"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 18th Jan 2022

Isolation Tips
Chile Toughens Mobility Limits in Santiago on Covid-19 Surge
Chile’s Health Ministry toughened mobility restrictions in Santiago’s Metropolitan Region and 45 other municipalities nationwide, as the government copes with a surge in Covid-19 cases due to the Omicron variant. Fewer people will be allowed at events in homes and public spaces, and restaurants will cut seating capacity, the Health Ministry informed on Monday. Healthcare workers will also start receiving a second booster shot this week.
Hygiene Helpers
CDC Director Aims to Improve Covid-19 Messaging, Data Collection
One year into her tenure as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky acknowledged that she hasn’t been clear enough with the American public. She says the pandemic threw curveballs that she should have anticipated. She thinks she should have made it clearer to the public that new rules and guidelines were subject to change if the nature of the fight against Covid-19 shifted again. “I think what I have not conveyed is the uncertainty in a lot of these situations,” Dr. Walensky said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. The CDC director has come under fire from public-health experts for the way she has communicated pandemic guidelines from mask wearing to isolation requirements. Some Biden administration officials said the CDC’s explanations of new and amended guidelines can sometimes be hard to grasp.
Return of the flu: EU faces threat of prolonged 'twindemic'
Influenza has returned to Europe at a faster-than-expected rate this winter after almost disappearing last year, raising concerns about a prolonged "twindemic" with COVID-19 amid some doubts about the effectiveness of flu vaccines. Lockdowns, mask-wearing and social distancing that have become the norm in Europe during the COVID-19 pandemic knocked out flu last winter, temporarily eradicating a virus that globally kills about 650,000 a year, according to EU figures.
Apple makes Covid-19 booster shots mandatory for all employees
Amid the surge in Omicron cases in the US, Apple is making booster vaccines mandatory for all its employees. Apple employees must submit proof of Covid-19 boosters or be required to take tests to enter stores and offices from February 15. ‘Due to waning efficacy of the primary series of Covid-19 vaccines and the emergence of highly transmissible variants such as Omicron, a booster shot is now part of staying up to date with your Covid-19 vaccination to protect against severe disease,’ according to an internal memo
Which Mask Is Best for Covid N95, KN95 or Cloth? Understanding 2022 Guidance
Advice from U.S. authorities on the need for face masks has flipped back and forth since Covid-19 took hold in 2020. In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said immunized Americans could ditch their masks in most settings. It reversed course in July amid a rise in cases caused by the more transmissible delta variant. Now, with the quickly spreading omicron variant causing a surge in infections, the agency is urging wider use of medical-grade masks in the general public. It revised earlier guidelines that had discouraged the use of gold-standard N95 masks in order to reserve them for medical workers.
Masks reintroduced as WA records five new local COVID-19 cases amid Omicron spread in Perth
Western Australia has reintroduced a mask mandate for all indoor public areas in Perth and Peel after Premier Mark McGowan revealed three new local COVID-19 cases had been recorded in addition to two earlier-announced cases, bringing the total number to five. Masks will be required from 6:00pm Sunday in all indoor public places in Perth and the Peel region, but will not be required to be worn in homes. Anyone who has been in Perth or the Peel region from January 6 will be required to wear a mask indoors if they have travelled to another region.
Community Activities
Beijing Olympics tickets will not be publicly sold due to COVID-19
Olympics set to begin on Feb. 4 will be distributed to "targeted" groups of people and will not be sold to the general public, the organising committee said on Monday, in the latest setback to the Games inflicted by COVID-19.
The poor die from COVID while the rich get richer, Oxfam warns
The wealth of the 10 richest men has doubled during the coronavirus pandemic, stoking inequality that contributes to the deaths of at least 21,300 people each day, according to a report released on Monday by Oxfam International. “We enter 2022 with unprecedented concern,” Oxfam’s Inequality Kills report warns, arguing that the current global state of extreme inequality is a form of “economic violence” against the world’s poorest people and nations. In this deeply unequal world, structural and systemic policy and political choices are skewed in favour of the richest and most powerful, resulting in harm to the majority of ordinary people around the world, said the report, which highlighted the COVID-19 vaccine divide as a prime example. “Millions of people would still be alive today if they had had a vaccine — but they are dead, denied a chance while big pharmaceutical corporations continue to hold monopoly control of these technologies,” said Oxfam. The report calculates that 252 men have more wealth than all one billion women and girls in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean combined. And 10 of the world’s richest men own more than the least affluent 3.1 billion people.
