COVID-19 International Developments: Daily Scan, March 31, 2020
Prerna Gandhi, Associate Fellow, VIF
Battelle Pioneers Technology to Clean and Reuse PPE: Gets US FDA Approval

The Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System is the first of its kind, capable of cleaning up to 80,000 pieces of PPE (personal protective equipment) at a time. Battelle's system was designed to be modular so it can be easily shipped and scaled up. On March 30, the federal Food and Drug Administration gave Battelle full approval to ramp up their systems to full capacity and send devices to parts of the country hardest-hit by the coronavirus outbreak. One system is en route to New York City. Others are destined for Seattle, Chicago and Washington, D.C. Loading the unit, running the decontamination process, letting it aerate, then reloading the cleaned PPE into boxes to be sent back to the hospitals they came from, takes about 12 hours.

US healthcare groups J&J and Abbott bring hope in race to fight coronavirus pandemic

Two US healthcare companies have brought new hope in the fight against coronavirus, with Johnson & Johnson announcing a potential vaccine that could be available early next year and Abbott Laboratories launching a rapid test kit. J&J said on March 30 it had identified a vaccine candidate and was teaming up with the US government to invest $1bn in its development, expecting to start testing in humans by September. As well as the expansion of its partnership with the US Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, known as Barda, on research and development, J&J is investing to rapidly scale its manufacturing capabilities, preparing to produce a billion doses by the end of 2021. Abbott said it was launching a test for the virus that could take as little as five minutes and could be run on a portable machine the size of a toaster. Abbott’s new diagnostic test for Covid-19 could cut the wait for results down to as little as five minutes for a positive result and 13 minutes for a negative one.

US FDA issues emergency nod for Chloroquine in COVID-19

While US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other investigators conduct scientific studies on Chloroquine, the emergency use authorization is intended to facilitate donations and boost supply while allowing access for patients who aren’t able to participate in a clinical trial. The emergency approval requires that doctors and patients have access to a fact sheet that outlines risks and interactions with other medications. Nearly 220 million Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine tablets have been pledged by pharmaceutical giants for the global COVID-19 response.

Swiss Pharma Roche launches trial of Actemra for coronavirus treatment

The Swiss drug maker said on March 26 it was working with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the US government to initiate a phase 3 trial to evaluate the safety of Actemra, a drug used to treat cytokine release syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis, two inflammatory diseases. The drug is known as RoActemra outside the US. Some preliminary reports suggest that patients with severe Covid-19 disease develop cytokine release syndrome, also known as a “cytokine storm,” an overshooting of the immune system, doctors have said. Currently, there are three main categories of treatments: antivirals, used for diseases such as HIV or Ebola, which would work by stopping the virus from replicating; antibodies, developed from those made by patients with the disease and given to boost the immune system; and anti-inflammatories, usually used for conditions like arthritis, if the disease kicks the immune system into overdrive, hampering breathing.

Fujifilm ready to ramp up Avigan production to tackle coronavirus

Fujifilm Holdings on March 30 said it was preparing to increase production of its flu drug Avigan, after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed support for using the medication as a treatment for the new coronavirus. Clinical trials begin on March 31. Some doctors in Japan already administer Avigan for research purposes, but company-led clinical trials are a must to gain approval for wide distribution as a treatment. The trials will be conducted by subsidiary Fujifilm Toyama Chemical on around 100 people.The Japanese government has a strategic reserve of 2 million doses of Avigan. Avigan, developed by Toyama Chemical, gained attention earlier in March, after a Chinese official said clinical trials indicated the drug is effective in treating the coronavirus.

China’s ventilator firms gain 20,000-plus overseas orders

Chinese firms making invasive ventilator have received more than 20,000 orders from abroad and more are expected to follow. More than 1,700 ventilators have been delivered. According to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT), China has 21 invasive ventilator manufacturers, of which eight have won the EU's mandatory conformity standard known as CE. Their production capacity accounts for 20 per cent of the global total. Many countries now report severe shortage of ventilators. For example, there are about 160,000 ventilators available in the US but 740,000 could be needed in the worst-case scenario, according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. To ensure quality, domestically made ventilators have to pass performance and safety tests by the regulators and get other markets' certifications before export — for example, the US Food and Drug Administration and the EU's CE certification. Currently, top global ventilator manufacturers include Germany's Dräger, Sweden's Getinge Group and Switzerland's Hamilton, while Chinese brands are in the low- to-medium range of the spectrum.

