Latest COVID-19 (Coronavirus) News and Headlines: September 19, 2020
By admin September 19, 2020

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The COVID-19 (novel Coronavirus) pandemic continues to pose serious challenges to health systems, governments and the population at large.  Staying on top of the latest news and information is critical. With that in mind, we will continue to provide regular updates via this blog and our COVID-19 Response Team.

  • Global Numbers: 30.5 million cases, 953,318 deaths, 188 countries. (Source: Johns Hopkins)

  • U.S. Numbers: 6.7 million cases, 198,841 deaths. (Source: Johns Hopkins)

  • United States: The U.S. has almost reached the grim milestone of 200,000 coronavirus deaths.

  • Quick Updates/Links

    • The news cycle over the last few week has been dominated by the new Bob Woodward book “Rage” in which President Donald Trump admitted he knew weeks before the first confirmed US coronavirus death that the virus was dangerous, airborne, highly contagious and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” and that he repeatedly played it down publicly.

    • US federal officials have cast skepticism Pres. Trump’s predictions that a coronavirus vaccine could be available to Americans by Election Day.  (NOTE: On June 18, Trump admitted that a vaccine may be available in April — contradicting his earlier claim about an October vaccine.)

    • The UK has eased travel restrictions for dozens of countries — but the United States is not one of them. Travelers arriving into the UK from 75 countries and British overseas territories will no longer have to self-isolate for 14 days starting July 10.

    • Nine biopharmaceutical companies have signed an unusual pledge to uphold “high ethical standards,” suggesting they won’t seek premature government approval for Covid-19 vaccines. An antibody therapy from Eli Lilly could be on the market by the end of the year, according to the CEO of a biotech firm working with the pharmaceutical giant.

    • Chinese President Xi Jinping said China acted in a “transparent and responsible manner” in its handling of Covid-19.

    • Seven new locally transmitted coronavirus cases have been recorded in New Zealand, as the country attempts to contain a new outbreak after weeks of being virus free.

    • China’s National Health Commission (NHC) reported eight locally transmitted virus cases in the previous 24 hours, according to a statement released SaturdaySevee n cases were found in the western region of Xinjiang, wherauthorities have been tackling a recent outbreak, while one was detected in the southern province of Guangdong.

    • Brazil reported 50,644 new Covid-19 cases, and 1,060 deaths in the past 24 hours, the country’s health ministry said Friday. The total number of confirmed cases now stands at 3,275,520, including 106,523 deaths, according to the ministry’s data. São Paulo state reported 11,667 new cases and 289 new deaths on Friday, down from 19,274 and 455 the day before.

    • President Donald Trump admitted he knew weeks before the first confirmed US coronavirus death that the virus was dangerous, airborne, highly contagious and “more deadly than even your strenuous flus,” and that he repeatedly played it down publicly, according to legendary journalist Bob Woodward in his new book “Rage.”

    • New coronavirus antibody testing data suggests there to be large disparities among neighborhoods hit hardest by the pandemic across New York City, separated by race and class — but more research is needed to confirm the extent of the differences. Data from CityMD urgent care medical clinics show that more than 68% of people tested positive for antibodies at a clinic in the working-class neighborhood of Corona, Queens, and 56% tested positive at another clinic in Jackson Heights, Queens. Yet only 13% of people tested positive for antibodies at a clinic in Cobble Hill, a mostly white and wealthy neighborhood in Brooklyn.

    • Human challenge trials are “unnecessary, uninformative and unethical,” a former professor at Harvard Medical School said Friday. Also known as controlled infection trials, human challenge involves the intentional exposure of participants to a virus to allow more rapid assessment of a vaccine’s efficacy.

    • New psychological data taken during the pandemic shows mental health in the United States is languishing, according to data reported this week as part of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Suicidal ideation is up among young people since last year, with as many as one in four people ages 18 through 24 having seriously considered suicide in the 30 days preceding the survey, according to the report, in which researchers surveyed 5,412 adults in the US between June 24 and 30

    • The ADP employment report released on September 1 was worse than expected, as just 428,000 jobs were added last month. Economists had predicted 950,000 new jobs in the private payrolls report for August. The report showed that large companies had the strongest job gains with the leisure and hospitality sector adding 129,000, the most of any. The spring lockdown decimated the industry as hotels and restaurants shut their doors while flights were grounded.

