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COVID-19 WATCH

European markets struggle as coronavirus economic damage mounts

The German economy is expected to shrink by nearly 10 percent in the second quarter as the coronavirus paralyses the country.

Agence France-Presse

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London, United Kingdom — Most European stock markets slid Wednesday as the economic damage from the coronavirus became apparent.

The euro dropped against the dollar and pound, while oil prices gained ahead of a crucial producers’ meeting on possible output cuts.

“European markets have slipped back today as investors got a flavor of the economic destruction being wrought across Europe by the virus,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

The Bank of France, meanwhile, said the nation’s economy likely contracted six percent in the first quarter, putting it in recession and marking the worst performance since 1945.

The German economy, Europe’s biggest, is expected to shrink by nearly 10 percent in the second quarter as the coronavirus paralyses the country, leading research institutes warned Wednesday.

“It would appear that the size of the economic contraction, when extrapolated across the rest of 2020 has delivered a huge wake up call to markets as to the eventual price tag of this crisis,” said Madden.

Meanwhile, EU finance ministers failed to agree on a coronavirus bailout package for hard hit countries such as Italy and Spain.

And the World Trade Organization said global trade could fall by between 13 percent and 32 percent this year.

WTO chief Roberto Azevedo warned we are facing the “deepest economic recession or downturn of our lives.”

While the deadly disease continues to sweep across the planet, there have been signs that the rate of infections might be leveling out and countries are preparing to ease some lockdown restrictions.

This had instilled a semblance of optimism in markets this week, and appeared to be driving Wall Street higher, with the Dow up over 2 percent in late morning trade.

“Talk of another stimulus plan, along with comments from Anthony Fauci, the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that there could well be turnaround in reported cases after this week, has seen markets move higher,” said Hewson at CMC Markets UK.

In Asian trading, Tokyo jumped more than two percent, helped by a weaker yen and details of Japan’s huge stimulus package worth $1 trillion amid a month-long state of emergency for Tokyo and six other regions in the country following a spike in coronavirus cases.

The remaining markets in the region fell, following on losses overnight from New York.

Oil prices also climbed Wednesday, but the commodity continues to swing as traders keenly await Thursday’s planned meeting of the world’s top producers to discuss a possible output cut.

Crude oil has been seared by the virus as lockdowns around the world bring the global economy to a standstill and dampen demand, while a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia has compounded the crisis.

With Riyadh and Moscow taking part in the meeting Thursday, there are hopes they might draw a line under their dispute.

Howie Lee, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. said that while a cut of 10 million barrels “would lend some support to prices”, US participation was key, otherwise other producers would not be likely to take part.

“The base case is still that a deal will get done or that talks will be extended, and that is pretty much only thing keeping oil prices supported,” said senior market analyst Edward Moya at online trading group OANDA.

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Do masks help boost immunity?

Agence France-Presse

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PARIS, France (AFP) — Could the mask — already seen by many scientists as the most effective shield against Covid-19 — have yet another benefit? Some researchers now believe that they expose wearers to smaller, less harmful doses of the disease which spark an immune response.

This as yet unproven theory suggests that masks could help inoculate people while we wait for a vaccine.

Non-medical fabric or disposable masks have been recommended across the world, mainly as a way to help stop infected people from spreading the new coronavirus.

While they do not offer full protection, masks may potentially reduce the amount of virus inhaled by a wearer, according to a recent paper published this month in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

“We hypothezise that the higher a dose (or inoculum) of virus you get into your body, the more sick you get,” one of the authors Monica Gandhi, a specialist in infectious diseases at the University of California San Francisco, told AFP.

“We think that masks reduce that dose of virus that you inhale and, thereby, drive up rates of asymptomatic infection.”

Gandhi, director of the UCSF-Gladstone Center for AIDS Research, said that asymptomatic infection was linked to a strong immune response from T lymphocytes — a type of white blood cell — that may act against Covid-19.

“We think masks can act as a sort of ‘bridge’ to a vaccine by giving us some immunity,” she said, adding that researchers were launching several studies to try and test the theory.

These would include looking at whether the requirement of a mask in certain cities had reduced the severity of the disease there.

