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  1. India asks social media firms to remove reference to 'Indian variant' of coronavirus India's information technology (IT) ministry has written to all social media companies asking them to take down any content that refers to an "Indian variant" of the coronavirus, according to a letter issued on Friday which was seen by Reuters. The World Health Organization said on May 11 that the coronavirus variant B.1.617, first identified in India last year, was being classified as a variant of global concern. The Indian government a day later issued a statement saying media reports using the term "Indian Variant" were without any basis, saying the WHO had classified the variant as just B.1.617. In a letter to social media companies on Friday, the IT ministry asked the companies to "remove all the content" that names or implies "Indian variant" of the coronavirus. "This is completely FALSE. There is no such variant of Covid-19 scientifically cited as such by the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO has not associated the term 'Indian Variant' with the B.1.617 variant of the coronavirus in any of its reports," stated the letter, which is not public. A senior Indian government source told Reuters the notice was issued to send a message "loud and clear" that such mentions of "Indian variant" spread miscommunication and hurt the country's image. The IT ministry could not be reached for comment. Around the world, coronvirus variants have generically been referred to by doctors and health experts on the basis of where the are identified. This includes South Africa and Brazil variants. A social media executive said it would be difficult to take down all content using the word as there would be hundreds of thousands of such posts, adding that "such a move would lead to keyword based censorship going forward." The Indian government is facing increased criticism over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, with Prime Minister Modi and state authorities being blamed for not adequately planning for the ongoing second wave of coronavirus infections. India has the second-highest tally of COVID-19 cases in the world and has been reporting around 250,000 infections and 4,000 deaths daily. Source: India asks social media firms to remove reference to 'Indian variant' of coronavirus
  2. Trial started for vaccine against one of the scariest coronavirus variants The vaccine is being developed "out of an abundance of caution," Fauci says. Enlarge / A vial of the current Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Researchers have given out the first jabs of a tweaked version of Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine, one aimed at fighting one of the most concerning coronavirus variants—the B.1.351 variant, first identified in South Africa. The jabs are part of an early trial of the tweaked vaccine, which is being run by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The agency aims to enroll around 210 healthy adults in the trial by the end of April. “The B.1.351 SARS-CoV-2 variant, first identified in the Republic of South Africa, has been detected in at least nine states in the United States,” NIAID Director Anthony Fauci said in an announcement. “Preliminary data show that the COVID-19 vaccines currently available in the United States should provide an adequate degree of protection against SARS-CoV-2 variants. However, out of an abundance of caution, NIAID has continued its partnership with Moderna to evaluate this variant vaccine candidate should there be a need for an updated vaccine.” Data so far on the B.1.351 variant (aka 501Y.V2) suggests that it may be about 50 percent more transmissible than earlier versions. It also appears to evade immune responses from previous infections and current vaccines. Experiments in the lab found that it took about six times the amount of antibodies from recovered COVID-19 patients to neutralize the variant, compared with the amount needed to neutralize an earlier version of the virus. The variant also appeared to knock back Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine; the vaccine appeared 72 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in the US but was only 64 percent effective in South Africa while the B.1.351 variant was widely circulating. B.1.351’s concerning abilities likely stem from key mutations in its spike protein, the protruding protein that juts from the outside of SARS-CoV-2 viral particles. The virus uses the spike protein to bind to and gain entry into human cells. Some of the most potent antibodies against the virus bind to the spike, where they can physically block the virus from binding cells. Tweaks and tests The original Moderna vaccine works by delivering to human cells the genetic code for the SARS-CoV-2 spike in mRNA form. Once delivered, our cells read the code and make their own spike protein, which is used to train immune responses to spot and destroy any invading SARS-CoV-2. For the tweaked version of the vaccine, researchers at Moderna simply incorporated key mutations from the B.1.351 variant's spike protein into the mRNA code used in the vaccine. As Fauci mentioned in his statement, it’s unclear how necessary these variant-specific vaccines will be, given that current vaccines do provide some protection. However, with SARS-CoV-2 still widely circulating in the US and worldwide, the virus has ample opportunities to continue mutating. With every new infection, there are more chances for mutations and new variants to arise, which in turn increases the chances that variant-specific vaccines will be a fixture in our future. To understand how variants might fit into current vaccine use, the new NIH trial is testing 10 different vaccine regimens. Approximately 60 of the 210 people the institute aims to enroll will be people from the original Moderna vaccine trial, who were first immunized against COVID-19 last year. Some of those people will get a single booster shot with just the variant-specific vaccine, while others will get a booster that contains a mix of the original vaccine and the variant-specific vaccine. The remaining 150 people in the trial will be those who have not received any COVID-19 vaccines yet. Two groups of 15 will get three shots at varying dosages, 28 days apart: two doses of the original vaccine, then a variant-specific booster. Two groups of 20 will get just two shots at varying dosages of the variant-specific booster. Two groups of 20 will get two shots at varying dosages: a dose of the original vaccine and then a variant-specific booster. Lastly, two groups of 20 will get two shots, each with mixtures of both the original and variant-specific vaccine at varying dosages. Researchers will then monitor the participants for safety issues, side effects, and immune responses against SARS-CoV-2 viruses. Source: Trial started for vaccine against one of the scariest coronavirus variants
  3. Draft landscape of COVID-19 candidate vaccines Overview These landscape documents have been prepared by the World Health Organization (WHO) for information purposes only concerning the 2019-2020 global of the novel coronavirus. Inclusion of any particular product or entity in any of these landscape documents does not constitute, and shall not be deemed or construed as, any approval or endorsement by WHO of such product or entity (or any of its businesses or activities). While WHO takes reasonable steps to verify the accuracy of the information presented in these landscape documents, WHO does not make any (and hereby disclaims all) representations and warranties regarding the accuracy, completeness, fitness for a particular purpose (including any of the aforementioned purposes), quality, safety, efficacy, merchantability and/or non-infringement of any information provided in these landscape documents and/or of any of the products referenced therein. WHO also disclaims any and all liability or responsibility whatsoever for any death, disability, injury, suffering, loss, damage or other prejudice of any kind that may arise from or in connection with the procurement, distribution or use of any product included in any of these landscape documents. WHO Team: R&D Blueprint Number of pages: 9 Download draft landscape documents (401.7 kB) Source
  4. When officers from Hungary's National Tax and Customs Administration raided a pirate IPTV provider they were unsurprised to discover large amounts of satellite and computer equipment for capturing and distributing live TV . However, what they also found was hundreds of pounds of food that had been stockpiled by the operator, who hadn't been outside for months due to fears of catching the coronavirus. 2020 has developed into one of the most memorable years in living memory for the entire planet but for mostly the wrong reasons. Not a day goes by without news of the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating effect on individuals, families, the economy, and health in general. In common with many industries, coronavirus has hit the entertainment sectors too, with few new films and TV shows coming out (with notable exceptions such as Mulan) as people are either forced or inclined to stay home and stay safe. Throughout all of this, however, pirate operations have remained mostly online, with notable spikes in interest reported earlier in the year. IPTV Raid and Arrest But Authorities Didn’t Expect This As part of European efforts to crack down on the supply of IPTV, a few weeks ago officers in the National Tax and Customs Administration raided a pirate IPTV provider. What they found was extraordinary to say the least. Situated in what appeared to be a fenced-off barbed wire compound with CCTV surveillance, the outside of the building was perhaps not much of a surprise. Adorned with a large number of satellite dishes used to source original programming from the skies, the walls of the structure gave away what may lie inside. Indeed, the main contents of the building were as expected, such as an office with desks, chairs and various computers, plus a separate area containing what appear to be rows of servers used for capturing TV content from official providers and redistributing it over the Internet. In total, the authorities seized 52 computers, several decoders, TV cards, plus six servers dedicated to redistribution. The image above suggests that the operation wasn’t set up on the large budgets usually witnessed in police footage from raids elsewhere in Europe but with at least 8,000 paying customers, it was clearly functional. However, in a video released by the authorities, it is apparent that on some of the server shelves also sit items of food, including dozens and dozens of packets of flour. A panning camera shot also reveals a large refrigerator and then a small mountain of stacked canned food. Another shot, possibly in another area, reveals little floor space due to yet more stacked cans, a significant area occupied by box upon box of dried pasta packets, plus additional shelves loaded with soft drinks, other foodstuffs, and the coronavirus pandemic staple – dozens of toilet rolls. An Operator of the Service Was Scared of the Coronavirus According to the National Tax and Customs Administration, the service was founded by a man from Nagykanizsa who first set out to “redirect” his mother’s paid TV package to his own home for free. He teamed up with a man from Budapest to create a service that was subsequently offered to close friends too. Over time, however, they realized they could make money from the operation and began offering it on an invitation-only basis to outsiders. The network of customers grew and ultimately became available worldwide via the Internet. However, earlier this year, when the coronavirus started to sweep across Europe, one of the people in charge of the operation reacted like many across the region. In fear of catching what could be a deadly virus, he stockpiled the mountains of food detailed Situated in what appeared to be a fenced-off barbed wire compound with CCTV surveillance, the outside of the building was perhaps not much of a surprise. Adorned with a large number of satellite dishes used to source original programming from the skies, the walls of the structure gave away what may lie inside.above – hundreds of pounds/kilos – so that he could keep the service running but without having to venture far outside. “In addition to IT equipment, durable food was in the Budapest property. The young man had accumulated hundreds of kilos of flour, canned food and pasta in fear of the coronavirus epidemic, and had not ventured into the streets for months,” the authorities explain. Damage to Copyright Holders But Also Paying No Taxes According to estimates provided by the tax authorities, the service is alleged to have generated around HUF 6 million (US$1.97m) for the pair but for reasons that aren’t explained, they “forgot” to pay the necessary duties to the state. This explains why the tax authorities were involved in the raid. “An illegal IPTV service that is provided without payment of royalties infringes copyright or copyright-related rights, which is a criminal offense. The offender can be sentenced to up to eight years in prison,” the National Tax and Customs Administration says. Whether the self-imposed prison sentence of a few months will now be extended to a forced sentence of a few years is currently unknown. Previous Post Source: TorrentFreak
  5. Humans aren’t the only creatures at risk from dying of covid-19, it seems. In recent weeks, the state of Utah has been dealing with mass die-offs at mink farms that health officials believe are linked to the viral pandemic—outbreaks that likely began from contact with infected human handlers. So far, nearly 10,000 minks in Utah are thought to have died during these outbreaks in the span of two weeks. According to Utah Department of Agriculture and Food (UDAF), these deaths have been concentrated among nine fur farms in the state. Shortly before dying, UDAF veterinarian Dean Taylor told NBC News, these minks experience respiratory symptoms like trouble breathing or runny noses and eye discharge, similar to what happens in people sick with covid-19. As with people, older minks seem to be more susceptible to dying from the coronavirus, he added. For months now, scientists have known that minks and other weasels, like ferrets, can become infected with the coronavirus that causes covid-19, and that they can catch it from infected humans. Unlike cats, dogs, and other animals that the virus has infected through human contact, however, weasels seem to be especially vulnerable to more serious illness. That’s made these animals a useful model for studying the virus outside of a petri dish in the lab, but it’s also made them an easy target for the virus in the real world. Indeed, Utah’s outbreaks are not the first to have hit mink farms. Earlier outbreaks in the Netherlands and Spain prompted officials there to cull more than 1 million minks to prevent the infection from spreading further. So far, no minks in Utah have been killed as a precaution during these recent outbreaks, though affected farms have enacted quarantines. The UDAF is also working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies to secure more personal protective equipment and training for farmers working with minks in the state. As dire as these outbreaks have been for the mink industry, the danger to people seems to be low. Though people can spread the virus to minks and other animals, the risk of these animals then spreading the infection back to other susceptible people is thought to be very low, according to the CDC. That said, the original strain of the coronavirus that became responsible for covid-19 likely came from an unknown animal source, possibly bats. Source
