"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 20th Oct 2021

Isolation Tips
Two northern Chinese areas enforce lockdown in COVID-19 outbreak
China reported nine new domestically transmitted COVID-19 cases on Oct. 18, the highest daily tally since the end of September, with the latest outbreak prompting two northern border areas to enforce a lockdown. Under a national policy of zero tolerance of domestic coronavirus clusters, cities with new infections have quickly tracked down and tested contacts of infections and sealed off higher-risk areas. Five of the nine new local cases were found in the northwestern city of Xian in Shaanxi province, and two were in the northern Chinese region of Inner Mongolia, data from the National Health Commission (NHC) showed on Tuesday.
Russia proposes week-long workplace shutdown as COVID deaths hit new record
Moscow's mayor announced four months of stay-home restrictions for unvaccinated over-60s on Tuesday and the Russian government proposed a week-long workplace shutdown as the national death toll from COVID-19 hit yet another daily high. The moves reflected a growing sense of urgency from the authorities as they confront fast-rising cases and widespread public reluctance to get injected with the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine. Moscow, a city of 12.7 million, ordered people over the age of 60 to stay home for four months starting on Oct. 25 unless they are vaccinated or have recovered from COVID, and for businesses to move at least 30% of their staff to remote work.
Hygiene Helpers
‘Make a gesture of humanity’: Pope Francis urges drug makers to release Covid-19 vaccine patents
Amid controversy over global access to Covid-19 vaccines, Pope Francis lent his moral authority to the debate and urged drug makers to make their intellectual property available so that other companies can manufacture enough shots for low and middle-income countries. In a video address to the World Meeting of Popular Movements, the Pope made a simple, straightforward plea: “I ask all the great pharmaceutical laboratories to release the patents. Make a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being, to have access to the vaccines. There are countries where only 3% or 4% of the inhabitants have been vaccinated.” His remarks came as the pharmaceutical industry continues to resist pressure at the World Trade Organization to agree to a temporary waiver of intellectual property for Covid-19 medical products. Despite support from the Biden administration, a proposal made a year ago has stalled amid objections from the European Union and some countries where several large drug makers are based.
Covid-19: Face coverings compulsory in NI for autumn/ winter
Wearing face coverings in crowded indoor spaces will remain a legal requirement in Northern Ireland throughout autumn and winter. It is part of the executive's winter Covid contingency plans, outlined on Tuesday. First Minister Paul Givan said there would also be a "focus on flexible and hybrid working" in workplaces. He also set out a range of options if Covid cases rise sharply or hospital pressures become "unsustainable". Mr Givan said potential measures included deploying Covid vaccine passports in "higher risk settings", if considered appropriate.
Community Activities
Covid Made London and Paris Cheaper — for the Rich
Yes, remote work has decreased demand for office space, and should eventually soften housing demand too, but it’s not happening yet. Plus, look at city streets and you’ll see how the splendid isolation of the elite, suburban “Zoomocracy” is already starting to backfire: The shift to “hybrid” home and office working has drivers commuting into town at ever more random times. Traffic congestion over the past month in Paris and London has been even worse than the comparable period in 2019, according to TomTom. Cities, after all, are still where the jobs are, especially when it comes to high-skill services — Google Inc. recently announced a 7 million square-foot campus in San Jose.
Religious exemptions threaten to undermine US Covid vaccine mandates
Epidemiologists are concerned that the loophole will embolden the vaccine-hesitant to evade requirements and undermine the state’s progress against the pandemic. And lawyers and legal experts are bracing for a deluge of complaints over the blurry lines that define “sincerely held” objections to the vaccine. Many parents and even some teachers have raised opposition to the mandates, with walkouts and protests already taking place across the state. In rural northern California and conservative patches of the south, parents picketed against the public health measures on Monday, insisting that they wouldn’t “co-parent with the government”. Last week, teachers at a school district in Los Angeles who were denied religious exemptions demonstrated outside the headquarters.
Australian state could fire more than 40 police staff for refusing a Covid-19 vaccine
A total of 43 police staff in the Australian state of Victoria have been stood down from duty and could face being fired after they failed to comply with a Covid-19 vaccine mandate, Victoria Police said. Under Victorian state law, all emergency service workers including police officers were set an October 15 deadline to book a vaccination, and must receive their first dose by Friday. In a statement sent to CNN on Tuesday, Victoria Police said 34 police officers and nine public safety officers who had "not complied with the vaccination direction" had been stood down from active service while they are investigated by the state's Professional Standards Command.
