Latest coronavirus news as of 5 pm on 16 July
Scientists suggest young, healthy people could test coronavirus vaccine candidates
A group of scientists are calling for young, healthy people to help accelerate vaccine research by volunteering to be exposed to the coronavirus in so-called “challenge trials.” The process might make it easier to see how effective different vaccine candidates are at providing protection against covid-19. Challenge trials have been used in the past to test vaccines, but they raise ethical questions about exposing healthy people to a disease for which we have no treatment to guarantee their safety. “If challenge trials can safely and effectively speed the vaccine development process, then there is a formidable presumption in favour of their use, which would require a very compelling ethical justification to overcome,” said an open letter signed by more than 100 prominent figures, including 15 Nobel laureates, which was sent to the US National Institutes of Health, a medical research organisation.
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The UK government is still falling short of its target of returning all covid-19 tests in England within 24 hours, according to data published today. UK prime minister Boris Johnson set the target in parliament on 3 June, saying that all covid-19 tests would be returned within 24 hours by the end of the month. But more than two weeks after the end of June, the latest figures from the Department of Health and Social Care show that only 50.6 per cent of people who were tested for covid-19 in the week ending 8 July received their test results within 24 hours, down from 55.3 per cent the the previous week. The figures include home tests, in addition to those performed at regional testing sites, mobile testing units and satellite testing centres across England. They also reveal that NHS Test and Trace didn’t manage to trace the contacts of 21 per cent of people who tested positive for coronavirus during the same time period.
UK security officials said information about coronavirus vaccines being developed in UK, US and Canadian organisations were targeted by Russian state-sponsored hackers. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre said a group called APT29, which it said was “almost certainly” part of Russia’s intelligence services, were targeting research groups and drug companies.
Phase III clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm have begun in the United Arab Emirates. The government of the UAE says 15,000 volunteers will be recruited in the country over three to six months. There are currently 23 coronavirus vaccine candidates in human trials, with three of them in or close to entering phase III, the final stage of testing.
The worldwide death toll has passed 584,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 13.5 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Essential information about coronavirus
What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus
The New York Times is assessing the progress of different vaccine candidates and potential drug treatments for covid-19, and ranking them for effectiveness and safety.
Humans of COVID-19 is a project highlighting the experiences of key workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, through social media.
Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the on-going coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.
New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.
The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.
Contagion: The BBC Four Pandemic is a sober documentary about the progression of a hypothetical pandemic which the BBC simulated in 2017. Fronted by science journalist and TV presenter Hannah Fry, and made with the support of some of the country’s best epidemiologists and mathematical modelers, it’s very relevant to today’s covid-19 pandemic.
Moderna coronavirus vaccine candidate deemed safe in first human trial
A coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by US company Moderna and the US National Institutes of Health, a medical research organisation, is expected to become the first in the US to enter the final stage of clinical testing. Preliminary results suggested it is safe and able to induce an immune response against the virus. Moderna plans to enter phase III clinical trials on 27 July, and hopes to test the vaccine on 30,000 people, including those whose circumstances put them at high-risk of getting infected with the coronavirus. All 45 volunteers who received the experimental vaccine as part of the phase I trial for safety were found to have developed antibodies against the coronavirus in their blood, and none had serious side effects. These volunteers were younger adults, and preliminary tests on older adults are currently under review. “No matter how you slice this, this is good news,” US government health advisor Anthony Fauci told the Associated Press. There are currently 23 coronavirus vaccine candidates in clinical trials around the world.
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Face coverings will not be mandatory in offices in England, the UK’s health minister Matt Hancock told MPs on Tuesday. This followed the government’s earlier announcement that people in England will be required to wear face coverings in shops and supermarkets starting on 24 July. “The reason is that in offices you tend to spend a lot of time with the same people, and so the way to stop the spread of the virus in offices is to have social distancing, either two metres or one metre plus mitigations in place,” Hancock said on BBC Radio 4 today. Epidemiologist Rowland Kao at the University of Edinburgh says contact tracing is also more straightforward in offices. “Contact tracing is going to be vital in preventing a large outbreak,” says Kao, adding that reducing infections due to casual contact will play a big role in allowing contact tracing to work well.
London mayor Sadiq Khan said the government was risking the public’s health “to cover the back of a cabinet minister” after minister Michael Gove was pictured entering a Pret food shop in London without a face covering yesterday. The prime minister’s spokesperson said that masks will not be required when buying takeaway food.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson today said there will be an independent inquiry into government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, although it isn’t yet clear who will be leading the inquiry and when it will start. “Certainly we will have an independent inquiry into what happened,” he told parliament today, adding that now isn’t the right time for it because the UK is still in the middle of the pandemic.
New Zealand must be prepared for new coronavirus outbreaks, the country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern told journalists today. She said New Zealand would use local lockdowns to contain any new outbreaks, with nationwide lockdowns imposed if necessary. New Zealand’s strategy is aimed at completely eliminating the virus from the country.
