"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 24th Nov 2021

Isolation Tips
COVID-19: Austria coronavirus lockdown feels not just like a health crisis, but also a cultural, social and political storm
On Saturday, the streets of Vienna were packed with shoppers. Today, they were quiet, if not deserted. Yes, this is lockdown, but it isn't quite the eerie emptiness of 18 months ago. Instead, the Austrian capital feels like it's closed for business. The clothes shops, the ice rinks and, of course, the Christmas markets. All shut. Maria Fridrichovsky normally sells chestnuts in one of the markets. She told me she is "angry" at what has happened, bemused that only 65% of the Austrian population is vaccinated against COVID. "I feel very sad because the companies are closed down," she said. "We sell chestnuts and potatoes to the people. It should be lovely here at Christmas. "But now it's so hard - many people are calling up by telephone - what can I do? What can I tell them? It's so sad."
Germany considers more COVID-19 curbs, compulsory vaccines as cases soar
Germany should impose further restrictions to try to stop a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, outgoing Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Tuesday as more politicians backed the idea of compulsory vaccinations. The surge in infections comes at a difficult time as Chancellor Angela Merkel is preparing to hand over to a new government after a national election in September. The leaders of the Social Democrats (SPD), Greens and Free Democrats, who are trying to form a new coalition, were due to break off their talks on Tuesday to meet Merkel to discuss the pandemic, sources close to the negotiations told Reuters.
Slovakia "intensively" looking at COVID lockdown possibility, PM says
The Czech Republic and Slovakia banned unvaccinated people from hotels, pubs, hairdressers and most public events from Monday after COVID-19 cases filled hospital intensive-care wards, and were mulling harsher steps to stem the resurgent pandemic. The central European neighbours both acted a step behind Austria, which first set restrictions on unvaccinated people but went for a full lockdown on Monday as the region became the world's latest COVID-19 hotspot.
Hygiene Helpers
AstraZeneca chief: Our coronavirus vaccine could protect older people longer than mRNA jabs
The head of AstraZeneca has suggested that the company’s adenovirus vaccine could provide longer-lasting protection against COVID-19 especially in older people than the mRNA vaccines from BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna. French CEO Pascal Soriot said this could be a reason why the U.K. hasn’t experienced the same high levels of hospitalizations as Europe, where cases have surged in recent months. But he said more data was needed. “It's really interesting, when you look at the U.K., there was a big peak of infections, but not so many hospitalizations relative to Europe,” he told BBC Radio 4. “In the U.K., this vaccine was used to vaccinate older people whereas in Europe initially people thought the vaccine doesn't work in older people,” he said. The pharma chief suggested that this could be because AstraZeneca’s adenovirus vaccine provides a better T cell response than mRNA vaccines. “The antibody response is what drives the immediate reaction or defense of the body when you are attacked by the virus,” Soriot said. “And the T cell response takes a little longer to come in. But it's actually more durable; it lasts longer.” The pharma chief said AstraZeneca’s adenovirus COVID-19 vaccine “has been shown to stimulate T cells to a higher degree in older people.”
Pfizer says its Covid vaccine is STILL 100% effective in children ages 12 to 15 four months after the second dose
Pfizer-BioNTech released data on Monday from a long-term analysis of their COVID-19 vaccine in kids aged 12 to 15. There were 30 confirmed symptomatic Covid cases in the placebo group compared to none in the vaccinated group Researchers say this equates to 100% efficacy at least four months after receiving the second dose. The vaccine is currently only fully approved for those aged 16 and older but the companies plan to apply for extended approval in the 12-15 age group soon
Germans Line Up at Vaccine Centers as Booster Push Accelerates
Germany’s sluggish Covid vaccine campaign is rattling back to life, with many snapping up online appointments for shots and others enduring hours of lines in the cold to receive more protection against the coronavirus. Some are taking to Twitter to voice frustration, elation or both at the surge in demand for Covid shots. Comments thanked those hardy enough to brave the elements for a shot, while others criticized authorities for not better organizing the latest inoculation push.
UK employers step up demand for workers vaccinated against Covid
Employers in the UK are following the lead of their counterparts in the US by stepping up demands for staff to be vaccinated against Covid-19, analysis of recruitment adverts reveals. According to figures from the jobs website Adzuna, the number of ads explicitly requiring candidates to be vaccinated rose by 189% between August and October as more firms ask for workers to be jabbed before they start on the job. Out of a total 1.2m job vacancies in the UK on its platform, the number of adverts requiring vaccination increased from 805 in August to 2,161 in September and 2,324 in October.
Getting jabs to the unvaccinated has never been more critical
More than ever before, we must look behind the reported Covid-19 numbers in hospitals and communities to understand what is happening in the pandemic. We also need to better understand how the pandemic is playing out among unvaccinated people, and those who have been vaccinated. To the public, the pandemic was and still is a silent pestilence, made visible by the images of patients fighting for their next breath and reporters at intensive care units talking about the fear of patients and the exhaustion of doctors and nurses from behind their fogged visors. This ongoing horror, which is taking place in ICUs across Britain, is now largely restricted to unvaccinated people. Generally, Covid-19 is no longer a disease of the vaccinated; vaccines tend to limit this suffocating affliction, with a few exceptions.
