Coronavirus Latest Covid19 Science Documentary 2020

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Biological Science

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just over a hundred days ago a deadly virus took an unprepared world by storm kovid 19 can be characterized as a pandemic but as the world scrambled to react to this growing emergency [Music] an astonishing global scientific effort began to understand the nature of this new enemy and how we could fight it we really have recruited a microscopic army horizon has assembled a team of bbc science experts to analyze the urgent work being done to combat this crisis you can just look at the tubes and go yep that one has coronavirus and that one does not to tell the story of where this virus sprang from that's a very good environment for a new virus to emerge from a mutation what makes it so infectious this new coronavirus is already primed and ready to infect and how science is trying to suppress the spread and find a cure at a pace never seen before the race is not against each other it's against the virus itself we're facing one of the greatest medical and scientific challenges in history with new information emerging at an astonishing rate this is a battle we are fighting not just in the lab but also with numbers and data more than ever it's the scientific response that will be crucial in determining the future of this pandemic we may never know the exact origin of this pandemic but some scientists believe the very first cases of 19 started somewhere in central china as early as november last year in december a 57 year old seafood trader in wuhan phones in sick to say she has a fever and a cough by the 18th the symptoms are so severe the woman is admitted to hospital a few days later several more patients are admitted with similar flu-like symptoms on december 24th doctors collect the first sample for genetic sequencing and five days later the wuhan center for disease control begins an investigation into the source of an outbreak they discover that many patients work at wuhan seafood market where wild animals are also sold at wuhan central hospital a doctor called lee won young receives a lab report that suggests the infection might be caused by a sars-like virus as news of the outbreak starts to circulate on social media the chinese authorities are forced to tell the world health organization it's largely under control most patients are showing lighter symptoms and some of them have already been discharged the chinese centre for disease control blames wild animals as the source of the mystery virus and they order the closure of the seafood market on january the first in central china an outbreak of an unknown pneumonia-like virus which officials say comes from the same family as the deadly sars virus just two weeks after collecting the first sample chinese authorities announced the identity of the virus but it's not the sars virus while it's from the same coronavirus family this is a completely new strain [Music] the big challenge in those early days was that no one knew what we were dealing with for humans this was a completely new pathogen a type of coronavirus now viruses are extraordinary things some people say that they're not living organisms but really i think of them as the simplest form of life they're typically a fatty membrane which encloses a shell made of protein which itself protects a scrap of genetic code either dna or in this case rna both are basic sets of genetic instructions but here's the catch to reproduce all viruses have to hijack the cells of other organisms so the viruses in the droplets produced when a patient with this new coronavirus for examples coughs or sneezes they can't reproduce unless they get inside the cells of another human being and they get inside the cells using these red protein spikes on the surface of the virus now these bind to receptors on the surface of the cell and that allows them to get inside the cell they shed that membrane and the protein capsid and then the virus genetic code is interpreted by the cell as its own genetic code and that turns the cell into a virus factory creating thousands more copies of the virus viruses infect all life forms animals plants even bacteria the current pandemic of covid19 is caused by a coronavirus corona is the latin name for crown and these viruses look like round balls covered in these spikes giving them this crown shape this coronavirus is one of many there are four that commonly circulate in humans some of which we think have been around for hundreds even thousands of years and they usually cause cold and flu-like symptoms the problem comes when a new strain of coronavirus emerges like the one that caused the sars outbreak in 2003 or this current pandemic but where do these new strains emerge from and why [Music] within just a few weeks of the outbreak scientists had mapped the virus's genome hazel hi and discovered that it shares 96 of its genetic code with a virus found in bats so i've got a brown long-eared bat here hazel ryan is a bat conservationist bats don't have a great reputation when it comes to very dangerous diseases if we think of rabies ebola mers sars and this new coronavirus we think have all come from bats why is that well it's really because bats are able to carry these diseases without actually getting sick themselves and even if they are introduced to pathogens in a lab they don't seem to get sick they it doesn't induce a fever we're not sure why bats have such powerful immune systems oh look at that but one theory is linked to the fact that they're the world's only flying mammal as this bat flies around it has a gigantically high metabolism it's making far more heat than a human would through exercise in flight a bat's heart rate can shoot up to over a thousand beats per minute all that exertion takes a huge toll on their bodies so bats have evolved to quickly repair cell damage that could be one of