What makes the elderly more susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection?


Why is severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019), biased towards infecting the aged population? A recently published study by Italian scientists linked aging, DNA damage, telomere shortening, and increased levels of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) to this relationship.

To better understand the modulation of the ACE2 receptors and the molecular mechanisms involved, the researchers studied the expression of ACE2 in mouse and human lungs at different ages. Publishing their results on the preprint server (not peer-reviewed) bioRxiv*, they found that the ACE2 promoter is dependent on the DNA damage response; the ACE2 is regulated at the transcription level.

Compared to young mice (2-3 months), the ACE2 mRNA levels were increased in old mice (22-23 months). In human lung tissue samples, the researchers found the ACE2 protein expression levels higher in older subjects (60-80 years old) compared to the young ones (20-35 years old). Further, the researchers showed that the ACE2 was predominantly expressed in ATII pneumocytes, and it increased with aging.

Previous studies have shown that the severity of SARS-CoV-2 infection correlates with high rates of alveolar epithelial type II (ATII) cell infection. The results are consistent with similar analyses performed on non-human primates.

Because aging is associated with telomere shortening and damage in several tissues, to study the association between aging and ACE2 modulation, the researchers monitored the ACE2 mRNA levels in human fibroblasts (BJ) and human bronchial epithelial cells (HBECs) at different population doublings. Both these cell types do not have telomere maintenance mechanisms and are characterized by progressive telomere shortening upon proliferation. Compared to the early cell passages, both the cells expressed increased levels of mRNA.

A mouse model lacking the RNA component of telomerase (Terc-/-) is similar to features of human aging in different tissues, including lungs. The researchers observed a consistent increase of ACE2 expression in these mice compared to the wild types.

Further, they tested the role of the DNA damage response (DDR) pathway and observed a correlation between DDR increase and the ACE2 mRNA levels. Interestingly, they also checked if ionizing radiation-induced DDR activation drove a similar increase of ACE2 mRNA levels. The researchers confirmed, “this study indicated that while telomeric DDR activation is the most likely event increasing ACE2 levels during physiological aging, additional events activating DDR could also contribute.”

They also demonstrated this in vivo – the activation of DDR at the telomere leads to increased Ace2 expression.

ACE2 expression increases during ageing in mouse and human lungs

ACE2 expression increases during ageing in mouse and human lungs

To determine whether the ACE2 promoter could respond to DDR activation, they performed an in silico analysis. They identified the transcription factors DNA binding motifs significantly enriched in the promoter region of ACE2. “Gene set enrichment analysis of the top 100 transcription factors potentially associated with the ACE2 promoter, revealed an over-representation of pathways possibly related to the DNA damage response,” observed the researchers in the paper. They also confirmed this experimentally.

When the DDR foci formation is prevented, the ACE2 expression is reduced. Importantly, the researchers also showed that the telomeric antisense oligonucleotides (tASOs) are effective in controlling ACE2 levels in vivo in mouse tissues, including the lung.

“Taken together, these results clearly demonstrate that the expression of ACE2, the SARS-CoV-2 receptor is directly modulated by the activation of the DDR pathway at the transcriptional level and that telomere dysfunction is a physiological event able to engage the DDR pathways modulating ACE2 levels.”

While COVID-19 ranges from asymptomatic infection to multi-organ failure and death, the severity of the infection is correlated with the age of patients. Thus, along with comorbidities, age is an important risk factor that influences the outcome. This study is significant in establishing a correlation between aging, DNA damage, telomere shortening, transcriptional control of ACE2 receptors – the underlying mechanisms.

Interestingly, based on this study and the fact that ASOs are established medicines approved for several disorders and also that the telomeric DDR increases with age in normal and pathological conditions (Rossiello et al., Nature Cell Biology, under submission), the researchers suggest that upon additional validation, tASOs can have the potential as therapeutic agents to reduce susceptibility to SARS-CoV-2 infection.

