With a head start, Oxford scientists say their vaccine could be available by September. If it works.
Scientists around the world are competing to develop a vaccine to stop the coronavirus, and in this race, a laboratory at Oxford University has a big head start.
Most other teams have had to begin with small clinical trials of a few hundred participants just to demonstrate that their vaccines are safe to use in humans, before they can start to gauge whether their inventions actually work.
But scientists at Oxford’s Jenner Institute had already proved in previous trials that similar inoculations — including one last year against another coronavirus — were harmless to humans.
That has enabled them to leap ahead to the next step and schedule tests involving more than 6,000 people by the end of next month, hoping to show that their vaccine not only is safe, but also works.
The Oxford scientists now say that with an emergency approval from regulators, the first few million doses of their vaccine could be available by September — at least several months ahead of any of the other announced efforts — if it proves to be effective.
It is impossible to know at this stage whether any vaccine will work, or which will be the first to emerge as a success. But there is promising news about Oxford’s candidate.
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana last month inoculated six rhesus macaque monkeys with the Oxford vaccine. The animals were then exposed to heavy quantities of the virus that is causing the pandemic — exposure that had consistently sickened other monkeys in the lab. More than 28 days later all six were healthy, said Vincent Munster, the researcher who conducted the test.
More than one vaccine will be needed, experts say, because one might work more effectively than another in children or older people, or might be cheaper or easier to administer.
In many cities, doctors, nurses and other health care workers have been celebrated with choruses of applause and cheers from windows and rooftops for providing the front-line defense against the pandemic.
But when a veteran nurse went on national television in Mexico recently, she made a plea on behalf of her fellow health care workers: Please stop assaulting us.
Nurses working under her auspices had been viciously attacked around the country at least 21 times, accused of spreading the coronavirus. Across Mexico, dozens of attacks on health care workers have been reported since the start of the outbreak.
In the state of Jalisco, nurses reported being blocked from public transportation because of their occupation. A nurse in the state of Sinaloa said she had been drenched with chlorine while walking along the street. And in the city of Mérida, a nurse said he had been hit with an egg thrown by someone passing on a motorcycle.
It is not just Mexico.
In other countries, too, health care workers have been not lauded but stigmatized as vectors of contagion. They have been assaulted, abused and ostracized.
In the Philippines, attackers doused a nurse with bleach, blinding him. In India, a group of medical workers was chased by a stone-throwing mob. In Pakistan, a nurse and her children were evicted from their apartment building.
Many nurses no longer wear their uniforms as they commute for fear of being hurt, said the official who went on television, Fabiana Zepeda Arias, chief of nursing programs for Mexico’s Social Security Institute.
“We can save your lives,” she said at a news conference, where she had to fight back tears.
“Please help us take care of you.”
Still, the official numbers offer a sense of the scale of the pandemic, which has spread at a relentless pace. The official global death count passed 100,000 on April 10, just over two weeks ago.
Many Americans are confronted with conflicting messages from local politicians eager to reopen businesses and public health officials urging them to stay home. And governors fear the lure of summer sunshine will make social distancing an even greater challenge.
Similar calculations were being made around the world, as countries once ravaged by the outbreak — like Italy, Spain and Britain — but now apparently past their initial peak in cases take tentative steps toward restarting public life.
Britain earned an unwelcome distinction over the weekend, becoming the fifth country to record more than 20,000 deaths from the virus, but officials say the nation may be turning a corner.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, on returning to work after being released from the hospital, appealed on Monday for patience, giving no promises about when and how the country’s lockdown would be lifted.
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street on his first full day of work, Mr. Johnson thanked the British people for their “sheer grit and guts” in dealing with the constraints, and said much progress had been made.
He called the coronavirus pandemic “the biggest single challenge this country has faced since the war,” and added that with fewer hospital admissions there were real signs that the country was “beginning to turn the tide.”
But he cautioned that this moment of opportunity also held several risks, and warned that relaxing social distancing measures too soon could lead to a second wave of infections.
