Xiamen Innovax Biotech Co. Ltd., a subsidiary of China's Yangshengtang Group in eastern China's Zhejiang Province and Xiamen University have announced cooperation with British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), to do an evaluation for a recombinant protein-based vaccine candidate for COVID-19.
Gao Yongzhong, general manager of Xiamen Innovax, said that GSK will provide an adjuvant system that will be used in pre-clinical trials for a vaccine candidate developed by their company and Xiamen University.
"In combination with adjuvant system AS03, the recombinant protein-based vaccine candidate is expected to induce a high level of protective immunity to meet the urgent need for COVID-19 prevention," added Gao.
Thomas Breuer, GSK Vaccines chief medical officer, said that as one of their technological advantages, the adjuvant they produced can help enhance the body's immune response when it is added to the vaccine and an ideal combination is able to develop stronger and more durable immunity than a single vaccine.
"The use of adjuvant amid the COVID-19 pandemic is very important because it helps to produce more doses of vaccine and allows more people to be vaccinated," said Breuer.
According to GSK, the adjuvant can increase the immunogenicity, response speed and tolerance of antigens and meanwhile reduce their consumption. When the same dose of vaccine antigen meets an ideal adjuvant, it can produce more vaccines with the same effect at the same time, which is helpful to mass production of vaccines for the pandemic.
At the moment, the collaboration between the three parties includes pre-clinical trials in the first period and if it is detected to show good prospects, they will then start clinical trials.
Iran's supreme leader suggested Thursday that mass gatherings in the Islamic Republic may be barred through the holy Muslim fasting month Ramadan amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comment in a televised address as Iran tries to restart its economic activity while suffering one of the world's worst outbreaks.
"In the absence of public gatherings in the Ramadan month including praying, speeches and so on, that we are this year deprived of them, we should create the same senses in our lonesomeness," Khamenei said.
Ramadan is set to begin in late April and last through most of May. Public officials had not yet discussed plans for the holy month, which sees the Muslim faithful fast from dawn until sunset.
Khamenei urged Shiite faithful to pray in their homes during Ramadan. Shiites typically pray communally, especially during Ramadan.
Iran has reported over 67,000 confirmed cases of the new virus, with nearly 4,000 deaths. However, experts have repeatedly questioned those numbers, especially as Iran initially downplayed the outbreak in February amid the 41st anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution and a crucial parliamentary vote.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has ordered the country's economy to slowly begin opening back up starting Saturday, leading to worries the nation could see a second wave of infections. The Islamic Republic's economy is suffering under intense U.S. sanctions after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from Tehran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Khamenei made a point to remind Iranians that the U.S. is the main enemy and mocked Americans who fought over toilet paper at stores and lined up outside of gun shops to purchase firearms.
"The problem of corona should not make us ignorant about the plots by our enemies and arrogant" powers, he said.
A U.S. Border Patrol agent wouldn't let Jackeline Reyes explain why she and her 15-year-old daughter needed asylum, pointing to the coronavirus. That confrontation in Texas came just days after the Trump administration quietly shut down the nation's asylum system for the first time in decades in the name of public health.
"The agent told us about the virus and that we couldn't go further, but she didn't let us speak or anything," said Reyes, 35, who was shuttled to a crossing March 24 in Reynosa, Mexico, a violent border city.
She tried to get home to crime-ridden Honduras despite learning her brother had been killed there and her mother and 7-year-old daughter had fled to the Nicaraguan border. But she was stuck in Mexico as the virus closed borders in Central America.
The U.S. government used an obscure public health law to justify one of its most aggressive border crackdowns ever. People fleeing violence and poverty to seek refuge in the U.S. are whisked to the nearest border crossing and returned to Mexico without a chance to apply for asylum. It eclipses President Donald Trump's other policies to curtail immigration — which often rely on help from Mexico — by setting aside decades-old national and international laws.
Mexico is again providing critical support. It's accepting not only Mexicans, but people from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras who accounted for well over half of all U.S. border arrests last year.
The Trump administration has offered little detail on the rules that, unlike its other immigration policies, have yet to be challenged in court. The secrecy means the rules got little attention as they took effect March 20, the same day Trump announced the southern border was closed to nonessential travel.
"The administration is able to do what they always wanted to do," said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel for the American Immigration Council, which has criticized the administration. "I don't see this slowing down."
The administration tapped a law allowing the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to ban foreigners if their entry would create "a serious danger" to the spread of communicable disease. The U.S. has the most cases in the world by far. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield issued a 30-day order but said he may extend the rules.
Mexico won't take unaccompanied children and other "vulnerable people," including people over 65 and those who are pregnant or sick, said Carlos Gonzalez Gutierrez, Mexico's consul general in San Diego.
The U.S. also is returning Central American children who travel with grandparents, siblings and other relatives, said a congressional aide who was briefed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials and spoke on the condition of anonymity because the information was not intended for public release. Previously, children who weren't with parents or guardians were considered unaccompanied and automatically put into the asylum pipeline.