the reasons that bats can host over a hundred different viruses without getting sick but how does a virus make the jump from a bat to a human a back coronavirus can infect another bat because spike proteins on its surface have adapted to attach to the cells of that species but they can't usually attach to the cells of another species however that can change so the remarkable thing about bats is that bats live in their own cities groups of tens of thousands or even millions of individuals and a city a group of animals that big is a unique environment because that enables viruses to be continually passed around as they pass from bat to bat the viruses genetic code is copied billions of times but with so many copies being made errors can creep in called mutations these mutations in the genetic code can subtly change the virus reshaping those outer proteins occasionally enabling them to latch onto the cells of a new species but in this case it's thought that it wasn't enough for the virus to infect humans for that it may have needed a helping hand ultimately we're very sure that this coronavirus did originally come from a bat and that's because it shares 96 of its genome with the bat virus but it may have jumped to another animal before going to a human and we know this has happened with another very dangerous coronavirus called mers where bats transmit the virus to camels who then pass it to humans in this case we think the intermediary animal might have been something called a pangolin if a bat virus has traveled through an intermediary animal before it could do it again scientists looking at coronaviruses in pangolins noticed cases where their outer spikes crucial for infecting cells were very similar to the one found on this new human virus the theory is passing through the pangolin allowed the virus to evolve so it could infect humans [Music] pangolins and bats are caught in huge numbers from the wild then trafficked to wet markets like this where they're traded for meat live animals awaiting slaughter can be exposed to infected blood urine or other bodily fluids it's the perfect opportunity for a virus to jump species but wildlife markets are only part of the problem nearly a third of all cases where viruses jump from animals to humans are thought to be caused by changes in land use and intensive farming veterinary pathologist professor andrew cunningham specializes in wildlife diseases it's not a coincidence that we talk about avian influenza and swine influenza those are the two species that are farmed intensively the most around the world thousands and thousands of animals packed in together and that's a very good environment for a new virus to emerge from a mutation with lots of one species in one place a virus can rapidly infect thousands of individuals as it multiplies the chance of this virus mutating into one that can jump species dramatically increases we are reducing the biodiversity on our planet and we are interacting with what wildlife is left in a way that we haven't historically done before and those two things combined we think are allowing these pathogens to jump over from wildlife hosting to people there are no easy answers here farming and intensive land use produce the food we've grown so accustomed to but this is an area that must change if we want to reduce the risk of future pandemics [Music] at the start of an outbreak like this when you don't know very much about the biology or the impact that a virus has on the body numbers become a key weapon in working out how it might grow that's because infectious diseases they spread to a population in a very mathematical way and that means that even when you've got very little data for a new outbreak you can track where we are along that trajectory and you can scroll forwards to see how things might unfold so let me show you a graph of how the world's covered 19 deaths have evolved over time and i'm going to compare that to some previous outbreaks sars mers and ebola now if i just play you the very first 20 days or so you will see that initially coronavirus outbreak looks fairly similar to the others but this is where it starts to split now for the experts who read these numbers all of the time it really starts to become clear just how difficult this coronavirus is going to be to contain if i carry on here you'll see just how quickly things start changing if i pause it around the 50-day mark this here this is around when i first saw this comparison of the data so at this stage there had been less than 10 deaths in italy there had been no deaths at all in britain but for me personally this is really when i realized that we were really in trouble because it's not just that these lines are diverged it's not just that there are more covert 19 deaths than sars murs and ebola it's what happens next because these deaths are increasing exponentially i know that that's a term that you will have heard a lot recently but at its very simplest an exponential curve doesn't just increase steadily it accelerates curving upwards and upwards and tragically what that means here is that the number of deaths are doubling every few days because if instead if this line had carried on on the trajectory it was at around the 50-day mark actually the number of corona deaths would be more like down here now as soon as you see this data as soon as you see the virus getting to this scale this quickly it's clear that it will be almost impossible to contain the outbreak you can't just shut down covert 19 in the same way as as these others here because the numbers are telling us it is too late to stop it from spreading the first indication that this wouldn't be contained within china came in mid-january as a case beyond its borders was confirmed thailand has reported the first case of the wuhan corona virus found outside of china the patient arrived at a bangkok sawanapum airport from ohan as hundreds of thousands leave wuhan to celebrate the