"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 3rd Mar 2022

Isolation Tips
The Truth About Lockdowns and Mortality: Experts Refute Study Finding No Benefit
A new "working paper" made a huge splash last week by claiming that, when it comes to lockdowns, we made a terrible mistake. The paper comes from three Johns Hopkins economists and is a meta-analysis of other studies examining the effect of lockdown policies on mortality. But is it true? Is it possible that government restrictions have no effect on COVID mortality? That would go against the whole pandemic playbook, not just this pandemic — the sort of basic tenets of infectious disease public health. So there may be a problem here.
Hawaii to lift COVID-19 travel quarantine rules this month
Hawaii plans to lift its COVID-19 quarantine requirement for travelers this month, meaning that starting on March 26 those arriving from other places in the U.S. won’t have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test to avoid sequestering themselves for five days. Hawaii is the only U.S. state to implement a coronavirus quarantine program of this kind. Gov. David Ige said at a news conference the requirement saved lives and was a major factor in limiting the spread of COVID-19 in the islands. Hawaii has one of the lowest coronavirus infection rates in the nation.
Japan set to extend COVID curbs as hospitals battle infections
Japan prepared on Wednesday to extend infection controls in some regions amid high numbers of hospital patients hit by the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The central government has received requests from five prefectures, including Osaka and Kyoto in western Japan, to extend measures set to expire on Sunday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters. Media said 10 prefectures, including Tokyo, the capital, were expected to seek an extension of two to three weeks for the curbs, which encompass shorter business hours and limits on the sale of alcohol.
Hong Kong reports record cases; movements may be restricted
Hong Kong’s leader on Wednesday said people’s movements may be restricted during mandatory testing this month of the entire population for the coronavirus, as health officials reported a record 55,353 daily infections and over a hundred deaths. Chief executive Carrie Lam said authorities are still refining the plan, but that there would be no “complete” lockdown that would prevent entry and exit from the city. “The extent of it must take into account Hong Kong’s circumstances and people’s needs,” she told reporters. Hong Kong is planning to test its more than 7 million residents as it grapples with soaring numbers of COVID-19 cases in its worst outbreak of the pandemic, linked largely to the omicron variant.
Hygiene Helpers
Higher education min. announces clinical trials for 2nd Egyptian COVID-19 vaccine 'EgyVax' begin Tuesday
Higher Education Minister Khaled Abdel Ghaffar will hold a press conference on Tuesday to announce the start of clinical trials for "EgyVax", the second homemade COVID-19 vaccine. The press conference will be attended by Agriculture and Land Reclamation Minister El Sayyed el-Quseir, Head of the Egyptian Drug Authority (EDA) Tamer Essam, Secretary General of University Hospitals Hossam Abdel Ghaffar, as well as representatives of a number of stakeholders. On November 14, the higher education minister announced that the start of the first stage of clinical trials for the first domestically-made coronavirus vaccine "COVI VAX".
Covid-19 mandates lifted even as cases climb
Numerous states and countries have begun lifting Covid-19 mandates even though there are more deaths due to the virus now than there were during the majority of the pandemic. For the past month, there have been more than 2,000 Covid-19 related deaths a day in the US reported, which has been the highest count since the first winter Covid-19 surge before vaccines were available. At present, Covid is attributed to 20% of all deaths worldwide. The demographics have now changed to younger and unvaccinated individuals dying, compared with older individuals who accounted for most of the casualties before vaccines were available.
FDA warns against use of certain unauthorized COVID antigen tests
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Tuesday warned people against the use of unauthorized versions of certain COVID-19 rapid antigen tests currently being marketed in the United States. These tests have not been authorized, cleared or approved by the FDA for distribution or use in the United States, the health agency said, adding that they may show false results. The warning was issued against unauthorized versions of Celltrion USA Inc's DiaTrust COVID-19 Ag Rapid Tests, SD Biosensor Inc's STANDARD Q COVID-19 Ag Home Test, and ACON Laboratories' Flowflex SARS-CoV-2 Antigen Rapid Test.
Britain revokes mandatory COVID shots for health workers
Britain confirmed that a requirement for health workers to have a COVID-19 vaccination would no longer be introduced in April and care home workers would no longer be required to have the shots from March 15. Health minister Sajid Javid in January said that the government intended to revoke the regulations, subject to consultation. On Tuesday the health ministry said that following the consultation, the requirement would be dropped
Germany wipes its list of COVID ‘high-risk areas’ clean
Germany is removing all countries currently on its list of “high-risk areas” as part of a rethink of its coronavirus travel rules that will take effect on Thursday. The country’s disease control center, the Robert Koch Institute, said that from now on Germany’s list will only include places where high infection rates are linked to variants of COVID-19 that are more virulent than the currently dominant omicron variant, which in many cases leads to relatively mild illness. That change will result in the current list of “high-risk areas,” which contains dozens of countries and territories, being wiped clean from Thursday on.
