How to eliminate Covid, and other pandemic news

 

Academics at the University of Otago studied New Zealand’s experience with Covid and say that the virus can be eliminated, not just contained. 

The emergence of an apparently more infectious virus variant is just another reason to eliminate this infection,” they said

Actually only one of them said it, but let’s pretend, for the sake of simplicity, that they spoke in unison. They do stuff like that in New Zealand. 

What you need if you’re going to eliminate the virus, they said, is informed input from scientists, political commitment, sufficient public health infrastructure, public engagement and trust, and a safety net to support vulnerable populations. 

Those will be easier to cobble together in some countries than in others. That’s me speaking in unison and not mentioning any countries by name. To protect the guilty. 

Irrelevant photo: Crocuses. They’ll be coming up soon, and they’re not afraid of the corona virus.

One of the barriers to eliminating the virus is the belief that hard measures will hurt the economy more than half measures, causing greater hardship, which (as advocates of half-measures reminded us at the start of this mess) has its own health impacts.

“Our preliminary analysis suggests that the opposite is true,” the academics said. “Countries following an elimination strategy—notably China, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand—have suffered less economically than countries with suppression goals.”

The introduction of vaccines should make elimination easier.

 

Antibody therapy

Scientists are testing an antibody therapy that could prevent someone who’s been exposed to Covid from going on to develop it. It could, at least initially, contain outbreaks–in nursing homes, hospitals, or universities, say–or protect people in households where one person is known to be infected. They’re also investigating the possibility that it could protect people with compromised immune systems. 

If all goes well–please notice the if in that sentence–it could be available in March or April.

The Pfizer and Oxford vaccines don’t confer immunity for about a month after injection. With this, the immunity would be immediate.

It goes by the snappy name of AZD7442. 

 

Mass testing evaluated

Britain tried a mass testing program in Liverpool, using rapid-result Covid tests, and managed to miss over half the cases. 

So was it worth doing?

A study went through the data and came back with a definitive maybe. In this corner, wearing the electric pink tee shirt that says No, is the danger presented by false negatives. People who test negative but in reality carry the virus may be prone to riskier behavior than people who haven’t been given any reassurance. They think they present no threat, so they may spread the disease more.

And in this other corner, wearing the soothing green tee shirt that says Yes, is the benefit that comes with spotting Covid cases that would have been missed and taking those people out of circulation. Assuming, of course, that they actually do take themselves out of circulation, which most of them will. 

I think.

The Liverpool data hint that the test may spot people with the highest viral load–in other words, people who may be the most infectious–while missing those least likely to be infectious. But you might want to notice how many tentative words wiggled their way into that sentence. It hasn’t been established that a light viral load means you’re less infectious. 

People who are asymptomatic, by the way, can still have a high viral load, and an estimated 40% to 45% of cases are asymptomatic.

So is mass testing with rapid tests worth doing? It’s a matter of weighing the possible gain (spotting cases that would otherwise have been invisible) against the possible harm (giving false reassurance to people who are in fact carriers). And it depends on that unknown: how contagious people with low viral loads turn out to be.

Whatever it is you come here for–and that’s still a mystery to me–it’s not rock-solid certainty, is it?

 

The compassion report

With a show of compassion worthy of the current American and British governments, Colombia’s president announced that the country will refuse Covid vaccines to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelan refugees. The only refugees who’ll have access to the vaccine are those with dual citizenship or official status. That’s less than half of them, and more are crossing the border daily.

The idea that no one will be safe until we all are is a hard one to get across. As will that business the academics from Otago mentioned–political commitment. 

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A bookstore in Trieste asked for volunteers to call people trapped at home by the virus and spend twenty minutes at a time reading to them over the phone and just generally chatting. They figured they’d be doing well if they found a few people to help out the three staff members who were already doing making calls during their breaks and on their days off.

They got 150 responses. Some were from Italians living abroad. Some came from a theater company that had itself been trapped by the pandemic–not at home but offstage. Some were I have no idea who–people who don’t fall into such neat categories. The plan was to have the calling run during Christmas, but with the response it’s gotten it now has no end date.

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An Amsterdam museum that sold a Banksy work for £1.5 million so that it wouldn’t have to lay off staff had a bit of compassion and goodwill returned to it. The anonymous buyer emailed a few months later and offered to lend it to the museum for at least a year.