chinese new year there are rising fears that the virus will be disseminated across the country january the 23rd two days before chinese new year wuhan goes into lockdown to prevent further spread the gates of the city clanging shut wuhan home to more than twice the population of scotland 11 million people now sealed off from the outside world most public transport stops and all shops are shut except those selling food or medicine within hours the bustling city of wuhan becomes a ghost town but the number of cases continues to rise on the 7th of february dr lee won leong who was one of the first to sound the alarm becomes china's latest victim [Music] like the other types of coronavirus this one enters our bodies through our mouth our nose and our eyes and then it binds to cells in the upper respiratory tract now the most common symptom seems to be fever and that's part of the immune system's response evolved we think to make the body a less hospitable environment for infections inflammation in the throat and in those airways causes that dry cough that lots of patients have and many people have also reported a total loss of smell and taste but it's when the virus starts to replicate deep in the lungs that it can become a really serious problem you might think your lungs are like balloons but really they're more like sponges they're full of blood vessels surrounding tiny air sacs these are the alveoli this is where oxygen gets from the air into the blood now when cells in the alveoli get infected it causes a viral pneumonia your immune system responds chemicals called cytokines draw white blood cells into the area to help fight the infection this image is a ct scan of someone with severe pneumonia caused by covid19 the purple areas are where there's that inflammation and you can see how much of that lung is affected in this case the immune response is starting to get out of control it's what we call a cytokine storm inflammatory fluid and cells starts to fill up the alveoli preventing oxygen getting into the blood [Music] in severe cases this is what we call an acute respiratory distress syndrome or art patients like this start having to breathe harder to maintain oxygen levels and once that effort becomes too great they need ventilation and a ventilator is really in simple terms a mechanical bellows that can take over the work of breathing now we've seen with some of the recent headlines that there is this spectrum of disease with covid19 some people are totally unaware they've been infected whilst others lose their lives every death is a genuine human tragedy and it's difficult to talk about them as though they're just statistics but in any outbreak numbers are an incredibly powerful tool to help experts work out how far-reaching it is and who it will impact but numbers can also be extremely slippery you can't think of numbers as cold hard facts let me show you what i mean here is the data for the number of new cases over a 24-hour period for some of the world's worst affected countries now by the time that this is broadcast these numbers will have already changed but the principle here is what's important so from this graph here the us is the highest in a 24-hour period meanwhile italy the uk and germany are roughly about even now this data is very valuable but it is not the complete picture because you cannot tell how many people have the virus unless you are testing them so if instead i show you the number of tests that have been conducted in that same 24 hours you will see something quite different now again the us here are the highest with a hundred thousand tests in 24 hours but look at this italy are testing more than three times the number of people as the uk and germany here are conducting about five times more tests now all of this points to the suspicion that the uk actually has way more cases than the numbers suggest some scientists have even estimated that we are only recording between five to ten percent of symptomatic cases and that is part of the reason why you will see analysts increasingly talking about deaths rather than cases now let me show you the data from china for the proportion of serious cases and deaths by age group there is no doubt that this is a virus that disproportionately affects older people but this here isn't the entire picture and it's very easy to miss something significant because if you look at the total number of reported cases far more people in their 40s and their 50s are catching this disease than people who are in their 70s and 80s and that means that there are still many people under 50 who are still seriously affected but unless you test absolutely everyone even children even people who don't have any symptoms we really don't know these numbers for sure [Music] whatever the difficulties with the data there's a clear demographic pattern here we would typically expect high risk of death for the very young then it falls as you are a young person adolescent and then it gradually rises again through middle age toward old age joy we've seen evidence that there may be something about these novel coronaviruses that is different in young children what might that thing be what's really interesting is that children get less severe disease so one possible hypothesis is around the ace2 receptors that the coronavirus is binding to which are particularly found in your lung epithelial tissue so if we look at the the the section of lung tissue here a lot of people may be aware of these sort of hair like cilia that washed bugs and and dirt back out so they can be coughed up these are the lung cells and this is an example of the kind of tissue where those receptors that the virus can bind to are found and do we know if those receptors are different in children yes they are different in children and there has been work uh particularly during the sars ii epidemic so papers that were published kind of soon after that unfortunately that work stopped but i