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Thursday, 12 December

In Wuhan, health officials start investigating patients with viral pneumonia. They eventually find that most patients have visits to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in common. The market is known for being a sales hub for poultry, bats, snakes, and other wildlife animals.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Li Wenliang (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Wenliang), a 34-year-old ophthalmologist from Wuhan, posts a message on a WeChat group alerting fellow doctors to a new disease at his hospital in late December. He writes that seven patients have symptoms similar to SARS and are in quarantine. Li askes his friends to inform their families and advises his colleagues to wear protective equipment.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

The Wuhan police announce that they are investigating eight people for spreading rumors about a new infectious diseases outbreak (see 30 December).

The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reports 27 patients with viral pneumonia and a history of exposure to the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market. Seven patients are critically ill. The clinical manifestations of the cases were mainly fever, a few patients had difficulty breathing, and chest radiographs showed bilateral lung infiltrative lesions. The report says that the “disease is preventable and controllable”. WHO is informed.

Thursday, 1 January

The Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market is shut down.

Friday, 3 January

Li Wenliang is summoned to a local public security office in Wuhan for “spreading false rumours”. He is forced to sign a document where he admits having made “false comments” and “disrupted social order.” Li signs a statement agreeing not to discuss the disease further.

On the Weibo social network, Wuhan police say they have taken legal action against people who “published and shared rumors online”, “causing a negative impact on society”. The following day, the information is taken up by CCTV, the state television. CCTV does not specify that the eight people accused of “spreading false rumors” are doctors.

Sunday, 5 January

WHO alerts that 44 patients with pneumonia of unknown etiology have been reported by the national authorities in China. Of the 44 cases reported, 11 are severely ill while the remaining 33 patients are in stable condition. https://www.who.int/csr/don/05-january-2020-pneumonia-of-unkown-cause-china/en/

Tuesday, 7 January

Chinese officials announce that they have identified a new coronavirus (CoV) from patients in Wuhan (pre-published 17 days later: https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2001017 ). Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. In humans, the most common coronaviruses (HCoV-229E, -NL63, -OC43, and -HKU1) continuously circulate in the human population; they cause colds, sometimes associated with fever and sore throat, primarily in the winter and early spring seasons. These viruses are spread by inhaling droplets generated when infected people cough or sneeze, or by touching a surface where these droplets land and then touching one’s face.

Sunday, 12 January

The genetic sequence of the new coronavirus has been made available to WHO. Laboratories in different countries start to produce specific diagnostic PCR tests. (The Chinese government reports that there is no clear evidence that the virus passes easily from person to person.)

Two days after starting coughing, Li Wenliang (see 30 December) is hospitalized. He will later be diagnosed with COVID.

Monday, 13 January

Thailand reports the first case outside of China, a woman who had arrived from Wuhan. Japan, Nepal, France, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Thailand and South Korea report cases over the following 10 days.

Saturday, 18 January

The Medical Literature Guide Amedeo (www.amedeo.com) draws the attention of 50,000+ subscribers to a study from Imperial College London, Estimating the potential total number of novel Coronavirus cases in Wuhan City, China, by Imai et al. The authors estimate that “a total of 1,723 cases of 2019-nCoV in Wuhan City (95% CI: 427 – 4,471) had onset of symptoms by 12th January 2020”. Officially, only 41 cases were reported by 16th January.

Monday, 20 January

China reports three deaths and more than 200 infections. Cases are now also diagnosed outside Hubei province (Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen). Asian countries begin to introduce mandatory screenings at airports of all arrivals from high-risk areas of China.

Thursday, 23 January

In a bold and unprecedented move, the Chinese government puts tens of millions of people in quarantine. Nothing comparable has ever been done in human history. Nobody knows how efficient it will be.

All events for the Lunar New Year (starting on January 25) are cancelled.

WHO declares that the outbreak does not yet constitute a public emergency of international concern as there is “no evidence” of the virus spreading outside of China.

Friday, 24 January

At least 830 cases have been diagnosed in nine countries: China, Japan, Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, Nepal, and the United States.

Zhu et al. publish their comprehensive report about the isolation of a novel coronavirus which is different from both MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV (full-text: https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2001017). They describe sensitive assays to detect viral RNA in clinical specimens.

Wang et al. publish the clinical features of 41 patients (full-text: doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30185-9).

Chan et al. describe a familial cluster of pneumonia associated with the 2019 novel coronavirus indicating person-to-person transmission (full-text: doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30154-9).

