"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 31st Jan 2022

Isolation Tips
Hong Kong Dials Back One of World’s Longest Covid-19 Quarantines
Officials shortened one of the world’s longest quarantine requirements for travelers arriving in Hong Kong to two weeks from three following pressure from international business groups over the city’s zero-Covid policies. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Thursday the order, effective from Feb. 5, was made based on scientific considerations and as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus becomes the dominant strain in more countries. Other social distancing measures such as the closure of gyms, pools and evening dining, will be extended until Feb. 17, Mrs. Lam said, while a flight ban imposed in early January for arrivals from eight countries, including the U.S., U.K. and Canada will remain in place until Feb. 18. In line with China’s national strategy of seeking to maintain no infections, the city has some of the world’s strictest Covid-19 containment policies, which until recently had kept the city free of community transmissions for months.
Hygiene Helpers
T-Mobile to terminate corporate employees who aren't vaccinated by April -memo
T-Mobile US Inc will fire corporate employees who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by April 2, according to an internal company memo posted on the independent blog TMOnews.com. The blog said T-Mobile's new policy was announced on Friday in an email from its human resource chief to all staff. It follows a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Jan. 13 that blocked President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccination-or-testing mandate for large businesses. "Employees who have not yet taken action to receive their first dose and upload proof by February 21 will be placed on unpaid leave," the blog quoted the memo as saying.
Community Activities
Lifting England Covid rules while 3bn people unvaccinated reckless – experts
Boris Johnson has been accused of taking a reckless approach to public health by failing to take enough action to get jabs to 3 billion unvaccinated people in poorer countries while lifting all plan B Covid restrictions in England. The prime minister has robustly defended his record on the pandemic this week while awaiting the findings of the Sue Gray report on the “partygate” scandal, insisting he “got the big calls right” on the biggest global health crisis in a century. But now more than 300 leading scientists, health experts and academics have said his failure to take sufficient action to boost vaccination levels worldwide means it is more likely new variants will put thousands of lives at risk across the UK. “We write to you as scientists, academics, and public health experts concerned about the emergence of the Omicron variant and the threat that future variants may pose to public health, the NHS, and the UK’s vaccination programme,” they said in a two-page letter delivered to 10 Downing Street.
Spotify Publishes Content Policy, Covid-19 Hub in Response to Joe Rogan Controversy
Guitarist Nils Lofgren is among the artists who said they have removed their music from the streaming service. Spotify Technology SA is publishing its content policy and creating a Covid-19 information hub in response to a growing chorus of artists and podcasters speaking out against Joe Rogan. “We know we have a critical role to play in supporting creator expression while balancing it with the safety of our users,” said Chief Executive Daniel Ek in a blog post Sunday. “In that role, it is important to me that we don’t take on the position of being content censor while also making sure that there are rules in place and consequences for those who violate them.”
Protests at Canadian Capital Over Trucker Vaccine Rule Continue on Sunday
Raucous protests in Canada’s capital continued Sunday over trucker vaccine mandates and other Covid-19 health restrictions, but the crowd thinned from its height a day earlier after drawing military and political rebukes for poor behavior. The main avenue outside the parliament buildings in Ottawa remained blockaded by a line of big rigs, and protesters speaking on a makeshift stage said they don’t intend to leave anytime soon. Canada’s legislature has been on a winter break since mid-December, but is scheduled to resume sitting on Monday. The trucker convoy has drawn an unusual amount of global attention, most recently from Donald Trump. “We want those great Canadian truckers to know that we are with them all the way,” the former U.S. president told a Texas rally Saturday night.
Argentine truckers stranded at Chilean border by slow COVID testing
Thousands of truck drivers from Argentina were stuck at the Chilean border on Saturday due to slow COVID-19 testing, as Chile faced its second transport delay crisis. Since Jan. 21, more than 3,000 trucks have been stranded at the customs checkpoint of Cristo Redentor in Mendoza, according to the Argentinean Federation of Business Entities for Cargo Transport (FADEEAC). The long wait has put both drivers and some of the trucks to the test, as trucks with refrigerator units must stay running at all times to keep the cargos at cold temperatures.
Thousands of Czechs protest against COVID curbs
Thousands of Czechs massed in Prague's Wenceslas Square on Sunday, waving flags and chanting slogans against COVID-19 restrictions, even as infections surge. Protesters mainly objected to harsher restrictions for the unvaccinated, including a ban on eating in restaurants. "The state should listen to the people's demands. The arrangements and restrictions lead us on the road to hell," Zuzana Vozabova who banged a drum through the protest, said. The country of 10.7 million reported its highest daily tally of cases on Wednesday - 54,689, and the numbers on other recent days have ranked among the highest since the start of the epidemic.
Canada rally against vaccine mandates blocks Ottawa as Trump praises protest
Dozens of trucks and other vehicles blocked the downtown area of Ottawa for a second day after thousands descended on Canada's capital city on Saturday to protest against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Trucks remained parked on the streets near parliament on Sunday, a day before lawmakers are due to resume work after the holiday break. Hundreds of protesters were out on Sunday, too. Some truckers said they will not leave until the mandate is overturned.
