"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 22nd Dec 2020
Merry Christmas to all subscribers
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Happy Christmas - Feliz Navidad - Joyeaux Noel - Buon Natalie - Feliz Natal - Frohe Weinachten - Prettige Kerstdagen
Five things I learned about working remotely as an introvert
From boosting your leadership presence to protecting your mental health, now is as perfect a time as any to learn how to truly thrive as an introvert in the remote or hybrid workplace.
Loneliness could worsen as COVID-19 disrupts Christmas, UK charities warn
Tighter restrictions across Britain at Christmas are an “abject disaster” for mental health and could drive many into further isolation, charities said on Monday. Mental health experts and charities warned that loneliness and mental health problems arising from months of lockdowns could worsen as Britain banned millions from meeting after the discovery of a more infectious strain of the coronavirus. “There’s no escaping that it will be a difficult time both in the Christmas period and in January,” said Antonis Kousoulis, director of the Mental Health Foundation, who is researching the impact of COVID-19 on people’s mental health.
Biden to receive coronavirus vaccine as U.S. inoculation effort mounts
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden received his first injected dose of the COVID-19 vaccine live on television on Monday in an effort to boost confidence in its safety ahead of its wide distribution next year. Biden has said he would make the fight against the coronavirus, which has killed more than 315,000 Americans and infected more than 17.5 million, his top priority when he takes office on Jan. 20. At age 78, he is in the high-risk group for the highly contagious respiratory disease.
Austria will offer coronavirus tests to its entire population with those testing negative receiving 'more freedoms' as country prepares for third lockdown
Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced Austria will enter a third lockdown It will run between December 26 to January 24, but will see mass testing done Those who take part in the series of testing will be allowed more freedoms Such freedoms include visiting cultural events and restaurants, Kurz said It was also announced the country will be reopening ski lifts despite lockdown
Inside Oxford's coronavirus vaccine development | Art and design
From a small discovery to producing at scale, photojournalist David Levene documents the groundbreaking work of the scientists of Oxford University during the development of a vaccine which is now poised for approval by medicines regulators
How to Manage Performance Evaluations in the Work-From-Home Era
A performance review, done well, applauds excellent work, delivers beneficial feedback and inspires a feeling of forward momentum. It’s not easy to pull off in the best of times, and as work-from-home drags on, the task can feel even more challenging. Inspiring employees to remain engaged and productive is a growing issue. The number of chief executives who cited employee performance as a top concern shot up to 56 percent in 2020, from 36 percent in 2019, according to research by the Predictive Index, a firm that uses data analytics to help companies with hiring and management decisions.
Why I want to be a digital nomad after working remotely in Barbados
As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the number of digital nomads in the world is on the rise. Before the pandemic, an estimated 3.4% of US employees worked remotely. That figure has now risen to 42%, according to Stanford University. And some remote workers are taking advantage of their new lack of physical office ties to travel the world with their laptops. Countries from Barbados to Georgia are capitalizing on this new trend by launching special visas designed for digital nomads, while also ensuring they manage the spread of the coronavirus.
Why middle managers are feeling the most stressed out during COVID
Plenty of teams have switched to working remotely since March. Now enough time has passed that many are starting to ask: What's actually working? That was the topic of a recent virtual panel presented by Fortune and Slack's Future Forum called "Reimagine Work: New Ways to Lead." Brian Elliott, who leads the Future Forum, said that his company's research showed a stark divide in terms of how different groups of employees are experiencing—and adapting to—remote work. When it came to having stress at work and wrestling with social isolation, "middle managers stood out," he said. According to his company's survey of 9,000 knowledge workers around the globe, middle managers were 91% more likely to say they were having trouble working remotely when compared to individuals and senior executives
Students aren’t showing up for virtual learning. ‘Are they well cared for? Are they safe?’
In virtual school, on any given day in New Jersey, one in four Camden public school students is absent. Nearly 1,700 students, or about 25% of the student enrollment in the state-run district, are not showing up for class, said Superintendent Katrina McCombs. Average daily attendance has fallen during the pandemic from about 92% last year to about 75%. McCombs and state educators who oversee Camden schools want to know why so many kids are missing school. The district has been fully remote since schools were shut down by the coronavirus last spring. “It is something we’re taking very seriously,” McCombs said.
The Grade Depression: more students failing due to virtual learning
Due to restrictions on social distancing, remote or online learning in the U.S. became the logical alternative for many schools. But as the new school year began in August, it became apparent that this new platform was having a negative impact on student’s grades. Randolph County Schools has seen a marked increase in the number of students from third grade through high school and early college who have failed at least one course in the first nine weeks. The district reported 37.2 percent of the student population between third and 12th grade failed at least one course in the first nine weeks of the 2020-2021 school year, compared to 11.1 percent in the same time period the previous year.
Rural P.E.I. students learning English virtually through pilot program
In Canada, an educational pilot program on P.E.I. aims to make learning English more accessible for students in rural parts of the Island by offering classes virtually. The program started this September and offers English as an additional language (EAL) classes to 17 high school students living in rural communities on P.E.I.
Affluent Families Ditch Public Schools, Widening U.S. Inequality
One is thriving after switching from online public school to in-person private education. The other is struggling, stuck in her virtual classroom. The lives of these two girls, Ella Pierick and Afiya Harris, encapsulate the growing divide in U.S. education as more affluent parents flee public schools. In Connecticut, enrollment fell 3%. Colorado reported a similar decline, with the steepest losses in one of its wealthiest counties. Chicago’s rosters dipped 4.1%, the most in 20 years.
US California hospitals discuss rationing care as virus surges
With about 98 percent of intensive care beds full, California hospitals are making contingency treatment plans. On the West Coast of the United States, California’s overwhelmed hospitals are setting up makeshift extra beds for coronavirus patients, and a handful of facilities in hard-hit Los Angeles County are drawing up emergency plans in case they have to limit how many people receive life-saving care. The number of people hospitalised across California with confirmed COVID-19 infections is more than double the state’s previous peak, reached in July, and a state model forecasts the total could hit 75,000 patients by mid-January.
EU regulator meets to discuss approval of COVID-19 vaccine
The European Medicines Agency is meeting to consider approving a coronavirus vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer that would be the first to be authorized for use in the European Union
Latin America nations suspend flights with the U.K. due to 'Super COVID-19 strain' fears
Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru and El Salvador are among the first nations in Latin America to ban flights from the United Kingdom. The decision comes after the U.K. announced a new COVID-19 strain that is 70% more transmissible than existing strains appeared to be driving the rapid spread. U.K. flights are still being allowed into Mexico, where 118,602 people have died of coronavirus Brazil, the epicenter of the pandemic in Latin America, has not announced any measures
Covid-19: More than 40 countries ban UK arrivals
More than 40 countries have banned UK arrivals because of concerns about the spread of a new variant of coronavirus. Flights from the UK are being suspended to countries across the world including Spain, India and Hong Kong. France shut its border with the UK for 48 hours, meaning no lorries or ferries can leave from the port of Dover. Boris Johnson said he spoke with French President Emmanuel Macron and both sides wanted to resolve "these problems as fast as possible". The prime minister told a Downing Street press conference: "We had a very good call and we both understand each other's positions."
'Help is on the way': Covid relief bill deal agreed, says Mitch McConnell
Top congressional leaders have announced agreement on a $900bn coronavirus aid package after late-night discussions on Sunday. “We can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a very long time: more help is on the way,” said Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. “Moments ago, in consultation with our committees, the four leaders of the Senate and House finalised an agreement for another major rescue package for the American people.” McConnell said lawmakers needed to “promptly finalize text” and avoid any last-minute obstacles.
