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Cyber-spies hunt Covid-19 research, US and UK warn

https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-52551023

By Gordon Corera Security correspondent 5 May 2020

The UK and US have issued a joint warning cyber-spies are targeting the health sector.

Hackers linked to foreign states have been hunting for information, including Covid-19 data and vaccine research, they say.

UK sources say they have seen extensive activity but do not believe there has been any data theft so far.

Those behind the activity are not named in the alert but are thought to include China, Russia and Iran.

The three countries have all seen major outbreaks of the virus but have denied previous claims of involvement in such activity.

The joint advisory says the UK and US are currently investigating a number of incidents in which other states are targeting pharmaceutical companies, medical-research organisations, and universities, looking for intelligence and sensitive data, including research on the virus.

Understanding how other countries are dealing with the Covid-19 crisis and progress in research has become a high priority for intelligence agencies around the world.

In a crisis, every state will want to use its intelligence capability to better inform itself.

And in a locked-down world, cyber-espionage is more practical than traditional human espionage, making it another field where an existing trend towards online working may be accelerated.

Analysts say they are seeing a particular rise in aggressive operations from a range of states at the moment.

And this has meant organisations that might not have considered themselves to be top targets for hackers from foreign states are now in their sights.

The UK's National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) has been working with these organisations since the start of the crisis, to offer advice and protection.

And the new public advisory, issued jointly with its US equivalent, the Cyber-security and Infrastructure Security Agency(CISA), aims to further increase awareness of the threat.

"In today's world, there is nothing more valuable or worth stealing than any kind of biomedical research that is going to help with a coronavirus vaccine," senior US intelligence official Bill Evanina told BBC News last week.

At Tuesday's daily briefing, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "As well as providing practical advice, the UK will continue to counter those who conduct cyber-attacks.

"And we're working very closely with our international partners both to respond to the threats but also to deter the gangs and the arms of state who lie behind them."

UK authorities are understood to have offered advice to Oxford University, at the leading edge of developing a vaccine, and Imperial College in London, which has played a key role in the epidemiological modelling that has shaped policy responses.

The advisory warns cyber-spies are targeting supply chains and taking advantage of people remotely working, with a technique called password-spraying - in which they try to use commonly used passwords to access accounts.

And cyber-criminals could target healthcare providers, knowing they may be even more willing than usual to pay a ransom for the return of their data.

"Protecting the healthcare sector is the NCSC's first and foremost priority at this time and we're working closely with the NHS to keep their systems safe," operations director Paul Chichester said.

Meanwhile, Western spies will be focusing hard on China as they seek to understand what Beijing may know of the virus's origins - with the US administration pushing the theory it may have escaped from a lab - as well as looking for any data on the true extent of the outbreak in the country.



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'Modest' lockdown changes announced in Wales

https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/930205



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UK eyeing switch to Apple-Google API for coronavirus contacts tracing — report

https://techcrunch.com/2020/05/07/uk-eyeing-switch-to-apple-google-api-for-coronavirus-contacts-tracing-report/

Natasha Lomas@riptari / 5:33 am CDT • May 7, 2020

The UK may be rethinking its decision to shun Apple  and Google’s API for its national coronavirus contacts tracing app, according to the Financial Times, which reported yesterday that the government is paying an IT supplier to investigate whether it can integrate the tech giants’ approach after all.

As we’ve reported before coronavirus contacts tracing apps are a new technology which aims to repurpose smartphones’ Bluetooth signals and device proximity to try to estimate individuals’ infection risk.

The UK’s forthcoming app, called NHS COVID-19, has faced controversy because it’s being designed to use a centralized app architecture. This means developers are having to come up with workarounds for platform limitations on background access to Bluetooth as the Apple-Google cross-platform API only works with decentralized systems.

The choice of a centralized app architecture has also raised concerns about the impact of such an unprecedented state data grab on citizens’ privacy and human rights, and the risk of state ‘mission creep‘.

The UK also looks increasingly isolated in its choice in Europe after the German government opted to switch to a decentralized model, joining several other European countries that have said they will opt for a p2p approach, including Estonia, Ireland and Switzerland.

In the region, France remains the other major backer of a centralized system for its forthcoming coronavirus contacts tracing app, StopCovid.

Apple and Google,  meanwhile, are collaborating on a so-called “exposure notification” API for national coronavirus contacts tracing apps. The API  is slated to launch this month and is designed to remove restrictions that could interfere with how contact events are logged. However it’s only available for apps that don’t hold users’ personal data on central servers and prohibits location tracking, with the pair emphasizing that their system is designed to put privacy at the core.

Yesterday the FT reported that NHSX, the digital transformation branch of UK’s National Health Service, has awarded a £3.8M contract to the London office of Zuhlke Engineering, a Switzerland-based IT development firm which was involved in developing the initial version of the NHS COVID-19 app.

