-founder Jo Goodman, shared how their loved ones caught the virus and died.
Working Remotely
Remote work has finally made me — a legally-blind person — feel like I can thrive at my job. I'm sad it took this long.
Rachel Christian is a journalist and personal finance writer based Central Florida. As someone who is legally blind, Christian says remote work has been a game-changer for her career. At home, she can control her work environment and not worry about transportation or feeling self-conscious in front of coworkers.
Remote Work Projections Are on the Rise in U.S Managers Survey
An increasing number of U.S. professionals anticipate to be fully remote from an office in the next five years, signaling a permanent shift in the workplace and a greater use of freelancers by companies. A survey of more than 1,000 hiring managers implies that 40.7 million Americans expect to be working remotely by 2026, or almost 28% of respondents, according to a report by online freelance company Upwork Inc. That’s 4.5 million more than in a previous poll in the third quarter of 2020 -- and about 21 million above prepandemic levels.
Virtual Classrooms
The new era of education is high-tech and high-touch
We’re starting to see the promise of digital learning take hold; teachers can use software to differentiate and personalize instruction. But we can’t stop here. Over the last 18 months, “technology” has been a synonym for “virtual,” where many kids felt isolated, sitting behind a device and craving connection with their peers and teachers. We now have the opportunity to take what we have learned and use it to usher in a new era of education — one that is powered to a meaningful degree by technology yet centered on human connection, and one where we reject the false choice between engaging software and an incredible teacher. As we return to school this fall, we can blend the best of technology with the best of the classroom experience.
Public Policies
PAHO says in advanced talks to buy more COVID vaccines
The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Wednesday it is in advanced talks with vaccine makers to buy additional COVID-19 shots for its member states to complement bilateral deals, donations, and doses they are receiving via the COVAX mechanism. PAHO has reached an agreement with Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac, and is expecting to sign new accords soon to buy vaccines with emergency use listing approval from other suppliers for 2021 and 2022, PAHO Director Carissa Etienne said.
EU to decide on Pfizer booster on Oct. 4 - document
The EU's drugs regulator will decide on Monday whether to approve Pfizer's COVID-19 booster vaccine, but it is unlikely to give precise guidance on who should receive it, according to an internal document and two officials. If the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gives its backing for the jab, the 27-member block would join the United States, Britain and Israel which have already received the green light to deploy boosters, even though there is no consensus among scientists that they are necessary.
Swiss buy 150,000 doses of J&J COVID-19 vaccine
Switzerland has agreed to buy 150,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines. from Johnson & Johnson that will arrive this week and be distributed to regional authorities next week, the government said on Wednesday. Switzerland has relied so far on vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna using new mRNA technology but also considered standard vector jabs from Johnson & Johnson to help persuade more people to get immunized. “People aged 12 and over are still recommended to be vaccinated primarily with an mRNA vaccine, as this offers a very high level of protection and is very safe,” the Federal Office of Public Health said.
Brazil hospital chain hid Covid-19 deaths, whistleblowers' lawyer tells Senate
A Brazilian hospital chain gave unproven Covid-19 treatments to patients without their knowledge, a lawyer for a group of whistleblowing doctors alleged to the country's parliamentary inquiry on the pandemic on Tuesday. At least nine patients at hospitals operated by Prevent Senior died of Covid-19 while they were unwittingly receiving the experimental treatments, said Bruna Morato, representing 12 anonymous doctors who worked for the health care provider. The company, which also offers private health insurance, has denied all allegations. Morato alleged that Prevent Senior hospitals were used as "laboratories" for studies with so-called "Covid kit," containing drugs that have been proven ineffective for the treatment of Covid-19, such as ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine. These studies were allegedly conducted between March and April of 2020. Patients and relatives were not made aware those drugs were being administered, and Prevent Senior doctors were pressured internally to prescribe and distribute such drugs, Morato also claimed. "Very vulnerable elderly patients were told there was a good treatment, but they did not know they were being used as guinea pigs," she said.
Maintaining Services
COVID-19: Cruise ship industry faces calls to prevent spread of infectious diseases after pandemic
The billion dollar industry is being urged to carry out "more monitoring" of the major health impacts that cruising can potentially cause for passengers.
