The Latest: WHO scientist hopes for vaccine end of next year
LONDON — The chief scientist at the World Health Organization says the agency hopes there will be about 2 billion doses of a vaccine against COVID-19 by the end of next year that would be reserved for “priority populations.”
Dr. Soumya Swaminathan told a press briefing: “It’s a big if because we don’t have any vaccine that’s proven.”
She said that because of the numerous vaccine candidates currently being tested, WHO hoped at least some might prove ready for use next year.
Swaminathan said that WHO recommends immunizing people at risk first, including the elderly and those with underlying conditions like diabetes or respiratory disease, as well as key workers.
But Swaminathan noted that there was still no strategy regarding any possible global distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. “WHO will propose these solutions,” she said. “Countries need to agree and come to a consensus. That’s the only way this can work.”
Numerous developed countries including Britain, France, the Netherlands, Germany and the U.S. have already struck deals with pharmaceuticals to secure vaccine supplies for their citizens first.
WHO and partners have called for drugmakers to suspend their patent rights on any effective COVID-19 vaccine and for billions of dollars to buy vaccines for developing countries.
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— China’s new outbreak wanes as US calls for answers on virus
— Is it safe to stay in hotels as reopenings get underway?
— Study ties blood type to COVID-19 risk; O may help, A hurt
— Vice President Mike Pence says the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic is “a cause for celebration,” but a new poll finds more than half of Americans calling it fair or poor. The Gallup and West Health survey out Thursday shows that 57% of U.S. adults rate the national response to COVID-19 as fair or poor, particularly because America has the world’s most expensive health care system. The poll found that only 23% rate the national response as excellent or very good, while an additional 20% rate it as good.
— As work on potential coronavirus vaccines intensifies, rich countries are placing advance orders for the inevitably limited supply to guarantee their citizens are immunized first. That is leaving significant questions about whether developing countries will get any vaccine before the pandemic ends.
— U.S. health regulators are issuing warnings to three companies selling at-home blood tests for coronavirus. The Food and Drug Administration said the tests are illegal because they haven’t been federally reviewed to safely and accurately detect COVID-19. No tests are FDA-approved for consumers to test themselves at home.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia — Slovenia has seen a spike in new coronavirus cases following the reopening of the country’s borders.
Health authorities said Thursday eight new cases have been confirmed in the past 24 hours, including three foreign citizens.
Slovenia had very few or no case for nearly a month before numbers started to rise gradually in the past days. The STA news agency says most have been imported cases.
Slovenia has reported around 1,500 cases while 109 people have died.
LONDON — The World Health Organization’s top scientist says it’s now been definitively proven that the cheap malaria drug hydroxychloroquine — the drug favoured by President Donald Trump — doesn’t work in stopping deaths among people hospitalized with the new coronavirus.
But Dr. Soumya Swaminathan said there could still be a role for the drug in preventing people from catching COVID-19 in the first place and noted that clinical trials testing hydroxychloroquine’s role in this are ongoing.
Swaminathan said in a press briefing on Thursday that there is still a gap in determining whether hydroxychloroquine has a role at all in prevention or minimizing the severity of the illness in early infection or even in preventing it.
She says: “We don’t know that as yet. And we need to complete those large trials and get the data,” she said, referring to several other trials not being conducted by WHO.
The U.N. health agency announced this week that it is suspending the hydroxychloroquine arm of its own trial testing various experimental therapies for COVID-19, referring to previous results from a large U.K. trial and a separate analysis of evidence on the drug. The other drugs being tested by WHO, including treatments used in the past for Ebola and AIDS, are still being pursued.
HONG KONG — Hong Kong Disneyland has officially reopened after a major drop in coronavirus cases in the Chinese territory.
Advance reservations will be required and only limited attendance will be allowed at the park, one of the pillars of Hong Kong’s crucial tourism industry.
Social distancing measures including avoiding mixing together different families are being implemented in lines, at restaurants, on rides and at shops, while cleaning and disinfecting will be increased.
Visitors will have their temperatures checked at the entrance and be required to wear masks at all times inside the park, except when eating and drinking.
Hong Kong, a city of 7.5 million, has recorded just 1,120 cases and four deaths from COVID-19, but the impact on the financial hub’s economy that relies heavily on international travel and visitors from China has been severe.
