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Friday, October 16, 2020, 23:26
EU leaders to hold almost weekly videoconferences on COVID-19
By Agencies
Friday, October 16, 2020, 23:26 By Agencies

A bottle containing the drug Remdesivir is shown by a health worker at the Institute of Infectology of Kenezy Gyula Teaching Hospital of the University of Debrecen in Debrecen, Hungary, on Oct 15, 2020. (ZSOLT CZEGLEDI / MTI VIA AP)

RIO DE JANIERO / MEXICO CITY / OTTAWA / BRUSSELS / LONDON / ROME / PARIS / BERLIN / BRASILIA / TRIPOLI / SANTIAGO / ATHENS / SARAJEVO / LISBON / MADRID / RABAT / ADDIS ABABA / KIEV / PRAGUE / YAOUNDE / KAMPALA / BUCHAREST / HELSINKI / SOFIA / MOSCOW / ZAGREB - European Union (EU) leaders have agreed to hold videoconferences almost on a weekly basis to coordinate national measures against the COVID-19 pandemic, as the continent battles a spike in infections.

The EU's 27 nations fought COVID-19 with different, sometimes contrasting measures, in the first months of the pandemic. The tighter coordination is expected to avoid a repetition of divisions seen after the first outbreaks.

The EU's 27 nations fought COVID-19 with different, sometimes contrasting measures, in the first months of the pandemic. The tighter coordination is expected to avoid a repetition of divisions seen after the first outbreaks

The tighter coordination is expected to avoid a repetition of divisions seen after the first outbreaks.

Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said regular videoconferences would help coordinate moves on tracing, restrictive measures, vaccines and therapies.

A certain degree of coordination has emerged in recent weeks and months on some issues, such as vaccine procurement and common non-binding criteria to assess the gravity of the epidemic at national level.

On Thursday, the European Commission said EU member states are now required to prepare for a common vaccination strategy.

Assuring the member states of access to COVID-19 vaccines "at the same time on the basis of population size," the commission warned that the overall number of vaccine doses will be limited before production can be ramped up.

READ MORE: COVID-19 nasal spray wins backing in UK

The commission suggested that "unranked priority groups" are to be considered once the vaccines become available, including healthcare and long-term care facility workers, people aged above 60, people who cannot socially distance, and more disadvantaged socio-economic groups etc.

Remdesivir 

Remdesivir has no definite effect on a hospitalized patient’s chances of survival, a clinical trial by the World Health Organization (WHO) found.

Results from the Solidarity trial, which studied antiviral treatments -- including remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir and interferon -- found they had “appeared to have little or no effect” on mortality, the need to ventilate patients, or how long patients stayed in the hospital. 

Gilead Sciences Inc questioned the findings of WHO's study, saying that the data appeared inconsistent, the findings were premature and that other studies had validated the drug's benefits

The WHO trial was conducted in 11,266 adult patients in more than 30 countries. The evidence was conclusive, the WHO said.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed.

ALSO READ: Sanofi plans human trial of mRNA vaccine

Gilead Sciences Inc questioned the findings of WHO's study. The American company told Reuters the data appeared inconsistent, the findings were premature and that other studies had validated the drug's benefits.

Gilead said other trials of remdesivir, including with 1,062 patients that compared it with a placebo, showed the treatment cut COVID-19 recovery time.

Gilead said it was "unclear if any conclusive findings can be drawn" given what it called differences in how the trial was conducted from site to site and between the patients who received the medicine.

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 38.9 million while the global death toll topped 1.09 million, according to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University.

Africa

The head of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) on Thursday warned against complacency in the fight against the spread of COVID-19, as the number of new cases in the continent showed an increase for the first time in several months.

The total number of confirmed cases recorded across the African continent reached 1,603,982 as of Thursday afternoon while the death toll hit 39,122, the Africa CDC said.

Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong urged African countries to sustain the fight against the pandemic, despite a growing public fatigue over the social and economic cost caused by anti-COVID-19 measures imposed by African governments.

