Millions of COVID Cases and Deaths Averted Thanks to Lockdowns: ‘One of Humanity’s Greatest Achievements’

Despite the novel coronavirus outbreaks delivering countless blows to global economies, two different teams of researchers have published studies praising international and local governments for preventing additional infections and millions of deaths.

This week, scientists from Imperial College London and University of California–Berkeley both published studies on the impact of emergency health measures across 17 different countries.

Although the teams used different methods of calculation for their research, they both came to similar conclusions: millions of lives have been saved thanks to large-scale interventions during the pandemic.

According to the Imperial study, European lockdowns helped to prevent more than 3.1 million deaths. The Berkeley study—which examined infection rates and lockdown measures in China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, France, and the US—found that local and national interventions prevented more than 530 million cases. Both of these studies were published in Nature.

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Furthermore, continuation of these policies beyond the study period have likely avoided many millions more infections, says Solomon Hsiang, director of Berkeley’s Global Policy Laboratory and lead author of the Berkeley study.

“The last several months have been extraordinarily difficult, but through our individual sacrifices, people everywhere have each contributed to one of humanity’s greatest collective achievements,” Hsiang said. “I don’t think any human endeavor has ever saved so many lives in such a short period of time. There have been huge personal costs to staying home and canceling events, but the data show that each day made a profound difference. By using science and cooperating, we changed the course of history.”

The Berkeley study evaluated 1,717 policies implemented across the 6 countries during the period extending from the emergence of the virus in January to April. The analysis was carried out by Hsiang and an international, multi-disciplinary team at the Global Policy Laboratory, all working under shelter-in-place restrictions.

Photo by UC Berkeley / Global Policy Lab and Hulda Nelson

Recognizing the historic challenge and potential impact of the pandemic, “everyone on our team dropped everything they were doing to work on this around the clock,” said Hsiang.

Today, global cases are nearing 7 million—but the UC Berkeley research suggests that the toll would have been vastly worse without policy interventions.

“So many have suffered tragic losses already. And yet, April and May would have been even more devastating if we had done nothing, with a toll we probably can’t imagine,” Hsiang said. “It’s as if the roof was about to fall in, but we caught it before it crushed everyone. It was difficult and exhausting, and we are still holding it up. But by coming together, we did something as a society that nobody could have done alone and which has never been done before.”

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Meanwhile in London, the Imperial team examined COVID-19 death rates across a dozen European countries after various stay-at-home orders, social restrictions, and shutdowns were implemented back in March.

Measuring the effectiveness of these interventions is important, given their economic and social impacts, and may indicate which courses of action are needed in future to maintain control. Estimating the reproduction number—the average number of cases an infected person is likely to cause while they are infectious—is a particularly useful measure.

“Using a model based on data from the number of deaths in 11 European countries, it is clear to us that non-pharmaceutical interventions– such as lockdown and school closures, have saved about 3.1 million lives in these countries,” said Dr. Seth Flaxman, study author from the Department of Mathematics, Imperial College London. “Our model suggests that the measures put in place in these countries in March 2020 were successful in controlling the epidemic by driving down the reproduction number and significantly reducing the number of people who would have been infected by the virus SARS-CoV-2.”

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Additionally, the team calculated that the reproduction number has dropped to below one as a result of the interventions, decreasing by an average of 82%, although the values vary from country to country.

“This data suggests that without any interventions, such as lockdown and school closures, there could have been many more deaths from COVID-19,” said Dr. Samir Bhatt, study author from the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London. “The rate of transmission has declined from high levels to ones under control in all European countries we study. Our analysis also suggests far more infections in these European countries than previously estimated. Careful consideration should now be given to the continued measures that are needed to keep SARS-CoV-2 transmission under control.”

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NASA’s Historic New International Agreements Set Stage for Peaceful and Cooperative Future of Space Exploration

NASA, along with a number of partnering space agencies from around the world, have announced a new set of international agreements that will help to govern a “safe, peaceful, and prosperous future” of space exploration.

The recently-released “Artemis Accords” are the latest development of the Artemis Program, through which the agency vows to send the first woman—and next man—to the moon by 2024.

NASA hopes that the Accords will better allow it to work with international partners to conduct a human mission to Mars as well.

