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A Woman Died Of COVID After Contracting 2 Variants At The Same Time, Researchers Say



Scientists say a Belgian woman was infected with two coronavirus variants at the same time, including beta. Beta’s spike protein is shown here in a scientific illustration. Juan Gaertner /Getty Images/Science Photo Library hide caption

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Juan Gaertner /Getty Images/Science Photo Library

The patient came to the hospital because she was repeatedly falling down. She was breathing fine, and her blood oxygen levels were good. But tests showed that the 90-year-old Belgian woman had COVID-19 — and not just one strain, but two variants of the virus. She died at the hospital in just five days after her respiratory system rapidly deteriorated.

“To our knowledge, this is one of the first reports of a double infection” with two coronavirus variants of concern, the researchers said.

The woman had both the alpha and beta variants of the coronavirus (which were detected first in the U.K. and South Africa, respectively), according to a paper that was presented over the weekend at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases.

The woman was probably infected by two separate people

“Both these variants were circulating in Belgium at the time, so it is likely that the lady was co-infected with different viruses from two different people,” said Anne Vankeerberghen of the OLV Hospital in Aalst, Belgium, in a news release.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know how she became infected,” added Vankeerberghen, who is a molecular biologist and lead author of the report.

Before falling ill, the woman had been living alone in her home, where she received nursing care. Her previous medical history contained no red flags, according to Vankeerberghen and her co-authors.

But a screening test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, returned a “strongly positive” result. Follow-up PCR tests for variants of concern identified the two coronavirus strains in her system. Secondary tests confirmed the unusual results.

While the case is being seen as the first confirmed instance of a double infection, Vankeerberghen and the other researchers note that similar cases have been reported. In Brazil, for instance, people were found to have two variants in their system early this year, but that study has not yet been published. And in the past, the researchers say, flu patients have been found to have contracted two distinct strains of the influenza virus.

Testing for coronavirus variants in COVID-19 patients is routine at the OLV Hospital. While the researchers call the woman’s condition “exceptional,” they say more widespread testing for variants of concern “would probably identify more mixed infection and could lead to a better insight for their effect on illness and treatment.”

Variants are complicating the fight against COVID-19

Coronavirus variants have been blamed for driving localized or regional surges of new COVID-19 cases in the U.S., even as high vaccination rates have tamped down on cases in many areas.

In April, the Biden administration announced a massive push to boost testing for variants.

“U.S. public health officials have been operating with incomplete information because of an inadequate viral genomics surveillance system,” as NPR reported at the time.

Health experts say it’s particularly vital to identify the strains of the virus that are responsible for thousands of U.S. “breakthrough cases,” in which the virus manages to infect vaccinated people.

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U.S. Life Expectancy Fell By 1.5 Years In 2020, The Biggest Drop Since WW II



A fence alongside Greenwood Cemetery, in Brooklyn, N.Y., is covered with memorial art for people who died of COVID-19. Pandemic deaths caused the biggest drop in life expectancy in decades. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images hide caption

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Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Life expectancy in the United States declined by a year and a half in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says the coronavirus is largely to blame.

COVID-19 contributed to 74% of the decline in life expectancy from 78.8 years in 2019 to 77.3 years in 2020, according to the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

It was the largest one-year decline since World War II, when life expectancy dropped by 2.9 years between 1942 and 1943. Hispanic and Black communities saw the biggest declines.

For African Americans, life expectancy dropped by 2.9 years from 74.7 years in 2019 to 71.8 in 2020.

U.S. Hispanics — who have a longer life expectancy than non-Hispanic Blacks or whites saw the largest decline in life expectancy during the pandemic, dropping 3 years from 81.8 years in 2019 to 78.8 years in 2020. Hispanic males saw the biggest decline, with a drop of 3.7 years. COVID-19 was responsible for 90% of the decline among Hispanics.

The increase in drug overdose deaths was also a factor in declining life expectancy. More than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2020. That’s the highest number reported in a single year. Other causes of death contributing to the decline were increases in homicide and deaths from diabetes and chronic liver disease.