In France, anti-vax fury, politics make public service risky
In Sainte-Anastasie-sur-Issole, a village that curls catlike in verdant Provence hillocks, voters are making an early start on France’s presidential election. From their ballot box this weekend and next will come the name of the candidate — picked from among dozens — that they want their mayor to endorse. Normally, the choice would be Mayor Olivier Hoffmann’s alone, under a right that, at election time, turns small-potato public office-holders into hot properties — wooed by would-be candidates who need 500 endorsements from elected officials to get onto the April ballot. But in an inflamed climate of election-time politics, and with fury among opponents of COVID-19 vaccinations increasingly bubbling over into violence directed at elected representatives, Sainte-Anastasie’s staunchly apolitical mayor doesn’t want to be seen taking sides.
‘Very scary’: Austria says anti-vax COVID activists cross borders
Some activists who reject COVID-19 vaccines and anti-coronavirus measures are crossing borders to join protests where extremist ideology is being spread, Austria’s new domestic intelligence chief told the AFP news agency, calling the trend “very scary”. Omar Haijawi-Pirchner said foreign activists are travelling to Austria – where COVID vaccines will become mandatory next month – to demonstrate and hold “network meetings with their partners, right-wing extremists”.
Working Remotely
Planning for remote working offers an opportunity to resolve long-standing issues
The Irish Government has published draft law on remote working that enshrines an employee’s right to seek to work remotely, but which also gives employers 13 grounds for refusing. This may seem unexpectedly weighted in favour of employers, many of whom are anxious to at least establish the office as a designated place of work. That may be an employer’s starting point, but the progressive and wise among them are also aware a happy employee is a productive employee. The question of productivity is also answered. In most cases it has soared during lockdown and under work-from-home restrictions. The future of work favoured by employers and employees seems to be some form of hybrid model, bespoke to each particular set of circumstances: part of the week at home, part in the office.
Remote working new normal; 82% employees prefer working from home: Study
With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing unprecedented changes in work life, a study has revealed that 82 percent respondents admitted that they prefer working from home to going back to the office. The remote work trend was initially forced on employees due to the pandemic, however, after two years remote working has become a new normal and as things settled down new habits have formed
Virtual Classrooms
Can Online Tutoring Help Schools Dig Out of Pandemic Learning Hole?
Tutoring is the top-billed remedy to help students make up for disrupted learning. States and districts are spending millions in federal funds to pay for it. But can it work online when so many other efforts to move instruction online have fallen short?A new study from a team of researchers is the very first to test the hypothesis using a randomized experiment. And the results, while far from a silver bullet, show some promise and suggest some lessons for other online tutoring efforts.
Eight Russell Group universities won't pull plug on virtual learning
In England, many students at elite universities are still learning remotely despite ministers' pleas for face-to-face tuition. Of the 24 universities in the Russell Group, eight have kept at least a portion online even though Government Covid restrictions have been lifted. Only six said they could guarantee all teaching would be in-person, while the rest would not confirm either way. Some are keeping large lectures remote while holding smaller sessions in person.
Public Policies
Britain to offer COVID vaccinations to vulnerable children aged 5-11
Britain will this week begin offering vaccinations to children aged between five and 11 who are most at risk from coronavirus, the state-run National Health Service said on Sunday. Britain has been slower than some other countries in offering the shots to 5-11 year olds, and is not planning to vaccinate the age group more broadly unlike countries such as the United States and Israel. NHS England said children in the cohort who were in a clinical risk group or who live with someone who is immunosuppressed would be able to get a first COVID-19 shot, in line with advice issued last month by the Joint Committee on Vaccine and Immunisation (JCVI).
Maintaining Services
Morocco starts construction of COVID vaccine plant
Morocco has inaugurated the construction of a COVID vaccine manufacturing plant in partnership with Swedish firm Recipharm, as the country also announced it would end a flight ban that has been in place since last November. The factory, to be known as Sensyo Pharmatech, will produce vaccines against coronavirus and other diseases, with production expected to reach 116 million units in 2024, the official news agency MAP reported on Thursday.
U.S. orders 100 million additional COVID-19 tests to give out
The United States government has procured more than 100 million additional COVID-19 tests from testmaker iHealth Lab Inc. as part of the White House's plan to distribute 500 million free at-home tests across the country, the Department of Defense said Friday. Starting in January, the U.S. government has been allowing households to order four free at-home COVID-19 tests from the website COVIDTests.gov with shipping expected within seven to 12 days of ordering. The batch of free tests are aimed at easing a shortage of tests across the country amid increased demand during the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.
