"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 20th Jan 2022

Isolation Tips
Japan widens COVID-19 curbs as Omicron drives record infections
Japan on Wednesday widened COVID-19 curbs to the capital Tokyo and a dozen regions covering half the population as the Omicron variant of coronavirus drove record new infections. Already in effect in three regions, the measures, set to run from Friday until Feb. 13, were made official by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida after getting the sign-off from an expert panel earlier in the day. "We are battling against an unknown virus, and I hope that we can overcome this situation with sufficient preparation and without excessive fear," Kishida said.
Swiss cabinet extends quarantine, work-from-home rules into February
Switzerland will extend until the end of February coronavirus quarantine and mandatory work-from-home rules and tentatively plans to keep until the end of March other curbs on public life it tightened last month, the government said on Wednesday. Those measures included the need for people to prove they have been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 to gain entry to many indoor venues as the cabinet tries to avoid another lockdown while COVID-19 cases spike.
Hygiene Helpers
Report outlines 8 steps for current, future pandemics
A new report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) comments on the "ineffectual and fragmented" US COVID-19 pandemic responses thus far and recommends eight steps to manage the ongoing crisis amid variant fatigue, inflation, and supply chain disruptions. CSIS, a bipartisan, nonprofit policy research organization based in Washington, DC, said it issued the recommendations to secure US global leadership in the next phase of the pandemic response. Among the steps recommended in the "2022 is the year of decision" report are to launch a US international pandemic readiness project and to appoint a presidential global health security envoy.
Greece imposes rolling fines to push COVID-19 vaccinations in older people
Greece has begun imposing recurring fines on those over the age of 60 who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 to try to boost inoculation in the most vulnerable age group even as infection rates from the fast-spreading Omicron variant are slowing. After hitting an all-time high of 50,126 registered coronavirus infections on Jan. 4, mainly driven by the spread of the Omicron variant over the Christmas holidays, cases have been falling in recent days
Airlines Step Up Hygiene to Keep Covid Out of the Air
In that long-ago time before the pandemic, most travelers chose an airline based on a single, straightforward factor: price. And those who didn’t grab the cheapest fare typically steered their business toward a carrier where they had frequent-flyer miles. Cleanliness, by contrast, barely registered. These days, hygiene is the most important factor in choosing a travel company for almost 60% of Americans, according to a survey by aerospace products manufacturer Honeywell International Inc. That tracks with International Air Transport Association data showing that passengers worry about boarding planes, with 42% of them uncomfortable using lavatories and more than a third concerned about breathing recirculated cabin air. “We know that our customers are more conscious than ever about hygiene,” says Anil Jain, engineering chief at Air India Express, which has introduced robots to clean its planes. “We need to be proactive.”
China's Zero Covid, Vaccine Program Leaves It With Omicron Whack-a-Mole
The U.S. recently passed the grim marker of 850,000 deaths from Covid-19. By contrast, China has recorded 4,636 Covid-related deaths since the pandemic began. And yet the policies that were so successful for Beijing over the past two years have now become something of a trap. On the face of it, China has changed its policy to reflect its high rate of vaccination. Beijing recently replaced “Zero Covid,” an approach that kept infections and deaths extremely low while allowing the economy to grow, with what it calls “dynamic clearing.” The new policy accepts that infections will happen and empowers local regions to deal with them.
Starbucks suspends vaccine, test requirement after U.S. court ruling
Starbucks Corp suspended COVID-19 vaccine-or-test requirement for U.S. employees that had been mandated by the government, according to a memo sent to workers on Tuesday, following an adverse U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The coffee giant had said earlier this month it would require its around 220,000 U.S. employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or undergo weekly testing. The U.S. Supreme Court last week struck down Joe Biden administration's vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses, ruling that the policy overstepped executive authority.
U.S. to make 400 million N95 masks available for free to fight COVID-19 pandemic -official
The U.S. government will make 400 million non-surgical N95 masks from its strategic national stockpile available for free to the public starting next week, a White House official said, marking the Biden administration's latest effort to help curb the COVID-19 pandemic. The face masks will be shipped to pharmacies and community health centers this week, the official said, and available for pickup late next week.
