Coronavirus update: WHO cautious about ‘experimental’ US plasma treatment

The World Health Organization said using plasma from the recovered to treat COVID-19 is still considered an “experimental” therapy, following US President Donald Trump approving an emergency authorisation of convalescent plasma for coronavirus patients.

Meanwhile a French nudist resort has seen a sharp rise in infections, leading to nudists being told to cover up… their faces.

This story will be updated throughout Tuesday.

Tuesday’s key moments:

WHO cautious on COVID-19 plasma as US issues emergency authorisation

US President Donald Trump, listens as Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn.
US President Donald Trump approved an emergency authorisation of convalescent plasma last week,(AP: Alex Brandon)

The World Health Organization says using plasma from the recovered to treat COVID-19 is still considered an “experimental” therapy and that the preliminary results showing it may work are still “inconclusive.”

Over the weekend, US President Donald Trump approved an emergency authorisation of convalescent plasma for COVID-19 patients.

WHO’s chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said convalescent plasma therapy has been used in the last century to treat numerous infectious diseases, with varying levels of success.

Dr Swaminathan said the WHO still considers convalescent plasma therapy to be experimental but it should continue to be evaluated as studies have provided “low-quality evidence”.

She added that the treatment is difficult to standardise because people produce different levels of antibodies and plasma must be collected individually from recovered patients.

Dr Bruce Aylward, a senior adviser to WHO’s director-general, said that convalescent plasma therapy can come with numerous side effects, from a mild fever and chills to more severe lung-related injuries.

French nudist resort sees spike in infections

The gate to the Village Naturiste in Cap D'Agde, France.
Cap d’Agde is one of France’s oldest and biggest naturist resorts and draws tens of thousands of visitors per day in summer.(Wikimedia Commons: Martin Lindner)

A naturist resort on France’s Mediterranean coast has seen a sharp spike in coronavirus infections and nudists have been ordered to wear masks and practice social distancing, health authorities said.

Tests had shown a 30 per cent infection rate in people who had visited Village Cap d’Agde — which advertises itself as a village for naturists and libertines — a health authority said.

That was more than four times higher than the 7 per cent rate recorded in other people in the area who had not visited the centre, the health authority added.

Cap d’Agde, set in a huge circular modernist building by the beach, is one of France’s oldest and biggest naturist resorts and draws tens of thousands of visitors per day in summer.

Officials at the resort, which is about 60 kilometres down the coast from Montpellier, did not respond to calls seeking comment.

On Sunday, France reported nearly 5,000 new coronavirus infections, a new post-lockdown record.

Italy begins human testing of potential COVID-19 vaccine

Women wearing face mask disinfect their hands in central Piazza Venezia.
The potential vaccine called GRAd-COV2 was developed by a company in Rome.(LaPresse/AP: Alfredo Falcone)

Italy kicked off human trials of a potential COVID-19 vaccine, joining a global effort to develop a response to the virus which has shown signs of a resurgence throughout parts of Europe.

Rome’s Lazzaro Spallanzani institute, a hospital specialising in infectious diseases will conduct trials on 90 volunteers over the coming weeks, with the hope a vaccine may be available by spring of next year.

Francesco Vaia, health director of the Spallanzani hospital, told Reuters the first patient will be monitored for four hours before being allowed to go home where he will be kept under observation for 12 weeks.

The potential vaccine, called GRAd-COV2, was developed by ReiThera, a company based in Rome.

The Lazio region, around the Italian capital, said in a statement early trials, including on animals, had delivered positive results.

Japan defends pandemic tourism campaign

Looking across Tokyo Airport's runways, you see a Japan Airlines plane taxiing with a snow-capped mountain in the distance.
Officials said only 10 cases of COVID-19 were found at hotel lodgings during the month-long campaign.(Flickr: Kagami)

The Japanese Government has defended the nation’s GoTo campaign, which encourages travel within Japan by offering discounts at hotels and inns.

The campaign has come under fire as a risk for spreading the virus.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the government-backed campaign was a success, having been used by 2 million people in the last month.

He said only 10 cases of COVID-19 were found at hotels and other lodging during the month-long campaign, and just one of those people had used the campaign discount.

The tourism business in Japan supports 9 million jobs, Mr Suga said, adding that “its importance to the economy can’t be emphasised enough”.

Japan, which has already sunk into recession, has confirmed more than 1,100 deaths and 62,000 coronavirus cases so far.

Daily cases are rising gradually to about 1,000 people lately.

Sweden unlikely to see big second wave, chief epidemiologist says

Swedes sit at tables outside.
There are concerns Sweden could see a second wave of infections.(Reuters: Anders Wiklund)

Sweden is likely to see local outbreaks but no big second wave of COVID-19 cases in the autumn, the country’s top epidemiologist and architect of its unorthodox pandemic strategy said.

Sweden has been an outlier in Europe’s fight against the novel coronavirus, keeping businesses, restaurants and most schools open throughout the pandemic, while not recommending the use of face masks, which remain a rare sight on city streets.

New cases, hospitalisations and mortality have fallen sharply over the past couple of months.

With most Swedes having returned from summer vacations and with schools already open for the new semester, there are concerns the country could see a second wave of infections.

“We don’t believe we’ll have a classic second wave, such as those seen in influenza pandemics where you get widespread contagion in the community again,” chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said in an interview with broadcaster TV4.

“This disease appears to work in a different way. The spread is more patchy, so the likelihood is greater that we will see — as one is currently seeing around Europe — outbreaks in certain places, at workplaces and similar environments, during the autumn.”

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