*Important Notice

bioRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:

  • DNA damage response at telomeres boosts the transcription of SARS-CoV-2 receptor ACE2 during aging, Sara Sepe, Francesca Rossiello, Valeria Cancila, Fabio Iannelli, Valentina Matti, Giada Cicio, Matteo Cabrini, Eugenia Marinelli, Busola Alabi, Alessia di Lillo, Arianna Di Napoli, Jerry W Shay, Claudio Tripodo, Fabrizio d’Adda di Fagagna, bioRxiv 2021.06.09.447484; doi: https://doi.org/10.1101/2021.06.09.447484, https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.06.09.447484v1

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Study of UK dental professionals reveals extent of risk of COVID infection



Photo: Alessandro Biascioli 123RF

A University of Birmingham-led study of over a thousand dental professionals has shown their increased occupational risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection during the first wave of the pandemic in the UK.

The observational cohort study, published in the Journal of Dental Research, involved 1,507 Midland dental care practitioners. Blood samples were taken from the cohort at the start of the study in June 2020 to measure their levels of antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The team found 16.3 per cent of study participants—which included dentists, dental nurses and dental hygienists—had SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, compared to just six per cent of the general population at the time. 

Meanwhile the percentage of dental practice receptionists with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies—who had had no direct patient contact—was comparable to the general population, supporting the hypothesis that occupational risk arose from close exposure to patients.

The study found ethnicity was also a significant risk factor for infection, with a higher percentage of black and Asian participants having SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, compared to white participants.

Blood samples were taken from participants three months later, in September 2020, when dental practices in England had re-opened with enhanced PPE and infection control measures in place, and once again in January 2021, six months after the start of the study, during the second wave of the pandemic when healthcare workers were being vaccinated.

The results showed that of those who had previous COVID-19 infection, over 70 per cent continued to have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies both at three months and six months later, and they were at a 75 per cent reduced risk of re-infection with the virus.

The study also demonstrated the immunological impact of COVID-19 vaccination, with 97.7 per cent of those without previous infection developing an antibody response at least 12 days after their first Pfizer vaccine. In those with evidence of previous infection, the antibody response was more rapid and higher in magnitude after a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Furthermore, none of the cohort with a level of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies greater than 147.6 IU/ml in their blood tested positive for COVID-19 throughout the six-month period from the first to the final blood tests.   

“This is the first time the occupational risk of exposure to a potentially fatal respiratory virus has been studied in a large dental cohort,” co-author Professor Alex Richter said.

“It is important that we now progress our research to ensure we have an understanding of how people are protected from re-infection with COVID-19 following natural infection and vaccination.

“The nature and duration of immunity in these cohorts will be critical to understand as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, particularly with respect to the efficacy of vaccination strategies—single-dose, multiple-doses, vaccine combinations—and in relation to novel viral variants of concern.”

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Fears over India’s ‘rapidly spreading’ COVID-19 variant as the country struggles to slow its infection rate



A World Health Organization chief scientist warned a variant of COVID-19 spreading in India may be contributing to its outbreak, as total cases rose by over 400,000 for the fourth consecutive day.

A variant of COVID-19 spreading in India is more contagious, and it is feared it could be dodging some vaccine protections, contributing to the country’s explosive outbreak, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist said.

In an interview with AFP on Saturday, Soumya Swaminathan warned that “the epidemiological features that we see in India today do indicate that it’s an extremely rapidly spreading variant”.

The country’s total COVID-19 cases rose by over 400,000 for the fourth consecutive day on Sunday even as several states imposed strict lockdowns to curb the spread of the virus.

India’s health ministry on Sunday reported 4,092 fatalities over the past 24 hours, taking the overall death toll to 242,362. Cases rose by 403,738, increasing the total since the start of the pandemic to 22.3 million.

New Delhi has struggled to contain the outbreak, which has overwhelmed its healthcare system, and many experts suspect the official death and case numbers are a gross underestimate.

Dr Swaminathan, an Indian paediatrician and clinical scientist, said the B.1.617 variant of COVID-19, which was first detected in India last October, was clearly a contributing factor to the catastrophe unfolding in her homeland.