Community Activities
Report: German police see surge in fake vaccine certificates
Police in Germany are investigating thousands of cases of suspected forgery of coronavirus vaccine certificates, the dpa news agency reported Wednesday. It cited figures obtained from the country's 16 states showing more than 12,000 police investigations have been opened nationwide. Those who supply or use fake certificates could face severe penalties, from fines and suspended prison sentences to losing their jobs. Prosecutors have opened a manslaughter investigation in one case after a woman used a fake vaccine certificate to continue working at a nursing home, despite having family members ill with COVID-19 at home.
Canadian truckers block highway at US border to protest Covid vaccine mandates
Dozens of Canadian truck drivers have blocked the highway near the US-Manitoba international border to protest against Covid-19 vaccine mandates. Videos shared on social media showed truck drivers carrying Canadian flags and holding a demonstration on the Manitoba Highway 75, which connects the Emerson community in Manitoba with the US city of Pembina in North Dakota. The demonstration slowed down traffic on both sides and caused delays for vehicles both entering and leaving Canada.
Fuzzy Hamsters Are Hong Kong’s Newest Enemy in Its Covid-Zero Campaign
Authorities ordered some 2,000 hamsters in Hong Kong to be killed over concerns that the animals may have transmitted Covid-19 to humans, one of the city’s latest measures to try to stamp out a fresh outbreak. Under the latest order, authorities will cull the animals at almost three dozen pet shops across the city, including a store selling small animals linked to two recent Covid-19 infections in the city. One of the two infections was an employee at the pet store, while another was a recent visitor to the store, authorities said. Health chiefs said the order was being made out of prudence as there was no international evidence that pets can transmit the Covid-19 to humans.
Worker Absences in U.K. Fall in Sign of Omicron Wave Ebbing Away
Omicron’s grip on the U.K. economy is weakening, with falling Covid-19 case numbers mirrored by a drop in worker absences during the second week of January. The estimated number of people missing work in the U.K. from Jan. 10 through Jan. 16 stood at almost 2.7 million, a 3% decrease from a year earlier and down from 3.1 million in the first week of this year, according to data from GoodShape, which tracks work-related illness and wellbeing at U.K. employers. The lower level of absence meant the U.K. economy lost 112 million pounds ($152 million) less compared to the same period in 2021, GoodShape estimates showed.
Australia calls on backpackers to help ease Omicron-fuelled labour shortage
Australia threw out an invitation to backpackers on Wednesday, seeking reinforcements for a workforce crippled by an Omicron COVID-19 outbreak as the country's health system creaks under the pandemic's strain with more deaths predicted in weeks ahead. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government was waiving the A$630 ($453) visa application fee for any backpacker or student who arrives in Australia within the next 12 weeks, and encouraged them to see work as they tour the country. "Come on down now because you wanted to come to Australia," Morrison said during a televised press conference.
Young Brazilians Studying Less, Dropping Out More During Covid
Young Brazilians are studying less and dropping out more during the pandemic, reversing decades of educational advances and exacerbating the country’s demographic inequalities, a new study found. School dropout rates among children aged 5-9 years old rose from 1.4% in 2019 to 5.5% by the end of 2020, the highest percentage seen since 2006, according to research from the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a Brazilian think tank. Although the dropout rate improved to 4.25% in the third quarter of 2021, that was still 128% higher than before the pandemic. “Younger children, the age group in which we have made great educational advances in the last 40 years, is where we are having the greatest losses,” co-author and economist Marcelo Neri said during a phone interview Wednesday. There was also a socioeconomic gap when it came to time spent hitting the books when school wasn’t in session.
Working Remotely
Here's Why Remote Work Isn't Going Anywhere in 2022
Adoption of remote work continues to skyrocket, even as a record number of Americans continue to leave their jobs. But as the pandemic shifts and changes, will these trends remain? In this segment of Backstage Pass, recorded on Dec. 22, Fool contributor Rachel Warren discusses the complex answer to this key question.
