Covid-19 news: Coronavirus not “done by Christmas”, says charity boss

By | July 21, 2020
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Shoppers wearing face coverings on Oxford Street, London.

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Latest coronavirus news as of 5 pm on 21 July

Humanity will be living with the coronavirus for “many years,” says health charity chief

“Things will not be done by Christmas,” Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, a large biomedical health charity, and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told MPs today, speaking about the UK’s coronavirus pandemic. “This infection is not going away, it’s now a human endemic infection,” he said. Even if we had a vaccine or very good treatments, “humanity will still be living with this virus for very many, many years… decades to come,” he said. Farrar’s comments come after UK prime minister Boris Johnson announced further easing of restrictions in England last week and said he hoped for a “significant return to normality” by Christmas. Farrar was giving evidence to the Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee as part of an on-going inquiry into the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The government’s chief medical advisor Chris Whitty today told the committee that there was no “huge delay” in the UK’s decision to go into lockdown in March. On 16 March, ministers were presented with evidence about the scale of the UK’s coronavirus outbreak as well as modelling data on the rate at which it was likely to spread. However, the UK’s lockdown wasn’t announced until 23 March – a week later. Whitty said that ministers “were put in an incredibly difficult position” and that the delay was “no more than you would reasonably expect for what are really very difficult things to operationalise and decide.”


 Other coronavirus news

England’s test and trace programme has breached data protection law, the Department of Health and Social Care has confirmed in a letter sent to the Open Rights Group, a privacy campaign organisation. The initiative to trace the contacts of people diagnosed with coronavirus was launched without carrying out an assessment of its impact on people’s privacy. The Open Rights Group says this makes the programme unlawful as it is a requirement under the General Data Protection Regulation for any projects that process people’s personal data to carry out such an assessment. The group’s director Jim Killock told the BBC that this lack of “basic privacy safeguards” undermines public trust in the government, which is a “crucial element in the fight against the pandemic.”

Seven US states and Puerto Rico reported record high numbers of daily coronavirus-related hospitalisations on Monday. 59,966 new cases of covid-19 were reported in the US as a whole, continuing a downward trend since daily new confirmed cases peaked at 75,643 on 16 July. US president Trump tweeted a photo of himself wearing a face mask yesterday, referring to the act as “patriotic.” The president has previously resisted wearing a face mask.

Coronavirus deaths

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Matthew Rowett

The worldwide death toll has passed 611,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 14.7 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Essential information about coronavirus

What is covid-19?

What are the worst symptoms and how deadly is covid-19?

You could be spreading the coronavirus without realising you’ve got it

How can countries know when it’s safe to ease coronavirus lockdowns?

What does the latest research suggest about the coronavirus in pregnancy?

What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus

The New York Times is assessing the progress of different vaccine candidates and potential drug treatments for covid-19, and ranking them for effectiveness and safety.

Humans of COVID-19 is a project highlighting the experiences of key workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, through social media.

Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the on-going coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.

New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.

The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.

Contagion: The BBC Four Pandemic is a sober documentary about the progression of a hypothetical pandemic which the BBC simulated in 2017. Fronted by science journalist and TV presenter Hannah Fry, and made with the support of some of the country’s best epidemiologists and mathematical modelers, it’s very relevant to today’s covid-19 pandemic.

Previous updates

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A scientist working at Oxford Vaccine Group’s laboratory facility at Churchill Hospital in Oxford.


20 July

Oxford’s coronavirus vaccine candidate appears safe and induces immune response

A coronavirus vaccine candidate being developed by the University of Oxford in partnership with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca is safe and activates an immune response in people, according to preliminary results from trials involving 1077 volunteers. People injected with the vaccine, called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, made antibodies and immune cells against the coronavirus. The trial results were published today in The Lancet. No serious side effects were found, although 70 per cent of people developed a fever or headache which could be managed with painkillers. It is not yet clear whether this vaccine candidate offers protection against infection with the coronavirus, and we won’t know whether it can stop people from becoming ill with covid-19 until we see the results of larger trials. Those trials will involve 10,000 people in the UK, 30,000 people in the US, 2,000 in South Africa and 5,000 in Brazil. 

