"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 6th Dec 2021

Isolation Tips
WHO says measures used against delta should work for omicron
Measures used to counter the delta variant should remain the foundation for fighting the coronavirus pandemic, even in the face of the new omicron version of the virus, World Health Organization officials said Friday, while acknowledging that the travel restrictions imposed by some countries may buy time. While about three dozen countries worldwide have reported omicron infections, including India on Thursday, the numbers so far are small outside of South Africa, which is facing a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases and where the new variant may be becoming dominant. Still, much remains unclear about omicron, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, whether it makes people more seriously ill, or whether it can evade vaccine protection.
Hygiene Helpers
Germany imposes curbs on unvaccinated, considers jab mandate
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said unvaccinated people will be excluded from non-essential shops, and cultural and recreational venues in Germany, and parliament will consider imposing a general vaccine mandate. Speaking on Thursday after a meeting with federal and state leaders, Merkel said the measures were necessary in light of concerns that hospitals in Germany could become overloaded amid a surge in COVID-19 infections, which are more likely to be serious in those who have not been vaccinated. “The situation in our country is serious,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin, calling the measures an “act of national solidarity”. She said officials agreed to require masks in schools, impose new limits on private meetings and aim for 30 million vaccinations by the end of the year. The plans include a blanket ban on entering venues, including bars, restaurants and cinemas for anyone who has not been vaccinated or recovered from COVID, according to a document signed off by the leaders.
Clues to Omicron Variant’s U.S. Spread Include Test Samples, Sewage
Covid-19 test samples and wastewater are helping researchers across the U.S. figure out how widespread the Omicron variant might be. Surveillance is more robust in the U.S. than when the Alpha or Delta variants of the Covid-19 virus emerged, public-health officials and experts say. A fault in some commonly used Covid-19 tests also helps scientists flag potential Omicron cases. But gaps remain, particularly from one part of the country to another. Nearly 30% of known Covid-19 cases were sequenced and shared online in Vermont during the past three months, according to an international database of genetic sequences called GISAID, compared with some 1% in Oklahoma. “We’ve greatly increased the number that we have been sequencing, but they’re not equally distributed,” said Julie Swann, department head of Industrial and Systems Engineering at North Carolina S
Nigeria plans COVID booster shots after Omicron cases: Live
Zambia has detected its first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, as the “highly transmissible” new variant spread to more than 40 countries since it was first detected in South Africa last week. The country’s health ministry said on Saturday that three people tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week. It added that two of the three infected had travelled abroad recently. A woman who had not travelled abroad had mild symptoms, it said.
Australia to Start Vaccinations for Young Children Early 2022
Australia will begin vaccinating young children starting early next year once authorities receive final approvals in the coming weeks. Australia’s pharmaceutical regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, has provisionally approved a one-third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine for children aged 5-11 years, Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement Sunday. Subject to final approvals, the authorities will begin vaccinations starting Jan. 10, he said. Final recommendations from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation are expected in the coming weeks, and the program will be timed to provide at least one dose to the kids ahead of the new school year in 2022, Hunt said.
Community Activities
Omicron Sounds Death Knell for Globalization 2.0
On top of an intensifying cold war between the U.S. and China and other seismic changes, the rapid spread of Covid-19’s newest variant could finish off our most recent phase of global integration.
Covid Vaccines in Italy: New Rules Target Anti-Vax Supporters, Protests
Italy, which has one of Europe’s highest vaccination rates, is further cracking down on the small minority that has so far refused the shot. As of Monday, a green pass -- which is proof of vaccination, recovery or a recent negative test -- will be required for buses, metro, local trains and hotels. It’s already compulsory for working, long-distance travel and most indoor venues. A new “reinforced” green pass, which can be obtained only with the vaccine or after recovering from Covid, will be required for many leisure activities, including eating inside restaurants, and going to theaters, cinemas, sporting and other public events.