The worldwide death toll has passed 580,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 13.3 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
New rules on face coverings: Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, face coverings and masks have become ubiquitous in some Asian countries, but the UK public has generally been more reluctant to adopt them. Now the law is about to change. What are the new rules on face coverings in England and why did the policy change?
Restrictions reimposed around the world as global cases pass 13 million
Tighter lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures in the US, Hong Kong, the Philippines and other countries are being reimposed as states and cities attempt to control new waves of coronavirus cases. The governor of California yesterday closed all bars in the state and ordered restaurants, cinemas and museums to halt indoor operations, reversing the reopening of these venues in mid-June. Today authorities in Hong Kong imposed new social distancing measures including making masks mandatory on public transport, limiting the size of gatherings to four people and closing Hong Kong Disneyland less than a month after it reopened. In Manila, in the Philippines, a quarter of a million people are expected to be put back under lockdown later this week to try to slow down the spread of infections. In the UK, tighter restrictions could be imposed on people in Blackburn after a spike in coronavirus cases.
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Face coverings will become compulsory in shops and supermarkets in England from 24 July and the police can issue £100 fines for those who don’t comply, the government announced today. Children under 11 and people with certain disabilities will be exempt. The government has been under growing pressure from scientific organisations, including the Royal Society and the recently formed Independent SAGE, to introduce legislation making face coverings mandatory in indoor spaces. World Health Organization guidelines also support the use of face coverings in confined or crowded places where physical distancing isn’t possible.
More than 5 million workers in the US are estimated to have lost their health insurance this year due to the economic impact of the pandemic, according to a report by Families USA, an advocacy group for healthcare consumers. This is the highest increase since the 2008 financial crisis when 3.9 million adults became uninsured, according to the report.
The coronavirus may be able to spread from a pregnant person to their fetus, suggests a case study published in Nature Communications. Tests of placental samples from this case study are consistent with transmission in the womb, physician and study author Daniele DeLuca at the Antoine Béclère hospital in Paris told the Guardian. DeLuca said he suspects this isn’t the first such case, but this is the first time it has been confirmed that coronavirus was transmitted in the womb. The baby who tested positive for covid-19 developed brain inflammation a few days after birth, but he and his mother have both since recovered. The study builds on earlier, more preliminary evidence that the coronavirus can be spread via the placenta.
The worldwide death toll has passed 574,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 13.1 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
Second wave in winter: A bad winter could bring a second wave of coronavirus infections that leads to around 120,000 deaths in UK hospitals, twice as many as the first wave, according to an estimate of a reasonable worst-case scenario.
How drug cartels get around lockdowns: Like most other industries, the illegal drug trade has been affected by the covid-19 pandemic, but it hasn’t stopped cartels from finding ways around national shutdowns and anti-narcotics police operations.
The pandemic’s impact on other diseases: The effect of the coronavirus pandemic on healthcare for tuberculosis, malaria and HIV could lead to deaths on a scale similar to those from covid-19 in some parts of the world, a new analysis finds.
People may soon have to wear face coverings in shops in England, says Boris Johnson
People should wear face coverings in shops and the government is looking at making it mandatory to do so in England, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said today. Describing face coverings as “extra insurance” to stop the spread of coronavirus, he said that the government was looking at how a change in policy might be enforced. Face coverings are already compulsory on public transport in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the government recommends that people wear them in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible, although this isn’t mandatory. This comes as a growing number of scientists are calling for the UK government to increase legislation on face coverings. Independent SAGE, a group of scientists offering alternative advice to the UK government, has said that face coverings should be made mandatory in indoor spaces wherever possible, including in shops and in entertainment venues, as well as on public transport. Earlier this month, the president of the Royal Society, Venki Ramakrishnan said that not wearing a face covering should be regarded as anti-social.
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Antibodies against the coronavirus in a person’s blood may peak about three weeks after symptoms first appear, then decline rapidly, according to a preliminary study that hasn’t been peer-reviewed. The study, led by researchers at King’s College London, monitored antibody levels in the blood of 65 covid-19 patients and 31 healthcare workers who’d had a positive coronavirus antibody test, between March and June. Three months after antibody levels peaked, only 17 per cent of people tested still had an antibody response with the same level of potency against the virus, the study found. In some people, antibody levels fell 23-fold over the same time period. One concern is that a short-lived antibody response might limit the ability of a coronavirus vaccine to induce immunity. But alongside antibodies, there’s evidence that other parts of the body’s immune system – such as immune cells called T-cells – may also contribute to immunity against the coronavirus and could be harnessed by a future vaccine.
Scotland reported no deaths from covid-19 today for the fifth consecutive day, the nation’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced during a press briefing. But there are concerns that people travelling across the border from England may make it difficult for Scotland to achieve full elimination of the virus.
Mexico saw record daily numbers of new coronavirus cases last week and now has the fourth-highest number of recorded deaths from covid-19, after the US, Brazil and the UK. There have been more than 299,000 coronavirus cases and more than 35,000 deaths from covid-19 in Mexico since the pandemic began. Officials in Mexico say these numbers are probably a significant underestimate, because of a limited testing capacity.
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