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Wednesday, November 18, 2020, 22:52
Pfizer, BioNTech plan filing as vaccine proves 95% effective
By Agencies
Wednesday, November 18, 2020, 22:52 By Agencies

This undated photo shows a logo of US drugmaker Pfizer. (PHOTO / BLOOMBERG)

ROME / STOCKHOLM / WARSAW / BRATISLAVA / AMSTERDAM / PARIS / RIO DE JANEIRO / SAO PAULO / OTTAWA / LONDON / MEXICO CITY / WASHINGTON / UNITED NATIONS / LOS ANGELES / QUITO / TIRANA / SANTIAGO / KIEV / YAOUNDE / RABAT / HARARE / MOGADISHU / ALGIERS / MOSCOW / SOFIA / BERLIN / MADRID - Pfizer Inc said a final analysis of clinical-trial data showed its COVID-19 vaccine was 95 percent effective, paving the way for the company to apply for the first US regulatory authorization for a coronavirus shot within days.

The US drugmaker and partner BioNTech SE said their vaccine protected people of all ages and ethnicities, with no significant safety problems so far in a trial that includes almost 44,000 participants.

Pfizer shares rose 2.7 percent in premarket trading, with BioNTech American depositary receipts up 7.3 percent. European stocks extended their gains after the news, with the Stoxx Europe 600 up 0.4 percent.

The update is the latest in a string of promising developments on the vaccine front in recent days. Moderna Inc’s rival jab appears equally effective, judging from data published earlier this week, and a third contender, from AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford, is expected to release trial results in coming days.

A man wearing a face mask shops for frozen food products at a supermarket in Moscow, Russia, Nov 5, 2020. (NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFP)


There is no significant evidence of coronavirus being spread through food trade and such reports "need to be minimized", Maximo Torero Cullen, chief economist of the United Nations food and agriculture agency, said on Wednesday.

The FAO has previously said it does not see food production in supplier countries as a source of the novel coronavirus, he said at the Global Grain conference.

Global tally

The number of coronavirus cases recorded across the world has surpassed 55.6 million while the global death toll has exceeded 1.33 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Self-testing kit for home use

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said on Tuesday it had approved the first COVID-19 self-testing kit for home use that provides results within 30 minutes.

The single-use test, made by Lucira Health, has been given emergency use authorization for home use with self-collected nasal swab samples in individuals age 14 and older who are suspected of COVID-19 by their health care provider, the FDA said.

The kit can also be used at hospitals but samples should be collected by a healthcare provider if the individuals who are tested are younger than 14 years, the FDA said.

“This new testing option is an important diagnostic advancement to address the pandemic and reduce the public burden of disease transmission,” said FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn in a statement.

A driver holds up a test sample at a Curative Inc COVID-19 drive-thru testing site in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California, the United States, on Nov 13, 2020. (DAVID SWANSON / BLOOMBERG)


The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the African continent has reached 1,998,253, the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said on Wednesday.

The continental disease control and prevention agency said in a statement that the death toll related to the pandemic stood at 48,016 as of Wednesday afternoon.

A group of three founding investors is pouring US$250 million into a new company to acquire and create biopharmaceuticals businesses across Africa that will improve the continent’s access to affordable drugs, they said on Tuesday.

Africa’s pharmaceuticals industry is tiny, and African governments’ struggles to procure vital products during the coronavirus pandemic have exposed their dependence upon imported drugs and medical equipment.

The group’s initial investment funded the acquisition and combination of Egyptian generic drugs maker Adwia Pharmaceuticals and Celon Laboratories, an Indian oncology and critical care specialist.

The founding investors are the private equity firm Development Partners International, UK-based impact investor CDC Group and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

“This platform is being built from the ground up to specifically address the challenges facing African healthcare providers,” said Abhinav Sinha, director and head of manufacturing at CDC.

A planned additional fundraising of up to US$500 million will finance a “strong pipeline of acquisitions, assist in new drug development, and establishment of new distribution channels”, it said.

Airlines' testing trial

American Airlines, British Airways (BA), and the oneworld alliance will launch a coronavirus testing trial this month aimed at convincing the US and UK governments to introduce testing so that transatlantic travel can restart.

