"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 21st Feb 2022

Isolation Tips
Shades of the early pandemic as Omicron tests Hong Kong
Bundled in a quilted jacket, covered with two thin blankets, Alice Yeung insisted she was not cold. Five hours before, she had tested positive for COVID-19. With no symptoms, but no vaccine, either, she was shipped from her nursing home to Caritas Medical Centre in the Kowloon region on Thursday. There, she and 50 or so strangers waited outside the emergency room on one of winter’s coolest nights as medical staff inside drowned under a resurgent epidemic. “No problem!” said the 69-year-old Yeung, with the practised optimism of the kindergarten aide she had once been. Like tens of thousands of seniors, Yeung had ignored the government’s fitful efforts to vaccinate them for most of the last two years. Local newspapers carried reports that people had died after getting jabs, or suffered paralysis. “Big headlines,” she said. With the government pushing vaccines harder in recent weeks, she had signed up to get her jab on February 25.
South Korea extends business curfew as COVID-19 cases top 100,000
South Korea’s daily COVID-19 cases topped 100,000 for the first time amid its Omicron outbreak, as authorities announced a slight easing of restrictions ahead of the March 9 presidential election. Authorities announced on Friday they would move a curfew on restaurants and cafés from 9 pm to 10 pm, amid a growing backlash from business owners.
The End Game of China’s Zero-Covid Policy Nightmare
On December 22, 2021, the entire western Chinese city of Xi’an was put into lockdown. “It was all of a sudden,” says Fan, a Xi’An native and university student in his early twenties who didn’t give his full name, due to privacy concerns. “The university wouldn’t let us go outside of the dorms. Our freedom was restricted, and they stopped all our classes. I couldn’t leave and I couldn’t go home. We were stuck.” Xi’an, a city of 13 million people, spent the end of December 2021 and much of January 2022 in one of China’s most severe lockdowns. The trigger? A handful of cases of Covid-19. Since the start of the pandemic, China has clung to a zero-Covid strategy consisting of strict containment measures that have served the nation remarkably well. China’s official death toll has remained under 5,000, and its total reported caseload of 124,900 is significantly lower than the 78 million cases in the United States or the 18.4 million in the United Kingdom. Aside from travel disruptions, life has been largely normal—and China’s success at containing the virus has become a source of national pride.
Hygiene Helpers
'Fortress Australia' to welcome tourists for first time under COVID
Australia will welcome international tourists on Monday after nearly two years of sealing its borders, relying on high COVID-19 vaccination rates to live with the pandemic as infections decline. "The wait is over," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told a Sunday briefing at the Melbourne International Airport. Australia's opening to tourists is the clearest example yet of the government's shift from a strict zero-COVID approach to living with the virus and vaccinating the public to minimise deaths and severe illness.
Hong Kong Considers Citywide Testing as Omicron Overwhelms Defenses
Officials are considering citywide coronavirus testing in Hong Kong, adopting a strategy used in mainland China after Beijing demanded more be done to control an Omicron surge that has quickly overrun the city’s health system. Under the plan, all 7.4 million residents would be tested from early March with Chinese authorities sending health experts and medical workers to help carry out the mammoth task, people familiar with the matter said. Some tests would be sent across the border to Shenzhen for results to be processed quickly, one person said. A day after Chinese leader Xi Jinping called on the city to bring the outbreak to heel, mainland authorities have begun stepping up plans to send help to the city. Hong Kong has quickly become the center of the worst outbreak in Chinese territory since the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan more than two years ago, presenting a major test for the country’s so-called dynamic clearing policy, which aims to eliminate clusters whenever they appear.
