In England, following our earlier post about Boris Johnson saying that people should wear masks in shops as an “extra insurance policy”, here’s video of the UK prime minister’s comments on the subject earlier. He’s not wearing a face mask in the interview, mind you.
Worth noting that Johnson suggested there would be more to come on the subject in the days ahead, saying: “Whether we make it mandatory or not, we’ll be saying a bit more in the next few days.”
at 1.21pm EDT
One controversial consequence of the coronavirus pandemic in the US has been the Trump administration’s decision to tell international students that they must leave the country if their classes next semester are all online. A wide range of colleges and state officials are seeking to challenge that rule, hoping to reverse it before the students who must rethink their futures have all gone.
Now a brief filed by 59 universities says that the rule throws their plans into disarray with less than a month before term begins. 200 universities are backing the challenge in total, signing briefs to support litigation by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A judge is scheduled to hear arguments Tuesday in the case.
An AP report continues:
The group includes all of Harvard’s companions in the Ivy League and other prestigious schools including Stanford and Duke universities. They collectively enroll more than 213,000 international students.
These students are core members of our institutions, the schools wrote. They make valuable contributions to our classrooms, campuses and communities contributions that have helped make American higher education the envy of the world.
Here’s a video of WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s press conference earlier today. Tedros said there would be no return to the old normal ‘for the foreseeable future’, adding: ‘there are no short cuts out of this pandemic’.
In France, the government and unions have just signed an agreement committing more than €8bn in pay rises for health workers, with prime minister Jean Castex saying: “This is first of all recognition of those who have been on the front line in the fight against this epidemic”.
AFP reported that the bulk of the package was made up of €7.5bn for pay rises for nurses and careworkers. another €450m will go to doctors who work solely in the public sector, the aim being to incentivise them to move from more lucrative private sector work.
Castex said that “each and every one – including perhaps myself – has their share of responsibility” for delays to the deal.
Some hardline unions did not sign the agreements, which AFP called “an indication that tensions over the issue may not be over.”
130m may go hungry in 2020 because of coronavirus, UN report warns
A new UN report published on Monday says that the number of people going hungry around the world grew by 10m last year – and warns that coronavirus could mean that 130m more join them in 2020.
An Associated Press write-up of the document says that “preliminary projections based on available global economic outlooks suggest the pandemic may add an additional 83 (million) to 132 million people to the ranks of the undernourished in 2020”.
It adds that “after steadily declining for decades, chronic hunger slowly began to rise in 2014 and continues to do so”.
The AP story continues:
With progress in fighting hunger stalled even before the pandemic, the report’s authors said that COVID-19 is intensifying the vulnerabilities and inadequacies of global food systems defined in the report as all the activities and processes affecting the production, distribution and consumption of food…
As a result of the pandemic, food supply disruptions, lost livelihoods and the inability of people working abroad to send remittances home to their families mean it’s even more difficult for the poorer and vulnerable populations to have access to healthy diets, the UN agencies concluded.
Michael Ryan’s forceful remarks that a return to school must be based on the local picture and whether there is broader risk of transmission in a community stands in contrast to US education secretary Betsy DeVos’ remarks on Sunday, as reported by my colleague Lauren Aratani in New York:
We know that children get the virus at a far lower rate than any other part of the population. There’s nothing in the data that suggests that kids being back in school is dangerous to them.
DeVos did also say that hotspots should be dealt with on a case-by-case basis – but she added: “the rule should be that kids go back to school this fall”.
Here’s the story.
Van Kerkhove says she wants to focus on individuals’ responsibility. “Please make good choices,” she says. “There are many people, essential workers, who cannot stay at home. And if you can … please stay home.”
She urges the wearing of masks, physical distancing, handwashing, and talking to children about sensible precautions. “This is far from over, so we all have to play our part,” she says.
That’s the final question and the press conference will shortly wind up.
at 11.54am EDT
Tedros has now left the press conference, leaving Ryan and Van Kerkhove to answer the large question of what’s gone wrong in the Americas.
Ryan says: “Reopenings have led to more intense transmission and now a number of countries face a scenario where there’s increasing and sometimes exponential transmission, not necessarily with the option of new lockdowns because of the economic damage and community acceptance.”
He calls on governments and individuals not to carry on as normal, saying: “This is the issue, turn and face the fire, turn and face the problem. It’s going to require a huge commitment on behalf of government and individuals.”
“If people continue to frequent crowded places without taking the necessary precautions… the disease will continue to transmit,” he says. But he adds that governments must be clear and consistent and make it easy for citizens to comply.
He adds: “I can’t say this strongly enough: the countries that have put in place strong public health surveillance architecture during lockdowns… are having relative success in continuing to suppress the virus.”
And he says that “believing that magically we will get a perfect vaccine that everyone has access to is not realistic” and questions whether even if a vaccine becomes available it will be fairly available to all.
Once again he emphasises clear and strong government leadership – a theme of the press conference.
Dr Michael Ryan, executive director, says there is an issue around how schools can be reopened safely but the best way is to do so in a situation of low community transmission. He adds: “we can’t turn schools into yet another political football in this game… we have to look at this carefully in the light of transmission in any given setting.”
He sounds frustrated by the nature of some of the debate around the question of school reopening as he implies that it would be foolish for the WHO to set out a hard-and-fast rule for the whole world to follow. “[Decisions] must be based on data in the specific setting in which schools are,” he says. “My fear in this is that we create these political footballs that get kicked around the place.”
In response to a question about child-to-child transmission and school reopening, and whether there is any update to the WHO position, Van Kerkhove says that some studies are currently underway or coming out as pre-print (not yet peer reviewed) papers which shed light on the question.
She says results depend on how studies break down by age but that “those above 10 seem to have similar seroprevalance [numbers with blood tests showing they have the disease] to young adults, which means that they can be infected but tend to have more mild disease”.
She says that there is still much to understand about infection among children. She concludes without appearing to set out any change in WHO advice: “Children do seem to be less affected, but they can be infected. Our understanding of transmission among children is still limited.”
Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead, gives her best wishes to a journalist who recently recovered from the virus.
On the question of immune response to the virus, she says that it is still not know how strong or long the protection from antibodies is. Some early data shows antibody levels “may wane over time”, she says, but adds that more information is needed.
You can read more on this subject here:
at 10.50am EDT
Now Tedros speaks critically of leaders in countries where “mixed messages” have led to a breakdown in trust. He says that if this approach is taken, matters are going to get “worse and worse”.
He adds: “I know that many leaders are working in difficult circumstances” and uses the example of people living in poverty around the world. “There are no short cuts out of this pandemic,” he adds.
While he has not named specific countries, some will hear a message for Donald Trump in his warning.
“There will be no return to the old normal for the foreseeable future. But there is a roadmap to a situation where we can control the virus and get on with our lives,” he says. But it will require a focus on reducing transmission, an empowered community, and strong government leadership.
“It can be done, it must be done,” he says. “I have said it before and I will keep saying it. No matter where a country is in its epidemic curve, it’s never too late to take decisive action.”
He concludes his remarks and opens the floor to questions.