The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on this crisis from the best, most trusted international news sources — regardless of language or geography. To receive the daily Coronavirus global brief in your inbox, sign up here.
SPOTLIGHT: THE POISON AND THE CURE OF CORONAVIRUS INFORMATION
When considering the risks of misinformation circulating about COVID-19, the virus analogy is too useful to pass up. Self-serving broadcast propaganda, "fake news' targeted for social media clicks, bad medical advice passed on to a friend ... or a nation: all of it can spread rapidly — with the symptoms in plain view, or all but impossible to detect.
Of course the actual cure to the coronavirus ultimately rests in the hands of doctors and researchers. Yet until then (and beyond), the importance of a free press, of reliable and accurate information — especially in our digital age — cannot be overstated. Indeed, the plot line of what is perhaps the most far-reaching news story since World War II begins with Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old doctor in the central city of Wuhan, who was silenced by Chinese government officials for sounding the alarm online about coronavirus back in December.
Since then, we have seen political leaders from Brazil and the U.S., to Hungary, India and elsewhere, either spread misinformation or impose restrictions on the press, or both. This week in India, professional journalist associations tried pushing back against the goverment's new controls on how to report on the pandemic.
We sit on a particular perch at Worldcrunch as a global source of information that discovers, interprets and connects other sources from different countries and languages. More than ever, we are only as good — and free — as our colleagues around the world.
THE SITUATION: 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW
- European glimmers of hope: The daily death toll in Spain has dropped for the fourth day in a row, down to 637 and Italy"s death toll dropped to its lowest in two weeks. France has 6,838 people in intensive care, some 105 of whom are under the age of 30, but the numbers are rising at a slower rate.
- UK leaders: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted to hospital for persisting coronavirus symptoms, shortly after Queen Elizabeth gave a rare TV address to urge resolve in face of the pandemic.
- Monday markets: Global stocks and U.S. futures on the rise as coronavirus cases slow in some European countries, but oil prices remain on edge with postponed Saudi Arabia-Russia talks.
- Japanese emergency: Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expected to declare state of emergency after surge of cases in Tokyo.
- Abidjan fears: Locals destroy a coronavirus testing center that was under construction in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, fearing it was too close to their homes.
- Feline cases: A tiger tested positive for the virus at Bronx zoo, after being reportedly contaminated by caretaker. Last week a cat was confirmed to be infected in Belgium.
- Double duty: Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who worked as a doctor for 7 years, has rejoined medical register to help fight against the pandemic.
THE SWEDISH EXCEPTION: As COVID-19 shuts down vast swathes of the world, Sweden has become Europe's last "open" holdout. In the 10-million strong Nordic country, borders, elementary schools, offices, gyms and even restaurants remain open. So far, some 5,500 have tested positive for the virus and more than 300 people have died, but the government stands firm: No lockdown is the order of the day. What's the rationale:
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell argues the virus will inevitably pass through a large chunk of the population, and that China-style containment will only cause it to flare up again. Rather, the better way is to manage the pace of the spread — for which a lockdown is superfluous.
Public Health Agency general director Johan Carlson says locking people up for months at a time is a far worse "experiment", than controlling the spread over time. He says citizens will question rigid measures that make no sense: "Why can only one person walk the dog if there are two owners who live together?" Carlson asked in a recent interview with Public Service Television (SVT).
It's worth noting that Swedish health authorities enjoy unusually high independence in Sweden. For comparison, in neighboring Norway and Denmark the government ignored health authorities' recommendation to keep schools open.
Tegnell, who gives daily briefs to the Swedish people, has been successful in selling his strategy, which is supported by 52% of the population, according to a survey by Svenska Dagbladet.
But a lockdown may be on its way. The death toll is considerably higher than in the other Scandinavian countries, and Sweden finally banned gatherings of more than 50 people earlier this week, reports Dagens Nyheter. Look for authorities to incrementally roll out more restrictions as the death toll climbs.
Stockholm-based Dagens Nyheter
VIRTUAL HOMMAGE: The Qingming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, is an important annual rite for Chinese families to pay respect to departed loved ones — the cultural equivalent of the Christian holiday, All Souls Day. But as the country is slowly recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, authorities are worried that the often crowded public occasion could spark new outbreaks. Special arrangements have been made this year to allow survivors to honor their ancestors virtually, either by watching a broadcast of the traditional ceremony performed by members of the cemetary's staff, or through a personalized, live-streamed ceremony for which they can hire "professional tomb sweepers."
Read more at Worldcrunch: New COVID-19 Risk: Annual Chinese "Tomb-Sweeping" Holiday
THE GLOBAL HUNT FOR A VACCINE: As the coronavirus continues its morbid world tour, spreading via human contact at remarkable speeds, medical researchers are in a race against time to develop a vaccine. The general consensus is that it will take 12 to 18 months to map out and produce an effective solution to immunize the global population.
Cost & Scale: There are currently at least 35 companies and academic institutions working on the development of a vaccine. The cost is upwards of $2 billion, according to Le Monde, meaning that only large global laboratories and start-ups backed by foundations or companies can afford to try. Once a vaccine has been approved, Johnson & Johnson in the U.S has already made a $1 billion deal to produce more than a billion doses.
Sequence: China sent out the genetic sequence of COVID-19 in mid-January, giving researchers a head-start, but they still don't know how the virus will evolve or react to treatments.
Bird study: Les Echos visited researchers in Israel working to create vaccines based on "prototype" pathogens they had already been studying in birds, as well as monitoring the effects different medications have on COVID-19 patients.
Real time: Because it can take so long to map out a vaccine, doctors in Italy are helping to mobilize a first of its kind effort to share research, in real-time, 24-hours a day over social media, reports La Stampa.
Trials: Several companies, including Moderna, in the race for developing a vaccine will be pushing forward with human testing trials in the coming weeks. This does not mean that a cure for COVID-19 is a near-reality. Seth Berkley, head of the Vaccine Alliance, GAVI, cautions that it usually takes between 10 and 15 years for a drug to go from development to testing phases and onto licensing then manufacturing. The vaccine for Ebola was ready in 5 years. One of the lead researchers behind that effort said there are some signs of hope for quicker results for COVID-19.