"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 18th May 2022

Isolation Tips
Shanghai’s Covid-19 Case Count Drops as City Prepares to Reopen
Shanghai marked a third straight day with no community transmissions of Covid-19, a key milestone toward ending an outbreak that has brought China’s financial capital to a grinding halt. Shanghai on Tuesday reported 777 new locally transmitted cases from a day earlier, compared with more than 25,000 daily infections at the height of the outbreak in mid-April. All the infections were found among 910,000 people in isolation facilities or confined at home—a sign that, for now, the virus’s ability to spread more widely in the city of 25 million people has been curtailed.
Factbox: COVID-hit Chinese cities seek exit from painful lockdown
Plans by COVID-hit Chinese cities to exit or avoid lockdown are more fraught and uncertain than ever as the pursuit of zero cases grows more prolonged, taxing and complex, with the highly infectious Omicron variant demanding quicker and tougher steps. The lockdowns have led the World Health Organization chief to describe China's zero-COVID goal as unsustainable, but China says its approach will protect the lives of its people and economy in the longer run.
Hygiene Helpers
N.Y.C. urges people to wear masks indoors, but stops short of requiring it.
Citing high community transmission and rising hospitalizations from a fifth wave of coronavirus cases, New York City health officials on Monday strongly recommended that all individuals wear medical-grade masks in offices, grocery stores and other public indoor settings citywide. The new recommendations, issued in a health advisory by the city health commissioner, came as the city approached the orange, or “high” alert level for Covid-19, a benchmark it expects to hit in the coming days. The new advisory also called on those who are at increased risk for severe illness, including unvaccinated children under 5 and people over 65, to avoid nonessential indoor gatherings and crowded settings.
China's Covid Exit Hinges on Seniors Who Don't Want Vaccines
As its Covid Zero lockdowns have become harsher and more economically disruptive, China has repeatedly invoked the specter of millions of vulnerable elderly people dying as justification for its strict virus approach. What remains unaddressed is why, with an abundant supply of homegrown vaccines and vast enforcement power, so many of China’s over-60s remain unvaccinated more than a year after shots became available. China is now paying a price for this vulnerability, with its economy struggling under the weight of chaotic lockdowns and increasingly unpredictable measures aimed at snuffing out all cases and shielding the community.
COVID-19 vaccine study focuses on young and immunosuppressed
The team at Imperial College London will now expand the MELODY study to include immunosuppressed young people who have had an organ transplant, to assess the levels of protection the vaccines offer to immunosuppressed people across age groups. Dr Michelle Willicombe, the study lead at Imperial College London, commented: “Information on how young, immunosuppressed people have responded to vaccination and the protection it affords them from infection is currently lacking, so we are delighted for the additional support so we can include children in MELODY to provide ongoing evidence. “If we can understand more about how this group of people respond to vaccines, then this will inform future vaccination strategies and also identify those young people who are most at risk of catching COVID-19.”
COVID-19: Dogs can be trained in weeks to detect infection
Dogs can be trained within weeks to detect a COVID-19 infection, with a degree of accuracy comparable to a nose and throat swab test, according to new research. Four dogs were trained to sniff out the virus in spring 2020 as part of a study led by the University of Helsinki in Finland. The animals, previously trained to detect drugs, dangerous goods, or cancer, each sniffed skin samples from 114 people who had tested positive for the virus and from 306 who tested negative. They were able to detect the virus with 92% accuracy, the study found. The dogs also participated in a trial where they sniffed the samples of 303 incoming passengers at Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport between September 2020 and April 2021.
North Korea on brink of Covid-19 catastrophe, say experts
North Korea stands on the brink of a Covid-19 catastrophe unless swift action is taken to provide vaccines and drug treatments, experts have said, as the number of people reported to have fallen ill rose to almost 1.5 million. The isolated country reported another big rise in new cases of what it continues to refer to as “fever” on Tuesday, days after it admitted it had identified Covid-19 infections for the first time since the start of the global pandemic. It recorded 269,510 additional cases and six more deaths, bringing the total number killed to 56 since late last month. About 1.48 million people have become ill with the virus since the first case was reported last Thursday and at least 663,910 people were in quarantine, according to official figures. The outbreak is almost certainly greater than the official tally, given a lack of tests and resources to monitor and treat the sick.
