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Virus: EU regulator endorses Regeneron antibody cocktail









Residents queue to undergo antigen rapid tests for coronavirus during a mass screening to test 100 percent of the town’s population in Leon, northern Spain, on Feb 3, 2021. (CESAR MANSO / AFP)

NEW YORK / BRUSSELS / LONDON / FREETOWN / PARIS / LISBON / BOGOTA / JOHANNESBURG / ADDIS ABABA / BUENOS AIRES / BERLIN / ROME / HAVANA / QUITO / DAKAR / ALGIERS / OTTAWA / RABAT / TIRANA / TRIPOLI – Europe’s medicines regulator said on Friday an antibody drug combination developed by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals can be used to treat COVID-19 patients who do not require oxygen support and are at high risk of progressing to severe illness.

The recommendation can now be used as guidance in individual European nations on the possible use of the combination of casirivimab and imdevimab before a marketing authorisation is issued, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) said. 

Regeneron’s antibody cocktail was authorised for emergency use in the United States in November, and was given to former US President Donald Trump during his COVID-19 infection.

The treatment, given via a drip, is part of a class of drugs known as monoclonal antibodies, which are manufactured copies of antibodies created by the human body to fight infections.

COVID-19 is here to stay, France and Germany said on Thursday, after European Union (EU) leaders discussed ways to fight new variants of the virus, step up inoculations and save Europe’s tourism industry from another ruinous summer.

Leaders of the 27 EU member nations agreed in a video conference to keep “tight restrictions” on public life and free movement as the bloc races against the emergence of new variants that are holding back an economic rebound.

Global tally

The global COVID-19 death toll surpassed 2.5 million on Thursday, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

More than 112.7 million cases have been reported worlwide, according to the data.  

The United States remains the worst-hit nation with 28,348,259 cases and 506,500 deaths, accounting for more than 25 percent of the global caseload and more than 20 percent of the global death toll.

Global COVID-19 deaths reached the grim milestone of 1 million on Sept 28 later year and the figure doubled on Jan 15.

ALSO READ: J&J single-shot vaccine found effective before FDA review

Brazil

Brazil reached the mark of 250,000 deaths from COVID-19 as local governments deal with a shortage of vaccines and struggle to contain the spread of the disease.

The milestone comes just days after the country became the second in the world to record 10 million cases. Data released on Thursday showed 1,541 newly reported deaths and 65,998 infections in the past 24 hours, taking the overall toll to 251,498 and the virus caseload 10,390,461, respectively.

Brazil is battling a resurgence of the infections, which has been made worse by year-end gatherings and a new strain found in the Northern city of Manaus. Latin America’s largest nation has seen over 1,000 deaths a day for most of the year, adding 50,000 fatalities in less than two months.

With the pace of contagion picking up, local governments have begun to order new social distancing restrictions. 

A slow roll out of vaccines amid political fights and production bottlenecks has added to concerns. The country’s talks with companies like Pfizer have dragged on for months, leaving the nation of 212 million people relying on just two boosters: Sinovac’s CoronaVac and AstraZeneca’s. In cities like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador, vaccinations were temporarily suspended in mid-February, about a month after they started, as shots ran out.

Local administrations expect to receive more doses in the next few days – the Butantan Institute is expected to deliver 3.9 million shots of CoronaVac this month, and Fiocruz Amazonia received a new batch of AstraZeneca vaccines on Tuesday. 

READ MORE: AstraZeneca says it will have no vaccine supply shortfall in Q2

Europe’s medicines regulator said initial data indicated some virus variants may have an impact on the level of protection by vaccines and issued guidance to COVID-19 vaccine manufacturers planning to modify their shots 

Ahead of the meeting, two officials with the Commission said around 400 million doses of “ghost” vaccine had been offered by fraudsters at a price of up to 3 billion euros (US$3.67 billion).

Africa

The African Union (AU) is backing calls for drugmakers to waive some intellectual property rights on COVID-19 medicines and vaccines to speed up their rollout to poor countries, the head of its disease control body said on Thursday.

John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said at a news conference that IP transfer was a “win-win for everybody” that would address the huge inequalities in global public health.