Italy allows COVID-19 vaccine booster 5 months after completing the first cycle -minister
Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Monday said it will be possible for the Italians to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster five months after completing the first vaccination cycle. "The booster dose is crucial to better protect ourselves and those around us. After Aifa's (Italy's medicines authority) latest advice, it will be possible to take it five months after completing the first cycle," Speranza wrote on Facebook.
Community Activities
Global licence deal to provide COVID antibody test tech free to poorer countries - WHO
A global licence for serological technology that detects COVID-19 antibodies will be provided royalty-free to poor and middle-income countries under a first of its kind agreement to boost production, the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday. The existing four tests, which check for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies developed after either an infection or a vaccine dose, could also inform decisions on the need for boosters to protect against the disease, it said in a statement. The non-exclusive licensing agreement reached with the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), a public research institute offering the technology as a global public good, is the first test licence signed by the WHO's Medicines Patent Pool (MPP).
EU Weighs Changes to Covid Certificates, Travel Rules During Surge
The European Union is discussing this week how to update its digital Covid-19 certificates and its approach to travel within and outside the bloc as member nations take varying steps to counter the latest wave of the pandemic.
Working Remotely
Finland's Capital City Region Set to Recommend Remote Work on Covid Surge
Helsinki and its surrounding cities are set to recommend a return to remote working as well as extended mask use as Covid cases mount. When remote work is not possible, employers should require mask use at workplaces even if social distancing is possible, a group that drafts recommendations for municipal authorities said
Remote working allowed more women to take up jobs during the pandemic
The number of women in the workplace has risen after more companies allowed employees to work from home during the pandemic, according to new research. The number of women aged between 25 and 44 who are in work in 2021 has increased by 1.8 per cent since the pandemic began. One in 10 mothers in a relationship said that remote working had allowed them to either take up a job or increase their working hours since February 2020, while just five per cent of fathers and three per cent of women without children said the same.
Covid-19: NI ministers reinforce work from home message
People in Northern Ireland are being urged by Stormont ministers to work from home "where possible" in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19. Current advice already states that people should work from home where they can but ministers said they were "strengthening" that message. In Scotland, most restrictions have been lifted, but working from home where possible is advised. The government wants employers to consider long-term "hybrid" working models.
Virtual Classrooms
Combining virtual and in-person learning is the future of education, study finds
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, everything from work meetings to doctors’ visits has shifted online. For parents, this has also meant adjusting to virtual school for their kids. Now, a new study conducted by researchers from the Dresden University of Technology explored what the future of schooling may look like. They explained that though there have been benefits linked to online learning, it’s not likely to be the sole form of education moving forward; instead, education professionals are likely to utilize a combination of both in-person and digital teaching. “Digital teaching should be seen as a complementary means to further improve the quality of teaching, and the importance of face-to-face teaching should not be forgotten,” said researcher Dr. Anne Gärtner.
Covid Saw A Boost In Online Learning Among Women
The Covid period has generally speaking been a difficult one for women. While labor market participation among women had been steadily rising in the decades leading up to the pandemic, it fell dramatically during it, with participation rates in America falling to levels last seen in 1987. It's a trend that is not echoed, however, in new data from the online learning platform Coursera, which shows that women have enrolled in courses at higher rates than before the pandemic. Indeed, whereas women made up 47% of learners in 2019, this had jumped to 52% by 2021. “Our research suggests that gender gaps in online learning narrowed during the pandemic, even as gender employment gaps widened,” Jeff Maggioncalda, Coursera CEO, says.
Public Policies
White House says U.S. will not lock down to fight Covid as European nations implement restrictions
“We can curb the spread of the virus without having to in any way shut down our economy,” White House coronavirus response coordinator Jeff Zients said. “We have 82% of people now with one shot and more and more people getting vaccinated each week,” Zients said. Austria’s lockdown began Monday and will last for at most 20 days, with a nationwide vaccine mandate taking effect Feb. 1. The Netherlands’ launched a partial lockdown on Saturday as well.
China Is More Dedicated Than Ever to Covid Zero as It Battles Delta
China is facing its toughest virus battle since the first days of the pandemic. Rather than pivot from the strict Covid Zero route that others have abandoned, the country is doubling down, despite rising costs to its people and economy. The current resurgence already accounts for the most infections and the most days with new cases spurred by the delta variant since May. It’s also the most widespread outbreak since China first vanquished the infection that emerged in Wuhan two years ago. Despite ever more extreme measures aimed at shutting it down -- from testing an infant more than 70 times to locking down Shanghai Disneyland on one case -- the pathogen is proving harder than ever to wipe out.
Maintaining Services
Israel begins giving COVID shots to children age 5 to 11
Israel on Tuesday began administering the coronavirus vaccine to children age 5 to 11. The country recently emerged from a fourth COVID wave, and daily infections have been relatively low for the last few weeks. But Health Ministry statistics show that a large share of the new infections have been in children and teenagers.
