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105-year-old woman in Kerala beats Covid-19 in nine days

THIRUVANATHAPURAM, July 29: A 105-year-old woman in south Kerala’s Kollam beat the odds of high mortality rate among elderly population to recover from Covid-19 on Wednesday giving much hope to the overworked medical fraternity in the state and the infected as well.

Kollam medical college superintendent Dr Habeeb Naseem said the woman had tested positive on July 20 and was admitted to the hospital with breathing difficulties and persistent cough. A medical board was constituted and it monitored her health parameters regularly, he said.

“A pillar of strength, she followed all our directives in letter and spirit. Within one week she tested negative. We did another test on Wednesday before discharging her. People who resort to extreme steps after testing positive will have to learn a lot from her,” said the superintendent.

He said she was administered a symptomatic treatment. She was given a warm send off at the hospital. State health minister K K Shailaja congratulated the medical team which treated her back to life.

“It is another example of our hard work and dedication. The medical team deserves much praise,” she said. “It is another feather in Kerala’s cap. It is really a medical wonder.”

The woman is believed to be the third oldest person to recover form Covid-19 after a 107-year-old Dutch woman and a 106-year-old Delhi man.

Two month ago an elderly couple from Pathanamthitta in central Kerala, 94-year-old K Thomas and his 88-year-old wife Mariyamma, had also recovered from Covid-19. Their recovery was much lauded.

Meanwhile, Kerala reported 903 fresh cases of Covid-19 on Wednesday taking its tally to 21,799. The death toll mounted to 70 with two casualties during the day.

There are now 10,057 active cases in the state and while recovered 11,374. As locally-transmitted cases mounted the government has decided to increase the number of tests. In the state it took more than five months to reach 10,000 cases, but it took just 12 days to cross 20,000 mark. The capital Thiruvananthapuram which is the worst affected has been under lock down for more than 20 days.

Covid-19 pandemic accelerating, cases doubled over past 6 weeks: WHO chief

GENEVA, July 27: The coronavirus pandemic “continues to accelerate”, with a doubling of cases over the last six weeks, the World Health Organisation chief has said.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said nearly 16 million cases have now been reported to the U.N. health agency, with more than 640,000 deaths worldwide.

Tedros will convene on Thursday WHO’s emergency committee, a procedural requirement six months after the agency’s declaration of a public health emergency of international concern, made on January 30 for the coronavirus outbreak. The panel will advise him on the pandemic.

“Covid-19 has changed our world,” he told reporters from WHO’s Geneva headquarters on Monday. “It has brought people, communities and nations together — and driven them apart.”

He cited some factors that have proven effective in some countries, including political leadership, education, increased testing and hygiene and physical distancing measures.

“We are not prisoners of the pandemic. Every single one of us can make a difference,” Tedros said. “The future is in our hands.”

No Covid-19 herd immunity yet: WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan

GENEVA, July 25: The WHO’s chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan on Friday said “herd immunity” -- which is when enough people become resistant to a disease to stop its spread -- is still a long way ahead for Covid-19 since 50 to 60 per cent of the population will need to be immune to the novel coronavirus to protect the uninfected.

In a social media live event organised by the World Health Organisation from Geneva, the scientist said that more waves of the infection would be required to get to a stage of natural immunity.

Therefore, she warned, that at least for the next year or so, the world needs to be “geared up” to do everything possible to keep the novel coronavirus at bay while scientists work on vaccines.

Meanwhile, therapeutics will help keep death rates low and allow people to get on with their lives.

“For this concept of herd immunity, you need 50 to 60 per cent of the population to have this immunity to be actually able to break those chains of transmission,” explained Swaminathan.

“That’s much easier to do with a vaccine; we can achieve it faster and without people getting sick and dying. So, it is much better to do it that way, to achieve herd immunity through natural infection. We would have several waves [of infection] and unfortunately also the mortality that we see,” she said.

She added: “Over a period of time, people will start developing natural immunity. We know now from the studies that have been done in many of the affected countries that usually between 5 to 10 per cent of the population has developed antibodies. In some places it’s been higher than that, up to 20 per cent.

“As there are waves of this infection going through countries, people are going to develop antibodies and those people will be hopefully immune for some time and so they will also act as barriers and brakes to the spread of this infection,” said Swaminathan, a paediatrician from India and a globally-recognised researcher on tuberculosis and HIV.

The scientist, who was addressing a range of questions on coronavirus vaccines and therapeutics, said that for the foreseeable future, it is important to be focussed on doing the “right thing” such as public health measures that are known to work while the world waits for a vaccine.

“Even if the clinical trials are successful and we have a couple of vaccines by the end of this year, we still need the hundreds of billions of doses, which will take time,” she said.

Elaborating on vaccine development, the chief scientist said there are over 200 candidates in some stage of development as she highlighted the extraordinary speed at which the science has been moving around the understanding of the novel coronavirus.

“Vaccine development is normally quite a lengthy and laborious process… the more candidates we have, the more opportunities we have for success,” she said.

“Most people who recover from Covid-19 develop neutralising antibodies, which means a vaccine has a good chance of offering protective immunity,” she said.

Asked about the fearful prospect of never getting a vaccine for Covid-19, Dr Swaminathan admitted that “we have to entertain the possibility that we may have to learn to live with this virus”.

