"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 1st Aug 2022

Isolation Tips
Serious self-harm in young people jumped during strict COVID-19 lockdowns - study
Serious self-harm among young people jumped during strict COVID-19 lockdowns, new research shows. The study found that boys needing urgent support from emergency services doubled, and then tripled for children in care. Meanwhile, girls continued to be over-represented in self-harm figures, researchers said. It comes after another study suggested that people living in poverty are more likely to suffer with long COVID. Psychiatrists have called for more funding and development of community mental health services due to the findings, which have been published in the Royal College of Psychiatrists' BJPsych Open
Shanghai's Baoshan district orders lockdown on some steel warehouses
A district in China's financial hub of Shanghai has ordered a three-day lockdown of some of its steel warehouses from July 26 after a residential neighborhood in the district was classified as high risk following the detection of a coronavirus case there. Three out of six warehouses in the Baoshan district that Reuters contacted said they were required to enter a "closed-loop" system with no staff or materials allowed in or out of the warehouses. Operations inside the warehouses, however, are running normally.
Hygiene Helpers
Inside the super-secure Swiss lab trying to stop the next pandemic
The setting is straight from a spy thriller: Crystal waters below, snow-capped Swiss Alps above and in between, a super-secure facility researching the world's deadliest pathogens. Spiez Laboratory, known for its detective work on chemical, biological and nuclear threats since World War Two, was tasked last year by the World Health Organization to be the first in a global network of high-security laboratories that will grow, store and share newly discovered microbes that could unleash the next pandemic.
Netherlands to offer more COVID-19 boosters in September
Seeking to head off a fall COVID-19 surge, the government of the Netherlands said Friday that everyone age 12 years and over would be eligible for a vaccine booster shot in a campaign expected to start in September. The Dutch health ministry said in a statement that an advisory panel of experts recommended the new round of vaccinations “to maintain protection against serious illness and death, to ensure access to health care” and to prevent problems caused by issues such as staff shortages. The booster shots will be with updated vaccines if they are proven to offer better protection against new mutations of the coronavirus — and if the vaccines have received approval from the European Medicines Agency.
How long-term Covid-19 immunity paves the way for universal Covid-19 vaccines
In recent months, scientists have also learned that the immune cells that provide lasting protection — known as memory B cells and T cells — can keep the worst effects of the most recent versions of the virus at bay, even if they were trained to corral older strains of SARS-CoV-2. Vaccine researchers are expanding their focus from antibodies to these memory immune cells as the new discoveries open a path toward universal coronavirus vaccines. Universal vaccines, however, are still a long way off — possibly years — drawing on approaches never used before. “That’s a scientific challenge,” said Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, during the summit.
If you're high risk, do not wait for updated COVID vaccines, experts say
People at high risk of severe disease who have yet to get a second COVID-19 booster should not wait for next-generation, Omicron-targeted vaccines expected in the fall, five vaccine experts told Reuters. In many countries, including the United States, the BA.5 Omicron subvariant of the virus is surging, but current vaccines continue to offer protection against hospitalization for severe disease and death.
LA Holds Off Reimposing Mask Mandate as Covid Cases Fall
Los Angeles held off reimposing a universal indoor masking mandate as new Covid-19 infections and hospitalizations begin to go down. Local public health officials have been warning for the past two weeks that a mask mandate may be reinstated, after the county surpassed 10 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents and entered a “high” community alert level. However, officials decided to pause a masking order as fresh county-level data indicate the community is likely entering a lower transmission threshold, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer told reporters Thursday.
Community Activities
How the Covid-19 Pandemic Changed Americans’ Health for the Worse
The ripple effects of the Covid-19 pandemic’s influence on nearly every aspect of health in America are becoming clear. Covid-19 has killed more than one million people in the U.S., a toll mounting by some 350 people a day. A range of other chronic diseases and acute threats to health also worsened during the pandemic, data show, as people missed screenings, abandoned routines and experienced loss and isolation. “In addition to just the terrible burden of a million Americans dying, there are other repercussions from the pandemic that we need to address,” said Chrissie Juliano, executive director of Big Cities Health Coalition, an organization of city health officials.
