WH: Merck pill 'good news,' vaccine still key

Officials from the Biden Administration say that a new pill could be an easier and more effective way to treat COVID 19. Vaccination remains the best option to control the pandemic.

WH: Merck pill 'good news,' vaccine still key

Officials from Merck, a drugmaker, say they will soon seek regulatory approval for their experimental pill. This has reduced hospitalizations by half in coronavirus-infected patients.

It is "very good news," Dr. Anthony Fauci says, and Merck's data about its medicine are "impressive."

Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Coordinator, says that vaccination will continue to be the government's primary strategy for controlling the pandemic.

Zients stated that they want to prevent infection and not wait for them to happen at the briefing.

S. Jaishankar, India's foreign affairs minister, discussed the matter with Liz Truss, the British foreign secretary, in New York. India was upset that, while Britain has recognized the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccination, India has excluded its version from Serum Institute of India.

All British arrivals will be required to undergo PRC testing within 72 hours of arriving in Britain, regardless of vaccination status.

India, the largest global vaccine producer, announced this week that it will resume exports and donations in October of excess coronavirus vaccines after a prolonged freeze due to the huge spike in domestic infections in the spring.


COLOMBO (Sri Lanka) -- Sri Lanka lifted a six week national lockdown to reduce coronavirus deaths and cases. However, restrictions on movement remain.

As Sri Lanka faced an unprecedented rise in COVID-19-related deaths and cases, the lockdown of Aug. 20 was extended three more times. From a peak of over 3,000 cases in early September and 200 deaths, the number of daily infections has fallen to below 100 and deaths have dropped to under 100.

People are still restricted from leaving for work or shopping, even though Friday's lockdown was lifted. Public gatherings are prohibited and schools, cinemas, and restaurants remain closed.

It is hoped that the move will boost tourism and reduce the decline in foreign currency, which has led to a shortage essentials such as rice, sugar and milk powder.

Sri Lanka has reported over 516,000 confirmed cases and 12,847 deaths.


TOKYO -- Tokyo's train stations were jammed Friday with commuters as Japan emerged from a coronavirus emergency state of emergency. This was the first time Japan has been out of this situation in six months.

More than half the country, including Tokyo, had emergency measures in place. Yoshihide, the outgoing Prime Minister, thanked people for their cooperation and patience. Although cases are decreasing, he asked people to continue to use their anti-virus basic measures.

Most of the emergency measures involved requests for eateries to reduce alcohol consumption and their hours. They are now allowed to serve alcohol, and can still be open at 9 p.m.

After the peak of 25,000 in mid-August, daily reported cases dropped to 1,600 across the country this week. Experts in health blamed the decline in cases on vaccinations and social distancing, after the alarm over the imminent collapse of the medical system during the summer.

Nearly 59% have been fully vaccinated in Japan. Japan has confirmed 17641 deaths and 1.6 million cases.


WASHINGTON -- Merck, a pharmaceutical company, claims its COVID-19 experimental pill has reduced hospitalizations in half for coronavirus infected people.

Merck's drug will be the first to treat COVID-19. This could represent a significant breakthrough in efforts to combat the pandemic. The company released the study results and they have not been peer-reviewed. A group of independent medical advisors that monitored the trial advised against stopping it before the interim results were complete.

Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, its partner, have reported that patients who received the drug called molnupiravir within five days of COVID-19 symptoms experienced half the death and hospitalization rates than patients who were given a placebo pill. Study included 775 people with moderate-to-severe COVID-19. These individuals were more at risk of severe illness due to their health conditions such as heart disease, obesity, or diabetes.

These medications can be used to prevent future outbreaks of infection or reduce the effects of the pandemic.

According to the company, it will soon request authorization from health officials around the world and in the U.S. for its use. If the FDA approves the drug, the U.S. government will purchase 1.7 Million doses.


MOSCOW -- Russia's fourth consecutive day of coronavirus deaths set a new record. The confirmed cases also continued to rise.

