The Latest: WHO’s director in Europe urges nations to keep up quarantines

Noble Horvath

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the U.S. and the world. GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s European director warned national governments Thursday against reducing the quarantine period for people potentially exposed to the coronavirus, even as he acknowledged that COVID-19 “fatigue” was setting in with growing public resistance […]

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic from around the U.S. and the world.

GENEVA — The World Health Organization’s European director warned national governments Thursday against reducing the quarantine period for people potentially exposed to the coronavirus, even as he acknowledged that COVID-19 “fatigue” was setting in with growing public resistance to the measures needed to control the pandemic.

Dr. Hans Kluge said that “even a slight reduction in the length of the quarantine” could have a significant effect on the spread of the virus which returned to “alarming rates of transmission” in Europe this month.

Kluge insisted that countries should only reduce the standard two-week quarantine period if it was scientifically justified. He offered to convene scientific discussions on the issue, if necessary.

WHO Europe’s 53-country region recorded more than 300,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the last week, and more than half of the countries reported a rise of more than 10 percent in cases over the last two weeks, he said. Of those countries, seven had their cases jump by more than two-fold.

Such statistics should be “a wake-up call for all of us,” Kluge said.

He called for “regional coherence” and said that Europe’s response has been effective when “prompt and resolute. But the virus has shown (to be) merciless whenever partisanship and disinformation prevailed.”

Read the full story here.

Vaccine leaders disclose clinical trial details in transparency push

Makers of two of the leading coronavirus virus candidates disclosed detailed information about their pivotal late-stage clinical trials and how they plan to gauge their shots’ safety and effectiveness.

The moves by Moderna Inc., as well as Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE, follow increasing worry that the effort to develop a COVID-19 vaccine is becoming politicized, and that an inoculation could be rushed to market before it is proven safe and effective.

Moderna released its plan ahead of an early Thursday morning investor meeting. It also said its trial has now enrolled 25,296 of an expected 30,000 volunteers, and more than 10,000 have received two doses of the vaccine. Hours later, Pfizer Inc. followed Moderna’s move, releasing its detailed trial plan, a 137-page document that details under what circumstances the trial could generate early efficacy results.

While the broad outlines of major drug trials are available on a U.S. government website, details of how and when monitoring boards overseeing the trials plan to analyze data are often kept confidential by pharmaceutical companies.

However, the unprecedented push to get a vaccine to market quickly has increased interest in those details. The analysis of findings and what the rules are for stopping a trial if there are encouraging early signals could determine how quickly a shot receives emergency authorization from U.S. regulators.

Moderna decided to release its full trial plan to create public confidence that it is doing everything it can to ensure a vaccine is safe and effective, said Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel.

“We have been working nine months to try to stop this virus by getting a vaccine to market,” Bancel said in an interview. “We want to make sure the general public has trust in vaccines by being transparent.”

Bancel said the most likely scenario was that Moderna’s vaccine could generate preliminary efficacy data in November. It is “technically possible” for Moderna to get results in October, but this is unlikely, he said.

Under the Moderna plan, a data monitoring board will take a preliminary look at the efficacy results after 53 participants have contracted the coronavirus, and again after 106 cases are reached. The final analysis will occur after 151 cases, according to slides from the investor meeting.

Moderna’s plan is more conservative than the 32-case benchmark being used by Pfizer Inc. for its first preliminary analysis of the COVID-19 vaccine it’s developing with partner BioNTech SE. Pfizer has said conclusive efficacy results are likely by the end of October. The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment early in the day.

CVS to double number of pharmacy coronavirus testing sites

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS Health is doubling the number of drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites at its pharmacy locations around the country, the company said in a statement Thursday.

The Woonsocket, Rhode Island, company plans to add more than 2,000 testing sites for a total of more than 4,000 by mid-October.

The first 400 of the new testing sites are scheduled to open Friday. The existing sites have already performed about 3 million tests.

“Since opening our first test site in March, we’ve been able to quickly adapt to the changing landscape in order to make it easier for people in the communities we serve to access testing,” Jon Roberts, acting president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.

The self-swab tests, available only by appointment, are conducted under the supervision of a qualified CVS employee. Most test results collected at CVS are available within two or three days.

