"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 19th Jan 2022

Isolation Tips
Denmark eases coronavirus restrictions, as cases hit new record
Denmark registered a record number of coronavirus infections on Monday, as cinemas, museums and other cultural institutions reopened after a month-long COVID-19 lockdown. The Nordic country registered 28,780 new cases in the space of 24 hours and the number of coronavirus-related hospitalisations rose to 802, the highest in a year. Still, health authorities said earlier this month that the now-predominant Omicron variant was milder than initially thought and that around 29% of those in hospital were there due to reasons other than COVID-19
Thailand to lower COVID-19 alert, ease curbs as infections slow
Thailand will lower its COVID-19 alert level and is considering easing more restrictions to boost its economy, its health minister said on Tuesday, in response to a slower infection rate. Among measures being considered are establishing more "sandbox" areas for tourists, who can skip quarantine if they stay in specified areas for seven days and undergo two COVID-19 tests. Nightclubs, pubs and bars will remained closed for now, however, Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters, adding the COVID-19 alert level will be lowered to 3, from 4, on the government's 5-level system
Japan PM plans stronger COVID curbs for Tokyo, 12 other regions
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Tuesday he planned to impose a state of quasi-emergency, meaning stronger COVID-19 curbs on dining and gatherings, on 13 regions including Tokyo from Jan. 21 to Feb. 13. He said the government had halted a programme where those vaccinated or with negative test results would be exempted from coronavirus restrictions as virus cases jumped.
Hygiene Helpers
Britain preparing for end-June switch to paid COVID tests - document
British health officials are aiming to be ready to start charging Britons for COVID-19 tests that are currently free at the end of June, a document seen by Reuters shows, in what could be a risky gambit for the government. Britain has been increasingly dependent on rapid testing to try to tackle the more-transmissible Omicron variant, which has spread rapidly through the population but is less severe. The government has previously said it will end the universal free provision of easy-to-use lateral flow devices (LFDs) at a "later stage", with individuals and businesses bearing the cost.
U.S. website to order free COVID-19 tests up and running
The U.S. government's new COVIDTests.gov website, set up for American households to order four free COVID-19 tests amid the Omicron variant surge, is up and running ahead of its official launch on Wednesday, the White House said. U.S. households can secure four tests at no cost when ordering from the website, with shipping expected within seven to 12 days of ordering, the White House said on Friday. President Joe Biden has pledged to procure 1 billion free tests for Americans, and more may be ordered in the future.
2,000 hamsters to be culled in Hong Kong over fears of animal-to-human Covid-19 link
Hong Kong authorities have asked pet shops and owners to hand over about 2,000 hamsters for a mass cull and temporarily suspended imports of small animals after finding evidence of the first possible animal-to-human transmission of Covid-19 in the city. Officials on Tuesday also ordered all 34 licensed pet stores that sell hamsters to suspend operations and about 150 customers who had visited the Little Boss shop in Causeway Bay since January 7 to enter quarantine. Pet owners whose hamsters test positive must also be isolated as well. While animal welfare groups expressed shock at the “drastic action”, authorities and health experts stressed the risks to public health made the cull necessary. Two people tied to the Little Boss shop have been confirmed as infected and another is listed as a suspected case, while 11 hamsters from the store were categorised as preliminary-positive.
Abu Dhabi requires booster shots to enter the emirate
Facing a nationwide surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant, Abu Dhabi is requiring people entering the city to show proof of booster shots. The government’s health app said earlier this week that people entering the capital of the United Arab Emirates must show a “green pass,” confirming their vaccination status. The app says that visitors are no longer considered fully vaccinated unless they have received a booster at least six months after their second dose. Those wishing to enter Abu Dhabi also must have have tested negative for the virus within the last two weeks to maintain their “green” status.
