"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 12th Jan 2022

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Isolation Tips
Japan to maintain strict border restrictions until end of February
Japan will maintain its tight entry restrictions to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus until the end of February, the prime minister said on Tuesday, though some exceptions for humanitarian reasons may be considered. Japan adopted some of the strictest border controls in the world when the Omicron variant emerged late last year, banning all new entry by non-Japanese people, including students and foreign family members of Japanese or permanent residents, except in exceptional circumstances.
Hong Kong unveils further steps to curb COVID-19 spread, boost vaccinations
Hong Kong will shut kindergartens and primary schools and start offering COVID-19 vaccines for children from the age of five, the city's leader said on Tuesday, as the financial hub grapples with an increase in coronavirus infections. Certain passengers meanwhile will be banned from transiting through Hong Kong for a month, Bloomberg News reported, citing unnamed people familiar with the matter. It comes as the Chinese-ruled city has seen some local transmissions of the Omicron coronavirus variant after three months of no local coronavirus cases at the end of last year.
Nepal bans big public gatherings, closes schools amid COVID spike
Officials in Nepal have banned large public gatherings and closed schools across the Himalayan nation for nearly three weeks after a spike in coronavirus cases. Nepal reported 1,357 new cases on Monday, the biggest single-day jump since September last year, taking its total to 833,946 since the pandemic began. Its death toll from the coronavirus is 11,606.
China: Twenty million under strict COVID lockdown amid fears Omicron could disrupt Beijing Winter Olympics
About 20 million people in China are now under a stay-at-home order after a third city brought in a strict COVID lockdown. Anyang in Henan province, with a population of 5.5 million, confirmed a lockdown after 84 cases were detected since Saturday - at least two of them Omicron. Mass testing is being carried out - established practice in China after even a handful of cases - and non-essential vehicles are banned from the streets.
Hygiene Helpers
Are Throat Swabs Better at Detecting Omicron in Covid-19 Rapid Tests?
A growing debate surrounds whether people testing for Omicron should swab their throats. Most people in the U.S. have been doing Covid-19 rapid tests with nasal swabs. That is what the Food and Drug Administration endorses and what rapid tests sold in the U.S. instruct. But some scientists say a throat swab may be more effective at detecting Omicron. Some are calling on the FDA and test manufacturers to better study throat swabs, saying that the reliance on nasal swabs may be one reason why rapid tests seem to be less sensitive in detecting Omicron than previous variants.
COVID-19: Heathrow demands all testing is dropped after 600,000 passengers cancelled Christmas flights
Heathrow Airport has called for all coronavirus testing to be dropped for fully-vaccinated people while revealing that "at least" 600,000 passengers cancelled flights during the key holiday month of December. The UK's largest airport said "swiftly imposed" action during the month to tackle the Omicron variant in the run-up to the festive season prompted uncertainty among travellers who faced additional bills for costly PCR tests.
WHO says more research needed on vaccine efficacy against Omicron
A World Health Organization technical body said on Tuesday that current COVID-19 vaccines may need to be reworked to ensure they are effective against Omicron and future variants of the coronavirus. The technical group, made up of independent experts, said it would consider a change in vaccination composition and stressed that shots needed to be more effective in protecting against infection. "The composition of current COVID-19 vaccines may need to be updated to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by VOCs (variants of concern), including Omicron and future variants," the technical body, tasked with making recommendations to the WHO, said in a statement.
U.S. CDC may recommend better masks against Omicron
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is considering updating its mask guidance because of an increase in the number of Omicron-related coronavirus cases, the Washington Post reported on Monday. The agency will likely advise people opt for the highly protective N95 or KN95 masks worn by healthcare personnel, if they can do so consistently, the newspaper reported, citing an official close to the deliberations. The CDC guidance is expected to say that if people can "tolerate wearing a KN95 or N95 mask all day, you should," the report said.