They are also looking at antibody studies in Taiwan, where masks are ubiquitous but there are very few restrictions.

“Of course, it’s still a theory, but there are many arguments in its favour,” Bruno Hoen, director of medical research at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, told AFP.

He said we should “take a different look at the use of masks”, which were initially deemed unnecessary by health authorities, against the backdrop of shortages.

Today, they are widely recommended to slow the spread of infection.

Lessons from smallpox
The theory echoes “variolation,” a rudimentary technique used before the appearance of vaccines that involved giving people a mild illness to try to inoculate them against more serious forms of a disease.

In Asia, early variolation often meant blowing dried scabs from smallpox patients up the noses of healthy people, according to the US National Library of Medicine.

When it reached Europe and America in the 18th century, the practice — which sometimes killed the patient — commonly involved inserting smallpox under the skin.

The NEJM article suggests a parallel in the idea that being exposed to small doses of virus boosts immunity.

“It is an interesting theory with a reasonable hypothesis,” Archie Clements, Vice-Chancellor Faculty of Health Sciences at Australia’s Curtin University, told AFP.
But others expressed reservations.

Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University in New York, said she was “pretty skeptical of this being a good idea.”

She noted that we do not yet know if a lower dose of virus does mean a milder illness.

We do not know if masks reduce exposure to the virus, she said on Twitter, adding that the duration and level of immunity are also still poorly understood.

“This is an interesting idea, but there are too many unknowns to say that masks should be used as a tool for ‘variolating’ people against SARS-CoV-2,” she added.

A key stumbling block to answering these questions is that testing the UCSF researchers’ hypothesis is difficult.

“It is true that such a hypothesis in humans using gold standard methods (of experimental design) can never be proven given that we cannot expose humans deliberately to the virus,” Gandhi said.
But some studies have proved useful, she said, including research conducted in Hong Kong on hamsters.

Scientists simulated mask-wearing by placing one between the cages of infected rodents and healthy ones.

They found that hamsters were less likely to catch Covid-19 if they were “masked,” and even if they did catch it, their symptoms were milder.

There have also been a few accidental real-world experiments.

In one case, a cruise ship that departed from Argentina in mid-March issued everyone on board with surgical masks after the first sign of an infection.

Researchers found that 81 percent of those who caught the virus were asymptomatic, which Gandhi said compared to around 40 percent on other vessels where masks were not worn systematically.

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WHO warns of 2M virus deaths

Are we prepared collectively to do what it takes to avoid that number.

Agence France-Presse

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GENEVA, Switzerland (AFP) — Coronavirus deaths could more than double to two million without collective action against the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, as Australia’s prime minister urged any nation that develops a vaccine to share it with the world.

The number of cases worldwide has soared past 32 million, with deaths approaching one million, the global economy devastated, and major cultural and sports events disrupted.

But despite the pandemic showing no signs of slowing, Japan’s new prime minister Yoshihide Suga struck a defiant note Friday, saying his country was determined to hold the postponed Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

“One million is a terrible number and we need to reflect on that before we start considering a second million,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan told reporters on Friday when asked how high the death toll could go.

“Are we prepared collectively to do what it takes to avoid that number?”

“If we don’t take those actions… yes, we will be looking at that number and sadly much higher.”

The pandemic has spurred worldwide efforts to develop a vaccine to help defeat Covid-19, as well as efforts to try to ensure fair and widespread distribution.

“Whoever finds the vaccine must share it… This is a global responsibility and it’s a moral responsibility,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday in a message to the virtual UN General Assembly.

“Some might see short-term advantage or even profit, but I assure you… humanity will have a very long memory and be a very, very severe judge.”

Japan Olympics vow
Without a vaccine or effective treatment, social distancing and lockdowns remain among the few options for governments to curb the spread of the virus, making large gatherings like spectator sports and music concerts highly risky.

The 2020 Tokyo Olympics, postponed for a year, were the biggest such casualty, and Japan’s new leader vowed to hold them in 2021.

“In the summer of next year, Japan is determined to host the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games as proof that humanity has defeated the pandemic,” Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga told the United Nations General Assembly in a video message.

But with continued spikes worldwide, there are concerns about whether the event will be possible even next year if the pandemic is not under control.

In a further illustration of the impact of the virus, authorities in Brazil — which has the world’s second-highest death toll — indefinitely postponed Rio de Janeiro’s carnival.

And just 1,000 fans a day are being allowed at the French Open, with organisers of one of the world’s biggest tennis events saying it means “millions of euros up in smoke.”

Today, I get zero euros
The WHO warning came as the United States, the hardest-hit nation in the world, crossed seven million cases — more than a fifth of the global total despite accounting for only four percent of the world population.

Many European nations, meanwhile, are struggling with new waves of infections.

Spain expanded a lockdown in and around the capital Madrid to cover one million people from Monday.

In Britain, authorities announced restrictions now extending to a quarter of the population, while two supermarket chains said they were rationing purchases of certain goods to clamp down on panic buying.

Moscow, meanwhile, ordered vulnerable residents of the Russian capital to avoid infection by staying at home, while Israel tightened its lockdown by stopping people from taking flights out of the country.

France reported record figures — daily cases soared past 16,000 for the first time on Thursday. But moves by the authorities to contain the virus are not popular with many because of their painful economic toll.

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COVID-19 WATCH

North Cotabato positives up

The LSI came from high-risk areas in Luzon and in the National Capital Region who landed few days ago at the Davao City International Airport in Davao City.

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The Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) in Kidapawan City on Saturday announced that North Cotabato has recorded 11 new confirmed coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases on 25 September — the highest since March.

In a statement, Cotabato second district board member and IATF official Dr. Philbert Malaluan revealed that of the 11 cases, 10 of them were locally-stranded individuals (LSI) rescued by the Cotabato provincial government through its program, Task Force Sagip Stranded North Cotabatenos.

Malaluan stressed that the said LSI came from high-risk areas in Luzon and in the National Capital Region (NCR) who landed few days ago at the Davao City International Airport in Davao City.

The IATF official added that as part of the airport’s protocol, all arriving passengers — including the LSI and returning overseas Filipino workers (OFW) from North Cotabato — were swabbed for the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) tests.

“Based on the results, 10 of them tested positive of the virus,” Malaluan said.

He also revealed that of the 11 new COVID-19 cases, one died due to acute respiratory failure, community-acquired pneumonia high-risk with hypoxia, chronic kidney disease secondary to diabetes mellitus and hypertension stage 2.

Malaluan also disclosed that the patient — a 66-year old female from Pigcawayan town — expired at the Cotabato Regional Medical Center on 23 September and narrated that the patient was first brought to the Dr. Amado Diaz Provincial Foundation Hospital, a government-owned facility, after she experienced loose bowel movement and vomiting on the same day.

But Malaluan clarified that the patient suffered cardiac arrest on that day and was immediately rushed to the Cotabato Regional Medical Center (CRMC) in Cotabato City but expired hours later.

Based on the tracker of the Department of Health (DoH) Center for Health Development in Soccsksargen Region, of the 11 cases recorded in North Cotabato, five are from Antipas; two from Kidapawan City; two from Pikit; and one each from President Roxas and Pigcawayan who was tagged as Cotabato Patient 120 who died on 23 September.

Malaluan said the room at the Dr. Amado Diaz Hospital where Cotabato Patient 120 was placed during her confinement was temporarily closed due to disinfection process.

Six of the hospital’s health care personnel that the IATF considered ‘high-risk’ because of their direct exposure to Patient 120 were taken swab specimen for the RT-PCR tests and placed under quarantine and strict monitoring of the staff from the Rural Health Unit of Midsayap.

Malaluan explained that despite what happened with the health care personnel, the operations of the Dr. Amado Diaz Hospital continue as it is among the eight government-owned hospitals operating in North Cotabato.

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COVID-19 cases in Phl breach 300,000-mark

Gabbie Parlade

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The number of COVID-19 cases in the Philippines has breached the 300,000-mark as 2,747 new infections were posted on Saturday.

The Department of Health said the total number of cases is now at 301,256.

Health experts from the University of the Philippines have earlier predicted that COVID-19 cases would breach the 300,000-mark by the end of September.