The health risks of holding migrants in crowded spaces like Border Patrol stations is "the touchstone of this order," Redfield wrote. He said exceptions to immediately expelling someone can be considered but didn't elaborate.
An internal Border Patrol memo obtained by ProPublica said an agent who determines that a migrant claims a "reasonably believable" fear of being tortured can be referred for additional screening under the U.N. Convention Against Torture, a lesser form of asylum that's harder to qualify for.
Under the rules, agents take migrants to the nearest border crossing in specially designated vehicles and avoid stations, minimizing the risk of exposure to the virus.
Matthew Dyman, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, the Border Patrol's parent agency, declined to comment on the internal memo or provide guidance about the new rules.
"Obtaining and posting leaked information is a great way to degrade trust and communication between CBP and the media," he said.
In less than two weeks, the U.S. has expelled more than 7,000 people, according to the congressional aide who was briefed last week. Those not sent to Mexico are flown to their home countries. CBP had about 300 people in custody last week, down from a peak of more than 19,000 during last year's surge of border crossers.
March's border enforcement numbers were expected to be released Thursday and may offer a closer look at the impact of the virus.
Ten Senate Democrats sent a letter to acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, who oversees border agencies, saying the Trump administration appeared to have "granted itself sweeping powers to summarily expel large, unknown numbers of individuals arriving at our border."
"A public health crisis does not give the Executive Branch a free pass to violate constitutional rights, nor does it give the Executive Branch permission to operate outside of the law," they wrote this week.
For Reyes and others sent to Mexico, they don't know what's next.
Reyes said she joined dozens who entered the Guatemalan mountains illegally in a bid to reach Honduras but was stopped by soldiers and returned to Mexico, where she was quarantined in a migrant shelter. She said Mexican authorities questioned her about her health, but U.S. authorities didn't.
Four adults and seven children expelled from Texas also crossed into the mountains and are now hiding at a house in Guatemala because of a curfew tied to the virus.
"We want to leave already, but I don't know who can help us," said Fanny Jaqueline Ortiz of Honduras, who was with her 12- and 3-year-old daughters. "There is no transportation, no bus, nothing."
Many Mexican shelters have closed over virus concerns, leaving many stranded in violent cities or reliant on relatives in the U.S. to send money for rent.
Trump's previous policies have targeted asylum but stopped short of ending it, acknowledging the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention to provide haven to displaced people and a 1980 U.S. law that established the asylum system.
Under his "Remain in Mexico" policy, more than 60,000 asylum-seekers have been forced to wait across the border for U.S. court hearings. Hearings are temporarily suspended because of the virus.
Coronavirus infections are spiking in Japan and creating hot spots in India's congested cities just as the U.S. and some of the hardest-hit European countries are considering when to start easing restrictions that have helped curb their outbreaks of the disease.
Japan reported more than 500 new cases for the first time Thursday, a worrisome rise since it has the world's oldest population and COVID-19 can be especially serious in the elderly. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency, but not a lockdown, in Tokyo and six other prefectures earlier this week. Companies in the world's third-largest economy have been slow to embrace working from home, and many commuters were on Tokyo's streets as usual.
India, whose 1.3 billion people are under a lockdown until next week, has sealed dozens of hot spots in and around the capital, and will supply residents with food and medicine while not allowing them to leave. The number of confirmed cases exceeds 5,000, with 166 deaths, according to India's Health Ministry.
Meanwhile, deaths, hospitalizations and new infections have been leveling off in places like Italy and Spain, which together have more than 30,000 deaths. Even New York has seen encouraging signs amid the gloom. At the same time, politicians and health officials warn that the crisis is far from over and a catastrophic second wave could hit if countries let down their guard too soon.
"We are flattening the curve because we are rigorous about social distancing," New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. "But it's not a time to be complacent. It's not a time to do anything different than we've been doing."
The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has climbed to about 1.5 million worldwide, with nearly 90,000 deaths, according to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The true numbers are almost certainly much higher, because of limited testing, different rules for counting the dead and concealment by some governments.
The U.S. has by far the most confirmed cases, with over 430,000 people infected. New York state on Wednesday recorded its highest one-day increase in deaths, 779, for an overall death toll of almost 6,300, more than 40% of the U.S. total of around 15,000.
"The bad news is actually terrible," Cuomo said. Still, the governor said hospitalizations are decreasing and many of those now dying fell ill in the outbreak's earlier stages.
In a sign of how much the virus has affected air travel, the number of Americans getting on airplanes sank to a level not seen since the 1950s, the dawn of the jet age. The Transportation Security Administration screened fewer than 100,000 people on Tuesday, a drop of 95% from a year ago.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was improving and sitting up in bed, authorities said, after he had spent a second night in intensive care due to COVID-19 symptoms.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious-diseases expert, said the Trump administration has been working on plans to eventually reopen the country amid evidence that social distancing is working to stop the virus's spread.
But he said it's not time to scale back such measures: "Keep your foot on the accelerator because this is what is going to get us through this," he said at Wednesday's White House briefing.
