"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 15th Dec 2021

Isolation Tips
COVID-19: All countries on red list to be removed as 'less effective' in slowing Omicron - Javid
All 11 countries on the UK's travel red list will be removed as the system has become "less effective in slowing the incursion" of the Omicron variant, the health secretary has announced. Sajid Javid told the House of Commons that the nations will be removed from 4am on Wednesday, so arrivals will no longer have to isolate in a government-approved quarantine hotel for two weeks at the cost of £2,285. The 11 countries currently on the red list are: Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
Hygiene Helpers
Google says employees flouting vaccination rules will eventually be fired - CNBC
Alphabet Inc's Google told its employees they would lose pay and eventually be fired if they do not follow its COVID-19 vaccination rules, CNBC reported on Tuesday, citing internal documents. A memo circulated by Google's leadership said employees had until Dec. 3 to declare their vaccination status and upload documentation showing proof, or to apply for a medical or religious exemption, according to the report. After that date, Google said it would start contacting employees who had not uploaded their status or were unvaccinated and those whose exemption requests were not approved, CNBC reported.
Kroger to remove some COVID-19 benefits for unvaccinated employees
Kroger Co will stop some COVID-19 benefits for unvaccinated employees starting next year, as the supermarket chain pushes more workers to get inoculated amid growing concerns over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. The company will no longer provide paid COVID-19 leave for unvaccinated employees and will apply a $50 monthly health insurance surcharge to salaried non-union workers who are unvaccinated and enrolled in a company healthcare plan, a Kroger spokesperson said on Tuesday.
California to reinstitute statewide mask mandate amid rise in COVID cases
California will impose a statewide mask mandate in all indoor public spaces as COVID-19 case rates soar, the state's senior government health official said on Monday as precautions ramp up against the Omicron variant. The mandate, which will take effect on Wednesday and last a month, is one of several measures the most-populous U.S. state is taking to slow a wave of infections that is already straining hospitals in areas where vaccination rates are low. "We know people are tired, and hungry for normalcy," state Health and Human Services Secretary Mark Ghaly said in a conference call with reporters. "Frankly I am, too."
Singapore mulls COVID-19 boosters requirement to qualify as 'fully' vaccinated
Singapore is considering requiring its residents to get a booster shot to qualify as fully vaccinated against COVID-19, its health minister said on Tuesday, as it seeks to protect its population from the Omicron variant. The city-state of 5.5 million people currently allows only those counted as fully vaccinated - or recipients of two shots - to enter malls or dine in at restaurants or at hawker stalls. From Jan. 1 it will bar unvaccinated employees from entering workplaces, unless they undergo tests each time.
Apple makes masks mandatory at U.S. retail stores as COVID-19 cases rise
Apple Inc will require all customers and employees to wear masks at its U.S. retail stores, the iPhone maker said on Tuesday, as COVID-19 cases surge in the country. Last month, Apple had scrapped its mask mandate for customers at more than 100 of the company's about 270 stores across the United States, according to Bloomberg News, as coronavirus cases declined. "We regularly monitor conditions and we will adjust our health measures in stores to support the wellbeing of customers and employees," the company said on Tuesday.
Community Activities
When Two Nations Are Divided by a Common Pandemic
Covid is possibly even more political in the U.S. than it is in the U.K., and the federal system allows for far greater differences in response between states. But Covid fatigue is universal and a political tripwire at this point. So is the U.K. right to regard omicron as such a serious danger? Let’s look at the evidence from South Africa, where the variant was first identified and provides the most data. Capital Economics Ltd. of London has produced these excellent charts.
U.S. Air Force removes 27 service members for refusing COVID-19 vaccine
The U.S. Air Force on Monday said 27 service members had been discharged for refusing to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, the first active-duty troops believed to have been removed for declining the vaccine. The Pentagon made the vaccine mandatory for all service members in August and the vast majority of active-duty troops have received at least one dose. Ann Stefanek, a spokeswoman for the Air Force, said the troops were given a chance to explain why they had refused to get vaccinated, but none of them were given exemptions.
Working Remotely
Our return-to-office survey finds a disconnect between employees and companies on remote work policies
While companies push to return to their offices, employees would rather stay at home, according to a new global survey from Insider. This gap between companies and employees shows up when it comes to who makes decisions about working models, who is consulted during the decision-making process, and how the new rules of the workplace are enforced. Fewer than half of survey respondents in most countries said their employers asked them about their preferences for their post-pandemic routine.
Australia’s working women are productivity gold. Here are five ways to help them thrive
Australian women are weary and whiplashed. Weary from two years of intense unpaid care work, including months of remote schooling their kids, and whiplashed from two severe periods of job and hours loss. As the Covid recovery picks up speed, many women are wondering what work in 2022 might look like. Employers should be too.
