Europe Becomes ‘Epicentre’ For COVID-19 As Spain Declares State Of Emergency & US Cases Rise

Spain announced a state of emergency on Sunday and ordered a nationwide curfew just days after becoming the first Western European country to surpass one million confirmed cases.

The curfew and restrictions on gatherings of more than six people has made Spain the latest country in Europe to toughen its guidelines, after France placed 46 million citizens under a 9pm to 6am curfew last Friday, and following Italy’s implementation of a strict 6pm closing time for bars and restaurants on Sunday.

“The reality is that Europe and Spain are immersed in a second wave of the pandemic,” said Pedro Sánchez, the Spanish prime minister, after a meeting of cabinet officials on Sunday.

The concern was shared by Dr Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, stating that there was “no question that the European region is an epicentre for disease right now.” Speaking at a press conference on Monday 26 October, Ryan added: “We are well behind this virus in Europe. Getting ahead of it is going to take some serious acceleration.”

Active cases of COVID-19 in Europe as of 9:00PM CET 26 October 2020. (Johns Hopkins University & Medicine)

France now ranks as the country with the fifth highest level of infections globally, with more than 1.1 million total COVID-19 cases, ranking behind only the US, India, Brazil and Russia. Poland also announced new restrictions following a 30% upswing in cases last week.

The trend is mirrored outside of Europe. In China, a new COVID-19 outbreak of more than 130 asymptomatic cases was detected in Kashgar, Xinjiang – the first local outbreak to occur in China since the second week of October. More than 4 million residents will be tested over the next few days.

Cumulative Deaths In United States Could Exceed 500,000 by February – Projects Nature Study

Over the weekend, the US reported a record 85,000 new cases in a single day. The number of cumulative deaths in the US could pass 500,000 by February 2021, according to a study projecting near-term US trends, published in Nature.

Using case and mortality data from February to September 2020 the COVID-19 Forecasting Team of the Seattle-based International Health Metrics and Evaluation arrived at this projection based on current non-pharmaceutical state intervention strategies. They note than universal mask use could reduce that number by nearly 130,000. The publication of IHME’s forecast follows a 40% rise in COVID-19 hospitalisations in the past month.

Health systems are also seeing a rise in non-hospital admissions related to COVID-19. A Guardian investigation reported a 71% increase in young people being admitted to eating disorder services in England in September. Sleeping pill prescriptions for those under 18 years old also increased by 30% between March and June, in comparison to data from two years prior.

“These alarming findings suggest that the Covid-19 crisis has had a profound impact on the mental health of many young people,” said Emma Thomas to the Guardian, chief executive at Young Minds, a UK charity advocating for children and young people’s mental health. “This may be related to fears about the virus, social isolation, the loss of routine and structure, and in some cases bereavement or other traumatic experiences.”

Suspended COVID clinical trials resume in the US  – as 184 countries join universal roll-out initiative

Two late-stage clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines, developed by AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, resumed in the US on Friday.

The AstraZeneca trial was paused for six weeks after reports of neurological symptoms in two trial participants. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviewed safety trials globally and determined that the trial could continue.

“The restart of clinical trials across the world is great news,” said Pascal Soriot, CEO of AstraZeneca in a statement released on Friday. “It allows us to continue our efforts to develop this vaccine to help defeat this terrible pandemic.

He added: “We should be reassured by the care taken by independent regulators to protect the public and ensure the vaccine is safe before it is approved for use.”

The Johnson & Johnson trial was paused for 11 days due to an unexplained illness in a participant, now believed to be unrelated to the vaccine, following an independent investigation.

In a statement released on Friday, Johnson & Johnson said:  “Clinical trials are designed to evaluate safety and efficacy based on a complete view of all participants and their experiences. Unexpected adverse events, including illnesses, can occur in study participants during any clinical study.”

Over 40 vaccine candidates are now in various stages of R&D, including 9 candidates in Phase 3 trials. The Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR) announced on Sunday that it would begin human trials for a vaccine candidate on November 1. The first phase will include 80 participants, expanding to 960 in Phase 2 and 30,000 in Phase 3. This is expected to take place in spring April or May 2021.

“I believe in the abilities of our scientists and I am confident that we can produce a safe and effective vaccine,” said Shmuel Shapira, director of the IIBR. “Our final goal is 15 million rations for the residents of the State of Israel and for our close neighbors.”  The vaccine would be easier to administer than many other late-stage candidates currently under trials, he said, because it would only require one dose, as compared to two. Many other leading candidates, with the exception of Johnson&Johnson require two shots to provide immunity.

In a press conference on Monday, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, noted that some 184 countries have by now joined the COVAX Facility vaccine initiative, calling it a “positive development” against trends of vaccine nationalism.

“Having a vaccine and using it as a global public good means sharing it,” he said, noting that this is not easy. “Every political leader would be worried about their own constituency. It will need a very strong leadership convincing their constituency that when we share we can have better value.”

Image Credits: S. Lustig Vijay/HP-Watch.

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