"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 13th Jan 2022

Isolation Tips
Swiss halve quarantine period to five days to cope with Omicron surge
Switzerland will halve its quarantine time to five days to help cope with a wave of coronavirus infections that threatens to hamstring the economy, the government said on Wednesday. Health authorities had given their blessing on Tuesday for the move, which comes as tens of thousands more people get infected every day due to the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the virus. Officials worry that the wave could overwhelm the health care system in a country where only two-thirds of the population has got two jabs and just 30% has had a booster shot.
Hygiene Helpers
Spain doctors win suit for lack of protection from COVID-19
Spain’s medical community has scored a victory after a court ordered that a regional government must compensate doctors with up to 49,000 euros ($56,000) for having to work without personal protection suits during the devastating early months of the pandemic. The lawsuit brought by a doctor’s union is the first of its kind to be won in Spain, whose health care system was pushed to the brink when COVID-19 first struck. “This ruling is groundbreaking in Spain,” doctor Víctor Pedrera, secretary general of the Doctors’ Union of Valencia CESM-CV that filed the suit, told The Associated Press by phone on Wednesday. Pedrera, a family doctor, said that he got ill with the coronavirus shortly after it hit Spain in March 2020 and spent two months at home “quite badly off and with no idea of what was being done for treatment.”
Central American bank funds Cuban COVID-19 vaccine drive
The Central American Bank for Economic Integration said it would give Cuba a loan of 46.7 million euros ($53.1 million) to help bolster the communist-run country's COVID-19 vaccine program as it seeks to ramp up production for both domestic use and export. The fresh funds will underwrite the production of 200 million additional shots, according to a statement from the bank on Monday. Cuba, a poor Caribbean island nation hard hit by the pandemic, has nonetheless already vaccinated more of its citizens against COVID-19 than most of the world's largest and richest nations.
Community Activities
Students at New York City’s Largest High School Stage Walkout Over Covid Protocols
Students at Brooklyn Technical High School in New York City staged a walkout today in protest of the school’s in-person teaching mandates during the omicron-fuellde Covid surge. The walkout, which went viral on Twitter, happened at the largest in-person high school in the state. Brooklyn Tech had 6,043 students enrolled during the 2020-2021 school year.
Omicron wave prompts media to rethink which data to report
For two years, coronavirus case counts and hospitalizations have been widely used barometers of the pandemic’s march across the world. But the omicron wave is making a mess of the usual statistics, forcing news organizations to rethink the way they report such figures. “It’s just a data disaster,” said Katherine Wu, staff writer who covers COVID-19 for The Atlantic magazine. The number of case counts soared over the holidays, an expected development given the emergence of a variant more transmissible than its predecessors. Yet these counts only reflect what is reported by health authorities. They do not include most people who test themselves at home, or are infected without even knowing about it. Holidays and weekends also lead to lags in reported cases.
Working Remotely
Universities urged to ‘raise their game’ by allowing staff to teach remotely
Universities have been urged to allow clinically vulnerable staff to work remotely and to provide all staff with higher-quality face masks. The University and College Union (UCU) said that employers must “raise their game” and allow staff who need to work remotely “due to increased risk factors, isolation or caring responsibilities” to do so through reducing the numbers of people required on site.
Companies shouldn't waste this chance to make work more humane, says author of new book on remote work
The new book “Out of Office: The Big Problem and Bigger Promise of Working from Home,” makes the case for organizations to rethink the relationship between work and life. Authors Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Petersen look at why our current model of hybrid needs to evolve. Companies have a chance to restructure work so that people can have more balance in their lives.
Maintaining staff health and safety while working remotely
The pandemic has seen an increasing number of employees fully embrace the opportunity to work from home. According to analysis by newspaper the i, the UK has maintained higher levels of remote work than most of Europe and has 25 per cent fewer people in workplaces now when compared to before the pandemic. Yet remote working poses some potential issues for employers, particularly when it comes to the health and safety of the workforce. Legislation under the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 states that employers have a duty of care to ensure the health, safety and welfare of all their employees, including employees working remotely.
Omicron Has Workers on Edge About Returning to the Office: Poll
Workers grew more uncomfortable about heading back to the office in the first week of the year and were much more likely to consider quitting if their employer demanded they return, a sign that companies’ efforts to get people back amid rising Covid caseloads face stiff resistance. The share of remote workers who would consider leaving their job if they were asked back to the office before they felt safe rose to 55% as of Jan. 6, up from 45% just a week earlier, according to pollster Morning Consult. More than 4 in 10 workers felt unsure about returning to the office, compared with 35% who said so on Dec. 30. People were also less likely to want to attend indoor sporting events, go to the movies and dine out, Morning Consult’s weekly U.S. survey found.
