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Antiviral drug reportedly flops in first trial

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Key Points

  • Known COVID-19 cases are up 8, or 0.1 per cent, to 6659. The death toll has risen to by two to 76.
  • Globally, more than 2.6 million people have tested positive for the virus and 182,700 have died.
  • Subscribe to our daily newsletter, Need to know, here.
  •  Track the latest data in our blog, How the infection is spreading, here.

That's a wrap

That's where we will leave this blog. We will be covering the latest developments for Friday April 24 over here. Here's what happened overnight:

  • More than 4.4 million laid-off workers applied for US unemployment benefits last week as job cuts escalated across an economy that remains all but shut down.
  • Gilead's experimental coronavirus drug failed its first randomised clinical trial, the Financial Times reported on Thursday. The news sent markets lower on Wall Street.
  • The Seattle volunteers who got shots in the first trial of a possible coronavirus vaccine are now getting the second shot - an indicator the early trial is progressing well.
  • Britain's health minister Matt Hancock promised on Thursday to expand coronavirus testing to all those considered key workers after the government faced criticism for failing to roll out mass checks.
  • New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday a screening of 3000 residents found that 13.9 per cent tested positive for antibodies for the novel coronavirus.
  • Up to half of coronavirus-related deaths in Europe are taking place in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, the World Health Organisation said Thursday.
  • Elizabeth Warren's oldest brother died of coronavirus on Tuesday night in Oklahoma, three weeks after testing positive for the virus.

More Italians Say, ‘I Want Justice’

New York Times

As the infection curve in Italy flattens and the government moves gingerly toward reopening the country, more Italians, fueled by growing anger over thousands of deaths and what they see as health officials' failures in handing the crisis, are seeking to hold someone accountable.

Some analysts foresee a litigious phase as victims' families rally in anger in Facebook groups and prosecutors weigh manslaughter charges over deaths at some nursing homes. Italy's coronavirus epidemic was among the world's deadliest, with an official toll of more than 25,000. And the grievances are emerging as the government wrestles with lifting the lockdown, what it calls Phase 2.

"Phase 3 is going to be the criminalization of the contagion," journalist Nicola Mirenzi wrote on the news website Linkiesta. "The pandemic is going to turn into a big collective trial."


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Las Vegas mayor offers to be a 'control group'

Washington Post

Standing in front of an empty storefront along Main Street, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman was beaming with optimism, saying that businesses would make it through the coronavirus pandemic.

"We're all together in this and we are going to come out with a bang," Goodman, who is an independent, said earlier this month.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman details her plan in interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper. Supplied

On Tuesday, it became apparent what she may have had in mind. She said she wants to reopen casinos, assuming that 100% of the population are carriers of the novel coronavirus.

Let visitors gather and gamble, smoke in confined spaces, touch slot machines all day - and let the chips, and apparently the infections, fall where they may.

"Assume everybody is a carrier," the mayor said Tuesday on MSNBC. "And then you start from an even slate. And tell the people what to do. And let the businesses open and competition will destroy that business if, in fact, they become evident that they have disease, they're closed down. It's that simple."

The perspective left MSNBC host Katy Tur visibly dumbfounded. The next day, Goodman shocked another host, Anderson Cooper of CNN, telling him that she's previously asked the city statistician if they could be a control group for the virus but the statistician told her people commute into the city and it wouldn't work.

"We offered to be a control group," she said. "It was offered, it was turned down."

Cooper displayed a graphic depicting how the virus could spread in a restaurant in China to ask Goodman about the risk of the virus among diners, but Goodman interjected.

"This isn't China," she said, "this is Las Vegas, Nevada."

"Wow, that's really ignorant," Cooper responded.

Goodman, who has criticized Nevada's lockdown as "total insanity," cited lesser outbreaks of infectious diseases to prove that Las Vegas, which faces a deficit of nearly $150 million in the next 18 months, had shown the kind of resiliency necessary for it to reopen.

