Tag archive


The UK Coronavirus Strain May Be Dominant in The US by March, CDC Says

in Science News by

The fast-spreading “UK variant” of the coronavirus could become the predominant strain in the United States by March, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


About 76 cases of the new variant, known as B.1.1.7, have been detected in 10 US states so far, but its ability to spread more easily than other variants means it could take off rapidly here, according to a new computer model of the spread, detailed in a report Friday (Jan. 15) in the CDC journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report

Source link

Astronomers Detect The Most Distant Quasar to Date, Over 13 Billion Light-Years Away

in Science News by

A galaxy billions of light-years away is the most distant of its kind we’ve found to date, embodying yet another challenge to our models of black hole and galaxy formation, and offering a rare glimpse into the early Universe.


It’s named J0313-1806, a quasar over 13 billion light-years from Earth, fully formed with a bafflingly huge supermassive black hole at its centre, and churning out newborn stars at a furious rate – just 670 million years after the Big Bang.

A team of researchers led by the University of Arizona even found evidence of a hot quasar wind, blowing from the supermassive black hole at the centre of J0313-1806 at 20 percent of the speed of light.

“This is the earliest evidence of how a supermassive black hole is affecting its host galaxy around it,” said astronomer Feige Wang of UArizona’s Steward Observatory. “From observations of less distant galaxies, we know that this has to happen, but we have never seen it happening so early in the universe.”

Quasars – a shortening of “quasi-stellar radio sources” – are the incredibly bright result of an active galactic nucleus, with a supermassive black hole accreting material at such a rate that the heat generated blazes across the Universe. J0313-1806’s core is accreting material at a rate of 25 solar masses a year; but it’s so far away that only the combined might of some of our most powerful telescopes were able to detect it as an infrared dot at the dawn of time.


Then, the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile was used to study it in closer detail. Together, these observations reveal the most distant quasar yet, beating the previous record holder, J1342+0928, by 20 million years.

J1342+0928, identified at 690 million years after the Big Bang, was challenging enough, with a supermassive black hole clocking in at a tremendous 800 million solar masses. But J0313-1806 has it beat hand over fist – its supermassive black hole is twice as massive, at 1.6 billion solar masses.

That’s extraordinarily massive so soon after the Big Bang – and too massive for some of our current models. One of the models proposes that supermassive black holes start small and grow by accreting matter. Another proposes that they form via the direct collapse of dense clusters of stars.

These models can work for other quasars found in the distant Universe, such as J1342+0928, but not for J0313-1806. Even if the J0313-1806 supermassive black hole formed around 100 million years after the Big Bang, and grew as fast as modelling allows, it would still need to have started at 10,000 solar masses right from the outset, the team calculated.


There is, however, a third option.

“This tells you that no matter what you do, the seed of this black hole must have formed by a different mechanism,” said astronomer Xiaohui Fan of the UArizona Department of Astronomy. “In this case, one that involves vast quantities of primordial, cold hydrogen gas directly collapsing into a seed black hole.”

There are other reasons J0313-1806 is a fascinating object. There’s its star formation rate, around 200 solar masses a year, classifying it as what we call a starburst galaxy. This is an intense stage in a galaxy’s life; at such high rates of star formation, it’s only a matter of time before all the star-forming material runs out.

And that quasar wind – extreme hot plasma outflows from the accretion disc of material swirling around the supermassive black hole – isn’t helping matters. These winds are stripping the cold star-forming gas from the galaxy, which is thought to eventually extinguish, or quench, star formation.

“We think those supermassive black holes were the reason why many of the big galaxies stopped forming stars at some point,” Fan said.

“We observe this ‘quenching’ at lower redshifts, but until now, we didn’t know how early this process began in the history of the Universe. This quasar is the earliest evidence that quenching may have been happening at very early times.”

Eventually, there will be nothing left nearby for the supermassive black hole to devour, either, and its brilliant blaze will dim, at least from our point of view. Since the light reaching us from J0313-1806 is 13.03 billion years old, the galaxy probably looks very different now from what we are seeing.