Alongside its partners, BA plans to collect data from at least 500 passengers on flights from three US cities to London Heathrow by asking them to take three free COVID-19 tests as part of their journey: one before departure, one on landing, and one three days after their arrival.

The data collected from the trial, which will start on Nov 25, will be collated by independent scientists and presented to UK ministers to help convince them to drop a 14-day quarantine rule for arrivals from most countries.


The Technical Committee of Experts on the coronavirus situation in Albania has decided to take additional restrictive measures in an effort to counter the spread of COVID-19, Director of Public Health Institute Albana Fico announced on Tuesday.

The committee has decided to ban gatherings with more than 10 people in open and closed spaces, and also political meetings, conferences, weddings and funerals, according to Fico.

Currently, about 20-25 percent of the capacities in three hospitals for COVID-19 patients available, Fico said.

On the same day, health authorities reported 694 new cases and six more deaths, raising the tally to 29,126, along with 13,804 recoveries and 637 fatalities.  


Algeria on Tuesday reported a record 1,002 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 68,591.

The death toll jumped to 2,186 after a record 18 more fatalities were recorded in the past 24 hours, said Djamel Fourar, head of the Scientific Committee for Monitoring COVID-19 .

As many as 45,699 patients have recovered, Fourar said, adding that 39 patients were still in intensive care.

Several businesses, including those in the capital Algiers, have been ordered to shut down as of Tuesday. Lockdown hours in several cities have also been extended.


Brazil recorded 35,294 new COVID-19 cases and 685 more deaths in the past 24 hours, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday, bringing the tally to 5,911,758 and the toll to 166,699.

The state of Sao Paulo is set to begin importing the first of 46 million doses of China's Sinovac vaccine against COVID-19 this week, while the federal government takes a more cautious approach with a vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc.

ALSO READ: Study: Sinovac vaccine induces quick immune response

Federal health officials met with Pfizer representatives on Tuesday as Brazil seeks to secure vaccine supplies. The Health Ministry said in a statement that it would buy the Pfizer shot if it was proven safe and was registered with health authority Anvisa.

As it draws up immunization plans, the ministry will also meet this week with Johnson & Johnson, India's Bharat Biotech and the makers of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine.

The director of Sao Paulo state's Butantan Institute biomedical center, Dimas Covas, said at a congressional hearing on Tuesday that Butantan expected to have 46 million doses of Sinovac ready in January to be used if approved by Brazil's health regulator Anvisa.

Also in Sao Paulo, the state has decided to extend lockdown until Dec. 16, due to a rise in hospitalizations, according to a decree published Tuesday in the Government Gazette.


The Bulgarian Health Ministry on Wednesday reported a record high of 4,828 new COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, taking the tally to 106,598.

The previous daily record of 4,390 new cases was reported on Nov 11.

Of the new cases, 1,301 were reported in the capital Sofia, bringing the city's tally to 34,949.

The death toll rose to 2,413 after 131 more patients died in the past 24 hours, the second-highest daily toll since the pandemic began.

The ministry also said that 5,463 patients were currently hospitalized, with 303 in intensive care, while the number of infected medical workers has risen to 4,193.


Cameroon's Minister of Secondary Education Pauline Nalova Lyonga on Tuesday urged students and teachers to remain disciplined and adhere to preventive measures against COVID-19 as the Central African nation struggles to stem a rising tide of new cases in schools.

There has been a "disturbing disrespect" of anti-COVID-19 measures in secondary schools, Lyonga said, stressing that the measures would be stepped up.

"General testing will take place in schools. Henceforth, only students putting on face masks will be permitted to enter school premises. Spontaneous checks will be conducted to ensure students are effectively wearing the face masks especially in classrooms," Lyonga said in a statement.

On Sunday, health authorities said that more than 40 cases had been reported in secondary schools across the country in less than a week.


In July, the Canadian province of Manitoba went two weeks without a single new case of COVID-19. Theaters and casinos reopened and children soon returned to school.

By October, the 1.4 million people living in a province only slightly smaller geographically than Texas had Canada’s highest rate of active cases - now 512 per 100,000 people, or nearly quadruple the national rate.

Canada has recorded over 302,000 cases and more than 11,000 deaths during the pandemic. Nationally, there were 1,114 COVID-19 patients in hospital as of Nov 3, well below a spring peak of 2,701 but double what they were a month ago.

