Covid-19 news: Mask wearing cuts infections by 53 per cent
Latest coronavirus news as of 12pm on 18 November
Review of studies reinforces the effectiveness of face coverings, handwashing and social distancing
Mask wearing is one of the most effective public health measures for preventing covid-19, reducing incidence of the disease by 53 per cent, according to a review of published research.
Stella Talic at Monash University in Australia and her colleagues carried out a meta-analysis using data from 72 studies to assess the effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions – measures that don’t involve drugs – at containing the virus.
Handwashing was also estimated to reduce covid-19 incidence by 53 per cent, but this result was not statistically significant because only a small number of studies on it were included. Physical distancing was found to reduce incidence by 25 per cent.
“It is likely that further control of the covid-19 pandemic depends not only on high vaccination coverage and its effectiveness but also on ongoing adherence to effective and sustainable public health measures,” Talic and her colleagues write in the British Medical Journal.
Other coronavirus news
Children aged 12 to 17 who have had a covid-19 infection should not get a vaccine until 12 weeks later, according to new guidance in the UK. This could help to reduce the “very, very small” risk of heart inflammation after vaccination, experts from the UK Health Security Agency said. The current case rates of myocarditis after vaccination among under-18s are suspected to be around nine per million vaccinations, and cases have been “relatively mild”, officials said. Research suggests that myocarditis is much more likely to occur after a coronavirus infection than after vaccination. For older people and for anyone who is high risk and aged 12 or over, the current advice is that they should wait four weeks between covid infection and having a dose of vaccine.
A fourth wave of the pandemic is hitting Germany “with full force”, chancellor Angela Merkel has said ahead of a crisis meeting with regional leaders. Authorities are considering new measures to replace nationwide rules that expire at the end of the month. Lothar Wieler, the director of the Robert Koch Institute, a German government agency, said the country is heading towards a serious emergency, with hospitals already struggling to find space for patients. “We are going to have a really terrible Christmas if we don’t take countermeasures now.”
AstraZeneca has reported that its preventative antibody drug AZD7442 offered 83 per cent protection against covid-19 over six months in a clinical trial. The injected therapy could provide an alternative option for preventing illness in people who do not mount a good immune response to vaccines.
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Covid-19: The story of a pandemic
What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus
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 Jump is a BBC Radio 4 series exploring how viruses can cross from animals into humans to cause pandemics. The first episode examines the origins of the covid-19 pandemic.
Why Is Covid Killing People of Colour? is a BBC documentary, which investigates what the high covid-19 death rates in ethnic minority patients reveal about health inequality in the UK.
Panorama: The Race for a Vaccine is a BBC documentary about the inside story of the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against covid-19.
Race Against the Virus: Hunt for a Vaccine is a Channel 4 documentary which tells the story of the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of the scientists on the frontline.
The New York Times is assessing the progress in development of 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.
Belly Mujinga: Searching for the Truth is a BBC Panorama investigation of the death of transport worker Belly Mujinga from covid-19, following reports she had been coughed and spat on by a customer at London’s Victoria Station.
Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.
COVID-19: The Pandemic that Never Should Have Happened, and How to Stop the Next One by Debora Mackenzie is about how the pandemic happened and why it will happen again if we don’t do things differently in future.
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.
A fifth of cyberattacks in UK targeted vaccine firms or health organisations
Hackers targeted labs this year that were crucial to the UK’s pandemic response, according to the National Cyber Security Centre.
The watchdog said that it handled a record 777 cyberattack incidents between August 2020 and September 2021. A fifth of these targeted firms were linked to vaccines and the health sector.
It also said that it helped the University of Oxford’s AstraZeneca vaccine researchers protect themselves against an attempted ransomware attack that could have had major ramifications for the UK’s pandemic response.
Other coronavirus news
Pfizer has allowed cheaper versions of its prospective antiviral covid-19 pill to be made in poorer countries – granting access to hundreds of millions of people.
The pharmaceutical giant says it will allow generic copies of Paxlovid to be made in 95 low and middle-income countries, covering 53 per cent of the population.
Ireland’s bars, restaurants and nightclubs will have a midnight curfew from Thursday to curb coronavirus infections. Ireland’s prime minister, Micheal Martin, also said that everyone should work from home unless it is “absolutely necessary” not to.
Strict covid rules came into force in Beijing, China, today as the country gears up for the Winter Olympics next year. Anyone visiting the city must show a negative covid test from the past 48 hours.
995 covid-related deaths were recorded in the week ending 5 November
The week ending 5 November saw the highest number of covid-related deaths in England and Wales since March. The UK Office for National Statistics reported 995 covid-related deaths in that week, representing 8.6 per cent of all deaths. It is the largest figure since the week ending 12 March, and a 16 per cent rise on the number of covid-related deaths from the previous week.
