"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 18th Mar 2022

Isolation Tips
New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern Welcomes Australia Tourists in Reopening
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is making a play for Australian tourists as she prepares to open the border to foreigners for the first time in more than two years. Appearing on Australian breakfast shows on Friday, Ardern said New Zealanders will welcome back Australians with open arms when the border opens to them on April 13, despite the friendly rivalry between the two nations.
Germany to lift most COVID restrictions
Germany will lift most restrictions to contain the coronavirus despite infections hitting a record in the country on Thursday. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said after talks with leaders of Germany's 16 states that a record of almost 300,000 infections in one day was not good news, but the easing of restrictions was justified given intensive care units were not overwhelemed. As of March 20, requirements to wear a mask will be dropped in indoor places like schools and at supermarkets but will remain mandatory in medical clinics and care homes.
Italy to announce plan to scrap COVID restrictions
The Italian government was set to announce a two-step plan on Thursday scrapping most of its coronavirus restrictions as the country nears the end of its state of emergency. Prime Minister Mario Draghi's government was to meet to approve a plan to soften the curbs, a cabinet statement said. Draghi and Health Minister Roberto Speranza will hold a news conference afterwards to detail the decisions.
Cambodia drops COVID testing requirements for overseas visitors
Cambodia on Thursday dispensed with a requirement for visitors from overseas to take COVID-19 tests, as the country moved ahead of most neighbours by relaxing most restrictions to spur more investment and tourism, officials said. The Southeast Asian country has vaccinated 92.31% of its population of 16 million against the coronavirus, one of the highest vaccination rates in the region, official data shows
S.Korea looks to end COVID restrictions despite record surge in cases, deaths
South Korea recorded a record 621,328 new daily COVID-19 cases and a daily record 429 deaths, authorities said on Thursday, as the country which once took an aggressive anti-pandemic approach is set to end COVID restrictions. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said the highly infectious Omicron variant was driving the record wave of infections and while a public survey revealed many expected to catch the virus, few feared serious health consequences.
Hong Kong leader to review COVID restrictions in coming days
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Thursday she would review COVID restrictions in the coming days, as she understands people are increasingly impatient with rules that have isolated the international financial centre and hurt business. Restrictions, including a ban on flights from nine countries such as Britain and the United States, a quarantine of up to 14 days for people arriving in Hong Kong, a ban on face-to-face classes and the closings of gyms and most public venues, have frustrated many residents in the city of 7.4 million. Speaking at a regular COVID-19 media briefing, Lam said she would provide an update around March 20-21 rather than wait for the restrictions to expire on April 20.
China’s Shenzhen to reopen, still trying to contain virus
Companies in Shenzhen, a major Chinese business center, will be allowed to reopen while efforts to contain coronavirus outbreaks progress, the government said Thursday, following a citywide shutdown that rattled financial markets. Testing of everyone in the city of 17.5 million people is “progressing smoothly,” said a deputy mayor, Huang Qiang, at a news conference. He said 71 new cases were found in the 24 hours through midnight Wednesday. China’s case numbers in its latest wave of outbreaks in areas throughout the country are relatively low. But authorities are enforcing a “zero tolerance” strategy that has temporarily shut down major cities to find isolate every infected person.
Hygiene Helpers
How One Country Is Beating Covid Despite 600000 New Cases a Day
South Korea has reached two seemingly contradictory pandemic milestones: It recorded more than 600,000 new Covid-19 infections on Thursday, the most of anywhere in the world. At the same time, the country has one of the lowest virus death rates globally. While anywhere else an infection surge of this size would signal an out-of-control outbreak soon to be followed by a spike in fatalities, in South Korea -- which is about the size of Indiana -- the picture is more complex. The sky-high caseload reflects the nation’s consistent deployment of mass testing, largely abandoned by many places as Covid becomes endemic but a key reason behind Korea’s sliding death rate, according to its virus fighters.
Community Activities
Doctors urge Boris Johnson to do better on global Covid-19 vaccine drive
More than 130 leading NHS clinicians and several medical bodies have called on the government to step up funding for the global Covid vaccine drive, saying Britain’s failure to do so is condemning poorer nations to an “ongoing pandemic”. In a letter to Boris Johnson, shared with The Independent, they say government must “play a bigger role in achieving the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) 70 per cent global vaccination target by July 2022”. Key signatories include the presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of GPs.
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.
Working Remotely
The 'ghost colleagues' of the remote workplace
More than two years since the start of the health crisis, fewer than 30% of knowledge workers around the world are working from the office every day. That means that many employees are interacting with far fewer co-workers than at their desks. A 2021 Microsoft study of its own staff showed switching to remote work meant “employees didn’t just change who they worked with, but also how they worked with them”. At the company, business groups (such as work teams) and informal communities (such as friendship groups) became less connected; people in different groups connected with each other 25% less than before the pandemic. Groups also became static, as workers hung on to existing connections instead of making new ones.
