Coronavirus Briefing: What Happened Today
No part of the world has been as devastated by the coronavirus as Latin America. Of the 15 countries with the highest deaths per capita in the world, 11 are in Latin America or the Caribbean.
Unlike in Europe or the United States, the outbreak in Latin America has not come in waves. It slammed into the region in the spring and plateaued at an extraordinarily high level, exacerbated by anemic health care systems, inequality and government ineptitude and indifference.
In Mexico, the epicenter of the outbreak is Iztapalapa, a poor neighborhood in the capital, Mexico City, that’s home to the Central de Abasto, the largest produce market in the Western Hemisphere. The virus quickly tore through the market, which has some 100,000 workers, and radiated out into the surrounding community and beyond. At one point, officials estimated that one of every 10 people put on a ventilator in Mexico City had been in the market.
Our colleague Azam Ahmed, who covers Latin America, chronicled the savage outbreak there over the course of months.
“It became an almost frightening spectacle,” Azam told us. “We had seen it bustling with so much life and energy, but then the virus hit and it was like falling off the edge of a cliff. Every day there were fewer and fewer people, people began to be fearful, and a lot of people began to die.”
But no matter how bad the outbreak got, the market never shut down. It supplies fruits and vegetables for 30 percent of the nation, and it was too important to close. For many of the workers, who faced work or starvation, there also wasn’t much of a choice.
Christopher Arriaga, who works in the market, saw the virus kill the man in the vegetable stall next to him. Then he began losing customers, and his father fell ill, too.
“There is this moment when you start to see people dying, and the stress begins to destroy you,” Mr. Arriaga said. “It made me realize what a trapped animal feels like.”
Johnson & Johnson has begun late-stage clinical trials for its coronavirus vaccine — injecting a boost of optimism into the race to rein in Covid-19.
While Johnson & Johnson is the fourth company to enter a Phase 3 trial, which compares the effects of a vaccine with a placebo for a large population, its vaccine has a number of potentially consequential advantages. It will be tested in more people, it could require just one shot instead of two, and it does not need to be kept frozen as it is delivered, simplifying the logistics of hundreds of millions of doses.
The underlying technology behind Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine also has a long safety record and has been used to make vaccines for Ebola, H.I.V. and Zika. The vaccine uses a neutered virus to carry a gene from the coronavirus into human cells. The cells then produce coronavirus proteins, but not the virus itself, and those proteins can potentially prime the immune system to fight off a later infection.
Johnson & Johnson said it might be able to determine if the vaccine is safe and effective by the end of the year. Right behind Johnson & Johnson are Sanofi and Novavax, companies with vaccine candidates that may prove just as good or better than the leading contenders.
Finland has trained some very good dogs.
The country today began offering coronavirus tests for passengers at Helsinki’s airport, conducted by canine specialists that have been trained to sniff out SARS-CoV-2.
Travelers who take the voluntary test are asked to rub their necks with a wipe to collect sweat samples, and then leave the wipe in a box. A dog trainer puts the box behind a wall, along with cans that contain different scents. Researchers say the dogs can detect a coronavirus-infected person in 10 seconds, with a 94 percent success rate.
Dogs have long been known to detect other illnesses, like cancer and malaria, and researchers say they are easily able to sniff out the coronavirus, even in a person who is asymptomatic. The exact mechanics are not yet known, but experts say the dogs are most likely identifying the presence of excreted virus in human sweat.
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