"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 17th Mar 2022

Isolation Tips
Netherlands relaxes COVID-19 rules despite rising infection rate
Exactly two years since the restrictions were first introduced, Health Minister Ernst Kuipers declared that it is now safe to relax the measures. People are still advised to frequently wash their hands and isolate themselves when coming in contact with people who tested positive. Teleworking, COVID travel certificates, and having a negative test result to attend an event will no longer be mandatory. The new measures will come into effect next Wednesday (23 March). However, the Netherlands is still facing a rise in COVID-19 hospitalisation cases. As of Tuesday, 291 people were admitted to hospitals. There are currently 1952 hospitalised cases, 156 of which are in ICUs. This is not an isolated case as much of the EU is seeing a spike in cases.
Japan to fully lift COVID-19 restrictions as infections slow
Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Wednesday announced plans to fully lift coronavirus restrictions on March 21 as new infections driven by the highly contagious omicron variant slow. The COVID-19 restrictions currently in place in 18 prefectures, including the Tokyo area, will end on Monday as planned, Kishida said at a news conference on Wednesday, as his government seeks to cautiously expand consumer activity to help the badly hurt economy get back on track. It will be the first time Japan has been free of virus restrictions since early January. Daily caseloads have steadily declined in Japan in recent weeks after surging to new highs exceeding 100,000 in early February. New cases have fallen by about half.
Covid-19 news: Nearly 30 million in China are now living in lockdown
China yesterday reported 5280 new SARS-CoV-2 cases, more than double the previous day’s count and its highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic. The surge has prompted the introduction of full or partial lockdowns in various cities across the country. China has been pursuing a strict ‘zero covid’ strategy, which until recently had largely kept outbreaks under control. The omicron variant, however, is more transmissible than previous variants and is probably driving the current surge. Cities across the country are now in full or partial lockdowns. The north-east province Jilin is the worst affected, accounting for more than 3000 of China’s new reported cases on 15 March. Speaking on 14 March, Jilin’s governor vowed to “achieve community zero-Covid in a week”.
New Zealand to reopen borders sooner than planned after years of COVID isolation
New Zealand is bringing forward the opening of its international borders to some travellers after more than two years of COVID-19 isolation, with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern saying an influx of tourists will boost the nation's economy. The change means the end of some of the toughest border controls in the world during the COVID pandemic, imposed as the government tried to keep the coronavirus out, comes months ahead of the previous schedule. New Zealand's policies helped keep infections and deaths low. But with the Omicron variant now rampant, criticism has grown as business, particularly tourism, and agricultural sectors see little value in staying shut off from the world.
Hygiene Helpers
WHO expert says Covid-19 comes in waves of four months
The Department of Health has reported 5,452 PCR-confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 8,644 positive antigen tests recorded through the HSE portal. As of 8am today, 1,081 Covid-19 patients were in hospital, with 44 being treated in ICU. In Northern Ireland, five more people who had previously tested positive for Covid-19 have died, the Department of Health said. Another 2,391 confirmed cases of the virus have also been notified in the last 24-hour reporting period. This morning, there were 515 Covid-19 patients in hospital, with four in intensive care. Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said there is concern about the increase in Covid-19 cases.
Europe thought it was done with Covid-19. But the virus isn't done with Europe
It has been two years since the Covid-19 pandemic became a reality for millions of people in Europe and many of the region's leaders now believe it is time to move on. But as countries shed restrictions, cases and hospitalizations are slowly inching up and public health experts are worried about the consequences. Covid-19 cases are rising in Britain just two weeks after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted most mitigation measures. Infections were 48% higher last week compared with the one before and hospitalizations were up 17% over the same period, CNN's Brenda Goodman and Deidre McPhillips report. The country's daily case rate -- about 55,000 a day -- is still less than a third of what it was during the Omicron peak, but cases are rising as fast as they were falling just two weeks earlier, when self-isolation rules for infected people ended in the UK.
Even with omicron, coronavirus vaccines have been enormously effective
The good news is that Hong Kong’s spike in coronavirus cases has begun to fade. The bad news is that, before it did, Hong Kong had one of the highest population-adjusted death tolls seen anywhere in the world since the pandemic began. In a remarkable series of tweets Monday, the Financial Times’s John Burn-Murdoch illustrated the dire situation in Hong Kong since the beginning of February. He contrasted its spike in cases with a similar increase in New Zealand — but then pointed out the wide divergence in the number of those cases that resulted in death. (Notice that he shifted the case totals to align with the increase in deaths, so his graphs depict cases still rising.)
