Montreal, Canada – For years, Dr Tarek Loubani has been guided by a simple principle: all patients, no matter where they live, should have equal access to high-quality healthcare. But it is obvious to the Palestinian-Canadian emergency room doctor that this ideal is not yet a reality.
“I practised in Canada and I practised in Gaza, and I could see that my patients in Gaza weren’t receiving the same care,” he told Al Jazeera this week, as the blockaded Palestinian territory confirmed its first two cases of the novel coronavirus.
Gaza prepares for potential coronavirus outbreak
Coronavirus: Which countries have confirmed cases?
What happens if you catch the new coronavirus?
The global coronavirus pandemic has thrust stark global disparities in access to healthcare and medical equipment into the spotlight, as some countries are being ravaged while others are succeeding so far in staving off a crisis.
The Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated places in the world, is expected to be among the hardest-hit areas, as experts fear chronic shortages and an already strained healthcare system will exacerbate the spread of the virus.
Medical workers in Gaza are preparing for the worst, said Loubani, who spent two weeks working there last month. “People were so terrified because they knew that they were living in a powder keg,” he said. “And even these two cases represent such an incoming disaster.”
3D printing supplies
An emergency room physician in the Canadian province of Ontario, Loubani has worked with colleagues in Gaza to address some of the problems plaguing the healthcare system for several years.
In 2015, he raised over $206,000 ($300,000 Canadian) to erect solar panels atop a handful of hospitals across the Palestinian territory and provide a more consistent supply of electricity amid frequent power cuts. He also founded the Glia Project, an open-source charity that produces 3D-printed medical equipment at a low cost. The group has helped deploy 3D-printed stethoscopes and tourniquets in Gaza.
Dr Tarek Loubani, a Palestinian-Canadian doctor, poses for a picture with a 3D printed stethoscope around his neck, in Gaza City [File: Khalil Hamra/AP Photo]
For COVID-19, Glia has shared production plans for medical face shields, which front-line medical workers use when they are treating patients.
The face shields, which are being produced for use in Canadian facilities amid concerns that supplies may run out, are made with mylar and elastic, and they cost seven dollars per unit to produce. They are also reusable, Loubani said.
He said the equipment would help plug a gap in Canada, which is otherwise well-equipped to respond to the coronavirus outbreak and where the government has mobilised various industries to manufacture supplies. But Loubani conceded that face masks alone would not drastically change the reality of COVID-19 in Gaza.
“Face shields in Canada are great because that’s the thing that’s missing. But in Gaza, it’s not the thing that’s missing. It’s like a bridge, but there’s no ends on either side of this bridge.”
Printers printing face shields in London, Ontario pic.twitter.com/HPpXBdxT3z
— Tarek Loubani (@trklou) March 22, 2020
Under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade for over a decade, the Gaza Strip faces a dire humanitarian crisis and its medical facilities are stretched thin. Many Palestinians in the territory do not have regular access to electricity, clean water or sanitation, a reality that could exacerbate the outbreak.
Serious concerns have also been raised that Gaza does not have enough coronavirus testing kits to meet the needs of the local population, which numbers nearly two million people.
“The hospitals are not yet really ready,” said Matthias Schmale, director of Gaza operations for the UN Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) on March 20, just days before the first coronavirus cases were reported.
Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem also said on March 23 that the spread of the coronavirus in Gaza would be “a massive disaster resulting entirely” from the conditions created entirely by the Israeli blockade.
A Palestinian man, wearing a mask as a preventive measure against the coronavirus disease, looks on as he works at a bakery in Gaza City [Mohammed Salem/Reuters]
“A failing healthcare system, extreme poverty, dependence on humanitarian aid, dysfunctional infrastructure and harsh living conditions that compromise public health … combine with overcrowding to form a nightmare scenario,” the group said in a statement.
Loubani said that in February, when he was last in Gaza, physicians did not have enough gloves, face shields, or M95 protective masks, and many hospitals did not have respirators. That equipment is key to combatting the virus, which makes it difficult for patients to breathe and often requires their intubation.
“The most frustrating part about the health system in Gaza is [that] we actually know the answer, and the answer is an immediate end to the blockade, even if for a short period so that we can get through this crisis,” Loubani said.
“There’s some amount of the coronavirus that’s inevitable in Gaza, but the disaster we’re about to watch unfold is not inevitable.”
Global coronavirus cases pass 30 million: Live news |NationalTribune.com
More than 30 million people around the world have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and 943,515 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. Some 20.4 million people have recovered. New Zealand reported no new cases of the coronavirus for the first time in five weeks as Australia’s hotspot of Victoria logged a spike in infections…
More than 30 million people around the world have been diagnosed with the coronavirus and 943,515 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University. Some 20.4 million people have recovered.
