WHO: Poorer nations to get virus antibody test tech for free

An employee demonstrates the application of a NADAL COVID-19 rapid test during a smear test at the distribution center of nal von minden, a company distributing antibody and antigen rapid tests, in Moers, western Germany on March 4, 2021, amid the ongoing coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
(INA FASSBENDER / AFP)

PARIS / BRUSSELS / WASHINGTON / SANTIAGO / KYIV / BERLIN / PRAGUE / ROME / ZURICH – A global licence for serological technology that detects COVID-19 antibodies will be provided royalty-free to poor and middle-income countries under a first of its kind agreement to boost production, the World Health Organisation said on Tuesday.

The existing four tests, which check for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies developed after either an infection or a vaccine dose, could also inform decisions on the need for boosters to protect against the disease, it said in a statement.

The non-exclusive licensing agreement reached with the Spanish National Research Council, a public research institute offering the technology as a global public good, is the first test license signed by the WHO's Medicines Patent Pool.

"The aim of the licence is to facilitate the rapid manufacture and commercialization of CSIC’s COVID-19 serological test worldwide," the WHO said.

"The licence will be royalty-free for low- and middle-income countries and will remain valid until the date the last patent expires," it said.

The tests are simple to use and suitable for even rural settings with a basic laboratory infrastructure, it added.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the deal which he hoped would inspire other developers to share tools against COVID-19 which has killed 5.4 million people since the virus emerged in central China in December 2019.

Chile

Chile has applied more than 40 million vaccine doses against COVID-19, Health Minister Enrique Paris said Monday.

"As of yesterday (Sunday), the 'I get vaccinated' vaccination campaign has succeeded in administering more than 40 million doses of vaccines," Paris said at a press conference.

The milestone represented a "great job, an excellent job, undertaken by the Health Ministry in conjunction with primary care, cities and also other ministries," said Paris.

Some 13.78 million people over 18 years of age in Chile are now fully vaccinated against the disease, or 90.76 percent of the target population of about 15.2 million people, according to the minister.

He noted 4.77 million doses have been applied to children and adolescents between the ages of six and 17, and called on vaccine skeptics to "approach the vaccination centers.

People holding placards protest at a rally in Prague, Czech Republic on Nov 22, 2021, to decry the government’s restrictions on unvaccinated people as new infections soared in the European Union nation. (MICHAL KAMARYT / CTK VIA AP)

Czech Republic and Slovakia

The Czech Republic and Slovakia banned unvaccinated people from hotels, pubs, hairdressers and most public events from Monday after COVID-19 cases filled hospital intensive-care wards, and were mulling harsher steps to stem the resurgent pandemic.

Less than a day into the new system, Slovakia signalled it could indeed echo Austria with a three-week lockdown for all as Prime Minister Eduard Heger said he was "intensively" looking at the possibility, to be discussed in the cabinet later this week.

"The prime minister is aware it is necessary to resolve the situation immediately so we can have a calmer Christmas and be able to relax measures in view of the coming tourism season," Heger's office said in a statement.

The two countries took the decision to target unvaccinated people last week to encourage inoculations as daily infections hit new records with vaccination rates lagging most European Union peers.

The unvaccinated make up nearly 70 percent of serious coronavirus illnesses in the Czech Republic and around 80 percent in Slovakia, according to government data form the two countries – although vaccination, while it greatly reduces the risk of serious illness or death, does not prevent transmission of the virus.

Slovakia has the bloc's third lowest full vaccination rate at 45.3 percent, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), while 58 percent of the Czech population was fully vaccinated, also below the EU average of 65.5 percent.

The Czech government was due on Monday to discuss calling a state of emergency, allowing it to order medical students to help at strained hospitals.

Under new Czech measures, only people who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months can visit restaurants, services or events like sports games.

In large parts of Slovakia, the government ordered restaurants to close to all in-house meals and serve take-out meals only, as well as restricting access to services.

A picture taken on June 16, 2021 in Brussels shows a passport behind a mobile phone whose screen bears a EU Digital COVID-19 certificate. The European health certificate, which Belgium began using on June 16, 2021, will become operational across the EU on July 1, 2021. (KENZO TRIBOUILLARD / AFP)

European Union

The European Union will this week discuss updating its digital COVID-19 certificates and its approach to travel within and outside the bloc as member nations take varying steps to counter the latest wave of the pandemic.

Booster shots will be a topic of conversation when European affairs ministers meet in Brussels on Tuesday, along with a debate over whether to change the length of time during which a vaccine certificate is valid, according to EU diplomats who declined to be named on confidential preparations.

The ministers, who have the task of preparing the next EU leaders’ summit on Dec 16-17, will also discuss vaccine hesitancy, which has fueled sometimes violent street protests in several member states in recent days, one of the diplomats said.

"I fully agree with the urgency, and this is why the European Commission is working with the utmost urgency to strengthen the coordination of free movement, including the length of validity and the role of boosters in the vaccination campaign," Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides told European lawmakers in Strasbourg on Monday.

"We are determined to reverse the current wave…and we are also aware that we need to give clear, coherent messages to citizens," she said.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks at the National Assembly as MPs prepare to vote on the measures taken to curb the spread of COVID-19, at the Palais Bourbon in Paris on Oct 29, 2020. (BERTRAND GUAY / AFP)

France

French Prime Minister Jean Castex has tested positive for COVID-19, French media reported on Monday.

Returning from Brussels Monday afternoon after meeting with his Belgian counterpart Alexander De Croo, Castex learnt that one of his daughters tested positive for COVID-19, Le Figaro reported.

