"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 14th Feb 2022

Isolation Tips
Hong Kong in 'Crisis' Leans on Beijing to Contain Covid Surge
Hong Kong’s health officials warned that the city is facing a “crisis” as a record 2,000 preliminary positive cases threatened to overwhelm hospitals and upend its Covid Zero strategy. Authorities on Sunday reported 1,347 infections and said more than 3,400 confirmed patients were receiving treatment. Cases have exceeded capacity at Hong Kong’s hospitals, health officials said, adding they will now shift to prioritizing care for the elderly and children who test positive.
Germany to lift some restrictions next week as COVID peak in sight
Germany is approaching the peak of the coronavirus pandemic and will next week start easing some restrictions with a view to lifting more measures in spring, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in a speech on Friday. "The scientific prognoses show us that the peak of the wave is in sight," Scholz said in a speech in the Bundesrat upper house. "This allows us at the meeting between the federal government and states next week to take the first reopening steps and consider more steps for spring."
Belgium Eases Virus Curbs With Omicron Outbreak Past Peak
Belgium agreed to loosen most of the virus restrictions it introduced late last year now that all but one of the indicators used to monitor the surge of the omicron variant show that the outbreak is past its peak. Starting on Feb. 18, the requirement to work from home four days a week will disappear and become a recommendation, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said on Friday. At that time, nightclubs will also reopen, pubs and restaurants won’t face a mandatory closing hour or table limits, and a ban on events with moving crowds will subside, along with the obligation for children younger than 12 to wear masks. “This is an enormous step, but it would be wrong to say we have eradicated the virus,” De Croo said at a briefing in Brussels. “Let’s not make that mistake again and mind ourselves that our behavior is what matters the most.”
UK Covid Self Isolation Rules to Be Scrapped This Month, Boris Johnson Says
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to scrap self-isolation rules for people in England who test positive for Covid-19, ending the last of the pandemic restrictions that have dominated daily life for the past two years. The dramatic step is due to take effect later this month and would move England beyond other major Western countries in relaxing virus curbs. While regulations forcing people to self-isolate at home for five days are only set to expire on March 24, Johnson said Wednesday he expects to lift them “a full month early.” With more people vaccinated and the highly-transmissible omicron variant proving almost unstoppable, a number of countries have been easing rules and trying to return life to normal as quickly as possible.
Hygiene Helpers
UK Treasury pushes to end most free Covid testing despite experts’ warnings
The Treasury is pushing for most free Covid testing to end as soon as next month to save billions despite warnings from public health experts and scientists. Several sources told the Guardian that Rishi Sunak’s department wants to end most PCR testing for people with Covid symptoms, possibly by the end of March. The exception would be those in hospitals, high-risk settings and for the 1.3m extremely vulnerable people who are eligible for antivirals if they contract Covid. Under the plans, everyone else with symptoms would be either given some free lateral flow tests or no testing at all. A third option would be restricting the offer of lateral flows to symptomatic people over 50 and the clinically vulnerable. The advice for people without symptoms to take routine lateral flow tests is expected to be scrapped entirely.
COVID pandemic’s ‘acute phase’ could end by midyear: WHO
The head of the World Health Organization has said the acute phase of the pandemic could end this year, if about 70 percent of the world gets vaccinated. “Our expectation is that the acute phase of this pandemic will end this year, of course with one condition, the 70 percent vaccination [target is achieved] by mid this year around June, July,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, told reporters in South Africa on Friday. “If that is to be done, the acute phase can really end, and that is what we are expecting. It’s in our hands. It’s not a matter of chance. It’s a matter of choice.” He was speaking during a visit to Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines, which has produced the first mRNA COVID vaccine made in Africa using Moderna’s sequence.
