"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 2nd Feb 2022

Isolation Tips
Norway Scales Back Most Covid-19 Restrictions
Norway is easing most of the measures to curb infection and aims to remove the rest in a couple of weeks as it bets a high level of vaccination will be enough to shield the health system from overloading. Limits on guests at private gatherings, a curb on the service of alcohol in bars and restaurants, and testing after arriving at the border have all been removed, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store told reporters in Oslo on Tuesday. Face masks will still need to be worn in shops, shopping centers and on public transport where a distance of a meter can’t be maintained. Norway is joining countries such as neighboring Denmark, Ireland and the U.K. in scaling back restrictions, expecting the coronavirus to turn endemic. The omicron variant has pushed infection rates to records, but hospitalization rates have remained below highs, indicating that the milder variant and booster shots will enable the country to return to an everyday without controls.
Denmark ends most COVID-19 restrictions
Denmark on Tuesday became one of the first European Union countries to scrap most pandemic restrictions as the Scandinavian country no longer considers the COVID-19 outbreak “a socially critical disease.” The reason for that is that while the omicron variant is surging in Denmark, it's not placing a heavy burden on the health system and the country has a high vaccination rate, officials have said. Denmark has in recent weeks seen more than 50,000 daily cases on average while the number of people in hospital intensive care units has dropped. The most visible restriction disappearing is the wearing of face masks, which are no longer mandatory on public transportation, shops and for standing clients in restaurant indoor areas. Authorities only recommend mask use in hospitals, health care facilities and nursing homes.
South Africa scraps isolation for COVID positive people with no symptoms
South Africa no longer requires those who test positive for COVID-19 without symptoms to isolate and has also reduced the isolation period for those with symptoms by three days, as the country exits its fourth wave of the coronavirus, a government statement said on Monday. Following a special Cabinet meeting held earlier to decide on the amendments, the country made the changes based on the trajectory of the pandemic and levels of vaccination in the country, according to a press release issued by Mondli Gungubele, a minister in the presidency. South Africa is currently at the lowest of its five-stage COVID alert levels.
Hygiene Helpers
NHS begins vaccinating vulnerable children against COVID-19
Around 500,000 children in England are expected to be eligible for the vaccine, which covers those in a clinical at-risk group and children who are household contacts of someone who is immunosuppressed. All GP practices have been asked to identify eligible children on their lists and vaccinations will be delivred at GP-led sites and hospital hubs. Parents and guardians have been told to wait until their are contacted by the site for their child's vaccination. Eligible children will receive two 10 microgram doses of the Pfizer vaccine, eight weeks apart. The paediatric dose of the vaccine is a third of the 30 microgram dose given to those aged over 12.
Austria’s mandatory Covid vaccine rule comes into force
A national coronavirus vaccine mandate has come into force in Austria, with the unjabbed facing large fines if they refuse to comply. The new law, which applies to all over-18s except pregnant women and those who are medically exempt, makes Austria the first country in Europe to compel all its adult citizens to be immunised against Covid-19. Other nations including Germany could soon follow suit. People living in Austria face penalties of up to €3,600 (£3,000) if they do not receive the necessary shots. The government has acknowledged that the measure is not universally popular, as sizeable anti-vaxx protests continue. But its insists the step is needed in the interests of public health
Covid-19 news: Mandatory vaccines scrapped for NHS workers in England
Vaccinations will not be a condition of employment for NHS workers in England. NHS staff in England will not be required to have coronavirus vaccinations, health secretary Sajid Javid announced yesterday. The move will be subject to a government consultation. Regulations for mandatory vaccines were due to come into effect for NHS staff on 1 April which would have made 3 Feb the last day an unvaccinated worker could start a course of vaccinations. Javid says mandatory vaccines are now less important because omicron, which is currently the dominant variant, appears to be more transmissible and less severe than the earlier delta variant. “It’s only right that our policy on vaccination as a condition of deployment is reviewed,” Javid said.
“Lab-in-a-backpack” Covid-19 test could help vaccine-poor communities
Researchers in London have developed a Covid-19 testing lab that fits into a backpack, which they say could offer poorer nations and remote communities a cheap and accessible way of detecting the virus. In a new study in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, scientists from Queen Mary University of London show that their lab-in-a-backpack approach is as effective as PCR tests at detecting Covid infections. The cost price of each test is just $3.50 (£2.60), said Stoyan Smoukov, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Queen Mary University of London. If scaled up, the backpack kits could not only slash the price of commercial testing for travel but could also help poor communities where vaccine rates are low and testing is inaccessible or too expensive.
