"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 6th Apr 2022

Isolation Tips
Citing decreasing COVID cases, South Africa ends emergency
With declining cases of COVID-19, South Africa on Tuesday ended its national state of disaster, the legal framework used for two years to impose restrictions to combat the pandemic. South African sports fans can now return to stadiums in large numbers to watch soccer, rugby and cricket matches. Sports venues can take up to 50% of capacity with people who show proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test done within 72 hours. Most restrictions will be lifted, but people will be required to wear masks in indoor public spaces. International travelers must provide proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test done within 72 hours. “While the pandemic is not over, and while the virus remains among us, these conditions no longer require that we remain in a national state of disaster,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a nationally televised speech Monday night. “Going forward, the pandemic will be managed in terms of the national health act.”
Queensland's COVID-19 vaccination mandate for cafes, pubs and clubs set to ease
A mandate preventing people unvaccinated against COVID-19 from visiting many public venues in Queensland will be eased from next Thursday. People will no longer need to prove they have had two doses of a vaccine before heading into cafes, pubs and clubs from 1:00am on April 14. This also includes theme parks, casinos, cinemas, weddings, showgrounds, stadiums, galleries, libraries and museums.
Shanghai lockdown deepens after new surge in asymptomatic COVID cases
Chinese authorities on Tuesday extended a lockdown in Shanghai to cover all of the financial centre's 26 million people, despite growing anger over quarantine rules in the city, where latest results show only 268 symptomatic daily COVID-19 cases. In a major test of China's zero-tolerance strategy to eliminate the novel coronavirus, the government widened the lockdown to eastern parts of the city and extended until further notice restrictions in western districts, which had been due to expire on Tuesday. The broader lockdown came after testing saw asymptomatic COVID-19 cases surge to more than 13,000. Symptomatic cases fell on Monday to 268, from 425 the previous day.
Hygiene Helpers
An equitable roadmap for ending the COVID-19 pandemic
Many governments are rolling back restrictions, but the pandemic will end only with a renewed focus on equitable distribution of vaccines and therapeutics, responsive public health plans, and policies to protect the vulnerable. More than 2 years into the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains unclear when and how it will end. The global outcome is dependent on multiple factors: the level of cooperation between governments; equitable access to vaccines, testing and therapeutics; local government action and the response of citizens; and competing outbreaks, conflicts or natural disasters. Ending the pandemic will also require a focus on the elderly and other vulnerable populations, as well as those in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs)
Quebec extends mask mandate to end of April as COVID hospitalizations rise
Quebec will require masks to be worn in indoor public spaces for all of April, delaying a plan to relax the measure by the middle of the month as it and other Canadian provinces face a new COVID-19 wave, a top public health official said on Tuesday. The province, the second most populous in Canada, will become one of the last parts of North America to continue a mask mandate in public indoor places like stores, with health officials projecting a rise in cases and hospitalizations.
Community Activities
Hit by staff shortages, airlines and airports struggle with travel recovery
Thousands of holidaymakers have seen their Easter getaways disrupted or cancelled because airlines and airports do not have enough staff to meet the recovery in demand as pandemic restrictions are eased in Europe. High rates of COVID-19 in Britain have caused staff absences for airlines and airports that were already struggling to recruit after workers deserted the industry during the pandemic. Low-cost carrier easyJet was one of the worst affected, saying it cancelled around 60 UK flights on Tuesday and expected to pull a similar number in the coming days.
Working Remotely
Why leaders need to focus on the negatives of remote work, too
There are costs to the remote work lifestyle —particularly when it comes to mental health. For some employees, such as parents or those caring for a family member, remote work can be a godsend. But what if you’re someone who lives alone? Or someone who struggles with depression or anxiety? For these workers, remote work can increase loneliness and exacerbate existing mental health issues. So what can employers do? Aside from offering expanded mental health services to employees, as 39% of employers have since the pandemic started, there are a few important steps your leadership team can take.
