|

"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 16th Dec 2021

Isolation Tips
UK COVID cases hit record; Top doctor warns of worse to come
Professor Chris Whitty described the current situation as two epidemics in one — with omicron infections rising rapidly even as the country continues to grapple with the older delta variant, which is still causing a large number of infections. Public health officials expect omicron to become the dominant variant across the U.K. within days. Omicron already accounts for a majority of cases in London. The U.K. recorded 78,610 new infections on Wednesday, 16% higher than the previous record set in January. While scientists are still studying the risks posed by the highly transmissible omicron variant, Witty said the public should be braced for the figures to continue rising in coming weeks. “There are several things we don’t know,” Whitty said. “But all the things we do know are bad, the principal one being the speed at which this is moving. It is moving at an absolutely phenomenal pace.”
Hygiene Helpers
NHS and social care workers must have Covid vaccine after MPs pass new law
Care staff and NHS workers will now be required to have their coronavirus vaccine in order to work after MPs voted through a new law this evening (Tuesday, December 14). MPs voted 385 to 100 in favour of the new regulations, which will require NHS and social care staff to be vaccinated by April 2022. It means those who have not received their vaccine have just a few months to get it or face being unable to work. While the new regulation was approved in Parliament, it did meet resistance from some MPs, including dozens from the Conservative party.
Italy extends COVID-19 state of emergency, imposes swab for EU visitors
Italy on Tuesday extended a COVID-19 state of emergency to March 31 and ruled that all visitors from EU countries must take a test before departure, amid concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The state of emergency, which was introduced in January last year, gives greater powers to the central government, making it easier for officials to bypass the bureaucracy that smothers much decision-making in Italy.
Germany to ease testing for those with COVID-19 booster
Germany will exempt people who have had a booster vaccination from having to take a coronavirus test before entering some leisure facilities, federal and regional health ministers agreed on Tuesday. The proposal, agreed by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and ministers from Germany's 16 federal states, is aimed at encouraging people to get a booster shot and relieving testing capacity. However, a negative test result would still be required to enter hospitals and care homes to help protect more vulnerable people, according to the draft, reviewed by Reuters.
Community Activities
German police foil 'anti-vaxxer murder plot' against state premier
German police have foiled a plot by anti-vaccination activists to murder the state premier of Saxony in eastern Germany, they said on Wednesday, as concerns grow over an increasingly violent pushback against COVID-19 vaccination plans. The plot to kill Michael Kretschmer is the latest in a series of incidents that underscore the anger of some Germans over restrictions on the unvaccinated and plans to make vaccinations compulsory for the general population. Saxony has one of Germany's highest levels of COVID-19 infection but also its lowest vaccination rate. It is a stronghold of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD), which harbours many vaccine sceptics and anti-lockdown protesters.
Shortage of vaccinated nannies adds fuel to US childcare crisis
As if working parents didn’t have it hard enough during the pandemic, now a shortage of vaccinated nannies, babysitters and day-care workers is making the seemingly impossible quest to find child care even harder. Almost every parent who comes to Tiny Treasures Nanny Agency, which makes nationwide placements, are seeking vaccinated providers. Yet, just 60% of the nannies looking to get work through the company have gotten the shots, according to founder Ruka Curate. The mismatch is creating a feeding frenzy for fully vaccinated, qualified nannies, driving hourly rates to eye-poppingly high levels. Six-figure jobs that two years ago would have been filled in a day are now met with resistance from inoculated child-care workers who realize they can ask for more money, Curate said.
Covid vaccinations: 'We desperately need volunteers'
With the government announcing all over-18s are to be offered their booster jabs by the end of the year, vaccination centres are in dire need of more volunteers. The BBC spoke to some of those helping out at one centre in Essex. At the vaccination centre at Maldon District Council's offices, volunteers are helping marshal queues and vaccinate the thousands of people who turn up every week. Across Mid and South Essex, 7,500 jabs are administered every day - but that that needs to reach 22,000 by the end of December if every person eligible for a booster vaccine comes forward.
SQREEM’s New AI-powered Study Examines Motivations Surrounding COVID-19 Vaccine Resistance in the US
Leveraging proprietary Artificial Intelligence (AI) built to understand online human behavior in a completely anonymous way, SQREEM Technologies ′ recent U.S. COVID-19 Vaccine Study provides a striking insight into the attitudes and motivations of anti-vaxxers and the vaccine-hesitant. The study utilizes anonymized digital engagement scores as the main metric to understand audience relevance to topics/aspects surrounding COVID-19 vaccination. In the study, ‘anti-vaxxers’ are audiences that do not agree with the COVID-19 vaccine and its use, while ‘vaccine-hesitant’ are audiences that are reluctant to use the COVID-19 vaccine despite its availability. For both groups, digital engagement scores with values greater than 5 signify awareness, while values greater than 10 signify a strong engagement with the topic.