“There have been many accelerators that are fed into this,” the 62-year-old said, stressing that “a more rapidly spreading virus is one of them”.

The WHO recently listed B.1.617 – which counts several sub-lineages with slightly different mutations and characteristics – as a “variant of interest”.

Resistant to antibodies?

But so far it has stopped short of adding it to its short list of “variant of concern” – a label indicating it is more dangerous than the original version of the virus by being more transmissible, deadly or able to get past vaccine protections.

Several national health authorities, including in the United States and Britain, have meanwhile said they consider B.1.617 a variant of concern, and Dr Swaminathan said she expected the WHO to soon follow suit.

“B 1.617 is likely to be a variant of concern because it has some mutations which increase transmission, and which also potentially could make (it) resistant to antibodies that are generated by vaccination or by natural infection,” she said.

But she insisted that the variant alone could not be blamed for the dramatic surge in cases and deaths seen in India, lamenting that the country appeared to have let down its guard down, with “huge social mixing and large gatherings” in recent months. 

Mass election rallies held by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other politicians have for instance partly been blamed for the staggering rise in infections.

But even as many in India felt the crisis was over, dropping mask-wearing and other protection measures, the virus was quietly spreading.

‘Taking off vertically’

“In a large country like India, you could have transmission at low levels, which is what happened for many months,” Dr Swaminathan said.

“It was endemic (and) probably gradually increasing,” she said, decrying that “those early signs were missed until it reached the point at which it was taking off vertically”.

“At that point it’s very hard to suppress, because it’s then involving tens of thousands of people and it’s multiplying at a rate at which it’s very difficult to stop.”

India’s total COVID-19 cases rose by over 400,000 for the fourth consecutive day on Sunday.

India’s total COVID-19 cases rose by over 400,000 for the fourth consecutive day on Sunday.
Hindustan Times

While India is now trying to scale up vaccination to rein in the outbreak, Dr Swaminathan warned that the jabs alone would not be enough to gain control of the situation.

She pointed out that India, the world’s largest vaccine-making nation, had only fully vaccinated around two per cent of the 1.3 billion-plus population.

“It’s going to take many months if not years to get to the point of 70 to 80 per cent coverage,” she said.

With that prospect, Dr Swaminathan stressed that “for the foreseeable future, we need to depend on our tried and tested public health and social measures” to bring down transmission.

The surge in India is frightening not only due to the horrifying number of people who are sick and dying there, but also because the exploding infection numbers dramatically increase the chances of new and more dangerous variants emerging.

“The more the virus is replicating and spreading and transmitting, the more chances are that… mutations will develop and adapt,” Dr Swaminathan said.

“Variants which accumulate a lot of mutations may ultimately become resistant to the current vaccines that we have,” she warned.

“That’s going to be a problem for the whole world.”

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COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria infection control manager stood down after allegedly breaching protocols


The general manager of infection control at the agency running Victoria’s hotel quarantine program has been stood down after allegedly breaching their own protocols twice in the past two months.

Minister for Government Services Danny Pearson said he became aware of the reports last night and had stood aside COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria’s (CQV) general manager of infection prevention and control, Matiu Bush, pending a review into their conduct and behaviour.

“This issue with [Matiu] Bush goes more to [their] attitude and behaviour: there were infection control breaches, but they were of a very low level,” Mr Pearson said.

“Public confidence is paramount, and I don’t think the public would want to see someone in a senior leadership role continue to behave in this way, that’s why [they have] been stood down.”

The head of CQV, Emma Cassar, said the breaches were minor but disappointing.

She said the first incident involved Matiu Bush refusing to get tested at one quarantine hotel after a request by ADF personnel, but they were eventually tested at another site.

“[They] still met the requirement to have a daily test … but my understanding is the staff member did make comments about the fact [they] didn’t need to be tested at that site,” Ms Cassar said.

“We expect the highest standards from our staff, and this has fallen well short of that.”