The contract includes a requirement to “investigate the complexity, performance and feasibility of implementing native Apple and Google contact tracing APIs within the existing proximity mobile application and platform”, per the newspaper’s report.

The work is also described as a “two week timeboxed technical spike”, which the FT suggests means it’s still at a preliminary phase — thought it also notes the contract includes a deadline of mid-May.

The contracted work was due to begin yesterday, per the report.

We’ve reached out to Zuhlke for comment. Its website describes the company as “a strong solutions partner” that’s focused on projects related to digital product delivery; cloud migration; scaling digital platforms; and the Internet of Things.

We also put questions arising from the FT report to NHSX.

At the time of writing the unit had not responded but yesterday a spokesperson told the newspaper: “We’ve been working with Apple and Google throughout the app’s development and it’s quite right and normal to continue to refine the app.”

The specific technical issue that appears to be causing concern relates to a workaround the developers have devised to try to circumvent platform limitations on Bluetooth that’s intended to wake up phones when the app itself is not being actively used in order that the proximity handshakes can still be carried out (and contacts events properly logged).

Thing is, if any of the devices fail to wake up and emit their identifiers so other nearby devices can log their presence there will be gaps in the data. Which, in plainer language, means the app might miss some close encounters between users — and therefore fail to notify some people of potential infection risk.

Recent reports have suggested the NHSX workaround has a particular problem with iPhones not being able to wake up other iPhones. And while Google’s Android OS is the more dominant platform in the UK (running on circa ~60% of smartphones, per Kantar) there will still be plenty of instances of two or more iPhone users passing near each other. So if their apps fail to wake up they won’t exchange data and those encounters won’t be logged.

On this, the FT quotes one person familiar with the NHS testing process who told it the app was able to work in the background in most cases, except when two iPhones were locked and left unused for around 30 minutes, and without any Android  devices coming within 60m of the devices. The source also told it that bringing an Android device running the app close to the iPhone would “wake up” its Bluetooth connection.

Clearly, the government having to tell everyone in the UK to use an Android smartphone not an iPhone wouldn’t be a particularly palatable political message.

One source with information about the NHSX testing process told us the unit has this week been asking IT suppliers for facilities or input on testing environments with “50-100 Bluetooth devices of mixed origin”, to help with challenges in testing the Bluetooth exchanges — which raises questions about how extensively this core functionality has been tested up to now. (Again, we’ve put questions to the NHSX about testing and will update this report with any response.)

Work on planning and developing the NHS COVID-19 app began March 7, according to evidence given to a UK parliamentary committee by the NHSX CEO’s, Matthew Gould, last month.

Gould has also previously suggested that the app could be “technically” ready to launch in as little as two or three weeks time from now. While a limited geographical trial of the app kicked off this week in the Isle of Wight. Prior to that, an alpha version of the app was tested at an RAF base involving staff carrying out simulations of people going shopping, per a BBC report last month.

Gould faced questions over the choice of centralized vs decentralized app architecture from the human rights committee earlier this week. He suggested then that the government is not “locked” to the choice — telling the committee: “We are constantly reassessing which approach is the right one — and if it becomes clear that the balance of advantage lies in a different approach then we will take that different approach. We’re not irredeemably wedded to one approach; if we need to shift then we will… It’s a very pragmatic decision about what approach is likely to get the results that we need to get.”

However it’s unclear how quickly such a major change to app architecture could be implemented, given centralized vs decentralized systems work in very different ways.

Additionally, such a big shift — more than two months into the NHSX’s project — seems, at such a late stage, as if it would be more closely characterized as a rebuild, rather than a little finessing (as suggested by the NHSX spokesperson’s remark to the FT vis-a-vis ‘refining’ the app).

In related news today, Reuters reports that Colombia has pulled its own coronavirus contacts tracing app after experiencing glitches and inaccuracies. The app had used alternative technology to power contacts logging via Bluetooth and wi-fi. A government official told the news agency it aims to rebuild the system and may now use the Apple-Google API.

Australia has also reported Bluetooth related problems with its national coronavirus app. And has also been reported to be moving towards adopting the Apple-Google API.

While, Singapore, the first country to launch a Bluetooth app for coronavirus contacts tracing, was also the first to run into technical hitches related to platform limits on background access — likely contributing to low download rates for the app (reportedly below 20%).



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Coronavirus could be tied to a rare but serious illness in children, UK doctors say

https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/27/health/children-covid-19-illness-intl-scli-gbr/index.html

By Amy Woodyatt and Jacqueline Howard, CNN

Updated 2:43 PM ET, Mon April 27, 2020

London (CNN)A small but rising number of children are becoming ill with a rare syndrome that could be linked to coronavirus, with reported cases showing symptoms of abdominal pain, gastrointestinal symptoms and cardiac inflammation, UK health care bosses and pediatrics specialists have warned.

