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3-27-20 Coronavirus: US overtakes China with most cases
The US now has more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any other country, with more than 86,000 positive tests. According to the latest figures collated by Johns Hopkins University, the US has overtaken China (81,897 cases) and Italy (80,589). But with over 1,300 Covid-19-related fatalities, the US death toll lags behind China (3,296) and Italy (8,215). The grim milestone came as President Donald Trump predicted the nation would get back to work "pretty quickly". Asked about the latest figures at a White House briefing on Thursday afternoon, President Trump said it was "a tribute to the amount of testing that we're doing". Vice-President Mike Pence said coronavirus tests were now available in all 50 states and more than 552,000 tests had been conducted nationwide. Mr Trump also cast doubt on the figures coming out of Beijing, telling reporters: "You don't know what the numbers are in China." But later, he tweeted that he had had a "very good conversation" with China's President Xi Jinping. "China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!" President Trump said. Mr Trump has set a much-criticised goal of Easter Sunday, 12 April, for reopening the country. That plan seemed to gather impetus on Thursday as it emerged an unprecedented 3.3 million Americans have been laid off because of the virus. At Thursday's briefing, he said: "They [the American people] have to go back to work, our country has to go back, our country is based on that and I think it's going to happen pretty quickly. "We may take sections of our country, we may take large sections of our country that aren't so seriously affected and we may do it that way." He added: "A lot of people misinterpret when I say go back - they're going to be practising as much as you can social distancing, and washing your hands and not shaking hands and all of the things we talked about." (Webmaster's comment: Trump Lies Again!)

3-27-20 Coronavirus: Record number of Americans file for unemployment
The number of Americans filing for unemployment has surged to a record high as the economy goes into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 3.3 million people registered to claim jobless benefits for the week ended 21 March, according to Department of Labor data. That is nearly five times more than the previous record of 695,000 set in 1982. The rush overwhelmed many state offices handling the claims and signalled an abrupt end to a decade of expansion. The shift comes as officials in states across the country close restaurants, bars, cinemas, hotels and gyms in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Car firms have halted production and air travel has fallen dramatically. According to economists, a fifth of the US workforce is on some form of lockdown. Analysts said the situation could be even worse than the data currently shows, noting the reports of jammed call lines and crashing state websites. Some kinds of workers, such as people working part-time, do not qualify. "I've been writing about the US economy ... since 1996, and this is the single worst data point I've seen, by far," said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Economics. Nationally, the figures are nearly five times higher than the worst point of the 2008 financial crisis. In Illinois, weekly jobless claims increased 10-fold. They more than quintupled in New York and more than tripled in California, which were among the earliest and biggest states to impose restrictions. The effects were even more dramatic in smaller states. While some retailers, such as Walmart and Amazon, have announced plans to hire, economists said that will not make up for the jobs lost. As incomes evaporate, the economic damage is likely to snowball, since consumer spending accounts for the majority of the US economy. "Once the risks around the virus pass, it will not be just easy to flip the switch and employment returns to pre-crisis levels," Joseph Brusuelas, chief economist at RSM wrote on Twitter. "That is not how this is going to work and will require more aid."

3-27-20 Coronavirus: Tears, fears and anxiety amid job losses
Nearly 3.3 million people registered to claim jobless benefits for the week ended 21 March, according to Department of Labor data. Rosie Alumbaugh and Chase Charaba tell BBC News about the struggles they're facing following their job losses.

3-27-20 Face mask shortages have sparked creative solutions. Will they work?
Health care workers are considering rewearing masks or using homemade ones during the COVID-19 pandemic. As COVID-19 sweeps across the United States, hospitals are running out of masks, gowns and eye protection. New supplies aren’t being made fast enough to keep up with demand, and stockpiles seem insufficient. “There is no bailout,” says David Witt, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist at Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center in California. “There is no military supply. There is no national stockpile that will suffice. It’s not coming from another country in aid.” Mask-making company 3M is ramping up production, and other companies, including Ford, are pitching in. But these efforts will take time. Meanwhile, carpenters, clothing companies and local sewing circles are stepping up to help. Crowdsourcing efforts such as #getmePPE and the 100 Million Mask Challenge are seeking to fill supply gaps in face masks, goggles and other personal protective equipment, or PPE. An editorial published March 20 in JAMA requested creative ideas. Proposals have flooded in with predominant themes emerging on how to reuse the face masks called N95s, thick, tight-fitting masks that can block tiny virus particles, and how to make alternatives to commercial ones. The innovation on display convinced surgeon Ed Livingston, a coauthor of the editorial and an editor at JAMA, that “this is the biomedical engineering community’s Apollo 13 moment.” In this fast-moving emergency, it’s unclear which homespun efforts will help the most. Here’s what we know, and don’t know, about how to best conserve the PPE that we have and how to make more. Hospitals are asking for donations from anyone who might have PPE on hand, including construction workers, dentists and spa workers. Wearing a single mask for multiple patients is “something that we would normally never do,” Witt says.

3-27-20 Will a home antibody test for covid-19 really be a game changer?
The UK has ordered 3.5 million antibody tests designed to reveal if people have been infected with the coronavirus. The UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson, who today announced he himself has tested positive for the virus, has said these tests will be a “game changer”, but the reality is they might not have that much of an impact in the short term. Almost all testing around the world is based on looking for the presence of the virus, by looking for its genetic sequence. But such tests require or nose or throat swabs to be taken by trained personnel and sent to a specialised lab, and there’s a global shortage of equipment. Genetic tests also detect only active infections. Antibody tests, by contrast, detect the antibodies our bodies produce to kill the virus, which we keep producing even after the virus is eliminated. These tests can reveal who has been infected even after they have recovered. Handheld tests that require only a drop of blood can give results in ten minutes, and can be mass produced quickly and cheaply. If we know someone has had the virus, they can potentially leave their home without risk of being re-infected, which would help countries getting moving again. However, the accuracy of the tests has yet to be established. “The one thing that’s worse than no test is an inaccurate test,” Chris Whitty, the UK’s chief medical officer, said on 25 March. Someone wrongly told they have already had covid-19 could go out and get infected. How accurate do they need to be? “It’s very difficult to say,” says Emily Adams at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who is helping assess the tests developed by Mologic, one of the companies supplying the UK. Part of that process will be working out what accuracy is required for different uses, Adams says.

3-27-20 Coronavirus: How can I shop or get deliveries and takeaways safely?
Remember a time - just a few weeks ago - when a trip to the supermarket wasn't restricted to the "basic necessities" to be done "as infrequently as possible"? Those were the words Boris Johnson used about the new approach to shopping as he outlined the government's curbs on daily life, to limit the spread of coronavirus. He said people should "use food delivery services where you can". But what are the safest ways to go shopping for food or accept a delivery or takeaway at home? Coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs small droplets - packed with the virus - into the air. These can cause an infection if they are breathed in, or potentially if you touch a surface they have landed on. So going shopping and mixing with other people does carry a risk. That is why social distancing - keeping at least 2m (about 6ft) from others - is so important, and many shops are enforcing it. Supermarkets can provide an "ideal setting" for virus transfer, says Prof Sally Bloomfield, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "Many people are touching and replacing items, checkout belts, cash cards, car park ticket machine buttons, ATM payment buttons, paper receipts etc... Not to mention being in the proximity of several other people." There are ways to offset these risks: 1. Wash hands for 20 seconds with soap and water, or with alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after shopping. 2. Treat surfaces as if they may be contaminated, meaning you avoid touching your face after handling shopping trollies, baskets, packages and produce. 3. Use contactless payment methods There is no evidence of Covid-19 being transmitted through food, and thorough cooking will kill the virus. The UK Food Standards Agency website has advice on food safety at home. But while there is no such thing as "zero risk", says Prof Bloomfield, it is packaging - handled by other people - that is a chief concern.

3-27-20 Social distancing is about to get a whole lot harder
It's another Friday in America, but we are not living in the same country we were even a week ago. Since last Sunday, versions of shelter-in-place orders have gone into effect in more than half the states; California, uniquely, will be spending its second weekend under government-mandated quarantine, while the rest of us are going into our first. Viruses don't take weekends off, though, and neither should our social distancing precautions. Still, it can be extremely tempting to ignore the orders to stay primarily indoors, particularly as spring continues to warm up the northern hemisphere. As people lose their patience with being cooped up inside — and as the thermometer rises after a long, cold winter — isolation is going to get a lot harder to voluntarily follow. Just look at last weekend, when governors and health experts were already cautioning people against being in public for longer than absolutely necessary. Places of natural congregation, like trail heads, parks, and popular running paths, were swarmed in many cities as people sought ways to get out of their homes and stretch their legs. Alarming photographs emerged from places like Washington state, Illinois, New York, and Oregon, of lax social distancing practices — or none at all. It's understandable, to some degree. The end of March and beginning of April mark the transition from winter activities into summer ones in most states, as running outside grows more bearable, cyclists switch to short sleeve jerseys, and eager hikers start to hit trails as they melt out at the lower altitudes. While there are still many days of bad weather ahead — here come April showers! — you start to get beautiful, cobalt skies again as well. I've found myself feeling like a cartoon character, staring longingly out my window at sun-drenched streets I'm now warned against idling on. It's especially hard when you feel like you've earned an escape from your home or apartment after a long week trapped inside. "Everybody is going to think that it's the weekend; therefore, we can take a break from the discipline of what we're having to apply for the care of those around us," Midland, Texas, Mayor Patrick Payton explained to the Midland Reporter-Telegram. "Just because it's the weekend doesn't mean we're off high alert." Even if your local parks haven't closed, or the basketball hoops are still up down the street, it is imperative to keep up proper isolation and suspend all group sports.

3-27-20 Coronavirus: Can EU get a grip on crisis?
"The EU is finished," gloat the nay-sayers. "Even faced with the coronavirus, its members can't stick together." Certainly EU leaders meeting on Thursday - by socially-distant video conference - glaringly failed to agree to share the debt they are all racking up fighting Covid-19. From her flat in Berlin, where she is self-isolating after her doctor tested positive for the virus, German Chancellor Angela Merkel openly admitted to the disharmony over financial instruments. What leaders did agree on was asking Eurogroup finance ministers to explore the subject further, reporting back in two weeks' time. The EU is famous for kicking difficult decisions down the road but in coronavirus terms, with spiralling infection and death rates, two weeks feels like an eternity. For ordinary people, frightened for their health, the safety of their loved ones, worrying about their rent and feeding their family after businesses shut down, the idea that Europe's leaders spent six hours on Thursday night, squabbling over the wording of their summit conclusions in order to defer a key decision over coronavirus funds, will be incomprehensible. Spain and Italy - ravaged by the effects of the virus on their populations and their limited public finances - were deeply disappointed. Italy was already one of the EU's most Eurosceptic member states before Covid-19 hit. Italian Twitter was littered with expletives on Thursday - and those were just the posts from politicians. President Emmanuel Macron of France is said to have told leaders the political reaction after the crisis could spell the end of the EU. The thing is, the coronavirus simply highlights already existing, well-known difficulties in the EU. Firstly, the tension between centralising power in "Brussels" vs keeping decision-making with national governments/parliaments. Public health, for example is a national competency, which is why we've seen different EU countries taking different national measures to mitigate the effects of Covid-19. And secondly, when it comes to economics, when wealthier countries like the Netherlands and Germany hear the words "debt-sharing" or "solidarity", what they worry that their voters will understand by that is - "richer EU countries in northern Europe have to foot the bill for poorer ones in the south".

3-27-20 Coronavirus travel: China bars foreign visitors as imported cases rise
China has announced a temporary ban on all foreign visitors, even if they have visas or residence permits. The country is also limiting Chinese and foreign airlines to one flight per week, and flights must not be more than 75% full. Although China reported its first locally-transmitted coronavirus case for three days on Friday, almost all its new cases now come from abroad. There were 55 new cases across China on Thursday - 54 of them from overseas. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said it was "suspending the entry of foreign nationals" because of the "rapid spread of Covid-19 across the world". The suspension applies to people with visas and residence passes, but not to diplomats or those with C visas (usually aircraft crew). People with "emergency humanitarian needs" or those working in certain fields can apply for exceptions. Although the rules seem dramatic, many foreign airlines had already stopped flying to China - and a number of cities already had restrictions for arrivals. Last month, for example, Beijing ordered everyone returning to the city into a 14-day quarantine. Although the virus emerged in China, it now has fewer cases than the US and fewer deaths than Italy and Spain. There have been 81,340 confirmed cases in China and 3,292 deaths, the National Health Commission said on Friday. In total, 565 of those confirmed cases were classed as "imported" - either foreigners coming into China, or returning Chinese nationals. In Hubei - the province where the outbreak began - there were no new confirmed or suspected cases on Thursday. The lockdown in provincial capital Wuhan, which began in January, will be eased on 8 April.

3-26-20 Which covid-19 patients will get a ventilator if there's a shortage
If the coronavirus pandemic causes a shortage of ventilators, who will be attached to these potentially life-saving machines and who won’t? This is the grim question doctors around the world are currently grappling with. Life-or-death choices are already being made in Italy, where covid-19 has claimed more than 7500 lives. Doctors in Bergamo in northern Italy have said that “older patients are not being resuscitated and die alone” because hospital resources are so overstretched with cases. According to data from China, about 2 per cent of people who became infected with the covid-19 virus in the country before the end of January needed a ventilator to pump air with extra oxygen into their lungs via a tube, helping them to breathe. It normally takes a few weeks before the immune systems of people relying on such machines can clear the virus, allowing them to breathe on their own again. On 16 March, Italian guidelines recommended to the country’s hospital doctors that, if demand outstrips supply, ventilators should be preferentially given to patients with the best chance of recovery and the most years to live. Similar guidelines have also been published in the UK and in Australia and New Zealand. This approach reflects an ethical framework called utilitarianism that aims to bring about the most good for the greatest number of people, says philosopher Julian Savulescu at the University of Oxford. But making these choices about who to save will be difficult, he says. One challenge is that we still don’t have a firm understanding of which health conditions affect the chance of surviving covid-19, he says. One way around this kind of dilemma may be to implement a “trial of treatment” approach for people infected with the covid-19 virus whose outcomes are uncertain, says Savulescu. You could put them on a ventilator for a designated period – say a week – to see how they respond, before deciding whether to give it to someone else who may benefit more. “That way you give them a chance and you can also test your hypotheses,” he says.

3-26-20 No, the coronavirus wasn’t made in a lab. A genetic analysis shows it’s from nature
Scientists took conspiracy theories about SARS-CoV-2’s origins seriously, and debunked them. The coronavirus pandemic circling the globe is caused by a natural virus, not one made in a lab, a new study says. The virus’s genetic makeup reveals that SARS-CoV-2 isn’t a mishmash of known viruses, as might be expected if it were human-made. And it has unusual features that have only recently been identified in scaly anteaters called pangolins, evidence that the virus came from nature, Kristian Andersen and his colleagues report March 17 in Nature Medicine. When Andersen, an infectious disease researcher at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., first heard about the coronavirus causing an outbreak in China, he wondered where the virus came from. Initially, researchers thought the virus was being spread by repeated infections jumping from animals in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, into humans and then being passed person to person. Analysis from other researchers has since suggested that the virus probably jumped only once from an animal into a person and has been spread human to human since about mid-November (SN: 3/4/20). But shortly after the virus’s genetic makeup was revealed in early January, rumors began bubbling up that maybe the virus was engineered in a lab and either intentionally or accidentally released. An unfortunate coincidence fueled conspiracy theorists, says Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is “in very close proximity to” the seafood market, and has conducted research on viruses, including coronaviruses, found in bats that have potential to cause disease in people. “That led people to think that, oh, it escaped and went down the sewers, or somebody walked out of their lab and went over to the market or something,” Garry says.

3-26-20 Coronavirus: Pangolins found to carry viruses related to Covid-19
Smuggled pangolins have been found to carry viruses closely related to the one sweeping the world. Scientists say the sale of the animals in wildlife markets should be strictly prohibited to minimise the risk of future outbreaks. Pangolins are the most-commonly illegally trafficked mammal, used both as food and in traditional medicine. In research published in the journal Nature, researchers say handling these animals requires "caution". And they say further surveillance of wild pangolins is needed to understand their role in the risk of future transmission to humans. Despite confirmation that pangolins carry viruses closely related to Covid-19 (also known as SARS-CoV-2), exactly how the virus jumped from wild animals to humans remains a mystery. The horseshoe bat and now the pangolin have both been implicated, but the precise sequence of events is unknown. Commenting on the study, Dr Dan Challender of the University of Oxford, said pangolins are known to host various strains of coronaviruses. He added: "Identifying the source of SARS-CoV-2 is important to understand the emergence of the current pandemic, and in preventing similar events in the future." The ant-devouring scaly mammal, said to be the most widely trafficked mammal in the world, is threatened with extinction. The animal's scales are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, while pangolin meat is considered a delicacy. Elisa Panjang of Cardiff University, a pangolin conservation officer at the Danau Field Centre in Malaysia, said it would be devastating if the report led to persecution of pangolins. "This is the time for the international community to pressure their governments to end illegal wildlife trade," she said. China has moved to ban the consumption of meat from wild animals in the wake of the outbreak. Similar moves are being considered in Vietnam.

3-26-20 Coronavirus: Man planning to bomb Missouri hospital killed, FBI says
A man suspected of planning to attack a hospital treating coronavirus cases in the US state of Missouri died after a shootout with the FBI, officials say. The confrontation happened as agents tried to arrest the 36-year-old in the city of Belton as part of a domestic terrorism investigation, the FBI said. Officials said the man was motivated by racist and anti-government beliefs. He had allegedly considered a range of targets before settling on the hospital because of the current outbreak. The suspect, identified by authorities as Timothy R Wilson, had been under surveillance for months, which revealed him to be a "potentially violent extremist" who had expressed racial and religious hatred, the FBI said in a statement. Wilson had previously considered attacking a school with a large number of black students, a mosque and a synagogue, according to the FBI. He reportedly decided to target the unidentified hospital after authorities in Belton, located in the Kansas City area, told residents to stay at home in an attempt to stem the coronavirus spread. "Wilson considered various targets and ultimately settled on an area hospital in an attempt to harm many people, targeting a facility that is providing critical medical care in today's environment," the statement added, without identifying the facility. The suspect had taken "the necessary steps to acquire materials needed to build an explosive device," according to the FBI. The shooting happened when agents were prepared to arrest Wilson, who was armed, and he tried to retrieve what they believed to be an explosive device, the agency said. After the confrontation he was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead. According to Missouri's health department, the state had 356 confirmed cases of Covid-19 - the disease caused by coronavirus - as of Wednesday. Eight people there have died of it. Across the US, there have been more than 1,000 deaths caused by the virus and nearly 70,000 confirmed infections.

3-26-20 Coronavirus: Record number of Americans file for unemployment
The number of people without jobs in the US has surged to a record high as the economy goes into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly 3.3 million people registered to claim unemployment benefits for the week ended 21 March, according to Department of Labor data. The previous record was set in 1982, when unemployment claims hit 695,000. The sharp rise marks an abrupt end to a long period of slow and steady job market expansion. It comes as officials in states across the country close restaurants, bars, movie theatres, hotels and gyms. Car firms have halted production and air travel has fallen precipitously. According to economists, a fifth of the workforce is on some form of lockdown. State officials, who process unemployment claims, have reported being overwhelmed by requests for the benefits, which analysts said means the situation could be even worse than the data currently shows. Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Economics, said he expects to see the unemployment rate increase to to at least 6.5% shortly - nearly double the prior rate - and continue to accelerate in future months. "I've been writing about the US economy ... since 1996, and this is the single worst data point I've seen, by far," he wrote. In Illinois, weekly jobless claims multiplied by 10. They more than quintupled in New York and more than tripled in California, which were among the earliest and biggest states to impose restrictions. The effects were even more dramatic in smaller states. Nationally, the figures are nearly five times higher than the worst point of the 2008 financial crisis. Analysts warn that lower income workers are particularly vulnerable, as the lockdown forces retailers, fast food outlets and other low wage employers to cut back or close. And as people lose jobs, the economic damage is likely to snowball, since consumer spending accounts for the majority of the US economy.

