INDIANAPOLIS — Drugmaker Eli Lilly says its COVID-19 antibody drug helped prevent illness among residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care locations.
It’s the first major study to show an antibody medication may prevent disease. The drugmaker says residents and staff who got the drug had up to a 57% lower risk of getting COVID-19. Among nursing home residents only, there was up to a 80% reduction in risk.
U.S. regulators last year allowed emergency use of the antibody treatment for mild or moderate COVID-19 cases that don’t require hospitalization. It’s a one-time dose given through an IV.
The study, conducted by the National Institutes of Health, involved more than 1,000 residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care locations.
In the U.S., those residents account for less than 1% of the population, but nearly 40% of deaths from COVID-19. The U.S. leads the world with more than 406,000 deaths.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
President Joe Biden offers national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing, Dr. Anthony Fauci vows full US engagement with WHO. Angela Merkel sees signs of coronavirus decline in Germany, but extends restrictions until Feb. 14. Mobile labs take U.S. vaccine studies to diverse neighborhoods.
India sends 2 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to Bangladesh. Hungarian authorities approve a Russian coronavirus vaccine. European Union leaders hold a video summit amid concerns about new coronavirus variants.
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BRUSSELS — European Union leaders are holding a video summit amid concern the new coronavirus variants.
The leaders on Thursday will assess such measures as further border restrictions, better tracking of mutations and improved coordination of lockdowns.
The highly contagious nature of the variants is a major source of concern and has already led some EU countries to strengthen restrictions by imposing stricter curfews and more stringent mask requirements on public transportation and in shops.
The EU’s executive arm aims for 70% of the adult population across the bloc vaccinated by the end of the summer.
Since the EU doesn’t expect vaccines to be readily available before April, leaders should in the meantime find efficient ways to contain the new variants. The commission believes better tracking of the mutations with genomic sequencing, coupled with an increased use of rapid antigen tests, will be crucial.
NEW YORK — More potential COVID-19 vaccines to fight the pandemic still are being tested, and some researchers are driving mobile labs into neighborhoods to recruit diverse volunteers.
With scarce supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna shots, proving whether additional vaccines work is critical. So is ensuring they’re tested in communities of color that are hard-hit by the coronavirus yet have questions about vaccination.
A U.S. program offers researchers RV-sized mobile clinics that help volunteers enroll in studies of the AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines without having to visit a doctor’s office. At the same time, researchers can answer general vaccine questions from those passing by.
ISLAMABAD — Pakistan’s foreign minister says Beijing has promised to provide 500,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine by Jan. 31.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi says his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi gave made this commitment during a phone conversation on Thursday. He says China is providing the first shipment of half million doses of vaccine without charge.
He hoped Pakistan will get another 500,000 doses of vaccine from China next month.
However, Qureshi didn’t specify which vaccine China would give to Pakistan.
Also Thursday, Qureshi took twitter, saying “with encouraging results of Chinese vaccine and our historic relationship, Pakistan has approved emergency use authorization of SinoPharm.”
The announcement comes a day after a top Pakistan said its talks with the manufacturers of Sinopharm and Cansino vaccines were at an advanced stage.
Pakistan has reported 54 confirmed deaths and 2,363 cases in the past 24 hours. Since the pandemic began, Pakistan has registered 11,157 confirmed deaths from and 527,146 infections.
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden is putting forth a national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and increase the use of masks for travel.
Biden will address inequities in hard-hit minority communities as he signs 10 pandemic-related executive orders on Thursday, his second day in office.
Biden administration officials say a coordinated nationwide effort is needed to defeat the virus. They’re also depending on Congress to provide $1.9 trillion for economic relief and COVID-19 response.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency will set up vaccination centers, aiming to have 100 up and running in a month. Biden ordered the CDC to make vaccines available through local pharmacies starting next month.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical adviser on the coronavirus, also announced renewed U.S. support for the World Health Organization.
BERLIN — Chancellor Angela Merkel says there are promising signs that coronavirus infections are declining in Germany and that fewer people require intensive care. But she says Germany “has to take very seriously” the risk posed by a more contagious variant first detected in Britain.
Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors on Tuesday decided to extend the country’s lockdown by two weeks until Feb. 14 and tighten some measures, for example requiring surgical masks — rather than just fabric face coverings — in shops and on public transport.
On Thursday, Germany’s disease control center says 20,398 new cases were reported over the past 24 hours, nearly 5,000 fewer than a week ago. The number of new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days stood at 119, the lowest since the beginning of November — though still well above the level of 50 the government is targeting. There were 1,013 more deaths, bringing Germany’s confirmed total so far to 49,783.
Merkel said it’s important to prevent the new variant, which has been detected in Germany but isn’t yet dominant, from spreading. She pointed to the danger of a “third wave” of infections but said “there is still some time” to ward off that danger.
ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey expanded its COVID-19 inoculation campaign to include people 85 and older.
The country of 83 million rolled out its vaccination drive a week ago, starting with health care workers as well as nursing home residents and their caregivers. More than 1 million people received the first of two doses of the vaccine developed by China’s Sinovac pharmaceutical company in the first week.
On Thursday, the more frail among those aged 85 and above were receiving their shots at home, while others made their way to health centers.
Turkey has so far received 3 million doses of the Sinovac vaccine. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said Turkey is scheduled to receive between 25 and 30 million more doses, although there has been no word on when the additional doses will arrive.
