By Michael Le Page, Clare Wilson, Jessica Hamzelou, Sam Wong, Graham Lawton, Adam Vaughan, Conrad Quilty-Harper, Jason Arunn Murugesu, Layal Liverpool, Matt Hambly, Carissa Wong, Alex Wilkins and Alexandra Thompson
Latest coronavirus news as of midday 13 May
The US has officially passed the ‘tragic milestone’, however, many more deaths are expected to have occurred than have been recorded
The US has officially recorded more than 1 million covid-19 deaths, President Joe Biden said on 12 May, calling the fatalities a “tragic milestone”.
” One million deaths from covids, one million missing chairs at the family dinner table are all irreplaceable losses,” stated Biden. “We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible, as we have with more testing, vaccines, and treatments than ever before.”
The scale of the death toll is far larger than originally anticipated, with Anthony Fauci at the US National Institutes of Health saying in March 2020 that between 100,000 and 200,000 people could die from covid-19.
The US has a higher official covid-19 death toll than anywhere else in the world, but many fatalities are expected to go unrecorded in some countries.
A recent World Health Organization (WHO) report looked at “excess deaths”, defined as the number of fatalities from any cause in 2020 and 2021 compared with previous years. This included covid-19 deaths that were not recorded as such, as well as people who died from other causes because hospitals were full amid the pandemic.
The report showed that India had the highest overall excess deaths and Peru and Russia had excess deaths proportional to their populations.
Separately, 2 million covid-19 deaths have been recorded across the European region, which includes the UK, the WHO said on 12 May.
Other coronavirus news
Six covid-19 deaths have been officially reported in North Korea, where the pandemic is spreading “explosively”, according to the country’s state media. North Korea imposed a national lockdown on 12 May, after acknowledging its first covid-19 cases.
Since late April, 350,000 people in North Korea have been treated for fever, but the country is thought to have little capacity for covid-19 testing. It has not reported carrying out any covid-19 vaccinations.
Shanghai has said it is aiming to achieve zero cases of covid-19 outside of tightly regulated quarantine zones by mid-May. If the cases are not in the quarantine areas, it is an indication that the outbreak has spread. This comes after the WHO called China’s zero-covid policy unsustainable, because the omicron variant is so transmissible.
Essential information about coronavirus
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. The podcast features expert journalists discussing the most important science stories that hit the headlines every week, from space and technology 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.
Stopping the Next Pandemic: How Covid-19 Can Help Us Save Humanity 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. Adam Kucharski is an epidemiologist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In the book, he explores the causes and consequences of diseases and how to stop them.
North Korea has introduced a national lockdown after reporting its first covid-19 outbreak in the capital Pyongyang
The country had never reported a covid-19 case before 12 May 2022. But many expect infections would have arisen in early 2020, before North Korea closed its borders, given its travel and trade relationships with China.
According to the North Korean news outlet KCNA, people with fevers in Pyongyang recently tested positive for the omicron sublineage BA.2, but state media has not confirmed the number of cases or where the infections may have originated.
There is no official record of any of North Korea’s 25-million-strong-population being vaccinated.
According to KCNA state authorities, including North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, acknowledge that a “most severe emergency case” has been reported. Jong-un plans to “quickly treat the infections to eliminate the source of the virus”.
Other coronavirus news
More than half of people who were hospitalised with covid-19 have at least one symptom two years later, according to a study that followed 1192 people living in Wuhan, China, after they were infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus in early 2020. The findings provide the longest known follow-up of covid-19 symptoms so far, with previous studies spanning around one year.
The participants – who had an average age of 57 – were assessed via a six-minute walking test, questionnaires and lung tests at six months, 12 months and two years post-discharge.
More than two thirds (68 per cent) reported at least one long covid symptom six months after leaving hospital, decreasing to 55 per cent after two years. Fatigue or weakness were the most common symptoms.
“Our findings indicate that for a certain proportion of hospitalised covid-19 survivors, while they may have cleared the initial infection, more than two years is needed to recover fully from covid-19,” Bin Cao at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in China said in a statement.