Coronavirus alters China's political scorecard ahead of pivotal 2022

For China's next-generation leaders, the coronavirus outbreak has become a trial by fire in the struggle to climb the ranks at the Communist Party's next National Congress in 2022. When severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, struck Beijing in 2003, long-time Xi ally Wang Qishan became acting mayor of the capital and led the containment effort. He quickly rose through the hierarchy and now serves as China's Vice President. Henan Governor Yin Hong's star has visibly risen in run up to the party congress. When China officially confirmed the outbreak at the end of last year, Yin immediately suspended regular long-haul bus services linking Henan to Hubei. In January, he presided over rapid openings of specialized hospitals and clinics. Henan also set up a channel to send information on preventing infection directly to the smartphones of most residents. This was credited with helping to contain the outbreak in the province, and was held up as an example for the rest of the country to follow.

Tokyo’s infection spike after Olympic delay sparks questions

The sudden rise in the number of virus cases in Tokyo and the government’s strong actions immediately after the Olympic postponement have raised questions in parliament and among citizens about whether Japan understated the extent of the outbreak and delayed enforcement of social distancing measures while clinging to hopes that the Games would start on July 24 as scheduled. With the Olympics now off, many are voicing suspicion that the numbers are rising because Japan suddenly has no reason to hide them.

Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for July 23-August 8 in 2021

The Tokyo Olympics will open next year in the same time slot scheduled for this year's games.Tokyo organizers said on March 30 the opening ceremony will take place on July 23, 2021--almost exactly one year after the games were due to start.“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.”“These new dates give the health authorities and all involved in the organisation of the Games the maximum time to deal with the constantly changing landscape and the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the IOC said. “The new dates ... also have the added benefit that any disruption that the postponement will cause to the international sports calendar can be kept to a minimum, in the interests of the athletes and the IFs.”

NPT Review Conference to be Postponed

The global coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has forced a postponement of the 10th review conference of the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), possibly until early 2021 that was originally scheduled to be held at UN headquarters in New York from April 27 until May 22. The conference caps off a five-year cycle of meetings through which states-parties review implementation and compliance with the treaty and seek agreement on action steps to overcome new challenges and to fulfil core goals and objectives. All other related preparatory meetings and consultations, including plans for NPT workshops in Jordan, Mexico, and Thailand, have been postponed. A US-hosted third working group meeting for the Creating an Environment for Nuclear Disarmament initiative, planned for April 8–9 in Washington, has also been postponed.

Brussels parliamentary group calls on UK to seek Brexit extension

The most powerful political group in the European Parliament has called on Britain to request an extension to its post-Brexit transition period, saying the threat posed by coronavirus meant that common sense should “prevail over ideology”. The intervention by the European People’s party, the parliament’s large centre-right grouping, marks the most direct call yet from Brussels for the UK to lift the uncertainty hanging over business by agreeing to prolong the transition beyond the end of this year. “An extension of the transition period is the only responsible thing to do,” said Christophe Hansen, an EPP member of the parliament’s international trade committee, in a statement issued by the group. “I cannot see how the UK government would choose to expose itself to the double whammy of the coronavirus and the exit from the EU single market.”Under the terms of Britain’s EU exit deal, an extension of up to two years is possible if both sides agree to one before the end of June. The EPP’s call for an extension came on the same day that Britain and the EU held the inaugural meeting — by teleconference — of the joint committee tasked with implementing last year’s Brexit deal.

ASEAN sacrifices trade to block contagion

As of March 31, about 4,000 cases of the new coronavirus had been reported in the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, with some 100 deaths. Malaysia and the Philippines currently bar foreigners from entering the country; Singapore bars all short-term visitors from entering or transiting through the city-state; Thailand and Vietnam require a health certificate that verifies all visitors have tested negative for the coronavirus. "Cross-border controls can adversely affect food security, income and employment," Cassey Lee, Senior Fellow at Singapore-based think tank ISEAS-YusofIshak Institute told the Nikkei Asian Review. He said "bilateral consultations are very important at this stage" to mitigate the effect of travel curbs, adding that deeper coordination and joint discussions involving relevant ministries, such as trade, agriculture, labour and immigration, should be struck to handle movement of essential goods and services. Border controls also significantly affect global companies that have supply chains in the region. They capitalize on the region's relatively low labour cost and free trade agreements within the ASEAN.

