Nurse Christina poses with a nasal swab at JFK International Airport’s Terminal 4 XpresCheck the first airport-based covid-19 testing facility in the US on June 29, 2020. (PHOTO / AFP)
LA PAZ / MEXICO CITY / BRASILIA / DUBLIN / OTTAWA / BOGOTA / PARIS / WASHINGTON / HARARE / KINSHASA / PRAGUE / MOSCOW / MADRID - Pfizer Inc and German biotech firm BioNTech SE will get US$1.95 billion from the US government to produce and deliver 100 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate, the companies said on Wednesday.
The agreement allows the US government to acquire an additional 500 million doses, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense said.
The Trump administration has agreed to spend billions of dollars for the development and procurement of a potential vaccine. The administration launched ‘Operation Warp Speed’ — a joint HHS and Department of Defense program — to accelerate the development of coronavirus vaccines, treatments and diagnostics.
More than 150 coronavirus vaccines using a variety of technologies are in development globally, with some two dozen already in human trials. Governments have signed deals with drugmakers to secure the supply of various vaccine candidates.
The aim is to produce vaccines that can end the pandemic by protecting billions of people from infection or severe illness.
Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate is among those that are set to be tested in a large trial. The vaccine has shown promise in early-stage small studies in humans.
Pfizer will deliver the doses if the product receives Emergency Use Authorization or licensure from the US Food and Drug Administration, after completing demonstration of safety and efficacy in a large Phase 3 clinical trial.
The companies said they expect to be ready to seek some form of regulatory approval as early as October, if the ongoing studies are successful.
US President Donald Trump said Tuesday afternoon that the coronavirus pandemic in the United States will probably "get worse before it gets better".
Trump made the remarks in his first press briefing at the White House on the pandemic in nearly three months.
The United States reported more than 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, marking the first time since June 10 the nation has surpassed that grim milestone, as California closed in on passing New York in total infections.
More than 3.8 million people in the United States have infected with the virus, with nearly 142,000 deaths, according to a count by Johns Hopkins University, as some states, including Florida, are seeing a surge in cases.
State epidemiologist Anders Tegnell of the Public Health Agency of Sweden, speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 situation, in Stockholm, Sweden, July 21, 2020. (ERIK SIMANDER / TT VIA AP)
Sweden’s top health authority has said that people who have had the novel coronavirus are likely to be immune for at least six months after being infected, whether they’ve developed antibodies or not.
In new guidance published on Tuesday, the Swedish Public Health Agency said it’s now considered safe for individuals who’ve been infected to come into contact with people in high-risk groups. “We don’t see cases of people falling ill twice from COVID-19,” state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said during a press conference in Stockholm. “Hence, our assessment is that if you do get COVID-19 you are immune, even if you don’t develop antibodies.”
But the agency also said that people deemed to be immune can still act as carriers of the virus in society, and must therefore continue to observe social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
Meanwhile, Tegnell said he expects a vaccine to be ready for distribution in Sweden “sometime during the first half of 2021,” barring setbacks in the development process.
Sweden has so far reported 78,166 confirmed cases and 5,646 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally.
Global COVID-19 cases topped topped 14.9 million and the global death toll surpassed 616,000 Wednesday, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The United States is the worst-hit nation, with more than 3.9 million confirmed cases and 142,000 deaths.
Other countries with more than 250,000 cases include Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa, Peru, Chile, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Spain.
Africa's tally rose from 720,622 to 736,288 while the toll climbed from 15,082 to 15,418 on Tuesday, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
WHO: Worrying trends in southern Europe, Balkans
Worrying trends of coronavirus infection are emerging in southern Europe and in the Balkan region, Mike Ryan, head of the World Health Organization's (WHO) emergencies programme, said on Wednesday.
"Obviously the Americas is clearly still the major hot spot, North, Central and South America, but we have disease beginning to accelerate in Africa," Ryan told the Newstalk radio station in his native Ireland.
"Also, even in Europe, while certainly in western Europe the disease has come under control, we still have some worrying trends in southern Europe and the Balkans so we're not out of the woods just yet in the European environment. It requires sustained vigilance."