3-26-20 Coronavirus: US Senate passes $2tn disaster aid bill
The US Senate has passed a $2 trillion (£1.7tn) coronavirus aid bill that is the largest economic stimulus in US history. The vote was delayed by a last-minute row between Republican and Democratic senators over unemployment benefits. The plan includes direct payments of $1,200 to most American adults and aid to help small businesses pay workers. US coronavirus deaths are around the 1,000 mark and there have been nearly 70,000 confirmed infections. More than 21,000 people with coronavirus have died across the world since it emerged in China's Hubei province in December, while the number of infections is racing towards half a million. Southern Europe is now the centre of the pandemic, with Italy and Spain recording hundreds of new deaths every day. President Donald Trump, a Republican, said on Wednesday he would sign the fast-tracked bill as soon as it reached his desk. But the plan hit a speed bump as Republican senators Tim Scott, Rick Scott, Ben Sasse and Lindsey Graham said its major expansion of unemployment benefits provided "a strong incentive for employees to be laid off instead of going to work". They said they would oppose the bill unless it was fixed to ensure workers could not have a higher income while unemployed than in a job. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination, said he would oppose the bill unless the Republicans dropped their objections. He also demanded tougher conditions on the legislation's "corporate welfare". In the end the Republican senators were allowed a vote on their amendment, which failed. The bill does have cross-party support but it must still be passed in votes in the Senate and House of Representatives before the president signs it into law. With revisions being made to the bill late into Wednesday, the Republican-majority Senate finally, and unanimously, approved it with a 96-0 vote. It now moves on to the House which is expected to vote on Friday.

3-26-20 Will the EU survive coronavirus?
What may finally tear it apart are the same economic divides that have dominated in prior crises. Will the European Union be one of the casualties of COVID-19? The worldwide pandemic has dealt a dramatic and obvious blow to the liberal ideas of free trade and freedom of movement that inspired and were inspired by the EU. The openness that made it possible to travel and do business seamlessly across a continent has provided the virus with a cornucopia of vectors for transmission. If the refugee crisis of the mid-2010s put strengthened borders back on the continent's political agenda, the pandemic has made the case for hunkering down nationally as well as individually hard to dispute. But the EU could survive a change to its freedom of movement rules. In fact, the only practical way to address problems like chaos at the Austria-Hungary border as EU citizens try to get home is through coordinated action at the EU level. The same is true of other efforts to fight the virus, like tracking the infected and providing emergency medical assistance. The goal of effectively containing and eradicating the virus no more militates against the need for Europe-wide policymaking than it does against the need for coordinated national action in the United States. "Europe" may be based on certain ideals, but it is embodied in institutions, and it is the effectiveness of those institutions in meeting novel challenges that matters to its survival far more than perfect fidelity to those ideals. And that's the problem. The threat to the EU's future stems from the fundamental weakness of its central institutions. And what may finally tear it apart are the economic divides that have dominated in prior crises. The EU is already divided over the coronavirus, and along the same axes as obtained in the wake of the financial crisis and in the subsequent sovereign debt crises: the southern countries are getting hit much harder. As of this writing, Italy and Spain between them account for nearly 60 percent of the cases of COVID-19 within the Eurozone (EU members that use the Euro as their currency), and over 80 percent of fatalities. The death rate in Italy and Spain together is 9 percent; in the rest of the Eurozone, it's 2.5 percent. Those numbers may well change as the virus spreads — but they also reflect different demographic and organizational realities. Germany did far more effective testing and tracking in the early phases of the epidemic, for example, and the virus was initially brought into the country by young people who did not spread it to the older population as quickly as took place in Italy. But even if Germany looks like Italy in four weeks' time, Italy looks like Italy right now. And the nature of membership in the Eurozone puts real limits on Italy's ability to respond effectively to the economic challenge before it.

3-25-20 Coronavirus latest news: Economic impact of pandemic 'worse than 2008'
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Covid-19 impact will be “worse than the global financial crisis” The impact of the covid-19 pandemic on the global economy will be worse than the 2008 recession, according to the World Trade Organization’s director general, Roberto Azevêdo. The managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, has asked G20 leaders to support an increase of its emergency financing capacity to boost its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Singapore’s economy has experienced its largest contraction in a decade in the first quarter of this year, according to data released on 26 March. The country is planning for a deep recession. Numbers released from the US Labor Department today revealed that a record 3.3 million US citizens filed for unemployment last week. The US Senate recently passed a stimulus bill of approximately $2 trillion. In India, the government announced a $22 billion bailout for people in urgent need of financial support. This comes amid concerns about the prospects for the millions of daily-wage earners in the country, after it went into lockdown earlier this week. The UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, says self-employed people will have up to 80 per cent of their wages covered by the government during the pandemic. A study of 33 newborns born to mothers with covid-19 in Wuhan, China, found that 9 per cent of the infants had covid-19 symptoms but no deaths were reported. It remains unclear whether the virus can transmit from a mother to a fetus during pregnancy. China’s Civil Aviation Administration has announced they will significantly reduce the number of flights in and out of the country to prevent a second coronavirus outbreak. The UN’s food body has warned that protectionist measures brought in by national governments during the pandemic could lead to food shortages around the world. This year’s Tour de France may go ahead without spectators, according to France’s sports minister. The race is due to start on 27 June.

3-25-20 Coronavirus latest news: Covid-19 antibody test ready 'in days'
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. The UK government has ordered more than 3 million finger prick antibody tests that could be ready in a matter of days. The tests could reveal whether someone had covid-19, but they are being checked first to show that they work properly. It is also still not known whether it’s possible to develop long-lasting immunity to the coronavirus. China’s Hubei province lifted all travel restrictions today, with the exception of Wuhan, where restrictions won’t be eased until 8 April. In Malaysia, which is currently the worst-hit country in South East Asia, the lockdown has been extended for two more weeks. Facebook usage has surged in countries under lockdowns. It’s estimated that a quarter of the world’s population is currently under lockdown and, although Facebook usage is up, the tech giant’s advertising revenue is falling. The White House and the Senate have agreed a stimulus package worth more than $1.8 trillion to help ease the economic impact of coronavirus in the US. Some prisoners could be temporarily released in several countries, including England and Wales, to ease pressure on jails caused by more staff taking sick leave and self-isolating, the BBC reports. Epidemiologist Neil Ferguson gave evidence to the UK’s parliamentary select committee on science and technology today as part of an inquiry into the nation’s response to the pandemic. He said that he is “reasonably confident” that the health service will be able to cope during the predicted peak of the epidemic in two or three weeks, because of expected increases in National Health Service capacity and on-going travel restrictions.

3-25-20 How does coronavirus testing work and will we have a home test soon?
Because the symptoms of covid-19 are similar to those of other diseases, testing is the only way to know for sure if someone is infected with the coronavirus. Mass testing is therefore crucial to halting its spread. In the UK, a home test will apparently go on sale very soon. At present, most tests are based on looking for genetic sequences specific to the covid-19 coronavirus. If these sequences are found in a sample, it must contain the virus. Getting a sample to test involves pushing a swab – which resembles an extra-long cotton bud – deep inside the nose or to the back of the throat. The swab is then sent off to a lab. The virus is only detected in the blood, urine or faeces of roughly half of those who test positive based on nose or throat swabs, so blood, urine and stool tests aren’t reliable. If you are coughing up sputum, testing that can provide more accurate results than a nose or throat swab, according to a handbook summarising findings in China. Most labs use a method called the polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which takes several hours. It can take days for labs to run the tests and tell people their result. Several groups around the world, are developing faster genetic tests, typically based on a method called loop mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP), which takes less than half an hour. Handheld LAMP tests that could be used in homes and airports may start to become available within weeks. In theory, genetic tests should be extremely accurate if done properly. However, there have been reports from China of many false negatives and false positives. This may be because the swabbing wasn’t done correctly, or because overworked lab technicians were making mistakes. In addition, if people are tested very soon after becoming infected, they may not be shedding the virus yet.

3-25-20 Coronavirus: One case lays bare America's testing failure
"Trace, test and treat" has been the mantra of global health bodies in tackling the spread of Covid-19. But innumerable cases around the country show it is a model the United States has failed to recreate. "I'm still sick, it hasn't improved. I'm coughing, I've been feverish and my left lung hurts. There have been times the wheezing and the gurgling in my chest have been so bad at night that it's woken me up. There's no doubt I have all the symptoms." Claudia Bahorik - who is 69 and lives in Bernville, Pennsylvania - does not say this lightly. As a retired physician herself, she has done her research. But this is the story of Dr Bahorik's determined, though so far unsuccessful plight - involving clinics, hospitals and even a senator's office - to find out if she has the coronavirus. It all started as far back as the last week of February. Dr Bahorik had recently been on a trip to New York with her great niece, and soon after developed a cough and a fever, though it appeared to subside. She carried on as planned, performing jury duty, attending the funeral of a friend and travelling to Washington DC for a medical appointment. While she cannot be certain when she got infected, in early March, Dr Bahorik became extremely ill. "By 9 March I was coughing so hard and I could hardly walk, and at that point I really suspected I had the coronavirus." So began Dr Bahorik's quest to get tested, one that she documented. Claudia Bahorik sees her family doctor who agrees that she should have a coronavirus test. The local health system's protocol requires that he first carry out an influenza test, a test for RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus), a chest X-ray and some laboratory work to rule out other possibilities. She goes home to await those results. The doctor informs Claudia that while tests ruled out the other causes, Pennsylvania Department of Health did not give approval for her to get a coronavirus test. She does not meet the criteria of having known exposure to someone who had tested positive for coronavirus, or travelled to a country deemed to be high risk.

3-25-20 There are constructive steps we can all take to fight the coronavirus
The new coronavirus is upending our lives, but simple actions can slow its spread, help our neighbours, foster a sense of togetherness and rejuvenate our immune systems. HARD times lie ahead. Not only do we all have to contend with the threat of covid-19 itself, and its economic fallout, but as nations lock down movement outside our homes, there are extra mental pressures to cope with too. Fortunately, there are constructive things we can do. Our individual actions can slow the spread of the virus. We can help our neighbours to get through this. We can reach out electronically to support others. Such actions may help us develop a new sense of togetherness, and that will help. There is something else, though, that we can do to improve both our physical and mental resilience: exercise. As we report in “How to fight infection by turning back your immune system’s clock”, exercise is a sure-fire route to a stronger immune system. This isn’t your typical well-being advice, issued alongside adjuncts to eat and sleep well. This is grounded in the cutting-edge science behind the idea that our immune system has an age that doesn’t necessarily match our body’s count in years. As we discuss, exercise is just one part of what we can do to reduce our immune age and strengthen our body’s defences against disease. Elsewhere in this issue, we look at the race to identify and test drugs that might treat covid-19 (“We haven’t identified any new drugs for severe covid-19 cases yet”). Caution is needed: many celebratory reports and announcements are premature, and we are still without a drug that can help those who are seriously ill. We also analyse the scientific advice that informed the UK government’s coronavirus strategy (“UK’s scientific advice on coronavirus is a cause for concern”), which until Monday night was notably different from the line many other countries were taking, and report on studies showing that the virus causes negligible symptoms in many of those who have it. Strangely, infectiousness seems to peak before the onset of noticeable symptoms (“You could be spreading the coronavirus without realising you’ve got it”).

3-25-20 Coronavirus: Senate agrees $1.8tn stimulus package with Trump
A stimulus package worth more than $1.8 trillion (£1.5tn) has been agreed by US Senate leaders and the White House to ease the impact of coronavirus. It reportedly includes payments of $1,200 to most American adults and aid to help small businesses pay workers. Full details of the deal, which Congress is expected to pass, are not known. Financial markets around the world rose on news of the deal. President Donald Trump has said he hopes the US will shake off coronavirus within less than three weeks. But the top US infectious disease expert, Anthony Fauci, warned that "you have to be very flexible" about a timeframe for ending the crisis. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned the illness was spreading faster than "a bullet train" in his state, which is at the centre of the pandemic in the US. After 802 deaths and 55,225 confirmed infections, America is more than midway through a 15-day attempt to slow the spread of the virus through social distancing. Around 19,000 people have died with coronavirus across the planet since it emerged in China's Wuhan province in January, and more than 425,000 infections have been confirmed. Southern Europe is now at the centre of the pandemic, with Italy and Spain recording hundreds of new deaths every day. Governments around the world have responded by locking down societies in the hope of slowing the spread of the virus. The agreement announced by Democratic and Republican senator leaders at 01:30EDT (05:30GMT) on Wednesday includes tax rebates, loans, money for hospitals and rescue packages. According to US media, individuals who earn $75,000 or less would get direct payments of $1,200 each, with married couples earning up to $150,000 receiving $2,400 and an additional $500 per each child. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell described the package as a "wartime level of investment" in the US nation. If passed, it would be the largest government economic stimulus in US history.

3-25-20 The dangerous economy-first argument sweeping the right
President Trump is apparently eager to restart the American economy — coronavirus or no coronavirus. In tweets and at a press conference on Monday, Trump repeatedly toyed with calling off the social distancing recommendations that have kept American businesses shuttered and consumers at home, once the current period ends on March 30. The president, his advisors, sympathetic Republicans, and his supporters in the media are reportedly becoming convinced that risking the virus' spread is preferable to keeping the economy on lock down. "The cure can't be worse than the disease," Larry Kudlow, the president's top economic advisor, said on Fox News. "We're going to have to make some difficult tradeoffs." The sudden turn towards "economy-first" thinking by the White House and its allies has several layers worth pulling back. But let's begin with the obvious point: Ending social distancing within a week would be an extraordinarily dangerous move. Health officials are virtually unanimous that we're nowhere close to containing the disease, and it will probably take several more weeks, or even months, of society-wide shutdowns of activity to get COVID-19 cases under control. The novel coronavirus is rapidly headed past 10,000 new infections in America per day. And that's just the infections we know about, since testing capabilities remain grossly inadequate. It's worth noting that most of the shelter-in-place and social distancing orders have come from mayors and governors. Trump has little power to actually change these decisions. He can maybe convince ideologically sympathetic states to go along with him, and possibly encourage loyal voters to defy the rules regardless. But of course those rules will remain in place in many states and cities, and most likely the vast majority of people will stay isolated out of justifiable fear. So we'll still get most of the economic damage from a national stop to commerce, plus all the economic costs of far more infections, far more deaths, and most likely the breakdown of our health-care system. Trump and his people say the cure shouldn't be worse than the disease, but this solution would get us the worst of both. (Webmaster's comment: The evidence is clear. These people care not a whit about human life!)

3-25-20 A pro-lifer shrugs in the face of mass death
The editor of a conservative religious magazine cautions against shutting down the country over a pandemic, even if it means a bunch of people die. With a pandemic rampaging across the country and the world, the stock market falling and rising like a roller coaster at full throttle, Congress passing $2 trillion dollars in economic stimulus to avoid a depression, and the president openly defying the consensus of experts in public health, just keeping up with the news requires sharp focus on the biggest headlines. But that shouldn't prevent you from pausing for a few short minutes to read a remarkable essay recently published by the conservative religious magazine First Things. Authored by the journal's editor R.R. Reno, "Say 'No' to Death's Dominion" manages to distill something important about the character of conservative American Christianity in the Trump era. For years now, commentators have tried to make sense of how so many people who profess devotion to the teachings of Jesus Christ can square that faith with fervent support for what the Republican Party has become in recent years. Usually the answer has to do with the president's embrace of the pro-life movement, along with his facility at antagonizing secular liberals. But Reno aims to go further. In a recent book, he gave a modulated endorsement in classically Christian terms to Trumpian nationalism and populism. And now, in the form of a pithy opinion column, he offers readers a theologically inflected defense of the Fox News line on the coronavirus: Don't shut down the country because of a pesky little virus, even if it means a bunch of people die. For those looking for a primer on how conservative Christianity in the United States might look in the future, Reno's essay is the place to go. On a first read, my initial reaction to Reno's piece was to be stunned that the editor of a magazine that has always been steadfastly pro-life had made an argument implying that Christians should respond to mass death with a collective "meh." (Full disclosure: I worked as an editor at First Things from 2001 to 2005 and quit after an ideological falling out with its late founder and editor in chief Richard John Neuhaus.) Whereas FT has long held that abortion is always wrong in every circumstance because human life has absolute intrinsic worth, Reno seems to argue … something very different.

3-25-20 You can help fight the coronavirus. All you need is a computer
Donating computing time can help create a virtual supercomputer that can search for a cure. Staying home isn’t the only way to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers have added their home computers to a vast network that forms a virtual supercomputer called Folding@home. The Folding@home project, which uses crowdsourced computing power to run simulations of proteins for researchers studying diseases, announced in February that it would begin analyzing proteins found in the coronavirus behind the ongoing pandemic (SN: 3/4/20). These proteins are tools that help the virus infect human cells. Using computer simulations, researchers are mapping the coronavirus’s proteins, in hopes of revealing vulnerabilities that can be attacked with new drugs. The more volunteers who donate their unused computing power to the effort, the faster the virtual supercomputer can work its magic. Since the project announced its new focus on the coronavirus, around 400,000 new volunteers have joined. Science News spoke with project leader Gregory Bowman, a biophysicist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, about how the project works and how people can help. Researchers have taken snapshots of the proteins of the coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, using techniques like X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy (SN: 10/4/17). But proteins don’t hold still, Bowman says. “All the atoms in the protein and [its surroundings] are continually pushing and pulling on each other,” he says. “What we’re doing is modeling those physical interactions in the computer.” Those simulations reveal the different shapes a protein’s structure can take. “You want a nice pocket on the surface of a protein where you can imagine this little molecule that we design inserting into a groove,” Bowman says. But many proteins, particularly those in viruses, have seemingly smooth surfaces, making them hard to target.

3-25-20 UK has enough intensive care units for coronavirus, expert predicts
The UK should now be able to cope with the spread of the covid-19 virus, according to one of the epidemiologists advising the government. Neil Ferguson at Imperial College London gave evidence today to the UK’s parliamentary select committee on science and technology, as part of an inquiry into the nation’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. He said that expected increases in National Health Service capacity and ongoing restrictions on people’s movements make him “reasonably confident” the health service can cope when the predicted peak of the epidemic arrives in two or three weeks. UK deaths from the disease are now unlikely to exceed 20,000, he said, and could be much lower. The need for intensive care beds will get very close to capacity in some areas, but won’t breached it at a national level, said Ferguson. The projections are based on computer simulations of the virus spreading, which take into account the properties of the virus, the reduced transmission between people asked to stay at home, and the capacity of hospitals, particularly intensive care units. The Imperial model has played a key role in informing the UK’s coronavirus strategy, but this approach has been criticised by some. “To be fair, the Imperial people are the some of the best infectious disease modellers on the planet,” Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia, UK told New Scientist last week. “But it is risky to put all your eggs in a single basket.” Ferguson said the current strategy was intended to keep transmission of the virus at low levels until a vaccine was available. Experts say that could take 12 to 18 months and Ferguson acknowledged it was impractical to keep the UK in lockdown for so long, especially because of the impact on the economy. “We’ll be paying for this year for decades to come,” he said.

