The Latest: 2 large drug companies work together on vaccine

The Latest on the coronavirus pandemic. The new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness or death.


— Detained immigrants plead for masks, protection from virus.

— Loosened virus restrictions allow some shops to reopen in Italy.

— New figures show hundreds more died from the coronavirus in Britain than originally reported.


London — Two of the world’s biggest drug companies — Sanofi Pasteur and GSK — are combining forces to hopefully speed development of a vaccine for COVID-19.

The pharmaceutical giants say the experimental shot would be based on Sanofi’s flu vaccine and combine a booster from GSK that could help stretch doses of the vaccine further.

GSK CEO Emma Walmsley says they believe by combining the two companies’ scientific expertise and technology, they could accelerate efforts to develop an effective COVID-19 vaccine.

There are dozens of efforts already under way elsewhere. Most experts predict it will take at least 12 to 18 months for a new vaccine to be produced.

Sanofi and GSK aim to start early clinical trials later this year and hope regulatory approval might be possible later next year.


BERLIN — The head of Germany’s disease control center says the country will keep ramping up its coronavirus testing.

According to the government, German labs can currently conduct at least 100,000 tests per day — almost twice as many as are actually carried out.

Lothar Wieler, of the Robert Koch Institute, says there are plans to start regular testing of staff in care homes that will require higher test capacities.

He also says the first reliable tests for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies are beginning to appear on the market and more are being evaluated.

Wieler cautioned it’s still unclear whether antibodies detected by these so-called ELISA tests indicate immunity or just that someone has survived an infection.


BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government will present a plan next week to relax the restrictions imposed to contain the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Prime Minister Igor Matovic says his government will announce the details about what stores and services will reopen.

But Matovic says it will be epidemiologists, not economists who will decide the steps in efforts to protect the people’s health.

Slovakia has so far only 835 infected people with the virus, according to the government’s figures, two have died. Compared with other European countries, Slovakia has done few tests.

Most of the resent cases were in poor Roma settlements and a retirement home near the capital of Bratislava.


ROME — In Italy, bookstores, stationary stores and shops selling baby clothes and supplies were allowed to open nationwide on Tuesday, provided they could maintain the same social-distancing and sanitary measures required in supermarkets.

But there was no coherency to the openings, with some regional governors and individual shop owners still deciding to keep their doors shut for now.

Hard-hit Lombardy and Piemonte kept their bookshops and stationary shops closed, while central Lazio postponed any opening for another week to allow stores to put in place sanitary measures to protect both staff and shoppers alike. Veneto was allowing them to open two days a week under a gradual loosening that the governor termed “lockdown light.”

Another segment of workers allowed back on the job Tuesday were forestry workers, to clear dead trees ahead of the warming weather that brings with it forest fire season.

While the list of commercial activities allowed to reopen seemed random, officials offered the explanation that students needed to restock up on school supplies, new parents needed to outfit their growing babies. And Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini argued that books were an “essential good” for Italians cooped up at home.

“The same distancing and security measures as supermarkets will be required, but they’ll reopen,” Franceschini tweeted. “It’s not a symbolic gesture, but the recognition that even books are an essential good.”


MADRID — Spain’s recorded coronavirus death toll is now over 18,000 after 567 more people succumbed to COVID-19 in the past 24 hours, a number slightly higher than Monday’s but below most daily increases in the past two weeks.

Confirmed infections are now roughly 172,500 after Spain’s Health Ministry reported 3,045 new positive cases on Tuesday, a 1.8% day-to-day increase.

The figures defy the common fear that a backlog of unreported infections over the Easter holidays could have reverted the recent trend of the slowdown in the spread of the epidemic.

The real situation could be different because Spain has not begun widespread testing and because the government itself acknowledges that coronavirus-related fatalities are not being efficiently recorded.

A study by Spain’s main epidemiology institute on the excess mortality compared to the average in over a decade shows that there were some 1,500 more “unexpected” deaths between March 17 and April 11 than those officially attributed to the coronavirus.


BERLIN — The head of the Robert Koch Institute, Germany’s disease control center, said exchange of information between countries and institutions is key to combating the coronavirus outbreak.

Lothar Wieler said Tuesday that his organization is in constant contact with others to share best practices, including which measures are effective in preventing the virus from spreading, how to test for infection, which vaccine studies to fund and how to protect vulnerable populations.

Wieler said he personally had phone conversations over the Easter weekend with British government officials and the mayor of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv, formerly known as Kiev.

Germany has been more successful than many other nations in tackling the pandemic, with far fewer deaths than most large European countries despite having a bigger population.

According to figures compiled by Johns Hopkins University, Germany had just over 130,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 3,193 deaths.

Wieler said “confidence-building measures” such as taking in patients from other countries were also important. Germany is treating dozens of severely ill patients from Italy, France and the Netherlands, which all have higher mortality rates.


JAKARTA, Indonesia — Indonesia’s president Joko Widodo has declared the new coronavirus outbreak in the world’s fourth most populous country a “non-natural national disaster” in a Presidential Decree which is opening its door for international cooperation and humanitarian assistance.

The decree was issued as the government reported 60 new deaths on Tuesday, the biggest daily fatalities yet, taking the country’s virus death toll to 459, the highest in Asia after China. There have been 282 new cases to bring the total to 4,839 positive tests.

Efforts to mitigate the outbreak are to be led by the COVID-19 National Task Force with the cooperation of regional administrations, ministries and national agencies, according to the decree. Governors, mayors and district chiefs as the leaders of the COVID-19 task force in their respective regions, will have broader authority.

Some regions with a high number of infections have enforced stricter social restrictions, following the country’s capital Jakarta, which has become the epicenter of the outbreak, recording 2,335 cases with 241 deaths.


