Welcome to the last in our series of weekly roundups looking at developments from the coronavirus pandemic. As local spikes in infections continue to crop up in many countries, Amsterdam’s sex workers have had to adopt new measures to prevent infection from Covid-19, and researchers reveal why lovers of apocalyptic movies might have been better prepared than the rest of us when the pandemic struck.
Local spikes in Covid-19 cases
As the rest of the UK gets set for a relaxation of lockdown rules this weekend, with pubs, cinemas and hotels reopening, inhabitants of Leicester will face a tightening of restrictions until at least 18 July.
Announcing the move on Tuesday, Matt Hancock, the secretary of state for health and social care, said the city had seen “10% of all positive cases in the country over the past week”, adding that among other measures local schools would now close to most pupils and non-essential shops would shut once more.
Dido Harding, who leads the NHS test and trace system, said the programme had been important in flagging the spike in cases in Leicester, pushing back against suggestions that the authorities had not received enough data from the service.
It is not yet clear what is behind the uptick in infections in the city. While it has been noted there have been increasing levels of testing, which might in part explain the rise, similar upticks have not been seen in neighbouring towns.
Other countries have also seen sharp localised rises in cases after lockdown restrictions were eased, with Tokyo now seeing new daily cases in triple digits.
Meanwhile in Australia, genomic sequencing has suggested a spike in cases in Melbourne could have arisen as a result of a single “super-spreading” event, although there are other possibilities.
Volte-face on masks
In the US the continued spread of Covid-19 has led to a U-turn by the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott. Earlier this year, the politician blocked local lawmakers from requiring people to wear masks, but now he has issued an executive order supporting the use of masks, and requiring all Texans to wear a face covering in public spaces in counties with 20 or more cases of coronavirus – although there are some exceptions.
Abbott is not the only US politician to change his tune on face masks. Having previously been vocal about not wanting to wear a face mask, President Donald Trump said he was “all for masks” in an interview with Fox Business, saying he looked like the Lone Ranger when he wore one (which may raise a few quizzical eyebrows given that the Lone Ranger wore a mask over his eyes).
And as the Fourth of July Independence Day celebrations loom, medical experts in the US have voiced concerns that celebrations could create “super-spreader” events. While many public gatherings have been cancelled, large groups are still expected to get together.
“It’s set up a perfect storm,” Joshua Barocas, an infectious disease physician at Boston Medical Center, said during a briefing by the Infectious Diseases Society of America.
“The combination of travel, the combination of reopening – perhaps in some cases too early – and the combination of people not necessarily following some of these preventive guidelines.”
Green light for red light in Amsterdam
Sex workers in the red light district of Amsterdam are allowed to go back to work, but are having to embrace a new normal. They must check that clients do not have symptoms of Covid-19, while disinfection, handwashing and changing of bed sheets have also been ramped up. Some sex workers have added they are also avoiding kissing.
Science Weekly podcast
This week’s podcast takes a closer look at a figure we have all become familiar with over the past few months: the effective reproduction number, or R. Dr Adam Kucharski of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine discusses the nuances of R and why it can rise even as infections fall.
Life imitating art
And finally, a study suggests that watching apocalyptic movies might stand one in good stead. Researchers have found that fans of so-called “prepper movies” such as It Comes at Night and Contagion were more resilient and better prepared for the Covid-19 pandemic than those who favoured other genres.
“If you’ve watched a lot of what we call prepper movies, you will have vicariously lived through massive social upheavals, states of martial law, people responding in both prosocial and dangerously selfish ways to a sudden catastrophic event,” Mathias Clasen, a psychologist at Aarhus University and a co-author on the study told the Guardian. “Compared to somebody who has never simulated the end of the world, you’ll be in a better place because you have that vicarious experience.”
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