16 – 22 April

A snapshot of media coverage on COVID-19

Beate Kampmann

(21/04) Beate explains the different stages of vaccine development on BBC Radio 5 Live (from 1:55:06). Beate said: “It’s a question of trying to make sure that the vaccine does not cause any nasty side-effects in individuals … ultimately, it’s a major undertaking because it has to be placed in countries where there are still a lot of cases to show that those who have received the vaccine are not getting the disease that the vaccine is trying to prevent.”

(21/04) Beate discusses progress towards a COVID-19 vaccine on BBC News. Beate said: “There’s much more combined effort between academia, regulators and funders which will ultimately lead to approval of a candidate.”

(18/04) Beate summarises current global vaccine development efforts on LBC. Beate said: “The fact that the genetic code became available very quickly and people have made candidates very quickly … makes me feel that it is not that difficult to get the construct. The question then is what immunity are we looking for because it’s a totally new virus and I think it’s more a question of trying to figure out what the vaccine needs to do to protect people, rather than making the vaccine as a product.”

(18/04) Beate talks to BBC Radio 5 Live (from 43:22) about the UK Government’s new Vaccine Taskforce. Beate said: “The taskforce is combining various stakeholders that are always involved in vaccine development and  linking them to the government this time. It’s not exactly a new attempt to bring people together in vaccinology but you need to really think about vaccine development from end-to-end, and that means from the laboratory side all the way up to regulatory agencies, funders and to clinical trials people and this is what this taskforce is trying to bring together.”

(16/04) Beate appears on BBC World’s Focus on Africa programme, explaining the importance of sustaining routine immunisation during COVID-19. Beate said: “Children are very vulnerable to measles and if there is a lack of immunisation in the overall society, then measles outbreaks are almost a guarantee and that could be a really awful combination.”

(16/04) Beate outlines vaccine pipeline development differences between universities and private industry in Sky News. Beate said: “It’s really the academics who’ve got the ball rolling because they had technology that they could turn around very, very quickly, as opposed to industry. Vaccine development in industry is quite different. Unless there is a long-term product development plan and it’s profitable, they wouldn’t necessarily invest. It’s a completely new scenario.”

Martin McKee

(21/04) In Reuters, Martin discusses the latest UK ‘excess death’ figures. Martin said: “With limited testing being carried out, it may be that all of the 7,996 excess deaths were directly due to COVID-19. But it is also likely that at least some of these were indirectly involved, such as through inability to access typical medical care for other conditions because of COVID-19 activities.”

(19/04) Martin speaks to BBC Radio London (from 17:14) about Sadiq Khan’s call for Londoners to wear face masks in public. Martin said: “Technically what the Chief Medical Officer is saying is correct, that there’s limited evidence from clinical trials that masks reduce the risk of infection but there is a lot of evidence that masks reduce the spread of the virus.”

(18/04) Martin discusses the effectiveness of potential ‘immunity passports’ on BBC World Service (from 26:30). Martin said: “I think it’s very different from the situation with Yellow Fever where you can require people to be vaccinated if they want to go somewhere and the risk of any side effects are very minimal. But now we’re creating a strong incentive for people to go out and get infected, knowing no matter what age they are, they are increasing their risk of severe illness or even of death.”

(17/04) Martin talks to BBC Radio 5 Live (from 2:09:28) about the difficulties in implementing and managing contact tracing for COVID-19. Martin said: “We live in a very different society from what people lived in the past, when often they didn’t move outside of their village … There was the idea of looking at apps … that is not an answer in itself because that needs an army of people helping with the contact tracing. It’s not easy but as we’ve seen in South Korea and Singapore, it can be done but it’s very labour-intensive.”

(17/04) Martin appears on BBC News to talk about the disparity between the UK Government’s testing figures and actual testing capacity. Martin said: “There’s a whole range of logistic issues from getting people to be tested, to getting the test to the testing centres.”

(16/04) Martin outlines the long-term health and economic effects of COVID-19 on BBC Newsnight (from 16:02). Martin said: “There are serious health consequences when people face precarious existence, particularly precarity of employment, income and housing – the diseases of despair. These diseases have been rising in the UK and the US to a greater extent than other industrialised countries over the past 10 years.”

(16/04) Martin writes in The Guardian about President Trump’s decision to halt funding to the WHO. Martin said: “This is a massive distraction for an organisation working flat out to tackle one of the most serious threats to the health of everyone, including Americans, in decades.”

(16/04) Martin discusses the potential routes for lifting lockdown measures in The Mirror. Martin said: “Firstly, we can ease the restrictions very gradually, for example, open only certain types of shops. The second thing is to put in place mechanisms to reduce spread, which will certainly include continued physical distancing.”

