"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 8th Mar 2022

Isolation Tips
Ireland entry requirements: All Covid restrictions scrapped for arrivals, regardless of vaccination status
Ireland has dropped all Covid entry restrictions on arrivals, regardless of vaccination status. The relaxation of border rules came into force on Sunday 6 March and includes the end of Passenger Locator Forms. Travellers are no longer required to show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative Covid test on arrival.
Belgium scraps almost all COVID-19 measures as crisis eases
Belgium began easing most COVID-19 restrictions Monday in the biggest move to relax measures since the onset of the crisis some two years ago. Gone are the coronavirus passport that allows entry into bars, restaurants, theater and cinemas as well as capacity limits. The government announced last week that the nation of 11 million will go from code orange - the second-toughest for virus measures - to code yellow as of Monday.
Hygiene Helpers
Public health experts sketch a roadmap to get from the Covid pandemic to the ‘next normal’
A new report released Monday charts a path for the transition out of the Covid-19 pandemic, one that outlines both how the country can deal with the challenge of endemic Covid disease and how to prepare for future biosecurity threats. The report plots a course to what its authors call the “next normal” — living with the SARS-CoV-2 virus as a continuing threat that needs to be managed. Doing so will require improvements on a number of fronts, from better surveillance for Covid and other pathogens to keeping tabs on how taxed hospitals are; and from efforts to address the air quality in buildings to continued investment in antiviral drugs and better vaccines. The authors also call for offering people sick with respiratory symptoms easy access to testing and, if they are positive for Covid or influenza, a quick prescription for the relevant antiviral drug.
Covid Scotland: Spring booster marks new era in vaccine programme
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) describes the Spring booster as a “precautionary” measure, and has already hinted at plans for another round in Autumn 2022. It will remain to be seen what effect this has on vaccine uptake. There may be none, given the only groups currently invited are most at risk, either through age or immunity. But these are the same invited each year for the flu vaccine, which has a lower uptake.
Exploring the ethics of genetic prioritisation for COVID-19 vaccines
There is evidence to suggest that host genomic factors may account for disease response variability in COVID-19 infection. In this paper, we consider if and how host genomics should influence decisions about vaccine allocation. Three potential host genetic factors are explored: vulnerability to infection, resistance to infection, and increased infectivity. We argue for the prioritisation of the genetically vulnerable in vaccination schemes, and evaluate the potential for ethical de-prioritisation of individuals with genetic markers for resistance. Lastly, we discuss ethical prioritisation of individuals with genetic markers for increased infectivity (those more likely to spread COVID-19).
COVID-19: Experts warn against waiting for Omicron vaccines
Following the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, several pharmaceutical companies have announced that they will be manufacturing COVID-19 vaccines that specifically target the latest variant of concern. In January, Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, announced that studies were being done to compare its original COVID-19 vaccine with doses designed to match Omicron. At the beginning of the year, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the redesigned vaccine could be ready to launch as soon as March. Moderna made a similar announcement, revealing that the company has begun testing its own Omicron-specific vaccine and that clinical data should be available by March as well.
Vaccination disparity still significant as official COVID-19 death toll hits 6 million globally
The official global death toll from COVID-19 eclipsed six million on Monday — underscoring that the pandemic, which officially enters its third year at the end of this week, is far from over. The milestone, recorded by Johns Hopkins University, is the latest tragic reminder of the unrelenting nature of the pandemic even as people are shedding masks, travel is resuming and businesses are reopening around the globe. As death rates remain high in Poland, Hungary, Romania and other eastern European countries, the region has seen more than 1.5 million refugees arrive from war-torn Ukraine, a country with poor vaccination coverage and high rates of cases and deaths. Meanwhile, despite its wealth and vaccine availability, the United States will hit one million reported deaths sometime this spring.
Community Activities
U.S. CDC urges Americans to avoid travel to Hong Kong, New Zealand
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday urged Americans to avoid travel to Hong Kong, New Zealand and Thailand over COVID-19 cases. The CDC elevated its travel recommendation to "Level Four: Very High" for the three destinations. In total, the CDC urges Americans to avoid travel to about 135 countries and territories. The CDC lists another 33 destinations as "Level 3: High" and recommends unvaccinated Americans avoid travel. It lowered six destinations on Monday to Level 3: Anguilla, Cape Verde, Fiji, Mexico, Philippines and United Arab Emirates.
Moderna reaches preliminary agreement to build Covid vaccine manufacturing plant in Africa
Moderna plans to invest $500 million to produce messenger RNA, the technology underlying its Covid vaccines, at the facility in Kenya. It could fill Covid vaccine doses at the Kenya facility as early as 2023 subject to demand, according to the company. Moderna has faced criticism from groups such as Oxfam International and Doctors Without Borders for not sharing its vaccine technology with middle and lower income countries.
