Latest coronavirus news as of 1pm 12 May
North Korea has introduced a national lockdown after reporting its first covid-19 outbreak in the capital Pyongyang
The country had never reported a covid-19 case before 12 May 2022. But many expect infections would have arisen in early 2020, before North Korea closed its borders, given its travel and trade relationships with China.
According to the North Korean news outlet KCNA, people with fevers in Pyongyang recently tested positive for the omicron sublineage BA.2, but state media has not confirmed the number of cases or where the infections may have originated.
There is no official record of any of North Korea’s 25-million-strong-population being vaccinated.
According to KCNA, state authorities, including North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, recognise that a “most serious emergency case” has occurred, and Jong-un hopes to “quickly cure the infections in order to eradicate the source of the virus”.
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More than half of people who were hospitalised with covid-19 have at least one symptom two years later, according to a study that followed 1192 people living in Wuhan, China, after they were infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus in early 2020. The findings provide the longest known follow-up of covid-19 symptoms so far, with previous studies spanning around one year.
The participants – who had an average age of 57 – were assessed via a six-minute walking test, questionnaires and lung tests at six months, 12 months and two years post-discharge.
More than two thirds (68 per cent) reported at least one long covid symptom six months after leaving hospital, decreasing to 55 per cent after two years. The most commonly reported symptom was fatigue or muscle weakness.
“Our findings indicate that for a certain proportion of hospitalised covid-19 survivors, while they may have cleared the initial infection, more than two years is needed to recover fully from covid-19,” Bin Cao at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital in China said in a statement.
The number of reported covid-19 deaths that occurred in the African region between 2 and 8 March was up 84 per cent on the previous week, according to the World Health Organization. The African region also saw cases rise 12 per cent week-on-week.
Globally, the number of reported covid-19 cases and deaths have been declining since the end of March.
Essential information about coronavirus
What to read, watch and listen to about coronavirus
New Scientist Weekly features updates and analysis on the latest developments in the covid-19 pandemic. Our podcast sees expert journalists from the magazine discuss the biggest science stories to hit the headlines each week – from technology and space, to health and the environment.
The Jump is a BBC Radio 4 series exploring how viruses can cross from animals into humans to cause pandemics. The first episode examines the origins of the covid-19 pandemic.
Why Is Covid Killing People of Colour? is a BBC documentary, which investigates what the high covid-19 death rates in ethnic minority patients reveal about health inequality in the UK.
Panorama: The Race for a Vaccine is a BBC documentary about the inside story of the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine against covid-19.
Race Against the Virus: Hunt for a Vaccine is a Channel 4 documentary which tells the story of the coronavirus pandemic through the eyes of the scientists on the frontline.
The New York Times is assessing the progress in development of potential drug treatments for covid-19, and ranking them for effectiveness and safety.
Humans of COVID-19 is a project highlighting the experiences of key workers on the frontline in the fight against coronavirus in the UK, through social media.
Belly Mujinga: Searching for the Truth is a BBC Panorama investigation of the death of transport worker Belly Mujinga from covid-19, following reports she had been coughed and spat on by a customer at London’s Victoria Station.
Coronavirus, Explained on Netflix is a short documentary series examining the coronavirus pandemic, the efforts to fight it and ways to manage its mental health toll.
Stopping the Next Pandemic: How Covid-19 Can Help Us Save Humanity by Debora Mackenzie is about how the pandemic happened and why it will happen again if we don’t do things differently in future.
The Rules of Contagion is about the new science of contagion and the surprising ways it shapes our lives and behaviour. The author, Adam Kucharski, is an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, UK, and in the book he examines how diseases spread and why they stop.
Lifting China’s zero-covid policy could trigger a large omicron wave, but the World Health Organization (WHO) says maintaining the strategy is “unsustainable”
Scrapping China’s zero-covid policy could lead to 1.55 million deaths and increase intensive care numbers by a factor of 15, according to a modelling study from Fudan University in China.
China introduced the strategy, which aims to quickly cut off transmission to end outbreaks, in August 2021 in response to the faster-spreading delta variant. Officials are now said to be evaluating the sustainability of their policy.
