Inside Covid-19: Vaccine race; SA’s PANDA goes global; pandemic damages, scars minds

In this episode of Inside Covid-19, we look at whether pharmaceutical companies can make enough Covid vaccines. We also pick up with actuary Nick Hudson, who shares how SA-grown PANDA has transformed into a global organisation, with the experts behind the Great Barrington Declaration on their advisory board. PANDA is fiercely opposed to strict lockdowns, but is its number-crunching correct? BizNews visitors grill Hudson, at a webinar. Also signalling the alarm about lockdowns is US psychology professor Leonard Jason, who has co-authored a paper on long Covid – and shares how depression is a significant feature of a pandemic, for those living through it as well as people who contract the disease. Plus, the latest Covid-19 developments making world headlines. – Jackie Cameron & Jarryd Neves

Inside Covid-19 headlines

  • More than 56.5m people have tested positive for Covid-19 around the world, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre. The US has the highest number, with more than 11.5m, and a quarter of a million deaths. South Africa is number 16 on the list of countries with the highest number of cases, with the govt reporting just under 760,000 positive tests and about 20,600 deaths.
  • We’re throwing open Monday’s subscriber-only Rational Radio webinar to the whole community to celebrate the launch of our first “Great Debate’. We’ll be looking at both sides of the Covid-19 story with PANDA’s Nick Hudson taking on SA/UK academic Prof Alan Whiteside. BizNews founder Alec Hogg will be moderating. You can find the link to register at BizNews.com
  • The US death toll from the pandemic has crossed the quarter-million mark Public-health officials are begging Americans to stay home for Thanksgiving, with around 50 million expected to travel next week.’We’re alarmed,’ said Dr. Henry Walke, Covid-19 incident manager at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, citing an exponential increase in Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. ‘What we’re concerned about is not only the actual mode of travel — whether it’s an airplane or bus or car, but also the transportation hubs we’re concerned about, as well.’ – The New York Times
  • After shutting their borders and introducing strict lockdowns during the first wave of coronavirus, many European countries are doing it all over again as a second wave of infections sweeps across the continent, says The Week. But while the UK has gone head first into a second nationwide lockdown, some other governments are trying more targeted measures as case rates creep back up.
  • The number of daily infections in Austria, a country of 8.8 million people, has risen from around 1,000 in early October to a record high of 9,586 on Friday, according to figures. While Austria was ‘held up as a model to follow during the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic’, the return to lockdown has “sparked a backlash against the government”, France 24 reports. Health Minister Rudolf Anschober has insisted that the measure is needed as an “emergency brake” to prevent intensive care services from being overloaded, reports The Week.
  • Confirmed Covid cases in France passed the two million mark this week, despite a second national lockdown that began at the end of October and is expected to last until at least the beginning of next month. People are only allowed to leave home for essential work or medical reasons. Restaurants and bars, have closed, but schools and factories remain open, says The Week. Although France has seen a “steep decline” in the number of reported coronavirus cases in recent days, Health Minister Olivier Veran this week confirmed that “he wouldn’t be able to provide a date for the end of the draconian national restrictions”, the Daily Mail reports.
  • Germany reported a new record of 23,542 daily infections on Friday, “dampening hopes that a national partial lockdown might be lifted soon”, the BBC says.  The country entered what national newspaper Bild termed a “lockdown lite” on 2 November. This, says The Week, entails contact reduced to a maximum of two households and no more than ten people, and restaurants and bars are closed apart from for takeaways. Public transport and schools remain open, however. Despite the continuing rise in cases, Angela Merkel has said that she does not have the backing of German state leaders for new restrictions to give the ‘soft’ lockdown a ‘harder bite’, The Guardian reports. The chancellor has postponed any decision until after a scheduled meeting with 16 state premiers next week.
  • Italy’s death toll reached the highest since 3 April, says The Week. It reported 731 Covid 19-related deaths – the highest daily toll since 3 April. The British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported last week that the region of Lombardy alone was registering close to 7,600 new Covid-19 infections every day, breaking records set during the peak of the first wave.
