Science and Technology

Twenty per cent think virus is a hoax

An Oxford University study conducted in May found that around 20% of adults in England may believe in conspiracy theories about the coronavirus pandemic. In a study of 2,500 adults — weighted by income, region, age and gender — people were asked about the extent to which they agreed with a series of statements about coronavirus. (For more, see the Oxford University site here.) Alarmingly, 60% of respondents said they believed the government was misleading the public about the cause of the virus and 40% believe that there is an attempt to use the virus to control the population. The most agreed...

New Covid plans

Doctors and scientists want a shift in virus-control policy. An open letter to all the political parties, on 23 June, by leading medical figures, called for an urgent effort to map new policies because "the available evidence indicates that local flare-ups are increasingly likely and a second wave a real risk".

Scientists say: "1 metre? Not yet"

Boris Johnson announced on 23 June that he plans to let pubs and cafés reopen from 4 July with only one metre covid-distancing. The Independent SAGE group of dissident scientists said on 18 June that "until there is evidence that infections have dropped to much fewer than 1,000 cases a day [the current 7-day average is 1,205, falling slowly] [one-metre] is not safe in indoor spaces particularly in restaurants, bars, or workplaces..." The official SAGE scientists in late May blocked government plan to reduce the virus risk rating from 4 to 3, and got that move delayed to 19 June. One of them...

Diary of a Tubeworker: Absolutely essential?

While I waited for my train into work I heard three separate automated announcements. One from a member of staff, one from an NHS paramedic and one from the child of an NHS worker. They had one message in common “Do not travel unless you are a critical worker making an absolutely essential journey”. That first part is right, but that second part? Well, why are TfL playing me a message about not travelling unless absolutely essential when they want me to come in right now at 23:00 on a Friday? This week I was unlucky. I didn’t get my act together, emails went unanswered and my phone calls didn...

Can we get R<1?

Austria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Norway, Italy, Spain, and France have all announced measures to ease their pandemic lockdowns. Several other countries in Europe look as if they are at or past a pandemic peak. The UK may be around a peak. As of yet, no-one - not the scientists, not the governments, and not us either - has even a halfway clear picture of how these easings (over-hopefully called "exit strategies") can best be designed to avoid new peaks. Only slow, piecemeal, feeling-our-way approaches are possible. The UK looks not yet ready even for that. The wild "exit now" talk of...

Lessons from past pandemics

The nearest historical precedent to the Covid-19 pandemic is the “Spanish flu” which swept the world between March 1918 and March 1920, in three successive and distinct waves. On the best estimates, made decades later because no one counted well at the time, that strain of flu infected about one-third of the world’s whole population and killed between 50 and 100 million, possibly more than World War 1 and World War 2 combined. The deaths peaked sharply in the second wave, between mid-September and mid-December 1918. Most strains of flu disproportionately kill the elderly and the very young....

Profit drive has stalled vaccines

In capitalist society we are encouraged to believe that our health and wealth depend on individual endeavour. The market can meet all of society’s needs. Society is set up so that the only organisations capable of producing vaccines for Covid19 are privately-owned and run pharmaceutical companies. In fact, with more public investment and research there might have been at least partially effective treatments already available when Covid-19 was identified. As I wrote in Solidarity 534, the threat of zoonotic diseases has long been identified by the World Health Organisation. Covid-19 is in fact...

Coronavirus and climate change

The novel coronavirus originating in Wuhan (2019-nCoV) is a zoonotic disease. It is an infection that has passed from animals to humans. Humans have not developed immunity to such infections. That in turn means they are often more deadly, and spread rapidly. According to the World Health Organisation, new zoonotic infections are becoming more frequent because of climate change and other human behaviour. Zoonotic diseases are more likely to occur when populations of animals and humans that do not normally interact come into contact with each other. Climate change makes this more likely in a...

Wuhan: a new coronavirus

WHAT HAPPENED IN WUHAN? People visiting a seafood and wild animal market a few weeks ago almost certainly picked up a species of virus from live wild animals on sale. This virus, a member of the Coronavirus family, causes fever, a cough and sometimes pneumonia. It seems to be relatively easy to transmit between people and identified cases have risen sharply to well over 10,000 in a few weeks, most in the city of Wuhan with a few (so far) in other towns and countries. Each infected individual is estimated to be infecting about three others. This rate needs to be reduced to near zero to...

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