Nevertheless, the quasar, and others like it, constitute a growing catalogue that is helping astronomers piece together the mysteries of how our Universe flared to life. And, as our instruments continue to grow more sensitive, so too will our understanding of the beginning of everything continue to grow.

“Future observations,” Wang said, “could make it possible to resolve the quasar in more detail, show the structure of its outflow and how far the wind extends into its galaxy, and that would give us a much better idea of its evolutionary stage.”

The research has been presented at the 237th meeting of the American Astronomical Society. It has also been accepted by The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and is available on arXiv.


Source link

Herd Immunity Won’t Happen in 2021, WHO Warns

in Science News by

Scientists at the World Health Organization warned Monday that mass vaccinations would not bring about herd immunity to the coronavirus this year, even as one leading producer boosted its production forecast.


England meanwhile launched the first of its mass-inoculation sites in major cities, racing to get ahead of the rapid spread of a new strain of the disease there.

The pandemic has infected more than 90 million people and the death toll has passed 1.94 million since China confirmed the first death in the central city of Wuhan a year ago.

China has largely brought the virus under control, but is tackling a number of local infections.

More than half a million people were placed under lockdown in Beijing on Monday as the government imposed strict measures to stamp out a handful of cases.

Infection numbers were, however, surging across Europe, particularly as Britain coped with a new strain of the disease that could see hospitals being overwhelmed.

Russia on Sunday confirmed its first case of the new UK coronavirus strain, which scientists fear is significantly more contagious.

The virus has also exploded across the United States, the hardest-hit country, where US President-elect Joe Biden publicly received his second dose of the vaccine.

‘Worst weeks’ to come

German company BioNTech said it could produce millions more doses of its coronavirus doses than originally expected this year, boosting production forecast from 1.3 to two billion.

The announcement by BioNTech, which partnered with US firm Pfizer to produce the first vaccine approved in the West, was a boost to countries struggling to deliver the jabs.


But the company also warned that COVID-19 would “likely become an endemic disease”, and said vaccines would need to fight against the emergence of new viral variants and a “naturally waning immune response”.

Later Monday, the WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan warned it would take time to produce and administer enough vaccine doses to halt the spread of the virus.

“We are not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” she said, stressing the need to maintain physical distancing, hand-washing and mask-wearing to rein in the pandemic.

Britain, the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech jab, opened seven mass vaccination sites across England on Monday.

But England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty told BBC television: “The next few weeks are going to be the worst weeks of this pandemic in terms of numbers into the NHS (National Health Service).”

“What we need to do, before the vaccines have had their effect… is we need to really double down” on observing lockdown measures, he added.

India – with the world’s second-biggest virus caseload – will begin giving shots to its 1.3 billion people from Saturday in a colossal and complex undertaking.

Russian officials said Monday they would trial a one-dose version of the country’s Sputnik V vaccine, part of efforts to provide a stopgap solution for badly hit countries.


Safest city

South Africa meanwhile shut land borders for a month to counter an unprecedented resurge in cases fuelled by a new virus strain.

Restrictions already in place, such as a ban on alcohol sales and large gatherings, and an overnight curfew, remain.

Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa said Monday a new lockdown was unavoidable as the country suffered record numbers of virus deaths and infections.

“We are certainly facing a third wave” of the virus, Costa told journalists.

Lebanon tightened its virus restrictions with an 11-day total lockdown and fresh travel restrictions.

A team of 10 scientists from the WHO were preparing for a mission to China on Thursday to investigate the origins of the disease.

It will “conduct joint research cooperation on the origins of COVID-19 with Chinese scientists”, Beijing’s National Health Commission said in a statement that provided no further details.

The visit, comes more than a year after the pandemic began amid accusations that Beijing tried to thwart the investigation into the virus.

The United States and Australia have led international calls for an independent inquiry, enraging China.

The anniversary of the first reported death passed by unmarked on Monday in Wuhan, where commuters moved freely to work, and parks and riverside promenades buzzed with visitors.

“Wuhan is the safest city in China now, even the whole world,” 66-year-old resident Xiong Liansheng told AFP.

© Agence France-Presse


Source link

A New Species of Bat Has Been Found, And It Flapped Around 16 Million Years Ago

in Science News by

There are a lot of bat species in the world today. Like, a ton of bats. We know of at least 1,400 species, and they make up around 20 percent of all current mammal species. It’s the bats’ world, we just live in it.


