Gilead prices COVID-19 drug candidate remdesivir at US$390 per vial in US hospitals

CALIFORNIA: Gilead Sciences has priced its COVID-19 drug candidate remdesivir at US$390 per vial for the United States and governments of other developed countries, it said on Monday (Jun 28), setting the price of a five-day course at US$2,340 per patient.

The price for US private insurance companies will be US$520 per vial, the drugmaker said, which equates to a total of US$3,120 per patient.

Gilead has entered into an agreement with the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) whereby the department and states will manage allocation to hospitals until the end of September.

After this period, once supplies are less constrained, HHS will stop managing the allocation, the company said.

READ: Gilead targets two million remdesivir courses by year-end

READ: Gilead’s remdesivir shows modest improvement in moderate COVID-19 patients

Remdesivir’s price has been a topic of intense debate since the US Food and Drug Administration approved its emergency use COVID-19 patients in May.

Experts have suggested that Gilead would need to avoid the appearance of taking advantage of a health crisis for profits.

Wall Street analysts have said the antiviral drug could generate billions of dollars in revenue over the next couple of years if the pandemic continues.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram

Distorted Chinese, Russian COVID-19 news takes root in West: Study

LONDON: Coronavirus misinformation spread by Russian and Chinese journalists is finding a bigger audience on social media in France and Germany than content from the European nations’ own premier news outlets, according to new research.

Whether it is distorted coverage or outright conspiracy theories, articles written in French and German by foreign state media are resonating widely on Facebook and Twitter, often with their origins unclear, the Oxford Internet Institute said in a report published on Monday.

The institute, which is part of Oxford University, looked at content generated by leading media outlets from Russia and China, as well as from Iran and Turkey – all of which are state-controlled or closely aligned to regimes in power.

Its report comes as the US government imposes new restrictions on Chinese state media, and builds on previous research by the institute that laid bare the penetration of such foreign outlets in English-language markets.

In their French, German as well as Spanish output, state media groups have “politicised the coronavirus by criticising Western democracies, praising their home countries, and promoting conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus”, the institute said.

“A majority of the content in these outlets is factually based. But what they have, especially if you look at the Russian outlets, is an agenda to discredit democratic countries,” Oxford researcher Jonathan Bright told AFP.

“The subtle weave in the overarching narrative is that democracy is on the verge of collapse.”

The institute looked at output from Russia’s RT broadcaster and Sputnik news agency; China Global Television Network (CGTN), China Radio International (CRI) and Xinhua News Agency; plus foreign-language output from Iranian and Turkish networks.

It measured median engagement per shared article – how many times a user actively shares or likes an article on Facebook, or comments about it and retweets it on Twitter.

The study covered each outlet’s 20 most popular stories from May 18 to June 5.

WHAT’S THE SOURCE?

French-language content from RT scored an average of 528 in user engagement on the two platforms, and 374 for Xinhua, compared to 105 for the newspaper Le Monde.

In German, RT articles scored 158 on Facebook and Twitter, against 90 for Der Spiegel.

The institute’s previous study in April found that in English, heavily politicised news stories from the same state media groups could achieve as much as 10 times the level of user engagement as more sober sources such as the BBC.

Bright added: “A significant portion of social media is people consuming content that is directly funded by foreign governments, and it’s not very clear to the reader that that’s the case.”

Similar engagement levels showed in Spanish-language content, including from the Iranian state broadcaster’s service HispanTV, which the report said shares the Russian outlets’ promotion of “anti-US sentiments” for audiences in Latin America.

Examples in French and German included heated coverage from the Russian outlets of the “gilets jaunes” protest movement in France, and the COVID-19 and ensuing economic crises in Europe.

The report also examined content in German, French and Spanish from Turkey’s TRT network, which it said focused more on positive portrayals of the Turkish government’s actions against the pandemic.

In contrast, Russian, Chinese and Iranian media all promoted baseless theories, including that the US military unleashed the coronavirus, which originated late last year in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The media organisations in question claim to offer a non-Western perspective on news and deny they are propagandists.

Last week, China threatened to retaliate after four more of its media groups were reclassified as “foreign missions” in the United States.

