"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 15th Feb 2022

Isolation Tips
Taiwan says needs to re-open, eyes March cut to COVID quarantine
Taiwan aims to ease its strict COVID-19 quarantine policy from next month as it needs to gradually resume normal life and re-open to the world, the government said on Monday. Since the pandemic began two years ago, Taiwan has succeeded in keeping reported cases of COVID-19 below 20,000, having enforced a blanket two-week quarantine for everyone arriving on the island even as large parts of the rest of the world have ditched theirs.
Norway to end most pandemic curbs
Norway will scrap nearly all its remaining COVID-19 lockdown measures as high levels of coronavirus infections are unlikely to jeopardise health services, Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said on Saturday. The Nordic country, which removed most curbs on Feb. 1, will still keep some restrictions for the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. The new rules will take effect from Saturday at 1000 CET (0900 GMT). read more "We are removing almost all coronavirus measures," Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference.
New Zealand Self-Isolation Will Reduce in New Omicron Phase
New Zealand will move to a new phase in its response to omicron as case numbers of the more infectious variant of Covid-19 begin to accelerate. From midnight Tuesday, phase 2 will take effect, attempting to minimize disruption to supply chains as the virus becomes more widespread, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a news conference Monday in Wellington. This means cases and close contacts will self-isolate for less time, and a scheme will be introduced allowing critical workers to remain in their jobs. The nation today reported nearly 1,800 cases over the weekend, up from a daily average of about 300 over the preceding seven days.
Hygiene Helpers
China’s Approval of Pfizer Pill Opens Door to Ending Covid Zero
China’s surprise decision to clear Pfizer Inc.’s coronavirus pill for use offers rare insight into how Beijing may be planning to move beyond the Covid Zero strategy that’s leaving it increasingly isolated. Paxlovid’s conditional approval over the weekend makes it the first foreign pharmaceutical product China has endorsed for Covid-19, with the country until now sticking steadfastly to domestically developed vaccines and therapeutics, even withholding approval for the highly potent mRNA shot co-produced by Pfizer and BioNTech SE. Pfizer’s pill will serve a strategic purpose, said Zeng Guang, a former chief scientist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention who advised Beijing on Covid control, told investors in a briefing organized by Sealand Securities Co. on Saturday, hours after the approval was announced.
Three Covid vaccines give ‘substantial’ extra protection against serious illness compared to two doses
Three jabs are better than two, according to a new study which finds that people are better protected against Covid after their booster than they are after their second dose. Researchers compared the protection conferred by second and third Pfizer jabs and found the boost gave a better defence against both infection and serious illness. Three doses gave 88 per cent protection against any kind of infection, from asymptomatic to very serious, rising to 97 per cent defence against hospitalisation during the first 3 months after vaccination. But unlike nine months ago, when the Delta variant was spreading through a mostly unvaccinated population, now millions of factory workers have been fully vaccinated and the Omicron variant is proving less severe, the government said. "The risk of widespread lockdowns is very low this year as Vietnam has successfully carried out its COVID-19 vaccination campaign," Dang Duc Anh, director of the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology, told Reuters.
Sweden recommends fourth COVID-19 jab for the elderly
Sweden's Health Agency recommended on Monday that people aged 80 or above should receive a second booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine, the fourth jab in total, to ward off waning immunity amid the rampant spread of the Omicron variant. The recommendation also covered all people living in nursing homes or who receive assisted living services at home. The second booster shot should be administered at least four months after the first booster jab, the agency said in a statement. Sweden hit record levels of infections earlier this year as Omicron spread rapidly across the country.
Hong Kong to vaccinate 3-year-olds amid new COVID-19 surge
Hong Kong plans to offer COVID-19 vaccines to children as young as 3 as infections rage through the semi-autonomous Chinese city. The announcement late Sunday came ahead of another surge in cases. The city reported a record 2,071 new cases on Monday, with that number expected to double the next day with more than 4,500 preliminary positives identified. Hong Kong schools extended a suspension of in-class teaching for two weeks to March 6, The wave blamed on the omicron variant has already prompted new restrictions limiting in-person gatherings to no more than two households. Hong Kong residents have been rushing to grocery stories to stock up on vegetables and to hair salons to get haircuts.
Community Activities
New York City Fires 1430 Unvaccinated Workers Following Deadline
More than 1,400 public-sector workers in New York City were fired over their refusal to get vaccinated before the city’s mandated Feb. 11 deadline, most of whom were Department of Education employees. The terminations make up less than 1% of the city’s 370,000-member workforce. About half of the 3,000 employees originally at risk for being fired decided to get vaccinated before the deadline, according to a City Hall spokesperson. New York City mayor Eric Adams characterized the employees’ termination as quitting, saying that they’re choosing to leave their jobs by not following the rules.
