British scientists develop ceiling-mounted ‘Covid alarm’ that detects infections

Covid-19 world wrap: US deaths near 600,000, China deploys drones to keep people indoors

The Covid alarm, slightly larger than a smoke detector, is being hailed as a potential boon for screening in aircraft cabins, classrooms, care homes and offices. File photograph: iStock

The Covid alarm, slightly larger than a smoke detector, is being hailed as a potential boon for screening in aircraft cabins, classrooms, care homes and offices. File photograph: iStock

 

The number of cases of Covid-19 worldwide since the pandemic began has exceeded 175.6 million and there have been 3.7 million related deaths. Meanwhile, the number of vaccines administered has passed 2.3 billion.

So, what’s the latest in Covid-19 news around the globe?

UK

British scientists say they have developed a ceiling-mounted Covid “alarm” that can detect anyone infected in as little as 15 minutes.

The Sunday Times reported the highly-accurate device, slightly larger than a smoke alarm, is being hailed as a potential boon for screening in aircraft cabins, classrooms, care homes and offices.

Early studies by scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University have shown the device has an accuracy of 98-100 per cent, making it as reliable as gold-standard PCR lab-based Covid-19 tests and considerably more so than quick lateral flow tests.

The researchers have stressed their results are at an early stage, with their work published in a paper that is yet to be peer-reviewed.

The sensor, made by Roboscientific, works by detecting chemicals produced by the skin or present in the breath of those infected with coronavirus.

These “volatile organic compounds” create odour too subtle to be sniffed by the human nose. A study by the Covid alarm’s research team showed they could be detected by dogs, but the alarm would be more accurate and more practical.

The Sunday Times said the detectors could find people with the virus even if they were yet to show symptoms, making it more effective than PCR tests.

It takes 15 to 30 minutes for the machines to sample the air in a large room, with the results sent instantly to a mobile phone or computer.

At present, the sensors would cost around £5,000 (€5,825) each, the paper said.

Meanwhile, a prominent academic has joined calls for the UK government to postpone its planned lifting of coronavirus restrictions on June 21st to preserve the progress the country has made in battling the pandemic.

Epidemiologist Sian Griffiths also said an envisaged “all-or-nothing Freedom Day” could be a bad idea in itself, promoting instead a more gradual lifting of measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus.

It came after British prime minister Boris Johnson indicated on Saturday that he is set to announce a four-week delay for lifting restrictions, calling the spread of the Delta variant, first identified in India, a matter of “serious, serious concern”.

United States

The US is approaching 600,000 deaths from Covid-19, even as new fatalities, infections and hospitalisations continue to plummet nationwide. The vaccination drive has slowed significantly but masks are disappearing and the country is largely reopening.

Daily deaths have fallen from a peak of more than 5,000 in February to an average of about 300 over the last week.

It took just more than one month for fatalities to hit the half a million mark on February 22nd from 400,000, as the coronavirus inflicted its worst. Now, almost four months have passed, the slowest pace of death in the pandemic.

The US has administered more than 308 million vaccines, with almost 87 per cent of people 65 and older receiving at least one dose and 76 per cent fully vaccinated.

The ratio of death among the elderly compared with people aged 18-49 has dropped 66 per cent, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths among the vaccinated are exceedingly rare. A total of 603 among the 139 million fully inoculated in the US died in the past six months, compared with a similar number on a single day this month.

China

A fleet of 60 drones has been deployed in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou to keep people indoors and remind those going out to wear masks.

China has largely stamped out cases of local Covid-19 transmission, but Guangzhou has seen a flare-up of the more infectious Delta variant of the virus, initially discovered in India.

Six new cases were reported in Guangzhou in 24 hours, raising the number in the outbreak to more than 100.

The police-operated drones carry cameras and broadcast messages to people venturing outdoors that they and others are best protected by staying inside.

The flying, unmanned vehicles add to an already dense layer of monitoring including mobile phone health confirmations, temperature checks and quarantine for those living in or travelling to areas where the risk of infection is considered high.

Gungzhou has isolated several neighbourhoods, restricted travel out of the city and the surrounding province, and closed cinemas and other indoor entertainment venues.

Meanwhile, mainland China reported 34 new Covid-19 cases on Saturday, down from 35 cases a day earlier, the country’s national health authority said.

China also reported 18 new asymptomatic infections, versus 27 a day earlier. China does not classify symptomless infections as confirmed cases.

The eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou in Zhejiang province has completed a round of mass Covid-19 testing after it reported imported cases, state media People’s Daily said.

All of the nearly 240,000 people in the city’s high-risk areas have tested negative for the virus, the paper added.

The total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in mainland China now stands at 91,428, while the death toll remains unchanged at 4,636.

