"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 21st Mar 2022

Isolation Tips
Hong Kong will review COVID-19 restrictions as cases decline
Hong Kong’s leader says the government will consider lifting strict social distancing measures as new COVID-19 infections in the city continue trending downward
Millions in China’s northeast placed under COVID-19 lockdown
The city of Jilin will lock down some 4.5 million people for three days starting Monday to help curb the spread of China’s biggest coronavirus outbreak.
Ecuador ends COVID limits on gatherings after hitting vaccination goal
Ecuador's president on Friday announced an end to coronavirus limits on public and private gatherings, but the South American country will continue to require foreign visitors to show proof of vaccinations or a negative COVID-19 test. President Guillermo Lasso said the government made the decision to end two years of pandemic containment measures because Ecuador has reached its goal of fully vaccinating 85% of the population above five years old. Both new infections and COVID-related deaths have steadily fallen in recent weeks, according to government data.
Hygiene Helpers
Public health measures are key to curbing Covid in UK, say scientists
Stopping the spread of Covid-19 through public health measures remains vital to curbing the pandemic, one of Britain’s most senior scientific figures has warned. On the eve of the second anniversary of the lockdown that began the UK’s Covid response, Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, called for investment in next-generation vaccines and better access to vaccinations for poorer countries. Farrar joined several of the UK’s most eminent scientists in praising the extraordinary response to the pandemic by the clinicians, researchers and business leaders. But with Covid infections and hospital admissions rising across the UK, measures such as masks, social distancing and ventilation are key.
Toronto to hold 24 pop-up COVID-19 vaccine clinics in new spring campaign
The City of Toronto will be holding 24 pop-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics around the city through its new ‘Vax and Spring’ campaign. In a press release issued Sunday, the city said the campaign is part of the city’s “continued equity-focused, hyper-local mobile strategy to make COVID-19 vaccines as accessible and convenient as possible” to help “bring COVID-19 vaccine clinics to many locations across Toronto.” The city said 24 pop-up vaccine clinics will be held in 22 locations over seven days, beginning on March 20.
Austria reintroduces face masks as coronavirus cases surge
People in Austria will be required to wear FFP2 face masks indoors again as COVID-19 cases are rising once more, the country's Health Minister Johannes Rauch said. "I don't like doing that," Rauch said during a press conference Friday evening, adding that the new rule will apply from Wednesday and that isolation rules will be revised too. He said details about the reviewed restrictions will come "over the weekend." Rauch conceded that easing restriction measures had come too early. Austria is the first country in the EU to reintroduce tougher constraints during the current wave. The number of COVID-19 cases has been increasing in the country during the past two weeks.
COVID-19: Spring booster jabs to be offered to millions of vulnerable people in England
Millions of vulnerable people in England will be offered a fourth COVID vaccine in a bid to top up protection against the coronavirus. Spring booster jabs will be available to care home residents, people who are 75 and over, and the immunosuppressed aged 12 and over. A total of around five million people are expected to be given the jab, with around 600,000 invited to book their dose this week, the NHS says.
HK’s Immunized Who Died of Covid Mainly Got Sinovac: Ming Pao
Almost 87% of Hong Kongers who died from Covid after getting at least one dose of vaccine received Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s shot, Ming Pao reported, though most deaths occurred among those who weren’t immunized. The newspaper said it analyzed data from the Hospital Authority involving 5,167 of the city’s Covid fatalities, without disclosing its sources or additional information. It found that 71% of those who died were unvaccinated. Of the 1,486 who died after receiving at least one dose, 1,292 -- or 87% -- had gotten Sinovac, Ming Pao reported. Most deaths in Hong Kong have occurred among under-vaccinated senior citizens, particularly those living in elderly care homes.
Chinese officials urge elderly to get COVID vaccine, cite lesson of Hong Kong
Older people in China should get vaccinated against COVID-19, senior Chinese health officials said on Friday, adding that deaths among the elderly in the latest wave to hit Hong Kong serve as a lesson for the mainland. "The outbreak in Hong Kong is a particularly profound lesson for us, an example that if the vaccination rate for the elderly is low, the rate of severe cases and deaths will be high," Wang Hesheng, deputy director of the National Health Commission, told a news briefing. "We must not regret when it is too late," he said.
Shanghai pushes ahead with mass COVID tests as new cases spike
The Chinese commercial hub of Shanghai is pushing ahead with a mass testing initiative as it tries to curb a new spike in COVID-19 infections, but some districts were easing lockdown rules in an effort to minimise disruptions. The city, home to about 25 million people, saw symptomatic local community infections hit 57 on March 17, with another 203 domestically transmitted asymptomatic cases, up from eight and 150 respectively a day earlier.
Community Activities
The Pandemic Is Two Years Old. Baseball’s Vaccination Problem is Just Beginning.
