"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 22nd Nov 2021

Isolation Tips
Austria imposes full COVID lockdown, makes vaccination mandatory
Austria will become the first country in Western Europe to reimpose a full coronavirus lockdown to tackle a new wave of infections and will require its whole population to be vaccinated by February, its government has said. Friday’s announcement came as roughly two-thirds of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. The country’s infection rate is among the highest on the continent, with a seven-day incidence of 991 per 100,000 people. Austria had introduced a lockdown for all those who were unvaccinated on Monday but since then, infections have set new records.
Hygiene Helpers
Europe is learning a crucial lesson -- vaccines work, but they alone won't stop Covid now
As Western Europe's vaccination rollout gained strength in the early part of 2021, many of the region's leaders touted the shots as their immediate route out of the pandemic. Press conferences took on an almost celebratory tone as Presidents, Prime Ministers and Chancellors announced road maps away from Covid-19 restrictions, hailing their country's uptake rates and speaking colorfully about a return to normalcy. But as another Covid-struck winter grips Europe, many of those countries are now reversing course. Ireland introduced a midnight curfew on the hospitality industry earlier this week amid a surge in cases, despite having one of Europe's best vaccination rates. In Portugal -- the envy of the continent, where 87% of the total population is inoculated -- the government is mulling new measures as infections inch upwards.
CDC expands COVID booster jab eligibility to all US adults
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has expanded eligibility for COVID-19 booster jabs to all adults in the United States, move that paves the way for millions more Americans to receive additional protection against the virus. The CDC on Friday evening endorsed the advice of a health advisory panel, which earlier voted unanimously to recommend expanding booster eligibility to all Americans aged 18 and older who received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines at least six months earlier.
Community Activities
Two wounded as Dutch police fire shots at protest over new COVID-19 restrictions
Crowds of rioters in the port city of Rotterdam torched cars and threw rocks at police who responded with shots and water canon, as protests against COVID-19 measures turned violent on Friday night. "We fired warning shots and there were also direct shots fired because the situation was life-threatening," police spokesperson Patricia Wessels told Reuters. "We know that at least two people were wounded, probably as a result of the warning shots, but we need to investigate the exact causes further," she said.
All players must be vaccinated for Australian Open - tournament chief
All players at the Australian Open must be vaccinated, tournament chief Craig Tiley confirmed Saturday, piling more pressure on world number one Novak Djokovic, who has refused to reveal if he has been inoculated. Melbourne, where January's Grand Slam is held, has spent more than 260 days under lockdown during the pandemic and the government of the state of Victoria made clear last month there would be no concessions for unvaccinated players. Tiley said the playing group know they must get the jab to compete at Melbourne Park. "There's a lot of speculation about vaccination and just to be really clear, when the (Victoria) premier announced that everyone on site... will need to be vaccinated, we made that clear to the playing group," he told Channel Nine television.
Fauci overwhelmed by calls after journal published mistake over beagle experiments
The nation's top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has been inundated with calls following a mistake in a scientific journal claiming that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) was funding experimental research on beagles. The calls were so frequent that Fauci's assistant stopped answering the phone for two weeks in October, The Washington Post reported Friday. He received 3,600 phone calls in 36 hours. “The constant harassment in the form of ridiculous accusations and outright lies makes doing my job and that of my staff of fighting the covid-19 pandemic all the more difficult,” Fauci told the Post. “This attack on me, which clearly has political overtones to a nonpolitical scientist, I feel, is dangerous to the entire field of science and [shows] how people try to intimidate scientists.”
Covid Surge May Be New Year Market Risk Missed by Strategists
A fresh blast of the pandemic may be catching traders and investment strategists off guard. As countries throughout Europe announce new restrictions going as far as full lockdowns, research notes outlining risks and opportunities for 2022 appear to completely ignore the virus. The word “lockdown” isn’t even mentioned in year-ahead outlooks for Europe circulated by Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley. Meanwhile, in a Bank of America Corp. survey this week, fund managers saw Covid-19 as only the fifth-biggest tail risk, with just 5% expressing concern about its potential impact on markets. Inflation, central bank rate hikes, stalling Chinese growth and asset bubbles topped the list.
