COVID-19 – visualising the impact of social distancing

As we move through the gears of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK has entered lockdown – total social distancing. I’ve had many conversations with friends and family about what’s going on and why these extreme measures are necessary. I’ve pointed everybody who’s asked to the Imperial College London modelling, predicting a rapidly overwhelmed healthcare system if the trajectory of the UK epidemic doesn’t change. And pointed them in the direction of these rather cool visualisations of the logic behind social distancing (by cartoonist Toby Morris and microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles):

social distancing impact

COVID-19: hello social distancing

The UK government yesterday announced a far-reaching package of social distancing measures to suppress the spread of COVID-19. These are based on some Imperial College London modelling work, published here. The model predicts that the UK approach to mitigate the impact of the UK epidemic would indeed reduce the overall number of people affected and those who die, but would still leave hundreds of thousands dead in an overwhelmed healthcare system. In contrast, a more intensive suppression approach would be effective in reversing the epidemic trend and keep the number of new cases to a low level – in the short term, at least.

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Considering the role of environmental contamination in the spread of COVID-19

We know that respiratory viruses can be spread through droplets, occasionally aerosols, and contact routes (see Figure 1). But what is the relative importance of these transmission routes for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19? A new pre-print paper published yesterday provides evidence that the stability of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is broadly comparable to the ‘original’ SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV-1) on dry surfaces and in aerosols. This paper supports an important role for dry surface contamination and aerosols in the spread of SARS-CoV-2, and suggests that improved environmental persistence isn’t the key to the relative success of SARS-CoV-2 over SARS-CoV-1.

Figure 1: Transmission routes of respiratory viruses (from this review article).

covid transmission routes

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Developing antimicrobial “smart surfaces” to tackle HCAI and AMR

I participated in a launch event by the Institute of Molecular Science and Engineering (IMSE) at Imperial College London yesterday for a new white paper on developing “smart surfaces” to tackle HCAI and AMR.

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Using machine learning to super-charge anti-infective drug discovery: the case of Halicin

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Yes, it’s true. There is more to HCAI & AMR (and this blog) than COVID-19! To prove it, I’m posting on something different today – the use of AI to streamline the anti-infective drug discovery process. Scientists at MIT have used machine learning (aka “deep learning”) to improve the drug discovery process, by predicting antimicrobial activity in molecules that are different from known antibiotics. This process has yielded Halicin, a promising candidate molecule for a broad-spectrum antimicrobial agent – which is, of course, a long way from clinical trials!

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Update on 2019-nCoV: part 11 – where will it end?

I’m sure we’ve all been following the emerging story of the 2019-nCoV outbreak closely, with the third cases reported in the UK yesterday (pleased to see this is where you’d expect the UK to be based on Marc’s post earlier)! There’s been a small explosion of publications in the peer reviewed literature. I’ve chosen one slightly randomly to discuss today: a short modelling study providing some insight on the likely volume of unreported cases (very much the ice berg and not the tip!) and some sense of where this outbreak will end (it depends on how we respond, globally).

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Update on 2019-nCoV: part 8 – ‘silent’ transmission

One of the key questions that we posed when this virus first emerged was is ‘silent’ transmission (that is transmission to others before symptoms become apparent) possible? And if it’s possible, is it the norm? A short letter published in yesterday’s New England Journal of Medicine answers the first part of that: silent transmission of 2019-nCoV is possible – but just how common is it?

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Update on 2019-nCoV: part 6 (winging its way around the world)?

I am interested, selfishly, in understanding the risk to Europe presented by the novel coronavirus (which now has a “working” name: 2019-nCoV; catchy isn’t it?!). It seems likely that there will be more imported cases, and possibly also some limited cross-transmission in Europe over the coming weeks.

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Novel coronavirus outbreak: an update

I posted at the beginning of last week about the emergence of the as-yet-formally-unnamed novel coronavirus that has emerged in China. At that stage, it could have been a parochial anomaly in the annals of ID history. What a difference a week makes! Now we are looking at a rapidly emerging international outbreak!

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