"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 3rd Dec 2021

Isolation Tips
Sweden says could impose new COVID-19 measures next week
Sweden could impose new restrictions as early as next week to fight the coronavirus pandemic and a rising tide of infections, its public health agency said on Thursday. New measures could include general advice such as keeping a distance from other people and wearing a face mask on public transport, the agency said, but gave no precise details. It also said it might recommend employers to enable staff to "to some degree" work from home.
Lebanon reintroduces some COVID-19 prevention measures
Lebanon will impose a night-time curfew starting Dec. 17 on non-vaccinated people for three weeks and make full vaccination mandatory for all workers in several sectors due to concerns over the spread of coronavirus, the COVID-19 committee said on Wednesday. Vaccination will be mandatory for all civil servants and workers in the health, education, tourism and public transport sectors as of Jan. 10, the committee said. A new coronavirus variant found in South Africa and detected in several countries was determined as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization last week and has led to strengthening COVID-19-related restrictions around the world.
S.Korea hits new COVID-19 record, halts quarantine exemptions to block Omicron
South Korea's daily coronavirus case numbers rose to a new high on Thursday, as authorities halted quarantine exemptions for fully vaccinated inbound travellers for two weeks in a bid to fend off the Omicron variant. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 5,266 cases for Wednesday, a day after the daily tally rose above 5,000 for the first time amid concerns over a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms. South Korea will require a 10-day quarantine for all inbound travellers for two weeks starting Friday, halting exemptions given earlier to fully vaccinated people, the KDCA said.
Germany to impose restrictions on unvaccinated to break COVID surge
Germany on Thursday imposed restrictions on the unvaccinated as it sought to break a dramatic surge in daily coronavirus infections exacerbated by the discovery of the Omicron strain. Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor Olaf Scholz agreed with leaders of Germany's 16 states to bar the unvaccinated from access to all but the most essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies and bakeries. They also agreed to pass legislation in the national parliament to make vaccination mandatory.
Hygiene Helpers
Finland to limit children's COVID-19 vaccines to high-risk households
Children in Finland aged five and over should be vaccinated against COVID-19 if theyor someone in their household are at high risk of severe infection, the Finnish Health Institute recommended on Thursday, opting against shots for all children. The government is expected to accept the recommendation. The institute said the vaccinations could start as soon as Finland obtains approved shots.
Germany could make Covid vaccination mandatory, says Merkel
Vaccination could become mandatory in Germany from February, Angela Merkel has said, as she announced what her successor as chancellor, Olaf Scholz, described as “a lockdown of the unvaccinated”. As more EU countries confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, which the bloc’s health agency said could make up more than half of all infections on the continent within months, Merkel described the situation as “very serious”. Meeting with Scholz and Germany’s 16 state leaders for emergency talks on Thursday on tougher measures to stem rocketing Covid cases, the outgoing chancellor said an “act of national solidarity” was required.
U.N. chief slams COVID-19 'travel apartheid' as unacceptable
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that travel restrictions imposed over COVID-19 that isolate any one country or region as "not only deeply unfair and punitive - they are ineffective." Speaking to reporters in New York, Guterres said the only way to reduce the risk of transmission while allowing for travel and economic engagement was to repeatedly test travelers, "together with other appropriate and truly effective measures."
Pakistan expands COVID vaccination drive amid Omicron fears
Pakistan’s government will step up COVID-19 vaccination efforts and is expanding the criteria for vaccine booster shots, amid fears of the Omicron variant, authorities say. On Wednesday, the leadership of the National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC), which is heading the country’s COVID-19 response efforts, held a meeting in the capital Islamabad to review steps to curb the spread of the virus.
Biden’s new Covid plan: more boosters, free home testing, and ‘monoclonal antibody strike teams’
President Biden will announce a new plan Thursday afternoon for combating the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The plan includes a new campaign to increase uptake of booster shots, new policies meant to provide Americans with free at-home coronavirus tests, and more stringent policies on international travel. Public health officials still don’t know much about the Omicron variant, including whether it causes milder symptoms than other forms of the coronavirus, or whether it is more transmissible than other variants. The first case of the Omicron variant detected in the United States was announced by U.S. health officials on Wednesday.
Community Activities
Facebook, Instagram remove Chinese network over fake 'Swiss biologist' COVID claims
Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc said on Wednesday it had removed accounts used by an influence operation originating in China that promoted claims of a fake "Swiss biologist" saying the United States was interfering in the search for COVID-19's origins. Meta said in a report the social media campaign was "largely unsuccessful" and targeted English-speaking audiences in the United States and Britain and Chinese-speaking audiences in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Tibet.
Bristol Myers is sued for refusing COVID-19 vaccine religious exemptions
Bristol Myers Squibb Co was sued on Wednesday by four employees who said the drugmaker refused to grant them religious exemptions from its COVID-19 vaccination requirement, and threatened to fire them on Dec. 6 for remaining unvaccinated. The plaintiffs in the proposed class action filed in Manhattan federal court accused Bristol Myers of violating a federal civil rights law known as Title VII by "systematically manufacturing" reasons to refuse religious accommodations.
