June 6, 2020

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Science summary: A look at novel coronavirus research around the globe

Thousands of scientists around the world are working on problems raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a summary of some recent research from peer-reviewed academic journals and scientific agencies:


An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal argues that Canada's response to COVID-19 is not strong enough.

Dr. Peter Phillips, professor of Infectious Diseases at the University of British Columbia, writes that Canada’s initial border policy and quarantine programs were too weak.

He says Taiwan's stricter approach is why the country had only 252 cases by March 26, despite predictions it would be the second-largest source of exported cases. Phillips adds growing evidence that people may be contagious for days before they develop symptoms highlights a flaw in Canada’s early approach of allowing people to self-monitor after returning from high-risk countries.

He says Canada should enforce social-distancing measures, bring in supervised mandatory quarantine and scale up testing. More public health workers are also needed, he says.


An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association considers ethical guidelines for rationing medical care and equipment during the pandemic.

It says it's not good enough to simply exclude some cardiac, lung, kidney or cognitive patients from access to scarce intensive-care unit resources, as some states and professional associations suggest. It suggests that that applies extra criteria to some patients without justifying why they should have to satisfy them.

It says other approaches — such as who is most likely to survive a hospital discharge, who has the most probable years of life left or who contributes most to society — are all inadequate on their own.

The article calls for a framework that includes all considerations to help clinicians make decisions that could be life-and-death in nature.


The Montreal Heart Institute is looking for volunteers for a clinical study into reducing lung damage from COVID-19.

The institute is looking for anyone 40 years or older who has been diagnosed in the last 24 hours and hasn't been hospitalized.

The study is to examine whether colchicine — a drug normally used against gout — reduces the risk of pulmonary complications and death in patients.


New York's Mount Sinai Hospital says it will begin to transfer antibodies from patients who have recovered from COVID-19 to critically ill patients who are infected.

Using antibody-rich plasma from COVID-19 patients to help others was successful in China, says a state-owned organization. It says some patients improved within 24 hours, had reduced inflammation and viral loads, as well as better blood oxygen levels.

Previous research has already developed a test that detects the disease’s antibodies in a person’s blood. That test will help pin down an accurate infection rate as well as identify health-care workers who are already immune.

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The Journal of Chinese Governance is criticizing how that country handled the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The authors say China failed to act on early warnings because of bureaucratic forces.

They say a lack of autonomy for scientific and professional groups — including virologists, physicians, and epidemiologists — was one of the major contributing factors to why things became so serious so quickly.

They argue that scientific and professional groups need independence, so they have a stronger role in an early warning system for epidemics.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 28, 2020

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