"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 16th Feb 2022

Isolation Tips
Covid-19: Relief mixed with concern as regulations removed in NI
From mask wearing to Covid certificates, restrictions have been a part of life in Northern Ireland for nearly two years. But Health Minister Robin Swann advised people to be vigilant and warned that coronavirus remains a threat to public health. BBC News NI spoke to people in Belfast and Londonderry, who expressed a mixture of relief and concern.
Hong Kong rules out citywide lockdown as cases continue to surge
Daily infections have surged by about 20 times over the past two weeks. Health authorities reported 1,619 infections on Tuesday, a new daily record with around 5,400 preliminary positive cases. "There are no plans for a widespread city lockdown," Lam told a news conference. "We cannot surrender to the virus. This is not an option," she said, doubling down on her 'dynamic zero' coronavirus strategy, similar to mainland China which seeks to curb outbreaks as soon as they occur.
Netherlands to drop most COVID measures starting Friday
The Dutch government will lift most of its coronavirus restrictions as of Friday, as the record levels of infections triggered by the Omicron variant have not translated in a peak of hospitalisations, health minister Ernst Kuipers said on Tuesday. "The country will open up again ... happily we are in a different phase now," Kuipers said during a press conference. Bars and restaurants will be allowed to stay open until 1 a.m. (midnight GMT) as of Friday, instead of 10 p.m.
Hygiene Helpers
Exercise right after Covid or flu vaccination may give an antibody boost, study finds
About 90 minutes of light- to moderate-intensity exercise directly after a flu or Covid shot could provide an extra immune boost, suggests a new study. Researchers at Iowa State University found participants who cycled on a stationary bike or took a brisk walk for an hour-and-a-half after getting a jab produced more antibodies in the following four weeks compared to those who sat or continued with their daily routine post-vaccination. The study, published last week in the journal Brain Behavior and Immunity, found similar results after an experiment with mice and treadmills. “Our preliminary results are the first to demonstrate a specific amount of time can enhance the body’s antibody response to the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine and two vaccines for influenza,” Marian Kohut, lead author of the study, said in a statement.
Covid-19 booster shot uptake is at all-time low in the US, CNN analysis finds
The pace of people getting Covid-19 vaccine booster shots in the United States has dropped to the lowest it has ever been, and many public health experts are concerned. As of Monday, about 64% of the US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19 with at least their initial two-dose series, and 28% have received a booster shot. But the pace of booster doses going into arms is the lowest it has been in months -- since the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention first recommended boosters for seniors and other at-risk adults in September, according to a CNN analysis of CDC data.
DC to drop coronavirus vaccine requirement to enter businesses
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser is dropping the city’s requirement that people show proof of coronavirus vaccination before entering many businesses in the city, as coronavirus transmission continues to trend downward throughout the region. The District’s requirement for residents to show proof of vaccination to enter most businesses — announced in December — will cease Tuesday, said Bowser (D). She also said she’s allowing the city’s mandate to wear masks in all indoor public spaces to be lifted starting March 1. Bowser had rescinded the indoor masking mandate in November before the surging omicron variant spurred her to bring it back.
Covid-19: Show us evidence for lifting restrictions, doctors tell Johnson
Doctors and scientists have warned the prime minister that SARS-CoV-2, and not politics, should dictate the pace at which the UK lifts measures to contain the pandemic. They expressed their concern after Boris Johnson’s announcement during prime minister’s questions in parliament on 9 February that he intended to end all remaining restrictions four weeks early if “encouraging trends” continued. The move would see the restrictions, including the current legal requirement to self-isolate after a positive test result, ending as early as 24 February. The BMA responded by calling for the government to provide evidence for its position. Penelope Toff, chair of the association’s public health medicine committee, said, “With case rates still incredibly high and hundreds of deaths each day, the suggestion that self-isolation may be removed this month runs contrary to good public health practice. We must question on what scientific basis this decision is being made, and the government needs to show the evidence behind its proposals.”
Community Activities
Belgium permits four-day week to boost work flexibility post COVID
Belgian employees will be able to work a four-day week after the government on Tuesday agreed a new labour accord aimed at bringing flexibility to an otherwise rigid labour market. Speaking after his seven-party coalition federal government reached a deal overnight, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said the coronavirus pandemic had forced people to work more flexibly and combine their private and working lives. "This has led to new ways of working," he told a press conference. Employees who request it will be able to work up to 10 hours per day if trade unions agree, instead of the maximum 8 now, in order to work one day less per week for the same pay.
Finland entry requirements: New travel rules scrap Covid tests for fully vaccinated and recently infected
Finland is the latest country to scrap testing for fully vaccinated travellers from the UK. From Tuesday the requirement to present a PCR or antigen test upon arrival is to be dropped for those with either with proof of vaccination, proof of a recent infection or a combination of both.