"We are at a pivotal moment in the pandemic in Africa. While the continent has experienced a downward trend in its epidemic curve during the past three months, this decline has plateaued," World Health Organization (WHO) Africa Director Matsishido Moeti said separately.

Argentina

Argentina reported a daily record of 17,096 new COVID-19 cases as it passed Colombia as the second most-infected country in Latin America after Brazil. 

Argentina, currently No. 5 globally in overall cases, has 949,063 positive cases and 25,342 fatalities.

The government called on the public on Thursday to stay positive, as a nationwide lockdown continued into its 30th week.

"The government will continue" to help the sectors that "need it most," Santiago Cafiero, chief of the cabinet of ministers, said in an interview with a local radio station in Buenos Aires.

Belgium

Belgium’s 14-day incidence rate rose to 550 cases per 100,000 from 494 Thursday, trailing only the Czech Republic as the hardest hit country in Europe. 

About 12.7 percent of tests performed in the past week came back positive, an increase from 11.9 percent the day before. Prime Minister Alexander De Croo will announce more stringent measures later on Friday.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Health authorities in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), reintroduced a mandatory measure of wearing masks outdoors on Thursday, as the pandemic situation in the country worsened over the past weeks.

According to a new order, up to 30 people are allowed to gather indoors and up to 60 people outdoors in Sarajevo Canton. The order will come into effect from Oct 15 to Dec 31 according to the Press Service of the Sarajevo Canton.

BiH is facing a sharp increase in COVID-19 new cases. Among the country's tally of 32,244 confirmed cases, 3,032 had been reported over the past seven days, according to the data from the Ministry of Civil Affairs. There were 569 newly confirmed cases on Thursday, the highest daily tally since the outbreak began in March.

The death toll stood at 972 as of Thursday.

Brazil

Brazil has registered 713 additional coronavirus deaths over the last 24 hours and 28,523 new cases, the nation's Health Ministry said on Thursday evening.

The South American country has now registered 152,460 total coronavirus deaths and 5,169,386 total confirmed cases.

Brazil-Paraguay border

Brazil and Paraguay have begun the process of gradually reopening the common border, according to a joint statement released Thursday by the Brazilian and Paraguayan governments.

The border posts of Foz do Iguacu-Ciudad del Este, Ponta Pora-Pedro Juan Caballero, and Mundo Novo-Saltos del Guaira were all reopened on Thursday.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro posted a photo with Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benitez on social media along with an extract from the ordinance mandating the reopening of the border, which has been closed for the last seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the statement, the two sides agreed they would enforce sanitary protocols at the borders in accordance with their respective legislation to prevent the spread of the virus.

Bulgaria

Bulgaria's Health Ministry on Friday morning reported a record high of 914 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, taking the tally to 27,507.

The previous daily records of 819 and 785 new cases were reported on Thursday and Wednesday, respectively.

The death toll rose to 944 after 15 more patients died in the last 24 hours, the ministry said.

It also said 1,426 patients are currently hospitalized, with 74 in intensive care, and the number of infected medical workers has reached 1,483.

Despite the upward trend in the spread of COVID-19 in Bulgaria, Health Minister Kostadin Angelov said Thursday that the country has no intention of tightening anti-epidemic measures and would instead focus on those currently in place, such as the wearing of face masks in public indoor spaces.

Cameroon

Universities and other higher education institutions in Cameroon started to welcome returning students on Thursday after a suspension of nearly seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The universities have adopted strict anti-virus measures and ensured all-round disinfections, officials said.

All students and teachers must wear face masks and check their temperatures regularly, said Minister of Higher Education Jacques Fame Ndongo.

Cameroon has so far recorded more than 20,000 coronavirus cases. COVID-19 prevalence in the country is generally decreasing with a recovery rate of 95 percent, according to the Ministry of Public Health.

