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China launches COVID-19 testing lab in Addis Ababa airport to revive Ethiopia Air passenger flight service


The Addis Ababa Bole International Airport, Africa’s busiest airport and the continent’s leading gateway, is aspiring to revive its COVID-19-affected passenger traffic with a newly launched Chinese operated state-of-the-art COVID-19 testing lab.

   The newly launched high-end COVID-19 testing lab, Huo Yan Air Lab, which is inside the premises of Ethiopia’s international flight hub, is administered by the BGI Health Ethiopia, a subsidiary of China’s biotech giant, the BGI Genomics Co., Ltd.

   The Ethiopian flag carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, expects the lab, equipped with cutting-edge technologies, to inject the much-needed momentum in terms of easing the pressure through the provision of timely and accurate COVID-19 testing.

   “Having this facility in the airport will enable us to facilitate the testings easily available to our passengers as well as it will enable us to do it in a faster basis to address any requirement that might have for our passengers,” Acting Chief Operating Officer of Ethiopian Airlines Retta Melaku told Xinhua in a recent interview.  “We believe this facilitation and convenience will enable our passengers to develop their confidence on flying from the Addis Ababa hub at the Bole International Airport.”

   According to Retta, the facility is the outcome of the excellent partnership between Ethiopia’s flag carrier and the BGI Health Ethiopia towards ensuring the safety of passengers in line with all international requirements.

   With the capacity of undertaking 1,000 COVID-19 tests a day, which could be further augmented to 5,000 tests per day with further expansion, the COVID-19 testing lab is the Chinese company’s first-ever high-end laboratory in the East African region.

   The facility is said to be the continuation of the company’s growing portfolio in the African continent on the backdrop of similar other cutting-edge technology laboratories operating in other African countries, such as Togo, Gabon, Angola and Botswana.

   Wanyue Wang, deputy general manager of BGI Health Ethiopia, said the short-term aspiration is to ensure the continuation of flight operation between Ethiopia and other countries by managing the COVID-19 pandemic through timely and accurate screening and diagnosis.

   “We are delivering the result in as short as three hours. Now, transit passenger don’t need to come out of the terminal and go back in, they can just stay inside the transit area and wait for three hours and they can get their results and continue their journey for next destination,” she said.

   The newly launched facility also enabled departing passengers in Addis Ababa with an option to undertake rapid as well as regular COVID-19 testing in a very short period of time.

   The facility, which was initiated with the invitation and strong support of Ethiopian Airlines and was eventually approved by the Ethiopian Public Health Institution (EPHI), will undertake COVID-19 testing for all passengers on flights to the Chinese mainland.

   Independently operated by the BGI Health Ethiopia, the high-end laboratory presently provides passengers with RT-PCR and IgM antibody tests for COVID-19.

   The facility is said to the first laboratory invested and operated by a Chinese company in Africa to provide international passengers with COVID-19 testing services in an airport terminal.

   In September 2020, the BGI Health Ethiopia inaugurated its first-ever COVID-19 test kit factory in the African continent on the outskirts of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

   The company is presently providing its COVID-19 test kits to public and private diagnostic centers in Ethiopia, eventually contributing to the East African country’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been commended by the Ethiopian government for saving the much-needed foreign currency that the Ethiopian government would otherwise have been spending in importing test kits.  


UN laments that clashes in Borno hamper humanitarian work


 Clashes between insurgent groups and Nigerian armed forces in Borno State are hampering humanitarian assistance, said a UN spokesman on Friday.

   UN humanitarian workers in Nigeria continue to receive alarming reports of clashes between insurgent groups and Nigerian armed forces in the town of Damasak in Borno State. Recently, non-state armed groups have also been conducting house-to-house searches, reportedly looking for civilians identified as aid workers, said Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

   A week ago, humanitarian assets in Damasak were targeted. At least five nongovernmental organization (NGO) offices and several NGO vehicles, as well as a mobile storage unit, water tanks, a health outpost and a nutrition stabilization center were damaged. More clashes were reported this week, he said.

   These attacks will affect humanitarian assistance and protection to nearly 9,000 internally displaced persons and 76,000 people in the host community, he warned.