On Sunday, the Paediatric Intensive Care Society UK (PICS) tweeted an "urgent alert" from the National Health Service England about a small rise in the number of cases of critically ill children presenting "overlapping features of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease with blood parameters" -- with some of the children testing positive for Covid-19.

The urgent alert, sent to UK general practitioners by National Health Service (NHS) England warned that over the last three weeks, "there has been an apparent rise in the number of children of all ages presenting with a multisystem inflammatory state requiring intensive care across London and also in other regions of the UK," the Health Service Journal first reported Monday.

The alert added: "There is a growing concern that a [covid-19] related inflammatory syndrome is emerging in children in the UK, or that there may be another, as yet unidentified, infectious pathogen associated with these cases," HSJ added.

In a statement sent over the weekend to medical professionals who look after critically ill children, PICS said "the cases have in common overlapping features of toxic shock syndrome and atypical Kawasaki disease with blood parameters consistent with severe Covid-19 in children. Abdominal pain and gastrointestinal symptoms have been a common feature as has cardiac inflammation."

Kawasaki disease, also known as Kawasaki syndrome, is a rare childhood illness that causes the walls of the blood vessels in the body to become inflamed.

The group said that while there had been "very few cases" of critically unwell children with Covid-19 admitted to pediatric intensive care units in the UK and around the world, they were aware of a "small number of children nationally" who fit the clinical picture described in the NHS alert.

There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to Covid-19, but in a report released in April, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that children diagnosed with coronavirus in the United States typically have mild cases of the virus.

The number of Covid-19 cases among children remains small and while some children and infants have been sick with Covid-19, adults make up most of the known cases to date, according to the CDC.

Health care professionals urge calm

Health care professionals have reassured parents that the risk of children becoming severely ill with the virus remains low.

"Thankfully Kawasaki-like diseases are very rare, as currently are serious complications in children related to Covid-19, but it is important that clinicians are made aware of any potential emerging links so that they are able to give children and young people the right care fast," Professor Simon Kenny, NHS national clinical director for children and young people said in a statement sent to CNN.

In response to the reports, Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health said that although a small number of children can become severely ill with Covid-19, it is "very rare," with evidence showing that children appear to be least affected by the virus.

"However our advice remains the same: parents should be reassured that children are unlikely to be seriously ill with Covid-19 but if they are concerned about their children's health for any reason, they should seek help from a health professional," Viner said.

Dr. Tina Tan, professor of pediatrics and infectious diseases at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said that the NHS England alert was important information to have here in the United States.

"I think it's really important that an alert like that goes out, not to alarm anybody but to have people be aware of the fact that this can happen. There have been an increased number of cases like this reported in Italy as well as Spain. Here in the US, I think we're just starting to see it," Tan told CNN Monday.

"Here in Chicago at Lurie Children's Hospital, we are just starting to see an increase in the number of older adolescents that are being hospitalized with fairly severe Covid disease that is requiring treatment," Tan said. "Here in Chicago, some of the kids have some of the underlying conditions that would predispose you to getting more severe Covid disease, such as obesity and hypertension."

Tan added that racial disparities are also emerging among Covid-19 cases in children.

"Out of Los Angeles they were reporting that younger African-Americans and Latinos were being affected by Covid more severely and actually being hospitalized," Tan said.



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U.K. Rolls Out PRINCIPLE Trial to Evaluate Potential COVID-19 Treatments in the Community

https://www.genengnews.com/news/u-k-rolls-out-principle-trial-to-evaluate-potential-covid-19-treatments-in-the-community/

May 12, 2020

Researchers at the University of Oxford are rolling out a U.K. trial to assess whether low-risk treatment in the community can help to reduce symptoms of COVID-19 in older patients, help them to recover more quickly, and so reduce the need for hospitalization. The Platform Randomized Trial of Interventions against COVID-19 in Older People (PRINCIPLE) study will initially evaluate the malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, in patients with COVID-19 symptoms, including those aged 50–64 years who have certain pre-existing illnesses, and any individual aged over 65 years who has had COVID-19 symptoms for less than 15 days.

The trial design will also allow other drugs to be incorporated into the study, explained Oghenekome Gbinigie, MD, a Wellcome Trust funded DPhil student at the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford. “There are other studies that have been registered with the purpose of assessing hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19 in the community,” Gbinigie told GEN. “However, we are not aware of any other studies of COVID-19 in the community that employ the unique design of PRINCIPLE. The PRINCIPLE trial has been designed such that as new candidate treatments for COVID-19 come to our attention, they can be added part-way through the study. Furthermore, if we find that one treatment is performing better than another treatment, we can randomly assign more people in the study to the treatment that is performing best. This means that more people in the study have a chance of being assigned to the most effective study treatment.”

