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WHO says South America is the new coronavirus ‘epicentre’.

Brazil, whose president has resisted restrictions, is the hardest hit country in the region with over 310,00 cases

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brazil coronavirus

South America has become an ‘epicentre’ of the COVID-19 pandemic with Brazil the hardest hit country, the World Health Organization’s Mike Ryan said on Friday.

  • South America has now become an epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic, about six months after the new virus emerged on the other side of the world in Wuhan, China, the World Health Organization declared Friday.
  • Brazil has more cases than any other country in South America, according to the WHO’s most recent daily situation report.
  • Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit, emphasized the importance for all countries to protect vulnerable populations.

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Indian-origin scientists find novel way to treat severe Covid-19

The observational study included 255 Covid-19 patients being treated with IL6ri during stage IIB (149 patients) and stage III (106 patients) of the disease.

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Coronavirus Treatment

New York, Aug 5 : A team of Indian-origin researchers has found that patients experiencing severe Covid-19 symptoms had improved outcomes when administered an Interleukin-6 (IL6ri) inhibitor, sarilumab or tocilizumab — used in treating autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and other several inflammatory conditions.

The treatment was more effective when administered earlier in the disease course, reducing mortality rate and the need for intubation.

Published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, the results showed that Interleukin-6 inhibitors appear to be a more effective treatment method as compared to other options, including remedesvir and dexamethasone, which are recommended and are being currently used to check the pandemic.

“At a time when treatments are being tested with urgency amid the Covid-19 pandemic, our study results offer some hope towards finding solutions to better treat patients infected by this disease,” said study researcher Manish Sagar from the Boston University in the US.

According to the study, elevated IL-6 levels may mediate the severe systemic inflammatory responses that occur in patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome or Covid-19 infection.

The observational study included 255 Covid-19 patients being treated with IL6ri during stage IIB (149 patients) and stage III (106 patients) of the disease.

Once an appropriate patient was identified, he/she was given IL6ri (sarilumab or tocilizumab) based on iteratively reviewed guidelines.

The IL6ri was initially reserved for critically-ill patients, but after review, the treatment was liberalised for patients with lower oxygen requirements.

The IL6ri recipients had considerably higher supplementary oxygen requirements, indicating more advanced disease than patients in previous remdesivir and dexamethasone trials, and would have been expected to have a higher mortality rate.

The study’s sampling-with-replacement analysis found that the patients who received IL6ri had a lower mortality rate than patients in the intervention and control groups of remdesivir and dexamethasone trials.

The 22.9 per cent mortality rate for the 105 Boston Medical Center patients that required ICU care (41.1 per cent) was considerably lower than previously published 45-50 per cent mortality in other ICU studies.

“The greatest benefit of IL6ri use was seen in patients who received the drug in an earlier stage, prior to critical respiratory decompensation, showing the importance of prompt testing and treatment,” said study researcher Pranay Sinha.

“We hope these findings can help guide physicians as we seek solutions to reduce mortality, increase extubation, reduce the length of stay in the hospital, and have more patients discharged from the hospital alive,” Sinha added.

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‘Horror show’: Massive explosion in Beirut kills dozens, wounds thousands in Lebanon’s capital

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Beirut Blast

BEIRUT : A huge explosion in a port warehouse district near the centre of Beirut killed more than 73 people, injured over 3,700 others and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, shattering windows and causing apartment balconies to collapse.

Officials expected the death toll to rise sharply as emergency workers dug through rubble across a swathe of the city to rescue people and remove the dead. It was the most powerful blast to hit Beirut in years, making the ground tremble.

“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross George Kettani told broadcaster Mayadeen. “There are victims and casualties everywhere – in all the streets and areas near and far from the explosion.”

Three hours after the blast, which struck shortly after 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), a fire still blazed in the port district, casting an orange glow across the night sky as helicopters hovered and ambulance sirens sounded across the capital.

A security source said victims were being taken for treatment outside the city because Beirut hospitals were already packed with wounded. Red Cross ambulances from the north and south of the country and the Bekaa valley to the east were called in to cope with the huge casualty toll.

The blast was so big that some residents in the city, where memories of heavy shelling during the 1975 to 1990 civil war live on, thought an earthquake had struck. Dazed, weeping and, wounded, people walked through streets searching for relatives.

Lebanon’s interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored at the port had blown up. The minister later told Al Jadeed TV ammonium nitrate had been in storage there since 2014.

