Coronavirus COVID-19 May 2020

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Coronavirus COVID-19 Jan – April 2020

WHO Halts Hydroxychloroquine Trial Over Safety Concerns
(NPR) The World Health Organization says it is temporarily halting its clinical trials that use hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients over published concerns that the drug may do more harm than good. The move comes after the medical journal The Lancet reported on Friday that patients getting hydroxychloroquine were dying at higher rates than other coronavirus patients. The WHO has 3,500 patients from 17 countries enrolled in what it calls the Solidarity Trial. This is an effort overseen by the WHO to find new treatments for COVID-19. The patients in the trial have been randomly assigned to be treated with hydroxychloroquine which is a common malaria drug, or 3 other experimental drugs for treating COVID-19 in various combinations. Only the hydroxychloroquine part of the trial is being put on hold. “The review will consider data collected so far in the Solidarity Trial and in particular robust, randomized available data to adequately evaluate the potential benefits and harms from this drug [hydroxycholoroquine],” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during an online press conference from Geneva on Monday.

23-25 May
Stockholm Won’t Reach Herd Immunity In May, Sweden’s Chief Epidemiologist Says
(NPR) Sweden’s controversial approach to fighting the coronavirus pandemic has so far failed to produce the expected results, and there are calls within the country for the government to change its strategy.
Sweden’s Covid-19 policy is a model for the right. It’s also a deadly folly
(The Guardian) … No one, however, would have predicted this news item from last week: “Covid-19 deaths in Sweden were the highest in Europe per capita in a rolling seven-day average between 12 and 19 May.” It confirmed that Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell’s “mitigation” strategy of allowing shops, restaurants, gyms, schools and workplaces to remain open was a deadly folly. It does not even seem to have produced herd immunity. Just 7.3% of Stockholm’s inhabitants had developed Covid-19 antibodies by the end of April. …
The Swedish sickness is a political as well as a medical disaster. Professor Johan Giesecke, an adviser to the Swedish government alongside Tegnell, became a star of the rightwing web as he lectured other governments on the futility of their tough measures. British Conservative commentators have boomed out claims that Sweden showed there was no need to close the UK economy.
The tragedy of the Swedish outbreak is that it is a warning of what happens to countries that trust too much. We are not used to thinking about such dangers of too much deference. Across the world, strongmen have successfully undermined it in country after country. The media are biased against the leader. The civil service is filled with saboteurs. The judges aren’t impartial. As they suspend parliaments and persuade their supporters that bad news is fake news, they leave them with nothing left to believe in except the leader and his party.
Sweden has resisted the global turn towards demagoguery. Every foreign visitor notices the respect for institutions and the faintly stultifying conformity.

20 May
A New Entry in the Race for a Coronavirus Vaccine: Hope
More than 100 research teams around the world are taking aim at the virus from multiple angles.
Scientists are increasingly optimistic that a vaccine can be produced in record time. But getting it manufactured and distributed will pose huge challenges.
In a medical research project nearly unrivaled in its ambition and scope, volunteers worldwide are rolling up their sleeves to receive experimental vaccines against the coronavirus.
In labs around the world, there is now cautious optimism that a coronavirus vaccine, and perhaps more than one, will be ready sometime next year.
Scientists are exploring not just one approach to creating the vaccine, but at least four. So great is the urgency that they are combining trial phases and shortening a process that usually takes years, sometimes more than a decade.

18 May
Experimental COVID-19 vaccine made by Moderna Inc produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers, according to very early data released by the biotech company on Monday.
(Reuters) – Moderna Inc’s (MRNA.O) experimental COVID-19 vaccine, the first to be tested in the United States, produced protective antibodies in a small group of healthy volunteers, according to very early data released by the biotech company on Monday.
The Moderna vaccine is one of more than 100 under development intended to protect against the novel coronavirus
Moderna said the vaccine appeared to show a dose response, meaning that people who [received] the 100 mcg dose produced more antibodies than people who got the lower dose.
The vaccine has gotten the green light to start the second stage of human testing. Last week, U.S. regulators gave the vaccine “fast-track” status to speed up the regulatory review.

Unprecedented World Health Assembly Convenes Online As Pandemic Rages
(NPR) The World Health Organization’s annual oversight convention will be held by teleconference beginning Monday, as the worst pandemic in modern history continues around the globe. The 73rd annual World Health Assembly typically brings together representatives from the WHO’s 194 member states in Geneva to discuss a wide range of health topics. However, this year’s meeting will be held by teleconference for the first-time ever. It will also be much more focused — on the novel coronavirus that’s infected more than 4.5 million people, killed 300,000, crashed the global economy and shows no sign of going away on its own. “It’s probably the most important assembly in their history,” says Paul O’Brien, vice president of policy and advocacy for Oxfam America. “We have a global pandemic. We have half a billion people at risk of falling into poverty. And we need the World Health Assembly to come up with the core solutions. And that is getting a vaccine out, manufactured, distributed and freely available to everyone as soon as possible,” he says.

