"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 24th Mar 2022

Isolation Tips
S Africa eases COVID restrictions for vaccinated travellers
Article reports that South Africa, the country in Africa worst affected by coronavirus, has relaxed some of its remaining COVID-19 restrictions, dropping mandatory negative results for inbound fully-vaccinated travellers, a move expected to boost tourism. On Tuesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa made the announcement to scale down restrictions – imposed since March 2020 – as new infection rates slow and death rates decline. “Travellers entering South Africa will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test not older than 72 hours,” said Ramaphosa. Previously all travellers entering the country were required to produce a costly negative PCR test. Inside the country, vaccinated individuals or those that have a negative test result will be allowed back into sporting stadiums and music and theatre shows – which will be permitted to operate at half capacity.
‘A new beginning’: New Zealand to drop Covid vaccine passes and mandates
New Zealand will do away with vaccine passes and vaccine mandates for some of the workforce in early April, in a major loosening of the country’s tough Covid-19 restrictions. The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced the changes on Wednesday morning, citing high vaccination rates, better data to identify which environments are high risk, and modelling that suggests the country’s Omicron outbreak would peak in early April.
Polish government to lift more COVID-19 restrictions despite expert concerns
In Poland, the government wants to lift more pandemic restrictions although medical experts are concerned about not enough people being vaccinated against COVID-19 for the country to develop herd immunity and the mass arrival of unvaccinated Ukrainians. Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told the media on 17 March that he had recommended that Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki abolish the mask-wearing obligation in buildings.
Chinese steelmaking hub Tangshan enters lockdown as COVID cases rise
China's top steelmaking city Tangshan implemented a temporary lockdown on Tuesday to avoid further cases of COVID-19 as infections surged, the local government said in a statement. Residents should not leave their houses or buildings except for tests or emergencies pending further announcement, the government said. Tangshan reported 15 confirmed locally transmitted cases from March 19-22, and 79 asymptomatic cases, while Hebei province, where Tangshan is located, had 331 confirmed cases and 2,454 asymptomatic cases as of March 22, data from the provincial health authority showed.
Hygiene Helpers
WHO blames rising Covid cases in Europe on curbs lifted too soon
Several European countries lifted their coronavirus restrictions too soon, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said, and as a result are now witnessing sharp rises in infections probably linked to the new, more transmissible BA2 subvariant. Hans Kluge, director of the WHO’s Europe region, said countries including Germany, France, Italy and Britain had lifted their Covid curbs “brutally – from too much to too few”. Infections are rising in 18 out of the region’s 53 countries, he said. Kluge told journalists in Moldova on Tuesday that more than 5.1 million new cases – often linked to the BA2 variant, which experts say is about 30% more contagious – and 12,496 deaths have been reported in the region over the past seven days.
Community Activities
Indonesia's annual holiday exodus to go ahead this year as COVID cases ease
Indonesia will lift a ban on domestic travel during the Muslim holiday season of Eid al-Fitr in early May, President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday, after banning the annual tradition for two years during the pandemic. The decision to allow the annual exodus after the holy month of Ramadan is the latest in a series of measures aimed at easing COVID-19 restrictions and reviving Southeast Asia's largest economy. Indonesia, a country of 270 million, banned the mass travel known locally as 'mudik' in early 2020 as it scrambled to contain the spread of coronavirus along with the rest of the world.
New Zealand sports to welcome back crowds as COVID rules eased
New Zealand sports will welcome full-capacity crowds when COVID-19 rules ease this weekend after a bruising period for revenues. New Zealand capped crowds at 100 people for outdoor events while battling an outbreak of the Omicron variant, but will lift the curbs from Saturday, along with the need for fans to wear masks, the government said on Wednesday. "While Omicron is transmissible the natural ventilation of an outdoor seating reduces the risk," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
COVID vaccine maker Moderna flags Japan ambition with sumo sponsorship
Moderna Inc is sponsoring sumo flags in its first such promotion in Japan, as the COVID-19 vaccine maker seeks to wrestle market share from compatriot Pfizer Inc. The U.S. firm's introduction to the broader Japanese public was set back after some of its doses last year were found to be contaminated, although it has clawed back market share since with the help of a government-endorsed programme. Now, as the government plans a fourth-dose vaccination programme, Moderna is looking to sumo to boost its public appeal as it seeks to expand beyond COVID-19 shots.
Hong Kong hopes to 'resolve' COVID flight-ban rule as cases ease
Hong Kong is looking to resolve a problem over a ban on airlines which bring in COVID-positive passengers as it eases travel curbs that have sealed off the city for two years, its leader said on Wednesday. The government said this week a ban on flights from nine countries - Canada, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Britain, the United States, France, Australia and the Philippines - would be lifted on April 1 but it was not clear if airlines would face a two-week ban if they bring in infected people, as is currently the case.
