Wednesday, 27 January 2021
Business and Economy

Business and Economy (1104)

From Yinka Adeniran, Ibadan, Justina Asishana, Minna and David Adenuga, Bauchi

Two COVID-19 patients receiving treatment in Oyo State as well as one each in Niger and Bauchi states have fled from isolation centres.

Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde said the two people who ran away in the state tested positive to the deadly virus.

He said 975 samples had been collected for test.

The governor said the two fleeing patients brought the number of active cases in the state to 31 instead of 33.

Makinde announced the escape of the patients while giving an update on the state’s COVID-19 figures in a series of tweets on his Twitter handle.

The tweet reads: “We have received more results from pending COVID-19 confirmation tests. The result of one suspected case came back positive on May 03, 2020. The person is based in Ibadan.

“The results of five suspected cases came back positive on May 04, 2020. Four of these five cases are immigrants and the last person is an Oyo State resident.

“The results of five suspected cases came back positive on May 05, 2020. Four of these five cases are travellers from the North and the last one is an Oyo State resident.

“Of the 33 active cases being managed by the state, two have absconded, possibly to their permanent places of residence. This brings the number of active cases in Oyo State to 31.”

The Niger State patient is a woman who absconded from the Minna isolation centre.

Health Commissioner Dr. Muhammed Makusidi spoke on Wednesday on the fleeing patient at a media briefing in Minna, the state capital.

He described the escapee as a confirmed case from Kano, saying efforts were being made to trace her whereabouts and bring her back to the centre.

The commissioner expressed fear over the danger she poses to the state if she is left to mingle with other residents.

In Bauchi, Deputy Governor Baba Tela, who is also the Chairman of the Task Force Response Committee on Lassa Fever and Coronavirus, confirmed the escape of the patient.

The Nation newspaper
Posted On Thursday, 07 May 2020 12:37 Written by

The Nigerian Government has extended closure of airspace and airports across the country by four weeks.

Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha disclosed this on Wednesday during the briefing of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

He said, “Tomorrow marks the last day for the enforcement of the closure of Nigeria’s airspace to flights.

“We have assessed the situation in the aviation industry and have come to the conclusion that given the facts available to us and based on the advice of experts, the ban on all flights will be extended for an additional four weeks.”

Mustapha, however, said the minister for aviation, Hadi Sirika, would provide further details on the directive.

The Nigerian Government had two weeks ago extended the closure of the nation’s airspace and airports by another 14 days as Coronavirus infections increase in the nation.

Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika had said as a result of the extension of lockdown of Lagos, Ogun and Abuja by President Muhammadu Buhari, it was no longer possible for the nation to open its airspace and airports for normal operation by 23 April, 2020.

Sirika stated that they would remain closed for a further two weeks, which he said, was subject to review.

“COVID-19. As a result of the extension on lockdown by Mr President it is no longer possible for us to open our airspace and airports for normal operations by the 23rd April, 2020.

“They will remain closed for a further 2 weeks. This subject to review as appropriate, please,” he tweeted.

Posted On Wednesday, 06 May 2020 17:05 Written by

Despite Brent-crude futures rallying in recent weeks, Nigeria, is facing a fast-looming future without reliance on fiscal revenue from its massive oil wealth, Bloomberg has reported.

Amid the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought to a halt economic activity and travel, demand for crude has been crippled, resulting in a dramatic oversupply.

Accordingly, a glut of Nigerian oil has been bringing the country about $10 less than the $30 a barrel registered on Tuesday.

“It’s now dawned on everyone across the country how severe this threat is. There is a possibility that at least for three to five years, there’s going to be no revenue flowing to the government from oil,” Andrew Nevin, a partner and chief economist for Nigeria at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, told Blooomberg.

Zainab Ahmed Minister of Finance: Double whammy challenge

Once oil prices, which normally contribute about half of Nigeria’s fiscal revenue, are at around $20 a barrel, Nigeria receives very little cash for its crude, Nevin of PwC was cited as saying at a webinar on 30 April.

