Coronavirus update: WHO head warns there may never be a ‘silver bullet’ for COVID-19

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that while there was hope for a coronavirus vaccine, researchers still may not discover one that works and even if they do it could provide only limited protection from the virus.

Meanwhile, Singapore is making electronic monitoring devices mandatory for arriving travellers in quarantine.

This story will be updated throughout Tuesday and was last updated at 2:30am.

Tuesday’s key moments:

WHO warns there may never be a ‘silver bullet’ for COVID-19

The World Health Organization has warned that, despite strong hopes for a vaccine, there might never be a “silver bullet” for COVID-19, and the road to normality would be long.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and WHO emergencies head Mike Ryan exhorted all nations to rigorously enforce health measures such as mask-wearing, social distancing, handwashing and testing.

“The message to people and governments is clear: ‘Do it all’,” Dr Tedros told a virtual news briefing from the UN body’s headquarters in Geneva.

He said face masks should become a symbol of solidarity round the world.

Man in suit speaking to reporters.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has urged all countries to ensure people take all possible health measures to fight the coronavirus.(AP: Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone)

“A number of vaccines are now in phase three clinical trials and we all hope to have a number of effective vaccines that can help prevent people from infection,” he said.

“However, there’s no silver bullet at the moment — and there might never be.”

The WHO head said that, while the coronavirus was the biggest global health emergency since the early 20th century, the international hunt for a vaccine was also historic.

“There are many vaccines under trial, a couple in the final stage of clinical trials — and there is hope,” he said.

“It does not mean that we will have the vaccine, but at least the speed with which we reached the level we reached now is unprecedented.

Singapore to make travellers wear electronic tags during quarantine

A fore arm with a Hong Kong coronavirus tracking wristband with blurry kitchen items in the background
Hong Kong authorities have used electronic wristbands to track people in quarantine since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.(ABC News)

Singapore will make some incoming travellers wear an electronic monitoring device to ensure that they comply with coronavirus quarantines as the city-state gradually reopens its borders.

From August 11, the devices will be given to incoming travellers, including citizens and residents, from a select group of countries who will be allowed to isolate at home rather than at a state-appointed facility.

Similar measures using electronic wristbands to track peoples’ movements during quarantine have been used in Hong Kong and South Korea.

Travellers to Singapore are required to activate the device, which uses GPS and Bluetooth signals, upon reaching their home and will receive notifications on the device which they must acknowledge.

Any attempt to leave home or tamper with the device will trigger an alert to the authorities.

Hong Kong in March introduced a scheme for incoming travellers to use a slim electronic wristband, similar to a tag worn by hospital patients, to enforce quarantines for arriving passengers. South Korea has also used such wristbands connected to smartphone apps for those who violate quarantine.

Singapore, which has not given details on what the device will look like, said in a statement that it will not store any personal data and does not have any voice or video recording function.

Those aged 12 and below will not have to wear the devices.

Tahiti cruise ship hit with coronavirus

A cruise ship floats on blue water
A passenger on the Paul Gauguin cruise ship tested positive for the coronavirus while the ship was in Tahiti.(Supplied: Paul Gauguin Cruises)

About 340 passengers and crew are confined on a cruise ship in Tahiti after a traveller tested positive for the virus, the commissariat for French Polynesia said.

All those aboard the Paul Gauguin Cruises cruise ship the Paul Gauguin are being tested, and will be kept in their cabins pending the results.

The South Pacific archipelago started reopening to tourists last month and required that all visitors get tested before arriving and test themselves four days after entering the territory.

A passenger aboard the Paul Gauguin reported a positive self-test last week, and a second test carried out by medics confirmed the infection on Sunday, the statement said.

The person traveling with the sick passenger tested negative, and both were taken off the ship, the commissariat said.

Russia to deliver drug to South Africa and Latin American countries

A hand holding a bottle of tables labelled Favipiravir
Russia says clinical trials of the drug Favipiravir, which is the generic name Avifavir, had successfully treated the virus.(Supplied.)

Russia has signed deals to supply South Africa and seven Latin American countries with an anti-viral drug Russian authorities have approved to treat COVID-19.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) said that at least 150,000 packs of the drug, known as Avifavir, would be sent to Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The drug will also be supplied to South Africa, RDIF said in a statement.

Technology to make the drug would be transferred to Bolivia’s Sigma Corp SRL for it to be produced locally, RDIF said.

The Russian health ministry gave approval for the drug’s use under a special accelerated process in May.

Avifavir is a generic version of the Japanese drug Avigan, which is used to treat influenza.

Other countries have been conducting clinical trials of the drug, with some warning it is too early to judge its efficacy treating COVID-19.

Vietnam to stick with localised lockdowns after new coronavirus outbreak

People wearing masks walk down a fairly crowded street in Vietnam.
Vietnam had success suppressing the coronavirus early in the pandemic.(Reuters: Kham)

Vietnam’s Government says it has no plans for a widespread lockdown and will only put areas considered epicentres under strict quarantine despite a spreading coronavirus outbreak.

“We will only implement social distancing in areas considered virus epicentres, and will not pursue a widespread lockdown,” Government spokesman Mai Tien Dung said.

Mr Dung said selective lockdown measures would allow the Government to achieve the dual goals of containing the virus and boosting the economy at the same time.

Vietnam reported 21 more novel coronavirus infections late on Monday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 642.

All of the new cases are linked to Danang, the new coronavirus epicentre where Vietnam more than a week ago detected its first locally transmitted infections in more than three months, the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

There have been nearly 200 cases since the virus resurfaced in Da Nang, with six deaths. Coronavirus infections have since been detected in at least 10 locations in Vietnam.

UK to use rapid tests to reach 500,000-a-day target

An elderly woman talks to a care worker in full PPE
The UK has committed to regularly testing staff and residents in care homes.(Reuters: Eddie Keogh)

Millions of COVID-19 tests able to detect the virus within 90 minutes will be rolled out in Britain, after criticism there has not been enough testing, especially in nursing homes.

The two tests, LamPORE and DnaNudge will be rolled out as the country prepares to face the pandemic in winter and neither will need to be administered by a health professional, the country’s health minister said.

Last week, one of Britain’s largest care home providers CareUK said the Government was unable to meet its promise to regularly test staff and residents in care homes after problems were discovered with the kits being used.

Capacity will be boosted at hospitals, care homes and laboratories starting from next week, the Government said, comprising 5.8 million tests using DNA and 450,000 swab tests.

Separately, the publicly-funded National Health Service said it would be offering “COVID-friendly” treatments to cancer patients, including drugs that do not have a big impact on the immune system.

Britain’s healthcare system has come under severe strain during peaks in the country’s COVID-19 outbreak, which has killed more than 46,000 people, the fourth-highest toll in the world.

Mainland China sends testing team to Hong Kong for first time

Hong Kong announces tough new coronavirus measures
Hong Kong is ramping up testing after a new coronavirus outbreak.(News Video)

A team of Chinese officials has begun preparations for widespread testing in Hong Kong, which has seen a resurgence in cases.

The initiative, which was announced by the Chinese Government, marks the first time mainland health officials have assisted Hong Kong in its battle to control the epidemic.

Hong Kong reported 80 new coronavirus cases on Monday, dropping below 100 infections for the first time in 12 days.

The Government also extended mandatory wearing of masks in public places, including outdoors, and a ban on in-house dining after 6:00pm until at least August 11.

A ban on face-to-face teaching at local schools has also been extended beyond August 17, with the academic year now due to start with online classes.

Since late January, around 3,600 people have been infected in Hong Kong, 37 of whom have died.


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