People line up for COVID-19 tests outside a desginated assessment center in Toronto, Canada, on Oct 15, 2020. (ZOU ZHENG / XINHUA)

Canada

Canada's COVID-19 death toll reached 9,751 as of Thursday afternoon while its infection tally rose to 193,600, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Canada's daily tally continues to see an increase in new cases, with an average of 2,323 new cases reported daily in the most recent seven days, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada on Thursday.

The agency said that over the past week, there were more than 850 COVID-19 patients in hospitals each day and more than 17 deaths reported daily.

Chile

Chile's Ministry of Health said Thursday 1,122 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the last 24 hours, bringing the tally to 486,496.

Health Minister Enrique Paris said the region with the highest number of new cases per 100,000 people continued to be Magallanes, although a "slight decrease in cases has been reported and the curve is beginning to fall".

According to the Department of Statistics and Health Information, 19 more deaths were registered in the last 24 hours, raising the death toll to 13,434. 

Meanwhile, the ministry called on citizens to continue to follow anti-coronavirus measures, ahead of possible demonstrations that mark the first anniversary of the wave of social unrest that began in the country on Oct 18, 2019.

Croatia

Croatia reported 1,131 COVID-19 cases on Friday, the first time the Adriatic country of four million people has exceeded 1,000 cases a day.

In the last 10 days the number of new infections has accelerated from around 300 a day to reach 793 on Thursday.

In total, Croatia has recorded 23,665 cases so far with 345 deaths. 

There are currently 4,233 active cases, a number which has doubled in the last 10 days.

Czech Republic

The Czech healthcare system faces a difficult few weeks ahead but is not threatened by collapse, health officials said on Friday after another record one-day increase in COVID-19 cases.

The Czech Republic recorded 9,721 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, setting a single-day record for a second day running, Health Ministry data showed on Friday. The new additions took the country's caseload to 149,010.

The number of COVID-19 patients has nearly doubled to around 3,000 since Oct 5, about seven times levels seen in the first wave in March and April. About a fifth need intensive care.

Health Minister Roman Prymula said on Friday field hospitals were a backup and hospital capacity was being boosted. He said forecasts show the number of patients would rise to 5,000 in the next 10 days or two weeks.

The head of the country's intensive care organization, Vladimir Cerny, said at a Health Ministry news conference the next two weeks would be difficult but the system was not at risk of collapse.

Finland

The Finnish government on Thursday issued a series of new guidelines to curb the rising number of coronavirus infections, urging local authorities to strengthen their measures. 

The government's recommendations for the various regions in the country have been divided according to the epidemic situations.

According to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), seven of the 21 health districts are now in the phase of acceleration, including the capital region of Helsinki, and one has reached the spreading phase.

In view of the widespread of COVID-19 across the country, the government recommends remote working in both public and private sector. Workplaces should avoid close contacts and other risk factors.

According to THL, as of Thursday afternoon, Finland has confirmed a total of 12,944 COVID-19 infections, along with 350 deaths.

France

French health authorities on Thursday reported the number of new daily coronavirus infections jumped above 30,000 for the first time since the start of the epidemic.

There were a total of 30,621 new COVID-19 infections over the past 24 hours, up on Wednesday's 22,591, while hospitalizations and deaths linked to the disease also rose.

The death toll rose by 88 to 33,125, versus 104 on Wednesday. The cumulative number of cases now totals 809,684.

Patients in intensive care units (ICU) now total 1,750, an increase of 77 in 24 hours.

A medical staff collects a swab sample from a resident at a coronavirus test center in Cologne, Germany, on Oct 15, 2020. (MARTIN MEISSNER / AP)

Germany

Germany posted a record increase in coronavirus infections for a second consecutive day, with the number of cases rising by 7,620 in the 24 hours through Friday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Friday that Germany's tally increased by 7,334 to 348,557 while deaths rose by 24 to 9,734.

The Foreign Ministry on Thursday warned against non-essential travel to France, the Netherlands, Malta and Slovakia from Saturday due to high coronavirus infection rates.

Greece

A 24-hour nationwide strike was organized on Thursday by ADEDY, the umbrella union representing public servants in Greece, over COVID-19 safety measures and financial issues.

