Covid-19 wrap | WHO says vaccine may be ready by year-end, while global death toll at 1 045 097

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A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant on Muslims during the Friday prayers in Iran.
A worker in a protective suit sprays disinfectant on Muslims during the Friday prayers in Iran.
Ameer Al Mohammedaw/picture alliance via Getty Ima

Here are the latest developments in the coronavirus crisis

Covid-19 vaccine may be ready by year-end - WHO's Tedros

A vaccine against Covid-19 may be ready by year-end, the head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday, without elaborating.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for solidarity and political commitment by all leaders to ensure equal distribution of vaccines when they become available.

"We will need vaccines and there is hope that by the end of this year we may have a vaccine. There is hope," Tedros said in closing remarks to the WHO's Executive Board meeting that examined the global response to the pandemic.

The EU health regulator has launched a real-time review of a Covid-19 vaccine developed by US drugmaker Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech, it said on Tuesday, following a similar announcement for rival AstraZeneca's jab last week. The announcement by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) could speed up the process of approving a successful vaccine in the bloc.

Nine experimental vaccines are in the pipeline of the WHO-led COVAX global vaccine facility that aims to distribute 2 billion doses by the end of 2021.

So far some 168 countries have joined the COVAX facility, but neither China, the United States nor Russia are among them. The Trump administration has said it is relying instead on bilateral deals to secure supplies from vaccine makers.

"Especially for the vaccines and other products which are in the pipeline, the most important tool is political commitment from our leaders especially in the equitable distribution of the vaccines," Tedros said.

"We need each other, we need solidarity and we need to use all the energy we have to fight the virus," he said.

-Reuters


Britain buys 1 million Covid-19 antibody tests

Britain's health ministry said on Tuesday it had bought 1 million Covid-19 antibody tests that can indicate whether someone has had the disease within 20 minutes.

The Department of Health said it had bought the tests, which use a fingerprick device and do not need to be sent to a lab, from the UK Rapid Test Consortium, and that they would be rolled out as part of the government's Covid-19 surveillance studies.

-Reuters


European countries face shortages of Covid-19 drug remdesivir

European countries are facing shortages of Covid-19 drug remdesivir because limited supplies are running out, officials said, with cases surging and the United States having bought up most of drugmaker Gilead's output.

In July, the 27 European Union countries and Britain, with a combined population of 500 million, secured doses to treat about 30 000 patients. The United States signed a deal for more than 500 000 courses of treatment, accounting for most of Gilead's output through September.

"Remdesivir has run out," Dutch Health Ministry spokesman Martijn Janssen told Reuters, adding however that new deliveries were expected shortly.

The antiviral drug has been shown to shorten hospital recovery time in severe cases of Covid-19. Remdesivir and the steroid dexamethasone are the only drugs authorised in Europe to treat Covid-19. Both have been given to US President Donald Trump, who is also receiving an experimental antibody cocktail.

Hospitalisations across Europe have been rapidly increasing, although in most countries still far below levels of the spring.

"Due to the increased hospital admissions, the demand for remdesivir is increasing rapidly," the Dutch spokesman said.

Poland's health minister Adam Niedzielski said on Tuesday the drug was in short supply in some hospitals. Its latest shipment from the EU order arrived just last Friday.

Spain, which has Europe's highest infection rate, experienced shortages in late August, its medicine agency said.

Britain, which has joined the EU procurement for remdesivir, has rationed its supply, prioritising Covid-19 patients who need it most, the health ministry said.

Shortages are likely to stir debate about the availability and pricing of Covid-19 drugs. While dexamethasone, a generic medicine, is widely available and cheap, remdesivir is protected by Gilead's patent.

The company has set a $2,340 price per patient for wealthier nations. It says it has also donated treatments for research and to treat hundreds of thousands of patients around the world.

New supplies

A spokesman for the European Commission, which negotiates medical supply deals on behalf of EU states during the pandemic, was not immediately available for a comment about shortages.

The EU executive is discussing with Gilead a new supply deal, meant to be sealed by late September or the beginning of October "to prevent a delivery gap," a Commission official told health experts from EU governments at a meeting in mid-September, minutes show.

The supplies secured so far by the EU were supposed to cover needs until the end of September. Several officials said new deliveries were expected shortly.

Gilead has expanded its production capacity. Last week it said it was meeting US demand and expected to cover global needs in October, even in the event of future surges of Covid-19.

Available doses in the EU have so far been divided according to the number of cases and hospitalisation rates. But not all EU states face shortages. Germany's health ministry said remdesivir stocks were sufficient for the coming months.

-Reuters


UAE surpasses 100 000 coronavirus infections

The United Arab Emirates, with a population of around 9.9 million people, surpassed 100 00 recorded cases of Covid-19 infection on Tuesday.

The UAE, whose tally stands at 100 794 infections and 421 deaths, has seen the number of daily new cases surge over the past two months from 164 on 3 August to a new high of 1 231 cases on Saturday.

Authorities have blamed people's poor adherence to social distancing for the rise. The government does not disclose where in the seven emirates that make up the UAE the cases occur.

On Tuesday it recorded 1 061 new infections and 6 deaths.

The UAE has a high per capita rate of Covid-19 tests. The country has carried out more than 10 million tests so far, the government statistics authority says.

The six states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members have between them recorded 847 608 cases of infection with 7 419 deaths, a Reuters tally shows.

-Reuters


Defying critics, Trump says Americans are learning to live with Covid-19

Defying critics, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said Americans were learning to live with Covid-19, a day after returning to the White House for further intensive treatment after being hospitalized with the coronavirus.