Another incident involved the infection control manager getting a coffee from a coffee shop and coming back to a quarantine hotel without changing their mask or sanitising.

The leaked incident reports detailing the breaches were published in The Australian newspaper, which also published an internal report contradicting claims by the government that an outbreak at the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel in February was caused by a banned nebuliser.

Instead, the CQV infection control report said the “proposed working hypothesis” was that the leak was caused by a staff member who took an extended amount of time to swab a guest.

Ms Cassar on Wednesday said that was not her understanding.

“The working hypothesis is still as I understand, is that this was caused by the nebuliser,” she said.

The Victorian Opposition has called for all of the incident reports to be released to the public and said the state government had not learnt the lessons from previous hotel quarantine leaks.

“This is an outbreak waiting to happen, this is a lockdown waiting to happen, because the government hasn’t learnt the lessons and they still can’t get it right,” Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said.

Victoria recorded no new locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Wednesday for the 68th day in a row.

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One new community COVID-19 case recorded in NSW as authorities hunt mystery source of infection



Health authorities have been unable to find a link between a returned overseas traveller who harboured the same genomic sequencing as a Sydney couple who tested positive.

New South Wales has recorded one new community case of COVID-19, a day after a man from Sydney’s eastern suburbs also tested positive for the virus.

The new case is the wife of a man in his 50s who visited several locations between Friday and Sunday while infectious. Nine other close contacts have returned negative tests overnight. 

Health authorities have been unable to determine the source of his infection, sparking fears the virus could be circulating undetected in the community.

“While we remain on high alert, pleasingly, at this stage, nobody else has been identified as being a positive case,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Thursday.

She also announced temporary public health measures for the greater Sydney region which will come into force from 5pm on Thursday and remain until Monday.

The restrictions include a 20-person limit for at-home gatherings and the reinstating of compulsory face masks in indoor venues, including public transport.

Singing and dancing at indoor venues, with the exception of weddings, will also be outlawed for the next three days.


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On Thursday afternoon, New Zealand announced a pause of quarantine-free travel with NSW for 48 hours.

It’s the second pause to hit the trans-Tasman bubble since it came into effect last month, after travel from Western Australia was stopped last week.

Queensland and WA have also announced they will send anyone who has visited an exposure site in Sydney into hotel quarantine from Friday morning.

Genomic testing overnight revealed the new infections were linked to an overseas case who had travelled from the United States and undertook their mandatory quarantine across two facilities in Sydney.

No direct link has been discovered between the returned traveller and the Sydney man, NSW Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant said.

“So what we’re concerned about is there is another person that is as yet unidentified that infected our case,” she said.

Staff working at the two quarantine facilities, the Park Royal at Darling Harbour and the Sydney Health Accomdation, are being tested as health authorities rush to determine how the virus leaked into the community. 

Dr Chant also announced a number of new at-risk venues, including Fratelli Fresh at Westfield Sydney, F5 on Pitt Street in the CBD, and the Bondi Trattoria restaurant.

Anyone who was at the venues at the times listed on the NSW Health website are being urged to isolate and get tested.

“We know for a fact there’s at least one person, if not more, walking around with the virus not knowing they have it or potentially having attended many events and venues,” Ms Berejiklian said. “That’s why it’s important for us to have a proportionate response.”

Earlier on Thursday, it was revealed NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet has been forced into self-isolation after he attended the same CBD restaurant as the man on Friday.

He has since returned a negative COVID-19 test. 

Players and staff from both Sydney AFL clubs and the NRL’s Sydney Roosters have also undergone testing after the positive case visited Sydney’s Moore Park.

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Adelaide positive COVID–19 wastewater test from undetected infection or old case, SA Health says


South Australian health authorities say a positive COVID-19 result in wastewater from Adelaide’s CBD is either from an undetected case in the community or shedding from an old infection.

Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Emily Kirkpatrick said further testing had ruled out that the result was not a mistake and it did not come from a returned traveller or a medi-hotel worker.

