Covid-19, some thoughts      Science News - a year on

Last March we were told that there was a new virus from China similar to but much more deadly than 'flu spreading around the world. That makes it obvious it is spread by airborne particles. At that time they did not know their size. I am very allergic to both diesel and tobacco fumes. I am affected by cigarette, pipe, cigar smoke up to about 20 metres away. That has been exhaled - similar to the Covid virus from the lungs? I thought so then, so did not use the lift to our apartment during 2020. On the very rare occasion that I had to use it I stopped breathing. If the particles are small enough Brownian motion may keep them suspended for prolonged periods. In our building we have long corridors. I thought they could be a hazard area. I contacted our Area Manager and told of my concern that peripatetic Carers came in without face coverings. The rules at the time - no problem, Government guidance.
The data we were given was that we could meet (with masks) outside for 15 minutes at 2 metres apart. I did some simple calculations nd concluded that infection probability increased inverse to the cube of ghe distence. At one metre the time is reduced from 15 minutes to about 2½ minutes! As we brush past infectious people we may breathe in the virus. If it´s a small amount it could give us some immunity, so perhaps not all bad.

Second Covid-19 vaccinations

January 2021 Despite Pfizer saying that they had not evaluated the efficacy of a single dose of their vaccine the UK decided to ignore them. The argument is that twice as many people could have a single dose in the same timeframe. Early to mid 2020 we were given more details of infection rates than now. The data given here is from thenAgeUK website. The death rates are per 1000 people (males have a slightly higher proportion in all age groups). At aged 90+ there are 18 deaths per 1000 persons and with a Biontech/Pfizer efficacy of 50% becomes 9 per 1000 people 80 to 89 age range it becomes 3.5 and for the age group 70 to 79 it becomes 1. For ALL age groups up to aged 69 it is les than 1 per 1000. So people aged 90+ even with the fist vaccine are STILL at a higher risk than ANY other group. The same goes for the 80 to 89 year olds. With the vaccine they are still at a higher risk than the younger age groups. The 70 to 79 year olds with their vaccination are on a par with those younger. Please may we be given the scientific facts for this change of course.

There is a cohort of over a quarter of a million people aged 80+ who had their second vaccination by the end of the first week in January 2021. They now have maximum protection against the virus, (the science).  How many of this cohort have been hospitalised with Covid since the second week in February? How many in the following weeks? This could indicate the efficacy of the vaccine.   Earlier February at the BBC1 Covid Prime Minister's briefing this question was posed (owtte) - could a group of people consisting only those from this cohort of 80+ year olds meet together? Answer?   Well, it was not answered.  If this cohort cannot meet others within the group it probably means that those who vaccinated early will miss out on the time they can mix, due to the lockdown rules. That will happen if they have to wait until most of the relevant population (aged 50+), now updated all aged 18+, have been vaccinated. That would be 5 of the 6 months of highest immunity. Science or politics?

Now we are told that all UK adults are to be vaccinated (20 February). Good, but older people have already been vaccinated, so if the efficacy is as high as is expected so they are not a problem. Covid cases relating to people under 50 is very small and very many of them have proved to be asymptomatic. Herd immunity was mentioned early last year. What has changed? There are people who have proved positive in the past, had few symptoms but reacted very badly to the vaccination. Is there any data that needs sharing?

The future. It is well known soap, alcohol, ozone and UV light and others kills Covid-19. The last two have not had a high profile. Ozone for home use can be hazardous because it is poisonous. However it could be used industrially to sterilise PPE equipment that has been made from appropriate materials. I think that the way forward is UV light. There are 3 recognised ranges: UV-A at 315 to 400 nm (nanometres wavelenth), used for tanning; UV-B are the burning rays at 280 to 315 nm and UC-C and far UV with a wavelength 100 to 280 nm. From 100 nm to about 320 nm the UV will kill both bacteria and viruses by breaking the RNA or DNA within the cell. This is currently used for sterilising water. UV-C with a wavelength above about 275 nm produces ozone. From 200 to 275 nm ozone is not produced but there is one particular frequency in this range that does not affect the eyes or skin but interrupts virus and bacteria RNA and DNA. It has a wavelength of 222 nm. I tried to purchase an LED from a manufacturer in China. Currently these LED´s are difficult to manufacture because of the tolerance needed making the AlGaN (aluminium gallium nitride) crystals. Much research is needed here. Currently long term human safety has not been tested. The lifespan of the LED´s is quite short but whoever first successfully manufactures a suitable such LED will be successful globally. The uses are innumerable.


Science News Coronavirus Update  - from American news

A year in, what have we learned?      How far we've come?
March 2021

A year ago today, we sent you our first coronavirus newsletter. Today, we look back at the questions we tackled in that first e-mail about scientists’ understanding of the virus and answer them again based on what we know now about the novel coronavirus.

Cruise control

March 10, 2020:  "Even as the U.S. State Department warns people to avoid cruises, the Diamond Princess, the cruise ship that was quarantined off the coast of Japan in February, is providing new insight into the virus that causes COVID-19. Only about 17 percent of people onboard contracted the virus and many of them were asymptomatic. … Of all infected, 1.2 percent died; of those sick enough to need hospital care, 2.3 percent died."

