Weekly Briefings

8.30 ~ 9.6

In 2017, experts at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security published a hypothetical scenario called “The SPARS Pandemic.” Its events and virus are all fictional, but the report has recently gained public interest for its striking parallels to the current coronavirus pandemic. For instance, the virus in the scenario emerged in Southeast Asia and was a novel coronavirus. 
 

Studies from the International Commission on Microbiological Specifications for Foods (ICMSF), as well as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), have demonstrated that it is highly unlikely that the coronavirus can be transmitted through food. Experts point out that it is important, however, to deliver and exchange foods in a safe way by avoiding physical contact with others, wearing masks, etc.

In March, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were postponed until 2021. Now, the International Olympic Committee has said that the events will occur in 2021 “with or without Covid.” Japan’s Olympic minister Seiko Hashimoto also added, "We have to hold the Games at any cost. I want to concentrate all our efforts on measures against the coronavirus."

8.23 ~ 8.30

On a visit to Norway, China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, stated that while China was the first country to report a coronavirus case, “it does not mean that the virus originated in China.” He added, "We have seen reports … showing that the virus emerged in different parts of the world, and may have emerged earlier than in China.”
 

Protests against wearing masks and other coronavirus restrictions have taken place around the globe. This Saturday, in Berlin, Germany, police arrested 300 protesters after they failed to wear masks and comply with physical distancing guidelines.

As colleges have opened across the US, many have had coronavirus outbreaks on their campuses. Baylor University in Texas, for instance, has now counted 689 cases. 

8.16 ~ 8.23

Australia announced a partnership with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca that will allow the country to provide a potential coronavirus vaccine to its citizens. AstraZeneca has partnered with Oxford University, and advanced drug trials are already underway. If the vaccine passes all clinical trials and tests, Australia promises to offer free doses to all citizens.
 

The coronavirus ravages through India, which saw the world’s highest infection rate for the last 18 days. While India has the third-highest number of infections after the US and Brazil, experts fear that the nation may surpass those countries.

Russia is ramping up production of its new coronavirus vaccine despite concerns from public health officials across the globe. By the end of the year, Russia hopes to produce 1.5 to 2 million doses per month. 

8.9 ~ 8.16

On August 11, President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia had become the first nation to approve a coronavirus vaccine. He stated that the vaccine “works effectively enough” and is a “very important step for our country [Russia], and generally for the whole world.” Public health officials have expressed concerns, however, since the vaccine has yet to pass critical late-stage clinical trials. 
 

“Hope Wanted: New York City Under Quarantine” is a new outdoor museum exhibit in New York City highlighting the experiences of New Yorkers during the pandemic. The exhibit is an example of how people are moving on and remembering the last unprecedented, and even traumatic, months. 
 

While many companies have suffered immense losses during the Covid-19 pandemic, Amazon plans to hire even more employees. The company announced that it would hire 3500 additional workers, demonstrating the boom in delivery services during the pandemic.

8.2 ~ 8.9

Across the world, children are returning to schools amid the ongoing pandemic. In Germany, students attended classes in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. While the nation’s Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek urged mask requirements inside school buildings, the local government in the state has not yet implemented such a rule. 
 

Recent studies have begun to uncover how the coronavirus can cause severe disease in certain patients. Immunologists have demonstrated that the virus triggers an immense immune response that often ineffectively attacks the virus itself but damages healthy tissues in the process. Scientists have tried blocking certain cytokines — chemical signals that trigger the immune response — with little success. Cornell University immunologist Donna Farber says that researchers have yet to find the right combinations of these chemical signals to target.
 

As Covid patients recover, new studies demonstrate the possible long-lasting implications of the infection. Researchers in Italy found that over 50% of those admitted to hospitals due to Covid had a psychiatric disorder a month later; some of the most common were post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety. Similarly, scientists at University College London (UCL) recorded multiple instances of neurological problems after Covid infection.

7.26 ~ 8.2

In the U.S., teachers’ unions are protesting for shorter working hours during distance learning and delays to in-person teaching. For instance, the second-largest teachers’ union in the nation has allowed its members to strike if safety precautions, including masks and new ventilation systems, are not implemented in schools.

Thousands of Germans gathered in Berlin to protest coronavirus restrictions and pandemic measures. They carried signs that read, “Corona, false alarm” and “We are being forced to wear a muzzle.” Police estimated that around 17,000 protestors were present, demonstrating the apparent frustration of individuals in the nation.
 

In Indonesia, the country’s agriculture minister stated that wearing a eucalyptus potion necklace would cure corona. Likewise, the governor of Bali promoted inhaling the steam of a traditional alcohol. These instances reflect a much broader trend across the world of misinformation about the pandemic. The World Health Organization has characterized this spread of false, and often hazardous, information as an “infodemic.”

7.19 ~ 7.26

Nations around the world are investing in potential coronavirus vaccines. The U.S. government made one of the largest investments yet, announcing a $2 billion contract between pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech. The money will pay for 100 million doses of the potential vaccine, which will be developed by the end of this year. 

On July 26, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered an address to the Indian population, urging them to be “extra vigilant” about the ongoing pandemic. While India has recorded around 1.4 million cases and more than 30,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus, the country is reaching record-high recovery rates as well. Still, Modi warned, “The danger of corona is far from being over. At many places, it is spreading fast."


Governments have expressed concerns after suspicions that software developed by Google and Apple, used to alert people about their coronavirus exposure, may be tracking users’ locations. In April, Google and Apple announced plans for free software to help alert people about their coronavirus exposure. They declared that the software was “privacy preserving,” and countries like Germany and Switzerland used it to develop national virus alert apps. These apps have been downloaded over 20 million times.