Current global measures to fight the spread of COVID-19, with lockdown procedures, travel bans and shut industries, have driven oil prices to new lows where they fail to cover the costs of pumping barrels for many of Nigeria’s companies, writes the outlet.

Despite such low prices, on 5 April traders were cited as acknowledging that around a quarter of Nigeria’s oil cargoes for his month were still awaiting buyers, with at least six tankers used as storage space for about 4.5 million barrels of crude were idling off Gibraltar and nearby Ceuta.
According to tanker tracking data cited by Bloomberg, the tankers, floating in the area since the end of March, were about to be joined by another one.

Despite such low prices, on 5 April traders were cited as acknowledging that around a quarter of Nigeria’s oil cargoes for his month were still awaiting buyers, with at least six tankers used as storage space for about 4.5 million barrels of crude were idling off Gibraltar and nearby Ceuta.

According to tanker tracking data cited by Bloomberg, the tankers, floating in the area since the end of March, were about to be joined by another one.

On Tuesday Nigeria’s Finance Minister spoke in a webinar to deplore the twin challenge of dealing with the coronavirus epidemic itself and economic impact from it facing the country.

“It’s a double whammy. This has set us back significantly,” said Zainab Ahmed.

Clement Agba, minister of state for budget and national planning, echoed the dismal forecasts, saying: “It is no longer a secret that government revenues have collapsed.”

Nigeria was already struggling before the pandemic, as a US shale oil boom had slashed the country’s crude exports to America.

About 40 to 50 percent of the oil was typically sent to the US.

Amid the dire forecasts, Nigeria has sought a $3.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to shore up the country’s 2020 spending plan.

It’s also requested a further $3.5 billion from the World Bank and other financial institutions.

In late April, the IMF reviewed its earlier forecast of an anticipated 2 per cent growth of Nigeria’s economy, predicting it would shrink by 3.4 percent in 2020.

According to the IMF, crude revenues were predicted to decline by $26.5 billion this year, down from $54.5 billion in 2019.

With oil making up 9 percent of the Nigerian economy, crude exports fetch over 90 per cent of foreign exchange earnings.

“This is a period of crisis… Job losses are imminent across the petroleum industry. The impact of this will start reflecting from June and July.

“The reality is that some members will certainly be impacted.

“What matters most to us is how to manage the process of any of such expected exit,” Shell Nigeria’s Fortune Obi, a spokesman of the country’s oil union for senior workers, was quoted as confirming.

The economic downfall could spark social unrest in a country that has witnessed spells of militant violence for years, with oil facilities often targeted by protesters lashing out against allegedly unfair practices by the government and large oil companies.

Regarding possible future government measures, experts predict there will be pressure to keep oil wells pumping, with focus on maximizing revenue by slashing output from high-cost producers.

Deep offshore operators would potentially be the hardest hit from such moves, said Cees Uijlenhoed, chief financial officer First Exploration & Petroleum Plc.

He added, optimistically, that prices might tentatively reach around $50 a barrel by the end of 2020.

Posted On Wednesday, 06 May 2020 13:17 Written by

From Moses Emorinken, Bolaji Ogundele and Frank Ikpefan, Abuja

  • PTF raises concern over overcrowding in public places
  • House-to-house search for virus carriers begins in Kano
  • 30 doctors, 3 policemen test positive in Lagos, Katsina

A lockdown of the country again is likely.

This follows Monday’s gross disobedience of the protocols as Nigerians got some relief after weeks of restrictions.

It was the first day after the easing of the shutdown to contain the spread of coronavirus in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun states.

Before the four-week stay-at-home imposed by President Muhammadu Buhari, Lagos and Abuja had been under some forms of restriction for at least one week.

Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 is not pleased that there was a breach of social distancing with overcrowding in public places, interstate movement and shunning of face masks.

“Today, we might forgive a little bit because it was the first day. However, we will have infections because of what happened today (yesterday), no doubt about that.

