"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 13th Dec 2021

Isolation Tips
Polarized Austria Ends Lockdown as Vaccine Mandate Looms Large
Austria ended a nationwide coronavirus lockdown for most people on Sunday, while keeping restrictions for the unvaccinated as it presses ahead with the boldest incentive in Europe to boost inoculations. Starting Sunday, vaccine-rejectors can only leave their homes to go to work, where they’ll need to provide a negative coronavirus test every two days, and for essential shopping and daily exercise. Entry to other venues will be barred. Life will slowly return to normal for people who’ve had a vaccine or have recently recovered from the virus, with regions implementing a patchwork of easing schedules.
Austria’s Restrictions on the Unvaccinated Appear to Be Working
Austria, one of the worst-hit countries in Europe’s latest Covid-19 surge, has seen infections plummet and vaccination rates soar after imposing a lockdown and saying it would make the shots mandatory next year. The measures, and the steep fall in new cases since they were announced, could offer some options to countries in a region where infections are still rising rapidly or plateauing at a high level. The Alpine republic introduced a lockdown and said it would mandate vaccines beginning next February on Nov. 22, when the weekly rolling average of daily new cases exceeded 1,500 and hospitals in areas with low vaccination rates were struggling to cope with the influx of patients.
Swiss mull limited lockdown as COVID-19 cases rise
Switzerland may have to impose another limited lockdown to break the momentum of rising coronavirus cases that threaten to overwhelm its healthcare system, the government said on Friday. "This is really a critical phase. The trends are going in the wrong direction," Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters in Bern as the cabinet launched consultations with regional authorities and social partners on the way forward. The government said it may expand the requirement for proof of vaccination or recovery from the virus for access to many indoor venues, which would leave out unvaccinated people even if they have negative test results.
Community Activities
Preparing for Omicron as a covid veteran
Now I’m disillusioned. I’ve seen how our medical trends with how to treat covid-19 can change by the hour, with self-declared experts always ready to criticise decisions and cherry pick evidence to follow. I’ve watched how systematically hospital systems continue to prioritise efficiency, rankings, and profits over patient centred care. I’ve learnt that I am nothing but one of millions of healthcare workers expected to come to work every day based solely on my own goodwill. The calls for the protection of healthcare workers with life insurance, disability insurance, and student debt forgiveness have been forgotten just as quickly as they were proposed. Lacking these investments in my personhood, it’s hard to feel like more than another faceless number in the system. My patients are now jaded too, as politics has entered their hospital bed. Some ask for ivermectin and refuse to have conversations about quarantine for family members they have exposed to the virus. They “other” me, seeing me as part of the healthcare system that mocks the political right, rather than as another human being at their bedside feeling just as vulnerable as they are to the pandemic. My vaccinated patients remind me of their status over and over again, as if trying to clue me in to give them preferential treatment or empathy for having a breakthrough infection. I empathise with both my patients who are vaccinated and unvaccinated, but I still leave each room feeling a sense of defeat, powerlessness, and anger that the pandemic persists.
London's Heathrow says business travellers cancelling over Omicron
London's Heathrow Airport said it was seeing high levels of business travellers cancelling over concerns they could be trapped overseas by travel restrictions triggered by the new Omicron variant of coronavirus. The airport said demand in November was down 60% on pre-pandemic levels, despite the United States reopening to transatlantic travel earlier in the month. The figures released on Friday show that the start of a gradual recovery seen in October, when demand was down 56%, had petered out. Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye called on the British government to reduce restrictions as soon as it was safe to do so, including allowing UK nationals arriving from red list countries to isolate at home.
Vaccinated, maskless crowds enjoy Christmas markets in Budapest
Traditional Christmas markets have opened in Budapest's main squares only for people vaccinated against COVID-19, but have drawn many tourists and locals alike even as central Europe battles a renewed surge of the coronavirus. There were no festive outdoor markets in Budapest a year ago as Hungary was in complete lockdown against the virus, before any vaccines were available. "It's great to have the market back. It was very depressing when I visited the square last year - it was decorated but there were no people," said Adrienn, bundled up in a black fur coat against the subzero cold in front of the Hungarian capital's neo-classical St. Stephen's Basilica.
Working Remotely
Half of workers would consider changing roles if hybrid working was withdrawn, poll finds
Despite ongoing issues with remote onboarding, two in five HR professionals say not offering flexibility would make recruitment difficult in the long term. More than half of workers who currently have access to hybrid working would leave their jobs if it was taken away, a poll has found. The YouGov survey of 2,046 UK workers found that 51 per cent of respondents who had the choice to mix remote and office working would consider leaving their company if this flexibility was removed.