COVID cases within 'controllable range', says Games organiser
The COVID-19 situation at the Beijing Winter Olympics is within the "expected controllable range" despite increasing positive cases being detected, a senior official at China's Olympics Pandemic Prevention and Control Office said on Tuesday. The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics Organising Committee has reported 200 COVID cases since Jan. 23 among airport arrivals and those in the Games "closed loop" bubble that separates all event personnel, including athletes, from the public. "As more people are entering China the imported COVID-19 cases are increasing," Huang Chun, deputy director general of the committee's Pandemic Prevention and Control Office, told a news briefing.
Community Activities
Little cheer for Year of the Tiger in Hong Kong as COVID bites
On January 21, when the number of coronavirus cases hit 20 in the densely-populated high-rise public housing estate of Kwai Fong, residents were given two hours to prepare for a five-day lockdown. Santiago Fung’s family focused on the essentials. His mother and sister bought lettuce and vegetables. Fung picked up frozen seafood, herbs for his two pet tortoises, along with two packs of cigarettes and 24 cans of beer. “I think for five days, that’s enough,” he said as the lockdown began. Challenges mounted by the day. As hundreds of the building’s 2,800 residents crammed the lifts and lobby to get tested, positive cases zipped into the triple digits. Government-supplied meals were tasteless and arrived late. Mostly, he endured the challenge of being a 33-year-old locked down in a 300-square-foot apartment (27.9 square metres) with a younger sister and a mother who insisted they share Chinese herbs with the neighbours.
Truckers and protesters against Covid-19 mandates block a border crossing. Others tried to take meals away from the homeless in Ottawa, shelter says
What started as a convoy of truckers protesting Covid-19 mandates has snowballed into a blockade in the Canadian capital and the obstruction of a US-Canadian border crossing. Some protesters pressured staff at a homeless shelter to give them food, the facility said. And criminal investigations are underway after the alleged "desecration" of monuments during weekend protests that spilled into Monday. The protests stemmed from the "Freedom Convoy" of truckers that traveled across Canada for several days before arriving in the capital city of Ottawa on Saturday. The drivers oppose a recent vaccine mandate requiring truckers entering Canada to be fully vaccinated or face testing and quarantine requirements. Downtown Ottawa remained packed with rigs and cars Monday morning as protesters rallied against Covid-19 mandates and some legislators were set to return to Parliament Hill.
Politicizing COVID-19 vaccination efforts has fuelled vaccine hesitancy
The current political landscape has become increasingly intertwined with vaccine policy. Platforms from political parties have included vaccine mandates, third-dose policies and mandatory vaccination proposals aimed at children. Québec has even proposed taxing people who remain unvaccinated. This is concerning, particularly given that vaccination efforts are driven by the combined efforts of health-care providers, public health agencies and community leaders.
New Zealand Open scrapped over COVID travel restrictions
The New Zealand Open golf championship has been cancelled for the second year running, due to ongoing travel restrictions to protect the country from the pandemic, the organisers said on Tuesday. New Zealand's borders have been shut to foreigners since March 2020. The government pushed back plans for a phased reopening from mid-January to the end of February out of concern about a potential Omicron outbreak, as in neighbouring Australia. "We have done everything within our power to make this event happen," tournament chairman John Hart said on the event's website.
Italy chief chaplain condemns call for COVID disobedience by police
Italy's national Catholic military chaplain has hit back at a renegade, vaccine-denying archbishop, accusing him of inciting insubordination among the armed forces and police over their role in enforcing COVID-19 laws. The national chaplain, Archbishop Santo Marciano, issued a statement to all military and law enforcement personnel on Monday night, hours after Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano made a statement urging them to disobey orders and not be "automatons". Vigano, a former Vatican ambassador in Washington, has been in hiding for more than three years since issuing a broadside against Pope Francis, demanding his resignation.
