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"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 17th Dec 2020

Isolation Tips
Covid: Minister 'hopes' Christmas relaxations won't lead to January lockdown
A senior Cabinet minister has said he hopes the relaxation of coronavirus rules at Christmas won't lead to a rise in Covid-19 cases that force the UK into another lockdown in January. Robert Jenrick urged the public to be cautious at Christmas, with Boris Johnson confirming at Prime Minister's Questions that the rules would not change, saying all four UK nations had agreed to continue "in principle" with the easing of restrictions. But the communities secretary added that Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty "has been very clear that there are risks of families coming together and people need to be very careful".
Hygiene Helpers
Covid-19: Europeans urged to wear masks for family Christmas
The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged Europeans to wear masks during family gatherings at Christmas. It said Europe was at "high risk" of a new wave of coronavirus infections in the early part of 2021, as transmission of the virus remained high. Countries across the continent have been registering thousands of daily cases and hundreds of deaths. Germany was among countries tightening restrictions on Wednesday, closing schools and non-essential businesses. Meanwhile European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the first Covid vaccine would be authorised for use within a week.
UK medical journals call for Christmas Covid rules to be reversed
Plans to relax Covid restrictions at Christmas must be reversed or many lives risk being lost, according to a rare joint editorial from two of the UK’s most eminent medical journals. That call was echoed by the head of the hospital doctors’ union, who described the government’s plans as “kamikaze”. Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, also urged Boris Johnson to reconsider the restrictions in a letter to the prime minister on Tuesday afternoon. The British Medical Journal and Health Service Journal said the government could no longer claim to be protecting the NHS if it went ahead with its “rash” plans to allow households to mix indoors over Christmas. “We believe the government is about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives,” it says.
Community Activities
TikTok update targets Covid vaccine misinformation
TikTok is cracking down on Covid-19 vaccine misinformation through a suite of new changes aimed at protecting vulnerable users from harmful conspiracy theories. The video-sharing app will introduce a new tool to detect content relating to the Covid-19 vaccine as part of a series of updates being released later this month. From that date, any relevant videos will come with a banner message attached, stating: “Learn more about Covid-19 vaccines.” Coronavirus vaccinations developed by Pfizer and BioNTech began to be administered in the UK last week and have since begun in the US and other countries.
Covid-19: BAME communities urged to accept vaccine
People from BAME backgrounds are being encouraged to accept a Covid-19 vaccine amid concerns that they are less likely to take it up. Thornbury district nurse Genevieve Palmer was given the jab at Kingswood Health Centre in Bristol on Tuesday. She asked communities to take the vaccine "to protect yourself, protect your family and protect everybody." A Royal Society for Public Health survey found that BAME groups were less likely to want the Covid vaccine.
French culture takes centre stage in Covid protest
Hundreds of actors, theatre directors, musicians, film technicians and critics, and many others from the world of French culture gathered in the heart of Paris and other cities on Tuesday to protest against the government's shutdown of culture venues because of Covid-19. Cinemas, theatres, museums and concert halls had been set to reopen, but days in advance Prime Minister Jean Castex announced a change of heart in response to France's stubbornly high infection rate. No reopening will take place now until at least 7 January - a decision Mr Castex said was "particularly painful for us".
Jacinda Arden on how New Zealand eliminated Covid-19: 'You just have to get on with it'
New Zealand this year pulled off a moonshot that remains the envy of most other nations - it eliminated the coronavirus. But the goal was driven as much by fear as it was ambition, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern revealed in an interview with The Associated Press. Ms Ardern said the target grew from an early realisation the nation's health system simply could not cope with a big outbreak.
After experts criticized its approach, Facebook overhauls its Covid-19 misinformation policy
Facebook has overhauled its approach to harmful Covid-19 health misinformation, announcing major changes that would send a much stronger message to users who have interacted with harmful falsehoods about the virus. The decision on Tuesday comes after STAT reported in May on expert criticism of the social network’s handling of falsehoods about Covid-19 from the researchers whom Facebook said it had consulted to design the policy. Those experts told STAT that Facebook appeared to have misinterpreted the research and that the social media platform’s approach was unlikely to be effective.