Co-chief investigator for the PRINCIPLE Trial is Christopher Butler, MD, professor of primary care in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, professorial fellow at Trinity College, and clinical director of the University of Oxford Primary Care Clinical Trials Unit. He commented to GEN, “PRINCIPLE is a truly democratic trial and U.K.-wide trial, anyone with symptoms who is eligible can now join. This means that participation is not limited by where you live, which hospital you attend, or which health care facility you consult with.”

More than 500 general practitioner (GP) surgeries are now recruiting patients aged 50–64 years who have certain pre-existing illnesses, or those aged more than 65 years—whatever their background health status—into PRINCIPLE, which will initially evaluate hydroxychloroquine. Over-65s with COVID-19 symptoms can prescreen for the trial at home via an online questionnaire—whichever GP practice they are registered with—to see whether they may be included.

“PRINCIPLE aims to recruit over 3,000 people, Gbinigie commented. “This number will be increased if additional treatments are introduced and may also be adjusted in light of results that emerge during the course of the trial. The potential reach of this trial is considerably more than hospital-based studies that are finding treatments for very ill people—we are looking for treatments that can be used by many hundreds of thousands potentially.”

The PRINCIPLE has an intentionally adaptable design. The primary aim of the study is to see if outcomes can be improved for patients who are at higher risk of more serious disease if infected with COVID-19. “We know that older age is a risk factor for having a poorer outcome with COVID-19,” Gbinigie said. “However, we are constantly evaluating our eligibility criteria and can amend these criteria in light of emerging evidence.”

PRINCIPLE will aim to trial a number of low-risk treatments recommended by an expert panel that advises the Chief Medical Officer for England, and compare their effectiveness with that of current best available care. In this first phase, the trial is evaluating whether a seven-day course of hydroxychloroquine can reduce the severity of COVID-19 in vulnerable groups. “Azithromycin, as a monotherapy, will soon be added as a second drug,” Gbinigie noted. Participants will be closely monitored for the first 28 days of the trial, with a health record notes review taking place for up to three months to understand the longer-term effects of the illness on their health. “PRINCIPLE is a platform trial,” she continued, which means that “unlike most traditional types of clinical trials where a single treatment is evaluated, the design of PRINCIPLE allows for the evaluation of several treatments at the same time, and for more people in the trial to get the most effective trial intervention.”

Primary endpoint of the trial is an assessment of how effectively the treatment reduces hospital admissions or death, GEN was told. “We are assessing a number of secondary endpoints, including how effectively trial treatments reduce symptom severity, how quickly they speed up recovery, whether they help to reduce the number of antibiotics consumed by participants, whether they reduce the need for oxygen therapy, whether they reduce the need for mechanical ventilation, and also whether they impact on the duration of viral shedding.”

Gbinigie acknowledged that it is not possible to predict how long it will take to get either a positive or a negative signal from the trial. “This will depend on how quickly we recruit participants and on how effective the different treatments are,” she said. “As soon as we find that any one of the drugs in our trial is making a critical difference to people’s health, we want it to be part of clinical practice as soon as it can be introduced—though this is largely out of our hands.” A decision would need to be taken to determine whether a drug could then be prescribed by clinicians outside of the trial. “In the U.K., the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is responsible for ensuring that drugs that are used in clinical practice are safe and effective.”

PRINCIPLE is being carried out in parallel with the Randomized Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY) trial in the U.K., which is claimed to represent the world’s largest randomized controlled trial of potential COVID-19 treatments. Also headed by researchers at the University of Oxford, RECOVERY is evaluating a number of drugs, including hydroxychloroquine, and also the HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir, and the steroid dexamethasone. But while PRINCIPLE is evaluating treatments in a community setting, RECOVERY is enrolling hospitalized patients. More than 130 NHS hospitals across the U.K. are participating in RECOVERY.

There are some similarities in the design of the two trials, Gbinigie noted. “For example, RECOVERY has the ability to add and remove different trial treatments according to emerging evidence, just like PRINCIPLE. However, there are many differences, largely because the participant populations and goals of the studies are so different. PRINCIPLE is specifically for patients with COVID-19 in the community, whereas RECOVERY is taking place in patients who are in hospital with COVID-19. PRINCIPLE aims to see whether we can prevent hospital admissions, whereas RECOVERY is assessing the outcomes of patients once they have been admitted to the hospital.”

Butler is also a part-time GP for the Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board. In a recent statement he commented, “With enough people recruited, this trial will give us the vital information we need to understand whether existing drugs can help people recover sooner and at home, without needing to be admitted to hospital—a significant milestone in the course of this pandemic … As soon as we find that any one of the drugs in our trial is making a critical difference to people’s health, we want it to be part of clinical practice as soon as it can be introduced.”

Co-chief investigator, Richard Hobbs, is professor of primary care and head of Oxford University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences. He added, “The challenges in developing PRINCIPLE were unprecedented in terms of speed in finalizing design, seeking permissions, and then operationalizing this key platform trial. It has required months of work to be completed in just a matter of days and weeks.”