Community Activities
Partisan media exposure could inform COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy
Vaccine hesitancy may be more attributed to partisan media exposure and an individual's pre-existing attitudes, rather than a lack of information about vaccine effectiveness, according to a Washington State University study. The study, published in Current Psychology, experimentally tested the intertwined relationships among message frames, partisan media use and attitudes on vaccine intention. In general, the findings show that those who consumed lower amounts of conservative media and held positive vaccine attitudes were higher on vaccine intention. Among people who consumed a higher amount of conservative media and held negative vaccine attitudes, the messages that talked about individual benefits of getting the vaccine resonated more.
COVID-19: New Zealand police move to end three-week vaccine mandate protest
Protesters have fought police with fire extinguishers and pitchforks as officers moved to end an anti-vaccine mandate protest in New Zealand's capital three weeks after it began. The protesters had been outside Wellington's parliament buildings for 23 days when police in riot gear moved in early on Wednesday morning. Protesters used projectiles, shields, fire extinguishers, and pitchforks to fight police, as officers began dismantling protesters' tents and towing away up to 50 vehicles.
Covid-19 Has Orphaned 5.2 Million Children
An updated modeling study in The Lancet shows that number of children globally affected by COVID-19-associated orphanhood and caregiver death is estimated to have increased dramatically from approximately 2.7 million in April 2021 to a devastating 5.2 million in October 2021. To put those numbers into context, the researchers state that is the equivalent of one child every six seconds during the six-month period. With the pandemic far from over, we have both a moral and public health imperative to protect and support these children from direct and secondary harms. Children’s lives are permanently changed by the loss of a mother, father, grandparent, or other primary caregivers. The loss of a parent is an adverse childhood experience that is linked to a greater risk of dropping out of school, lower self-esteem, suicide, violence, sexual abuse, and developing anxiety, depression, and substance abuse problems. These impacts could be compounded further by the circumstances and additional stressors of the pandemic
Two years after world's biggest lockdown, India surges back to normal life
Almost two years after India went into the world's biggest lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19, students headed back to school in Maharashtra state on Wednesday, a sign of normal life resuming as infection rates fall. India's daily coronavirus infections rose by less than 10,000 for a third straight day on Wednesday, a level last seen in late December before the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, data from the health ministry showed.
COVID cases, deaths continue to fall globally, WHO reports
The number of new coronavirus cases reported globally dropped by 16% last week, marking a month-long decline in COVID-19 infections, according to figures from the World Health Organization. In its weekly report on the pandemic issued late Tuesday, the U.N. health agency also said that deaths fell by 10%, continuing a drop in fatalities first seen last week. WHO said there were more than 10 million new cases and about 60,000 deaths globally. The Western Pacific was the only region where COVID-19 increased, with about a third more infections than the previous week. Deaths rose by 22% in the Western Pacific and about 4% in the Middle East, while declining everywhere else.
Working Remotely
Remote jobs can change work for good — if you work in the right place
Working from home has become so popular that over 40% of employees said they’d look for a new job or simply quit if required to go to the workplace five days a week. Among women and people of color, an even higher share of workers said they’d depart if they lost the remote option. Women with young children especially value flexibility. Of course, many jobs cannot be done remotely because front-line workers must work on-site where they’re needed. Nationwide, just over a third of private companies increased remote work since the pandemic, according to a 2021 business survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Remote working Bill panned by employers and trade unions as ‘fatally flawed’
In Ireland, a government plan to allow workers to request the right to work from home is “fatally flawed”, an Oireachtas committee has heard. The Enterprise, Trade and Employment Committee heard conflicting views on the draft remote working legislation, a flagship project of Tanaiste Leo Varadkar. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) condemned it as largely toothless and “stacked in favour of the employer at every turn”, while employers’ group Ibec portrayed it as a cumbersome piece of legislation that would impose drastic new obligations on businesses.
Virtual Classrooms
Tech Leads the Way to Equitable Education for K–12 Students
The recent rise in educational technology has allowed K–12 students to become more connected than ever before, despite being physically farther apart. This is partially due to an increased focus on connectivity for students at school and at home, as — even at the state level — leaders are working to get learners online. Additionally, the increase in technology has broken down geographical barriers that formerly determined how students could learn. From virtual field trips to specialized classes, ed tech is taking students all over the world.
Masterclass on tackling remote learning for higher education
While the initial frenzy of switching from in-person to remote learning has subsided for higher education institutions, the process is far from over. Students and educators must continue to learn and teach as much as possible without the immediate interpersonal communication and in-person learning setting, not to mention acclimatising to the energy of a home while working. With this abrupt change from lecture halls to the online universe, some are wondering whether the acceptance of online learning will sustain post-pandemic and how such a shift will affect the global education system.
