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Experimental COVID-19 Therapeutic Drug No Help to Patients with Advanced Stage of Virus

U.S. government researchers say an experimental COVID-19 therapeutic drug is not effective at treating patients hospitalized with an advanced stage of the novel coronavirus.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases issued a statement Monday saying it would no longer recruit new patients to take part in a clinical trial of the experimental drug, called bamlanivimab.

The drug, developed by U.S.-based drugmaker Eli Lilly and Canadian-based biotech firm AbCellera, is part of a class of treatments known as monoclonal antibodies, which are made to act as immune cells that scientists hope can fight off the virus. The antibody therapy was similar to one given to U.S. President Donald Trump after he tested positive for COVID-19 earlier this month.

The clinical trial was paused earlier this month by independent monitors because of safety concerns. The study, which launched in August, aimed to enroll 10,000 hospitalized coronavirus patients in the United States.

Eli Lilly has already applied to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency authorization for the drug to be used for mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 infections based on preliminary results from a different clinical trial.

The United States is in the midst of a dramatic surge of new COVID-19 cases, with more than 66,000 confirmed on Monday, according to data released by the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. The number of new infections has pushed several cities and states to a crisis point, including the southwestern city of El Paso, Texas, where the number of coronavirus patients has tripled to more than 800 patients over the past three weeks.

The situation has become so dire in the border city that officials have imposed a strict 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and a two-week stay-at-home order. The judge who issued the curfew order said the intensive care units in all of the city’s hospitals were completely full.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has unveiled plans to house between 50 to 100 patients in El Paso’s convention center, and has even inquired about housing non-coronavirus patients at a U.S. Army hospital in the area.

In the western state of Utah, a group representing the state’s hospitals have warned Gov. Gary Herbert that the facilities are reaching the point where they may have to start rationing care, where doctors would have to determine who could remain in the hospital based on factors such as age and overall health.

The situation is steadily improving in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, which posted a second consecutive day Tuesday with no new coronavirus infections. The initial milestone on Monday was the first COVID-19-free day since June 9.

Melbourne and the state of Victoria had been plagued by a massive spike of new coronavirus cases, peaking in August when daily new cases rose above 700. The resurgence of new cases has been blamed on security lapses at hotels where travelers were being quarantined after arriving from overseas.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews announced Monday that Melbourne’s five million citizens will be able to leave their homes effective Tuesday at midnight, and that all cafes, restaurants, bars, shops and hotels will be allowed to reopen.

Source: Voice of America

Long COVID-19 Lockdown Ends In Australia’s Second Most Populous City

SYDNEY – One of the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdowns is coming to an end in the Australian city of Melbourne. Beginning Tuesday, all shops, cafes and restaurants can re-open, and strict-stay-at home orders will be lifted. The lockdown was imposed in early July in response to a deadly second wave of infections.

Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, has for a second consecutive day recorded no new coronavirus infections or fatalities. A sustained fall in daily cases has allowed the authorities to end one of the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdowns in the city of Melbourne.

Starting on Tuesday, the retail and hospitality industries can reopen, although conditions still apply. Face coverings remain mandatory, and cafes and restaurants can serve a maximum of 20 people inside and 50 people outdoors.

Weddings can now proceed with up to 10 guests and funerals with 20 mourners. Strict stay-at-home orders imposed on Melbourne’s five million residents will end.

Victoria premier Daniel Andrews says now is the time to bring the lockdown to an end.

“We are able to say that now is the time to open up. This belongs to every single Victorian, every single Victorian who has followed the rules, stayed the course, worked with me and my team to bring this second wave to an end. But it is not over. This virus is not going away. It is going to continue to be a feature of our lives every day until a vaccine turns up. These are big steps,” Andrews said.

Victoria state has been at the center of Australia’s COVID-19 crisis. It has had the majority of infections and almost 90 per cent of the nation’s virus fatalities.

The lockdown has not been universally popular. Two people have been charged over an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne last week, including a woman who allegedly kicked a police horse.