Nkengasong added the Africa CDC’s regulatory taskforce had approved two versions of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use, a day after Ghana received its first AstraZeneca doses from global vaccine distribution facility COVAX.

He said the developers of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine had submitted a “full dossier” of data to the Africa CDC and that in the coming days an expert panel would review the data and make a pronouncement.

As of Thursday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases recorded on the African continent stood at 3,856,581, according to the Africa CDC.

The toll from COVID-19 stood at 102,470.

Russia

MOSCOW Russia registered 11,086 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, the lowest daily increase since Oct 5, the country’s COVID-19 response center said Friday.

The national tally has thus increased to 4,223,186, with 85,304 deaths and 3,783,386 recoveries, the center said.

France

The Paris local government is opposed to any weekend lockdowns that could be imposed on the capital to curb the COVID-19 virus, Paris deputy mayor Emmanuel Gregoire said on Friday.

Gregoire added he hoped any new restrictions for Paris could result in curbing the spread of the virus and result in “some form of return to normal” life in spring.

The remarks came after Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday Paris is among 20 French regions potentially facing tougher restrictions from next week as coronavirus cases jump.

The government has asked health authorities to closely monitor the situation in the capital and districts including parts of northern France as it seeks to avoid a third nationwide lockdown, Castex said on Thursday.

If a week from now it was determined that infection rates were still rising in those regions, measures will be put in place, from March 6, similar to those in force in the cities of Nice and Dunkirk.

France registered roughly 25,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, 3,000 more than a week ago, Health Minister Oliver Veran said.

He said at a press conference that over the past week, France had lost all the progress it made over the two previous weeks due to the new, more contagious variants of the disease. 

US

US President Joe Biden said Thursday the federal government will distribute Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as fast as the company can produce it, if the shot is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That approval is expected as early as Friday.

Biden made the remarks at an event to celebrate the injection of 50 million doses of vaccines since he took office.

READ MORE: Fast track opens for booster shots in US

The president’s remarks came on a day California, the most populous US state, surpassed 50,000 deaths from COVID-19, according to data from its health department, becoming the first state to reach the bleak milestone.

Almost half of the fatalities have come in the past two months, following a winter surge in cases that strained hospitals and led to lockdowns across the state. The outbreak has since eased substantially, with California averaging about 6,300 daily new cases over the past two weeks, compared with more than 40,000 last month.

US hospitalizations for the coronavirus have plunged 56 percent from a mid-January peak as the number of patients exiting California hospitals accelerated, data from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) show.

The US was treating 58,023 people in hospitals for the coronavirus as of Thursday, according to HHS. That’s the lowest since early November. In-patient numbers nationally dipped 14 percent in the past eight days, extending a decline from a peak of 131,637 reached on Jan 15.

Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 infection cases of coronavirus variants have been reported in the US, according to the latest data of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Mexico

Mexican Finance Minister Arturo Herrera said more than 80 million people in Mexico should be vaccinated by July.

The minister said the figure represents all of the targeted adult population, adding that 34 million people would have received their vaccine by April.

Mexico registered another 877 coronavirus fatalities on Thursday, bringing the overall death toll to 183,692, according to health ministry data.

The ministry’s data also showed an additional 8,462 confirmed cases, pushing the tally to 2,069,370. 

In this undated handout photo provided by Buckingham Palace on Feb 25, 2021, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth smiles on a video call with the four health officials leading the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccination in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. (PHOTO/ BUCKINGHAM PALACE VIA AP)

UK

Police and teachers will not jump to the head of the queue in the second phase of Britain’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout, with people instead prioritised by age, officials advising the government said on Friday, describing this as the best way to keep up the pace of immunisations.

Britain’s vaccine programme has been among the fastest in the world, meeting a government target to offer a first dose of vaccination to 15 million high-risk people by mid-February.

Britain’s 94-year-old Queen Elizabeth, who last month had her first COVID-19 vaccination dose, has encouraged the public to follow suit, saying it did not hurt and those who were wary should think of others.

“Once you’ve had a vaccine you have a feeling of you know, you’re protected which I think is very important and as far as I could make out it was quite harmless,” the queen said in a video call with health officials overseeing inoculations across the four nations of the United Kingdom.

