Three new things we learned about coronavirus today

The latest news on the Covid-19 outbreak and efforts to contain it

(Image credit: Jeff Pachoud/Getty)

The Week rounds up the latest coronavirus news from the past 24 hours.

Long haul

Periodic lockdowns could be needed for the next two years, according to research published in the journal Science. Although the current Covid-19 outbreak is likely to be the most severe, the paper says “prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022” in order to avoid future deadly outbreaks. Increasing intensive care capacity and developing an effective treatment for the symptoms of the disease “would improve the success of intermittent distancing and hasten the acquisition of herd immunity”, it adds.

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After reports yesterday (see below) that people in the UK would soon be encouraged to wear face masks to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, The Telegraph says today it “has been told the government will not alter its advice on masks after an official scientific review found they were ineffective in stopping the spread of the virus”. The newspaper says scientific advisers are concerned that masks could give people a false sense of security and encourage them to spend more time in public places, even though “there was minimal benefit to wearing paper masks and none at all to wearing masks made of cloth”.

Pop-up hospital closes

Leishenshan, the Chinese hospital built in two weeks as coronavirus cases multiplied in Wuhan, is closing down after its last four patients were moved to other hospitals in the city. It treated a total of 2,011 patients during its two months of service, according to Yuan Yufeng, the hospital’s vice president, but is no longer needed. The Chinese government started lifting lockdown restrictions in Wuhan last week after new cases dwindled. “Leishenshan will be disinfected on Wednesday before being closed,” Sky News reports.

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Tuesday 14 April

Immunity doubts

Reports from South Korea that 116 people who had recovered from Covid-19 have tested positive for the new coronavirus a second time have raised fears that former patients may not be immune to the disease. Scientists and government officials had been hoping that immunity among recovered patients would help limit a second wave of infections. “Officials are still investigating the cause of the relapses,” reports Al Jazeera. “The virus may have been reactivated, rather than the patients being reinfected … [or] faulty tests may be playing a role.” An anonymous UK cabinet minister told The Sun: “The evidence coming out of South Korea about secondary infections is concerning people, so we will need to wait for the medical evidence to work out what is going on there.”

Care home toll

England’s coronavirus death toll may be 15% higher than suggested by the figures released each evening, according to statistics published today by the Office for National Statistics. In its weekly summary of deaths registered in England, it reported that Covid-19 had contributed to 5,979 deaths by 3 April. The NHS England tally for the same period was 5,186, but that included only people who died in hospital after testing positive for the virus. Today’s figures “include all mentions of Covid-19 on the death certificate, including suspected Covid-19, as well as deaths in the community”, an ONS statistician said. Some reports suggest that across Europe as many as half of all coronavirus deaths may be in care homes.

Enhanced protection

Having previously suggested that face masks would not slow the spread of Covid-19, the government may be about to reverse course. Patrick Vallance, the UK’s chief scientific adviser, “signalled a possible U-turn yesterday after disclosing the advice on the need for facial protection was being looked at again”, The Telegraph reports. Austria is planning to make mask-wearing compulsory as it begins to lift lockdown restrictions, and in many Asian countries masks are commonplace. “Whilst not every piece of scientific evidence supports mask-wearing,” says Dr. Trish Greenhalgh, a professor of primary care health sciences at Oxford University, “most of it points in the same direction. Our assessment of this evidence leads us to a clear conclusion: keep your droplets to yourself - wear a mask.”

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