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An Ebola treatment centre with health workers vaccinating the population in Beni, DRC

Doctors administer an experimental vaccine at treatment centre in Beni, Democratic Republic of the CongoCredit: Andia/Universal Images Group via Getty

Finish line recedes for Ebola in the DRC

A new case of Ebola has been recorded in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) just two days days before the World Health Organization was set to announce the official end of the outbreak — so the 42-day countdown to an official declaration of victory must begin again. Public-health workers in the DRC face a war on two fronts: COVID-19 and Ebola.

Nature | 6 min read

Nature to join open-access Plan S

Scientists will soon be able to publish open-access papers in Nature. The journal’s publisher, Springer Nature, says it is committed to joining the bold open-access initiative known as Plan S, pending discussion of further technical details. The publisher will offer a route to publishing open access in Nature and most Nature-branded journals from January 2021 — though we don’t yet know what it will cost.

Nature | 5 min read

(Nature is editorially independent of its publisher, Springer Nature — as is this Briefing.)

ERC president out after only three months

Nanobiologist Mauro Ferrari, the president of European Research Council (ERC), has resigned suddenly after only three months in the post. Ferrari said he was resigning because the European Union had not coordinated an appropriate response to the COVID-19 crisis, and in particular because the ERC had rejected his proposal to create a programme to combat the coronavirus. The prestigious funding agency’s governing body responded with an unusually strong statement, saying that it had unanimously called for Ferrari’s resignation and that he had largely neglected his responsibilities.

Nature | 4 min read

Is this telescope-on-a-plane worth its pricetag?

The airborne Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) is the second-most-expensive astrophysics mission that NASA operates — behind only the Hubble Space Telescope — but ranks near the bottom in productivity among major astronomical facilities, a Nature investigation has found. The US-German observatory has fallen short of its goal to produce more than 150 scientific papers per year. Instead, it produced an average of 21 papers per year between 2014 and 2018 — fewer than most major observatories — although that rate has picked up in the past year. An independent panel review obtained through a freedom-of-information request questioned the observatory’s return on investment.

Nature | 5 min read

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

A medical worker looks at monitors showing lung CT scans

COVID-19 ravages the lungs of patients.Credit: Sergei Krasnoukhov/TASS/Getty

Uncertainty about how COVID-19 kills is hampering treatment

• How does COVID-19 kill? Uncertainty over whether the virus itself — or a person’s immune response — ultimately overwhelms the organs is making it difficult for doctors to determine the best treatments. Clinical data suggest that the immune system plays a part in the decline and death of people infected with the new coronavirus, and this has spurred a push for treatments, such as steroids, that rein in that immune response. But some of these treatments act broadly to suppress the immune system, stoking fears that they could hamper the body’s ability to keep the viral infection in check. (Nature | 6 min read)

• The COVID-19 pandemic is putting weather forecasts and long-term climate studies at risk of significant data gaps. For some research, this might be the first interruption in 40 years. “That’s painful for the scientists involved,” says ecologist Frank Davis. (Nature | 5 min read)

• Coronavirus lockdowns are creating a natural experiment by drastically reducing emissions. But tantalizing signs that the situation is making the air cleaner aren’t as straightforward as they seem. The seasons and the weather also affect how much dangerous pollution is in the air. In China and Italy, the difference is so pronounced that experts think the coronavirus lockdowns probably have an impact. In the United States, it’s too soon to say. (Nature | 5 min read)

• Thousands of coronavirus tests are going unused in US laboratories, reveals a Nature investigation. Some labs have ramped up their facilities for testing. But lab leaders say they’re performing at half capacity or less because of bureaucracy and logistical barriers. “I show up in a magic ship,” says genetic scientist Fyodor Urnov, “with 20,000 free kits and [approval] and everything, and the major hospitals say: ‘Go away, we cannot interface with you.’” (Nature | 8 min read)

• Some optimistic forecasts suggest that a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine could be available in 12–18 months. Experts are getting into the nitty gritty of how we can deploy it to stop the pandemic. If millions of people need it, and producers continue making crucial supplies of other vaccines, there could be a shortage. Philanthropist Bill Gates says his foundation will help to pay for production facilities to be built in advance, even if some of them are never used (different types of infrastructure are needed depending on the vaccine type). Hoarding by rich countries could limit supplies, and there is no agreement yet on how a vaccine should be shared equitably. (Nature | 8 min read)

Read the latest coronavirus news, continuously updated on Nature.

Read Nature’s continuously updated selection of the must-read papers and preprints on COVID-19.

Tracking Symptoms: Venn diagram showing combination of symptoms of app users testing positive for COVID-19.

The first results from a symptom-tracking app, which has recruited more than 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom, found that users who tested positive for COVID-19 were three times more likely to report losing their sense of smell and taste than were those who had symptoms of the virus but tested negative. (Nature | Continuously updated)

Notable quotable

“It’s in the Finnish people’s DNA to be prepared.”

Finland’s history and geography explains why it has an enviable stockpile of pretty much everything, explains Tomi Lounema, the chief executive of Finland’s National Emergency Supply Agency. The country has tapped into its supply of medical equipment for the first time since the Second World War. (The New York Times | 10 min read)

Features & opinion

What even is water

Water is unlike most other liquids on Earth: it has at least 66 weird properties, including high surface tension, high heat capacity, high melting and boiling points and low compressibility. Some chemists have come to think of it as not being one liquid at all, but two distinct liquid phases that co-exist in a mixture. “We can’t fill a glass of two kinds of water types, but there have been some experiments which have indirectly seen these sorts of transitions,” says mathematician and modeller John Russo.

Chemistry World | 11 min read

Quote of the day

“It’s not often I find the text of an academic article to be riveting and even beautiful. Here, I was hooked.”

Science reporter Brian Resnick finds solace in a paper, based on a decade of unfunded work, about the resilience of flowers. (Vox | 10 min read)