"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 24th Mar 2021

Isolation Tips
Lockdown's unlikely friendship between French pensioner and British student
For Jacqueline Tolu, a 98-year-old French woman, and Elliot Bellman, a 20-year-old student living in his parents’ house in England, the COVID-19 pandemic upended their lives but also led to an unlikely friendship. Tolu has endured isolation in her care home near Paris because visits are restricted during the pandemic, while Bellman’s plans to be in France this year studying French were torpedoed by the virus. For the past six months, the two have been having weekly chats over Skype, brought together by a scheme called Shareami that pairs elderly people with language students.
Covid: More walking and family chats post-lockdown - poll suggests
Working from home, walking and shopping locally are among the lockdown behaviours that look likely to remain popular after pandemic restrictions are lifted, according to a new survey. The study for BBC News and King's College London, conducted by Ipsos MORI, suggests virus regulations may have a lasting impact after Covid. Some 40% of 2,200 people surveyed said they expected to walk more than before. And staying at home appears to have connected people to their neighbours.
A lonely planet
The peer-reviewed literature on the topic of social isolation and loneliness during COVID-19 is prolific, with Google Scholar returning close to 20,000 results on the query. And while, for the most part, these research papers are centred on the impact of quarantining and isolating on the elderly and/or on people who live alone (irrespective of age), there is wide acknowledgement that we do not know the full impact of COVID-19 on social isolation and loneliness. And it may be years before we do.
One year on: Shielding Brits describe agony after 12 months of loneliness and fear
Two young disabled women recount their experience of being locked indoors for the past 12 months as activists warn the disabled face a "cliff edge" if support ends with shielding on April 1 in England
Hygiene Helpers
Government considering mandatory vaccines for care home workers, says Hancock
Care home workers in England could be required by law to have a coronavirus vaccine under plans being considered by the government, Matt Hancock has said. The health secretary said legislation would need to be put forward in order to protect vulnerable residents but that there was already a precedent for such a move. “There is a duty of care that people have if you work in an elderly care home, after all, residents of elderly care homes are the most vulnerable of all to Covid,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. “There are important moral questions on both sides, there would be a change in the law required, so this is something that we are considering but we haven’t made a final decision on and we do want to hear from care homes and indeed care home staff on this question.”
Rock 'n' Rollout: Is Gibraltar a glimpse into the future for vaccination-leading UK?
Gibraltar, the tiny British territory on Spain’s south coast, was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic this winter - but it has now become one of the most open places in Europe. With its population densely packed in, and frequent movement of people over the border from Spain, COVID-19 infected 4,000 of its 33,000 residents, killing 93. The small but packed population that made coronavirus so dangerous there, has also helped with the rollout of its vaccination campaign, with the government expecting to have vaccinated all residents over the age of 16 by the end of this month. Its successful vaccination campaign is largely down to the shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech jabs from the UK. This has meant a recent easing of restrictions - and could be a preview of what the UK will be hoping to see when a high enough percentage of its 66 million residents has been immunised.
Community Activities
Covid-19 vaccines and the danger of religious misinformation
As coronavirus vaccines slowly roll out across the world, leaders are working hard to build confidence in them. Religious leaders in particular can play a crucial role in convincing people to vaccinate. Many are working hard to spread the news that vaccines are safe and effective, but as the BBC’s population reporter Stephanie Hegarty has been finding out, there are figures in almost every faith who are undermining that message, with some spreading misinformation which could lead to vaccine hesitancy.
Community has got Britain through the pandemic. How can we create more of it?
The loss of social connection during the pandemic has shown us the dangers of taking social relationships for granted. We are social animals and a sense of community is essential to our wellbeing. This is crucial to remember in our ever more atomised society, where social relationships are commodified and patients and students are regarded as “clients” and “consumers”. As the UK recovers from the pandemic, finding ways to build healthy social relationships should be a key part of addressing public health. But even as it has distanced us from loved ones, the pandemic has also brought us closer together in other ways. At a street, neighbourhood and even national level, the shared experience of crisis has forged a greater sense of unity. As a groundbreaking body of new psychology has shown, a sense of belonging to communities can protect people against depression, improve cognition in older people, dramatically improve people’s health prospects on retirement and greatly improve recovery from heart attacks. Our membership of groups and communities is its own type of “social cure”.
