Welcome to this month’s edition of Upbeat Bulletin – your antidote to ubiquitous doom and gloom.
Speaking of gloom …
We begin with news about air pollution in China. Environmental campaigners have been pulling up trees (not literally of course) to help the environment at home. But the world clearly needs the Chinese to pull their finger out too.
China’s environmental record isn’t exactly stellar. Water pollution, deforestation, the destruction of habitats, and rapidly rising ‘cancer villages’ are all cause for concern. However, air pollution is arguably the biggest problem.
According to The Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality scale, conditions often reached unsafe levels in China’s biggest cities. This is due to an over-reliance on coal and cars. We might need to wear facemasks in Europe right now but at least we’ve never needed gasmasks.
It’s great news, therefore, that the authorities in China are finally beginning to see the metaphorical light - not to mention some actual light. Research shows that deaths from air pollution have reached their lowest levels for thirty years.
This research, which was published in The Lancet, studied air pollution across all of China. It revealed that deaths have decreased by an average of 33% after peaking in 2013. This is due to new controls on emissions. For example, burning coal was banned in Beijing to promote the use of cleaner energies.
There is still much to do, however. The picture might be improving but air pollution still exceeds WHO guidelines. China, therefore, needs additional fresh initiatives before its people can enjoy quality fresh air.
Standing together in the fight against loneliness
We now turn to loneliness - one of the UK’s unhappiest social problems. Having been somewhat overlooked by the mainstream media for years, lockdown finally put the issue firmly in the spotlight. Several heart-warming stories have therefore emerged …
The plight of pensioner Tony Williams, who lost his wife Jo to cancer in May, is one such example. Tony initially sought company by placing adverts the local paper but nobody replied. In desperation, he pleaded for help by putting up a poster in his window.
Fortunately, the national media picked up his story. And since then Tony has been inundated with letters, emails, and calls of support. Dame Esther Rantzen even got in touch. The former host of That’s Life! now runs a charity called Silver Line which offers 24/7 support for lonely older people.
Although social interaction is the natural cure for loneliness, the scientific community has been working on a remedy too. They’ve discovered that a hormone call pregnenolone, a natural steroid called allopregnanolone, and pharmacological treatments like oxytocin could all reduce anxiety and feelings of isolation.
Whilst more research is obviously required, the findings raise the tantalising possibility that loneliness might be cured with a pill one day.
An antidode to pandemic pessimism?
We wrap up this month’s bulletin with a more hopeful perspective on Covid-19. Yes, it doesn’t look good at the moment. Spain and France are experiencing second waves and the situation at home is worsening too. However, there are reasons for guarded optimism …
Hospital admissions in areas previously hit hard have remained stable. Indeed, hospital deaths in London have actually declined this month. It’s a similar story in New York and Stockholm. Indeed, Sweden as a whole gives experts hope that herd immunity may be closer than anticipated.
Although Sweden never imposed a lockdown, their case and fatality figures keep falling. This is because, according to their chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell, their population has built up a greater degree of immunity.
Any country achieving herd immunity anytime soon once seemed fanciful. Scientists assumed 100% of people were susceptible to Covid-19 and that at least 60% needed to be exposed for immunity to be reached. However, experts are now questioning this assumption.
Not long ago Oxford scientists argued the immunity threshold may be as low as 20% due to cross-coronavirus immunity – the idea that those already exposed to common cold coronaviruses have some resistance to Covid-19.
Meanwhile, there’s growing evidence that T-cells, which track down and kill pathogens like The Predator, can ease symptoms and even reduce susceptibility to Covid-19. What’s more, unlike antibodies that fade quickly, T-cells have memories like elephants. And they remember how to stamp out specific viruses for decades.
At least six medical studies have now reported T-cell reactivity against Covid-19 in 20-50% of people – even those never exposed to the virus. Consequently, populations may not be as vulnerable as previously thought.
Let’s all pray these experts are right. If so, the dreaded second wave won’t be as severe as feared. In fact, we might be able to surf it to shore without another economically damaging national lockdown.