"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 14th Mar 2022

Isolation Tips
China imposes new curbs amid worst COVID outbreak in two years
China has placed about 17 million residents under lockdown, as virus cases doubled nationwide to nearly 3,400 and anxiety mounted over the resilience of its ‘zero-Covid’ approach in the face of the worst outbreak in two years. The southern tech hub of Shenzhen – home to about 13 million people – told all residents to stay at home as it struggles to eradicate an Omicron flare-up linked to the neighbouring virus-ravaged city of Hong Kong. The lockdown and a suspension of public transport will last until March 20, a city government notice said, adding that it would launch three rounds of mass testing. A nationwide surge in cases has seen authorities close schools in Shanghai, China’s biggest city, and lock down northeastern cities, as almost 18 provinces battle clusters of the Omicron and Delta variants. The city of Jilin – centre of the outbreak in the northeast – was partially locked down on Saturday, while residents of Yanji, an urban area of nearly 700,000 bordering North Korea, were confined to their homes on Sunday.
Kenya lifts remaining COVID restrictions
Kenya lifted its remaining COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, including a ban on large indoor gatherings such as religious services and a requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test for arriving air passengers. Though Kenyans should continue heeding public health measures such as handwashing and social distancing, face masks are no longer mandatory in public and all quarantine measures for confirmed COVID-19 cases are halted with immediate effect, Health Minister Mutahi Kagwe told a news conference.
Hygiene Helpers
98% of U.S. population can ditch masks as COVID eases -CDC
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said some 98% of the U.S. population live in locations where COVID-19 levels are low enough that people do not need to wear masks indoors. The CDC on Feb. 25 dramatically eased its COVID-19 guidelines for when Americans should wear masks indoors, saying they could drop them in counties experiencing what it described as low or medium COVID-19 levels
France to launch fourth COVID shot for over-80s, PM says
France is to start offering a fourth COVID-19 vaccination shot to people over 80 years old who had their previous booster dose more than three months ago, French Prime Minister Jean Castex told daily Le Parisien in an interview published on Saturday. The prime minister had said in January that France was ready to launch a campaign for fourth vaccine shots, or second booster, as soon as health authorities gave the green light.
Call to offer more people fourth jab as Covid rises in England
Ministers should consider extending the plan to give a fourth dose of Covid vaccines to older people because of evidence of waning immunity, scientists say. The number of people being admitted to hospital with Covid began rising last week, and on 9 March 1,521 were admitted in England – the highest number since the end of January. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that one in 25 people, or 3.8% of England’s population, was infected on 5 March, and research by the React-1 study indicated that cases are rising in those aged 55 and over.
Two years of COVID: The battle to accept airborne transmission
For Catherine Noakes, a scientist who studies how pathogens move in the built environment, the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic were punctuated with a foreboding sense of frustration. That frustration was rooted in the readily accepted assumption that COVID-19 was not spreading through the air via microscopic particles called aerosols, but predominantly through larger respiratory droplets expelled among people in close proximity and falling quickly on nearby surfaces. The World Health Organization (WHO) — which sets the tone for many nations — early on denied COVID-19 was spreading through these tiny aerosols suspended in air. As evidence mounted, alongside pressure from scientists like Noakes, the agency eventually acknowledged the possibility of airborne transmission — but continued to downplay its significance in favour of droplets, placing a heavy emphasis on handwashing and disinfecting surfaces instead of more stringent measures. Then as evidence suggesting the virus behind COVID-19 was primarily airborne grew to be overwhelming, the agency finally admitted in December 2021 that the virus could indeed be spreading via aerosols.
Community Activities
UK economy bounces back from Omicron as more people dine out
Britain’s economy bounced back from the effects of the Omicron Covid variant at a faster pace than expected during January, as consumers returned to eating and drinking out in pubs and restaurants. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said all sectors of the economy returned to growth, helping to lift gross domestic product by 0.8% in January from a month earlier, fuelled by a rise in consumer-facing services. GDP was estimated to be 0.8% above its pre-pandemic level, reflecting a weaker impact on the economy than expected after the emergence of the Omicron variant led to a sharp rise in coronavirus infections. City economists had forecast a slower growth rate of 0.2%.
Age groups being hardest hit by Covid in York revealed
As the Covid rate soars in York, the age groups being most affected by the coronavirus have been revealed. City of York Council's latest Covid data tracker report says people aged between 30 and 49 are currently experiencing the highest Covid infection rate. It says people aged 40 to 44 had the highest rate of new cases in the week to March 5, with a rate of 801 per 100,000 population. The next hardest hit groups were people aged 45-49, who had a rate of 655, people aged 35-39, with a rate of 561 and people aged 30-34, with a rate of 547. The rate for people aged 60+ was 392.7. The council ward with the highest rate was Wheldrake, with a rate of 695.8 per 100,000, and the lowest rate was 257.5 in Clifton.