Community Activities
Merck signs supply deal with UNICEF for 3 mln courses of COVID-19 pill
Merck & Co Inc and partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics said on Tuesday they had signed an agreement with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) to supply up to 3 million courses of their COVID-19 antiviral pill. Merck would supply the pill, molnupiravir, to UNICEF through the first half of 2022 for distribution in more than 100 low- and middle-income countries upon regulatory authorizations, the companies said. The pill received authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December and has also been authorized in several other countries including India, Mexico and the UK. Many countries have signed supply deals with Merck for the drug.
Analysis: With Omicron, global economy spots chance to push past COVID
Governments worldwide are easing quarantine rules, reviewing coronavirus curbs and dialling back pandemic-era emergency support as they bid to launch their economies back into some version of normality. The moves, motivated by the lower severity of the Omicron variant and the need to keep workers in work and the global recovery on track, have generated a whiff of optimism that has lifted oil and stock prices. Health experts say the variant's rapid spread may yet herald a turning point in the pandemic.
Your Child's Fussy Eating May Stem From Covid-19
Covid infection could be turning more and more children into fussy eaters, experts have suggested. This may be because they are suffering from parosmia - a disorder where people experience strange and often unpleasant smell distortions. For example, chocolate may smell like petrol, or someone may smell rotting cabbage instead of lemon. Smell experts at the University of East Anglia and Fifth Sense, the charity for people affected by smell and taste disorders, say children in particular may be finding it hard to eat foods they once loved. Fifth Sense and Carl Philpott, from UEA's Norwich Medical School, are launching guidance to help parents and healthcare professionals better recognise the disorder.
Morrisons confirms sick pay cut for unvaccinated staff
Supermarket Morrisons has confirmed it has cut sick pay for unvaccinated workers who are forced to isolate after being exposed to Covid. It follows similar moves from big retailers including Ikea, Next and Ocado as staff absences rise. Unjabbed Morrisons workers who are told to isolate but test negative now get statutory sick pay of £96.35 a week. Covid-positive staff get full sick pay regardless of vaccination status. The firm pays staff at least £10 per hour.
Uncorking today’s Covid-19 supply chain to meet the challenges of future pandemics
At what point do the benefits of local production of medical supplies outweigh the potentially higher cost? The sudden and near-overwhelming demand for Covid-19 testing during the Omicron phase of the pandemic means that the U.S. is now at a critical point where we need better — and quicker — access to testing supplies via a domestic supply chain. Over the last three decades, the world’s economy has become increasingly globalized, resulting in lower inflation-adjusted prices for goods and products and improved standards of living around the world. The Covid-19 pandemic has provided an opportunity to once again debate the United States’ reliance on inexpensive overseas manufacturing, and reconsider the value of high-quality domestic production.
Working Remotely
Almost 90% of employees would like to stay working remotely after Covid restrictions end
More than two-thirds (69%) of people, who are unable to work due to longstanding health problems, would consider taking up employment if it could be done remotely. This is according to the Central Statistics Office (CSO), which published findings from their pulse survey on remote working – ‘Our Lives Online’. This report looked at how our work has moved away from regular workplaces to homes, and other environments, since the pandemic began
Eager for New Residents, Venice Lures Remote Workers
Launched in December 2021 by the Università Ca’ Foscari and the Fondazione di Venezia, a nonprofit group that protects Venice’s cultural heritage, Venywhere aim is to convince people who can do their jobs from anywhere to do so in Venice — and its founders believe that the lagoon city, studded with crumbling palazzi and half-used spaces, is the perfect laboratory to experiment with new ways of working. Inspired by the Tulsa Remote work program in the U.S. and a slew of similar efforts from around the world, leaders in the Italian city are eager to bring in young professionals who want to live and work there, not just vacation.
Is the ‘Zoom ceiling’ the new glass ceiling? Experts worry remote work will hold women back
There is a bias favoring those who are in the office compared to those who are not, which can keep remote workers from getting promotions and leadership positions, says Elora Voyles, people scientist at human resources software company Tinypulse. She has coined it the “Zoom ceiling” and believes it has become the new glass ceiling. It mostly affects women, people of color and those with disabilities, since they are more likely to opt for remote work, Voyles said.
