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As the coronavirus spreads, a drug that once raised the world’s hopes is given a second shot

remdesivir-coronavirus
Gilead Science's Remdesivir is now being investigated for it's potential as Covid-19 treatment. (iStock/Getty Images)

A decade ago, a group of chemists cooked up a compound they simply called 3a and that, in lab experiments, fought off a number of different viruses. One was a type of coronavirus.

Now, the descendant of that molecule — Gilead Sciences’ remdesivir — is being rushed to patients with infections from the novel coronavirus in hopes that it can reduce the intensity and duration of Covid-19 and ease the burden of the pandemic on health systems.

Remdesivir, in the spotlight as scientists and governments scramble to find a treatment for the disease, took a circuitous route to center stage. Born as a general antiviral candidate, researchers threw it at an array of viruses and saw where it stuck. It bounced along from Gilead’s labs to academic centers, nudged by both federal taxpayer dollars and support from the company. It kept turning up whiffs of potential in cells and animals infected by other coronaviruses like SARS and MERS, but these bugs weren’t causing sustained global crises. For years, Gilead was primarily focused on ushering remdesivir into trials and toward approval for a different kind of infection: Ebola.

But there’s nothing like a pandemic to break the emergency glass on all possible options.

Remdesivir is now being tested in five Covid-19 clinical trials that have been set up at breakneck speed. It’s been delivered through a compassionate use program to some patients, including the first case in the United States. The first trial results are expected next month, though some analysts have already raised concerns about the prospects based on the drips of data emerging from a small number of patients.

Others’ hopes are high for the drug. As of now, there are no approved therapies for any coronavirus infection, and remdesivir is the farthest along in the development process of any candidate.

“There’s only one drug right now that we think may have real efficacy,” Bruce Aylward of the World Health Organization said last month. “And that’s remdesivir.”

Remdesivir’s odyssey illuminates the complicated trajectory drugs can take as they are forged, refined, scrutinized, and moved into human studies. But its long, meandering path also underscores why drugs need to demonstrate their efficacy in these studies. The drug similarly had lofty expectations as an Ebola treatment, and strong data from animal studies to boot. But in a landmark trial that compared four experimental therapies and was published last year, two other treatments were shown to dramatically reduce deaths from the infection, while remdesivir faltered, producing less impressive survival benefits.

“Drug discovery and development is usually a very long and tedious process and you could have many failures on the path to an approved product,” Tomas Cihlar, Gilead’s vice president of virology, said in an interview with STAT.

As for remdesivir’s chances in Covid-19, Cihlar said:  “It would be wonderful if it works. But it needs to be proven.”

When the patient with the first known U.S. case of Covid-19 was admitted to Providence Regional Medical Center in Everett, Wash., on Jan. 20, he wasn’t all that sick.

The 35-year-old man had the respiratory infection’s most common symptoms of fever and cough, but had no trouble breathing and no evidence of pneumonia — inflammation of the lungs’ air sacs. But around that time, his doctors saw a report from China that detailed that some patients there developed more severe symptoms several days into their illnesses.

“That perked our ears to the worsening of this disease,” said George Diaz, the infectious disease section chief at the hospital.

Within a few days, the man — who had visited family in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak is believed to have started, and returned home to Washington Jan. 15 — started experiencing shortness of breath and requiring oxygen. An X-ray revealed pneumonia.

Diaz informed officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with whom he had been conferring daily, that the patient was taking a turn for the worse. The CDC suggested trying an experimental drug, and mentioned Gilead’s remdesivir.

Hospital officials got in touch with Gilead about providing the drug, and then got the approval from the Food and Drug Administration to treat the patient through a compassionate use program, which allows unapproved drugs to be given under select circumstances outside of clinical trials. Gilead overnighted the drug to the hospital.

“Treatment with intravenous remdesivir was initiated on the evening of day 7, and no adverse events were observed,” the medical team wrote in a case report in the New England Journal of Medicine. The man started feeling better the following day.

