"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 20th Sep 2021

Isolation Tips
New Zealand, Australia travel bubble suspended for longer amid Delta outbreaks
New Zealand suspended quarantine-free travel with Australia for a further 8 weeks on Friday, extending a halt in the so-called travel bubble between both countries, as they deal with fresh outbreaks of the Delta variant of the coronavirus.
Melbourne Expects to Exit Its Sixth Lockdown in Late October
Melbourne will exit its sixth lockdown since the pandemic began once 70% of Australia’s Victoria state is fully vaccinated, authorities said Sunday as they outlined plans to unwind virus measures next month. Limits on “reasons to leave your home and the curfew will no longer be in place” once that target is met around Oct. 26, Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters. “Lockdown will be off.” Pubs, clubs and entertainment venues in the nation’s second-most populous city will be allowed to operate outdoors with up to 50 people who have received two shots. Schools are expected to start reopening on Oct. 5.
Hygiene Helpers
COVID-19: Top scientist says ministers should have improved PCR testing system rather than 'abandoning it entirely'
A top scientist who advises the government says ministers should have improved the COVID testing system for international travel rather than "abandoning it entirely". Professor Stephen Reicher, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours, which feeds into the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said the removal of the need for a PCR COVID test will impact on the UK's ability to spot dangerous infections coming into the UK.
Led by the nose: Meet the UAE's COVID-19 sniffer dogs
Police in Dubai have built up a special unit of 38 sniffer dogs that can detect COVID-19 from human sweat samples with 92% accuracy, the supervisor of the training programme told Reuters. Dubai Police trained the cohort, which includes German Shepherds, Labradors, Cocker Spaniels and Border Collies, to recognise the scent of COVID-19 using samples of sweat from people with confirmed infections, collected by holding a swab in an armpit for a few minutes.
Coronavirus: plans to end free rapid tests in England ‘reckless’
England’s coronavirus testing strategy has been been criticised as “reckless” amid plans to end the free provision of rapid tests and relax the monitoring of cases from abroad. Families and businesses will have to pay for lateral flow tests from next year in an overhaul of Downing Street’s approach to the pandemic. More than 95m of the 30-minute tests have been used since they were made freely available in England from April. Reported to cost £5-£30 each, they have identified more than 620,000 cases, mostly in people without symptoms but who could still transmit the virus. Mayors, teaching unions and directors of public health said charging for lateral flow tests was a “backward step” that threatened to throw schools back into chaos, accelerate the spread of the virus and deepen health inequalities.
COVID-19: Italy makes vaccine passport compulsory - workers can be fined and suspended without pay
Italy is to become the first European country to make a vaccine passport system compulsory for all workers. Proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection must be provided or staff will be suspended without pay and face a fine. However, they cannot be sacked. The law set to apply to both public and private employees from 15 October after the Italian government approved the measures on Thursday.
Covid-19: How Native Americans led the way in the US vaccination effort
Data from the US CDC show that Native American groups—American Indians and Alaska Natives—have consistently had the best vaccination records since covid-19 vaccination in the US began in early 2021. The CDC’s daily tracker for 13 September showed that 47.5% of American Indians and Alaska Natives were fully vaccinated.1 This compared with 41.8% of Asians, 37.8% of white Americans, and 29.9% of African Americans. The American Indian/Alaska Native group has maintained its lead since the beginning of vaccination in the first dose category as well. Community leaders ascribe this success to two things: first, the US government’s decision to allow Native American communities to control vaccine distribution; and second, traditional ethnic values including respect for elders, “community first” philosophies, and a willingness to trust science—so long as it’s presented by community members themselves.
Community Activities
Australian police clash with anti-lockdown protesters, arrest nearly 270
Australia's police arrested 235 people in Melbourne and 32 in Sydney on Saturday at unsanctioned anti-lockdown rallies and several police officers were injured in clashes with protesters. Victoria police said six officers required hospitalisation. Several officers were knocked to the ground and trampled, the police said and television footage showed. About 700 people managed to gather in parts of Melbourne, as 2,000 officers made the city centre virtually a no-go zone, setting up checkpoints and barricades. Public transport and ride shares into the city were suspended.