The PRINCIPLE trial platform has received £1.7 million from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). It is part of a wider £24.6 million rapid research response investment by the U.K. government to support looking at ways to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

There are currently 1,358 clinical trials for COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 listed on ClinicalTrials.Gov, including 178 for hydroxychloroquine. A retrospective study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) yesterday found no benefit of hydroxychloroquine therapy on mortality in already hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Last week an observational study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) similarly found that hydroxychloroquine therapy had no effect on mortality among patients hospitalized with COVID-19.



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Covid antibody test a 'positive development'

https://www.bbc.com/news/health-52656808



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AstraZeneca Aims for 30 Million Doses of COVID-19 Vaccine for U.K. by September

https://www.biospace.com/article/astrazeneca-plans-30-million-university-of-oxford-covid-19-vaccine-doses-by-september/

Published: May 18, 2020 By Mark Terry

The University of Oxford’s partnership with AstraZeneca on the development and distribution of Oxford’s COVID-19 vaccine is one of the leaders in this project. AstraZeneca reported it plans to manufacture as much as 30 million doses of the vaccine for the U.K. market by September, with expectations of 100 million doses by the end of the year. The U.K. would be the first country to get access to that vaccine, assuming it proves to be safe and effective.

In a statement today, U.K. Business Secretary Alok Sharma indicated the government was providing $79 million in funding. Another 18.5 million pounds will be provided to Imperial College London as human clinical trials progress.

Like most of the vaccines being developed, companies are working to scale up manufacturing in hopes that they will be proven safe and approved early, so they can be made and distributed globally as quickly as possible.

Oxford University’s Jenner Institute has a head start on the vaccine compared to most organizations, with the launch of a clinical trial of more than 6,000 people in May, showing not only that their COVID-19 vaccine is safe—typically the goal of smaller Phase I clinical trials—but effective, the goal of larger Phase II and Phase III clinical trials.

Their vaccine has been tested in six rhesus macaque monkeys at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana, that were then exposed to large volumes of the virus causing COVID-19. More than 28 days later, all six were still healthy.

One reason the Oxford group led by Adrian Hill, the Jenner Institute’s director, is ahead of the game is because Hill has spent most of his career on vaccine development, primarily on malaria. Jenner is one of the largest academic centers focused on nonprofit vaccine research. It even has its own pilot manufacturing plant that can make a batch of up to 1,000 doses. And as long ago as 2014, they had developed a template for mass production of the coronavirus vaccine, if it is effective, that could provide a million doses.

Once the pandemic hit, Hill put all the current work on other vaccines into storage and pivoted the institute’s resources and talent on COVID-19. Their vaccine alters the genome of a familiar virus, modifying it first to neutralize any disease effects and then force it to mimic the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Once injected, this “impostor” stimulates the immune system to battle and kill the COVID-19 coronavirus.

One of Hill’s colleagues at Jenner is Sarah Gilbert, who had been conducting work on another coronavirus, MERS. She had been conducting clinical trials of a vaccine against MERS, which is still common in Saudi Arabia. Once the genome of SARS-CoV-2 was published, she believed she had an opportunity to show how their approach could be both versatile and fast.

Part of the emphasis in today’s story is how AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, while indicating the initial doses will be for the U.K.—which makes sense, in that both are in the U.K.— are concerned about assuring availability in poor and under-developed countries.

This issue has been exacerbated by March stories of President Trump allegedly attempting to acquire German biotech company BioNTech’s vaccine exclusively for the U.S. market. BioNTech is now partnered with U.S.-headquartered Pfizer on the vaccine program.

About a week ago, Paris-based Sanofi’s chief executive officer Paul Hudson indicated that the U.S. would have first access to its COVID-19 vaccine because of the significant financial support it is receiving from the U.S. government. This raised a furor in other countries, particularly France, where the company is headquartered, and the U.K., where its partner in the vaccine endeavor, GlaxoSmithKline, is located.

Sanofi is now backing away from the pledge, where Hudson had said that because of the U.S.’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), funding, “The U.S. government has the right to the largest preorder because it’s invested in taking the risk.”

Although the statement at the time seemed fairly logical, Europeans did not see it that way. The office of French President Emmanuel Macron stated a vaccine is “a global public good, which is not submitted to market forces.”

The country’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe tweeted, “Equal access for all to vaccine is not negotiable.”

Leaders from all over the world met for a virtual summit on Monday, May 4 to pledge billions of dollars to fund development of a vaccine against COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Noticeably absent was the United States.

The goal of the summit was to raise an initial $8.2 billion and to coordinate the development of vaccines that can then be equitably distributed around the world, including to poorer companies. Although China skipped the initial meeting, it had a presence at the May 4 meeting. Russia and India also did not participate.

