"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 1st Mar 2022

Isolation Tips
Hong Kong to Lock Down City For Mass Testing, Sing Tao Says
Hong Kong is planning to enforce a lockdown of the city to ensure a mandatory Covid-19 testing drive planned for this month is effective, Sing Tao Daily reported. Testing of the financial hub’s 7.4 million people will start after March 17, the newspaper reported, citing people it didn’t identify. Officials are aiming to test the whole city three times over nine days, with a stay-at-home order in place to maximize the impact, the report said. Hong Kong’s core financial services including the operations of the stock exchange and Covid vaccination program will continue during the testing period, according to the report. Officials are still working out the details, Sing Tao said. Residents will still be allowed to leave their homes to buy necessities like food during the lockdown, the Hong Kong Economic Times reported, citing unidentified people.
Hygiene Helpers
Covid-19: Lagging vaccination leaves the Caribbean vulnerable, says PAHO
The sluggish pace of covid-19 vaccination in the Caribbean is leaving the region vulnerable to current and future outbreaks of the disease, senior Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) officials have warned. Unlike much of Latin America, where vaccination campaigns started slowly but ramped up quickly through 2021 when more doses became available, vaccination coverage across the Caribbean remains low. Of the 13 countries in the Americas that are yet to reach the World Health Organization’s 2021 goal of 40% vaccination coverage, 10 are in the Caribbean. Only regional outliers Cuba—which produces its own vaccines—and the Dominican Republic have fully vaccinated more than half of their population. Haiti, which has been hit by natural disasters and political turmoil, has fully vaccinated less than 1% of its citizens against covid-19.
Vaccination reduces risk of long-COVID
Post-acute sequelae of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection is estimated to affect about 2% of the population in the United Kingdom (UK). These long-term symptoms of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), also called post-acute COVID-19 syndrome, post-COVID-19 syndrome, long COVID, or post-COVID condition, cause functional impairment in the majority of those affected. COVID-19 vaccines have been successful in reducing the rate of incidence of long COVID by lowering the rate of occurrence of SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, the risk for these sequelae post-breakthrough infection remains obscure. Until the end of January 2022, nearly 16% of the UK population were not fully vaccinated despite being eligible for the second vaccination dose. In addition, most ethnic minorities and deprived communities show lower vaccination coverage; these groups also record the highest infection rates.
Covid-19: Republic of Ireland removes mask rules
The legal requirement to wear face masks in some public settings in the Republic of Ireland has been removed. It has been replaced with public health advice that masks should still be worn while on public transportation and in healthcare settings.
Nearly half of Biden’s 500M free COVID tests still unclaimed
Nearly half of the 500 million free COVID-19 tests the Biden administration recently made available to the public still have not been claimed as virus cases plummet and people feel less urgency to test. Wild demand swings have been a subplot in the pandemic, from vaccines to hand sanitizer, along with tests. On the first day of the White House test giveaway in January, COVIDtests.gov received over 45 million orders. Now officials say fewer than 100,000 orders a day are coming in for the packages of four free rapid tests per household, delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.
CDC eases COVID-19 mask guidance, adds metrics for future use
As expected and amid a steadily declining Omicron surge, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today updated its indoor masking guidance, which would ease indoor use for most parts of the country, according to new baseline measures. The CDC urges states and cities to still look at COVID-19 caseloads when considering masking. But it adds two new metrics for assessing whether to trigger the measure: hospitalization levels and hospital capacity. Most states have already dropped their mask mandates, reflecting a transition to voluntary use in people who want to lower their risk of spreading or contracting the virus. Hawaii as the only state with mandates still in place.
Community Activities
90% adolescents administered 1st Covid-19 vaccine dose in Delhi: Data
Ninety per cent of adolescents in the age group of 15 to 18 years in Delhi have been administered the first dose of vaccine against COVID-19 since the launch of the drive on January 3, according to official data. Up to February 24, 54 per cent of them had also received the second dose of the vaccine, the data presented during a meeting of the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) earlier this week mentioned.
How Covid vaccine misinformation is still impacting inoculation rates in Lancashire
The Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine has been subject to months of debate based on numerous health concerns primarily surrounding blood clots. And due to these concerns, some members of Lancashire’s Asian community have been reluctant to have the jab, over worries that it is safe. Certain medical studies and reports note that one of the most common reasons for hesitancy within the British-Asian community are concerns regarding side effects and long-term effects on health.