JPMorgan, Deutsche Bank, Citi Tell London Staff to Stay Home
Article reports that the City of London could be about to become a ghost town again after firms started telling thousands of staff to work from home in response to the latest U.K. government guidance. HSBC Holdings Plc told U.K. employees they should return to home-working where possible, according to a spokesperson. Those who still need to work in branches or offices have been asked to take daily Covid-19 tests.
Parents struggle to juggle childcare with career commitments
Working from home is having an adverse effect on family life as parents struggle to juggle childcare with career commitments, according to new research. Ahead of more Plan B measures coming into force tomorrow, a survey of parents with young children showed the negative impact of continually changing work patterns. Some 71 per cent of the parents questioned have now moved to remote or hybrid working, but it is taking its toll on their mental wellbeing.
Virtual Classrooms
Online learning platform would offset the disruption storms and pandemics cause
Storm Barra was like a bomb dropped into family routines, sweeping in and leaving teachers no time to plan virtual learning. Which is fair enough – lessons take time to plan. But this lack of ability and agility to offer online learning highlights the urgent need for a centralised, easy to access portal with the primary and secondary curricula, clearly laid out with links, videos and worksheets for every topic.
Public Policies
UK's Johnson warns of Omicron 'tidal wave', says two doses not enough
Britain faces a "tidal wave" of the Omicron variant of coronavirus and two vaccine doses will not be enough to contain it, Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned on Sunday, as he accelerated the booster rollout programme. Speaking hours after government scientists lifted the COVID alert level to 4 on a 5-point scale, Johnson said the booster programme must go faster because scientists did not yet know if Omicron was less severe than other variants. "A tidal wave of Omicron is coming," Johnson said in a televised statement on Sunday evening. "And I'm afraid it is now clear that two doses of vaccine are simply not enough to give the level of protection we all need."
England Deaths Estimated at 75,000 This Winter on Omicron: Study
The omicron variant has the potential to cause a wave of Covid infections in England and fuel almost 75,000 deaths this winter, if the government doesn’t impose additional precautionary control measures, according to a research report by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Under the government’s ‘Plan B’ rules imposed last week in response to omicron, the most optimistic scenario for England indicates about 175,000 hospital admissions and 24,700 deaths for the five-month period from December to April. The worst-case projection is for 74,800 deaths. That is more than half the 127,154 fatalities registered in England since the start of the pandemic. England accounts for more than two thirds of almost 172,000 deaths in all of the United Kingdom, which includes Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The research is not yet peer reviewed, LSHTM said on its website.
Singapore approves COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11
Singapore will start COVID-19 vaccinations for children aged 5 to 11 years before the end of this year, its health ministry said late on Friday. The Southeast Asian city-state has already vaccinated 87% of its 5.5 million population, and authorities were rushing to get children vaccinated amid concerns over rising number of paediatric COVID-19 cases. The dosage used for children will be one-third of that used in adults, similar to the United States.
Ukraine receives more World Bank funds to fight COVID-19
The World Bank has approved an additional $150 million loan to help Ukraine speed up vaccinations against COVID-19, the international lender's Ukrainian office said on Saturday. Ukraine's government will spend $120 million on 16.5 million vaccine doses and the rest will be used for IT, communications and public outreach, capacity building and cold chain and waste management equipment, the World Bank said. "This new additional financing will help Ukraine continue strengthening its COVID-19 response and vaccination activities," Arup Banerji, the World Bank's regional country director for Eastern Europe, said in the statement.
Party furore deepens for Britain's Johnson, spokesman was at lockdown gathering
UPDATE 3-Yahoo FinanceUK PM Johnson loses poll lead after lockdown party revelationsNasdaqUK PM Johnson's party loses poll lead after lockdown party ...Thomson Reuters FoundationUK PM Johnson loses poll lead after lockdown party revelations By Reuters | Editorials 24Editorials 24View Full coverage on Google News
Will rich nations foot the bill for a global ‘pandemic treaty’?
World Health Organization member states have agreed to negotiate agreement on pandemic preparedness. Save the Children estimates that for every $1 invested in the global COVID-19 vaccination drive, rich nations could avoid losing $35 from their budgets. Yet, wealthy nations have failed to provide poorer countries with vaccines. And there has been a lack of coordination to tackle the pandemic. That need to cooperate is now gaining momentum after the Omicron variant was detected by scientists in South Africa. WHO member states have agreed to negotiate a global agreement on pandemic preparedness. And we look at why hypersonic missiles are driving a new arms race.