However, despite bats seemingly exploding onto the scene during the Eocene (the earliest bat fossil dates back to 52 million years ago), in a rapid diversification that has been described as “unprecedented”, the bat fossil record is notoriously poor.

Any new find is incredibly valuable, helping to fill in the gaps in our understanding of their wild evolution. That’s what a team of scientists led by palaeontologist Vicente Crespo of the La Plata Museum in Argentina has just found.

From the Ribesalbes-Alcora Basin in the Castellón province of Spain, the researchers have recovered the remains of ten bats – including those of a new species previously unknown to science.

“This constitutes, thus far, the first and largest collection of fossil bats from the early Miocene of the Iberian Peninsula,” the team wrote in their paper.

They have named their new species Cuvierimops penalveri, in honour of palaeontologist Enrique Peñalver of the University of Valencia.

The fossil assemblage in which the bats were found dates back to over 16 million years ago, during the height of the Miocene, which ran from around 23 million to 5 million years ago. By the time the Miocene rolled around, mammals were already fairly well established; the fossil site once resembled a tropical forest, and numerous species of animals – including shrews, squirrels, dormice, hamsters and crocodiles – have been found fossilised there.

But the newly found bats are incredibly interesting, the researchers said.

new bat teethFossilised teeth used to identify some of the bats. (Crespo et al., Earth Environ Sci Trans R Soc Edinb, 2020)

That’s because, of the 10, five belong to the Molossid, or free-tailed, bat family. Today, these are abundant and highly diverse; in the Oligocene epoch, from around 34 million to 23 million years ago, they dominated the European bat scene. But from the Miocene, molossid fossils are scarce.

The new kid, C. penalveri, is one of these molossids. Its presence is even more intriguing. Of its genus, Cuvierimops, only one other species has been identified, dating back to the Oligocene at the latest. Palaeontologists thought that it must have gone extinct not long after.


Another of the molossids, Rhizomops cf. brasiliensis, marks the first recorded appearance of its genus in the Early Miocene.

And there was another special recovery – an individual of the genus Chaerephon. A number of Chaerephon species are alive today, but previously, no remains had been recovered older than about 12,000 years. Finding an individual dating back to 16 million years ago places the genus in the Lazarus bucket – species that disappear from the fossil record for a long time, only to reappear later alive and well.

The presence of so many molossids, the researchers note, confirms the ancient tropical forest interpretation of the region. Today, molossids are the most abundant and diverse in densely forested tropical areas that are also rich in squirrels, dormice, and insectivores.

Together, the new discoveries are helping us piece together a very incomplete puzzle about the history of bats.

“The richness of molossids recorded in this material reveals the high diversity attained by this group in the Miocene of Europe, which had been largely unrecognised as a result of such fossils being typically underrepresented in the .. fossil record,” the researchers wrote.

“The abundance of these bats in the Ribesalbes-Alcora Basin is consistent with the presence of a tropical forest surrounding a paleolake, as suggested also by the presence of other mammal taxa such as eomyids, certain types of dormouse, and insectivores.”

The research has been published in Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.


Source link

A 37-Million-Year-Old ‘Sabre-Toothed Tiger’ Just Went Up For Auction

in Science News by

A nearly 40-million-year-old skeleton belonging to what is popularly called a sabre-toothed tiger is going under the hammer next week in Geneva, a year after its discovery on a US ranch.


The skeleton, some 120 centimetres (nearly four feet) long, is expected to fetch between 60,000 and 80,000 Swiss francs (US$66,560 to $88,750; 55,300 to 73,750 euros) at auction on December 8 in the Swiss city.

“This fossil is exceptional, above all for its conservation: it’s 37 million years old, and it’s 90-percent complete,” Bernard Piguet, director of the Piguet auction house, told AFP on Tuesday.

“The few missing bones were remade with a 3D printer,” he added, with the skeleton reconstructed around a black metal frame.

Piguet said he was fascinated by the merger of “the extremely old with modern technologies”.

