Interview: UK epidemiologist says global collaboration vital to tackle unprecedented COVID-19 crisis

Source: Xinhua| 2020-06-06 20:37:59|Editor: huaxia
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LONDON, June 6 (Xinhua) -- Global collaboration is "really important" to tackle the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis which is affecting all countries, Dr Connor Bamford, a virologist, told Xinhua.

Dr Bamford is a research fellow in virology and antiviral immunity at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine, Queen's University Belfast. He has spent his career researching how human immune response can fend off different infections, and how viruses get past human immune systems.

"Collaboration is really important and this crisis is unique in the fact that it's a pandemic -- a global epidemic of a single pathogen -- but this thing is affecting all countries," said Dr Bamford.

In particular, collaborating in stopping travel, sharing PPE (personal protective equipment) and sharing experiences of the virus, are fundamental to successfully control COVID-19 on a global scale, according to Dr Bamford.

"Seeing how interconnected our global society and economy are, essentially everybody is getting damaged by this and I think we have to work together and more importantly we can learn from other countries," said Dr Bamford.


According to Dr Bamford, China has been "really collaborative in this effort".

"Very early in the outbreak, China shared a lot of information about this virus and allowed countries in Europe, the UK and the US to prepare themselves," said Dr Bamford.

He believes that China is a key model -- along with the rest of East Asia and Southeast Asia -- to follow for countries like Britain in getting past this relief of lockdown phase.

Going forward, Dr Bamford said that researchers in Britain should also work closely with their counterparts in China when it comes to finding viable vaccines and therapeutics.

In a study published in the medical journal The Lancet last month, a Chinese team reported that their COVID-19 vaccine candidate has been found to be safe, well-tolerated, and able to generate an immune response against SARS-CoV-2 in humans in phase 1 clinical trial.

"I think we've got a lot to learn from China. China has a lot of scientific expertise, they have some vaccine candidates and they've got some therapeutic candidates and we now have people to share and collaborate on those," he said.


Dr Bamford believes the world is getting closer to an effective drug or vaccine for COVID-19 with each experiment, but the chances of a valid vaccine by the end of the year remain slim,

"I think we'll have an idea of the vaccines that are most likely to work, and the ones that are least likely to work -- and hopefully we'll have an idea of how safe they are and then hopefully we'll be getting them into a large number of patients," said Dr Bamford.

"I'm confident that at some point we will see a vaccine and this will have an impact, but if I'm more realistic -- I don't think it will be this year."

As part of the global efforts to find solutions to the pandemic, a team at the University of Oxford is also carrying out clinical trial on a COVID-19 vaccine candidate. Leading scientist of the team are optimistic that they can complete the multi-phased trial at an unprecedented pace.

"We have to make sure that these vaccines are safe and effective and we're able to give them to essentially billions of people. This does take a really long period of time, but of course we're trying to do things as fast as possible but, of course, you don't want to do anything too fast as you really have to make sure they do work and things are safe," said Dr Bamford.

In addition to vaccines, researcher around the world are also looking for effective drugs to treat the infection.

Since April, Dr Bamford and his team in Belfast have been working on a new drug to target the coronavirus. Although in its early stages of development, the drug is intended to be given to patients at hospital who are sick from COVID-19.


Development of vaccines or drugs comes as many countries around the world are starting to ease restrictions on movement.

"We've now conquered that first wave...There's a couple of countries who have been in this similar position before us and I think that there is a real risk that we could go back to what we saw in the preceding months. We're not in the early stages, we're somewhere in the middle and it's a bit uncertain," said Dr Bamford.

Nonetheless, Dr Bamford is optimistic that the second wave will not be as severe as the first wave in Britain.

"The first wave, we predicted it would be completely catastrophic with hundreds of thousands of people dying. That was only if lockdown wasn't brought in. I think we've shown that we know how to stop this virus and that is through lockdown, social distancing and increased hygiene and as importantly, this test, trace and isolate procedure," said Dr Bamford.

"I think, when we bring all those together then we should be able to reduce some aspects of lockdown and social distancing but also suppress any virus that is there ongoing, but, of course, this is a long battle. We're doing this to hold off the virus until we have a new therapy or a new vaccine that is safe and effective," he said.

"Hopefully we can eradicate it or bring a vaccine that we can give to everybody in the population. But then the really important thing going forward is protecting the world from another pandemic like what we're seeing with SARS-CoV-2," he said.