"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 24th Feb 2022

Isolation Tips
Polish prime minister says Poland will remove most COVID curbs
Poland will remove most COVID-19 restrictions from March 1, while keeping the obligation to wear face masks in enclosed public spaces, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said on Wednesday.
Iceland to lift all COVID-19 restrictions on Friday
Iceland will lift all remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, including a 200-person indoor gathering limit and restricted opening hours for bars, the Ministry of Health said on Wednesday. "Widespread societal resistance to COVID-19 is the main route out of the epidemic," the ministry said in a statement, citing infectious disease authorities. "To achieve this, as many people as possible need to be infected with the virus as the vaccines are not enough, even though they provide good protection against serious illness," it added.
Hygiene Helpers
Reduced testing is concerning, WHO official says
A World Health Organization official on Tuesday expressed concern about reduced testing and surveillance of the coronavirus in countries around the world, saying monitoring remains critical. “We need to be strategic about this, but we cannot abandon it,” said WHO epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove during an online question-and-answer session. “And what we do not want to see is the dismantling of these surveillance systems that have been put in place for covid-19.”
Scotland Covid restrictions: Face mask rules and vaccine passports to end but tests will remain free for now
Wearing a face mask in shops, on public transport and in other shared indoor spaces in Scotland will no longer be a legal requirement after 21 March. All other legal restrictions designed to protect the public from Covid will also be scrapped from that date, with a greater emphasis placed on individual responsibility. Scotland’s vaccine passport scheme, which was previously used to gain entry to nightclubs and big sporting events, will also be scrapped from Monday 28 February.
Cambodia vaccinates children aged three to five against COVID
Cambodia started vaccinating children as young as three against COVID-19 on Wednesday, becoming one of the first countries to cover the age group of those below five. The Southeast Asian nation has vaccinated more than 90% of its population of 16 million, for one of the highest rates in the region, official data show. In January, it started rolling out a fourth dose for high-risk groups.
COVID vaccine supply for global programme outstrips demand for first time
The global project to share COVID-19 vaccines is struggling to place more than 300 million doses in the latest sign the problem with vaccinating the world is now more about demand than supply. Last year, wealthy nations snapped most of the available shots to inoculate their own citizens first, meaning less than a third of people in low-income countries have been vaccinated so far compared with more than 70% in richer nations. As supply and donations have ramped up, however, poorer nations are facing hurdles such as gaps in cold-chain shortage, vaccine hesitancy and a lack of money to support distribution networks, public health officials told Reuters.
Fast-Spreading Covid-19 Omicron Type Revives Questions About Opening Up
A more infectious type of the Omicron variant has surged to account for more than a third of global Covid-19 cases sequenced recently, adding to the debate about whether countries are ready for full reopening. Health authorities are examining whether the subvariant of Omicron, known as BA.2, could extend the length of Covid-19 waves that have peaked recently in Europe, Japan and some other places. “We’re looking not only at how quickly those peaks go up, but how they come down,” World Health Organization epidemiologist Maria Van Kerkhove said. “And as the decline in cases occurs…we also need to look at: Is there a slowing of that decline? Or will we start to see an increase again?”
Community Activities
U.S. truckers plan pandemic protest, inspired by Canadian counterparts
Taking a cue from demonstrations that paralyzed Canada's capital city, Ottawa, for weeks, U.S. truckers on Wednesday plan to embark on a 2,500-mile (4,000-km) cross-country drive toward Washington to protest coronavirus restrictions. Organizers of the "People's Convoy" say they want to "jumpstart the economy" and reopen the country. Their 11-day trek will approach the Beltway around the U.S. capital on March 5, "but will not be going into D.C. proper," according to a statement. The Pentagon said on Tuesday it had approved 400 National Guard troops from the District of Columbia, who would not carry weapons, to help at traffic posts from Saturday through March 7.
Weary of promises, Bulgarians protest against COVID curbs, inflation
About 1,000 Bulgarian demonstrators gathered in downtown Sofia on Wednesday to protest against curbs imposed to combat COVID-19 and rampant inflation at a rally organised by the opposition ultra-nationalist Revival party. Holding banners reading "I want a normal life," and "COVID is a tyranny, not a pandemic" the demonstrators booed as Prime Minister Kiril Petkov addressed them. Bulgaria, where scepticism about vaccines and entrenched distrust of government institutions has meant fewer than one in three adults are inoculated against the coronavirus, has seen infections drop in recent weeks after they peaked at the end of January, prompting the government to start easing restrictions.
Working Remotely
More action urged on remote work health risks
Employers and the government need to do more to address the health and wellbeing risks related to remote working, and should target support at individuals who are the most at risk of mental and physical health problems. This is according to the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (Iosh) which has praised new recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) as “setting the standard for making remote work sustainable”.
U.S. business is preparing for a remote work revolution
U.S. firms, struggling to fill a near-record level of job vacancies, are increasingly promoting remote and hybrid working arrangements to recruit employees. A Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond survey found that a quarter of employers expect to have more remote workers next year. The bigger the company, the more likely it is to anticipate an increase in the number employees who will be working away from the office. These firms are also recruiting farther geographically than they used to. The findings back up recent research showing that remote and hybrid work is on the rise -- even as the Covid-19 virus recedes in the U.S. and many big banks are bringing workers back to the office in large cities.
