In this episode of Inside Covid-19, we look at an important scientific breakthrough in the early treatment of Covid-19. Hear from Professor Mona Bafadhel of the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Medicine, about how a medication commonly used to treat asthma appears to significantly reduce the need for urgent care and hospitalisation in people with Covid-19. And, we hear from our partners at Bloomberg about an app that can use a person’s voice to detect early symptoms of Covid-19. Dr David Liu, CEO of Sonde Health, shares what vocal biomarkers can tell us about respiratory illness. First, the Covid-19 news making world headlines. – Jackie Cameron & Justin Rowe-Roberts
* Just under 2.4m people are reported as having died of Covid-19 worldwide. Nearly 108m people have tested positive for the disease. The United States has been the hardest hit, with just under 472,000 dying of Covid-19. Brazil has the second-highest death rate, reporting about 275,000. More than 47,000 people are reported as having died in South Africa.
- A World Health Organization panel has recommended AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for all adults over 18, paving the way to speed up inoculations in developing countries. The recommendation may encourage more countries to use the vaccine broadly, after some European Union members advised against giving it to the elderly because of insufficient trial data. The WHO’s authorisation is needed for Covax to send the vaccines to participating countries, in order to ensure a product’s safety and efficacy for those that might not have the resources to make the assessments themselves. Individual nations can still make their own decisions on the use of shots. AstraZeneca shares traded 0.9% lower in London.
- The Covid-19 vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson is still not approved for use in South Africa, but by next week there are expected to be enough of the single-dose shots in the country to innoculate 80,000 people Business Day reported, citing independent sources. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced the arrival of the batches, to be drawn from research stock, but did not say how many would be available. South Africa, meanwhile, is trying to sell or swap the one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccines already in the country as well as the further 500,000 doses due for delivery, if they are not used – before an April expiry date. The health minister says countries are lining up to buy the doses.
- South Africa has seen about 138,000 more deaths than in a normal year since the start of the pandemic, with the SA Medical Research Council reporting that the rate has reached the equivalent of 485 excess deaths per 100,000. This in turn suggests that Covid may have killed 1 in 300 in the Eastern Cape – in one of the worst death rates in the world.Data shows that excess deaths started to subside in late January after spiking in late December. Business Insider reports that Belgium is the worst affected country er capita in the world, seeing 188 deaths per 100,000, followed by Slovenia (187) and the UK (176).
* The strain first identified in South Africa late last year has now been identified in 19 countries, and most of those are linked to travel. While community transmission in Europe is not yet widespread, the variant has been increasingly linked to outbreaks in communities, says the World Health Organisation.
- Ireland’s government is likely to maintain most of the current virus restrictions until early April at least, in an effort to prevent the spread of variants, Prime Minister Micheal Martin told RTE Radio. While the government will prioritize reopening schools and construction, the bulk of the lockdown that has been in place since Christmas will be retained, he said. Travellers arriving from more countries may be required to quarantine on arriving in Ireland, Martin said.
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that aggressive coronavirus mutations will gain the upper hand in Germany, threatening to destroy progress made in containing the pandemic. Europe’s largest economy needs to maintain tight controls even as contagion rates steadily decline and immunisations slowly ramp up, Merkel said Thursday in a speech to parliament in Berlin.
* London’s Heathrow airport urged the British government to set out a strategy for resuming flights following a tightening of travel curbs that it says has essentially shut down travel.
Requiring two Covid-19 tests for all arrivals, along with 10 days of quarantine that some must spend in a hotel, means the UK border is “effectively closed,” Heathrow authorities said in a statement Thursday.
* Britain’s three pandemic lockdowns have cost retailers that have been ordered to close about £22 billion ($31 billion) in lost sales, according to a trade group.
In a sign of the mounting toll Covid-19 is taking on one of the country’s biggest employment sectors, the British Retail Consortium says 2020 was the worst year on record, with in-store non-food sales declining by 24%.
A cluster of the virulent U.K. strain of coronavirus in Australia rose to eight on Thursday, with authorities saying it started in a Melbourne quarantine hotel by a person who used a nebulizer to treat a health condition.
The medical device, which vaporizes medication or liquid, also worked to spread the virus through mist “suspended in the air with very, very fine aerosolized particles,” said Victoria state Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton. This was how the virus was carried out of the hotel room into the corridor, where staff walking the halls were exposed, he said.
- Africa has done better at managing the pandemic, a leading tropical disease specialist said at a World Health Organisation conference on Thursday. Dr Peter Piot of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine also warned that the worldwide rollout of effective vaccines across all countries would become one of the biggest geopolitical issues of our time.
- Ivermectin has been approved for limited use in South Africa as a treatment for Covid-19. But it’s in short supply. A black market has developed and there are reports of people using veterinary versions. Dennis Hancock president and CEO of Mountain Valley MD, a company listed on the Toronto and Frankfurt stock exchanges, has told BizNews that it is confident it will have new versions – that are highly effective and low-cost available before the end of the year. It is involved in a human trial to test its ivermectin that uses a patented method to make it more soluble in the treatment of Covid-19 — and will prioritise Africa for roll-out. For more on developments using Ivermectin to treat Covid-19, listen to the full interview with Dennis Hancock on BizNews Radio.