Just last month a study published in the British Medical Journal looked at life expectancy data for the U.S. and compared it to life expectancy data from 16 other high income countries. The study found the U.S. decrease in life expectancy from 2018 to 2020 was 8.5 times greater than the average decrease in peer countries. And the U.S. declines were most pronounced among minority groups, specifically Black and Hispanic people.

Study author Steven Woolf of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, told NPR’s Allison Aubrey, “We have not seen a decrease like this since World War II. It’s a horrific decrease in life expectancy.”

“It is impossible to look at these findings and not see a reflection of the systemic racism in the U.S.,” Lesley Curtis, chair of the Department of Population Health Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, told NPR.

“The range of factors that play into this include income inequality, the social safety net, as well as racial inequality and access to health care,” Curtis said.

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England Has Lifted Most Of Its COVID-19 Restrictions, Even As U.K. Cases Are Up 41%



People dance at Egg London nightclub in the early hours on Monday in London. Rob Pinney/Getty Images hide caption

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Rob Pinney/Getty Images

England has lifted most of its domestic COVID-19 restrictions, marking a milestone as the country moves into a new phase of pandemic life — what some have dubbed “Freedom Day.”

Young people gathered at nightclubs just after midnight to celebrate the return of crowds to raucous indoor spaces. “This is what life’s about,” one clubgoer said.

The move to phase 4 of the country’s reopening plan means that there are no limits on the size of social gatherings or events, and two meters of social distancing is no longer required. The government still recommends meeting outdoors when possible.

Requirements to wear face coverings have been lifted, though masks are still recommended in crowded areas like public transport. They are still required on the London Tube. And the government is no longer instructing people to work from home if possible, though it anticipates a gradual return to the office.

Restrictions are lifting, but cases are rising

The loosened restrictions are happening as cases in the U.K. spike to the highest levels since January — up 41% over the previous week.

“Today, we’ve taken the fourth step on the prime minister’s roadmap. We faced challenges and delays. However, thanks to the success of the vaccine rollout, we are now in a position to ease the majority of our domestic COVID-19 restrictions,” U.K. Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi said Monday.

Zahawi said the new phase brings an emphasis on personal and corporate responsibility in combating the virus.

The moves come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in self-isolation, following close contact with the UK health secretary, Sajid Javid, who announced Saturday he had tested positive for COVID-19.

Johnson was just one of many Britons pushed into isolation after pings on their cellphones informing them they’d been exposed to someone positive for COVID-19. Businesses across the U.K. faced labor shortages due to more than half a million people in a week receiving such pings and the recommended self-isolation measures.

A spokesman for Johnson said Monday that the prime minister had tested negative for the virus and was not displaying any symptoms. Johnson had earlier said that rather than self-isolate, he would take part in a pilot scheme that used testing instead, but he later backed off that idea.

Johnson’s government is coming under fire

Labour party leader Keir Starmer criticized Johnson and his Conservative government for lifting too many measures, calling it “a reckless free-for-all.”

Meanwhile, anti-lockdown protesters gathered outside Parliament on Monday, complaining that the lifted measures weren’t enough.

“We don’t think it’s over yet. They are still mandating masks in supermarkets, people are still wearing masks, and they will try and roll out vaccines in September for the children.” 25-year-old Megan Bullen, an artist, told The Washington Post.

Commuters on the London Underground continued to wear masks on Monday, as required by the transport service. Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images hide caption

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Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

There’s confusion around the rules

The changing rules caused some confusion on the Monday morning commute. The BBC reports that because masks are mandatory for Transport of London services but not for Thameslink trains that also serve stations in the city, commuters might take their masks on and off as they switch trains – depending on their direction of travel.

Travelers to the U.K. from France also complained that quarantine rules that had been set to lapse were instead renewed. The rules require anyone arriving from France to quarantine for five to 10 days, even if they are fully vaccinated, due to concerns about the Beta variant.

“We don’t think the United Kingdom’s decisions are totally based on scientific foundations. We find them excessive,” France’s Minister of State for European Affairs, Clément Beaune, told BFM TV, Reuters reports.