At this pace, Canada’s daily case tally may more than double by early December, health officials warned last week.

Canada has signed several agreements for potential COVID-19 vaccines and should be able to get them out to a large part of the population by the end of next year, one of Canada's top doctors said on Tuesday. 

It is the first timeline for distribution of a vaccine that Ottawa has provided since Pfizer Inc last week and Moderna on Monday reported that their inoculation candidates had been extremely effective in preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.


Chile reported on Tuesday 1,003 new COVID-19 cases, raising the country's caseload to 533,610.

The death toll rose by 20 to 14,883, according to the Ministry of Health.

Some 509,401 patients have recovered from the disease, while 9,025 cases were considered active.

"There are 79 patients hospitalized in intensive care units in critical condition, one of the lowest numbers in the past month," Health Minister Enrique Paris said during his daily pandemic report to the media.


Authorities in Ecuador's two largest cities, Quito and Guayaquil, on Tuesday announced that celebrations for Christmas and New Year's Day would be canceled due to a continuing rise in COVID-19 cases.

The two cities will also suspend all mass gatherings in December.

Quito, the current epicenter of the outbreak in Ecuador, had recorded 59,579 infections, according to the Ministry of Health.

Guayaquil, capital of southwest Guayas province and an economic center of the country, had recorded 16,075 infections as of Tuesday. The city has witnessed an increase in infections in seven areas of the city.

Nationwide, Ecuador had reported a total of 181,104 confirmed cases and 13,025 deaths.

A mother and her children take a walk at the Trocadero Square near the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, France, Nov 16, 2020. (GAO JING / XINHUA)


France's cumulative number of COVID-19 cases now exceeds two million but efforts to rein in the pandemic are starting to bear fruit, its top health official said on Tuesday.

Authorities have reported a total of 2,036,755 confirmed coronavirus infections, with the number of deaths in hospitals and nursing homes now at 46,273, including 437 over the past 24 hours, Director General of Health Jerome Salomon said.

ALSO READ: Europe should use all tools at its disposal to contain novel coronavirus

"Our collective efforts are starting to bear fruit, the number of new cases has been going down over a few days...We must double down our efforts to regain control of the epidemic," Salomon said at a news conference.

France’s next phase in efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus won’t be a full end to lockdown measures, Prime Minister Jean Castex said in a hearing in the National Assembly earlier on Tuesday. Some restrictions will be maintained “because the situation will have improved, but not sufficiently,” he said. 

President Emmanuel Macron will speak towards the middle of next week about conditions for a progressive easing of the lockdown, BFM TV said on Tuesday, citing sources.


Several thousand people banging saucepans and blowing whistles gathered in central Berlin on Wednesday to protest against Angela Merkel’s plans to give her government powers to enforce restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.

Germany’s lower and upper houses of parliament are due to pass laws later on Wednesday which could allow the government to impose restrictions on social contact, rules on mask-wearing, drinking alcohol in public, shutting shops and stopping sports events.

Although most Germans accept the latest “lockdown light” to tackle a second wave of the coronavirus, critics say the law gives the government too much power and endangers citizens’ civil rights without the approval of parliament.

Coronavirus cases in Germany increased by 17,561 to 833,307 while the death toll rose by 305 to 13,119, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday.


The Italian government was left red-faced on Tuesday when a third health chief in Calabria quit in barely a week, leaving the southern region's hospitals rudderless and still lacking an emergency coronavirus plan.

The latest governor, Eugenio Gaudio, resigned less than 24 hours after the cabinet had appointed him. Gaudio, who previously headed Rome's Sapienza University, said he had decided not to take the job because his wife did not want to move to Calabria.

The resignation of any senior state bureaucrat is unusual in Italy, where officials tend to cling to their jobs until retirement, but to see three throw in the towel in such swift succession is remarkably rare, if not unprecedented. 

The rapid departures also raised questions about government oversight of one of Italy's poorest regions, which has been designated a coronavirus "red zone" partly because its hospitals are believed to be incapable of handling a major outbreak.

Italy registered 731 additional deaths related to COVID-19 on Tuesday, the biggest daily increase in seven months. New infections rose to 32,191 from 27,354 on Monday.