4 signs a company is actually invested in remote work long-term
Office workers around the country are still working remotely or in a hybrid setup as the pandemic enters its third year. In that time, companies from Twitter to PwC to Robinhood have said they’ll let people continue working from home even after the risks of Covid-19 subside. But allowing people to work from home isn’t the same thing as making the remote-work experience a good one, says Brie Reynolds, career services manager at FlexJobs. Plus, even if workers really want the flexibility to work remotely, a bad setup where people don’t feel supported could lead them to default back to offices in a post-pandemic world.
Work From Home Is Becoming a Permanent Part of How Jobs Are Done
In the second-to-last week of December, 42.4% of U.S. workdays were worked from home. That’s according to a monthly survey commissioned by a trio of economists studying remote work, who couldn’t get the answers they needed from government data. It’s probably the best measure we have of how entrenched working from home has become since the arrival of Covid-19. Before the pandemic, WFH accounted for about 5% of U.S. paid full workdays, Jose Maria Barrero of the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México, Nicholas Bloom of Stanford, and Steven Davis of the University of Chicago estimated on the basis of a government survey conducted in 2017 and 2018. That share catapulted past 60% in spring 2020, according to their Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes, and has held remarkably steady at a bit above 40% since May 2021, not long after vaccines became available to all working-age Americans.
Airbnb CEO Joins Work-From-Anywhere Party With Plan to ‘Live on Airbnb’
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky is walking the talk of his “golden age of travel,” saying that he’ll be “living on Airbnb” and staying in different locations for the next few months. Chesky, who announced his plans in a Twitter thread Tuesday, has been vocal about the pandemic changing the nature of travel as employees gain more flexibility to work from anywhere. Long-term stays, or those that are more than one month, were the company’s fastest-growing category during the third quarter and accounted for 20% of the nights booked.
Virtual Classrooms
Is Virtual Reality a Good Fit for Your Blended Learning Curriculum?
Blended learning models are shaping the future of education, but how can technology best serve teachers and students in achieving their goals? Ruth Hill, Head of Learning Design at Bodyswaps, looks at four common challenges that ed-tech could help educational institutions to address in 2022 and asks – is virtual reality the right tool for the job?
COVID-19: Two Saskatoon public schools moving to remote learning
The Saskatoon Public Schools (SPS) has made the decision to temporarily move Centennial Collegiate and John Dolan School to remote learning. This comes after consultation with the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA). The SPS announced that starting on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2022, all classes at Centennial Collegiate will move to online learning and all extracurricular activities will be paused until in-person learning resumes
Public Policies
COVID-19: All Omicron restrictions in Scotland to be lifted next Monday
Nightclubs will reopen and limits on hospitality come to an end as all of Scotland's Omicron coronavirus restrictions are lifted next Monday. The changes - first introduced to slow the spread of the Omicron variant - will take place from 24 January, as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the country is on a "downward slope" of infections. The requirement for table service in hospitality will come to an end and attendance limits on indoor events will also be lifted, as well as restrictions preventing adults from taking part in indoor contact
Sweden scraps demand for negative COVID test to enter country
Travelers to Sweden will no longer be required to show a negative COVID test before entering the country, the government said on Tuesday. Sweden introduced rules for a recent negative COVID test on Dec. 28 last year in a bid to slow the spread of the more contagious Omicron variant. Since then, Sweden has repeatedly set new daily case records with Omicron now the totally dominant variant. "Travelers are no longer considered to pose a particular risk of affecting the spread of Omicron in Sweden," the government said
U.S. would seek global approach to updating Covid-19 vaccines, official says
If the Food and Drug Administration decides to update Covid-19 vaccines to take better aim at Omicron or other variants, it is unlikely to go it alone. Instead, a senior FDA official told STAT, the agency expects to take part in an internationally coordinated program aimed at deciding if, when, and how to update Covid-19 vaccines. The approach would ensure decisions are not left solely to individual vaccine manufacturers. “We can’t have our manufacturers going willy-nilly [saying], ‘Oh well, the EMA decided they wanted this composition, but FDA wanted that composition,’” the official said, referring to the European Medicines Agency. “So we are very much of the mind that we would like to be part of a more global process in helping to come to what vaccine composition there should be now.”