Attorney General William Barr compares stay-at-home orders to slavery 

Attorney General William P. Barr on Wednesday railed against pandemic constraints implemented by some state governors and compared restrictions on church gatherings and various stay-at-home orders to slavery.

Barr made those comments during an appearance at Hillsdale College, a conservative school in Michigan, where he blasted his own Justice Department, accused career staffers of political interference and asserted his authority as the top U.S. prosecutor to overrule them.

Shortly after his criticism of the department staffers, Barr addressed a question over the constitutional issues surrounding pandemic shutdown measures that prevent people from attending church. The attorney general compared such stay-at-home orders to house arrest but then went a step further.

“Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” Barr said.

Public health experts have credited the shutdown measures taken in March and April in particular with helping parts of the United States experiencing the worst of the outbreak “flatten the curve” and in most areas, preventing the number of patients needing hospitalization from covid-19 from reaching catastrophic levels.

Barr’s comments drew applause at the event but were criticized by writers and historians after news of his remarks were reported.

Historian Jon Meacham called Barr’s comments “incendiary hyperbole” that were also plainly political, meant to activate “paranoia and fear” in President Trump’s base.

Meacham, speaking to CNN on Thursday, suggested those who agree with Barr’s remarks read about the Alien and Sedition Acts or about Japanese Americans interned in concentration camps during World War II.

“If you think this is akin to slavery, you obviously never suffered under the burden of slavery in real time,” Meacham said.

Infection rates soar in college towns

MUNCIE, Ind.  — Just two weeks after students started returning to Ball State University last month, the surrounding county had become Indiana’s coronavirus epicenter.

Out of nearly 600 students tested for the virus, more than half have been positive. Dozens of infections have been blamed on off-campus parties, prompting university officials to admonish students.

University President Geoffrey Mearns wrote that the cases apparently were tied not to classrooms or dormitories but to “poor personal choices some students are making, primarily off campus.”

Out of nearly 600 students tested for the virus at Ball State, more than half have been found positive. Associated Press/Michael Conroy

“The actions of these students are putting our planned on-campus instruction and activities at risk,” he said.

Similar examples abound in other college towns across the nation. Among the 50 large U.S. counties with the highest percentages of student residents, 20 have consistently reported higher rates of new virus cases than their states have since Sept. 1, according to an Associated Press analysis.

On average, infection rates in those 20 counties have been more than three times higher than their states’ overall rates.

At James Madison University in Virginia, which recently sent students home through September amid a surge in cases, the county is averaging a weekly infection rate of nearly 90 cases per 100,000 people, or more than eight times the statewide average.

Health officials fear that surges among college students will spread to more vulnerable people — older ones and those with underlying health problems — and trigger a new wave of cases and hospitalizations. Some worry that colleges could overwhelm hospitals already bracing for increasing cases of COVID-19 and flu this fall and winter.

Read the full story.

Moderna releases COVID-19 vaccine trial plan as enrollment tops 25,000

Moderna Inc. released details of its plan for analyzing data from its COVID-19 vaccine trial, offering an unusual under-the-hood look at the study of a top vaccine candidate.

In a statement ahead of an investor meeting the company is holding on Thursday, Moderna said the trial has now enrolled 25,296 of an expected 30,000 volunteers, and more than 10,000 have received two doses of the vaccine.

While the broad outlines of major drug trials are available on a U.S. government website, details of how and when data-monitoring boards overseeing the trials plan to analyze data are often kept confidential by pharmaceutical companies.

However, the unprecedented push to get a vaccine to market quickly has increased interest in those details. The analysis of findings and what the rules are for stopping a trial if there are encouraging early signals could determine how quickly a shot receives emergency authorization from U.S. regulators.

Virus_Outbreak_Vaccine_Pledge_89910

A nurse prepares a shot as a study of a possible COVID-19 vaccine, developed by the National Institutes of Health and Moderna Inc., gets underway in Binghamton, N.Y. in July. AP Photo/Hans Pennink

The shares gained 2% to $70.20 in pre-market trading in New York. They’ve more than tripled since the beginning of the year.

Moderna decided to release its full trial plan to create public confidence that it is doing everything it can to ensure a vaccine is safe and effective, said Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel.

