"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 8th Dec 2021

Isolation Tips
The explosion of Covid PTSD cases is a mental health crisis in the making
When the Covid-19 pandemic began, people working in the trauma field knew the psychological toll would be colossal. In the spring of 2020, I began interviewing professionals about the mental health fallout of the pandemic, specifically its impact on frontline medical staff. During the first wave, two in every five intensive care staff in England reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. That work continued for almost a year, during which time a second wave hit and the initial traumas were exacerbated. But it wasn’t only frontline workers who were experiencing trauma symptoms: Covid has posed perhaps the biggest threat to mental health in England since the second world war. Now, at the tail end of 2021, the pandemic is still not over. The NHS forecasts that nationally, there will be 230,000 new cases of PTSD as a result of Covid-19.
Austria plans to lift lockdown, but not for the unvaccinated
The unvaccinated will stay in lockdown when Austria lifts its wider general lockdown on Sunday, Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed on Tuesday, a day after he took office. Austria went intolockdowntwo weeks ago to counter a surge in daily COVID-19 infections to record levels, with restaurants, bars, theatres and non-essential shops shut to all but take-away business. Hotels are closed to tourists. Infections have plunged since but intensive-care bed occupancy is still rising.
Hygiene Helpers
Africa needs to make own vaccines but hurdles are high, experts say
Africa needs to make its own vaccines to avoid a repeat of its supply problems in the COVID-19 pandemic but faces big obstacles in turning itself from a pharmaceutical testing ground into a place where vaccines are created, experts said on Tuesday. The Partnership for African Vaccine Manufacturing (PAVM) has set as a target that 60% of the continent's routine vaccine needs, or between 1.4 and 1.7 billion doses yearly, should be met by local manufacturing by 2040, up from about 1% now. Experts meeting at a PAVM conference in Rwanda said the pandemic had shown Africa urgently needed to tackle its dependence on imported vaccines. But they outlined daunting obstacles, from brain drain to power shortages.
New York City expands COVID vaccine mandates for children, private sector
New York City expanded its array of COVID-19 mandates on Monday, setting vaccine requirements for children as young as 5 years old and for workers at all private-sector companies as the highly transmissible Omicron variant pushes into more U.S. states. The most-populous U.S. city set a Dec. 27 deadline for all 184,000 businesses within its limits to make their employees show proof they have been vaccinated, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. In addition, children 5 to 11 years old must get at least one dose by Dec. 14 and those 12 and older need to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 27 to enter restaurants and participate in extracurricular school activities, such as sports, band and dances
Poland to introduce mandatory COVID jabs for some workers, says health minister
Poland will introduce compulsory vaccinations for doctors, teachers and security service personnel, and will require staff in places like restaurants to check customers' COVID-19 vaccination certificates, the health minister said on Tuesday.
Community Activities
As many as 6 million eligible Britons may not have had a Covid jab. Who are they?
The Omicron variant has refocused attention on vaccination rates as data shows disparities in uptake across age, region and ethnicity. Hundreds of cases of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant have now been confirmed in the UK and experts have called for a renewed focus on vaccination rates.
Working Remotely
Remote work was supposed to be the great equalizer. The reality? Not so much
Brian Elliott, executive leader of Future Forum and SVP at Slack, said that executives have had very different lived experiences than their employees these past 18 months or so. “The more senior you are, the better your employee satisfaction scores are going to be,” he said. Those numbers drop as you go down the ladder because more seniority means better work-life balance, autonomy, flexibility, and ability to manage stress, he explained. Elliott noted that the divide is not just about how executives and employees have experienced remote work. The groups also differ in the reasons why they want to return to the office: Executives want workers to come back together for collaboration and projects, while employees say they want socialization.
How to build a collaborative culture in remote work
As we move into 2022, the rise of digitization only continues to grow and grow. Gone are the days of the nine-to-five, in-office models – replaced instead by sleek, modern, hybrid work. And while remote structures have been essential over the past 12 months – were they ever meant to be a long-term solution? One of the main issues of contention for HR leaders has been how to foster an authentic culture away from the office. How do you facilitate collaboration, boost morale, and make those important colleague connections from behind a screen?