Vice President Mike Pence warned that Philadelphia was emerging as a potential hot spot. Washington, D.C., Louisiana, Chicago, Detroit and Colorado were also seeing worsening outbreaks.
Pence said he would speak to leaders in African American communities who are concerned about disproportionate impacts from the virus. Fauci acknowledged that historic disparities in health care have put African Americans at risk for diseases that make them more vulnerable in the outbreak.
Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce in the coming days how long the country's lockdown will remain in place amid expectations that some restrictions could be eased. Discussions are focused first on opening more of the country's industries.
Proposals being floated include immunity certificates, which would require antibody blood tests, and allowing younger workers to return first, as they are less vulnerable to the virus.
In Spain, which has tallied more than 14,000 dead, Budget Minister María Jesús Montero said Spaniards will progressively regain their "normal life" from April 26 onward but warned that the deescalation of the lockdown will be "very orderly to avoid a return to the contagion."
Without giving specifics, French authorities have likewise begun to speak openly of planning the end of the country's confinement period, which is set to expire April 15 but will be extended, according to the president's office. The virus has claimed more than 10,000 lives in France.
Earlier this week, Austria and the Czech Republic jumped out ahead of other European countries and announced plans to relax some restrictions.
British government officials, beset with a rising death toll of more than 7,000, said there is little chance the nationwide lockdown there will be eased when its current period ends next week.
The desire to get back to normal is driven in part by the damage to world economies. France has entered a recession and Germany, Europe's economic powerhouse, is also facing a deep recession. Japan could contract by a record 25% this quarter, the highest since gross domestic product began to be tracked in 1955.
For most, the virus causes mild to moderate symptoms such as fever and cough. But for some older adults and the infirm, it can cause pneumonia and death. Almost 330,000 people have recovered.
To recover from the coronavirus, as she did, Ada Zanusso recommends courage and faith, the same qualities that have served her well in her nearly 104 years.
Italy, along with neighboring France, has Europe's largest population of what has been dubbed the "super old" — people who are at least 100. As the nation with the world's highest number of COVID-19 deaths, Italy is looking to its super-old survivors for inspiration.
"I'm well, I'm well," Zanusso said Tuesday during a video call with The Associated Press from the Maria Grazia Residence for the elderly in Lessona, a town in the northern region of Piedmont. "I watch TV, read the newspapers."
Zanusso wore a protective mask, as did her family doctor of 35 years beside her, Carla Furno Marchese, who also donned eyewear and a gown that covered her head.
Asked about her illness, Zanusso is modest: "I had some fever."
Her doctor said Zanusso was in bed for a week.
"We hydrated her because she wasn't eating, and then we thought she wasn't going to make it because she was always drowsy and not reacting," Furno Marchese said.
"One day she opened her eyes again and resumed doing what she used to before," Furno Marchese said. The doctor recalled when Zanusso was able to sit up, then managed to get out of bed.
What helped her get through the illness? "Courage and strength, faith," Zanusso said. It worked for her, so she advises others who fall ill to also "give yourself courage, have faith."
COVID-19 can cause mild or moderate symptoms, and most of those who are infected recover. But the elderly and those with existing health problems can be at high risk for more serious illness.
The virus has killed nearly 18,000 people in Italy and over 88,000 worldwide. The World Health Organization says 95% of those who have died in Europe were over 60 years old.
Under Italy's five-week-long lockdown, which is aimed at containing the spread of infections that have overwhelmed hospitals, visitors aren't allowed at homes for the elderly.
Her doctor asked Zanusso what she would like to do when "they open the doors."
"I'd like to take a lovely walk," she replied. And your three great-grandchildren? "Watch them play together."
Deaths, hospitalizations and new infections are leveling off in Italy, and Premier Giuseppe Conte is expected to announce in the coming days how long the lockdown will remain in place, with expectations that some restrictions could be eased.
For now, Zanusso is isolated from other residents as she awaits a follow-up swab test to confirm she is negative for the virus.
She grew up in Treviso, in the northeastern Veneto region, where she worked for many years in the textile industry. Zanusso, who turns 104 on Aug. 16, had four children — three of whom are living — and has four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
"She's old, but healthy, with no chronic illness,'' her doctor said.
This week, Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera devoted an entire page to the stories of super-old survivors, called "healing at 100 years old." The inspirational portraits are a counterpoint to news of large numbers of deaths among elderly people living in Italian nursing homes and other assisted-living facilities.
Of the victims, most elderly weren't tested for COVID-19 if they died in nursing homes, so the numbers don't figure into Italy's overall coronavirus death toll, which is the highest in the world.
Medical staff "went through a very hard time,'' said Furno Marchese, the doctor. "It was a great emergency with so many residents ill, so to see a positive outcome was very rewarding, not only for me, but for all the people who worked hard here nonstop."
Outside the nonprofit, 61-bed Maria Grazia Residence, the Italian flag flies at half-staff in tribute to those who died of the virus.