3-25-20 Canada backs $57bn coronavirus relief bill
Canada's multi-billion-dollar relief package to respond to the coronavirus slowdown has passed in the House of Commons. It allows the government to spend C$82bn ($57bn, £48bn) in emergency aid and economic stimulus. The bill received approval Wednesday with support from all parties, after amendments that removed provisions giving cabinet unprecedented powers. It must now go to the Senate for approval. Legislators passed the package, worth about 3% of the country's GDP, after a debate in the House of Commons that went into the early morning hours. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised to push the bill through parliament this week. "No matter who you are, where you are or what you do, Covid-19 is having an impact on your life," he said Tuesday in a press conference from his residence on Tuesday. "Speed is of the essence." Local governments have been increasing social-distancing measures to stem the spread of coronavirus, which has led thousands of businesses to close their doors. The government said it received 500,000 claims for unemployment benefits last week, about 20-times the amount from the week before. Canada's oil and gas sector has also taken a sharp downturn as the price of oil plummeted, from about $35.82 for a barrel of Western Canadian Select in January to just $5.43 last week. The oil and gas industry accounts for about 10% of the country's gross domestic product. Measures in the bill include a boost to child benefit payments to families with children, wage subsidies for small employers, assistance for people unable to work due to the pandemic, and tax relief measures. An earlier version granted Mr Trudeau's cabinet far-reaching powers to tax and spend without parliamentary approval for up to 21 months. This prompted sharp criticism from opposition parties. Mr Trudeau's Liberal Party lead a minority government and need the support of other parties in order to pass legislation.

3-25-20 Coronavirus: Spain’s death toll surpasses China’s
Spain’s death toll from the coronavirus has surpassed the official figure from China, becoming the second highest in the world. Deaths have risen by 738 in just 24 hours to a total of 3,434 - a record spike for Spain. In comparison, China has officially reported 3,285 deaths, while Italy – the worst affected country – has 6,820. Spain's prime minister will later ask MPs to extend his country’s state of emergency for another two weeks. Lawmakers are expected to agree to Pedro Sánchez's request for lockdown measures to stay in place until 11 April. Under the rules, people are banned from leaving home except for buying essential supplies and medicines, or for work. Figures released by the health ministry on Wednesday show that in just 24 hours, Spain’s national death toll rose by 738. Its number of cases soared by 7,973. These are the highest figures for Spain in a single day. The country now has 47,610 confirmed cases. Catalonia accounts for close to 10,000 of those, while the Basque Country and Andalusia both have more than 3,000 cases. But the worst affected region is the area around the capital Madrid, which has recorded 14,597 cases. Madrid’s municipal funeral home announced on Tuesday it has stopped collecting victims of Covid-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – while the city’s major ice rink will be used as a temporary mortuary. On Monday, soldiers in Spain brought in to tackle the outbreak found retirement home patients abandoned and even dead in their beds. The defence ministry said that staff at some care homes had left after the coronavirus was detected. There have been more than 435,000 confirmed cases worldwide. Europe is now the centre of the global outbreak. Leaders of nine EU countries have called for the 27-member bloc to raise funds through a “common debt instrument” to tackle the pandemic.

3-25-20 Coronavirus: Trump hopes US will shake off pandemic by Easter
US President Donald Trump has said he hopes the US will shake off coronavirus by Easter, even as New York's governor sounded the alarm that the illness is spreading faster than "a bullet train". The president told a White House news briefing reopening the US early next month would be "a beautiful timeline". Hours later, the Senate agreed a $2 trillion (£1.7tn) economic rescue plan with the White House. The deal will be passed later on Wednesday by the Senate. "At last, we have a deal," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said, citing the massive "wartime level of investment into our nation". The package includes tax rebates, loans, money for hospitals and rescue packages for businesses. The House of Representatives still needs to pass the legislation before it is sent to Mr Trump for his signature. The US has recorded almost 55,000 cases and nearly 800 deaths from coronavirus. Globally there have been more than 420,000 cases confirmed and approaching 19,000 deaths. On Tuesday, he told Fox News he hoped the country could get back to normal by Easter, which is on the weekend of 12 April. Mr Trump, a Republican, said: "We're going to be opening relatively soon... I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter." He added in a subsequent interview: "Easter is a very special day for me... and you'll have packed churches all over our country." Mr Trump also warned that unless the country reopened for business it could suffer "a massive recession or depression". The president said: "You're going to lose people. You're going to have suicides by the thousands. You're going to have all sorts of things happen. You're going to have instability." Speaking at a White House briefing later, Mr Trump said he was beginning "to see the light at the end of the tunnel", though he said "our decision will be based on hard facts and data". Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading expert on infectious diseases and a member of the White House's coronavirus task force, told the same press briefing: "No-one is going to want to tone down anything when you see what is going on in a place like New York City."

3-24-20 Coronavirus: Reopening the US by Easter 'a beautiful timeline'
President Trump said he was speaking to the Coronavirus Taskforce about when to open the US for business. He thought Easter - the weekend of 12 April - presented a "beautiful time, a beautiful timeline" and said he hoped to be able to open at least some sections of the country. The US began a 15-day period on 16 March to encourage all Americans to work from home when possible and limit gatherings of more than 10 people. Earlier on Tuesday, the governor for New York, Andrew Cuomo, urged other states to look at what has happening there as an example of what could follow. With 25,665 cases in New York, the state accounts for more than half of all US infections.

3-24-20 Why US society is so vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic
The economic and healthcare policies pursued by the US in recent years have failed to prioritise public health and made it vulnerable to a pandemic. Could things be different? THE coronavirus outbreak is a once-in-a-century event – and it seems the US has spent the past 100 years unwittingly weakening its defences. In fact, the US is probably the developed economy with the worst type of healthcare system to tackle covid-19. Many economic and healthcare policies it has enacted don’t prioritise public health, and it is finding out first-hand how dangerous that can be. The impact of this has been seen in the past month or so in the lack of testing – as of 23 March, the US has done 238,632 tests compared with 338,036 in South Korea, a far smaller country. “We don’t have enough resources to do the testing quickly enough, and have been slow to measure the epidemic and reduce its spread,” says Ben Sommers, a health economist and physician at Harvard University. But the long-term issue is that many people in the US simply don’t have adequate healthcare, he says. “The biggest holes in our system are the issues of affordability and financing.” About 8 per cent of people in the country don’t have health insurance – and many more have plans that don’t cover the full cost of healthcare. In early March, a man in Florida said that even though he had insurance, he was expected to pay about $1400 to get a test for covid-19. As businesses close to enable social distancing, some people will lose their jobs and with it their employer-provided insurance. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now lifted restrictions on testing and made it free to all. But Sommers points out that if someone needs care for severe symptoms – for example, a ventilator in an intensive care unit (ICU) to help them breathe – that care won’t be covered by the federal government. That isn’t to say that universal healthcare coverage is a panacea. The US has one of the highest number of ICU beds per 100,000 population, at 34.7 according to the latest figures available. The UK, with its National Health Service, has just 6.6, while Italy, with a similar universal service, has 12.5. “I understand the temptation to look at the new coronavirus and say we need to get everyone covered. As we see in Italy, that alone isn’t going to fix this,” says Sommers.

3-24-20 Coronavirus: What this crisis reveals about US - and its president
There are no fresh flowers at the 9/11 Memorial any more. An American altar usually decorated with roses, carnations and postcard-sized Stars and Stripes is sequestered behind a makeshift plastic railing. Broadway, the "Great White Way", is dark. The subway system is a ghost train. Staten Island ferries keep cutting through the choppy waters of New York harbour, passing Lady Liberty on the way in and out of Lower Manhattan, but hardly any passengers are on board. Times Square, normally such a roiling mass, is almost devoid of people. In the midst of this planetary pandemic, nobody wants to meet any more at the "Crossroads of the World". A city known for its infectious energy, a city that likes to boast it never even has to sleep, has been forced into hibernation. With more cases than any other American conurbation, this city is once again Ground Zero, a term no New Yorker ever wanted applied here again. With manic suddenness, our world has been turned upside down, just as it was on September 11th. Nations, like individuals, reveal themselves at times of crisis. In emergencies of this immense magnitude, it soon becomes evident whether a sitting president is equal to the moment. So what have we learnt about the United States as it confronts this national and global catastrophe? Will lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who have been in a form of legislative lockdown for years now, a paralysis borne of partisanship, rise to the challenge? And what of the man who now sits behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office, who has cloaked himself in the mantle of "wartime president"? Of the three questions, the last one is the least interesting, largely because Donald Trump's response has been so predictable. He has not changed. He has not grown. He has not admitted errors. He has shown little humility. Instead, all the hallmarks of his presidency have been on agitated display. The ridiculous boasts - he has awarded himself a 10 out of 10 for his handling of the crisis. The politicisation of what should be the apolitical - he toured the Centers for Disease Control wearing a campaign cap emblazoned with the slogan "Keep America Great". The mind-bending truth-twisting - he now claims to have fully appreciated the scale of the pandemic early on, despite dismissing and downplaying the threat for weeks. The attacks on the "fake news" media, including a particularly vicious assault on a White House reporter who asked what was his message to frightened Americans: "I tell them you are a terrible reporter." His pettiness and peevishness - mocking Senator Mitt Romney, the only Republican who voted at the end of the impeachment trial for his removal from office, for going into isolation.

3-24-20 Coronavirus latest news: Wuhan plans to end lockdown in April
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic. Residents of Wuhan in Hubei province will be allowed to leave the city from 8 April if they are given the all-clear from a health app issued by Chinese authorities. The city has been under complete lockdown since 23 January. People in other areas of Hubei will be able to travel from tomorrow. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the US may become the next centre of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, US president Donald Trump has controversially suggested that the US could soon re-open for business. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be postponed to summer 2021. Many other major sporting events, including Six Nations Rugby, the UEFA European Football Championship and the London Marathon have also been postponed. India has announced a total lockdown of its 1.3 billion citizens for 21 days. This comes after the WHO warned yesterday that the pandemic is accelerating. Ivory Coast and Senegal have both declared states of emergency. Ivory Coast has begun to introduce confinement measures, while Senegal will introduce a curfew from dusk to dawn. A modelling study of a simulated Singapore published in The Lancet has estimated that a combination of physical distancing interventions, including quarantine for infected individuals and their families, school closures, and workplace distancing is most effective at reducing the number of coronavirus cases. Researchers are inventing new types of masks and ventilators to help tackle the pandemic. A new ventilator has already been used to treat a person in the UK. In the UK, the government said a decision to temporarily allow early medical abortions to be carried out at home was published in error.The worldwide death toll has passed 17,000. The number of confirmed cases is more than 390,000, according to the map and dashboard from Johns Hopkins University, though the true number of cases will be much higher.

3-24-20 How America can get its economy back up and running as quickly as possible
Letting the pandemic spread unchecked would only make things much, much worse. For about a week, it seemed as though President Trump and the Republican Party were taking the novel coronavirus epidemic at least sort of seriously. But you didn't think we'd escape that easily, did you? Now a new argument is quickly gaining currency on the right, and among some libertarians — with all the economic damage from the outbreak, perhaps we should just lift the social distancing measures in a week or so and hope for the best? As my colleague Joel Mathis writes, this idea is complete lunacy. However, other countries have demonstrated there is a way to make shutdown measures as short as possible, protect the American people from the fallout, and keep the economy ticking over in the meantime. The smartest countries like Taiwan and Vietnam managed to get ahead of their outbreaks, but that is already out of the question for us — the United States probably already has the worst outbreak in the world, and it is going to get a lot worse before it gets better. However, China, South Korea, and some European countries have demonstrated a viable backup strategy. First, you lock down the population to prevent the spread of the virus, and boost up medical system capacity as much as possible. The state must recruit as many additional medical workers as possible, build field hospitals where they are most needed, and mobilize factories wartime-style to produce vital supplies like gloves, N95 and surgical masks, protective gowns and suits, disinfectant and hand sanitizer, and so on. With sufficient production, both medical personnel and ordinary citizens can protect themselves and slow transmission further. Meanwhile, as Denmark is doing, you pass an economic rescue that keeps people fed and housed during the lockdown. As I've discussed previously, this includes stuff like paying businesses to keep their staff on payroll, boosting unemployment insurance, direct cash payments to individuals, and so on. The basic idea is to keep systems of economic production in stasis until the crisis passes.

3-24-20 Coronavirus: Wuhan to ease lockdown as world battles pandemic
The lockdown in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the global coronavirus outbreak began, will be partially lifted on 8 April, officials say. Travel restrictions in the rest of Hubei province, where Wuhan is located, will be lifted from midnight on Tuesday - for residents who are healthy. A single new case of the virus was reported in Wuhan on Tuesday following almost a week of no new cases. Countries around the world have gone into lockdown or imposed severe curbs. The UK is getting to grips with sweeping new measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus, including a ban on public gatherings of more than two people and the immediate closure of shops selling non-essential goods. Meanwhile, health experts say Americans must limit their social interactions or the number of infections will overwhelm the health care system there. Spanish soldiers helping to fight the coronavirus pandemic have found elderly patients in retirement homes abandoned and, in some cases, dead in their beds, the defence ministry has said. An ice rink in Madrid is to be used as a temporary mortuary for Covid-19 victims. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the pandemic is accelerating, with more than 300,000 cases now confirmed. It is urging countries to adopt rigorous testing and contact-tracing strategies. Wuhan has been shut off from the rest of the world since the middle of January. But officials now say anyone who has a "green" code on a widely used smartphone health app will be allowed to leave the city from 8 April. Earlier, the authorities reported a new case of coronavirus in Wuhan, ending a five-day run of no new cases in the city. It comes after health officials there confirmed that they were not counting cases of people who were positive but had not been admitted to hospital or did not show any symptoms of the disease. Official government figures say there have been 78 new cases reported on the Chinese mainland in the last 24 hours. All but four of them were caused by infected travellers arriving from abroad. This so-called "second wave" of imported infections is also affecting countries like South Korea and Singapore, which had been successful in stopping the spread of disease in recent weeks. South Korea has been seeing a drop in its daily tally of new cases. On Tuesday it reported its lowest number since 29 February. (Webmaster's comment: The China is beating this virus, why can't the United states?)

3-24-20 Trump says coronavirus not Asian Americans' fault
US President Donald Trump - under fire for labelling Covid-19 the "Chinese virus" - has said Asian Americans should not be blamed for the outbreak. He said it is "very important that we totally protect" Asian Americans, whom he praised as "amazing people". Mr Trump spoke out amid rising reports of verbal and physical attacks on the community amid the pandemic. Coronavirus is still spreading in the US, which currently has more than 43,000 confirmed cases and 533 deaths. At a White House coronavirus task force news conference on Monday, Mr Trump said: "It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States and all around the world. "They're amazing people and the spreading of the virus is not their fault in any way, shape or form. "They're working closely with us to get rid of it - we will prevail together." Asked by a reporter why he had spoken out, Mr Trump said: "It seems that there could be a little bit of nasty language toward the Asian Americans in our country and I don't like that at all. "These are incredible people, they love our country and I'm not going to let it happen." During press conferences last week, Mr Trump used the term "China virus" and "Chinese virus", rejecting suggestions from reporters that the term was racist. "It comes from China," Mr Trump said then. "It's not racist at all." The World Health Organization has issued guidance against "stigmatising certain communities" when naming illnesses. US lawmaker Judy Chu - a California Democrat and chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus - was not impressed by Mr Trump's remarks. She told NBC News his comments would not "be necessary if he and his supporters had not already endangered so many by spreading this toxic xenophobia".

3-24-20 This is not how America should be responding
The country must come together to defeat the virus. The coronavirus pandemic has already proven to be a profound institutional test for countries around the world — a test that many countries have yet to pass. It's a test of state capacity: Can the government formulate and execute a coherent and sensible response to a novel threat quickly enough to make a difference? It's a test of the health-care system: Are there enough trained doctors nurses and other providers; enough basic supplies like masks and pharmaceuticals; enough hospital beds; and can the delivery and financing system get care where needed quickly? And it's also a test of basic social and political cohesion: Can society as a whole pull together to solve a collective problem, something that will require both central coordination and spontaneous cooperation? So far, the United States is failing on almost every level. But it's the last test that matters most, both in terms of being able to dig our way out of the hole we've already dug and recovering afterward. There has been a lot of finger-pointing about the lethargy with which America responded to the initial reports out of Asia. Our mistakes at that time were costly indeed: We had two months to massively ramp up testing capacity, roll out production of masks and other basics, and come up with a plan for tracking and isolating people with the virus. Instead, we mostly dithered; worse, our national political leadership actively denied the problem. It's worth remembering, though, that lethargy was the most common public response outside of those countries that had prior experience with SARS. Countries like Taiwan and Singapore reacted so swiftly and effectively in part because they had already been through a terrifying test drive. Canada and the U.K., France and Germany, Italy and Spain, Iran and Israel didn't all make the same mistakes as we did, and have varied between them in the alacrity and comprehensiveness of their responses. Nonetheless, they are all playing catch-up as their death tolls mount and their economies collapse. America's health-care system has profound flaws that are being exposed by this crisis, most especially the patchwork system of financing that leaves so many falling through the cracks. But the over-investment that is another feature of our system may yet pay some dividends: in the form of more ICU beds per capita than most countries have, for example, or the enormous capabilities of our biomedical research institutions. Whatever our views on single-payer health care in general, a robust response right now to this specific crisis is entirely feasible economically and technologically, provided we demonstrate the necessary political will and coordination.

3-24-20 Coronavirus: Trump wants US open for business amid pandemic
As a growing number of states issue "shelter in place" orders, businesses shutter and Americans everywhere are told to limit outings and practise social distancing, Donald Trump may be having second thoughts. For more than a week, Trump administration officials and state leaders have been talking of the need to "bend the curve" of the coronavirus outbreak, limiting the spread of the illness to prevent the American healthcare system from being overwhelmed. The steep economic toll, however, is becoming increasingly apparent. Last week Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin predicted that US unemployment could reach 20%. On Thursday the Treasury Department will release last week's new jobless claims, and the numbers are sure to be in the millions. A Goldman Sachs report estimated that the nation's gross domestic product in the second quarter could shrink by 24%, dwarfing the previous 10% record decline in 1958. But at Monday's White House coronavirus news conference, the president said: "America will again and soon be open for business." In the late hours of Sunday night, Trump had vented his concerns. "WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF," he tweeted, using the all-caps he reserves for matters of apparent urgency. "AT THE END OF THE 15 DAY PERIOD, WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!" The 15-day period the president referenced began on 16 March, when the White House announced new Centers for Disease Control guidelines encouraging all Americans to work from home when possible and limit gatherings of more than 10 people. As is often the case, the president's tweet may have been prompted by watching a segment on Fox News. On Sunday evening, host (and former advisor to then-British PM David Cameron) Steve Hilton warned that an economic collapse would itself result in avoidable deaths and other hardships - that the "cure" could be worse than the "disease". "Our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces whipping up fear over this virus, they can afford an indefinite shutdown," Hilton said. "Working Americans can't. They'll be crushed by it." (Webmaster's comment: Trump only cares about the economy so he can win the next election. How many people die in this process doesn't matter to him!)

3-24-20 Trump's false choice about coronavirus
Your economy or your life? You can't negotiate with a pandemic. A virus doesn't respond to threats, bluffs, wheedling or flattery. You can't change its behavior by setting deadlines. All you can really do is slow it down, work to find a vaccine or effective treatment, and hope for the best. The spread of the COVID-19 virus in recent weeks has done much in recent weeks to reveal humanity's limited control over the world in which we live. The memo hasn't been received by President Trump, though. On Monday, his "15 days to stop the spread" effort — originally conceived to challenge Americans to radical action in the face of illness — suddenly became a deadline, after which the president will apparently take it upon himself to decide who among his fellow citizens will live and who will die. Time and tide wait for no human. Neither, apparently, does the economy. "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself," the president said Monday afternoon, warning that he won't let "social distancing" get in the way of reviving America's suddenly cratered commerce. "At the end of the 15-day period, we'll make a decision as to which way we want to go, where we want to go, the timing, and essentially we're referring to the timing of the opening ... of our country." Monday was also the first day the United States reported more than 100 deaths from the coronavirus. By the end of this week — by the end of the president's 15-day period — that number is likely to be much higher. (Webmaster's comment: Right now its at 791!) "Things are going to get worse before they get better," Surgeon General Jerome Adams told the Today show on Monday. That's an argument for staying locked down for awhile yet. Indeed, there are two big problems with Trump's apparent desire to liberate the economy from the clutches of a government shutdown. The first is legal — the shutdown orders are taking place at the state and local levels; Trump can't override the decisions of governors and mayors in their spheres of authority. (He also can't order, say, the NBA to resume play.) The second is moral and psychological — there is unlikely to be much "pent-up demand" to jumpstart the economy if Americans remain terrified to go out, or if they're grieving lost friends and family for months to come. The best way to fight the economic damage of COVID-19 is to fight the virus itself. Under those circumstances, it would be easier and safer simply to pay everybody to stay home, right?