What the Remote-Work Revolution Means for Cities
Even as they resume normal leisure activities, many Americans still aren’t going back to the office. According to data from Kastle Systems, which tracks building access across the country, office attendance is at just 33 percent of its pre-pandemic average. That’s lower than in-person attendance in just about any other industry for which we have good data. Even movie theaters—a business sometimes written off as “doomed”—have recovered almost twice as much. What once seemed like a hot take is becoming a stone-cold reality: For tens of millions of knowledge-economy workers, the office is never coming all the way back. The implications—for work, cities, and the geography of labor—will be fascinating.
Virtual Classrooms
Ontario to require virtual learning option for next school year
The Ontario government is going to once again require school boards to offer virtual learning, as an option for students in the 2022/2023 school year. During a funding announcement press conference, Education Minister Stephen Lecce explained the virtual learning option has been seen as a strength in the school system by some parents. “There are roughly 150,000 [students] this year [who] exercised that choice. What I’ve heard from their parents and some educators who are involved in virtual learning is, [it] is a strength for that strong minority of children. So, we’re going to continue to offer it,” Minister Lecce said.
25 Brilliant Preschool Virtual Learning Ideas
Distance learning is a massive struggle with pre-schoolers. Keeping their attention focused can feel like herding cats at first, but the internet is a cornucopia of resources making this daunting task more manageable. Keeping them engaged and active is difficult enough in a classroom but being connected by a screen increases the challenge tenfold. Pre-K and preschool teachers really have their hands full with distance learning but here are 25 ideas to make the virtual classroom every bit as fun and educational as hands-on learning.
Public Policies
Hong Kong budget proposals offer COVID relief with tax breaks, handouts
Hong Kong will offer tax breaks, handouts and subsidies to small businesses and residents, to mitigate the impact of the most stringent social restrictions imposed in the city to curb the spread of COVID-19, Finance Secretary Paul Chan said. The 2022/23 budget proposals were announced as hundreds of bars, restaurants and small retailers warned they were months away from closure, and shopping malls were deserted while the city endured its worst COVID-19 outbreak so far. "Hong Kong is currently experiencing its hardest time in the fight against the epidemic, and we are facing enormous challenges," Chan told legislators via videoconference on Wednesday.
U.S. FDA limits use of GlaxoSmithKline-Vir COVID-19 drug
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said on Wednesday GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotech's COVID-19 antibody treatment should not be used in places with circulation of variants that are not susceptible to the drug. Vir has said the drug, sotrovimab, retains neutralizing activity against the emerging BA.2 form of the Omicron coronavirus variant. However, other recent research suggests that the variant showed resistance to nearly all of the monoclonal antibodies they tested, including sotrovimab. The GSK-Vir drug is one of the few COVID-19 treatments shown to have worked against the original Omicron variant, spurring demand.
Slovakia to lift most COVID restrictions over the coming month
Slovakia will lift most COVID-19 restrictions over the next month, beginning with loosening measures for the unvaccinated before cancelling crowd limits in a later phase, according to plans approved by the government on Wednesday. The first phase of the loosening will begin on Feb. 26, material on the government's website showed. A second phase will follow on March 26 to end limits on crowds and opening hours.
Romania to donate 1.1 million AstraZeneca COVID vaccines
Romania will donate 1.1 million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines to Pakistan, Bangladesh, Algeria and Libya, the health ministry said on Wednesday. Romania is the European Union's second-least vaccinated country after Bulgaria, with roughly 42% of the population fully inoculated, reflecting mistrust in state institutions and poor vaccine education. With supplies far outstripping demand for COVID-19 shots, the Bucharest government has sold or donated excess shots before their expiry date.
Maintaining Services
WHO plans second hub for training countries to make COVID vaccines
The World Health Organization said on Wednesday it has set up a hub in South Korea to train low- and middle-income countries to produce their own vaccines and therapies, and is expanding its COVID-19 vaccine project to a further five nations. The new training hub comes after the U.N. agency set up a technology transfer hub in Cape Town, South Africa, last year to give companies from poor and middle-income countries the know-how to produce COVID-19 vaccines based on mRNA technology. The new hub outside Seoul will provide workforce training to all countries wishing to produce products such as vaccines, insulin, monoclonal antibodies, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press briefing.
Moderna, Thermo Fisher partner to manufacture COVID vaccine, other drugs
Moderna Inc has entered into a long-term agreement with Thermo Fisher Scientific for the manufacturing of its COVID-19 vaccine and other experimental medicines based on mRNA technology, the companies said on Wednesday. Thermo Fisher had already partnered with Moderna last year to help scale up production of its COVID vaccine, branded as Spikevax. As a part of the 15-year expanded deal, Thermo Fisher would provide dedicated manufacturing capacity in the United States for fill/finish services as well as labeling and packaging services for Spikevax and other mRNA drugs in Moderna's pipeline.