Nicki Minaj's Covid-19 vaccine 'swollen testicles' claim is false, says Trinidad health minister
Trinidad and Tobago Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh criticized as "false" the claim by American rapper Nicki Minaj that a person on the Caribbean island suffered swollen testicles after receiving a Covid-19 vaccine. Minaj sparked an international furor when she alleged on Twitter that her cousin in Trinidad refuses to get a vaccine because his friend became impotent after being vaccinated. "His testicles became swollen. His friend was weeks away from getting married, now the girl called off the wedding," Minaj, who has 22.6 million Twitter followers, said. The comments triggered an international backlash, with senior US and British coronavirus officials condemning the claims.
Nearly half of Spaniards think Covid-19 vaccination should be mandatory
“Everyone should be forced to get vaccinated even if they don’t want to.” Fully 47.7% of Spaniards checked this answer in a survey about Covid-19 immunization carried out in September by Spain’s Center for Sociological Studies. Another 25.4% said that “nobody should be forced to get vaccinated” while 21.8% said it depends on each case and 4.8% were undecided. These percentages rise considerably for certain professions: 81.5% of respondents said that healthcare personnel, senior home staff and workers who deal directly with the general public should all get mandatory shots. This percentage includes the 47.7% who support obligatory inoculation for everyone regardless of their occupation.
Facebook targets German anti-lockdown movement
Facebook has cracked down on the anti-Covid restriction movement in Germany, removing dozens of accounts that contribute to “co-ordinated social harm”. Almost 150 accounts and pages on Facebook and Instagram — linked to anti-lockdown demonstrators in the European nation — have been taken off the platform, under a new policy focused on groups that spread misinformation or incite violent. The Querdenken movement includes vaccine and mask opponents, conspiracy theorists and some far-right extremists, and has long protested German virus measures. One post from such an account included a debunked claim that the Covid-19 jab was responsible for creating virus variants, while another wished death upon police officers who broke up violent anti-lockdown protests in Berlin.
Denmark returns to pre-pandemic life with a huge pop concert
While many in Europe fretted over the Delta variant, university student and care worker Sofie Mari Jensen joined tens of thousands of people at Copenhagen’s Parken Stadium to watch the pop-rock band The Minds of 99. The event on September 11, a day after Denmark dropped all coronavirus restrictions, was Europe’s first concert hosting more than 50,000 people since the pandemic began.
Working Remotely
Australians are working from home much more because of the pandemic – and it sucks
In Australia, a Productivity Commission report reveals the major changes in work habits since Covid arrived, including longer days. Prior to the pandemic around 20% of all businesses had staff working from home; since the pandemic that has increased to 44%. The commission argues it is unlikely that we will return to pre-pandemic levels. One study cited in the report found that the length of the average workday increased by around 8%, or almost 49 minutes, relative to pre-pandemic levels. This highlights that for any benefits of working from home there are many negatives. The report looked at how working from home affects an array of aspects, from productivity to congestion, workplace health and safety, and worker’s wellbeing.
We want to see remote working become a permanent fixture, Varadkar says
In Ireland, speaking ahead of the easing of restrictions, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said from tomorrow, the public health advice no longer requires working from home and a phased return to the office begins. “The pandemic has taught us what’s possible in terms of remote working. It transformed the world of work overnight. I hope we can learn something from what worked for workers and employers during that time and incorporate it post-Covid. We really want to see remote working become a permanent fixture of Irish working life."
COVID-19 was meant to start a remote work revolution in Japan — that didn't happen
The pandemic was expected to trigger a major shift toward working remotely in corporate Japan, where face-to-face meetings are valued and long hours are often considered a sign of loyalty. But 20 months since the nation reported its first COVID-19 patient, the concept appears to be losing steam — at least for now — as many workers remain bound to their offices, especially those working for small and midsize firms. As the delta variant raged across the nation last month, leading to record numbers of infections, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga asked the nation’s major business circles to help promote remote work in a bid to reduce the number of commuters by 70%.
Virtual Classrooms
Ed Tech Access and Competency Make Virtual Learning Options Equitable
Many factors go into a family’s decision to learn virtually or in person. For example, some students have found their niche in online learning, while for others the pandemic proved their need to learn in a classroom. A more logistical challenge for many K–12 students, though, is digital equity. Students should be able to choose their learning environments based on the former consideration, although many are forced to pick based on the latter. When students don’t have access to devices and the internet, or competency using educational technology, it may feel as though the choice is being made for them.