“It’s a new dawn for space exploration!” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote on Twitter last week. “Today, I’m honored to announce the Artemis Accords agreements—establishing a shared vision and set of principles for all international partners that join in humanity’s return to the Moon. We go, together.”

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The core values enshrined in the Accords expand upon the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. They include the principle that space exploration should be done for peaceful purposes, that the U.S. and its partner nations must be transparent in their practices, and they should strive to build interoperable systems to information that can be exchanged and shared between nations.

The program also aims to protect historic sites and artifacts beyond the bounds of our planet, in much the same way that heritage sites on earth are protected by law. These include the artifacts left behind during the moon landings of the Apollo program of 1969-1972.

“International space agencies that join NASA in the Artemis program will do so by executing bilateral Artemis Accords agreements, which will describe a shared vision for principles, grounded in the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, to create a safe and transparent environment, which facilitates exploration, science and commercial activities for all of humanity to enjoy,” NASA said in a statement.

International partners that have signed on to the Accords include the Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency, the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos) and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, according to CNN.

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The Accords mark one of the most significant accomplishments thus far of the largest Artemis program, announced in 2019. The program involves the Orion spacecraft, Gateway and Space Launch Rocket System (SLS). The SLS rocket will be used to send Orion, with astronauts and large cargo on board, to the moon.

Unlike previous spacecraft which only supported short-term missions, the Orion will dock at the Gateway, described by CNN as “a spaceship that will go into orbit around the moon and be used as a lunar outpost. About 250,000 miles from Earth, the Gateway will allow easier access to the entire surface of the moon and potentially deep space exploration.”

Photo by NASA

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‘Surprise Breakthrough’ For Kenyan Scientists Who Discover Natural Microbe That Completely Stops Malaria in Mosquitoes

A team of scientists in Kenya and the UK are hailing the “enormous potential” of a new strategy to control malaria, after discovering that a microbe completely protects mosquitoes from infection.

“The data we have so far suggest it is 100% blockage,” Dr. Jeremy Herren of the International Center of Insect Physiology and Ecology told BBC News. “Quite a surprise… I think people will find that a real big breakthrough.”

Now, they are developing plans to spread the microbe through mosquito populations in infected regions, in an unprecedented effort to eliminate the 400,000 deaths that result from the disease each year.

While studying mosquitoes near the waters of Kenya’s Lake Victoria, the researchers unexpectedly came across a protective fungus called ‘Microsporidia MB,’ which was already in the bodies of the insects.

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Now, their goal is to disseminate the microbe in at least 40% of mosquitoes in malaria-infected regions.

Two main methods are being considered: the mass release of spores of the microbe in areas where many mosquitoes live, or implanting the microbe in male mosquitoes (who don’t bite) in the lab, who would then spread it to female mosquitoes, who spread the disease through their bites.

Equally important is the fact that neither of these approaches would kill the mosquitoes, thus preserving the delicate balance between ecosystems and food chains.

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Their promising lab research was published in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature, where they wrote “These findings are significant in terms of regional malaria transmission and epidemiology as well as risk-mapping.”

Such a program would be the biggest leap forward in the effort to eradicate malaria since infections had dropped by 40% leading up to 2014 due to mass mosquito net distribution by UNICEF and their partners such as the Global Fund.

Photo by Dean Calma / IAEA, CC license

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These New Solar-Pavement Driveways Made of Plastic Bottles Can Power the Average Household

Photo by Platio Solar

Solar panel driveways may soon be powering all our households with clean electricity thanks to this Budapest-based startup.

For the last five years, Platio Solar has been developing new ways of implementing solar technology into urban spaces—and one of their latest developments is a residential solar paneled driveway made out of recycled plastic bottles.

According to a video that was published by the company last week, the solar system is the first to generate power from the pavement of a residential household.

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Each “Platio Solar Paver” is made from 400 polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles—one of the most common forms of consumer plastic. Compressed into pavers, the material becomes more durable than concrete while still being non-slip and sustainable.

The system can either be used to generate electricity for a residential household or power an electric car. According to the company’s website, a 20-square-meter (215-square-foot) Platio driveway system has the capacity to cover the yearly energy consumption of an average household.

The company is now offering resell opportunities and installation quotes for their driveway systems available in brown, blue, red, and green designs.

(WATCH the demonstration video below)

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