“We were aware that he was the first patient on the planet getting the drug for this infection, so we were super interested to see, hopefully, if he would improve,” Diaz recalled.

The apparent success in one patient does not prove the drug is effective. That is where the large trials that will compare remdesivir to placebos come in.

Remdesivir has been able to advance into clinical studies so quickly for two key reasons. For one, thanks to its use in Ebola, it was known to be generally safe in humans. And two, it had a large body of preclinical evidence — that is, data from studies in cells in lab experiments and in infected animals — that indicated it could temper coronavirus infections. One study published just last month by researchers from Gilead and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases showed remdesivir inhibited the replication of MERS, a related coronavirus, in infected monkeys.

Much of this preclinical research has been conducted through collaboration among the National Institutes of Health, academic labs, and Gilead, steered by the Antiviral Drug Discovery and Development Center, or AD3C. The center is an NIH-funded program run out of the University of Alabama at Birmingham that, since 2014, has been on the hunt for new treatments for emerging viruses.

Since drug screens revealed that remdesivir had potential as a coronavirus fighter, it was routed into the arm of AD3C focused on this family, a project led by Mark Denison at Vanderbilt University and Ralph Baric at University of North Carolina. Starting in about 2015 and with the backing of Gilead, they and scientists in their labs have pulled back the curtain on how exactly remdesivir curtails coronaviruses and demonstrated that it can block the viruses from multiplying in infected animals.


With the coronavirus, drug that once raised global hopes gets another shot
Bottles of remdesivir in a hospital for Covid-19 patients in Wuhan, China. FeatureChina via AP

The researchers got an additional NIH grant to ready remdesivir for clinical trials, and thought the target could be MERS, which has caused 858 deaths and nearly 2,500 cases, mostly in Saudi Arabia, since it started infecting people in 2012. But even with that focus, they were also thinking about how the drugs they were studying could be used for the next spillover — when a virus jumps from animals to people.

“We’ve always thought that coronaviruses were a family on the move,” said Tim Sheahan, a UNC coronavirus expert.

Even with that expectation, though, the researchers who have toiled away for years on these projects without much fanfare find themselves caught off guard now.

“People like me, people doing basic science, oftentimes the work that we’re doing has no obvious direct translation to improving human health,” Sheahan said. “It’s hard to imagine that the work we’ve done in a lab in North Carolina could be saving people’s lives around the world. It’s incredibly gratifying, but it’s surprising and unusual for someone like me to experience this.”

But if remdesivir had hopes as an Ebola treatment, how can it also work against coronaviruses? Their viral families are so different, “it’s like saying a giraffe versus an elephant,” said Gene Olinger, a former U.S. Army Ebola researcher, who is now the scientific advisor at MRI Global, a nonprofit research organization.

The trick is that remdesivir does not go after the virus directly. Instead, it targets the system the virus uses to replicate itself, hijacking it like you would your office’s copy machine as part of a company-wide prank.

These viruses have a genome that consists of a strand of RNA. To make copies of themselves, they rely on a molecule called a polymerase to string together the individual building blocks of the viral genome. These are like the “letters” that we think of composing DNA.

Remdesivir is an “analog,” designed to mimic the appearance of one of the RNA letters, adenosine. It looks so similar that the polymerase can unknowingly pick it up instead of the real adenosine and insert it into the strand of viral genome that’s being constructed, like bringing home the wrong twin from summer camp. Once in place, the analog acts as a cap, preventing any additional pieces from being strung on. This leaves the strand short of the full genome. The virus can’t go on to replicate or infect other cells.

“The polymerase grabs it almost accidentally and uses it in place of adenosine,” said Maria Agostini, a postdoctoral researcher in Denison’s Vanderbilt lab. “The polymerase can kind of get it mixed up sometimes.”

The drug can inhibit coronaviruses as well as Ebola because their polymerases are similar enough that its cloak-and-dagger operation fools them all. (Remdesivir does not appear to work on other viruses with more unrelated forms of polymerase.)

