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  1. Coronavirus case confirmed at Samsung's mobile device factory in South Korea Samsung has confirmed that one of its employees working at its mobile device factory in Gumi City, South Korea has been infected with coronavirus. The company says it has already closed that facility and the shutdown will last until Monday. In a press statement, the tech giant announced that other workers who came in contact with the infected employee have been put under self-quarantine. They will also be tested for possible infection. The floor where the infected employee worked has also been shut down until February 25, Tuesday. The Gumi factory is responsible for producing smartphones meant mostly for the domestic market of Samsung. That said, the company will continue operations at its chip and display factories in other parts of South Korea. Coronavirus has disrupted the tech community over the past couple of months, most notably when tech companies such as LG, Nvidia, ZTE, and Ericsson have started withdrawing from the Mobile World Congress that was set to take place in Barcelona later this month. Samsung was also reported to be cutting back on its MWC presence due to safety concerns related to the virus. Eventually, the GSM Association decided to cancel the event entirely following an escalation of "global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak". Source: Coronavirus case confirmed at Samsung's mobile device factory in South Korea (Neowin)
  2. Tickler

    CoronaVirus: News and Updates

    The coronavirus has infected more than 1,700 healthcare workers in China, killing 6 of them As of Friday, 1,716 healthcare workers who were treating patients in China have been infected. Six are dead, National Health Commission Vice Minister Zeng Yixin said at a news conference, according to Reuters. A nurse wrote on Weibo that she is among almost 150 people who work at Wuhan Central Hospital and have either been infected or are suspected to have the coronavirus, CNN found. The nurse added that she holds her breath when her fellow healthcare workers enter the room to check on her, saying, “I’m afraid the virus inside my body will come out and infect these colleagues who are still standing fast on the frontline.” Of the infected medical workers, 1,102 are located in Wuhan alone, and another 400 became ill elsewhere in the Hubei province. Wuhan was the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in December and the threat level skyrocketed for multiple reasons, including a shortage of medical resources to handle the deluge of highly contagious patients.
  3. Mobile World Congress canceled due to coronavirus [Updated] Decision comes after a number of vendors pull out of world's biggest telecom show. Enlarge / MWC in 2017. Ron Amadeo [Update 2:32pm ET, February 12. 2020] Mobile World Congress 2020 (MWC) organizer the GSMA has announced that the annual technology event in Barcelona is canceled this year. Part of the GSMA's statement on the decision says: "Global concern regarding the coronavirus outbreak, travel concern, and other circumstances, make it impossible for the GSMA to hold the event." The cancellation followed news of several major exhibitors backing out due to travel restrictions and concerns related to the coronavirus outbreak in China. See below for details on that developing story. Original story 6:05pm ET, February 10, 2020] Mobile World Congress 2020 (MWC) is supposed to be the biggest week of the year for mobile technology, but the coronavirus public health scare and related travel restrictions have led to a great deal of uncertainty amidst the usual fanfare. Several major tech companies, including Sony, Amazon, LG, Ericsson, and Nvidia, have cancelled plans to appear at the conference, and some, like Samsung, still plan to attend but with a reduced presence. The GSMA was quick to point out, as quoted in the BBC, that the event remains "more than 2,800 exhibitors strong." The announcements have trickled in over the past few days. Many of these companies are usually key players at the event, and while many more companies still plan to attend, this year's show looks like it's going to be very different from what we saw in 2019 or 2018. Organized by the GSMA mobile interest group and held annually in Barcelona, MWC has become arguably the most significant event of the year for the mobile and wireless technology industry. Many mobile companies skip the noise of CES to unveil their plans and do business at this more focused event. This year's event was expected to be a major one: it will open the floodgates for the 5G transition, mobile companies have predicted. In 2019, 109,000 people from 198 countries and territories attended MWC. Six percent of those attendees were from China, and 16 percent were from the wider Asia-Pacific region, according to the GSMA's annual report. Yesterday, the GSMA responded to the back-outs by clarifying the safeguards the organization is taking to protect attendees and exhibitors at MWC. They include a ban on all travelers from China's Hubei province and a requirement for travelers to show proof they've been away from China for the 14 days preceding the event. Additionally, attendees must state that they have not been in contact with any infected persons and subject themselves to temperature screenings. The GSMA will also give "advice" that visitors not shake hands at the event. Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau recently reassured visitors that the city is ready to handle the event in these circumstances. "I would recommend that we listen to the experts, scientists, and health authorities who tell us that the Mobile (World Congress) can go on with complete normality," she said. Catalan Health Minister Alba Vergés was quoted in the GSMA's statement on the subject, saying, "the Catalan health system is prepared to detect and treat coronavirus, to give the most appropriate response, and this must be clear to those attending MWC Barcelona." The coronavirus outbreak's effect on the tech industry is not just about conferences; several companies have placed business travel restrictions on their employees, including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Airbnb, and more. And both Apple and Amazon told investors on their most recent quarterly earnings calls that they are uncertain how severely the outbreak will impact their supply lines in China. There have been numerous reports of key factories for those companies closing or operating with reduced staff. The outbreak is also affecting other industries. The Singapore Airshow has seen some back-outs by major exhibitors, including Lockheed Martin. And in one of many examples for the gaming industry, popular video game PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds saw the postponing of an esports event planned in Berlin. As Ars has previously reported, there are now 40,500 confirmed cases of the virus, and there have been 910 deaths. The majority of the cases occurred in China, and only one death has been confirmed outside of China. Source: Mobile World Congress canceled due to coronavirus [Updated] (Ars Technica)
  4. Coronavirus Is Bad. Comparing It to the Flu Is Worse The whataboutism of infectious disease is as dangerous as it is hackneyed. Photograph: MLADEN ANTONOV/Getty Images There's a deadly virus spreading throughout China right now, but SELF Magazine has a calming message for Americans: "For perspective," the publication tweeted Thursday, "the flu is a bigger threat in the U.S." This was just the latest in an epic run of such comparisons: “The virus killing U.S. kids isn’t the one dominating headlines,” the Daily Beast advised; “Don’t worry about the new coronavirus, worry about the flu,” said Buzzfeed. Even the U.S. Surgeon General has gotten in on this idea. There are as many as 5 million severe cases of flu worldwide each year, and 650,000 deaths; in other words, says Axios, “If you’re freaking out about coronavirus but you didn’t get a flu shot, you’ve got it backwards.” Call it “viral whataboutism.” The appeal to hypocrisy has long been endemic to our political discourse; and in recent years the pox has spread. Now this mutant form of rhetoric has come into discussions of what could be a massive epidemiological threat. Is the new coronavirus something to worry about? Yeah, sure, but so’s the flu… and you don’t seem to care too much about that! For goodness’ sake, stop. Yes, we know the flu is bad—no one likes the flu. But the gambit of positioning the influenza virus as the scarier of two foes is as dangerous as it is hackneyed. During the outbreak of deadly hemorrhagic fever that hit West Africa in 2014, Americans were reassured, again and again, that “Ebola is bad. The flu is worse.” It’s true that Ebola didn’t become a true threat in the United States, where two people returning from Africa with the disease died, and only two cases of new infection were recorded. It’s also true that 148 children in America—and thousands of adults—would die from influenza over the following winter. But these whatabout statistics aren’t really meant to sharpen our vigilance around the flu, or even to encourage us toward higher rates of vaccination. They’re just supposed to calm us down, and make us realize that we needn’t go to pieces over some other, more exotic-sounding disease. Stemming panic can be a righteous goal, especially when that panic is unfounded. Ebola certainly hasn’t vanished from the Earth—a recent outbreak in Congo has infected more than 3,000 people since August. But we now have a vaccine against the illness, and we’re better equipped to quell its spread. In the meantime, panic has unintended, harmful consequences. For example, just in the last week, we learned that the hoarding of face masks by healthy consumers might cause a dangerous shortage for the health workers who need them most. In contrast to Ebola, which was discovered decades ago, the coronavirus strain behind the outbreak that began in China is brand-new to scientists. So far this pathogen has claimed 638 lives, and we simply don’t know how it will behave in weeks and months to come. By telling people not to worry—or that we should worry “more” about the flu—we may end up eroding public trust in the media. What happens if this coronavirus proves much worse than we expected? The Chinese government is already under scrutiny for downplaying the risks. Why would American news outlets want to repeat the error? Even taken on their own terms, the flu comparisons rely on wonky and myopic math. Flu can kill Amercans by the tens of thousands, but that’s because it’s been around so long and has had so much time to spread. Millions