"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 22nd Apr 2022

Isolation Tips
Shanghai people 'not free to fly' out of homes as COVID cases tick back up
Shanghai authorities said on Thursday tough restrictions would remain in place for now even in districts which managed to cut COVID-19 transmission to zero, prolonging the agony for many residents who have been stuck at home for most of this month. That sober assessment, prompted by an unexpected rise in the number of cases outside quarantined areas, came after health officials earlier in the week had fuelled hopes of some return to normal by saying that trends in recent days showed Shanghai had "effectively curbed transmissions". At a regular press conference, an official from the Chongming district, an outlying island area, said most curbs would be kept in place, although it has reported zero cases outside quarantined areas and 90% of its 640,000-or-so residents were now in theory allowed to leave their homes.
Cambodia cuts quarantine for unvaccinated visitors to 7 days
Cambodia on Thursday reduced the required quarantine period from two weeks to one for arriving travelers who are not fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, acting after recording consistently low numbers of new infections in recent days. The Health Ministry also said that travelers arriving by air who have not been fully vaccinated must take a rapid antigen test on the last day of their quarantine. Arrivals by land -- mostly Cambodian workers in neighboring countries -- are required to take rapid antigen tests on arrival as well as on the last day of quarantine. Cambodia had already opened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers on Nov. 15 in an effort to revitalize its tourism-reliant economy.
Hygiene Helpers
Incoming S.Korean leader's team to review lifting of COVID curbs
South Korean president-elect Yoon Suk-yeol is at odds with a decision by the outgoing government to lift nearly all coronavirus curbs this week, vowing to reconsider a plan to exempt all patients from quarantine requirements from May. In a major step this week towards a return to normal life, the government of President Moon Jae-in lifted almost all its social distancing curbs, such as midnight curfew for restaurants and a ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.
UK patient had COVID-19 for 505 days straight, study shows
A U.K. patient with a severely weakened immune system had COVID-19 for almost a year and a half, scientists reported, underscoring the importance of protecting vulnerable people from the coronavirus. There’s no way to know for sure whether it was the longest-lasting COVID-19 infection because not everyone gets tested, especially on a regular basis like this case. But at 505 days, “it certainly seems to be the longest reported infection,” said Dr. Luke Blagdon Snell, an infectious disease expert at the Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust. Snell’s team plans to present several “persistent” COVID-19 cases at an infectious diseases meeting in Portugal this weekend. Their study investigated which mutations arise — and whether variants evolve — in people with super long infections.
Boston urges masks as battle brews over transit rule
Boston urged people to start wearing masks Thursday and the Biden administration weighed its next legal step in what is shaping up to be a high-stakes court fight over the abrupt end of the national mask mandate on airplanes and mass transit. The Boston Public Health Commission noted a rise in hospitalizations, as well as a 65% increase in cases and an even larger spike in COVID-19 levels in local wastewater samples. It also stressed that the guidance was merely a recommendation, not an order. The country is wrestling with how to deal with the next phase of the pandemic and find the right balance in enacting health measures at a time when many Americans are ready to move on after two exhausting years.
How to Avoid Getting Covid in a Mostly Mask-Free World
This week’s lifting of mask requirements on airplanes and, in many parts of the country, on public transportation is a major turning point in the U.S. pandemic response. From now on, it seems, avoiding or minimizing Covid-19 infection will be a personal endeavor, not a societal one. This is for some people a welcome shift toward normalcy and for others a cause for anxiety and confusion. Many occupy an awkward middle space between not wanting to throw in the towel and also wanting to break free of some restrictions. About 42% of adults in the U.S. have gone back to some but not all of their pre-pandemic activities, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
Community Activities
Air pollution increases risk of Covid infection among young adults, study suggests
Air pollution heightens the risk of Covid-19 infection among young adults, a new study suggests. Previous studies have shown that areas of poor air quality have more cases of Covid-19, pointing to a potential link between the virus and rates of infection. The researchers merged a population-based project which has followed more than 4,000 participants in Stockholm from birth with Sweden’s national communicable disease registry, SmiNet. They identified 425 people who had tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 between May 2020 and the end of March 2021. The average age of the participants was 26, and 54 per cent were women.