Australians told to get COVID boosters to be considered fully vaccinated
Australian residents will need to receive booster shots to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19, although authorities said foreign travellers will continue to need only two shots to enter the country. Australia's national cabinet late on Thursday endorsed the revised guidance from the country's vaccination advisory group to classify "up-to-date" inoculations as including boosters. A person's vaccination status will be considered "overdue" if they have not received a booster within six months of their second dose, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
German court rules coronavirus vaccine mandate for health workers can proceed
The mandate requires all employees in nursing homes, hospitals, doctors' offices and outpatient clinics to prove they are vaccinated against COVID-19. An emergency motion had attempted to delay its enforcement. Germany's Constitutional Court on Friday ruled that a mandate requiring health care workers to present proof of full vaccination against COVID-19 or recovery from the disease should go into force as planned. Opponents of the mandate had petitioned the court to postpone its application. The mandate is due to begin on March 15. Friday's ruling was on whether the mandate could be enforced ahead of a final decision on whether the move is constitutional under German law.
Community Activities
French COVID protest convoy defies Paris stay-away order
A convoy protesting COVID-19 restrictions breached police defences and drove into central Paris on Saturday, snarling traffic around the Arc de Triomphe and on the Champs Elysees, as police fired tear gas at demonstrators. Protesters in cars, campervans, tractors and other vehicles had converged on Paris from Lille, Perpignan, Nice and other cities late on Friday, despite warnings from Paris authorities that they would be barred from entering the capital. Inspired by horn-blaring "Freedom Convoy" demonstrations in Canada, dozens of vehicles slipped through the police cordon, impeding traffic around the 19th century arch and the top of the boutique-lined Champs Elysees, a magnet for tourists.
Australian police urge protesters to leave capital
Australian police have given thousands of protesters until the end of Sunday to leave occupied areas of the country’s capital, as days-long rallies continue against COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Several thousand protesters remained in place at Canberra's major showgrounds, while fewer than 100 demonstrators were gathered near the federal parliament building, an Australian Capital Territory (ACT) police spokesperson told Reuters. No protesters in Canberra had been arrested so far on Sunday after three were detained on Saturday.
Canada Border Blockades Leave Automakers Scrambling
Blockades of the U.S.-Canada border stymied flows of critical supplies for the fourth day on Friday, leaving companies scrambling for materials and shutting down major auto factories from Ontario to Alabama. The partial closure of the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest land crossing between the countries and a vital conduit for the auto industry, sent ripples through North American supply chains. Business groups called on officials to forcefully remove protesters who were causing the blockades. Some companies tried to redistribute key parts among their factories and looked for other ways to move products. But others appeared resigned to shutdowns, saying that bypassing the Ambassador Bridge, which connects Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, was just too expensive or difficult.
US conservative figures cheer on Canadian trucker protest
Several conservative media figures in the U.S. have taken up the cause of Canadian truckers who have occupied parts of Ottawa and blocked border crossings to protest COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates. Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity cheered the truckers on while showing four live reports from Ottawa this week. Tucker Carlson’s online store is selling “I (heart) Tucker” T-shirts edited to say “I (heart) Truckers.” “Send our solidarity, love and support to all of the brave people who are there,” Hannity told Fox reporter Sara Carter, who was with the protesters in Ottawa, on his show Thursday. “Don’t give up.”
Venice's 'Carnival of hope' kicks off as COVID worries ease
Thousands of people revelled in the start of the annual Carnival celebrations in Venice on Saturday, marking a slow return to normality after the COVID-19 pandemic hit the two previous editions. The 2020 Venice Carnival, which usually draws tourists from around the world, was curtailed when the pandemic broke out in Italy in February that year and then cancelled the following year as the government sought to contain infections. "This is the Carnival of hope," said Venice resident Cristian Scalise. "COVID is ending and we hope to return to our life as always."
