"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 22nd Feb 2022

Isolation Tips
'Increased risk' of mental health disorders after Covid-19 infection
Covid-19 is associated with an increased risk of mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, substance use, and sleep disorders, up to a year after initial infection, a study suggests. The findings, published in the British Medical Journal, suggest that tackling mental health disorders among survivors ought to become a priority for better healthcare overall.
Hygiene Helpers
Coronavirus Daily: Tracking in the UK Works. So Why Stop It?
These days in Europe, it seems as though the pandemic is behind us. An increasing number of countries are ditching the use of certificates to enter indoor venues like restaurants or gyms and abandoning quarantine rules. And more people are going bare-faced, which reflects a certain level of regained normalcy. The U.K. was one of the first nations to accelerate that return to normal. Now, concerns are mounting that it may be getting ready to go a step further and scrap the weekly Covid-19 survey by the Office for National Statistics. While the U.K. Health Security Agency opened a new laboratory last week that will test new Covid vaccines, gather research and assess variants, the ONS weekly survey helps the government keep on top of infection rates and antibody levels across the country. It is less prone to fluctuations because it studies the same households, and can detect Covid in people who might not get tested, or in those who don’t know they’re infected as well as asymptomatic cases.
UK Second Booster: Most Vulnerable to Get Fourth Dose of Vaccine in Spring
Britain’s most vulnerable people will be offered another Covid-19 booster shot this spring to bolster their protection as the country prepares to abandon all pandemic restrictions. The shot will be offered to adults aged 75 and older, care home residents, and those over the age of 12 who are immuno-suppressed and at much higher risk of severe Covid, U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement Monday. The booster is advised for around six months after a previous dose and is seen as a bridge before another, potentially broader, booster campaign this fall.
Germany hopes protein-based Covid vaccine will sway sceptics
Germany will offer its population a new protein-based Covid-19 vaccine comparable to conventional flu jabs this week, in the hope of swaying a sizeable minority that remains sceptical of the novel mRNA technology used in the most commonly used vaccines. About 1.4m doses of the Nuvaxovid vaccine developed by the US biotech company Novavax are to arrive in Germany this week, the country’s health minister, Karl Lauterbach, confirmed last Friday. A further million doses are to arrive the week after, with the German government’s total order for the year 2022 amounting to 34m doses. Novavax’s product has until now been used only in Indonesia and the Philippines, but it was permitted for use in the EU last December. It is still awaiting authorisation in the US, as some concerns about the company’s production capacity persist.
Six African countries selected to kick off Covid-19 jab production
The World Health Organization (WHO) has selected the first six African countries to receive the technology needed to produce mRNA vaccines, a move aimed at ramping up production and countering vaccine inequity. Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia will gain access to technology and training to enable them to design and manufacture their own Covid jabs, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “No other event like the Covid-19 pandemic has shown that reliance on a few companies to supply global public goods is limiting, and dangerous,” said Tedros. “The best way to address health emergencies and reach universal health coverage is to significantly increase the capacity of all regions to manufacture the health products they need.”
Hong Kong maps terms of COVID vaccine pass amid record high cases
Hong Kong will expand its vaccine bubble to include shopping malls and supermarkets, authorities confirmed on Monday, but added there would be exemptions and random inspections in some places, as they battle a new record surge in COVID-19 cases. The outbreak has overwhelmed healthcare facilities in the global financial hub, with a new daily high of 7,533 infections and 13 deaths, among them an 11-month-old child, building pressure on the government. As most major cities learn to live with the virus, Hong Kong has imposed its toughest curbs yet, with Chinese President Xi Jinping saying that reining in the disease is the city's "overriding mission".
S.Africa changes COVID vaccination rules to try to boost uptake
South Africa's health department said on Monday that it was changing COVID-19 vaccination rules to try to increase uptake, as inoculations have slowed and the country has ample vaccine stocks. The government is shortening the interval between the first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine from 42 to 21 days and will allow people who have received two doses of Pfizer to get a booster dose three months after their second shot as opposed to six months previously. It will also offer the option of "mixing and matching" booster jabs, with adults who were given one dose of Johnson & Johnson's vaccine being offered either a J&J or Pfizer booster two months after their J&J shot.
