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"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 5th Jan 2021

Isolation Tips
How to be a successful remote employee
In the US, many offices remain closed in anticipation of vaccine distribution, and a significant number of people who acclimated to working from home during the pandemic will decide to stick with it indefinitely. That makes it more important than ever for companies and employees to get remote onboarding right.
Hygiene Helpers
Australia's largest state reports zero COVID cases, urges thousands to get tested
Australia’s most populous state New South Wales (NSW) on Monday reported zero local coronavirus cases for the first time in nearly three weeks, as Sydney battled multiple outbreaks and authorities urged tens of thousands of people to get tested. NSW daily testing numbers have dropped to around 20,000 in the last two days from a peak of about 70,000 recorded on Christmas Day, Dec. 25. The overwhelming majority of tests are in the state capital Sydney. “The numbers are far too low... if we’re going to succeed in staying ahead of the COVID pandemic, testing is crucial in large numbers so we can be confident of the data when we’re making decisions,” NSW Acting Premier John Barilaro told reporters.
China giving COVID-19 vaccine to 50 million in a month, Israel vaccinating so fast it's running out of vaccine
China is aiming to administer the first dose of the vaccine to 50 million people before Jan. 15 and the second shot by Feb. 5. Lunar New Years festivities begin on Feb. 11. Health officials in Israel are working to secure more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine as the country has inoculated a higher proportion of its population than any other country and is running low on supply.
Five key milestones in the Covid-19 pandemic that we’re anticipating in 2021
If 2020 was defined by the explosion of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, 2021 could be about its dwindling. But how many people will fall ill, and die, as that happens is dependent on our leaders, individuals, vaccine makers, and public campaigns to encourage people to get the Covid-19 shots developed with unprecedented speed. STAT News publishes its forecast regarding what to anticipate for the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021
Community Activities
Cambodia reopens schools and museums as others lock down
Cambodia has started reopening schools and museums as it relaxes a six-week lockdown following a coronavirus outbreak late last year, marking a contrast with some neighbouring countries that are facing new restrictions due to rising COVID-19 cases. The Southeast Asian country of just over 16 million people, one of the least impacted by the novel coronavirus with just 382 infections and no deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, saw a rare cluster of cases in November. On Monday, students wearing masks lined up for temperature checks and hand washing before being allowed to enter the Sovannaphumi primary school in the capital Phnom Penh.
Working Remotely
Who has to work from home now and how strictly will it be enforced? Office workers are only allowed to go in if it is 'essential'
Boris Johnson has plunged England into a third national lockdown. However, the criteria on who can stay out of the office has caused some confusion with the exception applying only to people who 'absolutely cannot work from home'. The Government's official website states this category includes - but is not limited to - 'people who work within critical national infrastructure, construction or manufacturing that require in-person attendance'.
Virtual Classrooms
Ontario students return to virtual school as part of lockdown measures
Students across Ontario returned to the virtual classroom Monday as part of a provincewide lockdown. The measure ends for all students in northern Ontario and elementary students in southern Ontario after the first week back from winter break. High schoolers in southern Ontario will continue online learning until Jan. 25.
Schools’ shift to online learning now more ‘meaningful’, says education director
In Canada, all elementary and secondary school students in Chatham-Kent and Sarnia-Lambton began online classes on Monday as part of the province-wide shutdown. Lessons will be more “meaningful” than back in March when students first had virtual classes during the COVID-19 pandemic, said the directors of education for the two largest local school boards. “This is different than in the spring,” said John Howitt, director of education with the Lambton Kent district school board. “Programming is continuing and students are expected to be online. “Teachers will be online supporting them for up to 75 per cent to 80 per cent in the junior, intermediate and senior grades. In the kindergarten, about 50 per cent of the day there will be live interaction.”
Public Policies
New York to fine hospitals that fail to deploy COVID-19 vaccine within a week -governor
New York state will begin fining hospitals that do not administer allotted COVID-19 vaccines within a week of receiving their supplies and will decline to provide them with further doses, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a news conference on Monday. The U.S. federal government has distributed more than 13 million vaccine doses to states and territories around the country, but only around 4 million have actually been administered, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last updated on Saturday. New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker notified hospitals of the potential actions in a letter on Sunday, Cuomo told reporters.
