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"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 17th Feb 2021

Isolation Tips
What is ‘lockdown fatigue’ and how can you beat it?
When it was confirmed the UK would enter a third national lockdown in January, people had prior experience so it might not have felt like as big a shock. However, a shared sentiment by users of social media and the general public is that there’s been an overwhelming sense of struggle this time, with many finding it harder to cope. This lockdown fatigue manifests in different ways. What are the signs of lockdown fatigue and how can you try to beat it?
Hygiene Helpers
Hotel quarantine rollout in England 'an absolute joke', says border official
Border staff received guidelines on how to execute England’s new “red list” quarantine rules in an email two and a half hours before they came into force in a rollout that one worker described as “an absolute joke”. British and Irish nationals or UK residents arriving from a list of 33 countries are now required to book a 10-day quarantine package costing £1,750 per adult, as the government seeks to limit the spread of new and potentially more dangerous coronavirus variants arriving from abroad. Border Force sources told the Guardian that all immigration control staff had received a lengthy email with five attachments, detailing official guidance for carrying out the new checks at the border, at 9.25pm on Sunday. The rules came into effect at midnight.
Fauci wins $1 million Israeli prize for 'defending science'
The Dan David Foundation, which is based at Tel Aviv University, said on Monday that Fauci has won the prize for “courageously defending science in the face of uninformed opposition during the challenging COVID crisis,” the Seattle Times reported. “As the COVID-19 pandemic unraveled, [Fauci] leveraged his considerable communication skills to address people gripped by fear and anxiety and worked relentlessly to inform individuals in the United States and elsewhere about the public health measures essential for containing the pandemic’s spread,” the foundation’s awards committee said.
No new virus cases raise hopes New Zealand will end lockdown
For a second consecutive day, New Zealand reported no new community cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, raising hopes that a lockdown in Auckland will be lifted Wednesday. Just how three family members contracted the disease remains a mystery. After the cases were found, top lawmakers hurriedly placed New Zealand’s largest city into a three-day lockdown, the nation's first in six months. COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said the final decision by lawmakers on whether to lift the restrictions will depend on any new information or cases that crop up over the next 24 hours. “A day when we get zero positive test results is always a good day,” Hipkins said.
Community Activities
COVID-19: 'Progress' made on vaccine hesitancy amid 'pandemic of disinformation', NHS chief says
"Meaningful progress" is being made in the campaign to overcome COVID vaccine hesitancy, but it is happening amid a "pandemic of disinformation", the head of the NHS in England has said. The country is fighting a "dual epidemic" and must take on both coronavirus and disinformation with "equal vigour", Sir Simon Stevens said at Monday's Downing Street news conference. He added that progress is being made on uptake among black and south Asian communities, and believes the involvement of local religious leaders will help build momentum.
England's route out of Covid lockdown taking shape but timings unclear
While the government has said very little about how lockdown restrictions in England will start to be relaxed, there is a lot to be read between the lines. With a week to go before Boris Johnson spells out his roadmap for lifting the lockdown, leaks about new rules and timetables being discussed in multiple meetings across Whitehall will be filtering into newspapers. The chronology now seems to be taking shape. There is a hope of allowing a small easing of restrictions at the same time as schools reopen, to allow people to meet one other person for a coffee in the park, say, rather than just for exercise, without running the risk of being moved on by police. That would put the whole country under something similar to the tier 4 rules that were in place across swathes of England in December. Apart from schools reopening, the difference to a full lockdown is only subtle.
German business groups berate government over lockdown extension
The German government is coming under mounting attack from business groups angry at its refusal to ease the country’s coronavirus restrictions, as pressure grows for an exit strategy out of one of Europe’s longest shutdowns. “Businesses are growing increasingly desperate, and angry,” said Guido Zöllick, head of DEHOGA, the German association of hotels and restaurants. “More and more fear for their existence.” He was speaking after a crisis meeting with German economy minister Peter Altmaier where 40 groups representing the hospitality industry, tourism, retail trade and other sectors lambasted the government’s pandemic policies.
