7 – 20 May

A snapshot of media coverage on COVID-19

Peter Piot

(14/05) Peter highlights the importance of a vaccine to combat COVID-19, on the Financial Times’ Global Boardroom. Peter said: “The only exit strategy is a vaccine … but it must be given to billions of people. Safety, equitable access & manufacturing capacity are vital.”

(08/05) In Science, Peter reflects on his personal experience with COVID-19. Peter said: “I suddenly had a high fever and a stabbing headache. My skull and hair felt very painful, which was bizarre. I didn’t have a cough at the time, but still, my first reflex was: I have it.”

Heidi Larson

(18/05) Heidi explains the role of the WHO in the context of vaccine development on BBC World Service (from 34:00). Heidi said: “It’s an organisation that’s meant to set standards and norms, and has a critical role in reviewing some of the protocols and risks.”

(13/05) Heidi discusses the growth in anti-vaccine misinformation online during the pandemic, in Science. Heidi said: “They are covering a lot more ground with fewer of them.”

James Logan

(16/05) James Logan explains dogs’ capacity for odour detection on BBC Breakfast, following the announcement of Government funding for a trial into their potential use to detect COVID-19. James said: “Dogs do have an incredibly powerful sense of smell, and that is what we are looking to use in this study to see if they can detect people who have COVID-19. Our previous work has showed that diseases such as malaria have a distinctive odour associated with the infection, and we have demonstrated that dogs have detected malaria at very high accuracy.” The COVID-19 detection dogs trial also received widespread coverage in over 1,500 outlets worldwide, including The Guardian, New York Times, Bloomberg and The Telegraph.

(16/05) James discusses the potential for dogs to aid in COVID-19 detection, on BBC World Service. James said: “For hundred of years we’ve known that diseases create changes in our body odour and we think the same thing is happening with COVID-19, and that’s what this study is about – to determine whether our body odour changes when we have that infection. If it does change then, we are very confident that these dogs would be able to detect it.”

Mishal Khan

(14/05) Mishal discusses the validity of the Global Health Security Index on The Telegraph. Mishal said: “Future initiatives that claim to independently assess health security will be more valuable if they speak truth to power by highlighting major gaps, such as plans to protect healthcare workers.”

(13/05) Mishal warns of the dangers of suspending routine childhood immunisation programmes in low income countries during COVID-19, on BBC World Service (from 10:45). Mishal said: “Some of the vaccination programmes being temporarily stopped will have an impact for years to come.”

John Edmunds

(19/05) John says it is “unusual” that children do not seem to play much of a role in COVID-19 transmission in the New York Times. John said: “For most respiratory viruses and bacteria they play a central role, but in this they don’t seem to. There is only one documented outbreak associated with a school – which is amazing.”

(19/05) John is quoted in the Evening Standard about potential long-term immunity to COVID-19. John said: “We can see from other coronaviruses that individuals do not seem to have particularly long-term immunity to many of those viruses, allowing them to get reinfected later. So that’s potentially bad news for us, that immunity may not last that long against this virus.”

Annelies Wilder-Smith

(17/05) Annelies highlights the importance of mass contact tracing in Deutsche Welle. Annelies said: “All countries that have introduced rigorous contact tracing were most effective in keeping the number of newly infected small.”

(07/05) Annelies explains the “unchartered territory” that governments are facing during COVID-19, in Al Jazeera. Annelies said: “Governments are having to strike a balance between this virus and the negative impacts of lockdowns on societies, including economic downturns, societal strife and mental health concerns. It’s a large experiment.”

Martin Hibberd

(13/05) Martin Hibberd discusses the likelihood of COVID-19 mutating into a more dangerous virus on BBC News. Martin said: “Usually viruses don’t do that, it’s not in their advantage to mutate into a more virulent form. Successful coronaviruses might be a common cold which is not particularly virulent but highly transmissible.”

(11/05) Martin Hibberd explains why it’s important to track mutations in COVID-19, on BBC Radio 4. Martin said: “As we’re making vaccines and therapies against the coronavirus, we need to be aware of what these mutations are in case they might interfere with these approaches.” 

Stephen Evans

(19/05) In the New York Times, Stephen discusses the early results from the Oxford vaccine trial, following animal trials that uncovered no evidence of immune-enhanced disease. Stephan said: “This was a definite theoretical concern for a vaccine against Sars Cov-2, and finding no evidence for it in this study is very encouraging and suggests cautious optimism for the Oxford vaccine trial being done in humans.”

(18/05) Stephen comments on the first results from human trials of a COVID-19 vaccine in the U.S. in The Guardian. Stephan said: “Well, it isn’t bad news and there are a number of good points that suggest optimism that this vaccine may work.”