Don’t demonise those who refuse the Covid vaccine
I read David Green’s letter on anti-vaxxers (12 January) and empathised with the letter written in response (13 January). The week before Christmas my dad died of Covid. The intensive care consultant couldn’t have been clearer that, in her opinion, if he had been vaccinated he would not have developed Covid pneumonia to the severity that he did. He died very frightened and asking his family to come and be with him, and we couldn’t. The experience traumatised my sister so badly that she was hospitalised with psychosis three days after his passing. The reason he wasn’t vaccinated is because his mind was poisoned with conspiracy theories and misinformation exacerbated by two years of lockdown and reduced social contact. While I am angry that he would not get vaccinated, I don’t think any good would ever come from criminalising his choice. Is it not anti-vaxxers who should be demonised and prosecuted. It is the people, organisations and companies who perpetuate lies and make money from the fear felt by vulnerable people.
Omicron Variant Encourages Some to Move Past Covid-19 Precautions, Despite Risks
Omicron’s ubiquity and reduced severity are encouraging some people to drop pandemic precautions, decisions that public-health experts say present new risks for people at risk of severe Covid-19 outcomes. People, including those who got vaccinated and boosted and curtailed their activities for months, are letting their guard down in the face of a variant that appears to be infecting everyone but causing largely mild illness.
Anti-vaccine far-right rally attracts hundreds in Hungary
Over a thousand people marched in Budapest protesting against COVID-19 inoculation at a rally organised by the far-right Our Homeland Movement, which has been campaigning on a fierce anti-vaccine and anti-immigration message ahead of April 3 elections. "Vaccines should not be mandatory! We don't tolerate blackmail," said the slogan of the rally where people held up banners saying: "I am unvaccinated, not a criminal" and "Enough of COVID dictatorship."
Chinese cities on high COVID-19 alert as peak Lunar New Year travel season starts
Several Chinese cities went on high COVID-19 alert as the Lunar New Year holiday travel season started on Monday, requiring travellers to report their trips days before their arrival, as the Omicron variant reached more areas including Beijing. Authorities have warned the highly contagious Omicron adds to the increased risk of COVID-19 transmission as hundreds of millions of people travel around China for the Lunar New Year on Feb. 1.
Protest in Netherlands against coronavirus measures
Thousands of protesters packed Amsterdam's streets on Sunday in opposition to the government-imposed COVID-19 measures and vaccination campaign as virus infections hit a new record. Authorities were granted stop and search powers at several locations across the city and scores of riot police vans patrolled neighbourhoods where the demonstrators marched with banners and yellow umbrellas. Regular anti-coronavirus protests are held across the country and Sunday's large gathering was joined by farmers who drove to the capital and parked tractors along the central Museum Square.
Malta sees biggest protest yet against COVID measures
Malta saw its biggest protest yet against COVID rules on Sunday, with hundreds of people marching in the capital Valletta against new measures requiring production of a COVID certificate for entry to most venues including restaurants, gyms and bars. Malta has seen one of the biggest take-ups of COVID vaccination jabs in the European Union, and almost three-quarters of adults would have taken the additional booster jab by Sunday, according to Health Ministry data.
Working Remotely
Corporate America comes around on remote work
The case for the functionality of remote work has largely been settled: The wheels of productivity continued to hum on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley and other corporate strongholds even as their sprawling offices lay vacant. Employees stayed home and learned how to live at work. And throughout 2021, profits rolled in. Corporate leaders attempting to coax employees back to the office have largely accepted the inevitability of the hybrid work model - a strategy buttressed by the reality of raging coronavirus rates, a tight labor market and the nation's more than 10 million job openings. Now they are learning to leverage its benefits, according to Adam Galinsky, a professor of leadership and ethics at Columbia Business School in New York. That includes more flexibility and less time commuting for employees, and lower real estate and operating costs for companies.
Remote working gives S'pore edge in attracting talent, but could worsen inequality: Panel
In a world where working remotely has become more commonplace, making it easier for people to relocate, cities like Singapore, which offer not just a good business environment but also quality of life, will have a competitive edge in attracting global talent. But while the mobility of the global workforce allows Singapore to compete for talent in a way that was not possible before, this could also worsen inequality, said panellists at the Singapore Perspectives conference. That is why the pursuit of economic achievement must happen in tandem with improvements in other social dimensions, they added.
