"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 17th Dec 2021

Isolation Tips
France halts British visitors, EU nations tighten borders as Omicron rises
France imposed travel restrictions on travellers from Britain on Thursday due to surging COVID-19 cases there, and several European countries also strengthened border controls on visitors from other EU states. Plans for Christmas celebrations in Europe and many countries across the globe have been thrown into disarray by the rapid spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant, which emerged in Hong Kong and Southern Africa last month.
Hygiene Helpers
Sweden extends COVID vaccination rules as hospitalisations rise
Sweden will require visitors from other Nordic nations to have a vaccine pass to cross the border as it tightens restrictions in the face of rising number of COVID-19 infections and worries about the Omicron variant, the government said on Thursday. Sweden has seen new infections jump in recent days, if from levels below most European countries. It has reintroduced a limited number of measures and authorities said further steps would be needed if infections kept rising.
JCVI makes pregnant women priority group for Covid vaccination
Pregnant women have been made a priority group for vaccination following research showing they are vulnerable to more serious illness and pregnancy complications if they are infected with Covid-19. The vaccines watchdog, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), announced on Thursday that pregnant women would be moved into priority group 6 alongside adults under the age of 65 who have long-term health conditions, and urged pregnant women to get first and second doses and booster jabs as soon as possible.
COVID-19: Hundreds of thousands with coronavirus not using NHS app to 'ping' close contacts
Hundreds of thousands of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 are not using the NHS contact tracing apps to alert their close contacts, despite the outbreak of the Omicron variant, new figures reveal. In Scotland less than 20% of people who have downloaded the contact tracing app are using it to inform people that they have tested positive. The Scottish government recently announced that contacts of infected people must isolate until they can take a PCR test, and the app is a key way of alerting them.
Court revives health worker COVID-19 vaccine mandate in 26 U.S. states
A federal appeals court on Wednesday revived in 26 U.S. states a COVID-19 mandate issued by President Joe Biden's administration requiring millions of healthcare workers to get vaccinated if they work in facilities that receive federal dollars. In a rare win for Biden's pandemic strategy, a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled that a lower court had the authority to block the mandate in only the 14 states that had sued and was wrong to impose a nationwide injunction. The Biden administration mandate requires that healthcare facilities get staff vaccinated against the coronavirus or lose funding from the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which administers the two large government healthcare programs.
Millions of unjabbed a key concern as England scrambles to vaccinate
In the Newtown ward of central Birmingham, the government’s “Get boosted now” slogan means nothing to half of over-16s, because they have not had any vaccination against Covid at all. It is a similar story in Westminster and Camden in London where among the over-12s, 30% have not had a single jab. In Nottingham, a quarter of the whole population face the coming Omicron “tidal wave” unvaccinated. The vaccination scramble is not just about boosters but about persuading millions to get any jab at all. “Omicron will unevenly hit the least protected,” said Jim McManus, the president of the Association of Directors of Public Health. “We have two jobs: to get the vaccines into as many arms as possible and really get into the communities with the worst uptake.”
Community Activities
Covid-19 Cancels Christmas Around Europe…Again
As Omicron variant spreads, mounting restrictions dash hopes of return to normal this festive season; France to place restrictions on tourists from U.K. From Spanish holidays to Greek celebrations to German circus performances, the Covid-19 pandemic has derailed plans and upended Christmas traditions across Europe for a second year in a row. After a surge in cases this fall dashed hopes of a normal festive season this year, authorities on the continent have tightened restrictions to avoid overwhelming hospitals. Expectations that the highly transmissible Omicron variant will soon take hold are further adding to the fears.
Army says nearly 98% got the COVID-19 vaccine by deadline
Nearly 98% of the active duty Army had gotten at least one dose of the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine as of this week's deadline for the shots, but more than 3,800 soldiers flatly refused and could start being removed from the military next month, officials said Thursday. The U.S. military's largest service, however, reported the lowest number of service members seeking a religious exemption — a bit more than 1,700 soldiers — compared with the other three smaller services. In comparison, there are more than 4,700 in the Air Force 3,000 in the Marine Corps and 2,700 in the Navy who are requesting religious exemptions, according to data released by the services in the past week. None has yet been approved.