German COVID-19 rules put off shoppers, says retailer group
The tighter restrictions Germany has introduced to try to limit the spread of COVID-19 are putting people off from shopping in the usually busy run-up to Christmas, the country's association of retailers (HDE) said on Sunday. The HDE said sales in bricks-and-mortar non-food retail were down an average of 26% in the last week compared to the pre-crisis year of 2019, according to a survey of some 1,600 firms. Clothing retailers were particularly hard hit, with sales down 35% on the pre-crisis level.
Hundreds march against COVID-19 restrictions in Belgium
Belgian police used water cannon and tear gas Sunday to disperse some rowdy protesters in Brussels after most demonstrators marched peacefully to protest tightened COVID-19 restrictions that aim to counter a surge of coronavirus infections. Thousands came to reject the new measures announced Friday, the third week in a row that the government has tightened its rules as an avalanche of new cases strains the country’s health services, depriving people with other life-threatening diseases of treatment.
Germany: incoming minister advises against Christmas travel
Germany’s incoming transport minister is advising people against traveling over Christmas as the country tries to stem a wave of coronavirus infections. Federal and state leaders on Thursday announced tough new restrictions that largely target unvaccinated people, preventing them from entering nonessential stores, restaurants, sports and cultural venues. In a longer-term move, parliament will consider a general vaccine mandate. Volker Wissing, whose pro-business party has designated him as transport minister in the incoming government, told Sunday’s edition of the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that “in the current situation, it seems more sensible to spend Christmas in a small group at home and not to plan big trips across the country.” “Winter 2021 will be more dramatic than winter 2020,” he added.
We Have to Live With Covid. Here's How We Get Our Lives Back
Two years into the pandemic, the emergence of yet another Covid-19 variant has brought home the fact that the virus is here to stay. That means the world will need to find long-term strategies to co-exist with delta, omicron and the strains to come. As governments reopen at varying paces, there are things individuals and companies can do to navigate a careful return to some kind of normalcy. Simple but permanent changes in how people live and work can limit the risks. “So far, the governments have been responsible for people’s behavior but I don’t think they will intervene so much anymore, and it’s becoming individual choice,” said Benjamin Cowling, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Hong Kong.
More than 40000 march in Vienna against coronavirus lockdown
More than 40,000 people marched through Vienna on Saturday to protest against a lockdown and plans to make vaccinations compulsory to curb the coronavirus pandemic. Faced with a surge in infections, the government last month made Austria the first country in Western Europe to reimpose a lockdown and said it would make vaccinations mandatory from February. People carried signs saying: "I will decide for myself", "Make Austria Great Again", and "New Elections" - a nod to the political turmoil that has seen three chancellors within two months - as crowds gathered.
Two hippos in Belgian zoo test positive for COVID-19
Two hippos have tested positive for COVID-19 at Antwerp Zoo in Belgium in what could be the first reported cases in the species, zoo staff said. Hippos Imani, aged 14, and 41-year-old Hermien have no symptoms apart from a runny nose, but the zoo said the pair had been put into quarantine as a precaution. "To my knowledge, this is the first time in this species. Worldwide, this virus has been reported mainly in great apes and felines," said the zoo's vet, Francis Vercammen.
Brazil's Rio cancels New Year celebration as pandemic continues
The mayor of Rio de Janeiro canceled New Year's Eve celebrations after Brazil confirmed the first known cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant in Latin America’s biggest country. Eduardo Paes tweeted on Saturday that he would follow the recommendations of Rio de Janeiro state to cancel the celebrations, despite the city's own view to the contrary. "We respect science," Paes tweeted, saying there are dissenting opinions between scientific committees in the city and the state, but he would rather stick with the most restrictive one. "The city's committee says it can go ahead and the state's says no. So it can't take place. Let's cancel the official New Year's Eve celebration in Rio," the tweet said.
