Victorian scientists have revealed details of a potential new coronavirus treatment that offers hope on another grim day in the state’s fight against the pandemic.
The antibody treatment is being worked on by a consortium of scientists funded by the state government, including Associate Professor Wai-Hong Tham from Melbourne’s Walter and Eliza Hall Institute.
“What we’re interested in is actually developing antibodies that can block the entry of the virus into the cells and, therefore, stop virus infection,” she told a media briefing in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Antibody-based therapies have been used to treat cancers and multiple immune disorders, and Associate Professor Tham said they offered amazing potential to treat and prevent COVID-19.
“What we’re hoping to do is to provide it prior to someone who has an infection. So, in particular, in settings of elderly populations, who can’t mount an immune response, prior to outbreak you can deliver an antibody-based therapy to protect that population,” she said.
Work on the potential treatment has been intense.
“I have never seen groups of people across the road within Victoria, within Australia, mobilising scientifically in such an amazing and passionate way,” she said.
“You know, it’s incredibly fast work … we are looking at clinical trials early next year.”
They were a woman in her 60s, three men in their 70s, three women and seven men in their 80, and six women and four men in their 90s.
Twenty-one of the fatalities were linked to outbreaks in aged-care homes.
The state’s COVID death toll has risen to 462 (the national toll is 549).
Premier Daniel Andrews urged Victorians to stay the course, as Melbourne passed the midway point of its six-week shutdown of all but essential services.
“Today, of course, marks the halfway mark from industry closures … about three weeks ago today, or midnight tonight,” he said.
“To have the numbers down from the 700s down to a weekly trend now that sees them well and truly into the 100s, that is a mighty effort and there’s a big team working very hard, but the biggest team and the hardest work is going on in every household, in every community, in every part of our state.”
Victoria’s second wave peaked at 725 new cases on August 5, just days after the Stage 4 shutdown began.
It still had 3488 active infections on Wednesday. There are 578 people in Victorian hospitals, including 39 in intensive care.
Despite significant improvement in recent weeks, Mr Andrews would not be drawn on what the state’s next stage of restrictions would look like – or even when it would begin.
“We will give people as much notice as we can about what the next stage looks like,” he said.
“We are not going from Stage 4 to 1. We are not going to stage 4 rules to no rules. It will have to be a graduated, cautious process.”
He made the case again for his push to amend Victoria’s state of emergency legislation to allow it to be used for a further 12 months.
Mr Andrews will have to strike a deal with crossbenchers to get the legislative change over the line after the Coalition opposition ruled out backing it. On Wednesday, he said he was confident of reaching agreement and getting the amendment through parliament next week.
Other virus developments
NSW confirmed six more COVID infections on Wednesday morning.
One is in hotel quarantine, while the origins of the remainder are still being traced.
It came as hundreds of quarantined travellers were moved out of a Sydney hotel amid claims of dirty rooms and guards not wearing masks.
NSW Police worked overnight on Tuesday to relocate 366 people from Travelodge Hotel to “more suitable” accommodation after it was found not to be complying with health standards.
The budget hotel, listed at $120 a night online, has been dumped from the state’s quarantine program after it was found not to meet expectations, with police deciding to relocate all guests.
Meanwhile, Queensland’s youth detention centre cluster has risen to 11 cases, with the addition of one more infection on Wednesday.
State health authorities said the infected person was a close contact of an existing case and was already in self-isolation when the positive test was returned.