Virtual Classrooms
Covid-19: No plans to close schools or for remote learning
In Northern Ireland, the Department of Education (DE) has said "there are no plans to close schools early this term or to move to remote learning". That is according to a circular from DE which has been sent to all headteachers and education bodies. Earlier Education Minister Michelle McIlveen said she understood concerns expressed by some teaching unions. However, she told the assembly that classroom-based teaching remained the best option for all pupils.
Remote Learning Fails the Test
Accumulating evidence shows the damage of school shutdowns. Now a working paper published in the National Bureau of Economic Research documents how much remote learning reduced student achievement, especially for low-income and minority children. The researchers—from Brown University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and MIT—examine the relationship between in-person learning and third- through eighth-grade student scores in 12 states. They found that the share of students who scored “proficient” or above declined in spring 2021 compared to previous years by an average of 14.2 percentage points in math and 6.3 percentage points in language arts.
Public Policies
Slovak Ruling Parties Agree on $337 Bonus for Vaccinated Seniors
Slovakia’s ruling parties agreed on a lower-than-planned payment worth 300 euros ($337) to people aged 60 and over for getting fully inoculated against Covid-19 to increase one of the European Union’s lowest vaccination rates. The government is expected to give final approval on Wednesday, but that should be a formality given the cabinet’s makeup, daily newspaper Sme reported. The coalition also agreed to relax some coronavirus measures for the vaccinated, such as access to all shops, from Friday. Children attending sixth grade and higher will switch to online learning from Monday. “We have a good agreement,” Prime Minister Eduard Heger said after the coalition meeting on Tuesday.
U.S. judge blocks last remaining Biden admin COVID-19 vaccine rule
A federal judge on Tuesday blocked the last of the Biden administration's COVID-19 vaccine mandates for businesses, saying the government exceeded it authority with a requirement that millions of employees of federal contractors be inoculated. The ruling was the latest setback for President Joe Biden, a Democrat, who announced a series of measures in September aimed at increasing vaccination rates to fight the pandemic that continues to kill more than 1,000 Americans daily. "Abuse of power by the Biden administration has been stopped cold again," Republican South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson, who joined the lawsuit, said in a statement. U.S. District Judge Stan Baker in Savannah, Georgia, said Congress did not clearly authorize the president to use procurement to impose a vaccine requirement on contractors that will have "vast economic and political significance."
COVID-19: Mandatory jabs are 'absolute last resort', says WHO Europe chief as several EU countries consider introducing them
The World Health Organisation's top official in Europe has said mandatory coronavirus vaccinations are an "absolute last resort", as several EU countries consider introducing them. "Mandates around vaccination are an absolute last resort and only applicable when all feasible options to improve vaccination uptake have been exhausted," WHO Europe director Hans Kluge said. Several European countries are debating whether to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory.
World Bank says its funding helped deliver 100 mln COVID-19 vaccine doses
The World Bank on Monday said its funding had helped deliver 100 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines around the world and it would reach the 150-million mark by the end of the month, if doses arrive as expected. World Bank President David Malpass said the multilateral development bank had contracted for nearly 300 million doses, with some $7.5 billion in vaccine financing operations for 69 countries to be committed by the end of December.
EU regulator backs Roche's arthritis drug for treating severe COVID-19
The European Union's drug regulator on Monday recommended extending the use of Roche's RoActemra arthritis drug for adult COVID-19 patients on systemic treatment with steroids and those who need oxygen support or mechanical ventilation. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said its human medicines committee evaluated data from a main study involving over 4,000 hospitalised adults, and concluded that the medicine's benefits outweigh the risks for these patients. The EMA's endorsement comes after Europe crossed at least 75 million coronavirus cases as the world braces for the new Omicron variant. Formal approval is up to the European Commission, which typically follows EMA recommendations.
