"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 7th Jan 2022

Isolation Tips
China's Henan adds COVID curbs as cases rise, Xian official apologises
More cities in central China's Henan province imposed COVID restrictions as infections there rose sharply, while authorities in the northwestern city of Xian apologised on Thursday to a woman whose miscarriage during lockdown stirred public outrage. Henan reported 64 domestically transmitted infections with confirmed symptoms for Wednesday, up from just four a day earlier, official data showed on Thursday. While those numbers are small by global standards, and no cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant have been reported so far in Henan, several cities there imposed new limits on travel and other activities in response.
Austria decides new COVID-19 measures including shorter quarantine
Austria will impose new COVID-19 measures from Saturday and the government is still working on a draft law to make vaccinations compulsory from Feb. 1 as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads, Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Thursday. Austria managed to slash daily COVID-19 cases with its fourth full coronavirus lockdown between November and December last year, but Omicron is pushing the numbers up again. "We need to do everything we can possibly do together to prevent another lockdown," Nehammer told a news conference after the federal government met provincial leaders and pandemic task force experts.
Belgium suffers record COVID cases, adapts quarantine strategy
Fuelled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Belgium's daily cases of COVID-19 reached a new peak this week, with health experts warning of between 30,000 and 125,000 cases a day by mid-January in the nation of 11 million. "The fifth wave has started. The weekly average has risen by 82%," virologist Steven Van Gucht told a news conference following a government meeting on the coronavirus situation. Home to the European Union institutions and NATO, Belgium registered 27,199 new COVID-19 cases on Jan. 3, beating a record set in Nov. 2020, and hit a fresh high of over 28,000 on Jan. 4, as Omicron hit the country a little later than Britain, Spain and France.
Hygiene Helpers
Covid-19: Hundreds of maskless London Underground passengers fined
Hundreds of passengers have been issued fines for not wearing face coverings on London's transport network since it was made mandatory. Compulsory face coverings were reinstated amid rising concerns about the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Penalty notices up to £200 were issued to 536 people between 30 November and 21 December, the Mayor of London said. Figures showed a further 287 passengers have penalties being processed by Transport for London (TfL).
Covid ‘vaccination doubt line’ receiving up to 1,000 calls a day in Netherlands
A “vaccination doubt line” set up by doctors in the Netherlands is receiving up to 1,000 calls a day from people who are still unsure whether or not they should get jabbed against the coronavirus. The helpline, originally launched as a local service in November by Robin Peeters, an endocrinologist at the Erasmus medical centre in Rotterdam, and Shakib Sana, a GP, was given a national number last month and has been inundated with inquiries. Staffed mainly by volunteer medical students from rooms made available in the university hospitals of Utrecht, Amsterdam, Nijmegen, Maastricht and Rotterdam, the service has met “an extraordinary response”, Peeters said.
Italy makes Covid vaccinations compulsory for over-50s
Italy has made it obligatory for people aged 50 or more to be vaccinated against Covid-19 as the country scrambles to ease pressure on hospitals and reduce deaths amid a dramatic surge in infections. The measure is among the toughest vaccine mandates in Europe and takes effect immediately. The move was unanimously supported by ministers despite divisions between the parties that make up prime minister Mario Draghi’s broad coalition before the cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Community Activities
Novak Djokovic Denied Entry to Australia Over Vaccine Fight
The family of Novak Djokovic accused Australia of trying to deny the top world tennis star a record 10th Grand Slam victory there, and his country’s president denounced what he called a “political campaign” over Covid-19 protocols. Djokovic’s lawyers mounted a legal challenge against Australia’s decision to hold him at a hotel used for detaining refugees and expel him after federal officials overruled a state vaccine exemption for the tennis star that sparked a national uproar. Due to compete in the Australian Open this month, the Serbian player offered insufficient proof to enter the country under current pandemic rules, the Australian Border Force said Thursday. While he was earlier granted a medical exemption to enter the state of Victoria, the federal government revoked that after officials questioned the athlete for hours at Melbourne Airport.
Dogs to visit 3 school districts to sniff out COVID-19
Two dogs trained to detect an odor distinct to people who are sick with COVID-19 will visit three school districts in Bristol County this week. A black Labrador named Huntah and a golden Lab called Duke can detect the smell of the virus on surfaces and will sit to indicate when they pick up the scent. The dogs will visit schools in the Freetown, Lakeville and Norton school districts, WBZ-TV reported Tuesday. “With COVID, whether it’s the omicron, whether it’s the delta, our dogs will hit on it,” said Bristol County Capt. Paul Douglas. “And if there’s a new variant that comes out in six months, hopefully there isn’t, but if there is one, COVID is COVID.” Fairhaven School Superintendent Tara Kohler welcomed the dogs saying their presence shows students, “we are doing everything we can to mitigate the risk and I want them to feel secure and safe and not anxious about their surroundings.”
