"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 4th Jan 2022

Isolation Tips
U.S., Europe Weigh Isolation Requirements as Omicron Disrupts Daily Life
European governments are relaxing some quarantine requirements to help keep daily life open with new Covid-19 infections surging, while the top U.S. infectious-disease expert suggested health authorities might tighten isolation measures. Countries have been grappling with isolation requirements, trying to balance health concerns as the Omicron variant takes hold, with the risk that those quarantine periods sideline medical staff, teachers and other workers for so long that hospitals, schools and other workplaces are unable to function effectively. Throughout the pandemic, Europeans have typically been required to self-isolate for 10 days if they or a close contact have tested positive for the virus. Some governments are responding to the threat of breakdown by shortening or otherwise easing their quarantine rules.
Covid-19 positive cases can be released from isolation without a test
On Thursday states agreed to seven-day isolation with negative test on day 6 But now leaders have agreed that no test is necessary for asymptomatic people Close contacts and Covid patients can simply leave isolation after seven days This is because people are rarely infectious after having Covid for a whole week
South Africa lifts curfew as it says COVID-19 fourth wave peaks
South Africa has lifted a midnight to 4 a.m. curfew on people's movement with immediate effect, believing the country has passed the peak of its fourth COVID-19 wave driven by the Omicron variant, a government statement said on Thursday. The country made the changes based on the trajectory of the pandemic, levels of vaccination in the country and available capacity in the health sector, according to a press release issued by Mondli Gungubele, a minister in the presidency. South Africa is currently at the lowest of its five-stage COVID-19 alert levels.
Hong Kong says Omicron has breached its strict COVID-19 restrictions
Hong Kong's health officials said on Friday the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has made its way past some of the world's toughest COVID 19 restrictions, with the city reporting its first cases outside its strict quarantine system. The findings raise risks that the global financial hub might keep its borders shut well into 2022. It has largely isolated itself from the world hoping in turn to open the border with mainland China for a limited number of business travellers.
Ireland relaxes COVID-19 testing rules, cuts isolation period
Ireland on Thursday became the latest country to cut the isolation period for some people who contract COVID-19 and relax requirements for tests as a record number of cases for the fourth time in a week overwhelmed testing facilities. With the fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus accounting for 92% of all infections, the health department reported 20,554 new cases, more than double the record in any previous wave to bring the 14-day infection rate to 2,300 per 100,000 people.
Hygiene Helpers
Omicron Cases Are Hitting Highs, But New Data Puts End in Sight
A string of new studies has confirmed the silver lining of the omicron variant: Even as case numbers soar to records, the numbers of severe cases and hospitalizations have not. The data, some scientists say, signal a new, less worrying chapter of the pandemic. “We’re now in a totally different phase,” said Monica Gandhi, an immunologist at the University of California, San Francisco. “The virus is always going to be with us, but my hope is this variant causes so much immunity that it will quell the pandemic.”
Israel Gives Fourth 4th Shot of Covid Vaccine
Israel will start offering a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine to people aged 60 and over, becoming the first country in the world to widely disseminate the extra jab to fight off the omicron strain. The fourth dose will also be made available to medical staff who had their last jab at least four months ago, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a press conference on Sunday. Last week, Israel approved the extra shot for people who are immunocompromised, as well as residents of nursing homes and patients in geriatric wards. New daily cases, which topped 5,000 last week in the country of 9.5 million, are expected to quadruple by the end of the week, Bennett said. The caseload could reach as many as 50,000 cases a day, he said, or nearly five times the previous peak. Critical cases remain well below previous records but have started to creep up over the past week.
Omicron dampens worldwide New Year celebrations, but London throws party on TV
The Omicron coronavirus variant dampened New Year festivities around much of the world, with Paris cancelling its fireworks show, London relegating its to television, and New York City scaling down its famous ball drop celebration in Times Square. The illuminated ball made of Waterford crystal panels slid down its pole at the midnight hour in Times Square, but only 15,000 spectators were allowed into the official viewing area instead of the usual 58,000.
Key workers and vulnerable people to be prioritised for Covid-19 tests if necessary, health chiefs say
Key workers and vulnerable people will be able to jump the queue for Covid-19 tests if necessary, health authorities have said. Amid shortages of instant Lateral Flow Devices (LFD) and delays processing PCR lab tests, health chiefs said they were prepared to prioritise supplies for “critical workforces”. Ministers previously faced calls to ring-fence tests for NHS workers to ensure patient safety and prevent staff shortages due to unnecessary isolation.