Metro Manila—the country’s epicenter of the virus—still has the most number of cases among the regions at over 100,000.  A total of 1,115 were added to the statistics.

Negros Occidental has also reported a surge in its tally of new cases followed by areas in CALABARZON and Cebu.

Out of the 63,066 total active cases, a majority of the patients are those experiencing mild to no symptoms at all.

There was an increase also in the percentage of severe and critical cases.

The total number of recoveries is now at 232,906 with 707 additional survivors while the death toll has jumped to 5,284 with a significant increase of 88 more.

Worldwide over 32 million people have been infected with the disease.

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Vaccines available in second quarter of 2021

MJ Blancaflor

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Health officials remain hopeful that vaccines against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) would be available in the Philippines in the second quarter of 2021.

In a media forum Friday, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Director General Eric Domingo said his agency might approve the wide use of anti-COVID vaccines next year if manufacturers would finish the last phase of their clinical trials by the end of 2020.

“The best case scenario is if clinical trials are completed by December or January and a company would file with the FDA an application, then its possible that by April 2021 we will have an approved vaccine,” Domingo told reporters.

“That’s a best case scenario assuming they will complete their analysis and submit it immediately to the FDA,” he added.

Potential vaccines should be approved by the FDA before they can be sold. The registration process might last from 45 to 60 days.

In the same forum, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la Peña also expressed optimism that COVID-19 vaccines might be available next year since the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Solidarity Trial in the Philippines would likely start in December.

He noted that vaccine trials might range from three to six months.

De la Peña also said the country would likely identify the individuals who would take part in the trials by October, after the WHO distributes the vaccines and outlines its protocols for participating countries.

The Philippines is in talks with various foreign pharmaceutical companies for potential anti-COVID vaccines.

So far, the government has signed six confidentiality agreements with Russia’s Gamaleya Research Institute; China’s Sinovac, Sinopharm, and ZFSW; Australia’s University of Queensland; and Taiwan’s Addimune.

The agreements would allow local experts to look at the results of their Phase I and II trials to determine if it is safe to test on Filipinos.

These manufacturers — except China’s Sinopharm — are interested to conduct the final phase of their trials in the Philippines.

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17 hospitals administer plasma treatments

Gabbie Parlade

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday disclosed that 17 hospitals with approved protocols are already registered to give convalescent plasma for COVID-19 patients in the country.

FDA Director-General Eric Domingo said that a total of 526 patients have so far been administered with the treatment where 429 have recovered.

Convalescent plasma therapy is one of the studied remedies for the coronavirus disease which uses the antibodies gathered from past patients who have been treated.

Philippine Blood Center Officer-in-Charge Dr. Pedrito Tagayunan earlier said that the process is done by separating the red blood cells and the plasma of the donated blood from a previous COVID positive patient.

“In the plasma we will find the IGG, IGM or the antibodies where if the patient or donor is in its convalescence, then a majority of it will have the IGG,” he said.

Individuals are initially screened to determine whether their condition and blood will be fit for the plasma donation.

However, Domingo said that despite positive results so far gathered, a more in-depth scientific analysis of the treatment is needed to prove on which patient it will be most applicable.

“The treatment looks good but of course the scientific studies will have to be done because the status of patients vary even if the protocols are all the same,” he said.

This is why a clinical trial has been already approved to study more on its possible treatment.

“(We) approved one clinical trial for convalescent plasma that has more structured protocols which will be more objective in its analysis and once we get a more detailed and objective result we’ll be able to share that with the public,” he said.

To date, the coronavirus cases in the Philippines has gone up to more than 296,000 as the country ranks in the 21st spot worldwide tallying at 32 million infected individuals.

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Go calls for compassion, solidarity

TDT

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SENATOR Christopher Lawrence ‘Bong’ Go PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF SBG

Senator Christopher “Bong” Go has called for compassion and solidarity amid the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Go made the call during a video call on Tuesday while his staff were delivering essential to some resident at the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) regional office in Cebu City.

He encouraged communities to show compassion for the poor and vulnerable sectors and extend any form of assistance to their neighbors who may be going through tough times as a result of the crisis.

