The Latest: Europe eyes arthritis drug for COVID-19 cases
AMSTERDAM — The European Medicines Agency has started an accelerated review process to determine if a common arthritis drug might help people hospitalized with severe COVID-19, months after the drug was granted an emergency use authorization in the U.S.
In a statement Monday, the EU drug regulator said it was assessing an application to extend the use of tocilizumab for adults suffering from severe coronavirus in the hospital, who were already being treated with other steroids or required extra oxygen, including via a ventilator. Tocilizumab is an anti-inflammatory drug currently used to treat adults and children with severe arthritis.
In June, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted the drug an emergency use authorization and the World Health Organization recommended its use last month for people who are critically ill with COVID-19. The European regulator said it expected to make a decision by mid-October on tocilizumab, based on data from four large studies. The drug was first licensed in the EU in 2009.
MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:
— Virus claims more young victims as deaths climb yet again
— US mulls COVID vaccine boosters for elderly as early as fall
— Amid a limited supply of vaccines, tensions arise in Africa between those seeking first and second vaccine shots
— Public forums before local school boards and city councils are the latest source of misinformation about COVID-19
— Find more AP coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
BEIJING — China’s most widespread flare-up of COVID-19 since the initial outbreak appears to be waning.
The National Health Commission said Monday that 13 locally spread cases had been confirmed in the preceding 24 hours, down from a peak of more than 100 cases a week ago and the sixth straight day of decline.
A series of recent outbreaks appears to be driven by the delta variant. Nearly 1,300 local cases have been confirmed in 48 cities in 18 provinces.
But most cities are now seeing only sporadic cases, added He Qinghua, a health commission disease control and prevention inspector. He said the risk of a large-scale national epidemic is relatively low.
Another 38 imported cases were confirmed in the latest 24-hour period among people who had entered China recently from abroad. They included 11 who arrived in Yunnan province from neighboring Myanmar from Aug. 10-15.
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka’s president on Monday removed the island nation’s health minister amid a surge of COVID-10 cases and deaths.
The cabinet reshuffle announced by the office of President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa on Monday came as the health ministry is facing mounting criticism over it’s failure to contain COVID-19, which is spreading fast across the Indian Ocean island nation.
Pavithra Wanniarachchi was removed from the Health Minster portfolio and was appointed as Minister of Transport. Media Minister and government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella was appointed as the new health minister.
Sri Lanka is witnessing an unprecedented surge of COVID-19 cases and deaths over the last two weeks. Doctors have warned that hospitals and morgues are reaching their maximum capacities. The government has ruled out an immediate lockdown despite repeated pleas from doctors because of an ailing economy.
LONDON — People in England who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, or are under 18 years old, will no longer have to self-isolate if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The change, which came into effect on Monday, has been welcomed by businesses, many of which have suffered staff shortages as a result of the requirement for people to spend 10 days in quarantine if they have been a contact of a positive case.
Nearly 77% of adults in the U.K. have received two jabs and over 89% have had one vaccine dose.
The change to the rules applies to those who received their final dose at least 14 days prior to contact with a positive case.
People are still advised, though not compelled, to take a PCR test if they find out they have been in contact with a positive case. People who test positive will still be legally required to self-isolate. The other nations of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — are taking, or have taken, similar steps.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has recorded a record high number of deaths from COVID-19 for a second day in a row.
The official IRNA news agency said Monday that 655 patients died in the previous 24 hours, and health workers found some 41,194 new cases over the same period. On Sunday, Iran reported 620 deaths.
The report came as the country imposed a five-day lockdown starting Monday. It includes a travel ban on personal cars crossing between provinces.
The new surge has been fueled by the contagious delta variant. Iranian authorities say less than 40% of the population follows measures such as wearing face masks and social distancing. Iranian health officials have regularly warned that hospitals in the capital, Tehran, and other major cities are overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients.
This is the fifth wave of coronavirus infections as the country struggles to vaccinate its people. Some 4% of Iranians have been fully vaccinated.
BERLIN — Germany’s standing committee on vaccination, the Stiko, has given the go-ahead for all young people above 12 to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.
The country’s disease control agency said Monday the Stiko found that especially data from the United States, where almost 10 million adolescents have been vaccinated, show that the benefits of the vaccines outweigh the risks for children and teenagers.
The Stiko said that vaccinations are now also recommended because the committee expects that children are at a higher risk of catching COVID-19 during the current fourth wave of infections with the dominant and quickly spreading delta variant in Germany.
In the past months, the Stiko had been reluctant to recommend the vaccination for all youngsters, saying it did not have enough data, and had recommended the shots only for children and teenagers with chronic illnesses. However, earlier this month the German government had pushed to offer COVID-19 shots for all children above the age of 12 and some states had already sent out letters inviting them to local vaccination centers.
MADRID — Spaniards donated more organs than any other nationality in the world in 2020 despite the heavy toll COVID-19 took on the country’s health system, new data from the health ministry showed Monday.
Spain has led the world in rates of organ donation for the last three decades, and 2020 was no exception despite the extreme strain on hospitals carrying out transplants.
Spain is home to just 0.6% of the world’s population but supplied 5% of all organs transplanted last year, data from the health ministry showed. A law declaring that any deceased person would donate their organs unless they expressly opt out while alive was passed in 1979.
