"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 11th Jan 2022
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Sweden to implement more COVID measures as Omicron squeezes healthcare
Sweden will introduce more measures to stem a rising number of COVID cases that have placed a greater burden on the healthcare system, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said on Monday. Sweden has seen the fastest spread of COVID cases in recent weeks as the Omicron variant has surged through the country. A record 60,000 cases were detected last week, despite limited testing capabilities. "The situation has deteriorated, without doubt. The level of infections in Sweden is at a historically high level," Andersson told a news conference.
UK minister backs reduced COVID isolation period to ease workforce pressures
Reducing the self-isolation period for people who test positive for COVID-19 from seven days to five would help British employers that have been hard hit by absences, education minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday. The Omicron variant is still spreading in Britain and many businesses, schools and hospitals are struggling with staff shortages, fuelling calls for the rules on isolation after a positive test to be reduced further. Last month, health authorities in the United States shortened the recommended isolation time for asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days
Swab throat too when using rapid COVID test, Israel's Health Ministry says
Israel's Health Ministry on Monday instructed people self-testing for COVID-19 to swab their throat as well as their nose when using rapid antigen kits to increase the chances of detecting the Omicron variant. The recommendation goes against the advice of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has said manufacturers' instructions should still be followed and that incorrect use of throat swabs could pose a safety risk. On Israeli Army Radio, Sharon Alroy-Preis, Israel's public health chief, said antigen tests, used widely in the country, are less sensitive than PCR tests in detecting illness.
Chile, a vaccine front-runner, launches fourth COVID dose
Chile, one of the world's fastest movers on COVID-19 vaccines, started its campaign to give fourth doses on Monday to immunocompromised people, a regional first, as infections rise driven by the fast spread of the Omicron variant. The South American country has seen daily infections rise to over 4,000, doubling over the last week, government data show, a reflection of soaring infections globally, despite hopes over data suggesting Omicron may be less fatal, if more contagious. "This vaccine, this fourth dose or second booster dose, will be available to everyone
Pfizer CEO predicts omicron vaccine will be ready in March
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Monday said that his company is aiming to have a vaccine that targets the omicron variant as well as other COVID-19 variants ready in March. “This vaccine will be ready in March,” Bourla said in an appearance on CNBC’s "Squawk Box." “We [are] already starting manufacturing some of these quantities at risk,” he added. Pfizer will produce the doses to be ready in case countries want the shots, but Bourla noted that it was unclear if a vaccine targeting variants was necessary or how exactly it would be used. “The hope is that we will achieve something that will have way, way better protection particularly against infections, because the protection against the hospitalizations and the severe disease — it is reasonable right now with the current vaccines as long as you are having let’s say the third dose,” Bourla said.
Spain set to limit retail price of COVID-19 antigen tests
Spain's government is working on rules to limit the retail price of antigen tests for COVID-19, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said on Monday, after shortages were reported in many pharmacies across the country last month. Price rises during the surge in Omicron cases and the scarcity of tests in pharmacies have raised protests from opposition politicians and consumer groups, many of whom are calling for tests to be sold in supermarkets.
Million Indians get COVID vaccine boosters, hospitalisation low
More than 1 million Indians received their third COVID-19 vaccine dose on Monday as the country rolled out boosters for frontline workers and vulnerable elderly, with the Omicron variant fuelling an eight-fold rise in infections in 10 days. The health ministry said only 5% to 10% of the infected have sought hospitalisation, compared with 20% to 23% during the Delta-driven last wave that peaked in May. Authorities say most people have shown no or only minor symptoms and have recovered quickly at home. "The situation is dynamic and evolving, therefore, the need for hospitalisation may also change rapidly," Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan wrote in a letter to state authorities asking them to regularly review staffing levels
Europe loosens COVID policies as Omicron takes out key workers
The Czech Republic said on Monday it would allow critical workers such as doctors and teachers to go to work after a positive COVID-19 test, the latest European country to ease restrictions to keep services running as cases surge. As the much more contagious Omicron variant becomes dominant and forces hundreds of thousands to isolate, the pressure is growing on health workers, police and firefighters, with teachers set to follow as schools resume after Christmas holidays.
China Reports Nation's First Community Spread of Omicron
China saw its first omicron cases in the community, igniting a mass testing blitz in the northern city of Tianjin as the country strives to maintain its zero-tolerance approach to Covid in the face of more transmissible variants. The two cases in the port city were confirmed as being omicron by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, after its local branch completed the genome sequencing, CCTV reported. The infections were from the same transmission chain but officials have yet to establish if the strain is the same as imported omicron cases reported earlier in Tianjin, according to the report. China’s commitment to its Covid Zero policy has seen it restrict movements and implement mass testing and other measures in cities spread across the country. Further outbreaks raise the risk of new lockdown measures that could disrupt production and shipping in an economy already battling weak consumption and a property market slump.