U.K. to Require Pre-Arrival Covid Tests for All Travellers
The U.K. will require all travelers to take a pre-flight Covid-19 test within 48 hours prior to their flight regardless of their vaccine status, a surprise government move that prompted a swift and angry reaction from the airline industry. The measure, which takes effect on Dec. 7, will be temporary and be reviewed as the omicron outbreak develops, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said. More than 150 people across the U.K. have been identified with the new variant.
Covid Outbreak on Cruise Ship Approaching New Orleans
Ten people aboard a Norwegian Cruise Line ship approaching New Orleans have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Saturday night. The Norwegian Breakaway had departed New Orleans on Nov. 28 and is due to return this weekend, the Louisiana Department of Health said in a news release. Over the past week, the ship made stops in Belize, Honduras and Mexico. More than 3,200 people are on board the ship, officials said. According to the statement, Norwegian “has been adhering to appropriate quarantine and isolation protocols as new cases and exposures have been identified aboard this vessel.”
Opinion | Vaccine Hesitancy Is About Trust and Class
First, people are unlikely to trust institutions that do little for them. And second, public health is no longer viewed as a collective endeavor, based on the principle of social solidarity and mutual obligation. People are conditioned to believe they’re on their own and responsible only for themselves. That means an important source of vaccine hesitancy is the erosion of the idea of a common good.
Auckland reopens as New Zealand tries new virus approach
Bars, restaurants and gyms reopened in Auckland on Friday as the last major parts of a lockdown that lasted more than 100 days ended. New Zealand has begun a new phase in its coronavirus response in which there won’t be lockdowns but people will be required to be fully vaccinated — and prove it with vaccine passes — in order to access many services. The government decided that vaccination rates were high enough to switch to the new system, with about 87% of people aged 12 and over fully vaccinated. In Auckland, which has been at the center of the nation’s outbreak, the rate is over 90%.
Working Remotely
How Remote Working Has Impacted the Global Economy and the Environment
The growth of remote working is a reality at a global level. Even more so in times of pandemic, where confinement due to Covid-19 has given it greater consolidation due to the need for subsistence of companies. In fact, in Latin America this item increased by 66%, while in France and Spain remote work showed an increase of 463% and 214%, respectively. However, the positioning of remote work is accompanied by a series of factors (company-employee labor organization, definition of schedules, implementation of ICTs, constant communication, evaluation of productivity and measurement of results). These elements influence the effectiveness of workers to perform tasks, the advancement of the economy and the balance of the environment.
COVID-19 changed the way we work. Will office life ever be the same?
When offices hastily closed in March 2020 to help slow the spread of COVID-19, employees expected to be back at their desks within a couple of weeks. Now, more than 18 months later, the American workplace has been transformed by what has become a massive and unplanned remote-work experiment. It’s uncertain when many offices may reopen, but it’s clear the virtual work revolution that began with the pandemic isn’t going away. “We all have to accept the fact that the workplace is never going to be the same and that there is no plan,” says Stacie Haller, a career expert. “We now have a different purview of how we can work successfully, that it can be remote.” While remote work isn’t an option in every field and hasn’t been ideal for everyone, many employees have thrived in their virtual settings and want to keep the flexibility and autonomy it has allowed them.
The Promise of Remote Work Has Not Yet Been Realized
In their new book Out of Office, Anne Helen Petersen and Charlie Warzel argue that in order to realize the promise of remote work, first we need to fix our broken relationship with our jobs. Cutting the cord to the office is an opportunity to not only reduce our commuting hours, but a chance to address bigger issues in the U.S. labor force including the child-care crisis, inefficient working methods, worker burnout, toxic individualism, and work-life balance.
Virtual Classrooms
Strong parent-teacher relationships may be the key to virtual learning success
When school shifted online at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, parents were tasked with stepping in to support their children academically. However, it was difficult for many parents to juggle their own job responsibilities with household duties and virtual school. Now, researchers from Anglia Ruskin University found that students are more likely to succeed with online learning when parents and teachers have a strong relationship.
