The pandemic has killed over 978,000 people and infected over 31.9 million worldwide. Here are the latest coronavirus-related developments for September 23:

UK reports 6,178 new cases, bringing the total confirmed cases in Britain since the pandemic hit to 409,729.
UK reports 6,178 new cases, bringing the total confirmed cases in Britain since the pandemic hit to 409,729. (AFP)

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

UK to host 'human challenge' trials for vaccines – FT

Britain is planning to host clinical trials where volunteers are deliberately infected with the new coronavirus to test the effectiveness of vaccine candidates, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing people involved in the project.

So-called "challenge trials" are expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London, the report said, adding that about 2,000 participants had signed up through a US-based advocacy group, 1Day Sooner. 

The studies will be government-funded, the FT reported, although 1Day Sooner said it would also launch a petition for public funding of a biocontainment facility big enough to quarantine 100 to 200 participants.

Imperial College London, reportedly the academic lead on the trials, did not confirm the studies.

"Imperial continues to engage in a wide range of exploratory discussions relating to Covid-19 research, with a variety of partners. We have nothing further to report at this stage," a spokeswoman said, asked about the possibility of challenge trials.

Any trials conducted in the United Kingdom have to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the healthcare regulator which looks into safety and protocol.

Also on Wednesday, UK reported 6,178 new cases, bringing the total confirmed cases in Britain since the pandemic hit to 409,729.

With a further 37 deaths reported in the past 24 hours, 41,862 people in Britain who tested positive for the virus have now died - the highest toll in Europe.

France reports 43 more deaths

French health authorities have reported 13,072 new confirmed Covid-19 cases over 24 hours, the daily tally standing above the 13,000 threshold for the third time in six days.

The number of people in France who have died from Covid-19 infections was up by 43, at 31,459, and the cumulative number of cases now totals 481,141.

PAHO: May take several tries to find right vaccine, 

It may take several tries to find the right vaccine for Covid-19, the Pan American Health Organization's (PAHO) director Carissa Etienne said on Wednesday, as she urged countries to begin preparing vaccination plans.

Global reported infections of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, are climbing toward 32 million, according to a Reuters tally, while deaths approach one million. 

Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean are reporting about a million new infections every two weeks.

"We hope scientists do uncover an effective vaccine that offers lasting protection against Covid but it may take a few tries before we find the right one," Etienne said during PAHO's weekly virtual press conference.

"Early vaccines may only provide partial protection or may not work for everyone. We don't yet know which vaccine will be found safe and effective and how it will work," she said.

Turkey reports 1,767 new cases, 72 deaths

Turkey has reported 1,767 new coronavirus cases and 1,027 recoveries over the past 24 hours. 

The country's overall case count now stands at 308,069, with 270,723 recoveries, according to Health Ministry data released on Wednesday.

A total of 112,102 more coronavirus tests were conducted over the past 24 hours, bringing the total to over 9.6 million.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey reached 7,711, with 72 new fatalities.

The figures also showed that the number of patients in critical condition now stands at 1,561, while 6.7 percent suffer from pneumonia.

EU close to concluding preliminary talks with Novavax on vaccine supply 

Brussels is close to wrapping up preliminary talks with U.S. vaccine maker Novavax for its potential Covid-19 shot, an EU source involved in the negotiations said, as the bloc ramps up its push in the global race to secure supplies.

The move is meant to expand to seven the portfolio of vaccines the 27-country bloc, with a population of 450 million, wants to secure. It would bring doses potentially available to EU countries to more than two billion.

"We are at an advanced stage in talks with Novavax," the EU senior official said, who declined to be identified as negotiations are confidential.

The number of doses the EU could secure is still under discussion, the official said, noting that it was likely to be at least 100 million.

A spokesman for the EU executive commission, which is co-leading the talks with vaccine makers, declined to comment. Novavax had no immediate comment.

Brazil's Sao Paulo likely to start using China's Sinovac vaccine

The governor of Brazil's Sao Paulo state Joao Doria said on Wednesday that the state is likely to start to immunise its population with China's Sinovac vaccine in mid-December.

Doria said five million doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive in Sao Paulo, the country's most populous state, in October.

France to unveil new colour-coded map

The French government is expected to unveil a new colour-coded map on Wednesday of regions where the coronavirus situation is deteriorating, a government source said, paving the way for local authorities to tighten restrictions, in Paris in particular.

Like other European countries where the infection rate has soared in the past month, France is tightening limits on public and private gatherings in the hardest hit areas. 

After a summer lull, President Emmanuel Macron's government has been keen to let local authorities adopt measures locally depending on the severity of Covid-19 outbreaks, rather than taking broad measures from the central government in Paris.

The government source said the Health Minister would unveil a new "national framework" later on Wednesday, with government recommendations to local authorities depending on where they stand on a new colour-coded map of the country with "red", "super-red" and even "scarlet" areas.

Israel reports record level of daily cases

Israel has reported a new record level of daily cases of coronavirus shortly before government officials were to meet to discuss tightening a new nationwide lockdown.

The Health Ministry reported 6,861 new cases on Wednesday as a raging outbreak showed no signs of slowing despite a nationwide lockdown imposed last week.

Israel, a country of some 9 million people, now has one of the world's highest rates of coronavirus on a per capita basis, and health officials say hospitals are quickly approaching capacity.

Russia reports 6,431 new cases, 150 deaths

Russia has reported 6,431 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, its highest daily increase since July 13.

The authorities said 150 people had died in the day, bringing the official death toll to 19,799.

The new figures pushed Russia's national tally of cases to 1,122,241, the fourth-largest in the world.