Covid patients in ICU now almost all unvaccinated, says Oxford scientist
Covid-19 is no longer a disease of the vaccinated, the head of the Oxford jab programme has said. The “ongoing horror” of patients gasping for breath in hospital is now “largely restricted” to people who are unvaccinated, according to Prof Sir Andrew Pollard. Even though the more transmissible Delta variant continues to infect thousands, most of those who are fully vaccinated will experience only “mild infections” that are “little more than an unpleasant inconvenience”.
COVID-19: Take a lateral flow test before you visit busy places this Christmas, says government
The government is advising people to take a COVID-19 test before they spend time in "crowded and enclosed spaces" this winter. The Cabinet Office had previously advised people to take two lateral flow tests a week, especially if they have school-age children or are meeting clinically vulnerable people. Now the public is being told to take rapid lateral flow tests "if it is expected that there will be a period of high risk that day". It does not state what a high-risk scenario may be, but it could be an activity such as Christmas shopping in busy high streets or shopping centres. The Cabinet Office website says: "You are at higher risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 in crowded and enclosed spaces, where there are more people who might be infectious and where there is limited fresh air
Dutch COVID-19 patients transferred to Germany as hospitals struggle
The Netherlands started transporting COVID-19 patients across the border to Germany on Tuesday to ease pressure on Dutch hospitals, which are scaling back regular care to deal with a surge in coronavirus cases. A patient was transferred by ambulance from Rotterdam to a hospital in Bochum, some 240 km (150 miles) east, on Tuesday morning, and another would follow later in the day, health authorities said. The number of COVID-19 patients in Dutch hospitals has swelled to its highest level since May in recent weeks and is expected to increase further as infections jump to record levels.
Covid antivirals could be pandemic game-changers. But Americans might struggle to access them
Antiviral drugs for treating Covid-19 have been hailed as a pandemic “game-changer” — a tool that could, perhaps, finally help life return to normal. But basic gaps in the U.S. health system could mean that two new treatments from Pfizer and Merck won’t make much of a difference after all. The companies’ treatments, which haven’t yet received emergency authorization, could make a Covid diagnosis dramatically less threatening. But in practice, before receiving the pills, patients may need to jump through a series of hoops that often prevent Americans from accessing care: Recognizing their symptoms, taking a test, getting a prescription from a clinician, and filling the prescription at a pharmacy. “Our routine medical systems are not really set up for this,” said Céline Gounder, a physician and NYU professor who served on President Biden’s Covid advisory board in the months before his inauguration. “These are medications that need to be started within three days of developing symptoms. It can take you longer than three days to get an appointment.”
Healthcare Innovations
Covaxin Gave Lower Protection Amid India's Deadly Delta-Led Wave
Covaxin, one of the main vaccines used in India’s coronavirus immunization drive, provides only 50% protection against symptomatic Covid-19, according to a real-world study that suggests the shot is less effective than initially thought. As India was slammed by its second-major Covid wave earlier this year, researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi analyzed data from 2,714 of the hospital’s health workers who were showing signs of infection and underwent RT-PCR testing between April 15 and May 15, according to a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal. At the start of the country’s vaccination campaign in January, staff at AIIMS had exclusively been offered Covaxin, a shot co-developed by India’s state-funded health research agency and Bharat Biotech International Ltd.
Vaccines Ward Off Severe Covid in U.S., Wane Against Infections
Covid-19 vaccines remain highly effective at keeping people alive and out of the hospital, but new U.S. data add further support to the argument that the shots aren’t preventing infections as much as they once did. Unvaccinated people were about five times more likely to test positive for the virus than the vaccinated in the week starting Sept. 26, down from about 15 times more likely in May, according to the latest age-adjusted data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which were updated Monday. The new figures come shortly after the CDC approved booster shots for all adults, and could provide additional support for third doses as the U.S. heads into its traditional winter virus season. Covid-19 cases are rising across many parts of the U.S., including the Midwest and Northeast. The CDC data isn’t adjusted for time since vaccination. That means that the earliest recipients of the vaccine -- mostly senior citizens and those with pre-existing conditions -- are possibly at even greater risk.
COVID-19 tied to higher risk of stillbirth, maternal death
In the first study, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) COVID-19 Response Team analyzed data from the Premier Healthcare Database Special COVID-19 Release, a large, hospital-based database from March 2020 to September 2021, a period that included the emergence and eventual dominance of Delta. Of all pregnant women in the database, 53.7% were White, 50.6% had private health insurance, 15.4% were obese, 11.2% had diabetes, 17.2% had high blood pressure, 1.8% had multiple-gestation pregnancy, 4.9% smoked, and 1.73% had COVID-19. The study authors noted that most of the women who tested positive for COVID-19 at delivery were likely unvaccinated. Among 1,249,634 deliveries at 736 hospitals, stillbirths were rare, at 0.65%, but the rate was 1.26% among 21,653 deliveries to pregnant COVID-19 patients, compared with 0.64% among 1,227,981 deliveries to non–COVID-19 patients. Stillbirths were defined as fetal deaths at 20 weeks' gestation or later.