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Researchers balancing scientific rigour with speed to find COVID-19 treatment

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OTTAWA — Experts say researchers racing against time to provide a proven treatment for COVID-19 will have to balance scientific rigour against speed.

Clinical trials for possible treatments and cures have begun around the world, including an unprecedented international study by the World Health Organization.

Earl Brown, a professor emeritus of virology at the University of Ottawa says even in a pandemic, studies still need to meet all the usual scientific checks and balances.

But he says researchers need to push things sometimes, and the scientific gold standard to test the efficacy of new, unproven treatments isn’t always practical as COVID-19 spreads around the world.

In ideal circumstances, medical studies follow the double-blind process, with neither participants nor researchers knowing which patients were randomly selected to receive the treatment being tested.

But those studies can be slow to roll out, and there are ethical issues with creating more work for already overburdened hospitals.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 26, 2020

The Canadian Press

Notes from Flight 163, the oilsands shuttle from Toronto to Edmonton

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Spain passes China in infections; Trump extends US lockdown

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MADRID — In an abrupt turnaround, President Donald Trump extended lockdown measures across the United States as deaths in New York from the new coronavirus passed 1,000. Spain on Monday became the third country to surpass China in infections after the United States and Italy.

With a population of only 47 million to China’s 1.4 billion, Spain’s tally of infections reached 85,195, an 8% rise from the previous day. Spain also reported 812 new deaths, raising its overall virus death toll to 7,300.

The health systems in Italy and Spain have been crumbling under the weight of caring for so many desperately ill patients at once. The two nations have more than half the world’s 34,600 deaths from the virus that has upended the lives of billions of people and devastated world economies.

At least six of Spain’s 17 regions were at their limit of ICU beds and three more were close to it, authorities said, while crews of workers are frantically building more field hospitals. In hard-hit Madrid, flags were hoisted at half staff for an official mourning period.

Even as the rate of new infections slows in Spain, Dr. Maria José Sierra said there’s no end to the restrictions in sight yet.

“Reducing the pressure on the ICUs will be important for considering de-escalation measures,” said Sierra, who took over Monday as the health emergency centre’s spokesperson after its director, Fernando Simón, tested positive.

In a situation unimaginable only a month ago, Italian officials were cheered when they reported only 756 deaths in one day.

‘’We are saving lives by staying at home, by maintaining social distance, by travelling less and by closing schools,” Dr. Luca Richeldi, a lung specialist, told reporters.

In a stark reversal of his previous stance, Trump extended federal guidelines recommending that Americans stay home for another 30 days until the end of April to slow the spread of the virus. The turnabout came after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said up to 200,000 Americans could die and millions become infected if lockdowns and social distancing did not continue.

“We want to make sure that we don’t prematurely think we’re doing so great,” Fauci said.

The U.S. now has more than 143,000 infections and 2,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, while around the world 732,000 people are infected. The true number of cases is thought to be considerably higher because of testing shortages and mild illnesses that have gone unreported.

Moscow went on its own lockdown Monday as all of Russia braced for sweeping nationwide restrictions. The Russian capital of 13 million accounts for more than 1,000 of the country’s 1,836 coronavirus cases.

“The extremely negative turn of events we are seeing in the largest European and U.S. cities causes extreme concern about the life and health of our citizens,” Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said.

An electronic monitoring system will be used to control residents’ compliance with the lockdown, he said.

In Italy, which has by far the most deaths from the virus worldwide, officials expressed cautious optimism that the drastic measures they have taken to keep people apart are having an impact.

Italy has reported 97,689 infections and 10,779 deaths, but said the number of positive cases in the last day increased just 5.4%, and the number of deaths have dropped about 10% a day since Friday.

Experts say the critical situations seen in hospitals in Italy and Spain will be soon heading toward the United States.

Coronavirus patient Andrea Napoli, 33, told The Associated Press he didn’t remotely expect that he would be hospitalized, struggling for his life, since he was young and fit. But what he saw at a Rome hospital shocked him.

While he was being treated, three patients died in his ward. He saw doctors stressed and exhausted from the long hours, out of breath from pushing equipment around, dressed in protective masks, suits and gloves.

‘’What I saw was a lot, a lot of pain. It was very hard,’’ Napoli said. ‘’I heard screams from the other rooms, constant coughing from the other rooms.’’

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause severe symptoms like pneumonia and can be fatal. More than 155,000 people have recovered, according to Johns Hopkins.

China’s National Health Commission on Monday reported 31 new COVID-19 cases, among them just one domestic infection. At the peak of China’s restrictions, some 700 million people were ordered to stay home, but those rules are easing.

New York state remained the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak, with the vast majority of the deaths in New York City. But infections were spiking not only in cities but in Midwestern towns and Rocky Mountain ski havens. West Virginia reported its first death, leaving only two states — Hawaii and Wyoming — with none linked to COVID-19.