COVID shines spotlight on imbalanced approach to death globally -expert panel
The way we die needs a fundamental rethink, according to a group of international experts, who say COVID-19 has shed a harsh spotlight on care for the dying. Death has been “overmedicalized” and millions around the globe are suffering unnecessarily at the end of their lives as a result, with healthcare workers in wealthy nations seeking to prolong life rather than support death, according to an expert panel convened by the Lancet medical journal. At the same time, around half of people globally die without any palliative care or pain relief, particularly in lower-income countries
Working Remotely
The Pandemic Scramble to Legalize Home-Based Businesses
Many entrepreneurs starting companies in kitchens and garages find that city zoning codes can subject home businesses to unworkable standards — or ban them altogether.
Remote work isn’t hurting innovation. Work is.
Employees want to work from home. Their bosses, however, can’t wait to get back to the office. Knowledge workers think being remote makes their jobs better, while managers worry the arrangement could cause the quality of work to suffer. But in scapegoating remote work, companies may be disguising the real scourge of creativity right now: too much work. Executives were nearly three times more likely than non-executives to say they want to return to the office full time, according to Slack’s Future Forum Pulse survey.
Remote Work Is Here To Stay And Will Increase Into 2023, Experts Say
While some companies continue to thumb their noses at The Great Resignation and insist that employees come back into the office, data scientists at Ladders insist that the writing is on the wall. Remote work is here to stay. According to their projections, 25% of all professional jobs in North America will be remote by the end of 2022, and remote opportunities will continue to increase through 2023.
Virtual Classrooms
‘Remote Learning’ Takes on New Meaning in Virtual Reality
As the pandemic continues to disrupt academia, some teachers are turning to alternative ways to keep students engaged. At the University of Connecticut, Tina Trinh visited one class held partly in virtual reality.
Unmasking the scientist: breaking down anonymity to build relationships when teaching online
During online teaching sessions, many staff prefer not to ask students to turn on their cameras, so as to acknowledge and respect their right to privacy and recognise the fact that many may be working in a space never intended to be a learning environment. In many sessions students are encouraged to use their cameras and microphones if they wish, but it should not be required and typically few students choose to show their faces. So, while students become familiar with the faces of staff, the students themselves remain an anonymous cohort to their lecturers. There are ways to improve on this
Public Policies
US urges Pfizer to apply for under-5 COVID shots
Pfizer on Tuesday asked the U.S. to authorize extra-low doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for children under 5, potentially opening the way for the very youngest Americans to start receiving shots as early as March. In an extraordinary move, the Food and Drug Administration had urged Pfizer and its partner BioNTech to apply earlier than the companies had planned — and before it’s settled if the youngsters will need two shots or three. The nation’s 19 million children under 5 are the only group not yet eligible for vaccination against the coronavirus. Many parents have been pushing for an expansion of shots to toddlers and preschoolers, especially as the omicron variant sent record numbers of youngsters to the hospital.
COVID-19: Nearly £9bn spent on PPE during coronavirus pandemic written off, Govt accounts show
Nearly £9bn spent by the government on personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic has been written off, annual accounts have shown. Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) figures show huge amounts were wasted on useless equipment, while millions of pounds has been spent getting out of contracts or storing PPE at ports. Some £673m worth of equipment was found to be totally unusable, according the 2020/21 accounts, while £750m was spent on items that expired before being used.
Spanish regulator authorises phase III trials of Hipra's COVID vaccine
The Spanish medicines agency said on Tuesday it had authorised pharmaceutical firm Hipra to carry out phase III trials of the COVID-19 vaccine it is developing Phase III is the last round of testing prior to seeking authorisation to market a drug. Hipra began phase II trials in November that involved testing the vaccine on 1,000 volunteers across ten hospitals in Spain. Hipra has said on its website that it anticipates being able to produce 600 million doses in 2022 and double that figure the following year.
US gives full approval to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine
U.S. health regulators on Monday granted full approval to Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, a shot that’s already been given to tens of millions of Americans since its emergency authorization over a year ago. The action by the Food and Drug Administration means the agency has completed the same rigorous, time-consuming review of Moderna’s shot as dozens of other long-established vaccines. The decision was bolstered by real-world evidence from the more than 200 million doses administered in the U.S. since the FDA cleared the shot in December 2020. The FDA granted full approval of Pfizer’s vaccine last August. Public health advocates initially hoped the regulatory distinction would boost public confidence in the shots. But there was no discernable bump in vaccinations after the Pfizer approval, which was heavily promoted by President Joe Biden and other federal officials. Still, regulators said Monday they hoped the extra endorsement would encourage more people to get vaccinated.
