• The Fatal Mistakes Which Led to Lockdown

    On the basis of what were fateful decisions about economic lockdowns as a proper response to the coronavirus made? And why is there such resistance to efforts to go back, cautiously and intelligently, but in a determined fashion, back to semblance of normalcy? Dr. John Lee writers in The Spectator that those who insisted on lockdowns and who now question economic and social reopening explained that they are being “guided by science.” In fact, he writes, “they are doing something rather different: being guided by models, bad data and subjective opinion. Some of those claiming to be ‘following the science’ seem not to understand the meaning of the word.” The decision-making leading to lockdowns was of exceedingly low quality, as is the resistance to economic and social reopening. The reason for both? “An early maintained but exaggerated belief in the lethality of the virus reinforced by modelling that was almost data-free, then amplified by further modelling with no proven predictive value. All summed up by recommendations from a committee based on qualitative data that hasn’t even been peer-reviewed.” Lee concludes: “Mistakes were inevitable at the start of this. But we can’t learn without recognizing them.”

  • If There Is a Second Wave of COVID, the Swedish Approach Will Have Been Right All Along

    One country can look to the winter with less trepidation than most. Last week, a study suggested that 30 per cent of Swedes have built up immunity to the virus. It would help explain why COVID-19 has been fizzling out in Sweden. If a measure of herd immunity also helps them avoid the second wave, Sweden’s take-it-on-the-chin approach will be vindicated. Christopher Snowdon writes in The Telegraph that not going into lockdown was described as “a mad experiment” by one expert, while another accused the Swedish government of “leading us to catastrophe.” But the catastrophe never arrived. The pattern of mortality in Sweden is indistinguishable from that of many countries that locked down. Its daily death toll rarely exceeded double figures and has been below 30 since mid-June. As in Britain, half the deaths were in care homes and two-thirds of those who died were aged 80 or over. And what of the costs? “Sweden will not be unscathed by the global recession. Its GDP is expected to decline by 5.3 per cent this year. But GDP is expected to fall by 8.7 per cent in the Eurozone, by 9.7 per cent in Britain and by more than 10 per cent in Italy, France and Spain,” Snowdon writes.

  • Is the COVID-19 Pandemic Cure Really Worse than the Disease? Here’s What Our Research Found

    The coronavirus pandemic catapulted the country into one of the deepest recessions in U.S. history, leaving millions of Americans without jobs or health insurance. There is a lot of evidence that economic hardship is associated with poor health and can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseasemental health problemscognitive dysfunction and early death. All of that raises a question: Is the U.S. better off with the public health interventions being used to keep the coronavirus from spreading or without them? In a new working paper, Olga Yakusheva, Associate Professor in Nursing and Public Health at the University of Michigan, writes in The Conversation that she  and a research team of health economists from U.S. universities set out to answer that question from a humanitarian perspective. They estimate that by the end of 2020, public health measures to mitigate COVID-19 – including business lockdowns, school closings, etc. —  would save between 900,000 and 2.7 million lives in the U.S. The economic downturn and loss of income from shelter-in-place measures and other restrictions on economic activity could contribute to between 50,400 and 323,000 deaths, based on an economic decline of 8%-14%.

  • The Role of Cognitive Dissonance in the Pandemic

    Cognitive dissonance, coined by Leon Festinger in the 1950s, describes the discomfort people feel when two cognitions, or a cognition and a behavior, contradict each other. “Few people fully appreciate the mechanism’s enormous motivational power—and the lengths people go to in order to reduce its discomfort,” Elliot Aronson and Carol Tavris write in The Atlantic, adding: “For example, when people feel a strong connection to a political party, leader, ideology, or belief, they are more likely to let that allegiance do their thinking for them and distort or ignore the evidence that challenges those loyalties.” As a result, “Because of the intense polarization in our country, a great many Americans now see the life-and-death decisions of the coronavirus as political choices rather than medical ones.”

