"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 30th Nov 2021

Isolation Tips
Australia delays border reopening as Omicron cases rise
Australia said on Monday it would delay the reopening of its international border by two weeks after reporting its first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant. Prime Minister Scott Morrison convened a meeting of his national security committee and said it received advice from Australia's chief health officer to delay the reopening after the first cases of the new variant were detected on Sunday.
Singapore, Malaysia reopen land border amid worries over the Omicron variant
Singapore and Malaysia reopened one of the world's busiest land borders on Monday, allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after nearly two years of being shut due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although travellers welcomed the chance to reunite with family and friends, there were concerns the border might be closed again due to the new Omicron coronavirus variant. As many as 300,000 Malaysians commuted daily to Singapore before the pandemic. The sudden closing of the border in March 2020 left tens of thousands stranded on both sides, separated from families and fearing for their jobs.
High COVID case count, Omicron prompt S.Korea not to relax curbs
South Korea said on Monday it has shelved plans to further relax COVID-19 restrictions due to the strain on its healthcare system from rising hospitalisation and death rates, as well as the threat posed by the new Omicron variant. President Moon Jae-in said the crisis had deepened and called for a united response to prevent the variant from entering the country, including the mobilisation of more personnel and tightening contact tracing.
Japan to bar all foreign visitors over Omicron variant
Japan says it will bar the entry of all foreign visitors from around the world, just weeks after a softening of strict entry rules, following the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus. “We will ban the (new) entry of foreigners from around the world starting from November 30,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters, saying the measures would take effect on Tuesday. Over the weekend, Japan tightened entry restrictions for people arriving from South Africa and eight other countries in the region, requiring them to undergo a 10-day quarantine at government-designated facilities. Monday’s announcement means Japan will restore border controls it eased earlier this month for short-term business visitors, foreign students and workers.
Hygiene Helpers
All adults to be offered Covid booster vaccine, says Prof Anthony Harnden
All adults in Britain are to be offered booster jabs to step up the battle against the Omicron Covid-19 variant, a vaccines chief said on Monday. Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), confirmed the booster programme would be extended to 18 to 39-year-olds. Six more cases of the Omicron variant were confirmed in Scotland as health chiefs were racing to trace the contacts of other individuals who got the mutated virus including one person from southern Africa who visited the Westminster borough.
COVID passports, vaccines helped EU tourism recovery - U.N.
Widespread use of COVID-19 "passports" and vaccines helped tourism recover faster in the European Union than in other parts of the world in the third quarter of 2021, a U.N. report said on Monday. Globally, international tourist arrivals rose 58% between July and September compared with the same period in 2020, the U.N. World Tourism Organisation barometer said. That was still 64% below the same period in 2019, before the pandemic.
Philippines starts three-day, nine million person COVID jab drive
The Philippines has begun an ambitious campaign to vaccinate nine million people against COVID-19 over three days, as it temporarily suspended a decision to allow fully vaccinated tourists into the country after the emergence of the Omicron variant. The immunisation campaign was scaled back from an earlier target of 15 million shots, but would still be a record in a country where vaccine hesitancy remains an obstacle and there are logistical hurdles to reach people in the sprawling archipelago.
Community Activities
Pilots union asks Britain to set up winter fund amid Omicron concerns
The British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) on Monday urged the government to establish a "winter resilience fund" to support the ailing aviation industry, after some travel curbs were brought back to contain the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. "The latest changes have shattered the fledgling confidence in air travel including for Christmas and new year bookings," said BALPA in a statement. Britain, which has so far reported 11 cases of the variant, has said arrivals from all countries would have to self-isolate until they receive a negative result from a PCR test and that face masks must be worn in retail settings.
Judge blocks U.S. COVID-19 vaccine rule for health workers in 10 states
A federal judge on Monday blocked in 10 states a Biden administration vaccine requirement, finding the agency that issued the rule mandating healthcare workers get vaccinated against the coronavirus likely exceeded its authority. The ruling by U.S. District Judge Matthew Schelp in St. Louis prevents the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) from enforcing its vaccine mandate for healthcare workers until the court can hear legal challenges brought by the 10 states. CMS in a statement said it was reviewing the ruling, adding that unvaccinated healthcare staff pose a threat to patient safety.
