There’s no evidence the new coronavirus spreads through the air – but it’s still possible


Ian M. Mackay, The University of Queensland and Katherine Arden, The University of Queensland

A recent announcement by a Chinese health official suggested the new coronavirus might spread more easily than we thought, via an “airborne route”. The virus is now known as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), while the name of the disease it causes is now called COVID-19.

The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention almost immediately corrected the announcement, noting SARS-CoV-2 was not known to be an airborne virus.

The centre confirmed the virus appears to spread via droplets, direct contact and by coming into contact with contaminated surfaces and objects. The World Health Organisation agrees.

So far no infectious virus has been recovered from captured air samples. This would need to occur to demonstrate the virus was airborne.




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What’s the difference between airborne and droplet spread?

When we sneeze, cough or talk, we expel particles in a range of sizes.

The bigger, wet droplets larger than 5-10 millionths of a meter (µm or micrometre) fall to the ground within seconds or land on another surface.

These wet droplets are currently considered to be the highest risk routes for the SARS-CoV-2.

But smaller particles aren’t implicated in the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Smaller particles remain suspended in the air and evaporate very quickly (at less than one-tenth of a second in dry air). They leave behind gel-like particles made of proteins, salts and other things, including viruses.

These leftovers are called “droplet nuclei” and can be inhaled. They may remain aloft for hours, riding the air currents through a hospital corridor, shopping centre or office block. This is what we mean when we talk about something being airborne.




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But there’s more to airborne spread. To infect humans, the droplet nuclei need to contain infectious virus. The virus must be able to land on our mucous membranes – the soft lining of our ears, nose, conjunctiva (eyelid), throat and digestive tract and it must be able to enter our cells and replicate.

There also needs to be enough virus to overcome our early immune responses to the invader and start an infection.

So a few stars have to align for airborne infection to result.

When we cough, sneeze or talk, we expel particles in a range of sizes.
Shutterstock

But airborne transmission wouldn’t be a shock

We already know the measles virus can remain aloft in a room for up to 30 minutes after an infected person leaves it.

Likewise, the MERS coronavirus has been captured in infectious form from hospital air samples and found to be infectious.

So there is some precedent.

Other viruses that can be infectious via an airborne route include rhinoviruses (the main causes of the common cold) and flu viruses.

The ability for common respiratory viruses to spread via airborne particles means it wouldn’t be a shock to find SARS-CoV-2 also had this capability.

But there is no evidence this is currently occurring.




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Why would airborne spread be such a problem?

Airborne spread would mean the virus could travel further. It could spread through unfiltered air conditioning ducting and reach people further away from the infected person, despite them not being in their direct line of sight.

It would also affect how far away from the patient hard surfaces need cleaning and whether airborne personal protective equipment (PPE) precautions – such as P2 respirator masks – would need to be more widely used.

Our definition of “sufficient contact” for someone to be a possible new infection may broaden, which would mean more people need to be monitored, tested and possibly quarantined for each known patient.

But even if an airborne route is found in the future, it’s unlikely to be the major route of transmission.

People who are ill and show symptoms such as coughing and sneezing usually produce and expel viruses in greater amounts than those who show fewer symptoms. These sicker people are more likely to spread the virus via bigger wet droplets, physical contact and contamination of surfaces and objects.

Do I need to worry?

No. SARS-CoV-2 has been spreading the whole time, regardless of our understanding of how. That spread doesn’t look to be changing.

Currently, relatively few people infected with SARS-CoV-2 are outside of mainland China. Only 15 cases have been identified in Australia. Those found are isolated quickly and are well cared for.




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The chances of catching SARS-CoV-2 outside of mainland China are, at the moment, remote (provided you aren’t on a certain cruise ship).

If the situation changes because infected travellers arrive in greater numbers than we can contain, then our best tools to mitigate spread remain the ones we already know:

  • distancing ourselves from obviously ill people
  • hand-washing
  • cleaning surfaces
  • good cough etiquette (coughing into a tissue or your elbow and washing your hands)
  • keeping our hands away from our face.

And if you are at risk, stay home and seek medical advice by phone.The Conversation

Ian M. Mackay, Adjunct assistant professor, The University of Queensland and Katherine Arden, Virologist, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Trump has made Europe more fearful of a possible Russian attack


Jean S. Renouf, Southern Cross University

US President Donald Trump’s eyebrow-raising visit to Europe has confirmed Europeans’ worst fears: if another “Crimea-like” take-over by Russia occurs somewhere on the continent, they will likely be on their own.

Trump had made it abundantly clear that European leaders can no longer rely on the US for its protection. He was not only harshly criticised by his own party for being too conciliatory with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their Helsinki summit, he also lashed out at US allies once more, going so far as to call the European Union a “foe”.