In total, 168,600 death certificates have mentioned covid-19 in the UK since the pandemic began. The highest number on a single day was 1,484 on 19 January 2021.
Other coronavirus news
Antidepressant use is linked to a lower risk of dying from covid-19, according to an analysis of medical records in the US. Researchers in California assessed a database of around 83,500 people diagnosed with covid-19. The 3401 individuals who were taking fluoxetine, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), appeared to be more likely to survive the infection.
“We can’t tell if the drugs are causing these effects, but the statistical analysis is showing significant association,” says Marina Sirota at the University of California, San Francisco.
Travel restrictions in India have been removed for fully vaccinated tourists for the first time since the pandemic began. Many travellers must also test negative for the virus within 72 hours of their flight, although this won’t apply to those visiting from countries that have an agreement with India in place, such as those from the US, UK and some other European countries.
Amazon has been fined $500,000 by California officials for failing to “adequately notify” workers about new covid-19 cases in the workplace.
Amazon employs around 150,000 people in California, most of whom work in the company’s mammoth warehouses. California state requires companies to notify workers about new coronavirus cases among employees.
16 and 17-year-olds set to be offered second doses of covid-19 vaccines
The UK’s covid-19 vaccine booster programme will be extended to include all 40 to 49-year-olds, following a recommendation from the government’s vaccination advisers. The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that all adults over the age of 40 should be offered a booster, six months after their second dose.
It has also advised 16 and 17-year-olds to come forward for a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, which should be given at least 12 weeks after the first.
Until now, boosters have been offered to people over 50 and younger people who are clinically vulnerable, and 12.6 million people have had a third covid-19 jab so far. The JCVI said people should be offered the Pfizer or Moderna jab as a booster, irrespective of which vaccine they had initially.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, said the advice has been accepted in England and NHS England has been instructed to implement it as soon as possible. The Scottish government also said it would extend the booster programme.
The announcement comes as a new study from the UK Health Security Agency finds that booster vaccines reduce the risk of symptomatic covid-19 by at least 93 per cent in adults over 50. Protection against more severe disease and death is expected to be even higher.
“Booster vaccine doses in more vulnerable adults, and second vaccine doses in 16 to 17-year-olds are important ways to increase our protection against covid-19 infection and severe disease,” Wei Shen Lim, chair of covid-19 immunisation for the JCVI, said in a statement. “These vaccinations will also help extend our protection into 2022.”
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Austria has ordered a nationwide lockdown for anyone over 12 who is not fully vaccinated against covid-19. This group – around 2 million people – will only be allowed to leave home for limited reasons, including going to work or shopping for essentials. Around 65 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates in Europe.
A new covid-19 vaccine that works via T-cells rather than antibodies is about to enter human trials. Existing covid-19 vaccines primarily aim to generate immunity based on antibodies, proteins that stick to the virus and stop it from infecting cells. T-cells are another part of the immune system that find and destroy infected cells, and they are thought to offer longer-lasting immunity. The experimental vaccine is administered via a skin patch. Emergex, the company that developed it, has been given a green light to carry out an initial trial involving 26 people in Lausanne, Switzerland, The Guardian reports.
Latest on coronavirus from New Scientist
Covid-19 in wild animals: Recent studies suggest that SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes covid-19, is rife among white-tailed deer in North America. Animal reservoirs of the virus increase the chances of potentially dangerous new variants emerging and crossing back into humans.
Covid-19 cases rising in Europe but stable or falling in rest of the world
Coronavirus deaths in Europe jumped by 10 per cent in the week to 7 November, according to the latest epidemiological update from the World Health Organization (WHO). New cases of covid-19 increased by 7 per cent in Europe, while other regions saw case numbers remain stable or decline. The global number of recorded covid-19 deaths in the week was 48,000, a 4 per cent decrease from the previous week.
Europe had the highest incidence of confirmed cases, with 208.9 cases per 100,000 population, ahead of the Americas which had 68.8 new cases per 100,000.
Hans Kluge, the WHO director for Europe, said the region was “back at the epicentre of the pandemic” and could see another 500,000 deaths by February if more actions aren’t taken to limit the spread of the virus, Euronews reports.
The countries with the highest numbers of new cases are the US, Russia, UK, Turkey and Germany. In Russia, over 1000 deaths have been reported every day since late October. Some hospitals in Germany are reportedly unable to admit new patients because of the high numbers of people needing treatment for covid-19.
