Covid-19 wrap: Global vaccine race heats up, US adds 1 754 more deaths and UK to roll out antibody testing

Keeping you up to date on the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19) news from around the world.

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Global virus vaccine race heats up, but not without controversy

Washington – Global tensions simmered over the race for a coronavirus vaccine on Thursday, as the United States and China traded jabs, and France slammed pharmaceuticals giant Sanofi for suggesting the US would get any eventual vaccine first.

Scientists are working at breakneck speed to develop a vaccine for Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, which has killed more than 300 000 people worldwide and pummelled economies.

From the US to Europe to Asia, national and local governments are easing lockdown orders to get people back to work – while fretting over a possible second wave of infections.

The European Union's medicines agency offered some hope when it said a vaccine could be ready in a year, based on data from clinical trials already under way. But Marco Cavaleri, the EMA's head of vaccines strategy, acknowledged that timeline was a "best-case scenario", and cautioned that "there may be delays".

The race for a vaccine has exposed a raw nerve in relations between the United States and China, where the virus was first detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan.

 - AFP


US adds 1 754 coronavirus deaths in 24 hours - Johns Hopkins

Washington – The United States recorded 1 754 coronavirus deaths in the past 24 hours, bringing the total to 85 813, according to the latest real-time tally on Thursday reported by Johns Hopkins University.

The country – hardest hit by the pandemic in terms of the number of fatalities – has now confirmed a total of 1 416 528 cases, the Baltimore-based school reported.

 - AFP


Aussies cautiously return to bars, cafes

Sydney – Sydney's bars and restaurants flung open their doors as a weeks-long lockdown eased on Friday, but many remained quiet with only a few cautious patrons returning.

With much of Australia's largest city still working from home and new coronavirus infections still popping up daily, the city centre remained eerily quiet during a rainy morning – even as baristas, waiters and barmaids returned to work.

"It's really exciting, I just want to look after people again," said Chrissy Flanagan, owner of The Sausage Factory, a snags and beer bistro that has seen an influx of requests for bookings.

"The desire to sit in a place that is not your house with your mates and have a drink is truly overwhelming," she said. "I am not sure what could be more Australian than that."

In the city's suburbs, there was a sharper uptick in people venturing out. But it was far from business as usual.

 - AFP


UK expected to roll out COVID-19 antibody testing programme

Britain is in talks with Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG to buy an accurate Covid-19 antibody test, following the lead of the European Union and United States which have already given preliminary approval to the tests.

Mass antibody testing with millions of kits is being considered by many countries as a way to speed the reopening of economies devastated by lockdowns and to introduce more tailored social distancing measures.

Tests carried out by Public Health England at Porton Down, a laboratory that provides sensitive and specialist scientific services to the government, concluded on 7 May that the Roche test detected the exact antibodies prompted by the virus. The findings were only made public late on Wednesday.

"This is a good test that will stand us in good stead, moving forwards, and I think it will be incredibly important as the days, weeks and months go by," said Jonathan Van-Tam, the government's deputy chief medical officer.

"I anticipate that it will be rapidly rolled out in the days and weeks to come, as soon as it is practical to do so. I also anticipate that the focus will be on the National Health Service and on carers in the first instance," he told a news briefing.

 - ALJAZEERA


First case found in Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh

A Rohingya man has become the first person to test positive for Covid-19 in the vast refugee camps in Bangladesh that are home to almost one million people, officials said.

Health experts have long warned that the virus could race through the cramped, sewage-soaked alleys of the camps in the Cox's Bazar district.

The persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority have been housed there in canvas and bamboo shacks since they fled a military offensive in neighbouring Myanmar more than two years ago.

 - AFP


Typhoon forces 140 000 people from homes in virus-hit Philippines

Tens of thousands of people crammed into evacuation centres while trying to follow social distance protocols, as a powerful typhoon hammered the Philippines.

Typhoon Vongfong has dumped heavy rains and ripped off roofs since it roared ashore on central Samar island on Thursday, with hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in its path on the coast or in flimsy homes.

 - AFP


Singapore rolls out swab van as it ramps up tests of foreign workers

Singapore has rolled out a mobile swab station as it seeks to test the more than 300 000 foreign workers living in dormitories in the city-state.

The specially equipped ambulance can be swiftly deployed and allows health care workers to carry out swab tests on people as they stand outside the vehicle.

The city-state has reported over 26 000 infections, one of the highest tallies in Asia, with most cases among low-paid migrant workers living in crowded dorms.

 - AFP


Japan to conduct antibody tests

Japan's health minister said the nation will conduct antibody testing from next month for about 10 000 people.

The test results should help experts better understand the extent of the coronavirus's spread in Japan, with local media reporting it may also shed light on whether "herd immunity" can be achieved.

 - AFP


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