    • The report says that Iowa is in the task force-defined “red zone” and warns that the state has the highest rate of cases in the US, which increased by 77.4% from the previous week

    • Infections reported at colleges: Cases have also cropped up at colleges and universities as students return to campus. The Oklahoma State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reported new cases of coronavirus.

    • Election delayed in New Zealand: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that she is delaying the country’s parliamentary election by four weeks to October 17 due to coronavirus concerns.

    • Hong Kong extends social distancing measures: Social distancing measures — including restrictions on dine-in services and mandatory face masks — will be extended in Hong Kong until at least August 25, the city’s Food and Health Bureau announced.

    • Oxford vaccine could go before regulators by end of 2020: A potential coronavirus vaccine being jointly developed by the University of Oxford and drugmaker AstraZeneca could be put before regulators by the end of this year, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said Tuesday. However, Professor Andrew Pollard cautioned that the process could take longer depending on how much data scientists are able to gather.

    • Recovery “doesn’t mean you are immunized for life,”: Preliminary research has found that a 33-year-old man in Hong Kong had contracted Covid-19 twice this year, having fallen ill 142 days after being infected the first time. “Even if you have recovered from a natural infection, it doesn’t mean you are immunized for life,” said Ivan Hung, part of the research team at the University of Hong Kong. “This virus is very smart, it keeps on mutating. So that means even though you recovered from a natural infection, you still need vaccination, need a mask, and keep your social distancing.”

    • US racial inequality may be just as deadly as Covid-19, if not more: Even amid a pandemic, life expectancy among Whites in the US far exceeds what Blacks experience every year, according to a new study. Researcher Elizabeth Wrigley-Field of the University of Minnesota said it was plausible “even in the Covid-19 pandemic, White mortality will remain lower than the lowest recorded Black mortality in the United States.”

    • Schools in South Korea capital stop in-person classes: Schools in the greater Seoul area will suspend in-person classes starting Wednesday due to a surge in coronavirus infections. All kindergartens, elementary, middle, and high schools in the area will hold online classes until September 11, Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae announced Tuesday.

    • Fauci warns against early authorization of vaccine: Any effort to authorize and distribute a coronavirus vaccine before it has been proven safe and effective in large trials could damage efforts to develop other vaccines, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday.

    • The FDA authorized emergency use of a new and inexpensive saliva test for Covid-19 that could greatly expand testing capacity. The new test, which is called SalivaDirect and was developed by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health, allows saliva samples to be collected in any sterile container.

    • Russia announced that it has developed a vaccine. President Putin announced the approval of a coronavirus vaccine, claiming it as a “world first” — but there is continued concern and unanswered questions over its safety and effectiveness.

    • The CDC’s ensemble forecast now projects nearly 189,000 US coronavirus deaths by Sept. 5. There are more than 5.3 million cases and 169,000 deaths in the US.

    • The number of virus deaths in Iran is nearly triple what the government says, leaked data shows.

  • Iowa: A White House coronavirus task force report sent to officials in Iowa this week warns of dire new case increases across rural and urban areas of the state and calls for a mask mandate, the closure of bars and a plan from universities as the pandemic intensifies in the Midwest. CNN has obtained the nine-page Aug. 30 report for the state, first reported by the Des Moines Register, from the Iowa Department of Public Health. The task force releases state-by-state reports each week to governors’ offices, and has so far declined to make them publicly available. The report says that Iowa is in the task force-defined “red zone” and warns that the state has the highest rate of cases in the US, which increased by 77.4% from the previous week.