CANBERRA, Australia — Australia’s prime minister has described as “unfathomable” the World Health Organization’s support for the reopening of wet markets in the Chinese city at the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

The United Nations agency is supporting the reopening stalls at wet markets in China’s central city of Wuhan as it lifts a monthslong lockdown against COVID-19.

Asked about WHO’s position, Prime Minister Scott Morrison told Nine Network television on Tuesday: “I think that’s unfathomable, frankly.

“We need to protect the world against potential sources of outbreaks of these types of viruses. It’s happened too many times. I’m totally puzzled by this decision,” Morrison said.

Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said he was unsettled by China’s reopening of the wet markets.

“There is a very real likelihood that this disease arose from a wet market in Wuhan — it’s clear that these are dangerous vectors,” Hunt told Australian Broadcasting Corp.

WHO said in a statement wet markets should not be allowed to sell illegal wildlife for food and authorities should enforce food safety and hygiene regulations.

“COVID-19 has reminded us of the need to ensure that our food markets are well managed and regulated and provide an environment where people can safely trade and buy safe food products being it live, raw or processed,” the statement said.

“Wet markets and other food markets do not need to be closed down,” WHO added.


LONDON — New figures show that hundreds more people with COVID-19 have died in Britain than have been recorded in the government’s daily tally.

The Office for National Statistics says 5,979 deaths that occurred in England up to April 3 involved COVID-19, 15% more than the 5,186 deaths announced by the National Health Service for the same period.

The daily total released by the U.K. government only includes people who died in hospitals. The higher figure includes deaths in all settings including nursing homes, and cases where coronavirus was suspected but not tested for.

The U.K. statistics office says that so far just under 10% of deaths involving COVID-19 occurred outside hospitals.


PARIS — France is forecasting a 8% drop in growth this year because of virus confinement measures and is facing its worst recession since World War II.

And that 8% may be an optimistic estimate, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on BFM television Tuesday.

One of the world’s richest economies, France is pumping money into temporary unemployment payments and to help struggling businesses. Le Maire said France’s strategy is based on “more debt for fewer bankruptcies.”

But that spending, coupled with plunging growth, could push France’s deficit up to 9% in 2020, Budget Minister Gerard Darmanin said Tuesday.

France entered recession in the first quarter as lockdown measures around the world pummeled the tourism industry and other key parts of the French economy. President Emmanuel Macron has now extended he confinement measures until at least May 11.

The French central bank says every two weeks under lockdown could shrink the economy by 1.5%.


GENEVA — The U.N. health agency is warning that more than 117 million children in more than three dozen countries could miss out on measles vaccines as countries suspend immunizations and other services to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

The World Health Organization says 24 countries have already postponed measles vaccination campaigns to avert further spread of COVID-19 disease, and another 13 are expected to do so by the end of the year.

“If the difficult choice to pause vaccination is made due to the spread of COVID-19, we urge leaders to intensify efforts to track unvaccinated children, so that the most vulnerable populations can be provided with measles vaccines as soon as it becomes possible to do so,” WHO said in a statement Tuesday.

WHO and partners say they support a “pause of mass campaigns” in their measles and Rubella initiative to protect communities and health workers, but “this should not mean that children permanently miss out.”


MOSCOW — Russian officials say that scores of patients at a nursing home in western Russia have been infected with the new coronavirus.

The city of Vyazma 210 kilometers (130 miles) west of Moscow has been shut after contagion was found over the weekend in the local home for the elderly. Officials said one of the medics there has tested positive for COVID-19 and 86 patients have been infected.

Russia has registered 21,102 coronavirus cases and 170 deaths as of Tuesday. Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered most Russians to stay off work until the end of April as part of a partial economic shutdown to stymie the spread of the coronavirus.

On Monday, Putin ordered officials to prepare for “any possible scenarios, including the most difficult and extraordinary.” He warned regional governors that they would face charges of criminal negligence if they fail to mobilize all available resources to combat the outbreak.


BERLIN — Austria is beginning to relax its strict coronavirus lockdown measures by allowing small retailers and DIY and gardening supply stores to reopen Tuesday.

All customers will be required to wear mouth and nose covers that help reduce the risk of infection for others, and keep a distance of at least 1 meter (3 feet) from each other. There will also be a limit on the number of people allowed into stores.

Austria closed almost all stores apart from supermarkets in mid-March in an effort to curb the spread of the virus and has so far managed to keep the number of infections and deaths relatively low compared to other countries.

Austrian authorities have said they plan to let all stores reopen on May 2, followed by restaurants in mid-May, provided the pandemic remains under control.


ANKARA, Turkey — Haydar Bas, the founder and leader of a small, nationalist party has become the latest victim of the coronavirus in Turkey.

Bas, 73, died Tuesday in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Trabzon, northern Turkey, where he was being treated for COVID-19, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Eight members of his family are also infected.

Bas founded his Independent Turkey Party in 2001. The party does not have seats in Turkey’s parliament.


LONDON — The boss of one of Britain’s biggest nursing home operators says the number of reported coronavirus deaths among elderly residents is much higher than has been officially reported.

The government says outbreaks of COVID-19 have been reported in one in eight U.K. care homes.

But David Behan, chairman of home operator HC-One, said cases of the new coronavirus had been reported in 232 of the firm’s homes — two-thirds of the total. He says 311 residents have died with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.

Ros Altmann, a former government minister who campaigns for older people, said frail elderly people were being overlooked in the pandemic. She said “we must not forget that the mark of a civilized society must reflect how it treats its most vulnerable and oldest citizens.”

The U.K.’s official daily tally of COVID-19 deaths, which stands at more than 11,000, includes only people who have died in hospitals. Deaths in other settings are reported separately once a week. Figures are due later Tuesday.


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