Like a bad song clears out a dance floor, remdesivir can clear the viral levels in a person, as long as it can interrupt enough replication. The key, researchers say, is that it has to be delivered somewhat early in an infection, as the virus is still proliferating. In patients who develop severe disease, it’s not the virus that’s always the main problem. The body’s own immune system can react by heading into overdrive and causing secondary complications like organ damage. An antiviral can’t head that off once it’s begun.

“If you wait to treat someone until they’re in the ICU on a ventilator, it’s too late, you’re not going to do a darn thing,” said Richard Whitley, an infectious disease expert at UAB who coordinates the antiviral consortium.

When remdesivir stumbled in the Ebola trials last year, it was a disappointment, Gilead’s Cihlar acknowledged. But he argued it refocused the company’s attention to other targets for the drug.

They didn’t have to wait long.

In December, reports popped up from Wuhan of mysterious pneumonia cases. In early January, word came of a new coronavirus. “At that point, we started getting ready,” Cihlar said.

And when Chinese scientists published the virus’ genome, Gilead zeroed in on the portion that contained the recipe for the replication machinery — the polymerase. They saw it was nearly identical to the version in SARS — evidence that remdesivir might work against this virus as well. “That was a really strong signal for us,” he said.

There are now five clinical trials of remdesivir in Covid-19: two run by Chinese scientists, one looking at severe infections, and one at mild and moderate infections; one sponsored by NIAID; and two sponsored by Gilead in countries around the world with a large number of cases, looking at different disease severities and dosing regimens.

If the drug is successful in trials, most antiviral experts think the drug should primarily be used for patients with more severe symptoms and those who are hospitalized — some 15% to 20% of cases. But observers have also raised a number of points that could potentially trip up the trials. For one, the process moved so quickly that analysts have wondered if the best doses were chosen. They have also pointed to the fact that one of the Chinese trials includes patients whose symptoms started up to 12 days prior. There are concerns that might be too late.

“The overall trial might not be as spectacular as people think,” Umer Raffat, an analyst at Evercore ISI, said in a presentation last week. But, Raffat added, results from patients who start treatment early might show the drug has efficacy if given soon after symptoms arise.

Another detail that will be scrutinized: Can the drug, which is given intravenously into the bloodstream, reach the cells it needs to clear the respiratory infection?

“We don’t know if the amount of remdesivir that’s going to get into the lungs is enough to get the virus down,” said Andre Kalil, an infectious disease specialist at University of Nebraska Medical Center and an investigator in the NIAID-sponsored trial. “This is part of the reason we’re doing the study.”

Remdesivir may have had a head start, but other efforts are underway to come up with Covid-19 treatments. (These are separate from vaccine projects.) Virologists said they were keeping an eye on a candidate pursued by researchers at Vanderbilt, UNC, and Emory University that, in its various forms, has been identified as NHC, EIDD-2801, and EIDD-1931. The drug company Regeneron, which steered its Ebola antiviral to success in the same trial in which remdesivir stumbled, is working on a treatment, as are other biopharma companies. Some experts have proposed using antibody-containing blood from survivors of Covid-19 as a therapy.

If remdesivir does succeed in clinical trials, Gilead will only face a new round of questions.

The company has run into a buzzsaw of public and governmental criticism in the past over the cost of its HIV and hepatitis C antivirals, and any drug approved to treat Covid-19 will certainly face pricing scrutiny. A Gilead spokesperson said the company was not discussing pricing yet.

Health authorities are already stressing the importance of access to therapeutics that do make it to market.

“We cannot have a situation where people who need the drug don’t get it and people who don’t need the drug do,” Mike Ryan, who leads the WHO’s emergency program, said at a briefing this month when asked about the ongoing clinical trials. “We must find ways to ensure we can scale up production of any drugs that prove effective and we can ensure that those drugs are distributed on the basis of need and the basis of benefit.”

 

That points to another challenge Gilead could face with an approval for remdesivir: supply. Even if it was recommended only for people with severe infections who are hospitalized, that could still amount to thousands of patients needing doses, and needing them soon.