The quartet joined CGTN, CRI and Xinhua, which were already designated by Washington as state-sponsored actors, rather than as media.

In Britain, RT has been fined for breaking rules on media impartiality.

In France, President Emmanuel Macron accused the Russian network of spreading “deceitful propaganda” during the 2017 presidential election.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the coronavirus outbreak and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram

COVID-19: Australia to evacuate more than 200 citizens from cruise ship quarantined at Japan port

SYDNEY: Australia will evacuate more than 200 of its citizens onboard a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship being held under quarantine in the Japanese port of Yokohama, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday (Feb 17).

Morrison said the passengers will depart on Wednesday and will be taken to Australia’s tropical north, where they will be required to be quarantined for another 14 days.

READ: COVID-19 cases on Diamond Princess ship rise to 355

The Diamond Princess, cruise ship, owned by Carnival Corp , has been quarantined since arriving in Yokohama on Feb. 3, after a man who disembarked in Hong Kong before it travelled to Japan was diagnosed with the virus.

“For those more than 200 Australians who will be returning to Australia, we are going to have to require a further 14-day quarantine period to be put in place on their return to Darwin,” Morrison told reporters in Melbourne.

READ: COVID-19: What you need to know about the Diamond Princess ship quarantined in Japan

Morrison also said space on the Qantas Airways plane will be provided for an unspecified number of New Zealand citizens on the cruise ship.

Those passengers will be transferred to New Zealand when they arrive in Darwin, Morrison said.

On Sunday, the United States evacuated about 400 citizens from the Diamond Princess, while Canada, Italy, South Korea and Hong Kong have also announced plans to repatriate passengers.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage on the novel coronavirus and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram ​​​​​​​

Trump threatens intelligence block over Huawei: US diplomat

WASHINGTON: The United States’ ambassador to Germany said Sunday (Feb 16) that President Donald Trump had threatened to cut off intelligence-sharing with countries that dealt with Chinese tech firm Huawei.

Washington has been pressing allies to ban Huawei, one of the world’s largest tech firms, from next-generation 5G mobile data networks, saying it is a security risk.

READ: Rebuffed by UK, US pitches ‘big tent’ for Huawei rivals in Europe

READ: US defence chief warns of Huawei ‘threat’ to NATO

Ambassador Richard Grenell said Trump “instructed me to make clear that any nation who chooses to use an untrustworthy 5G vendor will jeopardize our ability to share intelligence and information at the highest level.”

Grenell said on Twitter that the president had called him on Sunday from Air Force One, the presidential plane, to convey the message.

Key US allies in Europe, notably Britain and France, have said they will not ban Huawei from building 5G networks but will impose restrictions.

Publicly, the US has been restrained in its response, but Trump was reportedly furious with London.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Munich Security Conference on Saturday that Huawei was a “Trojan horse for Chinese intelligence.”

READ: Commentary: Is Huawei dangerous because it’s Chinese? What about Facebook?

READ: Huawei dismisses new suspension of ‘unjust’ US ban

The tech company vehemently denies the US allegations, and Beijing has characterized its treatment as “economic bullying.”

A US indictment on Friday laid more criminal charges against Huawei related to theft of intellectual property, adding to earlier allegations that the company stole trade secrets from American carrier T-Mobile.

Coronavirus could damage global growth in 2020: IMF

DUBAI: The coronavirus epidemic could damage global economic growth this year, the IMF head said Sunday (Feb 16), but a sharp and rapid economic rebound could follow.

“There may be a cut that we are still hoping would be in the 0.1 to 0.2 percentage space,” the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, told the Global Women’s Forum in Dubai.

She said the full impact of the spreading disease that has already killed more than 1,600 people would depend on how quickly it was contained.

“I advise everybody not to jump to premature conclusions. There is still a great deal of uncertainty. We operate with scenarios, not yet with projections, ask me in 10 days,” Georgieva said.

READ: ‘Everyone is guessing’ about coronavirus economic impacts, say experts

In its January update to the World Economic Outlook, the IMF lowered global economic growth forecast in 2020 by a 0.1 percentage point to 3.3 per cent, following a 2.9 per cent growth the previous year, the lowest in a decade.