SA Health first reported on Sunday that it had detected coronavirus in sewage from the north-eastern portion of Adelaide’s CBD, where the majority of Adelaide Fringe festival events are held.

Tests since then have continued to show a positive result.

Dr Kirkpatrick said the results were definitely correct.

“We are seeing in the wastewater and again, concerns last night on repeat testing done at Bolivar, we are still continuing to see that positive result come through, which is concerning for SA Health.”

Dr Emily Kirkpatrick says the wastewater result is the highest since the Parafield cluster.(

ABC News

)

However, for the test result to have come from an old case, it would need to be multiple people who had the disease, Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“That’s why we’re working on the theory that it could be a family group that’s come over for the Fringe events or come back to South Australia — returned from overseas — and we’re also thinking around with the recent outbreaks in Victoria,” Dr Kirkpatrick said.

“Could we have individuals who have come over from Victoria who are still shedding the virus?”

The area north of Pirie Street where the wastewater comes from includes medi-hotels for return overseas travellers, but not the Tom’s Court Hotel where positive cases are taken.

About 12,000 people live or work in the area.

Highest test reading in months

Dr Kirkpatrick said the level of coronavirus found in the sewage was as high as seen during November’s Parafield cluster.

“We haven’t seen these levels since the Parafield cluster and we’ve had a number of individuals within our medi-hotels in January and February and we haven’t seen this same detection, so it is very concerning,” she said.

SA Water senior manager of water expertise and research Daniel Hoefel said the sub-catchment the wastewater came from also included suburbs just outside of the CBD, such as College Park, Hackney, Kent Town, Norwood, Rose Park and Toorak Gardens.

He said the corporation had “ramped up” testing following the first positive result.

“We’re looking at this on a daily basis now and obviously working very closely with SA Health on those results,” he said.

Large outdoor containers of water, bordered by fenced walking platforms at the Bolivar Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Health authorities have detected COVID–19 in wastewater at the Bolivar sewage plant.(

File: SA Water

)

No community cases were detected following positive test results in wastewater from Bolivar and Angaston in September.

SA Health is urging anyone who has been out in the city to get tested if they have even mild symptoms.

Just 2,191 tests were carried out in SA yesterday.

Today, the state recorded one new case of COVID-19 in a returned traveller from overseas who is in a medi-hotel.

There are currently four active cases.

South Australian Police Commissioner and emergency coordinator Grant Stevens said it should be possible to identify if the viral traces were from a medi-hotel or from interstate or overseas visitors with more testing over the next few days.

He said the presence of COVID–19 in wastewater meant people should remain vigilant about testing and QR check-ins.

“You don’t have to go too far to see people who are not remembering or disregarding the obligation to check in if you go into a business premises,” he said.

“If you couple that with the wastewater testing results, I think it’s a strong reminder that we’re not out of this yet.”

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Tokyo Olympic torch staffer becomes event’s 1st COVID-19 infection



FILE PHOTO: The Olympic rings are illuminated in front of the National Stadium in Tokyo, Japan January 22, 2021. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

April 22, 2021

TOKYO (Reuters) – A police officer helping with Japan’s Olympic Torch relay has become the first participant in the event to be diagnosed with COVID-19, organisers said on Thursday.

A man in his 30s tested positive for the virus after working on the relay in Kagawa prefecture on Japan’s southern island of Shikoku, Tokyo 2020 said in a statement.

The officer was guiding traffic in the town of Naoshima on Saturday and came down with a fever on Sunday, the Asahi Newspaper reported, citing organisers and prefectural police. The man wore a mask and had no contact with runners, the report said.

Separately, two runners, a TV personality and a former Olympian, dropped out of a relay event due to be held in the western prefecture of Tottori next month, public broadcaster NHK reported.

Public support for the Games has waned amid concern the event will exacerbate COVID-19 infections, now battering the country in a fourth wave. Japan’s government is expected to declare a state of emergency, the third in the past year, in the major population centres of Tokyo and Osaka this week.

