30 Apr – 6 May

A snapshot of media coverage on COVID-19

Joy Lawn

(04/05) Joy discusses the expected phased re-opening of schools on RT. Joy said: “The government is doing the right thing to go for a phased re-opening but the question is how? One really critical part of that will be identifying outbreaks very quickly in schools, so more testing for teachers, looking at shielding for vulnerable teachers and thinking about children at risk.”

(30/04) Joy explains the challenges of school closures during COVID-19 on LBC. Joy said: “There are huge consequences of being out of school. Being at home, missing routine immunisation care, late detection of cancers both for children and the whole population. It’s a balance of risks – their health, but also for mental health and wellbeing.”

Adam Kucharski

(03/05) In The Times, Adam warns that although the UK rate of infection is falling, this has been achieved only by a lockdown. Adam said: “As soon as measures are lifted, we risk being back where we started, facing exponential growth. We’ve got to find some combination of things to keep that down and, based on what we know about the virus, it seems likely that these kinds of close interactions between people will need limitations.”

(02/05) Adam explains that untangling the effectiveness of control measures will be crucial to knowing which ones can be safely lifted or adapted, in The Telegraph (£). Adam said: “Casual interactions outside don’t seem to be driving transmission. What we need to untangle is whether that’s a feature of the environment, or whether it’s due to the proximity and duration of the contact … It’s going to be really important to get to the bottom of this for control.”

(30/04) Adam outlines why keeping the reproduction number below one is crucial to controlling COVID-19 spread, in BBC News. Adam said: “It’s a big challenge making sure you’re not loosening too much and increasing transmission … Opening schools versus workplaces versus other gatherings – understanding how much they increase the reproduction number is going to be the challenge.”

Annelies Wilder Smith

(04/05) Annelies highlights the importance of contact tracing in the New York Times. Annelies said: “If you don’t isolate contacts who could have the disease, then they will just stay at home and infect their friends and families.”

(04/05) Annelies cautions that bottlenecks in COVID-19 vaccine development could prevent equitable access, on Al Jazeera. Annelies said: “Scaling up manufacturing now is a risk that the world needs to be prepared to take, even if we don’t know whether this vaccine is going to be successful.”

Stephen Evans

(05/05) Stephen explains that all-cause mortality is important for examining the true impact of COVID-19, in the Financial Times. Stephen said: “You actually need to look at total deaths, and not just deaths ascribed to COVID-19.”

(30/04) Stephen comments in The Staits Times about a preliminary trial of remdesivir for treating COVID-19. Stephen said: “This is the first evidence that remdesivir has genuine benefits, but they are certainly not dramatic.”

Sally Bloomfield

(06/05) Sally discusses whether retailers should only accept contactless payment during COVID-19, in the Daily Mail. Sally said: “These are all very small risks, but every small risk adds up.”

(05/05) Sally explains why wearing face coverings could be effective on BBC News. Sally said: “Over time, we have begun to realise just how many people in the community are infected, but are not showing any symptoms. They are infected and infectious. Unlike influenza and SARS, where once we got to the stage where we were infectious and we felt ill, we didn’t go out. With this, we don’t know.”

Jimmy Whitworth

(01/05) Jimmy outlines the steps that are needed before lockdowns can be completely lifted on BBC Radio 5 Live (from 2:09:25). Jimmy said: “It really depends if any game changers come along like a vaccine or an effective treatment for people who are infected with this, or possibly even prophylactic drugs that prevent people from getting it. If we don’t have those, we will need to keep measures of some sort of physical protection, and testing and tracing contacts for a long time to come until essentially we don’t have any cases occurring.”

(01/05) Jimmy discusses whether COVID-19 testing will be extended to household members on BBC News. Jimmy said: “I think once we get the testing, tracking and tracing programme in place, yes, that will happen. It is not so much to know about how widespread the virus is within the population, but so that we are able to identify people when they are incubating the disease, and when they might be transmitting it, but before they feel sick. That is a key way in which we will be able to get one step ahead of the spread of the virus.”

(30/04) Jimmy explains why scaling up the testing and contact tracing of COVID-19 patients isn’t a simple solution in The Conversation. Jimmy said: “Building testing and tracing capacity is not easy … You need the organisational capacity, the labs, equipment and chemical reagents to be able to conduct these on a massive scale.”

Sebastian Funk

(02/05) Sebastian explains how changes in testing criteria and practices can affect estimates of the reproduction number, in Sky News. Sebastian said: “If cases are more likely to be reported in some parts of the population (if, for example, there is a focus on testing healthcare workers), then the reproduction number estimate will be biased towards this population and no longer reflective of the general population. If there is a ramp-up in testing, more cases might be reported even if the overall number of infections is in decline.”

