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Millions face new virus curbs, but hope rises for US vaccine

Millions face new virus curbs, but hope rises for US vaccine

AFP
Washington
Millions of people faced new coronavirus restrictions on Wednesday as infections surged, but in one sign of hope, a US firm said it would soon start final-stage human trials for a possible vaccine.
Countries around the world reimposed lockdowns and curbs to contain new outbreaks, as global cases surged past 13.2 million with more than 578,000 deaths reported since the pandemic emerged late last year in China.
Parts of the Asia-Pacific region, which had been somewhat successful in fighting the pandemic, provided fresh evidence of the deadly threat still posed by the virus.
Tens of thousands of cases are now being reported every day in the US and the authorities are scrambling to roll back reopenings. The national 24-hour infection count was more than 63,000 on Tuesday, according to a Johns Hopkins University tracker.
Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, again warned Americans against carelessness -- especially young people who may feel they are not vulnerable and would rather be “sipping my margarita at a bar in a crowd”.
“You are inadvertently propagating the pandemic, you are part of the problem and not the solution,” Fauci said at an online Georgetown University event Tuesday.
Hopes rose, however, when American biotech firm Moderna said it would start the final stage of human trials for its vaccine candidate on July 27, after promising results from earlier testing.
The Phase 3 trial will recruit 30,000 participants in the US, with half to receive the vaccine at 100 microgram dose levels, and the other half will receive a placebo.
It is designed to learn whether the vaccine can prevent infection by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, or, if people still get infected, whether it can prevent the infection progressing toward symptoms. If they do get symptoms, the vaccine can still be considered a success if it stops severe cases of COVID-19.
Moderna is considered to be in a leading position in the global race to find a vaccine, and while its study should run until October 2022, preliminary results should be available long before then.
With no vaccine or effective treatment widely available, experts have advised lockdowns and social distancing measures in some form to prevent the deadly pandemic from gaining even more momentum.
Face masks will become compulsory in England’s shops and supermarkets from next week, while South Africa reimposed a nationwide curfew to prevent a “coronavirus storm”.
Disneyland Paris, Europe’s biggest private tourist attraction, reopened its gates, but also with limited access, a ban on hugging the famous characters and no princess makeovers.
European officials warned governments to prepare for a feared second wave of infections coinciding with the winter flu season on the continent that has seen a few spikes in cases since emerging from a peak of the pandemic.
“The virus is still with us,” EU Commissioner Margaritis Schinas said.
Authorities worldwide are under immense pressure to ease the economic pain caused by the widespread lockdowns, however, with the poorest hit the hardest.
The Maldives reopened its tourist resorts on Wednesday and welcomed its first international flight in more than three months even as the Indian Ocean holiday hotspot records a steady rise in infections. Maldives officials say visitors will not be required to be tested.