Change your settings: How a ‘workation’ banished my January blues
Helen Coffey writes about the benefits of a January 'workation', taking advantage of remote work while enjoying a change of scenery. "The post-Christmas come-down, coupled with (for this office worker) an indefinite shift back to working from home, had plunged me headfirst into a case of January blues so strong I couldn’t figure out how to snap out of it." "But it suddenly occurred to me that the very thing that had sparked struggles - the return to WFH - could also be the fix. We were back to a spot we’d been in at various points during the seemingly endless pandemic cycle. Working remotely could either be seen as a prison cell or a get-out-of-jail-free card, releasing us from the shackles of the office."
Virtual Classrooms
More than 1,200 Oakland students pledge to stay home unless schools improve Covid safety
More than 1,200 students in Oakland, California, have signed a petition saying they would stay home this week unless school administrators provide additional Covid protections, including more N95 masks, weekly testing and better social distancing – or a shift to virtual learning. On Tuesday, three district campuses were closed because students and teachers, in solidarity, stayed home. The protest comes as schools across the country have struggled with the latest, Omicron-fueled wave of the coronavirus pandemic. In recent weeks, students in New York City, New Jersey, Chicago, Washington DC and elsewhere have launched protests and petitions as well, demanding improved safety measures. Districts, meanwhile, have faced immense pressures from parents and politicians to keep school campuses open as the US enters its third year of the pandemic.
Mt. Pleasant schools continues to provide meals during virtual learning
Though school cafeterias throughout Mt. Pleasant Public Schools (MPPS) may be quiet while students are home for virtual learning, the district continues to provide breakfast and lunch to students and local children at no cost. MPPS schools went virtual on Thursday, Jan.13 in response to elevated COVID-19 cases in the district. In-person classes are scheduled to resume on Monday, Jan. 31.“Providing our children with healthy, nutritious meals is one of the many ways we support their growth and development, and we’re happy to continue offering these meal choices at no charge while students are home for virtual learning,” Superintendent Jennifer Verleger said.
Public Policies
End of Plan B Covid Restrictions: Boris Johnson Drops Work-From-Home Guidance
Most Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted in England over the coming days, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, as he set out his ambition for a transition to “living with” the virus -- including the end of mandatory isolation for positive cases -- by the end of March. People are no longer being asked to work from home, and rules forcing people to wear face masks in shops and on public transport will be dropped from Jan. 27, Johnson told the House of Commons on Wednesday. Mandatory Covid passes for businesses will also end next week. The move unwinds rules put in place in December, when the omicron variant was spreading rapidly across the U.K. “Scientists believe it is likely that the Omicron wave has now peaked nationally,” Johnson said.
Ireland announces annual bank holiday to honour Covid victims and workers
Ireland is to get a bank holiday as a national commemoration of those who have lost their lives to Covid and to recognise those who worked on the frontline of the pandemic, the government has announced. Frontline healthcare workers in hospitals and nursing homes are also to receive a €1,000 (£830) tax-free bonus for their contribution to the national pandemic effort as part of a package of measures agreed by the cabinet on Wednesday. The government has estimated the cost of the giveaway at €100m, but questions remain as to who will qualify for the ha
WHO says no evidence healthy children, adolescents need COVID-19 boosters
There is no evidence at present that healthy children and adolescents need booster doses of COVID-19 vaccine, the World Health Organization's chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said on Tuesday. Speaking at a news briefing, she said that while there seems to be some waning of vaccine immunity over time against the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus, more research needs to be done to ascertain who needs booster doses.
Maintaining Services
UnitedHealth says Omicron-driven cost impact cushioned by healthcare deferrals
UnitedHealth Group Inc said added costs of testing and treatment related to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases are being offset by postponements of non-urgent healthcare procedures, and the health insurer maintained its 2022 profit forecast. The comments should help allay investor concerns that the steep rise in COVID infections and hospitalizations driven by the Omicron variant of the virus in recent weeks would significantly drive up medical costs for health insurers. Adding to those concerns was a Biden administration initiative requiring insurers to reimburse Americans for up to eight at-home rapid COVID-19 tests per month, while setting no limit for tests, including at-home tests, that insurers must cover if they are ordered or administered by a healthcare provider.
