WHO chief sees 'light at the end of long, dark tunnel'
WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus gave an upbeat assessment on vaccine development after recent data showed that more COVID-19 cases had been reported in a recent 4 weeks than in first 6 months of the pandemic.
He was speaking at a twice-weekly press webinar in Geneva on the novel coronavirus.
At the same time, Tedros warned, "The urgency with which vaccines have been developed must be matched by the same urgency to distribute them fairly."
He said: "With the latest positive news from vaccine trials, the light at the end of this long, dark channel is growing brighter.
"There is now real hope that vaccines, in combination with other tried and tested public health measures, will help to end the pandemic."
He stressed that no vaccines in history had been developed as rapidly as now.
"The scientific community has a new standard for vaccine development. Now, the international community must set the new standard for access."
The WHO was asked to comment on news of a vaccine developed by the British-Swedish company AstraZeneca at Oxford University that has 70% efficacy against the novel coronavirus.
The WHO's chief scientist, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, said this news followed on "encouraging results from the two earlier vaccines" that Pfizer and Moderna announced.
She said that the "The AstraZeneca vaccine is a viral vector vaccine. So, I think the good news is that vaccines for COVID-19 disease are possible to make.
"And it's possible that we will have a number of vaccine candidates that can be used in the fight against this disease."
Like Tedros, Swaminathan said, "We would like to provide access to as many efficacious and safe vaccines as possible so that we can cover the population around the world.
"Remember, we have to cover a huge number of billions and billions of people, and this is unprecedented. And we will need all the manufacturing capacity in the world to be able to do that."
On the AstraZeneca results, she said that the WHO had heard only the preliminary results about the vaccine trials in the UK.
"I think we need to wait to see the results both of the efficacy and the safety," said Swaminathan.
She noted that the AstraZeneca vaccine is also being currently trialed in many other countries, and eventually, there should be details on about 60,000 patients "that will enable us to have a much more informed decision."
British drugs group AstraZeneca and Oxford University said on Nov. 23 their jointly-developed vaccine has shown "an average efficacy of 70 percent" in trials, and up to 90 percent if a small dose is given first.
Unlike other leading vaccine candidates which must be kept at -70 degrees Celsius, the not-for-profit vaccine can be handled "at normal refrigerated conditions".
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the "escape route" from the coronavirus is in sight due to vaccine breakthroughs, as he announces that a tough lockdown in England will not be extended beyond December 2.
The lockdown will be replaced by a tiered system of toughened regional restrictions bolstered by major testing programmes in areas with the highest rates. He also announces a "time-limited" dispensation for families to gather for Christmas.
Italy passed the threshold of 50,000 deaths from COVID-19. Most took place earlier this year, after Italy became the first European country to be hit by the pandemic, but around 15,000 deaths have been reported since the beginning of September.
The number of coronavirus infections in densely-populated Gaza has been spinning out of control, Palestinian health officials warn, after the Hamas-ruled territory declared a record 24-hour high between Nov. 21 and Nov. 22.
Forecasts predict the eurozone's economy will contract by a historic 7.4 percent in 2020 and expect a recovery of just 3.7 percent in 2021.
The coronavirus has killed at least 1,388,590 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP on Nov. 23.
There were 7,157 new deaths and 511,144 new cases recorded worldwide as of Nov. 23 evening.
The United States is the worst-affected country with 256,798 deaths, followed by Brazil with 169,183 deaths; India with 133,738 deaths; Mexico with 101,676 deaths; and the United Kingdom with 55,024 deaths.
A Malaysian company that is the world's biggest manufacturer of surgical gloves said it is closing more than half of its factories after a surge in coronavirus cases among workers.
Top Glove has seen a huge jump in demand since the start of the pandemic but there has been a cluster of virus outbreaks among Top Glove employees at factories in an industrial area near the capital, Kuala Lumpur.
More than 1,000 cases were recorded on Nov. 23, prompting the government to order the plants to close.