Madrid: an island in a sea of coronavirus restrictions
Compared to other major European capitals, Madrid is swimming against the tide with regard to its Covid-19 strategy. Although most of Europe’s main cities are imposing heavy restrictions on both mobility and social activities in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the Spanish capital is opting for relaxing restrictions despite a 14-day incidence rate of 625 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. In fact, while Lisbon, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Athens and Brussels remain in partial lockdown, Madrid plans to put the curfew and closing times in the hospitality sector back an hour. The Swedish capital, Stockholm, which took a controversial early approach to fighting the virus by trusting to individual responsibility, is one of the few big European cities to take a similar line. But experts warn of the risks of relaxing restrictions when transmission remains high.
Dutch coronavirus curfew upheld temporarily after legal setback
Appellate judges ruled on Tuesday that a night-time curfew would remain in place in the Netherlands pending a government appeal of a lower-court ruling that found the measure lacked legal justification. Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s coronavirus policy was dealt a major blow earlier in the day when a district court in The Hague said his government had failed to make clear why it was necessary to use emergency powers at this stage of the pandemic. The government requested and was granted an injunction, or emergency order, in which the three-judge appellate panel in The Hague agreed to suspend that ruling and uphold the curfew pending the outcome of the appeal to be heard on Friday.
Israel blocks shipment of Russian Sputnik V vaccine to Gaza
Israel has stopped 1,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine that are intended for front-line medical workers from entering the besieged Gaza Strip. The Palestinian group Hamas which governs the Gaza Strip on Tuesday blasted Israel’s refusal to allow vaccine doses destined for Gaza health workers through its blockade of the territory as a “violation” of international law. Israel – which is carrying out one of the world’s fastest vaccination campaigns per capita – has faced international calls to share its stocks as an occupying power with Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.
‘Vaccine nationalism’ will hurt all countries: New WTO chief
The World Trade Organization’s (WTO) incoming chief has warned against “vaccine nationalism” that would slow progress in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and could erode economic growth for all countries – rich and poor. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told the Reuters news agency that her top priority is to ensure the WTO does more to address the pandemic, saying members should accelerate efforts to lift export restrictions slowing trade in needed medicines and supplies.
Four reasons experts say coronavirus cases are dropping in the United States
The rate of newly recorded infections is plummeting from coast to coast and the worst surge yet is finally relenting. But scientists are split on why, exactly, it is happening. Some point to the quickening pace of coronavirus vaccine administration, some say it’s because of the natural seasonal ebb of respiratory viruses and others chalk it up to social distancing measures. And every explanation is appended with two significant caveats: The country is still in a bad place, continuing to notch more than 90,000 new cases every day, and recent progress could still be imperiled, either by new fast-spreading virus variants or by relaxed social distancing measures.
Working Remotely
How to Work from Home Without Burning Out
Working remotely is a luxury—but it’s also an acquired skill. For employees lucky enough to be able to work from home at least some of the time, the trick to staying motivated and preventing burnout is to keep the office and the home from truly becoming one. That’s been challenging during the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced millions of people all over the world to suddenly turn their home into their office. Despite the abrupt change of scenery, many of the same productivity rules still apply, says Wendy Wood, a professor of psychology and business at the University of Southern California and author of Good Habits, Bad Habits. “People will be more successful if they follow whatever worked for them in the office,” Wood says, including establishing boundaries between the professional world and your personal life.
Remote Work Is (Mostly) Here To Stay
Working from home is far from a new invention, but it took a global pandemic to switch from in-person office workplaces to remote work as the default for people who can reasonably work from a home office. Work will likely move partially back to the office as in-person work becomes possible again. But how much of our work should return to the office? With both upsides and downsides to remote work, research points to a hybrid model (with the majority of time spent remotely) as the most promising direction.
The Impact Of Remote Working On Towns Across England
Covid-19 has sent millions to their home offices as social distancing measures become commonplace around the world. Indeed, numerous big-name employers have already said that their workforces will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. This has created understandable concern about the long-term viability of the city centers that have largely developed around the needs and desires of the office workers that inhabit it during working hours. What lessons can we learn from 2020 in terms of the actual impact of social distancing on city life? New research from the University of Nottingham aims to shed some light on the matter.
Virtual Classrooms
Minnesota schools plan to continue virtual learning options in fall 2021
Stillwater Public School leaders have helped many of their staff get vaccinated. They’ve reopened their elementary schools for in-person learning. But as they plan for the next academic year, they are still planning to make online learning a part of regular life. “Those are the questions we are asking on a daily basis: What is next year going to look like?” said Carissa Keister, spokesperson for Stillwater Area Public Schools. “We’re hoping that we can be back to a more regular schedule and get our kids in front of our teachers every day. We know that’s what’s best for them. But we certainly know we have to plan for anything, which is the one thing we have learned this year.”
Virtual learning works for some kids, so N.J. district will offer new hybrid program next fall
A South Jersey school district has announced plans to offer a hybrid remote and in-person instruction curriculum to about 100 top-achieving high school students in the fall. The plan is to offer the combination of remote classes and in-school instruction even if state emergency orders that allowed remote instruction during the coronavirus pandemic response are repealed, officials said.
The future of online learning: the long-term trends accelerated by Covid-19
For Prof John Domingue, director of the Open University’s pioneering research and development lab, the Knowledge Media Institute (KMI), the “online genie” is out of the bottle and won’t go back in. “It’s slightly galling to see some universities trying to replicate online almost exactly what they delivered face-to-face before Covid. Standing before a camera and broadcasting is not online teaching. You need to do things differently,” he says. So what can universities undertake to make online learning more than just a heavy focus on streaming and recording technology? Domingue points to artificial intelligence (AI) and the concept of an online library for educators based on a Google search engine dedicated to education, and a Netflix-style recommendation tool that tracks down content to suit a lecturer’s own field, based on previous searches.
Public Policies
Fears over Covid vaccine access in Pakistan as private imports sanctioned
Pakistan will allow private companies to import coronavirus vaccines and has exempted the vaccines from price caps in a divisive move that health experts fear will create vast inequalities in access. The country has been scrambling to secure vaccine supplies but so far only the Chinese-made Sinopharm treatment is being deployed. This month 500,000 doses were donated to Pakistan. Like many other countries, Pakistan has been relying on the Gavi/World Health Organization Covax vaccine initiative, but has yet to receive any of the 17m doses it is expecting. The cabinet granted permission for unlimited imports of coronavirus vaccines, which could be sold to customers.
SA asks Serum Institute to take back 1 million vaccine doses — report
SA has asked the Serum Institute of India to take back the one million Covid-19 vaccine doses the company had sent in early February, The Economic Times reported on Tuesday, a week after the country said it will put on hold use of AstraZeneca's shot in its vaccination programme. Serum Institute of India, which is producing AstraZeneca's shot, has emerged as a key vaccine supplier. One million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine landed in SA last week and another 500,000 were due to arrive in the next few weeks. The company did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
COVID-19: Another 'Lockdown' in Maharashtra? This district shuts down schools, colleges, imposes restrictions
While the countrywide coronavirus caseload is decreasing, the situation in Maharashtra's Akola is completely opposite as a sudden rise in the infections has raised the administration's concern. To control the spread of COVID-19, strict rules have been implemented in the district till February 28. The administration has restricted social gatherings and has disallowed more than 50 people in functions like weddings. Schools and colleges have also been ordered to close and there is a ban on a gathering of five or more people.
Novavax signs deal with SK Bioscience for 40 mln vaccine doses for S. Korea
U.S. drug developer Novavax Inc said on Monday it has signed a license agreement with South Korea manufacturer SK Bioscience to produce 40 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine for South Korea. “Concurrently, SK Bioscience has finalized an advance purchase agreement with the Korean government to supply 40 million doses of NVX-CoV2373 to the Republic of Korea beginning in 2021,” Novavax said in a statement https://bit.ly/37eMKB2.
WHO authorizes AstraZeneca's COVID vaccine for emergency use
The World Health Organization has granted an emergency authorization to AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, a move that should allow the U.N. agency’s partners to ship millions of doses to countries as part of a U.N.-backed program to tame the pandemic. In a statement Monday, the WHO said it was clearing the AstraZeneca vaccines made by the Serum Institute of India and South Korea’s AstraZeneca-SKBio. The WHO’s green light for the AstraZeneca vaccine is only the second one the U.N. health agency has issued after authorizing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in December. Monday’s announcement should trigger the delivery of hundreds of millions of doses to countries that have signed up for the U.N.-backed COVAX effort, which aims to deliver vaccines to the world’s most vulnerable people.