How remote learning can help close the digital skills gap
John Perks, global principal architect of the NextGen professionals programme at ServiceNow, and Simon Maskrey, senior global partner manager at Salesforce for Trailhead, discuss why businesses will benefit from helping to close the digital skills gap. Both Perks and Maskrey see the benefit of readily available online content. The former notes that, at ServiceNow, “the training is somewhat traditional in that we still use a virtual classroom, but we’ve also taken those classes online to create an on-demand experience, with a combination of videos, simulators and the classic writing on screen.”Maskrey comments how the pandemic forced a change of attitude toward teaching methods. “Outside of the US, there’s been a huge degree of resistance to remote learning and virtual classrooms until about two years ago … Until then there were a lot of people who perceived that you couldn’t learn online and that, for the best premium learning, you had to be in a room with people. I think the reality is that it just isn’t true.” As a result of the lack of access to classrooms, as well as restrictions on travel, there has been a greater emphasis on remote learning.
Public Policies
White House readies roadmap for future COVID outbreaks, seeks funding
Top U.S. health officials on Wednesday laid out a national blueprint to manage COVID-19 going forward, vowing to prepare for any new variant outbreaks without shutting down schools and businesses and calling for additional funding from Congress. The plan will help "move America from crisis to a time when COVID-19 does not disrupt our daily lives," the White House said, one day after President Joe Biden acknowledged the nation's fight against the coronavirus had entered a new phase. "We must be prepared to respond to a new variant quickly and keep our schools and businesses open," the updated National COVID-19 Preparedness Plan said, citing a need to maintain vaccines and booster shots, treatments, tests and masks.
UK's bilateral donation of 1 million vaccine doses will reinforce Bangladesh’s fight against COVID-19
The UK bilaterally donated 1 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine to Bangladesh. The vaccine consignment arrived in Bangladesh on 23 February 2022. This bilateral donation from the UK will reinforce Bangladesh's fight against the coronavirus pandemic and the country's economic recovery.
Biden’s Address Cites New, Calmer Phase in Fight Against Covid-19
President Joe Biden signaled a shift to a new phase of the Covid-19 pandemic in his State of the Union address, arguing that it is time for Americans to return to normal life. “Thanks to the progress we have made this past year, Covid-19 need no longer control our lives,” Biden said. The president called for Americans to return to their offices, and said that the government would allow easier access to Pfizer’s Covid-19 antiviral pill, and send more free Covid-19 rapid antigen tests to Americans in their homes. “It’s time for Americans to get back to work and fill our great downtowns again,” Biden said. “People working from home can feel safe to begin to return to the office.
U.S. appeals court blocks Biden's Navy vaccine policy for COVID
A federal appeals court has delivered a new setback to the Biden administration in a COVID-19 dispute, keeping in place a lower court order that blocked the U.S. Navy from considering the vaccination status of 35 special forces personnel in making deployment decisions. The ruling from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday night spurned arguments from the U.S. Justice Department that the Navy's deployment decision-making was outside the scope of cases that the courts are allowed to consider and rule on. The appeals panel said the judiciary had the power to weigh the plaintiffs' religious freedom objections, including a "divine instruction not to receive the vaccine."
Germany pledges more funds for COVID vaccines in poor countries
Germany will provide a further $1.5 billion to a global initiative for better access to coronavirus vaccines for poorer countries, Finance Minister Christian Lindner said on Tuesday. "The global COVID-19 pandemic has not been overcome," Lindner told reporters after a virtual meeting of finance ministers and central bank governors from the Group of Seven leading economies. Germany would also provide an additional 224 million euros for logistics on the ground, or "in-country delivery costs", Lindner said.
Pfizer to provide 10 mln courses of COVID pill to developing countries -the Global Fund
Pfizer Inc is expected to provide around 10 million courses of its highly effective COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid to low- and middle-income countries this year, according to an official with the Global Fund, a healthcare NGO working to buy the pills from the drugmaker. The Fund's head of strategy for policy, Harley Feldbaum, said Pfizer had committed to at least that many doses and could increase shipments later if organizations involved show they are able to distribute the pills well, noting most will be available toward the end of the year.
Maintaining Services
Americans can order another round of free at-home Covid-19 tests next week
Americans can order additional free at-home Covid-19 tests supplied by the US government starting next week. "If you already ordered free tests, tonight, I'm announcing you can order another group of tests. Go to Covidtest.gov starting next week and you can get more tests," President Joe Biden said during his Tuesday State of the Union address. In January, the government launched its effort to provide free rapid antigen tests to any household that requested them through that website or by calling 800-232-0233. There was a limit of four tests per residential address.