“Right now it seems frightening; what will we do if we don’t have a vaccine? But it is a possibility, there is no 100 per cent guarantee that we will have one. Let’s hope we do. But we know, now, what are the measures that we can take to minimise the spread of this infection, such as maintaining distance, hand washing, respiratory hygiene and wearing of masks,” she said.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the Covid-19 pandemic has so far infected more than 15.5 million people and killed over 6.3 lakh across the world.

Don’t expect first Covid-19 vaccine until early 2021: WHO expert

GENEVA, July 22: Researchers are making “good progress” in developing vaccines against Covid-19, with a handful in late-stage trials, but their first use cannot be expected until early 2021, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert said on Wednesday.

WHO is working to ensure fair vaccine distribution, but in the meantime it is key to suppress the virus’s spread, said Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s emergencies programme, as daily new cases around the globe are at near-record levels.

“We’re making good progress,” Ryan said, noting that several vaccines were now in phase 3 trials and none had failed, so far, in terms of safety or ability to generate an immune response.

“Realistically it is going to be the first part of next year before we start seeing people getting vaccinated,” he told a public event on social media.

WHO was working to expand access to potential vaccines and to help scale-up production capacity, Ryan said.

“And we need to be fair about this, because this is a global good. Vaccines for this pandemic are not for the wealthy, they are not for the poor, they are for everybody,” he said.

The US government will pay $1.95 billion to buy 100 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine being developed by Pfizer Inc and German biotech BioNTech if it proves safe and effective, the companies said.

Ryan also cautioned schools to be careful about re-opening until community transmission of Covid-19 is under control. Debate in the United States over restarting education has intensified, even as the pandemic flares up in dozens of states.

“We have to do everything possible to bring our children back to school, and the most effective thing we can do is to stop the disease in our community,” he said. “Because if you control the disease in the community, you can open the schools.”

US secures 100 million doses of potential Covid-19 vaccine for $1.95 billion

WASHINGTON, July 22: Pfizer Inc and German biotech firm BioNTech SE will get $1.95 billion from the US government to produce and deliver 100 million doses of their Covid-19 vaccine candidate, the companies said on Wednesday.

The agreement allows the US government to acquire an additional 500 million doses, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense said.

The Trump administration has agreed to spend billions of dollars for the development and procurement of a potential vaccine. The administration launched ‘Operation Warp Speed’ — a joint HHS and Department of Defense program — to accelerate the development of coronavirus vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.

More than 150 coronavirus vaccines using a variety of technologies are in development globally, with some two dozen already in human trials. Governments have signed deals with drugmakers to secure the supply of various vaccine candidates.

The aim is to produce vaccines that can end the pandemic by protecting billions of people from infection or severe illness.

Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate is among those that are set to be tested in a large trial. The vaccine has shown promise in early-stage small studies in humans.

Pfizer will deliver the doses if the product receives Emergency Use Authorization or licensure from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, after completing demonstration of safety and efficacy in a large Phase 3 clinical trial.

The companies said they expect to be ready to seek some form of regulatory approval as early as October, if the ongoing studies are successful.

Pfizer and BioNTech currently expect to manufacture up to 100 million doses globally by the end of 2020, and potentially more than 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021, subject to final dose selection from their clinical trial.

Pfizer’s shares rose 4%, while BioNTech’s US-listed shares were up about 6% before the bell.

Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine candidate is safe, early results show

LONDON, July 20: The vaccine candidate developed at the University of Oxford is safe and induces immune reaction, preliminary results published in medical journal The Lancet on Monday said, raising hopes for a cure for Covid-19 that has killed tens of thousands and disrupted human activity across the globe.

The widely-followed trial is currently at an advanced stage, with trials in the UK, Brazil and South Africa. A collaboration has already been reached between Oxford, UK government and biopharma major AstraZeneca to produce the vaccine on a mass scale if the final results are also positive. The Serum Institute of India is one of the global partners for its production.

The journal also reported that phase 2 of a vaccine trial in China has also been found to be safe and induces an immune response. The randomised controlled trial of a recombinant adenovirus type-5-vectored Covid-19 vaccine (Ad5-vectored Covid-19 vaccine) was conducted in China in April and involved more than 500 people.

Mene Pangalos of AstraZeneca said: “We are encouraged by the Phase I/II interim data showing AZD1222 was capable of generating a rapid antibody and T-cell response against SARS-CoV-2. While there is more work to be done, today’s data increases our confidence that the vaccine will work and allows us to continue our plans to manufacture the vaccine at scale for broad and equitable access around the world.”

Explaining how the Oxford vaccine works, study lead author Andrew Pollard said: “The new vaccine is a chimpanzee adenovirus viral vector (ChAdOx1) vaccine that expresses the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein”.

“It uses a common cold virus (adenovirus) that infects chimpanzees, which has been weakened so that it can’t cause any disease in humans, and is genetically modified to code for the spike protein of the human SARS-CoV-2 virus”.

“This means that when the adenovirus enters vaccinated people’s cells it also delivers the spike protein genetic code. This causes these people’s cells to produce the spike protein, and helps teach the immune system to recognise the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

He added: “The immune system has two ways of finding and attacking pathogens – antibody and T cell responses. This vaccine is intended to induce both, so it can attack the virus when it’s circulating in the body, as well as attacking infected cells”.

