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"Connecting Communities for COVID19 News" 3rd May 2022

Isolation Tips
Taiwan calls China's COVID lockdowns 'cruel', says won't follow its steps
China's lockdowns to control the spread of COVID-19 are "cruel" and Taiwan will not follow suit, Premier Su Tseng-chang said on Sunday. Having controlled the pandemic with tough border controls and quarantines, Taiwan has been dealing with a surge in domestic infections since the start of this year, with some 75,000 infections driven by the Omicron variant. But with more than 99% of those having mild or no symptoms, a handful of deaths so far and high vaccination levels, the government has moved to ease restrictions as it seeks normalcy and to gradually reopen the island of 23 million people to the outside world
As Beijing tightens COVID curbs, hard-hit Shanghai sees signs of life
The Chinese capital Beijing tightened COVID restrictions on Sunday as it battled an outbreak, while Shanghai let more of its 25 million residents venture out for light and air after reporting a second day of zero infections outside of quarantine areas. The outbreak in Shanghai, which began in March, has been China's worst since the early months of the pandemic in 2020. Hundreds of thousands have been infected and the city has forbidden residents from leaving their homes, to great public anger.
Hygiene Helpers
Beijing, Shanghai Outbreaks Renew Debate Over China’s Covid-19 Strategy
With Beijing and Shanghai struggling to control Covid-19 outbreaks, China’s pandemic strategy faces a moment of truth. The highly infectious Omicron variant of the coronavirus has shut down Shanghai for more than a month. Its threat to do the same to the country’s capital is fueling debate over whether China needs to shift its zero-tolerance approach. Most of Shanghai’s 25 million residents remain confined to their homes, with little expectation of a quick return to normal life. Daily new infections have fallen in recent days, but public-health experts say any loosening of control measures could prompt a resurgence, overwhelming the healthcare system and exacting an unacceptably high toll on the elderly and unvaccinated.
Italy, Greece Relax Covid Restrictions, Open to Tourists
For travellers heading to Europe, summer vacations just got a whole lot easier. Italy and Greece relaxed some COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday before Europe's peak summer tourist season, in a sign that life was increasingly returning to normal. Greece’s civil aviation authority announced that it was lifting all COVID-19 rules for international and domestic flights except for the wearing of face masks during flights and at airports. Previously, air travelers were required to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or a recent recovery from the disease. As of Sunday, visitors to Italy no longer have to fill out the EU passenger locator form, a complicated online ordeal required at airport check-in.
China’s Covid-19 Defenses Have a Missing Piece: Vaccinating the Elderly
In its fervor to fight Covid-19, China has gone all out with a now-familiar protocol of mass testing and lockdowns. It now has to catch up on a missing piece in its defense: Many of the country’s elderly and most vulnerable citizens haven’t gotten vaccinated. While about 88% of Chinese people had received two doses of Covid-19 vaccines as of mid-March, the ratio among those over 80—those most at risk of severe illness and death from an infection—was just 51%. Fewer than one in five people over 80 had received a booster as of mid-March, according to government data. In Shanghai, that figure is 15%. Among Chinese over 60, 50 million people remain entirely unvaccinated.
Ecuador lifts indoor and outdoor mask mandates
Ecuador will immediately lift mask mandates for both indoor and outdoor spaces thanks to significant gains made against coronavirus, President Guillermo Lasso said on Thursday. The decision is based on vaccination figures of 87% for those aged 3 and over and COVID-19 test positivity rates of just 5%, he said, as well as an effort to give second booster shots to adults.
Hong Kong's mandatory COVID testing in schools fuels plastic waste woes
A Hong Kong government rule that all school students and staff take daily COVID-19 tests will add massively to the city's plastic waste problem, environmental activists say, with some 20 million kits a month set to be dumped at bursting landfills. The mandatory rapid antigen tests (RAT), and their plastic accessories are expected to worsen marine and land pollution in the financial hub of 7.4 million people where some beaches and hiking trails are already awash with microplastics.
