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Covid-19 News Updates


Victorian resident tests positive to COVID-19 a week after leaving hotel quarantine in SA

Victorian resident tests positive to COVID-19 a week after leaving hotel quarantine in SA

UPDATE (4.02pm AEST, 11 May 2021): Victorian health authorities have since published a list of exposure sites visited by the latest COVID-19 case. Click here to read more.

A returned traveller who undertook hotel quarantine in South Australia has today tested positive to COVID-19, a week after getting back home to the Melbourne suburb of Wollert.

The man in his 30s arrived in Melbourne on 4 May, developed symptoms four days later and got tested yesterday, returning a positive result this morning.

Contact tracing is underway along with the verification of exposure sites, which will be published once they are confirmed.

"The individual who was tested positive is isolating at home. His household primary close contacts are also isolating, being interviewed, and will be urgently tested," the Victorian Department of Health and Human Service (DHHS) said in an update today.

"The Department is working with interstate counterparts to determine the likely source of this infection.

"If you have any symptoms of COVID-19 - such as fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, chills or sweats, or change in sense of smell or taste - get a test immediately."

South Australia's Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier has confirmed an interjurisdictional outbreak investigation is underway, noting the individual concerned tested negative to COVID-19 on days 1, 5, 9 and 13 during his stay.

As the infectious period tends to be two days before symptoms develop, Spurrier says it does not look as if the man was symptomatic while in the Adelaide community.

"What we do know is this man, this new case in Victoria, was at the Playford Medihotel alongside another traveller who was one of our cases," she says.

That person who tested positive in hotel quarantine was then transferred to the dedicated COVID-positive facility Tom's Court Hotel.

"It is possible that after that man was released that there was some form of transmission of the virus," she says.

"It's very evident now that COVID can be transferred through aerosols and that these droplets may hang around in the air for a period of time."

South Australian authorities are now investigating the potential for transmission via hotel room ventilation as well as passageways, and will compare genomic testing results between the two COVID-positive cases.

"Be as that may, this is at this point in time a hypothesis," she says, noting it is also possible that the person was exposed to the coronavirus before arriving in Australia.

She added CCTV footage showed no evidence of breaches of protocol.

Updated at 2:15pm AEST on 11 May 2021.

IHME estimates COVID deaths more than double official reports

IHME estimates COVID deaths more than double official reports

It is widely known that COVID-19 deaths worldwide are likely vastly underreported due to reasons such as health system limitations, but now a highly regarded research institute at the University of Washington School of Medicine has sought to quantify how great the difference really is.

New analysis released by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has found COVID-19 deaths are significantly underreported in almost every country, estimating the pandemic has caused 6.9 million deaths.

This compares to 3.27 million reported deaths from the virus since the outbreak began.

The IHME reached its conclusion based on its long-standing methodology for measuring the burden of diseases on a global scale, which it has been running to calculate the total human cost of diseases since 1990.

The process starts with a benchmark of what death rates would have looked like if there were no pandemic, comparing the actual number of all-cause deaths with anticipated deaths from all causes based on pre-pandemic trends.

This subtraction gives an "excess mortality" figure, which is then adjusted to remove deaths that are indirectly attributable to the pandemic such as people with non-COVID conditions avoiding health care facilities.

The resulting number is then followed by an adjustment for an estimated number of deaths averted by the pandemic itself, for example traffic death declines due to lower mobility.

The institute's researchers believe this method yields a better reflection of how many deaths are directly due to the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19.

"As terrible as the COVID-19 pandemic appears, this analysis shows that the actual toll is significantly worse," said IHME's director Dr Chris Murray.

"Understanding the true number of COVID-19 deaths not only helps us appreciate the magnitude of this global crisis, but also provides valuable information to policymakers developing response and recovery plans."

The updated analysis shows the US has had more COVID-19 deaths to-date than any other country, with a total of more than 950,000.

Among the world's worst-hit nations, the IHME estimates real death numbers are close to triple the reported levels for India, Mexico and South Africa, and more than five times greater for Russia. 

Many deaths from COVID-19 go unreported because countries only report deaths that occur in hospitals or in patients with a confirmed infection. In many places, weak health reporting systems and low access to health care magnify this challenge.