On a call with analysts this month, Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day said the company was “engaging our manufacturing and supply chain in the event of success” and said that it was already talking with partners about increasing production of remdesivir. But given that the drug is still in trials, he said, “right now the demand is really unknown.”

That same day, O’Day appeared at the White House with other drug and vaccine makers.

“We’re moving as fast as we can,” O’Day told President Trump as he described remdesivir. “I think everybody around the table is moving as fast as we can.”

Trump had a simple message for O’Day: “Get it done, Daniel. Don’t disappoint us, Daniel.”

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The Netherlands: Medical research teams are the first to discover COVID-19 antibody

The Netherlands Medical research teams are the first to discover COVID-19 antibody
The Netherlands Medical research teams are the first to discover COVID-19 antibody. (iStock/Getty Images)

Researchers at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam and at Utrecht University have reported that they have discovered an antibody which combats COVID-19 infection.

If their discovery is confirmed, the antibody could form the basis of the first COVID-19 vaccine, as reported by Free West Media, or possibly even a medicine, which could be developed more quickly than a vaccine.

It may still take some time before an antidote is made available to the public, however. The discovery needs to be verified through the peer review process and it would need to be tested on human subjects before it could be produced for mass distribution.

 
 

Free West Media described it as “a monoclonal antibody, capable of recognizing the protein” that can infect humans. “The antibody has the ability to bind to the aforementioned protein and, consequently, is able to prevent the virus from connecting to the respiratory cells.”

If verified, the discovery could lead to the development of a test for infection that people could use themselves at home, in addition to an antidote. The researchers also believe that the antibody could be effective in treating other viruses which might develop out of the same strain in the future.

“If you were to take this as a patient, it is expected . . . that the infection will be stopped,” Grosveld explained. “And so it can give the patient an opportunity to recover.”

Many European countries are taking extreme measures in order to try to slow the spread of the virus. Angela Merkel said that it is anticipated that 70% of Germans will eventually be infected with the disease, as reported by Voice of Europe.

Berlin acts to stop US poaching German coronavirus vaccine company

Concern that Washington may seek monopoly on any breakthrough in fight against disease

 
Berlin acts to stop US poaching German coronavirus vaccine company
There are fears in Berlin that countries could take an 'every man for himself' approach to combating coronavirus © Adrienne Surpreant/Bloomberg

Berlin is seeking to stop a German company trying to come up with a vaccine against coronavirus from moving its research to the US, amid fears Washington may seek a monopoly on any breakthrough in the fight against the disease. A German government source said that ministers were looking at ways to keep the company in question, biopharma group CureVac, in Germany. On Sunday the German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag reported that Donald Trump was trying to lure CureVac to the US with generous offers of money. Welt quoted unnamed German officials as saying the president was doing everything in his power to acquire a vaccine for the US — “but only for the US”. The report has reinforced fears in Berlin that countries could take an “every man for himself” approach to fighting coronavirus, rather than pooling resources and sharing potential scientific breakthroughs that would help to stop the disease. A German government spokesman declined to comment on the Welt story. But the health ministry issued a statement saying the government had “a great interest in ensuring that vaccines and compounds against the new type coronavirus are also developed in Germany and in Europe”. “With this in mind, the government is in an intensive exchange with the firm CureVac,” the ministry added. German officials have pointed to Berlin’s law on foreign trade, under which the government can scrutinise bids from non-EU countries “if national or European security interests are at stake”. A US official said the Welt story was “wildly overplayed”. He said the US government had spoken with more than 25 companies that claim they can help with a vaccine, and most of them had already received seed funding from US investors.

“We will continue to talk to any company that claims to be able to help,” he said. “And any solution found would be shared with the world.” This month, CureVac reported on its website that its chief executive Daniel Menichella had been invited to the White House to discuss “strategies and opportunities for the rapid development and production of a coronavirus vaccine” with Mr Trump and members of his coronavirus task force. In the press release, Mr Menichella was quoted as saying that the company was “very confident that we will be able to develop a potent vaccine candidate within a few months”. It said it hoped to start clinical trials early this summer. A few days after the meeting, Mr Menichella left the company, which is based in the south-western town of Tübingen. He was replaced as chief by Ingmar Hoerr, CureVac’s founder.