Working Remotely
Hybrid working and four-day weeks: The future of work in Ireland
The future of work swept in faster than many of us could have ever imagined with the onset of Covid-19. The virus forced all but essential workers into their own homes to work and gave us the confidence that the remote model could work, because it had to. As we are facing into the light at the end of the tunnel one thing is glaringly obvious, the return to the office is never going to be the same. One of Ireland's leading telecommunications companies, Vodafone, have recently announced their return to the office will take on a hybrid model of 40:60.
New reasons to think the work-from-home revolution is overblown
One year after the Covid-19 pandemic forced millions of workers to start clocking in from home, many companies are thinking about how to bring their employees back into the office. A number of firms think the past 12 months have proven the merits of remote work, and have pledged more flexible schedules. But increasingly, there are signs the work-from-home revolution could have its limits. A survey of 1,450 corporate executives in North America published by Accenture (ACN) last month also showed that the shift to home working may not be as dramatic as first expected.
From AI to Zoom: How the Covid-19 pandemic permanently changed remote work
Someday, perhaps someday soon, when vaccination rates are high enough and the coronavirus relents, the world will return to normal. But in its wake, something as massive and meaningful as a global pandemic will leave many things different, including how we work. In particular, knowledge workers — high-skilled workers whose jobs are done on computers — will likely see the biggest changes, from our physical locations to the technology we use to the ways in which our productivity is measured. In turn, how we work impacts everything from our own personal satisfaction to new inventions to the broader economy and society as a whole. These changes represent a chance to remake work as we know it and to learn from the mistakes of our working past — if we’re thoughtful about how we enact them.
Mayor Ends Remote Work for 80,000 in Signal to Rest of New York City
For the last year, New York City has been running in the shadow of a deadly pandemic, with many city and private sector employees forced to work from home, stripping New York of its lifeblood and devastating its economy. But with virus cases seeming to stabilize and vaccinations becoming more widespread, city officials intend to send a message that New York is close to returning to normal: On May 3, the city will compel its municipal office employees to begin to report to work in person. Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to bring the nation’s largest municipal work force back to the office represents a significant turnabout for a city that served as the national epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, coming to symbolize the perils of living in densely packed global capitals.
Virtual Classrooms
AP-NORC poll: Learning setbacks a top concern for parents
Parents across the U.S. are conflicted about reopening schools. Most are at least somewhat worried that a return to the classroom will lead to more coronavirus cases, but there’s an even deeper fear that their children are falling behind in school while at home. Sixty-nine percent of parents are at least somewhat concerned that their children will face setbacks in school because of the coronavirus pandemic, including 42% who say they’re very or extremely worried about it, according to a new poll from The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Public Policies
European Union set to curb Covid-19 vaccine exports for six weeks
The EU is finalizing emergency legislation that will give it powers to curb exports for the next six weeks of COVID-19 vaccines manufactured in the bloc, a sharp escalation in response to supply shortages at home that have created a political maelstrom amid a rising third wave on the continent. The draft legislation, which is set to be made public Wednesday, was reviewed by The New York Times and confirmed by two EU officials involved in the drafting process. The new rules will make it harder for pharmaceutical companies producing Covid-19 vaccines in the European Union to export them and is likely to disrupt supply to the UK. The EU has been at loggerheads with AstraZeneca since it drastically cut its supply to the bloc, citing production problems in January, and the company is the main target for the new rules.
