Chinese manufacturer Chuwi is no stranger to crowdfunding, having relied on Indiegogo for campaigns to promote its SurBook, HiGame, and other PCs over the last couple of years. Now it’s going back to the well with its new AeroBook, a thin-and-light laptop with a budget friendly price tag that gets even more enticing if you join the early bird deal on Indiegogo.
The AeroBook follows quickly on the heels of the Lapbook SE, a similarly sized notebook that offers more basic specs and a cheaper price tag than the new device. Like the Lapbook SE, the AeroBook offers a 13.3-inch display and 128GB of storage (with options for more), but upgrades from the Lapbook’s Celeron processor to an Intel Core m3 6Y30 chip and is slimmer and lighter (2.8 pounds compared to 3.2 pounds for the Lapbook).
An upgraded design sheds ounces and millimeters by narrowing the bezel around both the full HD screen and the keyboard, allowing the display to fit into a 12-inch chassis. But even the cheaper Lapbook features a laminated IPS display and aluminium magnesium alloy construction, along with a similar eight hours worth of claimed battery life. While the AeroBook comes with a pair of USB 3.0 ports, it lacks a USB-C connection just like the Lapbook.
Chuwi expects the AeroBook to begin shipping in April with a base price tag of $499 — that is, unless you participate in the Indiegogo campaign. As an early bird special, Chuwi is knocking $100 off the price for the first 150 backers, with $120 off a $549 version with twice the storage, and $170 off a 1TB configuration regularly selling for $869. As of this writing, the AeroBook campaign has already exceeded its $35,000 flexible goal with nearly an entire month left.
If you weren’t satisfied with the Black Friday deals on laptops, Cyber Monday gives you …
Nearly 18,000 workers were sealed into Shanghai’s main airport Sunday and tested for COVID-19 in one night after authorities detected seven cases linked to the cargo unit of the facility.
Social media lit up with dramatic smartphone videos showing large crowds of workers pushing against guards in white hazmat suits in the airport’s parking structure.
By Monday morning, local authorities grabbed hold of the situations, tweeting out videos of the 17,719 workers in orderly lines waiting to get tested, with calm piano music playing in the background. According to The Washington Post, it remained unclear what happened to the workers after that—if they were still being held at the airport, if they were moved to a quarantine facility, or if they were allowed to go home.
Local authorities reported that at least 11,544 have tested negative.
The lock-in and testing blitz was spurred after a seventh cases was identified and linked to the cargo unit. The first identified case was in a cargo worker who tested positive November 9 after checking into a hospital with fever, fatigue, and a nasal congestion. His co-worker tested positive the next day.
In the last three days—two weeks after those first two cases—five other cases have popped up. The five include a cargo screening handler, that worker’s wife, two other co-workers, and the wife of one of those co-workers.
According to the South China Post, one of the latest cases is an employee at the UPS international transit center at Pudong airport.
Wear your mask
In a news conference Monday, local authorities said they believed the two initial cases became infected while they were cleaning a freight container from North America together, while not wearing masks, on October 30.
“The environment inside the container is humid and that is conducive to the survival of the coronavirus,” Sun Xiaodong, deputy director of the Shanghai Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, said. Sun added that authorities had ruled out other transmission risks.
Since testing scramble yesterday, hundreds of flights to the airport have been canceled.
Zhou Junlong, vice president of Shanghai Airport Group said that, moving forward, airport workers will have access to experimental vaccines that have been approved in China for emergency use.
AstraZeneca announced in a press release on Monday that its COVID-19 vaccine showed positive results in an interim analysis of clinical trial data.
The announcement marks the third vaccine to show strong efficacy in late-stage trials against the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2. Though AstraZeneca’s vaccine efficacy numbers are not as impressively high as those for the vaccines before it—mRNA vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—AstraZeneca’s does offer some advantages over those vaccines.
In all, the news adds to ballooning optimism that effective vaccines could bring an end to the global crisis in the coming year.
The vaccine and its data
AstraZeneca partnered with researchers at the University of Oxford to develop the viral vector-based vaccine called AZD1222 (also called ChAdOx1 nCoV-19). The vaccine involves having genetic material coding for the notorious SARS-CoV-2 spike protein carried into the body by a relatively benign virus. In this case, the virus is a weakened type of adenovirus—a pathogen that can cause common colds and other mild infections in humans and some animals. The adenovirus used is one that mainly infects chimpanzees. When the adenovirus package delivers the code for the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, the immune system can then train itself to recognize and destroy anything with the same spike protein—and that would be all SARS-CoV-2 viral particles, which are studded with spike proteins.