The US may have more than 60,000 troops stationed in Europe, but a recent report stating the Pentagon is assessing the impact of a possible reduction of troop numbers, coupled with Trump’s unpredictability, has made America’s traditional allies nervous.

Indeed, by initiating trade wars and continuously attacking his closest allies, Trump has weakened the entire West.

Another war in Europe remains possible

Despite his reassurances last week that the US still values NATO, Trump’s divisive visit to Europe may embolden Putin in his assessment that occupying more European land may not be met with much military resistance.

Poland is so concerned, it has recently offered to pay the US up to US$2bn to permanently deploy an armoured division on its soil.




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The on-going conflict in Ukraine, coupled with Putin’s increased emphasis in recent years on Russia’s “right” and “obligation” to “protect” ethnic Russians and Russian speakers beyond its borders, contribute further to the unease between Moscow in the West. This is particularly being felt in the Baltic states, two of which (Estonia and Latvia) have sizeable Russian minorities.

It certainly doesn’t help when Russia conducts military drills or dispatches warplanes on the borders with the Baltics, giving a real sense that military escalation in this part of Europe is entirely plausible.

Tensions are building in Eastern Europe

The focus of any possible Russian military incursion could be a thin stretch of land between Poland and Lithuania known as the Suwalki Gap (named after the nearby Polish town of Suwałki), which would allow Russia to reinforce its only access to the Baltic Sea through its Kaliningrad exclave and cut the Baltics off from the rest of Europe.

The Suwalki Gap also links Kaliningrad with Belarus, a staunch Russian ally. Moscow regularly organises joint strategic military exercises with Minsk, the most recent being the Zapad (meaning “West” in Russian) war games last September.

Kaliningrad is strategically important, as well, as the site of recently deployed nuclear-capable short-range missiles and an upgraded nuclear weapons storage site.




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Reflecting their concerns about a possible invasion, NATO members held military exercises last June that focused for the first time on defending this 104km strip of land from a possible Russian attack. Then, last month, NATO held the Trojan Footprint 18 joint military exercise in Poland and the Baltics, which was one of its biggest-ever war games in the region.

These military build-ups on NATO’s eastern flank are reminiscent of the Cold War and feed both Russia’s “deep-seated sense of vulnerability vis-à-vis the West” and Europe’s own feelings of insecurity.

Going it alone

But should Russia decide to invade the Suwalki Gap, would Europe go to war over it?

It may not be able to. European military options remain limited as NATO does not have the military means to go to war against Russia without the US. Acutely aware of this, European leaders launched a new regional defence fund last year to develop the continent’s military capabilities outside of NATO.

While a direct Russian invasion of a NATO member would be the worst-case scenario, it’s more likely that Putin would seek to further destabilise the bloc’s eastern flank through a hybrid war involving cyber-attacks, divisive propaganda campaigns and the use of armed proxies like the “little green men” that appeared during the Ukraine conflict.

Even here, though, it’s clear that Europe cannot provide a unified front to counter potential Russian actions. Some countries like Hungary and Italy seek a closer relationship with Russia, while others like the UK are already embroiled in diplomatic conflicts with it.




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France and Germany have already announced plans to increase defence spending not because of commitments made to Trump during the latest NATO summit, but out of real concerns that another confrontation with Russia is becoming a real threat.

The ConversationTrump has weakened the Western alliance at a time when Europe is not ready to step up and ensure its own security. He may have united Europeans around shared fears and their collective response, but he’s also made them more vulnerable.

Jean S. Renouf, Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Southern Cross University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is a unified Korea possible?


Ji-Young Lee, American University School of International Service

North and South Korean athletes will march under one flag during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The “Korean Unification Flag” is both a highly symbolic marker of reconciliation and a reminder of a divided Korea, a condition that has lasted since 1945.

As a scholar of East Asian international relations, I’m fascinated by the question of reunification that has been a mainstay of reconciliation and dialogue between North and South Korea. Unfortunately, history suggests such efforts to reunite the peninsula as a single country often don’t go far.

What Koreans think

Most South Koreans are not optimistic about reunification. According to a 2017 Unification Perception Survey conducted by Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, 24.7 percent of South Koreans don’t think that unification is possible. Only 2.3 percent of South Korean respondents believe that unification is possible “within 5 years,” while 13.6 percent responded “within 10 years.”

However, the same survey indicates that 53.8 percent of South Koreans believe that reunification is necessary.

Beyond that, however, there is little consensus as to what kind of country a unified Korea should be. Nearly half of South Korean respondents want to keep South Korea’s democratic political system, while 37.7 percent support some form of hybrid, a compromise between the South and North Korean systems. Still, 13.5 percent of South Koreans answered that they prefer the continued existence of two systems within one country.