Unicef to feed hungry children in UK for first time in 70-year history
Unicef has launched a domestic emergency response in the UK for the first time in its more than 70-year history to help feed children hit by the Covid-19 crisis. The UN agency, which is responsible for providing humanitarian aid to children worldwide, said the coronavirus pandemic was the most urgent crisis affecting children since the second world war. A YouGov poll in May commissioned by the charity Food Foundation found 2.4 million children (17%) were living in food insecure households. By October, an extra 900,000 children had been registered for free school meals.
Working Remotely
Will COVID-19 push more employees to work remotely after the pandemic? This economist says yes
Millions of Americans have spent this year working from home, and employers have realized just how smoothly things can get done when they trust their staff to work remotely. But for those fortunate enough to work from home, will COVID-19 have a lasting effect on how we do our jobs? Or will millions of commuters return to cities if and/or when vaccines are made available? A new study by Vanguard has shed some light on the future of work. “Work-from-home arrangements represent a sharp acceleration of a trend that was already under way before COVID-19,” said Joseph Davis, Vanguard global chief economist. “But the big question for the U.S. economy is how many jobs, and what types, could permanently become remote?”
The 9-to-5 workweek may become the '3-2-2' after the pandemic
The traditional 9-to-5 will transform into the '3-2-2' as more employees begin to enjoy and expect work flexibility, predicts Harvard Business School professor Ashley Whillans. The 3-2-2 schedule balance traditional and remote work, where employees work for three days in office, two days remote, and two days off. This structure allows employees to create schedules that work around their everyday lives, which has shown to improve job satisfaction, productivity, and attendance.
Working remotely, state workers drive 1 million fewer miles each week
Maine state employees drove 1.1 million fewer miles and took 17,877 fewer trips every week between April and November by working remotely during the pandemic, recent state surveys have found. Working from home kept 233,103 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the air every week, according to preliminary estimates, reducing total greenhouse gas emissions by 7 million pounds over the 30-week period. The calculations are preliminary, but they are thought to be the first specific metrics in Maine that capture the impact of telework on climate change.
Virtual Classrooms
A Mesquite teacher saw her virtual students struggling — so she came up with a plan
Every school day, Anna Drake logged onto her online learning platform and worried. Drake, who teaches 6th grade reading and writing at Frasier Middle School in Mesquite, saw few virtual students turning in assignments or even showing up for class. With about 40 percent of her students attending school virtually, she knew it would be disastrous if she could not find a way to reach them. So she hatched a simple plan. After school every day, she brings a favorite drink from Sonic and snack to a student’s home, and the two chat outside, with the parent’s permission. Drake is working her way through her entire virtual roster. The plan is working even better than Drake had imagined. None of her virtual students are behind on assignments, an almost complete turnaround from just a few weeks ago.
Public Policies
Biden to get COVID-19 vaccine next week, Pence to receive it Friday
President-elect Joe Biden will get the coronavirus vaccine as soon as next week, transition officials said on Wednesday, as U.S. authorities try to build public confidence in a measure that promises to stanch the deadly pandemic. Vice President Mike Pence will get the vaccine on Friday, the White House said. Both men will receive the shot publicly in an effort to boost confidence in the safety of the vaccine, which will become widely available to the public next year. “I don’t want to get ahead of the line but I want to make sure that we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take,” Biden said at an event earlier on Wednesday. Biden, 78, is in a high-risk category for the coronavirus because of his age.
EU could give final approval for Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Dec. 23
The European Union could give final approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine as early as Dec. 23, a senior Commission official said on Wednesday, only two days after a possible green light from the bloc’s regulator. Under EU rules, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommends the approval of new medicines and vaccines, but the final decision to allow them onto the market is made by the EU executive Commission after consultation with EU governments. The EMA said on Tuesday it could issue a recommendation on the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Dec. 21..
Indonesia pledges free COVID-19 vaccines, with president first in line
Indonesia will provide free coronavirus vaccines to its citizens when the world’s fourth most populous nation starts its inoculation programme, President Joko Widodo said on Wednesday, adding he would get the first shot to reassure people on safety.
Wales imposes fresh Covid lockdown rules from Christmas Eve
Fresh lockdown measures are to be imposed in Wales beginning on Christmas Eve, while the law will be changed to limit Christmas mixing to two households, the first minister, Mark Drakeford, has announced. Amid surging cases, all non-essential shops, plus leisure and fitness centres and close-contact services, will shut at the end of trading on Thursday 24 December. Hospitality premises, including pubs and restaurants, will close from 6pm on Christmas Day. On 28 December, tighter restrictions for household mixing, staying at home, holiday accommodation and travel will apply. This new set of “level 4” restrictions will apply to the whole of Wales.