“Let’s help one another. We can do this! Who else will help us but ourselves,” he said in vernacular.

Go reiterated his vow that the poor will get priority for vaccination against the coronavirus.

“Let’s just wait until the vaccine is available, the poor will be the first to be vaccinated so that they can return to their normal lives,” he said.

He added that it is the wish of President Rodrigo Duterte for lives to return to the old normal where Filipinos can hug each other.

Go said he sent his staff to Cebu after learning that some residents failed to get their share if the social amelioration program.

“There is a program that provides immediate cash and food pack so we coordinated with the Department of Social Welfare and Development,” he said.

Forty-seven beneficiaries were provided with meals, food packs, and vitamins. They were also given medical-grade and reusable masks and face shields to encourage everyone to do their part to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition, select residents from the poorest sections of the community were gifted with bicycles so they can commute to work.

Representatives from the DSWD also handed cash aid and additional food packs to the residents through its AICS program.

The event was held in compliance with the necessary guidelines for outdoor gatherings.

As chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Go reminded everyone of the importance of following health and safety rules and protocols to keep themselves and everyone else safe.

“Wear masks, face shields, observe social distancing and avoid getting out of their houses if not necessary. Always wash your hands. I also sent medicines,” the senator told the beneficiaries.

He offered assistance to beneficiaries who need medical treatment.

Go urged others to visit any of the five Malasakit Centers in the province: Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center and St. Anthony Mother and Child Hospital in Cebu City, Lapu-Lapu City District Hospital in Lapu-Lapu City, Eversley Childs Sanitarium and General Hospital in Mandaue City, and Talisay District Hospital in Talisay City.

The Malasakit center is a one-stop shop wherein people may directly apply for medical and financial assistance from various government agencies, namely the DSWD, Department of Health, Philippine Health Insurance Corporation and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.

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FDA identifies groups selling fake medicines

Gabbie Parlade

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The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday revealed that the agency has identified several groups selling the fake version of an approved Chinese traditional herbal medicine in the country.

FDA Director General Dr. Eric Domingo said the establishments where the fake Lian Hua Qin Weng were sold were mostly located in Metro Manila and in Central Luzon.

“They’re numerous. We’ve been working with NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) and the PNP (Philippine National Police) and we’ve actually raided several establishments here in Metro Manila and in Region 3,” he said.

Domingo said that the products have already been confiscated as charges against the violators are still pending.

In August, the FDA approved the use of the Lianhua Qingwen but not as a treatment for COVID-19.

In its product registration, the medication was noted as a “traditionally used herbal product [which] helps remove heat-toxin invasion of the lungs, including symptoms such as fever, aversion to cold, muscle soreness, stuffy and runny nose.”

On the other hand, the Chinese Embassy in Manila earlier said that the drug is used in China to treat mild to moderate patients of the coronavirus disease.

Nonetheless, the envoy warned the public to only buy traditional Chinese medicines produced by qualified pharmaceutical manufacturers.

At present, the Philippines has recorded over 296,000 cases of COVID-19 topping the list of countries in the Western Pacific region with the most number of infections while also surpassing China — the epicenter of the disease.

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Samar bars LSI’s return

Elmer Recuerdo

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TACLOBAN CITY — The Samar provincial Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) has approved a resolution extending the moratorium on the return of locally stranded individuals (LSI) to two cities and 13 municipalities of the province for 14 days.

The provincial IATF announced the extension of the moratorium for the return of LSI right on the day that the month-long ban on travel of LSI ended last 24 September.

The new moratorium started last 25 September and will end on 8 October. This is an extension of the province-wide moratorium on LSI return that was implemented from 25 August to 24 September.

Covered by the extended moratorium on LSI are the cities of Catbalogan and Calbayog, and the towns of Almagro, Basey, Calbiga, Gandara, Hinabangan, Jiabong, Motiong, Paranas, Pinabacdao, Sta. Rita, Tagapul-an, Talalora and Villareal. Samar province covers two cities and 24 municipalities.

The announcement was met with criticisms from LSI who have been wanting to come home for months now and have already booked tickets for their trips home.

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