The best places to work remotely in the US
People across the country continue to work from home after COVID-19 policies forced them out of the office, but the ease of remote work might depend on where a person lives. WalletHub compared the 50 states and Washington, D.C., across 12 metrics, including internet access and cost, cyber security and share of the population working remotely before the pandemic, to determine the best places in the U.S. to telework. Workers in New Hampshire enjoy the best cybersecurity, while remote employees in California pay the lowest average cost for internet access.
Recruitment in the age of remote working – how to get it right
Is remote work here to stay? Do companies expect a return to office working? Will hybrid working become the norm? These are the questions that have been continually asked over the past year since offices began to open their doors. Having been unexpectedly thrust out of offices and into bedrooms, kitchens and home offices, people were given the time to reflect on and take a step back from their routine and daily commutes. This pause allowed people to decide on the areas of their work which they wouldn’t want to return to and which they would – a return to the office five days a week, or even any, was one of these. While the specifics of this new way of work are still to be agreed one thing is for sure, remote working is here to stay and businesses need to recognise this or risk being left in the past. However, with this new evolution of work, how do companies adapt to this and more specifically, how do they hire a remote workforce while maintaining a strong company culture?
Virtual Classrooms
Nearly One in Five Teenagers are Factoring the Ability to Work Remotely into Their University and Career Plans, Survey Shows
Remote learning may have been a temporary education measure during the pandemic, but for many students it has had a permanent impact — affecting their readiness for post-secondary education and career plans, future workplace outlooks, and choice of where to live. Those are some of the findings of a survey of 16- to 18-year-olds in the U.S. and U.K
Incorporating Asynchronous Learning in K–12 Districts
Asynchronous learning, an educational model in which students learn on their own schedule, is exploding in popularity in K–12 schools. As the number of devices and familiarity with online learning increase, districts are finding students prefer a more flexible schedule. There are many ways districts can approach this trending educational model, including flipped classrooms, virtual-only schools and through variations of blended learning, project-based learning and more. While it might seem overwhelming at first glance, it isn’t difficult to incorporate asynchronous learning into the classroom.
Evolving Conversation About Quality in Online Learning: Special Report
Inside Higher Ed has publishing a new special report, “The Evolving Conversation About Quality in Online Learning.” This free print-on-demand report explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped both the practice and perceptions of online, hybrid and blended learning in postsecondary education. Among the topics it explores are changing student demands and expectations regarding online quality; growing institutional support and training for faculty members; how quality is judged in virtual learning, and who does the judging; and best practices for high-quality instruction, however it is delivered.
Public Policies
Covid Antibody Therapy From Vir, Glaxo Loses U.S. Authorization
A Covid-19 antibody treatment from Vir Biotechnology Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc lost its U.S. authorization as the therapy is unlikely to work against the dominant omicron BA.2 subvariant, regulators said. The treatment, sotrovimab, is no longer authorized in any U.S. state or territory, since the subvariant accounts for more than half of virus cases in all regions, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday in a statement. Last month, the agency limited use of the drug only in parts of the country where the the subvariant dominated. Recent data suggested the treatment was less effective against BA.2 than other variants.
Biden launches U.S. plan to help Americans struggling with long COVID
President Joe Biden on Tuesday tasked the U.S. health department with developing a national action plan to tackle the looming health crisis of long COVID, a complex, multi-symptom condition that leaves many of its sufferers unable to work. Long COVID, which arises months after a COVID-19 infection, affects nearly 7% of all U.S. adults and 2.3% of the overall population and has cost an estimated $386 billion in lost wages, savings and medical bills, according to an analysis by the Solve Long Covid Initiative, a non-profit research and advocacy group.
Canada panel makes initial recommendations on second COVID booster shot
An official Canadian panel has provided initial recommendations on the use of a second COVID-19 vaccine booster dose for some Canadians as infections rise in many parts of the country, Health Canada said. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended Canadian jurisdictions to prepare for the deployment of a second vaccine booster dose program over the coming weeks prioritizing people 80 years old and over and residents of long-term care.