believe as a scientist that there must be something more specific to sars and to covid that is causing this pattern so why exactly those very young people are spared is is not clear are they in some senses completely immune yeah i think there are two very dangerous myths so the first one is children are immune they're not getting the infection that's wrong and then the second myth is that children will never die children you know are not vulnerable at all and and that is incorrect so in the latest data which are still from very limited numbers uh it's projected to be around 0.006 percent but if you apply that to a large number of children so in the uk 13.5 million children that's still going to be about 800 deaths so this is really a critical myth to bust there's been also some interesting data coming out that men particularly men in china seem to be at greater risk of severe disease and death than women what do you think about that data well as a woman i like to think we have superpowers and there is some evidence that some of the x-linked chromosome immune functions because women have two x chromosomes may mean that we have a stronger immune response for example to viruses but they're also gendered health behaviors so smoking so in that population of chinese men they were of a generation where women hardly smoked so the smoking risk factor is very much more with men joy thanks very much as global deaths rise to over 500 the world health organization declares there is no known effective treatment with 25 countries now infected labs around the world are in a race against the virus to create a vaccine it requires international effort and resources the world's best brains have been mobilized our greatest hope lies in science meanwhile in wuhan there's a glimmer of hope china's daily infection figures drop below 2000 for the second day the price has been high but it looks like the brutal lockdown is beginning to work china has rolled out probably the most ambitious and i would say agile and aggressive disease containment effort in history but what worries me most is has the rest of the world learned the lesson of speed one country where the lesson of speed has been learned is south korea they suffered another coronavirus outbreak in 2015 the mers virus and the country has been preparing for another epidemic ever since with the number of cases rising fast the health authorities embark on mass testing rather than lockdown to suppress the spread drive-through clinics have been set up to test as many people as possible patients don't even have to get out of the car as the swabs are taken and crucially it avoids medics coming into contact with those infected testing is a powerful tool in fighting any outbreak because it provides the vital data needed to track the spread of the virus one of the problems is that it's really hard to tell from symptoms if you have the new coronavirus so even if you do have a fever and a dry cough those symptoms could be caused by lots and lots of other viruses so the only way to be sure is through testing but it's much easier to talk about testing than it is to actually do it in the uk the current test that the nhs uses for the new coronavirus is actually looking for the genetic material packaged up inside it step one of the test is to get hold of some virus we know that it attaches to receptors in the mouth and down into the airway so the best way of getting hold of a bit of it is to swab the tonsils and get some snot from the nose and what we've got there is a very small amount of snot saliva and if i was infected we'd have some virus there as well and there's a clever way to detect even minuscule quantities in the lab using a technique called polymerase chain reaction or pcr so this is my sample here and if i had coronavirus there would be a very small amount of virus genetic material on the end of the swab so i could get that out and i would put it in a tube something a little bit like this the tube would contain a cocktail of chemicals that can locate any strands of viral genetic material in the sample and multiply them inside the pcr machine the tube is heated and cooled repeatedly each cycle doubles the number of strands and after about 30 cycles one strand can become over a billion making the virus easier to detect this test is amazingly sensitive at turning a very small amount of genetic material into a very large amount this is how millions of people across the world have been tested so far it's the gold standard but there's a catch it needs scientists and it needs complex equipment and crucially it takes quite a long time about two and a half hours just to run those cycles so what we need is a much faster test because we are going to have to test tens of millions of people in the coming weeks and months luckily there's a shortcut a team at this oxford university lab hopes to dramatically cut the time it takes and the need for expensive kit and trained professionals they're trialling a testing technique that's been around for 20 years and might now be repurposed to detect this new coronavirus biomedical engineer dr jane cha chinchi is working on the project so i got two samples one it's a positive control that contains viral genetic materials and the other one is a negative control so basically it's a positive control to make sure that the test is able to detect virus and then you've also got a negative control to make sure that the test doesn't detect virus when it's not there yeah that's correct inside the tubes is a pre-mixed soup of chemicals similar to those in the pcr test the difference is that this team has developed chemicals that can locate the viral genetic material accurately and multiply it without the need for repeated reheating so this test can be kept at a constant 65 celsius for just half an hour if the virus is present there'll be a color change so after 30 minutes we can see that the positive control has already changed the color into