Georgieva said it was “too early” to assess the full impact of the epidemic but acknowledged that it had already affected sectors such as tourism and transportation.

“It is too early to say because we don’t yet quite know what is the nature of this virus. We don’t know how quickly China will be able to contain it. We don’t know whether it will spread to the rest of the world,” she said.

If the disease is “contained rapidly, there can be a sharp drop and a very rapid rebound”, in what is known as the V-shaped impact, she said.

READ: Government will help minimise any retrenchments due to COVID-19: Ng Eng Hen

Compared to the impact of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002, she said China’s economy then made up just 8.0 per cent of global economy. Now, that figure is 19 per cent.

She said the trade agreement between the United States and China, the world’s first and second economies, had reduced the disease’s impact on global economy.

But the world should be concerned “about sluggish growth” impacted by uncertainty, said the IMF chief.

READ: Coronavirus outbreak: Economic fallout could be worse than SARS

“We are now stuck with low productivity growth, low economic growth, low interest rates and low inflation,” she told the Dubai forum, also attended by US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and former British prime minister Theresa May.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the novel coronavirus and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the novel coronavirus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram

Chinese businesses in faraway Namibia feel virus fear

WINDHOEK: Namibia should by rights feel little concern about the coronavirus outbreak given that the sparsely-populated desert country is 12,000km from China and without a single confirmed case.

But like many countries on the continent, the southern African nation hosts a big Chinese retail business community with close links to home.

And as the fear of infection spreads, businesses are taking things into their own hands.

READ: China COVID-19 toll leaps past 1,600 as new cases slow

A notice in Chinese and English taped to an aluminium shutter on a Chinese-owned shop in Windhoek’s Chinatown spells it out: Any merchant returning to Namibia from China “must be quarantined for 14 days and keep the shop closed for that period”, state the typed instructions signed by the Chinatown management.

Many shop owners who travelled to China for the year-end break have opted to stay put instead of returning to Windhoek’s Chinatown, a vast complex of nearly 200 retail, wholesale, food and electronics outlets in the northern industrial district of the capital.

NOT COMING BACK

In one block of 90 shops, 20 stores have not re-opened.

The Chinese community, their embassy and Chinese Chamber of Commerce are trying their “very best to prevent people from returning from China to Namibia … during this period,” said Brian Lee, a businessman.

For those who travel nonetheless “we have already set up a quarantine place outside of Windhoek” where they will be kept until cleared of the virus, but nobody has been taken there yet.

“I think everybody is panicking, not just Namibians, also the Chinese community here is panicking as well,” said Lee.

Chinatown is usually teeming with shoppers, but not on this Friday afternoon.

Shop owner Miang Li points to people’s fear of contracting the virus from the Chinese as a reason for the dropping footfall, although he says mid-month blues – due to low funds between pay cheques – may also be to blame.

“People who come here shout, ‘coronavirus, coronavirus’,” he told AFP at his clothes store.

Li said inventories are dwindling because owners would rather not travel to China for their usual re-stock runs, instead clearing last year’s stock at marked down prices.

“Many of us here only go back in February or March for stock, now it is dangerous to go and come back,” he said. “If you go now, you don’t know if this country will let you come back.”

Chinatown caters to retail shoppers but also sells bulk to online and bricks-and-mortar boutiques in other parts of Namibia.

“Clients from Walvis Bay, Swakopmund and Oshakati are not coming for now because we only have old stock,” said the 52-year-old who has worked in Namibia for nine years.

To make matters worse, some local staff are reluctant to continue working for the Chinese.

NOT WORTH IT

Shop attendant Matilda Ndinoshisho, 28, said a workmate had stopped showing up.

“Her uncle and aunt told her the Chinese bosses will give her the virus that is killing all the Chinese and that a N$800 (US$54) salary is not worth losing her life or infecting the rest of them in the house,” and so she quit, said Ndinoshisho.

Namibia has had only one suspected case of coronavirus which turned out to be a false alarm.

Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula said the government had medics screening visitors at all entry points into the country.

“Every passenger who is coming into Namibia, whether from China or from any other country in the world, is subjected to a thorough screening,” the minister told AFP.

