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Will herd immunity save us? Your COVID-19 questions answered – CBC.ca

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We’re breaking down what you need to know about the pandemic by answering your questions. You can send us your questions via email at COVID@cbc.ca and we’ll answer as many as we can. We’ll publish a selection of answers every weekday on our website, and we’re also putting some of your questions to the experts on the air during The National and News Network.  

So far, we’ve received more than 20,000 emails from all corners of the country. Your questions have surprised us, stumped us and got us thinking.

Will herd immunity save us from COVID-19?

We are receiving a lot of questions about herd immunity, including an email from Suzanne K. who wants to know: How and when does herd immunity evolve? 

By definition, herd immunity evolves when a sufficient amount of the population becomes immune to a disease. When it comes to COVID-19, herd immunity means the virus would not be able to spread on its own, according to Erin Strumpf, a health economics expert at McGill University. 

“It’s not prevention of a disease, per se, but it’s prevention of an epidemic,” she says.

Most experts suggest herd immunity cannot be achieved safely without a vaccine, because seniors and other vulnerable populations with suppressed immune systems would be at risk, and hospitals would be overwhelmed. 

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson rolled back the U.K.’s herd immunity strategy on March 16, just four days after it was implemented. Johnson later tested positive for COVID-19 and was admitted into intensive care. He has since been released.

Watch Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious diseases specialist, answer audience questions on The National:

An infectious disease specialist answers your questions about COVID-19, including whether herd immunity could eventually be as effective as a vaccine. 1:44

Dr. Allison McGreer, infectious diseases specialist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, says herd immunity without a vaccine is “theoretically possible” if everyone, or almost everyone, who becomes infected develops antibodies that will protect them for life. 

While that might happen, “we don’t know that [yet],” said Dr. McGreer. 

“It would just be foolish to count on it, which is why we’re working on vaccines.” 

You can read more about the debate around herd immunity and opening up schools in Quebec here.

How do I practice physical distancing during Ramadan?

Thanks to Aslam K. for this question. The month of Ramadan will look very different this year. This is the time when Muslims go without food or drink from sunrise to sunset every day, then gather to break their fast and pray together.

According to the Canada Council of Imams, mosques in Canada are taking their lead from health officials and their provincial governments, and will remain closed during Ramadan. 

Evening prayers during the month of Ramadan, which starts April 23, will be cancelled. Muslims will be asked to pray at home instead, said Abdul Hai Patel, the council’s director of inter-faith relations.

Not having the community aspect of Ramadan this year “is going to be challenging,” said Cindy Jadayel, a member of Ottawa’s Masjid ar-Rahmah or Mosque of Mercy.

“We have to work harder this year to have families happier in the home because we can’t go out and celebrate with others.”

“With the pandemic this year, it seems different,” said Riyaz Khawaja, president of the Hussaini Association of Calgary, the main Shia Islamic organization in the city.

“Congregation prayers and eating together, that part we’ll be missing, but it’s going to be better to observe ourselves and be more spiritual in these hard times,” he said.

Khawaja says people will still be live-streaming prayers and sermons, donating to food banks, checking on neighbours and making financial donations during Ramadan and looking to help wherever it’s needed.

He says Ramadan has always been about reflecting on those less fortunate.

Can you sterilize a cloth mask by ironing it?

We’re still receiving lots of questions about masks, including this one from Janet S., who is wondering whether ironing her homemade mask will be enough to sterilize it. 

The short answer is no. Ironing your cloth mask will not work.

McGeer says that you can destroy some of the virus by heating it up, but it’s not enough to effectively sterilize the mask. 

“Sterilizing requires a certain time, usually at least 10 minutes above a certain temperature like 65-70 degrees Centigrade, which you can’t get from ironing,” she says. 

Instead, Health Canada recommends laundering it on a hot cycle and drying thoroughly. 

“When you wash it, just the soap and water in the washing machine will remove the COVID-19,” says McGeer.

But what about other masks, such as disposable paper surgical masks, and coveted N95 masks, which are used in both health-care and construction settings?

Disposable masks are not designed to be reused, and N95 masks also have a limited shelf life. 

That said, PPE shortages are forcing some health care facilities to experiment with safely decontaminating and reusing disposable masks. For instance, some hospitals are using UV light and pressurized sterilization machines called autoclaves to clean masks, but these methods cannot be safely replicated at home. 