Working Remotely
16 Ways To Lead A Virtual Team In Remote And Hybrid Work Environments
After the Covid-19 pandemic forced most businesses to adapt to remote work environments to stay afloat during shelter-in-place, many leaders became aware of the numerous benefits that remote work has to offer. Even as life is beginning to regain a sense of normalcy, many organizations have chosen to stick with remote and hybrid work environments. As executive clients embrace remote and hybrid work environments, they may need some help getting used to leading virtual teams. 16 members of Forbes Coaches Council weigh in with their best advice for leaders who are tasked with navigating these new ways of conducting business.
National Bank of Canada asks Canadian employees to work remotely as Omicron concerns grow
National Bank of Canada said Wednesday it had asked staff to work remotely, if possible, making it the second large Canadian lender to return to work from home amid growing concerns over the Omicron coronavirus variant. Canada's top health official Theresa Tam warned on Monday that COVID-19 cases in the country could rise rapidly in the coming days. That has led Canadian banks and financial firms to rethink return-to-office plans.
Can tech companies grow if their employees work remotely?
Dmitri Lepikhov, CEO of MightyCall, writes about remote work: "As turnover and new hires threatened to overhaul a company culture we'd worked hard to cultivate, we realized that culture cannot be forced, especially when everyone is working remotely and isn't used to each other. We didn't respond to that by removing remote work, which our staff enjoyed. Instead, it inspired us to hire candidates who are not only qualified, but who share our ideas of what corporate culture should be. Simply getting like-minded, capable people together will ensure a healthy company culture where staff enjoy working together. And if they do want to meet up, we've established hybrid work."
Virtual Classrooms
How innovative methods helped playschools to connect with students during the pandemic
The pandemic may have challenged educators across the world in multiple ways but some Indian playschools managed to tide over the difficulties with insightful teaching methods. This article looks how five institutions continued to educate and engage their young students with fun and informative techniques.
Colleges go back to drawing board — again — to fight virus
Facing rising infections and a new COVID-19 variant, colleges across the U.S. have once again been thwarted in seeking a move to normalcy and are starting to require booster shots, extend mask mandates, limit social gatherings and, in some cases, revert to online classes. The threat of the omicron variant comes as a gut punch to schools that were hoping to relax safety measures this spring.
Public Policies
Germany scrambles to buy millions of coronavirus vaccine doses
Health Minister Karl Lauterbach and Finance Minister Christian Lindner on Wednesday announced that Germany is prepared to shell out an extra €2.2 billion ($2.48 billion) of its budget to secure 92 million doses of coronavirus vaccines as the omicron variant spreads and Germany's new government sounds the alarm over dangerously depleted vaccine stocks. The order will see Berlin purchase 80 million doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine through EU programs and another 12 million doses on the open market. Lauterbach said, "We need more vaccines quickly for speedy booster shots and possible omicron vaccinations."
Covid jabs for younger children in UK could get green light before Christmas
The UK government’s vaccines watchdog is hopeful of approving Covid jabs for younger children before Christmas, with officials saying the wait to do this has been caused in part by a delay in the manufacturer seeking regulatory approval. Before Covid vaccines can be used for five- to 11-year-olds, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) must give a specific vaccine the green light. So far only Pfizer has applied for its vaccine to be used for this age group. After that, the vaccines watchdog, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), would meet to discuss whether the vaccination programme should be expanded to include younger children.
Japan government panel clears Moderna COVID vaccine for booster shots
Japan's health ministry said on Wednesday its panel of experts had agreed Moderna Inc's COVID-19 vaccines could be used for booster shots, setting the stage for official government approval. Japan started administering booster shots this month with Pfizer Inc vaccines. The panel agreed Moderna vaccines could be used on those aged 18 or older for booster shots, the ministry said. The same age restriction is being applied to Pfizer vaccines for booster shots.
EU regulator backs J&J COVID-19 booster dose for adults
The European Union's drug regulator on Wednesday recommended that a booster dose of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 shot may be given at least two months after a first dose in people aged 18 years and older, as the bloc battles surging infections. The Omicron coronavirus variant is swiftly spreading across the globe, with many new cases linked to the mutant and the World Health Organization warning that Omicron poses a "very high" risk but data on its severity is limited. The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said its recommendation to allow J&J booster doses follows data which showed the additional shot led to a rise in antibodies against the COVID-causing SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
Pfizer set to oust AstraZeneca as top supplier of COVID-19 shots to poor nations
Pfizer and BioNtech are set to displace AstraZeneca as the main suppliers of COVID-19 vaccines to the global COVAX programme at the start of 2022, a shift that shows the increasing importance of their shot for poorer states. The expected change comes with headaches for receiving countries that lack sufficient cold storage capacity to handle the Pfizer vaccine, and amid risks of a shortage of syringes needed to administer that shot. AstraZeneca is currently the most distributed vaccine by COVAX, according to data from Gavi, the vaccine alliance that co-manages the programme with the World Health Organization (WHO).