AstraZeneca’s shot at redemption sows further confusion
The dispute between AstraZeneca and the independent scientists — who sit on the trial’s data and safety monitoring board, or DSMB — centres on whether the company was wrong to publish data collected before a February cut-off point instead of including more recent figures as well. In a letter sent to AstraZeneca on Monday, which was copied to the NIH and another US government agency funding the trial, the DSMB said it thought a broader analysis including up-to-date results would show a lower efficacy rate of between 69 per cent and 74 per cent, according to a person who has seen it. Anthony Fauci, a senior official at the NIH, told the Financial Times the body was “not accusing anybody of anything”, adding: “[We are] just saying very, very frankly and simply, that we urge the company to work with the DSMB to review the data, and to ensure that it’s the most accurate, up-to-date data that was made public.” AstraZeneca responded to the NIH statement by promising to publish the final data set from the trial within 48 hours.
Dutch to shorten COVID-19 curfew despite rising cases - broadcasters
A nationwide curfew to fight the Dutch coronavirus outbreak will be shortened by an hour from next week, despite a rapid rise in new infections, local media reported on Tuesday citing government sources. The start of the curfew will be put back to 10:00 P.M. from March 31, national broadcasters NOS and RTL said, after local authorities had said daylight savings time would make it difficult for the police to enforce the original rule. The curfew, which sparked days of violent riots throughout the country when it was introduced on Jan. 23, will end as before at 4:30 A.M.
Yemen declares COVID-19 emergency as second wave accelerates
Yemen's internationally recognised government declared a health emergency in areas under its control, as infections in a second wave of a coronavirus epidemic surge. Yemen's six-year war has restricted testing and reporting of COVID-19,
Austria delays reopening restaurants as COVID-19 cases rise
Austria has postponed the reopening of cafe, restaurant and bar terraces planned for March 27 due to rising coronavirus cases and is preparing for regions to adapt restrictions locally, the government said on Monday. Infections have been increasing steadily since Austria loosened its third lockdown on Feb. 8 by letting non-essential shops reopen despite stubbornly high COVID-19 cases. A night-time curfew replaced all-day restrictions on movement. The number of new infections reported rose above 3,500 on Friday, the highest level since early December, when cases were falling during the second national lockdown.
English seeking sunshine abroad face hefty new fines
Travellers from England will face 5,000 pound ($6,900) fines in new legislation designed to deter non-essential trips and barricade the nation against imported COVID-19 infections. The news was a disappointment to millions of people hoping for a summer holiday and sent travel stocks - including easyJet, British Airway-owner, Jet2 and TUI - down 2-4% in early trade on Tuesday. As a gradual easing of lockdown is set to begin from this weekend, the government is warning that people may have to sacrifice long-desired holidays abroad
Unions attack 'authoritarian' plan to force care workers to have Covid-19 jab
Unions have hit back at a "heavy-handed" and "authoritarian" government proposal to compel care home workers to have a coronavirus vaccine amid fears that low levels of uptake may undermine the fight against Covid-19. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, confirmed on Tuesday that the government is considering a proposal that would legally require people caring for elderly and vulnerable patients to be vaccinated. However union bosses have said care workers should not be "strong-armed or bullied" into having the jab with threats of legal action. While more than 90 per cent of residents in care homes have had the vaccine, among staff the figure is closer to 75 per cent
Germany to extend COVID-19 curbs, impose Easter lockdown
Germany will extend its coronavirus restrictions until April 18 and enter a strict lockdown for five days over Easter in a bid to halt soaring infection rates, Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday morning after marathon talks with regional leaders that ran deep into the night. As well as extending existing measures that have closed cultural, leisure and sporting facilities, Merkel and Germany’s 16 state premiers agreed a tougher lockdown for the Easter holidays between April 1 and 5. “We are now in a very serious situation,” Merkel told a news conference, adding that Germany was in a race against time to vaccinate its population against the coronavirus. Germany’s national disease control centre has warned new infections are growing exponentially as the more contagious COVID-19 variant first detected in the United Kingdom has also become dominant within its own borders.
