WHO trials anti-inflammatory drugs for COVID-19 patients

This photo taken on March 30, 2021 shows an exterior view of the headquarters of the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland. (CHEN JUNXIA / XINHUA)

BERLIN / WASHINGTON / ROME / ABUJA / LONDON / BRASILIA / RABAT / HAVANA / SANTIAGO / MONTEVIDEO / NEW YORK / MEXICO CITY / MOSCOW / GABORONE / TBILISI / ZURICH / KYIV – 

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday a clinical trial in 52 countries would study three anti-inflammatory drugs as potential treatments for COVID-19 patients.

"These therapies – artesunate, imatinib and infliximab – were selected by an independent expert panel for their potential in reducing the risk of death in hospitalised COVID-19 patients," it said in a statement on the Solidarity PLUS trial.

Artesunate is already used for severe malaria, imatinib for certain cancers, and infliximab for diseases of the immune system such as Crohn's Disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

The original Solidarity trial last year found that all four treatments evaluated – remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon – had little or no effect in helping COVID patients

The original Solidarity trial last year found that all four treatments evaluated – remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon – had little or no effect in helping COVID patients.

So far, only corticosteroids have been proven effective against severe and critical COVID-19.

The WHO said artesunate, produced by Ipca, is used to treat malaria. In the trial, it will be administered intravenously for seven days, using the standard dose recommended for the treatment of severe malaria.

Imatinib, produced by Novartis, is used to treat certain cancers. In the trial, it will be administered orally, once daily, for 14 days.

Infliximab, produced by Johnson and Johnson, is used to treat diseases of the immune system. In the trial, it will be administered intravenously as a single dose.

EU

Europe's drugs regulator said on Wednesday it was looking into three new conditions to assess whether they may be possible side-effects related to COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna following a small number of cases.

Erythema multiforme, a form of allergic skin reaction, and glomerulonephritis and nephrotic syndrome, disorders related to kidneys, are being studied by the safety committee of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), according to the regulator.

The mRNA technology used by the two vaccines has been a turning point in the pandemic and for the scientific community, with their high effectiveness against COVID-19, but some rare side-effects of the shots are being studied as more people are inoculated globally.

Last month, the EMA found a possible link between very rare heart inflammation and the mRNA vaccines. However, the European regulator and the World Health Organization have stressed that benefits from these vaccines outweighed any risks posed by them. read more

The EMA did not give details on Wednesday as to how many cases of the new conditions were recorded following vaccination with the Pfizer and Moderna shots, but said it has requested more data from the companies to study any potential relation between them.

Pfizer and Moderna did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Ukraine

Ukraine has extended a state of emergency that allows regional authorities to impose COVID-19 restrictions for a further month until Oct 1 to tackle a surge in infections from the rapidly spreading Delta variant, the prime minister said on Wednesday.

"Unfortunately, experts are beginning to register the first negative trends in terms of hospitalization of those seriously ill, therefore the government is adopting a decree to extend the state of emergency and adaptive lockdown until Oct. 1," premier Denys Shmygal said during a televised weekly cabinet meeting.

The "adaptive lockdown" means regional authorities have the power to tighten or ease restrictions depending on the situation locally. The state of emergency had been due to expire at the end of August.

Ukraine's seven-day average daily number of new cases has risen above 1,000 since mid-July, after authorities lifted most restrictions and maintained only mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing requirements.

Ukraine, with a population of 41 million, has been among the most affected European countries, with around 2.3 million COVID-19 cases and 53,149 deaths as of Aug 11, while only 2.5 million have been fully vaccinated so far.

This photo taken on April 28, 2021 shows vials of Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine in Moscow, Russia. (EVGENY SINITSYN / XINHUA)

Russia

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine against COVID-19 is around 83 percent effective against the Delta variant of coronavirus, lower than previously thought, Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on Wednesday.

The vaccine's developers in June said Sputnik V was around 90 percent effective against the Delta variant.

"The latest results show that effectiveness is around 83 percent,” the TASS news agency cited Murashko as saying.

Alexander Gintsburg, director of the Gamaleya Institute which developed the vaccine, said on Wednesday in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper that Sputnik V was safe and effective against all strains of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, Russia reported 799 coronavirus-related deaths on Wednesday, an all-time high it has reached four times over the past month after a surge in cases that authorities blamed on the infectious Delta variant.

The coronavirus task force also confirmed 21,571 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, a daily total that is declining gradually after peaking in July. 

To date, Russia has confirmed a total of 6,512,859 cases and reported 167,241 deaths.