Deutsche Telekom to build global COVID vaccine verification app for WHO
The World Health Organization has signed a contract with Deutsche Telekom subsidiary T-Systems to build a software solution for global electronic verification of coronavirus vaccination certificates, the telecoms company said. The QR code-based software solution will be used for other vaccinations as well, such as polio or yellow fever, T-Systems said in a statement on Wednesday, adding that the WHO would support its 194 member states in building national and regional verification technology. The financial details of the transaction were not disclosed. "Health is a strategic growth area for T-Systems," said T-Systems Chief Executive Officer Adel Al-Saleh.
EU countries agree to admit travellers vaccinated with WHO-approved shots
European Union countries agreed on Tuesday to open their borders to travellers from outside the bloc who have had shots against COVID-19 authorised by the World Health Organization, easing restrictions on those who received Indian and Chinese vaccines. The EU has so far authorised vaccines produced by Pfizer-BionTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca (when produced in Europe), Johnson & Johnson and Novavax. In addition to these shots, the WHO has also approved the vaccines produced by Chinese makers Sinopharm and Sinovac and by Indian company Bharat Biotech
Healthcare Innovations
COVID-19 shot interval can be extended to 8 weeks for some -U.S. CDC
Extending the interval between the first two doses of the most widely used COVID-19 vaccines in the country to eight weeks for young men can reduce the rare risk of heart inflammation, U.S. health officials said. The side effect, which has been linked to both Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines, is higher in 12- to 39-year-old men, and therefore the eight-week interval could be optimal for some people aged 12 years and older, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Tuesday. The recommended interval between the first two shots will remain three weeks for Pfizer's vaccine and four weeks for Moderna's vaccine in other population groups, the CDC said.
Coronavirus vaccine protection was much weaker against omicron, data shows
While coronavirus shots still provided protection during the omicron wave, the shield of coverage they offered was weaker than during other surges, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The change resulted in much higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death for fully vaccinated adults and even for people who had received boosters. The decline in protection continued a pattern driven by coronavirus vaccines’ reduced effectiveness over time, combined with the increasing contagiousness of the delta and omicron waves. Before delta struck the United States in July, there were five to 10 cases of covid-19 for every 100,000 fully vaccinated adults each week, while the rate for unvaccinated people was 50 to 90 cases. In the delta wave, unvaccinated people were five times as likely to get infected as vaccinated people. With omicron, that difference dropped to less than three times as likely.
People with Covid-19 may face long-term cardiovascular complications, study says
As the Covid-19 pandemic enters its third year, scientists are finding that the coronavirus has far-reaching effects on health beyond the acute phase of illness. One recent study has found that people with Covid-19 are at an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases for at least a year after recovery. The study, published this month in the journal Nature Medicine, used data from US Department of Veterans Affairs national health care databases to follow over 153,000 veterans with a history of Covid-19 infection for up to a year after their recovery. Compared with those who were never infected, people who had a coronavirus infection were more likely to have symptoms including inflammatory heart disease, heart failure, dysrhythmia, heart attacks, strokes and clotting in the long term.
COVID-19 shots unlikely to prompt rare inflammation in kids
COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to trigger a rare inflammatory condition linked to coronavirus infection in children, according to an analysis of U.S. government data published Tuesday. The condition, formally known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, involves fever plus symptoms affecting at least two organs and often includes stomach pain, skin rash or bloodshot eyes. It's a rare complication in kids who have had COVID-19, and very rarely affects adults. The condition often leads to hospitalization, but most patients recover. First reported in the United Kingdom in early 2020, it is sometimes mistaken for Kawasaki disease, which can cause swelling and heart problems. Since February 2020, more than 6,800 cases have been reported in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Very small blood clot risk after first AstraZeneca COVID shot - UK studies
A large study into rare blood clots linked with AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine found between just one and three cases per million, and only after the first dose, shedding fresh light on the side-effects from the shot. Researchers have sought to analyse any link between COVID-19 vaccines and rare blood clots in the brain, arteries or veins - sometimes accompanied by low platelets, reports of which led many nations last year to pause use of the AstraZeneca shot, which was developed with Oxford University. A study published in the PLOS Medicine journal on Tuesday looked at health records of 46 million adults in England between December 2020 and March 2021 to assess the risk of clots in the month after vaccination with either the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine or AstraZeneca-Oxford shot, compared with the unvaccinated.
3 COVID vaccine doses 99% effective against Omicron, Delta hospitalization
Three doses of the Moderna mRNA COVID-19 vaccine were more effective against infection with the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant than against Omicron but were highly protective against hospitalization with either subtype, according to a study yesterday in Nature Medicine. A team led by Kaiser Permanente Southern California researchers conducted a test-negative case-control study among 26,683 COVID-19 cases caused by the Delta or Omicron variants in December 2021. Of all cases, 16% were Delta, and 84% were Omicron. The incidence of Omicron infections in Southern California increased from 1.2% to 94.1% from Dec 6 to 31.