“But what is more important is how we can learn from the mistakes of today (yesterday) into tomorrow and into next tomorrow, so that by Friday, hopefully they will have normalised some of these things.

“The challenge for us as a society is how we now organise ourselves to mitigate this risk to limit transmission from each other. We don’t want an explosion of new infections.

“But if we do have that explosion, there will be almost no choice left for the leadership of the country than to ask all of us to go back into our homes.

“For the benefits of having a few hours a day of coming out and reopening parts of the economy, there is a price to pay and that price is that we organise ourselves to do this strictly,” Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, Chikwe Ihekweazu, said. He spoke during the daily briefing of the task force in Abuja yesterday.

Dr. Ihekweazu said although the PTF expected some lapses in compliance with safety precautions by some people, corporate organisations, especially banks, flouted the NCDC guidelines for infection prevention and control.

Read Also: How pandemics resurged after lockdown rules were relaxed

He said the panel noted that only a few bank branches opened a development that led to the high number of customers seen in them.

The NCDC boss explained that the Federal Government expected a few extra infections as a result of the lapses on Monday.

“Initial reports are not too pleasing across the country. When we say take responsibility this time, we really needed to address corporate Nigeria. One of the biggest groups that we have allowed to restart business today were banks,” he said, adding: “When you limit the number of branches that open, everybody goes to the one branch that is open; that becomes counter-productive.

“We can produce all the guidelines in the world, but if organisations fail to support the implementation of these measures and focus on a risk-based approach, then our efforts might amount to little or nothing.

National Coordinator of the task force, Dr. Aliyu Sani, also clarified that “the easing of the lockdown is in no way a license to relax our self-protection measures.

”It is also not …to return to business as usual. The danger of acquiring COVID -19 is even more clear and present now that we are all slowly going back to work.”

Minister of Health, Dr. Osagie Ehanire, enjoined Nigerians to be more cautious” countries who eased or lifted restrictions, suffered an increase in new cases.”

”We need to protect, not only ourselves, but each other and our loved ones. We need to make sacrifices today for a better tomorrow,” he advised.

PTF chairman, Boss Mustapha lamented that crowds at the banks milled around without giving a hoot to possible spread of COVID-19.

He charged banks to help in solving the crowd problem by ensuring that their online platforms were set right and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) loaded with cash.

Mustapha also noted that state governments and security agencies had been advised to ensure strict compliance by corporate organisations to the regulations for the current phase of national response.

He appealed to Nigerians to continue being responsible citizens, adding that easing the lockdown did not mean danger had already been averted.

He said, “The PTF has been monitoring the level of compliance with some of the measures and early observations showed lack of compliance with social distancing and wearing of masks.

“We note particularly the chaotic scenes around the banks and other financial institutions. We must reiterate that the danger of infection is not over and that individual actions will contribute to the success or failure of our measures.

“We urge citizens to minimize the risk of getting infected while in the banks. We similarly urge the banks to ensure that their ATMs and online banking systems are in good order and stocked regularly to avoid convergence of customers in their premises.

“The PTF fully understands the desire of Nigerians to come out to continue their lives after five weeks of lockdown.

“State governments and security agencies have however been advised to enforce the measures rigidly and violators will be prosecuted.”

On inter-state travels, Mustapha said the PTF was not pleased at the rate of movements across the states, including recent transfer of Almajiris.

He noted that with the new phase of the national response, such movements would be regarded as violation of regulations.

“The PTF has also received reports on the level of compliance with the nationwide ban on inter-state movements. The objective of the ban is to slow down the spread of virus across state boundaries.

“The determination of government to enforce this policy is not in doubt and as we progress, we believe that proper alignment with the directives of Mr. President would be pursued.

“There has been very noticeable relocation of Almajiris from one state to another, up until yesterday (Sunday). With the ban on interstate movement, the continuation of this exercise will not be in alignment with the guidelines issued.

“The PTF shall engage the respective state governments on how to achieve their objectives.”

