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"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 10th Dec 2021

Isolation Tips
Austria plans to fine vaccine holdouts up to 3600 euros a quarter
Austria's conservative-led government on Thursday gave details of its plan to make coronavirus vaccines compulsory, saying it will apply to people 14 and over and holdouts face fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,071) every three months. Roughly 68% of Austria's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, one of the lowest rates in western Europe. Many Austrians are sceptical about vaccines, a view encouraged by the far-right Freedom Party, the third biggest in parliament.
Slovakia to re-open shops for vaccinated, others face longer lockdown
Slovakia will on Friday re-open non-essential shops and some services for those vaccinated against COVID-19 while at the same time extending a lockdown for others and closing some schools, Health Minister Vladimir Lengvarsky said. The central European country of 5.5 million people has struggled with one of the world's worst coronavirus waves in the past few weeks, and shut shops and services for all people for two weeks ending Dec. 9. Lengvarsky had sought to extend the general lockdown until Dec.16, and to ease it for the vaccinated from Dec. 17.
Hygiene Helpers
Finland to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination from healthcare workers
Finland plans to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for health and social care workers, the government said on Wednesday. The new legislation would also allow social and health care employers to access information about employees' COVID-19 vaccinations and possible infections in the past. "This regulation would make it possible to ensure the health and safety of social and healthcare workers and thus the availability of services, Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru told a news conference.
Capital injection: Slovakia offers cash to over-60s to get COVID shots
Slovakia is to give cash handouts to people over 60 who get vaccinated against the coronavirus or have their booster shot, aiming to spur inoculation rates lagging others in the European Union. Parliament approved the payments on Thursday, giving the go-ahead to a proposal by the government which had at first considered handing out vouchers for hotels or restaurants but opted instead on payouts. Those receiving booster shots by mid-January will get 300 euros ($340), while over-60s who sign up for the vaccine by that time are entitled to 200 euros.
Vaccine equity is essential. Vaccine makers need to drop barriers to reaching refugees and other displaced people
It is estimated that 167 million people, concentrated in low- and middle-income countries, are at risk of outright exclusion from Covid-19 vaccination campaigns. That number is subject to sudden shifts: overnight, a storm, a flood, an intensifying conflict, a toppled government, disputed boundary, or shifted frontline can push hundreds of thousands of people out of health systems’ oversight. More people have been forcibly displaced in the last decade than ever before, because the weather is both more extreme and less predictable and violent conflict is increasingly common. For everyone, but most starkly for the most vulnerable people, the pandemic has had a compounding effect on insecurity. Not only are these individuals omitted from vaccination campaigns, but many of them are at extra-high risk of contracting the disease because they live in close quarters with limited ability to physically distance or self-isolate and often with poor sanitation.
Ending the pandemic requires global solidarity, not blame
When historians write about the Covid-19 pandemic, they will certainly highlight the essential research behind safe and effective vaccines, the remarkable pace of vaccine development, and the sacrifices made by clinicians and clinical trial participants. They will also write about the gross neglect of global partners when designing a worldwide public health strategy, which has been plagued by vaccine inequity, nationalism, and fear. The latest misguided response by the U.S. government bans incoming travel from a number of southern African countries — some which have no known cases of Covid-19 caused by the Omicron variant — but not from European ones where the variant has already been detected. Moreover, the ban does not apply to U.S. nationals flying into the U.S., who need show only proof of a negative Covid-19 test.
Community Activities
Ukraine spa town stands out amid nation’s vaccine hesitancy
A small spa town in western Ukraine is standing out in a European country where only 29% of the people have received COVID-19 vaccine shots, and locals credit their community spirit for fending off the worst of the pandemic. In Morshyn, a scenic town nestled at the Carpathian foothills in the Lviv region, 74% of its 3,439 residents had been fully vaccinated as of late November. While Ukrainian authorities have imposed new restrictions amid a surge of infections and deaths blamed on a slow pace of vaccination and designated the region around Morshyn as a “red zone” where most public places have been shut down, the wellness centers in Morshyn have remained fully open.
Coronavirus: Vaccine refused by more than 230 Hertfordshire hospital workers
More than 230 hospital workers in parts of Hertfordshire have refused to have a Covid-19 vaccination, NHS bosses said. Last month the government announced proposals that health workers undertaking any CQC-regulated activity should be fully vaccinated by April. A meeting of the West Herts Hospitals Trust board identified 239 staff who had so far refused the vaccination and the status of 132 staff was "unknown". The trust said 91% of its staff had been vaccinated. The report presented to the board said senior leaders and clinicians would play a role in proactively encouraging staff to take the vaccine, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.