IHME's analysis found that the largest number of unreported deaths occurred in countries that have had the largest epidemics to-date. However, some countries with relatively smaller epidemics saw a large increase in the death rate when accounting for unreported deaths. This analysis shows that they may be at greater risk for a wider epidemic than previously thought.

"Many countries have devoted exceptional effort to measuring the pandemic's toll, but our analysis shows how difficult it is to accurately track a new and rapidly spreading infectious disease," Murray said.

"We hope that today's report will encourage governments to identify and address gaps in their COVID-19 mortality reporting, so that they can more accurately direct pandemic resources."

The institute is forecasting more than 5 million reported deaths from COVID-19 by 1 August, although through its burden of disease analysis trend line the death toll could reach more than 9 million by then.

Updated at 4:46pm AEST on 7 May 2021.

Victoria to ease density limits for SME venues

Victoria to ease density limits for SME venues

Victoria's live music venues, restaurants, bars and nightclubs will be able to welcome more patrons from 28 May as the one person per two square metres rule is lifted for small-to-medium sized venues across the state.

Provided people continue to check in at locations through the Service Victoria app with COVID marshals in place to ensure the rules are followed, these venues will be able to have up to 200 people per space without any density limit.

The app and electronic record keeping will be mandatory for all venues and businesses from the same date, with the relaxation applying for spaces that are 400 square metres or smaller. Density limits will remain for anything larger.

Density quotients will also be removed for outdoor non-seated venues such as recreation facilities, community sport, pools, tourism services and non-seated outdoor entertainment such as zoos.

While many Victorians are doing the right thing, public health officials remain concerned about low rates of check-ins. All Victorians are encouraged to download the Service Victoria app to make checking in as fast and easy as possible.

A recent survey showed only 41 per cent of visitors to hospitality venues checked in every time, while 24 per cent of sites visited by Authorised Officers between 30 April and 2 May were warned or received notices due to lack of compliance with electronic record keeping.

The Victorian Government will communicate with third party providers who engaged with the Visitation API process and ensuring continued strong management of any check-in data held during a three-week transition and implementation period.

"This change means checking in will be quick and easy and ensure the data is high-quality and easily available to our contract tracers, should any venue be listed as an exposure site," says the state's Minister for Health Martin Foley.

"This is great news for many live music venues, restaurants and nightclubs who can open the doors to up to 200 people per space - but getting every Victorian to check in using the QR code service is the goal."

Meanwhile, in NSW contact tracers continue to scramble to find the mystery link behind two community transmission cases that have emerged in Sydney, but at least in the 24 hours to 8pm last night there were no new locally acquired cases.

Indian repatriation flights announced 

Following a backlash against its harsh measures threatening imprisonment for Australian citizens who return from India during the travel suspension with the South Asian country, the Federal Government has today announced repatriation flights will resume on May 15.

These flights from India will take returning Australians to the Northern Territory, where they will be placed in quarantine at the Centre for National Resilience at Howard Springs.

The National Security Committee of Cabinet was advised yesterday that the pause was working and that this would allow the repatriation flights to resume after May 15.

The temporary ban will remain in place until that time, as intended.

The number of COVID-19 positive cases in the Howard Springs has fallen to 21, from more than 50 cases a week ago, and positive cases associated with previous facilitated flights from India are on track to reach zero by 14 May.

Repatriation flights into the Howard Springs will resume on May 15 with one flight per 7-9 days, with an estimated 1,000 Australians returning by the end of June. Vulnerable Australians will be prioritised on these flights.

An initial repatriation flight to Darwin will leave India on May 15. Two further repatriation flights to the Northern Territory from India will be scheduled during May.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the flight pause has given the quarantine system space to operate safely and to protect Australians from the COVID-19 pandemic, with the travel pause remaining in place until May 15 with no changes.

"The global COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage outside Australia's borders and the temporary pause on flights continues to give our quarantine facilities time to reduce infection rates and reduce the risk of COVID escaping into the community," the Prime Minister said.

"Closing our international borders and the use of quarantine for returning Australians has protected the health of all Australians during the pandemic and given us a way of life that is the envy of the world.

