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Tuesday May 18th, 2021 7:30AM

The Latest: Merck in deal with India on antiviral drug

By The Associated Press
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KENILWORTH, New Jersey — Merck announced a deal with five makers of generic drugs in India to produce molnupiravir, an experimental antiviral similar to the COVID-19 medicine remdesivir but in a more convenient pill form.

Late-stage testing of the drug just started in the United States, and it’s unclear when the medicine might be used in India or elsewhere. A mid-stage study gave encouraging results, suggesting the drug quickly reduced virus levels when used early after infection.

Remdesivir is widely used for certain hospitalized patients but must be given as an infusion, which limits its use.

Molnupiravir, a pill that Merck is developing with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, has shown wide activity against many types of respiratory viruses, according to Dr. George Painter, an Emory University professor who helped discover it.

“It’s my assumption that those generic drug manufacturers who have enormous capacity either have this on hand or will make it quickly,” he said.

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THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:

— Minnesota child dies of COVID-19 complications

— India records more than 320,000 new cases of coronavirus

— Harry, Meghan to lead ‘Vax Live’ fundraising concert in LA

— In Africa, vaccine hesitancy adds to slow rollout of doses

— Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:

ISLAMABAD — Pakistan cancelled all school exams until June amid a surge in deaths and infections from coronavirus, which has flooded the country’s hospitals.

The decision was announced by education minister Shafqat Mahmood days after students took to Twitter, saying their lives were endangered by holding exams of Cambridge International in Pakistan.

However, Mahmood continued vowing to go ahead with the exams, which began on Monday amid the pandemic. As the criticism grew, Mahmood said Tuesday all schools exams will be held in October.

The latest development came hours after Pakistan reported 142 deaths from coronavirus, one of the highest single-day deaths since last year. Pakistan is currently in the middle of the third wave and the steady increase in infections and deaths from coronavirus has flooded the country’s hospitals.

Pakistan has reported more than 17,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 and more than 800,000 confirmed cases.

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LOS ANGELES — Prince Harry and Meghan will serve as the campaign chairs of Global Citizen’s effort to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to medical workers in the world’s poorest countries.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex will appear at “Vax Live: The Concert to Reunite the World,” to be taped Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and air on ABC, CBS, FOX, YouTube and iHeartMedia broadcast radio stations on May 8.

The event was announced Tuesday by Global Citizen, an anti-poverty nonprofit. Global Citizen CEO Hugh Evans told the Associated Press that 60 nations still hadn’t received any COVID-19 vaccines as of April.

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will appear during the broadcast as part of the “We Can Do This” initiative to increase confidence in COVID-19 vaccines. French President Emmanuel Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Croatian Prime Andrej Minister Plenković also will appear at the concert, which will be hosted by Selena Gomez and headlined by Jennifer Lopez.

Harry and Meghan are leading an effort to raise money for the vaccine-sharing program COVAX, which hopes to produce $19 billion to pay for vaccines in poorer countries.

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MADRID — Spain’s government has placed a quarantine on all travelers coming from India amid a major rise in infections in the Asian country.

The government didn’t specify the length of the quarantine, but in February it applied a 10-day quarantine on travelers from Brazil, South Africa and other countries because of the spread of more virulent strains of COVID-19.

In a meeting of Spain’s Cabinet on Tuesday, the government also approved a shipment of seven tons of medical supplies to the hard-hit India.

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BEIJING — China says it will hold a video conference with South Asian governments to discuss fighting the coronavirus, and India is welcome to join.

The announcement comes amid ongoing tensions with New Delhi over a border dispute, and as India is being engulfed by a devastating surge of COVID-19 infections.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Beijing organized Tuesday’s meeting with the governments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. A spokesman said India was welcome to “take an active part in the meeting.”

China and India are locked in a standoff over a remote section of their border, after deadly clashes there last June.

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BRUSSELS — Belgium is shutting its borders to travelers from India, Brazil and South Africa in an effort to block coronavirus variants.

Prime minister Alexander De Croo’s government says a ministerial order banning passengers’ travels from the three countries will be published as soon as possible. The government says diplomats, sailors and a limited number of professional working in the transportation sector or major international organizations will still be allowed on Belgian soil.

India is currently hit by a devastating surge of COVID-19 infections spurred by a new variant that emerged there and has been detected in Belgium.

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MARSHALL, Minn. — A young child from southwestern Minnesota has died of COVID-19 complications, according to the state Department of Health.

Marshall Public Schools Superintendent Jeremy Williams says the child, who died Sunday, was a first grader at Park Side Elementary.

While coronavirus deaths in children are rare, they can occur in otherwise healthy children, health officials said. “Since the start of the pandemic, three Minnesota children under age 18 have died due to COVID-19,” the health department said.

Gov. Tim Walz released a statement Monday in response to the death, calling it “heartbreaking.” Walz’s office said the child didn’t have underlying health conditions.

According to the school district, 22 students and staff are in quarantine at the elementary school, which will continue in-person instruction.

Department of Health officials say children under 16 years old are not yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. They say the best approach is making sure others are vaccinated, along with testing, social distancing, wearing face masks and frequent hand washing.

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TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran says three cases of the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa have been confirmed in the country’s south, state television reported Tuesday.

A state TV broadcast quoted Health Minister Saeed Namaki as saying, “We have received a report that said in one of our southern provinces we have found three cases of South African coronavirus variant for the first time.”

Namaki said the Health Ministry is monitoring the cases and conducting more tests to make sure the variant was identified correctly.

He also said that cases involving a virus variant identified in India have turned up very close to Iran’s border and the government is testing all Indian citizens in Iran.

Iranian officials reported Tuesday that the daily death toll from COVID-19 rose by 462, putting the country’s total in the pandemic at 70,532. Authorities blame the deaths on people disregarding infection-control measures while using public transportation and during family gatherings.