New Zealand reported no new cases of the coronavirus for the first time in five weeks as Australia’s hotspot of Victoria logged a spike in infections amid ease in restrictions.
Canada could lose its ability to manage the pandemic due to a spike in new COVID-19 cases, the country’s top medical officer warned, as the province of Ontario clamped down on parties, setting fines for people who hold social gatherings in defiance of new limits.
Here are the latest updates:
Friday, September 18
18:17 GMT – UK PM Johnson says second wave of virus inevitable
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that it was inevitable that the country was seeing a second wave of coronavirus and that while he did not want a second national lockdown, everything was being kept under review.
“We are going to keep everything under review,” Johnson told UK media.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson says rule of six and social distancing crucial [File:AFP]
17:50 GMT – French coronavirus cases jump to new daily record over 13,000
France reported that it had registered 13,215 new confirmed coronavirus cases over the past 24 hours, a new record, after the number of cases on Thursday exceeded 10,000 for the second time in a week.
The health ministry also said that the total number of deaths from COVID-19 increased to 31,249 from 31,095 on Thursday, an increase of 154 that is a four-month high.
17:25 GMT – Greece tightens coronavirus curbs in Athens as infections surge
Greek authorities tightened restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus in the greater Athens area, saying the pandemic was showing “steadily rising trends”.
Earlier, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said the government stood ready to impose further COVID-19 curbs in Athens due to the surge of infections.
Effective from Monday and until October 4, authorities set an upper limit of nine people in all public gatherings outdoors and suspended indoor and outdoor concerts. They also set a limit of 20 people attending funerals, weddings and baptisms.
17:07 GMT – Guatemalan president tests positive for coronavirus
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, he said.
“The coronavirus test result was positive,” he told a local radio station.
The 64-year-old president did not say whether he is experiencing any symptoms related to the virus.
Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei said he planned to address the nation later on Friday [File: Echeverria/Reuters]
16:59 GMT – US will extend border restrictions with Canada, Mexico
The United States and Canada have extended existing border restrictions until October 21 as authorities continue their efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic, both nations said.
The month-long extension, which does not cover trade or travel by air, follows restrictions first imposed in March and rolled over several times. They were due to expire on September 21.
The United States has similar restrictions on the border with Mexico and these will also now be in effect until October 21, said Chad Wolf, acting secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security.
“We continue to work with our Canadian and Mexican partners to slow the spread of COVID-19,” he said in a tweet.
Canadian officials confirmed the extension.
16:50 GMT – Ireland to tighten Dublin COVID-19 restrictions as cases surge
The Irish government signed off on stricter new COVID-19 restrictions for the capital Dublin, including the closing of indoor restaurant dining, after a surge in cases in recent days, state broadcaster RTE reported.
A government spokeswoman declined to comment ahead of an official announcement of new measures due later on Friday.
16:43 GMT – Spanish capital region orders partial lockdown in some COVID-hit areas
The region including the Spanish capital Madrid will limit movement between and within areas badly affected by a new surge in coronavirus infections, which would affect over 850,000 people, regional leader Isabel Diaz Ayuso said.
Ayuso said access to parks and public areas would be restricted, and gatherings will be limited to six people, but people would not be stopped from going to work in the hardest-hit region in Spain, which has the highest number of cases in Western Europe.
“We need to avoid lockdown, we need to avoid economic disaster,” Ayuso told a news conference.
16:22 GMT – UK records highest daily number of COVID-19 since early May
The United Kingdom recorded 4,322 new positive cases of COVID-19, an increase of nearly a thousand on Thursday’s tally and the highest since May 8, according to official statistics.
16:04 GMT – Moderna expects to make 20m doses of COVID-19 vaccine candidate by 2020 end
Moderna Inc said it expects to produce 20 million doses of its experimental coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year.
The company continues to expect to make 500 million to one billion doses of the vaccine in 2021, Moderna said in a filing with the U.S. securities regulator.
There are currently no COVID-19 vaccines approved by US regulators, although a handful are in late-stage trials to prove they are safe and effective.
Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine is among the furthest in development and the company had enrolled 25,296 participants out of a planned 30,000 in its late-stage study as of Wednesday.
15:34 GMT – COVID-19 ‘state of calamity’ extended by one year in Philppines
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has extended for one year a “state of calamity” imposed in the country at the start of a lockdown to contain the spread of the coronavirus, his spokesman said.
The proclamation extending the emergency measure until September 12, 2021 was signed on Wednesday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
The extension would give government officials “ample latitude to continue utilising appropriate funds … in their disaster preparedness and response efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19,” the proclamation said.
