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UK scientist: Week earlier lockdown could have halved deaths

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 6/11/2020

LONDON — A scientist whose modeling helped set Britain’s coronavirus strategy said Wednesday that the country’s death toll in the pandemic could have been cut in half if lockdown had been introduced a week earlier.

Britain has the world’s second-highest number of confirmed COVID-19 deaths, at more than 41,000. Including cases where the coronavirus was suspected but not confirmed by a test, the total is more than 50,000 people dead.

Neil Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, told lawmakers that when key decisions were being made in March, scientists underestimated how widely the virus had spread in Britain.

He told a Parliament committee that “the epidemic was doubling every three to four days before lockdown interventions were introduced,” rather than the five to six days estimated at the time.

Ferguson said that “had we introduced lockdown measures a week earlier, we would have reduced the final death toll by at least a half.”

He also said the death toll would have been lower if residents of nursing homes had been shielded from infection, something that didn’t happen effectively enough.

On March 16, Ferguson and colleagues published a paper suggesting that even with some social-distancing measures, the UK could see 250,000 virus-related deaths and the United States a death toll of about 1 million. Ferguson predicted those figures could more than double in both countries in a worst-case scenario.

The following day, Prime Minister Boris Johnson advised Britons to work from home, if possible, and to avoid unnecessary social gatherings. A nationwide lockdown followed on March 23.

Asked at a government news conference whether mistakes had been made, Johnson said “at the moment it’s simply too early to judge ourselves.”

Associated Press

EU accuses Beijing of disinformation campaign

BRUSSELS — The European Union on Wednesday accused China of a concerted effort to spread disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, lumping it with the Kremlin as a global scofflaw seeking to sow divisions in European societies.

It was the European Union’s highest-level and most forceful criticism yet of the way Beijing has handled its messaging about the pandemic. The bloc, along with individual European capitals, has been struggling to strike a balance between the United States and China, two rivals that are increasingly at odds on a range of security and diplomatic issues, including the pandemic response.

China moved aggressively to capitalize on EU disunity in the first weeks after the pandemic hit Europe, rushing supplies and specialists to Italy and amplifying a message to Italians that Europeans were not showing solidarity with them. Later, the website of the Chinese Embassy in France made false claims that workers at homes for the elderly had abandoned their posts and left residents to die.

European and US policymakers have long accused Russia of specific and strategic efforts to use false or misleading information to exploit divisions within democratic societies and promote its own interests. But until the pandemic, they had not accused China of such a campaign.

Wednesday’s announcement was not confined to Russia and China: Disinformation from the White House also made a cameo. In a fact sheet about the new EU initiatives, officials noted that one example of disinformation was a ‘‘false claim’’ such as ‘‘drinking bleach of pure alcohol can cure the coronavirus infections.’’

That passage did not call out President Trump by name. He had suggested, falsely, during a White House briefing in April that bleach injections might be an effective way to kill the coronavirus.

Washington Post

Vaccine developers chasing outbreaks in ex-hot spots

LONDON — The top teams rushing to develop coronavirus vaccines are alerting governments, health officials, and shareholders that they may have a big problem: The outbreaks in their countries may be getting too small to quickly determine whether vaccines work.

A leader of the Oxford University group, one of the furthest ahead with human trials, admits the reality is paradoxical, even ‘‘bizarre,’’ but said the declining numbers of new infections this summer could be one of the big hurdles vaccine developers face in the global race to beat down the virus.

Even as new cases are growing worldwide, transmission rates are falling in Britain, China, and many of the hardest-hit regions in the United States — the three countries that have experimental vaccines ready to move into large-scale human testing in June, July, and August.

The shrinking number of new infections in former hot spots is good news, of course. But vaccine developers need sufficient numbers of infected people, with and without symptoms, circulating in the general population to test whether the vaccine protects volunteers when they are exposed.

If there’s not much chance of volunteers running into someone with the virus, researchers will have to expand their efforts and potentially chase down outbreaks in other countries, delaying the prospect of a successful vaccine.

Washington Post

India surge continues with nearly 10,000 cases a day

NEW DELHI — The number of coronavirus cases in India continued to rapidly increase Wednesday, with officials reporting nearly 10,000 new cases over the past 24 hours.

The spike has come as the government moves forward with reopening restaurants, shopping malls, and religious places in most of its states after a more than two-month-old lockdown.

The government has already partially restored train services and domestic flights and allowed shops and manufacturing to reopen. Subways, hotels, and schools and colleges, however, remain shuttered nationwide.

The Health Ministry on Wednesday reported a 24-hour increase of 9,985 cases and 274 deaths.

India has recorded 276,583 positive cases, the fifth-highest in the world, and 7,745 deaths.

Associated Press

Ukraine’s backlog of babies born to surrogates eases

KYIV, Ukraine — For weeks, more than 100 foreign genetic parents of babies born to surrogate mothers in Ukraine have been waiting nervously, prevented by Ukraine’s coronavirus restrictions from entering the country to pick up their newborns.

But the government has been granting some exemptions, and Wednesday, having gone through a mandatory quarantine, 11 couples from Argentina and Spain were joyously united with their newest family members. It was a first step in whittling down a backlog of babies born into Ukraine’s surrogate motherhood industry during the pandemic that some officials have said could swell to as many as 1,000.

So far, 120 genetic parents of 125 babies have asked for assistance with travel, and 31 couples have arrived, including the 11 who met their babies Wednesday, according to Lyudmila Denisova, Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman.

The US Embassy in Kyiv said in a statement Wednesday that it had assisted 11 American parents with travel to Ukraine, with three more scheduled to arrive next week.

With permissive legislation, high-quality private maternity hospitals, and an abundance of poor women, Ukraine has in recent years become the leading country providing surrogacy services to foreigners, industry executives and women’s rights advocates say.

New York Times


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