Indonesia to drop outdoor mask mandate as COVID infections drop
Indonesia will drop requirements for people to mask up outdoors and for vaccinated travellers to show negative pre-departure tests, officials said on Tuesday, as COVID-19 infections decline in the Southeast Asian country. Masks are no longer required outdoors as "the pandemic is getting more and more controlled", President Joko Widodo said in a statement streamed online. But masks must still be worn indoors and on public transportation, he said
Biden offering additional 8 free COVID-19 tests to public
The government website for people to request free COVID-19 at-home tests from the U.S. government is now accepting a third round of orders. The White House announced Tuesday that U.S. households can request an additional eight free at-home tests to be shipped by the U.S. Postal Service. The announcement comes as coronavirus cases are rising again in some areas of the country.
Community Activities
Covid support schemes left ‘open goal’ to fraudsters, says watchdog
The business department’s handling of Covid support schemes left an “open goal” to fraudsters and embezzlers that has added “billions to taxpayer woes”, parliament’s spending watchdog has found. In its review of the annual report of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it recognised that the government offered crucial support to businesses at the height of the pandemic. However, it said efforts to identify fraud and error had come too late, given that by the time they are confirmed the money will have been spent and “trails will have long ago gone cold”. “BEIS says it saw this risk coming but it’s really not clear where government was looking when it set up its initial Covid response,” said the PAC’s chair, the Labour MP Dame Meg Hillier.
CDC: Africa tourism favorite now at 'high' risk for Covid-19
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has placed a popular African destination in its "high" Covid-19 risk category for travelers.South Africa -- renowned for its stunning vistas, wildlife, wineries and culture -- is now at Level 3. In total, the CDC moved up four destinations to the "high" risk column on Monday:
Austria lifts COVID-19 entry requirements – EURACTIV.com
Entering Austria no longer requires proof of vaccination, recovery passes, or testing after all COVID-19-related entry requirements were dropped from Monday. Provided there is no extension or change, these measures, presented by the health ministry Friday evening (13 May), should remain lifted until the end of September. According to the ministry, the current epidemiological situation justified lifting the entry regulations.
Shanghai residents leverage Excel skills, management savvy to navigate lockdown
China's worst COVID-19 outbreak has frayed nerves and stirred resentment among many residents of Shanghai but some have thrived in the face of adversity, stepping up with bright ideas and commitment to help their communities through the crisis. Not surprisingly, many such people have used the skills they developed in their jobs to help others navigate the frightening new world of forced quarantine and lockdowns that no one dreamed of before COVID.
Students protest, discontent grows over China’s COVID policy
Administrators at an elite Beijing university have backed down from plans to further tighten pandemic restrictions on students as part of China’s “zero-COVID” strategy after a weekend protest at the school, according to students Tuesday. Graduate students at Peking University staged the rare, but peaceful protest Sunday over the school’s decision to erect a sheet-metal wall to keep them further sequestered on campus, while allowing faculty to come and go freely. Discontent had already been simmering over regulations prohibiting them from ordering in food or having visitors, and daily COVID-19 testing.
Working Remotely
How to make remote work eco-friendly
As the shift to hybrid working begins amid a climate emergency, 2021’s Working From Home: The Sustainability Question report on building a more sustainable future of work is more relevant than ever. While the report provides an actionable roadmap for responsible employers, we delve into how HR can lead the way on greener remote work strategies.
Five Remote Work Tips For Digital Nomads
Now that remote employees and digital nomads have proven their value—and that we can handle it all from afar—flexibility is no longer a perk. It's an expectation for many. Remote work shouldn't be a luxury or a perk for organizations—it should be a basic, obvious benefit. And it is for those who evolved over the last two years and are now more in tune than ever to both shifting employee and consumer habits.
Lesson from JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs: Take a Hard Line on Return-to-Office at Your Own Risk
Amid this global experiment in the future of work, the strenuous efforts of JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs to get employees back in the office are two case studies worthy of close real-time examination. The details of what happened at both banks differ slightly, but the big-picture takeaway is the same. Take a hard line on return-to-office schedules at your own risk.
Virtual Classrooms
Video Games as an Effective Learning Medium – Are we there yet?
Considering the popularity of gaming, it begs the question: is there potential beyond pure entertainment? Have we found a way to make gaming viable for education, or is it destined to just be a fad? When considering this, it’s important to understand the gap that often exists between the actual appeal of gaming and what education has typically tried to gamify. As well as the extent of its ability to effectively teach different practices and emulate real-world scenarios.
Remote classes affected students and teachers differently worldwide: Waterloo study
Switching to remote learning affected university students and teachers quite differently in developed and developing countries, a Waterloo study found. Researchers from the University of Waterloo analyzed the impact of shifting to “emergency response teaching” in early 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They collected data from developing countries, including Bangladesh, Malaysia and China, and developed countries, including Canada, the United States, Germany and Spain, through a combination of surveys and interviews with students and teachers.