“We have been working nine months to try to stop this virus by getting a vaccine to market,” Bancel said in an interview. “We want to make sure the general public has trust in vaccines by being transparent.”

Under the Moderna plan, a data monitoring board will take a preliminary look at the efficacy results after 53 participants have contracted the coronavirus, and again after 106 cases are reached. The final analysis will occur after 151 cases, according to slides from the investor meeting.

Moderna’s plan is more conservative than the 32-case benchmark being used by Pfizer Inc. for its first preliminary analysis of its Covid-19 vaccine. Pfizer has said conclusive efficacy results are likely by the end of October.

According to a slide being presented at the meeting, Moderna’s trial is only likely to generate clear positive results at the first analysis if it turns out to be very highly effective, reducing COVID-19 cases by 74% or more.

If the vaccine turns out to be a more modest 60% effective, the trial might have to proceed to the final efficacy readout in order to generate clear results, according to the 135-page trial protocol.

Read the full story here.

Europe facing ‘very serious situation’ with coronavirus cases again increasing, WHO says

A top World Health Organization official warned Thursday of a “very serious situation” stemming from a resurgence of the coronavirus in Europe, with cases again sharply swinging upward after having been under control for much of the summer.

“More than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10 percent increase in the last two weeks,” Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, told reporters at a briefing. The caseload in seven countries has doubled in the past two weeks, he said.

Visitors crowd a beach in Binz, Germany on Wednesday. Stefan Sauer/dpa via Associated Press

“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region,” Kluge said. He said the rising numbers should serve as a “wake-up call for all of us” to be more vigilant about the transmission of the disease. For now, he said, the bulk of the increase has been among younger, generally more resilient portions of Europe’s population, but he said numbers for older and more vulnerable people are also increasing.

“We have fought it back before, and we can fight it back again,” he said.

BERLIN — Germany has recorded its largest single-day increase in new coronavirus infections since late April, underlining an upward trend over recent weeks.

The Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s national disease control center, said Thursday that 2,194 new cases were reported over the past day. That is still far below the figures of over 6,000 seen at the height of the pandemic’s first wave at the beginning of April, but new cases were down to a few hundred a day between May and July.

Germany has now recorded more than 265,000 cases in total, with over 9,300 deaths. It is still in a better position than several other European countries as infections rebound in many places.

On Wednesday evening, the Robert Koch Institute added the Austrian capital, Vienna, and the Hungarian capital, Budapest, along with more regions of France, Croatia, the Netherlands, Romania, Switzerland and the Czech Republic to a long list of “risk areas” that already includes the Belgian capital, Brussels, and the whole of Spain.

People arriving from those areas must undergo a COVID-19 test and quarantine until the results are in.

Africa in talks on virus vaccine trials

JOHANNESBURG — Africa’s top public health official says the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been in talks with nine vaccine manufacturers about potential coronavirus vaccine clinical trials on the continent.

John Nkengasong says the talks include the Oxford University group that’s developing a vaccine with drug company AstraZeneca and already has a clinical trial in South Africa.

The African Union’s 54 member states want to secure more than 10 late-stage COVID-19 vaccine clinical trials in Africa. They’re motivated by memories of watching millions die while years passed before affordable drugs or vaccines for diseases reached the continent of 1.3 billion people.

Health experts say COVID-19 vaccine trials must include Africans to make sure any effective vaccine can be rolled out quickly in Africa along with the rest of the world.

Nkengasong warns that a vaccine will not be a “magic bullet,” saying the world has never been able to vaccinate even 500 million people in a single year. Africa has more than 1.3 million confirmed virus cases, including more than 33,000 deaths, and new cases have slowed in recent weeks.

Australian air carrier’s seven-hour scenic ‘flight to nowhere’ sells out in 10 minutes

A seven-hour “flight to nowhere” advertised by Australian airline Qantas sold out within 10 minutes on Thursday, the carrier told Reuters.

To comply with restrictions on interstate travel, the flight will depart Sydney on Oct. 10 and return on the same day, with no stops along the way. But passengers are promised views of the Great Barrier Reef, the Uluru monolith and the Australian outback as the plane flies over the country at low altitudes.

