New coronavirus infections mar South Korean students’ return to school

Above, a senior student is greeted by a teacher, second from right, upon his arrival at the Kyungbock High School in Seoul, South Korea on May 20, 2020. (AP)
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Updated 20 May 2020

New coronavirus infections mar South Korean students’ return to school

  • Some students were sent home almost as soon as they had walked through their school gates for the first time this year
  • Korea has reported 11,110 coronavirus cases, with 263 deaths

SEOUL: The discovery of new coronavirus cases in two students marred the reopening of South Korean schools on Wednesday, forcing 75 high schools to turn pupils away amid fears among some teachers that it was unsafe for classes to resume.
Some students were sent home almost as soon as they had walked through their school gates for the first time this year, after the two high school seniors tested positive in Incheon on Wednesday morning, the education ministry said.
The beginning of the spring semester had been postponed several times since March as South Korea battled the first large coronavirus outbreak outside China, with classes held online.
But with daily coronavirus cases sharply down since a February peak, most of South Korea’s 2,356 high schools reopened under new health protocols to prevent the spread of the disease. All schools will reopen in stages between May 20 and June 1.
Teachers with thermometers and hand sanitizers welcomed seniors at school gates, checking each student for signs of fever.
Some of the 17-18 year-olds put their arms around their friends’ shoulders as they were reunited, only for teachers to tell them to keep their distance. Private sanitation contractors on motorcycles drove back and forth spraying disinfectant.
Under the new sanitation rules, students and teachers must wear masks except at mealtimes and clean their desks, which will be spaced 1 meter (3 feet) apart.
Some teachers are unhappy with the arrangements. One told Reuters on condition of anonymity that certain rules — such as setting specific times of the day when students can use the bathroom — were “practically impossible to implement.”
“I feel like we’re carrying a time bomb,” said the high school teacher in Gyeonggi Province.
The education ministry keeps track of whether teachers or students have a fever using an online self-diagnostic system and anyone with a temperature over 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit) must stay home.
If any student tests positive for the virus, the entire school will switch to online classes for at least two weeks.
Korea has reported 11,110 coronavirus cases, with 263 deaths.


UK to host ‘human challenge’ trials for COVID-19 vaccines

Updated 24 min 21 sec ago

UK to host ‘human challenge’ trials for COVID-19 vaccines

  • So-called “challenge trials” are expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London
  • About 2,000 participants had signed up through a US-based advocacy group, 1Day Sooner

LONDON: Britain is planning to host clinical trials where volunteers are deliberately infected with the new coronavirus to test the effectiveness of vaccine candidates, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing people involved in the project.
So-called “challenge trials” are expected to begin in January at a quarantine facility in London, the report said, adding that about 2,000 participants had signed up through a US-based advocacy group, 1Day Sooner.
Britain said it was working with partners on the potential for human challenge trials without commenting on a specific plan.
“We are working with partners to understand how we might collaborate on the potential development of a COVID-19 vaccine through human challenge studies,” a government spokeswoman said.
“These discussions are part of our work to research ways of treating, limiting and hopefully preventing the virus so we can end the pandemic sooner.”
The FT reported that the studies will be government funded, although 1Day Sooner said it would also launch a petition for public funding of a biocontainment facility big enough to quarantine 100 to 200 participants.
Open Orphan, a pharmaceutical services company cited in the FT report, confirmed in a statement early on Thursday that it is in “advanced negotiation with the UK Government and other partners for a coronavirus challenge study in the UK.”
“There can be no certainty that these discussions will lead to a new contract,” it added.
Imperial College London, cited by the FT as the academic lead on the trials, did not confirm the report.
“Imperial continues to engage in a wide range of exploratory discussions relating to COVID-19 research, with a variety of partners,” a spokeswoman said, asked about the possibility of challenge trials.
Any trials conducted in the United Kingdom would have to be approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), the health care regulator which looks into safety and protocol.
The MHRA did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment, but 1Day Sooner, which lobbies for challenge trials to accelerate vaccine development, welcomed the report.
“1Day Sooner congratulates the British government on their plans to conduct challenge trials to test vaccines,” it said in a statement, confirming it would petition the government to house the trial participants.
The industry has seen discussions in recent months about potentially having to inject healthy volunteers with the novel coronavirus if drugmakers struggled to find enough patients for final trials.
The FT report did not name the vaccines that would be assessed in the project. British drugmaker AstraZeneca, and French firm Sanofi both told Reuters that their vaccine candidates were not involved in the program.