President Rodrigo Duterte first placed the country under the state of calamity for six months in March to help the government implement the coronavirus lockdown [File: King Rodriguez/AFP]
15:01 GMT – Almost all Jewish pilgrims leave Ukraine frontier
Most of the Jewish pilgrims that camped out on the Ukrainian border with Belarus for several days have left after Kiev refused them entry, in line with its coronavirus rules.
Only “a few pilgrims” remained at the Novi Yarylovychi crossing, Ukrainian border guard spokesman Andriy Demchenko told AFP, compared to more than 1,000 on Thursday, while the Belarus border service said fewer than a dozen people were still attempting to cross.
14:25 GMT- Iran on coronavirus red alert due to rise in deaths
A senior Iranian health official has declared a coronavirus red alert covering the entire country as daily deaths and cases increase at an alarming rate, Iranian state TV reported.
Iran, one of the Middle Eastern countries hardest hit by the pandemic, has been divided up into white, orange/yellow and red regions based on the number of infections and deaths.
The death toll rose by 144 to 23,952 on Friday, while the total number of identified cases spiked by 3,049 to 416,198, health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said on television.
“The colour classification doesn’t make sense anymore. We no longer have orange and yellow. The entire country is red,” deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi said on television.
In the northwestern city of Tabriz, for instance, the number of hospitalised patients had jumped from under 40 a day to 160 [File: Anadolu]
14:01 GMT – Dutch register new 24-hour record in coronavirus cases
There were 1,972 new coronavirus cases registered by Dutch health authorities in the past 24 hours, according to data published by health authorities, marking the fourth consecutive day of all-time highs in the country.
Case data is submitted by local health authorities across the Netherlands and published daily by the National Institute for Health (RIVM).
Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s government is expected to announce regional measures such as bans on large gatherings and early closures for bars and restaurants later on Friday in response to the rise in cases.
13:30 GMT – UK COVID-19 R rate rises
The reproduction “R” number of COVID-19 infections in the United Kingdom has risen to a range of 1.1-1.4 from last week’s figure of 1.0-1.2, the government said.
“An R number between 1.1 and 1.4 means that on average every 10 people infected will infect between 11 and 14 other people,” it said. It added that the number of new infections was growing by 2 percent to 7 percent every day.
Hello, this is Arwa Ibrahim, taking over our live updates on the coronavirus pandemic from my colleague Virginia Petriomarchi.
11:31 GMT – Iceland orders pubs to close for fours days
Iceland has ordered the closure of entertainment venues and pubs in the capital area for four days – September 18-21 – in order to counteract the spread of COVID-19, the government said in a statement.
10:50 GMT – EU endorses dexamethasone for patients on oxygen therapy
The European health regulator endorsed the use of widely known steroid dexamethasone in the treatment of COVID-19 patients on oxygen or mechanical ventilation.
The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said based on its review of results of a study by UK researchers, it concluded that dexamethasone – a commonly used drug against a range of inflammatory conditions – can be considered a treatment option in adults and adolescents needing oxygen therapy.
The recommended dose in adults and adolescents, from 12 years of age and weighing at least 40kg, is 6 milligrams once a day for up to 10 days, the EMA said.
10:30 GMT – Russia’s R-Pharm secures approval for Coronavir
Russia has approved R-Pharm’s Coronavir treatment for outpatients with mild to moderate COVID-19 infections and the antiviral drug could be rolled out to pharmacies in the country as soon as next week, said the company.
Coronavir’s approval follows the green light for another Russian COVID-19 drug, Avifavir, in May. Both are based on favipiravir, which was developed in Japan and is widely used as the basis for viral treatments.
R-Pharm’s announcement is another sign Russia is pushing hard to take a global lead in the race against the virus. It is already exporting its COVID-19 tests and has clinched several international deals for supplies of its Sputnik V vaccine.
9:55 GMT – French city tightens restrictions as cases soar
The city of Nice on the French Riviera will ban gatherings of more than 10 people in public spaces and tighten rules on alcohol consumption outdoors as it seeks to curb COVID-19 infections that are soaring in the region, according to local authorities.
France registered a record 10,593 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the health ministry data showed on Thursday, the country’s highest single-day count since the pandemic began.
09:25 GMT – US CDC testing guidance published against objections: Report
US President Donald Trump’s administration posted controversial recommendations on coronavirus testing to the website of the country’s health agency against the objections of its scientists, according to a report by The New York Times citing people familiar with the matter and internal documents.
The guidelines, which said testing was not necessary for people who were exposed to COVID-19 but not displaying symptoms, were criticised when they were issued last month.
To know more, read the full story here.