Squeezed out of the race for Western vaccines, developing countries turn to China
As Peru is caught in the throes of a brutal second wave, millions of people are putting their faith in one country to turn the deadly tide. Peru has joined developing nations from North Africa to the Andes in counting on China for help. For these customers, the vaccines developed in Chinese laboratories and now being distributed globally could hold the solution to a massive problem: how to inoculate their populations after bigger and richer nations have pushed them to the back of the line for the more reliable vaccines developed in the West.
Zimbabwe Extends COVID-19 Lockdown As Nation Receives 200,000 Doses of China's Sinopharm Vaccine
Every life lost, is a big loss to us. I therefore extend the national lockdown by two weeks. This will see the reduction of active cases and monitoring of cases in incubation."
Australia approves AstraZeneca vaccine, bolstering inoculation programme
Australia’s medical regulator granted provisional approval for AstraZeneca Plc’s COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, bolstering a national inoculation programme it plans to begin rolling out next week. The vaccine boost came as Australia’s second-most populous state neared the likely end of a five-day snap lockdown sparked by a fresh cluster of cases. The federal government says it has ordered enough of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which will mostly be manufactured in Australia, to cover the country’s population of 25 million people. It has also ordered enough doses of a vaccine jointly developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech, which is being manufactured offshore, for a fifth of the population.
South Africa to share COVID vaccine as Europe weighs J&J vaccine
In the latest international COVID-19 developments, South Africa health officials announced they will share the country's AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine with other African nations, and in Europe, Johnson & Johnson submitted its request for an emergency use authorization for its single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. South Africa recently announced a pause on the rollout of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, following early study findings that it appears have little impact on mild-to-moderate disease from the B1351 variant that is dominant in the country. It followed that development with an announcement that it would temporarily switch to using the unapproved Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Biden extends foreclosure moratorium for struggling US homeowners
United States President Joe Biden extended a federal moratorium on foreclosures and mortgage forbearance policies on Tuesday, giving the more than 10 million homeowners who are behind on payments additional months of assistance as the coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the US economy. Biden’s announcement extends the moratorium on foreclosures through the end of June after it was due to expire at the end of next month. The policy also extends the mortgage forbearance window until June 30 and provides up to six months of additional mortgage payment relief for the 2.7 million Americans who are already receiving it, the White House said in a statement.
Maintaining Services
GPs could offer common asthma drug as early Covid-19 intervention
A common asthma drug, Budesonide, which could be given by GP surgeries as an early community intervention, has been found to reduce Covid-19 symptoms. In a small trial at the University of Oxford, the steroid inhaler was given seven days after the onset of Covid-19 symptoms and appeared to significantly reduce the need for critical care. The researchers also reported persistent symptoms, seen after 28 days, were reduced with the asthma drug. The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, involved 146 people who had tested positive for Covid-19, half of whom were given 800 mg of Budesonide twice a day and the other half received the usual care.
COVID-19 vaccine priority groups expanded as 1.7m added to shielding list
In England, more than 800,000 extra patients will be prioritised for COVID-19 vaccination after a major expansion of the shielding list based on data from a risk assessment tool. Around 1.7m additional patients have been identified as being at increased risk from COVID-19 based on a combination of factors including age, ethnicity, BMI and medical conditions or treatments. Of these, around 820,000 are outside the over-70 age group already offered a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the NHS and will now be prioritised for a jab. These patients have been identified through a population risk assessment by NHS Digital, based on a risk prediction tool called 'QCovid', developed by the University of Oxford and thought to be the world's only reliable COVID-19 risk prediction model.
COVID-19: Phased return of schools in Scotland to begin on Monday, Nicola Sturgeon announces
The phased return of pupils to classrooms in Scotland will begin on Monday, the first minister has confirmed. Nicola Sturgeon revealed the news in a statement to the Scottish parliament, as she said the country's lockdown would continue until "at least" the beginning of March and "possibly for a further period beyond that". She told MSPs the shutdown was working - with fewer COVID-19 patients in hospital and intensive care - but cautioned that "even a slight" easing of restrictions could see cases "start rising rapidly again".
Lebanon begins vaccinations with sceptics a major hurdle
Lebanon’s COVID-19 vaccination roll-out has begun, but there remain concerns the most vulnerable people in the country may be left out of the campaign or excluded altogether. Regardless of nationality or legal status, anyone living in Lebanon is supposed to be covered under its vaccination campaign, including refugees and migrant labourers, who count for about 1.5 million of the estimated six million people living here. As Lebanon began COVID-19 vaccinations on Sunday, concerns about whether its notoriously corrupt government could handle the process fairly and competently were also out in the open.