The highest number of deaths in Russia since the pandemic began was reported by the Russian state coronavirus taskforce, 887. The 867th death was the previous record from one day earlier.

Also, the task force reported 24,522 confirmed cases on Thursday, which is the highest daily total since late July.

"The dynamic is poor. It elicits concern," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov stated Friday.

According to Tatyana Golikova (Deputy Prime Minister), the head of the taskforce, the Russian government does not intend to impose a lockdown.

Russia only had one national lockdown at the start of the pandemic in 2020. Since then, the country's authorities have avoided imposing severe restrictions.

Peskov noted that many regional governments have their own infected-control measures. However, he would not say whether the Kremlin considers these rules sufficient.


CANBERRA (Australia) -- Australia plans to lift a ban on citizens who have been vaccinated and travel overseas starting in November. However, no date has been set to welcome back international tourists.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Friday that travel restrictions that had entrapped most Australians and permanent residents in Australia over the past 18 month would be lifted when 80% of the population, 16- and older, is fully vaccinated.

On March 20, 2013, Australia imposed some of the most severe travel restrictions in the world. It banned people from entering or leaving the country. Many Australians have had difficulty arguing for exceptions to the travel ban that prohibits them from leaving the country. Tourist is not accepted as a reason for crossing the border.

Due to restrictions to keep COVID-19 from Australia, hundreds of thousands have not reached their relatives' deaths beads, missed weddings or funerals, and are still being introduced to grandchildren.

Morrison stated that New South Wales will likely be the first state to meet the 80% vaccination threshold and Sydney's airport would be the first to allow international travel.


MOGADISHU (Somalia) -- Somalia opened its first public oxygen plant in the Horn of Africa nation. This is the country that has one of the weakest health systems and combats COVID-19.

Thursday saw the installation of an oxygen plant at Mogadishu's capital hospital. It will produce 1000 cylinders of oxygen per week. As the main cause of most infections in Africa's 1.3 billion inhabitants, the coronavirus delta variant has hampered response efforts.

The pandemic is made more difficult by the insecurity in Somalia. The attack on the al-Qaida-linked al Shabab extremist group that controls parts of Somalia, and often targets the capital, resulted in the partial destruction of a COVID-19 ward at the hospital. This damage was part of the repair work that was done around the installation of the oxygen plant.

Somalia is home to one of the most severe cases of COVID-19 infection in Africa. There are few ways to stop the spread of this virus.


ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan has banned all unvaccinated adults from flying on Friday. This is in an effort to promote vaccinations and to avoid additional lockdowns to contain coronavirus.

Ghulam Sarwar Khan, Aviation Minister, announced the ban via Twitter. He stated that only fully vaccinated passengers over 18 years old will be permitted to fly domestically within Pakistan.

According to the government, unvaccinated persons won't have to work in offices or be allowed into shopping malls beginning Friday. It was not clear how these measures would be implemented.

Children who aren't eligible for Pakistani vaccination campaigns don't have to be vaccinated. Nearly 30,000,000 people have been fully vaccinated in this country of 220 millions. Although there is plenty of vaccine available, many people are hesitant to get the shot. New measures have been introduced to encourage vaccination.

Pakistan has reported 1.2 Million cases and 27785 deaths.


PORTLAND, Maine -- Maine's rural areas require better access to COVID-19 testing. This is according to the Head of the State's Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some of Maine's rural counties have a higher percent positivity rate than those in densely populated areas like Cumberland County. Federal data shows that the percentage positivity rate in Cumberland County is less than 2%, while it's higher in rural Somerset County.

Dr. Nirav Shah, Director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, says this is due to a lack in testing. He said that the state is trying to reach rural areas with more testing. Maine has the lowest New England population density.

According to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Maine child care facilities have access to pooled testing for staff and children through a federal program that offers free testing to certain community organizations and schools. Walgreen has expanded testing options in almost all of its Maine locations, according to the agency.

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