Pro and anti-vaccination protesters take to Australia streets
Several thousand people took to Australia's streets on Saturday protesting COVID-19 vaccination mandates, while smaller crowds gathered to support the measures that have elevated the country to be one of the most inoculated in the world. Nearly 85% of Australians aged 16 and above have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as of Nov. 19. While nationwide vaccinations are voluntary, states and territories have mandated vaccinations for many occupations and barred the unvaccinated from activities such as dining out and concerts.
Working Remotely
Flexible working: ‘A system set up for women to fail’
Employees want it, employers know they have to offer it; flexible working has transformed almost every office during the pandemic and it’s here to stay. It is a change that has been demanded for decades by groups including women, those with caring responsibilities and disabled people. But economists and employment experts are warning it could lead to more inequality at the office, particularly for working mothers. The latest to voice concerns was the Bank of England policymaker Catherine Mann, who warned of a “she-cession”, and said women who accept their employer’s offer of working mostly from home risk damaging their careers, as they aren’t returning to the office after Covid to the same extent as men.
Apple has a new work-from-home policy, but it’s still not what employees want
Few large companies have had a more contentious internal argument over remote work amid the pandemic than Apple, but it is moving ahead with bringing many employees back into physical offices starting in February. Apple CEO Tim Cook, in an email to employees, announced both a new return-to-office date and a revised work-from-home policy for the people who make iPhones, macOS, and many other products. Cook described the return to the office as a "hybrid work pilot," with multiple phases and different rules depending on the nature of each employee's work.
The 10 jobs with the most remote work opportunities—and how much they pay
As some companies look to return to the office in 2022, others are expanding their remote work opportunities, responding to increased employee demand for flexibility during the pandemic. New research from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, however, suggests that some industries are embracing remote work faster than others. While more than 60% of software developers and market research analysts are able to work from home, less than 1% of those in construction, health-care support or personal care service roles can do their jobs remotely.
Virtual Classrooms
VR and robots will have major role in the classroom but we must solve the engagement issue, say teachers across the UK and US
New research into children’s education post-pandemic finds glaring gap between engagement levels and tech-enabled teaching. It found that 18 months since nationwide lockdowns began, the top priority for teachers across the UK and US is bridging the gap between decreasing children’s engagement levels and using tech effectively in the classroom.
Equitable access to online learning, safe reopening of schools: Students urge MPs on World Children's Day
On World Children’s Day, students in India emphasized on the learning recovery from the loss of study during the COVID-19 pandemic and urged parliamentarians to reopen schools safely and take actions to bridge the digital divide.
Public Policies
Hong Kong authorises Sinovac vaccine for children aged 3-17
Hong Kong has approved lowering the age limit for the COVID-19 vaccine from China's Sinovac Biotech (SVA.O) to three years old, down from 18 years of age, as it pursues a broader campaign to incentivise its 7.5 million residents to get vaccinated. "Adolescents aged 12 to 17 will be accorded priority to receive the CoronaVac vaccine, with a view to extending to children of a younger age group at a later stage," Hong Kong's Secretary for Food and Health (SFH) Sophia Chan said in a statement published on Saturday.
Merck Covid pill backed for EU emergency use
The EU's drug watchdog on Friday backed Merck's anti-Covid pill for emergency use ahead of its formal authorisation and started reviewing Pfizer's antiviral treatment as cases soar across Europe. The two pills by the US pharma giants represent a potentially groundbreaking step in the fight against coronavirus as studies show they cut the risk of hospitalisation and death in high-risk patients. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said that while the Merck pill was not yet approved, it had "issued advice" so that individual countries in the 27-nation EU could decide whether to use it in case of a surge in infections. "The medicine, which is currently not authorised in the EU, can be used to treat adults with Covid-19 who do not require supplemental oxygen and who are at increased risk of developing severe Covid-19," the EMA said in a statement. "EMA issued this advice to support national authorities who may decide on possible early use of the medicine prior to marketing authorisation, for example in emergency use settings, in light of rising rates of infection and deaths due to Covid-19 across the EU."