The number of reported covid-19 deaths that occurred in the African region between 2 and 8 March was up 84 per cent on the previous week, according to the World Health Organization. The African region also saw cases rise 12 per cent week-on-week.
Globally, the number of reported covid-19 cases and deaths have been declining since the end of March.
Lifting China’s zero-covid policy could trigger a large omicron wave, but the World Health Organization (WHO) says maintaining the strategy is “unsustainable”
Scrapping China’s zero covid policy could result in 1. 55 million deaths and increase intensive care numbers by a factor of 15, according to a modelling study from Fudan University in China.
China introduced the strategy, which aims to quickly cut off transmission to end outbreaks, in August 2021 in response to the faster-spreading delta variant. Officials are currently assessing the sustainability of their policy.
Fudan’s mathematical model is based on a population that has been fully vaccinated and with no movement restrictions or mass testing. It predicts that lifting the zero covid strategy could result in as many as 5.1million hospitalisations and 2.7 million admissions to intensive care units. 55 million deaths by September 2022.
People over 60 who are unvaccinated would make up 74 per cent of these deaths, the model predicts.
But the WHO doubts whether keeping zero-covid policies in place is sustainable, as the highly-transmissible omicron variant continues to drive cases in China.
” “When we speak about the zero-covid strategy we don’t believe it’s sustainable, given the behaviour of virus now and the future,” Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, WHO’s director general, said at a press conference.
” We have had discussions about this topic with Chinese experts, and we agreed that it is not sustainable.
“Transiting into another strategy will be very important.”
Other coronavirus news
Pregnant people who are vaccinated against covid-19 are 15 per cent less likely to have a stillbirth than their unvaccinated counterparts, according to a meta-analysis of 23 studies covering more than 117,000 vaccinated pregnant people.
Vaccination in pregnancy is also 90 per cent effective at preventing covid-19 infection, with no evidence of an increased risk of complications, such as a lower birthweight or postpartum haemorrhage, the study found.
New Zealand has recorded more than 1 million covid-19 cases, according to its ministry of health. Over 986,000 of these cases occurred in early 2022, with the government loosening its zero-covid strategy in March.
More than 20 per cent of New Zealand’s 5-million-strong population is therefore known to have been infected, however, modelling suggests the true number could be three times larger.
Study suggests a fourth dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine generally provides increased protection from covid-19
A fourth dose of an mRNA covid-19 vaccine could provide a “substantial boost in antibody levels and cellular immunity”, according to a study conducted as part of the University of Southampton’s Cov-Boost vaccine trial and published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
A fourth vaccine has been rolled out across the UK for people aged 75 and over, and those who are immunocompromised. A larger number of people may receive a second booster jab in the UK based on the Cov-Boost study.
In the trial, 166 participants who had received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, following two initial Pfizer/BioNTech or University of Oxford/AstraZeneca doses in June 2021, were either given a full dose of Pfizer/BioNTech or a half dose of Moderna as a fourth jab, about seven months after their third vaccination.
Results reveal the fourth jab generally offered higher antibody levels than a third dose and provided particularly strong protection for those aged 70 and over.
However, some participants showed higher immunity levels after the third jab and only a slight boost after the fourth, suggesting that there may be a limit to the immune response.
If this ceiling effect is seen in further studies, it could suggest that a fourth booster shot is less effective in those who have recently been infected with covid-19 or with a window shorter than seven months between their third and fourth vaccine doses.
” These results underlined the benefits of the most fragile people receiving spring boosters and gives confidence in any future autumn booster program in the UK,” Saul Faust, the lead author, stated in a statement.
Other coronavirus news
Lockdowns and social distancing caused by the pandemic led to a “small but significant increase” in loneliness worldwide, according to a meta-analysis of 34 studies, covering 200,000 participants across four continents.
Speaking to The Independent, Mareike Ernst, of Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz in Germany, said: “Given the small effect sizes, dire warnings about a ‘loneliness pandemic’ may be overblown. However, as loneliness constitutes a risk for premature mortality and mental and physical health, it should be closely monitored.”
