The Daily Dose: WHO calls for COVID-19 vaccine access equality; Robot fish learn to swim in unison.

It’s been pretty clear for a few months that richer countries have essentially bought up as much COVID-19 vaccines as possible. This leaves resource-poor nations with limited access to live-saving vaccines. The World Health Organization is now trying to jawbone richer countries and pharmaceutical companies to share the wealth. “WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the prospects for equitable distribution were at “serious risk” just as its COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme aimed to start distributing inoculations next month. He noted 44 bilateral deals were signed last year and at least 12 have already been signed this year.” He’s right on this count. However, his observation that the world risks “moral failure” is pretty rich coming from him. WHO reforms need to start at the top.

Reuters published an article about confusion in Germany about their continually rising COVID-19 cases. In particular, second wave spikes are taking its toll in East Germany where far-right groups have refused lockdowns, social distancing, and mask wearing (sound familiar). The article quotes a German millennial who pretty much sums the situation up succinctly. “It sounds strange, but I noticed that young people follow rules like wearing a mask and keeping distance more than old people,” said Jenna Schmidt, a 27-year-old waitress at a local restaurant shuttered since November. “When numbers started to rise in October, you’d hear old people say, ‘oh I’m too old, I’ll die soon anyway’,” said Schmidt, walking with her toddler in the snow in the main square that is usually bustling with tourists. It’s attitudes like this that got us here.” What is it about the political right that makes them so averse to science? And don’t bring up any freedom malarky because that is just a convenient excuse.

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Australian COVID-19 protocols have resulted in 72 tennis players in quarantine as the Australian Open nears. They have been very vocal about how the situation unfolded. The quarantine means that they will not be able to prepare at all for the tournament many travelled half the world to compete in. Per BBC Sport, “Players living under strict quarantine rules after arriving for the Australian Open will get “no special treatment”, says Victorian premier Daniel Andrews. Seventy-two players are confined to their hotel rooms in Melbourne for 14 days after positive coronavirus test results on flights bound for the event. At least nine infected people – including one player – are in quarantine, officials say. “The virus doesn’t treat you specially, so neither do we,” Andrews said. Some players have complained the harder 14-day quarantine was unnecessary.” Many players are complaining that the rules were not made clear to them and had they known they would not have entered the tournament in the first place.

Insect populations around the world have seen significant and worrying declines during the past few years. Scientists have struggled to identify the cause. The Scientist spoke with David Wagner, an entomologist and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut about the problem. Wagner explains that it’s probably not a single thing causing the decreases. “I think it’s because of death by thousand cuts in the sense that it’s oftentimes a multiplicity of factors acting, and it’s a different set in different locations, which makes it a very hard problem. But I think where you have lots of anthropogenic activity, people cutting down forests, areas of high urbanization, or lots of agriculture, there’s going to be multiplicative factors involved in the decline of any one [taxon].” It goes without saying that if something can be done to alleviate the stress on insect populations, it needs to be soon.

Increasingly, robots are learning to perform and make decisions independent of a centralized control center. Science reports that a small school of robotic fish have managed to learn how to swim in unison, ie as a school. “Most robot swarms coordinate their movements via a centralized computer that tells them where to go, in the form of GPS coordinates. But researchers wanted the robots to control their own movements. Inspired by two of the ways fish sense their neighbors—bioluminescence and vision—researchers outfitted fish-shaped underwater robots with two wide-angle cameras, one in each “eye,” and bright blue light-emitting diode lights. They developed a suite of algorithms hard-wired into the fish to coordinate collective behaviors—from swimming in a circle to scattering into the far reaches of their tank.”

Thanks for reading. Let’s be careful out there.

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