ALSO READ: Moderna says its vaccine 93% effective 6 months after 2nd dose

Global tally

Coronavirus cases worldwide exceeded 204.02 million while the global death toll topped 4.31 million, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

US

US COVID-19 cases topped 36 million Tuesday, fueled by a steep increase in infections due to the spread of the Delta variant.

As of 6:21 pm local time on Tuesday, US COVID-19 cases totaled 36,039,748, along with 618,044 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally.

President Joe Biden urged Americans in hurricane-prone states to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to protect themselves in case they have to evacuate from their homes, warning that serious hurricanes could strike this month.

The spread of the coronavirus has been particularly severe in Florida and other parts of the Southeastern United States, which is bracing for major storms as the country heads into the height of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Hospitalizations in the US rose 40 percent and deaths, a lagging indicator, registered an 18 percent rise nationwide in the past week.

Only eight intensive care unit beds were available on Monday in the state of Arkansas, its governor said. In neighboring Texas, Governor Greg Abbott asked hospitals to postpone elective surgeries.

School districts in Florida and Texas are bucking their Republican governors' bans on requiring masks for children and teachers as coronavirus cases soared.

Meanwhile, Hawaii will re-impose COVID-19 restrictions limiting social gatherings to avert straining the state's healthcare, Governor David Ige said. The new curbs include a reduction in indoor capacity for bars, gyms, restaurants, and social establishments to 50 percent, according to Ige.

READ MORE: Children account for 15% of weekly COVID-19 cases in US

In another development, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) said Tuesday it had launched a new study to assess how patients on immunosuppressive therapy after kidney transplant, who did not respond to the first two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, respond to a third dose.

The study aims to determine whether a third dose of either Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could help kidney transplant patients overcome the problem of not developing immune response to the coronavirus even after vaccination.

School psychologist Megan Hahn, left, helps direct children during the first day of school at Washington Elementary School in Riviera Beach, Florida, Aug 10, 2021. (WILFREDO LEE / AP)

Italy

Italy's island regions of Sicily and Sardinia are at risk of becoming the first two regions to lose their status as low-risk "white" health zones in weeks as the coronavirus pandemic gains traction there, data released by the Ministry of Health on Tuesday showed.

Over 14 percent of coronavirus patients in Sicily has been hospitalized, according to the latest data. Calabria, the neighboring region at the toe of Italy's boot-shaped peninsula, is also close to reclassification as a "yellow" zone, with 11.4 percent of its infected population hospitalized.

Italy's coronavirus rules require any region with a hospitalization rate higher than 15 percent to move into the "yellow" category the following Monday. 

Regions in the "yellow" category will see restrictions on movement within the region and earlier closing times for restaurants and bars. 

Seven of Italy's 20 regions saw an increase in hospitalizations over the last week, the first time that has happened since early this year.

On Tuesday, the country reported 5,636 new cases and 31 deaths over the past 24 hours.

Some 34.9 million Italian residents, or 64.5 percent of the country's population aged 12 or older, have been fully vaccinated, according to the latest ministry data.

Nigeria

Nigeria will restart COVID-19 inoculations on Aug 16 after taking delivery of 4 million doses of Moderna vaccine, with shipments of Johnson & Johnson shots also due imminently, the head of the primary healthcare agency said on Tuesday.

Nigeria has so far vaccinated only a tiny fraction of its population of 200 million, largely due to a lack of supply. The latest data, in June, showed that 2 million people had received one dose and 700,000 had received two.

The rollout of vaccines was halted on July 9 because supplies had run out.

The Moderna doses, which arrived in Nigeria from the United States last week, were being prepared for rollout, said Faisal Shuaib, executive director of the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency.

Since the start of the pandemic, Nigeria has recorded about 175,000 cases of COVID-19 and over 2,000 deaths, but the real figures could be much higher as testing is patchy.

UK

The UK reported 146 additional deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test on Tuesday, the highest daily total since March 12, as the impact of last month's surge in cases fed through into fatalities, government data showed.

The number of new cases reported on Tuesday fell to 23,510 from 25,161 on Monday – less than half the peak of 54,674 recorded on July 17, shortly before most social distancing measures were removed in England.

But coronavirus cases have begun to creep up again, with 196,047 Britons infected with COVID-19 in the past week, 7 percent more than the week before and the highest rolling seven-day total this month.

More than three out of every four UK adults has now had two doses of coronavirus vaccine, the country’s Department for Health and Social Care said on Tuesday. Some 47,091,889 people have received at least one dose, while 39,688,566 have received two, it said.