Community Activities
Omicron Surge Stymies Public-Transit Systems
Public-transit services in New York and other cities are being interrupted, as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 continues to drive staffing shortages. Service on several New York City subway and bus lines was partially suspended Monday. An MTA spokesman said hundreds of employees have been out sick in recent days. He declined to give an exact number or say how many workers have tested positive for Covid-19, adding that the agency doesn’t track specific illnesses. MTA ridership is down about 50% compared with pre-pandemic levels, New York City Transit Interim President Craig Cipriano said. The MTA is currently running over 90% of the buses and trains it typically operates, he said. Mr. Cipriano said that the MTA has contingency plans that outline service tweaks in case of staff shortages on any given day.
Omicron-related disruptions cause over 4000 flight cancellations to kick off 2022
Over 4,000 flights were cancelled around the world on Sunday, more than half of them U.S. flights, adding to the toll of holiday week travel disruptions due to adverse weather and the surge in coronavirus cases caused by the Omicron variant. The flights cancelled by 8 pm GMT on Sunday included over 2,400 entering, departing from or within the United States, according to tracking website FlightAware.com. Globally, more than 11,200 flights were delayed. Among the airlines with most cancellations were SkyWest and SouthWest, with 510 and 419 cancellations respectively, FlightAware showed.
Brazil health agency warns against boarding cruise ships amid COVID-19 outbreaks
Brazilian health agency Anvisa on Sunday warned passengers against boarding cruise ships operating along the Brazilian coast after outbreaks of COVID-19 affecting crew and customers, according to a statement on its website. The move follows a call for the "immediate temporary interruption of the cruise ship season in Brazil" as they pose a risk to public health. "In view of recent events, Anvisa does not recommend the embarkation of passengers who have trips scheduled on cruise ships for the next few days," the statement said.
Dutch police disperse thousands protesting against lockdown measures
Riot police with batons and shields broke up a crowd of several thousand who had gathered in Amsterdam on Sunday to protest against COVID-19 lockdown measures and vaccinations. Public gatherings of more than two people are prohibited under restrictions imposed by the Netherlands in an effort to prevent the Omicron variant of the coronavirus overwhelming an already strained healthcare system. At least 30 people were detained after scuffles, during which four officers were injured, police said in a statement. Amsterdam mayor Femke Halsema had issued an emergency ordinance, empowering police to clear the central Museum Square, after the protesters defied a ban on public gatherings.
Kuwait encourages citizens to leave UK on Omicron fears
The Kuwaiti embassy in the United Kingdom has encouraged its citizens to leave the country due to a "significant and unprecedented" increase in Omicron cases there, the Gulf country's state news agency reported on Sunday. The daily number of new COVID-19 infections across Britain rose to a record 189,846 on Friday, far higher than during previous peaks.
New Year celebrations muted by Omicron, but South Africa ...
The Australian city of Sydney was one place where the New Year charged in with something like full swagger, as spectacular fireworks glittered in the harbour above the Opera House. But many other landmark cities were forgoing pyrotechnics as midnight rolled across the globe, with displays called off at Paris's Arc de Triomphe, London's riverside and the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. The glittering ball is still due to drop at New York's Times Square, but the crowd shouting out the countdown of the year's exit is set to be a quarter the usual size - masked up, socially distanced, and with vaccine proof in hand. Still, South Africa, which first raised the alarm about the new fast-spreading coronavirus variant, gave the world one of the last big good surprises of the year, becoming the first country to declare its Omicron wave had crested - and with no huge surge in deaths. The abrupt lifting
UK honours COVID scientists and medics, Bond actor Daniel Craig
Britain recognised the scientists and medical chiefs at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19 in Queen Elizabeth’s annual New Year’s honours list, while James Bond actor Daniel Craig was given the same award as his famous onscreen character.
COVID-19: Police appeal for information after dozens of anti-vaxxers protest at testing site
Police have appealed for information after an anti-vaccine demonstration took place at a COVID testing centre in Milton Keynes. Footage from the protest showed a woman appearing to pick up medical equipment and papers from the site and then dumping them in a nearby bin. Another demonstrator allegedly knocked down a sign, and another man apparently threw a couple of traffic cones. Dozens of people were seen in the video, including some who were holding anti-vaccine placards and shouting anti-vaccine slogans. Police said that "where criminal offences have been disclosed, we will take swift action and bring offenders to justice".
Working Remotely
Is It Time to Embrace Work-From-Home Forever?
It’s been two years since the Covid-19 pandemic sent everyone home, and for many workers 2022 will begin and end in the same way: on the couch. Most big tech companies pushed back their return-to-office dates multiple times this year, most recently in response to the omicron variant. All the canceled return-to-office targets have the cumulative effect of making each new deadline seem less credible. After all, the major tech companies seem to be doing just fine with remote work. The next step for employers and workers will be a reimaging of our new remote reality.
