brett sutton
Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton (Image: AAP/James Ross)

Global COVID-19 cases have surged past the 10 million mark, with more than half a million deaths worldwide. Politicians have had more virus-related media mentions than the actual infectious disease experts, a new study has shown. And a JPMorgan economist has suggested a link between restaurant spending and coronavirus cases. 

Record-breaking week 

A record number of global coronavirus cases was reported yesterday, with 189,077 new cases confirmed in 24 hours. More than 10 million cases have been confirmed worldwide, with more than 500,000 deaths since the virus became widespread less than six months ago. 

To put that in perspective, during the SARS epidemic from 2002 to 2004, there were 8098 reported cases and 774 deaths. The US Center for Disease Control estimated the death toll from the swine flu could be between 150,000 to 575,000 in the virus’ first year of circulation. The World Health Organisation (WHO) confirmed that swine flu killed 429 people with 94,512 cases, but acknowledged this much lower number was due to a lack of testing and deaths being attributed to comorbidities instead of the virus.. 

But COVID-19 still pales in comparison to the effects of the Spanish flu in 1918-19, which wiped out more than 50 million people worldwide, including 15,000 Australians.

The WHO has warned there’s no guarantee an effective COVID-19 vaccine will ever be created, though that hasn’t stopped researchers from trying. The Australian government has invested $66 million into vaccine and treatment research, and other global candidates are also working on vaccines.

Home-grown spike

At home, Victoria’s spike in cases continues, with almost two weeks of double-digit increases. Victorian authorities this morning confirmed it had 75 new cases in the past 24 hours. NSW recorded seven new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, all returned overseas travellers.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a testing blitz in the state’s hotspots, warning suburbs may go back into lockdown, while One Nation leader Pauline Hanson graced our screens this morning, saying Australia had overreacted to COVID-19.

“I’m all for doing the swabs,” she said. “But as far as I’m concerned this whole COVID-19 thing has been blown completely out of proportion … [Our economy] will never recover.” 

Restaurant dining as a COVID-19 symptom

Restaurant spending may be a predictor of coronavirus cases, a JPMorgan economist has suggested.

Using data from 30 million people’s credit and debit card spending across the US, combined with Johns Hopkins University’s case tracker, the firm found higher restaurant spending in a state predicted a surge in coronavirus cases three weeks later.

States which saw an increase in supermarket spending — including New York and New Jersey — predicted a slower spread of the virus compared to states including Texas and Arizona.  

The findings suggest that in states where supermarket spending is up, people are more likely to stay at home and socially distance, slowing the spread of the virus, than in states where people dine out. 

Academic superstars

Experts who guide policy and health advice received substantially less media attention during the pandemic than politicians and health officials, according to new research from the Australian Science Media Centre and media monitors Streem.

Epidemiologists and immunologists received record attention for their professions, but they were far from the having the most media mentions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison received the most attention with 11,294 media items, while former chief medical officer Brendan Murphy had 2706. 

The academic with the most media citations was global biosecurity expert Professor Raina MacIntyre from the University of New South Wales, with 252 mentions. She beat ABC journalist Dr Norman Swan, who had 207. 

Peter Fray

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