The AZD1222 results announced today come from a pooled analysis of clinical trials conducted in the United Kingdom and Brazil, involving over 23,000 participants. AstraZeneca’s independent monitoring board found AZD1222 was on average about 70-percent effective at preventing COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. The interim analysis was triggered when 131 cases showed up in participants across the trials, who were given either two doses of AZD1222 or a comparator vaccine, the meningococcal vaccine MenACWY. The efficacy rate is calculated based on how those 131 cases split into the MenACWY group versus the AZD1222 group.
But the results were a little more complicated than that simple split. Participants who received AZD1222 got one of two dosing regimens, so the results were split further. In one regimen, participants were given a half-dose of AZD1222 followed by a booster shot with a full dose. In the trials, 2,741 participants got this regimen, and it appeared about 90-percent effective at preventing COVID-19.
In the other regimen, participants receiving AZD1222 got two full doses of the vaccine. In other words, they got the same high dosage level in their first shot as in their booster shot. In the trials, 8,895 participants got this regimen, and it appeared about 62-percent effective at preventing COVID-19.
The pooled efficacy data yields the average efficacy at around 70 percent. This is impressive, given a goal of around 50 percent. However, it’s not quite as high as the stunning mRNA vaccine efficacy results reported in previous weeks. Those included 95 percent efficacy for Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine and 94.5 percent efficacy for Moderna’s.
AstraZeneca’s better result with the regimen starting with a half dose has already led to head scratching among experts. Most importantly, it’s unclear if the 90-percent efficacy result will hold up as AstraZeneca collects more data and conducts further analyses. We don’t yet know how the 131 cases split in the subgroup analyses. That final efficacy number is very likely to change as more data is collected. But, if that finding does hold up, some experts have already begun speculating as to why.
Several think it may be down to the adenovirus packaging. Though the vaccine is aimed at spurring immune responses against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein carried by the adenovirus, some immune responses will inevitably attack the adenovirus itself. If the two-dose regimen starts out high, it may tip the immunity scales toward a stronger anti-adenovirus response rather than an anti-spike response when the booster shot is delivered. This is speculative, though, and understanding what’s actually happening will require far more data.
On a positive note, needing less vaccine in the first dose—if that really does end up being the case—means more people can be vaccinated with the same amount of vaccine manufacturing capacity.
And on yet another positive—though very preliminary—note, the Oxford researchers reported that AZD1222 appeared to reduce asymptomatic infections with SARS-CoV-2. The primary analysis looked at symptomatic cases of COVID-19, but some participants in the trial were regularly screened for asymptomatic infection. This finding is particularly eyebrow-raising since the mRNA vaccine trials exclusively looked at only symptomatic COVID-19 cases. However, the finding is extremely preliminary as the researchers did not present any data on it.
As with the mRNA vaccines, AstraZeneca said no serious adverse events related to the vaccine “have been confirmed.” In earlier trial results, mild side effects from AZD1222 were common, including pain, feeling feverish, chills, muscle ache, headache, and malaise. Some participants were preemptively given paracetamol (acetaminophen/Tylenol) to lessen these effects.
If you’ll recall, AstraZeneca paused its trials at least twice, once in July and another in September, for standard safety reviews. Trials paused in July when a UK participant showed neurological symptoms and was later diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. In September, another participant developed symptoms in line with transverse myelitis—a condition involving inflammation of the spinal cord that can, in rare instances, be linked to vaccination. Both cases were eventually dubbed unrelated to the vaccine itself and the trials resumed.
Otherwise, no hospitalizations or severe cases of COVID-19 were reported in the study.
A significant advantage to AstraZeneca’s adenovirus vaccine is that it is relatively easy to scale up production and doesn’t require specialized storage conditions. Adenovirus vectors are more established in the vaccine arena, compared with mRNA-based vaccines, which are brand-new. Manufacturing capacity to produce vast quantities of adenovirus already exists.
AstraZeneca noted in its press release that it is “making rapid progress in manufacturing with a capacity of up to 3 billion doses of the vaccine in 2021 on a rolling basis, pending regulatory approval. The vaccine can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (2-8 degrees Celsius/36-46 degrees Fahrenheit) for at least six months and administered within existing healthcare settings.”
The mRNA vaccines require cooler storage conditions. Most notably, Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine requires storage at a troublesome -70°C. In a recent press release, Pfizer emphasized that the companies “developed specially designed, temperature-controlled thermal shippers utilizing dry ice to maintain temperature conditions of -70°C ± 10°C. They can be used as temporary storage units for 15 days by refilling with dry ice.” The vaccine can further be stored at normal refrigerated 2-8°C conditions for five days.
Pfizer and BioNTech are aiming to have up to 50 million vaccine doses in 2020 globally and up to 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021.
