Powerful cyclone prompts millions to evacuate; Trump threatens WHO funding, US membership; Tracking the growing list of COVID-19 symptoms

Powerful cyclone prompts millions to evacuate; Trump threatens WHO funding, US membership; Tracking the growing list of COVID-19 symptoms

By
The World staff

A scientist at India Meteorological Department Earth System Science Organization, points to a section of the screen showing the position of the Cyclone Amphan to media people inside his office in Kolkata, India, May 19, 2020.

Credit:

Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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Top of The World — our morning news round up written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.

A potentially devastating cyclone is expected to hit South Asia on Wednesday, leading India and Bangladesh to evacuate up to 3 million people from the storm’s path. Cyclone Amphan had been classified as the most powerful type of cyclone and the second such storm to be tracked in the region since 1999. Though it has been weakening slightly, it is still likely to bring dangerous wind, rain and flooding. 

Cyclone Amphan is coming in the midst of a pandemic, in which India and Bangladesh together have more than 125,000 confirmed coronavirus cases. Some evacuees fear catching the virus in emergency shelters with no room to maintain social distance. 

A recent study shows that major tropical cyclones have become more likely over the past 40 years. According to researchers: “A warming planet may be fueling the increase” in stronger, sustained winds.

Trump threatens WHO funding, US membership

US President Donald Trump has redoubled his criticism of the World Health Organization, threatening to permanently withdraw funding and reconsider US membership if the UN agency does not commit to “major substantive improvements” within the next 30 days. The ultimatum comes after the first day of a WHO global summit urging international cooperation. The Trump administration already put a 60-day hold on WHO funds in April. Withdrawing support and membership would weaken the agency in the middle of a worldwide fight to tackle the novel coronavirus pandemic. It would also leave the US with little influence over the body and less access to WHO resources. 

And: China accuses US of coronavirus smear campaign

Also: Trump says he’s taking hydroxychloroquine, prompting warning from health experts

Colombian airlines face controversy over pandemic loans

Governments worldwide — from Singapore to the Netherlands and the US — have devoted more than $85 billion to prop up airlines during the coronavirus pandemic. But airlines’ requests for aid are controversial in less rich Latin American economies, where millions live in poverty and public health systems are ill-equipped to respond to a large-scale health crisis. Many leaders in Latin America likely see air travel as a luxury and may be reluctant to extend help to airlines during the crisis.

And: Britain is at risk of ‘returning to 80s levels of unemployment’

Tracking the growing list of COVID-19 symptoms

When the novel coronavirus first emerged in China, the world was warned to watch out for two main symptoms: fever or a persistent cough. A lot has changed since then. Researchers are learning that symptoms of the coronavirus can vary depending on myriad factors, such as age and health status. The COVID Symptom Study is pulling together this growing list of the coronavirus symptoms. Since its app launched in March, it has crowdsourced symptoms from more than 3.5 million people in the UK, US and Sweden.

From The World: World faces risk of ‘vaccine nationalism’ in COVID-19 fight, says CEPI chair

And: Trump’s use of malaria drug likely to be welcomed in India

Mosques in Kenya offer virtual prayers for Ramadan

On a normal Friday during Ramadan, Ahmed Ali Mohamed would head to the mosque with his family and friends to break the fast. But with the pandemic, this year’s Ramadan experience is anything but normal for Muslims in Nairobi, Kenya. Eastleigh, a predominantly Muslim neighborhood in Nairobi where Mohamed’s mother and grandmother live, is currently under lockdown, and most mosques have closed. Instead, some mosques are offering virtual prayers via YouTube.

And: Eid al-Fitr 2020: Everything you need to know

Art, poetry and … zombies? Cultural legacies of the 1918 pandemic

Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s “Self-Portrait with the Spanish Flu,” circa 1919. 

Credit:

Public domain/Wikimedia Commons

There seem to be few great works of art that keep the 1918 flu pandemic alive in cultural memory. But Elizabeth Outka, author of “Viral Modernism: The Influenza Pandemic and Interwar Literature,” says the 1918 pandemic’s influence is an undercurrent that runs through many works of the period.

For example, the pandemic and World War I led to a renewed interest in spiritualism, a belief that humans could communicate with the dead through seances, mediums and objects like Ouija boards. Another surprising cultural byproduct of the pandemic? Zombies.

Also: Polish hit song on grieving ‘censored’, sparking protests

Morning meme

After searching for 32 years, a Chinese couple has finally been reunited with their son, who was abducted from a Xi’an hotel when he was just two years old. 

“I won’t let him leave me anymore,” cried his mom. https://t.co/OcXTs6jx4K

— Shanghaiist.com (@shanghaiist) May 19, 2020In case you missed itListen: World leaders convene to address coronavirus crisis response

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of World Health Organization speaks at the virtual 73rd World Health Assembly following the coronavirus outbreak in Geneva, Switzerland, May 18, 2020.

