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Cape Town train services disrupted again for the second time
21 October 2020, 3:27 AM

Train services in Cape Town have been disrupted for the second time in as many days.

On Monday, services on the Southern and Cape Flats lines were temporarily suspended due to a telecommunications problem.

And, the Northern line was suspended due to a signal power failure at Kraaifontein.

On Tuesday, the Cape Flats line was temporarily suspended due to an overhead power failure.

Cape Town’s beleagured rail service was once the preferred mode of public transport.

This was the case, especially for the thousands of working class residents, who depended on it.

Metrorail says it recorded up to a million paying passengers per day during the early 2000s. But with ongoing theft and vandalism of infrastructure and aging rolling stock, the number has dwindled to around 400 000.

President of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Janine Myburgh says there is a need for accountability:

“The management of Metrorail has led to ordinary citizens of Cape Town being forced to bear the brunt of incompetence. A criminal investigation is clearly needed into the possible collaboration between those who benefit from the chaos.”

While work has been done on the signalling systems during the lockdown period, vandalism of the infrastructure has continued.

The central line which has been closed since November last year, is still not operational:

US trial of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine may resume this week – Sources
21 October 2020, 1:14 AM

AstraZeneca Plc’s COVID-19 vaccine trial in the United States is expected to resume as early as this week after the US Food and Drug Administration completed its review of a serious illness, four sources told Reuters.

AstraZeneca’s large, late-stage US trial has been on hold since September 6, after a participant in the company’s UK trial fell ill with what was suspected to be a rare spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis.

The sources, who were briefed on the matter but asked to remain anonymous, said they have been told the trial could resume later this week. It was unclear how the FDA would characterize the illness, they said.

An FDA spokesperson declined to comment.

The agency is requiring researchers conducting the trial to add information about the incident to consent forms signed by study participants, according to one of the sources.

UK regulatory officials previously reviewed the illness and determined there was “insufficient evidence to say for certain” that it was or was not related to the vaccine. It permitted the trial to resume in the UK, according to a draft of the updated consent form shared with Reuters.

“In this case, after considering the information, the independent reviewers and MHRA (Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) recommended that vaccinations should continue,” the draft consent form stated. “Close monitoring of the affected individual and other participants will be continued.”

Regulators in Brazil, India and South Africa also previously allowed AstraZeneca to resume its vaccine trials there.

AstraZeneca, which is developing the vaccine with Oxford University researchers, had been seen as a front runner in the race to produce a vaccine for COVID-19 until its trials were put on hold to investigate the illness. Early data from large-scale trials in the United States of vaccines from Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc are expected some time next month.

Johnson & Johnson last week paused its Phase III COVID-19 vaccine trial to investigate an unexplained illness in one of the study participants. At the time of the announcement, the company did not know whether the volunteer had been given its vaccine or a placebo.

A J&J spokesperson on Tuesday said the study remains on pause as the company continues its review of medical information before deciding to restart the trial. J&J noted that its “study pause” was voluntary, in contrast to AstraZeneca’s “regulatory hold,” which is imposed by health authorities.

Vaccines are seen as essential to helping end the pandemic that has battered economies around the world and claimed more than 1 million lives – over 220 000 of them in the United States.

Responding to a request about the AstraZeneca trial, British regulators shared with Reuters a draft of a form letter to UK vaccine trial participants, dated October 14 and signed by the Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine Team. It says the US FDA had “completed their analysis” and said vaccination in the United States would resume shortly.

FDA “has come to the same conclusion as the other drug regulators including the MHRA,” the letter states.

The Health Research Authority, which helps oversee UK medical research, said in an email to Reuters that it vetted the communication to make sure it was suitable to ensure informed consent among study volunteers. It could not confirm that the letter had been issued.

An AstraZeneca spokeswoman said the communication is not from the company and it “cannot verify the content,” referring to the draft letter to study participants.

“We also cannot comment on a pending FDA decision,” she said. The Oxford study team has not responded to requests for comment.

In another of the documents directed at trial participants, the Oxford vaccine study team noted that there was not enough evidence to link the neurological problem seen in the UK trial to the vaccine.

Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who reviewed the document, said it can be difficult to link a rare side effect specifically to a vaccine to the exclusion of other potential causes.

Transverse myelitis, which the study volunteer is believed to have developed, typically occurs at a rate of 1-in-200 000 people, Offit said, so it would be unusual to see it in a trial of 9 000 individuals.

Other viruses including those that cause West Nile and polio can trigger the condition, as can physical trauma.

The regulators have to weigh whether a rare side effect is vaccine-related and could occur again against the sickness and deaths linked with COVID-19, Offit said. “That’s always the line that you walk.”