"I have written to state and territory leaders to invite their participation in receiving direct repatriation flights from India over the coming weeks to further assist the efforts in Howard Springs.

"I want to thank the Gunner Government, NT Health and our AUSMAT teams for continuing to provide safe and effective quarantine facilities at Howard Springs that is the best facility in the world."

New measures will be in place for all resuming flights from India into the Northern Territory, which will require passengers to return both a negative COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and a negative rapid antigen test before boarding.

Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner said these measures ensure the Commonwealth and Territory Governments can continue to get Australians home from India safely, while ensuring the case load at Howard Springs remains manageable.

"The Territory always stands ready to help our fellow Australians and we were there to help those first Aussies home from Wuhan at the start of this pandemic," Chief Minister Gunner said.

"There is a humanitarian crisis in India and we have the gold standard facility with the health care heroes the country needs at our Centre for National Resilience to help get Australians home safely.

"We are pleased with the drop in the active COVID-19 case load we have seen at Howard Springs since the temporary pause on re-entry from India, and our clinical advice is that it is now safe to resume flights."

Commonwealth and Northern Territory health experts will assess the effectiveness of new pre-flight testing and isolation measures on infectivity rates in returning Australians on these May repatriation flights from India.

Updated at 12:44pm AEST on 7 May 2021.

NZ puts travel bubble with NSW on hold due to Sydney outbreak

NZ puts travel bubble with NSW on hold due to Sydney outbreak

The latest cases of community transmission in Sydney have led New Zealand to pause quarantine-free travel from New South Wales while authorities search for the missing link of infection.

From day one of the trans-Tasman bubble scheme the New Zealand Government emphasised a "flyer beware approach" whereby arrangements could be suspended in the event of an outbreak, with no compensation provided should hotel quarantine suddenly be required. However, measures announced today don't appear to be that drastic.

New Zealand's COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says anyone who was at one of the locations of interest in New South Wales at the relevant time should isolate and call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 for advice on getting tested for COVID-19.

"Anyone who is in Australia who has been at one of the locations of interest is subject to the requirements of the New South Wales Government and should not travel to New Zealand," he says.

"The Government is aware this will cause some disruption to travellers but strongly believes a cautious approach is the best course of action while investigations continue."

Hipkins notes whole genome sequencing has linked the case yesterday to a recent returnee who arrived in Australia from the United States, and a household contact of yesterday's case has also returned a positive test.

"An epidemiological link is yet to be determined between yesterday's case and the recent returnee," he says.

"While the new case announced today is not unexpected as a household contact of yesterday's case, officials have assessed that with several outstanding unknowns in the situation in Sydney it is safest to pause QFT for any flights leaving New South Wales after 11.59pm tonight. This will be under constant review."

Updated at 4:36pm AEST on 6 May 2021.

New restrictions for Greater Sydney in effect from 5pm today as second COVID case discovered

New restrictions for Greater Sydney in effect from 5pm today as second COVID case discovered

New "precautionary" restrictions will come into force from 5pm today until midnight on Monday 10 May in Greater Sydney after a household contact of yesterday's community transmission case of COVID-19 also tested positive overnight.

The restrictions will see masks once again mandatory in indoor settings, a 20 person limit for household gatherings, singing and dancing banned in venues, and consumption of alcohol must be done while seated.

The news comes as NSW Health published an updated list of venues of concern visited by the two confirmed cases of COVID-19 overnight, which expanded to include The Royal Sydney Golf Club in Rose Bay and a Woolworths in Double Bay.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian says the new restrictions, in effect for just three days, are a proportionate response to this latest COVID-19 outbreak in Sydney and will give health officials the opportunity to discover a missing link in the chain of transmission.

"What we're doing is a very proportionate response over the next three days," says Premier Berejiklian.

"We know that at least one person with the virus has been going around their business and we haven't found them yet. We don't know where they've been. We don't know if they've been to major events. We don't know who they've sat next to.

"We're not shutting down the city. We're not changing the two square metre rule quite the contrary. We're saying to everybody: business as usual, but just do a few things extra."