Saturday, 25 January

The Chinese government imposes travel restrictions on more cities in Hubei. The number of people affected by the quarantine totals 56 million.

Hong Kong declares an emergency. New Year celebrations are cancelled and links to mainland China restricted.

Thursday, 30 January

The WHO declares coronavirus a global emergency. In the meantime, China reports 7,711 cases and 170 deaths. The virus has now spread to all Chinese provinces.

Friday, 31 January

Li Wenliang publishes his experience with Wuhan police station (see 3 January) with the letter of admonition on social media. His post goes viral.

India, the Philippines, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Japan, Singapore, the US, the UAE and Vietnam confirm their first cases.

Sunday, 2 February

The first death outside China, of a Chinese man from Wuhan, is reported in the Philippines. Two days later a death in Hong Kong is reported.

Thursday, 6 February

Li Wenliang, who was punished for trying to raise the alarm about coronavirus, dies. His death sparks an explosion of anger, grief and demands for freedom of speech: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/feb/07/coronavirus-chinese-rage-death-whistleblower-doctor-li-wenliang.

Friday, 7 February

Hong Kong introduces prison sentences for anyone breaching quarantine rules.

Monday, 10 February

Amedeo launches a weekly Coronavirus literature service which would later be called Amedeo COVID-19.

Tuesday, 11 February

Less than three weeks after introducing mass quarantine measures in China, the number of daily reported cases starts dropping.

The WHO announces that the new infectious disease would be called COVID-19 (Coronavirus disease 2019).

Wednesday, 12 February

On board the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Yokohama, Japan, 175 people are infected with the virus. Over the following days and weeks, almost 700 people will be infected onboard.

Wednesday, 19 February

Iran reports two deaths from the coronavirus.

At the San Siro stadium in Milan, the Atalanta soccer team from Bergamo wins the Champions League match against Valencia 4 to 1 in front of 44,000 fans from Italy (2,000 from Spain). The mass transport from Bergamo to Milan and return, hours of shouting as well as the following festivities in innumerable bars have been considered by some observers as a coronavirus ‘biological bomb’.

Thursday, 20 February

A patient in his 30s admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) in Codogno Hospital (Lodi, Lombardy, Italy) tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Over the next 24 hours, the number of reported cases would increase to 36, without links to the Codogno patient or previously identified positive cases. It is the beginning of the Italian epidemic. jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2763188

Sunday, 23 February

Venice Carnival is brought to an early close and sports events are suspended in the most-hit Italian regions.

Monday, 24 February

France, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Oman report their first cases.

Tuesday, 25 February

A report of a joint mission of 25 international and Chinese experts is presented to the public. The mission travelled to several different Chinese provinces. The most important findings are that the Chinese epidemic peaked and plateaued between the 23rd of January and the 2nd of February, and declined steadily thereafter (Table 1).

https://www.who.int/publications-detail/report-of-the-who-china-joint-mission-on-coronavirus-disease-2019-(covid-19)

This was the first sign that the aggressive use of quarantine ordered by the Chinese government was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, European countries which did not experience the SARS epidemic in 2003, would lose precious time before following the Chinese example.

 

Figure 1. COVID-19 cases in China, January/February 2020. Epidemic curves by symptom onset and date of report on 20 February 2020 for laboratory confirmed COVID-19 cases for all of China. Modified from Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). 16-24 February 2020. https://www.who.int/publications-detail/report-of-the-who-china-joint-mission-on-coronavirus-disease-2019-(covid-19)

Wednesday, 26 February

A president, fearing for his chances to be re-elected, downplays the threat from the coronavirus pandemic, twittering: “Low Ratings Fake News…are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible.”

https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m941

Two days later, the same individual invokes magic: “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

Friday, 28 February

A quick look at European cases diagnosed outside of Italy from February 24-27 reveals that 31 of 54 people (57%) had recently travelled to Northern Italy. Epidemiologists immediately realize that an unusual situation is building up and inform the Italian government.

Saturday, 7 March

Official data show that China’s exports plunged 17.2 percent in the first two months of the year.

Sunday, 8 March

The Italian government led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, deserves credit for instauring the first European lockdown, just two and a half weeks after the first autoctone Italian COVID-19 case was detected. First, strict quarantine measures are imposed on 16 million people in the state of Lombardy and 14 other areas in the north. Two days later, Conte would extend these to the entire country of 60 million people, declaring the Italian territory a “security zone”. All people are told to stay at home unless they need to go out for “valid work or family reasons”.  Schools are closed.

