New Aussie vaccine trials start, sports go hi-tech
A coronavirus vaccine being developed in partnership with the British pharmaceutical group GlaxoSmithKline has begun human clinical trials in Western Australia.
The public drugs company is providing its technology as part of a collaboration with Clover Biopharmaceuticals of China.
After promising preclinical results in animals, the vaccine has begun a phase-one study in Perth.
Glaxo and Clover are planning a more in-depth phase-two trial, which it is hoped will start later in the year.
The partnership with Clover is one of several COVID-19 vaccine projects involving Glaxo, which also include a venture with Sanofi, of France.
The Australian reports that Glaxo is a leading player in the global vaccines market, along with Sanofi and the American companies Merck and Pfizer.
Formed via the merger in 2000 of Glaxo Wellcome and Smithkline Beecham, it also operates a pharmaceuticals business and a consumer healthcare division.
Drug developers use adjuvants in vaccines to boost the body's immune response to produce more antibodies. This is seen as being important in a pandemic, in particular, because it can reduce the amount of vaccine protein required per dose, allowing more vaccine doses to be produced and therefore helping to protect more people.
The Chengdu-based Clover has one of the largest in-house biomanufacturing capabilities in China, meaning that it can produce large quantities of vaccines.
Thomas Breuer, chief medical officer of Glaxo's vaccines division, said that its approach "holds the promise to produce vaccines at scale, potentially benefiting billions of people … If this trial is successful, we hope to be in a position to move into more advanced trials later in the year."
NBA GOES HIGH-TECH TO KEEP SUPERSTARS SAFE
It is exactly what you would expect in the next-level world of US professional sports - anti-COVID-19 gyzmos that the rest of the world could only dream of.
When the world's most famous basketball players return to the courts next month, they will be decked out in sci-fi-like gear to make sure they stay safe and healthy in the 2020 virus world that has rocked the USA.
NBA players and staff will rely on a host of technological gadgets to help them stay safe when the league restarts in Florida's Disney World next month for a three-month season - especially as Florida is now regarded as the COVID epicentre here.
The most attention-grabbing gadget on the list has been the lightweight titanium "smart ring," which players and essential staff will have the option of wearing.
Designed by Finnish tech company Oura, the gadget resembles a wedding ring and retails for between $A450 and $A600.
According to Oura, the ring contains sensors that track vital statistics like heart rate, respiration rate, and body temperature.
The data collected from the ring will be fed into an algorithm which, according to reports, can predict the onset of coronavirus symptoms up to three days in advance with over 90-percent accuracy.
The University of Michigan will be responsible for analysing the data, which participants will have access to and will be used to create an illness index.
Players will be required to wear their Disney MagicBands at all times when they are not on court.
Through the bands - which act as admission passes to parks, as well as hotel room keys - the league hopes to collect location data for contact tracing.
Proximity alarms will be worn to "help promote adherence to social distancing rules," with the alarms sounding when two people are within six feet of each other for more than five seconds.
Training camps are set to begin on July 9, with games commencing on July 30.
The league's 100-page restart plan highlights how the 22 teams will put safety first inside the Disney's Wide World of Sports complex in Orlando, Florida.
COVID-19 PANDEMIC IN 'NEW, DANGEROUS PHASE'
The COVID-19 epidemic has entered a "new, dangerous phase" according to the World Health Organisation, as a record number of single-day cases of the virus are reported, Brazil passes one million infections and research shows the disease spread earlier than previously thought.
The head of the WHO Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says the coronavirus pandemic is "accelerating" as 150,000 cases were recorded in the last 24 hours.
Almost half of those cases were from the Americas, with significant numbers from South Asia and the Middle East.
Brazil has passed one million infections, second only in reported cases behind the US. China, where the novel coronavirus strain originated, is struggling with a second wave of the virus, with lockdowns again brought into effect. Authorities in Beijing have begun an operation to contain a potential second wave of coronavirus after 137 new cases were detected, the most in nine weeks.
Brazil's country's health ministry said that the total now stood at 1,032,913, up more than 50,000 from Thursday. The ministry said the sharp increase was due to corrections of previous days' underreported numbers.
Specialists believe the actual number of cases in Brazil could be up to seven times higher than the official statistic, as may also be the case in China.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus was present in two large Italian cities in December, more than two months before the first case was detected, a national health institute study of waste water has found.
That suggests the virus appeared in Italy around the same time it was first reported in China.
