"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 19th Oct 2021

Isolation Tips
Latvia Plans to Reimpose Lockdown After Covid Spike
Latvia plans to impose a 4-week lock down to slow the spread of coronavirus after a surge in cases threatened to overwhelm hospitals, Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said, according to the Leta newswire. The Baltic country will impose the stricter measures, including restrictions on schools, shops and public events from Oct. 21 until Nov. 15, Leta reported. The government still must confirm the decision on the proposed measures.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announces COVID-19 roadmap to reopening as state records zero local cases
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has outlined a roadmap to reopen the state's borders to COVID-19 hotspots for fully vaccinated people by Christmas. Fully vaccinated travellers will be allowed to enter Queensland without the need to quarantine from December 17. It comes as the state recorded zero new locally acquired COVID cases in the past 24 hours, while more than 8,000 people remain stranded interstate, having applied for border passes to enter Queensland. Ms Palaszczuk said Queensland would begin a phased border reopening for fully vaccinated people from November 19.
New Zealand extends Auckland lockdown in battle on Delta variant
New Zealand's biggest city of Auckland will retain its lockdown for two more weeks in the battle on the Delta variant of coronavirus, as the country pushes to step up vaccinations, Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern said on Monday.
Hygiene Helpers
Why Are U.K. Covid Cases So High Compared to the Rest of Europe?
Surging Covid cases in the U.K. have left the country behind the rest of Europe with former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb calling for urgent research into a mutation known as delta plus. Britain, faster to reopen and relax restrictions than other European countries, reported the highest daily jump in new cases on Sunday since mid-July. Weekly deaths from the virus topped 800 for each of the past six weeks, higher than in other major western European nations, according to Bloomberg’s tracker.
UK lab investigated for false negative Covid tests is not fully accredited
The private laboratory that is under investigation for potentially issuing more than 40,000 false negative Covid tests was not fully accredited to perform the work, contrary to assurances made by health officials. The UK’s independent accreditation service, Ukas, told the Guardian on Monday that neither Immensa Health Clinics Ltd nor its sister company, Dante Labs, had ever been accredited by the service, and that it had informed the Department of Health that statements suggesting otherwise were incorrect. The UK Health Security Agency announced on Friday that it was suspending operations at Immensa’s laboratory in Wolverhampton pending an investigation into concerns that at least 43,000 people with coronavirus had been wrongly told their swabs tested negative for the virus.
Enforcement of Covid-19 vaccine passports comes into effect in Scotland
Enforcement of Scotland's controversial Covid-19 vaccine passport scheme has come into effect. Proof of full vaccination is required to enter nightclubs and large events as part of the Scottish Government's efforts to limit the spread of coronavirus and increase vaccine take-up. The measures technically came into effect from October 1, but an 18-day grace period was announced following backlash from affected industries and significant problems with the new app. The policy will now be enforceable for nightclubs, strip clubs and unseated indoor events with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor events with over 4,000 and any event with more than 10,000 people. Scots will have to show proof they have had both vaccine doses, with a paper copy of the certificate or a QR code on a new app, although the latter has been plagued with problems since its launch. More than 700,000 people had downloaded the app, and a further 750,000 people have a paper copy of their vaccination status.
The political fight over COVID-19 vaccine mandates is deepening
The science is clear: Vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death from the coronavirus, and vaccine mandates are an effective tool in promoting widespread vaccinations. Still, the battle to inoculate the nation against the coronavirus has reached a fever pitch in recent months. President Biden has focused on getting as many Americans as possible vaccinated against the coronavirus, most notably rolling out wide-reaching vaccine mandates for government employees and for businesses with more than 100 workers.
Vaccines, masks? Japan puzzling over sudden virus success
Almost overnight, Japan has become a stunning, and somewhat mysterious, coronavirus success story. Daily new COVID-19 cases have plummeted from a mid-August peak of nearly 6,000 in Tokyo, with caseloads in the densely populated capital now routinely below 100, an 11-month low. The bars are packed, the trains are crowded, and the mood is celebratory, despite a general bafflement over what, exactly, is behind the sharp drop. Japan, unlike other places in Europe and Asia, has never had anything close to a lockdown, just a series of relatively toothless states of emergency.
Russian regions introduce QR codes for entry to public venues as COVID-19 cases hit record
Many Russian regions on Monday announced plans to keep cafes, museums and other public venues open only to those who have recently recovered from COVID-19, have proof of inoculation with a Russian vaccine or a negative coronavirus test, as new cases in the country hit a record. The round of unpopular measures that limits freedoms in Russia comes as the number of daily COVID-19 infections reached an all-time high of 34,325 despite the state-driven vaccination programme.
