The Latest: Billionaire says West cornering test kit market
JOHANNESBURG — The billionaire tasked with speeding up Africa’s access to critical medical supplies in the COVID-19 pandemic says he turned to China for testing kits after manufacturers in the West said the continent would have to wait months.
Strive Masiyiwa tells an African vaccine conference that testing kits “were available but only to the Western countries. ... Abbott and them were saying, ‘You wait until September, wait until October.’ So I didn’t waste any time with them. I spent my time talking to the suppliers in China who were willing to supply immediately.”
Africa faces widespread shortages of medical supplies in the competition with richer countries. The pandemic on the continent is growing rapidly, with more than 335,000 cases.
The CEO of vaccines alliance GAVI, Seth Berkley, says “vaccine nationalism” is real. Initiatives in high-income countries are “essentially trying to corner the market in those countries.”
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— France to test some 1.3 million near Paris. The Eiffel Tower reopens to visitors after 104 days.
— Masks, travel restrictions, testing as virus cases surge.
— Indonesia surpasses 50,000 virus cases as business resumes.
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — The European Medicines Agency has granted its first approval for a drug to treat the new coronavirus — remdesivir, which has been shown in trials to speed the recovery time of people hospitalized with COVID-19.
The regulatory agency says it was granting a conditional marketing authorization for remdesivir to be used in treating adults and adolescents older than 12 with pneumonia who require oxygen.
“Remdesivir is the first medicine against COVID-19 to be recommended for authorization in the EU,” the agency says. Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization for the drug.
Although larger trials on remdesivir are still ongoing, preliminary results showed that patients hospitalized with severe illness were discharged quicker from the hospital than those who didn’t get the drug. No beneficial effect was seen in patients with mild or moderate disease.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece has recorded a widening budget deficit because of the coronavirus, with the negative balance at 7.49 billion euros ($8.39 billion) in the first five months of the year.
The Finance Ministry says the primary deficit figure for the state budget, the balance before debt servicing costs, stood at 4.84 billion euros ($5.41 billion).
Greece has delivered primary budget surpluses for the past five years as part of its commitments to European Union bailout lenders, but creditors have agreed to relax those conditions this year due to the virus.
With its strong reliance on tourism, Greece is headed back into a major recession in 2020. Finance Minister Christos Staikouras said Wednesday the government expected a contraction of 8% of gross domestic product in 2020, with a whopping 16% downturn in the second quarter of the year.
PARIS —The Eiffel Tower reopened to visitors after its longest closure in peace time: 104 days.
Tourists who are trickling back to Paris were delighted to find the landmark open while some other attractions remain closed. The Louvre Museum will open July 6.
“We’ve seen a lot Paris people enjoying their city, enjoying their parks without all the tourists,” said Annelies Bouwhuis, a 43-year-old visitor from the Netherlands.
Lifts that usually whisk visitors up the 324-meter (1,063-feet) tall wrought-iron Eiffel Tower remain closed, so people are taking the stairs. Of the tower’s three decks, only the first two reopened.
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Dutch government is giving a 1,000 euro ($1,120) bonus to health care workers who helped the country tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
The health ministry says the payment is a way for Parliament and the ruling coalition government to express their gratitude to workers such as nurses, cleaners and other support staff in the health sector.
Health Minister Hugo de Jonge says during the coronavirus crisis “health professionals worked tirelessly, day and night, to help others. And that happened under unprecedented circumstances. The Netherlands could count on them.”
Geneva — The health ministers of France and Germany say their countries are “fully aligned” in support of the World Health Organization both financially and politically.
Germany’s health minister Jens Spahn says the country remains a “critical friend” of the World Health Organization and is donating more than 500 million euros ($552 million) to the U.N. agency for various programs. Those include the response to the coronavirus pandemic, although some of those funds were already previously announced.
Spahn says “this comes with the clear expectation that remaining challenges are adequately addressed and needed reforms are pushed forward.”
Germany will provide medical equipment including masks for countries struggling to deal with the virus.
Olivier Veran say France will donate 90 million euros to build a WHO academy in Lyon, in addition to 50 million announced by French President Emmanuel Macron.
BERLIN — Authorities in one of two German districts under renewed pandemic lockdown say they are opening five new centers for people to get free coronavirus tests.