Researchers discovered genetic traces of Sars-CoV-2 - as the virus is officially known - in samples of waste water collected in Milan and Turin at the end of last year, and Bologna in January, the ISS institute said in a statement seen by AFP.
Italy's first known native case was discovered mid-February. The results "help to understand the start of the circulation of the virus in Italy," the ISS said.
Chinese scientists have said the virus likely emerged in a market that sold wildlife in the central city of Wuhan in December.
But some studies and reports have suggested that the virus might have been present in China before December.
VICTORIA GOES BACKWARDS
Victoria has been forced to reimpose some COVID-19-related restrictions and defer others for three weeks after the state suffered its worst day of new cases in more than two months.
It was the first state or territory in Australia to buck the trend of easing restrictions and came as the World Health Organisation warned the world is in a "new and dangerous place".
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews also couldn't rule out lockdowns being imposed in virus hot spots as the state recorded a further 25 cases since Friday. It was the fourth day in a row where new infections have reached double-digits - there were 13 cases on Friday, 18 on Thursday and 21 on Wednesday. From midnight on Sunday night to July 12, household gatherings will be reduced to five people and outdoor gatherings to 10.
The plan for cafes, restaurants and pubs to allow 50 patrons at one time from 20 on Monday will also be put on hold until July 12.
Mr Andrews said more than half of the new cases have come from family-to-family transmission.
"It is unacceptable that families anywhere in our state can, just because they want this to be over, pretend that it is," he told reporters in Melbourne on Saturday.
He said he had had a detailed conversation with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on the notion of lockdowns in a given area, and agreed this is part of the national cabinet road map to reopening.
He will also be speaking to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on potentially limiting people to travel from Victorian hot spots.
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the rest of Australia seems to have gone down to zero levels of infections, so there is no need to lift restrictions elsewhere.
Canberrans, for example, are now able to join together in larger groups, with restrictions lifted to allow cinemas and indoor play centres to reopen and gatherings of up to 100 people.
In NSW, a returned traveller in hotel quarantine was the only new case of COVID-19 reported in the past 24 hours.
There were no new cases in Western Australia, although health authorities recorded one historical case - a woman aged in her 60s, who was a returned overseas traveller and former cruise ship passenger on the Costa Luminosa. Nearly 7440 virus cases have now been confirmed across Australia since the initial outbreak. The death toll remains at 102, relatively low by international standards.
RACIAL GROUP SINGLED OUT OVER VIRUS SPIKE
The Governor of the new US COVID-19 epicentre, Florida, has stunned America by blaming the rise in cases on the Hispanic population.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis pointed to clusters of "overwhelmingly Hispanic" day labourers and agriculture workers driving the state's recent coronavirus spike.
But farmworkers and industry associations argue that resources and testing came too late to those communities, according to new reports.
It came as the World Health Organisation warned the pandemic was in a "new, dangerous phase".
The Republican governor told reporters that cramped living and working conditions for migrant workers and Hispanic construction workers are partly to blame, according to WFOR-TV.
"Some of these guys go to work in a school bus, and they are all just packed there like sardines, going across Palm Beach County or some of these other places, and there's all these opportunities to have transmission," Mr DeSantis said.
He pointed to cases in migrant camps, a watermelon farm and Immokalee, a major hub for tomato production, as evidence of the uptick.
But Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried argued that the majority of farmworkers left several weeks ago after harvests ended and that the real uptick is in non-agricultural areas, according to the Miami Herald.
In addition, Antonio Tovar, executive director of the Farmworker Association of Florida, said it's not the farmworkers' fault they are vulnerable to COVID-19.
He pointed the finger at DeSantis for ignoring pleas from a coalition of 50 groups that asked him for aid in late April.
"We sent this letter to the governor more than two months ago and now he is realising that foreign workers are more suitable to get infected," Tovar told the News Service of Florida on Wednesday. "That is very shameful because he was advised, he was told when we sent the letter."
Tovar claimed the resources only came in May, after many in the southwest Florida farming community had already become ill.
"It is too little too late," he said. "It was about two weeks ago when the department (of health) sent an email to a lot of organisations saying, 'Hey! We received 2 million face masks. If you want we can give you face masks.'"
But Mr DeSantis' spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre argued the governor long ago placed a focus on the agriculture community as a high-risk location.
