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COVID-19 WATCH

Dutch report new coronavirus infection on mink farm

Agence France-Presse

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Dutch authorities announced Friday that yet another mink farm has been infected with the novel coronavirus, making 18 in total, with thousands of animals to be culled.

The outbreak was reported on a farm at Landhorst in the southeast, the Health Ministry said in a statement, in the same region where 17 other farms were also infected.

“The infection was discovered because the mink showed symptoms of the disease and farmers are obliged to report it,” the ministry said.

The farm, which has more than 4,300  animals “will be cleared as soon as possible,” it added.

The Netherlands first reported in April that two mink farms had been infected with the COVID-19 disease.

At least two workers were also infected in what the World Health Organization said could be the first known animal-to-human transmissions.

Last month authorities culled thousands of mink on farms infected by the coronavirus.

The farming of mink for fur is a controversial subject in the Netherlands, where all mink farms will have to be phased out by 2024.

Last week Dutch MPs voted overwhelmingly in favor of shutting mink farms by the end of the year, with the government saying it was working on plans to help farmers  close down the farms.

The Netherlands has reported more than 50,000 coronavirus infections, with more than 6,100 deaths, according to official figures.

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DNA from Neanderthals can make Covid more severe

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THERE are people with snippets of Neanderthal DNA.

Covid-19 patients with a snippet of Neanderthal DNA that crossed into the human genome some 60,000 years ago run a higher risk of severe complications from the disease, researchers have reported.

People infected with the new coronavirus, for example, who carry the genetic coding bequeathed by our early human cousins are three times more likely to need mechanical ventilation, according to a study published Wednesday in Nature.

There are many reasons why some people with Covid-19 wind up in intensive care and other have only light symptoms, or none at all.

Advanced age, being a man, and pre-existing medical problems can all increase the odds of a serious outcome.

But genetic factors can also play a role, as the new findings makes clear.

“It is striking that the genetic heritage from Neanderthals has such tragic consequences during the current pandemic,” said co-author Svante Paabo, director of the department of genetics at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Recent research by the Covid-19 Host Genetics Initiative revealed that a genetic variant in a particular region of chromosome 3 — one of 23 chromosomes in the human genome — is associated with more severe forms of the disease.

That same region was known to harbour genetic code of Neanderthal origins, so Paabo and co-author Hugo Zeberg, also from Max Planck, decided to look for a link with Covid-19.

They found that a Neanderthal individual from southern Europe carried an almost identical genetic segment, which spans some 50,000 so-called base pairs, the primary building blocks of DNA.

Tellingly, two Neanderthals found in southern Siberia, along with a specimen from another early human species that also wandered Eurasia, the Denisovans, did not carry the telltale snippet.

Modern humans and Neanderthals could have inherited the gene fragment from a common ancestor some half-million years ago, but it is far more likely to have entered the homo sapiens gene pool through more recent interbreeding, the researchers concluded.

The potentially dangerous string of Neanderthal DNA is not evenly distributed today across the globe, the study showed.

Some 16 percent of Europeans carry it, and about half the population across South Asia, with the highest proportion — 63 percent — found in Bangladesh.

This could help explain why individuals of Bangladeshi descent living in Britain are twice as likely to die from Covid-19 as the general population, the authors speculate.

In East Asia and Africa the gene variant is virtually absent.

About two percent of DNA in non-Africans across the globe originate with Neanderthals, earlier studies have shown.

Denisovan remnants are also widespread but more sporadic, comprising less than one percent of the DNA among Asians and Native Americans, and about five percent of aboriginal Australians and the people of Papua New Guinea.

p/jd

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COVID-19 WATCH

Treatment vs virus shows promise

Antibodies are infection-fighting proteins made by the immune system that can bind to particular structures on the surfaces of pathogens and prevent them from invading cells.

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WASHINGTON, (AFP) — The US biotech firm Regeneron said Tuesday its antibody cocktail against the coronavirus reduced viral load and recovery time in non-hospitalized Covid-19 patients during an early-stage clinical trial.

“We are highly encouraged by the robust and consistent nature of these initial data,” said George Yancopoulos, the company’s president and chief scientific officer.
“We have begun discussing our findings with regulatory authorities while continuing our ongoing trial,” he added.