“We hope this means the immune system will remember the virus, so that our vaccine will protect people for an extended period. However, we need more research before we can confirm the vaccine effectively protects against SARS-CoV-2 infection, and for how long any protection lasts.”

The early stage trial finds that the vaccine is safe, causes few side effects, and induces strong immune responses in both parts of the immune system – provoking a T cell response within 14 days of vaccination (ie, a cellular immune response, it could find and attack cells infected with the virus), and an antibody response with 28 days (ie, humoral immune response, it could find and attack the virus when it was circulating in the blood or lymphatic system).

Reacting to the news, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “This is very positive news. A huge well done to our brilliant, world-leading scientists & researchers at the University of Oxford. There are no guarantees, we’re not there yet & further trials will be necessary – but this is an important step in the right direction”.

Business secretary Alok Sharma said: “Today’s results are extremely encouraging, taking us one step closer to finding a successful vaccine to protect millions in the UK and across the world. Backed by £84 million Government investment for the vaccine’s development and manufacture, the agility and speed with which the University of Oxford have been working is outstanding. I am very proud of what they have achieved so far.”

An ideal vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 should be effective after one or two vaccinations, work in target populations including older adults and those with other health conditions, confer protection for a minimum of six months, and reduce onward transmission of the virus to contacts.

The Lancet said the current trial is too preliminary to confirm whether the new vaccine meets these requirements, but phase 2 (in the UK only) and phase 3 trials to confirm whether it effectively protects against SARS-CoV-2 infection are happening in the UK, Brazil and South Africa.

The new trial included 1,077 healthy adults aged 18-55 years with no history of Covid-19, and took place in five UK hospitals between April 23 and May 21, 2020. The data included in the paper covered the first 56 days of the trial and is ongoing.

The participants either received the new Covid-19 vaccine (543 people) or the meningococcal conjugate vaccine (534 people). 113 participants (56 given the Covid vaccine, and 57 in the control group) were also asked to take paracetamol before and for 24 hours after their vaccination to help reduce vaccine-associated reactions (as the Covid-19 vaccine was given in a high dose to help induce a strong immune response).

All participants gave additional blood samples and underwent clinical assessments to determine if the vaccine was safe and whether it provoked an immune response. Participants were also asked to record any adverse events throughout the trial.

25 million infected by Coronavirus in Iran: President Rouhani

TEHERAN, July 18: In a startling revelation, Iran President Hassan Rouhani has said that estimates show 25 million Iranians have been infected with coronavirus till now.

Rouhani said on Saturday that 35 million Iranians may contract the coronavirus, as the country still did not have herd immunity although a quarter of the population may have already been infected.

It appears to be the first time a senior Iranian official has indicated the country is seeking to defeat COVID-19 via herd immunity.

The virus has killed more than 588,000 people and infected nearly 14 million around the world since first being detected in China late last year.

Iran has been battling a resurgence of COVID-19, with figures showing a rise in both new infections and deaths since a two-month low in May.

On Saturday, the health ministry reported another 188 coronavirus deaths and 2,166 cases of infection in the past 24 hours.

That took the overall toll to 13,979 dead out of 271,606 cases since Iran reported its first cases in mid-February.

The rising toll has prompted authorities to reimpose restrictions in worst-hit provinces after being lifted country-wide in April, with Tehran extending them for an extra week on Friday.

"Our estimate is that up to now, 25 million Iranians have been infected with this virus," Rouhani said during a televised meeting of the country's virus-fighting taskforce.

"We have to consider the possibility that 30 to 35 million more may face infection," he added, citing the results of a study by the health ministry.

"We have not yet achieved herd immunity and we have no choice but to be united and break the chain of transmission of the coronavirus."

Rouhani's deputy head of communications, Alireza Moezi, said on Twitter hours later that the 25 million in fact refers to "those who have encountered the virus and achieved complete immunity".

Rouhani also said that Iran may have to prepare itself for double the amount of hospitalisations it has had in the past five months, according to the study.

The study shows that "out of every 1,000 infected, 500 show no symptoms" Rouhani added, warning that they present the main challenge by "spreading more virus and over a longer period" than those identified.

The health ministry does not report the overall amount of hospitalisations over COVID-19.

The Islamic republic has been struggling to contain the Middle East's worst COVID-19 outbreak since announcing its first cases in mid-February.

Iran has refrained from imposing full lockdowns but closed schools, cancelled public gatherings and banned travel between provinces in March, before lifting the restrictions the next month to reopen its sanctions-hit economy.

India's Covid-19 cases cross 1 million

NEW DELHI, July 17: India on Thursday became only the third country in the world — after the United States and Brazil — to hit a million Covid-19 infections, with 36,247 new cases taking the country’s tally to 1,004,652, and 690 new fatalities putting the disease death toll in the four-and-a-half months of the outbreak at 25,594.

Experts estimate the next million to take less than a month — the doubling rate stands at 20.6 days — and say the focus now needs to shift to rural parts of the country that traditionally have been beyond the reach of adequate health care mechanisms, and where new hot spots are now feared to pop up.

On Thursday, India had 343,268 active cases and the case fatality rate (CFR) — the proportion of people who succumbed to the illness from among known infections — was 2.5%. The US, which has 3,648,250 cases and 140,518 deaths, has a fatality rate of 3.9%; and Brazil, with 1,978,236 cases and 75,697 infections, is at 3.8%.

