As I write this, the Philippines are weathering Tropical Cyclone Vongfong, the first typhoon during the Coronavirus pandemic. Sustained windspeeds of up to 175 kph struck the eastern coast of Samar Island, and the category of storm has been elevated to 3 (out of 3) in eastern Visayas and Bicol regions. Storm surges along the coastline were forecast for Thursday and Friday, and the province of Albay in the Bicol region was evacuating 400 000 people in low-lying and landslide-prone areas.
Obeying the pandemic protocols of distancing and masking will be a challenge as evacuation spaces are usually limited and congested. And if clusters of Covid 19 flare up in evacuation centres, management will be very difficult.
Heavy rain associated with the cyclone may cause mud and debris flow and sediment-laden stream flow along the rivers down the slopes of the Mayon volcano in Albay province. About 730 000 people live within the 17km danger zone of Mayon volcano, and could be affected by flooding and wash-aways (or eruptions).
The ARRL News says that extended-range forecasts for the 2020 Atlantic Basin hurricane season anticipate above-normal activity, although a low-pressure system now off the coast of Florida could get a jump on things and develop into a subtropical depression or storm this weekend. The Atlantic hurricane season doesn’t start until June 1st and extends until November 30th. The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) 2020 outlook calls for a season about 140% more active than average, with 4 Category 3 to Category 5 hurricanes. The 2019 season saw three major hurricanes (out of six).
“The above-average prediction is largely due to the hot Atlantic and Caribbean waters and lack of a substantial El Niño in the Pacific,” the NHC explained, noting that the combination of a busy hurricane season and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic could create a nightmare scenario for affected areas. FEMA and local emergency management agencies are already issuing COVID-19 guidelines for hurricane shelters, which include face masks and social distancing.
The NHC Annual Station Test — to check readiness of amateur radio stations and operators — takes place on Saturday, May 30, from 13h00 – 21h00 UTC. The NHC’s WX4NHC will be on the air, marking its 40th year of public service at the NHC. Julio Ripoll, WD4R, the Assistant Amateur Radio Coordinator at the NHC, said the event offers an opportunity for radio amateurs worldwide to exercise the sorts of communications available during severe weather. “We will be making brief contacts on many frequencies and modes, exchanging signal reports and basic weather data with any station in any location,” Ripoll said.
Operation will be on HF, VHF, UHF, APRS, and Winlink. WX4NHC will centre its activity on the Hurricane Watch Net (HWN) frequencies of 14.325 MHz and 7.268 MHz, depending on propagation, but will operate elsewhere as conditions dictate. WX4NHC will also operate on the VoIP Hurricane Net from 20h00 until 21h00 UTC.
The ARRL News also says that a recent BBC news feature outlines how ham radio has received a significant boost by connecting people during the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK. The article, by Vanessa Pearce, quotes the Radio Society of Great Britain (RSGB) as saying that many former hams are now returning to the hobby. Mark Rider, G3VHJ — a retired engineer who lives alone in North Warwickshire — said that after the lockdown restricted his occasional trips to the pub, rehearsing with musician friends, and visiting his wife in a nursing home, he decided to dust off his ham radio equipment “to seek out some other social interaction.” Rider said that rag-chewing has become one of the highlights of his day. “Just speaking to somebody else in the same situation is very rewarding,” he said. The 67-year-old told BBC News that keeping in touch with others has been more important since his wife suffered a stroke.
RSGB General Manager Steve Thomas, M1ACB, said the society has experienced a three-fold increase in license examination applications since social distancing rules were put into place. The UK already has about 75,000 amateur licensees.
Eleven-year-old Anne-Marie Rowland, 2E0RUX, of Cornwall, worked with the Cornish Amateur Radio Club to conduct informal twice-weekly nets to help keep people in touch. “We have some regulars, but also some new people join in,” she told the BBC. Her father, Bill, M0NXF, runs a net that has attracted older radio amateurs who are self-isolating, to help them feel connected.
MedicalXpress noted on Friday that scientists around the world are racing to develop a vaccine to protect against COVID-19 infection, and epidemiologists are trying to predict how the coronavirus pandemic will unfold until such a vaccine is available. Yet, both efforts are surrounded by unresolved uncertainty whether the immune system can mount a substantial and lasting response to SARS-CoV-2 and whether exposure to circulating common cold coronaviruses provides any kind of protective immunity.
Collaboration between the labs of Alessandro Sette, Dr. Biol. Sci. and Shane Crotty, Ph.D., at La Jolla Institute for Immunology is starting to fill in the massive knowledge gap with good news for vaccine developers and is providing the first cellular immunology data to help guide social distancing recommendations.
Published in Friday’s online edition of Cell, the study documents a robust antiviral immune response to SARS-CoV-2 in a group of 20 adults who had recovered from COVID-19. The findings show that the body’s immune system is able to recognize SARS-CoV-2 in many ways, dispelling fears that the virus may elude ongoing efforts to create an effective vaccine.
“If we had seen only marginal immune responses, we would have been concerned,” says Sette, a professor in the Centre for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research, and adds, “but what we see is a very robust T cell response against the spike protein, which is the target of most ongoing COVID-19 efforts, as well as other viral proteins. These findings are really good news for vaccine development.”
“All efforts to predict the best vaccine candidates and fine-tune pandemic control measures hinge on understanding the immune response to the virus,” says Crotty, also a professor in the Centre for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research. “People were really worried that COVID-19 doesn’t induce immunity, and reports about people getting re-infected reinforced these concerns, but knowing now that the average person makes a solid immune response should largely put those concerns to rest.”
This implies that it will not be difficult to construct a vaccine that really does work. The problem is that it will take time to test properly before releasing it.
This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.