Tunisia entry requirements: New travel restrictions see Covid tests scrapped for vaccinated arrivals
Fully vaccinated travellers visiting Tunisia from the UK will no longer be required to present a negative Covid test upon arrival. The rule change has been confirmed by the Foreign Office and comes into effect from Tuesday 15 February. Children who are unvaccinated will be allowed to test to enter, with either a PCR test less than 48 hours before travel, or an antigen test less than 24 hours before travel. Children aged six and under are exempt from all testing and vaccine requirements.
U.S.-Canada bridge reopens after police clear protesters
North America's busiest trade link reopened for traffic late Sunday evening, ending a six-day blockade, Canada Border Services Agency said, after Canadian police cleared the protesters fighting to end COVID-19 restrictions. Canadian police made several arrests on Sunday and cleared protesters and vehicles that occupied the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor, Ontario, after a court order on Friday. The blockade had choked the supply chain for Detroit's carmakers, forcing Ford Motor Co (F.N), the second-largest U.S. automaker, General Motors Co (GM.N) and Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) to cut production.
Working Remotely
Research highlights impact of disconnection among remote workers
Remote working has left some employees feeling less engaged and detached from their team, according to new research that sheds light on the importance of connection in hybrid working. As more companies begin to move towards the hybrid model, new research has focused on how employee wellbeing is being addressed. The research from the SFI ADAPT Centre for AI-Driven Digital Content Technology and the SFI Centre for Research Training in Digitally-Enhanced Reality (D-REAL) has proposed recommendations to help develop a more connected online workplace.
One third of Brits still working from home despite rule changes, data show
Vast numbers of Brits are still working from home, despite being free to go back to the office since the government repealed its advice to work remotely nearly a month ago. Boris Johnson announced on 20 January that in England the working from home guidance would be withdrawn immediately. Despite this, between 19 January and 30 January, 36% of working adults reported having worked from home at least once in the last seven days, according to new data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS). The ONS said this proportion had actually increased in recent weeks, but was still below the July 2020 peak, when nearly half of all working adults worked from home.
Virtual Classrooms
Online learning for the underprivileged: Simple steps towards a brighter future
The pandemic has changed the world of education dramatically in India. The closure of schools and switch to hybrid model of learning have laid bare the existing digital divide. Underprivileged children, who don’t have access to basic resources of online learning are now challenged by the perils of the pandemic and they deserve maximum attention. Transforming community centres or developing educational centres as smart classes for communities with internet facility, digital screens, phones and computers can solve the problem of unavailability of resources and provide better access to education.
Less than one in three students rate their online education as good – study
Less than one in three students in full-time education rated their online education experience during the pandemic as excellent or good, a survey has found. More than six in 10 people in part-time education rated their online education experience during the pandemic as excellent or good. The figures were revealed after the Central Statistics Office (CSO) published its analysis of remote learning from the Our Lives Online pulse survey. The report includes insights into online education experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic as well as analysis on future online learning opportunities.
Public Policies
U.S. offers $69 million in aviation manufacturing assistance
The U.S. Transportation Department said on Friday it was offering $69 million to 127 aviation manufacturing and repair businesses under a COVID-19 relief program created by Congress in 2021. In total, the department has offered $673 million nationwide in three rounds of awards. Some previously offered awards were not ultimately paid. The $3 billion aviation manufacturing payroll subsidy program covers up to half of eligible companies' compensation costs for up to six months. Grantees may not conduct furloughs without employee consent or lay off workers covered by subsidies during that period.
Vaccine access puts EU and Africa at odds ahead of summit
Europe's refusal to share COVID-19 vaccine technology threatens to overshadow a major gathering of European and African leaders this week. Europe wants to use the meeting — which has been delayed by 16 months due to the pandemic — to advance relations on several fronts, including trade and digital connectivity. But access to vaccines will be high on the agenda. African leaders are furious that the continent received mere "crumbs" from wealthy countries’ overflowing plate of vaccines, leaving their populations much less protected against the virus. They will be looking to the two-day summit between the EU and African Union for evidence that Europe is serious about tackling what South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has blasted as "vaccine apartheid." And Europe shows no sign of moving on what is a central issue for many African leaders — loosening access to intellectual property on vaccines. “They hoarded vaccines, they ordered more vaccines than their populations require. The greed they demonstrated was disappointing, particularly when they say they are our partners,” Ramaphosa said in December. “Because our lives in Africa are just as important as lives in Europe, North America and all over."