President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed has a goal of making 100 million doses of a vaccine against COVID-19 available by November, 200 million by December and 300 million by January 2021. This aggressive and perhaps overly optimistic target has winnowed a possible 93 vaccine programs to 14 top candidates, which they expect will be further narrowed to six or eight.

In the U.S., Moderna today released positive interim Phase I data from its clinical trial of mRNA-1273, its mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The vaccine furthest along in human trials, showed positive results for both efficacy and safety, overall. So far, the data is very promising, both in its effectiveness and safety, although it’s very early for the safety data. On May 1, the company announced it had partnered with Switzerland’s Lonza on a 10-year strategic collaboration for larger scale manufacture of mRNA-1273, as well as other future Moderna projects.

As part of its scale-up efforts, the U.K. government indicated a vaccine production plant will open in the summer of 2021. The government provided 131 million pounds to accelerate development. The U.K. Vaccine Manufacturing and Innovation Center will have capacity to manufacture 70 million vaccine doses within four to six months of opening the permanent site at Harwell campus in Oxfordshire. It is a non-profit partnership between the University of Oxford, Imperial College and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.



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 Airbus provides range of support help for customers

https://helihub.com/2020/05/21/covid-19-airbus-provides-range-of-support-help-for-customers/

21 May, 20, Source: Airbus Helicopters

Due to the current concern regarding the spread of the coronavirus disease (covid-19), Airbus Helicopters is actively supporting customers by proposing solutions so that they may fly in safe and sanitary conditions.

For this purpose, Airbus Helicopters has published the following Information Notice (IN) and Safety Information Notice (SIN):

• IN 3476-I-12 revision 1 “SERVICING – Disinfection of the helicopter interior and the external handles”

This document provides guidance about disinfection materials and procedures related to indirect contamination on helicopters, workplaces and tools, including the application procedures.

• IN 3492-I-25 revision 4 “EQUIPMENT AND FURNISHINGS – Isolation between co.ckpit and passenger compartment”

This document provides guidance for aircraft ****pit isolation and details on ventilation covering the BO105, AS350, H135, H145, Dauphin family (SA365/AS365/H155), H175 and Super Puma family (AS332/H225) of helicopters; and for heating and air conditioning systems.

• SIN 3497-S-00 revision 0 “Operational ‘human factor’ risks linked to the covid-19 crisis”

This document supports all operators on the necessary change management associated with covid-19. It aims to increase awareness and to facilitate the identification of possible hazards by providing non-exhaustive examples of points considered to be a risk in view of the covid-19 crisis.

• SIN 3506-S-10 revision 0 “PARKING AND MOORING – Helicopter parking for an extended period of time (work stoppage)”

This document summarises helicopter storage procedures and the soon-to-be-published Service Bulletin to improve storage procedures for helicopters that are stored for six months or less.

These documents in their latest revisions are available through the T.I.P.I. Technical Information Publication portal.



-- Edited by Leela25 on Thursday 21st of May 2020 01:54:29 PM

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Independent scientists urge UK government to delay reopening schools

https://www.newscientist.com/article/2237475-independent-scientists-urge-uk-government-to-delay-reopening-schools/

20 May 2020 By Sam Wong , Adam Vaughan , Conrad Quilty-Harper and Layal Liverpool

Latest coronavirus news as of 5 pm on 21 May

Delaying the reopening of primary schools in England on 1 June by two weeks could halve the risk to each child of being exposed to an infectious classmate, according to a report by the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, a recently-formed group of scientists that is seeking to provide alternative advice to the UK government. The group say that modelling suggests that waiting until September would reduce this risk further, to less than the risk to children of road traffic accidents.

The group is chaired by former government chief scientific advisor David King and is separate from the official SAGE committee that advises the UK government.

“The crucial factor allowing school reopening around the world has been the presence of well-functioning local test, trace and isolate protocols – something that is now accepted will not be in place in England by early June,” the report says. It adds that before schools can reopen, it is important to confirm that daily new coronavirus infections are decreasing and that schools have access to personal protective equipment.

However, the models used by the independent group to calculate the risk to children have not yet been published in detail. Meanwhile, documents released by the official SAGE committee and the government today revealed that the UK’s Department of Education did not model the impact of  schools in England reopening on 1 June as part of work in which the department examined nine possible scenarios relating to schools for SAGE. 

Other coronavirus developments

An observational study published today in The Lancet found no evidence that either of the antimalarial drugs hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine are beneficial for covid-19. The study also suggests that using these drugs to treat covid-19 patients may be harmful, although randomised controlled trials are needed to confirm this. Several trials are currently underway.

The UK’s R value – the number of people each coronavirus case infects – has been estimated to be between 0.7 and 1 for the second week in a row. Because of a lag in the data used to determine the R value, this reflects the situation about two or three weeks ago.