Now: Estimating just how deadly the coronavirus is has been challenging. Simple division — 2,612,644 deaths as of this morning, when divided by 117,690,020 confirmed infections — suggests a fatality rate of 2.2 percent. But that doesn't account for the vast numbers of undetected infections as well as untallied deaths from COVID-19. 

Outbreaks like the one on the Diamond Princess presented scientists with a unique opportunity to study the virus in a contained space where everyone can be tested. Taking data from cruises can’t happen now because they’ve been canceled, at least in the United States. A broad look at many studies in December estimated that infections resulted in death on average 0.68 percent of the time. But that single number obscures the role that age, quality of health care, social distancing measures and other factors play in influencing risk of death. For example, other estimates show that 0.002 percent of 10-year-olds die after infection, while 1.4 percent of 65-year-olds and 27 percent of those 85 and older die.

New virus variants are complicating estimates too. The B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom late last year, for example, may be around 64 percent more deadly than older variants, according to a March 10 study published in BMJ.

Coronavirus season?

March 10, 2020: "Some scientists think that the coronavirus may end up coming back every winter like the flu. Simulated virus transmission … found that the seasonal patterns of any future outbreaks depend on when, or if, people’s immunity against the virus wanes. If immunity wanes every year, similar to what happens with the coronaviruses that cause common colds, then we may get annual outbreaks."

Now: The chorus of researchers who think SARS-CoV-2 isn’t going away is large, but how often we could face outbreaks after the pandemic ends is up for debate. A recent simulation proposed that SARS-CoV-2 will join the viruses we encounter year-round and will primarily cause mild illness in children going forward. Other researchers argue that we need to prepare for COVID-19 to become a recurrent seasonal disease. It will be difficult to reach herd immunity through vaccination, they say, and increasing spread of variants raises the risk of reinfection. It’s possible people will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 annually or need booster shots that better tackle variants.  

Good news and bad news

March 10, 2020: "Scientists examined hospital rooms in Singapore to find out where the virus hangs out. The good news is that ... no virus was found in air samples. The bad news is that before cleaning, the virus was all over a patient’s room. ... The coronavirus was also found in the toilet bowl. … That might be evidence that stool is a route of transmission."

Now: The good news is that contaminated surfaces don't seem to be a major source of transmission. Stool is also not how people usually get COVID-19, but monitoring viral RNA in sewage has become a tool for detecting how much virus is circulating in communities. The bad news is that scientists have isolated SARS-CoV-2 particles capable of causing infections from air in a hospital room. That’s one piece of growing amounts of evidence that people mostly catch the coronavirus by inhaling it.

How concerned should we be?

March 10, 2020: A reader asked, “Why are people in such a tizzy about it? ...  With regard to numbers killed, influenza in the U.S. alone far surpasses it. It just seems like the level of concern is disproportionate to the actual threat. Am I missing something?”

We answered: "Scientists are worried that the new coronavirus could take hold in the United States, causing yearly epidemics like the flu… Because it’s new, no one has immunity against the virus… so it can spread rapidly and widely."

Now: A year in, it’s abundantly clear that concern was warranted. To date, COVID-19 has killed 2.6 million people globally, with more than half a million deaths in the United States. Even with vaccines available, the threat is not gone. Experts are concerned that another surge in cases may be on the horizon, as more contagious coronavirus variants spread across the country and some states begin to lift mask mandates and other public health restrictions. 

Social distancing, mask wearing and other efforts to reduce the spread of the coronavirus have also sent cases of the flu and other respiratory diseases plummeting. But those may spike once people get together more frequently.

Containing the virus

March 10, 2020:  We quoted World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus saying “the threat of a pandemic has become very real. But it would be the first pandemic in history that could be controlled. The bottom line is: We are not at the mercy of this virus.” 

Now: One year later, more than 100 million people worldwide have been infected with coronavirus and millions have died. Many countries, such as Taiwan, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand, kept coronavirus transmission low by implementing widespread testing, contact tracing and quarantines. 

But other countries have not been as successful in containing the virus. COVID-19 cases in the United States, for instance, soared to record highs during the winter. In December and January, U.S. officials logged more than 200,000 new cases per day. They’re still logging at least 40,000 a day now.

Economic effects

March 10, 2020: Our number to know was 1.3 percent.

"That’s how much global gross domestic product is expected to decline as a result of the outbreak, according to a March 6, 2020 report from the WHO’s Global Preparedness Monitoring Board. About $280 billion may be lost globally in the first quarter of 2020, with China sustaining $62 billion of that loss."

Now: Economic losses in 2020 were much larger — about $4 trillion in total — according to a January report from the International Monetary Fund’s world economic outlook update. Contrary to dire predictions, China saw its GDP rise in 2020, one of few countries to do so. The country’s GDP was projected to rise to $15.2 trillion in 2020 from $14.2 trillion in 2019.  The United States was expected to lose more than $675 billion — more than 3 percent of its GDP.

Prospects are looking up for 2021 thanks to vaccines, therapies and virus containment measures, the IMF says. The global gross domestic product was $83.845 trillion in 2020 and is expected to grow 5.5 percent in 2021 and 4.2 percent in 2022.

Moving forward

It’s sobering to look back at where we started — uncertain of what was to come, where we are now and where we’re headed. We’ll continue to cover the latest developments and bring those stories to you here in our newsletter (see From Science News, below) and on our website, where you can find all of our stories about the pandemic on our coronavirus page