Hong Kong’s Contact Tracing App Now Flags Unvaccinated Users
Hong Kong’s Covid contact-tracing app has begun flagging users who haven’t uploaded vaccination records, as the city struggles to contain a resurgent outbreak that’s taxing its health system. The LeaveHomeSafe app -- mandatory for entrance to many restaurants and other public venues -- was updated over the weekend and now flashes a red QR code on its check-in page for users that haven’t linked to an official immunization record.
Community Activities
UK's Johnson scraps COVID restrictions in England
British Prime Minister Boris on Monday said he would end all coronavirus restrictions in England including mandatory self-isolation for people with COVID-19 and free testing, drawing scepticism from some scientists and political opponents. Johnson's "living with COVID" plan has sparked alarm that it is premature and will leave the country vulnerable to new viral variants, but the government says it has provided more testing than most other countries, and must now curb the cost. The plan to ditch the remaining legal restrictions is a priority for many of Johnson's Conservative Party lawmakers, whose discontent over his scandal-ridden leadership has threatened his grip on power. Some critics think the plan is also a bid to divert attention from those scandals.
U.K. Unions Challenge Johnson’s Move to End Covid Rules
U.K. trade unions are challenging plans by Boris Johnson to end Covid-19 regulations in England, saying the prime minister should put public health first. The Trades Union Congress, an umbrella group for British unions representing more than 5.5 million people, said Monday that the government should first commit to improving sick pay and supporting people with weakened immune systems and long Covid. The group warned that introducing charges for Covid tests at a time of rising consumer prices would be “an act of madness.” Johnson is set to announce an end to England’s rules on Monday, a day after the U.K.’s 95-year-old monarch Queen Elizabeth II tested positive for the virus. The Cabinet is scheduled to meet Monday to sign off on the so-called Living with Covid plan ahead of a statement by the premier to Parliament.
COVID-19: Emotional reunions as Australia opens border to vaccinated tourists
Australia has reopened its borders to vaccinated travellers after almost two years of pandemic-related closures. Hundreds of people have been reunited with family and friends, with more than 50 international flights arriving in Australia through the day. "It is a very exciting day, one that I have been looking forward to for a long time, from the day that I first shut that border right at the start of the pandemic," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said during a visit to the island state of Tasmania, which relies heavily on tourism.
Canada looks to end Covid-19 protests with tougher financial measures after another weekend of arrests
Another weekend of protests against Canada's Covid-19 mandates saw around 200 arrests in the nation's capital as authorities moved to end the weekslong demonstration, towing vehicles and going after protesters' pocketbooks with financial penalties. Police said they employed pepper spray and escalated tactics over the weekend to disperse crowds and make arrests with protesters gathered in front of the Parliament building. Some of those arrests included protesters who allegedly had smoke grenades and fireworks, and were wearing body armor, police said. Ontario's Special Investigation Unit is also reviewing an incident where a woman was reportedly seriously injured after an interaction with a police officer on a horse, and a second where an officer discharged a less-than-lethal firearm at protesters.
Working Remotely
8 Ways To Make The Most Of Being A Remote Team
When you work with people you don’t see every day, you face unique challenges. It’s not as simple as popping to your co-worker’s desk to chat about the latest project. Instead, collaboration and communication online is a top priority. And that’s without thinking about the social and cultural implications of a remote team. How do you create a strong bond between colleagues that rarely see each other?
Missouri bill aims for accessible remote work options for state workers
More state workers should have the ability to work remotely in Missouri, says the sponsor of a bill designed to start the state toward that goal. The bill would establish a “Missouri State Employee Work-From-Anywhere Task Force.” The bill states the task force would work to determine the “best policies and practices” to allow state employees to work remotely and assess all types of remote-work arrangements throughout the state. The proposal puts different stakeholders on the task force, Riggs said, including members from the Legislature, government departments and the technology industry.