Using the False Claims Act to combat COVID-19 fraud
The COVID-19 pandemic and the attendant economic crisis precipitated the largest increase in government spending in American history. Major stimulus legislation such as the CARES Act of 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 created and funded programs that added trillions of dollars to the U.S. economy at lightning speed. While these efforts helped millions of Americans, the unprecedented flood of money also provided ample opportunity for unscrupulous actors. The Small Business Administration's Office of Inspector General estimates that the agency handed out more than $80 billion in potentially fraudulent loans during the pandemic.
Is Covid Over? African Union, Covax Turn Down Moderna (MRNA) Vaccine Doses
Two buyers of Covid-19 vaccines for low- and middle-income countries have declined options to purchase hundreds of millions of additional doses from Moderna Inc., a sign of waning demand as the pandemic eases. The African Union and Covax, the World Health Organization-backed group, decided not to obtain more of the vaccine as developing nations struggle to turn supplies into inoculations. Lower-income countries left behind in the global rollout are now grappling with a lack of funds, hesitancy, supply-chain obstacles and other factors that are hampering distribution.
US to donate more than 100mn children's Covid doses to poorer countries
The Biden administration will soon start donating children’s doses of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to poorer countries for the first time, although officials warn some might not reach their intended recipients because of a fight in Congress over pandemic funding. The donation of more than 100mn doses for five to 11-year-olds, which is set to be announced on Tuesday, is part of the administration’s pledge to give a total of 1.2bn doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to low- and middle-income countries. But Biden administration officials say a congressional dispute over billions of dollars’ worth of extra Covid funding could mean the jabs do not get to where they are needed.
Here's what's in the $10 billion Covid-19 aid bill
The Senate has reached a bipartisan deal to provide an additional $10 billion in Covid-19 assistance, less than half of what the White House originally had requested. It would allow the Biden administration to purchase more vaccines and therapeutics, as well as maintain testing capacity and research. But it does not include $5 billion in funding for global Covid-19 aid, nor would it replenish the program that pays for testing, treating and vaccinating the uninsured. The deal would be paid for using unspent funds from the Democrats' $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which was enacted in March 2021.
New Zealand’s Covid strategy was one of the world’s most successful – what can we learn from it?
Two weeks ago marked the two-year anniversary of New Zealand’s adoption of the elimination strategy and a lockdown that successfully stamped out the first wave of Covid-19. By chance, it was also the week that the government announced a major relaxation of Covid-19 control measures in response to the Omicron variant wave sweeping the country. By most metrics, the New Zealand Covid-19 response – the initial elimination strategy which has now transitioned to a mitigation strategy – has been one of the most successful in the world. It got the country through the first 18 months of the pandemic until vaccines became widely available, giving it very low Covid-19 mortality rates. Life expectancy actually increased during this period. Protecting public health has also been good for protecting the economy, resulting in relatively good economic growth and low unemployment
IMF calls for $15 bln this year to manage long-term risks of COVID
Countries around the world should provide $15 billion in grants this year and $10 billion a year thereafter to manage the long-term risks of COVID-19, the International Monetary Fund said in a new staff paper released on Tuesday. The paper, prepared with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the Global Fund, and charitable group Wellcome, said a new, more comprehensive approach was needed immediately to strengthen global health systems and limit the already staggering $13.8 trillion cost of the pandemic.
Mexico says WTO COVID vaccine deal should go beyond IP waiver
Any World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement on COVID-19 vaccines should include more than just a waiver on intellectual property, Mexico's representative to the trade body said, in a sign that consensus is proving tough to forge. The United States, the European Union, India and South Africa reached a provisional consensus on elements of a long-sought IP waiver for the vaccines, according to a document that circulated among governments last month
China Variants and Omicron XE Put Fresh Focus on Covid Mutations
The disclosure of new Covid variants emerging in China and the rise of a potentially more transmissible strain in the U.K. has recast the spotlight on the ongoing risk of the virus, even as health experts say there’s no reason to panic. The World Health Organization said a hybrid of two omicron strains -- BA.1 and BA.2 -- that was first detected in the U.K. and dubbed XE could be the most transmissible variant yet. It is estimated to spread 10% more easily than BA.2, which itself was more transmissible than the original omicron famous for its ease of penetration.