New York State Will Require Masks in All Indoor Public Places
New York Governor Kathy Hochul ordered all businesses to require masks indoors if they don’t have a Covid-19 vaccine requirement. “My two top priorities are to protect the health of New Yorkers and to protect the health of our economy,” she said in a Friday statement. “The temporary measures I am taking today will help accomplish this through the holiday season.”
German Lawmakers Back Vaccine Mandate for Health Workers
German lawmakers overwhelmingly backed a bill Friday that requires staff at hospitals and nursing homes to get immunized against the coronavirus — the first of two vaccine mandates being considered in the country. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach had earlier told parliament it was unconscionable that some who work with particularly vulnerable people were still not vaccinated. “This vaccine mandate is necessary because it's completely unacceptable that, after two years of pandemic, people who have entrusted their care to us are dying unnecessarily in institutions because unvaccinated people work there,” he said. “We cannot accept this."
Maintaining Services
South Africa says no signal of increased Omicron severity yet
South African scientists see no sign that the Omicron coronavirus variant is causing more severe illness, they said on Friday, as officials announced plans to roll out vaccine boosters with daily infections approaching an all-time high. South Africa alerted the world to Omicron late last month, prompting alarm that the highly mutated variant could trigger a new surge in global infections. Hospital data show that COVID-19 admissions are now rising sharply in more than half of the country's nine provinces, but deaths are not rising as dramatically and indicators such as the median length of hospital stay are reassuring.
NHS website hit by technical problems amid rush to book COVID-19 booster doses - The Independent
The UK's NHS website crashed as people rushed to book COVID-19 booster doses after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said everyone above the age of 18 could get booster shots from Monday, The Independent reported on Sunday. "The NHS website is currently experiencing technical difficulties. We are working to resolve these issues. Thank you for your patience," the report said, citing a statement on the NHS website. The NHS did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
New U.K. Omicron Cases Double as Country Plans Daily Tests
The U.K. confirmed 1,239 new omicron cases on Sunday, almost double the 633 cases reported the day before. Total cases of the latest variant now stand at 3,137, the U.K. Health Security Agency said on Twitter. The spike comes as the country plans to introduce new daily home testing for people who come into contact with someone who has contracted Covid-19.
Australia shortens wait time for COVID-19 booster doses as Omicron cases rise
Australia said on Sunday it will shorten the wait time for people to receive a COVID-19 booster following a rise in cases of the Omicron variant. Australia had previously said it would offer the booster to everyone over 18 who had had their second dose of the vaccine six months earlier. But with rising cases of the Omicron variant, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the time interval will be shortened to five months after the second dose.
India's top syringe maker asks PM Modi to lift factory shutdown order
Hindustan Syringes and Medical Devices (HMD) has shuttered its factories on the outskirts of New Delhi following the directive from a state pollution control board, triggering concerns of an acute shortage of syringes and needles in India just as its COVID-19 vaccination programme is in full swing. "The closure of needles and syringes manufacturing factories will create disruption in the supply chain," said Rajiv Nath, managing director of HMD, in a letter to Modi's office which was released to media.
Covid: Omicron cases rise 50% in 24 hours as experts warn variant could cause 2,400 hospitalisations
LSHTM modelling suggests Omicron could cause anywhere from between 25,000 to 75,000 deaths. Professor Eleanor Riley says 'a lot of people' could end up in hospital even if Omicron causes milder disease. Health chiefs are urging people to use testing and social distancing to avoid a spike in cases over Christmas. Raigmore Hospital in Inverness had to shut one of its wards after there was a spike of infections in the unit
Labour demands ‘Christmas vaccine guarantee’ for pupils in England
Labour has called on the government to give a “Christmas vaccine guarantee” to the hundreds of thousands of eligible children in England who have been unable to receive a Covid vaccination. With recent figures showing that just 44% of children in the 12-15 age group had been vaccinated on 8 December, Bridget Phillipson, the shadow education secretary, said the government needed to make a bigger push to vaccinate the remainder before they returned to school in the new year. “As Omicron cases in the UK are rising, it’s essential that ministers use the Christmas holidays to get the vaccine out to children, preventing continued chaos next term,” Phillipson said.