300 Scientists Reveal how Boris Johnson has Locked Britain into a Cycle of Draconian Lockdowns
Without a common European public health roadmap, Britain and other European nations face the prospect of another devastating third COVID-19 wave in early 2021 necessitating a cycle of repeated lockdowns, a statement published in the top British medical journal, the Lancet, signed by 300 European scientists, has warned. The statement is authored by 20 top European public health experts working at some of the most prestigious scientific institutions across Europe on solutions to the pandemic, and continues to receive new signatories from verified scientists. It confirms that, if the UK Government had followed the scientific consensus on public health responses to the pandemic, Boris Johnson could have avoided cancelling Christmas. But the statement also warns that, without a unified continental strategy, “further waves of infection are to be expected, with consequential damage to health, society, jobs, and businesses”.
Report accuses Spain of abandoning elderly during pandemic
An Amnesty International report accuses Spanish health authorities of effectively abandoning residents of nursing homes during the COVID-19 pandemic. The report says people have even been denied access to hospital care. DW's Jan-Philipp Scholz reports
Canada's most populous province makes clear 'hard lock down' needed to fight COVID-19
Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, on Monday announced a partial shutdown of some businesses starting Dec. 26 and banned most indoor gatherings as it struggles to control a second wave of COVID-19. Essential retailers, such as those selling food, will have to impose capacity limits while many other stores will only be allowed curbside pick-ups. Indoor dining is to be banned. “Thousands of lives are at stake,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford told reporters. “If we fail to take action right now the consequences will be catastrophic.” The measures appear to fall short of the immediate four-to-six-week “hard lockdown” that Ontario’s own expert medical panel had called for earlier on Monday.
S.Korea's capital to ban gatherings larger than four as coronavirus deaths rise
South Korea’s capital Seoul and surrounding areas banned gatherings of more than four people over the Christmas and New Year holidays as the country recorded its highest daily death toll from the coronavirus on Monday. The national government has resisted calls to impose a strict national lockdown but the governments of Seoul, Gyeonggi Province and Incheon city ordered unprecedented restrictions on gatherings from Dec. 23 to Jan. 3. “We cannot overcome the current crisis without reducing cluster infections that are spreading through private gatherings with families, friends and colleagues,” Seoul acting mayor Seo Jung-hyup said at a briefing.
Covid: Australian states enforce travel bans amid Sydney outbreak
Australian states and territories have begun enforcing entry bans on Sydney residents amid a growing coronavirus outbreak in the nation's largest city. The border closures outside New South Wales (NSW) have dashed Christmas plans and family reunions for many people. Airlines cancelled several flights leaving Sydney Airport on Monday, following a midnight deadline. The city has recorded 83 cases so far in this outbreak, all linked to Sydney's Northern Beaches region. Speaking from Canberra on Monday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said: "2020 is not done with us yet."
New virus strain not out of control, says WHO as more nations ban UK travel
Roughly 30 countries have shut their borders to people coming from the UK or South Africa, where another variant has emerged. British PM Boris Johnson hopes to see border issues with France sorted out ‘within hours’ amid food shortage fears.
Britain faces isolation as world tightens borders to keep out new coronavirus strain
Countries across the globe shut their borders to Britain on Monday due to fears about a highly infectious new coronavirus strain, causing travel chaos and raising the prospect of food shortages days before Britain is set to leave the European Union. India, Pakistan, Poland, Spain, Switzerland, Sweden, Russia, Jordan and Hong Kong suspended travel for Britons after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a mutated variant of the virus had been identified in the country. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman closed their borders completely. Several other nations blocked travel from Britain over the weekend, including France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Ireland, Belgium and Canada - although experts said the strain may already be circulating in countries with less advanced detection methods than the United Kingdom.
Singapore gets first batch of COVID-19 vaccines - DHL
Singapore received its first batch of COVID-19 vaccines on Monday, said logistics firm DHL, which is involved in the transportation of the shots to the city-state from Belgium. DHL in a statement did not specify the size of the batch or name the vaccines being delivered, but Singapore last week said it had approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine, becoming the first Asian country to do so.
Covid-19: Qatar and Oman to receive vaccine this week
Qatar's health ministry granted emergency use authorisation for the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech and is due to receive the first shipment on Monday, state media reported. A ministry statement said people aged 16 years and above would be eligible. Qatar has also signed an agreement with drugmaker Moderna Inc to buy its vaccine. Fellow Gulf Arab state Oman will receive its first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shipment on Wednesday, a health ministry official said in remarks carried on a government Twitter account on Monday, adding the initial phase would cover 20 percent of the population.