Amazon to allow work without face masks, require vaccination for paid COVID leave
Amazon.com Inc on Thursday informed staff at its U.S. warehouses and logistics sites that they must report being fully vaccinated by March 18 if they wish to receive paid leave due to COVID-19. The company also said fully vaccinated operations staff could work without a face covering starting on Friday as local regulations allow, according to a message to workers that Amazon shared with Reuters. The online retailer attributed its policy updates to a recent decline in coronavirus cases across the United States, increasing rates of vaccination, and guidance from its medical experts and public health authorities.
COVID: South Africa gradually 'returns to normalcy'
The world was shocked when the Omicron variant was discovered in South Africa last year. But life is almost back to normal there. The government has lifted most lockdown restrictions, and tourists are flocking back. The pandemic felt like a distant memory on the first Thursday of February in Cape Town. Once a month, galleries, restaurants, and shops in the city center open until late, turning the area into a massive pedestrian zone. "Friends told me that there would hardly be any restrictions," German tourist Dominik Irschik told DW. He had just arrived in Cape Town. "But I didn't expect this. Streets, bars, and clubs are full of people — everybody is relaxed and lives like normal again. It's great," Irschik said.
Thousands of unvaccinated New York municipal workers could lose jobs Friday
Thousands of unvaccinated New York City municipal workers are up against a deadline on Friday to get a COVID-19 shot or get fired, with Mayor Eric Adams apparently determined to carry out the terminations despite an outcry from union leaders. Fewer than 4,000 of the city's 370,000 workers were facing termination at the end of January as a result of the mandate, according to the mayor's office, which said it expected to have an updated number of affected city employees on Monday.
Working Remotely
How to choose the best digital nomad visa and what to consider before applying
Over the last couple of years, lots of new digital nomad visas have become available in countries all over the world. There are currently 30-70 visas and permits out there. Some have been specifically designed for remote workers while others are previously existing visas that have been adapted to people who want to work while travelling. What these remote work programmes offer is peace of mind and the chance to work remotely - totally legally. That said, the choice can be overwhelming and there are lots of details to work out.
Remote Workers Have More ‘Digital Anxiety’ Than Office Counterparts: New Poll
Remote workers apparently have more to worry about than their in-office counterparts. Indeed, according to a new international survey, 67% of these workers said they worry more about their online security and privacy their in-office counterparts (58%), even though there is nothing wrong that would trigger their concerns. The survey was conducted by cybersecurity firm F-Secure and included 7,200 workers from around the world.
Virtual Classrooms
Will Covid-19 bring edtech closer to overcoming challenges of virtual schools, colleges? Here's what experts have to say
Educational technology (EdTech) entities have been operating since the emergence of niche technologies. The EdTech sector witnessed exponential growth following the disruption due to the Covid 19 pandemic. India-based data confirms that the EdTech revolution is not going to subside anytime soon. It is an ongoing process with newer and better developments in the pipeline. The lack of a proper tool to operationalise the virtual classroom is the primary challenge in online education. Most institutions are just relying on video conferencing tools and messaging applications to run the classes.
Let's not allow tradition to stifle innovation in higher education
Britain’s higher education sector could miss a major opportunity to cement its reputation as a world leader if innovative online learning measures introduced during the pandemic are phased out to accommodate calls to return to a fully face-to-face university experience. While leading universities across the globe use online tools to enhance their offerings and create a world-class educational experience for their students, there’s an embedded school of thought in the UK (and elsewhere) that online learning is of inherently poorer quality or provides a poorer experience. As a nation with ambitions to be digitally driven, we should realise that this couldn’t be further from the truth. If we want our students to really thrive and get the best value for money for their education, shouldn’t technology play a part?
Public Policies
China approves use of Pfizer's COVID drug Paxlovid
China's medical products regulator said on Saturday it has given conditional approval for Pfizer's COVID-19 drug Paxlovid, making it the first oral pill specifically developed to treat the disease cleared in the country. The National Medical Products Administration said Paxlovid is approved to treat adults who have mild to moderate COVID-19 and high risk of progressing to a severe condition. Further study on the drug needed to be conducted and submitted to the authority, it said. It is not immediately clear if China is already in talks with Pfizer to procure the pill.
