While mass cultural gatherings are still on hold in reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers from the Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany are recruiting volunteers to study how the virus spreads during a concert. Scientists of the Restart-19 project are planning to equip 4,000 concertgoers with tracking gadgets and bottles of fluorescent disinfectant to monitor how the new coronavirus would spread during a large indoor concert.

The series of experiments will take place on August 22 at the Quarterback Immobilien Arena in Leipzig, where German singer-songwriter Tim Bendzko will perform in front of a crowd of volunteers. Participants will be asked to act out three different scenarios, the first of which will replicate the experience of going to a concert prior to the pandemic.

The second simulation will be more aligned with new health and safety guidelines, and will find the audience entering the venue through two main entrances to minimize physical encounters. In the third scenario, a limited number of volunteers will be allowed in the Quarterback Immobilien Arena to maintain a safety distance of 1.5 meters during the event.

Participants, aged between 18 and 50, will be required to wear a small contact-tracing device that will transmit a signal every five seconds to record proximity with other individuals, as well as the duration and frequency of contact with others during the concert. Additionally, volunteers will be asked to wash their hands with fluorescent hand-sanitizer at the entry of the venue. Researchers will then scour the stadium with UV lights to identify surfaces where transmission of Covid-19 is most likely to occur.

According to The Guardian, vapours from a fog machine will also help visualize the possible spread of the virus via aerosols. “We are trying to find out if there could be a middle way between the old and the new normal that would allow organizers to fit enough people into a concert venue to not make a loss,” said Stefan Moritz, the head of clinical infectious diseases at the University hospital in Halle and the experiment’s coordinator, told the publication.

To this date, 979 volunteers have signed up for the Restart-19 project, all of whom will have to present a negative test to Covid-19 prior to the concert.

High blood sugar elevates Covid-19 mortality risk

Patients with abnormally high blood sugar levels are more than twice as likely to die from Covid-19, researchers in China said on July 18. It is the first-time scientists have been able to confirm that patients with hyperglycemia, but not diagnosed with diabetes, are at higher risk of death from Covid-19, they wrote in the journal Diabetologia.

The researchers examined death rates for 605 Covid-19 patients at two hospitals in Wuhan, China. Having high blood pressure is “independently associated” with increased risk of death and complications from the virus, they wrote.

The study builds on previous research on diabetic patients. One-in-10 Covid-19 patients with diabetes died in French hospitals, a far higher proportion than for patients without the condition, a May study in the same journal found. Exactly why high blood sugar increases Covid-19 death rates remain clear. The authors of the study suggested that blood clotting, the weakening of blood vessel linings, and cytokine storm syndrome — an overreaction of the immune system — could all play a role.

The authors of the report urged hospitals to test all Covid-19 patients for glucose levels, as opposed to only those known to have diabetes. The study, which looked at hospital patients admitted in January and February, had some limitations, experts not involved in the research said. “This is a nice report but it is fully in line with expectations,” Naveed Sattar, a professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow who was not one of the study’s authors, said. “What the authors cannot confirm is whether differential targeting of blood sugar levels in those admitted leads to differences in outcomes.”

More research involving randomised controlled trials is needed, Bernard Khoo, a professor of endocrinology at University College London, commented.

Masks and gloves polluting the rivers of Europe

Europe’s major rivers are littered with surgical masks and medical gloves discarded by people protecting themselves against coronavirus, scientists have reported. They also add to the plastic pollution already clogging the continent’s major waterways, research organisation Tara Ocean Foundation told France Inter radio on July 18. During the month of June, researchers “systematically found gloves and masks” along the banks and beaches of rivers across Europe said Romy Hentinger, head of international cooperation at the foundation. “This is worrying,” she said. “We can only assume that others (masks and gloves) have already made it to the ocean.” The disposable protective gear is manufactured from polypropylene and will thus disintegrate quickly in the ocean, making it almost impossible to recover, she added. The Tara Foundation recently concluded a scientific survey of nine major European rivers —the Elbe, Rhine, Seine, Rhone, Garonne, Loire, Tiber, Thames and Ebro — to measure concentrations of microplastics. The expedition from May to November 2019 found them in 100 percent of the water samples they collected, showing that particles had already broken down before being carried out to the sea. “We’re waiting for the final results from our scientists,” said Hentinger. Contrary to what was once thought, bits of plastic in ocean water are not broken down by UV rays and salt. Around eight million tonnes of plastic end up in the world’s oceans every year.