Netflix falls short on new subscribers as pandemic boost fizzles
21 October 2020, 12:36 AM

Netflix Inc on Tuesday posted the weakest subscriber gains in four years as streaming competition increased, pandemic restrictions eased and live sports returned to television.

The company added 2.2 million paid subscribers globally during the quarter that ended Sept. 30, missing Wall Street’s target of 3.4 million and its own forecast.

Earnings per share also landed below analyst expectations at $1.74. The consensus forecast was $2.14, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Shares of Netflix, one of the biggest gainers this year as people stayed home amid the pandemic, dropped nearly 6% to $494 in after-hours trading on Tuesday.

“Domestic subscribers were nearly flat, which highlights Netflix’s saturation in the US,” said Ross Benes, analyst with eMarketer. With domestic additions slowing, revenue growth will likely come from price increases, he said.

The company reported a blockbuster quarter at the start of worldwide coronavirus pandemic, adding 15.8 million paying customers from January through March.

Netflix had warned investors that a sudden surge in new sign-ups would fade in the latter half of the year as COVID-19 restrictions eased. Netflix forecast in the fourth quarter it would bring in 6 million new subscribers around the globe, short of the 6.51 million that analysts expected.

The streaming video pioneer is trying to win new customers and fend off competition as viewers embrace online entertainment. During the third quarter, Netflix released “Emily in Paris”, “Enola Holmes” and “The Devil All the Time.”

Netflix acknowledged that competition was increasing as studios across Hollywood from Walt Disney Co to AT&T Inc’s WarnerMedia have restructured to compete more directly for video subscribers.

“Competition for consumers’ time and engagement remains vibrant,” Netflix said in a letter to shareholders.

In recent months, major sports resumed play and nascent streaming services, including AT&T’s HBO Max and Comcast Corp’s Peacock, offered audiences new options.

Netflix said its results reflected the fact that it saw such a big surge in customers early in the year.

“We continue to view quarter-to-quarter fluctuations in paid net adds as not that meaningful in the context of the long run adoption of internet entertainment, which we believe is still early and should provide us with many years of strong future growth as we continue to improve our service,” the company said.

Netflix said it expected to complete shooting over 150 productions by the end of the year and that it would release more original programming in each quarter of 2021 compared with 2020.

Revenue rose 22.7% to $6.44 billion in the third quarter, edging past estimates of $6.38 billion.

Net income rose to $790 million, or $1.74 per share, in the quarter from $665.2 million, or $1.47 per share, a year earlier.

Soldiers open fire on Nigerian protesters in Lagos – Witnesses
20 October 2020, 11:36 PM

Soldiers opened fire on Nigerian protesters in the Lekki district of the commercial capital Lagos on Tuesday, shooting at least two people, three witnesses told Reuters.

Protesters have demonstrated for more than a week over allegations of police brutality in Nigeria.

“They started firing ammunition toward the crowd. They were firing into the crowd,” said Alfred Ononugbo, 55, a security officer. “I saw the bullet hit one or two persons,” he said.

Lagos state government said it would open an investigation into the shooting, which witnesses said took place around 7 p.m. (1800 GMT).

“There have been reports of shooting at the Lekki Toll Plaza,” Gboyega Akosile, a spokesman for the governor, said on Twitter. “The State Government has ordered an investigation into the incident,” he said in another tweet.

A Nigerian army spokesperson did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Inyene Akpan, 26, a photographer, said more than 20 soldiers arrived at the toll gate in Lekki and opened fire. He said he saw two people being shot.

Akinbosola Ogunsanya, a third witness, said he saw around 10 people being shot. He also said he saw soldiers remove bodies.

A Reuters witness heard sirens and gunfire.

Authorities on Tuesday imposed a round-the-clock curfew on Lagos, which contains Africa’s biggest city, in response to the protests, which the state governor said had turned violent.

The national police chief also ordered the immediate deployment of anti-riot forces nationwide following increased attacks on police facilities, a police spokesperson said.

SA records 1 050 new COVID-19 cases, 164 deaths
20 October 2020, 10:58 PM

South Africa has recorded 1 050 new coronavirus cases. This brings the total number of cases to 706 304.

The country has also recorded 164 new COVID-19 related fatalities, bringing the total number of deaths to 18 656.

In a statement, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says most of the new deaths were recorded in Gautemg.

“Regrettably, we report 164 more COVID-19 related deaths: 46 from Eastern Cape, 41 from the Free State, 52 from Gauteng, 1 from Mpumalanga, 2 from Northern Cape, 8 from Western Cape,

9 from KwaZulu Natal and 5 from Limpopo,” says Dr Mkhize.

The cumulative number of tests conducted to date is 4 581 346.

Recoveries now stand at 639 568 which translates to a recovery rate of 90%.

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