"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 16th Mar 2022

Isolation Tips
Lockdowns Spread Across China to Contain Outbreak
Fallout from China’s race to halt its worsening coronavirus outbreak is growing as authorities order lockdowns and other restrictions across more of the country. All 24 million residents of northeastern Jilin province, which borders Russia and North Korea, were locked down on Monday, the first time since Covid-19 was first detected two years ago in Wuhan that such restrictions have been imposed on an entire province. Shenzhen city began a weeklong lockdown on Monday, closing public transport, nonessential businesses and schools, while companies in Shanghai began shutting down over the weekend. Whether authorities can swiftly end the outbreak will not only test China’s pandemic strategies against the more infectious Omicron variant behind the latest wave, but also has major implications for the rest of the world. China’s current restrictions have already disrupted global supply chains, including Foxconn Technology Group plants in Shenzhen that make devices for Apple Inc.
Hygiene Helpers
Novavax Covid vaccine now available in Netherlands
The Novavax protein-based vaccine against the coronavirus is now available in the Netherlands. "The Novavax vaccine can be an alternative for people who are hesitant about inoculation with an mRNA or vector vaccine," public health institute RIVM said on its website. People who want to get a Novavax shot can make an appointment with the GGD at telephone number 0800-0174. The Novavax vaccine contains tiny particles with the coronavirus' spike protein, which was counterfeited in the laboratory. It also contains an adjuvant that enhances the body's immune response to this protein. The body will produce antibodies against the spike protein after injection. If the body later comes into contact with SARS-CoV-2, the immune system will recognize the spike protein and produce antibodies to fight it, according to the RIVM.
The Guardian view on rising rates of Covid: there’s no plan beyond vaccines
Last month, Boris Johnson argued that the downward trends in Covid cases and hospitalisations meant that it was time to scrap restrictions. Now both are rising. But the government is ending testing and most surveillance studies. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said that the rise was “to be expected” – though this foresight did not extend to having a plan to deal with the increase in infections. Instead, he dismissed the concern about the new Deltacron variant. The health secretary seemed nonchalant about the threat the virus now posed. Mr Javid may be right that the country has weathered the worst of the pandemic, but Covid is not yet in retreat. The Treasury’s penny-pinching means that the UK is abandoning essential defences.
In Africa, a Mix of Shots Drives an Uncertain Covid Vaccination Push
In the tumbledown concrete room that has been commandeered as this sleepy African trading center’s Covid-19 vaccination headquarters, a battered freezer holds stacks of boxes with dozens of small glass vials. Stuffed among shots for rotavirus and measles are four brands of Covid vaccines. The vaccination team gives Sinopharm, donated from China, to the youngest and healthiest people because they’ve been told it’s the least effective of the vaccines, said Abdulai Conteh, who runs the operation. AstraZeneca, in which they have more faith, is normally just for people with underlying medical conditions. But the town recently received a big shipment that will expire soon, so the health workers are rushing to use it all up. Johnson & Johnson is given mostly to teachers, as a single shot.
Will ‘open-source’ vaccines narrow the inequality gap exposed by Covid?
Over the past two years, global health authorities have consistently warned of iniquitous access to tools to help counter the pandemic. High-income nations such as the UK, the US and those in Europe began their vaccine rollouts in December 2020, having reached substantial proportions of vulnerable groups by February 2021. The first shipment of vaccines — 600,000 doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca version — delivered by Covax, only arrived in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, in late February 2021. Since then mRNA manufacturers, such as BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna, have booked record-breaking revenues and become key players in business and geopolitics. Yet, more than three-quarters of people in low-income countries aged 12 and over have still to receive a single dose, compared with 10 per cent in high-income countries. The Cape Town initiative is part of a new push by global health authorities, academics and philanthropists to address that and promote alternatives to “Big Pharma’s” business model, which relies on legally enforceable patent protections to raise investment to fund new drugs.
Europe Is Getting Caught by a Covid Resurgence After Rushed Exit
Europe tried to leave Covid-19 behind, but the rush to unwind restrictions is now setting the stage for a revival of pandemic risks. Accelerated by the emergence of BA.2 -- a more-transmissible strain of the omicron variant -- the virus has spread rapidly. Germany on Tuesday set a fresh record for infection rates for the four straight day. Austria has also reached new highs, while cases in the Netherlands have doubled since lifting curbs on Feb. 25. Most authorities have shrugged off the surge, showing little appetite to re-impose curbs after easing measures just a few weeks ago. But the virus threatens to cause problems anyway, with businesses and schools disrupted as people call in sick.
U.S. Senate votes to overturn transit mask mandate; Biden vows veto
The U.S. Senate voted 57 to 40 on Tuesday to overturn a 13-month-old public health order requiring masks on airplanes and other forms of public transportation, drawing a quick veto threat from President Joe Biden. Last week, the White House said it would extend the current COVID-19 mask requirements at airports, train stations, ride share vehicles and other transit modes through April 18 but pledged a new review. The order was set to expire on Friday. The mandate has drawn significant opposition from Republicans who note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said last week that 98% of Americans live in places where it is safe to ditch indoor masks.