Home working 'helps to attract staff but not keep them'
Working-from-home policies are helping companies to attract new staff but could be harming their chances of retaining them, a survey has found. Nearly three quarters of companies whose staff mostly work onsite say they have found it more challenging than usual to recruit, compared to half of employers whose staff mostly work from home. Four fifths of employers that operate completely remotely, however, reported an increase in resignations, compared to half of employers with staff who never work from home, according to the survey from CIPHR, an HR software company. Tamara Littleton, founder and chief executive of The Social Element, a social media marketing agency with 250 staff who all work remotely, said that staff retention had become more difficult in the past two years.
The demand for flexible work 'will only accelerate' in coming years as workers feel more empowered
In the past two years, work has changed tremendously as many people shifted to remote work, went through a career change, or quit working altogether. One thing that seems to be favored amongst most workers, however, is flexibility. According to Nick Lillios, CEO of Nowsta, a workforce management platform, 2022 is the year for flex work. In 2020, many Americans were forced into hybrid and remote work models after the start of the coronavirus pandemic. And according to a recent report from Apollo Technical, an IT and engineering agency, 72% of workers now prefer a flexible work model over returning to office full-time.
Virtual Classrooms
Digital teaching materials: moving away from print for better results
Waste paper is often discarded in classrooms, and Microsoft Word-based worksheets tend not to be particularly engaging, especially during online teaching periods. Moreover, interactive questions, audio and video can’t be included in printed materials. HTML 5 packages (H5P) provide a new way to create rich interactive content within learning management systems such as Moodle, Canvas and Blackboard. Content types include multiple-choice questions, gap fills, drag and drop, interactive video, parallax presentations and many more. An interactive book allows many of the content types to be embedded in a comprehensive browser-based workbook.
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
Chinese President Vows to Control Covid Outbreak With Smallest Cost
As other countries have moved away from lockdowns and social distancing, Beijing has touted the success of its draconian measures in keeping the number of cases low, despite a mounting toll on its people and economy. However, Chinese officials have scrambled to boost confidence in the Chinese economy as the more contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus has prompted a surge in cases. The costs of fighting outbreaks add to recent headwinds, as Mr. Xi’s campaign of regulatory tightening last year has slowed economic momentum more than expected. The geopolitical crisis over the war in Ukraine, and the potential costs to China of its recent alignment with Russia, have also rattled investors’ nerves. In a Thursday meeting of the Politburo Standing Committee, the Communist Party’s top decision-making body, Mr. Xi asked officials to minimize the impact on the Chinese economy and people’s lives from Covid-19 control measures, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.
White House Names Next Covid-19 Response Chief as Jeff Zients Steps Down
Jeff Zients, who has led the White House’s Covid-19 response for more than a year, will be leaving the job in April and be replaced by Dr. Ashish Jha as the Biden administration navigates a new strategy for the next phase of the pandemic. The change in leadership underscores that the administration sees its Covid-19 response as less a reaction to the virus and more of a continuing public-health situation. Dr. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health and a well-known public-health leader, has championed many of the measures the administration has used to combat Covid-19. Mr. Zients, an investor and former Obama administration economic adviser, was brought in to lead the White House’s pandemic response in part because of his reputation for fixing or taking on challenging situation
Countries Try to Win Support for Deal to Waive Patent Protections on Covid-19 Vaccines
After 18 months of fierce debate, a group of countries, including the U.S., has reached an agreement to waive patent protections on Covid-19 vaccines. Now they are racing to get other countries to support the deal at the World Trade Organization, officials involved in the discussions said. The U.S. and the European Union have reached a compromise with South Africa and India that would allow developing countries to manufacture Covid-19 vaccines without the permission of the holder of the intellectual-property rights. It also would set a precedent for future pandemics.
Moderna to deliver 70 million Covid-19 booster vaccine doses to Japan
Moderna has signed an agreement with the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan for delivering an additional 70 million doses of its Covid-19 booster vaccine or an updated booster vaccine candidate. The modified booster vaccine candidate will be supplied on obtaining authorisation in the region. The company intends to supply the vaccine doses to Japan in the second half of this year.
WHO postpones evaluation of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine
The World Health Organization said Wednesday its evaluation of Russia's Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine has been postponed for the time being, due to the "uneven situation." WHO vaccines expert Dr. Mariangela Simao said at a press briefing that the UN health agency's officials had originally been scheduled to visit Russia on March 7 — just weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine — to assess the facilities where Sputnik V is produced. "These inspections were postponed for a later date," Simao said. "The assessment, along with inspections, have been affected because of the situation.
