• How Vietnam Managed to Keep Its Coronavirus Death Toll at Zero

    When the world looked to Asia for successful examples in handling the novel coronavirus outbreak, much attention and plaudits were paid to South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.Nectar Gan writes for CNN that there’s one overlooked success story — Vietnam. The country of 97 million people has not reported a single coronavirus-related death and on Saturday had just 328 confirmed cases, despite its long border with China and the millions of Chinese visitors it receives each year. This is all the more remarkable considering Vietnam is a low-middle income country with a much less-advanced healthcare system than others in the region. It only has 8 doctors for every 10,000 people, a third of the ratio in South Korea.

  • Testing Is Key to Beating Coronavirus, Right? Japan Has Other Ideas

    As the world tries to get a handle on the coronavirus and emerge from paralyzing lockdowns, public health officials have repeated a mantra: “test, test, test.” Ben Dooley and Makiko Inoue write in the New York Times that Japan, however, went its own way, limiting tests to only the most severe cases as other countries raced to screen as many people as possible. Medical experts worried that the approach would blind the country to the spread of infection, allowing cases to explode and swamping hospitals. It hasn’t happened.

  • Coronavirus Crisis Accelerates March Towards Cashless Society

    The march towards a cashless society has gathered pace during the lockdown with analysts more confident than ever that the end is nigh for notes and coins, Harry Shukman writes in The Times.

  • U.S. Missed Early Chance to Slow Coronavirus, Genetic Study Indicates

    The United States missed out on an early chance to catch imported cases of coronavirus earlier this year, genetics experts say in a new report, Maggie Fox writes in CNN. “Our analyses reveal an extended period of missed opportunity when intensive testing and contact tracing could have prevented SARS-CoV-2 from becoming established in the US and Europe,” they wrote in a report, not yet peer-reviewed and published on the preprint server bioRxiv.

  • Brazil’s Losing Battle against COVID-19

    The country entered the pandemic with some advantages. Because of President Jair Bolsonaro, it is squandering them. Social distancing is hard in poor neighborhoods, where people are packed together and have jobs without contracts or benefits. But the Economist writers that what makes social distancing harder is that Brazil’s populist president, Jair Bolsonaro, scoffs at the medical establishment and its advice. He has quarreled with and lost two health ministers since the crisis began. He shows up at weekly protests in Brasília, the capital, against quarantines.

  • COVID Slows Central America-U.S. Migration

    From March to April, when the U.S. began to lock down, total apprehensions along its southern border dropped by 50 percent, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data. Apprehensions and expulsions have plummeted, going from 109,415 in April 2019 to just 16,789 in April 2020.

  • U.S.-Funded Website Spreading COVID Misinformation in Armenia

    U.S. taxpayer money has funded a controversial health news website in Armenia that is spreading “incredibly dangerous” COVID-19 misinformation. Public health experts in the U.S. and Armenia denounced this content – which includes claims that vaccines currently being developed are actually “biological weapons.”

  • As States Reopen, Tensions Flare Between the Rule Followers and Rule Breakers

    As countries reopen their economies, tensions escalate between those who believe it is safe now to resume normal business activity – and even ignore social distancing and the need to wear face masks – and those who prefer a more cautious, slower path toward something resembling pre-coronavirus life. These differences aren’t just random personality types; they reflect our primal social mindsets – what I call “tight” and “loose” mindsets. And unless these differences are better understood, it will be that much more difficult to navigate life under COVID-19.

  • Norway Health Chief: Lockdown Was Not Needed to Tame COVID

    Norway is assembling a picture of what happened before lockdown and its latest discovery is pretty significant. It is using observed data – hospital figures, infection numbers and so on – to construct a picture of what was happening in March. At the time, no one really knew. Fraser Nelson writes in The Spectator that it was feared that virus was rampant with each person infecting two or three others – and only lockdown could get this exponential growth rate (the so-called R number) down to a safe level of 1. This was the hypothesis advanced in various graphs by Imperial College London for Britain, Norway and several European countries.
    But the Norwegian public health authority has published a report with a striking conclusion: the virus was never spreading as fast as had been feared and was already on the way out when lockdown was ordered. ‘It looks as if the effective reproduction rate had already dropped to around 1.1 when the most comprehensive measures were implemented on 12 March, and that there would not be much to push it down below 1… We have seen in retrospect that the infection was on its way down.’ 
    This raises an awkward question: was lockdown necessary? What did it achieve that could not have been achieved by voluntary social distancing? 