Russia

Russia reported its largest one-day national caseload since February 13th on Sunday, with 14,723 new Covid-19 cases, including 7,704 in Moscow.

The number of new infections in Moscow was the most reported in one day since December 24th. The city’s mayor told residents on Saturday to stay off work this coming week to curb the spread of the virus.

The coronavirus task force said on Sunday that 357 people had died of coronavirus-related causes nationwide, taking the death toll to 126,430.

The federal statistics agency has kept a separate toll and has said that Russia recorded about 270,000 deaths related to Covid-19 between April 2020 and April 2021.

Japan

US president Joe Biden reaffirmed his support for the Tokyo Olympics at a meeting with Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga on Saturday, highlighting the necessity of imposing public health measures ensuring the safety of those involved.

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, which were postponed last year due to the global spread of the coronavirus, are scheduled to start on July 23rd, in the face of opposition from most of the public, many Japanese companies and medical staff.

Even as Tokyo has battled a fourth wave of infections and is under a state of emergency, the Japanese government and the Games organisers have said they will go ahead – barring “Armageddon”, as one International Olympic Committee member put it.

Meanwhile, Japanese airline All Nippon Airways has begun vaccinating its pilots and cabin attendants on international flights.

It is one of the first companies to launch workplace vaccinations in Japan, one of the world’s least-vaccinated nations.

Japan is desperately pushing to accelerate the pace of inoculations before the Tokyo Olympics.

Following criticism over the slow pace of the vaccine rollout, the government recently unveiled workplace inoculation programmes by major companies to supplement efforts led by municipalities around the country.

On Sunday, 50 All Nippon Airways pilots and flight attendants received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine at a company inoculation site at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

They are among the 10,000 employees the company is prioritising. The airline plans to increase its daily vaccination capacity to about 300 to eventually cover all its 46,500 employees.

Satoru Shimizu, a 56-year-old pilot who received his first jab, said he has been nervous about Covid-19 as he flies around the world, but now “I feel so relieved, and I can concentrate on my duty and that will also lead to safety”.

Australia

Australia’s Victoria state expects to announce further easing of Covid-19 restrictions this week, acting premier James Merlino said on Sunday, as the state reported one new locally acquired infection for a second straight day.

The latest infection was a close contact of a previously reported case and had already been quarantined, Victoria’s health department said.

Australia’s second-most-populous state has recorded 92 cases in its latest wave of Covid-19 infections, which triggered a two-week snap lockdown late last month. Victoria emerged from the lockdown on Friday as new cases declined, but some physical distancing rules remain.

“My expectation is by later in the week, we will be in a position to announce further easing of restrictions for regional Victoria and . . . for metropolitan Melbourne,” Mr Merlino said.

Under existing curbs, Melbourne residents can only travel up to 25km from home while outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. Masks are required indoors and outdoors at all public spaces.

More than 3,000 close contacts of infected cases are already in quarantine with about 122 exposure sites listed on the Victorian government website.

Australia has fared much better than many other developed countries during the pandemic, with more than 22,300 local Covid-19 cases and 910 deaths since March 2020, mostly in Victorian aged-care homes.

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, and neighbouring Queensland are on high alert after an infected woman and her husband travelled from Victoria through several country towns in both states.

With no new cases on Sunday, New South Wales, which includes the country’s largest city, Sydney, has not reported any locally acquired infection in more than a month, while Queensland last reported cases in late March.

Thailand

Thailand is not blocking exports of the AstraZeneca vaccine, a government representative said, after Taiwan said Thailand was keeping for itself doses of the vaccine that it is producing.

Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen said Taiwan had ordered 10 million doses from AstraZeneca , which was mainly producing them in Thailand, but Thailand was “giving priority for vaccines to be used in Thailand”.

“Thailand is not blocking exports of AstraZeneca,” deputy government spokeswoman Traisuree Taisaranakul said on Twitter late on Saturday. “It is a matter for the producer to manage.”

She did not specify whether she meant AstraZeneca or the Thai manufacturer, Siam Bioscience. The health ministry could not be reached on Sunday, and both companies have declined to comment on reasons for export delays.

Both Thailand and Taiwan have seen a surge of coronavirus cases in recent week after months of successfully keeping their outbreaks in check.

The Philippines said this month it was expecting delays of AstraZeneca’s Thai-made vaccines due to production delays. Malaysia also said it was expecting delays.

AstraZeneca’s distribution plans in southeast Asia depends on 200 million doses made by Siam Bioscience, a company owned by Thailand’s king that is making vaccines for the first time.

Germany

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 1,489 to 3,714,969, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed on Sunday. The reported death toll rose by 18 to 89,834. – Associated Press, Reuters, PA, Bloomberg