Working Remotely
Working from home doesn't have to suck. Here's how 'Out Of Office' can be better
Today, the phrase "work from home" comes with a lot of baggage. Though it has been several months since COVID-19 first led to office closures nationwide, remote work likely still involves Zoom fatigue, working on the couch, and rarely going outside. But two writers want to make remote work better. Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen are co-authors of the new book Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home. In the book, Warzel and Petersen explore the history of workplace culture in the United States, and how to use the shifting employment landscape during the pandemic to chart new ways of working.
Remote-working job surveillance is on the rise. For some, the impact could be devastating
Remote-monitoring and surveillance tools could devastate employee relations unless efforts are made to put more power into the hands of workers, the author of a report by the European Commission's Joint Research Council (JRC) warns. Kirstie Ball, who spent five months compiling the JRC's extensive Electronic Monitoring and Surveillance in the Workplace report, says an increase in employee surveillance threatens to undermine trust and commitment to work amongst staff who are left in the dark about why and how data on them is gathered.
Virtual Classrooms
Virtual instruction is the future of modern teaching: How schools and educators can prepare
Virtual instruction in the post-pandemic era requires clear-headed attention to the value it brings to students, educators and school districts alike. However, as we’ve seen, many have struggled throughout the pandemic, adapting to a virtual model, leaving some lingering questions about the viability of this instructional model. School districts seeking funds allocated for student learning through initiatives like the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) will discover that the intellectual and business solution of adding a robust virtual element to their institutional construct is a critically essential component of student instruction. However, simply moving traditional curriculums onto a Zoom call isn’t an effective approach.
The new normal: should e-learning be a part of education post-pandemic?
Whether you’re a tech sceptic or a technophile, most people can agree that technology played an enormous role in ensuring that education could continue during the pandemic. When Covid-19 hit, e-learning tools helped students to enjoy an unbroken educational experience, even at a time when they couldn’t physically visit the classroom or mingle with other students. But while tech helped schools to successfully pivot to deal with pandemic learning, what does the future now hold for online learning? Given the choice of returning to learning as normal, should e-learning stick around, post-pandemic, to aid teaching and learning or is face-to-face teaching the most effective method? That question is one that educators and stakeholders are now pondering.
Public Policies
Covid-19 news: England activates Plan B to slow omicron spread
UK prime minister Boris Johnson has announced new measures in England to reduce the spread of covid-19 with cases of the omicron variant growing rapidly. Mandatory mask-wearing will be extended to indoor public venues including cinemas, theatres and places of worship from Friday but will not be required in pubs and restaurants, while the guidance to work from home where possible will return on Monday. The NHS covid pass, which can be obtained by having two vaccines or a negative lateral flow test, will be required for entry into nightclubs and other large venues from 15 December. Johnson warned it is clear that the new variant is “growing much faster” than the delta variant, and cases of omicron could be doubling every two or three days. He said Christmas parties and nativities could go ahead, but urged people to “exercise due caution” and get their booster jabs. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) warned omicron is spreading “rapidly” and it is possible hospital admissions from the new variant in England could exceed 1000 per day – and still be increasing – by the end of the year. “The overall scale of any wave of hospitalisations without interventions is highly uncertain, but the peak could reach several times this level,” the minutes from a meeting held on Tuesday said.
WHO exec: donated COVID-19 vaccines with short shelf life 'major problem'
Wealthy countries donating COVID-19 vaccines with a relatively short shelf life has been a "major problem" for the COVAX dose sharing programme, a senior official at the World Health Organization said on Thursday. Kate O'Brien, the WHO's vaccine director, said in a briefing the proportion of wasted doses is smaller in countries receiving doses through COVAX than in many high-income countries. Her comments come as concerns grow that many African countries are finding they do not have the capacity to get shots in arms before they expire.
FDA expands Pfizer COVID booster, opens extra dose to age 16
The U.S. is expanding COVID-19 boosters, ruling that 16- and 17-year-olds can get a third dose of Pfizer’s vaccine. The U.S. and many other nations already were urging adults to get booster shots to pump up immunity that can wane months after vaccination, calls that intensified with the discovery of the worrisome new omicron variant. On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration gave emergency authorization for 16- and 17-year-olds to get a third dose of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech -- if it’s been six months since their last shot.