The task force also lamented that some states involved in ‘deportation’ Almajiris were helping in the breach of the ban on interstate movement.

Posted On Tuesday, 05 May 2020 12:31 Written by

FLINT, Mich. (AP) — A woman, her adult son and husband have been charged in the fatal shooting of a security guard who refused to let her daughter enter a Family Dollar in Michigan because she wasn't wearing a face mask to protect against transmission of the coronavirus.

Calvin Munerlyn was shot Friday at the store just north of downtown Flint a short time after telling Sharmel Teague’s daughter she had to leave because she lacked a mask, according to Genesee County Prosecutor David Leyton.

Teague, 45, argued with Munerlyn, 43, before leaving. Two men later came to the store.

Teague; her husband, Larry Teague, 44; and Ramonyea Bishop, 23; are charged with first-degree premeditated murder and gun charges.

Larry Teague also is charged with violating Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order mandating that all customers and employees must wear face coverings inside grocery stores, Leyton said.

Witnesses identified Bishop as the man who shot Munerlyn in the back of the head, Leyton said.

Sharmel Teague has been arrested. Police were looking for her husband and son.

No information has been released about the daughter, who has not been charged in the shooting.

“It is important that the governor’s order be respected and adhered to, and for someone to lose their life over it is beyond comprehension,” Leyton said earlier Monday in a statement.

On Thursday, gun-carrying protesters and other demonstrators rallied inside the state Capitol, calling for coronavirus-related restrictions to be lifted. Some protesters with guns — which are allowed in the statehouse — went to the Senate gallery. Some senators wore bulletproof vests.

As of Monday, Michigan has reported 43,754 confirmed COVID-19 virus cases and 4,049 deaths due to complications from the disease.

“The hostile tone that we have seen in recent days on television and in social media can permeate our society in ways we sometimes don’t fully realize or anticipate,” Leyton told reporters Monday. “Decisions like staying home when we can, wearing a mask when going to the store and staying a safe distance from those around us — these should not be political arguments. They don’t necessitate acts of defiance, and we simply cannot devolve into an us versus them mentality.”

About 150 people attended a candlelight vigil Sunday night. On Monday, a makeshift memorial was started outside the Family Dollar.

Munerlyn’s mother, Bernadett, said she wants justice for her son.

“They didn’t have to take my baby and it wasn’t that serious,” she said. “All you people just have to do is listen to the law, listen to the governor. Just stay home. If you don’t have to come out, then you wouldn’t need a mask unless you’re out getting groceries or necessities. All my baby was doing was his job working and doing his job.”

Whitmer offered her condolences.

“It is incredibly sad that in this crisis that this life was lost," Whitmer told reporters Monday. “We are mindful of how important it is that people keep a level head, that we do the right things protecting ourselves and protecting others.”

Posted On Tuesday, 05 May 2020 12:25 Written by

Nigeria, on Sunday night recorded 170 new cases of Coronavirus.

According to a tweet from the Nigeria Center for Disease Control, (NCDC), Lagos State recorded 39 cases, Kano State had 29 cases, Ogun State had 24 cases, Bauchi State had 18 cases and Kaduna state recorded 15 cases.

The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Sokoto State recorded 12 cases each, with Katsina State having eight cases, Borno State had seven cases, Nasarawa State had three cases, Adamawa State had two cases and Oyo State had one case.

As it stands, 2558 persons have tested positive to Coronavirus in Nigeria, with 400 patients discharged, and 87 deaths recorded

Posted On Monday, 04 May 2020 12:39 Written by

•Ask government to learn from Ghana’s experience

The Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) on Friday spoke against the decision of the Federal Government to relax the stay-at-home order.

The umbrella body of Nigerian doctors described the move as premature and can potentially expose more Nigerians to the coronavirus (COVID-19) infection.

The association warns that the country could experience a bounce in the number of coronavirus cases as health workers are grappling with numerous challenges like lack for bed spaces in epicenters of the pandemic, especially Lagos, unraveled cause(s) of deaths in Kano State and delay in the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE) to public and private hospitals, among others.

