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"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 20th Dec 2021

Isolation Tips
Netherlands starts 'painful' Christmas coronavirus lockdown
Dutch urban centres were largely deserted on Sunday as the country began a snap lockdown that, aimed at stemming an expected COVID-19 surge caused by the fast-spreading Omicron variant, left people's Christmas plans in disarray. Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced the shutdown on Saturday evening, ordering the closure of all but essential stores, as well as restaurants, hairdressers, gyms, museums and other public places from Sunday until at least Jan. 14. In Rotterdam, police used a water cannon to disperse a group of around 1,000 people who had gathered outside the city's main soccer stadium, ahead of a clash between local team Feyenoord and bitter rivals Ajax Amsterdam.
Officials draw up plans for two-week 'circuit breaker' lockdown
Plans for a two-week circuit breaker lockdown after Xmas are being drawn up. Leaked minutes from a SAGE meeting said restrictions are needed 'very soon.' During the Thursday meeting, the experts backed a ban on indoor social contact. It is believed that they want fresh measures to come in before January 1
Germany to impose quarantine on travellers from Britain from Monday
Germany will impose quarantine on travellers from Britain from midnight on Monday and require a negative COVID-19 test for entry into the country, the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases said on Saturday. Germany's regional health ministers had urged the national government on Saturday to introduce tougher rules on people arriving from Britain, where the Omicron coronavirus variant has sparked a surge in infections. At a meeting, the ministers called on Berlin to classify Britain as a virus-variant area, enforcing a two-week quarantine on all travellers including those who are vaccinated.
Hygiene Helpers
France hopes new vaccine pass will speed up vaccination amid Omicron spread
France hopes that a planned new vaccine pass that will be required to enter public places will persuade more people to get inoculated against COVID-19 as the country faces a rapid spread of the Omicron variant, the health minister said on Saturday. The government does not want to impose new curfews or lockdowns on people who have been vaccinated, but the threat of Omicron means authorities have to increase pressure on those refusing vaccination, Olivier Veran said on France Inter radio.
Appeals Court Reinstates Biden Covid-19 Vaccine Rules for Large Employers
A federal appeals court Friday reinstated Biden administration rules that require many employers to ensure that their workers are vaccinated or tested weekly for Covid-19. A divided panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dissolved a stay issued by another court that had blocked the rules. The majority, in a 2-to-1 ruling, said legal challenges to the administration’s vaccination-and-testing requirements were likely to fail. The ruling is a near-term boost to the White House but was immediately appealed on an emergency basis to the Supreme Court by some employers who oppose the mandate. The requirements, issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and scheduled to take effect in January, apply to businesses with 100 or more employees and cover roughly 84 million workers.
Canada's vaccine mandate for foreign crews a headache for European airlines
European airlines are walking an increasingly fine line to meet both foreign inoculation and local privacy requirements, as more countries require flight crews to be vaccinated against COVID-19, carriers say. Canada is slated on Jan. 15 to end an exemption that allowed entry of unvaccinated foreign flight crews, joining others that have vaccine mandates for pilots and passengers alike. That's creating a logistical headache for European carriers, who are unable to ask for their employees' vaccination status since they are bound to strict data protection laws in Europe, a spokesperson for the trade group Airlines For Europe (A4E) said.
Community Activities
CNN closes U.S. offices to most workers as COVID-19 cases spike - memo
CNN is closing its offices in the United States to all nonessential employees as COVID-19 cases increase, the network said on Saturday in an internal memo to staff seen by Reuters. CNN, part of AT&T Inc's WarnerMedia division, will close its offices to all employees who do not have work in the office, the memo said. "We are doing this out of an abundance of caution," CNN President Jeff Zucker said in the memo. "And it will also protect those who will be in the office by minimizing the number of people who are there."
London Mayor Declares ‘Major Incident’ as Omicron Cases Surge
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a “major incident” due to a rapid spread of the omicron variant across the U.K. capital, according to a statement. A major incident refers to an event or situation with a range of serious consequences which requires special arrangements to be implemented by one or more emergency responder agencies. It is “beyond the scope of business-as-usual operations, and is likely to involve serious harm, damage, disruption or risk to human life or welfare, essential services, the environment or national security,” the government said.
Working Remotely
Uber, Google, Ford Delay Office Return as Omicron’s Spread Threatens Business Districts
Before the Omicron variant surfaced overseas last month, employers throughout the U.S. were preparing to call back employees to the office after the holidays. Now, a small but rising number of companies have modified or delayed plans as uncertainties swirl over the severity of the variant and its resistance to vaccines. That list includes Lyft, Ford, Uber and Google, though not all point to the new variant as the reason.
How to Have a Perfect Work-From-Home Friday
In a job market rife with uncertainty almost two years into the pandemic, employees have codified one practice to let them start the weekend early: work-from-home Fridays. For those long accustomed to being stuck in a cubicle until 4 p.m. or later, the great remote-working experiment has created opportunities to fine-tune schedules and get a jump on the house chores, hobbies, and family time that would have previously been relegated to Saturday. Here are some productivity hacks to achieve the perfect end to your work week.