US delays decision on COVID vaccine for children under 5
A United States decision on Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine for children six months through four years of age has been postponed for at least two months after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it needed more data. The FDA had planned to make a decision on the vaccine based on early trial data because of what it had called a great public health need due to the surge in infections caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The decision was slated for next week, with a rollout starting as soon as February 21.
Africa 'on track' to control the Covid-19 pandemic, WHO says
African countries are on course to control the coronavirus and its emerging variants this year, the World Health Organization's regional head for the continent has said. African countries have faced a number of challenges since the first outbreak of the Covid-19 virus in February 2020, including the impact of lockdowns on economies and livelihoods, and inequities in accessing vaccines. However, the continent also saw relatively modest infection and fatality rates, with a higher number of recoveries when compared to cases reported globally, according to data from the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). "Over the past two years, the African continent has gotten smarter, faster, and better at responding to each new surge in cases of Covid-19," said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti.
Covid-19: Robin Swann 'has authority' to lift restrictions
Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann does have the authority to lift Covid-19 restrictions, the economy minister has said. Mr Swann told other ministers he had received legal advice indicating he cannot lift all of the regulations in the absence of the executive. The executive collapsed after the resignation of Paul Givan from the post of first minister. But Gordon Lyons said Mr Swann does not need to take it to the executive. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MLA was responding to a letter from Mr Swann to ministers, which outlined the advice from Stormont lawyers about lifting restrictions. Mr Lyons told BBC News NI ministers were only "obligated to take issues to the executive if they are controversial, significant or cross cutting.
WHO adds Roche's arthritis drug tocilizumab to COVID-19 medicines list
The World Health Organization said on Friday it had added its first monoclonal antibody tocilizumab to its so-called pre-qualification list, an official list of medicines used as a benchmark for procurement by developing countries. The WHO recommended the drug, manufactured by Roche and typically used to treat arthritis, only for patients diagnosed with severe or critical COVID-19.
CDC recommends people with weakened immune systems get booster doses after three months instead of five
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance on Friday for some people with weakened immune systems, recommending they get a booster dose of the coronavirus vaccine three months after completing the initial series of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shots, rather than the current interval of five months. The guidance also said immunocompromised people who received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine should get an additional dose. That means two doses, at least 28 days apart, followed by a booster dose of one of the mRNA vaccines. “Although COVID-19 vaccines continue to work well to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death, we have seen reduced protection against mild and moderate disease,” the agency said in a statement. “With the number of cases of COVID-19 still high across the United States and globally, this guidance helps to ensure that people have optimal protection against” the virus that causes the disease.
EXCLUSIVE EU, Gates Foundation to support African medicines agency -source
The European Union and the Gates Foundation are set to announce financial support for nascent efforts to set up an African medicines regulator to boost the continent's drugs and vaccine production, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. The treaty establishing the African Medicines Agency (AMA) came into force in November but the agency currently exists only on paper. So far just over half of the 55 African Union (AU) member states have ratified the treaty setting up the AMA. Financial and technical support to the new agency is seen as crucial to help it to begin operations. This in turn would be a boost for the continent's vaccine and drugs industry, which needs a trusted regulator to flourish.
F.D.A. Clears Monoclonal Antibody Drug From Eli Lilly
With Covid treatments still in short supply in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration on Friday gave emergency authorization to a new monoclonal antibody drug that has been found in the laboratory to be potent against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The Biden administration said it would make the therapy immediately available to states free of charge. The authorization of the treatment, bebtelovimab, means that the United States now has four drugs available for high-risk Covid patients early in the course of their illness that have been found to neutralize the Omicron variant. While there is a greater menu of Covid pills and treatments now than at any other point in the pandemic, the drugs have been so scarce that doctors have been forced to make painful rationing decisions during the Omicron surge.