Community Activities
Freedom Convoy Leaves Town and Quiet Returns to Ottawa
For the first time in over three weeks, downtown Ottawa on Sunday was largely deserted, with the heavy-duty trucks and thousands of protesters demanding an end to Covid-19 vaccine mandates replaced by police vehicles, officers, and crews trying to clean up after a 23-day demonstration. Officials in the capital and across Canada remained on high alert. While police in Ottawa cleared out Freedom Convoy protesters there, authorities in some of Canada’s biggest cities, such as Toronto and Vancouver, dealt Saturday with either the threat of a trucker-led demonstration or protesters that disrupted traffic. “It’s still clear that while police have made significant progress, the job is not yet done,” Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief and Canada’s emergency-preparedness minister, told CTV News on Sunday. “The threat, the risks, the reasons we had to invoke emergency powers, they still exist.”
'God Save The Queen': messages pour in after Elizabeth catches COVID
News that Britain's Queen Elizabeth had tested positive for COVID-19 drew shock, concern and messages of goodwill from across the country on Sunday, with politicians and the public willing the 95-year-old to recover. On a wet and blustery day, a few sightseers gathered at the gates of Windsor Castle where the queen is receiving medical treatment for mild symptoms. Others went online to express support and message boards in the London Underground urged the monarch to "take it easy".
UK shoppers return to stores after Omicron knock
British shoppers began to return to stores last month after many stayed away during a wave of COVID-19 cases that peaked at the turn of the year, although fast-rising inflation is curbing their spending power. Retail sales volumes rose by 1.9% in January after a 4.0% decline in December, the Office for National Statistics said, the largest rise since lockdown rules for non-essential stores in England were relaxed in April 2021. The monthly increase was greater than the average 1.0% gain forecast in a Reuters poll, although December's drop in sales was slightly bigger than first estimated.
Working Remotely
Should UK workers have the right to disconnect?
In December, the Scottish government committed to undertaking ‘meaningful discussions’ on providing its employees with a right to disconnect. The announcement comes at a time when the boundaries between work and home life have become blurred or, in some cases, feel like they have almost disappeared. The link between this and burnout culture is being made, as well as the detrimental impact on mental health and wellbeing. The Scottish government's announcement follows a number of governments and employers around the world who have placed increasing focus on implementing successful ‘right to disconnect’ policies.
Thanks to Remote Work, Many in Gen Z May Never Work in an Office. Will It Matter?
A growing cohort of young employees have never worked from an office. They graduated during the pandemic or landed jobs just as offices began to shut down. And many of them—especially Generation Z—imagine they may never work in an office, as remote work becomes the default for many businesses. In general, they are OK with that: Many of them like being remote and want to be able to work that way. But there are drawbacks. Surveys show that young remote workers also feel unmoored and anxious. And researchers argue that the young workers may harm their personal and professional lives in the future by missing office work and the traditional experiences that prior generations took for granted: learning from older colleagues, schmoozing with bosses, settling into the rhythms of an office workday—or even just being face to face with others. It is new territory, and the experience is likely to shape these workers in lasting ways.
Virtual Classrooms
Enrollment in virtual schools is exploding. Will students stay long term?
Across the US, enrollment in charter schools, which are publicly funded and privately operated schools, increased by 7 percent — around 240,000 more students — during the 2020-2021 academic year, according to a report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In many states, virtual charter schools drove the outsize growth in charter school enrollment, according to the report, even as the quality of them has come under scrutiny. On top of that, state education departments, including Florida’s, experienced massive enrollment upticks in their statewide virtual schools.
The Art of Remote Learning: How One Virtual School Recreated Traditional Class
When the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person learning in March 2020, interest in virtual schools skyrocketed. One of two virtual schools in the state, Iowa Virtual Academy opened in 2012 with 61 students, and as of the end of last school year served about 540 students, said Steve Hoff, principal of Iowa Virtual Academy. For some students who were struggling academically in-person, virtual can help them tailor their own learning environment. For other students struggling with illnesses or who are in the hospital, virtual school helps them stay afloat academically. Sometimes students want a quicker academic pace so they can graduate earlier.
For some children, online learning had unexpected benefits
Many students and parents complained about the hardship of learning at home, from technological glitches to little ones dissolving into tears having to stare at a screen all day. But some students thrived. For them, learning online carried unexpected benefits. This was especially true for children who had felt excluded or uncomfortable in their schools prior to the pandemic – those who had experienced racism or bullying in their classrooms, or have anxiety or learning disabilities. Experts say all of this raises deeper questions about how public education can adapt to meet the needs of students.