  6. Blood donors will help researchers figure out how long novel coronavirus antibodies last The Red Cross is giving antibody tests to every donor A blood drive in Chicago at the Field Museum of Natural History. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images The American Red Cross is testing all donated blood for novel coronavirus antibodies and will use that information to learn more about the spread of COVID-19. They’ll also check back in with donors to find out how long their antibodies last. If someone has antibodies to the novel coronavirus, it’s a sign that they were, at one point, infected with the virus. While the tests on the market now aren’t perfect, many people are still interested in getting them — including people who thought they had COVID-19, but weren’t able to get tested when they were sick. One goal of the antibody testing initiative is to encourage more people to donate blood, says Susan Stramer, vice president of scientific affairs at the Red Cross. Stay-at-home orders meant fewer people than usual donated blood over the past few months, and supplies have been running low. The organization has seen about an 150 percent increase in the number of donation appointments since the antibody testing started on June 15th. When someone donates blood to the Red Cross, they consent to allow their blood samples to be used in research studies. Thousands of people all over the country donate blood each month, which gives the organization a huge pool of blood samples to analyze. By testing all of those samples for novel coronavirus antibodies, the organization will also be able to get a sense of how widespread the virus is. “We collect 40% of the nation’s blood supply, so we have an easy picture to answer questions around how many people are antibody positive,” Stramer says. So far, with two weeks of data, around 1.2 percent of blood donors have novel coronavirus antibodies. The Red Cross will reach out to donors who have antibodies and ask them if they’re interested in participating in an additional follow-up study to test how their antibody levels may change over time. These antibodies probably help protect people against getting sick from the virus again, but a lot more research still needs to be done. Researchers still don’t have a good sense of how long antibodies against this virus actually stick around in the body. Some preliminary data suggests novel coronavirus antibodies might only linger for a few months, especially in people who didn’t have symptoms when they were infected. The study will check in once a month to retest participants’ antibody levels. “We hope to enroll as many people as possible, but I think if we get over 30 percent, we would consider that a success,” Stramer says. The Red Cross is also participating in a nationwide antibody study, with support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That study will include multiple blood donation organizations and will check the percentage of the population with novel coronavirus antibodies this fall and again in 2021. “It’s certainly the largest serosurvey I’ve ever been involved with,” Michael Busch, who’s helping lead the efforts as director of the Vitalant Research Institute, told Science. Each of those surveys will include 50,000 blood samples. The projects are similar but different in scope. “Ours is really a deep dive into the details of our donors and the antibody duration, whereas the CDC program will look at changes over time,” Stramer says. Blood donation centers have taken advantage of the thousands of samples at their disposal for scientific research for decades. Studies started through the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute began studying donated blood in 1989 over concerns about the impact of HIV on blood transfusion safety. Since then, donated blood has helped scientists understand more about diseases like Zika and West Nile virus. Donated blood won’t give us a perfect snapshot of a population. Some groups are also excluded from donating blood entirely. Men who’ve had sex with another man in the past three months are ineligible, which effectively excludes non-abstinent gay men from donation. The Red Cross is also advertising their antibody tests, so people who were sick might be more likely to volunteer as blood donors — which could skew the data they’re collecting and make it more heavily weighted toward people who have antibodies. The organization is surveying donors to ask why they decided to donate, though, so they’ll have that information to accompany the study. People also have to be entirely healthy in order to donate blood, and because COVID-19 can linger, there could be a time lag between when people are sick and when they’d be counted in these types of studies. It’s still valuable to understand how many people who are currently healthy have novel coronavirus antibodies, Stramer says. “It really represents those individuals who may not know they were infected, or who were infected and are now symptom-free.” Blood donors will help researchers figure out how long novel coronavirus antibodies last
  7. Anthony Fauci said Thursday the global coronavirus outbreak will not be a pandemic for "a lot longer" because of the development of vaccines, striking a hopeful note even as the situation worsens in the short term. "Certainly it's not going to be pandemic for a lot longer because I believe the vaccines are going to turn that around," Fauci said at an event hosted by the think tank Chatham House. Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said that while the virus will likely cease raging across the globe as it is now, it could circulate quietly below the surface, at least in certain areas. "Putting it to rest doesn't mean eradicating it," he said. "I doubt we're going to eradicate this, I think we need to plan that this is something we may need to maintain control over chronically, it may be something that becomes endemic that we have to just be careful about." Still, Fauci clearly thinks that vaccines will be a major boost in the fight against the virus. Pfizer reported this week that an interim analysis shows its vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, higher than expectations. Moderna said trial results for its own vaccine candidate may be available by the end of the month. In the meantime, though, coronavirus infections in the U.S. and around the globe are surging. Case numbers are rising in every single state, the U.S. this week set a single-day high for new infections and a record number of people are hospitalized with the disease. Still, Fauci said knowing an end is in sight is all the more reason to keep up precautions like mask-wearing, distancing, and washing hands in the short term. The general public in the U.S. could start getting a vaccine sometime in the spring, officials have said, and high priority groups like health care workers and the elderly, as soon as December. "Ever since it became clear a few days ago that we have a really quite effective vaccine getting ready to deploy, [the message] is rather than 'Hey don't worry you're OK,' it's 'Don't stop shooting, the cavalry is coming but don't put your weapons down, you better keep fighting because they're not here yet,' " Fauci said. Source
  8. Musk stated last week that his rapid tests were inconclusive, but he had an additional test this week. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says that he has "fully" recovered from his bout with a mild fever or cold about a week after he took to Twitter to say he tested positive for coronavirus. Last week, Musk caused a stir on Twitter after he called into question the accuracy of the coronavirus tests he took. "Something extremely bogus is going on. Was tested for covid four times today. Two tests came back negative, two came back positive. Same machine, same test, same nurse. Rapid antigen test from BD," Musk tweeted last week. BD is the maker of the testing equipment. Musk went on to say that he was "getting wildly different results from different labs, but most likely I have a moderate case of covid." Then this week, Musk took a more reliable PCR test that he said showed "unequivocal" evidence that he had Covid. He described his symptoms as being the same as a "minor cold, which is no surprise, since a coronavirus is a type of cold." In March, Musk announced that Tesla would be leaving California over "absurd and medically irrational behavior in violation of constitutional civil liberties," as the state looked to stop production in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. Musk was still threatening to leave California as recently as August. On Wednesday, Morgan Stanley raised Tesla to overweight for the first time in more than three years, predicting that the electric carmaker is on the verge of a “profound model shift” from selling cars to generating high-margin software and services revenue. “To only value Tesla on car sales alone ignores the multiple businesses embedded within the company,” Jonas said in a research note to clients as he upgraded the shares from equal-weight and raised his price target by 50% to $540 from $360, suggesting 22% additional upside for the stock. Source
  9. How Fast Can Scientists Find the New Coronavirus Strains? The discovery of more contagious variants of SARS-CoV-2 in the US sparks a push for a long-overdue national genomic surveillance network. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images Late last week, Charles Chiu’s lab at UC San Francisco received a shipment of test tubes from the California Department of Public Health. This wasn’t out of the ordinary. For almost a year, Chiu, an infectious disease doctor, has been collaborating with the state agency to conduct genetic sequencing on samples from people who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus that causes Covid-19. Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 mutates as it moves through a population. Most of these mutations are trivial and don’t change how the virus behaves. But by making a record of these mutations, scientists can track the coronavirus’s spread and better understand the origins of different outbreaks. Chiu had been assisting with this kind of genetic detective work for months. This time, though, he had reason to think his team was about to find something new. Two of the samples belonged to members of a household in Big Bear, California, who got sick after one of them had contact with a traveler who had recently returned from the United Kingdom. And during standard diagnostic testing, something strange had happened to both samples. The test detected bits of a protein that protects the virus’s genome, but not the spike protein SARS-CoV-2 uses to invade cells. That meant that whatever strain had infected these people had probably acquired at least one mutation in the virus’s spike protein gene. Mutations in that location are one signature of the new, seemingly more contagious variety of the coronavirus that has been rapidly spreading in the UK and now around the world. By Saturday, Chiu’s lab had sequencing results. And sure enough, those two samples turned up 23 telltale mutations in the spike protein. Both people had been infected with the UK variant, known as B.1.1.7. At the time, there were fewer than 10 such cases in the US, following an initial discovery of the UK variant in Colorado on December 29. As of January 8, at least 52 people have been confirmed to have contracted the new strain, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So far, it has shown up in New York, Florida, and Georgia, in addition to California and Colorado. Chiu thinks the real picture is actually far worse. “I suspect it’s circulating in nearly every state in the US,” he says. “It’s just that other states don’t have the same sequencing capabilities.” Since the beginning of the pandemic, coronavirus sequencing has been a patchy, ad hoc affair, dominated by areas with big biomedical research institutions that are staffed by scientists eager to investigate the virus’s evolution. States like California and Colorado are sequencing and uploading hundreds of viral genomes every week, according to the latest data from an international virus-sharing database known as GISAID. But others have only done a few dozen—total. North Dakota, which for the month of November held the ignominious record for the worst outbreak in the US, has yet to sequence a single sample. On a national level, the US simply hasn’t built out a robust, coordinated, genomic surveillance system capable of keeping tabs on problematic new mutations wherever they might arise. The result is not just scarce sequencing. It’s a monitoring system missing huge chunks of the country. “We are really behind in terms of having geographically representative data,” says Kelly Wroblewski, the director of infectious disease for the Association of Public Health Laboratories. She sees the failure as the inevitable outcome of the Trump administration’s decision to leave nearly every aspect of the coronavirus response up to individual states—from ramping up diagnostic testing to rolling out vaccines. “There was no national sequencing plan, because there has not been a national much-of-anything plan,” she says. Of the more than 21.5 million Covid-19 cases officially reported in the US, samples from just 59,438 people, or less than 0.3 percent, have been sequenced and analyzed for variants, according to GISAID. By contrast, the UK is regularly sequencing more than 10 percent of its Covid-19 cases. That allowed British public health officials to monitor in real time as the B.1.1.7 variant went from being a rare find at the beginning of December to dominating new infections three weeks later. The Brits might be an outstanding example in this regard, but they’re not alone. According to a recent Washington Post analysis, 42 other countries have sequenced more cases than the US, despite the fact that Americans account for a quarter of all coronavirus infections globally. “What the US is doing right now is completely inadequate,” says Chiu. He thinks American government officials should be setting their sights on that 10 percent threshold. But the effort will undoubtedly be complicated by the fractured US health care system. In the UK, which has a single nationalized health service and a supporting microbiology service, it’s relatively easy to flow samples and data. In the US, the private sector still dominates the testing market. In order for a sample to show up in Chiu’s lab, he says, it has to go from a commercial lab to the county lab and then to the state lab before it gets to him. That can take weeks—if it even happens at all. Often, by the time a public health department epidemiologist comes across a case they want to investigate with genetics, the original sample has already been discarded. “The rate-limiting step isn’t sequencing; it’s really getting the sample,” says Chiu. “That’s why we have to empower state and county labs to do it in-house, so we can get the data out faster.” Over the last decade, public health labs have built up their sequencing capacities as part of their role in tracking outbreaks of foodborne illness across the US. Every state lab, as well as a handful of large regional ones, has the technology readily available, according to Wrobleski. But they haven’t been able to deploy it widely during the pandemic because they’ve had their hands full just trying to conduct basic diagnostic tests and contact tracing, she says. And until a few weeks ago, they hadn’t been given marching orders to do anything differently. But that’s finally starting to change. In mid-December, the CDC released $15 million to public health labs around the country to boost sequencing outputs nationwide. That was part of a multipronged effort now underway at the agency to increase both the number of coronavirus variants being characterized and the locations from which they’re being drawn. The money will help states participate in a dedicated SARS-CoV-2 Strain Surveillance program, dubbed NS3, which the CDC launched in November. When the program is fully operational, public health labs will be expected to send 10 randomly selected coronavirus samples to the CDC’s labs in Atlanta every other week. The samples should represent patients from different age, racial, and ethnic groups, as well as the geographic diversity of each state. In addition to sequencing them, CDC scientists will also use the samples to build up a centralized strain library that they can dip into to perform additional tests. “Sequencing will tell us a lot, but it can’t tell us everything,” says Gregory Armstrong, who leads the CDC’s Office of Advanced Molecular Detection. For example, one of the things public health experts are concerned about is how well people with existing immunity gained through a previous bout with Covid-19 will be able to fend off infections with this new UK strain. To test it, scientists have to be able to assess how well the antibodies found in the blood of Covid-19 survivors attack and neutralize the B.1.1.7 version of the virus. Another alarming possibility is that the vaccines that have been developed and authorized so far won’t be as effective against emerging strains. “We need to have a library of variants in order to get those answers,” says Armstrong. The NS3 program, which Armstrong expects to be fully up and running by the end of the month, will help with that. But it won’t get the US as much genetic data as public health officials need to track the progress of B.1.1.7 and other emerging strains, like an alarming one that originated in South Africa, through the American populace. That’s why the CDC is also bringing large commercial testing labs on board. In December, the agency signed contracts with LabCorp and Illumina, and it is in the process of negotiating further deals with others that have the capacity to acquire and sequence samples from all around the country. In addition, since September the CDC has granted about $8 million to academic sequencing centers and is currently seeking to bring additional sites online. Data from all these efforts is continuously analyzed by CDC scientists and uploaded to public databases like GISAID for other researchers to use. These new efforts are designed to boost the efforts of scientists like Chiu, who since the early stages of the pandemic has been part of a CDC-led coalition of more than 160 research institutions, non-governmental organizations, and public health agencies called Spheres (Sequencing for Public Health Emergency Response, Epidemiology, and Surveillance). The federal initiative aims to help scientists agree on data and quality standards, but it doesn’t foot the bill for actual lab work. And it hasn’t been able to keep pace with the pandemic. “We feel very strongly that we haven’t been sequencing enough,” says Armstrong. “That’s why we’re taking these steps right now to scale things up.” In December, labs throughout the US were sequencing about 3,000 viral genomes per week. He’s optimistic that by combining the forces of public, academic, and commercial labs, the nation can get up to 6,500 viral genomes per week by the end of January. Wrobleski speculates that the newfound urgency at the CDC comes from a collision of forces—the surfacing of more transmissible, and possibly more dangerous, new strains right as the beleaguered public health agency wriggles free of the political meddling of the Trump administration. Whatever the reason, the window to get it right is closing, says Chiu. “The point of doing surveillance is to find these rare variants and, in doing so, make sure they continue to be rare. If we do it now, we can hopefully still prevent these variants from blowing up and becoming the predominant lineage. That would be a disaster.” How Fast Can Scientists Find the New Coronavirus Strains?