Labs Limit Covid-19 Test Access as Demand Soars
Escalating demand for Covid-19 tests is prompting some laboratories to ration access, giving priority to people with symptoms or other health concerns as the Omicron variant quickly spreads. Triaging who is eligible for Covid-19 tests can help ensure that patients who need a test the most get results fast enough to isolate or get treatment, pathologists and public-health experts say. The strategy, however, risks perpetuating the virus’s spread if some people get turned away from testing altogether. “What we don’t want is for people to not be able to get tested in the community and then show up at the ER to get testing,” said Melissa Miller, director of the University of North Carolina’s microbiology lab. “But there is a maximum amount that you can collect in a day.”
Relying on more home COVID tests, Israel looks to lower costs
Israel sought on Sunday to ease access to home COVID-19 tests after a decision to allow most vaccinated people to use the kits to decide whether or not to quarantine led to shortages in shops and complaints about high prices. "We are mindful of the public's distress," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the weekly cabinet meeting, announcing that every child in kindergarten or elementary school in Israel would be issued will three free kits in the coming days. The government was also negotiating price reductions with major pharmacy chains, Bennett said, adding: "In any event, costs will come down in the near future because the market will be flooded with millions of kits that will arrive in Israel."
Covid in Scotland: Wrongheaded to stop free lateral flow tests, says Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon has insisted it would be “utterly wrongheaded” to halt the free availability of lateral flow tests as her health secretary dismissed the idea of following England and reducing quarantine to five days. Under plans reportedly being considered by UK officials, the tests could soon be made available only in “high-risk” settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools. A Whitehall source told The Sunday Times: “I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody forevermore. It’s likely we will move to a scenario where there is less testing but where we have a capacity to ramp it up if necessary, such as in the winter.”
Ikea Cuts Sick Pay for Unvaccinated Staff Ordered to Isolate
Ikea imposed a financial penalty on unvaccinated U.K. employees who miss work if they are ordered to self-isolate after coming into contact with someone with Covid-19. If these workers become ill with the virus themselves, however, they will still receive sick pay as normal, Ikea said in a statement to Bloomberg. The changes, which came into effect in September, mean that unvaccinated staff only receive statutory sick pay of 96.35 pounds ($131) a week during the 10-day isolation period -- which is much lower than average weekly wages before taxes.
Pope backs COVID immunisation campaigns, warns of ideological misinformation
Pope Francis on Monday condemned "baseless" ideological misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, backing national immunisation campaigns and calling health care a moral obligation. Francis spoke in his yearly address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Vatican, sometimes called his "State of the World" address because it is a broad survey of the global situation. His words to diplomats from nearly 200 countries marked the closest he has ever come to a de facto backing of vaccine mandates, which have become controversial in Italy and other European countries.
French politician attacked by anti-COVID vaccine pass demonstrators
French politician Stephane Claireaux, who is a member of President Emmanuel Macron's ruling La Republique En Marche party, said on Monday that he had been attacked over the weekend by protesters demonstrating against France's COVID health pass. The attack on Claireaux, which occurred on Sunday, comes amid public anger in France after Macron said he wanted to "piss off" unvaccinated people by making their lives so complicated they would end up getting the COVID vaccine.
Canada resists pressure to drop vaccine mandate for cross-border truckers
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing ahead with a vaccine mandate for international truckers despite increasing pressure from critics who say it will exacerbate driver shortages and drive up the price of goods imported from the United States. Canada will require all truckers entering from the United States to show proof of vaccination starting on Saturday as part of its fight against COVID-19. That could force some 16,000, or 10%, of cross-border drivers off the roads, the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA) estimates. The government estimates 5% of drivers will be impacted, according to a government source.
Royal Caribbean pauses some cruise operations due to Omicron concerns
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd has paused some of its cruise operations amid rising numbers of COVID-19 infections due to the Omicron variant. The sailings of three ships - Serenade of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas, Symphony of the Seas - have been paused while the return of its Vision of the Seas to cruising has been postponed to March 7, 2022, the cruise line said in a statement on Friday. "We regret having to cancel our guests' long-awaited vacations and appreciate their loyalty and understanding," the company adding that these measures have been implemented "in an abundance of caution."
