Oxford scientists develop new coronavirus test that provides results in just 30 minutes

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Scientists at the University of Oxford have developed a new coronavirus test that produces results around three times faster than the current fastest testing methods, and that requires only relatively simple technical instrumentation. In addition to these benefits, the researchers behind the test’s development say that it could even help detect patients affected by coronavirus in earlier stages of infection vs. current methods, and that its results can can “read by the naked eye,” which makes it more accessible to a broader range of healthcare facilities and professionals.

The Oxford-developed test can provide results in only half an hour – the fastest current methods that focus on viral RNA, like this one does, produce results in between 1.5 and 2 hours. The new tests have already been validated using real clinical samples of the virus at the Shenzhen Luohou People’s Hospital in China, and though they’ve so far only been used on 16 samples, evenly split between those positive for the virus and those that contain none, they’ve demonstrated a 100% success rate, which is a very reassuring result.

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You’re likely to get the Coronavirus

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Most cases are not life-threatening, which is also what makes the virus a historic challenge to contain.

In May 1997, a 3-year-old boy developed what at first seemed like the common cold. When his symptoms—sore throat, fever, and cough—persisted for six days, he was taken to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Hong Kong. There his cough worsened, and he began gasping for air. Despite intensive care, the boy died.

Puzzled by his rapid deterioration, doctors sent a sample of the boy’s sputum to China’s Department of Health. But the standard testing protocol couldn’t fully identify the virus that had caused the disease. The chief virologist decided to ship some of the sample to colleagues in other countries.

At the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, the boy’s sputum sat for a month, waiting for its turn in a slow process of antibody-matching analysis. The results eventually confirmed that this was a variant of influenza, the virus that has killed more people than any in history. But this type had never before been seen in humans. It was H5N1, or “avian flu,” discovered two decades prior, but known only to infect birds.

By then, it was August. Scientists sent distress signals around the world. The Chinese government swiftly killed 1.5 million chickens (over the protests of chicken farmers). Further cases were closely monitored and isolated. By the end of the year there were 18 known cases in humans. Six people died.

This was seen as a successful global response, and the virus was not seen again for years. In part, containment was possible because the disease was so severe: Those who got it became manifestly, extremely ill. H5N1 has a fatality rate of about 60 percent—if you get it, you’re likely to die. Yet since 2003, the virus has killed only 455 people. The much “milder” flu viruses, by contrast, kill fewer than 0.1 percent of people they infect, on average, but are responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths every year.

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Millions of Chinese firms face collapse

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A closed Apple store in China

Brigita, a director at one of China’s largest car dealers, is running out of options. Her firm’s 100 outlets have been closed for about a month because of the coronavirus, cash reserves are dwindling and banks are reluctant to extend deadlines on billions of yuan in debt coming due over the next few months. There are also other creditors to think about.

“If we can’t pay back the bonds, it will be very, very bad,” said Brigita, whose company has 10,000 employees and sells mid- to high-end car brands such as BMWs. She asked that only her first name be used and that her firm not be identified because she isn’t authorised to speak to the press.

With much of China’s economy still idled as authorities try to contain an epidemic that has infected more than 75,000 people, millions of companies across the country are in a race against the clock to stay afloat.

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Chinese government rolls out coronavirus ‘close contact detector’ app

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China has rolled out an app that lets people check whether they have been in close contact with someone infected by the coronavirus.

The “close contact detector,” as BBC puts it, notifies users if they have had exchanges with any individuals who have been confirmed or suspected of carrying the virus. All users need to do is scan a QR code with an app like Alipay or WeChat. People at risk are then advised to stay at home or inform local health authorities.

Once their phone number is linked, users are asked to fill in their name and ID number. The app can then be used to check the status of up to three ID numbers. The app, which was developed in cooperation by the government and the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation, relies on data from from the health and transport authorities.

Although the invasiveness of the software certainly raises questions about the obtrusive surveillance practices within the country, experts believe citizens won’t see the new app as controversial, considering the extent of the epidemic.

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