"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 4th Jul 2022

Isolation Tips
China Covid Outbreaks Widen With More Cases Found in Anhui
China’s virus cases continued to climb over the weekend with hundreds of infections detected in Anhui province, where two counties were already in lockdown. Anhui, the center of the latest outbreak, reported 287 cases for Sunday. A lockdown was imposed in Lingbi county in northeastern Anhui from Friday afternoon, while the neighboring Si county conducted its sixth mass testing on Sunday. While China seems to have brought earlier outbreaks in mega cities Shanghai and Beijing under control, its Covid-Zero goal is facing a test again in its eastern provinces. Shanghai’s neighboring Jiangsu province reported 59 cases on Saturday, while the city of Wuxi found 35 infections on Sunday.
Hygiene Helpers
US FDA wants COVID boosters targeting Omicron BA.4, BA.5 subvariants
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday recommended COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers change the design of their booster shots beginning this fall to include components tailored to combat the currently dominant Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the coronavirus. If authorized, the changes would mark the first major retooling of COVID vaccines, but also could slow their rollout as the FDA has recommended a design somewhat different from what the companies had already tested and started producing.
WHO urges Southeast Asia to scale up Covid vaccination rate as case rise
Amid an incessant rise in Covid cases, the World Health Organization called on countries in the South-East Asian region to accelerate COVID-19 vaccination coverage today. While significant progress has been made in the region towards vaccinating populations against COVID-19, several countries missed the global target to fully vaccinate 70 per cent of their total population with all primary doses of the vaccine by June end responsible for various regions witnessing a surge in cases. "We know that the current COVID-19 vaccines provide high levels of protection against severe disease and death for all variants. We must focus on rapidly achieving high vaccination coverage prioritizing health workers, older adults, those with underlying health conditions, and pregnant women. The pandemic is not over yet, we must scale up our efforts to protect communities," said Regional Director, WHO (South-East Asia), Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh in an official statement.
COVID-19 vaccination for children aged 5–11 years
When considering risks, post-implementation studies have found BNT162b2 to be safe in children aged 5–11 years.17 Importantly, the small but serious risk of vaccine-induced myocarditis appears to be much lower in children aged 5–11 years (reporting rate of 2·2 cases per million doses) than in adolescents or young adults.17 Implementation of a large-scale immunisation programme, however, comes with both financial and opportunity costs—for example, diversion of health-care staff and resources could potentially affect the provision of other crucial health-care services, such as routine childhood immunisation programmes. Clinicians and parents must balance the relatively small risks of severe disease outcomes with the relatively small risks that accompany vaccination in children aged 5–11 years. Although many countries continue to actively recommend COVID-19 vaccination for children aged 5–11 years, some countries, such as Sweden, have advised against vaccinating healthy 5–11 year-olds,18 whereas others, such as Norway, have made the vaccine available should parents wish to vaccinate their children.19 With the US Food and Drug Administration authorisation of use of COVID-19 vaccines in children younger than 5 years,20 the same dilemmas are likely to resurface, although with even more marginal risk–benefit ratios. In particular, considering that the global population has been living through the pandemic for more than 2 years and has been exposed to multiple waves of different SARS-CoV-2 variants, governments, policy makers, and clinicians need to urgently address the added value of vaccination—be it primary or boosters—for protection against severe disease outcomes in children who have already been infected by the virus. Above all, public messaging of the risks and benefits of vaccinating children against COVID-19 needs to be clear to encourage public confidence in vaccines and trust in those advocating for vaccination to prevent other, more serious diseases.
PHA urges public to come forward for spring booster of Covid-19 vaccine
The Public Health Agency is asking those with a weakened immune system to book in for their Covid-19 vaccines, warning that the virus "is still out there". All individuals aged 12 years and over who are immunosuppressed are being advised to receive a spring booster dose of the vaccine, typically six months after their last dose. Health officials say the vaccine offers the "best defence against becoming seriously unwell, staying out of hospital and passing on the virus to loved ones and others around you". In an open letter to the public from the PHA, it's been confirmed that the spring booster vaccination programme will shortly be coming to an end.