yellow while the nectar one remains pinkish so this is amazing all you've done is is get your pre-mixed tubes add the sample put it in the heat block and then you can just look at the tubes and go yep that one has coronavirus and that one does not correct jane and her colleagues believe that this novel test is so simple they can turn it into a kit people could do at home using nothing more complicated than a hot drinks flask so once you've perfected this method if you sent me a tube at home i could get a swab put it in the tube and then i could just look at the color result myself yep that's our ultimate goal the process still needs to go through stringent trials to make sure the chemicals used are very precise at locating the coronavirus genetic material the hope is that this test or one of dozens of similar tests being developed around the world could be available in the near future all of the current tests will tell you if you currently have the virus but attention is now focusing on another type of test known as a serology or antibody test and that will tell you if you've ever had the virus in the past [Music] how does knowing whether or not people have antibodies in their blood so evidence that they have previously been infected how does that change the way we think about a disease in the last pandemic we had which was the swine flu h1n1 epidemic this was a complete game changer in terms of the epidemiology the prediction of number of cases that were infected and we are able to predict that actually there weren't going to be as many deaths as we thought would be so how does the serology test actually work because of course our blood is full of many many different kinds of antibodies so whereas the pcr test from those on nasal mucus depends on whether you've hit the right spot with your swab and whether you've got it to the lab properly taking a blood sample gives you an absolute estimation of what that person's been exposed to in the past so it's a much more constant much more much more solid measure of viral exposure and it tells you whether you've been exposed in the past it's really important information in terms of knowing about the epidemiology peter if you think maybe you had the virus several months ago and this is going to be more important as the epidemic goes on do you think those antibodies would go away and so you there is a sort of window in which you need to have that test so the antibody will trend down over time after having reached this plateau around the month i would expect the antibody would still be there in sufficient quantity to show up on the test at least a year possibly much longer after the um after the infections occurred if we do manage soon to develop an accurate sensitive test for the correct coronavirus antibodies if i then have that test and find i do have the antibodies that will indicate that i had the virus will that also indicate that i am immune yeah i wish we knew i think from what we know about coronaviruses and immunity to them i can be pretty confident in saying that if you've got the antibody you're going to be resistant to infection for at least three months that's a that's the minimum i mean it could be that it's going to be a year that would be quite likely it could be that because this is a novel current virus which we've never been exposed to before we're actually going to get much more long-lasting immunity which could last five years or possibly for life so it could be that we're actually going to develop really good solid immunity i think that's the best hope and expectation by the first week of march south korea records 44 deaths while iran's triples only one other country's death toll is overtaking iran the first known cases in italy were two chinese tourists there are now six thousand cases italy is in lockdown the only noises that you can hear are you know the church bells which is nice but the other noise is the ambulances on march the 11th the world health organization declares the covid19 outbreak a pandemic we have therefore made the assessment that kovid 19 can be characterized as a pandemic with the death toll nearing 2000 italy is on course to overtake china as the world's worst hit country europe is the new epicenter of the disease [Music] one of the most important things that scientists need to work out is how many people on average a contagious person could infect now the scientists call this the the transmission rate or sometimes they refer to it as the r naught and the r naught of seasonal flu is around 1.3 let me show you what that actually means every square on this chessboard is going to represent a new round of transmission if we start off with one infected person they will go on to infect 1.3 others which i'm going to represent with 1.3 grains of rice now each of those people are also going to go on to infect 1.3 others so by the second round of transmission it's up to two people these numbers they're gonna steadily increase each time until eight rounds of transmission when it'll be up to eight new people contracting the seasonal flu [Music] now the transmission rate that are naught of covert 19 is approximately 2.5 and that doesn't seem like it makes much of a difference but even this very small change actually has a dramatic impact because the first transmission means that two and a half people will get infected the second round it's six people and by eight rounds of transmission it is this many people that means that if we did nothing one single infection would spark off a chain of transmission that within two months would leave 99 339 people infected with the virus and based on some estimates that means that up to a thousand people in this single chain of transmission would go on to very sadly lose their lives now this is terrifying however there is also some better news because best estimates from research released last week is that with all of the social distancing measures we currently have in