Mishal Khan

(22/04) In The Telegraph (£), Mishal cautions against the re-tasking of Pakistan’s polio eradication programme during COVID-19. Mishal said: “If Covid ends up being not as widespread and as bad as we fear in Pakistan, we don’t want to end up in a situation where we have dismantled some other critical health programmes and you have saved yourself the worst of Covid, but are having a resurgence in vaccine-preventable deaths.”

(19/04) Mishal discusses the Pakistan Government’s decision to lift limits on mosque congregations ahead of Ramadan in The National. Mishal said: “As a policy analyst, I’m well aware that religious leaders are powerful and the government would have had little choice. But giving the impression to the public that congregations can be safe is dangerous.”

(18/04) On BBC World Service (from 31:04), Mishal outlines the implications of Pakistan’s decision to lift limits on mosque congregations. Mishal said: “I do have concerns about how this will ultimately affect the spread, and to what degree the precautions that have been called for are going to be observed. The general recommendations are to try and reach a general consensus, and I think it would have been hard for the Government at this stage to completely go against what the religious leaders were asking for.”

David Heymann

(20/04) David talks about the effectiveness of face masks in the Daily Mail. David said: “If you’re in a situation where you can’t physically distance — if you’re working in a care home, for example — then a properly fitting mask should be worn as a precaution to protect the elderly, because if a carer is infected, virus-containing droplets could infect them, too.”

(19/04) David is quoted in Bloomberg about the use of serological surveys to establish the true scale of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. David said: “It must be highly specific and sensitive – that is, it must identify only SARS-CoV-2 and not cross-react with antibodies from other coronavirus infections.”

(17/04) David cautions against conspiracy theories about COVID-19’s origins in France24. David said: “There are many theories of how humans could’ve been infected, and I don’t think any of them are able to be substantiated at present.”

(16/04) David discusses the risks that wet markets pose for the emergence of viruses in The Telegraph (£). David said: “China is not the only place where these events occur. What we need to understand more is how we can make populations understand the risks of buying live animals and how they can protect themselves if they do.”

(16/04) David comments on President Trump’s criticisms of the WHO, on CBG. David said: “The technical expertise of the WHO and its many advisory bodies is of top quality. Within a period of about a month and a half, much was already known about this outbreak. Enough that people could begin to really understand how they could deal with this best, based on their national risk assessments and the WHO’s guidance.”

Sally Bloomfield

(21/04) Sally speaks to BBC Radio London (from 2:07:03) about the importance of cleanliness during COVID-19. Sally said: “Our hygiene has to be directed against not just protecting ourselves from getting it but making sure we don’t spread it to others.”

(17/04) Sally explores how UK lockdown measures could be lifted without causing cases to rise dramatically on BBC News. Sally said: “The number of people will increase when we ease the lockdown but it’s about making sure it increases very slowly so that our health service can cope. We have to recognise that it’s also down to us, not just what the Government do. If we do our own part of making sure we don’t spread the infection to others or pick it up ourselves, then that will help us in the long-run.”

Other LSHTM experts

(22/04) James Logan is quoted in The Telegraph (£) about the potential role of dogs in COVID-19 detection. James said: “Dogs can detect odours from humans with a malaria infection with extremely high accuracy – above the World Health Organisation standards for a diagnostic. We know that other respiratory diseases like COVID-19 change our body odour so there is a very high chance that dogs will be able to detect it.”

(22/04) Nada Abdelmagid speaks to Reuters about Sudan’s ‘uphill battle’ against COVID-19. Nada said: “The government is in a position where it has to make very difficult decisions when they don’t have that sense of security.”

(21/04) Heidi Larson discusses vaccine hesitancy during COVID-19 in The Guardian. Heidi said: “The extremists, the belief-driven groups who reject vaccination on principle, whose aim is to disrupt and polarise, they’re not changing, in fact they’re capitalising.”

(21/04) Stefan Flasche writes in The Telegraph (£) about the potential for contact clustering to allow a partial lockdown exit for young children. Stefan said: “Social contact clustering for children would allow them to mingle with their friends while only adding a rather marginal risk for coronavirus infection from, or transmission to, those outside of the play group and their respective households.”

(21/04) Francesco Checchi speaks to NPR about the challenges that lie ahead for low-income countries in the fight against COVID-19. Francesco said: “You have countries such as Burkina Faso where their baseline is nine intensive care beds across the entire country, and according to forecasts that we currently have, they would need potentially 10,000 or more.”

