International Covid-19 news: Touted Covid-19 drug ‘is dangerous’, South America ‘the new epicentre’

AFP reports that a study of nearly 100 000 coronavirus patients has shown no benefit in treating them with anti-viral drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and even increased the likelihood of them dying in hospital.

Hydroxychloroquine is normally used to treat arthritis but pronouncement from public figures including US President Donald Trump – who announced this week he is taking the drug – has prompted governments to bulk buy the medicine.

The UK has begun using the drug in trials, and Brazil’s government has endorsed it. 

Chloroquine is an anti-malarial. Both drugs can produce potentially serious side effects, particularly heart arrhythmia.

And neither drug benefitted patients hospitalised with Covid-19, according to a study published on Friday in The Lancet.

Looking at the records of 96 000 patients across hundreds of hospitals, they found that administering the drugs actually increased the risk of dying.

They compared outcomes from four groups: those treated with hydroxychloroquine alone, with chloroquine alone, and then two groups given the respective drugs in combination with antibiotics.

There was also a control group of patients not given these treatments.

At the end of the study period around nine percent of those in the control group had died.

Of those treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine alone, 18% and 16.4% respectively had died.

And those given each drug in combination with antibiotics were even more likely to die: 22.8% with chloroquine and 23.8% with hydroxychloroquine.

The authors estimated that the drugs put patients at up to 45% higher risk of dying from Covid-19 compared with underlying health issues.

Coronavirus pandemic could disrupt immunisation programmes for children

The coronavirus pandemic is putting tens of millions of children’s lives at risk by disrupting routine immunisation programmes, the World Health Organization and UNICEF said Friday, AFP reports. 

The United Nations agencies joined forces with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to warn that the pandemic has severely disrupted vaccination programmes in dozens of countries, paving the way for a deadly resurgence of preventable diseases.

“Covid-19 threatens to undermine life-saving immunisation services around the world,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual joint press conference.

“This risks putting tens of millions of children – in rich and poor countries – at risk of killer diseases like diphtheria, measles and pneumonia.”

He said that while the world was seeking a safe and effective vaccine for the new coronavirus, vaccines that were already available to prevent other diseases still needed to be delivered.

South America ‘the new epicentre’ 

South America has become “a new epicentre” of the deadly coronavirus pandemic, the World Health Organization said Friday, following a surge in the number of Covid-19 infections, AFP reports.

WHO emergencies director Mike Ryan told a virtual news conference: “Clearly there is a concern across many of those countries, but clearly the most affected is Brazil at this point.”

The country’s highest one-day toll of 1,188 pushed the overall death tally to 20 047 on Thursday.

Brazil has now recorded more than 310 000 cases, with experts saying a lack of testing means the real figures are probably much higher.

With its curve of infections and deaths rising sharply, the country of 210 million ranks third in the world in terms of total cases, behind the US and Russia.

The death toll – the sixth highest in the world – has doubled in just 11 days, according to ministry data.

Facebook, Amazon heads see wealth balloon during pandemic

The fortunes of US billionaires rose 15% in the two months since the coronavirus pandemic hit, a study found, with Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg seeing massive gains, AFP reports.

The more than 600 billionaires in the US became even richer as tech stocks rose during virus lockdowns, an analysis of data by two think-tanks published on Thursday said.

Between 18 March 19 May, their total net worth increased by $434 billion while the coronavirus pandemic caused job losses and economic agony for tens of millions of Americans.

Bezos’ wealth grew over 30% to $147.6 billion, while Zuckerberg’s fortune leapt by more than 45% to $80 billion, according to the research by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies’ Program for Inequality. The analysis was based on data from Forbes billionaires list.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett saw comparatively paltry gains of 8.2% and 0.8%, respectively, according to the report.

Amazon and Facebook stocks have surged following new program announcements that pushed their businesses ahead at a time when many consumers are stuck at home.