Rise of Omicron subvariants sends UK staff absence soaring
“I visited the Butler’s Wharf Chop House earlier this week and when I asked about our general manager he was off with Covid,” said the D&D boss, who oversees 2,000 staff in outlets across the UK, France and US. For Gunewardena, the latest round of pandemic-induced shortages have compounded an already tough market. The number of people going off sick has “gone up considerably,” he said, “piling on the problems that our London restaurants have already faced from a 10% staff shortage, the heatwave during which we lost 30% of our business and the £1m we lost in the week of rail and tube strikes”. The rapid spread of Covid-19 infections in the past month has sent the number of workers taking sick leave soaring, according to official figures, making staff shortages even worse and forcing many employers to shut down parts of their business.
Over Half of Brits Receive More in Benefits Than They Pay in Tax During Pandemic
More than half of Britons received more in welfare than they paid in tax last year as the government response to the pandemic drove a big reduction in inequality, according to the Office for National Statistics. A value-added-tax cut, increased spending on welfare and health, and a steep reduction in household consumption meant that 54.2% of individuals took more support from the state than they contributed in the first year of the pandemic to March 2021. The ONS said it was “both the greatest proportion and the largest annual increase” since records began in 1977. In 2020, 47.5% were net recipients. Income support programs, such as furlough, were not a benefit.
Covid Leaves Some 5% of People With Faulty Sense of Smell, Taste
Losing the sense of smell and taste has become a hallmark of coronavirus infection. But a new study finds that the problem persists in some 5% of patients, disrupting their everyday lives and providing yet another set of symptoms to chalk up to long Covid. The scientists drew their conclusion after reviewing 18 studies involving more than 3,600 patients. The findings mean that as many as 15 million patients may be affected worldwide, they said in a paper published Thursday in the UK medical journal BMJ. Women were less likely to recover than men, the research found, as were patients whose symptoms were strongest or who had nasal congestion. Overall, most patients regained their sense of smell and taste within three months.
Working Remotely
Working from home ‘considerably more effective’ than masks on children
A pandemic adviser to the federal government says people should work from home if they can and warned employers not to expect their COVID-infected staff to continue working while ill. Professor Jodie McVernon, one of Australia’s most influential epidemiologists, said workplaces had long been shown to be catalysts for COVID-19 spread through the community and if it was possible for people to work from home during the current wave, it was a “sensible thing to do”.
Four reasons the shift to hybrid working is set to stay for young professionals
Before the pandemic, employees in their 20s were by far the least likely to work from home. In 2022, 64% of 16 to 24-year-olds we surveyed reported working at home for at least part of the week. This figure is in line with 25 to 49-year-olds (65%) and in fact higher than for people over 50 (48%). Other research also shows that young professionals now engage in hybrid working – dividing their time between their home and their workplace – and may prefer this model to being in the office full time.
'Desk-based social work that can be done from anywhere': Ofsted issues warning over remote working
Remote working practices introduced during Covid are putting the quality of social work practice at risk, Ofsted has warned. The inspectorate particularly highlighted the practice of people working remotely for employers many miles away and raised concerns about the impact on peer support and learning of remote working, in a report this week on recovering from Covid.
Virtual Classrooms
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology to launch virtual reality lessons with metaverse campus
The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) will launch a virtual reality classroom as part of its bigger plan to create a campus in the metaverse to promote immersive learning. During the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom became an alternative educational tool for schools in Hong Kong, but learning in the metaverse is a better option as the videoconferencing platform had become boring and less interactive.
Ontario pledges tutoring, mental health support for students during coming school year
The Ontario government announced its Plan to Catch Up, which includes a return to in-person learning, with extracurricular activities like sports and field trips. The province is also launching a large-scale tutoring program, enhanced summer learning, and improved mental health supports for students who are returning to classrooms.
Public Policies
Covid Booster: US to Buy $1.7 Billion of Moderna Omicron-Specific Vaccine (MRNA)
Moderna Inc. said it secured a $1.74 billion contract to supply the US government with its new omicron-specific vaccine. The deal is for 66 million doses of a new booster that includes the existing shot as well as components targeting omicron subvariants of the Covid-19 virus. The agreement also allows the government to purchase another 234 million doses of the company’s booster shots in the future. “Moderna’s mRNA platform is enabling us to rapidly create mRNA-1273.222, a bivalent vaccine that specifically targets omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, the most prevalent variants of concern in the US today,” Stephane Bancel, the company’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.
