By global standards South Korea’s figure remains extremely low but the rise has alarmed authorities, who have tightened social distancing measures.
The exam itself is a particular concern, with nearly 500,000 pupils gathering in test centres across the country.
Plastic see-through dividers have been set up on each desk and students are required to wear facemasks throughout the test.
Students will be checked on arrival and those showing temperatures of 37.5 C or higher – or other coronavirus symptoms – will have to take the test in a separate designated area.
All were advised to refrain from gathering and talking during breaks, with exam rooms to be ventilated after each session.
The exam itself was delayed for two weeks due to the earlier disruptions to teaching, and all high schools across the country have returned to online classes for a week to try to prevent school clusters.
South Korea falls into hush mode on Thursday as hundreds of thousands of students sit the high-stakes national university entrance exam, with the added tension of strict anti-coronavirus measures, AFP reports.
Success in the day-long test – which teenagers spend years preparing for – can mean a place in one of the elite colleges seen as key to future careers, incomes, and even marriage prospects.
Adding to the pressure is the coronavirus epidemic, which both delayed and disrupted the school year in the South, forcing all classes online for a time.
The country brought its outbreak broadly under control with its “trace, test and treat” approach, but in recent weeks has seen new infections jump from around 100 a day to more than 500.
Stranded Australians who were promised their hotel quarantine fees in Sydney would be waived if they flew home on tickets booked before 13 July are now being told by the government to pay for their 14-day stay in Darwin – in some cases more than AU$5,000 (US$3,700) – after the commercial flight they booked was cancelled.
Some stranded Australians have been forced to decline seats on specially organised government repatriation flights after being told the free quarantine stays are “not applicable” if they accept the government’s offer to repatriate them via the Howard Springs quarantine camp.
One family of four who have been stranded in Italy for more than five months after their commercial flight to Sydney was cancelled have been told by both the Northern Territory and federal governments they will have to pay $5,000 for their two-week stay at the Howard Springs centre in the territory:
Solidarity also found no Covid-19 survival benefit from treatment with the HIV drug lopinavir, the immune booster interferon or hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug championed by US President Donald Trump despite a lack of evidence of benefit in Covid-19.
The release in October of the trial’s summary findings sparked a reevaluation by some of the utility of remdesivir, which was shown to shorten Covid-19 hospitals stays by five days compared with a placebo in an earlier US government-run trial.
The WHO last month declared that remdesivir, which is given as an intravenous infusion, should not be used for patients hospitalised with Covid-19, regardless of how ill they are, since there is no evidence that it can improve survival or reduce the need for mechanical ventilation.
The US Food and Drug Administration in October approved remdesivir, which is sold under the brand name Veklury, for Covid-19 patients over the age of 12 who require hospitalisation. The drug is authorised or approved for use as a Covid-19 treatment in more than 50 countries.
An editorial in the influential New England Journal of Medicine cites problems with a World Health Organization study that found Gilead Sciences Inc’s antiviral remdesivir failed to improve Covid-19 survival, and said it does not refute trials that demonstrated benefits of the drug in treating the illness, Reuters reports.
The editorial, by David Harrington at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, infectious disease specialist Dr. Lindsey Baden and Brown University biostatistician Joseph Hogan, was published on Wednesday along with the WHO study.
They noted that the trial called Solidarity, which looked at four drugs, was conducted in 30 countries ranging from Switzerland and Germany to Iran and Kenya, leading to inconsistencies in the data collected.
The findings are complicated by the fact that there is “variation within and between countries in the standard of care and in the burden of disease in patients who arrive at hospitals,” they write.
Pupils in England sitting GCSEs and A-levels next summer will be given advance notice of topics and allowed to take in exam aids including formula sheets, as part of a package of measures to mitigate for learning disruption caused by the pandemic.
After months of uncertainty for pupils and their teachers, the government’s long-awaited announcement on the 2021 exam series promises that students will be awarded more generous grades, in line with last summer’s significantly improved results:
Brazil opens route for emergency approval of Covid-19 vaccines
Brazil’s health regulator Anvisa said on Wednesday it was open to approving Covid-19 vaccines for emergency use and outlined the requirements for companies looking to do so, Reuters reports.
Anvisa said authorisations would be analysed on a case-by-case basis and that to be considered the vaccine must be in late-stage trials in Brazil. It said no requests had been received so far.
AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Sinovac currently have vaccines in Phase III trials in Brazil.
The regulator said producers should still seek the usual registrations for their vaccines. On Tuesday, Brazil’s Health Ministry unveiled a preliminary plan for national immunisation, prioritising indigenous people, health workers and those aged 75 years and older.
The ministry said it has so far guaranteed access to 142.9 million doses of vaccines against Covid-19.
Of those, 100.4 million doses are under an agreement with AstraZeneca, and another 14.5 million through the Covax Facility co-led by the World Health Organization.
Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello told lawmakers on Wednesday that Brazil would begin receiving about 15 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine between January and February, with 100 million doses arriving by the middle of the year.
New Zealand confirms nine new cases in managed isolation facilities
NewsHub reports that New Zealand has confirmed nine new cases, all in managed isolation and quarantine facilities, and four of which are active.
The other five are historical.
Two of the historical cases are Pakistan cricket team members.
“The four active cases are made up of a person who arrived in the country from the UK on November 29, two people who flew in on November 21 from Qatar and one other November 30 arrival from the US,” NewsHub reports.
The devastation caused by Covid-19 presents an opportunity for countries to rebuild their economies in a way that is environmentally responsible, researchers say.
“The only way you can meet the Paris agreement is by taking advantage of this moment … by combining the recovery from Covid-19 with the response to climate change,” said Dr Nick Watts, the chief sustainability officer for the NHS.
Watts is one of the authors of the annual Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change, which tracks the impacts of global heating on health. The series has been running since 2015, when the Paris agreement was signed with the goal of holding global temperatures to well below 2C above pre-industrial levels:
Lilly to supply 650,000 more doses of bamlanivimab to US government
Eli Lilly and Co said on Wednesday the US government has purchased 650,000 additional doses of its Covid-19 antibody drug for $812.5 million.
The doses will be delivered through 31 January, with at least 350,000 delivered in December, the company said.
The drug has been authorised by the UUS Food and Drug Administration for emergency use, and the government bought 300,000 doses in October.
The new purchase is part of a US government deal to secure nearly 1 million doses of Lilly’s bamlanivimab, a treatment similar to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc’s Covid-19 antibody therapy that US President Donald Trump received in October during his illness.
The treatments belong to a class of drugs called monoclonal antibodies that are manufactured copies of antibodies created by the body to fight against an infection. Lilly anticipates manufacturing up to one million doses of bamlanivimab by the end of 2020 for use around the world through early next year.
Former French president dies of Covid complications
The former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing has died from complications linked to Covid-19, his foundation said on Wednesday.
Giscard, who was 94 and served as France’s leader from 1974 to 1981, had recently been hospitalised in Tours with respiratory problems. He recovered but was re-admitted in mid-November.
“His state of health had worsened and he died as a consequence of Covid-19,” his family said in a statement to AFP.
The Foundation Valery Giscard d’Estaing said on Twitter that: “In accordance with his wishes, his funeral will take place in the strictest family intimacy.”
He was known for steering the modernisation of French society during his presidency, including allowing divorce by mutual consent and legalising abortion, and was one of the architects of European integration:
Hello and welcome to today’s live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.
My name is Helen Sullivan and I’ll be bringing you the latest for the next few hours.
You can find me on Twitter (singing praises and yelling are both options) @helenrsullivan.
Former French president Valery Giscard d’Estaing died on Wednesday from complications linked to Covid-19, his foundation said. Giscard was admitted to hospital in September with respiratory problems. He recovered but was re-admitted in mid-November. He was 94.
Meanwhile the global Covid death toll is nearing 1.5m, with 1,488,992. Currently, the world is regularly suffering more than 10,000 deaths per day, according to Johns Hopkins University. There are 64.3m cases worldwide.
Here are the other key developments from the last few hours.
Germany will extend restrictive measures designed to stem a tide of new Covid-19 infections until 10 January, the chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday after talks with German state leaders. The measures, which had been due to expire on 20 December, include keeping restaurants and hotels shut and limiting private gatherings to five people from two households.
Spain caps end-of-year parties to 10 and restricts domestic travel. The Spanish government agreed with regional authorities on Wednesday that a maximum of 10 people per household will be allowed to gather for the Christmas and New Year holidays to avoid spreading the coronavirus, the health minister Salvador Illa said.
Vaccines won’t prevent short-term coronavirus surge – WHO expert. The World Health Organization does not believe there will be enough supplies of coronavirus vaccines in the next three to six months to prevent a surge in the number of infections, its top emergency expert said.
UK put speed before public confidence in vaccine, says EU agency. The European Medicines Agency has suggested British regulators prioritised speed over winning public confidence to enable the UK to become the first western country to license a coronavirus vaccine.
France to carry out border checks to stop skiers spreading Covid. France will carry out random border checks over the holiday season targeting French skiers on their way to and from foreign resorts – particularly Switzerland and Spain – where slopes stay open, the prime minister, Jean Castex, said.
Putin orders Russia to begin mass Covid-19 vaccinations. President Vladimir Putin has ordered Russian authorities to begin mass voluntary vaccinations against Covid-19 next week, as Russia recorded 589 new daily deaths from the coronavirus.
North America seeing record-setting daily Covid-19 cases. Covid-19 deaths in the Americas have increased nearly 30% in November compared to the end of October, while North America is seeing record-setting daily cases registered, the WHO regional director, Carissa Etienne, said.