Footage of the explosion shared by residents on social media showed a column of smoke rising from the port district followed by an enormous blast, sending a ball of white smoke and fireball into the sky. Those filming the incident from high buildings 2 km (more than a mile) from the port were thrown backwards by the shock.

Lebanon’s health minister said more than 25 people had been killed and more than 2,500 were injured. Lebanon’s Red Cross said hundreds of people had been taken to hospitals.

DAY OF MOURNING

Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for an emergency meeting of the country’s Supreme Defence Council, according to the presidency’s Twitter account. Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for a day of mourning on Wednesday.

The explosion occurred three days before a U.N.-backed court is due to deliver a verdict in the trial of four suspects from the Shi’ite group Hezbollah over a 2005 bombing which killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 other people.

Hariri was killed in another huge blast on the waterfront, although on that occasion it was caused by a truck bomb.

It was not immediately clear what caused Tuesday’s blaze that set off the blast.

Internal Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim, touring the port area, said he would not pre-empt investigations. An Israeli official said Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, had nothing to do with the blast.

The governor of Beirut port told Sky News that a team of firefighters at the scene had “disappeared” after the explosion.

“I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street,” said a Reuters witness.

Residents said glass was broken in houses from Raouche, on the Mediterranean city’s western tip, to Rabieh 10 km (6 miles) east). In Cyprus, a Mediterranean island 110 miles (180 km) across the sea from Beirut, residents heard the blast bangs. One resident in Nicosia said his house and window shutters shook.

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India’s Covid-19 testing rate lower than other nations, says WHO Chief Scientist

The Chief Scientist of WHO, Soumya Swaminathan, in an interactive session through video conference said,as of now about 28 vaccine candidates for Covid-19 are under clinical trial, of which five are entering Phase-II and over 150 candidates are in pre-clinical trials across the globe.

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Soumya Swaminathan

Noting that lockdown was a temporary measure to contain the spread of coronavirus, a senior official of the World Health Organisation on Tuesday said India has a low testing rate when compared to some of the countries that are successfully trying to curb it.

The Chief Scientist of WHO, Soumya Swaminathan, in an interactive session through video conference said,as of now about 28 vaccine candidates for Covid-19 are under clinical trial, of which five are entering Phase-II and over 150 candidates are in pre-clinical trials across the globe.

“India as a whole, the testing rates are much lower compared to some of the countries, who have done well like Germany, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan.

Even the United States is testing a huge number of people. So we need to have some benchmark and every public health department needs to have benchmarks on what is the rate of testing per lakh or per million, what is the test positivity rate,” she said.

Without adequate number of tests, fighting the virus is like “fighting fire blindfolded,” she pointed out.

According to Swaminathan, the number of tests being conducted is not adequate if the Covid-19 test positivity rate is above five per cent.

Governments need to constantly monitor the availability of beds, quarantine facilities, ICUs and oxygen supplies in district hospitals.

“So there is a set of 8 to 10 indicators that the government needs to keep a close watch on. And you can ramp up or ramp down based on what you are seeing on the ground,” she said.

Observing that the scientists’ community was still studying the body’s immune response to coronavirus and the next 12 months were crucial to put in place the public health and social measures, she said the virus has spread to every country in the world and “established community transmission”.

“We know that lockdowns are temporary measures or a temporary measure which reduces the spread because it prevents people from getting closer together and the idea of the lockdown is to buy time for the government to put in place the system needed to tackle the virus,” the WHO official said.

On the ongoing vaccine trials, she said the WHO has issued guidelines on it and if the efficacy rate of the vaccine is 70 percent, then it is considered to be a good one.

On the COVAX facility, a mechanism designed to guarantee rapid, fair and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines worldwide, Swaminathan said by the end of 2021 it is aimed to deliver two billion doses of safe, effective vaccines that have passed regulatory approval and/or WHO prequalification.

All the 194 member countries of the WHO need to come together and take a decision on the way they want to proceed for the equitable and fair distribution of vaccine (once successfully comes out) and other products that are being developed for Covid-19, she opined.

Krishna Ella, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharat Biotech, which is into developing Covaxin, a vaccine candidate for Covid-19,said the Centre needs to decetralise some of the regulating authorities such as Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO for faster approvals.

Telangana Minister for IT and Industries KT Rama Rao acted as a moderator for the session titled The Vaccine Race- Balancing Science and Urgency.

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