"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 9th Mar 2022

Isolation Tips
Romanian government to lift COVID restrictions from March 9
Romania will lift all COVID restrictions from Wednesday including requiring a digital pass to access institutions and the obligation to wear protective masks both indoors and outside, Health Minister Alexandru Rafila said on Tuesday. The decision stems from the coalition government's decision to no longer extend a nation-wide state of alert two years after the pandemic first hit Romania. The country remains the European Union's second-least vaccinated state, with just under 42% of the population fully inoculated amid distrust in state institutions and poor vaccine education
Malaysia to reopen borders from April with quarantine waiver
Malaysia will reopen its borders fully from April 1 and allow entry without quarantine for visitors vaccinated against COVID-19, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said on Tuesday. Malaysia has since March 2020 maintained some of the tightest entry curbs in Asia to try to contain coronavirus outbreaks, with most foreign nationals barred from entry and returning Malaysians required to undergo quarantine.
New Zealand to Reduce Covid Self-Isolation Period to Seven Days
New Zealand will reduce the isolation period for Covid-19 cases and their household contacts to seven days in order to get more people back to work. The period will reduce from 10 days effective at 11:59 p.m. on Friday March 11 in Wellington, Minister for Covid Response Chris Hipkins said in a statement. “The most up to date public health advice is that there is a decline in infectiousness of omicron over time, and that in most cases transmission occurs within seven days,” he said. “Seven days isolation will break the vast majority of potential transmissions, while ensuring people can get back to work quicker and therefore reducing the impact on business operations.”
Hygiene Helpers
Moderna to share vaccine tech, commits to never enforce COVID-19 jab patents
Moderna has pledged never to enforce its coronavirus vaccine patents in selected low- and middle-income countries and is launching a new initiative to give external researchers access to its technology. The announcement comes amid increasing pressure on the U.S. biotech firm, which pulled in more than $12 billion in 2021, to share its technology with initiatives aimed at increasing vaccine manufacturing capacity in low- and middle-income countries. “It’s a very big announcement,” CEO Stéphane Bancel told POLITICO in an interview. Bancel was visibly excited when he explained that for years his team been working on various infectious diseases but as a small company they had been limited in what they could do. The runaway success of their mRNA coronavirus vaccine has opened new doors. “We want to make sure that we have all the tools to provide the world with a much better response, if God forbid something happens again,” said Bancel.
Puerto Rico to lift mask mandate as COVID-19 cases ease
Puerto Rico’s governor announced that he is ending a requirement for mask use indoors for the second time since the pandemic began as the number of cases and hospitalizations ease. The change will take effect Thursday with a few exceptions. Face masks will still be required in health facilities and nursing homes. In addition, starting March 10, domestic travelers will no longer have to present proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test or fill out a currently required form.
WHO says COVID boosters needed, reversing previous call
An expert group convened by the World Health Organization said Tuesday it “strongly supports urgent and broad access” to booster doses amid the global spread of omicron, in a reversal of the U.N. agency’s insistence last year that boosters weren’t necessary and contributed to vaccine inequity. In a statement, WHO said its expert group concluded that immunization with authorized COVID-19 vaccines provide high levels of protection against severe disease and death amid the continuing spread of the hugely contagious omicron variant. WHO said in January that boosters were recommended once countries had adequate supplies and after protecting their most vulnerable.
Rio relaxes the use of masks as pandemic wanes in Brazil
Rio de Janeiro is relaxing the use of masks as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes in Brazil. “Following the determinations of our scientific committee we will have a decree tomorrow to end the mandatory use of masks indoors and outdoors,” Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes said on Twitter on Monday. Earlier, data from Johns Hopkins University showed the global death toll of the virus surpassed 6 million people. Brazil is one of the hardest-hit nations, counting more than 650,000 confirmed deaths, the second most after the United States.
Community Activities
Florida's top health official says healthy children should not get coronavirus vaccine
Florida’s governor and chief health official announced a new state policy that will recommend against giving a coronavirus vaccine to healthy children, regardless of their age — a policy that flies in the face of recommendations by every medical group in the nation. The announcement came at the conclusion of a 90-minute forum that Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) hosted in West Palm Beach. “The Curtain Close on COVID Theater” was live-streamed from a studio with hundreds of participants appearing on a towering screen behind the panelists. Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo prefaced the change by deriding the school closures and mask and vaccine mandates issued by many states since the start of the pandemic as “terrible, harmful policies.”