U.S. to distribute 400 million free N95 masks at CVS, Walgreens in COVID fight
The U.S. government will make 400 million non-surgical "N95" masks from its strategic national stockpile available for free to the public starting next week, a White House official said, as the Biden administration tries to curb the COVID-19 pandemic. Snug-fitting N95 face masks, so-called because they filter at least 95% of particulate matter from the air, will be shipped to pharmacies and community health centers this week, the official said, and will be available for pickup late next week. The U.S. government is leveraging the "federal retail pharmacy program" it used for vaccines, the White House said, as well as federally funded health clinics that serve minority groups hit hard by COVID infections and deaths.
Surgeries fear an exodus of GPs as deadline for staff Covid jabs nears
GPs say an exodus of staff due to mandatory coronavirus vaccination is “a significant concern”, with the deadline for health workers to have a first jab just over a fortnight away. From April 1 everyone working in health or social care who has direct contact with patients must have had two doses of a coronavirus vaccine. In order to meet the deadline they must have received a first dose by February 3. Vaccination figures for NHS staff working in community settings such as GP surgeries have not been published, but figures based on trusts show that more than 10 per cent of staff in some areas are yet to receive a first dose. Across England 5.7 per cent of staff are unvaccinated.
Merck-Ridgeback to supply courses of Covid-19 oral antiviral to UNICEF
Merck (MSD) and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics have entered a supply agreement with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to aid in wider worldwide access for investigational oral antiviral, molnupiravir, for Covid-19. According to the long-term deal, Merck will allocate up to three million courses of the oral antiviral to UNICEF for supply in over 100 low and middle-income nations during the first half of this year on obtaining regulatory authorisations.
To Help Battle Covid-19, a Hospital Borrows Tactics From Combat Veterans
At Rush University Medical Center, nurses still talk about their feelings of guilt from the early months of treating Covid-19 patients. How they hadn’t known how to best treat desperate patients. How worried they were about bringing Covid-19 home to their families. Except now they report having more mental and emotional tools at their disposal than they did at the beginning of the pandemic, thanks in large part to the work of Mark Schimmelpfennig, a hospital chaplain who is also an Army veteran. Mr. Schimmelpfennig months ago noticed that phrases nurses were using in conversation sounded like what he had heard from troops who had served in combat zones. The same techniques veterans use to wrestle with combat trauma also could be used by the healthcare profession, he said.
Healthcare Innovations
Scientists develop new Covid diagnosis test using X rays
A new covid diagnosis could replace PCR tests using X-rays - within minutes. Experts developed Artificial Intelligence (AI) to detect the virus faster than PCR. In testing, this groundbreaking technique was found to be 98 per cent accurate. It is hoped that this technology could be used to aid medical staff on frontline.
Prior COVID infection more protective than vaccination during Delta surge -U.S. study
People who had previously been infected with COVID-19 were better protected against the Delta variant than those who were vaccinated alone, suggesting that natural immunity was a more potent shield than vaccines against that variant, California and New York health officials reported on Wednesday. Protection against Delta was highest, however, among people who were both vaccinated and had survived a previous COVID infection, and lowest among those who had never been infected or vaccinated, the study found. Nevertheless, vaccination remains the safest strategy against COVID-19, according to the report published in U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Mild COVID cases still lead to attention and memory issues - study
People with mild COVID-19 who do not suffer any other traditional "long COVID" symptoms can still exhibit deteriorated attention and memory six to nine months after infection, a study by Britain's Oxford University has found. Cognitive issues impacting concentration levels, along with forgetfulness and fatigue, are features of long COVID - a condition that afflicts some after an initial bout of infection - but it has not been established how widespread issues with attention span might be following COVID-19 infection.
Why Some Vaccinated People Resist Omicron and Others Don’t
A recent study led by Harvard and MIT showed that about 20% of people get much poorer protection from their vaccines against omicron. They’re still better off than completely unvaccinated people, but this variability could account for some of the fully vaccinated people who’ve been hospitalized in the omicron wave. The researchers looked at blood samples from 76 volunteers to examine the part of the immune system known as the T cells. While antibodies wane over time, T cells last longer and provide a second line of defense by identifying and killing infected cells. In vaccinated people, T cells are primed to fight SARS-CoV-2 and can usually clear the infection within a couple of days. Many experts consider them the most critical part of our defenses against omicron.