"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 3rd Feb 2022

Isolation Tips
Finnish government to remove COVID-19 restrictions
Finland will begin lifting restrictions put in place to check the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, with the aim of removing all curbs at the beginning of March, Prime Minister Sanna Marin told reporters on Wednesday. Heavy restrictions put in place just after Christmas had forced many restaurants and cultural and sports venues to temporarily lay off staff and cancel events. The government now plans to allow restaurants to remain open until midnight and remove curbs on public gatherings from Feb. 14, Marin said, adding the aim is to remove all restrictions at the start of next month.
Norway ends most curbs despite rising COVID infections
Norway will scrap most of its remaining COVID-19 lockdown measures with immediate effect as a spike in coronavirus infections is unlikely to jeopardise health services, the prime minister said on Tuesday. Restaurants will again be allowed to serve alcohol beyond 11 o'clock at night, working from home will no longer be mandatory and the limit of 10 visitors in private homes will be removed, Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference. "Even if many more people are becoming infected, there are fewer who are hospitalised. We're well protected by vaccines. This means that we can relax many measures even as infections are rising rapidly," Stoere said.
More European Countries to Ease Covid Restrictions: Italy, Switzerland, Finland
Europe is accelerating steps to roll back coronavirus restrictions as efforts to control the fast-spreading omicron variant have been largely futile. Under pressure from a pandemic-weary public, politicians across the region are deeming many public-health measures increasingly unnecessary. Italy, Switzerland and Finland are set to join Denmark, Ireland and France in easing the bulk of restrictions on public life. Norway also relaxed most rules. While the virus continues to spread rapidly across the continent -- with more than 2.4 million cases over the past two days -- the alert level has dropped.
Tonga goes into lockdown after tsunami aid brings COVID-19
The Pacific nation of Tonga has gone into lockdown following the discovery of two coronavirus infections in the community. The two cases are local port workers who had been helping to distribute aid received after a volcanic eruption and tsunami last month. The disaster polluted drinking water, severed communications, killed three people, and left dozens homeless.
Hygiene Helpers
Beijing says COVID-19 situation 'controllable,' 'safe'
Beijing reported three new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday as officials said the virus situation was under control with the Olympic Games set to open later in the week. The three cases reported in the 24-hour period from Tuesday to Wednesday all involved people under some sort of quarantine. “The current pandemic situation in the capital is overall controllable and it's headed in a good direction,” said Xu Hejian, a spokesman for the city government, at a daily press briefing. “Beijing is safe.” The Chinese capital has been on high-alert as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics starting Friday. Since Jan. 15, Beijing has reported a total of 115 locally transmitted cases of COVID-19, including six cases of the highly contagious omicron variant. In response, the city has mass tested millions of people and sealed off several neighborhoods in different parts of the city while avoiding a strict lockdown for the entire capital.
The cognitive bias that tripped us up during the pandemic
The issues with COVID communication are not limited to the statistics describing the spread and prevalence of the pandemic or the safe distance we should keep from others. Initially, we were told that “herd immunity” appears once 60%-70% of the population has gained immunity either through infection or vaccination. Later, with more studies and analysis this number was more accurately predicted to be around 90%-95%, which is meaningfully larger than the initial number. However, as shown in our study, the role of that initial number can be profound and a simple update wasn’t enough to remove it from people’s minds.
Community Activities
Spotify's plan to add advisory to COVID podcasts is a positive step -White House
Spotify's plan to add a content advisory to any discussion of COVID-19 on its platform is a positive step, but tech platforms should do more to prevent the spread of misinformation on the coronavirus, the White House said on Tuesday. "Our hope is all major tech platforms and all major news sources for that matter be responsible and be vigilant to ensure that the American people have access to accurate information on something as significant as COVID-19", White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in a briefing. "This disclaimer - it's a positive step, but we want every platform to continue doing more to call out misinformation."