Community Activities
Coronavirus: Hong Kong set to run out of coffins within days
Hong Kong is running out of coffins as it fights a devastating surge in coronavirus deaths. Kwok Hoi-bong, president of the Funeral Business Association, said that the city would use up its remaining 300 coffins in the next two to three days. Families would have to delay funeral services if the problem was not be addressed, he added.
COVID-19: Most people still taking voluntary precautions to prevent spread of COVID two years into pandemic, ONS survey shows
Two years on from the start of the pandemic, and despite the fact that almost all COVID restrictions have now been lifted, the majority of people are still taking voluntary precautions against infection. According to an ONS attitudes survey released today, most adults report taking at least one preventative measure to stop the spread of COVID-19. Around four-fifths, 81%, of people say they are still frequently washing or sanitising hands, 76% are still wearing face coverings and 57% are avoiding crowded places.
Pets and COVID-19: Experts say vigilance needed but risks small
A pet sneezes, its nose is runny, and it seems sluggish. Could it be a normal pet illness like a cold – which can be caught by dogs and cats from human owners – or could it be COVID-19? It is a question that has sat uncomfortably on the minds of many pet owners throughout the pandemic and was resurrected again in January when authorities in Hong Kong culled hundreds of hamsters and other small animals following an outbreak of the Delta variant traced to a pet shop and warehouse.
Working Remotely
WFH has killed networking as we know it. Here’s how Gen Z plans to adapt
A good internship or first job can help you build connections that will propel your career forward not just in the immediate future but for decades. Until the COVID-19 pandemic, most of these relationships were forged in person. But what happens when those connections exist only in cyberspace? It’s an issue facing the oldest members of Gen Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) as many in-person internships and entry-level roles disappeared during the pandemic, and many white-collar jobs remain remote. It’s created new barriers for these young professionals as they learn how to navigate workplace norms and foster relationships without a physical connection to their colleagues.
How will remote work impact the careers of younger workers?
As backing for strict Covid restrictions fades in countries like the UK, the question of whether mass working from home should be phased out is being hotly debated. Most polls suggest that a majority of employees who can do so want to spend less time in offices than they did pre-pandemic, and most commentators think they’ll get their wish. So economists, sociologists and other experts have been keeping themselves busy predicting how such a pivotal shift in working norms will impact different groups, and whether these impacts will be mostly positive or mostly negative. One group that is getting a lot of attention are career-starters working in white-collar industries; younger people who have never been part of the pre-pandemic working world and who are in roles that could be done remotely indefinitely.
Survey: Four in 10 workers in Singapore choose remote work over bigger bonus
If given the choice, 41% of workers in Singapore would rather continue working remotely than be offered a bigger bonus, according to a survey by recruitment agency Randstad. In a Business Times report, the company’s Singapore and Malaysia managing director Jaya Dass said remote work may have allowed employees to enjoy benefits such as saving time and money from commuting, which allowed them to experience more personal time and better productivity. “Employers that intend to make hybrid work a permanent feature of their workforce culture after the pandemic should also start to roll out policies as soon as they can to retain their workforce,” she said.
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. The minister also sees technology as “a great enabler” that helps lighten the workload of teachers and accelerate the pace of education.
Fix digital weaknesses to make up for learning losses
As Malaysia enters the endemic phase of Covid-19, it is time to look closely at the remote learning issues that cropped up during lockdowns and reimagine Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) education as a whole. This is crucial to ensure continuity and to prepare pupils for the workforce. The pandemic highlighted the importance of technologies in remote teaching and learning (T&L) amid the closure of educational institutions. But shortfalls in remote learning and the digital divide severely disrupted education access for many pupils, particularly those from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds.
Public Policies
U.S., EU, India, South Africa reach compromise on COVID vaccine IP waiver text
The United States, European Union, India and South Africa have reached a consensus on key elements of a long-sought intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, according to a proposed text reviewed by Reuters. Sources familiar with the talks described the text as a tentative agreement among the four World Trade Organization members that still needs formal approvals from the parties before it can be considered official. Any agreement must be accepted by the WTO’s 164 member countries in order to be adopted. Some elements of the consensus deal, including whether the length of any patent waivers would be three years or five years, still need to be finalized, according to the text. It would apply only to patents for COVID-19 vaccines, which would be much more limited in scope than a broad proposed WTO waiver that had won backing from the United States, according to the document.
