LONDON - Initial tests in mice of a potential Covid-19 vaccine delivered via a fingertip-sized patch have shown it can induce an immune response against the new coronavirus at levels that might prevent infection, US scientists said on Thursday (April 2).
Researchers around the world are working to develop potential treatments or vaccines against the respiratory disease that has killed nearly 47,000 people and infected almost a million in just a few months.
A team at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in the United States said they were able to move quickly in developing a potential Covid-19 vaccine after working on other coronaviruses that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).
"These two viruses, which are closely related to SARS-CoV-2 (the new coronavirus causing the Covid-19 pandemic), teach us that a particular protein, called a spike protein, is important for inducing immunity against the virus," said Dr Andrea Gambotto, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh.
"We knew exactly where to fight this new virus."
When tested in mice, the prototype vaccine - which the researchers have called PittCoVacc - generated what they described as "a surge of antibodies" against the new coronavirus within two weeks.
The Pittsburgh researchers cautioned that because the animals have not been tracked for very long as yet, it is too early to say whether and for how long the immune response against Covid-19 lasts.
But they said that in comparable tests in mice with their MERS experimental vaccine, a sufficient level of antibodies was produced to neutralise the virus for at least a year.
So far, the antibody levels of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccinated animals seem to be following the same trend, they said in peer-reviewed study in the journal EBioMedicine.
The team said they hope to start testing the vaccine candidate on people in clinical trials in the next few months.
The potential vaccine uses a needle patch design, called a microneedle array, to increase its potential potency.
This array is a fingertip-sized patch of 400 tiny needles made out of sugar and the spike protein, Dr Gambotto explained.
It is designed to deliver the spike protein pieces into the skin, where the immune reaction is strongest.
Unless you truly enjoy isolation, staying home all day is often no fun. Which is why a number of companies have made their services free to keep those stuck at home entertained. While some might turn to e-books and streaming shows to stave off their boredom, others have turned to gaming.
Because of this, there has been an increase in the number of Nintendo Switches being bought, resulting in it being sold out on a number of platforms worldwide and the prices of the consoles left are raised significantly.
Due to this, a number of eager customers might have turned to platforms like Carousell to purchase affordable second hand Nintendo Switch consoles.
Only, these cheap and affordable consoles oftentimes end up being too good to be true as the Singapore Police Force has issued a statement on how there is a spike in scams involving the sale of the Nintendo Switch.
On their post, they offered the following tips:
Take it from us, the best place to get a Switch right now would be Qisahn, GameXtreme, Lazada, and Amazon. Prices are higher than the norm right now so best thing to do is be patient and wait for restocks.
Alternatively, do check out the free PC games and TV shows which you might want to consider as an alternative.
Don't get scammed!
SINGAPORE - A Bill will be introduced in Parliament next week to facilitate the temporary arrangements necessary for holding a safe general election while Covid-19 measures are in effect.
Responding to media queries about the Parliamentary Elections (Covid-19 Special Arrangements) Bill on Friday (April 3), the Elections Department (ELD) said that the health and safety of voters, candidates and election officials are paramount.
ELD thus "must make contingency plans to put in place precautionary measures to ensure a safe election, should the next GE take place amid the Covid-19 situation".
"The Bill contains the necessary legislative provisions to allow ELD to implement temporary arrangements to ensure the safety of voters, candidates and election officials during Parliamentary elections held on or before 14 April 2021," it added.
The next general election must be held by April 14, 2021. The Bill, if approved by Parliament, will take effect before the next general election.
Details of the precautionary measures are not yet available. However, the latest Covid-19 measures, which limit gatherings outside of work and school to 10 people or fewer until April 30, mean traditional forms of campaigning like rallies will not be feasible, should these rules still be in place when the hustings begin.
MPs reporters spoke to have said they would turn to social media, messaging apps and even real-time video streaming to reach out to voters.
GENEVA: The head of the World Health Organization voiced deep concern on Wednesday (Apr 1) about the rapid escalation and global spread of COVID-19 cases from the new coronavirus, which has now reached 205 countries and territories.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that his agency, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund backed debt relief to help developing countries cope with the pandemic's social and economic consequences.
