The beginning of the week is a good time to catch up — on numbers, science, trends, and the rare good news (if any) related to the coronavirus disease.
90446: This is the number of Covid-19 cases recorded in India on Saturday, according to the HT dashboard. No country has crossed 80,000 cases a day. India will likely do fewer cases on Sunday — numbers fall off over the weekend in most parts of the world. India also overtook Brazil on Sunday to become the country with the second highest number of Covid-19 cases, after the US. And towards the end of last week, it overtook Mexico to become the one with the third highest number of Covid-19 fatalities. How high is that 90,446 number? According to worldometers.info, it is higher than the total number of cases seen by countries ranked 35 and lower in its listing. As testing increases, India could see a further rise in cases. Purely in terms of the trajectory of the pandemic’s run, India is unique — but it isn’t the kind of distinctiveness of which the country can be proud.
The mink: An earlier instalment of this column (Dispatch 49 on May 8) looked at the animals of the Covid-19 pandemic. One more can now be added to the list — the mink, a relative of the otter and the ferret that is widely farmed across Europe for its fur. There have been outbreaks in mink farms in the Netherlands, Spain, and in Utah in the US. According to a study published on pre-print server bioRxiv, and conducted by researchers from the Erasmus Medical Centre, Rotterdam, genomic studies showed that the workers at the farms passed on the coronavirus disease to minks, which then passed them back to other workers. Already, the Netherlands has moved forward a planned closure of the mink farms set for 2024 to March next year. And about time too — for years, activists have been trying to get governments around the world to do just this. The research from the Netherlands needs to be peer-reviewed, but it merits a much closer look — it suggests that the Sars-CoV-2 virus can jump from humans to animals (anthropozoonotic) and then from animals back to humans (zoonotic).
Tennis, anyone?: Anyone but poor Kristina Mladenovic. Days after she lost a match she should have won at the US Open and spoke of the “nightmare” she was living in and the “abominable way” in which players were being treated — Mladenovic was isolated because she was exposed to an infected player within the bio-bubble — she and her partner, the top seeds in the women’s draw, were disqualified on Saturday. This was after the county where the players’ hotel is located said its rules do not allow her to play in the tournament. The experience with so-called bio-bubbles in sport has been mostly positive. They would appear to have worked in cricket in England and the Caribbean, the Premier League, and also the NBA; but the US Open is clearly having all sorts of trouble with its own. It will be interesting to see how the Indian Premier League’s bio-bubble works. As HT’s sports desk wrote in a recent article: “What makes the IPL different from some of the other bio-bubbles is how spread out it is.” The report pointed out how self-contained the bio-bubbles for the cricket series in England, the Caribbean Premier League, and the NBA have been. In contrast, it said, “the IPL has eight teams camping in different hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and travelling every day for practice”.
The vaccine: The mathematical chances of a vaccine for Covid-19 being developed soon (another topic covered in an earlier instalment of this column, Dispatch 111 on July 22) became stronger through August. At the beginning of September, according to a report in Nature, there were 321 vaccine candidates, with 32 of them in clinical trials. In April, there were only 115 vaccine candidates. But the best news regarding vaccines came in a Friday report by the Wall Street Journal that said some leading vaccine makers were preparing a public pledge that would reaffirm their commitment to following the due process of clinical trials and “not seeking government approval” till they were convinced the vaccines were safe and effective. The companies named in the article include Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna — and the pledge comes against the backdrop of vaccine development becoming increasingly political, leading to fears that governments could rush through with vaccines before they are ready, much like Russia has done with the Sputnik V.