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Can antimicrobial fashion protect you from the coronavirus?

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Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNN

With no end to the global pandemic in sight, fashion and sportswear brands have been quickly adapting their lines to include face masks decorated with logos and stylish patterns.
While cloth masks made of traditional materials can help slow the spread of Covid-19, according to the World Health Organization, some labels are going one step further. They’re marketing new accessories, and in some cases entire clothing lines, as having antimicrobial properties — applications that inhibit the growth of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, or reduce viral activity. But what does antimicrobial fashion do, and can it provide extra protection during a pandemic?
Burberry announced an upcoming line of antimicrobial masks in their signature check textile.

Burberry announced an upcoming line of antimicrobial masks in their signature check textile. Credit: Courtesy Burberry

In recent months, brands including Burberry have introduced masks that, they claim, are protected from microbes and germs. Burberry’s forthcoming beige and blue designs come in the label’s signature check. Under Armour’s multi-layered UA Sportsmask, which is ​marketed as having antimicrobial properties, sold out in under an hour when it was released this summer.

And Diesel is selling denim that it claims is “virus-fighting.” The Italian brand announced that it will use a technology called ViralOff — which it says “physically halts 99% of any viral activity” — in a number of items in its Spring-Summer 2021 collection. ViralOff works “by interacting with key proteins, inhibiting the virus from attaching to textile fibers,” reads Diesel’s press release.
In the US, brands cannot claim that products will protect wearers from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, without providing sufficient evidence. ​Therefore, some labels simply allude to extra protection or hygiene, though the small print often reveals that antimicrobial treatments are only intended to inhibit bacterial or viral growth, not protect the user from pathogens. (Washing garments with soap once a day, as recommended by the World Health Organization, or WHO, can also kill bacteria and viruses.) The FDA and CDC ​did not immediately respond to CNN’s requests for information regarding products that have been tested ​or submitted for formal approval.

Without sound scientific testing by brands across the board, it is difficult to assess whether antimicrobial treatments can protect wearers from the novel coronavirus, according to Amy Price, a senior research scientist at Stanford Anesthesia Informatics and Media (AIM) Lab who has advised the WHO on its face mask guidelines.

“The challenge is that sometimes claims are made, but they aren’t tested on the actual masks or with the actual virus,” she said over a video conference call. “So they’re like gimmicks.” ​Price has not tested any of the products mentioned in this article.

Some companies say they have tested their products with SARS-CoV-2, like IFTNA’s PROTX2 AV that Under Armour says it uses, and HeiQ’s Viroblock, which, according to the company’s website, is used by numerous brands to produce reusable face masks, coats and even mattresses. IFTNA says recent lab testing “shows PROTX2 AV’s efficacy against Covid-19,” while HeiQ claims that Viroblock, which is added to the fabric during the final stage of the textile manufacturing process, has been “tested effective against Sars-CoV-2.” CNN has not been able to independently verify these claims.

But some ​others have not revealed which viruses, if any, their products have been tested on, muddying the waters of so-called “antimicrobial” fashion.

Price, who studied the effectiveness of fabric masks alongside AIM Lab’s director, Larry Chu, said there are a number of variables that determine how much protection a product offers.

“Oftentimes, bacteria and viruses have different ways of reproducing, and different things are effective against them,” she explained. “With antimicrobial (treatments) it’s important to know what you’re dealing with, what it’s been tested with and if it’s safe for human skin.

“(With) anything that you put on your face — especially that you’re going to be wearing day in and day out — you want to make sure it is really something that is safe or FDA approved.”

Murky claims

Since the coronavirus outbreak was labeled a pandemic by the WHO in March, the guidance around mask-wearing has continued to evolve. Many countries now require face coverings to be worn in public spaces in order to reduce the spread of the virus.

“If you’re wearing (a mask) and the people around you are wearing it, we’ve seen that transmission (of the coronavirus) probably drops in the 90% plus range, which is pretty good odds,” Dr. Atul Grover, executive director of the Association of American Medical Colleges Research and Action Institute, told CNN in August.
In their study, Price and Chu found that cloth masks can “do better than surgical masks in terms of blocking particles,” Price said — but only “if they’re made well,” with a triple-layered and tight-fitting design. (The WHO has produced a series of videos on recommended materials and fit, based on the pair’s research.)
Cloth face masks have become a popular reusable option during the pandemic. The World Health Organization recommends washing with soap and water in between wears to kill germs.

Cloth face masks have become a popular reusable option during the pandemic. The World Health Organization recommends washing with soap and water in between wears to kill germs. Credit: Alfredo Estrella/AFP/Getty Images

“Ultimately, it’s about having some form of barrier with multiple layers,” said CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta in a CNN video from April on the benefits of wearing a mask.

