"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 18th Mar 2021
Loneliness may be the biggest threat to productivity right now
As companies prepare for the logistics of returning to work, the mental-health crisis of their employees looms large. Surveys show anxiety and stress affect productivity and retention; TELUS International says 80% of workers would consider leaving their current employer for one that focuses more heavily on mental health. How can workers and managers solve for burnout and loneliness as a part of our transition to the workplace of the future? The twin pandemics are hitting workers hard, but also represent an opportunity to rethink and reconnect dynamics among teams. That’s the message of two new books on the subject.
Don’t lose sight of senior loneliness now that some restrictions are lifted
With social activities and events consistently delayed or canceled for almost a full year, seniors have become increasingly vulnerable to feelings of depression and isolation. Many already struggled with isolation from others, but it only increased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For those with access to technological tools like Zoom, FaceTime or Skype, video communication has helped to ease (if not completely alleviate) the pain of separation from family. But for seniors in skilled nursing facilities who may not have ready access to computers or technical assistance, continued estrangement and isolation during ongoing or sporadic COVID-19 outbreaks will cause secondary concerns that care providers must keep front of mind as the pandemic continues. Providers must be nimble and remain ready to again rely on technology options and other tools they’ve used to engage and serve residents since last March.
How to protect your physical and mental health while staying home during the pandemic
While it may be necessary during the COVID-19 pandemic for a person to stay home to protect themselves and others, there are ways to lessen the potential adverse mental and physical health effects. In this article, we discuss why staying home all the time during quarantine or lockdown can prove difficult. In particular, we focus on how to treat or lessen the mental and physical health impacts of staying home.
Coronavirus shielding advice to end on 1 April - Hancock
More than 3.7 million vulnerable people in England will no longer have to shield from the coronavirus from 1 April. It comes as the numbers of Covid-19 cases and hospital admissions have declined for the past couple of weeks. Letters will be sent out to this group in the next two weeks. In them, people will still be advised to keep social contacts at low levels, work from home where possible and stay at a distance from other people. Since 5 January, they have been asked to stay at home as much as possible to reduce their risk of being exposed to the virus. But at a Downing Street press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed shielding guidance, which had been extended to 31 March for all those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, would end on 1 April.
EU sets out virus pass plan to allow free travel by summer
The European Union’s executive body proposed Wednesday issuing certificates that would allow EU residents to travel freely across the 27-nation bloc by the summer as long as they have been vaccinated, tested negative for COVID-19 or recovered from the disease. With summer looming and tourism-reliant countries anxiously waiting for the return of visitors amid the coronavirus pandemic, the European Commission foresees the creation of certificates aimed at facilitating travel between EU member nations. The plan is set to be discussed during a summit of EU leaders next week.
Hundreds more laptops ensure students in Lancashire are fully equipped to work remotely
Lancashire County Council has secured a further 1,000 laptops for schools to ensure that all students have the technology they need to be able to work remotely. An extra £650k for the new hardware brings the council's investment in laptops for schools to £1.47m. In total the council has secured 3,350 laptops for schools with this funding. Lancashire schools welcomed back all students earlier this month, with measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus. However schools must be able to support remote learning in cases where students are asked to self-isolate due to a confirmed case in their bubble.
Google blocked nearly 100 million harmful Covid-19 ads in 2020
Google blocked or removed nearly 100 million adverts linked to the Covid-19 pandemic last year, new figures show. The company's Ads Safety Report revealed these formed a significant proportion of the 3.1 billion adverts it banned in total for violating its policies in 2020. Among the blocked Covid-19 adverts were many spreading misleading claims about fake vaccine doses and miracle cures. Others were seen to be profiteering from in-demand products such as face masks during supply shortages. Google said the figures are the result of increased investment in its automated detection technology and a major revamp of its advertising policies.
'You might be the only person they’ve seen all week': how two charities are tackling isolation during Covid
Social isolation has affected us all this past year, following Covid-19 into our lives like a grey shadow. The webs of restrictions and worries catch differently for each household, matter in different ways to each person, but we have all felt the effects of seeing fewer people. During the first lockdown, researchers at Queen’s University Belfast found up to 70% of people reported feeling “isolated, left out, or lacking companionship some of the time or often”. Other studies show loneliness has an impact on both physical and mental health, linking a lack of connection with others to increased risk of earlier death, heart disease, depression and dementia. Doctors have called for “urgent action” to make sure the benefits of shielding from coronavirus are not outweighed by the problems caused by being alone.