Hong Kong domestic helpers abandoned as COVID takes toll
A rapid spread in COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong has cast a spotlight on the plight of domestic helpers in the global financial hub after some were fired or made homeless by their employers when they tested positive for coronavirus. Hong Kong has around 340,000 domestic helpers, most hailing from either the Philippines or Indonesia. Many families in the city depend on live-in helpers for housekeeping and to look after the elderly and children, with the minimum wage set at HK$4,630 ($593) per month. Under Hong Kong law, migrant domestic workers must live with their employers, often residing in tiny rooms or sharing the bedrooms of the children they care for.
Working Remotely
Remote Work Seen More Persistent Than Planners Expect
The pandemic-era shift to remote work will likely be more persistent than anticipated, hitting the finances of U.S. cities that are banking on commuters to get back to the office post-pandemic. Two recent studies point to the long-lasting impact of work from home. About 75% of the increase in telework over the course of the Covid-19 crisis will likely stick, according to a paper from researchers at Arizona State University, Virginia Commonwealth University and the Dallas Federal Reserve. Twice as many workers will be 100% remote as before the pandemic, and one in every five workdays will be from home.
Remote Work's Impact On Communities — And What It Means For Your Business
Remote work is changing where we work and where innovation happens. But, there's a larger conversation that is being overlooked: the long-term impact on our cities and communities. We used to believe that where we worked decided where we lived. That spurred a network effect that gave cities a compounding advantage. However, all of that appears to be shifting, with the rise of remote work being a contributing factor. Over the past year, as an example, about 80% of venture capital was invested outside of the Valley, which is a massive shift. Large organizations like Facebook, Salesforce and Dropbox are allowing their employees to work remotely at least part of the time. By 2025, roughly 36 million Americans are expected to work remotely, an 87% increase from pre-pandemic times, according to a report by Upwork
How to find a mentor in the new hybrid work era
It can be challenging to find a mentor in the best of times, but even more so when most people are working remotely during the pandemic. Still, experts say it’s possible to find and build meaningful professional relationships online. Having mentors is also a good way for workers to stay motivated during the remote and hybrid work era, says Rachel Wong, co-founder of the online career and mentorship platform Monday Girl. “A lot of people feel stagnant right now with COVID,” Ms. Wong explains. “Younger professionals, with the ‘Great Resignation,’ are finding other ways to [create] connections and find more inspiration from their careers.” Organizations that have gone remote-only should also play their part to foster mentor relationships among their staff, Ms. Wong says.
Mauritius is offering long-term visas for remote workers
Mauritius is offering long-term visas for remote workers while seeking wealthier holidaymakers to boost tourism revenue, with visitor numbers unlikely to match pre-pandemic levels for as many as four years. The Indian Ocean island nation is offering a so-called premium visa, which allows people to work remotely from the country for as long as a year, and wants richer tourists to make extended trips, said Nilen Vencadasmy, chairman of the Mauritius Tourism Promotion Authority. “We are looking for digital nomads, who can plug in and start working from anywhere in the world,” he said
Virtual Classrooms
Los Angeles Unified to expand online learning, improve independent study
To accommodate an expected increase in the number of students in remote learning once its school vaccine mandate takes effect, the Los Angeles Unified School District is creating new online schools that will open in the fall. The schools will take the pressure off the district’s current independent study program, which was inundated with students this school year after the state’s distance learning statute expired last summer. The district’s independent study program, City of Angels, was the main option for students who didn’t return to in-person instruction in the fall. This year, it enrolled nearly 10 times the number of students it did prior to the pandemic.
MSU embraces virtual learning in online grad programs
Students, parents and teachers across the world have become accustomed to online learning in the past two years, with most schools opting for virtual learning at some point during the pandemic. However, the subject has proved to be divisive throughout the country. Some have objected to the return to in-person learning amidst safety concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic. Others have protested the delay to in-person learning, citing studies that have shown the detrimental effects of virtual learning on students. In the case of Michigan State University’s Master of Science in Global Health and Graduate Certificate in Global Health programs, online learning has not been looked at as a pandemic obstacle or pandemic precaution but has been embraced as a way to allow people of all backgrounds to receive an education.
Public Policies
New Zealand ends isolation rules for vaccinated travellers from Australia as transmission rates soar
New Zealand has ended its self-isolation requirements for vaccinated travellers arriving from Australia, as the country’s Covid transmission rates soar to among the highest in the world. From Wednesday, vaccinated travellers will no longer need to self-isolate but will still be required to undergo a Covid-19 test on arrival and on day five or six, prime minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Monday. If the traveller tests positive for the virus, they will be required to self-isolate, in line with requirements for New Zealanders. Unvaccinated travellers will still have to stay in managed isolation, or MIQ.