3-24-20 Trump's crackdown on skilled immigrants is hurting our coronavirus response
Limiting visas for skilled workers has kept out huge numbers of doctors, nurses, and researchers .President Donald Trump has said he is directing federal medical bureaucracies to cut any red tape that might be hampering new tests and better drugs to fight coronavirus. While he's at it, he should direct immigration bureaucracies to do the same. The H-1B visa program that allows companies to hire foreign technical talent has always been woefully inadequate. The annual visa cap — 65,000 for professionals and 25,000 for foreign students graduating from American universities — fills within weeks of opening every April. That means companies that don't land a visa have to wait another year when they can play the lottery again. Most hires can't simply sit around, so they leave for better climes elsewhere, especially Canada, which has become a popular destination for spurned H-1Bs. Now, more than ever, the coronavirus crisis means the U.S. and the world can't afford to let this happen. Whatever the case for restricting travel by infected foreigners, foreign health care professionals fighting to save American lives and foreign researchers developing treatments should be allowed to stay in the country if they are here and fast-tracked in if they are not. But that'll require Trump to undo all the damage his administration has done to America's ability to recruit talented foreigners and put more welcoming policies in place. Thanks to Trump's 2017 Buy American and Hire American directive, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) massively increased the red tape for the H-1B program. Why? Because it wanted to ensure that immigrants wouldn't land any job that an American can do — never mind that STEM graduates have been in short supply for years with jobs going a begging. To this end, it started issuing twice as many "requests for evidence," requiring employers to furnish even more documentation than usual to justify that they absolutely needed a foreign-born worker for a job before handing them an H-1B. And it started rejecting more applications. The upshot has been more delays and denials. The denial rate for new H-1Bs in 2016 before Trump's directive was 10 percent. Last year? 24 percent. Worse, H-1B renewals used to be a pro-forma matter. But now they are being treated like new applications. So their denial rate too has spiked from 4 percent in 2016 to 18 percent in the first quarter of 2019. This means that foreigners who have been living and making vital economic contributions for years are being suddenly asked to pack up and leave. Given how much the health care sector relies on them, the post-coronavirus cost of kicking these folks out won't only be in dollars and cents but also in death and illness.

3-23-20 Coronavirus latest news: Global pandemic is 'accelerating' warns WHO
The latest coronavirus news updated every day including coronavirus cases, the latest news, features and interviews from New Scientist and essential information about the covid-19 pandemic The coronavirus pandemic is accelerating, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said today in a press briefing as the number of deaths from covid-19 passed 15,000.The UK government is considering firmer policies to force people to distance themselves from others, while the lockdown in Italy has already been ramped up further with all non-essential businesses now closed. 100 million people are now under lockdown in India and more than 1000 people have been arrested in Sri Lanka for breaking a nationwide curfew declared on Friday. The world’s busiest international airport in Dubai will suspend all passenger flights for two weeks from 25 March. All domestic flights in India will be grounded from 25 March onwards. There are early signs that the rise in new infections in Germany may be plateauing, according to the head of the country’s public health institute, Lothar Wieler. South Korea today reported the fewest new covid-19 cases since the peak on 29 February. The first two cases of coronavirus have been reported in the Palestinian territory of Gaza, where about two million people live in overcrowded cities and refugee camps. Syria is bracing for lockdown after the Health Ministry reported the first case of coronavirus on Sunday. A prominent member of the International Olympic Committee says the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games will be postponed. Australia and Canada have already announced they won’t be sending teams to compete. Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook has donated 720,000 masks to healthcare workers in the US. Over the weekend, the billionaire co-founder of Alibaba, Jack Ma, donated millions of face masks, testing kits and other equipment to countries in Africa.

3-23-20 Coronavirus: New York warns of major medical shortages in 10 days
The coronavirus outbreak in New York will get worse, with damage accelerated by shortages of key medical supplies, the city's mayor has said. "We're about 10 days away from seeing widespread shortages," Bill de Blasio said on Sunday. "If we don't get more ventilators people will die." New York state has become the epicentre of the outbreak in the US and accounts for almost half of the country's cases. There are now 31,057 confirmed cases nationwide, with 390 deaths. On Sunday, the state's Governor Andrew Cuomo said 15,168 people had tested positive for the virus, an increase of more than 4,000 from the previous day. "All Americans deserve the blunt truth," Mr de Blasio told NBC News. "It's only getting worse, and in fact April and May are going to be a lot worse." New York now accounts for roughly 5% of Covid-19 cases worldwide. On Friday, President Donald Trump approved a major disaster declaration for the state which gave it access to billions of dollars of federal aid. However, Mr de Blasio has continued to criticise the administration for what he views as an inadequate response. "I cannot be blunt enough: if the president doesn't act, people will die who could have lived otherwise," he said. "This is going to be the greatest crisis, domestically, since the Great Depression," he added, referring to the economic crisis of the 1930s. Speaking at a news conference at the White House on Sunday, Mr Trump said he had also approved a major disaster declaration for Washington state and would approve a similar measure for California. "This is a challenging time for all Americans. We're enduring a great national trial," he said. President Trump also said a number of medical supplies were being sent to locations nationwide, as well as emergency medical stations for New York, Washington and California, the worst-hit states.

3-23-20 Coronavirus: Trump to deploy National Guard in three states
US President Donald Trump has ordered the deployment of National Guard troops in the three states hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak. Troops will be used in New York, California and Washington to deliver medical aid and set up medical stations after the number of deaths nationwide rose to 471 and infections to 35,244. There are fears of a shortage of key medical supplies in New York City. A bill to fund national relief efforts has been blocked in the Senate. Opposition Democrats want the emergency stimulus bill, which is worth almost $1.4 trillion (£1.2 trillion), to include more money for state and local governments and hospitals, while Mr Trump's Republicans are pushing for quick action to reassure financial markets. President Trump described the crisis facing the US as a "war", saying: "I want to assure the American people that we're doing everything we can each day to confront and ultimately defeat this horrible invisible enemy." The medical stations the National Guard will set up have a capacity of 4,000 beds, 2,000 of which will go to California, 1,000 to New York and 1,000 to Washington state. In addition, Mr Trump said he had approved requests to issue a major disaster declaration for the states of New York and Washington, and would do the same for California "very shortly". Such declarations make federal funds available for relief work. Earlier, several state governors and local authorities pleaded with the federal government to make more medical supplies available. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Sunday: "We're about 10 days away from seeing widespread shortages. If we don't get more ventilators people will die." New York state accounts for almost half of the country's cases. In California, officials have instructed hospitals to restrict coronavirus testing because of a shortage of medical supplies. Meanwhile, a hospital in Washington state - once the centre of the US outbreak - said it could run out of ventilators by April.

3-23-20 Coronavirus: South Korea reports lowest number of new cases in four weeks
South Korea has reported the lowest number of new coronavirus cases since infection rates peaked four weeks ago, fuelling hope Asia's worst outbreak outside China may be abating. The country recorded 64 new cases of Covid-19 in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 8,961 with 111 deaths. But health officials warn against complacency, saying the country still faces a long war against the infection. Europe is currently at the centre of the pandemic. Italy reported 651 new deaths on Sunday, bringing the total there to 5,476, while Spain added another 462 deaths in the past 24 hours for a total of 2,182. In New York, the city mayor warned of a worsening outbreak, with damage accelerated by shortages of key medical supplies. And the expectation that the battle against the virus will be a long one was reinforced by news from Japan that its prime minister has admitted for the first time that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games could be postponed. Nearly 20,000 people are tested every day for coronavirus in South Korea, more people per capita than anywhere else in the world. The country has created a network of public and private laboratories and provides dozens of drive-through centres where people with symptoms can check their health status. South Korea developed its approach after an outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (Mers) in 2015, when 36 people died in the country, which had the second-largest number of Mers cases after Saudi Arabia. Mers forced the country to reassess its approach to infectious diseases and its Centres for Disease Control set up a special department to prepare for the worst, a move which appears to have paid off. Laws on managing and publicly sharing information on patients with infectious diseases changed significantly after Mers and could be seen in action this year when the government used phone alerts to tell people if they were in the vicinity of a patient.

3-23-20 Global economy will suffer for years to come, says OECD
The world will take years to recover from the coronavirus pandemic, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has warned. Angel Gurría, OECD secretary general, said the economic shock was already bigger than the financial crisis. He told the BBC it was "wishful thinking" to believe that countries would bounce back quickly. The OECD has called on governments to rip up spending rules to ensure speedy testing and treatment of the virus. Mr Gurría said a recent warning that a serious outbreak could halve global growth to 1.5% already looked too optimistic. While the number of job losses and company failures remains uncertain, Mr Gurría said countries would be dealing with the economic fallout "for years to come". He said many of the world's biggest economies would fall into recession in the coming months - defined as two consecutive quarters of economic decline. "Even if you don't get a worldwide recession, you're going to get either no growth or negative growth in many of the economies of the world, including some of the larger ones, and therefore you're going to get not only low growth this year, but also it's going to take longer to pick up in the in the future," he added. Mr Gurría said the economic uncertainty created by the virus outbreak meant economies were already suffering a bigger shock than during the September 11 terror attacks or the 2008 financial crisis. He said: "And the reason is that we don't know how much it's going to take to fix the unemployment because we don't know how many people are going to end up unemployed. We also don't know how much it's going to take to fix the hundreds of thousands of small and medium enterprises who are already suffering." Governments around the world have taken unprecedented steps to support workers and businesses during the outbreak.

3-23-20 UK's scientific advice on coronavirus is a cause for concern
As the covid-19 pandemic rages on, governments around the world are turning to teams of scientists for guidance on how to proceed. The UK government finally published the scientific advice it has received on Friday 20 March. At first, most commentators welcomed the transparency. But closer reading of the documents made available online suggests a few causes for concern. The strongest advice from the World Health Organization (WHO) on controlling outbreaks of the coronavirus – testing – barely gets a mention, for example. And the guidance seems to lean heavily on a single model of the outbreak – which some scientists suggest contains systematic errors. The UK government is advised by a panel of epidemiologists, infectious disease modellers, virologists and medical doctors, as well as groups that focus on pandemic influenzas. The exact members vary, a government representative told New Scientist. The dozen reports compiled by this group summarise what is known about the virus and its spread, and the likely impact of any government measures taken to prevent it. Social distancing comes up several times. But there is barely a mention of widespread testing, despite the WHO director general’s pleas to all countries to “test, test, test”. As the WHO’s assistant director-general Bruce Aylward told New Scientist last week, the countries that are best able to control outbreaks of the virus are those extensively testing people who might be infected, isolating them away from their friends and relatives, and tracing who they have been in contact with. The UK guidance doesn’t mention this. “I think it is incredibly surprising that testing and contact tracing is overlooked,” says Devi Sridhar at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “Outbreaks begin and end with testing.” The reports draw heavily on models of how the outbreak will develop with various interventions. These models all come from one team, based at Imperial College London. “It comes across as though they have based everything on the Imperial model,” says Paul Hunter at the University of East Anglia, UK.

3-22-20 How bad will the coronavirus crash get?
From 'very bad' to 'we're ****ed': The range economic outcomes is getting scarier by the day. hen I set out to write this piece, my goal was to give readers some practical sense of the most likely economic consequences of the coronavirus crisis: a best-to-worst range of outcomes. That proved difficult for a few reasons. First, we've never really dealt with anything like this, at least in the modern economic era. Second, what happens next depends enormously on the government's actions: how fast, how big, and how well-designed the policy response is. Third, and this is the tough part to write: The speed at which the projections are getting much worse is simply head-spinning. Numbers that seemed stratospheric days ago are now the mid-to-low range. "Estimates are a little bit all over the place at the moment," Mark Paul, an assistant professor of economic and environmental studies at the New College of Florida, told The Week. "But I think it's clear that the economy is currently in free fall, and without sizable government intervention in the form of large scale fiscal stimulus, we risk having an economic recession or depression that dwarfs the 2008 financial crisis." With that uplifting introduction, let's try to put some numbers on this thing. Last week, JP Morgan anticipated the economy would contract by 2 percent in the first quarter of 2020 (January, February, March) and then contract by 3 percent in the second quarter (April, May, June). By Monday, Goldman Sachs said the economy would stop growing in the first quarter, and shrink by 5 percent in the second. To give you some context: In the Great Recession, the economy shrank 2.3 percent in the first quarter of 2008, rebounded to positive 2.1 percent growth in the second, then dropped again by negative 2.1 percent in the third quarter, then finally fell by a brutal 8.4 percent in the fourth quarter, before finally starting to grow again. And unfortunately, as this past week went on, projections of the coronavirus' economic impact rocketed past even the worst of the 2008 collapse. Last Wednesday, JP Morgan projected negative 4 percent growth in the first quarter, and negative 14 percent in the second. On Thursday, Bank of America projected negative 12 percent growth in the second quarter. Finally, Friday morning, Goldman Sachs released its own renewed figures: negative 6 percent in the first quarter and negative 24 percent in the second — almost three times the worst quarter of the Great Recession. Which is simply staggering. Goldman's latest numbers suggested unemployment would peak at 9 percent. But it's also hard to see how a 24 percent drop in the size of the economy in a single quarter wouldn't come with a significantly worse jobs crash than we saw at the peak of the Great Recession.

3-22-20 Coronavirus: Lombardy region announces stricter measures
The Italian region of Lombardy has introduced stricter measures in a bid to tackle the spread of coronavirus. Under the new rules announced late on Saturday, sport and physical activity outside, even individually, is banned. Using vending machines is forbidden. The move comes as Italy reported nearly 800 coronavirus deaths on Saturday and saw its toll for the past month reach 4,825, the highest in the world. Lombardy is the worst-affected region in the country with 3,095 deaths. The region's President Attilio Fontana announced the new measures in a statement. Businesses have been asked to close all operations excluding "essential" supply chains. Work on building sites will be stopped apart from those working on hospitals, roads and railways. All open-air weekly markets have been suspended. Across Italy there have been 53,578 total cases to date, with about 6,000 people having recovered. Lombardy has been under a lockdown since 8 March and the government had hoped to see results there first. On Saturday, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered the closure of all "non-essential" businesses in the country. However he did not specify which businesses would be considered essential. Supermarkets, pharmacies, post offices and banks will remain open and public transport will continue to run. During a television address to the nation, he said: "We will slow down the country's productive engine, but we will not stop it." Mr Conte described the situation as "the most difficult crisis in our post-war period". Despite the measures introduced so far, the number of new cases and deaths has continued to grow. There have been about 300,000 cases of the virus worldwide with 13,000 deaths.

3-22-20 Coronavirus: Australia to close pubs, cafes and places of worship
Australia is shutting down non-essential services as coronavirus cases rise rapidly in the country. Pubs, clubs, gyms, cinemas and places of worship will be shut from midday on Monday, while restaurants and cafes will have to switch to takeaway only. Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the restrictions after a national cabinet meeting. The number of cases in Australia has risen sharply in recent days, reaching 1,315. New South Wales (NSW), home to Sydney, is the worst-affected state with 533 confirmed cases. Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, has 296 cases, while Queensland has 259. The new restrictions will see many businesses close but supermarkets, petrol stations, pharmacies and home delivery services will continue running. The prime minister said he wanted to keep schools open but parents would be able to keep their children at home if they wished to do so. "I don't want to see our children lose an entire year of their education," he said. Some states, including Victoria, have signalled that they want to close schools. Seven people have died across Australia so far from Covid-19. The new measures come after large crowds gathered on Sydney's beaches including Bondi on Saturday, flouting social distancing advice. Mr Morrison said that the federal and state governments had decided to act because Australians were not obeying guidelines. But he added: "We are not putting in place lockdowns that put people in and confine them to their homes. "That is not a measure that has been contemplated at this point." Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said people, especially the young, had to realise that they needed to live "very differently" and stop going out in order to control the virus.

3-22-20 Coronavirus: India observes 14-hour curfew
More than a billion people in India have been asked to stay indoords for 14-hours to try to combat the coronavirus pandemic. When he announced the curfew last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the curfew last week told citizens that it would be a test in order to assess the county's ability to fight the virus. There have been 315 recorded cases in India has so far.

3-22-20 Shutting the door to legal immigration
The Trump administration is building a virtual wall to keep out potential immigrants who apply legally. Here's everything you need to know: (Webmaster's comment: The whole idea is to make America white!)

  1. What is the new policy? Since President Trump took office, his administration has dramatically cut the number of people obtaining lawful permanent residence — in other words, a green card — from 1,063,289 during the 2016 fiscal year to about 577,000 in 2019.
  2. How has that been accomplished? With a large number of rule changes. Rules for applying for asylum have been tightened, forcing 60,000 people to wait in camps in Mexico as their applications are processed. The administration has capped the admissible number of refugees fleeing violence or persecution at a historic low of 18,000, down from 110,000 in 2016.
  3. What is the public charge rule? Reportedly "a singular obsession" of Trump adviser Stephen Miller, it could prove the most significant change to immigration policy yet. Originally, the public charge rule was part of the Immigration Act of 1891 and was used to deny applications from "idiots, insane persons, paupers, or persons likely to become a public charge." But in August, the administration broadened that evaluation to include 20 separate factors, including English-language proficiency, credit scores, student loans, income level, and whether an applicant had received "noncash benefits for basic needs."
  4. What about fees? They are being raised across the board, in an apparent attempt to dissuade the poor from even applying. There's a new $50 fee on applications for asylum, for example, which many destitute people fleeing drug gangs or political persecution can't pay. In November, Trump issued a proclamation that all green card applicants had to prove to a consular officer that they plan to buy health insurance within 30 days of their arrival, or that they have sufficient funds for medical care.
  5. What else is in store? Last spring, the administration released a proposal for a "merit-based" revamp of the existing immigration system. It would, if enacted by Congress, award applicants "eligibility points" based on criteria such as English fluency, whether they have existing job offers, professional skills, education level, and age, as well as a category called "patriotic assimilation," which might include a test on historical texts like George Washington's farewell address.
  6. Worsening a labor shortage: Critics claim that Trump's immigration policies are making an existing labor shortage worse. In January, before the disruption caused by the new coronavirus, the Labor Department released data showing that U.S. employers were trying to fill 7.5 million vacant positions, while only 6.5 million people were looking for jobs. It was the 11th month in a row that open positions outnumbered applicants, a reversal of a 20-year trend.

3-21-20 Coronavirus: One in five Americans ordered to stay at home
A number of US states have ordered shutdowns with one in five Americans soon set to be under a "stay at home" order. Connecticut and New Jersey are joining Illinois and California in ordering residents to stay at home in order to combat the spread of coronavirus. New York State has ordered non-essential businesses to close. The virus has claimed nearly 230 lives in the US and infected more than 18,500 people. Globally more than 275,000 patients have tested positive for the respiratory illness and more than 11,000 have died. A ban on non-essential travel across the US-Canada border came into effect overnight. On Friday, Connecticut, Illinois and New York state announced measures directing tens of millions of people to stay at home. The restrictions order most workplaces to close and require residents to remain inside except for trips to grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo restricted public gatherings and ordered all "non-essential workers" to stay at home. The measures come as confirmed coronavirus cases in New York reached 7,000 - the highest of any US state. "These provisions will be enforced," Mr Cuomo told reporters. "These are not helpful hints." Late on Friday, President Trump declared a major disaster in New York state, a move which will release federal funding. New York and the neighbouring states of New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania also issued a joint order on Friday for the closure of all "personal care" businesses, such as hair and nail salons and piercing and tattoo parlours. All outdoor team sports such as basketball games are also banned under the measures, which take effect on Sunday night. The announcement comes after California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a similar order, telling all residents to stay at home. He estimated more than half of the 40 million people in his state would contract Covid-19 in just the next two months. Images from Los Angeles show some of the city's most famous landmarks completely deserted while the freeways are almost empty. Illinois, whose biggest city is Chicago, has also ordered all residents indoors with exceptions to shop for food and medicine or take exercise. Nevada and Hawaii have also introduced tough new restrictions to reduce social contact. President Trump has so far ruled out any nationwide lockdown. He said on Friday: "I don't think we'll ever find [a US shutdown] necessary". He added that the US was "winning" the war against the virus. (Webmaster's comment: Trump said while new cases double every two days!)