“I understand your impatience, I share your anxiety,” he said, adding that a rise in illness could bring not only more death but “economic disaster,” with the nation forced to reimpose restrictions.
Mr. Johnson looked fit and well as he spoke, and only briefly acknowledged his own bout with the virus.
“If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected and invisible mugger, which I can tell you from personal experience it is, then this is the moment when we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor,” he said.
Mr. Johnson spent three nights in the intensive care unit of St Thomas’ Hospital in London, and then two weeks convalescing at his official country residence.
Britain passed 20,000 confirmed deaths in hospitals from the virus over the weekend, but the true toll is believed to be much higher.
The government is under growing pressure from some lawmakers to at least explain a strategy for loosening measures and gradually reopening shops and perhaps schools.
“We simply cannot spell out now how fast or slow or even when those changes will be made,” Mr. Johnson said, “though clearly the government will be saying much more about this in the coming days.”
The Afghan government announced on Monday that it was releasing 12,000 prisoners, in addition to 10,000 already in the process of being released, as the pandemic spreads across the country and prisons remain overcrowded.
The virus is spreading rapidly across Afghanistan, which is in the midst of a war between the government and the Taliban. The United Nations said on Monday that the fighting had killed 533 civilians and wounded 766 others in the first quarter of the year.
The country of roughly 32 million has officially registered 1,703 coronavirus cases, but those numbers are a low estimate, as testing is extremely limited.
The prisoner release, once complete, would set free more than 60 percent of the country’s 36,000 inmates. Rashid Totakhel, the head of Afghanistan’s prison authority, said the country was holding more prisoners than the capacity for 18,000 inmates.
“It should be implemented immediately,” Mr. Totakhel said about the latest decree on the release.
Excluded from the count are 5,000 Taliban members who are expected to be freed as part of the peace deal between the government and the insurgent group. The Afghan government and the insurgents are locked in disagreements over their releases. While the Taliban want their members released at once, the Afghan government has been releasing them in waves of 100 or less.
Airbus, one of the world’s largest manufacturers, issued a startling warning on Monday, saying that it could go out of business, as oil prices fell sharply again over the pandemic-induced global recession, wreaking havoc on major industries.
The coronavirus slowdown, job losses and stay-at-home orders have hit transportation especially hard, and demand for fuel has plummeted. Most scheduled airline flights have been canceled because of the pandemic and airlines have cut back, postponed or simply called off orders for new planes.
“We are bleeding cash at an unprecedented speed, which may threaten the existence of our company,” Guillaume Faury, Airbus’s chief executive, wrote in a letter to the company’s 134,000 employees. “We face a severe and immediate imbalance between our revenues and costs.”
Airbus, headquartered in France and with operations in many countries, is the world’s largest maker of airliners.
Oil storage facilities are full or nearly so, and though major oil-producing countries have agreed to cut output, analysts and investors say it isn’t nearly enough. Last week, the price of West Texas Intermediate crude fell below zero for the first time before rebounding, as traders who had already contracted to buy oil for delivery in May saw that they would have nowhere to sell it and nowhere to put it.
The price of West Texas crude oil fell more than 20 percent by Monday afternoon, dropping below $13 a barrel, and the benchmark Brent crude declined more than 8 percent, going under $20 a barrel. Oil prices have declined more than 70 percent this year, and had not gone as low as they are now since the 1990s.
Despite the bad news, major stock indexes were up modestly in Asia, Europe and the United States.
Authorities in Bangladesh have given the green light to resume operations at garment factories, which make up a large part of the national economy, but some workers fear they might get the coronavirus by returning to cramped factory floors.
Around 1,800 of 7,620 garment and textile factories have reopened in recent days after a strict lockdown that shut most of the economy in an already poor country.
“We reopened industry partially and asked factory owners to follow health protocol and ensure health safety for workers,” said Mohammed Abdus Salam, a vice president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association. “Many factories have orders for next winter season starting in September. We have no other choice of starting work this time to complete the whole process of production.”