EU agencies endorse mix-and-match of COVID-19 vaccines
EU health agencieshave recommended that COVID-19 vaccines be mixed and matched for both initial courses and booster doses as the region battles rising cases ahead of Christmas. Evidence suggests that the combination of viral vector vaccines and mRNA vaccines produces good levels of antibodies against the coronavirus causing COVID-19, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said in a joint statementon Tuesday.
Maintaining Services
South Africa's Covid Hospital Admissions More Than Double
The daily number of people admitted to hospital in South Africa with Covid-19 more than doubled on Tuesday from a day earlier. According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases 383 people have been admitted to hospital with the disease in the last 24 hours compared with 175 in the preceding period. Of the 13,147 new cases recorded 64% were in Gauteng, the province that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria, compared with 70% of the 6,381 cases the day earlier, according to a statement from the NICD. The positivity rate of tests was 24.9% on Tuesday, down from 26.4% the day earlier. Over the 24 hours 27 deaths due to Covid-19 were recorded, taking the total confirmed death toll in the country since the pandemic began to 90,002.
Covid Patients in Japan Are Recovering in Robot-Staffed Hotels
Step into the lobby of its east tower, though, and it’s a different world. The only formal greeting guests receive is from Softbank Corp.’s robot, Pepper. They’re given written instructions on their rooms and stay. That’s because the new arrivals all have one thing in common: they’re infected with coronavirus. In Japan, some Covid patients get a hotel booking -- and can enroll in clinical trials during their stay -- with their positive test results. The approach offers a respite for a dysfunctional health care system where individual hospitals are able to opt-out of caring for Covid patients, resulting in a situation where patients are being turned away despite available resources. It’s also aimed at reducing the risk of transmission among inter-generational households when space is at a premium in one of the most densely populated countries in the world.
Omicron sets back airline industry's recovery hopes
New travel restrictions prompted by the Omicron coronavirus variant have set back the nascent recovery in international flights, creating delays and headaches in some regions, according to airline and airport officials. The flurry of new testing rules and border closings has raised concerns ahead of the important Christmas travel season, but some airline bosses said they hope any backward moves will be short-lived. Global airlines have blamed a patchwork of shifting rules for depressed demand for international travel, which is critical for their return to profit following steep COVID-19 pandemic-related losses in 2020.
Booster shots may be needed to keep fully vaccinated status in Australia in future
A booster dose could be necessary to keep your green Covid-19 vaccination tick in the future, the health department secretary Brendan Murphy says. Booster shots are being rolled out across Australia amid warnings that immunisation from the initial vaccinations wanes with time. The federal government distinguishes these “booster” doses from the third vaccine dose some immunocompromised people need to get a standard level of protection.
Merck ties up with Thermo Fisher to make its COVID-19 pill in Canada
Drugmaker Merck & Co on Monday announced a deal with Thermo Fisher Scientific to manufacture its experimental COVID-19 pill at the medical device maker's site in Whitby, Ontario. The site will manufacture the pill, molnupiravir, for distribution in Canada and the United Kingdom as well as markets in the European Union, Asia Pacific and Latin America. The Ontario site is one of three manufacturing sites in the world for the pill, which is being developed with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics.
Mexico's capital rolls out first COVID-19 booster shots
Mexico City officials will begin offering a third COVID-19 vaccine dose to residents over the age of 60 on Tuesday, officials said, part of a government plan to roll out booster shots. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said last week the third doses would be made available as soon as possible, beginning with elderly people who are more vulnerable to the coronavirus. The first booster shots in the massive capital of nearly 10 million people will be AstraZeneca doses given to residents of the southern Tlalpan neighborhood, officials told a news conference on Monday.
