THE point of no return – a virus runs around the globe

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June 28, 2021

Started in February 2020, the SAJO blog is providing a thread through the pandemic with up-to-date information and suggestions around SARS-CoV-2.

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Dear readers,

It is not just Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera that sang about the point of no return. In this musical, the phantom is singing his love to Christine, a dissonant and interesting duet. In the end, the opera house is reduced to rubbles.

The point of no return today we want to make a topic for several ongoing events, namely the pandemic and climate change.

Pandemics and climate change are interconnected. Global warming not only fuels meteorological catastrophes, periods of drought, flooding, forest fires, but also the emergence of pandemics. Simply because natural habitats of countless animals are being shifted or destroyed by climate change. It is not just humans who experience migration. In both, the current pandemic and climate change tipping points have been crossed. We had reported about those of the pandemic for a year now. About those concerning global warming, a draft report of the IPCC, that was obtained by the French press agency AFP, is giving a dramatic view.

The pandemic globally has infected more than 181 million people (source: Johns-Hopkins-University, June 28, 2021) with more than 4 million deaths. In Germany, there were 3.7 million infections and more than 91000 deaths. The dark figures are higher as we had explained in our previous post.

The countries affected most are the US, India, Brazil, France, Turkey, Russia, the UK, Argentina, Italy, Columbia, Spain, and Germany on 12th place. On a global scale, the pandemic is increasing again, the curves are pointing upwards. The Delta variant, which is more infectious, is being blamed as the culprit. However, in consequence, it is the behavior of people in single countries, combined with the corresponding decisions by policy makers, that is responsible for this development.

A virus runs around the globe: When taking a look at seasons in the corresponding countries, one may realize that this virus is exhibiting a certain seasonality (as practically all respiratory viruses do). As examples, we include three countries from the Southern Hemisphere, where winter season is starting.

Source: Johns Hopkins University, June 28, 2021

This virus is cruising around the world, again and again, and it will continue to, since the development of vaccines, the sheer number of doses, the necessary tests and licensing, and finally the application of shots to people of all countries, simply is not fast enough. Even with optimized processes, we will not catch up with the virus in this long-distance sprint. The virus keeps on running around the world, accumulating mutations on the way, since each infection is risking a new mutant.

However, it is shortsighted to hope for season effects alone, as may be seen in Great Britain and Russia. Numbers are in a steep increase. This is the result of reckless individual behavior and sloppy political decisions.

Source: Johns Hopkins University, June 28, 2021

There are reasons why we at SAJO did not engage in vaccines but put our focus on drug development: 1) Vaccine development still is slow, 2) there is one market that is being aggressively divided by large players, 3) competition is fierce (everyone wants to make vaccines), 4) risks are high, it either works or fails, 5) the necessary know-how for drug development is more demanding and an intellectual challenge that many scientists cannot bear, 6) significantly reducing the amount of competitors, 7) markets are big and manifold. And, finally, for SAJO this means to have exclusive knowhow, and a trendsetting head start in technology.

Schools ARE pandemic drivers! We explain:

In Germany, there is a penetrant opinion of schools not having an influence on the pandemic. All experts agree that schools, child-care centers, and educational institutions, in fact all places where people meet, are driving the pandemic. This includes public transportation and each place where there is no 6 ft. distancing or N95 masks being worn. SARS-CoV-2 is an airborne virus, transmitted by aerosols. And the virus is mutating at a frightening speed. Big infection numbers provide a breeding ground for new mutations.

The role of schools and child-care centers is a disputed area. Many different experts in many different areas of expertise are contributing. There are experts who, depending on political influence or their own willingness to get their moment of fame, are talking provocative rubbish. Voices that you may trust, are Karl Lauterbach and Christan Drosten. It is not our motivation to produce headlines. SAJO is clarifying – even if it might be uncomfortable. The virus is here to stay. We are trying to bring facts, analyses, and our expertise, to consult, and we try to write in an entertaining way.

