Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia had not gotten out of trouble. Photo / News Corp Australia
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Australia had no remaining coronavirus hotspots but warned that the country was “not out of the jungle yet”.
In a press conference on Sunday, Hunt confirmed that the federal government has removed all hotspots in Australia after only one case was confirmed via community transmission in recent days.
“There are no remaining hotspot definitions,” said Hunt.
“Of course, inevitably, there will be days of new cases. There will be days when there may be a requirement to reintroduce the Commonwealth hotspot definition. But it will be done on that basis, and cases.”
Despite the positive response to the recent cluster outbreaks in New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Queensland, Hunt said Australia would still be affected as the world continues to grapple with soaring virus numbers.
“We don’t get out of the forest because the world doesn’t come out of the forest,” he said. “And our challenge is always there, while there is a disease spreading overseas in other parts of the world, but Australia is doing very well.”
Hunt also said Queensland’s response to a British mutant strain of Covid-19 that appeared in a hotel quarantine worker in Brisbane showed the state government and health department were able to stop a potential outbreak.
The federal health minister also said he had asked the Therapeutic Goods Administration to seek more information about the Pfizer vaccine, following a Norwegian report on the administration’s risks.
Media reports from Norway have marked six vaccinated elderly patients as dying after being inoculated, bringing the total to 29.
“We have been in contact with the Foreign Minister, and Marise Payne will assign DFAT to seek direct advice from the Norwegian government,” said Hunt.
“In addition, I briefed the Acting Prime Minister and the Prime Minister’s Office today. So if more information is available, we will share it with the Australian public.”
Ten new cases of Covid-19 have emerged since Friday, all in managed isolation centers.
In an update shortly after 1 p.m. on Sunday, the Health Ministry said one of these cases was classified as historical, and not contagious.
Eight of the new cases are in Auckland, and one in Christchurch.
The historical case involves a person who traveled from Pakistan via the UAE on September 5. They completed managed isolation and returned two negative test results in September but were recently retested as a pre-travel requirement. The test gives a weak positive, indicating historical infection.
Of the new, potentially contagious cases, two arrived from South Africa via the UAE on Thursday. Both were tested on the first day in New Zealand.
A person from the UK who also traveled through the UAE and arrived on Thursday tested positive as well.
One of the people who have tested positive is from an undetermined country and arrived last Tuesday.
Other people who have tested positive are from Japan, the UK, the United States and the UAE.
“Four cases have now recovered, bringing the total number of active cases in New Zealand to 82,” a health ministry spokesman said.
Since the pandemic broke out, New Zealand has recorded a total of 1,900 cases.
Meanwhile, the first travelers from the UK and US under new pre-departure testing rules began arriving in New Zealand.
New Zealand Customs reported a very high level of compliance with the new rules, the Health Ministry said.
From 11:59 p.m. on Friday, travelers from the United States and United Kingdom must show negative Covid-19 results or sign a medical exemption upon arrival in New Zealand.
In addition, travelers from these two countries must get a Covid-19 test within 24 hours of arriving in managed isolation.
These new arrivals must stay in their room until a negative test result is returned.
Pre-departure testing will soon cover all overseas countries and territories apart from Australia, Antarctica and some Pacific Island nations.
Health authorities hope the new testing rules will better protect New Zealand from Covid-19, including from new and emerging mutant strains of the virus.
Ice cream made in China with ingredients from New Zealand and Ukraine has been contaminated with Covid-19, which experts call “disposable”.
Health officials in the Chinese municipality of Tianjin reported that three ice cream samples returned positive Covid-19 tests.
However, the infection was considered a “one-time” and said there was no cause for concern.
The ice cream is produced by the Tianjin Daqiaodao Food Company, using New Zealand milk powder.
The company has sealed and stockpiled all of its products after tests found the virus in this week’s ice cream.
“It looks like this came from someone, and without knowing the details, I thought it might be just one time,” Dr Stephen Griffin, virologist at the University of Leeds, told Sky News.
“Of course, any level of contamination is unacceptable and always a cause for concern, but most likely this is the result of problems with the production plant and potentially down to cleanliness in the plant.”
Experts said the cold temperature, combined with the fat content of the ice cream, could be the cause of the “viability” of the virus in the samples. However, Griffin stressed that there is no reason to be worried.
“We may not need to panic if every ice cream will suddenly be contaminated with the corona virus,” he added.
The Ministry of Primary Industries said it was not aware of any evidence that New Zealand’s powdered milk was the source of Covid-19.
“In many cases, reports of SARS-CoV-2 detected on food or food packaging are not specific about how the virus was identified, how many viruses were found and whether the virus is viable and contagious,” the ministry said.
“The scientific literature and experience of global public health authorities is that airborne droplet and aerosol transmission are the dominant routes for COVID-19 infection. The risk of transmission through food is considered to be very negligible.”
1662 company employees are reported to have been placed in quarantine.
According to local authorities, the company produced 4,836 ice cream boxes, 2089 of which have been sealed in storage.
A total of 935 boxes of ice cream, out of 2,747 boxes that entered the market, are in Tianjin. Only 65 were sold to the market.
Authorities have issued warnings to any residents who may have purchased the ice cream, asking them to report their health and movements in the community.
Viral-fighting antibodies have been found in Kiwi Covid-19 patients for up to eight months after they were infected – a finding that could bode well for the upcoming vaccine rollout.