President Muhammadu Buhari had declared a two-week lockdown of Lagos and Ogun states as well as the Federal Capital Teritory (FCT) Abuja during his first address on the pandemic on March 29, 2020, to enable the country tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

On April 12, the President addressed the nation again on the same issue, announcing an extension of the lockdown by two weeks.

However, on April 27, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari approved a ‘phased and gradual easing’ of lockdown measures in Abuja, Lagos and Ogun when he extended the lockdown by one week.

The relaxation of lockdown is billed to take effect from Monday, May 4, 2020.

At the time of filing this report, there were 2,170 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country with 238 new cases recorded nationwide yesterday.

The number of discharged patients was 319 while the number of deaths stood at 58.

The President of the NMA, Dr. Francis Faduyile, in a statement in Abuja, said: “As the incidence of the COVID-19 hits the 2000th mark by this weekend, just seven days after hitting the 1000th mark, it figuratively tilts the epidemiological curve towards an upward spike.

“More so, the revelation by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that the nation lacks bed spaces in Lagos worsens this frightening scenario.

“The confusing situation in Kano is neither unraveled nor resolved. At the same time, some states continue to live in the delusion of zero COVID-19 incidences.

“The easing of the lockdown even in phases is very premature. Nigeria should learn from her neighbour Ghana where the same action produced 100 per cent increase in infection rate in just a week.

“Instead, the association believes that agencies of state should intensify efforts through mass enlightenment campaigns beyond current attempts to explain the dangers inherent in easing the lockdown prematurely in the face of rising infection rates; and also for the palliatives to reach the needy.”

The NMA condemned the pronouncement of the Bauchi State Governor, Bala Muhammed, mandating the use of chloroquine and Zithromax to treat coronavirus patients in the state.

It describes such approach as improper and unethical.

“The Association bemoans the rather meddlesome pronouncements by some state actors on the management protocols for COVID-19 in the country.

“In particular, we view the directive by the Bauchi State Governor for the use of a specific drug in the treatment of positive cases as improper and unethical.

“Medical doctors have the prerogative to use whatever treatment regimen they consider best based on evidence and presentation of the patients.

“We, therefore, implore our leaders to desist from distracting our time tested doctors and health workers.

“Instead, they should encourage them through the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE), incentives and communication tools to interact with peers within the country and overseas as it is customary in the world of medical science to arrive at the best possible interventions for their patients,” he said.

He added: “With 113 healthcare workers in Nigeria reportedly infected with COVID-19 in the course of discharging their duties, NMA reminds all doctors and healthcare workers not to let down their guards in adhering strictly to infection prevention and control protocols.

“The Association re-emphasises that all healthcare workers should wear the proper PPE before attending to any patient as every patient is a potential COVID-19 patient.

“Furthermore, the Association notes with dismay the delay in distributing the available PPE to all public and private hospitals to prevent, detect and treat more patients as it ought to, and pray that the burgeoning bureaucracy is not a clog in the wheels of progress in this regard.

“We wish that the ‘Panel of Experts’ recently inaugurated by the Federal Ministry of Health (FMoH) is empowered to immediately commence their work of thinking, analysing, synthesising, collating and disseminating the most relevant medical information that informs the best management of our COVID-19 patients.

“Science and knowledge must inform policies and politics. We appreciate the FMOH for finally listening to the plea we made several weeks ago.

“We wish the nation and our people the safety and protection from COVID-19 while praying the authorities to continue to carry out all necessary and more invigorated knowledge-based interventions towards a zero COVID-19 Nigeria.”

Posted On Saturday, 02 May 2020 15:50 Written by

Nigeria’s Coronavirus infections have surpassed 2,000, with 238 new cases recorded on Friday.

According to the figures released by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, Nigeria now has 2,170 confirmed cases of Coronavirus.

