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Coronavirus: nine reasons to be reassured | World news

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The coronavirus epidemic plainly poses an exceptionally serious global problem: in a few short weeks, it has spread from China to more than 80 countries, infecting more than 100,000 people so far and causing more than 3,400 deaths.

But as we are hit with minute-by-minute updates from around the world, experiencing the advance of Covid-19 in real time – news alerts, huge headlines, social media hysteria – there’s a risk that we might lose some essential context.

Yes, this virus is obviously a massive challenge: medical, political and – perhaps most strikingly at present – social and economic. But it is worth remembering the world has never had better tools to fight it, and that if we are infected, we are unlikely to die from it.

Here, courtesy of a number of scientists but mainly Ignacio López-Goñi, a professor of microbiology and virology at the University of Navarra in Spain, are what might hopefully prove a few reassuring facts about the new coronavirus:

  • We know what it is. As López-Goñi wrote for the Conversation France, the virus causing cases of severe pneumonia in Wuhan was identified within seven days of the official announcement on 31 December, and, three days after that, the gene sequence was available. The Aids virus, by contrast, took two years to identify after it first appeared in mid-1981, López-Goni noted. We also know the virus is natural, that it is related to a virus found in bats, and that it can mutate, but does not appear to do so very often.

  • We can test for it. By 13 January – three days after the gene sequence was published – a reliable test was available, developed by scientists at the department of virology at Berlin’s Charité university hospital with help from experts in Rotterdam, London and Hong Kong.

  • We know it can be contained (albeit at considerable cost). China’s draconian quarantine and containment measures appear to be working. On Thursday 120 new cases were reported in Wuhan, the lowest figure for six weeks, and, for the first time since the start of the outbreak, none at all in the rest of Hubei province. Several Chinese provinces have had no new cases for a fortnight and more are reopening their schools. In many countries, infections are in defined clusters, which should allow them to be more readily contained.

  • Catching it is not that easy (if we are careful) and we can kill it quite easily (provided we try). Frequent, careful hand washing, as we now all know, is the most effective way to stop the virus being transmitted, while a solution of ethanol, hydrogen peroxide and bleach will disinfect surfaces. To be considered at high risk of catching the coronavirus you need to live with, or have direct physical contact with, someone infected, be coughed or sneezed on by them (or pick up a used tissue), or be in face-to-face contact, within two metres, for more than 15 minutes. We’re not talking about passing someone in the street.


  • In most cases, symptoms are mild, and young people are at very low risk. According to a study of 45,000 confirmed infections in China, 81% of cases caused only minor illness, 14% of patients had symptoms described as “severe”, and just 5% were considered “critical”, with about half of those resulting in death. Only 3% of cases concern people under 20, children seem barely affected by the virus at all, and the mortality rate for the under-40s is about 0.2%. The rate rises in the over-65s, reaching nearly 15% in the over-80s, especially those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions. Calculating mortality rates during an ongoing epidemic is hard because it is not clear how many mild or asymptomatic cases have been tested for, but the best estimate we have for the coronavirus so far is 1.4% – somewhere between 1918 Spanish flu and 2009 swine flu.

  • People are recovering from it. As the daily count maintained by the John Hopkins CSSE shows, thousands of people around the world are making confirmed recoveries from the coronavirus every day.


  • Hundreds of scientific articles have already been written about it. Type Covid-19 or Sars-19 into the search engine of the US national library of medicine’s PubMed website and you will find, barely five weeks after the emergence of the virus, 539 references to papers about it, dealing with vaccines, therapies, epidemiology, diagnosis and clinical practice. That’s an exponentially faster publication rate than during the Sars epidemic, López-Goñi notes – and most publications’ coronavirus articles are free to access.

  • Vaccine prototypes exist. Commercial pharmaceutical and biotechnology labs such as Moderna, Inovio, Sanofi and Novavax, as well as academic groups such as one at the University of Queensland in Australia – many of which were already working on vaccines for similar Sars-related viruses – have preventive vaccine prototypes in development, some of which will soon be ready for human testing (although their efficacy and safety will of course take time to establish).

  • Dozens of treatments are already being tested. By mid-February, more than 80 clinical trials were under way for antiviral treatments, according to Nature magazine, and most have already been used successfully in treating other illnesses. Drugs such as remdesivir (Ebola, Sars), chloroquine (malaria), lopinavir and ritonavir (HIV), and baricitinib (rheumatoid polyarthritis) are all being trialled on patients who have contracted the coronavirus, some as a result of the application of artificial intelligence.


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Coronavirus strain from Spain accounts for most UK cases – study | World news

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A study suggesting a coronavirus variant originating in Spain now accounts for most UK cases has highlighted the weakness of the government’s travel policies over the summer, experts have said.

New research from scientists in Switzerland, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, has revealed that a new variant of the coronavirus, known as 20A.EU1, appears to have cropped up in Spain over the summer and has since spread to multiple European countries, including the UK.

“In Wales and Scotland the variant was at 80% in mid-September, whereas frequencies in Switzerland and England were around 50% at that time,” the authors said.

The variant first appeared in the UK in the middle of July when quarantine-free travel to Spain was allowed for England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. However, the new variant of the virus is now common in countries across Europe, meaning travellers to and from many countries could since have brought it back to the UK.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Dr Emma Hodcroft, an evolutionary geneticist at the University of Basel and lead author of the study, stressed there was no sign as yet that the strain was more dangerous that other variants, or that it would hamper the development of a vaccine. “It’s not very different from the variants that circulated in spring,” she said.

Earlier this year experts and members of the public alike raised a number of concerns around international travel, with reports of crowding at airports, a lack of quarantine information, and few checks on test-and-trace forms.

