As total case numbers approached 30 million, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported on 14 September a record 24-hour caseload of 307,930 new COVID infections. Worryingly, while India, the US and Brazil remain the top three nations for total cases, total recent cases and total deaths, there are fresh outbreaks in Europe as the northern hemisphere enters the cooler months. WHO says reported cases in Europe are now higher than during the pandemic’s March/April peak.
WHO’s Europe regional director, Hans Kluge, was reported as saying: “In the spring and early summer, we saw the impact of strict lockdown measures. Our efforts, our sacrifices, paid off. In June, cases hit an all-time low. These September case numbers should serve as a wake-up call for all of us.”
Interestingly, those in the 25 to 49-year-old bracket comprise the largest proportion of new cases, and some countries – notably the UK – are reporting markedly lower death rates alongside the higher infection rates.
As at 15:35 CEST on Thursday 17 September, cases confirmed worldwide by national authorities stood at 29,737,453 (292,307 of them reported in the preceding 24 hours). 937,391 deaths have been recorded (6057). (Source: WHO Coronavirus Disease Dashboard)
Johns Hopkins University’s Centre of Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) reported (at 08:30 AEST on Friday 18 September) 30,003,378 confirmed cases and 942,989 deaths.
The Department of Health reported on 17 September that national confirmed cases stood at 26,813, a rise of 35 in 24 hours. 832 deaths have been recorded. More than 7,124,000 tests have been conducted (0.4% positive).
State by state: ACT 113 total cases (first case reported 12 March); NSW 4190 (25 January); NT 33 (20 March); Qld 1150 (29 January); SA 466 (2 February); Tas 230 (2 March); Vic 19,970 (25 January); WA 61 (21 February).
COVID-19 and life expectancy
According to a new study published in the journal PLOS ONE, the COVID-19 pandemic could cause a short-term decline in life expectancy in many regions of the world.
The study examined the impact of COVID-related deaths on life expectancy for four broad world regions across multiple rates of infection and age groups.
“Our study provides the first assessment of the potential impact of COVID-19 on period life expectancies according to a range of scenarios of prevalence rates over a one-year period,” says International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) researcher Guillaume Marois, who led the study.
Period life expectancy is a measure of the number of years that an average person may expect to live. Improved healthcare, socio-economic conditions and education are among the key factors influencing our health and how long we live. Life expectancy has been used as a measure of human development across countries and regions. Indeed, over the past century, life expectancy has increased significantly in many regions of the world.
The IIASA researchers found that at very low prevalence rates, the COVID-19 pandemic would not affect life expectancy, but at prevalence rates of only 2%, it could cause a drop in life expectancy in countries where average life expectancy is high – roughly around 80 years. At higher prevalence rates, the impact on life expectancy would be greater, especially in Europe and North America.
“At 10% prevalence, the loss in life expectancy is likely to be above one year in high life-expectancy countries such as those in Europe and North America,” says Marois.
“At 50%, it would translate into three to nine years of life lost in high life-expectancy regions. In less developed regions, the impact is smaller given that there is already lower survival at older ages. However, even in the most affected regions, the life expectancy will likely recover once the pandemic is over.”
The researchers point out that the potential overload of health care systems at higher rates of prevalence would inevitably lead to higher mortality. On the other hand, as healthcare providers gain more experience and knowledge in treating the disease, mortality rates may decrease.
A retweeter’s guide for health agencies
During crises, health agencies disseminate important information and Twitter is proving a powerful platform. Its widespread use and potential for amplifying messages via retweets is especially potent.
To understand what makes COVID-19 tweets more likely to be retweeted, US researchers Jeannette Sutton, Scott Renshaw and Carter T Butts analysed messages posted by about 700 US state and local agencies’ accounts during February–April 2020, as the pandemic took hold in the US.
They examined the content and structure of the tweets and used statistical modelling to reveal which factors were associated with enhanced or inhibited retweet activity.
The analysis, published in the journal PLOS ONE, revealed that a wide range of tweets with practical information, including health impacts and preventive measures relating to COVID-19, were associated with retweets; no single topic was most successful.
Tactics such as using exclamation points or presenting content in the form of questions did not appear to promote retweets – a notable difference from other disasters, during which such tactics helped. Tweets that included video attachments were more likely to be retweeted.
The researchers identified a set of COVID-19-related keywords and phrases commonly used in the examined tweets which could potentially aid future research into crisis communication. But they caution such features could change as the pandemic continues.
COVID-19 vaccine: yes or no?
Efforts to develop and test COVID-19 vaccines have prompted debate about the timing and release of approved vaccines. Now, a new report by the Pew Research Centre in the US says the share of Americans who say they would get vaccinated for the coronavirus has declined sharply since earlier this year.
Based on a survey of more than 10,000 adults in early September, the report found that about half of those surveyed would definitely or probably get a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 if it were available today. Nearly as many (49%) say they definitely or probably would not get vaccinated at this time. The report says intent to get a COVID-19 vaccine has fallen from 72% in May.
The survey found that about three-quarters of Americans (77%) think it’s very or somewhat likely a COVID-19 vaccine will be approved in the US before its safety and effectiveness are fully understood.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women, and Jama Network Open reports that it seems women in science are no different. A study that looked at the gender of lead authors of research published on two preprint archives found that the gender gap grew from 23% in January to 55% in April on the medical research preprint archive medRxiv. The research did not reveal a similar change in gender gap on the biology research archive bioRxiv.
Two other studies just published examine the health and wider social and financial impact of COVID-19 in Australia. A report in The Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health identifies eight vulnerable groups of children and young people, including those with disabilities, mental health conditions, chronic diseases and within the child protection system. More granular research in Issues in Mental Health Nursing examines the impact of reduced support due to social distancing on people with borderline personality disorder.
Ian Connellan is editor-in-chief of the Royal Institution of Australia.
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