The Welt report kicked up a political storm in Germany. “The exclusive sale of a potential vaccine to the US must be prevented using all available means,” said Karl Lauterbach, health policy spokesman for the Social Democrats, the junior partner in Angela Merkel’s grand coalition government. “Capitalism has limits,” he tweeted. “We can’t continue to be reliant on medicine from China and the US. Our policy on research needs to change.” “It’s an ethical, not an economic or national issue,” said Bärbel Bas, deputy head of the SPD’s parliamentary group. “If there’s a vaccine, it must be available for everyone. Anything else would be a scandal. “In a pandemic, it’s about everyone, not ‘America First’,” she added.

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Coronavirus Symptoms: WHO Reveals Common Signs Based On Analysis Of Confirmed Cases

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus attends a daily press briefing on COVID-19 at the WHO headquaters on March 6, 2020 in Geneva. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP)

The World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday. Over 118,000 cases and 4,000 deaths have been reported so far. The WHO’s new analysis has revealed the most common symptoms ever since the outbreak in China in 2019.

Here is a gist of the most common symptoms, according to the report that analyzed over 55,900 confirmed cases:

  1. COVID-19 symptoms are non-specific and the disease presentation can range from asymptomatic to fatal ones such as severe pneumonia or death
  2. Typical signs and their prevalence: Fever: 87.9%, Dry Cough: 67.7%, Fatigue: 38.1%, Sputum production: 33.4%, Shortness of breath: 18.6%, Sore throat: 12.9%, Headache: 13.6%, Myalgia/Arthralgia: 14.8%, Chills: 11.4%, Nausea/Vomiting: 5%, Nasal Congestion: 4.8%, Diarrhea: 3.7%, Hemoptysis: 0.9%, and Conjunctival congestion: 0.8%.
  3. The symptoms generally develop about 5-6 days after infection and the mean incubation period ranges from 1-14 days
  4. About 80% of individuals who testes positive for COVID-19, exhibited mild symptoms and recovered
  5. 13.8% have severe symptoms including dyspnea, respiratory failure, septic shock and/or multiple organ failure
  6. While there were cases reported of asymptomatic infection, a majority of them went on to develop symptoms.
  7. Individuals at the highest risk of severe symptoms and fever: Older adults over 60, those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer
  8. COVID-19 in children appears to be relatively rare, with mild symptoms and only 2.4% of the total reported cases were under 19.
  9. The crude fatality ratio (CFR) varies by location as well as the intensity of transmission. In China, the CFR which was higher in the early stages of the outbreak has reduced over time
  10. Mortality rates increases with age and the highest mortality rates are seen among older adults over 80 and higher among men compared to women.

“We have never before seen a pandemic sparked by a coronavirus. And we have never before seen a pandemic that can be controlled at the same time,” CNN Health quoted WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Describing the situation as a pandemic does not change WHO’s assessment of the threat posed by this coronavirus. It doesn’t change what WHO is doing, and it doesn’t change what countries should do,” he added.

coronavirus-france-gel
Employees of a laboratory work on the production of hydroalcoholic solution according to WHO recommendations for hygienic hand disinfection in Paris, France, March 13, 2020. Photo: REUTERS/Benoit

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State of Alaska is exploring options for housing people quarantined for coronavirus

The remotest state of the union is doing some blue-sky thinking when it comes to Coronavirus quarantine housing plans.

alaska-coronavirus-quarantine-plans
Alaska may be planning to house much-needed Coronavirus quarantine patients. (iStock/Getty Images)

The State of Alaska put out a request this week “seeking information from interested parties for providing housing units that are quarantined to allow for monitoring for COVID-19.”

“The State wishes to identify companies that are capable of providing the housing units and gain an understanding of the potential project cost for budgeting purposes,” the request said.