Nazma Akter, president of a garments workers’ union said, “I have received complaints from some workers of a few factories that physical distancing and other health safety measures have not been maintained properly.”
“The owners reopened factories hurriedly and arbitrarily,’’ she added. “If the virus spreads again among the workers, this won’t be a big problem only for the industry but also for the country.”
Farhad Hossain Khan, a superintendent of Industrial Police, said garment workers had protested on Sunday and Monday in industrial areas.
“Some workers protested, demanding their due wages, some workers protest demanding reopening of their factories. We solved problems through dialogue with workers and owners,” he said, adding that the police continued monitoring to ensure worker safety.
The Bangladesh government announced a countrywide shutdown from March 26 to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The authorities have asked people to stay home and suspended travel inside the country by air, road and train. The country recorded its first infections on March 8 and has reported around 6,000 infections and 150 deaths.
Face masks become mandatory for those using public transport and in most shops across Germany on Monday, as the country gradually reopens despite worries that the loosening of measures could be too much too soon.
Guidelines agreed to by federal and state governments allow states to make the final decision on reopening stores and schools as well as the rules on masks, leading to a hodgepodge of policies across the country.
In the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, wearing a mask is mandatory at bus stops, train stations, banks, post offices and gas stations, while Berlin has decided not to require masks in shops. The timing of when new rules go into effect also differs state by state, as do the fines for those who do not comply with the measures.
Chancellor Angela Merkel warned last week that loosening rules too quickly might be “foolhardy,” since new infections are usually detected days after the transmission has occurred.
“Let us not squander what we have achieved,” she told German lawmakers on Thursday.
The chancellor and state governors are to meet again on May 6 to discuss the progress and discuss any further loosening of the rules. To date, Germany has had at least 155,193 confirmed coronavirus infections and 5,750 deaths.
Masks also became compulsory in shops and on public transport in the Hungarian capital of Budapest on Monday. Elsewhere in Europe, other nations have begun chart out a gradual reopening.
After curbing one of the highest per capita rates of coronavirus infection in Europe, Switzerland allowed a limited number of businesses to reopen on Monday at the start of what authorities have billed as a three-step program to relax its national lockdown.
Salons, garden centers and florists are returning to work as the authorities ease controls on businesses that do not involve close personal contact or crowds of people. A restriction limiting funerals to immediate family has also been lifted. Switzerland is not enforcing the public wearing of masks, but a ban on gatherings of more than five people remains in place.
More than 29,000 people have tested positive for Covid-19 in Switzerland, and at least 1,337 have died of the virus, official statistics show, levels of infection largely eclipsed by the scale of the crises in neighboring Italy and Spain. But the cautious relaxation of controls reflects a rate of infection measured per million of population that ranks fifth in the world — higher than the United States, Britain or France.
The White House canceled the coronavirus briefing it had scheduled for Monday, after heavy criticism of President Trump’s handling of the pandemic. But less than two hours later, it put the briefing back on the schedule, and said Mr. Trump would make an announcement.
“The White House has additional testing guidance and other announcements about safely opening up America again,” Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, wrote on Twitter. “President @realDonaldTrump will brief the nation during a press conference this evening.”
Earlier in the day, she had said the briefings might resume later in the week in a new format.
The president, who had taken center stage at the briefings for seven weeks, spent much of the weekend railing on Twitter about the news media, and did not meet with reporters either Saturday or Sunday, calling the briefings “not worth the time & effort.”
Also on Monday, the government’s trouble-plagued small business loan program resumed after a new infusion of money, and House Democrats announced an investigation into Mr. Trump’s decision to halt funding to the World Health Organization.
Demand for the small business loans was so heavy that the government computer system handling applications crashed in less than an hour on Monday. The program was created early this month to help small businesses keep paying their workers; interest rates were set very low and in some cases the loans can be forgiven.
But dozens of large companies also received loans, the money was channeled through banks that often favored familiar customers, the program quickly ran through its initial $349 billion allocation, and many small businesses were shut out.