The results related to the first 275 patients recruited into Regeneron’s Phase 1 trial. The patients were randomized to receive either a low-dose, high-dose or placebo of the drug, and they were also classed by whether their bodies had mounted their own antibody response or not.

The greatest treatment benefit was seen in patients who had not mounted their own effective immune response, which suggested the drug, called REGN-COV2, could act as a substitute in the absence of naturally occurring antibodies, according to Yancopoulos.

Regeneron said it would recruit 1,300 patients for the next stages of the outpatient trial. It is also concurrently running late-stage trials for hospitalized Covid-19 patients and for the drug’s potential use as a prophylaxis.

Antibodies are infection-fighting proteins made by the immune system that can bind to particular structures on the surfaces of pathogens and prevent them from invading cells.

Vaccines work by teaching the body to make its own antibodies, while scientists are also testing ready-made antibodies from the blood of recovered patients, called convalescent plasma.

But it is not possible to make convalescent plasma a mass treatment.

Researchers can also comb through the antibodies produced by recovered patients and select the most effective out of thousands, and then manufacture it at scale.

Regeneron uses a multi-antibody strategy to decrease the chances that the virus will mutate in order to evade the blocking action of a single antibody, an approach the company detailed in a recent study in Science.

Last year, a triple-antibody cocktail developed by Regeneron was shown to be effective against the Ebola virus.

Also on Tuesday, the biotech firm Moderna — one of the frontrunners in the race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine — reported results from the Phase 1 portion of its clinical trial that showed its drug was safe and generated a strong immune response among a group of 40 older adults.

Moderna’s Phase 3 trial, the final phase before possible approval, is also underway and could report interim results by the end of the year.

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DoH says home quarantine not effective

Home isolation will also be allowed if the treatment facility in their local community or in the region is already at full capacity.

Gabbie Parlade

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The Department of Health (DoH) on Wednesday backed the decision of the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on the mandatory facility-based isolation for mild and asymptomatic COVID-19 cases amid calls to review its policies.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that this is after findings that home quarantine was not an effective method in suppressing the spread of the virus, especially within family members.

“They saw that our home quarantine is not effective for us to control the transmission of the disease because many of those in home quarantine have no appropriate environment which we can say really isolates them from infecting their families,” she said in a media forum.

Vergeire explained that by staying in temporary treatment and monitoring facilities (TTMF) patients will be more monitored by other health workers.

“If you are a confirmed, positive or close contact our preferred means of quarantining or isolation is the TTMF because the environment there is appropriate,” she added.

On the other hand, she also confirmed that the government will be prioritizing the underprivileged and vulnerable individuals in allotting the facilities.

Those with comorbidities are likewise advised to stay within the treatment facilities to be adequately monitored as they recover from the coronavirus disease.

However, Vergeire clarified that it is only the most preferred measure by officials and that home quarantine is still an option provided that all measures will be met which includes having their own room with restroom.

Home isolation will also be allowed if the treatment facility in their local community or in the region is already at full capacity.

Although the DoH also acknowledged that there is a possibility that with this new policy, patients may choose not to disclose their symptoms to avoid being sent to these facilities.

This was pointed out by members of the Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC) as they urged to revisit the policies and explain to infected individuals that they have the right to choose.

“I do not disagree (to HPAAC) because that is a possibility that was actually discussed during the IATF meeting. The experts were there and they said this is one of the disadvantages that may happen but really we just need to explain it properly to the public,” she said.

Vergeire stressed that the public has nothing to fear in staying within these facilities as they assure that all patients will be monitored in their two-week stay.

On Tuesday, various groups sought for a review of the guidelines included in the new policy as they mentioned a few factors which are affected by it specifically on dependent family members and on their hampered livelihood.

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Phl’s first antigen test fails scrutiny

Based on the study and validation, it only acquired a 71 percent sensitivity so now we are still continuing our examination of the test.

Gabbie Parlade

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The Philippines’ first examined antigen test failed the evaluation of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM), the Department of Health (DoH) disclosed on Wednesday.

Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said that the SD Biosensor antigen test did not meet the standards by the World Health Organization (WHO) of having 80 percent sensitivity and 97 percent specificity to detect the coronavirus disease.

“This SD Biosensor was validated by the RITM and this is actually the first antigen test kit that has been validated by RITM and yes it’s true it did not reach the diagnostic performance set by WHO,” she said.