Community Activities
The New Jet Set: How the COVID-driven boom in private jets is still flying high
Guy Stockbridge runs multiple businesses from his headquarters in central California, including landscape companies that ripple across his home state and a utility solar business with operations in 17 states. Flying is a way of life for Stockbridge and others at his company, Elite Team Offices, based in Clovis. For years they flew both privately and on commercial flights out of Fresno, roughly 10 miles from Clovis. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and private jet ownership became more and more attractive.
Tears and chocolate as New Zealand opens its borders to 60 more countries
New Zealand welcomed thousands of travellers from around the globe on Monday as the country opened its borders to visitors from around 60 nations including the United States, Britain and Singapore for the first time since COVID-19 hit in early 2020. Maori cultural performers sang songs at the arrivals gate in Auckland and travellers were handed popular locally made chocolate bars as the first flights came in from Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Amazon ends COVID paid leave for U.S. workers
Amazon.com will end its paid time-off policy for employees with COVID-19 from May 2, the company told U.S.-based staff on Saturday. The change follows the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and revised guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it said. The U.S.-based staff will now get five days of excused, unpaid leave following a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, Amazon told workers in a message it provided to Reuters.
Greece lifts COVID curbs for travellers ahead of key summer season
Greece lifted COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday for foreign and domestic flights, its civil aviation authority said, ahead of the summer tourism season that officials hope will see revenues bouncing back from the pandemic slump. To fly in or out of the country, travellers were previously required to show either a vaccination certificate, a certificate saying they had recovered from coronavirus or a negative test. From May 1, passengers and crew will need only to wear a face mask, the civil aviation authority said.
China, North Korea halt border rail crossing over COVID fears
China has suspended cross-border freight train services with North Korea following consultations after COVID-19 infections in its border city of Dandong, the foreign ministry said on Friday. The suspension came within four months after North Korea eased border lockdowns enforced early in 2020 against the coronavirus, measures global aid groups have blamed for its worsening economic woes and risks to food supplies for millions.
Working Remotely
The Future of Work Is Flexible. Will Higher Ed Stay Stuck in the Past?
We are in a transformational moment in higher education. Business as usual wasn’t working well for a lot of faculty and staff in 2012, and it’s less likely to work in 2022. Institutions positioned for success in the next decade will seize this opportunity by prioritizing new approaches to working conditions and building better workplace cultures. “Intermittent flexibility” isn’t going to cut it.
Staff at London law firm can work from home full-time – if they take 20% pay cut
Staff at a top London law firm have been told they can work from home permanently – but they will have to take a 20% pay cut. Managing partners at Stephenson Harwood are offering lawyers and other staff the option as City firms try to move beyond solely office-based working in a post-pandemic cultural shift to flexible and remote models. Junior lawyers at the company have starting salaries of £90,000, meaning anyone taking up the officer would lose about £18,000.
Airbnb to let staff work from home indefinitely
Airbnb is to let its employees work from anywhere for as long as they like, the accommodation platform has said. Its staff will be able to work from home or the office and move anywhere in the country they live without their pay being affected, the company said. The move is in contrast to the likes of Google in the US, where staff who work from home may see their pay cut. Other tech firms who have flexible working policies include Cisco and Microsoft.
Virtual Classrooms
Four lessons from online learning that should stick after the pandemic
What have we really learned about online education? And what do we do now? Online learning isn’t new, and lessons can be drawn from existing research and experience. Athabasca University pioneered the world’s first online MBA, M.Nursing and M.Ed progams over 28 years ago. And today, it’s one of Canada’s leading online universities. The experience of online pioneers highlights four distinct aspects of online learning that should stick post-pandemic: learning to learn online, designing online teaching with purpose, blending space and time online and continued disruption with AI.
Empowerment, Exit and Entrepreneurship Will Continue to Transform Education
Over the past two years of social and economic disruption, U.S. education has experienced an extraordinary transformation that can best be defined by 3 “Es”: Empowerment, Exit and Entrepreneurship.