Australia nears living with COVID like flu - PM Morrison
Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the nation's political leaders want to move to a new phase of living with COVID-19 as though it were the flu, but would consult health experts. A day after meeting with the national cabinet of state and federal leaders, Morrison told reporters on Saturday morning they had discussed moving to "Phase D" of the national pandemic response plan. "Our airports are open again, international arrivals can come, there are waivers now on quarantine for people returning, so we are pretty much in Phase D," he said.
Working Remotely
Big Read: Covid-19 pandemic caused biggest shift in work in decades
Millions across the West quit their careers during the pandemic – often opting to retrain for dream jobs, or downsizing for happiness. In London, due to white-collar concentration, half of all employment is now either based at home or is “hybrid” work, where staff go into the office a few days a week. In Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the figure is about 20 per cent. New research shows hybrid working is more popular in Scotland that anywhere else in Britain. A recent poll of UK corporate leaders by the Centre for Economics and Business Research found increased remote working led to better customer satisfaction, higher productivity, and happier staff.
End of the office? 1 in 3 won’t consider a new job unless they can work remotely
The pandemic has fundamentally changed the American workweek, a new study reveals. In fact, only one in 15 remote workers expects to be back in an office for five days a week. In a recent survey of 2,000 fully remote or hybrid-remote employees, more than a third (35%) say they wouldn’t even consider a new job unless it includes the option to work remotely. Despite the benefits and comforts of remote work that many respondents cited, it does come with challenges. The remote environment has made it more challenging for people to communicate with their co-workers and manager (48%), have their work recognized by their peers (44%), and maintain a work-life balance (44%).
Virtual Classrooms
Universities Reimagine Teaching Labs for a Virtual Future
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of university teaching labs worldwide. Students in STEM classes stopped using industry-grade equipment on campus, and instead tried to problem-solve independently with take-home kits that provided limited functionality. As classroom instruction moved from in-person to virtual, professors and teaching assistants quickly realized this new learning experience created many challenges. Real-time instruction and hands-on experience gave way to students trying to solve problems independently. Engineering professors at Morgan State then began using more advanced virtual lab options, which allowed students to access industry-grade lab equipment.
Using immediacy cues in the classroom
As equity-focused educators, we can practise immediacy cues – both verbal and non-verbal, in physical and virtual classrooms – to signal to all students that they are welcome, that we respect and value them, and that we’re interested in them. These signals go a long way to creating an inclusive environment and promoting positive learning outcomes for all students. We’ll look first at verbal immediacy cues in person and online because these may be things we’re already doing, and therefore may be easier to increase as we deliberately strive to create more welcoming spaces.
Public Policies
Two years on, complacency still plagues global COVID-19 response
On March 11 2020, the director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) warned of “alarming levels of inaction” from governments as he declared that the COVID-19 outbreak had become a pandemic. Two years on, with a number of highly effective vaccines, we have the tools needed to end this pandemic. But the complacency of some governments has only become worse. Politicians in rich countries are trying to “move on” from the pandemic; to manipulate the emotional fatigue of the public and tell them what they want to hear: that this pandemic is over. They want to pretend that COVID-19 is a problem of the past – a problem for poorer countries. That notion is as reckless as it is false.
Australia's vaccine diplomacy in Pacific islands wards off Beijing, prime minister says
Australia has been able to stop an "incursion" by Beijing into the Pacific islands by talking with leaders there weekly and offering vaccine aid, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday. Concern over China's military ambitions for the region, after it provided police and riot equipment to the Solomon Islands, prompted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to last month announce Washington would open a Solomon Islands embassy. Morrison said China had been "very clear" about aspirations to build a military base in the Pacific islands, but this had not occurred.
Dismay as funding for UK’s ‘world-beating’ Covid trackers is axed
If anything about the UK’s response to Covid-19 was world-beating, it was our surveillance system. From the World Health Organization to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), public health teams around the world have praised the UK’s infection-tracking capability, and used our data to plan their own pandemic measures. Despite this health ministers have cancelled future funding for the React-1 study and other research projects. The decision has been met with dismay among leading scientists and researchers worldwide, who have questioned the UK’s ability to respond to future Covid threats.
Philippines approves emergency use of Pfizer's COVID-19 drug Paxlovid
The Philippines has approved the emergency use of Paxlovid, Pfizer's COVID-19 drug, the country's food and drug agency said on Friday. It is the third COVID-19 drug approved by the agency for emergency use, after Roche's antibody cocktail and Merck's treatment pill. Paxlovid can be used to treat adult patients who do not require supplemental oxygen and who are at increased risk for severe infection, the agency said.