Canada approves Pfizer-BioNTech jab for kids starting at age five
The vaccine is 90.7 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 in kids with no serious side effects, Health Canada said. Canada has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11. It’s the first jab to be approved for kids in that age group, Health Canada said on Friday, calling the move “a major milestone” in the fight against COVID-19. The vaccine was 90.7 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 in children five to 11 years of age, Health Canada said, and no serious side effects were identified. “After a thorough and independent scientific review of the evidence, the Department has determined that the benefits of this vaccine for children between 5 and 11 years of age outweigh the risks,” Health Canada said in a statement. Kids in Canada will receive two doses of the vaccine, at 10 micrograms each, to be taken three weeks apart. That is a lower dose than the 30 micrograms two-dose regimen authorised for people 12 years of age and older.
Maintaining Services
China's BioKangtai begins first shipment of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shot
AstraZeneca Plc's (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine partner in China, Shenzhen Kangtai Biological Products (BioKangtai) (300601.SZ), has begun its first shipment of the shot, sending more than four million doses to Indonesia, BioKangtai said on Friday. Including the first batch, BioKangtai plans to send over eight million doses of the China-made AstraZeneca shot, branded as KconecaVac, to Indonesia this month, Zhang Qian, general manager at BioKangtai's international affairs department, said in a video interview with local media.
Facing new COVID wave, Dutch delay care for cancer, heart patients
Dutch healthcare officials said on Friday they have begun delaying operations for some cancer and heart patients to free up space in intensive care units during a record wave of COVID-19 infections. "These are cancer patients that should actually be operated on within six weeks of diagnosis, and that won't be met in all cases. It's also heart patients," said a spokesperson for LCPS, the national organisation that allocates hospital resources. "It's horrible, of course, for the patients." The National Institute for Health (RIVM) reported a record of more than 23,000 new cases in the previous 24 hours on Thursday, compared with the previous daily high of around 13,000 reached in December 2020.
Healthcare Innovations
Pfizer to apply for EU authorization of its COVID pill on Friday
Pfizer plans to apply for a European authorisation of its experimental antiviral pill to treat COVID-19 on Friday, German weekly Wirtschaftswoche said, citing sources close to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the company. The paper also said that acting German health minister Jens Spahn plans to buy Pfizer's medicine. "The health ministry is in contact with Pfizer regarding a possible procurement of the antiviral drug Paxlovid," Wirtschaftswoche quoted a ministry's spokesperson as saying.
Could this gene double your risk of dying from COVID-19?
Soon after the pandemic began, we knew that certain groups of people are more at risk of dying from COVID-19 than others. It was immediately clear that those with specific underlying health conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease were at increased risk, but slowly it became evident that certain ethnic groups were also being disproportionately affected. Social factors have played an important role in why these groups have been more affected than others, but genetics may also play a part. Scientists at Oxford University have now identified a version of a gene that may be associated with doubling the risk of respiratory failure from COVID, and it could go some way to explaining why people from particular backgrounds are more likely to die from the virus. The study’s authors said that their work identifying the gene was extremely difficult because it wasn’t merely the presence of the gene they were looking for, but whether it was switched “on”, making it more high risk.
Scientists mystified, wary, as Africa avoids COVID disaster
There is something “mysterious” going on in Africa that is puzzling scientists, said Wafaa El-Sadr, chair of global health at Columbia University. “Africa doesn’t have the vaccines and the resources to fight COVID-19 that they have in Europe and the U.S., but somehow they seem to be doing better,” she said. Fewer than 6% of people in Africa are vaccinated. For months, the WHO has described Africa as “one of the least affected regions in the world” in its weekly pandemic reports.
Delta variant dangerous during pregnancy, CDC reports say
Once the delta variant took hold in the United States, pregnant individuals and their fetuses or babies faced increased risks from coronavirus infections, according to two new reports released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. One report found that 15 pregnant patients died of covid-related causes between March 2020 and early October, including nine who died after delta became the most prominent strain. All but one of the women who died had underlying health conditions, and none had been fully vaccinated. The second report found that the risk of stillbirth increased about fourfold for women with covid-19 as delta surged. The reports’ authors emphasize the importance of preventive measures including vaccination, which the CDC recommends for pregnant people. Only about 30 percent of pregnant Americans are vaccinated, a rate far lower than the population as a whole.