The Games, already delayed by one year, are due to start in 92 days. Olympic and government officials have said further postponement of the Games is out of the question.

(Reporting by Chris Gallagher and Rocky Swift, editing by Estelle Shirbon)



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Serial antigen testing may be an effective strategy for controlling infection during a nursing home SARS-CoV-2 outbreak


Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles, isolated from a patient. Image captured and color-enhanced at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. Credit: NIAID

A prospective study found that serial antigen testing could be an effective strategy to support infection control in nursing homes having a SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. While less sensitive than real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) diagnostic tests, the authors say that antigen tests perform well when it counts—when someone is infectious and at risk for spreading the virus. The findings are published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Serial, facility-wide testing for SARS-CoV-2 can help identify cases in outbreak settings, allowing for rapid implementation of transmission-based precautions and infection prevention and control strategies. RT-PCR testing performed in a laboratory has the highest sensitivity, but its prolonged turnaround time can delay quarantine and isolation implementation. Antigen tests are easy to do and produce results in minutes, facilitating rapid action. However, performance data are lacking, especially in asymptomatic people.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studied 532 specimens from 234 available residents and staff at a nursing home with a SARS-CoV-2 outbreak to evaluate the performance of antigen testing when used during an emerging outbreak. Two specimens were collected from all residents and staff 3 times over a 13-day period. Trained laboratory scientists tested one swab onsite using a rapid antigen test and the other was sent to the CDC for RT-PCR and virus culture reference testing. The researchers found that overall, the antigen test was less sensitive than RT-PCR, but it performed well in identifying early infections and specimens with replication-competent virus (that is, culture-positive). Further, consensus test analysis of individuals with a positive result and more than one test suggested that repeated testing produced similar positive agreement for antigen testing compared with RT-PCR, even in asymptomatic patients. According to the authors, these data suggest that early and frequent antigen testing during a SARS-CoV-2 outbreak may be an effective strategy for identifying infectious people with the greatest potential to transmit the virus.


Follow the latest news on the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak


More information:
Study: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M21-0422

Editorial: https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/10.7326/M21-1667

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American College of Physicians

Citation:
Serial antigen testing may be an effective strategy for controlling infection during a nursing home SARS-CoV-2 outbreak (2021, April 27)
retrieved 27 April 2021
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‘Some people have lost limbs’: Dons star Hurley describes scary infection


After being sent home for a second time, Hurley was mostly confined to his bed for the best part of a month.

Doctors believe the infection may have found its way into Hurley’s system via significant blistering on his feet, but have been unable to confirm the infection’s origin.

Hurley said he was shaken by the events.

“Doctors mentioned to me that some people have lost limbs after getting infections like this, so it was pretty scary,” Hurley said. “I’m glad they told me that after, though.”

The 30-year-old had a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line installed in his bicep, which delivered Hurley antibiotics to fight the infection.

A nurse visited Hurley at home each day and a doctor every second day.

By the end of the ordeal, the strong 94kg frame of Hurley was closer to 80kg.

Hurley made his first public appearance since the ordeal at Essendon’s practice match against Carlton at Ikon Park during the pre-season.

Hurley cut a gaunt figure in a red and black tracksuit as he limped to the bench, aided by crutches.

He is one of the most loved members of the Essendon squad and it was on show that day as every player came to greet him at the quarter-time break.

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The defender says he is now recovering well. He is putting on weight and has been free of his crutches for nearly three weeks.

He hopes to be back playing at AFL level for the final six weeks of the season.

“It could even be sooner than that. I’m improving pretty quick,” Hurley said.

The Bombers beat Collingwood by 24 points on Anzac Day despite the absence of Hurley, intercept defender Jordan Ridley (concussion) and an injury during the match to Aaron Francis (ankle).

They play arch-rivals Carlton at the MCG on Sunday afternoon.

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India sets new COVID-19 infection record as virus ‘storm’ shakes the nation and US races to send aid



The number of COVID-19 cases in India surged by 349,691 in 24 hours on Sunday, as hospitals in Delhi and across the country turn away patients.