get the virus every year, and fewer than 0.1 percent of them perish from it. What’s the rate of death from the new coronavirus? No one can say for certain, but estimates have hovered at around 20 times the rate for influenza, or 2 percent. Some virologists assert this is an overestimate, because milder cases might be getting overlooked; others counter that, given lack of access to diagnostic testing, many deaths may be uncounted. In short, it’s too soon to say. It’s also unclear how efficiently this coronavirus spreads from person to person. The total number of confirmed cases has grown from 282 on Jan. 21 to 31,211 on Feb. 7. It’s possible the spread will slow. Or else it might accelerate. In light of this uncertainty, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to counsel everyone to “get a Grippe” on their concerns. All I’m saying is, I wouldn’t want to have been the person telling people to worry about heart disease instead of the flu in 1918. Before that outbreak was over, it had killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide; and, in the U.S., the number of deaths from respiratory illness surpassed those from heart disease for the first time in a decade. When it comes to disease—and particularly infectious ones—it’s best to avoid pitting pathogens against one another in a sort of “mortality rate Olympics”. Mother Nature doesn’t let us choose, à la carte, which problems to digest and when. It’s more like she’s piling our plates with stuff we didn’t ask for, and then adding to it even though we’re full. I get it—there are enough things to worry about already. Democracy is crumbling, climate change is advancing, children are being held in cages, healthcare is increasingly unaffordable and bills are looming. It’s hard to pile on concern about something that’s happening on the other side of the planet. Still we shouldn’t let ourselves be swindled of our capacity for empathy. As rhetoric, viral whataboutism tends to paper over the suffering of other people. There are more than 50 million people on lockdown at the heart of the new coronavirus epidemic, and hospitals are struggling to keep apace. Tragic stories have been mounting up, like that of the 16-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who died in Hubei province when his father—his sole caregiver—was placed in quarantine. When news articles tell us that we should focus on the flu instead, they tacitly allow us to ignore this suffering in China. When they suggest that the so-called ‘2019nCov’ coronavirus appears to be of greatest threat to the old and already infirm, they encourage us to ignore the plights of people in those groups, and take an ageist and ableist point of view. In fact, scientists are still amassing data to know exactly who is most vulnerable to developing severe disease. Rather than returning time and time again to these flu comparisons, let’s focus on a problem we can fix. The global infrastructure for quelling outbreaks of new pathogens has been weakened by unstable funding: The World Health Organization has said that it needs $675 million to cover the cost of its response plan to the new coronavirus from February through April; and one academic paper notes that the organization’s entire 2018-2019 budget came to about $4.4 billion—just a fraction of the $33 billion annual healthcare and social services budget of Quebec, the Canadian province where I live. (The same paper notes that the WHO’s budget is “less than the budget of many major hospitals in the United States.”) Meanwhile, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is running out of money for global epidemic prevention, and reducing efforts in 39 out of 49 countries. I know, I know: Budget shortfalls are affecting lots of important projects, not just those aimed at preventing epidemics of disease. Some might claim, in this age of whataboutism, that while defunding the CDC is bad, cutting food stamps is worse. But when we play this zero-sum game, we end up shortchanging ourselves. We need to say ‘enough,’ or the whatabouts will never end. Source: Coronavirus Is Bad. Comparing It to the Flu Is Worse (Wired)
  5. “I have the Coronavirus”—two teens arrested for prank at a Walmart Police don't believe the teens were actually infected. Enlarge Alan Schein Photography / Getty A 19-year-old man named Tyler Wallace is in police custody after he entered a Walmart last Sunday in the Chicago suburb of Joliet. He walked through the store wearing a mask and sign that said "I have the coronavirus." He sprayed Lysol on produce, clothing, and other products. According to the Chicago Tribune, he faces charges of disorderly conduct, retail theft, and criminal trespass to property. A 17-year-old friend who accompanied Wallace in the store is also facing charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespass. His case will be handled by juvenile courts. Police don't believe that either teen is actually infected with the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Walmart says it cost $7,300 to replace the produce and another $2,400 to clean up the store after the incident. People in the Chicago area are on high alert over the novel coronavirus since two residents, a wife and husband, have been identified as infected. The wife, who recently traveled to China, transmitted the infection to her husband upon her return. The husband’s case was the first documented instance of person-to-person spread of the virus in the US. There have been a total of 12 confirmed infections in the United States. Globally, more than 31,000 people have been infected with the virus, which has killed at least 630 people. The vast majority of these infections have occurred in China. There are also confirmed infections in neighboring countries—including Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia—as well as Western countries like the United States, Canada, France, and Germany. Source: “I have the Coronavirus”—two teens arrested for prank at a Walmart (Ars Technica)
  6. Face masks are mandatory in at least two provinces in China, including the city of Wuhan. In an effort to contain the coronavirus strain that has caused nearly 500 deaths, the government is insisting that millions of residents wear protective face covering when they go out in public. As millions don masks across the country, the Chinese are discovering an unexpected consequence to covering their faces. It turns out that face masks trip up facial recognition-based functions, a technology necessary for many routine transactions in China. Suddenly, certain mobile phones, condominium doors, and bank accounts won’t unlock with a glance. Complaints are plentiful in the popular Chinese blogging platform Weibo, reports Abacus, the Hong Kong-based technology news outlet. “[I’ve] been wearing a mask everyday recently and I just want to throw away this phone with face unlock,” laments one user. “Fingerprint payment is still better,” writes another. “All I want is to pay and quickly run.” Most complaints are about unlocking mobile devices. Apple confirmed to Quartz that an unobstructed view of a user’s eyes, nose, and mouth is needed for FaceID to work properly. Similarly, Huawei says that its efforts to develop a feature that recognizes partially-covered faces has fallen short. “There are too few feature points for the eyes and the head so it’s impossible to ensure security,” explains Huawei vice president Bruce Lee, in a Jan 21 post on Weibo.”We gave up on facial unlock for mask or scarf wearing [users].” Subverting surveillance cameras Biometrics, including facial recognition, are essential to daily life in China, on a scale beyond other nations. It’s used to do everything from ordering fast food meals to scheduling medical appointments to boarding a plane in more than 200 airports across the country. Facial recognition is even used in restrooms to prevent an occupant from taking too much toilet paper. And beyond quotidian transactions, the technology is a linchpin in the Chinese government’s scheme to police its 1.4 billion citizens. Last December, the government passed a new law that forces anyone registering a new mobile phone SIM card to undergo a face scan, in the stated interest of protecting “the legitimate rights and interest of citizens in cyberspace,” as Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information puts it. The technology is also used in some schools, where a camera records student attendance and can offer predictions about behavior and level of engagement. Hong Kong’s government, incidentally, has been trying to install a “mask ban” for protestors participating in anti-government rallies. The anonymity afforded by surgical masks, gas masks, and respirators has somehow emboldened both police and demonstrators to act aggressively, without fear of being caught on camera. Facial recognition technology that can “see through” disguises already exists, but it’s far from perfect. Researchers at the University of Cambridge and India’s National Institute of Technology, for instance, demonstrated one method that could identify a person wearing a mask with around 55% accuracy. In 2018, Panasonic introduced commercially-available software that can ID people wearing surgical masks if the camera captures images at a certain angle. Despite its widespread adoption across China, it’s ironic that facial recognition technology in general has been found to be less reliable when processing non-white faces, observes Jessica Helfand, author of the new book Face: A Visual Odyssey. “The fact that surveillance is increasingly flawed with regard to facial recognition and Asian faces is a paradox made even more bizarre by the face mask thing,” Helfand says. A recent landmark study by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology revealed a racial bias in algorithms sold by Intel, Microsoft, Toshiba, Tencent, and DiDi Chuxing. It showed that that African Americans, Native Americans, and Asians were 10 to 100 times more likely to be misidentified compared to a Caucasian subject. Source