WHO WARNS PANDEMIC NOT OVER YET
The head of the World Health Organisation says the coronavirus pandemic is "accelerating" and that more than 150,000 cases have been reported within 24 hours - the highest single-day number so far.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said nearly half of the newly reported cases were from the Americas, with significant numbers from South Asia and the Middle East.
"We are in a new and dangerous phase," he said, warning that restrictive measures are still needed to stop the pandemic.
"Many people are understandably fed up with being at home (and) countries are understandably eager to open up their societies."
But Dr Tedros warned that the virus is still "spreading fast" and that measures like social distancing, mask-wearing and hand washing are still critical.
With many countries easing restrictions but fearful of a second wave of COVID-19 disease, WHO emergencies expert Mike Ryan urged a gradual and scientific approach.
"Exiting lockdowns must be done carefully, in a step-wise manner, and must be driven by the data," he said.
"There is no specific definition of a second wave," he added, saying new clusters did not necessarily mean a second wave while "second peaks" were also possible in one wave.
Mr Ryan praised authorities in Germany, China and South Korea for their handling of the pandemic.
WHO epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said easing of lockdowns had to be accompanied with good public health measures. "It is about being able not only to lift these measures carefully but being able to reactivate them," she added.
QUEEN'STHANKS FOR PANDEMIC RESPONSE
The Queen has thanked businesses across the world for their response to the coronavirus pandemic and work to rebuild communities as they begin to reopen after lockdowns.
"As many organisations around the country are reopening, I send my warmest best wishes and support to business communities throughout the United Kingdom, Commonwealth and across the world," Queen Elizabeth said in a message to the British Chambers of Commerce.
"At a time of great difficulty for many, it is heartwarming to see the civic response and generosity of so many businesses, small and large, to the challenges posed, whether supporting the health sector or vulnerable communities." Britain's economy has taken a pounding by the government's lockdown from March which shut all non-essential retailers, with figures on Friday showing public borrowing had hit a record high and debt had passed 100 per cent of economic output.
However, there was some brighter news for the retail sector with sales rebounding much more strongly last month than expected.
"I wish all businesses every success in their endeavours in the weeks and months ahead," the Queen said.
Meantime, the Duchess of Cambridge revealed most of her trips outside her home had been to shop for food, as she carried out her first public engagement since lockdown began.
Kate toured Fakenham Garden Centre on Thursday near her Norfolk home of Anmer Hall and, as a keen gardener, wanted to learn how the coronavirus outbreak had affected the family-run independent business.
She told owners Martin and Jennie Turner she loved coming to garden centres with Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis.
"They love it," she said with a smile, adding: "It's such a great space for children and families to come to garden centres.
"I've been food shopping but I have to say I haven't been out a huge amount more but it's good and so important, now as things start to ease, people know they can go out and particularly to places like this." The Cambridges have spent much of the lockdown at Anmer Hall with their children and, while unable to attend their usual royal events, have been holding virtual visits to care centres and hospitals via video calls.
Kate also said she and William had found the social effects of the pandemic unsettling: "When we do our food shopping, we notice that everyone keeps their head down and it's hard for that social interaction." Kate's trip to the garden centre was followed by the Duke of Cambridge visiting Smiths the Bakers on Friday, which has been serving King's Lynn for 50 years and reopened their premises on Monday after 11 weeks in lockdown.
COVID-19 VACCINE HOPES AS JOBSEEKER SET TO CLIMB
The World Health Organisation hopes hundreds of millions of doses of coronavirus vaccine can be produced this year and 2 billion doses by the end of 2021, its chief scientist says.
The WHO is also drawing up plans to help decide who should get the first doses once a vaccine is approved.
More than 8.40 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 449,032 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
Denmark's government said on Thursday it will allow entry to citizens from most European countries with a low number of COVID-19 infections from June 27 - two months earlier than originally planned.
In Asia, Vietnamese authorities were holding talks aimed at easing the entry of citizens from China, South Korea and Japan into the country.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government was discussing possible resumption of mutual visits with Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand - all countries where coronavirus infections are largely under control.
Meanwhile, a Chinese medical expert said Beijing had brought its latest coronavirus outbreak under control.
Officials also said the trading sections for meat and seafood in the capital's wholesale food market were found to be severely contaminated with the coronavirus.
The European Commission is in advanced talks with pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson to reserve or buy upfront doses of its COVID-19 vaccine under development, two officials familiar with the talks told Reuters.
India recorded it's the highest one-day increase of 12,281 coronavirus cases on Thursday, raising the total caseload to 366,946 but the government has ruled out reimposing a countrywide lockdown.