The UK government has secured access to 100 million doses of the vaccine candidate, in addition to 90 million doses of other coronavirus vaccine candidates from US and European companies. Globally, more than 140 coronavirus vaccines are currently in development, with 23 candidates being tested in people.

Other coronavirus news

A new nebuliser treatment for covid-19 reduced the risk of severe cases requiring a ventilator by 79 per cent in a preliminary trial of 101 patients in the UK. The treatment involves inhaling a protein called interferon beta, which is naturally produced in the body as part of the immune response to a viral infection. In the double-blind trial, half of the participants were given the protein and half were given a placebo. Those who received the drug were two to three times more likely to recover sufficiently to resume their everyday activities, according to Synairgen, the company behind the treatment. The coronavirus blocks the natural production of interferon beta in lung cells, according to Tom Wilkinson, professor of respiratory medicine at University Hospital Southampton, who led the trial. Delivering interferon directly to lungs is crucial because it is not possible to inject a high enough dose without serious side effects, he said. Although promising, the results must be treated with caution as the study size is small and the findings have yet to be peer-reviewed. “We accept this is not the largest study. It was an exploratory study,” Wilkinson said.

The seven-day average for daily new coronavirus cases in the US has risen for the 41st consecutive day, mostly due to ongoing spikes in the number of cases in Florida, Texas and California. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti said the county is “on the brink” of shutting down again due to the recent rise in cases.

France has made face coverings mandatory in all enclosed public spaces, with those who fail to adhere to the rules facing fines of €135 (£123). Coronavirus cases are on the rise in the north-west and eastern parts of the country, with health minister Olivier Véran warning that France has between 400 and 500 active coronavirus clusters.

Anti-mask activists gathered in London’s Hyde Park on Sunday to protest the introduction of new legislation on face coverings. It will be mandatory to wear them in shops and supermarkets in England from 24 July. A survey by the Office for National Statistics conducted between 8 and 12 July found that 61 per cent of people said they used face coverings outside their homes in the previous week. 

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide death toll has passed 606,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 14.5 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Eliminating covid-19: Australia was tantalisingly close to eliminating the coronavirus, but is now seeing a surge in new cases. What went wrong and can it regain control?

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a digital press conference in 10 Downing Street today

Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing St

17 July

New plans announced for further easing of restrictions in England

UK prime minister Boris Johnson today announced plans for further easing of restrictions in England between now and the end of the year. People in England can now use public transport for any journey, and from 25 July indoor gyms, pools and other sports facilities will be allowed to reopen across the nation. On 1 August the government will update its advice about people going to work, with employers expected to be given more responsibility to determine how and where their staff can work safely. But on Thursday, the government’s chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance told MPs there was “absolutely no reason” to change current guidance on working from home. “Working from home for many companies remains a perfectly good option because it’s easy to do,” he said. Further changes to current restrictions are also planned for 1 August, including the reopening of beauticians, bowling alleys, skating rinks and casinos. Wedding receptions with up to 30 guests will also be allowed from this date. 

“It is my strong and sincere hope that we will be able to review the outstanding restrictions and allow a more significant return to normality from November at the earliest possibly in time for Christmas,” Johnson said during a press conference at Downing Street today. But researchers have expressed concerns about the potential of a deadly second wave of coronavirus infections hitting the UK in winter. Johnson pledged an extra £3 billion of funding for the NHS in England to prepare for a possible second wave of coronavirus and to help ease winter pressures on the health service.

Other coronavirus news

The US recorded more than 70,000 new coronavirus cases on Thursday – a record-high number of daily new cases for the US and the world, surpassing the country’s previous record from one week ago. 14 states reported more than 1000 daily new cases, with more than 13,000 new cases confirmed in Florida alone. In the US as a whole, there have been more than 3.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 138,000 deaths from covid-19 since the pandemic began.