The conflicting statements regarding schools, child-care centers, and educational institutions are a hot topic in scientific literature. There is an explanation. The immune system of young children seems to obtain a full clearance once the young organism is coming into contact with the virus. Although there was contact, in most cases virus can no longer be detected, tests are negative, in many cases there are not even antibodies to be found. This is what some medical publications explained. A logical explanation would be that in many young children the virus is not able to infect a cell, where it could reproduce. This may explain why in many children nothing may be found. The virus is being secreted (by breath or feces) only after cells have been infected and are producing viral progeny. This is when a patient becomes contagious. Just a few super-spreaders are enough for the virus, no matter the age of the person.

The further a human organism matures, the further the development of the immune system, i.e. the acquired immunity, which is producing antibodies upon contact with a pathogen.

In fact these transitions are not defined but individual. However, it has been reported that 10 % of infected children and adolescents may suffer from the post-COVID syndrome. There is no difference to adults. The Delta variant will further exacerbate this problem.

Schools used to be and still are drivers of pandemics. The current pandemic would be an exception. We are convinced that such statements are driven by specific interest, be it parents or employers, and that there are publications that will suit any taste. In order to study this scientifically one would have to monitor many schools on a daily basis with tests of all students and teachers over the course of many months. This is difficult to attain and pretty expensive. Such a study must not be politically motivated nor trying to get a result previously defined. On top of that, individual behavior of the numerous students involved is difficult to observe. Thus, the effort would be in no relation to the use.

However, we can say that the full spectrum would be identified: Children and teenagers who won’t get sick, those who will show symptoms, and 10 % suffering from post-COVID syndrome, irrespective of the age group. This in itself should compel us to keep up the measures in schools and child-care centers. Since we believe that teachers love to teach, in times of a pandemic they will be happy to adjust. A reduction of lessons to the most important school subjects would be possible. Furthermore, it should be a major concern of the teachers of natural sciences to bring theory to practice, instead of reciting old textbooks. You do have the knowledge to develop plans together with your pupils/students, since it is great in a pandemic to implement such things into the schedule, showing its importance.

Why do we learn such stuff, some students might ask. Science and biology are alive! The biology of viruses, SARS-CoV-2 epidemiology, and COVID-19 symptoms would be great teaching stuff. Should you not be able to get involved in this topic, why not invite virologists to give talks at your school? The pupils and students who had made internships in our labs, where enthusiastic and highly motivated. Some of them even reaped prizes for their work from German and US institutions.

Teaching about biology and climate may even be done in the outdoors. For decades now species extinction is taking place right in front of your eyes, in nature, dear biology teachers. Did you show this to your students? The decline in insects, just because amateur gardeners are spraying tons of pesticides. Birds, that do not find insects for food, usually die. Do your students know the trees and bushes, the animals of local forests, birds and insects? A questionnaire would reveal the black hole.

We would wish for all the motivation Germans have when it comes to vacation planning and parties to also be involved at schools.

In schools, protective measures (N95 masks, air exchange, distancing) are still useful. The virus does not differentiate. It is infecting humans and animals through contact and aerosols. Period.

One word about the aerosol researchers: They are experts in their field. Aerosols containing viral particles are different. Viral infectivity and stability are key, as are environment, humidity, air exchange, and UV index. Aerosol research cannot fully explain SARS-CoV-2 behavior. Some things may be applied, but others probably not. This discipline needs to be included in the decision-making process, but it should not take the lead. Virological techniques and the understanding of virology is being learned over decades.

What professions are more exposed to danger than others?

It would be important to know, what professions are more prone to infection spreading than others. Tests are performed anonymously, which is ok. However, there should not be a problem to also include the individual profession. Of 60 % of infections, we still have no clue where they happened. Including the individual’s profession in the test results would make us better understand. There might be some bad surprises.

Professions also include professional soccer players. We had an internal agreement not to mention soccer again, since this just does not make sense. This profession is dancing at their own rules with political support. Professional soccer is getting an exception to have “panem et circenses” for the people. We observe that all the teams are abusing this privilege. Packed soccer stadiums are nothing but mass events in times of a plague. That is all to be said. In Bergamo, in 2020 a full stadium was a fire accelerant for the pandemic. Did you forget? One recent example of the European Championship: In St. Petersburg more than 100 Finnish fans contracted the virus. People who are traveling into risky regions, for example London, we would put under quarantine before return (and internally we had joked: with an electronic ankle bracelet).