place the transmission rate of the new coronavirus in the uk has plummeted to 0.62 so just by staying at home we all have it in our power to change the course of this pandemic but what is it about this virus that makes it so infectious this virus is spreading across the globe like wildfire and it appears to be one of the most contagious in human history so i'm here because i want to find out exactly how it's passing from person to person so quickly at the francis crick institute in london structural biologist dr donald benton believes the answer may lie in how the coronavirus's unique molecular structure helps it to attack our body's cells so viruses infect ourselves first of all by attaching to the cell surface and they do this by a protein on the surface of the virus for instance i have a picture here of flu viruses on the surface here you can see these little rod shapes are influenza hemagglutinin molecules which are the spike protein of a flu virus [Applause] these spike proteins latch onto our and pass on the disease research suggests that this new coronavirus could be up to 10 times more efficient at attaching itself than sars the team here are part of a global effort to create the first images of spike proteins on the new coronavirus they think it could hold important clues as to why it passes on the disease so effectively so this coronavirus needs to first of all bind to the surface of the cell and then it needs to enter the cell and release its genetic material and both of these activities are controlled by this spike protein what is it about this spike protein that makes it more effective than other viruses so the surface of the protein which attaches to the cell is different it has a different mechanism of priming the protein so that it can release the genetic material into the cell for the coronavirus to infect our cells the spike protein must first be split open or cut by an enzyme this activates or primes the virus for infection in normal coronaviruses this cutting happens after the virus is taken up by the cell but the idea with this new coronavirus is that it's already cut when the virus leaves the cell so it's already primed and ready to infect when it leaves the structure of this coronavirus means its protein spikes are already cut and primed before it comes into contact with a healthy cell which could make the infection process easier so by having that one less step it's a quicker process for it to be able to replicate so it could make it more transmissible the infection and transmission rate of the virus is one of the crucial pieces of information that the scientists modeling the pandemic use in their predictions and right from the beginning modeling the scale of the outbreak has been at the heart of government responses we are all living under the lockdown that is a result of decisions based on modeling but adam this is a crisis that's constantly evolving how do you model something like this model's really a tool we can use to ask what if questions what if you change interactions in a certain way what effect might it have on the outbreak you were one of the very first people who were modelling this outbreak back in january right yes and of course there was one model in particular that got a lot of attention in the press a model by uh imperial college london looking at the impact of different interventions so this graph has got time along the x-axis and critical care beds up the side this is the classic curve so what we see here is the scenario where everyone just carries on as normal and the epidemic continues terrifyingly large exactly and this is looking at a range of moderate interventions things like school closures having more people working from home maybe people self-isolating when they've got symptoms and you can see that all of these different measures will slow the outbreak so it'll mean that there's less transmission the peak is happening later there's a reduction in the size but it's not a huge reduction yeah even with all of those interventions when you actually include the critical care line this is kind of a worrying picture yes this line is what was likely to be the capacity of critical care so intensive care unit type beds in the uk you can see that although some of these interventions reduce the size of the peak a lot in terms of the demand you're requiring in hospital it's still many many times larger than the likely capacity that will be available it's not enough nowhere near enough and that's why we're in lockdown now yes uh so this model and a number of other ones showed that you couldn't have these these single fairly moderate interventions that would be enough to to make this manageable for the nhs that really without more dramatic reductions in transmission these lock down type measures you weren't going to flatten the curve enough to get below this line this is where we were is it where we still like lockdown measure is going far far beyond what any of these these shorter maybe kind of slightly lighter measures are doing so i think it's likely our case numbers are now going to be much much lower because we've got this this lock down in place is there a date in the future that we can hope for lockdown to start to be lifted it will probably be looking at the period of a few weeks in china for example they had a lock down about two months before they started opening up other countries in europe are now starting to think about lifting things but it's this really tough balance to strike because if you lift it too early you're still going to have a lot of infection in your population and the outbreak can take off again but obviously the longer you leave it in place the tougher that is on a population across the world to help lift the lockdown scientists are racing to create a vaccine and just 69 days after the virus was sequenced human trials for a vaccine begin in the usa the first patient a 43 year old from seattle on march the 23rd the uk