PAHO: No signs of slowing down in the Americas
The novel coronavirus pandemic is showing "no signs of slowing down" in the Americas, the Pan American Health Organization's (PAHO) director said on Tuesday, with the virus landing in Guianese shield countries on the continent's northeastern coast and surges in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru.
Carissa Etienne said at a virtual briefing from PAHO's Washington headquarters that because of the high burden of infectious diseases and chronic conditions in the Americas, three out of 10 people - 325 million - were at "increased risk" of developing complications from COVID-19.
She highlighted 900,000 new cases and nearly 22,000 deaths reported in the region over the past week, most of them in Brazil, Mexico and the United States.
Algerian Health Minister Abderrahman Benbouzid revealed on Tuesday that about 2,300 healthcare workers in the country have been infected with COVID-19, of which 44 had died since the pandemic outbreak.
Nationwide, the country has reported 24,278 confirmed cases and 1,100 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
Belarus reported 135 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, taking its infection tally to 66,348, according to the country's health ministry.
Four more deaths were reported over the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to 507, the ministry said.
It added that 58,592 people have recovered so far, including 302 newly reported cases of recovery in the last 24 hours.
Bolivians desperate to avoid or cure COVID-19 are ingesting chlorine dioxide, which the senate has approved as a treatment even as the country's health ministry says people should stay away from it.
Chlorine dioxide is a bleach-like substance that the US Food and Drug Administration has warned consumers can jeopardize health and should not be purchased or drunk as a medical treatment.
But in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba - where the provincial government has approved its use - some shoppers said they believed the substance could help. Others said they were confused about the advice they had been given.
Bolivia has confirmed 60,991 cases of the coronavirus nationwide, 2,218 of which have been fatal.
"We have already drawn up a resolution that says this substance is not approved, that it is not suitable for human consumption and that it can have serious consequences," Dr. Rene Sahonero, an adviser to the health ministry, said, adding that cases of chlorine dioxide poisoning had been reported.
Despite the ministry warning, the country's senate passed a bill last week approving the use of chlorine dioxide to prevent and treat the coronavirus. That must pass the lower chamber and survive a veto challenge before it becomes law.
Commuters wearing masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic wait at a bus stop in Ceilandia, one of the neighborhoods most affected by the new coronavirus in Brasilia, Brazil, July 21, 2020. (ERALDO PERES / AP)
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Tuesday that he took another coronavirus test and the results were expected Wednesday as he hopes for a negative result two weeks since falling ill.
Bolsonaro is one of nearly 2.2 million people in Brazil who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, according to health ministry statistics released on Tuesday.
Brazil recorded 41,008 newly confirmed cases in the past 24 hours as well as 1,367 related deaths, the ministry said. The official death toll now stands at 81,487, according to ministry data.
With the toll of the pandemic rising rapidly, Brazil is also a major center for testing potential vaccines for the virus. On Tuesday, human trials of a second vaccine began and the government approved trials of a third.
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Bulgaria doubled in less than four weeks, reaching 9,254, official figures showed on Wednesday morning.
The health ministry said 325 new cases were registered in the last 24 hours, the second highest daily increase since Bulgaria reported its first COVID-19 case on March 8.
The number of recoveries from COVID-19 rose by 316 to 4,521 while the death toll increased by 308 to 313, the ministry said.
Canada's recent increase in coronavirus infections was expected as the economy reopens, a senior medical official said on Tuesday, while expressing concern about young people contracting the virus.
The daily case count across Canada is around 460, compared with 300 earlier this month. Officials in major cities attribute the spike in part to young people gathering in bars and at parties. Howard Njoo, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, said young adults made up around 55 percent of new cases, compared with one third in May.
The premier of Ontario, the most-populous Canadian province, said he was concerned by an uptick in cases among people under 39, blaming a small number of young people "going hog wild".
The western province of Alberta is also seeing a spike in cases. Premier Jason Kenney said, however, that it would fully reopen schools this autumn.
Canada has recorded 111,124 cases and 8,858 deaths.
Croatian Minister of Public Administration Ivan Malenica has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Croatian government announced on Tuesday.