Community Activities
China’s Covid-19 Surge Shuts Down Plants in Manufacturing Hubs Shenzhen and Changchun
A surge in Covid-19 cases led Chinese manufacturing hubs Shenzhen and Changchun to lock down in recent days, halting production at many electronics and auto factories in the latest threat to the world’s battered supply chain. A number of manufacturers including Foxconn, Technology Group, a major assembler of Apple Inc.’s iPhones, said they were halting operations in Shenzhen in compliance with the local government’s policy. The government placed the city into lockdown for at least a week and said everyone in the city would have to undergo three rounds of testing after 86 new cases of domestic Covid-19 infections were detected Sunday.
UK to end all COVID-19 travel rules ahead of Easter break
Britain’s government said Monday all remaining coronavirus measures for travelers, including passenger locator forms and the requirement that unvaccinated people be tested for COVID-19 before and after their arrivals, will end Friday to make going on holiday easier for the Easter school vacation. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the changes will mean people “can travel just like in the good old days.” The passenger locator forms require people to fill in travel details, their address in the U.K. and their vaccination status.
Working Remotely
More firms rely on services to support remote workers' mental health
As prolonged teleworking due to the coronavirus pandemic leaves remote workers feeling isolated, an increasing number of Japanese companies are using online services such as personal consultation software to look after their employees’ mental wellbeing. Network technology company NTT Communications, which currently has about 80% of its employees working remotely, has adopted specialized software to arrange online consultations between the workers and their superiors.
This Dreamy Remote-Working Scheme Will Pay You to Relocate to the Catalan Countryside
From dramatic mountain ranges to quaint little towns full of dusty masias, rural Catalonia is one of Europe’s most beautiful regions. Once you get a taste of the autonomous Spanish region’s countryside charms, you’ll never turn back – or at least that’s the idea behind the Catalunya Rural Hub initiative. The scheme, which is a partnership between the Catalan government and the Mobile World Capital Barcelona Foundation, aims to attract professionals working in the digital industries to Catalonia’s rural areas. It’s an attempt to build on a pandemic trend which saw lots of people realise that they didn’t have to live in cities and that they could live and work remotely from the countryside instead
4 in 10 Singapore workers would give up bigger bonus for remote working: Survey
After working from home for close to two years, 41 per cent of workers in Singapore would rather continue working remotely than receive a bigger bonus, a survey by human resources solutions agency Randstad found. This is likely due to various benefits these employees experienced while working remotely, such as saving time and money from commuting, having more personal time and higher productivity, said Ms Jaya Dass, managing director for Singapore and Malaysia at Randstad. Among the respondents, at least 80 per cent received a salary increment in 2022, with 9 per cent of these employees seeing a pay rise of more than 20 per cent.
Virtual Classrooms
Singapore's Chan Sees More Online School Learning in Covid Shift
Singapore plans to move more school lessons online and make better use of technology to improve the learning and teaching experience, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said Wednesday. Transmission of knowledge can be done via digital channels, which will free up in-person school time for pupils to sharpen their collaborative skills and creativity, Chan said in an interview to be broadcast as part of the Bloomberg Asean Business Summit. The minister also sees technology as “a great enabler” that helps lighten the workload of teachers and accelerate the pace of education. “We will move more and more of our lessons online, allowing our students to do more self-paced learning” Chan said, citing the experience from the Covid-19 pandemic. The city-state began preparations for virtual classrooms even before the start of the virus spread, he added.
Over half of disabled students considered leaving full-time education during the pandemic, study finds
Disabled students were left without support during the pandemic and over half considered leaving full-time education, according to a survey of pupils at 69 UK universities and higher education providers. Just 23.1 per cent of disabled students received the support they needed over the pandemic, with many saying they felt “left behind”, “alienated”, and “forgotten” by university staff. Campaigners are calling on universities to maintain a hybrid of online learning and in-person teaching, with one student saying: “There shouldn’t have had to be a pandemic to make things accessible.”
Breakout room anxiety: how to address this among students
Much of the anxiety of a breakout room comes from not knowing who one’s randomised group members will be. This feeling is exacerbated because students may not have had the chance to become familiar with most of their course mates, as they would have in traditional settings. And unlike physical class, they have no idea when a lecturer might randomly “visit” their breakout room. Here are a few steps lecturers can take to help make students feel more comfortable in breakout rooms: Build rapport among students; Focus on one or two specific, focused and inspiring tasks to complete under 10 minutes; Limit the use of breakout rooms; Ask for constructive feedback from students.
How can Artificial Intelligence in online learning support emotional and social development?
In reacting to COVID-19, the priority for education providers was ensuring face-to-face learning and assessment activities were transitioned to an online environment. In doing so, practitioners may have lacked the capacity to consider the implications an online environment might have on the emotional and social development of learners. Whilst some learners thrived under the remote circumstances, many struggled to adapt to this new way of teaching and learning. This view is supported by anecdotal evidence which suggests that many learners experienced feelings of isolation and demotivation as the rapid transition to online learning was made.