Italy to receive first 21 billion euros from EU Covid-19 fund - Von der Leyen
Italy will receive a first payment of 21 billion euros ($23.53 billion) from the "Next Generation EU" fund to help states compensate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, EU Commission head Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday.
Maintaining Services
S. Korea drops proof of vaccine, test to aid virus response
South Korea will no longer require people to show proof of vaccination or negative tests to enter any indoor space starting Tuesday, removing a key preventive measure during a fast-developing omicron surge that’s elevating hospitalizations and deaths. The Health Ministry’s announcement on Monday came as the country set another one-day record in COVID-19 deaths with 114, breaking the previous high of 112 set on Saturday. More than 710 COVID-19 patients were in critical or serious conditions, up from 200-300 in mid-February, while nearly half of the country’s intensive care units designated for COVID-19 were occupied. Park Hyang, a senior health ministry official, said rescinding the “anti-epidemic pass” would free more health workers to help monitor nearly 800,000 virus patients with mild or moderate symptoms who have been asked to isolate at home to save hospital space.
Nearly third more Covid deaths among England’s poorest since turn of the year
At least 30 per cent more coronavirus deaths have occurred in the most deprived areas of England since the turn of the year, data shows, reinforcing concern that the poorest communities will carry the greatest burden of disease under the government’s plans for “living with Covid”. Of the 7,053 deaths registered in the six weeks after 1 January, 1,589 (22.5 per cent) were from the most deprived 20 per cent of the country, compared to 1,188 (16.8 per cent) in the least deprived 20 per cent. Ministers have been warned that these disparities will only widen as the government scales back free testing and mandated isolation, and removes sick payments for those ill with Covid.
USAID boosts Jamaica's push to get COVID-19 vaccines to private health facilities
In Jamaica, eight private entities in the health sector have signed grants totalling US$600,000 with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to continue the roll-out of the health ministry's outsourcing of COVID-19 vaccines. The ministry is trying to administer 75,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines through private entities. So far, approximately 17,000 doses have been given outside of the public health system, state minister for health Juliet Cuthbert Flynn noted during a signing ceremony
Vaccination very essential, will help combat 4th Covid wave, UNICEF advisor says
Though the chances of severity in children infected with Covid-19 is very low, vaccination is very essential and it would help combat the fourth wave, said Dr Mrudula Phadke, senior advisor to Government of Maharashtra and UNICEF on Child Health. Speaking about Multiple Inflammatory Syndrome of Children, a syndrome that affects almost every organ, she said “Only 1 in 10,000 children may experience severe disease on being infected with Covid-19. But there is a condition called MIS-C, where almost every organ is affected. Hence our children should be vaccinated,” she insisted.
Covid-19 pills will ‘allow UK to fully reopen economy’ as pandemic impacts weigh
Landmark Covid-19 pills will “allow the UK to fully reopen its economy”, according to analysts, as the impacts of the pandemic continue to weigh on the economy. Companies including famed vaccine maker Pfizer, which has won regulatory approval for its Paxlovid pill, and Merck, have revolutionized the global immunisation process with antiviral pills. “The acceleration of the roll out of new accessible medications against Covid-19 is expected to have a meaningful impact in terms of our ability to move beyond the pandemic and will help us to learn to live with the disease in the background,” Manx Financial Group CEO Douglas Grant told Business Matters. “Easy-to-take medication will be a catalyst for the return to business as usual and help remove these damaging blockages, unleashing a sector that is desperate to grow.” Grant added that it is “particularly good news for the UK’s SMEs” who have been disproportionately hit by the pandemic, and its longer-lasting impacts of rising costs of goods, utilities and labour, as inflation teeters on a 30-year high.
Agong encourages people to take Covid-19 booster shots
The process of transitioning Malaysia from the Covid-19 pandemic stage into endemicity must be made carefully although the country is increasingly ready to make such a transition. Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Al-Sultan Abdullah Ri'ayatuddin Al-Mustafa Billah Shah cited several indicators which show that the country is ready to transition into the endemic phase. Among the indicators include the Nikkei Asia Covid-19 Recovery Index which ranked Malaysia at 13th spot out of 122 countries around the world. Al-Sultan Abdullah also noted that the Covid-19 National Immunisation Programme (NIP) has helped to inoculate 98 per cent of the adult population in the country.