U.S. will run out of key COVID treatments without more funds, White House says
The U.S. government will run out of supplies of COVID-19 treatments known as monoclonal antibodies as soon as late May and will have to scale back plans to get more unless Congress provides more funding, the White House said on Tuesday. Raising the alarm about depleted funding for the U.S. pandemic response, the White House said the government also would not have enough money to provide additional COVID-19 booster shots or variant-specific vaccines without a new injection of cash. The White House has requested $22.5 billion in immediate emergency funding to fight the pandemic, but, after objections from Republicans and some Democrats, the money was removed from the latest government funding bill passed by lawmakers last week
Japan to buy 145 mln Pfizer, Moderna COVID vaccines for 4th shots -Kyodo
Japan plans to buy a combined 145 million doses of Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines with an eye to rolling out a fourth shot, Kyodo news agency reported on Wednesday, citing a government source. Japan has not made a decision on the fourth vaccine doses as the country currently delivers its first booster shots - or third doses. Local media reports have said another booster roll-out could start this summer
Germany to secure COVID-19 vaccine production through 2029
Germany plans to spend up to 2.861 billion euros ($3.14 billion) to ensure that COVID-19 vaccine makers have enough production capacity available to supply the country with shots in future outbreaks through 2029, the economy ministry said. Germany's cabinet approved plans on Wednesday to sign contracts with BioNTech, CureVac/GSK, Wacker/CordenPharma, Celonic and IDT, the ministry said in a statement. The contracts will maintain the ratcheted-up production capacities created during the coronavirus pandemic by paying an annual standby fee, ensuring enough vaccine can be produced quickly for the population.
Europe begins reviewing application for AstraZeneca COVID drug
Europe's drug regulator said on Tuesday it had begun reviewing AstraZeneca Plc's application for antibody-based COVID-19 therapy, a key step towards approval of the treatment in the region, but gave no timeline for a conclusion. Infections from COVID-19 are still rising in parts of the world including Europe. China posted a steep jump in daily COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, with new cases more than doubling from a day earlier to hit a two-year high. AstraZeneca's antibody cocktail, Evusheld, has already been authorised in the United States to prevent COVID-19 infections in individuals with weak immune systems or a history of severe side effects from coronavirus vaccines.
WHO delays review of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine on Ukraine conflict
The World Health Organization (WHO) has delayed its ongoing assessment of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine for emergency use because of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine, an official from the health agency said on Wednesday. The Sputnik V shot, widely used in Russia and approved in more than 60 countries, is also being reviewed by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). "We were supposed to go do inspections in Russia on March 7, and these inspections were postponed for a later date," Mariângela Simão, WHO assistant-director general for Access to Medicines and Health Products, said during a press briefing.
WTO chief welcomes COVID shot patent plan, drugmakers balk
The World Trade Organization (WTO) praised a provisional deal to waive patent rights for COVID-19 vaccines after more than a year of deadlock, though drugmakers said the move risked undermining the industry's ability to respond to future health crises. The United States, the European Union, India and South Africa agreed on Tuesday on key elements for a waiver. It now needs the backing of the 164 members of the WTO, which takes decisions based on consensus, so rejection by just one country could still block an accord.
Maintaining Services
In Kharkiv, critical COVID patients at the mercy of Russian bombardment
In Kharkiv's regional infectious diseases hospital, doctors escort those COVID-19 patients they can down to the bomb shelter in the basement when the air raid sirens sound. But the most seriously ill, needing constant oxygen supply, cannot be moved, even if this means leaving them vulnerable to Russian bombardment. "The ones in critical condition remain in their rooms. If we bring them down here they will simply die," said Pavlo Nartov, the hospital's director. "Most of our patients are on oxygen supply all the time. They can't be cut off from the oxygen."
Covid Scotland: 27000 doses of vaccine wasted in a single month as expiry dates reached
Some 13 per cent of doses given were wasted, compared to an average of just 1.5 per cent from September to January. Just half of those aged 18 to 29 have received a booster jag, while the figure for all adults is 78 per cent, below the Scottish Government benchmark of 80 per cent. In response to a “significant” increase in Covid patients, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has banned all but essential visiting in several wards at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and Royal Alexandra Hospital from Thursday. NHS Lanarkshire has already taken this step. The majority of vaccine doses wasted in February – around 21,000 – were due to passing expiry dates, according to a new report from Public Health Scotland (PHS).