The Five-Day Office Week Isn't Coming Back. WFH Is Here to Stay
There may be no going back to the five-day week in the office, according to a survey of workers in 25 countries. Both employees and managers found working from home during the pandemic was positive for performance and well-being, a report by the OECD found. The proportion of staff teleworking at least one day a week is expected to be much higher than before the pandemic. A separate study by OECD researchers of job postings on the website Indeed found that the substantial increase in advertised telework in Covid lockdowns was only reversed modestly when the restrictions were eased.
JPMorgan tells unvaccinated Manhattan staff to work from home
JPMorgan Chase & Co (JPM.N) instructed unvaccinated staff in Manhattan to work from home starting Tuesday, a further sign that banks and other financial firms are tightening protocols as COVID-19 infections rise and the Omicron variant spreads. The U.S. bank, one of the most aggressive in bringing employees back to the office, previously allowed unvaccinated staff to work in its Manhattan offices provided they were tested twice a week. In a memo to staff on Monday announcing the policy change, the bank urged unvaccinated staff to get vaccinated and for eligible employees to get booster shots. It also relaxed mask requirements for vaccinated staff working in its Manhattan offices.
Virtual Classrooms
School districts across US are returning to remote learning due to staffing shortages, COVID surge
School districts across the US are returning to remote learning due to staffing shortages and a surge of COVID as cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has doubled in just 24 hours ahead of the holiday break, according to reports. On Friday, Prince George's County in Maryland became the first major school district to announce that all students will make the move to remote learning. Students in the district will begin online learning Monday, just four days before winter break begins.
‘Very high’ levels of Covid staff absences could send learning online in new year, heads warn
“Very high” levels of staff absences linked to Covid could result in pupils learning remotely in the new year, headteachers in the UK have warned. School leaders told The Independent staff pressures posed the biggest threat to staying open to students in the next term, amid rising cases and warnings over the new Omicron variant. But headteachers said this could be affected by staff being unable to come into work due to Covid.
Public Policies
CDC recommends Moderna, Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines over J&J's
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday recommended Americans choose to receive one of two other authorised COVID-19 vaccines over Johnson & Johnson's shot, due to rare but sometimes fatal cases of blood-clotting. The CDC's move came after its Advisory Committee on Immunization voted unanimously to make the recommendation in favour of the vaccines made by Moderna Inc and Pfizer)/BioNTech over the J&J shot.
Omicron coronavirus cases surge in UK, scientists see bigger wave
Britain reported a surge in cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday which government advisors said could be just the tip of the iceberg, and London's mayor declared a "major incident" to help the city's hospitals cope. The number of Omicron cases recorded across the country hit almost 25,000 as of 1800 GMT on Friday, up by more than 10,000 cases from 24 hours earlier, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said. Seven people believed to have had the Omicron variant had died as of Thursday, up from one death in the UKHSA's previous data which ran up to Tuesday. Admissions to hospital of people thought to have the variant increased to 85 from 65.
Swiss order more COVID-19 jabs, tighten pandemic measures
Switzerland is ordering more COVID-19 vaccination doses, the government said on Friday, as it tightened pandemic curbs while opting not to embrace -- for now -- an even stricter limited lockdown. It is ordering 7 million doses each from Moderna and from Pfizer and BioNTech for the second half of next year, it said, bringing to 34 million doses its stockpile for 2022 and ensuring anyone who wants a jab will get it. After consulting regional authorities, the federal government said it will expand from Monday the requirement for people to show proof of vaccination or recovery from the coronavirus to access many indoor venues like restaurants.
France brings forward third COVID-19 vaccine shot
France will from next month reduce the time between second and third COVID-19 vaccination injections to four months and require people to show proof of vaccination to enter some venues, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Friday. The gap between shots is currently five months but the French government is concerned about the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant. Castex said that big public parties and fireworks would be banned on New Year's Eve and recommended that people - even if vaccinated - test themselves before attending year-end parties.
EU to place order with Pfizer for COVID shots adapted to Omicron
European Union governments have agreed to exercise an option to buy more than 180 million doses of a version of the COVID-19 vaccine adapted for the Omicron variant developed by BioNTech and Pfizer, the head of the European Commission said. Pfizer and BioNTech began development of a prototype Omicron-specific vaccine on November 25, and said they could have it ready in March. "The Member States have agreed to trigger a first tranche of over 180 million extra doses of adapted vaccines, in our third contract with BioNTech-Pfizer," Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference on Thursday night at the end of a regular summit with EU leaders.
Maintaining Services
New U.S. push for vaccines, boosters to stem 'raging' Omicron
U.S. health officials urged Americans on Sunday to get booster shots, wear masks and be careful if they travel over the winter holidays, as the Omicron variant raged across the world and was set to take over as the dominant strain in the United States. The government is gearing up for the next phase of battle in a two-year fight against a virus that has killed 800,000 people in the United States and disrupted every aspect of daily life. Two U.S. senators, Democrats Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, said on Sunday they tested positive for COVID-19 but were experiencing only mild symptom
S. Africa Covid-19 Hospitalizations Fall for First Time in Weeks
South African hospitals reported having slightly fewer Covid-19 patients than yesterday, the first decline in weeks. Still, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, does caution that figures can be skewed by late reporting of admissions. Even so the number could be taken as more evidence that the wave of infections caused by the omicron variant may be slowing. On Friday the South African Medical Research Council said that wastewater analyses showed a decreasing incidence of the virus in Pretoria, the South African capital.
