Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Herd immunity & letting the virus rip is a bad idea

There is much talked about so-called herd immunity. Many people are under the impression that by 'letting the virus rip' the general population would get the virus, people would become immune and life could return to normal. But this fails to understand the science.

Herd immunity

Herd immunity occurs when a virus is allowed to spread freely and thus many people would become immune. However, at least 60-70% of any one population would need to become immune in order for such a strategy to work. In a country of some 100 million people this could mean around 1.8 million people dying given the currently estimated fatality rate of around 3%. This also does not take into account those that would become seriously ill and not die, further stretching national health resources. 

[Concerning the death rate from COVID-19, it is very difficult to evaluate given low testing rates. Initial statistics from New York appeared to indicate a massive 8% fatality rate [Atlantic]. However, as the numbers of tests increase and are measured against death rates statistic appear to show fatality is more likely between 1-3%]

Globally, the numbers would be many times higher. The head of the World Health Organization worries a herd immunity approach could lead to more problems.

"Allowing a dangerous virus that we don't fully understand to run free is simply unethical," according to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the World Health Organization's director-general. "It's not an option."

Dr. Anthony Fauci agrees. "There will be so many people in the community that you can't shelter, that you can't protect, who are going to get sick and get serious consequences," the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said. "So, this idea that we have the power to protect the vulnerable is total nonsense."

Even if this death rate were to be acceptable in order to 'return society to normal' there are still many unknowns concerning the COVID-19 coronavirus. It remains uncertain how long immunity lasts once you get coronavirus. Indeed there are at least two documented cases of reinfection, one in Hong Kong and another in the US. There is also the possibility that COVID-19 could mutate, making immunity to the current strain meaningless with regards to the contracting of a mutated version of the virus [Al Jazeera]. 

A safe vaccine is only route out

A safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is the only safe way out of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, though any mutation in the virus itself could nullify the effort to immunise a population to some extent. That said, a vaccine for COVID-19 is still the best route though further vaccines may need to be developed should the virus mutate significantly.  

Of course even with rates of vaccination above 93%, herd immunity offers no guarantees. Relocation, travel or even a new circle of friends can change the composition of one's herd, and thus its shared protection against infection. Therefore, any COVID-19 vaccine needs to be rolled out globally [Global Health Now-John Hopkins].

The measles vaccine has not only prevented deaths and other long-term effects of the disease but also prevented 'immune amnesia' whereby the body's immune system forgets immunity to other diseases [Harvard].

Low seroprevalence of COVID-19

As regards the COVID-19 coronavirus herd immunity is unlikely to work. Studies in June and July 2020 cast doubt on prospects for herd immunity. Despite months of exposure, antibody surveys found a low seroprevalence, less than 10%, in cities in Spain and Switzerland. Commentators in The Lancet concluded that "In light of these findings, any proposed approach to achieve herd immunity through natural infection is not only highly unethical, but also unachievable" [Lancet].

Seroprevalence is the number of persons in a population who test positive for a specific disease based on serology specimens; often presented as a percent of the total specimens tested or as a proportion per 100,000 persons tested. However, as an article published by the BMJ in September highlights, the seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 may be underestimated. Indeed current seroprevalence studies may fail to detect people who have had mild COVID-19. In addition due to the fact that antibody tests have not been widely deployed - often reserved for key workers in the health industry - those that missed the boat for regular coronavirus testing, and who perhaps even had relatively serious symptoms but who were not hospitalised, have not been added to the figures.

So estimations as to the numbers that have had the coronavirus within many populations are simply that; estimations. That said, it is still not clear whether contracting and recovery from the COVID-19 coronavirus produces long-term immunity.

No guaranteed immunity

In the first such case documented by a team of researchers at the University of Hong Kong a man was shown to have contracted the virus for a second time. The man, a 33-year-old IT worker, recovered from coronavirus and was released from hospital in April. However, he again tested positive for the virus when he returned from Spain early in August [AA / CNN].