The new research, released before peer review, has also proven to be of global importance, given that antibodies persist even when no viruses are circulating in the community.
The study analyzed antibodies in a group of 112 New Zealand patients previously infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, most of whom had mild symptoms.
Antibodies play an important role in the immune system against pathogens such as the coronavirus.
Once a new virus is recognized, antibodies are specially crafted to bind to the “spike protein” and stop it from entering our cells – while signaling other parts of the immune system to destroy foreign invaders.
“Because antibodies are very specific for an invading pathogen or virus, they also provide a way to track and study a person’s history of infection,” said Dr. Nikki Moreland, an immunologist and biomedical scientist at the University of Auckland.
“In other words, by taking a blood sample of someone, and seeing if there are specific antibodies for SARS-CoV-2 in circulation, it’s possible to determine if they have previously had Covid-19.”
This is useful for diagnosis – especially when the swab has no more virus due to infection several weeks or months ago.
“By studying the level and function of circulating antibodies, it is also possible to determine whether a person has the types of antibodies that might provide protection if they encounter certain viruses or pathogens again.”
The new collaborative study, carried out by PhD student Alana Whitcombe and research scientist Dr Reuben McGregor on the Moreland team, investigates not only the quantity of antibodies in previously infected people – but also their quality.
“Specifically, do people have antibodies that bind to viral spike proteins, can these antibodies neutralize the virus, and how long do these antibodies last?” McGregor said.
In the laboratory, the researchers measured levels of circulating antibodies that bind to spike proteins, as well as whether those antibodies neutralized.
“Since we had samples from people who were infected months earlier, we can use this measurement to see how long the antibodies last.”
“The good news is we observed that the majority of people have neutralizing antibodies that bind to the spike protein and they can be detected for up to eight months after infection.”
While overseas research shows this too, the main difference is that this effect has been demonstrated in countries where Covid-19 has been successfully eliminated.
“People in New Zealand are not re-exposed to the virus like they are in countries with high community transmission rates,” Moreland said.
When someone is re-exposed, he explained, their immune system boosts, which can affect levels of circulating antibodies.
That makes similar data from abroad more difficult to interpret, given it’s unclear whether antibodies were there simply as a result of re-exposure.
“In New Zealand we are fortunate not to have that problem to consider when looking at our data,” said Moreland.
“We believe the antibodies we measured came from the initial infection, so seeing these antibodies last up to eight months was really encouraging.”
What does the vaccine launch mean?
Moreland said the study offers some “positive signals”, given the data from vaccine trials showing the agent induces similar – and in some cases higher – levels of neutralizing antibodies for natural infections.
“So the protection from the vaccine is also likely to last for months and maybe even longer,” he said.
“But we are still studying in real-time, every month we see that the antibodies last one month longer.
“Also, there are several different vaccines and it is important to track the antibody response to different vaccines to measure whether there is a difference in the quality and quantity of the antibodies they produce, and how long the neutralizing antibodies to vaccines last.”
Further studies showed that scientists could accurately measure spike antibodies from finger prick blood samples.
“This could drastically improve the feasibility of large-scale studies to track vaccine antibody responses.” Whitcombe said.
The paper, uploaded to medRxiv’s pre-print server, involved doctors and scientists from the University of Otago, New Zealand Blood Service, Te Punaha Matatini, Callaghan Innovations, the Maurice Wilkins Center, Southern Community Laboratory and the City of Auckland, Starship and Kidz First Children’s Hospital .
“This work would not have been possible without a national network of doctors, nurses, researchers and scientists and highlighted the collaborative nature of New Zealand’s science during the pandemic,” said Moreland.
Doctors in the United Kingdom are treating several critically ill COVID-19 patients with what are hailed as two new life-saving drugs. But it is not clear whether the drugs will help the current surge in cases in the United States.
Vaccination against COVID-19 has generated the greatest hope recently, but the fight to help vulnerable coronavirus victims in ICUs across the country remains a top priority.
Dr. Thomas Yadegar, ICU medical director at Providence Cedars-Sinai Tarzana Medical Center, has worked with coronavirus patients who end up with an immune response called a cytokine storm.
“There is a certain population of hospitalized patients who develop a COVID-19 cytokine storm. And what happens with them is they quickly reduce it. Their oxygen needs are probably very minimal, and then in 12-24 hours, they need it to be put on a ventilator. “
Over the past nine months, Yadegar has been using an interleukin-6 (IL-6) inhibitor, which reduces inflammation, to save about 150 patients.
“If used early and aggressively, these drugs can prevent patients from being de-compensated, meaning they can prevent patients from needing to use a respirator. They can prevent patients from entering the ICU, but they need to be used early and aggressively,” Yadegar said. “Not all hospitalized patients can be treated with this, so it’s not a one size fits all.”
In the UK, researchers are also using two anti-inflammatory drugs to treat ICU patients who are deteriorating rapidly by administering the drugs intravenously.
Researchers say they have reduced deaths by a quarter in the sickest patients with COVID-19.
As Yadegar discovered, IL-6 inhibitors can provide promising results for patients hardest hit by the virus.
“Hope is definitely there, especially at this time when we are very short on ICU beds,” he said. “Once these effective therapies are used, they can definitely reduce some of the stress on the system.”