“If anybody displays symptoms of being infected with the virus, that person is isolated immediately and monitored.”

Now known by its official designation COVID-19, the disease emerged in central China at the end of last year and has spread across the world.

It has killed more than 1,600 people and sickened 68,000 in China.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of COVID-19 and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the COVID-19 outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram

Trump thanks Cambodia over ship in rare message to China-ally

SIHANOUKVILLE: US President Donald Trump has thanked Cambodia for taking in the castaway cruise ship MS Westerdam in a rare message to a country that is one of China’s closest allies and has often been at odds with Washington.

Five countries turned away the Westerdam, worried its passengers could be carrying the coronavirus despite it having no known cases before Cambodia’s authoritarian prime minister, Hun Sen, agreed the passengers could disembark there.

“Thank you to the beautiful country of Cambodia for accepting the @CarnivalCruise ship Westerdam into your port. The United States will remember your courtesy,” Trump tweeted late on Friday (Feb 14).

The Westerdam, operated by Carnival Corp. unit Holland America Inc, docked in the port of Sihanoukville on Thursday after being shunned for two weeks. Its 1,455 passengers began to disembark on Friday to head home.

The passengers were tested regularly on the ship and Cambodia also tested 20 once it docked. None were found to have the new coronavirus that has killed more than 1,500 people, the vast majority in China.

READ: Passengers on ship turned away over virus fears disembark in Cambodia

READ: Cruise ship shunned over coronavirus fears arrives in Cambodia

Hun Sen has often sparred with the United States over its accusations of human rights abuses and its condemnation of a crackdown on the opposition since 2017.

He has brought Cambodia much closer to China, which has provided billions of dollars in aid and in loans for infrastructure projects as well as standing by Cambodia in the face of Western criticism. 

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the novel coronavirus and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram

US renews pressure on China to join nuclear talks

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday (Feb 14) renewed pressure on China to join nuclear arms control talks with Washington and Moscow, seeking to overcome Beijing’s long-standing opposition to entering such a dialogue.

“China has long said it will never enter into an arms race and does not seek numeric parity with the U.S and Russia. Now is the time for China to put its money where its mouth is, and prove that it is a responsible international actor,” said a senior Trump administration official.

The official was one of several who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

The nuclear arsenals of the United States and Russia dwarf that of China. But Beijing’s military buildup in the Asia-Pacific region has alarmed US allies and policymakers.

President Donald Trump has sought to entice China into joining the United States and Russia in talks on an arms control accord to replace the 2010 New START treaty between Washington and Moscow that expires next February.

China has rejected Trump’s proposal, arguing that its smaller nuclear force is defensive and poses no threat.

“Continued silence from China creates uncertainty about their intentions and only brings about the need for a renewed focus on deterrence and military readiness for the United States,” said one administration official.

New START maintains the only remaining limits on US and Russian nuclear deployments. Some experts and lawmakers have called Trump’s proposal to include Beijing in a new treaty a “poison pill” strategy aimed at killing New START and ending the restraints on US deployments.

New START restricted the United States and Russia to deploying no more than 1,550 nuclear warheads, the lowest level in decades, and limited the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers that deliver them.

It can be renewed for up to five years if both sides agree. Moscow has offered to immediately extend the treaty. Washington has yet to decide.

“On New START, we have made no decision on a possible extension as we are focused on addressing a broader range of threats beyond just the weapons subject to the treaty,” said an official.

China is estimated to have about 300 nuclear weapons.

The official said China, “as a major military power,” also has major responsibilities.

“You cannot ask for global status without assuming global responsibilities for world order and this is why we believe it is high time for China to participate in arms control alongside the United States,” the official said.

US offers to help COVID-19 efforts in North Korea

WASHINGTON: The United States on Thursday (Feb 14) promised to support aid work in North Korea to combat the new coronavirus, voicing alarm at the ill-equipped state’s susceptibility.

State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the United States was “deeply concerned” about the vulnerability of the North Korean people to COVID-19, which originated in neighboring China where it has killed more than 1,300 people.

Ortagus said the United States supported efforts of aid groups to contain the spread of the virus in North Korea.