U.S. insurers must cover eight at-home COVID tests per person monthly -White House
Insurance companies will be required to cover eight over-the-counter at-home coronavirus tests per person each month starting Saturday, the Biden administration said, expanding access to highly sought-after kits as Americans grapple with a surge in coronavirus cases. The White House also said on Monday that there is no limit to the number of COVID-19 tests, including at-home tests, that insurers must cover if they are ordered or administered by a health care provider.
No vax, pay tax, says Canada's Quebec as health system struggles
Quebec, Canada's second most populous province, is planning to force adults refusing to get COVID-19 vaccinated pay a "health contribution" in a move likely to spur a debate about individual rights and social responsibility. Premier Francois Legault told reporters at a briefing on Tuesday that the proposal, details of which were still being finalised, would not apply to those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons.
Indonesia to kick off booster campaign, but most will have to pay
Indonesia officially kicks off its vaccine booster programme on Wednesday, with free jabs for the elderly and those without the means to pay, according to the Ministry of Health. But the decision to make the majority of Indonesia’s 270 million inhabitants pay for the boosters out of their own pockets has fuelled controversy. “Why has the government suddenly come up with the idea of boosters? If it is because the government is worried about waning antibodies, then it is OK as that is relative to the pandemic,” Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist and professor at the University of Indonesia, told Al Jazeera. “But if it is related to the pandemic, then the vaccines should be free.”
Biden wants U.S. agencies to mandate COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated employees by Feb 15
The Biden administration said on Tuesday that federal agencies should require weekly COVID-19 testing by Feb. 15 for unvaccinated government employees who are working on-site or interacting with the public. A vaccine mandate imposed by President Joe Biden in September covers about 3.5 million federal workers and required them to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 22 or face potential discipline or even termination.
Community Activities
5 reasons you should not deliberately catch Omicron to 'get it over with'
The idea of intentionally trying to catch Omicron is "all the rage," said Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, with an exasperated sigh. "It's caught on like wildfire," agreed Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director of the Havey Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "And it's widespread, coming from all types of people, the vaccinated and boosted and the anti-vaxxers," he added, with a warning. "You'd be crazy to try to get infected with this. It's like playing with dynamite." In case the thought had crossed your mind, here are five reasons why you should not purposely try to catch Omicron.
Vaccine hesitancy changes over time: Attitudes toward vaccines during the COVID-19 pandemic
Worldwide, vaccine hesitancy is proving to be a stumbling block to securing much needed protection against the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Now, researchers from Japan have uncovered specific factors that influence attitudes about vaccines, which is valuable knowledge for combating vaccine hesitancy. In a study published last month in Vaccines, researchers from the University of Tsukuba reported dramatic changes in vaccine acceptance over a five-month period during the COVID-19 pandemic. Detailed information about what causes these changes could help address low vaccine uptake in specific populations.
Anti-vax leader urges people to drink their urine instead of get vaccine in latest wild conspiracy
Some Anti-vaxxers will do anything to avoid taking the coronavirus vaccine, including, reportedly, drinking their own urine. The Daily Beast reports that a prominent figure in the anti-Covid-19 community, Christopher Key – who calls himself the "Vaccine Police" – is now telling his followers to drink their own urine in order to cure themselves of Covid-19.
A million set to throng India's Ganges for holy dip despite COVID-19
Nearly one million Hindu worshippers are expected to gather on the banks of the Ganges river this Friday and Saturday for a holy bathe despite galloping COVID-19 infections across the country, an official told Reuters on Tuesday. India reported 168,063 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, a 20-fold rise in a month. Most infected people have recovered at home and the level of hospitalisations has been less than half of that seen during the last major wave of infections in April and May.
Spain Calls for Debate to Consider Covid as Endemic, Like Flu
Spain is calling on Europe to debate the possibility that Covid-19 can now be treated as an endemic illness, setting a model to monitor its evolution akin to the one used for flu.