India’s journey to a million cases took 137 days, and half of these were in a hard nationwide lockdown announced in the early days of the outbreak — a strategy that officials and experts said bought the country precious time to set up isolation centres, add hospital beds and beef up testing infrastructure. With crippling economic costs piling up, the country began unlocking in June, when the outbreak was on a sharp upward trajectory.

In the last week, however, India has added an average of 30,076 cases a day, up from 23,895 a day in the seven-day period before that. At least two states, Bihar and Assam, announced they will be reimposing lockdowns while Uttar Pradesh — the state with the highest population — said it will follow a weekend shutdown.

At this rate, Covid-19 infections are on track this year to surpass the roughly 2.4 million tuberculosis infections recorded in India in the 12 months of 2019, and lead to a comparable number of deaths. TB, widely regarded as the deadliest infectious disease in India, led to the deaths of around 79,000 people, according to the Union government’s India TB Report 2020, although the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates this number to be over 400,000.

“With nearly 400,000 active Covid-19 cases, we will never be able to have a long enough lockdown to get the cases to 100s,” said Bhramar Mukherjee, the head of biostatistics at University of Michigan, among a team of academics from three American universities that predicted India would hit 1 million cases by July 15 after the lockdown began to lift.

Mukherjee stressed on the need to step up testing and closely analyse real-time data in order to head off the outbreak. “It is important to identify states and metros at nascent stages of growth and impose strong measures, including punctuated modulated lockdown. This cannot be done when infections are already leading to large case-counts. What you are seeing today happened two weeks ago,” she added.

A second expert said that increasing testing in places where coverage has been limited will now be crucial. “There’s no doubt that the disease is widespread, with even community transmission obvious in certain states. The way ahead is to test as many people as possible, to be able to track and isolate those people who are infected so that the disease spread is contained. If you isolate them in time then the spread in the community will be curtailed,” said Dr Jacob John, former head, virology department, Christian Medical College, Vellore.

India’s average weekly test positive rate has risen from 7.7% in mid-June to 10.1% at present, but the aggregate level statistics mask sharp differences in testing performance across the country. Maharashtra, the state with the highest number of infections at 284,281, has a test positive rate close to 20%, while for Uttar Pradesh, this number is less than 4%.

WHO identifies 8-12% as the ideal range for test positive rate in a country with an active outbreak. A number too low or too high implies that volume as well as targeting of Covid-19 testing is inadequate to accurately detect the spread of the disease. Three states have a test positive rate in this range. Tamil Nadu and Gujarat have a positive rate of 8.7% and 9% but experts have expressed scepticism on the numbers due to the other parameters reported from these region. Tamil Nadu has a CFR of 1.4% while for Gujarat, this number is 4.7%.

Delhi is the only other region with a test positive rate of 8.1%, as well as the highest per population testing numbers across the country. The national capital has recorded a sustained decrease in new cases for the last six days at least, and a dashboard by Mukherjee and her team estimates that the rate of transmission in the Capital is now below 1 — a threshold below which an outbreak can potentially be halted.

“Only two states, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, constitute 48.15% of country’s total active case load. Of the total 36 states and UTs, only 10 states constitute 84.62% of the total active case load,” the Union health ministry said in a statement on Thursday, adding that “targeted measures have contributed to a steady decline in the number of active cases”.

Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine’s early trial results raise hopes

LONDON, July 16: Researchers at the University of Oxford believe they may have a breakthrough in their search for a Covid-19 vaccine after the team discovered that the jab could provide “double protection” against the deadly coronavirus following early stage human trials, according to media reports in the UK.

Blood samples taken from a group of UK volunteers given a dose of the vaccine showed that it stimulated the body to produce both antibodies and “killer T-cells”, a senior source from the trial was quoted by ‘The Daily Telegraph’ as saying.

The discovery is promising because separate studies have suggested that antibodies may fade away within months while T-cells can stay in circulation for years.

However, the source cautioned that the results, while “extremely promising”, did not yet prove that the Oxford vaccine provides long-lasting immunity against the deadly virus.

“I can tell you that we now know the Oxford vaccine covers both bases – it produces both a T cell and an antibody response. It’s the combination of these two that will hopefully keep people safe. So far, so good. It’s an important moment. But we still have a long way to go,” the source said.

Another source close to the team described the presence of both antibodies and T-cells as a “double defence” against Covid-19.

‘The Lancet’ medical journal has confirmed that it would be publishing early-stage human trial data from the Oxford team on Monday.

David Carpenter, chairman of the Berkshire Research Ethics Committee, which approved the Oxford trial, said the vaccine team was “absolutely on track”.

“Nobody can put final dates... things might go wrong but the reality is that by working with a big pharma company, that vaccine could be fairly widely available around September and that is the sort of target they are working on,” he said.

The vaccine development, by the university’s Jenner Institute, is being supported by the UK government and AstraZeneca, which will support the production phase. The pharmaceutical company said last month that phase one trials were due to finish and a phase three trial had begun which will see the vaccine given to thousands of people so it can be tested for efficacy and safety.

“The Covid-19 vaccine trial team have been working hard on assessing the safety and immunogenicity of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, and preparing to assess vaccine efficacy,” Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the university’s Jenner Institute who is leading the research, had said back in May.

The vaccine, named ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, is based on a weakened version of the common cold that causes infections in chimpanzees. It also contains the genetic material of the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 – the strain of coronavirus that causes the Covid-19 illness.