Monday, 9 March

Iran releases 70,000 prisoners because of the coronavirus outbreak in the country.

Tuesday, 10 March

Xi Jinping tours the city of Wuhan and claims a provisional victory in the battle against COVID-19. The last two of 16 temporary hospitals in the city are shut down.

Wednesday, 11 March

WHO declares the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

All schools in and around Madrid, from kindergartens to universities, are closed for two weeks.

Thursday, 12 March

Italy closes all shops except grocery stores and pharmacies.

In Spain, 70,000 people in Igualada (Barcelona region) and three other municipalities are quarantined for at least 14 days. This is the first time Spain adopts measures of isolation for entire municipalities.

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, announces the closure of nurseries, schools and universities from Monday, 16 March. He declares: “One principle guides us to define our actions, it guides us from the start to anticipate this crisis and then to manage it for several weeks, and it must continue to do so: it is confidence in science. It is to listen to those who know.” Some of his colleagues should have listened, too.

Friday, 13 March

The prime minister of an ex-EU country introduces the notion of ‘herd immunity’ as a solution to repeated future episodes of coronavirus epidemics. The shock treatment: accepting that 60% of the population will contract the virus, thus developing a collective immunity and avoiding future coronavirus epidemics. The figures are dire. With a little over 66 million inhabitants, some 40 million people would be infected, 4 to 6 million would become seriously ill, and 2 million would require intensive care. Around 400,000 Britons would die. The prime minister projects that “many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time.”

Saturday, 14 March

The Spanish government puts the whole country into lockdown, telling all people to stay home. Exceptions include buying food or medical supplies, going to hospital, work or other emergencies.

The French government announces the closure of all “non-essential” public places (bars, restaurants, cafes, cinemas, nightclubs) after midnight. Only food stores, pharmacies, banks, tobacconists and petrol stations may remain open.

Sunday, 15 March

France calls 47 million voters to the poll. Both government and opposition leaders seem to be in favor of maintaining the municipal elections. Is this a textbook example of unacceptable interference of party politics with the sound management of a deadly epidemic? Future historians will have to investigate.

Monday, 16 March

Ferguson et al. publish a new modelling study on likely UK and US outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the (unlikely) absence of any control measures or spontaneous changes in individual behaviour, the authors expect a peak in mortality (daily deaths) to occur after approximately 3 months. This would result in 81% of the US population, about 264 million people, contracting the disease. Of those, 2.2 million would die, including 4% to 8% of Americans over age 70. More important, by the second week in April, the demand for critical care beds would be 30 times greater than supply.

The model then analyzes two approaches: mitigation and supression. In the mitigation scenario, SARS-CoV-2 continues to spread at a slow rate so as to avoid a breakdown of hospital systems. In the suppression scenario, extreme social distancing measures and home quarantines would stop the spread of the virus. The study also offers an outlook at the time when strict “Stay at home” measures are lifted. The perspective is grim: the epidemic would bounce back.

France imposes strict confinement measures.

Tuesday, 17 March

Seven million people across the San Francisco Bay Area are instructed to “shelter in place” and are prohibited from leaving their homes except for “essential activities” (purchasing food, medicine and other necessities). Most businesses are closed. The exceptions: grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants (for takeout and delivery only), hospitals, gas stations, banks.

Thursday, 19 March

For the first time since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, there have been no new cases in Wuhan and in the Hubei province.

Californian Governor Gavin Newsom orders the entire population of California (40 million people) to “stay at home”. Residents can only leave their homes to meet basic needs like buying food, going to the pharmacy or to the doctor, visiting relatives, exercising.

Friday, 20 March

Italy reports 6,000 new cases and 627 deaths in 24 hours.

In Spain, the confinement due to the coronavirus reduces crime by 50%.

China reports no new local coronavirus cases for three consecutive days. Restrictions are eased, normal life resumes. The entire world now looks at China. Will the virus spread again?

The state of New York, now the center of the U.S. epidemic (population: 20 million), declares a general lockdown. Only essential businesses (grocers, restaurants with takeout or delivery, pharmacies and laundromats) will remain open. Liquor stores? Essential business!

Monday, 23 March

Finally, too late for many observers, the UK puts in place containment measures. They are less strict than those in Italy, Spain and France.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel self-quarantines after coming into contact with a person who tested positive for coronavirus.