  7. Outbreak update — Symptomless spread of new coronavirus questioned as outbreak mushrooms The main source of infections is most likely people coughing and sneezing. Enlarge / Information officer wearing protective mask, gloves, and goggle, as prevention of novel coronavirus epidemic, at international arrival gate of Bali Ngurah Rai International Airport in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia on February 4, 2020. Getty | Nur Photo The Chinese businesswoman who spread the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) to four colleagues in Germany while reportedly experiencing no symptoms of the infection actually did have symptoms, according to a news report in Science. The woman’s case, published January 30 in The New England Journal of Medicine, was considered the most clearly documented evidence that the novel viral infection could spread silently from asymptomatic people. Public health experts have been particularly anxious about such transmission because it could potentially ease disease spread and negate outbreak control efforts, including screening travelers for symptoms, such as fever. “The fact that asymptomatic persons are potential sources of 2019-nCoV infection may warrant a reassessment of transmission dynamics of the current outbreak,” the authors of the NEJM article concluded. But that conclusion now appears to be based on false information. And, while the new information on these specific cases doesn’t rule out the possibility that asymptomatic spread has occurred or is occurring in other cases, it could help ratchet down fears that asymptomatic spread is driving the now mushrooming outbreak. Experts at the World Health Organization have said repeatedly that even if asymptomatic spread is occurring, it is likely a minor source of infection; coughing and sneezing people are simply much more likely to spread the virus. Moreover, the corrected version of the NEJM article may highlight a more pressing threat to outbreak control—the fact that all five cases in the cluster were mild and unremarkable amid standard cold and flu season. Missed signs According to the new report in Science, the businesswoman’s 2019-nCoV infection symptoms went unrecognized because they were mild, masked by over-the-counter medications, and—most notably—the authors of the NEJM article didn’t speak with her before the article was published. The woman, a Shanghai resident who had visited Germany from January 19 to 21, tested positive for 2019-nCoV in China on January 26. The other four cases were identified in Germany by January 28, and the case report appeared in NEJM just two days later. Without direct communication with her prior to the publication, the NEJM article’s authors relied on the accounts of her four sickened colleagues in Germany, who said she didn’t seem sick during her visit. But government health officials in Germany were later able to reach the Shanghai woman by telephone. People privy to details of the call told Science that she said she felt tired, had muscle pains, and took a fever-reducer during her visit. Officials at the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the German government’s public health agency, have sent a letter to NEJM informing them of the error in the article, according to an RKI spokesperson who spoke with Science. One of the NEJM authors, Michael Hoelscher of the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich Medical Center, told Science that they should have been clearer about where they had gotten the information about the woman’s symptoms. “If I was writing this today, I would phrase that differently,” he said. Another author on the article, virologist Christian Drosten of the Charité University Hospital in Berlin, said, “I feel bad about how this went, but I don’t think anybody is at fault here. Apparently, the woman could not be reached at first and people felt this had to be communicated quickly.” Drosten went on to say that—despite the correction—the five cases highlight a potentially dangerous feature of this outbreak—that is, that the infection may not be very dangerous. “There is increasingly the sense that patients may just experience mild cold symptoms, while already shedding the virus,” he said. “Those are not symptoms that lead people to stay at home.” Circulating unknowns Indeed, as the outbreak has continued to escalate, experts have noted that the virus appears more contagious than initially thought and that the early outbreak responses focused heavily on identifying the most severe cases, such as those involving pneumonia and respiratory distress. That focus may have potentially missed the spread of mild disease, which may be far more extensive than what is known even now. As of Tuesday morning, there are reports of 20,704 cases worldwide and 427 deaths. According to the World Health Organization’s latest figures, approximately 13.5 percent of cases are severe—though that estimate could change dramatically if many mild cases are missing, which is likely. Of the outbreak cases, a little over 200 are outside of mainland China, scattered in around two dozen countries. Some of those countries have reported limited person-to-person spread, including the United States. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed 11 cases in the country so far, including nine travel-related cases and two cases of person-to-person transmission within the US among close contacts. The first case identified in the US, a 35-year-old in Washington state, has been released from the hospital and is now in isolation at home. The second identified case, a Chicago woman in her 60s, has been described as doing “quite well” and is primarily being hospitalized for isolation purposes. “The look and feel of the exported cases, I think, really support the argument that there’s a lot of mild disease that is not being detected in China at the moment for the very good reason that they just can’t do it,” Dr. Allison McGeer told Stat News recently. McGeer is an infectious diseases researcher at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, who helped respond to other outbreaks of emerging coronaviruses, namely those behind SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). Public health experts and media are now volleying predictions of how the outbreak will play out—whether it will be contained and fizzle out or become a pandemic (that is, with worldwide spread), and whether it could resurge occasionally or join its four common coronavirus cousins in continually circulating among humans. The answer is still unclear, of course, and, for now, the CDC still considers the risk to the general American public to be low. Source: Symptomless spread of new coronavirus questioned as outbreak mushrooms (Ars Technica)
  8. How do we test for coronavirus, anyway? A rundown of the biology behind testing for a virus we hadn't seen before. Enlarge / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield speaks during a press conference about the 2019-nCoV outbreak. Samuel Corum/Getty Images As the recently discovered coronavirus has rapidly spread beyond its origins in China, health authorities around the world have needed to quickly develop testing capabilities. In the United States, that task has been performed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which has published its methodology and is currently in the process of applying for an emergency waiver to allow medical-testing facilities to perform these tests. But if you're not familiar with the tools of molecular biology, the CDC's testing procedure might as well be written in another language. What follows is a description of how to go from an unknown virus to a diagnostic test in less than a month. Starting from nothing When Chinese health authorities were first confronted with the outbreak, it had a disturbing familiarity. They had already dealt with a similar set of symptoms during the SARS outbreak in the early 2000s and had seen the spread of MERS a decade later. Thanks to these and related viruses, we already had a detailed description of the structure of the typical coronavirus genome as early as 2005. That knowledge would undoubtedly prove essential for the first step in developing a rapid diagnostic test: characterization of the genome of the new virus, 2019-nCoV. Because we know what the average coronavirus looks like, we have been able to identify areas that don't change much over the evolution of new members of this family of viruses. And that allows us to obtain sequences of its genome without first isolating the virus. The first challenge of sequencing a coronavirus genome is that it's made of RNA rather than DNA. Most of our tools for working with nucleic acids are specific to DNA. Fortunately, we've discovered an enzyme called "reverse transcriptase" that takes RNA and makes a DNA copy of it—transcription is the copying of DNA into RNA; this enzyme does the opposite, hence the name. (Reverse transcriptase was first identified in other RNA viruses that need to be copied into DNA as part of infection.) Using reverse transcriptase, researchers were able to make DNA copies of parts of 2019-nCoV as a first step to studying its genome. But reverse transcription of samples from infected individuals would simply create a mess of DNA fragments from everything present: the patient's own cells, harmless bacteria, and so on. Fortunately, DNA sequencing and analysis techniques have become so advanced that it's now possible to just sequence the whole mess, irrelevant stuff and all, and let computers sort out what's present. Software is able to take what we know about the average coronavirus genome and identify all of the fragments of sequence that look like they came form a coronavirus. Other software can determine how all these fragments overlap and then stitch them together, producing a near-complete coronavirus genome. At this point, Chinese health authorities recognized that the virus involved in these infections was new, and they rapidly published the virus's genome sequence so that other health organizations could be prepared. From genome to sampling To make a diagnostic test specific to 2019-nCoV, researchers had to look for areas of its genome that don't change rapidly over coronavirus evolution but have changed enough in this branch of the family that they can be viewed as its distinctive signature. Those sequences can be used to design a means of amplifying a piece of the 2019-nCoV genome using a technique called the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. We won't go into all of the technical details of how PCR works, in part because we've already done so. For the purposes of understanding the diagnostic test, all you have to know is that you need to design two small pieces of DNA that match (meaning they can base pair with) two sections of the genome a few hundred base pairs apart. These small pieces of DNA are called "primers." PCR will amplify the section of DNA between the two primers. It does this by putting the DNA through heating and cooling cycles in the presence of enzymes that copy DNA. Each time through the cycle, the enzymes can make two new copies of the section between the primers. Using this process, it's possible to take a stretch of DNA that's extremely rare and produce billions of copies of it. But PCR works with DNA, and the coronavirus is made of RNA. So we need to use