Malenica, who will continue his job as minister in the new cabinet of Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, developed mild symptoms and received a test in Zagreb on Monday. The minister is feeling well and has continued to work in self-isolation.
Croatia has so far reported 4,422 confirmed cases and 123 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The number of active coronavirus infections topped 5,000 in the Czech Republic for the first time after labs reported the highest daily rise in nearly a month, the health ministry said on Wednesday.
Authorities had reported 212 new cases by Tuesday night, bringing the total number of active cases to 5,046. Total cases including those who have recovered or died reached 14,324.
The central European country of 10.7 million has reported 360 deaths.
The total number of people in hospitals was 148 as of Tuesday night, a dozen more since the weekend, but still a third of the peak of 446 in April.
The state of health emergency against the COVID-19 pandemic across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will be lifted from Wednesday, President Felix Tshisekedi announced on Tuesday.
According to the Tshisekedi, commercial activities including the reopening of banks, restaurants and bars, as well as rallies and demonstrations will be allowed to resume across the country from Wednesday.
Stadiums, performance halls, places of worship, ports, airports and borders are authorized to open from Aug 15 across the country. Interprovincial migratory movement will also be allowed from Aug 15.
Meanwhile, funeral ceremonies remain prohibited.
The DRC has registered a total of 8,533 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 196 deaths and 4,528 recoveries.
Ecuador's indigenous groups in the Amazon have launched an information dashboard to monitor the coronavirus and identify contagion hotspots as the disease spreads through the rainforest and threatens ancient cultures, a leading rights group said on Tuesday.
The dashboard, a collection of charts that aggregates coronavirus data, shows COVID-19 infection and death rates and suspected and recovered cases by area and tribe since early May, said The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), which gathered the information.
According to data on the dashboard, COVID-19 cases among the 10 indigenous nations tracked have increased to 1,733 from 47 since May 15.
Ecuador has reported about 4,500 confirmed COVID-19 cases, including nearly 150 deaths among indigenous people, according to PAHO.
Across Ecuador, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of nearly 5,500 people and infected about 76,000 others.
Egypt on Tuesday reported 47 additional deaths from COVID-19, the lowest reported daily increase in deaths since June 13, bringing the overall death toll to 4,399.
The Health Ministry said in a statement that 676 new infections were confirmed, raising the infection tally to 89,078. It was the second week in a row for Egypt's COVID-19 daily infections to fall below 1,000.
Meanwhile, 549 more patients were cured and discharged from hospitals on Tuesday, increasing the total number of recoveries to 29,473.
Earlier on Tuesday, Health Minister Hala Zayed announced that the provinces of the Red Sea and South Sinai recorded no new infections in the past 24 hours for the first time since the coronavirus outbreak in Egypt.
The Ethiopian Ministry of Health (MoH) on Tuesday evening reported 561 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the country's infection tally to 11,072.
Of the 561 new cases, 409 were reported in the capital, Addis Ababa, the MoH said in a statement.
The ministry said that the number of recoveries rose by 158 to 5,448.
The ministry reported seven more deaths, raising the death toll to 180.
A waiter disinfects tables to curb the spread of the coronavirus at a restaurant in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 21, 2020. (MULUGETA AYENE / AP)
European regulators could approve the first vaccine against COVID-19 this year, after a flurry of trials by drugmakers leading the race showed promising results.
“We are preparing ourselves for that possibility so that we as regulators will be ready,” Marco Cavaleri, head of anti-infectives and vaccines at the European Medicines Agency, said in an interview Tuesday. “It will be a matter of seeing whether this data could be sufficient for allowing any kind of approval by the end of 2020.”
The EMA will start working with drugmakers on a rolling review after the summer, according to Cavaleri. Trial data, manufacturing and clinical decisions will be assessed by the regulator in real time to speed up the approval process. The approach should allow any successful vaccine to be officially approved within a matter of days once submitted, Cavaleri said.
The first approved shot will probably be for adults only, as child testing takes longer and kids don’t appear to be as seriously affected by the disease, Cavaleri said. More research is needed on the rate of transmission by children, and the regulator will have to consider the risks and benefits of giving any vaccine to them, he said.