Britain’s vaccines minister said this week that between 11 percent and 15 percent of the public were hesitant about getting the shot, particularly among ethnic minority groups, amid conspiracy theories around the inoculations.

The British government on Thursday reported 9,985 new cases and 323 additional deaths, bringing the cumulative tally to 4,154,562, including 122,070 fatalities, according to the latest official data.

Argentina

Argentina has received 904,000 doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine in its first delivery from the Chinese drug maker, the government said on Thursday, which should help the country accelerate its fledgling inoculation program.

The delivery, part of a deal for 1 million doses of the vaccine, arrived on a plane of Argentina’s state carrier from Beijing late in the evening.

The Sinopharm vaccines will add to 1.22 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V Argentina has already received, as well as 580,000 doses of Covishield, manufactured by the Indian Serum Institute in conjunction with AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

Argentina’s government said 96,000 remaining doses of the agreement with Sinopharm will arrive in the next few days.

The South American country has recorded over 2 million cases of COVID-19, with nearly 52,000 deaths.

Germany

Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the door to a looser approach to managing Germany’s coronavirus outbreak, as she faces pressure to ease curbs despite resurgent infections.

For months, Merkel has relied on the so-called incidence rate to determine pandemic policy. First, she set the threshold at 50 infections per 100,000 people over seven days and then lowered it to 35 to unwind lockdown restrictions locally.

She now appears to be backing away from a rigid reliance on the metric, with no signs that the country can hit her targets. The country’s seven-day incidence rate inched up to 62.6 on Friday.

More testing would allow health officials to create “a buffer so that we would be able to go a bit higher than the incidence rate of 35,” Merkel said Thursday evening in Berlin.

Merkel, who has urged a cautious approach, will meet with Germany’s 16 state leaders on Wednesday to develop a more comprehensive opening strategy.

Germany recorded 11,032 new cases in the 24 hours through Friday morning, the biggest daily increase since Feb 5, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Friday Germany’s tally increased by 9,997 to 2,424,684, while the reported death toll rose by 394 to 69,519.

Kenya

Kenya will receive its initial batch of COVID-19 vaccines in the first week of March, according to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s office.

At least 600,000 doses will come from AstraZeneca under the COVAX initiative that’s designed to ensure equitable distribution of vaccines, Ronald Inyangala, director for products’ registration at Kenya’s Pharmacy and Poisons Board, said on Friday. Sinovac Biotech Ltd. and Sputnik V inoculations are still under consideration, Inyangala said.

Healthcare workers and frontline personnel, including security officers, teachers, vulnerable people and those in the hospitality sector, will be the first priority for inoculation, the presidency said in a statement following a cabinet meeting on Thursday.

The East African nation expects to vaccinate 16 million of its approximately 53 million people by June next year, Health Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said earlier this month.

Senegal

Senegal is sending 10 percent of the coronavirus vaccines it received from China last week to The Gambia and Guinea Bissau to “show solidarity,” state-run Le Soleil newspaper reported, citing Minister of Foreign Affairs Aissata Tall Sall.

Ireland

Ireland is seeing a big drop in coronavirus cases among healthcare workers and residents of care homes, showing the apparent effect of vaccines. 

There are about 60 frontline health workers infected now, compared with more than 1,000 “just a few weeks ago,” Colm Henry, an official with Ireland’s health authority, told Newstalk Radio. 

Cases in care homes have dropped to 91 from 482 on Feb 14, he said. The change coincides with Ireland’s vaccine program, and matches the “signals” Israel has seen since it began its vaccinating, Henry added.

Hungary

Hungary needs to radically limit travel to destinations outside of the European Union to limit the risk of new coronavirus variants entering the country, according to Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Authorities need to discuss what kind of additional curbs are needed but may extend them to business travel outside the bloc. He repeated warnings that Hungary was facing a surge in coronavirus cases that will stretch its healthcare capacity, with new cases exceeding 4,000 for a second day on Friday.

Switzerland

Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine will probably be approved by regulator Swissmedic next month, Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported, citing an unidentified source.