Congress and Mr. Trump approved an additional $310 billion, and the program has restarted.
The president, who has been widely accused of mishandling the crisis, has repeatedly deflected blame onto others, particularly the World Health Organization, a United Nations agency whose main source of funds in the U.S. government. Mr. Trump said he would cut off that support.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee said it would investigate the move, which it called a “political distraction” from the administration’s failings.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the committee chairman, wrote, “Attacking the W.H.O., rather than the Covid-19 outbreak, will only worsen an already dire situation by undermining one of our key tools to fight the spreading disease.”
As the virus spread around the world, women — whether in China, the United States, or Italy — were less likely to become acutely ill, and far more likely to survive. That made doctors wonder: Could hormones produced in greater quantities by women be at work?
Scientists in New York and California are now testing the hypothesis, dosing men with sex hormones for limited durations in small clinical trials.
Doctors at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University in New York are treating Covid-19 patients with estrogen in an effort to boost their immune systems.
Next week, their colleagues at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles will begin treating patients with another hormone that is predominantly found in women, progesterone, which has anti-inflammatory properties and can potentially prevent harmful overreactions of the immune system.
“There’s a striking difference between the number of men and women in the intensive care unit, and men are clearly doing worse,” said Dr. Sara Ghandehari, a pulmonologist and intensive care physician who is the principal investigator for the progesterone study.
Some experts who study sex differences in immunity, however, warned that hormones may fail to be the magic bullet that some are hoping for; even elderly women with Covid-19 are outliving their male peers, and there is a drastic reduction in levels of hormones for women after menopause.
The construction site at Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris stirred with workers on Monday, more than a month after the coronavirus pandemic forced the authorities to shut down the site and cancel commemorative events intended to mark one year since fire devastated the Paris landmark.
But actual renovation work is still weeks away.
Those who returned to the site on Monday were tasked with reorganizing the “base camp,” where workers suit up and shower, adjusting the facilities to lessen the risk of infection and allow for social distancing measures.
Gen. Jean-Louis Georgelin, a former army chief of staff named by President Emmanuel Macron to oversee Notre-Dame’s renovation, said on Monday that workers could not report back on the job “if we do not give them safe working conditions.”
“We need to completely adapt this area to the necessary measures to face the pandemic,” General Georgelin told Europe 1 radio.
Once appropriate measures are in place, workers will be able to pick up the renovation work where it left off a month and a half ago, starting with the delicate removal of thousands of charred scaffolding poles that still cling to the top of the cathedral.
Mr. Macron set a strict five-year deadline to finish renovation work, wanting it to be done in time for the city to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Some critics have called that goal unrealistic, given a series of delays. The authorities say they hope to reopen the cathedral for religious services in 2024, not to finish the renovation completely.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a nationwide address, announced Monday that Turkey’s numbers of Covid-19 infections were improving but that restrictions would remain in place until the end of May.
Turkey has reported more than 110,000 confirmed cases of the virus, and 2,900 deaths. Official results show that the rate of confirmed cases and deaths has begun to flatten.
“The end of the tunnel is now visible,” Mr. Erdogan said, adding that the government would soon announce a schedule for easing restrictions.
Turkey has not imposed a full lockdown all the time, to allow some businesses to continue working. It has imposed a total curfew on 31 metropolitan centers on the weekends, and Mr. Erdogan said that will continue this weekend.
The rest of the week, people are asked to stay at home and practice social distancing. Those over 65 years old and under 20 years old, however, are confined to their homes. (An exception allows teenagers to work in technical schools making masks.)
New rules requiring face masks in public and a ban on intercity travel would remain in place until the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Mr. Erdogan said. He promised that the country would celebrate doubly at the festival of Eid at the end of May.
Kenya has demoted a top scientist in charge of overseeing the country’s coronavirus testing, raising concerns and prompting criticism about the timing of the government’s directive.