Moderna announced in a recent press release that its vaccine remains stable for six months at -20° C (-4°F), up to 30 days at normal refrigerator temperature (2-8 degrees C or 36-46 degrees F), and up to 12 hours at room temperature. Moderna currently plans to have about 20 million doses of mRNA-1273 ready to ship in the US in 2020 and produce an additional 500 million to 1 billion doses globally in 2021.
All three vaccines are now headed to regulators worldwide for authorization. Pfizer submitted its request for an Emergency Use Authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration on Friday.
All three vaccines have yet to have their full datasets published, so much uncertainty remains about the data and analyses. The efficacy numbers will likely change as trials continue, safety monitoring grows longer, and peer reviewers look over the analyses. Rare side effects are also more likely to pop up as time goes on.
While preliminary studies on the vaccines suggested they all prompt a variety of immune responses in participants, how long any protection from any of these vaccines may last is completely unknown. It’s still unclear what levels of immune responses equate to full protection from an infection or severe disease. And in a one-year-old pandemic with a completely new-to-us pathogen, it’s impossible to say with certainty how long those protective immune responses will stay protective.
Last, there’s so far no data on how well the vaccines protect against asymptomatic infections. Preventing disease—and in particular, life-threatening disease—is the top priority in these trials. However, preventing asymptomatic or mild infections will be key to putting an end to SARS-CoV-2 transmission overall.
Archaeologists found the remains of two men lying in an underground room in a large villa on the outskirts of the Roman city of Pompeii, in southern Italy, Reuters reports. Based on the condition of their skeletons and clues from preserved traces of clothing, one man appears to have been a wealthy person in his 30s, while the other was likely a slave or laborer in his early 20s. They died together at the villa of Civita Giuliana, probably while trying to flee or seek better shelter from a dense, fast-moving cloud of superheated volcanic gas and ash.
The rich man and the slave
The find brings the total number of human remains at Pompeii and Herculaneum (a few kilometers west along the Bay of Naples) to more than 1,500. Historians estimate that around 12,000 people lived in Pompeii and another 12,000 lived on the rich farmland nearby, but we don’t know how many of those people died in the eruption or its aftermath.
And we know a surprising amount about those 1,500 people, because the thick layer of volcanic ash that entombed them also preserved the details of their final moments, along with hints about the lives that led up to those moments. Like many of the other remains at Pompeii, the two men in the villa lay in soft volcanic ash, which hardened around them and preserved the shape of their bodies long after their soft tissues had decayed. By making plaster casts of those impressions, archaeologists could see details like facial expressions and even the folds and pleats of clothing.
The younger man’s short life had been full of hard physical labor, which had compressed his spine and no doubt caused him pain. Archaeologists assume that he was a slave, since it’s hard to find another explanation for a young manual laborer in a wealthy villa. His companion’s bones spoke of a life of good nourishment, and the scraps of a finely made wool cloak still tucked beneath his neck marked him as a man of means.
But both were equally helpless when the torrent of gas and dust, called a pyroclastic flow, swept down the slopes of Vesuvius. Their hands and feet are flexed inward, which suggests they died in a sudden blast of heat. Some models of the eruption predict that even in the coolest and most sheltered parts of Pompeii, the pyroclastic flow would have heated the air to boiling. Even in the heart of the villa, no one could have survived.
A wave of death
The two men might have spent their last day thinking the worst was over. Around 1:00pm the previous day, Mount Vesuvius blasted a dark, towering cloud of gas, ash, and rocky debris more than 30km (20 miles) into the sky. Pliny the Younger, watching from Misenum on the other side of the Bay of Naples, wrote later that the cloud looked like a pine tree. Hot ash and chunks of porous rock called pumice rained down on Pompeii, Herculaneum, and neighboring towns for several hours before the edges of the cloud began to collapse under their own weight.
When that happened, the gas, dust, and rock fell downward and then rushed along the ground as a deadly pyroclastic flow—too hot and poisonous to survive, and too fast to outrun. It was a wave of death, and it washed over the town of Herculaneum first in the wee hours of the morning. The two men in the villa on the edge of Pompeii couldn’t have known that, but they’d been watching pumice and ash fall from the dark sky all day, all night, and into the next morning.
By then, Vesuvius had blasted another tower of ash and gas into the stratosphere. When that cloud collapsed, its pyroclastic flow reached all the way into Pompeii, killing everyone who remained in the city, including the two men in the villa. A second wave followed later that day, but by then, the rich man and the slave were already dead. In a nearby stable, three horses had been harnessed much too late to make an escape; archaeologists unearthed their remains, harnesses and all, in 2017.
Dead men tell some tales
Archaeologists have more to learn from the two men whose remains lay in the ash-filled ruins for nearly 2,000 years. Further analysis could shed light on where they grew up, what they ate, and how they lived. And as archaeologists continue to excavate the rest of the villa, they may find clues about who the two men were and how they fit into life at Civita Giuliana.