UK Pays Lenders £352 Million So Far to Cover Virus Loan Losses
The UK has paid lenders £352 million ($429 million) to cover losses so far on virus loans to small businesses, a number that’s likely to grow further with £1.6 billion of further claims lodged by the lenders at the end of March. Metro Bank Plc, which lent a total of £1.4 billion under the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, has received £122 million as of March 31 after claims for 3,015 loans were processed and payment released, according to a report published Thursday. Barclays Plc received £88 million and Starling Bank £61 million. The £352 million represents about 0.7% of the 1.5 million loans at the end of March. About 3.2% are in the claimed stage, 4% of the loans are in default and 7.4% are in arrears, the data shows.
Pfizer and BioNTech initiate phase 2 study of ‘enhanced’ COVID-19 vaccine
Pfizer and BioNTech have initiated a phase 2 study evaluating a new version of the COVID-19 vaccine that the companies hope will better protect against the virus. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162b5, consists of RNAs encoding ‘enhanced’ prefusion spike proteins for the SARS-CoV-2 wild-type strain and an Omicron variant, with the aim of increasing the magnitude and breadth of the immune response. The vaccine candidate will be evaluated in a US-base study, enrolling around 200 participants aged 18 to 55 who have already received one booster dose at least 90 days prior to their enrolment in the study. The participants will be divided into subgroups based on the number of months since their last dose. The study does not include a placebo. BNT162b5 is the first of multiple vaccine candidates with an enhanced design, the companies stated, representing their long-term COVID-19 vaccine strategy to overcome the relatively short-lived immune response seen with their first-generation vaccine, BNT162b2.
Maintaining Services
Government's slow COVID-19 response worsened health inequalities, warns BMA
The final instalment of a BMA review that will be submitted to the public inquiry on the pandemic also said that disabled people across the UK were more likely to die of COVID-19 than non-disabled people, and also to experience worse mental health. The BMA said the UK entered the pandemic ‘on the back foot’ because of underfunding of public health and an absence of cross-government accountability exacerbating health inequalities. BMA chair Professor Philip Banfield blamed the tardiness of the government’s response to COVID-19 for worsening health inequalities.
Covid-19 infections drop for first time in two months
Covid-19 infections in the UK have dropped for the first time in two months, though prevalence of the virus remains high, new figures show. It is the first time total infections have fallen since the week ending May 28 and is the biggest sign so far that the current wave may have peaked. This comes as the number of hospital patients with Covid-19 has also started to fall. Estimates suggest 3.2 million people in private households in the UK have had the virus in the week to 20 July, down 16% from 3.8 million in the previous week, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). However, infections are not on a clear downwards trend in all parts of the country.
COVID infections fall in New Zealand, worst case scenario likely avoided
New Zealand's government said on Wednesday new COVID-19 cases were trending down and it looked likely the country would avoid a feared worst-case scenario of 20,000 infections daily. In the last seven days there were on average 8,111 new cases daily of COVID, down from a seven-day rolling average of 9,367 new cases in the week prior, according to Health Ministry data released on Wednesday. Currently 808 people were in hospital with COVID, which was also a lower number than earlier, data showed.
Japan urges regions to mount COVID fight as variant spreads
Japan is encouraging regional authorities to take steps to contain a new coronavirus variant that has sent cases to record levels, but there is no plan for sweeping national measures. A seventh wave of COVID-19 pushed the daily tally of new cases in Japan to a record 233,094 on Thursday as the BA.5 variant spreads, putting pressure on medical services and disrupting some company operations. Japan has never imposed national lockdowns on the scale of some other countries and has instead periodically asked people to stay at home as much as possible and limited the opening hours of restaurants and bars.
Japan's factory output zooms as China eases COVID curbs
Japan's factories ramped up output at the fastest pace in more than nine years in June as disruptions due to China's COVID-19 curbs eased, a welcome sign for policymakers hoping the economic outlook will improve. Separate data showed retail sales rose for the fourth straight month in June, supporting the view that rising consumption helped the economy return to growth in the second quarter after contracting in January-March
Healthcare Innovations
Reinfection, severe outcome more common with BA.5 variant; virus spike protein toxic to heart cells
The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that has yet to be certified by peer review. Reinfections, severe outcomes may be more common with BA.5. Compared with the earlier Omicron BA.2 subvariant, currently dominant Omicron BA.5 is linked with higher odds of causing a second SARS-COV-2 infection regardless of vaccination status, a study from Portugal suggests.