As University of Queensland researchers prepared to test their newly developed vaccine on humans, Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews had more grim news about the virus’ ongoing impact on his state.
A man described only as “in his seventies” died on Saturday, Mr Andrews said. The fatality raises the national toll to 108.
A total of 273 fresh COVID-positive diagnoses were uncovered among 30,195 tests conducted in the state on Saturday, lifting the state’s number of active cases to 1,484.
In a further indication of the coronavirus’ impact, Mr Andrews says school students in Prep to Year 10 in lockdown areas will return to remote learning from July 20.
Students in year 11 and 12, and in specialist schools, will continue with face-to-face classes, as will year 10 students taking VCE and VCAL classes.
But for some 700,000 students it will be a return to remote learning for at least six weeks.
“This will be significantly challenging, particularly for parents of smaller kids, and I thank them in advance,” Mr Andrews said.
The relentless torrent of bad news in Victoria has added an extra urgency to the University of Queensland vaccine, which is now ready to be tested on humans.
The human testing of the “molecular clamp” vaccine candidate, to start on Monday, follows encouraging results from animal testing trials conducted in the Netherlands, the Sunday Mail in Brisbane reports.
Professor Robert Booy, head of Clinical Research at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance, said the animal trials would have “ticked all the boxes”, allowing the human testing to go ahead.
“There is no way the research team would be able to progress from animals to humans without a complete guarantee of safety and they would likely have a confidence in its effectiveness,”
There are are around 200 vaccines being fast-tracked around the world, but UQ’s work is believed to have shown great success in the pre-clinical stage of development.
“We invested millions into this research because we know a vaccine is crucial to defeating COVID-19,” Queensland Innovation Minister Kate Jones told the Sunday Mail.
Still, not everyone is quite so optimistic, with Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, Dr Nick Coatsworth, warning a vaccine could be two years away and urging Australians to reconcile themselves to living with COVID-19.
His cautionary note came as the nation’s death toll rose to 107 with the death of a Victorian man in his 90s and a further 216 cases being recorded in the state on Saturday.
“I think we need to prepare ourselves for a world where a vaccine is not available for potentially 18 to 24 months,” Dr Coatsworth said.
“(But) there is so much effort going into this, we should be hopeful that we can get a vaccine for COVID-19.”
Initially, experts had hoped the world could have a vaccine in 18 months from the start of the pandemic, potentially mid-2021, with a team at Oxford University suggesting they could have something ready this year.
Victoria’s crisis prompted South Australia to deploy the defence force to enforce a hard border with Victoria.
Troops will be stationed from Sunday at checkpoints at Berri and Mt Gambier to help police monitor people coming across the border between SA and Victoria.
NSW recorded seven new cases on Saturday including three close contacts of a man who visited Sydney’s Crossroads Hotel, linked to an emerging COVID-19 cluster.
In Queensland, where NSW tourists continue to stream north across the re-opened border, the state recorded two new cases of COVID-19.
But Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the new cases were ADF personnel who have been in isolation since returning recently from overseas.
“They are not considered a risk to the public,” she said.
Meanwhile Bill Gates has called for COVID-19 drugs and an eventual vaccine to be made available to countries and people that need them most.
The billionaire philanthropist warned that directing vital drugs to the “highest bidder” would prolong the deadly pandemic.
“We need leaders to make these hard decisions about distributing based on equity, not just on market-driven factors,” the Microsoft founder said.
There is growing concern that richer nations could scoop up promising medicines against the new coronavirus, leaving developing countries empty-handed.
The European Commission and the World Health Organisation have warned of an unhealthy competition in the scramble for a medicine while some officials in Washington have indicated they would seek to prioritise US residents.
Rich people hoarding vital equipment
Bill Gates’ warning comes as the worst-affected countries are among the world’s most unequal.
South Africa’s confirmed coronavirus cases doubled in two weeks to 750,000 while India registered the country’s biggest daily spike as its total passed 800,000.
Inequality concerns are growing as health workers seek better protection while some among the rich are hoarding equipment at home.
South Africa leads them all, with the pandemic exposing the gap in care.
South Africa has more than 250,000 confirmed cases, including more than 3800 deaths.
In Johannesburg at South Africa’s epicentre, badly-needed oxygen concentrators are being snapped up by private businesses and individuals, a public health specialist volunteering at a field hospital said.
South Africa’s struggling public hospitals are short on medical oxygen – and they are now seeing a higher proportion of deaths than in private ones, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases says.
To complicate matters, the country’s struggling power utility has announced new electricity cuts in the dead of winter as a cold front brings freezing weather.
Many of the urban poor live in shacks of scrap metal and wood.
And in Kenya, some have been outraged by a local newspaper report citing sources as saying several governors have installed intensive care unit equipment in their homes.
In India, which reported a new daily high of 27,114 cases on Saturday, nearly a dozen states have imposed a partial lockdown in high-risk areas.
A surge in infections resulted in cases jumping from 600,000 to more than 800,000 in nine days.
India’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases is at 820,916.
Infected people are packing India’s public hospitals as many are unable to afford private ones that generally uphold higher standards of care.
US virus records
The United States has again broke its own record for new coronavirus cases in a single day, with more than 66,600 fresh infections documented over the course of the last 24 hours, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The US has broken its own record in three out of the last four days, according to the university’s tracker.
Florida, one of the states registering the sharpest spike, reported more than 10,000 daily cases and 93 new deaths.
Disney resorts in the state are starting to reopen, beginning with the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.
The White House has downplayed the severity of the new outbreaks across multiple states, insisting that the rising caseloads are only due to expanded testing and focusing on death rates.
While mortality figures have been in sharp decline, they are starting to tick back up.