  • Russia Vaccine? Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the approval of a coronavirus vaccine, claiming it as a “world first” — but there is continued concern and unanswered questions over its safety and effectiveness. If you’re just reading in, here’s what you need to know about the vaccine:

    • No phase three trial or data: Developed by the Moscow-based Gamaleya Institute, the vaccine has been named Sputnik-V. It has yet to go through crucial phase three trials, where it would be administered to thousands of people. Russia has released no scientific data on its testing and CNN is unable to verify the vaccine’s claimed safety or effectiveness.
    • Putin says one of his daughters has taken it: He said she had a slightly higher temperature after each dose, but that: “Now she feels well.”
    • Some US experts say they wouldn’t take it: CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta said “of course” he wouldn’t take the vaccine, adding, “I know nothing about this vaccine.” And Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, said “I wouldn’t take it, certainly not outside of a clinical trial right now.”
    • Where other vaccines stand: There are 25 other vaccines in the clinical evaluation stage of development and a further 139 candidate vaccines in the preclinical evaluation stage according to the World Health Organization. Closely watched vaccines in development include one from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca and another from the biotechnology company Moderna and the US National Institute of Health. Both have showed promising results and are currently undergoing phase three testing.
  • WHO Warning & Virus Origin Scoping Mission: While hopes for a vaccine are strong, there may never be a “silver bullet” for the coronavirus, the WHO warns. The pandemic is likely to be “lengthy”, the UN health agency says, and response fatigue is a risk. Meanwhile, the WHO says it has “finished laying the groundwork for a probe into the origins of Covid-19.” The UN health agency said “two experts had completed a “scoping mission” in China, marking the initial phase of an investigation aimed at identifying how humans were infected with coronavirus.”

  • Hydroxychloroquine Fiasco: Researchers published scathing critiques of a study President Trump repeatedly touted on Twitter. That study, published earlier this month in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, claimed to show that hydroxychloroquine saved lives.President Trump tweeted about it enthusiastically and continues to promote the drug.But the study Trump cites had multiple errors, flaws and biases, according to letters to the journal’s editors: “As a result of the flaws in the analysis the conclusions reached in [the study] are invalid,” Graham Atkinson, an independent consultant in health care policy, wrote in one of the letters.

  • America Unmasked:  There are not nearly enough Americans using masks to bend the curve on the coronavirus infection rate, the head of one of the main teams forecasting the pandemic said Friday. The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) revised its forecast this week for coronavirus deaths because of rising infection rates and because too few Americans were using face masks regularly, IHME’s Dr. Chris Murray told CNN. This week’s IHME forecast of 230,822 US deaths from the virus by November is up about 11,000 from last week’s projection of 219,864 deaths.

  • VP Biden Frames Trump Failure re Pandemic/Economic Response: Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden lambasted President Trump on Tuesday saying he’s proven he is incapable of keeping Americans safe from harm: “Donald Trump faces a real test and he’s failed it, the basic threshold of being President, the duty to care for the entire country, not just his re-election prospects,” said the former vice president in a speech Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware. “He’s shown that he can’t beat the pandemic and keep you safe,” continued Biden. “He can’t turn the economy around and get America back to work.”

  • Coronavirus: Asymptomatic cases ‘carry same amount of virus’:People with symptomless Covid-19 can carry as much of the virus as those with symptoms, a South Korean study has suggested.South Korea was able to identify and isolate asymptomatic cases through mass testing as early as the start of March. There is mounting evidence these cases represent a considerable proportion of coronavirus infections.

  • New CDC Report: People who were 65 or older, men and people of color who were younger than 65 make up disproportionate shares of COVID-19 deaths in the United States, according to a report released Friday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Spain: The novel coronavirus epidemic is “out of control” in parts of Spain, according to the director of the country’s Center for Health Emergencies. “Currently the epidemic is not out of control at a national level, but it is in some concrete places,” Fernando Simon said Thursday. Simon’s remarks came after Spain reported 7,039 new cases, 3,349 in the previous 24 hours. Madrid and Catalonia account for the majority of new infections, but Andalucía, Castilla y Leon and Aragon have also seen sharp increases.

  • Croatia: A recent spike in cases has seen Croatia removed from the UK’s quarantine exemption’s list on Thursday. The country reported 255 new cases in the past 24 hours, health authorities in Croatia announced Thursday. According to the European Center for Disease Control that accounts for 41.7 cases per 100,000 people in the past 14 days. Earlier this week Croatia was week red-listed, by Slovenia, its second largest tourist nationality, and Austria.

