"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 4th Oct 2021

Isolation Tips
New Zealand widens Covid lockdown as Delta spreads outside Auckland
New Zealand’s Delta Covid variant outbreak has spread beyond Auckland, prompting the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to put additional regions into a snap lockdown. There were 32 new coronavirus cases on Sunday in the country’s largest city, which has been in lockdown since mid-August, and two cases in the Waikato region, some 147km (91 miles) south of Auckland. Ardern announced on Sunday that parts of the region will go into a five-day lockdown. She added that the government will decide on Monday whether Auckland’s 1.7 million residents will remain sealed off from the rest of New Zealand.
S.African president Ramaphosa eases COVID-19 restrictions to lowest level
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has eased restrictions aimed at combating the coronavirus pandemic to the country's lowest alert level, the second such loosening this month as the country looks to open up its economy ahead of the summer holiday season. In a televised address, Ramaphosa announced the country would move down one level in a five-tier system of restrictions, where five is the highest, to an 'adjusted level 1' as South Africa emerges from its third wave dominated by the Delta variant of the virus.
US, UK adults report pandemic-related distress, disruptions
Yesterday in JAMA Network Open, Johns Hopkins University and University of California Los Angeles researchers analyzed self-reported health and psychological status among nationally representative survey respondents worried about eviction or foreclosure in November 2020. Among 1,218 study respondents, 128 (12%) reported that they were behind on rent or mortgage payments or didn't know if they could afford the next payment. Just over half (51%) of all participants were women, 46% were 30 to 54 years old, 45% were 55 and older, 69% were White, and 13% each were Black or Hispanic. Of the 128 housing-insecure respondents, 42 (34%) said they were behind on rent or mortgage payments, 55 (38%) said they had little to no confidence that they could afford the next payment, and 31 (28%) reported both. Of all participants, 46% reported moderate to severe psychological distress, and 18% said they were in fair to poor health. Respondents with unstable housing reported more distress (57% vs 45% in housing-secure participants) and poorer health (30% vs 16%).
Hygiene Helpers
Studies provide insights into COVID vaccine hesitancy
Two JAMA Network Open studies yesterday that looked at COVID-19 vaccine acceptance in minority groups and opinions around less-preferred vaccines provide clues for how officials might better encourage immunization. The first study, involving 13 focus groups, reaffirmed a lack of communication and trust among racially and ethnically diverse communities in the United States. The second study examined the effect of emphasizing different data around the Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccines: People were more interested in uptake when they were presented with the vaccines' effectiveness against death versus their effectiveness against symptomatic infection.
Air New Zealand to require COVID-19 vaccination for international travelers
Air New Zealand, the flag carrier airline of New Zealand, said on Sunday it will require passengers on its international flights to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, in what is one of the world's strictest policies for travellers. "Being vaccinated against COVID-19 is the new reality of international travel – many of the destinations Kiwis want to visit are already closed to unvaccinated visitors," Air New Zealand's Chief Executive Officer Greg Foran said. New Zealand plans to reopen its international borders, which have been closed since March 2020 to anyone who is not a New Zealand citizen, early next year.
Covid-19: Irish vaccine passports 'accelerated' jab uptake
Covid-19 vaccine uptake in the Republic of Ireland "would have been much lower" without the vaccine passport scheme, an immunology expert has said. Prof Kingston Mills from Trinity College Dublin said it was "a big incentive" for people to get jabbed. When indoor hospitality reopened in July, the Irish government said people had to be vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid-19 to get in. That requirement will be removed from 22 October. The EU Digital Covid Certificate, enables people to show proof of their vaccination status, or if they recently had a negative PCR test or recently recovered from the disease.
In Portugal, There Is Virtually No One Left to Vaccinate
Portugal’s health care system was on the verge of collapse. Hospitals in the capital, Lisbon, were overflowing and the authorities were asking people to treat themselves at home. In the last week of January, nearly 2,000 people died as the virus spread. The country’s vaccine program was in a shambles, so the government turned to Vice Adm. Henrique Gouveia e Melo, a former submarine squadron commander, to right the ship. Eight months later, Portugal is among the world’s leaders in vaccinations, with roughly 86 percent of its population of 10.3 million fully vaccinated. About 98 percent of all of those eligible for vaccines — meaning anyone over 12 — have been fully vaccinated, Admiral Gouveia e Melo said.