reverse transcriptase first before trying to perform PCR. Fortunately, companies have developed solutions that have all the enzymes and raw materials that both reactions need, allowing for coupled reverse transcriptase-PCR reaction mixes. The combination of reactions has been termed RT-PCR. With the right primers, RT-PCR can allow us to start with a chaotic mix or RNA and leave us with a lot of copies of a specific piece of the 2019-nCoV, provided any was present in the original sample. The problem is that PCR is so sensitive that it can also amplify small errors—primers sticking to a distantly related sequence, a distantly related coronavirus in the sample, or even contamination from the previous sample. Even though these errors are rare, the exponential amplification provided by PCR can eventually allow one to dominate the sample. Fortunately, people have devised a way of taking advantage of the rarity of these errors. Get real If the right sequence for the primers is present—meaning 2019-nCoV is present in the sample—amplification will typically start with the very first cycle and grow rapidly. Errors, in contrast, may take a few cycles to occur and amplification therefore lags for a bit. To figure out when 2019-nCoV is really present, we have to identify when the amplification happens quickly and when it lags. We have to observe the progress of the PCR cycles in real time. To do so, scientists developed a dye that only fluoresces if double-stranded DNA is present. As the reaction starts, there's very little of that around, so fluorescence is low. But as more amplifications occur, the glow rapidly rises until there's so much DNA that sensing the difference between cycles becomes impossible. If the amplification starts early, this rise and saturation occurs early; if it depends on an error, then it takes longer to see them. Thus, real-time RT-PCR (RRT-PCR, for those excited about jargon) gives us a way to determine whether a PCR amplification occurs because our sequence of interest is present. (It can also be used to get an estimate of the relative amount of that sequence is present, but that's not needed for this test.) Because this is such an important technique, companies have developed products based around it. You can buy the fluorescent dye, enzymes, etc., as well as a machine that integrates the thermal hardware to cycle the reaction and has a light sensor to monitor the fluorescence. If you wanted to do this yourself, appropriate hardware seems to be available on eBay for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000. Kits aren’t all you need If you look at the CDC's instructions, however, you'll see little discussion of the hardware or enzymes. Instead, you'll find discussion of ways to avoid contamination. If a facility is doing lots of sample testing, there's going to be no shortage of 2019-nCoV DNA around, both from the samples and from the previous PCR reactions. Given the ease with which PCR can amplify rare sequences, this can create the risk of hordes of false positives. So the CDC details reams of best practices, like preparing RT-PCR reaction mixes with a separate set of hardware than that used to handle samples. Another big chunk of instructions involves the details of appropriate controls. Some of those leave out key reaction components like enzymes or sample RNA, in order to make sure that contamination is not producing spurious results. This will tell you whether you should trust positive results. There's also a positive control, to make sure that there isn't something wrong with the reaction mix, thus telling you whether you can trust negative results. That said, the tests aren't going to be definitive. We don't know enough of the virus' lifecycle to know the dynamics of infection yet: how long after infection does the virus become detectable, and when does that compare with the onset of symptoms. It's quite possible that asymptomatic infected people won't have enough virus for this test to pick up the virus consistently. So the CDC is still advising caution with people considered to be at risk of infection. Still, as cases of person-to-person transmission outside China appear to be ramping up, testing without the need to ship samples to CDC headquarters in Atlanta could help significantly with our ability to respond to a rapidly changing outbreak. Source: How do we test for coronavirus, anyway? (Ars Technica)
  9. Coronavirus outbreak sparks first federal quarantine in over 50 years The 195 Americans evacuated from Wuhan are now under 14-day quarantine amid outbreak. Enlarge / A crew member of an evacuation flight of French citizens from Wuhan gives passengers disinfectant during the flight to France on February 1, 2020, as they are repatriated from the coronavirus hot zone. Getty | Hector Retamal The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued the first federal quarantine order in more than 50 years for 195 Americans who were evacuated out of Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak (2019-nCoV) The US citizens will be held under quarantine at the March Air Reserve Base in California, where they arrived from Wuhan on Wednesday, January 29 on an aircraft chartered by the US State Department. They have remained at the base since then. The quarantine will last 14 days from the time that their flight left Wuhan. Fourteen days is considered the likely maximum time of a 2019-nCoV infection incubation period—that is the time between an exposure and onset of symptoms. The decision to issue a quarantine comes amid the continued spread of 2019-nCoV—both within and beyond China. It also comes on the heels of a report that an asymptomatic infected person from China spread the viral illness to a 33-year-old healthy business associate in Germany. Further testing found that three other associates at the same company in Germany had also contracted the infection. All four cases were mild, and the first infected associate, who noticed symptoms on January 24, started feeling better and returned to work on the 27. The report was published yesterday, January 30, in the New England Journal of Medicine. While it’s unclear how often asymptomatic transmission is occurring during this outbreak, the documented case raises concern that such quiet spread may thwart international outbreak control measures. According to the latest figures, the 2019-nCoV outbreak has reached nearly 10,000 cases and 222 deaths. While nearly all of the cases are in China, the disease has spread to nearly a dozen other countries, including the US. Yesterday, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). Don’t be a jerk The CDC would rather be remembered for overreacting rather than under-reacting, Dr. Nancy Messonnier told reporters in a press conference today. Dr. Messonnier is the director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. As such, the agency decided to issue the federal quarantine. It is the first time a federal agency has issued such a quarantine since the 1960s, when one was issued over a smallpox evaluation, the CDC said. The CDC also clarified that a quarantine—cordoning of people who are not yet sick but could potentially become sick—is different from isolation orders for patients who have already been identified as being sick with a concerning infectious disease, which is more common. So far, none of the 195 evacuated citizens have been found to be infected with 2019-nCoV. And for now, the immediate risk to the American public in general remains low, Dr. Messonnier said in the press conference today. As the outbreak stretches on, she cautioned Americans from unnecessarily panicking over the outbreak—such as buying up surgical face masks, which are not completely effective at preventing viral respiratory infections, to protect against a virus that is not currently circulating in the US. Face masks are not recommended during normal cold and flu season, and they’re certainly not recommended now, Dr. Messonnier said. She also warned citizens not to discriminate against any of their fellow Americans of Asian descent. Last, Dr. Messonnier reiterated that the best way for Americans to protect their health and the health of their communities is to continue practicing good hygiene practices during this cold and flu season. That is, get a flu shot, wash your hands with soap and water frequently, don’t touch your face with unwashed hands, cough and sneeze into your elbow, and stay home if you feel ill. Update (1/31/2020, 5:00pm ET): The Trump Administration this afternoon declared the 2019-nCoV outbreak a public health emergency in the US. The Administration announced that beginning February 2, it will enforce mandatory quarantines of up to 14 days for US citizens who recently traveled to the Hubei province, where Wuhan is located. Additionally, the administration will bar entry of non-resident foreign nationals who have traveled to China in the last two weeks and who do not have immediate family in the US. The decision conflicts with the World Health Organization, which does not recommend that countries issue any travel or trade restrictions. Source: Coronavirus outbreak sparks first federal quarantine in over 50 years (Ars Technica)