Remote working brings biggest Gaeltacht jobs boost for 25 years
In Ireland, a desire to relocate during the pandemic may be behind the best performance by companies based in the Gaeltacht for 25 years. Údarás Na Gaeltachta, the regional authority for the region, announced the creation of 825 new full-time jobs in Gaeltacht companies in 2021, the highest number of jobs created in one year since 2008. Údarás chairperson Anna Ní Ghallachair said that during the pandemic there had been a boost as people, particularly young people relocated away from cities to work remotely.
Virtual Classrooms
9 social-emotional learning strategies to use in the new year
Following the 2020-2021 school year, educators can look back with pride–and exhaustion–on all we have learned. We have learned to teach in brand new modalities like remote and hybrid learning, foster more student independence, and adapt instruction to a huge variety of learning needs. But one of the most important lessons to come from this pandemic year is a greater focus on the importance of social-emotional learning. Throughout this school year, educators, coaches, and school leaders have engaged in virtual professional development and one-on-one coaching sessions to hone their social-emotional learning skills and knowledge to meet the needs of all learners.
NYC Education Department Quietly Opens Door For Teachers To Allow More Remote Learning
The New York City Department of Education has updated its attendance policy to give educators discretion on allowing students to learn remotely during the current COVID surge, and to count those students as present for attendance purposes — a possible sign of movement towards a remote option for all students. The policy update appeared online Friday afternoon without any formal announcement, a day after Mayor Eric Adams acknowledged the school system is considering a remote option.
Pivoting to Remote Learning: Why It Is Harder in Some States Than Others
When it comes to the question of who gets to call the shots on a switch back to remote instruction, states have wildly different answers, an Education Week analysis found. Education Week contacted every state education office to determine how states are handling district decisions about transitioning to remote learning. Forty-six states responded. In at least five states, virtual learning days are highly restricted, due to state regulations. Districts have limited flexibility to transition to full-time remote instruction in at least 10 other states. More than half of states let districts decide on their own.
Public Policies
COVID-19: Self-isolation period in England cut to five days as 16 and 17-year-olds invited for booster jabs
The time people must spend in isolation for contracting COVID has been reduced to five days in England, as 16 and 17-year-olds have been invited to receive their COVID-19 vaccine booster. People in England can now leave quarantine after five full days providing they test negative on days five and six. Ministers reduced the isolation period from seven days to five to help address staff shortages by allowing people to return to work sooner.
Covid-19: Focus should be on new vaccines rather than boosters, says WHO
Giving repeated booster doses of existing covid-19 vaccines in developed countries is not a sustainable global strategy for tackling the pandemic, the World Health Organization has said. Instead, WHO argues that the focus should shift towards producing new vaccines that work better against transmission of emerging variants. In a statement1 published on 11 January, the WHO Technical Advisory Group on Covid-19 Vaccine Composition said, “A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable.” The expert group, which is assessing the performance of covid-19 vaccines, said that to deal with emerging variants such as omicron, new vaccines needed to be developed that not only protect people against serious illness but against infection. “Covid-19 vaccines that have high impact on prevention of infection and transmission, in addition to the prevention of severe disease and death, are needed and should be developed,” the group said.
French parliament approves vaccine pass
France's parliament gave final approval on Sunday to the government's latest measures to tackle the COVID-19 virus, including a vaccine pass contested by anti-vaccine protestors. Lawmakers in the lower house of parliament voted 215 in favour to 58 against, paving the way for the law to enter force in the coming days. The new law, which had a rough ride through parliament with opposition parties finding some of its provisions too tough, will require people to have a certificate of vaccination to enter public places like restaurants, cafes, cinemas and long-distance trains.
COVID program delivers 1 billion doses to poorer countries
The World Health Organization said that a U.N.-backed program shipping coronavirus vaccines to many poor countries has now delivered 1 billion doses, but that milestone “is only a reminder of the work that remains” after hoarding and stockpiling in rich countries. A shipment of 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to Rwanda on Saturday included the billionth dose supplied via the COVAX program, the U.N. health agency said. WHO has long criticized unequal distribution of vaccines and called for manufacturers and other countries to prioritize COVAX. It said that, as of Thursday, 36 of its 194 member countries had vaccinated less than 10% of their population and 88 had vaccinated less than 40%.