3-21-20 Coronavirus: People in Beijing begin to head outdoors
After several days with no "home-grown" infections, according to China’s official figures, there is a feeling there that the coronavirus emergency appears to be under control. People in Beijing are finally heading outdoors, as China correspondent Stephen McDonell reports.

3-21-20 Coronavirus: What could the West learn from Asia?
The number of coronavirus cases in the West is skyrocketing, and countries have announced drastic measures, including school closures and lockdowns. The outbreak hit many countries in Asia several weeks earlier - and some have been praised for containing the number of infections. For example, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan all kept case numbers relatively low - despite their proximity to mainland China. What did they do differently - and are there any lessons for other countries?

  • Lesson one: Take it seriously - and act quickly: Health experts agree on the same measures for containing the outbreak - test widely, isolate those infected, and encourage social distancing. Such measures are being adopted to varying degrees in the West now - but a key difference is that many countries didn't act as quickly.
  • Lesson two: Make tests extensive, and affordable: Cases in South Korea spiked initially. However, it swiftly developed a test for the virus - and has now tested more than 290,000 people. It conducts about 10,000 tests daily for free.
  • Lesson three: Trace and isolate:: It's not enough to just test those with symptoms - tracing those with whom they were in contact has been key. In Singapore, detectives have contact-traced more than 6,000 people - locating individuals with CCTV footage, testing them, and ordering them to self-isolate until their results are clear. In Hong Kong, contact tracing goes back to two days before someone develops symptoms.
  • Lesson four: Early social distancing: Social distancing is considered one of the best ways of containing an outbreak. But the later the measures are introduced, the more extreme they need to be to work. In Wuhan, China, where the virus is thought to have started, five million people had left the city before the shutdown began. This led to the government imposing the biggest quarantine in human history.
  • Lesson five: Keep the public well informed and on side: "Unless you get the co-operation of the public, your policies may not be adhered to, and enforcement only goes so far," says Prof Pangestu. "The important thing is to show that policies are based on scientific evidence."
  • Lesson six: It's also down to individual attitudes: It's far too simplistic to say, as some have, that Asians are more likely to comply with government orders. In Hong Kong, public trust in the government is low - and there have been months of anti-government protests. But, in one of the densest cities in the world, many have voluntarily socially distanced themselves - with some even avoiding Lunar New Year gatherings, the equivalent of skipping Christmas events.
  • Is all this enough to stop the virus? Experts believe the more aggressive measures being put in place in Western countries will successfully slow the rate of transmissions over time. But, to get a sense of their next challenge after that, they could also look ahead to Asia. Despite having contained the virus, China, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong are now facing a second coronavirus wave, fuelled by people entering their borders.

FEMINISM

3-25-20 Cho Ju-bin: South Korea chatroom sex abuse suspect named after outcry
A man accused of leading a group that blackmailed girls into sharing sexual videos - which were then posted in pay-to-view chatrooms - has been named after an outcry in South Korea. At least 10,000 people used the chatrooms, with some paying up to $1,200 (£1,000) for access. Some 74 people, including 16 underage girls, were exploited. A police committee took the unusual step of naming Cho Ju-bin, 24, after five million people signed petitions. "I apologise to those who were hurt by me," Cho said as he was led away from a Seoul police station on Wednesday. "Thank you for putting a brake on the life of a devil that could not be stopped." He did not respond when reporters asked if he admitted the charges. He is accused of abuse, threats and coercion, and of violating the child protection act, the privacy act and the sexual abuse act. As reported by Quartz, customers paid to access the so-called "nth rooms", where extorted content from underage girls was uploaded. Fees ranged from $200 to $1,200. According to Korean newspaper Kookmin Ilbo, each of the eight "nth rooms" hosted videos from three to four girls who had been blackmailed by chatroom operators. The girls were active on chat apps, or Twitter, and engaged in prostitution or sexting for money. The chatroom operators contacted the girls, promising modelling or escort jobs. They were then directed to a Telegram account where the operator extracted personal details which were used to blackmail them. One schoolgirl - speaking to Kim Hyun Jung on South Korea's CBS radio - said she was approached online after looking for work. After being promised money and a phone, she was told to send pictures of herself, followed by sexual abuse videos. The victim said there were at least 40 videos in total. "He already had my face, my voice, my personal information," the victim said. "I was afraid that he would threaten me with that information if I said I would quit."


SCIENCE - GLOBAL WARMING and ENVIRONMENT

3-27-20 Plastic: How to predict threats to animals in oceans and rivers
Hosepipes inside a sperm whale, plastic banana bags eaten by green turtles and a shotgun cartridge inside a True's beaked whale. Just some of the examples of plastic found inside wildlife that have been documented in scientific reports. Researchers went through records of plastic eaten by aquatic creatures to find out more about the risks. They say the length of an animal can be used to estimate how big a piece of plastic it might accidentally consume. This amounts to about a 20th of the size of the animal. They hope the data can be used to find out more about the risks. More than 700 species of marine and freshwater animals are known to ingest plastic, but study researcher Dr Ifan Jâms of Cardiff University said it was difficult to figure out how much plastic they could be eating. "This information gives us a way to start measuring the extent of the plastic pollution problem," he said. "We hope this study lays a foundation for including the 'ingestibility' of plastics into global risk assessments." Dr Jâms and colleagues at Cardiff trawled through published data to examine records of plastic found inside more than 2,000 marine and freshwater species, including mammals, reptiles, fish and invertebrates, from tiny fish larvae to 10-metre-long whales. They created an equation to predict the maximum size of plastic item an animal can swallow, based on the length of its body. The new equation could help determine the risk of plastics to any species - and the amount of plastic that may be moving into oceans and rivers, and entering food chains. Project leader Prof Isabelle Durance said: "All of us will have seen distressing, often heart-breaking, images of animals affected by plastic, but a great many more interactions between animals and plastic are never witnessed. This study gives us a new way of visualising those many, many unseen events."

3-27-20 The coronavirus pandemic could make weather forecasts less accurate
Grounding the world’s commercial airliners in an attempt to stop the coronavirus crossing international borders could have an unexpected effect: weather forecasts may get less accurate. That is because commercial planes often carry meteorological instruments and the readings they gather feed into weather forecasting models. With most flights cancelled, this valuable dataset has been temporarily lost. Stan Benjamin at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says a similar situation occurred in 2010. That spring, the ash-laden eruption of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano triggered Europe’s biggest shutdown of airspace since the second world war, giving European weather forecasters a brief headache. But the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented, says Daniel Swain at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Right now, we’re talking about an 80 or 90 percent global reduction in traffic, potentially for months,” he says. Modern weather prediction models largely rely on three major sources: weather balloons, remote-sensing satellites, and planes. In 1979, several airlines, companies and national weather services agreed on a scheme to attach meteorological equipment to commercial jets and have them automatically report the weather. Today, these planes can record the temperature, humidity, air pressure, wind speed and wind direction of a large swath of Earth’s atmosphere. These measurements have much better spatial resolution and accuracy then satellites, providing information on both near-ground conditions during take-off and landing and those in the jet streams, the high-altitude rivers of air that influence the weather on the ground. This stream of high-resolution data lets us fine-tune forecast models, says Jim McQuaid, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Leeds. Both private weather forecasting companies and state-run meteorological agencies use these readings and several studies support the notion that aircraft observations assist forecasts on a range of timescales.

3-26-20 Warming oceans are causing marine life to shift towards the poles
Climate change is dramatically changing the abundance of marine life around the world. As oceans warm, populations of species that can adapt to elevated local temperatures have increased nearer to the poles, while those that live closer to the equator are shrinking in size. Martin Genner at the University of Bristol, UK, and his colleagues examined data from 540 previous studies of marine populations affected by warming. The analysis included 304 marine species, including mammals, birds, fish and plankton, and their change in abundance within their usual habitat range. The researchers found that the warming of oceans by 1°C over the past century has triggered a widespread change in local communities, and those species that were more abundant at the poleward limit of their range seemed to fare better than those nearer the equatorial limit. This is because the poleward populations can tolerate a slight temperature increase in cold waters, whereas warming in an already warm tropical environment can prove too extreme for other species, says Genner. “The most surprising thing is that [this was the case] for not just a handful of species, but many, many species,” says Genner. The trend was strongest for seabirds and bony fish, but applied to all the taxonomic groups that the researchers analysed. In the next 50 years, ocean temperatures are forecast to rise by another 1.5°C, which suggests that this trend could continue. This change in species abundance has consequences for humans too. For example, UK fisheries may need to shift their focus to farming more warm-water species, such as herring, rather than Atlantic cod, as cod survive better in cold temperatures.However, broad analyses like this one oversimplify the effects of climate change, says Nova Mieszkowska at the Marine Biological Association in Plymouth, UK. “[These analyses] present the big picture, but often gloss over the important details, omitting the often important array of smaller-scale processes and temporal oscillations that also have significant effects on the abundance and distribution of species.”

3-26-20 Coronavirus is a fast-forward version of what will happen with climate change
But it's also a model of how it might be tackled. The United States will shortly become the epicenter of the novel coronavirus pandemic, if it isn't already. At time of writing some 60,653 American cases have been confirmed, and 784 people have died. It's going to get much, much worse before it gets better — especially if President Trump goes ahead with his evident plan to open the country back up before the virus is controlled. It's very hard to get one's mind around the scale of the developing calamity. But it also provides an important window into a potential future of unchecked climate change. The coronavirus pandemic is a warp-speed tutorial in what will happen if we don't get our act together and slash greenhouse gas emissions. The skyrocketing U.S. number of coronavirus cases and deaths is the direct consequence of President Trump's previous inattention and delay months ago. By late December it was clear there was a major risk the virus was going to get out of China, yet Trump didn't set up pre-emptive containment measures. He didn't set up testing or quarantine facilities, and didn't even shut down commercial travel from China until January 31, which was almost certainly already too late — and in any case his administration bungled the transportation of 14 infected Americans so badly that they may have seeded several outbreaks on their own. As a result, the virus has been spreading in the wild in the U.S. since late January or early February, and the entire time Trump has dragged his feet on setting up an all-out response. He was slow to activate the Army Corps of Engineers, slow to get behind economic rescue plans, and slow to take steps to ramp up the production of tests. To this day he refuses to actually invoke the Defense Production Act to secure needed supplies of ventilators and other medical equipment, leading to chaos as states and foreign countries desperately bid against each other for what remains. Now hospitals are starting to be overwhelmed across the country, and the corpses are piling up. This is what an uncontrolled, exponentially-accelerating crisis looks like on the ground: first slow, then all at once. Past procrastination and dithering means that once the seriousness of what is happening is undeniable, the worst effects can only be mitigated, not avoided. Climate change is going to be exactly like this, only on a much longer time scale. Decades have passed with greenhouse gas emissions rising steadily, yet so far the carnage has been relatively modest. The sea level keeps inching up, biological systems are increasingly stressed, ordinary weather patterns keep getting more and more odd, and extreme weather disasters keep getting worse and worse, but so far most human societies have not been seriously threatened.

3-26-20 Great Barrier Reef suffers third mass bleaching in five years
Australia's Great Barrier Reef has suffered another mass bleaching event - the third in just five years. Warmer sea temperatures - particularly in February - are feared to have caused huge coral loss across the world's largest reef system. Scientists say they have detected widespread bleaching, including extensive patches of severe damage. But they have also found healthy pockets. Two-thirds of the reef was damaged by similar events in 2016 and 2017. The reef system, which covers over 2,300km (1,400 miles), is a World Heritage site recognised for its "enormous scientific and intrinsic importance". Last year, Australia was forced to downgrade its five-year reef outlook from poor to very poor due to the impact of human-induced climate change. On Thursday, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said its latest aerial surveys had shown that the severity of bleaching varied across the reef. But it said more areas had been damaged than in previous events. "The reef had only just begun recovering from impacts in 2016 and 2017 and now we have a third event," chief scientist David Wachenfeld told the BBC. "Climate change is making the extreme events that drive those impacts both more severe and more frequent, so the damage in an event is worse." The earlier events hit two-thirds of the reef system, wiping out coral populations and destroying habitats for other sea life. But Dr Wachenfeld said some key reefs for tourism - in the northern and central regions - had been only "moderately bleached" this year. This meant coral there would probably recover, he added. "The reef is still a vibrant, dynamic system but overall, with every one of these successive events, the reef is more damaged than previously," he said. "We need to take these events as global calls for the strongest possible action in climate change," he said. Global temperatures have already risen about 1C since pre-industrial times. The UN has warned that if temperatures rise by 1.5C, 90% of the world's corals will be wiped out.

3-25-20 The ozone layer is healing and redirecting wind flows around the globe
The hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica is continuing to recover and it is leading to changes in atmospheric circulation – the flow of air over Earth’s surface that causes winds. Using data from satellite observations and climate simulations, Antara Banerjee at the University of Colorado Boulder and her colleagues modelled changing wind patterns related to the layer’s recovery. Its healing is largely thanks to the Montreal Protocol agreed internationally in 1987, which banned the production of ozone-depleting substances. Before 2000, a belt of air currents called the mid-latitude jet stream in the southern hemisphere had been gradually shifting towards the South Pole. Another tropical jet stream called the Hadley cell, responsible for trade winds, tropical rain-belts, hurricanes and subtropical deserts, had been getting wider. Banerjee and her team found that both of these trends stopped and began to reverse slightly in 2000. This change couldn’t be explained by random fluctuations in climate, and Banerjee says they are a direct effect of the recovering ozone layer. Alterations in the path of a jet stream may influence weather through shifts in atmospheric temperature and rainfall, which could lead to changes in ocean temperature and salt concentration. In terms of ozone layer recovery, “we’ve turned the corner”, says Martyn Chipperfield at the University of Leeds in the UK, who wasn’t involved in the study. He says we had already seen signs that the ozone layer is recovering and that this study represents the next step, which is seeing the effect of that recovery on the climate. Chipperfield says it is important to know which aspects of climate change have been caused by carbon dioxide emissions, which are continuing to rise, versus ozone depletion, which is now stopping and reversing.1

3-25-20 Climate change: Green energy plant threat to wilderness areas
Wind, solar and hydro power installations pose a growing threat to key conservation areas, say researchers. Researchers found that over 2,200 green energy plants have been built within the boundaries of the Earth's remaining wilderness. They say that around 17% of renewable facilities globally are located in protected regions. A further 900 plants are now being developed in key areas of biodiversity. Now researchers say that often these solar, wind and hydro schemes have been built in areas of environmental significance and pose a threat to key natural habitats. The team mapped the locations of around 12,500 of these installations. They found that more than 2,200 were built in wilderness, protected regions and key biodiversity areas. Some 169 were found in strictly managed protected areas where no development activity at all should occur. "Energy facilities and the infrastructure around them, such as roads and increased human activity, can be incredibly damaging to the natural environment," said lead author Jose Rehbein, from the University of Queensland, Australia. "These developments are not compatible with biodiversity conservation efforts." The researchers say that energy projects like solar farms often necessitate new roads, and the people who come in to service these installations sometimes build settlements near them. Western European countries are the worst offenders at the moment, with Germany having 258 facilities in key conservation areas. Spain has similar numbers of installations, while China has 142. One big concern from the researchers is the likely expansion of the demand for renewables particularly in Africa and Asia. The researchers say the number of active renewable energy facilities within important conservation lands could increase by 42% over the next eight years. In countries like India and Nepal, for example, hydropower is seeing a real boom. Nepal has over 100 facilities within protected areas, while India has 74 under development in important conservation zones. "In most cases it's just weak planning," said Dr James Allan from the University of Amsterdam, a senior author on the paper.

3-24-20 Greta Thunberg says she may have had covid-19 and has self-isolated
Greta Thunberg says she and her father, Swedish actor Svante Thunberg, appear to have been infected by the coronavirus. In an interview with New Scientist, the climate change campaigner said they had both experienced some symptoms of covid-19 after a recent train tour of Europe together. The pair were travelling before restrictions were imposed in several countries. However, she stressed that neither of them have been tested for the virus, as Sweden is only testing people with the most severe symptoms and those in at-risk groups. “I came home from central Europe and then I isolated myself from the beginning, because I thought I might as well, as I’ve been on trains and so I don’t want to put anyone else at risk,” she said. “But I started feeling some symptoms after a few days. At the same time, my father was feeling much more intense symptoms.” The 17-year-old said she wants to tell people how easy it is to transmit the disease without knowing you have it. Researchers have found that many cases globally have been asymptomatic. “The important thing is, I didn’t basically feel that I was ill. It could be that I was feeling unusually tired, I was coughing a bit,” she said. “That also is very dangerous because you don’t know you have it. If I wouldn’t have been for my father getting it at the same time and much more intense than me, I might not even have noticed it, that I was sick.” She said it is a reminder of why it is important for people to follow the social-distancing measures imposed by governments. “That is something I want to communicate, that many people don’t feel symptoms at all, or very mild symptoms, but it can still be contagious. So you have to really practice social distancing whether you feel ill or not,” she says. While neither she nor her father have been tested because of Sweden’s approach, Thunberg said it would be surprising if it isn’t covid-19. “So of course I’m not 100 per cent sure I have got it. But it would have been very strange if it would have been something else, because it just fits very [well]. Especially my father’s reaction, it’s exactly fitting with the symptoms.”

3-23-20 Electric cars really are a greener option than fossil fuel vehicles
Electric cars are already greener than their fossil fuel counterparts in almost every part of the world today, according to researchers. They say electric vehicles are “a no-regret choice” even in places where power grids haven’t gone fully green. Some previous comparisons have suggested petrol and diesel cars produce lower net carbon emissions over their lifetime than battery-powered vehicles. Yet these analyses have often compared only two models of car. Instead, Florian Knobloch at Radboud University in the Netherlands and his colleagues looked at the average emissions across many classes of car to get a clearer global picture. The researchers looked at the projected carbon emissions generated on average over a car’s lifetime, including during its production, while it is being driven and when it is destroyed, for all the conventional and electric cars sold in 59 regions across the world in 2015. These represent 95 per cent of the world’s current road traffic. They found that electric vehicles already have lower net carbon emissions in 53 of those 59 regions. Only in areas containing countries that use coal heavily, such as India and Poland, were electric vehicle emissions worse than those of conventional petrol and diesel cars. The same was true for heat pumps, greener alternatives to domestic gas boilers that use electricity to generate heat. These are seen as a key way to decarbonise heating. Combined with data on the sources that provided electricity to those regions in 2015, they found that the average electric vehicle is greener than the average new petrol car if the power grid emits less than 1100 grams of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour. Many countries’ electricity supplies have seen huge growth in renewable energy sources in the past five years, and so Knobloch says electric cars are likely to be even better now. For example, the UK’s average carbon intensity for electricity – the carbon emissions per unit of electricity generated – was 215 grams of CO2 per kilowatt hour last year, down from 443g CO2/kWh in 2015.

