"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 16th Jun 2022

Isolation Tips
Hong Kong Covid Cases Top 1000 as Home Isolation Tweaked Again
Hong Kong reported more than 1,000 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest in two months, with the rise in infections spurring officials to continue to tighten rules around who can isolate at home. There were 971 new local infections, including many among school children, their families and patrons of nightlife venues, Department of Health official Albert Au said at the daily virus briefing. Another 76 infections were detected among travelers who recently entered the city, bringing the total to 1,047 -- the highest since April 14.
Beijing in 'race against time' to contain COVID surge
Authorities in China's capital warned on Tuesday that a COVID-19 surge in cases linked to a 24-hour bar was critical and the city of 22 million was in a "race against time" to get to grips with its most serious outbreak since the pandemic began. The flare-up means millions of people are facing mandatory testing and thousands are under targeted lockdowns, just days after the city started to lift widespread curbs that had run for more than a month to tackle a broader outbreak since late April
Hygiene Helpers
Vaccine makers claims efficacy against Omicron variant of Covid-19
With Omicron and its sub-variants spreading rapidly across the globe, vaccine makers have started claiming efficacy of their Covid-19 vaccines against this Sars-CoV-2 variant.
Hong Kong RAT proof nothing to get hungover about
Try as Hong Kong might, the number of daily Covid-19 cases remains stubbornly high. In an effort to reduce them in time for celebrations of the city’s 25th anniversary of its return to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, patrons of pubs, bars and clubs are from Thursday required to show proof of a negative rapid antigen test (RAT) result. It is an understandable move given such places are behind half a dozen recent clusters in entertainment districts involving hundreds of people. Random raids by police of numerous premises have led to dozens of fines and temporary closures for the violation of rules. Authorities have opted for the RAT strategy rather than rolling back a phased reopening of social and economic activity. The last of three stages remains to be implemented, but outgoing Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor contends circumstances are not right for that to happen before July 1.
Shanghai to Mass Test Whole City Every Weekend Till End July
Shanghai, which reported just 16 Covid cases for Wednesday, will conduct mass testing drives every weekend until the end of July in the latest display of the lengths authorities are going to in order to adhere to nation’s zero tolerance approach to the virus. A temporary lockdown will also be imposed on residential complexes where a Covid case is detected in the week leading up to the weekend testing, Zhao Dandan, an official with the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission said at a briefing Wednesday. The lockdown will be lifted once everyone in the compound has been tested, he said. In an effort to detect cases early and break transmission chains, the city’s residents will need to take nucleic acid tests at least once a week until the end of July, with workers at supermarkets, barbers, drugstores, shopping malls and restaurants required to undergo daily testing.
Full COVID-19 vaccination still required for Hajj, says ministry
The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah said that full immunization with one of the approved COVID19- vaccines is still required for those planning to perform Hajj this year. The confirmation comes less than 24 hours after the Saudi authorities announced the lifting of various COVID-19 preventative measures, including the requirement to wear face masks in closed places. The ministry reaffirmed that all those intending to perform Hajj this year must have completed their immunization program with one of the COVID-19 vaccines approved by the Public Health Authority. This vaccine requirement is listed on the electronic registration portal for this year’s Hajj, which will accommodate 1 million pilgrims.
Community Activities
The inside story of Recovery: how the world’s largest COVID-19 trial transformed treatment – and what it could do for other diseases
Two years ago this week, the Recovery trial transformed the care of COVID patients with its dexamethasone announcement. Within four hours, the steroid was included in NHS treatment recommendations. Almost overnight, treatment of COVID patients around the world changed completely. It has been estimated that dexamethasone may have saved a million lives in the first nine months following the announcement. Recovery, jointly led by Oxford Population Health and the Nuffield Department of Medicine, is a groundbreaking scientific machine which, from the outset, moved at unprecedented speed. Within 15 days, more than 1,000 participants around the UK had joined the trial; five weeks later, that number had risen to 10,000. In the first 100 days alone, the trial produced three groundbreaking results that would completely reshape COVID care.
Hong Kong police chief defends enforcement of Covid-19 rules
The head of the Hong Kong Police Force has defended officers’ enforcement of Covid-19 rules while attending a district council meeting on Tuesday. After the meeting, Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu told the press that the Force would reach “total mobilisation” for the 25 anniversary of the city’s handover to China, and that a new counter-terrorism reporting hotline had already received more than 1,000 calls. Siu attended the North District Council meeting to brief councillors on crime data in the district. He was also asked to explain the relationship between police enforcement actions and control of the disease and the effectiveness of anti-epidemic work in the North District, according to the meeting’s agenda.