joins italy france and spain by declaring a nationwide lockdown kovid 19 is also tightening its grip on the us where there are already around 42 000 cases and 470 deaths this is a movie it can't be real even the gambling capital of the world is forced to shut its doors on the day the 2020 olympic games in tokyo is postponed the indian population of 1.3 billion is given less than four hours notice of a total lockdown on tuesday night india's prime minister ordered citizens to stay at home for the next three weeks a three-week lockdown has been announced in south africa president mohamed buhari has declared a curfew restricted movement in lagos 22 days after the world health organization declared kovid19 a pandemic around a quarter of the planet's population is in lockdown and the number of cases around the world passes one million as the virus spreads there's more and more pressure to try and find a vaccine now vaccines stimulate our immune system by essentially mimicking infections critical to any immune response are these small y-shaped proteins found throughout your body in your bloodstream these are antibodies and you've got a huge diversity of antibodies inside you each different one binds to a specific pathogen a virus or a bacteria and they latch onto the outer surface and deactivate it now during an infection your body ramps up production of the particular antibody that attacks the thing that is infecting you but this takes a little while so the first time you get an infection the virus can take hold and replicate before there are enough antibodies produced to contain it but your immune system remembers almost every infection that you've ever had and it maintains those antibody levels from previous infections and that's why you can't get most viruses twice since none of us have ever encountered this coronavirus before we don't have any antibodies ready to stop it replicating and that means we can become critically ill or even die before enough antibodies are made now what a vaccine does is it gives our immune systems a safe shortcut it usually involves injecting an inactivated dead sample of the virus that can't cause any symptoms it won't make you ill but it will stimulate the body to make lots of those specific antibodies that can fight the actual virus if you ever meet it now finding a safe effective vaccine is far from easy but scientists are looking for innovative solutions [Music] professor robin shattuck and his team at imperial college london are trying to develop a world first [Music] a safe and effective synthetic vaccine using cutting-edge genetic techniques can you explain to me the difference between a conventional vaccine and your approach what's different about our vaccine is what we want to use is the spike on the surface of the virus that corona that you see on those pictures of those red spikes sticking outside robin's plan for his vaccine is to introduce just the outer spike of the virus into the body even though it is only a part of the virus it should trigger a powerful response from the person's immune system but unlike traditional vaccines he's building the spike from scratch using the virus's own genome its genetic blueprint chinese scientists published the genetic sequence of the virus on the 10th of january we were able to identify from that sequence the genetic code that encodes the protein that's on the surface of the virus what we call the viral spike and use that to design our prototype vaccine robin's vaccine contains the spikes genetic recipe [Music] it should trick our body into making the spikes itself and here you can see we have vials of our prototype the vaccine is injected into the muscle and that blueprint that code tells the muscles to start churning out the spikes that would normally be expressed on a whole virus even though it's our own body producing the spikes the immune system still recognize them as foreign and produces antibodies to combat them so the muscle will start producing lots and lots of spikes and the idea is that that will rouse the immune system and you get the antibody response and that can hopefully protect you against infection like this particular virus that's exactly how the vaccine works the real advantage of robin's approach is that because the vaccine is synthetic built entirely in the laboratory it can be produced in volume incredibly fast so these flasks contain bacteria that are producing the genetic material that's used to synthesize the vaccine these bacteria can produce the genetic template within a day essentially and so that's really quick and fast for starting a whole process the bacteria are genetically modified to produce the template which is sent to an industrial laboratory to produce on a vast scale so you really have recruited a microscopic army haven't you absolutely here bacteria are our friends this capability has inspired them to aim for an ambitious target now the thing that's really exciting is because we can manufacture very quickly we could have five million doses ready by the winter this is still dependent on successful trials it would be a world first for a vaccine of this sort and that comes with its own challenges a license has never been granted for a vaccine like this to ensure it's safe and that it works it must go through rigorous testing so the next step is we've started a study in macaques with monkeys and that will tell us whether the vaccine works uh preventing infection in that animal model it's still an animal model that doesn't mean it proves it will work in it working but it is much closer to humans my mechanics actually get covered 19 do they they do get infected and they get some degree of symptoms robin hopes to have results within a matter of weeks and his team are just one of over 40 groups involved in developing a vaccine at an unprecedented pace a group at the jenna institute in oxford is on the verge of starting human trials while teams elsewhere have already begun