Covid-19: Pfizer asks US regulator to authorise fourth vaccine dose for over 65s
Pfizer and BioNTech have applied to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorisation for a fourth dose of its mRNA vaccine against covid-19 for adults aged 65 and older. The companies said that the additional dose reduced the rates of infection and severe illness in older adults. In a press release they said that they were seeking the new approval for adults over 65 who had received an initial booster of any of the authorised or approved covid-19 vaccines. Pfizer-BioNTech said that the request was based on “two real-world data sets from Israel analyzed at a time when the Omicron variant was widely circulating. These data showed evidence that an additional mRNA booster increases immunogenicity and lowers rates of confirmed infections and severe illness.” The companies said that an analysis of Israeli Ministry of Health records was conducted on over 1.1 million adults aged 60 and over who had no known history of SARS-CoV-2 infection and were eligible for a fourth vaccine dose. They wrote, “These data showed rates of confirmed infections were two times lower and rates of severe illness were four times lower among individuals who received an additional booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine administered at least four months after an initial booster (third) dose compared to those who received only one booster dose.”
UK approves AstraZeneca's antibody-based COVID treatment
Britain's medicines regulator has approved AstraZeneca's antibody-based COVID-19 treatment for preventing infections in adults with poor immune response, marking a major step in the fight against the pandemic as infections surge globally. The decision to grant approval for the treatment, Evusheld, was endorsed by the government's independent scientific advisory body, Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said on Thursday. Figures showing a global rise in COVID-19 cases could herald a much bigger problem, the World Health Organization said this week, warning nations to remain vigilant.
Maintaining Services
Rising Covid cases mean we need to stay vigilant, but vaccines mean we don't need to panic
You’d think, now that there’s a war on, that we’ve had enough of pestilence. One horseman of the apocalypse at a time, please. But, inconsiderately, it appears that Covid-19 cases in the UK are on the rise again. Not anywhere near the levels of the Omicron peak two months ago, when about 200,000 new cases were being detected a day, but we are seeing as many cases as we did during the second wave in January 2021, and numbers are still going up. It’s reasonable to worry about it, and we should definitely keep an eye on it. But we don’t need to panic.
Scientists fear U.K. is easing coronavirus testing and monitoring too soon
After dropping nearly all coronavirus restrictions last month, Britain is now ending some of its most widespread testing and monitoring programs, a move some scientists fear will complicate efforts to track the virus and detect worrisome new variants. Officials have largely dismissed those concerns, despite a recent uptick in cases across Europe, insisting that high immunization rates will help dampen future waves of disease. Based on how quickly new variants have arisen, some experts suggest the next one could arrive as early as May. They warn that U.K. authorities should be using the time to prepare, rather than winding down their pandemic defenses. Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh, called it “an unfortunate pattern” that has been seen repeatedly throughout the outbreak.
Generic drugmakers sign on to make cheap version of Pfizer COVID pill
Thirty five generic drugmakers around the world will make cheap versions of Pfizer Inc's highly effective COVID-19 oral antiviral Paxlovid to supply the treatment in 95 poorer countries, the U.N.-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) said on Thursday. Pfizer struck a deal last year with the group to allow generic drugmakers to make the pills for 95 low- and middle-income countries. They have been working since then to select the drugmakers they will license. Paxlovid is expected to be an important tool in the fight against COVID-19 after it reduced hospitalizations in high-risk patients by around 90% in a clinical trial. The results were significantly better than those for Merck & Co's rival antiviral pill molnupiravir in its clinical trial.
Healthcare Innovations
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.
COVID-19 Vaccine Produced by Yeast Could Increase Accessibility
In a new paper, the researchers report that the vaccine, which comprises fragments of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein arrayed on a virus-like particle, elicited a strong immune response and protected animals against viral challenge. The vaccine was designed so that it can be produced by yeast, using fermentation facilities that already exist around the world. The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, is now producing large quantities of the vaccine and plans to run a clinical trial in Africa. “There's still a very large population that does not have access to Covid vaccines. Protein-based subunit vaccines are a low-cost, well-established technology that can provide a consistent supply and is accepted in many parts of the world,” says J. Christopher Love, the Raymond A. and Helen E. St. Laurent Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT, and Harvard.
Fourth vaccine offers little protection against COVID-19 - study
The fourth coronavirus vaccine has shown to offer little protection against the coronavirus, a new study released by Sheba Medical Center has shown. The study, published by The New England Journal of Medicine, examines the efficacy of the fourth coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer and Moderna. The interim results released show that the vaccine offers little to no protection against contracting the virus when compared to young and healthy individuals vaccinated with three doses. However, the vaccine did prove to provide moderate protection against symptomatic infection among young and healthy individuals in comparison to those inoculated three times.
Altered immune cells in lungs may cause breathlessness after Covid-19
A study has found abnormal immune cells in the lungs of patients with persistent breathlessness months after a Covid-19 infection. The altered immune cells in the airways are thought to cause ongoing lung damage. The research was undertaken by scientists at Imperial College London and involved people who had been previously hospitalised with Covid-19. The findings, published in Immunity, suggest that recovery from Covid-19 infection might be accelerated by treatments that dampen the immune system and reduce inflammation. Professor Pallav Shah, a joint senior author of the study from Imperial College, said: ‘These findings suggest that persistent breathlessness in our group of Covid-19 patients is being caused by failure to turn off the immune response, which leads to airway inflammation and injury.’