“Based on the study and validation, it only acquired a 71 percent sensitivity so now we are still continuing our examination of the test,” she added.

With this, she said that it will instead be considered as an approved emergency use product which was mandated by the WHO.

“We talked to WHO on what other measures we do since it did not pass the supposed amount of sensitivity but it was approved as an emergency use product,” she said.

The SD Biosensor antigen test is manufactured by one of South Korea’s healthcare companies, SD Biosensor Inc., who specializes also in various research and development of molecular diagnostics.

In July, the Department of Foreign Affairs received around 5,000 units of antigen test kits along with other essential medical equipment that were delivered and donated by the Korean Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA).

Meanwhile, Vergeire said that other testing methods such as the saliva testing is still being examined by experts as another means to fast-track the detection of the coronavirus disease.

The saliva testing consists of two types which uses it as a specimen instead of the current nasal and oropharyngeal, and as a direct means of testing.

She said that both the Philippine Red Cross and the RITM are currently conducting their studies on this type of test for its possible utilization.

At present, the RT-PCR remains to be the gold standard of testing as stated based on the WHO standards.

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Workers don’t need travel authority to take bus trips

If you are workers permitted in the street, then you don’t need to have a travel authority.

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Workers do not need to secure a travel authority to take provincial bus trips, according to Joint Task Force (JTF) COVID Shield commander Police Lieutenant General Guillermo Eleazar on Wednesday.

In a radio interview, Eleazar explained that instead of a travel pass, workers only need to present an ID and certificate of employment especially when the trip is work-related.

“If you are workers permitted in the street, then you don’t need to have a travel authority,” said Eleazar, noting that only individuals who are not considered as Authorized Persons Outside Residence (APOR) are required to present a travel authority for provincial bus trips.

This comes after the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) opened 12 modified provincial bus routes to and from Metro Manila and Regions 3 and 4-A with 286 bus units since Monday.

Provincial buses are allowed to operate in Batangas City, Lemery, Lipa City and Nasugbu in Batangas; Indang, Mendez, Tagaytay and Ternate in Cavite; as well as Calamba City, Siniloan and Sta. Cruz in Laguna.

Passengers have to present travel pass, valid ID, medical certificate and consent for undergoing possible quarantine and coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test.
However, Provincial Bus Operators of the Philippines executive director Alex Yague said that only few buses will ply the newly-opened routes on Wednesday morning.
“We are still monitoring the situation,” saod Yague. “There is a requirement that passengers should book trips within 48 hours.”

Corporate affairs and government relations head of Parañaque Integrated Terminal Exchange Jason Salvador said they were just waiting for buses for the newly opened routes to arrive.

The new routes also cover San Fernando, Pampanga route to Cubao in Quezon City. However, the Araneta City Bus Port announced that the resumption was postponed.

To monitor the compliance of the provincial buses, personnel from the JTF COVID Shield were deployed at bus terminals, according to a separate television report.
The task force advised the public to be vigilant and report violators of health protocols.

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Germany limits parties

If rates shoot up to 50 per 100,000 people, then only 25 people would be allowed at public gatherings.

Agence France-Presse

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BERLIN, Germany (AFP) — Germany will impose a cap on the number of people at parties and family gatherings in areas worst affected by the coronavirus, Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday after talks with premiers of the country’s 16 states.

With recent outbreaks in the country frequently traced to weddings and other private events, Merkel said “a reaction is therefore necessary” to halt the spread of the virus.

Any region where infection rates reach 35 per 100,000 people would be required to impose a cap of 50 people maximum at gatherings in public spaces or rented venues.

If rates shoot up to 50 per 100,000 people, then only 25 people would be allowed at public gatherings.

Federal states failed to agree on rules for private parties at home but Merkel said they “strongly recommend” that people limit guest lists to just 10 at home in the hardest-hit regions.

The chancellor also encouraged citizens to stay in Germany during the upcoming autumn school holidays, given the rapid increase in infection rates in neighboring European countries.

In addition, Germany will impose fines of at least 50 euros if clients fail to provide real contact details when they dine at restaurants to help with tracing.

“The operators must ensure that people are giving real information… if names like Donald Duck are provided, it is not hard to spot,” Merkel said.

In cases of doubt, restaurant owners or hairdressers should ask for identification cards to verify the details, she said, something that could provoke some resistance in Germany where privacy is fiercely guarded.