NSW Health officials today announced two new locally acquired cases of COVID-19: the man in his 50s who was revealed as positive yesterday afternoon and a household contact of his.

The man in his 50s had 10 close contacts, all of which have been tested. Excluding the household contact, the remaining nine all tested negative for COVID-19.

In the past 24 hours health officials also identified nine positive infections in hotel quarantine, and 11,579 COVID-19 tests were conducted.

In response to the outbreak Queensland has issued new advice for arrivals into the state from Greater Sydney. As of 1am on Friday 7 May anyone who has been to any of the venues of concern at the specified times must go into hotel quarantine for 14 days.

QLD Minister for Health Yvette D'Ath has called on those who have been to Sydney recently to continue checking venue additions in NSW.

NSW Health looking for the "missing link"

Health authorities are currently on the lookout for a "missing link" that would explain how the man from Sydney's eastern suburbs became infected with COVID-19.

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said genomic sequencing of the man's infection matched with an overseas case who travelled from the US and stayed at the Park Royal hotel in Darling Harbour.

The traveller tested positive for COVID-19 on his first day in quarantine and was then moved to a specialised facility on 28 April.

Dr Chant says the man from Sydney's eastern suburbs has had no contact with any hotel quarantine workers or medical staff before becoming infected, so contact tracers and health officials are trying to determine how the infection managed to reach the man.

"What we're concerned about is that there's a missing link," says Dr Chant.

"We can't find any direct link between our case, so what we're concerned about is that there is another person that is yet unidentified that infected our case. And then, the hypothesis is that our case then passed it onto the household."

NSW Health is reviewing CCTV footage to find out how the transmission occurred.

Dr Chant says because the overseas traveller arrived on 26 April health officials can narrow down how and when the man from the eastern suburbs was exposed.

"Usually we have to go back 14 days, but because of the link to the geonomics we now know that he was most likely, taking those sequence of infections, around that end of April," says Dr Chant.

Dr Chant says that has allowed contact tracers to identify another list of venues that the man in his 50s attended before he was infectious and where he was most likely exposed to the virus.

As such, anyone who attended the following venues at the specified times has been asked to get tested and isolate:

  • Fratelli Fresh in the Sydney CBD on Tuesday 27 April between 1.15-2.15pm
  • Bondi Trattoria in Bondi Beach on Thursday 29 April between 12.45-1.30pm

Updated at 11:41am AEST on 6 May 2021.

NSW Health identifies more venues of concern visited by latest COVID-19 community case

NSW Health identifies more venues of concern visited by latest COVID-19 community case

A number of additional venues of concern have been identified by NSW Health overnight as part of an ongoing investigation into a case of COVID-19 community transmission reported yesterday.

The update comes as all Australian states and territories have asked those who were at the venues at the same time as the infected man to get tested for COVID-19 and isolate for 14 days.

Anyone who attended the following venues at the times specified has been asked to get tested and isolate until NSW Health provides further advice including those who have been partially or fully vaccinated:

  • The Stadium Club in Moore Park on Monday 3 May between 11.30am-12.30pm
  • Azure Café in Moore Park on Monday 3 May between 12.30-1pm
  • The Royal Sydney Golf Club in Rose Bay on Monday 3 May between 5.30-9pm
  • Rug Cleaning Repairs Hand Rug Wash Sydney in Brookvale on Tuesday 4 May between 1-1.30pm
  • Alfresco Emporium in Collaroy on Tuesday 4 May between 1-1.30pm
  • SMITH MADE in Balgowlah on Tuesday 4 May between 2.30-2.45pm
  • Chemist Warehouse in Double Bay on Tuesday 4 May between 3.45-4pm
  • Woolworths in Double Bay on Tuesday 4 May between 4.05-4.15pm

The addition of these venues sees the total list of locations of concern to NSW Health grow to 19, joining the following venues announced yesterday:

  • A screening of The Courier at Event Cinemas in Westfield Bondi Junction on Friday 30 April between 6-8pm
  • Figo Restaurant in Rushcutters Bay on Friday 30 April between 8.45-11pm
  • Joe's Barbeques & Heating in Silverwater on Saturday 1 May between 1-1.45pm
  • Tuckers Barbeques in Silverwater on Saturday 1 May between 1-1.45pm
  • Barbeques Galore in Annandale on Saturday 1 May between 2-3pm
  • Barbeques Galore in Casula on Saturday 1 May between 4-5pm
  • BP Mascot in Mascot on Saturday 1 May between 4.30-5pm
  • The Meat Store in Bondi Junction on Sunday 2 May between 3-4pm
  • District Brasserie in Sydney CBD on Friday 30 April between 11-11.45am
  • HineSight Optometrist in Sydney CBD on Friday 30 April between 12-1pm
  • Barbetta in Paddington on Friday 30 April between 1.30-2.30pm

NSW Health was notified overnight that fragments of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been detected in the Marrickville Sewage Network.

This catchment includes about 42,000 people and takes sewage from the following suburbs: Dulwich Hill, Marrickville, Summer Hill, Lewisham, Ashfield, Haberfield, Petersham, Lilyfield and Leichhardt.

NSW Health is asking everyone in these areas to be especially vigilant in monitoring for symptoms, and if they appear get tested and isolate immediately until a negative result is received.

Updated at 9.50am AEST on 6 May 2021.

COVID-19 community case detected in Sydney's eastern suburbs

COVID-19 community case detected in Sydney's eastern suburbs

UPDATE (5.44pm AEST 5 May 2021): NSW Health has released new venues of concern in Sydney's eastern suburbs and CBD visited by the confirmed case of COVID-19. See below for details.

NSW health authorities are undertaking urgent investigations after a man unconnected to the state's hotel quarantine system or health services tested positive for COVID-19.

The man visited a number of locations around Sydney including a cinema, multiple BBQ stores, and a Rushcutters Bay restaurant.

The man in his 50s from Sydney's eastern suburbs underwent testing yesterday and returned a positive result today.

Because he has not travelled overseas in recent times and he does not work in a hotel quarantine, border or health role, NSW Health is conducting genomic sequencing to determine how the man contracted the virus. Results are expected in the next 24 hours.

Close contacts are being urgently contacted, tested, and ordered into isolation.

The man visited a number of venues while potentially infectious. As such, anyone who attended any of the following venues at the times specified have been asked to immediately get tested and isolate until NSW Health provides further information, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated or not:

  • A screening of The Courier at Event Cinemas in Westfield Bondi Junction on Friday 30 April between 6-8pm
  • Figo Restaurant in Rushcutters Bay on Friday 30 April between 8.45-11pm
  • Joe's Barbeques & Heating in Silverwater on Saturday 1 May between 1-1.45pm
  • Tuckers Barbeques in Silverwater on Saturday 1 May between 1-1.45pm
  • Barbeques Galore in Annandale on Saturday 1 May between 2-3pm
  • Barbeques Galore in Casula on Saturday 1 May between 4-5pm
  • BP Mascot in Mascot on Saturday 1 May between 4.30-5pm
  • The Meat Store in Bondi Junction on Sunday 2 May between 3-4pm

UPDATE: NSW Health has released new venues of concern in Sydney's eastern suburbs and CBD visited by the confirmed case of COVID-19:

  • District Brasserie in Sydney CBD on Friday 30 April between 11-11.45am
  • HineSight Optometrist in Sydney CBD on Friday 30 April between 12-1pm
  • Barbetta in Paddington on Friday 30 April between 1.30-2.30pm

Updated at 2.21pm AEST on 5 May 2021.

Leading Aussie tech firms launch COVID relief campaign for India

Leading Aussie tech firms launch COVID relief campaign for India

Leading Australian technology companies including Canva, SafetyCulture and Airtasker are rallying their networks to lend a helping hand in India, where the COVID-19 crisis is rapidly deteriorating with almost 383,000 new cases recorded yesterday.

The country is struggling with an under-resourced health system as daily COVID-19 deaths reached a new record yesterday of more than 3,780. If that rate continues, total reported deaths from the pandemic in India would hit a quarter of a million within the week.

In less than 24 hours more than $400,000 has already been pledged to the Aussie Tech for India initiative, which is also supported by AirTree Ventures and Blackbird Ventures.