How the Covid-19 booster shots could make the vaccination gap worse
"We're all triply-vaccinated!" friends gleefully told me last week, as they invited me to their home for dinner. They were thrilled. I had rarely seen such big smiles since the Covid-19 pandemic began. These are important developments, but they arrive at a time when major challenges remain, since about 66 million American adults have still not yet been fully vaccinated. Forty-six percent of Whites, 49% of Hispanics and 54% of Blacks in the country have not yet gotten a single shot. While my friends were delighted to receive extra protections and invite other people to dinner, much of the country remains wary. To overcome the growing pandemic, we as a nation must all now push to address this widening gap.
Should COVID-19 vaccines be mandatory?
Governments across the world are turning to vaccine mandates as the Delta variant continues to wreak havoc and vaccine uptake in some communities begin to slow down. New Zealand – which has abandoned its COVID-Zero strategy amid persistent infections – introduced last week a “no jab, no job” policy for doctors and teachers, while neighbouring Fiji says all of its public and private sector workers are liable to lose their jobs if they fail to get fully inoculated by November.
Community Activities
Nearly a Third of Chicago Police Have Failed to Report Their Vaccine Status
About one-third of Chicago Police Department employees have not reported their Covid-19 vaccination status to the city, defying Friday’s deadline to provide the information or risk unpaid leave. About 64% of the department’s 12,770 employees have reported their vaccine status with about 36% of police staffers not providing the required information, according to data released by city officials on Monday. That’s the lowest reporting rate among the city’s departments. The figures show that 6,894 say they’re fully vaccinated and 1,333 report they are not, according to the data. About 4,500 from the department have not responded as mandated by the city amid a standoff between Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge #7 President John Catanzara Jr.
Biden: Teachers 'most consequential' people after parents
President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hosted a White House ceremony Monday to recognize the 2021 and 2020 national teachers of the year, the state teacher finalists for those years and teachers nationwide, all of whom had to work longer and harder during the pandemic. The president was a surprise guest, walking out onto the South Lawn after the first lady, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and both national teachers had spoken at the ceremony. Biden said teachers are the “single most consequential people in the world,” beyond one’s parents, because of the influence they have over their students.
Reluctant men: reaching South Africa’s most hesitant groups with the Covid-19 vaccine
Many men must choose between hustling to find something that will put bread on the table, or going to queue at a health facility.” Laura Lopez Gonzalez explores South Africa’s efforts to persuade men to get the jab.
COVID-19: Italian police use water cannon to disperse workers protesting against mandatory COVID pass
Italian police used water cannon and tear gas to break up a demonstration in the port of Trieste, where workers protested against the government's mandatory COVID pass. Under the new rule, workers will be suspended without pay and could face a fine of up to 1,500 euros if they try to work without the COVID pass.
Social distancing at Mecca’s Grand Mosque dropped
The Grand Mosque in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, has returned to operating at full capacity, with worshippers praying shoulder-to-shoulder for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. On Sunday, floor markings that guide people to social distance in and around the Grand Mosque were removed. “This is in line with the decision to ease precautionary measures and to allow pilgrims and visitors to the Grand Mosque at full capacity,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported. Pictures and footage on Sunday morning showed people praying side by side in straight rows of worshippers, the formation revered in Muslim prayers, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold last year. While social distancing measures were lifted, authorities said visitors must be fully vaccinated against coronavirus and must continue to wear masks on mosque grounds.
Working Remotely
Employers must be alive to the challenges presented by the hybrid working model
Managers need to put in place procedures to make the return to the office as streamlined as possible, and ensure those who return to the office more frequently are not treated more favourably. There is an unconscious tendency to favour those who we see or work closely with on a regular basis. This could be to the detriment of those who work permanently or more frequently from home. This is now being referred to as “proximity bias”.
'Hours of my life I'm never going to get back': As offices reopen, workers resist bringing back the commute
As many offices reopen after being shuttered during the Covid-19 health crisis, roughly 40% of workers say they want to continue working remotely according to a Harris Poll survey for USA Today. And for some, not having to commute on crowded trains, slow-moving buses, or in their cars, is one of the biggest perks of working from home. In a survey of 2,100 remote workers taken between March and April, 84% said shedding their commute was the most significant benefit of working outside the office, while 58% said they would seek a new job if they couldn't continue doing their current job remotely, according to FlexJobs
Should Remote Work Pay Be Based On Location?