Hong Kong Disney opens as COVID eases; Shanghai deaths rise
Hong Kong relaxed pandemic restrictions on Thursday, with Disneyland and museums reopening and nighttime restaurant dining resuming as the city’s worst COVID-19 outbreak appears to be fading. Enthusiastic visitors ran into Disneyland the moment the gates opened after a three-month closure. Popular theme parks were ordered to close in January as Hong Kong’s fifth wave of the coronavirus took hold. Nearly 1.2 million people in the city of 7.4 million were infected in less than four months, and nearly 9,000 have died.
Working Remotely
The sky-high cost of returning to the office
After two years of remote work, spending a day in the office can be a shock to the wallet – and rising costs are making it worse. Employees who haven’t had to budget for train tickets, takeaway coffees or new office outfits for the past two years are now acutely aware of how much it costs to spend a day at your desk. And, worse, these costs are growing. Some companies are offering financial and other incentives to tempt unhappy commuters back. But, given how aware workers are now of exactly how much an office day costs, it feels unlikely people will willingly revert to absorbing office-day expenses like before.
Remote work: Canadians struggle to disconnect, report says
A new report has found that 28 per cent of Canadians are experiencing challenges disconnecting from their jobs after regular work hours, a trend experts at LifeWorks say is continuing to impact employees' mental health. According to the LifeWorks' monthly Mental Health Index released Thursday, Canadians who are unable to disconnect from their jobs after the work day displayed a mental health score nearly nine points below the national average. The index found respondents younger than 40 were 70 per cent more likely to be unable to disconnect after regular work hours than those older than 50.
Why a blanket approach to a remote working policy is unsuitable and lazy
According to the anonymous workplace survey app Blind, more than half (53%) of professionals working for technology firms in Silicon Valley prefer remote working to an office environment. Generally, as the workforce returns to the office, people remained optimistic that employers would introduce a hybrid policy to accommodate those who favor remote working and those who favor the office environment.
Virtual Classrooms
Third of primary school leaders cutting edtech spending – report
Almost a third (32%) of primary school leaders say they have had to cut back on information technology (IT) equipment because of financial constraints, according to a new survey carried out by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). In secondary schools, the figure is 20%. The findings form part of a report on catch-up funding published by the Sutton Trust. While a higher proportion of poll respondents reported having to cut back on teaching and support staff, the widespread reduction in edtech spending is nevertheless a cause for concern in its own right. As the move to remote learning during the pandemic underlined, poorer students and schools are on the wrong side of a digital divide, even without factoring in the likely impact of a cut in IT investment.
Stress Still Driving Students to Consider Stopping Out
Three-fourths of students in bachelor’s degrees programs and two-thirds of adults seeking associate degrees who considered taking a break from college within the last six months cited emotional stress, according to a new Gallup-Lumina report. The report also said that 44 percent of adults not currently enrolled in a college degree or certificate program have considered enrolling in the past two years. The report is based on a survey of 11,227 U.S. adults conducted last fall and expands on a 2020 study of U.S. higher education “that found rising concerns among students about the shift from in-person to remote learning. That research confirmed the spread of COVID-19 had jeopardized student retention, with about half reporting the pandemic was ‘likely’ or ‘very likely’ to affect their enrollment,” according to Gallup and the Lumina Foundation.
Hybrid teaching harming teacher mental health
The extra time, energy and workload required to deliver hybrid teaching is having a detrimental effect on the health, safety and welfare of teachers, representatives heard at the Annual Conference of NASUWT-The Teachers’ Union. Dr Patrick Roach, NASUWT general secretary said, “Teachers have adapted to new ways of online working and embraced new tools out of necessity to help children while they were learning from home during the pandemic. But it cannot be right that their health and wellbeing have been affected adversely by the excessive workload required to deliver remote education."
