|

"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 21st Dec 2021

Isolation Tips
Dutch streets deserted as snap Christmas COVID lockdown starts
Article reports that 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.
No lockdown before Christmas, Germany says
Germany's health minister Karl Lauterbach ruled out a Christmas lockdown on Sunday but warned a fifth COVID-19 wave could no longer be stopped and backed mandatory vaccination as the only way to stop the pandemic. "There will not be a lockdown before Christmas here. But we will get a fifth wave - we have crossed a critical number of Omicron infections," Lauterbach said, speaking on broadcaster ARD. "This wave can no longer be completely stopped." In another interview with BILD, Lauterbach added that he did not expect there to be a "hard lockdown" after the holidays either.
Hygiene Helpers
As Omicron threatens a global surge, some countries shorten COVID-19 booster timelines
A growing number of countries are reducing the wait time for COVID-19 vaccine boosters from six months to as few as three in a bid to ward off a new surge in infections from the Omicron variant. They are reacting to early evidence suggesting that Omicron is spreading faster than its predecessor, Delta, and is more likely to infect people who were vaccinated or had COVID in the past. Some scientists, however, say that giving boosters too soon could compromise the level of longer-term vaccine protection. While data remains limited, half a dozen laboratory studies have shown that an initial course of COVID-19 vaccines - typically given in two doses - is not enough to halt infection from the Omicron variant, but a booster shot may help.
Kuwait to make COVID-19 vaccine booster compulsory
Kuwait will require anyone who has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for nine months to get a booster shot, the government communication centre tweeted on Monday. Kuwait will also require incoming travellers to quarantine at home for 10 days unless they receive a negative PCR test for the coronavirus within 72 hours of their arrival.
Why changing the definition of 'fully vaccinated' could be difficult
Article reports that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention might consider redefining what it means to be "fully vaccinated" against Covid-19 to include a third dose of vaccine -- but the question is when the definition could change. Such a change is "on the table and open for discussion," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday. "That's certainly on the table. Right now, it is a bit of semantics," Fauci told CNBC's Andrew Ross Sorkin on "Squawk Box." Fauci was referring to the definition of "fully vaccinated" for the purpose of regulations or businesses that may require vaccination.
Sri Lanka to make COVID vaccine card must to enter public places
Sri Lanka will require the showing of a COVID-19 vaccination certificate compulsory for entry to public places starting from January 1, in a renewed attempt to prevent another spike in infections. Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga made the announcement on Sunday in an abrupt switch from the gradual ending of restrictions put into place after the country was confronted with a third wave of COVID-19 infections in April caused by the Delta variant.
Community Activities
Israel to add US, Canada to travel ban over omicron variant
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office announced the decision following a Cabinet vote. The rare move to red-list the U.S. comes amid rising coronavirus infections in Israel and marks a change to pandemic practices between the two nations with close diplomatic relations. The U.S. will join a growing list of European countries and other destinations to which Israelis are barred from traveling, and from which returning travelers must remain in quarantine.
Death of child with Covid-19 prompts calls for Māori to be prioritised in NZ vaccine rollout
The first death of a child with Covid-19 in New Zealand has prompted calls for Māori children to be prioritised in the next stage of the vaccine rollout, as the country grapples with racial inequalities compounded by the pandemic. A Māori boy, under the age of 10 and who had tested positive for the virus, died last week, becoming the youngest New Zealander to die with Covid, the Ministry of Health confirmed. It is unclear whether Covid-19 was the cause of the boy’s death, as New Zealand records all deaths of people considered active Covid cases in its official count. It is the country’s 49th death of a Covid-positive person since the start of the pandemic. Māori make up an estimated 17.1% of the population but they have accounted for 32% of all Covid-19 related deaths.
Working Remotely
Hybrid working and the fight for equality in 2022
Paul Clark at Poly explains what employers need to know to ensure equality and diversity in a hybrid workplace: "Business leaders who want most staff to return to the office full-time are swimming against the tide. Soon enough they’ll find unhappy workers voting with their feet. There are new rules at play now; new expectations after 18 months or more of remote working. But the hybrid model many predict will be the future of work comes pre-loaded with a whole new set of challenges and potential pitfalls. Research shows that over half (52%) of global workers think hybrid or home workers could be discriminated against, versus those in the office full-time."
