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Washington pledges $1 billion for coronavirus vaccine as pandemic risks grow

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By Hyonhee Shin and Ryan Woo

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – South Korea aims to test more than 200,000 members of a church at the center of a surge in coronavirus cases, as countries stepped up efforts to stop a pandemic of the virus that emerged in China and is now spreading in Europe and the Middle East.

More than 80,000 people have been infected in China since the outbreak began, apparently in an illegal wildlife market in the central city of Wuhan late last year.

China’s death toll was 2,663 by the end of Monday, up 71 from the previous day. But the World Health Organization (WHO) has said the epidemic in China peaked between Jan. 23 and Feb. 2 and has been declining since.

However, fast-spreading outbreaks in Iran, Italy and South Korea, and first cases in several Middle East countries, have fed worries of a pandemic, or worldwide spread of the virus.

“We are close to a pandemic, but there is still hope the epidemics in Iran, Italy, South Korea, etc. can be controlled,” said Raina MacIntyre, head of the Biosecurity Program at the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales.

South Korea has the most virus cases outside China and reported its tenth death and 144 new cases, for a total of 977. President Moon Jae-in said the situation was “very grave”.

In Europe, Italy has become a new front line, with 220 cases reported on Monday, up from just three on Friday. The death toll in Italy is seven.

Global stock markets stabilized on Tuesday after a wave of early selling petered out and Wall Street futures managed a solid bounce after a sharp selloff the previous day on fears about the spreading coronavirus.

“If travel restrictions and supply chain disruptions spread, the impact on global growth could be more widespread and longer lasting,” said Jonas Goltermann, senior economist at research consultancy Capital Economics in London.

PUBLIC ANXIETY

About 68% of South Korea’s cases are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, where the outbreak is believed to have begun with a 61-year-old woman. It is not known how she became infected.

The church said it would provide authorities the names of all its members in South Korea, estimated by media at about 215,000 people. The government would test them all as soon as possible, the prime minister’s office said.

“It is essential to test all of the church members,” it said in a statement. Authorities said they were testing up to 13,000 people a day.

The U.S. and South Korean militaries have said they may cut back joint training due to the virus, in one of the first concrete signs of its fallout on global U.S. military activities.

The disclosure came during a visit to the Pentagon on Monday by South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, who said 13 South Korean troops had the virus. (Graphic: Tracking the novel coronavirus –

The U.S. military said a woman who tested positive for the virus had visited one of its bases in the hard-hit city of Daegu. It was the first infection connected to U.S. Forces Korea, which has about 28,500 American troops on the peninsula.

The U.S. military urged troops to “use extreme caution” off base, while the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Americans should avoid non-essential travel to South Korea.

IRAN ISOLATION

Outside mainland China, the outbreak has spread to about 29 countries and territories, with a death toll of about three dozen, according to a Reuters tally.

Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman reported their first new coronavirus cases, all in people who had been to Iran where the toll was 14 dead, media said, and 61 infected.

The outbreak threatens to isolate Iran further. The United Arab Emirates, which has 13 virus cases, suspended all flights with Iran for at least a week, state media said.

Iraq extended an entry ban on travelers from China and Iran to those from five other countries over virus fears, its health ministry said. (Reuters graphics on the new coronavirus – https://graphics.reuters.com/CHINA-HEALTH-GRAPHICS/0100B5CD3DP/index.html)

In Japan, which has reported four deaths and 850 cases mostly linked to a cruise ship, Health Minister Katsunobu Kato said it was too early to talk about cancelling the Tokyo Olympics due to start on July 24.

The United States pledged $2.5 billion to fight the disease, with more than $1 billion going toward developing a vaccine, with other funds earmarked for therapeutics and the stockpiling of personal protective equipment such as masks.

China reported a rise in new cases in Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak. But excluding those, China had just nine new infections on Monday, its fewest since Jan. 20.

With the pace of new infections slowing, Beijing said restrictions on travel and movement that have paralyzed economic activity should begin to be lifted.

“Low-risk areas … are to restore order in production and life, cancel transport restrictions and help enterprises,” state planner official Ou Xiaoli told a briefing.

 

(Reporting by Ryan Woo, Yilei Sun and Lusha Zhang in Beijing; Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul; Jeff Mason and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel; Editing by Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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Ontario needs 900 new ICU beds to cope with coming surge in COVID-19 patients, models suggest – CBC.ca

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Ontario will have to add nearly 900 new intensive-care beds to its existing supply to be able to handle the surge in COVID-19 patients forecast under the best-case scenario in provincial models of the pandemic.