Lombardy, the region around Milan, is seeing a “light but significant” improvement in the rate of new virus infections, Governor Attilio Fontana said, according to Ansa newswire.

Italy’s most-hit region could see some restrictions ease at the end of November, Fontana said. Milan was put in the so-called red zone, the highest-risk area, at the beginning of this month, but could be moved down to orange if the trend continues, Fontana said. Most shops would then be allowed to reopen.

A man loads an oxygen canister near the first aid department of the San Giuliano hospital in Giugliano, in the outskirts of Naples, Italy, Nov 14, 2020. (GREGORIO BORGIA / AP)


Johnson & Johnson's chief scientist said the drugmaker is recruiting over 1,000 people per day for the late-stage trial of its experimental COVID-19 vaccine and expects to have all the data needed to seek US authorization by February or earlier.

"By the end of the year or around the end of the year, we should have 60,000 people in the study," Paul Stoffels, J&J's chief scientific officer, said in an interview ahead of this week's Reuters Total Health conference.

"And efficacy endpoint should be there in the first few weeks or months, January or February, of the new year," he added.

J&J's candidate is a single-dose vaccine, whereas the vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer and another under development by AstraZeneca all require two shots separated by several weeks.


Mexico's health ministry on Tuesday reported 1,757 newly confirmed coronavirus infections in the country and 165 more deaths, bringing the official totals to 1,011,153 cases and 99,026 fatalities.


Morocco registered 5,415 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, taking the tally to 301,604, the Health Ministry said in a statement.

Another 82 deaths were also recorded, raising the death toll to 4,932, according to the statement.

The number of recoveries increased by 4,235 to 247,594, and 1,048 patients remained in intensive care, according to the statement.

Casablanca remains the worst-hit region in the country, reporting 2,328 newly confirmed cases and 18 deaths during the last 24 hours.


Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday said most of the Netherlands' current coronavirus lockdown measures must remain in place through mid-December, despite a recent decline in the number of new cases.

However, the government at the same time also lifted some curbs, allowing libraries, theaters cinemas, museums and swimming pools to reopen, in a rare move in Europe. Bars and restaurants will remain closed.

Rutte's remarks came after health officials reported that new cases had declined 15 percent in the past week. The National Institute for Health (RIVM) said in its weekly update there were 37,706 new cases in the week to Nov 17, the smallest number since early October.

"(However) the number of people with a positive test result remains very high," the RIVM said, with more than 150 infections per 100,000 people in nearly every region of the country.

Rutte said the country's path out of the crisis in 2021 would involve a mix of "mass vaccinations, good-working medicines, and even more and even faster testing."

There are currently 2,146 COVID-19 patients in Dutch hospitals, with 576 in intensive care. The country's medical system has been strained and routine procedures are on pause, but on current forecasts it will not face a shortage of beds.


Pfizer Inc Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said that a key safety milestone had been reached in the study of its COVID-19 vaccine, which is two months of follow-up data from around half of the study's roughly 44,000 participants. 

He said Pfizer was now preparing to seek an emergency-use authorization from US regulators.

Speaking at a virtual conference hosted by the New York Times on Tuesday, Bourla said the company was preparing to submit its data to the US Food and Drug Administration. 

Last week, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech SE reported that an interim analysis showed their experimental vaccine was more than 90 percent effective in preventing symptomatic cases of COVID-19. Bourla said that Pfizer would soon release more detailed efficacy results.


Poland reported a daily record 603 additional COVID-19-related deaths on Wednesday, the health ministry said.

The country also reported 19,883 new cases, lower than the one-day record of 27,875 reported on Nov 7.

The health ministry said that as of Wednesday, COVID-19 patients occupied 22,812 hospital beds.

Poland has begun testing minks for the coronavirus despite objections by lobby groups and some farm owners, who fear they could lead to a nationwide cull.

The veterinary services said the tests, ordered by the agriculture ministry earlier in November, had started and the first samples would likely be sent to the National Veterinary Research Institute on Tuesday.

The Chief Veterinary Inspectorate in Poland will conduct random tests at 18 farms in four administrative regions. The results are expected at the end of November.


Roche Holding AG has completed early tests of its ability to produce large quantities of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc's COVID-19 antibody treatment, putting it on track to begin manufacturing the drug once it is authorized by regulators, Regeneron's president said on Tuesday.