Germany reports 1,769 new cases

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases has increased by 1,769 to 275,927 in Germany, data from the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases showed.

The reported death toll rose by 13 to 9,409, the tally showed.

Czech Republic reports second-highest daily rise

The Czech Republic has recorded 2,394 new infections in its second-highest daily rise since the coronavirus pandemic began, Health Ministry data showed.

New cases have doubled in September as infections increase at the second-fastest rate in Europe, for a tally of 53,158 cases since the Czech Republic's first detections in March.

Authorities have reinstated some measures to rein in the virus, such as mask-wearing and, from Thursday, stricter limits on opening hours for bars.

Fujifilm’s Avigan drugs effective in Japanese phase-3 trial 

Fujifilm Holdings Corp has said a late-stage study of its antiviral drug Avigan showed it reduced recovery times for Covid-19 patients with non-severe symptoms.

The phase 3 clinical study of 156 patients in Japan showed that those treated with Avigan improved after 11.9 days, versus 14.7 days for a placebo group. 

Results of the study, conducted by subsidiary Fujifilm Toyama Chemical, were statistically significant, the company said in a release.

UK ministers: Britain not taking Swedish approach

Britain is not taking a Swedish approach to Covid-19, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab has said when asked if new measures were part of a plan to live with the virus rather than try to get rid of it.

"I don't accept that characterisation," Raab told BBC Radio when asked if Britain was now taking a more Swedish approach.

Earlier this year, Sweden avoided a lockdown and instead emphasised personal responsibility, social distancing and good hygiene in a bid to slow rather than eradicate a disease deemed here to stay.

Australia infection tally climbs to 26,972

Australia has reported 15 new cases and five more deaths from the novel coronavirus in Victoria state.

The number of infections in the country climbed to 26,972, while the death toll reached 859, Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews said at a news conference in Melbourne.

Victoria, where a total of 20,091 Covid-19 cases have been recorded so far, is the state with the highest number of infections.

Mexico's death toll approaches 75,000

Mexico's confirmed caseload has risen to 705,263, according to updated data from the health ministry, along with a reported death toll of 74,348.

Authorities reported 4,683 new cases along with 651 deaths, but the true figures are likely significantly higher due to little testing

Mainland China reports 10 new cases

Mainland China reported 10 new cases as of September 22, up from six a day earlier, the country's national health authority has said.

The National Health Commission said in a statement on Wednesday that all new cases were imported infections involving travellers from overseas. 

The number of new asymptomatic infections also rose to 18 from 15 a day earlier, though China does not classify these symptomless patients as confirmed cases.

The total number of confirmed cases for mainland China now stands at 85,307, while the death toll remained unchanged at 4,634.

Canada makes multiple deals for 262M vaccines

French pharmaceutical firm Sanofi and Britain's GSK have promised up to 72 million doses of their vaccine candidate to the Canadian government, which has already signed similar agreements with several American companies.

The two groups, which plan to seek regulatory approval for the vaccine in the first half of 2021, launched human clinical trials in early September, for which 440 participants are being recruited.

The vaccine candidate, developed by Sanofi in partnership with GSK, is based on technology that Sanofi has used to produce seasonal influenza vaccines and on immunological agents developed by GSK.

Canada already signed in August agreements in principle for candidate vaccines with American firms Novavax, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Moderna

Ottawa has requested from Moderna an additional 14 million additional doses, Procurement Minister Anita Anand said on Monday.

In total, "Canada has now ensured guaranteed access to a minimum of 154 million doses and up to a maximum of 262 million potential vaccines to protect Canadians and save lives," she told a news conference.

Australia's Victoria state reports 15 new cases

Australia's hot spot of Victoria said new cases nearly halved against the previous day as the state looks to ease some restrictions as early as next week.

Victoria, Australia's second-most populous state, reported five deaths and 15 new cases in the last 24 hours, compared with three deaths and 28 cases on Tuesday.

Average cases over the last two weeks in Melbourne, the epicentre of country's second wave, fell below 30 on Wednesday.

Restrictions in Melbourne may be eased if average cases remain below 50 as of September 28

Brazil reports over 33,000 new daily cases

Brazil recorded 33,536 additional confirmed cases the past 24 hours, as well as 836 deaths from the disease, the Health Ministry said.

Brazil has registered more than 4.59 million cases of the virus since the pandemic began, while the official death toll has risen to 138,108, according to ministry data

Saudi Arabia to lift ban on Umrah pilgrimage

Saudi Arabia will allow pilgrims residing inside the country to undertake the Umrah pilgrimage beginning on October 4, after a seven-month pause due to coronavirus concerns, state news agency SPA has reported.

Umrah is an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina undertaken any time of the year, attracting 19 million people last year. 

Saudi Arabia had instituted a freeze on Umrah in March.

It will now allow 6,000 citizens and residents inside the kingdom to perform Umrah daily, representing 30 percent of a revised capacity of 20,000 that takes into account precautionary health measures, SPA added.

That will expand to 75 percent of capacity on October 18.

Beginning November 1, Saudi Arabia will allow visitors from specific countries deemed safe to perform Umrah at 100 percent of the revised capacity, until the end of the pandemic, SPA said.

This year, Saudi Arabia conducted a limited Hajj, the larger pilgrimage that usually attracts around 3 million people, for a few thousand citizens and residents.

Official data show Hajj and Umrah earn the kingdom about $12 billion a year.

On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia reported 330,798 total cases of coronavirus and 4,542 deaths as cases in the Gulf region topped 800,000.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies