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Pandemic

Myanmar COVID-19 outbreak hits health system shattered after coup

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Breathless, feverish and without the extra oxygen to keep them alive, the new coronavirus patients at a hospital near the Myanmar-India border underscore the threat to a health system that has been on the verge of collapse since the February coup.

To help her care for the seven COVID-19 patients at Cikha Hospital day and night, head nurse Lun Za En has a laboratory technician and a pharmacist assistant.

Mostly they offer kind words and acetaminophen.

“We don’t have enough oxygen, enough medical equipment, enough electricity, enough doctors or enough ambulances,” 45-year-old Lun Za En told Reuters from the city of just over 10,000 people. “We work with three instead of eleven employees.”

Myanmar’s anti-COVID campaign, along with the rest of the health system, failed after the military took power on February 1 and overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose government stepped up testing, quarantine and treatment.

Public hospital services collapsed after many doctors and nurses joined a civil disobedience movement that led the opposition to military rule – and sometimes on the front lines of protests that were bloodily suppressed.

According to the World Health Organization, which shows 179 attacks on health workers, facilities and means of transport, 13 medics were killed – almost half of all attacks recorded worldwide this year, said Stephan Paul Jost, WHO representative in Myanmar.

Around 150 health workers were arrested. Hundreds of other doctors and nurses are wanted for incitement.

Neither a junta spokesman nor the Ministry of Health responded to requests for comment. The junta, which originally made fighting the pandemic one of its priorities, has repeatedly urged medics to get back to work. Few replied.

TEST COLLAPSED

A worker at a COVID-19 quarantine center in Myanmar’s commercial capital, Yangon, said all specialist health workers there had joined the Civil Disobedience Movement.

“On the other hand, we are no longer receiving new patients because the COVID test centers have no staff to test them,” said the worker, who refused to give his name out of fear of retaliation.

In the week leading up to the coup, COVID-19 tests averaged more than 17,000 a day across the country. That had fallen below 1,200 a day in the seven days leading up to Wednesday.

Myanmar has reported more than 3,200 COVID-19 deaths out of over 140,000 cases, although the test slump casts doubt on data showing that new cases and deaths have largely been on a plateau since the coup.

Now a health care system in crisis is concerned about the likely impact on the country of the wave of infections of variants spreading through India, Thailand and other neighbors.

Patients with COVID-19 symptoms showed up at Cikha Hospital in mid-May. It is only 4 miles from India, and health workers fear the disease could be the highly infectious strain B.1.617.2 – though they lack the funds to test it.

“It is very worrying that COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccinations are extremely limited in Myanmar as more lives are at risk from the spread of new, more dangerous variants,” said Luis Sfeir-Younis, COVID-19 operations manager in Myanmar to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

SURGE OF CASES

24 cases have been identified in Cikha, Lun Za En said. Seven were serious enough to have to be hospitalized – a sign of how few cases were likely to have been discovered.

Home-stay orders have now been reported in parts of Chin state, where Cikha is located, and the neighboring Sagaing region.

WHO said it was trying to reach out to authorities and other groups in the region who could provide assistance, while recognizing the difficulties in a health system that was reversing years of impressive profits.

“It is not clear how this should be resolved, unless there is a solution at a political level that deals with the political conflict,” said Jost.

Lun Za En said her hospital did its best to use nebulizers – machines that turn liquid into mist – to relieve breathlessness. Some patients have oxygen concentrators, but they only work for the two hours a day that the city powers.

Lun Za En refused to leave the sick, saying she had decided not to join the strikes.

“The junta will not take care of our patients,” she said.

Across Myanmar, some striking doctors have set up underground clinics to help patients. When Red Cross volunteers set up three clinics in the Yangon neighborhoods of Myanmar, they quickly had dozens of patients.

At best, such options can provide universal coverage.

“Eighty percent of the hospitals are public health hospitals,” said Marjan Besuijen, mission director of the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) aid group. “As Doctors Without Borders or others, we cannot intervene, it is too big.”

Although military hospitals have been opened to the public, many people fear them or fundamentally oppose them – also because of coronavirus vaccinations in a campaign that the overthrown government started days before the coup.

“I am very concerned that these new infections will spread across the country,” said Lun Za En. “If the infection spreads to the crowded cities, it can be uncontrollable.”