Nurses working in state hospitals and teachers in public schools, along with students, joined in the march in the center of Athens.

The labor union is asking the government for more beds in intensive care units, more staff and more free coronavirus tests on healthcare professionals and the public to improve the virus tracing.

Greece has so far reported 23,947 confirmed cases and 482 deaths, according to data collected by Johns Hopkins University.

Hungary

Hungary reported a daily record of 33 coronavirus deaths, while the number of patients on ventilators more than doubled over the past week to 171.

Epidemiologists advising the Hungarian government have warned that with one of the lowest testing rates in the European Union, the nation was at risk of losing track of the pandemic. 

Hungarians shouldn’t plan to travel abroad this winter because of a worsening trend in the pandemic, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a social media post.

Italy

Italy has registered 8,804 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, the health ministry said on Thursday, the highest daily tally since the start of the country's outbreak and up steeply from 7,332 on Wednesday.

There were also 83 COVID-19-related deaths on Thursday, jumping from 43 the day before.

The number of people in intensive care with the virus has risen steadily. It stood at 586 on Thursday, up from 539 the day before and compared with a low of around 40 in the second half of July.

The southern Campania region, around Naples, has decided to shut schools until the end of October after a spike in infections.

Libya

The National Center for Disease Control of Libya reported on Thursday 885 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the tally to 46,676.

The center said in a statement that 12 more patients have died, taking the death toll to 681, while the number of recoveries rose by 384 to 25,685.

Mexico

Mexico's health ministry on Thursday reported 5,514 newly confirmed cases of coronavirus infection and 387 additional fatalities, bringing the total in the country to 834,910 cases and 85,285 deaths.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador announced his administration was requesting that private hospitals offer free care to those affected by the coronavirus.

At a press conference, the Mexican president referred to "a new stage" in the country, which will consist of the conversion of some public hospitals into specialized COVID-19 centers, with support provided by private institutions.

Morocco

Morocco announced on Thursday 3,317 new COVID-19 cases, taking the tally to 163,650.

The number of recoveries increased by 2,077 to 136,036 while the death toll rose by 46 to 2,772, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Poland

Poland reported on Friday a new daily record of 132 coronavirus-related deaths, while it counted 7,705 newly confirmed coronavirus cases as it grapples with a spike in cases amidst fears of limited hospital beds and ventilators.

The government urged Poles to travel outside of the country only if absolutely necessary

Poland now has 157,608 confirmed coronavirus cases and 3,440 deaths. On Thursday, Poland recorded a daily record of 8,099 new cases as it introduced new restrictions, including closing all gyms and pools and placing limits on the size of weddings or banning them altogether in some regions.

The continuing climb in deaths comes amidst fears of a shortage of medical personnel as well as equipment. As it stands, 6,980 hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients and 540 ventilators are in use, according to the health ministry.

Portugal

Portugal on Friday reported the biggest daily increase in confirmed virus cases since the start of the outbreak. 

There were 2,608 new cases in a day, more than the previous record of 2,101 reported on Thursday, taking the total to 95,902. The number of patients in intensive care units rose by 5 to 144, a level that’s about half of the peak reached in April.

Romania

Romanian Health Minister Nelu Tataru said on Thursday that all hospitals across the country must reserve a certain percentage of intensive care units and general wards for COVID-19 patients.

"All the hospitals will have a reserve (for COVID cases)...10 percent for intensive care and 15 percent for the regular cases," the minister told local media during his working visit to the western city of Timisoara. Until now, COVID-19 patients have only been treated in designated hospitals.

Tataru also said at from next week onwards, patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 symptoms as well as the asymptomatic ones, will stay at home under the monitoring of family doctors, so as to preserve medical resources for the most severe patients.

The epidemic situation is worsening in the country, with new cases doubling in half a month as another 4,013 cases were confirmed on Thursday.

Russia

Russia's daily tally of new coronavirus cases surged to a record high of 15,150 on Friday, including 5,049 in the capital Moscow, pushing the national total to 1,369,313 since the pandemic began.