The virus is moving fast through nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other places for vulnerable people, spreading “like fire through dry grass,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said.

Britain’s National Health Service said EasyJet and Virgin Atlantic were writing to cabin crew who have been laid off — especially those with first aid training — to ask if they would work in makeshift hospitals under the supervision of doctors and nurses.

Britain’s political elite have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with the country’s prime minister, health minister, chief English medical director and Brexit negotiator all testing positive and in isolation, as well as the heir to the throne, Prince Charles.

Cases across Africa rose close to 5,000 in 46 countries. Zimbabwe began a three-week lockdown Monday and more cities across the continent were shut down.

The pandemic is also taking its toll economically around the world.

A lockdown in India covering the country’s 1.3 billion people has put day labourers out of work and left families struggling to eat. With no jobs, those living in the country’s crowded cities are walking back to their native villages.

In Europe, budget airline EasyJet grounded its entire fleet of aircraft — parking all 344 planes — amid a collapse in demand due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp. announced that its auto plants in Europe will halt production at least until April 20. Toyota has facilities in France, Great Britain, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Turkey and Portugal. All its plants in China resumed normal production Monday.

Asian markets started the week with fresh losses. Japan’s benchmark fell nearly 3% and other regional markets were mostly lower. Shares in Australia, however, surged 7% after the government promised 130 billion Australian dollars ($80 billion) to pay up to 6 million workers the minimum wage for the next six months.

“We want to keep the engine of our economy running through this crisis,” said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

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Rising reported from Berlin; Isachenkov reported from Moscow. Associated Press writers around the world contributed to this report.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

Aritz Parra, Vladimir Isachenkov And David Rising, The Associated Press

2 Red Deer people have recovered from COVID-19 – Central Alberta update (March 29)



















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Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for July 23-Aug. 8 in 2021

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TOKYO — The Tokyo Olympics will open next year in the same time slot scheduled for this year’s games.

Tokyo organizers said Monday the opening ceremony will take place on July 23, 2021 — almost exactly one year after the games were due to start this year.

“The schedule for the games is key to preparing for the games,” Tokyo organizing committee president Yoshiro Mori said. “This will only accelerate our progress.”

Last week, the IOC and Japanese organizers postponed the Olympics until 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic.

This year’s games were scheduled to open on July 24 and close on Aug. 9. But the near exact one-year delay will see the rescheduled closing ceremony on Aug. 8.

There had been talk of switching the Olympics to spring, a move that would coincide with the blooming of Japan’s famous cherry blossoms. But it would also clash with European soccer and North American sports leagues.

Mori said a spring Olympics was considered but holding the games later gives more space to complete the many qualifying events that have been postponed by the virus outbreak.

“We wanted to have more room for the athletes to qualify,” Mori said.

After holding out for weeks, local organizers and the IOC last week postponed the Tokyo Games under pressure from athletes, national Olympic bodies and sports federations. It’s the first postponement in Olympic history, though there were several cancellations during wartime.

The Paralympics were rescheduled to Aug. 24-Sept. 5.

The new Olympic dates will conflict with the scheduled world championships in track and swimming, but those events are now expected to also be pushed back.

“The IOC has had close discussions with the relevant international federations,” Mori said. “I believe the IFs have accepted the games being held in the summer.”

Both Mori and CEO Toshiro Muto have said the cost of rescheduling the Olympics will be “massive” — local reports estimate billions of dollars — with most of the expenses borne by Japanese taxpayers.

Muto promised transparency in calculating the costs, and testing times deciding how they are divided up.

“Since it (the Olympics) were scheduled for this summer, all the venues had given up hosting any other events during this time, so how do we approach that?” Muto asked. “In addition, there will need to be guarantees when we book the new dates, and there is a possibility this will incur rent payments. So there will be costs incurred and we will need to consider them one by one. I think that will be the tougher process.”

Katsuhiro Miyamoto, an emeritus professor of sports economics at Kansai University, puts the costs as high as $4 billion. That would cover the price of maintaining stadiums, refitting them, paying rentals, penalties and other expenses.

Japan is officially spending $12.6 billion to organize the Olympics. However, an audit bureau of the Japanese government says the costs are twice that much. All of the spending is public money except $5.6 billion from a privately funded operating budget.

The Switzerland-based International Olympic Committee is contributing $1.3 billion, according to organizing committee documents. The IOC’s contribution goes into the operating budget.

IOC President Thomas Bach has repeatedly called the Tokyo Olympics the best prepared in history. However, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso also termed them “cursed.” Aso competed in shooting in the 1976 Olympics, and was born in 1940.

The Olympics planned for 1940 in Tokyo were cancelled because of World War II.

The run-up to the Olympics also saw IOC member Tsunekazu Takeda, who also headed the Japanese Olympic Committee, forced to resign last year amid a bribery scandal.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Stephen Wade, The Associated Press


2 Red Deer people have recovered from COVID-19 – Central Alberta update (March 29)




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