"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 17th Feb 2022

Isolation Tips
Singapore resumes border reopening after pause due to Omicron outbreak
Singapore will expand quarantine-free travel to Hong Kong, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this month, its health ministry said on Wednesday, resuming border reopening after a pause due to an outbreak of the coronavirus. The city-state will also restore and increase quotas under its vaccinated travel programme, which had been reduced in December to deal with the Omicron variant. Singapore will streamline border measures for all travellers, and remove an entry approval requirement for eligible residents who are long-term pass holders, the ministry said, making it easier for expatriates to travel.
Swiss government lifts nearly all COVID-19 restrictions
Switzerland will lift almost all its coronavirus pandemic restrictions from midnight, the government said on Wednesday, as fears waned that a spike in infections fuelled by the Omicron variant would overwhelm the health care system. The government said only the requirement to wear masks on public transport and while visiting healthcare facilities would remain in force temporarily after the changes, which end nearly two years of restrictions on public life. "The light on the horizon is very visible," President Ignazio Cassis told a news conference in Bern, although he added the government was ready to reimpose curbs if needed.
Austria to lift most COVID-19 restrictions by March 5
Austria will lift most of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions by March 5, including scrapping an earlier closing time of midnight for bars and restaurants and allowing nightclubs to reopen, Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Wednesday. The government said the steps were being taken cautiously with daily new infections hovering below their record peak and a manageable situation in hospitals due to the smaller incidence of severe cases in the latest wave of the coronavirus, dominated by the highly contagious Omicron variant. The easing of curbs as Omicron has proven to be milder than earlier variants will deepen doubt about whether the government will implement a recently enacted law making vaccination against COVID-19 compulsory - the first such measure in the European Union.
Netherlands to lift most COVID restrictions this month
The Netherlands will lift almost all its restrictions against COVID-19 by February 25 as cases and hospitalisations fall, the health minister has said. Bars, restaurants and nightclubs will go back to pre-pandemic opening hours and social distancing and face masks will no longer be obligatory in most places. However, visitors will need to show proof of either vaccination, a recent recovery from COVID-19 or a negative coronavirus test. The Dutch government had imposed some of Europe’s toughest restrictions in December after a surge in Omicron cases but has since been lifting them in stages. “The country will open again,” Health Minister Ernst Kuipers told a news conference on Tuesday. “We will go back to normal closing times we had before corona, you don’t have to keep 1.5 metres away any more,” he added.
Hygiene Helpers
Omicron surge was more deadly in Japan after booster delay, critics say
A Japanese government delay in rolling out COVID-19 booster shots left it more vulnerable than other rich countries when the Omicron variant brought a surge of deaths, say experts, local governments and a former vaccine czar. The issue could mean political trouble for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida as nearly 30% of the population is aged 65 or older, and so at greater risk from the coronavirus without the protection of the booster. Kishida's predecessor stepped down after widespread criticism of his handling of the pandemic and the prime minister's ruling party faces an important test with an upper house election this year.
UK health agency says long COVID less common in the vaccinated
Long COVID is less likely to affect vaccinated people than unvaccinated people, a new review of 15 studies by the UK Health Security Agency released on Tuesday has concluded. UKHSA said the people who received two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, , AstraZeneca or Moderna vaccine, or one dose of the single-shot J&J vaccine, were around half as likely to develop symptoms of long COVID compared to the unvaccinated. "These studies add to the potential benefits of receiving a full course of the COVID-19 vaccination," said Dr Mary Ramsay, head of immunisation at UKHSA.
Scotland to offer COVID vaccines to all 5-11 year olds
Britain said on Wednesday it would offer COVID-19 vaccines to all 5-11 year olds, widening the rollout of vaccines in children in a decision that has been taken more slowly than in some other countries. Announcing the move, health minister Sajid Javid said he had accepted advice from experts who argued that vaccinating young children would help protect against future waves of the coronavirus. Britain has offered COVID-19 shots to vulnerable children, but has been slower than the likes of the United States, Canada, Ireland and Israel in making a broad offer of shots to all 5- to 11-year-olds.
S. Korea to give out rapid tests as omicron shatters record
South Korea will distribute free coronavirus rapid test kits at schools and senior care facilities starting next week as it weathers an unprecedented wave of infections driven by the fast-moving omicron variant. Health officials on Wednesday reported its highest daily jump in coronavirus infections with 90,443 new cases, shattering the previous one-day record set on Tuesday by more than 33,000 cases. The figure represents more than a 20-fold increase from the levels seen in mid-January, when omicron emerged as the country’s dominant strain, and some experts say the country could see daily cases of around 200,000 in March. While experts say omicron appears less likely to cause serious illness or death compared to the delta variant, which rattled the country in December and early January, hospitalizations have been creeping up amid the greater scale of outbreak.
Community Activities
Canadian government wants to quickly clear COVID protest blockades in Ottawa
Police in the Canadian capital Ottawa on Wednesday started warning truck drivers blockading the downtown core that they should depart or face arrest, part of a promised crackdown to end a three-week-old protest over COVID restrictions. "You must leave the area now. Anyone blocking streets ... (is) committing a criminal offense and you may be arrested," read leaflets handed out by police to truckers. "You must immediately cease further unlawful activity." Police also started ticketing some of the hundreds of vehicles blocking the downtown core.