(21/04) Tony Fletcher is quoted in Yahoo! News about studies suggesting a potential link between air pollution and COVID-19 deaths. Tony said: “It is certainly plausible that air pollution could exacerbate respiratory disease and mortality due to COVID, either because of pollution having caused relevant pre-existing disease or by pollution affecting exposure due to viral particles attaching to particulate matte. However, this paper is of low quality and does not provide evidence of such an association.”

(20/04) Donald Bundy explains how efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in low-income countries can also exert their own tolls, in the Washington Post. Donald said: “Depriving a child of education, at any time up through adolescence, has lifelong negative consequences on health, cognition, and earnings.”

(20/04) Meenakshi Gautham writes in The Print about the need to engage informal economies in the fight against COVID-19. Meenakshi said: “Informal (un-licensed) healthcare providers and small pharmacies are the first point of contact for more than 80 per cent of slum populations. The COVID-19 outbreak presents an excellent opportunity to quickly engage and train these informal networks into a frontline workforce for screening, contact tracing and quarantining slum populations.”

(19/04) Jimmy Whitworth speaks to BBC News about the COVID-19 lessons that need to taken forward by the UK Government. Jimmy said: “We need to be thinking not just about research around developing diagnostics, vaccines or therapeutic drugs, but about how well the different types of physical distancing that have been used in different countries around the world have actually worked.”

(18/04) On BBC Radio 4 (from 7:52), Martin Gorsky explores how the experience of the Home Front at the start of World War Two echoes the “COVID-19 war”. Martin said: “Rather like the mathematical modelling that people are doing today to try and predict the trajectory of COVID-19, the modellers were then on the case trying to anticipate what the likely scale of casualties from bombing would be.”

(18/04) Stephen Evans is quoted in The Independent about the issue of vaccine safety. Stephan said: “Safety is the absence of harm. We cannot test safety, we can only detect harms. We look for harms and when we can’t find any we call it safety.”

(17/04) In Science, Dan Bausch underscores the importance of NIH and WHO coordination to streamline COVID-19 vaccine efforts. Dan said: “Especially to ensure equitable participation in the conduct of the trials and access to the products that they might produce.”

(17/04) Brendan Wren cautions against the use of chloroquine for treating COVID-19 symptoms on LBC. Brendan said: “This is based on very loose tests that have been done in Marseille, and it’s being taken up in the US, particularly by President Trump as a wonder cure but it’s certainly not proven at the moment … it’s not a preventative. It’s rather like having chemotherapy when you don’t have cancer.”

(17/04) Shunmay Yeung elucidates the purpose of face masks on talkRADIO (from 10:02). Shunmay said: “If I wear something over my face – it doesn’t have to be a surgical or medical mask, just some sort of cloth – that probably has some effectiveness in terms of reducing the likelihood that I’m going to spread it when I sneeze or cough. There’s been a change in the US guidelines for example, that say you have to wear a covering if you go out in public and that is really to protect others. That is the main argument for getting people to wear face masks.”

(17/04) Graham Medley explains why it’s difficult to determine what the ‘right’ route out of the COVID-19 pandemic is on BBC Radio 4 (from 43:52). Graham said: “It’s about managing the competing of tragic deaths on the one hand with the interventions on the other, and trying to find a way through. I don’t think any country is going to do it the same way because those political and cultural issues will feed into those decisions.”

(17/04) In Science Magazine, Nick Davies questions the efficacy of contact tracing apps that could potentially alert people if they have recently had contact with an infected person. Nicholas said: “If I live in a big apartment block, am I going to be getting dozens of notifications a day?”

(17/04) Alex Aiken explains the difference between sanitising and disinfecting in Business Insider. Alex said: “While sanitizing reduces the amount of bacteria, viruses, and other microbes on a surface, disinfectants kill almost all of them.”

(17/04) In BBC Future, Robert Aunger explains the variation in handwashing behaviour in different countries. Robert said: “One problem with handwashing is that, especially in developed countries, you can avoid washing your hands lots and lots of times and you won’t get ill. Even with coronavirus, they’re saying the delay between being infected and seeing any symptoms is like five, six days, so the connection is very difficult to make.”

(16/04) On Al Jazeera, Annelies Wilder-Smith discusses the concept of “flexible extensions” for social distancing measures. Annelies said: “It’s a stepwise approach where you relax a few measures but as soon as you see a resurgence of cases, you reverse that. I think most countries will go for this because none of us know which of the array of measures that we have is the most successful.”

(16/04) Adam Kucharski urges caution over lifting lockdown measures too soon in Newsweek. Adam said: “Looking at the current transmission situation, even if the level of cases are flattening, when deciding what measures should be lifted and when, countries should be cautious, even a small change in transmission, that can change everything.”

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