Covid-19 wrap: US-backed vaccine trial enters 'late stage', Kenya enforces booze ban

A healthcare worker checks the temperature of a woman during a medical check-up in Mumbai, India.
A healthcare worker checks the temperature of a woman during a medical check-up in Mumbai, India.
Himanshu Bhatt/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Reuters reports that Moderna Inc has started a late-stage trial to test the effectiveness of its Covid-19 vaccine candidate, the first such study under the Trump administration's program to speed development of measures against the novel coronavirus.

The study will test the response to the vaccine in 30 000 adults who do not have the respiratory illness.

The US' federal government is supporting Moderna's vaccine project with its Operation Warp Speed program. Moderna has received nearly $1 billion from the US government, which has chosen it as one of the first to enter large-scale human trials.

More than 150 coronavirus vaccine candidates are in various stages of development, with 23 prospects in human trials across the globe and Moderna's candidate among the farthest along in development.

"Having a safe and effective vaccine distributed by the end of 2020 is a stretch goal, but it's the right goal for the American people," National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins said in a release from the NIH announcing the start of the study.

The large late-stage trial is designed to evaluate the safety of Moderna's mRNA-1273 and determine if the vaccine can prevent symptomatic Covid-19 after two doses.

The study also seeks to answer if the vaccine can prevent death caused by Covid-19 and if just one dose can prevent symptomatic Covid-19.

Trial volunteers will receive two injections about 28 days apart, with volunteers randomly assigned to receive either two 100 microgram injections of mRNA-1273 or two shots of a saline placebo. The study is blinded, so the investigators and the participants will not know who is assigned to which group.

Results of a small early-stage study published earlier this month showed volunteers who got two doses of Moderna's vaccine had high levels of virus-killing antibodies that exceeded the average levels seen in people who had recovered from Covid-19.

Kenya restricts alcohol as cases surge

AFP reports that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday banned the sale of alcohol in eateries and restaurants and extended a curfew in a bid to halt a steep rise in coronavirus infections.

Kenyatta delivered a stern dressing down to Kenyans for "reckless" behaviour that has seen cases triple in the past month to 17 975, while 285 have died.

He said there was notably an "aggressive surge" among young people who were socialising "particularly in environments serving alcohol" and were in turn infecting their elders.

He ordered that a nationwide curfew from 21:00 to 04:00 will remain in place for another 30 days and "there shall be no sale of alcoholic beverages or drinks in eateries and restaurants" over the same period. Restaurants will also close from 19:00.

Nigeria to allow would-be graduates back to school

Reuters reports that Nigeria will allow schools to reopen for pupils due to take graduation exams, a presidential aide said on Monday, reviving a plan dropped earlier this month due to rising cases of Covid-19.

The West African country has reported 40 532 coronavirus infections including 858 deaths and the number of deaths has jumped from 460 since the schools plan was postponed on 9 July.

But in the last few weeks domestic flights have resumed and a ban on interstate travel was lifted as authorities relax restrictions to open up the economy.

NAVARRA, SPAIN - JULY 27: Queen Letizia of Spain v
Queen Letizia of Spain visits the das-Nano/Veridas technology company in Tajonar in Navarra, Spain during the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The federal government orders the re-opening schools for secondary school students in exit classes on August 4, 2020," Bashir Ahmad, a presidential aide, tweeted.

A ministry of education statement included in the tweet said students would have two weeks to prepare for the exams.

It said the decision was taken to reopen for students in "exit classes" following a meeting between the ministry, education officials from all 36 states and the Nigerian Union of Teachers.

Pupils aged 14 and above typically sit the exams in Nigeria.

WHO to reexamine Covid-19 emergency status 

The World Health Organisation said Monday that a key committee would meet later this week to discuss Covid-19's emergency status, six months after it was declared, AFP reports.

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters that the UN health body's emergency committee would convene to reexamine the declaration that the outbreak constituted a "public health emergency of international concern".

A so-called PHEIC declaration, which marks the highest level of alarm under international health rules, must be reevaluated every six months.