  • Oxford is Vaccine Frontrunner; May Offer Double Defense: The University of Oxford candidate, led by Sarah Gilbert, might be through human trials in September. AstraZeneca has lined up agreements to produce 2 billion doses. The researchers believe they have made a breakthrough after discovering the jab could provide “double protection” against the virus, the Daily Telegraph reported. The newspaper said the phase 1 trial in healthy adult volunteers, which began in April, showed the vaccine generated an immune response, with blood samples indicating it stimulated the body to produce both antibodies and “killer T-cells”.

  • Rapid Test Breakthrough? Researchers in Australia have devised a test that can determine novel coronavirus infection in about 20 minutes using blood samples in what they say is a world-first breakthrough. The research team was led by BioPRIA and Monash University’s Chemical Engineering Department, including researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Convergent BioNano Science and Technology (CBNS). Meanwhile, in Singapore, Clinician-scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore’s (NTU Singapore) Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) have demonstrated a way to improve the speed, handling time and cost of COVID-19 laboratory tests. The improved testing method yields results in 36 minutes – a quarter of the time required by existing gold-standard tests.

  • Promising UK Antibody Study: About 7% of participants in a British study tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, according to results from the first month of the nationwide study.  The test results, which indicate previous infection with coronavirus, ranged from 10.4% of Londoners to about 4.4% of people living in the southwest of England and Scotland. The widespread United Kingdom serology, or antibody, study uses volunteers for a much larger, ongoing health study called the UK Biobank. UK Biobank has collected samples and health information from 500,000 volunteers for research. The researchers have recruited more than 20,000 volunteers from regions across the UK for the coronavirus antibody study. They are being asked to provide monthly blood samples that the Oxford University-based Target Discovery Institute will test for the antibodies.

  • GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur: Drug giants GlaxoSmithKline and Sanofi Pasteur said Friday they had won a commitment from the US federal government to pay up to $2.1 billion to help the two companies move forward with their proposed joint coronavirus vaccine as part of Operation Warp Speed.The companies had said in April they would work together to make a vaccine against Covid-19, using Sanofi’s flu vaccine technology and Glaxo’s adjuvant — a compound that boosts the power of a vaccine

  • FDA Authorizes Asymptomatic Test: The US Food and Drug Administration has authorized the first coronavirus test for asymptomatic Covid-19 cases and for those who don’t think they’re infected with the virus at all. The agency reissued an emergency use authorization for a LabCorp Covid-19 RT-PCR test after the company provided scientific proof that the test was able to detect the virus in asymptomatic people. RT-PCR tests amplify genetic matter from the virus so it’s detectable.

  • Antibody Drug Hope: Eli Lilly believes that a new antibody drug could be on the market by the end of the year, according to the CEO of a biotech firm working with the pharmaceutical giant.

  • Extensive Organ Damage: Coronavirus damages not only the lungs, but the kidneys, liver, heart, brain and nervous system, skin and gastrointestinal tract, doctors noted in a review of reports about COVID-19 patients (source: Columbia University/Irving Medical Center)

  • Taiwan: US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar spoke about what Taiwan, the country he is currently visiting, has done in order to control the Covid-19 pandemic. “Taiwan has taken very effective measures, but they’re very strong measures,” Azar said on ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday.Every person who comes into Taiwan is subject to a mandatory quarantine period, where individual compliance is checked and inspected by the police, Azar said. Taiwan has also used social media and mandatory cell phone GPS tracking to identify contacts.

  • France: French health authorities are warning of a strong increase in coronavirus circulation, specifically among young adults. On Monday, its health ministry said 3.6% of tests for Covid-19 came back positive in the week of August 15-21, compared to 1.4% at the start of the summer.France has recorded 244,854 cases and 30,528 deaths, including 1,955 cases and 15 deaths in the past 24 hours, Monday figures showed. Meanwhile, nearly one-third (30%) of vacationers tested at a nudist village in southern France’s Cap d’Agde municipality have tested positive, according to local health authorities. Occitanie Regional Health Authorities conducted three days of testing last week in Cap d’Agde, a locality known for nudist beaches and resorts The two first rounds of testing found 95 people positive among 490 people tested, and additional tests are being analyzed. Authorities report 50 additional positive cases among vacationers who went through Cap d’Agde and were tested upon their return home.