  10. New York hospitals will trial using antibodies to treat coronavirus cases It's a relatively simple means of potentially helping the worst cases. Enlarge / The machine at right can separate out blood plasma and simultaneously return red blood cells to the donor. Mikhail Tereshchenko/Getty Images 59 with 38 posters participating Back in our exhaustive review of potential treatments for SARS-CoV-2 infections, we mentioned one option that was relatively quick, easy, and required no further approval for use: transfer of blood plasma from those who had previously had an infection. The reasoning being that this plasma will contain antibodies that could neutralize coronaviruses in the blood stream, severely limiting the progression of an active infection. Now, trials of this method are starting in New York City, the hardest hit location in the US. We'll quote our earlier coverage of this potential therapy, which explains why it might be a quick route to a treatment, albeit with limitations: Spike is a complicated protein that provides a wealth of targets for potential therapies. As the most prominent feature of the virus' exterior, spike is the main target of antibodies against the virus produced by the immune system. This has already led to one option for therapies: purifying plasma from people who have fought off a coronavirus infection, on the assumption that the plasma contains antibodies that can neutralize the virus. This plasma can then be infused into sick people, where the antibodies should help the immune system clear the virus. While it's only a temporary fix—antibodies don't survive indefinitely in the blood stream—it may give a patient's immune system sufficient time to develop its own antibodies. There are unknowns about whether infected individuals produce effective antibodies. But the big issue here is scaling, as plasma treatment relies on having enough healthy, formerly infected individuals who are willing to donate blood plasma. If used strategically—on the most at-risk patients, or to help infected health care professionals—it could be a helpful tool but isn't likely an effective general therapy. There have been some anecdotal reports of the approach being used by countries like China, which were hit hard early in the pandemic; one published today indicated that plasma treatment improved the condition of five critically ill patients. But no detailed studies of its effectiveness have been reported so far (at least to our ability to determine). That may now be about to change, according to the New York Times. Several New York City hospitals are planning a joint test of plasma transfusions as a therapy, relying on the large and growing population of formerly infected people in the area. Initially, it will be tested in those who are suffering COVID-19 symptoms who require hospitalization but who have not progressed to severe breathing impairment. The Food and Drug Administration approved the research on Tuesday. The plan is to use the New York Blood Center, which normally coordinates blood, platelet, and bone marrow donations, as a sort of clearing house for the plasma. It will obtain it from donors and screen it for additional infections before approving it for use. (As a side benefit, this may help us better understand how long after infection the coronavirus persists in individuals.) The Blood Center will also ensure that the plasma has high titers of antibodies against the coronavirus. One good aspect of this method is that we have the ability to separate the plasma from the oxygen-carrying red blood cells and re-inject the latter during the donation. Since plasma is replenished more rapidly than red blood cells, this will allow a single donor to make repeated contributions. We still don't know whether antibodies are effective against an infection in progress; the therapy may do nothing, or only slightly slow the progression. But there's a reasonable chance it will help, and this trial will be a good opportunity to understand if it does. Source: New York hospitals will trial using antibodies to treat coronavirus cases (Ars Technica)
  11. What World War II Can Teach Us About Fighting the Coronavirus Some manufacturers are racing to make ventilators, respirators, and face shields. But the situation is nothing like it was in the 1940s. During World War II, Ford's Willow Run plant near Detroit switched from making cars to B-24 bombers.Courtesy of Library of Congress Facing the continued spread of the novel coronavirus across the US, Ford announced Tuesday that it will not resume production, as initially planned, of trucks and SUVs next week. But while the automaker’s workers aren’t stamping metal, they’re not entirely idle either. They’ve started several projects aimed at helping fight the pandemic. That means collaborating with 3M on a new respirator design using stockpiled parts like the fans made to cool the fannies of F-150 drivers. The automaker is working with GE Healthcare to increase production of ventilators, a crucial tool for Covid-19 patients struggling to breathe. In addition, Ford designers are producing new sorts of transparent face shields to protect medical workers and first responders. It hopes to soon be making 100,000 a week at a subsidiary’s plant. Other automakers are working on similar efforts. Tesla bought more than 1,200 ventilators in China and donated them to the public health effort in California; CEO Elon Musk said his company is looking at how to build more. General Motors is helping Ventec Life Systems scale up its ventilator production and considering other ways to help, its CEO Mary Barra says. “We’re just going as fast as we can,” executive chairman Bill Ford said on CNBC Tuesday. “This is what very much our company does when we’re needed.” Indeed, Ford was a key part of the “arsenal of democracy” that helped power the US to victory in World War II. At its peak, the company was building a B-24 bomber every 63 minutes at its Willow Run plant west of Detroit. Efforts to combat Covid-19 fall far short of the contributions that Ford and other companies made to winning that war. In part, that’s because there’s no easy way to help: Just a few firms are set up for the complexity and precision of making the ventilators that patients need. But you could have said the same thing 80 years ago. To battle Germany and Japan, American manufacturers built new factories, trained massive workforces, and stopped what they were used to doing for what needed to be done. Frigidaire made machine guns. Lingerie factories churned out camouflage netting. Road-building companies made fighting ships. Parts designed for vacuum cleaners went into gas masks. Yes, the coronavirus calls for a different bill of munitions, on a different timescale. Health experts don’t need the same range of tools that the 1940s military demanded—ventilators and protective equipment top the list—but they need them desperately, immediately. World War II played out over years; the coronavirus has transformed life for billions in the past few weeks. American factories aren’t shut because the economy is already crippled, but because their workers must keep their distance. In 1941, most of the materials America needed to build its army lay within its borders. Today’s supply chains wrap around the globe. Still, the way American industry mobilized for war is remarkable for its scale, speed, and success—and offers lessons for anyone trying to help today. The first of these, sadly, isn’t much good now: Prepare well in advance. President Franklin D. Roosevelt got serious about stocking his armory (and drafting soldiers) more than a year before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, soon after France fell to Germany. By April 1941, the government had ordered $1.5 billion (that’s $26.4 billion today) worth of plane engines, tanks, machine guns, and other tools just from the auto industry—the country’s great manufacturing powerhouse. By the time Congress declared war eight months later, the auto industry was well into the process of realigning supply chains and preparing to arm America. “We weren’t ready to fight in December of 1941,” says Rob Citino, the senior historian at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, citing early losses like the fall of the Philippines. “But we were more prepared to fight than we would’ve been had Roosevelt not gotten us started early.” Ford workers are assembling plastic face shields for health care workers, aiming to make 100,000 a week. Photograph: Charlotte Smith/Ford This year, by contrast, US officials dithered for weeks while the virus approached, and it’s now too late to prepare. But in the past week, more companies have announced plans to join the fight. Beyond the automakers, Givenchy, Dior, and liquor giant Pernod Ricard, which use alcohol in their products, are making hand sanitizer in France and the US. Honeywell is hiring 500 workers to run an extra production line to crank out N95 masks. Prestige Ameritech has quadrupled its typical production to 1 million masks a day. Amazon is hiring 100,000 workers to meet demand for shipments to people stuck at home, and is now accepting only essential items at its warehouses. These efforts are worthy but scattershot. In his CNBC interview, Bill Ford said his company had no guidance from the White House, that it was figuring out how to help on its own. And so comes the second lesson from the war: Coordination is key, and should come from the federal government. Yet President Trump has left it to governors to acquire the supplies they need, saying of the federal government, “we’re not a shipping clerk.” That’s left states competing with each other—and with the feds—for supplies, New York governor Andrew Cuomo has said, driving up prices for everyone. That perverse result is reminiscent of the early days of the Civil War, says Mark Wilson, a historian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, when states sent their own delegations to the same manufacturers for blankets, rifles, and so on. “That was a very inefficient and chaotic and, I think, wrong-headed process,” he adds. Unfortunately for the Nazis, by the 20th century the US opted for organizing things from the top. Coordination helped at lower levels too. While automakers today are each trumpeting their own, possibly overlapping initiatives, in 1941 they and their suppliers formed the Automotive Council for War Production, which put 192 manufacturing plants to work for the war effort. They created a shared list of every machine tool not being used to capacity, to squeeze out more productive power. They pledged to make their facilities available to other companies that might need them. In the five weeks after Pearl Harbor, the federal government let out contracts worth $3.5 billion ($61.6 billion today) to the automakers. Manufacturers were motivated by national unity and profits; a federal ban on the production of civilian cars all but ensured the auto industry would turn to munitions. The US government also pressured companies into sharing intellectual property, so production wasn’t limited by the capacity of a single company. When the military needed more B-17 bombers than Boeing could produce, it hired Lockheed to pick up the slack, requiring it to pay Boeing a modest licensing fee, according to Wilson. And during the war years, FDR’s government eased off antitrust enforcement. The same sort of moves now could help increase production of ventilators and other tools, but Trump has mostly abstained from directing private sector efforts, and resisted using the 1950 Defense Production Act. “We're a country not based on nationalizing our business,” Trump said Sunday. “Call a person over in Venezuela, ask them how did nationalization of their businesses work out? Not too well." The law wouldn’t nationalize anything, though. It would allow the government to make companies accept government contracts, and to protect companies from antitrust actions if they work together. During World War II, the US government paid to build plants, owned them, hired companies to use them, and bought all the output. That allowed companies to expand their footprint without worrying about a return on their investment, and ensured that the government got what it needed, when it needed it. That’s how road-building company Brown & Root ended up with a $90 million Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas, and how Ford got the mile-long assembly line at the Willow Run bomber plant. This effort “was really at the core of US mobilization,” says Wilson. Instead of waiting for corporate executives to decide if a plant made financial sense, “the government just threw money at the problem and said, ‘Don’t worry about that, we’ll absorb the risk.’” The economics aren’t as clear for companies enlisting in the fight against the coronavirus. “We haven't talked to anybody about any kind of reimbursement or anything like that,” Bill Ford told CNBC. But it’s hard to imagine any company launching a large-scale effort to boost production of ventilators or other products without considering how it will recover the costs. During the war, the feds made helping out rather tempting, promising its business partners profit margins of 8 percent, says Citino of the World War II museum. It wasn’t just patriotism that won the war, an old joke went—it was patriotism and that 8 percent. The key to winning a global fight—in the 1940s and maybe today too—was finding the right incentives to push every needed effort in the right direction, Citino adds: “You get to do good and do well at the same time.” WIRED is providing unlimited free access to stories about the coronavirus pandemic. Sign up for our Coronavirus Update newsletter for the latest updates, and subscribe to support our journalism. Source: What World War II Can Teach Us About Fighting the Coronavirus (Wired)
  12. Dyson developed and is producing ventilators to help treat COVID-19 patients The company plans to produce 15,000 ventilators Dyson — the British technology company best known for its high-powered vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, and fans — has designed a new ventilator, the “CoVent,” in the past several days, which it will be producing in order to help treat coronavirus patients, via CNN. The company reportedly developed the ventilator in 10 days based on Dyson’s existing digital motor technology. Dyson is still seeking regulatory approval in the UK for the rapidly designed device, but it’s already received an order from the UK Government for 10,000 ventilators, of which the National Health Service (NHS) is in dire need. The CoVent is a bed-mounted and portable ventilator, with the option to run on battery power should the need arise. “This new device can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume,” company founder James Dyson noted in a letter to the company obtained by Fast Company, adding that the CoVent was “designed to address the specific clinical needs of Covid-19 patients.” Dyson also pledged in the letter to donate an additional 5,000 ventilators to “the international effort, 1,000 of which will go to the United Kingdom.” “The race is now on to get it into production,” Dyson noted in his letter, with a company spokesperson telling CNN that the ventilators would be ready in early April. Ventilators — which provide assisted breathing for patients who are unable to breath themselves — are critical for the treatment of severe cases of COVID-19, which causes respiratory symptoms in some patients. Dyson isn’t the only major company that’s pivoted to ventilator design and production in recent days — carmarkers like Ford, Tesla, and General Motors have also pledged to repurpose their plants toward developing the critical treatment devices as shortages around the world continue to grow. Source: Dyson developed and is producing ventilators to help treat COVID-19 patients (The Verge)