Methods For Building A Remote Work Organizational Culture
Remote work has made it difficult for an organizational culture to take hold. According to the recent global CHRO study by the Upraise Research Council, over 62% of organizations claim to have reworked their policies to meet the requirements of the new normal. We also found that the ability to work remotely is one of the most important concerns among the employees surveyed. Managers (or leaders in particular) need to overcome the differences that cause rifts in teams and inspire everyone on their team to work toward common goals — and they have to do this in remote situations. The physical distance, however, amplifies the personal differences and the workloads of managers.
Working from home has entrenched inequality – how can we use it to improve lives instead?
Home and hybrid working has been embraced by a long list of tech companies that includes Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Spotify and dozens more. Something similar seems to be happening in the financial sector. Companies ought to pay much more attention to the needs of new recruits – pairing them with dedicated mentors, ensuring they have the option of spending all or most of their working hours in a workplace, allowing them to join a trade union. For all employees, there ought to be both an entitlement to collective representation, and the kind of right to disconnect – to not have to deal with emails, calls and messages outside working hours – that has been adopted in France, Italy and Spain, and is now tentatively supported – for public sector staff at least – by the government in Edinburgh. Somewhere in all that might be the beginnings of home and hybrid working that could actually improve people’s lives.
Has working from home killed off the office slacker?
The pandemic has changed the way many of us work, and the question is no longer when we will go back to the office but whether we will ever go back. This change in the way we work has many implications. Early in the pandemic, it was assumed that people who worked from home would be less productive than people working in an office. The opposite seems to have happened. People working from home tend to be more productive and get more done in fewer hours than they did in office settings. In part, this is because work from home involves fewer time-wasting activities, such as meetings. Initially, it was also feared that workers would less collaborative and less creative working from home, but there is little evidence that this fear has come true.
Durham University moves to calm fears on online learning method
Durham University has moved to calm concerns about offering online learning on its campus this term, despite ministers calling on educational institutions in the UK for a return to face-to-face teaching. The university, which has previously turned to online methods earlier in the pandemic, announced that it would be starting the new term in a virtual capacity, due to the rising number of Omicron cases within County Durham and the wider North East.
New Brunswick parents raise concerns over another return to online learning
New Brunswick students are preparing for a return to some at-home learning for the third calendar year in a row beginning on Tuesday. The move comes amid an Omicron-fuelled surge in COVID-19 cases and as schools in most provinces and territories also delay a return to the classroom. Students in New Brunswick will stay at home for a least two weeks and then the situation will be reassessed weekly. Restrictions on school sports and extracurricular activities will also remain in place.
Nepal bans big public gatherings, closes schools as COVID cases spike
Nepal banned large public gatherings and closed schools across the Himalayan nation for nearly three weeks after a spike in coronavirus cases, officials said on Monday. Nepal reported 1,357 new cases on Monday, the biggest single-day jump since September last year, taking its total to 833,946 since the pandemic began. Its death toll from the coronavirus is 11,606. Home Ministry spokesman Pradip Kumar Koirala said public gatherings like political rallies and religious functions involving more than 25 people had been prohibited.
UK government urges all pregnant women to get immediate Covid jab
The UK government is warning that almost all pregnant women admitted to hospital with Covid symptoms were unvaccinated in one analysis over several months last year, as it kicks off an advertising campaign encouraging expectant mothers to get boosted. The campaign is calling on pregnant women not to wait to get either their first, second or booster jab. It will highlight the risks of Covid-19 to mothers and babies, with testimonies of pregnant women who have had the vaccine to be broadcast on radio and social media.
Covid-19 news: Ministers plan for UK to ‘live with covid’
UK government ministers are hinting at plans for the nation to “live with covid”. “I hope we will be one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic,” Nadhim Zahawi, former minister for covid vaccine deployment, told Sky News on Sunday. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to announce details of such a plan within the coming weeks. “We are moving to a situation where it is possible to say that we can live with covid and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating,” senior minister Michael Gove told Sky News. “But it’s absolutely vital to recognise that we are not there yet.” To be considered endemic, a disease outbreak would be consistently present in a region, with predictable spread and infection rates. The spread and rates of the disease would be predictable. This is currently far from the case in the UK, where over 150,000 deaths have been reported so far, and 141,472 new cases were reported on Sunday. Scientists have expressed concern. Devi Sridhar at the University of Edinburgh points out that no country has learned to live with covid without “crashing health services, social life, the economy or having widespread disruption” in one way or another.
Qatar Approves Pfizer Boosters for Children Aged 12 to 15 Years
Qatar approved the Pfizer-BioNTech booster coronavirus vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 years as nations fight the spread of the omicron variant. Children who received their second dose more than six months ago are eligible for the booster shots, according to a statement. Recently, the Ministry of Public Health had approved booster doses to those aged 16 and 17 years. Qatar reported 3,056 new confirmed cases among the community and 633 among travelers on Sunday. That is one of the highest daily numbers in the recent past.