The original bones are those of a Hoplophoneus. Not strictly a true member of the cat family, they are an extinct genus of the Nimravidae family and stalked around North America.

Such extinct predatory mammals are commonly called sabre-toothed tigers.

sabre body auction one(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

“It was found in South Dakota during the last excavation season, towards the end of summer 2019,” Swiss collector Yann Cuenin, who owns the dozens of palaeontology lots on auction, told AFP.

“As in most finds, erosion had unearthed part of the skeleton. While walking around his property, the ranch owner saw bones sticking out of the ground.”


While the skeleton is the star of the show, there are plenty of other treasures from the past up for grabs, including ammolite, an opal-like organic gemstone, in shades of red and orange.

Measuring 40 cm long by 36 cm wide, the fossil from the Cretaceous period is 75 million years old and hails from the Canadian Rocky Mountains. It is estimated to fetch between 20,000 and 30,000 Swiss francs.

Jurassic Park enthusiasts can also buy a Tyrannosaurus rex tooth (2,200 to 2,800 francs), or, for 5,000 to 7,000 francs, an impressive 85-cm long fin from a mosasaur – a marine reptile that in the Cretaceous period was at the top of the submarine food chain.

History versus art

Though dinosaur-mania began in the United States, it has grown in Europe in recent years. Next week’s sale is the second time such an auction has been held in Switzerland.

In September 2019, the skeleton of a dinosaur (Thescelosaurus neglectus), 66 million years old and three metres long, was purchased by a Swiss-resident collector for 225,000 francs.

Debate rages as to the balance between the scientific value of such items and their worth on the open market.

Some palaeontologists insist animal or plant fossils are not decorative objects for collectors, but witness to the evolution of life on Earth and therefore scientific objects that ought to be studied and then shared with the public in museums.

sabre body auction two(Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

But Cuenin said: “If we’re talking about the sabre-toothed tiger, for example, it’s not a skeleton which is of major scientific interest, in the sense that it’s something which is already known to science.

“We’ve found several dozen of them, individuals from the same species. A fossil is not just a simple scientific or technical object; it also has an artistic value,” he said.

Piguet added: “The museums are already well stocked.

“I am all for museums, but I am also in favour of objects living among us; for there to be collectors, for pieces to be bought and sold – that’s what brings culture to life.”

© Agence France-Presse


Source link

Fossil Reveals Weird, Toothed ‘Toucan’ That Lived Alongside The Dinosaurs

in Science News by

The discovery of a creature described as resembling a “buck-toothed toucan” that lived some 68 million years ago has upended assumptions about diversity in the birds that lived alongside dinosaurs.


At less than nine centimetres (3.5 inches) long, the delicate skull of the bird scientists have dubbed Falcatakely forsterae might be easily overlooked.

In fact, it almost was, sitting in a backlog of excavated fossils for years before CT scanning suggested the specimen deserved more attention.

It turns out that its tall, scythe-like beak, while resembling the toucan, is something never before seen in the fossil record.

1 birdwithtallArtist reconstruction of Falcatakely forsterae. (Mark Witton)

Birds in the Mesozoic era – between 250 million and 65 million years ago – had “relatively unspecialised snouts”, Patrick O’Connor, lead author of a study on the new creature, told AFP.

“Falcatakely just changed the game completely, documenting a long, high beak unlike anything known in the Mesozoic,” added O’Connor, professor of anatomy and neuroscience at Ohio University.

The skull, described in a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, offered other surprises.

While Falcatakely would have had a face quite familiar to us from such modern birds as toucans and hornbills, the bones that made up its face bear little resemblance to those modern creatures.

e2cba600 883e 4a2d 98fa 8953ae21d65b screen shot 2020 11 24 at 35304 pmThe fossilised skull of Falcatakely forsterae. (O’Connor et al., Nature, 2020)

“Despite an overall face shape similar to modern birds like toucans, the underlying skeleton is much more similar to non-avian theropod dinosaurs like Deinonychus and Velociraptor,” O’Connor said.

That “turns what we know about Mesozoic bird anatomy upside-down.”


‘An almost comical profile’

Revealing these features was no easy task.

The fossil was originally collected in 2010 in northwestern Madagascar.