(17/05) Stephen underscores the importance of equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine in The Guardian. Stephan said: “We do not yet know which if any vaccine will work. It is more than likely that at least one will prove effective and safe. The most important thing is to get the infrastructure in place to vaccinate tens of millions in the population, so it is simply unknown whether opening a vaccine manufacturing facility is the best use of the money.”

(09/05) In CGTN, Stephen reflects on the results of an early COVID-19 trial, suggesting that a triple antiviral drug combination could shorten COVID-19 illness in mild cases. Stephen said: “This definitely justifies the consideration of adding interferon beta to the list of genuinely, evidence-based, promising treatments to be tested in further randomised trials.”

Jimmy Whitworth

(17/05) Jimmy discusses whether the coronavirus can be characterised as ‘Disease X’, in The Telegraph. Jimmy said: “The aim was to have a thought experiment to think about how we would respond to a totally unfamiliar pathogen that is causing an epidemic – a scenario where we wouldn’t have a case definition, a diagnostic test, a vaccine, we wouldn’t know if drugs work or how it is transmitted. That probably all sounds quite familiar now. COVID-19 is, to some extent, entirely new.”

(16/05) Jimmy explains what the reproduction number is on LBC. Jimmy said: “It is not a simple thing to measure, but in essence what we want to try to know is the number of new cases of infection we have and to divide that by the number of cases that are already infected.”

(11/05) Jimmy talks about the effectiveness of face masks in The Independent. Jimmy said: “There’s little evidence they are very effective. They’re more beneficial if you have a virus and don’t want to pass it on than to prevent catching anything.”

Adam Kucharski

(19/05) Adam highlights the importance of testing on BBC Radio 5 Live (from 2:16:18). Adam said: “The more testing and surveillance we have, the more confident we can be. At the moment, a lot of countries are ramping up their testing and if the number of cases reported increases it may be a reflection of the testing effort rather than the underlying infections which ultimately, is what we’re interested in.”

(19/05) Adam talks about the potential settings that can result in COVID-19 transmission, in Science. Adam said: “Probably about 10% of cases lead to 80% of the spread.”

(15/05) Adam discusses on Channel 4 News the lessons that can be learnt from Asian countries when it comes to testing and contact tracing. Adam said: “In Asian countries, there’s a rapid ability to identify contacts. In South Korea for example, health authorities have access to credit card transactions, to mobile phone data – really quite extensive surveillance to get those cases. Also, stringent quarantine measures.”

(15/05) Adam comments on study estimates that suggest up to 220,000 Britons may be affected with COVID-19, in the Daily Mail. Adam said: “Given how difficult it is to estimate the extent of unreported cases in a population from reported cases alone, it is likely that there is huge uncertainty in the estimates produced by the model used in this paper, and unfortunately this uncertainty is not reflected in the single value quoted in the paper and the press release.”

(08/05) Adam tells The Telegraph that the virus is likely to be spreading undetected in low- and middle-income countries. Adam said: “Our working theory is that although, for example in Africa, these are younger populations, I think because of comorbidities and other health conditions, you’d still expect potentially quite serious impact.”

Martin McKee

(19/05) Martin warns what could happen if schools reopen without functional safety measures, in the Daily Mail. Martin said: “There’s a danger that schools effectively become places to store children, where we have them sitting in their chairs and not having to move, but not able to interact, not able to exchange marking books with their school teachers and so on.”

(18/05) Martin discusses lessons that can be learned from other countries to curb COVID-19 transmission, on LBC. martin said: “We know how other countries have made progress is by putting in place contact tracing and testing, but we’re having significant problems with that.”

(14/05) Martin McKee speaks to EuroNews about the challenges of ensuring equitable access to a COVID-19 vaccine in resource-constrained countries. Martin said: “We are going to be facing major challenges in conflict-affected areas, where health infrastructure is weak. There will also be problems in some countries where there is a lack of political leadership to drive this forward.”

Sebastian Funk

(16/05) Sebastian explains the fluctuations in the UK reproduction number, on LBC. Sebastian said: “We have some indication that perhaps it has notched up a little bit but these are early indications and again, it’s an average. There are outbreaks happening in care homes and other things that may be affecting this.”

(15/05) Sebastian comments on estimates that suggest the reproduction number in London has dropped significantly, on BBC Radio 4 (from 49:00). Sebastian said: “What we have observed in London is that case numbers and death numbers have come down faster than in other parts of the country – albeit from a considerably higher level.”