Spain has registered 82,470 deaths and 4,693,540 cases of COVID-19 so far during the global pandemic.
SYDNEY — Australia’s most populous state on Monday reported its worst day of the pandemic with 478 new COVID-19 infections and seven deaths.
The previous record daily tally in New South Wales was 466 new cases reported on Saturday.
Two of the dead had taken a single dose of a two-shot vaccine. The rest were unvaccinated, New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
Only 26% of Australians aged 16 and older had been fully vaccinated by Saturday. Australia has one of the slowest vaccine rollouts among wealthy countries, which is making the delta variant outbreak particularly dangerous.
The first shipment of one million Pfizer doses that Australia bought from Poland arrived in Sydney overnight.
Residents aged 16-to-39 in Sydney’s worst-effected suburbs will be given 530,000 of the new doses, the government said. This age group was responsible for most of the virus spread.
AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Supreme Court has blocked mask mandates ordered by two of the nation’s largest counties that defied Republican Gov. Greg Abbott as COVID-19 cases surge and hospitals are stretched thin.
Sunday’s order by the state’s highest court — which is entirely comprised of elected Republican justices — halts mask requirements that county leaders in Dallas and San Antonio put in place as new infections soar and students begin returning to school. Texas reported more than 11,500 patients hospitalized with the virus Sunday, the most since January.
The ruling is temporary pending a court hearing, though the timing of a final ruling is unclear. Officials in Houston and Austin, as well as public school districts, had also imposed mask mandates despite Abbott prohibiting local governments from reverting back to pandemic restrictions.
White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients said last week that Texas and Florida accounted for nearly 40% of new virus hospitalizations nationwide.
The COVID-19 death toll has started soaring again as the delta variant tears through the nation’s unvaccinated population and fills up hospitals with patients, many of whom are younger than patients during earlier phases of the pandemic.
EASLEY, S.C. — COVID-19 cases have prompted the largest South Carolina school district already back open to return to virtual lessons as students in more than 60 other districts prepared to return to class.
Pickens County school officials made the decision at an emergency meeting Friday, after nine days of in-class learning for its 15,000-plus students, the Greenville News reported.
“We don’t know if it’s safe to continue as is,” and other districts should pay attention, district spokesman Darian Byrd said during the meeting.
He said four staffers and one student are hospitalized and 142 students have tested positive for COVID-19. Last school year’s peak was 85 students in January of this year, Byrd said.
The county’s remote schooling will last at least this week, with the first two days giving students a chance to pick up laptop-like Chromebooks, officials said.
Byrd said the district will announce next week’s plans by Thursday. Most other districts’ openings are scattered from Monday to Thursday.
WASHINGTON — The director of the National Institutes of Health says the U.S. could decide in the next couple weeks whether to offer coronavirus booster shots to Americans this fall.
Dr. Francis Collins tells “Fox News Sunday” that federal health officials are looking at the U.S. numbers “almost daily” but no decision has been made because cases so far still indicate that vaccinated people remain highly protected from COVID-19, including the delta variant.
He acknowledges, though, that there is concern that the effectiveness of the two-dose Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the one-shot Johnson & Johnson regimen may wane “over months.” If so, Collins says that may necessitate a booster “maybe beginning first with health care providers, as well as people in nursing homes, and then gradually moving forward” with others, such as the elderly.
Collins says because the delta variant only started hitting hard in July, the “next couple of weeks” of case data will help the U.S. make a decision.
BOSTON — The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday that every county in the states of Connecticut and Massachusetts are the site of high or substantial transmission of the coronavirus.
The rise of transmission in the two states mirrors a nationwide and regional trend.
Some health authorities are recommending that even vaccinated people go back to wearing masks indoors in areas of high or substantial transmission. That includes almost all of New England. The CDC reported that every county in the six-state region was the site of high or substantial transmission on Sunday except Orange County, Vermont, and Kennebec County, Maine.
In Connecticut, New London, New Haven, Middlesex and Hartford counties were the site of high transmission and the other four counties in the state were listed in the substantial category. In Massachusetts, Suffolk, Nantucket, Dukes, Plymouth, Bristol, Essex, Hampden and Berkshire counties were the site of high transmission and the other six counties in the state were substantial.
MOSCOW — Daily coronavirus deaths in Russia exceeded 800 for the fourth straight day on Sunday, with the authorities reporting 816 new fatalities.
The daily tally surpassed 800 for the first time in the pandemic on Thursday and has remained at that level ever since.
Russia faced a surge of infections last month that officials have blamed on the spread of the delta variant. New confirmed cases soared from around 9,000 a day in early June to 25,000 a day in mid-July.
New infections have since decreased slightly to about 21,000 daily this week, but the daily death toll has remained high.
Officials are working to boost vaccine uptake, which has remained lower in Russia than in many Western countries. As of Aug. 6, more than 39 million Russians — or 26.7% of the 146-million population — had received at least one dose, while over 30 million, or 20%, was said to be fully vaccinated.
Russia’s state coronavirus task force has reported over 6.6 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the pandemic and 170,499 deaths. However, reports by Russia’s state statistical service Rosstat that look at coronavirus-linked deaths retroactively have revealed a much higher number.