The Oxford University vaccine is one of more than 100 in development as the novel coronavirus continues to spread – infecting more than 13 million people and killing at least 582,000 worldwide.

75 nations promise to provide Covid-19 vaccine to 165 countries

By Deepak Arora

GENEVA/LONDON, July 15: Seventy-five countries have submitted expressions of interest to protect their populations and those of other nations through joining the COVAX Facility, a mechanism designed to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide.

The 75 countries, which would finance the vaccines from their own public finance budgets, partner with up to 90 lower-income countries that could be supported through voluntary donations to Gavi’s COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC). Together, this group of up to 165 countries represents more than 60% of the world’s population. Among the group are representatives from every continent and more than half of the world’s G20 economies.

“COVAX is the only truly global solution to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Dr Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. ““For the vast majority of countries, whether they can afford to pay for their own doses or require assistance, it means receiving a guaranteed share of doses and avoiding being pushed to the back of the queue, as we saw during the H1N1 pandemic a decade ago. Even for those countries that are able to secure their own agreements with vaccine manufacturers, this mechanism represents, through its world-leading portfolio of vaccine candidates, a means of reducing the risks associated with individual candidates failing to show efficacy or gain licensure.”

The COVAX Facility forms a key part of the COVAX pillar (COVAX) of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a ground-breaking global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and equitable access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines. COVAX is co-led by Gavi, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and WHO, working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers. COVAX aims to accelerate the development and manufacture of COVID-19 vaccines, and to guarantee fair and equitable access for every country in the world.

It will achieve this by sharing the risks associated with vaccine development, investing in manufacturing upfront so vaccines can be deployed at scale as soon as they are proven successful, and pooling procurement and purchasing power to achieve sufficient volumes to end the acute phase of the pandemic by 2021.

“This early level of interest represents a tremendous vote of confidence in COVAX and our shared goal to protect people around the globe through the fair allocation of a COVID-19 vaccine,” said Dr Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI.

“COVAX offers an innovative solution to the gravest public health crisis in living memory. It will speed up the availability of safe and effective vaccines through early investment in manufacturing capacity, and maximise the chances of success by backing a broad and diverse portfolio of vaccine candidates. Through COVAX our aspiration is to be able to vaccinate the most vulnerable 20% of the population of every country that participates, regardless of income level, by the end of 2021. Ensuring fair access is not only a matter of equity; it is the fastest way to end this pandemic”

The goal of COVAX is by the end of 2021 to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification. These vaccines will be delivered equally to all participating countries, proportional to their populations, initially prioritising healthcare workers then expanding to cover 20% of the population of participating countries.

Further doses will then be made available based on country need, vulnerability and COVID-19 threat. The COVAX Facility will also maintain a buffer of doses for emergency and humanitarian use, including dealing with severe outbreaks before they spiral out of control.

“The COVID-19 pandemic, like every health crisis, also presents us with opportunities,” said Dr Soumya Swaminathan, WHO Chief Scientist. “A vaccine that is affordable and accessible to all will help us address systemic health inequalities. We need all countries to support COVAX to achieve this goal and bring an end to the acute phase of the pandemic.”

The success of these efforts will ultimately depend on securing enough funding from governments and commitments from vaccine manufacturers to participate at a scale large enough to deliver a global solution. The formal expressions of interest submitted are non-binding; the COVAX pillar will now begin a process of consultation with all 165 countries, with countries funding vaccines through their own domestic budgets being required to provide an upfront payment and a commitment to purchase doses by the end of August to secure involvement in the COVAX Facility.

Significant progress has been achieved by the COVAX partners to date, with seven of the nine candidate vaccines supported by CEPI already in clinical trials. A memorandum of understanding with AstraZeneca also commits them to supply 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to COVAX.

In addition, in June Gavi launched the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC), a financing instrument aimed at incentivising vaccine manufacturers to produce sufficient quantities of eventual COVID-19 vaccines to ensure access for developing countries. The AMC has already raised close to US$ 600 million against an initial target of US$ 2 billion from high income donors as well as the private sector. The Gavi Alliance will also work with the developing countries to assure readiness of supply and cold chain and training to reach high risk groups.

Coronavirus pandemic is going to get worse and worse and worse: WHO chief

GENEVA, July 13: The United States was grappling with the worst coronavirus outbreak in the world on Monday, as Florida shattered the national record for a state’s largest single-day increase in new confirmed cases and the World Health Organization warned that the pandemic is worsening globally and that “there will be no return to the old normal for the foreseeable future.”

The WHO director-general said that while numerous countries have now brought their previously explosive outbreaks under control, namely those in Europe and Asia, “too many countries are headed in the wrong direction.”

Without naming specific politicians, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus also chastised political leaders for their “mixed messages” amid the coronavirus outbreaks, saying that they are “undermining the most critical ingredient of any response: trust.”

“If the basics aren’t followed, there is only one way this pandemic is going to go,” Tedros said. “It’s going to get worse and worse and worse.”

Meanwhile, two WHO experts were in China for a mission to trace the origin of the pandemic. The virus was first detected in central China’s city of Wuhan late last year. Beijing had been reluctant to allow a probe but relented after scores of countries called on the WHO to conduct a thorough investigation.