Francesco Checchi

(10/05) Francesco discusses Germany and South Korea’s rise in COVID-19 cases after the easing of lockdown measures, on BBC News. Francesco said: “It illustrates what will be the new normal. A situation where we’re constantly on the brink, trying to suppress the virus while we’re waiting for a vaccine.”

(07/05) Francesco explains why people from BAME backgrounds appear to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19 on BBC Gloucester. Francesco said: “You are staring at at the effects of poverty and inequality. Poverty means they are living in overcrowded conditions and they can’t afford to stay inside and not go out. They may have a different level of access to health services. All of these matter so much for the clinical progression of  COVID-19.”

Other LSHTM experts

(19/05) Chrissy Roberts is quoted in the Daily Mail about new LSHTM and UCL study findings that suggest physical inactivity caused by the UK lockdown could lead to a spike in chronic conditions such as obesity. Chrissy said: “We believe that the trade-off between being protected from COVID-19 and the health detriments of reduced physical activity could place already vulnerable populations in a potential “no-win” situation.”

(19/05) Roz Eggo is quoted in the New York Times about the role of children in COVID-19 transmission. Ros said: “We think that children are less likely to have severe outcomes and there are hints that children are less infectious but it is not certain.”

(16/05) On CNN, Mark Jit outlines the steps that should be considered before American states begin lifting lockdown measures. Mark said: “The reproduction number must be below one which means that under the physical distancing restrictions, there isn’t a lot of transmission going on. Second, we have to make sure that the number of new cases is not too large.”

(15/05) On LBC, Brendan Wren comments on estimates that suggest the reproduction number is lower in London compared to other parts of the UK. Brendan said: “The figures need to be taken with a pinch of salt … R can’t be measured directly so there’s uncertainty about the exact value, but certainly there seems to be less number of cases.”

(15/05) Beate Kampmann discusses the latest developments in the Oxford vaccine trial on BBC News. Beate said: “It does not yet mean it is going to be safe and effective in humans but is definitely on the right track.”

(14/05) Helen McDonald talks to the Daily Mail about the fall in number of children receiving the MMR vaccine during COVID-19. Helen said: “If we end up with unvaccinated children there’s huge potential for a measles outbreak.”

(14/05) Petra Klepac explains what the R number is and why it’s so important for pandemic preparedness, on BBC Radio 4 (from 04:30). Petra said: “Where do they get infected, are they imported infections, can we trace exactly who infected whom, and when did each person develop symptoms? Then we can tell something about the time it passes from one person to another, and how fast the number of infections are doubling.”

(13/05) In The Guardian, Neil Pierce comments on the findings of a study that suggests men in low-paid jobs are four times more likely to die from COVID-19 than higher earners. Neil said: “The observations are almost certainly due to exposure to people. It is also well-known that working-class men and women have poorer health than more wealthy people. But here we see the excess specifically in the working-class jobs that involve contact with the public. For example, taxi and bus drivers.”

(13/05) John Porter warns that epidemics are likely to be on the rise as people migrate and interfere with the environment, in The Guardian. John said: “As man changes the environment, he changes the spread and distribution of infections. Infectious diseases are always there, changing and emerging in different forms. If you change the balance between host, agent and the environment, then new things are likely to emerge.”

(13/05) Graham Medley explains what the reproduction number is on BBC Newsnight. Graham said: “R is really a direction on the graph, it tells you what direction you will go in. It doesn’t tell you how many cases you have.”

(11/05) Ellen Nolte outlines some of the indirect health effects of COVID-19 in Vox. Ellen said: “One of the key concerns that practitioners in particular are having is related to the backlog that is piling up, and the impacts this will have on medium- and long-term outcomes, in particular for people with chronic conditions.”

(11/05) In Smithsonian Magazine, David Heymann draws on the parallels between past efforts to eradicate smallpox and current efforts to find a COVID-19 vaccine. David said: “Scientists don’t give a damn about what’s going on geopolitically. We’re all working towards a common goal. That to me is the story in smallpox and COVID-19.”

(08/05) In Quartz, Martin Antonio highlights disparities in access to medical equipment in Africa, and a lack of investment in research and technology across the continent. Martin said: “There is expertise in Africa, but to acquire the reagents or chemicals is a challenge. African governments do not invest in research and technology, but this is done in developed countries.”

(07/05) Liam Smeeth is quoted in Bloomberg, after LSHTM research found that Black and Asian people are most at risk of dying from COVID-19. Liam said: “It is very concerning to see that the higher risks faced by people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are not attributable to identifiable underlying health conditions.”

On social media

This week’s social media highlight comes from Twitter, where we celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale and International Nurses Day.


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