Will work from home outlast virus? Ford's move suggests yes
It’s a question occupying the minds of millions of employees who have worked from home the past year: Will they still be allowed to work remotely — at least some days — once the pandemic has faded? On Wednesday, one of America s corporate titans, Ford Motor Co., supplied its own answer: It told about 30,000 of its employees worldwide who have worked from home that they can continue to do so indefinitely, with flexible hours approved by their managers. Their schedules will become a work-office “hybrid”: They'll commute to work mainly for group meetings and projects best-suited for face-to-face interaction. Ford's announcement sent one of the clearest signals to date that the pandemic has hastened a cultural shift in Americans' work lives by erasing any stigma around remote work and encouraging the adoption of technology that enables it. Broader evidence about the post-pandemic workplace suggests that what was long called tele-commuting will remain far more common than it was a year ago.
What does a future of remote work look like for Massachusetts?
As COVID-19 vaccines make possible the potential for a return to everyday life as we once knew it, the impacts of living over a year amidst a global pandemic may very well continue to linger on long after the coronavirus crisis enters history books. With a workforce now intimately familiar with the benefits of working outside the office, Massachusetts officials are now trying to suss out exactly how the trend will carry on even when more employers re-open brick-and-mortar offices in the months ahead. Michael Kennealy, the state’s secretary of housing and economic development, said recently his office is wrestling with questions about how an increase in remote work might impact everything from employers and employees, commercial real estate, and economic investments in cities and towns to internet broadband accessibility and transportation policy.
Will Classroom Social Distancing Rules Change?
The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Monday that the agency might revise its guidance calling for at least six feet of distancing between students in schools in areas with high coronavirus transmission. But one major stakeholder, the American Federation of Teachers, is staunchly opposed to changing the guidance now and plans to try to persuade the agency not to do so.
How Business School Students Network During Covid: Virtual Hangouts
A key selling point of business schools is their ability to bring together students of various nationalities and backgrounds, who forge friendships in the hallways and lounges that pay dividends decades later. “The network is a close second, if not as important as the academic experience,” says Minya Nance, assistant dean for student experience strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. But in an era of online learning, MBA students are struggling to make such connections—spurring schools around the world to develop new avenues to those crucial relationships via virtual campuses, Slack channels, and Zoom roadshows.
Virtual Learning Might Be the Best Thing to Happen to Schools
Our tenuous experiment with virtual schooling could have a silver lining: Some children may end up being more resilient on the other side of the pandemic. Innovating on the fly, navigating uncertainty, maintaining hope for the future, communicating effectively, and relying on networks of people and community resources to overcome challenges are just some of the skills kids are developing during this time. These types of competencies—ones that children of color have typically brought to the classroom with little acknowledgment—are part of what Tara Yosso, an education professor at UC Riverside, calls “community cultural wealth.” The pandemic could usher in an increased appreciation for what students who have faced significant hardships have had to master throughout their life: developing strengths from dealing with an untenable set of challenges. For many students, learning from home can also be healthier than in-person schooling. Deepening one’s bond with parents, for instance, sets foundations for trust and empathy, bolsters cognitive development, and even increases one’s life expectancy.
Covid US: White House to send surge shipments of vaccines to emerging hotspots
The White House is currently making plans to send massive shipments of COVID-19 vaccines to emerging hotspots in the U.S. Two senior administration officials told CNN the Biden administration is very worried that the number of Americans traveling over Spring Break will lead to a fourth surge of the coronavirus. Members of the federal government's COVID-19 response team have been scouring data to project where outbreaks of the virus might pop up and plotting different potential scenarios. In an attempt to avoid this, officials plan to speed up the vaccine rollout and inoculate Americans who are at the highest risk.
Australia gives COVID-19 shots to virus-hit Papua New Guinea
Australia will send COVID-19 vaccines from its own supply to its near-neighbor Papua New Guinea and will ask AstraZeneca to send more to try to contain a concerning wave of infections, Australia's prime minister said Wednesday. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 8,000 doses would be sent next week for Papua New Guinea's front-line health workers and he and his Papua New Guinea counterpart James Marape would ask AstraZeneca to send another 1 million doses as soon as possible. The European Union this month blocked a shipment of more than 250,000 doses to Australia because the need for them was not considered great enough in a country largely successful in containing the coronavirus.
India backs AstraZeneca shot as COVID-19 cases hit three-month high
India said on Wednesday its coronavirus immunisation campaign would continue with “full rigour” despite some concerns in Europe about the safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine it relies heavily upon as infections hit a three month high. The European Medicines Agency is investigating reports of 30 cases of unusual blood disorders out of 5 million recipients of the vaccine in the region. Since starting the drive in mid-January, India has administered 36 million vaccine doses, which are mostly the AstraZeneca shots developed with Oxford University and locally known as Covishield.
