The Code COVID19 International Update is a weekly snapshot of the COVID-19 pandemic, assessing efforts by nations around the world to test, track and fight the virus. It’s compiled by Dr Priscilla Robinson, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Public Health at LaTrobe University, and an editor for the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
Hello followers of this blog,
And welcome back to the southern hemisphere school year and return to work, which follows Australia/Invasion Day and all that goes with it. So far there has not been the expected surge in cases acquired at barbecues etc, probably because it was all quite low-key this year, and we are still dealing with the massive jump after Christmas and New Year, at the same time as almost all restrictions were lifted. The messiness of all of that is visible on the chart accompanying the ‘Tale of Five Outbreaks’ sheet, for anyone interested – it’s much more fun than plotting a five-day average, which looks similar but without all the same peaks and troughs. Australia remains responsible for much of the Western Pacific’s continuing rise in cases, whilst New Zealand, faced with the same scenario at the same time, has done a good job of containment along with a steady vaccination programme.
A reminder to policy makers; policies with multiple factors need to be implemented and dismantled very carefully. Cherry-picking policy components is really not an option. Take road safety – with around 1,125 deaths annually, give or take – and compare that with the nearly 4,000 fatalities from COVID-19 in two years. At the end of September 2021 we had about 1,250 fatalities in two years, so in the ball-park of half the annual traffic accident rate, but in five months had risen to roughly double.
Imagine what would happen if the governments suddenly said, OK, you are responsible for checking and fixing the road to your home, and don’t worry about how safe your car is, crash testing is too expensive for the government to maintain any car body standards. Brakes are now optional and that’s your responsibility. Oh, and drive on whichever side of the road suits you. Speed limits only apply on Tuesdays and Thursdays, otherwise go at whatever speed seems safe to you. Just imagine. And so with COVID, when all restrictions were lifted, look what happened.
Cases are still increasing worldwide at about 4-5 million each day, with fatalities at 10,000-15,000 daily, but at least the case fatality rate continues to drop – now sitting at 1.5%.
Several South Pacific Islands have had huge increases this week – for example, Kiribati numbers rose from 66 total for the pandemic last week, to 364 this week. Small numbers, but in small populations, increases like this spell disaster, and a massive drain on their health systems. Otherwise I have not spotted anything remarkable this week – apologies if I am asleep at the wheel.
Alex Crozier and colleagues’ paper Put to the test: use of rapid testing technologies for COVID-19 includes this very useful chart that explains which tests for COVID are useful, at which stages of infection and recovery. It explains why the RAT and PCR tests are only valid at certain times, and includes an explanation of antibody tests which show infection has happened and that immunity has been developed. Antibodies do decline over time, but not all that fast, and the antibodies produced are the same kinds of antibodies in an infection as after a vaccine (despite what some anti-vaxxers believe); ‘natural’ infection does not produce better immunity, nor prevents a second infection from a new strain. It also explains why tests can be ‘false +ve’ and ‘false -ve’.
This week’s papers:
‘Where did Omicron come from? Three key theories’ – a thoughtful Nature contribution. Of special note,
“But because Johannesburg is home to the largest airport on the African continent, the variant could have emerged anywhere in the world — merely being picked up in South Africa because of the country’s sophisticated genetic surveillance, says Tulio de Oliveira… “
This article is a useful explanation of how numbers matter when talking about diseases – and although this is COVID-specific it is a message for all diseases:
And from our own Dr Hassan Vally and Professor Catherine Bennett, in The Conversation – ‘COVID will soon be endemic. This doesn’t mean it’s harmless or we give up, just that it’s part of life’.
Lastly, thank you JC for this cartoon:
See you next week
About Dr Priscilla Robinson and The CODE COVID-19 International Update
Dr Robinson is a public health epidemiologist with particular interests in international health and communicable diseases, and public health competencies. She has worked in health departments in England and Australia, has managed public health teaching programmes, and taught and researched many aspects of public health epidemiology and policy in many countries. She is an adjunct Associate Professor at LaTrobe University, and to stop herself being bored is an editor of PHAA’s journal ANZJPH, and holds board positions (almost all unpaid) on various NGOs, journals, and at her local hospital. Otherwise, 10 acres of untamed bushland on a hill in South Gippsland, VIC, makes weight-bearing gym exercise and strength training a bit redundant.
The CODE Update is a regular Intouch feature to keep readers informed of COVID-19 developments around the world.
The CODE Update originally began at the start of the SARS CoV-2 pandemic as Priscilla’s way of explaining to her friends and family around the world what was happening, and counter their experiences of information overload and misinformation. The update provides links to practical materials and papers written for people who are not versed in the language of outbreaks and epidemic curves. Published weekly, it includes a short commentary to provide context to the numbers included in the spreadsheets.
Note: While every attempt is made to transcribe all data faithfully, every now and again mistakes are made and not noticed until the next Update. Also, on occasion, numbers are revised after posting at the source databases.
We hope you will find these updates to be a helpful tool, and the links to current information useful.