"In the past five weeks there has been a near-exponential growth in the number of new cases and the number of deaths has more than doubled in the past week," Tedros told a virtual news conference at the organisation's Geneva headquarters.
"In the next few days we will reach 1 million confirmed cases and 50,000 deaths worldwide," he said.
China, where the coronavirus outbreak first emerged in December, reported dwindling new infections on Wednesday and disclosed for the first time the number of asymptomatic cases, which could complicate how trends in the outbreak are read.
Asked about the distinction, Dr Maria ver Kerkhove, a WHO epidemiologist who was part of an international team that went to China in February, said the WHO's definition included laboratory-confirmed cases "regardless of the development of symptoms".
"From data that we have seen from China in particular, we know that individuals who are identified, who are listed as asymptomatic, about 75 percent of those actually go on to develop symptoms," she said, describing them as having been in a "pre-symptomatic phase".
The new coronavirus causes the respiratory disease COVID-19.
The outbreak continues to be driven by people who show signs of disease including fever and cough, but it is important for the WHO to capture that "full spectrum of illness", she added.
Tedros praised India's US$22.6 billion economic stimulus plan - announced after a 21-day lockdown imposed last week - to provide free food rations for 800 million disadvantaged people, cash transfers to 204 million poor women and free cooking gas for 80 million households for the next 3 months.
"Many developing countries will struggle to implement social welfare programmes of this nature," he said.
"For those countries, debt relief is essential to enable them to take care of their people and avoid economic collapse. This is a call from the WHO, the World Bank and IMF - debt relief for developing countries," he said.
But debt relief processes are lengthy, Tedros said.
"What we are proposing together with the World Bank and IMF is an expedited process to support countries so their economies will not be getting into crisis and their communities will not be really getting into crisis," he said.
SINGAPORE: Thinking that her newly hired maid was "smelly", a woman allegedly forced the 18-year-old woman to strip and shower in front of her.
Over about three months, 31-year-old Rosdiana Abdul Rahim allegedly abused the Indonesian helper, pinching her breast, kicking her private parts and trying to rip her clothes off in front of others to "humiliate" her.
The woman claimed trial on Thursday (Apr 2) to seven charges, including criminal intimidation, insulting a woman's modesty, using criminal force, voluntarily causing hurt and failing to give her domestic worker adequate daily rest.
The victim, who is now 21, took the stand on Thursday morning and gave her testimony through an interpreter, crying often at various points.
She described the alleged abuse that occurred between September and December 2017, ending when she made a police report.
According to the victim, she came to Singapore to work for the first time in September 2017 and began working for Rosdiana, her husband and their two children.
She claimed that she was paid S$600 a month but made to sleep at various points on a carpet or outside a toilet, without a pillow or blanket.
She also slept under a cupboard, and initially used her own batik cloth as a blanket, but Rosdiana threw this away as she said "it was smelly".
"Ma'am didn't believe that I showered daily," said the maid. "I said I bathe every day but she didn't believe me. She asked me how I bathe and shower myself."
EMPLOYER PUSHED MAID INTO BATHROOM
In November 2017, Rosdiana allegedly pulled the maid's arm and pushed her into a shower in the master bedroom.
"She used the shower head and turned on the water. I was still wearing my clothes at the time," testified the victim. "Then she took the shower head and spray all over me."
She said Rosdiana applied "a lot of shampoo" all over her head, before asking the maid to take off all her clothes.
"I removed my clothes. I was crying inside the shower," said the victim, her voice breaking and tears falling from her eyes.
She said she removed all her wet clothing, with Rosdiana seeing her completely naked.
She then saw Rosdiana's husband enter the room while she was still in the shower, but was unsure whether he saw her.
"Ma'am said - 'My husband won't be interested'," said the maid.
After this, she said Rosdiana would not let her change into clothes in the bathroom, but had to put them on in the bedroom while Rosdiana's husband was outside and could see her.
She felt afraid, alone and humiliated and felt she had "lost my value".
On another occasion in November 2017, Rosdiana asked for some food as she had eaten only four pieces of biscuits that morning.
ANOTHER ATTACK OVER INSTANT NOODLES
She ate half a portion of instant noodles meant for Rosdiana's son, and the boy's grandmother asked the maid to smack her own mouth 10 times and pull her ears 20 times.