Most visitors from outside the territory are still barred from entering and Disneyland said anyone who has traveled outside Hong Kong within the previous two weeks will be asked to rescheduled their visit.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s coronavirus cases crossed 100,000 on Thursday as the country reported another 3,803 confirmed infections and 38 more deaths.
The death toll from the virus reached 1,343 and the total number of infections stood at 102,292.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in a meeting with top bureaucrats and advisers Thursday reviewed the situation and discussed steps to fight COVID-19 in the South Asian nation, including the continuing procurement of medical supplies.
JOHANNESBURG — African nations next week will hold a high-level conference on coronavirus vaccines to “position ourselves to not be left behind” in access, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention chief says.
John Nkengasong says the World Health Organization director-general will attend the discussion that also will focus on “how we can manufacture a vaccine ourselves.”
He said countries including Senegal, Egypt and South Africa already have vaccine manufacturing capabilities.
Concern has been high among Africa’s 54 nations about access to testing and medical supplies amid intense global competition.
Africa’s virus cases are now above 260,000, with South Africa representing about 30% of infections.
More than 3.7 million tests for the virus have been conducted in Africa, where the WHO has said the pandemic is “accelerating” on the continent of 1.3 billion people. Ten African nations account for about 80% of testing, while the rest are “still struggling,” Nkengasong said.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic is set to almost fully abandon its most visible tool of fighting the coronavirus pandemic — face masks.
Health Minister Adam Vojtech says that starting July 1, wearing masks on public transport and indoors such as in stores, theaters and cinemas is no longer mandatory.
Vojtech says masks will remain mandatory only in regions with local clusters and outbreaks. Those places will be determined later in June.
Currently, they include the capital of Prague and two eastern regions.
The country has registered several dozen new COVID-19 cases daily for a month while a total of 333 people have died.
MOSCOW — The ex-president of Kazakhstan is infected with the new coronavirus.
His spokespeople say Nursultan Nazarbayev, 79, tested positive for the virus and remains in isolation. “There are no reasons for concern,” the statement said.
Nazarbayev, who had ruled Kazakhstan since its independence in 1991, stepped down last year but continues to wield considerable influence as chair of the country’s Security Council and leader of the ruling party Nur Otan.
Kazakhstan has reported 15,877 confirmed cases of the virus and 97 deaths among its population of 18 million. The ex-Soviet nation lifted the state of emergency declared on March 16, but various lockdown restrictions remain in place in different regions of the vast country.
PODGORICA, Montenegro — Montenegro is reporting a resurgence of the coronavirus in the small Balkan country that had no infections for weeks.
Montenegrin health authorities said late Wednesday they have registered seven new cases after two more were confirmed earlier this week.
A country of some 620,000 people, Montenegro imposed strict lockdown measures during the outbreak. Montenegro recently started reopening, hoping to attract tourists to the Adriatic coast.
ISTANBUL — Turkish authorities have made the wearing of masks mandatory in three major cities to curb the spread of COVID-19 following an uptick in cases since the country allowed many businesses to reopen.
The governors of Istanbul, Ankara and Bursa announced the mask rule late Wednesday in line with a recommendation by the country’s scientific advisory council. Masks are obligatory in 47 out of 81 provinces. The statements said masks must be worn in all public spaces.
Turkey is seeing an upward trend in the daily number of infections after the government authorized cafes, restaurants, gyms, parks, beaches and museums to reopen, lifted inter-city travel restrictions and eased stay-at-home orders for the elderly and young at the start of June.
Turkey has reported 182,727 confirmed cases and 4,861 deaths from COVID-19 since March.
ATHENS, Greece — Greek civil protection authorities have imposed a seven-day complete lockdown on a community in northeastern Greece, after a spike in coronavirus cases there over the past week.
Residents of the Echinos community in the province of Xanthi are forbidden from leaving the area, and are under a 24-hour curfew. They can leave their homes only to buy food or medication, and must wear a mask.
Only vehicles resupplying food stores and pharmacies are allowed into Echinos, while all other retail businesses have been shut.
The community has been the source of a localized outbreak before too. Authorities said the area had registered 73 new coronavirus cases and four deaths over the past week. Health officials are intensifying testing in the area.