COVID-19 hospitalizations, cases and deaths start to plateau as provinces lift measures
The decline of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations across Canada has led many provinces to aggressively lift public health restrictions — yet data shows those declines have begun to plateau. Ontario, Alberta and Manitoba ended several measures on Tuesday, including vaccination requirements for businesses and capacity limits. Other provinces, including Quebec, and Atlantic Canada, eased restrictions a day earlier, with Saskatchewan ending them entirely on Monday.
India's output, exports of Russia's Sputnik vaccine at risk due to Ukraine crisis
India's production and exports of Russia's Sputnik COVID-19 vaccines are expected to slow further following U.S. sanctions on Russia's sovereign wealth fund that promotes the shot globally, three Indian pharmaceutical industry sources told Reuters. The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) had billed India as one of Sputnik's biggest production hubs and markets, though local sales have stagnated at 1.2 million doses out of 1.8 billion doses of various vaccines administered in the country.
Hong Kong government urges residents spooked by citywide lockdown not to panic
Hong Kong's government said any decision to impose a COVID-19 lockdown would take into account the global financial hub's status and ensure basic needs such as food and urged anxious residents who raided supermarkets this week not to panic. The government said it was still planning and "refining" details for a compulsory mass COVID testing scheme and would announce details once they had been confirmed. The government statement, released late on Tuesday, comes amid widespread confusion and chaos with many residents fatigued and frustrated by the mixed messaging and almost daily tweaking of coronavirus rules.
Merck's Covid Antiviral Gets WHO Backing for High-Risk Patients
Merck & Co.’s Covid-19 antiviral pill was endorsed by a World Health Organization panel for patients in the early stages of disease who face high risk of hospitalization. The WHO panel of international experts, which looked at data from six randomized clinical trials involving more than 4,000 patients, found a moderate certainty that Merck’s molnupiravir reduces the risk of hospital admission and recovery time. The effect on mortality wasn’t so clear. The decision was published Thursday in the BMJ medical journal. Merck’s pill is used in the U.S. and U.K. to treat Covid patients at high risk of severe illness, but its mechanism of action and lesser efficacy have prompted a shift toward Pfizer Inc.’s Paxlovid and other drugs. U.S. National Institutes of Health guidelines specify that molnupiravir should be used only when other medications for outpatients can’t be given.
Healthcare Innovations
Coronavirus vaccine: Indian, Australian researchers devise math model to predict COVID vaccine efficacy
Researchers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) here, and Queensland Brain Institute (QBI) in Australia have developed a mathematical model that predicts how antibodies generated by COVID-19 vaccines confer protection against symptomatic infections. The model can potentially optimise the use of available vaccines and speed up the development of new ones. "The reason why predicting vaccine efficacies has been hard is that the processes involved are complex and operate at many interconnected levels," said Narendra Dixit, Professor at the Department of Chemical Engineering, IISc, and the senior author of the study that has been published in Nature Computational Science. "Vaccines trigger a number of different antibodies, each affecting virus growth in the body differently. This in turn affects the dynamics of the infection and the severity of the associated symptoms. Further, different individuals generate different collections of antibodies and in different amounts," he elaborated.
Covid-19 update: Vaccines protect children from severe symptoms
The global Covid death toll has passed 5.9 million, with a figure of 5,964,704 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Meanwhile, infections have continued past 438 million to a world wide figure of 438,535,937. Covid-19 vaccines protected children and adolescents from severe disease even after the immune-evasive Omicron variant emerged, according to findings from US government reports. After Omicron became dominant in the US late last year, protection against infection and urgent care visits declined for 5- to 17-year-olds who’d received primary inoculations, according to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data released Tuesday.
Nerve damage may explain some cases of long COVID -U.S. study
A small study of patients suffering from persistent symptoms long after a bout of COVID-19 found that nearly 60% had nerve damage possibly caused by a defective immune response, a finding that could point to new treatments, U.S. researchers reported on Tuesday. The study involved in depth exams of 17 people with so-called long COVID, a condition that arises within three months of a COVID-19 infection and lasts at least two months.
CDC data suggest Pfizer vaccine protection holds up in kids 5-11, raising questions on earlier study
Does the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine provide less protection to children aged 5 to 11 than to adolescents 12 to 17? A study from New York state released Monday suggests that’s the case. But new data from 10 states released Tuesday tell a different story. The data, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggest that two doses of the Pfizer vaccine aren’t very protective against infection for either age group in the face of the Omicron variant, but that protection against severe illness appears to be holding up equally in both sets of children. They do not suggest more rapid waning, or more marked waning, among the younger group of children.