Public Policies
New Zealand to reopen borders earlier than planned
New Zealand said on Wednesday it would open its border for some visitors earlier than previously forecast, hoping an influx of tourists will boost the economy. Vaccinated Australians can travel to New Zealand from April 12 and then from May 1 tourists from visa-waiver countries such as the United States and Britain will be able to visit, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said at a press conference. The border was not expected to fully reopen until October under the current plan but Ardern said this could be brought forward.
Pfizer Asks FDA to Authorize Second Covid-19 Booster Dose
Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE have asked U.S. health regulators to authorize a second booster dose of their Covid-19 vaccine for people 65 years and older. The companies said Tuesday that they had filed the application. The Food and Drug Administration is expected to make a decision in time for the Biden administration to begin a potential fall vaccine campaign. The FDA has been reviewing data and looking at potentially authorizing a fourth dose of the shot for use in the fall, The Wall Street Journal reported last month. Health authorities have cleared booster doses for children as young as 12 years of age, at least five months after they finished their first round of vaccination.
US Says WTO Covid Vaccine Talks Led to IP Compromise
World Trade Organization members have arrived at a compromise on intellectual property rules for Covid-19 vaccines, the Biden administration said. While there is no text for an agreement, there is an understanding that offers “the most promising path toward achieving a concrete and meaningful outcome,” Adam Hodge, a spokesman for U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, said in a statement on Tuesday. The statement came after Politico Pro reported the compromise earlier Tuesday between the European Union, South Afirca, India and the U.S. that covers only vaccines and still requires approval from the EU and WTO members. The USTR statement didn’t provide details of the compromise.
Prognosis U.S. Sewer Data Warns of a New Bump in Covid Cases After Lull
A wastewater network that monitors for Covid-19 trends is warning that cases are once again rising in many parts of the U.S., according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data by Bloomberg. More than a third of the CDC’s wastewater sample sites across the U.S. showed rising Covid-19 trends in the period ending March 1 to March 10, though reported cases have stayed near a recent low. The number of sites with rising signals of Covid-19 cases is nearly twice what it was during the Feb. 1 to Feb. 10 period, when the wave of omicron-variant cases was fading rapidly. It’s not clear how many new infections the signs in the sewage represent and if they will turn into a new wave, or will be just a brief bump on the way down from the last one. In many parts of the country, people are returning back to offices and mask rules have been loosened — factors that can raise transmission.
Maintaining Services
Doctors should not fear liability for recommending Covid-19 vaccine
Medical practitioners in Hong Kong have been reluctant to recommend Covid-19 vaccines to patients with chronic health conditions for fear of the risk of adverse events. Significant numbers of doctors have also been hesitant about openly discussing or recommending vaccination even for those with no relevant health issues. These are the conclusions from a study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong that received little attention when published last November. The findings, which should have raised alarm bells, offer an explanation for the city’s stubbornly low vaccination rate among the elderly.
GP vaccine sites offering 'value for money' to continue Covid jabs until September
GP-led Covid vaccination sites will be able to continue delivering jabs until September if they have ‘sufficient capacity’, NHS England has said. But some may be asked to suspend the service if they are not delivering ‘value for money’, it added. The enhanced service was due to expire at the end of this month, but NHS England had indicated it was expected to be extended until September – as long as delivery did not impact on ‘core’ GP services.
Scientists call for immediate rollout of Covid jab for UK primary school children
Scientists are calling for the immediate rollout of Covid vaccines to primary-aged children in the UK, as new data suggests that even a single dose of the Pfizer jab helps to prevent older children against infection, and shortens the duration and severity of symptoms if they do get infected. According to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, 2- to 11-year-olds have the highest rate of infections of any UK age group, with 4.2% testing positive during the week ending 5 March. Secondary-aged children (up to Year 11) have the lowest rate of infections, with 2.4% testing positive.
Mexico to uphold existing agreements for Russian COVID vaccine
Mexico will uphold its existing agreements with Russia for its Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, as well as those made with other countries, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Monday. Speaking at a regular news conference, Lopez Obrador said he expected Mexico to have sufficient vaccines going forward, and reiterated that Mexico would not participate in sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine.
Healthcare Innovations
Scientists link ‘severe’ Covid-19 to long-term mental health problems
People who suffer from severe Covid-19 symptoms are more likely to have long-term mental health problems, a new study suggests. Higher rates of depression and anxiety have been found in people who were “bedridden” with Covid-19 for more than seven days last year, according to a study published in The Lancet. Scientists, drawing on data from 247,249 people across the UK, Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, found that people with coronavirus who were not admitted to hospital were more likely to experience symptoms of depression up to 16 months after diagnosis, compared to those never infected.
A quarter of symptomatic kids hit by long COVID; mRNA shots provide best protection in breast milk
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. One in four kids with COVID develop lingering problems One in four children with COVID-19 symptoms develop "long COVID," according to data pooled from 21 earlier studies conducted in Europe, Asia, Australia and South America. Among the 80,071 children with COVID-19 in the studies, 25% developed symptoms that lasted at least 4-to-12 weeks or new persistent symptoms that appeared within 12 weeks, researchers reported on Sunday on medRxiv ahead of peer review.