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The 100-year life 
Health, education, living, public policy

26 JuLY 2021

Covid pill
A Japanese pharmaceutical company, Shionogi, which helped develop the cholesterol drug Crestor, has started human trials of what it says is the first once-a-day pill for Covid patients. Along with Pfizer and Merck, it’s racing to fill one of the biggest gaps in our pharmacological arsenal against Covid: a pill for those who are infected by the virus, but whose symptoms are mild. Such medicines – like Tamiflu – already exist for influenza. Shionogi expects trials to continue until next year. Drug trials have generally high failure rates, but Shionogi is confident. “Our target is a very safe oral compound, like Tamiflu, like Xofluza,” chief executive Isao Teshirogi tells the Wall Street Journal ($). He says Shionogi’s pill aims to neutralise the virus within five days of ingestion.

23 JuLY 2021

German gloom
German policymakers have given up on herd immunity even as a goal of the national vaccination programme, at least for this year. That is the gist of a long read in Der Spiegel that takes as its starting point a recent meeting addressed by optimistic representatives of the Robert Koch Institute, which led Germany’s successful initial fight against the virus. They said 89 per cent of 12 to 59 year-olds would need to be vaccinated, and 90 per cent of over 60s, and that it would be doable by September. No one disputed the thresholds but almost no one agreed they could be met. Vaccination fatigue is setting in despite a pro-vax campaign fronted by Baywatch’s David Hasselhoff, and German politicians don’t want to make vaccination compulsory even though the ruling CDU doesn’t want another autumn lockdown either. One device Germans are hoping might help when schools reopen next month is air purifiers. €200 million has been put aside to keep air clean in classrooms. Whatever works, of course, but will they?  

22 JULY 2021

American life
An American child born today can expect to live 77.3 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, down 1.5 years from 2019. It’s the first decline in life expectancy at birth since 2014 when the opioid epidemic escalated before stabilising in 2018. The cause this time is Covid, which has killed more than 600,000 Americans and pushed the country’s health system to its limits. The pandemic’s impact on life expectancy was unequal: Black and Hispanic Americans lost nearly two more years than white Americans. And it also brought back the opioid crisis: more than 40 states recorded increases in opioid-related deaths since the pandemic began, suggesting that even if Covid deaths drop the social and economic effects of the pandemic will stay on and cause more loss of life.

21 JULY 2021

Violence against women
Credit where it’s due, the busy Priti Patel is preparing to criminalise the public harassment of women and girls as part of a broader strategy to combat VAWG (violence against women and girls). The plans may include banning non-disclosure agreements in sexual harassment cases. As Tortoise has reported, NDAs have long been a favourite tool of sexual predators anxious to silence women they have targeted. The VAWG strategy is based partly on a consultation to which 180,000 people have contributed, mostly since the murder of Sarah Everard in March. It earmarks a meagre-sounding £5 million for a “safety of women at night” fund, and Jess Phillips, the shadow minister for domestic violence, tells the Guardian there’s nothing in it on the sexual exploitation of adult women. But she also says there’s much to welcome. 

20 JULY 2021

LA masks
Los Angeles County has become the biggest jurisdiction in the US to reimpose a facemask requirement for all public settings including privately-run commercial ones like cinemas. The goal is to slow the spread of the Delta variant, which has caused Covid case numbers to rise ten-fold in a month. “I’m not pleased,” said Hilda Solis, chairwoman of the LA County Board of Supervisors. “But nonetheless it’s going to save lives.” California had dropped mask orders on 15 June. More California counties are expected to follow LA’s lead. And London?