Queen Elizabeth cancels pre-Christmas lunch as COVID cases soar
Queen Elizabeth has cancelled a pre-Christmas lunch with her family as a precaution while cases of COVID-19 soar in Britain, a Buckingham Palace source said. "The decision is a precautionary one as it is felt to put too many people's Christmas arrangements at risk if it went ahead. "While there is regret that it is cancelled, there is a belief it is the right thing to do for all."
EU leaders struggle to find common ground on COVID travel rules
Divisions within the European Union have deepened over travel rules to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, after Italy and Greece followed Portugal and Ireland in announcing additional curbs on travellers from other EU states. The EU's 27 member states have been debating for weeks how to coordinate travel policy, with the aim of containing the virus without disproportionately disrupting travel within the border-free European Schengen area.
Thousands protest COVID-19 rules as New Zealand marks 90% vaccine rates
Thousands marched in New Zealand's capital Wellington on Thursday to protest against COVID-19 vaccine mandates and lockdowns, as the country reached the 90% fully vaccinated milestone. New Zealand's tough lockdown and vaccination drives have helped keep coronavirus infections and related deaths low, but it has also drawn criticism from some calling for more freedoms and an end to mandatory vaccine requirements. The government has mandated vaccinations for teachers, workers in the health and disability sectors, police and other public service sectors.
Vaccine skeptics in Eastern Europe having change of heart
Some former vaccine skeptics in Eastern Europe have shifted over to the other side as coronavirus infections surge, countries are making it more difficult for the unvaccinated to travel abroad and authorities battle against government distrust and vaccine disinformation. When she rolled up her sleeve in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo to take her first COVID-19 vaccine dose, Fata Keco was afraid of possible adverse side effects. But she said the worst she had to contend with over the next few days was “moderately discomforting pain” in her left arm around the site of the injection. More significantly, the 52-year-old self-employed cleaning woman has joined the global community of vaccine-believers after months of “being very susceptible” to what she now describes as “the most ridiculous theories.”
Working Remotely
Bank of Montreal Asks Investment Bankers to Work From Home
Bank of Montreal has told its investment bankers they should go back to working from home, joining a growing list of companies vacating offices as Covid-19 cases climb. Canada’s fourth-largest bank instructed its North American investment and corporate banking division to resume remote work until the week of Jan. 17, according to an email sent to staff on Wednesday and obtained by Bloomberg.
City of London Workers Stay Home as Omicron Turns Off Commuters
The City of London has transformed from a raucous district with thousands of workers celebrating Christmas into a no-party zone in the space of a week. Almost half of staff didn’t go to the office on Monday, the lowest since September, according to data compiled by Google, which tracks the location of its users.
Solving The Remote-Work Productivity Questions Once And For All
A seemingly unending surge of worker surveys, scientific studies, pundit prognostications and C-suite demands have coalesced around the one intractable truth — nobody seems to agree if remote work is a productivity boon or bust. To be sure, today’s companies are highly motivated to understand this dynamic. After all, more than 80% of business leaders plan to allow people to work remotely at least part of the time. Meanwhile, as businesses look to rebound from a pandemic year, employee productivity is pivotal to their efforts. While understanding the merits and efficacy of remote work at a macro level may be impossible, any organization can assess remote work’s in-house impact.
75% of S Korean firms to continue remote work scheme even after covid
Most South Korean businesses that have adopted at-home remote work programs due to Covid-19 plan to continue the policy even after the end of the pandemic, a poll revealed on Thursday. In the recent Labor Ministry survey conducted on 620 businesses currently using remote work policies, 75.2 per cent said they plan to either continue the scheme at the current level or partially downscale it when the pandemic ends, reports Yonhap News Agency. The poll said 11.3 per cent of businesses intend to stop the remote work scheme when the pandemic ends.