The UK has suffered 130,503 deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test, the second-highest total in Europe after Russia and one of the highest in the world.

READ MORE: COVID-19 travel tests probed by UK competition watchdog

Lithuania

An anti-vaccine protest in front of Lithuanian parliament turned violent on Tuesday, leaving one policeman injured as protesters demanded the government scraps plans to require proof of inoculation against COVID-19.

Protesters threw stones and bottles at the police, which then used tear gas to disperse the crowd that blocked the parliament’s building and a parking lot, LRT public broadcaster reported.

Lithuania plans to impose a vaccine passport for people to access places such as restaurants, beauty parlors and public transport from mid-September. The government and the parliament already demand all their employees provide a vaccination certificate or a negative COVID-19 test.

Kenya

Kenya will require all government workers to receive at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine before Aug 23 or face disciplinary action, according to Joseph Kinyua, the head of the nation’s public service.

Some staff members have opted not to get inoculated so they can continue working from home, which is hurting service delivery, according to a letter sent by Kinyua to senior state officials and verified by Bloomberg News. There has been low uptake by security officers and teachers in particular, he said.

“Vaccination is voluntary — why are civil servants the only ones being punished?” said Tom Odege, secretary general of the Kenya Union of Civil Servants, a union that received the note. “The government should instead encourage civil servants to get vaccinated.”

Kenya’s government spokesman Cyrus Oguna did not immediately respond to calls and text messages on the authenticity of the letter, which was widely shared on Twitter.

Kenyan state workers who haven’t complied will be “treated as discipline cases and appropriate action taken against them,” according to the letter.

Only 2.6 percent of Kenyan adults are fully inoculated, primarily with the two-shot AstraZeneca vaccine, according to the Ministry of Health.

So far, health authorities have recorded 213,756 infections and 4,211 deaths.

Greece

Greece recorded 4,181 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, the highest daily increase in just over four months. 

The Heraklion area of the island of Crete saw the largest rise in new cases over the past 24 hours after central Athens. 

Greek authorities announced a nighttime curfew for the area from 1 am to 6 am starting Aug 11 until Aug 17, as well as a ban on music at entertainment venues.

Health workers collect a nasal swab sample from a man for a COVID-19 test in Mexico City, Aug 9, 2021. (MARCO UGARTE / AP)

Mexico

Mexico recorded 19,555 newly confirmed coronavirus cases and 786 additional deaths on Tuesday, according to health ministry data, bringing the total confirmed case count to 2,997,885 and the overall death toll to 245,476.

Brazil

Brazil recorded 34,885 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 1,211 deaths from COVID-19, the health ministry said on Tuesday.

Brazil has registered 20,212,642 cases since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 564,773, according to ministry data.

Morocco 

Morocco's COVID-19 tally rose to 711,103 on Tuesday as 9,778 new cases were registered during the past 24 hours.

The death toll rose by 105 to 10,509 while the number of recoveries increased by 7,365 to 624,776, according to a statement by the health ministry.

The number of active cases rose to 75,818, including 1,692 patients in intensive care units, according to the statement.

A total of 15,423,440 people have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine while 11,114,148 have received two doses.

Cuba

Cuba reported on Tuesday 8,936 new COVID-19 infections and 93 more deaths, bringing the tally to 475,105 and the toll to 3,608.

Havana reported 1,734 new infections, followed by the provinces of Cienfuegos (1,686), Ciego de Avila (998) and Santiago de Cuba (525). 

According to Francisco Duran, the national director of hygiene and epidemiology of the Ministry of Public Health, the new virus variants “have a more aggressive behavior”.

Chile

COVID-19 positivity rates in 14 of Chile's 16 regions stood at 2 percent or lower in the last 24 hours, Health Minister Enrique Paris said on Tuesday.

In a statement, the official said 514 new COVID-19 infections were logged during that period, bringing the tally to 1,624,823.

There were 31 deaths logged in the same period, taking the death toll to 36,138.

Chile has fully vaccinated over 82 percent of its target population of 15.2 million against COVID-19. 

Uruguay

Uruguay's Defense Minister Javier Garcia said on Tuesday that the gradual reopening of the country's borders to foreigners will comply with health protocols and won't affect the country's health conditions.

"We will open borders in a gradual manner, continuing to provide health and safety," Garcia said, adding that it will not be an uncontrolled situation.

The South American country's borders will reopen starting on Sept 1 for fully vaccinated homeowners who present a negative COVID-19 PCR test.

From Nov 1, borders will reopen to all foreigners who are fully vaccinated with a negative COVID-19 PCR test.

