Coronavirus COVID-19 May 2020

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Worldometer coronavirus
Coronavirus COVID-19 Jan – April 2020

Britain lines up more potential COVID-19 vaccine supplies with J&J and Novavax deals
(Reuters) Britain will buy potential COVID-19 vaccines from drugmakers Johnson & Johnson and Novavax, the companies said, boosting the number of deals it has with drugmakers as the global vaccine race rages on. Britain and the United States are in the lead with six vaccine deals with drugmakers each, as companies and governments worldwide work overtime to find a vaccine against the global pandemic. The latest agreements bring Britain’s total number of doses secured to 362 million for a population of 66 million.

11 August
Russia’s approval of a COVID-19 vaccine is less than meets the press release
An experimental COVID-19 vaccine made by a Russian research institute needs more testing, many scientists say
(Science) In a startling and confusing move, Russia claimed today [Tuesday] it had approved the world’s first COVID-19 vaccine, as the nation’s Ministry of Health issued what’s called a registration certificate for a vaccine candidate that has been tested in just 76 people. The certificate allows the vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Moscow, to be given to “a small number of citizens from vulnerable groups,” including medical staff and the elderly, a Ministry of Health spokesperson tells ScienceInsider. But the certificate stipulates that the vaccine cannot be used widely until 1 January 2021, presumably after larger clinical trials have been completed.
Scientists around the world immediately denounced the certification as premature and inappropriate, as the Gamaleya vaccine has yet to complete a trial that convincingly shows it is safe and effective in a large group of people. Even some within Russia challenged the move.

7 August
COVID-19 Data Reveal That Urban Density Is Not the Enemy
(New York) The arguments over density and this latest contagion have been largely speculative, resulting in an orgy of confirmation bias. One study, which came out in early April, correlated density with cumulative deaths but not with rates of death or infection. The researchers found that the more people live in any given place, the more will get sick and die. They did not find evidence that living in high-rise buildings or on blocks of townhouses makes it any more likely that you will contract the coronavirus or die from it. Now, finally, we have data — preliminary, partial, and inconclusive, but data nevertheless. A new report in the Journal of the American Planning Association (by Shima Hamidi, a public-health expert at Johns Hopkins, and Sadegh Sabouri and Reid Ewing, both urban planners at the University of Utah) concludes that density doesn’t make a city sick; crowding and connectivity do.

29 July
‘Vaccine nationalism’: Is it every country for itself?
(Reuters) – It’s dog eat dog in the world of COVID-19 vaccines.
That’s the fear of global health agencies planning a scheme to bulk-buy and equitably distribute vaccines around the world. They are watching with dismay as some wealthier countries have decided to go it alone, striking deals with drugmakers to secure millions of doses of promising candidates for their citizens.
The deals – including those agreed by the United States, Britain and the European Union with the likes of Pfizer (PFE.N), BioNtech (22UAy.F), AstraZeneca (AZN.L) and Moderna (MRNA.O) – are undermining the global drive, experts say.
“Everybody doing bilateral deals is not a way to optimize the situation,” said Seth Berkley, chief executive of the GAVI alliance which co-leads the scheme called COVAX designed to secure rapid and fair global access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Pfizer said this week it was in concurrent talks with the EU and several of its member states on supplying them with its potential vaccine.
And in the latest swoop, Britain announced a deal on Wednesday to secure advanced supplies of potential COVID-19 vaccines from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L) and Sanofi (SASY.PA).
This, according to global health charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), will further fuel “the global scramble to hoard vaccines by rich countries” and feed “a dangerous trend of vaccine nationalism”.
The concern is that vaccine supply and allocation in this pandemic will echo the last – caused by the H1N1 flu virus in 2009/2010 – when rich nations bought up the available supply of vaccines, initially leaving poor countries with none.
In that instance, since H1N1 turned out to be a milder disease and the pandemic ultimately petered out, the impact on infections and deaths from vaccine imbalances was limited.
However COVID-19 is a far greater threat, and leaving swathes of the world’s people vulnerable will not only harm them, but also extend the pandemic and the damage it can cause, health experts say.
More than 75 wealthier countries including Britain have expressed interest in the COVAX financing scheme, which is also co-led by the World Health Organization and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations, or CEPI, joining 90 poorer ones who would be supported through donations.
But the United States, China and Russia are not among countries expressing interest in COVAX, according to GAVI.
And an EU source said last week that the European Commission, which is the bloc’s executive arm and leads EU talks with drugmakers, has advised EU countries not to buy COVID-19 vaccines via COVAX.
Experts estimate the world can reasonably hope to have around 2 billion doses of effective COVID-19 vaccines by the end of next year, if several of the leading candidates prove effective in expedited late-stage trials currently underway. COVAX’s aim is to distribute doses for at least 20% of its signed-up countries’ populations.