  • Germany: A further 1,278 new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in Germany since Monday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) revealed Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases nationwide to 234,853. According to the RKI, the number of cases in Germany has “risen markedly” in recent weeks and demonstrates a “very concerning” trend in the national infection rate.  On Monday, Germany issued a travel warning for Paris and the Cote d’Azur region of southeastern France due to high levels of coronavirus infection. Travelers returning from these regions will be required to get a free coronavirus PCR test upon arrival in Germany and could be obligated to quarantine for 14 days, the government said.

  • Spain: Spain has recorded 19,382 new coronavirus cases since Friday, according to health ministry data on Monday. Some of the 17 Spanish regions have decided to tighten safety measures as the number of infections continues to climb. Madrid’s regional government Justice Secretary, Enrique López, asked citizens on Monday to “avoid unnecessary gatherings.” Catalan President, Quim Torra, announced that Catalonia is banning gatherings of over 10 people, given that “70% of the contagions happen during social gatherings,” adding that “the next three weeks are decisive.”

  • UK: A potential coronavirus vaccine being jointly developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca could be put before regulators by the end of this year, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said Tuesday. “It is just possible that, if the cases accrue rapidly in the clinical trials, we could have that data before regulators this year, and then there would be a process that they go through in order to make a full assessment of the data,” Professor Andrew Pollard said. However, speaking to BBC Radio 4, Pollard cautioned that the process could take longer depending on how much data scientists are able to gather. The Scottish government announced on Tuesday that students over the age of 12 will be advised to wear face coverings at school. This comes after an outbreak at a school in Dundee, which saw 22 people test positive for Covid-19.

  • Italy: Italy registered 953 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Civil Protection on Monday. In the past week the country has seen an increase of over 6,000 cases, the highest since May 11-17. It has had a total of 260,298 cases and 35,441 deaths.

  • Belarus: Belarus will become the first country to receive doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine being developed in Russia as part of a new agreement reached by President Vladimir Putin and Alexander Lukashenko on Monday. According to the state-owned Belarusian Telegraph Agency (BeITA), the two leaders agreed that Belarusian citizens will participate in the third stage of Russian vaccine trials, on a voluntary basis.

  • MENA & sub-Saharan Africa: The IMF warned of deeper Middle East and North Africa (MENA) recession and rising social unrest risks. The economic outlook was already grim as the region struggles to cope with the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, in SS Africa, South Africa extended measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus as the number of cases in the country continued to rise. SA represents the highest total in SS Africa with 276,242 cases and over 4000 deaths (as of July 13).

  • Africa:

  • Latin America & Caribbean:

  • Argentina: Argentina reported its highest number of both new Covid-19 cases and deaths Monday, according to numbers released from the Health Ministry. On Monday, the ministry reported 382 new deaths from the virus — its highest daily increase since the outbreak started. The previous record — 282 new deaths — was reported on Aug. 19.Argentina’s death toll from the virus now stands at at least 7,366.

  • Brazil & President Bolsanaro: Brazil has now registered 2.2m infections and 85,238 deaths. Brazil’s health ministry said it recorded 55,891 new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the country’s total to 2,343,366. It also registered 1,156 new fatalities due to the virus, raising the total death toll to 85,238.With Friday’s new cases, Brazil has added a total of nearly 300,000 new Covid-19 infections in the last seven days. Brazil’s Minister of Education Milton Ribeiro tested positive for Covid-19 on Monday, just hours after another cabinet minister revealed he was infected earlier in the day. Meanwhile, Pres. Bolsanaro has famously resisted and rejected the danger of COVID-19, has now tested positive again,

  • Mexico recorded a new daily record of 8,458 new coronavirus cases on Friday bringing the total number of infections to 424,637, its health ministry announced. The ministry also recorded 688 new coronavirus related deaths, raising the total death toll to 46,688.