Working Remotely
Workers frustrated with current video tools may have some relief as improved hybrid video calls are coming
Between the dreaded echo that occurs when two employees on their respective devices are at proximity on a video conference to trouble hearing and seeing people who join a meeting from a conference room, many hybrid workplaces are discovering that video calls can be frustrating, complex and sometimes downright inequitable. As workers brace for a hybrid environment in the long run, makers of some of the most commonly used video conferencing tools are hoping their latest updates and those yet to come will address some of the biggest pain points of video calling and provide more collaborative capabilities.
50% Indian hybrid workers say they are more productive when working remotely: Gartner
A recent survey by tech research and consulting firm Gartner revealed that five in 10 Indian workers reported more productivity when they worked remotely. Over 40 percent of those surveyed in the UK, Germany and France said their productivity remained the same as before. More than 30 per cent workers in Australia felt more or much more productive during work from home
Are remote workers really plugged into company culture?
Working from home during the pandemic loosened UK professionals’ ties with the consultancies or law or accountancy firms that employed them. The lifting of lockdown then encouraged job-hopping because candidates could now bond with prospective employers face to face. These are two sides of the “out of sight, out of mind” coin: heads, the isolation of remote working reduces loyalty to your existing employer; tails, the revival of in-person encounters encourages you to form an attachment with a new one. In the “absence makes the heart grows fonder” camp, though, sits work by the Financial Services Culture Board. Its 2020 assessment of thousands of UK banking staff detected improvements in scores for feedback, leaders’ honesty, and wellbeing. Those scores fell back slightly this year, but remained more positive than in 2019.
Virtual Classrooms
Donations improve how kids learn amid ongoing COVID concerns
Grantmakers are increasing spending on education, hoping to turn the pandemic into an opportunity to fine tune the use of educational technology, develop better lesson plans, and build connections with families and after-school programs that could help reduce students’ mental-health challenges due to COVID. They want to help school districts change the way people like Mansur teach, while reducing learning gaps. The support could help reduce teacher burnout and get students on solid footing at grade level without resorting to remedial instruction.
Universities claim shift to online education in pandemic has benefited students
Universities claim that online lectures and support are welcomed by students and are in some cases better than the face-to-face contact they replaced. Universities UK (UUK), which represents vice-chancellors, says in a briefing that a range of benefits from the pandemic are helping students. Many institutions plan to continue online careers fairs and open days and digital internships, it says. However, David Laws, a former Liberal Democrat cabinet minister, fears that poorer students would be hit hardest by a move away from face-to-face careers events.
Public Policies
Italy approves Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine for children
The Italian Medicines Agency (AIFA) has approved the use of the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, Comirnaty, for children aged five to 11 years. The Covid-19 vaccine is approved to be administered in two doses at a gap of three weeks. The dosage for this age group is indicated to be a third of the authorised 30µg dose given to adults and adolescents. AIFA’s Technical Scientific Commission (CTS) noted that the vaccine showed a high efficacy level with no warning signals highlighted in terms of safety, according to the data submitted by the companies. The CTS stated that “although SARS-CoV-2 infection is certainly more benign in children, in some cases it can be associated with serious consequences, such as the risk of developing multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-c), which may also require hospitalisation in intensive care.”
New Covid-19 drug Sotrovimab that could be effective against the Omicron variant approved by regulators
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has authorised the drug for use in people with mild to moderate Covid-19 symptoms but who are at a higher risk of developing severe disease. Work will now be done to see if the drug will be effective against the new Omicron strain,
COVID-19: WHO deploying surge team to South Africa as reinfections rise amid Omicron outbreak
The World Health Organisation (WHO) is set to deploy a surge team to South Africa to help deal with the new Omicron COVID variant outbreak. The team will be sent to Gauteng province to help with surveillance and contact tracing as experts warned the new variant could be causing an increase in COVID reinfections across the country. WHO regional emergency director for Africa, Salam Gueye, also said it was providing technical assistance to boost the production and distribution of medical oxygen in Botswana - another country where Omicron has been detected.
UK agrees deals for 114 million more Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 doses
Britain said on Wednesday it had agreed deals to buy 114 million more Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccine shots, saying it had sped up signing the new contracts in light of the emergence of the new Omicron variant. The deal involves an additional 60 million Moderna shots and 54 million Pfizer doses for next year and 2023, and will also include access to any modified vaccinations if they are needed to combat the Omicron strain or any other variant, the British health ministry said.
Italy approves COVID-19 vaccination for 5-11 year olds
Italy's medicines agency AIFA on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for the use of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for children between the ages of five and 11. AIFA's decision, which was widely expected, came after the European Union's drug regulator (EMA) took the same step on Nov. 25.