  • Touting Criticized Study, White House Presses FDA to Authorize Hydroxychloroquine — Again

    In March, the FDA, on scant evidence, initially gave emergency use authorization to hydroxychloroquine. The agency in April issued a safety warning about potential cardiac problems before withdrawing its approval last month. The reason for the FDA authorization withdrawal was the results of several large-scale, randomized, double-blind trials, all of which showed that not only does hydroxychloroquine offer no benefits to COVID-19-infetced patients, but that it substantially increases the risk of serious heart problems and heart-related deaths. Laurie McGinley and Josh Dawsey write in the Washington Post that earlier this month, a Henry Ford Health System study found death rates were 50 percent lower among the patients treated with hydroxychloroquine, the authors said. They also said the drug posed no safety problems. The study has been criticized by scientists, but the White House and Trump supporters in the media have urged the FDA to reauthorize hydroxychloroquine for emergency use.

  • U.S. Will Pay $1.6 Billion to Novavax for Coronavirus Vaccine

    The federal government will pay the vaccine maker Novavax $1.6 billion to expedite the development of a coronavirus vaccine. It’s the largest deal to date from Operation Warp Speed, the sprawling federal effort to make coronavirus vaccines and treatments available to the American public as quickly as possible. Katie Thomas writes in the New York Times that the deal would pay for Novavax to produce 100 million doses of its new vaccine by the beginning of next year — if the vaccine is shown to be effective in clinical trials. That’s a significant bet on Novavax, a Maryland company that has never brought a product to market.

  • Coronavirus Antibody Treatment Promises to Protect Elderly

    Scientists are preparing to begin trials of an antibody treatment that could be used to protect older people from the coronavirus. Rhys Blakely writes in The Times that the hope is that a three-minute infusion of antibodies could ward off infection for up to six months. It could be an option where a more conventional vaccine is unsuitable, including for people whose natural defences are compromised by immunosuppressant drugs or chemotherapy. It could also be used to boost the immune systems of older people who are at a heightened risk.

  • COVID-19 Cases Are Rising, So Why Are Deaths Flatlining?

    COVID-19 cases have soared to terrifying levels since June. Yesterday, the U.S. had 62,000 confirmed cases, an all-time high—and about five times more than the entire continent of Europe. Several U.S. states, including Arizona and Florida, currently have more confirmed cases per capita than any other country in the world. Derek Thompson writes in The Atlantic that average daily deaths are down 75 percent from their April peak. Despite higher death counts on Tuesday and Wednesday, the weekly average has largely plateaued in the past two weeks. There are five possible explanations for the case-death gap. Take them as complementary, rather than competing, theories: 1. Deaths lag cases—and that might explain almost everything; 2. Expanded testing is finding more cases, milder cases, and earlier cases; 3. The typical COVID-19 patient is getting younger; 4. Hospitalized patients are dying less frequently, even without a home-run treatment; and 5. Summer might be helping—but probably only a little bit. “After all the graphs, statistics, science, and interpretations, we’re left with a simple fact: Hundreds of Americans are dying every day of a disease that is infecting several hundred thousand of them every week,” Thompson writes. “If that’s success, let’s pray we never see failure.”

  • Scientists Hail “Stunning” Results that Show Areas of New York May Have Reached 68 Percent Immunity

    Areas of New York have recorded a nearly 70 percent rate of immunity to COVID-19, in what scientists have described as “stunning” findings that suggest they could be protected from any second wave. Josie Ensor writes in The Telegraph that some 68 percent of people who took antibody tests at a clinic in the Corona neighborhood of Queens received positive results, while at another clinic in Jackson Heights, 56 percent tested positive. The results, shared by healthcare company CityMD with the New York Times, appear to show a higher antibody rate than anywhere in the world, based on publicly released data.

  • After COVID-19, Public Transport in Intensive Care

    Many certainties fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic. Director of forecasting for the French urban transport operator Keolis, Eric Chareyron is no exception to this reality. “The problem with public transport is that there is “public” or “communal” in the name, he says. The term “communal,” in a period when we are being urged to limit what we do in a communal manner, “inevitably, that handicaps us.” Eric Béziat writes in Le Monde [in French] that thought is being given in the public transportation sector to looking for a new, less anxiety-provoking name. This line of thinking is an indication to what extent the sector was hit by the crisis, and questions are being raised about its very foundations. The train, the metro, the bus, the tram are all enclosed and collective spaces, and as such are the designated victims of health vigilance.