Tuesday, 24 March

Off all reported cases in Spain, 12% are among health care workers.

The Tokyo Olympics are postponed until 2021.

India orders a nationwide lockdown. Globally, three billion people are now in lockdown.

Wednesday, 25 March

After weeks of stringent containment measures, Chinese authorities lift travel restrictions in Hubei province. In order to travel, residents will need the “Green Code” provided by a monitoring system that uses the AliPay app.

A 16-year-old girl dies in the south of Paris from COVID-19. The girl had no previous illnesses.

Thursday, 26 March

The US is now the country with most known coronavirus cases in the world.

For fear of reactivating the epidemic, China bans most foreigners from entering the country.

Friday, 27 March

The Prime Minister and the Ministre of Health of an ex-EU country tests positive for coronavirus.

The Lancet publishes COVID-19 and the NHS—“a national scandal”

A paper by McMichael et al. describes a 33% case fatality rate for SARS-CoV-2 infected residents of a long-term care facility in King County, Washington, US.

Sunday, 29 March

The Guardian publishes an article asking if US coronavirus deniers have blood on their hands. The SARS-CoV-2 epidemic is the worst intelligence failure in US history.

Monday, 30 March

Flaxman S et al. from the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team publish new data on the possibly true number of infected people in 11 European countries. Their model suggests that as of 28 March, in Italy and Spain, 5.9 million and 7 million people could have been infected, respectively (see Table online). Germany, Austria, Denmark and Norway would have the lowest infection rates (proportion of the population infected). These data suggest that the mortality of COVID-19 infection in Italy could be in the range of 0.4% (0.16%-1.2%). Find more details on page 53.

Moscow and Lagos (21 million inhabitants) go into lockdown.

The COVID-19 crisis causes some East European political leaders to consider legislation giving them extraordinary powers. In one case, a law was passed extending a state of emergency indefinitely.

SARS-CoV-2 is spreading aboard the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt. The ship’s commanding officer, Captain Brett Crozier, sends an email to three admirals in his chain of command, recommending that he be given permission to evacuate all non-essential sailors, to quarantine known COVID-19 cases, and sanitize the ship. “We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die,” writes Crozier in his four-page memo. The letter leaks to the media and generates several headlines. Three days later, 2 April, Captain Crozier is sacked.

Later, testing of 94% of the crew of roughly 4,800 people would reveal around 600 sailors infected, a majority of whom, around 350, were asymptomatic.

Wednesday, 1 April

The United Nations chief warns that the coronavirus pandemic presents the world’s “worst crisis” since World War II.

Thursday, 2 April

Worldwide more than one million cases are reported. The true number is probably much higher (see the Flaxman paper on 30 March).

European newspapers run articles about why Germany has so few deaths from COVID-19.

Friday, 3 April

Some economists warn that unemployment could surpass the levels reached during the Great Depression in the 1930s. The good news: almost all governments rate saving tens or hundreds of thousands of lives higher than avoiding a massive economic recession. Has humanity become more human?

Le Monde, the most influential French newspaper, points to a more mundane side effect of the epidemic. As hairdressers are forbidden to work, colors and cuts will degrade. The newspaper predicts that “after two months, 90% of blondes will have disappeared from the face of the Earth”.

Saturday, 4 April

In Europe, there are signs of hope. In Italy, the number of people treated in intensive care units decreases for the first time since the beginning of the epidemic.

In France, 6,800 patients are treated in intensive care units. More than 500 of these have been evacuated to hospitals from epidemic hotspots like Alsace and the Greater Paris area to regions with fewer COVID-19 cases. Specially adapted TGV high-speed trains and aircraft have been employed.

 

Figure 2. Patients treated in intensive care units in Italy. For the first time since the beginning of the epidemic, the number decreases on 4 April.
Souce: Le Monde

 

Lombardy decides that as of Sunday 5 April, people must wear masks or scarves. Supermarkets must provide gloves and hydroalcoholic gel to their customers.

An Italian politician, less penetrable to scientific reasoning on a par with some of his colleagues in the US and Brazil, asks for churches to be open on Easter (12 April), declaring that “science alone is not enough: the good God is also needed”. Heureux les simples d’esprit, as the French would say.

Sunday, 5 April

The US surgeon general warns the country that it will face a “Pearl Harbor moment” in the next week.

US is the new epicenter of the COVID-19 epidemic. By the time of this writing (5 April), more than 300,000 cases and almost 10,000 deaths were reported. Almost half were reported from New York and New Jersey.