3-23-20 Electric car emissions myth 'busted'
Fears that electric cars could actually increase carbon emissions are a damaging myth, new research shows. Media reports have questioned if electric cars are really “greener” once emissions from manufacture and electricity generation are counted. The research concludes that in most places electric cars produce fewer emissions overall - even if generation still involves fossil fuels. Other studies warn that driving overall must be reduced to hit climate targets. The new research from the universities of Exeter, Nijmegen - in The Netherlands - and Cambridge shows that in 95% of the world, driving an electric car is better for the climate than a petrol car. The only exceptions are places like Poland, where electricity generation is still mostly based on coal. The researchers say average “lifetime“ emissions from electric cars are up to 70% lower than petrol cars in countries like Sweden and France (where most electricity comes from renewables and nuclear), and around 30% lower in the UK. They say the picture for electric cars will become steadily more favourable as nations shift to clean electricity. The study projects that in 2050 every second car on the streets of the world could be electric. This would reduce global CO2 emissions by up to 1.5 gigatonnes per year, which is equivalent to the total current CO2 emissions of Russia. The progress could be much faster if nations adopt stricter targets, as the UK has done by pledging that every new car sold will be zero emissions by 2035 at the latest. The study’s lead author, Dr Florian Knobloch from the University of Nijmegen said: “The idea that electric vehicles could increase emissions is a complete myth. “We've seen a lot of discussion about this recently, with lots of disinformation going around. “We have run the numbers for all around the world, looking at a whole range of cars and even in our worst-case scenario, there would be a reduction in emissions in almost all cases..”

3-23-20 Climate change: Earth's deepest ice canyon vulnerable to melting
East Antarctic's Denman Canyon is the deepest land gorge on Earth, reaching 3,500m below sea-level. It's also filled top to bottom with ice, which US space agency (Nasa) scientists reveal in a new report has a significant vulnerability to melting. Retreating and thinning sections of the glacier suggest it is being eroded by encroaching warm ocean water. Denman is one to watch for the future. If its ice were hollowed out, it would raise the global sea surface by 1.5m. "How fast this can happen? Hard to say, since there are many factors coming into play, for example the narrowness of the channel along which Denman is retreating may slow down the retreat," explained Dr Virginia Brancato, from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and a former scholar at the University of California at Irvine (UCI). "At present, it is critical to collect more data, and closely and more frequently monitor the future evolution of the glacier," she told BBC News. Most people recognise the shores around the Dead Sea in the Middle East to have the lowest visible land surface elevation on Earth, at some 430m below sea level. But the base of the gorge occupied by Denman Glacier on the edge of the East Antarctic Ice Sheet (EAIS) actually reaches eight times as deep. This was only recently established, and it has made Denman a location of renewed scientific interest. Dr Brancato and colleagues used satellite radar data from 1996 to 2018 to show there's been a marked retreat in the glacier's grounding line. This is the point where the ice stream lifts up and floats as it flows off the land and enters the ocean. The line has reversed 5-6km in 22 years. What's interesting about this reversal, however, is that it's asymmetric; it's occurring pretty much all on the western side of the glacier. The reason, the scientists can now determine, is a buried ridge under the eastern flank which is pinning and protecting that side of the glacier. In contrast, the western flank features a narrow but sizeable trough that would allow warm ocean water to erode the grounding line and push it backwards. This potentially is an Achilles heel. The further inland the glacier reaches, the deeper its bed - which is a geometry that has been demonstrated to favour more and more melting. If a lot of warm ocean water can find its way to the front of Denman, the opportunity is there to melt out its ice in a significant way.


SCIENCE - EVOLUTION and GENETICS

3-27-20 Does a high viral load or infectious dose make covid-19 worse?
Does being exposed to more coronavirus particles mean you will develop a more severe illness? Rumours circulating on social media suggest that hospital workers or their household members exposed to a higher “viral load” become sicker than the general population. But emerging research indicates the relationship between infection and covid-19 severity may be more complex – and differ from that of other respiratory illnesses. The average number of viral particles needed to establish an infection is known as the infectious dose. We don’t know what this is for covid-19 yet, but given how rapidly the disease is spreading, it is likely to be relatively low – in the region of a few hundred or thousand particles, says Willem van Schaik at the University of Birmingham, UK. Viral load, on the other hand, relates to the number of viral particles being carried by an infected individual and shed into their environment. “The viral load is a measure of how bright the fire is burning in an individual, whereas the infectious dose is the spark that gets that fire going,” says Edward Parker at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. If you have a high viral load, you are more likely to infect other people, because you may be shedding more virus particles. However, in the case of covid-19, it doesn’t necessarily follow that a higher viral load will lead to more severe symptoms. For instance, health workers investigating the covid-19 outbreak in the Lombardy region of Italy looked at more than 5,000 infected people and found no difference in viral load between those with symptoms and those without. They reached this conclusion after tracing people who had been in contact with someone known to be infected with the coronavirus and testing them to see if they were also infected.

3-27-20 Neandertals’ extensive seafood menu rivals that of ancient humans
Finds from a coastal cave in Portugal reveal repeated ocean foraging for this European hominid. Surf’s up, Neandertals. Our close evolutionary cousins obtained shellfish, crabs, fish and other marine munchies along Europe’s Atlantic coast with all the savvy and gusto of ancient humans who foraged along southern Africa’s shoreline, say archaeologist João Zilhão of the University of Barcelona and his colleagues. Neandertals consumed a diverse menu of sea and land foods while occupying Figueira Brava cave, on Portugal’s coast, for extended periods between around 106,000 and 86,000 years ago, Zilhão’s group says. Excavations there show for the first time that Neandertals matched Stone Age Homo sapiens in their ability to exploit seafood rich in brain-enhancing fatty acids, the scientists report in the March 27 Science. This discovery adds to controversial evidence that Neandertals engaged in various behaviors traditionally thought to have characterized only H. sapiens, such as creating cave art and elaborate personal ornaments (SN: 10/28/19; SN: 3/20/15). Extensive seaside activity at Figueira Brava also expands on preliminary evidence of Neandertal clamshell collecting on the beach and in shallow Mediterranean waters (SN: 1/15/20). Other excavations had suggested Neandertals occasionally gathered shellfish and hunted or scavenged sea animals starting around 110,000 years ago (SN: 9/22/08). But repeated bouts of Neandertal foraging at Figueira Brava over a roughly 20,000-year span point to coastal activity as extensive as that of H. sapiens who harvested shellfish at South Africa’s Pinnacle Point between 164,000 and 120,000 years ago, Zilhão says (SN: 7/29/11). Intensive shellfish collecting requires tracking of the tides and the seasons, “certainly one of the hallmarks of behavioral adaptability of early Neandertals [in Europe] and modern humans in South Africa,” says archaeologist Katerina Douka of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, Germany. She did not participate in the new study.

3-27-20 Fossils of a new dromaeosaur date to the end of the Age of Dinosaurs
Newly discovered species suggests these fierce predators were diversifying right up to the end. A wolf-sized warrior, kin to the fierce, feathered Velociraptor, prowled what is now New Mexico about 68 million years ago. Dineobellator notohesperus was a dromaeosaur, a group of swift, agile predators that is distantly related to the much larger Tyrannosaurus rex. The discovery of this new species suggests that dromaeosaurs were still diversifying, and even becoming better at pursuing prey, right up to the end of the Age of Dinosaurs, researchers say March 26 in Scientific Reports. That age came to an abrupt close at the end of the Cretaceous Period about 66 million years ago, when a mass extinction event wiped out all nonbird dinosaurs. A gap in the global fossil record for dromaeosaurs near the end of the Cretaceous had led some scientists to wonder whether the group was already in decline before the extinction, says Steven Jasinski, a paleontologist at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg (SN: 4/21/16). The new find suggests otherwise. Since 2008, Jasinski and his colleagues have recovered more than 20 fossilized pieces of the new species from the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness, a rapidly eroding region of barren badlands in northwestern New Mexico. Analyses of muscle attachment sites on the fossilized forelimbs suggest the dinosaur was unusually strong for a dromaeosaur, with a very tight grip in its hands and feet. That grip, Jasinski says, was likely stronger than that of its famous kinfolk, Velociraptor and Utahraptor, giving the new species extra weaponry in its pursuit of prey. Like many other dromaeosaurs, D. notohesperus had feathers, evidenced by the presence of quill nobs — bumps indicating where the feathers were attached — on its limbs (SN: 9/19/07). But, like Velociraptor, it probably used the feathers for purposes other than flight, Jasinski says, such as sexual selection, camouflage or added agility while on the hunt.

3-26-20 Neanderthals feasted on seafood and nuts according to fossil remains
Neanderthals dined on a menu of surf and turf with a sprinkling of pine nuts, an excavation of a coastal site in Portugal reveals. This is the first firm evidence that our extinct cousins relied on food from the sea, and their flexible diet is yet more proof that they behaved in remarkably similar ways to modern humans. The new dietary analysis comes from a site occupied by Neanderthals between 106,000 and 86,000 years ago in Figueira Brava, south of Lisbon. A painstaking excavation of fossil food remains, led by João Zilhão at the University of Barcelona, Spain, showed that the Neanderthals that lived there consumed a wide range of foods, dominated by seafood. “It’s a mixed diet,” says Zilhão. They were fisher-hunter-gatherers, collecting large amounts limpets, mussels and clams, as well as brown and spider crabs in particular, he says. “Crabs were the most important marine resource they exploited.” Fossil remains from the cave showed that fish, seal, dolphin, seabirds and land animals such as deer, horse, and wild goat were also on the menu. By contrast, Neanderthals living inland mainly hunted land animals such as mammoth, bison and woolly rhino. The team also found evidence of a thriving economy based on pine trees. “They used the wood for fuel and collected the pine cones, stored them, then consumed them as needed by roasting the cones and cracking the nuts to eat the kernel,” says Zilhão. Finding out more about marine-based meals of the Iberian Neanderthals is overturning our understanding of how the modern human species, Homo sapiens, developed. A diet rich in seafood is thought to have been crucial for the development of modern human cognition. Evidence for this idea comes from the caves at Pinnacle Point in South Africa, which shows that early modern humans ate marine foods as far back as 160,000 years ago.

3-26-20 Neanderthals ate sharks and dolphins
Neanderthals were eating fish, mussels and seals at a site in present-day Portugal, according to a new study. The research adds to mounting evidence that our evolutionary relatives may have relied on the sea for food just as much as ancient modern humans. For decades, the ability to gather food from the sea and from rivers was seen as something unique to our own species. Scientists found evidence for an intensive reliance on seafood at a Neanderthal site in southern Portugal. Neanderthals living between 106,000 and 86,000 years ago at the cave of Figueira Brava near Setubal were eating mussels, crab, fish - including sharks, eels and sea bream - seabirds, dolphins and seals. The research team, led by Dr João Zilhão from the University of Barcelona, Spain, found that marine food made up about 50% of the diet of the Figueira Brava Neanderthals. The other half came from terrestrial animals, such as deer, goats, horses, aurochs (ancient wild cattle) and tortoises. Some of the earliest known evidence for the exploitation of marine resources by modern humans (Homo sapiens) dates to around 160,000 years ago in southern Africa. A few researchers previously proposed a theory that the brain-boosting fatty acids seafood contributed to enhanced cognitive development in early modern humans. This, the theory goes, could help account for a period of marked invention and creativity that started among modern human populations in Africa around 200,000 years ago. It might also have assisted modern humans to outcompete other human groups such as the Neanderthals and Denisovans. But the researchers found that the Neanderthal inhabitants of Figueira Brava relied on the sea in a scale comparable to modern human groups living at a similar time in southern Africa. Commenting on the findings, Dr Matthew Pope, from the Institute of Archaeology at UCL, UK, said: "Zilhão and the team claim to have identified 'middens'. This is a shorthand for humanly created structures (piles, heaps, mounds) formed almost entirely of shell. "They are important as they suggest a systematic and organised behaviour, from collection to processing to discard."

3-26-20 Velociraptor relative had a much stronger grip than its cousins
A new species of carnivorous dinosaur related to velociraptors has been identified from 20 fossils, including bones and bone fragments, found in New Mexico. The discovery supports the theory that there was more species diversity than previously thought during the late Cretaceous period, just before non-avian dinosaurs went extinct. “I knew we had something distinct early on,” says Steven Jasinski at the State Museum of Pennsylvania. In 2008, Jasinski and his colleagues discovered fragments in the Bisti/De-na-zin Wilderness, New Mexico, that formed part of a claw. It looked like it belonged to a dromaeosaurid – the group of dinosaurs that includes velociraptors. Yet the claw was unusual. It was larger than average, and the position of scars that indicate where muscle would have been attached to the bone suggested that the dinosaur it belonged to had a much stronger grip than other known dromaeosaurids, says Jasinski. “We knew there was something there,” he says. “So we collected all the fragments we could and brought them back to the museum, and slowly started attempting to piece things back together.” Subsequent fossil collecting between 2008 and 2016 from the same 1-square-metre area gave the researchers enough material to complete the picture. The fossils came from a previously unknown species of dromaeosaurid dinosaur, now named Dineobellator notohesperus, which lived during the late Cretaceous period, about 70 million years ago. The dinosaur’s name is derived from the Navajo word Diné – a name used by members of the Navajo Nation, which includes part of New Mexico, to refer to themselves and their culture – followed by the Latin suffix bellator, meaning warrior. Notohesperus comes from Greek words for south and western, in reference to the south-west of the US where the fossils were found.

3-26-20 Hepatitis C infection rates are being cut by testing and treatment
There is one deadly infection that we can beat: the virus that causes hepatitis C. This liver disease-causing virus was on a global rampage a decade ago, but is being pushed back in some countries by mass testing and treatment, according to new figures. Egypt, once the country with the highest prevalence of this virus, is on course to slash infection rates by 2020, eliminating hepatitis C as a public health threat as defined by the World Health Organization. In the UK, cases have fallen by two-thirds in one of the worst-affected groups, HIV-positive gay men. The trends are likely to be happening in other countries that employ this strategy too, says Lucy Garvey at St Mary’s Hospital in London. The hepatitis C virus, which can cause liver failure and cancer, is mainly passed on through sex or by drug users sharing needles. In the past it was also widely spread by healthcare staff reusing needles. Practical curative treatments arrived a few years ago, but the drugs were initially too costly for most people – one of the first cost $1000 a tablet. Cheap generic versions now exist. Egypt has led the way in their use. Until recently, one in 10 adults in the country had the virus, as a result of needles being reused during past mass treatment campaigns against parasitic worms. In 2018, the country began the voluntary screening of all adults with free tests and treatment. By last year, 80 per cent of the country had taken part and more than 2 million people had been treated. If trends continue, the infection rate is set to fall to below 0.5 per cent of the population this year, according to figures out this month in The New England Journal of Medicine. Some developed economies with low infection rates in the general population are targeting high-risk groups, such as people who are HIV-positive or who inject drugs – an approach called micro-elimination – by offering frequent testing.

3-26-20 Squid edit their genetic material in a uniquely weird place
The ability may help the animals make specialized proteins on the fly. Squid can edit their genetic information in a place scientists didn’t expect. Longfin inshore squid (Doryteuthis pealeii) are the first known animals that can tweak strings of RNA outside of a nerve cell’s nucleus. These genetic couriers, called messenger RNA, or mRNA, carry a cell’s blueprints for building proteins. All creatures make edits to RNA — including other types besides mRNA — and do so sparingly, based on limited studies in mammals and fruit flies. Those changes typically take place inside the nucleus and are then exported to the rest of the cell. The squids’ ability to make genetic edits in cytoplasm, the jellylike material that makes up much of a cell, may let the animals make adjustments to mRNAs on the fly. That skill could help squids produce proteins tailored to meet a cell’s needs and hone crucial cell processes, researchers report March 23 in Nucleic Acids Research. Knowing how the squids make the edits in nerve cells could help researchers hijack the technique to develop therapeutics for health conditions such as chronic pain by genetically editing cells that create inappropriate pain signals, says Joshua Rosenthal, a biologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. The method would be much like the DNA-editing technique CRISPR, but for RNA. In the new study, Rosenthal and colleagues first looked at where an mRNA-editing protein is found in squid nerve cells, or neurons. The team discovered that the protein, called ADAR2, is located in both the jellylike cytoplasm and the nucleus of squid neurons, a hint that the protein could edit mRNAs in both areas. The team then extracted cytoplasm from squid axons — the slender stalk of a neuron — “kind of like you’re squeezing toothpaste out of the tube,” Rosenthal says. ADAR2 extensively edited an mRNA within the cytoplasm siphoned from the axons, which help send electrical impulses along nerve cells, the researchers found.

3-26-20 New Guinea’s Neolithic period may have started without outside help
Artifacts counter the idea that cultural changes sparked by farming were imported from Asia. Signs of a cultural shift in toolmaking and lifestyles sparked by farming, previously found at ancient Asian and European sites, have surfaced for the first time on New Guinea. Excavations at a highland site called Waim produced relics of a cultural transition to village life, which played out on the remote island north of Australia around 5,050 to 4,200 years ago. Archaeologist Ben Shaw of the University of New South Wales in Sydney and colleagues report the findings March 25 in Science Advances. Agriculture on New Guinea originated in the island’s highlands an estimated 8,000 to 4,000 years ago. But corresponding cultural changes, such as living in villages and making elaborate ritual and symbolic objects, have often been assumed to have emerged only when Lapita farmers from Southeast Asia reached New Guinea around 3,000 years ago (SN: 9/2/15). In Asia and Europe, those cultural changes mark the beginning of the Neolithic period. The new finds suggest that a Neolithic period also independently developed in New Guinea. Key finds at Waim consist of a piece of a carved human or animal face that probably had symbolic meaning and two stone pestles bearing traces of yam, fruit and nut starches. Other discoveries include a stone cutting or chopping tool, a pigment-stained stone with deep incisions that may have been used to apply coloring to plant fibers and an iron-rich rock fragment that was likely struck with other stones to create sparks for igniting fires. Farming’s rise on New Guinea apparently inspired long-distance, seagoing trade, the scientists say. Chemical analysis of an unearthed chunk of obsidian — displaying marks created when someone hammered off sharp flakes — indicates it was imported from an island located at least 800 kilometers away.

3-26-20 Dino-killing asteroid choked whole world in dust within a few hours
It was the dust storm to end all dust storms. When a huge asteroid hit Earth 66 million years ago, triggering a mass extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs, it sent vast clouds of dust flying tens of kilometres up into the air. We now think these spread around the planet at speeds of up to 6 kilometres per second, cloaking it within hours. If anyone had watched from space, they would have seen our planet become swathed within just a few hours of the asteroid hitting, says Joanna Morgan at Imperial College London. “You’d see this dust cloud expanding from the impact site and everything getting covered.” The ensuing extinction wiped out all dinosaurs and many other species except for a few land animals, including a group called the archosaurs – these eventually gave rise to modern birds. Morgan and her co-author Natalia Artemieva at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, first decided to simulate such a dust cloud around 2007. Developing the model and simulating the behaviour of the atmosphere and the rocks and dust in the ejecta was painstaking. “It’s taken over 10 years,” says Morgan. They were trying to solve a mystery about the event, which concerns a key piece of evidence for the asteroid impact: a layer of extraterrestrial material, about 3 millimetres thick, laid down in rocks from the time of the collision. Strangely, the layer is the same everywhere it is found in the world. “It’s a constant thickness with a constant composition,” says Morgan. That is odd. For example, when volcanoes erupt, the heaviest lumps of material land close by and only the lightest bits travel great distances. As a result, sites far away from the eruption have less material. “The layer thickness decreases with distance from the site,” says Morgan. The asteroid hit Earth near what is now Chicxulub on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, so there should be a thinner layer of material at sites far away from Mexico.

