"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 2nd Sep 2022

Isolation Tips
Hong Kong's Lee Gets Nod for Reverse Quarantine Into China
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee has secured China’s support for a “reverse quarantine” program to boost travel into the mainland, after two years of strict Covid curbs thwarted cross-border ties. The city leader said at a Thursday news briefing that officials from neighboring Guangdong province had backed his plan for travelers to first isolate in Hong Kong and then enter China quarantine-free during a virtual meeting. “The main purpose is to first of all alleviate the burden of hotels in the mainland,” he said. “The second goal of this proposal is to ensure that we will have a system to allow a regular flow of people from Hong Kong into Shenzhen.”
China Locks Down Megacity Chengdu as Covid Zero Rolls On
The Chinese metropolis of Chengdu locked down its 21 million residents to contain a Covid-19 outbreak, a seismic move in the country’s vast Western region that has largely been untouched by the virus. The capital of Sichuan province, Chengdu is the biggest city to shut down since Shanghai’s bruising two-month lockdown earlier this year. The move -- which will upend the lives of millions of people and businesses, with repercussions for China’s economy and beyond -- shows the country’s commitment to the Covid Zero approach espoused by President Xi Jinping, despite the disruption it’s causing.
Hong Kong Officials Target End to Hotel Quarantine in November
Hong Kong is targeting an end to hotel quarantine in November, ahead of a summit of global bankers and an international rugby competition, even as a resurgence in Covid-19 cases prompts health officials to push back on the plan, according to people familiar with the debate. Chief Executive John Lee is leaning toward scrapping hotel quarantine before the November events to signal Hong Kong is back in business, despite the objections of some in his administration, the people said. Health Secretary Lo Chung-mau is among those who want to tighten restrictions as cases surge, one person added, on the hope that suppressing cases will lead to the reopening of the mainland border.
Hygiene Helpers
Covid-19 Boosters Targeting Omicron Reviewed by CDC Advisers
Immunization experts advising the federal government recommended newly authorized Covid-19 booster shots, the next step toward making the reformulated doses widely available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted 13 to 1 in two votes on Thursday that anyone who was already eligible for a booster should now get the reformulated shots, which target both the original virus and Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5.
Hong Kong vaccine pass scheme to include 5-11 age group, official confirms
Details of new policy to be announced next week, Dr Chuang Shuk-kwan of the Centre for Health Protection says. Top minister will reveal a major NGO will join the government’s effort to boost inoculation rate among the elderly,
Canada's Ontario allows masked people with asymptomatic COVID in public
Canada's most populous province, Ontario, said on Wednesday that residents can come out of isolation with a mask as soon as 24 hours after their COVID-19 symptoms dissipate, under a strategy to homogenize guidance for all respiratory illnesses. Asymptomatic COVID-positive residents, as well as those who come in contact with an infected person, can go to work or school but they must wear a face mask for 10 days, the Ontario government said.
Community Activities
Nine million foreigners visited Spain in July, near pre-pandemic levels
More than twice as many tourists visited Spain in July than in the same month last year, a number only slightly below pre-pandemic levels, National Statistics Institute data showed on Thursday. The 9.1 million visitors in July spent close to 12 billion euros ($12 billion), more than twice as much as in 2021. Tourism earnings are a significant component of Spain's gross domestic product. Before COVID-19 put a halt to international travel in 2020, Spain received a record number of foreign tourists in 2019, with 9.9 million visiting in July of that year.
U.S. plans to move COVID vaccines, treatments to private markets in 2023
The U.S. government expects its supply of COVID-19 vaccines and antiviral treatments to run out over the next year and is preparing for them to be sold via the commercial market, the Department of Health and Human Services said on Tuesday. President Joe Biden's administration expects to run out of federal funding for buying and distributing COVID-19 vaccines by January, although it has already bought over 170 million doses for a booster campaign later this year, according to a blog post written by Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dawn O'Connell.
Working Remotely
Back to remote? Sea of empty desks prompts jitters in Brussels
Working from home is the new normal in the European Union’s institutions, but not everybody is happy about that. As workers at the European Commission, Council of the EU and European Parliament return from their holidays, many will not be returning to their desks in Brussels’ EU quarter. “Hybrid working” — a combination of remote work and office presence — is one of the few responses to the COVID-19 pandemic that institutions have kept in place. But the home-working trend is fuelling worries that remote working is changing Brussels for the worse.
Bosses say remote work kills culture. These companies disagree.
While many companies transitioned to hybrid work, about 36.5 million people in the United States worked remotely at least five days a week as of early August, according to the Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey. As leaders develop post-pandemic policies, one concern about remote work commonly surfaces: Can a company build and maintain culture if workers are remote? Companies that have been remote pre-pandemic say it’s not only possible but also provides additional flexibility, increased productivity and a competitive edge in hiring. But creating a remote culture takes a shift in mentality, creativity and intentionality, remote companies say.
Virtual Classrooms
More kids are repeating a grade. Is it good for them?
The number of students held back for a year of school has surged around the US. Traditionally, experts have said repeating a grade can hurt kids social lives and academic futures. But many parents, empowered by new pandemic-era laws, have asked for do-overs to help their children recover from the tumult of remote learning, quarantines and school staff shortages.
Student test scores plunged during the pandemic
Test scores in elementary school math and reading plummeted to levels unseen for decades, according to the first nationally representative report comparing student achievement from just before the pandemic to performance two years later. The falloff left little doubt about the pandemic’s toll. The average math score of 234 this year was comparable to the average score recorded in 1999, and the reading score of 215 was similar to the 2004 score. How long it might take to catch up is unclear and not likely to be understood until further test results are analyzed.