Nursing unions around world call for UN action on Covid vaccine patents
Nursing unions in 28 countries have filed a formal appeal with the United Nations over the refusal of the UK, EU and others to temporarily waive patents for Covid vaccines, saying this has cost huge numbers of lives in developing nations. The letter, sent on Monday on behalf of unions representing more than 2.5 million healthcare workers, said staff have witnessed at first hand the “staggering numbers of deaths and the immense suffering caused by political inaction”. The refusal of some countries to budge on rules about intellectual property rights for vaccines had contributed to a “vaccine apartheid” in which richer nations had secured at least 7bn doses, while lower-income nations had about 300m, it argued.
Russian Vaccine Skeptics Oppose Covid Passes
Russia’s rollout of a nationwide QR code system that would restrict access to public places and transport to encourage vaccination is running into widespread opposition from anti-lockdown activists, even as Russia’s pandemic death toll continues to soar. With vaccine skepticism rife and only around 35% of Russians having received their jabs, moves to make jabs all but obligatory have been met with dismay, as polls show almost half of the population opposing the use of QR codes under any circumstances. “Forcing people to get vaccinated through QR codes violates at least six articles of the Russian Constitution,” said Yevgeny Stupin, a Communist member of the Moscow City Duma who has campaigned against Covid restrictions.
Thousands protest against Czech COVID measures as hospitals fill
Several thousand people protested in Prague against anti-coronavirus restrictions on Sunday as many Czech hospitals halted non-urgent procedures in the face of one of the world's fastest rates of new infections. Gathered in a park overlooking the Czech capital's centre, protesters waved national flags and carried signs with slogans such as: "Get vaccinated? Over your dead bodies".
Working Remotely
60% of workers want to work remotely some of the time - CSO
In Ireland, a new survey from the Central Statistics Office show that of those who could work remotely, 28% said they would like to work that way all the time while 60% said they would like it some of the time when all pandemic restrictions are lifted. The CSO's latest Pulse Survey - Our Lives Online - for November show that those who currently work remotely, 98% of them do so from home. It also reveals that 45% of those in employment would consider a house move if they could work remotely, with some having moved already.
The remote work revolution hasn’t happened yet
You might call the last year or so a remote work revolution, but that’s not quite right. For one thing, remote work wasn’t an option for most of the country. But even for the fortunate people who were able to work from home, what they were doing wasn’t really working. It’s more like a panicked compromise forged under the chaos of a national emergency. But as we inch our way toward the other side of this pandemic — or at least the closest we’ll get to the other side of it — we have an opportunity to rethink our broken relationship to work. The pandemic was an inflection point, and what happens or doesn’t happen next is up to us. This is the case that Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen make in their new book, called Out of Office
Virtual Classrooms
Most staff 'feel lack of support for improving online teaching'
Less than a fifth of UK academics say they are being given the time to develop their online teaching while just 6 per cent believe their university has given them recognition for the skills they have developed, a new survey has shown. Although most of the 3,700 teachers questioned between October 2020 and July 2021 by digital services provider Jisc said they felt supported when it came to teaching online, a large majority said that there was a lack of help for innovation.
Teachers fear omicron will ‘rip through schools’ and could push learning online
Teachers fear the new Covid variant starting to spread across the UK will “rip through schools” and could see learning pushed online. Some schools have already sent pupils home to learn remotely due to a rise in Covid cases and staff absences. Julie McCulloch from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) warned keeping schools open may end up leading to more remote learning. She said the “real difficulty” was managing remote learning for groups self-isolating as well as teaching students allowed to be in school.