Germany hits record Covid infection rate since start of pandemic
Germany has recorded its highest rate of Covid-19 infections since the start of the pandemic, as mask-wearing mandates in shops, restaurants and schools will come to an end in many parts of the country this weekend. The country’s disease control agency on Wednesday reported a record incidence rate of 1,607 new infections per 100,000 people over the past seven days, one of the highest in Europe. Germany’s Robert Koch Institute has recorded a total of 262,593 confirmed new cases and 269 new deaths over the past 24 hours. Experts say the true number of cases could be even higher as testing facilities have reached full capacity and those who test positive with a lateral flow test are no longer required to carry out a PCR test that would show up in the statistics.
India rolls out COVID vaccine doses for children aged 12-14
India on Wednesday started administering doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to young people aged 12 to 14 as public and private schools re-opened. The government aims to swiftly expand vaccine coverage by also dropping a restriction on booster doses for those older than 60 only if they had a co-morbidity condition. "Today is an important day in India's efforts to vaccinate our citizens," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Twitter. The children, estimated by the government to number 50 million, will receive the Corbevax vaccine, made by Biological E, a domestic firm that secured emergency approval for its use in children.
COVID curbs bite at Chinese ports, threatening global supply chains
The queues of container ships outside major Chinese ports are lengthening by the day as COVID-19 outbreaks in manufacturing export hubs threaten to unleash a fresh wave of global supply chain shocks, ship owners, logistics firms and analysts say. China is experiencing its biggest spike in COVID-19 infections since an initial outbreak in the central city of Wuhan was contained in early 2020. The spread of the highly-infectious Omicron variant this month has led to movement controls across China, including in key manufacturing hubs of Shenzhen and Dongguan, paralysing factories making goods from flash drives to car parts
WHO: New COVID deaths fell 17% last week, but cases rising
The number of new coronavirus deaths reported worldwide fell by 17% in the last week while COVID-19 infections rose, reversing a decline in cases that first began in January, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.N. health agency’s weekly report on the pandemic issued late Tuesday, WHO said there were more than 11 million new COVID-19 infections last week - about an 8% rise - and 43,000 new deaths. The number of COVID-19 deaths globally has been dropping for the past three weeks. The biggest increase in cases were seen in the Western Pacific and Africa, where infections rose by 29% and 12% respectively. Elsewhere, cases dropped by more than 20% in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Americas. In Europe, cases inched up by about 2%.
Healthcare Innovations
Can Covid Infection Increase the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes? Study Suggests Link
Covid-19 infection appears to be linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, a study suggests. But Diabetes UK said there is "still work to do to unpick the link between the two conditions". Researchers from Germany have associated the two ailments in a new paper which explores people's risk of being diagnosed with type 2 after they have had Covid. The study, published in the journal Diabetologia, examined data from more than 1,000 GP surgeries in Germany caring for a population of almost nine million patients. Between March 2020 and January 2021 there were 35,865 people with a documented case of Covid-19.
Severe COVID-19 tied to long-term depression, anxiety
A new observational follow-up study in six European countries published in The Lancet Public Health links severe COVID-19 to long-term depression and anxiety. University of Iceland at Reykjavik researchers led the study, which analyzed symptoms of depression, anxiety, COVID-related stress, and poor sleep quality among 247,249 adults, 4% of whom were diagnosed as having COVID-19 from Mar 27, 2020, to Aug 13, 2021. Participants, who were followed up for as long as 16 months (average, 5.7), lived in Denmark, Estonia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, or the United Kingdom. Most severely ill COVID-19 patients recuperated at home, but some spent time in a hospital.
Newborns Catching Covid From Mothers Is 'Rare', UK Researchers Say
The risk of women passing on Covid-19 to their newborn babies is "low", according to a new study. The chance of transmitting the virus while pregnant, during labour, or after the baby is born is less than 2%, researchers said. When proper preventive steps are taken after a mother tests positive, such as the use of face masks, "infection of newborn babies is unlikely", they concluded. Academics led by experts from the University of Birmingham reviewed data from 472 global studies, which looked at data on 952 mothers and 18,237 babies. Across the world, just 1.8% of the 14,271 babies born to mothers with Covid-19 went on to test positive themselves, the study, published in The BMJ, found.