France has recorded 584 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, according to the latest health ministry data released on Tuesday.
The number of confirmed cases now stands at 177,338, the ministry said. The number of people in hospitals with the virus was down 107, and the number in intensive care was down by 12, the figures showed.
The ministry revised down slightly its figure for the total death toll since the start of the outbreak, to 30,165 from 30,177 a day earlier. It did not immediately give a reason for the revision.
Georgia reported 24 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Wednesday, the highest daily increase since June, taking its infection tally to 1,073.
Ten new cases were reported in Gardabani municipality of eastern Georgia. Five had contact with infected individuals and seven were imported, while the source of infection in the remaining two patients remains unknown, the National Centre for Disease Control and Public Health said.
As of Wednesday, 907 patients have recovered while 16 others have died, the center said.
Germany recorded a drop in the number of new coronavirus cases and the infection rate eased further, while remaining just above the key threshold of 1.0.
There were 392 new cases in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, bringing the country's infection tally to 203,717 according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The death toll rose by five to 9,099.
According to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) Wednesday, the number of confirmed cases increased by 454 to 202,799 while the reported death toll rose by five to 9,095.
The reproduction factor of the virus dropped to 1.04 on Tuesday, from 1.15 the day before, according to the latest estimate from RKI.
Ghana reported 559 newly confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, bringing its tally to 28,989, according to the Ghana Health Service (GHS).
Director-General of the GHS Patrick Kuma-Aboagye said at the bi-weekly COVID-19 media briefing that a total of 25,331 people have recovered, after 430 more patients were discharged from hospitals.
The death toll remained at 153 and there were 3,505 active cases.
Greece intends to address the ongoing COVID-19 challenge by implementing targeted measures when necessary to control the virus' spread instead of a new general lockdown, the government said on Tuesday.
COVID-19 infections have totaled 4,007 and fatalities 195 since the start of the outbreak in the country on Feb 26, Nikos Hardalias, deputy minister for Civil Protection and Crisis Management at the Ministry of Citizen Protection, said in the first press briefing on the situation after many weeks.
More than 900,000 travellers have entered the country since the start of border opening on June 15, and Greek authorities have conducted 127,900 sample virus tests. In the period from July 1 to 19, a total of 295 travelers tested positive.
Ireland may introduce further travel restrictions for countries with a very high instance of COVID-19, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Wednesday after the government lifted its 14-day quarantine requirement for 15 European countries.
Coveney said the government would turn its attention in the coming weeks to whether it should introduce steps beyond the 14-day quarantine from areas hardest hit, including a potential requirement to take a coronavirus test before departure.
Arrivals into Ireland from Malta, Finland, Norway, Hungary, Italy, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Cyprus, Slovakia, Greenland, Greece, Gibraltar, Monaco and San Marino no longer have to restrict their movements.
While Irish travellers returning from the 15 countries will not have to quarantine either, the government took out full-page newspaper advertisements on Wednesday telling people that the safest things to do was not to travel anywhere.
Ireland has so far reported 25,802 confirmed cases and 1,753 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The National Center for Disease Control of Libya on Tuesday reported 108 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the country to 2,088, including 479 recoveries and 50 deaths.
A senior prison official in Madagascar's capital Antananarivo said Tuesday that COVID-19 is rampant in Madagascar's prisons.
The outbreak has been reported in three prisons in Antanimora, Arivonimamo and Toamasina, Ranaivo Tovonjanahary, head of the Malagasy Prison Administration, told Xinhua in a telephone interview.
"Twelve prisoners, including eight women and four men, are infected at Antanimora prison in downtown Antananarivo," said Ranaivo Tovonjanahary.
Tovonjanahary said that those prisoners infected with COVID-19 were imprisoned for less than a month.
Nationwide Madagascar has so far reported 7,548 confirmed cases and 65 deaths.
A man not wearing a face mask walks by as city health department workers affix a series of posters advocating mask-wearing to a wall, in San Mateo Xalpa in the Xochimilco district of Mexico City, July 21, 2020. The posters read in Spanish, "For love, for protection, for health, for self-worth, for respect, wear it." (REBECCA BLACKWELL / AP)
Mexico's Health Ministry on Tuesday reported 6,859 new confirmed coronavirus infections and 915 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 356,255 cases and 40,400 deaths.