New Zealand COVID vaccine protesters defy police ultimatum to leave parliament
An anti-vaccine mandate protest outside New Zealand's parliament swelled in numbers on Wednesday, with hundreds of people ignoring a warning from police that their vehicles would be towed away if they did not leave voluntarily. Inspired by truckers' demonstrations in Canada, protesters have blocked several roads around Wellington's 'Beehive' parliament for nine days with trucks, vans and motorcycles, and camped out on the lawns in front of the distinctive building. "There has been an influx of protesters at Parliament today, including children. However, the crowd had been orderly," Assistant Police Commissioner Richard Chambers told reporters, estimating there were about 450 vehicles blocking the site.
Covid-19 is not a marathon
A brief survey of pilot fatigue and workload-related issues indicates that the people who staff ICUs are under far more prolonged and intense stress than pilots, with fewer and more limited mitigation options. Given the stakes, shouldn’t health care and research workers have something like the load-management guidelines that air crews have? What do the coaches and managers of elite athletes know that health care leaders don’t know? Legendary coaches like John Wooden, Vince Lombardi, and Bill Bowerman kept practices short, paid attention to recovery, and were constantly asking what they could simplify and stop doing. They also saw themselves as teachers who turned the actual competition over to the athletes and did not micromanage from the sidelines.
Companies revert to more normal operations as COVID wanes
For the first time in two years for many people, the American workplace is transforming into something that resembles pre-pandemic days. Tyson Foods said Tuesday it was ending mask requirements for its vaccinated workers in some facilities. Walmart and Amazon — the nation’s No. 1 and 2 largest private employers respectively — will no longer require fully vaccinated workers to don masks in stores or warehouses unless required under local or state laws. Tech companies like Microsoft and Facebook that had allowed employees to work fully remote are now setting mandatory dates to return to the office after a series of fits and starts. “There has been a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases across the country over the past weeks,” Amazon told workers in a memo.
Working Remotely
Remote Work Is a Choice, Not a Necessity, for Most, Pew Poll Shows
A majority of Americans who work from home today say they’re remote by choice, not necessity. That’s one key takeaway from a Pew Research Center survey, which found that the reasons for teleworking have changed considerably since the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic. Today, 61% of teleworkers who have an office say it’s their choice not to work from there, Pew found, up from about a third in October 2020. Fewer cite concerns about being exposed to the virus -- 42% now versus 57% back then.
Research highlights importance of social chat for hybrid and remote teams
New research investigating the impact of hybrid working and the way colleagues communicate remotely has suggested that social chat is vital for workplace wellness. Researchers from two Science Foundation Ireland (SFI) research centres, the Adapt centre for AI-driven digital content technology and the centre for Research Training in Digitally Enhanced Reality (D-Real), have been looking into how workplace communication has changed since the pandemic. Their research acknowledged the importance of social talk or watercooler conversation as being key to workers’ wellbeing. It also provided recommendations as to how communication can be a feature of hybrid and remote workers’ lives.
Virtual internships were a learning curve — now the future is hybrid
During the past two years, employers have faced a steep learning curve as they developed remote offerings for interns and trainees. Now a second shift is on the way — applying what was learnt in delivering virtual internships to make the most of a hybrid future. “Getting across the values of the firm can be difficult to do remotely and virtually if they [the interns] are logging on and logging straight off and being by themselves,” says Cathy Baxter, UK head of talent engagement at PwC, the professional services firm. Employers aimed to help interns feel as much a part of the team when working from home as they would in the office.
Virtual Classrooms
Report Demonstrates How Virtual Communities Can Foster Belonging in Online Learning Settings
The College Innovation Network has published the results of a study that illuminates the importance of fostering belonging among online students, and demonstrates how intentional design of virtual spaces can enable impactful peer connections. Previous research has shown the benefits of improving belonging for college students. For example, underrepresented and underserved student populations at a broad-access university who took part in a belonging intervention had greater academic persistence over two years as a result of increased belonging.
Access to tech key to pupils levels of remote learning engagement – study
Irish primary school children were more engaged with remote schooling during the first Covid-19 lockdown if they had access to adequate digital technologies as well as help from parents and teachers. This is according to the first nationwide study in Ireland investigating primary school children’s experiences of remote schooling, which was led by Dr Yekaterina Chzhen, assistant professor at the Trinity College Dublin Department of Sociology. The first Covid-19 lockdown in spring 2020 resulted in the greatest disruption to children’s schooling in generations in Ireland and was a time of rapid and unexpected transition from in-person to distance learning. Schools in Ireland were closed for 141 days, which was one of the longest school closures across rich countries at the time.