When researchers finally turned their attention to it seven years later, they faced a problem: the skull and beak were far too fragile to extract for examination.

So the team used a form of high-resolution imaging and digital modelling to “virtually dissect” the bones.

They then used 3D printers to rebuild the skull and compare it with other known species.

What they found was an almost touchingly improbable animal, according to Daniel Field, of Cambridge University’s department of earth sciences, who reviewed the study for Nature.

It is not just the unexpected bill, but the fact that the beak in the fossil is tipped with a single preserved tooth, possibly one of many the bird would have had.

“These features give the skull of Falcatakely an almost comical profile – imagine a creature resembling a tiny, buck-toothed toucan,” Field wrote.

None of the approximately 200 bird species known from the period “has a skull resembling anything like Falcatakely”, he added.


For O’Connor, the discovery is evidence of the potentially enormous gaps that remain in our knowledge of the birds that lived alongside dinosaurs.

“There is a span exceeding 50 million years where we know next to nothing about avian evolutionary history,” he said.

Finding intact fossils of birds from the period is comparatively rare because their lightweight skeletons were generally too delicate to be well preserved.

The research team, which has been working in the area of Madagascar where Falcatakely was found since the mid-1990s, is continuing excavations, and O’Connor is excited about what else might be discovered.

He also hopes to explore just why Falcatakely had the beak it did.

“Did it relate to processing food? Acquiring prey? Was it used as a signal by other members of the species? There are many questions left,” O’Connor said.

© Agence France-Presse


Source link

What Sealed The Fate of The Giant Megalodon? Its Ancient Teeth May Reveal The Answer

in Science News by

The largest sharks ever to have roamed the oceans parked their young in shallow, warm-water nurseries where food was abundant and predators scarce until they could assume their title as kings and queens of the sea.


But as sea levels declined in a cooling world, the brutal mega-predator, Otodus megalodons, may have found fewer and fewer safe-haven coastal zones where its young could safely reach adulthood, researchers reported Wednesday in The Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

Indeed, the reliance of megalodon on nurseries may have contributed to the end of their 20-million-year reign, according to the research.

Otodus megalodon – sometimes classified as a Carcharocles megalodon – took 25 years to become an adult – “an extremely delayed sexual maturity”, the authors said in the research paper.

010 megalodon 2Illustration of a megalodon nursery. (Humberto Ferrón)

But once it was fully grown, the shark could reach up to 18 metres, three times the size of the largest great white shark, made famous by the 1975 hit-movie Jaws.

As an apex predator, and up until its extinction around three million years ago, the adult megalodon had no rivals among other ocean hunters and feasted on smaller sharks and even whales.

But its young were vulnerable to attacks by other predators, often other razor-toothed sharks.

Nurseries on shallow continental shelves with extensive smaller fish for food and few competing predators gave them the ideal space to reach their awesome size.

“Our results reveal, for the first time, that nursery areas were commonly used by the O. megalodon over large temporal and spatial scales,” said the authors.


Perfect place to grow

The research team discovered a nursery zone off the eastern coast of Spain in Tarragona Province after visiting a museum and observing a collection of megalodon teeth.

“Many of them were quite small for such a large animal,” the authors from British University of Bristol, Carlos Martinez-Perez and Humberto Ferron, told AFP.

Judging by the size of the teeth, they surmised the area had once been home to young megalodons.

010 megalodon 2Megalodon jaws at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. (Serge Illaryonov/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0)

The Spanish nursery could be described as “a perfect place to grow”, the authors said.

It would have been a “shallow bay area of warm waters, connected to the sea and with extensive coral reefs and plenty of invertebrates, fish species, marine mammals and other sharks and rays”.

The researchers analysed eight other sets of shark teeth which had previously been gathered, spread across the United States, Peru, Panama and Chile.

They came to the conclusion in four of them  two in the United States and two in Panama  had belonged to younger sharks.


As a result, the authors suggest these four areas where the teeth were found might also have been nurseries.

“The remaining four formations … demonstrate size-class structures typical of populations dominated by adults, suggesting these regions might correspond to feeding or mating areas,” the study said.

Sharks continuously shed their teeth throughout their lifetime, and nurseries are zones with a high abundance of sharks.