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan says online learning mustn't be used as cost-saving measure
In England, online learning must not be used by vice chancellors as a cost-saving measure or 'for convenience', the Universities Minister warned. Michelle Donelan said institutions must become 'more transparent' about the return to face-to-face learning. She has written to every university leader in the country, setting out an 'expectation' they listen to students' demands. In-person teaching has been allowed on campuses for all courses since May, after Covid lockdown measures meant some degrees had been online-only for months. But even though there are no longer restrictions on face-to-face learning, many universities have opted to keep some virtual lectures. Thousands of students across the country have signed petitions to protest at their lack of in-person teaching while still paying fees of £9,250-a-year.
Public Policies
Lilly’s Covid-19 Antibody Treatment Authorized for Use in Children
Eli Lilly & Co.’s monoclonal antibody drug has been cleared for emergency use in children under the age of 12, the Food and Drug Administration said on Friday. The authorization is the first for an antibody drug to treat young children, including newborns, who have tested positive for Covid-19 or been exposed to the virus and who are at high risk of developing severe cases including hospitalization or death. “Now all patients at high risk of severe Covid-19, including children and newborn babies, have an option for treatment and post-exposure prevention,” said Patrizia Cavazzoni, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. Children under one year of age who are exposed to the virus that causes Covid-19 may be at particularly high risk of severe disease, said Dr. Cavazzoni. She emphasized, however, that antibody drug treatment isn’t a substitute for vaccination, which is authorized for children five years of age and up.
Belgium Extends School Holiday in Attempt to Break Virus Wave
Belgium ordered primary schools to extend the Christmas holiday in its third attempt to break a Covid-19 wave that’s among the worst in Europe after experts singled out unvaccinated children as a catalyst of infections in broader society. Virtual schooling will be required at least half of the time for children 12 years and older starting Monday, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said at a briefing in Brussels. Other new measures include a ban on indoor events with more than 200 participants, and a mandate to wear masks from the age of six.
U.S. ships 9 mln COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa, 2 mln worldwide
The United States on Friday sent 9 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine doses to countries in Africa and another 2 million doses to other nations, the White House said. "Today, we are shipping 9 million vaccine doses to Africa and another 2 million worldwide. We need every country to step up with the same urgency and ambition as the US," White House spokesman Kevin Munoz said in a post on Twitter.
Slovakia's COVID-19 case record inflated by system glitch
Slovakia reported 15,278 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the highest number in a single day since the pandemic broke out, but the Health Ministry said a technical issue inflated the number. "The reason for today's high number of positive test results is additional data, which did not pass from laboratories to the information system on Nov. 30," the ministry said. The ministry did not specify the actual number of cases detected on Thursday. The country of 5.5 million has 3,404 people hospitalised with the illness, including 630 in intensive care.
WHO says vaccine makers right to adjust COVID jabs
The World Health Organisation said Omicron has been detected in 38 countries but there are no reported deaths so far from the new COVID-19 variant. WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier also said it is “commendable” that makers of COVID-19 vaccines are planning for the “likelihood” of needing to adjust their products to protect against the Omicron variant. WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan urged people not to panic over the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant and said it was too early to say if COVID-19 vaccines would have to be modified to fight it. Swaminathan said during an interview at the Reuters Next conference on Friday that the right response was to be prepared and cautious and not to panic in face of the new variant.
Maintaining Services
How a Vaccine Side-Effect Database Sowed Doubt in Vaccinations
Midway into the pandemic, University of Alabama epidemiologist Bertha Hidalgo realized her Covid communication strategy needed a makeover. She was skipping basic biology lessons in favor of simply telling people the best ways to moderate their behavior in response to the virus. Instead of helping people better understand the virus, her approach sometimes backfired, introducing more doubt instead of less. “My method was, ‘These are the facts and this is what you need to do,’” she said. What she quickly learned was that people didn't have enough base knowledge to accept what she was presenting as fact.
