HKU Bulletin May 2020 (Vol.21 No.2)

Professor Peiris said, “but if an effective vaccine is developed, it is likely to remain effective long-term, unlike vaccines for influenza, because the mutation rate is lower than that for flu and also because the protective antibody binds exactly at the site where the virus binds to the cell. This means the virus cannot afford to mutate at that site.” Research on a vaccine as well as the pathogenesis and treatment for COVID-19 will be facilitated by other new discoveries in the Faculty, including the pioneering use of an ex vivohuman lung explant model to study SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses, and the development of a hamster model that responds in a similar way as humans to the virus. Further work on the latter has already shown that blood plasma from recovered hamsters could be injected into sick hamsters to lower their viral load. Apart from continuing to make new discoveries about the virus, HKUMed scholars are also providing expertise in other ways to help society cope with the outbreak. They deliver weekly briefings to the Hong Kong government on the latest local situation; a real-time dashboard of COVID-19 cases in Hong Kong, including a breakdown of sources of cases and outcomes; and regular information and advice to the WHO. The School of Public Health shares the visualised statistics of COVID-19 in Hong Kong on a real-time dashboard. Epidemic curve by onset date and stratified by case classifications Date of onset No. of cases HKUMed has produced a series of ‘Healthographics’ with expert advice and health tips for sharing on different social media platforms. It was because of the accumulation of virus genomic information from our years of work on emerging infectious diseases that we were able to produce a very good diagnostic test for this family cluster of COVID-19. PROFESSOR YUEN KWOK-YUNG The HKU State Key Laboratory for Emerging Infectious Diseases has partnered with the global Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations to rapidly develop a vaccine candidate against COVID-19. Public health experts, such as Professor Leung, Professor Ben Cowling and Professor Joseph Wu Tsz-kei, who all have stellar track records in infectious diseases, were the first to define the epidemiological characteristics of COVID-19 in Wuhan. Working with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, they provided the first analysis of transmission dynamics. “We also published a paper at the end of January that was a modelling analysis of how the outbreak could spread across China and the rest of the world in the coming weeks and months. That projection has now in many ways materialised,” Professor Cowling said. The public health team also produced research on the severity of infections in terms of hospitalisations and deaths; the effectiveness of face masks based on pre-COVID-19 infections, which became the fifth highest ranked article on Altmetric, a system tracking social and news media coverage of more than 14 million research papers from around the world; and the likely risk of a second wave of infections as controls on people’s movements and interactions are lifted. Far from over A vaccine would of course be a game changer by bringing this pandemic under control. “A vaccine for coronavirus will be a challenge,” “The threat from this outbreak is far from over,” said Professor Leung, who has predicted it could last at least 18 months. Like everyone, he is on his guard – masking up, wiping down and diligently washing his hands, while sustaining energy for the work ahead. “Usually people in my line of work might count themselves lucky or unlucky to have one big global epidemic in their career, depending on which perspective you take. To have four in the space of 17 years – SARS, influenza A(H1N1) and A(H7N9) and now COVID-19 – it’s rather too much,” he said. Get up-to-date figures from the real-time dashboard 38 The University of Hong Kong Bulletin | May 2020 39 KNOWLEDGE EXCHANGE