Working Remotely
7 Ways Work You Can Improve Your Health While Working from Home
It turns out that increased job flexibility can significantly reduce anxiety in your personal and professional lives. If you manage time wisely, remote work can even equip you to take better care of your mental, emotional and physical needs. However, not everyone is thriving while working from home. As the pandemic drags on, the line between your job and home life can blur and heighten stress levels. Luckily, a simple shift in priorities can help you feel good again and dramatically improve your health and happiness.
UBS offers US wealth unit staff option to work remotely full-time
UBS has begun offering some of its US-based employees the option to work remotely full-time in an effort to meet staff demand for greater flexibility and increase retention, the group announced on Wednesday. The Swiss bank and wealth manager is rolling out a new work program, the Virtual Worker Framework, that will allow its eligible US staff to access UBS’s tech platform and attend meetings and other in-person events remotely. The firm’s US-based Global Wealth Management employees are seeing the first phase of the rollout of the new program, UBS said
Virtual Classrooms
Why learning together is the future of online education
Following the ed tech revolution, we’re seeing an exciting and necessary evolution—one to address the elephant in the online classroom. The reality is that online learning engagement and completion rates are famously low. Learning leaders struggle to boost engagement, even when learners have access to content on nearly every skill imaginable. Not enough people are making the progress they want with online education. What is standing in the way? there are three core reasons: accountability, effectiveness, and connection.
Virtual teaching: How to share resources with your music students
With the pandemic affecting everyone’s everyday lives, virtual learning has become the norm for a lot of students, parents and teachers. Many tutors and teachers wonder how they can make the most of the online world to make learning fun and effective. The same goes for learning and teaching music. It might be quite a change for some, but there are still ways to keep each other inspired. In this article, we will be looking at several ways in which teachers are able to share various resources with students virtually, so that they receive the same level of learning as they would within the classroom. But most importantly, these digital tools can help us maintain our love for learning and music.
Public Policies
S.Korea gives emergency approval for adult use of Merck's COVID pills - Yonhap
South Korea's drug safety agency said on Wednesday that it has decided to give emergency approval for the use of Merck & Co Inc's COVID-19 treatment pill for adults, the Yonhap news agency reported. The molnupiravir tablet, branded as Lagevrio, is the second oral antiviral to be authorised in South Korea after Pfizer Inc's Paxlovid. Lagevrio will only be allowed for patients who are aged 18 or older and not pregnant but cannot not use injection medications and the highly effective Paxlovid, the report said.
Mexico sticking to plan to package Russian COVID-19 vaccine
Mexico is sticking to its plan to package domestically the Russian COVID-19 vaccine Sputnik V because health matters are separate from political conflicts, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said. In October, state-run vaccine company Birmex signed an agreement with the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which markets Sputnik V, to package the product in Mexico. "We're going to continue with our plan, commitments made are kept," said the president, who has ruled out imposing economic sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Novavax says its COVID vaccine gets India authorisation for teens
Novavax Inc said on Tuesday its COVID-19 vaccine has got emergency-use authorization from the Drugs Controller General of India for children aged 12 to 17 years. The authorization is a global first for the age group for the vaccine, which is manufactured and marketed in India by the Serum Institute of India under the brand name Covovax. Novavax last month said its vaccine was 80% effective against COVID-19 in a late-stage trial testing the shot in 2,247 teens aged 12 to 17 years.
UK Covid Test Contracts: National Audit Office Finds Inadequate Record-Keeping
When the pandemic hit, ministers were forced to act quickly to scale up testing capacity – working with the private sector to secure the necessary services and supplies, according to the National Audit Office (NAO). As part of these efforts, between January 2020 and December 2021, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Public Health England (PHE) awarded 22 contracts to health company Randox, or its strategic partner, Qnostics Ltd, with a maximum value of £776.9 million, the watchdog said. By value, almost all the contracts were for the provision of Covid testing services, with less than 1% (£6.9 million) for the provision of testing-related goods, it added. The NAO found that 60% of the total value of the contracts (£463.5 million) was awarded directly without competition, under emergency procurement rules.
Maintaining Services
Hong Kong schools need 90 per cent student jab rate to resume full-day classes
Schools must ensure 90 per cent of their students have received at least two vaccine shots against Covid-19 if they hope to resume whole-day lessons in the classroom next month, Hong Kong’s education minister has announced. Confirming a previous Post report, Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung Yun-hung also said that all teachers and school staff must have received at least two vaccine doses before returning to campus, unless they had a valid medical exemption.
Ministers urged to ensure Covid-19 testing remains free for NHS staff
The NHS Confederation is leading a call for ministers to provide clarity over Covid-19 testing requirements for NHS staff and for access to free tests to remain in place for the workforce, especially for those who are patient-facing. The concerns from organisations representing NHS staff come as Covid-19 rates across the UK continue to spike, with hospital admissions also on the rise.