India's total deaths reached 12,237, a rise of 334 in the past 24 hours, according to a Health Ministry statement.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi rejected a new lockdown, saying the country has to think about further unlocking and minimising all possibilities of harm to people.
South Korea reported 59 cases as infections continue to steadily rise in the greater capital area.
The figures announced by South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the country's caseload to 12,257, including 280 deaths.
It said 39 of the new cases came from Seoul and its metropolitan area, where health authorities have been scrambling to stem transmissions amid increased economic activity and eased attitudes on social distancing.
JOBSEEKER RATE SET TO BE INCREASED
The Federal Government is set to increase the $40-a-day JobSeeper base rate as unemployment climbs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is working out how to reshape Australia's welfare system after the nation's unemployment rose to 7.1 per cent in May as another 227,000 people lost their jobs.
The latest jobless figures are the worst since October 2001 and would be far grimmer were it not for another big fall in workforce participation.
Mr Morrison described the figures as heartbreaking.
He also warned there would likely be more people joining unemployment queues in the months ahead.
The government is examining the best way to balance its JobKeeper wage subsidy and doubling of the JobSeeker unemployment payment beyond their scheduled September finish.
Yesterday, Mr Morrison didn't rule out an increase to the dole's $40-a-day base rate.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is set confirm an increase to the JobSeeker base rate in July's mini budget, the ABC reports. The JobSeeker payment - formerly known as Newstart - was doubled to $1100-a-fortnight at the start of the pandemic, but there have been fears it would return to its normal level in September.
Earlier in the week, Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter conceded it was inevitable people would move from the wage subsidy to unemployment payments.
Mr Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg rejected questions from Labor in parliament about how many more jobs would be lost once JobKeeper ends.
"The member's question is presumptuous because he makes assumptions about government policy on decisions that have not been made," the Prime Minister told parliament.
'DARK TIMES': PM'S PLEA AS JOBLESS RATE SOARS
Scott Morrison is itching to unlock interstate travel as new figures show border closures are costing nearly 5000 jobs a week and $84 million a day.
Australia's unemployment rate rose to 7.1 per cent in May as another 227,000 people lost their jobs.
The latest jobless figures are the worst since October 2001, and would be far more grim were it not for another big fall in workforce participation.
The prime minister describes the unemployment rate as heartbreaking and warns there is a long way to go as the country recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.
"This recession will be written in the stories of those who are experiencing terrible hardship," he told reporters in Canberra.
"These are our dark times, but I can see that ray of light, and I'm sure Australians can see that too, but we have to keep moving towards it and work harder each and every day."
He is open to flying in hundreds of foreign university students next month, but warned other international travellers would not be visiting any time soon.
Western Australia and Tasmania have still not announced when their border restrictions will be lifted. The Northern Territory has announced they will reopen borders on July 17.
Mr Morrison says they should never have been closed in the first place.
"Every state government, every territory government, federal government, local government - all of us must do everything we can to open up our economy and get Australians back into work," he said.
Two universities in the ACT want to fly in 300 foreign students next month. South Australia has put forward a similar plan, which Mr Morrison backs but points out the state would not fully reopen until July 20.
The Prime Minister said there was "a bit of a glass ceiling on the economy" when it came to restrictions around overseas travel, which will be delayed until next year.
"I can't honestly see international travel more generally, people coming from all over the world to Australia again, any time soon," he said.
Earlier, ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said the drop in employment, of close to a quarter of a million people, added to the 600,000 in April, brought the total fall to 835,000 people since March.
"In two months, the percentage of people aged 15 and over employed in Australia decreased from around 62.5 per cent to around 58.7 per cent," he said.
Mr Jarvis said the underemployment rate decreased slightly by 0.7 per cent to 13.1 per cent in May, which remained 4.3 points above March when the COVID-19 crisis hit.
"The ABS estimates that a combined group of around 2.3 million people - around 1 in 5 employed people - were affected by either job loss between April and May or had less hours than usual for economic reasons in May," he said.
The ABS estimated the size of the unemployment jump was reduced by "larger than usual numbers of employed and unemployed people leaving the labour force".
This was reflected in a further fall in the participation rate, down 0.7 percentage points to 62.9 per cent.
The last time the participation rate was below 63 per cent was in January 2001.
Monthly hours worked fell 0.7 per cent in May, to be down 10.2 per cent since March.