Alaska Air to require COVID-19 vaccine for employees
Alaska Air Group has told its 22,000 employees they will be required to get a COVID-19 vaccination. There are some exceptions to the policy, which has shifted since last month, The Seattle Times reported. In an email Thursday evening to all Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air employees, the Seattle-based company said employees will now be required to be fully vaccinated or approved for a reasonable accommodation. Officials said the new police would be in accordance with the White House executive order that requires all federal contractors to have their workers vaccinated. It replaces an Alaska policy which paid vaccinated employees $200 and required regular testing for others. At that time, Alaska said that 75% of its employees had been vaccinated.
Indonesia Eyes 10000-Strong Event in Test of Life With Virus
As many as 10,000 people attended the opening ceremony of Indonesia’s first major sports event since its worst Covid-19 outbreak -- a test of its strategy of living with the virus. The national sporting week called PON started Saturday at the newly renovated stadium in the eastern city of Jayapura, with the number of spectators meeting the 25% maximum capacity set by the domestic affairs ministry. Spectators have to be tested before entering the venue, wear masks and maintain social distancing, according to the ministry. Normal activities are starting to return in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy as its coronavirus cases and deaths are brought under control. That’s a stark contrast to just a month ago, when the country was reporting the world’s highest number of coronavirus deaths each day. The country added 1,414 cases on Saturday and 89 deaths from the virus.
Community Activities
COVID-19: Mother warns coronavirus 'can happen to anybody' after teenage daughter dies on day she was to get vaccine
A mother has warned that anyone can die from COVID-19, even young people, after her teenage daughter died just days after contracting the virus. Jorja Halliday, 15, from Portsmouth, died at the Queen Alexandra Hospital on 28 September after she tested positive for the coronavirus four days earlier. Her mother, Tracy Halliday, 40, said: "Some children are sort of a bit blasé about, the say 'it's not going to happen to me, I'm going to be fine'. I just want people to know that it can happen to anybody, at any age, at any time. Even if you're young and healthy."
Get a friend vaccinated and eat out on us, Swiss govt tells citizens
Swiss citizens who persuade their friends to get COVID-19 shots can look forward to a free restaurant meal or cinema outing courtesy of the state, under a scheme aimed at boosting the country's low vaccination rate. Switzerland has witnessed numerous anti-vaxxer protests and 42% of its 8.7 million population are not yet fully vaccinated, relatively high by European standards. Announcing what he admitted was an unusual incentive scheme to bring that number down, Health Minister Alain Berset told a news conference in Bern: "The immunisation rate ...remains very low and this means we cannot end containment measures."
Working Remotely
This Company Is Letting 40,000 Employees Work Remotely Indefinitely: 'Evolution of Flexibility'
The accounting and consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) is letting thousands of its employees work remotely after the COVID-19 pandemic transformed the concept and feasibility of the virtual office. According to Reuters, the company will allow 40,000 of its U.S. client services employees to work virtually and live anywhere. PwC's deputy people leader, Yolanda Seals-Coffield, told the outlet that the change will be for the long term. "We have learned a ton through the pandemic, and working virtually, as we think about the evolution of flexibility, is a natural next step," Seals-Coffield said, Reuters reported. "If you are an employee in good standing, are in client services, and want to work virtually, you can, full stop."
Work From Home Forever Means No More Kids on Office Zoom Calls
The children who unexpectedly guest starred on so many pandemic video conference calls will play a much smaller role in the post-Covid work-from-home world. With hybrid schedules and remote work expected to continue even after the pandemic ends, U.S. companies are moving from Covid stopgaps to setting parameters for employees seeking flexibility. Chief among them, according to labor attorneys, are rules ensuring that someone else will take care of the kids during the workday. Parents were forced to juggle child care and work for a large portion of the last 18 months as schools and daycare centers shut down during Covid waves. Now that those facilities are more likely to be open — even as child care is more expensive and harder to find — companies are trying to assess how quickly they should require employees to formally split parental duties from their jobs.