  10. Airlines in Europe, Asia and North America are cancelling flights to and from China as the novel coronavirus, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has infected at least a few thousand people in China and dozens beyond its borders. Although all 213 deaths from the disease have been limited to China, at least 118 people across 22 different countries have tested positive for the mysterious illness, prompting governments around the world to issue travel advisories and start evacuating their citizens from Wuhan. Chinese authorities have shut down travel in and out of Wuhan and enacted similar, strict transportation restrictions in a number of other cities. The majority of cases outside China are associated with travel to China and of those, the vast majority involve travel to Wuhan, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Which airlines have cancelled flights? British Airways has cancelled all flights to and from Beijing and Shanghai until Feb. 29 following local authorities’ advice against “all but essential travel to mainland China.” Flights to and from Hong Kong will remain unaffected, the airline said. KLM opted to suspend flights to Beijing and Shanghai after this weekend until Feb. 9. The airline had previously announced it would also cancel flights to Chengdu, Hangzhou and Xiamen. On Friday, Delta announced it would temporarily suspend all flights from the U.S. to China starting Feb. 6 and running through April 30. “Between now and Feb. 5, Delta will continue to operate flights to ensure customers looking to exit China have options to do so,” the airline said in a statement. The last China-bound flight from the U.S. will leave Feb. 3. Delta is also issuing travel waivers for flights to, from and through Beijing and Shanghai from Jan. 24 until April 30. American Airlines also announced on Friday that it would suspend all flights to and from the Chinese mainland beginning Friday and running through March 27. On Wednesday the airline had said it would suspend flights between Los Angeles and Shanghai and Beijing from Feb. 9 until Mar. 27, but noted that flights from Dallas-Fort Worth would continue, according to the Associated Press. On Thursday, a union representing American Airlines pilots sued the airline over continued flights between Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and airports in China. The group sought “a temporary restraining order to immediately halt the carrier’s U.S.-China Service.” The lawsuit took issue with the “serious, and in many ways still unknown, health threats posed by the coronavirus, and concerns regarding its continued spread globally.” Lufthansa Group said it would cancel all its flights to mainland China until Feb. 9. Austrian Airlines has said it will suspend flights to and from China until Feb. 9. The airline said Wednesday that it would be flying to destinations in China “for one last time today.” Air Canada has suspended all direct flights to Beijing and Shanghai from Thursday until Feb. 29 following the Canadian government’s advisory to avoid non-essential travel to mainland China. “Affected customers will be notified and offered options, including travel on other carriers where available, or a full refund,” the airline said in a statement. United Airlines will reportedly stop all travel between its hub cities and Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai between Feb. 6 until March 28. The airline has also issued travel waivers for customers who intended to travel to Wuhan and other destinations in China. Cathay Pacific said Tuesday that it will be “progressively reducing the capacity” of its flights to and from mainland China “by 50% or more” from Jan. 30 until the end of March. Rebooking, refunding and rerouting charges will be waived for any tickets issued on or before Tuesday involving trips arriving to or departing from mainland China between Jan. 28 and Mar. 31. Air India has cancelled flights to Shanghai from Jan. 31 to Feb. 14. and said that a maximum of seven flights between New Delhi and Hong Kong will only occur on three days within the same time period. The airline said that cancellation charges for travel to and from Shanghai and Hong Kong on Air India Flights is “waived off with immediate effect till further notice.” Finnair has also cancelled all flights to mainland China between Feb. 6 and Feb. 29, allowing time next week for customers to fly back if they want to. It has also canceled all its flights to Guangzhou and suspended flights to and from Nanjing and Beijing between Feb. 5 and March 29. “In order to allow Finnair customers who are currently traveling to return home to Europe and China, Finnair will operate flights between its Helsinki hub and its mainland China destinations until February 6,” the airline said, adding it would allow customers to change their travel date. South Korean budget carrier Seoul Air has also halted all flights to China and Indonesia’s Lion Air has said it will do the same, according to the AP. Indonesia’s Lion Air said it canceled more than 50 flights to China into February. The AP also reports that Hong Kong airlines is cutting the number of flights to the Chinese mainland by about half, Air Seoul is suspending its flights to mainland Chinese destinations and Singapore-based Jetstar Asia is cutting down on flights to and from China. What are the new coronavirus travel restrictions and advisories? Several Asian countries have tightened their borders to prevent disease spreading from China. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said Thursday that Russia would be closing its land border with China from Friday until at least March 1, the Associated Press reported Hong Kong announced Tuesday that it would deny entry to individual travelers from mainland China, dramatically expanding a ban that had previously applied only to visitors from Hubei province, which includes the city of Wuhan. The semi-autonomous city also stated that it would sharply reduce cross-border transit, shutting down rail and ferry service to China, halving flights and decreasing tour buses. Several border checkpoints will also close in what Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam termed a “partial shutdown” during a live streamed press conference. The measures went into effect Thursday. Singapore banned the entry and transfer of travelers holding passports issued by China’s Hubei province from Wednesday onwards. Mongolia’s official news agency has said the country closed border crossings with China on Monday, according to the AP. The U.S. State Department escalated a travel advisory warning for Hubei province to level four on Friday, advising visitors not to travel to the province because of the coronavirus. On Monday, a level three advisory to “reconsider travel” was issued for any travel to China in general. “All options for dealing with infectious disease spread have to be on the table, including travel restrictions but diseases are not terribly good at respecting borders,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said at a press conference on Wednesday. Asked whether the U.S. State Department is considering banning travel to China, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Wednesday that authorities are closely monitoring for changes that could warrant changing current travel advisories, “including banning travel,” the Washington Post reported. Britain, Canada and New Zealand have advised against all travel to Hubei province and non-essential travel to the rest of mainland China. India issued an advisory to avoid any non-essential travel to China. Hong Kong urged residents not to travel to Hubei province and said, “If it is unavoidable to travel to Hubei, put on a surgical mask and continue to do so until 14 days after returning to Hong Kong.” France strongly recommended postponing all travel to Wuhan and Hubei province, as well as any non-essential travel to China. Finland recommended that citizens avoid non-essential travel to Hubei, according to local media. Australia advised residents not to travel to Hubei province and to “reconsider your need to travel” to China in general. Some companies, including major tech corporations, have warned their employees to stay clear of China, too. Facebook said it had asked employees to stop any non-essential travel to mainland China and called for staff to work from home if they recently traveled to the country, according to Reuters. McDonald’s has suspended locations across five cities in Hubei province and Starbucks has also shut some cafes in the country, Bloomberg News reports. How effective are travel advisories and restrictions? It’s important to distinguish between travel advisories and bans in responding to the novel coronavirus, experts say. Travel advisories to avoid outbreak zones and non-essential travel to at-risk areas “make a lot of sense,” says Amesh A. Adalja, an infectious disease expert at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Adalja notes that a widespread outbreak in which people cannot freely move “crosses a threshold where you want to tell people that they need to know” if they’re considering travel to the region. “There may be difficulties getting back out of there, there may be issues with exposure to infection and then getting health care in that area,” Adalja says. But travel bans can “make situations worse,” Adalja notes. “It’s going to isolate a population, it’s going to create public animosity, it’s going to create stigma and it’s going to make it much harder to get resources to an outbreak zone or to allow people to get to those zones as well as out of those zones.” Countries may initiate travel bans for political reasons as opposed to scientific ones, he says, adding that, “It is something that people often clamor for any time there’s any type of outbreak.” Vincent Racaniello, a virologist and professor of microbiology & immunology at Columbia University, agrees that a “travel ban in this case is uncalled for” based on the severity of the virus. Racaniello adds that travel restrictions “probably played a big role in eventually stopping” the SARS outbreak but is skeptical about how useful they can be in relation to this new coronavirus outbreak in which infected people with little to no symptoms appear to be passing on the disease. With SARS, most cases were more easily diagnosed as symptoms were more severe, he explains. Racaniello is unsure about whether travel restrictions will have much of an effect on the new coronavirus as “people are still moving around.” The virus “may end up entrenched as another respiratory virus in the human population, kind of like influenza is,” Racaniello says. “If it gets in every country of the world in significant numbers then we might not be able to get rid of it like we did with SARs.” As countries independently started issuing advisories and a range of travel restrictions, the World Health Organization has said international coordination may be necessary to contain the outbreak, while also minimizing the impact on international trade and travel. “194 countries implementing unilateral measures based on their own individual risk assessment is a potential recipe for disaster,” said Michael Ryan, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, at a press conference on Wednesday. On Thursday, the WHO declared the outbreak a global public health emergency. How to protect yourself while traveling Although there is currently no vaccine to prevent infection from the coronavirus, individuals can take precautions to avoid exposure to the virus, according to the CDC. They include washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, staying home when you are sick, avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and cleaning frequently touched objects and surfaces. The CDC also lays out extra precautions for commercial airline crews, advising that they frequently wash their hands and treat all body fluids as if they are infectious when managing a sick traveler. The agency says that employees should minimize contact with any sick person and offer a face mask to the infected person, if possible. The CDC recommends avoiding non-essential travel to China but for those who choose to go, the agency recommends avoiding contact with sick people, discussing the trip with their healthcare provider and avoiding animals, animal markets and raw meat. Adalja says there is “nothing specific a person needs to do” when flying besides practicing the same hygiene they would to protect themselves from influenza and other respiratory viruses, which are more likely to be present than the new coronavirus. “I do not recommend people wear masks routinely,” he says, adding that it would be unnecessary and unproductive for people in countries not facing a significant risk of community spread, like the U.S., to do so. Source