World Bank markedly lowers China’s growth rates

Countries must take action now – including urgent investments in healthcare capacity and targeted fiscal measures – to mitigate some of the immediate impacts, according to East Asia and Pacific in the Time of COVID-19, the World Bank’s April 2020 Economic Update for East Asia and the Pacific. The virus that triggered a supply shock in China has now caused a global shock. Developing economies in East Asia and the Pacific (EAP), recovering from trade tensions and struggling with COVID-19, now face the prospect of a global financial shock and recession.The report presented both a baseline and a lower case scenario. Growth in the developing EAP region is projected to slow to 2.1 percent in the baseline and to negative 0.5 in the lower case scenario in 2020, from an estimated 5.8 percent in 2019. Growth in China is projected to decline to 2.3 percent in the baseline and 0.1 percent in the lower case scenario in 2020, from 6.1 percent in 2019. Containment of the pandemic would allow for a sustained recovery in the region, although risks to the outlook from financial market stress would remain high.

Economic advisers: Coronavirus may see German GDP dip by over 5%

In its special report handed to the government on March 23 but published only on March 30, the German Council of Economic Advisers said that because the country is in virtual lockdown a recession will be inevitable in the first half of the year. The panel analyzed the potential economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic on the basis of different scenarios. In their baseline model, the advisers expect Germany's gross domestic product (GDP) to drop by 2.8% this year, should the lockdown end fairly soon, meaning that the economic situation could normalize over the summer. In its worst-case scenario, the advisers said the economy could contract by up to 5.4% this year, should the country see "a more V-shaped recession curve," with much longer and widespread halts to production.Right now, almost 1 in 5 German companies say they are at acute risk of insolvency due to the coronavirus crisis.

Wall Street calls time on the shale revolution

US Shale has been through a price war before and survived. But this time it’s different. Matt Portillo, managing director at Houston investment bank Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co, says an oil index price of $50 or below per barrel will lead to capital expenditure cuts and a fall in US oil production within six months. Most US investors have been unhappy with shale’s business model and the long-term outlook for fossil fuels well before the latest oil price collapse. Many lenders say they will not return even if oil prices recover. “This industry has been a junkie hooked on access to capital, whether equity or development, that’s driven uneconomic growth over the past decade,” says Mr Portillo. Many US shale companies will soon hit a debt wall and bankruptcy risks in the shale patch have risen sharply, say rating agencies. Super majors such as ExxonMobil and Chevron both still plan large oil output increases in Texas’s Permian basin in the coming years. Further consolidation in the distressed shale sector is likely and business that re-emerges will be more efficient. But its foreign rivals in the oil world — and its bruised backers on Wall Street — are not about to let it rise unchecked again.

China manufacturing economy bounces back strongly after lockdown

China’s manufacturing engine bounced back strongly in March, recovering from a miserable February, when the country was effectively shut down due to coronavirus.The official manufacturing purchasing managers’ index (PMI) – a survey of sentiment among factory owners in the world’s second largest economy – was 52 in March, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on March 31. This was up from an all-time low of 35.7 in February In a statement accompanying the data; an NBS spokesman attributed the positive PMI to the successful efforts to reopen large parts of the Chinese economy.“As of March 25, the resumption rate of large and medium-sized enterprises was 96.6 per cent, an increase of 17.7 per cent from the survey results on February 25,” an NBS statement said. “We cannot say China's economy has fully returned to normal levels based on a single month. We need to continue observing changes in the following months.”And while China’s collapse over the first two months of the year was a supply-side catastrophe, it is now braced for a demand-side pummelling, as its export markets shut their borders and lock down their people, meaning the demand for Chinese goods will fall away.

SAARC requests India to lift export ban on drugs

Members of the SAARC bloc and Indonesia and the UAE have requested India to lift the export ban on Hydroxychloroquine, as they stare at a shortage of the drug primarily used for rheumatoid arthritis and long-term auto immune disease lupus. Hydroxychloroquine received global attention recently after US President Donald Trump made claims that the drug was effective on Covid-19 patients. India is the largest exporter of Hydroxychloroquine in the world. The Department of Pharmaceuticals in a meeting held on March 27 asked India’s drug price regulator to examine and see if India has enough stock and can also fulfil the demand of SAARC countries. Other than Hydroxychloroquine, the list from SAARC countries contains Paracetamol, vitamins, hormones and some medical equipment. “The requirement to lift the ban on exports is for specific consignments,” an official said.

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