Working Remotely
Canada's Royal Bank tells staff to keep working remotely
Royal Bank of Canada has advised all employees in regions including Ontario and Quebec to work remotely if their jobs allow, following advice from these provincial governments. In the past week, both Ontario and Quebec announced renewed restrictions amid a surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant. Royal Bank, Canada's biggest bank by market value, joins all its major rivals in keeping employees at home
The Post-Pandemic Office Should Be a Clubhouse
Nitin Nohria writes: "When I talk with senior executives about the ongoing pandemic, I often hear them wistfully yearn for a “return to work.” This choice of words is significant because it highlights how much we associate work with a workplace. But the pandemic has taught us that many forms of work, especially high-end knowledge work, can be done effectively (or even more effectively) away from the workplace. When confronted with this fact, most executives say that coming to an office at least a few days a week is essential for fostering personal relationships, developing and integrating new employees, generating ideas and building company culture."
Virtual Classrooms
Schools sticking with in-person learning scramble for subs
Principals, superintendents and counselors are filling in as substitutes in classrooms as the surge in coronavirus infections further strains schools that already had been struggling with staffing shortages. In Cincinnati, dozens of employees from the central office were dispatched this week to schools that were at risk of having to close because of low staffing. The superintendent of Boston schools, Brenda Cassellius, tweeted she was filling in for a fifth grade teacher. San Francisco’s superintendent, Vince Matthews, has called on all employees with teaching credentials to take a class.
Parents in 'limbo' as schools close, return to virtual learning amid COVID-19 surge
As schools returned from winter break this week amid skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, more did so virtually than at any point so far this school year. This week, there have been over 4,500 temporary school closures across the country. The prospect of a return to virtual learning, on a short- or long-term basis has some parents around the country concerned about the challenges of remote education and unpredictable childcare after great lengths were taken to keep kids in the classroom. By the same token, advocates say some parents feel the opposite, applauding the move temporarily to keep schools open in the long run. Others say they would like to return to virtual learning for safety reasons, but simply don't have the option.
Public Policies
Philippines' Duterte threatens unvaccinated people with arrest
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday people who have not taken COVID-19 shots will be arrested if they disobeyed stay-at-home orders as infections hit a three-month high. Duterte in an televised address to the nation said he was asking community leaders to look for unvaccinated people and make sure they were confined to their homes. "If he refuses, if he goes out his house and goes around the community, he can be restrained. If he refuses, the captain is empowered now to arrest recalcitrant persons," Duterte said.
Malaysia approves Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children aged 5 to 11
Malaysia has granted conditional approval for the use of Pfizer Inc.'s COVID-19 vaccine for children aged between 5 and 11 years old, the health ministry said on Thursday. The country's drugs regulator has also cleared a vaccine made by Chinese firm CanSino Biologics to be used as a booster shot for adults over the age of 18, health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said in a statement. Malaysia, which has one of the highest vaccination rates in Southeast Asia, last week cut waiting times to encourage more people to take a booster jab, in a bid to stem the spread of the highly infectious Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Brazil to vaccinate children aged 5-11 against COVID-19 - minister
Brazil's Health Ministry said on Wednesday that it will go ahead with the voluntary vaccination of children aged 5 to 11 years old against COVID-19 and dropped plans to require a doctor's prescription. While vaccination will not be mandatory, state governments have the final word on public health decisions and could require that children be vaccinated to be able to attend school. "Children have unfortunately died of COVID-19, not many, but every child's life is important," Health Minister Marcelo Queiroga said in a news conference.
French parliament approves Macron's vaccine pass
France's parliament on Thursday approved President Emmanuel Macron's plans for a vaccine pass to help curb the spread of the Omicron variant after a tumultuous debate whipped up by Macron's comments that he wanted to "piss off" the unvaccinated. Macron told Le Parisien newspaper earlier this week that he wanted to make the lives of those refusing the COVID-19 vaccine so complicated by squeezing them out of public places that they would end up getting jabbed. read more. Macron's coarse language barely three months before a presidential election was widely seen as a politically calculated, tapping into a intensifying public frustration against the unvaccinated.
Ukraine offers booster COVID-19 shots to all adults
Ukraine is now offering booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines to all adults as the Omicron variant is spreading and is likely to lead to a spike in coronavirus infections next month, Health Minister Viktor Lyashko said on Thursday. Following several periods of strict restrictions, the average daily number of coronavirus cases in Ukraine fell in early January to about 4,000 from above 10,000 in early December. "The medical system is preparing for another increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Ukraine," Lyashko said in a post on Facebook.
CDC recommends Pfizer's COVID-19 booster for ages 12 to 15
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday it expanded the eligibility of Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE's booster doses to those 12 to 15 years old. The move came after a panel of outside experts advising the CDC voted earlier to recommend booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine be made available for ages 12 to 15.