  11. First person-to-person transmission of coronavirus reported in the United States A patient who traveled to China passed the virus to her husband View of St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates, Illinois on January 24, 2020 where a Chicago woman affected by the coronavirus is treated in isolation. Photo by DEREK R. HENKLE/AFP via Getty Images The first case of person-to-person transmission of the new coronavirus has been confirmed in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The husband of a female patient with confirmed coronavirus in Chicago, Illinois tested positive for the virus. The risk to the general public in the US and in Illinois remains low, the CDC said in a press call today. “CDC experts have expected to identify some person-to-person spread in the US,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield. There are now six confirmed cases of the virus in the US. As of January 29th, 92 people are being tested for the virus. Sixty-eight people who were under investigation in the US have tested negative. In China, the coronavirus has passed between individuals since December, but the majority of cases outside of China have been in patients who had recently traveled there. A handful of people, though — in Germany, Japan, Vietnam, and now the US — were infected by other people outside of China. During outbreaks of diseases, health officials hope to break the chain of illness by keeping sick people from infecting others. Although one case of person-to-person transmission in the US does not mean that the virus is circulating freely, it does mean that cases are no longer confined to people who traveled to the center of the outbreak. Over 8,000 people worldwide have confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, and the vast majority are in China. There have been 171 deaths. The new patient was being monitored by the Illinois Department of Public Health after his wife tested positive for coronavirus last week. She is believed to have contracted the disease during a recent trip to China. When her husband started experiencing symptoms, he was admitted to the hospital and placed in isolation. Both husband and wife are in their 60s and remain hospitalized. Public health officials are tracking his close contacts, and Illinois currently has 21 patients under investigation. The two patients were in very close contact for an extended period of time, and health officials believe that the female patient was symptomatic when she passed on the virus. Source: First person-to-person transmission of coronavirus reported in the United States (The Verge)
  12. World Health Organization declares global public health emergency over coronavirus outbreak There are over 8,000 confirmed cases of the virus spread across nearly two dozen countries World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images The ongoing coronavirus outbreak is a global health emergency, the World Health Organization determined today. Since it started last month, the virus’s spread has reached nearly two dozen countries, sickened thousands, and impacted both travel and business around the world. “The main reason is not because of what is happening in China, but because of what is happening in other countries,” said Tedros Adhanom, director general of the WHO, in a press conference today. “Our greatest concern is the potential for the virus to spread to other countries with weaker health systems, which are ill prepared to deal with it.” The WHO defines a global emergency — formally, a Public Health Emergency of International Concern — as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.” This is the sixth declared in the past decade. Despite the emergency declaration, the WHO is not recommending any restrictions on travel or trade at this time. Countries should implement evidence-based public health policies, combat misinformation, share data, and work together to stop the spread of the virus, Adhanom said. The WHO also called for an acceleration in efforts to develop vaccines and treatments, and stressed that support be given to countries with weak health systems which might not be able to cope with the virus. The International Health Regulations Committee at the WHO is tasked with examining the evidence around an ongoing public health crisis and recommending that an emergency be declared. The committee met twice last week, and both times were split fifty-fifty on whether to recommend an emergency declaration. At that time, committee members who did not want to declare a global emergency said there weren’t enough cases outside of China to warrant it. The committee has now decided to recommend that an emergency be declared because of an increased number of cases, an increased number of countries affected, and news of “questionable” measures taken against travelers in some countries, said committee chair Didier Houssin during the press conference. Declaring a global health emergency gives the director general of the WHO the power to offer recommendations that could prevent the spread of a disease, like travel advisories or restrictions, and allow them to review public health measures in place in affected countries. The recommendations are just recommendations, but there’s pressure on countries to follow them. Source: World Health Organization declares global public health emergency over coronavirus outbreak (The Verge)
  13. By Eileen Yu for By The Way Singapore evokes online falsehoods law while Malaysia makes arrests in their attempts to stem the spread of inaccurate reports concerning the coronavirus. Both Singapore and Malaysia have moved to clamp down on inaccurate online reports about the coronavirus, with the latter making several arrests of individuals for posting and sharing such content. Singapore also vows to take "swift action" against the spread of such reports. The Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) on Wednesday said it, alongside the Royal Malaysia Police, had conducted four separate raids that resulted the arrest of four individuals suspected of posting and distributing false reports about the outbreak, which had affected several nations in the region. Three of the detainees allegedly had uploaded inaccurate information on Facebook, while the fourth had shared such content on Twitter. MCMC added that smartphones, SIM cards, and memory cards believed to have been used to upload the content were confiscated during teh raids. Detained under Malaysia's Communications and Multimedia Act, Section 233, for sharing offensive and menacing content, the four individuals--if found guilty--would face fines of up to RM50,000 ($12,247) or imprisonment of up to a year, or both. They also would be fined an additional RM1,000 ($244.93) for each day the alleged falsehood remained online after their conviction. The arrests had followed another on Tuesday when an individual in Selangor was detained for allegedly posting falsehoods about the virus on Facebook. The MCMC said it would continue to step up enforcement efforts, alongside the police, to "control the spreading of false news". Meanwhile, Malaysia's southern neighbour evoked its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) twice this week over false statements made about the coronavirus. Singapore's Minister for Health on Monday instructed the POFMA Office to issue a General Correction Direction to SPH Magazines, which operates the HardwareZone forum, over a post on the forum that falsely claimed a man had died in Singapore from the virus. A General Correction Direction is issued to internet intermediaries, telecom and broadcast licensees, and permit holders of the country's Newspaper Printing Presses Act, requiring them to publish, broadcast, or transmit a correction notice to their users in Singapore. Under the directive, HardwareZone was required to carry a correction notice to anyone in Singapore who accessed its online forum. A day later on Tuesday, the Minister for Transport instructed the POFMA Office to issue a Targeted Correction Direction to Facebook over falsehoods made by two users of the social media site, who falsely stated Woodlands MRT station was closed for disinfection due to a suspected case of the coronavirus. Such directives were issued to internet intermediaries which services were used to communicate falsehoods that affected public interest. They required these sites to communicate correction notices, by means of its service, to all users in Singapore who accessed the falsehood through its service. In this instance, Facebook had to carry a correction notice on the two posts that contained the falsehood, according to the POFMA Office. Commenting on the POFMA directive involving HardwareZone, Singapore's Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran noted that more than 4,600 unique visitors had read the false report before it was taken down. "We must take swift action against such falsehoods [or] there is a grave risk they will spread and cause panic among our citizens," Iswaran said. "And that is why we have POFMA and we will not hesitate to use the powers under the law to take action against any party that spreads such falsehoods." He added that the objective was to ensure Singaporeans were provided with the facts to enable them to safely browse online platforms and distinguish truth from falsehoods. The Singapore government last week ordered local access to a website, operated by Malaysia-based Lawyers for Liberty, blocked for failing to comply with a correction directive issued under the POFMA. In response, the human rights group would not comply with the correction notice order and, instead, filed a motion in Kuala Lumpur's High Court against Singapore's Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam. The lawsuit claimed the Singapore government was attempting to "encroach upon" freedom of speech in Malaysia. Under the POFMA, offenders faced up to three or five years' imprisonment, a SG$30,000 or SG$50,000 fine, or both. If bots or inauthentic accounts were used to amplify falsehoods, the potential penalties that could be applied would be doubled. Offending internet intermediaries, meanwhile, could face up to SG$1 million fine, and also would receive a daily SG$100,000 fine for each day they continued to breach the Act after conviction. Source