In the UK, some coronavirus tests are being counted more than once, the Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England confirmed yesterday. According to the UK government’s figures, 140,497 tests were performed on 21 May but only 80,297 people were tested. According to The Telegraph, the discrepancy may be due to counting nasal and saliva samples from a single person as separate tests. Earlier this month, UK prime minister Boris Johnson set a target of conducting 200,000 tests a day by the end of May.

People arriving in the UK from other countries could be fined £1000 if spot checks by health officials reveal they have failed to follow guidelines to self-isolate for 14 days after their arrival in the UK, the government announced today. The rule will come into force on 8 June, and will only have exceptions for lorry drivers, seasonal farm workers and medical officials with UK citizenship, and people arriving from the Republic of Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. The Australian government has argued that its citizens should also be exempt. Australia’s “successful containment” of the virus “means travellers coming from Australia would pose a low risk to the rest of the world,” according to Australia’s trade, tourism and investment minister Simon Birmingham.

Brazil confirmed its highest number of daily new coronavirus cases so far, with 19,951 cases reported by the country’s health ministry today. Brazil has confirmed more than 310,000 cases since the outbreak began, the third-highest number of any country after the US and Russia. There are growing concerns that South America could be the new centre of the pandemic, as Mexico, Chile and Peru are also struggling to contain major outbreaks.

6088 new coronavirus cases were announced in India today, the highest number of daily cases the country has confirmed so far. This brings India’s total number of confirmed cases to more than 119,000. Meanwhile Amazon has announced it will hire 50,000 temporary workers in India to meet rising demand for online shopping during the country’s ongoing coronavirus lockdown.

22 May

Time is running out to prevent a second surge of infection in the UK

The NHS Confederation, a membership body that represents people who commission or provide NHS services, has warned of the urgent need for a UK contact tracing strategy. “Our members are concerned that unless there is a clear strategy, then there must be a greater risk of a second wave of infections and serious health consequences,” chief executive Niall Dickson wrote in a letter sent to the UK’s health and social care minister Matt Han**** yesterday. “We would therefore urge you to produce such a strategy with a clear implementation plan ahead of any further easing of the lockdown.” 

Dickson welcomed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s new commitment to trace 10,000 new coronavirus cases per day by 1 June, adding that “delivery and implementation will be critical, and we await further details.” However, he said that a strategy for tracing contacts “should have been in place much sooner”.

Other coronavirus developments

An international randomised controlled trial investigating whether hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine can prevent people becoming infected with coronavirus began in the UK today. More than 40,000 healthcare workers in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America who regularly come into contact with covid-19 patients will receive either hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine or a placebo over the next three months. There is no clear evidence that either of these drugs are  useful for covid-19, but Brazil’s health ministry issued new guidelines yesterday suggesting doses for their use in the treatment of coronavirus. 

The rapid spread of coronavirus in the southern hemisphere means the US is likely to see a second flare up in the winter, according to Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The worldwide number of confirmed coronavirus cases passed 5 million today, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 328,000 people around the world are known to have died from covid-19.

Less than half of people aged 18 to 29 say they are completely complying with the UK government’s social distancing rules, according to an ongoing online survey of more than 90,000 people in the UK by researchers at University College London. Self-reported levels of complete compliance were highest among people over the age of 60 at about 65 per cent. The average across all age groups was less than 60 per cent.

Hundreds of people in Dagestan in southern Russia have died with what’s being reported as “community-acquired pneumonia”, a local doctor has told the BBC. “Our hospital is full of covid cases, but only a tiny handful of patients have a confirmed diagnosis,” he said. More than 317,000 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Russia so far, the second-highest number worldwide. More than 3000 covid-19 deaths have been reported.



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Scottish island to receive pandemic test kits by drone

https://helihub.com/2020/05/27/covid19-scottish-island-to-receive-pandemic-test-kits-by-drone/

27 May, 20, Source: Wingcopter

The trial is backed by Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership (HSCP) – the integrated partnership of NHS Highland and Argyll and Bute Council directed by the local Integration Joint Board – and aims to prove the feasibility of delivering urgent medical cargo, such as COVID-19 test kits and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), between remote medical facilities by delivery drone.

UK drone delivery provider Skyports will conduct the trial and operate the flights using delivery drones supplied by unmanned aircraft-maker Wingcopter, because of its proven capability through numerous delivery operations around the world. These trial flights will be planned through Thales’ leading drone operations management platform, SOARIZON, which offers digital tools to maintain compliant and safe drone flying operations.

Based at Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban, the trial will consist of two-way flights between the hospital and Mull and Iona Community Hospital in Craignure 10 miles (16km) away on the Isle of Mull.

As COVID-19 testing rapidly gathers pace in the UK, the proposed delivery service will help to ensure that isolated communities have access to tests, delivered in a fast and efficient way. Currently, the majority of medical supplies and specimens are transported between the laboratory at Lorn and Islands Hospital, surrounding general practitioners’ surgeries and other healthcare settings by sea and road, a long and complicated journey.