Dr. Joel Lutomiah, the deputy director of the Center for Virus Research at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, was dismissed from the role after test results were delayed, according to local news reports. Scientists at the institute, however, said that he was fired for standing up to government officials and demanding more funding during this crucial period.
Established in 1979, the institute plays a vital role in tackling diseases — including malaria and H.I.V. — and is the top testing facility in Kenya for the coronavirus. Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the institute was involved in efforts to find a vaccine for Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Kenya has so far announced 363 cases and 14 deaths from the virus.
The government has defended its decision to fire Dr. Lutomiah from the leadership role, saying the move was intended to improve the timely release of test results. Kenya’s preparedness and response to the coronavirus have been seen in a mostly positive light so far, with the government conducting thousands of tests, suspending international flights a week after reporting its first case and imposing a partial lockdown on counties reporting high cases.
Under pressure from religious institutions, Iran’s government announced on Sunday that it would reopen some 127 religious sites, including shrines and mosques, in about a week around the country, which has endured one of the world’s worst coronavirus outbreaks.
President Hassan Rouhani said that Friday Prayer, canceled since the middle of March, would resume at the reopened sites but that protocols would have to be observed.
As Iran started gradually lifting restrictions in the past two weeks and reopening businesses in an attempt to salvage its battered economy, the calls to open religious shrines grew louder. The announcement coincides with the month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast and gather nightly for communal prayers and sermons.
The closing and opening of religious sites, particularly the two prominent Shia shrines in Qom and Mashhad, have been a source of contention between health officials and the religious authorities. Iran’s coronavirus outbreak started in the city of Qom and spread across Iran and to multiple neighboring countries through pilgrims who had visited the shrine. Mr. Rouhani was widely criticized for not enforcing a swift shutdown of crowded religious sites.
The hard-line newspaper Kayhan, a mouthpiece for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, wrote that if parks and shopping malls opened then mosques should open, too, and claimed “religious shrines had a small role in spreading the coronavirus.”
The Health Ministry’s latest tally on Sunday was 90,481 infections and 5,710 dead, although health experts and local government officials have said the numbers are several times higher than the official account.
Mr. Rouhani has repeatedly said that the peak of the virus has passed, but health officials have warned that lifting restrictions too quickly could rapidly lead to a resurgence of the virus and that at least three provinces are still considered red zones.
“Iran is still in the escalation trajectory of contracting coronavirus and reaching the peak,” said Hossein Erfani, the Health Ministry’s head of infectious disease. “The public should not think the story of coronavirus is over and they can go around freely.”
The top human rights official at the United Nations, Michelle Bachelet, urged countries on Monday not to use the pandemic as a pretext for repression, excessive use of force and mass arrests.
A “toxic lockdown culture” has resulted in excessive, sometimes lethal use of force by police and security forces in some states. Nigerian security forces killed 20 people in the space of little more than three weeks in the course of Covid-19 enforcement measures. South African authorities are investigating dozens of allegations of corruption, rape and murder against police officers.
“Shooting, detaining, or abusing someone for breaking a curfew because they are desperately searching for food is clearly an unacceptable and unlawful response,” Ms. Bachelet said.
“The public health emergency risks becoming a human rights disaster, with negative effects that will long outlast the pandemic itself,” she warned.
United Nations officials have raised also concerns that emergency powers taken by Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary confer indefinite authority to rule by decree. The Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, is poised to take vaguely defined powers that would restrict rights and expand surveillance. Reports from China point to the detention of doctors, journalists and human rights defenders for diverging from the official narrative about the outbreak.
The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on minorities in the United States has exposed endemic discrimination, the officials said. They also pointed to instances of racism and xenophobia in the United States and Europe.
Countries should halt involuntary or forced returns of refugees and asylum seekers and secure their release from immigration detention, officials added, underscoring their high vulnerability to Covid-19.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s plans to gradually reopen Italy have received a cool welcome, with business groups, regional presidents and even the Roman Catholic Church criticizing the criteria as insufficient and inconsistent.