Greece had imposed a lockdown early and has managed to maintain deaths and serious illness from the coronavirus at low levels. On Wednesday, the country announced 55 new cases, the highest daily number for weeks The vast majority were in Xanthi.
Greece has had a total of 187 deaths and just over 3,200 confirmed cases in the country of nearly 11 million people.
BEIJING — A Beijing government spokesman says the city has recorded a total of 158 confirmed cases since the new outbreak was detected last week at a large wholesale market.
Hu Hejian says close contacts are being traced to locate all possible cases as quickly as possible amid strengthened testing and other prevention and control measures.
Anyone who has been near the Xinfad market since May 30, along with their close contacts, will be quarantined at home for 14 days and tested at least twice, said city government official Zhang Ge.
Beijing reported 21 cases Thursday, down from 31 a day earlier.
Beijing has barred entry to all confirmed and suspected cases, patients with fever and close contacts from abroad and other provinces, Zhang said. China also has barred most foreigners from entering and even foreign diplomats arriving from abroad must undergo two weeks of home quarantine.
All indoor public venues remain closed, Zhang said. Offices, restaurants and hotels in high risk area also will be shut down, he said.
NEW DELHI: India recorded the highest one-day spike of 12,281 coronavirus cases, raising the total to 366,946 even as the government ruled out reimposing a countrywide lockdown.
India’s death toll reached 12,237, a rise of 334 in the past 24 hours, according to the Health Ministry. The number of recoveries touched 52% at 194,325.
India stands behind the United States, Brazil and Russia in the number of cases.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday rejected media reports that the government was considering reimposing lockdown. India has to think about further unlocking, minimizing all possibilities of harm to people, he said.
The March 25 lockdown is now restricted to high-risk areas.
The worst-hit states are Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and New Delhi.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan has reported 5,358 new coronavirus cases, pushing infections in the Middle East beyond 1 million.
Cases in Pakistan have been spiraling in recent weeks, crossing 160,000 on Thursday even as Prime Minister Imran Khan has resisted pleas from medical professionals and the World Health Organization to reimpose a strict lockdown for at least two weeks.
Khan says a countrywide lockdown would devastate an already crumbling economy and hurt the poorest with unemployment expected to near 7 million. Economists say Pakistan’s poverty rate of 30% has increased to 40% since the first lockdown was imposed in mid-March.
Khan’s critics say a series of missteps has worsened the epidemic in Pakistan, beginning with his refusal to shut down mosques, particularly in April and May during the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan followed by Eid-al Fitr, a holiday that brought millions of Pakistanis into overcrowded markets.
SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea has reported 59 COVID-19 cases as infections steadily rise in the capital area where half the country’s 51 million people live.
The figures announced Thursday by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention bring the national caseload to 12,257, including 280 deaths.
The agency says 39 of the new cases are in Seoul and the surrounding region, where authorities are trying to stem transmissions amid increased economic activity and eased attitudes on social distancing.
Eight new cases were linked to international arrivals. Officials are concerned the resurgence of the virus in China could bring more imported cases. South Korea has tied at least 1,379 cases to international arrivals and is requiring two-week quarantines on all passengers arriving from abroad.
CANBERRA, Australia — The two universities in Australia’s capital plan to fly in 350 foreign students as the country’s international education sector reopens after the coronavirus lockdown.
Australian National University and Canberra University said Thursday they expect the chartered aircraft to fly to Canberra from Singapore in late July.
Priority will be given to students involved in research that can’t be done online. The students will be quarantined at a hotel for two weeks. They are likely to be the first foreign students to return to Australian campuses since the lockdown.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Sydney Radio 2GB he supports the universities’ plan. Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham says it’s likely Australia won’t allow general international travel before next year.
BEIJING — China’s capital has reported a decline in newly confirmed coronavirus cases as the city continues to press stricter measures to contain a new outbreak.
Beijing reported 21 cases Thursday, down from 31 a day earlier.
Officials reported 28 new cases in all nationwide. Of the cases outside Beijing, four were brought by Chinese travelers from outside the country and three were reported in the city of Tianjin and Hebei province, both of which border Beijing.
No new deaths were reported, leaving the total number of fatalities at 4,634.
Beijing this week moved to suspend classes and restrict tourism and travel in and out of the city to stem any further spread in the latest outbreak traced to the city’s largest wholesale market.