08:57 GMT – Czech Republic’s daily cases surpass 3,000
Europe: Several nations tighten measures as COVID-19 cases rise
A surge in COVID-19 infections in the Czech Republic accelerated, with more than 3,000 cases reported in a day for the first time, a day after the daily tally first exceeded 2,000.
The country has seen one of the biggest spikes in new coronavirus infections in Europe, with daily case numbers quickly growing from the hundreds into the thousands.
The government has reacted by tightening measures, including limiting bars’ opening hours from Friday, banning stand-up indoor events and widening mask use in schools.
08:35 GMT – Australia to ease border limits, allow more citizens home
Australia’s weekly limit is currently set at 4,000 people [File: Stephen Coates/Reuters]
Scott Morrison, the prime minister of Australia, has said his government will increase the number of citizens allowed to return home each week to 6,000 people.
Speaking to reporters after a cabinet meeting on Friday, Morrison said states have agreed to boost quarantine capacity and that the cap on the number of people allowed into Australia each week will increase by 2,000 by mid-October.
The country’s weekly limit is currently set at 4,000 people.
Read the full story here.
07:59 GMT – Israel enforces second lockdown
Israel is about to enter a second nationwide lockdown at the onset of the Jewish holiday season, forcing residents to stay mostly at home amid a resurgence in new coronavirus cases.
The new lockdown, which is due to begin at 2pm (11:00 GMT) and will last three weeks, coincides with the start of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, traditionally a time for large family gatherings and group prayer.
Ultra-orthodox Jews maintain physical distancing inside dividing cells while participating in the Slichot prayer, the last prayer on the eve of Rosh Hashana at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City [Emmanuel Dunand/AFP]
Under the new rules, Israelis must stay within 500 metres (546 yards) of home, with exceptions for activities such as commuting to work, shopping for essentials and walking outdoors for exercise. Workplaces will operate on a limited basis.
Social distancing and limits on the number of worshippers will go into effect at synagogues, usually packed for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement that begins at sunset on September 27.
07:45 GMT – Countries’ latest figures
Russia: 1,091,186 cases (+ 5,905), 19,195 deaths (+134)
Indonesia: 236,519 cases (+ 3,891), 9,336 deaths (+114)
07:27 GMT – Thailand reports first death in 100 days
Thailand reported its first coronavirus death in more than 100 days, a health official said, after an infected Thai citizen had returned from abroad earlier this month.
The 54-year-old man, who was an interpreter based in Saudi Arabia working for the Thai labour ministry, had been treated in a Bangkok hospital for two weeks and died on Friday, Somsak Akksilp, head of the Department of Medical Services, told Reuters.
06:45 GMT – COVID-19 admissions doubling every 8 days in UK
The coronavirus is accelerating across the country with hospital admissions doubling every eight days, said the British health minister, adding that he is unable to answer whether another national lockdown would be imposed next month.
Asked repeatedly by Sky News about the prospect of a second national lockdown next month, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said lockdown was a last resort but that the government would do whatever it takes to tackle the virus.
“The number of people in hospital is doubling every eight days or so … we will do what it takes to keep people safe,” Hancock said. “We keep these things under review.”
06:20 GMT – Work from home still highly recommended: French minister
Working from home remains highly recommended, said French employment minister, Elisabeth Borne, as President Emmanuel Macron’s government battles to contain a likely second wave of the COVID-19 virus.
“It remains a practice that is highly recommended,” Borne told local radio.
The comments were made after France registered a record 10,593 new coronavirus cases in the previous 24 hours. The death toll also rose by 50 to 31,095, the second-highest daily number of deaths in two months.
Hi, this is Virginia Pietromarchi taking over the coverage of the coronavirus pandemic from my colleague Zaheena Rasheed.
05:05 GMT – India logs another daily jump of more than 96,000 infections
India’s coronavirus cases jumped by another 96,424 infections in the past 24 hours, showing little sign of levelling.
The health ministry on Friday raised the nation’s total past 5.21 million, 0.37 percent of its nearly 1.4 billion people. It said 1,174 more people died in the past 24 hours, for a total of 84,372 fatalities.
India is expected to have the highest national total of confirmed cases within weeks, surpassing the United States, where more than 6.67 million people have been infected.
India’s coronavirus cases pass 5 million as pandemic accelerates (2:11)
04:46 GMT – EU travel industry steps up quarantine pushback
Leaders of Europe’s coronavirus-stricken travel and tourism industries have appealed to the EU’s chief executive to press governments to end quarantine requirements and instead embrace coordinated restrictions and testing.
“This chaotic situation requires your immediate personal involvement,” a broad ad-hoc group of more than 20 industry groups including airline body IATA told European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a letter seen by Reuters.
The appeal came as data from airports’ group ACI Europe, one of the signatories to the September 17 letter, pointed to a “double-dip” air traffic slump, with passenger numbers down 73 percent in the first two weeks of September, after a 65 percent decline in August.