56% of workers looking for remote working jobs - Indeed
A new survey shows that 56% of Irish working-age adults say they will in future only consider jobs that offer flexible working, or allow them to quit the office forever. The latest monthly Job Search Survey from Indeed also shows that 18% of respondents said in future they would only apply for jobs allowing remote working. A further 38% said that only jobs that allow a hybrid or flexible approach would be considered by them.
Virtual Classrooms
UK/US Teachers & parents see VR as having a major role in the classroom
Research findings of 1,000 parents and 600 primary and elementary school teachers from UK & US: At least 70% of parents had the essential equipment for remote learning (e.g. devices) such as laptop(s), tablet(s), mobile phone(s) etc. in both regions. However, infrastructure (wifi) accessibility was the main issue with only 61% (UK) and 56% (US) households having access to online resources and virtual classes.
Online teaching's TikTok pedagogy is leading students a merry dance
Binoy Kampmark is senior lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, Melbourne: "Colleges and universities feel both tempted and threatened by the presence of online instruction systems. Writing in 2018, Subhash Kak was already noting that online learning would “put as many as half the colleges and the universities in the US at risk of shutting down in the next couple of decades as remote students get comparable educations over the internet”. But, equally, online delivery has been a supreme opportunity for the budget minders."
Pupils in Wales struggled with online learning during lockdown as study reveals impact on wellbeing
Secondary school children in Wales struggled to concentrate and engage with schoolwork when schools shut and work moved online during lockdown, new research has concluded. Their confidence and wellbeing were negatively affected, the study by researchers at Cardiff and Swansea universities showed. The research, published in a British Psychological Society journal, follows similar findings of the impact of the pandemic on young people from the Children's Commissioner for Wales and education watchdog Estyn, as well as warnings from headteachers.
Public Policies
Conservative revolt over COVID curbs deals stinging blow to UK PM Johnson
Almost 100 Conservative lawmakers voted on Tuesday against new coronavirus restrictions, dealing a major blow to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's authority and raising questions about his leadership. After a day of frenzied failed lobbying, Johnson was handed the biggest rebellion against his government so far by his party over measures he said were necessary to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant. The new rules, which included ordering people to wear masks in public places and use COVID-19 passes for some venues, passed thanks largely to the main opposition Labour Party.
COVID-19: Children as young as 5-years-old could be offered vaccine with decision 'expected' before Christmas
A decision on whether to vaccinate children as young as five against COVID could be made before Christmas, one of the government's top advisers on vaccines has said. Professor Wei Shen Lim, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation's COVID-19 panel, said he would "expect" his team to offer their advice on jabs for those between the ages of five to 11-years-old before Christmas. COVID case rates have been consistently high in school-aged children since September, but vaccines have only been offered to 12 to 15-year-olds since November - later than in many other countries.
Malaysia gives conditional approval for use of Ronapreve COVID-19 treatment
Malaysia's health ministry said on Tuesday it has given conditional approval for the use of the single-dose antibody cocktail Ronapreve, developed by Regeneron (REGN.O) and Roche (ROG.S), to treat COVID-19. It has also approved a request from Merck & Co (MRK.N) for a clinical trial import license for its COVID-19 pill Molnupiravir, to be used as part of studies being conducted in Malaysia, the ministry said in a statement.
WHO Warns Against Underestimating the Omicron Threat
The World Health Organization is concerned that the omicron variant is being dismissed as mild, even as it spreads at a faster rate than any previous strain of Covid-19. The recently detected variant has been reported in some 77 nations, though it’s probably in most countries already, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “We’re concerned that people are jumping to a conclusion that this is a mild disease,” Bruce Aylward, senior adviser at the WHO, told journalists at a briefing on Tuesday. “A more transmissible virus can do just as much damage -- or more -- than one which is more severe but less transmissible.”
Maintaining Services
U.K.'s 'Warp Speed' Booster Rollout Is Already Struggling
Boris Johnson’s strategy for tackling a U.K. surge in omicron infections is already facing setbacks, as medics warn of bottlenecks and staffing shortages in the vaccine booster program. The British prime minister promised to ramp up delivery of boosters to “warp speed” to achieve its target of reaching all adults by the end of December, and late Monday announced that hundreds of new vaccine sites would open across the country, including at soccer stadiums and racecourses.