Plans to subsidise remote working hubs across country
In Ireland, Minister for Rural and Community Development and Social Protection Heather Humphreys said there are now 200 remote working hubs across the country. The minister said the average cost of using the hubs is between €15-20 a day. Workers can now book an office or desk space in their local hub through an app called 'Connected Hubs'. The Government is looking at plans at subsidising hubs
Virtual Classrooms
An exploration of instructors' and students' perspectives on remote delivery of courses during the COVID‐19 pandemic
The world-wide pivot to remote learning due to the exogenous shocks of COVID-19 across educational institutions has presented unique challenges and opportunities. This study documents the lived experiences of instructors and students and recommends emerging pathways for teaching and learning strategies post-pandemic. Seventy-one instructors and 122 students completed online surveys containing closed and open-ended questions. Quantitative and qualitative analyses were conducted, including frequencies, chi-square tests, Welch Two-Samples t-tests, and thematic analyses. The results demonstrated that with effective online tools, remote learning could replicate key components of content delivery, activities, assessments, and virtual proctored exams. However, instructors and students did not want in-person learning to disappear and recommended flexibility by combining learning opportunities in in-person, online, and asynchronous course deliveries according to personal preferences.
Triumphs and Troubles in Online Learning Abroad
When the pandemic careened across the globe in spring 2020, U.S. higher ed responded swiftly by opening online in a few weeks, a feat made possible only because privileged American secondary intuitions long ago introduced digital access in nearly every college in the nation. As campuses locked their gates out of fear of infection, most American college students rushed to their laptops to study from home. Elsewhere, not everyone was as fortunate. During the global crisis, 1.6 billion young people in 161 countries were not in college. Shockingly, without internet access, COVID-19 locked out close to 80 percent of the world’s enrolled students. Africa was hit hardest, cruelly, with 82 percent of college students in sub-Saharan Africa without internet access.
Public Policies
Canada emergency powers still needed, PM says, citing signs of new blockade
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday said his government still needed temporary emergency powers in the wake of a truckers' blockade, citing "real concerns" about threats in the days ahead. Trudeau told a televised news conference there were signs some truckers were regrouping outside the capital Ottawa and might come back to try to restart a three-week occupation that brought downtown Ottawa to a halt. The protesters initially wanted an end to cross-border COVID-19 vaccine mandates for truck drivers, but the occupation turned into a demonstration against Trudeau and the minority Liberal government.
New Zealand will lift Covid restrictions only when ‘well beyond’ peak, Jacinda Ardern says
New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern has said Covid-19 restrictions, including mandates and vaccine passes, will begin to lift once the country gets “well beyond” the Omicron outbreak’s peak. At a post-cabinet press conference on Monday, Ardern said case numbers were likely to peak in mid-to-late March, or three to six weeks away. Case numbers were expected to double every three to four days. “It’s likely then, that very soon, we will all know people who have Covid or we will potentially get it ourselves,” she said. Ardern said at an earlier stage of the pandemic, this prospect would have been “scary”, but now there are three main reasons why it is less so: the highly vaccinated population; Omicron being a mild to moderate illness due to high vaccination rates and boosters making hospitalisation 10 times less likely; and public health measures like masks, gathering limits and vaccine passes slowing down the spread to ensure everyone who needs a hospital bed can get it.
Italy recommends fourth COVID vaccine dose for immunocompromised
Italy's health ministry has recommended that people with a severely compromised immune system receive a fourth mRNA vaccine shot against COVID-19, provided that at least 120 days have passed from their previous booster, it said on Sunday. The special commissioner appointed by the government for the COVID-19 emergency will set the date for the recommendation to come into force based on the needs of the vaccine campaign, the ministry said. The ministry added that the decision reflects the still high circulation of the virus and the effectiveness that booster shots had shown in preventing COVID-related deaths and, more generally, symptoms that would require hospitalisation.
Biological E. COVID shot gets India emergency approval for 12-18 age group
Indian vaccine maker Biological E. Ltd said on Monday its COVID-19 vaccine received an emergency use approval in the country for use in children aged 12 to 18. The company's shot, called Corbevax, is the third vaccine approved for use in children aged 12 and above in India, joining Zydus Cadila's DNA shot ZyCoV-D and homegrown player Bharat Biotech's Covaxin. India has so far only started vaccinating children aged 15 and above. According to government figures, more than 76 million children between 15 and 17 have been inoculated mainly using Covaxin.