WHO recommends two new drugs to treat COVID-19
WHO has recommended two new drugs for COVID-19, providing yet more options for treating the disease. The extent to which these medicines will save lives depends on how widely available and affordable they will be. The first drug, baricitinib, is strongly recommended for patients with severe or critical COVID-19. It is part of a class of drugs called Janus kinase (JAK) inhibitors that suppress the overstimulation of the immune system. WHO recommends that it is given with corticosteroids. Baricitinib is an oral drug, used in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. It provides an alternative to other arthritis drugs called Interleukin-6 receptor blockers, recommended by WHO in July 2021.
Maintaining Services
Omicron Fuels Fresh Surge, Threatening India’s Hospitals Anew
With less than half of India’s population fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and Omicron-variant infections rising rapidly, public-health experts warn that the healthcare system is again vulnerable—months after being overwhelmed by a surge of cases. India reported 141,986 new cases on Saturday, more than six times the number a week earlier. That official Covid-19 case count, like the government’s death tally—which stands at about 480,000—is a vast undercounting, many health experts say. The reproduction rate of the virus—the number of new infections caused by a single contagious person—recently hit 2.69, exceeding last year’s peak of 1.69, a government adviser said Wednesday. The official case count is expected surpass its daily record of 414,000, set in May, before the surge peaks in February.
French COVID hospitalisations see biggest jump since Nov 2020
The number of people with COVID-19 in French hospitals rose by 888 to 25,775, the health ministry said on Monday, the biggest one-day increase since early November 2020 - before the start of the country's vaccination campaign. The last time the number of COVID patients was over 25,000 was on Dec. 17, 2020. Health ministry data on Monday also showed that the number of people with COVID-19 in intensive care units rose by 61 to 3,913, after being flat to stable for four days.
Analysis: China's 'zero-COVID' campaign under strain as Omicron surges
China is doubling down on its "zero-COVID" strategy, saying the spread of the potentially milder Omicron variant is no reason to lower its guard amid warnings of economic disruptions and even public unrest as lockdowns drag into a third year. As other countries talk about a transition from "pandemic" to "endemic", China has stepped up policies to stamp out any new outbreak as soon as it arises, sealing off cities, shutting transport links and launching mass testing programmes.
US Covid-19 hospitalizations expected to substantially increase from an already record-high over the coming weeks, expert says
Areas that were among the first to get hit hard by the Omicron variant are starting to see their Covid-19 numbers level off or even improve. But that's not the case for much of the country, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said. "There are parts of the country -- New York, in particular, and other parts of the Northeast -- where we are starting to see a plateau, and in some cases, an early decline in cases," Murthy told CNN on Sunday.
Covid-19 news: Falling cases in UK suggests omicron wave has peaked
A fall in coronavirus cases and plateau in hospital admissions across the UK is ‘cautiously good news’ A fall in new coronavirus cases in the UK suggests the wave triggered by the highly-transmissible omicron variant may have passed its peak. On Sunday, 70,924 people in the UK tested positive for coronavirus, according to UK government data. Within the past seven days, 754,054 new cases have been reported – a decrease of 463,043 on the previous seven days. “It does look like across the whole of the country cases do seem to be falling,” Mike Tildesley of the University of Warwick told BBC Breakfast today. “We have had… very, very high case numbers throughout late December and early January – we peaked above 200,000 at one point. We do now seem to be a little bit beyond that,” he said.
1st kids’ Omicron ward opens with classes, clowns, and doctors bracing for ‘war’
Preparing themselves for an influx of kids battling COVID-19, Israeli doctors have opened the country’s first pediatric Omicron unit. With Omicron spreading fast in schools and other places where kids mix, significant hospitalizations are inevitable, according to Dr. Moshe Ashkenazi, director of the new ward at Sheba Medical Center. “Omicron appears to be less virulent than other variants, but the sheer numbers being infected will mean children being hospitalized,” Ashkenazi told The Times of Israel, adding that the current spiraling numbers bring back vivid memories of the first wave in early 2020. “We have a sense of deja vu from the first wave, and we’re preparing ourselves for a war, just as we did in the first wave,” he said.
Hospital admissions climb as virus spreads - Cayman Islands
Public Health officials said that there are now nine patients in hospital as a result of COVID-19 after three more people were admitted over the last day, reflecting the anticipated knock-on effect from the continued uncontrolled spread of the virus through the community. Another 357 positive tests emerged during the latest results, and officials said that over 5% of the population is now infected with SARS-CoV-2. Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr Autilia Newton reported that eleven of the latest positive cases were among travellers and of the 346 community cases, 19 were in the Sister Islands. Rumours circulated on social media Wednesday of an islandwide lockdown for Cayman Brac because of the recent spike in cases, but officials said these were false.