The experimental therapy was used to treat US President Donald Trump in October. The companies aim to be able to make 2 million doses of the antibody cocktail next year, but are awaiting clearance from regulators.

A Roche spokesman said the Swiss drugmaker would be ready to begin producing the treatment in the first quarter of 2021.

The company has a contract to provide 300,000 doses of the antibody therapy, called REGN-COV2, to the US government and expects to be able to meet that commitment by as early as January. It has more than 50,000 doses currently stockpiled.


Russia reported a record high of 456 deaths related to COVID-19 on Wednesday, bringing the official death toll to 34,387.

Authorities also reported 20,985 new infections in the last 24 hours, including 4,174 in the capital Moscow, taking the national tally to 1,991,998.


Thousands of Slovaks protested against the government and its anti-coronavirus restrictions on Tuesday, gathering in the capital Bratislava and other cities as the country struggles through a second wave of the pandemic.

Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million, has recorded a total of 88,602 coronavirus infections and 557 deaths. On Monday, it registered 1,326 new infections, off from daily peaks above 3,000 seen a few weeks ago.

The recent surge in Slovakia looks to be on the decline, and the Slovak government has started reopening theaters, cinemas, and fitness centres with capacity restrictions. Public gatherings are still limited, however, retail shops face some curbs and restaurants and many schools remain closed.


Somalia's health minister on Tuesday warned of a resurgence of COVID-19 infections in the country and vowed to intensify measures to contain the spread of the disease.

Fawziya Abikar said that some 153 people have tested positive for COVID-19 after more than 5,000 were screened in the past two weeks.

Somalia’s infection tally has risen to 4,382, she said, adding that 3,284 patients have so far recovered while 108 had died.

Akibar said her ministry has reactivated the COVID-19 infection and control panel, and has also restructured the COVID-19 emergency response system in order to step up measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Abikar said her ministry was also making further efforts to promote screening, strengthen awareness and improve risk reporting. 

South Africa

A Cape Town court ordered Santam Ltd to pay out business-interruption claims to two South African hospitality companies, potentially opening up the industry to cover losses suffered because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The court agreed with the approach of the UK Financial Conduct Authority in settling business-interruption claims as a result of COVID-19 restrictions and ordered Santam, South Africa’s largest short-term insurer, to pay Ma-Afrika Hotels and Stellenbosch Kitchen for losses for an 18-month period, according to the judgment on Tuesday.

The decision comes as another South Africa insurer, Guardrisk, appeals a ruling made against it in a similar matter, and may be used by other insurers in the country to finalize their treatment of virus-related business-interruption claims. 


Spain's medicines agency authorised the launch of late-stage trials of Johnson & Johnson's JNJ.N COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday as the race to develop successful vaccines intensifies.

The Phase III trial of the two-dose vaccination will be carried out in nine hospitals throughout Spain on volunteers both with and without previous health conditions, the AEMPS agency said in a statement.

The Phase III trials will be carried out on 30,000 volunteers in nine countries.


Swedish COVID-19 cases continued to increase on Tuesday as many welcomed the toughest measures yet imposed on Monday to curb the spread of the disease.

Sweden registered 15,084 new cases for the latest four-day period on Tuesday. 

"We're still in a very serious situation," Sweden's Chief Epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said at a news conference.

Sweden has also registered 61 deaths since Friday, taking the toll to 6,225.


Dido Harding, the head of England's COVID-19 test and trace system, has been told to self-isolate by her own mobile phone app.

Britain's COVID-19 death toll rose by 598 to 52,745, marking the highest daily increase in fatalities since May 6, according to official figures released Tuesday.

Another 20,051 people have tested positive for COVID-19, lifting the tally to 1,410,732, the data showed.

The British Medical Association warned on Wednesday that lifting lockdown on Dec 2 without beefed-up regional restrictions risked a fresh surge in infections that would leave hospitals and family doctors “overwhelmed” and “unable to provide even the most critical of patient care.”

A general view of closed shops on an empty New Bond Street as England continues a four-week national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. In London, Britain, on Nov 17, 2020. (DOMINIC LIPINSKI / PA VIA AP)

In Scotland,  First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that 11 council areas in the region will be placed under the toughest restrictions from 6:00 pm (1800 GMT) on Friday until Dec 11. Non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and gyms will have to close, while schools will remain open.

