Cases confirmed worldwide by national authorities stand at 1,914,916 (70,082 of them reported in the preceding 24 hours). 123,010 deaths have been recorded (5989). (Source: WHO Situation Report 86; at 10:00 CET on Wednesday 15 April)
Johns Hopkins University’s Center of Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) reported (at 18:30 AET on Thursday 16 April) 2,065,906 confirmed cases and 137,124 deaths.
At 15:00 AET on Thursday 16 April
Nationwide, confirmed cases stand at 6468, a rise of 21 in 24 hours. 63 deaths have been recorded. More than 380,000 tests have been conducted.
ACT 103 cases (first case reported 12 March); NSW 2897 (25 January); NT 27 (20 March); Qld 1001 (29 January); SA 434 (2 February); Tas 170 (2 March); Vic 1301 (25 January); WA 535(21 February).
Feeling tired and wrung-out by coronavirus?
New research led by Stephen Zhang from Australia’s University of Adelaide is identifying the regions where working adults are more likely to hit “burnout” during the COVID-19 crisis.
Burnout refers to an emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion due to excessive and prolonged stress of being overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and incapable of meeting constant demands.
According to the study, published in Psychiatry Research, the key is distance to the epicentre – but not how you might imagine. The results have revealed that those who were the closest to the epicentre of the coronavirus crisis in Wuhan, China, were not the most burned out during the pandemic.
Researchers used individuals’ locations to calculate their distance to the epicentre; their location was found to predict burnout after one month of the COVID-19 outbreak. The study shows that working adults’ distance to the epicentre had an inverted “U-shaped” relationship with burnout.
“This finding differs from previous studies that found a crisis spurred either a ‘ripple effect’ or ‘typhoon eye effect’ from its centre,” Zhang says.
“Early on, researchers thought mental health issues followed a ‘ripple effect’, where the impact of a crisis spreads in a circle and gradually declines. However, recent research found the ‘typhoon eye effect’, where the area around the crisis is relatively calm, akin to the centre of a typhoon, but impacts are felt further away.”
The U-shaped relationship the study found during the COVID-19 crisis suggests both effects were in play – with the typhoon eye effect dominating in regions close to the epicentre, and the ripple effect dominating regions further away.
Zhang says the results will help mental health services to identify regions where people will need more assistance, carrying direct implications to healthcare practitioners and policymakers.
How did SARS-CoV-2 make its way from bats to humans? Animals including snakes and pangolins have been proposed as the likely intermediate species, and now University of Ottawa, Canada, biology professor Xuhua Xia has suggested that stray dogs – specifically dog intestines – may have been the origin of the current coronavirus pandemic.
“The ancestor of SARS-CoV-2 and its nearest relative, a bat coronavirus, infected the intestine of canids, most likely resulting in a rapid evolution of the virus in canids and its jump into humans,” says Xia. “This suggests the importance of monitoring SARS-like coronaviruses in feral dogs in the fight against SARS-CoV-2.”
Xia’s findings appear in the online edition of the journal Molecular Biology and Evolution.
On Wednesday we mentioned that the hunt for SARS-CoV-2 drug treatments has thus far been fruitless. This just in: new research published in Journal of Biological Chemistry from scientists at the University of Alberta, Canada, suggests that the drug remdesivir is highly effective at stopping the replication mechanism of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
First developed in 2014 to fight the Ebola epidemic, remdesivir is one of several drugs being fast-tracked into trials by the WHO, comparing potential treatments in hospitalised COVID-19 patients in a dozen countries. The Canadian researchers say results from important clinical trials – which they hope will back lab findings – may come as early as this month or next. Further trials would follow before the drug went into use.
While we’re talking about drugs… it’s comforting to know as winter descends (here in the southern hemisphere at least) that medical researchers aren’t entirely focused on COVID-19.
An international team has shown that a new antiviral drug for influenza can both treat the infection and – at the same time – reduce its risk of transmission to others. The team’s paper was published today in the journal PLoS Pathogens.
This research offers powerful potential to change the way influenza outbreaks are managed – particularly in vulnerable groups.
The antiviral drug, baloxavir (tradename Xofluza), is the first treatment for influenza with a new mode of “action” to be licensed in nearly 20 years. It was approved in Australia in February 2020 by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) and has been used to treat influenza in Japan, the US, and several other countries since 2018.
The team includes researchers from the WHO Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza at the Doherty Institute in Melbourne, Imperial College London, and partners in Switzerland and Japan.
Another release of modelling work by the Commonwealth Government estimates the case detection rate and variation in transmission of COVID-19 in Australia. The full report is available on the Doherty Institute website.
The Doherty Institute says the work represents an important shift in COVID-19 modelling from scenarios to inform preparedness based on international data, to analyses of the Australian epidemic.
It informs understanding of how effective the recent actions taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 have been, and helps to anticipate likely case numbers and further prepare the health system.
How long will the SARS-CoV-2 pathogen persist in the human population after the initial pandemic stage? It’s a major unanswered question, and a new modelling study just published in the journal Science suggests that the duration of human immunity will be crucial to the total incidence of the virus through to 2025.
Trouble is, as of now scientists know little about human immunity to SARS-CoV-2.
The study’s authors say that serological studies are thus urgently required to determine the extent of population immunity, whether immunity wanes, and at what rate.
Using data on seasonality from known human coronaviruses and assuming some cross-immunity between SARS-CoV-2 and other coronaviruses, the researchers built a model of multi-year interactions. They used this model to investigate for what duration social-distancing measures need to stay in place to maintain control of SARS-CoV-2, projecting the potential dynamics of COVID-19 over the next five years.
Based on their simulations, the researchers say the key factor modulating virus incidence in coming years is the rate at which virus immunity wanes – which is yet to be determined. They also report that under all scenarios simulated, including one-time and intermittent social distancing, infections surged when the simulated social distancing measures were lifted.
It’s the question in everyone’s mind, and one that presents such myriad uncertainties that it’s likely one of the leading causes of stress and anxiety in these weird times: how do we ease away from social distancing in the months before a COVID-19 vaccine or other medical treatments are available?
Good advice: get over yourself long enough each day to spare a thought for health-care professionals around the world working on the COVID-19 frontline. As the pandemic extends from weeks to months, their well-being should be highest on everyone’s list of desires. American doctor Abby Rosenberg’s recent article in JAMA Paediatrics argues the importance of cultivating resilience among her medical colleagues. The included table – “Evidence-Based Categories of Resilience Resources and Possible Applications in the Era of Coronavirus Disease 2019” – makes good reading for anyone.
Imagine a world where the brightest minds in science and engineering combine for the benefit of humankind. You may already be living in it, according to AI writer Karen Hao, in the latest issue of MIT Technology Review.
Ian Connellan is a the Editor-in-Chief of the Royal Institution of Australia.
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