Israelis mount their own COVID 'Freedom Convoy'
Hundreds of vehicles drove along the main highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Monday and converged on parliament to protest against COVID-19 curbs in a convoy inspired by demonstrations in Canada. Other protesters stood on overpasses and at junctions as the so-called "Freedom Convoy" passed by, withbanners and Israeli and Canadian flags flying from the vehicles. "Freedom doesn't look like this," read one sign, showing a picture of a girl in a mask. Outside parliament, protesters sounded horns and beat drums, and called for pandemic restrictions to be lifted.
Canada to ease travel requirements as COVID cases decline
Canada will ease entry for fully vaccinated international travelers starting on Feb. 28 as COVID-19 cases decline, allowing a rapid antigen test for travelers instead of a molecular one, officials said on Tuesday. Antigen tests are cheaper than a molecular test and can provide results within minutes. The new measures, which include random testing for vaccinated travelers entering Canada, were announced by federal government ministers at a briefing.
Working Remotely
In 10 Years, ‘Remote Work’ Will Simply Be ‘Work’
A decade from now, offices shall be used for one thing and one thing only: quality time with colleagues. This seemingly bold prediction comes from Prithwiraj Choudhury, a Harvard Business School professor and expert on remote work. “We will probably in 10 years stop calling this ‘remote work’. We’ll just call it work,” he said. A long-time advocate of “work from anywhere,” Choudhury has studied firms that went 100% remote years before the pandemic. His research showed that a hybrid workforce is more productive, more loyal and less likely to leave. With companies from Twitter Inc. to PwC now giving employees the option to work virtually forever, Choudhury said businesses that don’t adapt risk higher attrition.
Why Remote Work Isn’t Only Beneficial For Employees
We're nearly two years into the pandemic that's shifted many office jobs to remote work, yet the discussion around the future of work often misses a critical point. By enabling employees to work from wherever they want and focusing less on in-person gatherings, businesses can be more productive while also creating more inclusive environments and continuing to foster real connections. Although some CEOs in the tech sector continue to delay return-to-office dates, what office workers will return to isn't the environment they left in March 2020. A remote-first culture can create more engaged employees, stronger retention and improved productivity.
COVID Changed the World of Work Forever
The pandemic has taught many people that the job does not have to be the way it was. This realization may be one reason that many are not going back to their old jobs. At the end of 2021, the service provider and hospitality sectors were facing major challenges in enticing people back to these low-paid, heavy-demand jobs, with many positions remaining empty. At the same time, 4.5 million Americans (3 percent of the workforce) voluntarily quit their jobs in November, reflecting both discontent with their current positions and the desire to find better ones. But solving the burnout problem cannot fall to individual workers. The workplace must change. People burn out because their employers have not successfully managed chronic job stressors. We must place a stronger focus on modifying or redesigning workplace conditions. How can job environments be places that help people thrive rather than wearing them down?
Research Explores The Economic Benefits Of Remote Work During Covid-19
If you're a knowledge worker, the Covid-19 pandemic has almost certainly meant you have grown all too familiar with tools such as Zoom. The wholesale transition to remote working has by and large been successful, with research suggesting that productivity has largely been strong during the pandemic, even if there have been possible consequences for collaboration and innovation. "If you have the right connectivity, remote working can increase the productivity across the team, but it certainly isn't without issues," Neil Parker, GM of EMEA at intelligent automation provider Laiye says. "When you haven't met someone the relationship is inevitably very different, so when you're tackling challenging situations, whether that's collaboration or more disciplinary issues, it can be difficult."
Hybrid working must still allow career progression
In the UK, restrictions have now lifted and professionals can return to offices, but many businesses plan to continue with a hybrid model. In this new way of working, employees in the investment sector are considering the impacts this could have on career progression. Hybrid working has largely been welcomed by employees but stigma about working remotely remains in some organisations.
Two-thirds of UK workers find making work friends remotely challenging, research finds
Employers have been urged to do more to encourage social connections between remote staff after a survey revealed that nearly two thirds of Brits find it difficult to make work friends while working from home. A poll of 2,500 UK workers, conducted by OC Tanner as part of its Global Culture Report, found 63 per cent said it was more challenging forming new friendships with colleagues while working remotely. Over half of those polled (58 per cent) also admitted that the office was where most of their new friendships are formed, while 71 per cent of UK workers said they valued colleague interactions.
Virtual Classrooms
Clear Goals and Engaging Hosts: How to Create Powerful Virtual Learning Experiences
Virtual learning experiences present some excellent aspects that in-person sessions may struggle to offer. To reach their full potential, however, online sessions require a mixture of strategies and techniques. This is why people designing and developing learning events should be equipped with the knowledge, skills, and technology competencies to create engaging virtual sessions. In this respect, the article will explore some of the best practices to help you tailor a virtual learning experience that your attendees will truly appreciate.