Omicron Now Dominant Variant in Cape Town, Wastewater Shows
Omicron is now the dominant coronavirus variant in Cape Town, the South African Medical Research Council said, citing wastewater analyses. The variant was found in 11 of 12 wastewater samples collected in Cape Town on Nov. 30, the council said in a statement on Friday. The delta variant was only dominant at one wastewater plant in the city, it said. People infected with Covid-19 shed viral particles in their feces. While the particles are not infectious, they provide an indication of the prevalence of the disease and can be used to determine which variant is dominant
South African Covid Hospitalizations at 5,344, 7.6% in ICU
South African hospitals have 5,344 Covid-19 patients of which 7.6% are in intensive care units, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said in a report on Friday. Of the 404 people in ICU, 144 are on ventilators, the institute said. Almost half of the admissions are in Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria. The numbers compare with the 4,795 who were in the hospital a day earlier, with 8.3% of those in ICU.
As COVID surges, Greece pursues unvaccinated with fines and vans
When a mobile COVID vaccination unit arrived at his Greek village, Yiorgos Toumanidis showed up for his booster shot. “I know what it’s like,” said the 71-year-old, who has had the virus. “I spent a month at home with antibiotics … That’s when we understood what’s going on, how dangerous the situation is. I didn’t hesitate. With the first opportunity, I did the vaccine.”
Navy medics join COVID fight in hard-hit New Mexico
Dozens of U.S. Navy medics have deployed to New Mexico to treat a Delta variant-fueled surge in COVID-19 patients as part of a military operation to treat virus hotspots across Western and Midwest states. New Mexico is suffering one of the highest levels of new coronavirus infections in the country, its hospitals reaching record capacity levels. Nearly 50 Navy medics are treating COVID-19 patients at the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, northwest New Mexico, where critical care patient numbers have been over 200% of capacity for weeks
Low staff vaccination tied to nursing home COVID deaths; experimental vaccine targets multiple coronaviruses
Low rates of COVID-19 vaccination among nursing home staff are linked with high rates of coronavirus illness and death among residents, even when residents have been vaccinated, a U.S. study found. Using national data from early June through late August 2021, researchers compared nursing homes with the highest and lowest percentages of vaccinated staff. In communities with high rates of COVID-19, homes with the lowest staff vaccination rates had more than twice as many residents develop COVID-19 and nearly three times as many residents die from it. This was true regardless of vaccination rates among the residents and of other differences between the facilities, the researchers reported on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine
Healthcare Innovations
How Sequencing Covid-19’s Viral Genome Helps Hunt for Variants
To keep up with changes to the virus that causes Covid-19, scientists are using a technology called genomic sequencing. The process starts with a Covid-19 test. Some samples that test positive for the coronavirus in a laboratory are pulled aside and sent off for sequencing, a review of the virus’s genetic material that can take as little as a day or more than a week. The SARS-CoV-2 genome has about 30,000 individual building blocks to decode, compared with about three billion in the human genome. Sometimes researchers have equipment to sequence the samples on hand or nearby. But often samples must be shipped elsewhere, which can take days. “Just the sheer logistics of shipping these samples from where they’re tested to where they’re going to be sequenced, that can be huge,” said Pavitra Roychoudhury, an acting instructor in the laboratory medicine and pathology department at the University of Washington.
Pfizer Booster Shots Are Effective Against Omicron Variant, Israeli Study Says
Researchers at the Sheba Medical Center and from the Israeli Health Ministry examined the blood samples of 20 Sheba employees who received a booster at least a month ago, and 20 employees who are five or six months past their second shot and haven’t received a third shot. Employees with a booster were much more likely to neutralize the Omicron variant than the two-shot group, the study showed. But the booster shots were still less effective against preventing Omicron than other variants, including Delta, still the most prevalent strain of the virus circulating globally.
COVID-19: Two jabs offer little protection against Omicron - but booster makes vaccine at least 70% effective
Two doses of the AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNtech vaccines offer little protection against the Omicron variant of COVID, but a booster raises their effectiveness to between 70 and 75 percent. The UK Health Security Agency also said the country will have more than one million Omicron infections by the end of this month if current trends continue unchanged. Analysis of 581 people with confirmed Omicron showed the AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNtech jabs provided "much lower levels of protection against symptomatic infection compared to the protection that they provide against Delta", it said in a statement. But it added: "The preliminary data showed effectiveness against the new variant appears to increase considerably in the early period after a booster dose, providing around 70-75% protection against symptomatic infection.
Japan researchers use ostrich cells to make glowing COVID-19 detection masks
Japanese researchers have developed masks that use ostrich antibodies to detect COVID-19 by glowing under ultraviolet light. The discovery by Yasuhiro Tsukamoto and his team at Kyoto Prefectural University in western Japan could provide for low-cost testing of the virus at home, they said in a press release. The scientists started by creating a mask filter coated with ostrich antibodies targeting the novel coronavirus, based on previous research showing the birds have strong resistance to disease.