The province has an estimated 415 ICU beds available now, as the Ford government attempts to create the hundreds of new spaces experts expect they’ll need.

The additional beds would result in an approximate total of 1,300 dedicated ICU beds for COVID-19 patients.

The models released by the province on Friday suggest an increase in demand that could, in the best-case scenario, peak on April 18, but remain below Ontario’s total capacity if all 900 new beds are made available by then.

In the worst-case scenario, demand for ICU beds would rise sharply until at least the end of April, exceeding the province’s capacity as early as April 14, even with all 900 new spaces. 

However, that scenario will likely never come to pass, as signs indicate that the number of COVID-19 patients isn’t actually increasing as quickly as researchers thought it would. 

As seen in this graph released Friday as part of COVID-19 modelling projections, provincial health experts predict that there will be 80,000 cases by the end of April if the province sticks to its current intervention measures. (Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care)

Health officials say a continued commitment to physical distancing will help Ontario avoid the untenable strain on hospitals suggested by the worst-case numbers.

“If we can keep the prevalence of the disease to a lower level, the capacity that we have online, or that we could bring online, would indeed be sufficient,” said Matthew Anderson, president and CEO of Ontario Health.

The latest models also suggest that between 3,000 and 15,000 people will die of COVID-19 in Ontario during the pandemic. The model also forecasts 80,000 total cases by the end of April.

Few ICU beds remain at several GTA hospitals

Data obtained by CBC News shows a rapidly dwindling number of ICU beds in the Greater Toronto Area.

Just nine critical-care beds remain available among the 153 ICU beds in the hospitals of the Central Local Health Integration Network. Reports also show just 18 ICU beds available among the 130 critical care beds among the hospitals in the Mississauga Halton Local Health Integration Network

The Ontario government has given permission to all hospitals in the province to expand their capacity for COVID-19 patients, though it is not yet clear if they will have the staff necessary to accommodate that growth.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province is recruiting retired nurses, medical students and other volunteers to help staff overstretched hospital departments. 

Elliott said other hospitals may begin renting hotels, motels or retirement homes to increase capacity. Others, she said, are using field hospitals to prepare for the influx of patients. 

Christine Elliott says the province set up a website where people can volunteer to help staff overstretched hospital departments. 1:44

“That is something that is calibrated on an hour-by-hour basis, depending on where the outbreaks are happening,” Elliott said on Friday.

“We are ready to go, depending on where the hotspots are with COVID-19 and what each individual hospital needs, but they all have an individual plan in place right now to expand their capacity.”

There’s a ‘war being fought,’ emergency doctor warns

But some frontline workers say there’s not much more room to expand past their current capacity. 

Dr. Brett Belchetz, a Toronto emergency room physician, said although their hospital isn’t yet overrun, they’re not far from their limit. 

“If volumes are going to go up tremendously … we certainly will very quickly be in a situation where we will not have the equipment or the space or the supplies to care for those people,” Belchetz said in an interview with CBC Toronto.  

Although he said fewer COVID-19 patients are arriving at his emergency room, most of the people who are coming in are quite sick. 

Dr. Brett Belchetz says it’s been a ‘crazy few weeks’ in his hospital’s emergency room. (CBC)

And what people need to understand, Betchez said, is that “there is a war being fought out there.” 

If the province’s COVID-19 restrictions are unsuccessful, he said there won’t be enough ventilators to help all patients who are critically ill.

“The only way that we can stop that from happening is to prolong the outbreak to make sure we don’t have all those cases at the same time,” Beltchetz said.

“We cannot let our guard down.”

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Google Mobility Reports a slippery slope: cyber security expert – Global News

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In an effort to assist governments with ensuring residents are remaining in their homes during the COVID-19 outbreak Google has provided Mobility Reports which depict growing and shrinking trends in a number of activities.

In both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick the sections outlining retail and recreation, grocery and pharmacy, transit use and attending the workplace all declined significantly.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia surpasses 200 COVID-19 cases

However, two other sections actually saw increases: residential, which refers to time spent at home, climbed by eight percent in New Brunswick and five in Nova Scotia. But the other – parks – rose dramatically by 101 per cent and 95, respectively.

For Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil, the last section continues to be a source of frustration while a state of emergency continues in the province.