Working from home? The best ergonomic gadgets for remote workers
In 2020, 37 per cent of adults worked from home, and a report from the Office for National Statistics suggests 85 per cent of remote employees want to adopt a hybrid of home and office work. A potential problem with this is workers setting up home offices without due consideration for sound ergonomics. RSI (repetitive strain injury) and carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) are no laughing matter: the TUC reports RSI costs the UK about 5.4 million work days a year. Fortunately, if your office is still insisting you work from home, there is plenty of high-end ergonomic tech to help alleviate this issue
24 hours from London: the best travel choices for remote working within a day’s reach of the UK
Before the coronavirus pandemic, “working from home” was often disparaged as a euphemism. But increasingly many enlightened employers accept that people whose jobs allow flexibility are often more productive. With a commute limited to bedroom-to-kitchen and more flexibility for family commitments, time is freed up and stresses are eased. The natural extension for those whose work can be conveyed as hand luggage is “working from away”. As autumn decays into winter, the prospect of a bright backdrop for those online meetings becomes ever more alluring. Last weekend, speculation began about the options for Unilever staff, after it was reported that the Anglo-Dutch giant would allow employees to be anywhere they wished as long as they could return for an urgent meeting within 24 hours.
Virtual Classrooms
Virtual and hybrid teaching has many teachers relying on tech tools
Like many other professions, teachers’ jobs have become increasingly complex due to the pandemic. This year, many students are back in the classroom, but teachers have to constantly adapt if there is virus exposure. There aren’t specific guidelines on how best to teach students using the many technologies that are available. Teachers are also struggling to keep students engaged while learning new tech tools that are required to make online classes successful. Some teachers have created YouTube videos that students can watch when they need help with a lesson. They’re using Google Forms to give students a quick and easy way to submit assignments. Others are using Whiteboard. Fi, which gives students individual digital whiteboards, game website Math Playground for math competitions, and online learning tool Quizlet to make custom sets of virtual flash cards. Teachers also are learning how best to use the capabilities within video software
How did virtual learning impact youth?
Virtual schooling during the pandemic presented challenges that might have long-term effects on children and adolescents, according to Karen Dineen Wagner, MD, PhD. Wagner discussed findings from numerous studies looking at the well-being of youth and their parents as a result of virtual instruction at the 2021 Annual Psychiatric TimesTM World CME Conference. Wagner reported there have been increases in anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, conduct problems, pro-social behavioral problems, sleep issues, and worsening of preexisting mental health disorders. This, in turn, resulted in increased mental health related visits to the emergency department.
Public Policies
California to require COVID-19 vaccines for schoolchildren
California will become the first U.S. state to mandate statewide COVID-19 vaccinations for schoolchildren, Governor Gavin Newsom said on Friday as a Reuters tally showed the United States topping 700,000 coronavirus deaths. “The state already requires that students are vaccinated against viruses that cause measles, mumps, and rubella – there’s no reason why we wouldn’t do the same for COVID-19," the Democratic governor said at a news conference.
In a first, COVAX to send COVID shots only to least covered nations
A global scheme designed to ensure fair access to COVID-19 vaccines will this month for the first time distribute shots only to countries with the lowest levels of coverage, the World Health Organization said. Co-led by the WHO, COVAX has since January largely allocated doses proportionally among its 140-plus beneficiary states according to population size. This made some richer nations that had already secured vaccines through separate deals with pharmaceutical firms eligible for COVAX doses alongside countries with no supplies at all
Japan's Takeda says 'human error' caused contamination of Moderna vaccines
Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical Co Ltd said on Friday that "human error" caused metal contaminants to get into Moderna Inc COVID-19 vaccine doses, leading to a recall. Takeda, which imports and distributes the vaccine in Japan, and Moderna said in a new report that a Spanish manufacturer discovered contaminants in some vials in July, but supplies from the same production were allowed to be shipped to Japan. Japanese authorities in August suspended the use of three batches of Moderna shots containing 1.63 million doses after being notified of the contamination.