Switzerland has not ordered doses of the J&J vaccine yet, according to the newspaper. A spokesperson for Swissmedic declined to comment to Bloomberg on the report.

Health workers wheel in a patient suspected of suffering from COVID-19 into the Luziania field hospital, a suburb of Brasilia, Brazil, Feb 25, 2021. (ERALDO PERES / AP)

Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone on Thursday received a consignment of 200,000 doses of China’s Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine donated by China to support the country’s vaccination campaign.

Health authorities in Sierra Leone said the vaccine will “play an important role in preventing and containing the COVID-19 in the country.”

According to the authorities, Sierra Leone’s government is planning to vaccinate about 1.6 million vulnerable people.

Hungary

Hungary will set up a coronavirus vaccine production plant and make its own shots from the end of 2022, the country’s technology and innovations minister was cited by state newswire MTI as saying. 

The EU member would invest 55 billion forint (US$190 million) in developing the vaccines and setting up a plant in cooperation with the University of Debrecen, located in northeast Hungary.

Italy

Italy reported 19,886 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, compared with 16,424 the day before, marking the highest number of infections since Jan 9. A total of 353,704 tests were carried out, revised down from 443,704 earlier.

Patients in intensive care units rose for an eighth day to 2,168, still below the November peak of about 3,800 and the April 2020 peak of more than 4,000. The spread of new strains is pushing infections in areas that have been marked as medium to high risk in the north, east of Milan, and Bologna.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina demanded that COVAX “meet its obligations” in helping provide vaccines after the Balkan country said it met requirements set by the program designed to provide shots to lower-income nations. 

In a rare show of unity, top leaders of Bosnia’s often-feuding ethnic groups said the former Yugoslav republic will also look to buy vaccines in direct deals, including from Russia and China. 

So far, the nation of 3.3 million has received only 2,000 Russian-made Sputnik V vaccines from Serbia and expects another 5,000 from it.

Portugal

Portugal on Thursday extended until at least mid-March a nationwide lockdown to fight the spread of the coronavirus but its president told the government to put together a plan to gradually lift the strict rules.

“Unfortunately the situation of public calamity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic continues,” President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said in a statement, explaining that although the number of cases has dropped, the pressure on hospitals remains high.

The lockdown, however, has rapidly reduced daily case and death tolls, with just 49 deaths and 1,160 new cases on Thursday – levels last seen in October when businesses were still open.

The country’s tally now stands at 801,746 with 16,185 deaths.

Rebelo de Sousa said a plan to ease lockdown rules should be prepared so that, when the pandemic situation allows, measures can be gradually lifted. In May 2020 the government adopted a sector-by-sector approach to emerge from confinement.

Portugal has administered 752,317 doses of vaccines against COVID-19, according to official data.

Colombia

Colombia will extend its health state of emergency to curb the spread of coronavirus by three months until May 31, President Ivan Duque said on Thursday, adding that the country is in talks to buy additional doses of coronavirus vaccines produced by China’s Sinovac Biotech.

Colombia earlier announced agreements with a raft of pharmaceutical companies – including Sinovac – as well as COVAX  to secure 61.5 million vaccine doses, enough to inoculate some 32.5 million people.

Colombia has already secured 5 million extra Sinovac doses and is in talks to secure up to an additional 5 million, Duque said.

The country has so far reported more than 2.24 million coronavirus infections, as well as 59,396 deaths, according to the health ministry.

A total of 66,000 vaccine doses have been administered to health workers and those aged over 80, per the national vaccination plan.

Ecuador

Ecuador will receive 2 million doses of the CoronaVac vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical company Sinovac for mass vaccination against COVID-19 after negotiations were finalized on Thursday, Ecuadoran Health Minister Juan Carlos Zevallos said.

Of the 2 million doses, 1 million will arrive in March and the remaining in April, Zevallos said.

The nation has now secured 20 million vaccine doses, according to the minister. 

Chile

Chile received another shipment of CoronaVac vaccines from Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac on Thursday.

Previously, two batches had arrived on Jan 28 and Jan 31.

Since the country’s mass vaccination campaign was launched on Feb 3, a total of 3,211,179 people have been inoculated.