Public Policies
Omicron variant puts world in a 'race against time', says EU Commission President
The world is in a "race against time" with the Omicron coronavirus variant, said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Sunday, warning during a visit to Latvia that scientists and manufacturers will need weeks to fully understand the new variant. As more cases are identified and governments around the world mobilize to respond to Omicron, an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers will be convened on Monday, the United Kingdom said. It also announced on Sunday new domestic public health rules requiring face coverings in shops and on public transport starting this week. Omicron was first identified by scientists in South Africa, who raised alarm over its unusually high number of mutations on Thursday. Since then, at least a dozen other countries have confirmed cases of the new strain, with several other reporting suspected cases.
China’s Xi promises 1bn COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa
President Xi Jinping has said China would offer another one billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to African countries and would encourage Chinese companies to invest no less than $10bn in Africa across the next three years. The pledge of additional vaccine doses – on top of the nearly 200 million that China has already supplied to the continent – comes as concerns intensify about the spread of a new variant of the coronavirus, known as Omicron, which was first identified in southern Africa. The Chinese leader said that his country would donate 600 million doses directly. A further 400 million doses would come from other sources, such as investments in production sites
South Africa's Aspen in advanced talks over COVID-19 vaccine deal
Aspen Pharmacare is in advanced discussions over a potential licensing agreement to package the COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa, it said on Monday. The South African company did not mention the name of the company with which it was in talks, but in early September it said it was in talks with U.S. pharma giant Johnson & Johnson over a vaccine packaging licence. Aspen currently packages J&J's COVID-19 vaccine at its South African plant under contract, which means it does not have any pricing or distribution power over the product. The company currently produces 300 million COVID-19 vaccine doses annually under its J&J contract, which are then supplied across Africa. It plans to ramp up capacity to 1.3 billion doses by February 2024, Chief Executive Stephen Saad told Reuters in October
Omicron poses very high global risk, world must prepare -WHO
The heavily mutated Omicron coronavirus variant is likely to spread internationally and poses a very high risk of infection surges that could have "severe consequences" in some places, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday. No Omicron-linked deaths had yet been reported, though further research was needed to assess its potential to resist vaccines and immunity induced by previous infections, it added. Anticipating increased case numbers as the variant, first reported last week, spreads, the U.N. agency urged its 194 member states to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups.
New Zealand to ease COVID measures this week despite Omicron threat - PM
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday the country will move into a system of living with the COVID-19 virus later this week despite the new Omicron variant posing a fresh health threat to the world. There were no cases of the Omicron variant in New Zealand at this stage but the developing global situation showed why a cautious approach was needed at the borders, she said.
Omicron brings COVID-19 vaccine inequity ‘home to roost’
The emergence of the new omicron variant and the world’s desperate and likely futile attempts to keep it at bay are reminders of what scientists have warned for months: The coronavirus will thrive as long as vast parts of the world lack vaccines. The hoarding of limited COVID-19 shots by rich countries — creating virtual vaccine deserts in many poorer ones — doesn’t just mean risk for the parts of the world seeing shortages; it threatens the entire globe. That’s because the more the disease spreads among unvaccinated populations, the more possibilities it has to mutate and potentially become more dangerous, prolonging the pandemic for everyone.
Pfizer, Moderna, J&J and AstraZeneca assess omicron's effect on their COVID-19 vaccines
With the new omicron strain fueling fear around the globe that the coronavirus is regaining momentum, makers of the world’s most successful vaccines are investigating whether they need to tweak their shots. Over the last few days, Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca revealed plans to address the threat posed by omicron, which emerged in South Africa and recently was detected in Australia, Israel, Hong Kong and parts of Europe. On Friday, the World Health Organization classified omicron as a “variant of concern.” Each of the companies said it's testing an omicron-specific vaccine. Moderna said it could have a tweaked version of its shot ready early next year if necessary. In the case of the delta and beta variants, Moderna needed “60-90 days” to advance new candidates to clinical testing, it said in a release.
Maintaining Services
White House says U.S. agencies can delay punishing unvaccinated federal workers
The White House told federal agencies on Monday they can delay punishing thousands of federal workers who failed to comply with a Nov. 22 COVID-19 vaccination deadline. On Wednesday, the Biden administration said a total of 92% of U.S. federal workers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Overall, 96.5% of the 3.5 million federal workers were considered to be in compliance with the administration's mandate announced in September because they either were vaccinated or had an exemption request granted or under consideration.
