Essential COVID19 Information

COVID19 has been with us in the UK since February 2020. This article explains the current restrictions then explores how such a large outbreak occurred in the UK, how the virus was released, and perhaps created in China, and the hopes for a vaccine.

The current method being used to deal with the pandemic is a three tier system imposed at a local level.  Our National Broadcaster, the BBC, should be clearly describing the system to prevent confusion and to some extent any confusion is their responsibility.

The tiers are detailed on the Government's website. The system is as follows.

Tier 1, Local COVID alert level: medium: This covers the whole of England. The social distancing rules permit close groups of no more than six people in any setting, indoors or outdoors. The groups of six and other people must stay 2 metres apart. Pubs and restaurants must have a seated clientele and face masks must be worn in all indoor public places.  Customers may only consume food and drink while seated, and restaurants etc. must close between 10pm and 5am.  Businesses and venues selling food for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm as long as this is through delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-through.    Schools and universities remain open, places of worship remain open, subject to the rule of 6, weddings and funerals can go ahead with restrictions on numbers of attendees, exercise classes and organised sport can continue to take place outdoors, or indoors if the rule of 6 is followed

Tier 2, Local COVID alert level: high: As in medium level but with some more restrictions.  Restaurants and bars remain open.  The rule of six no longer applies to indoor settings so that only households and support bubbles can share space indoors. Exercise classes must be outdoors except where involving solely one support bubble. 

Tier 3, Local COVID alert level: very high: As for level "high" but with more restrictions. Only households and support bubbles can share space outdoors. Pubs and bars are closed except for serving meals. There are restrictions on weddings and funerals

The number of new cases in the UK is very high, approaching 20,000 daily.  The Government produces some useful statistics on the spread of COVID19 on its coronavirus data site.It also provides maps of the spread across the country on its interactive map site.  The international situation is covered in detail at Worldometer.com which has a breakdown of cases etc. by country.

The COVID19 epidemic in the UK was particularly severe because there was free entry into the country from abroad, even after lockdown. The Government's Chief Scientific advisor, Patrick Vallance, confirmed that there was large scale importing of cases:

"We saw a big influx of cases, probably from Italy and Spain, looking at the genomics of the virus in early March, seeded right the way across the country." (Health and Social Care Committee Oral evidence: Management of the Coronavirus Outbreak, HC 36 Tuesday 5 May 2020).

People entering the country as late as July were reporting that there were no restrictions at airports.

A worrying feature of COVID19 is "Long Covid" or "Post Covid Syndrome".  It appears that even those who had mild symptoms of COVID19 can have long term fatigue and breathlessness. Current estimates suggest that perhaps 2-10% of those who have had COVID19 may suffer debilitation for months, years or even the rest of their lives.

The virus originated in China.  There has been a lot of talk about whether it was genetically engineered and either released deliberately or as an escape from a laboratory.  All of the dismissals of this proposal rely upon a single paper, by Anderson et al (2020), published in Nature - see "The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2, by Kristian Anderson et al".  The paper declares that the SARS-CoV2 virus that causes COVID19 could not have been man made and fact checkers have interpreted this as meaning that it could not have come from a laboratory in Wuhan.  However, there are two possibilities for a lab escape: it could have been a rare natural virus that escaped or a man made virus that escaped.  Chinese virological laboratories have a poor safety record and allowed  the deadly SARS virus to escape four times. The two virological laboratories in Wuhan maintained collections of bat coronaviruses and a site survey that was performed in Wuhan concluded that the laboratories had poor biosafety and found that bats had never been sold in the nearby Hua Nan fish market (See The possible origins of 2019-nCoV coronavirus. - a survey that has been incorrectly dismissed for not being a "scientific paper"). The bat viruses that are closest to SARS-CoV-2  come from Yunnan, not Wuhan:

Bat Coronavirus Location

It looks very likely that SARS-CoV-2 was a lab escape from one or other of the Wuhan labs.  But was it man made?

