What you need to know about the coronavirus right now

The COVID-19 response specialist Alexandra Vizcarra prepares to administer a nasal swab test at Public Health Madison & Dane County as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Madison, Wisconsin, U.S., October 19, 2020. REUTERS/Bing Guan
The COVID-19 response specialist Alexandra Vizcarra prepares to administer a nasal swab test at Public Health Madison & Dane County as the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak continues in Madison, Wisconsin, U.S., October 19, 2020. REUTERS/Bing Guan

Reuters

Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:

South Korean deaths after flu shots prompt vaccine worries

Officials refused to suspend South Korea's seasonal flu inoculation programme on Thursday, despite growing calls to do so following the deaths of at least 13 people who were vaccinated in recent days.

Health authorities said they have found no direct links between the deaths, which include a 17-year old, and the vaccines being given under a programme to inoculate some 19 million teenagers and senior citizens for free.

No toxic substances were found in the vaccines, and at least five of the six people investigated had underlying conditions, officials said.

Divergence over coronavirus response in U.S. and China

The United States and China dealt with the spread of the devastating coronavirus pandemic in vastly different ways, and that split is reshaping the global battle between the world's two leading economies.

About 11 months after the Wuhan outbreak, China's official GDP numbers this week show not only that the economy is growing, up 4.9% for the third quarter from a year earlier, but also that the Chinese are confident enough the virus has been vanquished to go shopping, dine and spend with gusto.

In the United States, 221,000 people are dead from COVID-19 after a delayed federal response, partisan battles over mask-wearing and lockdowns, and plenty of public events that do not follow public health guidelines.

AstraZeneca vaccine trial volunteer dies in Brazil

Brazilian health authority Anvisa said on Wednesday that a volunteer in a clinical trial of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University had died but added that the trial would continue.

A source familiar with the matter told Reuters the trial would have been suspended if the volunteer who died had received the COVID-19 vaccine, suggesting the person was part of the control group that was given a meningitis jab.

The Federal University of Sao Paulo, which is helping coordinate phase 3 clinical trials in Brazil, said an independent review committee had also recommended the trial continue.

So far, 8,000 of the planned 10,000 volunteers in the trial have been recruited and given the first dose in six cities in Brazil, and many have already received the second shot, said a university spokesman.

Masks do block coronavirus, but not perfectly

Japanese researchers showed that masks can offer protection from airborne coronavirus particles, but even professional-grade coverings can't eliminate contagion risk entirely.

Scientists at the University of Tokyo built a secure chamber with mannequin heads facing each other. One head, fitted with a nebulizer, simulated coughing and expelled actual coronavirus particles. The other mimicked natural breathing, with a collection chamber for viruses coming through the airway.

A cotton mask reduced viral uptake by the receiver head by up to 40% compared to no mask. An N95 mask, used by medical professionals, blocked up to 90%. However, even when the N95 was fitted to the face with tape, some virus particles still sneaked in.

When a mask was attached to the coughing head, cotton and surgical masks blocked more than 50% of the virus transmission.