Covaxin: Concern over 'rushed' approval for India Covid jab
Experts have raised concerns over India's emergency approval of a locally-produced coronavirus vaccine before the completion of trials. On Sunday, Delhi approved the vaccine - known as Covaxin - as well as the global AstraZeneca Oxford jab, which is also being manufactured in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi touted the approval as a "game changer". The head of Bharat Biotech, which makes Covaxin, defended the approval process, but health experts warn it was rushed. It said that there were "intense concerns arising from the absence of the efficacy data" as well a lack of transparency that would "raise more questions than answers and likely will not reinforce faith in our scientific decision making bodies". The statement came after India's Drugs Controller General, VG Somani, insisted Covaxin was "safe and provides a robust immune response". He added the vaccines had been approved for restricted use in "public interest as an abundant precaution, in clinical trial mode, to have more options for vaccinations, especially in case of infection by mutant strains".
Boris Johnson warns of tougher Covid-19 restrictions for England
Boris Johnson has put England on alert for tougher Covid-19 restrictions and possible further school closures as ministers raced to deploy a vaccine ahead of a chaotic return to the classroom. The UK prime minister’s plan to reopen most primary schools in England on Monday morning was in disarray, with unions and some councils calling for them to remain closed and some schools shutting their doors unilaterally. In an attempt to regain control of the pandemic response, ministers have now deployed more than 5,000 armed forces personnel to the UK-wide pandemic effort — Britain’s biggest ever homeland operation in peacetime.
As post-holiday infections surge, Lebanon gears for lockdown
Lebanon will begin a 25-day nationwide lockdown Thursday to battle a surge in coronavirus infections during the holiday season that has challenged the country’s already battered health care sector
Catalonia imposes perimetral lockdown in municipalities in bid to slow coronavirus spread
The Catalan regional government on Monday approved new restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus. The new plan will see a perimetral lockdown for municipalities, preventing movement between them, as well as the closure of shopping malls and other non-essential stores. The measures will come into force on Thursday, January 7 – the day after a national holiday for Kings’ Day.
Coronavirus pandemic: Scotland to impose lockdown for rest of January
Scotland is to impose a nationwide coronavirus lockdown for the rest of January because of a surge in cases, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Monday. FRANCE 24's International Affairs Editor Philip Turle tells us more.
Japan PM says government will consider state of emergency for Tokyo area
Japan said on Monday it would consider declaring a state of emergency for the Greater Tokyo metropolitan area as coronavirus cases climb, casting fresh doubt over whether it can push ahead with the Olympics and keep economic damage to a minimum.
UK's Johnson to outline new restrictions to slow COVID-19
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday a new national lockdown for England until at least mid-February to combat a fast-spreading new variant of the coronavirus, even as Britain ramped up its vaccination program by becoming the first nation to start using the shot developed by Oxford University and drugmaker AstraZeneca. Johnson said people must stay at home again, as they were ordered to do so in the first wave of the pandemic in March, this time because the new virus variant was spreading in a “frustrating and alarming” way. “As I speak to you tonight, our hospitals are under more pressure from COVID than at any time since the start of the pandemic,” he said in a televised address.
Covid-19: New UK virus variant reaches NZ as Government introduces tougher testing rules for travellers
The mutant coronavirus strain that sent large parts of England into a “tier 4" lockdown earlier this month has reached New Zealand. There were 19 new cases of Covid-19 within New Zealand since the New Year. Of the new cases announced on Sunday, one was historical and the rest were in managed isolation. However, six cases of the mutant UK strain have also been found in New Zealand, the Ministry of Health confirmed. The six cases, five of whom travelled from the United Kingdom and one who travelled from South Africa, arrived into New Zealand between December 13 and 25.
Why Indonesia is vaccinating its working population first, not elderly
As Indonesia prepares to begin mass inoculations against COVID-19, its plan to prioritise working age adults over the elderly, aiming to reach herd immunity fast and revive the economy, will be closely watched by other countries. Several countries such as the United States and Britain that have already begun vaccinations are giving priority to elderly people who are more vulnerable to the respiratory disease. The following are experts’ views on merits and risks of the Indonesian approach, under which working age adults will be vaccinated after frontline health workers and public servants.
Austria extends lockdown for another week until Jan. 24 - APA
Austria has scrapped plans to allow anyone with a negative coronavirus test to exit lockdown a week early, effectively extending strict measures and keeping restaurants and non-essential stores shut until Jan. 24, news agency APA reported on Monday. The decision came after Austria’s opposition parties blocked a draft law that would have allowed an early exit from lockdown for anyone producing a negative test for the coronavirus, APA cited Health Minister Rudolf Anschober as saying.