  • Spain recorded 435 new Covid deaths on Tuesday, the country’s highest daily toll yet in the second wave of the coronavirus. The total number of cases now stands at just over 1.5 million, says The Week. During the first wave of the pandemic, the Spanish government introduced one of the world’s strictest lockdowns. “But, Madrid has ruled out a lockdown, ‘arguing that the measures allowed under the current state of alarm, such as the curfew and restrictions on movement, are enough to lower contagions’, says Spanish newspaper El Pais.”
  • More than a third of hospitality firms say they have little or no confidence of surviving the next three months, according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data. The BBC says the sector, which includes hotels, bars and restaurants, is the most downbeat about its prospects, according to a survey. “The lockdowns and restrictions caused by Covid-19 have hit the industry hard. Earlier this week, trade body UK Hospitality said the sector had lost 660,000 jobs so far this year. Across the economy as a whole, the ONS found 14% of businesses felt they had ‘low or no confidence’ of survival.”
  • Stephane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna Inc., whose vaccine was found to be 94.5% effective in a preliminary analysis of a large late-stage clinical trial, said more investment in early testing is needed. That’s according to Bloomberg, which quotes him saying that, if early testing was a focus, vaccines could be created even faster.
  • Bill Gates, co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, highlighted progress being made on coronavirus vaccines but was critical of other aspects of the US Covid-19 response, reports Bloomberg. Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, speaking ahead of a virtual meeting of the Group of 20 this weekend, said she would urge the world’s richest nations to continue their support for economies racked by the pandemic, despite the promising vaccine news in recent weeks. “A second wave of infections is slowing down the recovery; it is losing momentum,” Georgieva said. “It is so important that we don’t pull back until we see the health crisis in the rear-view mirror.”
  • The NHS is bringing together an army of retired doctors, health visitors and physiotherapists to embark on the country’s biggest ever mass vaccination programme, the Guardian reports. “The extraordinary effort in England will also include district nurses and high street chemists alongside GPs in the drive to immunise 22 million vulnerable adults, followed by the rest of the population. NHS documents seen by the Guardian show the rollout will rely in part on “inexperienced staff” who will have undergone two hours of online training before starting work.”
  • The Guardian’s sources show that the NHS has codenames for two of the most promising vaccines in development: the Pfizer/BioNTech version is called “Courageous” and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine – under trial in South Africa – is known as “Talent”.
  • Estimates about the percentage of Covid-19 patients who experience long-haul symptoms range widely, says The Wall Street Journal. A recent survey of more than 4,000 Covid-19 patients found that about 10% of those age 18 to 49 still struggled with symptoms four weeks after becoming sick, that 4.5% of all ages had symptoms for more than eight weeks, and 2.3% had them for more than 12 weeks. The study, which hasn’t yet been peer reviewed, was performed using an app created by the health-science company Zoe in cooperation with King’s College London and Massachusetts General Hospital. Another preliminary study looking mostly at nonhospitalized Covid patients found that about 25% still had at least one symptom after 90 days. A European study found about one-third of 1,837 nonhospitalized patients reported being dependent on a caregiver about three months after symptoms started. With more than 46 million cases world-wide, even the lower estimates would translate into millions living with long-term, sometimes disabling conditions, increasing the urgency to study this patient population, researchers said. What they find could have implications for how clinicians define recovery and what therapies they prescribe, doctors said.
  • Other viral outbreaks, including the original SARS, MERS, Ebola, H1N1 and the Spanish flu, have been associated with long-term symptoms, reports The Wall Street Journal. Scientists reported that some patients experienced fatigue, sleep problems and joint and muscle pain long after their bodies cleared a virus, according to a recent review chronicling the long-term effects of viral infections. Coming up in this programme, an interview with one of the paper’s authors, Professor Leonard Jason. the paper on long Covid was published in the journal ‘Fatigue: Biomedicine, Health & Behavior’. It looks at ‘Post-viral fatigue and COVID-19: lessons from past epidemics.’

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