Covid-19: Irish press pause on some Covid-19 reopening plans
The Republic of Ireland is to pause some of the measures that had been planned for the reopening of society on Friday 22 October. It follows a rising number of Covid-19 cases in hospitals. The slight pause comes after a recommendation from the country's National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET). It is being made even though 89% of those aged over 12 are vaccinated. Cabinet ministers have decided to continue the use of Covid certificates for the hospitality sector and for entrance to night clubs which will now open for the first time since March 2020.
No special deals to allow unvaccinated players at Australian Open: official
Australia's Victoria state will not do special deals with unvaccinated athletes to allow them to compete at major events, an official said on Tuesday, putting Novak Djokovic's Australian Open title defence and bid for the Grand Slam record in doubt. World number one Djokovic, level on 20 Grand Slam titles with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, declined to reveal his vaccination status again this week and said he was unsure if he would defend his Australian Open crown as authorities work out COVID-19 restrictions for the tournament
Ireland to allow nightclubs to reopen, but keeps some COVID curbs
Ireland will allow nightclubs to reopen for the first time since March 2020 but stepped back on Tuesday from plans to drop almost all COVID-19 restrictions in response to a rise in infections in one of the world's most vaccinated countries. After imposing one of Europe's toughest lockdown regimes, the government had hoped to lift most curbs this week including the need for physical distancing and requirement for vaccine certificates in bars and restaurants. Those measures will instead be extended until February, as will a requirement that bars and restaurants operate table service only. Those attending nightclubs must wear facemasks except when eating, drinking and dancing.
UK under pressure to reimpose restrictions as COVID cases soar
Many scientists are pressing the British government to reimpose social restrictions and speed up booster vaccinations as coronavirus infection rates, already Europe’s highest, rise still further. The United Kingdom recorded 49,156 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, the largest number since mid-July. New infections averaged 43,000 a day over the past week, a 15 percent increase compared with the week before. Last week, the Office for National Statistics estimated that one in 60 people in England had the virus, one of the highest levels seen in Britain during the pandemic. In July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government lifted all the legal restrictions that had been imposed more than a year earlier to slow the spread of the virus, including face coverings indoors and social distancing rules. Nightclubs and other crowded venues were allowed to open at full capacity, and people were no longer advised to work from home if they could. Some modellers feared a big spike in cases after the reopening. That did not occur, but infections remained high, and recently have begun to increase.
Workers denied COVID-19 vaccine exemptions sue hospital
Several employees at the largest hospital system in Massachusetts say in a lawsuit that they were subjected to discrimination and retaliation in violation of federal law when their requests for medical or religious exemptions from the organization’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate were denied. The federal suit was filed Sunday by eight workers at Mass General Brigham. Attorneys for the workers said in a memo attached to the lawsuit that they are not challenging the legality of the vaccine mandate, but are attempting to “prevent discrimination and retaliation based on religion or disability.” “Defendant’s offering of medical and religious exemptions was illusory and not based in accordance with federal law,” the suit says.
Italy's president criticizes violent COVID-19 pass protests
Italy’s president on Monday strongly criticized the violence that has erupted amid protests over the country's new coronavirus workplace health pass requirement, saying it appeared aimed at jeopardizing Italy’s economic recovery. President Sergio Mattarella spoke out as riot police again clashed with protesters at the port in the northern city of Trieste at times using water canons to push them back. The protesters, who have included right-wing agitators in previous episodes, oppose Italy s Green Pass requirement. Italy on Friday became the first major European economy to require all workers — from hairdressers to factory workers — to present proof of vaccination, a negative test within the past 48 hours or proof of having been cured recently of COVID-19 to enter workplaces. The pass had already been required to enter indoor venues like restaurants, museums and theaters, or for long-distance domestic travel.