The virus is seriously spiking in Kano, which recorded 92 new cases, with Abuja having 36 cases and Lagos, 30 cases.

Kano, with 92 new infections has broken the record set by Lagos as the state with the highest number of daily infections. Lagos previous has 87, which has been the highest recorded in a single day.

The virus has also increased in Abuja, with 36 new cases, with Lagos having 30 and Gombe posting 16 fresh cases, while Bauchi ramps up another 10 new infections.

Delta has eight new infections; Oyo, six; Zamfara and Sokoto, five each; Ondo and Nasarawa, four cases each; Kwara, Edo, Ekiti, Borno and Yobe have three new cases each, with Adamawa, two cases; while Niger, Imo, Ebonyi, Rivers and Enugu have one case each.

How States Stand in Friday’s infections

92-Kano
36-FCT
30-Lagos
16-Gombe
10-Bauchi
8-Delta
6-Oyo
5-Zamfara
5-Sokoto
4-Ondo
4-Nasarawa
3-Kwara
3-Edo
3-Ekiti
3-Borno
3-Yobe
2-Adamawa
1-Niger
1-Imo
1-Ebonyi
1-Rivers
1-Enugu

Posted On Saturday, 02 May 2020 13:53 Written by

Former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode has attacked Kano State Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje for asking the Federal Government to relax the lockdown in Kano less than a week it was declared.

Coronavirus is tearing Kano apart with 80 new cases recorded on Thursday alone, taking its total to 219 cases, with more people expected to be infected.

President Muhammadu Buhari had on Monday, during a nationwide broadcast shutdown Kano for two weeks in order to check the spread of Coronavirus.

But Ganduje, on Thursday asked the Federal Government to relax the 14-day total lockdown imposed on the state.

“We would engage the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 to seek permission to relax the total lockdown imposed on Kano.

“We are making this appeal on behalf of our people who are presently running out of food items. We would love the federal government to relax the lockdown for a period of time to enable people stock their homes, especially now that majority of us are fasting. It will also ease the economic hardship in the state,” Ganduje said.

Reacting to this development, Fani-Kayode said it amazed him that Ganduje could be asking for a relaxation of the lockdown in the state because of Ramadan.

“It amazes me that the Governor of Kano can be asking for a relaxation of the lockdown in his state because of Ramadan even when his people are still dropping dead like flies.

“Did Christians ask for a relaxation of the lockdown during Easter?

“The greatest achievement of this generation is the famous handshake across the Niger between the SE, SW, SS and MB which took place in Enugu in Jan. 2018.

“We built a strong bridge & bond on that day & we must not allow anyone to break it. United we stand, divided we fall,” he said.

Posted On Friday, 01 May 2020 13:22 Written by

As scientists at the Jenner Institute prepare for mass clinical trials, new tests show their vaccine to be effective in monkeys.

In the worldwide race for a vaccine to stop the coronavirus, the laboratory sprinting fastest is at Oxford University.

Most other teams have had to start with small clinical trials of a few hundred participants to demonstrate safety. But scientists at the university’s Jenner Institute had a head start on a vaccine, having proved in previous trials that similar inoculations — including one last year against an earlier coronavirus — were harmless to humans.

That has enabled them to leap ahead and schedule tests of their new coronavirus vaccine involving more than 6,000 people by the end of next month, hoping to show not only that it is safe, but also that it 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.

Now, they have received promising news suggesting that it might.

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratory in Montana last month inoculated six rhesus macaque monkeys with single doses of 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. But more than 28 days later all six were healthy, said Vincent Munster, the researcher who conducted the test.

“The rhesus macaque is pretty much the closest thing we have to humans,” Dr. Munster said, noting that scientists were still analyzing the result. He said he expected to share it with other scientists next week and then submit it to a peer-reviewed journal.

Immunity in monkeys is no guarantee that a vaccine will provide the same degree of protection for humans. A Chinese company that recently started a clinical trial with 144 participants, SinoVac, has also said that its vaccine was effective in rhesus macaques. But with dozens of efforts now underway to find a vaccine, the monkey results are the latest indication that Oxford’s accelerated venture is emerging as a bellwether.

