Two European patients are confirmed to have been reinfected with the coronavirus, raising concerns about people’s immunity to the virus as the world struggles to tame the pandemic.
The cases, in Belgium and the Netherlands, follow a report this week by researchers in Hong Kong about a man there who had been reinfected four and a half months after being declared recovered — the first such reinfection to be documented.
That has fuelled fears about the effectiveness of potential vaccines against the virus, though experts say there would need to be many more cases of reinfection for these to be justified.
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Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst said the Belgian case was a woman who had contracted COVID-19 for the first time in March and then again in June. Further cases of reinfection were likely to surface, he said.
“We don’t know if there will be a large number. I think probably not, but we will have to see,” he told Reuters, noting that COVID-19 has only been in humans for less than a year.
“Perhaps a vaccine will need to be repeated every year, or within two or three years. It seems clear though that we won’t have something that works for, say, 10 years,” he said.
Van Ranst, who sits on some Belgian COVID-19 committees, said in cases such as the Belgian woman’s in which symptoms were relatively mild, the body may not have created enough antibodies to prevent a reinfection, although they might have helped limit the sickness.
The National Institute for Public Health in the Netherlands said it had also observed a Dutch case of reinfection. Virologist Marion Koopmans was quoted by Dutch broadcaster NOS as saying the patient in the Netherlands was an older person with a weakened immune system.
Koopmans said that cases where people have been sick with the virus for a long time, and then experience a flare-up, are better known.
But a true reinfection, as in the Dutch, Belgian and Hong Kong cases, requires genetic testing of the virus in both the first and second infection to see whether the two instances of the virus differ slightly.
Koopmans, an adviser to the Dutch government, said reinfections had been expected.
“That someone would pop up with a reinfection, it doesn’t make me nervous,” she said. “We have to see whether it happens often.”
WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris told a UN briefing in Geneva regarding the Hong Kong case that, while anecdotal reports of reinfections had surfaced now and then, it was important to have clear documentation of such cases.
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Some experts say it is likely that such cases are starting to emerge because of greater testing worldwide, rather than because the virus may be spreading differently.
Still, Dr. David Strain, a clinical senior lecturer at the University of Exeter and chair of the British Medical Association’s medical academic staff committee, said the cases were worrying for several reasons.
“The first is that it suggests that previous infection is not protective,” he said. “The second is that it raises the possibility that vaccinations may not provide the hope that we have been waiting for.”
What’s happening with coronavirus in Canada
As of 10:45 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Canada had 125,747 confirmed and presumptive coronavirus cases. Provinces and territories listed 111,772 of those as recovered or resolved. A CBC News tally of deaths based on provincial reports, regional health information and CBC’s reporting stood at 9,119.
Researchers and public health officials in Canada have been calling for COVID-19 saliva tests in schools, saying that asking a school-aged child to spit in a cup could be a simpler approach to giving them an invasive, uncomfortable nasal swab test.
But despite international efforts to make this option a reality, there’s still no word on when saliva-based testing for COVID-19 will be allowed in Canada.
“School is just around the corner, and I feel like we’re lagging behind,” said researcher Dr. Michael Glogauer, a professor in the faculty of dentistry at the University of Toronto, who has been focusing on saliva as a diagnostic tool for the last two decades.
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South of the border, five saliva-based tests have been approved so far by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But no such saliva-based tests have yet been authorized by Health Canada.
Dozens of research teams at the University of Toronto and across the country are exploring saliva-based testing, Glogauer said, and dealing with ongoing “back and forth” with government officials.
Glogauer’s own team is focusing on one of the FDA-approved saliva-based lab tests already in use in the U.S. and is now applying for Health Canada approval.
“It’s effective, it works, it can be used within the laboratory system. It’s plug and play,” he said. “It’s just a matter of Health Canada approving these tests, and getting to work on it.”
Ontario reported 105 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday, a fourth straight day in the triple digits for the province, as Toronto’s Sunnybrook hospital faced an outbreak of COVID-19.
The hospital said it has identified a total of four cases, after recently detecting a positive case in one of its units. When that was confirmed, the hospital said it rapidly tested all patients in the unit and identified the three other infections.
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Also on Monday, Toronto’s top doctor said that in the last two weeks, the city has seen a noticeable increase in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in people under 40 years old.