Americans significantly less worried about contracting COVID-19: Gallup
A new Gallup poll shows that concerns about the pandemic have fallen, with just over a third of respondents saying they are now worried about contracting COVID-19. Americans questioned in the survey released Monday are more optimistic about the state of the pandemic than they have been since June, before the pandemic's delta and omicron variants contributed to a significant uptick in infections, according to the survey giant. For example, just 34 percent of people said they are worried about contracting COVID-19, compared to 50 percent in January.
Convoy protesting COVID-19 mandates begins beltway circuit
A large group of truck drivers and their supporters who object to COVID-19 mandates began their mobile protest in the Washington, D.C., area Sunday, embarking on a drive designed to snarl traffic and make their objections known to lawmakers. The “People’s Convoy” follows similar demonstrations by truckers in Canada upset at vaccine requirements to cross the Canadian border. The Washington Post reported that convoy organizer Brian Brase intends for protesters to travel on the beltway every day during the upcoming week until its demands are met.
Working Remotely
Is Remote Work Actually Better for the Environment?
With the daily commute all but cancelled during successive Covid-19 lockdowns, many have assumed that WFH will lead to environmental sustainability gains. Indeed, such dramatic changes in mobility, production, and consumption patterns, temporarily reduced global CO2 emissions by 17% in April 2020 compared to peak 2019 levels. But what seemed like a promising trend soon faded away: emissions are now almost back at pre-pandemic levels, even as employees aren’t. Indeed, our research also shows that WFH is not a clear win for the environment.
5 Tips To Thrive In A Hybrid Work Environment
All signs point to the fact that hybrid work is here to stay. That's because employers finally acknowledge that employees desire the best of both worlds and aren't willing to compromise. According to the 2021 Work Trend Index, over 70% of workers want flexible remote work options to continue, while over 65% crave more in-person time with their teammates. As a result, 66% of business leaders are preparing to redesign office spaces to better accommodate hybrid work environments. At the same time, there are challenges with a hybrid work model. If you find yourself exhausted and overwhelmed, here are five tips to thrive in a hybrid work environment.
UK Managers Expect Companies to Cut Work From Home Policy After Covid
Two thirds of managers expect cuts to remote-work programs and the majority say they value flexibility, mental health programs even so they expcect cuts to work from home policy afater COVID.
Virtual Classrooms
Online Learning Can Lead to Increased Success for Minority Students in Higher Education
Research shows that student performance in gateway courses can predict retention, the likelihood of graduation and all-around student success. Historically, minority students have been underserved in these courses. This leads to a higher number of minority students receiving grades of D or F, withdrawing or receiving incomplete grades, often resulting in lower retention rates. While online learning is not without its challenges, experts say it can be a catalyst for improving course outcomes for disadvantaged and historically marginalized students.
Creating Meaningful Connections: E-journaling and Self-assessment for Online Courses
There are challenges in finding meaningful ways to engage with students in asynchronous online courses. Some students find learning new concepts difficult when taking a course with an asynchronous format. It can lack personalization and a clear path for self-directed learning. Additionally, instructors often look for options to engage with online learners beyond a synchronous virtual meeting format. Providing self-directed learning opportunities can feel overwhelming to instructors given that it is an additional step instructors need to grade. However, utilizing e-journaling as a tool for online instruction can establish connections and lighten the assessment load by utilizing student self-assessment strategies.
Public Policies
Florida breaks with CDC, recommends no COVID vaccine for healthy children
Florida's top health official said on Monday the state would recommend against the COVID-19 vaccine for healthy children, breaking with guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In announcing the move during press briefing convened by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the state's surgeon general Dr. Joseph Lapado cited studies that showed few COVID fatalities among healthy children and elevated risk among young boys receiving the vaccine of side effects such as myocarditis.
SII receives EUA grant recommendation from SEC for Covid-19 vaccine
Serum Institute of India (SII) has received an emergency use authorisation (EUA) grant recommendation from the Subject Expert Committee (SEC) of the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) for its Covid-19 vaccine, Covovax, for people aged 12 to 17 years. The recommendation comes after the panel held a meeting for Covid-19 associated proposals, ANI reported. The vaccine is produced by the transfer of technology from Novavax.
Maintaining Services
Hard for China to Exit Covid Zero With Unprepared Hospitals
When Covid-19 flared in the northern Chinese border region of Ejin late last year, it revealed a key impediment to the country charting an exit from its zero-tolerance pandemic strategy. The healthcare system is so unprepared that any major shift away from Covid Zero -- which in China has meant frequent mass testing, swift quarantines, lockdowns and sealed international borders -- risks a public health crisis. In Ejin, home to about 30,000 in the Chinese province that borders Mongolia, several dozen infections in mid-October quickly overwhelmed the two local hospitals. Authorities had to transfer more than 140 patients by train to the provincial capital of Hohhot, over 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) away, according to local media.
Omicron infections contagious for at least 6 days; Takeda drug shows promise as COVID treatment
The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that has yet to be certified by peer review. Omicron infections are contagious for at least 6 days Patients infected with the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 remain contagious for just as long as patients infected with earlier variants, according to a small study. Researchers took blood samples from 56 newly-diagnosed patients, including 37 with Delta infections and 19 with Omicron infections. All were mildly ill, such as with flu-like symptoms, but none were hospitalized. Regardless of which variant or whether or not they had been vaccinated or boosted, study participants "shed live virus for, on average, about 6 days after symptoms (began), and... about one in four people shed live virus for over 8 days," said Dr. Amy Barczak of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who coauthored a report posted on medRxiv ahead of peer review.