  13. World Health Organization says it’s too early to declare global emergency over new coronavirus The WHO stressed that it is taking the outbreak seriously The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that it’s too early to declare an international public health emergency in response to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus from China. The virus is in the same viral family as SARS, which circulated throughout the world in 2002 and 2003. There are currently over 500 confirmed cases in five countries of the virus, which causes fever and respiratory distress, and 17 confirmed deaths, according to data cited during the press conference. Other sources have reported over 650 confirmed cases and 18 deaths. “Make no mistake, this is, though, an emergency in China. But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one,” said Tedros Adhanom, director general of the WHO, in a press conference today. “The fact that I’m not declaring a [global health emergency] today should not be taken as a sign that the WHO does not think the situation is serious or is not taking it seriously.” The virus poses a high risk within China and globally, he said. The WHO defines a global emergency, formally known as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.” The process for declaring this kind of emergency was put in place after the SARS outbreak. Five have been declared in the past decade: swine flu (2009), Ebola outbreaks in West Africa (2014) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2019), Zika (2016), and polio (2014). The International Health Regulations Committee, which examines evidence around outbreaks and recommends if they should be declared PHEICs, first met yesterday. The committee was split fifty-fifty and could not reach a decision. Committee members were split down the same lines today. Those who do not believe that the outbreak has reached the level of a PHEIC cited the limited number of cases abroad and the aggressive efforts of Chinese officials to contain the virus, said committee chair Didier Houssin during the press conference. “Declaring PHEIC is an important step in the history of an epidemic,” Houssin said. “The perception of this declaration by the international community and in the most affected country for the people who are presently struggling with the virus certainly has to be considered.” The WHO said that every country should be prepared to deal with cases of the virus. It is not recommending any additional restrictions on travel or trade. Source: World Health Organization says it’s too early to declare global emergency over new coronavirus (The Verge)
  14. On Friday morning, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that a second person in the US had been diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus. The woman travelled to Wuhan, China, at the end of December and returned to Chicago on January 13. The announcement of her diagnosis came three days after a man in Washington state contracted the virus. Public-health officials in the US are monitoring at least 63 additional patients from 22 states. Although the CDC considers this coronavirus (whose scientific name is 2019-nCoV) to be a serious public-health concern, the agency said in a statement Friday that "the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time." A graver health risk for Americans – not just right now, but every year – is the flu. Since October, up to 20,000 people in the US have died of influenza. The coronavirus, meanwhile, has infected about 914 people worldwide and killed 26. "When we think about the relative danger of this new coronavirus and influenza, there's just no comparison," William Schaffner, a vaccine expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre, told Kaiser Health News (KHN). "Coronavirus will be a blip on the horizon in comparison. The risk is trivial." Tens of thousands of Americans die of flu every year At least 15 million Americans have caught the flu in the last four months; nearly a quarter million of them went to the hospital. Since flu season peaks between December and February, the worst could be still to come. "Influenza rarely gets this sort of attention, even though it kills more Americans each year than any other virus," Peter Hotez, a virologist at Baylor College of Medicine, told KHN. In 2018, which brought the worst flu season in about 40 years, 80,000 people in the US died of the illness. The flu is not just a US problem, of course. According to the World Health Organisation, seasonal influenza viruses infects between 3 million and 5 million people worldwide annually, and kills up to 650,000 per year. Comparing the flu and the Wuhan coronavirus Both the flu and the coronavirus can be transmitted from person to person via coughing and other close contact. So far, experts report that the median age of those who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus is around 75. Many of these individuals had other health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. According to Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer at Healix International, children, elderly people, pregnant women, and those who are immuno-compromised are more susceptible to the Wuhan coronavirus' severest complications. "The people who are likely to die at first will be people who have other illnesses," he told Business Insider. "But as it spreads, it will pick up more people like flu does – people in their 30s, 40s, who are otherwise good and well but unfortunately get ill," Hyzler's added. His firm offers risk-management solutions for global travellers. The CDC, meanwhile, is far more concerned about protecting people in the US from the flu. Between 5 percent and 20 percent of nearly 400 million Americans get the flu every year. "It is currently flu and respiratory disease season, and CDC recommends getting vaccinated, taking everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, and taking flu antivirals if prescribed," the agency said in a statement Friday. The coronavirus doesn't have a vaccine A key difference between the flu and the Wuhan coronavirus, however, is that the former has a vaccine. "Simply having the choice about whether or not to receive a flu shot can give people an illusion of control," Schaffner told KHN. (The seasonal flu vaccine is never perfect, however. It was about 29 percent effective last year among Americans.) Fewer than half of US adults got a flu shot during the 2018-19 season, according to the CDC. Only 62 percent of children received the vaccine. Because the Wuhan virus is new, experts have not had time to develop a vaccine. "If Wuhan were to explode, a vaccine best-case scenario is three-quarters of a year, if not longer," Vincent Munster, a virologist at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, told Business Insider. Several companies, including Moderna, Novavax, and Inovio, have announced preliminary vaccine development plans. But vaccine development has historically been an arduous, multi-year process (the Ebola vaccine took 20 years to make). None of the companies provided expected timelines to get their vaccines to market. The coronavirus outbreak isn't considered a pandemic China has quarantined Wuhan and 11 other cities to stop the virus' spread, though cases have been reported in nine other countries, including the US, France, and Japan. The outbreak isn't considered a pandemic, however. The World Health Organisation has so far not declared it a global public-health emergency either. "Familiarity breeds indifference," Schaffner said. "Because it's new, it's mysterious, and comes from an exotic place, the coronavirus creates anxiety." Aria Bendix contributed reporting for this story. source
  15. China locks down 35M people as US confirms second coronavirus case It’s an emergency in China, but not yet for the rest of the world, WHO says. Enlarge / SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JANUARY 24: Disinfection workers wearing protective gear spray anti-septic solution in a train terminal amid rising public concerns over the spread of China's Wuhan Coronavirus at SRT train station on January 24, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea. Getty | Chung Sung-Jun An outbreak of a never-before-seen coronavirus continued to dramatically escalate in China this week, with case counts reaching into the 800s and 26 deaths reported by Chinese health officials. To try to curb the spread of disease, China has issued travel restrictions in the central city of Wuhan, where the outbreak erupted late last month, as well as many nearby cities, including Huanggang, Ezhou, Zhijiang, and Chibi. Hundreds of flights have been cancelled, and train, bus, and subway services have been suspended. Collectively, the travel restrictions and frozen public transportation have now locked down an estimated 35 million residents in the region. So far, all of the outbreak-related deaths and nearly all of the cases have been in China, but the viral illness has appeared in travelers in several other countries. That includes Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the US. This morning (January 24), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that a second US case has been identified in Chicago. The case is a woman in her 60s who had recently traveled to Wuhan. She is said to be doing well and is in stable condition in a local hospital. She is mainly being kept in the hospital for quarantine purposes, officials said. The first US case was identified January 21 in Washington state. The CDC reported this morning that officials have closely monitored people who have had contact with that Washington patient and, so far, none have shown signs of infection. Public health officials in Chicago are now identifying and monitoring people who had contact with the second patient. The US—and countries around the globe—have stepped up monitoring of travelers from Wuhan. Airline passengers arriving in the US from Wuhan are being funneled to five US airports (San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Atlanta (ATL), and Chicago (ORD)), where they are undergoing entry screening, looking for fever and other symptoms. In both of the confirmed US cases, the travelers arrived in the US prior to screening and did not have symptoms while traveling. The current rough estimate for the incubation time for the virus—that is, from the time of exposure to the development of symptoms—is two weeks. Low risk, so far The rapid rise in severity and scope of the outbreak has stoked fears of a devastating pandemic and revived memories of the deadly outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, which was also caused by a coronavirus. But health officials closely monitoring the epidemiological data have determined that—so far—the outlook is far less dire. On Thursday, an emergency committee convened by the World Health Organization determined that the outbreak does not yet constitute a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” “Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference. “But it has not yet become a global health emergency.” The committee will reconvene in the coming days to reassess, though. And Dr. Tedros (who goes by his first name) added that “it may yet become” a global emergency. Likewise, the CDC said this morning that while the situation is evolving rapidly, the risk to the US population is currently low. There are some key features of this outbreak that have led to those determinations and given public health experts a little comfort. For one thing, the majority of illnesses have been mild so far. And the reported deaths linked to the outbreak have mainly been in older individuals who had underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Also, while person-to-person transmission of the virus has been confirmed, WHO officials say that the virus appears to mainly be hopping between people who have had close contact—that is, to family members and medical staff, not, say, people passing by in public settings, such as an airport. The mild cases and limited transmission so far are hopeful signs that the outbreak can be controlled and the death toll will remain low. That said, with novel viruses such as this—which likely jumped from an animal to humans in a live animal market in Wuhan—the virus can continue to evolve, and the situation can change quickly. Infectious unknowns For that reason, WHO and the CDC are “erring on the side of caution” and taking the situation very seriously. There are also many things we don’t yet know about the coronavirus, including where it came from, how easily it can spread from person to person, and the full scope of the clinical features of those infected. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause everything from mild to deadly infections in people and a variety of animals. Several coronaviruses already regularly circulate in humans and cause common respiratory illnesses that are mild to moderate. There are also the notorious members of the family that cause deadly infections, including a strain the causes SARS and one that causes MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.) Because the new virus can cause relatively mild respiratory infections, it’s possible—if not likely—that cases have gone undetected, particularly as the outbreak has arisen amid cold and flu season. The new virus can cause nondescript respiratory symptoms, including fever, cough, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. Mild cases could easily be mistaken for influenza or a common cold, including ones caused by established coronaviruses. Flu activity is currently high in the US, according to the CDC. So far this season, the agency estimates that flu has caused 15 million to 21 million illnesses, resulting in up to 250,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths—and that’s in the US alone. While the WHO and others have come up with preliminary estimates of the transmission rate of the new coronavirus virus, those early estimates may be wildly off given the uncertainty of the case counts and clinical features of the illnesses. For now, officials at WHO expect that the case count will continue to climb. The CDC said it fully expects that several more cases will be detected in the US and that the infection may spread to travelers’ close contacts on US soil. The CDC recommends that people avoid unnecessary travel to Wuhan and adhere to standard hygiene practices, such as washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Source: China locks down 35M people as US confirms second coronavirus case (Ars Technica)