With the warmer weather arriving, will wearing open-toed shoes be an issue? 

As the weather warms up, people like Eydie are wondering whether open-toed shoes could be an issue in terms of transmitting COVID-19. 

Open-toed shoes are okay, according to Dr. Lynora Saxinger, an infectious disease physician at the University of Alberta.

“Even if you had possibly an infectious virus on a shoe, in order to be infected you’d have to handle the shoe and then touch your face, nose or mouth or inhale the virus from the shoe,” she says.

We’ve also received a number of questions about whether the virus can persist on footwear or on the ground. 

Dr. Peter Lin, a CBC News medical contributor and family physician, says while there is a small risk of the virus ending up on shoes from surfaces at grocery stores or other shops, the risk of contracting COVID off your shoes is low.

“The virus needs to get to your lungs, so [it’s] very low risk that you will get the virus into your lungs [from your shoes]. When you get home don’t walk around your place with your outside shoes, just leave them on a mat by the door.  No need to scrub down. Over a few days the virus breaks down on its own,” he says. 

So while the risk transmitting COVID-19 from your shoes to you is low, you can minimize it altogether by keeping a shoe-free household for now. 

Read more on how to properly disinfect your home here.

Thursday we answered questions about pool protocol to blood donations. Read here.

Keep your questions coming by emailing us at COVID@cbc.ca.

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WHO stops hydroxychloroquine trials over safety concerns – Bangkok Post

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The coronavirus pandemic has hammered Latin America, with Brazil the latest epicentre of the disease.

GENEVA: The WHO suspended trials of the drug that Donald Trump has promoted as a coronavirus defence, fuelling concerns about the US president’s handling of the pandemic that has killed nearly 100,000 Americans.

Trump has led the push for hydroxychloroquine as a potential shield or treatment for the virus, which has infected nearly 5.5 million people and killed 345,000 around the world, saying he took a course of the drug as a preventative measure.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has also heavily promoted hydroxychloroquine while the virus has exploded across nation, which this week became the second most infected in the world after the United States.

But the World Health Organization said Monday it was halting testing of the drug for Covid-19 after studies questioned its safety, including one published Friday that found it actually increased the risk of death.

The WHO “has implemented a temporary pause… while the safety data is reviewed”, its chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, referring to the hydroxychloroquine arm of a global trial of various possible treatments.

Trump announced last week he was taking the drug, explaining he had decided to take after receiving letters from a doctor and other people advocating it.

“I think it’s good. I’ve heard a lot of good stories,” Trump told reporters then, as he declared it safe.

Trump dismissed the opinions then of his own government’s experts who had warned of the serious risks associated with hydroxychloroquine, with the Food and Drug Administration highlighting reported poisonings and heart problems.

Trump has been heavily criticised for his handling of the virus, after initially downplaying the threat and then repeatedly rejecting scientific analysis.

The United States has by far the world’s highest coronavirus death toll, reaching 98,218 on Monday, with more than 1.6 million confirmed infections.

Despite the WHO suspension, Brazil’s health ministry said Monday it would keep recommending hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19.

“We’re remaining calm and there will be no change,” health ministry official Mayra Pinheiro told a news conference.

Bolsonaro is a staunch opponent of lockdown measures and like Trump has played down the threat of the virus, even as Latin America has emerged as the new global virus hotspot.

Brazil has reported nearly 375,000 cases, widely considered to be far fewer than the real number because of a lack of testing, and more than 23,000 deaths.

Chile also is in the grip of a virus surge, with a record of nearly 5,000 infections in 24 hours on Monday.

– ‘Thrilled to break the isolation’ –

While South America and parts of Africa and Asia are only just beginning to feel the full force of the pandemic, many European nations are easing lockdowns as their outbreaks are brought under control.

In hard-hit Spain, Madrid and Barcelona on Monday emerged from one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, with parks and cafe terraces open for the first time in more than two months.

Elsewhere, gyms and swimming pools reopened in Germany, Iceland, Italy and Spain.

And slowing infection rates in Greece allowed restaurants to resume business a week ahead of schedule — but only for outdoor service.

“I’m thrilled to break the isolation of recent months and reconnect with friends,” said pensioner Giorgos Karavatsanis.

“The cafe in Greece has a social dimension, it’s where the heart of the district beats.”