Maintaining Services
Britain’s Covid infection rate is one of the worst in the world, data reveals
Britain’s current Covid infection rate is by far the highest in western Europe and is only exceeded by a handful of countries around the world, latest research reveals. The UK’s average daily reported cases on stood at 52 per 100,000 population on Friday, according to the respected Johns Hopkins University in the US. That puts the country 14th out of more than 200 states in a global list of Covid infection rates – well above the likes of the US, Canada and the whole of western Europe, as well as other former global “hotspots” such as India and Brazil. A total of 191,771 people tested positive for Covid in England in the week to 22 September, a rise of 18 per cent on the week before, it was revealed on Thursday.
Covid cases rise as UK schools return and furlough scheme ends
The number of daily new Covid infections in the UK has risen in the past month after the removal of most pandemic restrictions and as schools and offices reopened, fuelled by the Delta variant. The latest daily figures up to 30 September show that 36,480 people tested positive for Covid-19 across the UK, an increase from the start of the month. The government said a further 137 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Thursday, bringing the UK total to 136,662. Almost 49 million people have had a first shot of a coronavirus vaccine, about 90% of the adult population. Almost 45 million – about 83% – have had a second.
Indonesia’s pandemic-fuelled problem: Mounds of medical waste
The overpowering stench is the first thing that I notice, filling my nose and making my eyes water. Then I see the mountains of rotting waste. This is Burangkeng, one of Indonesia’s largest landfills, in the city of Bekasi some 30km from the capital, Jakarta. On the surface it looks like any other large dumpsite, but among the regular rubbish lies a growing amount of toxic medical waste. From blood-filled drip lines to masks, medical gloves and COVID-19 tests. All hidden in plain sight.
India imposes retaliatory COVID restrictions on British nationals
Fully vaccinated British nationals arriving in India will be subjected to a 10-day mandatory quarantine, in response to similar measures imposed on Indian nationals. The move comes after India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla called Britain’s decision not to recognise the Indian version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, known as Covishield, “discriminatory”. He had warned of reciprocal measures should London fail to reconsider.
Return to Covid restrictions as hundreds of schools told to ‘prepare for bubbles’
At least two councils have told schools to reintroduce some Covid measures as cases threaten to spiral out of control. Schools in Staffordshire have been issued with new guidance including the reintroduction of classroom bubbles and face coverings in crowded places after infections increased by nearly a third in the past week. Wolverhampton secondary school pupils have also been told to wear masks in communal areas as councils take it upon themselves to tackle the latest outbreaks. All compulsory measures were scrapped by the government for the start of the latest term, with schools able to operate mostly as normal.
Flu's Return Will Shape the Pandemic's Impact in Coming Months
Charting the course of the pandemic during the coming months is likely to involve a more traditional winter nuisance: the flu. As countries from Italy to Canada lift restrictions, travel resumes and colder temperatures set in, influenza will probably start circulating as well. That’s after measures to thwart Covid-19 such as masks and ventilation kept the flu at bay for the past year and a half. Efforts have already been under way to lessen the potential strain on health systems dealing with both illnesses. A U.K. study released late Thursday showed that it’s safe for people to get Covid and flu shots at the same time, which might help increase vaccine uptake and cut down on appointments as the country rolls out booster doses.
Japan's restaurants, bars welcome back drinkers as COVID-19 controls ease
Typhoon winds and rain dampened what might have been a more celebratory mood in Tokyo on Friday, as restaurants were allowed to sell alcohol and stay open later following the lifting of the latest COVID-19 state of emergency. Japan is cautiously easing restrictions that have prevailed across much of the nation for almost six months. New COVID cases in Tokyo totalled 200 on Friday, a sharp drop from more than 5,000 a day in August amid a fifth wave driven by the infectious Delta variant that brought the medical system to the brink. The restrictions, intended to blunt infections by reducing mobility and interaction, have been particularly tough on the service sector.