The state government has been accused of being too cautious while jobs were lost and there are concerns that the mental health consequences will be dire.

Victoria’s conservative opposition leader is Michael O’Brien.

“There will be scars on the psyche of this state that will not heal. There are many, many people whose lives have changed permanently because of what they have had to endure over the last few months,” O’Brien said.

More than 27,500 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in Australia, and 905 people have died. The federal government has said there have been four critical parts to the nation’s response to the pandemic: the closure of its international borders to foreign travelers, widespread testing, reliable contact tracing and community respect for hygiene and physical distancing protocols.

Victoria’s state government has indicated it plans to ease other restrictions in early November that are likely to include reopening gyms and allowing residents to travel more than 25 kilometers from home.

As Melbourne’s lockdown comes to an end, there is immense relief and celebration among residents, or as local media have put it, there have been “cheers, tears and beers.”

Source: Voice of America

Nigerians Justify Massive Looting of COVID-19 Supplies

ABUJA, NIGERIA – Amid the ongoing protests in Nigeria over police brutality, mobs of citizens have overrun several government-owned warehouses and looted food meant to be distributed during this year’s coronavirus lockdowns. In the latest incident, a mob looted packages of rice, sugar, salt and noodles Monday from a facility in the Nigerian capital.On Saturday, security officials dispersed mobs at another storage facility under attack in Abuja.

Some protesters were demonstrating in front of a facility in Garki, Abuja, as military and police vans barricaded the entrance to the facility.

Earlier, mobs of people trying to attack the facility and make away with some food items were dispersed after security officials fired their guns into the air.

But many, like David Ojo, remained adamant and said they wouldn’t leave until they got some food.

“We need our palliatives. It is our right. My neighbor almost died of hunger because of COVID-19,” said Ojo. “He used to work as security guard at a government institution, but he was sacked. What do you want him to do? I gave him beans and rice, he almost died of hunger.”

Storage facilities holding tons of relief materials have been burglarized and looted in nine states across Nigeria over the last few days.

A private sector coalition against the coronavirus, known as CA-COVID, had collected tens of millions of dollars’ worth of aid for coronavirus victims and given it to the government.

But many state authorities have halted distribution of the aid since the easing of lockdowns.

Some Nigerians accuse authorities of hoarding items while millions of people experience hunger.

Abuja residents like Sunday Chukwu say they didn’t receive any government assistance during lockdowns.

“They didn’t share anything here,” said Chukwu. “Maybe they shared for themselves. But they didn’t share for everybody and these ones now they are hiding it so that people may leave it, they’ll now gather them, they’ll be selling it to the people.”

The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated hunger for many of the country’s extremely poor, who number some 83 million, about 40 percent of the population, according to the country’s statistics bureau.

Vivian Bellonwu, the head of Social Action Nigeria, says the amount of food kept in storage is an indication of “systemic failure.”

“To think that certain persons could lock down this quantum of food and materials as we are seeing them in their premises, in their custody and watching while people wallow in poverty and difficulty, is really unthinkable,” said Bellonwu. “I think that it is quite mean, I think it’s highly insensitive and I think that this is a betrayal of trust of the people.”

The Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) on Monday said the looted items in warehouses in some states were being held for vulnerable people, not hoarded.

As security officials monitor facilities across Nigeria more closely, various state authorities are making plans to commence distribution.

Source: Voice of America

European Markets Nosedive Monday as Global Coronavirus Cases Rise

European markets were falling Monday as investors appeared increasingly uncertain about the outlook of the global economy due to a resurgence of coronavirus cases across Europe and the United States.

Britain’s benchmark FTSE index was down 0.2% at the midway point of the trading day. The CAC-40 index in France lost 0.4%, and Germany’s DAX index plunged 2.2%.

Markets in the Asia-Pacific rim ended mostly lower earlier Monday. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei index finished its trading session down 22 points, but unchanged percentage-wise.