Credit:

Christopher Black/WHO/handout via Reuters

It’s an unprecedented time and situation: “A microscopic virus has brought us to our knees,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres at the start of the 73rd annual World Health Assembly on Monday. Leaders from around the world convened, for the first time virtually, for two days of meetings to address the world’s response to the global pandemic. And, Brazil, one of the world’s coronavirus epicenters, is now navigating the coronavirus crisis without a health minister after Nelson Taich resigned on Friday. Also, a principal in New Zealand has posted a catchy YouTube video as health advice for her students returning after lockdown encouraging them to stay out of each other’s “moist breath zone.”

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Study tracks growing list of COVID-19 symptoms in real time

Study tracks growing list of COVID-19 symptoms in real time

The COVID Symptom Study is pulling together this growing list of the coronavirus symptoms. Since its app launched in March, it has crowdsourced symptoms from more than 3.5 million people in the UK, US and Sweden.

By
Elana Gordon

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People walk on the banks of the river Seine after France began a gradual end to a nationwide lockdown due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Paris, May 17, 2020.

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Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters 

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When the novel coronavirus first emerged in China, the world was warned to watch out for two main symptoms: fever or a persistent cough.

A lot has changed since then.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now lists seven symptoms, and the World Health Organization includes even more, with a breakdown of which ones appears to be more or less common. On Monday, the United Kingdom also added loss of smell and taste to the growing list of symptoms.

Related: World faces risk of ‘vaccine nationalism’ in COVID-19 fight, says CEPI chair

Researchers are learning that symptoms of the coronavirus can vary depending on myriad factors, such as age and health status. And they’re seeing other conditions they hadn’t connected to the disease earlier on, including in children.

Although cases of the coronavirus in children are few and far between, doctors have recently observed a syndrome they say is probably linked to COVID-19. Some children have experienced a rare condition involving an overreaction of the immune system and requiring intensive care.

“I call on all clinicians worldwide to work with your national authorities and WHO to be on the alert and better understand this syndrome in children.”

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general

“I call on all clinicians worldwide to work with your national authorities and WHO to be on the alert and better understand this syndrome in children,” said WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

The COVID Symptom Study is pulling together this growing list of the coronavirus symptoms in real-time. Since its app launched in March, it has crowdsourced symptoms from more than 3.5 million people in the UK, US and Sweden.

Related: Under lockdown, mosques in Kenya offer virtual prayers for Ramadan

“There are a few other ones we’ve added recently like acute muscle pains, hives of the face and skin rashes,” said Dr. Timothy Spector, a professor of genetic epidemiology and a doctor at King’s College in London and co-director of the study. “We’ve also got chest pain, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, hoarse voice, confusion, diarrhea. Important ones are fatigue, anorexia and loss of smell and taste.”

That last one — loss of smell and taste — caught the group’s attention. Spector and others with the project had a study in the journal Nature last week showing that the loss of smell and taste was higher in those with a positive test result — around 65% reported it — compared to those with a negative test result — about 21.7%.

But it may be confusing for people to know whether a loss of smell or taste has to do with something like spring allergies as opposed to COVID-19. One indicator is that a person has never experienced such symptoms before.

The reason symptoms vary so wildly may depend on how people’s immune systems respond to the virus, but scientists are still learning. Through the study, researchers are able to zoom out and track trends at a population level.

Related: Gorilla conservation’s latest threat: COVID-19 from tourists

Spector is also interested in how genetics comes into play as well as people’s guts, or microbiomes.

“In my career, I’ve never seen any disease that has such a variable effect in people and can affect nearly every part of the body as well.”

Dr. Timothy Spector, King’s College in London

“In my career, I’ve never seen any disease that has such a variable effect in people and can affect nearly every part of the body as well.”

Clusters of symptoms may be an indicator of the disease and its spread, according to Dr. Andrew Chan, an epidemiologist at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health and lead researcher of the project. One example might be groups of people reporting a combination of abdominal pain, acute loss of smell and a stuffy nose.

The hope is that such knowledge and data could better identify outbreaks.

“Our understanding of the symptoms has changed as a result of the data we’re collecting,” he said. “That [data] has been returned to public health authorities as a way to better track where we’re actually seeing incidence.”

Related: Madagascar defends coronavirus herbal remedy 

The need to get a better, real-time clinical picture of COVID-19 is critical, said Eleanor Murray, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University who wasn’t involved in the study.

Tracking self-reported symptoms in this way can help researchers identify symptoms that might not be on their radar, she said. But Murray cautioned that the study has limits: It only captures those who use the app.

“Who downloads that app, who uses that app, who has access to a smartphone?” she said, adding that the app may miss young children and the elderly.

The fact that more people may be primed to report symptoms that they’re more aware of now might also throw off the data somewhat, she said.