Why remote workers are flocking to Costa Rica
Costa Rica – the most stable country in the region, which enjoys the highest standard of living among its peers – has seen an influx of remote workers who had elected to install themselves in a virtual office next to a beach or rainforest during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, with borders being reopened, many are stretching their three-month tourist visa by visiting a neighboring country before returning once more, if they have not already availed themselves of a new law, which allows for the issue of a one-year extendable visa.
Employees call for new leadership styles for hybrid working
With more and more workers looking to maintain some of the positives they enjoyed from remote working during the lockdown months, hybrid working is bringing unique challenges for organisations. At present, less than half of employees feel their bosses are supporting their physical and mental wellbeing, while two-thirds feel they are not empowered to make their own decisions – as micro-managing leaders slip back into their pre-pandemic habits.
The Big Read: Work from anywhere in the world? Easier said than done as regulations, policies play catch-up
In Singapore, as borders reopen and families reunite, employees who have become used to remote work over the past months are starting to contemplate the possibility of doing that while overseas. This has been made possible by the accelerated digitalisation across almost all industries, which enabled employees to work away from the office during the pandemic. However, bigger questions have to be resolved if longer-term overseas remote work is to become commonplace. In particular, some laws and policies governing areas such as taxation, work benefits, company-employee relationships and foreign manpower would require a rethink.
Virtual Classrooms
Harvard plans to go remote in January as Covid-19 cases surge
Harvard University announced Saturday that it will return to remote learning for the first few weeks of 2022 as infection concerns grow in the face of a new coronavirus variant. Cornell University, also an Ivy League school, moved its finals to virtual learning last week after a spike in Covid-19 cases on campus.
Omicron variant hits US and Canadian shores: Universities shift to remote learning
The rapid spread of the Omicron variant in US and Canada is dimming the silver lining of face-to-face learning. Just when students are re-adjusting to physical classes, both countries are bracing for a fourth wave of surging COVID-19 infections ahead of the holiday season. The concern over alarming case spikes has led to many universities in Canada and the US moving learning online, with in-person exams delayed or cancelled. Some institutions have announced that online classes would extend until the beginning of the Winter 2022 term.
Public Policies
EU Commission authorises Novavax COVID-19 vaccine
The European Commission authorised on Monday the use of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine in the European Union. "With five approved vaccines, the EU has a varied portfolio, based both on novel technologies, such as mRNA, and classic ones, like Novavax, which is protein-based," the head of the bloc's executive Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said on Twitter.
Global Covid vaccination failure will harm Britain, Gordon Brown warns
The failure to vaccinate the world against coronavirus will come back to haunt even fully vaccinated Britons in 2022, Gordon Brown has warned. The former prime minister said the emergence of Omicron was “not Africa’s fault”, and added that new variants would continue to wreak havoc because richer countries such as the UK had “stockpiled” hundreds of millions of vaccines. He rubbished suggestions wealthier nations faced a choice between offering boosters to their own citizens or sharing doses with people living in poorer countries. “Ours is not a fraught choice between boosters and vaccinating the world. We are manufacturing enough vaccines … to immunise the whole world.” Instead, Brown said it was an “inescapable and unacceptable fact” that of the billions of vaccines administered, only 0.6% ended up in low-income countries.
Thailand says finds first reported local transmission of Omicron
A Thai woman has tested positive to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the Southeast Asian country's first reported case of local transmission, a health ministry official said on Monday. The woman contracted the virus from her husband, a Colombian who returned to Thailand from Nigeria in November, the official told a daily health ministry briefing.
French health regulator approves Pfizer vaccine for 5-11 year olds
France's Haute Autorite de Sante (HAS) health regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for all children aged 5-11 on Monday. The vaccine, which will be administered in a paediatric formulation when it becomes widely available, showed high efficacy among children, said Lise Alter, one of the doctors charged with the risk evaluation of new drugs. "The HAS suggests that all parents who want it can have their children aged 5 to 11 years vaccinated," she added. Last week France started vaccinating 5-11 year olds with medical conditions that require special protection and ramped up logistics to roll out vaccination of all children in the age group once the HAS approves the move.
