Research stories

Coronavirus updates around the world – Vol. 1

Impact Science is starting a new news blog series, to share news and research updates from across the globe. Looking for information about coronavirus (COVID-19)? Find articles in this series and stay up to date.

Tracing the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 has been the key topic of discussion globally with almost all countries grappling with the overwhelming numbers of positive cases since the first pneumonia cases surfaced in China late last year. We now know that the virus originated from a local seafood market in Wuhan, China. How did it all start? What was causing the severe pneumonia? How was the virus originally identified? A team of scientists from research institutes across China joined forces to analyze data from the first few patients with severe pneumonia in early December. They isolated the virus and performed next-generation sequencing to identify a novel coronavirus as the cause for severe pneumonia. Further analysis revealed that the virus was partially similar to the coronavirus that had caused the SARS outbreak in 2003. The novel coronavirus was found to be of bat-origin and was suspected to use the same receptor as the SARS coronavirus. This study, published in the Chinese Medical Journal, was one of the first to identify and provide valuable insights into the origins of what may be the biggest pandemic of this century.

Cues from nanomedicine: how chloroquine may be effective against COVID-19

In the hunt for immediate treatment options against COVID-19, chloroquine, an age-old antimalarial drug, has shown promising results in recent multicenter clinical trials. While clinical trials are still ongoing and trial data are yet to be made available, both chloroquine and its derivative, hydroxychloroquine, are known to be safe and inexpensive drugs. So how does an anti-malarial drug work against a virus like SARS-CoV-2? Studies on the mechanism of action of chloroquine indicate multiple possible scenarios. Chloroquine can result in an increased lysosomal pH which can inhibit several key virus entry and replication stages. Chloroquine is also known to inhibit nanoparticle endocytosis by inhibiting the expression of a key protein, phosphatidylinositol binding clathrin assembly protein (PICALM), required for endocytosis. Should the results from current clinical trials verify the initial results, future studies would be imperative to understand the mechanisms by which (hydroxy)chloroquine affects SARS-CoV-2 for optimizing prophylactic and therapeutic approaches.

To wear a face mask or not?

The face mask has become a ubiquitous sight in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. While some countries recommend the use of surgical masks by general public, others recommend their use by only those at high risk. However, the overbearing question that now arises is “who should be wearing these masks?” To address this question, it is important to consider the ramifications of overuse or underuse. Increase in face mask usage by the general public is likely to result in a global shortage leading to rocketing prices and a risk of supply constraints for healthcare providers who critically need such protective equipment. Also, improper use might have a negative protective effect leading to increased risk of infection. On the other hand, general use may limit the risk of infection from asymptomatic carriers, potentially preventing community spread. Perhaps a rational way forward would be to recommend usage based on risk stratification, which would balance overuse and underuse.

Digitization amidst the COVID-19 Crisis: The Only Economic Salvation

In an unprecedented move, the Indian government recently announced a country-wide lockdown for 21 days, in an effort to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, social distancing is the need of the hour, but how does this impact the global economy? Never before have businesses dealt with such a shock, and many were left unprepared to salvage the situation.
The only industries that might recover from this sudden blow are the ones that had already undergone a digital transformation or have the ability to rapidly transform. For example, the New York Stock exchange recently moved its base to an electronic platform for the first time in 228 years.
However, companies—even large, profitable ones—that depend even partially on manual labour are likely to bear the brunt of it. Take Amazon for example: this is a company that depends largely on a digital platform for sales; nevertheless, delivery and operations include a large number of workers. Not surprisingly, even a few weeks of lockdown have greatly been affecting the company’s operations, with workers now starting to protest in some countries.
It is no secret that this pandemic will unequivocally lead to a great economic downturn, with some experts even comparing it to the economic recession of 2008. Digitization is the only salvation for economies all over the word, but only time will tell if the damage is already done.

Shivanee Shah, Sharang Kolwalkar, Anupama Prakash, Avantika Deo, Rachana Bhattacharjee

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