China begins clinical trials for its first coronavirus vaccine developed by the nation’s top military bio-warfare expert
- China gave permission to launch the first clinical trial for the vaccine last night
- The team also prepared for large-scale production of the vaccine if successful
- Chen Wei, the head researcher, was known as the ‘terminator of Ebola’ in China
- The news comes as Beijing only reported one new domestic virus case today
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Chen Wei, the lead researcher, announced last night that Beijing has granted permission to start the tests.
‘Vaccine is the strongest scientific weapon to end the coronavirus,’ the bio-warfare expert told state broadcaster CCTV.
‘If China is the first country to invent such weapons and have our own patents, it shows the progress of our science and the image of a giant country.’
The research team has also prepared for large-scale production of the vaccine, Chen added.
Chen Wei, head of the research team, announced last night that the central government has granted permission to start the trials. She is seen here working on the vaccine in Wuhan
The Recombinant Novel Coronavirus Vaccine was successfully developed following more than a month of research. Chen Wei is pictured here with two military colleagues in Wuhan
China ‘reveals to the world’ on key medicine and treatment for the coronavirus
China has revealed key medicine and treatment used to battle the coronavirus, a spokesperson from China’s State Council announced today.
The recommended treatment for the coronavirus includes blood plasma from recovered patients and traditional Chinese medicine.
It comes as China has gained significant process in its scientific research, said Zhang Xinmin, Director of the Biology Centre from the State Council.
‘China upholds the idea of a community of shared future for mankind and is willing to share [the scientific progress] with the international community,’ Zhang added.
The Recombinant Novel Coronavirus Vaccine was successfully developed following more than a month of research, including the study of the vaccines for Ebola.
Chen, also a leading specialist in genetic engineering vaccines in China, developed a medical spray during the SARS outbreak in 2003. The product prevented around 14,000 medical workers from contracting the virus, said another state-media report.
She is also known in the country as the ‘terminator of Ebola’ for leading a team to create a vaccine against the fatal illness.
Speaking of fighting the novel coronavirus, Chen said: ‘The epidemic is like a military situation. The epicentre equals to the battlefield.’
The 54-year-old expert, also a Major General of the People’s Army, has been working on the coronavirus vaccine since arriving in Wuhan on January 26, according to the press.
Chen and her team were already developing a quicker way to screen the COVID-19 coronavirus from a tent in the epicenter on January 30, according to an official report from China.
Chen Wei, also a leading specialist in genetic engineering vaccines in China, developed a medical spray during the SARS outbreak in 2003. She is seen working in the laboratory
Two researchers are pictured working on the development of the vaccine. China gave permission to launch the first clinical trial for the vaccine last night
Several of Wuhan’s major hospitals as well as two newly built coronavirus hospitals are now being managed by the People’s Liberation Army. A military medical worker is pictured taking over the work from a medical worker at Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital on January 26
Chen and her team were already developing a quicker way to screen the COVID-19 coronavirus from a tent in the epicenter on January 30, according to an official report from China. She is pictured being interviewed by to a reporter from CCTV outside the mobile laboratory in Wuhan
The news comes as Beijing reported just one new domestic case today in comparison to 15,152 just five weeks ago while the number of deaths and infections in Europe continue to soar.
The single case in Wuhan will boost China’s view that it has ‘basically curbed’ the spread of the pathogen which emerged in the city last December.
But the country is now concerned about an influx of cases from abroad, with an average of 20,000 people flying into China every day.
In a reversal of roles, Beijing is now requiring almost all international arrivals to go into 14-day quarantine in designated hotels.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday announced that the UK was going to war with the coronavirus – people were urged to work from home, not to socialise and to self-isolate if anyone in their house becomes ill
UK authorities had confirmed 1,543 cases of the coronavirus and 55 deaths by yesterday. The true number of infected people is believed to be higher than 25,000
Meanwhile, scientists warned that dramatic lockdown measures, which have started coming into force across the UK today, could last for 18 months or more.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson last night announced the UK’s epidemic was entering the ‘fast growth’ phase and people should stop socialising, stop going out, work from home and avoid contact with elderly or unwell relatives and friends.
Over-70s and those with long-term health conditions like asthma, heart disease or kidney disease should be extra strict about not coming into contact with others, he added.