  • Peru: The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Peru rose to at least 129,751 on Tuesday — a jump of 5,772 from the previous day, according to the country’s health ministry. Peru imposed one of the earliest and strictest lockdowns in Latin America to stop the spread of coronavirus – but has still seen cases rise rapidly.

  • Japan: An additional 1,601 cases of Covid-19 were recorded in Japan Friday, the country’s Ministry of Health said — the highest number Japan has seen in a single day. It’s the fourth consecutive day Japan has identified more than 1,000 cases. To date, authorities have identified 46,151 cases of Covid-19 and 1,062 virus-related fatalities. Tokyo is among the hardest-hit cities. Authorities said 462 cases were identified in the Japanese capital Friday, while Osaka posted its own daily high of 255 cases

  • Germany: Authorities in Germany said 1,122 new coronavirus patients were identified on Friday, the third day in a row that more than 1,000 cases of the virus were recorded. Twelve more people died Friday, bringing the nationwide death toll to 9,195, according to Germany’s center for disease control, the Robert Koch Institute. Meanwhile, Germany’s top virologists have urged mandatory mask wearing in schools, including during classroom lessons, as schools in the country re-open after summer break: “Due to the real danger of infections between students who are asymptomatic, we urge strict mask wearing in all grades, including during lessons,” the virologists wrote in an open letter published on the website of the Society for Virology on Saturday

  • Italy: The number of active COVID-19 cases in Italy has dropped to 52,942, the Civil Protection Agency said Tuesday. The number marks an encouraging decrease – close to half of the highest number of cases recorded during the peak of the pandemic, which stood at 108,257.

  • Spain: The Iberian nation recorded 628 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, the highest number since May 8, the Spanish Health Ministry’s data showed on Friday. The total number of cases in Spain has now reached at least 260,255. The data also shows that more than half of those new cases were registered in the outbreak-hit regions of Catalonia and Aragon. The country’s Covid-19 death toll rose by 4 in the last 24 hours and 10 in the last 7 days, in line with the past few weeks. A total of 28,420 people have died of Coronavirus in Spain to date.

  • Spanish Study Challenges Herd Immunity Theory: Meanwhile,  Spanish study has cast doubt on the feasibility of herd immunity as a way of tackling the coronavirus pandemic. The study of more than 60,000 people estimates that around just 5% of the Spanish population has developed antibodies, the medical journal the Lancet reported.

Spotlight Article:

Improved Testing Method Produces COVID-19 Results in 36 Minutes

NEWS   Jul 28, 2020 | Original story from Nanyang Technological University

Improved Testing Method Produces COVID-19 Results in 36 Minutes

Credit: NTU Singapore

 Read Time: 4 min

Clinician-scientists at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore’s (NTU Singapore) Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) have demonstrated a way to improve the speed, handling time and cost of COVID-19 laboratory tests. The improved testing method yields results in 36 minutes – a quarter of the time required by existing gold-standard tests.Their new approach could enable the wider adoption of COVID-19 testing for diagnosis in academic or research laboratories, and allow for screening and research especially in countries and regions with limited laboratory capabilities. The test, which can be done with portable equipment, could also be deployed in the community as a screening tool.Currently, the most sensitive method for testing for COVID-19 is through a laboratory technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), in which a machine amplifies viral genetic material by copying it over and over again so any trace of the SARS-CoV-2 virus can be detected.A big bottleneck in sample testing is RNA purification – separating RNA from other components in the patient sample – a laborious process that requires chemicals that are now in short supply worldwide. Its steps have to be performed by highly trained technical staff and can take a few hours. Currently, automated equipment for sample preparation costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and requires specialised laboratory facilities.The method developed by NTU LKCMedicine combines many of these steps and allows direct testing on the crude patient sample, cutting down the turnaround time from sample-to-result, and removing the need for RNA purification chemicals.Details of the new approach were published in the scientific journal Genes in June.Mr Wee Soon Keong, a PhD candidate at NTU LKCMedicine and the first author of the paper, said: “While polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is a venerable technology that has proven to be a workhorse for biological research, it has some drawbacks when used outside of the laboratory environment. The process is fiddly and time-consuming. Our rapid COVID-19 test involves a single-tube reaction that reduces hands-on time and biosafety risk for lab personnel, as well as the likelihood for carryover contamination during the processing of samples.”Aside from testing for COVID-19, the same method developed by the NTU LKCMedicine team can also be used to detect other viruses and bacteria, including the dengue virus, which is set to plague Singapore as the country braces itself for one of the worst dengue outbreaks amid the coronavirus pandemic.Leader of the research team, Associate Professor Eric Yap, who also heads the Microbial Genomics Laboratory, said: “We previously demonstrated that this method works for dengue virus as well. When used directly on a crude blood sample with dengue virus, the test yielded results in 28 minutes. As Singapore battles the dual outbreak of dengue and COVID-19, both with similar early symptoms, our test could help in differentiating between the two infectious diseases.”Professor James Best, Dean of NTU LKCMedicine, said: “As Singapore continues with proactive testing to detect, isolate, and contain the possible spread of the coronavirus, rapid portable screening tools like the one developed by Assoc Prof Yap and his team could come in handy at testing sites in the community, allowing for infected patients to be identified quickly, and swift action to be taken to prevent transmission.”From benchtop to portable testingTypically, in PCR tests, the genetic material on a swab sample collected from a patient has to be extracted to remove any substances in the sample that prevent the PCR test from working. An example of an inhibitor in respiratory samples is mucin (a main component of mucus).The test designed by the NTU LKCMedicine team, which includes senior research fellow Dr Sivalingam Paramalingam Suppiah, uses the ‘direct PCR’ method, removing the need for RNA purification, a time-consuming and costly step. Instead, they added inhibitor-resistant enzymes and reagents targeting compounds that obstruct RNA amplification, such as mucin, a main component of mucus. These enzymes and reagents, which are commercially available, have high resistance to such compounds that otherwise inhibit PCR, rendering the test inaccurate.The biochemical mix of crude sample and inhibitor-resistant enzymes and reagents is placed into a single tube, which is inserted into a laboratory thermocycler, a machine used to amplify genetic material in PCR. After 36 minutes, results reveal whether there is any trace of COVID-19 with confidence.”By skipping the RNA extraction step with our direct-PCR method, we see cost savings on nucleic acid extraction kits, and avoid the problem of reagents in short supply when lab testing is ramped up and the demand increases globally,” said Dr Sivalingam.The team also tested this method on a portable thermocycler, which can be deployed in low-resource settings and endemic areas, pointing to the possibility of having this test done in community healthcare settings by frontline healthcare workers.Assoc Prof Yap said: “We are now trying to deploy such direct-PCR methods, developed by ourselves and others, for routine diagnostics. We need to determine the actual utility and benefits in a real-world setting, and to understand if there are any trade-offs. When one bottleneck is removed, other challenges may emerge – like ensuring quality control, or reducing manual errors.”The team is now looking to use this method for COVID-19 testing at the NTU Clinical Diagnostic Laboratory at LKCMedicine that Assoc Prof Yap heads.”Our goal is to develop ultrafast and automated tests that yield results in minutes, and that can be performed by healthcare workers in the clinic with similar accuracy and sensitivity as in specialised laboratories. This will allow us to take PCR testing out of conventional laboratories nearer to the point-of-care, and into the low-resource settings that need them the most,” he said.Reference: Wee, S. K., Sivalingam, S. P., & Yap, E. P. (2020). Rapid Direct Nucleic Acid Amplification Test without RNA Extraction for SARS-CoV-2 Using a Portable PCR Thermocycler. Genes, 11(6), 664. doi:10.3390/genes11060664

#COVID19 #COVID-19 #COVID #Coronavirus #Pandemic #GlobalHealth #PublicHealth #Health  #Epidemiology #ContactTracing #Testing ##TestingandTracing #DiseaseSurveillance #InfectiousDisease #InfectiousDiseases #SARS #MERS #Ebola #lockdown #quarantine #vaccine #vaccines #CDC #Fauci #WHO #WorldHealthOrganization

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