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Pandemic

Kremlin blames ‘nihilism’ as Moscow sees record COVID-19 infections

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A specialist wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) sprays disinfectant while disinfecting Rizhsky train station, one of the measures taken to contain the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Moscow, Russia, June 17, 2021. Moscow Department for Russian Emergencies Ministry / Handout via REUTERS

MOSCOW, June 18 (Reuters) – The Kremlin on Friday blamed a surge in COVID-19 cases on reluctance to get vaccinated for “nihilism” after fears raised a record of 9,000 new infections in the capital third wave had stoked.

Russia, the largest country in the world, reported 17,262 new coronavirus infections nationwide.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin extended the restrictions he had previously imposed, including a ban on public events with more than 1,000 people, the closure of cafes and restaurants at 11 p.m. and the closure of fan zones set up for the European Football Championship. Continue reading

Sobyanin said earlier this week that Moscow, home to 13 million people, was facing a new, more aggressive and contagious variant of the coronavirus and that the situation in the city was rapidly deteriorating.

It was not clear if he was referring to the Delta variant, which was first identified in India and which led to a resurgence of cases in the UK.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin is closely monitoring the situation.

When asked to explain the increase in cases, Peskov blamed the virus’ “cunning nature”, an indication of its mutations, and “total nihilism and low vaccination rate”. Continue reading

At a briefing, he rejected the idea, postulated by some critics, that Russians were reluctant to vaccinate because they mistrusted the authorities.

As of June 2, the latest available census, only 18 million Russians had received at least one dose of vaccine: that is far less than most western countries for one eighth of the population.

The Moscow authorities this week ordered all workers with public functions to be vaccinated. Continue reading

Sobyanin said Friday he expected the city government to begin vaccinating migrant workers with Sputnik Light – a single dose of the Sputnik-V vaccine – early next month.

But he also said it was “vital” to give more booster doses – a third dose, in effect. He said he had just received a booster himself after being fully vaccinated twice a year ago.

He said the third dose offered was a repeat of the first dose of the double Sputnik-V vaccine.

Several Russian officials and members of the business elite, as well as some members of the public, have already secured third and fourth doses of Sputnik V, Reuters reported in April. Continue reading

How long a vaccine will protect against COVID-19 will be crucial as countries assess when or if re-vaccination is needed, and Russia’s results are closely monitored elsewhere.

Reporting by Gleb Stolyarov; Letter from Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Maria Kisselyova

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Pandemic

Global COVID-19 death toll exceeds 4 million

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June 18 (Reuters) – Coronavirus-related deaths worldwide passed a dismal 4 million milestone on Thursday, as many countries struggle to get enough vaccines to keep their populations safe, according to a Reuters tally.

While the number of new cases and deaths has declined in countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, several countries are experiencing vaccine shortages as the Delta variant becomes the dominant strain worldwide.

According to a Reuters analysis, it took over a year for the COVID-19 death toll to hit 2 million, while the next 2 million were recorded in just 166 days.

The five largest countries by total deaths – the United States, Brazil, India, Russia, and Mexico – account for about 50% of all deaths worldwide, while Peru, Hungary, Bosnia, the Czech Republic, and Gibraltar have the highest death rates when populations adjust is. (Chart on worldwide cases and deaths)

Countries in Latin America are facing the worst outbreak since March, with 43 out of 100 infections reported in the region worldwide, according to a Reuters analysis. The nine countries that reported the most deaths per capita in the past week were all in Latin America.

Hospitals in Bolivia, Chile and Uruguay mostly see COVID-19 patients between the ages of 25 and 40 as the trend towards younger patients continues. In Sao Paulo, Brazil, 80% of intensive care unit (ICU) inmates are COVID-19 patients.

Rising deaths are straining the operating capacity of crematoriums in developing countries, and gravediggers in several countries have been forced to add a number of new graves to cemeteries.

India and Brazil are the countries with the highest number of reported deaths on a seven-day average each day and are still facing cremation issues and shortage of burial sites. According to a Reuters analysis, India is responsible for every third death reported worldwide on a daily basis.

Many health experts believe the official death toll is underestimated worldwide, with the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating the death toll as much higher last month.