Work Anywhere and Commute by Plane, Yahoo Tells Japan Employees
Yahoo Japan is telling its 8,000 employees they can work anywhere in the country -- and even be flown into work when the job requires it -- bucking the trend of companies looking to return workers to offices in the third year of the coronavirus pandemic. The program takes effect April 1 and allows employees to commute by plane, which wasn’t previously an option, the company said in a statement Wednesday. While Yahoo is best known for its internet portal in Japan, it’s a unit of SoftBank Group Corp.’s Z Holdings Corp., which also owns the Line messaging app and PayPay mobile payments service.
Virtual Classrooms
What will 2022 hold for the education and edtech sector?
Rahim Hirji, UK Country Manager of leading online learning platform, Quizlet offers insights and comment on the education landscape for 2022: "Whilst we have seen many students spending more time in the classroom in 2021 than in 2020, some universities are continuing to offer lectures and seminars online, following huge investments in blended learning tools – something we will see becoming the norm in education across all sectors going forward. Being thrown in at the deep end in terms of online learning was a challenge, but it also helped to demystify the medium for those that were unfamiliar with it."
Studies Find Virtual Learning Grows During COVID, Providing Safe and Flexible Options for Families and At-Risk Students
Virtual learning in K-12 education continues to grow due to the health threat caused by coronavirus variants and the assistance this learning model can provide to at-risk students, according to two papers released by Pioneer Institute. Though the two factors are distinctly different, their impact is the same, as more families have been prompted to explore the possibilities of digital learning. They have discovered that expert virtual learning differs from what many parents and students experienced after schools unexpectedly shut down in March of 2020. Others have seen how the use of technology can address the unique needs of certain children and high schoolers
Public Policies
Philippines Bars Unvaccinated From Public Transport in Metro Manila
The Philippines has banned unvaccinated individuals from public transport in the capital following President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to restrict their movement as Covid-19 infections surge. Commuters are required to show proofs of vaccination before riding buses, jeepneys, trains and other public transport in Metro Manila, the transportation department said Wednesday. The “no vaccination, no ride” policy will be in effect while the capital is under Alert Level 3, the third-highest in a five-step scale.
UK acted unlawfully with 'VIP' COVID contract lane, court rules
The British government acted unlawfully by setting up a fast-track "VIP lane" to allow ministers and officials to recommend suppliers of personal protective equipment (PPE) during the coronavirus pandemic, a London court ruled on Wednesday. Opposition politicians have accused the government of running a "chumocracy", awarding deals to those with family or business links to people in power, including for what turned out to be unusable PPE in some cases. The campaign groups, the Good Law Project and EveryDoctor, brought legal action claiming some suppliers were given an unfair advantage in obtaining contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
Novavax coronavirus vaccine authorized in South Korea
South Korea’s drug regulator on Wednesday granted final authorization to Novavax’s coronavirus vaccine for use in adults, health officials said in a news release, making it the fifth coronavirus vaccine available in the country. Although the authorization is conditioned on the Maryland-based company’s submission of the final results of clinical studies regarding its vaccine, the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said Novavax’s coronavirus vaccine has received “final” approval in South Korea. The vaccine, which will be produced locally, is effective and safe, the regulator said.
The US agrees to buy additional doses of GSK-Vir's Covid-19 antibody
The US Government has entered an agreement to procure 600,000 additional doses of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Vir Biotechnology’s antibody sotrovimab for early Covid-19 treatment, according to an announcement. An investigational monoclonal antibody, sotrovimab attaches to an epitope on SARS-CoV-2, which is shared with SARS-CoV-1. In May last year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to single intravenous (IV) dose of sotrovimab for mild to moderate Covid-19 treatment. The SARS-CoV-2 neutralising antibody is indicated under EUA for use in adult and paediatric Covid-19 patients aged 12 years and above who are at great disease progression risk, including hospital admission or mortality. GSK noted that the additional doses will be supplied throughout the first quarter of this year.
Maintaining Services
Omicron Is Dominant US Variant, Hospitals Face Dark Days as Covid Cases Soar
The highly infectious omicron variant has flushed out the delta strain across the U.S., but the ascendance of the purportedly milder form of Covid-19 has done nothing so far to ease the burden on stretched hospitals. The omicron variant represents about 98% of cases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday. That number is based on data for the week ending Jan. 8 and is a significant increase from just two weeks prior, when omicron accounted for 71.3% of cases. Omicron’s heightened transmissibility coupled with the immunity some have built to combat the delta through vaccination and exposure, have made conditions favor the “more mild” variant, said David Wohl, a professor at the Institute of Global Health and Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. But experts warn that for those who remain unvaccinated or who suffer from other health concerns, infection from any Covid-19 variant is a major concern.