Public Policies
COVID-19: Hotel quarantine scheme cost taxpayers almost £400m despite being estimated to break even - government's own watchdog finds
The government's coronavirus hotel quarantine system, which was originally expected to break even, cost the taxpayers almost £400m - its own spending watchdog has found. A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) found that despite the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) previously estimating that the cost of running the hotel quarantine service would be met by the price people were charged to stay in the rooms, the taxpayer has subsidised half of the scheme's total £786m cost. The NAO report adds that the overall cost of the scheme to the taxpayer is likely to be even higher as DHSC cannot ensure that everyone who stayed in a quarantine hotel has paid their bill - with the government owed £74m from outstanding hotel costs and COVID test purchases as of 1 March 2022.
UK lawmakers approve probe into PM Boris Johnson’s ‘Partygate’
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered a blow to his authority when lawmakers ordered a parliamentary investigation into his past denials that he broke coronavirus restrictions by attending illegal gatherings during the pandemic. Johnson on Thursday faced stinging criticism from his own Conservative party and an influential former ally called on him to quit over what has become known as the “Partygate” scandal, which has caused widespread public anger. The investigation will look into whether Johnson knowingly misled the Parliament of the United Kingdom – ordinarily a resigning offence if proven. But a bullish Johnson – on a two-day trip to India – insisted he was not going anywhere. In India, Johnson vowed he would not quit and intended to fight the next general election – still likely at least two years away. “I understand people’s feelings,” he told Sky News. But he said of stepping aside: “I don’t think that is the right thing to do. What I am determined to do is make sure we continue with our agenda.”
U.S. extends COVID vaccine requirements for non-citizens at land borders
The Biden administration said Thursday it is extending a requirement that non-U.S. citizens crossing land or ferry terminals at the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders must be vaccinated against COVID-19. The requirements were first adopted in November as part of reopening the United States to land crossings by foreign tourists after the borders had been closed to most foreign visitors since March 2020.
Taiwan approves second COVID booster dose, infections yet to peak
Taiwan's government has approved a second COVID-19 booster vaccine dose for those 65 and older, and third boosters for the immunocompromised, as it looks to step up its fight against a spike in domestic infections that has yet to peak. While Taiwan is dealing with a rise in local cases, the numbers overall remain small - 15,544 since Jan. 1 - and just four people have died, with more than 99% of those infected reporting either minor or no symptoms. Taiwan's Centres for Disease Control said late Wednesday it had approved second booster shots for the elderly, as well as residents of long-term care facilities.
Maintaining Services
A prolonged China slowdown raises risks for global economy, IMF chief says
A prolonged slowdown in China would have substantial global spillovers, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said on Thursday, but added that Beijing has room to adjust policy to provide support. The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday cut its growth forecast for China this year to 4.4%, well below Beijing's target of around 5.5%, on the risks of widespread COVID-19 lockdowns and supply chain disruptions. In a video speech to the annual Boao Forum for Asia, Georgieva said China's actions to counter its economic slowdown are vital for the global recovery.
Aspen In Talks With African Leaders on Low Covid Vaccine Orders
Article reports that Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. is in talks with African leaders about how to raise demand for Covid-19 vaccines after the continent’s biggest drugmaker warned a lack of orders may force it to stop making the shots. Discussions are “underway and I assure you it’s been elevated to the highest level on the continent,” John Nkengasong, director of Africa CDC, said at a briefing on Thursday. “I’m sure more details will be provided in coming days, once we have more details from Africa’s political leadership.” Nkengasong last week appealed to African countries to place orders with local manufacturers including Durban, South Africa-based Aspen, which makes doses on behalf of Johnson & Johnson and in March said it agreed to make the shots under its own brand.
Coronavirus Northern Ireland: Health bosses take action due to poor uptake of vaccine in young kids
Only 1.39% of children aged five to 11 in Northern Ireland have been vaccinated against Covid-19, health bosses have said. The Public Health Agency (PHA) has created a vaccination toolkit to support uptake as it said safety concerns may be a driving factor for the low uptake in youngsters here. The vaccine has been available to children deemed to be at risk from the virus and those who live with someone who is immunocompromised since December but was opened up to all five to 11 year olds in February.