04:16 GMT – Australia looks set to ease border limits and allow more citizens home
The Australian government is expected to announce an increase in the number of citizens able to return home after a National Cabinet meeting later on Friday, where states will be asked to boost quarantine capacity.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is seeking to raise the cap on the number of people allowed into Australia each week by 2,000 from next Friday.
The country’s weekly limit is currently set at 4,000 people but there are an estimated 25,000 stranded Australians wanting to return home which the government has pledged to facilitate before Christmas.
Six months into pandemic, weaknesses in governance exposed (3:41)
03:50 GMT – First case-free day for New Zealand in five weeks
New Zealand reported no new confirmed cases of the coronavirus for the first time in more than five weeks as hopes rise that an outbreak discovered in Auckland last month has been stamped out.
Friday’s report also marked the fourth consecutive day without any cases of community transmission. All recent cases have been found among quarantined travellers returning from abroad.
Authorities have still not pinpointed the origin of the August outbreak, which they believe was imported. New Zealand has reported a total of just over 1,800 cases and 25 deaths.
03:30 GMT – US House condemns racism against Asian Americans
The United States House of Representatives voted to condemn racism against Asian Americans tied to the coronavirus outbreak, approving a Democratic resolution on a mostly party-line vote.
Republicans called the legislation an election-year effort to criticise President Donald Trump and “woke culture on steroids”.
The resolution, approved 243-164, calls on all public officials to condemn anti-Asian sentiment and to investigate hate crimes after a rise in aggression and violence from those blaming people of Asian descent for the pandemic.
The measure does not name Trump but notes inflammatory terms used by him and other Republicans – including “Chinese Virus,” “Wuhan Virus,” and “Kung flu” – and says they have perpetuated an anti-Asian stigma.
Trump contradicts CDC chief on coronavirus vaccine (2:55)
2:56 GMT – Serbia sets new rule for arrivals from high-risk areas
Serbia will require all travellers returning from areas it considers high-risk for COVID-19 to fill in an online form ahead of time.
The measure will help authorities quickly trace returnees who develop symptoms of the coronavirus, Serbian media reported. It comes into effect at 6pm local time on Friday.
Returnees will not be required to enter quarantine or produce a negative test at the border.
02:42 GMT – China reports 32 new cases, all imported
Health authorities in mainland China reported 32 new COVID-19 cases, all imported cases, marking the highest daily increase in more than a month and up sharply from nine cases reported a day earlier.
Although the latest increase still remains well below the peaks seen at the height of the outbreak in China early this year, it is the biggest since August 10 and suggests continued COVID-19 risks stemming from overseas travellers coming into the country as the pandemic rages on in other parts of the world.
Mainland China has not reported any local COVID-19 infections since mid-August.
China: COVID-19 vaccine will be available by November (2:26)
02:26 GMT – Biden slams Trump over ‘close to criminal’ COVID-19 response
US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden attacked President Donald Trump for disregarding the risks of the coronavirus, blaming him for thousands of unnecessary American deaths and vowing to mount a coordinated national response if elected.
“He knew it – he knew it and did nothing,” Biden told a CNN town hall. “It’s close to criminal.”
01:41 GMT – Australia’s Victoria state reports 45 new cases
Australia’s coronavirus hot spot of Victoria reported its biggest daily rise in coronavirus infections in more than a week as the state began relaxing lockdown restrictions.
Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, reported five deaths from COVID-19 and 45 cases in the last 24 hours. The state reported eight deaths and 28 cases a day earlier, its lowest daily rise in infections in nearly three months.
The southeastern state started easing curbs this week after a hard lockdown helped bring down the daily rise in infections to double-digits after it touched highs of more than 700 in early August.
Australia’s economy goes down under with record, virus-led slump (2:23)
01:12 GMT – California requires workers compensation for virus infection
Companies in the US state of California must compensate any workers who contract the coronavirus while on the job and must warn employees of any potential exposure to the virus under two laws that Governor Gavin Newsom signed on Thursday.
Business groups have criticised the measures as “unworkable”.
The law on informing employees requires that businesses tell workers whenever they have been exposed to someone who has either tested positive, been ordered to isolate or died because of the virus.
00:43 GMT – Ontario clamps down on parties
Ontario, Canada’s largest province, will fine people who hold social gatherings in defiance of new limits amid a spike in cases in the cities of Toronto and Ottawa, as well as a region just outside Toronto.
Starting on Friday in those three areas, only 10 people will be allowed to gather indoors – down from the current limit of 25. The number for outdoor gatherings will drop to 25 from 100.