Roll-out of Covid-19 boosters to NI care homes gets underway
Health Minister Robin Swann has welcomed the roll-out of the Covid-19 booster jab programme in Northern Ireland. Health Trust vaccinator teams are bringing the boosters to care home residents and staff as part of a planned programme. The minister said the roll-out will be on phased basis, as the booster vaccine dose is to be offered no earlier than six months after receipt of the second dose. “I very much welcome the fact that vaccinator teams are providing vital vaccine booster doses to care home residents and staff," said Robin Swann. “This will give added and important protection for some of the most vulnerable people in our society as we head towards winter." The Health Department said the wider booster dose programme will begin in October for those eligible.
Algeria to start Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine production Wednesday
Algeria will start production of COVID-19 vaccine Sinovac in partnership with China on Wednesday with the aim of meeting domestic demand and exporting the surplus, the prime minister's office said on Tuesday. The government has said production capacity will stand at 1 million, 2 million and 3 million doses in October, November and December respectively, before reaching 5 million doses per month from January. The North African country has been importing vaccines, mainly Sinovac, since the coronavirus pandemic began in March 2020.
Healthcare Innovations
COVID-19: Vitamin A nasal drops to be trialled to help restore smell loss
A 12-week trial will look at whether nasal drops can help those who lost their sense of smell after having COVID-19. The "Apollo trial" will treat people who have experienced a loss of smell or altered sense of smell because of coronavirus using vitamin A nasal drops. The University of East Anglia (UEA) said research from Germany has shown the potential benefit of the vitamin, and its team "will explore how this treatment works to help repair tissues in the nose damaged by viruses". They hope the trial "could one day help improve the lives of millions around the world who suffer from smell loss, by returning their fifth sense".
Covid: 37% of people have symptoms six months after infection
One in three people infected with coronavirus will experience at least one symptom of long Covid, a new study suggests. Much of the existing research into the condition – a mixture of symptoms reported by people often months after they were originally ill with Covid-19 – has been based either on self-reported symptoms or small studies. Now researchers at the University of Oxford, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) have shed fresh light on the scale of the problem after studying more than 270,000 people recovering from coronavirus in the US. They found 37% of patients had at least one long Covid symptom diagnosed three to six months after infection. The most common symptoms were breathing problems, abdominal symptoms, fatigue, pain and anxiety or depression.
Coronavirus can transform pancreas cell function; certain genes may protect an infected person's spouse
Coronavirus transforms pancreas cell function - When the coronavirus infects cells, it not only impairs their activity but can also change their function, new findings suggest. For example, when insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas become infected with the virus, they not only produce much less insulin than usual, but also start to produce glucose and digestive enzymes, which is not their job, researchers found. "We call this a change of cell fate," said study leader Dr. Shuibing Chen, who described the work in a presentation on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, held virtually this year. It is not clear whether the changes are long-lasting, or if they might be reversible, the researchers noted earlier in a report published in Cell Metabolism. Chen noted that some COVID-19 survivors have developed diabetes shortly after infection. "It is definitely worth investigating the rate of new-onset diabetes patients in this COVID-19 pandemic," she said in a statement. Her team has been experimenting with the coronavirus in clusters of cells engineered to create mini-organs, or organoids, that resemble the lungs, liver, intestines, heart and nervous system. Their findings suggest loss of cell fate/function may be happening in lung tissues as well, Chen, from Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, told Reuters.
Merck says research shows its COVID-19 pill works against variants
Laboratory studies show that Merck & Co's experimental oral COVID-19 antiviral drug, molnupiravir, is likely to be effective against known variants of the coronavirus, including the dominant, highly transmissible Delta, the company said on Wednesday. Since molnupiravir does not target the spike protein of the virus - the target of all current COVID-19 vaccines - which defines the differences between the variants, the drug should be equally effective as the virus continues to evolve, said Jay Grobler, head of infectious disease and vaccines at Merck. Molnupiravir instead targets the viral polymerase, an enzyme needed for the virus to make copies of itself. It is designed to work by introducing errors into the genetic code of the virus.