Covid-19: Is the government dismantling pandemic systems too hastily?
A last minute row over funding for free covid testing between the Treasury and the Department of Health and Social Care for England nearly derailed the government’s “living with covid” strategy launch last week.1 But the Cabinet eventually signed off drastic cuts to the estimated £15.7bn (€18.7bn; $21bn) testing budget as a key plank of the prime minister’s plan to scrap all remaining covid regulations in England. Duncan Robertson, a policy and strategy analytics academic at Loughborough University, told The BMJ that the latest row over ending restrictions showed that the “false equivalence of the virus versus the economy” was still rearing its head almost two years into the pandemic, even though it is known that “once people are infected, they can’t go to work, and the economy suffers.” It remains to be seen whether the right balance has now been struck and whether the short term gains to the exchequer from letting the public shoulder more responsibility for fighting SARS-CoV-2 are going to pay off, with long term benefits to health and society as a whole.
Healthcare Innovations
Cambridge scientists release study into effectiveness of England's Covid travel rules
Throughout the Covid pandemic travel rules were put in place to prevent the spread of the virus - part of these rules included quarantining after going abroad. Anyone arriving in England in summer 2020 was made to quarantine for 14 days, and according to new research this did have the desired effect. Cambridge scientists found that the measures put in place did reduce the spread of coronavirus. They found it was particularly effective for travellers aged 16-20. The requirement for people arriving in England to self-isolate for a fortnight was introduced on June 8 2020, following the first few months of the pandemic.
Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccine less effective in ages 5-11 -New York study
Two doses of the Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE COVID-19 vaccine was protective against severe disease in children aged 5 to 11 during the recent Omicron variant surge, but quickly lost most of its ability to prevent infection in the age group, according to a study by New York State researchers. The vaccine's efficacy against infection among those children declined to 12% at the end of January from 68% in mid-December compared to kids who did not get vaccinated, according the study, which has not yet been peer reviewed.
COVID-19 Proteases Inhibited by Repurposed FDA-Approved Drugs
Two notorious SARS-CoV-2 proteases—Mpro and PLpro—were inhibited by drugs that have already been approved for indications other than COVID-19. The identification of potentially useful SARS-CoV-2 antiviral drugs is obviously welcome, but in this case, the findings are especially encouraging. Why? Because the discovery of the inhibitors was accomplished with a novel screening strategy, one that could be used in additional screening studies. Details about the protease inhibitors—and the screening strategy—appeared in Communications Biology, in an article titled, “Identification of SARS-CoV-2 inhibitors targeting Mpro and PLpro using in-cell protease assay.” The in-cell protease assay (ICP) indicated in the article’s title is just one part of the screening strategy. Other parts include antiviral and biochemical activity assessments, as well as structural determinations for rapid identification of protease inhibitors with low cytotoxicity.
Covid-19 news: Omicron immune response protects against BA.2 variant
Data suggests that people who’ve had the BA.1 omicron variant are protected against BA.2, at least in the short term. A preliminary study of coronavirus infection rates suggests that people who have recently been infected by the BA.1 omicron variant are 95 per cent protected against infection with the fast-spreading BA.2 omicron variant. The omicron wave, which began in November, has primarily been driven by the BA.1 variant, but now another variant of omicron, BA.2, seems to be rising to dominance. BA.2 has 32 of the same mutations as BA.1 but it also has 28 that are different. Rapidly rising numbers of BA.2 infections suggest that this variant is even more transmissible than the BA.1 omicron variant. A key problem with the omicron variants is their ability to escape immunity, but data from around 20,000 people in Qatar suggests that people who have recently been infected with BA.1 are 95 per cent protected against catching BA.2 35 to 50 days after infection.
Studies: No to very slight risk of hearing loss after COVID vaccine
A team led by Johns Hopkins University researchers investigated 555 cases of sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) among adults within 3 weeks of COVID-19 vaccination reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) during the first 7 months of the US COVID vaccine rollout (Dec 14, 2020, to Jul 16, 2021). The patients had received the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine. The study period spanned the administration of nearly 187 million vaccine doses in the United States. In addition to the cross-sectional study, the authors also analyzed a multicenter, retrospective case series of 21 patients at two hospitals and one community practice who experienced SSNHL after COVID-19 vaccination. SSNHL is unexplained hearing loss occurring all at once or gradually over a few days. The researchers noted that anecdotal reports of post-COVID vaccination have recently emerged among otolaryngologists and the public.