  16. Airlines in Europe, Asia and North America are cancelling flights to and from China as the novel coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has infected at least a few thousand people in China and dozens beyond its borders. Although all 213 deaths from the disease have been limited to China, at least 118 people across 22 different countries have tested positive for the mysterious illness, prompting governments around the world to issue travel advisories and start evacuating their citizens from Wuhan. Chinese authorities have shut down travel in and out of Wuhan and enacted similar, strict transportation restrictions in a number of other cities. The majority of cases outside China are associated with travel to China and of those, the vast majority involve travel to Wuhan, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Which airlines have cancelled flights? British Airways has cancelled all flights to and from Beijing and Shanghai until Feb. 29 following local authorities’ advice against “all but essential travel to mainland China.” Flights to and from Hong Kong will remain unaffected, the airline said. KLM opted to suspend flights to Beijing and Shanghai after this weekend until Feb. 9. The airline had previously announced it would also cancel flights to Chengdu, Hangzhou and Xiamen. On Friday, Delta announced it would temporarily suspend all flights from the U.S. to China starting Feb. 6 and running through April 30. “Between now and Feb. 5, Delta will continue to operate flights to ensure customers looking to exit China have options to do so,” the airline said in a statement. The last China-bound flight from the U.S. will leave Feb. 3. Delta is also issuing travel waivers for flights to, from and through Beijing and Shanghai from Jan. 24 until April 30. American Airlines also announced on Friday that it would suspend all flights to and from the Chinese mainland beginning Friday and running through March 27. On Wednesday the airline had said it would suspend flights between Los Angeles and Shanghai and Beijing from Feb. 9 until Mar. 27, but noted that flights from Dallas-Fort Worth would continue, according to the Associated Press. On Thursday, a union representing American Airlines pilots sued the airline over continued flights between Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and airports in China. The group sought “a temporary restraining order to immediately halt the carrier’s U.S.-China Service.” The lawsuit took issue with the “serious, and in many ways still unknown, health threats posed by the coronavirus, and concerns regarding its continued spread globally.” Lufthansa Group said it would cancel all its flights to mainland China until Feb. 9. Austrian Airlines has said it will suspend flights to and from China until Feb. 9. The airline said Wednesday that it would be flying to destinations in China “for one last time today.” Air Canada has suspended all direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai from Thursday until Feb. 29 following the Canadian government’s advisory to avoid non-essential travel to mainland China. “Affected customers will be notified and offered options, including travel on other carriers where available, or a full refund,” the airline said in a statement. United Airlines will reportedly stop all travel between its hub cities and Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai between Feb. 6 until March 28. The airline has also issued travel waivers for customers who intended to travel to Wuhan and other destinations in China. Cathay Pacific said Tuesday that it will be “progressively reducing the capacity” of its flights to and from mainland China “by 50% or more” from Jan. 30 until the end of March. Rebooking, refunding and rerouting charges will be waived for any tickets issued on or before Tuesday involving trips arriving to or departing from mainland China between Jan. 28 and Mar. 31. Air India has cancelled flights to Shanghai from Jan. 31 to Feb. 14. and said that a maximum of seven flights between New Delhi and Hong Kong will only occur on three days within the same time period. The airline said that cancellation charges for travel to and from Shanghai and Hong Kong on Air India Flights is “waived off with immediate effect till further notice.” Finnair has also cancelled all flights to mainland China between Feb. 6 and Feb. 29, allowing time next week for customers to fly back if they want to. It has also canceled all its flights to Guangzhou and suspended flights to and from Nanjing and Beijing between Feb. 5 and March 29. “In order to allow Finnair customers who are currently traveling to return home to Europe and China, Finnair will operate flights between its Helsinki hub and its mainland China destinations until February 6,” the airline said, adding it would allow customers to change their travel date. South Korean budget carrier Seoul Air has also halted all flights to China and Indonesia’s Lion Air has said it will do the same, according to the AP. Indonesia’s Lion Air said it canceled more than 50 flights to China into February. The AP also reports that Hong Kong airlines is cutting the number of flights to the Chinese mainland by about half, Air Seoul is suspending its flights to mainland Chinese destinations and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia is cutting down on flights to and from China. What are the new coronavirus travel restrictions and advisories? Several Asian countries have tightened their borders to prevent disease spreading from China. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Thursday that Russia would be closing its land border with China from Friday until at least March 1, the Associated Press reported Hong Kong announced Tuesday that it would deny entry to individual travelers from mainland China, dramatically expanding a ban that had previously applied only to visitors from Hubei province, which includes the city of Wuhan. The semi-autonomous city also stated that it would sharply reduce cross-border transit, shutting down rail and ferry service to China, halving flights and decreasing tour buses. Several border checkpoints will also close in what Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam termed a “partial shutdown” during a live streamed press conference. The measures went into effect Thursday. Singapore banned the entry and transfer of travelers holding passports issued by China’s Hubei province from Wednesday onwards. Mongolia’s official news agency has said the country closed border crossings with China on Monday, according to the AP. The U.S. State Department escalated a travel advisory warning for Hubei province to level four on Friday, advising visitors not to travel to the province because of the coronavirus. On Monday, a level three advisory to “reconsider travel” was issued for any travel to China in general. “All options for dealing with infectious disease spread have to be on the table, including travel restrictions but diseases are not terribly good at respecting borders,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said at a press conference on Wednesday. Asked whether the U.S. State Department is considering banning travel to China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Wednesday that authorities are closely monitoring for changes that could warrant changing current travel advisories, “including banning travel,” the Washington Post reported. Britain, Canada and New Zealand have advised against all travel to Hubei province and non-essential travel to the rest of mainland China. India issued an advisory to avoid any non-essential travel to China. Hong Kong urged residents not to travel to Hubei province and said, “If it is unavoidable to travel to Hubei, put on a surgical mask and continue to do so until 14 days after returning to Hong Kong.” France strongly recommended postponing all travel to Wuhan and Hubei province, as well as any non-essential travel to China. Finland recommended that citizens avoid non-essential travel to Hubei, according to local media. Australia advised residents not to travel to Hubei province and to “reconsider your need to travel” to China in general. Some companies, including major tech corporations, have warned their employees to stay clear of China, too. Facebook said it had asked employees to stop any non-essential travel to mainland China and called for staff to work from home if they recently traveled to the country, according to Reuters. McDonald’s has suspended locations across five cities in Hubei province and Starbucks has also shut some cafes in the country, Bloomberg News reports. How effective are travel advisories and restrictions? It’s important to distinguish between travel advisories and bans in responding to the novel coronavirus, experts say. Travel advisories to avoid outbreak zones and non-essential travel to at-risk areas “make a lot of sense,” says Amesh A. Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Adalja notes that a widespread outbreak in which people cannot freely move “crosses a threshold where you want to tell people that they need to know” if they’re considering travel to the region. “There may be difficulties getting back out of there, there may be issues with exposure to infection and then getting health care in that area,” Adalja says. But travel bans can “make situations worse,” Adalja notes. “It’s going to isolate a population, it’s going to create public animosity, it’s going to create stigma and it’s going to make it much harder to get resources to an outbreak zone or to allow people to get to those zones as well as out of those zones.” Countries may initiate travel bans for political reasons as opposed to scientific ones, he says, adding that, “It is something that people often clamor for any time there’s any type of outbreak.” Vincent Racaniello, a virologist and professor of microbiology & immunology at Columbia University, agrees that a “travel ban in this case is uncalled for” based on the severity of the virus. Racaniello adds that travel restrictions “probably played a big role in eventually stopping” the SARS outbreak but is skeptical about how useful they can be in relation to this new coronavirus outbreak in which infected people with little to no symptoms appear to be passing on the disease. With SARS, most cases were more easily diagnosed as symptoms were more severe, he explains. Racaniello is unsure about whether travel restrictions will have much of an effect on the new coronavirus as “people are still moving around.” The virus “may end up entrenched as another respiratory virus in the human population, kind of like influenza is,” Racaniello says. “If it gets in every country of the world in significant numbers then we might not be able to get rid of it like we did with SARs.” As countries independently started issuing advisories and a range of travel restrictions, the World Health Organization has said international coordination may be necessary to contain the outbreak, while also minimizing the impact on international trade and travel. “194 countries implementing unilateral measures based on their own individual risk assessment is a potential recipe for disaster,” said Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, at a press conference on Wednesday. On Thursday, the WHO declared the outbreak a global public health emergency. How to protect yourself while traveling Although there is currently no vaccine to prevent infection from the coronavirus, individuals can take precautions to avoid exposure to the virus, according to the CDC. They include washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home when you are sick, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and cleaning frequently touched objects and surfaces. The CDC also lays out extra precautions for commercial airline crews, advising that they frequently wash their hands and treat all body fluids as if they are infectious when managing a sick traveler. The agency says that employees should minimize contact with any sick person and offer a face mask to the infected person, if possible. The CDC recommends avoiding non-essential travel to China but for those who choose to go, the agency recommends avoiding contact with sick people, discussing the trip with their healthcare provider and avoiding animals, animal markets and raw meat. Adalja says there is “nothing specific a person needs to do” when flying besides practicing the same hygiene they would to protect themselves from influenza and other respiratory viruses, which are more likely to be present than the new coronavirus. “I do not recommend people wear masks routinely,” he says, adding that it would be unnecessary and unproductive for people in countries not facing a significant risk of community spread, like the U.S., to do so. Source
  17. World Health Organization declares global public health emergency over coronavirus outbreak There are over 8,000 confirmed cases of the virus spread across nearly two dozen countries World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images The ongoing coronavirus outbreak is a global health emergency, the World Health Organization determined today. Since it started last month, the virus’s spread has reached nearly two dozen countries, sickened thousands, and impacted both travel and business around the world. “The main reason is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” said Tedros Adhanom, director general of the WHO, in a press conference today. “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to other countries with weaker health systems, which are ill prepared to deal with it.” The WHO defines a global emergency — formally, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern — as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.” This is the sixth declared in the past decade. Despite the emergency declaration, the WHO is not recommending any restrictions on travel or trade at this time. Countries should implement evidence-based public health policies, combat misinformation, share data, and work together to stop the spread of the virus, Adhanom said. The WHO also called for an acceleration in efforts to develop vaccines and treatments, and stressed that support be given to countries with weak health systems which might not be able to cope with the virus. The International Health Regulations Committee at the WHO is tasked with examining the evidence around an ongoing public health crisis and recommending that an emergency be declared. The committee met twice last week, and both times were split fifty-fifty on whether to recommend an emergency declaration. At that time, committee members who did not want to declare a global emergency said there weren’t enough cases outside of China to warrant it. The committee has now decided to recommend that an emergency be declared because of an increased number of cases, an increased number of countries affected, and news of “questionable” measures taken against travelers in some countries, said committee chair Didier Houssin during the press conference. Declaring a global health emergency gives the director general of the WHO the power to offer recommendations that could prevent the spread of a disease, like travel advisories or restrictions, and allow them to review public health measures in place in affected countries. The recommendations are just recommendations, but there’s pressure on countries to follow them. Source: World Health Organization declares global public health emergency over coronavirus outbreak (The Verge)