Vaccine alliance chief: Omicron could trigger ‘Inequity 2.0’
The head of vaccine alliance Gavi, which is leading a U.N.-backed push to get COVID-19 vaccines to developing countries, said that he’s seen early signs that rich countries are beginning to withhold donations out of fears about the omicron coronavirus variant — warning any new hoarding could lead to “Inequity 2.0.” Gavi chief executive Dr. Seth Berkley took stock of the nearly two-year fight against the pandemic as the alliance released the latest update to its supply forecast for COVID-19 vaccines that it has repeatedly downscaled, largely because of export bans and vaccine hoarding by some producer countries that critics say it should have foreseen. “With the omicron variant, what we’ve seen is panic in many countries that has led acceleration of boosters both to the numbers of people getting them, but also the timeline for getting them,” Berkley told The Associated Press in an interview late Tuesday at his home outside Geneva.
Maintaining Services
U.S. universities move final exams online as COVID-19 spreads anew
A growing number of U.S. colleges and universities were moving final exams online and cancelling non-essential gatherings as the rapidly spreading Omicron coronavirus variant sent people in droves to medical clinics to be tested in scenes reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic. Many schools were reassessing campus policies as confirmed cases of the Omicron variant turned up in at least 36 states, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at a briefing on Wednesday. The Delta variant remains responsible for the vast majority of cases, she added
Omicron spreading so fast it threatens Britain's hospitals
The omicron variant is spreading so rapidly it has the potential to overwhelm Britain’s hospitals, highlighting the need to strengthen coronavirus restrictions and speed up the delivery of booster vaccine shots, the country’s health minister said Tuesday. Omicron is so transmissible that even if it proves to be less severe than other variants, there is still likely to be a surge in hospital admissions if it goes unchecked, U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers. His comments came as the government rushed to accelerate the national vaccination program, with a goal of offering a booster dose to every adult by the end of December.
Africa sees 83% surge in COVID-19 cases in past week
Africa is experiencing its fastest surge in COVID-19 cases this year, with the number up 83% in the past week, although deaths remain low, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday. The spike in cases is driven by the Delta and Omicron variants, the WHO said in a statement. The number of new COVID-19 cases on the continent is currently doubling every five days, the shortest time frame reported this year. Africa’s low inoculation rates have encouraged viral mutations like the new Omicron variant to spread, according to health experts. The continent struggled to obtain vaccine doses until recently, and is facing challenges to distribute them including lack of funds, staff and equipment. As of Monday, only 20 African countries had vaccinated at least 10% of their population, according to the WHO. Some countries, like Democratic Republic of Congo and Chad, have vaccinated less than 1%, data collected by Reuters shows.
Healthcare Innovations
Inside the Botswana lab that discovered Omicron
The day that Dr Sikhulile Moyo ruefully calls “Omicron Day” started like any normal day, or as normal as one can be for a medical virologist in the middle of a global coronavirus pandemic. That Friday morning, November 19, the 48-year-old Zimbabwean prayed as usual with his wife and children, wolfed down some cereal and then raced to beat the traffic in Botswana’s capital Gaborone. Later that day...“There were four sequences showing very strange patterns that we had never seen before. I felt a lot of emotions in my heart,” says Dr Moyo, recalling rising feelings of concern. On the computer, mismatches in the samples’ genetic code against the original SARS-CoV-2 virus had been flagged across rows of multicoloured letters. The discrepancies were so great that Dr Moyo worried there was some kind of mistake. But after the team ran thorough quality checks, they still came up with the same results. “It was quite alarming to us simply because we’d never seen such a lineage in Botswana,” adds Choga. “It was heavily mutated.”
Vaccines still provide ‘significant protection’ against severe COVID-19
Omicron has been the latest variant to test the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. COVID-19 vaccines appear to have become less effective in preventing severe COVID-19 disease and death, but they still provide ‘significant protection’, says the World Health Organisation (WHO), according to Reuters. The Omicron variant, first detected in South Africa and Hong Kong last month, has now been reported by 77 countries. WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus emphasised that it should not be dismissed as “mild”.
U.S. study suggests vaccines may be ineffective against Omicron without booster
All three U.S.-authorized COVID-19 vaccines appear to be significantly less protective against the newly-detected Omicron variant of the coronavirus in laboratory testing, but a booster dose likely restores most of the protection, according to a study released on Tuesday. The study from researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard and MIT that has not yet been peer reviewed tested blood from people who received the Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines against a pseudovirus engineered to resemble the Omicron variant.
Hong Kong researchers urge third COVID-19 shot after new Omicron study
Researchers in Hong Kong have urged people to get a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, after a study showed insufficient antibodies were generated by the Sinovac and BioNTech products to fend off Omicron. Tuesday's release of the results of a study by scientists in the microbiology department of the University of Hong Kong was the first published preliminary data on the impact of Sinovac's vaccine against the Omicron variant of coronavirus. None of the serum of the 25 Coronavac vaccine recipients contained sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant, according to the study, accepted for publication in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, the researchers said.