Public Policies
Pfizer COVID antiviral use up 315%, U.S. health department says
Rising COVID-19 cases are driving up the use of therapeutics, with Pfizer Inc's oral antiviral treatment Paxlovid seeing a 315% jump over the past four weeks, U.S. health officials said on Tuesday. The increase in U.S. cases and hospitalizations is starting to affect recommendations on behavior, with New York City, the nation's most populous city, advising stricter mask usage but stopping short of new mandates. Apple has scrapped return to office plans.
U.S. FDA authorizes Pfizer's COVID booster shot for young children
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday authorized the use of a booster shot of Pfizer (PFE.N) and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11, making everyone in the country over the age of 5 eligible for a third shot. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still needs to sign off on the shots before they can be administered. Children below the age of five are not yet eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine in the United States.
African leaders urge global vaccine body to buy locally made Covid jabs
African leaders have called on the organisation in charge of procurement for the Covax vaccine sharing scheme to commit to buying at least 30 per cent of all Covid-19 jabs produced on the continent, as the future of Africa’s biggest manufacturing facility hangs in the balance. Covid-19 vaccine production at the Aspen Pharmacare facility in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, ground to a halt in late March because of a drop-off in demand, putting its future in doubt and threatening to undermine African Union plans to increase local jab production.
Covid-19: Hong Kong leader confirms next phase of Vaccine Pass to go ahead as health experts urge relaxation
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has confirmed that the next phase of Hong Kong’s Covid-19 Vaccine Pass will go ahead as scheduled on May 31, despite experts urging the government to relax the requirement for those under 60. Lam’s confirmation came on Tuesday after two University of Hong Kong (HKU) medics wrote an opinion piece in Ming Pao arguing that the scheme, which will require Hongkongers to have received three doses of a Covid-19 to enter certain types of premises from May 31, was “coercive.”
Maintaining Services
China’s Economic Distress Deepens as Lockdowns Drag On
China’s economy descended deeper into a Covid-19-induced doldrums last month, raising questions about whether Beijing’s planned stimulus measures can prevent a prolonged downturn. Consumer spending and factory output tumbled in April, while growth in infrastructure investment—which Beijing has been counting on to prop up growth this year—slowed sharply, China’s National Bureau of Statistics reported Monday.
Pfizer, BioNTech COVID vaccine deliveries delayed in Europe
As the EU gears up for a COVID-19 booster campaign this fall, the bloc has delayed vaccine deliveries from Pfizer and BioNTech. The change creates time for officials to secure potential variant-adapted shots that could score authorization in the months to come. Pfizer and BioNTech—which last year pledged to supply Europe with up to 1.8 billion doses of their mRNA vaccine Comirnaty through 2023—are pushing back deliveries scheduled for June through August by three months. The unspecified number of doses is now pegged to arrive in the EU starting in September through the fourth quarter of 2022, Pfizer and BioNTech said Monday. The delivery update shouldn’t crimp Pfizer and BioNTech’s 2022 revenue guidance or full-year delivery commitments to Europe, the companies said.
Sniffer dogs detect coronavirus as effectively as PCR tests
Airport sniffer dogs are highly adept at detecting the coronavirus, according to the first published results from a trial in Finland. Researchers said that in future pandemics dogs could be used “as the sole testing method when other approaches are not yet available”. A team of dogs at an airport in Helsinki were able to match the results of PCR tests 98 per cent of the time. The team behind the study, published in the online journal BMJ Global Health, said it showed sniffer dogs could “provide a valuable tool to contain the pandemic”.
North Korean planes pick up medical supplies in China, media report
North Korea has sent aircraft to China to pick up medical supplies days after it confirmed its first COVID-19 outbreak, media reported on Tuesday. In some of its first international flights since the coronavirus pandemic began more than two years ago, three Air Koryo planes from North Korea flew to the Chinese city of Shenyang on Monday, and flew back with medical supplies later in the day, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said, citing unidentified sources.
Beijing's retail, industry upended by COVID restrictions
The economy of China's capital Beijing took a hit in April as authorities wrestled with a new COVID outbreak, telling residents to avoid going out or work from home and halting many businesses. Retail sales in the city of nearly 22 million people, a key gauge of consumption, shrank 16.05% in April from a year earlier, according to Reuters calculations based on January-April data released by the city's statistics bureau on Tuesday, outpacing the nation's 11.1% contraction.