There have been few published studies, so far, examining the impact of antimicrobial and antiviral fabric treatments on the new coronavirus. And there is no single type of technology being used by clothing brands, so each would require extensive individual studies to judge their efficacy. It will be important to consider whether a treated fabric is able to neutralize the virus, and if so, how long it takes (“the virus can get in within nanoseconds,” Price said), as well as the number of washes the antimicrobial treatment can withstand. ​

Earlier this month, Polygiene, which recently partnered with Diesel and is the maker of ViralOff, said in a press release that the antimicrobial textile treatment technology can successfully kill 99% of SARS-CoV-2 from textile surfaces within two hours. While Price has not tested Polygiene’s ViralOff technology, she believes two hours is “a lengthy disinfection time,” explaining that the garment could contaminate skin, food, water or mucous membranes during that period if it makes contact.

Polygiene describes its textile treatment as “durable,” but advises users to “wash less and only when needed.” Over email, the company clarified that it cannot guarantee ViralOff will continue to work after machine washing — it recommends gently washing garments treated ViralOff by hand or not washing at all — but said that another formula is currently in development.

Under Armour and Diesel did not return CNN’s requests for comment, while Burberry would not elaborate on the type of antimicrobial treatment used in its masks.

Unresolved questions

As companies race to appeal to anxious consumers, ​claims about antimicrobial garments’ effectiveness against the novel coronavirus itself appears to be expanding. HeiQ claims that its aforementioned treatment technology kills 99.99% of the virus within 30 minutes, while fabric maker IFTNA claims that their product neutralizes over 99% of the virus in as little as 10 minutes thanks to its “residual killing power.”

Both companies say their products have also been tested with other pathogens, including strains of influenza and different types of coronavirus, with each lasting 30 washes, but CNN is unable to independently verify these claims.

Related video: 5 ways you can change your fashion habits to help the planet

But the companies vary in how they describe the protection offered by their products. Giancarlo Beevis, president of IFTNA, said over email: “It will protect the wearer from potential transmission points on anything treated with PROTX2 AV.” HeiQ, on the other hand, does not claim that its product can protect people against pathogens — a legal disclaimer on its website says the treatment is meant to protect the textile itself, not the wearer.

“Antiviral fabrics reduce the risk of virus transmission through surface contamination and are added protection from the virus,” said Rahel Kägi Romero, of HeiQ’s marketing team, over email. “HeiQ does not want to make health claims and give people a wrong sense of security. Antiviral fabric is one factor in keeping people safe, but it needs to go hand in hand with other measures, such as keeping a social distance, wearing face masks when in crowded areas and washing hands regularly.”

While keeping your clothing virus-free could, potentially, reduce the chance of cross-contamination, there is still much that is unknown about SARS-CoV-2. The primary routes of transmission are still contested, as is the amount of the virus required to make a person ill. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), although the possibility hasn’t been ruled out, “touching a surface or object that has the virus on it… isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

The possible benefits of antimicrobial fabrics are even less clear for garments that don’t usually come into contact with the face, like jeans, Price said. “Unless you’re going to just be sitting there, rubbing your legs and then rubbing your face, then what’s the point?” she asked. Plus, even if a textile treatment is proven to reduce certain viral activity, that doesn’t necessarily make it practical for all types of garments.

Price doesn’t discount the potential value of antimicrobial textiles, but so far, she said, the studies offer an incomplete picture. “Should this be tested? Yes,” she said. “(But) it should absolutely not be marketed to the public through press releases and industry brochures before the results are vetted and replicated in a fair test of treatments, like a well-run randomized clinical trial.

“Even FDA trials contain three phases and aftermarket surveillance… If a person feels safer wearing a microbial textile, and this safety is only a marketing illusion, it could cost them their lives or their health.”

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Philippines: Typhoon Molave displaces thousands, floods villages

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At least 25,000 people evacuated in the Philippines as heavy rains and fierce winds swamp villages and rip off roofs.

Thousands of villagers were forced to flee their homes in the Philippines as a fast-moving typhoon made landfall, flooding rural villages, ripping off roofs and toppling trees and powerlines, officials said.

There were no immediate reports of casualties from Typhoon Molave, but authorities on Monday reported at least one person was missing and seven others were rescued after their yacht sank off Batangas province south of Manila.

The typhoon has sustained winds of 125 kilometres per hour (77 miles per hour) and gusts of up to 180 km/h (112mph) and was blowing westward at 25 km/h (15 mph). Molave is expected to start blowing out of the country into the South China Sea on Monday, government forecasters said.

At least 25,000 villagers were displaced with about 20,000 taking shelter in schools and government buildings which were turned into evacuation centres, according to the Office of Civil Defense.