3-25-20 How long does coronavirus stay on surfaces and can they infect you?
As global cases of covid-19 continue to soar and people with symptoms are expected to be isolated from others, it is no surprise that a growing number of us flinch when we hear someone cough, even if they are 2 metres away – the minimum separation that health officials advise. Research conducted on the new coronavirus and others similar to it, such as SARS, suggest the virus can spread through particles in the air and via contaminated surfaces. How does this happen? Moreover, how long can the virus survive on surfaces and what can we do to protect ourselves? Covid-19 is a respiratory illness and is largely spread via droplets in the air, says John Lednicky, a virologist who studies coronaviruses at the University of Florida. These are typically expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes. But speaking also releases droplets. The heavier of these will fall to the ground, but smaller, lighter particles can travel further and linger in the air, and are more likely to infect other people, says Lednicky. “You can inhale those, but they can also come into contact with your eyes,” he says. Even if you keep your distance, there’s a chance of coming into contact with a virus as you walk through a cloud of expelled particles, says Lednicky. It isn’t clear if this is the case with the new coronavirus, but other, similar viruses can spread this way, he says. There are other, even less pleasant, ways virus-laden particles can get into the air. The symptoms of the coronavirus can vary, but some people experience diarrhoea. “If you use a flush toilet, you create an aerosol full of infection,” says Lednicky. This effect is more pronounced than usual with diarrhoea, which can contaminate more of a toilet’s surface. The released aerosols can travel along plumbing and ventilation systems and end up moving through buildings and apartment blocks.

3-25-20 Eating too much salt seems to impair body's ability to fight bacteria
Eating too much salt may impair the body’s ability to fight bacterial infections, according to studies in mice and in 10 human volunteers. Christian Kurts at the University Hospital of Bonn in Germany and his team first showed that mice given a high salt diet were less able to fight kidney infections caused by E. coli and body-wide infections caused by Listeria monocytogenes, a common cause of food poisoning. “The bacteria caused more damage before the immune system got rid them,” says Kurts. Next, the team gave 10 healthy women and men who were 20 to 50 years old an extra 6 grams of salt a day on top of their normal diet, in the form of three tablets a day. After a week, some of their immune cells, called neutrophils, had a greatly impaired ability to engulf and kill bacteria compared with the same tests done on each individual before they took extra salt. The team didn’t examine the effect of high salt intake on the body’s ability to fight viral infections. The World Health Organization recommends that people eat no more than 5 grams of salt a day to avoid high blood pressure, which can cause strokes and heart disease. In the UK, people eat 8 grams on average, suggesting many consume as much or more than the volunteers in the study. The team thinks two mechanisms are involved. First, when we eat lots of salt, hormones are released to make the body excrete more salt. These include glucocorticoids that have the side effect of suppressing the immune system throughout the body. Second, there is a local effect in the kidney. Kurts found that urea accumulates in the kidney when salt levels are high, and that urea suppresses neutrophils.

3-25-20 A new wave of apps say they can improve your friendships – can they?
Always forgetting birthdays? Terrible at staying in touch? New tech promises to turn you into the best buddy ever. We put it to the test. IT’S 8.18 am on a Wednesday when my phone buzzes with a prompt to “Offer your knowledge to others”. The push notification also tells me that I have “three relationships to reach out to”, including, in brackets, the name of my sister, and “four new people” to “discover” – here it mentions someone I recently emailed for work. I ignore it, then click snooze on several other reminders to reach out to my friends. The message is from UpHabit, one of many apps that have launched in the past couple of years to help people better manage their relationships. They are based on customer relationship management software, or CRMs, which are now routinely used by companies for things like compiling customer data and offering up suggestions on how to retain business. These new apps, personal CRMs, offer similar services, but the relationships they help you “manage” are with your friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. In an era when people tend to move house or job multiple times, making and neglecting relationships as they go, these tools promise to help us stay in touch – and be better, more thoughtful friends. Yet how many people can we genuinely stay connected to? And if I send a message to someone because an app prompted me to, is it less meaningful somehow than if I remember myself? To understand why so many personal CRMs, or PRMs, have popped up since 2018, what that says about our relationships and whether push notifications can really make us better friends, I gave a few a try. It didn’t go quite as I expected. If these kinds of apps sound tempting, you are currently spoiled for choice. From the least to the most inexplicably named, you can now download Ntwrk, UpHabit, Plum Contacts, Dex, Garden, Levitate, Monaru, Clay and Hippo.

3-25-20 Farming and art arose in New Guinea at same time as Europe and Asia
People on the island of New Guinea began farming, practising arts and crafts and making complex tools around the same time as their European and Asian counterparts. Agriculture emerged in different parts of the world around 10,000 years ago, when the climate became favourable for planting crops. In Europe and Asia, this spurred the development of complex cultures as more and more people started living together around farms. Archaeological records show that people in New Guinea began farming around the same time as their Eurasian counterparts, planting yams, bananas and other local crops. But until now, there hasn’t been convincing evidence that this kickstarted an equivalent cultural movement. Ben Shaw at the University of New South Wales in Australia was scouting for archaeological sites in Papua New Guinea, the eastern half of the island, in 2016 when residents of a village called Waim approached him to tell him they had found some “really weird-looking stone tools” and a stone carving of a human face with a bird on top that might be of interest. Shaw followed them back to Waim, which sits halfway up a steep mountain in Jiwaka Province. “I didn’t have a lot of time so I decided to just dig one hole before it got dark,” he says. “Halfway through that hole I found the bottom half of a beautifully shaped stone pestle – I was beside myself with excitement.” Shaw and his colleagues decided to conduct a proper excavation of the site. They uncovered a wealth of artefacts, including part of a stone carving of a face, two stone pestle fragments, a fire-lighting tool, an ochre-stained rock with cut marks, and axe fragments. Radiocarbon dating of charcoal buried with the artefacts revealed they were between 4200 to 5050 years old. The pestle fragments still had bits of yam, banana, sugarcane and nuts stuck to them, suggesting they were used to grind up food. The researchers learned that the ochre-stained rock was a traditional tool for dyeing organic fibres after showing it to people in Waim.

3-25-20 When will the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing end?
Up to two-thirds of a population needs immunity, via infection or vaccines, to stop COVID-19. As the gears of the modern world grind to a near halt, one question is likely on the mind of many: When will the coronavirus pandemic — and social distancing — end? No one knows for sure, but it’s probably not any time soon. Here’s what we do know about when it may be safe to come out of our homes and resume normal life. It will almost certainly take herd immunity to end the pandemic. Most experts say we’re past the point of containing the virus, like we did with SARS and MERS. That means that COVID-19 is here to stay, and the pandemic will end only with herd immunity. Herd immunity describes what proportion of a population has to be immune to a disease for the population as a whole to be protected from outbreaks. The exact threshold depends on the infectiousness of the disease, represented by the basic reproduction number, called R0 (pronounced “R naught”). When a new virus emerges, no one is immune. A highly transmissible virus, like the coronavirus behind the current pandemic, can spread like wildfire, quickly burning through the dry kindling of a totally naive population. But once enough people are immune, the virus runs into walls of immunity, and the pandemic peters out instead of raging ahead. Scientists call that the herd immunity threshold. Up to two-thirds of a population would need to be infected to reach that threshold. Current estimates put the coronavirus’s R0 between two or three, meaning anyone with COVID-19 tends, on average, to infect two or three other people. While this number can change based on our behavior, researchers estimate that the herd immunity threshold for COVID-19 is about one-third to two-thirds of any given population. Worldwide, that means anywhere from 2.5 billion to 5 billion people. Scientists aren’t yet sure how long people infected with COVID-19 remain immune, but so far it seems that they aren’t readily reinfected (SN: 3/4/20).

3-25-20 Can you catch the coronavirus twice? We don’t know yet
SAY you have caught covid-19 and recovered – are you now immune for life, or could you catch it again? We just don’t know yet. In February, reports emerged of a woman in Japan who had been given the all-clear after having covid-19 but then tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus a second time. There have also been reports of a man in Japan testing positive after being given the all-clear, and anecdotal cases of second positives have emerged from China, too. This has raised fears that people may not develop immunity to the virus. This would mean that, until we have an effective vaccine, we could all experience repeated rounds of infection. But the science is still uncertain. “There is some anecdotal evidence of reinfections, but we really don’t know,” says Ira Longini at the University of Florida. It may be that the tests used were unreliable, which is a problem with tests for other respiratory viruses, says Jeffrey Shaman at Columbia University in New York. Early signs from small animal experiments are reassuring. A team from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in Beijing exposed four rhesus macaques to the virus. A week later, all four were ill with covid-19-like symptoms and had high virus loads. Two weeks later, the macaques had recovered and were confirmed to have antibodies to the virus in their bloodstream. The researchers then tried to reinfect two of them but failed, which suggests the animals were immune (bioRxiv, doi.org/ggn8r8). “That finding is very encouraging, as it suggests that it is possible to induce protective immunity against the virus,” says Alfredo Garzino-Demo at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. But that doesn’t necessarily mean long-term immunity. There are other coronaviruses circulating among humans and although they induce immunity, this doesn’t last. “Some other viruses in the coronavirus family, such as those that cause common colds, tend to induce immunity that is relatively short-lived, at around three months,” says Peter Openshaw at Imperial College London.

3-25-20 How to fight infection by turning back your immune system's clock
Your immune system ages too, weakening as you get older and making you more susceptible to infections. Fortunately, we are discovering plenty of things you can do to turn back the clock and stay healthy. WASH your hands religiously for 20 seconds, sneeze into your elbow, avoid touching your face, stay 1 metre away from all other people and, as a last resort, self-quarantine for a week with only your emergency rations for company. If you want to avoid getting the new coronavirus, all of these are a good idea. But ultimately, one of the most important things standing between you and a deadly bout of covid-19 is your immune system. We know that the immune system gets weaker as we age – which is a key reason why those over the age of 70 are most at risk from the disease. But what is becoming clear is that when it comes to immune health, age is just a number. Some people have an immune system that is effectively significantly older or younger than they are. “Some 60-year-olds have the immune system of a 40-year-old, some are more like an 80-year-old,” says Shai Shen-Orr, an immunologist at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The good news is that there are some simple ways to turn back the immunological clock. Because even after the threat of this virus has passed – sooner or later another one is going to come along, and none of us is getting any younger. As anyone who has studied immunology will tell you, the immune system is immensely, mind-bogglingly intricate. “It is the second-most complicated system in your body after your brain,” says Shen-Orr. It consists of hundreds of cell types and signalling molecules controlled by some 8000 genes, interacting in a network of near-infinite complexity. Happily, you don’t need to know all of its intricacies to take advantage of the latest developments in immunology – although a little knowledge can help (see “Immunology at a glance”). If you are younger than 60, in good health and don’t have too many bad habits, then your immune system is probably functioning well enough to keep you safe from almost any infectious disease, including coronavirus. The bad news is that as we age, our immune systems gradually deteriorate too. This “immunosenescence” starts to affect people’s health at about 60, says Janet Lord at the University of Birmingham, UK. The older you get, the weaker your immune system becomes, and the more likely you are to get seriously ill or die because of it.

3-25-20 Here’s where bacteria live on your tongue cells
Mapping how bacteria are grouped together may reveal how they maintain their environment. Myriad microbes dwell on human tongues — and scientists have now gotten a glimpse at the neighborhoods that bacteria build for themselves. Bacteria grow in thick films, with different types of microbes clustered in patches around individual cells on the tongue’s surface, researchers report online March 24 in Cell Reports. This pattern suggests individual bacterial cells first attach to the tongue cell’s surface and then grow in layers as they form larger clusters — creating miniature environments the different species need to thrive. “It’s amazing, the complexity of the community that they build right there on your tongue,” says Jessica Mark Welch, a microbiologist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. Methods to identify microbial communities typically hunt for genetic fingerprints from various types of bacteria (SN: 11/05/09). The techniques can reveal what lives on the tongue, but not how the bacterial community is organized in space, Mark Welch says. So she and her colleagues had people scrape the top of their tongues with plastic scrapers. Then the team tagged various types of bacteria in the tongue gunk with differently colored fluorescent markers to see how the microbial community was structured. Bacterial cells, largely grouped by type in a thick, densely packed biofilm, covered each tongue surface cell. While the overall patchwork appearance of the microbial community was consistent among cells from different samples and people, the specific composition of bacteria varied, Mark Welch says. But some bacteria were common across nearly all samples and tended to occupy roughly the same regions around tongue cells. Actinomyces bacteria, for example, were typically at the core of the structure, close to the human cell. Rothia, on the other hand,tended to exist in large patches toward the outside of the biofilm and Streptococcus formed a thin outer layer. Two of these groups — Actinomyces and Rothia — may be important for converting dietary nitrate, a compound abundant in leafy green vegetables, to nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and can help regulate blood pressure.

3-25-20 The number of steps per day, not speed, is linked to mortality rate
An observational study found a benefit as steps added up for women and men. However you can fit some steps in your day, keep it up — and the more, the better. A new study of nearly 5,000 people finds an association between the total number of steps per day and the risk of dying for any reason. Among the 655 participants who took fewer than 4,000 steps per day, the mortality rate was 76.7 per 1,000 people per year. (In distance, 4,000 steps is roughly 3 kilometers.) But among the 1,727 people who managed 4,000–7,999 steps per day, the death rate plummeted to 21.4 per 1,000 people. It got even better for the next group: Among the 1,539 people taking 8,000 to just under 12,000 daily steps, the annual death rate was 6.9 per 1,000 people, researchers report online March 24 in JAMA. Study participants, who were at least 40 years old, wore accelerometers that tracked their steps for up to a week. Researchers collected the data from 2003 to 2006 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and then followed the participants an average of 10 years, during which time 1,165 of them died. While there was a link between the number of steps per day and the risk of dying, the researchers did not find that the intensity of the steps — the number of steps per minute — was associated with mortality risk in the study.

3-24-20 Higher step count linked to lower yearly risk of death, up to a point
The higher your daily step count, the lower your risk of death per year, according to a new analysis by the US National Cancer Institute – but the link only goes so far. Public health officials have long encouraged walking as a way of improving general health, but many longitudinal studies on its benefits have focused on people in their early 60s and have sometimes ignored minority groups, such as people who aren’t white. The new analysis looked at 4840 people who were representative of the US population over the age of 40. Between 2003 and 2006, Pedro Saint-Maurice at the National Cancer Institute and his colleagues asked the participants to wear an accelerometer for a week. “We know that measuring a person’s activity over seven days is a fairly good gauge of their usual activity,” says Saint-Maurine, because previous studies have used a similar methodology. The team found that the average daily step count of this group was 9124 steps. This figure is higher than many previous studies have found, probably because the study included younger people, those working in less sedentary jobs, and more men, who tend to be more physically active. The researchers used the US National Death Index to determine which participants had died by the end of 2015. The researchers used 4000 steps a day as their baseline, because this is easily achieved by someone who drives to work and sits at their desk for the whole day. By comparison, the team found that taking 8000 steps was associated with a 51 per cent lower risk of dying per year, and taking 12,000 daily steps was associated with a 65 per cent lower risk of dying per year. But taking more than 12,000 steps a day didn’t seem to be associated with a further reduction of risk of yearly mortality. “It just kind of plateaus,” says Saint-Maurice. Up until 12,000 steps, a higher number of steps was associated with a lower risk of dying per year regardless of sex, race, level of education, health condition and whether a person smoked or drank alcohol.

3-24-20 The bacteria in a mother’s gut may protect babies from food allergies
The presence of certain bacteria in a mother’s gut is linked to a decreased risk of their baby developing food allergies in the first year of life. Prevotella copri is a bacterium that ferments fibre from our diet into fatty acids, and it has been linked to reduced allergic reactions in the offspring of mice with a high-fibre diet. Peter Vuillermin at Deakin University in Australia and his colleagues examined whether this association was also found in humans, in whom the fatty acids are thought to help regulate inflammation. The team analysed data from a study of Australian mothers and infants collected between 2010 and 2013. Faecal samples were gathered from women when they were 36 weeks pregnant, and from infants one, six and 12 months after birth. DNA from faecal samples of 58 infants with a diagnosed food allergy were compared with those of 236 infants without allergies. The team found that around 20 per cent of babies without any allergies had P. copri in their faecal samples, compared with 8 per cent of those with allergies to egg, peanut and cow’s milk, among others. The presence and abundance of P. copri in the mother’s stool was also associated with a decreased risk of allergy. In fact, only one mother with an infant who had allergies had more than 0.03 per cent of the bacterium detected in her stool sample. Analysis showed that when a woman had twice as much P. copri as another – as indicated by the expression of a specific P. copri gene in their stool – it was associated with an 8 per cent decrease in the risk of food allergy in her child. P. copri might also be able to protect against non-food allergies such as hay fever, says Vuillermin, especially because childhood food allergies can make subsequent allergies more likely. He adds that large households were a strong forecaster of P. copri being present in the mother’s microbiome, probably because there are more people to share microbiota with, which boosts microbiome diversity.

3-24-20 You could be spreading the coronavirus without realising you’ve got it
With more than 380,000 confirmed cases worldwide, one thing is clear about the new coronavirus: it is very good at infecting people. Now studies are starting to reveal just how infectious it is – and when a person with covid-19 is most likely to spread the virus. While we know some people are more vulnerable to the virus than others, it is capable of putting a healthy adult of any age into a critical condition and in need of intensive care. However, the virus can also be asymptomatic, causing no noticeable illness in some people. Such cases were first recognised in China in January (Science China Life Sciences, doi.org/dqbn), but it wasn’t known how common they were. Research published last week by Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University in New York and his colleagues analysed the course of the epidemic in 375 Chinese cities between 10 January, when the epidemic took off, and 23 January, when containment measures such as travel restrictions were imposed. The study concluded that 86 per cent of cases were “undocumented” – that is, asymptomatic or had only very mild symptoms (Science, doi.org/ggn6c2). The researchers also analysed case data from foreign nationals who were evacuated from the city of Wuhan, where the first cases were seen, and found a similar proportion of asymptomatic or very mild cases. Such undocumented cases are still contagious and the study found them to be the source of most of the virus’s spread in China before the restrictions came in. Even though these people were only 55 per cent as contagious as people with symptoms, the study found that they were the source of 79 per cent of further infections, due to there being more of them, and the higher likelihood that they were out and about. “If somebody’s experiencing mild symptoms, and I think most of us can relate to this, we’re still going to go about our day,” says Shaman. “These people are the major driver of it and they’re the ones who facilitated the spread.”

3-24-20 We haven’t identified any new drugs for severe covid-19 cases yet
Despite what you may have heard, although several potential drugs for covid-19 are being trialled around the world, few results have been reported yet, and we don’t know if any could help save people who are already seriously ill when diagnosed. Some enthusiastic news stories and claims being spread on social media are based on little more than anecdotal reports. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) is coordinating an international trial of the most promising drugs – and with case numbers soaring, we should find out soon if any of them work. “This trial focuses on the key priority questions for public health. Do any of these drugs reduce the mortality? Do any of these drugs reduce the time the patient is in hospital? And whether or not the patients receiving any of the drugs needed ventilation or an intensive care unit,” said Ana Maria Henao-Restrepo of the WHO at a briefing on 18 March. The WHO trial will include the long-used antimalarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, a new antiviral drug called remdesivir and a combination of two HIV drugs called lopinavir and ritonavir. The HIV drugs will also be tested in combination with an antiviral called interferon beta. On 22 March, several countries in Europe, including the UK, launched a collaborative trial of the same drugs, which will complement the WHO effort. There has been a tremendous buzz about chloroquine after it was highlighted first by entrepreneur Elon Musk and then US president Donald Trump, who wrongly claimed it was already approved in the US for treating covid-19. There is some evidence that chloroquine and the closely related hydroxychloroquine are effective against related viruses such as the one that causes SARS. There have also been reports from China that chloroquine is beneficial when given to people with covid-19 associated pneumonia, but the findings have yet to be published. “It looks promising,” says Robin May at the University of Birmingham, UK.