Brazil's COVID-19 crisis affecting nearby countries
The worsening COVID-19 surge in Brazil—a dire situation that has filled much of the country's intensive care unit (ICU) capacity—is affecting its neighbors, officials from the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said today. The group urged people and their leaders to take steps that slow the spread of the virus. At a briefing today, Sylvain Aldighieri, MD, PAHO's incident manager, said transmission in Brazil is very high and increasing in all regions, unlike the spike in 2020 that affected only a few regions. He said 26 of the country's 27 federal units have ICUs under stress, with 23 reporting more than 85% of ICU beds occupied. The country is battling the more transmissible P1 SARS-CoV-2 variant, which has now been reported in 15 Americas countries, Aldighieri said. Since the variant emerged in Amazonas state in late 2020, Brazil has experienced two spikes: one 2 weeks after Christmas and one 2 weeks after Carnival (Feb 12 to 17).
AstraZeneca to publish more detail on US trial after concerns raised
Drugmaker AstraZeneca said it will release further data "within 48 hours" on US trials of its Covid-19 vaccine, after health officials raised concerns about the initial information disclosed. The company pushed back against a statement from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) which said that "outdated information" may have been used to conclude that its vaccine was highly effective against Covid. "We have reviewed the preliminary assessment of the primary analysis and the results were consistent with the interim analysis," AstraZeneca said in a statement.
Maintaining Services
J&J plant authorization clears way for big boost in U.S. COVID-19 shots
A large plant being used to manufacture Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine was cleared by U.S. regulators on Tuesday, setting the stage for the weekly U.S. supply to surge more then 20 percent. About 27 million COVID-19 vaccine doses will be allocated to U.S. states and other localities this week, including 4 million from J&J, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. That is the largest allocation yet, up from 22 million last week. Earlier, the Indiana plant at which Catalent Inc is helping to manufacture the J&J vaccine received U.S. regulatory authorization, the companies said.
Demand for Healthcare Workers Rises During Covid-19 Pandemic
As the pandemic wore on, some New Yorkers reinvented themselves as entrepreneurs, artisans or online instructors teaching everything from yoga to Yiddish. Then there’s 27-year-old Chime Dolka. She, too, launched a new career—as a nurse’s aide in a Brooklyn nursing home. Resting in the park last week following a long shift tending patients while wearing enough PPE to defend a medieval warrior, Ms. Dolka said she’s fulfilling a dream. “There is one thing I really want to do, that I want to accomplish with my life,” she said. “Be a good nurse.” People like Ms. Dolka are hard to find these days. The 1199SEIU Training and Employment Funds—the education and job-placement arm of the city’s big healthcare workers’ union—says job orders for certified nursing assistants rose 25%, last year, to 1,000. And as some nursing homes became hot spots for Covid-19 outbreaks, the positions got harder to fill.
Covid-19: Birmingham GPs told to postpone vaccinating under 50s
GPs in Birmingham who had offered Covid-19 jabs to some under-50s have been told to cancel the appointments. Some patients aged in their 40s got text messages at the weekend telling them vaccinations had been postponed due to a "national shortfall". The UK will be affected by a delay in a delivery from India, but on Friday a record number of Covid jabs were given. The NHS said some Birmingham bookings had been cancelled because those people were not in a currently eligible group.
Healthcare Innovations
AstraZeneca to reissue Covid-19 vaccine trial data after monitors raise alarm
AstraZeneca said it would reissue key data on its American clinical trial “within 48 hours” after the independent monitoring board that oversaw the study warned US authorities that results released by the company on Monday were misleading.
COVID-19: Dexamethasone may have saved lives of 1 million COVID sufferers, says NHS
An easily available drug may have saved the lives of a million COVID sufferers around the world since its discovery in June, NHS England has said. Dexamethasone, an inexpensive and widely available steroid, was found to reduce deaths from COVID-19 following a clinical trial. It cut the risk of death by a third for COVID patients on ventilators, while fatalities for those on oxygen fell by almost a fifth, scientists from the University of Oxford found as part of a clinical trial known as Recovery.