Trucker convoy laps Washington, DC, beltway to protest Covid-19 measures
A convoy of vehicles lapped the Washington, DC, beltway Sunday morning to demand an end to Covid-19 mandates and restrictions. The protests come at a time when many pandemic-related mandates and restrictions -- imposed by state and local governments rather than lawmakers in Washington -- have already begun being lifted in much of the country. The group planned to drive at least two loops around the beltway before returning to Hagerstown, Maryland, Maureen Steele, an organizer with the "People's Convoy" told CNN. Sunday's protest may mark the beginning of several days of disruptions, according to District of Columbia emergency management officials.
Japan's ANA lines up low-cost carrier in bet on post-COVID tourism boom
Japanese airline ANA Holdings Inc plans to launch a new international low-cost carrier in late 2023 or early 2024, joining its rival Japan Airlines Co in a bet on a revival in tourism as the impact of the COVID pandemic fades. ANA said on Tuesday the carrier, Air Japan, would fly mid-range international flights to Asia-Pacific destinations, without disclosing planned routes. ANA already has a separate low cost carrier (LCC), Peach Aviation, which flies domestic routes as well as to a handful of short-haul Asian destinations.
Health groups press for more wildlife SARS-CoV-2 tracking
The statement on animal surveillance came from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the World Health Organization (WHO). They said though wildlife doesn't play a key transmission role in humans, SARS-CoV-2 spread in animal populations can affect their health and lead to the emergence of new variants. So far, farmed mink and pet hamsters have shown the capacity to infect humans, and scientists are reviewing a possible case of transmission between white-tailed deer and a human. And in the United States, large numbers of white-tail deer have been shown to carry the virus, underscoring concerns about establishment of an animal reservoir.
COVID deaths vary by race, community, social factors
Social determinants of health (SDOH) tied to COVID-19 death rates varied by race and community type in the first year of the pandemic, suggests an observational spatial analysis involving 3,142 counties in all 50 US states and Washington, DC. The study was published late last week in JAMA Network Open. SDOH are nonmedical factors, such as where people live and work, that influence health outcomes such as COVID-19 infection and death. "Racial disparities in health largely emanate from the inequitable access to social, economic, and physical or built environmental conditions resulting from racism in the US," the researchers wrote. "Specifically, racism interacts with and exists within societal structures and systems to shape the major SDOH."
Working Remotely
Joining a company remotely? Here's how to bond with your colleagues
Getting to know new colleagues through a box on your screen while working from home can have its challenges. Recent hires already have a lot on their plates when it comes to making a good impression, but forging relationships with your new co-workers should also be a high priority, even if you've never met them in person. "It is very important to build personal connections with people at work," said Jennifer Benz, a senior vice president at human resources consulting firm Segal. "If you have those strong personal relationships at work in the tough times and the good times, you are going to have a better support system, and that's really important not just for your happiness, but also for your professional success."
What Are the Effects of WFH? Bosses Show Burnout From Hybrid Office Setup
If your manager seems crabby lately, consider this: Six in 10 of them say their mental health has been hurt by the pandemic, according to a new survey from Prudential Financial. That has 40% of managers saying that they are prioritizing their mental health over their career, according to the nationally representative survey of 2,000 workers. Of managers whose direct reports are working remotely, 44% said the hybrid work model had already left them burnt out.
Virtual Classrooms
The 10 most innovative education companies of 2022
The COVID-19 pandemic blasted online education years into the future, and exposed its many challenges. At a time when educators and parents alike are still grappling with school disruptions and learning loss, this year’s most innovative education companies sought to supplement traditional schooling and democratize access to education. Some of these companies, like Duolingo and Coursera, which pioneered online learning, are expanding their reach into new markets with a slate of offerings targeted at moving higher education online. Others are offering a new spin on more conventional modes of instruction.
Many companies are offering employees the benefit of online courses. Do they actually help your career?