U.S. loses one life every 33 seconds to COVID-19 in deadliest week so far
In the United States last week, someone died from COVID-19 every 33 seconds. The disease claimed more than 18,000 lives in the seven days ended Dec. 20, up 6.7% from the prior week to hit another record high, according to a Reuters analysis of state and county reports. Despite pleas by health officials not to travel during the end-year holiday season, 3.2 million people were screened at U.S. airports on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Health officials are worried that a surge in infections from holiday gatherings could overwhelm hospitals, some of which are already at capacity after Thanksgiving celebrations.
Covid UK: Give NHS staff the vaccine to open up abandoned Nightingales, say health chiefs
NHS staff must start receiving the coronavirus vaccine urgently because so many are off sick, hospital bosses in England have claimed amid fears there are not enough nurses and doctors to open the Nightingale sites. The temporary purpose-built hospitals constructed for £220million to help fight the Covid-19 crisis were hailed at the start of the pandemic as a solution to the growing crisis in hospital capacity across the country. But many are lying empty as doctors and nurses plead with their hospitals to vaccinate them after being told they must wait until early next year because they are a lower priority than the over-80s and those in care homes
Covid: Vaccine clinics operating up to Christmas Eve
In Northern Ireland, vaccination clinics for health and social care workers in priority groups will be operating up to Christmas Eve. The chief medical officer urged those eligible to take up the vaccine offer. About 14,000 people have received the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine in Northern Ireland, including vaccinators, care home residents and care home staff. More vaccine doses arrived in recent days, but Dr Michael McBride said supplies were limited and people would be prioritised in the next few weeks. Staff have been instructed to wait until they are called.
Fifty million people in U.S. to have first COVID-19 shot by end January - Azar
About 50 million people in the United States will have had the first of two COVID-19 shots needed for immunization by the end of January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Monday. Azar was speaking at a press conference on the first day of shots of Moderna Inc.’s vaccine and the roll out of the Pfizer Inc-BioNTech SE vaccine to nursing homes.
UK gives dark glimpse of pandemic’s next act
Despite the initial shock of Britain’s not-so-splendid isolation, the new strain could have some helpful domestic effects. The UK is now spared a five-day period over Christmas that could have exacerbated an already dangerous viral spread. It also acts as a handy stress test of how prepared Britons really are for tangible shortages of goods. Every day 5,000 trucks enter Britain from the continent via the Dover-Calais crossing. In the winter, they carry nearly all Britain’s fresh fruit and vegetables. Retailer J Sainsbury predicted shortages of items like lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower within days. If they happen, Prime Minister Boris Johnson may see the logic of agreeing a post-Brexit trade deal before his Dec. 31 deadline.
Coronavirus: Royal Mail halts deliveries to Europe amid transport turmoil
Royal Mail has halted deliveries to Europe, except for the Republic of Ireland, due to a UK travel ban triggered by the discovery of a new faster spreading coronavirus strain. The company has also added Canada and Turkey to its "on suspension" list due to delays caused by "severely limited" air capacity. In addition, Royal Mail said it could not guarantee special delivery items posted on 23 December would arrive before Christmas due to tighter COVID-19 restrictions being introduced in England.
UK business despairs at new lockdown restrictions
Business groups reacted with despair and anger this weekend as they called for urgent government support to help companies survive “the hammer blow” of UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s clampdown on pre-Christmas trading. A clutch of trade bodies issued pleas for further financial relief to help non-essential retail, leisure and entertainment businesses to cope with a shutdown in high-risk areas in south-east England during a crucial period for sales. The Welsh government also enforced a new national lockdown at the weekend. Specific demands include an extension of the rates holiday for a further 12 months from January, VAT relief and additional direct support for businesses forced to shut their doors.
