In December last year, a new type of pneumonia broke out near a fish market in Wuhan, China. Soon after, the disease spread through the city and nearby cities. As the situation worsened, the government declared a lockdown of many cities in Hubei Province. But before the lockdown many residents left the areas and a significant number of them traveled to many countries around the world. This has triggered a cascade of events, caus- ing the disease first to spread to European countries like Italy, Spain and United Kingdoms
The disease was identified to be caused by a new type of coronavirus, similar to that for SARS outbreak in 2003 and MERS outbreak in 20xx. This virus was named COVID-19, acronym for Coronavirus Infectious Disease in 2019, by the World Health Organization. Other name such as SARS-CoV-2 has also been used. The disease was finally declared “pandemic” by WHO in March 2020.
The ways for dealing with the disease varied greatly from country to coun- try. Some imposed strict public health measurements such as lockdown of com- munities, social distance, wearing mask in public areas, body temperature meas- urements, etc. Others took more relaxed measures like the idea of herd immunity, in consideration of the economic impact for the country.
Regardless which strategy each country took, the results have various impacts on the global developments. Some unusual phenomena happened. Many major cities around the world such as New York City, Milan, London, Wuhan all of a sudden became empty on the street and quiet with little human activities. Almost all coun- tries installed border lockdown which made international traveling impossible. The world seemed to come to a halt.
So far there are nearly 8 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 432,000 deaths worldwide. USA, Brazil, Russia, India and UK are the top 5 coun- tries with most confirmed cases. Unfortunately the pandemic situation is still devel- oping in many areas. So a number of countermeasures are needed.
A small bright light shone in the struggle is the rapid response from the scientific community in fighting the virus to help our understanding of the virus itself quickly. The genomic sequence of the virus was quickly determined so the specific se- quences for the PCR diagnostic tools can be designed. The PCR detection is still the most reliable way for screening infected patients. The sequence analysis of various strains of the SARS-Cov-2 virus allowed us to understand the propagation pathways of the disease.
Today (June 14), new confirmed cases appeared in Beijing China. The genomic sequence was determined which seemed to indicate a new strain has emerged.
Many scientists also tried to develop drugs to treat the infections. Some antiviral small molecule drugs have been found to be promising. Early clinical trials of Remdesivir showed possible efficacy. Therapeutic monoclonal antibodies with neutralizing activities have been isolated from B cells of recovered patients. All those provide hope for us to help patients to combat virus in the future.
However, to counter the future pandemic, effective vac- cines are a must. Many scientists from academia, govern- ment institutes, big pharmaceutical companies, and inno- vative biotech companies are racing to develop vaccines, which is a hard and uncertain endeavor. As we know, some viruses are extremely clever and have evaded our attempts to develop vaccine against them. For example, we still have not successfully developed vaccine against HIV infection.
Coming back to IUBMB, what are the impacts of the pan- demic on us? Well, quite seriously.
Initially the IUBMB EC was to hold a meeting during the Experimental Biology conference to be held in San Diego USA in April 2020. That conference was forced to cancel as expected. So, to maintain frequent communications among the EC members, we have held regular video con- ferences to discuss important issues associated with IUBMB. We found such arrangements to be quite efficient and effective. One problem is how to accommodate every- one from different time zones for the same meeting. But by not having to travel for us, we save some money, an unexpected side benefit. However, eventually I would think face-to-face interactions still is a better way to deal with various issues.
Another collateral damage due to the pandemic is the economic downturn which makes some countries cutting back support to their scientific societies. Some IUBMB adhering members are withdrawing their membership from the union due to the lack of financial support. We are try- ing to find a better arrangement of membership dues so all
adhering members can join the union and to enjoy the many benefits our union provides.
Here I would like update some of the IUBMB activities which are affected by the pandemic. The 2019 FAOBMB Conference in Sri Lanka originally scheduled in June has been canceled. The FEBS Congress in Ljubljana will be postponed to 2021. The consequence of this change is that the IUBMB Congress in Lisbon will be delayed to 2022. I urge our members to check out IUBMB website to find the most up-to-date information of various important events.
Another important task we are undertaking is the search of a new Editor-in-Chief of our flagship journal IUBMB Life. After many years of excellent service as the Co-Editor-in- Chief, Dr. Bill Whelan and Dr. Angelo Azzi will end their service at the end of this year. Both of them have the ut- most appreciation from us.
In this difficult time of COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential for us to reflect what IUBMB should and can do to face the many challenges forced upon the humankind. Emerging infectious diseases are only part of the challenges. We will be working with UNESCO and other unions to develop plausible strategies.
Finally I hope everyone will keep safe and healthy. I am confident we will overcome the dark shadow over us now and the world will return to normal by my next message!
Andrew H.J. Wang, PhD President, IUBMB