Sven-Georg Adenauer, the head of the regional administration in Guetersloh, says authorities want to conduct 10,000 tests per day but warned people to expect long wait times.
Guetersloh and neighboring Warendorf have become a hotspot after an outbreak at a local slaughterhouse that infected about 1,300 people.
Schools, bars and fitness clubs have been closed in the two districts, which have an estimated population of 670,000.
BERLIN — A study indicated more than 40% of residents in the Austrian ski resort of Ischgl, an early European hotspot, likely were infected with the coronavirus.
The Austria Press Agency reported 1,473 people -- nearly four-fifths of Ischgl’s population -- took part in the survey conducted by the Medical University of Innsbruck between April 21-27.
It concluded that 42.4% of the town’s population have antibodies for the virus and 85% of those who were infected didn’t notice at the time.
Dorothee von Laer, who led the study, says it’s likely the virus was circulating in Ischgl in the second half of February. The first case in Ischgl wasn’t confirmed until early March. Skiers who picked up the virus there spread it as far afield as Iceland.
PARIS — France is stepping up efforts to root out hidden clusters of coronavirus infections by offering tests to nearly 1.3 million people in the Paris region.
The expansion of France’s testing program was announced Thursday by the health minister, Olivier Véran, in an interview with the newspaper Le Monde. Health authorities will send out coupons that people can exchange for a test.
“The aim is to identify any sleeping clusters, that’s to say invisible concentrations of asymptomatic people,” Veran was quoted as saying.
The minister said France is also arming itself for the possibility of a second wave of infections, reconstituting its stocks of medicines and making plans to be able to treat 30,000 people in intensive care if necessary.
France had more than 7,000 patients in intensive care at the peak in April of its outbreak that has killed nearly 30,000 people. That figure is now down to under 700.
JAKARTA, Indonesia — The number of coronavirus cases in Indonesia surpassed 50,000 on Thursday as the government allows businesses to reopen amid increasing economic pressure.
Skepticism remains over the ability of the government to conduct enough tests to determine the true spread of the virus in the Southeast Asian nation of more than 270 million people living on thousands of islands.
A government task force said Thursday the coronavirus is confirmed to have infected 50,187 people and killed at least 2,620, the highest number of cases and fatalities in the region, up from just two confirmed cases in early March.
Testing remains a major limitation of Indonesia’s fight against the virus. The country has tested fewer than 430,000 people, according to government data.
That’s far from the World Health Organization’s recommendation of testing 1% to 1.5% of the country’s population, said Laura Navika Yamani, an epidemiology expert at Airlangga University.
PRAGUE — The Czech Republic has registered its highest day-to-day increase of COVID-19 cases in more than two months.
As the government has been easing its restrictive measures, the number of new coronavirus infections reached 127 on Wednesday.
It’s the biggest increase since April 21, when it was 133.
The Czech Republic has had 10,780 people infected since the pandemic started while 344 have died, according to Health Ministry figures released on Thursday.
MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government will seek to extend a law granting emergency powers to President Rodrigo Duterte to deal with the pandemic as the threat of future outbreaks remains.
Congress granted Duterte extra powers in March that included the authority to realign huge budgets to provide aid to millions of poor families and make emergency medical purchases under the law, which expired this week.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte plans to call a special session of Congress to pass a law extending his powers.
The Philippines has reported nearly 32,300 infections, including more than 1,200 deaths, among the highest in Southeast Asia.
JOHANNESBURG — Africa’s coronavirus cases have surged to more than 336,000, an increase of nearly 10,000 infections from Wednesday evening.
That’s according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The jump is largely due to South Africa announcing its largest daily number of new cases: 5,688.
The Africa CDC chief says the pandemic on the 54-nation continent “is picking up speed very quickly” while shortages of testing materials and medical equipment remain severe in many countries.
More than 4 million tests for the virus have been conducted on the continent of 1.3 billion people, far short of the ideal.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, has more than 22,000 cases amid concerns that many infections there and elsewhere might not be recorded.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s daily COVID-19 testing has dropped by about a third in a matter of days, even as the country is being urged to increase testing.
The 21,835 tests conducted in the last 24 hours until Thursday morning was down nearly 10,000 from a high of more than 31,000 tests less than one week ago.