Britain to start rolling out Pfizer COVID pill next month
Britain will start rolling out Pfizer's COVID-19 pill to vulnerable people next month, the health ministry said on Friday, targeting the treatment at people with compromised immune systems for whom the vaccine can be less effective. The health ministry said that Pfizer's antiviral treatment Paxlovid, a combination of Pfizer's pill with an older antiviral ritonavir, will be made available to thousands of people from Feb. 10. "It is fantastic news that this new treatment, the latest cutting-edge drug that the NHS is rolling out through new COVID-19 medicine delivery units, will now be available to help those at highest risk of COVID-19," National Health Service medical director Stephen Powis said.
Omicron Pushes Some Companies Back to Virtual Shareholder Meetings
Some companies are switching to virtual shareholder meetings again as the Omicron variant continues to spread through the U.S. and businesses take precautions to limit infections. Many companies shifted to meeting with their investors remotely as Covid-19 cases first surged in the U.S. in the spring of 2020—a trend that continued in 2021, when 65%, or 3,316, of shareholder meetings by publicly traded U.S. businesses were conducted remotely, according to Wall Street Horizon, a data provider. So far, about 400 listed U.S. companies have announced a date for their 2022 shareholder meeting, and of those, 68% are planning to host an in-person event, Wall Street Horizon said. But, in recent weeks, large corporations including meat producer Tyson Foods Inc. and medical technology company Becton Dickinson & Co. have altered their plans and moved to an online-only event, which some corporate advisers say is the prudent thing to do.
Healthcare Innovations
Hong Kong Study Shows Hamster-to-Human Covid Spread: Lancet
Hong Kong researchers have found evidence that pet hamsters can spread Covid-19 to people, and linked the animals to human infections in the city. The study, published Saturday in The Lancet as a preprint and not yet peer-reviewed, provided the first documented evidence of hamster-to-human transmission of the Delta variant. Researchers from the University of Hong Kong and the city’s government found two independent cases of such transmission, after testing viral swabs and blood samples from animals collected from local pet shops. The hamsters in question were infected around Nov. 21, before they were imported to Hong Kong, suggesting pet animal trade may be a pathway that facilitates Covid to spread across borders, according to the study.
Covid-Infected HIV Patient Developed 21 Mutations, Study Shows
A South African woman suffering from inadequately treated HIV, and who harbored Covid-19 for nine months saw the respiratory virus develop at least 21 mutations while in her body, according to a study. Once the 22-year-old adhered to the anti-retroviral medication used to treat HIV and her immune system strengthened she was able overcome the Covid-19 infection within six to nine weeks, the study, led by scientists from Stellenbosch and the University the University of KwaZulu-Natal showed. The research has not been peer reviewed.
Long Covid study finds abnormality in lungs that could explain breathlessness
Abnormalities have been identified in the lungs of long Covid patients that could offer a potential explanation for why some people experience breathlessness long after their initial infection. The findings, from a pilot study involving 36 patients, raise the possibility that Covid may cause microscopic damage to the lungs that is not detected using routine tests. Breathlessness is a symptom in the majority of long Covid patients, but it has been unclear whether this is linked to other factors such as changes in breathing patterns, tiredness, or something more fundamental. According to Dr Emily Fraser, a consultant at Oxford university hospitals and a co-author of the study, the latest findings are the first evidence that underlying lung health could be impaired.
COVID: New Omicron subvariant ‘appears to have growth advantage’
The BA.2 subtype of the Omicron coronavirus variant appears to have a substantial growth advantage over the currently predominant BA.1 type, the United Kingdom’s Health Security Agency has said. UKHSA said on Friday there was an increased growth rate of BA.2 compared with BA.1 in all regions of England where there were enough cases to compare them, and that “the apparent growth advantage is currently substantial”.
Easier to produce COVID vaccine shows promise in trials; nasal spray vaccine booster works in mice
The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that has yet to be certified by peer review. New COVID-19 vaccine could be manufactured like flu shots. A COVID-19 vaccine that can be produced locally in low- and middle-income countries is yielding promising results in early clinical trials, researchers say. The NDV-HXP-S vaccine, developed at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, uses an engineered version of the harmless Newcastle disease virus studded with coronavirus spike proteins to teach the immune system to recognize and attack the virus that causes COVID.
Covid-19 Vaccine Booster Shot Cuts Omicron Death Risk by 95%, U.K. Study Shows
Three shots of vaccine cut the risk of death from Covid-19 by 95% in those age 50 and older during the Omicron surge in the U.K., according to an early study that showed immunity from vaccination held up well against the worst effects of the disease even among older people who are most at risk. The analysis, by the U.K. Health Security Agency, offers a glimpse of how effective vaccination is against death from Omicron in a highly boosted population. The U.K. government in December hurried to offer boosters to everyone 16 and older, expanding a campaign that up to that point had only applied to people 50 and older, and those with certain health conditions. The highly mutated Omicron variant can easily evade immune defenses to infect vaccinated people, leading to record-high case numbers across the world as the variant spread, even in highly-vaccinated places like the U.K. But several studies have shown that boosting restores some protection against symptomatic illness and, to a greater degree, against hospitalization.