Syringe shortage hampers Japan’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
Fears are growing in Japan – where an inoculation drive against COVID-19 will begin on Wednesday – that millions of doses of Pfizer vaccine could be wasted because of a shortage of special syringes that maximise the number of shots from each vial. The government has made urgent requests, but manufacturers are struggling to ramp up production fast enough, creating the latest headache for Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who suffers from weak public support.
Initial sky-high UK in-hospital COVID death rate fell sharply
The in-hospital death rate among adult COVID-19 patients in England early in the pandemic was 31% but declined significantly over time, with older age, male sex, low socioeconomic status, Asian or mixed ethnicity, and underlying conditions signaling poor outcomes, according to a retrospective, observational study published yesterday in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. A team led by a researcher from University College London used the National Health Service Hospital Episode Statistics administrative dataset to estimate in-hospital deaths and contributing factors among 91,541 COVID-19 patients at 500 hospitals from Mar 1 to May 31, 2020.
U.K. inspects AstraZeneca vaccine partner's India manufacturing, setting stage for supply boost
AstraZeneca set up a globetrotting supply network for its COVID-19 vaccine to deliver doses around the world, but it hasn't tapped regional producers to ease delivery shortfalls elsewhere. But that could change—and soon. British regulators are inspecting one of the drugmaker's biggest production partners, Serum Institute of India, which signed on to manufacture AstraZeneca's shot for its home country and other global markets. Sources close to the matter told Reuters about the manufacturing audit. A green light from the U.K.'s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) could clear the way for AstraZeneca to import the India-made shots to the U.K. and EU, which has struggled to beef up vaccine supplies after AZ said it would cut first-quarter deliveries last month.
Healthcare Innovations
Call for nurses to join Covid-19 vaccine side effects study
Nurses and other health professionals from the UK are being encouraged to take part in a safety study of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in order to tackle possible side effects. They are also being asked to urge patients to sign up to the study,
Coronavirus: Deaths among over-80’s fall faster as vaccine impact emerges
Deaths among people over 80 is falling faster than with other age groups, suggesting the UK’s vaccine programme is starting to have an impact on the coronavirus pandemic. According to analysis of the latest data, the proportion of deaths among the over-80s, as a seven day average, have dropped by almost 50 per cent between 31 January to 10 February. This compares to a fall of 39 per cent for those aged under 80 over the same period.
Bristol children as young as six can take part in Oxford University coronavirus vaccine trial
Bristol has been selected as one of four locations to take part in a world-first coronavirus vaccine trial for children. The University of Oxford study will recruit up to 300 child volunteers nationally, aged between six and 17 years old, to investigate if the current Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is effective in protecting children. As well as the Oxford site, three partner sites in London, Southampton and at Bristol Royal Hospital for Children will run the trial. It launched today (Monday, February 15) and the first vaccinations are expected to commence later this month. Recruitment for Bristol's is open to all BS postcodes via the trial website, which states that participants from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are "particularly welcome" to take part. The length of the study is one year and participants will be asked to attend five visits, with anyone under the age of 16 requiring parental consent.
Covid vaccine impact revealed in over-80s blood tests
England's vaccination programme is starting to pay off, with the over-80s age group now the most likely to test positive for coronavirus antibodies, Office for National Statistics testing suggests. Blood tests reveal more over-80s than any other age group in England are showing signs of some immunity against Covid infection. This comes as Covid deaths have fallen. But overall, deaths are still 40% above the five-year average.
Covid-19 could cause potentially dangerous 'nodules' on patients' EYEBALLS due to inflammation triggered by the virus, scientists warn
From a dry cough to a high fever, coronavirus is known to be linked to a range of unpleasant symptoms. Now, a new study has revealed another potential side effect - nodules on the eyeballs. Researchers have warned that coronavirus infection may trigger inflammation of the eyeballs and lead to the formation of mysterious nodules at the back of the organ. Experts do not yet know what causes these nodules or the impact they have on a patient's long-term health. However, a study of 129 French patients who had severe Covid-19 and underwent MRI scans revealed nine of them (seven per cent) suffered abnormalities.