Maintaining Services
First NHS staff in the region receive the Oxford AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine
Frontline NHS staff in South Tyneside and Sunderland are among the first in the region to receive the newly approved Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. Tracy Barnett from the South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust’s Community Stroke Team was the very first to be vaccinated at South Tyneside District Hospital today.
Moderna raises production goal of its coronavirus vaccine from 500 to 600 million by the end of 2021
On Monday, Moderna Inc said it will produce a minimum of 600 million coronavirus vaccine doses in 2021. This is 20% higher that the 500 million doses the firm said it would be able to manufacture by year's end. So far, Moderna has distributed 18 million doses of the 200 million it has promised the federal government. The vaccine rollout in the U.S. has been very slow, with just 4.2 million people receiving shots, short of the 20 million the Trump administration hoped for
Houston's free COVID-19 vaccination clinic sees overwhelming public response
Houston's free COVID-19 vaccination clinic was met with overwhelming response. At least 1,000 people received the much-anticipated Moderna vaccine at Houston's first free public COVID-19 vaccination clinic,
Covid-19: The areas in England seeing a surge in cases and hospital patient numbers
Covid-19 case rates are increasing in all parts of England and the prime minister has warned there is "no question" tougher measures are needed to control the virus. NHS hospitals are under increasing pressure with a rising number of coronavirus patients requiring care. Most areas around the country are reporting a record number of Covid-19 patients in hospital, beyond the peaks seen in April. Here's a rundown of the case rate in your area and the number of Covid patients in your local hospitals.
NYC is only handing out COVID-19 vaccine shots during 'business hours'
Cuomo said on Monday that his state has administered almost 300,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses - or about 46 percent of its allocation - in the last three weeks The latest CDC data, however, shows that New York state has administered 236,941 of its 774,075 distributed doses. In New York City, 110,241 of 443,000 vaccine doses have been administered since vaccinations started three weeks ago Gov Andrew Cuomo on Monday said hospitals will be fined $100,000 if they fail to use up their dose allocations by the end of the week. Facilities now also must use up their vaccine allocations within seven days going forward or risk being allowed to receive any future doses. NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio said he expects the city to administer 400,000 doses per week by the end of the month with 250 new vaccine sites set to open. NYC Councilman Mark Levine has slammed the current rate of vaccine distribution, saying shots need to be handed out 24/7
US may cut Covid vaccine doses by half to speed up rollout
The federal government of US is thinking about reducing Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine dosages to half to some people in order to speed up the vaccine rollout amid concerns intensifying that the distribution drive is slower than expected. Moncef Slaoui, head of Operation Warp Speed, an initiative to accelerate coronavirus vaccine efforts, said Moderna vaccine’s single shot to people between the age group 18-55 gives “identical immune response” to the recommended two injections dose. He said that the officials are in discussion with Moderna and the Food and Drug Administration.
Lockdown in Wales could remain in place until the end of January
A review of the Level 4 lockdown restrictions in Wales is due to be held this week, but First Minister Mark Drakeford has warned that there is not "much headroom for change". The restrictions, which has seen people being told to stay at home and avoid all but essential travel, have been in place since Sunday, December 20 and are reviewed every three weeks. All non-essential shops, gyms and hospitality were also told to close. Ministers are to review restrictions this Thursday ahead of an announcement on Friday, January 8. It is likely that not much will change, and with the next review not for another three weeks it means the lockdown could extend to the end of January. But Mark Drakeford said in a BBC interview that it was "very hard to see where the room for manoeuvre is at the moment" with the NHS "under huge pressure".
France ramps up Covid-19 vaccination programme as slow start sparks anger
France is overhauling its Covid-19 immunisation campaign after a cautious, phased strategy aimed at placating the world’s most vaccine-sceptical population fell flat in its first week. The country has only vaccinated some 350 people to date — compared with the UK’s 1m and Germany’s 238,000 — although the government has received 500,000 doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine and will get a similar amount each week in January. The situation is piling pressure on President Emmanuel Macron and risks sparking another political fight over how the government has managed the pandemic. Opposition politicians have criticised the government over how it bungled mask supplies and struggled to roll out mass testing last year.