The paper by Anderson et al (2020) argues that the virus could not be made in a laboratory because it is not the ideal solution for infection and because a sufficiently similar base virus, the main part of the virus used as a template, has not yet been found.  This is a very thin argument on which to condemn any competing ideas of origin.  The rebuttal is straightforward.  Anyone creating the virus would stop at "good enough" rather than ideal, especially given that a special (furin) site provides a boost to infectivity.  This simple rebuttal dispenses with the first argument.  Two contenders for the base virus have indeed been found which dispenses with the second argument (a virus called RaTG13 is very close in structure to SARS-CoV-2). 

Given that the paper that is used everywhere to "disprove" the possibility that the virus is man-made does not do so, who are the scientists that say that it is man made? Initially several people noticed that the virus contained HIV proteins and mused on how these had got there.  The most persuasive authority who believes COVID19 was a man made disease is Professor Luc Montagnier, the winner of the Nobel Prize for medicine for discovering HIV, who says: “With my colleague, bio-mathematician Jean-Claude Perez, we carefully analyzed the description of the genome of this RNA virus,”.."in order to insert an HIV sequence into this genome, molecular tools are needed, and that can only be done in a laboratory.".  The most complete analysis of the possibility that the virus is man-made was done by Li-Meng Yan et al .  Li-Meng Yan risked her life to escape from Hong Kong to bring the story to the West but Twitter and broadcasters have banned any mention of her work because the factcheckers all condemn it as being inconsistent with the single paper by Anderson et al (2020).  These are indeed strange times when unqualified fact checkers can take the conclusions of a single scientific paper and cause all subsequent scientific work that disagrees with it to be suppressed.

Military director of Wuhan Institute of Virology

China has been suppressing any mention that COVID19 is a lab escape and possibly man made. Most broadcasters in the West have now been persuaded, perhaps as a result of pressure from China, that there was no possibility of a lab escape of a wild or man made virus in Wuhan. The pressure from China to stop any mention of a lab escape has been fairly public.

According to Reuters the EU produced a report that referred to China's involvement in Covid disinformation and in response China told the EU that “if the report is as described and it is released today it will be very bad for cooperation,” and it would make Beijing “very angry”. 
China has demanded that EU reports be amended to purge the mention of COVID-19 originating in China.  The EU acquiesced.  A report by the "Five Eyes" Intelligence group was leaked to the Australian Sunday Telegraph. The dossier states that "to the “endangerment of other countries” the Chinese government covered-up news of the virus by silencing or “disappearing” doctors who spoke out, destroying evidence of it in laboratories and refusing to provide live samples to international scientists who were working on a vaccine."

At the end of April the Australian government requested that there should be an international inquiry into the origins and handling of the Chinese COVID-19 outbreak.  China responded by threatening to boycott Australian goods. (See Guardian article).China has now slapped import controls on Australian beef and is threatening to do the same with barley exports. See China ignores requests for talks - SBS News.
Despite, or because of, this evidence of suppression of information by China there is almost no mention in the UK Broadcast Media of the possibility of the virus being a lab escape or even a bioweapon.

The sad fact is that the virus is loose and we must now hope for vaccines and treatments. According to the WHO there are numerous vaccine candidates but only the following have Phase III trials booked or underway:

The Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine - March 2021 - October 2021.  The vaccine is under "rolling review" which could lead to release as early as March.

Wuhan Institute of Biological Products/Sinopharm - probably August 2021

Sinovac - September 2021

Laboratorio Elea Phoenix S.A. - December 2021

CanSino Biologics Inc. - December 2021

Moderna/NIAIDRNALNP-encapsulated mRNA20 - October 2022

BioNTech SE/Pfizer - June 21 - December 2022

Janssen Vaccines & Prevention B.V.  - March 2023

Treatments for COVID19: According to the Pharmaceutical Journal only Dexamethasone for acute, severe COVID19 is available as a proven treatment, it reduces death in ventilated patients by 35% and 20% in patients receiving oxygen but has little effect on earlier stages of the disease.  Possible other treatments will not be available for a year or more. Despite early positive results, Remdesivir has not been found to be efficacious in clinical trials.

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