Long Covid Is Showing Up in the Employment Data
Given that you have to be unable to work for at least 12 months to qualify for Social Security disability and going on the program is a momentous step that effectively requires leaving the labor market, the still-new phenomenon that is Long Covid is probably not playing a big role (the Social Security Administration has said that only about 1% of recent claims mention Covid). Still, the turnaround in disability applications is at least not incompatible with a rise in long-term health problems related to the disease — and it turns out there are stronger signs of Long Covid in other employment-related data.
Working Remotely
Hybrid working did not reduce economic divides, research finds
Remote working has not led to a reduction in the UK’s geographical economic divides, a report by the Resolution Foundation has found. The think tank’s Right Where You Left Me? report found that while the regional employment gap has reduced, the wholesale move to remote working caused by the pandemic has not helped to level out regional inequality. It said London was the “epicentre of the big shift towards remote working”, with prosperous areas including Richmond-upon-Thames and Bromley, as well as further afield in Rochford, Essex, among those that saw a net increase in workers – gaining more resident remote workers than they lost office workers.
These are Gen Z’s top work priorities—and remote isn’t one of them
In the past few years, workplaces have changed significantly due to the Covid pandemic. Employees had an increased need for different perks and support like hybrid and remote work, child care, and expanded health benefits. Though many of these remain a priority, for Gen Z, expectations for the workplace have changed significantly, according to a survey from the National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS).
Virtual Classrooms
Teachers Warn of Pandemic's Cumulative Impact on US Students
Measuring the effects of the pandemic on students is challenging at this early stage. But researchers and teachers agree nearly all students were impacted in some way, even though each state and school navigated balancing safety and learning differently. The Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University estimated that one-fifth of American students were enrolled in districts that continued virtual learning for the majority of the 2020-21 school year. Those students, they say, lost the equivalent of as much as 22 weeks of learning.
The metaverse is much more than a virtual copy of your campus
After two years of virtual learning following Covid-19, the higher education environment is ripe with new ideas about what universities should become. Is the large lecture in a hall still fit for purpose? Does online learning offer greater opportunities to engage students who have to undertake part-time work? How do we reorientate the value of learning when artificial intelligence is creating opportunities for students to employ computers to write their essays? Do we still need exams where access to the internet is prohibited? These are serious conversations that require us to consider what knowledge and expertise means in a digital age. For these reasons we begin to see more interest in the metaverse from within HE, but this shift is embryonic.
Public Policies
WHO to Convene Emergency Meeting on Monkeypox Amid Spread
The World Health Organization will hold an emergency meeting to assess whether the current spread of monkeypox constitutes a public health emergency of international concern, or PHEIC. A special committee will meet next week to advise on the spread in non-endemic countries, Hans Kluge, regional director of the WHO for Europe, said at a media briefing Wednesday. A PHEIC is the WHO’s highest alert level, and such a declaration can be used to encourage nations to cooperate on countermeasures, while letting the agency recommend steps such as travel advisories.
EU governments pressure manufacturers to renegotiate contracts for COVID-19 vaccines
Pressure on COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers is being mounted as European Union (EU) governments are in a push to renegotiate contracts, with a caution issued by EU officials that millions of vaccine doses could be wasted. When vaccines became available earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic, countries vied for supply contracts. However, as the need for vaccines begins to slow in Europe, some countries want to amend their contracts to reduce spending and to prevent receiving more vaccines than are needed. During the most acute phase of the pandemic, the European Commission and EU governments agreed to buy huge volumes of vaccines, mostly from Pfizer and its partner BioNTech, amid fears of insufficient supplies
WTO draft IP deal on COVID vaccines 'very good', UK minister says
Britain, one of the main opponents to waiving intellectual property rights for COVID-19 vaccines, praised a draft agreement and expressed hope a deal would be reached at the World Trade Organization (WTO) this week. India, South Africa and other developing countries have sought a waiver of IP rights for vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for over a year, but faced opposition from countries with major pharmaceutical producers, such as the United Kingdom and Switzerland.
Pfizer halts Paxlovid trial in less vulnerable COVID patients after failing to find evidence of benefit
Pfizer’s Paxlovid has proven useful in COVID-19 patients at high risk of severe disease. But the antiviral drug may not help less vulnerable patients. Pfizer has stopped enrollment into the EPIC-SR trial that’s been evaluating Paxlovid in standard-risk patients, the company said Tuesday. These include unvaccinated adults without additional risk and vaccinated people who have at least one risk factor for progressing to severe disease. The clinical trial previously flopped on its primary goal, showing the Pfizer antiviral was no better than placebo at sustaining symptom relief for four consecutive days.
FDA panel unanimously backs Moderna’s Covid vaccine for children ages 6 to 17
A panel of experts convened by the Food and Drug Administration voted unanimously Tuesday to recommend the agency authorize the Moderna Covid vaccine for children ages 6 to 17. The authorization would mirror the current emergency use authorization of the Covid vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which is authorized for individuals 6 years and older. “I believe this vote, and I am happy to say it was unanimous, is standing up for vulnerable populations that merit protection against this virus,” said Ofer Levy, a member of the FDA’s expert panel and director of the precision vaccines program at Boston Children’s Hospital. “I believe this will provide families with an important option.”