Major League Baseball players have been more reluctant to take the Covid-19 vaccine than their counterparts in any of the other American professional sports. Now that decision could have a significant impact on how the upcoming season unfolds. Because of Canadian border restrictions, unvaccinated players won’t be allowed to enter the country to play against the Toronto Blue Jays. They won’t be paid or receive service time for any games missed because of their vaccination status under the industry’s new labor contract, which the owners and players’ union agreed to last week. The rule will, for the first time, provide a clear glimpse into how many players have declined to take the shots, which have been found to be safe and effective by experts around the world. While the NFL, NBA, NHL and WNBA have all reported that nearly all of their players have been vaccinated, baseball is a different story.
Parents up in arms against an Ontario school board's move to keep masks on
As students in Canada's most populous province return to mask-free classes after two years on Monday, one Ontario school board is facing backlash for defying the province's decision to drop masks, potentially setting the stage for a clash on a contentious pandemic issue. The mask mandate and other pandemic measures have become a lightning rod in Canada for an anti-government movement, sparking a three-week protest in capital Ottawa last month.
Working Remotely
Two years later, remote work has changed millions of careers
The pandemic thrust the working world into a new reality in March 2020 as offices closed and millions of people were forced to learn how to do their jobs from home. Two years later, employers and workers are still adapting to a new normal and trying to figure out what the future of work might look like. Some companies are determined to return to the way things were and get everyone back into the office. And some have embraced remote work, allowing employees to work from home full time or part of the time. But many workers are deciding to chart their own course
50% of companies want workers back in office 5 days a week–why experts say this strategy could fail
After two years of working from home – and seeing return-to-office plans derailed by new Covid-19 variants – a growing number of companies are eager to get employees back to the office. About 50% of leaders say their company already requires or is planning to require employees to return to in-person work full-time in the next year, according to new research from Microsoft, which surveyed 31,102 workers around the world between January and February. This number stands in sharp contrast, however, to what employees really want: flexibility. In the same report, 52% of workers said that they are thinking of switching to a full-time remote or hybrid job in 2022.
Legislation delays risk squandering remote working progress – unions
Irish workers are slipping back into “old habits” of turning up at the office five days a week because of Government “foot dragging” over new laws to bolster working from home rights, trade unions are warning. Congress, the umbrella organisation for trade unions, said delays to promised legislation have created a “vacuum” which threatens to squander a once-in-a-lifetime chance to copper-fasten widespread remote working.
Virtual Classrooms
Districts face difficulty luring covid-cautious parents back to school
In the US, the push to return to a pre-pandemic normal has tested the resolve of parents still worried about covid’s risks. Perhaps nowhere has the shift back to normal been more jarring than in Prince George’s schools. Though not its original intent, the Maryland district of about 130,000 students set up a massive virtual learning experiment when, to placate anxious parents, it extended enrollment in its remote program for K-6 students during last summer’s delta variant surge. Thousands of families chose that option, which the district said would last only for the first semester, when a pediatric vaccine was expected to be approved.
Learning How to Blend Online and Offline Teaching
In the pandemic many higher ed faculty, forced onto Zoom and other videoconferencing platforms, have continued teaching online just as they always did face to face, delivering lectures over streaming video as they did in person. Many are unaware that teaching online can actually open new possibilities to innovate their teaching practice. Even so, there are some instructors who have found new and rewarding ways to teach, thanks to the forced experiment with online—by doing things that stimulate active learning, turning video conferencing classes into engaged, peer-to-peer discussions of what students explored on their own or with others between class sessions—activities such as viewing videos, visiting websites and reading scholarly books and articles, among other offline resources.
Universities' online teaching and 'blended learning' to be reviewed
In the UK, the quality of online teaching and “blended learning” at universities is set to be reviewed, over fears that students’ poor experiences of online learning during the pandemic may have undermined the potential of mixing face-to-face lectures with online study. The Office for Students (OfS) has launched a review to explore how universities are delivering blended learning, which will aim to give students and applicants information on whether the elements of their courses taught online are of a high enough quality.
Public Policies
Hong Kong leader says COVID flight ban on 9 countries no longer necessary
Hong Kong plans to relax some anti-COVID-19 measures next month, lifting a ban on flights from nine countries, reducing quarantine time for arrivals from abroad and reopening schools. The moves, announced on Monday by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, could quieten some criticism from residents who have become increasingly frustrated with the city's stringent measures, some of which have been in place for over two years. The flight ban would be lifted from April 1, while hotel quarantine for arrivals could be cut to seven days from 14 if residents tested negative, Lam told a news briefing. She had previously said measures would be in place until April 20.
Moderna seeks FDA authorization for second COVID booster for all adults
Moderna Inc on late Thursday sought emergency use authorization from U.S. health regulators for a second COVID-19 booster shot, as a surge in cases in some parts of the world fuels fears of another wave of the pandemic. The U.S. biotechnology company said its request covered all adults over the age of 18 so that the appropriate use of an additional booster dose of its vaccine, including for those at higher risk of COVID-19 due to age or comorbidities, could be determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and health care providers. Moderna's request is significantly broader than Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE's application that was filed earlier this week with U.S. regulators for a second booster shot for people aged 65 and older
Japan offers aid and COVID vaccines to Cambodia
Japan on Sunday pledged to offer Cambodia about $428 million in aid and 1.3 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX global vaccine-sharing programme. The pledges were part of several agreements signed by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen during Kishida's visit to Phnom Penh. Japan will provide a support loan of 45 billion yen ($378 million) and grant aid through contribution to international organisations of 6 billion yen ($50 million). Kishida also expressed support for Cambodia's democratic process "such as holding elections in a way that reflects diverse voices from Cambodian people through projects such as the promotion of dialogue", a joint statement said.