   The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said Friday that up to 80 percent of the population in Damasak has been forced to flee. While many fled toward Maiduguri, the capital of Borno State, and to Geidam town in neighboring Yobe State. Other people crossed into Niger, the spokesman told a daily press briefing.

   The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Niger is planning an inter-agency mission with the UNHCR and local authorities. Humanitarians in Nigeria and Niger have deployed assessment missions to identify the most pressing needs along the border, he said. 


Bloomberg says world needs Chinese vaccines to fill supply shortage


The world needs China’s vaccines as they have filled the vaccine shortage caused by some rich countries’ hoarding of COVID-19 vaccines, an opinion piece published on Bloomberg’s website said on Friday.

“By hoarding vaccines, the Western world has left many in emerging economies uncovered. While more than 848 million doses have been administered, countries with the highest incomes are getting vaccinated 25 times faster than those with the lowest,” said the article written by Clara Ferreira Marques, a columnist with Bloomberg. According to Bloomberg’s COVID-19 tracker, the United States, which makes up about 4 percent of the world’s population, has 24 percent of vaccinations, the article said. What’s more, the article noted that the Chinese vaccines are highly effective against severe diseases, which can significantly reduce the number of hospitalizations. “For emerging economies like the Philippines or Brazil, it’s important to stop infection, but vital to avoid severe cases and to keep people out of hospitals, where they can rapidly overwhelm healthcare networks that are rickety at the best of times,” the report said.

The article also cited Indonesia as an example and said that as a major recipient of Sinovac doses that needs to vaccinate 180 million people within a year, the country is not wrong that “the best vaccine is the one that’s available.”B”A population that has very high coverage of Sinovac would certainly have far fewer severe COVID-19 cases, even with substantial infection and transmission,” Benjamin Cowling, professor at the University of Hong Kong’s School of Public Health, was quoted by the article as saying. “That’s a win of sorts,” Cowling points out.


Sweat sensor could predict cytokine storm in COVID-19 patients


A sweat sensor developed at the University of Texas can predict whether a person will develop an excessive immune reaction known as a cytokine storm that characterizes the worst COVID-19 cases.

The researchers, who reported their results this week at the American Chemical Society spring meeting, think the sensor also has potential to help patients with other conditions or infections such as flu, which can also result in a cytokine storm.

At the moment the sensor is worn as part of a wrist band, a bit like a smart watch, but the team thinks it could be developed further and made into a plaster like patch to give more flexibility.

With something like a cytokine storm, it can happen fairly quickly and its important to treat a patient’s symptoms as soon as possible to minimize damage to the body. Anything that can speed up this process is beneficial.

“Especially now in the context of COVID-19, if you could monitor pro-inflammatory cytokines and see them trending upwards, you could treat patients early, even before they develop symptoms,” says Shalini Prasad, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Texas in Dallas, who led development of the sensor and is presenting the work at the meeting.

Many of the biomarkers found in blood are also found in sweat, including inflammatory proteins such as cytokines, but levels are generally lower. This means that an efficient sensor needs to be able to pick up very small amounts of the markers it is looking for.

This can be a challenge, but Prasad and team have already gained experience in this area by developing a similar sensor that detects two proteins found in sweat during inflammatory bowel disease flareups. This work is currently being commercialized by a startup Prasad founded called EnLiSense, which is also working on the cytokine storm sensor.

The new sensor includes electrodes coated with antibodies that can bind to seven inflammatory proteins that are seen at high levels in patients experiencing a cytokine storm. They include: interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-8, tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand, IL-10, interferon-γ-induced protein-10 and C-reactive protein.

When proteins in the sweat bind to the sensors the electrical current changes and gives off different signals to a reader. This then connects with a smartphone app that estimates levels of the different proteins in the sample. It’s a continuous process as sweat gradually works its way through the sensor and makes way for new sweat to take its place meaning that measurements can be taken over time.

This new sensor is still at the prototype stage, but in a test on six healthy people and six with influenza the levels of cytokines measured by the sensor were comparable to those measured in blood samples taken for comparison. Prasad thinks this sensor has real potential to see which COVID-19 patients are at risk of developing an excessive immune reaction.