Authorities reported 232 COVID-related deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the official death toll to 23,723.

Spain

Spain reported 6,603 new COVID-19 cases, the biggest daily increase since April. 

The region reporting the highest number of cases is Madrid, which reported 2,292 new infections, after the national government declared the state of emergency. 

Catalonia, the country’s second most-populous region, is also set to implement a shutdown of bars and restaurants.

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa expressed confidence on Thursday that the state of emergency imposed by the central government on the Autonomous Community of Madrid on Oct 9 would only last 15 days.

A student walks through a disinfectant tunnel at a school in Kampala, capital of Uganda, Oct 15, 2020. (NICHOLAS KAJOBA / XINHUA)

Uganda

Ugandan schools reopened for candidate students to resume studies on Thursday after being closed for seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

President Yoweri Museveni last month directed the reopening of schools, colleges and universities for the 1.2 million students in candidate classes and finalists to complete their studies amid the pandemic.

He said the plan for further reopening schools for non-finalist learners in the east African country will be decided by January 2021.

As of Thursday, Uganda had recorded 10,117 COVID-19 cases, 6,725 recoveries and 96 deaths, according to the health ministry.  

UK

"Human challenge" trials of potential COVID-19 vaccines, where volunteers are deliberately infected with the disease, could become a reality after a British biotech firm said it was in advanced talks with the government to create and provide strains of the virus.

Preliminary work for the trials, which aim to speed up the process of determining the efficacy of a vaccine candidate, is being carried out by hVIVO, a unit of pharmaceutical services company Open Orphan, hVIVO said on Friday.

The development comes as the United Kingdom faces an accelerating second coronavirus wave.

From midnight on Friday, London will be moved into the "tier 2" or "high risk" level in the government's new three-tiered alert system, up from "tier 1" or "medium risk".

The main impact of the move to "high" is that people cannot meet other households socially indoors in any setting, for example at home or in a restaurant. Travel should be reduced where possible, Health Minister Matt Hancock said Thursday.

A poster reminding commuters to practice social distancing is seen at a bus stop in London,Britain, on Oct 15, 2020. (KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH / AP)

The United Kingdom recorded 18,980 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday and 138 deaths of people who had tested positive for the virus within 28 days, government data showed.

The government said it was removing Italy from its safe travel list, while Crete was added to the list. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Twitter that the measure would take effect at 4 am (0300 GMT) on Sunday. 

Ukraine

Ukraine registered a record 5,992 COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, the national security council said on Friday, up from a previous record of 5,804 new cases on Oct 9.

The total number of cases climbed to 287,231, including 5,394 deaths, with 92 in the past 24 hours.

US

Coronavirus cases in the US neared 8 million while deaths topped 217,000, according to data collected from Johns Hopkins University.

A passenger on Joe Biden’s campaign plane tested positive, though the two didn’t come near each other -- and he tested negative Thursday.

Meanwhile, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris canceled her travel until Monday after her communications director and a flight crew member tested positive. 

The virus outbreak’s march across the US Midwest has caught up with the region’s most populous states. More than 22,000 new cases were reported on Wednesday across the Midwest. Hospitalizations in those states reached a record high for a 10th consecutive day, as some hospitals began feeling the strain.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said a massive testing effort inside areas of increasing COVID-19 had shown a leveling off of new infections, but more must be done to stave off a second wave of the pandemic in the most populous US city.

On COVID-19 vaccination, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday released a letter from the National Governors Association (NGA), asking President Donald Trump for a meeting to discuss how a vaccination program would be conducted and what the respective roles of the federal and state governments are in this regard.

Pfizer 

Pfizer Inc said it plans to apply for Emergency Authorization Use in the US soon after the safety milestone of COVID-19 vaccine program is reached, according to a post on its website.

“Based on our current trial enrollment and dosing pace, we estimate we will reach this milestone in the third week of November,” the company said. It expects to have manufacturing data ready for submission before the safety milestone is reached, according to the statement.

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