Working Remotely
AmEx Remote Work Policy to Allow Four Weeks a Year Away From Office
American Express Co. will allow employees to work from wherever they want at least four weeks a year as part of the company’s push to offer greater flexibility even after the pandemic subsides. AmEx will place employees into one of three groups: hybrid, on-site or fully virtual, Chief Executive Officer Steve Squeri said in a memo to staff on Monday. A “large majority” of workers will likely work hybrid schedules, with 80% of employees having told the credit-card giant they’d like to come back to the office at least some of the time, he said.
Young Professionals Have Worries About Remote Working
A new report from Universum shows that younger professionals and students are more concerned about remote working positions than their older counterparts. The annual Most Attractive Employers report finds that a remote work “leadership gap” could hinder upskilling opportunities for young professionals. Of the 18,000 respondents, 12% of senior workers had virtually no concerns about remote working, compared to 23% of young workers. Even more, 57% of young professionals and 56% of students said they had worries about feeling isolated and missing out on connecting with their colleagues, compared to just 40% of older workers who felt the same.
Virtual Classrooms
Remote learning during COVID doesn't work for students with ADHD
Remote learning has been a challenge for all children, but most of all for those with special needs. ADHD Australia chair Professor Michael Kohn said most children and young people with the condition have struggled with learning from home during the pandemic. The home environment is also filled with distractions such as toys, pets, siblings and snacks. Students have to go without the direct support of their teacher, so parents have had to step in to help scaffold their learning. On the positive side, students are shielded from negative social interactions and may be better supported at home.
Pandemic learning loss is real and kids need help to catch up, education experts say
Every summer, children forget some of what they learned during the previous school year, but now experts are warning that because of school closures and other disruptions during the COVID-19 pandemic, students will have a lot more lost learning to make up for. Prachi Srivastava, a professor in education and global development with the faculty of education at Western University, says learning loss is expected. She is proposing a plan for helping Canadian children thrive academically after the pandemic, and she thinks it should be implemented as soon as possible.
Public Policies
Bolsonaro's Pandemic Handling Draws Explosive Allegation: Homicide
A Brazilian congressional panel is set to recommend mass homicide charges against President Jair Bolsonaro, asserting that he intentionally let the coronavirus rip through the country and kill hundreds of thousands in a failed bid to achieve herd immunity and revive Latin America’s largest economy. A report from the congressional panel’s investigation, excerpts from which were viewed by The New York Times ahead of its scheduled release this week, also recommends criminal charges against 69 other people, including three of Mr. Bolsonaro’s sons and numerous current and former government officials.
New York's $2 Billion Fund for Undocumented Workers Runs Dry
Earlier this year, New York created a $2.1 billion fund to help undocumented immigrants and others who weathered the pandemic without access to government relief. The Excluded Workers Fund, by far the biggest of its kind in the country, was intended to provide eligible workers with one-time payments to help cover costs associated with joblessness, such as back rent and medical bills. But just a few months after the state began accepting applications, the fund is about to run out of money, following a blitz in claims and a speedy distribution of aid. State authorities announced they would stop accepting new applications as of Oct. 8, adding that even those who had applied in the two weeks before that deadline might not be approved.
WHO defends delay in approving India’s Covaxin jab: ‘We are aware that many are waiting’
The World Health Organisation has defended its decision to delay the approval of India’s homemade coronavirus vaccine Covaxin and said that it cannot cut corners in its process. The international health body said that it was looking for “one additional piece of information” from Bharat Biotech, the Hyderabad-based company which created the vaccine. The vaccine, which was India’s first indigenously made Covid jab, is one of three currently being used in the country’s Covid-19 inoculation drive. India’s drugs control body had approved the restricted emergency use of Covaxin in January. It accounts for 11 per cent of the 980 million doses administered in the country so far.
WHO-led program aims to buy antiviral COVID-19 pills for $10
A World Health Organization-led programme to ensure poorer countries get fair access to COVID-19 vaccines, tests and treatments aims to secure antiviral drugs for patients with mild symptoms for as little as $10 per course, a draft document seen by Reuters says. Merck & Co's experimental pill molnupiravir is likely to be one of the drugs, and other drugs to treat mild patients are being developed. The document, which outlines the goals of the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) until September next year, says that the programme wants to deliver about 1 billion COVID-19 tests to poorer nations, and procure drugs to treat up to 120 million patients globally, out of about 200 million new cases it estimates in the next 12 months.