Singapore to Move Students to Virtual Classes Before Exams
Singapore will move students through grades one to five -- typically 7 to 11 years old -- back to virtual learning as older ones take their national examinations later this month as a precaution against viral transmission. The move is aimed at protecting children who aren’t medically eligible for vaccination, as well as reduce the number of students placed on quarantine orders or leave of absence prior to the exams, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a Facebook post.
Public Policies
Vietnam approves Abdala vaccine as president visits Cuba
Vietnam has approved Cuba's Abdala vaccine for use against the new coronavirus, the government said, as the Southeast Asian country is battling its worst outbreak. Abdala becomes the eighth COVID-19 vaccine approved for use in Vietnam, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the region, with only 6.3% of its 98 million people having received at least two shots. The announcement came hours after President Nguyen Xuan Phuc left Hanoi for an official visit to Havana.
U.S. to buy hundreds of millions more doses of Pfizer vaccine to donate to the world
The Biden administration is buying hundreds of millions more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine to donate to the world, according to two people familiar with the deal, as the United States looks to increase efforts to share vaccine with the global population. The administration is expected to purchase 500 million doses, but the terms are not finalized, said the people with knowledge of the deal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the donation. The announcement of the purchase is slated for early next week and timed to coincide with the U.N. General Assembly meeting.
Robin Swann facing legal action over bid to give Covid-19 vaccine to Northern Ireland children
Northern Ireland’s Health Minister is facing a High Court battle over plans to vaccinate children between the ages of 12 and 15. A pre-action letter has been sent to the Department of Health asking Robin Swann to reconsider his decision to extend Northern Ireland’s Covid vaccination programme to the age cohort. The legal action raises concerns about the decision coming after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) refused to approve the universal vaccination of healthy children. The letter argues that, if the programme is rolled out to children in Northern Ireland, they should only receive the vaccination with parental consent.
South Korea approves Celltrion's COVID-19 treatment for use
South Korea approved Celltrion's antibody COVID-19 treatment for infected adults in high-risk groups or those with severe symptoms. Phase III clinical trials showed that the treatment significantly reduced deterioration of COVID-19 symptoms to severe levels and shortened recovery, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said in a statement. The treatment lowered the rate of high-risk patients developing severe symptoms by 72% and shortened recovery by 4.12 days, the ministry said.
Maintaining Services
Africa's Biggest City to Vacinate 30% of Residents in a Year
Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial hub, plans to give Covid-19 shots to 30% of residents within a year, the state’s governor said in an emailed statement. To be able to do so “the world must ensure that vaccines were available to all, especially poorer countries that had struggled with supply,” Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who governs Africa’s biggest city said. Lagos has only been been able to vaccinate 1.2% of its estimated 24 million residents, which is far below the recommendation set by the World Health Organization, Sanwo-Olu said.
Supply fears lead EU vaccine industry to seek home comforts
European companies playing key supporting roles in COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing are working to move production and supply chains closer to their customers to guard against trade restrictions that have interrupted supplies during the pandemic. Germany's Merck, whose Life Science unit is one of the world's largest makers of bioreactor gear and supplies, told Reuters it is pushing to spread its production network geographically so that fewer shipments have to cross customs borders.
How Europe's hospitals are faring in the face of another pandemic fall
Much of Europe has opened up to international visitors and scaled back Covid-19 restrictions since a wave of cases swept the continent in the spring. Those steps back toward pre-Covid life have been accompanied by a gradual rise in cases and hospitalizations in many nations, with the more transmissible Delta variant dominant in the region. However, vaccination rollouts have kept hospital admissions far below where they were in the first months of 2021. As a result, Europe presents a varied picture as governments brace for a potential rise in cases in the autumn and winter months.
Coronavirus NI: Students getting vaccinated will help ease disruption to their lives, says health minister as 'jabbathon' continues
In Northern Ireland, students getting vaccinated against Covid-19 will help ease the disruption they have endured since the start of the pandemic, the Health Minister has said, Robin Swann was speaking as details of Jabbathon clinics aimed at rolling out Covid-19 vaccines to as many young adults as possible were announced yesterday. Mobile walk-in clinics will continue at 30 campuses across Northern Ireland’s universities and further education colleges next week.
