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EU grants conditional clearance to Covid-19 antiviral remdesivir

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An employee of Egyptian pharmaceutical company Eva Pharma works on the production line of Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral medication which has been approved as a specific treatment for Covid-19.

Fadel Dawood | picture alliance via Getty Images

The European Commission said on Friday it had given conditional approval for the use of COVID-19 antiviral remdesivir following an accelerated review process.

The EU executive said the drug, produced by Gilead Sciences Inc, was the first medicine authorized in the European Union for treating COVID-19 following a “rolling review” begun by the European Medicines Agency at the end of April.

The agency reviews data as they become available on a rolling basis, while development is still ongoing.

The Commission said on Wednesday it was in negotiations with Gilead to obtain doses of remdesivir for the 27 European Union countries.

However, that may prove difficult after the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced it had secured all of Gilead’s projected production for July and 90% of that for August and September.

Remdesivir is in high demand after the intravenously-administered medicine helped to shorten hospital recovery times in a clinical trial. It is believed to be most effective in treating COVID-19 patients earlier in the course of disease than other therapies like the steroid dexamethasone.

Still, because remdesivir is given intravenously over at least a five-day period it is generally being used on patients sick enough to require hospitalization.

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As Trump bans WeChat, some in China turn to encrypted messaging app Signal

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The Signal Messenger app is displayed on a smartphone in Hong Kong, China.

Roy Liu | Bloomberg | Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s executive order banning American use of WeChat, the most popular app in China, takes effect next month, but some in China are already turning to an American app renowned for its privacy protections.

Downloads for Signal, an encrypted chat app that privacy advocates generally regard as best-in-class for everyday use, are spiking in China, a spokesperson for the app said Friday.

The Chinese government heavily regulates domestic internet use, funneling most of its citizens to WeChat, a multipurpose app that offers messaging, games and ridesharing options, among other uses. On Thursday, Trump, citing the likelihood that WeChat sends users’ data to the Chinese government, signed an executive order banning people and companies in the U.S. from engaging in “any transaction” with the app beginning Sept. 20.

It’s unclear whether that would require U.S. companies to cut off access to the app, but the order comes as Trump has threatened broad bans on Chinese tech companies operating in the U.S.

China’s Great Firewall, a censorship system that restricts citizens from directly visiting much of the internet, bans easy access to most other major Western chat programs. While a comparatively small number of Americans use WeChat, a ban would hamper those who use the app to communicate with friends, family or business associates in China.

But Signal isn’t blocked by the Great Firewall, both for iPhones via the App Store and Android via a direct download from Signal’s website, as Google’s Play Store is blocked.

“We are actually not banned in China, believe it or not,” said Jun Harada, a spokesperson for Signal.

While he declined to share actual download numbers because of a policy of not sharing user data, he said downloads in China began to skyrocket in the hours before Trump’s ban. “It’s looking to be on par if not bigger than when we made it to #1 in the App Store in Hong Kong,” he said, referring to a spike in downloads there last month, when China began implementing its National Security Law, which gave the country broad powers to crack down on protests in Hong Kong.

“We think that has helped us to get more mainstream awareness within China but also with the Chinese diaspora,” Harada said.

Signal gets high marks from privacy experts because it stores little information about its users and its messages are end-to-end encrypted, meaning a government that accesses them in transit would only see them encoded.

Yaqui Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said she has long used Signal to communicate with people inside China, but cautioned that the government there could move to block it if it catches censors’ eyes, making it all the more difficult for people in the U.S. and China to communicate directly.

“Chinese authorities can block Signal if its popularity surges, just as it did to WhatsApp and Telegram,” Wang said.

“The bifurcation of the internet, the formation of two paralleled information and communication universes is becoming increasingly evident,” she said.

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City in China’s Inner Mongolia issues warning after bubonic plague patient dies

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Authorities in a city in the Chinese region of Inner Mongolia issued a warning after a patient who had bubonic plague died of multiple organ failure, state media reported on Saturday.

Cases of plague are not uncommon in China, although outbreaks have become increasingly rare. From 2009 to 2018, China reported 26 cases and 11 deaths.

The patient was confirmed to have bubonic plague, the People’s Daily reported, citing an announcement from the health committee of the Bayan Nur city. The bubonic plague, known as the “Black Death” in the Middle Ages, is a highly infectious and often fatal disease that is spread mostly by rodents.

The committee issued a third-level alert, the second lowest in a four-level system, effective Friday to the end of 2020 to prevent the spread of the disease, the People’s Daily reported.

This marks the second death of a plague patient reported this month in the Inner Mongolia region.

Residential buildings in Baotou city, Inner Mongolia.

Simon Song | South China Morning Post | Getty Images

On Thursday, authorities in Baotou city, which is adjacent to Bayan Nur city, reported that a patient with an “intestinal-type plague” died of circulatory system failure.

Bayan Nur authorities have locked down the area where the dead patient lived and quarantined seven close contacts of the patient, who have tested negative for the disease so far and taken preventive medicines.

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Markets could be challenged by Washington stimulus talks and China tensions

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