Many companies offer some form of tuition reimbursement, but some are taking it a step further and providing their workers with access to online skill development courses. But do these programs really lead to new jobs and promotions? The short answer is that it depends. While companies are investing in skills-development training, hiring based on those courses hasn’t caught up in a big way yet. However, that’s shifting in this increasingly tight labor market as employers look beyond the job potential employees have on their résumé.
Further study moves to hybrid – but will the changes stick?
In recent years, more students have gone to a so-called “fourth-level” course after a few years – or even decades – in work, a shift away from a time when most postgraduates went straight from college into their master’s degree course. Many have families, full-time jobs and other commitments, so finding the time and money for a postgraduate course can be tricky. As a result of this shift and the changing needs of learners, higher education institutions have been moving towards providing more flexible, online and blended learning options. And when the pandemic hit, almost all postgraduate learning moved online. So, with society opening up, how are postgraduate courses being delivered now?
Public Policies
The U.S. is about to approve a fourth COVID vaccine that could be a silver bullet solution to the anti-vax crisis
It might not be long until a fourth COVID vaccine is available in the U.S., and it’s a big deal. Novavax Inc.’s COVID-19 vaccine is on its way towards authorization from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration after formally submitting a request in late January. The company says it has resolved the manufacturing issues that had delayed their application, and now expects approval from the FDA in the coming weeks, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal. In clinical trials first published in January 2021, Novavax’s vaccine was up to 90% effective in preventing severe COVID-19 infections, on par with the already-approved vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. But questions remained about the company’s manufacturing capabilities that have delayed its ability to bring the vaccine to market. The Maryland-based biotech firm has already won approval for its vaccine in Australia, India, the European Commission and several other countries since last November.
As virus cases go from 1 to 24000, New Zealand changes tack
Back in August, New Zealand’s government put the entire nation on lockdown after a single community case of the coronavirus was detected. On Tuesday, when new daily cases hit a record of nearly 24,000, officials told hospital workers they could help out on understaffed COVID-19 wards even if they were mildly sick themselves. It was the latest sign of just how radically New Zealand’s approach to the virus has shifted, moving from elimination to suppression and now to something approaching acceptance as the omicron variant has taken hold. Experts say New Zealand’s sometimes counterintuitive actions have likely saved thousands of lives by allowing the nation to mostly avoid earlier, more deadly variants and buying time to get people vaccinated. The nation of 5 million has reported just 65 virus deaths since the pandemic began.
China says Hong Kong must stick to "dynamic zero" COVID strategy
A top Chinese health official rallied embattled Hong Kong on Tuesday to stick with a "dynamic zero" coronavirus strategy and warned that the city's "lifeline" health system was at risk and the situation had to be turned around as soon as possible. Hong Kong reported more than 43,100 new cases on Tuesday after the launch of an online platform for people to record infections in a surge that has seen the city suffering the most deaths globally per million people in the week to March 6, according to the Our World in Data publication. China has championed the "dynamic zero" strategy that involves stamping out infections with strict mitigation measures as opposed to the approach adopted in other places of relying on high vaccination rates and moderate mitigation like masks in an effort to "live with COVID".
Maintaining Services
Covid disappointments spur Africa’s homegrown vaccine makers
African countries had hoped the Covax vaccine-sharing scheme would guarantee them timely access to jabs, but a lack of regional vaccine production and a bidding war with richer, western nations meant much of the continent has been last in line for doses. According to the FT’s vaccine tracker, 73 per cent of EU residents have been fully vaccinated against Covid, compared with 13 per cent in Africa. Health authorities and scientific institutions in Africa have now set themselves a different target. By 2040 they want 60 per cent of all vaccines given on the continent to be manufactured in Africa, up from 1 per cent now.
Covid-19 cases creating burden on hospitals - minister
The number of people with Covid-19 in hospitals around the country has risen by over 30% in the last week. There were 803 Covid patients in hospital as of 8am this morning, with 51 of those in ICU. That figure is an increase of 187 compared to last Tuesday. However, it is down five on the same time yesterday, which is the first daily reduction in 10 days. The 808 people with the coronavirus in hospital on Monday, represented the highest level in six weeks, since 824 on 25 January.