“As a consequence, huge numbers of teeth can be shed, increasing the chances of subsequent fossil discoveries,” the authors said.

Megalodons enjoyed the warm and temperate waters of the Miocene period which extended from about five million to 23 million years ago.

But the cooler Pliocene period suited them far less.

As their prey adapted and headed towards colder waters, the megalodon stayed where the oceans remained warm.

The remaining food was also favoured by great white sharks, increasing competition with the smaller, but more agile, predator.

The vast reduction of shallow water nurseries due to sea-level losses  caused by a cooler climate  may also have contributed to the megalodon’s eventual extinction. ​ ​

© Agence France-Presse


Source link

Greenhouse Gases Still at Record Levels Despite COVID-19 Lockdowns, UN Warns

in Science News by

We’ve seen evidence that COVID-19 lockdowns have reduced at least some forms of pollution, temporarily – but the overall picture remains disturbingly grim, according to new figures from the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).


The WMO says that there will be a reduction in global CO2 emissions for 2020 – but that it won’t affect atmospheric levels of CO2 any more than normal year-to-year fluctuations, and maybe even less than that.

CO2 levels reached 410 parts per million in 2019, and the final figure for 2020 is expected to be higher, negating what we thought might be one bit of good news to come out of the global pandemic that has dominated this year.

While staying at home and sheltering in place has meant we’ve pumped less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, there’s so much of it already there that this year’s reduction is unlikely to have much of a long-term impact.

“Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries and in the ocean for even longer,” says WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.

“The last time the Earth experienced a comparable concentration of CO2 was 3-5 million years ago, when the temperature was 2-3°C [3.6-5.4°F] warmer and sea level was 10-20 metres [32.8-65.6 feet] higher than now. But there weren’t 7.7 billion inhabitants.”


As scientists have been warning for decades, more CO2 in the atmosphere means more heat gets trapped – temperatures go up, ice melts, extreme weather events happen more frequently, and the oceans acidify and become less hospitable to marine life.

Since 1990, the WMO reports that greenhouse gases sticking around in the air have caused a 45 percent increase in total radiative forcing – the term given to the overall warming effect on the climate. CO2 accounts for four-fifths of this effect.

Other research agrees with the conclusion that atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases are still on an upward trend, not least because of the many factors not related to coronavirus lockdowns – such as melting permafrost, which releases long-trapped CO2 and methane into the air.

“We breached the global threshold of 400 parts per million [of CO2] in 2015,” says Taalas. “And just four years later, we crossed 410 ppm. Such a rate of increase has never been seen in the history of our records.”

That’s not to stay lockdowns, shuttered workplaces, and reduced travel haven’t made a difference: the WMO estimates that CO2 emissions were reduced by up to 17 percent at some points in the year, and could have dropped by 4.2-7.5 percent over the course of 2020 (we’re still waiting for the final figures to come in).

However, that will only temporarily tap the brakes on atmospheric CO2 level rise. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is likely to go up again, though not by as much as in previous years – we saw a 2.6 ppm rise from 2018 to 2019, and the one from 2019 to 2020 could be about 0.08-0.23 ppm less than that.

If there is some hope from the COVID-19 pandemic, it may be in using it as a platform to serious tackle climate change – Taalas says that only a “complete transformation” of industrial, energy, and transport systems is going to be effective when it comes to lowering atmospheric CO2.

When you consider that the widespread and significant changes we’ve seen in human behaviour this year have barely made a dent in CO2 levels, it’s clear the sort of challenge we’re up against in reversing global warming.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is not a solution for climate change,” says Taalas. “The lockdown-related fall in emissions is just a tiny blip on the long-term graph. We need a sustained flattening of the curve.”

You can read the latest WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin here.


Source link

The US Could Begin Coronavirus Vaccinations Within Weeks, Official Says

in Science News by

The United States hopes to begin coronavirus vaccinations in early December, a top government health official said Sunday, the latest positive news to emerge even as cases surge across the worst-hit nation and elsewhere around the globe.


The beginning of vaccinations could be a crucial shift in the battle against a virus that has claimed more than 1.4 million lives worldwide, including 255,000 just in the US, since emerging from China late last year.