Deaths from the virus have been rising in the U.S., especially in the South and West, though they are still well below the numbers reached in April, according to a recent analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University.

“I really do think we could control this, and it’s the human element that is so critical. It should be an effort of our country. We should be pulling together when we’re in a crisis, and we’re definitely not doing it,” said University of Florida epidemiologist Cindy Prins.

Adm. Brett Giroir, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, called mask-wearing in public, which has been met with resistance in some U.S. states, “absolutely essential.”

Giroir, the assistant secretary at the Health and Human Services Department, told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that “if we don’t have that, we will not get control of the virus.’’

President Donald Trump wore a mask in public for the first time Saturday, something Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday showed he has “crossed a bridge.”

In worst-case scenario, India could report over 6 crore Covid-19 cases by March 2021: IISc study

NEW DELHI, July 16: According to the Indian Institute of Science’s (IISc) projection of Covid-19 infections in India, in a better case scenario for the country, India’s total coronavirus cases could be as low as 37.4 lakh at the end of March 2021 and could get as high as 6.18 crore at the end of March 2021 in the worst-case scenario.

The IISc model “is a paradigm shift in mathematical modeling of infectious diseases” and is based on the country’s Covid-19 data and trends observed between Mar 23 and June 18 this year “to tune the parameters of the data-driven model”. However, the projections are likely to differ after taking into account the current Covid-19 situation in the country.

In its “worse scenario” projection, the model predicted no Covid-19 peak for India until the end of March 2021. Whereas going by the “better scenario”, India’s Covid-19 peak could come by the “second week of September” or by October.

The model laid great emphasis on the initiation of “one or two-day lockdown per week” to cut the rate of new infections.

“One or two day lockdown per week (e.g., Sunday, Sunday & Wednesday etc) with complete compliance along with adequate social distancing during other days is effective to reduce the spread,” the study read.

It also noted the steady improvement in India’s Covid-19 recovery rate and emphasised the importance of appropriate medical care and timely quarantine.

“Among all measures, contact tracing, quarantine and social distancing are key to contain the spread in the absence of vaccine,” it stated.

India’s Covid-19 tally now near the 10 lakh mark with over 24,000 deaths and the number of recovered patients touching 6 lakh. Globally, the virus has infected 13 million people while over 5 lakh people have succumbed to death and over 8 million patients have recovered worldwide.

Russia first nation to successfully complete human trials of coronavirus vaccine

MOSCOW, July 12: As the world reels under the rising COVID-19 cases, Russia's Sechenov University has successfully completed the world's first clinical trials of coronavirus vaccine on humans, media reports said on Sunday.

The director of the Institute for Translational Medicine and Biotechnology Vadim Tarasov confirmed the development to Sputnik news.

"Sechenov University has successfully completed tests on volunteers of the world`s first vaccine against coronavirus," Tarasov said.

He said the university had began clinical trials of the vaccine on June 18. The first group of volunteers would be discharged on Wednesday and the second on July 20. The vaccine has been produced by Gamalei Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia.

"The data obtained by the Gamalei National Research Center for Epidemiology and Microbiology, proves that volunteers of the first and second groups are forming an immune response after injections of the vaccine against the coronavirus," an earlier statement of the Russian Defense Ministry said.

The director of the Institute of Medical Parasitology, Tropical and Vector-Borne Diseases at Sechenov University Alexander Lukashev said the safety of this vaccine, in correspondance with the safety of other medicines available in the market, is confirmed.

With this Russia has become the first nation to complete human clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccine and the results prove the medication`s effectiveness.

However, there was no further information on when this vaccine would enter the commercial production stage.

There are at least 21 vaccines currently under key trials, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

As of Sunday morning, the global number of COVID-19 cases stood at 12,681,472, while the death toll climbing to 564,420, according to Johns Hopkins University in the US.

The US accounted for the world's highest number of infections and fatalities at 3,245,158 and 134,764 while Brazil is in the second place with 1,839,850 infections and 71,469 deaths.

Hong Kong virologist accuses China of covering up Covid threat

NEW DELHI, July 11: A Hong Kong-based virologist has claimed that China knew about the deadly novel coronavirus well before it claimed it did.

In an interview to US-based Fox News published Friday, Dr Li-Meng Yan, who has specialised in virology and immunology at Hong Kong School of Public Health, claimed Chinese authorities knew about the deadly virus in December last year, but hushed it up.

Dr Yan even claimed that her own institute, which is affiliated with the World Health Organization (WHO), had asked her to stay silent about it.

In the interview, Yan said had China been transparent about the full dangers of the virus early on, then it would have helped the international community to understand and cope with the virus in a much better way.

Yan, who fled to the US in April, alleged if she had spoken up about the virus in China, she would have been killed and, hence, fled to the US, “to tell the truth of the origins of Covid-19 to the world”.

Covid-19 has affected over 12.5 million people worldwide and killed 5.6 lakh so far, according to data by Johns Hopkins University.

Dr Yan, who was working at the WHO-affiliated laboratory on infectious diseases of Hong Kong School of Public Health, was asked by her supervisor, Dr Leo Poon, to investigate the cluster of SARS-like cases in Wuhan, China, in December.

She said she had to rely on her friends from the medical community for information as no expert from outside the mainland was allowed to visit the area.

She said one of her friends from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in China told her that the virus started spreading from human to human on 31 December, which was only confirmed by the WHO in January.

