WHO team arrives in China for COVID probe; US deaths soar
Mainland China has reported its first COVID-19 death in eight months, as most of a team of experts from the World Health Organisation landed in Wuhan to investigate the origins of the pandemic.
No details of China's latest death were provided, except that the person was in Hebei province, the main site of China's worst outbreak in months and where new lockdowns have been imposed on tens of millions of people.
It is the first death from the disease since May, and brings the nation's official toll to 4,635.
Two members of the WHO team were apprehended in Singapore after tests showed antibodies, while the rest of the delegation began quarantine in Wuhan for two weeks before beginning their inquiries.
A 13-member team of international scientists had been approved by President Xi Jinping's government after months of diplomatic negotiations.
The two members of that team who remain in Singapore, "tested positive for IgM antibodies", the WHO tweeted.
IgM antibodies are among the earliest potential signs of a coronavirus infection, but could also appear in someone who has been vaccinated or previously infected (but is no longer a carrier) of the virus.
Since November 2020, travellers flying into China have to show negative results for an IgM antibody test, and a PCR test, before they will be allowed to enter.
The two scientists are being retested, and had previously been tested and found negative for coronavirus multiple times.
The other scientists will begin work as soon as their two week quarantine period is over.
The WHO's global team of researchers aim to conduct a politically sensitive investigation into its origins of the virus amid uncertainty about whether or not Beijing might interfere with the process.
Many scientists believe the virus that has killed 1.9 million people since late 2019 jumped to humans from bats or some animal, most likely in China's southwest.
Beijing has tried to deflect blame saying the virus was imported, probably on food goods, but scientists say that is highly unlikely.
At a press conference on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the country "will strictly follow the relevant epidemic prevention regulations and requirements, and provide corresponding support and facilities for WHO experts who come to China to carry out international cooperation on tracing the origin of the virus."
US REPORTS HIGHEST EVER COVID DEATHS
The US has reported its highest number of COVID-19 deaths in a single day.
On Tuesday, local time, 4,327 people had died of the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The five highest daily tallies for new infections and new deaths during the entire pandemic have now occurred in 2021.
In the past week, the US has averaged more than 3,300 deaths every day, a huge spike of 217 per cent from mid-November.
On Wednesday, local time, more than 23,079,163 Americans have been infected with the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
Disneyland in Anaheim California has been turned into a "super Point-of-Dispensing" (POD) vaccination site, some 10 months after the pandemic forced the closure of the world-famous theme park. People over 65 and health care workers are being inoculated ahead of other groups in white tents.
Across America, the pandemic continues to hit new peaks, the nationwide vaccination program is stumbling, and there are fears that the economic recovery from the cratering of 2020 could backslide.
President-elect Joe Biden, who will be sworn in on January 20, says his plan is to tackle all of these problems.
Coming down the pipeline is a third massive COVID relief package that would include more direct stimulus payments and possible new taxes on the wealthy and an increase in the minimum wage.
Mr Biden is also promising to get mass vaccinations off the ground, with the slogan of "100 million shots to be administered in the first 100 days" of his presidency.
The surge in cases is attributed to travel and holiday gatherings over the Thanksgiving and Christmas period.
Last week's jobless claims soared to 965,000, according to the US Department of Labor, as the American economy continues to reel from the fallout from rising coronavirus infections around the country.
In the UK, more than 101,160 people have died from COVID-19 since the virus first appeared a year ago.
Public health experts have said the dire figures are the result of a "phenomenal failure of policy and practice".
On Wednesday, local time, a record high of 1,564 deaths were reported, which exceeds even the more pessimistic projections made during the first wave of the pandemic.
England's pharmacies will begin rolling out COVID-19 vaccines, in a bid to help stem soaring figures.
Boots and Superdrug branches will be among the six stores across England which will be able to administer the jabs from Thursday while the Government aims to hit its target of vaccinating all people in the four most vulnerable groups by the middle of next month.
Boris Johnson also told MPs that distribution "will be going to 24/7 as soon as we can" but said supply of doses remained the main barrier.
It comes as there are fears the new mutant strain of the virus from Brazil could make vaccines less effective, and the UK hs imposed a travel ban on Portugal and all of South America to stop the spread of the new variant.
France also has implemented travel restrictions with negative COVID-19 tests required for all non-EU arrivals, and there will be a 6pm nationwide virus curfew in France.
BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS MAY HELP BEAT COVID
Blood plasma transfusions with high concentrations of COVID-19 antibodies reduced deaths among some virus patients, according to a new study conducted by Mayo Clinic researchers, lending credibility to one of the few known treatments for the illness.
"Early administration of high-titer convalescent plasma against SARS-CoV-2 to mildly ill infected older adults reduced the progression of COVID-19," the researchers concluded.
The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, accompanied by an editorial explaining how the treatment works.
"I think it behoves the medical community to continue to innovate and test therapies for treatment. Realistically, we're months away from having a substantial number of people vaccinated," Dr. R. Scott Wright, the co-ordinator of the Mayo Clinic's COVID-19 plasma therapy program, according to the New York Post.
Patients who were given antibody-rich plasma in the first three days of treatment saw better outcomes, but the treatment was less effective on those who were treated longer and had to be put on ventilators, researchers found.
"Patients who were on ventilator did not see a benefit," Dr. Wright told the Star-Tribune. "It was too late."
The study reviewed 3,082 patients and found a 25 per cent lower chance of death in patients that received antibody-rich plasma.
POPES GET VIRUS VACCINES
Both Pope Francis and his predecessor, former Pope Benedict XVI, have received the coronavirus vaccine, the Vatican said on Thursday.
"I can confirm that, as part of the Vatican City State vaccination program to date, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine has been administered to Pope Francis and the Pope Emeritus," spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
It had already been reported that Francis, 84, had received the jab on Wednesday, the first day of the Vatican's vaccination drive, but officials declined to confirm the news.
The Vatican News portal said Benedict, 93, was given a dose on Thursday morning, local time. The former pontiff, who stepped down in 2013 and now lives in a converted monastery in the Vatican gardens, is increasingly frail.
GETTING COVID SAME IMMUNITY AS VACCINE
Recovering from COVID-19 gives a person a similar level of protection to the vaccines.
A Public Health England (PHE) study of more than 20,000 healthcare workers found that immunity acquired from an earlier COVID-19 infection provided 83 per cent protection against reinfection for at least 20 weeks.
The findings show that while people are unlikely to become reinfected soon after their first infection, it is possible to catch the virus again and potentially spread it to others.
"Overall I think this is good news," said Professor Susan Hopkins, a senior medical adviser to PHE. "It allows people to feel that prior infection will protect them from future infections, but at the same time it is not complete protection, and therefore they still need to be careful when they are out and about."
Originally published as WHO team arrives in China for COVID probe; US deaths soar