Three strikes

The first time North and South Korea held talks since the 1950-53 Korean War was in 1971. They agreed on basic principles of the reunification. According to the July 4 South-North Joint Communique, reunification should be achieved through 1) independent efforts of the two Koreas, 2) peaceful means, and 3) the promotion of national unity transcending differences in ideologies and systems.

Despite its significance for later agreements, this détente soon collapsed due to the leaders’ lack of genuine intention to follow through. North Korea viewed the inter-Korean dialogue as a way to wean South Korea away from the U.S. and Japan. South Korean leader Park Chung-Hee saw it as a useful tool for consolidating his authoritarian rule.

In the late 1980s, tides shifted as the Cold War broke down and inter-Korean reconciliation once again seemed possible. The 1988 Seoul Olympics spurred South Korea to pursue improved relations with communist countries to ensure their participation. The Olympics hosted a record number of countries from both blocs of the Cold War, including the Soviet Union and China. This, even in the face of North Korea’s attempt to throw the games off by bombing a South Korean airliner killing 115 people in 1987. With the help of South Korea’s rising international status and active diplomacy toward normalizing relations with the Soviet Union and China, Pyongyang agreed to talks with Seoul.

By 1991, North and South Koreans had once again come around to the idea of reconciliation and signed the Basic Agreement. In it, Koreans defined their relationship not as two separate states, but rather one going through a “special interim” – a process toward ultimate reunification. In 1992, they produced the Joint Declaration of the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. However, by the end of 1992, inter-Korean relations grew seriously strained. North Korea refused to accept inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency and objected to the resumption of a U.S.-South Korea joint military exercise.

Another milestone took place in 2000. North and South Korea held the first summit that amounted to the most substantial and frequent engagement between the two Koreas yet. South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and his successor Roh Moo-Hyun’s Sunshine Policy meant to provide for a gradual change of North Korea toward the reunification through inter-Korean cooperation on humanitarian, economic, political, social and cultural issues. But in the face of Pyongyang’s continued provocations and nuclear development program, this type of engagement-oriented policy had serious limits. Over time, it became less and less popular with the public.

The conservative governments that followed upheld the goal of the reunification, but made inter-Korean reconciliation conditional upon Pyongyang’s behavior. North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, and provocations like a torpedo attack on a South Korean navy ship and the shelling of a South Korean island, backpedaled much of the progress made during the 2000 summit.

After three major attempts and failures, is reunification feasible in 2018?

What these past talks show is that reconciliation has not been sustainable without the tangible progress in eliminating North Korea’s nuclear capabilities.

At the same time, the current South Korean President Moon Jae-In is more open to departing from the more conservative approach and pursuing engagement without such assurances. This may be a game changer. Without a doubt, he is much more proactive about creating opportunities for inter-Korean reconciliation.

The ConversationPresident Moon faces the same harsh realities as his predecessors. With Pyongyang’s increased threat, the South Korean government will have to work more closely with other countries currently implementing sanctions against Pyongyang. If Seoul works out a deal for inter-Korean exchanges and joint projects and North Korea continues to engage in a provocation, skeptical South Koreans will not likely support the government’s engagement policy.

Ji-Young Lee, Assistant Professor, American University School of International Service

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian Politics: 24 July 2013


The latest asylum seeker ‘solution’ proposed in Australia continues to gather a lot of attention in Australian politics. The links below are to articles that look at the policy from varying prospectives. The first article is an in-depth look at the situation in Papua New Guinea.

For more visit:
http://www.theglobalmail.org/feature/for-those-whove-come-across-the-seas-a-short-trip-to-png/662/
http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/asylum-seeker-boat-sinks-off-indonesia/story-fn9hm1gu-1226684079708

As the Kevin Rudd experiment continues to be a winner for Labor, the Liberals are beginning to face the leadership change question themselves, with a possible shift from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull becoming popular among voters.

For more visit:
http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/newslocal/city-east/voters-turning-to-turnbull-over-abbott-but-liberals-say-theres-no-chance-of-leadership-challenge/story-fngr8h22-1226683907946

Sweden: Latest Persecution News


The link below is to an article that reports on the possible deportation of two professing Iranian Christians in Sweden back to Iran.

For more visit:
http://www.christiantelegraph.com/issue18966.html

USA Accusing Russia of Assisting Syria with Attack Helicopters


The link below is to an article reporting on possible Russian involvement in the Syrian conflict.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/middle-east-live/2012/jun/13/syria-civil-war-attack-helicopters-live.