That includes residents in both the 20-to-39 demographic, as well as those 19 years old and younger, said Dr. Eileen de Villa at a news conference.
De Villa said she understands “we are all feeling COVID fatigue” but that everyone needs to continue to heed the advice of Toronto Public Health.
Here’s what’s happening around the world
According to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University, the global total of confirmed coronavirus cases is now more than 23.6 million. More than 814,000 people have died, while 15.3 million have recovered.
In the United States, the head of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told Reuters on Monday that the agency does not harbour “deep state” elements, rejecting criticism from President Donald Trump that staff there were trying to delay a coronavirus vaccine.
Dr. Stephen Hahn said he was completely confident that FDA workers were focused solely on the interests of the American people during the coronavirus pandemic.
Without evidence, Trump on Saturday accused some people working within the FDA of complicating efforts to test COVID-19 vaccines in order to delay results until after the Nov. 3 presidential election.
“I have not seen anything that I would consider to be ‘deep state’ at the FDA,” Hahn told Reuters in an interview. Trump’s use of the term deep state seems to refer to long-serving government employees he believes are determined to undermine his agenda.
Mexican health authorities will begin this week to use a broader definition to identify possible coronavirus cases, a top official said on Monday, after questions about whether testing was too limited.
A new definition of “suspected” infections will come into use on Tuesday and will include loss of smell, loss of taste and diarrhea as possible COVID-19 symptoms, Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell said. It will also allow a person with just one symptom, rather than two or more, to be viewed as potentially infected.
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Mexico’s policy is to apply tests to people who show sufficient symptoms, Lopez-Gatell noted.
Mexico on Monday reported 3,541 new confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus and 320 more fatalities, bringing its total tallies to 563,705 cases and 60,800 deaths. It has the world’s third-highest death toll from the pandemic.
In Britain, a scientist leading the trials for for the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca’s possible coronavirus vaccine said on Tuesday that trial data could be given to regulators this year, but corners cannot be cut to speed up approval for emergency use.
The Oxford vaccine produced an immune response in its first human trials, underlining its position as one of the leading candidates in the race to combat the virus.
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The Financial Times reported earlier this week that the Trump administration was considering fast-tracking the vaccine for use in the U.S. ahead of the Nov. 3 election. The newspaper said one option being explored would involve the FDA awarding “emergency use authorization” in October to the potential vaccine.
Pollard said the process for emergency use authorization was well established. “But it still involves having carefully conducted data … and evidence that it actually works,” he said.
A lockdown took hold in Gaza on Tuesday after confirmation of the first cases of COVID-19 in the general population of the Palestinian enclave, whose restricted borders have spared it from wide infection.
Health authorities in the Hamas-run territory of two million people are concerned over the potentially disastrous combination of poverty, densely populated refugee camps and limited hospital facilities in dealing with an outbreak.
A government spokesman said four cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in a single family in a refugee camp, the first in Gaza that did not involve people quarantined in border facilities after crossing from Egypt and Israel.
With businesses, schools and mosques ordered closed late on Monday for at least 48 hours, Gaza’s streets were largely deserted. But some people scrambled to stock up on essentials in groceries and bakeries, a limited number of which were allowed to remain open.
South Korea is closing schools and switching back to remote learning in the greater capital area as the country counted its 12th straight day of triple-digit daily increases in coronavirus cases.
Education Minister Yoo Eun-hae said Tuesday that at least 193 students and teachers were found infected over the past two weeks in the Seoul metropolitan region, where a viral surge has threatened to erase the country’s hard-won epidemiological gains.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 280 new cases of COVID-19, pushing the 12-day total to 3,175. The country’s caseload is now at 17,945, including 310 deaths.
Yoo said most children at kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools will receive online classes at least until Sept. 11. High-school seniors will continue to go to school so their studies are not disrupted ahead of the crucial national college exams.
Australian hot spot Victoria state has recorded an increase in new coronavirus cases, although health authorities are confident infections are continuing to trend down.
Victoria’s Health Department on Tuesday reported 148 new COVID-19 infections in the latest 24-hour period and eight deaths.
Victoria reported 116 new cases and 15 deaths the previous day. That was the lowest daily tally of new cases since 87 were reported on July 5. The daily count had been as high as 725 news cases in early August.
State capital Melbourne is around halfway through a six-week lockdown.