The penalty for organisers of events that violate the limits will be 10,000 Canadian dollars ($7,600). People attending the gatherings will be fined 750 Canadian dollars.
00:33 GMT – Global coronavirus cases surpass 30 million
Global confirmed coronavirus cases surpassed 30 million, according to a tally by the Johns Hopkins University, as the number of deaths from COVID-19 neared one million.
The United States remains the worst-hit country in the world, logging more than 6.7 million cases. India and Brazil had 5.1 million and 4.4 million cases, respectively.
Some 20.4 million people have recovered from the disease worldwide.
00:03 GMT – Rise in virus cases among refugees on Lesbos
Greece reported 135 cases of coronavirus infections among migrants and refugees made homeless by a fire at a large refugee on the island of Lesbos.
Notis Mitarachi, the migration affairs minister, said the infections were discovered after some 5,000 migrants were escorted by police to a temporary new site and given rapid tests for the coronavirus.
“Within days from the devastating fires in Moria, the new camp in Mavrovouni (Kara Tepe) has been erected and more than 5,000 people have found safe shelter within,” he said.
“They have also found the appropriate medical treatment and testing for coronavirus and 135 people have been found positive up to now, and they are being kept in special areas where they receive the appropriate medical conditions.”
Hello and welcome to Al Jazeera’s continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m Zaheena Rasheed in Male, Maldives.
For all the key developments from yesterday, September 17, go here.
Trump says coronavirus vaccine distribution starting in October
President Trump on Wednesday said the government is poised to begin distributing a coronavirus vaccine as soon as next month, potentially giving the country and his reelection campaign a shot in the arm. The administration said as many as 700 million doses could be dispensed by the end of March. “We’re very close to that…
President Trump on Wednesday said the government is poised to begin distributing a coronavirus vaccine as soon as next month, potentially giving the country and his reelection campaign a shot in the arm.
The administration said as many as 700 million doses could be dispensed by the end of March.
“We’re very close to that vaccine as you know and I think much closer than I think most people want to say,” Mr. Trump said at a White House press conference, bucking some members of his health team, who are less optimistic.
But Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden had a vaccine briefing Wednesday in Delaware, and while he took pains to differentiate his distaste for Mr. Trump from the medical efforts, he came out of it saying he doesn’t trust Mr. Trump to play it straight.
“Let me be clear. I trust vaccines, I trust scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump. At this moment, the American people can’t either,” Mr. Biden said in a speech from Wilmington, Delaware.
Increasingly, campaign politics infects the chase for a vaccine and every other aspect of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The Trump campaign accused the former vice president and his running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California, of endangering lives with rhetoric that echoes “anti-vaxxers.”
Mr. Trump said from the White House that Mr. Biden is promoting “anti-vaccine theories” and that he’s hoping to deliver the first doses of a vaccine before Election Day.
“We think we can start sometime in October,” Mr. Trump said. “That will be from mid-October on. It may be a little later than that.”
While the candidates traded jabs, the Trump administration started to roll out its priorities for the staged rollout of the vaccine. Officials said they plan to dispatch some doses to distribution sites within 24 hours of approval, and that Americans will not “pay a dime” for the shots.
However, the chief of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told Congress that distributing enough doses to regain a sense of normal will take until mid-2021.
“I think there will be vaccine that initially will be available some time between November and December, but very limited supply and will have to be prioritized,” Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC director, told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “If you’re asking me ‘When is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life?’ I think we’re probably looking at late second-quarter, third quarter 2021.”
Mr. Biden echoed Dr. Redfield’s words in his speech, saying a vaccine would offer a path to normalcy but “once we have it, we’re going to take months to distribute it.”
Dr. Redfield stressed that persons with the highest need would get the shots sooner than mid-2021, though Mr. Trump wasn’t happy, claiming the CDC director misspoke.
“We’re ready to go immediately,” Mr. Trump said. “When we go, we go.”
A top adviser, Scott Atlas, said 700 million doses should be available to Americans by the end of March.
The coronavirus is looming over the presidential race, with polls showing that voters disapprove of the way Mr. Trump has handled COVID-19 but don’t blame him for the virus.
Mr. Biden has leaned into the issue, calling for total transparency in the development and delivery of a vaccine.
Following a briefing from experts, Mr. Biden said the White House must spell out the criteria it is using to prove the safety of the vaccine and to have scientists validate those findings. He also said the administration must share how it plans to deliver the vaccine fairly and equitably.
Mr. Biden said as president, he would implement a distribution plan that includes a detailed timetable for when people can get the vaccine and instructions for how the shots should be shipped and stored.
“I will provide the leadership necessary to carry out that plan,” Mr. Biden said. “I will level with the American people. I will take responsibility and I will support rather than tear down the experts responsible for the day-to-day execution of that plan.”