France Curbs New Year's Eve Partying in a Bid to Shield Hospitals
French officials will curb outdoor revelry on New Year’s Eve in a bid to limit Covid-19 infections that risk overwhelming hospitals, Prime Minister Jean Castex said. “I’m appealing to everyone’s responsibility to find other ways to celebrate than large gatherings, and avoiding moments of conviviality,” Castex said in a televised speech on Friday, as many people in France began their winter vacations. Regional prefects will ban spontaneous parties and ask cities to hold off on fireworks and other celebrations, he said. “I understand the frustration to limit yourselves in such festive moments, but we owe that to our health-care personnel,” Castex said. France closed nightclubs this month, though not bars.
CDC releases new guidance to allow children exposed to coronavirus to attend school
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new strategy called "test-to-stay" that allows unvaccinated children to stay in school even if they have been exposed to the coronavirus, agency Director Rochelle Walensky said on Friday. "If exposed children meet a certain criteria and continue to test negative, they can stay at school instead of quarantining at home," Walensky said during a press briefing. Some states are already advising their schools to use "test-to-stay" strategies in order to keep more children in class.
Healthcare Innovations
S.Africa says vaccines, prior infection help mildness of COVID cases
South Africa's health minister said on Friday that the government believed that vaccines and high levels of prior COVID-19 infection were helping to keep disease milder in a wave driven by the Omicron variant. There have been early anecdotal accounts suggesting that Omicron is causing less severe illness than previous variants in South Africa but scientists say it is too early to draw firm conclusions. The country reported a record number of daily infections earlier this week.
Pfizer Delays Plans to Seek Authorization of Covid-19 Vaccine for Young Children
Pfizer Inc.and partner BioNTech have pushed back plans to request authorization of their Covid-19 vaccine in children ages 2 to 5, after the shot generated a weaker than expected immune response in a key study. The companies said Friday they would begin testing the addition of a third dose in the children, and if successful, would ask U.S. health regulators to authorize use sometime during the first half of 2022. Many parents of young children, who don’t have any Covid-19 vaccines available for use, have been looking forward to clearance of the shots.
The Science Behind Omicron’s Rapid Spread
As Omicron has rapidly taken over as the dominant variant of the coronavirus in South Africa and the U.K., scientists are beginning to piece together what gives it its evolutionary advantage. Researchers are still refining and augmenting their findings, but Omicron’s heightened transmissibility appears to be a combination of several properties: It seems able to more easily bind to and break into human respiratory cells; it appears to replicate faster once within our bodies; and it can substantially evade the immunity gained from past infection or vaccination. These advantages mean Omicron is spreading across the world at a breakneck pace. Since scientists in South Africa first flagged its presence last month, it has been detected in 77 countries and is probably present in most others, according to the World Health Organization.
Omicron may sideline two leading drugs against COVID-19
As strained U.S. hospitals brace for a new surge of COVID-19 cases caused by the fast-spreading omicron variant, doctors are warning of yet another challenge: the two standard drugs they’ve used to fight infections are unlikely to work against the new strain. For more than a year antibody drugs from Regeneron and Eli Lilly have been the go-to treatments for early COVID-19, thanks to their ability to head off severe disease and keep patients out of the hospital. But both drugmakers recently warned that laboratory testing suggests their therapies will be much less potent against omicron, which contains dozens of mutations that make it harder for antibodies to attack the virus. And while the companies say they can quickly develop new omicron-targeting antibodies, those aren’t expected to launch for at least several months.
Moderna COVID-19 shot likelier to cause heart inflammation than Pfizer's: study
Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine is up to four times more likely to cause inflammation of the heart muscle, a very rare side effect, than its rival vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech, according to a Danish study published in the British Medical Journal late on Thursday. The study, in which almost 85% of Danes, or 4.9 million individuals, aged 12 and older participated, investigated the link between mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines and heart inflammation, also known as myocarditis or myopericarditis. Earlier studies from Israel and the United States have indicated an increased risk of heart inflammation after inoculation with the mRNA-vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
Moderna Drops Pursuit of U.S. Patent for Key Component of Covid-19 Vaccine
Moderna Inc. has abandoned its application for a U.S. patent covering its Covid-19 vaccine that has been the subject of a heated dispute with the National Institutes of Health over the invention of a key component of the shot. The Cambridge, Mass., company said Friday it dropped the patent application “to allow more time for discussions with the NIH” aimed at an amicable resolution. At issue was credit for a key component of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, among the most widely used in the world. Patent holders could seek a cut of the shot’s billions of dollars in sales, though NIH hasn’t said whether it is interested in royalties.