Why Insomnia And Burnout May Increase Your Covid Risk
If there’s one thing that’s become clear as the pandemic has stretched on, it’s that there’s a lot to be explored in the relationship between Covid-19 and poor sleep. We already knew the two were linked. An analysis of sleep studies found sleep problems affected approximately 40% of people in the pandemic – and those who caught Covid-19 appeared to have a higher prevalence of sleep problems. Now, a study suggests if you had sleep problems prior to getting coronavirus, or suffered daily burnout, you have a heightened risk of not only becoming infected with the virus, but also having more severe disease. Every one-hour increase in the amount of time spent asleep at night was associated with 12% lower odds of becoming infected with Covid-19, according to the study published in the online journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health.
COVID-19 'long haulers' need dedicated clinics, experts say
The United States should create multispecialty COVID-19 clinics dedicated to treating patients still experiencing serious multiorgan effects of infection well after recovery from acute illness, say the authors of a comprehensive review of literature on so-called coronavirus "long-haulers" published yesterday in Nature Medicine. The exact number of US long-haul COVID-19 cases is unknown, but the researchers said that many patients struggle in silence or become frustrated when their doctors don't consider that their symptoms could be related to their previous infection. The review, led by researchers at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, found that the cell damage, inflammatory immune response, abnormal blood clotting, and other complications of acute COVID-19 infection can leave in their wake long-term symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, "brain fog," fatigue, joint pain, and posttraumatic stress disorder, all of which can compromise quality of life. The researchers detailed literature from the United States, Europe, and China on high percentages of long-haulers, or those with chronic or post–COVID-19 syndrome, who often have debilitating symptoms for more than 3 months. COVID-19 has been associated with diabetes, strokes, heart rhythm abnormalities, blood clots in the lungs, and other complications.
Regeneron, Roche COVID-19 antibody cocktail slashes hospitalizations and tackles variants in phase 3
Even as COVID-19 vaccines roll out across the globe, promising to eventually spark herd immunity to the virus, Regeneron’s executives have been preaching the value of having a powerful antibody cocktail on hand to treat those who do get sick—and to protect those who aren’t vaccinated. Now Regeneron and its partner Roche have fresh phase 3 data to back up the theory. And if regulators agree with them, they could have a blockbuster on their hands, analysts have estimated. The treatment, a combination of casirivimab with imdevimab, lowered the risk of hospitalization or death in high-risk, non-hospitalized patients by 70% compared with placebo, the companies said. The drug combo also retained its potency against five major variants, including those originating in South Africa, the U.K. and New York City. It was effective at three different doses, as well.
What we know and don’t know about long Covid
Whether you call it long Covid or post-acute Covid-19 or just identify yourself as a long-hauler, the constellation of prolonged symptoms after Covid-19 infection has become all too familiar. About one-third of people who were sick enough to need hospitalization — including supplemental oxygen or mechanical ventilation to breathe — still struggle with problems affecting their bodies and their minds four weeks or more after the first onset of symptoms. About 1 in 10 people who had Covid but were never admitted to a hospital report they experience bewildering brain fog, shortness of breath, muscle weakness, or crushing fatigue in the months after the first signs of their initial illness. Some see no end in sight; others seem to recover. To help understand how to recognize and treat this mysterious condition, researchers from Harvard and Columbia culled the scientific literature to guide treatment for nine organ systems where the SARS-CoV-2 virus does its damage.
Hormone drugs may disarm COVID-19 spike protein and stop disease progression
Hormone drugs that reduce androgen levels may help disarm the coronavirus spike protein used to infect cells and stop the progression of severe COVID-19 disease, suggests a new preclinical study from researchers in the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania and published online in Cell Press's iScience. Researchers show how two receptors—known as ACE2 and TMPRSS2—are regulated by the androgen hormone and used by SARS-CoV-2 to gain entry into host cells. Blocking the receptors with the clinically proven inhibitor Camostat and other anti-androgen therapies prevented viral entry and replication