The coronavirus pandemic was a wake-up call for many employers and employees that the old way of doing work wasn’t working ― at least for everyone. One July survey of Americans who began working remotely during the pandemic found that 65% said they’d be willing to take a 5% pay cut in order to keep doing so full time. Companies including accounting firm PwC and big tech firms including Facebook, Microsoft and Google took note of this demand. They’re now allowing employees the opportunity to continue working from home where they like, but have made potential salary adjustments a condition of doing so in less expensive markets. But a growing number of companies are also taking a location-agnostic approach to pay. Last year, Reddit eliminated geographic compensation zones for U.S. employees, announcing it would instead tie pay ranges to high-cost areas such as San Francisco and New York, regardless of where U.S. staff members live.
Virtual Classrooms
How immersive learning will revolutionize education
Immersive learning experiences are a new type of educational experience that can be used in place of traditional lectures and classrooms. Immersive learning is meant to mimic the real world by providing students with an environment that is as close to reality as possible. It’s designed for learners who are interested in hands-on experiences, problem-solving, and discovery over non-traditional methods like reading textbooks and listening to lectures from a professor. There are also many potential applications of immersive learning techniques in schools. This article will discuss what immersive learning is, how it changes the classroom experience, and some current use cases of immersive learning.
High school dropouts: Remote learning during covid put Baltimore students at risk
Hundreds of thousands of students across the U.S. have been at risk of dropping out of school. A McKinsey & Company report released in July estimated that between 617,000 and 1.2 million teens nationwide were more likely to drop out because of coronavirus-related school closures. In Miami and Chicago, in New York City and Detroit, school officials had fanned out over the summer to reestablish contact with some of those kids. And they had done so in Baltimore, where spikes in absenteeism were particularly acute among students with disabilities and those living in poverty. The article follows high school student Corey Byrd.
Online teaching and learning is not just for pandemics and it can help solve old problems
South African universities are currently considering the future of teaching and learning after the rapid shift to emergency remote teaching and learning in 2020 and 2021. During this time, two narratives have (re)emerged. One implies that teaching and learning online is more difficult or demanding than in-person education. The other that it’s not as good as in-person teaching and learning. In the South African higher education context these concerns seem to be closely tied to staff burnout and to the inequities and complexities of the sector, which were amplified by emergency remote teaching and learning.
Public Policies
UK government ordered to reveal firms awarded ‘VIP’ Covid contracts
The UK government has been ordered to reveal which companies were given “VIP” access to multimillion-pound contracts for the supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the early months of the Covid pandemic, in a ruling from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has previously refused to disclose the names of 47 companies that had contracts awarded through the privileged, fast-track process allocated to firms with political connections. A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) last year found that companies referred as possible PPE suppliers by ministers, MPs or senior NHS officials were given high priority by the DHSC procurement process, which resulted in a 10 times greater success rate for securing contracts than companies whose bids were processed via normal channels. The Good Law Project (GLP), which first revealed the existence of a VIP lane, is together with fellow campaign group EveryDoctor challenging the DHSC over the lawfulness of the VIP lane and large contracts awarded to three companies: PestFix, Ayanda Capital and Clandeboye Agencies.
Burundi launches COVID-19 vaccination drive
Burundi on Monday rolled out its first COVID-19 vaccines, months after most African countries, the latest step in the East African nation's shift towards a more active approach to containing the pandemic. The vaccination campaign started in the commercial capital of Bujumbura without fanfare. Dozens of city residents queued quietly at a vaccination site, telling Reuters they heard about the drive through word of mouth. No government officials were present to officially inaugurate the launch.
South Africa regulator not authorising Russian COVID-19 vaccine for now
South Africa's drugs regulator said on Monday that it was not approving an emergency use application for Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 shot for now, citing concerns about its safety for people at risk of HIV.
EU has exported over 1 bln COVID-19 vaccines, von der Leyen says
More than a billion COVID-19 vaccines produced in the European Union have been exported since December 2020, making the bloc the biggest exporter of the shots, European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday. The vaccines had gone to more than 150 countries, and the EU had exported as many doses as it had distributed to its own citizens, von der Leyen added in a statement. The bloc started exporting vaccines at the start of the global roll out at a time when other major producers such as the United States were building up their own supplies and restricting exports.