Education unions call for ‘pause’ in school reopenings as councils defy government
Half a dozen unions representing teachers and support staff have called on the government to "pause" its "chaotic" reopening of schools, as councils across the country move to defy ministers. Local authorities in some areas of England say they will unilaterally keep their primary schools shut, ignoring orders from Whitehall on public health grounds. Conservative-controlled Essex is among local authorities to recommend the continued closure of its primary schools, despite government designs that some would reopen as planned on Monday.
New death risks noted in nursing home residents with COVID-19
Older age, male sex, and physical and cognitive impairments were linked to higher death rates from any cause in 5,256 residents at 351 US nursing homes, according to a study published today in JAMA Internal Medicine. Led by researchers at Brown University, the cohort study involved mining the electronic health records, daily infection logs, and minimum data sets of resident assessments from a large chain of nursing homes in 25 states from Mar 16 to Sep 15, 2020. By 30 days after their first positive COVID-19 test result, 1,129 of the 5,256 residents (21%) had died from any cause.
Healthcare Innovations
UK's decision to delay second Covid vaccine shot reluctantly endorsed by advisers
The U.K.’s independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said in a statement published Sunday that it was a “very difficult and finely balanced decision” but it endorsed the U.K. government’s move to pursue coverage of as high a proportion of the population as possible. However, it said the change of policy must be accompanied by several other measures. Germany’s health ministry on Monday sought the advice of an independent vaccination commission on whether to follow in the U.K.’s footsteps.
Germany mulls delaying second COVID-19 vaccine shot, Denmark approves delay
Germany was weighing on Monday whether to allow a delay in administering a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from BioNTech and Pfizer to make scarce supplies go further, after a similar move by Britain last week. Separately, Denmark approved on Monday a delay of up to six weeks between the first and second shots of the vaccine. In Berlin, the health ministry was seeking the view of an independent vaccination commission on whether to delay a second shot beyond a current 42-day maximum limit, according to a one-page document seen by Reuters on Monday.
South Africa testing whether vaccines work against its variant
Scientists in South Africa are urgently testing to see if the vaccines for COVID-19 will be effective against the country s variant virus. The genomic studies come as Britain’s health minister, Matt Hancock and other experts in the U.K. have said they worry that vaccines may not be effective against the South African variant. “This is the most pressing question facing us right now,” said Dr. Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases expert who is working on the country's genomic studies of the variant. “We are urgently doing experiments in the laboratory to test the variant," against the blood of people with antibodies and against the blood of people who have received vaccines, Lessells told The Associated Press Monday.
Experts Debate Wisdom of Delaying Second COVID-19 Vaccine Dose
The two experts state that supply constraints, distribution bottlenecks, and hundreds of thousands of new infections daily prompted them to change their stance on administering COVID-19 vaccines according to the two-dose clinical trial regimen. Furthermore, they cite a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that suggests 80% to 90% efficacy for preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection following one dose of the Moderna vaccine. Not everyone agrees one dose is a good idea. "Clinical trials with specific schedules for vaccine dosing — that's the whole basis of the scientific evidence," Maria Elena Bottazzi, PhD, associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, told Medscape Medical News. After one dose "the immune system is learning, but it's not ideal. That's why you need the second dose," Bottazzi said. "I appreciate the urgency and the anxiety…but the data support [that] clinical efficacy requires two doses."
Peer-reviewed data show high protection for leading COVID vaccines
The peer-reviewed data on both the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech COVID vaccines are in, demonstrating 94% to 95% protection from the disease. The phase 3 clinical trial results for the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, mRNA-1273, and the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, BNT162b2 or Comirnaty, were published late last week in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). When compared with placebos, Moderna's vaccine showed 94.1% efficacy (95% confidence interval [CI], 89.3% to 96.8%), and Pfizer's had 95.0% efficacy (95% CI, 90.3% to 97.6%). Both rates are for patients who received the two intended doses. Adverse events were uncommon in both studies.
Scientists cast doubt on WHO’s China mission to find virus origin
In the coming days, bar any last-minute hitches, 10 renowned international scientists will check into Chinese hotel rooms for two weeks of quarantine. So will start the World Health Organisation (WHO) mission of foreign experts to investigate the coronavirus, a year after the first reports emerged of a mystery disease sweeping the central city of Wuhan. The stakes could not be higher in the hunt for the origins of the greatest public health challenge of our era, amid persistent warnings that the world needs to prepare for much more deadly pandemics. But the mystery has become even harder to solve. Beijing has delayed the arrival of the WHO team for months with a barrage of logistical demands and rules.