  14. On Friday morning, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that a second person in the US had been diagnosed with the Wuhan coronavirus. The woman travelled to Wuhan, China, at the end of December and returned to Chicago on January 13. The announcement of her diagnosis came three days after a man in Washington state contracted the virus. Public-health officials in the US are monitoring at least 63 additional patients from 22 states. Although the CDC considers this coronavirus (whose scientific name is 2019-nCoV) to be a serious public-health concern, the agency said in a statement Friday that "the immediate health risk from 2019-nCoV to the general American public is considered low at this time." A graver health risk for Americans – not just right now, but every year – is the flu. Since October, up to 20,000 people in the US have died of influenza. The coronavirus, meanwhile, has infected about 914 people worldwide and killed 26. "When we think about the relative danger of this new coronavirus and influenza, there's just no comparison," William Schaffner, a vaccine expert at Vanderbilt University Medical Centre, told Kaiser Health News (KHN). "Coronavirus will be a blip on the horizon in comparison. The risk is trivial." Tens of thousands of Americans die of flu every year At least 15 million Americans have caught the flu in the last four months; nearly a quarter million of them went to the hospital. Since flu season peaks between December and February, the worst could be still to come. "Influenza rarely gets this sort of attention, even though it kills more Americans each year than any other virus," Peter Hotez, a virologist at Baylor College of Medicine, told KHN. In 2018, which brought the worst flu season in about 40 years, 80,000 people in the US died of the illness. The flu is not just a US problem, of course. According to the World Health Organisation, seasonal influenza viruses infects between 3 million and 5 million people worldwide annually, and kills up to 650,000 per year. Comparing the flu and the Wuhan coronavirus Both the flu and the coronavirus can be transmitted from person to person via coughing and other close contact. So far, experts report that the median age of those who have died from the Wuhan coronavirus is around 75. Many of these individuals had other health issues like high blood pressure, diabetes, and Parkinson's disease. According to Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer at Healix International, children, elderly people, pregnant women, and those who are immuno-compromised are more susceptible to the Wuhan coronavirus' severest complications. "The people who are likely to die at first will be people who have other illnesses," he told Business Insider. "But as it spreads, it will pick up more people like flu does – people in their 30s, 40s, who are otherwise good and well but unfortunately get ill," Hyzler's added. His firm offers risk-management solutions for global travellers. The CDC, meanwhile, is far more concerned about protecting people in the US from the flu. Between 5 percent and 20 percent of nearly 400 million Americans get the flu every year. "It is currently flu and respiratory disease season, and CDC recommends getting vaccinated, taking everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs, and taking flu antivirals if prescribed," the agency said in a statement Friday. The coronavirus doesn't have a vaccine A key difference between the flu and the Wuhan coronavirus, however, is that the former has a vaccine. "Simply having the choice about whether or not to receive a flu shot can give people an illusion of control," Schaffner told KHN. (The seasonal flu vaccine is never perfect, however. It was about 29 percent effective last year among Americans.) Fewer than half of US adults got a flu shot during the 2018-19 season, according to the CDC. Only 62 percent of children received the vaccine. Because the Wuhan virus is new, experts have not had time to develop a vaccine. "If Wuhan were to explode, a vaccine best-case scenario is three-quarters of a year, if not longer," Vincent Munster, a virologist at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, told Business Insider. Several companies, including Moderna, Novavax, and Inovio, have announced preliminary vaccine development plans. But vaccine development has historically been an arduous, multi-year process (the Ebola vaccine took 20 years to make). None of the companies provided expected timelines to get their vaccines to market. The coronavirus outbreak isn't considered a pandemic China has quarantined Wuhan and 11 other cities to stop the virus' spread, though cases have been reported in nine other countries, including the US, France, and Japan. The outbreak isn't considered a pandemic, however. The World Health Organisation has so far not declared it a global public-health emergency either. "Familiarity breeds indifference," Schaffner said. "Because it's new, it's mysterious, and comes from an exotic place, the coronavirus creates anxiety." Aria Bendix contributed reporting for this story. source
  15. China locks down 35M people as US confirms second coronavirus case It’s an emergency in China, but not yet for the rest of the world, WHO says. Enlarge / SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JANUARY 24: Disinfection workers wearing protective gear spray anti-septic solution in a train terminal amid rising public concerns over the spread of China's Wuhan Coronavirus at SRT train station on January 24, 2020 in Seoul, South Korea. Getty | Chung Sung-Jun An outbreak of a never-before-seen coronavirus continued to dramatically escalate in China this week, with case counts reaching into the 800s and 26 deaths reported by Chinese health officials. To try to curb the spread of disease, China has issued travel restrictions in the central city of Wuhan, where the outbreak erupted late last month, as well as many nearby cities, including Huanggang, Ezhou, Zhijiang, and Chibi. Hundreds of flights have been cancelled, and train, bus, and subway services have been suspended. Collectively, the travel restrictions and frozen public transportation have now locked down an estimated 35 million residents in the region. So far, all of the outbreak-related deaths and nearly all of the cases have been in China, but the viral illness has appeared in travelers in several other countries. That includes Japan, South Korea, Thailand, and the US. This morning (January 24), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that a second US case has been identified in Chicago. The case is a woman in her 60s who had recently traveled to Wuhan. She is said to be doing well and is in stable condition in a local hospital. She is mainly being kept in the hospital for quarantine purposes, officials said. The first US case was identified January 21 in Washington state. The CDC reported this morning that officials have closely monitored people who have had contact with that Washington patient and, so far, none have shown signs of infection. Public health officials in Chicago are now identifying and monitoring people who had contact with the second patient. The US—and countries around the globe—have stepped up monitoring of travelers from Wuhan. Airline passengers arriving in the US from Wuhan are being funneled to five US airports (San Francisco (SFO), New York (JFK), Los Angeles (LAX), Atlanta (ATL), and Chicago (ORD)), where they are undergoing entry screening, looking for fever and other symptoms. In both of the confirmed US cases, the travelers arrived in the US prior to screening and did not have symptoms while traveling. The current rough estimate for the incubation time for the virus—that is, from the time of exposure to the development of symptoms—is two weeks. Low risk, so far The rapid rise in severity and scope of the outbreak has stoked fears of a devastating pandemic and revived memories of the deadly outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in 2003, which was also caused by a coronavirus. But health officials closely monitoring the epidemiological data have determined that—so far—the outlook is far less dire. On Thursday, an emergency committee convened by the World Health Organization determined that the outbreak does not yet constitute a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” “Make no mistake. This is an emergency in China,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a press conference. “But it has not yet become a global health emergency.” The committee will reconvene in the coming days to reassess, though. And Dr. Tedros (who goes by his first name) added that “it may yet become” a global emergency. Likewise, the CDC said this morning that while the situation is evolving rapidly, the risk to the US population is currently low. There are some key features of this outbreak that have led to those determinations and given public health experts a little comfort. For one thing, the majority of illnesses have been mild so far. And the reported deaths linked to the outbreak have mainly been in older individuals who had underlying health conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Also, while person-to-person transmission of the virus has been confirmed, WHO officials say that the virus appears to mainly be hopping between people who have had close contact—that is, to family members and medical staff, not, say, people passing by in public settings, such as an airport. The mild cases and limited transmission so far are hopeful signs that the outbreak can be controlled and the death toll will remain low. That said, with novel viruses such as this—which likely jumped from an animal to humans in a live animal market in Wuhan—the virus can continue to evolve, and the situation can change quickly. Infectious unknowns For that reason, WHO and the CDC are “erring on the side of caution” and taking the situation very seriously. There are also many things we don’t yet know about the coronavirus, including where it came from, how easily it can spread from person to person, and the full scope of the clinical features of those infected. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause everything from mild to deadly infections in people and a variety of animals. Several coronaviruses already regularly circulate in humans and cause common respiratory illnesses that are mild to moderate. There are also the notorious members of the family that cause deadly infections, including a strain the causes SARS and one that causes MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.) Because the new virus can cause relatively mild respiratory infections, it’s possible—if not likely—that cases have gone undetected, particularly as the outbreak has arisen amid cold and flu season. The new virus can cause nondescript respiratory symptoms, including fever, cough, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing. Mild cases could easily be mistaken for influenza or a common cold, including ones caused by established coronaviruses. Flu activity is currently high in the US, according to the CDC. So far this season, the agency estimates that flu has caused 15 million to 21 million illnesses, resulting in up to 250,000 hospitalizations and 20,000 deaths—and that’s in the US alone. While the WHO and others have come up with preliminary estimates of the transmission rate of the new coronavirus virus, those early estimates may be wildly off given the uncertainty of the case counts and clinical features of the illnesses. For now, officials at WHO expect that the case count will continue to climb. The CDC said it fully expects that several more cases will be detected in the US and that the infection may spread to travelers’ close contacts on US soil. The CDC recommends that people avoid unnecessary travel to Wuhan and adhere to standard hygiene practices, such as washing your hands frequently and covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Source: China locks down 35M people as US confirms second coronavirus case (Ars Technica)