'Community Champions' are key to increasing Covid vaccine uptake says minister
As areas of Newcastle city centre continue to see low vaccine uptake, the Government minister in charge of the Covid-19 jabs programme has said she hopes investing in "community champions" can help reach people who've previously been hesitant. Speaking to ChronicleLive, Maggie Throup MP - vaccines minister at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) - said the Government was aware of "disparities" in vaccine uptake. She said: "We know there are areas of huge disparity across the country - and also in local geographical areas as well. This is why we have been investing in community champions to go out into their communities and give people advice from someone they can relate to.
Europe Slowly Starts to Consider Treating Covid Like the Flu
Spain is calling for Covid-19 to be treated as an endemic disease, like the flu, becoming the first major European nation to explicitly suggest that people live with it. The idea has gradually been gaining traction and could prompt a re-evaluation of government strategies on dealing with the virus. British Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi on Sunday told the BBC that the U.K. is “on a path towards transitioning from pandemic to endemic.” The omicron variant’s lower hospitalization and death rates despite record infections prompted Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to hold out the tantalizing prospect of Europe moving beyond pandemic-style restrictions on normal life.
Healthcare Innovations
Third dose of mRNA COVID vaccine induces strong immunity in older adults
The study results showed that two doses of an mRNA vaccine in older adults produced significantly lower levels of humoral response in terms of both binding and neutralizing antibodies as compared to younger people throughout the period of assessment. After a two-dose mRNA vaccine regimen, the predictors of weak binding antibody response included having more concomitant illnesses. Conversely, having a longer gap between the first and second doses was linked to a superior binding antibody response, confirming earlier reports. However, binding antibody levels fell faster in older adults, which is likely due to the more significant number of health conditions in this group.
Almost All Teens Needing ICU Care for Covid Are Unvaccinated
The vaccine prevented 98% of ICU visits and 94% of Covid-related hospitalizations in the real-world study of more than 1,000 adolescents ages 12 to 18 in 23 states published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine. While adolescents can develop severe Covid complications, it’s relatively rare that they do, making it harder to study vaccine efficacy than among older adults, and leading to some controversy about the use of the shots in younger people. For example, the trial data Pfizer submitted for authorization of its shot for 12- to 15-year-olds didn’t include enough cases to assess efficacy in preventing severe Covid. The research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a network of 31 hospitals is one is one of the most detailed yet showing that vaccines can prevent severe Covid complications in teenagers.
Pfizer study shows COVID-19 booster can be given along with pneumonia shot
Pfizer Inc said on Wednesday booster doses of its COVID-19 vaccine can be administered along with its pneumonia vaccine and produced strong safety and immune responses in people aged 65 and above in a late-stage study. The study, initiated in May, tested the company's next-generation pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, PREVNAR 20, with a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot in 570 participants. The aim of the study was to test the safety of the combination and the immune response after adding the pneumonia vaccine to the existing COVID-19 vaccine.
Omicron Causes Fewer and Shorter Hospitalizations, Study Shows
A new study of nearly 70,000 Covid patients in California demonstrates that Omicron causes less severe disease than other coronavirus variants, results that align with similar findings from South Africa, Britain and Denmark, as well as a host of experiments on animals. Compared with Delta, Omicron infections were half as likely to send people to the hospital. Out of more than 52,000 Omicron patients identified from electronic medical records of Kaiser Permanente of Southern California, a large health system, the researchers found that not a single patient went on a ventilator during that time.
Repeat Booster Shots Spur European Warning on Immune-System Risks
European Union regulators warned that frequent Covid-19 booster shots could adversely affect the immune response and may not be feasible. Repeat booster doses every four months could eventually weaken the immune response and tire out people, according to the European Medicines Agency. Instead, countries should leave more time between booster programs and tie them to the onset of the cold season in each hemisphere, following the blueprint set out by influenza vaccination strategies, the agency said. The advice comes as some countries consider the possibility of offering people second booster shots in a bid to provide further protection against surging omicron infections. Earlier this month Israel became the first nation to start administering a second booster, or fourth shot, to those over 60.
Covid Study to Assess Pfizer, J&J Suitability for HIV Infected
A South African Covid-19 vaccine trial will assess the safety and impact of varying doses of Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer Inc. shots as boosters for those infected with HIV as well as the wider population. The study being carried out by the Johannesburg-based Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute will recruit about 300 health workers, of which about a third will be HIV positive, said Lee Fairlie, head of child and maternal health at the institute. With about 8.2 million people in South Africa, or 13% of the population, infected with HIV, the effectiveness, or immunogenicity, of Covid-19 vaccines in generating an immune system response in immuno-compromised individuals has been a key concern. HIV causes AIDS, which weakens the immune system.