Encouraging results from vaccine trials have bolstered hopes for an end to the pandemic, as nations reimpose restrictions and lockdowns that slowed the spread earlier this year but turned lives and economies upside down across the globe.

Two leading vaccine candidates – one by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech and another by US firm Moderna – have been shown to be 95 percent effective in trials, and Pfizer has already applied for emergency use approval from US health authorities.

“Our plan is to be able to ship vaccines to the immunization sites within 24 hours of approval” by the US Food and Drug Administration, Moncef Slaoui, head of the US government virus vaccine effort, told CNN, pointing to possible dates of December 11-12.

FDA vaccine advisors will meet December 10 to discuss approval.

Slaoui estimated that 20 million people across the US could be vaccinated in December, with 30 million per month after that.


But top US infectious disease official Anthony Fauci, who said “maybe 20 million people will be able to get vaccinated by the middle to the end of December,” warned the situation could get worse before getting better if people fail to take precautions in the coming holiday season.

“We’re in a very difficult situation at all levels,” he told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

Vaccines for all?

With cases surpassing 12 million in the United States, the highest in the world, many Americans were nonetheless heading to airports to travel for this week’s Thanksgiving holiday, despite health officials’ warnings to stay home.

Some US states were imposing new restrictions, including California, where a 10:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew took effect Saturday. New York city has closed schools again.

US drug regulators on Saturday already gave emergency approval to a Covid-19 antibody therapy – one used by US President Donald Trump – that could help treat those infected.

However, G20 nations were pushing for “equitable” global access to vaccines, with worries poorer nations will be left behind.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said more needed to be done, since no major vaccine agreements had been struck yet for poorer nations.


“We will now speak with (global vaccine alliance group) GAVI about when these negotiations will begin because I am somewhat worried that nothing has been done on that yet,” Merkel told reporters on Sunday in Berlin after a virtual G20 summit hosted by Saudi Arabia.

There were signs that restrictions being imposed in certain countries were helping slow infections.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, whose country has been badly hit by the pandemic, said Sunday that a strategy to curb infections was working.

Spain declared a state of emergency last month, which allowed regional governments to impose virus restrictions such as nighttime curfews.

The country has recorded fewer than 400 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last two weeks, compared to nearly 530 cases at the start of the month, he told a news conference after the G20 summit.

‘A mockery’

But the restrictions and mask-wearing rules have led to pushback and protests in some countries, particularly the United States, where Trump supporters have railed against closures.

Similar pushback has been seen elsewhere, and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas lashed out Sunday at anti-mask protesters comparing themselves to Nazi victims, accusing them of trivializing the Holocaust and “making a mockery” of the courage shown by resistance fighters.


The harsh words came after a young woman took to the stage at a protest against coronavirus restrictions in Hanover Saturday saying she felt “just like Sophie Scholl,” the German student executed by the Nazis in 1943 for her role in the resistance.

Government measures introduced to halt the spread of the coronavirus have triggered large protests in Germany, drawing in people from the far-left, conspiracy theorists and right-wing extremists who claim the curbs infringe on their civil rights.

While necessary to stop the spread of the virus, restrictions have taken a heavy toll on economies across the world.

The latest warning came on Sunday from Britain’s finance minister Rishi Sunak, who said the country’s economy was under “enormous strain and stress.”

Britain has suffered more than any other country in Europe from the coronavirus, recording more than 54,000 deaths from 1.4 million cases.

In November, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government imposed a four-week lockdown to stop the spread of the disease. That is due to be partially lifted on December 2, giving some relief to businesses.

© Agence France-Presse


Source link

US Could Have 1 Million Daily Virus Cases by The End of The Year, Report Finds

in Science News by

In March, when New York City hospitals were reeling from an overwhelming surge of coronavirus cases, the US was only catching a glimpse of the bigger crisis to come.

The highest number of cases ever recorded in one day this spring was around 35,000, though many went uncounted. Now, the US has recorded an average of more than 112,000 daily cases over the last seven days. Cases reached an all-time peak of more than 132,000 on Friday.