When Rosdiana found out, she was furious, said the maid.
"She wanted to humiliate me in front of everyone. She tried to rip open my clothes, until some of the buttons were open," she said.
Rosdiana allegedly tried to remove the maid's bra from the back by reaching up under the back of her blouse, but the maid pushed her hand away.
According to charge sheets, a button came loose from her blouse and one of the bra hooks came off.
On another occasion, Rosdiana allegedly told the victim that "you are looking ugly" and asked her to fetch some baby powder.
She then spread baby powder all over her face, into her eyes, and asked her not to remove it, threatening harm to her family otherwise.
ROSDIANA ALLEGEDLY KICKED MAID'S PRIVATES
The victim testified that Rosdiana was upset with her on Dec 11, 2017, as she was not unpacking suitcases from a hotel stay quickly enough.
"She ripped my clothes - at the time I was wearing a T-shirt. She pulled the T-shirt, then she pinched my breast," said the maid.
"I tried to cover my body, because her husband was there. She said my breast was small unlike hers, her husband would not be interested," said the victim.
"She said my underwear, my clothes, are smelly. ... She kicked my private parts, and the second time she did, I almost tripped and fell," she said. "I was crying. I stood up and she continued scolding me."
The victim said she went to take clothes to change into, but Rosdiana slammed the cupboard door on her hand, knowing that it was there.
The trial continues in the afternoon.
If found guilty of insulting a woman's modesty, Rosdiana can be jailed for up to a year, fined, or both.
For voluntarily causing hurt to a maid, Rosdiana can be jailed for up to two years, fined a maximum S$5,000, or both.
The penalties for the above can go up to one-and-a-half times of the usual range as the victim was a maid.
If convicted of using criminal force, she can be jailed for up to three months, fined up to S$1,500, or both.
For not giving her maid adequate daily rest and ill-treating her, she can be jailed for up to a year, fined a maximum S$10,000, or both.
SINGAPORE: Online grocer RedMart will be suspending new orders for two days to tweak its product offerings and update its system, amid a surge in orders due to COVID-19 concerns.
In a letter to customers on Thursday (Apr 2), RedMart said that it will resume taking new orders on Saturday.
During this time, RedMart will make changes to the range of products available, a move aimed at helping ensure that delivery slots remain available and consumers "receive their essentials in a timely manner", it said.
Those who have already placed orders will still be able to receive them, RedMart said, adding that customers will not be allowed to add new items to their existing orders.
Consumers had earlier this week told reporters they were unable to secure delivery slots through various online supermarket platforms in recent weeks, as consumers turn to online shopping following the COVID-19 outbreak.
This came as the authorities on Saturday advised against "non-essential" trips to shopping malls, and for individuals to opt instead to buy food and groceries online as part of safe distancing measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
On Sunday, Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan announced that taxi and private-hire car drivers would be allowed to make grocery and food deliveries, noting the higher demand for such services.
In its message, RedMart said it has implemented several measures to handle the increased demand during this time.
This includes temporarily reducing the range of products available, and prioritising daily necessities such as rice, flour and eggs.
Delivery slots will also be assigned based on location, with only specific days and times available for each address.
In addition, RedMart will also limit orders to 35 items and bar customers from adding items once the order is placed.
Orders that exceed 100kg may be cancelled.
All deliveries will also be left at doorsteps to minimise physical contact, said RedMart.
“We are monitoring the situation closely and will take additional measures if necessary,” it said.
RedMart added that its staff, including delivery workers, go through mandatory daily temperature checks and sanitisation, and strictly adhere to hygiene protocols before and after each delivery, according to guidelines from the Health Ministry.
THE HAGUE - A 101-year-old woman who contracted coronavirus in the Netherlands has recovered, offering what her hospital said was "a spark of hope".
The woman, whose name was not released, was admitted to the IJsselland Hospital near Rotterdam a week and a half ago with breathing difficulties and tested positive for coronavirus.
She was kept in isolation but has now recovered enough to leave hospital. The centenarian, who lives independently, will rest in a nursing home before returning to her home, the hospital said on its website.