7  May
The viral spillovers that created the coronavirus are only worsening
The novel coronavirus is the latest in a long list of pathogens that have jumped from animals to human beings, triggering pandemics that have killed hundreds of millions, Axios’ Bryan Walsh writes.
Why it matters: COVID-19 underscores the desperate need to better understand and control the intersection of animal and human health. Preventing future pandemics will come down in part to better policing the border zones between animal health and human health.
The 21st century has already experienced four major spillovers: SARS (horseshoe bats via civet cats), H1N1 flu (pig), MERS (bats via camel), and COVID-19 (bats via an intermediate).
• Scientists agree the rate of such events appears to be increasing, raising the risk for future pandemics.
The big picture: Nearly 1.7 million as yet undiscovered viruses are believed to exist in wildlife. Thomas Gillespie, a disease ecologist at Emory University, notes that we still lack data for almost 90% of zoonotic viruses in wild mammal species.
• Despite the clear biological connections between animals and humans, animal health receives perhaps $1 for every $50 that goes to human health, estimates Gregory Gray, an epidemiologist at Duke University.
• Experts are urging more funding to characterize those pathogens and track wet market workers and others who are likely to be the first people infected in a spillover.
• The government funding for PREDICT, a program that was meant to do just that, was initially not going to be extended by the Trump administration last year, but an extension was granted last month. The U.S. Agency for International Development is also launching a similar program called STOP Spillover.
“If we could get hold of emerging viruses before they fully adapt to humans, it would help us better understand it and develop better treatments. That might help us avoid the next viral crossover.” — Peter Ben Embarek, WHO zoonoses expert

6 May
What’s Behind South Korea’s COVID-19 Exceptionalism?
Seven weeks ago, South Korea and the U.S. had the same number of virus deaths. Today, South Korea has fewer than 300, and the U.S. has more than 70,000.
(The Atlantic) South Korea’s COVID-19 response strategy sits atop three pillars: fast and free testing, expansive tracing technology, and mandatory isolation of the most severe cases. Each pillar was shaped by the epidemics that preceded the 2019 novel coronavirus.
Fast Testing
One of the key lessons of MERS was that bending the curve required an accelerated plan for designing, manufacturing, and distributing accurate tests. In the coronavirus pandemic, no large democracy has been better on these counts than South Korea.
Expansive High-Tech Tracing
In most countries, contact tracing—or, simply, tracing—refers to the practice of interviewing recent patients to learn where, when, and to whom they might have passed along the disease. South Korea combines that approach with high-tech surveillance made possible by the post-MERS legislation mentioned above.
Zero-Tolerance Isolation
To separate the sick from the healthy—and the somewhat sick from the very sick—South Korea’s patients are divided into several groups. … International arrivals are also subject to isolation rules. South Korea requires that foreign arrivals self-isolate for two weeks. Koreans arriving from overseas are required to download an app that registers their symptoms in the days after their arrival. … (Individuals who violate self-isolation rules face steep fines or, for foreigners, immediate deportation.)

5 May
Dr. Scott Gottlieb says rare, ‘unusual phenomena’ affecting kids may be linked to coronavirus
(CNBC) Gottlieb’s comments came a day after New York City health officials warned of an inflammatory disease impacting 15 children that could possibly be associated with Covid-19. The condition is characterized by persistent fever and was likened to Kawasaki disease and toxic shock syndrome. Children who have had this complication have been admitted into intensive care. There have been no reported deaths among the patients, whose ages range from 2 to 15.
According to the New York City Health Department, four of the children tested positive for Covid-19 through diagnostic testing. Six other children who initially were negative through diagnostic screening later tested positive from an antibody test.
The coronavirus has mutated and appears to be more contagious now, new study finds
The new strain began spreading in Europe in early February before migrating to other parts of the world, including the United States and Canada, becoming the dominant form of the virus across the globe by the end of March, researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory wrote in a 33-page report published Thursday on BioRxiv.
If the coronavirus doesn’t subside in the summer like the seasonal flu, it could mutate further and potentially limit the effectiveness of the coronavirus vaccines being developed by scientists around the world, the researchers warned. Some vaccine researchers have been using the virus’s genetic sequences isolated by health authorities early in the outbreak.

4 May
Coronavirus and the Sweden Myth
The country’s approach to the pandemic sets a seductive example. But the United States shouldn’t copy it.
By Ian Bremmer, Cliff Kupchan and Scott Rosenstein, international political risk analysts.
(NYT) While the world’s biggest economies have shut down, one small, well-governed Scandinavian country has allowed most businesses to stay open. The strategy apparently relies on “herd immunity,” in which a critical mass of infection occurs in lower-risk populations that ultimately thwarts transmission.
But the reality is not so simple for Sweden. Government authorities there seem to be for this strategy, then against it, then for it again if the data look promising. And it’s dangerous to assume that even if the strategy works in Sweden, it will work elsewhere. Leaders are grasping for strategies in a time of great uncertainty — but the Swedish model should be approached with caution.
It is too early to tell whether the approach has worked. Stockholm isn’t all of Sweden. And 25 percent of its population with antibodies is not cause for an immunity celebration. We don’t know if that percentage is accurate because the data isn’t available, the antibody tests still appear to be of uncertain accuracy, and we don’t even know what a positive antibody test means. There is some optimism that most people who are infected will have some temporary immunity. But if immunity is short-lived and only present in some individuals, that already uncertain 25 percent becomes even less compelling. We also still don’t know what total population percentage would be necessary to reach the herd immunity goal. It could be as high as 80 percent of the population.
Even if we had perfect knowledge of the Swedish case, there are huge risks with copying the strategy in a country like the United States.

1 May
Sweden is a model for the new coronavirus normal, says WHO
(The Times) The World Health Organisation lavished praise on Sweden as “a future model” in the next phase of fighting the outbreak because it has trusted people to observe social distancing rules.
Uniquely in Europe, Sweden chose not to tackle the pandemic with an enforced lockdown even though the policy has led to a higher death toll than in Denmark and Norway.
Dr Mike Ryan, of the WHO emergencies team, said it was wrong to believe that Sweden had “just let the infection spread”, adding: “Nothing can be further from the truth. Sweden has set a very strong policy on public health, it is about physical distancing and how to protect the elderly in various nursing homes and much more.”
Instead of schools, bars, restaurants and shops being closed, Swedes have been advised rather than compelled by the police or fines to adopt social-distancing measures.

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