  18. First person-to-person transmission of coronavirus reported in the United States A patient who traveled to China passed the virus to her husband View of St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, Illinois on January 24, 2020 where a Chicago woman affected by the coronavirus is treated in isolation. Photo by DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP via Getty Images The first case of person-to-person transmission of the new coronavirus has been confirmed in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The husband of a female patient with confirmed coronavirus in Chicago, Illinois tested positive for the virus. The risk to the general public in the US and in Illinois remains low, the CDC said in a press call today. “CDC experts have expected to identify some person-to-person spread in the US,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield. There are now six confirmed cases of the virus in the US. As of January 29th, 92 people are being tested for the virus. Sixty-eight people who were under investigation in the US have tested negative. In China, the coronavirus has passed between individuals since December, but the majority of cases outside of China have been in patients who had recently traveled there. A handful of people, though — in Germany, Japan, Vietnam, and now the US — were infected by other people outside of China. During outbreaks of diseases, health officials hope to break the chain of illness by keeping sick people from infecting others. Although one case of person-to-person transmission in the US does not mean that the virus is circulating freely, it does mean that cases are no longer confined to people who traveled to the center of the outbreak. Over 8,000 people worldwide have confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, and the vast majority are in China. There have been 171 deaths. The new patient was being monitored by the Illinois Department of Public Health after his wife tested positive for coronavirus last week. She is believed to have contracted the disease during a recent trip to China. When her husband started experiencing symptoms, he was admitted to the hospital and placed in isolation. Both husband and wife are in their 60s and remain hospitalized. Public health officials are tracking his close contacts, and Illinois currently has 21 patients under investigation. The two patients were in very close contact for an extended period of time, and health officials believe that the female patient was symptomatic when she passed on the virus. Source: First person-to-person transmission of coronavirus reported in the United States (The Verge)
  19. By Eileen Yu for By The Way Singapore evokes online falsehoods law while Malaysia makes arrests in their attempts to stem the spread of inaccurate reports concerning the coronavirus. Both Singapore and Malaysia have moved to clamp down on inaccurate online reports about the coronavirus, with the latter making several arrests of individuals for posting and sharing such content. Singapore also vows to take "swift action" against the spread of such reports. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on Wednesday said it, alongside the Royal Malaysia Police, had conducted four separate raids that resulted the arrest of four individuals suspected of posting and distributing false reports about the outbreak, which had affected several nations in the region. Three of the detainees allegedly had uploaded inaccurate information on Facebook, while the fourth had shared such content on Twitter. MCMC added that smartphones, SIM cards, and memory cards believed to have been used to upload the content were confiscated during teh raids. Detained under Malaysia's Communications and Multimedia Act, Section 233, for sharing offensive and menacing content, the four individuals--if found guilty--would face fines of up to RM50,000 ($12,247) or imprisonment of up to a year, or both. They also would be fined an additional RM1,000 ($244.93) for each day the alleged falsehood remained online after their conviction. The arrests had followed another on Tuesday when an individual in Selangor was detained for allegedly posting falsehoods about the virus on Facebook. The MCMC said it would continue to step up enforcement efforts, alongside the police, to "control the spreading of false news". Meanwhile, Malaysia's southern neighbour evoked its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) twice this week over false statements made about the coronavirus. Singapore's Minister for Health on Monday instructed the POFMA Office to issue a General Correction Direction to SPH Magazines, which operates the HardwareZone forum, over a post on the forum that falsely claimed a man had died in Singapore from the virus. A General Correction Direction is issued to internet intermediaries, telecom and broadcast licensees, and permit holders of the country's Newspaper Printing Presses Act, requiring them to publish, broadcast, or transmit a correction notice to their users in Singapore. Under the directive, HardwareZone was required to carry a correction notice to anyone in Singapore who accessed its online forum. A day later on Tuesday, the Minister for Transport instructed the POFMA Office to issue a Targeted Correction Direction to Facebook over falsehoods made by two users of the social media site, who falsely stated Woodlands MRT station was closed for disinfection due to a suspected case of the coronavirus. Such directives were issued to internet intermediaries which services were used to communicate falsehoods that affected public interest. They required these sites to communicate correction notices, by means of its service, to all users in Singapore who accessed the falsehood through its service. In this instance, Facebook had to carry a correction notice on the two posts that contained the falsehood, according to the POFMA Office. Commenting on the POFMA directive involving HardwareZone, Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran noted that more than 4,600 unique visitors had read the false report before it was taken down. "We must take swift action against such falsehoods [or] there is a grave risk they will spread and cause panic among our citizens," Iswaran said. "And that is why we have POFMA and we will not hesitate to use the powers under the law to take action against any party that spreads such falsehoods." He added that the objective was to ensure Singaporeans were provided with the facts to enable them to safely browse online platforms and distinguish truth from falsehoods. The Singapore government last week ordered local access to a website, operated by Malaysia-based Lawyers for Liberty, blocked for failing to comply with a correction directive issued under the POFMA. In response, the human rights group would not comply with the correction notice order and, instead, filed a motion in Kuala Lumpur's High Court against Singapore's Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam. The lawsuit claimed the Singapore government was attempting to "encroach upon" freedom of speech in Malaysia. Under the POFMA, offenders faced up to three or five years' imprisonment, a SG$30,000 or SG$50,000 fine, or both. If bots or inauthentic accounts were used to amplify falsehoods, the potential penalties that could be applied would be doubled. Offending internet intermediaries, meanwhile, could face up to SG$1 million fine, and also would receive a daily SG$100,000 fine for each day they continued to breach the Act after conviction. Source
  20. Coronavirus outbreak sparks first federal quarantine in over 50 years The 195 Americans evacuated from Wuhan are now under 14-day quarantine amid outbreak. Enlarge / A crew member of an evacuation flight of French citizens from Wuhan gives passengers disinfectant during the flight to France on February 1, 2020, as they are repatriated from the coronavirus hot zone. Getty | Hector Retamal The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued the first federal quarantine order in more than 50 years for 195 Americans who were evacuated out of Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak (2019-nCoV) The US citizens will be held under quarantine at the March Air Reserve Base in California, where they arrived from Wuhan on Wednesday, January 29 on an aircraft chartered by the US State Department. They have remained at the base since then. The quarantine will last 14 days from the time that their flight left Wuhan. Fourteen days is considered the likely maximum time of a 2019-nCoV infection incubation period—that is the time between an exposure and onset of symptoms. The decision to issue a quarantine comes amid the continued spread of 2019-nCoV—both within and beyond China. It also comes on the heels of a report that an asymptomatic infected person from China spread the viral illness to a 33-year-old healthy business associate in Germany. Further testing found that three other associates at the same company in Germany had also contracted the infection. All four cases were mild, and the first infected associate, who noticed symptoms on January 24, started feeling better and returned to work on the 27. The report was published yesterday, January 30, in the New England Journal of Medicine. While it’s unclear how often asymptomatic transmission is occurring during this outbreak, the documented case raises concern that such quiet spread may thwart international outbreak control measures. According to the latest figures, the 2019-nCoV outbreak has reached nearly 10,000 cases and 222 deaths. While nearly all of the cases are in China, the disease has spread to nearly a dozen other countries, including the US. Yesterday, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Don’t be a jerk The CDC would rather be remembered for overreacting rather than under-reacting, Dr. Nancy Messonnier told reporters in a press conference today. Dr. Messonnier is the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. As such, the agency decided to issue the federal quarantine. It is the first time a federal agency has issued such a quarantine since the 1960s, when one was issued over a smallpox evaluation, the CDC said. The CDC also clarified that a quarantine—cordoning of people who are not yet sick but could potentially become sick—is different from isolation orders for patients who have already been identified as being sick with a concerning infectious disease, which is more common. So far, none of the 195 evacuated citizens have been found to be infected with 2019-nCoV. And for now, the immediate risk to the American public in general remains low, Dr. Messonnier said in the press conference today. As the outbreak stretches on, she cautioned Americans from unnecessarily panicking over the outbreak—such as buying up surgical face masks, which are not completely effective at preventing viral respiratory infections, to protect against a virus that is not currently circulating in the US. Face masks are not recommended during normal cold and flu season, and they’re certainly not recommended now, Dr. Messonnier said. She also warned citizens not to discriminate against any of their fellow Americans of Asian descent. Last, Dr. Messonnier reiterated that the best way for Americans to protect their health and the health of their communities is to continue practicing good hygiene practices during this cold and flu season. That is, get a flu shot, wash your hands with soap and water frequently, don’t touch your face with unwashed hands, cough and sneeze into your elbow, and stay home if you feel ill. Update (1/31/2020, 5:00pm ET): The Trump Administration this afternoon declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak a public health emergency in the US. The Administration announced that beginning February 2, it will enforce mandatory quarantines of up to 14 days for US citizens who recently traveled to the Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. Additionally, the administration will bar entry of non-resident foreign nationals who have traveled to China in the last two weeks and who do not have immediate family in the US. The decision conflicts with the World Health Organization, which does not recommend that countries issue any travel or trade restrictions. Source: Coronavirus outbreak sparks first federal quarantine in over 50 years (Ars Technica)
  21. Experts worry that social distancing and stay-at-home-orders are exacerbating abuse. For weeks, experts and advocates have been raising alarms that the coronavirus outbreak could be disastrous for people in abusive relationships. With nearly three in four Americans being asked not to go out, more victims are isolated in unsafe homes. Abusers may be aggravated by mounting financial pressure and stress. And domestic violence organizations are already strained by social distancing requirements. Barbara Paradiso, director of the Center on Domestic Violence at the University of Colorado-Denver, says the current moment “feels almost like a petri dish for the levels of violence to increase within family relationships.” Data from police departments and local news coverage from around the country suggests that these concerns are justified. Mother Jones has identified 13 cities and counties that have reported increases in emergency calls to 911 or domestic violence hotlines over the past month. Several places have seen double-digit increases: Police in Seattle, the first US city hit by a wave of coronavirus cases, received 22 percent more domestic violence calls in the first two weeks of March than they did during same period last year. Police in San Antonio, Texas, reported a 21 percent increase in family violence calls, with more than 500 additional calls during the first three weeks in March compared to the same period last year. Charlotte-Mecklenberg Police Department in North Carolina reported nearly 400 more domestic violence calls in March compared to the previous year—a 16 percent increase. Nassau County, on western Long Island, has seen a 10 percent increase in domestic violence 911 calls since January compared to last year, leading the county to announce last week that it was opening a second domestic violence shelter. Police in Portland, Oregon, made 38 domestic violence arrests during a 10-day period in mid-March—a 27 percent increase from the 30 arrests over the same period last year. As of March 22, New York City police had received 7 percent more complaints for domestic violence involving felony assault since January 1 compared to the same period last year. Law enforcement in Salt Lake City; Charleston, South Carolina; and Collier County (which includes Naples), Florida, have also reported upticks in domestic violence calls. During the week that Californians were ordered to shelter in place, domestic violence calls to police in Fresno, went up by more than 50 percent before returning to normal the following week. Some local domestic violence hotlines are reporting a spike in call volume too, including those in Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Austin, and Charlotte. Some cities, including Los Angeles, Miami, and Denver have had no notable increases in domestic violence call volume