  16. World Health Organization says it’s too early to declare global emergency over new coronavirus The WHO stressed that it is taking the outbreak seriously The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that it’s too early to declare an international public health emergency in response to the rapid spread of a new coronavirus from China. The virus is in the same viral family as SARS, which circulated throughout the world in 2002 and 2003. There are currently over 500 confirmed cases in five countries of the virus, which causes fever and respiratory distress, and 17 confirmed deaths, according to data cited during the press conference. Other sources have reported over 650 confirmed cases and 18 deaths. “Make no mistake, this is, though, an emergency in China. But it has not yet become a global health emergency. It may yet become one,” said Tedros Adhanom, director general of the WHO, in a press conference today. “The fact that I’m not declaring a [global health emergency] today should not be taken as a sign that the WHO does not think the situation is serious or is not taking it seriously.” The virus poses a high risk within China and globally, he said. The WHO defines a global emergency, formally known as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), as “an extraordinary event which is determined to constitute a public health risk to other States through the international spread of disease and to potentially require a coordinated international response.” The process for declaring this kind of emergency was put in place after the SARS outbreak. Five have been declared in the past decade: swine flu (2009), Ebola outbreaks in West Africa (2014) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (2019), Zika (2016), and polio (2014). The International Health Regulations Committee, which examines evidence around outbreaks and recommends if they should be declared PHEICs, first met yesterday. The committee was split fifty-fifty and could not reach a decision. Committee members were split down the same lines today. Those who do not believe that the outbreak has reached the level of a PHEIC cited the limited number of cases abroad and the aggressive efforts of Chinese officials to contain the virus, said committee chair Didier Houssin during the press conference. “Declaring PHEIC is an important step in the history of an epidemic,” Houssin said. “The perception of this declaration by the international community and in the most affected country for the people who are presently struggling with the virus certainly has to be considered.” The WHO said that every country should be prepared to deal with cases of the virus. It is not recommending any additional restrictions on travel or trade. Source: World Health Organization says it’s too early to declare global emergency over new coronavirus (The Verge)
  17. Could China's New Coronavirus Become a Global Epidemic? Scientists are racing to understand just how bad things could get with a pneumonia-like disease that first appeared in China and has now spread to the US. Photograph: Jason Lee/Reuters What began in mid-December as a mysterious cluster of respiratory illnesses has now killed at least six people, sickened hundreds more, and spread to five other countries, including the US. On Tuesday, American health officials confirmed the nation’s first case of the novel coronavirus: a Washington man hospitalized outside of Seattle last week with pneumonia-like symptoms. According to reports, he had recently traveled to Wuhan, but he says he did not visit the seafood market believed to be at the center of the outbreak. The case adds to the mounting evidence that the virus is able to spread from person to person. Last week, the World Health Organization warned such transmission appeared possible. Newly released data makes it seem nearly certain. On Monday, Chinese authorities reported a sharp uptick in confirmed cases—from a few dozen to nearly 300, including more people like the US patient who’ve had no contact with the market in Wuhan. On Wednesday, the WHO will decide whether to declare the outbreak an international public health emergency. The question on their minds: “Just how bad could this thing get?” If you’re asking yourself the same thing right now, you’ll be relieved to know it’s probably not pandemic bad. “The only agent that can do that, that we know of today, is influenza,” says Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Coronaviruses just don’t have pandemic potential. At most, they can cause multiple, geographically localized outbreaks. But how big and deadly those outbreaks might get is still a puzzle waiting to be put together. And unfortunately, the information essential to assembling it—to understanding what the virus catchily labeled 2019-nCoV will do next—is only starting to trickle in. Is it going to spread hot and fast like its deadly SARS-causing cousin? Or will it lie low in an animal reservoir, periodically popping out to cause a few dozen deaths each year, like the related virus that causes MERS? Scientists who’ve analyzed the DNA of patients say it’s too soon to tell. Trevor Bedford is an infectious disease biologist at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center who has built open-source software to track emerging diseases using genetic data. When he plugged in 15 viral genomes released by Chinese and Thai health authorities, he discovered almost no mutations between them. The viruses inside each patient split off from a common ancestor in November 2019. That likely means one of two things: The virus is spreading rapidly in animals in Wuhan and repeatedly crossing over to humans; or animals infected humans once or twice and it is now spreading rapidly among humans. “The DNA can’t distinguish those two scenarios,” says Bedford. “Only epidemiological data or DNA from the reservoir animal can.” Although technologies have advanced considerably since SARS killed nearly 800 people in 2003, figuring out how new diseases spread is still an exercise in shoe-leather epidemiology. It all comes down to identifying new cases, interviewing patients, tracking down anyone they came in contact with, and then monitoring the heck out of them. Only then can you start plotting cases over time to see the shape and scope of an epidemic. None of that’s out there yet. “We don’t even know what the incubation period is or how lethal it is at this point,” says Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist who studies emerging diseases at UCLA. So far, Chinese health authorities have followed 988 people who’ve come into contact with infected patients in Wuhan, cleared 739 of them, and are still monitoring 249, according to official reports. They have yet to share information about individual cases with the rest of the world—essential details such as what their age and sex are, when they started developing symptoms, what they might have been exposed to, and what condition they’re currently in. That information could be vital to assessing the mortality risk factors associated with 2019-nCoV, says Maia Majumder, a public health researcher at the Computational Health Informatics Program based out of Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital. “Then we could analyze what makes people who die from the infection different from the ones that recover.” Lacking this data, researchers can only make vague estimates of the virus’s fatality. The math is pretty simple: Divide the number of deaths by the number of people known to have died or survived. It can be tempting to include hospitalized individuals, but because their outcomes are unknown, they can provide a false sense of security. In Wuhan, six out of 258 infected people have died. Doesn’t seem so bad. But if you exclude the 227 patients who are still hospitalized—who may yet die or survive—now you have a 19 percent death rate. Is that closer to the real death rate? Hard to say. The point is, it’s all just guesses if you only have case numbers at this point in an outbreak. At least one piece of the puzzle is starting to come to light, according to Osterholm. On Monday, a Chinese health official confirmed that 14 healthcare workers have tested positive for 2019-nCoV, and indicated that all 14 of them were infected by a single patient. If true, it suggests the presence of a “super-spreader,” someone who sheds huge amounts of the virus, infecting lots of people at once. “That would be a major amplification, much more akin to what we saw with SARS,” says Osterholm. Where there’s one super-spreader, he says, there are likely others. Still, he’s much less worried about a major 2019-nCoV outbreak on American soil than he is about what happens if things get worse in China, where the US has offshored much of its drug and medical supply manufacturing. If those industrial centers get shut down amidst tightening public health measures, or supply chains get quarantined, the result could be major drug shortages for Americans. “That’s what really scares me right now,” says Osterholm. Source: Could China's New Coronavirus Become a Global Epidemic? (Wired)
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