"Women continued to be more adversely affected by the labour market deterioration than men. Younger workers have also been particularly impacted," Mr Jarvis said.
Despite the grim figures, Mr Morrison told 2GB radio there were signs the economy is on its way back from the coronavirus pandemic.
"We're in a recession and when you are in a recession, they (the unemployment figures) are the sort of heartbreaking numbers we have to deal with and we still have a long way to go," Mr Morrison told 2GB radio.
"But it is good to see more and more businesses opening up now, the restrictions are coming off and I think people do get a sense we are on our way back."
He noted consumer confidence had recovered from a huge jolt a few months ago when people were expecting the worst from the crisis, and business confidence had also improved.
April's labour force figures were complicated by the impact of the JobKeeper wage subsidy and the many Australians who left the workforce altogether not being counted in the unemployment tally.
"Australia's unemployment rate masks severe underemployment and the hundreds of thousands of people that have either dropped out of the labour force or are working zero hours," shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said.
But Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said while the government expected the unemployment rate to grow in coming months, recent data had shown some employers were starting to hire again.
She pointed to Australian Taxation Office payroll data that showed about 124,000 jobs were added in May.
"While Australians and the economy have a long way to go in terms of a full economic recovery, this data shows we are making progress," Senator Cash said.
Treasury secretary Steven Kennedy expects unemployment to reach eight per cent by September.
A new Deloitte Access Economics report expects rising unemployment will impact on spending, which will see retailers suffer a 1.4 per cent drop in turnover growth in 2020, the worst year on record.
CHINESE FAMILIES BEHIND RAZOR WIRE
China is being smashed by a second wave of COVID-19, leaving families in Beijing behind razor wire as a new study says China's real death toll from the COVID-19 pandemic could be up to 14 times higher than the communist state has admitted.
A so-called "mutant strain" of coronavirus has left millions of people in 27 communities locked down under extreme new measures implemented after a spike in virus cases.
The international community has long scoffed at China's reported COVID-19 infection and death tolls - and a new study once again has the world shaking its head at Beijing's claims to have contained the disease while the rest of the world suffered.
Experts at the University of Washington, Ohio State University and US communications company AT&T monitored crematorium activity in Wuhan to try and gauge China's real death numbers.
And they discovered the outbreak city may have been burning up to 2000 bodies every day by the second week of February.
At that time the official death toll for the whole of China was only reported to be about 700.
"The estimates of cumulative deaths, based on both funeral urns distribution and continuous full capacity operation of cremation services up to March 23, 2020, give results around 36,000, more than 10 times the official death toll of 2,524," the expert team wrote.
"Our study indicates a significant under-reporting in Chinese official data on the COVID-19 epidemic in Wuhan in early February, the critical time for response to the COVID-19 pandemic."
The expert team said that reports of more than 80 Wuhan crematoriums operating 24 hours a day were a sign the number of people dying was far higher than the figures being reported by the communist regimen.
The researchers estimate they were burning between 680 and 2000 "extra bodies" per day.
By March 23, an estimated 36,720 people could have been cremated in Wuhan alone, they calculated.
According to Beijing, as of today only 4,634 people have died of coronavirus in the whole of mainland China - a figure regarded as having no credibility.
The shocking claims follow worrying reports of a "mutant" strain of the coronavirus which has been detected in Beijing.
State health officials reported another 31 cases, bringing the total number of citizens infected to 137 over the past week.
Before the new spike, Beijing - which has a population of 20 million - had gone 57 days without reporting a locally-transmitted case.
The latest infections are believed to have started in the massive Xinfadi food market which supplies 80 per cent of the city's meat and vegetables.
The food outlet - which has now been closed - is much larger than the one in Wuhan where the first cases were detected late last year.
Beijing state officials have ordered anyone who visited the market to isolate at home for two weeks.
Images from the city today showed medical workers wearing full protective suits checking queues of people at a tented testing centre.
Beijing has given COVID-19 nucleic acid tests to 356,000 people since 13 June, according to the city's government officials,
More than 1250 flights have been cancelled at Beijing's Capital and Daxing airports, over 50 per cent of all air travel.
Beijing has vastly scaled back its number of daily flights - a sign the disease is once again sweeping the nation.
The cancellations are among a wide range of limitations on travel in and out of the city, especially in zones known to be hot spots for the virus.
Originally published as New Aussie vaccine trials start as sports go hi-tech to avoid virus