Australian News

Vic Premier Daniel Andrews says drop in virus cases ‘promising’, warns of more deaths

The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has cautiously welcomed a “promising” drop in the number of coronavirus cases, but it comes as authorities say the virus-stricken state could still see many more deaths in the week ahead.

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Michael Kidd has also noted the fall in case numbers but with an added warning to Australians to prepare for a grim future.

Victoria recorded 322 new coronavirus cases in the 24 hours to Monday and 19 people died from the virus – the state’s worst daily death toll since the pandemic began. Fourteen of the deaths were linked to aged care facilities.

Sunday was the state‘s second worst day for deaths with 17 more fatalities and 394 new cases.

Australia’s coronavirus death toll has surged from 200 to more than 300 in just nine days.

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Victoria recorded its highest number of daily cases on August 5, when 725 people tested positive to coronavirus. It also recorded the previous highest daily death toll with 15 fatalities.

Since then however, case numbers began to hover around the 500 mark, with Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Nick Coatsworth claiming on Sunday: “It appears that we’re on the plateau”.

With metropolitan Melbourne under stage four restrictions and the lockdown set to last another five weeks, Premier Daniel Andrews said cases are stabilising, but that the state has a long way to go.

“It is only one day’s data, and we’ve got to dive them down so we can reopen,” he said on Monday.

RELATED: Vic faces extreme new COVID-19 workplace shutdowns

While calling the drop in cases in Victoria “promising”, Prof Kidd said deaths usually follow around seven to 10 days after someone is first diagnosed with the virus.

“We are seeing the first promising signs of a reduction in daily numbers of cases, but it is too early to be certain,” Prof Kidd said, claiming officials will be “following the numbers very closely” over the coming week.

“We are now at the end of the first week of these stage four restrictions in Victoria.

“And so what we hope we will see over the coming week is the number of new infections each day will continue to decline hopefully.

“There is a 7- 10 day lag between the daily reports in numbers of cases and people dying, some people sadly die very early in the course of COVID-19, but for many people it is a week or more after they have been infected that we see people who are gravely unwell.”

He said despite the good news so far Australia’s death toll was certain to rise.

“While it’s heartening to see the declining number of cases being reported each day from Victoria – and we have seen that over the past five days – while we still have hundreds of cases being reported each day, we will continue to have people admitted to hospital and people becoming gravely unwell. And sadly some of those people will die.

It came as new ads were aired across Victoria in a bid to get residents to comply with the stage four lockdown.

The ads tell the confronting stories of people who caught the virus, including middle-aged woman June who thought she would die.

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Australian News

promising vaccine COVAX-19 could be ready in ‘three or four months’

Adelaide scientists have been working overtime on a new vaccine which has already shown promising results after clearing its first phase of human trials.

The drug named COVAX-19 was trialled on 40 volunteers earlier this month.

The vaccine is showing promising signs it “could actually save lives”, the developers of the vaccine said, who also predict it could safely be used in humans immediately.

In fact, vaccine developer Professor Nikolai Petrovsky claims there’s no reason it can’t be used in Victorian aged care homes now.

“We have something that we believe already has shown it can potentially save lives,” he told 3AW’s Neil Mitchell.

“The data suggests it’s highly effective, we just need to finish the clinical trial programs and then seek approval for it.

RELATED: Follow all the latest coronavirus news

Appearing on Sunrise, Professor Nikolai Petrovsky described the update as “very exciting”.

“Safety data from the clinical trials shows the vaccine isn’t showing any problems at all and is inducing the right type of immune response,” he said.

Dr Petrovsky said the vaccine had been shown to produce “very strong” antibodies which kill coronavirus in monkeys, ferrets and mice, and had been proven to induce an antibody response in humans.

While the Australian government “knocked back” Dr Petrovsky’s request for help funding the trial, he said he’s already negotiating with the Canadian and UK governments for funding.

RELATED: Russia claims vaccine approval on track for August

Phase two trials for COVAX-19 (with 400-500 volunteers) are scheduled to begin in September.

“Now we do much bigger clinical trials in a larger number of individuals to prove the vaccine is working,” Dr Petrovsky added.

The final trial (involving 50,000 volunteers) is the final stage before the vaccine would be made available to the public.

If all goes well, Dr Petrovsky says the drug could be available to everyone within “three or four months”.

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Australian News

Promising Essendon defender Brandon Zerk-Thatcher suspended for breaching AFL’s coronavirus protocols

Essendon defender Brandon Zerk-Thatcher has been suspended from this weekend’s return match after breaching the AFL’s coronavirus protocols.

Zerk-Thatcher was said to have self-reported to both the Bombers and and the AFL that he had “breached the living arrangement protocols” that each player and club official was required to follow.

After a club and AFL investigation, the league opted to suspend Zerk-Thatcher from Essendon’s clash with Sydney on Sunday.

Both Essendon’s general manager of football, Dan Richardson, and AFL general counsel Andrew Dillon said Zerk-Thatcher was remorseful.

“All AFL players and staff are aware of their social responsibility to adhere to the return to play protocols,” Richardson said.

“Brandon will continue to train with the playing group and will be available for senior selection next week.”

The 21-year-old has played only two AFL games so far in his fledgling career, including Essendon’s round one win over Fremantle before the coronavirus shutdown.

He was in the mix again for selection against the Swans, but will now be forced to miss out.

Brandon Zerk-Thatcher gets two hands to a ball above his head, while Sean Darcy attempts to spoil from behind
Zerk-Thatcher has played two AFL games for Essendon.(AAP: Michael Dodge)

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US doctors say hydroxychloroquine is ‘not promising’ for treating coronavirus, but Donald Trump is taking it anyway

US President Donald Trump says he has started taking an anti-malaria drug that researchers say should not be used to combat coronavirus and has the potential to cause serious side effects.

Studies from the US, France and China have concluded that hydroxychloroquine is not effective for treating COVID-19, and in April the US Food and Drug Administration warned its use could cause heart problems.

Despite that, Mr Trump has called the drug a “game changer” in the fight against COVID-19, and now says he has been taking it for more than a week.

In Australia, hydroxychloroquine has been spruiked by Clive Palmer, who took out back-to-back full-page newspaper advertisements to claim his foundation had bought 32,900,000 doses of it.

Here’s what we know about hydroxychloroquine

What is hydroxychloroquine?

An arrangement of hydroxychloroquine tablets.
Several studies in different countries have yet to show benefits for coronavirus patients taking hydroxychloroquine.(AP: John Locher)

It is usually in tablet form and regulates the activity of the immune system.

It has mostly been prescribed to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Hydroxychloroquine has also been used for years to dampen the immune system in people with autoimmune conditions.

In the US, conditional emergency use for adults hospitalised with a coronavirus infection has been approved by the USFDA, while in Australia a trial is underway using Australian Defence Force personnel.

Research into its potential risks is ongoing.

Why has it been linked to coronavirus?

In clinical trials, hydroxychloroquine has been shown to stop coronavirus from entering cells.

But that doesn’t mean it would work outside lab conditions as a treatment.

“One of the key things is that a lot of these drugs we find are going to be effective against the virus just in cells, [and] probably won’t be that effective in the disease setting,” Dr Larisa Labzin, an immunologist at the University of Queensland, said.

“Really what we’re looking for is not just that these drugs inhibit the virus replicating in people, but also that the people who get sick with the virus actually do better.”

Because hydroxychloroquine is already used in treatments for other conditions it can be fast-tracked in development to go straight to large human trials, unlike other drugs that would need to go through more tests first.

In March, there was a surged in demand for hydroxychloroquine, driven by claims about its potential as a coronavirus treatment.

That led to pharmacists being told to stop dispensing it so there would be enough supply for those who needed it as part of treatment for rheumatoid arthritis and malaria.

Does it work for coronavirus?

Several prominent doctors say they are worried that people could decide to take hydroxychloroquine because of Mr Trump’s actions.

“There is no evidence that hydroxychloroquine is effective for the treatment or the prevention of COVID-19,” said Dr Patrice Harris, president of the American Medical Association.

“The results to date are not promising.”

International research efforts have not yet found any benefits of taking the drug for those with coronavirus.

A study from France concluded the drug did not significantly reduce admission to intensive care or deaths among patients with severe cases.

A randomised clinical trial from China showed no improvement for patients with mild or moderate symptoms who were prescribed hydroxychloroquine.

The drug made no difference in rates of clearing the virus and did not reduce the duration of symptoms, but did cause side effects.

Two earlier large observational studies, each involving around 1,400 patients in New York, found no benefit from hydroxychloroquine.

Going even further, two studies published last week in the leading medical journal BMJ concluded that hydroxychloroquine should not be used in the treatment of coronavirus.

What are the possible side effects?

The USFDA has released emergency-use guidelines for hydroxychloroquine outlining warnings for its potential side effects.

They are:

  • Dangerously rapid heart rate
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Problems with the heart muscle properly recharging between beats
  • Issues with the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body
  • Severe hypoglycemia
  • Rupturing of red blood cells
  • Low counts for platelets and red and white blood cells
  • Liver failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Increased risk of seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Delirium
  • Suicidal behaviour
  • Hallucinations
  • Retina damage

What is the Australian connection?

The Australian Defence Force is testing Chloroquine, from which hydroxychloroquine is derived, on its personnel as a potential preventative measure against COVID-19.

The resumption of trials of the drug has horrified an East Timor veteran who has been suffering long-term health issues after taking part in a controversial clinical trial of the drug almost 20 years ago.

So far, 42 personnel have enrolled and started the 14-week trial, and Defence is seeking up to 700 civilian and ADF frontline healthcare workers to volunteer.

Associate Professor Jane Quinn, a pharmacology researcher at Charles Sturt University’s School of Veterinary Sciences, said she did not think there was currently enough international evidence of efficacy to justify the ADF trial.

“Chloroquine is a drug that’s been used for a very long time in the prevention and treatment for malaria and over time it’s become increasingly out of favour particularly for having quite a significant side-effect profile,” she said.

“That’s what makes it a little bit surprising that Chloroquine, particularly, is being suggested for use in this ADF trial.”

Which other drugs are being looked at?

An ampule of drug rests in a person's hand
Mr Trump has also expressed support for using remdesivir to treat coronavirus.(Reuters: Ulrich Perrey)

The experimental antiviral drug remdesivir, which belongs to a group used to treat HIV and hepatitis C, has shown some promise in the lab for treating SARS, MERS and coronavirus.

Mr Trump has said he wants the USFDA to approve the drug “as quickly as they can”.

But early studies of its use have been criticised for lacking proper control measures, and two trials in China were suspended.

A medical worker attends to a patient in the intensive care unit at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University.
A trial of remdesivir in Wuhan was not conclusive.(Xinhua: Xiong Qi)

Scientists are now waiting for the results of large randomised controlled trials in the US and Europe.

The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has been giving the drug to some patients hospitalised with COVID-19 and lung complications.

Preliminary results released in late April showed patients recovered 31 per cent faster with remdesivir than with a placebo.

However, with conflicting data coming from a range of experiments, experts have urged caution.

Remdesivir, which failed as a treatment for Ebola, is designed to disable the mechanism by which certain viruses, including coronavirus, make copies of themselves and potentially overwhelm their hosts’ immune system.

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