Last week, the Indian state of Bihar significantly increased its COVID-19 death toll after discovering thousands of unreported cases, adding weight to concerns that India’s total death toll is well above the official figure.

As poorer countries struggle to vaccinate their populations due to vaccine shortages, wealthier countries have been urged to donate more to help contain the pandemic.

“The main problem in America is access to vaccines, not vaccine acceptance,” said Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, on Wednesday, urging donor countries to send vaccinations as soon as possible.

The Group of Seven (G7) rich nations had pledged to provide 1 billion COVID-19 vaccinations to help poorer countries vaccinate their populations.

(Corrects the day of the week in the first paragraph)

Reporting by Roshan Abraham and Ahmed Farhatha in Bengaluru; Additional coverage from Lasya Priya M; Edited by Lisa Shumaker and Karishma Singh

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Pandemic

CureVac Shares Plunge Premarket on Disappointing Covid-19 Vaccine Trial

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Shares in Germany’s CureVac CVAC -3.47%

NV fell nearly in half in pre-trading hours, suggesting significant losses for investors as the market reopened after the drug company reported disappointing results from a study on its experimental Covid-19 vaccine.

Nasdaq-listed CureVac said late Wednesday that its vaccine was 47% effective against the disease in an interim analysis of a large clinical trial, a disappointing result that will likely cloud the vaccine’s prospects for wider use.

For the main listing in the US, shares fell 45% in over-the-counter trading. The shares of the Frankfurt-listed company traded 43% lower on Thursday.

The setback could hamper vaccination campaigns in Europe because the German company has a contract with the European Commission to supply up to 405 million doses, one of the bloc’s largest deals with a single company. CureVac has partnered with major pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline GSK 0.22%

SPS and Novartis AG

NVS -0.13%

to help make cans.

CureVac was once considered one of the most hopeful candidates for developing a successful Covid-19 vaccine. It received support from the German government, which had a 17% stake in the company, and the company was listed in the US last August. The company had a market valuation of $ 18.29 billion at the close of trading on Wednesday.

The share price had already declined in the past few days due to growing doubts about the study and the company’s ability to get its vaccine approved in Europe in the second quarter as planned.

A government spokesman declined to comment on the interim analysis, but said it would not affect the German vaccination schedule. On its website, the German Ministry of Health no longer includes CureVac in its vaccine delivery forecasts for the remainder of 2021.

CureVac’s vaccine uses a gene-based technology, messenger RNA, similar to that used by Moderna Inc.

and Pfizer Inc.,

with his partner BioNTech SE,

Manufacture Covid-19 vaccines.

In comparison, these vaccines were at least 94% effective in large clinical trials last year before new virus variants spread significantly. The Moderna and Pfizer shots have formed the backbone of mass vaccination campaigns in the US and other countries.

CureVac’s vaccine is slightly different from the Pfizer and Moderna shots, with a formulation that allows for storage at higher temperatures than the other shots.

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CureVac, together with its partner Bayer AG, carried out a combined clinical phase 2/3 study with its vaccine from December, in which around 40,000 people in 10 countries in Latin America and Europe took part.

The study volunteers received two doses of either the CureVac vaccine or a placebo, and the researchers tracked how many in each group got Covid-19.

The proliferation of new coronavirus variants may have played a role in the disappointing effectiveness, CureVac said.

Approximately 57% of Covid-19 cases for which virus sequence data was available were caused by variants of concern – those that are more easily transmitted or can cause more serious illness – and most of the remaining cases were caused by other, less characterized variants, announced the company.

“Although we had hoped for a stronger interim result, we are aware that demonstrating high efficacy in this unprecedented variety of variants is a challenge,” said Dr. Franz-Werner Haas, CEO of CureVac.

The company said the effectiveness of the vaccine in the study varied based on age, with results suggesting effectiveness in younger people but not conclusive effectiveness in those over 60 years of age.

CureVac’s early work on a Covid-19 vaccine last year first caught the attention of then-President Donald Trump. In March 2020, the German government accused the US of tricking CureVac into moving to the US to work on a vaccine.

The company continued to develop the shot after its founder, who returned as CEO, suffered a debilitating stroke and took medical break.

Write to Peter Loftus at peter.loftus@wsj.com

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