Public Policies
U.N. chief calls for debt relief, post-COVID investment on West Africa trip
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday urged debt relief for African countries and more investment to help their economies recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and weather the impacts of the Ukraine war. The United Nations chief spoke in Senegal on the first leg of a trip that will also include Niger and Nigeria, where he will visit communities affected by conflict and climate change. Supply disruptions due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine have caused simultaneous food, energy and finance crises in Africa and beyond, Guterres said. The coronavirus pandemic pushed many poor countries into debt distress and the Ukraine war has disrupted their economic recovery, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Public debt ratios in sub-Saharan Africa are at their highest in more than two decades, the IMF said last week.
Poland has no 'rationale to invoke force majeure in Pfizer vaccine deal, EU official says
Poland has no "coherent rationale" to invoke force majeure in an existing contract in order to stop paying for more COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer, a European Commission official told Reuters. In April Poland's health minister Adam Niedzielski said Warsaw had informed the European Commission and Pfizer that it would no longer take or pay for COVID-19 vaccines under a supply contract co-negotiated by the EU, acknowledging this would trigger a legal conflict.
How to Make the CDC Matter Again
For many years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was known as the world’s preeminent public-health agency. No longer. During the pandemic, the CDC stumbled repeatedly. Accused of incompetence, overreach and muddled messaging, it is now in need of repair. Director Rochelle Walensky was right to order a review of the agency’s operations in early April. She shouldn’t shrink from significant reforms. To be sure, some of the CDC’s troubles have resulted from political interference. Donald Trump’s White House sought to undermine the agency by second-guessing its guidance and advice. Political operatives pushed to revise some of its publications and revoked its authority to gather hospital Covid data from the states.
Swiss commandos lose court fight over COVID-19 jabs
Four members of Switzerland's special forces who were fired for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 have lost their bid for reinstatement, a court said on Friday. "By refusing to be vaccinated for no valid medical reason, the four servicemen deliberately put themselves in a position where they could no longer perform their professional duties," the Federal Administrative Court said in a summary of its ruling, which can be appealed at the supreme court.
Ukraine seeks urgent WHO meeting on impact of invasion on health
Ukraine, backed by dozens of other countries, has written to the World Health Organization's regional chief calling for an urgent meeting on the impact of Russia's invasion on health and healthcare, a letter obtained by Reuters on Friday showed. The letter, sent this week by Ukraine's diplomatic mission in Geneva, Switzerland, where the WHO is headquartered, is signed by some 38 other members of the agency's European region, including France, Germany and Britain.
Maintaining Services
New York City Raises Covid-19 Alert Level to 'Medium' as Case Numbers Rise
The recent uptick in Covid cases across New York City has prompted increased caution from the city. The city has moved to a “medium” alert level from “low” as new cases per 100,000 people over the last seven days has surpassed 200. The latest figure of 209.02 cases per 100,000 is the highest since early February. New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan and Mayor Eric Adams said they’ve seen an increase in hospitalizations from the latest wave. At an unrelated press conference on Monday, they repeated calls for vaccinations, boosters, indoor masking to help the city curb the rise in virus cases.
Covid Testing Stations to Disappear in Oslo as City Moves On
Norway’s capital is gradually closing its municipal testing stations as it removes a general recommendation for the city’s residents to test for Covid-19. May 9 will be the last day that people can test at the public stations, the Oslo municipality said in a statement on its website. People wishing to get checked before traveling internationally will need to use private providers, it said. Norway ranked first for a second month in Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking in April. The Nordic nation is among a growing group that no longer have Covid-related travel curbs in place, and has even scrapped a requirement to self-isolate after a positive result.
COVID threatens new U.S. Senate delays for Biden's Fed, FTC nominees
An effort by U.S. Senate Democrats to move forward on President Joe Biden's nominees for the Federal Reserve and Federal Trade Commission appeared headed for a second week of delay on Monday, after another Democratic lawmaker tested positive for COVID-19. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado said on Twitter that he tested positive for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 on Sunday, adding that he would quarantine at home in Denver for the week. "I'm experiencing minor, cold-like symptoms and plan to work virtually," Bennet said.