Britain has seen one of the world’s highest death tolls from COVID-19. But it now has higher vaccination rate than its European counterparts: 87.9% of U.K. adults have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Nearly 68% have received a second dose.

Scotland moved to its lowest level of restrictions on Monday, but still has mandatory face coverings and limits on gatherings. Northern Ireland plans to lift some restrictions on July 26, and Wales on August 7.

Even before Monday’s move to phase four, England had played host to mass gatherings. The British Grand Prix, a Formula 1 race, drew 140,000 spectators to the country’s Silverstone Circuit on Sunday.

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Southeast Asian Countries Struggle To Contain A Devastating Third Wave Of COVID-19



Workers in protective suits carry a coffin containing the body of a COVID-19 victim to a grave for burial at the Cipenjo Cemetery in Bogor, West Java, Indonesia, Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Achmad Ibrahim/AP hide caption

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Achmad Ibrahim/AP

A devastating third wave of the coronavirus pandemic is hitting several countries in Southeast Asia as the delta variant takes hold in the region, leading to record levels of infections and death.

Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand had avoided such largescale outbreaks previously. Now, they’re struggling to contain fresh outbreaks, even as Indonesia and Myanmar are battling low vaccination rates, limited oxygen supplies and overcrowded hospitals. Health care experts say health care systems in both countries are on the brink of collapse.

Indonesian Epidemiologist Dicky Budiman of Griffith University in Australia spoke with NPR about why so many countries in the region are facing high levels of infection now.

“Our testing capacity is still low compared to the magnitude of the pandemic. And the second one is about the vaccination rate – not only low but slow,” Budiman said.

Many Southeast Asian nations have benefitted from China’s largesse in making its’ Sinovac vaccine available relatively early on in the pandemic. Now, however, with many vaccinated health care workers falling sick, these same countries are starting to question Sinovac’s efficacy, even as they struggle to import others from the U.S. and Europe.

Indonesia becomes the global leader in new infections

As of Sunday, Indonesia reported 73,582 deaths from COVID-19 and more than 2.8 million confirmed cases since the pandemic begain. For much of last week the country recorded a steady rise in infections, surpassing India and Brazil as the world’s leader in new infection rates.

Oxygen tanks are prepared for patients in the hallway of an overcrowded hospital amid a surge of COVID-19 cases, in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, Friday, July 9, 2021. Trisnadi/AP hide caption

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Indonesian epidemiologists say the real case load is likely even higher. Many expect the situation will get much worse.

Citizens are reporting desperate searches to find oxygen for loved ones or beds in a hospital. An increasing number of health workers are reportedly dying from COVID-19, too.

According to the Mitigation Team of the Indonesian Medical Association, a physicians’ network known as IDI, 114 doctors have died so far this month–twice as many as the those who died in June, according to Voice of America. A total of 545 doctors in Indonesia, the IDI said, have died since the pandemic began.

Still, government officials claim they are prepared for the “worst-case scenario,” according to The New York Times.

“If we talk about the worst-case scenario, 60,000 or slightly more, we are pretty OK,” said Luhut Pandjaitan, a senior minister in charge of handling the crisis in Indonesia, said last week during a press conference. “We are hoping that it will not reach 100,000, but even so, we are preparing now for if we ever get there.”

Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, told NPR that the worst-case scenario would be more than 100,000 cases a day. That’s a number he says could be reached by next month if existing measures to stop the transmission of the virus aren’t strengthened.

Thailand goes under lockdown, again

Anger with how Thai officials have handled the pandemic boiled over this weekend.

On Sunday, more than 1,000 protesters marched toward Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha’s office, demanding he resign over perceived failures at controlling the pandemic in the country.

Police use water cannon to disperse protesters as they march to Government House in Bangkok, Thailand Sunday, July 18, 2021. Anuthep Cheysakron/AP hide caption

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Anuthep Cheysakron/AP

According to Reuters, police used tear gas, water cannon, and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. Police said eight officers were injured and 13 protestors were arrested.

As of Monday local time, Thailand reported 11,784 new confirmed coronavirus cases and a total of 415,170 cumulative cases in the country. More than half of which have come since April. At least 3,420 people have died, the government reports.