India stuck with COVID-19 vaccines it can't export
India is struggling to export its surplus of COVID-19 vaccines as logistical hurdles delay their use in many countries despite low levels of inoculation, vaccine producer the Serum Institute of India (SII) and a government official said on Tuesday. The SII, the world's biggest vaccine maker that produces the AstraZeneca, Novavax and Sputnik COVID-19 shots, has already announced plans to temporarily halve output of the AstraZeneca drug until more orders came, including possibly through boosters. read more
Dutch schools to close early for Christmas to limit COVID-19 spread - report
The Netherlands will extend COVID-19 restrictions through the Christmas holidays, including the early closure of schools, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Tuesday. The rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is making up roughly 1% of new infections in the country, "is a reason to be concerned and to be cautious," Rutte said in a televised comments. Elementary schools will close a week early to try to prevent children from infecting older family members during Christmas as hospitals struggle with a wave of COVID-19 patients.
New Australian plant could make 100 million vaccines a year
Australia’s government said Tuesday it plans to start making mRNA vaccines at home with a new plant that could produce up to 100 million doses each year. The announcement came as coronavirus cases in Sydney and surrounding areas jumped, driven in part by the omicron variant. The new factory would be built in Victoria state in a partnership between vaccine manufacturer Moderna and the federal and state governments. It is expected to open by 2024. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said it was in the country’s national interest to produce vaccines locally.
Healthcare Innovations
Pfizer Says Its Covid-19 Pill Likely Works Against Omicron
Preliminary laboratory tests gave encouraging signs that Pfizer Inc.’s PFE 0.62% experimental Covid-19 pill for the newly infected could work against Omicron, the company said. Pfizer also said Tuesday that a final analysis of late-stage study results confirmed the drug, named Paxlovid, was 89% effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death in adults at high risk of severe Covid-19. The positive results come as the Food and Drug Administration reviews whether to clear use of Paxlovid in high-risk adults, a decision that could come before the end of the year. “This was a real home run, gives tremendous hope for another highly effective intervention,” Pfizer Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten said in an interview.
Needle-free Covid-19 vaccine being trialled in the UK
A trial is being launched of a new needle-free Covid-19 vaccine that could give ‘wide-ranging protection’ against variants and future coronaviruses. The University of Southampton has developed the new vaccine which uses a jet of air to push it through the skin rather than a needle. Saul Faust, clinical chief investigator and director of the NIHR Southampton Clinical Research Facility, said: ‘This isn’t simply ‘yet another’ coronavirus vaccine as it has both Covid-19 variants and future coronaviruses in its sights. ‘This technology could give wide-ranging protection to huge numbers of people worldwide.’
Higher risk of heart complications from COVID-19 than vaccines -study
COVID-19 infections are more likely to trigger rare cardiovascular complications such as heart inflammation and irregular heartbeat than vaccines, a British study showed on Tuesday, after scientists parsed data of about 38 million vaccinated people. The study, published in the Nature Medicine journal, compared the risks of myocarditis, pericarditis and cardiac arrhythmia following a first and second dose of COVID-19 vaccines – from AstraZeneca-Oxford, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Moderna - with coronavirus infections.
Pfizer Covid Pill Effective to Stop Hospitalization, New Study Shows
New study data showed Pfizer Inc.’s experimental Covid-19 pill was highly effective at keeping patients out of the hospital, but less adept at erasing milder symptoms often associated with breakthrough infections. Pfizer disclosed findings from two studies in a statement Tuesday. In one, its treatment, Paxlovid, failed to meet the primary goal of reducing self-reported symptoms in 673 adults at standard risk of developing Covid-19 complications. The drug showed a trend toward reducing hospitalizations in the group by 70%, however. In the other study, the treatment remained 89% effective in preventing hospitalizations in high-risk unvaccinated people when used within 3 days of the appearance of symptoms. That confirmed Pfizer’s earlier analysis of results from a smaller number of patients.
Data indicate omicron is milder, better at evading vaccines
The omicron variant is offering more hints about what it may have in store as it spreads around the globe: A highly transmissible virus that may cause less severe disease, and one that can be slowed — but not stopped — by today’s vaccines. An analysis Tuesday of data from South Africa, where the new variant is driving a surge in infections, suggests the Pfizer vaccine offers less defense against infection from omicron and reduced, but still good, protection from hospitalization. The findings are preliminary and have not been peer-reviewed — the gold standard in scientific research — but they line up with other early data about omicron’s behavior, including that it seems to be more easily spread from person to person.
Pfizer jab protects against hospitalisation with Omicron: Study
Two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine appear to provide 70 percent protection against hospitalisation from the Omicron coronavirus variant, according to an extensive real-world study in South Africa. The analysis released on Tuesday by South Africa’s largest private health insurance administrator, Discovery Health, was based on more than 211,000 positive COVID-19 test results of adults from November 15 to December 7, about 78,000 of which were attributed to Omicron.