The S&P/ASX index in Australia lost 0.1%. Shanghai’s Composite index was 0.8% lower. South Korea’s KOSPI index dropped 0.7%, while in South Asia, Mumbai’s Sensex plunged 1.3%.

In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index gained 0.5%, and in Taiwan, the TSEC index finished up 10 points, but was unchanged percentage-wise.

In commodities trading, gold was selling at $1,906.20, up one point. U.S. crude oil was selling at $39.10 per barrel, down 1.8%, and Brent crude was selling at $41.05 per barrel, down 1.7%.

All three major U.S. indices were trending negatively in futures trading as investors awaited the opening bell on Wall Street.

Source: Voice of America

Coronavirus Pandemic Casts Pall Over Asian Markets??

Asian markets are mixed Monday as investors appear to be reacting with uncertainty over the resurgence of COVID-19 across Europe and the United States.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei index ended its trading session down 22 points, but unchanged percentage-wise. The S&P/ASX index in Australia lost 0.1%. South Korea’s KOSPI index dropped 0.7.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 0.5%. Taiwan’s TSEC index was up 10 points, but was unchanged percentage-wise.

In late afternoon trading, Shanghai’s Composite index was 0.8% lower, and Mumbai’s Sensex was down one percent.

In commodities trading, gold was selling at $1,898.20, down 0.3%. U.S. crude oil is selling at $38.90 per barrel, down 2.3%, and Brent crude is selling at $40.83 per barrel, down 2.2%.

All three major U.S. indices are trending negatively in futures trading.

Source: Voice of America

White House: US ‘Not Going to Control the Pandemic’

WASHINGTON – With the coronavirus surging in the United States again, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows declared Sunday that the country is “not going to control the pandemic.”

But Meadows told CNN, “We are going to control the fact that we get vaccines, therapeutics and other mitigation areas.”

In a contentious interview with television anchor Jake Tapper, Meadows defended President Donald Trump’s handling of the pandemic in the U.S. nine days ahead of Trump’s re-election bid on Nov. 3 against Democratic challenger Joe Biden.

“Where we’re at today, we’re much better off. The president has done it all,” Meadows claimed, while contending that Biden “would lock everyone down.”

Biden, leading Trump in most national and state-by-state polls in key battleground states, immediately assailed Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, saying that he has proven himself incapable of controlling the outbreak.

“This wasn’t a slip by Meadows,” Biden said in a statement. “It was a candid acknowledgement of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away. It hasn’t, and it won’t.”

Biden added, “It’s long past time for President Trump and his administration to listen to the scientists, take action, and finally take seriously the threat of a virus that’s costing thousands of lives each week, shuttering our schools, and forcing millions of Americans out of work.”

The U.S. has now recorded a world-leading total of nearly 225,000 deaths and almost 8.6 million infections, according to Johns Hopkins University. Most worrisome is the sharp increase in the number of new cases, up by 32% to more than 68,000 a day in the last week and to nearly 84,000 on Saturday.

Numerous Trump administration officials have been inconsistent regarding advice from government health experts to wear masks and socially distance themselves from other people. Late Saturday, officials announced that Marc Short, the chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence, and a handful of other Pence aides have contracted the virus.

Trump is in the midst of daily campaign political rallies where few of his supporters wear masks, often only those seated in several rows of raised seats behind Trump within sight of television cameras but not those crowded in front of the president.

Meadows said the Trump campaign passes out face masks at rallies but does not mandate wearing them.

“It’s a free society,” Meadows said, leaving mask-wearing up to individuals. Trump rarely is seen in public wearing a mask, although Biden frequently does and often campaigns in front of small groups of supporters or virtually.

Meadows said the U.S. isn’t going to get the pandemic under control “because it is a contagious virus just like the flu.” But he said the Trump administration is “making efforts to contain it.”

“What we need to do is make sure that we have the proper mitigation factors, whether it’s therapies or vaccines or treatments to make sure that people don’t die from this,” Meadows said.

