Inside Covid-19: Ivermectin could help to slow virus; financial services innovations in era of pandemic

In this episode of Inside Covid-19, we hear from Professor Eli Schwartz, an Israeli tropical-disease expert who says he has new proof that a drug used to fight parasites in third-world countries could help reduce the length of infection for people who contract coronavirus. Prof Schwartz, founder of the Center for Travel Medicine and Tropical Disease at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, has completed a clinical trial of the US Food and Drug Administration-approved drug Ivermectin, a broad-spectrum antiparasitic agent that has also been shown to fight viruses. We hear from our partners at Bloomberg about how the spread of Covid-19 appears to be slowing as vaccine roll-out ramps up around the world. Also coming up on this show, Discovery’s Head of Legal Services Harry Joffe shares how Covid-19 is making us all more conscious about our mortality – which in turn has sparked changes in attitudes to wills and life cover. He tells us about an Estate Preserver that has been launched to help cover the costs associated with dying – including the expenses of setting up trusts to safeguard and manage finances for beneficiaries. – Jackie Cameron

Inside Covid-19 headlines

  • Global Tracker: Cases exceed 113 million; deaths pass 2.5 million. In South Africa, about 50,000 people are reported as having died of Covid-19. The US has the highest number of deaths at 508k. Brazil has the second-highest number of deaths – more than 251k. 
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 225 million shots given worldwide.
  • Asia-Pacific continues to lead Bloomberg’s measure of the best places to be in the pandemic era, with New Zealand in pole position on the Covid Resilience Ranking for a fourth month in February, followed by Australia and Singapore.
  • Senegal is sending 10% of the vaccines it received from China last week to Gambia and Guinea Bissau to “show solidarity,” state-run Le Soleil newspaper reported, citing Minister of Foreign Affairs Aissata Tall Sall.
  • Hong Kong will quarantine people who have been in close contact with Covid-19 patients in the seven days before the onset of symptoms, up from the current two days, HK01 reported.
  • Ireland is seeing a big drop in virus cases among health-care workers and residents of care homes, showing the apparent effect of vaccines. There are about 60 frontline health workers infected now, compared with more than 1,000 “just a few weeks ago,” Colm Henry, an official with Ireland’s health authority, told Newstalk Radio. Cases in care homes have dropped to 91 from 482 on Feb. 14, he said. The change coincides with Ireland’s vaccine program, and matches the “signals” Israel has seen since it began its vaccinating, Henry added.
  • Indonesia is letting private companies run their own vaccination programs alongside the government’s to accelerate Southeast Asia’s largest inoculation drive. Private entities must use a different vaccine supply from the government’s stockpile, provide the shots for free and submit data of the recipients to the health ministry. More than 6,600 firms have said they are keen on the private vaccination program, which is set to need about 7.5 million doses, said State-owned Enterprises Minister Erick Thohir. Indonesia aims to vaccinate 70 million people by August, roughly a third of the total target of 181.5 million in the public campaign.
  • Finland’s economy continued its recovery from the contraction spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, expanding 0.4% in the final quarter of 2020 compared with the prior three months. The only Nordic euro member’s economy has now grown for two consecutive periods after a slowdown that began in the autumn of 2019, Statistics Finland said on its website. Even so, its gross domestic product remained lower at the end of the year than in 2018.
  • Hungary needs to radically limit travel to destinations outside of the European Union to limit the risk of new coronavirus variants entering the country, according to Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Authorities need to discuss what kind of additional curbs are needed but may extend them to business travel outside the bloc. He repeated warnings that Hungary was facing a surge in coronavirus cases that will stretch its health-care capacity, with new cases exceeding 4,000 for a second day on Friday.
  • The J&J vaccine will probably be approved by regulator Swissmedic next month, Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger reported, citing an unidentified source. Switzerland has not ordered doses of the J&J vaccine yet, according to the newspaper. A spokesperson for Swissmedic declined to comment to Bloomberg on the report.
  • The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines is set to arrive in Hong Kong Saturday morning, Civil Service Secretary Patrick Nip said at a briefing. The city will reopen online bookings for Sinovac vaccines on March 1, he said, adding that three more community vaccination centres will open. Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at Coors Field in Denver, Colorado, US, on Saturday, Feb. 20.
  • Japan is set to lift states of emergency in its western regions, underscoring progress against a coronavirus surge that has battered the economy and Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s approval rating. Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told a panel on the virus Friday the government recommended lifting the order in six of the 10 areas under emergency restrictions, while leaving it in place in the Tokyo region. The current state of emergency is in place through March 7 and would be lifted at the end of February in areas including Osaka, Aichi and Fukuoka. A final decision was expected later Friday.
  • The government plans to begin inoculating against Covid-19 this quarter with vaccines provided through COVAX, according to Premier Su Tseng-chang’s report to lawmakers. The island expects to begin vaccination with 10 million doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine and 5.05 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine as early as the second quarter.
  • US hospitalisations for the coronavirus have plunged 56% from a mid-January peak as the number of patients exiting California hospitals accelerated, data from the Department of Health and Human Services show.
  • Singapore won’t move out of the final phase of reopening from the Covid-19 pandemic “anytime soon,” even as the city-state has started vaccinations, CNA reported Thursday, citing Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary. “Phase 3 is a new normal which will last until such time when there is evidence on vaccine effectiveness in preventing future outbreaks, a substantial proportion of the population is vaccinated, and the rest of the world also has the virus under control,” the minister said in parliament.
  • Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha will be the first person to receive the nation’s Covid-19 vaccines on Feb. 28, kicking off the inoculation program, which will begin on March 1 for the public, according to Sophon Mekthon, chairman of the government’s Covid-19 vaccine management committee. Prayuth is expected to receive a vaccine from AstraZeneca Plc, and Anutin to receive one from Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
  • President Joe Biden said the federal government will distribute Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine as fast as the company can produce it, if the shot is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. That approval is expected soon.
  • Not a single case of flu has been reported in England for at least seven weeks, reports AFP.
  • Vaccine passports could help the world get moving. Snapshots of how countries are preparing for a future that includes providing evidence of Covid-19 vaccination if you want to travel.

* This podcast is brought to you by Discovery.

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