Biontech, Pfizer to provide EU with extra 200 mln COVID doses
BioNTech SE and Pfizer said that they would be providing the European Union with more than 200 million additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine they produce. The two vaccine manufacturers said they agreed in May to supply 900 million doses to the European Commission in 2022 and 2023, with an option to request up to an additional 900 million. The doses announced on Monday are in addition to the 450 million already expected to be delivered in 2022, they said.
Maintaining Services
UK medics warn of looming breaking point as omicron spreads
The following is a summary of some recent studies on COVID-19. They include research that warrants further study to corroborate the findings and that has yet to be certified by peer review. Omicron infections no less severe based on early UK data. Infections caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus do not appear to be less severe than infections from Delta, according to early data from the UK. Researchers at Imperial College London compared 11,329 people with confirmed or likely Omicron infections with nearly 200,000 people infected with other variants
Analysis: Rising cases, Omicron highlight holes in Biden's COVID strategy, experts say
Amid a new surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths ahead of the Christmas and New Year holidays, President Joe Biden is drawing criticism from health experts, who are calling for more urgency, testing, masking and global vaccine sharing. Biden, a Democrat, took office in January pledging to get the coronavirus under control. He presided over a massive vaccine rollout and passed a $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package, a sharp contrast with his predecessor, Republican Donald Trump, who downplayed the pandemic's severity, dismissed many preventive measures and undermined health experts.
Healthcare Innovations
Omicron infections appear no less severe than Delta; COVID-19 lowers sperm count, motility
Researchers at Imperial College London compared 11,329 people with confirmed or likely Omicron infections with nearly 200,000 people infected with other variants. So far, according to a report issued ahead of peer review and updated on Monday, they see "no evidence of Omicron having lower severity than Delta, judged by either the proportion of people testing positive who report symptoms, or by the proportion of cases seeking hospital care after infection." For vaccines available in the UK, effectiveness against symptomatic Omicron infection ranged from 0% to 20% after two doses, and from 55% to 80% following a booster dose. The report also estimated that after taking individual risk factors into account, the odds of reinfection with Omicron are 5.4 times greater than for reinfection with Delta.
Moderna: Initial booster data shows good results on omicron
Moderna said Monday that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine should offer protection against the rapidly spreading omicron variant. Moderna said lab tests showed the half-dose booster shot increased by 37 times the level of so-called neutralizing antibodies able to fight omicron. And a full-dose booster was even stronger, triggering an 83-fold jump in antibody levels, although with an increase in the usual side effects, the company said. While half-dose shots are being used for most Moderna boosters, a full-dose third shot has been recommended for people with weakened immune systems. Moderna announced the preliminary laboratory data in a press release and it hasn’t yet undergone scientific review. But testing by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, announced last week by Dr. Anthony Fauci, found a similar jump.
Bharat Biotech seeks trial for intranasal COVID-19 vaccine booster
Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech said on Monday it has submitted an application to the country's drug regulator to conduct a late-stage trial for a booster dose of its intranasal COVID-19 vaccine. Indian COVID-19 vaccine makers are lobbying the government to authorise boosters as supplies have far outstripped demand, but the health ministry said there is no immediate plan to approve boosters and the priority remains complete vaccination of eligible adults. read more "We have submitted phase 3 clinical trial application to DCGI (Drugs Controller General of India)," a Bharat Biotech spokesperson said in a statement, adding that an intranasal vaccine as a booster dose will be easier to administer in mass vaccination campaigns.
Sinopharm COVID-19 booster weaker against Omicron - study
A COVID-19 booster shot produced by China's Sinopharm had "significantly lower" neutralising activity against the Omicron variant, Chinese researchers said in a paper, although they added the vaccine's efficacy against Omicron remained unclear. The study - conducted by researchers from Shanghai Jiao Tong University and a Shanghai-based lab specializing in respiratory infectious diseases - compared the activity of Sinopharm's booster vaccine against an older coronavirus strainfrom Wuhan. The neutralising antibody activity of a Sinopharm BBIBP-CorV booster against Omicron showed a 20.1-fold reduction, compared with its activity against a Wuhan strain, according to the paper published on Saturday.