The UK’s health minister Matt Hancock today ordered a review into how the daily coronavirus death figures are calculated, after a preliminary analysis revealed that the current method includes people who recovered from covid-19 and then died of another cause. As a result, Public Health England’s covid-19 death tally may be an overestimate. “Anyone who has tested covid positive but subsequently died at a later date of any cause will be included on the PHE covid death figures,” Carl Heneghan at the University of Oxford, one of the researchers behind the analysis, told Sky News.

Use of face coverings is on the rise in the UK, according to a recent survey by the Office for National Statistics. 61 per cent of people surveyed between 8 and 12 July said they wore a face covering outside their home, up from 52 per cent the previous week. Starting on 24 July, face coverings will be mandatory in shops and supermarkets in England, in line with advice from many scientific organisations, including the Royal Society and Independent SAGE.

Coronavirus deaths

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The worldwide death toll has passed 591,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 13.8 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Space Telescope launch delayed: The launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has been delayed once again. Its planned launch date has slipped from March 2021 to 31 October 2021, partially due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine trials are being conducted, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

16 July

Scientists suggest young, healthy people could test coronavirus vaccine candidates

Read More:  Coronavirus: One in 10 positive lateral flow tests in England turn out wrong when people retest

A group of scientists are calling for young, healthy people to help accelerate vaccine research by volunteering to be exposed to the coronavirus in so-called “challenge trials.” The process might make it easier to see how effective different vaccine candidates are at providing protection against covid-19. Challenge trials have been used in the past to test vaccines, but they raise ethical questions about exposing healthy people to a disease for which we have no treatment to guarantee their safety. “If challenge trials can safely and effectively speed the vaccine development process, then there is a formidable presumption in favour of their use, which would require a very compelling ethical justification to overcome,” said an open letter signed by more than 100 prominent figures, including 15 Nobel laureates, which was sent to the US National Institutes of Health, a medical research organisation.

Other coronavirus news

The UK government is still falling short of its target of returning all covid-19 tests in England within 24 hours, according to data published today. UK prime minister Boris Johnson set the target in parliament on 3 June, saying that all covid-19 tests would be returned within 24 hours by the end of the month. But more than two weeks after the end of June, the latest figures from the Department of Health and Social Care show that only 50.6 per cent of people who were tested for covid-19 in the week ending 8 July received their test results within 24 hours, down from 55.3 per cent the the previous week. The figures include home tests, in addition to those performed at regional testing sites, mobile testing units and satellite testing centres across England. They also reveal that NHS Test and Trace didn’t manage to trace the contacts of 21 per cent of people who tested positive for coronavirus during the same time period. 

UK security officials said information about coronavirus vaccines being developed in UK, US and Canadian organisations were targeted by Russian state-sponsored hackers. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre said a group called APT29, which it said was “almost certainly” part of Russia’s intelligence services, were targeting research groups and drug companies. 

Phase III clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by Chinese state-owned company Sinopharm have begun in the United Arab Emirates. The government of the UAE says  15,000 volunteers will be recruited in the country over three to six months. There are currently 23 coronavirus vaccine candidates in human trials, with three of them in or close to entering phase III, the final stage of testing. 

Coronavirus deaths

New Scientist Default Image

Matthew Rowett

The worldwide death toll has passed 584,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 13.5 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

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Scientist Xinhua Yan works in the lab at Moderna in Cambridge, MA.