Meanwhile in Nevada in the United States another man was reported to have contracted the virus twice, the first time in April and subsequently in May [BBC].

While such cases appear to be isolated, they do raise questions concerning long term immunity. "Our findings signal that a previous infection may not necessarily protect against future infection," said Dr Mark Pandori, from the University of Nevada.

So far, reinfection seems to be rare - there have been only a few examples out of more than 37 million confirmed cases globally.

Reports from Hong Kong, Belgium and the Netherlands suggest they were no more serious than the first. One in Ecuador mirrored the US case in being more severe, but did not need hospital treatment.

However, it is still early into the pandemic, and the history of other types of coronavirus means protection is expected to wane.

Letting virus rip would be a disaster

What seems clear is that 'letting the virus rip' would bring with it countless deaths while likely collapsing the health service and overstretching services dealing with the disposal of bodies.   

Lockdowns are certainly expensive to the economy. But if strictly enforced and planned properly with a proper escape plan of widespread testing, track & trace, hygiene and social distancing measures, lockdowns work. 

Countries that have done the best, New Zealand, Taiwan, Iceland, Singapore and South Korea - to name a few - imposed swift travel bans with testing and quarantining for arrivals, implemented track & trace, and imposed swift lockdowns on identified outbreaks. Clear messaging has also played a part for countries that have slowed the spread, including the advice concerning masks the efficacy of which was dismissed by many countries that have done particularly badly. 

There will be no quick way out of the pandemic, but what is clear that letting the virus go is not the correct route. 

[CNN  - herd immunity / WBRC - herd immunity / Kurzgesagt-COVID-19 / Kurzgesagt-Vaccines Explained].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Google kills off GPM, replaced with YouTube Music

YouTube Music is replacing Google Play Music but there are already groans from GPM users over missing features and differences in the new platform.

For those who primarily want to play music, YTM makes no sense since YTM incorporates the ability to play videos. The interface is also very different and takes some getting used to.

That's not to say GPM could not have been improved upon. On the web interface of GPM artist's albums are in chronological order. Yet on the Android phone app they are listed alphabetically. And in either interface there is no choice to change, though I prefer the chronological listing.

As regards YTM the web interface is a mess. I have pretty much every Zappa album uploaded, but the arrangement of albums within the app is all over the place. They are neither in alphabetical or chronological order. 

The default position on opening YTM populates the app or browser with Google's own suggestions. But to be perfectly frank I am not interested in Google's, nor anyone else's suggestions. From day one, I have used Google Music, as it was called when launched in 2011, as a depository for music that I like. Of course there was no subscription service initially and radio stations are still only free in the US, India and few other territories. Even when I have had access to GPM's free radio stations, when abroad or using a VPN, I've never used them. When I listen to music I know what I want to listen to and pick accordingly. I don't want Google's or anyone else's suggestions. I've a regular radio for that, that isn't reliant on a reliable Internet connection!

YTM's display of albums is counterintuitive. On the app albums listed as small thumbnails with additional information to the right whilst the web interface has  a similar GUI to GPM. However the scrolling through the listing is extremely slow.  

As said the default opening position is Home which offers Google's YTM suggestions. To access one's uploads one has to click Library whereupon one is presented with Playlists, Albums, Songs, Artists and subscriptions.

Of course I have no subscriptions. So nothing there. But all my Playlists, Albums, Songs, and Artists appear to be listed. That said it's hard to say as there is no information available in YTM. Furthermore there is no genre tab in YTM meaning finding all my jazz and shuffling all songs is now now longer an option. Audio books are no longer easily accessible for similar reasons unless you know the name of the book or writer.

Hit GPM and I can with one glance on each tab see I have 698 Artists, 1,987 Albums, and 19,076 Songs as well as 142 Playlists. And as regards genres I have 83.