Australia’s Great Barrier reef Associated Press

The 134 available seats quickly vanished at prices that ranged from $787 to $3,787 in Australian dollars, the equivalent of $575 and $2,765, according to Reuters. “It’s probably the fastest-selling flight in Qantas history,” a spokeswoman for the airline said. “People clearly miss travel and the experience of flying. If the demand is there, we’ll definitely look at doing more of these scenic flights while we all wait for borders to open.”

With international trips out of the question for the conceivable future, airlines in several countries, including Japan and Taiwan, have started offering sightseeing flights as a way to make up for dramatic shortfalls in revenue. Environmental groups have raised concerns about the growing trend, pointing out that carbon emissions from air travel are a major contributing factor to the worsening climate crisis. Qantas has promised to pay for carbon offsets to alleviate the impact of the seven-hour flight, according to Reuters, but will still be burning up significant amounts of fuel for what’s hardly a necessary trip.

Last month, Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said that the coronavirus pandemic had led to the worst financial climate in the company’s 100-year history and that it was unlikely that international flights would resume before summer 2021. The airline lost 4 billion Australian dollars — roughly $2.9 billion — during fiscal year 2020.

Poll workers in Missouri county told to ‘act surprised’ if confronted about lack of masks

Poll workers in one Missouri county were told that they could remove their masks during the November election — but should “act surprised” if confronted by a voter, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and other local media outlets reported.

A recruiter for the elections authority in St. Charles County, which is located in suburban St. Louis, told volunteers in a Wednesday email that they could keep their masks handy on a lanyard or dangling from one ear. But they should cover up “when a voter says something to you about not wearing a face mask or not wearing it correctly,” the notice stated.

“You may act surprised that you don’t have a face mask on properly and then apologize as you put the mask on,” the email said. “Wear your mask correctly until the voter leaves the polling place. Please do this every time a voter says something to you.”

Kurt Bahr, the county’s election director, told the Post-Dispatch on Wednesday that the guidance had been misinterpreted, and the authority “missed the mark in what we were intending to communicate.” Previously, masks had been encouraged but not required; now, poll workers must put them on if a voter asks or otherwise mentions their absence, he said.

“The goal is to say to ‘put the mask on without arguing and then move on,’” he said. “We used the word ‘act surprised,’ but we could have said ‘act apologetic.’”

Boris Johnson warns tougher measures required to ‘protect’ the Christmas holidays

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has warned that authorities will have to impose tougher measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 and “protect’’ the Christmas holidays.

Johnson’s comments come amid reports that the government is set to impose a 10 p.m. curfew on pubs and restaurants in northern England in response to a recent jump in infections.

Writing in the Sun newspaper on Thursday, Johnson says the only way to be certain the country can enjoy Christmas “is to be tough now.’’

He says that he wants to “stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump.”

Over the past two days, opposition lawmakers criticized Johnson’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis, accusing the government of lacking a cohesive plan to tackle the second wave of the pandemic.

Figures released late Wednesday showed 3,991 new confirmed U.K. infections during the previous 24 hours, up from 3,105 a day earlier.

Travelers to Hawaii may bypass quarantine with a test

HONOLULU — Hawaii’s governor says that starting Oct. 15, travelers arriving from out of state may bypass a 14-day quarantine requirement if they test negative for the coronavirus.

Gov. David Ige said Wednesday that travelers will have to take the test within 72 hours before their flight arrives in the islands. Ige says drug store operator CVS and healthcare provider Kaiser Permanente will conduct the tests.

The state has previously delayed the start of the pre-travel testing program twice as COVID-19 cases spiked on the U.S. mainland and in Hawaii.

Leaders hope pre-travel testing will encourage tourists to return while keeping residents safe. Tourism traffic to the state has plunged more than 90% during the pandemic, closing hundreds of hotels and putting many people out of work.


Use the form below to reset your password. When you’ve submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.


« Previous


Next »

Next Post

Jos Buttler says competition for places in English side pushing him to do well

© Provided by Firstpost England vs Australia: Jos Buttler says competition for places in English side pushing him to do well Southampton: Jos Buttler said the competition for places in England’s Twenty20 side had been “driving me” after his superb unbeaten 77 sealed a series-clinching win over Australia at Southampton […]