Pence continues to campaign and both he and second lady Karen Pence tested negative for coronavirus on Sunday, the White House said, despite his frequent close proximity to Short.

“I spoke to the vice president last night at midnight and I can tell you that what he is doing is wearing a mask, socially distancing and when he goes up to speak he will take the mask off and (later) put it back on,” Meadows said.

He said that Pence would continue with travel plans because he is “essential personnel.”

“I’m not saying he is not campaigning,” Meadows said. “I’m saying that is only part of what he is doing and as we look at that, ‘essential personnel,’ whether it’s the vice president of the United States or anyone else, has to continue on.”

Pence is traveling Sunday to the battleground state of North Carolina for a rally and plans to campaign in other states this week.

Source: Voice of America

US Sets New Daily Record for Coronavirus Infections

The United States has set a daily record for coronavirus cases as a new surge of the virus raises fears for a further increase during the cold fall and winter months.

According to Johns Hopkins University, at least 83,757 cases were reported across the U.S. On Friday, breaking a single-day record set July 16 by more than 6,000 cases.

With surges in northern Rocky Mountain states and the upper Midwest, the U.S. continued to lead the world Saturday in coronavirus infections, with nearly 8.5 million, and in COVID-19 deaths, with more than 224,000, according to Johns Hopkins.

A new estimate by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation Friday said the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could surpass a half-million by February unless nearly all Americans wear face masks.

It said the number of possible deaths could drop by 130,000 if 95% of Americans would wear face coverings.

The U.S. surge is similar to widespread spikes in Europe, where Paris, Rome and other large cities are imposing increasingly stringent measures to contain the spread of the virus.

The European Union’s disease control agency, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, has joined the World Health Organization to sound the alarm over a new surge of the COVID-19 virus across the continent, as the WHO warned that the infection is rising exponentially.

ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said Europe is facing a major threat to public health and a “highly concerning epidemiological situation.”

All EU countries except Cyprus, Estonia, Finland and Greece fell into a “serious concern” category, as did Britain, the agency said.

France surpassed 1 million confirmed coronavirus cases on Friday, registering a record 42,032 cases in 24 hours. France became the second Western European country after Spain and the seventh country worldwide to pass that milestone, after the U.S., India, Brazil, Russia, Argentina and Spain.

As of Saturday, 10 of Spain’s 17 regions had asked the central government to declare a state of emergency to allow them to curtail the movement of people to contain the resurgent epidemic. The country reported 1,046,132 new cases on Friday, the highest number in Western Europe, as the death toll there approaches 38,000.

Poland is also seeing a sharp increase in infections, with 13,628 new cases reported Saturday. Polish President Andrzej Duda is among those who have tested positive, officials announced Saturday, as the country imposed more lockdown measures Saturday including a two-week closure of bars and restaurants and students beyond third grade moving to distance learning.

As coronavirus infections in Belgium continue to reach record highs, authorities ordered the closure of the country’s cultural facilities on Saturday and announced a longer curfew beginning Monday. Brussels, home to the European Union and NATO, is among the country’s hardest-hit regions. Belgium has one of the world’s highest per capita fatality rates, with more than 10,600 total deaths.

Germany’s death toll passed 10,000, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Saturday, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country increased by 14,714 to 418,005.

Russia reported 16,521 new cases of infection with the coronavirus on Saturday after hitting a record high of over 17,300 on Friday.

In Greece, authorities imposed a nightly curfew Saturday in the Athens area and in other regions of the country with high infection rates and made it mandatory to wear face masks indoors and outdoors. The country has so far avoided the worst of the virus, reporting a relatively low 29,000 total cases and 559 deaths.

Hundreds of demonstrators in Naples, Italy, protested late Friday against a new regional curfew. Demonstrators threw smoke bombs and police responded with tear gas. Italy reached a new daily high Friday of nearly 20,000 coronavirus cases.

Researchers around the world are racing to develop a safe and effective vaccine against COVID-19, which has killed more than 1.1 million globally and sickened more than 42 million.

Source: Voice of America