After rejecting COVID rule, Arizona could lose oversight of workplace safety
The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Wednesday moved to revoke Arizona's ability to police workplace safety within the state after it refused to adopt a federal rule requiring COVID-19 protections for healthcare workers. OSHA in a proposal published in the Federal Register said Arizona's failure to enforce the emergency COVID-19 rule last year was the latest in a decade-long series of instances where the state shirked its duty to adopt safety standards at least as strict as comparable federal requirements.
Healthcare Innovations
Antibody response to Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine over 6 months
The binding responses and temporal dynamics of antibodies elicited against the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) due to vaccination must be fully understood to design future vaccination strategies. A new study published in PLoS ONE characterizes the antibody response to BNT162b2, the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccine. This study analyzes the temporal dynamics of immunoglobulin G (IgG) and IgM antibody response to five different SARS-CoV-2 epitopes over a period of six months after vaccination.
Novavax publishes positive initial data for first combined Covid and flu vaccine
Novavax has published the first clinical data for a combined Covid-19 and flu vaccine, with promising initial findings that a two-in-one shot could be safe and effective. The trial, conducted in Australia, studied the combined shot in almost 650 people aged 50 to 70. An initial analysis found that their immune responses were similar to that for Novavax’s standalone Covid-19 vaccine and its flu vaccine candidate, which is waiting for regulatory approval. The safety profile was also similar to the individual vaccines, with no serious adverse events.
Third Covid-19 vaccine dose offers ‘prolonged immune response’ – UK-wide study
A UK-wide study has found a prolonged immune response from third doses of Covid-19 vaccines. The Cov-Boost study, led by the University Hospital Southampton (UHS), compared immune responses to seven vaccines used as a booster 28 days after participants had received two initial doses of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccines. The latest findings, published online in the Journal of Infection, show “strong immune responses” are still seen 84 days after third jabs, with five of the Covid-19 vaccines currently approved for use in the UK (AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna, Janssen and Novavax vaccines). Of these vaccines, only three – Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca – have been used in the UK booster programme.
Nearly half of those recovering from coronavirus infection endure ‘long Covid’ symptoms, study finds
An analysis of data from 50 studies looking at 1.6 million people suggests that as much as 43 per cent of those infected with the coronavirus experienced post-Covid conditions, pointing to the need for better diagnosis and care for “long Covid” patients. Post-Covid conditions are clinically defined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as mid- and long-term symptoms – also known as long Covid – occurring in individuals after infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The research, published this week in the Journal of Infectious Disease, assessed 23 symptoms reported across 36 of the studies and found that shortness of breath, sleep problems, and joint pain was widely reported by those who had recovered from the novel coronavirus infection.
Covid-19: Has the spread of omicron BA.2 made antibody treatments redundant?
Drug regulators are reviewing authorisations for monoclonal antibody treatments just months after they were issued. Elisabeth Mahase asks what the future holds for this class of biologicals The US Food and Drug Administration has removed its authorisation for anti-SARS-CoV-2 monoclonal antibody treatment sotrovimab because of concerns that it is ineffective against the omicron subvariant BA.2, which is now dominant in the US. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) authorised sotrovimab for high risk over 12s with mild to moderate covid-19 in December 20212 after reporting that a single dose, given as an intravenous infusion over 30 minutes, reduced the risk of hospital admission and death by 79% in high risk adults with symptomatic covid-19. The regulator has told The BMJ that it is also now reviewing the treatment to see if the “benefit-risk balance remains favourable.” Laura Squire, the MHRA’s chief officer for healthcare access and quality, said, “We are in contact with the FDA and are looking closely at the data supporting their decision.”
COVID-19 vaccines do not heighten heart inflammation risk in most individuals
Recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 vaccines may increase the risk of heart inflammation, which can be potentially fatal. A meta-analysis synthesizing data from 22 previous studies suggests that the risk of heart inflammation after a COVID-19 vaccine was similar to that following vaccination against other diseases. Males and individuals under the age of 30 were at a higher risk of heart inflammation, especially after the second dose. These results suggest that the risk of heart inflammation after having a COVID-19 vaccine is generally low, supporting previous data about their safety.