The vaccines’ arrival came as the Minstry of Health reported 4,181 new cases and 137 additional fatalities, bringing the totals to 812,344 infections and 20,310 deaths.

Ethiopia

The Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health on Thursday reported 878 new COVID-19 cases and five more fatalites, taking the national count to 156,112 confirmed cases with 2,321 deaths.

Another 169 new recoveries were logged, taking the total recoveries to 133,607, said the ministry.

Cuba

Cuba on Thursday reported 670 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 47,566, the Ministry of Public Health said.

Another four more deaths pushed the overall toll to 312, the ministry said. 

According to Fancisco Duran, the ministry’s national director of hygiene and epidemiology, the daily tally was the lowest in the last 15 days.

A total of 42,809 people have recovered from the disease while 4,389 cases remain active.

Italy

Italy reported 308 coronavirus-related deaths and 19,886 new cases on Thursday, the health ministry said.

In total, Italy has registered 96,974 deaths linked to COVID-19 and 2.9 million cases to date.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19, excluding those in intensive care, stood at 18,257 on Thursday, slightly up from 18,217 a day earlier.

There were 178 new admissions to intensive care units, in line with 178 on Wednesday. The total number of intensive care patients edged up to 2,168 from a previous 2,157.

Senegal

Senegalese President Macky Sall received his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine with China’s Sinopharm shot on Thursday.

Addressing the nation after his vaccination, Sall said he wanted to show that all people over the age of 60 should be able to be vaccinated.

He also reassured his people about the reliability of the vaccines, calling on Senegalese to be vaccinated and to ignore rumors about the vaccines.

According to the Ministry of Health and Social Action, a total of 4,776 people whave been inoculated with the Sinopharm shot as of Wednesday. 

Senegal has so far recorded 33,741 confirmed cases, including 28,112 recoveries and 852 deaths.

Algeria

Algeria on Thursday reported 161 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of infections in the North African country to 112,622.

The death toll rose by three to 2,973 while the total recoveries increasewd by 175 to 77,743, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Canada

The number of COVID-19 cases detected among healthcare workers in Canada has tripled since last summer, according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) on Thursday.

A total of 44,078 cases among Canada’s healthcare workers were confirmed from July 23, 2020 to Jan 15, 2021, bringing the total number to 65,920 since the pandemic began in the country last February.

As of Thursday afternoon, Canada had reported a cumulative total of 857,212 COVID-19 cases and 21,846 deaths, according to CTV.

As of Wednesday, a total of 895 cases involving the new coronavirus variants have been reported across Canada, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Cyprus

Cyprus Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou on Thursday announced the gradual lifting of most anti-coronavirus restrictions in the country.

Starting Monday, all high school students will return to schools while other private teaching premises, gyms, dance schools and indoor sports facilities will be allowed to resume operation.

Food and beverages outlets will be allowed to resume normal operation as of March 16, on the condition that they apply a special health protocol which is still being prepared.

Meanwhile, a nighttime curfew from 9 pm to 5 am will remain in force for the time being.

Morocco

Morocco reported on Thursday 386 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally to 482,514.

The total number of recoveries increased by 726 to to 467,541 the COVID-19 death toll rose by six to 8,598.

A total of 3,160,479 people have been vaccinated against COVID-19 to date.

Libya

The National Center for Disease Control of Libya on Thursday said that 23 positive cases of COVID-19 variant were reported.

“Experts of the center managed to detect 23 cases of COVID-19 variant after carrying out tests to 88 positive COVID-19 samples. This represents 26 percent of the total samples tested,” Ibrahim al-Daghis, official of the center told Xinhua.

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Libya now stands at 131,833, including 118,791 recoveries and 2,156 deaths, according to the center.

Albania

Albanian authorities announced Thursday a decision to extend anti-coronavirus restrictive measures by at least two more weeks.

According to the Technical Committee of Experts (TCE) on the coronavirus situation, the COVID-19 situation in the country “is delicate, but remains stable with no increase in figures”.

The health ministry reported on the same day 986 new COVID-19 cases and 21 deaths, bringing the cumulative tally to 104,313 infections, along with 67,158 recoveries and 1,736 fatalities.

Reference