November 11, 2020 | healthcare

COVID vaccine results fuel hopes for return to normal


WASHINGTON: Hugely promising results from a coronavirus vaccine trial fuelled optimism around the world yesterday, even as tighter restrictions were imposed in Europe and the Middle East to try and stem the worst pandemic in a century. The vaccine news brought some relief from an otherwise grim picture worldwide, which included the death of veteran Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat from coronavirus complications at the age of 65.

Stocks in some of the industries hit hardest by travel curbs, social distancing and lockdowns rebounded on hopes that the world may return to normal, after pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced Monday that their vaccine candidate was 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.

A vaccine is seen as the best hope to break the cycle of deadly virus surges and severe restrictions across much of the world since COVID-19 first emerged in China late last year and unleashed devastation on the global economy. “Investors have every right to be more bullish,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, an online stockbroker.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they could supply up to 50 million doses of the vaccine globally this year and up to 1.3 billion next year if it receives approval. The scientific community reacted positively overall – although the trial is still ongoing and the vaccine candidate would need to be stored in specialist deep freezers, creating potential supply chain complications.

The vaccine candidate is one of more than 40, but no other developer has yet made similar claims about effectiveness. There was also promising news from Brussels, where the EU parliament and member states struck a deal to pass the bloc’s multi-annual budget, unblocking €750 billion ($886 billion) in coronavirus recovery funds. Dacian Ciolos, head of the parliament’s centrist Renew Europe Group, called the agreement “a game-changer” for Europeans facing adversity from the pandemic.

The novel coronavirus has infected close to 51 million people worldwide, with more than 1.2 million deaths. Yesterday, 6,867 new deaths were recorded worldwide, with the highest daily tolls in France, Spain and the United States. Kuwait registered 903 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, raising the total to 133,381 cases, the health ministry announced yesterday. Total deaths reached 821 with the addition of five more fatalities, it added.

The US remains the hardest-hit nation at more than 10 million cases and nearly 240,000 deaths, and the pandemic was one of the top issues for voters in this month’s presidential election. Joe Biden, who had slammed President Donald Trump’s handling of the crisis, spared no time in announcing a COVID-19 taskforce on Monday after being declared president-elect. “We’re still facing a very dark winter,” Biden said.

Trump had clashed repeatedly with his own government experts, often refusing to back restrictions or even wear a mask in public. After the Pfizer announcement, he claimed – without evidence – that the news was delayed until after the election to damage him.

There was a separate breakthrough when the US Food and Drug Administration on Monday granted emergency approval to a synthetic antibody treatment developed by the pharma company Eli Lilly. Bamlanivimab, which was shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization and emergency room visits, is the first major drug to be approved that was designed specifically for the coronavirus.

Despite encouraging news on the medical front, rising infection and death rates have left many governments struggling to cope. In Italy, virus restrictions were increased in five of the country’s 20 regions yesterday. Seven regions are now “orange” zones and four more are “red”, meaning that most shops, bars and restaurants are shut and residents’ movements are restricted.

Hungary, one of the hardest-hit countries in terms of deaths in proportion to the population, has also announced new measures to come into force today. As a result, students at Hungary’s top arts university opposing a reform by Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government said they were ending a blockade of the campus that has lasted more than two months.

Elsewhere on the continent, Albania imposed a night-time curfew and Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid went into self-isolation after coming into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. In Greece, the government stopped supermarkets from selling “non-essential goods” in order to avoid unfair competition against smaller shops that have been forced to close, following a similar move in France.

In the Middle East, Lebanon yesterday announced a fresh two-week lockdown despite a grinding economic crisis that has already battered businesses. “We’ve reached a stage of critical danger as private and public hospitals don’t have the capacity to receive severe cases,” the country’s caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, said in a televised address.

kuwaittimes

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