7.12 ~ 7.19

In the Middle East, no country has been as hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as Iran. On July 18, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani estimated that 25 million Iranians are infected with COVID-19, citing a new Healthy Ministry Report. This report would suggest that nearly one third of the country’s population is infected, far above Iran’s official toll of about 274,000 infected individuals. 

On July 18, the FDA allowed the emergency use of a method of COVID-19 detection known as pooled testing in the U.S. Essentially, three or four people’s samples can be tested together. If the sample is negative, everyone is infection-free. If the sample is positive, each person is then individually tested. Using this method is efficient, limiting the number of supplies and staff needed to test large numbers of people. Pooled testing has already been used in China, Germany, and Thailand, and Israel.


In the UK, a plan is laid out to ease lockdown restrictions. On July 25, indoor gyms, pools, and sports facilities will be allowed to reopen. August 1 will mark the reopening and easing of numerous restrictions: these will include reopening leisure and entertainment facilities like casinos, as well as allowing close contact services like facial treatments to begin. In September, the country plans to reopen all schools and universities, with the exception of some online university lectures. 
 

7.5 ~ 7.12

Clinical trials to develop plasma treatments for COVID-19 are expected to begin this week. Discharged patients must donate large amounts of blood for these clinical trials to be successful. To provide support for the trials, Daegu Shincheonji Church — a religious group that caused the initial spread of COVID-19 in South Korea — has offered to start group blood donations.

Research shows that interferon — a group of signaling proteins made and released by host cells in response to several viruses — may be deadly for COVID-19 patients in critical condition. While interferon is beneficial in the first stages of coronavirus infection, it may trigger an inflammatory response in patients who are in critical condition.

 


 

6.28 ~ 7.5

Coronavirus can float in air droplets. While this knowledge is not a secret, scientists are calling for the WHO and CDC to more directly explain this mode of virus transmission. An open letter from 239 scientists will be published Monday.

On July 3, the U.S. Major League Baseball teams went back to practice. All players and staff were tested first, with 38 individuals testing positive for coronavirus. The situation highlights the uncertainties and risks sports teams face in returning to the field, not just in the US but around the globe. 

 

COVID-19 cases in the Caribbean and Latin America have surpassed 2.7 million. Brazil, Peru, and Chile have the highest number of deaths. 
 

6.21 ~ 6.28

The economy is slowly recovering in the Eurozone, which comprises the 19 E.U. states that use the euro as their national currency. However, European Central Bank policymaker Klaas Knot warned, “Economic activity will only approach the pre-Corona 2019 level by the end of our projection horizon, at the end of 2022.” 

Chain restaurants are finding new and innovative solutions in order to boost business and assure diners’ safety. TGI Friday’s, for instance, has created a detailed handbook titled “Operations Playbook: Welcome Back Into the Game 2020.” Among other things, it states that restaurants must use single-use menus and condiment containers. 

 

The COVID-19 pandemic rages through the U.S., but not all ethnic groups are impacted equally. Recent analyses show that infections among Latinx people in the U.S. have exceeded those of other ethnic groups because Latinx people are more likely to be essential workers than others.
 

6.14 ~ 6.21

European health care workers, lauded for their efforts during this pandemic, have been protesting in France, Italy, and other countries. They are demanding better working conditions and major investments in the healthcare system. In Paris, police fired tear gas at these protesters, some of whom retaliated by setting trash cans on fire and throwing stones at the police. 

Scientists at the University of Oxford found the first drug shown to reduce mortality in COVID-19 patients: a steroid called dexamethasone, which is both inexpensive and ubiquitous. Studies showed that the drug seemed to reduce deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third and deaths of other patients on oxygen by one-fifth. If the drug passes further review, it could become an unexpectedly simple treatment to reduce COVID-19 deaths.

 

COVID-19 deaths have disproportionately affected people with underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and heart diseases. According to a recent study, approximately one in five people worldwide fall into this category of high-risk individuals. Why is this important? Experts think identifying these vulnerable populations can help focus containment efforts and potentially determine who should be vaccinated first.
 

6.7 ~ 6.14

As schools close for summer vacation around the world, plans are being made to address if and how these institutions will open in the fall. The Philippines has already declared that schools will not open in the country until a vaccine is developed. Until then, classes will be held online and possibly broadcasted on TV, according to the nation’s education secretary, Leonor Briones.

Black Lives Matter protests continue around the world, and health officials share their concerns about the demonstrations. For instance, COVID-19 expert at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Trevor Bedford tweeted that each day of protests would yield around 3,000 new infections in the U.S. He also indicated that infections and deaths would disproportionately affect black people. 

 

European nations are slowly easing lockdown restrictions, and people are gravitating towards a new mode of transportation: bicycles. Concerns over physical distancing leave conventional public transport systems unsafe, and cities are unable to take more cars. France, Italy, Britain, and other countries are spending millions of euros investing in new biking infrastructure.
 

6.1 ~ 6.7

Black Lives Matter protests are occurring worldwide, some peaceful, some violent. Some governments, namely in New South Wales and Paris, have banned or restricted protests in fear of new cases. The U.S. is expecting a spike in cases following Memorial Day celebrations and daily protests.

Latin America is becoming the new COVID-19 epicenter, with the biggest rise in cases found in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and Peru. In Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro has flouted COVID-19 guidelines, calling the virus “a little flu.” It is unclear what is happening in Venezuela due to political unrest.

Second waves of COVID-19 have broken out in the countries that were first hit with the virus. In South Korea, cases spiked after social distancing guidelines were disobeyed at nightclubs in the Itaewon district. Although Japan recently lifted its COVID-19-induced state of emergency, cases recently spiked in the professional sports industry.