Tuesday, 7 April

Air quality improves over Italy, the UK and Germany, with falling levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide. Will a retrospective analysis of the current lockdown reveal fewer cases of asthma, heart attacks and lung disease?

Wednesday, 8 April

Japan declares a state of emergency, Singapore orders a partial lockdown.

In Wuhan people are allowed to travel for the first time since the city was sealed off 76 days ago.

Thursday, 9 April

EU finance ministers agree to a common emergency plan to limit the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the European economy. The Eurogroup reaches a deal on a response plan worth more than €500 billion for countries hit hardest by the epidemic.

Passenger air travel has decreased by up to 95%. How many of the 700 airlines will survive the next few months? Will the current interruption of global air travel shape our future travel behaviors?

The epidemic is devastating the US economy. More than 16 million Americans have submitted unemployment claims in the past three weeks.

Friday, 10 April

COVID-19 treatment for one dollar a day? British, American and Australian researchers estimate that it could indeed cost only between 1 and 29 dollars per treatment and per patient. There reasoning (see also our Treatment chapter on page 161): ‘Repurposing’ existing drugs to treat COVID-19 is vital to reducing mortality and controlling the pandemic. Several promising drugs have been identified and are in various stages of clinical trials globally. Among these are remdesivir, an antiviral tested unsuccessfully against Ebola, the lopinavir/ritonavir treatment for HIV and hydroxychloroquine. If the effectiveness of a treatment is demonstrated, “rapid, mass availability at an affordable cost would be essential to ensuring equity and access especially amongst low- and middle-income economies”, write the authors.

The results in detail: Minimum estimated costs of production were US $0.93/day for remdesivir, $1.45/day for favipiravir, $0.08/day for hydroxychloroquine, $0.02/day for chloroquine, $0.10/day for azithromycin, $0.28/day for lopinavir/ritonavir, $0.39/day for sofosbuvir/daclatasvir and $1.09/day for pirfenidone. Costs of production ranged between $0.30 and $31 per treatment course (10–28 days).

Hill A, Wang J, Levi J, Heath K, Fortunatk J.  Minimum costs to manufacture new treatments for COVID-19. J Virus Erad 2020. Full-text: http://viruseradication.com/journal-details/Minimum_costs_to_manufacture_new_treatments_for_COVID-19/

 

Message from your mobile phone: “You have been in contact with someone positive for coronavirus.” Google and Apple announce that they are building a coronavirus tracking system into iOS and Android. The joint effort would enable the use of Bluetooth technology to establish a voluntary contact-tracing network. Official apps from public health authorities would get extensive access to data kept on phones that have been in close proximity with each other (George Orwell is turning over in his grave). If users report that they’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, the system would alert people if they were in close contact with the infected person.

Spain discovers COVID Reference. Within 24 hours, more than 15,000 people download the PDF of the Spanish edition. The only explanation: a huge media platform displayed the link of our book. Does anyone know who did it?

Figure 3. Google Analytics data for www.CovidReference.com on 10 April. At one moment, more than 500 people, mostly from Spain, were visiting the website simultaneously.

 

Saturday, 11 April

More than 400 of 700 long-term care facilities (EHPAD in French, Etablissement d’Hébergement pour Personnes Agées Dépendantes) in the greater Paris region (pop. – 10 million) have COVID-19 cases.

In Italy, 110 doctors and about 30 other hospital workers have died from COVID-19, half of them nurses.

Sunday, 12 April

Easter 2020. Italy reports 361 new deaths, the lowest number in 25 days while Spain reports 603 deaths, down more than 30% from a high 10 days before.

 

Figure 4. Daily number of COVID-19 deaths in Italy (red) and Spain (blue).

 

The United Kingdom records its highest daily death toll of almost 1,000. The number of reported COVID-19-linked fatalities now exceeds 10,000. As in many other countries, the true numbers may be slightly higher due to underreporting of people dying in care homes.

The number of COVID-19-related deaths in the United States passes 22,000, while the number of cases tops 500,000. In New York there are signs that the pandemic could be nearing its peak.

Monday, 13 April

The COVID-19 pandemic exposes bad governance, not only in Brazil. The French newspaper Le Monde reveals the ingredients: denial of reality, search for a scapegoat, omnipresence in the media, eviction of discordant voices, political approach, isolationism and short-term vision in the face of the greatest health challenge in recent decades. The culprit?