Public Policies
EU drug agency recommends approval of Covid vaccine boosters for Omicron
The European Union's drug regulator on Thursday backed two separate Covid-19 vaccine boosters updated to target the Omicron variant and developed by Moderna and the team of Pfizer and BioNTech. Europe is preparing to roll out shots ahead of an anticipated rise in infections this winter. The new so-called bivalent shots combat the BA.1 version of Omicron and the original virus first detected in China. The recommendation is to authorise the vaccines for people aged 12 years and above who have received at least primary vaccination against Covid-19, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said.
Covid-19 booster available in NI in mid-September
Covid-19 booster vaccination programme in Northern Ireland is due to start on Monday 19 September. Care home residents and staff will be among the first to be offered the vaccine.. Many of those receiving the latest booster will get a new vaccine from Moderna,
UK downgrades Covid-19 alert level amid falling cases
The UK’s Covid-19 alert level has been downgraded to level 2, meaning the virus is in “general circulation” but healthcare pressures and transmission are “declining or stable”. The chief medical officers of the UK nations and the national medical director of the NHS in England have jointly recommended that the Covid alert level be moved down from level 3 amid falling cases. They said the Covid-19 wave of the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 was “subsiding”. Rates of Covid have decreased as have the number of severe cases needing hospital care, they added. However, they said further Covid surges were “likely” as they urged people to take up the offer of vaccination. The autumn booster campaign is due to start within days.
Ontario's top doctor drops COVID-19 isolation requirements, expands booster eligibility to kids 5 to 11
Ontario is dropping the mandatory five-day isolation period for those who test positive for COVID-19, the province's top doctor announced Wednesday. The move is part of the province's broader plan to prepare for the fall respiratory illness season, and comes just as Ontario wastewater data is showing a slight uptick in the amount of COVID-19 in the province. Dr. Kieran Moore said the COVID-19 pandemic has moved out of a "crisis phase" and become something that will require long-term management. The seventh wave has crested, he said, but the virus "remains in the community" and Public Health Ontario expects to see an increase in transmission as more people gather inside during the cooler fall months.
UK's COVID-19 inquiry starts work
The public inquiry into the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has started its work in a process that will lead to key government ministers, officials and scientific advisors giving evidence in public. The inquiry will begin to take evidence from witnesses, which are likely to include former health minister Matt Hancock and outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson, early next year, The latest stage of the inquiry’s investigations, known as Module 2, will focus on decisions and announcements made by the UK government between early January and late March 2020 at the start of the pandemic. The Johnson government earned a mixed report card during the pandemic. After being slow to introduce lockdown measures to curb the spread of the first wave of the virus and struggling with shortages of ventilators and personal protective equipment, leading to one of Europe’s highest death tolls, the government then earned praise for the speed of its vaccine rollout programme.
FDA authorizes Moderna and Pfizer's updated COVID-19 booster shots
The US regulator has granted emergency authorization for Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s Covid booster shots that target the highly contagious BA.5 omicron subvariant.
Maintaining Services
Serious Covid case numbers declining
Small waves of new Covid-19 cases are being seen locally and globally but the number of severely ill patients and fatalities is not rising, according to the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration. The number of severely ill patients and fatalities is stable worldwide and has been declining steadily in Thailand, CCSA spokeswoman Sumanee Watcharasin said on Thursday.
Covid-19 booster vaccination roll-out starts in Wales
The autumn Covid-19 booster roll-out has started in Wales as care home residents and staff become the first in line to get their next jab. The vaccine has been made available to all those eligible from September 1 as the Welsh Government looks to keep Covid rates down for the coming winter. Care home residents, frontline health and social care workers and all those aged over 50, will be called for a vaccination by their health boards. Invitations will be issued in order of vulnerability, with everyone eligible being offered a booster vaccine by the end of the year. The vaccines will be administered in a variety of settings including GP surgeries and vaccination centres
Macau plans to gradually reopen the city to foreign travelers
Macau is planning to gradually reopen the city to foreign travellers from certain countries who meet its COVID-19 criteria, its government said on Thursday.
Germany to start Omicron-adapted COVID vaccinations next week - minister
Germany can next week start using COVID-19 vaccines which have been adapted for the Omicron variant and got approval for use in the European Union on Thursday, Health Minister Karl Lauterbach said. He said approval of the BA.1 vaccine was a quantum leap in the fight against the pandemic as vaccines were now available that work well against all previously known virus variants. "From next week, vaccinations can begin with the new doses. Now is the optimal time to close the gaps in vaccination for the autumn," he said in a statement.
Covid-19 booster vaccines offered to healthcare staff and those with health conditions
Healthcare workers and people aged 12 to 49 with long term health conditions have been invited to make an appointment for their second Covid-19 booster jab by the Health Service Executive (HSE). HSE chief clinical officer Dr Colm Henry said appointments are available from Thursday. “We know that those who have long-term health conditions are at greater risk from serious illness from Covid-19,” he said. “Getting a second booster vaccine now will help protect these people, particularly as we come in to the autumn. We are now also calling healthcare workers for their next Covid-19 booster.
Healthcare Innovations
Large Study Confirms COVID Vaccines Safe for Pregnant Women
Pregnant women should feel confident that Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines against COVID-19 are safe, according to a large new study. In fact, pregnant vaccinated women had lower odds of a significant health event, compared with nonpregnant vaccinated women, after both doses of either mRNA vaccination, the researchers reported in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases. This study, done by the Canadian National Vaccine Safety Network, looked at data from patients in seven Canadian provinces and territories between December 2020 and November 2021.