On 22 June 1918, the Manchester Guardian reported that a flu epidemic was moving through the British Isles. It was noted to be ‘by any means a common form of influenza’. Eventually, it took the lives of more than 50 million people around the world.
In a special episode of our Science Weekly podcast to mark the Guardian’s 200th anniversary, Nicola Davis looks back on the 1918 flu pandemic and how it was reported at the time. Speaking to science journalist Laura Spinney, and ex-chief reporter at the Observer and science historian Dr Mark Honigsbaum, Nicola asks about the similarities and differences to our experiences with Covid-19, and what we can learn for future pandemics.
From one Martin to another, this is Martin Belam in London picking up the blog for the next few hours. Reuters have a quick blast on real world data from South Korea about the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines.
Data by the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) showed that in people over 60 the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was 89.7% effective in preventing infection at least two weeks after a first dose was given, while the AstraZeneca shot was 86.0% effective.
Its analysis is based on more than 3.5 million people in South Korea aged 60 and older for two months from 26 February and included 521,133 people who received a first dose of either shot. There were 1,237 Covid-19 cases in the data and only 29 were from the vaccinated group, the KDCA said.
“It is shown that both vaccines provide a high protection against the disease after the first dose. People should get full vaccinations according to recommended schedule, as the protection rate will go up further after a second dose,” it said.
“Around 95% of people who died from the coronavirus in our country were senior citizens aged 60 or older, and the vaccines will sharply lower risks for those people,” health ministry official Yoon Tae-ho told a briefing.
The findings come as South Korea seeks to drum up participation in its immunisation drive after reports about potential safety issues discouraged some people from getting vaccinated.
A study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the rate of births per woman fell to 1.6 last year, which is well below the 2.1 required for a generation to replace itself.
The rate has been trending downwards for more than 10 years but it is thought that anxiety about the economic impact of Covid has contributed to the biggest fall in the birth rate since the early 1960s.
You can read the full story on one of the possible long-term impacts of the pandemic here:
On a lighter note, a town in Japan has used Covid relief funds to pay for a statue of a giant squid.
Britain’s successful vaccination programme and staggered reopening out of lockdown has provided genuine grounds for optimism in tackling the pandemic, writes our science editor, Ian Sample.
But he argues that with fatalities and infections continuing to fall, the next step is crucial, especially persuading more young people to get vaccinated.
Many young people won’t be fully vaccinated until later in the year, but it is crucial to get high coverage in these age groups, not only to reduce the chances of infections reaching more vulnerable people, but to spare the younger people themselves from the risk of severe disease or the debilitating impact of long Covid.
Meanwhile, the blame game has begun in India over whether the IPL, the world’s richest competition, should ever have gone ahead at all given the rise in cases since the new year.
Anand Vasu, a cricket writer based in Bangalore, argues that cricket chiefs ignored warninsg that their “bio-bubble” system would not work.
India deaths rise by record 3,780
Deaths in India from Covid rose by a record 3,780 in the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed, while daily infections rose by 382,315.
It comes a day after India followed the United States by passing 20 million infections as the virus continues to squeeze the world’s second-most populous nation in its grip.
Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has been widely criticised for not acting sooner to suppress the second wave of the virus amid a severe shortage of hospital beds, oxyden and ventilators to treat the disease.
Religious festivals and political rallies have attracted tens of thousands of people in super spreader events. India’s opposition has called for a nationwide lockdown, but the government is reluctant to impose a shutdown for fear of the economic fallout.
Hong Kong will lift its ban on flights from the UK and Ireland this week, if the local coronavirus situation and other “relevant overseas places” does not change, our correspondent in Taiwan, Helen Davidsonreports.
The ban on incoming flights has been in place since December, when it was announced suddenly in response to the virulent strain emerging in the UK. It left a number of Hongkongers stranded in the UK.
Late on Tuesday the government said it would resume the flights this Friday “after having considered the stabilising local epidemic situation and the relatively satisfactory vaccination rate in the UK and Ireland”.
Travelers must obtain a negative Covid-19 test before boarding and another on arrival at Hong Kong airport, before being sent to the 21-night hotel quarantine.
The government statement said:
Considering that the epidemic situation is still unstable in the existing extremely high-risk places such as India, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Brazil and South Africa, the Government will continue to restrict people who have stayed in those places from boarding a flight for Hong Kong.
Hong Kong has kept its borders closed to non-residents since early in the pandemic, and has on occasion banned flights from particular hot spots, or suspended particular airlines who have brought in passengers who test positive on arrival.
On Wednesday a DNA specialist told Hong Kong Today the government should consider going further, by enacting an Australian-style cap on the number of arrivals.
Dr Gilman Siu from the Department of Health Technology and Informatics at Polytechnic University told local radio he was concerned about an impending travel bubble with Singapore, and proposed relaxations of quarantine measures.
“I think we should consider limits on how many people can return to Hong Kong, because we are getting more and more imported cases, and more would be hard for the quarantine hotels. The quarantine hotels are not hospital.”
New South Wales, the largest state in Australia, has recorded its first Covid case for a month, health officials said.
It is understood that the case, a man in his 50s living in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, has not travelled overseas in recent times and he does not work in a hotel quarantine, border or health role.
The source of the infection is being investigated urgently and contact tracing is underway.
Tokyo could face extended lockdown – reports
Tokyo could be be placed under extended lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus less than three months before the city hosts the Olympic Games, according to local media reports.
The Japanese capital and other cities including Osaka and Kyoto were placed into emergency lockdown on 25 April and were expected to emerge from restrictions next Tuesday, 11 May.
But Yomiuri newspaper reports today that it could be extended when the prime minister Yoshihide Suga meets key ministers today.
The total number of Covid-19 deaths in Japan recently passed 10,000 – the highest in the region – while media reports said the number of people with severe Covid-19 symptoms reached a record 1,050 at the weekend.
Good morning/afternoon/evening wherever you are. I’m Martin Farrer and welcome to our live coverage of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Here are some of the main developments from the the past few hours to get you up to speed with what is going on:
Japan is considering extending the lockdown currently in place in Tokyo and other cities, according to Japanese media. The capital city is under a 17-day state of emergency until next Tuesday along with along with Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo. But prime minister Yoshihide Suga will meet ministers today to discuss an extension, the Yomiuri newspaper reported.
The rightwing, anti-lockdown leader of Spain’s Madrid region has won a snap election dominated by the coronavirus pandemic. Isabel Díaz Ayuso has won popularity as Madrid became one of the few large European cities in Europe that has kept bars, restaurants and theatres open since the national lockdown ended in June 2020.
Australia’s prime minister said the country’s controversial “pause” on flights to India is working, with case numbers in its quarantine holding centre falling. Scott Morrison’s comments came as the UN said the ban raised “serious human rights” issues. The policy revents Australians returning home from India, enforced with the threat of fines and even jail time.
Surge testing is not being carried out in England for coronavirus variants first detected in India, despite the government claiming it would be deployed, the Guardian has learned.
Brazil’s president ignored warnings that his Covid response would lead to a disaster, a parliamentary inquiry has heard. A former health minister said Jair Bolsonaro had understood that ignoring scientific advice could cause death on an “enormous scale”.