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‘COVID zero’ and vaccine complacency
In the handful of places around the world that effectively stopped COVID-19 transmission — including Taiwan, Macau, the Chinese mainland and Western Australia — vaccine complacency has become an unintended side effect of their success. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Hong Kong: as of 7 February, only a third of people over 80 years old had received one vaccine dose, and hospitals are already being overwhelmed by people with Omicron. “With the low vaccination rate we have currently, I’m really concerned,” says epidemiologist Benjamin Cowling. “Omicron, we know it’s a little bit milder, but actually in people that are not vaccinated, it’s not that mild.”
Some regions have been able to overcome early complacency. In Tonga, the Ministry of Health, supported by the World Health Organization and the United Nations children’s charity UNICEF, visited every village — including those on remote outer islands — to speak to people about vaccines and answer questions.
How Omicron overtook Delta in three charts
A detailed analysis by the UK Health Security Agency, which has not yet been peer reviewed, reveals how the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 spreads so fast compared with the previously dominant variant. People infected with Omicron are more likely to spread it both inside and outside the home. And the variant is better at infecting both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Reference: medRxiv preprint
Ukrainians in Antarctica ‘in agony’
Twelve scientists, engineers and support staff were nearing the end of a 13-month stint at Ukraine’s Vernadsky Station in Antarctica when Russia invaded their country. “It’s really agonizing to be here unable to fight the occupation of my homeland,” says station physician Andrii Khytryi. “For some, it is close to unbearable.” Nor do they know when they might be able to return home. Staff who were due to relieve them are now fighting or trapped in Ukrainian cities under Russian bombardment, according to Ukraine’s National Antarctic Scientific Center.
Features & opinion
Luc Montagnier: co-discoverer of HIV
Virologist Luc Montagnier won the Nobel prize for co-discovering HIV — work that made it possible to develop diagnostic tests and treatments that have saved countless lives. But he spent his later years dismantling that hard-won reputation by espousing fringe theories, including some that have fed into COVID-19 misinformation campaigns. He died on 8 February at the age of 89.
How to win an XPRIZE
Public and private institutions around the world are making use of science competitions to tap the brains of international talents, with some prizes — such as the XPRIZEs and the Earthshot Prize — running into millions of dollars. Contest organizers, investors and winners share their tips for emerging victorious and ways to use competitions to get a head start in innovation and entrepreneurship.
Food crisis ripples outward from Ukraine
The Russian invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s breadbaskets, is disrupting the world’s food supply, argue food-systems researchers Michael Puma and Megan Konar. Particularly vulnerable are Bangladesh, Sudan and Pakistan, which acquire most of their wheat from Russia or Ukraine, and Afghanistan, where famine is already looming. Food prices have already been inflated by pandemic-related supply-chain disruptions and the use of crops as biofuels instead of food. “The international community should act now to keep food prices down and ensure that grain supplies reach vulnerable countries,” argue the authors.
The New York Times | 5 min read
Where is all this rain coming from?
At any one time, Earth’s atmosphere holds only about a week’s worth of rain — but heavy rain has been falling for weeks in eastern Australia, and more is forecast. Three researchers explain where all the water is coming from. “By following moisture from the oceans to the land, we worked out exactly how three oceans feed water to the atmosphere,” they write. “A better understanding of how water moves through the atmosphere is vital to more accurately forecast severe weather.”
Reference: Journal of Climate paper
Where I work
Bioinformatician Lucía Spangenberg is helping to make genetic sequencing available to anyone who needs it. “In this picture I’m using a MinION Mk1C, a portable, cheap and easy-to-use DNA-sequencing machine, to detect SARS-CoV-2 in a nasal swab,” she says. Spangenberg co-founded a start-up, called GenLives, to bring the benefits of genetic sequencing to more people in Uruguay. “Doing genetic sequencing this easily is still exciting to me,” she says. “This field has such huge potential to help people with rare diseases, who might otherwise spend years without a correct diagnosis.” (Nature | 3 min read)