Even after reporting her findings to her supervisor, Dr Poon, who is an expert in the field, he allegedly did not raise alarm and asked her to continue her investigation.

Yan alleged he told her “to keep silent, and be careful” or all of them will be in trouble.

The WHO had said in a statement on 9 January that the virus can cause “severe illness in some patients but it does not transmit readily in people”.

Dr Yan further alleged that the co-director of the laboratory, professor Malik Peiris, knew about her findings, but did not do anything about it. Peiris is listed as an advisor of WHO’s International Health Regulations Third Emergency Committee for Covid-19.

“I already know that would happen because I know the corruption among this kind of international organisation like the WHO to China government, and to China Communist Party,” she said in the interview.

Yan claimed the Chinese government is now trying to tarnish her reputation, conduct cyber-attacks on her and intimidate her family in China.

Earlier, US President Donald Trump had accused China of covering up the Covid-19 pandemic and had even terminated the country’s WHO funding in May, saying it didn’t respond adequately to the pandemic.

Both China and WHO, however, have denied claims of a cover-up, according to Fox News.

WHO stated it has never worked with Yan, and Peiris has been on expert groups, but does not represent the organisation.

The Chinese embassy in the US said it did not have any information about Dr Yan, adding that it handled the pandemic swiftly and effectively.

The University of Hong Kong, meanwhile, said Dr Yan is not a staff member of the university, and has removed her page from its website.

WHO acknowledges ‘emerging evidence’ of airborne spread of novel coronavirus

GENEVA, July 7: The World Health Organization on Tuesday acknowledged “emerging evidence” of the airborne spread of the novel coronavirus, after a group of scientists urged the global body to update its guidance on how the respiratory disease is spread.

Speaking at a briefing in Geneva, WHO expert Benedetta Allegranzi said the organization believed it had “been open to the evidence on modes of transmission” of the new virus.

Coronavirus vaccine Covaxin human trial begins at Hyderabad's NIMS

HYDERABAD, July 7: The much-awaited trial process of India's first possible vaccine against COVID-19, Covaxin, has started on Tuesday at the Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences (NIMS), a top official confirmed. Developed by Bharat Biotech, the Covaxin will be tested on over 1,100 people in two phases. The company had a plan to enroll 375 participants to test COVID-19 vaccine candidate this month.

Hyderabad’s Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences was one of the trial sites that received the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR)’s letter. "We will select healthy individuals and draw blood and send the blood samples to designated labs in New Delhi. They will give the green signal. Then the medicine people will examine and the first shot of the vaccine will be given due observation," said NIMS director Dr K Manohar.

The ICMR has selected 12 institutes to conduct these trials, including AIIMS in Delhi and Patna. The apex medical body asked their principal investigators to ensure the enrolment process is initiated no later than by July 7.

"Everything will be sent to ICMR, where data is analysed. We have already started the screening of individuals. We will first take audio visual consent of the individual," the doctor added. For clinical human trial in Hyderabad's Nizams Institute of Medical Sciences, at least 30 people are required, said the medical officer.

Last week, the Drug Controller General of India granted permission to initiate Phase I & II human clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccine Covaxin. The drug regulator's nod to conduct human trials for Indian COVID-19 vaccine candidates COVAXIN and ZyCov-D marks the “beginning of the end" of the coronavirus pandemic, says the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The announcement of Covaxin by Bharat Biotech and ZyCov-D by Zydus Cadila was the "silver line in the dark clouds", the article by T V Venkateswaran, who is a scientist with Vigyan Prasar, said.

India's second possible vaccine against COVID-19, ZyCoV-D, is all set to start its human trial this month, the company said. The trials will be conducted on 1,000 volunteers across multiple sites in the country. Zydus Cadila group chairman Pankaj Patel said it would take three months to finish the trials.

Over 200 scientists want WHO to recognise Coronavirus can spread in air

LONDON, July 6: More than 200 scientists have called for the World Health Organization and others to acknowledge that the coronavirus can spread in the air — a change that could alter some of the current measures being taken to stop the pandemic.

In a letter published this week in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, two scientists from Australia and the U.S. wrote that studies have shown “beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are released during exhalation, talking and coughing in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in the air.” That means people in certain indoor conditions could be at greater risk of being infected than was previously thought.

The WHO has long maintained that Covid-19 is spread via larger respiratory droplets, most often when people cough or sneeze, that fall to the ground. It has dismissed the possibility of airborne transmission, except for certain high-risk medical procedures, like when patients are first put on breathing machines.

In a statement on Monday, the U.N. health agency said it was aware of the article and was reviewing it with technical experts.

WHO has been criticized in recent weeks and months for its seeming divergence from the scientific community. The organization for months declined to recommend mask-wearing, partly out of supply concerns and has also continued to describe the transmission of Covid-19 from people without symptoms as “rare”.

The letter was endorsed by 239 scientists from a variety of fields. It stated that the issue of whether or not Covid-19 was airborne was of “heightened significance” as many countries stop restrictive lockdown measures.

The authors cited previous studies suggesting that germs closely related to the new virus were spread via airborne transmission. They said “there is every reason to expect” that the coronavirus behaves similarly. They also cited a Washington state choir practice and research about a poorly ventilated restaurant in Guangzhou, China, each of which raised the possibility of infections from airborne droplets.