Meanwhile, the British spending watchdog has said that the government did not properly document key decisions nor was it open enough about billions of pounds of contracts handed out during the pandemic.

The National Audit Office (NAO) said on Wednesday there had been a lack of transparency and a failure to explain why certain suppliers were chosen, or how any conflict of interest was dealt with, over 18 billion pounds (US$24 billion) in procurement deals made between March and the end of July, often with no competition.


Ukraine registered a record 256 additional COVID-19 related deaths in the past 24 hours, pushing the toll to 10,112, the health minister said on Wednesday,

Maksym Stepanov also said that 12,496 newly confirmed infections had been registered, taking the tally to 570,153.

The government will prepare for stricter quarantine restrictions if the "weekend quarantine" does not give positive results in the next few weeks, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said in his official Telegram channel on Tuesday.

Shmyhal also noted that there was no need to deploy mobile hospitals now, though preparation work was underway.


United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged governments worldwide to increase digital connectivity in their COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery plans.

"This year has brought new evidence of the benefits of connectivity. Internet access is protecting health care, jobs and lives," Guterres said in his video message to the closing of the 2020 Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

"But, the pandemic is exacerbating inequalities of all kinds, including the digital divide. Those without access to digital technology - almost half the world - are denied opportunities to study, communicate, trade, shop, work and participate in much of modern life," he added.

"We urgently need to address the growing digital gender gap and put digital technology to work for those who need it most: the vulnerable, the marginalized, those living in poverty and people suffering from discrimination of all kinds," said the UN chief.

"The pursuit of inclusion must determine not just our approach to expanding connectivity, but also how we manage data," he said.


More US states imposed restrictions to tamp down an unrelenting surge in cases. Illinois will close casinos and museums, Ohio ordered a curfew and Pennsylvania enacted strict rules for travelers. 

Starting Friday, restaurants and all other non-essential retail establishments in Los Angeles, California, must close from 10:00 pm to 6:00 am local time, and only outdoor gatherings will be permitted.

New York’s hospitalizations increased by the most since the peak of the pandemic in April. Schools in the city were set to remain open for at least another day despite a rising COVID-19 case count, the mayor said on Tuesday.

Nationwide, the US has reported over 11.3 million confirmed cases and more than 248,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Meanwhile, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, an 87-year-old in the line of succession to the presidency, announced Tuesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

Grassley reported the test results late in the day, after beginning a quarantine Tuesday morning following notification he had been exposed to the virus. On Monday, Grassley gave a speech on the Senate floor, without wearing a mask.

On relief aid, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said he hoped to reach a bipartisan agreement this week to continue funding federal agencies even as Congress remain divided over the next round of possible COVID-19 aid.


The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday praised six countries for controlling the COVID-19 pandemic with comprehensive measures.

"China is among those countries," Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said, while also adding the Republic of Korea, Singapore, Japan, New Zealand and Australia to the list.

Ryan said their approaches are different and with different cultural settings. "But what's been common in their approach is the relentless focus on doing it all," he said.

He added that those countries have mobilized community actions, testing, contact tracing, and quarantine to keep the virus at a very low level.

"We have been saying for months and months, (it's) a comprehensive strategy aimed at controlling the virus, aimed at protecting the vulnerable, aimed at saving lives," Ryan said.


Zimbabwean authorities have closed a boarding school in the west of the country after at least 100 students tested positive for the coronavirus, a state-owned newspaper reported on Wednesday.

"A total of 100 pupils have tested positive for COVID-19 at John Tallach boarding Secondary School in Matabeleland North. The school has an enrollment of over 600 pupils and has since been sealed off with no one allowed in or out," Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information Nick Mangwana said in a tweet Tuesday.

The school is the first to report a significant spike in infections since schools began reopening for end-of-year examinations in September. It is also the first to be closed over a cluster of positive cases.

The Bulawayo-based Chronicle newspaper quoted Defense Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri saying most of the students at the affected school were asymptomatic while the rest had mild symptoms.

Authorities fear that the country could see a surge after infections increased this month. New cases jumped to 294 last week compared to 109 new cases in the previous week, according to the Ministry of Health.

Zimbabwe has so far recorded 8,945 confirmed cases and 260 deaths.

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