Swiss secure COVID-19 vaccines for 2023
Switzerland has secured at least 14 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines for 2023, the government said on Friday. "For 2023, in addition to the seven million doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine already purchased, the Federal Council has decided to also procure seven million doses from Moderna. At the same time, Switzerland has options – to be exercised only if needed – to procure a further seven million vaccine doses from each provider," it said in a statement.
Britain outlines terms of COVID-19 inquiry
Britain on Thursday outlined the terms of reference of its planned inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic, looking into the preparedness of the country as well as the public health and economic response to the coronavirus. Britain has recorded 19.3 million COVID-19 infections and 162,000 deaths - the seventh highest fatality total globally - and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been criticised for mishandling England's three national lockdowns. He has promised an inquiry into the pandemic, chaired by judge Heather Hallett.
China approves five COVID-19 antigen kits for self-testing - CCTV
China has granted approval to five COVID-19 antigen kits made by local companies to be used for self-testing, state broadcaster CCTV said on Saturday, as it tweaks its testing regime that has been pressured by Omicron. China's National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) published a notice saying Beijing Huaketai Biotechnology had been allowed to make changes to its COVID-19 antigen test kit's device certificate. It published a similar approval for four other companies, Nanjing Vazyme Biotech, Guangzhou Wondfo Biotech, Beijing Jinwofu Bioengineering Technology and a BGI Genomics subsidiary, Shenzhen Huada Yinyuan Pharmaceutical Technology, on Saturday.
Maintaining Services
French COVID-19 infections again up 25% week-on-week, trend upward again
New COVID-19 infections in France rose by more than 25% on Friday compared to a week ago after rising more than 24% on Thursday, as a downward trend that had started late January reversed. The health ministry registered 72,399 new infections on Friday, while the seven-day moving average of new infections also rose, for the fourth day in a row, by nearly 16% to more than 60,000. New hospitalisations with COVID-19 - which tend to lag new cases by about two weeks - continued falling, by 7% to just over 21,000.
Covid cases and hospital admissions rising in England, data suggests
One in 25 people in England had Covid last week, figures show, causing a rise in the rates of hospital admissions. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics, based on swabs from randomly selected households, reveal an estimated 2,073,900 people in the community in England had Covid in the week ending 5 March, equating to 3.8% of the population or about one in 25 people. The week before, the figure was about one in 30. In Scotland, the latest ONS figures suggest about one in 18 had Covid in the most recent week – continuing a rise in prevalence – while in Northern Ireland and Wales it was one in 13 and one in 30 respectively, suggesting infection levels are increasing in all countries in the UK.
Healthcare Innovations
What is Deltacron? Everything you need to know about the new Covid-19 variant
A fresh reminder that the pandemic is not yet over comes as new Covid-19 variant Deltacron is officially identified with cases confirmed in France and the US. Here is everything you need to know about the new Covid variant. What is Deltacron? Deltacron is a Covid variant that is made up of elements from both Delta and Omicron. It contains genes from both of these previous variants, which makes it a recombinant virus. This is when the genetic material from more than one origin is combined- in other words, when someone is infected with two variants at the same time and their cells then replicate together.
GeoVax vaccine targeting virus in two places shows promise; virus may become resistant to antibody drugs
An experimental vaccine developed by GeoVax Labs Inc succeeded in promoting development of antibodies that target two different sites on the virus in a small pilot study and has been advanced to mid-stage clinical trials, researchers reported. Like currently available COVID-19 vaccines, GeoVax's GEO-CM04S1 induces immune responses that target the spike protein on the surface of the virus. But it also targets the "nucleocapsid," or body, of the virus. In the study reported on Wednesday in The Lancet Microbe, 56 volunteers received the vaccine, which uses a modified version of a harmless virus to deliver instructions to the immune system. Overall, 94% developed antibodies against the spike and the nucleocapsid protein, according to the research team from City of Hope National Medical Center in Duarte, California.
Covid treatment sotrovimab can cause drug-resistant mutation, study finds
Australian virologists have uncovered a drug-resistant mutation in the Covid-19 virus associated with the drug sotrovimab and say without the monitoring of patients given the treatment the mutated virus could spread in the community. The world-first findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday, are the result of an analysis of the first 100 patients in western Sydney during the Delta outbreak in 2021 to be given sotrovimab. Sotrovimab is a monoclonal antibody that is available in many countries to treat vulnerable patients who are at risk of severe disease and death due to Covid-19 infection. Sotrovimab must be administered via infusion within the first five days of Covid-19 infection, and prevents Covid-19 symptoms from becoming severe. It is one of the few human-engineered monoclonal antibodies that can target Omicron.