“It is a very, very fast clinical program,” said Emilio Emini, a director of the vaccine program at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is providing financial support to many competing efforts.

ImageThe Jenner Institute is one of the largest academic centers dedicated to nonprofit vaccine research.
The Jenner Institute is one of the largest academic centers dedicated to nonprofit vaccine research.Credit...Mary Turner for The New York Times

Which potential vaccine will emerge from the scramble as the most successful is impossible to know until clinical trial data becomes available.

More than one vaccine would be needed in any case, Dr. Emini argued. Some may work more effectively than others in groups like children or older people, or at different costs and dosages. Having more than one variety of vaccine in production will also help avoid bottlenecks in manufacturing, he said.

But as the first to reach such a relatively large scale, the Oxford trial, even if it fails, will provide lessons about the nature of the coronavirus and about the immune system’s responses that can inform governments, donors, drug companies and other scientists hunting for a vaccine.

“This big U.K. study,” Dr. Emini said, “is actually going to translate to learning a lot about some of the others as well.”

All of the others will face the same challenges, including obtaining millions of dollars in funding, persuading regulators to approve human tests, demonstrating a vaccine’s safety and — after all of that — proving its effectiveness in protecting people from the coronavirus.

Paradoxically, the growing success of efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, may present yet another hurdle.

“We’re the only people in the country who want the number of new infections to stay up for another few weeks, so we can test our vaccine,” Prof. Adrian Hill, the Jenner Institute’s director and one of five researchers involved in the effort, said in an interview in a laboratory building emptied by Britain’s monthlong lockdown.

Ethics rules, as a general principle, forbid seeking to infect human test participants with a serious disease. That means the only way to prove that a vaccine works is to inoculate people in a place where the virus is spreading naturally around them.

If social distancing measures or other factors continue to slow the rate of new infections in Britain, he said, the trial might not be able to show that the vaccine makes a difference: Participants who received a placebo might not be infected any more frequently than those who have been given the vaccine. The scientists would have to try again elsewhere, a dilemma that every other vaccine effort will face as well.

Image
Social distancing at Oxford last week.
Social distancing at Oxford last week.Credit...Mary Turner for The New York Times

The Jenner Institute’s coronavirus efforts grew out of Professor Hill’s so-far unsuccessful pursuit of a vaccine against a different scourge, malaria.

He developed a fascination with malaria and other tropical diseases as a medical student in Dublin in the early 1980s, when he visited an uncle who was a priest working in a hospital during the civil war in what is now Zimbabwe.

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“I came back wondering, ‘What do you see in these hospitals in England and Ireland?’” Professor Hill said. “They don’t have any of these diseases.”

The major drug companies typically see little profit in epidemics that afflict mainly developing countries or run their course before a vaccine can hit the market. So after training in tropical medicine and a doctorate in molecular genetics, Professor Hill, 61, helped build Oxford’s institute into one of the largest academic centers dedicated to nonprofit vaccine research, with its own pilot manufacturing facility capable of producing a batch of up to 1,000 doses.

The institute’s effort against the coronavirus uses a technology that centers on altering the genetic code of a familiar virus. A classic vaccine uses a weakened version of a virus to trigger an immune response. But in the technology that the institute is using, a different virus is modified first to neutralize its effects and then to make it mimic the one scientists seek to stop — in this case, the virus that causes Covid-19. Injected into the body, the harmless impostor can induce the immune system to fight and kill the targeted virus, providing protection.

Professor Hill has worked with that technology for decades to try to tweak a respiratory virus found in chimpanzees in order to elicit a human immune response against malaria and other diseases. Over the last 20 years, the institute has conducted more than 70 clinical trials of potential vaccines against the parasite that causes malaria. None have yet yielded a successful inoculation.