an astonishing global effort so the good news is there are a lot of people in this race and the race is not against each other it's against the virus to get something out there that can save life [Music] a new vaccine probably won't be ready for at least 12 to 18 months and even that would be an exceptionally fast turnaround but if we do get one the numbers suggest it will be a game changer let me explain why if i show you this simulation here this is a very simple simulation of what happens during an outbreak now the red dot in the middle is an infected person and every time they bump into a white dot a susceptible person they infect them you see here a graph of the running totals as it goes along now over time people recover and turn yellow and you can see them up there now this is a totally susceptible population and by the end 196 people will have recovered from this virus however if you can vaccinate just a certain percentage of the population let me show you this here it's the same simulation again but now the vaccinated people are represented by blue dots so these are people who are immune from picking up the virus but they are not just protected themselves in many ways they're actually protecting all of the people who do not have vaccinations all of the white dots here the susceptible people you can see that this this virus is not spreading through the population in the same way now this is called herd immunity it can be achieved by a vaccine but also potentially by people who gain natural immunity by recovering from the virus as long as there are enough of them and crucially if the natural immunity from the new virus lasts for long enough if you remember our naught that was the number of people that each person goes on to infect well if we bring that into the herd immunity calculation it tells us that for this coronavirus you need around two two-thirds of the population to be immune to stop the virus from taking hold and this is why some experts are so worried about a second wave because without these vaccinated people without these people in blue there is a real worry that as soon as we start to return to normality even a single infected person could start up yet another serious outbreak on our shores a vaccine is the hope for the future but there's uncertainty about when and indeed if it can be made after all after 40 years of trying we still don't have an effective vaccine for hiv and the fastest we've ever produced a vaccine from scratch is with ebola and that took around five years so where else can we look for a solution trudy we're constantly hearing media reports about potential miracle cures for coronavirus are we trialing lots of new drugs so across the globe right now there's over 600 trials that are testing potential therapeutic interventions for coronavirus for covid19 and they're across the whole spectrum from really early stages of the disease right through to the severe diseases in hospital how exactly do antiviral drugs work antivirals work by either stopping the virus entering a cell in the first place or when it gets inside the cell stopping it from being able to divide within the cell and at the beginning of the disease is when you get that huge increase in the amount of virus in a patient and that's really the best place to stop the disease before the worst symptoms can occur it makes me think that as far as i'm aware we don't have any really effective antiviral drugs for the kind of the really common viruses that cause severe airway or respiratory infections in the history of medical science now we don't have a drug that we can take easily just to treat those respiratory infections as you say this is obviously a novel virus do we know enough about it yet to start developing brand new drugs i don't think we're going to have time the problem in outbreaks is you have this very finite window in which to run um clinical trials so for example when we were working in the ebola outbreak we ran the first trials ever to happen in those sorts of situations so we managed to do that within 16 weeks to get the trial started and and here we're seeing these timelines brought down even more and so we're unlikely to have that time within the window and what you're saying i get the impression you're optimistic that we will run some very good trials but i'm not feeling huge optimism that we will get a drug that will be really effective in limiting disease in corona virus yeah i think that's that's a fair point i think it's it's such a tall order we have to pick the right drug the right dose testing it in the right population of people and it's quite a gamble of whether we've lined all those things up or not so i'm quite confident we'll run trials that answer the questions the trial's set but whether or not that results in a drug that we can say we can use for coronaviruses we have to wait and see since the deadly virus first struck in december it's claimed over 85 000 lives worldwide in the war against covid19 health workers risk their lives every day medical researchers trial vaccines design reliable test kits and develop epidemiological models to track this unfolding pandemic this global crisis is hard on everyone but when it's over the sacrifices of our health workers and our scientists will be remembered never has so much depended on science so urgently what's remarkable about this pandemic is not just how unprecedented it is and how quickly it has changed the lives of everyone but the speed with which scientists have responded to a constantly evolving situation and it's this extraordinary coming together of people scientists across the world that's going to be key to navigating through this crisis well in these scary times the newscast team bring you the very latest on coronavirus you can download it daily from the bbc sounds app and before news night at 10 45 something to make us smile live at the apollo you

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