The initiative has been launched in partnership with the organisation Medical Oxygen for All which is sourcing medical supplies and coordinating their distribution on the ground.

"The evolving COVID-19 challenges in India aren't about a global shortage of oxygen the challenge is economical," says Canva's co-founder and COO Cliff Obrecht.

"The medical supplies are out there immediate and decisive action is required to save lives," he says.

"We have both a social and moral responsibility to do as much as we can to support our community in India."

Starting today, all proceeds from media purchases on Canva will be donated directly to relief efforts in India, with a message appearing in the Canva editor helping raise awareness across the company's global community of more than 55 million people.

The company has also launched a range of new India-specific templates with information from the local government and World Health Organisation to assist public health officials with sharing accurate and timely information.

"While each oxygen unit costs thousands of dollars, it only takes $92 to provide enough oxygen to save a life. We've been amazed by how quickly tech leaders in Australia have rallied together in response to the crisis unfolding in India," adds Anish Sinha, a co-founder and coordinator behind the Medical Oxygen for All program.

The Aussie Tech for India program has already seen a number of business and technology leaders across Australia join the campaign, highlighting the important role and responsibility of the Australian tech ecosystem to use its network and resources to support the global community in times of crisis and need.

"It's imperative we support India's critical care facilities as the situation escalates. I started SafetyCulture intent on finding a way to keep people in the workplace safe. We're committed to this challenge every day and eager to join the tech community in taking positive, pragmatic steps towards supporting this crisis," says Luke Anear, founder and chief executive officer of SafetyCulture. 

"Our hearts go out to the people of India during this incredibly challenging time. One of our values at Airtasker is 'people matter' and we're grateful to have the opportunity to work alongside Aussie tech companies to support the people of India," adds Tim Fung, co-founder and chief executive officer of Airtasker.

Blackbird and Airtree Ventures have also reaffirmed that the technology ecosystem is a global community, with an important responsibility to have a positive impact on the world.

"This is an incredible initiative. We are more than happy to support this work and hope together we can save some lives in India - a country that is a friend and neighbour of Australia," said Daniel Petre, co-founder and chair at AirTree Ventures.

"The technology ecosystem is a global community. We all have a responsibility to come together and do what we can to help India during this health crisis," says Rick Baker, general partner at Blackbird Ventures.

Not only is Indian culture an integral part of modern Australia - including the business community - but the nation is also one of our leading trading partners with two-way trade worth almost AUD$14 billion in 2020, according to UN Comtrade statistics. 

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Business News Australia

WA on high alert after COVID-infected food delivery drivers visited 100 restaurants

WA on high alert after COVID-infected food delivery drivers visited 100 restaurants

Western Australia is on high alert after three locally transmitted cases of COVID-19 were detected over the weekend, including two Uber Eats drivers who visited around 100 restaurants while infectious.

The revelation came today from WA Premier Mark McGowan, alongside the good news that there are no more instances community transmission in the state today.

The delivery drivers are two close contacts of a COVID-positive security guard who is a contractor at the Pan Pacific Hotel - a quarantine facility in Perth. The guard tested positive on 1 May after developing symptoms on 29 April.

According to McGowan, the two food delivery drivers visited around 100 restaurants while infectious and delivered food to 100 different people.

The Premier says these 100 locations are considered "very low risk" by the state's health authorities. Nevertheless, the 100 people who received food from the two delivery drivers are considered casual contacts and must get tested for COVID-19 and isolate until a negative result is received.  

WA Health says anyone who accepted a delivery from Uber Eats or Menulog between 29 April and 1 May or visited a restaurant in the list of sites during the times indicated should monitor for COVID symptoms.

McGowan also detailed that the three most recent cases of community transmission have 58 close contacts. All 58 are required to quarantine for two weeks, and so far 26 of the close contacts have received negative test results.

In addition, 217 casual contacts have been identified, of which 43 have received negative test results.

After the three new community transmission cases were identified in Perth on Saturday the Premier implemented new restrictions, including the immediate closure of nightclubs, the banning of crowds at the AFL, and closing the main gambling floor at Crown Casino.