Healthy people below the age of 70 have been urged to work from home if they can, to avoid socialising or going out and to stop all non-essential travel
A man wears a ventilator mask and rubber gloves as he waits for a friend at Euston Station in London. Others are seen on their phones and waiting outside the station
Britons have also been urged not travel abroad at all unless it is essential, the Foreign Office announced today.
The UK’s spiralling epidemic is expected to kill thousands of people and rumble on through the summer and potentially into next year, experts say. There may already be 55,000 people infected in the UK, according to the UK’s chief scientific adviser.
London, which is said to be ‘weeks ahead’ of the rest of the country, is the worst-hit area of the UK and has confirmed at least 480 cases, with Kensington and Chelsea the most infected borough (43 cases).
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS?
What is the coronavirus?
A coronavirus is a type of virus which can cause illness in animals and people. Viruses break into cells inside their host and use them to reproduce itself and disrupt the body’s normal functions. Coronaviruses are named after the Latin word ‘corona’, which means crown, because they are encased by a spiked shell which resembles a royal crown.
The coronavirus from Wuhan is one which has never been seen before this outbreak. It has been named SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. The name stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2.
Experts say the bug, which has killed around one in 50 patients since the outbreak began in December, is a ‘sister’ of the SARS illness which hit China in 2002, so has been named after it.
The disease that the virus causes has been named COVID-19, which stands for coronavirus disease 2019.
Dr Helena Maier, from the Pirbright Institute, said: ‘Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that infect a wide range of different species including humans, cattle, pigs, chickens, dogs, cats and wild animals.
‘Until this new coronavirus was identified, there were only six different coronaviruses known to infect humans. Four of these cause a mild common cold-type illness, but since 2002 there has been the emergence of two new coronaviruses that can infect humans and result in more severe disease (Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) coronaviruses).
‘Coronaviruses are known to be able to occasionally jump from one species to another and that is what happened in the case of SARS, MERS and the new coronavirus. The animal origin of the new coronavirus is not yet known.’
The first human cases were publicly reported from the Chinese city of Wuhan, where approximately 11million people live, after medics first started publicly reporting infections on December 31.
By January 8, 59 suspected cases had been reported and seven people were in critical condition. Tests were developed for the new virus and recorded cases started to surge.
The first person died that week and, by January 16, two were dead and 41 cases were confirmed. The next day, scientists predicted that 1,700 people had become infected, possibly up to 7,000.
Where does the virus come from?
According to scientists, the virus almost certainly came from bats. Coronaviruses in general tend to originate in animals – the similar SARS and MERS viruses are believed to have originated in civet cats and camels, respectively.
The first cases of COVID-19 came from people visiting or working in a live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed down for investigation.
Although the market is officially a seafood market, other dead and living animals were being sold there, including wolf cubs, salamanders, snakes, peacocks, porcupines and camel meat.
A study by the Wuhan Institute of Virology, published in February 2020 in the scientific journal Nature, found that the genetic make-up virus samples found in patients in China is 96 per cent identical to a coronavirus they found in bats.
However, there were not many bats at the market so scientists say it was likely there was an animal which acted as a middle-man, contracting it from a bat before then transmitting it to a human. It has not yet been confirmed what type of animal this was.
Dr Michael Skinner, a virologist at Imperial College London, was not involved with the research but said: ‘The discovery definitely places the origin of nCoV in bats in China.
‘We still do not know whether another species served as an intermediate host to amplify the virus, and possibly even to bring it to the market, nor what species that host might have been.’
So far the fatalities are quite low. Why are health experts so worried about it?
Experts say the international community is concerned about the virus because so little is known about it and it appears to be spreading quickly.
It is similar to SARS, which infected 8,000 people and killed nearly 800 in an outbreak in Asia in 2003, in that it is a type of coronavirus which infects humans’ lungs. It is less deadly than SARS, however, which killed around one in 10 people, compared to approximately one in 50 for COVID-19.
Another reason for concern is that nobody has any immunity to the virus because they’ve never encountered it before. This means it may be able to cause more damage than viruses we come across often, like the flu or common cold.
Speaking at a briefing in January, Oxford University professor, Dr Peter Horby, said: ‘Novel viruses can spread much faster through the population than viruses which circulate all the time because we have no immunity to them.
‘Most seasonal flu viruses have a case fatality rate of less than one in 1,000 people. Here we’re talking about a virus where we don’t understand fully the severity spectrum but it’s possible the case fatality rate could be as high as two per cent.’