Portugal eases COVID-19 rules as infections soar, hospitalisations still low
Portugal will allow students to return to school from next week and nightclubs to reopen on Jan. 14 despite a record surge in COVID-19 cases, with hospital admissions still well below levels seen earlier in the pandemic, the government said on Thursday. "It is evident that the Omicron variant is less severe ... vaccination has been effective against it," Prime Minister Antonio Costa told a news conference, referring to the fast-spreading variant that emerged in late 2021. "That's why we have a much lower number of hospitalisations, fewer people in ICU and deaths."
Maintaining Services
An 'awful' month of Covid-19 lies ahead, doctor says, but preventative measures will still be key
While the highly transmissible Omicron variant continues to drive up Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations -- and the numbers are likely to get worse before they get better -- health experts say it's critical Americans continue safe practices to prevent infections. "I don't buy the idea that we are all going to get Omicron and, therefore, just give up trying. I think that's wrong," Dr. Robert Wachter, chairman of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told CNN's Erin Burnett on Wednesday. It's likely that "the next month is going to be awful," he said. But this does not mean that everyone should assume they will catch the virus, he said, noting the pattern of Omicron infections in the UK and South Africa.
Australia suffers record COVID cases, straining businesses and supply chains
Fuelled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Australia's daily coronavirus infections soared to a fresh peak on Thursday, overwhelming hospitals, while isolation rules caused labour shortages, putting a strain on businesses and supply chains. With Thursday's count still incomplete, Australia so far has reported 72,392 new infections easily exceeding the high of 64,774 set a day earlier. Western Australia is due to post its new cases later. Prime Minister Scott Morrison, facing a federal election before May, is under pressure over his handling of the Omicron outbreak due to stock shortages of antigen tests and hours-long wait times at testing centres.
Staffing Crisis Threatens Plan to Clear U.K. Hospital Backlogs
England’s National Health Service faces an “unquantifiable” challenge to clear a record backlog of patients as a result of the pandemic, rising pressure on emergency departments, and a failure to hire and train enough staff, a committee of U.K. lawmakers said. Close to 6 million patients are waiting for elective care -- a figure that could double by 2025 -- as the crisis caused by Covid-19 weighs heavily on the NHS, according to a report published Thursday by Parliament’s Health and Social Care Committee. Waiting times in emergency departments have also hit the worst levels since records began, with one in four patients waiting longer than four hours to be admitted, transferred, or discharged in October. That’s despite about 4,800 extra doctors and 1,200 more nurses working in the NHS in October 2021 compared to the previous year, according to the latest NHS workforce statistics.
Spike in California virus cases hitting hospitals, schools
California is struggling to staff hospitals and classrooms as an astonishing spike in coronavirus infections sweeps through the state. The fast-spreading omicron variant of COVID-19 is sidelining exposed or infected health care workers even as hospital beds fill with patients and “some facilities are going to be strapped,” Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said Wednesday. Some 40% of hospitals are expecting to face critical staff shortages and some are reporting as much as one quarter of their staff out for virus-related reasons, said Kiyomi Burchill of the California Hospital Association. In Fresno County, more than 300 workers at area hospitals were either isolating because of exposure or recovering, said Dan Lynch, the county’s emergency medical services director.
US hospitals seeing different kind of COVID surge this time
Hospitals across the U.S. are feeling the wrath of the omicron variant and getting thrown into disarray that is different from earlier COVID-19 surges. This time, they are dealing with serious staff shortages because so many health care workers are getting sick with the fast-spreading variant. People are showing up at emergency rooms in large numbers in hopes of getting tested for COVID-19, putting more strain on the system. And a surprising share of patients — two-thirds in some places — are testing positive while in the hospital for other reasons. At the same time, hospitals say the patients aren’t as sick as those who came in during the last surge. Intensive care units aren’t as full, and ventilators aren’t needed as much as they were before. The pressures are neverthless prompting hospitals to scale back non-emergency surgeries and close wards, while National Guard troops have been sent in in several states to help at medical centers and testing sites.
Healthcare Innovations
Pandemic may affect infants' brain development; coronavirus can trigger kidney scarring
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. Pandemic may be affecting infants' brains Coronavirus infection during pregnancy does not appear to affect infants' brain function, but the pandemic itself may be having an impact, a study published on Tuesday in JAMA Pediatrics suggests.
Study raises doubts about rapid Covid tests’ reliability in early days after infection
A new study raises significant doubts about whether at-home rapid antigen tests can detect the Omicron variant before infected people can transmit the virus to others. The study looks at 30 people from settings including Broadway theaters and offices in New York and San Francisco where some workers were not only being tested daily but were, because of rules at their workplaces, receiving both the antigen tests and a daily test that used the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, which is believed to be more reliable. On days 0 and 1 following a positive PCR test, all of the antigen tests used produced false-negative results, even though in 28 of the 30 cases, levels of virus detected by the PCR test were high enough to infect other people. In four cases, researchers were able to confirm that infected people transmitted the virus to others during the period before they had a positive result on the rapid antigen test.