In 2014, however, a vaccine based on the chimp virus that Professor Hill had tested was manufactured in a large enough scale to provide a million doses. That created a template for mass production of the coronavirus vaccine, should it prove effective.

A longtime colleague, Prof. Sarah Gilbert, 58, modified the same chimpanzee virus to make a vaccine against an earlier coronavirus, MERS. After a clinical trial in Britain demonstrated its safety, another test began in December in Saudi Arabia, where outbreaks of the deadly disease are still common.

When she heard in January that Chinese scientists had identified the genetic code of a mysterious virus in Wuhan, she thought she might have a chance to prove the speed and versatility of their approach.

“We thought, ‘Well, should we have a go?’” she recalled. “‘It’ll be a little lab project and we’ll publish a paper.’”

It did not stay a “little lab project” for long.

Image
Professor Sarah Gilbert, a vaccinologist at the institute, has also worked on developing a vaccine for MERS, an earlier coronavirus.
Professor Sarah Gilbert, a vaccinologist at the institute, has also worked on developing a vaccine for MERS, an earlier coronavirus.Credit...Mary Turner for The New York Times

As the pandemic exploded, grant money poured in. All other vaccines were soon put into the freezer so that the institute’s laboratory could focus full-time on Covid-19. Then the lockdown forced everyone not working on Covid-19 to stay home altogether.

“The whole world doesn’t usually stand up and say, ‘How can we help? Do you want some money?’” Professor Hill said.

“Vaccines are good for pandemics,” he added, “and pandemics are good for vaccines.”

Other scientists involved in the project are working with a half dozen drug manufacturing companies across Europe and Asia to prepare to churn out billions of doses as quickly as possible if the vaccine is approved. None have been granted exclusive marketing rights, and one is the giant Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest supplier of vaccines.

Donors are currently spending tens of millions of dollars to start the manufacturing process at facilities in Britain and the Netherlands even before the vaccine is proven to work, said Sandy Douglas, 37, a doctor at Oxford overseeing vaccine production.

“There is no alternative,” he said.

But the team has not yet reached an agreement with a North American manufacturer, in part because the major pharmaceutical companies there typically demand exclusive worldwide rights before investing in a potential medicine.

“I personally don’t believe that in a time of pandemic there should be exclusive licenses,” Professor Hill said. “So we are asking a lot of them. Nobody is going to make a lot of money off this.”

The Jenner Institute’s vaccine effort is not the only one showing promise. Two American companies, Moderna and Inovio, have started small clinical trials with technologies involving modified or otherwise manipulated genetic material. They are seeking both to demonstrate their safety and to learn more about dosing and other variables. Neither technology has ever produced a licensed drug or been manufactured at scale.

A Chinese company, CanSino, has also started clinical trials in China using a technology similar to the Oxford institute’s, using a strain of the same respiratory virus that is found in humans, not chimps. But demonstrating the effectiveness of a vaccine in China may be difficult because Covid-19 infections there have plummeted.

Armed with safety data from their human trials of similar vaccines for Ebola, MERS and malaria, though, the scientists at Oxford’s institute persuaded British regulators to allow unusually accelerated trials while the epidemic is still hot around them.

The institute last week began a Phase I clinical trial involving 1,100 people. Crucially, next month it will begin a combined Phase II and Phase III trial involving another 5,000. Unlike any other vaccine project now underway, that trial is designed to prove effectiveness as well as safety.

The scientists would declare victory if as many as a dozen participants who are given a placebo become sick with Covid-19 compared with only one or two who receive the inoculation. “Then we have a party and tell the world,” Professor Hill said. Everyone who had received only the placebo would also be vaccinated immediately.

If too few participants are infected in Britain, the institute is planning other trials where the coronavirus may still be spreading, possibly in Africa or India.

“We’ll have to chase the epidemic,” Professor Hill said. “If it is still raging in certain states, it is not inconceivable we end up testing in the United States in November.”

Carl Zimmer contributed reporting.

Posted On Tuesday, 28 April 2020 19:51 Written by
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