Maintaining Services
COVID-19 concerns force U.N. to prepare tsunami-hit Tonga relief aid at a distance
The United Nations is preparing for distanced relief operations in Tonga to avoid a COVID-19 outbreak in the Pacific island nation that is reeling under the impact of a volcanic eruption and tsunami, an official said on Wednesday. All the homes on one of Tonga's small outer islands have been destroyed and three people have so far been confirmed dead, the government said in its first statement after Saturday's devastating eruption. With communications badly hampered by the severing of an undersea cable, information on the scale of the devastation so far has mostly come from reconnaissance aircraft.
French Covid Infections Hit Record as Patients Fill Up Hospitals
France registered a record number of daily Covid-19 infections as the omicron variant spreads across the country, sending a growing number of patients to hospitals. New cases totaled 464,769 Tuesday, according to data from the public health office. That far surpassed the previous high of 368,149 recorded a week ago. The surge comes as France is poised to require a complete vaccination regimen for many public activities -- from eating in restaurants to attending the theater or getting on an airplane -- saying a recent negative test isn’t good enough anymore
Covid-19 Infected Lions Prompt Variant Warning in South Africa
Lions and pumas at a zoo in the South African capital of Pretoria got severe Covid-19 from asymptomatic zoo handlers, raising concerns that new variants could emerge from animal reservoirs of the disease,
South American health networks struggling as Omicron cases rise
The rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant has prompted dire warnings from healthcare workers across South America, as pressure builds at hospitals whose employees are taking sick leave, leaving facilities understaffed to cope with COVID-19. A major hospital in Bolivia’s largest city stopped admitting new patients due to a lack of personnel. One of Brazil’s most populous states cancelled scheduled surgeries for a month. And Argentina’s federation of private healthcare providers told the Associated Press news agency that it estimates about 15 percent of its health workers currently have the virus.
Rising Omicron Infections May Force Idaho to Return to Hospital Rationing
Rising Covid-19 omicron infections could force Idaho to start rationing hospital care again as health care workers fall ill, the state’s top health official warned Tuesday. If the trend continues, “it is likely Idaho will enter crisis of standards of care for a second time,” Dave Jeppesen, director of the state Department of Health and Welfare, said during an online briefing. The state ended rationing Dec. 20. One in four people tested for Covid-19 in Idaho are receiving positive results, the highest statewide positivity rate of the pandemic, Jeppesen said.
Healthcare Innovations
Pfizer’s New Covid-19 Pill Works Against Omicron in Lab
Pfizer Inc.’s new Covid-19 pill, Paxlovid, was effective against the Omicron variant in laboratory tests, an encouraging early sign the drug will be an important tool while the strain spreads. Pfizer said Tuesday the drug’s main component, nirmatrelvir, worked in three separate laboratory studies. Patients take two tablets of nirmatrelvir with one tablet of another antiviral called ritonavir twice a day for five days. The company issued the results by news release. The research hasn’t been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
Placebo effect accounts for more than two-thirds of COVID-19 vaccine adverse events, researchers find
The placebo effect is the well-known phenomenon of a person's physical or mental health improving after taking a treatment with no pharmacological therapeutic benefit—a sugar pill, or a syringe full of saline, for example. While the exact biological, psychological and genetic underpinnings of the placebo effect are not well understood, some theories point to expectations as the primary cause and others argue that non-conscious factors embedded in the patient-physician relationship automatically turn down the volume of symptoms
EU regulator finds mRNA COVID-19 shots safe during pregnancy
COVID-19 vaccines made using mRNA technology do not cause pregnancy complications for expectant mothers and their babies, the European Union's drug regulator said on Tuesday, following a detailed review of several studies. The review based on studies involving around 65,000 pregnancies at different stages did not find any sign of higher risk of complications, miscarriages, preterm births or severe side-effects on the unborn babies from mRNA shots, the European Medicines Agency said.