On Monday, the US surpassed 10 million total cases – just 10 days after cases topped 9 million. Before that, it took two weeks for cases to rise from 8 million to 9 million, and three weeks for cases to jump from 7 million to 8 million.

The nation’s weekly per cent positivity rate – the share of coronavirus tests that come back positive – has reached 9 percent. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said the rate should ideally sit below 3 percent. Only six states and Washington, DC, currently meet that threshold. Half of states have test-positivity rates in the double digits. South Dakota’s rate is highest, at around 54 percent.

Experts predict this fall-winter surge will be the largest, and perhaps deadliest, yet. Indeed, the second surge the country experienced over the summer, from June through August, resulted in nearly 4.2 million cases. Since September, the US has already recorded about 4 million more.

According to a recent prediction from Pantheon Macroeconomics, the US could be on track to record 1 million daily coronavirus cases by the end of 2020 if average cases continue to grow 34 percent from week to week, as they are currently.

new daily cases bi chart

The US is ‘about to enter COVID hell’

Other models offer more conservative, albeit still troubling, estimates.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, for instance, predicts that daily cases could peak at nearly 306,000 on December 31. (The institute defines daily cases as all infections on a given day, not just new cases identified through testing.)


If states continue to relax restrictions, the model suggests the fall-winter surge could be even worse, reaching a peak of nearly 793,000 daily cases on January 23. The institute’s model predicts that 160,000 more people in the US could die of the coronavirus from now through February 1.

“I am tremendously concerned,” Megan Ranney, an emergency-medicine physician at Brown University, told Business Insider.

“The other surges were very localised,” she added. “This is different because it is truly nationwide.”

Weekly hospitalizations have also risen about 18 percent from week to week. If that trend continues, daily hospitalizations could triple to 180,000 by the end of the year.

On Monday, Dr. Michael Osterholm, a recent appointee to President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus advisory board, told CNBC that the US was “about to enter COVID hell.”

But public-experts say the US can lower daily cases – and consequently, deaths – this winter, before a vaccine hits the market. The solution would involve more lockdown restrictions.

Lockdown measures could prevent a worst-case scenario

In a Monday report, Pantheon Macroeconomics’ chief economist, Ian Sherpherdson, warned that the US should brace for the worst-case scenario of 1 million daily cases this winter. The longer states and cities wait to impose lockdown restrictions, he added, the more likely that scenario becomes.

“When it gets as bad as it appears to be in some parts of the country, and potentially others in the weeks to come, you really have little choice left than to do a short-term lockdown, trying to get the numbers down to a point where testing and contact tracing can actually have an impact,” Marissa Levine, a public-health professor at the University of South Florida, told Business Insider. “I hate to say that because we didn’t necessarily have to be in this position.”


Many states are taking the opposite approach, however.

In October, Texas began allowing counties with relatively few coronavirus hospitalizations to reopen bars and other businesses at limited capacity. Pennsylvania, too, started permitting venues like concerts and stadiums to operate at 10 percent to 25 percent occupancy. Restaurants in South Carolina have been able to operate at full capacity since October 2.

Other states have reinstated some restrictions, but not nearly to the extent that they did in the spring.

Illinois, Massachussetts, and New Mexico recently imposed curfews that limit how late certain businesses can remain open. Illinois began prohibiting indoor dining in bars and restaurants earlier this month. And at the end of October, Michigan reduced the maximum capacity at indoor venues from 500 people to 50.

Some other states – including Delaware, Louisiana, Maine, and North Carolina – have simply put their reopening plans on pause.

Public-health experts say it’s likely that under a Biden administration, states may get more concrete guidelines as to when they can safely reopen or should enact new restrictions. Biden’s campaign website at one time stated that if elected, he would tailor reopening guidelines to individual communities based on their levels of transmission.


But any lockdown is likely to be met with some opposition, due to a combination of pandemic fatigue and politics.

“Even if we make it completely clear: ‘This is the line, if you cross this line, you should shut down,’ it’s still ultimately a political decision,” Ingrid Katz, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, told Business Insider. “If decisions are being driven by forces other than science, then they are not always going to be decisions that are in people’s best interests.”

This article was originally published by Business Insider.

More from Business Insider:


Source link

1 2 3 20
Go to Top