Fudan’s mathematical model, based on a fully vaccinated population with no mass testing or movement restrictions in place, predicts that lifting the zero-covid strategy could lead to as many as 5.1 million hospitalisations, 2.7 million intensive care unit admissions and 1.55 million deaths by September 2022.
People over 60 who are unvaccinated would make up 74 per cent of these deaths, the model predicts.
But the WHO doubts whether keeping zero-covid policies in place is sustainable, as the highly-transmissible omicron variant continues to drive cases in China.
“When we talk about the zero-covid strategy, we don’t think that it’s sustainable, considering the behaviour of the virus now and what we anticipate in the future,” WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press conference.
“We have discussed about this issue with Chinese experts and we indicated that the approach will not be sustainable.
“Transiting into another strategy will be very important.”
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Pregnant people who are vaccinated against covid-19 are 15 per cent less likely to have a stillbirth than their unvaccinated counterparts, according to a meta-analysis of 23 studies covering more than 117,000 vaccinated pregnant people.
Vaccination in pregnancy is also 90 per cent effective at preventing covid-19 infection, with no evidence of an increased risk of complications, such as a lower birthweight or postpartum haemorrhage, the study found.
New Zealand has recorded more than 1 million covid-19 cases, according to its ministry of health. Over 986,000 of these cases occurred in early 2022, with the government loosening its zero-covid strategy in March.
More than 20 per cent of New Zealand’s 5-million-strong population is therefore known to have been infected, however, modelling suggests the true number could be three times larger.
Study suggests a fourth dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccine generally provides increased protection from covid-19
A fourth dose of an mRNA covid-19 vaccine could provide a “substantial boost in antibody levels and cellular immunity”, according to a study conducted as part of the University of Southampton’s Cov-Boost vaccine trial and published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
A fourth vaccine has been rolled out across the UK for people aged 75 and over, and those who are immunocompromised. Off the back of the Cov-Boost study, a larger group of people in the UK may be offered a second booster jab later this year.
In the trial, 166 participants who had received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, following two initial Pfizer/BioNTech or University of Oxford/AstraZeneca doses in June 2021, were either given a full dose of Pfizer/BioNTech or a half dose of Moderna as a fourth jab, about seven months after their third vaccination.
Results reveal the fourth jab generally offered higher antibody levels than a third dose and provided particularly strong protection for those aged 70 and over.
However, the study also found that some participants maintained higher levels of immunity after a third dose and only received a limited boost from a fourth jab, suggesting there could be a ceiling to the immune response.
If this ceiling effect is seen in further studies, it could suggest that a fourth booster shot is less effective in those who have recently been infected with covid-19 or with a window shorter than seven months between their third and fourth vaccine doses.
“These results underline the benefits of the most vulnerable people receiving current spring boosters and gives confidence for any prospective autumn booster programme in the UK,” lead author Saul Faust said in a statement.
Other coronavirus news
Lockdowns and social distancing caused by the pandemic led to a “small but significant increase” in loneliness worldwide, according to a meta-analysis of 34 studies, covering 200,000 participants across four continents.
Speaking to The Independent, Mareike Ernst, of Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz in Germany, said: “Given the small effect sizes, dire warnings about a ‘loneliness pandemic’ may be overblown. However, as loneliness constitutes a risk for premature mortality and mental and physical health, it should be closely monitored.”
Just 51 per cent of people who have tested positive for covid-19 are following isolation guidelines in England, according to figures for 28 March to 2 April 2022 issued by the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for covid-19 was removed in England at the end of February 2022. In April, new isolation guidance was issued for those who tested positive, urging them to avoid contact with other people until they no longer had symptoms or felt unwell. Similar guidance is in place in the rest of the UK.
“Only half of those who tested positive for covid-19 adhered fully to self-isolation guidance,” Tim Gibb at ONS said in a statement. “While this is a similar proportion to what we reported in mid-March 2022, it however represents a significant decrease to levels of adherence seen earlier this year.”
The covid-19 pandemic directly or indirectly caused 14.9 million deaths as of the end of 2021, according to a WHO report
In a major analysis, officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) calculated the number of pandemic-related deaths that occurred globally between 1 January 2020 and 31 December 2022.