U.S. Army begins discharging soldiers who refuse COVID-19 vaccine
U.S. soldiers who refuse to get a COVID-19 vaccine will be immediately discharged, the U.S. Army said on Wednesday, saying the move was critical to maintain combat readiness. The Army's order applies to regular Army soldiers, active-duty Army reservists and cadets unless they have approved or pending exemptions, it said in a statement. The discharge order is the latest from a U.S. military branch removing unvaccinated service members amid the pandemic after the Pentagon made the vaccine mandatory for all service members in August 2021.
Fraudulent Covid-19 Test Sites Proliferate, Triggering Consumer Warnings
Officials nationwide are trying to stay ahead of a proliferation of Covid-19 test sites that they say are offering fraudulent services to the public. Attorneys general in states including New Mexico, Oregon, Florida, Minnesota, New York and Illinois have shut down pop-up test locations, or issued warnings, citing late or false test results and theft of people’s personal information. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has warned that “scammers are preying on people looking for Covid tests.” Authorities have alleged that the operators of these sites are making money by sending bills to people whose insurance is supposed to cover Covid-19 tests or falsely claiming consumers are uninsured as a way to seek reimbursement from the federal government.
Virginia governor sued again over order to make masks optional in schools
A civil liberties group said on Tuesday it sued Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and his administration over his order making masks optional in public schools, saying it violates the rights of students vulnerable to complications from COVID-19. The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia (ACLU) said its suit in a federal court in Charlottesville seeks a temporary restraining order and permanent lifting of Youngkin's order barring school districts from implementing universal mask requirements. The ACLU said the order violates federal disabilities law.
Working Remotely
Switzerland to Scrap Work-From-Home Requirement and Ease Other Covid Rules
Switzerland will consider lifting almost all pandemic-related rules, including showing Covid certificates in restaurants and wearing masks on public transport, later this month. The country will scrap a working-from-home requirement, turning it into a recommendation, as well as end quarantine for those who have come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, from Thursday. “Today is a great day,” Swiss President Ignazio Cassis said. “This beautiful day marks the beginning of a new stage in this long and difficult crisis. Of course, this does not mean that the pandemic is over, but we see a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Reason people want to keep working remotely
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article showing that some “homers”—those who eschew the office and prefer to work from home—have a secret: They have two jobs. The demands of working a full-time job from home were apparently not enough to prevent some from taking on an extra one. Ziprecruiter reports that remote workers make $66,000 annually on average, far above the livable wage. The WSJ reports that those they interviewed are on track to make $200,000 to $600,000 per year with that extra job.
Tallinn’s got talent: Why Estonia’s capital is the best city in the world for digital nomads
Tallinn was recently ranked by one blog as the best city in the world for remote workers. Every element reinforces this reputation; Tallinn is such an optimal base, “Not because of one wow thing, but a gazillion small things that accumulate into your experience”. To make things even easier, every service is online, and foreigners can access them through the digital nomad visa – which launched in 2020 and allows location-independent workers to live in Estonia for up to a year – or e-Residency, which in 2014 saw Estonia become the first country to allow foreigners to run a business in the country from anywhere in the world.
Virtual Classrooms
Online learning provider looks to boost academic programmes with new senior appointment
Cardiff based postgraduate online medical learning provider, Learna, has appointed a new Head of Programme Development and Innovation. Helen Davies joins the firm from BMJ (British Medical Journal), where she was Head of Online Learning and Assessment and has over twenty years experience working in the online medical education sector.
Children acted out more during distance learning, parents say, deepening learning loss
One recent Harvard study of roughly 400 families suggests that children’s behavior worsened during Zoom school. Children were often more prone to misbehave or become aggressive or withdrawn during remote learning, according to parents surveyed as part of the broader Early Learning Study at Harvard. “By following individual children over time, we found that their behavioral health was worse while they were in remote learning as compared to when they were in in-person or hybrid learning,” said Stephanie Jones, Harvard researcher and co-director of the Saul Zaentz Early Education Initiative.
Public Policies
Germany to allow large events with up to 10000 spectators
Germany will allow up to 10,000 spectators at major outdoor events such as Bundesliga soccer games, the 16 federal states agreed on Wednesday. The decision, which also allows up to 4,000 participants in indoor spaces, aims to harmonize currently varying rules for stadium attendance at a state-by-state level. The new rules take effect as soon as the federal states update their regulation. Masks must be worn, and proof of vaccination or recovery, as well as a booster shot or negative test status, depending on the state, will also be required, said the resolution seen by Reuters.