David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

15 July

Moderna coronavirus vaccine candidate deemed safe in first human trial

A coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by US company Moderna and the US National Institutes of Health, a medical research organisation, is expected to become the first in the US to enter the final stage of clinical testing. Preliminary results suggested it is safe and able to induce an immune response against the virus. Moderna plans to enter phase III clinical trials on 27 July, and hopes to test the vaccine on 30,000 people, including those whose circumstances put them at high-risk of getting infected with the coronavirus. All 45 volunteers who received the experimental vaccine as part of the phase I trial for safety were found to have developed antibodies against the coronavirus in their blood, and none had serious side effects. These volunteers were younger adults, and preliminary tests on older adults are currently under review. “No matter how you slice this, this is good news,” US government health advisor Anthony Fauci told the Associated Press. There are currently 23 coronavirus vaccine candidates in clinical trials around the world. 

Other coronavirus news

Face coverings will not be mandatory in offices in England, the UK’s health minister Matt Hancock told MPs on Tuesday. This followed the government’s earlier announcement that people in England will be required to wear face coverings in shops and supermarkets starting on 24 July. “The reason is that in offices you tend to spend a lot of time with the same people, and so the way to stop the spread of the virus in offices is to have social distancing, either two metres or one metre plus mitigations in place,” Hancock said on BBC Radio 4 today. Epidemiologist Rowland Kao at the University of Edinburgh says contact tracing is also more straightforward in offices. “Contact tracing is going to be vital in preventing a large outbreak,” says Kao, adding that reducing infections due to casual contact will play a big role in allowing contact tracing to work well.

London mayor Sadiq Khan said the government was risking the public’s health “to cover the back of a cabinet minister” after minister Michael Gove was pictured entering a Pret food shop in London without a face covering yesterday. The prime minister’s spokesperson said that masks will not be required when buying takeaway food.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson today said there will be an independent inquiry into government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, although it isn’t yet clear who will be leading the inquiry and when it will start. “Certainly we will have an independent inquiry into what happened,” he told parliament today, adding that now isn’t the right time for it because the UK is still in the middle of the pandemic.

New Zealand must be prepared for new coronavirus outbreaks, the country’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern told journalists today. She said New Zealand would use local lockdowns to contain any new outbreaks, with nationwide lockdowns imposed if necessary. New Zealand’s strategy is aimed at completely eliminating the virus from the country.

Coronavirus deaths

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Matthew Rowett

The worldwide death toll has passed 580,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 13.3 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

New rules on face coverings: Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, face coverings and masks have become ubiquitous in some Asian countries, but the UK public has generally been more reluctant to adopt them. Now the law is about to change. What are the new rules on face coverings in England and why did the policy change?

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Hong Kong Disneyland has closed less than a month after it reopened.

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14 July

Restrictions reimposed around the world as global cases pass 13 million

Read More:  Crowded parties and coronavirus concerns keep high schoolers from returning to the classroom

Tighter lockdown restrictions and social distancing measures in the US, Hong Kong, the Philippines and other countries are being reimposed as states and cities attempt to control new waves of coronavirus cases. The governor of California yesterday closed all bars in the state and ordered restaurants, cinemas and museums to halt indoor operations, reversing the reopening of these venues in mid-June. Today authorities in Hong Kong imposed new social distancing measures including making masks mandatory on public transport, limiting the size of gatherings to four people and closing Hong Kong Disneyland less than a month after it reopened. In Manila, in the Philippines, a quarter of a million people are expected to be put back under lockdown later this week to try to slow down the spread of infections. In the UK, tighter restrictions could be imposed on people in Blackburn after a spike in coronavirus cases. 

Other coronavirus news

Face coverings will become compulsory in shops and supermarkets in England from 24 July and the police can issue £100 fines for those who don’t comply, the government announced today. Children under 11 and people with certain disabilities will be exempt. The government has been under growing pressure from scientific organisations, including the Royal Society and the recently formed Independent SAGE, to introduce legislation making face coverings mandatory in indoor spaces. World Health Organization guidelines also support the use of face coverings in confined or crowded places where physical distancing isn’t possible. 