As Europe leads on remote worker rights, will others benefit?
In a major victory for better work-life balance, Portugal last month rolled out new regulations for the remote-work era, including granting workers the “right to disconnect” by forbidding firms from contacting employees outside of working hours except in cases of emergencies. But Portugal stopped short of granting workers the right to turn off their devices and ignore messages from their bosses outside of working hours – a rule Italy enacted earlier this year. Strides are also being made in France and Germany, where employers are required to have a valid reason for turning down employee requests to work from home. Trade unions and experts in the European Union and the United Kingdom welcome the momentum to advance the rights and wellbeing of remote workers, but they want the new rules to go even further. Experts say the explosion in remote work during the pandemic has laid bare how obsolete some labour laws have become.
Virtual Classrooms
The Bright Side of the Virtual Classroom
Wendy Lustbader M.S.W. writes about her experience of virtual teaching: "Now I have to re-think the ways my teaching has been augmented on the screen. I didn’t know that certain advantages would take hold of me as a teacher or expand the options students had for being heard and seen. To my surprise, there were times when it felt like we had been together in a real room. When we are in-person again, I hope to make actual some of these discoveries from the virtual classroom – or at least the spirit of them."
Simulated and classroom culture in higher education
Educational institutions have adopted virtual learning across the world. For higher educational institutions, senior management has taken up the responsibility to supervise and monitor the effectiveness of virtual learning towards achieving strategic goals. The whole onus is on the course instructor to design the contents and delivery of the course in such a way as to promote self-learning and better engagement in the class. Effective knowledge starts with learner’s engagement. Hence, students’ engagement has emerged as a fundamental subject in Higher Education in the recent past. In turn, it has become a pervasive indicator for measuring the education quality of institutions.
COVID-19: New Brunswick students preparing to move to online learning for 2 weeks
New Brunswick students are preparing to move to online learning for at least two weeks, as COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the province. Education Minister Dominic Cardy made the announcement on Friday. Originally, students were to return to the classroom on Jan. 10, but with rising COVID-19 case counts and Omicron being highly transmissible, the ministry changed course.
Public Policies
France Bolsters Aid for Tourism Firms to Mitigate Omicron Hit
The French government said it will ease access to crisis funds and could delay loan repayments for businesses struggling with a drop in activity as the surge in omicron cases hits tourism and leisure activities. “We are standing by firms and workers in difficulty,” Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said after meeting with representatives of business groups. “This method has allowed to relaunch economic activity very quickly and very strongly.”
U.S. FDA authorizes Pfizer's COVID-19 booster for 12- to 15-year-olds
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Monday authorized the use of a third dose of the Pfizer (PFE.N) and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 to 15, and narrowed the interval for booster shot eligibility to five months from six. The agency also authorized a third shot for children aged 5 through 11 years who are immunocompromised. The regulatory decisions come with COVID-19 cases surging due to the Omicron variant of the virus and just as many workers and school children return from holiday vacations, raising the prospect of overwhelming health systems. Some businesses and schools closed Monday as staff called in sick.
New Zealand to Reduce Booster Interval to 4 Months from Jan. 5
New Zealand will reduce the interval between the second Covid-19 vaccine dose and a booster shot to four months from six as part of its response to the omicron variant. People aged 18 or older who have had second shots of the vaccine at least four months ago will be eligible for a booster from Jan. 5, the Ministry of Health said in a statement. The shorter interval means that more than 82% of vaccinated people in the country will be eligible for a booster by the end of February, Dr. Ashley Bloomfield, director general of health, said in the statement. Over 70% of people who were eligible for a booster in 2021 have already had the shot, according to the statement.
WHO chief says the pandemic could be defeated this year if countries work together to contain its spread and vaccines are equally distributed across the globe
WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus says 2022 could spell end for Covid The health chief encouraged wealthy nations to share vaccines with other countries He says he is 'confident' the pandemic will end this year if global leaders do so
Britain approves Pfizer's antiviral COVID-19 pill
Britain has approved Pfizer's Paxlovid COVID-19 pill for adults who have mild to moderate infection and are at high risk of their illness worsening, its second easily administered antiviral against the coronavirus. Britain is scrambling to build its defences amid a record surge in COVID-19 cases in the winter season as the Omicron variant of the virus spreads quickly.
Maintaining Services
U.S. schools delay openings as Omicron pushes pandemic to record highs
Thousands of U.S. schools delayed this week's scheduled return to classrooms following the holiday break or switched to remote learning as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus pushed COVID-19 cases to record levels. In other school districts, officials pressed on with plans to reopen, including in hard-hit New York City, where one of every three COVID-19 tests over the last week was positive for the virus, according to city data released on Monday. Nationwide, the country is averaging 18% of tests coming back positive, according to the Mayo Clinic.