Modified mRNA COVID shots could increase protection as boosters - EMA
Coronavirus vaccines tweaked to include the Omicron variant strain can improve protection when used as a booster, the European Medicines Agency and other global health regulators said on Friday. Following a meeting on Thursday, the EMA said global regulators had agreed on key principles for updating COVID-19 shots to respond to emerging variants. While the existing coronavirus vaccines continue to provide good protection against hospitalisation and death, the group said, vaccine effectiveness has taken a hit as the virus has evolved.
Community Activities
Muslim pilgrims flock to Mecca for first post-pandemic haj
Thousands of pilgrims started arriving in the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia on Friday, among some one million Muslims expected to attend the 2022 haj pilgrimage season after two years of major disruption caused by the COVID pandemic. Wrapped in white robes, with some carrying umbrellas against the burning desert sun, hundreds performed the first ritual of the haj, which involves walking in a circle around the Kaaba, the sacred building at the centre of Mecca's Grand Mosque
MorseLife, Florida nursing home, pays $1.7 million after giving donors early access to covid vaccines
The text message from the chief executive of MorseLife Health System, a luxury nursing home in West Palm Beach, Fla., was unambiguous. “Of course go after the billionaires first,” the CEO wrote to the facility’s fundraisers in December 2020, explaining who should get priority for scarce coronavirus vaccine shots intended for residents and staffers. He advised: “Do not be weak be strong you have the opportunity to take advantage of everyone who needs the shot and figure out what they have and what we can go after …” “I’ll go for the billions,” he promised. Eighteen months later, MorseLife has agreed to pay $1.75 million to settle claims that it defrauded a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program that sought to steer limited vaccine doses to the most vulnerable Americans in late 2020 and early 2021, according to the Justice Department, which released excerpts of the text messages.
North Korea blames 'alien things' near border with South for COVID outbreak
North Korea claimed on Friday that the country's first COVID-19 outbreak began with patients touching "alien things" near the border with South Korea, apparently shifting blame to the neighbour for the wave of infections in the isolated country. Announcing results of an investigation, the North ordered people to "vigilantly deal with alien things coming by wind and other climate phenomena and balloons in the areas along the demarcation line and borders," the official KCNA news agency said. The agency did not directly mention South Korea, but North Korean defectors and activists have for decades flown balloons from the South across the heavily fortified border, carrying leaflets and humanitarian aid. South Korea's unification ministry, handling inter-Korean affairs, said there was "no possibility" of the virus entering the North through leaflets sent across the border. According to KCNA, an 18-year-old soldier and a five-year-old kindergartner who contacted the unidentified materials "in a hill around barracks and residential quarters" in the eastern county of Kumgang in early April showed symptoms and later tested positive for the coronavirus.
U.S. Supreme Court nixes religious challenge to New York vaccine mandate
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday declined to hear a challenge to New York's mandate that healthcare sector workers be vaccinated against COVID-19 brought by a group of doctors, nurses and others who objected on religious grounds.
Working Remotely
The ‘great resignation’ is pushing companies to offer these remote-work jobs in South Africa
International companies are increasingly outsourcing their skills as working remotely becomes the new norm around the world. In the US, a shortage of applicants to tech companies has led to economic hubs such as Silicon Valley trying something new and offshoring jobs to other countries reports BusinessInsider. As globalisation continues to increase, the ‘great resignation’ is spurring tech companies to move jobs to developing economies.
The return-to-work wars shows the gap between employers and workers
More than two years into the pandemic, organizations are grappling with whether to reopen workplaces. A new Microsoft report says that about half of the leaders it surveyed are looking to end remote work in the next year. Insider spoke with 10 industry leaders who shared why they are embracing remote and hybrid work for the foreseeable future.
Virtual Classrooms
Pandemic learning disruptions could impact transitions to high school, post secondary
Virtual learning created many challenges for students in Canada, and now some are worried the transition to high school or post-secondary education will be even harder.
“The pandemic of distance learning”: How Arab high school students see online‐learning during Covid‐19
Emergency transition to online learning due to Covid-19 created unprecedented challenges in schooling. There is a dearth of information on the perception of Arab high school students and parents regarding the negative effects of online learning during Covid-19. The perceived negative effects by students and parents on several aspects of the transition to online learning such as the technical adjustments, impact on parents, perceptions of learning online versus face to face, pedagogical drawbacks, and psychological effects are described and discussed in light of results of previous studies.
Could more online learning help fix Australia's teacher shortage?