WHO: COVID-19 cases rise for 2nd straight week, deaths fall
Article reports that the number of new coronavirus cases globally increased by 7% in the last week, driven by rising infections in the Western Pacific, even as reported deaths from COVID-19 fell, the World Health Organization said. There were more than 12 million new weekly cases and just under 33,000 deaths, a 23% decline in mortality, according to the U.N. health agency’s report on the pandemic issued late Tuesday. Confirmed cases of the virus had been falling steadily worldwide since January but rose again last week, due to the more infectious omicron variant and the suspension of COVID-19 protocols in numerous countries in Europe, North America and elsewhere. Health officials have said repeatedly that omicron causes milder disease than previous versions of the coronavirus and that vaccination, including a booster, appears highly protective.
COVID-19: Soaring virus-related absences in England's state schools could 'seriously damage' exam grades, headteachers say
Levels of COVID-related pupil absences in state schools in England have more than tripled, leading to concerns over how it may impact grades. In total, 201,600 pupils were off for COVID-related reasons on 17 March, up from 45,100 on 3 March, the latest government figures show. The rate of COVID-linked absences rose to 2.5% of students on 17 March, up from 0.7% on 3 March. The rising COVID cases have prompted concerns from headteachers about the potential impact absences will have on grades.
Covid-19: 'Vaccine tracers' brought in as county Covid rate trebles
A team of "vaccine tracers" have been brought in as the number of Covid infections in a county almost trebled in three weeks. Latest data shows more than 11,045 cases were recorded in Hertfordshire in the seven days to 16 March, representing a rate of 923.7 per 100,000 of the population. It is almost three times the 328.6 case rate recorded on 28 February. The new team aims to boost vaccination levels across the county. Hertfordshire's director of public health Jim McManus warned that the case rate had changed "quite dramatically" in recent weeks, with cases increasing in most age groups, including the more vulnerable over-60s, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.
Healthcare Innovations
Study examines the effectiveness of remdesivir in a pill form for COVID-19
Scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are testing remdesivir in a pill form to understand how effective it is for treating COVID-19. Remdesivir is an RNA polymerase inhibitor that disrupts the production of viral RNA, preventing the multiplication of SARS-CoV-2; it has been given to half of all hospitalised patients with the disease. It works by blocking the machinery the virus needs to make copies of itself and spread throughout the body. The scientists explored whether a pill form of remdesivir could be developed and the benefits that it could provide. Currently, remdesivir is administered intravenously, however, an oral version of this medication could extend its benefits to outside the hospital.
Antibodies in children last at least 6 months after COVID; SK Bioscience vaccine shows promise vs Omicron
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. Antibodies in kids after COVID last 6 months or more Most children and adolescents with COVID-19 antibodies after SARS-CoV-2 infection usually still have the antibodies in their blood more than half a year later, new data shows. Starting in October 2020, researchers in Texas recruited 218 subjects between the ages of 5 and 19. Each provided three blood samples, at three-month intervals. More than 90% were unvaccinated when they enrolled in the study.
Risk of type 2 diabetes rises after COVID; organ transplant from donors who had COVID likely safe
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. Type 2 diabetes risk rises after COVID-19 People may be at increased risk for developing diabetes for up to a year after a diagnosis of COVID-19, according to two studies. One study used data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to track more than 181,000 adults with COVID-19 for a year after recovery
Moderna’s Covid-19 Vaccine Works Safely in Young Children, Company Says
Moderna Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine safely induced robust immune responses in children ages 6 months to 5 years in a new study, the company said, though the shot had modest efficacy against the Omicron variant. Moderna said Wednesday the vaccine’s efficacy against symptomatic infections was 43.7% in children ages 6 months to 2 years, and 37.5% in children ages 2 to 5. The efficacy rates were lower than seen during adult testing, which took place before Omicron emerged, but comparable to the real-world effectiveness of two doses of Moderna’s vaccine found among adults during the Omicron wave.
COVID-19 in pregnancy tied to poor maternal outcomes, preterm birth, fetal death
In the first study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, Kaiser Permanente Northern California researchers analyzed the electronic medical records of 43,886 pregnant women who delivered from Mar 1, 2020, to Mar 16, 2021. Average patient age was 30.7 years, 33.8% were White, 28.4% were Hispanic, 25.9% were Asian or Pacific Islander, 6.5% Black, 0.3% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 5% were multiracial or of another race. Among these women, 1,332 (3.0%) tested positive for COVID-19 from 30 days before conception to 7 days after delivery. Infected women were more likely than their uninfected peers to be younger and Hispanic and to have had multiple babies, a higher neighborhood deprivation index, and obesity or chronic high blood pressure. Before universal COVID-19 testing of pregnant women admitted for delivery was implemented in the healthcare system in December 2020, the positivity rate was 1.3%, compared with 7.8% after.