“The United States is ready and prepared to expeditiously facilitate the approval of assistance from these organizations,” she said in a statement.

Aid groups traveling to North Korea seek exemptions from sweeping US and UN sanctions, which were imposed over the authoritarian state’s nuclear and missile work.

The United States eased its approach on humanitarian aid last year as diplomacy stepped up with North Korea on its nuclear program but it still maintains tough restrictions, including a ban on all travel to the country by US citizens.

Officials in tightly controlled North Korea have said nothing about coronavirus cases but state media this week said foreigners would undergo a 30-day quarantine.

North Korea has entirely banned foreign tour groups, which come largely from China, according to a major tour operator.

READ: North Korea to ban tourists over Wuhan virus: Tour operator

The US offer of support comes amid a deadlock in diplomacy between North Korea and the United States.

Three meetings between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un failed to secure a landmark nuclear accord, with Pyongyang firing short-range rockets and demanding an end to sanctions.

But US officials have been cautiously hopeful after North Korea did not go through with more drastic action following Kim’s New Year’s speech, in which he warned that his regime would no longer abide by a pause on nuclear and long-range missile tests.

BOOKMARK THIS: Our comprehensive coverage of the novel coronavirus and its developments

Download our app or subscribe to our Telegram channel for the latest updates on the coronavirus outbreak: https://cna.asia/telegram

EU urges UK to go for trade deal, but says ‘fine’ if not

STRASBOURG, France: The EU wants a uniquely close post-Brexit relationship with the UK, but is “fine” if London opts to walk away without one, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said Tuesday.

The blunt language mirrors that being used by Britain, which formally left the EU two weeks ago but which still trades like a member under a transition period ticking down to the end of this year.

The government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists it will not seek to extend the transition. This week it stepped up warnings to British business to prepare to operate outside the single market from 2021.

At the same time, the EU is putting the final touches on its negotiating mandate, which is to be fixed on Feb 25 ahead of talks with the UK scheduled to start from next month.

Speaking to the European Parliament, von der Leyen responded to Britain’s moves bracing for a possible no-deal on trade by saying: “If this is the British choice, well, we are fine with that without any question.”

She added however that “I personally believe that we should be way more ambitious” and reiterated Europe’s conditions Britain would have to abide by if an accord were to be struck.

NO ‘BUSINESS AS USUAL’

The EU insists on a “level playing field” so that Britain does not try to get an unfair trading advantage by getting rid of costly EU standards on labour, the environment and taxes.

It also wants oversight on UK state aid decisions, and says giving EU fishing boats continued access to British waters is crucial for a trade deal.

At the same time, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned that Britain’s big financial sector would lose its automatic right to operate in EU countries, and checks would be carried out on British goods.

“Brexit cannot be business as usual,” he told the MEPs. “Brexit has mechanical and logical consequences. We have to find a new way of cooperating with them, and we are seeking that.”

In the lead-up to Britain’s January 31 exit from the EU, London had said it wanted an ambitious and comprehensive accord with the European bloc.

But since then, Johnson has dialled back on that scope and his government has signalled it is willing to accept trade friction as the cost of exercising sovereignty.

SEEKING ‘EQUIVALENCE’

A senior British minister, Michael Gove, on Monday said EU imports would from next year face the same checks as those from the rest of the world.

On Tuesday, Britain’s finance minister, Sajid Javid, spread much the same message, writing in London’s City AM newspaper that “from next year, we will have the freedom to make our own rules outside the constraints of the (EU’s) single market and customs union”.

He also said “there will be differences” between future British financial regulations and EU ones – though he repeated a desire for regulatory “equivalence” under which British financial firms would be deemed compatible enough to maintain access to the EU market.

Barnier, however, warned Britain against harbouring any “illusion” over financial services.

One way Johnson’s government is preparing the ground for a possible no deal is to say that it would be happy trading with the EU on the same terms as Australia – a country currently striving to work out a trade accord with the bloc.

“I was a little bit surprised to hear the prime minister of the United Kingdom speak about the Australian model,” von der Leyen said.

“But the European Union does not have a trade agreement with Australia. We are currently trading on WTO terms.”