The number of COVID-19 cases around the world has just passed 1 million, and it may seem as though this pandemic will never go away. It is important to remember that, in their labs, scientists are making quiet progress every day — helping untangle the causes of this crisis and inching closer to stopping it.
Researchers are working at breakneck speed to come up with ways of treating and preventing COVID-19.
In this article, we continue the series by looking at the impact of social distancing measures, newly launched treatment trials, and hopes for a vaccine.
Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.
Social distancing measures work
A new study by Prof. Chaolong Wang and colleagues from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, in Wuhan, China, suggests that the social distancing measures implemented by Chinese officials prevented more than 90% of possible infections between January 23 and February 18, 2020.
Prof. Wang and the team reached this conclusion after having developed a method of predicting virus transmission patterns by looking at population movement, unconfirmed cases, and people in quarantine. The study also predicted that nearly 60% of the people carrying the virus had no symptoms and were not self-isolating. This may have contributed to the quick spread of the virus. These findings are consistent with those of other studies, such as one published in Eurosurveillance that looked at the spread of the virus on the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Prof. Gerardo Chowell, a co-author of this study, highlights the importance of social distancing as the only way to block the chain of contagion in the context of asymptomatic cases.
“Implementing strong social distancing measures is the only way to stop the virus from spreading.”
‘Mega trial’ of 4 potential new treatments
The World Health Organization (WHO) have launched SOLIDARITY, an international mega trial of four possible ways to treat COVID-19.
The first trial will look at repurposing redeliver, a drug that was developed to treat Ebola but proved ineffective for this purpose.
The drug, however, seems to be effective against the coronaviruses SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. Some recent reports have suggested that it may have helped some people recover from COVID-19.
The WHO research also seeks to assess the value of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, two antimalarial drugs, and to examine the effectiveness of two HIV drugs — ritonavir and lopinavir — used in combination.
It is worth noting that another study has cast doubt on the efficacy of HIV antiretroviral therapies as a COVID-19 treatment. But it is also worth bearing in mind that participants in this study may have received the interventions too late.
Lastly, in an attempt to boost the efficacy of the antiretrovirals, the WHO team will combine the two drugs with interferon beta, a first-line treatment for multiple sclerosis.