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As new coronavirus outbreaks emerge, fears of a global pandemic escalate

Increased quarantine measures are reported across the globe

Coronavirus outbreak

With the emergence of new, major outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran, experts have warned that a global pandemic of the novel coronavirus is becoming increasingly likely. 

Experts have warned that the world is approaching a ‘tipping point’ in efforts to contain the novel coronavirus – named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization – as cases snowball in new countries, which are struggling to contain the outbreaks.

The virus, which emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Hubei province last year, causes the respiratory disease COVID-19. So far, 77,000 people in China have been infected, and almost 2,600 have died.

Although the mortality rate of COVID-19 appears to be around 1-2% at the moment, the WHO has advised that the actual rate still remains unknown.

Outside China, major outbreaks have now been reported in South Korea, Italy and Iran. In South Korea, there have been 830 confirmed cases of the virus – the largest number outside China – and eight people have died.

According to the BBC, the largest ‘virus clusters’ are associated with a hospital and religious group near the south-eastern city of Daegu. As a result, a handful of South Korean airlines have stopped flights to the area, which has a population of around 2.5 million people.

In Europe, Italy now has the largest number of cases on the continent, with 165 confirmed cases emerging in the country. The Italian government has announced a number of measures to contain the outbreak, including a quarantine in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto, the epicentres of the outbreak.

Iran reported that it has 43 confirmed cases of the novel virus, with the majority of those occurring in the city of Qom. Reportedly, 12 of those cases have since died, meaning the country has experienced the highest number of deaths caused by COVID-19 outside China.

As outbreaks escalate across the globe, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the world still has “a window of opportunity to prevent a broader global crisis” but said it is “an opportunity we must not squander”.

Tedros also presented concerns “about the potential for large donations to be channeled towards vaccine development, depriving the response of much-needed funds for simple public health interventions that can save lives now”.

He continued that while “we need vaccines, that’s important...we need to strike a balance, it’s not either-or”.

Drug developers currently working on a COVID-19 vaccine include Sanofi, which recently got US backing from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to tap into its earlier work on the SARS virus, another type of coronavirus which caused an epidemic back in 2003.

Johnson and Johnson are also working with BARDA to push a potential vaccine through trials as quickly as possible, and are working together to screen a library of existing antiviral molecules with the aim of identifying compounds which show promise against COVID-19.

Gilead has also offered its experimental antiviral drug remdesivir for clinical trials in Wuhan, to evaluate its efficacy against COVID-19. The drug, which was being developed as a treatment for infectious diseases including Ebola and SARS, has shown promise against the novel coronavirus in initial lab tests.

Also looking to develop a vaccine for the infection is GlaxoSmithKline, which offered its established pandemic vaccine adjuvant platform technology for the deveopment of an effective vaccine.

A number of biotech companies are also developing vaccines against COVID-19, including Moderna, CureVac and Novavas.

Article by
Lucy Parsons

24th February 2020

From: Healthcare

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