"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 13th Oct 2021

Isolation Tips
Covid-19 Australia: Chief Minister Andrew Barr confirms ACT will lift its lockdown this week
The ACT is set to end its harsh lockdown restrictions by the end of the week, Chief Minister Andrew Barr has confirmed. The territory's leader announced Canberra will officially emerge from lockdown at 11.59pm on Thursday as the state increases its vaccination coverage. 'Case numbers are expected to increase as restrictions are eased, but being fully vaccinated provides you with protection,' he said.
COVID-19 curbs in Sydney could ease early amid surge in vaccinations
New South Wales could ease more restrictions in Sydney a week earlier than planned on Oct. 18 as Australia's most populous state races towards its 80% double-dose vaccination target, the government said on Wednesday. The southeastern state is expected to hit the mark over the weekend, beating forecasts, and officials previously promised to relax further restrictions on vaccinated residents on the first Monday after reaching that milestone. "If we hit 80%, we've always said it will be the Monday following," state Premier Dominic Perrottet told ABC Radio. "We will have this discussion with our team on Thursday and we will make a decision to be announced on Friday."
Hygiene Helpers
Returning to school with covid safety precautions
More than a month into the 2020-2021 school year — despite a surge in coronavirus cases and bitter political fights over vaccine and mask mandates — most American schoolchildren are back in the classroom. And while the political battles may continue, it looks like the students are there to stay. Last month, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona testified before Congress that 96 percent of public schools have reopened for in-person instruction. And in places where schools are offering virtual programs, most families are nonetheless opting for face-to-face learning.
Rapid Covid Tests Can Beat Pandemic: Harvard's Michael Mina
The 37-year-old epidemiologist, immunologist, and physician says it didn’t have to be this way: Workplaces, schools, event spaces, and more that have been desolate for better than a year could have stayed open—and safely—with a technology that’s been here all along. Mina has been an early and tireless champion of inexpensive, do-it-yourself SARS-CoV-2 antigen tests that can return a positive or negative result in about 15 minutes, arguing for their wider deployment in op-ed articles, on Twitter, and in conversations with health authorities.
Covid Spread Was 8% Lower In Democrat-Led States Than GOP Because Of Stricter Restrictions, Study Finds
The peer-reviewed study, led by researchers at Binghamton University, determined a Public Health Protective Policy Index (PPI) that measured the “stringency” of states’ public health policies and analyzed those findings in relation to states’ Covid-19 transmission and the governors’ partisan affiliation. The researchers looked at Covid-19 rates and policies between March and November 2020, as well as when specific states’ Covid-19 cases peaked. Democratic-led states had a PPI that was approximately 10 points higher on average than states with GOP governors, though the study notes some Republican-led states like Maryland, Vermont and Massachusetts had stricter measures that were closer to the Democratic states.
COVID-19: Parents of secondary school and college students urged to ensure their children test regularly and get vaccinated
The education secretary and health secretary have written to parents of secondary school and college students, urging them to ensure their children are testing regularly and also encouraging them to get vaccinated against coronavirus. The letter from Nadhim Zahawi and Sajid Javid comes after official estimates showed that around 270,000 secondary pupils had COVID-19 in the week to 2 October.
New Zealand seeks to ramp up COVID-19 vaccinations amid persistent cases
New Zealand expects to administer a record 100,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses in a single day during a mass immunisation drive on Oct. 16, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, as she seeks to accelerate inoculations before easing curbs in Auckland. Ardern on Tuesday urged the country's population over 12 years of age "to roll up sleeves for New Zealand and help make us (one of) the most vaccinated and therefore protected countries in the world". Some 2.44 million, or 58% of the population over 12, have been fully vaccinated so far.