In England, the Delta-variant is spreading that may overcome vaccine protection. In the UK numbers have increased eightfold within four weeks! There won’t be an easy summer in Portugal, Israel is reinstating mask mandates, in Sidney, parts of the city are put into full lockdown, on the Balearic Islands, hundreds of Spanish high-school graduates have been infected, because there they were allowed to party (in contrast to their home cities). Infection numbers in Russia are doubling within three weeks, although there vaccinations started in December. This list may be continued at will.

In Germany, it is soccer time. In times of a pandemic Germans are traveling abroad for vacation, and schools want to go back to normal. We have no sympathy for that. Everyone of you knows about the consequences. We are bewildered by the amount of unreason and the very short memory.

We are being asked if we are visiting barbershops, or taking vacation, travelling or meeting people. This we would love to do. But we know it would be unreasonable, to take risks and get infected with all the possible consequences. We are not in a prioritized group, so we are not yet vaccinated. But even then, a new variant might overcome this. We are meeting with people online, and we intend to do so for quite some time since the virus is here to stay and after the football season it will come back with a vengeance. Thanks to professional soccer and its fans.

Pandemics are interconnected with changes in climate!

Global warming is fueling zoonoses. That means viruses may have it easier to overcome the species barrier, a protective wall. A new draft report by the IPCC is describing that climate change is far more advanced than previously anticipated. Tipping points have been reached. The political timeline of 2050 will not suffice if we believe this report. Heat waves, droughts, flooding, storms will increase, and children born today will feel the impact before turning 30. The warming will lead to species extinctions and to higher death rates in people. Coastal areas will disappear once the ocean levels rise more than 40 feet. This draft report is a wake-up call.

Depending on the models used, there are different numbers. Some climate researchers propose an even bigger level in sea level rise. We do not know exactly what kinds of gases are stored in permafrost, which is thawing for years now. But we do know these gases will fuel the global warming even more and shorten the timeline. The forecasts are scary.

Climate change will fuel diseases and pandemics as well!

SAJO is preparing for that. We will need next generation drugs. Should the timeline be shorter, we should start immediately. SAJO is capable of many things, but not to witchcraft. Our developmental timeline is shorter, but new drugs will have to go through clinical trials and approval. The development is tightly linked to financiation. The bigger the investment the faster the development and the lower the risk for investors.

We take up the cudgels on behalf of all the natural scientists who deliver great scientific work with a high motivation. This includes all areas of expertise.

The point of no return we see in the individual behavior of people. More than a year into the pandemic there are still too many who have not adjusted to the situation. Occasionally we do have to explain ourselves for wearing a mask. It should be the other way around, when taking the situation into account. Education still does not reach enough people in Germany.

The point of no return we also observe in politics. Unfortunately, there still is a lack of funding young, innovative companies. In public research those people are occupying permanent positions who don’t move a lot. Those committed, who are moving things forward, and who are successful in their science, are being kept on short-term contracts and are even forced to apply for their own funding for the position they have. The system is aiming at stagnancy, to abuse committed people and to disappoint them in the end.

The point of no return – some hope that climate researchers err. We should not be so unrealistic. We all should get prepared.

Nevertheless, believe in love and the love to music, this is lifting you up in life. A life without love and music? Incomprehensible.

Will we make it, together? Yes, if you want it!

Yours, Sabine and Jörg

SAJO is consulting all around infectious diseases. We are applying our know-how, that we have acquired in more than 20 years. We do what we can to fight this pandemic.

SAJO – for a healthy world and better future!

This is post No. 182. To our delight our blog is receiving a lot of acceptance, we love to share our know-how and experience. Single posts and contents are being adopted by others, also in media. We have learned how to correctly make a citation; this we would wish from others in return as well. Please feel free to share the link – it is an informative tool to fight this pandemic.

(Note: We are no members of political parties, religious congregations, or societies. We value independence, sovereignty, and freedom. With our blog we are providing purely scientific advice, without conflict of interest, altruistic. We are not being paid for it.)

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