Germany may miss COVID-19 vaccine donation goal, blames manufacturers
Germany may miss its target to donate 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses this year due to conditions imposed by manufacturers and delivery shortfalls, a health ministry official said in a letter to Brussels seen by Reuters. The 100 million doses account for half of the total promised by European Union member states to poorer countries this year, according to the European Commission. But on Oct. 19, the foreign office said Germany had only donated just over 17% of that amount
US expected to authorize mix-and-match COVID booster shots
Federal regulators are expected to authorize the mixing and matching of COVID-19 booster doses this week in an effort to provide flexibility as the campaign for extra shots expands. The upcoming announcement by the Food and Drug Administration is likely to come along with authorization for boosters of the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots and follows the OK for a third dose for the Pfizer vaccine for many Americans last month. The move was previewed Tuesday by a U.S. health official familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly ahead of the announcement. The FDA was expected to say that using the same brand for a booster was still preferable, especially for the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna that have proved most effective against the coronavirus. The agency was still finalizing guidance for the single-shot J&J vaccine.
Maintaining Services
Mix-and-Match Covid Boosters: Why They Just Might Work
Immunizations typically consist of two or more doses of the same vaccine. The Moderna vaccine, for example, is administered in two identical shots of mRNA, separated by four weeks. A double dose can create much more protection against a disease than a single shot. The first dose causes the immune system’s B cells to make antibodies against a pathogen. Other immune cells, called T cells, develop the ability to recognize and kill infected cells. The second shot amplifies that response. The B cells and T cells dedicated to fighting the virus multiply into much bigger numbers. They also develop more potent attackers against the enemy.
New York City Schools Data Shows Few Covid Cases
When roughly one million public school students returned to classrooms in New York City last month amid the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant, families and educators expressed profound concern. But for the past five weeks, case counts have remained low. The average weekly positive rate among students in public schools is 0.25 percent — well under the city’s daily average rate of 2.43 percent. Experts, however, say the city may not be testing enough students.
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to Covid-19. So far, 1 in 7 have gotten a booster shot of vaccine
As the US tries to stave off another Covid-19 surge this winter, health experts encourage anyone who is eligible to get a booster dose of vaccine do so. About 10.7 million people have received a booster shot, including roughly 15% of seniors ages 65 and up, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, only the Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for use as a booster for certain high-risk groups who received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago, the US Food and Drug Administration said. Advisers to the FDA recently recommended booster doses for some people who got the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
UK faces calls for ‘Plan B’ with virus cases high and rising
Life has returned to normal for millions in Britain since coronavirus restrictions were lifted over the summer. But while the rules have vanished, the virus hasn’t. Many scientists are now calling on the government to reimpose social restrictions and speed up booster vaccinations as coronavirus infection rates, already Europe’s highest, rise still further. The U.K. recorded 43,738 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, slightly down from the 49,156 reported Monday, which was the largest number since mid-July. New infections have averaged more than 44,000 a day over the past week, a 16% increase on the week before. Last week, the Office for National Statistics estimated that one in 60 people in England had the virus, one of the highest levels seen in Britain during the pandemic.
Healthcare Innovations
Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine highly protective in 12-18 age group - U.S. CDC study
The Pfizer Inc/BioNTech SE COVID-19 vaccine was 93% effective in preventing hospitalizations among those aged 12 to 18, according to an analysis released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday. The study was conducted between June and September, when the extremely contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus was predominant. Yet, the data from 19 pediatric hospitals showed that among the 179 patients who were hospitalized for COVID-19, 97% were unvaccinated, providing reassurance of the vaccine's efficacy.
Oxford scientists working on new Covid vaccine to target Delta variant
A new and modified version of the Oxford vaccine is being developed to target the Delta coronavirus variant, The Independent understands. Early work has been started by members of Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert’s team at the University of Oxford – the same scientists behind the AstraZeneca jab first rolled out in January. A source told The Independent the new vaccine was being designed with the aim of “having something on the shelf ready to scale up – if it’s needed”. Although the UK’s vaccine programme was singled out as a success in a recent report which largely condemned the government for its handling of Covid-19, scientists have insisted there is still more to be done in better protecting the nation, with large pockets of the population and certain communities still not fully vaccinated.