U.S. Senate passes Republican bill to overturn Biden vaccine mandate
The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved a Republican measure that would overturn President Joe Biden's COVID-19 vaccine-or-test mandate for private businesses, with two Democrats joining Republicans to back the initiative. The 52-48 vote sends the legislation to the Democratic-led House of Representatives, where it faces strong headwinds, while Biden has threatened to veto it.
People with health issues or inactivated vaccine should get COVID-19 booster - WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommended on Thursday that people who are immunocompromised or received an inactivated COVID-19 vaccine should receive a booster dose to protect against waning immunity. Many countries have been rolling out booster shots, targeting the elderly and people with underlying health issues, but worries about the new, more transmissible Omicron variant have prompted some to expand their use to larger portions of their populations.
U.S. FDA authorizes use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 antibody cocktail
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday authorized the use of AstraZeneca's antibody cocktail to prevent COVID-19 infections in individuals with weak immune systems or a history of severe side effects from coronavirus vaccines. The antibody cocktail, Evusheld, is only authorized for adults and adolescents who are not currently infected with the novel coronavirus and have not recently been exposed to an infected individual, the regulator said. The authorization for the therapy, made up of two monoclonal antibodies tixagevimab and cilgavimab, marks a significant step for AstraZeneca, whose widely used COVID-19 vaccine is yet to be approved by U.S. authorities.
Eritrea has not started vaccinating against COVID, says Africa CDC
Eritrea has yet to start vaccinating its population against COVID-19, the head of the African Centres for Disease Control said on Thursday. "Eritrea is the only country now that has not joined the family of 55 member states (of the African Union) that are moving forward with vaccination, but we are not giving up," John Nkengasong told an online media briefing.
China approves Brii Biosciences antibody COVID treatment
China's medical products regulator said on Wednesday it had approved the use of Brii Biosciences' neutralising antibody cocktail for COVID-19, the first treatment of its type against the virus given the go-ahead in the country. The combination of BRII-196/BRII-198 showed a 80% reduction of hospitalisation and deaths in non-hospitalised COVID-19 patients at high risk of developing severe disease, based on final results from a Phase III clinical trial, Brii said in a statement on Thursday.
Maintaining Services
Indiana hospitals see record patient count amid virus surge
Indiana hospitals are seeing their highest-ever overall patient counts amid a monthlong COVID-19 surge and the state’s largest hospital system announced Thursday it had enlisted National Guard assistance. Indiana University Health said it sought the support of the six-person National Guard teams for most of its 16 hospitals across the state because the strain on its “team members, nurses and providers has never been greater.” The IU Health system isn’t alone as the number of COVID-19 patients in Indiana hospitals has more than doubled in the past month, with about 2,750 such patients as of Wednesday as about 30 people a day are dying from the illness, according to state health department tracking.
US Covid cases surge as vaccine progress slows and Omicron variant sparks fears
For Dr Rina D’Abramo of the MetroHealth System in Cleveland, it’s difficult when patients in the emergency room tell her they have not been vaccinated. “You can hear it in their voice when you say, ‘Are you vaccinated?’” said D’Abramo, who works at a hospital in the Brecksville suburb. “They shrink down and are like, ‘No. Now I know why I need to be vaccinated.’ ” Unfortunately, there are plenty of people in Ohio and the rest of the US too who have not yet learned that lesson, even as infection rates nationally start to surge again amid fears of the possibly highly contagious new Omicron variant. Ohio is one of the states that has seen the largest recent increases in hospitalizations due to Covid as the number of cases climbs across the country. There has been 19% increase in hospitalizations over the past two weeks in the United States, according to a New York Times analysis of data
U.S. campaign to vaccinate young children off to sluggish start despite abundant supply
The United States rushed millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses for children ages 5 to 11 across the nation, but demand for inoculations for younger kids has been low, more than a dozen state public health officials and physicians said. Of the 28 million eligible U.S. children in that age group, around 5 million have received at least one dose, according to federal data, likely satisfying initial pent up demand from parents who were waiting to vaccinate their kids.
Healthcare Innovations
Britain starts recruiting for real-world COVID antiviral trial
British researchers on Wednesday started recruitment for a clinical trial to test antiviral COVID-19 treatments for use in people early on in the disease who are at higher risks of complications, starting with Merck's molnupiravir. Britain became the first country in the world to approve molnupiravir, which was jointly developed by U.S.-based Merck & Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, in November. Britain's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recommended the antiviral pill for use in people with mild to moderate COVID-19 and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness, such as obesity, older age diabetes, and heart disease.