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“At a glance, Nova Scotia is not doing well when it comes to staying away from our parks and beaches,” he said Friday before the conclusion of the day’s COVID-19 update with Dr. Robert Strang, the province’s chief medical officer of health.

“We don’t need online graphs to tell us what we need to do. We need to stay the blazes home.”

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This type of data tracking isn’t new, nor is the idea of government’s using it to keep tabs on their citizens.






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Coronavirus outbreak: ‘Critical time’ as Nova Scotia sees signs of community spread, officials say


Coronavirus outbreak: ‘Critical time’ as Nova Scotia sees signs of community spread, officials say

But it’s what’s done in the coming weeks and months surrounding the use of this technology that some cyber security experts say requires strong surveillance.

“History shows us governments, when they take on emergency powers during a crisis, don’t generally give those powers back,” explained David Shipley, CEO of Beauceron Security, a Fredericton firm that specializes in helping businesses become and remain secure online. “Any attempts to use this data has to have some careful consideration given to the sunset clauses.”

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“We need to know that after this emergency is over clearly they’re going to stop using that data and they’re going to delete the data they have gained,” he said.

Within the current climate, residents have been asked to remain at home as much as possible to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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Tracking devices during this state of emergency can certainly help give local governments and law enforcement a better idea of how well that is or isn’t being observed.

READ MORE: Surge in Canadian mobile and data use leads to complaints about service

But Shipley warns that the data gained from tracking mobile users isn’t foolproof and could lead to problems if used to target or surveil individuals, rather than amass information.

“The data can be flawed,” Shipley said.

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“The data accuracy of location data depends on the quality of the measurement,” he explained. “If you’re a person living in an urban area in Atlantic Canada like Halifax and you’re close to your wifi and other data points, the more data points the more accurate it is.”

“But if you’re living in rural Atlantic Canada and you only have the cell phone signal for example, maybe not the GPS data, it can be as inaccurate as a couple of miles.”

The possibility of the data coming through inaccurately Shipley says should influence how it’s used, likening it to political polls rather than a scientific study.






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Driver dies of COVID-19 weeks after complaining of passenger’s cough


Driver dies of COVID-19 weeks after complaining of passenger’s cough

He says while it can be used as a guide, citing how a mobility report uptick in trips to parks could then be followed up on, it’s critical that the way people’s personal data is monitored closely and their right to privacy isn’t taken away unknowingly.

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“Using good data to make public policy decisions at an aggregate, anonymous level, again with respect to individual privacy and ultimately freedom, there’s potential,” he explained. “But tracking down individuals and treating us all like we’re under house arrest is a future I don’t think we signed up for.”

Although right now there’s no indication individual surveillance is being considered, it’s not that far-fetched according to Shipley who says it’s already ongoing elsewhere in the world.

“We actually saw examples in Asia, South Korea and Taiwan, where folks who took their devices off of them actually got visits from police because now they couldn’t be tracked,” Shipley explained. “If people start knocking on your doors to make sure you’re respecting quarantine because you haven’t had your device on you, well that’s effectively house arrest.”

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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UBC researcher heading up team testing drug that might treat COVID-19 – CityNews Vancouver

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VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — A drug that might be a treatment for COVID-19 will soon be tested by an international team led by a researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Dr. Josef Penninger says early infection may be blocked by medication targeting the virus, which is similar to SARS.

“Our previous work has helped to rapidly identify ACE2 as the entry gate for SARS-CoV-2, which explains a lot about the disease. Now we know a soluble form of ACE2 that catches the virus away, could be indeed a very rational therapy that specifically targets the gate the virus must take to infect us. There is hope for this horrible pandemic,” he explains.

The professor in the faculty of medicine is also the director of the Life Sciences Institute and the Canada 150 Research Chair in Functional Genetics at UBC.

The focus of the study, partially funded by the Canadian federal government, is trying to keep COVID-19 from infecting blood vessels and kidneys.

“We are hopeful our results have implications for the development of a novel drug for the treatment of this unprecedented pandemic,” Penninger says in a release issued by UBC.

Clinical trials for this anti-viral therapy called APN01 (human recombinant soluble angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 – hrsACE2) will be handled by the European biotech company Apeiron Biologics.

Emergency funding from Ottawa will focus on accelerating the development, testing, and implementation of measures to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.

NEWS 1130 has reached out to the doctor in charge of the project but he is currently in Vienna.

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