Maintaining Services
Europe's medicines watchdog publishes new report identifying COVID-19 lessons learned
In 2021, the European Commission, Parliament and Council gave the EMA greater tools enabling it to both support innovation and respond to emergencies, in an acknowledgement of the agency’s vital role in tackling the pandemic. The EMA approved five treatments and four new vaccines against COVID-19. It also passed regulation on medical devices—a year later than planned because of the pandemic—and took steps towards developing an information network designed to generate data about health patterns across the continent, called the Data Analysis and Real World Interrogation Network (DARWIN EU).
UK to Roll Out Drugs From Pfizer, Shionogi to Fight Superbugs
England is rolling out a pair of antibiotics from Pfizer Inc. and Shionogi & Co. as part of a pioneering program aimed at stimulating a broken market and taking on the rising threat of superbugs. Under the deal announced Wednesday by the National Health Service, the drug companies will receive a fixed annual fee for their antibiotics. The payments in the program, the first of its kind, will be as much as £10 million ($12 million) a year for up to 10 years. About 1,700 patients a year with severe bacterial infections will be eligible for the drugs. With germs becoming increasingly resistant to current antibiotics, the NHS said the drugs will provide a lifeline to patients with life-threatening infections like sepsis or hospital or ventilator pneumonia.
North Korea COVID-19 Vaccination Plan Facing Challenges
As North Korea faces a rising number of COVID-19 cases, simply having vaccines may be insufficient to roll out a countrywide immunization process that experts say needs to be accompanied by adequate cold storage units and trained medical and technical staff that the nation lacks. Pyongyang announced on Tuesday that "more than 32,810 fevered cases" were detected in the country from June 12 to 13, through its state media Korea Central News Agency (KCNA). The total, "since late April," surged past 4.5 million as of June 14, added the KCNA.
How long is your COVID vaccine good for? You can soon find out, thanks to a new test that informs patients of their immunity’s ‘magnitude and duration’
Until recently, it’s been nearly impossible to say. Immunity, whether from vaccine or prior infection, is thought to wane after three or four months, but it varies by person. That knowledge is based on what’s known about typical antibody response—but antibodies are only half of the picture. The other half: T-cell response, which hasn’t been examined in patients nearly as often owing to technical challenges. Now that response can be tested affordably and en masse, researchers at Mount Sinai Health System in New York say. Along with researchers at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore, they developed a rapid blood test called the dqTACT assay that measures the activation of such cells in response to COVID. The test will allow for mass monitoring of the population’s immunity and effectiveness of vaccines new and old, they said in a study published Tuesday in Nature Biotechnology.
Healthcare Innovations
Moderna to Study Its Covid-19 Vaccine in Babies as Young as 3 Months
Moderna Inc. is planning to test its Covid-19 vaccine in babies 3 months to 6 months old, the youngest age group studied to date. The Cambridge, Mass., company said Wednesday it is in the final stages of planning the study, to be called BabyCove and expected to begin enrolling as many as 700 babies in September. BabyCove would be the first study of Moderna’s vaccine in infants younger than 6 months. Moderna’s vaccine is authorized for use in adults 18 and older. The company has requested expanding the vaccine’s use to children ages 6 months through 17 years, and a decision by the Food and Drug Administration on that request could come within days.
Covid-19: Omicron infection is poor booster to immunity, study finds
People infected with the omicron variant show poor immunity boosting against future covid-19 infection, researchers have found. This may explain why breakthrough and repeat infections have been a common feature of the omicron wave of the pandemic, even among people who have been triple vaccinated, said the research team. Omicron is “an especially stealthy immune evader” said Danny Altmann, study coauthor from Imperial College London. “Not only can it break through vaccine defences, it looks to leave very few of the hallmarks we’d expect on the immune system,” he said. “It’s more stealthy than previous variants and flies under the radar, so the immune system is unable to remember it.”
Severe covid-19 symptoms linked to more than 1300 genetic variants
More than 1000 genes may contribute to a person’s risk of developing severe covid-19, on top of life circumstances such as their age, ethnicity and any health conditions. Most of the genes, discovered in a study of more than 1 million people, affect the functioning of two kinds of immune cell. If the results are confirmed, they could inform a test that assesses a person’s risk of getting badly ill with covid-19, says Johnathan Cooper-Knock at the University of Sheffield, UK. “We know there are young people who are otherwise fit that get severe covid,” he says. “We are trying to get at the genetic determinants that put people at risk irrespective of the more obvious things.” Cooper-Knock’s team used artificial intelligence to analyse results from a global data set called the COVID-19 Host Genetics Initiative, a genetics project run by a group of researchers and companies.