Maintaining Services
UK needs 'early warning system' for new Covid variants says vaccine expert
The UK needs an 'early warning system' to track new variants when Covid restrictions are lifted, a leading vaccine expert has said. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is to announce his living with Covid plan today (Monday, February 21) which will see the scrapping of regulations put in place to control the pandemic. Professor Sir Andrew Pollard told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there is a need to monitor variants to see if they are more dangerous than Omicron. The director of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford said: “One of the key things is, whenever we do reduce restrictions, we need to have a number of measures in place for that period, and one of the most critical is surveillance for the virus, an early warning system if you like, which tells us about new variants emerging and gives an ability to monitor whether those new variants are indeed causing more severe disease than Omicron did.
Staff shortage concerns challenge Germany's vaccine mandate
Frank Vogel, a 64-year-old local politician from the eastern German Erzgebirge region, has been scrambling to find ways to keep nursing homes open when a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers takes effect next month. His region near the Czech border has one of the lowest vaccination rates in Germany. With only 57% of healthcare workers there having received two shots against the coronavirus, implementing the mandate would result in staff shortages that would force facilities to shut. "In the end, you have the question: How do you then deal with the people being cared for in these facilities?" Vogel told Reuters.
Children aged 12-15 to be offered a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine
Children aged 12 to 15 years are to be offered a booster dose of Covid-19 vaccine in a bid to reduce infection rates among this age group. The move follows a recommendation by the National Immunisation Advisory Committee (Niac), which has been accepted by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly. The go-ahead was given by Niac despite the lack of authorisation by the European Medicines Agency for boosters doses for this age group. The EMA is currently assessing an application by Pfizer/BioNTech for use of its booster vaccine in adolescents from 12 years. Because off-licence use is being allowed in Ireland, Mr Donnelly said special attention would be paid to the provision of support and guidance information as part of the informed consent process for children and young people and their parents.
The Novavax vaccine is here. So who was waiting for it?
During the push last year to vaccinate the state against coronavirus, staff at Bay Centre Medical at Byron Bay, an area known for its lower vaccination rates, lost count of the number of patients “waiting for Novavax”. So, when their first order of 100 doses arrived last week, the practice’s doctors started calling around. They made a total of 10 bookings. “I don’t think we’ll order it again, really,” said practice manager Karina Masterson, adding unvaccinated people were now more commonly asking for vaccine exemption certificates because they caught the virus over summer. Monday marked the official first day of the Novavax coronavirus vaccine being available in Australia, the fourth brand of shot now obtainable, and the vaccine cited by a number of otherwise hesitant people as their entry to the rollout. (Some GPs and pharmacies started giving the shots last week after receiving shipments early.)
Valneva receives 12.5 million pound COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing grant in Scotland
The Scottish unit of French vaccine maker Valneva (VLS.PA) has received a grant of up to 20 million pounds ($27 million) to partly fund the research and development (R&D) of manufacturing its COVID-19 vaccine VLA2001, the company said on Monday. Valneva will receive the funds from Scotland's national economic development agencyScottish Enterprise, which it has been in talks with since December. The funding will come in two tranches. The first grant of up to 12.5 million pounds will support the company's efforts on the VLA2001, its inactivated, whole virus COVID-19 vaccine candidate. The second round of up to 7.5 million pounds will be used for Valneva's other vaccines.
Healthcare Innovations
The Science Behind Why Children Fare Better With Covid-19
To understand why children fare better than adults against Covid-19, said Kevan Herold, a professor of immunobiology and internal medicine at Yale University, imagine the immune system as a medieval fortress. The innate response, which includes mucus in the nose and throat that helps trap harmful microbes, is like the moat, keeping assailants out. Innate immunity also includes proteins and cells that trigger the body’s initial immune response. Dr. Herold likens them to cannonballs launched as the enemy is beginning an invasion. A second line of defense, the adaptive immune system, includes T cells and B cells. The adaptive immune system takes longer to initiate a response, but can remember specific weaknesses of past invaders. Think of them as soldiers preparing for battle inside the fortress, Dr. Herold said. Innate immunity doesn’t have the same kind of memory. It relies on patterns associated with harmful microbes more generally. Immunologists have found that children’s immune systems have higher levels of some innate molecules and increased innate responses compared with adults. Experts including Dr. Herold and his wife, Betsy Herold, a pediatric infectious-disease doctor at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, think this is key to helping children better fight off the virus that causes Covid-19.