The virus that causes the common cold can effectively boot the Covid virus out of the body’s cells, say researchers.
Some viruses are known to compete in order to be the one that causes an infection.
And University of Glasgow scientists say it appears cold-causing rhinovirus trumps coronavirus.
The benefits might be short-lived but rhinovirus is so widespread, they add, it could still help to suppress Covid.
Think of the cells in your nose, throat and lungs as being like a row of houses. Once a virus gets inside, it can either hold the door open to let in other viruses, or it can nail the door shut and keep its new home to itself.
Influenza is one of the most selfish viruses around, and nearly always infects alone. Others, such as adenoviruses, seem to be more up for a houseshare.
There has been much speculation about how the virus that causes Covid, known as Sars-CoV-2, would fit into the mysterious world of “virus-virus interactions”.
The challenge for scientists is that a year of social distancing has slowed the spread of all viruses and made it much harder to study.
The team at the Centre for Virus Research in Glasgow used a replica of the lining of our airways, made out of the same types of cells, and infected it with Sars-CoV-2 and rhinovirus, which is one of the most widespread infections in people, and a cause of the common cold.
If rhinovirus and Sars-CoV-2 were released at the same time, only rhinovirus is successful. If rhinovirus had a 24-hour head start then Sars-CoV-2 does not get a look in. And even when Sars-CoV-2 had 24-hours to get started, rhinovirus boots it out.
“Sars-CoV-2 never takes off, it is heavily inhibited by rhinovirus,” Dr Pablo Murcia told BBC News.
He added: “This is absolutely exciting because if you have a high prevalence of rhinovirus, it could stop new Sars-CoV-2 infections.”
Similar effects have been seen before. A large rhinovirus outbreak may have delayed the 2009 swine flu pandemic in parts of Europe.
Further experiments showed rhinovirus was triggering an immune response inside the infected cells, which blocked the ability of Sars-CoV-2 to make copies of itself.
When scientists blocked the immune response, then levels of the Covid virus were the same as if rhinovirus was not there.
Britain faces a “Covid decade” of social and cultural upheaval marked by growing inequality and deepening economic deprivation, a landmark review has concluded.
Major changes to the way society is run in the wake of the pandemic are needed to mitigate the impact of the “long shadow” cast by the virus, including declining public trust and an explosion in mental illness, the British Academy report found.
Published on the anniversary of the UK’s first lockdown, the report brings together more than 200 academic social science and humanities experts and hundreds of research projects. It was set up last year at the behest of the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.
The British Academy warned that failure to understand the scale of the challenge ahead and deliver changes would result in a rapid slide towards poorer societal health, more extreme patterns of inequality and fragmenting national unity.
Government-led intervention including major investment in public services is required to repair the “profound social damage” caused or exacerbated by coronavirus across areas including the economy, mental health, public trust and education, it said.
“With the advent of vaccines and the imminent ending of lockdowns, we might think that the impact of Covid-19 is coming to an end. This would be wrong. We are in a Covid decade: the social, economic and cultural effects of the pandemic will cast a long shadow into the future – perhaps longer than a decade,” it said.
The report’s publication came as Boris Johnson delivered an upbeat reflection on what he called one of the most difficult years in the UK’s history, offering condolences to those who lost family and friends to the virus but paying tribute to the “great spirit” shown by the nation.
“We have all played our part, whether it’s working on the frontline as a nurse or carer, working on vaccine development and supply, helping to get that jab into arms, home-schooling your children, or just by staying at home to prevent the spread of the virus,” the prime minister said. “It’s because of every person in this country that lives have been saved, our NHS was protected, and we have started on our cautious road to easing restrictions once and for all.”
The British Academy cautions against overoptimism as the UK thinks about recovery from Covid, however, warning that it is “no ordinary crisis” that can be fixed by a return to normal, but one that thrived amid pre-existing social deprivations and inequalities and which has exposed deep-seated flaws in public policy.
Too many people experienced the pandemic in poor housing, were badly equipped for home schooling and home working and vulnerable to poor mental health, and found themselves at high risk of economic insecurity, the report said, pointing out that “many people are ‘newly poor’ and only one month’s wages away from poverty”.
Areas for action highlighted by the report include:
- Declining public trust: after an initial surge in the first months of the pandemic, trust in UK government and feelings of national unity collapsed, with little sign that progress on vaccinations has halted the trend. Unless addressed, this will erode social cohesion and undermine future public health campaigns.
