Covid-19 wrap : Global death toll tops 1.1 million, while Italy reports over 10 000 daily cases

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Belgian university trials saliva tests to track coronavirus spread

At the university of Liege in Belgium, a steady stream of students pick up saliva tests in white boxes from a desk at the entrance of the main building, a scheme creators hope will simplify tracking the spread of the coronavirus.

Inside are simple saliva tests that people can administer themselves, simply spitting into a tube fitted with a funnel - rather than going to a test centre where a medical professional would administer a nasal swab.

"I come and pick one up on Wednesdays and get the result by Friday evening. It's not compulsory, but it's important, so I do it every week," says 20-year-old translation and interpretation student Ruben Ponton.

"If I'm positive, I don't come to class."

Two of his fellow students behind the desk check their peers' ID cards, handing out more than 560 tests on Wednesday morning alone, and offer tips to those taking their first.

They must be taken "in the morning, on an empty stomach and before brushing your teeth".

Backers hope the saliva tests developed at the university can help wipe out backlogs at testing centres buckling under coronavirus demand.

Nurses and carers

The aim of giving the tests to students is to "demonstrate that these self-testing kits can be useful and allow us to throttle the spread of the epidemic in a university of 30 000 people," says professor Fabrice Bureau, an immunologist and vice-rector of research.

"The idea is that we then make them available to a larger number of people," Bureau adds.

In the second week of the free, anonymous tests, some 3.6 percent of the students and 0.9 percent of university staff came back positive, roughly double the figures for the first week.

Those testing positive are urged to self-isolate and are given leave to miss lessons.

At around 60 percent accuracy, the saliva testing kits fall short of the 80-90 percent achieved with nasal swabs.

"There's less virus present in saliva," says virologist Laurent Gillet, who helped develop the process.

Nevertheless, for people with a very high viral load, the accuracy is "above 95 percent," he adds.

And given how much easier the saliva test is than the nasal swab, people can take multiple tests, which "makes up for the lack of sensitivity," Gillet argues.

The virologist believes it could be most useful for "some specific populations, like nursing staff and staff at retirement homes" who come into contact with vulnerable people.

They "could get tested regularly with quick results, so we'd be able to check how the virus is spreading through these communities," he suggests.

Massive demand 

Liege's university hospital has started covering the cost of the kits - 12 euros excluding tax - in a bid to reduce queues at its drive-through testing centre, which have at times stretched to eight kilometres. It says they are most appropriate for people without symptoms, but who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

But the hospital's testing chief Sandra Delcour said that the centres handing out the kits were overwhelmed by demand within a few days, meaning the programme had to stop by the end of the week.

She hopes that "those in charge will react to offer the public an alternative". Professors Bureau and Gillet are in talks with regional and Belgian federal authorities, hoping to gain official recognition for their procedure.

At present, the Liege lab can carry out 6-8 000 nasal swab tests and 6 000 saliva tests per day, aiming to push the second figure to 18 000.

The lab produces its own chemical reagents for the tests, which have already secured official approval.


Global daily virus cases top 400 000: AFP tally

More than 400 000 new coronavirus infections were declared across the world on Thursday, a record number, according to a tally by AFP on Friday based on data from health authorities.

A total of 404 758 new cases were reported, with 6 086 new deaths.

This number can be explained only in part by increased testing since the first wave of the pandemic in March-April.

In Europe the number of cases rose sharply in a single week, by 44 percent compared to the previous week, while in the United States and Canada infections increased by 17 percent

Europe on Thursday recorded the highest number of cases, at more than 150 000, the highest since the start of the pandemic, and several countries on the continent now believe they have entered a second wave.

The number of recorded deaths in Europe is still far from the levels reached in April, when they averaged more than 4 000 a day. But after a slowdown during the summer to fewer than 400 deaths a day in July, the number rose to a daily average of 1 000 deaths last week.

In the United States, where the number of reported cases declined in September after peaking in mid-July, infections have also been on the rise.

There was a daily average of more than 50 000 new cases over the past seven days, peaking on Thursday at more than 70 000.


Pfizer plans to seek authorisation for Covid-19 vaccine in November: company

US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer expects to file for emergency use authorization for its Covid-19 vaccine in late November, around two weeks after the 3 November US presidential election, it said Friday.

The company said it hopes to move ahead with the vaccine after safety data is available in the third week of November, immediately lifting the company's shares two percent in the US.

"So let me be clear, assuming positive data, Pfizer will apply for Emergency Authorization Use in the US soon after the safety milestone is achieved in the third week of November," the company's chairman and CEO Albert Bourla said in an open letter.


France to roll out airport testing this month - minister

France will introduce rapid Covid-19 tests at airports this month, the country's transport minister said on Friday, in a boost for Air France-KLM and other airlines pushing for an easing of travel restrictions and quarantines.

"We'll put that in place by the end of October," Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said on CNews television.

Airlines represented by their global industry body IATA are pushing for the rapid antigen tests to be administered to all departing international passengers at airports. Such tests are slightly less accurate than lab-based PCR alternatives but allow for last-minute screening.

The measures will only become effective in reviving collapsed air traffic when the scheme is widely used and accepted by governments as a substitute for long quarantine requirements that deter travel.

France will initially offer the tests for passengers bound for destinations including the United States and Italy, Djebbari said, as well as arrivals from countries on its coronavirus red list where infection rates are high.

Testing may begin as soon as next week at Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports, newspaper La Tribune reported on its website.


Global coronavirus death toll tops 1.1 million: AFP

The total number of declared deaths from the new coronavirus has topped 1.1 million around the world, according to an AFP tally from official sources on Friday.

At least 1 100 056 fatalities, out of 38 997 267 cases, have been reported. Almost one in five deaths was in the United States, the hardest-hit country which has 217 798 deaths from 7 985 356 infections.


Italy reports over 10 000 daily cases of Covid-19 - govt

Italy reported over 10 000 new cases of coronavirus on Friday, its highest ever daily toll, as the country braces for the latest wave of infections sweeping Europe.

The toll of 10 010 infections in one day - with 55 deaths - was the third day in a row that Italy broke coronavirus records.

At the height of Italy's coronavirus crisis in March, the highest 24-hour toll of new infections was 6 557.

More than 150 000 tests were performed in the last day.

Over 391 000 people have contracted Covid-19 in Italy, and 36 427 people have died.


WHO in dialogue with Russia on its second Covid-19 vaccine candidate

The World Health Organisation said on Friday it had had very good dialogue with developers of a second Russian vaccine candidate against Covid-19.

"We will only be able to have a position on a vaccine when we see results of the phase 3 clinical trials," WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan told a news conference in Geneva.


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