Emmanuel Macron announces announces a month-long extension to France’s lockdown. Only on Monday, May 11, nurseries, primary and high schools would gradually reopen, but not higher education. Cafés, restaurants, hotels, cinemas and other leisure activities would continue to remain closed after May 11.

Tuesday, 14 April

Austria is the first European country to relax lockdown measures.  It opens up car and bicycle workshops, car washes, shops for building materials, iron and wood, DIY and garden centers (regardless of size) as well as smaller dealers with a customer area under 400 square meters. These shops must ensure that there is only one customer per 20 square meters. In Vienna alone, 4,600 shops are allowed to open today. Opening times are limited to 7.40 a.m. to 7 p.m.  The road-map for the coming weeks and months:

  • 1 May: All stores, shopping malls and hairdressers reopen (see also the April 3 entry, page 32).
  • 15 May: Other services such as restaurants and hotels remain closed at least until mid-May.
  • 15 May or later: Possible re-opening of classes in schools.
  • July: possible – but improbable – organization of events of all sorts (sport, music, theater, cinema etc.).

There is a general obligation to wear a mask when shopping and on public transport.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts a contraction of 3% of the planet’s GDP in 2020. The possibility of an even more brutal fall in 2021 is not excluded. The possibly worst economic downturn since the Great Depression in 1929 will not spare any continent. In a recession like no other in peacetime for nearly a century, the countries of the euro zone, the United Kingdom and the United States might see a contraction in activity of between 5.9% and 7.5%. China’s economy is expected to grow by about 1%.

US: The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that more than 9,000 health care workers contracted COVID-19 as and at least 27 died. The median age was 42 years, and 73% were female. Deaths most frequently occurred in HCP aged ≥65 years.

Wednesday, 15 April

Philip Anfinrud and Valentyn Stadnytsky from the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, report a laser light-scattering experiment in which speech-generated droplets and their trajectories were visualized. They find that when a test person says, “stay healthy,” numerous droplets ranging from 20 to 500 µm are generated. When the same phrase is uttered three times through a slightly damp washcloth over the speaker’s mouth, the   flash (droplet) count remains close to the background level. The video supports the recommendation of wearing face masks in public. The authors also found that the number of flashes (droplets) increased with the loudness of speech. The new message for billions of people caught in the COVID-19 epidemic: lower your voice!

Anfinrud P, Stadnytskyi V, Bax CE, Bax A. Visualizing Speech-Generated Oral Fluid Droplets with Laser Light Scattering. N Engl J Med. 2020 Apr 15. PubMed: https://pubmed.gov/32294341. Full-text: https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMc2007800

Friday, 17 April

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the former Brazilian president says that the current president is leading Brazil to “the slaughterhouse” with his irresponsible handling of coronavirus. In an interview with The Guardian, Lula says that Brazil’s “troglodyte” leader risks repeating the devastating scenes playing out in Ecuador where families have to dump their loved ones’ corpses in the streets.

On the French aircraft carrier Charles-de-Gaulle, a massive epidemic was confirmed on 17 April. Among the 1760 sailors, 1,046 (59%) were positive for SARS-CoV-2, 500 (28%) presented symptoms, 24 (1.3%) sailors were hospitalized, 8 on oxygen therapy and one in intensive care.

Saturday, 18 April

Care England, Britain’s largest representative body for care homes, suggests that up to 7,500 residents may have died of COVID-19. This would be higher than the 1,400 deaths estimated by the government.

In Italy, 131 doctors have died from COVID.

In Catalunya alone, some 6,615 hospital professionals and another 5,934 in old age care homes are also suspected of having or been diagnosed with COVID-19.

Sunday, 19 April

Figure 5. Daily number of COVID-19 deaths in Germany (green) and the United Kingdom (black).

Monday, 20 April

For the first time in history, the West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark price for US oil, drops below $0. On certain specific contracts, it plunged down to minus 37 dollars (-34 euros). After nearly two months of continuous collapse of the oil market, this paradoxical situation is the result of the COVID-19 pandemic which caused demand to fall by 30%. As oil wells continue to produce, there is no place to store the oil and investors are ready to pay to get rid of it.

Germany’s Oktoberfest is cancelled. The iconic beer festival, colloquially known as Die Wiesn or “the meadow”, attracts around 6 million visitors from around the world.  It runs for more than two weeks (September/October) in packed tents with long wooden tables, where people celebrate traditional food, dancing, beer and clothing. The loss for the city of Munich is estimated to be around one billion euros.