Mr. Conte said Sunday night that starting next Monday people would be allowed to visit relatives, parks could reopen and restaurants could start offering food for takeout, but the criticism underscored the difficulty leaders face in trying to balance economic growth and public health.
Confcommercio, Italy’s largest business organization, denounced a potential “economic collapse of thousands of companies.” Carlo Sangalli, the president of the association, asked for an urgent meeting with the prime minister, warning that postponing the reopening of commercial activities risked “very serious damage.”
Matteo Salvini, the opposition leader, threatened to organize a protest, though one that reflected the current state of affairs “with masks, at a distance, peaceful and determined.” Italy was the site of the first outbreak in Europe and has been hit the hardest, but, he wrote on Facebook, “The workers can no longer wait.”
Italian journalists criticized the prime minister for steering clear of the plans initially associated with the lifting of lockdowns, known as Phase 2: The establishment of quarantine facilities for the infected, a network of coronavirus hospitals, improved testing and contact tracing.
“Are coronavirus hospitals everywhere? Don’t know,” the journalist Annalisa Cuzzocrea wrote on Twitter. “Hotels for the asymptomatic positive? Don’t know. Swabs for every suspected case? Don’t know.”
Local officials faulted the government for a nationwide approach that failed to differentiate between the wealthier northern regions, where the virus has flourished, and the economically fragile southern regions, which have been largely spared. Giovanni Toti, the president of the Liguria region, called the government’s plan “slow and blurry.”
The Italian Episcopal Conference of Catholic Bishops criticized the extension of the ban on religious ceremonies, with the exception of funerals. “The Italian bishops cannot accept to see the freedom of worship compromised,” they wrote in a statement.
But some experts have also warned that allowing greater movement by removing some restrictions on work when the number of daily infections is still in the thousands was a very risky move. “There are no doubts: With the reopening, the risk is very high,” Andrea Crisanti, the top scientific consultant on the virus in the Veneto region, told the newspaper Il Giornale, adding that opening up in the current situation means there is a chance “we will have to start from scratch.”
New Zealand’s retailers, restaurants, construction sites and schools will start to reopen Tuesday, five weeks after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern deployed a “go hard and go early” approach that has led to a sharp decline in coronavirus infections.
The loosening of restrictions to a level three alert put an end to the country’s total lockdown after a week when the number of active infections in the country fell below 300. Only a single new case was reported on Monday.
The easing makes room for what some other countries already allow — such as carryout food, small shopping trips and outdoor exercise, but travel beyond where people live is still discouraged, and schools will be reopening only online at first.
Ms. Ardern praised New Zealanders’ efforts while also warning that eased restrictions did not signal a time to break out and celebrate.
“We’re opening up our economy, but we’re not opening up people’s social lives,” she said.
Ashley Bloomfield, New Zealand’s director general of health, said that transmission of the virus had been “eliminated,” meaning that health officials knew where all new cases were coming from, and were in position to test, track and trace any new outbreak.
Ms. Ardern said that the next phase of the process — to reach zero cases and total elimination — would require additional vigilance from both the public and public health professionals.
“To succeed we must hunt down the last few cases of the virus,” Ms. Ardern said. “This is like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
Reporting was contributed by Richard Pérez-Peña, Karen Zraick, Kirk Semple, Carlotta Gall, Roni Caryn Rabin, Peter Baker, Catie Edmondson, Aurelien Breeden, Nick Cumming-Bruce, Emma Bubola, Abdi Latif Dahir, Mujib Mashal, Fahim Abed, Najim Rahim, Megan Specia, Damien Cave, Farnaz Fassihi, Pam Belluck, Vanessa Swales, Katie Rogers, Apoorva Mandavilli, Austin Ramzy, Christopher F. Schuetze, Stephen Castle, Stacy Cowley, Alan Rappeport, Emily Flitter, Jeanna Smialek, Jessica Silver-Greenberg, David Enrich, Jesse Drucker, William Rashbaum, Julfikar Ali Manik and Jeffrey Gettleman.