Covid-19: Profile of a killer
Bad news for the European economy
Good news from research into the virus
“In 1912,” writes David Cyranoski in the prestigious scientific journal Nature, “German veterinarians puzzled over the case of a feverish cat with an enormously swollen belly. That is now thought to be the first reported example of the debilitating power of a coronavirus. Veterinarians didn’t know it at the time, but coronaviruses were also giving chickens bronchitis, and pigs an intestinal disease that killed almost every piglet under two weeks old”. “The link between these pathogens”, Nature explains, “remained hidden until the 1960s, when researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States isolated two viruses with crown-like structures causing common colds in humans. Scientists soon noticed that the viruses identified in sick animals had the same bristly structure... [the viruses] resembled the solar corona”, hence the coining of the term coronavirus in 1968.
These “dynamic killers” passed from dogs to cats and then on to pigs, but nobody knew what could happen in humans “until the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003”. Now, the journal says, “a profile of the killer - Covid-19 - is already emerging... a virus that has evolved an array of adaptations that make it much more lethal than the other coronaviruses humanity has met so far”. And genetic evidence “suggests that it has been hiding out in nature possibly for decades” (the full article can be found here https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01315-7).
Though we still know far too little about the virus, we are already aware of its dramatic effects in terms of the number of victims and how it is affecting our economy: Paolo Gentiloni, EU Commissioner for the Economy, considers that Europe is experiencing “an economic shock without precedent since the Great Depression”. His words accompany the forecast released by the EU on Wednesday, 6 May, according to which “the EU economy will experience a recession of historic proportions this year”. It will contract by a record 7% and more in 2020 and return to growth by around 6% in 2021. Growth projections for the EU and euro area have been revised down by around nine percentage points compared to the Autumn 2019 Economic Forecast. The shock is “symmetric”, say the analysts, in that the pandemic has hit all Member States, but the effects will differ markedly and “each Member State's economic recovery will depend not only on the evolution of the pandemic in that country, but also on the structure of their economies and their capacity to respond with stabilising policies”. But the interdependence of EU economies will affect in any event the strength of the recovery in the various Member States. (The full press release of the European Commission can be read here https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/IP_20_799)
Brussels may be weeping, but it is no laughing matter for Washington either. Bad news from the States fills the front pages, but the body of US scientists is reacting. News in this regard come from the CDC in Atlanta, which has launched the SARS-CoV-2 Sequencing for Public Health Emergency Response, Epidemiology and Surveillance (SPHERES) consortium, a national network of sequencing laboratories that will speed the release of SARS-CoV-2 sequence data into the public domain.
It aims not only to ensure that the viral sequence data from across the United States is rapidly available for public health decision making, but also to guarantee that the data is freely accessible to researchers all over the world. Federal agencies, state and local public health laboratories, academic institutions and private corporations are combining their expertise to collaborate in this data sharing project.