Covid-19 wrap | Coronavirus vaccine progress, spike in US, Mexico, cases

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Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis.

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Lonza sees no delays for Covid-19 vaccine project, citing Trump backing

Swiss drug-maker Lonza sees no delays for its project to make Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine candidate and has "strong support" from US President Donald Trump to get the necessary manufacturing equipment, its chair said.

Chair Albert Baehny had earlier raised concerns that hiring qualified staff and finding gear like bioreactors on short notice could snarl aggressive goals to begin commercial manufacturing of vaccine ingredients for Moderna.

Lonza is readying production of smaller batches this month for Moderna's mRNA vaccine trials in 30 000 people.

Baehny told reporters he remains confident he will find workers and the equipment he needs to complete commercial manufacturing facilities this year in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and early next year in Visp, Switzerland.

"We are doing very well having access to the people, we can build up the teams in Portsmouth and in Visp to manufacture in the future these drug substances," he said.

"There are basically no major issues in equipment, it's a bit more complicated than the people, but I don't think we'll be facing delays because of delays in equipment delivery, as we see it today," he said.

"We have strong support from the Trump administration to have access to the equipment, as well."

Baehny made the comments as Lonza reported a rise in first-half sales and profit and unveiled plans to begin selling its speciality ingredients unit in the second half of 2020.

Lonza is exiting chemicals to focus on its faster-growing drugs business that has a 10-year deal with Moderna to make ingredients for its drugs, including the vaccine candidate.

- Reuters


US notches 4 million virus cases

The coronavirus pandemic hit grim new milestones on Thursday, with cases topping four million in the United States as fresh spikes from Belgium to Tokyo to Melbourne forced new restrictions on citizens.

The United States, the hardest-hit country by the virus, added one million new cases in just over two weeks, according to a tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University. In the previous 24 hours alone, the country notched more than 76 000 new cases.

Having recorded more than 144 000 total fatalities, the US has seen a coronavirus surge, particularly in southern and western states, as Texas, California, Alabama, Idaho and Florida all announced record one-day death tolls.

Nevertheless, the rate of new cases is now showing signs of easing off in some of the worst-hit zones.

Against a backdrop of mass unemployment and sagging approval ratings, US President Donald Trump announced he was scrapping next month's Republican nominating convention in Florida, stating that it was not the right time to hold a "big, crowded" event.

- AFP


Europe tops 3 million amid fresh outbreaks

Fresh outbreaks of the coronavirus in Europe resulted in the continent hitting three million cases on Thursday.

While EU lawmakers combed through a huge aid package for their economies, the UN called for a basic income for the world's poorest to help slow the spread of Covid-19, and the Red Cross warned of "massive" new migration caused by the economic devastation.

The European continent now accounts for a fifth of the world's more than 15 million cases and remains the hardest hit in terms of deaths, with 206 633 out of 627 307 worldwide.

A €750 billion post-coronavirus recovery plan was hammered out at an EU summit this week, where fiscally rigid nations butted heads with hard-hit countries like Spain and Italy that have called for huge aid grants.

EU chief Charles Michel said the total stimulus would eventually reach €1.8 trillion ($2.2 trillion).

"This moment, it's my conviction, is pivotal in European history. We acted fast and with urgency," Michel told the bloc's parliament in Brussels.

"Europe's response is greater than that of the United States or China," he said.

- AFP


US coronavirus deaths top 1 100 for a third day in a row

The United States on Thursday recorded more than 1 100 deaths from Covid-19, marking the third straight day the nation passed that grim milestone as the pandemic escalates in southern and western US states.

Fatalities nationwide were recorded at 1 118 on Thursday. Deaths were 1 135 on Wednesday and 1 141 on Tuesday.

Even though deaths are rising in the United States for a second week in a row, they remain well below levels seen in April, when 2 000 people a day on average died from the virus.

The United States took 98 days to reach one million confirmed cases of Covid-19 but just 16 days to increase from three million to four million, the tally showed. The total suggests at least one in 82 Americans have been infected at some point in the pandemic.

The average number of new cases is now rising by more than 2 600 per hour nationwide, the highest rate in the world.

- Reuters


Australian state to send in the army to check on Covid-19 cases

Australia's Victoria state will send in the army to question people who have tested positive for Covid-19 as it battles to control an outbreak that claimed a record number of lives on Friday.

Australia's second most populous state will deploy Australian Defence Force personnel to the homes of people who have tested positive and who have not answered telephone calls, in order to kick start the contact tracing process, state premier Daniel Andrews said.

A flare-up of infections in Melbourne, the state's largest city, prompted the government to enforce a six-week partial lockdown and make face masks mandatory for its residents or risk a A$200 ($143) fine.

"This is about going that extra step to make sure that we cannot just call but we can connect... get that interview done and then begin the process of tracing contacts," Andrews told a regular press conference.

"If you were door knocked and you were not found at home... that would almost certainly lead to you being fined."

The state recorded six deaths overnight, the highest daily toll for the nation since the pandemic began.

All the deaths were linked to aged care homes, of which more than 40 have recorded outbreaks. State-wide, 300 new infections were found, dropping from a record of 484 on Wednesday.

Two cases were detected among Aboriginal people in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat, a cause of concern for officials given a high degree of health issues among Indigenous Australians.

- Reuters


Mexico reports record daily spike in virus cases

Mexico on Thursday posted 8 438 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours, a daily record, and an additional 718 deaths, data from the health ministry showed.

According to the ministry's daily update, the Latin American country has recorded 370 712 cases of Covid-19 and 41 908 deaths since its first case was reported in late February.

The previous record for cases added in one day was 7 615 on 18 July.

Mexico has the fourth-highest number of deaths in the world, after the United States, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

It can take several days to record new cases and deaths, meaning there are some days when the official results lag behind the actual numbers.

As of the cut-off on Wednesday evening, the death and infection rates per million Mexican residents were 319.47 and 2 809.79 respectively, according to an AFP tally.

- AFP

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