Other coronavirus news
Tens of thousands of care home staff in England who have not had two coronavirus vaccine doses will be unable to legally work in care homes from today as a mandatory jab policy comes into effect. Staff working in registered care homes in England must have had both jabs to continue in their role unless they are medically exempt. Official figures due later today are expected to show that more than 50,000 current staff in care homes have not been recorded as having had both doses as of 7 November, four days before the deadline. Several thousand of these are understood to have self-certified as medically exempt or to have applied for formal proof.
A study showing that some people may have had pre-existing immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus during the first wave of the pandemic has raised hopes that a universal coronavirus vaccine could be developed. The research found that some healthcare workers in the UK who were regularly tested encountered the covid-19 virus but never became fully infected with it or developed covid-19 antibodies. These people are thought to have had an immune memory in their T cells because of exposure to other coronaviruses that cause seasonal colds. Read New Scientist’s story to find out more.
The number of antibiotic prescriptions in England during the first year of the covid-19 pandemic dropped by 17 per cent compared with the previous year, according to analysis by the charity Antibiotic Research UK. Prescriptions in the winter were only 4 per cent higher than in the summer, compared with a 21 per cent seasonal difference before the pandemic. The trend may be due in part to less infection transmission during lockdowns.
France follows Israel in starting to make booster shots a requirement for vaccine passes for the over-65s
French people aged over 65 will have to have a third dose of the coronavirus vaccine to prove they have been fully vaccinated on their health passes from mid-December. The passes show if a person has been immunised, has recently recovered from infection or has recently had a negative test. In France they are needed for many common activities including going to restaurants and bars, libraries, the gym and for long-distance train and plane journeys.
President Emmanuel Macron also said yesterday that boosters would be available for people between the ages of 50 and 65 from next month, and that use of health passes would increase. Although infection rates in France are lower than in some other European countries such as Germany, they are rising. Macron said a “fifth wave” of covid-19 had arrived in Europe. “We are not yet finished with the pandemic.”
Israel has also made boosters six months after a second dose a condition for its digital vaccine certificates. Meanwhile in Wales, a requirement for covid passes showing double vaccination or a recent negative covid-19 test will be extended to theatres, concerts and museums from Monday.
Other coronavirus news
An antiviral medicine that can be taken at home and cuts hospitalisations and deaths from covid-19 by nearly 90 per cent could be available by very early next year, the head of Pfizer UK has said. The pills, called Paxlovid, are taken twice daily for five days, by people who are at risk of developing severe disease.
Unvaccinated people in Singapore could face a hefty hospital bill if they need treatment for covid-19 from next year. The government has said it will no longer pay medical bills for people with covid-19 who are “unvaccinated by choice”.
Frontline NHS staff will have to have both doses of vaccine by spring
The UK government is expected to announce mandatory covid-19 vaccinations for frontline National Health Service (NHS) staff in England, with a deadline of next spring for both doses. The Department of Health said it was not commenting on speculation around the timing of the announcement, which the BBC said would be later on Tuesday. However, NHS officials said they expect the move to happen. The measure is expected to affect thousands of unvaccinated staff working in the health service.
Care home workers in England have already been told they must be fully vaccinated by this Thursday. According to NHS figures, tens of thousands of care home staff were not recorded as having been double jabbed yet as of 31 October.
NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson said there are between 80,000 and 100,000 NHS workers in England who are unvaccinated. “If we get it right, actually, it could be quite a useful spur in some senses to drive the take-up up, but the bit that we just need to be careful of is avoiding scapegoating people,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
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More than 11,000 people who died of covid-19 in England are thought to have caught the virus in a National Health Service hospital, The Telegraph has reported. The figure was compiled from data collected by NHS trusts using Freedom of Information laws. The trusts also reported over 40,000 probable or definite hospital-acquired covid-19 infections. Some trusts refused to disclose their data, suggesting the true numbers are even higher.
France’s public health authority has recommended that people under 30 should be given the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine in preference to the Moderna vaccine, because of a rare side effect. The risk of myocarditis, a heart condition, in this age group is around five times less in people who receive the Pfizer jab than Moderna, the Haute Autorité de Santé said.
Eligible people who do not take up boosters could face travel restrictions
More than 10 million people have had covid-19 booster vaccines or third doses in the UK, as politicians urged others who are eligible to get their jabs.
People over 50 and those most at risk from covid-19 are among those eligible for a covid vaccine booster shot. From today, the NHS booking system will allow people to book a booster appointment five months after their second dose.
The latest figures show that 10,062,704 people in the UK have received a booster or third dose, with 409,663 receiving one on Saturday. But about 30 per cent of over-80s and 40 per cent of over-50s in England are yet to receive a booster, the Department of Health and Social Care said.