De Croo will be tested on Wednesday and will remain in quarantine until the result of his test, local media reported.

Several senior members of the Belgian government will also go into quarantine to avoid any risks.

French ministers in the delegation include minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, Interior minister Gerald Darmanin, minister of Justice Eric Dupond-Moretti, and Secretary of State for European Affairs Clement Beaune.

Castex "immediately got a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test, which turned out to be positive," the French newspaper cited the prime minister's office as saying.

The schedule of the French head of government is to be modified for the coming days in order for him to continue working in his isolation.

In another development, French health authorities reported 5,266 daily new COVID-19 infections on Monday, pushing the seven-day moving average of new cases to an almost three-month high.

That average – which smoothes out daily reporting irregularities – rose to 18,479, a level unseen since Aug 27, from a three-month low of 4,172 on Oct 10.

It had set a 2021 record of 42,225 in mid-April before falling to a 2021 low of 1,816 at the end of June.

French government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said on Sunday the current wave of the pandemic was "rampant."

In another sign the virus' spread is speeding up again, the number of people treated in intensive care units for COVID-19 went up by 67 over 24 hours to 1,409, going 1,400 for the first time since Sept 30.

The total number of patients hospitalized for the disease increased by 300 versus Sunday to 8,338, the highest daily rise since Aug 23.

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An inspector appointed by the exhibitors, wearing a sign on her back reading "COVID-Check", walks through Christmas market on Roncalliplatz near the cathedral in Cologne, Germany on Nov 22, 2021. (OLIVER BERG / DPA VIA AP)

Germany

Germany's health minister called on Tuesday for further restrictions to contain a "dramatic" surge in coronavirus cases as the country's infection rate hit a record high and the United States advised against travel there.

The seven-day incidence rate – the number of people per 100,000 to be infected over the last week – hit 399.8 on Tuesday, up from 386.5 on Monday, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed.

Health Minister Jens Spahn called for more public spaces to be restricted to those who were vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19 and also had a negative test, in a bid to contain Germany's fourth wave.

Spahn did not rule out lockdowns, although he said this would be decided region by region. Some regions such as the hard-hit Saxony and Bavaria are already taking measures such as canceling Christmas markets.

"The situation is not only serious, in some regions in Germany it is now dramatic," Spahn told German Radio. "We are having to move patients around as the intensive care units are full and that doesn't just affect COVID-19 patients."

The surge in cases in Germany, and in neighbouring Denmark, prompted the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday to advise against travel to the two countries, raising its travel recommendation to "Level Four: Very High".

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide surpassed 258.34 million while the global death toll topped 5.16 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Italy

Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Monday said it will be possible for the Italians to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster five months after completing the first vaccination cycle.

"The booster dose is crucial to better protect ourselves and those around us. After Aifa's (Italy's medicines authority) latest advice, it will be possible to take it five months after completing the first cycle," Speranza wrote on Facebook.

Switzerland

Swiss drugs regulator Swissmedic said on Tuesday it approved the extension of a booster dose of Pfizer-BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine to everyone aged 16 years and over.

"This clears the way for wider use of the booster vaccination. High-risk individuals can still obtain a booster dose from age 12," Swissmedic said in a statement.

Medical personnel provides medical assistance to a COVID-19 patient inside the intensive care unit in an hospital which treats patients with COVID-19 coronavirus in Kyiv on Nov 2, 2021. (SERGEI SUPINSKY / AFP)

Ukraine

The latest COVID-19 wave in Ukraine is showing signs of slowing down, the government's press service said on Monday.

"There is a positive trend in Ukraine towards a reduction in the number of new cases of COVID-19 and the number of hospitalized citizens," said a statement on the government website.

Last week, 24,419 people infected with the virus were taken to hospitals in Ukraine, while previously about 32,000 people were hospitalized each week, the statement said.

In the past seven days, the number of COVID-19 fatalities also decreased compared to the previous week, the first time in about three months.

Last week, Ukraine administered more than 1.7 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, bringing the total number to about 22.7 million doses since it launched the vaccination campaign in February.

More than 12.8 million people in the country with a population of some 42 million have been fully vaccinated.

ALSO READ: WSJ: More Americans died from COVID-19 this year

Photo taken on Aug 26, 2021 shows the White House in Washington, DC, the United States. (PHOTO / XINHUA)

United States

The United States does not need to impose a lockdown or shut down its economy to curb the spread of COVID-19 and will rely on other tools, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said on Monday.

"We are not headed in that direction. We have the tools to accelerate the path out of this pandemic; widely available vaccinations, booster shots, kid shots, therapeutics," Zients told reporters at a White House briefing.

"We can curb the spread of the virus without having to in any way shut down our economy."

US regulators expanded eligibility for booster shots of COVID-19 vaccines to all adults on Friday, and 3 million people received them since, Zients said.

"In fact, just across Friday, Saturday and Sunday, we got 3 million booster shots into arms. A million booster shots per day," he said. "Don't delay, get your booster shot so you can have enhanced protection for COVID as we head into the winter."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said US health officials are not currently recommending lockdowns or economic restrictions to curb rising COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the State Department on Monday advised against travel to Germany and Denmark because of a rising number of COVID-19 cases in those countries.

The CDC elevated its travel recommendation to "Level Four: Very High" for the two European countries, telling Americans they should avoid travel there, while the State Department issued parallel "Do Not Travel" advisories for both countries.

The CDC currently lists about 75 destinations worldwide at Level Four, with many European countries on the list including Austria, Britain, Belgium, Greece, Norway, Switzerland, Romania, Ireland and the Czech Republic.