Community Activities
Australians Planning to Get Covid Vaccine More Optimistic: Westpac
Australian consumers who intend to get vaccinated are far more optimistic than those who don’t intend to have a jab, Westpac Banking Corp.’s October household sentiment survey showed. Respondents who are not vaccinated but intend to be recorded an index reading of 122 points, while those who aren’t vaccinated and don’t intend to be posted a reading of 84.8, Westpac’s monthly survey showed Wednesday. The overall consumer sentiment index slid 1.5% from last month to 104.6. “The confidence level of those not intending to get vaccinated has also fallen quite sharply in the last month,” said Bill Evans, chief economist at Westpac. “Encouragingly, the size of this group has fallen as well, accounting for only 6% of respondents in the October survey compared to 9% in September and just under 20% at the start of the year.”
Schools are new battleground in war of disinformation over Covid-19 vaccines
The rollout of Covid-19 vaccinations to schoolchildren in the United Kingdom has opened up a new front in the disinformation war: anti-vax campaigners are now taking their protests to the school gates. Groups opposed to vaccination have sought to stoke the fears of parents and children by falsely claiming that the vaccines are untested and dangerous. Last week, a small group of protesters demonstrated outside St. Thomas More Catholic School in the town of Blaydon, near Newcastle in northeastern England, as children entered the school gates.
COVID-19: Thailand reopens to vaccinated UK travellers, as visiting dozens of destinations now easier after red list cut to just seven countries
Thailand will end quarantine for fully vaccinated UK travellers, as British COVID advice has been relaxed making it easier to visit almost 90 countries. Forty-seven nations were taken off the red list at 4am, meaning anyone arriving from places including South Africa, Brazil and Argentina no longer need to quarantine in a hotel.
Demand for Holyrood inquiry on Covid-19 handling after damning MP report
The call comes after the publication of a report by Westminster MPs labelled the UK Government’s early response to the pandemic “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”. The report, from the cross-party joint committee of the health and social care and science and technology committees, concluded that there was an element of “groupthink” around the UK Government’s approach to herd immunity.
Covid-19: Ethnic minority deaths were ‘unacceptably high’ during pandemic, MPs say
A damning report from MPs has slammed the “unacceptably high” death rates among people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities that occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic. The study, from the cross-party Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee, said serious errors and delays, including on testing, care homes and the timing of the first lockdown, have cost lives during the virus outbreak. The pandemic exacerbated existing social, economic and health inequalities among ethnic minority communities, the MPs said.
COVID-19: 'A slap in the face' - Families of pandemic victims attack MPs' report and call for judge-led inquiry
Families of COVID-19 victims have attacked an MPs' report into government failings during the pandemic as "laughable" and a "slap in the face" - and say a judicial inquiry is needed to get to the truth. The report said decisions on lockdowns and social distancing early in the pandemic were "one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced" and cost thousands of lives. It said "groupthink" among officials meant chances to delay the spread of the virus were missed, and it was a "serious early error" not to lock down sooner.
Working Remotely
How to stay active and healthy during long-term remote work
During 2020, our gyms shut down, mandates were placed to stay inside, and many watched their physical health and stamina decrease due to increased stress and time spent being sedentary. Previously, experts have declared “sitting is the new smoking.” And while the last couple of decades have seen a huge boom in health and diet-conscious lifestyles, due to COVID-19, this past year has pushed many workers home and into remote positions. This article gives tips for staying active and healthy while remote working.
Employees working at home will be allowed claim back 30% of their energy bills against tax
In Ireland, employees working at home will be allowed to claim back 30% of their energy bills against their tax. In his Budget 2022 speech, the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said many have experienced remote working during the pandemic, stating that it can become part of a better work/life balance. The government wants to facilitate and support remote work, he said, confirming that an income tax deduction amounting in 30% of the cost of vouched expenses for heat, electricity, and broadband.
Amazon to allow employees to work remotely indefinitely
Amazon said it will allow many tech and corporate workers to continue working remotely indefinitely, as long as they can commute to the office when necessary. The new policy was announced in a blog post and is a change from Amazon’s previous expectation that most employees would need to be in the office at least three days a week when offices reopen from the COVID-19 pandemic in January. The Seattle Times reported Monday’s message was signed by Amazon CEO Andy Jassy and said company directors will have discretion to allow teams that they manage to continue working remotely.