The state is seeking “motel rooms, apartments, trailers, or other suitable dwellings,” the request said. The units must be located so the general public can avoid interaction with those being quarantined, it said. Apartments or hotels may not be suitable if there is a common hallway, for example.

Outside of Alaska, many communities with a large number of patients in quarantine have repurposed buildings to provide temporary space. King County in Washington, which is a center of the West Coast coronavirus outbreak, for example, is in the process of purchasing an EconoLodge in the suburban community of Kent to house patients, a move that has been controversial with some of its neighbors.

The state’s Chief Medical Officer Anne Zink said that the housing wouldn’t necessarily be in one place, but there may be a variety of options that it could be used for including people who are homeless, people who need to disembark from cruise ships, people who can’t be isolated in their homes or people traveling through the state for some other reason.

“We want to make sure we are nimble,” she said.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the state is assessing all potential resources.

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How long can the new coronavirus last on surfaces?

A new study suggests the virus can live on surfaces for up to 3 days.

How long can the new coronavirus last on surfaces
The new SARS-CoV-2 remains a mystery. (Image: © NIAID-RML)

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to accelerate in the U.S., cleaning supplies are disappearing off the shelves and people are worried about every subway rail, deli counter and toilet seat they touch. 

But how long can the new coronavirus linger on surfaces, anyway? The short answer is, we don’t know. A new analysis found that the virus can remain viable in the air for up to 3 hours, on copper for up to 4 hours, on cardboard up to 24 hours and on plastic and stainless steel up to 2 to 3 days. However, this study, which was published in the preprint database medRxiv on Wednesday (March 11),  has not yet yet been peer-reviewed.

Another study published in February in The Journal of Hospital Infection analyzed several dozen previously published papers on human coronaviruses (other than the new coronavirus) to get a better idea of how long they can survive outside of the body. 

They concluded that if this new coronavirus resembles other human coronaviruses, such as its “cousins” that cause SARS and MERS, it can stay on surfaces —  such as metal, glass or plastic — for as long as nine days (In comparison, flu viruses can last on surfaces for only about 48 hours.)

But some of them don’t remain active for as long at temperatures higher than 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius). The authors also found that these coronaviruses can be effectively wiped away by household disinfectants. 

For example, disinfectants with 62-71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite (bleach) can “efficiently” inactivate coronaviruses within a minute, according to the study. “We expect a similar effect against the 2019-nCoV,” the researchers wrote, referring to the new coronavirus. But even though the new coronavirus is a similar strain to the SARS coronavirus, it’s not clear if it will behave the same.

It’s also not clear how frequently hands become contaminated with coronaviruses after touching a sick patient or contaminated surface, according to the study. The World Health Organization recommends washing hands or using alcohol-based hand rubs for decontamination of the hands, the authors wrote.

It’s possible that a person can be infected with the virus by touching a contaminated surface or object, “then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “But this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” Though the virus remains viable in the air, the new study can’t say whether people can become infected by breathing it in from the air,  according to the Associated Press

The virus is most likely to spread from person to person through close contact and respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes that can land on a nearby person’s mouth or nose, according to the CDC.

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Germany: Coronavirus Crisis Leads to More Restrictions, Closures and Cancellations

Germany Coronavirus Crisis Leads to More Restrictions, Closures and Cancellations
Major Tourist Attractions. Festivals. Public Buildings close along with public transport restrictions. (iStock/Getty Images)

More than 2,100 Coronavirus cases were confirmed in Germany as of Thursday in the late morning. Activities of many kinds came to a halt. It was all about the virus.

The President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, had his schedule revised on Wednesday. His staff cancelled appointments, including a visit to a rooming house in Bremen. Steinmeier will not host the heads of state from Estonia, Finland and Slovenia either. This was an event which had been scheduled a long time ago.

No More Visitors at President’s Office

Just like the Berlin Bundestag, the Federal President’s Office does not accept tourists or other visiting groups anymore. The Reichstag’s dome was closed until further notice days ago. The same applies to the opera in Berlin, concert halls and theaters, all because of the Coronavirus.

Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller, who is Science Senator as well, announced several measures too. A task force consisting of representatives from the German capital’s universities and institutes was established. Its task is to monitor the situation and to implement measures should they become necessary.

Start of Semester Postponed

For now, all conferences and other events connected to the universities were cancelled, including lectures. The institutions also have to check their dates for exams, postpone them if possible or convert on-site exams to online exams, which is what the Technical University already did. The start of the next semester was postponed to April 20th. Students who just returned from high risk regions or countries are being asked to go into quarantine in their homes for two weeks.

Berlin’s House of Representatives is now closed to tourists and visiting groups as well. Its President Ralf Wieland signed a list of measures which includes the cancellation of all public events, except for an exhibition in front of the building. Starting right now, only members, the staff, registered visitors and journalists have access to the House of Representatives.

Angela Merkel’s conservative party, the Christian-Democratic Union (CDU), just cancelled its party congress at which is was going to elect a new party leader. The event was going to take place in Berlin on April 25th, 2020.

Back Door Rule for Buses

“The parliament in Berlin needs to remain capable of acting”, Wieland stated. “Therefore it is necessary to minimize the risk of infection to members and the staff in the House of Representatives.”



Berlin’s largest public transport provider BVG is working on changes as well. They are supposed to protect those who are in direct contact with thousands of passengers every day, namely bus drivers. From now on, bus passengers may enter the vehicles through their back doors only. Until now, they had been required to enter through the front door and show their ticket to the driver. Bus drivers will not sell tickets anymore, until further notice. They have to be purchased through apps, in city train stations or BVG customer centers.

Sneezing and Coughing on Public Transport

For the BVG, its board member Rolf Erfurt said the company was convinced that the passengers would show understanding for this measure which had been suggested by experts. It was designed to lower the probability of infection for both bus drivers and passengers. Berlin needed to be mobile in these difficult times.

Through its information systems, including screens inside all U-Bahn trains (subway, underground, metro), BVG is conveying messages about the right behavior during the Coronavirus crisis, including the proper way to sneeze and cough. Everyone on the BVG’s vehicles needed to cough or sneeze into the crook of their arm. That way the risk of infection would be decreased as much as possible.

Coronavirus Affects Berlin’s Night Life

Berlin is known as a party city. Now the Coronavirus crisis is affecting the city’s clubs as well. According to the ‘Clubcommission’, a network set up by club owners, the number of club visitors is already decreasing substantially. Mandatory closures would lead to many bankruptcies, the commission said. At the same time a shutdown for a few weeks was probably necessary because of the spread of the virus. Some club owners have already cancelled parties and events. For now, club visitors will be registered. Starting this weekend, all of them will have to register with their e-mail addresses and phone numbers.

Carnival of Cultures 2019
Watch this video on YouTube.

In Germany’s second-largest city, Hamburg, the number of infections is on the rise, just like in Berlin and everywhere else. Within one day, it increased by 19 to 54. The Hamburg authorities announced a number of measures as well. One about events with more than 1000 people would be communicated very soon, a statement read. The health authorities were also in the process of developing rules smaller events in Hamburg.

Protecting Hamburg’s Schools and Kindergartens

In order to protect Hamburg’s schools and kindergartens, a new rule says that children, with or without the typical symptoms, who return from high risk areas or countries with their families have to be in quarantine for 14 days before they go back into their classes or groups. All other individuals who return to Hamburg from those regions need to quarantine themselves for two weeks as well. Most other city states and provinces in Germany have come up with similar rules by now.

All over Germany, many schools are closed. The latest case was reported from Worms, where a Coronavirus case led to the closure of a large school with 4500 students. In one grade, all pupils are being tested.

Dealing with Trump’s Travel Ban

The total number of Coronavirus cases exceeded 2,100 on Thursday before noon. Some 900 of those were registered in North Rhine-Westphalia, 366 in Bavaria and 335 in Baden-Württemberg. Berlin had 118 confirmed cases on March 12th, 2020, at 11:45 a.m..