Top tips for establishing close relationships with students online
As anyone who has spent time teaching at any level will tell you, forming a close relationship with students is a crucial aspect of education – whether that’s in the classroom or in an online environment. The quality of the crucial relationship between teachers and students is a true learning booster for students and can become a source of well-being for teachers, too – after all, emotional exhaustion is reduced when close relationships develop. So with this in mind, how can a teacher forge and maintain close relationships in the classroom that foster commitment and learning? Here are some ideas for teachers to consider for establishing meaningful connections with students.
How Online Learning Is Reshaping Higher Education
“When the pandemic hit, it was a provocation, as well as a demand for innovation,” said Caroline Levander, the vice president for global and digital strategy at Rice University in Houston, during a recent webinar on the future of online learning hosted by U.S. News & World Report. While the changes were challenging for many, faculty members at Rice and elsewhere embraced the new opportunities that online learning offered. Levander shared an example of a Rice physics professor, Jason Hafner, who capitalized on the virtual environment to find compelling new ways to teach concepts to students.
Public Policies
Novavax receives interim authorisation in Singapore for Covid-19 vaccine
Novavax has received interim authorisation from the Singapore Health Sciences Authority (HSA) for its recombinant, adjuvanted Covid-19 vaccine, Nuvaxovid (NVX-CoV2373). The vaccine is intended for active immunisation to prevent the disease in people aged 18 years and above. A protein-based vaccine, NVX-CoV2373 is made from the genetic sequence of the first SARS-CoV-2 viral strain. The vaccine is formulated with the company’s Matrix-M, a saponin-based adjuvant to boost immune response and elicit greater neutralising antibody levels.
WHO urges increased COVID vaccination efforts in Eastern Europe
A new wave of COVID infections from the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus is heading towards Eastern Europe, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned. The WHO’s European office on Monday called for authorities to boost vaccination efforts in the region, warning that a “tidal wave” of infections was approaching. WHO Europe director, Hans Kluge, said the number of new daily COVID-19 cases had more than doubled in six countries in the region in the past two weeks. Kluge said the 53-country region has tallied more than 165 million confirmed coronavirus cases and 1.8 million deaths linked to the pandemic – including 25,000 in the last week alone. “Today, our focus is towards the east of the WHO European region,” Kluge said in Russian at a media briefing, pointing to a surge of Omicron cases. “Over the past two weeks, cases of COVID-19 have more than doubled in six countries in this part of the region [Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine],” the director said.
Maintaining Services
‘Panicking’ Hong Kong parents rush to book Covid-19 shots for young children
Covid-19 vaccinations for children have risen sharply amid Hong Kong’s worsening fifth wave of coronavirus cases, with bookings boosted by an earlier government decision to lower the eligibility age for Sinovac shots to three years from Tuesday. Family doctors and paediatric experts have reported a surge in vaccinations for children, with one medical professional suggesting the recent coronavirus-related death of a four-year-old boy could have been a contributing factor. Paediatrician Dr Alvin Chan Yee-shing, co-chairman of the Medical Association’s advisory committee on communicable diseases, said parents had gone into “panic” mode.
COVID-19: Provision of free lateral flow tests under review as reports say they are due to end
The government has said it is keeping its provision of free lateral flow tests under review as reports say they are due to end. It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to announce the end of all coronavirus restrictions in England. Ministers hope plans to wind down COVID testing and payments for isolation will save more than £10bn, according to reports in The Guardian and The Times.
Israel to offer AstraZeneca's Evusheld to immunocompromised people
Israel will start offering AstraZeneca's (AZN.L) antibody cocktail Evusheld, which is used to prevent COVID-19, to people with compromised immune systems who did not get a sufficient antibody boost from vaccines. Evusheld has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and has proven to be 83% effective in preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday. It is not a treatment for those already sick or a prevention for those already exposed to the virus, it said. Evusheld will be made available for people 12 and older who weigh more than 40 kg (88 lb), according to a Health Ministry statement.
Healthcare Innovations
Scientists identify potential reasons for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in US among individuals with chronic health conditions
A recent survey conducted on the adult population in the United States has identified the most common predictive reasons behind coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine hesitancy. The findings indicate that most of the individuals with chronic health conditions express hesitancy towards the vaccine because of safety and side-effect-related concerns. The study has been published in the journal Health Science Reports.
Coronavirus: Long COVID less common in fully vaccinated, UK health agency says
People who have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus are less likely to have long COVID, the UK Health Security Agency has found. Its review looked at 15 national and international studies that were undertaken up until January 2022. The UKHSA found an estimated 2% of the UK population had reported symptoms of long COVID which can last for more than four weeks after their initial infection.
Scientists propose cause of symptoms, treatment for long COVID-19
Two studies to be presented at upcoming professional society meetings suggest that some long COVID-19 symptoms may be related to the effect of SARS-CoV-2 on the vagus nerve and that the use of enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP)—which increases blood flow—can improve some of those symptoms, respectively. Long COVID may affect up to 15% of those who survive their infections, causing symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain, and cognitive problems that linger for months. Neither study has been peer-reviewed, and the second one comes with the added caveat that it was conducted by an EECP provider.