Virtual Classrooms
5 ways to improve your virtual teaching
It has been 18 months since schools first closed, and we are still learning how to make virtual environments rich and engaging. And while remote instruction isn’t for everyone, it can be a powerful way to deliver instruction, build connections and foster a love of learning in students -- if you do it right. Very little in teaching can truly be boiled down to five simple strategies, but these suggestions can add to your remote-teaching skills.
COVID took toll on kids’ learning, grades, American Family Survey finds
The latest American Family Survey, released Tuesday in Washington, D.C., indicates more than half of respondents whose children did not attend school in person chose not to return to the classroom when they had the option. This was the case for more than 6 in 10 Democrats as well as just under half of Republicans, the survey found. Parents surveyed said their children’s grades and learning suffered during the pandemic’s aftermath with nearly 20% of parents revealing that their children’s grades worsened and nearly one-third reporting declines in learning.
Public Policies
Covid: UK's early response worst public health failure ever, MPs say
The UK's failure to do more to stop Covid spreading early in the pandemic was one of the country's worst public health failures, a report by MPs says. The government approach - backed by its scientists - was to try to manage the situation and in effect achieve herd immunity by infection, it said. This led to a delay in introducing the first lockdown, costing thousands of lives, the MPs found. But their report highlighted successes too, including the vaccination rollout. It described the approach to vaccination - from the research and development through to the rollout of the jabs - as "one of the most effective initiatives in UK history".
Moderna's search for African site set to intensify - chairman
Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa could be potential locations for Moderna's planned vaccine factory in Africa, the U.S. drugmaker's co-founder and chairman said as it steps up its search for a site on the continent. Moderna said last week it would build a plant in Africa to produce up to 500 million doses of vaccines a year, including its COVID-19 shot, as pressure grows on pharmaceutical companies to manufacture drugs in lower-income countries.
Moderna, J&J push for COVID-19 vaccine boosters ahead of FDA meeting
Scientists at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Tuesday that Moderna Inc had not met all of the agency's criteria to support use of booster doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, possibly because the efficacy of the shot's first two doses has remained strong. FDA staff said in documents that data for Moderna's vaccine showed that a booster does increase protective antibodies, but the difference in antibody levels before and after the shot was not wide enough, particularly in those whose levels had remained high.
S.Korea to donate 1.1 mln doses of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam, 470,000 doses to Thailand
South Korea will donate 1.1 mln doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine to Vietnam and 470,000 doses to Thailand, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said on Tuesday. The donations come as South Korea has administered nearly 80% of its 52 million population with at least one dose of a vaccine, KDCA said
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott bans COVID-19 vaccine mandates by private businesses
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order to prohibit any entity, including private business, from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate on workers and called on state lawmakers to pass a similar ban into law. The move comes as the Biden administration is set to issue rules requiring employers with more than 100 workers to be vaccinated or test weekly for the coronavirus. Several major companies, including Texas-based American Airlines and Southwest Airlines, have said they would abide by the federal mandate.
COVID-19: Minister refuses to apologise for government's pandemic handling as report says errors 'cost thousands of lives'
A minister has refused to apologise 11 times for the government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic, after a highly-critical report by MPs said thousands of lives were lost due to delays and mistakes by both ministers and their scientific advisers. "We followed, throughout, the scientific advice. We got the vaccine deployed extremely quickly, we protected our NHS from the surge of cases," Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay told Sky News' Kay Burley when she asked if the government would apologise.
Maintaining Services
Merck aims to double supply of Covid-19 antiviral pill on rising demand
Merck plans to double manufacturing capacity for its antiviral pill to treat Covid-19 next year as governments scramble to procure a treatment that a late-stage trial showed cuts hospital admission and death rates in half. The mounting demand for Merck’s drug, the first oral treatment shown to prevent severe disease in vulnerable people with coronavirus, is a sign that it could trigger the same kind of worldwide rush faced by makers of early Covid-19 vaccines. Merck, which this week asked US regulators to authorise use of the drug called molnupiravir, told the Financial Times it had secured deals with Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and South Korea to supply doses in the past week and is in talks with several other governments.