- Widening inequalities: geographic, health, racial, gender, digital and economic inequalities have been exacerbated by Covid. If not tackled, they risk becoming permanently locked in, scarring the prospects of groups disproportionately affected by the social impact of the virus, such as young people.
- Worsening mental health: soaring mental illness, especially among children, low-income households and black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, risks embedding long-term problems if the underlying causes are not tackled.
The report calls for renewed spending on community services, local government, social care and local charities, especially in deprived areas, noting that some of the most effective responses to Covid have been at a local level, where public trust has remained strong. Investment was need to erase the digital divide and establish internet access as a “critical, life-changing public service”.
With unemployment expected to rise, the report questions whether the existing social security system, which is geared more towards helping low-paid workers than people without jobs, could cope with a pandemic-induced recession, saying: “This may prompt reflection on what kind of system the country wants and needs.”
The lead author of the report, Dominic Abrams, professor of social psychology at the University of Kent, said the investment package needed would be expensive, but that much could be achieved by reframing existing policies. “I don’t think this is necessarily about extra money, it’s [about shining] a laser light over existing policies.
Asked whether he was optimistic that the government was open to making changes on the scale the academy called for, Abrams said this was an opportunity to address a range of serious social issues that were not going away. Without a post-pandemic strategy, he said, “these things will get worse”.
Hetan Shah, the chief executive of the British Academy, said: “A year from the start of the first lockdown, we all want this to be over. However, in truth, we are at the beginning of a Covid decade. Policymakers must look beyond the immediate health crisis to repair the profound social damage wrought by the pandemic.”
A government spokesperson said: “Coronavirus is the biggest public health challenge the UK has faced in decades and as we recover from this pandemic this government is committed to building back better and levelling up outcomes for every individual across the country.
“That’s why we’ve implemented robust support to those who need it most – raising the living wage, spending billions to safeguard jobs, investing £2.4bn each year for disadvantaged pupils, and boosting welfare support and local authority funding. On top of that, we are providing an additional £500m for mental health services and £79m to expand mental health support teams in schools and colleges.”
The UK is marking one year since the first coronavirus lockdown was announced.
With the lockdown have come tough restrictions on socialising, closures of schools, pubs and shops with many rules currently still in place.
A minute’s silence will be held at midday as part of a day of reflection.
A year on, Mr Johnson has praised the “great spirit” shown since that moment and he offered his condolences to those who have been bereaved during the pandemic.
People are also being encouraged to stand on their doorsteps at 20:00 GMT with phones, candles and torches to signify a “beacon of remembrance”.
It is being organised by end-of-life charity Marie Curie.
The prime minister, who himself spent time in hospital seriously ill with Covid, said the last year had taken a “huge toll on us all” and said the anniversary was an opportunity to reflect on the year – “one of the most difficult in our country’s history”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast the last year had been “probably the hardest year in a generation” but treatments and vaccines now provided “hope”.
On the day of the first nationwide lockdown, it was announced that 340 people had died with the virus. That total was later adjusted upwards when the way that figure is measured was changed during the summer.
From the start, ministers said they were putting their faith in the measures slowing down the impact of the virus while scientists in the UK and around the world found a way to combat what had become both a threat to health and to the population’s freedom to enjoy life.
That came with the development of several vaccines – and the UK has already seen 28 million people receive a first dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines.
Over the months, scientists, politicians and the public have assessed several key figures that are updated each day showing the number of new cases, the numbers in hospital, how many are being treated in ventilation beds, and how many have died within 28 days of a positive Covid test.
In recent weeks all of those measures are down – as a result of the lockdown and the effects of the vaccine rollout – but on Monday Mr Johnson warned that the effects of a third wave of coronavirus will “wash up on our shores” from Europe and said the country should be under “no illusion” the country will feel the effect of increasing cases on the continent.
The European commission’s chief vaccine negotiator, Sandra Gallina, said on Tuesday the European Union will use all available means to secure the Covid-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca.
Almost 40% of respondents in Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland said they had become less positive about Sweden over the last year, with its pandemic strategy the most widely cited reason, the survey by the Swedish Institute, a public agency that promotes the country around the world, showed.
“People think that Sweden’s handling of the pandemic has been flawed or wrong,” the Institute said. “The reason put forward is that Sweden has failed to protect Swedish citizens well enough, especially vulnerable groups.”
Borders have been shut and relations have been strained over disruptions to the flow of people and goods between the usually tight-knit Nordic countries.