Prof Devi Sridhar, the chair of global public health at Edinburgh University, said there were flaws in the UK government’s approach to travel over the summer. “Numbers were really low and that was our chance to keep them low,” she said. “The virus moves when people move.”


Sridhar said there were two approaches to managing the virus when it came to travel: either keeping borders largely open, as occurred in the UK, but adopting harsh restrictions to try to combat community transmission; or having very tight border controls, as has been the case in Taiwan and New Zealand, but few restrictions on everyday life.

“I feel like in Europe we want it all, we want to be able to go on holiday, we want to have bars open, pubs open, clubs open – but with such an infectious virus and [the] associated hospitalisation rate, it is pretty much an impossible ask,” said Sridhar.

She said the seeding of infections by travellers not only kicked off the epidemic in the UK, but that reseeding by such means was likely to be a recurrent problem. “The biggest mistake actually that the world did early on was not to use travel restrictions more to control the spread – the countries that did have done better,” she said.

Prof John Edmunds of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said the crucial issue at present was that there could be close to 100,000 new coronavirus infections every day in the UK – something he said was far more concerning than the number of cases imported from abroad.


Dr Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, said: “The UK, along with some European countries, have been very much reactive in the Covid-19 response rather than proactive. This has included reactive approaches around international travel, only implementing recommendations for quarantine of returning travellers when rates are high, rather than beforehand.”

And the outlook remains concerning. “With a poor quality test-and-trace system in place, low compliance from those in isolation, and low levels of trust in the government, the UK is poorly placed heading into the winter,” he said.

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Coronavirus live news: Europe leaders told to ‘act urgently’; US nears 9m cases | World news

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The British government will close the furlough scheme this weekend, with redundancies rising at the fastest rate on record and the second wave of Covid-19 pushing Britain’s economy to the brink of a double-dip recession, according to a Guardian analysis.

As the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, prepares to end the multibillion-pound coronavirus job retention scheme and launch a less generous replacement programme, early warning indicators show business activity faltering as local lockdowns take effect. The number of people losing their jobs is rising much faster than during the 2008 financial crisis, while the economic fightback from the March lockdown is gradually fading:





Record 17m guns bought this year in the US

Americans have bought nearly 17m guns so far in 2020, more than in any other single year, according to estimates from a firearms analytics company.

Gun sales across the United States first jumped in the spring, driven by fears about the coronavirus pandemic, and spiked even higher in the summer, during massive racial justice protests across the country, prompted by police killings of black Americans.

Helen Sullivan
(@helenrsullivan)

A record 17 million guns bought this year in the US

15,000 Americans have been killed by other people

20,000 have killed themselves
https://t.co/7rbSUpEKDj pic.twitter.com/iFCbD2FsVT


October 30, 2020

“By August, we had exceeded last year’s total. By September, we exceeded the highest total ever,” said Jurgen Brauer, the chief economist of Small Arms Analytics, which produces widely-cited estimates of US gun sales.

The estimated number of guns sold in the US through the end of September 2020 is “not only more than last year, it’s more than any full year in the last 20 years we have records for”, Brauer said:





First US vaccine doses could be available to some Americans in late December – Dr Fauci













Australian active cases lowest in four months



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New Zealand votes to legalize euthanasia but not marijuana | World News

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WELLINGTON, New Zealand – New Zealanders voted to legalize euthanasia in a binding referendum, but preliminary results released Friday showed they likely would not legalize marijuana.

With about 83% of votes counted, New Zealanders emphatically endorsed the euthanasia measure with 65% voting in favour and 34% voting against.

The “No” vote on marijuana was much closer, with 53% voting against legalizing the drug for recreational use and 46% voting in favour. That left open a slight chance the measure could still pass once all special votes were counted next week, although it would require a huge swing.

In past elections, special votes — which include those cast by overseas voters — have tended to be more liberal than general votes, giving proponents of marijuana legalization some hope the measure could still pass.

Proponents of marijuana legalization were frustrated that popular Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wouldn’t reveal how she intended to vote ahead the Oct. 17 ballot, saying she wanted to leave the decision to New Zealanders. Ardern said Friday after the results were released that she had voted in favour of both referendums.

Conservative lawmaker Nick Smith, from the opposition National Party, welcomed the preliminary marijuana result.

“This is a victory for common sense. Research shows cannabis causes mental health problems, reduced motivation and educational achievement, and increased road and workplace deaths,” he said. “New Zealanders have rightly concluded that legalizing recreational cannabis would normalize it, make it more available, increase its use and cause more harm.”

But liberal lawmaker Chlöe Swarbrick, from the Green Party, said they had long assumed the vote would be close and they needed to wait until the specials were counted.

“We have said from the outset that this would always come down to voter turnout. We’ve had record numbers of special votes, so I remain optimistic,” she said. “New Zealand has had a really mature and ever-evolving conversation about drug laws in this country and we’ve come really far in the last three years.”

The euthanasia measure, which would also allow assisted suicide and takes effect in November 2021, would apply to adults who have terminal illnesses, are likely to die within six months, and are enduring “unbearable” suffering. Other countries that allow some form of euthanasia include The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Canada, Belgium and Colombia.

The marijuana measure would allow people to buy up to 14 grams (0.5 ounce) a day and grow two plants. It was a non-binding vote, so if voters approved it, legislation would have to be passed to implement it. Ardern had promised to respect the outcome and bring forward the legislation, if it was necessary.

Other countries that have legalized or decriminalized recreational marijuana include Canada, South Africa, Uruguay, Georgia plus a number of U.S. states.

The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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