WA's health sector vaccine mandate puts pressure on overstretched bush hospitals
Almost two weeks after Western Australia's health sector vaccine mandate took effect, just a small number of staff losses is increasing pressure on struggling hospital wards and fanning tension between burnt-out workers. Health authorities have confirmed frontline staff have been removed from rosters for refusing to have at least one dose since the rules came into force at the start of the month. The nurses union, which supports the mandate, has accused health bureaucrats of not preparing for the inevitable loss of staff at a time when hospitals in WA's remote north are already being pushed to the brink due to a nurse shortage.
Bangladesh plans to vaccinate 80 mn people against Covid by next January
Bangladesh aims to administer Covid-19 vaccines to nearly half of its population by next January. Health Minister Zahid Maleque said the Bangladeshi government is working to vaccinate 80 million people by December and January, Xinhua news agency reported, citing the Bangladesh's state-run news agency BSS. The minister said the government is considering vaccinating children aged between 12 and 17 years. Bangladesh has already announced a target of vaccinating 80 per cent of its population by 2022. The South Asian country has so far got nearly 70 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.
Sydney COVID-19 cases ease further as focus shifts to reviving economy
Sydney's COVID-19 cases fell to the lowest in two months on Tuesday as authorities rolled out support measures for businesses, shifting their focus to rejuvenating the economy after the city exited a nearly four-month lockdown a day earlier. Pubs, cafes and retail stores reopened in New South Wales (NSW), home to Sydney, on Monday after vaccination levels in the state's adult population crossed 70%. New daily infections in the state fell to 360 on Tuesday, the majority in Sydney, marking a steady downward trend.
Back to school: How are pupils being kept Covid-safe?
Face coverings are no longer compulsory in schools in England or Wales, although they are recommended in crowded spaces like school buses. However head teachers and health officials can ask staff and pupils to wear masks on school premises in response to local circumstances. Schools in Trafford, Cambridgeshire and West Yorkshire have already reintroduced face coverings. Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi confirmed that mask-wearing in all English schools could be made compulsory again under the government's winter contingency "Plan B".
Healthcare Innovations
Moderna Argues to FDA for Half-Dose of Vaccine as Booster
In documents released Tuesday morning, Moderna argued that the Food and Drug Administration should authorize a half-dose of its coronavirus vaccine as a booster shot for recipients at least six months after the second dose, citing evidence that the vaccine’s potency against infection wanes over time. The agency noted in its own analysis that, overall, available data show Moderna and the other vaccines “still afford protection against severe Covid-19 disease and death in the United States.” Moderna cited the rate of breakthrough infections, “real world evidence of reduced effectiveness against the Delta variant,” and falling levels of neutralizing antibodies from its vaccine six to eight months after a second dose. The company said its clinical trial studies showed that a third injection boosted antibody levels — one measure of the immune system’s response — higher than what they had been before the second dose.
AZ’s long-acting antibody combo shows benefit in COVID-19 trial
AstraZeneca has announced positive results from a Phase III trial evaluating its long-acting antibody (LAAB) combination AZD7442 in non-hospitalised patients with mild-to-moderate symptomatic COVID-19. In the Phase III TACKLE trial, a total of 90% of participants enrolled were from populations with a high-risk of progressing to severe COVID-19, including individuals with co-morbidities. The late-stage trial hit its primary endpoint, with AZD7442 600 mg given by intramuscular injections (IM) reducing the risk of developing severe COVID-19 or death from any cause by 50% compared to placebo in outpatients who had been symptomatic for seven days or less.
COVID infects all ages in family equally, but immunity plays a role
Two new studies explore the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission among household members, one finding that children and adults are at similar risk and one showing that COVID-19–naïve family members' risk was 45% to 97% lower, depending on the number of members immune through infection or full vaccination.