Sixty-one of them were men, 56 women, and in one case the gender was not announced. One of those infected lives in a refugee hostel. In a television interview, Berlin’s Governing Mayor Michael Müller said it had probably been a mistake not to take decisions on restrictions regarding big events earlier. He said the government needed to look into Deutsche Bahn, Germany’s main train operator. The question was whether train connections and stops needed to be restricted as well.

Carnival of Cultures Cancelled

In the meantime, two more big events in Berlin were cancelled, namely one known as ‘Myfest’ which usually takes place on Europe’s labor day, May 1st. The other one is the Carnival of Cultures, one of the most international and colorful events. It was supposed to take place from May 29th to June 1st, 2020.

Europe’s airlines, including Germany’s flag carrier Lufthansa, will have to adapt to the travel ban from Europe to the United States which President Trump just announced. The ban will kick in on Friday. Since the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, there has not been anything of the kind.

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Stanford Medical Expert Examines Social Distancing, Bell Curve Of Coronavirus Epidemic

Dr. Bonnie Maldonado
Dr. Bonnie Maldonado

STANFORD (KPIX 5) — Past the point of containment, the best hope is to slow a virus down, or “flatten the curve.” The idea is to keep the virus from spreading so quickly that it overwhelms our health care system’s ability to treat the very sick.

That is what social distancing is designed to do, but where on that curve is the United States now, and where might the country be heading?

“Of course, hindsight is 2020,” says Dr. Bonnie Maldonado, a pediatrician and infectious disease expert at the Stanford School of Medicine. “We never know where we are on the curve, until after the curve has been drawn.”

Maldonado says making any prediction about how the virus will spread in the United States is difficult, because the country is actually watching several different outbreaks at once.

“For example, in new Rochelle, New York, we know that that is a very specific kind of outbreak, and we could maybe pattern that one,” Maldonado explains. “But that has nothing to do with what is happening in Seattle, or in Santa Clara, or any other place. So it’s really hard to scale up a model that would take into account all of the different scenarios across the country.”

In that respect, Maldonado says Italy makes for a problematic comparison with the United States. And while the country has lagged in testing for the virus, there is some encouraging evidence at our hospitals.

“Even with lack of testing, we would probably be noticing a lot more people that are sick,” Maldonado says.

In other words, there has not yet been a dramatic or overwhelming surge in very sick patients. That means social distancing, and the other steps we are taking, could be putting the brakes on the virus, at least enough to keep that curve down.

“We know that from looking at epidemic curves going forward, 3 to 4 days of intervention can make a big difference between a flat epidemic and a peaked one,” Maldonado says of mitigation strategies like social distancing. “I do think we will be able to limit the spread, I just don’t know where it will stop.”

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Ireland reports first death from coronavirus

Irish Authorities have been criticized for their slow response to the Coronavirus Pandemic.

first-coronavirus-death-ireland

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland’s Health Ministry confirmed its first death of a patient diagnosed with the coronavirus on Wednesday.

The patient was one of the 34 confirmed cases in Ireland as of Tuesday. The health department will provide its daily update of the number of cases at 1800 GMT.

The Irish Times newspaper reported that the elderly woman who died initially presented at a hospital in the east of the country with respiratory symptoms and was diagnosed with the disease when staff performed a test.

“We continue our efforts to interrupt the transmission of this virus. It will take all of us, collectively to succeed,” Ireland’s chief medical officer, Tony Holohan, said in a statement.

Two more cases were identified on Wednesday in Northern Ireland, the British region which shares an open border with the Irish republic, bringing the total there to 18, Northern Ireland’s health department said.

The head of Ireland’s Health Service Executive, Paul Reid, also said on Wednesday that the country was entering a new phase in the spread of coronavirus and that he fully supported some hospitals that had decided to restrict visitors.

via – Reuters | SourceReuters | Search  》coronavirus ireland