Germany extends border control with Czech Republic, Tyrol
Germany has extended border control with the Czech Republic and Austria’s Tyrol region, Interior Minster Horst Seehofer said on Wednesday, citing the current number of new coronavirus infections and more virus variant cases. “We decided today to extend border controls in mutation areas in the Czech Republic and Austria,” Seehofer said. The control was reinstated on Feb. 14, following the introduction of a stricter lockdown in the Czech Republic.
Poland announces nationwide lockdown amid COVID-19 surge
Poland’s health minister announced a nationwide lockdown on Wednesday, as the country battles a surge in coronavirus cases. Theatres, shopping malls, hotels and cinemas will be closed starting on Saturday, Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told a news conference. Poland reported 25,052 coronavirus cases on Wednesday, according to health ministry data, the highest daily number so far this year
UAE offers third shot of Chinese vaccine in some cases
The United Arab Emirates is offering people who have shown weak immunity after two doses of the Sinopharm vaccine a third shot of the Chinese jab as booster. Healthcare authorities have told anyone who fears they are not immune after taking an antibody test after their second dose to return to the centre where they were vaccinated. “The vast majority of people have taken Sinopharm and it shows a good response,” said a doctor working at a government hospital. “The booster is only needed if you don’t mount an immune response after two jabs.”
After vaccine freeze, European countries seek a quick thaw
First, France abruptly halted AstraZeneca vaccinations. Now, the French prime minister wants to get one as soon as he can. With the virus rebounding from Paris to Budapest and beyond, European governments that rushed to suspend use of AstraZeneca vaccines after reports of blood clots are realizing the far-reaching impact of the move. And they suddenly seem eager for any signal — or fig leaf — that allows them to resume the shots. That could come as soon as Thursday, when the European Medicines Agency releases initial results of its investigations into whether there is a connection between the vaccine and the blood clots. So far, the EMA and World Health Organization have said there’s no evidence the vaccine is to blame.
Palestinians get 60,000 vaccine doses through WHO program
The Palestinian Authority said Wednesday it will receive just over 60,000 coronavirus vaccine doses over the next 48 hours, the first shipment provided by a World Health Organization partnership aimed at helping poor countries. That’s only enough doses to vaccinate 31,000 people out of a population of nearly 5 million Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza. Israel, which has faced criticism for not sharing more of its supplies with the Palestinians, has already vaccinated 5 million people — more than half of its population — and has largely reopened its economy.
Syria launches COVID vaccine drive as Israel questions swirl
The Syrian government finally kicked off its vaccination campaign against the novel coronavirus in the war-torn country last week. Al Jazeera learned through reliable sources that Bashar al-Assad’s government received 5,000 doses from a country it refused to name and simply described as “friendly”. The first jabs were given to front-line health workers spread across several main hospitals in the country. But many in government-controlled and rebel-held areas are worried they might be left out of the vaccination drive if it is carried out without any international oversight. Moreover, while the government is being furtive about which vaccine it received and who has footed the bill, many in Syria say it is an open secret it is Russia’s Sputnik V that was bought by Israel – reportedly under a prisoner exchange deal.
Manila Orders Anyone Below 18 to Stay Indoors as Virus Cases Surge
The Philippine capital Manila will widen a ban on minors leaving their residences to include youths of up to 18 years old for two weeks starting on Wednesday, tightening coronavirus restrictions in a bid to tackle a new surge of infections. Only those aged 18-65 years old will be allowed out of their homes, the Metro Manila Development Authority said in a statement, citing an agreement among mayors. The Philippines late last year started easing one of the world's longest and strictest lockdowns though a rule that anyone under 15 must stay indoors in Manila remained in place. The Southeast Asian country has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases this month, recording the largest daily increase since mid-August on Monday with 5,404 new infections. Nighttime curfews have been reimposed since Monday for two weeks in Metropolitan Manila, the country's coronavirus hotspot that is home to more than 12 million people.
All over-50s can now book coronavirus vaccine, says NHS
Everyone over the age of 50 can now book a coronavirus vaccination as the NHS widens eligibility amid an expected surge in supply of vaccine from this week. NHS England changed the eligibility on its main vaccination booking website on Wednesday morning, reducing the eligibility from 55 to anyone aged 50 or over. It means anyone over the age of 50 can go online and book themselves a vaccination, they do not need to wait to be contacted by their GP.