EMA recommends conditional approval for Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine
The European Medicines Agency’s (EMA) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) has recommended granting Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine a conditional marketing authorisation (CMA) in the EU. Earlier this month, the EMA announced that it had scheduled an ‘exceptional meeting’ of the CHMP on 21 December to review additional data for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Originally, a meeting had been planned for 29 December, but was brought forward as the vaccine gained emergency approvals in the US, UK and other countries.
Regulator clears way for use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Europe
The European Union geared up to start mass vaccinations against COVID-19 just after Christmas after the shot developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech cleared regulatory hurdles on Monday. European Union countries including Germany, France, Austria and Italy have said they plan to start vaccinations from Dec. 27 as Europe tries to catch up with the United States and Britain, where inoculations began earlier this month. Having secured a green light from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the European Commission gave final approval on Monday evening to the EU’s first COVID-19 vaccine.
Inside J&J's Latam COVID vaccine trial, a rush to recruit is followed by disappointment
Earlier this month, Johnson & Johnson abruptly called for an end to enrollment in its coronavirus vaccine trial and told scientists from six Latin American countries to wrap up their work within 48 hours, two researchers told Reuters. The halt was due to J&J’s decision, announced later on that same day on Dec. 9, to cap the number of participants at about 40,000 people globally, down from a previous plan for 60,000. The drugmaker said that a surge in coronavirus cases in the areas it was testing would give it enough data to vet the vaccine.
NIH to Study Allergic Reactions Linked to Covid-19 Shots
The National Institutes of Health plans to begin a clinical trial that aims to help doctors “predict and manage” allergic reactions related to Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said during a Monday news briefing that the aim of the trial, which will also study the Moderna Inc. shot just authorized for emergency use, will be to pinpoint why the incidents, known as anaphylaxis, are occurring. During the briefing, Slaoui also addressed a new variant of the virus seen in the U.K., saying it’s no more dangerous than other strains and that there is “no hard evidence” it is more transmissible. Getting the data to determine that, he said, will take weeks.
Healthcare workers who breastfeed should be offered the covid-19 vaccine
The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has advised that no breastfeeding woman should receive the Pfizer-BioNTech covid-19 vaccine. NHS Trusts have interpreted this as a blanket-ban. The decision disregards an individual’s particular level of exposure to the virus or her likelihood of developing a severe form of the disease. The MHRA’s stance, and associated restrictions around pregnancy, could undermine efforts to achieve high levels of vaccination, and worsen the UK’s already low breastfeeding rates. Breastfeeding women have been excluded from the Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Moderna vaccine trials. To date, no plausible biological mechanism for how an inactivated, recombinant vaccine would cause harm to a breastfed baby has been proposed.  However, any data gap leaves open a possibility of risk. Yet men who are trying to conceive can be vaccinated, even though no data exists about the vaccine’s effect on spermatogenesis. Regarding lactation, theoretical risk must be weighed against the established benefits of acquiring immunity to covid-19 and of continued breastfeeding.
BioNTech confident COVID-19 vaccine effective against new UK mutation
BioNTech Chief Executive Ugur Sahin said on Monday he was confident a COVID-19 vaccine co-developed by his company would be effective against a variant of the coronavirus that has emerged in Britain. He said on Bild TV that the German company would investigate the mutation in the coming days but that he viewed the matter with “with a degree of soberness”.
What you need to know about the new variant of coronavirus in the UK
Many countries have closed their borders to people leaving the UK due to the rapid spread within the country of a new variant of the coronavirus that might be more transmissible. Meanwhile, South Africa is also reporting the spread of another new variant. Here’s what you need to know. What do we know about the new UK variant so far? B.1.1.7, as it’s known, has 17 mutations compared with the original SARS-CoV-2 virus first discovered in Wuhan, China, including eight that may change the shape of the outer spike protein. Many of these mutations have been found before, but to have so many in a single virus is unusual. It was first sequenced in the UK on 20 September, but only caught the attention of scientists on 8 December, when they were looking for reasons for the rapid growth of cases in southeast England. On 14 December, the UK’s health minister, Matt Hancock, told parliament that a new variant that seems to spread faster had been identified.