English school children to wear masks to tackle Omicron surge
Children in secondary schools in England will be told to wear face coverings when they return after the Christmas holiday next week to tackle a surge in cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday. "We want to maximise the number of children in school and college for the maximum amount of time," he said in an article in the Sunday Telegraph. "One of the additional, temporary measures that will help achieve this in light of the omicron surge is recommending face coverings are worn in secondary school classrooms and teaching spaces for the coming weeks – although not for longer than they are needed."
South Africa Says Its Omicron Wave Has Passed With No Big Spike in Deaths
The South African government said Thursday that data from its health department suggested that the country had passed its Omicron peak without a major spike in deaths, offering cautious hope to other countries grappling with the variant. “The speed with which the Omicron-driven fourth wave rose, peaked and then declined has been staggering,” said Fareed Abdullah of the South African Medical Research Council. “Peak in four weeks and precipitous decline in another two. This Omicron wave is over in the city of Tshwane. It was a flash flood more than a wave.” The rise in deaths over the period was small, and in the last week, officials said, “marginal.”
Healthcare Innovations
Virus leaves antibodies that may attack healthy tissues; B cell antibodies weakened, not defeated by Omicron
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. Coronavirus leaves survivors with self-attacking antibodies. Months after recovering from SARS-CoV-2 infection, survivors have elevated levels of antibodies that can mistakenly attack their own organs and tissues, even if they had not been severely ill, according to new findings.
Wastewater samples reveal record levels of coronavirus across U.S.
With at-home Covid-19 tests in high demand and their efficacy in question, health departments from California to Massachusetts are turning to sewage samples to get a better idea of how much the coronavirus is spreading through communities and what might be in store for health care systems. Experts say wastewater holds the key to better understanding the public health of cities and neighborhoods, especially in underserved areas that do not have equal access to care. “Every time an infected person uses the toilet, they’re flushing this information down the toilet, where it’s collecting and aggregating and mixing with poop from thousands of other people,” said Newsha Ghaeli, a co-founder and the president of Biobot Analytics, a wastewater epidemiology company based in Massachusetts.
Omicron hospitalisation risk around one third of Delta, UK analysis shows
The risk of hospitalisation with the Omicron variant of coronavirus is about one-third that of the Delta variant, according to British analysis of more than a million cases of both types in recent weeks. Britain is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant, with record daily infections of 189,846 reported on Friday. While hospital admissions have started to rise, the government has said it believes the new variant is milder than the Delta variant.
Travelers infected one another across hallway in Covid-19 quarantine facility, New Zealand research shows
A traveler isolated for Covid-19 at a quarantine facility in New Zealand managed to infect three others across a hallway, researchers reported Thursday. Closed-circuit camera footage, genetic testing and careful contact tracing show that the only conceivable way the virus could have passed from one room to another was in air that leaked out when both doors were briefly opened, the researchers said. It's a demonstration of how the virus can spread -- and of how well vaccines can work. The one person who escaped infection was fully vaccinated and never tested positive, despite having stayed in the same room as four other infected people for weeks on end.
J&J booster slashes Omicron hospitalisations -S.African study
A booster dose of Johnson & Johnson Inc's (JNJ.N) single-dose COVID-19 vaccine was 84% effective at preventing hospitalisation in South African healthcare workers who became infected as the Omicron variant spread, researchers said on Thursday. The real-world study, which has not been peer-reviewed, was based on a second dose of the J&J vaccine administered to 69,092 workers between Nov. 15 and Dec. 20.
Pfizer's COVID-19 shot causes mostly mild side effects in young kids - U.S. CDC
Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE's COVID-19 vaccine caused mostly mild side effects in children aged 5 to 11 years, according to data published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday. The data showed that after the second dose of the vaccine some children reported injection-site pain and other systemic reactions such as fatigue and headache. The CDC said it also received reports of 11 cases of myocarditis, a type of heart inflammation, in children aged 5-11 years who had received the vaccine. Of them, seven had recovered, and four were recovering at the time of the report.
Sinovac COVID-19 shot with Pfizer booster less effective against Omicron - study
Sinovac's two-dose COVID-19 vaccine followed by a booster Pfizer-BioNTech shot showed a lower immune response against the Omicron variant compared with other strains, according to a study by researchers. The study, which has not been peer-reviewed yet, was conducted by researchers from Yale University, the Dominican Republic's Ministry of Health and other institutions.