Residents evacuate from their home in the coastal area of Legaspi City, Albay province south of Manila on October 25, 2020, in advance of tropical storm Molave’s expected landfall [Charism Sayat/ AFP]

“Villagers are now asking to be rescued because of the sudden wind which blew away roofs,” Humerlito Dolor, governor of Oriental Mindoro province, told DZMM radio.

Dolor said pounding rains overnight swamped farming villages in his province, then fierce winds toppled trees and power posts early on Monday, knocking out power. Authorities were clearing roads of fallen trees and debris in some towns after the typhoon passed, he said.

More than 1,800 cargo truck drivers, workers and passengers were stranded in ports after the coastguard barred ships and ferry boats from venturing into rough seas.

Molave follows Tropical Storm Saudel, which last week caused widespread flooding in Quezon province in the Calabarzon region, southeast of the capital Manila.

About 20 typhoons and storms annually batter the Philippines, and the Southeast Asian archipelago is seismically active, with earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, making it one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

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Celebrations in Chile as voters back rewriting constitution

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Tens of thousands of Chileans have taken to Santiago’s main square in celebration after people across the country overwhelmingly backed re-writing Chile’s dictatorship-era constitution that many see as the root cause of the country’s social and economic inequalities.

In Santiago’s Plaza Italia, the focus of the massive and often violent protests last year which sparked the demand for a new charter, fireworks rose above huge crowds of jubilant people singing in unison late on Sunday as the word “rebirth” was beamed onto a tower above.

With more than three-quarters of the votes counted in Sunday’s referendum, 78.12 percent of voters had opted for a new constitution drafted by citizens. Many have expressed hopes that a new text will temper an unabashedly capitalist ethos with guarantees of more equal rights to healthcare, pensions and education.

“This triumph belongs to the people, it’s thanks to everyone’s efforts that we are at this moment of celebration,” Daniel, 37, told Reuters News Agency in Santiago’s Plaza Nunoa. “What makes me happiest is the participation of the youth, young people wanting to make changes.”

Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera said if the country had been divided by the protests and debate about whether to approve or reject plans for a new charter, from now on they should unite behind a new text that provided “a home for everyone”.

People play instruments at Plaza Italia on the day Chileans vote in a referendum to decide whether the country should replace its 40-year-old constitution, written during the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, in Santiago, Chile [Esteban Felix/AP]

“Until now, the constitution has divided us. From today, we must all work together so that the new constitution is the great framework of unity, stability and future,” he said in a speech broadcast from his Moneda Palace surrounded by his cabinet.

The centre-right leader, whose popularity ratings plummeted to record lows during the unrest and have remained in the doldrums, spoke to those who wanted to keep the present constitution credited with making Chile one of Latin America’s economic success stories.

Any new draft must incorporate “the legacy of past generations, the will of present generations and the hopes of generations to come,” he said.

‘A better life’

The vote came a year to the day after more than one million people thronged downtown Santiago amid a wave of social unrest that left 30 people dead and thousands wounded.

The sheer size of the October 25 march demonstrated the breadth of social discontent and proved a tipping point in demonstrators’ demands for a referendum. Within weeks, Pinera had agreed to initiate a process to draft a new constitution, beginning with a referendum to decide the fate of the current text.

Chile’s current constitution was drafted by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet, and was sent to voters at a time where political parties had been banned and the country was subject to heavy censorship.

It was approved by a 66 percent – 30 percent margin in a 1980 plebiscite, but critics said many voters were cowed into acceptance by a regime that had arrested, tortured and killed thousands of suspected leftist opponents following the overthrow of an elected socialist government.

The free-market principles embodied in that document led to a booming economy that continued after the return to democracy in 1990, but not all Chileans shared. A minority was able to take advantage of good, privatised education, health and social security services, while others were forced to rely on sometimes meagre public alternatives. Public pensions for the poorest are slightly more than $200 a month, roughly half the minimum wage.

Cristina Cifuentes, a Santiago-based political analyst, called Sunday’s results a “big blow for the conservative parties” and said a new constitution was necessary to provide equitable access to healthcare, education and pensions systems.

“If you’re born in the least affluent areas of the city, you don’t have access to a good health system, you don’t have good education, you don’t have transport. And you can’t even dream of having a better life. It affects all aspects of life in Chile and that’s why it was so important for Chileans to change the constitution,” she told Al Jazeera.

Demonstrators supporting the reform of the Chilean constitution celebrate while waiting for the referendum official results at Plaza Italia in Santiago on October 25, 2020 [Javier Torres/AFP]
People embrace as others gather to protest against Chile’s government during a referendum on a new Chilean constitution in Santiago, Chile, October 25, 2020 [Ivan Alvarado/Reuters]

‘New beginning’

As votes were counted on Sunday on live television, spontaneous parties broke out on street corners and in squares around the country. Drivers honked car horns, some as revellers danced on their roofs, and others banged pots and pans. The flag of the country’s Indigenous Mapuche people, who will seek greater recognition in the new charter, was ubiquitous.

Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from Plaza Italia, said the landslide victory had given Chileans something to celebrate after a year of sometimes violent protests.

“Many people know it’s going to take at least two years to have a new constitution, and that would only set a roadmap for the future. It won’t solve all of this country’s problems, but at least it does give them hope for a new beginning,” she said.

Four-fifths of voters said they wanted the new charter to be drafted by a specially elected body of citizens – made up of half women and half men – over a mixed convention of legislators and citizens, highlighting general mistrust in Chile’s political class.

Members of a 155-seat constitutional convention will be voted in by April 2021 and have up to a year to agree upon a draft text, with proposals approved by a two-thirds majority.

Among issues likely to be at the fore are recognition of Chile’s Mapuche Indigenous population, powers of collective bargaining, water and land rights and privatised systems providing healthcare, education and pensions.

Chileans will then vote again on whether they accept the text or want to revert to the previous constitution.

The National Mining Society (Sonami), which groups the companies in the sector into the world’s largest copper producer, said it hoped for “broad agreement on the principles and norms” that determine the sector’s coexistence with Chilean citizens and that the regulatory certainty that have allowed the sector to flourish would continue.

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A Lebanese artist created an inspiring statue out of glass and rubble from the Beirut port explosion

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Written by Alaa Elassar, CNN

Hayat Nazer doesn’t remember a time when Lebanon was at peace. But she has learned to channel her grief and pain into beautiful works of art.

She was on her way to Beirut on August 4 when a massive stockpile of ammonium nitrite exploded at the port, killing 190 people, injuring more than 6,000 and leaving more than 300,000 displaced from their homes.
Lebanon had already been reeling from months of political turmoil, economic collapse and a worsening coronavirus outbreak. The weight of it all had nearly paralyzed the small country.

“The explosion broke my heart. I was just devastated. I was traumatized, but honestly, all of us in Lebanon are traumatized,” Nazer, 33, told CNN.

Like many residents, she joined efforts to clean debris and restore the city to its former glory. That’s when she got the idea to use some of what she found to create a statue that could inspire her people to unite and rebuild.

“When I’m feeling that way I just try to help, and fix and heal through art, so this is my way of accepting reality and trying to build my people back up,” she said.

A Lebanese artist made a statue of a woman using glass and rubble from the Beirut port explosion

The unnamed scultpure made from explosion debris depicts a woman with long flowing hair. Credit: Courtesy Hayat Nazer

For weeks, Nazer walked the streets of Beirut, collecting twisted metal, broken glass and people’s discarded belongings to use in the sculpture.

“I traveled to people’s homes after they were destroyed by the explosion and told them, ‘I just want you to give me anything I can include to make you a part of my sculpture,'” Nazer said.

“I was shocked. People gave me such valuable things — things from their childhood, their grandparents who died in the civil war, things they wanted to save for their children. So many emotions went into this.”

When Nazer finally had enough items, she put them together — creating a woman raising Lebanon’s flag, her hair and dress flowing in the wind. The sculpture, which still doesn’t have a name, even features a damaged clock stuck at 6:08, the moment of the explosion.

For Nazer, the process was cathartic. But it wasn’t the first time she had created a work of art inspired by Lebanon’s social and political troubles.

A Lebanese artist made a statue of a woman using glass and rubble from the Beirut port explosion

Nazer stands beside her sculpture of a woman made entirely from Beirut port explosion debris. Credit: Courtesy Hayat Nazer

Before the explosion, as the country descended into months of protests against the country’s ruling elite, Nazer left her job in communications to create art in hopes of inspiring change.

“I suddenly started feeling the need to paint,” Nazer said. “It was a need that I couldn’t stop. I had to quit my job because I felt like I just couldn’t make the change I want to see in the world without focusing on my art.”

Her works include other found object sculptures, as well as graffiti and paintings on canvas.

In 2019, she created a sculpture called “The Phoenix,” which was made from tents broken by counterprotesters during the country’s political upheaval. The work depicts the mythological bird rising from ashes. She also created a giant heart from stones and tear gas canisters left over from riots.
Nazer, who chronicles her projects on Instagram, said most of her work has been destroyed by authorities who don’t take kindly to criticism of the government.

Related video: The architectural heritage Beirut stands to lose

She fears the same fate will befall her latest work, the sculpted woman.

“After an explosion, you can build back homes and buildings, but what you can’t bring back are memories. And throughout Lebanon’s history, our government removes anything that reminds us of what has been done to us,” Nazer said.

“That’s what makes this project so special. It’s fighting. We’re raising our voices through art. We’re telling our own stories.”

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