  • The Government’s One‑Size‑Fits‑R Lockdown Is Bad Health Policy and Bad Economics Too

    “It was when Matt Hancock used the term ‘reproduction number’ for the 15th time in his latest press conference that I stopped counting. R, as this concept is also known, has become the government’s new totem, the driver of policy, the means of calibrating our response to the dangers of COVID-19….  As a concept, it is certainly seductive. R, as everyone now knows, refers to the average number of people that one infected person will transmit the virus to,” Matthew Sayed writes in The Times. But “R is, after all, an average for the entire UK. As a single point estimate, it doesn’t take into account the marked regional differences in transmission. It takes no account of the variance between different settings, such as care homes and factories. It takes no account of the fact that the spread of the virus isn’t the same for each person but is shaped to a significant degree by superspreading events. Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist and the author of The Rules of Contagion, estimates that 80% of transmission occurs via as little as 10% of the population.In other words, the R number for the majority of us is, in fact, zero.”

  • Which Interventions Work Best in a Pandemic?

    The only approaches currently available to reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus severe acute respiratory syndrome–coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) are behavioral: handwashing, cough and sneeze etiquette, and above all, social distancing. Johannes Haushofer and C. Jessica E. Metcalf write in Science that policy-makers have a variety of tools to enable these “nonpharmaceutical interventions” (NPIs), ranging from simple encouragement and recommendations to full-on regulation and sanctions. However, these interventions are often used without rigorous empirical evidence: They make sense in theory, and mathematical models can be used to predict their likely impact, but with different policies being tried in different places—often in complicated combinations and without systematic, built-in evaluation—we cannot confidently attribute any given reduction in transmission to a specific policy.

  • How Sweden Wasted a “Rare Opportunity” to Study Coronavirus in Schools

    During this pandemic, does that harm to student’s learning, and the isolation-induced mental harm, outweigh the risk—to children, school staff, families, and the community at large—of keeping schools open and giving the coronavirus more chances to spread? Gretchen Vogel writes in Science that the one country that could have definitively answered that question has apparently failed to collect any data. Bucking a global trend, Sweden has kept day care centers and schools through ninth grade open since COVID-19 emerged, without any major adjustments to class size, lunch policies, or recess rules. That made the country a perfect natural experiment about schools’ role in viral spread that many others could have learned from as they reopen schools or ponder when to do so. Yet Swedish officials have not tracked infections among school children—even when large outbreaks led to the closure of individual schools or staff members died of the disease.

  • Trust in Medical Scientists Has Grown in the U.S., but Mainly among Democrats

    Americans’ confidence in medical scientists has grown since the coronavirus outbreak first began to upend life in the United States, as have perceptions that medical doctors hold very high ethical standards. And in their own estimation, most U.S. adults think the outbreak raises the importance of scientific developments. Cary Funk, Brian Kennedy, and Courtney Johnson write for Pew Research Center, however, that public confidence has turned upward with Democrats, not Republicans. Among Democrats and those leaning to the Democratic Party, 53% have a great deal of confidence in medical scientists to act in the public interest, up from 37% in January 2019. But among Republicans and those who lean Republican, 31% express a great deal of confidence in medical scientists, roughly the same as in 2019 (32%). As a result, there is now a 22 percentage point difference between partisan groups when it comes to trust in medical scientists.

  • Trump’s Mockery of Wearing Masks Divides Republicans

    A growing chorus of Republicans are pushing back against President Trump’s suggestion that wearing cloth masks to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus is a sign of personal weakness or political correctness. Michael Scherer writes in the Washington Post that they include governors seeking to prevent a rebound in coronavirus cases and federal lawmakers who face tough reelection fights this fall, as national polling shows lopsided support for wearing masks in public. Pointed comments by leading Republicans in support of wearing masks – from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine; Majority Leader Mitch McConnel; North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum; Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan; Sen. John Cornyn, and many others — come as Trump continues to treat face masks as something to mock, refusing to wear one in public and joining his staff and family in ridiculing his Democratic rival Joe Biden for doing otherwise.

  • Conspiracy Beliefs Reduce the Following of Government Coronavirus Guidance

    A new study from the University of Oxford shows that people who hold coronavirus conspiracy beliefs are less likely to comply with social distancing guidelines or take-up future vaccines. Oxford University says that The research, led by clinical psychologists at the University of Oxford and published today in the journal Psychological Medicine, indicates that a disconcertingly high number of adults in England do not agree with the scientific and governmental consensus on the coronavirus pandemic.