More than 5 million workers in the US are estimated to have lost their health insurance this year due to the economic impact of the pandemic, according to a report by Families USA, an advocacy group for healthcare consumers. This is the highest increase since the 2008 financial crisis when 3.9 million adults became uninsured, according to the report. 

The coronavirus may be able to spread from a pregnant person to their fetus, suggests a case study published in Nature Communications. Tests of placental samples from this case study are consistent with transmission in the womb, physician and study author Daniele DeLuca at the Antoine Béclère hospital in Paris told the Guardian. DeLuca said he suspects this isn’t the first such case, but this is the first time it has been confirmed that coronavirus was transmitted in the womb. The baby who tested positive for covid-19 developed brain inflammation a few days after birth, but he and his mother have both since recovered. The study builds on earlier, more preliminary evidence that the coronavirus can be spread via the placenta

Coronavirus deaths

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Matthew Rowett

The worldwide death toll has passed 574,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 13.1 million, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist

Second wave in winter: A bad winter could bring a second wave of coronavirus infections that leads to around 120,000 deaths in UK hospitals, twice as many as the first wave, according to an estimate of a reasonable worst-case scenario.

How drug cartels get around lockdowns: Like most other industries, the illegal drug trade has been affected by the covid-19 pandemic, but it hasn’t stopped cartels from finding ways around national shutdowns and anti-narcotics police operations. 

The pandemic’s impact on other diseases: The effect of the coronavirus pandemic on healthcare for tuberculosis, malaria and HIV could lead to deaths on a scale similar to those from covid-19 in some parts of the world, a new analysis finds.

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UK prime minister Boris Johnson walking with a paramedic during a visit to London Ambulance Service in London.

Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street

13 July

People may soon have to wear face coverings in shops in England, says Boris Johnson

People should wear face coverings in shops and the government is looking at making it mandatory to do so in England, UK prime minister Boris Johnson said today. Describing face coverings as “extra insurance” to stop the spread of coronavirus, he said that the government was looking at how a change in policy might be enforced.  Face coverings are already compulsory on public transport in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland and the government recommends that people wear them in other enclosed public spaces where social distancing isn’t possible, although this isn’t mandatory. This comes as a growing number of scientists are calling for the UK government to increase legislation on face coverings. Independent SAGE, a group of scientists offering alternative advice to the UK government, has said that face coverings should be made mandatory in indoor spaces wherever possible, including in shops and in entertainment venues, as well as on public transport. Earlier this month, the president of the Royal Society, Venki Ramakrishnan said that not wearing a face covering should be regarded as anti-social.

Other coronavirus news

Antibodies against the coronavirus in a person’s blood may peak about three weeks after symptoms first appear, then decline rapidly, according to a preliminary study that hasn’t been peer-reviewed. The study, led by researchers at King’s College London, monitored antibody levels in the blood of 65 covid-19 patients and 31 healthcare workers who’d had a positive coronavirus antibody test, between March and June. Three months after antibody levels peaked, only 17 per cent of people tested still had an antibody response with the same level of potency against the virus, the study found. In some people, antibody levels fell 23-fold over the same time period. One concern is that a short-lived antibody response might limit the ability of a coronavirus vaccine to induce immunity. But alongside antibodies, there’s evidence that other parts of the body’s immune system – such as immune cells called T-cells – may also contribute to immunity against the coronavirus and could be harnessed by a future vaccine.

Scotland reported no deaths from covid-19 today for the fifth consecutive day, the nation’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced during a press briefing. But there are concerns that people travelling across the border from England may make it difficult for Scotland to achieve full elimination of the virus. 

Mexico saw record daily numbers of new coronavirus cases last week and now has the fourth-highest number of recorded deaths from covid-19, after the US, Brazil and the UK. There have been more than 299,000 coronavirus cases and more than 35,000 deaths from covid-19 in Mexico since the pandemic began. Officials in Mexico say these numbers are probably a significant underestimate, because of a limited testing capacity.

Coronavirus deaths

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Matthew Rowett

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