Just 51 per cent of people who have tested positive for covid-19 are following isolation guidelines in England, according to figures for 28 March to 2 April 2022 issued by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for covid-19 was removed in England at the end of February 2022. For those who had positive results, new isolation guidance was issued in April. It advised them to stay away from other people until they feel better. Similar guidance is available in the UK.
“Only half of those who tested positive for covid-19 adhered fully to self-isolation guidance,” Tim Gibb at ONS said in a statement. “While this is a similar proportion to what we reported in mid-March 2022, it however represents a significant decrease to levels of adherence seen earlier this year.”
The covid-19 pandemic directly or indirectly caused 14.9 million deaths as of the end of 2021, according to a WHO report
In a major analysis, officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) calculated the number of pandemic-related deaths that occurred globally between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2022.
The researchers combined data from national deaths for each country with statistics derived from the same scientific studies. To account for deaths that might have otherwise been overlooked, they also used a statistical modeling.
The team then estimated the number of fatalities that would have been expected had the pandemic not occurred, comparing the two figures to give an “excess” of 14.9 million.
This excess includes deaths directly due to SARS-CoV-2 virus as well as deaths that were indirect caused by the pandemic. For example, people who died early because their healthcare systems became overwhelmed.
According to John Hopkins University data, just over 6.2 million people have died of covid-19 worldwide, not taking into account the pandemic’s indirect deaths.
” These sobering statistics not only point out the impact of pandemic but also highlight the need for all nations to invest in more resilient healthcare systems that can support essential services during crises,” Tedros Adhanom Gebreyesus, WHO director-general, said in a statement.
Other coronavirus news
More than one in 10 people hospitalised with covid-19 could have severe neurological symptoms, a study suggests.
Researchers at Boston University studied more than 16,000 people who were hospitalised with covid-19 in 24 countries between March 2020 and March 2021. Nearly 13 per cent of the participants developed a serious neurological condition – like a stroke, seizure or encephalopathy, an umbrella term for disease that alters the brain’s function or structure – at admission or during their hospitalisation.
Fighting off SARS-CoV-2 virus may temporarily boost your protection against other coronavirus strains, including those that cause common cold-like symptoms.
In a small study, scientists at Scripps Research in the US found serum samples from people who had recently fought off SARS-CoV-2 virus reacted more strongly to the spike proteins of other coronavirus strains than samples taken from people pre-covid-19.
People hospitalised with covid-19 may lose 10 IQ points, equivalent to the natural cognitive decline that occurs between 50 and 70 years old
Covid-19 can cause lasting cognitive and mental health issues, including brain fog, fatigue and even post-traumatic stress disorder. To better understand the scale of the problem, researchers at the University of Cambridge analysed 46 people who were hospitalised due to the infection between March and July 2020.
Participants were tested on cognitive abilities six months after their initial illness. These results were compared against those of more than 66,000 people from the general population.
Those hospitalised with covid-19 scored worse on verbal analogical reasoning tests, which assess an individual’s ability to recognise relationships between ideas and think methodically.
They also had slower processing speeds. Previous studies suggest glucose is less efficiently used by the part of the brain responsible for attention, complex problem-solving and working memory after covid-19.
Reaction speeds and scores improved over time but recovery was slow at best according to researchers.
This cognitive impairment may be due to multiple factors, such as inadequate blood supply, blood vessel blockage, and microscopic bleedings caused by SARS-2 virus. They also added that damage from an overactive immune system could cause it.
“Around 40,000 people have been through intensive care with covid-19 in England alone and many more will have been very sick, but not admitted to hospital,” Adam Hampshire at Imperial College London said in a statement.
“This means there is a large number of people out there still experiencing problems with cognition many months later.”
Other coronavirus news
The biological mechanism behind a rare and severe covid-19 response seen in some children may have been uncovered by researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia.
Doctors have so far been unable to identify why some children develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) in response to covid-19, which can cause symptoms such as fever, abdominal pain and heart disease.
After analysing the blood of 33 children with MIS, the researchers identified 85 proteins specific to the condition, potentially aiding diagnosis and opening the door to new treatments.
Covid-19 may worsen asthma in children, according to a study of more than 61,000 people aged two to 17 with the respiratory condition in the US. The