"We've survived the West Nile and SARS, bird flu, E. coli, swine flu, the Zika virus," the mayor told MSNBC.

She was cut off by Tur, who reminded the mayor that those viruses did not come close to the level of the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 840,000 confirmed cases and more than 46,000 deaths in the United States as of early Thursday.

"Those were not as contagious," Tur said of the diseases the mayor rattled off. "They were not as contagious and they did not spread as far as this disease has already done."

"Well, we'll find out the facts afterward," Goodman replied. "Unfortunately, we all do better in hindsight."

"But those are the facts," Tur replied, looking baffled. "We have a death toll that proves it. We have cases around the country that prove that."

As The Washington Post reported, several states, including Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, have announced limited easing of business and recreational closures, starting between this week and the end of the month. This has gone on while small groups of protesters throughout the United States, encouraged by President Donald Trump, have gathered to demand that their governors reopen the American economy.

Let's get back to work says Goyder

It should not be at "any cost", but one of Australia's most powerful company chairmen, Richard Goyder, has urged federal and state governments to get on with reopening the economy as the COVID-19 infection rate grinds lower.

"Clearly, the sooner the better, because the longer this goes on, the more challenging it's going to be economically," Mr Goyder told a director roundtable hosted by AFR BOSS magazine and the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

"Because effectively, we're going to be living on debt for as long as it goes. And that just means the burden is going to be greater as we come out."

Full story here.

Experimental coronavirus drug flops in first trial: reports


Gilead's experimental coronavirus drug failed its first randomised clinical trial, the Financial Times reported on Thursday, citing draft documents published accidentally by the World Health Organisation.

The Chinese trial showed the antiviral remdesivir did not improve patients' condition or reduce the pathogen's presence in the bloodstream, the report said.

However Gilead countered that the post included inappropriate characterisations of the study and that the study was terminated early due to low enrollment. As a result, it was underpowered to enable statistically meaningful conclusions.

"The study results are inconclusive, though trends in the data suggest a potential benefit for remdesivir, particularly among patients treated early in disease," the company said.

The WHO said a draft document provided by the authors of the study was inadvertently posted on the website. It was taken down as soon as the mistake was noticed, the agency said adding the manuscript is undergoing peer review and a final version is awaited.

Gilead is testing the drug in multiple trials and highly anticipated trial results from a study involving 400 patients hospitalised with severe cases of the illness are expected later this month.

Researchers in China studied 237 patients, giving the drug to 158 and comparing their progress with the remaining 79. The drug also showed significant side effects in some, which meant 18 patients were taken off it, according to the Financial Times.

Interest in Gilead's drug had been high as there are currently no approved treatments or preventive vaccines for COVID-19, and doctors are desperate for anything that might alter the course of the disease that attacks the lungs and can shut down other organs in extremely severe cases.

UN agency calls for $US1 trillion debt write-off for developing countries

Around $US1 trillion of debt owed by developing countries would be cancelled under a global deal proposed by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) on Thursday to help them overcome the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The world's developing economies, which were already struggling with a rapidly growing debt burden, must now confront a record global downturn, plummeting prices for their oil and commodities exports and weakening local currencies.

At the same time, they need to spend more money on healthcare and to protect their economies. Some 64 low-income countries currently spend more on debt service than their health systems, according to UNCTAD.

"This is a world where defaults by developing nations on their debt is inevitable," Richard Kozul-Wright, director of UNCTAD's Division on Globalisation and Development Strategies, said during a video conference with journalists.

In a report calling for a plan to relieve developing countries' debt burden, UNCTAD estimated their liquidity and financing requirements due to the pandemic amount to at least $US2.5 trillion.

Seattle vaccine trial progresses to second round of shots

The Seattle volunteers who got shots in the first trial of a possible coronavirus vaccine are now getting the second shot - an indicator the early trial is progressing well.