"She is a tough lady, and it's great to see her following the medical advice, like sneezing in her elbow and even telling me to keep proper distance," pulmonologist Sunil Ramlal said.
SINGAPORE - A 58-year-old taxi driver died after the taxi he was driving caught fire in Seletar West Link in the wee hours of Tuesday morning (March 31).
The police were called to the incident at 1.26am.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said firefighters put out the fire using two water jets.
The driver was found unresponsive and pronounced dead at the scene by an SCDF paramedic.
ComfortDelGro group chief corporate communications officer Tammy Tan said the company is shocked and deeply saddened by the driver’s death.
“Our cabby suffered burns and (was) found outside the taxi,” she said.
“We are currently assisting his next of kin during this incredibly difficult time. Very little is known about the incident at this time and the exact cause of the fire is still unknown. We will be assisting the SCDF in their investigations,” she added.
The taxi was 3½ years old and last underwent servicing on March 19, with no major issues detected, she said.
In photos circulating on social media, the taxi is seen burning at the side of the road.
Another photo shows a blue police tent set up behind the taxi after the fire was extinguished.
The fire is being investigated by SCDF and the police.
SINGAPORE: NTUC FairPrice Finest at Bedok Mall will be closed for three days starting from Wednesday (Apr 1), after an employee tested positive for COVID-19.
The employee has been quarantined and is being monitored by medical personnel.
All employees who work in the Bedok Mall oulet have been put on leave of absence, said NTUC FairPrice in a media release.
"The affected staff works in the backend replenishing stock and has minimal contact with customers," said NTUC FairPrice.
The employee, who was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Tuesday evening, last went to work on Mar 25.
The employee was on leave on Mar 26 and visited the doctor on Mar 27 for a fever. The employee has since been on medical leave, added the release.
"FairPrice is extending all the necessary assistance to the affected staff and the employee’s family during this time," it said.
The store premises will be disinfected using "deep cleaning procedures" before it re-opens on Saturday, said FairPrice.
FairPrice said it is working with authorities to assist them with contact tracing, and to ensure all stores are safe for customers and staff members.
"The co-operative apologises for any inconvenience caused," it said, adding that no effort is being spared to protect its customers and employees.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak, the supermarket has stepped up cleaning regimes, especially for high touch surfaces like railings, trolleys, baskets, checkout counters every four hours, said FairPrice.
All staff members and suppliers have their temperature taken at least twice a day and hand sanitisers have been made available for customers to use, it added.
Customers are also encouraged to maintain safe distancing, with floor markings at checkout queues, posters and announcements put in place to remind customers to do so.
During the temporary closure, customers have been advised to visit the nearest FairPrice store in the vicinity at Block 212 Bedok North Street 1.
LAREN, Netherlands - Thieves stole a painting by Dutch master Vincent van Gogh early on Monday from the Netherlands' Singer Laren Museum, which is currently closed to the public because of the coronavirus.
The painting Lentetuin, or Spring Garden, which dates back to 1884 and depicts the garden of the rectory at Nuenen, had been on loan from the Groninger Museum.
"I feel incredibly angry and now I'm starting to feel sadder too," Jan Rudolph de Lorm, director of the Singer Laren Museum, told reporters in an interview.
He appealed to those who had taken the painting to treat it with care "so that sooner or later it can be shown to the public unharmed".
Van Gogh, who struggled with mental illness throughout his life, was staying with his parents when he painted Spring Garden. His father worked as a minister in Nuenen.
De Lorm described the painting, which depicts a woman in a garden with red-flowered bushes and with a church in the background, as "an image of silence, of reflection and of tranquillity, which undoubtedly offered him comfort and inspiration".
"Through him, it gave us and our audience the same emotion," de Lorm added.
The museum, located in the town of Laren to the east of Amsterdam, has appealed for the swift return of the painting, which has been added to Interpol's list of stolen artworks.
In a statement, police said the thieves had entered the museum by breaking its glass doors at around 3.15am (0115 GMT). "The culprits were gone by the time police responded to the alarm," the statement said.
Investigators are searching for security footage and witnesses, and are examining forensic evidence, it added.
Dutch museums have been closed because of the coronavirus outbreak since March 12.