Britain approves GSK-Vir antibody-based COVID-19 treatment
Britain's drug regulator on Thursday approved GSK and Vir Biotechnology's antibody based COVID-19 treatment, Xevudy, for people with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 who are at high risk of developing severe disease. The approval comes as GSK separately announced the treatment has shown to work against the Omicron variant.
Maintaining Services
China accelerating research into COVID-19 shots targeting Omicron -state media
China is accelerating research and development of COVID-19 vaccines targeting the Omicron variant, a health official said on Thursday, amid concerns among global scientists that it may spread more quickly than other strains. Mainland China has not detected any Omicron case yet. "We are rapidly pushing forward the research and development of Omicron-specific vaccines based on different technologies," Zheng Zhongwei, who heads a group tasked with COVID-19 vaccine development in China, told state broadcaster CCTV.
U.S. to require private health insurance companies cover at-home COVID-19 tests
U.S. President Joe Biden on Thursday laid out his strategy to fight the Omicron and Delta coronavirus variants over the winter, including free and insurer-funded at-home COVID-19 testing and new requirements for international travelers. The U.S. government will require private health insurers to reimburse their 150 million customers for 100% of the cost of over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests, administration officials said, and make 50 million more tests available free through rural clinics and health centers for the uninsured.
Dutch say pre-flight tests needed as most COVID passengers from S.Africa were vaccinated
Dutch health authorities on Thursday said most of the 62 people who tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa last week had been vaccinated, lending weight to a call for pre-flight testing regardless of vaccination status. In addition, all 14 passengers who were later found to have been infected with the Omicron variant were vaccinated, health officials said on Thursday.
Aspen Pharmacare, pursuing J&J vaccine license, aims to shore up local capacity and quash shot inequality in Africa
History is repeating for Aspen Pharmacare. Nearly 20 years ago, as Africa grappled with an HIV epidemic, Aspen pioneered the first generic antiretroviral on the continent. Now, it has a chance to do something similar with Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine. This time, however, the South African drugmaker's contribution could be even more of a "game changer," thanks to the scope of the pandemic and the disproportionate toll it's taken on Africa, an Aspen executive told Fierce Pharma. Aspen earlier this week signed a nonbinding term sheet with two J&J subsidiaries in a bid to license and sell the company's single-dose COVID-19 vaccine in Africa. The potentially "monumental" agreement is big for two reasons, Stavros Nicolaou, Ph.D., group senior executive of strategic trade at Aspen Pharma Group, said in an interview.
Healthcare Innovations
COVID-19: 'Trigger' behind extremely rare AstraZeneca vaccine blood clots may have been discovered
Scientists led by a team from Arizona State University and Cardiff University worked with AstraZeneca to investigate the causes of thrombosis with vaccine-induced immune thrombocytopenia (VITT). TTS, which involves the formation of blood clots, is a life-threatening condition seen in a very small number of people after receiving the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Johnson & Johnson vaccines. The scientists say they now believe they have identified how a protein in the blood is attracted to a key component of the vaccine.
S.African data suggests Omicron gets around some, not all immunity
The Omicron variant appears able to get around some immunity but vaccines should still offer protection against severe disease, according to the latest data from South Africa where it is fast overtaking Delta to become the dominant variant.
UK study finds mRNA COVID-19 vaccines provide biggest booster impact
COVID-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna that use mRNA technology provide the biggest boost to antibody levels when given 10-12 weeks after the second dose, a British study published on Thursday has found. The "COV-Boost" study was cited by British officials when they announced that Pfizer and Moderna were preferred for use in the country's booster campaign, but the data has only been made publicly available now. The study found that six out of the seven boosters examined enhanced immunity after initial vaccination with Pfizer-BioNTech's vaccine, while all seven increased immunity when given after two doses of AstraZeneca's (AZN.L) vaccine. "A third dose will be effective for many of the vaccines we've tested and in many different combinations," Professor Saul Faust, an immunologist at the University of Southampton and the trial's lead, told reporters.
Severe COVID tied to high risk of death, mostly by other causes, within year
Survivors of severe COVID-19—especially those younger than 65 years—may be at more than twice the risk of dying within the next year than those who had mild or moderate illness or were never infected, finds a study today in Frontiers in Medicine. Another finding of the analysis of electronic health records of 13,638 patients who tested positive or negative for COVID-19 is that only 20% of those who had severe COVID-19 (requiring hospitalization) and died did so because of complications of their infection, such as abnormal blood clotting, respiratory failure, or cardiovascular problems. Rather, 80% were due to different reasons typically considered unrelated to COVID-19. "Since these deaths were not for a direct COVID-19 cause of death among these patients who have recovered from the initial episode of COVID-19, this data suggests that the biological insult from COVID-19 and physiological stress from COVID-19 is significant," wrote the University of Florida at Gainesville researchers.