in recent weeks. In East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, there was a downturn in calls. Ruth Glenn, the president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, points out that police data is not a perfect gauge of whether domestic violence is getting worse. More 911 calls could indicate more violence, but they also could indicate greater trust of local law enforcement during times of crisis—or, simply, more neighbors overhearing arguments or disturbances. “My concern is victims that don’t report,” Glenn says. It’s still early in the coronavirus crisis, and domestic violence tends to escalate as people spend more time in close quarters. In Seattle, most of the 911 calls were for “disturbances”—arguments that did not lead to arrests or criminal charges. With time, Glenn says, “we may see an escalated type of domestic violence calls being made: threats with guns, ‘he strangled me,’ that kind of thing. Abusers escalate.” Isolation is already a well-known tactic of domestic abusers. But now, quarantines and shelter-in-place orders meant to protect public health may be fueling abusive relationships. With families being urged or required to stay home, “essentially, you’re sentencing victims and their children to being 24/7 with their abuser,” Paradiso says. “And that can be a terrifying prospect.” And because many workplaces are closed and visits to family and friends are off the table, many of techniques survivors rely on to deescalate tensions at home have vanished. So have the safety plans many survivors make to escape their abusers during violent episodes. “If things are beginning to get too hot, then they go visit mom for a while,” Paradiso says. “Or, when their partner is away at work for eight hours, the chances of things being able to deescalate are much higher.” Advocates on the ground report that abusers are using social distancing as a means of exerting control over their partners and victims. Twahna Harris, an advocate for survivors in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, has been taking calls from victims who say the coronavirus has already intensified the fear and controlling behavior they live with on a daily basis. One woman who called Harris’ nonprofit, The Butterfly Society, wasn’t able to go to the grocery store to get essential supplies for her family because her husband controlled all their money. Another, a teacher stuck at home because schools are closed, said her partner demanded to review the receipt when she left the house to shop. “He looks over the receipt, what she’s paid, what time did she leave home, how long it took her to make it to Walmart, if the timeline adds up,” Harris says. She recalls the teacher telling her, “I am enslaved to him.” Over the last few weeks, Paradiso has heard stories of injured victims who would not go to a hospital for help because the were afraid of becoming infected with the coronavrius. She’s also heard of abusers threatening to expose their partners to the virus by kicking them out of their homes. Abusers may weaponize fears of contagion by withholding medical supplies or hand sanitizer from their victims, reports the National Domestic Violence Hotline. “An abusive partner will use any tool in the toolbox to exert power and control,” says Crystal Justice, the hotline’s communications officer. On top of all of this, financial insecurity can increase aggression in abusive relationships, according to Paradiso. Uncertainty around money, or job security, or ability to make the next rent payment or put food on the table—all of this stress adds fuel to the fire. “Any time that somebody who chooses to use violence experiences heightened levels of a lack of control in their lives, the tendency for violence escalates,” Paradiso says. Politicians are urging victims to leave their homes if they’re facing abuse. “I can’t stress enough: you do not need to stay in your home in a dangerous situation,” said Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz during a Monday press briefing. “There are places of sanctuary for you to get out of that.” But domestic violence shelters are in a tough spot, simultaneously facing increased demand in some places and the need observe social distancing guidelines. Some organizations have reduced their bed count or sent survivors to motels. Many, like Charlotte’s Safe Alliance, have asked for donations to help with increased costs for food and cleaning. Last week, two dozen US senators sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services urging the Trump administration to ensure that domestic violence organizations, many of which receive federal grants, have the “flexibility, resources, and information” needed to help survivors and their families during the pandemic. In the absence of other options, some advocates are suggesting that victims stay in cars or trailers. Harris has been telling people who can’t or won’t leave their homes to find safe spaces like closets, attics, or bedrooms with a lock, where they can take a few minutes alone to unwind. She encourages them to reconnect with family or friends digitally if they can, or plan a trip to the grocery store with a neighbor. Harris also knows the mental and physical toll that social isolation can take on someone living with abuse. She’s been through it herself, with a former partner who threatened to kill her if she left him. She was eventually able to escape with help from her boss. It’s not difficult for Harris to imagine how the current situation might have exacerbated her former partner’s attempts to control her. “If I was where some of these victims are right now, with my ex-abuser,” Harris says, “I don’t think I would have made it.” Despite the new constraints facing many survivors and the organizations that serve them, experts and advocates resoundingly encourage those in abusive relationships to reach out for help. “I think the most important message to get out there is that people should call,” Paradiso says. “Call 911 if you’re in fear.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline takes calls 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-799-7233 for TTY. If you’re unable to speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522. The Department of Health and Human Services has compiled a list of organizations by state. Source : Mother Jones
  22. Tech supply chains are still a complete mess Coronavirus lockdowns are wreaking havoc on our fragile manufacturing system Last week, we made the case that tech manufacturing was uniquely vulnerable to pandemic problems, from a combination of just-in-time manufacturing practices and a far-flung network of suppliers. But just a week later, the news is even worse. On Friday morning, analysts at S&P’s Panjiva Research laid out a grim picture, with US sea imports from China (which includes most of the electronics you buy) down more than 50 percent in the first three weeks of March, a result of the countrywide lockdown in China. At the same time, the subcontracting companies that actually build the hardware (the most famous is Foxconn, but of course there are a lot of them) are thinking about getting out of China entirely, at least as much as they can. Wistron Corp, which does a lot of work for Apple, boasted last week that it could move as much as half of its business outside Chinese borders within a year. It’s a huge sea change for tech manufacturing, and while it has been building for a long time, it’s going to be a lot faster and messier because of the pandemic. It also means that, while these companies are scrambling for labor and parts, they’re also going to be scrambling to stand up a whole new set of factories. At the same time, there are real concerns about the supply chain for lithium. A Benchmark report lays out the quarantine situation for a number of major lithium exporters, from Australia to Chile, and while there haven’t been any intense shortages yet, mines are having a lot of trouble getting shipments out. “It’s not the orders and it’s not the production, it’s [about] can we get it shipped?” one mining CEO said. “Can we get the vessels? Can we get the containers?” The result will be a lot less lithium for manufacturers, which could be a huge problem for anything with a battery. It’s hard to say what all this adds up to. It’s getting harder to make electronics, but with so many people out of work, there is less demand to meet. If the factories are half-closed, maybe it doesn’t matter if the lithium shipment comes in a little late. The current situation is so chaotic that it’s hard to be sure of anything. But the result is scary news for anyone trying to get a shipment of phones out on time — and you can be sure there is a lot of chaos happening behind the scenes. Source: Tech supply chains are still a complete mess (The Verge)
  23. COVID-19 anxiety taking a toll? There’s a subreddit for that Reddit might not be reliable for COVID-19 information, but it could be the internet’s best support group COVID-19 is all anyone can talk about in real life, which means it’s all anyone can talk about on the internet, which means it’s all anyone is discussing on Reddit. There’s r/Coronavirus (1.4 million members), r/Covid19 (101,000 members), and the racist-ly named r/China_flu (101,000 members, disappointingly). These subreddits have quickly been overflowed with people seeking news about how the pandemic has thrown world economies and health care systems into collapse. They exist to disseminate information — and of course, are victim to misinformation. But there’s one much smaller, more intimate COVID-19 subreddit — Covid19_support, which boasts only 11,900 members — that is doing something different. The service it provides Reddit users is not one of news and information, but emotional support. One post in the r/Covid19_support group asked if anyone else had trouble going grocery shopping for fear of being sick, with one user responding, “I’m not so worried I’ll get the virus, I think just seeing shelves empty or a ton of people buying it will stress me out.” Others replied with worries for workers who have been deemed “essential.” Many of the posts focus on a topic that concerns many people. What about our parents and grandparents? People are having to make the difficult decision to isolate from family during a period that you want to be with them more than ever. Luckily, on r/Covid19_support, members are not alone in this struggle. Governments around the world have laid out varying instructions on how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 which, for many people, has meant staying at home. But there’s been little direction on how to actually live through a pandemic. How does one reckon with quarantine life? What about those with mental health issues strained by isolation? How about the self-quarantining individuals who are navigating symptoms but are not in need of immediate hospitalization — who is speaking to them? As people spend more time inside the house globally, those with the privilege of having access to a phone or a computer with a clear Wi-Fi signal can try to find support for the varied problems that inevitably come with staying put, avoiding illness, or simply attempting to navigate the financial hardship that has already hit many working class people. r/Covid19_support also offers a space for those who have been let down the most by our systems — those who may not be guaranteed sick leave and can’t work from home — to seek some sort of advice on how to handle the realities they face. One member with asthma (and elderly parents) posted about having to leave work early because co-workers were joking about “survival of the fittest” and they couldn’t take it anymore. “I do think people need online forums more as the outbreak goes on, though,” moderator u/JenniferColeRhuk tells The Verge. “They want to ask questions that are very specific to them and to their situation, which aren’t going to be easily answered by FAQs or government advice. Or they see something they don’t quite understand and want someone to clarify it for them.” Unlike most subreddits, which are a free-for-all, r/Covid19_support has strict rules about who can post. It’s not that they want to censor the way people cope with the crisis, but moderators are attempting to make the community “troll-proof.” u/JenniferColeRhuk considers this paramount when “you’ve got people who are looking for reassurance and support” in creating a space for people to feel their emotions freely about a grim reality. The subreddit requires only a little moderation for misinformation, since most users are sharing their personal stories, not news. Naturally, the moderators come down the hardest on things that are emotional. u/JenniferColeRhuk explains there is zero tolerance for redditors who don’t show other users support, especially if they’re provoking others. People can get banned for telling someone to “get a grip.” r/Covid19_support originated out of a post in r/Coronavirus by u/thatreddittherapist inquiring what everyone was doing for their mental health. That idea got picked up by u/JenniferColeRhuk, so the two of them created r/Covid19_support. “[The] main difference from the other COVID-19 subs is that it’s mainly self-posts from people who are struggling with various aspects of the outbreak — worried about their friends and family, or their own health, or what will happen to their jobs,” u/JenniferColeRhuk says. Those realities are existential. Members of the subreddit, like the rest of the world, brace for the “new normal” as we look onward at a pandemic that has yet to be contained, an economy collapsing, and a global workforce no longer able to work. Internet access has become an indisputable necessity as many people socially distance in their homes or nervously await news of what is to come as they journey to their jobs, risking illness to be able to pay their rent. Subreddits such as r/Covid19_support will continue to be more important as this pandemic tolls on. As the world awaits what is to come, there is some solace to be found in anonymous strangers on the internet sharing that they too miss their parents, that they also can’t handle the boredom with their ADHD, and that they as well have struggled with layoffs due to the virus. There is an understanding hand of humanity reaching out in a latex glove to give you a pat on the back. Having been in my own house for eight days, I’ve often visited r/Covid19_support to find some sort of relief for the various stresses that this has brought on. I scroll the subreddit as I stress about whether there will actually be a rent freeze, as I wait for phone calls from home about my family members getting sick because they’re in jobs deemed “essential,” as the boredom only heightens all of my anxieties. Until the pandemic is over, whenever that is, r/Covid19_support may be one of the many ways that people are trying to cope with the crisis, together and alone in our bedrooms. Source: COVID-19 anxiety taking a toll? There’s a subreddit for that (The Verge)