(01/05) In the Financial Times, Sebastian discusses the difficulty of calculating an aggregate measure of the reproduction number. Sebastian said: “You have to be cautious about interpreting these curves. In Germany, there was a fair amount of consternation when the Robert Koch Institute put out data showing R less than 1 before the lockdown started. The institute then had to do a lot of backtracking.”

Martin McKee

(06/05) In New Scientist, Martin explains why weekly COVID-19 testing is important. Martin said: “The issue is that people can be infectious for several days before showing symptoms. Getting tested once a week would be a good strategy.”

(06/05) Martin reflects on the UK COVID-19 death toll on Euronews. Martin said: “We have probably passed the peak of hospital deaths but not of deaths in care homes. One of the problems we’ve had is that throughout this, we’ve only been counting deaths in hospitals. That has now changed, and now we’re adding those figures we can see that essentially, we’ve got two epidemics.”

(06/05) Martin discusses the earlier COVID-19 control measures taken by South East Asian countries on LBC. Martin said: “They had the infrastructure in place. The countries in South East Asia had been preparing ever since 2003-2004 from SARS.”

David Heymann

(06/05) David comments on the origins of COVID-19 in International Business Times. David said: “We have a hypothesis that it came from a live animal market, and I haven’t seen anybody provide evidence that shows to the contrary.”

(30/04) David explains why keeping the reproduction number below 1 is so important, on BBC Radio 4 (from 2:13:12). David said: “The reproductive number depends on the behaviour of those affected – whether or not they physically distance from others. It also depends on the environment – how close people are living together. The goal is to keep to reproductive number under one because that prevents a rapid increase in cases and it also prevents that exponential increase that people fear.”

Other LSHTM experts

(06/05) Stefan Flasche is quoted in CNBC about the potential for social contact clustering to allow a partial lockdown exit for 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.”

(05/05) In Bloomberg, Rosanna Peeling warns that COVID-19 antibody tests could potentially produce false positives. Rosanna said: “The false positives could lead you to believe the population is more immune than the reality.”

(05/05) Francesco Checchi explains the challenges of containing outbreaks within care homes on BBC Radio Gloucestershire (from 2:09:41). Francesco said: “If you have patients that suffer from conditions such as dementia, it is very hard for those individuals to actually maintain distance. Kitchens and bathroom facilities are being shared. All of that has a series of additive effects that explain why within a care home it’s quite difficult to prevent an outbreak from spreading.”

(04/05) Mark Jit outlines the vaccine development timeline on Al Jazeera. Mark said: “The bad news is that, the time to develop a vaccine from the time of the initial discovery to actually having a vaccine to be given on a population level, is usually about 10 to 20 years.”

(03/05) Rosalind Stanwell-Smith discusses crucial lessons on COVID-19 from cholera, on BBC Radio 4 (from 09:47). Rosalind said: “The epidemiological methods are similar and once we have all the pieces, we’ll know the major risk factors, we’ll know the social distancing ideal distance and all of that.”

(03/05) Research led by Andrew Briggs, suggesting that deaths related to COVID-19 may have resulted in up to 14 years of life being lost, features in The Wall Street Journal (£). Andrew said: “Some people think that these people dying would have died this year anyway. That’s simply not the case.”

(02/05) Brendan Wren comments on President Trump’s claims that COVID-19 originated in a lab in China’s Wuhan province, in The Daily Express. Brendan said: “Having been to Wuhan a number of times and having had infectious disease researchers from Wuhan working in my labs in London I don’t believe that there have been any deliberate or nefarious activities with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

(01/05) James Logan appears on BBC One’s HealthCheck (from 31:18) to discuss the potential of using dogs to detect COVID-19. James said: “We know that there are lots of diseases that have odours associated with it – biomarkers. We published research demonstrating that malaria has a distinctive smell and we trained dogs to detect people who have malaria, and they can do that with extremely high accuracy. So we’re looking to train the same dogs to detect people with COVID-19.”

(30/04) Katherine Gallagher, Anthony Scott, Ifedayo Adetifa and John Ojal urge the importance of sustaining routine immunisation during COVID-19, in The Conversation. They said: “A global pandemic like this one threatens to reverse the victories that are won every day over vaccine-preventable diseases in low-income settings, including gains towards polio eradication.”

On social media

This week’s social media highlight comes from Twitter, where we hosted our third live COVID-19 Q&A with John Edmunds and Petra Klepac, who discussed the latest modelling insights into the outbreak.

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