Maintaining Services
While 99% of NYC Workers Comply With Covid-19 Vaccine Rules, 3,000 Face Cuts
About 3,000 New York City workers are set to lose their jobs for not complying with Covid-19 vaccinate requirements for city employees, representing about 0.8% of a roughly 370,000-person workforce. The vaccine requirement—which encompassed the city’s teachers, police officers and firefighters—mandated that all new city workers as of Aug. 2, 2021, be fully vaccinated against Covid-19. The policy went into effect under then-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration. City agencies were told Monday that new hires who joined after that date had until Friday to show proof they received a second vaccine dose. About 3,000 employees were on leave without pay as of the end of January due to being unvaccinated. They were told they would be let go on Friday unless they got vaccinated.
Beijing's ambitious Olympic COVID bubble: So far, so good
For a country determined to keep out the virus that first emerged within its borders, bringing in more than 15,000 people from all corners of the world was a serious gamble. It appears to be working. One week into the 17-day event, China seems to be meeting its formidable COVID-19 Olympic challenge with a so-called “bubble” that allows Beijing Games participants to skip quarantine but tightly restricts their movement so they don’t come in contact with the general population. There have been 490 confirmed cases — many of them positive tests on symptomless visitors — and no reports of any leaking out to date. Inside the bubble, Olympic organizers are employing a version of the government’s zero-tolerance approach. Everyone is tested daily for the virus, and anyone who tests positive is rapidly isolated to prevent any spread. Athletes and others are required to wear N95 face masks when not competing.
COVID-19: Children over 12 can visit Spain without being fully vaccinated after rule scrapped
Children over 12 from non-EU countries will no longer have to be fully vaccinated against coronavirus to enter Spain. The country is scrapping the rule from Monday to line up with UK half term. Children aged 12 to 17 will now be able to visit by showing a negative PCR test taken in the past three days. It will make holidays easier for many families, some of whom had to cancel plans because of the rule. Adults must still be fully vaccinated to go to Spain (the NHS COVID pass is acceptable) and travellers must also fill in a health control form before departure.
Hong Kong's zero-COVID quest pushes medical facilities to the brink
Hong Kong's stubborn pursuit of zero COVID infections has stretched hospital and quarantine facilities nearly to their limit in the global financial hub, raising the near-term prospect of changes to admissions and isolation policies. Chinese-ruled Hong Kong is also grappling with the overload on doctors and nurses as it follows mainland authorities' strategy of curbing outbreaks as soon as possible, in contrast with many other places that aim to "live with COVID".
Healthcare Innovations
Novartis seeks FDA EUA for Covid-19 antiviral candidate ensovibep
Molecular Partners has reported that its partner Novartis sought emergency use authorization (EUA) for the antiviral candidate, ensovibep, from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat Covid-19. A Designed Ankyrin Repeat Protein (DARPin) antiviral therapeutic candidate, ensovibep can specially hinder the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ target cell entry. It comprises three covalently associated individual DARPin domains that can attach to the viral spike protein. With these domains combined into a single molecule, the antiviral candidate can inhibit the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein’s receptor-binding domain (RBD), even when mutations occur in the spike protein. The latest submission to the FDA is based on the entirety of the results from clinical and preclinical studies.
Robust Covid-19 Booster Protection Wanes After Four Months, CDC Says
Messenger RNA vaccines’ protection against Covid-19 hospitalization remained strong overall after three doses but did wane over time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. In the month after the Omicron variant became dominant in the U.S. around Dec. 20, protection against hospitalization fell from 91% within two months of receiving a third shot to 78% after four months, the CDC said Friday, reporting results from a study. The CDC report said the findings underscored the importance of receiving a third mRNA vaccine dose to prevent hospitalization as well as emergency-care visits. Without a third booster shot, protection against hospitalization within two months of a second shot was 71%, and fell to 54% after five months.