Coronavirus: Germany faces hard lockdown until Easter as deaths spiral
Germany’s Covid-19 death toll has risen by nearly 1,000 in a single day, leading to speculation that its lockdown could last until Easter. One of the country’s regional chief ministers has warned that the hospital system is for the first time “seriously on the brink of overload” as the infection rate continues to mount and spare intensive care capacity dwindles. This morning the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), which compiles the government’s coronavirus statistics, reported 952 deaths within the previous 24 hours, well above the previous single-day record of 590, which was set on Friday.
'Lock down,' says Italy adviser, as deaths head for wartime levels
An adviser to Italy’s health ministry has called for coronavirus restrictions to be drastically tightened to avoid a “national tragedy” after the national statistics bureau ISTAT said deaths this year would be the highest since World War Two. “We are in a war situation, people don’t realise it but the last time we had this many deaths, bombs were dropping on our cities during the war,” public health professor Walter Ricciardi told the television channel la7 on Tuesday evening. Ricciardi, the adviser to Health Minister Roberto Speranza, said the government, which is considering tightening restrictions over the Christmas and New Year holidays, should lock down the main cities completely.
New Zealand Says Harsh Lockdown Paying Off as Economy Rebounds
New Zealand’s government said the fiscal and economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic will be less severe than first feared as its decision to impose one of the world’s strictest lockdowns pays off. Economic growth will recover more rapidly while budget deficits and net debt will be much lower than expected just three months ago, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said Wednesday in Wellington when presenting the half-year fiscal and economic update. Unemployment will now peak at 6.9% at the end of next year rather than the 7.8% predicted in September
Maintaining Services
Some vaccine doses kept too cold, Pfizer having manufacturing issues, U.S. officials say
The first days of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout have seen unexpected hitches including some vaccines being stored at excessively cold temperatures and Pfizer reporting potential challenges in its vaccine production, U.S. officials said on a Wednesday press call. At least two trays of COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered in California needed to be replaced after their storage temperatures dipped below minus 80 Celsius (minus 112 Fahrenheit), U.S. Army General Gustave Perna said on the call. Pfizer’s vaccines, made with partner BioNTech SE, are supposed to be kept at around minus 70C. Officials are investigating whether storing the vaccines at excessively cold temperatures poses a safety or efficacy risk, he said. Pfizer also has reported some production issues, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said.
Rollout of US COVID-19 vaccines is 'on track' to get 20 million Americans vaccinated this year
The U.S. has delivered coronavirus vaccines to all 50 states since Pfizer's shot was given emergency FDA approval on Friday. Doses have reached all 636 locations slated for the first wave of deliveries. Another 2 million doses of Pfizer's shot will be rolled out next week. If Moderna's shot is given emergency FDA approval this week, as expected, 5.9 million doses of its vaccine will ship out next week. Most states are vaccinating high-risk health care workers only, but Florida and West Virginia have started inoculating nursing home residents. The U.S. is negotiating with Pfizer for another 100 million doses of its vaccine but officials said the firm has been 'unable to specify' how many it can supply.
Prisoners have been excluded from Covid vaccine plans, and health experts are sounding the alarm
As coronavirus cases and related deaths surge, experts are questioning the ethics of how governments plan to distribute the first vaccines. Incarcerated individuals in the U.S. are almost four times more likely to become infected than people in the general population — and twice as likely to die, according to a study by a criminal justice group. “If the biggest hotspots for Covid are prisons, doesn’t it make sense to inoculate everyone from the guards to the prisoners?” said Ashish Prashar, a justice reform advocate at Publicis.
Coronavirus vaccine: More than 18,000 Scots given first dose as weekly updates begin
More than 18,000 Scots have been given a first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, it has been announced, in the first of what will be weekly updates on the Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Coronavirus vaccine: 137,000 people in UK get COVID jab in first week
More than 137,000 people have received a coronavirus vaccine in the UK, it has been announced. Nadhim Zahawi, the minister responsible for the jab's deployment, tweeted that it was a "really good start". In seven days, he said the number of doses administered were: 108,000 in England - 7,897 in Wales - 4,000 in Northern Ireland - 18,000 in Scotland
Covid-19 vaccines to start 'the same day' across EU
The EU's 27 member countries aim to start Covid-19 vaccinations on "the same day" in a sign of unity, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has said. Her statement to the European Parliament came as pressure mounted on the bloc to catch up with the United States and Britain, which have already started inoculating people with a vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech. "To get to the end of the pandemic, we will need up to 70% of the population vaccinated. This is a huge task, a big task. So let's start as soon as possible with the vaccination together, as 27, with a start at the same day," Ms von der Leyen told MEPs.