Thirteen provinces in Thailand are tightening lockdown measures in existing red zones and expanding them to several more starting July 20 in an attempt to curtail the spread of the virus. New restrictions are in place until at least Aug. 2.

“The Government stressed the need to ease the COVID-19 situation as soon as possible by restricting the people’s movement out of their dwelling places in order to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection,” the Thai government’s public relations department said in an announcement. “It has been found that the spread of the disease in Bangkok and its vicinity became more severe.”

Bangkok and other nearby areas with existing measures currently in place are included in the expanded order, which includes closing malls and further restrictions on restaurants and public transportation. The government is also establishing checkpoints to screen and prevent people that live in strict coronavirus control zones from traveling to other areas in the country.

Myanmar struggles in wake of February’s coup

Political tensions and a military crackdown on dissent following the military’s Feb. 1 coup have disrupted access to healthcare in neighboring Myanmar as the country faces a devastating rise in COVID-19 cases.

Buddhist novice monks wearing face masks walk past a COVID-19 awareness sign as they collect morning alms Thursday, July 15, 2021, in Yangon, Myanmar. Thein Zaw/AP hide caption

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Thein Zaw/AP

The UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar warned the country was at risk of “becoming a Covid-19 super-spreader state,” according to The Asian Times.

Anger at the military as well as fear of being seen as cooperating with the regime, has pushed many doctors and patients away from military-run hospitals. Families are searching for care and oxygen on their own, the outlet reports.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports reports more than 229,000 infected people in the country and at least 5,000 deaths from the virus as of Sunday, though reports indicate the number may be even higher.

The number of people who have died from the virus has risen so quickly, reports say, that crematoriums and funeral homes are struggling to keep up with the demand.

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There may be a gene for COVID-19 resistance



DNA, gene

Evidence from a recent study suggests that a specific gene may provide some resistance to severe symptoms of COVID-19.

According to the study, the genetic make-up of those who experience severe COVID-19 symptoms, versus those who are asymptomatic, significantly differ at one gene location.

The study found a significantly higher frequency of the HLA-DRB1*04:01 gene in asymptomatic individuals. This potential gene for COVID-19 resistance is a version – allele – of the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) family of genes, which are involved in immune system response.

The research group from Newcastle University in the United Kingdom enrolled 49 patients in the study who presented with COVID-19 respiratory failure requiring ventilation and/or administration of oxygen. They compared their HLA genes to 69 hospital staff who tested positive for COVID-19 but remained asymptomatic during their infection.

The frequency of the HLA-DRB1*04:01 was significantly higher in the asymptomatic individuals compared to those with severe symptoms, at 16.7% and 5.1%, respectively.1 These findings suggest HLA-DRB1*04:01 may be a gene for COVID-19 resistance.

The HLA-DRB1*04:01 gene, like the other HLA genes, code for transmembrane proteins that present foreign material, “antigens”, to immune cells called T cells. These T cells recognize these signals and facilitate an attack.

The frequency of HLA alleles correlates with geographical location, as shown in previous studies. In light of this, the study took participants from similar European background and from two hospitals in the North East of England. They also included a control group from the same background and location.

The HLA-DRB1*04:01 allele frequency in the control group was calculated to be 11.0%. This proportion was similar to the frequency found in the U.K. population, 11.1%. Populations from Northwestern Europe were found to contain a greater frequency of this potential gene for COVID-19 resistance.

“[The identification of the HLA-DRB1*04:01 gene] could lead us to a genetic test which may indicate who we need to prioritise for future vaccinations”, according to Dr. Carlos Echevarria, co-author of the study.2 “At a population level, this is important for us to know because when we have lots of people who are resistant […] then they risk spreading the virus while asymptomatic”.2


  1. Langton, D.J. et al. (2021). The influence of HLA genotype on the severity of COVID-19 infection. HLA Early View. Doi: 10.1111/tan.14284.

Gene protection for COVID-19 identified. (2021). EurekAlert! The American Association for the Advancement of Science. Accessed on June 12, 2021. Retrieved from

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 

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