Trump, who returned late on Monday after nearly four days at Walter Reed Medical Center outside Washington, was due to receive a fifth transfusion of the antiviral drug remdesivir while being treated with the steroid dexamethasone, normally used only in the most severe cases.

The Republican president, who is running against Democrat Joe Biden in an election four weeks away, has repeatedly played down the disease, which has killed more than 1 million people worldwide. The United States has the world's highest death toll from the pandemic, with more than 209 000 deaths.

"Many people every year, sometimes over 100 000, and despite the Vaccine, die from the Flu. Are we going to close down our Country? No, we have learned to live with it, just like we are learning to live with Covid, in most populations far less lethal!!!" Trump tweeted on Tuesday.

About 22 000 people are estimated to die from influenza in the 2019-2020 season, according to US government statistics. Even before he contracted Covid-19, Trump acknowledged in taped conversations with a journalist that the disease was deadlier than the flu.

White House physician Dr. Sean Conley has also stressed Trump would have world-class medical care available around the clock, something many health experts have noted is unavailable to millions of other Americans.

"Don't let it dominate you. Don't be afraid of it," Trump said in a video after his return on Monday night.

"I'm better, and maybe I'm immune - I don't know," he added, flanked by American flags and with the Washington Monument in the background. "Get out there. Be careful."

He returned to the White House in a made-for-television spectacle, descending from his Marine One helicopter wearing a white surgical mask, only to remove it as he posed, saluting and waving, on the mansion's South Portico.

Trump has repeatedly flouted social-distancing guidelines meant to curb the virus' spread and ignored his own medical advisers. He mocked Biden at last Tuesday's presidential debate for wearing a mask when campaigning.

"I was aghast when he said Covid should not be feared," said William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

"This is a disease that is killing around a thousand people a day, has torpedoed the economy, put people out of work. This is a virus that should be both respected and feared."

Democrats also weighed in. "This is a tragic failure of leadership," Democratic Senator Chris Coons tweeted.

But Trump depicted himself as a man who vanquished the disease and emerged stronger.

"If the President bounces back onto the campaign trail, he will be an invincible hero, who not only survived every dirty trick the Democrats threw at him, but the Chinese virus as well," he wrote on Twitter.

A Twitter post by Biden showed images of himself donning a mask and Trump removing his. "Masks Matter. They save lives," the caption read.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said every precaution was being taken to protect the president and his family. Physical access to Trump would be limited and appropriate protective equipment would be worn by those near him.

Questions swirled around the true state of Trump's health after a weekend when his doctors offered contradictory or opaque assessments of his condition.

His oxygen saturation dipped enough to require supplemental oxygen on Friday and Saturday, his doctors said, but have not answered key questions about his lung function, his blood work, or when he lasted tested negative.

Setback possible 

Many aides and confidants have been diagnosed with the disease since his announcement last week that he had tested positive for it, intensifying scrutiny and criticism of the administration's handling of the pandemic.

Trump had no public events listed for Tuesday and it was unclear when he would be able to resume a full schedule.

"I'm sure he'll rest the next two days. And he'll get going as soon as they say it's OK to get going," Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani told Fox News on Tuesday, adding that Trump would still do light work like making phone calls.

"You never know with this disease, but it seems like he is making a very rapid recovery and a strong one. And certainly his spirit is back. He's raring to go," Giuliani said.

Republican Senator Thom Tillis, who also tested positive for Covid-19 after a 26 September White House visit, said on Twitter that Trump called him Monday night and said he was "feeling great and working hard."

After recent opinion polls showed Trump slipping further behind Biden, early voting data indicated that nearly 4 million Americans have already cast ballots four week before election day, suggesting there may be a record turnout.

The severity of Trump's illness has been the subject of intense speculation, with some experts noting that, as an overweight, elderly man, he was in a high risk category.

#GaspingForAir began trending on Twitter after video showed Trump appearing to take several deep breaths while standing on the White House balcony.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN Trump looked good when he came out of the hospital, but noted that patients sometimes have a setback five days after they get sick.

"Sometimes when you're five days in you're going to have a reversal ... It's unlikely that it will happen, but they need to be heads-up [alert] for it," Fauci said.

-Reuters


Global coronavirus toll

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1 045 097 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP on Tuesday.

At least 35 537 050 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 24 571 900 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organisation (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases.

On Monday, 6 816 new deaths and 295 836 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were Mexico with 2 789 new deaths (though this spike reflects a new method of counting cases), followed by India with 884 and Argentina with 450.

The United States is the worst-hit country with 210 196 deaths from 7 458 982 cases. At least 2 935 142 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 146 675 deaths from 4 927,235 cases, India with 103 569 deaths from 6 685,082 cases, Mexico with 81 877 deaths from 789 780 cases, and United Kingdom with 42 369 deaths from 515 571 cases.

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Peru with 100 fatalities per 100 000 inhabitants, followed by Belgium with 87, Bolivia 70, Brazil 69 and Spain 69. China - excluding Hong Kong and Macau - has to date declared 85 482 cases (12 new since Monday), including 4 634 deaths and 80 635 recoveries.

Latin America and the Caribbean overall has 358 115 deaths from 9 710 17 cases, Europe 236 270 deaths from 5 874 335 infections, the United States and Canada 219 688 deaths from 7 626 997 cases, Asia 145 583 deaths from 8 672 807 cases, Middle East 47 804 deaths from 2 096 572 cases, Africa 36 651 deaths from 1 523 743 cases, and Oceania 986 deaths from 32 079 cases.

As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day's tallies.

-AFP


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