Public Policies
EU set to bin 25 million more vaccine doses than it has donated to Africa this year
The European Union has been accused of perpetuating “vaccine apartheid”, as new analysis suggested it could soon be forced to throw away some 25 million more coronavirus vaccine doses than it has donated to African nations so far in 2022. Close to 55 million doses held in the EU are set to expire at the end of February, according to data shared with the People’s Vaccine Alliance and published on the eve of a Brussels summit of African and European leaders. This considerably outstrips the roughly 30 million doses donated to African nations between 1 January and 8 February, figures also collated by health analytics firm Airfinity suggest.
UK to revamp biosecurity strategy in wake of Covid-19
The UK is revamping its approach to biosecurity after Covid-19 exposed major shortcomings in its ability to respond to biological threats, including the coronavirus pandemic. The new approach will update Britain’s last biological security strategy, published in 2018, which warned of the need to “co-ordinate” government actions better and for a “truly comprehensive approach” to meet biological risks, including pandemics. It also follows a highly critical assessment by a parliamentary committee which found that Covid-19 “exposed profound shortcomings” in Britain’s approach to biosecurity.
BioNTech says it won't challenge vaccine copying in Africa
BioNTech's co-founder and top executive said the vaccine maker has no plans to enforce its intellectual property rights should organisations in Africa strike out on their own to produce unauthorised versions of the company's shot. "Our goal is not to keep others from using our technology. Our goal is rather to actively see to it that our technology is available on all continents as safely and as widely as possible," CEO Ugur Sahin told Reuters TV on Wednesday when asked whether he would pursue breaches of patents or patents pending in Africa.
Biden admin seeks $30 bln more from Congress to fight COVID -sources
The Biden administration is seeking $30 billion in additional funds from Congress to fight the COVID-19 pandemic to bolster vaccines, treatments, testing supply, and research, according to sources familiar with the matter. The $30 billion request includes $17.9 billion for vaccines and therapeutics, two sources familiar with it said. Administration officials and congressional staff have been in talks about the issue, a Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday.
Maintaining Services
Covid: How new drugs are finally taming the virus
"Two years ago we had nothing,'" says Dr Matthias Schmid, head of infectious diseases at the RVI, who treated the UK's first Covid patient at the end of January 2020. "Now we have a range of treatments available which reduce the severity and prevent death in a huge number of patients." They include the cheap anti-inflammatory steroid dexamethasone, the first drug proven to save the lives of people seriously ill with Covid, which was discovered through a ground-breaking NHS trial. "It's feeling more normal for us," says Dr Miriam Baruch, intensive care medicine consultant. "It's really nice that we can train our doctors for the variety of patients that we get."
Child Covid-19 hospitalizations rose amid Omicron, especially among children too young to be vaccinated
Covid-19 hospitalization rates among children increased as Omicron replaced Delta as the predominant coronavirus variant in the United States, especially among those under 5, who are not eligible to be vaccinated, according to a study published Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At their peak, weekly pediatric Covid-19 hospitalization rates were four times higher during a period of Omicron dominance than during a period of Delta dominance. Children younger than 5 saw the largest increase, with hospitalization rates that were more than five times higher during Omicron than during Delta.
Clinically extremely vulnerable will no longer be offered Covid guidance by Government as restrictions end
The Government is set to end all guidance for millions of people previously considered “clinically extremely vulnerable” as part of plans to start living with Covid, i has learned. Around 3.7 million people in England were identified as clinically extremely vulnerable at the start of the pandemic and told to “shield” themselves from the heightened risk of Covid infection. People on the shielding list were offered specific guidance telling them to stay at home and avoid face-to-face contact during the first wave of coronavirus infections and subsequent national lockdowns
BioNTech plans modular vaccine factories in Africa
German vaccine maker BioNTech, which developed the first widely approved shot against COVID-19 together with Pfizer, unveiled plans Wednesday to establish manufacturing facilities in Africa that would boost the availability of much-needed medicines on the continent. The modular design presented at a ceremony in Marburg, Germany, consists of shipping containers fitted with the equipment necessary to make the company’s mRNA-based vaccine, save for the final step of putting doses into bottles, a process known as fill and finish. “Our goal is to enable mRNA production on all continents,” BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin told The Associated Press. BioNTech has been criticized by some campaign groups for refusing to suspend its vaccine patents and let rivals manufacture the shots as part of an effort to make them more widely available, especially in poor countries. The company argues that the process of making mRNA vaccines is difficult and it prefers to work with local partners to ensure consistent quality of the shots worldwide.
Healthcare Innovations
COVID-19: New combination of antivirals may be an effective treatment
Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania identified a combination of antiviral drugs they believe to be effective against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The combination includes the experimental drug brequinar with either the approved drug remdesivir or the approved drug molnupiravir. The research group has so far only tested the drug combination in human respiratory cells and mice. Scientists plan for further research exploring other drug combinations and testing through clinical trials.
COVID vaccination during pregnancy helps protect babies after birth -U.S. study
Vaccinating pregnant women against the coronavirus may help prevent COVID-19 hospitalizations in infants after they are born, especially if the expecting mothers got the shots later in their pregnancy, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday. The findings shed light on whether the benefits of vaccination during pregnancy extend to infants who would be too young to receive vaccines. Researchers from several pediatric hospitals and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at children under six months old between July 2021 and January 2022.