Mr. Trump said a plan isn’t needed because he released one that very morning.
“It’s all set, we have our military lined up,” Mr. Trump said.
The “strategic distribution overview” says the federal government will work with state and local partners to promote the vaccine to the public and ensure they are transported safely through their contractor, McKesson Corp.
“It’s a herculean task,” said Army Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, who oversees logistics for the federal vaccine effort known as Operation Warp Speed.
The administration said it is working to make sure no American pays out-of-pocket to get the vaccine, though health providers will be reimbursed for their work by private insurers or government programs.
The goal is to vaccinate the American public to achieve a level of herd immunity “where there is no longer sustained transmission of this virus,” said Dr. Redfield.
Once a vaccine is available, officials plan to distribute the first doses to health-care workers who may be exposed to infected patients and then to essential workers who cannot socially distance on the job, such as food-distribution employees, and teachers and school staff.
As the effort progresses, officials will be tracking supply to make sure regions do not have too little — or too much — of the vaccine compared to demand.
Officials also said they will make sure recipients get the right vaccine at the right time. For instance, vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna are not interchangeable from dose to dose.
A vaccine is considered society’s best chance to regain its footing amid a pandemic that began in Wuhan, China, in December and has killed nearly 1 million people worldwide. With the U.S. death toll likely to eclipse 200,000 by the weekend, the vaccine is increasingly becoming a political football.
Surrogates for the Trump campaign scolded the Biden campaign for casting doubt on the unprecedented effort to produce a vaccine for the newly discovered pathogen.
“That is very dangerous for the health of America,” said Rep. Brad Wenstrup, Ohio Republican and a physician, told reporters on a conference call.
The congressman said the vaccine is being developed safely and people should be “very excited about the progress that has been made.”
Federal and state officials are trying to manage the outbreak while they wait for a vaccine. They’ve pleaded with Americans to maintain social distancing and wear a face covering to keep potentially infectious droplets from traveling in the air.
“I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine,” Dr. Redfield told senators, holding up his mask for the dais.
He said the eventual vaccine might only protect 70% of recipients, roughly in the range of what the annual flu vaccine achieves, but there is ample scientific evidence that masks will offer more protection from the droplets that the virus needs to spread.
While Mr. Biden reissued his call for a nationwide mask mandate, Mr. Trump pushed back on his CDC director once again.
“It’s not more effective by any means than a vaccine,” Mr. Trump said. “The mask is not as important as the vaccine.”
Also Wednesday, the White House said it recorded a new infection among a staff member on campus, though it didn’t provide more details.
“It’s not anybody that was near me,” Mr. Trump said.
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Trump coronavirus optimism rebuffed by health experts fears
President Trump says America is turning the corner on the coronavirus and will defeat it “very easily” with a vaccine but public health experts are worried about a cold-weather spike in the meantime, posing a key test of whether Americans can buckle down for a few more months. Public health experts are concerned the coronavirus…
President Trump says America is turning the corner on the coronavirus and will defeat it “very easily” with a vaccine but public health experts are worried about a cold-weather spike in the meantime, posing a key test of whether Americans can buckle down for a few more months.
Public health experts are concerned the coronavirus could surge after Election Day due to the cooler weather conditions, along with the higher risks associated with school openings and people gathering indoors to avoid the chill outside.
Making matters worse, any spike would coincide with flu season, potentially creating confusion in the emergency rooms that need to distinguish between the diseases. Officials are pleading with the public to get their flu shots and maintain COVID-19 precautions to avoid the type of chaos that dominated last spring.
Predicting how the new coronavirus will behave has been notoriously difficult, to the point tha experts say people should be prepared for any scenario.
“One has to simply say, ‘We really don’t know,’” said Barry Bloom, a research professor of public health and former dean of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Our epidemiological people are anticipating that there will be a flare in cases in the fall as temperatures go down, as people can’t dine outside and as we spend more time in groups indoors — and that will be contemporaneous with flu season.”
Part of the challenge in preventing flare-ups is that it’s hard for the public to envision the exponential growth of cases at the start of a surge, the professor said. Deaths from case surges don’t occur until a few weeks down the road.
“Getting an intuition of what’s going to happen — without seeing dreadful things happen — is what makes this epidemic so challenging,” Mr. Bloom said.
Pennsylvania officials say they are tracking the percentage of tests that come back positive to make sure they’re on the right track. They’re shooting for a positivity rate below 5% in each county.
While the state’s rate is 4.2% this week, they do have “a number of counties with concerning numbers,” state health department spokesman Nate Wardle said.