U.S. Covid-19 Cases Set to Triple Pre-Omicron Record
The seven-day average of newly reported Covid-19 infections in the U.S. is on track to triple the pre-Omicron record set a year ago, when America saw a quarter million daily cases, as concerns grow over access to and reliability of testing both in the U.S. and Europe, where the highly transmissible Omicron variant has also taken root. Growing demand for tests has led some laboratories to ration access, giving priority to people exhibiting symptoms or who have other underlying health concerns. The University of North Carolina’s microbiology lab, for instance, is restricting tests to those showing Covid-19 symptoms, employees and patients who need a test before undergoing surgery. The University of Washington temporarily closed some of its testing sites last week and is giving appointment priority to people with Covid-19 symptoms or a known exposure, amid growing demand, though health experts worry that asymptomatic people might continue to spread the virus if they are unable to access testing.
Draghi Says Keeping Schools Open Is Italy's Pandemic Priority
Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the Italian government’s priority is to avoid closing schools and blamed those yet to get vaccinated against Covid-19 for the nation’s pandemic woes. “Most of the problems we have today stem from the fact that there are people who are not vaccinated,” Draghi said at a press conference in Rome on Monday. “It doesn’t make sense to close schools before everything else.” The government successfully challenged in court a decision by the southern Campania region to keep schools closed after the Christmas vacation amid rising infections. Italy recorded more than 100,000 new cases and over 700 new hospitalizations on Monday.
London hospital boss says he may lose 1000 staff over Covid vaccine mandate
A London hospital leader has said he may lose 1,000 staff to the Covid vaccination mandate, but hopes admissions from the Omicron wave have peaked in in the capital. The chief executive of King’s College hospital NHS trust, Prof Clive Kay, told the BBC’s Sunday Morning programme that his organisation was working urgently to encourage staff to come forward for vaccination to avoid redeploying or losing them.
Hospitals Cut Beds as Nurses Call In Sick With Covid-19
Rising numbers of nurses and other critical healthcare workers are calling in sick across the U.S. due to Covid-19, forcing hospitals to cut capacity just as the Omicron variant sends them more patients, industry officials say. The hospitals are leaving beds empty because the facilities don’t have enough staffers to safely care for the patients, and a tight labor market has made finding replacements difficult. Staff shortages prompted the Mass General Brigham hospital system in Boston to keep 83 beds empty on Friday. The University Hospitals system in Ohio has closed as many as 16% of its intensive-care beds recently, while Parkland Health & Hospital System in Dallas has shut 30 of 900 beds. “It’s definitely a brutal situation,” said Dr. Joseph Chang, chief medical officer at Parkland, which had more than 500 out of 14,000 employees out sick one recent day.
Britain puts private health firms on high alert as Omicron threatens NHS
Britain on Monday put the biggest private health companies on high alert to deliver crucial treatments such as cancer surgery should Omicron overwhelm National Health Service hospitals in England. The United Kingdom's death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic stands at 150,154, the world's seventh worst official COVID toll after the United States, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has bet on refraining from lockdowns to deal with the Omicron variant which in recent weeks has swept across the United Kingdom, albeit with death rates significantly lower than previous waves.
Schools return amid Omicron havoc, but hopes flicker
European governments are relaxing COVID-19 rules to keep hospitals, schools and emergency services going as the much more contagious but less lethal Omicron variant changes their approach to the pandemic. Even though a record surge in infections has yet to peak in Europe, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said the time was right to start evaluating the disease's evolution "with different parameters". The mass return of children to school after the Christmas holidays is evidence that few wish to see a return to the online-only learning that marked some of the early waves of infection. Even as France registered a record seven-day average of almost 270,000 cases a day, it eased testing protocols for schoolchildren, saying too many classes were closed
T Cells Triggered by Common Cold Fend Off Covid in Study
High levels of protective immune cells that fight some common colds also made people less likely to contract Covid-19 in a study. Researchers found higher levels of T cells against certain colds in people who didn’t develop Covid while living with someone who had the disease, according to a study released Monday by the U.K.’s Imperial College London. The prior illnesses were caused by other coronaviruses related to SARS-CoV-2. The findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, provide further evidence of the protective effects of T cells, an arm of the immune system that’s gaining attention as the pandemic stretches into its third year and new variants like omicron erode vaccine protection.
T-cells from common colds can provide protection against COVID-19 - study
High levels of T-cells from common cold coronaviruses can provide protection against COVID-19, an Imperial College London study published on Monday has found, which could inform approaches for second-generation vaccines.