Everyone in the state has been asked to wear a mask until 12.01am on Saturday 8 May when the restrictions expire.

The news comes as Australia's COVID-19 vaccine rollout was expanded today, with those over 50 now permitted to get the jab.

Updated at 11.57am AEST on 3 May 2021.

Could new findings put Mesoblast back in the COVID treatment race?

Could new findings put Mesoblast back in the COVID treatment race?

After four months in the doldrums due to its COVID-19 treatment in severely ill patients missing the mark, Melbourne-based biotech Mesoblast (ASX: MSB) is now pinning its hopes on fresh results that showed reduced mortality for under 65s.

Mesoblast was dealt a blow in December when a US trial failed to meet its 30-day goal of a 43 per cent reduction in mortality for patients suffering from severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) due to COVID-19 infection, cutting enrolments short for the study as well as the group's share price.

But the company founded and led by Dr Silviu Itescu pressed on with its 222 enrolled patients, and today revealed age could be a determining factor for the success of its stem cell treatment remestemcel-L.

Today's results demonstrate a 46 per cent reduction in mortality for patients aged under 65 who are treated with remestemcel-L, but not for those aged 65 and older.

When combined with the corticosteroid dexamethasone which has become part of standard care for critically ill COVID-19 patients on mechanical ventilation, Remestemcel-L was found to reduce mortality by 75 per cent in the under 65 demographic.

"Reduction in mortality in mechanically ventilated patients under 65 years old remains a critical unmet need since as many as 72 per cent of currently hospitalised patients across the US with COVID-19 are in this age category," says Itescu.

"This is similar to other causes of viral ARDS such as influenza where 70-80 per cent of patients in intensive care units are under 65.

"The reduction in mortality seen with remestemcel-L in this age group highlights the potential to make a meaningful difference in the treatment of diseases of excessive inflammation."

Itescu emphasises the complementary effects of Mesoblast's treatment with dexamethasone are particularly noteworthy, acting to target the inflammatory cytokine process driven by inflammatory macrophages and T-cells.

"Mechanistically, there is an understanding of synergy between the two. That probably in part explains why we've seen such exciting results in mortality reduction," he says.

Mesoblast's experts have formed the view that the negative third interim analysis that set back it plans may have resulted from a progressively ageing cohort of patients with more co-morbidities, whose median age rose from 59 in the first half to 67 in the second half.

The company believes a different dosing regimen might be needed to achieve mortality reduction in patients aged over 65 with co-morbidities.

"The mortality benefit observed with remestemcel-L in ventilator-dependent patients younger than 65, particularly in combination with dexamethasone, has the potential to change the treatment regimen in this critical patient population," says Mesoblast chief medical officer Dr Fred Grossman.

"As cases continue to surge in younger patients across the US, we plan to meet with the FDA to discuss next steps in the regulatory process."

Itescu says if remestemcel-L were to be approved for emergency use, Mesoblast still has a commercial agreement in place with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

"We have plans for a factory scale-up, we have proprietary media that contains recombinant cytokines that enables substantial yield improvement, and potentially we could move from two-dimensional to three-dimensional bioreactor production," he says.

"We are preparing ahead of the curve, should we be in a position to launch such a product, particularly in the US."

He says vaccine roll-outs in places can be very effective, reducing new cases by as much as potentially 80 per cent, but that still leaves room for treatments like remestemcel-L should it be given the green light.

"Nonetheless, the continued emergence of variants, particularly from third world countries, the continued social interactions particularly in younger people who in the northern summer now will be outdoors and enjoying life I think means there will be continued endemic cases of this virus in various pockets," he explains.

"There will be continued surges, resurgences, etcetera and there will be a steady state of patients who will need ICU care, mechanical ventilation, and treatments for the worst outcomes and the highest mortality risks of COVID-19 - ARDS.

"We clearly see this as a potential therapeutic for the steady state, even in the setting of large numbers of patients being vaccinated.

"Even if an 80 per cent reduction in infectivity is a success through vaccination, that still will result in a large number of potential fatalities that could be prevented by the use of remestemcel-L, together with dexomethasone."

Updated at 10:04am AEST on 30 April 2021.

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