Singapore grants interim approval for Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine
Singapore's Health Sciences Authority (HSA) said on Monday it has granted an interim authorisation for Novavax's COVID-19 vaccine. The first batch of the Nuvaxovid vaccine is expected to arrive in Singapore in the next few months, the HSA said.
Maintaining Services
New Covid jabs ad campaign aimed at unvaccinated Brits amid fears they are vulnerable to fresh waves of virus
The Government has launched a new advertising campaign aimed at convincing unvaccinated people to get a Covid-19 jab amid fears they may be vulnerable in future waves of coronavirus. Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths have all been declining rapidly in the past week with the figures returning to levels seen before the start of the Omicron wave. However, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has warned that if more people return to normal life, infections could soar again in the coming months.
Sweden recommends fourth COVID-19 jab for the elderly
Sweden's Health Agency recommended on Monday that people aged 80 or above should receive a second booster shot of COVID-19 vaccine, the fourth jab in total, to ward off waning immunity amid the rampant spread of the Omicron variant. The recommendation also covered all people living in nursing homes or who receive assisted living services at home. The second booster shot should be administered at least four months after the first booster jab, the agency said in a statement. Sweden hit record levels of infections earlier this year as Omicron spread rapidly across the country.
Mainland China to help overwhelmed Hong Kong with COVID fight
China will help Hong Kong to cope with an expanding COVID-19 outbreak by providing testing, treatment and quarantine capacity, Chief Secretary John Lee said on Saturday, adding that there were no plans for a mainland-style lockdown for now. Hong Kong and mainland China are among few places in the world still aiming to suppress every COVID-19 outbreak, but the Omicron variant has proven tough to keep under control. Lee, Health Secretary Sophia Chan and Security Chief Chris Tang were part of a delegation who visited neighbouring Shenzhen on Friday and Saturday to discuss support measures with mainland Chinese officials.
Police filter Brussels traffic to dilute trucker protests
Plans for a major trucker virus protest near the European Union headquarters in Brussels fizzled Monday, with police filtering traffic during the morning rush hour to leave only a few scattered demonstrators on foot instead. Police narrowed some highways and imposed go-slow traffic early Monday in and around the Belgian capital to keep control of what it feared could turn into a choking protest like those by horn-honking truckers in Canada. Early indications didn’t show a groundswell of support for the protest but police took extensive precautions. “We don’t actually think that Brussels has been paralyzed. Anyone who wanted to enter Brussels with good intentions was able to do so — with some delay, of course,” said federal police spokeswoman An Berger.
Moderna eyes UK for next leg of mRNA vaccine manufacturing journey: report
Moderna has already seized domestic manufacturing opportunities in Canada, Australia and Africa. Now, the mRNA pioneer is setting its sights on the U.K.'s "Golden Triangle" for the next leg of its vaccine journey, the Financial Times reports. The company is in late-stage talks with the U.K. to invest in local research and manufacturing, the publication said Sunday. Under the deal, Moderna would also team up with the U.K.’s National Health Service (NHS) for clinical trial work, the FT added. The plan would see Moderna hire staffers to run clinical trials with the NHS, the FT says. Additionally, the biotech would help bolster the U.K.’s pandemic preparedness by building out a manufacturing facility that could swiftly pivot to tackle emerging health threats, the publication noted.
Healthcare Innovations
Novavax Files for Conditional Marketing Authorization of COVID-19 Vaccine in Switzerland
Novavax, Inc., a biotechnology company dedicated to developing and commercializing next-generation vaccines for serious infectious diseases, today announced its submission to Swissmedic, the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products, for conditional marketing authorization (CMA) of NVX-CoV2373, its recombinant nanoparticle protein-based COVID-19 vaccine candidate with Matrix-M™ adjuvant, for use in adults. “We remain committed to delivering our COVID-19 vaccine, built on a well-understood protein platform used in common vaccines for decades,” said Stanley C. Erck, President and Chief Executive Officer, Novavax. “We look forward to Swissmedic’s review and, if authorized, delivering the vaccine to Switzerland to help fill the continued gap in vaccination and global distribution channels.”
Cancer computer models identify new drug combinations to treat Covid-19
By adapting computer models originally developed to understand the biology of cancer cells, UCL researchers have identified new drug combinations with the potential to treat severe cases of Covid-19 infection at different stages of the disease. The findings could help lower the number of Covid-19 related deaths and reduce the strain on healthcare systems. Published in npj Digital Medicine, the study tested the potential impact of interfering with different aspects of SARS-CoV-2 infection and the body’s responses to the virus. Results have identified existing therapeutics that might be suitable for treating Covid-19 patients. Although vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 now exist, additional effective and affordable treatments are still urgently required. Cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection are still highly likely to occur, particularly when new variants arise.