The researchers combined national death data for each country with statistics from scientific studies carried out in the same country. They also used a statistical model to account for deaths that may have been otherwise overlooked.
The team then estimated the number of fatalities that would have been expected had the pandemic not occurred, comparing the two figures to give an “excess” of 14.9 million.
This excess includes deaths directly caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as those that were indirectly caused by the pandemic, such as people who died prematurely because healthcare systems were overwhelmed.
According to John Hopkins University data, just over 6.2 million people have died of covid-19 worldwide, not taking into account the pandemic’s indirect deaths.
“These sobering data not only point to the impact of the pandemic but also to the need for all countries to invest in more resilient health systems that can sustain essential health services during crises, including stronger health information systems,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
Other coronavirus news
More than one in 10 people hospitalised with covid-19 could have severe neurological symptoms, a study suggests.
Researchers at Boston University studied more than 16,000 people who were hospitalised with covid-19 in 24 countries between March 2020 and March 2021. Nearly 13 per cent of the participants developed a serious neurological condition – like a stroke, seizure or encephalopathy, an umbrella term for disease that alters the brain’s function or structure – at admission or during their hospitalisation.
Fighting off SARS-CoV-2 virus may temporarily boost your protection against other coronavirus strains, including those that cause common cold-like symptoms.
In a small study, scientists at Scripps Research in the US found serum samples from people who had recently fought off SARS-CoV-2 virus reacted more strongly to the spike proteins of other coronavirus strains than samples taken from people pre-covid-19.
People hospitalised with covid-19 may lose 10 IQ points, equivalent to the natural cognitive decline that occurs between 50 and 70 years old
Covid-19 can cause lasting cognitive and mental health issues, including brain fog, fatigue and even post-traumatic stress disorder. To better understand the scale of the problem, researchers at the University of Cambridge analysed 46 people who were hospitalised due to the infection between March and July 2020.
The participants underwent cognitive tests on average six months after their initial illness. These results were compared against those of more than 66,000 people from the general population.
Those hospitalised with covid-19 scored worse on verbal analogical reasoning tests, which assess an individual’s ability to recognise relationships between ideas and think methodically.
They also recorded slower processing speeds. Previous studies suggest glucose is less efficiently used by the part of the brain responsible for attention, complex problem-solving and working memory after covid-19.
Scores and reaction speeds improved over time, however, any recovery was gradual at best, according to the researchers.
This cognitive impairment probably has multiple causes, including inadequate blood supply to the brain, blood vessel blockage and microscopic bleeds caused by SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as damage triggered by an overactive immune system, they added.
“Around 40,000 people have been through intensive care with covid-19 in England alone and many more will have been very sick, but not admitted to hospital,” Adam Hampshire at Imperial College London said in a statement.
“This means there is a large number of people out there still experiencing problems with cognition many months later.”
Other coronavirus news
The biological mechanism behind a rare and severe covid-19 response seen in some children may have been uncovered by researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne, Australia.
Doctors have so far been unable to identify why some children develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS) in response to covid-19, which can cause symptoms such as fever, abdominal pain and heart disease.
After analysing the blood of 33 children with MIS, the researchers identified 85 proteins specific to the condition, potentially aiding diagnosis and opening the door to new treatments.
Covid-19 may worsen asthma in children, according to a study of more than 61,000 people aged two to 17 with the respiratory condition in the US. The 7700 participants who tested positive for covid-19 went on to have more asthma-related hospitalisations, emergency inhaler use and steroid treatments in the six months post-infection, compared with the participants without a confirmed covid-19 infection.
How covid-19 affects people with asthma is somewhat muddled. In November 2020, a study found people with asthma may be less likely to develop covid-19 complications, potentially due to their steroid use or reduced exposure via shielding.
See previous updates from April 2022, March 2022, February 2022, January 2022, November to December 2021, September to October 2021, July to September 2021, June to July 2021, May 2021, April to March 2021, February 2021, January 2021, November to December 2020, and March to November 2020.
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