16 July
U.S., Britain and Canada say Russian cyberspies are trying to steal coronavirus vaccine research
(WaPo) Hackers linked to a Russian intelligence service are trying to steal information from researchers working to produce coronavirus vaccines in the United States, Britain and Canada, security officials in those countries said Thursday.
The hackers, who belong to a unit known variously as APT29, “the Dukes” or “Cozy Bear,” are targeting vaccine research and development organizations in the three countries, the officials said in a joint statement. The unit is one of the two Russian spy groups that penetrated the Democratic Party’s computers in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election.
The announcement comes as reported coronavirus cases globally have topped 13.5 million, deaths have surpassed the half-million mark, and the stakes for being first to develop a vaccine are high.
Canada’s Communications Security Establishment, responsible for gathering foreign signals intelligence and the Canadian equivalent of the NSA, said the attacks “serve to hinder response efforts at a time when health-care experts and medical researchers need every available resource to help fight the pandemic.”
A CSE bulletin said that a Canadian biopharmaceutical company was breached by a foreign actor in mid-April, “almost certainly attempting to steal its intellectual property.”
The joint announcement comes two months after the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warned that China was also targeting covid-19 research, and that health-care, pharmaceutical and research labs should take steps to protect their systems.

6 July
As U.S. buys up remdesivir, ‘vaccine nationalism’ threatens access to COVID-19 treatments
Are we really all in this together? ‘Vaccine nationalism’ must be addressed to ensure equitable distribution of a COVID-19 vaccine.
(The Conversation) In March, there were reports that Donald Trump’s administration tried to buy a German company working on a COVID-19 vaccine in order to secure the entire supply for the U.S. A group formed by France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands struck a deal in the past few weeks to secure 400 million doses of AstraZeneca’s potential vaccine, although other countries are also encouraged to join the group on the same terms. Whether poor countries could afford the terms is another question.
It certainly doesn’t seem that “we’re all in this together” — it’s looking more and more like a dog-eat-dog world. The group that’s most likely to be eaten are those living in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Gilead, the maker of remdesivir, has licence agreements with manufacturers to supply remdesivir in 127 LMICs, but those agreements exclude large middle-income countries such as Brazil, China and Mexico.
Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is creating a facility that will enter into advance purchase agreements with pharmaceutical companies guaranteeing the purchase of any eventual vaccines. But this proposal has generated significant global concerns about its impact on equitable access for populations, especially in developing countries. Under the agreement, rich countries will get the first crack at enough vaccine to cover 20 per cent of their population, and only then will poorer countries be guaranteed the vaccine — and only for their highest priority populations.

4 July
239 Experts With One Big Claim: The Coronavirus Is Airborne
The coronavirus is finding new victims worldwide, in bars and restaurants, offices, markets and casinos, giving rise to frightening clusters of infection that increasingly confirm what many scientists have been saying for months: The virus lingers in the air indoors, infecting those nearby. If airborne transmission is a significant factor in the pandemic, especially in crowded spaces with poor ventilation, the consequences for containment will be significant. Masks may be needed indoors, even in socially-distant settings. Health care workers may need N95 masks that filter out even the smallest respiratory droplets as they care for coronavirus patients. Ventilation systems in schools, nursing homes, residences and businesses may need to minimize recirculating air and add powerful new filters. Ultraviolet lights may be needed to kill viral particles floating in tiny droplets indoors. The World Health Organization has long held that the coronavirus is spread primarily by large respiratory droplets that, once expelled by infected people in coughs and sneezes, fall quickly to the floor.

22 June
South Korea’s second wave
(Reuters) Health authorities in South Korea said for the first time the country is in the midst of a “second wave” of the coronavirus infections focused around its densely populated capital. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously said South Korea’s first wave had never really ended. But on Monday, KCDC director Jeong Eun-kyeong said it had become clear that a holiday weekend in early May marked the beginning of a new wave of infections focused in the greater Seoul area, which had previously seen few cases.

16 June
The race for a vaccine
Scientists at Imperial College London will start the first clinical trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine this week
with funding from the British government and philanthropic donors. About 300 healthy volunteers will receive two doses of the vaccine to test whether it is safe in people and whether it produces an effective immune response.
In Singapore, scientists testing a vaccine from U.S. firm Arcturus Therapeutics plan to start human trials in August after promising initial responses in mice. AstraZeneca’s potential coronavirus vaccine is likely to provide protection against contracting COVID-19 for about a year, the company’s chief executive said on Tuesday.
More than 100 potential vaccines are in development around the world.

1 June
The Protests Will Spread the Coronavirus
The country should expect a spike in less than two weeks, public-health experts say.
The virus seems to spread the most when people yell (such as to chant a slogan), sneeze (to expel pepper spray), or cough (after inhaling tear gas). It is transmitted most efficiently in crowds and large gatherings, and research has found that just a few contagious people can infect hundreds of susceptible people around them. The virus can spread especially easily in small, cramped places, such as police vans and jails.

29 May
Coronavirus May Be a Blood Vessel Disease, Which Explains Everything
Many of the infection’s bizarre symptoms have one thing in common
In April, blood clots emerged as one of the many mysterious symptoms attributed to Covid-19, a disease that had initially been thought to largely affect the lungs in the form of pneumonia. Quickly after came reports of young people dying due to coronavirus-related strokes. Next it was Covid toes — painful red or purple digits.
What do all of these symptoms have in common? An impairment in blood circulation. Add in the fact that 40% of deaths from Covid-19 are related to cardiovascular complications, and the disease starts to look like a vascular infection instead of a purely respiratory one.

25 May
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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