This service will see delivery times cut from up to 6 hours one-way by ground transport and ferry to around 15 minutes, on-demand, by drone, bringing considerable savings in terms of time and resource, as well as contributing to keeping front line medical and delivery personnel safe.

Answering the call from government and Argyll and Bute HSCP, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, this trial is the result of rapid mobilisation from industry as well as the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Local Government, NHS Scotland and the Department for Transport (DfT). Argyll and Bute HSCP has been at the forefront of exploring with Skyports the use of unmanned aircraft technology, building on preliminary work with the Scottish Government on the possibility of drone use by the public sector emergency services in Scotland.

The two-week trial represents a crucial milestone for unmanned aviation in the UK. Under current rules, drones must always be flown within visual line of sight of the remote pilot. To undertake these more extended flights, the project team has been in close consultation with the CAA.

Through this trial, the alliance aims to prove the long-term, sustainable viability of such services; bringing together regulation, government and industry to unlock the transformational potential of drones for society when used in a safe, secure and controlled way.

Alex Cresswell, CEO of Thales UK, said of the project: “Thales’s technologies are playing a crucial part in the response to COVID-19 – both globally and here in the UK. This trial demonstrates the positive role that unmanned technology can play in our society and represents a landmark step to accelerate its adoption. We look forward to continuing to work collaboratively with industry partners, regulators and government to establish the UK as a world leader in this exciting new industry.”

Duncan Walker, CEO of Skyports, said: “Delivery drones are a fast and reliable solution for vital medical supplies. Skyports is proud to assist the NHS in Scotland with their COVID-19 response, helping to provide the essential healthcare that people need in harder-to-reach areas. Our trial in Argyll and Bute provides an important short-term response to the current pandemic and lays the foundations from which to grow a permanent drone delivery operation across a network of healthcare facilities around the country.”

Joanna Macdonald, Chief Officer for Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership, said: “I am delighted that Argyll and Bute Health and Social Care Partnership is again at the forefront in Scotland using new technologies to benefit our patients

“The use of drones provides real opportunities to improve services and will help enable quicker diagnosis for our patients.

“We are excited to be working with Skyports in the design of this new service.”

Thales and Skyports are also working together within the CAA Regulatory Sandbox programme, exploring how regulatory approvals can be granted for more widespread BVLoS drone operations in the UK.

Once the trial has been successfully completed, the team will continue to work closely with the CAA and the NHS to make services available in Scotland and across the UK to provide access to this innovative technology to a wide range of organisations, in particular a number of other NHS Boards and Trusts.



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EpiShuttle arrives in France for evaluation

https://helihub.com/2020/05/27/covid19-epishuttle-arrives-in-france-for-evaluation/

27 May, 20, Source: EpiGuard

The isolation pod known as the EpiShuttle has finally reached France for evaluation from professional caretakers and medical transport. France is still comping with a large amount of corona patients and high rates of critical cases.

The EpiShuttle is already in service with The Royal Air Force in Scotland, The Royal Norwegian Air Force, the Royal Danish Air Force and the German Air Ambulance DRF.

Pandemics require highly complicated patient logistics. Safe transport of contagious patients may be essential in handling the epidemic, especially when it comes to critically ill patients. Patients must move safely across hospitals for treatment, between different hospitals for capacity and to hospitals for caretaking, without infecting others.

– The EpiShuttle enables safe transport of COVID-19 patients to where capacity is available. Healthcare workers are making an admirable effort transporting patients and at the same time putting their own heath on the line, but if we have to place everyone in quarantine, disinfect all helicopters, aircraft and ambulances after each transport, the whole system may collapse, Ellen Cathrine Andersen, CEO of EpiGuard says.

At EpiGuard, doctors and engineers have worked on solutions for transporting contagious patients for 5 years and have developed the EpiShuttle. The isolation stretcher ensures the safe transport of contagious patients and the safety of healthcare professionals. At the same time, the isolation stretcher allows critical treatment of the patient along the way.

– EpiGuard is currently experiencing a surge in demand for the EpiShuttle. The EpiShuttle is NATO stock listed and CE-marked as a class one medical device. We have increased production and are ready to deploy in France, Andersen says.

Facts about medical transfers of Covid-19 patients:

Wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE), causes fatigue and should not be performed for more than 2 hours.

Long distance evacuation of contagious patients requires several crews to rotate on performing necessary healthcare.

The airflow inside a helicopter can easily cause virus to flow from the patient to the crew.

The EpiShuttle allows crew to operate without wearing full personal protective equipment and without the need for a full disinfection of the ambulance or aircraft.



-- Edited by Leela25 on Saturday 30th of May 2020 01:46:52 PM

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https://www.newscientist.com/article/2237475-covid-19-news-one-in-seven-people-in-the-uk-have-had-visitors-at-home/



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