2020, the year of the pandemic

Chronicle of the SARS-CoV-2 health crisis

wall painting pandemic photo

The nearly completed year 2020 has been marked by the coronavirus pandemic, a health, social, and economic crisis, with much uncertainty that has yet to be resolved. On 31 December 2019, China reported the detection of several groups of patients with a type of pneumonia caused by what appeared to be a new coronavirus. Almost a year later, there are more than 79 million confirmed cases and the number of deaths worldwide exceeds 1.5 million people. These figures are constantly increasing and only the prospect of vaccines, which have only just begun to be administered, offers little hope of control. The scope of this epidemic has brought to mind the last great pandemic in living memory, the Spanish flu of 1918.

On 5 January 2020, the World Health Organisation issued a first warning of an epidemic outbreak of pneumonia of unknown origin in China. From that moment on, events were quickly triggered by the various outbreaks in all the countries where the new coronavirus was spreading. On 11 March the WHO declared that COVID-19 was now considered a pandemic. And a few days later, on 14 March, the Spanish authorities declared a state of alarm which mandated the population, among other measures, to remain in their homes.

We review some of the articles about the coronavirus published in Mètode that have helped us to update our knowledge of the pandemic.

Understanding the new coronavirus

Through several maps, the text shows COVID-19's cartography and analyses the environmental factors that may have contributed to its spread.
Despite all the achievements in such a short period of time, we must stress that obtaining a drug capable of inhibiting any of the proteases in SARS-CoV-2, or any other pathogenic agent, is a long and complex process that requires the participation of different branches of science.
We need to rethink many aspects of our daily lives, of our values, of our economic and cultural practices; in short, of our coexistence with the rest of nature and, especially, of our respect for non-human animals.
Knowing the detailed genomes of viruses and their phylogenies allows us to understand the origin of the outbreak. Was it a zoonosis from bats or were other hosts involved? Where did this fatal transition occur? What is the rate of change of the virus?

In Mètode, we wanted to have the situation analysed by national and international experts who, from their different disciplines, have contributed to a better understanding of the pandemic and have helped us reflect on how our lives have changed.

COVID-19 opinion

Those of us who are dedicated to the creation and dissemination of knowledge must make intelligent use of its contingent and provisional nature, to promote the idea that what may appear to be weaknesses are, in fact, the features that allow scientific knowledge to progress and be disruptive.
Every historical period has had its epidemic executioner, and it has almost always been the ecological changes between human communities and the environment that have caused changes in pathogenicity and epidemic diseases.
The problem with the handling of COVID-19 in the United States has been more political than public health-related. When a country has a president who «didn’t know» and thought that «most people didn’t know» that the flu can kill people, what can be expected in terms of the handling of a pandemic?
Early criticism of COVID-19 rhetoric cautions against the use of war metaphors that can shift us toward authoritarian and nationalistic sentiment, evoking xenophobia and racism.
In addition to protective isolation, enhanced medical capacity, safer sociality and health oriented economic stimulus, we will need to turn our hearts, hands, and minds to reweaving and strengthening the complex and vital social web.
Next time we could be facing an even deadlier virus than SARS-CoV-2. Now is the perfect time to start working.

But the current SARS-CoV-2 crisis affects not only health, but also the economy, our societies and communication, and the environment. Regarding communication, we have observed increased interest in scientific content, and an infodemic communication landscape, characterised by an avalanche of misinformation, as well as imprecise or plainly fake news.

COVID-19 information and misinformation

The word science has never been as present in the media as it was during the COVID-19 pandemic, and if this continues to be the case in the coming months, it is very likely that something will remain even after the coronavirus disappears.
In addition to protective isolation, enhanced medical capacity, safer sociality and health oriented economic stimulus, we will need to turn our hearts, hands, and minds to reweaving and strengthening the complex and vital social web.
Gema Revuelta, Ángela Bernardo, Margarita del Val, and Salvador Macip offer their opinion on the media coverage of the pandemic.

From the first moment there have been groups working on different vaccines to allow certain control of a very infectious disease for which we still do not have a cure. In an unprecedented effort, experts have managed to create vaccines in a few months, and the vaccination started on 27 December in Spain and the rest of Europe. The first groups that will receive the vaccine are elderly people in care homes and healthcare professionals. This is an attempt to protect the most vulnerable population groups, the ones that have suffered most COVID-19 cases. In Spain, it is estimated that more than 70% of COVID-19-related deaths have affected people over 65. The different vaccination campaigns have only started, so this will be a recurring topic throughout 2021. In Mètode, we have also been paying attention to the different types of vaccines in development.

COVID-19 vaccines

On 9 November, Pfizer announced in a press release that their COVID-19 vaccine candidate shows 90 % efficacy. We analyse the situation with the voice of several experts.
Vaccine development takes a long time, often more than fifteen years. The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has accelerated the process in record time. This race has only just begun and there is much to be learned in the near future.

Finally, we have started a COVID-19 special series of Mètode’s whys and wherefores, where we try to answer the doubts of the readers with the collaboration of experts from different fields.

Mètode's whys and wherefores: COVID-19 special

Answered by Anabel Forte, professor of Statistics and Operations Research at the University of Valencia, explains why it is so difficult to make reliable predictions about the pandemic.

Anabel Forte, professor of Statistics and Operations Research at the University of Valencia, analyses the discrepancy in COVID-19 data in Spain.
Essentially there is no supplement that can prevent the coronavirus, but many patients who have suffered from the coronavirus have vitamin D deficiency.
The virus has spread again in the different populations because we have lowered our protective measures, when we should have maintained them for a much longer period.

Many unknowns still need to be resolved: how can the different coronavirus mutations affect its spread and the effectiveness of vaccines, how long will be the immunity granted by the new vaccines, how to improve the treatment of patients with severe or long-lasting symptoms, etc. Surely, in 2021 we will keep discussing the coronavirus, but it will not take us by surprise and we will have some experience on pandemic management. Will we have learned the lesson to control the situation and minimise the risks?

© Mètode 2020