Thousands of teachers went on strike in New South Wales, over pay and unsustainable workloads. This comes amid increasing concerns about teacher shortages around Australia. One option that could free up teacher time, and ensure students are getting the education they need, is “blended” learning, in which some learning is done online and some face-to-face.
Public Policies
Novavax expects COVID vaccine targeting Omicron in fourth quarter
Novavax Inc said on Friday it expects to provide a COVID-19 vaccine targeting Omicron in the fourth quarter as it accelerates development of shots to protect against the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. The U.S. FDA on Thursday recommended COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers change the design of their booster shots beginning this fall to include components tailored to combat the currently dominant Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.
German health minister in move to boost use of COVID treatment Paxlovid
Germany's health minister said on Sunday he will push for more prescriptions of Pfizer's oral COVID-19 antiviral treatment Paxlovid by family doctors to reduce severe cases of the disease. "A system involving family doctors will be prepared to administer this far too rarely-used COVID life saver more routinely," he wrote on Twitter on Sunday, adding that sufficient stockpiles were available.
Pfizer seeks approval from US FDA for Covid-19 treatment
Pfizer has submitted a New Drug Application (NDA) to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seeking approval for Paxlovid (nirmatrelvir tablets and ritonavir tablets) to treat Covid-19 patients at increased disease progression risk. An inhibitor of SARS-CoV-2 main protease (Mpro), Paxlovid is intended to be given orally. Due to the oral form, the therapy can be prescribed in the early infection stage to avert severe illness. Paxlovid received emergency use authorization to treat mild-to-moderate Covid-19 in adults and paediatric patients aged 12 years and above who are at increased disease progression risk.
Russia scraps remaining COVID restrictions
Russia said on Friday it was ending all restrictions to combat the spread of COVID-19, including the requirement to wear masks, citing a steady decline in deaths from the virus. However, it did not rule out re-introducing restrictive measures if the situation deteriorates. Consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor said it was "suspending previously introduced restrictions, including the mask regime, a ban on public catering at night, and a number of other measures".
Maintaining Services
Covid-19 infections in UK jump by more than half a million in a week
Covid-19 infections in the UK have jumped by more than half a million in a week, with the rise likely to be driven by the latest Omicron variants BA.4 and BA.5, figures show. Hospital numbers are also continuing to increase, with early signs of a rise in intensive care admissions among older age groups. A total of 2.3 million people in private households are estimated to have had the virus last week, up 32% from a week earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is the highest estimate for total infections since late April, but is still some way below the record high of 4.9 million seen at the peak of the Omicron BA.2 wave at the end of March.
UK Sees ICU Admissions Rise Among Elderly as Covid Cases Climb
UK hospital admissions linked to Covid are climbing again as omicron subvariants cause new outbreaks across the country. England’s hospital admission rate for the week through June 26 stood at 11.11 per 100,000 people, jumping nearly 40% from 7.98 in the previous week, according to the UK Health Security Agency, with intensive-care cases spreading among older age groups. “We continue to see an increase in Covid-19 data, with a rise in case rates and hospitalizations in those aged 65 years and over, and outbreaks in care homes,” said Mary Ramsay, director of clinical programs at the agency.
Healthcare Innovations
Study determines ideal COVID19 vaccine type, timing during pregnancy
Since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, data has indicated that inoculation during pregnancy can help to protect both the mother and baby. New research collaboratively conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), published in the peer-reviewed Nature Communications, looked further into the extent of this protection by examining which vaccine is most effective, and when.
Two-week break from methotrexate may boost Covid-19 vaccine effect
A two-week break from taking methotrexate after a Covid-19 booster vaccine can help improve its effectiveness, a UK trial has suggested. Analysis of immune responses in 127 participants who were randomly allocated to suspend methotrexate use for two weeks and 127 to continue using it as usual, showed such a difference that researchers stopped the trial early. At four weeks and 12 weeks after the Covid-19 jab, participants’ spike-antibody levels were more than two-fold higher in the paused methotrexate group compared with those who continued to take the drug. Reporting in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, the researcher also found a worsening of disease control at week four in those who had stopped taking methotrexate but that it had normalised by week 12. Overall, there was no impact on quality of life or general health, suggesting the approach could be useful for more than a million people in the UK who take the immune-suppressing drug for inflammatory conditions.