Pakistan posts 80 coronavirus infections, no death

NIH data shows number of critical patients dropping below to 200: WHO strongly recommends Pfizer's Covid pill: Shanghai reports more Covid deaths as officials push work resumption

By: News Desk
Published: 09:25 AM, 22 Apr, 2022
Pakistan coronavirus
Caption: Health workers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) are pictured while people preparing to board cars next to the entrance of a neighbourhood during a Covid-19 coronavirus lockdown in the Jing'an district in Shanghai, China.–AFP
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Pakistan has logged another day free of any coronavirus death with infections sliding to 80 during the last 24 hours (Thursday), showed the numbers released by the National Institute of Health Pakistan on Friday morning.

As per the latest NIH data, the death toll remained the same as was reported a couple of days ago which was 30,368, whereas the number of total infections now stood at 1,527,669 after adding the fresh 80 cases.

During the last 24 hours (Thursday), 21,233 tests were conducted throughout Pakistan whereas the positivity ratio stood at 0.37 percent. The number of patients in critical care was also dropped to 196.

During the last 24 hours (Thursday), as many as 63 patients have recovered from the virus whereas the total recoveries stood at 1,493,933. As of Friday, the total count of active cases in the country was recorded at 3,368.

As many as 576,694 coronavirus cases have so far been confirmed in Sindh, 505,857 in Punjab, 219,422 in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 135,168 in Islamabad, 35,483 in Balochistan, 43,308 in Azad Kashmir and 11,737 in Gilgit-Baltistan.

As many as 13,560 individuals have lost their lives to the pandemic in Punjab so far, 8,101 in Sindh, 6,323 in KP, 1,023 in Islamabad, 792 in Azad Kashmir, 378 in Balochistan and 191 in Gilgit Baltistan.

 

WHO 'strongly recommends' Pfizer's Covid pill

The World Health Organization said Friday it "strongly recommended" Pfizer's Covid-19 antiviral pill Paxlovid for patients with milder forms of the disease who were still at a high risk of hospitalisation.

However the UN agency warned it was "extremely concerned" that the inequality in access seen with Covid vaccines would again leave low- and middle-income countries "pushed to the end of the queue".

US pharma giant Pfizer's combination of nirmatrelvir and ritonavir was the "superior choice" of treatment for unvaccinated, elderly or immunocompromised people with Covid, the WHO's experts said in the BMJ medical journal.

For the same patients, the WHO also made a "conditional (weak) recommendation" of the antiviral drug remdesivir made by US biotech firm Gilead -- which it had previously recommended against.

The WHO recommended Paxlovid over remdesivir, as well as over Merck's molnupiravir pill and monoclonal antibodies.

Pfizer's oral treatment prevents hospitalisation more than the "available alternatives, has fewer concerns with respects to harms than molnupiravir, and is easier to administer than intravenous remdesivir and antibodies," the WHO's experts said.

The new recommendation was based on the findings of two trials involving almost 3,100 patients which showed that Paxlovid reduced the risk of hospital admission by 85 percent.

The trials also "suggested no important difference in mortality" and "little or no risk of adverse effects leading to drug discontinuation". 

The recommendation applies to people over the age of 18, but not to pregnant or breastfeeding women.

It also does not apply to patients with a low risk of complications from the disease, because the benefit would be minimal.

The WHO's experts also declined to give an opinion for patients with severe forms of the disease, due to a lack of data.

- Limitations and inequities -

The WHO stressed the limitations of such antiviral treatments. 

"The medicine can only be administered while the disease is at its early stages," they said.

This means the patients must quickly test positive and be prescribed the pill by a doctor -- all of which can pose obstacles for low- and middle-income countries, the WHO said.

Yet Covid pills have been seen as a potentially huge step in ending the pandemic as they can be taken at home, rather than in hospital.

Patients must start taking their Paxlovid pills within five days of the onset of symptoms -- the course then lasts five days.

Remdesivir can be taken within seven days of symptoms setting in, but it is administered intravenously over three days.

- Questions about cost -

The WHO called on Pfizer to "make its pricing and deals more transparent" for Paxlovid.

Lisa Hedman, the WHO's senior advisor on access to medicines, said that radio station NPR reported a full course of Paxlovid costs $530 in the United States. Another source unconfirmed by WHO gave the price of $250 in an upper-middle income country.

Remdesivir meanwhile costs $520, Hedman said, but generic versions made by companies in India sell for $53-$64. 

There is also a question mark over whether the virus could build resistance to these treatments.

But earlier this month Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla predicted a bright future for treatments like Paxlovid as people grow tired of getting further booster vaccinations.

Coming under fire for prioritising wealthy countries with its vaccine, Pfizer has agreed to allow some generic drugmakers around the world to make cheaper versions of Paxlovid under a UN-backed scheme. 

But on Friday the WHO "strongly recommended" that Pfizer let more generic manufacturers produce the drug and "make it available faster at affordable prices".

Shanghai reports more Covid deaths

China reported seven more Covid-19 deaths in Shanghai on Tuesday, as major firms such as Tesla forged ahead to resume production after a damaging weeks-long lockdown.

Supply chains have clogged and businesses have been forced to halt production in the metropolis of 25 million, as authorities cling to a zero-Covid approach to combat China's worst outbreak since the virus first emerged in late 2019.

Beijing's strategy of eliminating clusters as they surface -- through hard lockdowns and mass testing -- has kept fatalities low, but the measures are taking a toll on economic growth.

Authorities have called for a "whitelist" of key industries and companies to be drawn up so production can continue, with over 600 firms identified for early work resumption in Shanghai.

US electric car giant Tesla "officially resumed production" on Tuesday, state media reported, after suspending work at its multi-billion-dollar "gigafactory" in the city for over 20 days.

But this will take place in a "closed-loop system", with staff sleeping on site and being tested for Covid, Bloomberg News reported.

Chinese automaker SAIC Motor said this week it was "launching production resumption stress tests".

- Seven new deaths -

Tuesday's fatalities bring Shanghai's death toll since its lockdown to 10.

Some have cast doubt on official figures in a nation where the vast elderly population has a low vaccination rate. 

By comparison, Hong Kong -- which also has a high number of unvaccinated people over the age of 60 -- has tallied nearly 9,000 deaths among 1.18 million Covid-19 cases since the Omicron variant surged there in January.

Unverified social media posts have claimed Shanghai's deaths are going unreported, and the messages have been quickly scrubbed from the internet.

Shanghai health officials said Sunday that less than two-thirds of residents over 60 had received two Covid jabs and under 40 percent had received a booster.

The seven newly reported deaths were all unvaccinated patients, city health official Wu Qianyu told a press conference on Tuesday.

They were aged between 60 and 101, and suffered from underlying conditions such as heart disease and diabetes, according to the Shanghai Municipal Health Commission.

The patients "became severely ill after admission to hospital, and died after ineffective rescue efforts, with the direct cause of death being underlying diseases", the commission said.

Shanghai logged more than 20,000 new and mostly asymptomatic Covid cases Tuesday, defying officials' efforts to stamp out the infection.

Many of the city's residents have been confined to their homes since March, with some flooding social media with complaints of food shortages, spartan quarantine conditions and heavy-handed enforcement.

Protest footage has circulated faster than government censors can delete it.

Chinese officials have scrambled in recent weeks to contain an outbreak spanning multiple regions, largely driven by the fast-spreading Omicron variant.

By one estimate on Monday, at least 44 cities are currently under some form of lockdown in China, affecting around 350 million people.

With inputs from AFP.