Covid-19 Cases Improving in 47 of 50 States
The U.S. recovery from the latest Covid-19 wave is taking hold across the country, with cases dropping or poised to start falling in the vast majority of states. In 47 states plus the nation’s capital, a measure of average new infections from one newly infected person is below the key level of 1, signaling that cases are expected to decline, according to covidestim, a modeling project with contributers from Yale School of Public Health, Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Stanford Medicine.
NIAID awards approximately $36.3 million to fuel vaccine research for coronaviruses
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded approximately $36.3 million to three academic institutions to conduct research to develop vaccines to protect against multiple types of coronaviruses and viral variants. The awards are intended to fuel vaccine research for a diverse family of coronaviruses, with a primary focus on potential pandemic-causing coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2. The new awards are funded by NIAID's Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and its Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation through the Emergency Awards Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) on Pa.n-Coronavirus Vaccine Development Program Projects. The notice was issued in November 2020 while many SARS-CoV-2 vaccines were still under development because a critical need remained for prophylactic vaccines offering broad protective immunity against other coronaviruses, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (SARS-CoV).
Sanofi reports positive Phase I/II interim trial data of Covid-19 vaccine
Sanofi has reported positive interim results from a Phase I/II clinical trial of its messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA)-based Covid-19 vaccine candidate. These results establish the potential of the lately acquired mRNA and lipid nanoparticle (LNP) platform from Translate Bio and also back Sanofi’s mRNA strategy. According to the preliminary data from the trial, neutralising antibody seroconversion defined as a four-times rise compared to baseline was observed in 91% to 100% of trial subjects two weeks after the second vaccine dose. This trend was noted across all the three dosages tested, Sanofi said. Furthermore, no safety concerns were reported while the tolerability profile was in line with that of other unmodified mRNA Covid-19 vaccines. Sanofi Pasteur Research and Development (R&D) global head Jean-Francois Toussaint said: “We have made an impressive move just nine months after the worldwide proof of concept of mRNA vaccines and only 17 since we started this first mRNA vaccine project.
Some may have ‘protective version of gene which resists severe Covid-19’ – study
Some people possess a version of a gene which can potentially restrain the virus which causes Covid-19, a study has indicated. The findings offer an explanation for why some people have better natural defences against serious Sars-CoV-2 infection, say scientists. Scientists suggest antiviral responses are better in people who have a more protective “prenylated” version of the OAS1 gene, while others have a version which fails to detect the virus. But if new variants learn to evade the protection offered by the prenylated gene they could become “substantially more pathogenic and transmissible in unvaccinated populations”, say experts.
A new study points to the power of wearables to predict even presymptomatic infections, suggesting use one day against Covid-19
A new study that infected willing participants with common cold and flu viruses provides the most rigorous evidence yet that wearable health monitors could predict infections, even before a person starts experiencing symptoms. If the wearables can similarly predict infections in real-world conditions, the technology could add to existing disease surveillance and testing methods. But unresolved issues with standardizing wearables and testing them on diverse populations raise questions about their immediate utility. The new study, published Wednesday in JAMA Network Open, took aim at a research problem that has plagued other efforts to study wearables as infection detectors: small sample size. In two previous studies that looked at wearable devices like Apple Watches and Fitbits, tens of thousands of enrolled individuals corresponded to around 50 cases of Covid-19. In these studies and similar ones, it wasn’t clear when infected people first contracted the virus, further constraining the possibility of making predictions.
Side effect rates from a third Covid-19 vaccine dose similar to those after second shot, early data indicate
People who’ve received a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine are reporting rates of side effects similar to those after the second dose, according to data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The new report, published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, relies on submissions from thousands of people who received third shots of the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna after such doses were authorized for people with compromised immune systems. People submitted their reactions to v-safe, the CDC’s smartphone-based surveillance network. Among more than 12,500 people who completed surveys after each shot, 79.4% of people reported local reactions (including itching, pain, or redness at the injection site), while 74.1% reported systemic reactions (mostly fatigue, muscle aches, and headaches), typically the day after the shot. That compared to 77.6% and 76.5% of the people who reported local or systemic reactions, respectively, after their second shot.