Prior to Covid-19, WHO had only made such declarations five times since the International Health Regulations changed in 2007, for swine flu, polio, Zika and twice for Ebola outbreaks in Africa.

Of those, the current pandemic "is easily the most severe," Tedros said.

"When I declared a public health emergency of international concern on the 30th of January, ... there were less than 100 cases outside of China, and no deaths," Tedros said.

But since then, the case numbers have soared past 16 million, with close to 650 000 deaths around the world.

"Over the past six months, WHO has worked tirelessly to support countries to prepare for and respond to this virus," Tedros said.

Hundreds pack airports as evacuations from Vietnam's tourist hotspot city begins 

The airport in the central Vietnamese tourism hotspot of Danang was packed on Monday after three residents tested positive for the coronavirus and the evacuation of 80 000 people began, Reuters reports.

The Southeast Asian country is back on high alert after authorities on Saturday confirmed the first community infections since April, and another three cases on Sunday, all in or around Danang.

A passenger aboard a bus in Cardiff as face coveri
A passenger aboard a bus in Cardiff, UK, as face coverings become mandatory on public transport in Wales to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

A further 11 cases linked to a Danang hospital were reported late on Monday.

The evacuations of mostly local tourists will take at least four days with domestic airlines operating approximately 100 flights daily from Danang to 11 Vietnamese cities, the government said.

Vietnam has also reintroduced social distancing measures in Danang.

Nguyen Tien Nam, an English teacher based in Ho Chi Minh City, said he had got on the last flight out of Danang on Sunday night.

"Everyone was just trying to get out of the city on Sunday," said Nam. "Everyone was telling me that I should get out as soon as possible."

By imposing strict quarantine measures and carrying out an aggressive testing programme during the pandemic, Vietnam has kept its tally of reported infections to 431, with no deaths.

Vietnam is still closed to foreign tourism, but there had been a surge in domestic travellers looking to take advantage of discounted flights and holiday packages to local resorts.

Bollywood's Aishwarya Rai, daughter, recover

Reuters reports that Indian actress Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and her eight-year old daughter, Aaradhya, have recovered from Covid-19 and left hospital after a 10-day stay, her husband and actor Abhishek Bachchan said on Twitter.

Abhishek Bachchan and his father, renowned actor Amitabh Bachchan, 77, are still recovering from the disease caused by the new coronavirus and remain in a Mumbai hospital.

The Bachchans have been the most high-profile of India's growing Covid-19 cases.

Amitabh Bachchan and his son tested positive on 11 July. Rai and Aaradhya tested positive a day later, but were admitted to hospital only on 17 July, after they developed symptoms, local media reported.

Rai, 46, has worked on several Bollywood and Hollywood films and is a brand ambassador for multinational companies including L'Oreal. Her husband Abhishek, who is 44, has worked in several Bollywood films and recently acted in a web-series that was released on Amazon's streaming platform, Prime Video.

Amitabh Bachchan is one of India's most beloved actors, and fans all over the country have been conducting prayers for his swift recovery.

India, which has 1.3 billion people, has recorded more than 1.4 million new coronavirus cases, the third highest in the world after the United States and Brazil. It has recorded nearly 33 000 deaths so far.

Cases in India have been rising rapidly, and the country on Monday reported a record number of 49,931 new cases.

Morocco bans travel to and from major cities 

Al Jazeera reports that Morocco has banned all travel to and from some of its major cities in a bid to stem an increase in coronavirus cases.

In a joint statement quoted by the MAP state news agency, the health and interior ministries said the travel restrictions imposed on Monday affected the cities of Tangier, Tetouan, Fez, Meknes, Casablanca, Berrechid, Settat and Marrakesh.

People with "urgent medical needs" and workers on specific missions were excluded, but would need a travel permit issued by a local authority, the statement added. Transportation of goods and commodities will continue normally.

The measures come a day after the country reported 633 new Covid-19 cases, one of the biggest daily rises so far, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 20 278.

There have also been 313 related deaths, while 16 438 people have recovered.

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