Healthcare Innovations
COVID vaccines may cut hospital Omicron cases in youth
In the first study, researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed data from 74,208 drive-thru polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test results from children aged 5 to 11 years, and 47,744 tests from aged 12 to 15 from Dec 26, 2021, to Feb 21, 2022. The tests were conducted by a single pharmacy chain at 6,897 sites in 49 states; Washington, DC; and Puerto Rico. The researchers compared the effectiveness of two Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine doses at least 2 weeks before testing with no vaccination in children, and two or three doses 2 or more weeks earlier in adolescents. Overall, the study involved 30,888 positive tests and 43,209 negative tests from children aged 5 to 11 and 22,273 positive tests and 25,471 negative tests from 12- to 15-year-olds. Median age was 10 years, 50.2% were girls, 70.1% were White, and 25.7% were Hispanic or Latino.
Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine prevented almost 700,000 hospitalizations -study
The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine prevented almost 700,000 hospitalizations in the US and saved more than $70 billion in costs over one year, a new study has found. Published on Sunday in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Economics, the study concluded that the vaccine prevented 8.7 million symptomatic cases of the virus in America as well as 690,000 hospitalizations and over 110,000 deaths. Additionally, it saved over $30 billion in healthcare costs and over $40 billion in lost productivity, the study found. The study's authors, who all received some form of funding from Pfizer, used a model with real-world and trial data to determine the number of symptomatic COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths that would have occurred without the Pfizer vaccine, as well as the cost on the healthcare system and the economy.
Flu vaccine could cut COVID risk
Influenza vaccines have a surprising health benefit: they might also prevent COVID-19, particularly in its most severe forms. A study of more than 30,000 health-care workers in Qatar found that those who got a flu jab were nearly 90% less likely to develop severe COVID-19 over the next few months, compared with those who hadn’t been recently vaccinated against flu. The study, which was conducted in late 2020, before the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, is in line with previous work suggesting that ramping up the immune system using influenza vaccines and other jabs could help the body to fend off the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
Study: Readmission rate for COVID-19 is 11%
Eleven percent of Canadian patients who were discharged after hospitalization for COVID-19 were readmitted to the hospital or died within 30 days of discharge, according to a study today in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). The retrospective cohort study was based on the medical records of all adults hospitalized in Alberta and Ontario for SARS-CoV-2 from Jan 1, 2020, to Sep 30, 2021. A total of 46,412 (5.5%) adults had a positive COVID-19 test 14 days prior or during their hospital admission. Of these, 8,496 died in hospital and 34,846 were discharged alive. Of those discharged, 30,336 had a typical hospital stay — 30 days or less. A total of 4,510 had a stay greater than 30 days, and 14% required intensive care unit admission. The median length of hospital stay was 8 days.
COVID-19 vaccine uptake in pregnant women rising but stark inequality remains
Data for January 2022 from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) show that almost six in 10 (59.6%) pregnant women had received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. This is a significant rise in uptake from the 48.7% recorded in November 2021 and saw the total number of pregnant women who had received their first dose rise to 125,365 this January. Over half (50.6%) had received two doses of vaccine by January, another significant rise from the 38.4% recorded three months earlier. The total number of pregnant women double vaccinated by January was 88,736.
Covid-19 can cause infected cells to ‘explode,’ research shows
Cells infected with the Covid-19 virus can “explode”, contributing to the development of severe disease, researchers have shown. Scientists from the US and the UK looked at blood samples from people infected with Covid, and found that about 6 per cent of monocytes – immune cells that patrol the body for foreign invaders – were undergoing a type of cell death known as pyroptosis, which is associated with inflammation, after being infected by the virus. A small proportion of macrophages – another type of immune cell, which engulfs and destroys foreign cellular debris – also became inflamed after being infected by Sars-CoV-2. In the case of the two cell types, it’s believed that the virus activated what are known as inflammasomes: large molecules that trigger a cascade of inflammatory responses that can culminate in cell death.
Omitting long Covid from pandemic messaging is harmful for public health
Public health messaging about Covid-19 has focused almost exclusively on hospitalizations and deaths. The omission of long Covid, which may affect between 8 million and 23 million Americans, deprives the public of the knowledge necessary to understand the risks of various activities, make informed decisions about risk-taking, and understand what is happening to them if they feel sick for an extended period. Local and national public health entities continue to characterize infections not resulting in hospitalization as “mild,” and most media have followed their lead. Authorities have been shaping a narrative in which the primary risks from Covid are acute illness, death, and impacts on health care systems. Yet evidence is rapidly mounting that post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC, or long Covid) can cause symptoms — often debilitating symptoms — that persist for months or even years after infection.