India set a new global record of the most number of COVID-19 infections in a day, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday urged all citizens to be vaccinated and exercise caution, saying the “storm” of infections had shaken the country.

The United States said it was deeply concerned by the massive surge in coronavirus cases in India and was racing to send aid.

India‘s number of cases surged by 349,691 in the past 24 hours, the fourth straight day of record peaks, and hospitals in Delhi and across the country are turning away patients after running out of medical oxygen and beds.

“We were confident, our spirits were up after successfully tackling the first wave, but this storm has shaken the nation,” Mr Modi said in a radio address.

Mr Modi’s government has faced criticism that it let its guard down, allowed big religious and political gatherings to take place when India’s cases plummeted to below 10,000 a day and did not plan on building up the healthcare systems.

Hospitals and doctors have put out urgent notices that they were unable to cope with the rush of patients.

People were arranging stretchers and oxygen cylinders outside hospitals as they desperately pleaded for authorities to take patients in, Reuters photographers said.

“Every day, it the same situation, we are left with two hours of oxygen, we only get assurances from the authorities,” one doctor said on television.

Outside a Sikh temple in Ghaziabad city on the outskirts of Delhi the street resembled an emergency ward of a hospital, but crammed with cars carrying COVID-19 patients gasping for breath as they were hooked up to hand-held oxygen tanks.

Family members of COVID-19 patients queue with empty oxygen cylinders outside an oxygen filling centre in New Delhi.

Family members of COVID-19 patients queue with empty oxygen cylinders outside an oxygen filling centre in New Delhi.
AAP

Delhi’s Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal extended a lockdown in the capital that was due to end on Monday for a week to try and stem the transmission of the virus which is killing one person every four minutes.

“A lockdown was the last weapon we had to deal with the coronavirus but with cases rising so quickly we had to use this weapon,” he said.

India’s total tally of infections stands at 16.96 million and deaths 192,311 after 2,767 more died overnight, health ministry data showed.

In the last month alone, daily cases have gone up eight times and deaths by 10 times. Health experts say the death count is probably far higher.

The country of 1.3 billion people is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe, Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, warned in an op-ed published Saturday in the Washington Post.

“Our hearts go out to the Indian people in the midst of the horrific COVID-19 outbreak,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on twitter.

“We are working closely with our partners in the Indian government, and we will rapidly deploy additional support to the people of India and India’s health care heroes.”

The United States has faced criticism in India for its export controls on raw materials for vaccines put in place via the Defense Production Act and an associated export embargo in February.

The Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, this month urged US President Joe Biden to lift the embargo on US exports of raw materials that is hurting its production of AstraZeneca shots.

Others such as US Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi urged the Biden administration to release unused vaccines to India.

“When people in India and elsewhere desperately need help, we can’t let vaccines sit in a warehouse, we need to get them where they’ll save lives,” he said.

A man  is seen amid funeral pyres before they are lit to perform the last rites of patients who died of COVID-19, at a New Delhi crematorium on 24 April.

A man is seen amid funeral pyres before they are lit to perform the last rites of patients who died of COVID-19, at a New Delhi crematorium on 24 April.
Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed her “sympathy on the terrible suffering” that the pandemic had brought to India, her chief spokesman Steffen Seibert said in a statement.

“Germany stands in solidarity with India and is urgently preparing a mission of support.”

India’s surge is expected to peak in mid-May with the daily count of infections reaching half a million, the Indian Express said citing an internal government assessment.

V.K. Paul, a COVID-task force leader, made the presentation during a meeting with Mr Modi and state chief ministers and said that the health infrastructure in heavily populated states is not adequate enough to cope, according to the newspaper.

Dr Paul did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Thank you for visiting My Local Pages. We hope you enjoyed seeing this news update about national news titled “India sets new COVID-19 infection record as virus ‘storm’ shakes the nation and US races to send aid”. This article is posted by My Local Pages Australia as part of our Australian news services.

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