COVID-19 vaccine rollout worsened existing health inequalities, study finds
The wide inequalities in COVID-19 vaccine uptake between people from ethnic minority groups and White British people are far greater than for the pre-pandemic flu jab, a study by University of Manchester health researchers has found. The findings, published in PLOS Medicine, overturns the prevailing view that ethnic inequalities in COVID-19 vaccine uptake simply follow previous trends in people's willingness to take up vaccination. Instead, the researchers suggest, the COVID-19 vaccination program has created additional and different inequalities beyond pre-existing inequalities in vaccine uptake.
COVID-only Minnesota hospitals had lower death rates
A Minnesota health system that established two COVID-19 patient-only hospitals early in the pandemic had lower rates of coronavirus-related death than hospitals with mixed patient cohorts, according to a study published yesterday in JAMA Network Open. University of Minnesota at Minneapolis researchers studied the outcomes of 5,504 adult COVID-19 patients treated at M Health Fairview from Mar 1, 2020, to Jun 30, 2021, from 11 hospitals, including 2 reserved for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Median patient age in the entire cohort was 62.5 years, and 51.9% were women. Of the 5,504 patients, 2,077 (37.7%) were treated at one of the two dedicated hospitals in St. Paul, and 3,427 (62.3%) were cared for at the other hospitals.
Healthcare Innovations
Moderna Starts Human Trials of 15 Vaccines as Prepares for Next Pandemic
Moderna Inc. plans to start human trials for vaccines against 15 threatening viruses and other pathogens by 2025, part of a strategy to develop shots that could be made quickly in response to a future pandemic. The effort will include prototype vaccines against the virus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome, a cousin of Covid-19; the Ebola and Marburg viruses; a tick-borne virus that causes Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever; and mosquito-borne viruses such as chikungunya and dengue fever, according to a company statement Tuesday. Moderna has come under criticism from vaccine advocates who say the company has been slow to ship doses of its Covid vaccine to poor countries and that patents it is pursuing in South Africa threaten access to shots. The company is rowing back, announcing an agreement Monday to open a vaccine plant in Kenya that will make as many as 500 million doses annually, although it didn’t specify which vaccines might be produced there.
Covid Cases Linked to Brain Shrinkage, Cognitive Decline Months Later
Even a mild case of Covid-19 can damage the brain and addle thinking, scientists found in a study that highlights the illness’s alarming impact on mental function. Researchers identified Covid-associated brain damage months after infection, including in the region linked to smell, and shrinkage in size equivalent to as much as a decade of normal aging. The changes were linked to cognitive decline in the study, which was published Monday in the journal Nature. The findings represent striking evidence of the virus’s impact on the central nervous system. More research will be required to understand whether the evidence from the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging at the University of Oxford means Covid-19 will exacerbate the global burden of dementia -- which cost an estimated $1.3 trillion in the year the pandemic began -- and other neurodegenerative conditions.
Myocarditis and pericarditis in COVID-19 vaccine recipients
Are the cardiac complications associated with the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccines worse than the disease itself? In order to answer this question, it is necessary to understand their true incidence and association with the vaccine. A new study published on the preprint server medRxiv* provides valuable evidence towards this end, using surveillance data to provide the best estimates of these outcomes. The onset of COVID-19, caused by infection with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), led to a worldwide outbreak of infections, sickness, and death. The emergence and rapid transmission of SARS-CoV-2 prompted the development of vaccines to potentially create herd immunity and limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2. However, doubts raised by the unprecedented speed of vaccine approval, the novel platforms used for their development, and the rapid spread of conspiracy theories, accompanied by a severe shortfall of vaccine supplies to developing areas of the world, hindered the expected speed of vaccine coverage. During this lag period, attention shifted to the potential adverse effects associated with COVID-19 vaccines.
Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine Effective in Protecting Socially Vulnerable Populations
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is also effective in reducing symptomatic COVID-19 in a socially vulnerable community, where viral transmission is high and access to healthcare might be limited. This is the conclusion of a study performed in a group of favelas in Brazil, and co-led by ISGlobal, a centre supported by the ”la Caixa” Foundation, and the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Brazil (Fiocruz). A large number of people in low- and middle-income countries live in densely populated slums or favelas, often with limited resources to respond to the stress caused by a pandemic such as COVID-19. “We know that socially vulnerable populations have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic – they are more exposed to the virus and are more likely to die if they get sick” says ISGlobal researcher Otavio Ranzani, “but studies estimating vaccine effectiveness in these populations are lacking,” he adds. Moreover, few studies have assessed vaccine effectiveness against the Gamma variant, which circulated mainly in Brazil and Latin America, and is able to partially escape recognition by vaccine-induced antibodies.