U.S. considers authorization of first COVID vaccine for children under 5
U.S. regulators are considering the first COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 5, the only age group not yet eligible for the shots, after Pfizer Inc (PFE.N) and BioNTech SE began the regulatory approval process on Tuesday. A decision is expected as soon as this month. The companies said they began submitting data for an emergency use authorization even though they did not meet a key target in their clinical trial of 2- to 4- year olds. They are submitting the data at the request of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in order to address an urgent public health need in the age group, they said.
Maintaining Services
Fighting COVID will help economy recover faster, lower inflation -IMF's Georgieva
The COVID-19 pandemic remains the biggest risk to the global economy, and is contributing to rising inflation in many countries, International Monetary Fund chief Kristalina Georgieva said on Wednesday. Georgieva urged redoubled efforts to boost vaccinations and beef up defenses against the coronavirus, saying such moves -- coupled with interest rate increases now being eyed or executed by central banks -- would help ease supply chain disruptions and combat inflation. "Pandemic policy is economic policy," the IMF chief said. "The biggest risk for the performance of the world economy remains this year COVID and the disruption it causes."
Many countries yet to see peak in Omicron wave, should ease curbs slowly -WHO
Many countries have not reached their peak in cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus and measures imposed to curb its spread should be eased slowly, the World Health Organization's technical lead on COVID-19 said on Tuesday. "We are urging caution because many countries have not gone through the peak of Omicron yet. Many countries have low levels of vaccination coverage with very vulnerable individuals within their populations," Maria Van Kerkhove told an online briefing. "And so now is not the time to lift everything all at once. We have always urged, always (be) very cautious, in applying interventions as well as lifting those interventions in a steady and in a slow way, piece by piece
Omicron Sub-Variant May Cause New Surge of Infections in Current Wave
A sub-variant of the omicron coronavirus strain, known as BA.2, is spreading rapidly in South Africa and may cause a second surge of infections in the current wave, one of the country’s top scientists said. BA.2 is causing concern as studies show that it appears to be more transmissible than the original omicron strain, the discovery of which was announced by South Africa and Botswana in November. Research also shows that getting a mild infection with either of the two strains may not give a robust enough immune response to protect against another omicron infection. There’s no indication that the sub-variant causes more severe disease from infection surges seen in Denmark and the U.K. The omicron wave of infections “may end up like a camel,” Tulio de Oliveira, a bio-informatics professor who runs gene-sequencing institutions and advises the government on the pandemic, said at a presentation at Stellenbosch University on Wednesday. “A wave with another hump.”
Healthcare Innovations
Exposure to one nasal droplet enough for Covid infection – study
Exposure to a single nasal droplet is sufficient to become infected with Covid-19, according to a landmark trial in which healthy volunteers were intentionally given a dose of the virus. The trial, the first to have monitored people during the entire course of infection, also found that people typically develop symptoms very quickly – on average, within two days of encountering the virus – and are most infectious five days into the infection. The study was carried out using a strain of the virus before the emergence of the Alpha, Delta and Omicron variants. The trial’s chief investigator, Prof Christopher Chiu, of Imperial College London, said: “Our study reveals some very interesting clinical insights, particularly around the short incubation period of the virus, extremely high viral shedding from the nose, as well as the utility of lateral flow tests, with potential implications for public health.”
British trial deliberately infecting young adults with COVID found to be safe
The world's first "human challenge" trial in which volunteers were deliberately exposed to COVID-19 to advance research into the disease was found to be safe in healthy young adults, leaders of the study said on Wednesday. The data supports the safety of this model and lays the groundwork for future studies to test new vaccines and medicines against COVID-19 using this kind of trial by the end of this year, the team added. Open Orphan is running the project, launched last February, with Imperial College London, Britain's vaccines task force and Orphan's clinical company  hVIVO.