More curfews in Italy
Italy’s three largest cities face new curfews as regional authorities try to slow the spread of COVID-19 where it first struck hard in Europe, most of whose countries are now imposing, or mulling, new restrictions to cope with rapidly rising caseloads. A midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew in Lazio, which includes Rome, begins on Friday and lasts for 30 days, under an order signed by regional governor Nicola Zingaretti who himself was seriously sickened with COVID-19 in the first weeks of the pandemic.
The Governor of Campania, the southern region which includes densely populated Naples, on Thursday ordered residents to stay at home from 11 p.m. to shortly before dawn starting the next day. A similar curfew in Lombardy, where infections are particularly surging in its main city, Milan, will go into effect Thursday night. Italy was Europe’s first country to be put under a national lockdown in March.
Rapid tests in Africa
Health officials in Africa say the rollout of rapid diagnostic tests for COVID-19 could be a game changer for their fight against the coronavirus but also warned Thursday that increased testing could drive up confirmed cases on a continent that has seen them decline or plateauing as case numbers soar in the West. Some experts worry that Africa so far has lacked the ability to test widely enough, especially in hard-to-reach rural areas, and that its case counts therefore don’t reflect reality and impede tracking the virus.
African countries are gearing up to introduce antigen-based rapid diagnostic tests on a large scale, and this will be a game changer, we think, in the fight against COVID-19, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organisation’s regional director for Africa, said. These high-quality rapid tests will help meet the huge unmet need for testing in Africa.
Oxford vaccine on track
The Oxford University COVID-19 vaccine undergoing Phase III clinical trials with British pharma giant AstraZeneca is doing everything expected which means good news in the fight against the deadly virus, an independent analysis said on Thursday. A team at Bristol University used recently developed techniques to validate that the vaccine accurately follows the genetic instructions programmed into it by the Oxford University team.
The experts say that the novel analysis provides even greater clarity and detail about how the vaccine successfully provokes a strong immune response. “This is an important study as we are able to confirm that the genetic instructions underpinning this vaccine, which is being developed as fast as safely possible, are correctly followed when they get into a human cell,” said Dr David Matthews, Reader in Virology from Bristol’s School of Cellular and Molecular Medicine (CMM).
Business grant extended
UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak on Thursday announced an expansion of the Job Support Scheme already in place to provide struggling businesses further taxpayer support with wages and additional grants amid the lockdown measures brought in to tackle the second wave of the pandemic. In recognition of the “challenging times” ahead, the finance minister laid out the new measures in the House of Commons targeted mainly at the areas of England currently under Tier 2 high alert level, which means businesses can open but restrictions on movement and gathering make it extremely difficult for them to operate.
I know that the introduction of further restrictions has left many people worried for themselves, their families and communities. I hope the government’s stepped-up support can be part of the country pulling together in the coming months, said Sunak.
Spain hits one million mark
Spain became the first country in western Europe to accumulate more than 1 million confirmed COVID-19 infections on Wednesday as the nation of 47 million struggles to contain a resurgence of the virus. The health ministry said that its accumulative case load since the start of the pandemic reached 1,005,295 after reporting 16,973 more cases in the past 24 hours.
The ministry attributes 34,366 deaths to COVID-19. Experts say the real numbers of infections and deaths are probably much higher because insufficient testing, asymptomatic cases and other issues impede authorities from capturing the true scale of the outbreak. As the numbers rise, authorities in charge of health policy in Spain’s regions are tightening restrictions. They want to stem the surge that has been building in recent months while avoiding a second total lockdown of home confinements that stemmed the first wave of the virus but left the economy reeling.
More cities in lockdown
South Yorkshire in northern England has become the latest region to be added to the highest level of coronavirus lockdown restrictions as it was included in Tier 3 on Wednesday, amid ongoing clashes between the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson led government and local authorities over the issue.
Addressing his weekly questions session in the House of Commons, Johnson revived the row with Greater Manchester authorities from earlier this week as he accused the region’s Opposition Labour Mayor, Andy Burnham, of turning down a generous 60 million pounds financial aid package for being placed in Tier 3, or the very high alert category which involves a complete shutdown of most businesses. On Tuesday the Mayor of Greater Manchester was offered a further 60 million pounds which he turned down I can tell the House today that that cash will be distributed to the boroughs of Greater Manchester, said Johnson.
App on COVID norms
A public-interest foundation is testing a smartphone app that could make it easier for international airline passengers to securely show they’ve complied with COVID-19 testing requirements. It’s an attempt to help get people back to flying after the pandemic sent global air travel down by 92 per cent.
The Switzerland-based Commons Project Foundation was conducting a test of its CommonPass digital health pass on United Airlines Flight 15 from London’s Heathrow to Newark Liberty International Airport, using volunteers carrying the app on their smartphones. Officials from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and Customs and Border Protection were observing the test. The system looks forward to the day when travel may be determined not only by testing but by the need to show vaccination records. The World Health Organisation says vaccines may start becoming available by mid-2021.
US stays off wrestling
The United States won’t send a team to the world wrestling championships because of health and safety concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The executive committee of USA Wrestling, the national governing body for wrestling, unanimously approved the proposal not to send a team to Belgrade for the December 12-20 event.
“My heart breaks for our athletes, as nobody is more affected by this decision than they are. In the same breath, abstaining from the 2020 World Championships is the right decision. I am proud that the athlete voice was solicited and considered through every step of this process. In choosing to make this decision now, versus delaying it, the athletes have time to recover and refocus on what is most important the 2021 Olympic Games,” said Veronica Carlson, executive committee member and chair of the USA Wrestling Athlete Advisory Committee.