Gordon Brown calls for airlift of 240 million COVID-19 vaccines
Former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown has called for an immediate airlift of unused COVID jabs to countries in the global south. Brown, an adviser to the World Health Organization (WHO), is pressing the leaders of Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States to hold an emergency summit to agree on the airlift ahead of the G20 meeting later this month. He said an airlift of 240 million doses this month could save 100,000 lives. It would be the first part of a plan to transfer a billion vaccine doses from rich countries to lower-income countries over several months, a plan he says could prevent “many of the one million COVID-induce deaths projected over the next year.” “While vaccines have been pledged for donation from all donors, we are not getting the vaccines into people’s arms and urgently need a month-to-month timetable to meet our interim targets and prevent further loss of lives,” Brown was quoted as saying by the Observer newspaper.
Maintaining Services
UK Covid cases near 50,000 in one day as No 10 warns of ‘challenging’ winter
Downing Street has warned of “challenging” months ahead as UK coronavirus cases reached their highest level since mid-July. The reported number of Covid cases in the UK increased steadily through October and reached 49,156 on Monday, the highest reported since 17 July and a 16% rise in new cases over the past week. The figure is only 19,000 cases short of the peak number of cases ever recorded in the UK. On 8 January 2021, 68,053 new cases were reported at the height of the most devastating wave of the pandemic last winter. The prime minister’s official spokesperson said a rise in coronavirus cases was expected over the winter and that the government would keep a “close watch” on the statistics.
Russia's Low Vaccination Rates Leads to Record-Breaking Toll
After Sofia Kravetskaya got vaccinated with Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine last December, she became a pariah on the Moscow playground where she takes her young daughter. “When I mentioned I volunteered in the trials and I got my first shot, people started running away from me,” she said. “They believed that if you were vaccinated, the virus is inside you and you’re contagious.” For Ms. Kravetskaya, 36, the reaction reflected the prevalent mistrust in the Russian authorities that has metastasized since the pandemic began last year. That skepticism, pollsters and sociologists say, is the main reason only one third of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, despite the availability of free inoculations.
Thailand to cease Sinovac vaccine use when stocks end this month
Thailand will stop using the COVID-19 vaccine of China's Sinovac when its current stock finishes, a senior official said on Monday, having used the shot extensively in combination with Western-developed vaccines. Thailand used over 31.5 million Sinovac doses since February, starting with two doses to frontline workers, high-risk groups and residents of Phuket, a holiday island that reopened to tourists early in a pilot scheme.
Burundi starts COVID jabs; just North Korea, Eritrea remain
One of the world’s last three countries to administer COVID-19 vaccines started giving out doses on Monday as the East African nation of Burundi launched its national campaign. The vaccinations started in the commercial capital, Bujumbura, though health workers told The Associated Press that barely more than a dozen people had received doses by mid-afternoon. Recipients included the ministers of health and security. Only North Korea and the Horn of Africa nation of Eritrea have not administered any COVID-19 vaccines, according to the World Health Organization. Burundi’s previous government under the late President Pierre Nkurunziza had been criticized for taking the pandemic lightly.
Healthcare Innovations
Covid-19 news: Valneva reports positive results from vaccine trial
A covid-19 vaccine made by Valneva produced stronger antibody responses and fewer side effects than the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in a clinical trial, the French company has announced. The trial included more than 4600 participants in the UK, who were randomly allocated one of the two vaccines, while delta was the predominant coronavirus variant in circulation. The rate of covid-19 cases was similar in the two groups and no participants developed severe illness from covid-19. Valneva’s experimental vaccine, VLA2001, consists of inactivated whole virus particles, in combination with two adjuvants – drugs given to augment the immune response. “This is a much more traditional approach to vaccine manufacture than the vaccines so far deployed in the UK, Europe and North America and these results suggest this vaccine candidate is on track to play an important role in overcoming the pandemic,” said Adam Finn at the University of Bristol, UK, chief investigator for the trial, in a press release.
Merck COVID-19 pill sparks calls for access for lower income countries
The plan to roll out Merck & Co's (MRK.N) promising antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 risks repeating the inequities of vaccine distribution, potentially leaving the nations with the greatest need once again at the back of the line, international health groups say. For example, only about 5% of Africa’s population is immunized, creating an urgent need for therapeutics that could keep people out of hospitals. That compares with more than a 70% inoculation rate in most wealthy nations. Merck on Oct 11 applied for U.S. emergency clearance of the first pill for COVID-19 after it cut hospitalizations and deaths by 50% in a large clinical trial.