Unvaccinated Elderly Send Hong Kong’s Covid-19 Death Rate to World’s Highest
Almost a year ago, Rio Ling decided to hold off on vaccinating his 86-year-old father against the coronavirus because he was more worried about possible side effects than the virus itself, given that Hong Kong had kept cases low under its “Zero-Covid” policy. By the time he gave the go-ahead in January, after the Omicron variant had broken through the city’s defenses, it was too late. A few hours after finally receiving the inoculation in late February, Mr. Ling’s dad, who has high blood pressure and dementia, tested positive for Covid-19. Half a million people over 70 weren’t vaccinated when Omicron began surging through the city. Like other places, Hong Kong gave its elderly priority to get their shots, but persistent fears about vaccine safety, fueled by local media reports about deaths following vaccinations, and Hong Kong’s low case count led many to delay.
Experts map out 'new normal' as US enters third pandemic year
As America enters the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic and approaches the 2-year anniversary of business and school shutdowns put in place when little was known about the novel coronavirus, a group of public health experts have published a new roadmap laying out how the country can enter the "new normal" stage of the pandemic and manage the virus without eliminating it. The roadmap recommends against future school closings, suggests the United States will need to manufacture 1 billion at-home COVID-19 tests per month, and says the nation can lift pandemic restrictions when it is tallying 165 or fewer deaths per day from the virus.
Healthcare Innovations
French study shows COVID vaccine efficacy 94% against severe outcomes
In late December 2019, France began administering vaccinations against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) to its population. At the end of 2021, 77% of the entire population were fully vaccinated, and 91% of those 18 years or older. During these times, France experienced three epidemic waves caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) variants Alpha, Delta, and Omicron. Vaccination administration was stratified among the different population groups due to limited availability, begging with those at most risk of severe COVID-19-related complications and those who work in healthcare. Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech, AstraZeneca, and Janssen were the four Covid-19 vaccine brands utilized. With the exception of the Janssen vaccine, which only required one dosage, a vaccination program was initially considered complete following two doses. A complete vaccination cycle had become a prerequisite for obtaining a French health permit, which became effective in June and was first necessary to enter events and places with large crowds. In August, the health pass was expanded to include admission to all museums, bars, restaurants, railways, and other public venues.
COVID-19 associated with "significant, deleterious impact" on brain, finds U.K. study
Scans and cognition tests collected from hundreds of people suggest coronavirus infection is associated with "a significant, deleterious" change in the brain, according to a study published Monday from scientists in the United Kingdom. The paper, published in the journal Nature, draws on data in the U.K. Biobank from 401 people between the ages of 51 and 81 who had COVID-19 through April 2021. Researchers analyzed data from brain scans and tests collected from participants both before they were infected with the disease, and from a second round conducted later, close to five months on average after they tested positive.
COVID-19: New study could lead to life-saving treatment for severe cases
The world's largest genetic study of people with severe COVID has identified DNA variations that could lead to new life-saving treatments for the disease. The research identified 16 changes to the DNA sequence of critically ill COVID patients that affected their immune response, or increased the risk of blood clotting and inflammation in the lungs. The researchers in the GenOMICC consortium, which involved almost every intensive care unit in the UK, say the findings map out new molecular targets for drugs that are currently used to treat other medical conditions. Professor Kenneth Baillie, the study's chief investigator and a critical care consultant at the University of Edinburgh, said: "We have shown for the first time in the history of critical care medicine that an infectious disease that causes organ failure is treatable by supressing the immune system.
COVID-19 can cause brain shrinkage: study
A new study by Oxford University has found COVID-19 can cause the brain to shrink, reduce grey matter in the regions that control emotion and memory, and damage areas that control the sense of smell.
Moderna plots vaccines against 15 pathogens with future pandemic potential
Moderna Inc said on Monday it plans to develop and begin testing vaccines targeting 15 of the world's most worrisome pathogens by 2025 and will permanently wave its COVID-19 vaccine patents for shots intended for certain low- and middle-income countries. The U.S. biotechnology company also said it will make its messenger RNA (mRNA) technology available to researchers working on new vaccines for emerging and neglected diseases through a program called mRNA Access. Moderna announced its strategy ahead of the Global Pandemic Preparedness Summit sponsored by the UK government and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), an international coalition set up five years ago to prepare for future disease threats.