Turkey has reported close to 2.4 million infections and more than 24,000 confirmed deaths since March.
DHAKA, Bangladesh — India sent 2 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine to Bangladesh, a gift likely to foster bilateral relations further between the two South Asian neighbors.
Bangladesh’s Foreign Minister A.K. Abdul Momen and Health Minister Zahid Maleque received the consignment from Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Vikram Doraiswami in Bangladesh’s capital.
The AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine, manufactured under license by Serum Institute of India, will be given to frontline workers, including doctors and nurses. The government says the inoculations are expected to start early next month.
Momen praised India for the gesture, saying, ‘This proves the true friendship between Bangladesh and India.”
Bangladesh usually balances diplomatically between two Asian powers — China and India — as both countries are close allies. Officials say Bangladesh is also expecting to have Chinese vaccines in the future.
GENEVA — President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says the United States will cease reducing U.S. staff counts at the World Health Organization and pay its financial obligations.
Fauci says the U.S. will become fully engaged with the U.N. health agency to help fight the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the World Health Organization,” Fauci told the WHO’s executive board meeting in Geneva via videoconference. The administration announced just hours after Biden’s inauguration that the United States would revoke a planned pullout from the WHO in July that had been announced by the Trump administration.
Fauci’s quick commitment to WHO — whose response to the coronavirus outbreak was repeatedly berated by the Trump administration — marks a dramatic and vocal shift toward a multilateral approach to fighting the pandemic.
He also referred to Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general, as “my dear friend.”
NAIROBI, Kenya — The director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says access to medical oxygen is a “huge, huge critical need” across the continent as Africa’s case death rate from COVID-19 is above the global average and health centers are overwhelmed.
John Nkengasong says the death rate across the African continent is 2.5% while the global average is 2.2%. As confirmed coronavirus cases in the past week across Africa dropped by 7%, deaths rose by 10%.
Twenty-one of Africa’s more than 50 countries have death rates above the global average, led by Sudan at 6.2%. The continent has seen more than 6,000 deaths in the past week, with more than 81,000 confirmed overall. Africa has more than 3.3 million confirmed virus cases. Almost all African countries are still awaiting COVID-19 vaccines.
BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungarian authorities have approved a Russian coronavirus vaccine, moving the country closer to becoming the first in the European Union to administer the shot to its population.
The vaccine, Sputnik V, received a six-month authorization Wednesday from Hungary’s National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition, institute director Matyas Szentivanyi told public television. It must be approved by the country’s National Public Health Center, a process which could take several weeks.
Hungary was the first EU country to receive samples of the Russian vaccine in November.
Around 134,000 people have been vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in Hungary so far. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has been critical of the speed of the EU’s vaccine rollout, and pursued separate agreements with Russia and China in an effort to get more doses to the central European country.
Sputnik V — hailed in August by Russian President Vladimir Putin as the world’s first registered COVID-19 vaccine — has not been approved by the European Medicines Agency, the bloc’s medicines regulator. But member states may negotiate separately with manufacturers not covered by the bloc’s joint procurement program, and issue temporary emergency use approval to such vaccines.
The Russian vaccine has been approved in six countries including Argentina, Belarus, and Serbia, Hungary’s non-EU neighbor, which began administering Sputnik V this month.
BERLIN — Germany is pushing its partners in the European Union to reduce coronavirus infections in an effort to keep a new variant first detected in Britain at bay, and says new border checks might be needed if they don’t coordinate.
Chancellor Angela Merkel and Germany’s 16 state governors agreed on Tuesday to extend the country’s lockdown by two weeks until Feb. 14. Although Germany’s infection figures are finally declining, officials worry that more infectious variants could push them back up quickly if allowed to take hold.
Merkel said on Tuesday: “If countries were to go very different ways — which I don’t see at the moment, but it could happen, then we would have to be prepared … (to) say, then we have to reintroduce border controls.” She stressed that “we don’t want this.”
Her chief of staff, Helge Braun, on Thursday emphasized the need to push infections down “to keep the mutation out of core Europe.”
Braun told ARD television: “All countries must do this, and if a neighboring country doesn’t do this we can hardly protect ourselves against the mutation, and then even tougher entry measures on our internal borders are unavoidable. And since everyone doesn’t want that, it’s important that we act together now.”
STOCKHOLM — Sweden’s government extended several national COVID-19 restrictions, including requirements to work from home and a ban on selling alcohol after 8 p.m. Both were extended to Feb. 7.
A requirement that face masks be worn on public transportation was extended through the spring.
A national recommendation on remote education also was extended to April 1 but adjusted so that distance learning and teaching on site will be mixed.
The country of 10 million has opted to keep parts of its society open and lifted in September a national ban on visiting elderly care homes. It has reported 537,967 confirmed cases and 10,797 confirmed deaths.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka is welcoming tourists again after keeping the doors closed to visitors for nearly 10 months due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The government’s action Thursday is seen as an effort to revive the island nation’s tourism industry, which has been badly hit by the pandemic. Tourism accounts for about 5% of Sri Lanka’s economy and before the pandemic employed 250,000 people directly and up to 3 million indirectly.
Under the reopening, visitors must be tested in their country 72 hours prior to their flight, when they arrive at their hotel and again seven days later. They will be allowed to travel in 14 tourism zones in a “travel bubble,” without mixing with local people. About 180 hotels have been earmarked to provide accommodations for the tourists.