While the doctors at Kaiser Permanente's Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Unit in Seattle don't know the results of the first round of tests, the fact that it has continued and that the second round of injections are now being given is good news, said Lisa Jackson, who is leading the study.

"The trial hasn't been stopped. We know from the study protocol that if adverse events had happened, the protocol would have required that," she said. "Therefore we presume those things haven't happened."

The volunteers are taking part in the first investigational vaccine study to fight coronavirus. The study launched on March 16.

The vaccine, called mRNA-1273, was developed by scientists at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and at the Cambridge, Mass.-based biotechnology company Moderna.

It is being given in two doses because the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, is new and no one had been exposed to it before it appeared in December, said Jackson.

Humans are a "naive" population when it comes to the virus. The first shot "is a primer to set the immune system up, giving it a first look at the virus," Jackson said.

The second shot, administered 28 days later, builds on that protection so the body can more rapidly produce antibodies if it is later exposed to the virus.

The volunteers will be followed for 13 months to ensure they have no side effects or other reactions to the vaccine.


UK health minister promises to roll out testing for key workers


Britain's health minister Matt Hancock promised on Thursday to expand coronavirus testing to all those considered key workers after the government faced criticism for failing to roll out mass checks.

Previously only healthcare employees and those working in nursing homes have been able to get tests.

Britain has ignored testing the elderly residents of nursing homes, who may account for up to half of coronavirus-related deaths, according to the World Health Organisation.

The government classifies as key workers people working in jobs such as teachers, government employees and delivery drivers.

"We can make it easier and faster and simpler for an essential worker in England who needs a test to get a test," Mr Hancock told reporters. "This all applies to essential worker households too. It is all part of getting Britain back on her feet."

Test of 3000 New Yorkers finds nearly 14pc have antibodies

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Thursday a screening of 3000 residents found that 13.9 per cent tested positive for antibodies for the novel coronavirus, suggesting that some 2.7 million people across the state may have been infected.

Cuomo noted that the survey was preliminary and limited by other factors. He said the testing targeted people who were out in society shopping, meaning that they may be more likely to be infected than people isolating at home.

Up to half of all virus deaths in Europe take place in nursing homes

Washington Post

Up to half of coronavirus-related deaths in Europe are taking place in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes, the World Health Organisation said Thursday, an assessment that suggests public health authorities may have allowed the pandemic to rage among some of their most vulnerable populations as they focused on hospitals and other aspects of their response.

A "deeply concerning picture" is emerging about residents of homes for the elderly, Hans Kluge, the WHO's top official for Europe, told reporters on Thursday. According to countries' estimates, he said, "up to half of those who have died of COVID-19 were residents in long-term care facilities. This is an unimaginable human tragedy."

Mr Kluge's warning focused on Europe, but the United States has also struggled with the pandemic inside homes for the elderly. A Washington Post analysis this week found that nearly one in 10 nursing homes in America have reported cases of the coronavirus, with a death count that has reached the thousands.

A health worker adjusts the protective face mask of an elderly woman. AP

"The challenge is we don't have very good information for people in care homes," said Adelina Comas-Herrera, a researcher at the London School of Economics.

Comas-Herrera and colleagues reported last week that covid-19 deaths in nursing facilities in Belgium, Canada, France, Ireland and Norway might account for half of all deaths from the virus in those countries.

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock on Wednesday told Parliament that nursing home residents might represent 20 per cent of all deaths in that country. Some researchers in Britain have put the number as high as 40 per cent for deaths in care homes - a staggering number, considering such facilities house less than 1 per cent of the country's population.

Few countries are testing residents and staff in nursing homes. British officials essentially have ignored testing in care homes to focus all initial testing on patients in hospitals and hospital staff.

Britain's National Care Forum estimates that more than 4000 elderly and disabled people have died across all residential and nursing homes. Almost 19,000 deaths have been recorded across Britain to date.

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