  24. What Coronavirus Isolation Could Do to Your Mind (and Body) Social distancing can lead to adverse psychological and physiological effects. But there are things you can do to maintain your overall health. Photograph: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images By now, you may have noticed a divide among your friends. As social distancing and self-imposed quarantine wear on and more workplaces urge employees to avoid the office, the Covid-19 outbreak has left many people more alone than they’ve been in a long time, or ever. Some are responding by hunkering down into cozy domesticity: baking bread, reading books, taking long baths. Others have begun to fray: FaceTiming with friends is a necessity, not a luxury; the closure of a favorite coffee shop is cause for tears; the walls seem to be closing in. Be kind to your local extroverts. They’re having a hard time. Still, no matter how hygge you’re feeling at this moment, experts suggest that the negative feelings and experiences associated with prolonged isolation will come for us all. Humans are social creatures—yes, all of us. While the coronavirus pandemic is an extreme, largely unprecedented moment, the kind of seclusion that’s been eating at people over the last few weeks is not as uncommon an experience as you might imagine. The impacts of social isolation on our bodies and minds have been felt and studied in a variety of different groups, from astronauts to incarcerated people to immunocompromised children to Antarctic researchers to the elderly. The patterns that have emerged from their experiences with radical aloneness illuminate ways to understand and improve your own. First off, it’s important to remember that isolation doesn’t just numb your brain with boredom. “People start getting lethargic when they don’t have positive inputs into their small worlds,” says John Vincent, a clinical psychologist at the University of Houston. “We can expect depression to kick in, and depression and anxiety are kissing cousins.” These symptoms are likely to be particularly intense during coronavirus-related isolation, according to Lawrence Palinkas, who researches psychosocial adaptation to extreme environments at the University of Southern California. “Oftentimes, if you have a very well defined period of time in which you’re isolated people do pretty well up until the halfway point,” Palinkas says. “Then they experience a let down. But when you’re in a situation like we are now, when you’re not certain how long you’ll be asked to maintain social distance, that produces anxiety as well.” When people, like those kept in solitary confinement or scientists working in a remote region, know their sentence is nearly up, their mood lifts again in anticipation. Those practicing social distancing due to Covid-19 may not get that any time soon. “Open, transparent, consistent communication is the most important thing governments and organizations can do: Make sure people understand why they are being quarantined first and foremost, how long it is expected to last,” says Samantha Brooks, who has studied the psychological impact of quarantine at King’s College London. “A huge factor in the negative psychological impact seems to be confusion about what's going on, not having clear guidelines, or getting different messages from different organizations.” So far, many governments, including the United States’, haven’t been heeding this advice. Perhaps even more concerning is that the psychological strain of loneliness manifests physiologically, too. Harry Taylor, who studies social isolation in older adults, particularly in the black community, says that it’s one of the worst things that humans can do to their overall well-being, adding that “the mortality effect of social isolation is like smoking 15 cigarettes per day.” In older people, social isolation seems to exacerbate any preexisting medical conditions, from cardiovascular diseases to Alzheimer’s, but its ill effects aren’t limited to those over 60. Alexander Chouker, a physician researcher who studies stress immunology at the University of Munich, has seen radical changes in the bodies of people participating in simulations of manned spaceflight missions like Mars-500. “They were young and trained people not in a condition of real threat,” he says. “The pure fact of being confined affects the body. If you change your environment in a quite extreme way, it is changing you.” Participants, some of whom were only isolated for three months, experienced changes to their sleep, changes to their immune, endocrine, and neurocognitive systems, and alterations to their metabolisms. “Being confined and isolated affects the human physiology as a whole,” Chouker says. Does this mean your body will go wonky like an astronaut trapped on fake Mars for over a year? Not necessarily. You probably aren’t truly socially isolated, at least not to that extreme degree. And even those who study the negative consequences of social isolation still think practicing social distancing is a good idea. “Covid-19 is flipping everything on its head,” Taylor says. “This is the first time since we have been alive that actively practicing social isolation is a method to improve health.” The people who are most at risk from the isolation associated with Covid-19 are the people who are at heightened risk of social isolation in the first place. “Among older adults, lower income people and men experience isolation at a different level,” says Thomas Cudjoe, a geriatrician researching the intersection of social connections and aging at Johns Hopkins University. (In both cases, Cudjoe says that a lack of time or inclination to develop social ties outside of work creates the disparity between those groups and their female or higher income counterparts.) Taylor points out that anyone who is marginalized is more likely to have a more limited social network, whether they are a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a survivor of domestic abuse, or just live in a more isolated rural area. These people may not have friends or family to call, or may be unable to do so. “Some people have posited technology as a means of connecting people, but lower income groups might not even have FaceTime or Skype or minutes on their phone,” Cudjoe says. “People take that for granted, using their devices can be a strain on people’s incomes.” Particularly if Covid-19 has left them out of a job. “Minority bodies are going to be hit particularly hard because they often work in service industries, which increases risk for social isolation and loneliness and coronavirus,” says Taylor. “It could create an economic and social recession.” No matter what your unique situation is, there are many things you can do to improve your experience while being socially isolated. Chouker and others recommend exercise as a mood boost. “Create as much structure and predictability as you can with the pieces of your life that you do have control over,” Vincent says. Pursue neglected projects, get on with life, but also be patient with yourself—both now and when this strange time eventually ends. People who go through a period of isolation, whether they’ve been on the International Space Station or in quarantine, often experience PTSD symptoms and struggle while reintegrating back into their ordinary routine. Social isolation may gradually become your normal, and losing it may still be a jolt. Fortunately, you’re not in this alone, and you shouldn’t leave others that way, either. “For the general public who are not isolated, think about those people who were in your network that you haven’t heard from in a while, and give them a call or write a letter,” Cudjoe says. “Strengthen those weak connections.” With any luck, you’ll emerge from social distancing a whole lot closer. WIRED is providing unlimited free access to stories about the coronavirus pandemic. Sign up for our Coronavirus Update to get the latest in your inbox. Source: What Coronavirus Isolation Could Do to Your Mind (and Body)
  25. The Covid-19 Pandemic Is a Crisis That Robots Were Built For Robots can help doctors distance from patients, and help those in isolation cope. But getting the machines into hospitals is fraught with difficulties. An engineering student configures a robot modified to screen and observe COVID-19 patients. A group of roboticists is today calling for the field to fast-track development of such medical machines.Photograph: Lillian Suwanrumpha/Getty Images We humans weren’t ready for the novel coronavirus—and neither were the machines. The pandemic has come at an awkward time, technologically speaking. Ever more sophisticated robots and AI are augmenting human workers, rather than replacing them entirely. While it would be nice if we could protect doctors and nurses by turning more tasks over to robots, medicine is particularly hard to automate. It’s fundamentally human, requiring fine motor skills, compassion, and quick life-and-death decision-making we wouldn’t want to leave to machines. But this pandemic is a unique opportunity to jumpstart the development of medical robot technologies, argue a dozen roboticists in an editorial out today in the journal Science Robotics. Perhaps “people start to reflect that for situations such as this, how robots can be used not only to help with in terms of social distancing, but also that can be used for increasing social interaction,” said Guang-Zhong Yang, founding editor of the journal, during a press conference. The editorial serves as a call to arms for more research. “Robotics and automation could play a major role in combating infectious diseases, such as COVID-19,” Yang and his fellow editors write in their piece. In particular, they argue: “Robots have the potential to be deployed for disinfection, delivering medications and food, measuring vital signs, and assisting border controls. As epidemics escalate, the potential roles of robotics are becoming increasingly clear.” Additionally, robots could enable a form of telemedicine that would keep humans out of areas of contagion. “COVID-19 could be a catalyst for developing robotic systems that can be rapidly deployed with remote access by experts and essential service providers without the need of traveling to front lines,” they write. A cruel irony of the coronavirus pandemic is that medical professionals know better than anyone that social distancing is critical for slowing the rate of new infections, yet they’re forced to be the closest to the disease. And those that need social interaction perhaps more than anybody—the elderly—are the ones who need to isolate the most, as they’re the most susceptible to the disease. But if machines can help care for patients, it’s less likely that human caregivers will themselves get infected. Autonomous robots, for instance, can roam rooms, disinfecting surfaces with UV light. Or they can deliver supplies, as a robot named Tug is already doing. Smarter AI can help diagnose people with Covid-19, and the article’s authors suggest that engineers might develop mobile robots to perform simple tasks like taking a patient’s temperature. This could all go a long way to lightening the burden on human health care providers and helping them keep their distance from the infected. That could help stave off future bottlenecks, in which so many workers are ill or quarantined after potential exposure that hospital staff cannot adequately care for incoming patients. There’s plenty of precedent for machines helping humans do their jobs, notes MIT roboticist Kate Darling, who wasn’t involved in the editorial. “ATMs allowed banks to expand teller services,” she says. “Bomb disposal robots let soldiers keep more distance between themselves and danger. There are cases where automation will replace people, but the true potential of robotics is in supplementing our skills. We should stop trying to replace and start thinking more creatively about how to use technology to achieve our goals.” It’s not hard to imagine a future in which delivery robots bring food and supplies to quarantined people’s homes, preventing delivery workers from potentially infecting them. Quarantined folks are already keeping in touch with friends and relatives via Zoom and FaceTime, but social robots could also keep people company in the absence of human peers. The telepresence robot, often something as simple as a screen on wheels, has begun appearing in nursing homes to help family members connect with otherwise isolated elders. In hospitals, such robots could “teleport” a specialist doctor in London to a patient in San Francisco. Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more sensitive interaction between humans than the doctor-patient relationship, and this has remained a thorny problem in hospital robotics. A doctor has to keep people alive, but also keep them well, empathizing in a particularly difficult time. Robots don’t do empathy. How well a robot can tackle a health worker’s task depends, in some measure, on whether it’s replacing that human interaction, or simply channeling it. “It does depend on: Is the robot acting as a medium for a doctor or another healthcare provider or professional? Or is the robot in itself supposed to be running some sort of task?” asks Julie Carpenter, a roboticist and research fellow at the Ethics and Emerging Sciences Group at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who wasn’t involved in the new paper. “Certainly making them less threatening to people is important.” Take that Tug robot, for example. It’s more or less a rolling box that autonomously roams hospital corridors. It tells you in a friendly voice if it’s waiting for an elevator, and some hospitals even dress it up in costumes for the kids. Robots need to balance functionality and the patient experience. “For example, a robot may need to be very big in order to lift a patient, but then its sheer size can be intimidating,” says Carpenter. “Mitigating someone's psychological stress should absolutely be a significant and thoughtful part of designing robots, especially in caregiving scenarios.” Engineers also have to consider their hospital worker users when designing medical robots—which they haven’t really been doing up to this point. “They’re designed by engineers, for engineers,” says Henrik Christensen, the director of the UC San Diego Contextual Robotics Institute and a coauthor on the editorial. Nurses and doctors are already stressed and strapped for time. If you tell them it’ll take two hours to teach them to use a robot, “then you've already lost them,” Christensen adds. “We're not good enough today at designing robots that are truly fluent.” One of the bolder ideas to come out of the Science Robotics press conference was a competition for medical robots. Darpa famously ran a robotics competition in 2015 that pitted humanoid machines against one another, greatly furthering research in robot autonomy. Now Darpa is running another challenge for robots to navigate underground environments. (Not to mention the Darpa Grand Challenge, which offered $2 million to the first team that could race an autonomous vehicle between cities in California and Nevada; the Stanford Racing Team won the prize in 2005.) So why not set up a robotics challenge in a hospital? “No doubt," says Christensen, "this is a way of crowdsourcing innovation.” WIRED is providing unlimited free access to stories about the coronavirus pandemic. Sign up for our Coronavirus Update to get the latest in your inbox. Source: The Covid-19 Pandemic Is a Crisis That Robots Were Built For (Wired)
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