On Sunday, the UK health secretary Sajid Javid urged eligible people to get the vaccine, saying it would help the country “avoid a return to restrictions and enjoy Christmas”.
According to media reports, ministers are considering changing travel rules so that those who are eligible but refuse a third dose face stricter quarantine and testing rules. Official guidance was updated earlier this month to say the Government “is reviewing the implications and requirements of boosters for international travel certification” and “looking at whether and how booster vaccinations could be included in the NHS Covid Pass for travel”.
Deaths from covid-19 are increasingly occurring in vaccinated people, because of immunity waning over time, said Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser at the UK Health Security Agency. “It is particularly the older age groups, so the over-70s in particular, but also those who are clinically vulnerable, extremely vulnerable, and have underlying medical conditions,” she said.
Other coronavirus news
The UK will begin rolling out the covid-19 antiviral drug molnupiravir in a clinical trial later this month, Susan Hopkins at the UK Health Security Agency has said. Molnupiravir, developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, was approved by the UK medicines regulator last week. Trials have shown that it halves the risk of unvaccinated people needing hospital treatment or dying, and further trials are needed to see how it works in the vaccinated population, Hopkins said.
Restrictions on travelling to the US from 33 countries have been lifted today. The ban, covering the UK, much of Europe, China and India, has been in place since early 2020. Proof of vaccination and a recent negative covid-19 test are now required to enter the US.
First antiviral approved for use by vulnerable people at home
A new antiviral therapy cuts the risk of being hospitalised or dying from covid-19 by nearly 90 per cent. The treatment, called Paxlovid, is given twice daily for five days to people outside of hospital who are at risk of severe illness.
Paxlovid, made by US firm Pfizer, is a combination of two drugs; a compound currently called PF-07321332, which blocks activity of an enzyme that the coronavirus needs to replicate. The second drug is called ritonavir; developed as a treatment for HIV, it helps slow the breakdown of PF-07321332.
In a placebo-controlled trial of 1219 people from all over the world, 0.8 per cent of people who received Paxlovid within three days of a positive covid-19 test required hospital treatment, compared with 7 per cent of people who received a placebo. The equivalent figures were 1 and 6.7 per cent for those who got treatment within five days. The results have not yet been fully published, but were announced today in a press release from Pfizer.
Meanwhile, another antiviral called molnupiravir was approved yesterday in the UK. This medicine is also given twice daily to people who are at risk of severe illness but have not been hospitalised. Trials showed it halves the risk of people needing hospital treatment or dying.
Molnupiravir should be taken as soon as possible after a positive covid-19 test, or at least within five days. It works by causing mutations as the virus duplicates its genetic material, stopping it from multiplying within cells. The UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has authorised its use for people with at least one risk factor for severe infection, including being 60 or older, having diabetes, heart disease or obesity.
“We are working at pace to deploy molnupiravir to patients through a national study as soon as possible,” Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said in a statement. Penny Ward at King’s College London said in a statement that the government may want to assess its effectiveness in people who are vaccinated, as the trials so far have been in unvaccinated people.
Other coronavirus news
Opening windows for ten minutes every hour will help reduce the risk of catching the coronavirus indoors, people in England are being told in a public information campaign launching today. The key message of the campaign, running on radio stations and in the press, is to “Stop coronavirus hanging around”, by improving ventilation.
Europe is once again at the “epicentre” of the covid-19 pandemic, thanks to countries relaxing prevention measures and uneven vaccine coverage, the World Health Organization has said. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s Europe director, said yesterday that all European countries were either facing “a real threat of covid-19 resurgence or already fighting it”.
The pandemic has led to the loss of at least 28 million years of life
The pandemic led to the loss of 28 million years of life globally in 2020 – though this figure is likely to be a severe underestimate as it only looked at 37 countries.
Researchers at the University of Oxford calculated how many years of life had been lost due to coronavirus in 37 countries, including Russia, the US and Italy. They did this by analysing excess deaths in each nation, the ages of those who died, and each country’s average life expectancy.
They calculated that more than 28 million years of life had been lost across 31 of the countries they analysed. Six countries, including New Zealand, Denmark and South Korea, did not see an increase in loss of years of life as a result of the pandemic. However globally, the total lost years of life due to the pandemic will be much higher, and the team’s analysis did not include many Asian, African or South American countries due to a lack of data.
The researchers also looked at life expectancy declines in each country for 2020. The biggest falls were seen in Russia, the US and Bulgaria. In England and Wales, male life expectancy dropped by 1.2 years, while female life expectancy dropped by 0.8-years.