Singapore optimistic as severe COVID-19 cases remain low
Singapore, which has one of the world's highest COVID-19 vaccination rates, is seeing encouraging signs that the number of severe cases is not rising at the same pace as new infections, a senior health official said on Friday. The country reported 910 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the most in 15 months, with average new daily infections rising from 146 two weeks ago to 682 in the past week. But the number of people in serious condition remains low, however, with 12 in intensive care units (ICU), from a total of 837 people hospitalised with COVID-19 in Singapore as of Thursday, the health ministry said.
Healthcare Innovations
Bats in Laos Caves Harbor Closest Relatives to Covid-19 Virus
Bats dwelling in limestone caves in northern Laos were found to carry coronaviruses that share a key feature with SARS-CoV-2, moving scientists closer to pinpointing the cause of Covid-19. Researchers at France’s Pasteur Institute and the University of Laos looked for viruses similar to the one that causes Covid among hundreds of horseshoe bats. They found three with closely matched receptor binding domains -- the part of the coronavirus’s spike protein used to bind to human ACE-2, the enzyme it targets to cause an infection. The finding, reported in a paper released Friday that’s under consideration for publication by a Nature journal, shows that viruses closely related to SARS-CoV-2 exist in nature, including in several Rhinolophus, or horseshoe bat, species.
FDA advisers recommend COVID boosters for 65 and older after rejecting broad approval
Advisers to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration voted to recommend COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for Americans 65 and older and those at high risk of severe illness, after overwhelmingly rejecting a call for broader approval. The panel also recommended that the FDA include healthcare workers and others at high risk of occupational exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19, such as teachers. Despite the narrowed scope of the proposed authorization, the panel's recommendation would cover most Americans who got their shots in the earliest stages of the U.S. vaccination campaign.
COVID-19: QCovid tool's new algorithm identifies those most at-risk from coronavirus after vaccination
A tool to calculate a person's risk from COVID-19 has been updated to include who could be susceptible to serious complications, even if they have been fully vaccinated. It found that the elderly, men and people from certain ethnic minorities were most likely to end up in hospital or die due to the coronavirus. Last year, the team behind the QCovid tool used data from more than 6 million people to design an algorithm which could predict COVID outcomes. Now, the analysis of 6.9 million people who received two shots of the vaccine allows for a prediction of who may be more susceptible even after their inoculations.
COVID-19: Trial will see if children need second jab - with 12 to 16-year-olds getting different combinations in study
Youngsters aged 12-16 are to be offered a mix of coronavirus vaccines in a new trial to determine whether children need a second jab and if so which type would be most effective. It comes after health leaders approved first doses of the Pfizer vaccine for over-12s on Monday. Researchers from the University of Oxford are carrying out the trial which will analyse how the participants respond to various combinations. Those involved in the study will all receive a full dose of the Pfizer jab initially.
Investigating COVID-19's hidden death toll
The official COVID-19 mortality count in the United States has surpassed 660,000, but inaccuracies in cause of death reports hide the true impact of the pandemic. Researchers at Boston University and the University of Pennsylvania recently explored healthcare factors at the county level that explained why 20% of excess deaths in 2020 were due to COVID-19. Their study found that most of these excess deaths occurred in areas affected by racial and social injustices.
Cuba begins vaccinating children as young as two against COVID-19
On Thursday Cuba began a massive vaccination campaign for children between the ages of two and 10, becoming one of the first nations to do so. Health officials in the country say Cuba’s homegrown vaccines have been found safe for young children. “Our country would not put [infants] even at a minimal risk if the vaccines were not proven save and highly effective when put into children,” Aurolis Otano, director of the Vedado Polyclinic University, told The Associated Press news agency in a vaccination room. Otano said the circulation of the Delta variant led to an increase in infections among the youngest, so Cuba’s scientific community decided to “take the vaccine to clinical trial” and it was approved for children.
Studies show good COVID booster effect, waning 2nd-dose protection
Several new studies on the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA COVID-19 vaccine describe good effectiveness against the Delta (B1617.2) variant after a booster dose and high but waning protection against infection and severe illness 6 months after the second dose. Other, much smaller, studies demonstrated the safety of third mRNA vaccine doses. And a new British study on waning two-dose effectiveness coincides with the recent decision by UK officials to recommend booster doses.