Virtual Classrooms
Schools prepare for online learning to return in the New Year
Schools across England are preparing for online learning to return in the New Year, according to reports, with some already starting their virtual lessons. According to the BBC more than 30 local authorities already have schools that have moved at least some lessons online already.The BBC says some children are being told to take laptops home with them over Christmas in case they are asked not to come back in in the New Year. The latest data for England shows 236,000 pupils were not in school on December 9.
Public Policies
CDC Advisers Back Use of Pfizer, Moderna Covid Shots Over J&J’s
Messenger RNA vaccines made by Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. are preferable for use in adults over Johnson & Johnson’s, U.S. public health advisers said. All 15 members of an outside panel of experts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voted to make the recommendation on J&J’s vaccine. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices met Thursday after U.S. regulators announced revisions to the shot’s fact sheet to warn of a rare clotting syndrome linked to the shot. CDC Director Rochelle Walensky still must sign off on the recommendation before any changes to vaccinations can be implemented.
EU Strikes Deal With Moderna to Speed German Vaccine Supply
The European Union brokered a deal to expedite deliveries of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine to countries like Germany that are experiencing temporary shortages as they try to accelerate inoculation and ward off the omicron variant. Moderna Inc. agreed to bring forward delivery of 10 million doses to Germany in December, enough for 20 million boosters, the European Commission said Thursday. The company will also provide 25 million extra shots to Germany in the first quarter of 2022. Germany has started rationing Covid vaccines through the rest of the year as it seeks to maintain momentum in its ramped-up booster campaign going despite an unexpected shortage of BioNTech SE vaccines.
Russian parliament backs draft law for COVID-19 immunity passes
The Russian parliament's lower house, the State Duma, on Thursday gave the first nod of approval to a draft law that would require people to show QR codes demonstrating proof of immunity to COVID-19 in order to visit certain public places. The bill still needs to be approved by the upper house of parliament and signed by President Vladimir Putin to come into force. Earlier this week, the Russian parliament said it would shelve a draft bill that would have required people travelling by plane or train to present QR codes, after strong public opposition to the proposal
Japan approves Moderna COVID vaccine as booster, Novavax files for 1st approval
Japan on Thursday officially approved Moderna Inc's COVID-19 vaccine for its booster programme, while Novavax Inc filed for first approval of its shot in the country. Moderna's mRNA-type vaccine, used mostly in Japan to date at workplace inoculation sites, was approved for used as a third booster shot for those aged 18 or older, following a recommendation from health ministry experts on Wednesday.
EU regulator okays COVID-19 treatments from GSK-Vir and Sobi
The European Union's drug regulator on Thursday approved a COVID-19 treatment from British-U.S. duo GSK and Vir Biotechnology and another from Swedish drugmaker Sobi, as the bloc builds its defences against Omicron. The approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) of GSK-Vir's antibody drug Xevudy and Sobi's arthritis drug Kineret come as governments struggle with soaring infections and worry about the swiftly-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus. EMA's human medicines committee recommended using Kineret to treat COVID-19 in adults with pneumonia requiring oxygen support and those at risk of developing severe respiratory failure.
As COVID cases rise, Spain approves booster shots for over 40s
Spain will administer a third dose of coronavirus vaccine to people aged 40 and over, the Health Ministry said on Thursday, expanding the booster programme a day after its child vaccination campaign kicked off amid a sharp rise in cases. The ministry, which had already rolled out booster shots for the over 60s, health workers and clinically vulnerable, said the most elderly remained the priority, as well as those yet to receive any shot. "Progressively, the booster dose may be administered to persons aged 49 to 40 years, starting with the oldest age cohorts," the ministry said in a statement.