South Africa's Aspen COVID-19 vaccine plant risks closure after no orders, executive says
Africa's first COVID-19 vaccination plant, touted last year as a trailblazer for an under-vaccinated continent frustrated by sluggish Western handouts, risks shutting down after receiving not a single order, a company executive said on Saturday. South Africa's Aspen Pharmacare negotiated a licensing deal in November to package and sell Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine and distribute it across Africa. The World Health Organization (WHO) called the deal a "transformative moment" in the drive towards levelling stark inequalities in access to COVID vaccines.
China Contagion Threatens to Derail the World’s Emerging Markets
A widespread selloff in China is rippling through emerging markets, threatening to snuff out growth and drag down everything from stocks to currencies and bonds. Fresh Covid outbreaks -- and the government’s stringent policy to contain them -- are spooking global investors who fear shutdowns in China will echo across the world by lowering demand and disrupting supply chains. That’s pushing them to sell not just China’s currency, bonds and stocks but the assets of any developing nation which relies heavily on trade with the second-biggest economy. The result is the sharpest slide in emerging markets in two years, not unlike the meltdown in 2015 when China’s woes led to a rout in their bonds and currencies, besides wiping out $2 trillion from equity values. Since then, the country’s influence on the global economy has only grown: It’s now the largest buyer of commodities, meaning its slump may impact exporters of raw materials and their markets more than ever.
Chinese Omicron-specific mRNA COVID vaccine candidate to be trialed in UAE
China's Suzhou Abogen Biosciences Co said its COVID-19 vaccine candidate using the messenger RNA (mRNA) technology and targeting the Omicron variant has obtained clinical trial approval in the United Arab Emirates. With Friday's announcement, Abogen joins Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna in trialing candidates modified specifically against Omicron, a highly transmissible variant with increased resistance to antibodies elicited by existing shots.
Shanghai factories scramble to reopen as COVID lockdown lingers
Companies reopening factories in locked-down Shanghai are booking hotel rooms to house workers and turning vacant workshops into on-site isolation facilities as authorities urge them to resume work while complying with tough COVID-19 curbs. Hundreds of companies including multinationals Tesla and 3M have reopened factories in the Chinese economic hub under local guidelines requiring them to isolate workers inside a "closed-loop".
Healthcare Innovations
U.S. Seeks 'Urgent' Data on Covid Relapses After Using Pfizer's Drug
U.S. government researchers are planning studies of how often and why coronavirus levels rebound in some Covid patients who have completed a five-day course of treatment with Pfizer Inc.’s Paxlovid. “It is a priority,” said Clifford Lane, deputy director for clinical research at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, calling the issue “a pretty urgent thing for us to get a handle on.” The agency is discussing a variety of possible epidemiological and clinical studies to examine post-Paxlovid rebound with scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said. The demand for answers is rising as Paxlovid has become a key element of the Biden administration’s pandemic approach, with the drug being made available at pharmacies nationwide. Among other questions the NIH hopes to get a better handle on is how often viral rebounds occur after five days of Paxlovid treatment, who’s at risk for relapse, and whether it could be avoided with a longer regimen.
Better Vaccines Are in Sight — for the Next Pandemic
Arcturus Therapeutics, a San Diego biotech company, may have just laid out a template for how to make vaccines for the next pandemic. Its new vaccine, which uses self-copying mRNA, appears to work well against current strains of Covid. It’s just that the product is coming in too late to matter in the current pandemic. But data from a large clinical trial suggest the technology should be explored for the next one — and it may have many other uses, too. In a study that enrolled more than 16,000 people, Arcturus’s “self-amplifying” mRNA vaccine was 95% protective against severe disease and death and about 55% effective in preventing symptomatic Covid.
Pfizer’s Covid-19 Pill Failed Study Testing Its Preventive Use
The Covid-19 pill from Pfizer Inc. failed to prevent symptomatic infections in adults who had been exposed to the pandemic virus, a late-stage study found. Pfizer said Friday that the drug, named Paxlovid, failed the study’s main objective of meaningfully reducing the risk of confirmed and symptomatic Covid-19 infections in adults who were exposed to the virus by someone in their household. Paxlovid was cleared for use in December by U.S. health regulators to treat people 12 years and older early in the course of their disease who are at high risk of developing severe Covid-19.