  • The High Cost of Conspiracy Theories

    Conspiracy theories have been rampant on the Internet since the Corona crisis began. One of the most curious conspiracy theories involves Bill Gates: He wants to implant microchips into people with the help of vaccinations and thus control humanity, according to many online forums. Gustav Theile writes in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [in German] that surveys repeatedly show that these conspiracies are not a niche phenomenon. According to a Yougov survey, 44 percent of Republicans in the United States believe in the Gates microchip conspiracy. One in two Britons, according to a study by Oxford University, tends towards conspiracy theories. In Germany, the belief in the Gates conspiracy seems to have more followers than the fear that the new 5G mobile communications standard is the cause of the coronavirus epidemic. Web searches for both conspiracy theories shot up in April and May, but overall, Googling for 5G was only about half as often as for Bill Gates. Why conspiracies, which are supposed to be top secret, should be unmasked by simply Googling is, of course, not clear.

  • Hateful Extremists Have Been Exploiting the Current Pandemic

    The U.K. Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) has published a report Thursday, looking at the way in which extremists have sought to exploit the current pandemic. The CCE say that the government needs to ensure that their response to dealing with COVID-19 and future crises takes into account the significant threat of hateful extremism and the dangerous narratives spread by conspiracy theories.

  • Making Bioweapons Obsolete

    The Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) and Sandia National Laboratories convened experts and thought leaders in government, academia, and the private sector to discuss the ways to make a future in which the threat of biological weapons is greatly reduced.

  • Coronavirus: Why Everyone Was Wrong

    “This is not an accusation, but a ruthless taking stock [of the current situation],” Beda M. Stadler writes in Medium. Stadler, the former director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Bern and an emeritus professor of biology, stresses that his article is about Switzerland, and that the situation in different countries may differ. He continues: “I could slap myself, because I looked at Sars-CoV2- way too long with panic. I am also somewhat annoyed with many of my immunology colleagues who so far have left the discussion about Covid-19 to virologist and epidemiologist. I feel it is time to criticize some of the main and completely wrong public statements about this virus. Firstly, it was wrong to claim that this virus was novel. Secondly, it was even more wrong to claim that the population would not already have some immunity against this virus. Thirdly, it was the crowning of stupidity to claim that someone could have COVID-19 without any symptoms at all or even to pass the disease along without showing any symptoms whatsoever.”

  • Fundamental Questions about COVID-19 Still to Be Answered

    One of the keys to slowing the spread of the coronavirus – and alerting carriers so they do not infect members of vulnerable communities – is testing. Matthew Perrone writes about pool testing, while Kylie Foy describes how MIT engineers can now process vocal recordings of infected but asymptomatic people to reveal potential indicators of COVID-19.

    Kevin Hartnett writes that while determining that threshold for COVID-19 herd immunity is critical, a lot of nuance is involved in calculating exactly how much of the population needs to be immune for herd immunity to take effect.

    More than six months into the pandemic, the coronavirus has infected more than 11 million people worldwide, killing more than 525,000. But despite the increasing toll, scientists still do not have a definitive answer to several fundamental questions about the virus. Donald G. McNeil Jr.; Peter Fimrite; Ewen Callaway, Heidi Ledford, and Smriti Mallapaty; and Sarah Kaplan and Joel Achenbach analyze some of the mysteries and unanswered questions surrounding COVID-19.

    Most antivirals in use today target parts of an invading virus itself. Unfortunately, SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – has proven hard to kill, but Nevan Krogan writes that many drugs show promise in doing just that. One such drug is remdesivir, but Hannah Denham, Yasmeen Abutaleb, and Christopher Rowland write that the company which makes it, Gilead Sciences, will charge U.S. hospitals $3,120 for the typical patient with private insurance.

    The number of studies on COVID-19 is increasing just as rapidly as the number of infections. Felicitas Witte writes that today there are more than 2,200 studies under way. “This is more mass than class,” one expert told her. “Many of the ongoing studies are so badly planned that it is already clear that a reliable result will not come out.”

    And conspiracy theories are never too far away: Anti-vaxxers have been spreading their lies and misinformation in Africa, using social media in several African countries to accus the World Health Organization (WHO) of mixing poison into “COVID-Organics,” an unproven herbal tonic touted across Africa as a cure for COVID-19, in an attempt to kill Africans.