Working Remotely
This Is A Big Deel: FinTech Startup Frees People To Work Remotely From Anywhere In The World
Companies that offer a remote-first distributed workforce can recruit and hire anyone in the world. They are no longer constrained to candidates that live within commuting distance to the office. For job seekers, they are now free to search for jobs anywhere they want. Deel, and other companies in this space, will change how people work and where they live. For instance, a person living in India, the Ukraine, Costa Rica or South Dakota was not previously able to get a great job with a Silicon Valley tech firm or at a top-tier investment bank without having to uproot their lives, leave their families and friends behind and relocate. Now that thousands of companies offer remote work options, a person can apply to a job anywhere across the globe.
Working from home means working different hours, but not necessarily more
Remote work does not apply to each and every profession, but where it does, its effects are felt. As many of us have experienced by now, remote work is a mixed bag. While many people feel more productive working from home and appreciate the flexibility this offers, there are also challenges such as finding focus amid distractions and "Zoom fatigue."A recently published working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) uses hard data to explore the impact of remote work on people's daily working schedule.
Surging Covid-19 Puts an End to Projected Return-to-Office Dates
If businesses have learned one thing from Covid-19, it is to stop trying to predict when they are going to be back in the office. Companies across the U.S. said they were returning to the workplace in September, only to put off those plans when the spread of the Delta variant accelerated. Many of those same firms were poised to dust off their office desks in January. Now major banks, technology companies and other firms have scrapped those plans thanks to the Omicron variant, and a sense that Covid-19 is going to linger longer than most first imagined.
Virtual Classrooms
Rise in pupils and teachers using online lessons through virtual school
In England, a Government-backed virtual school has seen a rise in pupils using online lessons this term as the Omicron variant threatens disruption to education. Oak National Academy, which provides free learning resources and online lessons, said its weekly user figure last week was 340,000 – the highest level since schools returned from closures in March 2021. The weekly user figure was only 166,000 for the week starting on December 13, the academy said. The virtual school, which began in April 2020, expects the numbers to grow as schools try to keep children learning despite Covid-related absences.
Opinion: Online education can be a great way for children to learn if we do it right
Suzanne Chisholm is vice-principal at SIDES, a public online school in Victoria. She has taught elementary students in both classrooms and online. She writes: "Online learning can be an excellent option for many students, and for some students it’s the best option. However, it must be done properly, and it usually works better when it is a choice." "Purposefully designed online education delivered by trained and skilled teachers plays a crucial role in our modern education system, and provides a vital alternative for many students and families, pandemic or not. The programs we offer at our school serve a diversity of learners, many of them among the most vulnerable in society. Families tell us how glad they are that we exist. Some parents say our school has been a lifeline for their child. Online learning is anything but cruel and harmful for these students."
Public Policies
Wellcome Trust to spend £16bn on research with focus on Covid vaccines
The Wellcome Trust, Britain’s biggest charity, is ramping up spending on science research to £16bn over the next 10 years, with a focus on funding next-generation Covid vaccines, after it reaped the highest investment returns in a quarter of a century. Wellcome said it was making its biggest funding commitment to science and health in its 85-year history. It was created by the will of the pharmaceuticals entrepreneur Sir Henry Wellcome in 1936. The £16bn promise comes after it spent more than £9bn on research grants and other charitable activities over the past decade, including £1.2bn last year alone. The trust made a 34.5% return in the year to 30 September on its investment portfolio, which is now worth £38.2bn, about £10bn more than a year ago. This is its best performance since it was created in its present form as an independent charitable foundation in 1995, when Wellcome plc was sold off to the drugmaker Glaxo, which later became GlaxoSmithKline.
Pfizer CEO says Omicron-targeted vaccine is most likely outcome
Pfizer Inc Chief Executive Albert Bourla on Monday said a redesigned COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron coronavirus variant is likely needed and his company could have one ready to launch by March. Bourla said Pfizer and partner BioNTech SE are working on both an Omicron-targeted vaccine version as well as a shot that would include both the previous vaccine as well as one targeted at the fast-spreading variant. "I think it is the most likely scenario," Bourla said, speaking at J.P. Morgan's annual healthcare conference, which is being held virtually this year. "We're working on higher doses. We're working different schedules. We're doing a lot of things right now, as we speak."
