Countries tighten measures as global virus death toll nears 700,000

PARIS — France and the Netherlands are gearing up for stricter mask-wearing rules to fight the coronavirus as the global death toll from the pandemic neared 700,000.

Paris, Toulouse and other cities announced that the wearing of masks would be compulsory in particularly busy streets and squares. People already have to wear them inside most private businesses and all public buildings.

A scientific committee advising the French government warned that the country could lose control of its spread "at any time."

In the Netherlands, the same measure will be applied in Rotterdam and the famous red-light district of Amsterdam from Wednesday.

And Ireland postponed the reopening of  pubs and other nightspots on the advice of scientists, concerned about rising infections.

In other developments, the Philippines placed millions of people back under lockdown Tuesday in a bid to contain the rising rate of infections, and relieve pressure on overwhelmed hospitals.

But with only 24 hours' notice of the shutdown, many people were stranded in Manila, unable to get back to their hometowns after public transport and domestic flights were halted.

More than 18 million people worldwide have been infected with the virus since it first emerged in China late last year.

The worst hit country, the United States, had added 1,300 new deaths in 24 hours Tuesday bringing its toll to nearly 156,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The caseload grew by 53,847 to nearly 4.8 million, it said.

Far from slowing down, the latest figures show that the rate of infection is accelerating.

Brazil is driving a surge in Latin America and the Caribbean, where infections passed five million on Monday.

South America's largest country has recorded more than 2.75 million cases, and nearly 95,000 deaths, nearly half the region's 203,800 deaths.


The world's hope of ending the current cycle of outbreaks and lockdowns rests on finding a treatment.

The US has begun late stage clinical trials into a drug formulated to fight COVID-19, officials said Tuesday.

The medicine is an antibody against the new coronavirus called LY-CoV555, which was identified in the blood sample of a recovered patient by Canada's Abcellera Biologics.

It was then developed synthetically for mass production by US-based Lilly Research Laboratories in partnership with Abcellera.

The Phase 3 trial will initially enroll some 300 volunteers around the world who have been hospitalized with mild to moderate COVID-19 with fewer than 13 days of symptoms.

Each will be assigned either the medicine, which will be injected intravenously, or a placebo.

Patients will also receive standard care for COVID-19, including the antiviral remdesivir.

The new Phase 3 trial is being led by Jens Lundgren, of the University of
Copenhagen and Rigshospitalet, and could expand to up to 1,000 people,
including the more severely ill, if LY-CoV555 appears safe and effective after the fifth day.

The trial's main goal is the patients' sustained recovery for 14 days after release from the hospital.

At the same time, the new drug is also being tested on people with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 who have not been hospitalized, as part of a parallel middle-stage trial also announced Tuesday.

"Studying the impact of this investigational therapeutic on multiple patient populations at the same time is critical to determining whether it can help COVID-19 patients with differing levels of disease severity," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergies and Infectious Diseases.

Antibodies are infection-fighting proteins made by the immune system that can bind to the surface of viruses and prevent them from invading cells.

Vaccines work by teaching the body to make its own antibodies, while scientists are also testing ready-made antibodies from the blood of recovered patients, called convalescent plasma.

But it is not possible to make convalescent plasma a mass treatment.

Researchers can also comb through the antibodies produced by recovered patients and select the most effective out of thousands, and then manufacture it at scale.