Omicron’s Spread Exposes South Africa’s Vaccination Struggles, Public Distrust
South Africa’s sputtering Covid-19 vaccine rollout, hampered first by dose shortages and more recently public distrust, has left many of its 60 million people potentially exposed as the new Omicron variant spreads across the country. In recent days, more people have turned out to get their shots amid warnings from scientists and the World Health Organization about Omicron, which has driven a sharp increase in Covid-19 infections in the country’s most populous province of Gauteng, home to Johannesburg, over the past two weeks.
Covid Vaccine Inequity Could Get Worse With Omicron Emergence
“Inequity derives from scarcity, and when there’s scarcity those with resources will use their resources to meet their own needs first,” said Richard Hatchett, head of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations. “So the question would be -- if this proves to be a really dangerous variant -- will countries rush to secure supplies?” CEPI is discussing the potential deployment of modified vaccines with other partners in Covax, the global vaccine distribution program, he said. Covax is in a more advantageous position than it was early in the crisis when it was still being formed, and any shortage of shots shouldn’t last as long this time, but the concern “is real,” he said. “If the data suggests we really do need to be introducing an omicron vaccine, we’re going to be wanting to move as quickly as we can to secure doses to reduce the inequity that could otherwise potentially emerge,” he said.
S.African official says children sick with COVID-19 have mild infections
Higher hospital admissions among children during a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections in South Africa that has been driven by the Omicron coronavirus variant should not prompt panic as infections have been mild, a health official said on Saturday. A large number of infants admitted with COVID-19 last month in Tshwane, the metropolitan area that includes the capital Pretoria, raised concerns that the newly identified Omicron could pose greater risks for young children than other variants. Scientists have yet to confirm any link and have cautioned that other factors could be at play.
‘The fire that’s here’: US is still battling delta variant
While all eyes are on the new and little-understood omicron variant that is popping up around the country, the delta form of the coronavirus isn’t finished wreaking havoc in the U.S., swamping hospitals with record numbers of patients in the Midwest and New England. “Omicron is a spark that’s on the horizon. Delta variant is the fire that’s here today,” said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine, where an unprecedented 334 people were in the hospital with COVID-19 as of midweek. The U.S. recorded its first confirmed omicron infection on Wednesday, in a Californian who had been to South Africa, where the variant was first identified a week ago. Several more cases were reported Thursday — five in the New York City area and one each in Minnesota, Hawaii and Colorado — under circumstances suggesting the variant has begun spreading within the U.S.
Healthcare Innovations
Covid Therapy News and Research: Brii Says 80% Cut of Hospitalization
Brii Biosciences Ltd. said additional results of a late-stage study of a Covid-19 therapy confirmed a significantly reduced risk of death and hospitalization. The topline data readout from the National Institutes of Health-sponsored trial showed combined hospitalization and death risk cut by 80% for “non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients at high risk of clinical progression,” the Chinese company said in a Hong Kong stock exchange filing Sunday. That’s was in line with a 78% reduction disclosed in August, based on an interim analysis. In-vitro testing data suggest the therapy is able to treat those with Covid-19 variants including delta, Brii said, while efforts are ongoing to determine effects against the emerging omicron variant.
Omicron variant may have picked up a piece of common-cold virus
The Omicron variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 likely acquired at least one of its mutations by picking up a snippet of genetic material from another virus - possibly one that causes the common cold - present in the same infected cells, according to researchers. This genetic sequence does not appear in any earlier versions of the coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, but is ubiquitous in many other viruses including those that cause the common cold, and also in the human genome, researchers said.
Most Covid Vaccines Will Work as Boosters, Study Suggests
People looking for a booster shot of a Covid-19 vaccine probably don’t need to fret about what brand it is: Many combinations of shots are likely to provide strong protection, according to a large new study. In a comparison of seven different vaccine brands, British researchers found that most of them prompted a strong immune response, with the mRNA shots from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech eliciting the largest responses. The study was published on Thursday in The Lancet. These are welcome data for policymakers,” said Merryn Voysey, a statistician at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the study. “The most significant take-home message here is that there are a large number of excellent boosting options for third doses.”