“Access to COVID-19 patients has been a challenge because healthcare workers are overwhelmed and don’t have time to test investigational devices,” Prasad says. “But we’re going to continue to test it for all respiratory infections because the disease trigger itself doesn’t matter — it’s what’s happening with the cytokines that we’re interested in monitoring.”

Notably, one thing that came out of the testing is that it is important to test ‘passive’ rather than ‘active’ sweat as levels of inflammatory proteins such as cytokines can change while we exercise and distort any measurements designed to diagnose illness.

Prasad and her team found their sensor is very sensitive and could even detect cytokines present in the low-picogram-per-ml range in people taking anti-inflammatory medication. It was also able to be used continuously for up to 168 hours (around a week) before the sensor strip needed to be replaced.

The next step for the researchers is to test the sensor in more people and validate their initial findings in patients with a range of different respiratory infections.


China’s Q1 GDP grows 18.3% y-o-y, the fastest in three decades


China’s GDP grew by 18.3 percent year-on-year in the first quarter of 2021, the fastest in three decades, since the data was released, with key economic indicators all expanding at over 20 percent, setting an encouraging start for the year buoyed by a low base, soaring overseas demand and rebounding consumption at home.

The stellar data offers a glimpse into the strength of China’s economic recovery, which has been retaking lost ground since the second half of 2020. The country is likely to record the highest growth among major economies and make the greatest contribution to the global economy in the first quarter, on top of the US, analysts noted.

Looking ahead, China’s economy is forecast to keep a stable growth, but may enter “unchartered waters” in the second half of the year as geopolitical tensions keep developing and the marginal effect of global economic recovery has weakened.

Some analysts are upbeat about China’s GDP which might gain by a double-digit growth in the second quarter. For the whole year, the growth rate could reach 9 percent, analysts said, well above the government-set goal of above 6 percent.

In the first three months, China’s GDP grew 18.3 percent to 24.9 trillion yuan($3.82 trillion), compared with a 6.8-percent contraction in the same period last year when the economy came to a standstill amid the coronavirus lockdown.

Retail sales soared 33.9 percent, fixed-asset investment jumped 25.6 percent, and industrial production gained by over 24.5 percent, data released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) showed on Friday. 

The slew of indicators came in line with estimates, Liu Xuezhi, a senior macroeconomic analyst at Bank of Communications, told the Global Times on Friday. 

The consumption rally, at a pace apparently faster than the rebound in factory activity, sets the economy for a strong comeback to pre-virus levels, the analyst reckoned. 

In March alone, retail sales jumped 34.2 percent year-on-year, with the growth rate quickening 0.4 percentage points from the reading for the first two months, per NBS figures. 

Industry observers said the data underscores a broadened recovery momentum, particularly in March, which marks a watershed in consumption from “divergent recovery” to “going full swing.”

“Millions of Chinese stayed at their working cities during the Spring Festival holidays, coupled with the resurgence of sporadic coronavirus cases, which curbed consumption to some extent in the first two months. With the rollout of a vaccination plan across the country, there was a turnaround in March,” Lian Ping, head of the Zhixin Investment Research Institute, told the Global Times.

“With three minor vacations in the second quarter and consumer confidence being improved, consumption will continue to gain steam in the April-June period,” Lian added. 

“The pace of the economic recovery in the second and following quarters would rely more on the recovery of the service sector,” global asset management giant Fidelity International said in a note sent to the Global Times on Friday.

According to domestic travel data during the Qingming Festival in early April, the number of travelers and hotel bookings posted a substantial increase compared with previous holiday breaks, indicating that “pent-up consumption demand may cause a retaliatory rebound,” Fidelity International said, stressing more sustainable economic growth is still reliant on the recovery of incomes.   

In a convincing sign of revenge spending, train tickets to some of the most popular destinations for the upcoming May Day holiday have been sold out the moment they became available, causing platforms to temporarily crash. 

Analysts also highlighted the role of flooding overseas orders in shoring up China’s industrial production acceleration in the first three months.

“The global economy seems to be walking out of the pandemic-induced recession, which will boost foreign demand for Chinese merchandise until at least June. This is in contrast to last year, when the recovery of the supply side outpaced that of demand,” Tian Yun, vice director of the Beijing Economic Operation Association, told the Global Times.