Chile's red-hot inoculation drive reaches frozen continent of Antarctica
Chile’s blazing fast vaccination program has reached the icy shores of Antarctica, officials and researchers told Reuters on Wednesday, bringing a sense of relief to one of the most isolated and vulnerable outposts on Earth. The pandemic hit Antarctica in December, making it the last of the world’s continents to report an outbreak of COVID-19. Chilean health and army officials scrambled to clear out staff from a remote region with limited medical facilities. Marcela Andrade, an official with the Chilean Antarctic Institute (INACH), told Reuters by phone that air force personnel, followed by staff at the Profesor Julio Escudero research base, were inoculated on Sunday with vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
Covid vaccines for England's under-50s delayed due to major shortage
People under the age of 50 may have to wait up to a month longer than planned for their Covid vaccination because of a major shortage of vaccines, NHS leaders have said. The unexpected delay was revealed in a letter to health service chiefs, who have been ordered to stop booking first-dose appointments for anyone under 50 for all of April. The letter from NHS England explained that the move was necessary because there would be a “significant reduction in weekly supply available from manufacturers beginning in the week commencing 29 March”.
AstraZeneca's COVID-19 Vaccine Has No Efficacy Against South African Virus Strain, Study Shows
According to a Phase 1b-2 trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the two-dose COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford University / AstraZeneca Plc (NASDAQ: AZN) was ineffective against mild-to-moderate infections caused due to mutated virus strain in South Africa,
US refuses to delay time between coronavirus vaccine doses
The UK's controversial decision to increase the time between covid-19 vaccine doses has been thrust back under the spotlight after the US hasn’t followed suit, amid warnings that the strategy may backfire. However, the UK is no longer alone in its decision, with Canada and Germany both choosing to follow a similar plan. In December, the UK made the surprise decision to lengthen the interval between doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines from the recommended three or four weeks to 12 weeks.
Actual Covid-19 infection rate in the US may be more than double official CDC figures, study says
The actual number of coronavirus infections throughout the United States could be twice as high as the daily tracking figures reported ahead of the deadly holiday surge late last year, according to a new study published on Tuesday. Researchers at the Clinical Reference Laboratory in Kansas surveyed blood samples from nearly 62,000 life insurance applicants, finding higher rates of Covid-19 antibodies in the pool of applicants compared to nationally reported estimates. According to the study, published in the journal JAMA Network Open, nearly 16 million Covid-19 cases went undiagnosed or patients were otherwise asymptomatic ahead of the holiday season, when the country saw an unprecedented surge in the rate of infections and deaths nationwide, compared to CDC figures were estimated a total of nearly 7.2 million cases.
Scots university's pioneering Covid-19 antibody test is 'more accurate' than those currently available
A new Covid-19 antibody test that’s better than those currently available has been developed by researchers at a Scots university. Serology tests detect if a person has previously had the virus and are important tools in tracing its spread. However, some existing antibody tests are not suited to rapid mass deployment as they can be inaccurate and also detect other coronaviruses including some versions of the common cold. In response to the Chief Scientist Office’s rapid research funding, Aberdeen University, in collaboration with Vertebrate Antibodies and NHS Grampian, has developed a test that has shown high levels of accuracy in smaller trials. The next step is to start a trial on a larger cohort.
CDC IDs new COVID-19 variants of concern, as hot spots reemerge
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said two coronavirus variants first detected in California, B.1427 and B.1429, are now considered as variants of concern. The CDC said the variants may be 20% more transmissible. In comparison, the variant B117, first identified in the United Kingdom, is considered 50% more transmissible than the original wild type COVID-19 virus. Neither of the new variants of concern are thought to escape the effectiveness of currently approved vaccines, but therapeutics, including monoclonal antibody treatments, may be slightly less effective. Currently, the CDC's variant tracker shows 4,686 B117 cases in 50 states, 142 B1351 cases in 25 states, and 27 P1 cases in 12 states.
UK nursing homes saw spikes in B117 COVID variant in early winter
The proportion of COVID-19 cases caused by the SARS-CoV-2 B117 variant in UK nursing homes rose from 12.0% on Nov 16 to 60.4% on Dec 13, mirroring the variant’s spread in the community, according to a research letter published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers from University College London examined a sample of 4,442 positive COVID-19 tests from nursing home residents and staff from Oct 5 to Dec 17 to determine the proportion of cases caused by B117, the variant first discovered in the United Kingdom. UK nursing home staff are tested weekly, and residents are tested monthly. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations increased rapidly in southeast England in November and December, despite lockdowns. More than half of the cases were attributed to B117, which studies have suggested is more deadly and spreads 40% to 70% more easily than previous strains, and was behind the rise of infections in England in early winter.