“If we do not take actions to prevent the spread of the virus, we will see large outbreaks in our schools, our colleges, and then as we move into flu season, that could be concerning for our health system,” Mr. Bloom said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is warning about the potential difficulties of combatting influenza and COVID-19 at the same time. Director Robert Redfield said it’s “more important than ever” to get a flu shot.
“COVID-19 and flu activity occurring at the same time could place a tremendous burden on the health care system and result in many illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths,” Dr. Redfield said. “However, we could also have an extremely mild flu season. We have seen evidence that mitigation steps for COVID-19 — like face masks, social distancing, and handwashing — have likely helped to prevent the spread of flu in some other countries. I am confident that Americans will continue to take mitigation steps for COVID-19 seriously.”
New York, the hardest-hit state earlier this year, recently told hospitals to devise plans for potential surges and demand for personal protective equipment as they prepare for the fall.
“We urge New Yorkers of all ages to remain vigilant and do their part to prevent the spread of this virus, while also getting a flu shot to protect themselves against the flu and protect the health care system from getting overwhelmed,” state Department of Health spokeswoman Jill Montag said. “The Department of Health has also championed emergency regulations related to surge and flex and PPE to address critical needs in healthcare facilities, now and in anticipation of a second wave.”
Cooler weather might be a factor in any COVID-19 spike. Respiratory diseases tend to circulate more during colder, drier months because infectious droplets linger in the air for longer. The summer months didn’t slash transmission as hoped, though scientists say that’s likely because so many people were susceptible to the virus, which was first discovered in humans in China in December.
Spikes may occur around by mid-October in places where the virus spread widely this year and is still lurking, according to Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine.
“It will likely rise again due to sporting events, for example [the Florida State University] football game in Tallahassee this weekend, one of the most endemic areas of the country,” he said, referring to a limited-capacity game in which students were photographed crowding together without masks.
He pointed to school and college openings, generally, as risk factors and said indoor events will drive transmission.
President Trump over the weekend held his first indoor campaign rally since late June.
Campaign officials said each attendee in Nevada received a temperature check, a mask they were encouraged to wear and access to hand sanitizer, though Democrats scolded the president for not heeding scientists who say gathering indoors is more dangerous than being outdoors, where the fresh air allows for the unlimited dilution of virus particles.
Mr. Trump used the rally to highlight U.S. progress in fighting the coronavirus, which has killed over 194,000 people across the country.
The seven-day rolling average of new cases is at about 35,000 per day, down from a peak of about 66,000 in mid-July but higher than the 22,000 recorded in early June, according to a New York Times tracker.
Mr. Trump has cited the drop and the declining share of Americans who are dying from the disease, as efforts to shield the vulnerable and improvements in treatment pay off. He says a vaccine, which could be approved by the end of the year, will finish the job.
“We’ll be ready before the end of the year and we will very easily defeat the China virus. That’s what’s happening and we’re already making that turn,” Mr. Trump said. “We’re making that round beautiful last turn, but it should have never happened. China should have never let that happen.”
Capitol Hill Democrats on Monday said they’re worried the administration is so attuned to Mr. Trump’s electoral prospects it is revising scientific reports to fit his narrative.
Democrats on the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus launched a probe after news reports said senior health officials tried to tweak the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWRs) on the virus.
The lawmakers want to know if the reported activity is still going on “and the steps that Congress may need to take to stop it before more Americans die needlessly.”
The Department of Health and Human Services said it will respond to Congress, while one of its top spokesmen, Michael Caputo, said the interactions between the public affairs office and CDC were part of a regular scientific review by scientific adviser Paul Alexander.
“Dr. Paul Alexander is an Oxford-educated epidemiologist and a methodologist specializing in analyzing the work of other scientists. Dr. Alexander advises me on pandemic policy and he has been encouraged to share his opinions with other scientists. Like all scientists, his advice is heard and taken or rejected by his peers,” Mr. Caputo said. “Our intention is to make sure that evidence, science-based data drives policy through this pandemic — not ulterior deep state motives in the bowels of CDC.”
House Republicans, meanwhile, asked the administration to brief them on preparations for dealing with the coronavirus and flu in the coming months.
“We share your concerns about the unprecedented convergence of two highly contagious respiratory viruses that can cause life-threatening illness and death. Experts have noted that, in the upcoming influenza season, there could potentially be 100 million cases of influenza-like symptoms that could overwhelm current testing capacity,” Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon and other top members of the Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to CDC Director Redfield. “Health experts also note ‘the stress on hospitals will be greatest if the COVID-19 and influenza epidemics overlap and peak around the same time.’”
The lawmakers asked Dr. Redfield to brief them on efforts to protect people from the flu — especially those who usually get the seasonal shot at the office but are working at home — and the status of testing technology that can check for the coronavirus and flu at the same time.
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