Maintaining Services
Ukraine’s World-Class Drug-Molecule Industry Imperiled by Russia Invasion
Article reports that Russian attacks are endangering Ukraine’s world-leading medicinal chemistry industry, which supplies scientists across the globe with molecular building blocks needed for early drug development. Ukraine’s dominance in medicinal chemistry is little known beyond drug developers, who fine-tune a drug’s molecular design to give it the best chance of hitting the desired biological target in the body. Kyiv-based Enamine Ltd. has become a go-to supplier for drug-discovery scientists at academic laboratories and the largest pharmaceutical companies. “It’s a bit like Amazon for chemistry,” said Ed Griffen, a U.K.-based medicinal chemist working with closely held Enamine on a low-cost Covid-19 antiviral pill.
Shanghai's Disney resort shut amid record daily local COVID infections
China's financial hub of Shanghai reported on Monday a record daily surge in local COVID-19 infections as authorities scrambled to test residents and rein in the Omicron variant, while closing its Disney (DIS.N) resort until further notice. Until recent weeks relatively unscathed by coronavirus, Shanghai reported 24 new domestically transmitted COVID cases with confirmed symptoms for Sunday and 734 local asymptomatic infections, official data showed on Monday. It is the fourth consecutive day that Shanghai's local asymptomatic infections have increased.
Covid: Rise in UK infections driven by BA.2 Omicron variant
Covid cases have continued to rise in the UK, with an estimated one in every 20 people infected, figures from the Office for National Statistic suggest. All age groups are affected, including the 75s and over, who are due a spring booster jab to top up protection. Hospital cases are also rising, but vaccines are still helping to stop many severe cases, say experts. An easily spread sub-variant of Omicron, called BA.2, is now causing most cases. Recent easing of restrictions and waning immunity from the vaccines could be factors behind the rise too.
Life During Hong Kong's Worst Covid-19 Outbreak: Full Hospitals, Quiet Streets
Hong Kong has faced a record surge in Covid-19 cases and the world’s highest death rate, prompting authorities to impose strict restrictions. WSJ’s Diana Chan reports on how everyday life has changed in the city, from panic buying to an exodus of residents
Covid restrictions easing across Europe despite surge in cases
In Germany most pandemic controls will be lifted on Sunday after a heated parliamentary debate on Friday which led to both houses of parliament voting in favour. That was despite cases in Germany reaching a new daily record of almost 300,000 on Friday – a seven-day incidence rate of 1,706 cases per 100,000 residents – and a majority of the population expressing concern that the relaxations were coming too soon. Germany has been recording daily deaths of over 200 for several weeks.
China's factories opt for isolation bubbles to beat COVID curbs and keep running
To keep factory lines open in the face of COVID curbs Chinese firms are asking workers to eat, sleep and work in bubbles isolated from the wider world, sterilising premises as often as three times a day and testing for COVID daily. Dubbed "closed-loop management", this approach has been part of China's efforts over the past two years to keep local transmission extremely low by global standards. It was used for example at the Winter Olympics in Beijing to seal event personnel off from the public.
EU health body recommends free COVID tests, vaccines for Ukrainian refugees
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said on Friday that countries should provide free COVID-19 testing for refugees from Ukraine to avoid outbreaks as more than three million people flee their war-stricken homeland. Infectious diseases and conflict often go hand-in-hand, and the risk of infections spreading could be further exacerbated as COVID vaccination rates in Ukraine have been low overall at 35% versus the EU average of 71.7%. Those fleeing the country should be offered a full course of COVID-19 vaccines, and booster doses, if they do not have proof of prior inoculation, with an emphasis on those at greater risk of severe COVID-19, the ECDC said.
WHO says global rise in COVID cases is 'tip of the iceberg'
Figures showing a global rise in COVID-19 cases could herald a much bigger problem as some countries also report a drop in testing rates, the WHO said on Tuesday, warning nations to remain vigilant against the virus. After more than a month of decline, COVID cases started to increase around the world last week, the WHO said, with lockdowns in Asia and China's Jilin province battling to contain an outbreak. A combination of factors was causing the increases, including the highly transmissible Omicron variant and its BA.2 sublineage, and the lifting of public health and social measures, the WHO said.
Healthcare Innovations
Neurological problems no higher after vaccination; depression, anxiety risk tied to COVID severity
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. Neurological risks not higher after COVID-19 vaccines COVID-19 vaccination did not increase risks for rare neurological conditions among more than 8 million people who had received at least one dose of a vaccine from AstraZeneca, Pfizer /BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, according to researchers. Their study also included 735,870 unvaccinated individuals who had tested positive for the coronavirus, as well as older data on an additional 14.3 million people from the general population for a baseline estimate of rates of the neurological conditions before the pandemic