Bed shortage looms as S.Korea reports record new coronavirus cases
South Korea reported a record daily rise in novel coronavirus cases on Wednesday and the prime minister issued an urgent call for more hospital beds to cope with the country’s worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic. Hospitals were at breaking point with only three critical care beds available in greater Seoul, an area with a population of almost 26 million people, officials said. “The top priority is securing more hospital beds,” Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun told a government meeting, according to a transcript. “Full administrative power should be mobilised so that no patient would wait for more than a day before being assigned to her bed.”
'On the brink': Covid pressure mounts at hospitals in Northern Ireland
When ambulances started queueing outside hospitals across Northern Ireland, revealing a health system overwhelmed by Covid-19, Sean Brophy was not surprised. Weeks earlier the 52-year-old hospital transport worker had himself been hospitalised with the virus and saw how even then the system was cracking under pressure. “When someone died or was discharged the bed was filled within an hour – they were already at capacity. Staff were brilliant but they looked as fatigued as those of us with Covid. It was just wrong. I could see where it was heading,” said Brophy.
Denmark to close shops and shopping malls during Christmas, Ekstra Bladet newspaper reports
Denmark will impose a hard lockdown over Christmas and the New Year to limit the spread of COVID-19, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said on Wednesday. Shopping malls will close starting Thursday, and other stores, with the exception of supermarkets and food shops, will close from Dec. 25. Students still in school will be sent home as of Monday. “Our healthcare system is under pressure,” Frederiksen said. “We have to act now.” Danish authorities expect the coming months to be the worst of the pandemic, she said.
Amazon asks U.S. to include warehouse, grocery staff in vaccine rollout
Amazon.com Inc on Wednesday asked the U.S. government to prioritize essential workers including its warehouse, grocery store and data center staff for receipt of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a letter seen by Reuters. The request shows how the country’s second-biggest private employer, with 800,000 workers in the United States, considers the vaccine important to keeping its staff safe and its facilities open. The U.S. National Retail Federation made a similar request on the industry’s behalf Wednesday as well.
Healthcare Innovations
FDA experts back safety and efficacy of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine
A briefing document published by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has confirmed the safety and efficacy of Moderna’s mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine, paving the way for a potential approval soon. The document, published ahead of tomorrow's FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee Meeting, confirmed that the vaccine has a 94.1% efficacy rate, supporting Moderna’s own findings. The FDA analysis found that although the mRNA-1273 vaccine caused some common adverse reactions, including injection site pain, fatigue, headache, muscle/joint pain and chills, serious adverse reactions occurred in 0.2% to 9.7% of participants.
EU fast-tracks review of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has scheduled an ‘exceptional meeting’ of its Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) on 21 December to review additional data for Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine. The move to bring the review forward comes after the vaccine, BNT162b2, gained approval in the US last week and earlier this month in the UK. The meeting was originally scheduled for 29 December, and the EMA added that this meeting will still take place if needed, but that the CHMP is hoping to conclude the review on 21 December, if possible.
COVID-19: Valneva begins clinical trials for new coronavirus vaccine in UK
Clinical trials have begun in the UK for a new COVID-19 vaccine being developed in Scotland. The UK government has pre-ordered 60 million doses of the Valneva candidate, which is being developed at the French biotech company's facility in Livingston, West Lothian. It is being tested on 150 volunteers at four National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) testing sites in Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle and Southampton.
Rapid Covid-19 home test developed in Australia approved for emergency use in US
A rapid, over-the-counter Covid-19 test developed by Australian firm Ellume has been given emergency approval in the United States. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Brisbane-based company’s 20-minute Covid-19 Home Test on Tuesday as the US battles the virus that has infected 16.5 million people and killed more than 300,000 people in the country. The agency approved a prescription coronavirus test last month, but an over-the-counter product will make it easier to ramp up testing.