1. U.S. intelligence reports from January and February warned about a likely pandemic
U.S. intelligence agencies were issuing ominous, classified warnings in January and February about the global danger posed by the coronavirus
while President Trump and lawmakers played down the threat and failed to take action that might have slowed the spread of the pathogen, according to U.S. officials familiar with spy agency reporting.
The intelligence reports didn’t predict when the virus might land on U.S. shores or recommend particular steps that public health officials should take, issues outside the purview of the intelligence agencies. But they did track the spread of the virus in China, and later in other countries, and warned that Chinese officials appeared to be minimizing the severity of the outbreak.
Taken together, the reports and warnings painted an early picture of a virus that showed the characteristics of a globe-encircling pandemic that could require governments to take swift actions to contain it. But despite that constant flow of reporting, Trump continued publicly and privately to play down the threat the virus posed to Americans. Lawmakers, too, did not grapple with the virus in earnest until this month, as officials scrambled to keep citizens in their homes and hospitals braced for a surge in patients suffering from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Intelligence agencies “have been warning on this since January,” said a U.S. official who had access to intelligence reporting that was disseminated to members of Congress and their staffs as well as to officials in the Trump administration, and who, along with others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive information.
“Donald Trump may not have been expecting this, but a lot of other people in the government were – they just couldn’t get him to do anything about it,” this official said. “The system was blinking red.”
The Washington Post
President Trump and members of Congress failed to heed repeated early warnings from U.S. intelligence agencies about the outbreak’s potential severity, according to a blockbuster story in The Washington Post.
Despite CIA and national intelligence reports from January and February that the coronavirus had the potential to sweep the globe, Trump continued to trust (and tweet
) the Chinese government’s false claims that its spread was being controlled. “The system was blinking red,” a U.S. official told The Post. “They just couldn’t get him to do anything about it.”
The virus has infected Americans from every walk of life – most severely the immunocompromised and elderly, but also athletes, entertainers, lawmakers and, as of Friday, an employee in the office of Vice President Pence,
who leads the White House coronavirus task force and will be tested for the disease. (See the reader question section below for worrying signs that young Americans are falling seriously ill.)
The combination of mass infections and mass quarantines are threatening an economic crisis unprecedented in modern history.
Some financial analysts predict the economy will shrink at an annual rate of 14 percent to 30 percent in the next few months. Bank of America Merrill Lynch expects the government to report about 3 million newly unemployed Americans next week – “more than four times the record high set in the depths of the 1982 recession.”
Experts worry that the twin medical and economic crises could last far longer than we are prepared for, even into November’s national election, forcing officials to contemplate the hugely difficult and expensive possibility of an entire nation voting by mail.
3. Coronavirus patient shows encouraging immune system fightback
by Clive Cookson
Financial Times, London
The most detailed scientific study yet of a coronavirus patient has produced encouraging findings about the human immune system’s ability to fight the virus and help the body recover.
Researchers at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Australia analysed blood samples from a previously healthy 47-year-old woman who contracted Covid-19 and found that her recovery was due to an unexpectedly strong immune response.
The woman, whose blood was tested at four different points during the course of the disease, had travelled to Melbourne from Wuhan in China where Covid-19 originated.
She was admitted to hospital with typical symptoms of moderate Covid-19, which had begun four days earlier: lethargy, sore throat, dry cough, chest pain, shortness of breath and fever.
“We showed that even though Covid-19 is caused by a new virus, in an otherwise healthy person a robust immune response across different cell types was associated with clinical recovery, similar to what we see in influenza,” said Professor Katherine Kedzierska of the Doherty Institute.
Her chest was clear 10 days after she was admitted to hospital, she was discharged on day 11, and all symptoms had disappeared by day 13. Antibodies against the virus that causes Covid-19 continued to increase until the study ended on day 20.
A scientific paper on the case was published in Nature Medicine. Oanh Nguyen, another member of the team, said it was the first report of broad immune responses to Covid-19.
The virus’s death toll nonetheless continues to rise. The number of people confirmed to have died as a result of it has now surpassed 11,200 globally, with most of the victims elderly or sufferers of underlying health conditions.
The most important scientific uncertainty about Covid-19 is the strength and longevity of the human immune response – and in particular whether it is sufficient to build up lasting immunity in people who have been infected, or those who receive as-yet-undeveloped vaccines against the virus.
This study shows a powerful initial response, but no Covid-19 patients have recovered for long enough to judge its longevity.
“We looked at the whole breadth of the immune response in this patient using the knowledge we have built over many years of looking at immune responses in patients hospitalised with influenza,” Dr Nguyen said. “Three days after the patient was admitted, we saw large populations of several immune cells, which are often a tell-tale sign of recovery during seasonal influenza infection, so we predicted that the patient would recover in three days, which is what happened.”
The unnamed woman received intravenous fluids to keep her hydrated but received no antibiotics, steroids or antiviral drugs, and she did not need oxygenation on a ventilator.
“This is an incredible step forward in understanding what drives recovery from Covid-19. People can use our methods to understand the immune responses in larger Covid-19 cohorts, and also understand what’s lacking in those who have fatal outcomes,” said Prof Kedzierska.
There was also encouraging news about the immune response to Covid-19 in a different study by scientists at Peking Union Medical College in China, who infected macaques with the virus. They found that the monkeys produced enough antibodies to resist further infection.
Although caution is needed in extending the results of animal experiments to people, the Chinese researchers suggested that human patients would also respond strongly enough to prevent reinfection and make it possible to develop effective vaccines.