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News and analysis
- New ONS figures take the UK’s Covid death toll to 32,375 – currently the highest number in Europe. There were 7,713 Covid-19 deaths outside of hospitals in England and Wales to 24 April.
- The first key workers on the Isle of Wight will trial the new contact tracing app today. However, the app has failed all its safety and cybersecurity tests.
- Matt Hancock has defended the app, arguing that personal data needs to be shared centrally so that the government can know where flare-ups of infection are occurring in the country.
- Builders and shop workers are to be encouraged to communicate via radio rather than face-to-face, according to leaked plans for workplace lockdown easing.
- The government’s scientific advisory group has raised concerns that people may try to deliberately get infected following the introduction of widespread antibody testing.
- Nigel Farage has been warned by police over breaching lockdown restrictions after he travelled to East Sussex to make a video about illegal migrants landing on the beach.
America prepares for 3,000 daily deaths
Donald Trump is pushing for states to reopen – or ‘liberate’ – their economies, as some European countries are doing. But while most of Europe has passed the peak of Covid-19 fatalities, the United States is seeing a very different trend. According to a new,internal government document, America appears to be nowhere near the peak of the virus: as the virus works its way through the republic, it says, deaths could double to 3,000 a day.
And the spread could result in 200,000 cases per day (up from 25,000 now). Still, states are pushing forward with their plans to ease lockdown restrictions: retail shops open in Arizona this week, as do campgrounds in North Dakota, while in Mississippi gatherings up to 20 people will be permitted, as long as they are outside. The experience of the US challenges the ‘peter out’ theory of the virus: that it naturally loses momentum and that the epidemiological curve looks roughly the same. Yesterday, Ross Clark reported on a theory that the US might have caught a more contagious version of the virus than Asia.
There’s little doubt that the economic crisis developing in America is a factor in state-by-state decisions to ease restrictions. The US Treasury plans to borrow $3 trillion in the next three months – double what it borrowed all last year. Whereas Rishi Sunak gave his first indication that UK spending was not sustainable for much longer just last night, Donald Trump has been highlighting this for weeks, actively encouraging states to get their local economies moving again. Spain’s Prime Minister has said his country will have to learn to ‘live with Covid-19’ – by which he meant that, while deaths fall, the virus is unlikely to fall away. The decision for US states (and lockdown policy is decided by states, rather the White House) is whether to start reopening the economy with deaths still mounting.
Israel claims treatment breakthrough
by Ross Clark
The Israeli government is this morning reporting a potential breakthrough treatment of the virus. Scientists there have isolated a ‘monoclonal neutralising antibody’, – which could potentially neutralise the virus after infection. Such treatment has been under development for some time (for Ebola, Sars and Mers). Ebola treatment in particular, has been shown to boost the production of antibodies in a patient and to reduce viral load – in one case two US patients who had been infected with the disease in West Africa improved after treatment, although it wasn’t clear whether this was because of the treatment or because of their own immune systems. But most of the research so far has been limited to experiments in test tubes and in laboratory animals.
The caveat: this is a potential treatment, but it has yet to make the jump from laboratory to real life human trial. Needless to say, as with a vaccine, it would require extensive human trials to establish its safety before it could be unleashed on the general population. There is also a danger that injection of monoclonal neutralising antibodies can promote the mutation of a virus. This happened in a trial with Ebola conducted by the Canadian Public Health Agency, where one laboratory animal was found to have produced five mutant forms of the virus. So: a theoretical breakthrough, perhaps. But one unlikely to be making its way to Covid-19 patients any time soon.
Read Ross’s full blog here.
“One of the reasons that it’s quite difficult to get a more precise estimate is because of what are essentially three different routes of infection going on at the moment - in the community, where we think the R may be lower, in hospitals and in care homes, where there's obviously possibility of infections coming back out into the community… Those three different sources make very precise estimate of R quite difficult.
– Sir Patrick Vallance explaining the challenges in estimating the R value.
“Well, I’m absolutely open to that.
– Matt Hancock discussing [8:36] the possibility of restarting Premier League football and horse racing.
- Arguments in the US Supreme Court were heard by teleconference for the first time.
- A new study from Germany claims 1.8 million people in the country have been infected with the virus, ten times more than previously thought. Meanwhile, all shops are expected to reopen in the country from 11 May.
- A third medical professional in Russia has fallen from a window after complaining about Covid-19 work conditions.
- Belarus will hold an annual military parade this week. The country has yet to initiate a lockdown.
- Tanzania’s President Magufuli has been accused of covering up the spread of Covid-19 in the country. Magufuli downplayed fears after claiming a goat and a papaya both tested positive for the virus.
Our latest podcast
Figures released by Italy’s national statistics agency show huge variation in how coronavirus has hit the country. Across Italy, the number of deaths in March was 49.4 per cent above the average for the previous five years. But the north was hit much harder than the centre and south, with deaths up 94.9 per cent. Even within the north, there was huge variation between regions, with deaths in Lombardy up 186 per cent, while in neighbouring Veneto, they were up 24.3 per cent. And provinces across the country showed even wider variation: in Bergamo, deaths were 568 per cent higher than average, while in Rome they were 9.4 per cent lower.
Research: Vitamin D-eficient?
Early studies suggest that certain traits, such as being male or obese, can lead to a more serious reaction to Covid-19. Does vitamin deficiency play a role as well? Emerging reports suggest that insufficient levels of vitamin D (VDI) may be linked to severe Covid-19 symptoms. A study from Louisiana State University found that 100 per cent of ICU Covid-19 patients under the age of 75 had VDI. The research notes that likelihood of insufficiency ‘share(s) numerous associations’ with traits that are thought to exacerbate the symptoms of Covid-19, including ‘advanced age, concentration in northern climates and immune dysfunction.’ A French clinical trial is now testing the effects of vitamin D-doses, administered soon after infection with Covid-19.
- Germany’s constitutional court has partially ruled against the ECB, stating that the central bank broke EU treaties by buying public sector debt. Matthew Lynn investigates this new eurozone crisis.
- More than half of all UK adults are now being paid by the state.
- Ryanair flew 40,000 passengers in April, down 99.6% from 13.5 million in April 2019.
- The US wants to borrow $3 trillion in Q2, five times the previous quarterly record.
- UK car sales fell 97% in April to 4,000, the lowest figure since 1946.
- UK banks received more than 45,000 loan applications yesterday as a new loan scheme for small businesses launched.
- The Australian economy is losing AUS$4 billion every week during the lockdown.
More from The Spectator
Covid statistics are just politics by other means – John Keiger
Israel’s antibody breakthrough – Ross Clark
The return of the deep shelter mentality – Gavin Mortimer
Boris needs to start treating Brits like adults again – Patrick O’Flynn