A total of 65 percent of Uruguay’s population has received two shots of a COVID-19 vaccine.

12-year-old Nicole (left) holds the hand of her twin sister Jessica as she gets her vaccination with the BioNTech vaccine at the district vaccination center in Ludwigsburg, southern Germany, on Aug 3, 2021. (THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP)

Germany

Almost 9,000 people in the municipality of Schortens in northern Germany could have received saline instead of a COVID-19 vaccine, the county of Friesland said on Tuesday.

The authorities appealed to those affected to get another shot of COVID-19 vaccine after a police investigation found that a Red Cross nurse may have injected them with a saline solution.

While saline solution is harmless, most people who got vaccinated in Germany in March and April – when the suspected switch took place – are elderly people at high risk of catching the potentially fatal viral disease.

Germany's coronavirus vaccination drive has slowed and those people who have not taken up the opportunity to have shots will have to take COVID-19 tests to take a full part in public life, Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

To nudge more people to get vaccinated amid concerns about a rise in new cases, Merkel said the government will stop offering free tests from Oct 11, except for those for whom vaccination is not recommended, such as children and pregnant women.

The government will also require people to be either vaccinated, test negative or have a recovery certificate to enter indoor restaurants, participate in religious ceremonies and do indoor sport.

Less than seven weeks before a federal election, Merkel and leaders of Germany's 16 states met to discuss measures to dampen a new spate of infections, driven by the spread of the Delta coronavirus variant, and avert unpopular restrictions.

Although around 55 percent of Germans are fully vaccinated, the pace of inoculations has slowed. Merkel said she would like to see around 75 percent of Germans fully vaccinated. 

"What is clear is that this fourth wave is coming, and definitely in the autumn," said Bavarian leader Markus Soeder. "The current infection rates are not sufficient to be carefree."

Merkel agreed that so long as the vaccines work, any further restrictions must be different to previous lockdowns.

Germany's infection tally has increased by 4,996 to 3,799,425, data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) for infectious diseases showed on Wednesday. The reported death toll rose by 14 to 91,817. 

The federal government also agreed at Tuesday's meeting to extend financial assistance to businesses affected by restrictions beyond September, when they are supposed to expire.

Moderna vaccine

Antibody levels are a good predictor for how effective Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is, according to a new study released on Tuesday, a finding which could help speed up future clinical trials for vaccines against the disease.

Regulators currently rely on large placebo-controlled studies to determine if a vaccine works, but the study, conducted by scientists from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Moderna and elsewhere, showed that measuring the antibody levels in vaccine recipients could also determine effectiveness.

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that the Moderna vaccine was more effective in vaccine recipients with high levels of antibodies. These recipients also reported a lower rate of breakthrough infections after being vaccinated.

The study was conducted using data from Moderna's 30,000-participant clinical trial, which started last year and was the basis for the vaccine's authorization.

France

The situation in the French Antilles continued to worsen with hospitals in a critical situation on the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, according to newspaper Le Figaro. 

Martinique is facing a new strict lockdown with beaches and non-essential stores closed as well as movement limitations, and Guadeloupe may soon follow, according to the newspaper.

The French government will interrupt a holiday to hold an extraordinary cabinet meeting on Wednesday on a proposal to declare a state of emergency in French Polynesia, according to a statement from the Elysee presidential palace. 

Meanwhile in continental France, four regions – Nouvelle-Aquitaine in the southwest being the latest – launched a special hospital plan to help manage a spike in Delta variant cases.

Botswana

There is some relief in Botswana as the country expects to receive more COVID-19 vaccines, following a slow down to its vaccination program in the past few weeks due to unavailability of vaccine.

The country expects to receive 108,000 doses of Johnson and Johnson’s vaccine on Thursday, and 81,900 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot on Saturday.

On Aug 8, the country received 38,400 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The arrival of the vaccines comes as a huge relief to the southern African country, which is currently going through its worst phase of infections and escalating deaths since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

According to a report by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 on Monday, Botswana recorded 130,771 confirmed cases and 1,832 deaths, making it one of the highest deaths per 100,000 population in the world. 

Just 132,466 people in the country have been fully vaccinated while 243,894 have gotten one COVID-19 shot.

Georgia

Georgia on Wednesday reported 5,352 new COVID-19 cases, taking its tally to 461,198, said the National Center for Disease Control and Public Health (NCDC).

The death toll rose by 48 to 6,230, dData from the NCDC showed.

Meanwhile, the total number of recoveries increased by 2,635 to 409,110.

As of Wednesday, the country had administered a total of 688,940 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, according to the NCDC.