Maintaining Services
Gilead COVID drug takes top spot for U.S. hospital spending -report
Gilead Sciences Inc's COVID-19 drug remdesivir last year overtook AbbVie Inc's 20-year-old arthritis drug Humira as the medicine that U.S. hospitals spent the most on, according to Vizient Inc, a purchasing group used by about half the nation's hospitals. Remdesivir, an intravenous antiviral approved early in the pandemic for hospitalized COVID patients and authorized last month for high-risk outpatients, could retain the top spot through mid-2023, according to Vizient's projections. The group purchasing organization said Gilead's drug, sold as Veklury, made up 3.42% of total member spending on pharmaceuticals during October 2020 to September 2021.
NHS vaccine mandate: Nurse who faced sack over staff Covid jab rules welcomes Government U-turn
A nurse who faced losing her job because she is not vaccinated against Covid-19 has welcomed the Government’s U-turn on mandatory jabs for frontline NHS staff. Concerns about the impact that dismissing about 80,000 unvaccinated NHS employees would have on an already stretched health service contributed to Health Secretary Sajid Javid’s policy change on Monday. The Government had previously set a 1 April deadline for double vaccination, meaning anyone in a patient-facing role who had not received their first dose by 3 February would be notified of their impending dismissal.
Covid-19: ‘Highest risk’ patients to get faster access to NHS treatment after testing rule change
Cancer patients and others at highest risk of dying from Covid-19 will have quicker access to life-saving antibody and antiviral treatments on the NHS after the Government quietly altered the rules over PCR tests. It comes after i revealed thousands of cancer and other patients with severely compromised immune systems fear they will die from the virus because delays and bureaucratic chaos is stopping them from getting fast-acting drugs in time for them to work. Around 1.3 million people the Government has classified as most at risk from Covid should have received a rapid PCR test and eligibility letter about the targeted NHS treatment programme by January 10, but charity helplines have been flooded with people complaining they have been left out.
Tokyo COVID hospitalisations mount, cross closely watched 50% threshold
More than half of Tokyo's hospital beds set aside for COVID-19 patients were occupied on Tuesday, a level that officials have previously flagged as a criterion for requesting a state of emergency. The capital and most of Japan are now under curbs to contain record coronavirus cases driven by the contagious Omicron variant. Tokyo has set aside almost 7,000 hospital beds for COVID patients, and admissions have risen sharply this month, reaching 50.7% on Tuesday. New infections numbered 14,445.
As Israel learns to live with COVID, hospitals struggle to cope
A global leader in vaccine rollout during early waves of the coronavirus, Israel's government has adopted "Living with COVID" as its mantra since a few months before Omicron arrived. The variant is milder than previous incarnations of the virus, but that's scant consolation to the medics and nurses staffing COVID-19 wards whose workloads have soared again in parallel with case numbers. "The staff are exhausted," said Yoram Weiss, acting director general of Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. "It's not like we're starting the first outbreak where everybody was full of energy."
Huge volumes of COVID hospital waste threaten health - WHO
Discarded syringes, used test kits and old vaccine bottles from the COVID-19 pandemic have piled up to create tens of thousands of tonnes of medical waste, threatening human health and the environment, a World Health Organization report said on Tuesday. The material potentially exposes health workers to burns, needle-stick injuries and disease-causing germs, the report said. "We found that COVID-19 has increased healthcare waste loads in facilities to up to 10 times," Maggie Montgomery, a WHO technical officer, told Geneva-based journalists. She said the biggest risk for affected communities was air pollution caused by burning waste at insufficiently high temperatures leading to the release of carcinogens.
Healthcare Innovations
Fast-Spreading Omicron Variant Less Likely to Stop Reinfection
New studies are emerging that suggest the latest version of the highly-infectious omicron variant is transmitting even faster than the original, and mild cases of the first may not offer much protection against future infections. The findings cast doubt on hopes that the wave of omicron that’s sweeping the world may help hasten the end of the pandemic. Calls for governments to treat Covid-19 as endemic like influenza are rising globally as people grow tired of pandemic restrictions, vaccines become more accessible and deaths remain relatively low. The production of neutralizing antibodies during an omicron infection appears related to the severity of the illness, according to one report from researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, that was published online before being peer-reviewed. The milder form of most omicron cases in vaccinated people may leave those who recover from them still vulnerable to existing virus and future variants that emerge, the researchers said.