If the death rate is truly two per cent, that means two out of every 100 patients who get it will die.
‘My feeling is it’s lower,’ Dr Horby added. ‘We’re probably missing this iceberg of milder cases. But that’s the current circumstance we’re in.
‘Two per cent case fatality rate is comparable to the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 so it is a significant concern globally.’
How does the virus spread?
The illness can spread between people just through coughs and sneezes, making it an extremely contagious infection. And it may also spread even before someone has symptoms.
It is believed to travel in the saliva and even through water in the eyes, therefore close contact, kissing, and sharing cutlery or utensils are all risky. It can also live on surfaces, such as plastic and steel, for up to 72 hours, meaning people can catch it by touching contaminated surfaces.
Originally, people were thought to be catching it from a live animal market in Wuhan city. But cases soon began to emerge in people who had never been there, which forced medics to realise it was spreading from person to person.
What does the virus do to you? What are the symptoms?
Once someone has caught the COVID-19 virus it may take between two and 14 days, or even longer, for them to show any symptoms – but they may still be contagious during this time.
If and when they do become ill, typical signs include a runny nose, a cough, sore throat and a fever (high temperature). The vast majority of patients will recover from these without any issues, and many will need no medical help at all.
In a small group of patients, who seem mainly to be the elderly or those with long-term illnesses, it can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in which the insides of the lungs swell up and fill with fluid. It makes it increasingly difficult to breathe and, if left untreated, can be fatal and suffocate people.
Figures are showing that young children do not seem to be particularly badly affected by the virus, which they say is peculiar considering their susceptibility to flu, but it is not clear why.
What have genetic tests revealed about the virus?
Scientists in China have recorded the genetic sequences of around 19 strains of the virus and released them to experts working around the world.
This allows others to study them, develop tests and potentially look into treating the illness they cause.
Examinations have revealed the coronavirus did not change much – changing is known as mutating – much during the early stages of its spread.
However, the director-general of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Gao Fu, said the virus was mutating and adapting as it spread through people.
This means efforts to study the virus and to potentially control it may be made extra difficult because the virus might look different every time scientists analyse it.
More study may be able to reveal whether the virus first infected a small number of people then change and spread from them, or whether there were various versions of the virus coming from animals which have developed separately.
How dangerous is the virus?
The virus has a death rate of around two per cent. This is a similar death rate to the Spanish Flu outbreak which, in 1918, went on to kill around 50million people.
Experts have been conflicted since the beginning of the outbreak about whether the true number of people who are infected is significantly higher than the official numbers of recorded cases. Some people are expected to have such mild symptoms that they never even realise they are ill unless they’re tested, so only the more serious cases get discovered, making the death toll seem higher than it really is.
However, an investigation into government surveillance in China said it had found no reason to believe this was true.
Dr Bruce Aylward, a World Health Organization official who went on a mission to China, said there was no evidence that figures were only showing the tip of the iceberg, and said recording appeared to be accurate, Stat News reported.
Can the virus be cured?
The COVID-19 virus cannot be cured and it is proving difficult to contain.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are out of the question. Antiviral drugs can work, but the process of understanding a virus then developing and producing drugs to treat it would take years and huge amounts of money.
No vaccine exists for the coronavirus yet and it’s not likely one will be developed in time to be of any use in this outbreak, for similar reasons to the above.
The National Institutes of Health in the US, and Baylor University in Waco, Texas, say they are working on a vaccine based on what they know about coronaviruses in general, using information from the SARS outbreak. But this may take a year or more to develop, according to Pharmaceutical Technology.
Currently, governments and health authorities are working to contain the virus and to care for patients who are sick and stop them infecting other people.
People who catch the illness are being quarantined in hospitals, where their symptoms can be treated and they will be away from the uninfected public.
And airports around the world are putting in place screening measures such as having doctors on-site, taking people’s temperatures to check for fevers and using thermal screening to spot those who might be ill (infection causes a raised temperature).
However, it can take weeks for symptoms to appear, so there is only a small likelihood that patients will be spotted up in an airport.
Is this outbreak an epidemic or a pandemic?
The outbreak was declared a pandemic on March 11. A pandemic is defined by the World Health Organization as the ‘worldwide spread of a new disease’.
Previously, the UN agency said most cases outside of Hubei had been ‘spillover’ from the epicentre, so the disease wasn’t actually spreading actively around the world.