Health Ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said 20,963 new cases were confirmed in 24 hours, bringing that total to more than 2,438,000.

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NEW DELHI — India recorded more than 320,000 new cases of coronavirus infection as the surge weighed on the country’s health system.

The 323,144 new infections Tuesday raised India’s total past 17.6 million. It ended a five-day streak of recording the largest single-day increases in any country throughout the pandemic, but the decline likely reflects lower weekend testing rather than reduced spread of the virus.

The health ministry also reported another 2,771 deaths, with roughly 115 Indians succumbing to the disease every hour. The latest deaths pushed India’s total to 197,894, which experts say are probably an undercount.

Foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi tweeted photos Tuesday of the first shipment of medical aid India received from Britain. It included 100 ventilators and 95 oxygen concentrators.

Other nations like the U.S., Germany and Pakistan have also promised medical aid to India.

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SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean President Moon Jae-in has met with the CEO of Maryland-based Novavax and promised to push for a swift approval of the company’s coronavirus vaccine, which will be produced through a local biotech firm.

South Korean officials hope that SK Bioscience’s production of the Novavax vaccine will help prevent possible supply shortages in coming months as the United States, European nations, and India strengthen controls on vaccine exports while coping with domestic outbreaks.

Officials say SK Bioscience is contracted to manufacture 40 million doses of the Novavax vaccine this year. Production could begin in June, and as many as 20 million shots could be delivered through September for use in South Korea, according to officials. SK already is producing at its factory in the southern town of Andong the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca.

In his meeting with Novavax CEO Stanley Erck on Tuesday, Moon said his government will establish a special team within the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety to ensure a speedy approval process for the Novavax vaccine, which is currently being reviewed in Britain and Europe, the South Korean government said.

South Korea hopes to get 190 million doses of coronavirus vaccines this year through bilateral deals with pharmaceutical companies and the WHO-backed COVAX program.

Around 2.4 million of South Korea’s 51 million people had received their first shots as of Tuesday.

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PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Police in Pakistan registered a case against a provincial health minister who allegedly hosted a large dinner in violation of social distancing rules in the country’s northwest.

Taimur Saleem Jhagra is a health minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan.

The police action on Tuesday came hours after a photo surfaced on social media showing Jhagra breaking a Ramadhan fast with dozens of friends and supporters from the ruling political party.

Jhagra hosted the dinner Monday night as Pakistan is in the middle of a third wave of coronavirus infections. The country on Tuesday reported 142 more virus-related deaths, one of the highest daily death tolls since last year.

The government has deployed troops to ensure people adhere to social distancing rules.

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PARIS — France is sending breathing machines, ICU gear and long-term oxygen equipment aimed at helping hospitals around India treat thousands of virus patients.

The first aid shipment is expected to leave France later this week, bringing eight oxygen generators. Each generator can equip a hospital of 250 beds for several years, French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.

France will also send breathing machines, pumps and containers of liquid medical oxygen aimed at helping up to 10,000 patients per day, according to the French Foreign Ministry. That first oxygen shipment is expected to arrive from Europe to India next week.

The value of the aid was not released.

The French government said the effort aims to provide long-term help to Indian hospitals both for the crisis they are facing now and beyond the pandemic.

France is still fighting a persistent virus surge at home.

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TOKYO — Japan will set up a large vaccination center in Tokyo and Osaka beginning in late May in a bid to speed up its snail-paced inoculation campaign so that at least the elderly people will finish their second shots by the end of July, officials said Tuesday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters that in Tokyo a vaccination center will be set up as early as May 24 at a government building where the Self-Defense Forces will dispatch its doctors and nurses to give shots for about three months. Kato said a similar vaccination center is also under way in Osaka and that further details are still being decided.

Each of the large inoculation centers are expected to accommodate about 10,000 people and will use the Moderna vaccine, whose approval by the health ministry is expected in May.

Japan’s attempts to develop its own vaccines are still in the early stages. Japan has so far approved only the Pfizer Inc. vaccine, with approval for Moderna and AstraZeneca pending.

Inoculations started in mid-February and have covered only about 1% of the Japanese people. Inoculations for 36 million elderly people started in mid-April and only a fraction of them got their first shots.

Japan’s started its third state of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka and two neighboring areas Sunday to curb a rapid resurgence three months ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. Japan has reported more than 567,000 cases and about 10,000 deaths since the pandemic began last year.

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COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka on Tuesday closed schools in the capital and suburbs for four days and issued work-from-home plans for government workers in the latest moves to contain the rising number of COVID-19 positive cases.

After weeks of reporting fewer than 300 new cases per day, Sri Lanka confirmed 997 during the past 24 hours. The highest number were in the Colombo district which includes the capital.

Health officials have warned of a rapid increase to come because people engaged in crowded celebrations and shopping during the traditional new year festival that fell on April 14.

From Tuesday, half of state employees would be called to offices while the balance would work from home.

Already, the government has imposed lockdowns on nearly a dozen of villages in different parts of the country.

Sri Lanka has reported more than 102,376 virus cases with 642 fatalities.

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SAN FRANCISCO -- Officials at the University of California, San Francisco say a man in his 30s is recuperating after developing a rare blood clot in his leg within two weeks of receiving the Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine.

As of Friday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported the rare clots in 15 people, all women, after 8 million doses of the vaccine were administered nationally.

Federal officials lifted an 11-day pause on use of the single-shot vaccine Friday, saying the benefits outweighed the very rare risks.

The university said Monday that “to the best of our knowledge, this is the first male patient with VITT syndrome in the U.S.” It says the man was admitted 13 days after receiving the vaccination and should be released shortly.

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