In a letter to the government earlier this month, The World Health Organization said Pakistan should increase its testing to 50,000 daily, while urging the government to tighten lockdowns.
The decline in the daily testing numbers in the past week have been accompanied by lower daily infection numbers as a result.
Pakistan had been seeing increasingly high daily infection statistics, as WHO and medical professionals pleaded with the government to restrict movement. Prime Minister Imran Khan has resisted, saying the country’s fragile economy would collapse, hurting the poorest.
Pakistan has recorded 192,970 infections.
The health care system has a shortage of critical care beds, and hospitals have begun turning away patients. The government has warned that without precautions like wearing masks in public, the infection rate could soar to 1.2 million by August.
JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has posted its highest daily number of coronavirus cases with 5,688 as the province that includes Johannesburg, Gauteng, now has nearly a quarter of the country’s infections.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s most industrialized country continues to loosen what had been one of the world’s toughest lockdowns under economic pressure.
The hot spot of Western Cape province centered on Cape Town, which once made up a third of cases, now has less than half but some health facilities are straining.
More than 2,200 people have died of COVID-19 in South Africa, whose 111,796 cases make up more than a third of infections on the African continent. Africa now has more than 326,000 overall.
DUBAI — The skyscraper-studded city of Dubai has ended its monthslong nightly curfew set over the coronavirus pandemic.
The city-state in the United Arab Emirates made the announcement in a tweet from the government’s Dubai Media Office late Wednesday.
It said there would be “free move all day & night” as long as people wore masks and maintained social distancing.
However, the emirate also reportedly shut down all bars and pubs Tuesday after briefly allowing them to reopen, cutting into lucrative alcohol sales. Dubai police, which oversees alcohol sales, and government officials did not respond to requests for comment.
The curfew began in late March and for a while involved a 24-hour lockdown in which people needed police permission to move on the street.
A nighttime curfew in Abu Dhabi similarly lifted, though the sheikhdom remains closed off to other emirates over the pandemic.
NEW DELHI — India has counted another record daily high in new virus cases as New Delhi grew to its worst-hit city.
India registered 16,922 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the national total to 473,105. The Health Ministry on Thursday also reported 418 more deaths, taking fatalities up to 14,894. The ministry said the recovery rate was continuing to improve at 56%.
With New Delhi causing a major concern with 70,390 cases, authorities have decided to carry out a house-to-house screening in the capital over the next two weeks.
Officials will go to each household to record each resident’s health details and test those who show or report symptoms.
New Delhi’s government has projected that cases in the capital area alone could expand to more than half a million by late July, and is considering taking over luxury hotels and stadiums to convert into field hospitals.
Armed forces personnel are providing medical care and attention to coronavirus patients kept in railroad coaches that have been turned into medical wards at nine locations in the Indian capital.
HONOLULU — Starting Aug. 1, travelers arriving in Hawaii from out of state may bypass a 14-day quarantine requirement if they test negative for COVID-19.
Since late March, Hawaii has been requiring travelers from outside the islands to stay in their hotel rooms or homes for two weeks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The move has helped keep down disease numbers but has also contributed to the collapse of the tourism industry and sent unemployment soaring.
The plan announced Wednesday is modeled after Alaska’s, which allows travelers to avoid quarantine if they take a test within 72 hours before arrival and test negative. If the test result is not available upon arrival, travelers must stay in quarantine until the result is known.
Gov. David Ige hasn’t yet set a time limit for when the tests will need to be done, but he said 72 hours was reasonable.
“People do need to get back to work, but it must be done in a manner that protects the health of our community,” Ige said at a news conference.
Hawaii the lowest per capita infection rate of any U.S. state. As of Wednesday, the islands have had 835 cases and 17 deaths.
SYDNEY — Australian health workers will go door-to-door testing more than 100,000 residents in a coronavirus hot spot in suburban Melbourne that is threatening to undo the nation’s success in battling the virus.
Victoria state on Thursday reported 33 new cases, the highest daily number in more than two months.
Premier Daniel Andrews says the testing aims to collect samples from half of all residents in 10 suburbs. He says the goal is to test 10,000 people daily over 10 days. The tests are free and Andrews is urging people to see undergoing testing as a civic duty.
More than 1,000 military personnel are helping with the operation, while other states will help process the test results.
Australia has reported more than 7,500 cases of the virus, including 104 deaths.