Covid: Booster vaccine rolled out to all over-18s and gap after second jab cut to three months
Booster jabs should now be offered to all over-18s, the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI), has said. The JCVI has also said gaps between the second Covid-19 vaccine and booster shots should be reduced from six months to three months. Although JCVI has advised all adults should now have their boosters, it has said those who are clinically vulnerable should be prioritised and in order of descending age groups, as was done during the second and first phases of the vaccination programme. Over 40s are already eligible to have their boosters. Those who are immunocompromised should be offered another booster, meaning they will have their fourth vaccination.
India's Bharat Biotech resumes exports of COVID-19 vaccine
Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech said on Monday it has resumed export of its COVID-19 shot, Covaxin, and has executed long-pending orders in November. The company also said exports to additional countries will commence from December, according to a statement it shared on Twitter. It was not immediately clear whether or not these exports were made under the global vaccine-sharing facility COVAX.
India steps ups COVID-19 testing for international flyers
India will make on-arrival COVID-19 testing mandatory for flyers from more than a dozen countries, including South Africa and Britain where the Omicron variant has been detected, the health ministry said on Monday. The decision will be effective from Dec. 1 and comes after a man who recently returned from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19, though it is not yet clear which strain of the coronavirus he contracted.
Thermo Fisher says its COVID-19 tests accurately detects Omicron variant
Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc said on Monday its COVID-19 diagnostic tests can accurately detect the new coronavirus variant Omicron that has prompted several countries to shut their borders. The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week classified the Omicron variant as a SARS-CoV-2 "variant of concern," saying it may spread more quickly than other forms. Thermo Fisher's TaqPath COVID-19 assays can report accurate results even in the case where one of the gene targets is impacted by a mutation, the company said in a statement.
Moderna says Omicron vaccine could be ready by early 2022
Moderna Inc. is having its best two-day rally in a year after the company said a new vaccine to fight the omicron strain of the coronavirus could be ready by early 2022 if required. The stock soared as much as 14% to the highest level in two months, after jumping 21% during Friday’s global risk-asset selloff, to reclaim its place as top performer on the S&P 500 year-to-date. The company mobilized hundreds of workers on Thanksgiving Day last Thursday in order to start work on omicron, Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said over the weekend.
Pfizer boosts Paxlovid manufacturing capacity as Merck’s rival COVID pill hits surprise efficacy setback
The efficacy data for Pfizer’s oral COVID-19 drug now look so appealing that the Big Pharma company is boosting manufacturing capacity even before an expected emergency use authorization from the FDA. Pfizer now expects to make 80 million courses of COVID drug Paxlovid by the end of 2022, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC during a Monday interview. The company previously said it plans to have capacity to make 50 million courses.
Healthcare Innovations
WHO warns that new virus variant poses ‘very high’ risk
The World Health Organization warned Monday that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on the early evidence, saying the mutated coronavirus could lead to surges with “severe consequences.” The assessment from the U.N. health agency, contained in a technical paper issued to member states, amounted to WHO’s strongest, most explicit warning yet about the new version that was first identified days ago by researchers in South Africa. It came as a widening circle of countries around the world reported cases of the variant and moved to slam their doors in an act-now-ask-questions-later approach while scientists race to figure out just how dangerous the mutant version might be.
Scientists rapidly identified the Omicron variant. But firm answers about its impact could take weeks
The emergence of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, with a suite of mutations that suggests it might be extra transmissible and be able to evade at least some immune protection, has the world eager for answers about what it means for the Covid-19 pandemic. But so much remains unknown largely because the variant appears to have been detected and publicized so quickly. With other variants, a matter of months passed between the time they were first documented until they were designated “variants of concern” — in some cases giving scientists more opportunity to understand them before they attracted widespread attention. With Omicron, initially identified as B.1.1.529, it all happened within about two weeks.