Maintaining Services
Biden orders push on long COVID, pandemic’s shadowy mystery
Confronting the pandemic’s lasting shadow, President Joe Biden on Tuesday ordered a new national research push on long COVID, while also directing federal agencies to support patients dealing with the mysterious and debilitating condition. Biden assigned the Department of Health and Human Services to coordinate an urgent new initiative across federal agencies, building on research already under way at the National Institutes of Health. He also directed federal agencies to support patients and doctors by providing science-based best practices for treating long COVID, maintaining access to insurance coverage, and protecting the rights of workers coping with the uncertainties of the malaise. Of particular concern are effects on mental health.
Prior COVID vaccination induces a more robust antibody response to Omicron
A recent study posted to the medRxiv* preprint server assessed the impact of prior severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) vaccination on the human immune response against SARS-CoV-2 Omicron infection. Various studies have reported lower susceptibility of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron (B.1.1.529) variant against neutralizing antibodies. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the potential of previous SARS-CoV-2 infections in modifying the human immune response against the novel Omicron variant.
Healthcare Innovations
Could computer models be the key to better COVID vaccines?
When Moderna joined the hunt for a coronavirus vaccine in early 2020, the company had only limited clinical experience with its technology. Scientists had tested the company’s messenger RNA (mRNA)-based vaccines against a few viruses, such as avian influenza and Zika, in humans. They found that the highest dose levels — upwards of 300 micrograms — often triggered undesirable side effects. The lowest doses (around 10 µg) did not always elicit a sufficient immune response. There seemed to be a happy medium: in a two-dose vaccine for another respiratory virus with pandemic potential1, a new strain of bird flu, the sweet spot was around 100 µg. So, it made intuitive sense for Moderna, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its collaborators at the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in Bethesda, Maryland, to try something similar to tackle SARS-CoV-2.
Omicron sub-variant BA.2 makes up 72% of COVID variants in U.S. - CDC
The U.S. national public health agency said on Monday the BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron was estimated to account for nearly three of every four coronavirus variants in the country. Overall COVID-19 cases in the United States have dropped sharply after hitting record levels in January, but a resurgence in cases in parts of Asia and Europe has raised concerns that another wave could follow in the United States. The country's health experts, however, believe it is unlikely. The seven-day moving average of U.S. COVID cases was 26,106 as of April 1, marginally lower than 26,309 from a week earlier, as per data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Covid-19 first-of-its-kind study saw volunteers infected for science
The first “controlled investigation” of Covid-19 has been carried out and it has allowed researchers to dispel a widespread myth about the way people become infected. The human challenge study involved people being deliberately infected with a virus — in this case it was SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19. The study, published last week in the journal Nature Medicine, found that only the most minuscule amount of the virus is needed to infect a person — as much as a single airborne droplet from a person sneezing, coughing or talking. It also found that, despite what most people have been told, viral shedding and transmissibility occur at high levels when a person is infected regardless of whether they have severe or mild symptoms.
China Variants and Omicron XE Put Fresh Focus on Covid Mutations
The disclosure of new Covid variants emerging in China and the rise of a potentially more transmissible strain in the U.K. has recast the spotlight on the ongoing risk of the virus, even as health experts say there’s no reason to panic. The World Health Organization said a hybrid of two omicron strains -- BA.1 and BA.2 -- that was first detected in the U.K. and dubbed XE could be the most transmissible variant yet. It is estimated to spread 10% more easily than BA.2, which itself was more transmissible than the original omicron famous for its ease of penetration.