While casting is not a huge issue it is a slight issue on the web interface in that you have to cast the tab. There is also no obvious way of downloading one's library though in the dropdown menu there is an upload music function. However this is rubbish compared to GPM's drag and drop approach or automatic music manager which this week stopped operating for many users. In YTM one has to go through the "open file from menu" and pick the music one wishes to upload.

There is also no way to edit or change any of the Metadata of existing or uploaded music. This could really create issues especially if songs are incorrectly named. Indeed having transferred my library to YTM some albums and artists have been erroneously named. 

From one's phone the interface is slightly better than the web interface, but still not as intuitive as GPM. Also when casting the display is a little different. While Google Play Music shows the album art repositioning itself around a black screen every few seconds, YouTube Music retains a static picture of the album against a grey background centrally placed throughout the whole song.

GPM also shows more data such as the Album name and time whilst YTM only shows a progress bar and does not give the album name.

So all in all YTM is a pale imitation of GPM. For some, who perhaps like videos and suggested music, it might tick all the boxes. But for those who like pure music it's a big step backwards.

Whilst having transferred my GPM library to YTM I am reluctant to use it until forced. Overall GPM is better all round.

GPM has a cleaner and easier to use interface. One can upload and download songs and albums easily as well as edit metadata and album covers, heck Google even offered suggestions at times. Music is easily found and cast both from the phone app and web interface. One could also download playlists, albums or songs for offline playback. Indeed making a particular playlist available for offline playback resulted in any further songs added to that said playlist also becoming available for offline access. 

This offline access was particularly useful when using the app in a car or whilst travelling where there might be no data access. With my phone connected via bluetooth to the car stereo I can, via the GPM app, quickly access playlists available offline and have them played over the speakers. Similarly during a long haul flight I can listen to cached music whilst in flight mode. While YTM does allow the downloading of songs or playlists it again is less intuitive than GPM's approach.

Many have suggested moving to Spotify and various other online alternatives. However many of these are a compromise and still don't address the issues or features lost from the GPM/YTM move.

Google has over the years improved on many of its products. And while there has been much criticism for its dropping services over the years, sending them to a virtual graveyard, this move is probably one of the worst decisions it's made.

There are many Google services people lament the passing. Google+ was not as popular as other social networks, but was nonetheless extensively used. Wave was a great experiment but there were few that mourned its passing. The same with Google Health, Buzz, and Google Video. But the decision to ditch iGoogle, a customisable start page with RSS feed integration, was widely criticised. Later this year Google Cloud Print, a technology that allows one to print over the web from anywhere, including a phone, to any printer, is being consigned to history. This is not a good move on many fronts. Ditching Google Cloud Print will anger many who have specifically bought a printer that was specifically made for the technology.

But killing off services, particularly popular ones, is also about the reputation of a company whose motto once claimed to "do no evil".

Many millions of users around the world have invested their time and money using Google products. Buying a Google Cloud Print compatible printer specifically for a Chromebook only to find one can't use it a few months down the line is just one example.

Killing off social networks such as Google+ can kill off contact with individuals that may have only been on that particular platform.

Last year Google stopped the ability to sync photos between Google Drive and Google Photos and vice versa. Their claim was that users were confused. Rather than kill off the sync between the two services completely, Google needed only to have turned off sync by default and allowed users to turn it on if they desired. Now, those that want to access photos uploaded to Drive in their Google Photos application need to do so separately resulting in using up twice the amount of data. 

There are some who no doubt like to discover new music and have suggestions foisted upon them. But for a great many others their entire library is of music they have purchased, often physically, and which has been ripped to store in the cloud - thus preserving wear and tear on the original disc and also making for easier and quicker access.

For the most part I am not interested in Google's or anyone else's musical suggestions. If not particularly fussed about what songs I wish to listen to I can flip the radio on to Absolute Classic Rock or Jazz FM!

Otherwise I want easy, quick access to my music library. The current state of YTM makes it more likely that I'll be whipping out the CDs once again rather than trying to trawl through the slow and user unfriendly mess that is YouTube Music.

tvnewswatch, London, UK