S.Korea extends social distancing curbs as COVID-19 cases rise in Seoul
South Korea extended social distancing curbs to combat the coronavirus pandemic on Friday for two weeks, offering more incentives to people to get vaccinated as it battles thousands of new cases each day, particularly in the capital. The rapid resurgence in the greater Seoul area prompted authorities to extend distancing restrictions until Oct. 17, including a ban in the region on dining out after 10 p.m. and gatherings of more than two people after 6 p.m. The country recorded 2,486 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA), with the daily tally having topped 3,000 for the first time last week.
NBA vaccination rate reaches 95 percent
As a few notable NBA players continue to make headlines for their anti-vaccination stances, the vast majority of the league has been vaccinated against COVID-19. NBA executive director Michele Roberts revealed this week that over 90 percent of the league's players are fully vaccinated, while ESPN reported Thursday that 95 percent of players have now received at least one shot. Still, the topic of vaccinations has become hot-button. The NBA mandated that all team employees except for players must be vaccinated, and there is tension within the league about that difference.
EXCLUSIVE White House presses U.S. airlines to quickly mandate vaccines for staff
The White House is pressing major U.S. airlines to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for employees by Dec. 8 - the deadline for federal contractors to do so - and is showing no signs of pushing back the date, four sources told Reuters on Friday. White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeffrey Zients spoke to the chief executives of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and Southwest Airlines on Thursday to ensure they were working expeditiously to develop and enforce vaccine requirements ahead of that deadline, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Healthcare Innovations
Merck says COVID-19 pill cuts risk of death, hospitalization
In a potential leap forward in the global fight against the pandemic, drugmaker Merck said Friday that its experimental pill for people sick with COVID-19 reduced hospitalizations and deaths by half. If cleared by regulators, it would be the first pill shown to treat COVID-19, adding a whole new, easy-to-use weapon to an arsenal that already includes the vaccine. The company said it will soon ask health officials in the U.S. and around the world to authorize the pill’s use. A decision from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration could come within weeks after that, and the drug, if it gets the OK, could be distributed quickly soon afterward.
Is the Coronavirus Getting Better at Airborne Transmission?
Newer variants of the coronavirus like Alpha and Delta are highly contagious, infecting far more people than the original virus. Two new studies offer a possible explanation: The virus is evolving to spread more efficiently through air. The realization that the coronavirus is airborne indoors transformed efforts to contain the pandemic last year, igniting fiery debates about masks, social distancing and ventilation in public spaces. Most researchers now agree that the coronavirus is mostly transmitted through large droplets that quickly sink to the floor and through much smaller ones, called aerosols, that can float over longer distances indoors and settle directly into the lungs, where the virus is most harmful.
Children lead rise in England's COVID-19 prevalence
The prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England increased in the week ending Sept 25, Britain's Office for National Statistics said on Friday, led by an increase in infections in school-age children. Schools in England have been open for around a month, and some epidemiologists have highlighted concern about rising cases among children, although it is yet to translate into a sustained increase in infections for the population more broadly. There was an estimated prevalence of 4.58% among secondary school-age children, meaning more than 1 in 25 tested positive for COVID-19, compared to 2.81% of children in the age range testing positive in the previous week.
J&J's one-shot COVID vaccine is linked to ANOTHER blood clotting condition by EU regulators
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) on Friday found a possible link between. Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine and venous thromboembolism (VTE). VTE is a condition in which a blood clot forms in a deep vein, usually in a leg, arm or groin, and may travel to the lungs causing a blockage of the blood supply. It could cause possible life-threatening consequences, especially to seniors. The agency is recommending that the condition be listed as a rare side effect. It also recommends that immune thrombocytopenia (ITP) be listed as a side effect of the J&J vaccine and AstraZeneca's vaccine. ITP is a bleeding disorder which sees sufferers' bodies mistakenly attack their own platelets