U.S. secures 600000 more doses of GSK-Vir's COVID-19 therapy
The United States has agreed to buy 600,000 more doses of GSK and Vir Biotechnology's COVID-19 antibody therapy for an undisclosed sum, as the country bolsters its arsenal of treatments against the Omicron coronavirus variant. The additional doses of sotrovimab would be delivered in the first quarter of 2022, the drugmakers said on Tuesday, taking the tally of doses secured by nations worldwide to roughly 1.7 million. Canada and the European Union have signed deals too.
UK’s Johnson faces lockdown-breach claims over garden party
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced a wave of public and political outrage on Tuesday over allegations that he and his staff flouted coronavirus lockdown rules by holding a garden party in 2020 while Britons were barred by law from meeting up with more than one person outside their households. Opposition politicians called for a police investigation after broadcaster ITV published a leaked email invitation to “socially distanced drinks” in the garden of the prime minister’s Downing Street office and residence. The email from the prime minister’s private secretary, Martin Reynolds, was sent to dozens of people and urged attendees to “bring your own booze.”
Maintaining Services
Vaccination in Africa: Countries Struggle to Give Shots Despite Improved Doses
As shipments of Covid shots ramp up for billions of people left behind last year, and new vaccines make their way to the public, dozens of countries are struggling to turn supplies into inoculations. A dearth of immunization sites in Cameroon, weak communication and Covid denial in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a syringe shortfall in Kenya are among the hurdles complicating rollouts. In Zimbabwe, which initially raced ahead of many peers, complacency and a perception of omicron as less serious have slowed the campaign. Starved for vaccines for most of last year, Covax, the World Health Organization-backed program that aims to tackle vaccine inequity, is now approaching 1 billion doses in shipments. As the focus shifts to increasing immunization in poorer countries, officials worry the rapid spread of the omicron variant could spur the emergence of more shot-evading variants.
Covid-19 hospitalizations reach record high, HHS data shows
The number of US patients hospitalized with Covid-19 has hit a record high, adding strain to health care networks and pushing states toward emergency staffing and other measures as they struggle to cope. More than 145,900 people were in US hospitals with Covid-19 as of Tuesday -- a number that surpasses the previous peak from mid-January 2021 (142,246), and is almost twice what it was two weeks ago, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. The hospitalization record comes amid a surge in cases fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Australia swamped by Omicron surge as pressure grows on hospitals
Australia's COVID-19 infections hovered near record levels on Tuesday as a surge of infections caused by the Omicron variant put a strain on hospitals already stretched by staff isolating after being exposed to the virus. After successfully containing the coronavirus for most of the pandemic, Australia has been swamped by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant after authorities eased mitigation measures as high vaccination rates were reached. Australia has reported about 1.1 million cases since the pandemic began, with more than half of those in the last two weeks, including nearly 86,000 cases on Tuesday, with two states due to report later.
Omicron surge sweeps through US hospital staff
As COVID-19 cases in the United States soar in the wake of the holidays, led by the highly transmissible Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant, nearly a quarter of hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages due to workers being sick or off work for quarantine. Meanwhile, federal and states are expanding vaccination activities and policies to protect more people.
Health officials let COVID-infected staff stay on the job
Health authorities around the U.S. are increasingly taking the extraordinary step of allowing nurses and other workers infected with the coronavirus to stay on the job if they have mild symptoms or none at all. The move is a reaction to the severe hospital staffing shortages and crushing caseloads that the omicron variant is causing. California health authorities announced over the weekend that hospital staff members who test positive but are symptom-free can continue working. Some hospitals in Rhode Island and Arizona have likewise told employees they can stay on the job if they have no symptoms or just mild ones. The highly contagious omicron variant has sent new cases of COVID-19 exploding to over 700,000 a day in the U.S. on average, obliterating the record set a year ago. The number of Americans in the hospital with the virus is running at about 110,000, just short of the peak of 124,000 last January.