Despite the encouraging numbers, experts have warned that the virus could hit back with a devastating second wave if governments and citizens are careless, especially in the absence of a vaccine.

The latest reminder of the threat came from Sweden, where the Covid-19 death toll crossed 4,000 — a much higher figure than its neighbours.

The Scandinavian nation has gained international attention — and criticism — for not enforcing stay-at-home measures like other European countries.

– ‘What will happen if I die’ –

The extended lockdowns, however, have started to bite globally, with businesses and citizens wearying of confinement and suffering immense economic pain.

Unprecedented emergency stimulus measures have been introduced, as governments try to provide relief to their economies, with the airline and hospitality sectors hit particularly hard because of travel bans.

Lufthansa became the latest major global company to be rescued, as the German government agreed a 9 billion euros ($9.8 billion) bailout for one of the world’s biggest airlines.

But analysts have warned that the pandemic’s economic toll will be even more painful for countries far poorer than Western nations.

In the Maldives, a dream destination for well-heeled honeymooners, tens of thousands of impoverished foreign labourers have been left stranded, jobless and ostracised as the tiny nation shut all resorts to stop the virus.

“We need money to survive. We need our work,” said Zakir Hossain, who managed to send about 80 percent of his $180 a month wage to his wife and four children in Bangladesh before the outbreak.

“I heard that if a Bangladeshi worker dies here, they don’t send his body back and he is buried here,” he said. “I am worried what will happen if I die.”

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WHO stops hydroxychloroquine trial in COVID-19 patients due to safety concerns – CANOE

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization has suspended testing the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients due to safety concerns, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.

Hydroxycholoroquine has been touted by Donald Trump and others as a possible treatment for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. The U.S. President has said he was taking the drug to help prevent infection.

“The executive group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity trial while the safety data is reviewed by the data safety monitoring board,” Tedros told an online briefing.

He said the other arms of the trial – a major international initiative to hold clinical tests of potential treatments for the virus – were continuing.

The WHO has previously recommended against using hydroxychloroquine to treat or prevent coronavirus infections, except as part of clinical trials.

Dr. Mike Ryan, head of the WHO emergencies program, said the decision to suspend trials of hydroxychloroquine had been taken out of “an abundance of caution.”

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Promising results from VIDO-InterVac's COVID-19 vaccine pre-clinical trials – paNOW

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Several weeks ago, two doses of vaccine were given to the animals. Time was needed to then assess their immune response against a control group.

So how effective exactly is the vaccine so far?

“In the vaccinated animals – the ones that responded to the vaccine – we saw almost undetectable amounts of virus afterwards,” says Gerdts. “So, that’s very good news, and in comparison to the control group per swap… this is a range in a 50,000 fold reduction of it.”

All of the ferrets that were infected received what Gerdts says is a ‘high’ dose, or one million particles of the disease. Depending on exposure levels, it’s not even in the range of what a human would be exposed to, even with a high ‘virus shedder.’

Data on the lungs of the ferrets is still being analysed, but initial results indicate a very high immune response as well as high levels of neutralizing antibodies. It does not appear as though any other organs were affected by the virus either.

At this point, Gerdts says they are now in the midst of producing clinical grade vaccine doses that can be used in humans. He calls it the most time consuming part of the vaccine development.

In the meantime, they’re also conducting safety studies – which are required by regulators to essentially move on to human trials.

“In these safety studies, we’ll address whether there’s any unwanted effects or any adverse events to the vaccine. And also with this particular disease there is concern about what is called ‘disease enhancement’ where the vaccine would actually enhance the disease. So, there’s particular studies that will help us to rule out that our vaccine will do that.”

Gerdts admits that there is some concern that certain vaccines being developed currently may actually make the disease worse. It happened when a vaccine was developed for the virus that causes Dengue Fever several years ago.

“The technology that we have chosen is one that has a very well proven track record in humans and animals… and the advantage of that, is that it’s easily ‘scalable.’ So, at the end, we can produce millions of doses in a single run in a manufacturing facility. So while maybe it’s a bit slower at the moment, the advantage of our vaccine will be that it’s easier to scale and more cost effective.”

If all goes well, human trials are scheduled to begin in the fall.

“This is a vaccine made by Canadians for Canadians. So, we will make sure that our vaccine is available to Canadians at the highest priority.”

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