Fighting Covid-19 in Kibera, one of Africa’s largest informal settlements
Nearly 10 months after a grandmother in England became the first person in the world to get vaccinated against Covid-19 outside of a clinical trial, we were finally able to start vaccinating residents of Kibera, one of Africa’s largest informal settlements. That first jab was a long time coming. In March 2021, the Kenyan government prioritized vaccination as one of the key measures to contain the spread of Covid-19, reduce community transmission, severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths. The informal employment sector had significantly closed, four out of five residents of Kibera and other informal settlements had lost their income, and a majority of households were facing hunger
Australia regulator flags 'significant concerns' of price hike in COVID-19 antigen tests
Australia's competition regulator on Monday said it had "significant concerns" about reports of price gouging of COVID-19 rapid antigen tests and sought information from suppliers, retailers and pharmacy chains about rising costs. Australia is facing a shortage of at-home rapid antigen test kits after authorities urged asymptomatic close contacts to bypass government-funded testing hubs, where high volumes delayed results, and take their own tests. "In the middle of a significant outbreak of COVID-19 in a pandemic, the excessive pricing of rapid antigen tests required to diagnose the illness and protect other members of the public, is of significant concern," the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Chair Rod Sims said.
COVID deaths and cases are rising again at US nursing homes
COVID-19 infections are soaring again at U.S. nursing homes because of the omicron wave, and deaths are climbing too, leading to new restrictions on family visits and a renewed push to get more residents and staff members vaccinated and boosted. Nursing homes were the lethal epicenter of the pandemic early on, before the vaccine allowed many of them to reopen to visitors last year. But the wildly contagious variant has dealt them a setback. Nursing homes reported a near-record of about 32,000 COVID-19 cases among residents in the week ending Jan. 9, an almost sevenfold increase from a month earlier, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Healthcare Innovations
Fourth Pfizer Dose Is Insufficient to Ward Off Omicron, Israeli Trial Suggests
A fourth dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was insufficient to prevent infection with the omicron variant of Covid-19, according to preliminary data from a trial in Israel released Monday. Two weeks after the start of the trial of 154 medical personnel at the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, researchers found the vaccine successfully raised antibody levels. But that only offered a partial defense against omicron, according to Gili Regev-Yochay, the trial’s lead researcher. Vaccines which were more effective against previous variants offer less protection with omicron, she said. Still, those infected in the trial had only slight symptoms or none at all.
Study evaluates acute and long-term adverse events following immunization with COVID-19 Moderna vaccine
In a recent study posted to the medRxiv* pre-print server, a team of researchers conducted a case-control study at a mass vaccination center in Japan to evaluate acute and long-term adverse events following immunization (AEFI) with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Moderna vaccine. There were 3,014 incidences of AEFI in 2,913 Moderna vaccine recipients, of which 101 recipients showed AEFI twice, first at the time of receiving the first dose and next on receiving the second vaccine dose. Except for anaphylaxis, the incidence rate of AEFI at the first dose was significantly higher than at the time of the second dose. Among the 1,201,688 vaccine recipients, the incidence rate of IHSR was 266, ISRR was 2129, anaphylaxis was two, and vasovagal syncope was 72. Among the 611,238 vaccine recipients without AEFI, 1,208 recipients were selected as matched controls 1 for Cases 1 and 9,940 recipients as control 2 for Cases 2.
Covid-19: Severe complications during pregnancy are more common in unvaccinated women, study finds
Unvaccinated women accounted for 77% of SARS-CoV-2 infections that have occurred during pregnancy in Scotland and 98% of infections that led to a critical care admission, a study has found. Researchers looked at 4950 confirmed infections in pregnant women from 1 December 2020—when routine SARS-CoV-2 testing of maternity admissions began—which were spread relatively evenly throughout pregnancy (1543 in the first trimester, 1850 in the second, and 1557 in the third). They found that “severe complications,” such as critical care admission, stillbirths, and early neonatal deaths, were more common in those who were unvaccinated compared with those who were vaccinated. Commenting on the study, Asma Khalil, professor of obstetrics and maternal fetal medicine at St George’s University of London, said, “The study shows that the overwhelming majority of pregnant women and babies becoming unwell or dying as a result of covid-19 were unvaccinated. The pandemic is far from over and with tens of thousands of covid-19 cases still being reported in the UK every day, it is paramount that pregnant women continue to take up the offer of a vaccine.”