From ambulance delays to transit disruptions, COVID-19 absences hit Canada's public services
From delayed ambulances to police shortages, Canadian public agencies hit hard by COVID-19 worker absences have cut back on service, rearranged staff or warned the public that emergency responses may be disrupted. Over the weekend, paramedics in Toronto, Canada's largest city, said there were briefly no ambulances available to respond to emergencies. The city said about 12.8% of its "essential and critical services" staff were off due to COVID-19 as of Monday.
Healthcare Innovations
Moderna vaccines the best — and Sinovac least effective — at stopping covid deaths, Singapore data suggests
In a real-world indicator of how coronavirus vaccines are performing, Singapore has released new figures suggesting shots produced by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech are much more effective at preventing deaths than the Chinese-developed Sinopharm and Sinovac doses. Eight hundred and two people died of covid-19 in the city state in 2021, of which 555 were not fully vaccinated, while 247 received one of several locally available vaccines, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told lawmakers on Monday. In terms of deaths per 100,000 people, there were 11 for those immunized with Sinovac and 7.8 for the Sinopharm vaccine, the state-affiliated Straits Times newspaper reported. The rate dropped for people who received messenger RNA — or mRNA — vaccines, with 6.2 deaths for Pfizer-BioNTech and one fatality for Moderna.
COVID-19 vaccine and periods: Study finds small, temporary change
Some may be hesitant to get vaccinated due to claims of a possible link between COVID-19 vaccines and abnormal menstrual cycles. So far, clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines have not collected menstrual cycle data post-vaccine. By May 2021, however, a small number of people had reported menstrual-cycle-related issues. The authors of a new study write that “[t]he International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics classifies a variation in cycle length as normal if less than 8 days.” Also, stress can cause cycle lengths to varyTrusted Source or lead to a person skipping a cycle.
South African studies suggest Omicron has higher 'asymptomatic carriage'
Preliminary findings from two South African clinical trials suggest the Omicron coronavirus variant has a much higher rate of "asymptomatic carriage" than earlier variants, which could explain why it has spread so rapidly across the globe. The studies - one of which was carried out when Omicron infections were surging in South Africa last month and another which resampled participants around the same time - found a far greater number of people tested positive for the coronavirus but were not showing symptoms compared to previous trials. In the Ubuntu study evaluating the efficacy of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine in people living with HIV, 31% of 230 participants undergoing screening tested positive, with all 56 samples available for sequencing analysis verified to be Omicron.
PharmaMar shares soar after drug study suggests efficacy against Omicron
Shares in PharmaMar jumped almost 20% on Tuesday after the Spanish drugmaker said lab trials suggested its Plitidepsin drug was effective against the main COVID-19 variants, including the highly contagious Omicron. Results from in-vitro tests published in the Life Science Alliance journal showed that Plitidepsin, also known as Aplidin, had a potent antiviral effect in all variants and decreased the viral load detected in animal lung tissue by 99%, the company said. The same paper also included previously published positive effects in Phase I and II clinical trials carried out on patients who were hospitalised with COVID-19.
Pfizer COVID vaccine 91% effective against inflammatory syndrome
Among 12- to 18-year-old hospitalized COVID-19 patients, two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 91% effective in preventing the rare but serious coronavirus-related multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C), according to a US study published late last week in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. In the first real-world evaluation of the Pfizer vaccine's effectiveness against MIS-C, a team led by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researchers compared the odds of COVID-19 vaccination in 102 adolescent MIS-C patients and 181 controls at 24 sites. Controls included 90 COVID-19–negative patients and 91 MIS-C–negative patients from Jul 1 to Dec 9, 2021, after the emergence of the more virulent Delta (B1617.2) variant but before the even more highly transmissible Omicron (B.1.1.529) strain. Median participant age was 14.5 years, and 58% had one or more underlying medical conditions. About 36% of controls and 5% of COVID-19 patients were fully vaccinated at least 28 days before hospitalization.