“We are concerned that the lack of recognition of the risk of airborne transmission of Covid-19 and the lack of clear recommendations on the control measures against the airborne virus will have significant consequences,” the scientists wrote. “People may think they are fully protected by adhering to the current recommendations but in fact, additional airborne interventions are needed.”

Scientists around the world have been working furiously to understand the new virus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it is thought to mainly jump from person to person through close contact, but adds: “We are still learning about how the virus spreads.”

Martin McKee, a professor of European Public Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who was not linked to the letter, said the scientists’ arguments sounded “entirely reasonable.”

“Part of the problem is that everybody at WHO was moving with the paradigm of influenza, even though we know there are lots of differences between influenza and coronaviruses,” he said.

McKee noted that with Britain’s recent reopening of its pubs, restaurants and salons, the possibility of airborne coronavirus transmission might mean stricter interventions are needed indoors, including more mask-wearing and continued physical distancing.

“We’re getting accumulating evidence about super-spreading events happening in indoor spaces where there are large numbers of people in confined spaces,” he said. “Many of these are in exactly the circumstances that governments now want to open up.”

India Becomes Third Worst-Hit Nation In COVID-19 Tally

NEW DELHI, July 5: India has now taken the third spot in the list of nations worst hit by coronavirus. The country logged more than 6.9 lakh cases on Sunday evening, according to data from state governments, overtaking Russia, which had 6.8 lakh as per America's Johns Hopkins University (JHU). India is now preceded only by Brazil and the US. Brazil has over 15 lakh cases and the US has more than 28 lakh.

India added a record number of coronavirus cases on Sunday. In its daily morning update, the health ministry reported just under 25,000 cases and 613 deaths in 24 hours -- the biggest daily spike since the first case was detected in late January.

The surge, that took the number of deaths to 19,268, came as infections rose in the western and southern parts of the country amid heavy monsoon rains.

Maharashtra, the worst-hit state and home to the densely packed financial hub Mumbai, recorded over 7,000 new cases while Tamil Nadu and Delhi recorded more than 4,200 and 2,500 fresh cases respectively.

India had imposed one of the world's strictest lockdowns in March to control the virus spread, but it has been eased in phases in recent weeks to restart economic activity.

Schools, metro trains in cities, cinemas, gyms and swimming pools remain closed and international flights are still grounded.

Authorities have made wearing masks mandatory in public places, while large gatherings are banned and shops and other public establishments are required to implement social distancing.

The government has pinned its hope on vaccines being quickly developed to meet the crisis that began in China last year.

Approval for human clinical trials for two made-in-India COVID-19 vaccine candidates marks the "beginning of the end" for the pandemic, the government said on Sunday.

Epidemiologists warn India's peak could still be weeks or months away, suggesting the country's already severely overburdened healthcare system will come under further stress.

WHO Stops Hydroxychloroquine, HIV Drug Trials Among COVID-19 Patients

GENEVA, July 5: The World Health Organisation on Saturday has stopped its trials of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and combination of HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir for the treatment of hospitalised COVID-19 patients after they failed to reduce the death rate.

"These interim trial results show that hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir produce little or no reduction in the mortality of hospitalised COVID-19 patients when compared to the standard of care. Solidarity trial investigators will interrupt the trials with immediate effect," the WHO was quoted as saying in a statement.

The WHO has added that this decision will now affect the other studies where the drugs are being used for non-hospitalised or as prophylaxis.

Meanwhile, the WHO has reported a total of 212,326 new cases of coronavirus globally in 24 hours.

The agency further stated that 5,134 deaths have been reported in past 24 hours, taking the total toll to 523,011.

The WHO had declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on March 11.

India crosses 6 Lakh Coronavirus Cases

NEW DELHI, July 1: India has crossed the 6-lakh mark in coronavirus cases, with the addition of a chunk of new patients from Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Delhi. The total is now 6,00,032 -- roughly 50,000 cases behind Russia, which is the third worst sufferer from coronavirus.

Russia is preceded by Brazil, which has more than 14 lakh cases and the US, which has over 26 lakh cases.

This morning, India's figure stood at 5,66,840, with the addition of a whopping 18,522 new cases. By the evening, Maharashtra added 5,537 cases to the tally, Tamil Nadu 3,882 and Delhi 2,442.

Around 90 per cent of total infections in India are from ten states -- Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Telengana, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Karnataka.

Delhi, though, has lately registered a slowdown. Earlier today, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said Delhi has managed to slow down the spread of coronavirus, citing that the total -- 87,000-plus -- falls short of the 1 lakh figure that the experts were expecting in June. Of the predicted 60,000 active cases by the end of June, Delhi has only around 26,000, he said.

The spike comes amid a gradual relaxation of the restrictions imposed since March. On Monday, the government had announced "Unlock 2", where the containment zones will remain under lockdown.

Schools and colleges, however are yet to open and metro services and international flights have not resumed. Large gatherings -- social, political or religious -- are still banned.

COVAXIN -- the first indigenous vaccine for coronavirus -- has received the Drug Controller General of India's approval for human clinical trials, which will begin this month.

An inactivated vaccine created from a strain of the infectious SARS-CoV-2 virus, it has been developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech.

At a meetnig yesterday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi decided that doctors, nurses and frontline workers against coronavirus as well as the vulnerable sections of the population will get first access once a vaccine becomes available.


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