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DoLE sets aside P1B for OFW dependents

Raymart Lolo

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Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III on Wednesday said the regional offices (RO) of the labor department will be providing P1-billion worth of educational assistance to overseas Filipino workers (OFW) with dependents in tertiary level.

Tagged as ‘Tabang OFW,’ the program will be providing a one-time cash aid worth P30,000 to qualified OFW beneficiaries.

Bello advised OFW whose children or dependents are college students to avail of the aid program jointly headed by the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd).

“The assistance is on a first-come, first-serve basis that is why we advise our OFW to apply at our regional offices this early. They will facilitate the preparation of payment, including the release of the financial benefit to the grantees,” he added.

Bello said the RO will process and evaluate the applicants of the program to ensure its smooth implementation, including the release of cash grants.

The grant will cover school costs such as textbooks or learning materials, academic and extra-curricular expenses, and stipends including board and lodging, clothing, transportation, health or medical needs and school supplies.

Tabang OFW will also provide grant in-aid to currently enrolled children of OFWs affected by COVID-19 who must meet the admission and retention requirements of government and private colleges and universities.

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Israel passes law to limit protests during ‘virus emergency’

Agence France-Presse

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Israeli demonstrators, angry at the new government powers to restrict gatherings, protest outside parliament ahead of the vote Menahem (AFP)

Israel’s parliament approved a law early Wednesday restricting demonstrations as part of a coronavirus-related state of emergency, that critics say is aimed at silencing protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The law, which passed its final reading by 46 votes to 38, was meant to be part of a slew of measures approved by parliament on Friday tightening a second nationwide lockdown.

But the debate on the measure was put off as the government struggled to secure the necessary votes amid an opposition outcry and a protest outside parliament on Tuesday.

The lockdown, which went into force on September 18, shutters the majority of workplaces, markets, places of worship, schools, and cultural venues.

It also bans journeys of more than a kilometer (0.6 miles) from home, other than for essential purposes such as buying food and medicine or receiving medical treatment.

The new law gives the government powers to declare a “special emergency caused by the coronavirus pandemic” for renewable periods of one week.

During that time, the one-kilometer limit on travel will apply to demonstrations, and there will also be restrictions on numbers.

The state of emergency can be declared only during a lockdown.

The government has yet to use those powers, but with more than 237,000 coronavirus infections and 1,528 deaths in a population of nine million, Israel currently has the world’s highest weekly infection rate per capita.

Meir Cohen of main opposition party Yesh Atid-Telem condemned the new controls on demonstrations as a “slippery slope”.

Yair Golan of the leftwing Meretz party warned that the new law “won’t stop the demonstrations.”

“The anger growing in the streets will find its way out,” he said.

In recent months, weekly protests have been held outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence demanding that he quit over his management of the pandemic and his ongoing trial on corruption charges.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu said that the current lockdown, originally set to end on October 10, would last “no less than a month, and maybe much more time than that.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said the government had learned from “mistakes” in its swift reopening of the educational system and economy following a first lockdown earlier this year.

“The opening of the economy and our lives will be gradual and slow,” he told public broadcaster Kan.

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Trump questions India coronavirus data

Agence France-Presse

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US President Donald Trump on Tuesday questioned the credibility of India’s statistics on COVID-19 deaths, lumping in the US partner with nemeses China and Russia during a fiery pre-election debate.

Trump was responding to heated criticism from his Democratic rival Joe Biden, who blamed Trump for the heavy COVID-19 toll in the United States which has recorded more than 200,000 deaths and more than seven million infections.

“When you talk about numbers you don’t know how many people died in China, you don’t know how many people died in Russia, you don’t know how many people died in India,” Trump said at the debate in Cleveland.

“They don’t exactly give you a straight count,” he said.

Trump said that “millions” could have died without his actions and again blamed the pandemic on China, which initially suppressed news of the disease when it emerged late last year.

US leaders frequently criticize China and Russia but it is rare for them to take a negative tone on India, a growing US partner.

Trump in February paid a visit to India at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who shares some of Trump’s nationalist orientation, with the two leaders addressing a packed stadium together.

India officially has more than 6.1 million coronavirus cases, second only to the US.

But India’s lead pandemic agency said Tuesday that the real number could be more than 60 million, basing its findings on blood tests in the densely populated country.

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