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Coronavirus infections nearly doubled in over-65s between September and October in England. In the latest survey by Imperial College London, about 0.8 per cent of 65 to 74-year-olds tested positive for coronavirus, while 0.67 per cent of over-75s had covid-19 in between 19 and 29 October. But school-children continue to be most at risk from infection with nearly six per cent of five-to-17-year-olds testing positive for the virus.
India’s home-grown vaccine, Covaxin, has been approved for emergency use by the World Health Organisation. It is the seventh jab to be approved by the intergovernmental body. More than 105 million doses of the vaccine have been administered to people in India so far.
Covid-19 jabs for elementary-school-aged children given final sign-off
The US is gearing up to offer covid-19 vaccines to 5-to-11-year-olds this week, after the Pfizer/BioNTech jab passed its final hurdle of approval by the country’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday. The vaccine has been approved for this age group at one third of the dose used for adults and teenagers. The child-sized doses will be packaged in bottles with orange lids to avoid mix-ups.
Vaccines could start being offered this week, but it will be next week before roll-out would be “fully up and running”, Jeff Zients of the White House said on Monday. There would be “millions more doses packed, shipped and delivered and thousands of additional sites coming online each day”, he said. In the UK, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency is still reviewing the children’s vaccine. Yesterday Pfizer reported that its earnings and sales more than doubled in the past quarter, mainly thanks to its covid-19 vaccines.
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A member of the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) stepped down at the end of October. Sir Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome health charity, had been advocating for more restrictions, such as face mask wearing, to be brought in due to the UK’s current high level of coronavirus infections, according to Sky News. “The high levels of transmission seen in the UK remain concerning,” he said. “My focus now must be on our work at Wellcome. This includes supporting the international research effort to end the pandemic.”
The Netherlands has reintroduced covid restrictions, one of the first western European countries to do so after measures were relaxed over summer. They will include new requirements to wear face masks, asking people to work from home half the week where possible and extending the use of covid passes to restaurant terraces and museums. According to data from Johns Hopkins University, 7727 new covid-19 cases were reported in the Netherlands on 2 November, compared with 33,546 in the UK.
Self-isolation compliance falls in 35 to 54-year-olds
One in four people between the ages of 35 and 54 are failing to self-isolate for a full ten days after testing positive for coronavirus, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The figures are based on a survey of 881 people in England conducted in late September and early October. The researchers found that only 75 per cent of participants isolated for ten days after a positive covid-19 test. It is a major drop from the 86 per cent who reported full compliance in July.
The opposite trend was seen in people aged between 18 and 34, with 82 per cent reporting full compliance in the latest survey as opposed to 75 per cent in July.
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Around 9000 New York City public workers were put on unpaid leave on Monday for not being vaccinated. The city’s vaccine mandate for public sector workers came into effect yesterday. One in four firefighters in the city are still not vaccinated, while one in six police staff are also unjabbed.
Indonesia has become the first country in the world to give emergency authorisation for the Novavax vaccine. Studies have shown that it is about 90 per cent effective against symptomatic covid-19.
Disneyland Shanghai in China has been shut for at least two days due to a single visitor testing positive for coronavirus. The move comes as the country aims to hit zero coronavirus infections by the time it hosts the Winter Olympics early next year.
Global recorded covid-19 death toll hits 5 million
The number of total recorded deaths from covid-19 worldwide has hit five million, less than two years since the pandemic begun.
Around 7000 people around the globe are dying from the virus each day, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University in the US.
But the true figure is likely to be more than double that. Analysis by The Economist suggests the toll is probably closer to 16.7 million deaths – after taking into account those who died from the disease without knowing they had contracted the virus and those who could not be treated for other illnesses because hospitals were overwhelmed with covid-19 patients.
Other coronavirus news
Booster jabs are now available at walk-in sites in England for those who received their second dose at least six months ago and who meet certain eligibility criteria, such as being aged 50 or over, or being a frontline health or social worker. It means over 30 million people who meet these criteria will no longer have to book an appointment to get a booster shot. More than six million have had a booster jab or a third dose so far, according to NHS England.
Activists from developing countries have been excluded from COP26 due in part to global vaccine inequality, climate change activists have claimed.Lidy Nacpil, of the Asian People’s Movement on Debt and Development, who is based in the Philippines, told The Guardian: “The challenges and complications related to vaccines, visas and quarantine requirements that the UK failed to adequately address are the main reasons why we will not be at COP26.”
See previous updates from September to October 2021, July to September 2021, June to July 2021, May 2021, April-March 2021, February 2021, January 2021, November/December 2020, and March to November 2020.
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