Denmark approves Merck's COVID-19 pill for at-risk patients
Denmark on Thursday approved Merck & Co Inc's molnupiravir antiviral pill for COVID-19 patients at risk of serious illness, including the elderly. The treatment is still under review by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Faced with rising coronavirus cases, the EU drug regulator issued advice in November on using it for adults ahead of providing any wider recommendation. Announcing its approval for restricted use in Denmark, Health Authority chief medical officer Kirstine Moll Harboe said: "We believe that the benefits of being treated (with it) outweigh the disadvantages for those patients who are most at risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID-19."
Maintaining Services
South Korea reimposes COVID-19 curbs amid ‘mayhem’ at hospitals
South Korea says it will reimpose curfews on businesses and tighten social distancing rules as the number of COVID-19 infections and severe cases reach record highs. The measures, announced on Thursday, come a month and a half after the South Korean government eased restrictions under a “Living with COVID-19” policy. But with new daily infections soaring and healthcare workers warning of “mayhem” at hospitals, the government has come under increased pressure to roll back the policy. Under the new rules, which will come into effect on Saturday, gatherings are limited to no more than four people, as long as they are fully vaccinated. Restaurants cafes and bars will also need to close by 9pm and movie theatres and internet cafes by 10pm. Unvaccinated people can only dine out alone, or use takeout or delivery services.
Healthcare Innovations
Pfizer says its COVID pill will protect against severe disease, even from Omicron
Scientists are working to learn more about a new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, that was first detected in South Africa, setting out to discover how transmissible it is, whether the vaccines that are currently available are effective against it, and other answers as much is still unknown about the strain. In order to shore up protection against the virus amid data that show immunity wanes from the vaccines over time, US health officials have expanded their recommendations for who should get COVID-19 booster shots to include people 16 and older. The expansion comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise in Massachusetts, in what experts fear is the start of a winter surge.
Covid-19 antiviral drug thapsigargin excites researchers in early tests with ‘one of a kind’ results
A researcher at a British university believes he may have found a unique new antiviral drug that can stop the cause of Covid-19, could be made into a pill, tackles respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza, and crucially would not encourage drug resistance. Prof Kin-Chow Chang of Nottingham University told i that early lab results for the antiviral, thapsigargin, have been so promising in the way it arms the body against the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus that they almost appear “too good to be true” – showing it is “one of a kind”. Prof Chang emphasises that his team’s research, using cells and mice, is still at a preliminary stage. But further trials on animals are expected next year and his confidence is growing.
COVID-19: UK's R number for Omicron between 3 and 5, health chief says
"Each six months will be better than the last six months", England's chief medical officer has said, as he predicted it could be "possibly 18 months" until a wide range of vaccines covers all variants of the coronavirus. Professor Chris Whitty said it is likely that COVID vaccines and anti-viral drugs will do "almost all of the heavy lifting" when it comes to tackling future strains - unless they are "extremely different". He told the Commons Health and Social Care Committee: "If I project forward, I would anticipate in a number of years - possibly 18 months, possibly slightly less, possibly slightly more - that we will have polyvalent vaccines, which will cover a much wider range, and we will probably have several antivirals."
Omicron thrives in airways, not lungs; new data on asymptomatic cases
The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that has yet to be certified by peer review. Omicron multiplies faster in airways, slower in lungs Major differences in how efficiently Omicron and other variants of the coronavirus multiply may help predict Omicron's effects, researchers said on Wednesday. Compared to the earlier Delta variant, Omicron multiplies itself 70 times more quickly in tissues that line airway passages, which may facilitate person-to-person spread, they said. But in lung tissues, Omicron replicates 10 times more slowly than the original version of the coronavirus, which might contribute to less-severe illness.
Regeneron says its COVID-19 therapy has lower potency against Omicron
AstraZeneca and Regeneron on Thursday reported contrasting data on the effectiveness of their COVID-19 antibody therapies against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, underscoring the major challenges ahead for drugmakers. U.S.-based Regeneron said its REGEN-COV therapy, also called Ronapreve, is less effective against Omicron, though it is still active against the Delta variant, confirming indications from lab tests and computer modelling late last month