Armed gangs raise risks in vaccinating rural Nigerians
As the emergence of the omicron variant underscores the importance of inoculating more people to prevent new mutations of the coronavirus, Nigeria also is facing a difficult path: Only 3.78 million are fully vaccinated. Going directly to the villagers is one way to overcome any hesitancy they might have in getting the shots, said Bawa. “When you meet them in their home, there is no problem,” he added. “Everybody will take (the vaccine).” On Dec. 1, Nigeria began requiring government employees to be vaccinated or show a negative test for the virus in the past 72 hours. Although authorities emphasize the country is capable of getting the Western-manufactured vaccines to everyone, health care workers in rural areas are struggling, mostly because of delayed government funding.
Healthcare Innovations
Scientists find ‘stealth’ version of Omicron that may be harder to track
Scientists say they have identified a “stealth” version of Omicron which cannot be distinguished from other variants using the PCR tests that public health officials deploy to gain a quick picture of its spread around the world. It came as the number of cases of the original Omicron variant detected in the UK rose by 101 to 437 in a single day and Scotland announced a return to working from home. The stealth variant has many mutations in common with standard Omicron, but it lacks a particular genetic change that allows lab-based PCR tests to be used as a rough and ready means of flagging up probable cases. The variant is still detected as coronavirus by all the usual tests, and can be identified as the Omicron variant through genomic testing, but likely cases are not flagged up by routine PCR tests that give quicker results.
Impact of obesity and metabolic disorders on severity of COVID-19 and vaccine-breakthrough infections
Obesity and impaired metabolic health are important risk factors for severe COVID-19. Novel data indicate that these risk factors might also promote vaccine-breakthrough SARS-CoV-2 infections in fully vaccinated people. In a Nature Reviews Endocrinology “Year in Review” article DZD-Researcher Norbert Stefan summarizes the most important and up-to-date findings about the relationships of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases with the severity of COVID-19 and SARS-CoV-2 vaccine-breakthrough infections.
Cuba's COVID vaccines: the limited data available suggests they're highly effective
Cuba has been quietly working on its own vaccines, immunising its population and selling doses abroad. Cuba’s vaccine efforts have maintained a relatively low profile in the west to date. Politics may well be a reason. The US embargo against Cuba that began in the cold war is still in effect, and tensions between the countries remain high. But for those familiar with Cuba, its COVID vaccine development should come as no surprise – the country has a long history of manufacturing its own vaccines and medicines. Nor should it be surprising that two of its COVID vaccines – Abdala and Soberana 02 – appear to have performed very well in trials. Here’s how they work...
Canadian drugmaker says its COVID-19 vaccine is effective
A Canadian drugmaker said its plant-based COVID-19 vaccine showed strong protection against the virus and will soon seek authorization at home and elsewhere. Medicago announced Tuesday that its two-dose vaccine was 71% effective at preventing COVID-19 infection in a large, late-stage study that included several variants including the delta variant. The company’s results did not include the emerging omicron variant, which wasn’t circulating during the study period. The Quebec City company said it will seek Canadian approval “imminently” and has also begun the process to file with regulators in the U.S., U.K. and other countries. The company said it's also preparing to send its data to the World Health Organization.
COVID-19: Previous infection and vaccination combine for best protection against variants
People who have overcome a coronavirus infection and also received a vaccine have higher-quality antibodies against variants, researchers have found. The new study comes amid concerns that new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, such as Omicron, can still infect people who have received two vaccine doses. According to researchers at the American Society for Microbiology, the study could help identify the optimal mix of antibodies to "help guide future preventive efforts".
UK study shows mixing Pfizer and AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines with Moderna elicits better immune response
Results show support in favour of heterologous dosing which may help to advance vaccination programmes in poorer countries. A British study mixing COVID-19 vaccines has found that people had a better immune response when they received their first dose of AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech shots, followed by Moderna nine weeks later, according to Reuters. These results support mix-and-match dosing, otherwise known as heterologous dosing. This is expected to boost vaccine drives in poor and middle income countries, which may need to combine different brands between first and second shots if supplies are running low. Matthew Snape, the Oxford professor behind the study dubbed Com-COV2, said: “We found a really good immune response across the board…, in fact, higher than the threshold set by Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine two doses