Public Policies
UK must cut spending on COVID testing, Johnson says
Britain wants to retain the capability to spot new coronavirus variants but it must stop spending so heavily on free testing as cases and fatalities fall, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Sunday. Johnson will set out plans this week for the country to "live with COVID" amid suggestions that free coronavirus testing could be stopped, and some health studies halted. Asked by the BBC how the country would spot the arrival of new variants, Johnson said: "I want to make sure that we have capability to spot stuff and to snap back up as fast as we need to," he said.
Polish PM says chances of deal on EU COVID cash have 'slightly improved'
Poland has made progress in talks with the European Commission on unblocking COVID-19 recovery funds, its prime minister said on Friday, adding that he believed a deal could be reached. Brussels has yet to approve Warsaw's National Recovery Plan, which is necessary to unblock the 36 billion euros ($40.89 billion) in funding, due to a dispute over judicial reforms the bloc says undermine the independence of the courts. "The chances after today's talks have slightly improved," Mateusz Morawiecki told a news conference in Brussels broadcast by Polish television, while stressing that it remained to be seen if an agreement could be forged in coming weeks
African countries to get mRNA vaccine technology in WHO project
The World Health Organization said on Friday six African countries - Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia - would be the first on the continent to receive the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines. The technology transfer project, launched last year in Cape Town, aims to help low- and middle-income countries manufacture mRNA vaccines at scale and according to international standards. mRNA is the advanced technology used by companies such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna for their COVID-19 shots.
China allows COVID boosters of different technologies than primary shots
China is giving COVID-19 booster vaccines using technologies different from the initial injections, in an effort to improve immunisation strategies amid concerns that its most-used jabs appeared to be weaker against variants such as Omicron. Boosting population immunity could be crucial to preparing China to eventually reopen its borders and pivot from its "dynamic zero" strategy, which involves travel curbs and mass testing following dozens of local infections. Experts are watching whether combined Chinese doses would lead to higher effectiveness.
Maintaining Services
FDA to allow export of AstraZeneca COVID vaccine lots made at Emergent plant
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Friday it had found four batches of AstraZeneca Plc's (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine manufactured at the troubled Emergent BioSolutions facility that were fit to be shipped outside the United States. The health agency said it does not, however, expect to make any more decisions on the remaining lots of the vaccine manufactured at Emergent's Baltimore facility. Last year, the FDA halted operations at the plant, which was producing vaccines for AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), following a discovery that one vaccine was contaminated with material used in the other. There have been concerns over the shelf life of AstraZeneca's vaccines reaching the world's poorest nations for distribution, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
Healthcare Innovations
Ending ALL Covid restrictions is 'premature' and 'not based on evidence' BMA warns
The end of Covid-19 restrictions in England is premature and 'not based on current evidence', according to the British Medical Association. Experts have warned an absence of testing and self-isolation will lead to a surge in cases in the country. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he will present his plan for 'living with Covid' when Parliament returns from a short recess on February 21, with an aim of lifting the requirement to self-isolate by February 24. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the BMA council, told the Guardian the decision was 'not based on current evidence and is premature,' adding: 'It clearly hasn't been guided by data or done in consultation with the healthcare profession.' He said case rates remained exceptionally high, with one in 20 infected last week, according to the latest Office for National Statistics survey.
Why China Doesn’t Have an mRNA Vaccine for Covid
China has done everything in its power to keep the virus outside its borders and protect its people — almost. It has kept cases and deaths remarkably low through a “zero-Covid” strategy that has involved tracking and tracing every case, closed its borders and locked down cities of millions of people. It fostered domestic vaccines that allowed the country to carry out a massive inoculation effort. But two years into the pandemic, China’s 1.4 billion people still don’t have access to one of the most effective coronavirus vaccines the world has to offer. Those vaccines use the breakthrough mRNA technology that was developed and approved in the West, and they have been embraced by dozens of countries.