The government has said the real number of infected people is likely significantly higher than the confirmed cases.
Morocco registered 180 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, taking its tally of infections to 17,742, the Ministry of Health said.
The death toll stood at 280 while the number of recoveries increased by 257 to 15,389, said Mouad Mrabet, coordinator of the Moroccan Center for Public Health Operations at the Ministry of Health, at a press briefing.
Panama will further reopen its economy next week, adding some sectors in the provinces of Los Santos, Herrera and Cocle that have a low number of novel coronavirus cases, a health official said on Tuesday.
Health Minister Luis Sucre said at a news conference that private construction and car sales companies would be allowed to resume business activity as would those providing professional and administrative services.
So far, Panama has registered 55,153 coronavirus cases and 1,159 deaths.
Russia reported 5,862 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Wednesday, pushing its infection tally to 789,190, the fourth largest in the world.
The country's coronavirus crisis response centre said 165 more people had died in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 12,745.
Spain's Tourism Minister Reyes Maroto said on Wednesday a resurgence in coronavirus cases in Catalonia was coming under control and she hoped there would be no need for France to close the border.
"With the latest data we have in Aragon and Catalonia we are a bit more optimistic. Catalonia has already reduced the number of infections over the last three days," Maroto said at an event organized by Europa Press news agency.
Catalonia, which borders France, registered 63 new cases on Tuesday, 70 on Monday and 994 on Sunday, down from a peak of 1,226 on Saturday.
Health Minister Salvador Illa told parliament there are 224 active coronavirus clusters in Spain, mostly linked to parties, family events and fruit harvesting.
Nationwide, Spain has reported more than 266,000 confirmed cases and over 28,000 deaths.
Tunisia will strengthen health control at ports, airports and land borders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus pandemic across the country, Nissaf Ben Alaya, director general of the National Observatory of New and Emerging Diseases, announced Tuesday.
The announcement was as the Ministry of Health reported eight new imported coronavirus cases, bringing the country's infection tally to 1,389.
A total of 1,103 patients have recovered in Tunisia while 50 deaths had been reported, said the ministry.
Uganda's ministry of health on Wednesday dispatched a team of medical experts to carry out a targeted rapid assessment exercise to determine the extent of community transmission of COVID-19.
The ministry in a statement issued here said the country is at a critical stage and therefore the status and center of community transmission needs to be urgently determined.
"The exercise will involve 18 teams that will collect information and specimens from selected population groups and communities," the ministry said.
The population groups include communities at border crossing points, road law enforcement officers, health care workers, taxi drivers, factory workers, fishing communities, the elderly, and people in slum areas.
The assessment will cover eight high-risk districts across the country, targeting a sample figure of about 10,000 people.
This is the second time the country is carrying out a rapid assessment survey to determine the extent of the transmission of the virus.
Uganda's cumulative confirmed cases of COVID-19 stand at 1,075 with 958 recoveries and no death registered, according to the ministry of health.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni on Tuesday urged government officials to avoid convening gatherings as the country battled the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a televised address, Museveni said politicians must stick to the guidelines issued by the health ministry to avoid spreading the virus.
Meanwhile, Museveni said the night curfew has been shortened from 9:00 pm to 5:30 am, instead of 7:00 pm to 6:30 am.
Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa said on Tuesday his government would impose a night-time curfew and tighten other measures to tackle rising coronavirus infections, adding that anyone who challenged the rules faced severe punishment.
Critics and the opposition said the new steps were linked to anti-government protests planned for next week.
"As of tomorrow, Wednesday, ... all our security services must enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew set to come into force dailybetween 1800 hours and 0600 hours," Mnangagwa said in a televised address to the nation.
Under the new measures, from Wednesday, those without jobs will be required to stay at home, except to seek food, water and medical help. Business hours will be limited to 8 am to 3 pm, apart from those performing essential services. Public gatherings for social, religious or political purposes remain banned.
Zimbabwe has recorded 1,713 coronavirus cases, and infections have started to rise faster in the last week.
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