3-24-20 Mammal study explains 'why females live longer'
A new study that looks at lifespan in wild mammals shows that females live substantially longer than males. The research finds that, on average, females live 18.6% longer than males from the same species. This is much larger than the well-studied difference between men and women, which is around 8%. The scientists say the differences in these other mammals are due to a combination of sex-specific traits and local environmental factors. In every human population, women live longer than men, so much so that nine out of 10 people who live to be 110 years old are female. This pattern, researchers say, has been consistent since the first accurate birth records became available in the 18th Century. While the same assumption has been held about animal species, large-scale data on mammals in the wild has been lacking, Now, an international team of researchers has examined age-specific mortality estimates for a widely diverse group of 101 species. In 60% of the analysed populations, the scientists found that females outlived the males - on average, they had a lifespan that's 18.6% longer than males. "The magnitude of lifespan and ageing across species is probably an interaction between environmental conditions and sex-specific genetic variations," said lead author Dr Jean-Francois Lemaître, from the University of Lyon, France. He gives the example of bighorn sheep for which the researchers had access to good data on different populations. Where natural resources were consistently available there was little difference in lifespan. However, in one location where winters were particularly severe, the males lived much shorter lives. "Male bighorn sheep use lots of resources towards sexual competition, towards the growth of a large body mass, and they might be more sensitive to environmental conditions," said Dr Lemaître. "So clearly the magnitude of the difference in lifespan is due to the interaction of these sex-specific genetics, the fact that males devote more resources towards specific functions compared with females, and to the local environmental conditions." Even if females lived longer than males, the team found that it did not mean that the risks of dying are increasing more in males than females as they get older. The expected male mortality is always higher, but the rate of mortality is about the same in both genders as they age.

3-24-20 Mysterious Iron Age site may have been a retreat for religious hermits
A small, mysterious site in the Czech Republic’s Šumava mountains could have been a nature retreat for religious hermits 2200 years ago. At an elevation of 802 metres, it is the country’s highest site from the late Iron Age, hidden in a forest near a river in Bohemia. Archaeologists found it in 2011 after an uprooted tree exposed pottery fragments from the La Tène culture. But its purpose has baffled researchers. Now, a recent excavation hints at it being a retreat for religious hermits similar to Celtic druids. “It’s the most probable explanation after eliminating all other options,” says Dagmar Dreslerová at the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague, who led the study. She and her team unearthed around 500 pottery shards which originated from over 100 ceramic containers dating from 190 to 50 BC. Of the fragments, 24 were tested for fatty substances called lipids, which revealed traces of cow fat and olive or hazelnut oil. What is more, a chemical was present that forms only when fat is heated above 300°C. This suggests some pots were used for cooking beef or for making tallow to preserve meat or produce candles. No signs of farming, animal slaughter or tools were found at the site, indicating the beef was cooked and potted elsewhere. Seasonal fishing, hunting or mining might explain why food was brought in, but there was no evidence of such activities. A long-distance trade route is thought to have passed nearby, offering the possibility that path maintenance workers, guides or guards used the site. However, the olive or hazelnut oil suggests something else. “It’s unlikely these people would have such a luxurious item,” says Dreslerová. But people of high social standing such as druids could have. Druids are confined to Celtic culture, but religious specialists are known to have existed in Iron Age Bohemia. So it is plausible they retreated to secluded areas such as caves or forests to spend time as hermits or to teach.

3-24-20 Fossil worm shows us our evolutionary beginnings
A worm-like creature that burrowed on the seafloor more than 500 million years ago may be key to the evolution of much of the animal kingdom. The organism, about the size of a grain of rice, is described as the earliest example yet found in the fossil record of a bilaterian. These are animals that have a front and back, two symmetrical sides, and openings at either end joined by a gut. The discovery is described in the journal PNAS. The scientists behind it say the development of bilateral symmetry was a critical step in the evolution of animal life. It gave organisms the ability to move purposefully and a common, yet successful way to organise their bodies. A multitude of animals, from worms to insects to dinosaurs to humans, are organised around this same basic bilaterian body plan. Scott Evans, of the University of California at Riverside, and colleagues have called the organism Ikaria wariootia. It lived 555 million years ago during what geologists term as the Ediacaran Period - the time in Earth history when life started to become multi-celled and much more complex. The discovery started with tiny burrows being identified in rocks in Nilpena, South Australia, some 15 years ago. Many who looked at these traces recognised they were likely made by bilaterians, but creatures' presence in the ancient deposits was not obvious. It was only recently that Scott Evans and Mary Droser, a professor of geology at UC Riverside, noticed minuscule, oval impressions near some of the burrows. Three-dimensional laser scanning revealed the regular, consistent shape of a cylindrical body with a distinct head and tail and faintly grooved musculature. Ikaria wariootia ranged in size between 2mm and 7mm long, and about 1-2.5mm wide. The largest of the ovals was just the right size and shape to have made the long-recognised burrows. "We thought these animals should have existed during this interval, but always understood they would be difficult to recognise," Scott Evans said. "Once we had the 3D scans, we knew that we had made an important discovery." Ikaria wariootia probably spent its life burrowing through layers of sand on the ocean floor, looking for any organic matter on which it could feed.

3-23-20 Machine 'could quadruple' heart and lung transplants
The number of heart and lung transplants could quadruple thanks to a "reanimation" machine used in a pioneering operation, a hospital says The device, developed at Royal Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, managed to pump oxygenated blood into both organs in a world-first procedure. The machine can revitalise deteriorating organs allowing "donation after circulatory death" (DCD). Hospital surgeon Pedro Catarino said it was like "recharging the batteries". "It is reanimation and then it replenishes the energy stores of the heart, what we call reconditioning, which allows it be transplanted," he said. "We think it could at least double and perhaps quadruple the number of [heart and lungs] available for transplant." He said it was desperately needed, adding: "Patients die on the waiting list every day." Most organs come from people who are brain dead. Crucially, doctors are able to keep their hearts beating and healthy until they are removed. Unusually, Aaron Green's came from a donor who was circulatory dead - in other words, their heart had stopped beating and their organs had begun to decay. "With brain death we've got four hours to get the organ from the donor into the recipient. With this circulatory death we have no more than 30 minutes to get the organ on to the machine," said Dr Catarino. Royal Papworth Hospital has been doing DCD heart transplants for five years, but last summer it performed a heart and lung transplant using the new machine. Mr Green, 25, is still currently the only person in the world to have a heart and lungs from a donor whose heart had stopped. He said: "The first thing I remember was I woke up, looked at my hand and went, 'Oh, it's not blue'. "I couldn't believe how quickly the heart and lungs kicked in - it was straight away." Mr Green left hospital two months after the operation and was back playing cricket and riding his bike.

3-23-20 A tooth-enamel protein is found in eyes with a common form of macular degeneration
The finding could point to a new target in treating the ‘dry’ form of the disorder. Deposits of a mineral found in tooth enamel at the back of the eye could be hastening the progression of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of deteriorating eyesight in people over 50. Now researchers have identified a protein called amelotin that experiments suggest is involved in producing the mineral deposits that are the hallmark of “dry” age-related macular degeneration, the most common of the two forms of the disease. Age-related macular degeneration, or AMD, affects about 3 million people in the United States. But the new finding, if confirmed, could change that. While the “wet” form of AMD, which comprises up to 30 percent of AMD cases, can be treated with injections, there are currently no treatments for dry AMD. “Finding amelotin in these deposits makes it a target to try to slow the progression of mineralization, which, if it’s borne out, could result in new therapies,” says Imre Lengyel, an ophthalmologist at Queen’s University Belfast in Scotland who was not involved in the research. These deposits, first documented in 2015, are made of a type of mineralized calcium called hydroxyapatite and appear beneath the retinal pigment epithelium — a layer of cells just outside the retina that keeps its light-sensing rods and cones happy and healthy. The deposits may worsen vision by blocking the flow of oxygen and nutrients needed to nourish those light-sensitive cells of the retina. By contrast, in wet AMD abnormal blood vessels intrude into the retina and often leak. Both types of AMD distort a person’s central vision — the focused, detailed sight needed for reading and recognizing faces — which can make independent living difficult. For the new study, published online February 26 in Translational Research, researchers grew retinal pigment epithelial cells in the lab, and then subjected them to a form of stress that may be common in aging eyes: a loss of nutrients.

3-21-20 Diamond samples in Canada reveal size of lost continent
Canadian scientists have discovered a fragment of an ancient continent, suggesting that it was 10% larger than previously thought. They were studying diamond samples from Baffin Island, a glacier-covered land mass near Greenland, when they noticed a remnant of North Atlantic Craton. Cratons are ancient, stable parts of the Earth's continental crust. The North American Craton stretched from present-day Scotland to North America and broke apart 150m years ago. Scientists chanced on the latest evidence as they examined exploration samples of kimberlite, a rock that often contains diamonds, from Baffin Island. "For researchers, kimberlites are subterranean rockets that pick up passengers on their way to the surface," University of British Columbia geologist Maya Kopylova said. "The passengers are solid chunks of wall rocks that carry a wealth of details on conditions far beneath the surface of our planet over time." Ms Kopylova and her colleagues says the sample bore a mineral signature that matched other portions of the North Atlantic Craton. "Finding these 'lost' pieces is like finding a missing piece of a puzzle," Ms Kopylova is quoted as saying in an article published by the University of British Columbia's website. The samples were taken from deep below the Chidliak Kimberlite Province in southern Baffin Island. Previous reconstructions of the Earth's plates had been based on shallow rock samples formed at depths of one to 10km (six miles). Ms Kopylova said the discovery adds about 10% to the known size of the craton. "Our knowledge is literally and symbolically deeper," she said.

3-21-20 Why some heart patients may be especially vulnerable to COVID-19
People with hypertension and cardiovascular disease risk severe bouts of the disease. As researchers examine deaths from COVID-19, heart patients appear especially vulnerable. In Italy, where the number of deaths has now surpassed those in China, public health officials reported on March 17 that among 355 people who died, a whopping 76 percent had hypertension and 33 percent had heart disease. And among more than 44,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in China (SN: 2/25/20), the case fatality rate for people with underlying conditions was highest for those with cardiovascular disease, at 10.5 percent compared with the overall fatality rate of 2.3 percent. Researchers know generally that infections can take a toll on people who have other health problems. But SARS-CoV-19, the virus that causes COVID-19, may pose particular danger to the heart because of how the virus gets into cells, researchers speculate. To invade a cell, SARS-CoV-2 latches onto a protein called angiotensin-converting enzyme 2, or ACE2 (SN: 3/3/20). This protein is found on cells in the lungs, allowing the virus to invade these cells and cause respiratory symptoms. But ACE2 also is on heart muscle cells and cells that line the blood vessels. Considering the involvement of ACE2, COVID-19 may damage the heart directly, researchers write in a commentary in Nature Reviews Cardiology March 5. According to studies out of Wuhan, China, where the outbreak started, some people with COVID-19 have developed myocardial injury, the death of heart cells for reasons other than a heart attack. But ACE2 does more than offer an entry point for SARS-CoV-2. The protein is also part of a wide-ranging system of hormones, called the renin angiotensin aldosterone system, that regulates blood pressure and cardiovascular and kidney function. Drugs that target other parts of this system are widely prescribed to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

3-21-20 How the body builds its tubes and branches
At first glance, our bodies seem impossibly complex, with dozens of organs built to precise specifications in exactly the right places. It seems almost miraculous that all this could develop automatically from a single fertilized egg. But look a little closer and you'll see that evolution, the master architect, has been economical with that complexity, relying on the same components again and again in different contexts. Take tubes, for example. "We're basically a bag of tubes," says Celeste Nelson, a developmental bioengineer at Princeton University. "We have a tube that goes from our mouth to our rear end. Our heart is a tube. Our kidneys are tubes." So, too, are lungs, pancreas, blood vessels, and more — most of them intricate systems of tubes with many branches. Branching tubes appear so often because they are the best solution to a key problem that organisms face as they get bigger: As an animal grows, its volume goes up faster than its surface area. That simple physical relationship means that the logistical challenges of supplying oxygen and nutrients, and removing waste products — all of which ultimately depend on diffusion through the surfaces of cells — get more daunting with size. But a dense forest of branching tubes increases the available surface area enormously. "They allow us to be big," says Jamie Davies, a developmental biologist at the University of Edinburgh. In recent years, Davies, Nelson, and a few other developmental biologists have made great progress in understanding how the body makes tubes and branches in a variety of organs. Though the details usually vary from one organ to the next, some basic principles are beginning to emerge, as outlined in an article coauthored by Nelson in the Annual Review of Biomedical Engineering. So far, it looks like there are only a few ways to make a tube, only a few ways to control how it branches, and only a few ways to regulate when branching should stop.


ANIMAL INTELLIGENCE and ZOOLOGY

3-27-20 There’s no evidence the coronavirus jumped from pangolins to people
But the animals do host viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2. Pangolins can harbor coronaviruses related to the new coronavirus, a study finds. Scientists studied viruses in pangolins (Manis javanica) captured in anti-smuggling activities in southern China. The identified coronaviruses, however, are different enough from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to hint that pangolins were not directly responsible for transmitting the virus to people, which had been suggested. One of the pangolin viruses does have a structure that closely resembles the new coronavirus’ spike protein, which allows the pathogen to get into cells, infectious disease researcher Tommy Tsan-Yuk Lam of the School of Public Health at the University of Hong Kong and colleagues report March 26 in Nature. The closest relative of SARS-CoV-2 is still from a bat, the only other known mammal found to be infected with similar coronaviruses. The new coronavirus’ similarity to both a bat virus and a pangolin virus suggests that viruses from the two animals may have exchanged genes at some point before infecting people (SN: 3/26/20). The pangolin viruses, however, lack a feature seen in SARS-CoV-2 that may have helped the virus make the leap to humans — a hint that the virus may have acquired an adaptation in another, not yet identified, animal before spreading around the globe. Pangolins, while perhaps not directly involved in SARS-CoV-2 jumping to humans, should be handled carefully to prevent the viruses they carry from infecting people, the team writes. The animals are the most illegally trafficked mammal, used both as food and in traditional Chinese medicine.

3-26-20 No, the coronavirus wasn’t made in a lab. A genetic analysis shows it’s from nature
Scientists took conspiracy theories about SARS-CoV-2’s origins seriously, and debunked them. The coronavirus pandemic circling the globe is caused by a natural virus, not one made in a lab, a new study says. The virus’s genetic makeup reveals that SARS-CoV-2 isn’t a mishmash of known viruses, as might be expected if it were human-made. And it has unusual features that have only recently been identified in scaly anteaters called pangolins, evidence that the virus came from nature, Kristian Andersen and his colleagues report March 17 in Nature Medicine. When Andersen, an infectious disease researcher at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, Calif., first heard about the coronavirus causing an outbreak in China, he wondered where the virus came from. Initially, researchers thought the virus was being spread by repeated infections jumping from animals in a seafood market in Wuhan, China, into humans and then being passed person to person. Analysis from other researchers has since suggested that the virus probably jumped only once from an animal into a person and has been spread human to human since about mid-November (SN: 3/4/20). But shortly after the virus’s genetic makeup was revealed in early January, rumors began bubbling up that maybe the virus was engineered in a lab and either intentionally or accidentally released. An unfortunate coincidence fueled conspiracy theorists, says Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University in New Orleans. The Wuhan Institute of Virology is “in very close proximity to” the seafood market, and has conducted research on viruses, including coronaviruses, found in bats that have potential to cause disease in people. “That led people to think that, oh, it escaped and went down the sewers, or somebody walked out of their lab and went over to the market or something,” Garry says.

3-26-20 Coronavirus: Pangolins found to carry viruses related to Covid-19
Smuggled pangolins have been found to carry viruses closely related to the one sweeping the world. Scientists say the sale of the animals in wildlife markets should be strictly prohibited to minimise the risk of future outbreaks. Pangolins are the most-commonly illegally trafficked mammal, used both as food and in traditional medicine. In research published in the journal Nature, researchers say handling these animals requires "caution". And they say further surveillance of wild pangolins is needed to understand their role in the risk of future transmission to humans. Despite confirmation that pangolins carry viruses closely related to Covid-19 (also known as SARS-CoV-2), exactly how the virus jumped from wild animals to humans remains a mystery. The horseshoe bat and now the pangolin have both been implicated, but the precise sequence of events is unknown. Commenting on the study, Dr Dan Challender of the University of Oxford, said pangolins are known to host various strains of coronaviruses. He added: "Identifying the source of SARS-CoV-2 is important to understand the emergence of the current pandemic, and in preventing similar events in the future." The ant-devouring scaly mammal, said to be the most widely trafficked mammal in the world, is threatened with extinction. The animal's scales are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, while pangolin meat is considered a delicacy. Elisa Panjang of Cardiff University, a pangolin conservation officer at the Danau Field Centre in Malaysia, said it would be devastating if the report led to persecution of pangolins. "This is the time for the international community to pressure their governments to end illegal wildlife trade," she said. China has moved to ban the consumption of meat from wild animals in the wake of the outbreak. Similar moves are being considered in Vietnam.

3-25-20 Coronavirus: Calls to protect great apes from threat of infection
Conservation experts are calling for urgent action to protect our closest living relatives, the great apes, from the threat of coronavirus. New measures are needed to reduce the risk of wild gorillas, chimps and orangutans encountering the virus, scientists warn in a letter in Nature. Habitat loss and poaching are big threats to the survival of great apes, but viruses are also a concern. Scientists say the current outbreak warrants the utmost caution. Infectious disease is now listed among the top three threats to some great ape groups. "We do not know what the effect of the virus on them is and that means we have to take the precautionary principle and reduce the risk that they will get the virus," said Prof Serge Wich of Liverpool John Moores University, UK, who is a co-signatory of the letter. "That means halting tourism, which is happening in several countries already, reducing research, being very cautious with reintroduction programmes, but also potentially halting infrastructure and extractive projects in great ape habitats which bring people in closer contact with great apes and thus potentially spread this virus to them." While many viruses, bacteria and parasites circulate in great apes without causing harm, some are known to cause disease. Past research has shown that chimps can contract the common cold virus, while the Ebola virus is thought to have killed thousands of chimpanzees and gorillas in Africa. Prof Wich said a detailed assessment was needed of all projects in great ape habitats to evaluate what the risks are. "For species with low numbers such as the Tapanuli orangutan, a virus spread could potentially bring them even closer to extinction," he said. There are four types of great apes alive today: gorillas (Africa), bonobos (Africa), orangutans (SE Asia), and chimpanzees (Africa). Humans are closely related to great apes, sharing a common ancestor several million years ago.

3-24-20 Mammal study explains 'why females live longer'
A new study that looks at lifespan in wild mammals shows that females live substantially longer than males. The research finds that, on average, females live 18.6% longer than males from the same species. This is much larger than the well-studied difference between men and women, which is around 8%. The scientists say the differences in these other mammals are due to a combination of sex-specific traits and local environmental factors. In every human population, women live longer than men, so much so that nine out of 10 people who live to be 110 years old are female. This pattern, researchers say, has been consistent since the first accurate birth records became available in the 18th Century. While the same assumption has been held about animal species, large-scale data on mammals in the wild has been lacking, Now, an international team of researchers has examined age-specific mortality estimates for a widely diverse group of 101 species. In 60% of the analysed populations, the scientists found that females outlived the males - on average, they had a lifespan that's 18.6% longer than males. "The magnitude of lifespan and ageing across species is probably an interaction between environmental conditions and sex-specific genetic variations," said lead author Dr Jean-Francois Lemaître, from the University of Lyon, France. He gives the example of bighorn sheep for which the researchers had access to good data on different populations. Where natural resources were consistently available there was little difference in lifespan. However, in one location where winters were particularly severe, the males lived much shorter lives. "Male bighorn sheep use lots of resources towards sexual competition, towards the growth of a large body mass, and they might be more sensitive to environmental conditions," said Dr Lemaître. "So clearly the magnitude of the difference in lifespan is due to the interaction of these sex-specific genetics, the fact that males devote more resources towards specific functions compared with females, and to the local environmental conditions." Even if females lived longer than males, the team found that it did not mean that the risks of dying are increasing more in males than females as they get older. The expected male mortality is always higher, but the rate of mortality is about the same in both genders as they age.